Review – The Last Good Knight by Tiffany Reisz

The Last Good Knight Banner

So, I guess I should first mention that this post is part of the blog tour (I hope that’s obvious.) There’s a tour-wide giveaway here — check it out!

I read and loved the first four books in Tiffany Reisz’s Original Sinners series. (I say the first four books, but it’s kind of like Star Wars... the series started with the fourth (or fifth, if you count the novella) one.) So when I heard about this novella, I was pretty excited about it. Then I heard it was being released as a serial and I worried a little bit.

The Last Good Knight: An Original Sinners novella told in five parts:

Part I: Scars and Stripes

It’s lust at first sight when Mistress Nora encounters a sexy newcomer to The 8th Circle. She’s happy for the distraction, since she left her lover, Søren, but her session with Lance is cut short when her boss, Kingsley Edge, reveals they’re all in danger….

Part II: Sore Spots

With a potential stalker on the loose, Kingsley hires Lance as Nora’s bodyguard, but stipulates no sex while he’s on duty. Frustrated by the ex-SEAL’s noble chivalry, Nora is driven to seek release with the one man she’s trying to forget….

Part III: The Games Destiny Plays

Shocked to see Nora’s bruises, Lance is furious that she put herself in danger and demands to know where she got them. As Nora confesses her true nature, she’s equally shocked to learn that Lance has some secrets of his own, drawing them together despite Kingsley’s orders….

Part IV: Fit to Be Tied

With her feelings for Lance warring with her recent encounter with Søren, Nora returns to Lance’s bed and finds herself toying with the idea of…toying with him on a permanent basis. But after she gets a glimpse into his personal angst, Nora realizes she has the power to rescue this white knight….

Part V: The Last Good Night

Now that the perpetrator has been apprehended, Nora sadly acknowledges she doesn’t need a bodyguard anymore. She adores Lance and wants to keep him but is faced with a dilemma. If she uses her connections to help Lance, she’ll have to give him up forever…

The bottom line is that I liked this novella, but I have a few reservations about leaving it at that. I’ll put ’em in a list. I know you’ve been missing my lists.

  1. It’s a serial novella. That means that each $0.99 installment gives you about 25-30 pages of reading, with the expectation that you’ll purchase the other 4 installments to continue the story. Novellas are fast-paced little bites of stories anyway, and it’s slightly irritating to receive the story in this incremental format. I read them as ARCs — meaning that I had all five to start with (and I didn’t pay for them), and I was still slightly annoyed every time I had to find the next installment in my library and try to get back into the story. If you’re worried about the cost, I’ll be fair and put it in perspective… the total price for this approx. 120-page story is $4.95… the average Harlequin Presents story is about 180 pages long and costs $4.99. It’s up to you to decide whether a bit of Tiffany Reisz erotica is worth slightly more per-page than an HP.  My main irritation stems from the (admittedly ridiculous) inconvenience of having to open up five different books during one rather short reading experience. I know — I’m nit-picking — but novellas are already bite sized… do we really need to break them down further than that?
  2. Read those blurbs again… The thing is, the villain that drives most of the plot — that brings Nora and Lance together in a no-touching-allowed way — is an entirely off-page thing that never seems to be as big a deal as the characters believe. It’s like all the characters have these huge reactions to an invisible monster that turns out to be a nuisance rather than a danger.
  3. This one’s possibly just me, but it was a little weird reading a book about Nora and the other OS crew that takes place before The Siren, because OS books 2-4 so completely changed my views on Nora and Søren. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it was a little difficult for me to get into the right brain space to read this story. I suspect i’ll have the same problem with the other OS books (the prequels. Here’s hoping there aren’t any droid armies, Yoda fights or epic NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO moments in those books. I don’t think I could take it.)

So, yeah, those things were kind of strange or irritating, but I did like the novella. Once I got over the weirdness of going back in time with Nora and Søren, I loved how their dynamic played out. It’s also fantastic how you can read The Siren again after reading this novella and get another perspective on the Nora/Søren interactions. And I loved how the interludes between Nora and Lance, while necessarily short-lived, manage to be emotionally true and compelling. While the ending was a little bit heartbreaking, it was a really good kind of heartbreak.

While I’m not completely sure why this story needed to be told (maybe just to introduce Lance to the world?… Actually, that’s enough of a reason for me), I enjoyed reading it.

Amazon: (US Links)<br>Part I: http://amzn.to/1fVdUvP<br>Barnes & Noble:<br>Part I: http://bit.ly/RM6jI5

If you’re interested in more information about the author, check her out in the usual places: Twitter: @TiffanyReisz  https://twitter.com/tiffanyreisz, Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/littleredridingcrop, and Website: http://www.tiffanyreisz.com/.

