TBR Challenge – Heating Up the Summer

shiver As summer comes to an end, I’ve been challenged to read a book with luscious love scenes. I immediately thought of Harlequin’s Blaze line, and grabbed Shiver by Jo Leigh, a 2010 release that is still available digitally. Though the story wasn’t quite as steamy as I’d expected, I still ended up with a sexy, fun read, and I’d give it a B.

My first recommendation to readers? Don’t judge this one by its cover. It’s a lot more offbeat and fun than that somewhat generic picture would suggest. After all, the hero not only owns a supposedly haunted inn; he also makes independent documentary films. The semi-reclusive comic strip writer known for her snarky humor didn’t strike me as a run of the mill character either.

Both lead characters are city folk who have no intention of leaving their usual environment, but they’ve ended up at a quaint, haunted inn in Colorado for plausible enough reasons. Sam Crider has inherited the inn where he grew up, and he’s come home temporarily to run it while trying to sell. Carrie Sawyer, on the other hand, has only come to the Crider Inn as a somewhat reluctant guest.

One of her few – and very close – friends in LA has announced an impending move and as something of a last hurrah, she convinced Carrie to come along with her on a ghost-hunting weekend at the inn. Carrie could not be less into the ghost-hunting scene, but figures it might make interesting material for her satirical comic and she knows her friend is extremely into the supernatural.

Sam catches Carrie’s eye at check-in, and the flirtation begins almost instantly. Carrie doesn’t have a problem with the idea of a vacation fling, though Sam initially has some qualms about hooking up with a guest. They take a little longer to get together than expected, but the events leading up to the actual relationship keep ratcheting up that tension, and the banter between the two can be pretty funny sometimes. Once Sam and Carrie do start up their relationship, the progression from fun to serious decision-making between them seems to happen a little quickly, though. Even though I picked the book because it seemed like one where the heat level would meet the rules of the challenge, I ended up liking it because the slightly campy world of the ghost weekend truly was fun to read and the author has just enough deeper emotion running beneath the surface to make this book something more than cute and quirky fluff.

In the end, this wasn’t the sexiest Blaze novel I’d even encountered. However, the love scenes that it had worked and this was one of the more offbest, fun stories that I’ve found in category romance.

– Lynn Spencer
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temptingasinner For August’s Luscious Love Scenes prompt, I picked Tempting a Sinner by Kate Pearce. I don’t read a lot of erotic romance. Not because I’m prudish – almost all the books I read have sex scenes! – but because I like to have a meaty bit of plot in amongst the shag-fest, and I had the impression that erotic romance wasn’t a lot different to erotica on that score. I don’t know whether Ms Pearce’s book is typical of the genre, but whatever the case, I was pleasantly surprised.

The story centers around Lord Benedict Keyes and his estranged wife, who haven’t seen each other in the eighteen years since their youthful marriage. Both were “army brats”, although from opposite sides of the tracks.

Benedict is the son of a marquess while Malinda’s father was a common soldier, but the pair more or less grew up together because both families followed the drum. I always enjoy a story where the central couple are friends before they become romantically involved, and while we don’t see much of them as children and adolescents, an undercurrent of deep friendship permeates the book, and the reader gets a very strong sense of the fact that here are two people who knew each other very well – so much so that even though they have both changed in the intervening years, they are still able to discern the other’s thoughts and emotions. It’s that deep connection between the two protagonists which surprised me most about the book, because I really hadn’t expected to find that.

Benedict and Malinda’s marriage was a hasty one following the sudden death of her father while on assignment in Spain. They are very much in love, but the marquess is furious and immediately separates the pair by telling Malinda a whopping great lie that has her haring off the day after the wedding. He lies to Benedict, too, telling him that Malinda has accepted money in return for agreeing to an annulment – as a way to ensure that he will never seek her out.

Both characters are therefore starting from points of extreme suspicion and distrust when they finally meet again, and Ms Pearce does a very good job in portraying those emotions and in breaking down their barriers gradually, so that their eventual reconciliation happens at a realistic pace. Because this is an erotic romance, the fact that Benedict and Mally are conflicted about their feelings for each other doesn’t prevent them from jumping into bed frequently, but the author very clearly establishes the difference between the physical and the emotional. Both characters at some point, use sex as a means of manipulation and in order to gain the upper hand, but there are also some very tender, intimate moments that provide real insight into their relationship and are, in a way, far sexier than any amount of bonking could ever be.

