Western Feed

Seduced & Tempted (Into the Wild, Bks 1 & 2) by Molly O'Keefe

Seduced-small-200x300I don't read many westerns. I've read only a handful since I started reading Romance because I can't help but think of the decidedly unromantic stories lurking right outside the frame of most historical western romances, particularly what happened to Native American tribes as white settlers moved West.  I am very thankful that Molly O'Keefe doesn't ignore the ugly historical realities. The ugliness of slavery, the horrors of the Civil War and the brutality of the West Expansion is not sugar-coated or excused; it isn't hidden or forgotten.

In Seduced, Melody has been dragged from her ruined home in Georgia to the Colorado Frontier by her abusive husband.  Jimmy has been hunting Steve Baywood, the Union solider he helped escape from Andersonville, and who then left him behind to be captured and branded by the Confederate Home Guard. Bent on revenge, he has tracked Baywood to his Colorado homestead. Melody and her sister Annie are caught in the middle, fearful for their lives but unwilling to let Baywood die. Only the unexpected arrival of Steve's brother saves them all from certain death.  Gratitude, guilt and desperation affect them all as they struggle to figure out how to live again.

Melody is striking.  A selfish, petty and frivolous southern bell reduced to desperation. She is aware every moment of the precariousness of her life and will do anything to secure safety and security for herself and her sister. She is deeply aware of her flaws.  She has no true vanity left, so deeply ashamed of the way she used to live but she is desperate so she will use all of charms  to seduce and manipulate.

Cole, like everyone else in the book, has been deeply changed by the war.  Cole was once sure that he would never be able to have proper feelings or be anything but ruined. Through his admiration of Melody, rediscovers that he has hopes and dreams. He starts remembering that he is more than a killer.

I was completely caught up in this story.  I loved the push-pull between Melody and Cole, her fear, his hope.  I loved seeing him hold out for more from her, not being willing to settle for her body and her desperation.  I loved how incandescently angry Melody is in her declaration scene. That scene was flawless, I believed every single line in it.

Seduced was a potent moving romance. O'Keefe convincingly brings together two painfully damaged people who need each other much more than they could have ever imagined. 

Tempted-small-200x300Tempted is the sequel to Seduced and it follows Melody and Cole's siblings, Annie and Steven. Annie is forging a new life for herself in Denver.  She owns a boarding house and works as Doctor's assistant. Steven checks in on her whenever he is in town for business. They have built a solid friendship, while each ignores the fact that they feel much more for each other than simple friendship. When Annie receives an unexpected proposal from a third-party, that tempts a curious Annie, they can no longer ignore their feelings.

Tempted was a very different kind of romance than Seduced.  Annie has never had any seductive charms.  She has always been the industrious "unnatural" daughter, determined, blunt and ambitious.  She is far from desperate,  happy living an unconventional life.  She has never wanted a man's protection or attention. But she is curious about sex, and increasingly aware of her attraction to Steven.

Steven was deeply traumatized by his time in the POW camp in ways he rather not speak about.  He was content with an intimate friendship with Annie because it was safe. He is forced into finally addressing the issues that haunt him or face losing Annie to another man.

Tempted however doesn't become a book about sexual experimentation, instead it becomes a book about PTSD, addiction, suicide and grief. Annie rightly confronts Steve on his determination to heal himself before allowing Annie to love him.  Their HEA is not easily won or sex-magicked away, they are instead facing incredibly hard things together.

I was fascinated by all the secondary characters in this book. I will happily read more about Stella and Delilah and the other sex workers at Delilah's Brothel. I want to know more about Elizabeth, the black miner's wife and new mother who is boarding at Annie's house  and the vain, selfish and chloroform addicted doctor, whose proposal trigger the conflict in the novel.

Both Seduced and Tempted are well worth reading.

I received a review copy of Tempted from the author.

 


Recent Reading, Mini-reviews for August.

41yZWcEnKqL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_The Martian by Andy Weir

Six days into a Mars mission astronauts must abort their mission when a storm threatens to destroy their only way home.  Mark Watney, Ares 3's botanist and mechanical engineer is struck by flying piece of debris and thought dead. The rest of the crew are forced to leave without him.  But Mark isn't dead. 

The Martian was a very intense, engrossing love letter to mechanical engineers and astronauts.  I love the way the story alternated between Mark's daily logs, flashbacks and chapters of the crew and Earth-based mission control as they all worked to try to save Mark. Mark's exciting, often humorous tale of survival is part thriller, part McGuyver in Space with lots and lots of science. 

