Review: Duke of Pleasure

Review: Duke of PleasureDuke of Pleasure (Maiden Lane, #11) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Maiden Lane #11
Published by Grand Central Publishing on November 29th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 364
Goodreads
five-stars

“When had the Ghost of St. Giles become a woman?”

FINAL DECISION:  Loved! Loved! Loved!  Immediately one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. Alf is an amazing character — cynical and world wise and yet hopeful, gentle and innocent in a way that touches and changes the heart of a man who doesn’t want to hope.  Alf’s also a kickass hero in her own right and Hugh is a man who can appreciate her.

THE STORY: Hugh Fitzroy, Duke of Kyle is the bastard son of the King. Returning to England after years abroad, Hugh is trying to rebuild his relationship with his sons after his wife’s death. He has spent much of his adult life doing “tasks” for the English Crown. His latest is to destroy the Lords of Chaos — a group of depraved aristocrats who prey on women and children. When Hugh is attacked in the dangerous St. Giles area of London it looks like his luck has run out until he is rescued by the Ghost of St. Giles. Hugh is thankful for the help but is amazed when he discovers that the Ghost is a woman.

Alf is 21 year old woman who has protected herself in St. Giles by living her life as a boy. During the day, she is the street rat informant who makes her living getting information. At night, she becomes the Ghost of St. Giles to protect the innocent.  When she rescues Hugh, she can’t resist stealing a kiss.

OPINION:  I absolutely loved this book.  I consumed this book in one quick gulp — reading late into the night.  But even more, I didn’t want to leave it behind.  I normally read a book a day…but this book lingered for me.  I felt compelled to revisit parts and I essentially almost re-read it in its entirety.  Beautiful, exciting, adventurous, deep and meaningful and just plain fun.  This one has moved onto my favorite of 2016 list for sure.

A book about longing for connection, for being known as ones true self, for belonging, for hope and dreams, this is a book that grabbed me from the first to the last page. Sometimes a book soars because of the characters (and this one does) and sometimes it soars because it has something significant to say about the human condition (and this one does) and sometimes it is just a good exciting adventure (and this one is).

“At night she was the Ghost of St. Giles. She protected the people of St. Giles — her people, living in the big, dark woods. She ran out the monsters — the murderers, rapists and robbers. And she flew over the roofs of the city by moonlight, free and wild. During the day she was Alf, a boy. She made her living dealing in information. She listened and learned, and if you wanted to know who was running pickpocket boys and girls in Covent Gardens or which doxies had the clap or even what magistrate could be bought and for how much, she could tell you and would — for a price.”

Alf has been a longtime presence in this series.  She is an informant, a information rat.  If you want to know something, Alf is your “man”.  Having worked for many of the characters in the series, she has loyalty to those who pay her, but looks out for herself.

As this book begins, Alf has also become the Ghost of St. Giles. As has been true with each “Ghost” in the series, Alf has her own reasons for taking on the role. Forced to hide herself in her role as Alf for most of her life, Alf finds a freedom in being the Ghost. It allows her to be a different self than she appears as Alf. Reckless, daring, free. It is entirely fitting that Alf first kisses Hugh as the Ghost because while her face is masked as the Ghost, her femininity is not.  As Alf, she binds her breasts and acts as masculine as possible. It is as the Ghost, that her breasts are unbound and she is free to act on her attraction to Hugh.

What Alf is not free to be is a woman. The world is a dangerous place for a woman.

Remarkably, while Alf is worldly and cynical (having grown up on the streets), she has been able to retain a sense of innocence, dreams, and hope.  It is those qualities which most appeal to Hugh.

“He wanted her worldly cynicism and her innocent wonder.”

Hugh is a man who has learned to not want too much. He has learned that wanting can only lead to disappointment.  For Hugh, every promise of happiness  had actually been problematic. He is a king’s son who grew up without a father. He found love and married the woman he wanted, only to end up estranged from her and his children.

His attraction to Alf is something Hugh inherently distrusts.

“He didn’t want to know her. Didn’t want to care about her, didn’t want to worry about her, didn’t want to long for her.”

