What I’ve been reading lately — the books that surprised me edition

I’m back!  (Did you miss me?)  I’ve got some nifty things lined up for this month, but right now I want to talk about the books I’ve been reading lately. I’ve been reading some random stuff, and I’ve been really surprised by how much I liked some of it.

I’m starting with the one that surprised me the most.  Actually, it’s a trilogy, and I simply cannot believe that I liked these books: they’re by Maya Banks.  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I’m not a fan of her books.  (I hated Rush, and I was alternately Whaa?? LOLZ!! and meh about books 1-3 of the Sweet Series. Then I finally stopped buying and reading her books — for a few months.  Then my buddy Kim emailed me and told me that In Bed with a Highlander was actually pretty good. So I bought all three books and hoped she was right.)

You know what?  Banks’ brand of crazy actually works set in medieval Scotland, and these books are a fun, wild ride.  They also involved some unexpected feminist elements (that women and men are not monolithic; that sometimes the assiduous desire to “protect” a woman places her in greater danger than allowing her to protect herself; that healthy relationships are based on a sense of partnership) that pleased me.  The basic plot of each of the three books is the love story between their respective heroes and heroines, but spanning over all three books is an intrigue plot involving revenge, treason and impending war. My favorite book is the second one, Seduction of a Highland Lass, because it was full of forbidden love and because Alaric, the hero of that book, was the least alphahole of the bunch.

I had to include that video, because I watched it before I read the books, so I thought of the video every time “trews” were mentioned in the books (every time the male characters undress).  Anyway, I just had to share the love.

So. Choose-your-own-adventure erotica exists.  I read Charlotte: Prowling for Enchantment, and I shocked the hell out of myself when I realized I liked it.  A lot.

You need the blurb.  Here’s the version from Goodreads:

Sail away on a moonlit adventure! It’s the readers who guide Charlotte’s romantic fate in the Dare to Decide series’ next interactive erotic ebook. From the mermaid beach to the fairy ball, you steer Charlotte’s passions with the click of a link.

Finally, it’s Charlotte’s time for a sexy single’s cruise, the kind of trip Gram would have loved. Umbrella drink in hand, she finds herself with a choice…a tawny Viking of a man beckons from across the bar, while a leather-clad rocker gets tossed at her feet. Neither man is as human as he seems…but then again, neither is Charlotte.

Before she knows it, Charlotte’s dodging curses and negotiating extraordinary pleasure. The elder tales warned us against trusting a pretty face…do you dare to decide where Charlotte goes next? Find your way through the eleven mysterious, magical endings.

I loved Choose Your Own Adventure stories when I was a kid.  There’s something so thrilling about being able to make choices for the characters and reading about the consequences.  About a month ago, I got an email from NetGalley highlighting the Dare to Decide series, and — despite my worry that CYOA erotica would focus on sexual rather than story choices (dare to decide: a tepid backrub or hawt anilingus?) — I rushed to request the series.  I’m glad I did, because my worries were unfounded.  There is so much story here, and there’s a huge amount of variation between the different story tracks.  And, you know what? This book is just damn fun to read (and very cleverly edited).  It provided exactly the experience that I so loved about CYOA stories 25 years ago but with more eroticism.  I can’t wait to read more.

Surprising, right?

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of Charlotte: Prowling for Enchantment from Pocket Star via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I purchased the other books mentioned in this post.*

My best and worst reads in 2013

I read a lot of books this year (172 as of my writing this), and I thought it might be fun to identify the outliers at both ends of the spectrum.

The Best:

1.  The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers – There is so much life in this novella, complete with joy and pain, disappointment and transcendence. It is, without doubt, the best book I read all year. (*)

2.  Big Boy by Ruthie Knox – Hands down my favorite Ruthie Knox book (which is really saying something, guys), Big Boy is remarkably atypical for the genre.  It features characters whose sole, necessary, act of selfishness in lives governed by sacrifice is the small amount of time they take from each other.  And when they shift to giving instead of taking? It’s magic. (<3)

3.  Snow-Kissed by Laura Florand – Infertility, grief, and a broken marriage, these are the subjects of this beautifully moving novella that explores the jagged edges of two people, long in love, who were blown apart by grief but who find a way back.   (<3)

4.  A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant – I don’t know that I have ever been more surprised by a romance novel than I was by Cecilia Grant’s debut.  Thematically, the novel discusses trust, intimacy, and the slow development of love with humor so sly it’s easy to miss.  But it’s most remarkable (I think) for its complete lack of instalust and magical chemistry.  If you haven’t read this book, you really should. (<3)

