Saturday, September 28, 2013

Review: Play by Play by Kate Donovan

Title: Play by Play
Series: Play Makers
Author: Kate Donovan
Read copy: eBook
Published: September 10, 2013
Publisher: Beyond the Page Publishing
ISBN-13: 9781937349776

Former college football star Jake Dublin’s wildly popular sports blog also details his personal life. And lately it’s all about Sophie, the pretty young woman who just moved into his apartment building. His readers know her only as “Elevator Girl,” and they’re all rooting for Jake to score.

The blog posts and banter with his followers are all in good fun, and he fully intends to come clean with the woman he’s wooing and wowing. That is, until she confides that she grew up in a house full of jocks and even dated a few. Her verdict? Never again!

Jake knows he needs to confess. But somewhere along the line he fell in love with Sophie and can’t stand the thought of losing her. So he procrastinates, and blogs, and digs himself deeper into a hole, until it all leads to a showdown that’s so nail-biting, not even the best play-by-play guy could ever have seen it coming.

My rating:

***copy provided by publisher through NetGalley***

So cute! This is one of those stories that you read with a constant smile on your face. I just couldn't help it. Whether it was the hero's blog posts or the hero's attempts at coming clean with the heroine...I just smiled.

It was cute, it was sweet, it was short, and it was PG (don't judge this one by the cover). I didn't mind the blog post chapters (not all of them were like that). The only problem I had was with the heroine (but the problem was minor, more of a hiccup). I didn't get her reasoning—at first, she didn't want a jock, then she panicked when she thought the guy hated sports. Talk about running hot and cold.

Still, a nice little shorty.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Review: Gentlemen Prefer Mischief by Emily Greenwood

Title: Gentlemen Prefer Mischief
Series: Mischief
Author: Emily Greenwood
Read copy: eBook
Published: December 3, 2013
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
ISBN: 1402276346
ISBN-13: 9781402276347

It's going to take a dash of mischief to bring these two together…

If it hadn’t been for the haunted woods, Lily Teagarden would never have spoken to her neighbor, Viscount Roxham. Known to the fashionable world as Lord Perfect, to Lily he’s a man she can never respect…and the careless rogue who broke her fledgling heart. But sightings of eerie lights among his trees are causing her trouble, and she needs his help.

Intrigued by this prim beauty who was once an ugly duckling, Roxham agrees to investigate, though hardly has he begun when she mysteriously undermines his efforts. The mischief she throws in his path awakens his sleeping heart, just as his touch stirs a passion she can’t accept. But Roxham is the last man to whom Lily would surrender, and it’s going to take everything he’s got to win her love.

My rating:

***ARC provided by publisher through NetGalley***

I tried. I swear I tried, but I just couldn't bring myself to care what happened to the two protagonists. She was annoying as hell, and he came off as an utter idiot. I didn't feel the connection between them, didn't get the animosity she felt toward him...And the plot about the ghost in the woods wasn't appealing, either.

I gave up somewhere in the middle, but read the last few chapters, hoping a good ending might help me change my mind and finish the book properly. Unfortunately I didn't get my wish.

This book simply wasn't my cup of tea.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review: Deep Autumn Heat by Elisabeth Barrett

Title: Deep Autumn Heat
Series: Star Harbor
Author: Elisabeth Barrett
Read copy: eBook
Published: July 9, 2012
Publisher: LoveSwept
ISBN: 1448111609
ISBN-13: 9781448111602

Lexie Meyers decides there's nothing sweeter than watching Sebastian Grayson's perfect, wicked mouth devour her coconut cake. He's hot, he's hungry, and he's sizing her up like she's the best thing on the menu. But she's been burned in the past and flings just aren't her thing. Too bad Sebastian can't resist a challenge.

Worldly, famous, and notorious with the ladies, Seb had planned a weekend of fishing and relaxation with his brothers. Until Lexie, with her kissable lips and frosty "get lost" attitude, makes him want to forget his culinary empire and create some magic with her. After he fires up his charm-including challenging her to a televised cook-off to break through her resistance-it's now hotter in the bedroom than it is in the kitchen and Lexie isn't sure whether she's lost her mind . . . or just her heart.

My rating:

***copy provided by publisher through NetGalley***

The four Grayson brothers have gathered in their home town of Safe Harbor for the anniversary of their father’s death. Sebastian Grayson, the famous chef, was the last to join them, and he’s feeling a little cranky without proper coffee. So the Grayson four fill into LMK (Lexie Meyers Kitchen), the local diner/restaurant, where Seb is immediately taken by the owner, Lexie Meyers...And her amazing coconut cake.

