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
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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

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

'PRIDE AND PREJUDICE' FILM - 2005

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?
and
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

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

Eagerly Awaited November Books

November is definitely shaping up to be a blockbuster month for historical romances. Personally, I’m thrilled to see Jeannie Lin’s latest novel out, and most of us here at AAR can’t wait to get our hands on the big new releases from Joanna Bourne and Mary Balogh. What do you have your eyes on this November?

Title and Author Reviewer
Rogue Spy by Joanna Bourne Rogue Spy by Joanna Bourne Blythe, Lynn, Dabney, Lea, Lee, Caz, Cindy, Alex, Mary, Rike, Jean, Caroline, Alex
Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh Dabney, Rike, Alex, Blythe, Maggie, Caz, Lee
Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews Lea, Jean, Heather, Melanie, Maggie
Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin Lynn, Maggie, Rike
Arhcangel's Shadows by Nalini Singh Archangel’s Shadows by Nalini Singh Jean, Lea, Alex
Shopaholic to the Stars by Sophie Kinsella Shopaholic to the Stars by Sophie Kinsella Lee
Maybe This Christmas by Sarah Morgan Maybe This Christmas by Sarah Morgan Rike
Santa's Playbook by Karen Templeton Santa’s Playbook by Karen Templeton Caroline
Wild by Jill Sorenson Wild by Jill Sorenson Lynn
Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier Melanie
The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson Caz
Wish Upon a Snowflake anthology Wish Upon a Snowflake by Christine Merrill, Linda Skye, and Elizabeth Rolls Rike
A Yorkshire Christmas  by Kate Hewitt A Yorkshire Christmas by Kate Hewitt Lynn
Hello From the Gillespies by Monica McInerney Hello From the Gillespies by Monica McInerney Lee
Alanna by Kathleen Bittner Roth Alanna by Kathleen Bittner Roth Melanie
Destiny's Captive by Beverly Jenkins Destiny’s Captive by Beverly Jenkins Lynn
Crossfire Christmas by Julie Miller Crossfire Christmas by Julie Miller Rike

TBR Challenge – On the Edges of Our Seats

huntinghuman It’s been a while since I read a paranormal that felt fresh. For that reason, I was especially happy to read Hunting Human as I dove into the paranormal side of “paranormal or romantic suspense” for this month’s TBR challenge. This book is a 2011 release from Carina Press, and after reading it, I was rather disappointed to find that author Amanda E. Alvarez has apparently not released any other books. That’s a real shame because even if Hunting Human isn’t perfect, I’d give it a very solid B. My romance picks don’t often haunt me, but this book both made me smile and made chills run down my spine.

The chilling part starts early as we meet heroine Lizzy Williams in eastern Europe with her best friend Rachel. As they leave a bar and head for their hostel, the sense of foreboding increases. The reader just knows that something horrible is about to happen to these two happy young women, but reads on, powerless to stop it. When several men they encountered at the bar kidnap the duo and throw them into a van, my heart sank. I was horrified, but also so gripped by the story that I just couldn’t turn away. Continue reading

Let’s Stop Winter from Coming: AAR Weighs in on the Ellora’s Cave Suit against Dear Author

christmas-wallpaper-80Note: None of us here at AAR is a legal expert on defamation, and we’re not going to pretend to be for purposes of this blog. Nothing on here is intended to serve as legal advice. Laws changes, and they vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so no blog can substitute for speaking to your own attorney.

We think by now everyone who isn’t living under a rock (or at least everyone who follows romance blogs and/or the publishing industry) is aware that Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc. and Jasmine-Jade Enterprises, LLC (collectively “EC” from here on out) has sued Dear Author Media Network, LLC(“DA”) and has also sued individually the blogger known online as Jane Litte(“Litte”), alleging that they have defamed EC and harmed the business. The plaintiffs seek an injunction, money damages, and also have asked the court to require DA to provide the identities of anonymous online commenters to one of its blog pieces concerning EC. However, as with many big lawsuits, the story doesn’t start with the court filing.  If you want a history of EC and its ups and downs, Litte gives plenty of that, together with citations, in her allegedly defamatory blog piece. And you can find plenty more stories even with a cursory search on Google. Continue reading

Eagerly Awaited Books – October 2014

It’s still pretty warm where I am in Virginia, so it’s hard to think October is just around the corner. This is especially true when I recall that the October list always seems to have that first wave of Christmas romances. I love me a romantic holiday tale, and I know I’ll be buying one or two to savor when the weather turns cold. What about you? What goodies does fall bring you?