There is a strong sense of connection between them outside the bedroom, too, as they work together to solve an eighteen year-old mystery surrounding the disappearance of a valuable military shipment which is closely linked to both families. Both principals are strongly characterised, even during the sex scenes when they don’t suddenly have personality transplants and become different people. They tease, they jibe, they fight – they treat each other out of bed in much the same way as they do in it.

I enjoyed the book and may read others by this author at some point. Tempting the Sinner has a satisfyingly complex plot in addition to well-drawn characters, lots of hot sex of various permutations and a convincing second-chance romance. B.

For the Back to School Challenge I chose a prompt from Friday Read a book that has in its title the word “Friday”, “Venus”, “love”, “passion”, “sex”, “heart”, “beauty” or “seduction, and I chose Madeline Hunter’s The Rules of Seduction.

Hayden Rothwell is a highly successful financier (and mathematical genius) who discovers that Mr Timothy Longworth is guilty of embezzlement from the bank in which he (Longworth) is a partner. Longworth’s brother, Ben, saved Hayden’s life when they were both fighting against the Turks in Greece, so Hayden is reluctant to send Longworth to the gallows. Instead he finds a solution which will keep the man from the noose, but which will mean he must repay as much as he can and then learn to live within his meagre means.

Longworth lives with his two sisters and their impoverished cousin Alexia, all of whom are appalled at the news and furious at Hayden, whom they are allowed to believe is solely responsible for their straightened circumstances. Realising that this means they will no longer be able to support Alexia, Hayden arranges for her to stay on as companion to his aunt and finishing governess for his cousin, who is to make her début this season.

This naturally throws him into Alexia’s company – something which, whether he knew it or not at the time, was a prospect he relished. He finds her intriguing and respects her dignity, even though he knows she dislikes him for what she believes to be his. For her part, Alexia can’t help but notice that Hayden is a very handsome man, but can’t understand why she should be so attracted to him when she doesn’t even like him.

Hayden is widely known as a man who is always in complete control – but with Alexia, he finds that impossible to maintain and irrevocably compromises her. She expects him to offer her carte blanche, but instead he asks her to marry him, which stuns her completely. But she accepts, believing that she can make the best of a marriage of convenience in which they will both lead their separate lives – during the day at least. The nights are a different matter, as neither she nor Hayden can deny the physical pleasure they find with one another.

There is an element of miscommunication in the story, but it never reaches Big Mis proportions, and Hayden and Alexia do actually talk quite a lot and quite honestly. What lies between them, however, is Alexia’s belief – that he cannot, in honour contradict – that he was the cause of the Longworth’s ruin, and because of that, any discussion of her cousins (who are her only family) is difficult and strained. Added to that is the fact that Alexia had been in love with Ben (or believed herself to be so), and still clings to his memory, which naturally makes Hayden jealous and adds to the uneasiness.

The storyline is very well put-together both in terms of the romance and the plot concerning Hayden’s following of the money-trail as he tries to work out exactly who stole what and what happened to the money. There’s a brilliant and unexpected twist towards the end, which I didn’t see coming, but which, looking back on it, is subtly signposted.

The characterisation of both leads is very good, and there is plenty of chemistry between them. Hayden is a delicious hero – tall, dark and handsome of course, but he’s also defined by an air of competence and a deep intensity and sensuality that make a heady cocktail! Alexia is practical and intelligent, and while there were times I didn’t agree with her actions, they nonetheless made sense within the terms of the plot. She resists her attraction to Hayden while he is determined to foster it – and in doing to, he falls hard and has to learn to accept that there are some things he can’t control. But he is also considerate and never treats his wife with anything other than respect – he values her opinions and her spirit, and is sensible of the fact that she needs to make her own decisions about him. With time, Alexia comes to see that her new husband is a man of honour and integrity, and to finally have her suspicions that the Longworths’ ruin was not his fault.

An enjoyable read overall, with impressive use of a specific historical event (the stock market crash of 1825) to provide both background detail and impetus for the story. B.

– Caz Owens

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