The Holiday Novella Binge Begins: Matzoh and Mistletoe by Jodie Griffin

Matzoh and Mistletoe by Jodie GriffinTo ramp up the festive spirit around here, I’m going to use Naughty & Nice Lists for all my holiday novella reviews.

  • Title: Matzoh and Mistletoe
  • Author: Jodie Griffin
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Erotica
  • Publisher: Carina Press, November 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 92 pages
  • Trope(s): Awakening the Innocent, Alpha Cop, Evil Abusive Ex, Sex in the Snow
  • Quick blurb: Cop/Dom helps Nice Jewish Girl learn to give blowjobs.
  • Quick review: Some really promising elements, but too much How To Be A Submissive In 100 Easy Pages
  • Grade: C

He tasted like peppermint candy canes and kissed like a bad boy.

The Nice List….

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Lord and Lady Hetheridge Mysteries by Emma Jameson

Ice Blue by Emma JamesonBlue Murder by Emma JamesonSomething Blue by Emma Jameson

  • Title(s): Ice Blue, Blue Murder, Something Blue
  • Author: Emma Jameson
  • Series: Lord and Lady Hetheridge Mysteries
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
  • Publisher: Lyonnesse Books, March 2011
  • Source: Purchased ($3.99 for Kindle)
  • Length: 170-200 pages
  • Trope(s): Age Gap, Smartass Heroine, Repressed Hero, Cops, Misogyny & Racism, Murder & Mayhem
  • Quick blurb: Veteran (and titled) Scotland Yard inspector’s world is turned upside down when he brings a foul-mouthed young female onto his team.
  • Quick review: Hooked by the brilliant characterization, stayed for the bloody stuff.
  • Grade: A- (for the series so far)

The first book in this series popped somewhere in my Amazon recommendations soon after it was published, and I LOVED it without even realizing I’d read the author before. Emma Jameson is a pseudonym of Stephanie Abbott, aka edgy m/m author S.A. Reid (Protection, Something Different). I’m always blown away by writers who can successfully switch genre and voice, and Abbott/Jameson/Reid appears to be phenomenally good at it.

The author labels the Lord and Lady Hetheridge books as “cozy” mysteries, but with the metro London setting and the prickly, smartass professional detective heroine, these books don’t have that Miss Marple/Jessica Fletcher vibe I associate with cozies. There’s just enough blood-and-guts gore and police procedural stuff to sustain the “cynical urban cops” atmosphere, with a few suspenseful gun-in-the-face moments and a charming serial killer to keep everyone from getting too jaded.  Book two, Blue Murder, has a particularly good twisty bit at the end.

For me, however, this series is all about the characters.

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One-Quote Reviews: Strangers on a Train

I’d go with an “All Aboard!” intro, but that would be too cheesy even for me. Beware of CAPSLOCK OF RAGE and FANGIRL SQUEE (not in the same story, thank god.)

<whining>

Before we get to the good stuff, a brief plea to Samhain Publishing: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, FIX YOUR EBOOK FORMATTING. The default 6pt font and forced sans serif is beyond annoying — it makes me cringe every time I open a recent Samhain title. I’m willing to put up with it for trusted authors, but it is a definite barrier to trying new ones.

</whining>

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One-Quote Review: Selling Out by Amber Lin

Selling Out by Amber Lin

  • Title: Selling Out
  • Author: Amber Lin
  • Series: Lost Girls, Book 2
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Suspense
  • Publisher: Loose Id, February 2013
  • Source: Review copy provided by author ($7.99 ebook)
  • Length: 315 pages
  • Trope(s): Crusty Cop, Hooker with a Heart of Gold, Family Drama
  • Quick blurb:  A jaded call girl feels compelled to save a naive young runaway — and an enigmatic cop is trying to protect them both.
  • Quick review: The frenetic opening almost left me behind, but when I finally caught up, the intense atmosphere and complex characters had me hooked.
  • Grade: B

He was more deserving of love than anybody I had ever known, but it wasn’t even relevant to how I felt about him. Love wasn’t a choice, it was an accident. Not a climb, but a fall. I had slipped somewhere along my prickly path and down, down to the murky depths, hurtling ever farther, ever faster, and the only question was whether he would meet me at the bottom.

I probably should have read the first book in the series again before starting this one, because I felt more than a little bewildered during the first few chapters. But then Officer Luke showed up, and GOOD LORD.

And just as Lin captured the despair and hope of a struggling single mother in Giving It Up, the call girl main character here is anything but cookie-cutter. Shelly is bitchy and vulnerable and probably the most complex prostitute I’ve ever read in a contemporary.

The ‘Oh Crap It’s Only A Week Until Christmas’ Holiday Book Binge, Part 1

I was going to call these “lightning” reviews, but I’m going with “magical reindeer fly-by” reviews because they’re more ephemeral than electrocution-inducing.

Yes, I’m an Alliteration Whore.

In no particular order….