Lexie knows who Seb is. She also knows of his reputation with the ladies. So there’s no chance in hell that she’d give in to his seduction. Her last relationship has made her gun-shy and, well, there’s also the fact Seb’s living in New York City. There’s absolutely no future for them, right? If she was willing to give it a shot, that is.

Well, she never counted with Seb’s determination, that’s for sure.

Boy am I glad I requested this on NetGalley. And the publisher accepted that request. Otherwise I probably never would’ve read this one. And that would’ve been a pity.

One word came to mind as I deleted it off my eReader. WOW. I loved it. Absolutely loved it.

Wonderful characters (especially Seb *grin*), great story-telling, rather tight plot, some culinary delights (I wouldn’t mind tasting that incredible-sounding coconut cake), all safely tucked into the wonderful, cute little community of Safe Harbor.
There’s just something about (some) small-town set books I adore. Everybody knows everybody, everybody butts into everyone else’s business, and the townspeople take care of each other. And every small-town in fiction has one or two bad boys that somehow find their way back into the bosom of their hometown, meet the right girl, and “mend their wicked ways”. And Safe Harbor in this instance apparently has FOUR of those bad boys. And I’ll most certainly read their books. Because if this first book in the series is any indication, I’ll love each and every one of them.

Because this one was almost perfect, with just a few hiccups that bothered me a little along the way. Like the whole stalker thingie that ended up in a ‘huh?’ moment or the psycho-angle that somehow didn’t fit into the overall story (did we really need the suspense sub-plot when everything else seemed to work just fine?), and the produce-warehouse serving as something else (that yet again somehow didn’t fit, but will feature in the next books, judging by the blurbs).

Still, these were little hiccups that didn’t prevent me from enjoying Lexie and Seb’s story. They were great together, the chemistry was palpable, the hotness super-hot, and the slow slide into love a real treat to read.

Loved it! Bring on the next Grayson.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: Concrete Evidence by Rachel Grant

Title: Concrete Evidence
Series: Evidence
Author: Rachel Grant
Read copy: eBook
Published: April 11, 2013
Publisher: Janus Publishing, LLC
ISBN: 0989301001
ISBN-13: 9780989301008

A year ago she lost everything. Now she wants revenge…

Accused of stealing artifacts from a five hundred year-old shipwreck, underwater archaeologist Erica Kesling is determined to clear her name. She’s concealed her past and taken a job certain to give her access to the buyer of the missing antiquities. She's finally closing in on her goal, when she's distracted by a sexy, charismatic intern who makes her want something other than revenge.

But Lee Scott is no intern. He's looking for the lead conspirator in an international artifact smuggling scheme, and Erica is his prime suspect. He’ll do whatever it takes to win her trust and get her to reveal her secrets, even seduce her.

As Erica and Lee struggle to conceal their real agendas, the one thing they can’t hide is the attraction that burns hot between them. When Erica’s quest puts her life in jeopardy, Lee must choose between old loyalties and a woman he never expected to fall for.

My rating:

***copy provided by publisher through NetGalley***

Erica Kesling has almost remade and redeemed herself. A year ago she lost everything—her money and her reputation. There’s nothing to be done about the money, but she can restore her reputation. And she will, as soon as the stolen artifacts go on display and she can whip out the photographs she’s taken a year ago on a treasure-hunter’s ship.

Clean and simple.

Unfortunately there’s a complication. In the form of a 25-year-old, slacker of an intern named Lee Scott. He’s too sexy for comfort and he knows it. And he’s also made it his mission to get her into bed with him.

Which wouldn’t be a problem if she trusted him. Or if he trusted her...

This book started off great. Nicely plotted-out, ‘fluent’, intriguing...And yeah, hot, when Lee had a scene. It was twisty and turn-y and for about the first 40% of the story I loved it to bits.

Then it all went downhill from that.

I simply didn’t get the heroine’s motivations. Didn’t get her reasoning. Sure, she wanted to make the guy who destroyed her life and reputation pay. Okay, nothing wrong with that. But her methods...She boggled the mind. I had no idea a person’s reputation was more important than their life. Okay, I don’t move in the archaeological world and I don’t live in the US. But with so many law-enforcement agencies out there, she couldn’t go to one? She needed to play the hero first by unmasking the baddie before she went to the FBI or whatever? She thought she could take them alone? All the while almost fainting every time she laid eyes on the bad guys? And all the while believing the bad guy’s word that he would protect her unless she tattled. Uhm, he’s the bad guy here! What’s to say he’d keep his word?

