Monday, March 11, 2013

One Last Chance by Shelby Gates

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥
Written for a time when high school reunions were a thing, and people didn't all just create facebook groups and check each other out from their computers.

Short, sweet, predictable.

They were high school sweethearts, he breaks up with her before the prom and that apparently emotionally scarred her for the intervening 10 years before their high school reunion. When they reunite again, he admits he was an ass and wants her back. She is snippy and plays hard to get for like 5 seconds and then its all roses and rainbows. 

It was a nice little story and a good way to spend a couple hours. I read it less than 5 hours back but it's already fading quickly from memory. To amuse myself, I shall do some nitpicking.

1) He realizes somewhere in those 10 years since high school that he had made a mistake and she was, in fact, the Girl of His Dreams. So what did he do? Nothing. He does absolutely nothing. Do these people not have email or a phone? Are they on Facebook at all. I understand that they were in the pre-fb generation, but any normal human would naturally LOOK UP THE GIRL OF YOUR DREAMS on fb once you have joined, no? Not even a poke? Who are these adorable dummies?

2) She's kind of a loser. Lost her job as an assistant. She's described as "one of the smartest people he knows". In 10 years her professional contributions seem a little weak. Not saying she has to be a rocket scientist or high powered business woman, but she just didn't seem like she even liked her job. Can a smart cookie not find and keep a job she marginally enjoys? 

3) She seems not to have made a single friend in high school who she's excited to meet at this reunion - which btw occurs on a three-day cruise to Cabo San Lucas. Why does she even go? Not to see him apparently, because she checks to make damn sure he isn't coming before signing up herself. (He, meanwhile, waits till he knows she has signed up before getting on the list. Yes. Very romantic/stalker-ish.)

4) No heat. Like at all. The sexy-times have all the slickness of an 18-year-old who got ditched by her boyfriend at prom who then writes a book about what her 10 year reunion would look like when he finally comes to his senses and tells her he never stopped loving her. Sorry hon, that is a dangerous fantasy. Also it is very doubtful that your reunion would take place on a fancy cruise - its is far more likely to take place in your high school gym over pizza and paper cups.

Anyway. I didn't hate the story. It was just sort of meh... Like a filler, so if you happen to be between two emotionally charged, exhausting stories and you just need a break between those this might be a good pick.

Chasing Venus by Diana Dempsey

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥♥
Two parts whodunnit, one part crazy sexual tension for a total of three parts feeling edgy and tweakish.

I must say I am surprised to have not read anything by this lady before! She is a really solid writer. I don't know how to describe it but you feel like you are in the hands of a pro - perfect grammar, sentence structure is clean and crisp and she didn't have those tics that some contemporary writers have that end up being irritating to the reader (e.g. weird, affected Southernisms to demonstrate the H's aw-shucks charm).

He: Ex-cop, host of an America's Most Wanted-like show that helps track down criminals by appealing to the public. Backstory is that he had lost a fiancee to a crime so has attending internal turmoil related to that.

She: Crime writer who gets mixed up in a string of serial murders of other crime writers. Her issues are related to having had a bad relationship in her past and is now determined to break free from her earlier patterns with men and to assert her girl power.

Conflict: There is immediate chemistry between the two but then she becomes a suspect in the murders and he's the only one who can help her clear her name. He has to fight his attraction for her, help her solve the mystery while risking his own reputation as an investigative reporter if he ends up being wrong about her.

The mystery was tight and interesting, the conflicts were believable and while it may seem like a damsel in distress tale, there end up being some fierce scenes where she takes care of business herself.  

Side note: There was a really interesting and well-written side story about one of the minor characters who has feelings for the H. It was sympathetically written, not over blown and really touching.

It's hard for me to re-read mystery stories but I need to find more from DD! 

A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥♥♥
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth;
For thy love is better than wine.
Because of the savor of thy good ointments
Thy name is as ointment poured forth,
therefore do the virgins love thee
- Song of Songs, Chapter 1

Everything this woman writes is just MAGIC. So beautifully done and so, so sweet it just left me a-flutter.

This is an Adam and Eve story - quite literally. Adam is the beautiful, "innocent" Pennyroyal vicar, cousin to the county's powerful Eversea family. Eve/Evie is the scandalous actress-turned-courtesan-turned-countess who's been cast by the ton as a notorious "Black Widow" when her husband dies suddenly. She escapes for some peace to Pennyroyal Green, her husband's unentailed property. 