511u3trvy9L._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_The Farmer Takes a Wife  (Las Morenas 0.5) by Genevieve Turner:  I really liked the way the characters communicated or failed to communicate about their needs and dreams. I was particularly impressed by Turner's depiction of Laura's claustrophobic home life.

After two years of admiring her from afar Marcus Gries finally worked up the courage to start courting Laura Kemper.  Laura however flattered by Marcus's attentions and personally attracted can't even imagine getting married, not if it means leaving her family behind.

51DIJwGR48L._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_Ransom by Julie Garwood: Last month I read the Bride and enjoyed it so much, I immediately one-clicked on Ransom earlier this week when it was on sale, because so many people had mentioned it as one of their favorite Garwoods during our discussion of the Bride.

Ransom was delightful. Although superficially quite similar to the Bride (headstrong heroine who is her Highlander warrior beau's only weakness) the tensions and complicating factors such as the local political climate were quite different. I loved the misunderstandings and trickery, it was fun and over-the-top without becoming ridiculous.  I loved the female friendships and the political savvy of the heroine. I was heartbroken by the outcome of family subplot in the story but it felt true and consistently characterized. 

A young Englishwoman rescues the Alec the son of Scottish Laird, taken as part of plot track down an incriminating jeweled box that once belonged to King John's late mistress.  Brodick Buchanan rescues them both and soon becomes attached to Gillian, whose bravery and strength he greatly admires and respects. Gillian's mission is complicated by Brodick's desire to protect her from harm.

51P9B684rxL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_Wicked Lies by Lora Leigh: Back when I first started reading romance and I was looking for some PNR that measured up to Singh's fantastic Psy-Changeling series I ended up reading a ton of Lora Leigh's Breed books.  They had some similar elements (complex and involved world-building, dark agendas and alpha-male protagonists), but they lacked Singh's sense of humor and joy. I eventually came to realize that her Breeds book were just not for me. I did eventually try some of her contemporary romances, which I enjoyed more.

Wicked Lies however was not a good choice for me. Wicked Lies did not work well at all as a stand-alone with it byzantine plot and the tons of backstory.

Wicked Lies was a second chance at love story.  Annie Maynes has been hiding and running from the men who tried kill her and murdered her mother for over a decade. After her last protector dies, she opts to hide in plain sight, ready to finally confront the men she thinks are responsible. Jazz Lancing is a ladies man, casual no-strings friendly hookups are the only kinds of relationships he has had since the girl he meant to wed died. Jazz is drawn to Annie, who won't have anything to do with him. I liked the initial between Jazz and Annie before he found out who she really was.

However there was a lot of WTF revelations involving the Kin (a secretive mountain man militia) and and interactions between Annie and Jazz and her brothers I just didn't buy especially once I realized they weren't some sort of werewolf clan (ultra-possessiveness & macho-machoness).  Lots of ultimatums issued and ignored, and the way Jazz manpain/grief manifested into building a dream house for his 'dead' dreamgirl absolutely no sense to me. 

I received a copy of Wicked Lies by Lora Leigh from St. Martins Press via NetGalley.

Other reading:  This month I read and reviewed four books for RT's November issue. I continue to build knowledge about parts of romland I don't often venture to.  I did enjoy several of them. I also did some more beta reading this month. I really enjoy beta reading.  It is satisfying and fun to have a conversation about a book that can actually affect the shape of a book.


High Country Spring by Genevieve Turner


Francisca "Franny" Moreno loves ranch work, she shoot, ropes & handles the cattle at her father's ranch with the same or better skill as his hired hands. Her friends & sisters have all married, started families and established their own households. The further she gets from childhood the greater the pressure of her mother's disapproval grows. 

Felipe Ortega can't stop frowning or scolding Franny.  The risks she takes with such casual bravery make his blood run cold. But when Franny is banished to the house and limited lady-like tasks, he can't stand to see her trapped and agrees to a "mercantile marriage"  even though he knows that was he feels for her is not business-like in the least.

I loved the push and pull between these two.  Their passion, their fear, their repression.  Their marriage starts as unconventional arrangement, matures into a partnership whose fragility is exposed by near tragedy.  I love how much they struggled to say what they need to say to each other. I loved the how Turner flipped around the dynamics of the most important relationships in Franny's life giving her new found appreciation for qualities and people she had resented. Franny and Felipe have to rebuild their relationship and face up to the fears they have both tried to ignore.