Then there was the twist-and-turniness of the plot that at the beginning drew me in so much. Toward the end there were too many twists to keep everything straight. And some of them seemed forced, written for the sake of higher page-count, and for the main couple to suffer through yet another bout of suspicion and anger. (And these were truly getting annoying toward the end—haven’t they heard of TALKING?)

Without those two peeves (which are probably just my peeves), the book would’ve been amazing and worthy of a 5-star rating. The writing was great, the plot tight, the suspense edge-of-the-seat gripping, the characters nicely drawn-out, the ‘secrets’ intriguing, and the chemistry between the main protagonists sizzling.

A good debut novel, but I cannot get past the above-mentioned ‘hiccups’. But since there is space for improvement, I’ll definitely pick up the next two books by Ms. Grant. The blurbs are promising.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Review: Chesapeake Blue by Nora Roberts

Title: Chesapeake Blue
Series: Chesapeake Bay Saga
Author: Nora Roberts
Read copy: Paperback
Published: April 1, 2010
Publisher: Piatkus Books
ISBN: 0749952725
ISBN-13: 9780749952723

The first ten years of Seth Quinn's life were a prison of fear and neglect—until he was rescued by the Quinns: father Ray, and hot-blooded brothers Phillip, Ethan and Cameron.

Now an adult and successful artist, Seth returns home to Chesapeake Bay, to the only family he has ever known. There he meets newcomer to the town Drusilla Whitcomb Banks, but while an attraction sparks, Seth realises that she is way out of his league. Added to which, her own history has taught her not to give her heart lightly.

But Seth cannot ignore his feelings. And if he is ever to win a place in Dru's affections, he must finally face up to his own tragic past and the mother who sold him ...

My rating:

Seth Quinn. The last Quinn brother. A Quinn by blood and not just by name.

His artistic endeavors have made him travel around the world, but now he's finally back. Back home. With his family, where he belongs, ready to spend the rest of his life in St. Christopher. And he has an inkling as to whom he might like to spend it with.

If and when he gets rid of the burden that he's been carrying for more than a decade.

With Seth's story we've reached the end of this series. In more ways than one. All the Quinn brothers are accounted for, they all have their stories and their happily-ever-afters. And the past has finally been laid to rest. So to speak. And maybe not finally. But Quinns being Quinns they'll deal. As is the Quinn way—together. One for all and all for one.

It was great seeing the Quinns doing what Quinns do best in this book as well—at the top of their lungs, curses and insults flying, people flying in the water, punches and hugs evenly distributed...What a great, loud, warm family they are. Full of love, and full of heart. Nowadays you don't see such families in real life so its great at least to be able to read about them. They're a unit. Indestructible, connected by bonds that transcend blood. And it was amazing having spent these past few days in their company. (Yes, I know their fictitious!)

Well, I'm rather at a loss for words with this one, so I'll keep it short and simple. Nora Roberts knows what she's doing. There was drama, there was romance, there was laughter, there were tears, there was angst...All wrapped up in a nice package of tight plot, wonderful characters, great 'landscape', and fluid storytelling.

I know this was Seth's book, but his life and his story was so intrinsically enmeshed in the overall family unit that were the Quinns, that I think of him, of all of them actually, not so much as separate individuals, but Quinns. Simply Quinns. And I'm glad Seth, and the others, found wonderful heroines that fit into the family so well.

And what I loved best about this story? Beside the family and the humor? The fact the romance didn't suffer from a road-block toward the end of the story. There was no separation, no big argument, no threats of leaving...Dru and Seth did face a hurdle, but they overcome it, rather quickly and smoothly, making me breathe a nice, deep sigh of relief.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Review: Inner Harbour by Nora Roberts

Title: Inner Harbour
Series: Chesapeake Bay Saga
Author: Nora Roberts
Read copy: Paperback
Published: March 4, 2010
Publisher: Piatkus Books
ISBN: 0749952679
ISBN-13: 9780749952679

Phillip Quinn had done everything to make his life seem perfect. With his career on the fast track and a condo overlooking the Inner Harbour, his life on the street was firmly in the past. But one look at his adopted brother Seth and the memories come flooding back. In Seth he sees the boy he once was.

Seth's future seems assured—until Dr Sybill Griffin shows up in the sleepy town of St. Christopher's. She claims to be researching the town for her new book, but Phillip is sure she is hiding something. While he is determined to uncover her motives, Sybill cannot deny her own growing feelings for the intense and mysterious Quinn—but the secret she hides has the power to shatter the brothers' lives for ever...

