Sunday, February 27

Honor's Splendour by Julie Garwood

Chest-beating primates, mysterious wolves, and swooning, bi-polar, PMSing tiger/kitten mixes, oh my!
(I should warn you the following is a REALLY long rant review with only one positive paragraph at the end. Feel free at any time to skip to the 'bottom line' portion of the review, to get the gist of it)
This book was my first Julie Garwood ever, and I am happy to say it will be my last. Never again will I disgrace my mind with such folly. The book started out, well, interesting. I actually enjoyed the first two or three chapters. Our heroine, Madelyne, starts us off by freeing her brother’s captive, Duncan Wexton, and saving him from death by freezing. She warms his feet for him, and it is apparently that act of kindness (not the risking her life by freeing him of course) that prompts him to declare her ‘his’. His men rush over the wall, kill all of her brother, Louddon’s, men and whisk her away as a captive. Keep in mind that our 'ever-compassionate' soon-to-be-paragone-of-a-heroine saves a servant from death during the battle by standing in front of him and proclaiming that she will die before the servants. No one kills her, or moves her out of the way, and the servants go free, owing their lives to the wonderful Madelyne.

Duncan burns Louddon’s home to the ground, and begins the journey with his men and Madelyne, and this is where the trouble starts as we begin to discover how absolutely PERFECT he is. He’s the bestest!!! He’s the greatest warrior, and since he trained his men they’re invincible (as in, not a single man of his dies in the attack on Louddon’s fortress, despite taking on an entire army) just like him! Madelyne mentions at some point she believes him the most handsome man in England. He’s so kind, too, and sweet and protective and fierce and strong and handsome and masculine and he’s just so great cause he’s always thinking of her and he’s sensitive but manly and aloof and he’s really hot cause he doesn’t die or act cold even when he’s freezing to death and he’s able to control his body’s natural reaction to shiver because he’s just so amazing and wonderful and fantastical – you get the picture. He’s perfection, and it’s really annoying. By the middle of the book, I was ready to throttle him – though no more than I was ready to throttle Madelyne.
Madelyne had the issue that she was never the same character twice. She was totally unpredictable, in as much that she had no solid base. There was no common thread to her character. She was all over the place. Here are some examples: first Garwood shows us how weak Madelyne is by having her struggle against Duncan, even punch him in the face, and not hurt him or make any headway. Later, she walks through a battlefield, injured, and swings a mace hard enough to kill a man. She also hip-checks Edmond the giant, causing him to stumble, and when she punches HIM in the face it gives him quite the colorful bruise. Inconsistent? I think so. Another example. Garwood gives us several examples of Madelyne’s innocence in regard to men. In fact, it’s kind of humorous how little she knows and the fun conversations that ensue - that I loved. Yet the first time they kiss, SHE kisses HIM. And Garwood tells us how wild and passionate and uninhibited she is. This makes no sense! When its Duncan and Madelyne’s first time, she’s all shy again – about her nudity and everything. They’ll make wild, uninhibited, ‘tigress’ love (which, by the way, is a terrible mental image because it literally makes me think of a tiger in bed with Duncan) and then she’ll go back to being horribly shy. And then, once again, just to confuse us, she’ll suddenly decide not to be shy anymore.

More examples? She faints erratically. She glares then is meek, is emotionally aloof then warm and pliant, is defiant then tame. Her behavior is nonsensical. It seems Garwood is trying to make Madelyne confusing – we see that in how the men say they can’t figure out or understand Madelyne. But while its okay for the other characters not to understand Madelyne, the reader should always be able to understand her and her motives, and that we could not do. Lastly, Madelyne becomes a paragon in the book – a little clumsy, but she never lies and is virtuous and beautiful and humble and loved by animals and children alike. Ugh. Give me a break.

