Holiday Romance Binge, Part 3: More Contemporaries

A few anthologies, a few novellas, a novella from another anthology, and one I thought was a novella but was actually a novel which is probably why I got pissy with it.

I kinda forgot about the “Naughty & Nice List” theme, but I can’t think about that right now because I need to figure what to take to the office potluck tomorrow that won’t require cooking or baking. Or buying ingredients. I’m thinking Mint M&Ms. Unless I eat those for breakfast again.

ANYWAY….

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One-Quote Review: The Sum of All Kisses by Julia Quinn

I’m back. Did you miss me? Don’t answer that.

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The Sum of All Kisses by Julia Quinn

  • Title: The Sum of All Kisses
  • Author: Julia Quinn
  • Series: The Smythe-Smith Quartet, Book 3
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Avon, October 2013
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 373 pages
  • Trope(s): Enemies to Lovers, Big Misunderstanding, Evil In-Laws, Scarred/Injured for Life
  • Quick blurb: Heroine who holds a grudge is forced into spending time with the man who (according to her) ruined her life.
  • Quick review: This may end my auto-buy relationship with Ms. Quinn.
  • Grade: C-

“I looked out my window,” he choked out. “I looked out my window at half bloody three in the morning, and there you were, gliding across the grass like some sort of erotic specter.”

Rolling along with a B-level grade — totally predictable with all the usual fluff and banter and light angst  — and that lovely first kiss, and then… What the HELL happened? A ridiculously drawn-out Big Reveal sent the whole thing veering off the rails into a bad gothic melodrama like one written by Quinn’s fake-novelist creation Mrs. Gorely. I half-expected death by pigeon. Yeesh.

One-Quote Reviews: Four Harlequin Love-Inspired Historicals

Falling for the Teacher by Dorothy Clark

  • Falling for the Teacher by Dorothy ClarkTitle: Falling for the Teacher
  • Author: Dorothy Clark
  • Series: Pinewood Weddings
  • Genre(s): Inspirational, Historical (1841 Upstate New York)
  • Publisher: Harlequin, September 2013
  • Category: Love Inspired Historical
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Tragic Past, Small Town, Extreme Self-Doubt
  • Quick blurb: Schoolteacher returns home to care for her ailing grandparents and finds the brother of her rapist managing the family business.
  • Quick review: Really annoyed with the heroine in the beginning, but chemistry and character development turned this into an unexpectedly emotional read.
  • Grade: B

He rose and looked down into her eyes. “Sadie….”

“Yes?”

Her name was a gruff plea from his constricted throat – her answer a barely heard whisper. Time was lost in his need to comfort her, to protect her, to love her forever. He sucked in a breath, fighting his heart with every bit of strength he possessed and hating himself for winning the battle. “I’ll see you safe to the house.”

I struggled with Sadie’s overwrought, baseless accusations in the first third of the book, but as Cole slowly wins her over, we get the backstory details we need to root for their HEA.

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Tripleheader: Carina Press Historicals

A Dream Defiant by Susanna FraserA Dream Defiant by Susanna Fraser

  • Title: A Dream Defiant
  • Author:  Susanna Fraser
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Carina Press, July 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: ~85 pages
  • Trope(s): Forbidden Love, War Heroes and Widows, Family Matters
  • Quick blurb: Black soldier delivers spoils of war to new widow and marries her for her protection
  • Quick review: Too much story for the short format.
  • Grade: B

He caught her hand. “Wait.” He slid his hands to the back of her neck, fumbling for the necklace’s clasp. He undid it and held the chain of rubies up, red and gold in the flickering candlelight. “No shackles for us,” he said, “no matter how rich.”

Loved the characters and premise, and Fraser managed to get a lot of emotion into less than 100 pages. But this story deserves more than a novella to avoid the rushed romance and resolution.

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Audiobook Adventure: The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

  • Title(s): The Bronze Bow
  • Author: Elizabeth George Speare
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical, Young Adult
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 1961
  • Source: Purchased ($1.99 ebook promo, $1.99 audio)
  • Length: 256 pages (7.5 hours)
  • Trope(s): Coming of Age, Angry Young Man, Revenge and Redemption
  • Quick blurb: Young blacksmith’s dreams of avenging his father’s death are disrupted by the unwanted responsibilities of adulthood — and his encounters with a charismatic traveling preacher.
  • Quick review: Now THIS is how to write historical fiction.
  • Grade: B+ for story, A for narration

He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

This book won the Newbery Medal in 1962, and I can’t believe I’ve never read it before. The historical world-building is utterly enthralling, and narrator Pete Bradbury made the complex characters vivid and unique — I was there every minute, and there were more than a few times I lingered in the parking lot when I arrived at work to listen just a few minutes longer.

