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review 2016-06-25 00:22
The Tender Stranger
Tender Stranger (Best Of The Best) (Silhouette Romance) - Diana Palmer

After reading several Diana Palmer books that left me scratching my head and wondering why I would inflict such torture on myself, I pulled out some of her older ones to remind me why I keep trying to find a smidgen of the old Diana Palmer magic in her newer releases. I've reread The Case of Missing Secretary (review to come), To Love and To Cherish, The Wedding in White (double ditto), and this one: The Tender Stranger. *happy sigh*


Sometimes a walk down memory lane is a good thing as it was here. Of course, I read it a long, long time ago, way back in prehistoric times, definitely pre GR, so I felt I was almost reading it for the first time again. I had forgotten what a little gem it is.


Dani St. Clair is 26, a little introverted, a spinster, and a bookstore owner who has, at the urging of her best friend, Harriet, decides to let her hair down, have an adventure for once in her life. That's how she ends up on a crowded plane, fresh from a romance writers' autographing session with a stack of signed romance novels for friends back home in Greenville, South Carolina headed for Veracruz, Mexico. Let me just pause right there for a moment of appreciation. She's a bookseller. A woman who unashamedly reads romance novels. One who carries an armload of romance novels on board a crowded plane. Someone who actually, you know, likes the genre and respects it and defends it, if need be. How refreshing!


One of the things that went completely under my radar way back in the dark ages when I read it the first time was the hero's Dutch heritage. I immediately thought of Betty Neels and squealed a little, but my oversight is entirely understandable since my "discovery" of The Great Betty wouldn't happen till many years later.


His name is Eric James Van Meer, he was born in Utrecht, and he lived there until he was a teenager. I was pretty excited anticipating the possibility of a Diana Palmer/Betty Neels mashup. Well, it wasn't exactly that but I love any connection I can make to La Neels. Eric "Dutch" Van Meer is a mercenary, expert in knife throwing and logistics, not a wealthy Dutch doctor, and though he can be enigmatic at times, he's mainly a "think it/say it" kind of guy. Plus, there are *ahem* several trips to Brighton throughout the book that surely would have brought a blush or two to The Great Betty's cheeks.


"Dutch" is 36, tall, blond, wealthy, and world weary. His past is truly a sad one featuring a former lover who betrayed him at a very high cost not only to himself and but also to his beloved parents. If it had just been the tired old "a woman done me wrong, so I hate 'em all", I probably would have had to pick my eyes up from the floor after they rolled out of my head just thinking of 12 years of sack cloth and ashes for Dutch. Instead, his tragedy and guilt is rooted in his personal actions and the too little/too late discovery of exactly what it cost him to become involved with the wrong woman. That made sense to me.


Dani is such a great heroine, a little shy but not afraid to stand up for her principles. In short, this gal has a backbone (something missing in some latter Diana Palmer heroines.) Her self-deprecating sense of humor is endearing without being saccharine or false. When she says she has no illusions about the lack of men in her life, she says it with a surprising cynicism but lacking any resemblance whatsoever to a pity party. She does have a few body issues (large bazooms that garner lots of stares, not pretty except for eyes and mouth, the latter is kind of expected in a romance heroine), but her self confidence grows over the course of the book. I appreciated that a lot.


I liked how The Tender Stranger starts off immediately in the hero's POV. It not only introduces Dani immediately making her a sympathetic character (because dear hero is not too kind in his initial impression of her) but it sets up the hero's "I'm so tough" persona so that you know immediately he's going to fall - very quickly and very hard - for Dani.


He sighed, watching her. A spinster, he thought unkindly. From her flyaway brown hair to the eyes under those wire-rimmed glasses, from her bulky white sweater down to her long gray skirt and sensible gray shoes, she was definitely someone's unclaimed treasure.


He didn't like women. Never less than now, when he was forced to endure this particular woman's company for several hundred miles from San Antonio down to Veracruz, Mexico. He glanced sideways irritably. She was shifting books now. Books, for God's sake! Didn't she know what the baggage hold was for?


"You should have reserved a seat for them," he muttered, glaring at a stack of what was obviously romance novels.


She swallowed, a little intimidated as her swept over his muscular physique, blond hair and a face that looked positively hostile. He had nice hands, though. Very lean and tanned and strong-looking. Scars on the back of one of them . .


"I'm sorry," she murmured, avoiding his eyes. "I've just come from a romance writer's autographing in San Antonio. These — these are autographed copies I'm taking back for friends after my Mexican holiday, and I was afraid to trust them to the luggage compartment."


