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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 2014-11-12 16:57
Ripped From the Headlines
The Year We Hid Away - Sarina Bowen

I devoured the whole Ivy Years series in a long weekend, and I'm not usually a fan of New Adult. These books were refreshingly original and very entertaining, though this second entry, The Year We Hid Away, was my least favorite of the series.


I loved the premise. Scarlet goes off to Harkness College (think Yale) desperate to reinvent herself. Her father is a college hockey coach at the center of a huge child sex abuse scandal (think Jerry Sandusky), and in the year since news of the scandal broke, Scarlet has been shunned and abandoned by even her closest friends. Scarlet wants to make a clean start, but her family is leaning on her to be publicly support her father during his upcoming trial, and the prosecution's efforts to talk to her test her family loyalties. Scarlet's relationship with her family seems like it was strained even before the scandal broke, but she still struggles with the prospect of throwing her father under the bus. I was intrigued with the notion of taking a "ripped from the headlines" type of story and examining how a scandal like that could impact and devastate innocent bystanders.


Meanwhile, Bridger McCaulley also has a secret. His drug addicted mother has started cooking meth in the house, so he took his seven-year-old sister and is hiding her in his dorm room, in violation of about a bazillion college regulations. If he gets caught, he might get booted out of school, and his sister would likely be sent to foster care. Between school and work and looking after Lucy, Bridger doesn't have time for a social life, but he steals every free moment he can find with Scarlet, who is the brightest thing in his dismal life.


I don't usually like stories where the main characters aren't honest with each other, but Bridger and Scarlet discovered each other's secrets quickly enough that the initial dishonesty didn't poison their intimacy. Once they share their secrets, they help each other hide from the rest of the world, and when the house of cards comes down, they help one another to clean up the mess.


This was an entertaining read, but all three of the books in the series end with a plot twist that ties things up a little too tidily to be believed. This book was the most egregious example of that, which is too bad.

Scarlet spends the whole book tortured because she didn't know anything about the allegations against her dad. At the very end of the book, her torment is resolved because it turns out a) her dad isn't really her dad, and b) she secretly did know something crucial, but had buried the memory in her subconscious.

(spoiler show)


In addition to the too-tidy ending, I wish that Scarlet's family had been more multifaceted. Her dad, in addition to being a likely pedophile, is an abusive and arrogant asshat. Her mom is an unfeeling automaton, caring more about appearances than the well-being of her daughter. This would have been a much, much more interesting story if they had been more complex and likeable people, such that the reader might feel some actual doubt as to the father's guilt, or have a sense that the mom, like Scarlet, thinks not only about the upcoming trial but also has some concern for the victims of the alleged assaults.


Oh well; it was still an entertaining read.

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review 2014-09-17 15:50
Chock Full of Crazy
The Hawk - Monica McCarty

I've had Monica McCarty's "Special Ops in kilts" Highland Guard series in my TBR for a long time, and moved it to the top of the list in the days leading up to Scotland's September 18, 2014 vote on whether or not to remain part of the United Kingdom, because what's more appropriate on the verge of a vote for Scottish Independence than to read about Robert the Bruce's 1306-07 struggle for Scottish Independence?


The Hawk is the second book in the series, and holy moly, it is Chock Full of Crazy. If you are a stickler for historical accuracy or have a low tolerance for plot ridiculousness, this is not the book for you. There is a scene in which the hero and heroine sail across the Irish Sea in a fierce storm in the middle of the night in the dead of winter in a ten foot skiff cobbled together with scrap wood and seal grease and sailed with a freaking bedsheet, and when the mast breaks, they're all, "Oooh, this is sexy!" and they lay down in the bottom of the boat and get it on. Some people would be annoyed by this kind of thing: I just laughed and rolled my eyes so hard I nearly strained a muscle.


If you have a high tolerance for ridiculousness, though, this book can give you a heck of a ride: there are kidnappings, chase scenes, narrow escapes, hand-to-hand combat, dangerous missions, spies, and lots and lots of boats (I'm a sucker for boats). Erik "Hawk" MacSorley can sail anything and swim like a fish. He's also gorgeous and charming and basically sex-on-a-stick. He gets around, and makes no bones about it. He is trying to gather Irish soldiers to assist in Robert the Bruce's uprising against England's Edward I, and is having a secret rendezvous with Irish militants when Ellie accidentally swims into the cave where they're hatching their plans. (Yes, she's swimming. At night. In January. Chock Full of Crazy, I tell you.) Hawk can't let her go because he doesn't know what she's heard, and he can't leave her to be raped and killed by the Irish (who are great when you need a hand in a fight, but you can't trust 'em around the ladies), so he takes her with him as a captive.


Ellie mistakenly believes Hawk is a pirate, and that he'd take advantage if he knew she was the wealthy daughter of an earl aligned with the English, so she tells him she's a lowly nursemaid. This mutual mistake of identity persists throughout much of the novel.

Ellie is also (as the story keeps telling us over and over and over again) painfully plain and not at all Hawk's usual type. I know that it's supposed to be romantic when Adonis falls for Plain Jane despite her lack of looks, but whatever: all of that handwringing about how-can-anyone-so-perfect-possibly-look-twice-at-me? (on Ellie's part) and I-can't-believe-my-staff-is-rising-for-this-chick-who-barely-has-any-boobs (on Hawk's part) really doesn't reflect well on either of them.


That said, Ellie is really smart and has plenty of starch in her collar, and Hawk is funny and charming and noble, so their romance mostly worked for me even despite the annoying Plain Jane trope and their inexplicable tendency to get hot and bothered in circumstances which seem cold, wet, and uncomfortable to me. (See the infamous Boat Scene, referenced above.) 