Author PictureTiffany Reisz lives with her boyfriend (a reformed book reviewer) and two cats (one good, one evil). She graduated with a B.A. in English from Centre College in Danville, Kentucky and is making both her parents and her professors proud by writing BDSM erotica under her real name. She has five piercings, one tattoo, and has been arrested twice.

When not under arrest, Tiffany enjoys Latin Dance, Latin Men, and Latin Verbs. She dropped out of a conservative southern seminary in order to pursue her dream of becoming a smut peddler. Johnny Depp’s aunt was her fourth grade teacher. Her first full-length novel THE SIREN was inspired by a desire to tie up actor Jason Isaacs (on paper). She hopes someday life will imitate art (in bed).

If she couldn’t write, she would die.

*FTC Disclosure – I received e-galleys of all 5 installments from Harlequin via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

What I’ve been reading lately – a little more historical romance fiction

It’s kind of fun to go back through a giant list of books read over a period of three months and identify some trends. I read a heck of a lot of historical romance fiction in January and February (and, as you know, a heck of a lot of erotica in March). So, here I am continuing the mini-review trend. I’ll catch up eventually…

Sinfully Yours (Hellions of High Street #2) by Cara Elliott

After an eventful Season, Anna Sloane longs for some peace and quiet to pursue her writing. Though her plots might be full of harrowing adventure and heated passion, she’d much prefer to leave such exploits on the page rather than experience them in real life. Or so she thinks until she encounters the darkly dissolute-and gorgeously charming-Marquess of Davenport.

Davenport has a reputation as a notorious rake whose only forte is wanton seduction. However the real reason he’s a guest at the same remote Scottish castle has nothing to do with Anna . . . until a series of mysterious threats leave him no choice but to turn to her for help in stopping a dangerous conspiracy. As desire erupts between them, Davenport soon learns he’s not the only one using a carefully crafted image to hide his true talents. And he’s more than ready to show Anna that sometimes reality can be even better than her wildest imaginings . . .

I got an email about these two books by Cara Elliott, and the name sounded familiar to me, so I did a search of my blog and turned up this post on Too Dangerous to Desire (Lords of Midnight #3). I decided to read the books — despite real fears of encountering more dog metaphors and strange laughter — because I am such a sucker for books whose characters are writers. (Tangent: it should not surprise you at all to learn that the only Julia Quinn books I still enjoy are the ones that reference the mad fiction of Sarah Gorley. /tangent)

Sinfully Yours is fun. It combines some of the best elements of lighthearted historical romance into a fast-paced romp that delivers laughs and feels in equal proportions.  For example, it has: a delightfully inept mother character who wants the best for her daughters (and interprets “best” as “a German prince who may or may not be pitching for another team”); a roguish hero who secretly designs and sells automata (OMG, he’s in trade!); a “perfect” heroine who secretly pens slightly risqué gothic adventure novels and doesn’t really know what happens after her hero and heroine kiss; an assassination plot that somehow requires the heroine’s help to foil; dastardly villains; good triumphing over evil; happily ever after ending.

It also has a few instances of “Ha ha ha” laughter (and, yes, I did think of Count von Count every time), and it seemed to me as though the characters moved from flirtatious to naked in a remarkably quick period of time.  I mean — it would have been a jarring sprint down the primrose path in a contemporary romance, but this is a historical romance. I expected the standard progression: longing glances, first kiss, kissing with passion, kissing with passion and groping, full on second base, etc. There are usually a lot of steps before the heroine has her hands shoved down the hero’s trousers (or under the placket of his breeches, as the case may be). I feel like such a pearl-clutcher writing all this, but there it is.

All told, though, I enjoyed Sinfully Yours because it’s fun and funny and because its heroine is a writer. If you like lighthearted historical romps and/or stories about fictional writers or tinker-type heroes, you’ll probably enjoy this one.

Passionately Yours (Hellions of High Street #3) by Cara Elliott

The youngest of the Hellions of High Street, Caro Sloane has watched her two sisters have exhilarating encounters with dashing heroes, and now she is longing for some excitement of her own. After all, how can she write truly passionate poetry until she has experienced a Grand Adventure? But that seems unlikely to happen as she’ll be spending the next few weeks in the quiet spa town of Bath, where nothing grand or adventurous ever happens . . . until she and her new friend Isobel are nearly abducted while walking on a quiet country road—only to be rescued by Alec McClellan, the moody and mysterious Scottish lord she met at Dunbar Castle.

Alec has come to England to deal with a treacherous betrayal and fears that his half-sister Isobel is in peril from an old enemy. Does he dare share his secrets with Caro? The bold and brave beauty leaves him no choice, and together they are quickly caught up in a swirl of dangerous intrigue . . . where fiery desire between them may ignite into the greatest danger of all.

