Review – A Promise of More by Bronwen Evans

HI. It’s been a while, I know. I’ve been reading, but I have not had very much time lately for writing. I am hoping that over the next few weeks I can catch up a bit on my backlog of reviews. We’ll see how that goes.

I read A Promise of More in early April, and…well, I should let this tweet speak for me.

When Beatrice Hennessey sets out to confront Lord Coldhurst, the notorious rogue who killed her brother in a duel, her intent is to save her family from destitution. She’s determined to blackmail the man into a loveless marriage. She’ll make the wealthy Lord Coldhurst pay for the rest of his life. But while greeting his ship, Beatrice takes a tumble into the Thames—only to be fished out by a pair of strong masculine arms that tempt her to stay locked in their heated embrace forever. That is, until she realizes those arms belong to Sebastian Hawkestone, Lord Coldhurst himself.
The little drowned mermaid has an interesting proposition indeed; one that Sebastian is surprised to find quite agreeable. Although he’s had women more beautiful, she is pleasing to the eye, and besides, it’s time he fathered an heir. Beatrice promises to be the ideal wife; a woman who hates him with an all-consuming passion is far too sensible to expect romance. However, it isn’t long before Sebastian’s plan for a marriage of convenience unravels, and he’s caught up in the exhilarating undertow of seduction.

You may remember that I read (and was ambivalent about) the first book in this series, A Kiss of LiesI had fairly high expectations for A Promise of More based on the many things I enjoyed about the first book. I expected well-wrought characters, good writing, an interesting, fast-moving plot, and a compelling romance. I hoped that it wouldn’t contain any distressing social missteps. Maybe it’s my fault for expecting so much, but I was utterly confounded by A Promise of More. The characters made no sense, the writing was frequently weak, the plot was kinda crazy, and the romance was… well… not compelling.

In fact, I felt like I was reading my 32nd Stephanie Laurens book, if Laurens had fired all her editors and lost her mind a little bit.

Sebastian reminded me of the hero of All About PassionBoth heroes are convinced that love and passion are the source of all evil in a relationship and seek to marry women for whom they feel no passion; both heroes are thwarted in their goal and end up — through pure male stupidity — married to women for whom their loins BURN (but not in an STI way, thank goodness); both heroes spend an uncomfortable amount of time trying to deny the passion and love they feel, trying to convince the heroines that they will never, ever love them. Also, both heroes are total douche ponies.

Beatrice reminded me a little bit of all of Laurens’ heroines, because her entire character arc was focused — once she realized that Sebastian wasn’t a murderer — on getting Sebastian to say the magic words, “I love you.” I’m not exaggerating.

A Promise of More also has an intrigue plot (just like every Laurens book). The thing is, when the conflict between the characters is as lame as one character saying, “I will never love you, because I am opposed to love!” and the other character saying, “I am going to get you to admit that you love me, because… reasons!” you really need a solid intrigue plot to move things along and keep people reading. This book had a mystery — who killed Doogie?! — and an obvious and rapetastic villain who would have been improved by a sinister mustache. There is also an irritating she-villain. (Further, the intrigue plot is a bit problematic. It relies heavily on violence and the threat of violence against the heroine, and there is an actual ripped bodice.)

I might not have noticed the parallels between this book and Laurens’ canon — strangely enough — if the first sex scene in A Promise of More had not included a reference to flying and stars bursting and firestorms of desire. Laurens is famous for writing OTT sex scenes that are incredibly descriptive and employ strange, celestial references. Evans seems to be following in those footsteps. After that first star burst, the other similarities just stuck out to me.

I read an ARC, so it’s possible that some of the weird stuff in the book got cleaned up in a last-minute bit of editing. (I hope so.) There are plenty of conversations wherein the characters repeat themselves, and there was one hilarious moment where the heroine — who had been hanging onto the bed during some naked gymnastics — was suddenly clinging to the “bed head.” These things are minor and easily overlooked when the rest of the book is interesting; but when the rest of the book reminds you of a Stephanie Laurens book, it’s hard not to notice and be irritated by editing issues.

So where does this leave me? Except for one thing, I enjoyed the first book in the series, and I am inclined to hope that this book’s issues are a fluke. I’m not sure what it means about me that I could spend an entire post detailing all the things I disliked about a book and then conclude that I’ll happily pony up to read the next one… but it’s true.

A Promise of More was released on April 15, 2014 as an e-book by Loveswept. If you’re curious about the book, click on the cover image above to visit its page on Goodreads. To learn more about Bronwen Evans, check out her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley for review consideration from the publisher via NetGalley.*

Some thoughts on romance novels and female friendship

I read Tawny Weber’s A SEAL’s Salvation last week.  I liked a lot of things about the book, but I found its depiction of female friendship rather problematic.  I’m hoping it’s just me.

 Here’s the blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Where navy SEAL “Bad Ass” Brody Lane goes, trouble follows. Being run out of his hometown years ago for misbehaving with Genna Reilly—the sheriff’s daughter—was one thing. Now Brody is about to step into real danger. Not the suggestive letters he’s been exchanging with Genna, but the kind of trouble that can send a soldier home injured and broken inside…

Genna’s entire life has been orchestrated by her family. The right job. The right friends. Enough! Brody’s return offers the promise of lust-filled pleasures. Of flesh teased and tasted. She’s not expecting to find a soldier with distant eyes who has secluded himself from the world. But this good girl knows exactly how to bring a bad boy back to life….

Some of you probably know already why I wanted to read this book.  It’s that injured hero trope, calling out to my soul and promising compelling and emotionally satisfying entertainment.  And the blurb also hinted at one of my favorite heroine tropes: the heroine who gets her shit together and embraces her true self.  It was a foregone conclusion that I’d enjoy the story, considering the elements it’s composed of, and I did.

I loved Genna’s penchant for baking, for example, and her moxie and entrepreneurship.  I loved Brody’s Grandma.  I loved Brody.  And those letters Genna and Brody exchanged before his injury were absolutely my favorite part of the book.

In fact, I liked pretty much every element of the story except one: Genna’s friends.  Maybe I’m just the luckiest damn person on the planet for having truly awesome women as friends (I totally am), and maybe that extreme good luck skews my perception of reality, but I really find it jarring when female friends in romance novels are depicted as crazy bitches or just as bad friends.