I liked the first three quarters of the book much better than the end, where the lovers were separated and the plot bogged down in the skirmishes between Robert's and Edward's battalions, but on the whole, this was a fun (albeit completely absurd) read.

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review 2014-06-02 17:07
The Romance Equivalent of an Action Adventure Movie
Beauty and the Bounty Hunter - Lori Austin

You ever watch an action adventure movie where things just keep coming at you -- car chases, explosions, daring escapes, near misses -- and you spend the whole movie on the edge of your seat, afraid to go to the restroom even though you badly need to pee (partly because the movie has your adrenaline pumping, partly because of that zillion-ounce soda you guzzled) because you don't want to miss anything? This book was like that, except I could put it down for potty breaks.


Set in and around Kansas in 1870, the story focuses on Cat O'Banyon, a legendary female bounty hunter who travels the west bringing outlaws to justice and seeking the villain who killed her husband

and raped her

(spoiler show)

. Cat learned most of what she knows about disguise from Alexi Romanov, an itinerant confidence man and playboy who was her lover in the dark days after her husband's murder. Alexi saved her sanity, but when she was strong enough, she left him because 1) he's a manwhore, and 2) she's a woman on a mission.


Cat's and Alexi's paths cross again when someone puts a bounty on Cat's head, and suddenly instead of hunting outlaws, Cat's on the run because every outlaw on the frontier is suddenly hunting her. This book is jam-packed with action--shoot-outs, narrow escapes, near-death experiences--and interspersed with flashbacks to the formative events that shaped both Cat's and Alexi's characters. (For Cat, this is her husband's murder, for Alexi, it is his time as a sniper in the Union Army and subsequent torment as a prisoner of war held in the Confederacy's most notorious prison.)


The romance element in this story is honestly a bit thin (I had a hard time believing Alexi reformed his manwhoring ways, or that Cat really cares that much if he does), but the plot is so exciting, who cares?

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review 2014-02-01 21:11
Entertaining Until the Plot Went off the Rails
Romancing the Duke - Tessa Dare

Tessa Dare is one of my favorite authors, but I'm not sure what to make of this first book in her new Castles Ever After series. I couldn't tell while reading it if Dare meant for this to be a gothic romance. It certainly has gothic elements -- penniless ingenue in desperate straits at the mercy of bitter, scarred, misanthropic (but tall, dark, and handsome) man, set in a creepy, crumbling, isolated old castle that might well be haunted -- but if Dare was aiming for gothic, she missed her mark. Despite the creepy ambience, this book doesn't have the dark, spooky, suspenseful tone of a gothic novel. Instead, I think (hope?) Dare was spoofing the old gothics, and if that was her intent, she hit the nail on the head, because the gothic tropes seem not so much eerie as entertaining (example: the story is set at Gostley Castle, and the heroine's solicitor asks whether that rhymes with "ghostly" or "ghastly.") 


The heroine, Izzy Goodnight, finds herself destitute after her father fails to provide for her in his will. She's down to her last shillings when she learns she's inherited a crumbling castle in Northumberland. Unfortunately, the castle isn't empty: Ransom, the Duke of Rothbury, has been convalescing (read: hiding) there since being gravely injured in a duel with his ex-fiancee's lover. Rothbury contests Izzy's inheritance, since he owns the castle and didn't authorize its sale to the guy who bequeathed it to Izzy. However, he's ignored his correspondence for the months since his injury, and both agree that there might be some clue to the dilemma amid the pile of letters awaiting Rothbury's attention. Since Rothbury's condition still doesn't allow him to read his mail without assistance, Izzy agrees to act as his secretary while they sort out the mess. 


The reader has to be willing to approach this story with an open mind, because much of it is just absurd. That a gently-bred, unmarried woman would be willing to stay, unchaperoned, in a ghost- and pest-infested old pile with a cranky, unmarried duke (and said duke would be willing to let her) is the first of many disbeliefs the reader must willingly suspend. (It helps that Izzy is penniless: she hasn't really got any alternative; it also helps that Ransom's injuries are significant enough that, duke or not, he's not a hot commodity on the marriage mart anymore.) 


Izzy is penniless, but she's not alone in the world. Before his death, her father published a serial novel which is so popular it inspired LARPers to tour the countryside, re-enacting the scenes. To this band of misfits, Izzy is a celebrity -- though they don't know, and don't want to know, the real Izzy; they just want to know the timid, innocent little girl immortalized in the novel. 


Though Romancing the Duke is undeniably entertaining, and there were several points where I laughed out loud (Izzy has a pet weasel, and come on, how often do you find LARPers in romance?), much of the plot didn't really work for me. Ransom is attracted to Izzy, and eventually his number one priority is to see to her well-being, but he's really slow in getting there: in the first scene, she is literally fainting because she hasn't eaten in days, and when Ransom learns that, he doesn't try to feed her or even seem worried that she's gone hungry. Later on, Ransom uncomfortably close to a bodice-ripper-style angry-sex seduction scene, and while I should have trusted Dare to avoid a dubious consent love scene (as she eventually does when Izzy calls halt), it was a close call and turned me off to Ransom as a romantic lead.


Worse, there's a huge hole in the plot. Ransom and Izzy come together to try and sort out his correspondence and who owns Gostley Castle, and it's rapidly clear that someone has been taking advantage of Ransom's inattention to his business affairs to rip him off. Figuring out the scheme and unmasking the thief should have been the climax of the novel, but instead it was barely touched upon, only glancingly mentioned as an afterthought in a final scene that was a chaotic shitstorm of badly-plotted WTFery. 




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