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review 2014-12-21 20:14
Short, sexy holiday novella
Her Christmas Earl: A Regency Novella - Anna Campbell

I've never read Anna Campbell, but I enjoyed this holiday novella well enough that I intend to check out some of her longer works (even though historical romance hasn't been working well for me lately). 


Philippa's beautiful, flirtatious, scatterbrained sister Amelia has just become engaged, but her reputation could be ruined if anyone learns of the love letter Amelia sent to the rakish Earl of Erskine (who is not her fiancé). Philippa breaks into the Earl's chamber in an effort to recover the damaging letter, but her own reputation is destroyed when she and the Earl get trapped in the chamber together. When they are discovered in the morning, only a hasty marriage can repair the damage -- but Philippa doesn't want to be tied forever to a man who doesn't want her. However, having lived so long in her sister's shadow, Philippa underestimates her own charms. The Earl wasn't looking for marriage, but he's not at all sorry about his lot. 


Short, but well-written, sexy, and satisfying. As I said, I'll be checking out some of Anna Campbell's longer work!

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review 2014-09-17 15:05
Another Emotionally-Constipated Hero. Sigh. (And not a happy sigh, either...)
The Chief - Monica McCarty

Monica McCarty advertises her Highland Guard series (of which this is the first) as "Special Ops in kilts." These are medieval Scottish romances about an elite group of specially-trained, specially-skilled warriors who serve Robert the Bruce in the fourteenth-century struggle for Scottish independence. The first five of these books have been sitting in my TBR pile for ages, and I decided, in the week leading up to the September 18 vote on Scotland's independence referendum, that this was the perfect time to move them to the top of the pile. I read The Chief on Saturday-Sunday, The Hawk Monday-Tuesday, and started The Ranger this morning. Obviously, though, I'm not going to finish the whole ten book (so far) series by tomorrow's vote.


While it's clear McCarty did a lot of research (and her Author's Notes at the end of each book, about the true events versus where she took artistic liberties, are fascinating and not to be skipped), these read like wallpaper historicals because the dialogue and the character's sensibilities and values are anachronistically modern. That's okay with me: I'm not a stickler for historical accuracy so long as I get a good story.


The Chief tells the story of Tor McLeod, the reluctant leader of the Highland Guard, and Christina Fraser, the youngest daughter of a fervent and somewhat crazy Scottish rebel. Tor doesn't want to get involved with the Highland Guard or with Fraser and his cohorts, because it is better for his clan if he can keep them neutral in the bloody conflict between Robert Bruce and the English. However, when Fraser forces Christina to go along with one of those arrange-for-virgin-daughter-to-be-caught-alone-with-heir-so-he'll-be-honor-bound-to-marry-her schemes that one often sees in Regency romance plots, Tor no longer has much choice in the matter.


Despite her participation in this nefarious marriage trap (Christina only did it because she knew her weaker and meeker sister would be forced to if she didn't), Tor and Christina's marriage has a fairly promising beginning. He forgives her, they've got chemistry, and Christina works her curvy little butt off trying to be a good chatelaine for his dreary old heap of a castle. Unfortunately, Tor is determined to hold himself emotionally aloof because as master of his clan, he can't afford to have his judgment clouded by sentiment. Consequently, he tells her nothing about anything, and as a result of her naivete and her well-intentioned but misdirected attempts to muddle along in her new role without any guidance from her husband, Christina makes some very costly mistakes that threaten to drive a further wedge between the lovers.


I gave this book only three stars because I'm not a fan of the I-don't-wanna-love-you-because-REASONS trope (and the attendant poor communication between the main characters that always results), so the romance between Tor and Christina didn't do much for me, but the story about gathering and training the Highland Guard and the coming conflict between the Bruce and the English was enough to hold my attention anyway.

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review 2014-07-21 14:58
Marriage of Convenience with a Contemporary Twist
The Perfect Match - Kristan Higgins

This is a contemporary twist on the old Marriage-of-Convenience trope. When Tom's employer tells him they won't be renewing his work visa, he's got to come up with a backup plan to stay in the States so he can stay close to his stepson -- who isn't actually is stepson (since the boy's mom died before they married), and with whom he isn't actually "close" (since the angsty teen wants nothing to do with him). Enter Honor Holland, who has just lost the man she's loved for her entire life to her backstabbing so-called best friend. Start with mutual desperation, stir in a few drinks, add a hot shag, and viola, you have a recipe for marital immigration fraud.


Kristan Higgins is hit or miss for me, and this was an uncomfortable read in a lot of ways. Higgins has a tendency to use her heroines' extreme public humiliation as a plot device, which isn't my cup of tea. Here, Honor tries to get her lover's attention by doing the whole nude-under-the-raincoat thing, only to be caught by his visiting parents, and then he compares their sexual relationship to an old baseball glove (comfortable and familiar, but not something you need every day), and then he meets her in a crowded pub in front of the whole town to share the news of his engagement to her erstwhile best friend, and Honor and the ex-friend get into a brawl right then and there. (Compare all this with the previous book in the series, in which Honor's little sister gets jilted by her high school sweetheart at the altar on their wedding day, when he comes out of the closet, and later on, if I'm remembering correctly, Faith has her own episode of public nudity at the very same pub.)  Anyway, Higgins puts her heroines in these epically mortifying situations for comic effect -- but I've never been one to laugh at others' misfortune, so these scenes rarely work for me.


Worse, these heroines are so nice that they try to save the relationships with the people who orchestrated their humiliation. Honor never tells the jackass who slept with her for seventeen years and then ran off with her best friend that he broke her heart; she just puts on a brave face and apologizes for "overreacting" when she brawled with his fiancee. She even makes some tentative advances toward forgiving the backstabbing best friend. She's simply too good to be true, and her niceness is a little bit stomach-churning, honestly.


I also found it hard to connect with the hero, Tom. He's been burned in relationships in the past, so he decides not to let himself fall for Honor because surely it can never work out anyway. This bothered me for two reasons: 1) generally, I'm not a fan of the I-don't-want-to-love-you-because-REASONS trope, where one of the lovers has some prior damage or experience that makes them willfully resist commitment and emotional entanglements, because, come on, grow the fuck up already, and 2) specifically to this story, the one thing Honor asked for when she agreed to commit a felony by marrying him so he could get a green card was that they give the 'fake' relationship an opportunity to grow into something real, and by resisting love at every turn, Tom is betraying that promise. Then, rather than talking to Honor about his fears, he behaves like a jerk and wounds her deeply, and though in the end he proves he would literally run into a burning building for her, a heartfelt apology would have been more powerful and far more satisfying.


The other thing that bothered me about Tom is that he drinks too much (he says he's just British, not a lush), and that's always a huge issue for me since I grew up with alcoholic parents.


All that said, though, Kristan Higgins is funny and I like the familiarity of her small town romances even when I have major issues with the main plot, as I did here. I'm sure I'll keep reading most of what Ms. Higgins puts out, even though her plots and characters sometimes set my teeth on edge.

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