The plot went in directions I never expected, and I loved how the secondary characters grew and changed — even more so than the main character. Just when you think Daniel has finally gotten his head out of his nether regions, he has another hissy fit about something and must begin his spiritual and emotional journey all over again. My frustrations with his self-centered cluelessness lowered the grade a bit, but this book might just have a place on the DIK list.

One-Quote Review Tripleheader: Regency Novellas

The all-blue cover thing is just a coincidence, I swear.

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The Perks of Being a Beauty by Manda Collins

  • The Perks of Being a Beauty by Manda CollinsTitle: The Perks of Being a Beauty
  • Author: Manda Collins
  • Series: Ugly Ducklings, Book 3.5
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s, June 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 125 pages
  • Trope(s): Reformed Mean Girl, Reunited, Social-Climbing Employer, House Party Nookie
  • Quick blurb: Penniless former debutante is unexpectedly reunited with the man she rejected years before.
  • Quick review: Intriguing enough to add a few of Collins’ previous books to my library wishlist.
  • Grade: B-

Then, as if he’d been dying to do this very thing from the beginning, he kissed her.

I didn’t realize before reading that this novella is a bridge between author’s previous series and upcoming series. We get only a few brief mentions of Amelia’s former bullying ways and an apparently infamous public outburst, and those glimpses aren’t quite enough to make an unfamiliar reader appreciate her atonement and redemption. But I loved the chemistry and enjoyed Collins’ voice enough to seek out her previous and upcoming titles.

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Miss Watson’s First Scandal by Heather Boyd

  • Miss Watson's First ScandalTitle: Miss Watson’s First Scandal
  • Author: Heather Boyd
  • Series: Miss Mayhem, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: LLD Press, July 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 99 pages
  • Trope(s): Workaholic on Vacation, Childhood Acquaintance All Growed Up and Sexy, Pain in the Ass Best Friend, Sequel Bait, Naked Swimming
  • Quick blurb: Banker must serve foreclosure papers on his best friend, but gets distracted by the deadbeat’s surprisingly grown-up younger sister.
  • Quick review: A good premise that deserves more pages.
  • Grade: C+

“It’s not enough,” she whispered unsteadily. “It couldn’t possibly be.”

I’ve enjoyed several historical novellas by Boyd, and based on those works, Iwas expecting the titular scandal of this story to be a bit more erotic. It’s a nice bit of Regency fluff, but I’m hoping Boyd’s upcoming trilogy will have more bite and substance. The plus on the letter grade is for the puppy.

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A Scandalous Plan by Donna Lea Simpson

  • A Scandalous Plan by Donna Lea SimpsonTitle: A Scandalous Plan
  • Author: Donna Lee Simpson
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Beyond the Page Publishing, May 2013 (re-release; first published 2003)
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 99 pages
  • Trope(s): Bored Spinster, Grumpy Widower, Plot Moppets, Disability, Gossiping Villagers
  • Quick blurb: A widower is steamrolled by a local do-gooder who insists on making superstitious villagers accept his autistic child.
  • Quick review: Not painful, but probably not worth a re-release.
  • Grade: C-

It was time to disturb the surface and see what happened.

Another bit of Regency fluff, but this heroine verges on being annoying. She’s a more obnoxious version of Jane Austen’s Emma who blunders about with endearing plot moppets instead of matchmaking schemes. I got the feeling the mystified hero married her just to shut her up.

One-Quote Review: Never Too Late by Amara Royce

Never Too Late by Amara Royce

  • Title: Never Too Late
  • Author: Amara Royce
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Kensington, May 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 226 pages
  • Trope(s): Bookselling Widow, Angsty Nobleman, Age Gap, Blackmail, Deep Dark Secrets
  • Quick blurb: Young viscount falls in love with the older widow he’s been blackmailed into ruining.
  • Quick review: A bit uneven, but I’m really looking forward to this debut author’s next title.
  • Grade: B-

“I will never be done with you,” he said, low and fierce.

While I had issues with the rather melodramatic plot and the heroine’s Deep Dark Secret, I loved Royce’s voice and storytelling. The hero and heroine were equally compelling, the relationship-building was spot-on, and the sexy times were hot.

One-Quote Review: Gambling on Love by Nancy Fraser and Patti Shenberger

Gambling on Love by Nancy Fraser and Patti Shenberger

  • Title: Gambling on Love
  • Author: Nancy Fraser and Patti Shenberger
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Entangled (Scandalous), April 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 87 pages
  • Trope(s): Runaway Debutante, In Disguise, Slavery, Gambling,
  • Quick blurb: Southern belle hires riverboat captain to transport her father’s former slaves to safety.
  • Quick review: Not painful, not much there.
  • Grade: C-

Instead of a quote, I will make reference to the six (6) times the word “teat” is used in this story. Hence the minus added to the letter grade.

I don’t have much to say about this one — nothing too objectionable, but nothing memorable. The middle sagged with no real conflict, and the heroine was Little Miss Perfect throughout the story.