I think this the strongest of Turner's novels to date and I can't wait to read more from her.

I don't usually give out trigger warnings but this book does deal with some topics that might be triggering to some: Miscarriage, Infertility, Depression & Anxiety.

I received a review copy from the author via NetGalley.

 


The Brightest Day: A Juneteenth Historical Romance Anthology with stories by Lena Hart, Kianna Alexander, Piper Hugley & Alyssa Cole

The stories in this historical romance anthology move forward through American history from 1866, post-Civil War New York City through to 1961, Civil Rights Era Virginia. They are stories about finding and nurturing love in the face of adversity and oppression. The stories in The Brightest Day are tied together by references to celebrations of Juneteenth.  Juneteeth celebrations commemorate July 19th, 1865, the last of the Freedom days, when slaves in Galveston, TX finally received their freedom. The celebration of that day spread beyond Texas to different black communities around the United States.  The stories express the diversity of African American experience in the United States and get better and better as you move through the anthology. 

Amazing Grace by Lena Hart:  In post-Civil War New York a young black woman, Grace Shaw, agrees to an arranged marriage to a wealthy Montana miner she has never met in order to provide for her family. On her way West, she falls in love with the last person she expects. Logan Foley is looking to start over for the second time in his life. Once the half-Mexican bastard son of white plantation owner, he reinvented himself as teenager, when he father claimed him as a heir. Now he is starting over again, moving West to Colorado to homestead, abandoning his father's ruined plantation and his slave owning past. Logan and Grace meet by chance but are tied together in ways they don't expect.

The romance centers on identity and intentions.  Both Grace and Logan must both come to terms with the choices they have made in order to secure their futures and please their families. These choices turned into bad ones that place them in difficult situations with lasting life consequences. Logan has the most to overcome as his slave owning past nearly cost him Grace's love. I enjoyed this story even though it felt compressed. There was certainly enough material & conflict to justify more pages. I didn't feel we spent enough time with Grace and Logan to fully develop why they fell for one another beyond their instant awareness and attraction but I still believe that they have what it takes to make a life together.

Drifting to You by Kianna Alexander: A prominent black Fayetteville family inaugurates their new boat with a celebratory Juneteeth Cruise of Cape Fear,NC in 1875. The family contracts Rosaline Rhodes a successful and hard-working baker to provide her famed spice cake for the outing. Having Rosaline on board all day provides Will Pruett, the local shipbuilder with the opportunity to finally let Rosaline know of his feelings for her. But Will Pruett is not the only one interested in courting Rosaline and soon Rosaline will have to choose.

I thought this books did a very good job addressing the social tensions within the black community post-Civil War. There is stigma to having been born a slave, and Rosaline for however much she has raised herself up, still faces that. I did feel however that I was dropped into the middle of a story, as Rosaline and Will have been denying their attraction for good long while and are only really getting started by the end of the story. There was also several interesting secondary characters who seem ripe for stories of their own.

A Sweet Way to Freedom by Piper Hugley: It is 1910 and Missouri "Missy" Baxter the pride of Milford and the first black teacher in Winslow, GA can no longer hide she is in "a family way". Arlo Tucker is the sweet-talking good-time man responsible for her condition.  Missy is determined not succumb to his charms again, less she be disappointed again. Arlo has always been able to evade responsibilities and emotional entanglements but for the first time he doesn't want to be let off the hook.  He wants Missy and wants to do right by her, and he needs to figure out away to convince her to give him another chance.

I just loved this story. I was crying for Missy and Arlo after the first few pages.  I strongly felt their conflicted emotions.  Arlo is full of fear, sure that he will only bring Missy pain, and Missy is hurt, determined not to be a fool again. Despite the fear and hurt they do truly love one another and I loved how they come to show each other forgiveness and grace. Hugely is fantastically skilled at characterization.  The large cast of secondary characters making up the Winslow community are all distinct and well developed without stealing focus from Arlo and Missy. I already have a one of Hugley's novels in my TBR, and will been pushing it toward the top of the queue.

