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All posts for the month August, 2012

Review: Firelight by Kristen Callihan

Published August 31, 2012 by Shannon

Firelight (Darkest London, #1)

Title: Firelight
Author: Kristen Callihan
Genre: Paranormal romance
Series: Darkest London, book 1
Source: ebook
Read on: August 24, 2012

Synopsis via goodreads:

Once the flames are ignited . . . Miranda Ellis is a woman tormented. Plagued since birth by a strange and powerful gift, she has spent her entire life struggling to control her exceptional abilities. Yet one innocent but irreversible mistake has left her family’s fortune decimated and forced her to wed London’s most nefarious nobleman. They will burn for eternity . . . Lord Benjamin Archer is no ordinary man. Doomed to hide his disfigured face behind masks, Archer knows it’s selfish to take Miranda as his bride. Yet he can’t help being drawn to the flame-haired beauty whose touch sparks a passion he hasn’t felt in a lifetime. When Archer is accused of a series of gruesome murders, he gives in to the beastly nature he has fought so hard to hide from the world. But the curse that haunts him cannot be denied. Now, to save his soul, Miranda will enter a world of dark magic and darker intrigue. For only she can see the man hiding behind the mask.

I don’t quite know what to say about this book. It has left me conflicted, because on the one hand, it has things that I love. There’s a kick-ass heroine. There’s a Beauty and the Beast story, complete with scarred on the outside hero who really just wants to be loved. The world-building feels fresh and original and unique, not like the same retread of a tired story I’ve read before.

I should have loved this book, and the only thing I can say about why I didn’t is that it’s the reverse of the problem I have with spicy foods. Being a midwesterner, I was raised on a fairly bland, unadventurous diet. Therefore, when someone sets something in front of me and promises that it’s not spicy at all, it almost always is too much for me. This book was the reverse. It needed a little more spice.

I liked the characters. Miranda is beautiful and clever and cunning, and I liked the fact that she didn’t go all swoony at Archer’s every look. I liked the fact that she negotiated her own place in that relationship. I loved the fact that she actually got to fight for Archer in the end, and did what needed to be done instead of crying about how she couldn’t take a life. I loved that she had to rescue him, in fact.

Archer was awesome, too. I thought his paranormal abilities complimented Miranda’s nicely. I loved that he was in love with her from the first, and showed remarkable patience and self-restraint. I liked that he brooded, but was overall pretty accepting of circumstances.

I also adored the setting. There wasn’t much in the way of elaborate world-building, but Callihan sketches out the details deftly as she goes, so I felt right at home. I liked that there weren’t vampires and werewolves and supernatural politicking. Instead there is magic and curses and a secret order of old men interested in that sort of thing. I liked the darkness of the setting. The series is called Darkest London for a reason.

That all said, I didn’t love this book. It didn’t ring many emotional bells. I can see that there are all these things that I look for, but there just wasn’t enough spice.

I do plan on reading the sequel, which is about Miranda’s sister, Daisy, and an awesome secondary character. I’m hoping the writing will grow on me, and I’ll like it better.

I’d still recommend this book, because I think there need to be more books with all the tropes I love. I also know other bloggers loved it a lot more than I did.

Final Grade: C

Up next: I honestly don’t know. This whole regimented schedule thing is not working for me so much as a blogger.

The death of my Kindle

Published August 29, 2012 by Shannon

I have a sad bit of news today.

As I got up from my desk this morning, my Kindle took a header and fell onto the floor. I heard an ominous crack, and sure enough, it has gone to that great electronics shop in the sky.

I’m torn about this. On the one hand, I loved my Kindle. Amazon makes it so easy to buy things, and there are so many freebies. Being the book hoarder I am, I think that’s why I loved it so much.

On the other hand, I don’t know if I’ll replace it. The Kindle Keyboard is the only Kindle that is remotely accessible. Even then, it requires some finagling to make it work. There are features that only sort of work out of the box with what rudimentary text to speech is there. Given the fact that all I can do with my Kindle is read books, which is only part of the feature set available to sighted people, I feel a bit squeamish about replacing mine. I bought it used, with gift certificate money. I paid a little over half the purchase price, which is the only way I’d be comfortable replacing it now. And then I’m not so much supporting Amazon and their continued insistence on ignoring accessibility. They get their cut, I’m sure, but mostly I’m more comfortable paying a third party retailer.

On the other hand, I do have an iPhone. And I hate reading on it. Not, of course, for the same reasons my sighted readers would. I enjoy a smoothly flowing text to speech experience, and the frequent pauses for screens to refresh on my iPhone take me out of the flow of things. Also, there are fewer freebies. Or at least I perceive that there are.

On the other hand, Apple is committed to universal accessibility, so there’s a huge part of me that thinks I should just suck it up and deal. And, given the fact that I’d much rather spend money on books rather than electronics, I suspect that, for the sake of pragmatism, that is what will win out.