When I read these books last month, I liked Passionately Yours slightly better than Sinfully Yours, but now, four weeks later, I am finding that the latter was more memorable; however, I don’t find that its being memorable necessarily means that it is better. After all, the things that continue to resonate in my memory are (1) the things that I was always going to love about it (writer heroine, tinker hero, uptempo plot) and (2) the thing that I found incredibly strange (surprise peen).

The heroine in Passionately Yours is also a writer, albeit of the poetic variety, and so is the hero, though he’s much more secretive about it. Its story pretty well mirrors Pride and Prejudice, except with more intrigue, danger, and sedition. Caro and Alec meet and take immediate dislike to each other in the previous book, and that dislike continues in this one. But, of course, like Lizzy and Darcy (and Beatrice and Benedick) before them, their mutual dislike is actually just a disguise for mutual attraction — a reflex of these prickly and passionate characters. I thought both characters were interesting individually and together, and I enjoyed the romance of this story (which I thought was much more believable than the previous book).

The only problem with Passionately Yours, actually, is that it is so smooth a read — enjoyable but not particularly challenging — that it doesn’t stick around much once the last page is turned. Only you can know whether or not you would find that to be a point in its favor.

Improper Arrangements by Juliana Ross 

A reckless infatuation nearly ruined Lady Alice Cathcart-Ross in her youth, but from the moment she spies Elijah Philemon Keating scaling a rock face without a rope in sight, the man awakens her long-buried desire. Alice has come to the high Alps in search of a mountaineer, and in Elijah she finds the guide of her dreams.

Though Elijah is known as one of the greatest explorers of the age, a tragic accident has destroyed his taste for adventure and society. Elijah can’t deny his attraction to Alice, but he resolves to avoid the entanglement that could accompany it. He promises Alice one week in the Alps, and no more.

Alice agrees, valuing her independence above all else. But as the heights they climb by day are overshadowed by the summits of passion they reach at night, these vows become harder and harder to keep…

You read that blurb, right? OK, officially, I take exception to stories about women who have experienced some form of physical relationship in their past but — for whatever reason — have managed to live a celibate life until they meet the hero, when KAPOW, their lady areas light up in a conflagration of desire (I seriously read that line somewhere in about fifty different books. Wish I was kidding.) I know, I know — it’s vacation sex, and, anyway, it’s in a book and I should lighten up — but it’s just hard for me to imagine that Eli’s the first attractive man Alice has met in the years since she established an independent household for herself.

That said, I actually liked this story in spite of a few pet peeves.  It’s written in a first person narrative, and y’all know how I feel about that. There’s that instant attraction thing and the idea that the heroine has an independent life but feels the need to live it entirely alone until she meets a fine pair of forearms. But even with my starting bias against the book, I enjoyed it. It reads like a romance novel crossed with a travel diary, which worked strangely well. Both characters are distinct, interesting, and engaging. I loved the writing, which reminded me a little bit of E.M. Forster with a feminine twist. (It’s possible that my brain is just making that bit up because this story has English people wandering around the Alps.)

I liked Improper Arrangements, and I can’t wait to read the next book by Juliana Ross. Incidentally, I read (and loved) the first Improper book way back in the early days of this blog.

A Night with the Bride by Kate McKinley 

While at a lavish house party, Gabriella Weatherfield confidently bets her friends that she can convince the “unseducible” Duke of Somerset to kiss her. But Gabriella’s innocent wager turns wicked when faced with the duke’s intense blue eyes and talented hands.

Nicholas Montgomery usually strives to stay away from society, yet there’s no denying Gabriella’s wild beauty or the way she makes him want to lose control for once. Will the fire between them burn out when Gabriella uncovers the inner demons haunting Nicholas?

I really wanted to like this book. Here’s the thing… This story has a pretty good premise — Duke with issues overhears brassy, trade-wealthy heroine accept a dare to kiss him, hijinks ensue. That could have been really interesting, and for the first half of the book, I was impressed with the story. But then things got a little crazy.

I can suspend disbelief with the best of them, but it is simply too staggering to suggest that a woman who has thus far been unimpressed with all the dudes she’s met would not just fall in love within the span of two days but fall so hard in love that she’s impervious to fears of madness though she lives in a society in which madness is feared, the mad locked away, the families shunned. I accepted the sudden attraction between the characters — even though it hinged on insta-lust and magic sex organs — but I could not believe the instant growth of love and loyalty, and without that belief, the second half of the book was strange, choppy, and unpleasant.