Yet, Hugh is helpless before the reality of Alf. She is more than he ever could have imagined. Hugh is a generous caring hero and he is captivated by those same qualities in Alf along with her wildness, her intelligence and her ability to see beauty and hope in the world.

“He and she were more alike than she ever would’ve guessed, that first time she’d seen him”

Hugh and Alf seem to be opposites as the book begins and yet they have an essential sameness which attracts them to one another.  There is a real sense of camaraderie between them as they work together to take down the Lords of Chaos.  There is a swashbuckling feel to this book that had me completely enthralled.

This book has a tremendous amount of energy because of their adventures. There is a sense of wildness and freedom and a real pull of these two together as they fight and scheme and puzzle their way through the mystery of the book.  Hugh truly respects Alf’s abilities. She is a skilled swordswoman and a clever thief. She is strong and fearless and sometimes reckless. While Hugh wants to protect her, he doesn’t try because he knows she had incredible skills. I loved that about Hugh.  He demonstrates true respect for her as a person throughout this book.

While I loved all those aspects to this book, what kept me thinking about this book all day was how Hugh and Alf are revealed and exposed to one another. Hugh is a man who appears on the surface the perfect cold duke and yet Alf discovers that he is an incredibly loving father, a man who gives money to his commoner relatives but eschews requests from the aristocratic ones. Hugh discovers Alf’s secrets and asks the one thing she wants and fears — for her to publicly become a woman. Hugh wants and needs all of Alf — boy urchin, Ghost and woman.

I loved Alf, loved Hugh and loved the excitement and adventure of the story of this book. Hoyt has a beautiful and lyrical quality to her writing which tugs on my heart and makes me warm and happy.

I loved, loved, loved this book!

WORTH MENTIONING: This book also sets up the next book which is advertised as being the final in the series.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  DUKE OF PLEASURE is the eleventh book in the Maiden Lane series. Normally, I recommend reading these books in context, but I think a new reader could read this book as a standalone.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 5 stars!

five-stars

Review: What Dreams May Come

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: What Dreams May ComeWhat Dreams May Come (Once Upon a Time) by Kay Hooper
Series: Once Upon a Time #3
on November 29th 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 192
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: For such a short novel, this book is well constructed with a suspense story along with an angst filled second chance at love story.  I loved the setup for this story and the story between these characters went in unexpected directions.

THE STORY: Ten years ago, Kelly Russell’s world was shattered when her fiance was in a car accident which resulted in him ending up in a coma from which doctor’s said he would never awaken.  She is shocked when he returns having finally awakened and wants to pick up where they left off.  While John Mitchell’s life stopped ten years ago, Kelly has lived a life and suffered pain and loss. She knows they can’t recover what they lost, but Mitch wants to try and see what might still exist between them.

OPINION:  I really enjoyed this book.  The book begins with a rip van winkle/sleeping beauty premise. The hero is placed in suspense while Kelly’s life goes on.  She lives a decade, loses family, marries and divorces, and creates a life for herself that is far from what she anticipated at eighteen when Mitch ended up in a coma.  When the two meet again, there is the echo of their past together, but things have changed for both of them. What I find intriguing about this story is that the past is not idealized between these two. Although Kelly loved Mitch, she recognizes that their relationship was shallow then. Mitch wanted a woman who was weaker and more innocent than Kelly is now.  Kelly knows that she has changed and doesn’t believe that there is any possibility of them having a future together.

While the pace of this book is incredibly fast in real time (only days pass before everything is resolved), I thought the feelings and issues were complex for the length of the book. Kelly and Mitch have to resolve incredibly difficult issues.  Kelly has experienced ten years but Mitch has not. The two have to resolve the past and learn who they are now. I enjoy a book with angst and this book has the most angst of the series. For me, when these two find one another, it is sweeter.

WORTH MENTIONING: WHAT DREAMS MAY COME was originally published as a Loveswept category romance in 1989.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  WHAT DREAMS MAY COME is the third book in the Once Upon a Time series but each book can be read as a standalone since they are only loosely connected.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: The Glass Shoe

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Glass ShoeThe Glass Shoe (Once Upon a Time) by Kay Hooper
Series: Once Upon a Time
on November 29th 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 192
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: Sweet, funny and with just a touch of angst.  This story is short and thus not fully developed but I enjoyed the characters and their journey.