Still, I am sad to see my Kindle go. I will miss you, silly electronic gadget.

Three quickie erotic romance reviews

Published August 28, 2012 by Shannon

Last night, I realized I didn’t have enough to say about today’s book. Luckily for you, I have been on a minor erotic romance novella binge, so I present some mini reviews for short works.

Alien Revealed (The Confederacy Treaty, #1)

Warning: Spoilers below.

Title: Alien Revealed
Author: Lilly Cain
Genre: Science fiction romance
Series: The Confederacy Treaty 1
Source: ebook
Read on: August 17, 2012

Synopsis via goodreads:

Inarrii agent Alinna Gaerrii was tasked with observing the Starforce base on Earth. Crash landing her observation pod onto the base was not part of her mission briefing. Neither was making “m’ittar”–mind contact–with Major David Brown, the human who discovered her amongst the wreckage.David thinks she’s a psychologist sent to evaluate his Special Forces team, and Alinna goes along with his misconception, seizing the opportunity to observe humans up close. But their daily contact has unexpected side effects, and Alinna soon invades David’s dreams. Through their intimate mental connection she allows him to express his forbidden physical desires.Alinna delights in the sensory exploration and grows excited by the prospect of a treaty with the humans and a potential life mate in David. But an attack from an unknown ship sends the base into chaos, and Alinna may be forced to reveal her lie, erasing all hope of a successful treaty, and driving David away forever…

This synopsis sounded awesome. I love sci-fi romance, and I was intrigued by the life mate thing being initiated by the heroine. For the first quarter of the book, when Alinna and David are separated, I even enjoyed myself. I loved how unassumingly egalitarian Cain’s future is, with women being just as powerful as men. Then Alinna and David met, and my love evaporated.

My latest blogger crush, Kelly has used the term “I hate you except when we kiss.” It’s a common trope in romancelandia, and I think it can be done well. In a scant 100 pages, many of which have to be spent on elaborate dream sex scenes, it is impossible to make this work. At least, it didn’t work for me in this case. David mistrusts Alinna from the get-go, possibly because she is the worst spy ever, and is a terrible liar. This, of course, means Alinna swoons for him.

When things finally reach their climax, David does something unforgivable that I didn’t even know still happened in romances. He gives Alinna booze. She’s an alien. The booze affects her strongly, and only then does David seduce her. She was clearly OK with it, but ugh. I thought that made him a total douchenozzle.

Alinna was problematic for different reasons. I had problems with the whole premise of her character, because I would have thought that someone meant to observe without getting caught would have a better ability to lie under pressure, even if it’s not innately something her people do. I also wondered why she didn’t just give herself up after the first dream sex scene. Her character is basically cast as completely helpless, and I found that annoying.

I loved the idea of this book. First contact is my favorite sci-fi trope, and I love cheesy vaguely humanoid aliens. But this book’s execution was terrible.

Grade: D

Angel Bound (His Guardian Angels, #1)

Title: Angel Bound
Author: Jana Downs
Genre: paranormal romance
Series: His Guardian Angels
Source: Kindle
Read on: August 23, 2012

Synopsis from goodreads:

Madigan has a successful career as co-owner of a bakery and has never really been passionate about much else. His mother has always claimed that he was the son of the Archangel Raphael, but he’d never had reason to believe her. That is, until Madigan finds himself hunted by angelic fanatics who see him as an abomination. His father has assigned him guardian angels to act as his protection from the hunters. The five men desperately search for a solution for Madigan’s protection and find only one viable option. Madigan must become Angel Bound, married in angelic terms, to all of his guardian angels. Now Madigan has gone from having no relationships to having five simultaneously. All of the men will have to learn to balance desire and duty in order to ensure Madigan’s safety and happiness above all things. [Siren LoveXtreme Forever ManLove: Erotic Alternative Paranormal Ménage Romance, M/M/M/M/M/M, angels, HEA]

I forget why this came up, but someone I adore on Twitter, who knows who she is and therefore I won’t name and shame her, sent me a link to Siren Publishing’s Lovextreme imprint. After goggling about how inaccessible the website was, I eventually settled in to see how many lovers one person could have. In my meanderings, I found this book. Y’all know my tendency to read cracky erotic romance, so onto my Kindle it went.

This book was exactly as terrible as I knew it would be. Madigan is such a girl. Normally, I’m OK with that in M/M romances, because I read them for the fantasy, and because some authors can write sweet, somewhat effeminate men that I like. Not so in this case. Firstly, our hero goes by Madi, which I imagine to be completely emasculating. He also does a lot of quivering in terror, and his angels have various, vaguely girlie nicknames for him. The laid-back surfer angel calls him Cutie. The antagonistic bad boy angel calls him Bright Eyes. If anyone called me either of those things, I might want to punch them.