Let it Shine by Alyssa Cole: Sofronia "Sofie" Wallis has done her best since her mother's death to be the good girl her father desperately wants her to be. She quieted her voice, she has lowered her eyes and done her best not to run into trouble. As the struggle of the Civil Rights movement is brought close to home, she longer feels that being quiet and meek is going to protect her and she is motivated to go against her father's wishes and join the non-violent protest movement.  Ivan Friedman has never forgotten Sofronia, he remembers vividly the hours they spent together at children.  To him she shines as brightly as always and he doesn't want leave her side again even if the whole world looks at them with derision. 

This story had great internal and external conflict and the way Sofie and Ivan interact was fantastic. I believed the intensity of their attraction, their awareness of the tension and danger they face by reconnecting.  I had previously read the epilogue to this story (it has been published on Cole's blog as part of a Hanukkah blog hop this past winter) but it was even more meaningful and beautiful after reading the rest of their story.

While I think the last two stories in the Anthology are certainly the strongest, the anthology as whole was enjoyable and worth reading. It was well balanced, and provided a great journey and I will be on the lookout for more books by these authors .

 


Autumn Sage by Genevieve Turner (Las Morenas #2)

Cover58784-mediumAutumn Sage is the second novel in Genevieve Turner’s Las Morenas series. The books are set in the late 1890’s California, at a time where old Spanish & Mexican Californian families are losing power to new American settlers in the area. Traditions & communities are changing, and Anglos, Blacks and Latinos are not living in harmony.

 Autumn Sage is the story of Isabel Moreno. Isabel had her life all planned out, she had picked out a compatible good man for a fiancé, and together they had rationally planned out a future. Isabel and Joaquin had dreamed of leaving the confines of their small insular ranching community in Cabrillo for the growing city of Los Angeles. But all those plans are shattered when they are ambushed by a trio of outlaws. Sheriff Obregon, fearing he will never recover ends their engagement, and Isabel is left to face the unceasing questions from friends, family and law enforcement about their ordeal alone. Marshal Sebastian Spenser has been sent to track down the outlaw, and bringing him to Los Angeles for trial. He needs the details Isabel has not shared with anyone in order to get bring McCade in. Isabel mistrusts everything about him and she is right to, he is not all what he seems to be.

This is was a heavy book to read, both the hero and heroine have marked by violence. Isabel is terrorized by thoughts of her attacker coming back to finish the job, terrified of losing her future to that awful moment. She is victimized again and again by the curious community and failed by the justice system. Sebastian was terrorized by his racist abusive father, and he is terrified of becoming a man of violence like his father. Both their mothers, Sra. Moreno and Sra. Vasquez de Espenser we learn are of survivors of racially driven domestic violence. They reacted and responded very differently to similar situations, and I appreciated that Turner presented both their life choices and lives without judging one response better than another.

I really enjoyed the book but I think it had some pacing issues. The romance stretches over year, but the book slowed down the pacing considerably while Sebastian and Isabel were in LA for the trial. I enjoyed the lighter moments of banter Sebastian and Isabel shared, their halting flirtations, and conversations over books that contrasted so strongly with their public interactions. However the pace of the action after the verdict picked up in jarring way. It might have been an intentional choice to rush along the action in Cabrillo, to mirror Isabel’s panic and Sebastian’s confusion during the second hunt for McCade, but it made it hard to follow all the different things that were happening post climax. Thankfully the letters late in the book allowed Turner to build back the romance between Sebastian and Isabel in an efficient manner as the end of book neared.

The letters established a solid foundation to their relationship to something more lasting than passion awakened under stress. The letters allowed the reader to see emotional growth in Sebastian, so I could trust that he would not continually treat Isabel to a cycle of passion-rejection as he had in Los Angeles and I could believe in their HEA.

I felt that on the whole Autumn Sage was successful as romance, highly engaging as another installment in the Moreno family saga and a fascinating and nuanced portrayal of a changing community, presenting the  many conflict points between old and new California at the end of the 18th century.

 4 stars

I received a review copy of Autumn Sage from Penny Bright Publishing via NetGalley.


Rekindled by Maisey Yates ( A Silver Creek Novella)

Cover45467-smallLucy Ryan-Carter was the ruling rich mean girl in their high school who grew up to become a socialite trophy wife in NYC. Lucy left that marriage without a cent to her name, and when her parents turn her away she finds herself applying for a job as housekeeper to the man whose mother used to clean her floors. If being a horrible person as teenager isn’t enough to recommend her, the fact that she can barely cook and has no job experiences should be enough to disqualify her, but Mac Denton can sense that the Lucy interviewing for the job is very different from the girl who taunted him. Although parts of him enjoy the reversal of fortunes that lands her at his door begging for a job instead of feeling satisfaction and triumph he find himself feeling sympathetic and surprisingly attracted. Mac gives her the job and Lucy is determined to keep it and prove herself able to provide for herself.

