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.

Audiobook Adventure: The Prize by Julie Garwood

The Prize by Julie Garwood

  • Title: The Prize
  • Author: Julie Garwood
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical (Medieval)
  • Publisher: Pocket Books, August 1991
  • Format: Audio CD narrated by Anne Flosnik (Brilliance Audio, 2009)
  • Source: Public library
  • Length: 408 pages (10 CDs, 12.5 hours)
  • Trope(s): Conquering Hero, Dimwit Heroine, Battle of the Sexes, Newlywed Woes
  • Quick blurb: Saxon maiden vs. Norman warrior
  • Quick review: Not a good choice for my first commute-time audiobook, or my first Garwood.
  • Grade: C- for story, D- for narration

He never knew what hit him.

I’m glad that’s over with. Also, I now know who Kathryn Le Veque has been reading for inspiration.

The story….

The Prize is set in 1066 England, with William the Conqueror on the throne in London and his minions crawling the countryside to claim Saxon holdings. One of those minions, our hero Baron Royce, gets clobbered on the head with a stone flung by our slingshot-wielding heroine Nicolaa, a feisty (god help us) Saxon maiden determined to defend her family’s home.

When he regains consciousness, Royce and his men overtake the manor, mostly thanks to Nicolaa’s idiot older brother abandoning her to “go north.” Our spunky (god help us) heroine disguises herself as a nun and claims sanctuary at the nearby abbey where her other brother is recovering from a serious injury. Royce feels all tingly in his manly parts upon meeting the beautiful young nun, but he manages to get them to the convent without disturbing her maidenly essence.

Somehow, Royce manages to figure out that Nicolaa isn’t really a nun, which allows the tingling to burst forth into full-on mental lusting. Nicolaa is too busy swanning about denouncing the Normans and pronouncing things about her family’s honor to notice much about Royce. Except for the fact that he smells good.

After some unimportant secondary character nonsense, Royce forces Nicolaa out of the abbey and on the road to London, where she’ll be auctioned off as the titular “prize” to a deserving Norman lord. Nicolaa insists on bringing along her infant nephew, who she claims is hers by her deceased husband. There is no mention of a wet nurse, so I have no clue how this poor child is being fed, and we get a first glimpse of our heroine utter cluelessness as she flounders to explain the chronology of her fake husband’s death and her pretend child’s birth.

At some point early in the road trip, Nicolaa decides to escape. She does this in the dead of night, with no plan of whatsoever. No food, no weapon, leaving her infant “son” in the hands of god knows who – but she’s sure nothing will happen because she knows the territory. She then promptly falls into a ravine and twists her ankle. She starts to call for help, but – never fear – hero Royce is near. He followed her, because he’s not a clueless idiot.

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One-Quote Review: Bound to Be a Bride by Megan Mulry

Bound to Be a Bride by Megan Mulry

  • Title: Bound to Be a Bride
  • Author: Megan Mulry
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks, April 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 87 pages
  • Trope(s): Runaway Bride, In Disguise, Kidnapped, Bondage, Mistorical, TSTL
  • Quick blurb: Runaway bride kidnapped by fiancé she’s never met.
  • Quick review: Not painful, but more than a little ridiculous.
  • Grade: D+

She had proved quite amenable, showing admirable equestrian and culinary skills and generally not making a nuisance of herself.

This story was all over the place, especially the wildly inconsistent, nearly-TSTL heroine and her education at the Convent of Handy Outdoor Survival Techniques.

One-Quote Review: The Seduction Hypothesis by Delphine Dryden

The Seduction Hypothesis by Delphine Dryden

  • Title: The Seduction Hypothesis
  • Series: The Science of Temptation, Book 2
  • Author: Delphine Dryden
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Erotica
  • Publisher: Carina Press, May 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 97 pages
  • Trope(s): Nerds/Geeks, BDSM, Big Misunderstandings
  • Quick blurb: A group outing to a fan convention allows a former couple to reignite their relationship — with the help of a few costumes and props.
  • Quick review: Despite their frustrating Little Big Misunderstandings, it’s a helluva of a lot of fun to read about kinky nerds who can laugh in the bedroom.
  • Grade: B+

Oh God, the eyebrow thing again.

I adore love stories about geeks, and even more so when both main characters are equally smart and nerdy. Lindsey and Ben’s lack of communication was annoying, but believable and necessary to the story, and Dryden makes the most of it in rebuilding their faltering relationship into a funny and wickedly sexy kinkfest.

As with the first entry in the series, the only thing keeping this story from an A grade was the heroine — Lindsey comes across a little too self-righteous for much of the story, blaming Ben’s confusion rather than her own for their estrangement, and I had a little trouble accepting her insistence on being in the lifestyle for life after only one awkward sample.

A plea for a third in the series:  Ms. Dryden, write us female dom/male sub story — pretty please??? *bats eyelashes*

Backlist Binge: Sophia James

This took me longer than I thought, because I wound up doing a full re-read of one, and I had to buy and read the newest because it finished off a series.

So… Here are the highs and lows of Harlequin Historical author Sophia James, presented in chronological order (minus the anthologies). Cover images link to Goodreads.

In summary: James is on the dark and angsty edge of Harlequin Historicals — her characters are complex and conflicted, and when she stays away from rakes and pirates, her storytelling skills are memorable. But it’s hit or miss whether all the pieces and parts coalesce enough to suck me into a full-on book trance.

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Naughty Norsemen: Going a-Viking in Romancelandia – Part 1

We’ll subtitle this post….

The maiden voyage

As part of my Haul of Half-Off Harlequins, I wound up with two Viking romances, chosen primarily for the snark value. Unfortunately, both were actually pretty good.