As for the angels, they’re sketches. But then, I didn’t think it was possible to draw five fully realized characters in less than 100 pages. We have the leader who is driven by obligation. We have the laid-back surfer dude angel. There’s the gruff, shy dude (who I secretly adored because the “no one can ever love me” trope is my cryptonite in a hero), There’s the bad boy. And then there’s the other guy, who shows up halfway through and tells them they all have to have an orgy to protect Madi from the bad angels. (Come on, you guys, that is not a spoiler, given the synopsis.) Also, all the angels have silly names. Michel and Uri work for the archangels Michael and Uriel respectively, and then we have Cross, which just packs a whole wallop of anvilicious symbolism, Bren, and, lastly, my boy Dex. I am trying to picture in my mind how a passage from this version of the Bible would read. “And thus an angel came down and said unto them, ‘Behold, for I am Dex.'”. And I laugh. A lot.

So yeah. Aside from the novelty, there’s not much to this story, and while its silliness amused, I’m not sure it did so in a way the author intended.

Grade: D

And, to end things on a positive note:

Veiled Desire (Veiled, #1)

Title: Veiled Desire
Author: Alisha Rai
Genre: contemporary erotic romance
Series: Veiled 1
Source: Kindle
Read on: August 24, 2012

Synopsis via goodreads:

Look, but don’t touch… Leyla Karimi can’t keep her eyes off the hunky guy living in the house behind her. How could any woman resist ogling Dr. Mason Barrett, especially when he makes it so easy by parading around in his skin and skivvies? If it was only their age difference, she would have made a move a long time ago. Except Mason is more than a neighbor. He’s her baby brother’s oldest friend. It’s not like they can have a casual fling and walk away in the morning. Mason’s been doing a little lusting-okay a lot-for quite some time. When he catches Leyla peeking, it’s a sure sign she could finally be ready to heat up his nights with loving. One taste of her lips, though, and he doesn’t want a “little” of anything. He wants it all. Unwilling to jeopardize a lifetime of friendship for a one-night stand, Leyla is reluctant to throw caution to the wind. When he’s kissing her senseless, though, it’s hard to remember all the reasons why she should hold back… Warning: Contains a hot hero who doesn’t mind baring it all in the name of love, a heroine who doesn’t settle for less, a sweet romance, steamy sex in a car and more good lovin’ in bed.

I liked this one. The story is quite simple. Woman lusts after hot guy who is her brother’s BFF all grown up. He lusts after her, too. She ogles him. He knows. They hook up. Rai lets us get to know these two, though. By the end of the book, they seemed like people I might run into anywhere. Their dialogue felt real and natural, and I loved their interactions. The conflicts are relatively un-earth-shattering, but they were real issues anyone would have. The sex scenes were fun and steamy.

That said, I’m not sure it’s the kind of story I’ll remember. It was a pleasant way to spend an hour or two, but it’s easily forgettable. I’d try Alisha Rai again, particularly if she wrote something longer, and I might pick up the second book in the series.

Grade: C

Up next: A book everyone in the blogosphere seemed to have loved but me. How sad.

Review: Her Ladyship’s Companion by Evangeline Collins

Published August 27, 2012 by Shannon

Spoilers below. You have been warned!

Her Ladyship's Companion

Title: Her Ladyship’s Companion
Author: Evangeline Collins
Genre: Historical erotic romance
Source: Kindle
Read on: August 18, 2012

Synopsis from goodreads:

A debut novel of erotic intensity set in the Regency era. In the Scottish countryside of Selkirk, Lady Isabella Stirling resides at Bowhill Park, serving penance for a sin that nearly ruined her family. For five years she has been condemned to a loveless marriage and confined to the estate where she does little more than tend her rose garden. With her husband absent for months at a time and few visitors, Bella lives a lonely existence, denying the passions that burn within her very soul. Then her cousin comes for a visit and makes an outrageous suggestion: what Bella needs is a lover. A hired lover. Despite her need, Bella says no. But soon Mr. Gideon Rosedale arrives-and he is at her service for two weeks. Indulging in what she intends to be a harmless flirtation, Bella is overcome by Gideon’s intoxicating presence. And when she at last permits him to satisfy her desires, she discovers she’s done the unthinkable-she’s fallen in love.

Earlier this summer, during my wild binging on the works of Ava March, I stumbled across an interesting fact. Apparently, she wrote het erotic romance, too. Armed with this intriguing factoid, I proceeded to do my best Annie Wilkes impersonation and found out, rather quickly, that Ava March’s other pen name was Evangeline Collins. And she had two books. Which I promptly bought, thus ending my psychotic fangirl moment.

What I like about Ms. March’s books is here under the Collins pseudonym as well. She writes excellent beta heroes, and Gideon Rosedale is so adorable. He’s not particularly angst-ridden, or at least no more than you’d expect considering he’s a gigolo. He’s getting a little bored with his life pleasuring women, and he expects this assignment in Scotland to be more of the same. He’s surprised when Lady Isabella Sterling turns out to be more than she seems.

