TBR Challenge – Happy Holidays!

NTLMGI’m a Christmas story junkie (a confession surprising no one who reads my reviews, I’m sure), so for the last month of 2014′s multi-blog TBR challenge I decided to go after a different sort of holiday read. Why not Mardi Gras? And so I read Kimberly Lang’s No Time Like Mardi Gras. It’s only been on my Kindle since February 2014, but it still made me feel nostalgic. I’m pretty bummed that Harlequin is discontinuing their KISS line, as many of the books I read there have featured strong writing and a modern feel that belie the Pepto-pink covers.

No Time Like Mardi Gras isn’t the best of the KISS books I’ve read, but it’s not a bad book either. Since it seems to be a character-driven romance at heart, it really could have used a little more attention in the characterization department. That fix would have elevated it into the ranks of the some of the better humorous romances – the ones that manage to be both hilarious and poignant.

Or, perhaps it’s better stated that many of the best funny books tend to be memorably humorous because they’re poignant. Instead, I’d describe this read as fun but uneven,and I’d give it a B-.

Jamie Vincent moved to New Orleans to get a fresh start after her life pretty much went spiraling down the drain. However, getting settled in a new city with no network to depend on is a completely new experience for her and it’s not going all that well. Her roommate seems to be her one social outlet and so she’s third-wheeling it with the roommate at Mardi Gras while said roommate seems intent on watching a particular band play and hopefully hooking up with her crush from said band. It looks pretty bleak until she meets Colin Raine in a bar and he offers to show her to sights of Mardi Gras in the city.

The two have a fabulous time, and there’s more than a little bit of attraction going on there. When the two get separated by a crowd and then kept apart by a big misunderstanding, I was inclined to roll my eyes, but then the author does something a little bit different: Jamie and Colin talk it out. They don’t resolve everything perfectly and immediately but at least they start talking. Sadly, that’s a step up for many couples in Romanceland.

What ensues is a fun and sexy fling that gradually grows more serious. And most of the time it’s plenty of fun. Jamie’s issues from the great blowup of her past life(which she’s determined to keep as secret as possible for way too long) get a little tiresome, but given what her secrets are, I could understand why she’d react strongly even as I got irked with her on occasion. Colin’s a likable hero and in the end, he and Jamie seem like a fun couple. I totally did not get Jamie’s over-the-top obsession with all things Mardi Gras, but to each their own.

- Lynn Spencer
xmasspirit Originally published in 1996, Patricia Wynn’s The Christmas Spirit is the whimsical tale of an elf who falls in love with a human. I always like a bit of whimsy at this time of the year, and this has that quality in spades, while also being romantic and sweetly sensual.

Sir Matthew Dunstone, a well-known explorer, has returned from an arduous trip searching for the source of the White Nile in the grip of a severe illness. To make matters worse, his fiancée has married his ex-partner, whose accounts of their trip have blackened Matthew’s name and ruined his reputation amongst the African Association, the society to which they both belong.

A broken man subject to bouts of fever induced hallucination, Matthew is not at all surprised to find himself talking to an elf one night. Thinking the sprightly apparition to be no more than the product of a disordered mind, Matthew is unperturbed and several conversations take place, during one of which the elf – Francis – tells Matthew about his sister, Gertrude (Trudy). The following night, Francis brings Trudy to see Matthew while he is sleeping. She immediately likes the look of the man who, despite his weakened state is obviously quite handsome, and when Francis wagers that she won’t be able to get him to follow her “into the mists”, she immediately takes the bet.

Shortly afterwards, Trudy takes human form and presents herself at Matthew’s house on the pretext of wanting him to make a donation to The Society for the Relief of Indigent African Natives. Matthew is not at all pleased at being disturbed, but is unable to take his eyes from the ravishing beauty with the devastating smile who introduces herself as Miss Faye Meriweather. And Trudy is surprised to discover that Matthew is far more handsome and imposing a man than she had previously thought – and also that in spite of her best efforts and most winsome smiles, he appears to be immune to her charms.

