Review – Too Dangerous to Desire by Cara Elliott

Cover image, Too Dangerous to Desire by Cara Elliott

Here’s to tradition!  The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Can a Flame from the Past be Rekindled? Long ago, Sophie Lawrance chose prudence over passion, rejecting a rebellious young rogue for the sake of her family-no matter the ache it left in her heart. But after a specter from her father’s past resurfaces, threatening to destroy all she holds dear, the desperate beauty knows there is only one man whose shadowy skills can save her.

Or Is It Too Dangerous to Play with Fire? Cameron Daggett is a man of many secrets . . . and many sins. He’s never forgotten the pain of losing Sophie. But now, with a chance to win her back, Cameron sets aside his anger and agrees to help Sophie save her father’s honor. Together they embark on a perilous masquerade, leading them to a remote country estate near the sea. There, they must battle a cunning adversary-and their own burning desires. Will they be consumed by the flames? Or can they prove that true love conquers all?

Based on that blurb, the book really seemed to be up my alley.  The blurb hints at a bit of Persuasion, which does epic battle (in my head) with Pride and Prejudice on a regular basis and sometimes wins the title “my favorite Jane Austen novel.”  (Sometimes P&P wins…)  So I was excited to get down to business and read it.  I did not realize that the book is the third in a series, but it mostly works as a stand-alone.  It was a bit difficult to grasp the relationship between the three heroes of the series without knowing anything about their previous adventures, but the specific story in this book does not rely on events that occur in previous books.

This historical romance is another fun romp, an adventurous story that ought not be taken too seriously.  But I take everything seriously (while simultaneously finding everything amusing… it’s hard to explain how all that balances out), and there were a few things about this book that just irritated me and spoiled some of my enjoyment of the story.

1.  Sarcasm.  The word sarcasm actually refers to a specific type of humor/wit and does not comprise all humor or all instances of douchey behavior.  Yes, you can be a sarcastic douchebag, but you can also be just a regular douchebag who does not employ any sarcasm at all.

I got a little bit irritated by the number of references to Cameron’s behavior that was just douchey, not sarcastic.  Don’t get me wrong, he does actually get a few good sarcastic lines in, but the ratio of false sarcasm to actual sarcasm is 4:1.

2.  Dog metaphors.  I never thought I’d use this sentence when talking about a book: “There are an astonishing number of dog metaphors–several per page!”  The male hero characters of this book and the two previous books in the series are known collectively as the Hellhounds.  For some reason, the author decided to carry that doggy-affiliation over into numerous references to barking, yapping, yipping, nipping at heels, growling, putting one’s nose to the ground, etc.  During the sections of the book when two or more Hellhounds are gathered together, the dog metaphors become somewhat overwhelming, sometimes occurring three or four times per page.  Per. Page.  I imagined those sections of dialogue actually sounded like this.

3.  “Ha ha ha.”  On fourteen occasions in this book, characters laugh, “Ha, ha, ha,” and this came to mind every time.

Although it may seem silly, those three issues seriously impacted my ability to enjoy the book.  Once I noticed that the “sarcasm” wasn’t always sarcasm and that the dog references just kept on coming, I was pulled out of the story every time I noticed a new instance of either.  And the laughing… so strange.  As a result, it was difficult for me to connect to either the characters or the story, and I might have just stopped reading the thing if I hadn’t been perversely curious to see if the issues continued until the end.  (They did.)  When I try to reflect on the book as something besides a collection of strangely-applied dog references, I realize that I really enjoyed the relationship between Sophie and her sisters–that was very well done–and I loved Sophie’s character, her intrepid resolution and intelligence.  Without the aforementioned issues, I might have really liked this story.  Readers who are not as easily irritated as I by that kind of thing might find a lot of enjoyment in this story (and, probably, the other two books in the series as well).