At the beginning of A SEAL’s Salvation, Genna’s best friend Macy is living with her while planning all the last-minute details before her epic, but ultimately rather sad, wedding.  Macy spends a lot of time trying to convince Genna to date this guy whom Genna doesn’t like, doesn’t find attractive, and who kind of creeped her out on their first and only date (he collects troll dolls.).  When Genna points out all the reasons that she doesn’t want to date troll-collecting Stewart, Macy suggests that maybe Genna should go out with Stewart anyway, because it would make Genna’s parents so happy.

Later on, Macy — who thinks Brody is a Very Bad Guy — threatens to tell Genna’s outrageously overprotective parents about their relationship because… ?? Genna is 27 years old.  And this is Genna’s best friend.  In every appearance in the book, Macy is critical of Genna and dismissive of Brody (and not even because she’s genuinely concerned for Genna).  In Genna’s darkest hour towards the end of the book (between conflict and resolution), her last wish is to call her friends.  She’d rather be alone, and that makes perfect sense. Her friends suck.

Now… I’m sorry, but that’s just not friendship, and it makes me feel ragey.  And, again, maybe I’m just the luckiest woman alive to have such super awesome lady friends (and a few dudes, as well) — none of my friends would ever try to push me into dating any dude who didn’t light my fire (it’s moot, but whatever) and none of them would ever EVAR so disrespect my judgment as to tattle on me, a grown woman!, to my parents.  Come the fuck on — but I doubt I’m the only woman with fantastic friends, and it drives me wonky when this real friendship, often the most important thing in a woman’s life, doesn’t show up in the romance novels I read.

So, last week I wrote on Book Bloggers International about romance novels as entertainment, catharsis, and activism, and I paid particular attention to Courtney Milan’s entire body of work (but I highlighted her most recent release, The Countess Conspiracy), Tessa Dare’s latest, Romancing the Duke, and Robin York’s New Adult release, Deeper.  Do you know what else those three books have in common?  Awesome depictions of friendship.

The Countess Conspiracy is the latest in Courtney Milan’s Brothers Sinister series, and it tackles some pretty hefty subjects, most of which are best discovered while reading the book.  (As an aside, one of my favorite things about Milan’s writing is that she respects her characters’ privacy and allows them to reveal themselves to readers over the course of the book.)  This book so beautifully depicts female friendship.  Between Jane, Minnie, and Violet, there develops a true friendship based on mutual appreciation and respect (Jane and Minnie are the heroines of the first two full novels in this series.).  Between Violet and Alice there develops a friendship between equals and colleagues that is a wonder to behold because of its resemblance to friendship among male colleagues, and yet it is uniquely feminine and the more powerful because of that femininity.  I wish we got to see more of it (but I understand that it’s sort of beside the point, as far as the narrative is concerned.)

Kim (from Reflections of a Book Addict) and I wrote another of our dueling reviews (this one with an actual disagreement in it!) about Romancing the Duke, Tessa Dare’s latest, that discusses the important role friendship plays in the book.  I’m not going to bother reiterating our arguments here… so go check it out!  It’s pretty great, I think.

Finally, there’s Robin York’s Deeper, wherein heroine Caroline (I just had to put those three words together. Sorry.) finds herself the victim of revenge porn attacks started by her slimeball of an ex-boyfriend and picked up by a cadre of trolls who use images of her naked body to shame and dehumanize her.  In the wake of all these revenge porn attacks — that occur not just once and done but again and again and again — Caroline and West forge a cautious not-quite-friendship that is the focus of this book told in shifting-perspective, first-person-present narration.  But it is through Caroline’s friendships with her roommate, the members of the rugby team she joins, and, to an extent, with West’s roommate (Sorry — I’m awful with remembering character names, and I don’t have my copy of the book with me) that Caroline discovers her strength and begins to heal.

So, there you go.  If you find yourself interested in any of these books, just click on their cover images to be transported to their page on Goodreads.  A SEAL’s Salvation was released on January 21, 2014 by Harlequin.  For more information about Tawny Weber, check out her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of A SEAL’s Salvation from Harlequin via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I purchased the other books.*

Review – Once She Was Tempted by Anne Barton

So, a month ago, I mentioned that I had eagerly anticipated the release of Once She Was Tempted and that I was going to do a post about it in late October.  Yeah.  Well, that obviously didn’t happen.

cover image, Once She Was Tempted by Anne Barton

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

A Portrait of a Lady

…or is it? The risqué painting owned by Benjamin Elliot, the earl of Foxburn, features a stunning beauty with sapphire eyes, golden hair, and creamy skin. Ben recognizes this particular English rose the instant he meets her—though she’s wearing considerably more clothing. In person, the demure debutante is even more irresistible…

In desperate need of money for her sick mother, Daphne Honeycote had posed for two scandalous portraits. Now she must hide her secret to save the Honeycote family name. Ben’s possession of one painting makes him an insufferable thorn in her side—and yet he may be her best chance at finding the canvas’s companion. As she becomes drawn to the dark-tempered earl, can Daphne risk laying bare the secrets of her heart?

I loved this book.  It has:

  1. A grumpy hero.  I love those, and some of you know why.  This particular grumpy-pants McGee has an injury from the war, a pile of grief from the death of his best friend, and — OF COURSE — a heart of gold.
  2. A beauty and the beast vibe.
  3. A dialogue about morality and how it changes for different social and economic classes and about how something can be right and “immoral” or wrong and “moral.”  Also about how folk shouldn’t judge.  It’s possible I read all of this into the story, but I’m nearly positive the seeds are all there.
  4. A satisfying ending.  Seriously, I danced a little. Might have looked like this.

But there weren’t any witnesses.

I’m not saying the book is perfect, of course.  There’s this weird bit in the middle where the characters decamp to the country to try to locate the other painting and end up stumbling across a severe case of elder abuse, and the painting ends up falling into the hands of a Terribly Inept Villain (the elder abuser, as it happens).  That villain really had to be inept, because Ben’s plan to save Daphne from exposure and social ruin is a little convoluted and also slightly impossible (even with a drying agent added in — and I have no idea whether drying agents are historically accurate to the early 1800s… — oil paint takes much longer than overnight to dry… soooo…).  Luckily, Daphne didn’t actually need Ben to save her. She saved herself.