My rating:

Phillip Quinn. The urbane one. Advertising executive, Armani lover, wine connoisseur. The only one of the Quinn brothers who was partly responsible for what happened in his childhood, deciding to make the best of it. The last adult Quinn brother to be brought to St. Christopher.

After months spent juggling his job and his responsibilities toward his youngest brother, Seth, something good has finally happened. Something good wrapped in an aloof, distant package. But he knows there's more to Dr Sybill Griffin that meet the eye. And he cannot wait to discover what lies beneath. The question is, will he be able to handle it when truth finally comes out?

I know there's another book, the final book in the series, still waiting to be read, but this one was sort of an ending to the older Quinn brothers era. And I'm glad it succeeded in improving my opinion of the series (as a whole) after the fiasco of the second book. Still, nothing cannot come close to Sea Swept, the first and best in the series.

Yet again we received a great glimpse into the Quinn family dynamics, this time with two added Quinns by marriage, but it was the interactions between brothers (Seth included this time) that had me riveted once again. As said in the review for the fist book, these guys were a real hoot. And a real pleasure to read.

Thankfully the pacing also got a nice boost in this one, and the story flowed almost hiccup-free, letting the characters (all of them!) guide the plot forward.

Unfortunately, the heroine ruined the experience for me. The secrets, the hiding, the half-thruths really bugged me. I'm all for keeping secrets when need arises, but in this one, I simply didn't care for it. Maybe it was because I 'couldn't relate' knowing the entire sordid story, but the bottom line is, I didn't like it. And the fact she did feel guilty about lying didn't compensate one bit. I simply didn't get her reasoning. Knowing her sister the way she did, she still had reservations about calling her a liar from the get-go. Nope, I don't get it.
I was prepared to let the emotional 'handicap' would bug me, but it didn't. Go figure.

All in all, it was a good story, a vast improvement from its predecessor yet failing to reach its potential or come even close at achieving what the first book in the series did.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Review: Rising Tides by Nora Roberts

Title: Rising Tides
Series: Chesapeake Bay Saga
Author: Nora Roberts
Read copy: Paperback
Published: February 4, 2010
Publisher: Piatkus Books
ISBN: 0749952628
ISBN-13: 9780749952624

Ethan Quinn shares his late father's passion for the ocean, and he's determined to make the family boat-building business a success. But as well as looking out for his young brother Seth, the strong but guarded Quinn is also battling some difficult home truths.

Grace Monroe, the woman Ethan has always loves but never believed he could have, is learning that appearances can be deceptive. For beneath Ethan's still, dark waters lies a shocking past. With Grace's help, can he overcome the shadows that haunt him and finally accept who he is?

My rating:

Ethan Quinn. The quiet one. The steady one. Always staying close to home, living on and for the water. Because of his past and dark secrets buried in that past, he's decided long ago never to marry, never to have a family. And because of that he thinks he can never have the one woman he loves, the one he's loved forever—Grace Monroe.

Unfortunately he didn't consider his sister-in-law's stubbornness. Or Grace's determination.

While the first book in this quartet, Sea Swept, delivered on the promise in the blurb and made me giddy to read the next book, Ethan's story turned out to be quite a let-down.

It sure was Ethan's story, slow just like its hero. "Slow as a lame turtle with bifocals" Cam described him to his wife. And while I love me some slow moving stories, the slowness sometimes helps in keeping things real, this one was just too slow. Any slower and it would've been going backwards.

Nothing happened. Sure, things happened between Ethan and Grace, but I simply didn't care. Because I didn't care about them. While Cam and Anna were exciting, funny, and sexy, these two were just meh. I really could not have cared less whether they actually ended up together.
Beside Ethan and his slowness that had mostly to do with Grace. Proud, stubborn, annoying...stupid. Yes, I hate that word, but that's what came to mind with Grace and her 'fantasies'. Sheesh.

Also there was no camaraderie between brothers, the interactions I came to love in the Cam's book. They barely spent any time together. And two big problems I had with this book were Seth (though he was a bit tiresome in the first book, he's escalated in this one—shouldn't be the other way around?—I kept waiting for someone to kick the crap out of him, because he deserved it) and Anna (I loved her in the first book, in this one she was just too annoying to bear).

And the biggest problem of them all? It arises quite often, but I manage to swallow my complaints because usually the story keep me interested, here...Not so much. I'm talking about the whole marriage thing. What's with that?! So Ethan didn't want to get married. So what?! I mean, who's to prevent the two of them from shaking up together? Is living together without the ring and the paperwork suddenly a sin? And what was with the need to procreate? She wanted to have his babies. What if he couldn't have them (not wouldn't, but couldn't)? Would he still be the big, bad Ethan? Didn't the idiot woman ever hear of adoption?