I will also make a case of Madelyne’s stupidity. She’s far too trusting on certain occasions – like with Edmond, Duncan’s oaf of a brother. When she first meets him, despite his roaring, yelling, shouting etc, she looks up at him ‘with eyes so trusting it made him pause’. Yeah. Gag me. She also trusts Duncan though he turned and took her as his captive in order to get vengeance on her brother. And what of this captive business? Madelyne, despite how we are told she’s such a defiant, free spirit, never makes an actual escape attempt. Its like she has courage to yell about the awful eating habits of the men but not over her captivity. When one doesn't try to escape captivity, it makes us feel like you want to be there, hon.
Also, I despise Madelyne’s treatment of AdelaDuncan’s sister. Adela has been raped, and is a filthy, mean mess because of it. Now, it is in my experience that rape victim’s usually take care to be extra extra clean because they feel dirty and they do not become loud and belligerent but quiet and withdrawn. But, of course, rather than mold her to reality, Garwood molds her to suit her purposes. Madelyne’s treatment of Adela, to me, is horrible. She adopts a tough love, philosophy, which is fine. But forcing her to take a bath and forcing her head underwater – and calling her filthy, even if only in the literal sense? It shows a lack of compassion for what the other woman went through. A total lack of empathy or sympathy and it made me angry at Garwood for putting Adela through that.
Now, enough about my hatred for Madelyne’s consistently annoying, unbelievable character. What is with the men? In totally inappropriate situations, Gilard, Edmond, and Gerald shout in anger, when there has been little to no provocation. In fact, it’s not just the ‘loud anger’ that is overblown in this book. Characters will laugh at lines that aren’t funny, or cry at things that don’t warrant an emotional outburst. It gives me the feeling Garwood was trying to make her characters seem more merry than they were or make the events seem more devastating or emotional then they were. It was all very false feeling.

Some other key problems? Madelyne is forced to marry Duncan – by Duncan. That’s just not the stuff romance books are made of. They also make love in a freezing cold lake as if there’s no chill at all. Be real, night-time river fun is only endearing for the reader if you haven’t made such a huge point about how cold the river is before hand. Otherwise, as I’m reading all the romantic lines I’m thinking about the two of them shivering against one another.

Finally, there’s too much sub-drama, or mini-plots. Madelyne with Duncan got lost amidst Madelyne with Gilard, Adela, Silenus, Edmond, Loddoun, the non-priest, and Madelyne with the wolf plus the conflicts between the King and his brother, Adela and Gerald, Gerald and Morcar, and the whole Madelyne finding-out-she’s-a-bastard-child thing. There were too many other dramas going on for the author to focus on the main conflict and truly build it up – or to build up any of the smaller conflicts. Thus, the main conflict felt a bit like a mini-conflict to me. The entire book was dull and lack-luster because it was just a mini-revelation followed by another mini-revelation with no suspense to make us care about the revelations at all. Many of those characters could, and should, have been eliminated. They served little purpose and were actually quite ridiculous (the wolf, for instance. That was just stupid and silly).
This book was saved in my eyes by the suspenseful beginning (Chapters 1 and 2) and the end. There are, admittedly, some great lines between Madelyne and Lady Eleanor and Madelyne is much less annoying by the end. The ending was satisfactory, most ends are tied – though I can’t help wondering if there was ever going to be books written about Edmond or Gilard, because their stories are left unsatisfied. The author does write beautifully, I will say that in her defense. Her sentences were fluid and eloquent, and I think my favorite parts were when she was talking about nature – because the characters weren’t making a mess of things with their terrible, inconsistent, inhuman personalities. So the language was good. The book was competently written, but that won’t encourage me to pick up another Garwood anytime soon. But, by all means, if you feel there’s a Garwood I should try, comment or send me an email at and I’ll try again.

Some favorite quotes:

How dare he decide if she could breathe or not? (Madelyne)

“If I decide to take advantage of you, as you describe it, I promise to wake you first. Now close your eyes and go to sleep.” (Duncan)

 “Sexy”ness rating: Hot, traditional
Overall Rating: D
Bottom Line: If you like… well… if you like Julie Garwood you’ll like this book. If you like chest-beating hunks and wilting, fainting women this is probably a book for you. If you like characters with unique personalities, this book is NOT for you. Also, there’s little humor throughout this book, only some at the beginning so if you like comedy this is a no-no.