Sinfully Yours was released on February 4, 2014 as an e-book and paperback by Forever. Passionately Yours was released on March 4, 2014 as an e-book and paperback by Forever. Improper Arrangements was released on November 11, 2013 as an e-book by Carina Press. One Night with the Bride was released on March 4, 2014 as an e-book by Forever Yours. For more information about the books, click on the cover images above to visit each book’s page on Goodreads. Check out the authors here: Cara Elliott, Juliana Ross, Kate McKinley.

*FTC Disclosure – I received e-galleys of all four books from their respective publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

What I read in March – a wry confession

Not too long ago, I wrote about how I had set this wild goal for 2014 to read fewer books and to think about them more.  I want you to know how well I’m doing on that goal.  Are you ready? I read the following books from March 1-31. (Click on any of the covers to learn more about these books.)  Oh, and I’m listing them in the order in which they were read, from March 1 through to March 31.

That’s 22 books (9 novellas, 13 full-length novels). Maybe I jinxed myself when I so publicly stated my goal. Maybe it was just a coincidence that I ended up binge-reading several authors (Sarah Mayberry, whom I started reading in February, Charlotte Stein, Cara McKenna, Laura Florand, and Maisey Yates). Maybe I just really wanted to read during the month of March, and I should get off my own back.  Either way, I think we can conclude that I spectacularly failed at my goal last month.

But, OH, you guys…. I don’t even care, because some of these books were just so damn good.  If you’ve not read Charlotte Stein (and you’re in the market for erotica), you should do yourself a favor and pick up Control. That book is simply beautiful. And Penny Reid’s Neanderthal Seeks Human will probably make my list of favorites for the year. And Unexpected was, well, unexpected — a contemporary, Oregon-set, cowboy-secret-baby-almost-engagement-of-convenience story that not only worked but also managed to fill me with hand-clapping, bouncing glee?! — and incredibly good (MissB: if you’re reading this, I think you’d love it.). And I really can’t wait until my bestest reading buddy Kim picks up Once Upon a Billionaire, so I can find out if she likes it as much as I did.

And don’t even get me started about those two Laura Florand books (or the one I just finished a few hours ago)… I didn’t think I could like a book better than I liked The Chocolate Touch but then I read The Chocolate Rose and realized maybe there could be a tie in my affections. But then I read The Chocolate Temptation (which I really want Tasha to read) and realized that, really, there’s no way to pick a favorite, and the best thing to do about it is just read all the books over and over and over again, the way my bestest friend in the whole wide world cycles through The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.

So, there you have it. I may have failed at my goal, but I WON AT ALL THE OTHER THINGS. Stay tuned for future posts discussing these very books in greater detail. And happy Friday, everybody!

 

What I’ve been reading lately – books by Jackie Barbosa

So, I was just putzing around on Twitter last Thursday when I saw a tweet from author Jackie Barbosa that shocked me with its reality.  Her son was killed in a traffic collision on his way to school that morning, and she was reeling. Over the next few hours, I saw tweet after tweet from authors, fans, friends, and bloggers offering support, love, and prayers. In the days that followed, a memorial fund was established to honor her son and eventually fund a scholarship in his name, and a bunch of authors, readers, and bloggers decided to help out in a creative way.  As author Courtney Milan put it on her blog, “Online, there’s no way to make someone a casserole or take her flowers, but there is something we can do to help ease her burdens and to send her the message that she is supported in this time: that is, for a short space of time, to take over the burden of talking about her books.”

So I’ve been reading books by Jackie Barbosa lately, and today I want to talk about them.

The Lesson Plan (Lords of Lancashire #1)

Sometimes, love is the hardest lesson of all… Despite her imminent debut, Miss Winifred Langston has no interest in trying on expensive ball gowns, learning intricate dance steps, or perfecting the one piece she can play on the pianoforte. Freddie would rather don a pair of breeches and go target shooting, fishing, or horseback riding—astride—than be anywhere near a ballroom or high tea. Rather than waste the last few days of her freedom on such pursuits, she invites her two closest friends to join her in one final caper.

When Conrad Pearce learns of Freddie’s plans, he decides it’s past time to teach his younger brother’s partner-in-crime a well-deserved lesson. But when he intercepts her, disguised as a highwayman, to demonstrate how dangerous and ill-advised her stunts are, he can’t resist the sensual beauty hidden beneath the maddening tomboy’s exterior. What began as one sort of lesson becomes quite another, as Conrad embarks on a comprehensive erotic tutorial of his surprisingly enthusiastic and adept student.

Now, he only has to convince the irrepressible Freddie to trade her breeches and madcap ways for the gowns and domesticity she despises.

I bought this book without reading the blurb because I’d already read and loved the second book in the Lords of Lancashire series. Then I read the blurb, and its final sentence worried me, but I was determined to trust that the woman who wrote Hot Under the Collar (which I loved) could not greatly err.  I was right.