THE STORY:  Amanda Wilderman doesn’t believe in princes so she ruefully allows her cousins to convince her to attend a masquerade ball as Cinderella.  There she meet Ryder Foxx, who is conveniently dressed as the prince. The two have a magical evening together and, of course, Amanda runs off before midnight, leaving a glass shoe behind. The two end up meeting again in Wyoming where Amanda is helping her uncle redecorate a hotel. Amanda doesn’t want Ryder to know that she is an heiress because she has been burnt before and she certainly doesn’t want him to know that she was Cinderella.  Despite this, the sparks fly between these two.  A wary woman and the man who wants her love and trust.

OPINION:  This is a short novel but has a freshness that belies is being over 25 years old. I enjoyed the spirit of the book with has a humor mixed with some mild angst involving Amanda’s wariness. I liked how Amanda and Ryder challenge one another and enjoy each others company. There are such normal activities as board game playing and a fainting dog. The central conflict in the story is Amanda’s wariness, the secrets she is keeping, and Ryder’s own expectations.

Although there is a plot involving a potential technology that both their companies are competing for which might derail their romance, the plot mostly stays in the background in this book.  This is a book about the heart of these two characters and overcoming a sad past.

I enjoyed this book when I read it years ago and it has aged very well.

WORTH MENTIONING: THE GLASS SHOE was originally published as a Loveswept category romance in 1989.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE GLASS SHOE is the second book in the Once Upon a Time series.  It can be read as a standalone because the books in the series are only loosely connected.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Golden Threads

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Golden ThreadsGolden Threads (Once Upon a Time) by Kay Hooper
Series: Once Upon a Time #1
on November 29, 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 213
Goodreads
three-stars

FINAL DECISION:  A nice read, this story is a short category romance that means that the emotional story is somewhat rushed as the emphasis is on the plot of the book. The characters are nice and I enjoyed the book overall.

THE STORY: Lara Mason is trying to overcome her isolation by joining a local production of Rapunzel (the adult version). In truth, Lara is in the FBI witness program after the death of her father.  Her attraction to the male lead of the play, Devon Shane is complicated to what might be attempts on her life.

OPINION:  This book is enjoyable but it is not realistic. Like the fairy tale it is imitating, readers must just suspend their judgment and go with the story. Things happen too fast (insta-love) and there is so much that doesn’t make sense in the real world (would the FBI really allow Lara to operate so far outside their protection?).  But the story is fun and the characters (including a really amazing cat) are good enough to make this book worth my time to read.

Nothing is deep in this story but it is an intriguing and entertaining effort without the angst and drama of more realistic stories.  I read this book years ago when it was first published and there is still something amazing about Hooper’s writing.  She has gone on to write much more complicated romantic suspense and you can certainly see glimpses of that great talent in these early efforts.

I’m going to admit that I’ve read the other books in this series as well and my favorite book of the lot is THE MATCHMAKER which reveals the story of the (you might guess) matchmaker of these couples.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This is a reprint of a Loveswept category romance that was published in the late 1980s.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  GOLDEN THREADS is the first book in the loosely connected Once Upon a Time series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 3 stars.

three-stars

Review: Under the Kissing Bough

Review: Under the Kissing BoughUnder The Kissing Bough by Kathryn Le Veque, Sandy Blair, Suzanne Ferrell, Hildie McQueen, Anna Campbell, Tina De Salvo, Barbara Devlin, Joan Kayse, Catherine Kean, Anna Markland
Series: Farthingale #5.5, Second Chance #2.5, , Guardian Isle #1.5, Legendary Bastards of the Crown #0.5, Romance in Central City #7
on November 22nd 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Historical, Paranormal
Pages: 416
Goodreads
four-stars

This is a huge anthology with fifteen separate stories which cover several genres and time periods.