Bella (God help us all, Twilight has ruined this name for everybody) is a passionate creature. Five years ago, she was caught in a compromising position with the stableboy and basically thrown at the first man who’d marry her. She was ensconced in Scotland, where her husband would occasionally show up in order to cow and terrorize her. She feels that being lonely is preferable to being terrified, and she doesn’t exactly have many options. She’s outraged when her cousin suggests she should take a lover, but secretly a little thrilled, too. When Gideon shows up, she makes it clear she doesn’t want to do anything he’s not comfortable with, and thus begins their flirtation.

I adored these characters. They’re both stuck in a terrible place in their lives, Gideon little more than a whore and Bella an abused wife. The way they come together is delightful. I love it when a romance gives me glimpses of emotional as well as physical intimacy. I also love how Gideon’s profession turns out to be more of a hindrance to later sexytimes than you’d think. Bella wants to see his control slip, and that’s exactly what Gideon can’t give her.

That all said, some of the plot choices were contrived. Lord Sterling, for example, was problematic. He’s an abusive asshole, of course. He’s impotent. Of course. That means Bella’s a virgin. Of course. He had no redeeming qualities, and I was disappointed he never twirled his mustache anytime and cackled, because he was certainly capable of it. I knew early on he was going to have to die for there to be an HEA, but I thought the way that came about was also incredibly contrived.

The secondary characters were leading far more interesting lives than Bella and Gideon. I want to know about Bella’s swashbuckling pirate brother, and her headstrong sister, who clearly had a romance of her own. Not to mention the awesome French cousin. I’m also torn about their reaction to Bella’s situation. It makes sense that she wouldn’t have told her family she was being abused. It doesn’t make sense that they’d just leave her to rot out in Scotland. Maybe her holier-than-thou dickhead older brother would, but I’d think a rescue mission would be just the thing for hoyden younger sister and pirate younger brother! And yet, they only reacted when it was nearly too late.

I wasn’t sure how the heroine being married would work for me. Given Sterling being such an asshole, I was glad she took happiness where she could get it. I’m not sure many authors could sell me on marital infidelity and make it work in this way, but I bought it, and I did pull for Bella and Gideon’s chance at a future together, where the power both held would be more equal.

As with her Ava March books, Evangeline Collins delivers an emotionally gripping love story with characters I adored. It’s not my favorite book of hers, and it does feel like the early work it is, but I’m pleased to know she can write as satisfying a love story between a man and a woman as she can between two men.

Final Grade: B-

Up next: She’s a terrible alien spy. He’s a terrible military officer. Together, they fight. A lot.

Review: Rough, Raw and Ready by Lorelei James

Published August 24, 2012 by Shannon

Rough, Raw, and Ready (Rough Riders #5)

Title: Rough, Raw and Ready
Author: Lorelei James
Genre: contemporary western romance
Series: Rough Riders, book 5
Source: Kindle
Read on: August 19, 2012

Synopsis via goodreads:

Chassie West Glanzer hasn’t been a stranger to drama and tragedy. A year of wedded bliss to sexy-as-sin cowboy Trevor Glanzer has brought her the happiness and contentment she never thought she’d find, and mellowed Trevor’s rodeo wanderlust. Then Trevor’s old roping partner ambles up the driveway—and Chassie’s life changes drastically. Trevor never expected to see Edgard Mancuso again, after it became clear he couldn’t be the man Edgard needed. Now Edgard is back from Brazil to sort out their tangled past, and Trevor is plagued with feelings he thought he’d buried over three years ago. Although Trevor is hat-over-bootheels in love with his sweet, feisty wife, the sense his life is missing a piece has always gnawed at him. Chassie’s shock that Edgard and Trevor were once lovers turns to fear of losing her husband. Or worse, fear that Trevor will stay with her only out of a sense of duty. Yet as the three of them spend time together, the sins of the past blur and fade, leaving raw emotion—and unbridled passion. Passion that could heal…or cause irreparable damage to their future.

I was excited to get to this book. I think this was the Rough Riders book that I first heard about, and since I’ve loved M/M/F stories for years, I knew I’d love it. I was not disappointed, and though it doesn’t appear any other books in this series deal with similar dynamics, I loved the fact that Ms. James went down that road.

I’d always liked Trevor as a character in the previous books, even if I did mock him for having a penis ready, willing and able to serve any woman on a whim. The emotional drama between himself and Edgard was hinted at in the first book, so this story brings that arc to a close.

Chassie was a great match for him. I am a sucker for a plain Jane heroine with a big heart. She was empathetic and kind, and a little overwhelmed that this hot cowboy had chosen her of all people. When Edgard Mancuso, Trevor’s old roping partner, shows up at the ranch, it’s Chassie who makes him feel welcome. Trevor’s all torn up about what Edgard’s presence means and what it will do to Chassie if she finds out about his past, so he avoids spending time alone with his former lover, so it’s Chassie who befriends Edgard.