JAL made no attempt to hide the overtly biblical allusions and I was ready to be offended on behalf of women everywhere because of the old Eve-as destroyer-of-innocence thing. But perhaps I too was seduced by this Eve, this sharp, unrepentant siren, that all my defensiveness at what the reference symbolized just melted in a puddle at her feet. She's certainly not an innocent, but neither is he. At least she doesn't try and hide behind a wall of civility and religiosity. 

JAL clearly had a lot of fun with the biblical theme and it was cleverly weaved throughout the story (Eve acted at the Green Apple Theater, plenty of angel and snake metaphors) and there were references to passages in Corinthians and Song of Solomon that made me want to revisit my study of the Bible as the ultimate romance novel (ergo the quote up top from Song of Songs). Some of that stuff was HOT. 

The interaction between both the characters is heart-thumpingly thrilling. They're both so well-rounded out, we almost feel their internal tension that keeps them from giving in to each other. And the things he SAYS, our Adam, made me want to climb into my kindle and get myself thoroughly compromised by the man. He was the perfect tormented H - wanted what he shouldn't and then when he couldn't take it anymore out there and grabbed it, everything else be damned! Sigh...

This is a book I shall re-read many times.

NB: I actually wrote a review of this on Amazon under a different name so a lot of it may look familiar to anyone really looking

The Sexiest Man Alive by Diana Holquist

Skeptic scale: ♥♥
Channing Tatum. Wait...We're talking about sexy men, right? Yeah. So... Channing Tatum. I think we've seen all we need to here. Just move along to the bottom - the rest is just filler.

The story centers around an H who needs to prove to the world/himself that he is a good actor and not just a Hollywood pretty-boy and he arranges to act on The Stage as Romeo. However, he doesn't want the rest of the cast/crew/audience to realize it's him or they won't take him seriously. The h, a seamstress and costume designer is called upon to create disguises for him so he can hide his true identity. I outline my many issues with this story below but its redeeming feature was the writing which was saved me from flinging my kindle out the window onto the weird dude who's always sitting on my stoop listening to his Walkman from 1984.

He: Hot hunk o' burnin' love, Hollywood star, and man with a need to help others and penchant for leaving oversized tips for wait staff after overhearing their tales of money woe.

She: A neurotically shy seamstress who is pathologically scared of handsome men, or actually any man.

Conflict: She's scared of everything/everyone - especially handsome men, he's too handsome and famous... you get it.

Issues that seriously undermine the story that could easily have been solved by 3-second plot modifications by the author:

1) If you need to disguise a person in real life, would you not need a makeup artist? Why the HELL would you make her character a costume designer? Unless he's going about in full on Mickey mouse regalia, it seems that he wants someone to help disguise his handsome FACE.

2) If he needs to prove his worth as an actor, could he not have chosen a couple of meatier roles in Hollywood films? He's reportedly a popular star... seems a stretch to think that he's had to resort to these types of hi-jinks to prove he's good enough. Ok, even if you do want to be on The Stage, wouldn't you still be able to prove your salt if you just acted well? It's not like he would only get a pretty-boy* role in a play right?

Other issues:

1) WHY would it make sense for a person so nice and handsome and wonderfully awesome to go for someone so painfully shy that she can't look a person in the eye long enough to complete a job interview. Why can't these characters be at least somewhat grounded in reality?

2) I cannot read a Hollywood-themed romance. Sorry. Just can't do it. The Skepto-meter is just off the charts for these Hollywood types and I can't suspend disbelief that much. I mean, in the face of overwhelming, very public evidence that these things are mostly doomed from the start, you expect me to believe that THIS H & h with their attending baggage and weirdities can make a go of it?? I. Don't. Think. So.

*Speaking about pretty boys actors - I just knew Channing Tatum was brilliant even when he did pretty-boy roles such as his seminal work - Step Up, where he played a troubled Baltimore youth who BREAKS IT DOWN with some snazzy hip-hop and classical dance moves. This was before his transcendent rise to A (or at least B) list stardom that recently resulted in another classic - Magic Mike, where he also BREAKS IT DOWN - this time a little less clothed. Grrr. So yeah... what was I saying again? Never mind.

Waking Up Married by Mira Lyn Kelly

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥♥

Babies, girls obsessed with babies, men who love babies

Not typically my favorite theme for romance novels. (Although - thank God there was no weird reference to how he longed to see "her belly filled with his baby". Ew. It seriously bums me out when I read that.) 

But this one snuck in my reading pile and didn't suck and despite the baby theme was a fun read! The writing was snappy and fun and I didn't realize till a third into it that it was a Harlequin series book. I shocked myself by 4-hearting it and actually went back and re-read it to make sure. Yep, it was an ok book and made it me smile.