"Priceless gems?"he asked humorlessly, giving them a speaking glare as she she tucked a sackful under her seat.


'"To some people, yes," she acknowledged. Her face tautened and she didn't look at him again. (6-9)


You can just hear the sneer in his voice at those silly romance novels she's lugging around. Despite his impatience with the "prim little woman next to him", his condescension about her reading material, and his dismissive internal monologue about her presumed chastity and reserve, her "nervous eyes and hands", he can't stop sneaking peeks at her. Particularly, her hands.


She had nice hands, though, he thought, pursing his lips as he studied them. Long fingers, very graceful, and no polish. They were the hands of a lady.


It irritated him that he'd noticed that. He glared harder at her. (10)


But Dani has had just about enough of his attitude, her spine straightens, and soon she's fighting fire with fire.


It was one thing to be impatiently tolerated, but she didn't like that superior glare. She turned and glared back at him. Something danced briefly in his dark eyes before he turned them back to the stewardess. (10)


"Dutch" has to respect someone willing to go toe-to-toe with him and soon he's appreciating her wacky sense of humor, surprised by her generosity of spirit, charmed by her idealistic outlook and completely reassessing his initial harsh uncomplimentary judgment of Dani.


The romance felt a little rushed for me in the beginning and though "getting married in a fever hotter than a pepper sprout" sounds fun and exciting, you have to wonder what happens when that fire burns itself out. One or both might end up going to Jackson to mess around or wreck their health or acting like a scalded hound if it doesn't work out, you know. Seriously, I had difficulty believing sensible, practical Dani would throw all caution to the wind and marry "Dutch" within two days. Alas, it is titled The Tender Stranger after all.


Of course, he doesn't tell her he's a mercenary with a death wish, and when she finds out, "Dutch" really begins to see the woman he's married. Dani's honesty and her self awareness won't allow her to just roll over for this handsome, sexy man. She knows his dangerous lifestyle is one she won't be able to live with. I love that she stood by her guns and refuses to be seduced away from what she recognizes will be debilitating and destructive for herself.


I'm really glad I reread The Tender Stranger. It has all the elements I love in a Diana Palmer book without the crazy train elements I've encountered in her books lately. Dutch is definitely a hero in pursuit, drawn to Dani despite all the defenses he throws up to keep her at arm's length, a hero challenged by her to knock out the walls he's surrounded himself with, to embrace life. Dani was the one looking for adventure and challenge in the beginning, but I loved how it flipped so that Dutch was the one who was challenged by her strength and bravery, who had to learn from Dani how to step out of the past, to acknowledge his past mistakes, and more importantly to forgive himself for them and to accept contentment and happiness and love for the gifts they are.

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review 2016-04-03 01:45
"Never Sweeter" by Charlotte Stein
Never Sweeter: A Dark Obsession Novel - Charlotte Stein

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


I wrote in my last review that if Courtney Milan published her grocery lists, I'd probably read them. Well, if Charlotte Stein published her grocery lists, they'd probably turn me on. 


I'm not usually a fan of New Adult, but I loved the premise of Never Sweeter. The heroine, Letty, was viciously bullied in high school, and I'm not talking simple name calling or fat shaming (though I don't mean to minimize those hurts): a truck full of jocks literally ran her off a cliff. Two years later, she's at college, recovered from her physical injuries and starting to recover from the emotional damage -- but just as her life is coming together, one of the jocks responsible for running her down shows up in her film class. 


I thought the way Stein addressed Letty's bullying and the long-term impact on her self-esteem and her ability to trust was brilliant. -And the way she made Tate a believable and likable hero, without minimizing his culpability for what he did in high school, was amazing. Few writers could pull that off in an authentic way, but Tate is vulnerable and remorseful and very, very appealing, and the reader falls in love with him right along with Letty, even while sharing Letty's extreme reservations (since we know what he's done). 


My only complaints about the book are that the end is a bit too sudden, and there's a subplot involving the mafia which felt like an unnecessary slathering of Crazysauce on top of an otherwise extremely authentic and relatable story. These are relatively minor quibbles, though. I wholeheartedly recommend this, and I'll definitely read it again. 