Argh. Frustrating. That's what this book was. Frustrating. And disappointing.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Review: Sea Swept by Nora Roberts

Title: Sea Swept
Series: Chesapeake Bay Saga
Author: Nora Roberts
Read copy: Paperback
Published: January 21, 2010
Publisher: Piatkus Books
ISBN: 0749952571
ISBN-13: 9780749952570

A champion boat racer, Cameron Quinn traveled the world spending his winnings on champagne and women. But when his dying father called him home to care for Seth, a troubled young boy not unlike Cameron once was, his life changed overnight...

After years of independence, Cameron had to learn to live with his brothers again, while he struggled with cooking, cleaning, and caring for a difficult boy. Old rivalries and new resentments flared between Cameron and his brothers, but they tried to put aside their differences for Seth's sake. In the end, a social worker would decide Seth's fate, and as tough as she was beautiful, she had the power to bring the Quinns together—or tear them apart...

My rating:

Cameron Quinn. Thrill-seeker. Speed-lover. Living on the edge. He loves it fast and impersonal. Especially with women. And he loves living in Europe. Alone, doing what he wants, when he wants and how he wants it. Away from home, from his two brothers, from his father. No responsibilities, no accountability except to himself.

Then, one night it all comes crashing down with a fax message. His father has had an accident. And after years of staying away, Cam finally has to come home.

Though this is categorized as romance, I didn’t love it because of the romance. In fact, I could’ve done without the romance in this case. Not because the book didn’t have a good romantic subplot (it did, I loved Cam and Anna together, they were rather like two peas in a pod), but because everything was overshadowed by the Quinn brothers and their interactions with each other.

The Quinn brothers, Cameron, Ethan and Phillip were a real hoot to read about. Grown men, each independent, employed etc., but when they were together they acted like teenagers—throwing one another off the dock, kicking the car seats, throwing insults here and there, kicking the crap out of each other...Laughing like lunatics together.
Despite them not being brothers by blood, they were family and it showed. Yes, we were shown not told, which is something I love about Ms. Roberts’ writing. And because they were family they were willing to put everything aside and join forces to keep their last promise to their father.

This book had great characters, multi-layered and flawed, which for me makes them that more real, good writing, which isn’t surprising because of the author, good story (though I’m more used to Ms. Roberts’ suspense novels, I like something more ‘normal’ from time to time), and great character interaction (which was, as noted before, what I loved most).

A great, heart-warming, funny, laugh-out-loud, sweet story. I just hope the other books keep up with the expectations.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Review: Deception Cove by Jayne Castle

Title: Deception Cove
Series: Harmony, Rainshadow
Author: Jayne Castle
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Jove
ISBN: 0515152854
ISBN-13: 9780515152852

As a light-talent, Alice North has the rare ability to make things disappear, including herself—a gift that comes in handy during her magic act with her dust bunny Houdini.

Business mogul Drake Sebastian is day-blind, since his sight was nearly destroyed in a lab accident. But he’s the one man who can see Alice when she disappears—and he needs her.

On Rainshadow Island, two dangerous Old World crystals are missing, igniting a paranormal storm. Drake thinks Alice is the key to finding them, and proposes they head there, but only after a Marriage of Convenience.

Alice’s honeymoon on Rainshadow is guaranteed to be memorable, as the island—and the passion between her and Drake—is about to explode...

My rating:

After one failed Marriage of Convenvience—her husband wanted to kill her—that ended in a honeymoon at Rainshadow Island, Alice North knows better than to enter into one more MC.

So what the heck is she doing married to Drake Sebastian (it's just an MC, mind you) and honeymooning on Rainshadow Island again?

For me, this was the best in the Rainshadow series. And I'm not even exactly sure why that is. Everything just clicked. But what I liked most about it, was the heroine 'knowing her place'. Sure, the story was supposedly about her, like all the stories set on the world of Harmony are supposedly about their heroines, but Alice was pretty comfortable with her role of box-jumper to her mighty Magician. Yes, I liked that about her. She wasn't a remarkable heroine, she could handle herself when need arose, but she didn't push her luck. She knew well where her limits were and didn't gripe about letting her hero take the reins. When that happens the heroines usually get annoying for me, but Alice thankfully escaped that 'curse'.