He: Rich, successful businessman on holiday in Vegas to "get over" his broken engagement. He's not terribly fussed about having broken his year long affair. Why? He doesn't believe in love, she did and he can't give her any more than a surface relationship.

She: Having given up on finding a husband with whom to have a kid, she's decided to go the artificial insemination route. Before taking that step though, she is in Vegas for a cousin's wedding when she runs into H with his rocking bod and "classically handsome" face. After getting super drunk, they get married at a cheesy Vegas chapel.

Conflict: He can never love any woman. And can't be with a woman who expects love. He wants a marriage of convenience. She wants a baby. She has given up on finding love but then (obviously) falls in love with him and as soon as he realizes that she has done that he distances himself.

Very formula and all that but the first bit where they meet and deal with the effects of their drunken night is actually quite entertaining. The rest of it dragged somewhat but it kept me engaged.

The main issue I had was this - when they decide to stay married, how come she just packs up her life and moves across the country to live with him? I mean, he could be a psycho! And come on sister, you have a job and friends and a life too! Why doesn't HE effing move? So she wants a baby and he's a good sperm donor candidate - but doesn't this mean he had dibs on this kid too? What kind of father refuses to love someone? wtf!!! These points don't come up obviously but they seem pretty relevant.

One thing is clear to me, the romance industrial complex has made the word L-word into some sort of magical spell. Say it and everything suddenly becomes brushed by Technicolor, HD, 3D, only-watch-in IMAX intensity. Really? I mean, I love potato skins.


Nope. Nothing happened. They were awesome before and they're still awesome now and my saying the magic L-word didn't really change the facts.

Whatevs. It was a quick, entertaining read. He had weird emotional issues (but that's standard romance novel hero fare) but then there was a satisfying grovelling scene where, like a brave kamikaze he drops himself and his L-bomb into the both of them and wins the war.

The Trials of Tiffany Trott by Isabel Wolff

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥

Where have all the Good Men gone?

A Brit Sex in the City. I'm not going to do the regular He/She/Conflict summary for this one because the "she" is a late-thirties Everywoman (good-hearted, attractive, smart, wonderful, been hurt by love before) and the "he", like Mr. Big, is more of a concept than an actual person and anyway the story is a Scheherazade's tale of multiple He's. And the conflict is that there are just no Good Men out there. 

Well-written, and sometimes rump-thumpingly hilarious. But you know, I was really exhausted about halfway in. It was just one bad date after another. Maybe the author was kind of representing the sheer desperation of the cause so that by the end of it we, like the h, wish she would just BLOODY FIND SOMEONE ALREADY. 

“Better single than badly accompanied,” someone declares in the book. And you wince, dear Skeptic, because you know she's only saying that to be brave. The h doesn't really believe that and it's just sad. 

The formula for these things is usually a variant of "the rule of threes" thing. One guy that's all wrong, one that's too "right" and one that seems wrong but is totally right. Maybe introduce another for some high jinks. But there must have been 15 in this one. And I can't tell from the kindle book, but is this book especially long? Also, could it be that I am just projecting? Was I emotionally too zapped by the thought of one of my deserving sisters out there looking and looking and just not finding that I put up walls? I will think carefully about the possibility.

The book ends in an interesting way. But instead of being piqued and intrigued, I was thinking ye gods, not AGAIN. 

It was fun for what is was of course, but I often wonder about books and movies that show women as nothing more than almost-marrieds. It's as if she's just skirting through life waiting to get hitched. Surely there is a better way to live. Like if the h were to construct a life as if she were never going to get married, like she's the star of the show, and marriage becomes an awesome "bonus" and not her "entire life's purpose."

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥

Dukes behaving badly. 

I didn't get this story. I felt like it was missing a whole middle part that would show why their love was real and compelling and worth it. It just felt abrupt and I think a lot of the mystification I felt was due to the fact that this was a novella so there was less time to really develop their interaction. I don't do well with novellas. I'm giving up on reading them because they just upset me.

He: The ambitious personal assistant of the dissolute Duke of Clermont. He is the son of a coal miner who is determined to make something of himself. Known as “The Wolf of Clermont,” he is the man the duke hires "to get things done, things that an ordinary man, fettered by a conscience, would not do." I thought it was quite interesting that the H wasn't the regular blackhearted lordly rogue we are so used to in historicals. He was of one of the "lesser" classes, as was the h. He was still obviously alpha dawg though, applying his influence on those of higher classes like a puppeteer. 

She: A governess who has been ruined by the duke and who is now carrying his child. She is determined to get recognition for what the duke has done and demands compensation.