Pages: 374
Published: August 10, 2010
Genre: Historical

Enjoying the Show by Marie Harte

I admit, I’m really not a fan of love-at-first-sight novellas. I’ve never been a big believer in it. However, I am happy to say that this love-at-first-sight novella had me sighing in contentment. I was quite pleased with it. The male character was confident without being overwhelmingly arrogant or overbearing. It was a nice change from the annoyingly perfect, completely in control, real-tough-male material I see a lot these days. He acted like a real, normal human – especially around his family. It made the story seem real to me, instead of a fairy tale. The characters also have a mini-fight and a mini-make-up, making it seem all the more believable.
Our heroine, Hailey Jennison, first spots construction worker Gage Warren (aka Mr. Tool) out her friend’s apartment window. His curtains are open and he’s wonderfully attractive, sinful, soulful, and… naked? Yes, my fellow readers, Gage Andrew Warren parades around his house in his birthday suit with the curtains open. Anyone can see him. Hailey does. And she tells her friends who gather at the apartment every Friday night to hang. They now have a new activity to add to their list of Friday night activities for the next few months – watching for Mr. Tool and his… hammer. He does not disappoint.
Finally, one day, Mr. Tool catches them staring and confronts Hailey after practically dragging her (the Neanderthal!) upstairs to his apartment. He coerces a dinner from her. They greet, eat, and their privates meet – quite explosively, I might add. The sensual scenes, if you like quick, passionate lovin’, are well-written and frequent. The characters are consistent and true to themselves. It’s, overall, a really good story of love at first sight developing into a relationship.

The only bad comes at the beginning. Indeed, Gage comes off as a bit of a stalker. While staring at her breasts and forcing her to go on a date with him (the alternative being jail), he talks about how he knows her name, where she lives (she recently moved to a cottage), etc. when they've never met before. And it’s creepy. Really, downright creep. Luckily, he doesn’t remain a creep but becomes a rather endearing, loveable guy who can’t cook but is happy to help clean the dishes. Endearing? I thought so. After so many unhelpful, arrogant, contemptible male romance characters who wouldn’t do the dishes if their life depended on it (a**holes!), he was a fun and comfortable break.

Some favorite quotes:
“What I wouldn’t give to be his bar of soap,” (Amy, a friend)

And she’d been doing so well. She’d spent a good twenty minutes with him without thinking about sex… much.

“You wanted a show? Well you’ve earned yourself a front-row seat.” (Gage)
“Sexy”ness rating: Lots n lots of hots! (possible kink alert: oral)
Overall Rating: B
Bottom Line: If you like good, fast fun or love-at-first-sight stories here’s a quickie for you!
Pages: around 110
Published: December 4, 2007
Genre: Contemporary

Friday, February 25

Four Play by Shelli Stevens

(In my mind it goes Brett, Cedric, Kyle from left to right. How about for you?)

Kinks included: Guy on Guy (anal and oral), Guy on Guy on Girl on Guy (anal, oral, and straight up, and yes I mean all at the same time)
This, my dear friends, is a fuck-book, plain and simple. Oh, sure, the author tries to include some emotional depth through insecurities and fears… but she fails. Epically. The characters are mostly flat, with little distinguishable differences between the guys (Kyle, Brett and Cedric) which is unfortunate. I really wish the author had spent some more time with her characters to familiarize herself with them because I felt as if they were could have been unique but couldn’t quite manage to work their differences onto the paper. It was sad, because I think each of the male characters, including the quasi-villain Alberts, had potential to be dynamic. But none of them quite made it to the finish line. Actually, I’m pretty sure they keeled over before they were halfway there.
It’s also weird that the ‘planet’ and ‘time’ are both completely undefined in all ways. I felt like I was plopped into the middle of someone’s life with no bearings as to when, where, or who. We heard no stories (other than those of an apparently sexual hunting experience between the boys, and naked swims as children) of Mikayla’s past friendship with the three men. Which is odd because she grew up with them so their shared past should be mentioned a few times (in a non-sexual). I felt rather lost and bumbling, like I was wandering around the pages with no direction – no clear beginning or purpose. And the entire emotional change (a pathetic, insecure one, I might add) in Mikayla takes place within a day – most women need a little more time than that. It was unrealistic.
“Is there even enough room on the bed?” I thought during one of the scenes. The descriptions made me feel like the encounter was crowded. Another thing was the impossibility of some of the positions described being at all comfortable. And the top two things that should be assured in every unconventional more-than-two-people romance are that there’s enough space for everyone (no one feels crowded in or out), and that everyone is comfortable. In this regard, Stevens failed miserably.
Um… least favorite thing? Kyle’s use of the pet name ‘kitten’. I mean, really? It’s just sounds weird and sketchy and utterly creepy. I really dislike the use of this name, for anyone, anytime. There are certain pet names that are okay – baby, sweetheart, honey. They can even be endearing. But kitten, cuddlekins, or sweetcheeks… those are all big on the NO NO NO list. Find something that doesn’t sound so stupid next time, Stevens.
Favorite Quote: (or in this case, least favorite)