Back to the dancing.

It may seem (for good reason) as though this review is just a shameless excuse to revel in ridiculous viral videos from days of yore.  And it kind of is, but that’s just because I’m in a strange mood.

The thing is, I loved this book because it beautifully (and subtly) demonstrates everything that’s wrong about objectifying women and punishing women for being objectified.  Grumpy-pants McGee (I really prefer this name to Ben) starts out the book jumping to false conclusions about Daphne’s character based on a “racy” painting of her that he owns and fantasizes about. (And it’s interesting that Ben initially places the blame for those fantasies onto Daphne, as though she’s somehow responsible for his impure thoughts.)  Eventually, he gets to know her and realizes she’s not one of “those” women.

Now… that sort of thing could get me all ragey, especially because Ben takes another tack.  If Daphne isn’t one of “those” women, then she must be a victim of circumstances, of the nefarious artist who took advantage of her, who had her pose for hours at a time, a victim of the reclusive gentleman who commissioned the paintings.

But Daphne counters with a different possibility.  What if, instead of being either a bad girl or a good girl who’s been led astray, she’s just a woman who chose to help her family when she had the chance.  What if the painting is just a painting rather than a personification of Daphne’s sexual history (and possible sexual future)?

What a novel idea.

Once She Was Tempted was released on October 29, 2013 as an e-book and mass market by Forever. To learn more about the book, click on the cover image above to visit its page on Goodreads.  For more information about Anne Barton, please check out her website or Twitter.

Review – Driving Her Wild by Meg Maguire

Last month, just a few days after I finished reading Driving Her Wild, I saw this post on Romance Novels for Feminists about cross-class romances, and it encouraged me to delve a little deeper in my thinking about this book.  (As an aside, that blog is fantastic; you should check it out.)  While the characters in Maguire’s book are actually from the same working-class background, the book is chock full of conversations about socioeconomic and cultural issues, and it seemed to me that it contained a narrative about class, despite the characters’ similar backgrounds.

Cover image, Driving Her Wild by Meg Maguire

First off, the publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Winning is good. Succumbing is even better…


Recently retired pro MMA fighter Steph Healy is through having rough-and-tumble romps with sexy blue-collar dudes. Unfortunately, Wilinski’s Fight Academy has hired an electrician with a body built to make a gal weep. And avoiding some full-body contact is taking all of Steph’s self-control.


Carpenter-turned-electrician Patrick Doherty is damn good with his hands. Sure, he’s not what Steph is looking for—yet. But he’s about to prove that she has seriously underestimated her opponent…


The moment Patrick has her deliciously pinned, Steph knows she’s in deep, deep trouble. Because this seemingly mild carpenter has the mastery to give her exactly what she needs…and this is one takedown she’s willing to take lying down!

Your eyes did not deceive you: the heroine is a retired pro mixed martial art (MMA) fighter, and the hero is, at first glance, a bumbling electrician with a poor sense of vocation.  It turns out, though, that he’s actually an amazingly talented custom carpenter who, thanks to the economy, has to take lower-paying electrician work that he kind of sucks at, but he’ll do anything to keep from foreclosing on his house.

It would be easy to read this book and pay attention only to surface things — and still enjoy the heck out of it.  The chemistry between Patrick and Steph is incredible; the romance is upbeat and fun; the characters are great, an excellent blend of soft and sharp.  But Driving Her Wild, like all my favorite romance novels, has more to offer the world.

After years of relationships with blue-collar guys like her brothers — the guys from back home — or with other fighters — professional nomads — Steph starts the novel resolved to find a guy with whom she can settle down and maybe start a family, and she wants to find someone who is financially steady.  Having grown up in scarcity and want, she wants a future free from that gnawing worry about money that is the constant companion of those who have not quite enough.

But Steph meets Patrick, a divorcee struggling to manage a mortgage that is slightly bigger than he can handle on his own, a man who appears to be an amalgam of all the guys she’s already dated — kind, well-meaning, a little clumsy — and who seems to offer a future she’s already rejected, a future of struggle and want not quite balanced by companionship and amazing sex.

It’s a romance novel, so you can probably assume that she eventually realizes that a future with Patrick is worth it, and all those concerns about money are superficial and a little bit awful.  The beauty of this novel, however, is that Meg Maguire doesn’t force Steph to choose love over security, and she doesn’t introduce some windfall to render the choice moot (they don’t, for instance, win the lottery or receive an unexpected inheritance that solves all their problems).  Instead, Maguire allows Steph to see Patrick clearly and to ruminate a bit on the idea of a relationship as a partnership.

Now, maybe you need to take me with a grain of salt, because I just read one of those billionaire/ingenue stories (shudder), but it seems to me that a story like Driving Her Wild with its portrayal of the economic realities shared by so many of us is important and helpful.  I, personally, found it reassuring in a way that no fantasy tale of a bajillionaire lover could ever be.  Instead of encouraging me to hide from the realities of life, this book encourages me to look at them from a different, more positive perspective, to find the love and beauty in everyday life.

I honestly can’t recommend this book enough…

Driving Her Wild was released on October 22, 2013 as an e-book and paperback by Harlequin Blaze.  To learn more about the book, click on the cover image above to visit its page on Goodreads.  For more information about Meg Maguire, check out her website or Twitter.

Review – So Tough to Tame by Victoria Dahl

I got home yesterday from an epic trip to Las Vegas with some other book bloggers.  After three days of fascinating conversation, champagne, and the weirdest hotel room bathroom I’ve ever seen, it feels rather strange to be home (but good, of course).  I learned many things this weekend, including:

  1. Some women really will wear skirts so short that they can neither sit nor walk nor dance nor bend in any way without utterly exposing their ass cheeks and lady parts.  Further, they might even think they look sexy while perched awkwardly on freaky heels, adjusting their skirts every few seconds.  What is interesting to me is that I simultaneously felt a fun mix of disdain and pity for these women and a hearty, self-inflicted dose of sartorial inadequacy.
  2. 2013-10-12 14.29.32These shoes exist; they aren’t as high priced as I would have expected; and (thank God) they don’t come in my size.
  3. I really do need to read Gone with the Wind and quick.
  4. It is an amazing, sharpening experience to talk about books with women who write about books.
  5. It is past time for me to catch up on my review backlog.