Conflict: She wants the duke to recognize his error and pay for it. The H is charged by the duke with getting rid of her.

As I said, I was really quite befuddled by the plot. It seemed a bit light. So they are attracted to one another and he needs carry out the duke's wishes if he is going to get compensated and reach his own goals. 

*Warning - this next bit is spoilery, my apologies* 

But then he just marries her out of convenience? It's not really convenient for him actually. So he marries her out of love? So why act like it was convenience? The duke didn't seem like he would care what happened to her as long as she wasn't bothering him anymore. And then, H&h live apart, silently longing for one another until they just decide - to hell with it, let's just be married for reals? WHY? Why did they wait for so long? What new information did they learn while they were apart that made them come to this conclusion?? I just didn't get it. Meh.

*End of spoiler*

CM a good writer though. I've heard good things about the lady so maybe I just made a bad luck choice. I shall give her another go with one of her more popular, full length ones.

Cross My Heart by Abigail Strom

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥♥♥

Ex-girl band rock star digs on nice guy-next-door doctor. The stuff of Reality Show legend.

What is this romance that authors have with Small Town America? Is it the same romance that politicians have? Because it's like everyone is living in a Norman Rockwell painting, mom's baking a casserole and dad's pouring a scotch and everyone is awash in the glow cast by their superior morals and Good Family Values. 

And whenever there is an issue where one of the characters is from the Big City and one is from a Small Town, the Big City person always moves to the Small Town as part of the HEA package. I mean, they want to, it's not like they're being forced, but I feel like Small Town always wins this battle. I worry what will happen to the labor market now with this mass influx of folks migrating back to Small Towns, because last I checked employment stats for small towns are not awesome.

She: Ex-girl band rock star who's temporarily back in her home town between gigs.

He: Straight-laced doctor who's apparently never had a shot of tequila in his life and has to be taught by the h how the salt-shot-lime thing works.

Conflict: There's an attraction between them, he's happy to take things further but she doesn't want to lose her edge and be tied down to some small town in Iowa. Since he's a doctor and single father of a teenage daughter, he represents all that is staid and small-towny (because let's face it, no doctor from a small town has ever moved to a bigger town or even a city with a rocking music scene, so yeah - obviously they can never be together...)

It's always fun to pick apart the conflict in these things that are keeping H and h apart. It's all rather obvious to an outsider what can instantly solve a lot of their problems i.e. moving to a medium-sized town or city where they value both musicians AND doctors. But while I may have been snarky in the summary above, AS handles this issue really nicely. Also, I am being facetious when I say that the good doctor could simply move to a bigger city so that h could keep up with song writing and performing. I know it was more than that, obvi.  She's trying not to become soft and settling down with a nice man who represents stability and order is the definition of soft.  

Both characters are really...nice. Sweet and mature and they have chemistry and still manage to retain adult composure. The writing, while not quite as snappy as Kristan Higgans or Rachel Gibson (both of whom I am entirely unable to be impartial about), is solid and smooth. 

Not sure that it is a re-read, but I am definitely going to look up other books by AS. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Yours to Keep by Shannon Stacey

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥
Yours to Keep (Kowalski Family, #3)Romantical Skeptic survives story and kinda even enjoys it despite getting stuck in a gaping plot hole and almost losing foot.

She: Independent woman who owns her own landscaping business who lies to her grandmother about having a live-in fiance so that the old lady doesn't worry about her being alone

He: Ex-army dude who comes back to the States and must now figure out what to do with the rest of his life.

Conflict: The h lies to her grandmother about the H being her fiance (she knows his family and decides to keep things as specific and close to the "truth" as possible). When he comes back, she asks him to join her in the charade because her grandmother is visiting from Florida. She needs to convince dear old Gram that she is really fine so that her grandmother will agree to sell her the old house she has been living in. He agrees to go along with the drama of pretending to be affianced while Gram is around but doesn't want anything permanent since he wants to experience life (travel, check out the lady talent Stateside, hang out with his family) after having been deployed overseas for so long. 


1) SS is a good writer. There were amusing one-liners that I definitely enjoyed 

“I’m a guy. I like guy stuff. Steak. Football. Beer. Women.” 

“One woman, singular. At least for the next month, and then you can go back to your wild pluralizing ways."

2) The h was a tough-girl, did her own manual labor and was generally un-squeamish about things like getting her hands in mulch

3) The H was a decent dude - not too nice but not a douche. Except for the part where he doesn't let her drive HER OWN TRUCK because he feels less manly sitting in the passenger seat somehow. 


1) The plot, I am sorry to say, was really contrived. 

