Here’s another in our occasional series of mini-reviews. We’ve got five DIKs here along with three B reads! Here’s what Caroline, Caz, Maria, Heather, Shannon and E.B. have to say about some of their recent reads:
I just finished The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon. It’s a fantasy/dystopia novel about Paige Mahoney, who can spirit-walk in a world in which paranormal talents are illegal, and whose life using her abilities for an underground syndicate is disrupted by her arrest. She finds out that the entire structure of her world isn’t what she thinks, and she’s placed into the custody of the mysterious and powerful Warden. I have a guilty love of prisoner-captive books, and this is an interesting one, with solid sexual tension and a couple that plausibly has to work through some trust issues. I liked that the heroine already had abilities, so we ddn’t have to go through the standard “Gosh, could it be me?” reveal. The author is British and her UK setting shines, especially a fantastical version of Oxford, which she actually attended (it’s been done, but it’s hard to blame people – that place is pretty amazing.) Plus, it’s a dystopia/fantasy of the old school: some deaths, some darkness, but not a bloodbath contrived for the sake of GUYS THIS IS SERIOUS FICTION. I’m definitely excited to start the sequel The Mime Order right away.
Grade: A Sensuality: Kisses
Fortune Favors the Wicked by Theresa Romain
I always know I’m going to get a well-written, warm and funny character-driven historical when I pick up a book by Theresa Romain, and this first book in her new Royal Rewards series is exactly that. The backdrop to the lovely, flirty and sensual romance between a former courtesan and a blind, retired naval officer is one of those “you couldn’t make it up” things: the hunt for the six trunks of newly manufactured gold sovereigns that were stolen from the Royal Mint in order to claim a substantial reward. Charlotte Perry is the daughter of a vicar who has spent ten years in London living as Charlotte Perle, a high-class courtesan. She has returned home to Derbyshire partly to escape a former, abusive protector and partly in order to search for the missing coins so that she can use the money to help her family, start a new life and, most importantly, provide for her ten-year-old daughter.
Benedict Frost joined the Navy aged twelve and lived most of his life at sea until a virulent illness four years earlier deprived him of his sight. His half-pay and the small pension he receives as a Naval Knight mean that he is not free to do as he wishes; he cannot give up his tiny room at Windsor Castle or get married and retain his income, but he is resigned to that. However, he wants to find the sovereigns and claim the reward so that he can provide his sister with a dowry.
The romance that develops between Charlotte and Benedict as they join forces to search for the gold is never sidelined for the sake of the mystery, and it’s beautifully done. Charlotte has learned resilience and independence at the School of Hard Knocks, but she is never hard-bitten or cynical, and Benedict is quite unlike the brooding, grouchy blind heroes so often found in the genre. He’s no beast intent on a self-pity-party; instead he’s roguishly charming, witty, open-hearted and just all-round lovely. Together, they find the parts of themselves that have been missing and regain a sense of who they are and who they could become.
There’s a great cast of supporting characters, plenty of humour (Ms Romain and I recently traded Tweets about my admiration for her handling of the good ol’ British Knob joke!) and a truly poignant secondary storyline about Charlotte’s relationship with her daughter. Fortune Favors the Wicked is highly recommended.
Grade: B+ Sensuality: Warm
Tycoon by Joanna Shupe
Having just read and enjoyed Magnate, which is the first full-length novel in Ms Shupe’s new Knickerbocker Club series, I decided to backtrack and pick up this prequel novella. In Magnate, we met banking Tycoon Ted Harper and his vibrant, voluble wife, Clara, a former New York shopgirl; at first glance, perhaps a rather mismatched couple. In Tycoon, we discover how they met and fell in love when Clara, on the run after witnessing a murder, accosts Ted at Grand Central station and insists on boarding the train with him in order to evade her pursuers. This makes for a nicely dramatic opening, and Ms Shupe keeps the thriller element bubbling along nicely while also allowing Ted and Clara to spend time getting to know each other.
