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 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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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: 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.

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.