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‘Twas the Night After Christmas by Sabrina Jeffries

'Twas the Night After Christmas by Sabrina Jeffries

  • Title: ‘Twas the Night After Christmas
  • Author: Sabrina Jeffries
  • Series: Hellions of Halstead Hall, Book 6
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Gallery Books, October 2012
  • Source: Edelweiss ($7.99 ebook)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • Trope(s): Angst, Big Misunderstandings, Parental Issues, Smartass Heroine, Alpha Hero Who’s Secretly a Beta Hero, Plot Moppet
  • Quick blurb: A widowed hired companion tries to reunited her unseen rakish employer with his long-estranged mother.
  • Quick review: Angsty and gooey and predictable, and I LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT.
  • Grade: A-

She kissed like a woman who didn’t know her own sensual power. Most women did – even the virginal ones. The fact that she didn’t made him want to show it to her. Graphically. Thoroughly. Over and over, until she realized what he’d known since the moment she first stood up to him – that she was one of those rare women who understood how the game was played…and then played it by her own rules.

This might be my favorite of the Hellions of Halstead Hall series. Yes, the setup is standard formula romance, but Jeffries really pulls it off by making this a very intimate and emotional and oozingly romantic story.

The minus in the A- minus is for the price — I know it’s a full novel and not just a novella, but it’s Christmas, for crying out loud. And don’t try to use “But we released it in October!” as an excuse.

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Red Hot Holiday (Anthology)

Red Hot Holiday anthology from Carina Press

  • Title: Red Hot Holiday
  • Author(s): Anne Calhoun, K.A. Mitchell and Leah Braemel
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Erotica
  • Publisher: Carina Press, December 2012
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 262 pages
  • Trope(s): Angst, Big Misunderstandings, BDSM, Menage, Beta Heroes, Widow
  • Quick blurb: A unique and unexpected mix of holiday-themed erotic stories
  • Quick review: A bit uneven, but definitely not the usual gooey Christmas schmaltz
  • Grade: B-

Wish List by K.A. Mitchell

“Feel small, like I could crawl inside you, but big too, like all of you would fit inside me.”

I have read and will continue to read anything and everything by K.A. Mitchell, and I *love* that a non-Christmas, non-het story was included in this anthology.

I Need You for Christmas by Leah Braemel

“I wasn’t the only one who pulled Kevin out of the water. It was a team effort.”

“I know. But I’m not in love with any of them.”

I’m generally not a big fan of Gift of the Magi takeoffs, because the conflict and resolution are always so blatantly telegraphed, and this was no exception. The fact that the heroine was a kick-ass Mountie and the hero was a believable Sensitive Artist almost made up for some of the external melodrama — but not enough for the gratuitous sex swing.

Breath on Embers by Annie Calhoun

Ronan the Rescuer loomed over her, big and tough and willing to throw himself at whatever fire appeared, literal or metaphorical, but this wasn’t hot flames. This was the cold fire of hell no one could rescue her from, because nothing was wrong, except her husband was dead.

Like nearly every other reader, I was blown away by Calhoun’s gorgeous writing — the balance of characters and setting and holiday angst was perfect. HOWEVER… I know I’m in the minority on this… I felt the resolution of the conflict was a cop-out to make this story more “erotic” and fulfill a “Stop the presses! We need a menage!” trope quota — even more than the gratuitous sex swing. I just didn’t buy it.

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A Mackenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift by Jennifer Ashley

A MacKenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift by Jennifer Ashley

  • Title: A Mackenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift
  • Author: Jennifer Ashley
  • Series: Highland Pleasures, Book 4.5
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Self-Published, December 2012
  • Source: Amazon, 99¢
  • Length: 240 pages
  • Trope(s): Family Reunion, Big Misunderstanding(s), Plot Moppets (a LOT of them), Pregnant Ladies (a LOT of them), Testosterone in Kilts (a LOT of it)
  • Quick blurb: The Boys of Scotland and their Lovely Lassies and all their children and pets and servants and horses and in-laws.
  • Quick review: If you love the MacKenzies, you’ll probably read this book and like it. Just like me.
  • Grade: B

Hart looked like someone had kicked him repeatedly.

Every single character from all four previous books was crammed into this book, along with their numerous spawn. Those who weren’t the main characters of their own book all got smoochy cameos in this one, including Crabby Old Fart-Muffin (my son’s favorite epithet) half-brother Lloyd Fellows AND Bellamy the Boxing Butler (oh, fine then, he’s a valet, but that’s not alliterative).

The subtitle of “The Perfect Gift” was the often obscured yet charming plot thread, but it really wasn’t the point. It did, however, remind me how much I looove Ian and Beth and then I had to go and read their book again. And then I had to double-check to make sure I had Elliot’s book AND Daniel’s book on my “Coming Soon But Not Soon Enough Hurry the Hell Up” list.