Without further ado, then…

Cover image, So Tough to Tame by Victoria Dahl

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Tough to tame, but not too tough to love… Charlie Allington is supposed to be on the fast track to the top — a small-town girl who was making it big in her career. Instead, she’s reeling from a scandal that’s pretty much burned all her bridges. Now, out of options, she needs a place to lick her wounds and figure out her future. True, working at a ski resort in rugged Jackson Hole, Wyoming, isn’t her dream job. But if there’s one perk to coming back, it’s a certain sexy hometown boy who knows how to make a girl feel welcome.

Cowboy Walker Pearce never expected a grown-up Charlie to be temptation in tight jeans. She’s smart and successful — way out of league for a man like him. But he’s not about to let that, or his secrets, get in the way of their blazing-hot attraction. Yet when passion turns to something more, will the truth — about both of them — send her out of his life for good…or into his arms forever?

I read So Tough to Tame two months ago, enjoyed it, and fully expected to have a review up in a much more timely manner, but I had a hard time writing about it, and I’m still not completely sure why.

Dahl’s writing is fun and sharp and quick (and velvety), and I enjoy the hell out of her books.  Part of what I love so much is that she’s writing these edgy, contemporary romances in an unlikely setting.  Who would expect a book that dips its toe in hookup culture to be set in Jackson Hole with a cowboy hero?  I love it!  When I pick up Dahl’s books, I keep expecting — based on the setting and my limited experience of Rocky Mountain geography and culture — an All American Romance complete with a rugged cowboy hero who has no use for love, a down-on-her-luck heroine who makes a fine cup of coffee and somehow finds herself stranded on his ranch, and, eventually, a baby.  But Dahl isn’t writing a western romance.  So Tough to Tame is contemporary through and through.

The contemporary voice really comes through with Charlie’s character.  She’s set up as a fairly classic smart/good girl character.  She did well in school, made all the right choices in high school, tutored Walker, and was not overtly sexual in her girlhood, but (as an adult) instead of her possessing the passive attitude toward sexuality that I was culturally trained to expect from a smart/good girl character, one whose sexuality would typically be nurtured into a full flowering (if you’ll pardon the pun) by Walker, Charlie is confident in and aware of her own sexuality from the start.

I can’t decide whether it’s more remarkable that Charlie’s approach to sexual encounters with Walker is so straightforward or that I still find that approach remarkable in this day and age.  I honestly don’t know.  The vast majority of the romance novels that I read feature heroines who discover their sexuality and enjoyment of sex through their encounters with the hero.  (Caveat: that last sentence is not scientific evidence that proves any point, of course. I haven’t read all the books, and it’s possible that my brain is conveniently forgetting all those torrid novels featuring heroines who know what they want — and how to get it — out of sexual encounters.)  I just thought it was an interesting enough point to provoke a tangent.

In most romance novels, when the hero and heroine get down to business, it’s accurate to say they’re in a “sexual relationship.”  Frequently, it is that sexual relationship that furthers the characters’ intimacy and pushes them towards “falling in love.”  The term “sexual relationship” doesn’t really apply to this book, however.  Charlie and Walker enter fairly quickly into a series of sexual encounters, but their relationship is furthered more by their developing friendship than their physical intimacy.  I found that rather interesting and refreshing.

I have (somewhat inadvertently) focused on sex in this review, but there’s a lot more to the book than smokin’ hot love scenes.  So Tough to Tame has sharp humor, a spunky old-lady character, interesting family dynamics, a cleverly-written redemption story line, an interesting dialogue on the shaming of women who embrace their sexuality, and, of course, smokin’ hot love scenes.

And it has Walker.  He’s pretty great, too.

So Tough to Tame was released on September 24, 2013 as an e-book and paperback by Harlequin HQN.  To learn more about the book, click on the cover image above to visit its page on Goodreads. To learn more about Victoria Dahl, check out her website or Twitter.

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

Review – Sometimes a Rogue by Mary Jo Putney

So I’m still sick (seriously, I think I came down with the plague… this chest cold / allergy attack / sinus infection — whatever the hell it is — just won’t go away), but I really wanted to get a post up today so I could gush about something completely unrelated to the book I’m about to discuss.  My sister brought a beautiful baby boy into the world yesterday. I’m going to have so much fun spoiling my nephew.  (He’s such a cutie patooty.)

Right.  On with the review.

Cover image, Sometimes a Rogue by Mary Jo Putney

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:


Even the most proper young lady yearns for adventure. But when the very well bred Miss Sarah Clarke-Townsend impulsively takes the place of her pregnant twin, it puts her own life at risk. If the kidnappers after her sister discover they’ve abducted Sarah instead, she will surely pay with her life…

A Rogue…

Rob Carmichael survived his disastrous family by turning his back on his heritage and becoming a formidable Bow Street Runner with a talent for rescuing damsels in distress. But Sarah is one damsel who is equal to whatever comes. Whether racing across Ireland with her roguish rescuer or throwing herself into his arms, she challenges Rob at every turn.

This book struck me as being well written but not necessarily well crafted. It had complete sentences and deft descriptions that provided enough detail but not so much that I was distracted by it. It had a fast-paced adventure story that was entertaining. It had a romance. But it didn’t put all these elements together all that well, and it didn’t have much in the way of character development. As a result, though I was entertained by the adventure story, I didn’t see the point of it.

Rob and Sarah seemed to passively float through the adventure and the subsequent settling-in at Rob’s run-down estate; they didn’t actively participate in the story, changing and being changed by each other, the external forces at work, etc. They were cardboard cut outs that kissed when it was right for the pacing of the story, not when it was right for them as characters. It was a little bit disturbing, to be honest.

Also, there were times when I felt like I was reading one of Stephanie Laurens’ more recent books, except that this book didn’t have any supremely weird sex scenes (for which I am thankful), and Rob was not quite a Laurens-style hero.  It was the adventure that did it: a kidnapping plot–foiled by a dashing rescue–and the characters scampering about the countryside ducking villains at every turn.