Now, the hero. Oh, the hero. As said before, this books are supposedly about the heroines, but their heroes always steal the spotlight where I'm concerned. And I couldn't be happier about it. I love Krentz/Quick/Castle heroes. There's just something about them that lets the reader know that they don't exactly want to be in the limelight, but they're willing to bite that proverbial bullet to get the job done. And Drake Sebastian was the prime example of that hero-credo. You know, those heroes that try to appear unassuming and bland, but deep down you know there's a beast deep down that just waiting to pounce. Oooh, shivers down my spine. I loved the guy. He was sexy, funny, dangerous, protective, possessive, a little self-deprecating at times, and not allowing the minor handicap of being day-blind get in his way.

Overall, this was another good effort from Ms. Castle, keeping the Harmony world alive and intriguing. The pacing was good, the plot pretty tight, the characters interesting, the villain twisted (boy, was the villain twisted), the suspense riveting, but what really got to me in this book, beside the hero that is, was the descriptions of the island shrouded in the psi-infused fog. The descriptions of the night scenes on Rainshadow Island were chilling. Loved them.

Loved the book.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Review: The Last Arrow by Marsha Canham

Title: The Last Arrow
Series: Robin Hood Trilogy
Author: Marsha Canham
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: April 7, 1997
Publisher: Dell
ISBN: 0440222575
ISBN-13: 9780440222576


She caught him trespassing on her family's lands, the sensuous and mysterious knight who had come to Normandy to challenge her brother, Robin, in the tournament at Chateau Gaillard. Brenna Wardieu's well-honed instincts warned her that Griffyn Renaud was no ordinary mercenary. When she discovered he was the invincible Prince of Darkness, undefeated champion in three lands, she feared he has been hired to do more than just defeat Robin in the lists.


She was Lady Brenna Wardieu, daughter of the legendary Black Wolf, and from the moment Griffyn found himself at the mercy of the magnificent lady archer, he suspected he had met his match. And when she offered him her body in exchange for her brother's life, it proved to be the instrument of his own defeat, for the passion he discovered in her arms threatened to shatter not only the armor surrounding his heart, but the peace of two kingdoms.

My rating:

Lovely Lady Brenna Wardieu, daughter of the Black Wolf, isn’t exactly known for her ladylike behavior. She’s spent her childhood emulating her brothers and has become a master of the longbow, a worthy rival of the land’s best archers.

One day, she finally meets her match in Griffyn Renaud de Verdelay, a mysterious man she’s caught trespassing on her father’s lands. She immediately knows he cannot be trusted, despite his acquaintance with her brother, Robin. Her suspicions turn true when she learns Griffyn, a.k.a. Prince of Darkness, has been hired to challenge Robin in a tournament and dispose of him accordingly.

Griffyn is a man on a mission which doesn’t involve getting tangled up in a woman’s web. Yet, there is something about Brenna that draws him in and makes it harder and harder to go through with his plan on getting a rematch against Robin and ultimately killing him.

Neither can help the growing attraction between them and despite their differences and conflicting goals, they find themselves watching each other’s backs in battle after battle. Soon, it becomes clear their goal is the same and they end up working together to save her brother’s life, find a traitor in their midst, and save a few lives and maybe even the fate of kingdom in the process.

This was the final book in the Robin Hood Trilogy, that started with Through a Dark Mist and continued with In the Shadow of Midnight. And while both previous books were great on their own, I couldn’t help but think everything I’ve read so far, both individual stories intertwined with the main arc of the trilogy, has led to this one, the last book—The Last Arrow, which for me is the best in the trilogy. After all, it is the ‘grand finale’, where everything is nicely tied up, and the main arc sort of comes full circle.

This is the story of how four of the Wolf’s cubs (all three boys and the tomboyish girl that has always been the pupil of her father’s eye) travel from France to England to save the Lost Princess, retrieve a damsel, and help the outlaws in their noble cause against the tyranny of King John. While on their way to England they’ll stop on a tournament, make a few new acquaintances, save one of those acquaintances’ life, and enlist that same acquaintance’s help on their venture to their final destination.

Since this book was rife with sub-plots, historical details, and strong, realistic and believable characters, to me it was the most complex one in the trilogy. While so far we’ve only been served one main story and one to two side-stories per book, this one had two ‘main’ couples vying for attention, an old revenge sub-plot that was resolved somewhere in the middle, the lost princess subplot, a great villain and a rehashed one from the previous book, the ‘robinhoodesque’ conclusion etc.

