Friday, January 30, 2009

Review: Rescue Me (anthology ) by Cherry Adair, Lora Leigh, Cindy Gerard

Title: Rescue Me
Series: T-FLAC, Temtping Seals
Author: Cherry Adair, Lora Leigh, Cindy Gerard
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: July 1, 2008
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
ISBN: 0312948425
ISBN-13: 9780312948429

“Tropical Heat”
When Dr. Elizabeth Goodall is kidnapped and held captive in the African jungle, her only hope for rescue is counterterrorist operative Sam Pelton. But to escape from a brutal warlord, they must confront a powerful attraction that could prove more treacherous than the wilds of the jungle…

“Atlanta Heat”
Em Delaney has wanted bad-boy Macey March for as long as she can remember. But as a Navy SEAL under the command of her overprotective godfather, Macey is off-limits to Em…until a kidnapping attempt forces them to share tantalizingly close quarters—and a forbidden desire.

“Desert Heat”
Assistant D.A. Elena Martinez never wanted to fall for police detective Seth King. When they are teamed up on a charity hike in the Grand Canyon, however, their chemistry sizzles under the desert sun. But a vengeful drug lord is determined not to let them survive the canyon with their lives—and love—intact…

My rating:

A rescue mission turns steamy in Cherry Adair's Tropical Heat as counter-terrorist operative Sam Pelton hustles a small-town GP from the military/terrorist through the thick African jungle.
This was a pretty straightforward RS novella...Boy likes girl, but said girl is going through a divorce, so boy hangs back in fear of being the rebound lover, but when girl gets kidnapped, boy doesn't hesitate in taking a trip into the middle of Africa to rescue her and win her heart in the progress...Nothing much to say, really.

Another rescue mission turns steams (and squeeze-deadly) in Lora Leigh's Atlanta Heat when a Navy SEAL and the woman he's been lusting for for the past two years are forced to share very close quarters.
This one was almost the same as the first novella of this bunch, except the setting was in Atlanta and instead of the jungle the pair was stuck in a "panic room", there was an anaconda though.
Out of the entire cast I liked Drack, the pet snake the most. Macey wasn't my favorite hero, he was a just a tad too much of everything, while Em...I just wanted to slap her. Hard. Many times. Yeah, the conflict was there, the steam was there...It just fell a little flat.

In Cindy Gerard's Desert Heat a peaceful, charity-oriented hike through the Grand Canyon turns deadly when an old drug-lord decides to exact his vengeance on the DA and the cop that sent his boy to prison.
Now, this was a nice respite from the whole, "we were rescued, let's get in the sack". Well, Elena and Seth did, eventually get in the sack, but the rescue didn't come until the end...I liked Elena and Seth together, they truly made quite a pair, and with their shared sense of humor they really grew on me.
The romance did seem a bit rushed, but those were extraordinary circumstances after all. I appreciated Elena's backbone, unlike the other two heroines in this collection (one was afraid of birds and the other of snakes and the authors went into quite a discourse on those fears), she at least gave the impression she wasn't scared of anything. She sucked it up and moved forward...Well, in the end, she turned up to be as much a coward as the next gal when faced with the possibility of having her heart broken. Oh well, we can't have everything.
By the end I had a goofy grin plastered on my face, though. A cute finish to a good story.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Review: Dead After Dark (anthology) by Sherrilyn Kenyon, J.R. Ward, Susan Squires, Dianna Love

Title: Dead After Dark
Series: Were-Hunters, Companion
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon, J.R. Ward, Susan Squires, Dianna Love
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: December 2, 2008
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
ISBN: 0312947984
ISBN-13: 9780312947989

Shadow of the Moon by Sherrilyn Kenyon
Angelia has fought her entire life to make herself strong. Now, with her patria under fire, she has to protect her people from Fury and his werewolf clan. Vowing to bring him to justice, Angelia sets out alone… until the hunter becomes the hunted, and the only way for her to survive is to trust the very wolf she's sworn to kill.

The Story of Son by J.R. Ward
Claire Stroughton is a beautiful lawyer who would rather spend the night with a legal brief than the man of her dreams. Then a routine client meeting turns dangerous—and deeply sensual—when she is held captive by a gorgeous man with an unworldly hunger…

Beyond the Night by Susan Squires
When Drew Carlowe returns home to win back a lost love, he is quick to dismiss rumors that his estate is haunted by a stunning young ghost…until one passionate encounter leaves him mystified—and aching for more.