Lastly, this book did not entirely work as a standalone story.  Many of the facts that establish these characters and enable one to comprehend why they are doing what they are doing are based in previous books in this series, and Putney did not put a lot of effort into bringing new readers up to speed.  I spent much of the book confused by the characters, but folk who have read the other books in the series might like this one just fine.

One element that I did very much enjoy was the relationship between Rob and his grandmother, because their relationship actually developed over the course of the story (and because I love me a snarky old-lady character, and our introduction to Rob’s grandmother is with her poking his unconscious body rather disdainfully with her cane.  Is it weird that I loved that snippet of the scene?).

I wish I had picked a different first Mary Jo Putney book to read. From the reviews that I’ve very briefly scanned on Goodreads, it seems that her earlier books might be way more up my alley than this one was.  Have any of you read a Mary Jo Putney book that you can recommend?

Sometimes a Rogue was released on August 27, 2013 as a paperback and e-book by Zebra, an imprint of Kensington Books.  For more information about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  To learn more about Mary Jo Putney, please visit her website.

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

Review – A Rake’s Midnight Kiss by Anna Campbell

I know you read and memorize every word I write here, so you know I was a bit ambivalent about Days of Rakes and Roses, my introduction to Anna Campbell’s writing.  Don’t get me wrong: the writing was good, but I had some issues with the hero and with the book’s apparent acceptance of the double standard that allows men to screw any woman who doesn’t move faster but expects women to sit around chaste (and bored) until such time as a man sees fit to give them something to do (if you know what I mean).  One of my book buddies suggested I try out some of Campbell’s earlier books, especially Untouched.  I did, and I loved.  So I was very pleased to see A Rake’s Midnight Kiss come up on NetGalley, and I rushed to request it.

Cover image, A Rake’s Midnight Kiss by Anna Campbell

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

It Takes A Lady

Brilliant scholar Genevieve Barrett knows how to keep a secret. Her identity as the author of her father’s academic articles has always been her greatest deception—until a charming housebreaker tries to steal the mysterious Harmsworth Jewel from her. She doesn’t reveal that she recognizes her father’s devastatingly handsome new student as the thief himself. For Genevieve, this will be the most seductive secret of all…

To Catch A Thief

Sir Richard Harmsworth has been living a lie, maintaining a rakish façade to show society that he doesn’t care about his status as a bastard. Yet long haunted by his unknown father’s identity, Richard believes the Harmsworth Jewel will confirm his claim as the rightful heir. But when Richard sets out to seduce the bookworm who possesses the stone, he instead falls for its beautiful owner. But even as she steals Richard’s heart, Genevieve will be in greater danger than her coveted treasure…

There was one (big) thing that I took exception to in this book, but there were lots and lots things that I liked about it.  I’ll start with that list, because it’s a lot less ranty.

  1. Genevieve is a scholar, and her expertise, while problematic for her relationship with her father, is acknowledged by all the menfolk in the book.  It’s particularly telling that Sr Richard notices and values Genevieve’s scholarship. (That was one of the things I liked best about him, through the book’s first half.)
  2. Genevieve and her father have a difficult relationship, and I liked how Campbell wasn’t afraid to make it messy.  Genevieve is conflicted by her simultaneous love for and disgust with her father.  Her father’s not all that conflicted in return, but I found him rather believable as a benevolent villain suffering from a case of narcissism.
  3. After years of being used by her father, Genevieve determines to break free and support herself on her scholarship.  Further, she finds a publisher and has her future all lined up.  I loved how self-sustaining Genevieve is.
  4. The chemistry between Sir Richard and Genevieve was great.
  5. Genevieve is a fantastic character, and I grew to appreciate Sir Richard.  I thought it was neat how my experience as a reader mirrored Richard’s development as a character — as he displayed and thereby discovered his hidden depths, I transitioned from thinking him a useless douche to a nuanced and interesting character.
  6. The second half of the book was very well done.

That last one implies that the first half was not so well done, but that’s not quite it.  The book is well crafted, well plotted, nicely paced, and interesting throughout, but I had a couple hangups that put a damper on my ability to enjoy the first half.  They are:

  1. Sir Richard first meets Genevieve when he breaks into her home in the middle of the night to scope out the Harmsworth Jewel.  He scares the bejesus out of her but leaves without stealing the jewel or harming her.  Then he places himself in her family’s home (as a pupil to her father) and proceeds to run through all the ways he can use Genevieve to get control over the jewel.  He could seduce her — not ruin her, mind, just play with her feelings a bit — in order to convince her to sell it, for example.  That’s awesome. Also, super heroic.
  2. Fairly early on, Genevieve figures out that “Christopher Evans” is the thief, but she doesn’t out him because, quite frankly, she doesn’t trust anyone (who would, in her position?).  She certainly doesn’t trust him, but that doesn’t stop her from falling prey to his seductions.  I had a hard time accepting the idea that Genevieve would fool around with a guy that she was fairly certain was trying to screw her over in other ways.
  3. There were a few too many mentions of how odd it is that “Christopher Evans,” a handsome and elegant man, has a nondescript mutt for a dog.

But my biggest issue with the book involves the first kiss scene.  Richard as Christopher stumbles upon Genevieve on a midnight skinny dip and concludes that he just has to see her naked.  So he takes her towel and hides near where she stashed her clothes so that he can be sure to get more than a glance.  Genevieve feels violated by Richard’s lack of respect for her privacy, but he ends up getting rewarded by a kiss.  The narration makes it clear that Richard’s actions are presumptuous and a little nefarious — he doesn’t have the right to see her naked, after all, even though he behaves as if he does — but Genevieve’s response is self-directed anger and mortification.  Richard couldn’t help himself… he’s a man!  But Genevieve should have known better, so it’s all her fault that she was violated by “Christopher” the peeper. Then Richard manipulates Genevieve into a kiss, and all of his presumption is rewarded.  The benefit to Genevieve? Her sanctuary from the world is ruined.  Awesome.