Focusing on the ‘main’ main couple—Brenna and Gryffin (because let’s face it, the other couple, Robin and Marienne, truly had only one scene together), for me their romance was the most realistic of the entire trilogy. Realistic in the sense of their interactions, their personalities, and their inner ‘demons’. The fact she was a proficient archer in a time where women were considered more cattle than cattle, and he was a self-made tournament champion and even better at archery than her, was a bit fantastic, but it worked well with the story and their development, both individually and as a couple.
It was the aforementioned other things, the emotions they brought to the table, the inner turmoil, the reluctance to trust and yield, that made them so ‘real’ to me, because it could happen to anyone, even in this day and age. The emotional roller coaster the two were on works regarding of the historical setting. The attraction was obvious from the start, the ‘love’ started developing from the moment they were officially introduced, but there was so much baggage with both of them, the misgivings, the secrets, the mistrust, they were both weary of giving in, of taking that final leap of faith. One would think because this is a romance, there shouldn’t be so much reluctance, but the story wouldn’t have worked if there wasn’t that reluctance present. Ms. Canham has written it in a way the reader (on the first read, that is) also isn’t quite sure whether Gryffin, despite being the hero, could indeed be trusted. So, if the reader cannot completely trust the hero (until the final few chapters where everything is explained, that is), how can the heroine?
And he, well, he held so much anger inside, so much darkness, the armor around his heart and emotions so thick that he couldn’t afford falling for her, yet couldn’t help himself. Like moth to a flame he was drawn to her, despite knowing better, despite all his efforts.
To me, Brenna and Gryffin were a perfect couple, fighting against everything they felt for each other, yet succumbing at the end. And the best part, he was the one who fell first and the hardest. Sure, he was an asshole, but he had his reasons. She was no angel, either, at least when it came to him. Yet, they fit. Perfectly. Both flawed, yet one loving the flaws of the other. I loved them both.

With such a ‘power-couple’ and such a strong love story, everything else could’ve easily rode shotgun or even taken the back seat, but it didn’t. It’s Ms. Canham’s forte to intertwine and combine multiple elements, characters and plot-lines where all of them shine through in the story without one of those ‘elements’ fading into the backdrop. Everything has its purpose, everything, every single aspect of the story works in driving the plot forward, and in a multiple-book story-lines, everything is nicely tied in a bow in the end, even elements that seemed redundant in previous books.
And that’s what I love about Ms. Canham’s writing and that’s what makes her one of my favorite authors. The ‘homogeneity’, the flawlessness of combining and mixing various elements to make a tight, well-paced and well-written plot and story.

The story of the Lost Princess of Brittany was nicely tied up, with an additional romantic aspect to it, despite of where she was and what she’s become, the Wolf’s heir kept his promise given eleven years ago (at the end of In the Shadow of Midnight) and retrieved his one and only love. show/hide spoiler
The fact he’s remained chaste for the duration of the ‘wait’ was both sweet and funny. The villains got their due, though I wanted to know what happened in Gryffin’s youth resulting in one of the villains only having nine fingers. The main villain of the entire trilogy, Prince/King John had mellowed (and met his maker as explained in the epilogue). And we finally got the retelling of the Robin Hood legend that’s I’ve been waiting for since book one. It was unique and engaging and made me want to demand more, especially what happened to Robin and Brenna’s brothers Richard and Dag, and whether Will has indeed married the younger Wolf’s cub, Rhiannon.

This was an engrossing read that will keep you guessing until the last page. There is action and adventure aplenty, a great villain, awesome secondary characters all woven into the 13th century tapestry of political intrigue, dark family secrets, revenge, murder, knightly battles, and a great romantic conflict and sensual tension between the two leads. All told with Ms. Canham's usual flair, elegance, and talent for delivering a strong combination of romance, action, adventure, and sensuality along with humor and great character development.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Review: In the Shadow of Midnight by Marsha Canham

Title: In The Shadow of Midnight
Series: Robin Hood Trilogy
Author: Marsha Canham
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: March 5, 1994
Publisher: Dell
ISBN: 0440206138
ISBN-13: 9780440206132


Niece to the powerful Marshal of England, Lady Ariel de Clare was as skilled with the broadsword as any knight—a fierce, headstrong beauty determined to disobey the King himself rather than marry by decree. No man would ever command her. And no man did—until she met the legendary warrior pledged to see her safely to Wales, the bastard son of a nobleman who challenged her untamed soul.

She was a complication Eduard FitzRandwulf d'Amboise could ill afford, the ravishing redhead disguised as a squire in his ragtag band, a pawn in a dangerous plan to rescue Princess Eleanor from the unspeakable evil of King John. There was no room for error—or for wildfire passions raging out of control.