Too Dangerous to Desire was released on November 20, 2012 by Forever as both a mass-market paperback and an e-book.  To learn more about the book, click here to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Forever through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

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Review – An Infamous Marriage by Susanna Fraser

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Northumberland, 1815

At long last, Britain is at peace, and General Jack Armstrong is coming home to the wife he barely knows. Wed for mutual convenience, their union unconsummated, the couple has exchanged only cold, dutiful letters. With no more wars to fight, Jack is ready to attempt a peace treaty of his own.

Elizabeth Armstrong is on the warpath. She never expected fidelity from the husband she knew for only a week, but his scandalous exploits have made her the object of pity for years. Now that he’s back, she has no intention of sharing her bed with him—or providing him with an heir—unless he can earn her forgiveness. No matter what feelings he ignites within her…

Jack is not expecting a spirited, confident woman in place of the meek girl he left behind. As his desire intensifies, he wants much more than a marriage in name only. But winning his wife’s love may be the greatest battle he’s faced yet.

I’ve been working on this review while not making much progress at all (a lot of staring at an empty screen) for days now.  It’s time to kick my perfectionism to the curb and just write without worrying whether or not I’m perfectly articulating my thoughts.  Listening to Muse is helping; being on Twitter is not.

This book starts with a very short prologue, which is almost as good as not having a prologue at all.  Unfortunately, it turns out that the prologue is set in the present day of the story (1815), and then chapter 1 bumps you back 5 years, so you follow the story until it once again reaches present day.  So, really, the first six chapters of the book are a prologue, and the actual prologue is just a teaser to get you to care about solving the mystery: how did Jack end up with a marriage that he regrets?  Six chapters later, I thought “oh, that’s how… Dude, Jack’s kind of an asshole.”  Further, he’s an unfaithful asshole.  By the time the author reunited Jack and Elizabeth, I was primed to hate him.

But even though Jack can be a jerk, he’s still a likable character, though riddled with flaws and insecurities.  And Elizabeth is just fantastic.  (If she had been a weaker character, Jack’s infidelity would have been that much more awful.)  She responds to all of the tragedy in her life with strength and resolution.  Lonely, sad, and deeply mortified she may be, but that doesn’t mean she can’t function.  I loved that she demands Jack earn her trust before she consents to build a relationship with him.  I was a very happy reader from about chapter 7 until about chapter 16.

But halfway through chapter 16, I became disgruntled.  Here’s the thing… when a writer sets up a situation wherein two characters have a conflict early on in a story, and that conflict is resolved when one character says, “OK, I’ll let all this crap go if you do A, B, C, and D,” and the other character says, “Groovy! Here’s A, B, and C,” and, in an internal monologue goes I can’t possibly do D… that’s just too embarrassing… instead, I’ll fake it, and she’ll never know because X, Y, and Z, any savvy reader will just know that “D” is going to come back and haunt that character and be the big conflict in the book that the characters will have to overcome.  And it will annoy the pants off that reader when that thing, indeed, ends up being the big conflict in the story.  It’s annoying!  It could also just be my pet peeve, so feel free to consider me unreasonable for being annoyed at something to stupid.

My irritation pulled me out of the story, to be sure, but eventually the story between Elizabeth and Jack pulled me back in, and by the end of the story, I once again cared about their impending reconciliation.  (The battleground scenes might have had shades of War and Peace, but it’s still a romance novel, and an HEA is pretty much guaranteed.)  What I can’t seem to decide is whether I am an unfair reader, expecting more from a book than it can possibly give me.

Bottom line: An Infamous Marriage is a good bit of historical romance.  Folks who love a little war-time drama with their romance will be quite happy.  Folks who can’t stand unfaithful heroes  might want to be cautious in approaching this one, but the resolution between the characters was solid enough and the ending sweet enough to satisfy me.

*FTC Disclosure – I received a e-galley of this book from the publisher, Carina Press, through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review of this book.*

Review – The Devil’s Thief by Samantha Kane

Cover image, The Devil’s Thief by Samantha Kane

First, the blurb from Goodreads:

The daughter of a reformed jewel thief, Julianna Harte knows a thing or two about stealth. When the foundling home she provides for finds itself in dire financial straits, Julianna is forced to do the unthinkable. In a bit of misguided Robin Hood derring-do, she slips through the window of a wealthy rake to search for a treasure she knows is there: an invaluable pearl. But when the towering and very naked occupant of the moonlit bedroom ambushes her with a bargain—a night in his bed in exchange for the pearl—Julianna doesn’t know if it’s masculine heat or sheer desperation that makes his terms so tempting.

