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February 2014

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


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.



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


Iron & Velvet, Five Weeks in December and Misbehaving: Surreal, Kinky and Fun

Cover35699-smallIron & Velvet by Alexis Hall

I chose to read Iron & Velvet because I loved Hall's  debut Glitterland. Superficially Iron & Velvet have very little in common beyond both being romances set in England. Iron & Velvet is the first of new Paranormal romance series following Kate Kane (Batwoman reference?) a hard-boiled half-fairy P.I., who is bullied into investigating the death of Werewolf at Vampire club. The investigation leads her to her tangling with blood witches, face-sucking tentacle monsters, spectral deer and pissing off her mom, The Wild Hunt, all while getting involved with a centuries-old-former-ninja-nun Vampire Prince. 

What both Glitterland and Iron & Velvet have in common is that they are deeply funny, sometime surreal  books with self-loathing main characters that are a joy to read. I am curious what sort of mayhem Kate will set in to motion in the next book, but most of all I can't wait to see what Alexis Hall does writes next.

4.5 out of 5
Publication Date Dec 16, 2013
Digital ARC provided via NetGalley for review purposes by Riptide Publishing

Cover41667-smallFive Weeks in December by Blue Kincaid

Harry is Dom that was hasn't been dominating anyone recently, not since the day he lost both his confidence and his fiancee when she died while on her way to cheat on him with another Dom. Through a friend of a friend he hears about December a professional submissive, who might be able to help him work out his issues and figure himself out again. December is superficially free spirited young woman, controlled and determined, but silently carrying emotional scars of her own. 

The first half of this book really worked for me. Harry coming out his grief, rediscovering himself a changed man with different tastes and needs, while December get to know him and what makes him tick.  The second half of the book when we finally start confronting December's issues was markedly less interesting.  December as free-agent submissive has never had to confront her trust issues, instead choosing relationships where she can fix other people and be free to move on as soon as things get to personal. She ends withdrawing  and running away too many times to sustain my interest.  

3.5 out 5 stars

Publication Date Jan 31, 2014
Digital ARC provided via NetGalley for review purposes by Painted Sky Press

Cover41742-smallMisbehaving by Tiffany Reisz

Tiffany Reisz is best know for her "Original Sinners" series of novels that love to push boundaries and taboos. Misbehaving is departure from that deeply emotional, transgressive and  sometime traumatic series. Misbehaving a is modern-day Shakespearean romp, loosely based on "Much Ado about Nothing", that keeps all Reisz sense of humor and good deal of naughtiness.

Beatriz is on about to leave her  foster sister's wedding when she is given a last minute assignment by her editor to review a sex-position manual.  As sex-education blogger and adult toy reviewer she isn't terrible put out by this except for the fact that she is heading to this wedding without a boyfriend or even date. So Beatriz needs a wedding weekend sex-partner, and luckily for her college crush Ben is also flying solo.  Ben is the best-man and her sister's Claudia's fiance Henry's best friend since their college days. He has also been fascinated with Beatriz since they first met, but never made a move on her because Henry did want him to endanger his then new relationship with Claudia.  Sexy-times and nearly wedding derailing misunderstanding over a box of sex-toys ensue.

This was a fun, funny light romance about second chances at love, that was not light in character building and development.  I loved how real the characters felt, and how well developed their relationships and backgrounds were, something rarely found in a romp. For example Bea was born in El Salvador, but fled the political upheaval in that country as child and while she longs to return knows that is unlikely and that experience shapes her and her work as does Ben's back-story.

4.5 out 5 stars 

Publication Date Feb 11, 2014 Digital ARC provided via NetGalley for review purposes by Harlequin


Reading Kristen Ashley, conflicted and captivated

16076182I have a complicated and conflicted relationship with KA's books.  I find them incredibly easy to read, and hard to put down, but I am often challenged, bothered and conflicted by the characterizations, descriptions and story-lines.  KA has a distinctive voice and it not for everyone and I was warned that you either love or hate her books.  But I am in the middle. I have read at this point 25 of her books (8 of 9 Rock Chick books, All of the Dream Man, Colorado Mountain and Chaos books  and all but one The 'Burg books) and while there are textual or editing things in the books that consistently bother me it I am undeniably drawn to  her stories of stubborn women in peril and the bossy men who love them.