Please pretend to be my fiance so that my grandma will think here's a big strapping penis-wielding caveman around to help wittle old me if something in the house breaks and I can't pay someone to fix it because I don't have any money because I don't really have a job or run my own business? 


This entire confusion could have been solved in one phone call to Florida - hey grandma, I know you worry and I want to assure you that I have been living here penis-free for the past few months and have been quite able to take care of matters on my own. In fact, I have built a successful landscaping business where I am able to do a lot of the manual work too. I hear where you're coming from, but I really, really want you to consider selling me the house - I can handle it. And to prove to you that I can handle it, why don't you come visit and see how things are around here? There. Done.

2) Since they have to pretend to be almost married they sleep in the same room when granny's visiting to help perpetrate the fiction. Obviously there is the requisite sexual tension that is produced by such an arrangement. Efforts are made to remain chaste (she on couch, he on bed due to larger frame and the fact that he's doing her a solid). I thought the whole I-can't-sleep-in-the-same-room-as-a-pretty-girl-without-boinking-her was a bit 12th grade, but I guess I kind of get it. He's hot, she's hot, they both sleep in the same room* - by the laws of Romance Novel Plot Thickeners, they're going to get it on.

That's all really. It was generally well executed but it was like my leg got stuck in a cavernous plot hole and I couldn't dislodge it the whole time so my enjoyment was somewhat lessened.

*Can I just ask the obvious question here - when there is a scene like this in a romance novel - h & H for some contrived reason have to spend a night together and must do it platonically - why, WHY?? does the dude always insist of tempting the fates by sleeping in the buff?

I get that this may be his preferred bedchamber apparel, but for modesty's sake - she is a stranger after all - would he not think of throwing on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt? I mean, it is PHYSICALLY possible for him to sleep entirely clothed, right? On a red-eye from NY to LA, he wouldn't take off all his clothes so that it becomes possible for him to get a little shut-eye, right? Surely, while in serving in Afghanistan, he didn't strip to his undies every night because that would put him in a jam if surprised by an enemy in the wee hours, no? Well, it happens A LOT in romance novels and I begin to think these dudes are kinda slutty exhibitionists. Which, come to think of it, is fine by me.

Fools Rush In by Kristan Higgins

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥♥♥
Cover of: Fools Rush In by Kristan Higgins
WANTED: One Kristan Higgins hero. Just one. I only want to meet him. If you know one (or <gasp> have one of your own), I promise I'll give him back. Pinky swear. Just let me meet him.

I'm super serious. I wish I could just meet one of these H's! KH is a MASTER of witty banter. She just keeps you smiling the whole way through. I am really coming around to this 1st person narrative style in a romance novel. I mean, everything feels like a big surprise that's happening to me! And she is so fantastic at dialogue, the reader still manages to catch the pov's of the other characters.

This one is a sweet little twist in the high-school unrequited crush thing.

She: Sweet, friendly, goofy dog-owning doctor who is seriously crushing on her high school love - a beautiful, lovable carpenter who charms everyone in panties. He's obviously wrong, wrong, wrong for her, but she is fixated until she finally opens her eyes to the right guy. 

He: Ex-brother in law (older sister's ex-husband). Small town cop and all round good guy.

Conflict: Obviously, there is the awkwardness of him being her sister's ex-husband. He is wonderful and so is she - they just never look at each other "that way" until one day, they do. It's sweet and nice and makes you feel like that girl who's been trying to get her best friends together like, forever and then when they finally do hook up you're like, finally...

I love how the story has a lot to do with how the h grows as a person - she gets fit, makes a life and a home for herself in the town, and finds a great career - not just that she finds her man. In the story, like in real life, she only finds her real someone when she's figured herself out. 

I wish we had a little more time with the H. Because of the 1st person angle, its hard to get a handle on the H's personality but we are led to believe that he is a wonderful person worthy of the h's adoration. Oh, I believed it alright. At the end of the day, does it even really matter? I mean, after having read ~1,000 romance novels, aren't the H's all basically just the same dude? Tall, handsome, charming, sweet, funny, protective and honorable? Throw in roguish and arrogant for the historical heroes and we basically have the amalgam of the Most Perfect Human Man.

This one is heroically wonderful and nice, and she's sweet and kind - they need to be together. When they are, you're genuinely stoked for them. 

Sidenote - KH has this strange thing for the brother/sister-in-law, best friend, widowed/abandoned hero shtick  But it works, goddammit, she makes it work! I see why she would do it - I don't think its for the "forbidden" angle but more to show closeness and a solid relationship to begin with before layering on the romance. I never thought it would work, and I admit to feeling squeamish at the very beginning but then I too relax and become a steaming, whimpering pile of mush and any hesitancy I may have felt is put firmly to bed. Like the h. Hooyah!

