Midweek minis! You know you missed them. This is the first one we’ve run since June and we’ve got so many reviews, we’re running half this week and half next week. This week, Dabney, LinnieGayl, Caz, Maggie, and Melanie share their recent reads.


Dabney:

I recently re-read one of my favorite books from 2013, Loreth Anne White’s The Slow Burn of Silence. (I did so because I’d just read her newer release A Dark Lure which I will review soon.) The Slow Burn of Silence was just as enjoyable on my second read and I highly recommend it to those searching for romantic suspense.

Rachel Salonen has just lost her sister and brother-in-law to a terrible fire and been granted the guardianship of their only child, Quinn. Rachel is stunned to learn Quinn’s birth parents are Jeb Cullen, the love of Rachel’s life, and Amy Findlay, the woman he was accused of kidnapping, assaulting, and raping nine years ago. Jeb has spent those nine years in prison, put there in part by the testimony of Rachel and others. Amy never really recovered from the violence done to her and, finally, recently committed suicide.

Rachel is shocked to learn that, before her death, her sister Sophia had been working to get Jeb freed. Jeb has always sworn he is innocent of the crimes he’s accused of. Rachel has never believed him and has never forgiven him for not being the young man she thought he was when they were in love. When Jeb is released, thanks to her sister’s efforts, Rachel is sure he’s come to do her niece and her harm. Rachel is wrong.

Jeb is determined clear his name and prove to Rachel, the world, and the little girl who has his eyes that he is the man Rachel thought he was. And, when he is brutally attacked by three men in the masks, Rachel takes him in, despite her fear, and slowly, oh so slowly, begins to see him as he is and has always been: a man worthy of her love.

The Slow Burn of Silence is an excellent read on many levels. The book is a gripping mystery. Ms. White fills her books with a host of richly developed characters, all of whom have secrets. The mystery loses a bit of its hold in the last third of the book but, though the mystery ebbs, the suspense continues to build.

The Slow Burn of Silence is also a damn good romance. Rachel and Jeb are hot together, but the past is difficult for them–especially Rachel–to move beyond. Their relationship is made more complicated by Quinn who instinctively trusts Jeb without knowing who he is. Ms. White gives the reader a spine-tinglingly scary story bolstered by deep love. Grade: B+. Sensuality: Warm.


 

LinnieGayl:

Karen Templeton’s category romances have been a comfort read of mine for years. While they’re not all DIKs, there’s something about her voice that works for me. She’s particularly adept at creating believable, interesting love stories for people with relatively normal lives. And this holiday romance from last fall – set over Thanksgiving and Christmas – is an excellent example, and one of my favorites of hers in years. It’s a definite DIK.

Ethan Noble is struggling to keep things together for his four children, three years after his wife died. He’s clearly still in mourning and it’s often all he can do to keep his kids on track and manage his job as high school football coach. And those kids are a particular handful, ranging from a rather precocious teenager, Juliette, to a toddler, with two twin boys in-between. Ethan’s not looking for a relationship of any kind, particularly with the new high school drama teacher, Claire Jacobs.

Claire, an aspiring actress, lived in New York for a number of years. She’s now in New Jersey on a break from acting, teaching at the local high school. Yes, Claire definitely thinks Ethan’s hot – most of the women and girls in town do – but she’s also not looking to be the mother of four kids, so has no trouble avoiding Ethan. That is, until Claire has multiple contacts with Ethan’s daughter Juliette, who seems determined to introduce Claire to the rest of the family.

This all sounds a bit clichéd, with the widower father and woman who doesn’t want to be a mother, and perhaps it would be in a less-skilled author’s hand. But Ms. Templeton has created two fully-developed characters in Ethan and Claire. Neither is perfect, but they lead full lives: they have personal issues, friends, and work they’re committed to. I found Claire and Ethan’s romance believable. They start out as adversaries, gradually become friends, and eventually lovers.

If you don’t like children in your romances, you’ll want to give this a pass. Ethan’s children don’t take over the story, but they do play key roles throughout.

While this is part of the author’s Jersey Boys series, I feel it works well as a standalone, with only minor appearances by characters from previous books. I know I’ll be reading this again when the holidays roll around, and highly recommend it. Grade: A-. Sensuality: Warm.


 

Maggie:

I’m a sucker for a pretty cover and The Dream Engine by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant has an absolutely lovely one at the site I got it from (the one at Amazon is slightly less beautiful). However, you have to have some good content behind that cover for me to love you. This book was a struggle for me to finish.

A sort of Alice in Wonderland meets steampunk YA novel, this is the story of Eila Doyle who begins to question her sanity when she starts having visions in her sleep.  In a world where Crumble, a drug taken daily by all citizens, prevents people from knowing they are dreaming, Eila has no idea what these visions are or what they mean. Fearing for her mental health, she determines to find out; a decision which leads her to a world underground, a world where all the dreams go. But some dreams are nightmares and they should never be seen in the light of day . . . .