Midnight Kiss Goodbye by Dianna Love
Trey McCree possesses an insatiable desire for Sasha Armand—and supernatural powers that could endanger her life as a human. But when they team up to stop an evil warlord, Trey discovers that Sasha can do way more than drive men wild…

My rating:

There’s a love-hate sort of “thing” I have going for Sherrilyn Kenyon’s novella Shadow of the Moon. On one hand there’s Fury, my (currently) favorite wolf of the Were-Hunter bunch. I have a thing for tall, dark, handsome, and brooding, so sue me. I have a bone to pick (excuse the pun) with Angelia. For the better part of the story I just wanted someone to kick her judgmental, arrogant, narrow-minded butt. In the end, she finally seemed to see reason, but still, she takes second place on my least-favorite Kenyon’s character list (Artemis still reigns supreme)...Angelia aside, this was a good story, with Kenyon revisiting her past (and loved) characters – it’s always a pleasurable hoot to see good ol’ Z again.

J.R. Ward’s The Story of Son literally blew me away. I have only read half of this book so far, but I think this will be the best of the four. I mean, how can you top this?! It was as close to perfect as it could get. The heroine was a hoot to read. A no-nonsense, board-room killer lawyer with a sense of humor to die for and a level head on her shoulders. I absolutely adored her. And her hero…Yum, yum. The perfect guy. Gentle, incredibly polite, Old-World air (thanks to his books), yet when he “let loose” – yowza! I could have done with a little shorter hair, though.
This story indeed has it all going for it. There’s romance, drama, action, mystery, some chills and thrills...And most important of all, great characters (even the supporting cast left an impression). An amazing story.
This is the first story by this author for me and if BDB series is half this good, I’m itching to sink my teeth into it (again, no pun intended).

Susan Squire's Beyond the Night is yet another of her "Companion" stories. I can't seem to escape those. I only have her stories in novellas and each and every one of them is a "Companion". I'm not fond of that parasitic critter. I always get this nasty mental picture of the alien who ate crazy people in an episode of Buffy and I cringe. Vampires are supposed to be sexy, that mental picture isn't sexy...Ugh.

And now to Dianna Love's Midnight Kiss Goodbye. Somewhere in the middle I think my brain simply shorted out. The whole universe she's concocted was so complex, with mages, witches, gods, Hindu tribes yadda yadda, I just couldn't follow anymore without taking out a pad and pencil (and I was too bored and too lazy to get those). Maybe this is part of a series, or start of one, I don't know, but it was a little too much info to cram into a novella. Also, something must have rub off her friend and co-author Sherrilyn Kenyon, because the fighting scene and subsequent quasi-reunion of all the above mentioned fantasy critters was a little too similar to Kenyon's Hunters, complete with the Big Boss of the some sorts that could've been Ash or Savitar in disguise.

Again, the first two novellas earn this compilation that nice grade you see up there. Out of those two, J.R. Ward's is the best, Fury's story is a far second, while the other two are not worth the deteriorated brain cells.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Review: The Magical Christmas Cat (anthology) by Lora Leigh, Erin McCarthy, Nalini Singh, Linda Winstead Jones

Title: The Magical Christmas Cat
Series: Breeds, Psy/Changeling, Murphy Sisters
Author: Lora Leigh, Erin McCarthy, Nalini Singh, Linda Winstead Jones
Read copy: Paperback
Published: October 7, 2008
Publisher: Berkley Trade
ISBN: 0425223558
ISBN-13: 9780425223550

New York Times bestselling author Lora Leigh and top-selling authors Nalini Singh, Erin McCarthy, and Linda Winstead Jones have a special gift for readers this year: never-before published holiday stories featuring passionate romance, paranormal adventure, and a distinctly alluring feline touch. With four new stories, including one featuring Lora Leigh's genetically altered Feline Breeds, this is a collection packed with more surprises than Christmas morning, and more chills than the snowiest winter night.…

My rating:

I was surprised, and pleasantly so, by Nalini Singh's contribution. It's the first story I've read by this author and I have to say I'm literally itching to read more about the Psy-Changeling universe. I know the market is inundated with shifter stories, yet this series apparently has a slightly different angle and I loved what I've read so far.
The characters were alive and well-developped, the conflict more than believable, and the plot, though holiday oriented and not much of a shocker was nicely delineated. The story flowed nicely, and the Christmasy touch added that little extra something special to make this story a little more sweeter and cuter than it already was...Talk about season for miracles. ;)