 “It’s time.” - Yeah, time for the most cliché line of all time.
“Sexy”ness rating: If this is what you like: Hot. If you don’t go for Gay/Bi then this is a Turn OFF book for you – don’t read it.
Overall Rating:  F (as far as characters, plot, etc. No personal preference for the kind of kinkiness has been factored in)
Bottom Line: If you don’t like guy on guy, don’t read this book. It’s got some well-written m/m scenes, but for many of us that isn’t a turn on. If that IS your thing, by all means, snatch this book up.
Pages: about 85
Published: January 13, 2010
Genre: Futuristic/SciFi

The Boys Next Door by Sierra Dafoe

Kinks include: Sex with two brothers at the same time (no anal, but there is oral)
If you like double trouble, this book is it – you’ve got one familiar, comfortable, boyish younger brother (Tommy Ambinder) in competition with his dark, equally handsome, brooding older brother (Judah Ambinder) for their teenage sweetheart and childhood best friend Annie Parson. Dafoe combines Tommy’s sweet, fun loving with Judah’s darker lust for a ‘supreme blend’ of light and dark. Judah with Tommy is like coffee with creamer.
The characters are fleshed out well by trips down memory lane that give this novella more dynamic, real characters than most accomplish. Dafoe also manages to keep the jealousy between the brothers at believable levels – the brothers begin the book as opponents, fighting over her, and even when they decide to share some of the jealousy  still remains. This is, indeed, a positive thing because it’s consistent with the characters. There’s little I hate more than characters that change completely to fit the situation based on the outcome the author wants. For instance, a pyromaniac who suddenly is scared by fire just so she can be rescued by the oh-so-scrumptious firefighter (that does NOT happen in this book). Dafoe relieved me of my worries and kept her characters consistently human throughout the book.
The bad? Annie Parson waits twenty years to come back to town after she runs away at seventeen. Making her thirty-seven, Judah closing in on forty-one, and Tommy thirty-seven – a little too old for this kind of teenage-reminiscent romance. The time frame of this book really is ridiculous. Nobody comes back after twenty years just to ‘check things out’. It’s not realistic – she might’ve come back after five, maybe, or ten. But twenty… that’s more than half her lifetime. If you were too scared to go back for twenty entire years, doubtless it hasn’t changed now. Also, if you’ve been away from someone for twenty years, you don’t fall quite so easily back into the same routine – you aren’t the same people. You don’t look the same, or have the same habits. Again, maybe after five or even ten years, but not after twenty. It didn’t make sense and it nagged at me how easily Annie fell back into the boys’ arms – or they into hers.
Also, if you’re a fan of witty dialogue and humor, this book is not, I repeat NOT for you. This novella is intensely focused on the feelings reawakened within Annie, Tommy, and Judah, and there’s no time for humor with the passion they’re feeling. That was a bit of a let down. Finally… ‘mons’? The dreaded ‘m’ word? Why, Dafoe? Why must you torture me so?
Favorite Quote:
Oh jeepers.
“Sexy”ness rating: Hot
Overall Rating: C
Bottom Line: If you like brothers doubling up for a girl, the innocent romance of teenage years, or novellas with dynamic characters, here’s one little 90 page number for you!
Pages: Around 90
Published: October 24, 2010
Genre: Western

Thursday, February 24

Not Quite a Lady by Loretta Chase

Book 4 of 5 in the Carsington Brothers series

First, let me say that Loretta Chase has always been one of my favorite historical romance writers - her dialogue is consistently humorous and witty and her characters are bright and well-developed. She creates easily memorable characters, which is often hard to do in the whirling world of romance. Her book Not Quite a Lady proved to be of the quality I've come to expect from a Chase.