Hot by Julia Harper

Cover of: Hot by Julia Harper
Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥

"I'm going to take you down. I'm going to be the one to put handcuffs on you. No one but me." This is an actual line in the book. Use it often.

I'd never read anything by this author and I think she's good fun. I enjoyed her style and the story was decent but I was left slightly unconvinced that our H & h were Made For Each Other.

She: Librarian and part time bank teller on a four year vendetta to clear her wrongfully accused uncle's name and expose the true villain of the crime for which he was accused.

He: FBI Special Agent who is hot on her tail. Um. 

Conflict: One would think that the natural conflict would be baked into the fact that there is security camera footage clearly showing that she is committing a crime and that he is responsible for catching turns out that this is not so much a conflict as a way to keep the H & h apart for most of the book. 

What I liked:

1) I thought the predator/quarry dynamic was quite well done. It wasn't totally cheesy and made for some fun lines ("I always get my man. Or woman", "I can't stop searching for you, either. You know that don't you.", "I'm going to take you down. I'm going to be the one to put handcuffs on you. No one but me.") Ok, so they were pretty cheesy.

2) The spark they build over the phone during their cat and mouse game was quite cool. It was different and even though it was a bit ridiculous to think that a real FBI agent would ever interact that way with a potential criminal, it was all very entertaining. 

3) I debated whether to put this in the "pros" or "cons" list and in the end it was so amusing I went with "pros" - JH uses the word "vulva" an awful lot. It is silly of me to be this kicked by it - it is a part of a woman's anatomy after all, and it is quite appropriate to use the word in the sex scenes. But it's just uncommon to read and I had to suppress immature giggles every time I came across it. Am I the only one to be struck thusly? I dunno. Here you try it: Vulva.

You smiled, right? See?

What I thought was weird:

1) Total and utter disregard for police procedure. I get that there needed to be alone-time for H & h but this dude is supposed to be a senior guy - doesn't he work with back up, his partner, have to file any paperwork? There is one point where there is a hit man hired to do some killing, and the H doesn't exactly rush to report it. What? And he seems awfully quick to start flirting with the h over the phone. Surely there are some procedures to be followed when trying to question a suspect that do not involve vaguely sexual undertone?

2) The h seems like kind of a loser. She seems to have lived like a barn mouse for 4 years as she plotted her revenge on those who destroyed her uncle's good name. But then when she is trying to execute it, it all seems rather disorganized and unplanned. 

3) What was the point of making her a librarian AND a bank teller? Why not one or the other? I think the librarian bit was supposed to be a shorthand way to tell us that she is quiet, missish and dresses tweedily. And the bank teller bit? Who even knows. I guess she needed to be working at the bank to put in motion her revenge plan...But it seemed like overkill. And this woman doesn't have ANY friends? Not a one, apparently. She also has some really weird sexual hang ups which were rather off-putting such as never letting a man go south. How to even relate to this girl?? 

She doesn't seem like a person I would want to know...(NB: While with the H though, she seems functional. Ok so maybe that was the point. he completes her and all that...)

Overall, it was an entertaining read. The writing was fun and snappy. There was enough sexy-time for the H&h, which was an upside surprise given that they were apart for most of the book. And except for the aforementioned references to her vulva (heheh), the sex bits were nice and tingly. Like her vulva. 

Not sure this particular one is a re-read, but I would definitely look into more from JH.

Until There Was You by Kristan Higgins

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥♥

Can I just say that I am an unabashed KH fan-girl. The lady can do no wrong in my opinion. She's just a wonderful writer of people. I've noticed that in addition to the main romantic story there are these wonderful references to very diverse and interesting topics - gay rights, adoption, complicated family dynamics, race, diverse cultural backgrounds. Not that she references these heavy-handedly! No sir... it's more just THERE in the background, just happening. Very cool and very interesting. 

Also, there's always has a dog. Which is awesome. Sometimes there are cats, which I don't care for, but there's always a dog which lets me stomach the cat stuff better (my apologies to cat people everywhere. I promise I'm not a horrible person. Some of my best friends have cats).

He: Former high school leather-jacketed, motorcycle-riding bad boy and current widower.  He falls in love with his wife (the angelic counterpoint to his bad self) in high school but then she dies tragically of cancer and he moves back to his wife's hometown to raise their teenage daughter.

She: One of the uncools who attended the same high school as the H and his wife. She has harbored a terminal crush on the H that whole time. He was fleetingly (distractedly) nice to her but generally ignored her leaving her to nurse her unrequited crush in silent torment. 