My rating:

Eduard FitzRandwulf d'Amboise finds a trespasser playing with swords in his father’s armory. A half-naked trespasser with green eyes and long, red hair. So, what is a man to do upon stumbling onto a beautiful, half-naked stranger? He grabs her and teases her...Until she reveals her identity. She’s her father’s guest’s niece. She’s the niece of William, the Marshall of England.

Then she runs away without giving Eduard a chance to apologize. And since she’s William the Marshall’s niece, Eduard is probably a dead man.

Actually, he’s not, since Ariel neglects to mention the ‘incident’ to either her uncle or brother. After all, she wasn’t supposed to be in the armory in the first place. So she’s not about to say anything. Besides, she’s never laying eyes on the unkempt serf who’s accosted her, either. Or is she? Because the bastard son of their host looks very much like the serf in the armory, only better dressed and cleanly shaved. On closer scrutiny, it is the same lout. How dare he? And how dare he mock her throughout the evening meal? How dare a bastard speak thusly to a lady?

Well, she’s put him in his place, hasn’t she? And once she leaves she’ll never have to see him again. Unless her uncle decides FitzRandwulf is to accompany them back to England. There goes her peace of mind. Now she has to spend even more time with him, dressed as his squire, remembering that wretched kiss on the battlements. Ooh, the gall of the man to still tease her, to make her remember that wretched kiss on the battlements...What is she to do? Certainly not fall in love.

This second installment in Marsha Canham’s Robin Hood Trilogy was much more historical than its predecessor, which is somewhat of a pattern in her multi-book historicals. The first book is to establish the characters, the second is to thrust them into a true historical content. Though the characters weren’t the same as in Through a Dark Mist, except for the cameos from the Black Wolf and Lady Servanne, and let’s not forget Sparrow, the male lead has been introduced in the previous book.

So, as I said, there was much more history involved than in the first book in the trilogy. In the prologue the author offered an ‘alternative’ explanation to the ‘disappearance’ of Arthur of Brittany in approx. 1203, the book offered an ‘alternative’ to the fate of Eleanor of Brittany, the story was set against the backdrop of the war for the provinces of Touraine, Brittany, Normandy, Anjou, Poitou, and in the epilogue the reclaiming of Normandy by the French was mentioned...

I’m really glad the historical content was rather predominant in this one, because if I had to read even more about the heroine and experience more of her obtuse, childish, spoiled tantrums I’d probably had hurled the book at the wall. Marsha Canham is one of those authors where I like all her heroines, even the stubborn and proud ones, but Lady Ariel De Clare was obnoxious and annoying almost throughout the entire story. Lucky for us she fell head over heels in love with the hero and suffered a character transplantation that actually endeared her to me toward the end. But at the beginning I just wanted someone to run her through with a sword, bash her over the head with a sword, strangle her or throw her off the battlements of a keep. Or maybe all of it. In that order.

But I guess, in hindsight, she was a rather fitting heroine for our Eduard. He needed someone like that, someone to notice, someone to keep him ‘engaged’, someone to keep him thinking about, someone to burrow under his skin...He needed someone like Ariel to demolish those walls he’s erected around his heart and around his emotions. And by taming her (a little), he’s been tamed as well.

It was a rather frustrating read, this love story of Eduard and Ariel, but a satisfying one in the end.

There was another difference between the first and second book in this trilogy, beside the emphasis on the historical setting—the action. Though there were a few ‘skirmishes’ I didn’t feel the action, the violence of that time, played such a major role as in Through a Dark Mist. This story focused more on the characters, their personalities, and relationships to one another. The relationships I was enjoying the most were the ones between Ariel and Eduard (yes, despite the beginning) and Eduard and Princess Eleanor. Though the reader, unlike Ariel, knew the truth, their true feelings to one another, it was still a very emotional and bittersweet experience reading the scenes between the two.

This book was a real rollercoaster of a ride. A powerful, intriguing, at times nail-biting, emotional book, that could be read as a standalone, but I suggest reading Through a Dark Mist first. It caters to those that like books where romance takes a little (lot) more work and the lovers of historicals with an emphasis on the real historical background.

And we got the first glimpses of the ‘merry men’ the trilogy has been inspired by—Littlejohn, Will Scarlett (though he’s still very young in this book), Friar Tuck (what a twist that one was), Alan of the Dale had a cameo, Marienne appeared in a secondary role, and Robin in-the-hood was mentioned.

Now, onto the next book, the last installment in this trilogy, in which Robin and his younger sister, the youngest (I think) of the Wolf’s cubs, will meet (one of them already has) their match.