Title and Author Reviewer
Darling Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt Darling Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt Haley, Lee, Caz, Cindy, Alex, Mary, Heather
In Your Dreams by Kristan Higgins in Your Dreams by Kristan Higgins Dabney, Mary, Heather, Jenna, Alex, Lee
Never Marry a Viscount by Anne Stuart Never Marry a Viscount by Anne Stuart Lynn, Caz, Cindy
Carolina Blues by Virginia Kantra Carolina Blues by Virginia Kantra Haley, Dabney
What a Lady Needs for Christmas by Grace Burrowes What a Lady Needs for Christmas by Grace Burrowes Caz, Mary
Indecent Proposal by Molly O'Keefe Indecent Proposal by Molly O’Keefe Dabney, Lynn
Rules for a Proper Governess by Jennifer Ashley Rules for a Proper Governess by Jennifer Ashley Mary, Lee
The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain Shannon
The Counterfeit Heiress by Tasha Alexander The Counterfeit Heiress by Tasha Alexander Linnie
Season for Desire by Teresa Romain Season for Desire by Teresa Romain Caz
Too Friendly to Date by Nicole Helm Too Friendly to Date by Nicole Helm Dabney
Christmas Brides anthology Christmas Brides by Suzanne Enoch, Alexandra Hawkins, Elizabeth Essex, and Valerie Bowman (contains both new and previously published stories) Lynn
Hope Burns by Jaci Burton Hope Burns by Jaci Burton Haley
Truth Be Told by Hank Philippi Ryan Truth Be Told by Hank Phillippi Ryan Shannon
The Missing Place by Sophie Littlefield The Missing Place by Sophie Littlefield Dabney
Betrayed By His Kiss by Amanda McCabe Betrayed By His Kiss by Amanda McCabe Lynn
Chained by Night by Larissa Ione Chained by Night by Larissa Ione Shannon
Deceived by Irene Hannon Deceived by Irene Hannon Maggie

TBR Challenge 2014 – Pick a Book For Me

dukesholiday For my “Recommended Read” in this month’s TBR Challenge, I chose The Duke’s Holiday by Maggie Fenton, a book which a number of my friends on Goodreads enjoyed and which was recommended to me by one of them.

It’s a fairly simple story – a very proper, highly fastidious duke with what the synopsis indicates is Obsessive (or is it Obsessional?) Compulsive Disorder meets his match in the form of a feisty, flame-haired mess of a women who thrives on chaos. I normally like the “opposites attract” trope, I like comedic romances, and the person who recommended it and I normally have very similar tastes, so it seemed like a good bet for a fun read.

Unfortunately, however, I seem to be in the minority of people who aren’t wild about this book. It’s not terrible by any means, but there are a number of things in the execution that just don’t work for me and to be honest, I didn’t find it all that funny. Continue reading

Eagerly Awaited September Books

So I blinked and…summer’s almost over already! And just as I was getting used to the sun and the heat. As we cruise into September, there are quite a few historicals that have folks here on staff excited (yay!) and we’re keeping up with new installments in some beloved series. However, the big news for most here at AAR would be the arrival of a long-anticipated new release from contemporary romance favorite Susan Elizabeth Phillips. So, what are you looking for this September?

Title and Author Reviewer
Heroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips Heroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips Dabney, Lee, LinnieGayl, Alex, Mary, Shannon, Caroline, Lea, Haley
What I Love About You by Rachel Gibson What I Love About You by Rachel Gibson Mary, Lea, Dabney, Haley, Heather
The Songbird's Seduction by Connie Brockway The Songbird’s Seduction by Connie Brockway Lynn, Lee, Caroline
Festive in Death by JD Robb Festive in Death by J.D. Robb Blythe, Maggie
Once More My Darling Rogue by Lorraine Heath Once More, My Darling Rogue by Lorraine Heath Haley, Caz
Wood Sprites by Wen Spencer Wood Sprites by Wen Spencer Maggie, Anne
Winning Ruby Heart by Jennifer Lohmann Winning Ruby Heart by Jennifer Lohmann LinnieGayl, Lynn
A Scandal to Remember by Elizabeth Essex A Scandal to Remember by Elizabeth Essex Caz, Dabney
Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs Heather, Maggie
The Laird by Grace Burrowes The Laird by Grace Burrowes Mary, Caz
The Secret Place by Taa French The Secret Place by Tana French Dabney, Lynn
What a Duke Dares by Anna Campbell What a Duke Dares by Anna Campbell Caz, Mary
Enchantress by Maggie Anton Enchantress by Maggie Anton Melanie, Caroline
Lisette's List by Susan Vreeland Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland Shannon
Honor by Lyn Cote Honor by Lyn Cote Lynn
Night's Honor by Thea Harrison Night’s Honor by Thea Harrison Jean
What I Remember Most by Cathy Lamb What I Remember Most by Cathy Lamb Lee
Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials by Ovidia Yu Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials by Ovidia Yu Caroline
Close to Home by Lisa Jackson Close to Home by Lisa Jackson Shannon
Rock Addiction by Nalini Singh Rock Addiction by Nalini Singh Cindy
Ghost Layer by Robin D. Owens Ghost Layer by Robin D. Owens Melanie
Honeymoon Hotel by Hester Browne Honeymoon Hotel by Hester Browne Lee
Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover Anne
House Immortal by Devon Monk House Immortal by Devon Monk Shannon
Vampire Secretary, Vol. 7 by Tomu Ohmi Midnight Secretary, Vol. 7 by Tomu Ohmi Caroline
The Winter Long by Seanan McGuire The Winter Long by Seanan McGuire Heather
A Home For Her Heart by Janet Lee BArton A Home for Her Heart by Janet Lee Barton Anne
The Maiden of Ireland by Susan Wiggs The Maiden of Ireland(re-release of The Mist and the Magic) by Susan Wiggs Lynn
Superman/Wonder Woman: Power Couple by Charles Soule Superman/Wonder Woman: Power Coupleby Charles Soule Caroline
Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley Season of Storms(reissue) by Susanna Kearsley Heather, Melanie