Advent reads part two – three more holiday novellas

I know you were totally thinking to yourself, “Books are great, Kelly, but what I really want is another video of an Advent carol.”  I knew it!

So I have three more holiday novellas to spotlight this week.  I loved one of them, thought one was enjoyable if a tad unremarkable, and did not at all like the third.

First up is the best of the bunch, Nina Rowan’s ‘Twas the Night Before Mischief. 

Cover image, ‘Twas the Night Before Mischief by Nina Rowan

‘Twas the night before mischief and all through the house, a lady was plotting—it was time to break out!

When Penelope Darlington is persuaded to elope with a most unsuitable suitor, she wastes no time. With visions of passion and adventure dancing in her head, she steals away in the middle of the night, just before her father’s Christmas feast.

Fearing for his daughter’s reputation, Henry Darlington begs Darius Hall, the Earl of Rushton’s daring yet discreet son, to bring Penelope home. When Darius finally catches up to Penelope, he is shocked. She’s not the silly little girl he expected, but a beautiful woman with a sharp mind and an allure that cannot be ignored.

Now forced to kidnap Penelope in order to bring her home, Darius and his new charge spend the next several days—and nights—in very close quarters. Penelope wanted passion and adventure, but she never could have imagined the pleasures Darius can provide…

‘Twas the Night Before Mischief is simply marvelous.  The characters are very well developed — especially considering the novella length — the story is interesting and well paced, and, perhaps most importantly, the romance is compelling.  My favorite thing about it is that the characters communicate imperfectly — Darius does not always understand what Penelope is trying to say, and Penelope frequently misunderstands Darius as well — but it isn’t obnoxious; actually, it feels natural, like how you’d expect two people who are getting to know one another to be.  As they spend time together, they get better at understanding.  It’s a fun little dose of reality in the middle of a historical romance novella.  I also loved the little details about Darius’ inventions and the nuances of Penelope’s relationship with her family.  All told, this is a fantastic novella, and I highly recommend it.

Next up is Jennifer Haymore’s His for Christmas.  I totally should have read the blurb all the way through (not just the first paragraph) before I read it.  I don’t think my opinion of the book would have materially changed, but I would have stopped expecting something a lot more interesting (and less straightforward) than what it is.  (It’s not necessarily an excuse, but you’ve noticed that blurbs are frequently lame and rarely give you an accurate idea of a story’s merit, right?  Anyway… sometimes I sort of skim the blurb, and sometimes I suck at skimming…)  Based on the first paragraph of the blurb, I was sort of expecting Lady Esme to appear as a character in this story, and I was hoping it would be super meta, with sections of Lady Esme’s erotic stories appearing in Esme’s own story.  I totally should have continued on to the 2nd paragraph.  But, seriously, wouldn’t that have been interesting?

Cover image, His for Christmas by Jennifer Haymore

Jennifer Haymore introduced sweet, but shy Lady Esme in The Duchess Hunt, the first novel in her House of Trent Series. But what readers may not know is that proper young Lady Esme has a secret: the youngest sister of the Duke of Trent privately pens erotic stories!

Society would never allow Lady Esme to share her own work, so her friend Jennifer Haymore is here to help—and just in time for Christmas!

His for Christmas is the steamy story of two travelers who find themselves stranded in an inn when an unexpected snowstorm blankets the English countryside. As the temperature drops, desire rises and the two strangers share a night of passion unlike anything either has ever experienced. When dawn breaks and the storm clears, will they continue on their separate journeys, or will they begin a new path together?

(Aside: just for the sake of my own sanity, I edited the above blurb, which I copied and pasted directly from Goodreads, to remove 3 spelling errors… “upexpected” “seperate” and “thier.”  In all honesty, if I had read the entire blurb, I would never have bothered reading the book, and that’s sad.)