I’ll be honest.. I was sorely tempted to stop reading when I got to the end of that scene.  I’m glad I kept going because Richard’s redemption is rather well done, and the second half of the story was gripping, interesting, and rewarding.  But is it too much for me to hope for a book not to poke me in the eye with historically (and currently) accurate misogyny that gets rewarded by the heroine and narrative?  Oy.

Anyway, the bottom line is that lovers of historical romance will enjoy this one, but only if they aren’t wearing feminist pants while reading the book.

A Rake’s Midnight Kiss was released on August 27, 2013 as a mass-market and e-book by Forever, an imprint of Grand Central Publishing.  For more information on the book, click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  If you’re curious about Anna Campbell, go check out her website!

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

Review & Author Interview – The Double Cross by Carla Kelly

Joining me on the blog today is seasoned romance author Carla Kelly promoting the first book in her new series, The Double Cross.  Y’all should know by now how I feel about historical romance — how I’ve read and enjoyed hundreds of books set in Regency England, even when I knew, cognitively, that I should not be enjoying them —  but I get extra excited about books set in atypical regions, time periods, classes, etc.  I was thrilled to discover this book, set in 1780s Spanish-controlled New Mexico.

Cover image, The Double Cross by Carla Kelly

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

The year is 1780, and Marco Mondragón is a brand inspector in the royal Spanish colony of New Mexico. A widower and rancher, Marco lives on the edge of Comanchería, the domain of the fierce Comanche. Each autumn, he takes cattle and wool, and his district’s records of livestock transactions to the governor in Santa Fe.  He is dedicated, conscientious and lonely. This year, he is looking for a little dog to keep his feet warm through cold winter nights. He finds a yellow dog but also meets a young, blue-eyed beauty named Paloma Vega.

Paloma is under the thumb of relatives who might have stolen a brand belonging to Paloma’s parents, dead in a Comanche raid. As a brand inspector, Marco has every right to be suspicious of brand thieves. If Marco has anything to do with it, Paloma’s fortunes are about to change. Meanwhile, Marco has other challenges to contend with. An elderly ranchero named Joaquin Muñoz has set in motion events that involve the ever-dangerous Comanches and threaten the uneasy peace of Marco’s jurisdiction. Set against the mountains and high plains of northeastern New Mexico during the decline of Spanish power in the New World, The Double Cross is a story of loss and love regained, at a time when honor went hand in glove with bravery, and danger was never far away.

My Review

This is the first Carla Kelly book I’ve ever read, and it definitely makes me want to read more. It’s so darn charming. In list form, here’s what I loved about the book:

  1. The chapter subtitles: Hilarious. Here are some examples: “Chapter Five, In Which Marco Mondragón Confesses, Argues about Penance and Takes an Unwilling Dog”; and “Chapter Eleven, In which Paloma Hears Father Damiano’s Confession and Suffers Delusions from Cabbage.”
  2. The writing style: The humorous chapter subtitles cue readers in to the sly humor that pervades this book. While the subject matter is often dark, the writing is just light enough to ensure a pleasant read and to highlight, by contrast, the darker themes discussed. The book reminded me of Voltaire’s Candide, in reverse. (Don Marco discovers his optimism, rather than losing it to disillusionment, throughout the course of the novel.) The book is funny, smart, and sharp.
  3. The setting: This story takes place in 1780s New Mexico. The historical details of the setting are beautifully incorporated into the story. I never felt like I was reading Kelly’s research notes.
  4. Adorable animal antics: I’m a sucker for animal cuteness in books, and Trece, the yellow dog, filled my heart with happy.

I had an absolute blast reading the book, but there were a few things that stuck out to me.  The language is occasionally jarringly modern, but though it sometimes doesn’t fit with the setting, the language fits the style of the book. (Also, anachronisms don’t bother me much.) Finally, this book seemed (to me) to be historical fiction rather than romance. The story is focused on Don Marco and his adventures, one of which is falling in love with and marrying Paloma Vega, but the story arc is not about the romance. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed The Double Cross, even though it’s not (to me) precisely a romance.

The bottom line, though, is that this book is a delightful read. Lovers of historical romance who are jonesing for interesting new settings should be all over The Double Cross. Lovers of historical fiction or any folk who read and liked Candide should pick it up, too.

Interview with Carla Kelly

1.  RwA: Over the past few months, I’ve been seeing more and more readers of historical fiction and historical romance clamoring for new and different settings (perhaps there has been an over-saturation of regency romances…), and this book definitely qualifies.  What drew you to write a novel set in New Mexico in the 1780s?

Carla Kelly: I totally agree with your comment about over-saturation of regency romances. Ho ho, maybe I’m part of the problem (Of course, I am part of the earlier bunch of Regency writers). Years ago, I was reading a Spanish borderlands history, and came across juez de campo in a mere footnote. It translates literally as “field judge,” but we would call him a brand inspector today. I teased out tiny bits of information here and there, including the statement that jueces de campo also solved petty crimes, in the absence of other forms of law enforcement. I thought first about setting the story in the early 1800s in south Texas, where I used to live, but I really wanted an earlier era. My undergrad degree in history is Latin American History. My grad degree is Indian Wars history. I wanted to combine the two. I shelved the idea until my son moved to northeastern New Mexico around Taos. On a visit two years ago, the whole thing coalesced. My brand inspector would be a New Mexican land grant owner in the 1780s, living on the edge of the most dangerous area in the Southwest, Comancheria. I wanted a time when Spain was growing weak and pulling back its puny protection from the frontier, leaving those self-reliant types to work out their own destinies. And so The Double Cross came about.

2.  RwA: There is so much playful humor in this book.  Do you tend to write with humor, or is the humor a product of these characters or this setting?

Carla Kelly: You’ll note, also, that there is a lot of deadly serious stuff in the novel. I tend to do that – humor and tragedy – because life is like that. We laugh a lot, but we also have cause to cry or mourn. These two characters just lent themselves to that kind of joshing good humor that two lovers in tune with each other have. That’s the way they are. So I suppose the humor is a product of the characters.