The Lesson Plan has some of my favorite things: a cross dressing heroine; a slightly repressed hero who does things that are wildly out of character (or wildly in tune with his repressed — but true — self); a mad plan that goes awry; a masked man who looks — in my imagination, anyway, and that’s what really counts — like Westley/Dread Pirate Roberts; seemingly unrequited love that dates from adolescence; a heroine who is comfortable with her sexuality. It is steamy, fun, romantic, and a little bit sweet. In short, it was exactly what I wanted.

Hot Under the Collar (Lords of Lancashire #2)

Despite the old saw about third sons being destined for the church, no one ever expected the rakish, irresponsible Walter Langston to take up the collar, least of all himself. After an accident renders him unfit for military service, however, he has few other options. When he’s given the post of vicar at a parish church in a sleepy, coastal village, he’s convinced he’ll molder in obscurity. Instead, his arrival brings a sudden resurgence in church attendance…or at least, the attendance of female parishioners. As word of the eligible young vicar spreads, every well-heeled family for miles with a marriageable daughter fills his pews, aiming to catch his eye. Unfortunately for these hopeful members of his flock, Walter’s eye has already been caught—by the one woman who doesn’t come to church on Sundays.

Artemisia Finch left a lucrative career as a celebrated member of London’s demimondaine to care for her ailing father. Returning home hasn’t been easy, though, as her past isn’t even a well-kept secret in the village. When the new vicar arrives on her doorstep, Artemisia is determined to send him on his merry, pious way. But Walter Langston is nothing like any man of the cloth she’s ever known—he’s funny, irreverent, handsome, and tempting as sin. Falling in love with a vicar would be a very bad idea for a former courtesan. Why does this one have to be so hot under the collar?

I read and reviewed this book in 2012 in a multiple-review post, so I’m just going to copy the text that relates to Hot Under the Collar.

I was the lucky winner of a giveaway hosted by The Dashing Duchesses (always a fount of interesting information).  I love winning things, especially since it doesn’t happen very often, but I especially love winning things that I can really enjoy.  I enjoyed Hot Under the Collar, because it’s a fairly steamy romance novella with a happy-go-lucky vicar as the hero.  No kidding.

One of the things I love about the romance genre is that its authors often take the accepted assumptions about the time (for example that women were downtrodden waifs whose lives were completely controlled by men) and turn them around, writing novels with independent female characters who direct their own lives.  Hot Under the Collar does an excellent job of highlighting one of the cultural double standards of the time (and it’s still a double standard in our time, let me point out) that it was perfectly acceptable for men to have misadventures and then go on to be respectable members of society, but it was absolutely unacceptable for women to do the same, even if those “misadventures” were not really of their own doing.  So Walter is a respectable country vicar even though he spent his youth carousing brothels and gaming hells and being a general ne’er-do-well, but Artemisia is shunned by her community because she was fully compromised (in a family way) when she was sixteen, taken in by false promises of love.  Walter, as a vicar who doesn’t believe he has the right to judge anyone, ends up teaching morals and values to the entire community by behaving morally.

I loved this story and could not put it down.  Walter is glorious, funny, charming, and indomitable, and Artemisia, while generally accepting her circumstances, is confident and strong, exactly the sort of character whose story I want to read. The secondary characters add depth to the story, certainly more depth than I expected from a novella, and allow us to get to know Walter in his professional guise.

I know I’m gushing, but whatever.  The best books (my favorites, anyway) are the ones that make me feel better about humanity, and this one jumped to the top of my list of feel-good favorites.

Can’t Take the Heat (Working It #0.5)

Delaney Monroe could have married her college sweetheart, Wes Barrows, and lived the life of the idle rich thanks to his family’s casino money. Instead, she chose to become a firefighter. Unfortunately, that decision ended her relationship with Wes, who couldn’t bear the thought of her in such a dangerous profession. A little less than three years later, Del is one of the most respected members of her crew and loves her job, but she desperately misses Wes. Then, during a search and rescue operation, she’s knocked unconscious by falling debris.

Wesley Barrows finds himself with a major dilemma when his ex-girlfriend wakes from a serious head injury with no memory of the past few years or the circumstances that led to their breakup. On one hand, it’s the opportunity he’s longed for since he blew it and let her walk out the door. On the other, the fact that she’s got amnesia at all is the fault of the risky occupation she chose despite his objections. When her neurologist recommends that Delaney be allowed to recover her memory without being told what’s happened, Wes has no choice but take her home and act as if they’re still together, which isn’t a hardship when, in his heart, they always were. But as the bond between them becomes closer and more passionate than ever, Wes knows he risks losing her all over again when the truth comes out.