For me, this book was sort of a hot mess. The bending of reality did not come across in cool way like it does in the movie Inception; here, the bending of reality came across like an acid trip gone bad, the kind where you just know when you wake up you’re still gonna be suffering some nasty side effects. Eila was a very naïve and impotent young girl to be the savior of the universe and there was far too much dialogue explaining things we didn’t need to know. There was also far too little exposition on things we did need to know. Ultimately, the bad world building and simplistic characters crashed and burned the whole thing for me. Grade: C-. Sensuality: Subtle.

 

Brenda Novak is one of my favorite romantic suspense authors so when I heard about her new book The Secret Sister I was beyond excited. I have not been a fan of her contemporaries but the mystery in this book sounded very intriguing. Alas, I was deceived.

After the death of her young daughter from SIDS and the divorce caused by her husband’s philandering Maisey Lazarow hits rock bottom and does what she swore never to do; returns to Fairham, the small island off the South Carolina coast where she grew up. To say she has relationship problems with her mother is to put it mildly – both she and her brother Keith have trouble dealing with the cold, autocratic woman who owns more than half the island and makes sure nobody ever forgets that. Trying to claim a small piece of independence for herself Maisey determines to stay not at her mother’s mansion but at the (damaged) sea shore cabins once owned by her deceased father. She’s more than a little surprised to find contractor Raphael “Rafe” Romero living on the property while he refurbishes it. They had shared a memorable one night stand many years ago. The last thing she wants is to go down that road again – or is it?

The mystery portion of the story doesn’t show up until after the fifty percent mark. Up until then Maisey and Rafe do the should we or shouldn’t we dance for pages on end. Adding confusion to the mix is Rafe’s young daughter, who is blind.  In spite of how vulnerable the young girl is Rafe involves her in his relationship with Maisey from the start. Keith, Maisey’s brother, is also very vulnerable. Possibly bi-polar, definitely a drug addict, he’s a plot point that never gets the medical attention he so clearly needs. The mystery itself frustrated me beyond measure. I can’t describe it without going into spoiler territory but let’s just say that doing the wrong thing for the right (in your opinion) reasons still leaves you doing the wrong thing.  Grade: C-. Sensualtiy: Warm.


 

Caz:

This is the third book in Ms. Gracie’s Chance Sisters series and while it’s perhaps a little “lightweight” when compared to the previous book (The Winter Bride – my personal favourite) it still has much to recommend it.

Jane Chance is about to make her come-out and her beauty will ensure that she has her pick of eligible suitors. So her sisters are surprised when she accepts an offer from a rather dull and unprepossessing young man who is enthralled by her extraordinary beauty and talks of “adding her to his collection” of beautiful things. They try to talk her out of it, but Jane will not be dissuaded. For her, the most important thing about marriage is security; she has no wish to again experience the fear and deprivation she and her sister Abby had to face after their parents died, and is convinced that making a marriage of convenience with a wealthy man who clearly admires her greatly will be enough, and that perhaps love will grow eventually.

Her convictions are shaken, however, when she is assisted in her rescue of a mangy dog by a tall, dark, handsome gypsy, whose remarkable grey-green eyes she is unable to forget. Zachary Black is not, in fact a gypsy, even though he is perhaps somewhat on the wrong side of “respectable”. Having left home and his abusive father more than a decade previously, Zach has led a nomadic existence, roaming Europe and has, for the last eight years, been acting as a spy for the British government. The death of his father – an earl – has prompted his return to England so that he can foil his cousin’s plan to have him declared legally dead, so that he – the cousin – can inherit. Zach believes everything will be dealt with quickly and he can return to Europe, but there’s a snag. As soon as he takes his place as the rightful Earl of Wainfleet, he will be arrested for the murder of his stepmother.

Zach has no choice but to remain in England while both situations are resolved – which will, conveniently, give him some time to further his acquaintance with the lovely Jane Chance.

The thing I most enjoyed about this book is the way in which the author has written an actual romance that doesn’t depend on insta-lust or a series of thrown-together sex scenes in an attempt to show the truth of the connection between the hero and heroine. Jane and Zach can only meet during the walks they share in the park, and this felt very realistic, given that at the time the book is set, it was almost impossible for young men and women to meet alone and unchaperoned. Because they meet in public settings, the only thing they can actually do together is TALK to each other, and that, of course, is the perfect way for them to get to know each other properly.

The Spring Bride is an enjoyable and tender romance that’s well-written and suffused with humour and affection. Grade: B. Sensuality: Warm.

 

I picked up this novella because I’ve enjoyed other books in this series by Ms Bowen, and although it’s entertaining and the writing is as deftly accomplished as that in the author’s full length books, A Lady’s Guide to Skirting Scandal is a piece of relatively insubstantial fluff.

Readers of I’ve Got My Earl to Keep Me Warm will recall that Viola Hextall, sister of the Earl of Boden, tried to trap his friend, the Duke of Worth into marriage, believing that only marriage to one of such lofty status will enable the ton to accept a family so recently elevated to the peerage.  In this novella, we learn that the earl has packed Viola off to New York for a few months, hoping that her impulsiveness and high-spirits might be curbed somewhat by the journey and a change of scenery.