His for Christmas tells the story of two homeward bound travelers, stranded at an inn during a winter storm.  These two were (sort of) childhood sweethearts until a sort-of-but-not-entirely betrayal forced them apart.  Now, with one recently widowed and one recently returned from a continental sojourn, they are able to discover the truth about the past and indulge in the passionate promise of the future.  The story was sweet, if a bit angsty, and I did actually enjoy it, but it lacked character development, and the story felt a bit rushed.  I know — it’s a novella, so I should be expecting those things — but novellas don’t have to live up to their reputation; they can, in fact, be perfect.  This novella certainly isn’t, but it does tell a lovely little story about forgiveness, trust, and sweet loving in a tiny bed.

And, finally, there’s Mistletoe and Magic a novella about a wackadoodle debutante, her gift of seeing the future, and the hero who inexplicably loves her (at first sight).

Cover image, Mistletoe and Magic by Katie Rose

In Katie Rose’s delightful eBook original novella set in Victorian New York City, a remarkable woman with the gift of second sight must learn to trust her visions while following her heart.
Blond, angelic Penelope Appleton possesses breathtaking looks—and a troublesome secret. She and her two charming—and newly married—sisters have inspired quite a following posing as spiritualists. However, unlike her clever sisters, Penelope actually does glimpse the future. On the eve of her coming out at a Christmas ball, Penelope sees a vision of a rakishly handsome dark-haired man who she knows is her destiny. But her premonition comes with a terrible price: She also foretells his death.

Jared Marton takes one look at Penelope and his fate is sealed. He must possess her, heart and soul, even if his efforts to get close to this ethereal beauty are thwarted by her determination to deny the magic between them . . . until a perfect kiss dissolves all barriers to sweet surrender. But when Jared discovers the burden she carries, a perfect love is challenged by the cold winds of fate.

So Mistletoe and Magic goes like this: Penelope meets Jared and is all OMG, dreamy! but then she has a psychic vision of his death, and she’s like, OMG, Heartbreak? GTFO!, but, meanwhile, Jared’s like Whoa… I think I’m in love! I’d better buy her all the things! Penelope doesn’t actually want him to die, but she’s far more invested in preventing heartbreak, so she sends him an anonymous note: Be careful! You’re in danger! and then proceeds to act totally crazy around him, gazing longingly in his general direction one moment and telling him to GTFO the next.  Jared doesn’t care that she’s cray, though, because she’s got nice tits.

Eventually, Penelope realizes she needs to start telling people that she has The Gift, so she does, one by one, in a series of increasingly uncomfortable scenes.  Then Jared’s parents find out he’s courting the crazy girl, and they’re like Nope. Nope Nope Nope Nope!!! And Jared’s like Whatever, whatever, I do what I want. But his parents reach out to Penelope, and she’s like Love is all about self-sacrifice, and Jared could do way better than me. Ima go cry now. But then Penelope remembers a crucial detail about her original vision — a newspaper headline, complete with the date, announcing Jared’s death — and she knows she’s got to tell Jared, so she goes to his house, alone, at night, to warn him.  You totally know what happens next, right?  Yeah.  So then Jared’s like We’re totally getting married now! and Penelope’s like Babe, for reals, don’t go to the shops next to your office tomorrow. Like, for serious, some dude is going to shoot you! And Jared’s like, Aww, babe, it’s super cute how you’re all worried about me. I promise, I’ll be careful. But then the next day, he’s like Ima buy an engagement ring for Penelope at this shop conveniently located right around the corner from my office! And… yeah.  Have you heard enough?

It’s been a while (possibly since Secrets and Lords) since I read a book with such a squirrelly heroine.  Honestly, Penelope… you see a vision of this guy that you’re already convinced is your destiny getting killed, and all you can think to do is not get involved with him?  Really?  Like it’s going to be OK if he gets killed as long as you aren’t adversely impacted by it? Ugh.  And then, at the end, this other dude ends up getting killed in Jared’s stead (wrong place, wrong time, wrong coat) and everyone’s all LOLZ Jared’s not dead! but no one even spares a thought about the dead guy?  And readers are supposed to be satisfied when these two monumentally selfish (and stupid) people get their happy ending?!  Terrible.