5.  About Last Night by Ruthie Knox – I read this book in one sitting and, when I was done, I started it again immediately, because I just wasn’t ready to let it go. Through this book, Knox taught me how to be a better reader (and, by extension, a better woman, perhaps), to sit and savor the moments of truth that can be found in a book, to rediscover and embrace the reason I read.  (<3)

6 and 7.  The Heiress Effect and The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan – My favorite thing about Courtney MIlan’s writing is that when you start reading her books, her characters always seem so damn mysterious, and that mystery never seems like a clever device to snag reader interest.  It’s just that her characters are so full, possess such depth, that it takes a few hundred pages to get to know them.  And then you do, and your heart just breaks, because their issues are real.  You’ve met women like Jane, and you know your history — and your current affairs — so you know her plight (and her sister’s) is not unusual.  You know that all the pieces of Violet’s character really existed, lived out by real women throughout the ages.  And it hurts so much to know it, so deeply, so viscerally, a punch.  But you also know men like Oliver and Sebastian.  And even though it hurts so much to read and experience all that reality, at the end you are gifted a triumph, and it gives you the strength to keep putting your back into it, to keep living your life. (<3)

8.  The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz – By the time I reached the end of The Mistress, I was crying a little, laughing a lot, pumping my fist in the air, feeling intellectually alive and overwhelmed by joy.  And I felt rather like I did after I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the first time, like this story that had always existed behind a veil had been revealed, and I’d had the good fortune to witness that unveiling.   (*)

9.  Too Hot to Handle by Victoria Dahl – This book is funny, but it isn’t lighthearted.  It’s like that moment when the seas of life have buffeted you about so much that you end up getting a mouthful of sea water, and you try to spit it out with some dignity, but it just comes out as warm, extra salty drool, and suddenly it’s fucking hilarious that — on top of everything else — you’ve just drooled, so instead of worrying about drowning, you just laugh.  Anyway, it’s kind of a coming of age story for people who waited until their thirties to figure themselves out, but it doesn’t have any of that angst because it just doesn’t have time for bullshit. (*)

10.  To Win Her Heart by Karen Witemeyer – This one made the list because it is probably the most romantic story I read all year.  I mean, come on: Eden and Levi fall in love writing letters to each other about Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.  It was a foregone conclusion that I would love this story, that it would stick with me all year. (<3)

 The Worst

Well, there are the obvious contenders for worst books read all year.  there’s even an obvious winner.  But there were also a slew of books that just disappointed me (or made me disappointed in myself).  Chief among these is:

Most disappointing book of 2013: And Then She Fell by Stephanie Laurens (<3 :~(…).  I cannot believe that I bought this, my 31st Laurens book.  I am deeply disappointed in myself.  On the other hand, it seems to have finally helped me break the cycle of addiction.  The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh, the next book in the series, has been out for six months, and I’ve had absolutely no desire to purchase it.

So there you have it.  Many of these books were published in 2013 but not all of them.  Some of these books were received as e-ARCs from publishers (marked with *) and some were purchased by me (marked with <3).

What are the best and worst books you read this year?


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 – Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt

Oh boy did I fall behind in November, but I had some fantastic (and some mundane) adventures during all that radio silence, and I read a lot of books.  One of those books was Elizabeth Hoyt’s Duke of Midnight, which filled me with happy.

Cover image, Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads…


Twenty years ago Maximus Batten witnessed the brutal murders of his parents. Now the autocratic Duke of Wakefield, he spends his days ruling Parliament. But by night, disguised as the Ghost of St. Giles, he prowls the grim alleys of St. Giles, ever on the hunt for the murderer. One night he finds a fiery woman who meets him toe-to-toe—and won’t back down . . .


Artemis Greaves toils as a lady’s companion, but hiding beneath the plain brown serge of her dress is the heart of a huntress. When the Ghost of St. Giles rescues her from footpads, she recognizes a kindred spirit-and is intrigued. She’s even more intrigued when she realizes who exactly the notorious Ghost is by day . . .


Artemis makes a bold move: she demands that Maximus use his influence to free her imprisoned brother-or she will expose him as the Ghost. But blackmailing a powerful duke isn’t without risks. Now that she has the tiger by the tail, can she withstand his ire-or the temptation of his embrace?