After his initial attempt to fob her off fails, Matthew begins to discover that perhaps there is something to be said for emerging from his self-imposed seclusion and, more than that, as the days pass, realises his health is drastically improving. In his dreams, he is visited by a female elf who bears a striking resemblance to Faye, a circumstance he puts down to the impure thoughts he is starting to entertain about that young lady who could, of course, never enter a gentleman’s bedchamber or sit on his bed tenderly stroking his hair. But Trudy’s touch is magical, and her nocturnal ministrations really are helping Matthew to regain his health and strength, which in turn, helps him to confront and dispel the rumours concerning his mental state and his supposedly dishonourable actions on his last trip.

Trudy is walking a dangerous path. While it’s all well and good for her to ensnare a human, to let things happen the other way around is unthinkable. A human in elven lands has much to gain – or so Francis thinks – whereas for an elf to fall for a human means she would lose her magic and begin to age in the same way that humans do. Francis reminds Trudy of their bet and her intention to enslave Matthew, but it’s too late. Trudy has fallen in love with a human and loves him far too much to consign him to a life beyond the mists as little more than a pet. There is no other way for them to be together – or is there? It’s Christmas after all, and the perfect time for dreams to come true.

The Christmas Spirit is a quick read, which fulfilled my desire for a quirky, fluffy story. The characterisation isn’t especially deep, and I have to say that other than the winter-time setting and a few mentions of Father Christmas, it doesn’t feel especially Christmassy either – but It’s light-hearted and entertaining and I enjoyed it, nonetheless. C+

- Caz Owens

LinnieGayl’s Favorite Mysteries of 2014

TSLong before I ever read romances, I was an avid mystery reader. My love of mysteries started as a child with Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew, and continues to this day. The mystery community handed out the bulk of its awards for “best of 2013” in November of 2014. As usual, I was nearly completely out of step with the awards; I either hadn’t read the award winners (and nominees) or disliked most of the ones I had read. So I’m going to get a jump on the 2014 award year – by at least 10 months – and pick my favorite mysteries published in 2014.

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley – Yes, once again the highlight of my mystery-reading year occurred in January with the latest in the Flavia de Luce mystery series featuring 11-year old Flavia, a would-be detective and serious chemist (with a particular love of poisons). Set in 1951 England, the series continues to delight me. I’ll admit I’m now counting down the weeks (and soon days) until the next book is released. This latest entry seems to wrap up one part of Flavia’s life, and I’m very curious to see where she ends up in the next book. I should note that I both read these in print and listen to them in audio, and cannot recommend highly enough the narration done by Jayne Entwistle; she’s absolutely delightful.

The Counterfeit Heiress by Tasha Alexander – This is the ninth in the author’s Lady Emily mystery series set in Victorian England. As always, Lady Emily and her husband Colin are at the center of the story, featuring the mysterious murder of a woman who turns out to be an imposter heiress. I love Lady Emily and Colin’s relationship with each other, and with their host of friends. I’m also very curious to see what happens in the next book, as Lady Emily seems to be developing an interest in Egypt.

Moriarty Returns a Letter by Michael Robertson – This is the fourth in a series featuring two brothers whose law offices are located at 221B Baker Street. As part of the lease agreement, they had to agree to respond to letters to Sherlock Holmes, which leads them to many interesting cases. I discovered the series this past year and feel the latest is the best in the series.

The Question of the Missing Head by E.J. Copperman and Jeff Cohen – This is the first in a series featuring Samuel Hoenig, a man with Asperger’s Syndrome, who runs a business entitled Questions Answered. It’s a new business, and his latest “question” to solve is to discover who stole a head from a cryonics institute. All of the main characters – including Samuel’s mother – are interesting, and parts of the mystery surprised me. I can’t wait for the second in the series. As a note, E.J. Copperman and Jeff Cohen are the same person.