TARTAN BOWS AND MISTLETOE by Sandy Blair: (Victorian Historical) John Colin MacNab is an impoverished earl who is trying to avoid complete financial ruin after his spendthrift father. He refuses to consider marrying a wealthy woman wanting a title. Olivia Conor is rich and her father wants her to find a titled gentleman to improve their American business prospects. Olivia is a suffragist who wants to study law, not marry the man her father wants. This story was a little too predictable for me. Things were resolved too neatly and I didn’t feel a great connection to the characters. Rating: 2 stars.

CLOSE TO SANTA’S HEART by Suzanne Ferrell: (Midwest Small Town Contemporary) Sylvie Gillis is a hairdresser who is dating Cleetus Junkins, a deputy. The two are Santa and his elf for the town events. The two seem to be destined to be together except for two problems: Cleetus is a virgin and Sylvie has a secret concerning her family.  I really liked the setup for this one and Cleetus was cute giving Sylvie a Christmas.  Unfortunately, I was disappointed by the secret and the resolution which didn’t seem to fit the rest of the story. Rating: 3 stars

UPON A MIDNIGHT DREAM by Kathryn Le Veque: (Medieval Historical) Sir Rennington of Ashbourne is a knight who has returned from the Crusades penniless and lacking a home. When he hears about Lady Holly St. Maur who is the oldest daughter of a rich landowner, he is determined to win her hand in marriage. Holly plans never to wed after loving and losing her betrothed in the Crusades. I absolutely loved the setup for this one. I thought the pacing was wonderful, the issues complex for such a short story and I really liked the characters.  Then everything got resolved in a page or two which was very disappointing. Rating: 3 stars.

MISTLETOE AND THE MAJOR by Anna Campbell: (Regency Historical) Edmund Sherritt, Major Lord Canforth has returned home after years of fighting on the Continent. He returns injured and scarred to the wife he married only two weeks before leaving for eight years. Felicity, Lady Canforth, has loved her husband from the beginning and is happy he has returned but wants more than their proper, respectful marriage.  I loved this one. The scope of the story was very small — a couple reuniting after years apart not knowing how to ask for more in their relationship.  The story was sweet and complete. I felt happy at the end of the story.  Rating: 4 stars.

HUNT FOR CHRISTMAS by Tina De Salvo: (Cajun Contemporary) Dr. Camille Comeaux returns home to the bayou from her life in New York.  She meets Hunter James who has purchased nearby Cypress Island for peace and privacy. Camille is determined to convince Hunt to allow the Cajun community of Fa La La to have their annual Christmas celebration on the island.  Enjoyable story with a few too many moving parts to be truly satisfying in the result.  I did enjoy the local characters and Camille and Hunt had a nice chemistry.  A Second Chance series novella. Rating 3.5 stars.

HOLD ME, THRILL ME, KISS ME by Barbara Devlin: (Regency Historical) Lord Nicholas Sheldon and Lady Almira were betrothed since birth but then she is given in marriage to an evil man. Years later, Nicholas has the chance to try and redeem their failures and capture Almira for his own.  This is the story of two people who were ripped apart and have both suffered because of it.  This second chance gives these two another opportunity at love and happiness.  I really enjoyed this book but I could see that it was part of a series and there was significant events which occurred in those books which are relevant to this story.  I thought the story was good here but I think I would have enjoyed it better having read the other books in the series.  This novella made me want to read more.  Rating: 4 stars.

AN IRISH GIFT by Joan Kayse: (Fae Paranormal) Killian is a fae shifter who has to work to discover something taken from him. He ends up having to bring together a couple Kathryn and Colin together in time for Christmas.  I just couldn’t get into this story.  There was too much worldbuilding that didn’t have any purpose in the story. The couple that gets together is really a sideshow to the story.  I really liked Killian and wanted the story to be more about him. This might be a good series, but this wasn’t a good introduction.  Rating 1.5 stars.

ONE KNIGHT’S KISS by Catherine Kean: (Medieval Historical) Sir Tristan de Champgne is a knight who is estranged from his family after his betrayal by the woman he had planned to marry.  He comes to spend Christmas with a friend and his family. There he meets Lady Honoria Whitford, his friend’s sister.  This was an adequate story but I wish there had been more heat in the story. I liked the characters but there wasn’t enough plot to sustain the story except for another woman who wants Tristan for herself.  Rating: 2.5 stars.