Having read two of Barbosa’s historical novellas, I decided to give one her contemporary stories a try. I love second-chance stories, in the same way that I love seemingly-unrequited-love-dating-from-adolescence stories… it’s the notion that the characters have all this baggage between them of a failed relationship or all their childish longing and have to sort it all out in order to reach happily ever after. (Maybe it won’t surprise you to hear that I married my adolescent love.) I like the inherent conflict in these kinds of stories, and I also like that this story type precludes my least favorite character trope: the character who’s opposed to love because of reasons /tangent. I was predisposed to like this story, but I was a little surprised by how much I liked it.

The blurb doesn’t prepare you for the cool way Barbosa handles the familiar second-chance-due-to-amnesia story line, and I love how sneaky it is. One minute you’re tracking along with all your expectations, and the next you’re like well, that was a surprise. And, if you’re like me, you’re thrilled that a contemporary novella had the power to surprise you, to run contrary to your expectations and still be completely enjoyable. I was also surprised by how steamy the sex scenes are (for reals… #buttsex).

My favorite thing about Can’t Take the Heat is that it features friendship in a big way. While Delaney ends up leaning on Wes after the accident, she runs to her best friend for comfort and conversation, and the scene between the two women is absolutely my favorite in the book. It reminded me so much of my own friendships. It is rare to find a book that authentically portrays friendship, and I think y’all should check this one out just for that and let everything else be a bonus.

For more information about Barbosa’s books, check out her website. If you’re curious about any of the books I highlighted here, simply click on the cover images above to visit their pages on Goodreads.

What I’ve been reading lately – you know, when I’m not watching the Olympics

99% of the time, I am not a sports fan.  I don’t care about any of the big sports in my country, I don’t play any sports myself, and I live in a kind of expectant terror that my daughters will develop an interest in soccer or softball or — God help me — basketball.  But then the Olympics come around, winter or summer, and all of that changes.

I don’t like sports, but goddamn: I love the Olympics.  So I’ve been glued to the TV and mobile app, mesmerized by the snowboarding (the men’s and women’s slopestyle events were AWESOME!), the skiing (who knew alpine skiing was so damn exciting? And the moguls? Holy crap!), the figure skating (Yulia Lipinitskaya and Yevgeny Plushenko: ’nuff said), the short-track speed skating (I could write some fan fiction about that Canadian guy who won gold in the 1500), the luge, the ski jumping… And I am beyond thrilled that women’s ski jumping will debut at this Olympics.

So, yeah… I haven’t been reading so much, but I did manage to spare some attention for a pair of books that made me laugh out loud on multiple occasions and had enough draw to capture (and hold) my attention away from men’s biathlon and men’s alpine downhill, respectively.

First up is Maisey Yates’s Crazy, Stupid Sex. 

The blurb, according to Goodreads:

How to Land the Hot Guy 1.0

A multimillionaire by the age of 27, app developer Evie James is clueless when it comes to hooking up. So she does what any self-respecting geek-girl looking to get laid would do: she programs her own app for landing a hot guy. After a few failed attempts at making contact, beta testing leads her to Caleb Anderson.

Caleb is used to female attention, but finds himself attracted to Evie because of her unique brand of awkward. A master of one-night stands, he’s more than happy to show her what she’s been missing in the bedroom. But he quickly discovers that one night with a woman like Evie will never be enough for him.

So, yeah. Crazy, Stupid Sex is basically Ryan Gosling + geek girl = LURVE fanfic, and it’s enormously entertaining.  Here’s a quick list of the things I loved about this book:

  1. Believably successful lady character.
  2. Excellent dialogue that incorporates ubiquitous geek references (the Doctor, LOTR paraphernalia, gaming enthusiasm, social awkwardness) with snappy wit.
  3. A unicorn burrito.
  4. References to a sex tip list, which is pretty much the only thing that comes to mind when I think of Cosmo.  Thankfully, Yates opted not to explore some of the more strange Cosmo sex tip offerings, such as using your feet instead of your hands and smearing food all over yourself and your partner.

I could have handled a slightly less angsty hero, a lot more sucking up at the end, a female friend for Evie, and a smidge more showing than telling, but I would still be happy to read this book a few more times just for the sheer fun of it.  Besides… it was more interesting than the men’s biathlon, and that’s really saying something.

And then there’s Misbehaving by Tiffany Reisz.

The blurb, according to Goodreads:

Wanted: Adventurous, open-minded man willing to try anything…
As a popular sex blogger, Beatriz gets paid to have orgasms. So being on deadline the week of her sister’s wedding isn’t as rough as it sounds. There’s just one hitch: Bea’s assignment is to write a review of a sex position manual, but she doesn’t have a plus one to play with.