Darius Carsington is the last eligible son of Lord Hargate - and he intends to stay that way. He has no want of a wife, and is, reputedly, quite the rake. We don't see much of this behavior at all in the book, which is unfortunate - there's only a mention or two of rakish thoughts, let alone actions. In fact, his fascination with Lady Charlotte seems to lead him straight into entertaining thoughts of marriage - something quite un-rakish indeed! If there was one disappointment for me in this book, it was that the man who was so improper and rakish that his grandmother 'hates' him and has a reputation that preceeds him, well, he really didn't live up to expectations. It was the one area of character development that fell flat. He ended up being the more stable, marrying-type from the beginning, it seemed. Even as Chase told us that Darius didn't want to marry, she didn't show us or prove that to be true in any definite way (ah, the dreaded show v. tell problem!). Darius, altogether, had too many morals and too much concern, if I may say so myself. For the author of the best rake ever written (The Lord of Scoundrels), Chase disappointed me with this weak-willed rake-epic-fail.

But, oh, the rest of the book was marvelous! Lady Charlotte, the heroine, is a strong woman who cares deeply for her family and is torn by the loss of her baby boy when she was a teen. She is just the kind of herione I like to see - not weepy, pathetic, or insecure beyond belief with tons of nonsense problems. She's got real problems that lead to her "empty cow look" and emotional distance. It makes sense that she became the Lady Charlotte she is when Darius first meets her - and that is a blessed thing. A character so well-developed, she makes sense to the reader - we can understand her and identify with her and she feels real and human.

Charlotte's best trait is her courage - her decisive courage. By the time we meet her, she has the courage to take the bull - or the man, or the ton as the case may be - by the horns and whip it around and around til it begs for some well-deserved rest and walks away licking its wounds. Her courage also lends itself to her wit and sarcasm. Her courage is what makes her one of my favorite guilt-ridden heroines. It means that, by gads, when the chance for happiness comes along, she takes it! She doesn't wishy-wash her way around, trying to decide between her happiness and some inane sense of guilt, honor, or duty. She takes what she wants and damns the consequence, and it's a blessing to finally find a herione who has overcome her 'all-consuming' guilt without a lot of silly nonsense. She's made her sacrifices, and now she's not living in the past, but taking control of the present.

My favorite part - the little tug-o-war game of control Darius and Charlotte play. And ladies - we definitely win. Poor Mr. Carsington gets his ear talked off by not one, but two, chatty ladies. Neither of which are the lovely Lady Charlotte with whom he wishes to be better acquainted. Indeed, Darius and Charlotte's snipy comments and heated, yet hysterical, encounters lead to a wonderfully fun 'seduceship' instead of a much too proper courtship. And finally, in the end, is one of those sweet, tender scenes between a woman and her child that leave us close to mama-tears (or in them if we're PMSing).

Some favorite quotes:

"I've never seen a viper at Lithby Hall," she (Charlotte) said.
"Vipera talka-lot-icus, Vipera henpeck-us-to-death-icus, Vipera-bankrupt-me-remodeling-my-house-icus." (Darius)
"I am deeply afraid of curtains," he (Darius) said. "I say I want red curtains. You ask whether I mean ccrimson or scarlet. you ask whether I prefer brocade or embroidered. Fringed or unfringed. Then you ask about tassels," he added darkly, "It is a quick route to dementia."
"Sexy"ness Rating: Good, old-fashioned lovin', but still hot!
Overal Rating: B+ to  A-

Bottom Line: If you like historicals, Loretta Chase, or fun, bumbling, real romances this is the one for you!!!
Pages: 384
Published: April 24, 2007
Genre: Historical