On the voyage, Viola is bored out of her mind.  Her two formidable chaperones vetoed all but two of the books she wanted to bring with her, and insist on rigid propriety at all times.  Managing to evade them briefly one day, she strikes up a conversation with Nathaniel Shaw, the ruggedly handsome, auburn-haired, blue-eyed ships’ surgeon, who plans to settle in America.  Over the next few days, the two continue to meet and converse whenever Viola can give her chaperones the slip, and Nathaniel is surprised to find a lively and curious mind behind Viola’s obvious beauty, but is disappointed to discover that she’s as much a social climber as any other debutante.

The conflict in the story is basically down to Nate’s desire to make his life in America and Viola’s to return home and snag herself a husband who will afford her security and social status.  But having an inkling that there is more to Viola than meets the eye, Nate challenges her to become more than that by encouraging her to read more widely and to voice her opinions.  Ms Bowen skilfully shows the reader that Viola is not what she seems, and the romance between her and Nate is written in such a way as to show that there is the potential for more than just physical attraction between them.

But as often happens with stories of this length, the romance is somewhat rushed, and given it now seems obligatory to include sex scenes in novellas, the central relationship really does move at breakneck speed.  That said, though, A Lady’s Guide to Skirting Scandal is well-written, with humour, insight and the same lightness of touch Ms Bowen has brought to her full length novels.  If you’ve read the other books in the series, then you might want to pick this one up for completeness and it’s certainly not a bad way to spend an hour or so. Grade: C. Sensuality: Warm.


 

Melanie:

So I’ve read a lot of romance and BDSM recently (and quite a lot not so recently), and I have to say: Risk It All is a refreshing take on Dominance/Submission and choice and power and I was really pleasantly surprised.

So we have Kipling, who is on the run from his pack – turns out he’s a werewolf, and he’s killed his Alpha and the Candidates (I’m guessing they were potential future alphas?) after being thrown into the fighting pit for years like an animal (it was 14 when he started, so it’s not like it’s some sort of criminal/punishment system). After he escaped, he found himself alone for the first time ever, struggling to survive the winter in an abandoned cabin. When he goes into town one day, he meets Torvald Cross (Tori), who flirts with him, feeds him dinner, knows what he is, and takes him to a lovely hotel for the evening. Then Kipling runs the next morning before Tori awakes.

But Tori is an Owner – he owns 2 dragons (who are kinda shapeshifters, kinda weapons) who have bonded with him, and the dragons search Kipling out to bring him home to Tori. Because “Tori’s wolf is making Tori sad.” Tori wants a lover, and gives Kipling a choice – stay with him for 6 months to see if he would be happy, or Tori will happily give him enough money to make his own way, without freezing to death first.

And I’d like to say a big thank you to Tori for giving Kipling the choice! He may be submissive (and he is really, really submissive), but that doesn’t mean he should be forced into anything. This was so incredibly refreshing. Honestly, I really wanted it to be longer, and I hope that we get more books in this universe. The writing itself was pretty good, though there were a few bits that were a little awkward, and it could have used a bit more explanation of the different types of people/creatures we have (I’m still not sure how it all works). Grade: B. Sensuality: Burning.

I feel so dirty…..I can’t believe I actually read this. I follow a book club, and they decided to have a dinosaur theme for June (because of Jurassic World, I’m assuming), and so against my better judgment, I spent the $0.99 and got this.

 

Taken by the T-Rex. Um, basically the story goes like this: Drin is a huntress in her caveman-era tribe (though they are all very much not cavemen) who are repeatedly threatened by a hungry Tyrannosaurus Rex. The first time it came to their village it ate her friends and family, and destroyed most of their homes. Drin’s own mother was chomped (quite vividly, actually) in front of her. When the worst happens and the T-Rex returns, Drin lures it away to save her tribe, and the “thrill of the hunt” turns her on, hardcore (she’s never been much for sex before – tried it once, didn’t like it, didn’t know what all the fuss was about). Then the T-Rex catches up to her, rips of her clothes, and attempts to mate.

Have any of you ever seen a T-Rex skeleton? Or even better, stood next to one? If the T-Rex had a penis (and there is no scientific evidence that they did – most lizards do, but some birds don’t, so who knows), and it was anything comparable to it’s body size, that would have ripped Drin to pieces. Literally. Right before it chomped the remaining pieces. I will say, though, that there was no orifice-entering of any kind, so at least there’s that….

The thing that gets me about this is that this particular dinosaur had EATEN DRIN’S MOM IN FRONT OF HER! And then basically rapes her. I mean, she gets off on it, and it brings back her interest in sex (rubbing does interesting things with the lady bits. Take that as you will.), but it ate her mom. IT ATE HER MOM!!

It’s super short (less than 6K words), and it was kinda fun from a WTF standpoint, but I don’t think I would recommend this to someone outside that sheer WTF factor. It’s a thing. A thing that exists. Grade: I don’t even know. I can’t even begin to guess how to grade this. Sensuality: Erotica