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review 2016-03-15 02:38
Real Love on the Rebound
The Trophy Husband - Lynne Graham

I read this years ago, but I didn't really remember much about it. Downloading the Kindle and doing a reread was a good move. I liked this quite a bit. I miss the books where the heroine is a plain Jane. That trope doesn't seem as popular nowadays. The heroine tends to be exquisitely beautiful now more than anything, at least in my opinion. Sara wasn't really a plain Jane. She just wasn't tall and model Slender and blonde. Alex certainly had a very powerful obsession with her. Everyone could tell he was in love with her, except Sara. I like when the hero is crazy about the heroine, but she's a bit oblivious (but not in a she thinks she's too good for him kind of way). Alex is definitely a Lynne Graham hero but he's not quite as arrogant as some of hers run. He seems a bit more vulnerable. I think there would have been less trouble for them both if he had just been honest with Sara about being in love with her. Instead, he was sending out all these mixed signals and getting mad at her because he thought she was still stuck on her ex-fiance.

Glad I did a reread when I did.

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review 2016-02-15 01:37
"The Hooker and the Hermit" by L.H. Cosway & Penny Reid
The Hooker and the Hermit - Penny Reid,Luci Cosway

I had some believability issues with this book, but on the whole I enjoyed it quite a bit. Ronan is staying in Manhattan after being suspended from his rugby team after beating up a teammate for sleeping with his long-time girlfriend. He reluctantly hires a P.R. firm to help clean up his public image, where he meets Annie, a deliciously uptight nerd who can do wonders with his online reputation. Unbeknownst to everyone, Annie is the public alter-ego of famous celebrity blogger Socialmedialite, who has already established a slap-slap-kiss-kiss email correspondence with Ronan after posting a post-workout picture of him on her blog. 


I've never read L.H. Cosway, but I like Penny Reid, and this book had the funny-yet-decidedly-oddball flavor I've come to associate with Penny Reid, especially in the dialogue. I found the plotting of this to be tighter than other books of Reid's that I've read, which was a good thing, and the dialogue and the authors' voice was smart and funny, which I really enjoyed. The sexy parts are a little racier than Penny Reid's usual fare, with a mild BDSM-kink, but nothing that the average mainstream romance reader would find too off-putting. 


As I mentioned, I struggled a little bit with willing suspension of disbelief. First, there's the coincidence that Annie-as-Socialmedialite and Annie-as-P.R.-professional both run in to Ronan at the same time. Second, Ronan gets followed by paparazzi everywhere he goes, which I can buy when they're in Ireland, but I had a hard time believing that the NYC paps would give a fig about a disgraced Irish rugby player. Third, Ronan's fall for Annie is pretty insta-lovey, especially since he's just getting out of an ugly relationship. 


Those issues didn't do much to diminish my enjoyment of the story, though, which was fast-paced, lighthearted, and a lot of fun, and very engaging even as I had several quibbles with the plot. I will definitely read on the series. 

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review 2016-02-06 03:16
"Wicked Sexy Liar" by Christina Lauren
Wicked Sexy Liar - Christina Lauren

A lot of series lose steam as they go along, but this one keeps getting better. This is book four in the "Wild Seasons" series, and it's better than book one, "Sweet Filthy Boy," though connected to that story more than the subsequent books in the series. Each book stands alone, but it will probably be a little more satisfying if you read at least "Sweet Filthy Boy" first, because that book introduces Mia, who is the ex-girlfriend of the hero, Luke, of this one. 


"Wicked Sexy Liar" is a Reformed-Rake/Taming-of-the-Manwhore story. Five years ago, Luke broke up with Mia, his high school sweetheart, and went a little crazy on the rebound. He's spent the interim having lots and lots and lots of casual sex, and when he meets London, that's what they're both looking for. 


Of course, London's got a magical hooha, and as soon as Luke hooks up with her, he can't get enough, but she has good reasons for wanting to keep things casual, especially when she realizes Luke is her friend Mia's ex. (Because friends' exes are, of course, off limits.) 


The entertainment of the Manwhore-Taming trope usually stems from watching the hero get his comeuppance, after years of dismissing clingy women, in finally finding himself in the role of the Clinger rather than Clingee. "Wicked Sexy Liar" does the same, but even though it isn't groundbreaking, it's entertaining. Christina Lauren does snappy dialogue really, really well, and the secondary characters are well developed and contribute to the story (rather than merely being scenery in it -- yet another reason to read the series in order, though again, this would stand alone). 


I loved Luke's relationship with his sister Margot, and I love how smart and sassy and grounded London is as a heroine. The ending of this book was a little too abrupt, but still emotionally satisfying, and the first 4/5ths of the book were great fun. 

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