UNKISSABLE KNIGHT by Anna Markland: (Medieval Historical) Victorine de Toeni is a young Norman maiden and ward of William the Conqueror. The obligation is to marry her off.  Sir Dervenn de Roure is a Breton knight favored by William but not by Victorine. William doesn’t want to marry either but as time goes on he is enchanted by the willful woman.  I absolutely loved this story. I thought it was well crafted to fit within the novella format with interesting characters that I liked.  The story was interesting and didn’t leave loose ends.  One of the best of the anthology.  Rating: 4.5 stars.

CHRISTINA, A BRIDE FOR CHRISTMAS by Hildie McQueen: (Western Historical) Christina Mills flees Philadelphia for Wyoming because of her brutal father who has arranged what promises to be an even worse marriage.  She comes as a mail order bride. She has chosen Alexander Barrett Patterson for her husband.  When she arrives, she discovers that Barrett is uncertain about marrying her.  Barrett is scarred and has lost a portion of his leg in the Civil War. He thinks himself not good enough for Christina.  I enjoyed the feel of this book but thought it took too long to get to the romance between Christina and Barrett.  The description of the times and the characters were great.  Rating 3.5 stars.

IF YOU LOVED ME by Meara Platt: (Regency Historical) Desmond Cameron, Marquis of Blackfell has no intention of falling for a Farthingale. When he comes across a carriage accident, he meets Miss Adelaide Farthingale (a cousin of the Farthingales in the series). Adelaide is sweet and innocent unlike the cynical Desmond. I loved this story. It is sweet and I loved the brightness and gentle nature that Adelaide has. She has been made to feel unimportant and an afterthought. Desmond is attracted to her unspoiled nature even as he is determined to fight his feelings for her. The story is uncomplicated but the characters are well done.  This book is 5.5 in the Farthingale series but can be read as a standalone. Rating: 4 stars.

DESTINY’S KISS by Elizabeth Rose: (Medieval Scottish Romance) Ross of Clan Douglas is a Scottish lowlander who hates the English and intends on marrying the English king’s mistress and claiming his bastard. When Ross arrives at the mistress’s family’s castle, he meets Lady Annalyse Granville, the second born twin of the king’s mistress.  Annalyse is abbey raised because she is considered cursed as the second born.  Although Ross intends on marrying her sister, he is drawn to Annalyse.  This book is the prequel to the Legendary Bastards of the Crown series and it shows.  The story is more interested in the story of the bastard to the king than developing the romance between Ross and Annalyse.  I liked the story but was disappointed in the romance.  Rating: 3 stars.

HER VAMPIRE PROTECTOR by Jordan K. Rose: (Vampire Paranormal) Oswald Addison is a vampire and a member of the Guard. He has liked Selene Kittery for a long time but she won’t give him the time of day because she believes him a womanizer.  Although she actually is attracted to him as well.  This is a humorous vampire story.  There is a lot that goes on in this story with lots of characters (since it is part of a series).  I got lost with the number of characters, but I did think the story of these two was sweet and funny.  Rating: 3 stars.

DANCING UNDER THE MISTLETOE by Lana Williams: (Victorian Historical) Katherine Flemming is on the run.  She has just left her position as a seamstress because she fears having been discovered again. For Christmas she is going to the country to stay at the estate of a countess she met at her work. She is met by Cole Dumont, Lord Barclay who finds Christmas a sad time because of the loss of his family.  This story reveals their secrets and an attraction to one another.  I liked this story because of the mystery aspect of what secrets these two have. The story had the best Christmas spirit of the bunch because so much works out because of the Christmas holiday.  I thought things were wrapped up too neatly, but I liked the festive story.  Rating: 3.5 stars.