Batman pretty much wins when it comes to vaguely creepy masked vigilante characters, right? I mean, he’s a complete package: traumatic yet humanizing back story, honestly-earned grit, determination, physical strength, *almost* super human agility, etc, as well as a dank man cave in which he stores his vigilante gear (hopefully sans nipples) and keeps his body well honed.  That’s loads more compelling than a humanoid alien whose body responds well to earth’s gravity or a scientist who gets bitten by a spider or some dude who finds a magic lantern.

Duke of Midnight is Elizabeth Hoyt’s historical romance nod to Batman canon, and it is equally compelling.

As the sixth (sixth!) book in her Maiden Lane series, I expected it to feel a bit tired, but it isn’t.  Actually, I got the feeling reading it that Hoyt has been looking forward to telling this story for quite a while, and her excitement in (finally) writing it translates well to the reader.  The characters are interesting and the story is as gripping as you’d expect a superhero story to be.

In fact, there were only a couple of things that I was a little bit bummed about (and one thing I was a lot bummed about):

  1. One of my favorite things about Hoyt’s novels is that she always weaves a legend throughout the story at the beginning of each chapter.  The legend in this one wasn’t quite as compelling (to me) as previous ones.
  2. The ending felt a bit deus ex machina to me.  One of the things that always happens to superheroes is that they’re forced to choose between saving a loved one and saving the masses. Seriously… it’s in like every superhero story.  This book made it just a wee bit too easy on our intrepid hero to win both counts (although I did like how he made his choice so unequivocally…).

Finally, I was a lot bummed about Penelope.  She’s a fairly awful secondary character who was quite unpleasant throughout the previous five books, but I always had a bit of a soft spot for her and held a hope that she’d find her redemption at some point.  After all, even silly, spoiled girls eventually grow up, right? (I’m one of those people who believes even Lydia Bennet, eventually, developed a sense of self-reflection.)  I was, therefore, rather heartbroken to see Penelope utterly outdo all her former awfulness in an epic display of poor character.

Maybe it’s not too late — maybe Penelope can still redeem herself — but it made me sad.  I hate how women in fiction (even fiction written by women) are so often cast as either good or evil, and I liked how Penelope was a blend… too selfish to be truly good but too good-hearted to be truly evil.  But after the way she behaves at the end of this book, her blend seems skewed towards the evil…

But, hey! That’s just me.  All told, I had a blast reading the book and, though I haven’t talked about it at all in this review, I loved the romance between Maximus and Artemis, loved that Artemis was his equal in more ways than one, and I loved that the narrative didn’t ignore the ways in which they were unequal.  Finally, I liked that they got to make a happy ending of it.  (If a man had written it, Artemis would have been blown to bits so that Maximus could be super sad and continue being a vigilante. Thank God for Elizabeth Hoyt!)

Duke of Midnight was released on October 15, 2013 as an e-book and paperback by Forever.  For more information about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit its page on Goodreads.  For information on Elizabeth Hoyt, please check out her website or Twitter.

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

Review – Rumors that Ruined a Lady by Marguerite Kaye

I’ve been looking forward to this book for months, and I clapped my hands and did a little dance when I saw it listed on NetGalley.  Honestly, Rumors that Ruined a Lady had me at opium.

Cover image, Rumors that Ruined a Lady by Marguerite Kaye

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:


Amongst the gossip-hungry ton, no name has become more synonymous with sin than that of Lady Caroline Rider, cast out by her husband and disowned by her family. Rumour has it that the infamous Caro is now seeking oblivion in the opium dens of London!

There’s only one man who can save her: notorious rake Sebastian Conway, Marquis of Ardhallow. Soon Caro is installed in his country home, warming his bed, but their passion may not be enough to protect them once news of their scandalous arrangement breaks out.

I flat out loved this book, and I have a lot of reasons.

  1. Some of my favorite books end up being the ones where a happy ending doesn’t even seem possible, where I end up a frazzled mass of nerves suddenly doubting that a romance novel will end happily.  For those of you who aren’t clear on what a romance novel is, the happily ever after is part of the genre.  If it doesn’t have an HEA, it ain’t a romance.  It’s always fun for me when authors can believably sell me on the notion that the forces stacked against the characters are too dire for love to triumph; I like it even better when authors perform that magical “Ha, but love triumphs after all!” reversal of fortunes while remaining true to the characters and — to a certain extent — to history and science.  This book did both.
  2. The storytelling format is a bit complicated (the first third of the book features some back and forth between the present day and the characters’ encounters years before), but I liked how the flashback sequences were edited in to the present day scenes and helped create a little mystery about the characters that was unfurled bit by bit as I got to know them.
  3. The character development of Caro is nothing short of divine (and Sebastian is not half bad either.).