Alasdair Sharpe had no intention of keeping his end of the bargain. Planning to offer his little cat burglar carte blanche instead, he promptly loses himself in the delights of unexpected pleasure. But when he awakes the next morning to find his family heirloom gone, fury quickly replaces sensual languor. Of course, Alasdair is more than willing to use seduction to reclaim his stolen pearl—and find the key to Julianna’s heart.

This book has a lot of potential, but its style is, ultimately, not really up my alley.  It reminded me of the only Julie Garwood book I’ve read (Guardian Angel).  It has slightly disjointed, but very upbeat, dialogue, characters that are described as extremely intelligent and strong yet act like weak idiots on occasion, and mysterious character backgrounds that never get explained, etc.  There seems to be a wide audience of readers who love these books, but I’m just not one of them.  This book was a little bit too haphazard for me.  My favorite bit was Sir Hilary–pretty much everything about him–and I would be interested in reading his story, but I just didn’t care about Alasdair and Julianna’s story.

I think this story might be properly called a romp.  It’s an adventure story that should not be taken seriously but, instead, enjoyed in all good fun.  It may be that I’m just not very good at having fun.  I had a hard time getting into the story because weird little questions kept pulling me out of it.

  1. Why can’t Julianna think of any other way to save her failing orphanage than stealing a precious pearl from her neighbor?
  2. Once Alasdair offers sex in exchange for the pearl, why is he so damn angry when Julianna takes it?  Seriously, what is the point of all that anger?
  3. Towards the end when all the dangerous elements coalesce into a whole danger stew, why does Julianna rush headlong into danger, full of the belief that only she can save everyone from certain defeat?  Why, once Alasdair finds out that Julianna has run headlong into danger, does Alasdair take his sweet time getting ready to go rescue her, tossing around lighthearted jokes with his buddies as if there is no urgency whatsoever in the situation?
  4. Why, why, why?!?!

There were a few things that I really enjoyed.  The secondary characters were great, and I loved Roger and Hil and their relationship with Alasdair.  I loved the bakery girl, and I wonder if she’ll end up getting hooked up with Hil in a later book.  Wiley was a lot of fun.  I actually enjoyed the beginning of this book, even though it’s very abrupt.  I liked Alasdair’s character, in general, although I found his anger to be somewhat incomprehensible, and I liked Julianna sometimes, when she wasn’t doing things that make no sense.

There were also a few things that I didn’t like.  The dialogue between Alasdair and Julianna was just awkward, pretty much all the time.  I was completely thrown by Julianna’s completely unreasonable “I have to go sneak into the murderous madman’s house because I’m better equipped to handle a death threat than Alasdair, who sleeps with a gun under his pillow and may, at some point in the past, have been a spy” notion.  I’m all for lady characters being strong, saving themselves whenever possible, but this is just ridiculous.  There’s no glamour or glory in rushing into a situation for which one is patently unprepared; if one does so, one is an idiot.

All told: meh.  This book just wasn’t for me, but I’ll keep an eye out for Sir Hilary’s story.

The Devil’s Thief is available now as an e-book through Loveswept, a division of Random House.  Click here if you are interested in finding out more about the book.

* FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from the publisher, Loveswept, through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. *

An epic dueling review of Gabriel’s Inferno and Gabriel’s Rapture, by Sylvain Reynard

Hands down, the niftiest side effects of my starting this blog, getting on Twitter, and discovering the book blogging community are the book-related friendships I have discovered with folk in that community.  Books are meant to be discussed, and a whole bunch of book bloggers and book enthusiasts on various blogs and on Twitter have been so welcoming and gracious as I’ve chimed in on conversations that did not include me, aired opinions that are not well-formed, and, in general, acted like the quirky nut ball that I am.