A YULE TO REMEMBER by Jeanne Adams: (Witch Paranormal Contemporary) Haven Harbor is a town in Massachusetts inhabited by witches.  Annie Boyston owns the Classic Cauldron a cooking shop in town.  Reyn Shapleigh is the town’s Fire Chief. Annie and Reyn are friendly towards one another until the first Yule kiss makes things more than friendly.  This was a very enjoyable story.  Quirky and funny and with an interesting plot involving danger in town.  I liked Annie and Reyn and their relationship felt really natural but magical at the same time.  I would read more about this town.  Rating: 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: A Study in Scarlet Women

Review: A Study in Scarlet WomenA Study In Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock, #1) by Sherry Thomas
Series: Lady Sherlock #1
on October 18th 2016
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Pages: 336
Goodreads
four-stars

“Holmes’s mind has always been a thing of beauty.”

“Holmes wants only an occupied mind. Everything else is secondary.”

FINAL DECISION: An intriguing book which is uneven in parts and not as mystery intense as I expected but which turns the Sherlock Holmes mythology on its head in a fascinating way. This book clearly is setting up future stories which I have much potential. I can’t wait to see how this series develops.

THE STORY: Charlotte Holmes is a woman with a unique brain who doesn’t fit in a society that only values a woman’s looks, marital prospects and breeding potential.  Charlotte plans her own ruination to gain her freedom and independence.

OPINION:  What would happen if Sherlock Holmes was a young woman in Victorian England?  That is the question this book begin with.  This is Sherlock’s origin story and as such is much more focused on the characters and the setup of the series rather than being devoted to the mystery.  There is enough mystery here for interest but the focus is on how Charlotte truly becomes Sherlock Holmes

Charlotte is an incredibly intelligent woman who is out of step with the roles allowed women in Victorian England. She miscalculates in trying to determine her own fate which leaves her vulnerable in ways she didn’t expect. While her unorthodox behavior and way of looking at the world initially makes her difficult to know, it is clear that she does have feelings even though she wishes to think them away.  Her relationships are what bring out her humanity.

Livia is Charlotte’s older sister cares deeply for Charlotte and her devotion is returned. Livia has taken care of her sister and when Charlotte is on her own, her sister fears for her.  Charlotte realizes that her situation has damaged her sister and works to repair the situation.  The ending leaves interesting possibilities for Livia’s future.

Lord Ingram is Charlotte’s romantic interest although the two have a long history together and he is now married.  There is clearly something between these two that compels them together even though they do not have a future.  Ingram operates as an intermediary for Charlotte in her investigations.

Inspector Treadles and his wife Alice are a genuinely happy couple. Treadles is the police investigator who seeks assistance from Holmes and is also given information by Holmes. He is married above his station and works with Sherlock Holmes in an attempt to better his professional prospects. Treades and his wife operate as a truly happy couple amongst all the disfunction.

I enjoyed this book because the series has a great deal of promise.  There are some slow points in the book and I don’t think the mystery is as well integrated or as interesting in its solution as I would have hoped.  I think that now that the parameters of the series have been outlined, however, there is much to look forward to.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This series is intended to be an ongoing one.  The mystery is resolved but there are numerous overarching character stories which remain unresolved.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  A STUDY IN SCARLET WOMEN is the first book in the Lady Sherlock series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Holiday Heat: the Men of Starlight Bend

Review: Holiday Heat: the Men of Starlight BendHoliday Heat: The Men of Starlight Bend by Jennifer Ashley, Jennifer Probst, Erin Quinn, Calista Fox, Mary Leo
Series: Riding Hard #3.5
on November 8th 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 241
Goodreads
four-stars

This is an anthology of 5 novellas which all take place in the small town of Starlight Bend.  They are connected only by the setting, a special Santa and a town Wishing Tree for needy children.

SNOWBOUND IN STARLIGHT BEND by Jennifer Ashley: In this city girl/country boy story, Haley McKee is a CEO from Seattle who ends up stranded in Starlight Bend during a snowstorm. Maddox Campbell rescues her. Maddox is a horse trainer of stunt horses (he provides them to his cousins in Texas — the Riding Hard series Campbells). Maddox has been hurt before by a woman who wouldn’t stay in Starlight Bend and it looks like history might be repeating itself. This was a good story.  Maddox is a good man who has a crusty exterior and a heart of mush.  Haley is a woman who has made a name for herself, but doesn’t have a real purpose to her life. The two are funny and spirited together. This was a very enjoyable tale of two mismatched people.  My only complaint is that I wish there was some view of what their life ultimately would be like because it is hard to figure out how Haley will be happy in town outside of her relationship with Maddox.  Rating: 4 stars.