What I loved best, though, is that this book deals with some pretty heavy subject matter (spousal abuse), but it doesn’t sensationalize it in any way.  The references to Caro’s abuse are sufficient to carry the point that her marriage is awful, but the story remains focused on Caro and Sebastian and what they will do moving forward.

(Tangent: One of the awesome Vegas conversations — that I participated in only slightly, but it got me thinking — was about rape in literature, that there seems to be a (disturbing) trend of authors forcing their lady characters to endure some pretty harrowing shit in order to have appeal as “serious” characters.  I’m not sure whether authors are doing it on purpose or if it’s just a consequence of our culture (?), but it’s troubling on so many levels.  Those types of experiences as recounted in literature are simultaneously trivialized (because we — the collective audience — are consuming them for entertainment) and sensationalized (because these fictional experiences have to be powerful enough to register with readers), and the result is simply too disturbing for me to get into right now.  Let me know in the comments if you’re interested in my expanding on this tangent in a future post. /tangent)

To go back pre-tangent, I also loved that Caro was never a damsel in distress (except at the opium den, I suppose) and that she helped Sebastian just as much as he helped her.  (Also, isn’t it seriously ballsy for a romance novel to have a heroine who’s married to someone else?)

I’ve been trying to tread carefully in this review to avoid spoiling the story for anyone.  The fact is that I want everyone to read Rumors that Ruined a Lady and then talk about it with me (and anyone, really).  I want to know if there are other readers, like me, who want books that deal with some of life’s darker elements but still recognize that a happy ending (and love) is a valid one.

Stay tuned tomorrow, because I’ll be hosting Marguerite Kaye on the blog to talk about the difficult path to happily ever after.

Rumors that Ruined a Lady was released on October 22, 2013 as an e-book and mass-market paperback by Harlequin.  For more information about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit its page on Goodreads.  For more information about Marguerite Kaye, please visit her website or check her out on Twitter.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Harlequin 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 – Making It Last by Ruthie Knox

Marriage is the end game of most romances, but is it romantic?  Ruthie Knox sure thinks so, and, after reading Making It Last, I’m inclined to think so, too.

Cover image, Making It Last by Ruthie Knox

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

A hotel bar. A sexy stranger. A night of passion. There’s a part of Amber Mazzara that wants those things, wants to have a moment — just one — where life isn’t a complicated tangle of house and husband and kids and careers. Then, after a long, exhausting “vacation” with her family, her husband surprises her with a gift: a few days on the beach . . . alone.

Only she won’t be alone long, because a handsome man just bought her a drink. He’s cool, he’s confident, and he wants to take Amber to bed and keep her there for days. Lucky for them both, he’s her husband. He’s only got a few days in Jamaica to make her wildest desires come true, but if he can pull it off, there’s reason to believe that this fantasy can last a lifetime.

This novella packs a hell of an emotional punch.  Set fourteen years after, How to Misbehave, the novella that brought these characters together, Making It Last tells the story of Amber and Tony struggling to find their focus after life and kids and the economy have chipped at them, incrementally separating them from their dreams.  Ruthie Knox tells this story of a marriage, of two individuals, in quiet crisis, with realism, compassion, and hope.  I’m not much of a crier, but I found this story gloriously cathartic as well as supportive.

The thing is, women need these stories.  I could see pieces of every woman I know (including me) in Amber.  She’s got that urge that so many of us have to give and give and give, until there’s nothing left.  That’s a common phrase, but how often do we think about what it really looks like to have nothing left, to be so lost in the giving that you don’t even know who you are anymore or why anyone would want you to give them anything?  How do you come back from that?  Where do love and romance fit in when your life is so full of all the things, all those demands, that you can barely summon the energy to scrape by?

Making It Last provides an answer to those questions, and it does so in a truly beautiful way.  I think you should read it.  It’ll probably make you cry but in a good way.  It will also make you laugh, and, when it’s done, and you’ve turned the last page, it’ll leave behind some hope.  And we all need more of that, amiright?