Of course, I’m not the only quirky nut ball out there.  My friend Kim over at Reflections of a Book Addict reads a heck of a lot, and I’ve noticed, through reading her blog, that a.) we tend to be drawn to the same books and b.) we tend to form similar conclusions about said books.  In other words, our taste in books is uncannily similar.  We started reading some books together and discussing them on Twitter and in Goodreads, and it’s been a blast.  A while ago, Kim read Gabriel’s Inferno and Gabriel’s Rapture by Sylvain Reynard and asked if I would read them also.  As it turned out, our takeaway from these books differed by rather a lot.  We decided to review the books together over on Reflections of a Book Addict, and we ended up having a lot of fun putting together our dueling review.  Even if you have absolutely no interest in reading these books (and I certainly don’t recommend them), I think you might get a kick out of our discussion.

Go check it out!

Now let’s be reasonable…

I’ll be honest: there are a lot of things people say that I dislike hearing.  A few phrases come to mind.  “That’s a tall drink of water,” is one of my least favorites, both because it is an objectifying phrase and because it never refers to a glass of water.  While I’m on the height thing, it’s also extremely annoying when people tell me I’m tall.  “You’re tall!” they tell me, as though I somehow missed that fact.  I never know how to respond to statements like that, especially when the person making the statement is a stranger to me.  Is it rude if I say, “Really? I’d never noticed!”  Yes, probably.  I hate being rude, but I’m OK with awkward, so I usually just agree, “Yes, yes I am,” and then wait expectantly for the person to say something to which I can actually respond.

I am very tall for a lady (tall for a man, too, actually), so I get these comments a lot.  I strongly dislike them, but I understand that height is generally considered favorable in our culture, and most of the folk commenting on my extreme height are trying, in a strange (to me) fashion, to compliment me.

There are, of course, plenty more phrases that I dislike, but there are also a few that I outright hate.  One of them is, “Let’s be reasonable,” or any variant thereof (e.g., “I think, if you could be reasonable about this, that you’d see…” or “You’re being unreasonable…” or “Let’s think about this rationally…” or “Let’s put emotion aside for just a moment, shall we, and talk about this like adults…”).  I truly hate these types of phrases, and it amuses me to provide a list of reasons why, a rationale, if you will (hardy har).

  1. Reason and rationality are not absolutes but are subjective.  What is reasonable and rational to one person will not be so to another, so the phrase, “Let’s be reasonable,” contains within itself a logical flaw.  The person saying that phrase might as well say, “I wish you would just think like I do.”
  2. Building upon that first argument, “Let’s be reasonable” is pejorative, implying that the receiver of the phrase has succumbed to all manner of irrationality and needs to be brought back to a reasonable track.
  3. While not strictly logical, I find that my dislike of this phrase is influenced by some of the particulars of circumstance under which I have heard this phrase throughout my life.  When I think about the phrase, it’s always a man’s voice that I hear in my head.  The logic, reason, and rationality to which I feel chastened to stick is always a man’s logic, reason, and rationality, and, now that I am well and truly an adult, I most often hear this phrase uttered whenever I attempt to explain what it is like to be a woman in today’s world to a man.  It has become a gendered phrase to me.

Cover image, Unclaimed by Courtney Milan

Oh, come on… you knew all this would somehow relate to a romance novel.  (First, a distraction: the dude’s ring on the cover is laughably huge, right? You know what they say about giant rings…)  Anyway, don’t judge this book by the cover model’s ginormous jewelry–the book is fantastic.  After reading The Governess Affair, I went on a bit of a Courtney Milan reading kick and read all four books in the Turner series (Unveiled, Unlocked, Unclaimed & Unraveledon four consecutive days.  She has several more books out that I haven’t yet gobbled up, books that I am holding in reserve to savor while I wait for her upcoming books to be released.  Milan’s writing is like the best wine I’ve ever had: intoxicating but best enjoyed slowly and with deep appreciation for all of the nuances of flavor and texture.