‘Twas the Night Before Mischief was released on December 10, 2013 as an e-book by Forever Yours.  His for Christmas was released on October 1, 2013 as an e-book by Forever Yours.  Mistletoe and Magic was released on October 14, 2013 as an e-book by Loveswept.  If you’re interested about any of these books, just click on the cover images above to visit their pages on Goodreads.

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

Intersection: romance novels and Flight of the Conchords

I’ve been just a wee bit Flight of the Conchords obsessed, lately.  I’ve had some random health issues and busy times at work, and when I’m stressed out and worried, I just want something funny.  So I created a playlist for my ipod that is jam packed with Eddie Izzard clips, Conchords songs, terrible amazing 90s hip hop, and cartoon themes.  The result is that I now associate penne alla arrabiatta with Darth Vader… and, of course, certain romance novels now remind me of Flight of the Conchords songs.

Cover image, Love Letters by Lori Brighton

A few weeks ago, The Dashing Duchesses listed some books that were on sale or free from the major retailers as part of a summer reading feature.  I love me some cheap books (if they’re good… or very amusing), so I was all over that list.  Love Letters is one of the items I picked up, free, and I am so glad I did.  Love Letters features two distinct novellas, The Art of Seduction and Meant for Me, as well as a preview/excerpt of To Seduce an Earl, the first book of Brighton’s newest series.  I liked Meant for Me a little better than The Art of Seduction, but both were fairly good, if a little paint-by-numbers, novellas.

Undoubtedly, my favorite part of Love Letters is the excerpt of To Seduce an Earl, in which the hero is a male prostitute.  Novelty is rare in romance novels.  There are simply a bajillion books about rakish (but heart o’ gold) lords (dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, and barons), alpha-male heroes of all walks, gentlemen-scholars, etc.  I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about a man-ho, and I have to admit I’m very intrigued.  The excerpt I read was almost Shakespearean with mistaken identity and intrigue aplenty.  (I love mistaken identity stories… not sure what that says about me.)  Anyway, in honor of To Seduce an Earl, here’s a video of the song that ran through my head while I read that excerpt.

Lori Brighton is a completely new author to me.  I have absolutely no idea who she is or what she normally writes, but I am 100% more likely to buy one of her books now that I’ve read a lengthy (and free) sampling of her work.  To be fair, though, she totally had me at male prostitute.  This collection shows that Brighton is a good writer whose style I enjoy, for the most part.  (I did question a few things, such as how long clay residue would remain on one’s hands once one had rubbed said hands all over someone else’s body… at some point doesn’t one run out of clay residue to spread around? Just how gunky with clay were his hands?!)  There were some editing issues that caught my attention, but it’s difficult to muster a lot of irritation for such a thing when the item in question is free.

OH MY GOD!  I thought I should explain the Darth Vader/penne alla arrabiata combo… and I found this.  I think I just had a moment of squee…

This week in reading…

I was a little bit light on reading this week.  I spent so much time writing posts and checking out other blogs (and commenting) during Armchair BEA that I didn’t read as much during the day, and I barely read at all this weekend (all that gardening!).  All told, it was a bit of an indifferent week in reading.

Cover image, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer

Yeah, I read it.  I don’t really get the Texas thing, but there are a butt-ton of romance novels dedicated to cowboys and/or folk from Texas.  Don’t get me wrong,Texas is A-OK with me, and I’m certainly not messing with it, I just don’t get all kinds of excited about books set in Texas.  But it was free, and I was curious.  My favorite thing about this book is the little kid, even though she totally has a trailer-park name (Sammie Jo).  The kid is 15 months old at the start of the book, and although it’s tough to track the passage of time across the length of the book, I suspect she’s about 17 months old at the end of the book.