The middle two stories by Erin McCarthy and Linda Winstead Jones were the "pebble in the shoe" for this anthology. While McCarthy's strove for a bit of paranormal ending up with a shared dream was still passable, though not a great achievement (the characters seemed a little cold and the whole falling into each other's arms - despite the dream - was a bit too rushed to be believable), Winstead Jones' contribution was simply meh.
The weakest of them all, in suspense, though it tried really hard (and the ending of the first chapter was promising), characters and story. And what was with the constant use of the Italian? Wouldn't it been enough to use the word once and then revert back to English? But I guess it sounded fancier...At least if you decide to sound fancy and use a foreign language, at least try to use it correctly. A dictionary is a good help, sometimes. Il Collettore is spelled with two T's and not one as you did, Ms. Winstead Jones. Also, the Italians tend to use an apostrophe when the noun begins with a vowel so the correct use would be d'Anima and if we're using strict grammar, soul should be plural (he needs nine)...Il Collettore d'Anime. Just for the record.

Lora Leigh is simply Lora Leigh. I like all her stories (some more some less, depending on the publisher LOL) and this one was no exception. Yet another nice mix of action, romance, and steam, just the way I like 'em. Also, the Christmas backdrop added a nice warm, homey touch to the romance between Noble and Haley.
The story was nicely tied in to the previous books, Noble getting shot in Dawn's Awakening and the party and mate issues from Mercury's War. I love it when the bad guys go down and that b**** had it coming. *evil grin*

So the first and fourth novellas earned this anthology its 4-star rating because these two were worth the money spent on this book (which isn't often the case with anthologies). So I recommend this for Leigh and Singh fans...And for those who need a Christmas fix in the middle of the year. ;)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Review: Shifter (anthology) by Angela Knight, Lora Leigh, Aliyssa Day, Virginia Kantra

Title: Shifter
Series: Breeds, Warriors of Poseidon, Children of the Sea
Author: Angela Knight, Lora Leigh, Alyssa Day, Virginia Kantra
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: March 4, 2008
Publisher: Berkley
ISBN: 0425220354
ISBN-13: 9780425220351

Whether transforming under a blue moon or prowling the streets, the shifters come alive to fulfill the wildest of fantasies in this seductive anthology by four masters of paranormal romance.

My rating:

Mad Dog Love is "vintage" Angela Kniight and much, much better than her contribution in Beyond the Dark. Despite the futuristic setting, the story and characters maintain a rather realistic feel, and the combination of action and excitement is spot on and complimenting the plot, instead of (so many times) deterring from it.

Lora Leigh's A Jaguar's Kiss merely confirmed my "suspicion" the Breed series should be added to my TBR pile (which I'm working on). I love any kind of paranormals (vampires, shifters, witches, demons...), but there is just an extra kick when the paranormal stuff begins in a lab (like Christine Feehan's GhostWalkers) and the heroes and heroines have to fight with the dark nature thrust upon them by (more or less crazy) scientists...When there's a "mating" issue thrust into the mix, so much the better. There's just something about an Alpha going all soft and cuddly because of a (mere) woman that makes me grin with glee.
In this instance, Saban is one of those Alphas, but he's met his match in Natalie. I liked her, she had spunk, and I was just waiting for her to kick his ass. Not that she could hurt him, but I bet he would let her win. *evil grin*

Both Shifter's Lady by Alyssa Day and Sea Crossing by Virginia Kantra were so-so.

Shifter’s Lady was a little hard to follow in the first chapter, since it’s a part of a series (Warriors of Poseidon) I am not familiar with Ms. Day’s take on the history of Atlantis, and the interaction and relationships between established characters was utterly foreign. I expected (since it’s a series) a little more background to the workings of the world, but alas, I was left in the dark...Anyway, the story was a decent shifter novella with the usual (in all things Alpha) rivalry subplot, but the ending had lots to be desired. It was probably meant to be a cliffhanger for the next book, but I’m sure not dying to find out.

Sea Crossing sounded a little recycled to me. Been there, done that, have the bookshelf to prove it. While the initial scenes applied it was a historical, the tone was a little modern at times. Also, the heroine, though a teacher (aren’t teachers supposed to be perceptive and have a little intelligence?), came out as an utterly clueless creature as to what was going on around her.