The good news: Ben, the one who got away back in college, is also attending stag–and he’s as temptingly gorgeous as ever.  The bad news: Ben turned down Bea’s offer of graduation night sex five years ago.  The best news: He’s not planning on making the same mistake twice.

A red-hot retelling of Much Ado About Nothing for people who love Shakespeare but thought his plays could use a few more sex scenes.

So, when I say, “Erotic retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing,” you probably don’t think, “Awesome!” But you should, because, in the hands of Tiffany Reisz, it is.  Misbehaving translates the comedy of errors as a contemporary erotic romance and shines with wit and clever plotting.  As much an adaptation as a retelling, the book draws together elements from the original and creates something new that feels both authentic and original.

And it’s damn funny.

The sex scenes are classic Tiffany Reisz.  You won’t find any dripping petals or creaming or turgid manhood here.  Reisz acknowledges the awkwardness and the sexiness of real sex and calls attendant parts by their real names.  Personally, I prefer that approach to literary sex, because if I have to be reading about people getting it on, I’d rather do so without the distraction of strange euphemisms, the linguistic tip-toeing that transfers a feeling of junior high prurience onto my reading experience.

The bottom line is that this book is so much more interesting than men’s downhill alpine skiing, and that’s really saying something.  (For reals: incredibly fit men wearing spandex suits and skiing down a mountain at 80 mph is pretty damn interesting.)  So, when I say, “erotic retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing,” you should really say, “Hell yes.”

Crazy, Stupid Sex and Misbehaving were both released on Feb. 11, 2014 by Cosmo Hot Reads, an imprint of Harlequin.  For more information about the books, click on the cover images above to visit their respective pages on Goodreads.  For more information on the authors, check out Maisey Yates’s and Tiffany Reisz’s websites.  And, if you’re on the Twitter, you should seriously be following these two.  They are hilarious.  (For the lazy, here are the links for Maisey and Tiffany.)

*FTC Disclosure – I received e-galleys of these books from Cosmo Hot Reads from Harlequin via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My gushing about Olympic awesomeness was a bonus.*

Advent reads part one – three holiday novellas

I love pretty much everything about Advent.  The kitschy calendars, the weather, the music, the expectation.  Let me be clear about the music, though.  I’m not keen on listening to Christmas music before Christmas (Eve).  Nope — it’s Advent music that I love.

Well, really, you can’t go wrong with the Choir of Kings College, Cambridge, especially when they’re singing my favorite Advent anthem.

I have read (and am reading) a bunch of holiday-themed novellas so far this season, and I thought it might be fun to do a short series of Advent posts featuring these books and doing mini reviews.  I hope it’s fun for you, too.

Cover image, Heating up the Holidays novella anthology

When I heard that Mary Ann Rivers had a holiday novella coming out, I was all aflutter.  Heating up the Holidays is a 3-novella bundle featuring Play with Me by Lisa Renee Jones, Snowfall by Mary Ann Rivers, and After Midnight by Serena Bell.  My buddy Kim from Reflections of a Book Addict and I discussed all three novellas on her blog recently.  Check out our post.  While I wasn’t at all impressed by Play with Me (which I did finally finish after Kim and I wrote our review of it… and… wow. Underwhelming doesn’t even begin to describe it.), Snowfall and After Midnight are fantastic.  Snowfall is a Christmas novella about love, loss, fear, change, and stressed out E.coli bacteria.  After Midnight is a New Year’s novella about love, fresh starts, change, trust, and amazing first kisses.

Cover image, Matzoh and Mistletoe by Jodie Griffin

Matzoh and Mistletoe, a holiday novella with BDSM elements, grabbed my interest right from the blurb.  Every December twenty-fifth, Rebeccah Rickman volunteers through her synagogue so that others can celebrate Christmas. Her usual mitzvah, or good deed, is assisting police officer Jeremy Kohler. But this year is different: this year, Becca is free to act on the attraction that has long simmered between her and the sexy cop.  Jeremy couldn’t have asked for a better gift than discovering the woman he’s fantasized about for five long years is single. But when he learns about the violence that broke up Becca’s marriage, he’s hesitant to pursue her. He fears his desires will scare her away—but can’t deny his own need for control in the bedroom. Or his longing to instruct her in the fine art of submission… Becca is shocked to learn that Jeremy is a sexual dominant. And despite her past, she’s also aroused. But before she can explore what that means, she’s going to have to put her trust in Jeremy—and her own fledgling desires.  While Matzoh and Mistletoe was by no means perfect — the story line involving Becca’s ex didn’t quite resolve, and it felt a little bit as though Becca’s past abuse existed in the narrative only so the author could explore all the ways in which a D/s relationship is not abuse — it was still a charming read that I found very enjoyable, and it tells an interesting story.