I first decided to try KA after hearing Jane and Sarah of the DBSA's podcasts discuss how "crack" filled her books were and I found myself looking for contemporary romance with older protagonists.  As I mentioned in my review of "Deeper", I tend to like love stories with older protagonists. Jane from Dear Author recommended I try KA's "Sweet Dreams" from her Colorado Mountain series.  I ended up not buying "Sweet Dreams" but instead purchasing  "Law Man" and "Motorcycle Man", books deep in KA's Dream Man series while browsing through KA's incredibly long backlist on Amazon with only a faint recollection of being told to try KA for good romances with older protagonists.

17924006This was a huge mistake.  First of all, "Law Man" and "Motorcycle Man" are books 3 and 4 in the Dream Man series and KA had built up a series of self-referencing motifs, recurring characters and lingo that I was completely unprepared for.  When Elvira and her flashy cosmo-swilling posse of girlfriends show up I felt as run over by them as Mara was. However there was enough to love in the book, that I decided to keep reading with "Motorcycle Man".  "Motorcycle Man" was the first book I ever read that featured a Motorcycle club.  KA's men are bossy, big, and Macho and Tack was all of that, plus mean, crude and cruel. I nearly stopped reading in the first chapter, but I stuck with it because Tyra was so compelling.  However  when I was done I wasn't sure how I felt.  Objectively I could see a lot of things I didn't like (the over-description of furnishings and luxury goods, the repetitive descriptions) but I also was really starting to appreciate the pacing, excitement and sense fun in her books.  KA books's plots are wild, with lots of twisty turny action, with multiple climaxes building into even bigger ones.  So before I gave up on KA for good, I decided to read the KA book that had actually recommended to me, "Sweet Dreams".

I absolutely loved "Sweet Dreams".  One thing I love about KA's books are how much life her characters have lived. They have traveled, married, divorced, left and been left and they are carrying around the baggage. Lauren has left her old life behind after a painful divorce, leaving a her high-paying desk job in the suburbs for waitressing job at Bubba's a biker bar in the small Colorado town. Tate is bounty hunter, biker and part-owner of the bar and they get off to a truly horrendous start.  Lauren is convinced Tate is completely dismissive of her, just as Tate realizes how much there is to Lauren than he first thought.  There are some epic miscommunication, great secondary characters and a suspenseful story.   

15817361After reading "Sweet Dreams" I was hooked.  I read the rest of Colorado Moutain series,  letting myself go for a ride as serial killers, racists police chiefs and kidnappers were bested and Alpha-men domesticated.  I was so invested in the Colorado Mountain Series, that I went on to read a third KA series, The 'Burg, set in a suburb of  Indianapolis, because Jagged's leading man Graham Reece made his first appearance in that book.  As much as liked Graham in his cameo in  "For You", I deeply disliked him  "Jagged".  "Jagged" was the first of KA's Colorado Mountain series books that simply didn't work for me in anyway.  The love story was unconvincing, less about two people giving love a second chance as one settling for second-best  and  and the suspense plot-line fell flat for me. It was the first KA book where I can say I was actually bored,  so I thought I was finally done, I was KA-out.

Yet when "Kaleidoscope" was released last week, I was tempted.  I paid special attention to the reviews coming out and I wavered.  I went to Amazon and sent myself a sample and just like that I was sucked back in again. "Kaleidoscope" is the story of Jacob "Deck" Decker, a private investigator and police consultant who unexpectedly run-into a woman from his past.  Not a former lover or girlfriend or wife, but a old friend.  Emme Holmes was his ex-girlfriend's best friend, who he shared many long conversations and great times with before his relationship with his ex Elsbeth dramatically and traumatically ended.  When Elsbeth left him, Deck lost touch with Emme and nine years later he find himself seeing her with new eyes. Back then, Deck and Emme didn't go there, he was the boyfriend and she the best-friend but none of that matters anymore, and Deck is determined to take them somewhere new.  Emme is also unfortunately caught in the middle of his newest investigation, so Deck sets out to clear her from suspision and get her clear from her bad-news boyfriend. 18038459