3.  RwA: What was the average life expectancy in New Mexico at that time?

Carla Kelly: Most young women married at puberty, around 14. By 18 or so, a young man was either well-seasoned or dead. The fact that Marco is all of 31 testifies to good genes, and the deliberate way he goes about keeping safe, as he explains in the story. The threat of Indians was constant, and disease took a toll. I suppose a woman of 35 and a man of 40 would be considered well into middle age. Life was often short, harsh and brutal.  On the other hand, a healthy person could probably live into the 60s.

4.  RwA: What happens, politically, after the story ends (between, say, 1780 and 1820)?

Carla Kelly:I picked 1780 deliberately because the series begins just after Gov. Juan de Anza has defeated the Kwahadi Comanche, which happened to be the tribe closest to his royal territory. By 1786, de Anza forged a remarkable peace with the Comanche, first white leader to do this successfully. He promised trading rights at the great Taos fair (the Comanche were great traders), in exchange for a cessation of raiding the colony. Both sides actually kept their promises, which meant that the Comanche turned their horrific raids east to Texas. Between 1780-1786 is a time of some peace, some suspicion, some wariness: a great time to write about. There was also a major smallpox epidemic during this time, subject of book 2. By 1810, Mexico had revolted from Spain. New Mexico followed suit later on, mainly because the colony had no huge gripe with Spain and was so remote. By 1820, trade with Americans and fur trappers was well underway, but that’s beyond the scope of my series.

 5.  RwA: How typical was it to have separate churches for the rich and the poor?  Is it fair to assume that in general the breakdown between rich and poor is similar to the breakdown between Spaniards and mestizo/natives?  What kind of impact did that breakdown have on the society?

Carla Kelly: The Indians tended to go to San Miguel in Santa Fe, because it was their mission church. The Spaniards went to San Fernando. You have to understand that by 1780, most so-called Spaniards had mingled with the Indians, creating mestizos. Marco himself is one of these, while Paloma is mostly Spanish, if not all. So the breakdown is actually Spanish/mestizo (rich) and Indian (poor or maybe just Indian). There really weren’t as many class distinctions as one might find in Mexico City. The races mingled far more successfully than they ever did in the English colonies.

RwA: Regarding that last sentence, “The races mingled far more successfully than they ever did in the English colonies,” do you suppose geography and/or a lower population density had anything to do with it?  In a less rugged geography with more people, one can choose one’s neighbors and friends, right?

Carla Kelly: My own studies in Colonial Latin American history assure me that the races mingled successfully because Spaniards were less bigoted than English colonists. They had a two-fold purpose in exploration: wealth, and to spread Catholicism. When natives converted, they were welcomed into the fold. (And true, many were forced into conversion. The priests were often careful to incorporate native beliefs into Catholic New World ritual.) From 711 to 1492, Moors and Spaniards existed together, more or less, in Spain. At least partly because of this, I don’t think the New World conquerors saw Indian contact as a great gulf to overcome. Also, Spaniards didn’t bring along women in their conquests, i.e., they didn’t come as family units, the way many of the English did. The available women were Indian, and Spanish have always been pretty matter-of-fact people.

 6.  RwA: Here’s a trivial question: what kind of dog is Trece?

Carla Kelly: The Trece in my writer’s eye is a sort of Pomeranian, that useless kind of dog good to warm feet.

 7.  RwA: What’s the USD equivalent of 1 peso?  I’m curious to know just how much Marco paid for that dog. 🙂

Carla Kelly: The peso to dollar ratio was about even in 1780: 1 1780 peso = 1 1780 dollar.  The value of such a dollar today would be between $50-$100, probably closer to $100. Marco was completely fleeced, but he knew it. That peso would have bought several very fine cows.

18th century:
1 peso= 8 reales
medio peso= 4 reales
peseta= 2 reales
medio peseta= 1/2 real
cuartillo= 1/4 real  (This probably would have been a logical price for a runt)

8.  RwA: I understand The Double Cross is the first book in a new series; what more do you have planned?

Carla Kelly: Well, we’re headed to an encounter with a disgraced doctor fleeing across east Texas from the American colonies now at war in the distant east. Smallpox is all around (as it was in the early 1780s out West), and Marco had already told Paloma he can protect her from everything except disease. But never fear.  Also, there is the matter of Paloma’s land in Texas. Another book, probably number 3, will involve the Great Taos Trading Fair. And then we’ll see. I intend to write The Spanish Brand series until readers get tired of my charming couple and their enigmatic Comanche.
I know this dates me, but in my mind I see Marco Mondragon and Paloma Vega as the Nick and Nora Charles of the 18th century Spanish borderlands: a little sexy, a little sassy, a little mysterious. I’ve also written it in the style of an 18th century picaresque novel. It’s quite straightforward, as 18th century Spanish writings tends to be.
Also, Marco and Paloma are obviously religious. They lived in a religious society that relied upon the rituals of Holy Church. It governs what they do and how they feel. Paloma is so eager to have children, because they need children. But will it happen? Marco tells her to be patient, and she prays. And so does he. And as Father Damiano says, God does things in His time, not ours. Maybe there is a message here for us about contentment and patience.

Thank you, Carla, for coming on the blog today to answer all my random questions!  I’m looking forward to the next book in this series.  (And I need to check out some of your regency romances!)

The Double Cross was released on August 1, 2013 as a paperback by Camel Press.  To learn more about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  To learn more about Carla Kelly, please visit her website.

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

Review – Days of Rakes and Roses by Anna Campbell

In one of my recent posts, I mentioned that I’ve been reading more and more contemporary romances lately, but I still read a lot of historical romances.  I don’t entirely know why, but historical romances are just my favorites.  (Maybe it’s the extra layer of escapism.)  If you look at my favorite romance authors list, most of them write historicals.  So last month when I was noodling around on NetGalley and I saw this book, I decided to go for it.  It’s my introduction to Anna Campbell’s writing and its blurb hints at one of my favorite romance tropes: heroine/hero struggles to overcome her/his past.  What can I say? I’m a sucker for redemption stories.

Cover image, Days of Rakes and Roses by Anna Campbell

I like the contrast between all that coral pink and the angry-teal dress, but doesn’t it look like these two are at a foam party?  Tequila shots, anyone?  Anyway…

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Lady Lydia Rothermere has spent the past decade trying to make up for a single, youthful moment of passion. Now the image of propriety, Lydia knows her future rests on never straying outside society’s rigid rules, but hiding away the desire that runs through her is harder than she could have ever dreamed. And as she prepares for a marriage that will suit her family, but not her heart, Lydia must decide what’s more important: propriety or passion?