Overall, this is a pretty good anthology, but the first two novellas are what’s earned it 4 stars.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Review: Beyond the Dark (anthology) by Angela Knight, Emma Holly, Lora Leigh, Diane Whiteside

Title: Beyond the Dark
Series: Breeds, Tale of the Demon World
Author: Angela Knight, Emma Holly, Lora Leigh, Diane Whiteside
Read copy: Paperback
Published: December 4, 2007
Publisher: Berkley Trade
ISBN: 0425218767
ISBN-13: 9780425218761

Four of the most sizzling authors of paranormal romance take readers beyond their wildest fantasies, to a seductive midnight world of erotic suspense, demons, mages, vampires, and knights. A world of queens with devilish secrets, and of demons with secret desires. So dangerous and fun, readers may never want to come back down to earth again...

My rating:

Dragon Dance by Angela Knight
I don’t particularly like stories about super-power infected humans, but [author:Angela Knight|23] does it with such style and certain panache, I just can’t hold the theme choice against her. As with all things Knight the steam is up in the stratosphere, and the leather-clad hunks and that chops licking tiger sticking his head out of Tracker’s chest more than compensate for the whole aliens-did-it hoopla.

Caught by the Tides by Diane Whiteside
While anthologies are a great way of discovering new authors, this is not the case with this story (and author). The magickal AU take on the Regency period and the Napoleonic threat was a major stretch, and might (big emphasis on that might!) have worked if the author decided on a little less harrypotterish approach...I love historicals (Regency being one of my favorites) and paranormals, yet this particular combination left me cold – and bored.

Queen of All She Surveys by Emma Holly
One word: PASSABLE
While the first few chapters promised one heck of a novella (there’s just something about hunks wearing only a loincloth and a smile), the story quickly diluted into a weird May-September (the September woman looking like a May woman) quasi-relationship with a helluva lot of furniture-breaking sex including god-touched liquid and a funky appendage with a not-explained purpose...Hmmm.

In a Wolf’s Embrace by Lora Leigh
One word: STUNNING
This was the first Lora Leigh story I've read, and my first encounter with the Breeds, and it made me crave for more. As I wrote when I started reading it, the foreword sounded pretty darn good, but the story was (thankfully) even better. I laughed and I cried, tears (not of laughter!) are a great indicator of a good book for me, my hands were freezing cold (another good sign), and by the middle of the novella I was hot all over. Can't wait for the rest (my TBR pile is soon going to get even larger).

This collection gets four stars only thanks to Lora Leigh's contribution. It's the last novella of the bunch that makes it all worth it - no wonder they put it last. After the bitter aftertaste the two middle ones left, it was a relief to "rest my eyes" on the Breed story.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Review: Up Close and Dangerous by Linda Howard

Title: Up Close and Dangerous
Author: Linda Howard

Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: April 29, 2008
Publisher: Ballantine Books
ISBN: 0345486536
ISBN-13: 9780345486530

Bailey Wingate's scheming adult stepchildren are surprised when their father's will leaves Bailey in control of their fortune, and war ensues. A year later, while flying in a small plane, Bailey nearly dies herself when the engine sputters——and then fails. Cam Justice, her sexy Texan pilot, manages to crash-land the aircraft. Stranded in the wilderness, and struggling to douse her feelings for the ruggedly handsome man by her side, Bailey begins to wonder whether this terrifying incident was actually a murder attempt. Cut off from the world, and with little hope of rescue, Bailey must trust her life——and her heart——to Cam, as they battle the harsh elements to find a way out of the unforgiving wilds and back to civilization...where a killer may be waiting to finish the job.

My rating:

Although everyone believes Bailey Wingate is yet another throphy-wife, her marriage to Jim Wingate was merely a business arrangement. Jim needed someone to oversee the trust funds of his two adult, good-for-nothing children and Bailey, as his PA and quite investment savvy, was the perfect choice.
Now Jim's dead and Bailey has to suffer through endless tantrums from her step-children, who hate her guts.

Apparently they hate her enough to kill her, since, while flying to her two-week vacation, her Cessna runs out of gas and it's only thanks to the calmness of her pilot, Cameron Justice, that Bailey, the plane and the pilot don't splatter over a mountaintop.

Now the two are stranded in the snowy wilderness with (almost) zero chance of being rescued, having to rely on their own ingenuity and each other...

This was one heck of a book. In someone else's "hands" the almost claustrophobic atmosphere with just two characters and a whole lot of wilderness would have buried the story, yet Linda Howard skillfully maneuvered the plot, masterfully twining the scenes with Bailey and Cam with little tidbits about the secondary characters.