Unclaimed is a beautiful love story set in the early Victorian era between two unlikely lovers, a man famous for his virtue and lifelong chastity and a courtesan who intends to seduce and betray him.  My favorite moment in the book comes near the end when Jessica (the heroine) confronts the villain of the piece, a former protector who did a bad, bad thing to her.  He, somewhat predictably, does not recognize that he did anything wrong, so she clues him in.  His response is to reject that any harm was done by suggesting that she’s just being unreasonable.

“Come now, Jess. You’re upset, I see that. But let’s be rational about this.”
Her voice was shaking. “I am not your victim. And I am being rational. The only way to win is to rid myself of you. You look at me and the only thing you can see is a possession, something that you can pick up and use however you want.”

When I read that line, I was reminded of a few lines from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Women can’t add, he once said, jokingly. When I asked him what he meant, he said, For them, one and one and one and one don’t make four.
What do they make? I said, expecting five or three.
Just one and one and one and one, he said. (175)

What the Commander said is true. One and one and one and one doesn’t equal four. Each one remains unique, there is no way of joining them together. They cannot be exchanged, one for the other. They cannot replace each other. (179)

I am reasonably certain that there is not only one form of reason, only one way to be rational.  There may be different perspectives that one cannot understand, but one’s inability to comprehend another’s rationale is not in itself a sufficient argument that the incomprehensible rationale is flawed or invalid.  Sometimes it just means that one is a bit slow on the uptake.

I wanted to write that we as a society seem to have lost touch with our ability to validate perspectives that we do not personally share, but then I wondered if we ever had that ability in the first place.  Perhaps to be human is to presuppose that one is correct and that others are not only wrong but also stupid and crazy.

Winner – An Heiress at Heart giveaway

Congratulations go to Debbie (Mom) — yes, she’s my mom — who must have put on her super lucky sweater this morning and is the winner of the bitterly-contested giveaway for An Heiress at Heart.  I am grateful to the publisher, Forever, for hosting this giveaway! Thank you!

See, no nepotism here!

Stay tuned for the conclusion of the so-far-just-as-bitterly-contested giveaway of The Warrior to be announced early (ish) next week.  (Or you could enter that giveaway.)

And because this post is all about random:

Review and Giveaway – The Warrior by Margaret Mallory

Cover image, The Warrior by Margaret Mallory

What’s better than a shirtless Highlander wielding a giant sword?  Not a whole lot, though cookies do come close.  I was a little worried about accepting this book for review.  I usually try to avoid romances that feature warrior-type hero characters.  All that swaggering testosterone is lost on me.  But the first two books in this series were so well regarded that I opted not to judge the book by its cover and marketing blurb.  I’m glad I made that decision and read this book, because it’s a lot of fun.

Speaking of the blurb (from Goodreads):

Four fearless warriors return to the Highlands to claim their lands and legacies. But all their trials on the battlefield can’t prepare them for their greatest challenge yet: winning the hearts of four willful Scottish beauties.

Star-Crossed

From the Isle of Skye to the battlefields of France, Duncan MacDonald has never escaped the memory of the true love he left behind. Deemed unworthy of a chieftain’s daughter, Duncan abandoned the lovely Moira to prove his worth in battle. Now, when called upon to rescue her from a rival clan, one thing is certain: Moira’s pull on his heart is stronger than ever.

Bartered away in marriage to a violent man, Moira will do anything to ensure she and her son survive. When a rugged warrior arrives to save her, the desperate beauty thinks her prayers have been answered—until she realizes it’s Duncan. The man who once broke her heart is now her only hope. Moira vows never again to give herself—or reveal her secrets—to the fierce warrior, but as they race across the sea, danger and desire draw them ever closer.