At just thirty-two, Ted is a multi-millionaire, so is rather used to young women throwing themselves at him. He is initially suspicious of Clara, and especially so when she insists she has no idea who he is, but he eventually accepts her explanation and comes to appreciate the breath of fresh air she brings to his busy life. The story is well-put together and Ted and Clara are engaging characters, but I didn’t like the way that Clara insisted on concealing the truth and evading Ted’s direct questions about the reasons for her running from New York. It’s true that Ted doesn’t tell her his true identity either, and that perhaps, had he done so, Clara would have realised that he really would have been able to protect her from the bad guys. And even after the truth is out between them, yet another misunderstanding is thrown in to create a bit more tension between them before the HEA. Even with those reservations though, Tycoon is one of the better novellas I’ve read recently and while the page count doesn’t allow for the same sort of scene-setting that is so impressive in Magnate, it’s a good introduction to the series and is definitely worth a look when you’re in the mood for a quick but satisfying read.
Grade: B- Sensuality: Warm
The Duke and the Lady in Red by Lorraine Heath
I am still on my historical spree and decided to try a new-to-me author, Lorraine Heath. O.M.G. I’ve had this book for a couple of months, bought upon the recommendation of Caz’s review here and because Haley loved it as well. As expected, they did not steer me wrong and I adored this emotional story.
When we meet Rosalind Sharpe, she’s a bit of an enigma. The reader knows that she isn’t all she seems to be, but her story is revealed bit by fascinating bit, allowing us to get to know her along with the hero. The Duke of Avendale is intrigued on first sight and sets out to seduce the crimson clad lady. Each character harbors their own secrets and it’s only through their conversations and events that we as readers begin to understand their back story, the tragic events that have brought them to this place and time and to one another.
Though interesting, neither of them seem particularly sympathetic initially. This changes gradually as more of their characters are revealed through their interactions with one another and the secondary characters. I finished the book in the wee hours of the morning through a blur of tears, my heart in pieces yet somehow stronger for it.
Grade: A- Sensuality: Warm
Maria Rose’s Reads:
My Kind of Wonderful by Jill Shalvis
Jill Shalvis writes the kind of feel good romances that readers have come to rely on to lift their spirits, and that’s certainly the case here with this heartwarming tale of a woman given a second chance at life and a man who finds her joy intoxicating. My Kind of Wonderful is the second in the Cedar Ridge series. It revolves around the Kincaid family who run a ski lodge. Hudson is the dependable one, the one his family relies on to keep things on the right track. When his memory challenged mother hires Bailey to paint a mural of the family on the side of the ski lodge, it’s just one thing on Bailey’s bucket list of dreams since being given a reprieve from cancer. Handsome ski patrolman Hudson is so far out of her perceived league that his flirtations with her come completely out of the blue – but are definitely welcome. A steamy affair ensues, though with a definite end in sight. Once the mural is finished, Bailey plans to continue on with her list. But will Hudson be so willing to let go of the woman who has captured his heart?
I love the way this author writes family dynamics. Each character is clearly defined and plays their role in making the reader feel their emotions, their joys and heartbreak. Hudson’s job working ski patrol rescues defines his role in the family too. But when Bailey enters his life, he clearly sees that he’s put aside his own wants and desires for what he believes his family needs. Bailey’s obvious enjoyment in everything around her opens his heart to new possibilities. Bailey is a delightful character, a woman who has suffered and deserves the freedom she craves. The two of them together burn up the pages with their sweet and sexy scenes. Just as wonderful as the romance is Hudson’s relationship with his family. Plenty of laughs ensue when the brothers are together. It’s no surprise that this romance won the category of Favorite Funny Romance in AAR’s Annual Reader Poll 2016. With a likable cast of characters, a good dose of heat, some tender and teary moments and a satisfying happy ending, romance readers are sure to enjoy this story.
Grade: A Sensuality: Warm
Sweet for a SEAL by Anne Marsh
It’s not often that I read a contemporary romance (not new adult) that is written in dual first person points of view, but that’s the case here with retired Navy SEAL Finn and sweet shoppe owner Valentina. In this case, I think it works out rather well. Finn’s character involves some PTSD trauma as well as the self-deprecating humour of a guy who knows he’s a player and has never really wanted anyone to stick – until he meets Vali. Vali has gone through her own struggles, with a sister and aunt who died of breast cancer. This made her take the preemptive strike of having a double mastectomy. The result is a woman who wants to live life to the fullest but is also sensitive about her body (in particular, her new fake breasts). They meet when Finn rescues Vali from a car accident, and from then on, they just seem to click – but will it be enough for Finn to forego his player ways?