While the romance did seem a little rushed at times, specially toward the end (the two didn't even like each other at the beginning!), the explanation was utterly plausible and believable. Stranded for six days with only one person for company, one is bound to develop some feelings toward their companion...
Bailey and Cam were nicely drawn and Bailey's development extremely well done, adding a tad more to making the story-arc believable.

I was surprised by how well the suspense part played out. The author masterfully led the reader to assume who the bad-guy was (wonderful delineation of the character, his inner turmoil, the hide-and-seek of clues), making the grand finale with its humongous and completely unexpected twist that more jaw-dropping.

Kudos to the author. This is definitely a keeper.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Review: Last Breath by Mariah Stewart

Title: Last Breath
Series: Last
Author: Mariah Stewart
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: March 25, 2008
Publisher: Ballantine Books
ISBN: 0345492250
ISBN-13: 9780345492258

As renowned archaeologist Dr. Daria McGowan readies the most important project of her career–a University museum exhibit showcasing the priceless artifacts her great-grandfather unearthed a century earlier in the Middle East–she makes a shocking discovery: many of the most significant pieces have vanished. Panicked, Daria turns to the FBI.

Solving the mystery is an assignment that Connor Shields is more than happy to accept: Daria is the same intriguing blonde archaeologist he’s had on his mind since their paths first crossed two years ago. Working together to track down the stolen artifacts, Daria and Connor discover a trail of bodies–collectors who have met brutal, bizarre ends at the hands of a killer whose murderous methods are based on the rituals of an ancient civilization.

Amid rumors of a curse and mounting pressure from both the FBI and the University, Daria and Connor race to unmask their enemy and unravel a mystery stretching across oceans and centuries. All the while, an ingenious murderer follows a sinister plan to gather the coveted antiquities and one last acquisition–Daria.

My rating:

As a renowned archaeologist, Dr. Daria McGowan is invited to prepare an exhibit of priceless artifacts unearthed a century ago by her great-grandfather.

As she starts cataloging the artifacts, she makes a shocking discovery. Some are missing. With her back against the wall, she calls the FBI, actually an FBI agent, Special Agent Connor Shields, she's met a few months back in Morocco...And he is more than happy to accept, since she's been "haunting" his dreams ever since their (one and only) encounter.

Now, working together, Connor and Daria are quickly swamped by dead bodies of the collectors who used to own the stolen artifacts, and the two race against the clock to unmask the murderer, find the stolen loot and keep Daria safe.

A romantic suspense my patootie!
It was neither romantic nor suspenseful. I was bored to tears by the end of the first chapter and not even a "beautiful man" FBI agent could spark my interest.

The story was severely hampered by the boring, and extremely repetitive details of the ancient city of Shandihar, its culture, history, religion, and the blood-thirsty wench that was the goddess Erishkegal. Additional hampering was brought forth by the terrible and somewhat amateurish narration. I felt like I was reading something written down by an eighth-grader (no offense to all the eighth-graders).

*deep sigh*

So, the suspense was lacking - the book was so boring, I didn't care whodunit, I just wanted it to END ALREADY!
The romance was something you could find only in a laboratory under a very good microscope. The two seemed more like life-long friends than two adults apparently pining for each-other. And when they finally did the deed, it was so short and unspecific... *snore*

Yeah, this is another one of those sleeping-pill-substitutes.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Review: To Taste Temptation by Elizabeth Hoyt

Title: To Taste Temptation
Series: Legend of the Four Soldiers
Author: Elizabeth Hoyt
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: May 1, 2008
Publisher: Forever
ISBN: 0446406910
ISBN-13: 9780446406918

The ton loves nothing more than a good scandal, and they're giddy with the appearance of wealthy Samuel Hartley. Not only is he self-made, American, and in the habit of wearing moccasins, but he is also notorious for fleeing a battle in which several English gentlemen lost their lives. What the ton doesn't know, though, is that Samuel is in London because of this massacre. He believes his regiment was given up to the enemy and won't rest until he finds the traitor.

Lady Emeline Gordon is captivated with Samuel. Not only does he defy convention with his unusual dress, his sensual smile, and his forthright manner, but he survived the battle that killed her beloved brother. Samuel suspects that the person responsible for her brother's death is Jasper Renshaw, Viscount Vale, a family friend since childhood—and Emeline's fianc√©. Despite Emeline's belief in Vale's innocence and her refusal to break off her betrothal, she and Samuel begin a passionate affair. But can their relationship survive the fallout from Samuel's investigation?