From page one, I was able to connect to Duncan’s character (but I had a difficult time connecting with Moira) and felt invested in his story.  Because I felt emotionally vested in the story, it was easy for me to feel immersed in the world – sixteenth century Scotland – and to get caught up in all the adventure of the very active plot.  This story gives Duncan many opportunities to strap on his warrior blade and go out to do manly things, and that’s fun, but Duncan’s a classic warrior-poet with a powerful soft side.  Here’s a man who will write a song for you, pick wildflowers and weave them into a wreath for you, massage your feet, spoon with you without complaint, etc.  So, yeah, Duncan’s got a lot of love to give, and I’m enough of a sap that I loved reading about him giving all that love to Moira.

I got a little bit annoyed at some of the repetitious fights between Moira and Duncan.

Moira: “You treat me like a child!”
Duncan: “I just want to love you and take care of you!”
Moira: “I can take care of myself!”
Duncan: “Really?  You fell into a ravine!”
“Moira: “So?! I can still do it, and you’re stifling me!”
Duncan: “But I love you!” (not actual quotes from the book, by the way)

There were pages and pages of that, and it might be a realistic depiction of the fights many couples have, but that doesn’t mean it was pleasant for me to read.  Other readers might find the spats entertaining–I happen to be easily annoyed by bickering in novels–especially because these fights show Moira to be a strong heroine who is not about to sit around waiting to be saved.  At any rate, I was relieved that the story picked back up fairly quickly, and Moira grew up a little bit, and Duncan realized that Moira was more important than his masculine pride, and I went back to being a seriously happy reader with an emotionally fulfilling tale.

Aside from the lovers’ spats, the pacing of this book is very good.  I don’t usually enjoy when villain scenes are intercut into the main heroic action of a book, but I liked it here, probably because those scenes were very short and took the place of the lengthy exposition scenes that would have been required in their stead.  It helped that the villains in this piece are relatives of the major characters and shared a connection with those characters beyond the “meanwhile in the demon lair, evil is brewing…” interruptions.  I was a little bit thrown by the Scots Gaelic references (actually, more accurate to say I was thrown by the interrupting English translations), but I appreciated how they added to the highland ambiance of the piece.

Although it took me a while to develop a connection with Moira, once I did, I really liked her.  Moira is the daughter of a chieftain, and she’s very spoiled, confident, and carefree in the beginning.  After her marriage, she has time to repent her youth a bit and to wish that she had been taught some basic survival skills.  Throughout the second half of the book, Moira learns a lot and is able to support her argument that she is not a helpless waif.

Bottom line: lovers of highland romances should go nutty for this one, as should anyone who desires an emotional love story featuring a fantastic hero and a flawed but ultimately redeemed (and very strong) heroine.  Although this book is the third book in a series, it works very well as a stand-alone novel (and I would know: I haven’t read the first two books of this series).  Of course, you may not even need a reason to read this story beyond the shirtless, kilted Highlander shown on the cover (I don’t judge).

Giveaway!

That’s right!  The publisher (Forever) has generously agreed to host this giveaway and will send one print copy of The Warrior to two lucky commenters, chosen at random (thank you, random.org).  There are, of course, some rules:

  1. This giveaway is limited to US residents only (sorry!).
  2. You must be 13 years of age or older to enter.
  3. You must comment on this post in order to qualify.  Don’t worry, I’ll give you a topic.
  4. You must be willing to provide your mailing address in order to receive your copy of the book.
  5. The giveaway will run through 11:59 PM pacific time on Monday, November 12.  I will announce the winners on Tuesday, November 13.

Please leave a comment about your favorite kinds of characters (or your favorite specific characters), regardless of what genre you normally read.  So much of one’s enjoyment from a book derives from the connection one is able to make with a book’s characters.  As always, please feel free to ignore my arbitrarily chosen topic in favor of one that is more interesting to you. :)

The Warrior was released on October 30, 2012 as a mass market paperback and eBook from Forever/Grand Central Publishing.  If you are interested in the book, please visit its page on Goodreads here.  Margaret Mallory is on Twitter (@MargaretMallory), so feel free to follow if you’re into that whole Twitter thing.

* FTC Disclaimer – I received an e-galley of this book from Forever/Grand Central Publishing through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. *