Deck is cut from the standard KA's alpha-protector mold, with the  twist that he is as we are frequently told, insanely smart.  Their story proceeds initially in well-worn KA way with Deck once he has set his sights on Emme, setting out to protect her, take care of her and just generally swoop in, make sure she is in his bed and life for good,  but where the book went from just another fun and suspenseful KA romance to something significantly better was in the twist, that when Emme and Deck finally get to the point to saying "I Love you", everything starts falling apart for internal rather than external reasons.  In this book Emme is not kidnapped, assaulted or even truly endangered but instead has to confront and shatter her self-protective and relationship killing instincts of withdrawal and detachment, a legacy of traumatic event in her childhood. The crisis in this book in the end is emotional one.

I don't read KA for the "feels", I don't cry reading her books, I read them for fun, drama filled stories. Kaleidoscope captivated me and  I can once again look forward to the next books in Colorado Mountain series.


Publication date for Jagged was Nov 5, 2013  and a Digital ARC  provided for free by publisher via NetGalley.


Jagged 2 of 5 stars
Kaleidoscope 4.5 of 5 stars
Sweet Dreams 5 of 5 stars
Motorcycle Man 4 of 5 stars
Law Man 3.5 of 5 stars.



Deeper by Robin York

Deeper by Robin York

NA or New Adult is the hot genre right now in romance. This is not a genre that really appeals to me. I read YA for a living, and the kids in NA, are still kids to me so it is often hard for me to immerse myself in their love stories, despite the fact that I fell in love at 18 and was married by 21! Despite this I decided to read Deeper because Robin York is also Ruthie Knox, one of my favorite contemporary romance novelists. Ruthie has earned my trust over this year, so I am willing to try new things for her. Last fall I read her novel Truly as she serialized it on WattPad and this winter I let myself be sucked into Caro and West's lives.

Deeper is the first half of Caroline and West's story. Caro is college student in a smallish liberal arts university in Iowa. The youngest of three daughters of a widowed attorney, Caro is planning on doing big things. She has ambitions. She also had boyfriend she brought with her from high school. When she breaks up with him in what she thinks is amicable way he retaliates by posting intimate pictures of her online. Caro's is completely side-swiped by this. She is ashamed, angry, isolated and frustrated. She has stopped sleeping, hasn't told her father what happened, is tracking and trying to stomp out the images online while is trying to brazen it out the comments, stares and snickers in person. She has good friends who are trying to help her survive this, but the person she ends up turning to is West.

West is bad news. Everyone knows this, he knows this. He is troubled trailer park trash, partly financing his way through school selling pot. He is also the person that finally smashed a fist through Caro's old boyfriend's face. Every night when Caro can't sleep she drives circles around campus, and one night ends up at the bakery West works at. For a while she just parks in the parking lot and doesn't come in. But when she does he teaches her how to bake bread, they talk sometimes, but mostly they are just working side by side.

West is conflicted, he tried to scare Caro away the first day he met her, he doesn't need the distractions. He has secrets he won't share, topics he won't elaborate. Caroline is everything West would want if he let himself reach for her, but West is determined to get through school, so he can rescue his sister from his mom's self-sabotaging ways. His sister is counting on him, He can't let himself be dragged into someone drama, he can't let himself forget that he has another life, and is from another place. But also can't stay away from Caro.


First impressions :

@anacoqui: @RuthieKnox @AudraNorth oh Ruthie! I read the first two chapters...those poor kids! So much doom, I am having sympathy panic attacks!

What I thought:

I actually had to read Deeper in small doses, because of the how Caro and West story affected me, going so far as to jump to the last chapter and work my way back due to the amount of sympathetic anxiety I developed for them. Both Caro and West were very well drawn, and I understood them even when they didn't quite understand themselves. I love where Caroline is emotionally at the end of the book, standing up, determined, planning again. No longer defining herself by what happend to her. I can't wait to see where Caro and West can go from here in Harder.