Then, of course, the inevitable happens and Chassie catches Trevor and Edgard in a compromising position. She freaks out, but in the end, of course, she decides that she needs to do whatever she can to make her husband happy.

I appreciated the fact that Ms. James didn’t sugar-coat the triad here. Nobody’s quite sure it’s a good idea, but since Trevor and Chassie and Edgard are such nice people, none of them want to hurt the others. The scenes between the three of them start out tentatively, but then passion erupts, as it always does. There’s more to a relationship than just sex, though, and the three of them spend enough time talking for my liking. None of the relationships in the book got short shrift, and they were each different. Trevor and Edgard are very different men, and the relationships each have with Chassie are different from the one they have with each other.

As ever in a Lorelei James book, there’s other stuff going on. We get more McKay family drama, and I particularly loved what she did with Colt McKay, whose book is next on the list. There’s also drama in the Glanzer family, and I loved the contrast between the warm and loving McKays and the bitter, awful Glanzers. I also loved the fact that the McKays aren’t treated here as the best things since sliced bread. There are people that think they can be bastards, and I liked that some of that got voiced.

So far, this is my favorite offering in the series. I have a lot more of these books to read, and even though I know none of them will bring me hot M/M/F goodness, I look forward to more emotional drama and fun family dynamics to come.

Grade: B+

Up next: A favorite author uses a trope I generally hate in a way that mostly works for me.

Review: Tied Up, Tied Down by Lorelei James

Published August 23, 2012 by Shannon

Tied Up, Tied Down (Rough Riders #4)

Title: Tied Up, Tied Down
Author: Lorelei James
Genre: contemporary western romance
Series: Rough Riders, book 4
Read on: August 17, 2012

Synopsis:

The strongest bonds are the ones unseen Rough Riders series Businesswoman Skylar Ellison is firmly in control of her life. So getting tangled up with a sexy Wyoming cowboy-and conceiving a baby in the parking lot of a honky-tonk-wasn’t in her plan. Since it appears the daddy has taken off for greener pastures, the only thing to do is pull up her bootstraps and carry on alone. Cattle rancher Kade McKay returns home after a year on the range, and is knocked for a loop when he learns he’s the father of a three-month-old baby girl. When Skylar refuses to marry him, Kade grits his teeth, moves in and plays house by her rules to prove he’s a man in for the long haul. Despite Skylar’s insistence they are to remain strictly parenting partners, their old passions flare hot as a brush fire, spurring Kade to demand absolute sexual surrender from the headstrong woman. Skylar willingly submits her body to the hot-blooded cowboy but she’s leery of handing Kade the reins to her heart. Can Kade convince Skylar the wicked sex games aren’t a temporary distraction? Or will he have to bust out the ropes to show her he wants to be tied to her.forever? Warning: this book contains: no holes barred kinky sex scenes, wicked rope play, blunt language, and yowza lots of hot cowboy nekkidness.

I am torn about this installment of the Rough Riders books. In many ways, I liked it. Cade was such a sweetheart in the previous book. A bit of a bonehead, but a sweetheart, nonetheless. I was happy to see him and Skylar get their romance. That said, in hindsight, Skylar bothered me, and there were a few messages that I found problematic. There are spoilers below. Stop reading now if you don’t want to know.

First, the good. Yet again, Ms. James doesn’t belabor big misunderstandings. See, Skylar and Cade met when she confused him with Cade’s identical twin. He thought she was hot, so they went out on a date and he never disabused her of that notion. She found out anyway, after a bout of hot sex in a parking lot, and, rightly, huffed off. Cade did some huffing off of his own, grazing cattle in the wilderness for a year. When he returns, his mother lays into him, informing him that he should do right by her only grandchild, so Cade does. All this happens within the first chapter or two. There are no long stretches of book where my disbelief is suspended while the characters act like boneheads.

When Skylar and Cade do get together, the scenes with them are lovely. I liked watching them find each other again, first as friends, then as bed partners. Cade was quite patient with her, and I liked watching Skylar unbend enough to accept him into her life. Then Skylar ends up at a McKay family reunion, and it was nice to see that she was as overwhelmed by the McKays as, I think, most people would be.
I loved the family dynamics in this book. Skylar and her sister India had a relationship that felt real. Y’all know I read these books for the McKays and their soap opera, and I wasn’t disappointed on that score, either. It was handled with a light touch this time, but there was plenty of sequel baiting worked in, and I didn’t even care.

As I’ve said before about other books, the romance worked for me, for the most part, which I’ll talk about later. There weren’t many huge, life-alteringly dramatic conflicts keeping the two protagonists apart, and I thought what issues each character faced were realistic, which was why I pulled all the more for them. The sex scenes are delivered with Ms. James’s trademark hotness, and there were relatively few extraneous scenes. Trevor Glanzer and his penis of generosity did not make an appearance for a three-way, and I don’t recall any M/M action at all. This was fine, and I’m not sure it would have benefited the story anyway.