But, of course, these books kicked off a Viking-theme book binge, which dredged up one ridiculously fun PNR mashup, several “meh” examples, and one so-called “classic” that left me cringing.

Cute Viking

Before we set sail, I must admit I know fuck-all about actual Vikings or Norse mythology. I did learn that the proper homage to Thor for a successful pillage was a goat sacrifice, and you know how I feel about goats.

ANYWAY, it’s time to put on our pointy-horned hats and go raiding.

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Along Came Trouble by Ruthie Knox

Along Came Trouble by Ruthie Knox

  • Title: Along Came Trouble
  • Author: Ruthie Knox
  • Series: Camelot, Book 2
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Loveswept, February 2013
  • Source: NetGalley ($2.99 ebook)
  • Length: 121 pages
  • Trope(s): Uptight Single Mother, Ex-Army Hero, Insta-Lust, Evil Ex,  Big Misunderstandings
  • Quick blurb: A single mother’s tightly-ordered life is disrupted when her pop-star brother insists on assigning her a security guard.
  • Quick review: More great characterization and smoking-hot chemistry, but the short timeframe and small-town antics got in the way of the relationship-building.
  • Grade: B

Get a grip, she told herself, but her libido had no claws, and the situation was slippery — a bizarre combination of socially awkward and inconveniently arousing.

So. I first attempted just a One-Quote Review because I’m lazy, but this book made me have THOUGHTS. And FEELINGS.

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One-Quote Review: Playing the Maestro by Aubrie Dionne

Playing the Maestro by Aubrie Dionne

  • Title: Playing the Maestro
  • Author: Aubrie Dionne
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Entangled, February 2013
  • Source: NetGalley ($2.99 ebook)
  • Length: 190 pages
  • Trope(s): Lust in the Workplace, Supermodel Ex-Girlfriend, Big Misunderstanding, Plot Moppets
  • Quick blurb: Professional flutist gets the hots for her community orchestra’s new guest conductor.
  • Quick review: Good start, but flattened into a predictable and superficial soap opera.
  • Grade: C-

Too bad he has a baton up his ass….

I am a classical music geek (you’re not surprised), so I figured this book would either win me over or piss me off. It wound up being somewhere in between, landing in the “well, I finished it…” category.

I was pleasantly surprised with the first few chapters because the author (a professional musician) actually addresses the touchy ethics of workplace romances. But when the first Total Drama Moment (heroine gets mugged in the alley behind the concert hall) led into some Now? Really??? lusting (she’s in pain from a possible concussion one minute, then Thinking Dirty Thoughts the next), my eyes started rolling.

Add in the superfluous Sick Child(ren) Plot Moppet(s) and the off-the-shelf Weasely Ex-Boyfriend and Supermodel Ex-Girlfriend rom-com stock characters, and the Sequined Showdown at the Donors’ Gala crisis, and this book wound up having about as much emotional depth as a John Tesh concert.

However…. Give sidekick Carly the Smartass Oboe Player a sequel with a Shy But Loyal Tuba Player and I AM THERE. I don’t care who writes it.

Backlist Binge: Julia Justiss

As promised, the highs and lows of Harlequin Historical author Julia Justiss, presented in chronological order (minus the anthologies). Cover images link to Goodreads.

In summary: Justiss does widows, courtesans and angsty heroes really, really well. Her debutantes and rakes, however, are generally just wallpaper.

A word of warning: You can’t have Hal Waterman. He’s MINE.

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All Roads Lead Home by Christine Johnson

All Roads Lead Home by Christine Johnson

  • Title: All Roads Lead Home
  • Author: Christine Johnson
  • Series/Category: Love Inspired Historical
  • Genre(s): Historical (1920s US), Inspirational
  • Publisher: Harlequin, January 2012
  • Source: Harlequin.com (part of the Holiday Haul of Half-Off Harlequins)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Rich Girl & Poor Boy, Unrequited Love, Big Misunderstandings, Plot Moppets
  • Quick blurb: Auto mechanic must escort the social worker who rejected him on a cross-country drive to an Indian reservation to investigate an orphan’s mysterious birth father.
  • Quick review: Ignore that last one — this is my favorite Harlequin Love Inspired so far.
  • Grade: B+

His lips brushed her forehead and then her temple. The waves of emotion tossed, their tops windblown, and she lifted her face as if struggling for breath, but it wasn’t air she needed. She required something far more nourishing. She needed to know she was loved, and, with the gentlest touch of his lips to hers, he gave her that.

I felt compelled to purchase this because the title and cover were actually unique and relevant to the story. Add in the 1920s road trip setting, along with the Poor Boy/Rich Girl Unrequited Love premise, and I was doomed.

Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed. There was nothing flashy about the writing or the characters; like The Maverick Preacher, it was just a really good story told really well. But the two books are very different in their presentation of the faith messages, and I generally prefer inspirationals where the spirituality is a strong undercurrent and not a battle of Bible verses, so All Roads Lead Home gets the edge with the B+ grade.

The suspenseful stuff went in a direction I wasn’t expecting, with intrigue on an Indian reservation, but I thought the sensitive issues of prejudice, land ownership and education were handled really well. The author never resorted to whitewashing the history or resolving the conflict with “White People to the Rescue!”

The only thing that bugged me were the Big Misunderstandings. This is my least favorite plot trope, because it always makes the inner conflicts feel so forced and contrived. From what we’re told of their backstories, Mariah and Hendrick should be intelligent and mature enough to avoid the predictable fits of jealousy and not-smart decision-making.

An unrelated minor disappointment…. The hero’s younger sister flirts with a resident of the Indian reservation, and I was so hoping their story would continue — but apparently she goes back home and marries a cranky rich white guy. Pfft.