As Mac spends time with Lucy, the more he has to fight what he now considers an inappropriate attraction to Lucy. An eye-opening conversation about needs later, he comes close to crossing the line and Lucy is left frustrated. After years perfunctory sex with a spouse that verbally and emotionally abused her, she just wants to sign up for some of that “Sweaty, hot, unattached sex” Mac has been having for years and Mac inconveniently wants to be a gentleman (Kindle Loc 529).

Despite of their good intentions, the close quarters and their ever growing attraction means Mac and Lucy don’t hold out for long. Lucy is determined not let things get awkward, confident she can hold her own by trying to keep clear boundaries in place. It is Mac who struggles the most of how they can keep their relationship limited to sex, when she is living in house, taking care of him in the ways that he imagines people in serious relationships care for each other. Still they eventually settle in upstairs/downstairs dynamic where they seem balance their sexual/domestic interactions in ways that seems to be working till it suddenly doesn’t. Lucy and Mac both have epiphanies but only Lucy is brave enough to own her feelings, and to express what it means to her and not settle for less.

Lucy finds a listening ear, and safe place to rebuild her confidence in Mac’s Ranch. The job Mac offers her and the humble little cottage it comes with gives her the space to start rebuilding her life. Mac however is not the only person to listen to her, and before long she making friendships and following up other opportunities. Despite getting emotionally and sexually involved with Mac, the life she dreams for herself is not about being with Mac, but instead living life on her own terms, of being confident in her own value independent of what others might think of her.

Mac has his own set of insecurities and fears about serious relationships stemming from the unhealthy relationships in his family of origin. Having effortlessly avoided serious relationships his whole adult life he is confused and troubled by how he feels about Lucy, unable to imagine a future where he doesn’t screw up their relationship. Mac’s crisis of confidence is only resolved when Lucy confronts him, with his actual track record, with the ways that he has been good for Lucy, and by refusing to let him think that he could be wholly responsible for the success or failure of their relationship.

So while books set on ranches with cowboys hats on the cover are far from my usual fare, I very much enjoyed this book. I thought the internal conflicts in the story were excellently crafted and I am very glad to have finally given Maisey Yates a try.

A copy of this book was provided by Penguin Inter-Mix via NetGalley for review purposes

The Rekindled Novella will be available starting on June 17, 2014

 


Summer Rain Anthology with stories by Ruthie Knox, Molly O'Keefe, Charlotte Stein and more.

SummerRain-500x750(2)Summer Rain: Love in the Rain Series's nine story collection is the first of two  short story collections edited by Sarah Frantz. The proceeds from the sales of this anthology will got to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN).

This was a strong collection and I enjoyed the wonderful variety of style, setting and types of stories. I came to this  collection already knowing the work of  Ruthie Knox, Mary Ann Rivers, Charlotte Stein and  Audra North  but I loved having the opportunity to read stories by both newer authors like Amy Jo Cousins, Shari Slade and Alexandra Haughton and new-to-me authors like Cecilia Tan and Molly O’Keefe, whose work I had not yet enjoyed. While not every story worked for me, I thought the anthology as whole deserved 4 out 5 stars. I look forward to reading the next volume Winter Rain when it comes out in November.

 

Redemption by Ruthie Knox: Mike Kaminsky a divorced Green Bay handy-man and former roofer  and Jessie Bellin,a owner of a failing cheese shop have a very limited relationship.  Both know the rules and limitation of it and  all they ask from each other is sex. Sex that takes them away from their troubles, distracts them just a little and gives them enough pleasure to get through the hardest days. This was a sad story about making a go at relationships even when everything else has fallen apart. The story is about potential and expectations and how we can fail to put our trust in the right things and how the choice to stay and chance something might be the most important you can make. While I admire how truly weighed down these two are  and the message of the story I wish we had just a little more resolution as the ending barely qualifies as a HFN but instead is simply the possibility of one .