Cover image, Once Upon a Highland Christmas by Sue-Ellen Welfonder

Earlier in the year, I read and enjoyed a book by Sue-Ellen Welfonder, so when I saw Once Upon a Highland Christmas (Scandalous Scots #0.5) come up on NetGalley, I wasted no time in requesting it.  I wish I had taken just a bit more time to think about it, because it turns out this story really was not up my alley.  Here’s my take on the blurb: This guy named Archie has decided that Christmas celebrations are for suckers, so he decrees that no one in his clan may be even remotely festive.  But this other guy named Grim and this lady named Breena are super festive, and they decide to invite all the neighbors to a Yuletide feast and thereby to rekindle the Christmas spirit in Archie. Along the way they fall in love.  Fans of Highland romance fiction or of Christmas stories that have a Scrooge-like character who finds redemption will probably enjoy this one, because it’s full of Highland charm and magic and definitely offers a strong theme of redemption and good cheer.  I felt that the romance elements were overshadowed by the festive themes and that there was not enough conflict in the romance story line to keep my interest as a reader.  That’s not to say that there isn’t any conflict at all, but it’s all external and seems to exist in the story more for the sake of there being some conflict than because there is any element that truly needs to be overcome in order for these characters to make a happy ending of it.

So there you go… three holiday novellas.  Stay tuned for more mini-reviews of holiday-themed novellas.  (I didn’t realize how many I had read until I started making a list… I read many!)  Have any of you been reading holiday-themed books this year?

Heating up the Holidays was released on October 28, 2013 as an e-book anthology by Loveswept.    Matzoh and Mistletoe was released on November 21, 2013 as an e-book by Carina Press.  Once Upon a Highland Christmas was released as an e-book on December 3, 2013 by Forever.  For more information about these books, please click on their cover images above to visit their Goodreads pages.

*FTC disclosure – I received e-galleys of all three books from their publishers via NetGalley in exchange for honest reviews.*

Review – The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers

So, I was putzing around on Twitter last month gushing to Ruthie Knox about how much I loved her newest release, and she let me on to a little secret that’s not so secret any more: Mary Ann Rivers is fantastic, funny, kind, insightful, and the author of one of the best novellas I’ve ever read.

Cover image, The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

In this eBook original novella, Mary Ann Rivers introduces a soulful and sexy tale of courage, sacrifice, and love.
 
I will meet you on Wednesdays at noon in Celebration Park. Kissing only.

Carrie West is happy with her life . . . isn’t she? But when she sees this provocative online ad, the thirtysomething librarian can’t help but be tempted. After all, the photo of the anonymous poster is far too attractive to ignore. And when Wednesday finally arrives, it brings a first kiss that’s hotter than any she’s ever imagined. Brian Newburgh is an attorney, but there’s more to his life . . . that he won’t share with Carrie. Determined to have more than just Wednesdays, Carrie embarks on a quest to learn Brian’s story, certain that he will be worth the cost. But is she ready to gamble her heart on a man who just might be The One . . . even though she has no idea how their love story will end?

This is a book that you need to read.  I’m not just advising, recommending, or suggesting.  I’m imploring, exhorting, begging, even demanding.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t read romance novels, you need to read this book.  (And, seriously, it’s $0.99.)

The Story Guy is about many things: how essential are connections with other people, how we can fill up a life with contentedness, with doing things, and going places, but how all of that can be compressed — almost distilled — to the essence of one’s life.  Above all, this book is about life: a life lived, a life survived, a life sacrificed, a life given in hour-long increments.  It’s also about kissing.  (And gussets get a shout out.)

It’s beautiful.  Rivers’ prose is lyrical and effortlessly deliberate.  When I turned the last page, I went right back to the first, because I just wasn’t done bathing in all that beautiful language, in that lovely focus.  I am convinced that Mary Ann Rivers could write about my mundane life and manage to make it beautiful; she would notice all the shiny details I ignore, all the moments that make life true, the moments that are the point of it all, really, but that we overlook in the hustle and bustle of getting things done.  She would point to those details and say, “that, right there, is why you struggle and work and endure every day.  Look at it.  Know why you’re living your life.”

That’s what The Story Guy did for me.  It made me look at my own life to wonder what I was doing with all my hours.  It made me want to live my life a bit more deliberately.  If that’s what Mary Ann Rivers can accomplish in a novella, a debut novella, I simply cannot wait to find out what she’ll do next.

The Story Guy was released on July 8, 2013 as an e-book by Loveswept, a division of Random House.  For more information about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  Learn more about Mary Ann Rivers by visiting her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley from Loveswept via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*