My rating:

Lady Emeline Gordon is astonished as a tall, devilishly handsome man strolls into a posh London parlor wearing a strange attire, and approaches her with the request for her to be his younger sister's sponsor in Society.

Of course, his sister's entrance in the aristocratic circles is merely pretense. Samuel Hartley is hell-bent on discovering the lowlife who had betrayed the English troupes six years ago, leading them to slaughter at the hands of bloodthirsty American natives.

Little do Emeline and Sam suspect that their bargain would soon turn into something more...


While the book started off strong with the quest for the traitor it quickly dissolved into a series of almost nonsensical events, mixed with male-sweat-smelling, rough (and at the beginning) non-consensual sex, midnight jogs in moccasins, and an extremely shallow heroine.

While the authors depiction of Emeline was probably an illustration of the aristocratic shallowness of that time, the attempt fell short and merely succeeded in making the heroine appear petty.
In the second part of the novel I just couldn't stand her anymore with her looking down her nose at everyone who wasn't her social equal and her snide remarks. She was horrible!

Sam, on the other hand, was your average HR hero with some added "bonuses" that made him stand out from the lot. I could've done with a little less sniffing, though.

The supporting cast was mediocre at best, the villain too easily spotted from the very beginning. The plot, though no overly slow, didn't offer much - Ms. Hoyt should've stuck with the initial story-line and build the romance around it to complement the whole and not let the romance take over. I might have closed an eye on that, if the romance was something to talk about, but like the rest of the book, that too was quite "uneventful" and mediocre.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Review: After the Kiss by Suzanne Enoch

Title: After the Kiss
Series: Notorious Gentlemen
Author: Suzanne Enoch
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: June 24, 2008
Publisher: Avon
ISBN: 0060843098
ISBN-13: 9780060843090

A Notorious Gentleman . . .

Sullivan Waring wants only two things: his rightful inheritance, and revenge against the man who stole it from him. By day, Sullivan is the most respected horse breeder in England; by night, he plunders the "ton"'s most opulent homes to reclaim his late mother's beautiful paintings. His quest is going swimmingly . . . until the night he's discovered by Lady Isabel Chalsey. Clad only in a revealing nightdress, she's an entrancingly different kind of plunder, and how can a thief resist stealing a kiss?

A Curious Lady . . .

Surprised by a masked man in her own home, Isabel should be quaking with fear. Instead the sight of the sinfully handsome Sullivan makes her tremble with excitement. Who is this man, and why is he so set on this reckless pursuit? Lady Isabel loves a challenge, and she'll dare anything to uncover Sullivan's secret--but she may instead convince him that she is the greatest prize of all.

My rating:

Sullivan Warring, a by-blow of a nobleman without par in the Society, is intent on revenge. His mother died while he was at war against the French in Spain and upon his return his father (who never acknowledged him) has stolen his inheritance – his mother's paintings. Sullivan is adamant at getting those paintings back and embarrassing his lordly father in the process.

So, in broad daylight he's the most respected and sought-after horse breeder in England, while at night he visits his father's friends' homes, stealing the paintings back. He has only four left to go, when the lady of the house he's currently robbing stumbled upon him. To prevent her from alerting the household, he silences her with a kiss...But the lady isn't idle, either, and rids him of his mask in the process.

Lady Isabel Chalsey comes face to face with the infamous Mayfair Marauder the very next day, accompanying her brother to a horse auction. Instead of turning him in, she concocts a crazy scheme. In order to learn why he is robbing the residents of Mayfair and to keep an eye on him, preventing him from further mischief, she buys a horse – despite her debilitating fear of the animals – and employs Sullivan as trainer.

It took me quite a while to get into this book. Mostly because of Isabel's character in the first few chapters. As most Society belles she was spoiled and firmly ensconced in her narrow little world, but it was her bossy manner and dramaqueenesque manner that really put me off. Only when, in the course of the story, she finally grew up and had her eyes (forcibly) open to the pettiness and fickleness of polite society, I started really enjoying the whole deal.
It's almost unheard of for a romance heroine to go through such a drastic change in personality and perspective as Isabel did in this book, but still the author never made her appear inconsistent. Whatever she did or said was always perfectly in tune with the mind frame Isabel was in at the moment.