3.5 out of 5

 

The Heart of It by Molly O’Keefe: Outwardly a successful author Gabe Peterson is not at home in his own skin and is unable to have a satisfying sexual encounter without being drunk. Sober he is petrified of being touched in a sexual way due to childhood sexual abuse. Elena is a very expensive escort hired by Peterson to try to help him find a way to enjoy sex without getting drunk. After several failed attempts  Elena has grown invested in Gabe’s struggle. She won’t let him give up and pushes him past his panic to help him confront his hidden anger and shame to a breakthrough. However the person most affected by their encounter is Elena, who is unsettled enough by the truths she disclosed to Gabe and her own dark memories dreged up in their conversations to start making changes in her life. This was the first Molly O’Keefe story to capture my attention as I have tried several of her novels, but not been able to get past the first few chapters. Elena and Gabe’s conversations felt genuine, as did the decisions they've made along the way. There was also a marked lack of self-pity which was refreshing. I enjoyed this story enough that I will probably give O’Keefe's novels another try.

4 out 5 stars

 

Sacrifice by Cecilia Tan: A demigod in ancient Greece is trapped by the bargain he struck with the residents of  his valley. When they deliver him a virgin sacrifice  he must work magic that guarantees the fertility and fecundity for their crops. Over the years he come to hate this bargain, traumatized by the toll his bargain has taken on the young women brought to him as sacrifice. He now wishes for nothing more than to be left alone and forgotten. His solitude is interrupted when  a young Chinese woman sold into slavery by her trader father is presented to him as sacrifice. He is torn by the duty to his bargain, and  his need for her to be capable of consent so that she might come to want him without him without it destroying her. I was very skeptical coming into this story, not sure it could provide a satisfying romantic resolution to the conflicts in it, but the alternating POV chapters allowed the attraction to believably develop while not glossing over their fears and motivations.

4 out of 5 stars

 

Real Feelings by Charlotte Stein: A woman orders AI companion made to her specifications, meant to fulfill all aspects of her relationship needs without any of the risks (a walking-talking sex toy). When faced with him, in his nearly life-like glory she is unable to surrender to the fantasy of having a lover made to order, interested in pleasing her in every way. She feels shamed by her desires, her fears and loneliness and is horrified by the realization of how much it matters to her that he can’t choose whether he wants to fulfill her desires or not. Told exclusively from Moira’s point of view, I loved how much uncertainty and tension remains for the reader as Moira falls for her AI lover Michael, especially as Moira questions her sanity whenever she sees sparks of awareness, consciousness, and wanting in him. Another gem from Charlotte Stein.

 5 out 5 stars.

 

Rainy Season by Mary Ann Rivers:  Lisa Shirek is a barista who can sense the clouds of sadness and hurts enveloping her customers, and thrives on giving the comfort that they need but can’t ask for. Mark is a regular at the cafe, his presence is so bright and dazzling that Lisa can only admire him from out of the corner of her eye. I was so distracted by the high-concept atmospheric imagery and mathematical/metaphorical banter I didn’t really connect to the story till about half-way through when the descriptions became more grounded in the physical world focusing in on the textures of the lovers exploring of each other. Rivers was still able to move me tears however just not over the main couple.

3 out of 5 stars

 

The Rain in Spain by Amy Jo Cousins: Javi and Magda met in India, and married on impulse after spending only a sun-kissed week together, before Magda headed off to another travel assigment. It has been of year of tentative reunions and short times together at home in Chicago, and now on their belated honeymoon trip to Spain  Magda is questioning if they have  anything to hold them together. I really believed in Javier and Magda, with their unvoiced insecurities and their fear of speaking of them. As someone who has traveled a lot, I know how the tensions and small irritations of travel can reveal the fractures in a relationship.

4 out of 5 stars

 

Fitting In by Audra North: Stas Petrovich has a lot riding on the results of the upcoming college election. Son of poor gay immigrant parents, he has never known easy social acceptance, and want nothing more than to have the confirmation that he finally fits in by being elected class president. Leila dos Santos, doesn’t fit in, and doesn’t seem to care. When she is the only person to show up to Stas’s rained out paintball excursion, she rattles Stas. His certainty that he was right to change himself to be  accepted is shaken as they get to know each other over beers at her apartment. I really liked Leila, particularly her bravery in reaching out to Stas, letting herself being vulnerable when it has cost her so much.

4 out 5 stars.

