Our team of avid readers continues to work tirelessly to point you towards the good, the bad and the… indifferent… when it comes to romance! Here’s another group of mini reviews from Alex, Caroline, Emily, Janet, Kristen, Maria Rose and Ulysses to give you some ideas as to what you might want to read next!
Night Study by Maria Snyder
I discovered Maria Snyder’s Study series about a year ago, and was instantly hooked. The mix of magic, political intrigue, and adventure found in these books was enticing enough that I read the first three back-to-back —an entire week of my life was abruptly taken over by Ms. Snyder’s work. When I found out there was going to be a second trilogy to follow the first Study books, I naturally jumped on them.
Night Study is the second book of this new trilogy, and it picks up right where Shadow Study left off. Yelena and Valek, the powerful Soulfinder and right hand of the Commander of Ixia, now face a new enemy in the form of a magician named Owen Moon. Angry at Yelena and Valek for defeating and imprisoning him in the past, as well as more than a little power-hungry, Owen and his cronies have begun plotting to take over the kingdoms. To make matters worse, Yelena has lost her Soulfinding abilities and Valek is losing the trust of the Commander, putting them in a particularly vulnerable position.
This might sound like a story you’ve heard before—another day, another dastardly wizard upsetting the world. Yelena and Valek just finished cleaning up the last mess, only to have another villain pop up. But this new trilogy does feel different—Yelena and Valek are more adult, and while in previous books they were busy learning about their new abilities and their pasts, here they’re confronting changes within themselves and their relationships. Yelena has begun to suspect that an unplanned pregnancy is to blame for the loss of her magic, and she finds herself struggling with an altered set of priorities amidst all of this action. Valek, meanwhile, is called away from Yelena and spends some time digging through his past.
Just like the books that have come before it, Night Study is full of action that never stops. Amidst it all, though, we get a deeper understanding of Yelena and Valek. It’s a pleasure to see them growing and maturing, making this a compelling new entry in an already irresistible series.
Grade: A- Sensuality: Subtle
Nothing but the Truth (and a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen
I loved this YA identity-exploration novel about a half-Taiwanese, half Caucasian teenager named Patty Ho (she’s heard all the jokes already, thanks). Patty’s native Taiwanese mother pushes her to go to Stanford’s math camp, which Patty balks at because it feels so stereotypical. But when she arrives, and finds herself no longer one of the only Asian kids, it gives her a whole new window into finding herself.
The main theme of this book is Patty’s racial identity. Patty lacks the perfect, tiny “China doll” look she sees winning praise among the Chinese community, and wryly notes the irony of seeing other girls admired for the artificial lightened hair and surgically widened eyes that Patty’s genetics have given her. Patty’s friends at camp introduce her to new ways of being Asian: the rebellious Chinese-American friend, the hot athletic guy. Even dating comes back to race. Between white guys with Asian fetishes, Asian guys who like white girls, racism against Asian/black dating, and questions of which Asian nationalities (Mainland Chinese? Taiwanese? Vietnamese?) will be acceptable to her community, it’s no wonder Patty never dated at all.
Patty is a great, fully-realized heroine. She’s authentically fifteen without ever making me roll my eyes at what fifteen year olds sometimes do, which is a great achievement by the author. The supporting cast is also strong, especially Patty’s Taiwanese mom, who both captures the “tough immigrant mom” archetype (including speaking in dialect) and goes beyond it, with her own past hardships and indefatigable drive to succeed, both by herself and via her kids.
While there are strong romantic elements in this book, it doesn’t have an HEA. But Patty’s fifteen. I think it’s entirely reasonable not to match her up for forever. What’s more important is that she’s spent the book becoming someone interesting and confident, and that person is going to have a great, bright future, romantic and otherwise.
Grade: A Sensuality: Kisses
Lord Crayle’s Secret World by Lara Temple
When the Earl of Crayle’s carriage is held up at gunpoint on Hampstead Heath, he doesn’t panic. As a former army officer, he’s able to maintain his calm even in the most dire circumstances. When one of the highwaymen leans into his carriage, he knocks him out, grabs his assailant’s weapon, and takes a shot at the partner remaining on the road. Surprised when his shot misses, he’s even more startled to hear a woman’s voice,
‘It throws right, sir,’ said the rider calmly. ‘It is always risky to borrow someone else’s firearm.’