That Summer by Lauren Willig – This is a standalone from the author most known for her Pink Carnation series. There is a slight nod to the series in that one of the characters has a distant connection to a character from the series. But this definitely stands on its own. Like her Pink Carnation series, it features a modern story (2009) and an historical story (1849). While there is no murder involved in the story, there’s a definite mystery about a pre-Raphaelite painting. I liked both the historical and modern parts, but found myself particularly interested in the modern story. The historical part is decidedly darker than the historical parts of the Pink Carnation series, but intriguing, particularly with the links to the pre-Raphaelite artists.

Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James – This is the author’s third book. While each of the books are set in the same time period (this one in 1919) and feature ghosts, they are all standalones. For me this is the darkest in the series, but also a completely engrossing mystery. The heroine — Kitty Weekes – lies about her identity and experiences and gets a job in a remote nursing home for shell-shocked soldiers. In addition to a particularly frightening ghost, the soldiers in the home have many secrets.

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny – In the author’s latest Armand Gamache mystery, the now retired Gamache is living in Three Pines – that virtually hidden small village in Quebec. I wasn’t sure where the author would go after the last mystery, as it seemed to resolve a number of story arcs. But in this latest book, she takes us back to many of the earlier books in the series and resolves some long-standing mysteries. I have come to love this series and cannot wait for the next. But the series features so much character development, and has so many linked stories that it absolutely must be read from the beginning.

The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths – This is the sixth in the author’s series featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. Ruth is an unusual main character; she’s grumpy, overweight, a bit of a loner, and is now a single mother of a young daughter. I found this to be much more interesting than the previous entry in the series, with parallel mysteries of mothers accused of the murder of their children in Victorian and present-day England.

The Harlot’s Taleby Sam Thomas – This is the second mystery featuring midwife Bridget Hodgson. Set in York in 1645, the story mixes a rather grizzly series of murders with information about life in York during the civil war. An historian, the author does a wonderful job conveying the history of the period while holding my interest in both the characters and the mystery.

That’s it, my top nine mysteries of 2014. Did you read any great mysteries you would recommend in 2014?




Sweetheart or Shrew? Sister or Skank? AAR announces a new yet to be named series!


Keeper or Kick-Her-to-the-Curb?

In July, AAR introduced the new series “Dreamboat or Douchebag” in which our staffers weigh in on the merits and demerits of famous literary heroes. These pieces have been some of our most popular and have generated a set of robust comment streams. They’ve also been a hell of a lot of fun to write.

Thus, we’ve decided to begin a similar series about heroines. Over the next year, we will set our critical sights on some of literature’s most contested heroines and pass judgement upon them. (We may even add in a movie heroine or two–wouldn’t it be fun to assess Vivian from Pretty Woman or evaluate Princess Leia?)

There are two things we are considering as we begin. The first is what makes a good heroine? There is, unsurprisingly, no consensus on that. Maggie likes a heroine who’s “well written and can make me sympathetic to her point of view.” Melanie prefers a woman who is “human – she has her flaws, but they aren’t the focus of the book” and who “feels real.” Shannon’s favorites are “self-reliant, but not afraid to ask for help when needed.” Caroline prizes “a sense of ethics,” “a spine,” and “self-awareness.” Lynn goes for “a smart, confident heroine who knows her limitations.” Lee wants a woman who stands up for herself. For me, a good heroine is one who deserves her happy ending–a criteria so vague it can be summed up as “I know it when I see it.

The second–and likely to be far more contentious–is what to call this column. There are those readers who acutely dislike “Dreamboat or Douchebag” and others who love it. We are sure no matter what we call our heroine column, the same situation will prevail.

I asked the staff to come up with suggestions for the column–serious and not–and their list was quite inventive. Suggested were:

First Class or Trailer Trash?
Sister or Skank?
Keeper or Kick-Her-to-the-Curb?
Bangable or Brown Bag?
Darling or Diva?
Wonderwoman or Witch?
Honey or Harridan?
Sweetheart or Shrew?
Captivating or Contemptible?
Special or Spoiled?
Treasure or Terror?
Catch or C**t?
Babe or Beyotch?
Hall of Fame or Walk of Shame?
Babe or Bint?