Sullivan, like Isabel, also went through a great change in the process of the story, and his development was completely tied in with Isabel's change. It was by looking at her, processing her own change, that he realized not all members of the Society were alike, and his bitter quest for revenge against the aristocracy slowly and irrevocably morphed into desire to (at least) try to understand the aristocracy and forget his anger and betrayal for her, to make her happy and him worthy of her admiration and love.
They were both acutely aware of their differences and possible consequences of the clandestine affair, yet still persisted in their quest for happiness (kudos to Isabel in this instance).

I loved the entire premise of the book. Ms. Enoch paired two characters from completely different backgrounds. While Isabel was the darling of the Society, Sullivan, thanks to his lucrative business merely brushed against its outskirts. The pairing of a haughty, aristocratic woman with an aristocratic by-blow was this story lifesaver, if you ask me.
And the development of their romance (which was again an organic in growing affair) and their secret courtship was a real joy to read. It slowly built from initial attraction between "enemies", to a grudging trust, to friendship, and finally to passion and love.

Unlike many of her fellow author, Ms. Enoch didn't forget about the secondary characters. They weren't just figures creating a backdrop for the leading couple, but had a life of their own. Some bad, some good, some shady and in between, but still real and believable, making the reader want to read their stories as well.

So if you like your romance to have a pinch of realism, wonderfully developed and multidimensional characters, and some great depths, this is the book for you.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Review: In Bed With the Devil by Lorraine Heath

Title: In Bed With the Devil
Series: Scoundrels of St. James
Author: Lorraine Heath
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: July 1, 2008
Publisher: Avon
ISBN: 0061355577
ISBN-13: 9780061355578

They call him the Devil Earl—a scoundrel and accused murderer who grew up on the violent London streets. A proper young lady risks more than her reputation when consorting with the roguishly handsome Lucian Langdon, but Lady Catherine Mabry believes she has no choice. To protect those she loves, she would do anything—even strike a bargain with the devil himself.

Lucian desires respectability and a wife above all else, but the woman of his choosing lacks the social graces to be accepted by the aristocracy. Catherine can help Lucian gain everything he wants. But what she asks for in exchange will put their very lives in jeopardy. When danger closes in, Catherine discovers a man of immense passion and he discovers a woman of immeasurable courage. As secrets from his dark past are revealed, Lucian begins to question everything he knows to be true, including the yearnings of his own heart.

My rating:

Lucian Langdon, the Earl of Claybourne, is not what one would expect from a peer. For one, he's not even sure he is one. Having grown up on the harsh streets of London, Luke knows how to lie to survive. It was one of those lies than earned him the title and it is his dark past, tainted with murder, that has earned him the nickname "Devil Earl". He is openly shunned by society, no one would dare be seen conversing with him in public, everyone in high society fears him.

Enter Lady Cathrine Mabry. Five years ago she was the only one who "dared" hold his gaze at the one and only ball he attended, she's proceeded with sending him invitations he didn't bother to read...She represents everything he wants to steer clear off, yet he can't fight the strange attraction he feels toward her.

He should feel nothing, in fact. He is in love with the woman he's known since his childhood and he would do anything to make her his wife. Even strike a bargain with Lady Catherine to teach her all she needs to know to feel comfortable in society.

Catherine needs Luke's expertise to dispose of a vile, wife-beating peer. His previous two wives had died in "freak" mishaps and she would do anything to prevent the same happening to her best friend. If that means murder, so be it.

So the devil and the angel strike a strange bargain...

This book's major strength is in the characterization. Not only of the main characters, but the supporting cast as well. Also, the twist from the "normal template" (the hero is in fact in love with someone else at the beginning) was amazing.

At the moment, Luke is at the top of my favorite-romance-hero list. Despite his murderous reputation, the reader (and Catherine) quickly discovers there's more under the scoundrel veneer than he lets out. He was positively tortured, not only by the outside world but on the inside as well, with his doubts about his true identity and guilt for having deceived the man who saved him. His loyalty and fierce protectiveness (even of a complete stranger - Catherine in the beginning of the book) make him a truly great hero.

Catherine was one of my favorites as well, Luke's perfect match. She was strong and courageous with a stubborn streak a mile wide. I loved the fact Lorraine Heath stuck with the character throughout the novel and didn't turn her into a simpering, whining female by the middle of the book. She shared Luke's traits of loyalty and protectiveness (even toward him), but I especially liked her selflessness in the end, when she was prepared to give up her happiness for his.

The romance between them was beautifully done, it grew and evolved, making it believable and heart-wrenching, faced with Luke's "indecision".