Conflict: He's unnaturally scared of being a bad father, of having harm come to his daughter, having her taken away from him and wants to avoid romantic entanglements. She is hopelessly in love with him from the get go so the conflict basically centers on him dealing with his personal loss, his family situation and some oddly endearing (but still serious) anxiety issues.

KH deals beautifully with both the H & h's internal struggles. I love the fact that they are "whole" human beings with interests and lives outside the whole romantic sphere. I really felt for the h! She was just so sweet and sincere when she tells the H how she feels I sighed and made my kindle cloudy. I felt actual PAIN that he didn't immediately respond by falling to her feet and telling her that she was the one for him and that she was WONDERFUL and AWESOME and he totally WANTED HER FOREVER. I'll never forgive him for that.

I will say that in this story there was a slight "wobble" in the mood on account of the rather somber theme of the H being a widower and all that. But KH is just a great writer (A+++ for dialogue) that the little moodiness just sort of become irrelevant.


Prisoner of My Desire by Johanna Lindsey

Skeptic scale: ♥♥*
Cover of: Prisoner of my desire by Johanna LindseyJust some good old 17th century rough lovin'

*I'm giving this 2 hearts but I want to say that reading it was the most fun I've had in ages. Read on to see why.

I've been off my historical romance game for quite some months now and then I pick up THIS little gem from my youthful romance-reading days. Oh boy. How can I even describe the depth of silliness I endured to get to the end of this. But like a cheap crack ho that I am, I snorted this up in a matter of hours. Mainly because I skip read everything but the interaction between h & H. And let's face it, I use the term interaction quite, quite literally. As in inter-action. 

Let me begin by recalling that this book is a classic. Everyone who calls herself a serious reader of romance has read this one. Multiple times. I believe I read a heavily dog-eared copy that I was sheepishly lent by one of the more studious girls at boarding school. We knew we should be embarrassed by our shared love for this tripe, and we were. But that never stopped us from passing this around like little under-the-bridge drug dealers. I must have read it maybe every year all through high school. 

Ok enough of the reminiscing... 

The plot is something like a weird game of thrones-y/middle kingdom amalgam - where men squabble over fiefdoms and act like barbarians. Women are of the heaving-bosom variety, and are little more than chattels and whores there to service their lords and masters.

The "twist" here is that because of an unlucky coincidence, the H is captured and imprisoned by the h's evil step brother so that the h can "mate" with the prisoner in order to have a blond haired baby (to fake the kingdom into thinking that she managed to procreate with her old, ugly husband before he croaks, thereby securing the rights to his army and land).  So it all begins with an extremely ridiculous rape scene over 3 days where the H is chained down and she climbs on top and does the deed. And of course he's such a stallion, even in chains and gagged, he responds admirably and with er, turgid aplomb.

Well. After a series of twists and turns, the H escapes and turns around and captures her and her deceased husband's castle. He then returns the favor by making her his slave and essentially raping her as payback. 

Of course, MAGICALLY, amidst all the raping and hate, they manage to fall in love, have a baby and defeat a common enemy. The end.

I remember being fascinated the first time I read this. I guess it was the raunchiest thing I had ever read at that point. It was all so surreal (and I, so young and stupid.) I was definitely carried away and didn't want to laugh the whole time I read it. I cannot say the same thing about my views this time round. But hey, I thank JL for giving me some good times back when there was no internet and we got our jollies by slipping each other crack like this to get through the evenings - it is for this sense of nostalgia alone that I elevate this from 1 to a 2 hearts.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Worth the Weight by Mara Jacobs

Worth The Weight (The Worth, #1)
Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥

For every girl who's downed a pizza (or eight) after breaking up with The One

I wasn't blown away by this but I didn't hate it either. It was one of those middle-of-the-road ones that had its moments but didn't really sink in and make me want to trade lives with the h or anything.

She: Chick who's gotten her life together after a long battle with obesity and wants to go back to her hometown to celebrate her success with a quick fling with her then bad-boy boyfriend. This is a big deal because she hasn't felt confident enough to get intimate with anyone since him because she put on a bunch of weight and generally lost her mojo when they broke up

He: Small-town guy and former bad boy whose plans to get out into the Big City are smashed due to difficult family circumstances including bad marriage, disabled child and money troubles. Yikes.

Conflict: They come from different worlds and she has to choose between staying in the town she grew up in and her new life in the big city aka Detroit. 

