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

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

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

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

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. Continue reading

TBR Challenge – It’s RITA Time!

prospero Note: This year’s RITA awards will be held next week at the RWA National Conference, so the July multi-blog challenge is focusing on reading RITA nominees and winners.

My choice for the multi-blog TBR challenge was Prospero’s Daughter by Nancy Butler, a RITA award winner in 2004. I loved it – it’s a beautifully written and tender romance in which an ex-soldier helps a badly injured young woman to recapture her spirit and zest for life in the face of the neglect of her seemingly perfect family. Morgan Pearce is inveigled by a friend into visiting the friend’s father to assist him in writing his memoirs. Not long after his arrival, Morgan literally stumbles across a lonely young woman sitting in a bath chair in the gardens, seemingly abandoned. She is Miranda Runyon, a relative who lost her parents in an accident three years previously, and who was left seriously injured. Her family has basically shut her away and now ignores her existence, and Miranda, once a vital, independent young woman, has more or less given up. Continue reading

TBR Challenge – Back to the Classics

seventearsforapollo This month’s TBR challenge, reading one of the classics, had me scratching my head for a little bit. Did I want to reach for one of those books that could be considered part of the romance canon(to the degree we have one), or did I want to pick a classic trope or author? In the end, I decided on Seven Tears for Apollo. When we start talking about old school romantic suspense or gothics online, certain names tend to pop up. Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Barbara Michaels – all have their fans. However, Phyllis Whitney is one of those names that seems to be mentioned almost as an afterthought.

I’ve read a few Phyllis Whitney novels, all historicals, and I did enjoy them. However, I had yet to read one of her contemporaries and so I gave this one a whirl. Written in 1962, it captures a world that for 21st century readers feels like a curious blend of old and new. Continue reading

TBR Challenge: Lots to Choose From

midnightangel Today we’re taking a little break from the RT author interviews for May’s installment of the TBR Challenge. For this month’s adventure through the TBR pile, I went looking for a book by an author represented multiple times in my stash of books waiting to be read. I’ve read a lot of Lisa Kleypas, but I still have plenty of her books in the TBR. The Russian angle of her 1995 historical, Midnight Angel appealed to me, so I decided to give that one a whirl.

Though the heroine is Russian, most of the book is set in England as we are treated to a governess and employer romance. Early on in the book, we as readers learn Tasia’s big secret.
She is actually a Russian aristocrat in disguise who has fled the country as she has been sentenced to death for killing her betrothed. Tasia has no memory of what happened to the man or whether she may have harmed him, but she is determined to live. Conveniently, she has relatives in England who give her a new identity and find a place for her as governess to Lucas(Luke) Stokehurst, Marquess of Stokehurst. Continue reading

TBR Challenge – Modern Love

returntotomorrow When I saw that this month’s TBR Challenge category called on us to read a contemporary romance, I found almost an embarrassment of choices. Did I want to go mainstream or inspy? Small town or big city? Something serious or more chick lit in tone? In the end, the setting drew me into Return to Tomorrow, a 2010 re-release of a 1990 title.

The premise of this novel is definitely not run of the mill. The characters were all shaped by their experiences in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, and even 20+ years on, the author shows how the war affected them. Rachel McKendrick spent years in a prison camp in Laos, and not surprisingly, has a lot of emotional issues to work through. After her rescue, she never intended to return to the region but a promise made to a priest she respected deeply brings her to a refugee camp.

There she meets Brett “Tiger” Jackson, a man with a dangerous reputation. Tiger fought in the war and has stayed behind working a variety of shadowy jobs and living among a trusted group of expats who, like him, never could quite return home after the war. Rachel’s brother back home knew and trusted him, but on the ground in Thailand, he has a reputation as a dangerous drug smuggler. There is obviously more to him than meets the eye, but readers are only slightly ahead of Rachel in learning this. Continue reading

TBR Challenge – New to Me Books

fairshine I went back to “Sunday” in the Back to School Challenge this month, to read the second of the books I’d chosen for that day.

The prompt was

- Read a book that has in its title the word “Sunday”, “Sun”, “light”, “shine”, “hot, “star” or “day”, or any variation of these words, or a word you think might have a similar connotation.

and I’d chosen a book by the British author, Sylvia Thorpe called Fair Shine the Day, which is a piece of historical fiction with romantic elements set during the time of the English Civil War. This period of English history seems to get a lot less attention than Tudor times, the Regency, or Victorian eras when it comes to historical romance and I can’t quite work out why. There’s plenty of actual history to get one’s teeth into, and of course, that whole Royalist/Puritan divide is, I’d have thought, a romance writer’s dream. Continue reading