When Lord Crayle tries to threaten her, she calmly aims her pistol, shoots a bullet inches from his head, then pulls another gun from her saddle and cocks it. With guns aimed at each other, the two calmly negotiate how both parties can walk away unharmed – and without a visit to the local magistrate. By the time the carriage is underway again, Lord Crayle has left the rider, Sarah Trevor (‘Sari’), with his business card and a offer to come work for him.
Lord Crayle runs a secret British government agency that is engaged in protecting king and country. Desperate for money, Sari decides to join their ranks and trains to become one of the few female agents. But Lord Crayle has a problem – despite his reputation for calm at all times, there’s nothing calm or cool about his reaction to Sari. Sari, equally confident of her ability to handle anything and everything life throws at her, also can’t seem to control her response to Lord Crayle.
Lord Crayle and Sari battle bad guys, each other and temptation to maintain a purely professional relationship. But not even temporary memory loss (Lord Crayle’s) can keep them apart. Crayle is stoic and stern – except when he’s with Sari, and then he’s anything but. Desperate for her and the feelings she arouses in him, he slowly realizes she’s captured his heart. Sari, plagued with self doubts and anxiety about her future, can’t resist her attraction to Lord Crayle and or her response to his touch. Only after Sari is literally captured (and rescued) do these two acknowledge their feelings for each other.
Lord Crayle’s Secret World is a delightful spy/thriller romance. It’s light on thrills, heavy on angst, and a quick, satisfying romantic read.
Grade: B Sensuality: Warm
She’s My Kind of Girl (Something New #4.5) by Jennifer Dawson
This is the latest addition to Jennifer Dawson’s Something New series and is a sweet and sexy second chance romance. Darcy Miller and Griffin Strong were high school sweethearts in their small town of Revival, Illinois. They were both from “the wrong side of the tracks” and considered rebellious troublemakers by the town’s busybodies. Darcy begrudged the people’s attitude towards her and hated the town’s rural setting; therefore, she moved to New York City right after graduation to become a freelance writer and never looked back. She asked Griffin to leave with her, but he wouldn’t because he needed to stay and help his single mother care for his younger siblings. Darcy resents Griffin for not leaving and Griffin resents Darcy for leaving, and they have not spoken in twelve years.
Darcy reluctantly returns to Revival during the holidays after the town’s mayor threatens to seize her mother’s house to build a park. She discovers the mayor is the man she used to love, Griffin, who is now a straight-laced accountant and the face of the town she hates. When the two reunite, their chemistry and affection are just as strong as when they were teenagers, but both use their anger and distrust to fight their feelings. They have plenty of opportunities to resist reigniting their old flame when they butt heads over Darcy’s mother’s house. They confront their past as they get to know the older versions of themselves. Darcy particularly struggles to understand how Griffin can love the town she believes treated them poorly; she thinks he “sold out.”
She’s My Kind of Girl packs a good amount of sexual heat in its 102 pages as Griffin and Darcy reunite in the bedroom and other locations around town. It’s a fun, nicely written novella with an uncomplicated but fully developed story that provides a couple of hours of pleasant reading.
Grade: B Sensuality: Warm
Nothing to Lose by Darlene Fredette
Maria Rose’s Reads:
Marrying His Best Friend (McKinnon Brothers #3) by Jennifer Gracen
In love with his best friend Maura for years, Aidan McKinnon worried about ruining their friendship if he ever came clean about his true feelings and kept them well hidden. Maura met and dated another man, who dumped her while she was pregnant. Now raising her four year old daughter as a single mother, living with her own mom again and working to support herself, Maura relies on her friendship with Aidan to keep her grounded. When Niall – her ex – suddenly shows up interested in gaining custody of their daughter, Maura turns to Aidan and he offers her a surefire way to negate Niall’s claims. If she marries Aidan, he can adopt Maura’s daughter legally and Niall will have no chance at hurting Maura again. Has Aidan’s time finally come to admit the depth of his feelings? And will Maura in turn realize her own?
This is a fairly predictable but enjoyable contemporary romance. Niall is clearly the bad guy, with his stalkerish tendencies creating the external conflict to the story. Not only did he dump Maura, but it’s made clear (repeatably) that he hit her when he was drunk and she was pregnant, so he’s definitely a louse all around. Aidan is the good guy hero, the best friend, always supportive of Maura since they met in university. When Aidan suggests that Maura marry him to fend off Niall the author mentions several times that she never thought of him ‘that way’ before. In fact there are several instances where portions of the story are a bit repetitious either in conversation or internal monologue. It could probably have been cut short by several thousand words and you wouldn’t notice anything missing. Being set in Ireland, the conversation is ripe with ‘Irish-isms’ but not always consistently – words like ‘Aye’ and ‘ya (for you)’ and ‘Jaysus’ cropping up occasionally, almost as a reminder to the reader that yes, it’s set in Ireland and this is how people (presumably) talk there. Besides the conflict with Niall, the adjustment of Aidan and Maura from friends to lovers accompanied by the reality of Aidan’s strong feelings for Maura make for some tension even as they make plans for their arranged marriage. It all works out in the end though and we’re left with a ready made family unit with a bright future ahead of them. Sweet, with some sensual scenes, it’s an easy afternoon read.