It was kind of interesting reading about the h's problems with weight. The tone was a bit too squishy and old-school romantic so when there were modernisms such as the author's use of "fuck", they just seemed horribly jarring and discordant with the generally old-timey tone of the book. Not that I mind rough language, you understand, it's just that the whole rhythm didn't quite match up. 

Also, it seemed the the h went through a fat-phase after her high school romance with the H, and the breakup was one of the reasons for her spiral. But they meet again after she gets that part of her life relatively under control so he only hears about her issues from her later. It was unclear to me how the fat-theme really drove the story forward except to show that she made some big changes to take control of her life and becomes a better, more competent individual for it. She didn't really seem like a happier person for it, because she's obviously looking for validation from a boyfriend she had like a million years ago. But I could be reading too much into things.

Also, the hero was a bit too beta for me. He seemed to have been defeated one too many times by life. Mostly he was just really passive and hadn't really done anything except keep his head down and be all stoic and work-horse-y which isn't my favorite. But generally it was an ok read, the writing was fine and I didn't hate it.

Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥♥♥

Because kick-@ass career women CAN have it all.

Excellent! I found a new fave author! Yay.

She: Career-oriented tabloid journalist trying to get an exclusive interview with H at the behest of her rabid bitch boss.

He: A famous writer whose horror fiction is being made into a movie. He eschews publicity and never gives interviews.

Conflict: H&h had been high school sweethearts and the h breaks his heart when she hightails out of their small cozy town to make a name for herself in LA. He loves the small town life and wants to be near his family and desperately wishes she would stay back.

What I liked:
1) I liked that the h, while career-minded, didn't come across as an iron bitch. Too many times we see the bitch/career personality pairing and its unfair to career women everywhere

2) Holy sexual tension, Batman!

3) The minor characters in the extended family scenes were sympathetically portrayed and didn't come across as cliched small town hayseeds

What I didn't like:
1) I never understand why things are so all or nothing. Why does it HAVE to be LA vs small town in New Hampshire? She can't find a job in Boston, Connecticut, NY and he, as a rich and famous writer, can't bloody move to ANY city with an Internet connection?

2) They really don't meet for 20 years even though their families are friends with each other and she's come back to visit since leaving? They were never even curious enough to look for each other on Facebook? She never wrote him a "congrats on your success" note that whole time after having been each others best friend in high school?

I get why a writer would use these devices to create real separation and longing between the characters. But I just wish it was a little more realistic. But in the end, I didn't even care because the story was sweet and fun and hot.


Cover of: Whitney My Love by Judith McNaught
The book that started it all

Hello and welcome to the home of romantical skeptics and skeptical romantics! 

First off, I need to get something out there - I love romance novels, I do, but I must confess that I begin each and every one with a feeling of disbelief and incredulity. I mean, I believe in great relationships and emotional attachment and love, obviously, or I may as well be dead inside. But even though I don’t doubt the existence of True Love, I find myself picking up each book with an unspoken challenge to its writer – ok sister, convince me.  Make me believe the Happily Ever After and why these two clowns should get to have it.

Cover of: By Love Undone by Barbara Cartland
An early fave
If my approach sounds obnoxious and disrespectful to those valiant scribes who labor ceaselessly to bring us stories of love – it’s only because I care so dang much. I want to believe, Skeptics! I want the Him & her to have their HEA and to go sailing off into the sunset or at least fog up their sex toy-rigged penthouse making sweet, sweet love atop a piano. A believable HEA is all I pray for when I read these things. Most of the time though, I come away feeling like I just watched an episode of Friends – something of familiar and obvious, kind of enjoyable but ultimately, rather forgettable. Other times I read something so monumentally idiotic that I want to fall to my knees and scream like a 14th century washer woman who’s just lost her child to the Black Death. Am I too invested? Possibly. This is what I am trying to tell you. It is literally my greatest weakness (one that I frequently mention in job interviews) – I care too much.

Cover of: Not Another Bad Date by Rachel Gibson
Good example of hot pink 
But. Once in a very great while I will chance upon a story so sweet, so incredibly precious that my faith is restored; birds sing once more and the blackness in my heart turns for a moment to a vibrant pink*, and it pulses with new life. This is what I live for, dearest Skeptics, and why I risk bitter heartbreak every time I read a new romance novel. Because when the magic does happen…well, it is effing glorious.

*Not a pretty rose shade but the serious, hot pink that marketers love to use to represent girl-power. You know the one – they use it on everything – tampon boxes, chick lit novel covers, barbie's lipstick. Hot pink, it would appear, has been re-appropriated to represent some sort of post-post-modern female empowerment thing. Not saying I hate it. But it’s just painful to look after a while.