This was a beautiful story of redemption, self-discovery, and salvation. Totally "unputdownable" and completely recommended.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Review: Seducing the Spy by Celeste Bradley

Title: Seducing the Spy
Series: Royal Four
Author: Celeste Bradley
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: August 1, 2006
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
ISBN: 0312939671
ISBN-13: 9780312939670

Elite spies, secret defenders of the king, The Royal Four are unsurpassed in courage, honor, and daring. Known to his brothers-in-arms as The Falcon, Lord Wyndham is the most secretive and aloof of the four. But when The Falcon meets the impetuous Lady Alicia, he discovers a soul mate whose hidden fire matches his own…

Lady Alicia Lawrence was cast out of polite society and branded a liar for a youthful mistake. When she overhears details of a conspiracy that could affect her country's fate, she turns to the one person who might believe her--Stanton Horne, Lord Wyndham. Posing as Wyndham's mistress in order to root out the enemy, Alicia is drawn into an uneasy partnership…and a wildly seductive liaison.

Lord Wyndham's uncanny ability to detect lies has made him a valuable member of the Royal Four, but in matters of romance it has proven a distinct liability. Alicia is the only woman whose thoughts he cannot read…and the only one whose sensual touch quenches every secret desire. As the mission grows more dangerous and more personal, and each encounter with Alicia more fiery than the last, this daring spy must face his greatest challenge yet--learn to trust the passion in his heart

My rating:

When Stanton Horne, Lord Wyndham, the member of the elite Royal Four as the Falcon, receives the visit of Lady Alicia Lawrence, the disowned daughter of the Earl of Sutherland, he’s extremely weary of her story about a conspiracy against the Crown. Not because she’s a woman, but because she’s a notorious woman — five years ago she was shunned by Society and labeled a notorious liar.

Stanton’s ability to spot lies and liars, so convenient in his work as the Falcon, fails him, when it comes to Alicia. She’s completely unreadable to him, but her "proof" — the mention of the scarred man — is the one thing that keeps him from completely dismissing the woman.

Since she’s convinced she could identify the man plotting to kidnap Prince George if she heard him, Stanton, very reluctantly, agrees to attend a house party (read: orgy) and bring Alicia along as his pretend mistress.

Their "mission" is fraught with danger. Not only to track and stop the deadly French spy, but Alicia and Stanton might have found their match — she a man that might actually believe her, he a woman to finally melt the ice surrounding his heart.

The prologue itself hinted to a great read as Alicia hilariously opened her first letter to Wyndham with:
"I am writing to you because you appear to be a somewhat lesser idiot than other gentlemen."
This one line showed Alicia’s true character and promised a riotous book.

Despite the fact her family considered her dead and Society pretended she did not exist, Alicia didn’t lose her youthful vitality. She was sassy, spunky and had a wicked sense of humor. Granted, she might have appeared bitter at times, but that was understandable attitude adjustment she went through after the hurt and betrayal.

Stanton was portrayed wonderfully as he found himself completely out of his depths with the whole situation and especially Alicia. He too had been betrayed by his own flesh and blood, but instead of enfolding himself in mockery and sarcasm, he chose to lock himself away from the world.

The characterization was absolutely sublime. Here you have two people deeply hurting for quite similar reasons, betrayal by their own family, yet they deal with those feelings in two completely different ways, yet cannot help but be drawn to each other in a last attempt at salvaging what is left of their souls and heal each other in the process.
As is obvious from the epilogue they didn’t change that much (the servants still thought of Wyndham as "inhuman", only in a better way than in the first chapter *wink*), but what little they did change was for the better.

As for the plot, the pacing was utterly to the mark. There was no single dull or breaking moment in the book. The sparring between the two leads was entertaining and cute at the same time, the interaction between characters was splendid, the humor was there, the adventure was there, the drama, the action…What more can one want from a story.

It was a lovely tribute that Ms. Bradley brought back the couples from previous books for more than just a cameo experience. This "reunion" and the just demise of the Chimera brought the entire series full circle.

This book could be read as a stand-alone, but if you want to really enjoy it fully (all the subtle nuances, the relationships between characters, their interaction…), you have to read the series in an order.
Bottom line — this entertaining and frolicking read is definitely a keeper. If you like your romance laced with humor, action, a little drama, a whole lot of sensuality and a pinch of adventure, this is definitely the book for you.

P.S. If it were possible, I'd add half a star to my rating above.