That said, I did have some issues. Firstly, apparently Skylar employs a lot of women in her factory where she makes herbal soaps and lotions. Many of them have been through domestic violence. She says domestic violence is an issue she cares deeply about. However, she has little security at the factory. Anyone can just walk in, and Cade frequently does. Also, the women bring their children to on-sight day care. To a place with no security. Cade calls her on that kind of nonsense, and she gets offended. It’s one of the climactic scenes of the book. Given how she says she cares deeply for her employees, why was this not a priority for her? It didn’t ring true, and her lack of foresight felt engineered as a means to another source of conflict with Cade.

My other issue was that at one point in the book, several characters, all of them male, have the “Women may say they want a gentleman. But really they want to be dominated and for someone to take control.” conversation. This is a conversation I hate in books, particularly in romance. I know it’s true. Lots of women do have ravishment fantasies. I do, however, resent a man’s taking that choice away from a woman. Granted, it turns out Skylar is one of those women, but is this dated message something we still need to perpetuate? Really? It makes my inner feminist sigh. A lot.

Despite those problems, I did enjoy the book, though it is not my favorite of the series.

Final Grade: B-

Up next: Trevor Glanzer and his wonder penis get their own book!

Review: Cowgirl Up and Ride by Lorelei James

Published August 22, 2012 by Shannon

Cowgirl Up and Ride (Rough Riders #3)

Title: Cowgirl Up and Ride
Author: Lorelei James
Genre: contemporary western romance
Series: Rough Riders, book 3
Read on: August 12, 2012

Synopsis:

Goody-two boots AJ Foster has waited her entire life for her dream cowboy Cord McKay to see her as more than the neighbor girl in pigtails. Now that she’s old enough to stake her claim on him, she’s pulling out all the sexual stops and riding hell-bent for leather—straight for his libido. Divorced rancher Cord has sworn off all women…until innocent AJ suggests he teach her how to ride bareback—and he realizes she doesn’t mean horses or bulls. Between his responsibilities running his massive ranch, missing his young son and dealing with the sexual shenanigans of his brother and cousins, Cord is more than willing to take AJ up on her offer. On a trial basis. The fun and games tie them both up in knots. AJ isn’t willing to settle for less than the whole shootin’ match with her western knight. But for Cord, even though the sexy cowgirl sets his blood ablaze, he’s determined to resist her efforts to lasso his battered heart. Sweet, determined AJ has the power to heal—or heel—the gruff cowboy…unless Cord’s pride keeps him from admitting their relationship is more than a simple roll in the hay.

I really liked the first two books in this series, but it’s with book 3 that I became well and truly hooked. Oh, the sexy times are still here, but this is the book where I began to read for the complicated family drama and intense emotions.

AJ Foster is a great heroine. She’s always been a good girl, at least compared to her neighbor and BFF, Keeley McKay, who has the usual McKay wild child reputation going on. She’s also been in love with Keeley’s brother, Cord, all her life. In lesser books, this would have meant AJ would have spent her whole life in stasis until Cord deigned to notice her. Thank God that didn’t happen. AJ’s spent the last year in Denver, attending massage therapy school, but she’s back now to take care of her mom, who hurt herself doing her ranching duties. When she finally approaches Cord, she’s self-assured enough to ask for what she wants, namely for him to show her what she’s been missing all these years.

Cord is an unhappy workaholic. The bright spots in his life are his son and his extended family. His son’s been spending time with Cord’s ex, though, so he’s got time on his hands. He agrees to the fling with AJ in part because it’ll give him something to do, and only on the condition that they keep it private.

As always, the sex scenes are scorching. I never feel, when I read these books, that the sex scenes are copy and paste jobs. They all feel integral to the story, and Ms. James managed to surprise me on a couple of occasions with their inventiveness.

that said, the romance wasn’t my favorite part. I loved the soap opera nature of the rest of the McKays. Cade McKay’s book is hinted at, we see Colt McKay wrestle with some difficult choices. We also watch AJ struggle with the fact that she’ll be losing the only home she’s ever known. These were all poignant scenes, and I never felt they were shoehorned in to pad the word count.

I admit that I also love it when the hero is blindsided by love for his heroine. It comes about slowly for Cord, and his moments of feeling at a loss when AJ couldn’t be there were absolutely endearing. It’s good to know that the McKays do have that tender side, and I loved the small moments when he and AJ become closer.

AJ was, as I mentioned, my favorite heroine so far in the series, and she deserved a guy like Cord in her life.

Final Grade: B+

Up next: Cade and Skye’s story!