Making It Last was released as an e-book by Loveswept, a division of Random House on July 15, 2013.  To learn more about the book, click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  For more information about Ruthie Knox, check out her website.

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

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.*

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.*

Review – Flirting with Disaster by Ruthie Knox

Anyone who’s been reading my blog or following my Twitter feed knows that I’m kind of a fan of Ruthie Knox’s writing. (You know, like LeBron James is kind of a basketball player or my friend Jason is kind of in love with cheese.)  So you know that I’ve been looking forward to her next book for kind of a while, and I was kind of thrilled when I got an email telling me it was available.  Also, I kind of loved it.

Cover image, Flirting with Disaster by Ruthie Knox

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

In the latest eBook original novel in Ruthie Knox’s scorching-hot Camelot series, a no-strings fling looks an awful lot like falling in love—or flirting with disaster.

Fresh out of a fiasco of a marriage, Katie Clark has retreated to her hometown to start over. The new Katie is sophisticated, cavalier, and hell-bent on kicking butt at her job in her brother’s security firm. But on her first assignment—digging up the truth about the stalker threatening a world-famous singer-songwriter—Katie must endure the silent treatment from a stern but sexy partner who doesn’t want her help . . . or her company.

Sean Owens knows that if he opens his mouth around Katie, she’ll instantly remember him as the geeky kid who sat behind her in high school. Silence is golden, but he can’t keep quiet forever, not with Katie stampeding through their investigation. It’s time for Sean to step up and take control of the case, and his decade-old crush. If he can break through Katie’s newfound independence, they just might find they make a perfect team—on the road, on the job, and in bed.

It’s actually ridiculous how much time I’ve spent staring at the blank space in this review wondering where to start.  Then again, I was always the sort to write the introductions to my college papers at the end.  Maybe that’s an example of poor organizational skills, or maybe it’s a sign of scientific inquiry: I didn’t know what I was going to prove until I’d proved it.  Anyway.

I’ll start with the conclusion: I loved this book.  I loved Sean, and I loved Katie even more.  I loved the love story, and I loved all the background stuff that gave it breadth and depth.

The central focus of Flirting with Disaster is the love story between Sean and Katie, of course, and it’s a good one.  But flirting around the edges of that story and around those characters is a deeper, even more human story about identity.  It’s the kind of story that most people experience at some point in life, and it usually happens in your early twenties.  But sometimes it doesn’t, or you get it wrong.  Sometimes who you thought you were isn’t who you really are.  That arresting discovery that you’ve been existing for a long time but not really living can hit any time, and when it does, it’s terrifying but also liberating.

I think you should read this book, so I’m not going to tell you much about it, but it has:

  1. Some of the most fantastic awkward foreplay that has ever been written, including the least sexy kiss in the history of ever.  I know that sounds like it’s a bad thing, but it’s not — it’s wonderful.  
  2. A stuttering hero whose stutter doesn’t get better by the end of the book — as though normalcy were part of the happily ever after — and is always treated as being just a part of who he is.
  3. Excellently wrought tension between the characters.
  4. Star Wars posters. Framed Star Wars posters.
  5. A non-combative relationship. Have you ever noticed that in our culture, there’s a tendency to see relationships as being about competition?  I mean, when you think about it, that’s sort of what compromise is all about.  Two people are inevitably going to want slightly different things, and successful relationships, we’re told, are the ones where the parties successfully reach some sort of compromise.  Sometimes one person ends up doing all the compromising, sometimes it’s equal, but it’s always about competing for who’s going to compromise this time.  What I liked best about Flirting with Disaster is that Sean and Katie had a non-combative relationship that wasn’t about winning and losing.  Was Katie going to get to become her true self, or would she have to suppress that part of herself in order to be with Sean?  Would Sean have to give up his other, more successful, life in order to share a life with Katie?  Knox brings up both questions and then dismisses them in favor of a third: what if love isn’t about two individuals getting exactly — or as close as they can — what they individually want from each other (requiring a bit of competition and compromise in order to effect)?  What if love is about two people working together to make a better life for both?  What if love can be cooperative instead of competitive?  What would that look like?

I highly recommend this book, straight up, no qualifiers (although, it’ll probably help if you’re keen on romance to start with…).

Flirting with Disaster was released on June 10, 2013 by LoveSwept, a division of Random House Digital.  To learn more about the book, please click on the cover image above.  If you’re interested in learning more about Ruthie Knox (and you totally should be), please check out her website.

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