Grade: B Sensuality: Warm
Oria’s Gambit by Jeffe Kennedy
Oria’s Gambit continues directly from where Lonen’s War, ended (not on a cliffhanger, but with the knowledge that the story is unresolved). The Destrye and the Bara have just fought a bitter war over water that the Destrye won. But their victory is hollow when they find themselves being attacked by a third party, the Trom, summoned by someone in the defeated Baran society. As the new King of the Destrye, Lonen’s only hope is to form a marriage alliance with Princess Oria of the Bara. They had a workable relationship when the Bara surrendered to the Destrye, and Lonen hopes that a formal alliance will put an end to any future bloodshed. Oria is in agreement. Though a marriage to Lonen is not what she’d hoped for, her people come first. Oria is a unique and powerful sorceress. Yet she can’t bear the touch of someone who has no control of their emotions and this seems to doom her to a marriage in name only with Lonen. The fate of both their peoples rests on their union.
The story is richly detailed with the kind of worldbuilding I expect in an epic fantasy, building on the knowledge of the societies and magic structure that was revealed in Lonen’s War. The Bara are a spiritual and magical people, naming the male and female magical abilities after the two moons that rise and set over their world. The females draw power inward, called sgath, and use it to fuel the male power, grien, which is displayed outwardly in constructive or destructive ways. An ideal temple match sees a male and female of equal strength joined together to become stronger. Oria had always hoped for this, but instead, she has resolved herself to a union with King Lonen, a smart and physically strong man with no magic power whatsoever. Oria can read Lonen’s mind and feel his emotions, but he must rely on his wits and intelligence to ‘read’ Oria, a feat which he does admirably well considering his lack of magic. That Oria can wield the male half of Baran power is a closely guarded secret that could get her killed, but one she shares with Lonen, her new mate. They are clearly attracted to each other, and must find ways to express this attraction without touching skin on skin. This results in some inventive lovemaking that is still pretty steamy and gives Lonen much masculine satisfaction to be able to satisfy his new bride. The Trom are still a problem though and only Oria with her dual powers seems to have the key to communicating with them without fear of death. Oria’s familiar Chuffta, a small dragon, adds some humour to the story with his telepathic dialogue with Oria. Chuffta thinks Lonen will be a good match for her and never hesitates to express his opinions. Things are left a bit tense at the end of this part and I can’t wait to see the resolution to this wholly entertaining fantasy romance!
Grade: A- Sensuality: Warm
David, Renewed by Diana Copeland
Diana Copland has delivered a classic, well-crafted romance in which not only the main characters are appealing, but the supporting crew are wonderful as well. David Snyder is a rising star in a corporate decorating firm. Having walked out of a five-year relationship with good reason, he impulsively buys himself a craftsman-style bungalow near his mother’s house, only to find that it is riddled with problems he didn’t see at first. In desperation, he turns to the son of one of his mother’s garden club friends, Jackson Henry, to help save the situation. Jackson turns out to be the same sort of very beautiful man that David’s former partner was. As it turns out, however, Jackson is completely different from David’s ex in every other way. As the house begins to take shape, David begins to understand just how much of himself he had sacrificed up until now.
This is a book where the main characters’ friends are important – crucial – to the story. Both David’s and Jackson’s families are important, too. It is our relationships with others that shape us as we grow, and both David and Jackson embody that truth. What I particularly like about the way Copland handles her varied players is the nuance she gives them. There are no flat stereotypes. Although there are some folks who act stereotypically, we learn more than the surface. We see motivation and personality behind the people, and thus we can appreciate the complicated underpinnings of human behavior.
Copland is a good writer, and I cannot overemphasize how important that is. The best story will be ruined by bad writing, but her prose is a pleasure to read. Her handling of dialogue is clever and believable, and she is careful with detail, both social and physical. Although it is not stated explicitly, there does seem to be an opening for another book following this one. I hope I’m right. Copland’s an author to keep an eye out for.
Grade: B+ Sensuality: Warm
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