Review: Rode Hard, Put Up Wet by Lorelei James

Published August 21, 2012 by Shannon

Rode Hard, Put Up Wet (Rough Riders #2)

Title: Rode Hard, Put Up Wet
Author: Lorelei James
Genre: contemporary romance
Series: Rough Riders, book 2
Source: Kindle
Read on: July 30, 2012

Synopsis from goodreads:

Workin up a hot, sticky sweat is pure pleasure with a hard-ridin cowboy or two. Struggling stock contractor Gemma Jansen swallows her pride and tracks down circuit rider Cash Big Crow to offer him a job managing her ranch. Cash agrees on one condition: theirs won’t be strictly a working relationship. She’s the boss during the day, but once she’s corralled in the bedroom, Cash calls the shots. Despite concerns about their age difference, Gemma consents. Cash suspects the sexy widow hides an untapped wild streak. He intends to loosen her tightly held reins of control even if he has to break out his horsewhip to do it. But Cash is in for a surprise. Gemma proves a rough and ready participant in any leather-n-lace game Cash dreams up. Between riding herd on his wayward daughter, Macie, and rowdy cowboy Carter McKay doggin Macie’s every boot step, Cash struggles to hide his true feelings for Gemma except this time, Gemma’s grabbed the bull by the horns and she’s playing for keeps. Summer’s going to be a hot one at the Bar 9.

The summary of the second installment in the Rough Riders series doesn’t do it justice. There are really two romances here, the one between Cash and Gemma, and the one between Macie and Carter. The blurb seems to indicate that Cash and Gemma’s is the primary love story, but I thought it was actually the weaker of the two.

I loved that Gemma was a much older heroine. I loved that her former husband was someone she’d loved deeply, and I appreciated that the struggles Gemma went through didn’t incapacitate her. She was relatable and I rooted for her completely.

That said, the conflicts between herself and Cash just weren’t as interesting to me as the romance between Macie and Carter. In this case, both of them are fairly young. Carter’s the sensitive artiste McKay, so he’s not so much a rough and tumble cowboy, although he knows how to act the part. He looks on Macie as his muse, a reaction that befuddles her. Macie’s got some trust issues of her own. She’s never had a stable family, Cash not having been around for most of her life, and she expects people to abandon her. That includes Cash and Carter. She didn’t whine about it, and I didn’t find her a tedious martyr, so I empathized with her issues.

My favorite aspect of the book was the growing relationship between Macie and Cash. Cash carries a lot of guilt for not being there for Macie when she was a kid. Watching the two of them try to figure out where they stood with each other was heart-wrenching. I also appreciated the fact that Ms. James plays the relationship between Macie and Gemma realistically. In the end, they get along, but they’re not going to be having sleepovers and talking about boys, nor should they.

I enjoyed this installment. We get a bit of a glimpse at more of the McKays and get some more character traits to go with the names, which made me excited to continue. However, I thought Ms. James tried to do a bit too much by cramming two romances into the story. I also thought she was searching a little too hard for a reason to put in the obligatory threesome and M/M scenes. In fact, the threesome didn’t work for me, and I was starting to wonder if I was going to have to start drinking every time Trevor Glanzer acts the gigolo for random characters in the book.

Overall, a bit of a mixed bag but still with more to recommend it than not.

Final Grade: B-

Up next: Rough Riders number 3, featuring unrequited love with the workaholic McKay

Review: Long Hard Ride by Lorelei James

Published August 20, 2012 by Shannon

Welcome to the Rough Riders week over at Flight into Fantasy. Why are we having a Rough Riders week? Because I find this series of contemporary western romances to be like delicious popcorn, impossible not to gobble up in large doses. Luckily for me, the series clocks in at 13 books, so I have lots of popcorn to savor.

Long Hard Ride (Rough Riders #1)

Title: Long Hard Ride
Author: Lorelei James
Genre: contemporary erotic romance
Series: Rough Riders, book 1
Source: Kindle
Read on: July 29, 2012

Synopsis from goodreads:

Channing Kinkaid itches for a wild western adventure with an untamed man. Enter Colby McKay, bull rider, saddle bronc buster and calf roper. He knows he’s found a woman who’s up to the challenge of cutting loose. Intrigued by Channing’s bold proposition to “horse around” on the road, Colby proposes sexual escapades not only in his bed, but in those of his two rodeo traveling partners. Can Channing give up total control? Especially when not all is as it seems with the sexy trio?

This is the second time I’ve tried to read this book. I think I was turned off the first time by the fact that shenanigans started early, before I’d had a chance to even really learn the names of these people. The second time, though, I was struck by what a refreshing change it is to read a romance novel about someone who genuinely enjoys sex and is out to be a slut and paint the town red. Channing wants adventure, which is why she’s out West. But when her traveling partner turns out to have a wife, she feels like she’s failed at that, until Colby McKay rescues her. He promises her all the excitement she could want, both in and out of the bedroom. And he’s got two hot traveling companions, too, and Channing is eager to serve all of them in whatever way they want.