One-Quote Review: Men of Smithfield – Mark & Tony by L.B. Gregg

  • Men of Smithfield: Mark & Tony by L.B. GreggTitle: Men of Smithfield: Mark & Tony
  • Author: L.B. Gregg
  • Series: Men of Smithfield, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, GLBTQ (M/M)
  • Publisher: Carina Press, August 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($3.39 ebook)
  • Length: 114 pages
  • Trope(s): Friends-To-Lovers, Cops, Revenge, Angst
  • Quick blurb: Humor and friendship help ER doc survive romantic meltdown.
  • Quick review: An oddly successful mix of drama, farce and romance.
  • Grade: B

The future seemed brighter when you had a box of donuts in your hand.

It’s difficult to pull off angsty humor (humorous angst?), but Gregg manages to make the most of her main character’s meltdown without veering into campy melodrama.

Tripleheader: More Harlequin Categories – Blaze, Classic and Super

I’m definitely a Blaze type – the Classic Romance and Super Romance just didn’t do it for me at all.

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Blazing Midsummer Nights by Leslie Kelly

  • Blazing Midsummer Nights by Leslie KellyTitle:  Blazing Midsummer Nights
  • Author: Leslie Kelly
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher:  Harlequin, May 2012
  • Source: Free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 224 pages
  • Trope(s): Shakespeare, Insta-Lust, Insta-Love
  • Quick blurb: Shakespearean fluff in modern-day Atlanta.
  • Quick review: Fun and sexy, with a surprisingly complex career/family conflict – but I could have done without the dream sequences.
  • Grade: B+

He attempted to tamp down the reaction by shifting his thoughts to less appealing things – like grits, God in heaven, who had ever decided to eat what looked like little pieces of dandruff?

The happy couple….

Mimi (don’t call her Hermione) is a high-society marketing exec with a boring boyfriend hand-picked by her father (who’s also her boss). Xander (don’t call him Lysander) is a firefighter who moves to Atlanta to shake himself out of his grief after his parents died.

The setting….

Southern Gothic – complete with a plantation house with secret doors and magnolia trees in the backyard.

The storytelling….

A really creative and witty retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The hilarious meet-cute sets the tone, and all the flaky secondary characters are there, including the donkey. In between the silliness and the sex, there’s one of the most realistic depictions of office politics I’ve ever seen in a romance.

The romance….

Yes, it’s Insta-Lust and Insta-Love, but it works. However, I could have done without the cheesy dream sequences.

The recommendation….

A great summer read – definitely worth the price!

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Unraveling the Past by Beth Andrews

  • Unraveling the Past by Beth AndrewsTitle:  Unraveling the Past
  • Author: Beth Andrews
  • Series: The Truth About the Sullivans, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Harlequin, June 2012
  • Source: Free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Lust in the Workplace, Dysfunctional Families, Instant Parenthood
  • Quick blurb: Cranky police chief and smart-ass cop clash over murder investigation.
  • Quick review: Could have been good, but turned out to be mostly sequel bait.
  • Grade: C-

“A debriefing?” Sullivan asked as if Ross had told her to bring a bikini, a case of whipped cream and her handcuffs and meet him at a motel.

The happy couple….

Layne is a small-town cop with a dysfunctional family. Ross a former big-city cop turned small-town police chief with a dysfunctional family.

The setting….

The predictable small town full of dysfunctional families and mysterious secrets.

The storytelling….

Good writing with some great snarky dialogue, but the sequel-bait family stuff pushed the hero and heroine to the sidelines and prevented this story from being a compelling read. The non-ending with an unsolved murder and rushed HEA didn’t help.

The romance….

Intermittent mental lusting and two rounds of comfort-me-with-sex, then declarations of love two pages before the end. I liked Layne and Ross, but I needed a lot more of THEM and a lot less of all the obnoxious people around them.

The recommendation….

Might be worth a read – but only if you plan on waiting for the sequels.

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The Tycoon’s Secret Daughter by Susan Meier

  • The Tycoon's Secret Daughter by Susan MeierTitle:  The Tycoon’s Secret Daughter
  • Author: Susan Meier
  • Series: First Time Dads! Book 1
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher:  Harlequin, June 2012
  • Source: Free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 185 pages
  • Trope(s): Reunited, Secret Baby, Addiction, Plot Moppet, Evil Mother-in-Law
  • Quick blurb: Recovering alcoholic learns he has a six-year-old daughter.
  • Quick review: Blech. Don’t bother.
  • Grade: C-

His attraction to her sprang up like a lion that had been lying in wait in the African bush, confusing him.

The happy couple….

Kate is a construction project manager who left her alcoholic and increasingly violent husband without telling him she was pregnant. Max is a newly-sober real estate mogul who is stunned – STUNNED, I TELL YOU – to find out he’s the father of a predictably adorable six-year-old daughter.

The setting….

The predictable small-town-with-all-the-amenities-of-a-metropolis.

The storytelling….

Bland and predictable.

The romance….

Boring and predictable.

The recommendation….

Another cookie-cutter rich-guy-with-secret-baby. Don’t bother.