THE LONG GONE GIRL OF STARLIGHT BEND by Erin Quinn: Kari Dale is a burned out wanderer who co-owns a chain of men’s clothing stores. She has come to Starlight Bend to open a new store and then intends to move on. Tyler Timberlake is a high school history teacher who was born in Starlight Bend, left to pursue bigger dreams, but ended up returning to his hometown to find purpose. This story was good.  The themes of home versus leaving, dreams versus love are well developed in various levels. Kari and Ty are sweet and hot together. I loved the complexity of this story. Rating: 4 stars.

HIS ANGEL OF STARLIGHT BEND by Calista Fox: Dr. Anna Voss is vet in Starlight Bend. One day a boy named Jake comes to her office interested in the animals.  It turns out Jake’s father is the man that Anna loved as a young woman and has never forgotten. Dr. Nicholas Hoffman is a neurosurgeon from New York. He spent time with his grandmother in Starlight Bend but eventually left the town and Anna. The two have loved one another and yet their lives have always seemed to be going in different directions. This was one of my favorite stories of the anthology. These two seem destined to both love one another and be apart. I loved that the story showed that love alone is not enough and being together takes will and determination. Rating: 4.5 stars.

ROPIN’ THE LONE COWBOY OF STARLIGHT BEND by Mary Leo: Jolie Shepard has come to Starlight Bend no knowing what she should do with her life. She’s from Las Vegas and hasn’t connected with a career or a purpose in her life. She meets Red Wiseman when Jolie and Red are both choosing a wish from the Wishing Tree. Red is a man grounded deeply in Starlight Bend where he raises horses and gives riding lessons. The characters in this story were nice (especially Red) but I found Jolie very immature for her age. I have a hard time seeing how things would work out for these two long term, but the story was nice.  Rating: 3 stars.

THE GRINCH OF STARLIGHT BEND BY Jennifer Probst:  Noah Elliott was a generous angel to the community of Starlight Bend until an accident shattered his body and his faith in his fellow man.  He became the Grinch of the town and hides away in his mansion. Josephine “Joey” Whitman is a social worker who chooses a wish from the town Wishing Tree and is determined to make the child’s dream of a carnival happen even if it means bearding the den of the Grinch.  I loved the sweet redemption of this story which had a definite Beauty and the Beast vibe along with the Grinch story. Noah is a man who is looking for someone to redeem his faith in humanity and Joey is the woman who heals his heart.  Sweet and a good conclusion to the anthology.  Rating: 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Out of Bounds

Review: Out of BoundsOut of Bounds by Lauren Blakely
Published by Bloomsbury Spark on November 22nd 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 150
Goodreads
two-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  This was an adequate if forgettable story. I didn’t find anything particularly exciting about the situation, the characters or the plot, but I didn’t hate the story.  I just probably won’t remember it in a week.

THE STORY:  Dani Page is the lawyer for a professional football team in Los Angeles.  Her job is to keep the players out of trouble.  She meets Drew Erickson who is quarterback for the team. While the two hit it off immediately, both are concerned that any relationship between them might interfere with their jobs. Dani doesn’t want to cause a scandal and Drew doesn’t want to remove his focus from the field.  Yet the chemistry between them is unquenchable.

OPINION:  I admit that I was a little disappointed in this novella.  I thought the setup was intriguing and I really love a good sports books, but this novella doesn’t really have anything to do with sports or the law.  Those are just window dressings for the plot keeping these two apart. In fact, my favorite part of the book is when these two meet on the beach for the first time.

I just didn’t feel the connection between the characters.  We are told over and over again that these two want one another, but I just didn’t see the connection other than sex between them. I wish the two had spent more time finding common ground between them.  The story was adequate enough, but it is very forgettable as the characters don’t have any intriguing characteristics that are memorable.