I liked Channing. She’s spunky and out for adventure, but she’s had her heart broken already, and she knows that what she has with Colby is temporary, but the longer she spends in and out of his bed, the more he comes to mean to her. I felt for her as she tried to figure out exactly what her place was in Colby’s world, and I rooted for her to actually find happiness with Colby and to be accepted by his family.

Colby has always lived for the rodeo. He’s not been serious about anyone until Channing comes along, but it doesn’t take long for him to fall hard for her. And once the two of them start knocking boots, which they do in every conceivable way, it becomes clear there’s actually an emotional connection. And, of course, Channing gets introduced to the McKay family, all 187 thousand of them, all of whom will get their own books.

I like the way that, in among all the sex, Ms. James manages to introduce a whole passel of family dramas. I was hooked when I finished this book, and I wanted to read more about the rest of the hot McKay boys. There was enough drama to make me feel like I was reading a soap opera, and I loved it. Channing’s friend Gemma’s romance is nicely set up, and I appreciated the fact that Ms. James is willing to go down the road of M/M later on in the series. That said, we don’t really get much of a glimpse of too many of the McKays here. We get some names and little blurbs, but we don’t really meet any of them. I don’t think this is quite the case the further along in the series, but here it serves as enough of a tantalizing glimpse of sequel bait for me.

Final grade: B

Up next: The second book in the series features two romances for the price of one.

Review: Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

Published August 17, 2012 by Shannon

Silent in the Grave (Lady Julia, #1)
Title: Silent in the Grave
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Genre: mystery
Series: Lady Julia Gray 1
Source: audiobook
Read on: August 7, 2012

Synopsis from goodreads:

“LET THE WICKED BE ASHAMED, AND LET THEM BE SILENT IN THE GRAVE.” These ominous words, slashed from the pages of a book of Psalms, are the last threat that the darling of London society, Sir Edward Grey, receives from his killer. Before he can show them to Nicholas Brisbane, the private inquiry agent he has retained for his protection, Sir Edward collapses and dies at his London home, in the presence of his wife, Julia, and a roomful of dinner guests. Prepared to accept that Edward’s death was due to a long-standing physical infirmity, Julia is outraged when Brisbane visits and suggests that Sir Edward has been murdered. It is a reaction she comes to regret when she discovers the damning paper for herself, and realizes the truth. Determined to bring her husband’s murderer to justice, Julia engages the enigmatic Brisbane to help her investigate Edward’s demise. Dismissing his warnings that the investigation will be difficult, if not impossible, Julia presses forward, following a trail of clues that lead her to even more unpleasant truths, and ever closer to a killer who waits expectantly for her arrival.

Mysteries are a hard sell for me. I keep accumulating them, thinking that I will become a fan of the genre through sheer force of will. It hasn’t happened yet. I like books with strong female leads, and I have little interest in reading about women as victims or near victims, though my love for romantic suspense means I can put up with that plot device for a good love story. I’m also not a fan of authors going into almost pornographic detail about the descriptions of said victimization. And yet, the idea of reading books where murder happens offscreen and is solved by somebody’s super-intelligent animal companion makes my teeth ache. There are authors whose books I adore, even some violent ones, but they are few and far between.

The first Lady Julia Gray mystery seemed like the sort I would like. Enough violence to get the plot moving, a first-person female narrator (which means I’m not likely to read lovingly detailed descriptions of her torture) and an interesting setting in the Victorian era. I’m pleased to report that it delivered, and I have a new series to add to my ever-increasing list of series to keep plugging away at until I finish.

I liked Julia as a character. She’s a little silly, and a little naive, which I could see being an irritant to some readers, but she worked for me because she was a genuinely nice person. Some of her silliness could be excused due to her life circumstances, so I’m able to cut her a bit of a break there, especially when other characters call her on it, particularly the enigmatic Brisbane. I also thought that some of Julia’s more modern sensibilities were excused in a way that worked for me.

The other characters worked in varying ways. I know that Brisbane is set up to be a future love interest, but I feel about him the way I feel about Roarke from the Eve Dallas books. I could take him or leave him at this point. I thought the whole mysterious past and tortured hero thing he had going for him was a little overwritten, but at least he’s not a fictional character in Julia’s universe, so I’m willing to give him another book or so to woo both me and Julia. The truly great characters, though, were Julia’s family. I loved her father, and I adored Julia’s sister Portia, who has taken up with Jane, a woman she met during her short marriage to her fabulously wealthy and old husband. I wanted more about Portia and Jane, and was more invested in their romance than the intrigue over Brisbane.

As for the mystery, it wasn’t particularly interesting to me. In fact, it seems to be forgotten for side trips involving the March family, which is OK because I had it figured out a long time before Julia did. I didn’t know quite how it had been done, or the motive, but I had the killer worked out fairly quickly.

Overall, I found this a satisfying start to a series I’m excited to keep up with. I want more of the March family, and I’m curious to see how Julia grows as a character.

Final Grade: B

Up next, we begin a week with the Rough Riders.