I’m not sure what we will pick or even if this is our final list. I give the staff points for wit.

We hope you will enjoy our new series and we welcome suggestions for heroines you’d like to see us consider. As always, we love to hear from you.

Dabney Grinnan

Eagerly Awaited December Releases

It’s looking like a lighter reading month around AAR this December. The holidays may be busy, but there are still some promising looking books to read coming out, though. And of course, with the Annual Reader Poll just around the corner, there’s still time to catch up on all those 2014 releases we’ve all been meaning to read….

Title and Author Reviewer
Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean Lynn, Dabney, Heather, Lee, Caz, Melanie, Alex
The Duke's Guide to Correct Behavior by Megan Frampton The Duke’s Guide to Correct Behavior by Megan Frampton Blythe, Dabney, Melanie
The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen Maggie, Lee
Twice Tempted by Eileen Dreyer Twice Tempted by Eileen Dreyer Lee, Caz
Abravadaver by Laura Resnick Abracadaver by Laura Resnick Rike
Christmas Where They Belong by Marian Lennox Christmas Where They Belong by Marian Lennox Caroline
Broken Open by Lauren Dane Broken Open by Lauren Dane Heather
A Christmas Reunion by Susanna Fraser A Christmas Reunion by Susanna Fraser Rike
An Inconvenient Wife by Caroline Kimberly An Inconvenient Wife by Caroline Kimberly Lynn
Charming the Firefighter by Beth Andrews Charming the Firefighter by Beth Andrews Rike
The King by Tiffany Reisz The King by Tiffany Reisz Shannon
A Cowboy for Christmas by Lacy Williams A Cowboy for Christmas by Lacy Williams Lynn
The HIghland Dragon's Lady by Isabel Cooper The Highland Dragon’s Lady by Isabel Cooper Rike

The Fifty Shades of Grey Hater quiz

50SoGHappy Fifty Shades of Grey readers are all alike; each Fifty Shades of Grey hater is a hater in his or her own way. Well, not quite. I’ve identified at least five species of Fifty Shades Hater and classified them here on the basis of the argument at the core of their hate. So haters, go ahead and take the quiz: what type of Fifty Shades of Grey hater are you? Continue reading

Writing a New Love Story

How good are you at reading in between the lines? If you’re better than me, maybe you saw my impending divorce coming before I did. When I blog, I tend to take inspiration from what’s going on in my own reading and in my life. A few months ago I wrote about the romances that mirror your own romance, and in a roundabout way discussed my newfound disenchantment with heroines who marry too young. Continue reading

TBR Challenge: Back in Time

provoked Given I read historicals almost exclusively, this month’s prompt wasn’t much of a challenge so I decided to look for something – for me – a bit different. Provoked is the first in Joanna Chambers’ Enlightenment trilogy, and an M/M romance, which is a genre I’ve read only once or twice before.

Not being overly familiar with historical M/M, I had the idea that it would be quite difficult for a romance to have a convincing HEA for two men at a time in history when homosexuality was not only illegal, but punishable by death – and while I certainly have no problem with the idea of two hot guys stripping off their frock coats and getting it on, I can read erotica for that. I read romance (as opposed to erotica) most of the time because I want more than that in my reading material – I want a decent storyline, too, and – with any luck – one that doesn’t stretch my credulity to breaking point and beyond.

The book is set in Regency Scotland, at a time of much political and social unrest. The author immediately evokes a strong sense of time and place with the opening of the story in which two young men – weavers accused of treason – are publicly executed. Present in the crowd is David Lauriston, a twenty-four year-old advocate who had defended the men in court, even though their fate was a foregone conclusion. Continue reading

No Time Travel for Me Please

Along with a lot of people, I’ve been sucked into the marvelous Starz adaptation of Outlander. The cast is terrific, the production values are top-notch, and I’m really enjoying the scripts. But Outlander clearly illustrates something that, as a historian, I realized a long time ago: a lot of us modern ladies would be an absolutely catastrophically bad heroines for a time-travel romance. Continue reading