 

Private Study by Shari Slade: After years of doing and studying only what her father wanted her to, Tess has escaped to a college far from home. She relishing  the opportunity to study what she wants and is trying to define who she is and what she likes. What she wants to learn more than anything else is sex. When a classmate find her sex vlog, and makes lewd entitled comments she realizes just how much she has exposed herself in her quest to learn more about herself. Seeing how upset she is Jameson , another classmate intervenes. Tess is torn between being grateful and embarrassed by his intervention. Tess is full of righteous indignation and inexperience and doesn’t really know what to do about Jameson’s interest in her and whether they can or should explore things together. Tess is at times unfair and jumps to conclusions too quickly and Jameson is  all at once curious,  tentative and wary which made them  both feel authentically young and inexperienced. I thought Slade did a great job capturing the the uncertainty, curiosity of young men and women just starting to figure themselves out.

4 out 5 stars

 

Storm Warning by Alexandra Haughton: Amy Collier had known Tom Wilson all her life. Seemingly inseparable, their friendship fell apart when Amy chose to go off to L.A. after college to become an event planner. After five years in LA, coming home with only the what she could stuff in her car, a pile of debt and broken dreams, the last person Amy wants to see is Tom. Tom isn’t waiting to kick her while she is down, but wants give her a job, and to find a way convince her to let him back into her life. I liked a lot of this story, particularly how Amy and Tom struggle to reconnect, and acknowledge the sexual tension that wedged them apart. However one of the other conflicts they have to overcome is Amy’s debt and her feelings of failure and desire to dig herself out it on her own. While interesting it seemed like one conflict too many in a story that already had plenty of internal conflict.

4 out 5 stars

A review digital ARC of Summer Rain was provided by Audra North one of the writers and organizers of the anthology.

 Summer Rain will be available starting  June 9, 2014


Returning to Historical Romance: Countess Conspiracy, No Good Duke Goes Unpunished and Wild Burn

Tcc-small

I started reading romance after reading a fun paranormal retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion, "Almost Persuaded" by Mary Balogh.  At the time I didn't realize how significant Balogh is to modern historical romance.  I ended up reading through several of her series enjoying the Bedwyn Saga most of all. I then read most of Julia Quinn's and Stephanie Laurens' books.  I eventually discovered Courtney Milan, Tessa Dare, Cecilia Grant and Sarah Maclean.  However right around that time I was also starting to get burned out.  I was reading 1.5 books or so a day for over a year, and so at a certain point the plots, the balls, the boots and estates were all running together.  All the authors I have named here are amazing and I loved their books, it was all the nameless others that eventually burned me out.

I ended up taking a sabbatical from Historical Romances and instead started reading Contemporary Romance instead.  I have read all the variations, from NA, small-town, sporty, urban, to MC, but at the end of the year I finally found myself missing historicals.

Jane from Dear Author on twitter suggested Historical Romance reading challenge. One historical a month for 2014.  This seemed like a do-able goal for me.  There were a couple of new releases by trusted names that I could see myself trying and I have a large TBR collection on my kindle of books I bought before I stopped reading historicals.

First up for me was Courtney Milan's Countess Conspiracy.  I had loved the first book of The Brothers Sinister series and two related novellas but I had DNF'ed (Did not finish) the 2nd, Heiress Effect.  It was in fact one of the last Historical I attempted to read last year.  Heiress Effect simply didn't grab me, and while intellectually knew it was a well written book, I just had no interest in finishing it which made me realize I needed to take a break.

I was however very interested in reading about Violet and Sebastian.  Supporting characters in the previous books, Violet is a cool, collected, witty widow, whose friendship with Sebastian a droll, devastatingly handsome and intellectually scientist-rake was deep, genuine and seemingly platonic.

In the Countess Conspiracy we discover that what we thought we knew about Violet and Sebastian, their public personas, are facades they have carefully cultivated to hide their true feelings and agendas.  Violet is not simply an ultra-proper Countess but secretly a passionate obsessive scientist, responsible for most of the work Sebastian has presented as his own for the past decade.  Sebastian isn't just a easy-going pleasure-seeking rake, but a devoted friend and co-conspirator with Violet whose choice to present her work for her, and to hide his true feelings for her, is coming a great personal cost including his brother's respect and possibly the opportunity to be the guardian to his beloved nephew.

The romance in this story was breathtaking. I just loved reading Violet start to break out of her icy-shell, to reclaim herself, and take the risk to love Sebastian after all the has secretly suffered. Sebastian is now my favorite historical hero.  So swoon worthy in his admiration for Violet, his willingness to sacrifice so much for her sake and just simply valuing her and understanding her. There is no overbearing alpha-hole in this book!