This story combines three main themes. The first is that of a relationship of convenience. Vali’s mother worries about her daughter because of their family history of breast cancer. Faking a relationship with Finn is a ploy to make her mother happy but backfires when Vali comes to care more for him than she expects. The second is the reformation of a bad boy. Finn is quite happy to provide any service Vali might require, but must come to terms with the fallout of a bet he made before he knew how special she would become. The third is Vali gaining back her self confidence. Worries about how men will perceive her post operation body are quickly put to rest by Finn’s attention. I like how all of it fit together. Finn and Vali definitely have chemistry, sharing some sweet and super sexy scenes. There was a bit of drama near the end that added some conflict – I don’t think it was necessary. The two of them getting through their own issues was enough to deal with. In the end, Vali decides to trust that Finn is ready to put his player ways behind him. For his part, Finn is quite capable of showing Vali he appreciates her body no matter how she got it. I also really like the occupations that the two of them have. Finn’s company involves caring for aged military dogs, training young pups for search and rescue and general animal adoption for strays. It makes for some fun and amusing scenes. Vali runs her own bakery/sweet shoppe and all those concoctions make you want to sit down with a tray of pastries while reading! It’s an entertaining novella with a sexy and satisfying romance.
Grade: B Sensuality: Warm
The Beast by J.R. Ward
In this fourteenth installment of J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, Rhage and Mary have decisions to make. Rhage seems to have a death wish, and Mary is desperately seeking something to fill the whole childlessness has left in her life. When a young girl is orphaned, they must look beyond their own difficulties in order to offer her the safe home and loving family she so desperately needs.
Change is afoot for those associated with the Brotherhood as well. Heavily pregnant and confined to bed, Layla is still drawn to Xcor, despite the crimes he has committed against the Brotherhood. He is not the father of her unborn children, and Layla knows it would be suicide to leave the Brotherhood’s mansion to go in search of him.
Assail is still mourning the loss of Marisol. In an attempt to dull his pain, he snorts increasingly large amounts of cocaine. A plea for help from Wrath, King of the Vampires, might be just what he needs to straighten up, but can he really do it?
Fans of the series won’t want to miss this latest installment. It’s filled with laugh out loud moments as well as a few scenes that brought tears to my eyes. Ms. Ward’s trademark slang is also present, making this a very unique book in the sea of paranormal romances out there.
Grade: A- Sensuality: Hot
E. B.’s Read:
How a Lady Weds a Rogue by Katharine Ashe
The Falcon Club is an elite, secret group of spies for the crown. Wyn Yale is its youngest member and his specialty is rescuing lost persons – more specifically, lost girls. We’re introduced to Wyn as the Falcon Club is on the verge of disbanding. He’s returning to headquarters after completing a last (official) mission when he runs into Lady Diantha Lucas on the mail coach. He barely recognizes her as being the shy, pimple-faced girl he met years ago, although she spots Wyn right away. She’s never forgotten their first meeting when he rescued her at a ball from a group of bullies. When they finally acknowledge one another, she claims to be on one last adventure before she weds. He suspects there’s more to the story but makes plans to return her home. After a few false starts, they team up – but both have plans and secrets they keep from one another.
Wyn is tortured by his childhood and his history in the Falcon Club. He hides his origins and ulterior motives, as well as his attraction to Lady Diantha, by drinking himself into oblivion. We only know he’s on a personal quest separate from the Falcon Club when he finds himself ‘rescuing’ Diantha. Lady Diantha is a friend to everyone she meets but masks her own insecurities behind a fearless facade. She’s grown up as an ugly duckling, sheltered and abandoned by her mother. She doesn’t want to be rescued. She only needs her hero, Wyn, to help her find her mother and understand why she left. Misunderstandings, secrets (and actual bad guys) plague Wyn and Lady Diantha until the final climactic scene of the novel.
Wyn struggles to resist his attraction to Lady Diantha. Diantha, half in love with him since they first met, makes every effort to tempt him. They share increasingly passionate kisses and caresses and only consummate the relationship after Wyn banishes the worst of his demons. Ms. Ashe writes sublime sex scenes and I only wish there were more of them. The patient reader is rewarded at the end with a steamy love scene and a truly happy ending. Good stuff!
Grade: A Sensuality: Warm