Simon Metcalf is a rake and adventurer. But for all his experience, nothing can compare to the kiss he stole from the captivating Lydia Rothermere ten years ago. Simon can scarcely believe he’s about to lose the one woman he’s never forgotten. The attraction between them is irresistible, yet Lydia refuses to forsake her engagement. With his heart on the line, will Simon prove that love is a risk worth taking?

This novella had a lot of promise: the writing is lovely, the heroine was interesting, and I loved the relationship between Lydia and her brother.  Unfortunately, I had a difficult time connecting with the main characters as a couple, and I kept wanting to poke the hero in the eye with a stick.  When it came time for the happily ever after, I wanted Lydia to have a better happy ending than she got.

Simon Metcalf just irritated me.  He and Lydia have a youthful indiscretion after which she is beaten by her father and he leaves the country — and stays away for a decade, sleeping with all the women, even years after Lydia’s father has died.  (To be fair, I don’t think he knows that Lydia was beaten.)  Then he finds out Lydia is getting married to a prig and he comes back to disrupt her engagement.  I think I could have forgiven him for staying away and leaving Lydia alone to deal with the repercussions of their passionate moment, but sleeping with all the nameless, faceless women in the world? Not so much.

In the end, Simon’s wild-oat-sowing is what ruined the book for me.  I suspect it’s a matter of personal taste, but I find it disturbing that readers of romance novels are supposed to accept the prior dalliances of the heroes (how else will they know what to do with their man parts, we might wonder) while expecting the chastity of the heroines.  In a story such as this, when the characters fall in love ten years before, and the heroine spends the interim living a sober, loveless life, but the hero is out plowing every field he can find, I just don’t want the characters to stumble into happily ever after as though nothing is wrong with that double standard.  Seriously: what if he brought home a social disease?!

Anyway.  I’d be interested in reading the next book in this series (featuring Lydia’s brother, I think), but I didn’t entirely enjoy this one.  Readers who aren’t as persnickety might love it.

Days of Rakes and Roses was released on June 2, 2013 as an e-book by Forever Yours.  For more information about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  For more information about Anna Campbell, please check out her website.

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

Review – Undone by Shannon Richard

I’ve been reading more and more contemporary romances lately, although that development is not necessarily by conscious choice.  I haven’t been seeing as many historical romances among the new releases (and I’ve already read most of the ones of note that are available), and I’ve mostly cured myself of any desire to read one of the more popular historical romance tropes: the rake whose wicked ways are tamed by the innocent miss/bluestocking/respectable widow/spinster.  Also, I’ve been seeing a lot of interesting-seeming contemporary romances cropping up lately.  Undone features a particularly well-crafted publisher’s blurb, and I decided to read it just to find out what was meant by, “Why wearing red shoes makes a girl a harlot.”

Cover image, Undone by Shannon Richard

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Things Paige Morrison will never understand about Mirabelle, Florida:

Why wearing red shoes makes a girl a harlot
Why a shop would ever sell something called “buck urine”
Why everywhere she goes, she runs into sexy-and infuriating-Brendan King

After losing her job, her apartment, and her boyfriend, Paige has no choice but to leave Philadelphia and move in with her retired parents. For an artsy outsider like Paige, finding her place in the tightly knit town isn’t easy-until she meets Brendan, the hot mechanic who’s interested in much more than Paige’s car. In no time at all, Brendan helps Paige find a new job, new friends, and a happiness she wasn’t sure she’d ever feel again. With Brendan by her side, Paige finally feels like she can call Mirabelle home. But when a new bombshell drops, will the couple survive, or will their love come undone?

A lot of things about this book gave me the warm fuzzies.  I happen to be a fan of small-town romances with a rich cast of secondary characters — and Undone has plenty of those — and I happen to like romances that allow the hero to fall in love before the heroine (such a fantasy, that).  I also appreciated Undone for allowing some of the female characters to talk about something besides boys (though it was kind of irritating that the excerpts of conversation shown between Paige and her best friend Abby relate exclusively to Brendan).

Undone is chock full of charming humor, much of it deriving from the antics of the secondary characters, from the crazy lady who lives next door to Paige’s parents to the kooky characters who work at the funeral home.  There is also a lot of fun banter in the dialogue throughout much of the book.

The general story line, big city girl falls on hard times and ends up finding happiness, a sense of purpose, and love in a small town, makes for a pleasant read, and I was willing to forgive a lot of the book’s rough edges because it’s a debut novel.  Despite what I’ll be saying in the next few paragraphs, I intend to read the next book in the Country Roads series.  The teaser excerpt for that book, Undeniable, did an excellent job whetting my appetite, and I’m looking forward to spending some more time with these characters.


The pacing in this book was a little strange.  The story meanders through the days and weeks of Paige’s life in Mirabelle, but it doesn’t exactly have a clear story to tell.  The basic plot is girl has bad day, meets boy, flirts, gets job, starts dating boy, makes some friends, goes on more dates with boy, girl and boy have sexy times, girl has run in with unsavory fellow, girl and boy shack up, crazy neighbor is crazy, girl and boy get all committed, girl has family issues, the big secret explodes, girl and boy don’t handle it well, boy goes drinking, shenanigans ensue, girl comes to her senses, tragedy strikes but is very conveniently averted, the end.  There are two clear and completely unrelated villains in the piece, and the story line for one of the villains sort of gets resolved, but the other one doesn’t. At all.  It was just a bit strange.

Then there were some distracting homophone mix-ups.  Keep in mind: I was reading an ARC, so it’s entirely possible that the peeked/peaked your/you’re issues will have been cleaned up in the final printed text, but I kept getting this song stuck in my head (and it’s all about me).

The bottom line, though, is that Undone is a fun and fairly strong debut, and I’m looking forward to more from Shannon Richard.

Undone was released on July 2, 2013 as an e-book and mass market paperback by Forever.  If you’re interested in finding out more about the book, click on the cover image above to view the book’s page on Goodreads.  For more information about Shannon Richard, visit her website.

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