I have a 3-year-old and a 16-month-old, so I was automatically drawn to Sammie Jo, and I really think Hestand nailed her portrayal of the toddler.  Maybe I wouldn’t have even noticed this sort of thing before I had kids, but it really bugs me when authors include kids and then get all the details wrong.  12-month-olds can’t jump.  Seriously.  Babies who are just starting to talk can’t hit final consonants and can’t properly enunciate combination consonants “br,” “sl,” etc.  Hell, my 3-year-old still can’t do any of that stuff (all combination consonants become “f” for some odd reason…).  So I was beyond thrilled to meet Sammie Jo and discover her doing things an actual 15-month-old would do.  I was also charmed by the relationship between Emma, Sammie Jo’s guardian (and the actual main character of the book…), and the little girl.  Actually, I loved everything relating to Sammie Jo in this book.  All of the characters responded to her exactly as you’d expect, from the grandpa-like older man to the ‘gonna-be-very-good-dads-one-day’ brothers of the main male character.

I didn’t like very much else about the book.  The pacing was strange, and the character development left a bit to be desired.  If the book didn’t keep on telling me how attracted the main characters were to one another, I’d never have guessed.  It annoys me when a narrator has to tell me what’s going on rather than my finding out through action or dialogue.  The ending was rushed and awkward and didn’t really tie-up all the loose ends. And, seriously, it ends at a cow birthing…  Maybe that’s totally sexy to people who get the whole Texas thing, but it just irritated me.

Awesome cover image, The Bride and the Brute by Laurel O’Donnell

Just had to show this cover full size…  I love the lightning-struck castle.  My remarks on this book require a preface: it’s a novella, and it was free.  Most of the novellas I’ve read have been terrible.  You get the idea while reading them that the author started out hoping to write a full novel and just didn’t have enough story (or time).  They don’t have to be bad (Once Upon a Winter’s Eve by Tessa Dare was pretty great), but they usually are.  This one was pretty bad, but not for the usual reasons.  It was obvious that this book was designed from start to finish to fit within novella length, so what went wrong?  Well…

1.  In a book set in England in 1392, I was a bit surprised to encounter characters named Jayce, Reese, Nicole, Morse, and Dylan.  Jarring, that.
2.  Reese, the male character, is a prize asshole for most of the book, and I just didn’t feel like rooting for him when he finally decided to overcome his own issues and chase down his girl.  And, in a novella, it shouldn’t have felt like “finally,” but it did.
3.  Jayce, the female character, is almost completely flat.  She really only has two character traits: she’s afraid of storms, and she feels strongly about the correct way to break in difficult horses.  I am not kidding.

So why did I keep reading it?  Honestly, when you’re reading a book that’s so short, there’s no reason to DNF the thing, and usually a sick curiosity comes over me.  I want to find out what happens at the end.  The Bride and the Brute rewards you for your patience (ish… it depends on how you define reward), and that was enough to make me glad I finished it.

Cover image, One Week as Lovers by Victoria Dahl

I finished this book last Monday, and I think I’ve decided that I liked it, but I had to overcome some reservations in order to reach that conclusion.  I do recommend it as an interesting and somewhat edgy romance novel (that’s an unusual word combination right there… when was the last time ‘edgy’ was associated with the romance genre?), but it’s fairly intense and probably wouldn’t suit everyone.  I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy it when romance authors push the envelope with their characters and give them real problems to deal with.  Dahl did that with both of her characters, particularly Lancaster, the male character.  Part of the fun of the book is slowly uncovering all his issues, so I won’t go into any of that.   (I felt like a total voyeur when I was reading this book, but it was very interesting to put together the puzzle of his behavior with the knowledge of what caused it.)  Suffice it to say that both characters are lugging around a metric-ton of baggage, yet the writing doesn’t suffer from all of that emotional weight.  The characters are well-written and their choices and actions make sense given their experiences.

Anyway, the real problem I had with the book was the sex scenes.  I get it: if you have characters who have both suffered sexual trauma of some sort, you’re going to end up with somewhat messed-up sex scenes.  They make perfect sense, but that doesn’t mean that I enjoyed reading them.  There’s zero comparison between One Week as Lovers and Fifty Shades of Grey, really, but I am even less inclined to read the latter now that I’ve read the former. If I had such a strong reaction to the relatively mild stuff that happens in One Week as Lovers, there’s no way I’d be able to get through Fifty Shades of Grey.