This one was just okay.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This book is told in alternating first person narratives.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  OUT OF BOUNDS is a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 2.5 stars.

two-half-stars

Review: The Mad, Bad Duke

Review: The Mad, Bad DukeThe Mad, Bad Duke (Nvengaria, #2) by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Nvengaria #2
Published by Leisure on October 18, 2016
Genres: Historical, Paranormal
Pages: 383
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: Incredibly enjoyable for readers open to fusion romances.  This charming historical paranormal perfectly merges the genres to fashion a fairy tale about a former villain who can’t help but fall in love (because of a love charm) with a woman he never would have chosen on his own.

THE STORY: Megan Tavistock gets unexpectedly snared by a love spell which results in her ending up married to Grand Duke Alexander of Nvengaria.  Alexander has been sent to England because he plotted against the Prince of Nvengaria.  In England, Alexander is redeeming himself being running intricate plots to protect Nvengaria’s interests. A widower with a young son, Alexander never thought to marry again, especially not an innocent like Megan, but when the love spell results in him ruining Megan, Alexander is determined to protect Megan and discover who is trying to plot against him.

OPINION: Ashley has a way with men who are handsome and unconventional. Here, Alexander is a man who has been isolated and alone. He doesn’t have strong connections with people and sees his only value in intrigue and deception. Having been married and with a young son, Alexander remains essentially alone.

This book is inspired by the fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast and the inspiration is cleverly done without being a scene by scene repeat of the classic.  Alexander is a man isolated and when the beautiful and innocent Megan comes into his life, Alexander is dazzled by her even as he tries to keep her at a distance.

The love spell works to bring these two together quickly and unexpectedly. Their first meeting is hot and passionate and I really liked how the love spell worked in the story. It is the catalyst that forces Megan and Alexander together so that they can spend time together working though their relationship.

The mix of genres really works in this book in a way that it didn’t completely mesh in the first book in the series.  The combination of paranormal and historical and fairy tale gives this book interest and heft and I just loved every page.

Like a true beauty, Megan transforms the beastly Alexander into a loving husband and father by the end of the book and allows his true self to be revealed.

WORTH MENTIONING: The Scot Egan MacDonald has a significant role and his story is up next.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  The Mad, Bad Duke is the second book in the Nvengaria series. While this story can be read as a standalone, I think it is better having read the first book in the series so that readers can truly understand what a potential bad guy Alexander is.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: Embraced

Review: EmbracedEmbraced (Bound Hearts, #6) by Lora Leigh
Series: Bound Hearts #6
Published by Ellora's Cave on November 1st 2004
Genres: Contemporary, Erotica
Pages: 115
Goodreads
three-stars

FINAL DECISION:  Too short but really hot, this novella has the elements of the Bound Hearts series but the connection between Sax and Marey is not as intense as others in the series.

THE STORY:  Marey has wanted Sax for years but her fear of her ex-husband has kept her from taking that last step towards Sax.  Now Sax is determined to protect Marey from her ex-husband and claim Marey for his own.

OPINION:  The Bound Hearts series have similar setups.  A man who participates in menages, a woman who wants him (many time she is wary of his lifestyle but attracted to it) and some suspense or danger which threatens them.

This novella follows that pattern, but the connection between Marey and Sax isn’t as strong as with the other book in the series.  Their connection is too quick and their problems are entirely dependent upon accepting that Marey’s desire to keep them apart because of her crazy ex-husband is reasonable. While she is right to be concerned about her ex, it doesn’t seem enough to keep the two of them apart for years.  I also couldn’t stop thinking that Marey should just get a restraining order against her ex instead of capitulating to him.

Aside from that point, the story between Marey and Sax was hot and the story progressed in an orderly fashion that was good enough for a pleasant one time read.  There are other books in this series that are better, but I didn’t dislike this one.

WORTH MENTIONING:  There is a menage scene in this book mmf which is standard for this series.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  EMBRACED is book 6 in the Bound Hearts series, but can be read as a standalone even though couples from the series make an appearance here.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 3 stars.

three-stars