Honestly it was the perfect return to Historical Romance book for me.  No Balls, older characters, real stakes.  Characters talk about their feelings and problems, turn to their friends for help, and  it has the nerdiest declaration of love I have ever read.

 

5 out 5 for the Countess Conspiracy.  

A digital ARC of this book was provided by the author via Netgalley for review purposes.

 

9780062068545

No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah Maclean is the third book in her Rules of Scoundrels series. I liked the first, A Rogue by Any Other Name, despite thinking the hero was almost irredeemable due cruelty in the beginning and I adored the second, One Good Earl Deserves a Lover with its tortured hero, and spunky bespectacled heroine.

In No Good Duke Goes Unpunished we finally learn the details of the crime that drove Temple, the large undefeated brawler Duke, and third of four partner-owners of The Angel gambling club from society.

Temple is suspected of ruining and killing his father's fiancée Mara Lowe.  Mara Lowe's body was never found and Temple’s recollections of that night are few and hazy.  He has lived for over a decade with society's fear and disdain but most of all with the uncertainty and fear that he might be a killer.

But Mara Lowe is not dead but instead hiding in plain sight running a foster home for unwanted society bastards.  She would have been content to continue to do so except her brother has gambled away their family fortune but more importantly for Mara the funds she uses to run the Home that he was holding in Trust for her.  

When Mara first approaches Temple he is solely focused on revenge and heaping on Mara the scorn he has endured.  Mara is flinty, independent and constantly unbalances him with her deviousness.   Maclean crafted an intriguing romance that was as much about Temple and Mara forgiving and risking trust as exploring the repercussion of abuse and rejection.  Despite a heart-stopping climax the real payoff in this book is the revelation we are given about Chase, the upcoming protagonist of the 4th book in the Rules of Scoundrels series.  It honestly stole the thunder of Temple's story and had me re-reading the book to admire Maclean's deft writing.

4 out 5 for No Good Duke Goes Unpunished.

WildBurn300-200x300 (1)

I follow and enjoy interacting with Edie Harris on Twitter. I have read and enjoyed her sexy contemporary novels Stripped and Sparked set in current day Hollywood.  At the end of last year she gifted me a copy of her Regency era Historical Romance mainly set in France, The Corrupt Comte.  I have started but not yet finished reading it, although I am intrigued by the amoral anti-hero Gaspard and his quest to save and enrich himself by seducing the vulnerable Claudia. I liked everything about it, the language, the setting and characters except for the fact that it made me too anxious.  I need to find time to read it and enjoy without distractions. 

I did however stumble upon a copy of her post-Civil War Western Wild Burn in the NYPL's e-book collection.  This is probably the first non-steampunk Western I have ever read.  The book opens with ex-nun and frontier-town schoolteacher Moira Tully being accosted by a dusty, dangerous, bearded gunslinger, Delaney Crawford.  A tarnished Confederated survivor, Crawford is the Mad Dog Killer, employed by the US Army to hunt down Cheyenne outlaw warrior bands.  Their first encounter is fraught and nearly fatal to Moira's good friend and neighbor, John White Horse. Crawford has been summoned to Red Creek Colorado to hunt down Cloud Rider and his band that might be threatening the mining community despite the fact that the only Cheyenne in the area is a small peaceful community attempting to integrate in order to avoid expulsion. Crawford, White Horse and Tully come to realize there is a conspiracy afoot, and they must untangle it before it cost the lives of White Horse's people.

I thought Harris did a great job portraying a complex and ugly time in American History. She doesn't shy away from the ugly racism, misogyny and genocide in the American West.  Her characters are both a product of their time, and simply people trying to do their best with the hands that they were dealt.  Red Creek feels like a living town, with diverse people.

I thought Harris did a particularly good job with Moira Tully's complicated back-story.  How Moira comes to lose her faith and vocation in the same night before moving West was heartbreaking, and her bravery in the face of violence admirable. I particularly admired how realistic the reasons for Moira choosing the veil were in the first place.

 I do wish however that Moira and Delaney's connection had evolved more slowly.  Although Moira struggles with her insta-trust of Delaney, it still bothered me.  I believed that she was attracted to him, interested in him and that helped overcome her fears but I struggled with how safe she felt with him despite all the reasons she shouldn't have. Moira didn't understand it and neither did I.

4 out 5 Stars for Wild Burn