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.

One-Quote Review: The Seduction of Elliot McBride by Jennifer Ashley

  • The Seduction of Elliot McBride by Jennifer AshleyTitle: The Seduction of Elliot McBride
  • Author: Jennifer Ashley
  • Series: Highland Pleasures, Book 5
  • Genre(s): Historical (Victorian)
  • Publisher: Berkley, December 2012
  • Source: Amazon ($7.99 ebook)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • Trope(s): Angsty Hero, Perfectly Perfect Heroine, Reunited, Baby Epilogue
  • Quick blurb: Jilted bride is the perfect remedy for a tormented ex-soldier’s PTSD.
  • Quick review: A whole lot of angst, but none of the emotional intensity I expect from this author.
  • Grade: C

“You were light and life. You are heat, and I’m so damn cold.”

I’m not bitter about paying full price for this, and I’m definitely not giving up on the series, but Juliana was boring, Elliot wasn’t much different from every other scarred hero, and the HEA came *thatclose* to being a Magical Orgasm Cure.

Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight by Grace Burrowes

It’s only an hour or two into Twelfth Night in my part of the world, so a Christmas book is still timely. Right? Right.

I sure as hell hope so, because I still have my Christmas tree up (true story).

  • Lady Louisa's Christmas Knight by Grace BurrowesTitle: Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight
  • Authors: Grace Burrowes
  • Series: Windhams, Book 6
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca, October 2012
  • Source: NetGalley ($6.39 ebook)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Secrets & Scandals, War Wounds, Repressed Smart Girl, Manly Men to the Rescue, Plot Moppets, Drunken Duels, Title PØrn, Shark Jumping, Misuse of Historical Personages
  • Quick blurb: Long-suppressed secrets threaten marriage of duke’s daughter and gentleman farmer.
  • Quick review: Everything important happens off-page, leaving plenty of space for annoyances and WTFery.
  • Grade: D

He wasn’t unaffected either. There was…tumescence.

I really need to remember to take a break from historicals after reading Miranda Neville and Courtney Milan, or while anticipating a catch-up on Sherry Thomas, because everything else just seems so…so…*sigh*

Burrowes’ debut The Heir was another one of my “gateway” romances, mostly because of a certain handjob scene early in the book. But she’s never been on my auto-buy list, for reasons I really couldn’t explain. Until now.

I admire her use of language — some of her sentences are marvelous. But in between, there’s weak characterization, a lot of repetitive and Romance-O-Matic plotwork and occasionally some very ill-advised WTFery. Or, to put it bluntly, her storytelling skills leave me cold.

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The Spy Who Saved Christmas by Dana Marton

The Spy Who Saved Christmas by Dana Marton

  • Title: The Spy Who Saved Christmas
  • Author: Dana Marton
  • Series/Category: Intrigue
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Suspense
  • Publisher: Harlequin, October 2010
  • Source: Amazon, $3.82
  • Length: 219 pages
  • Trope(s): Virgin Heroine, Angsty Spy, Plot Moppets (x2), Secret Baby (x2), AWOL Underwear, Unauthorized Use of Prep Table
  • Quick blurb: Lady Butcher has Secret Babies with Fake-Dead Biker Baker Black Ops Guy. Also, it’s Christmas.
  • Quick review: A quick and goofy holiday read, but not quite as much gleeful fun as Black Sheep Sheik.
  • Grade: B
  1. kelly_instalove
    Spy Who Saved Christmas, chapter 1 – heroine has already kneed hero in the nads and head-butted him. Bring it ON.
  2. kelly_instalove
    Spy Who Saved Xmas, ch 2: “What was it with them and food preparation surfaces?”
  3. kelly_instalove
    “Is that why, instead of staying at a safe house…you insisted on coming with me to steal a deadly virus from a bunch of terrorists?”
  4. kelly_instalove
    “Tonight. Five minutes to midnight. Down by the river at the foot of the old railroad bridge.” !!! (hold me)
  5. kelly_instalove
    “She looked like she was trying to decide whether to cry or strangle him. Since she wasn’t the weepy kind, things didn’t look good for him.”
  6. kelly_instalove
    “…not only would she have been happy to see his ten-point buck, she would have gutted, skinned and chopped it all up for him. (1/2)
  7. kelly_instalove
    (2/2) “She was a helluva woman by his standards.” [Heroine is a 6-ft-tall butcher, in case you were wondering]
  8. kelly_instalove
    Hero is Biker Black Ops kind of guy who also bakes. His crusty roll recipe is coveted, especially since his fake death in bakery fire.
  9. Fibrobabe
    @kelly_instalove A black ops biker with a heart of pastry dough.
  10. kelly_instalove
    @Fibrobabe I’m kind of disappointed he doesn’t call heroine “sugar”
  11. kelly_instalove
    @Fibrobabe they’re in Pennsylvania, so maybe “my sweet funnel cake” instead
  12. Fibrobabe
    @kelly_instalove If it’s a Christmas story, “my fruity Weihnachtsstollen.”
  13. kelly_instalove
    @Fibrobabe I hope they’re not Swedish, because lutefisk and lefse would ruin the mood.
  14. Fibrobabe
    @kelly_instalove I’m not sure how I’d feel about being called a “darling rugelach” if he’s Jewish.
  15. kelly_instalove
    She: “You can’t have bad aim and wield a cleaver for a living.” He: “Hand-eye coordination is a beautiful thing.”
  16. WARNING: Random and gratuitous inclusion of Fake SyFy monsters ahead!
  17. kelly_instalove
    @oddmonstr I’m feeling the need to do a Storify mashup of my book snark and your movie pics
  18. oddmonstr
    @kelly_instalove I think that would rock! Do you need more sand sharks? Because there’s like 4 now and they’re chasing Brooke Hogan
  19. Oh, sorry…. Where were we?
  20. kelly_instalove
    He: “To get those boys back, you would have teamed up with the devil.” She: “Maybe I did.” (Boys = Secret Babies) (Twins, of course. Duh.)
  21. kelly_instalove
    Lady Butcher is OK with blood and innards, but scared of bugs. Especially spiders in outhouses.
  22. ann_somerville
    @kelly_instalove ah, so female stereotyping not entirely absent, even if ridiculous
  23. kelly_instalove
    @ann_somerville Hero’s partner’s girlfriend wants their next deer hunting trip to be catch-and-release
  24. kelly_instalove
    “It was like walking into a fantasy. A centerfold operating heavy machinery.” (Hero recalling Lady Butcher using industrial meat grinder)
  25. kelly_instalove
    He: “I always thought you looked not in a hairnet.” She: “You were probably distracted by all the machinery I was operating.”
  26. ann_somerville
    @kelly_instalove has this author ever been in a butcher’s shop? smell of raw meat is not enticing
  27. kelly_instalove
    Crap, that last one should have been HOT in a hairnet. Also, auto-correct options for “hairnet” are quite entertaining.
  28. Autocorrect options for “hairnet” include “garnet” and “bairns”
  29. kelly_instalove
    “Hot in a Hairnet” would be a fantastic book title. Someone should write that.
  30. ann_somerville
    @kelly_instalove sequels. ‘Warm in a Wig’. ‘Snug in a Snood’. ‘Bootilicious in a booblehat’ :)
  31. kelly_instalove
    @ann_somerville “Snug in a snood” made my lady parts squirmy, and not in a good way.
  32. kelly_instalove
    @ann_somerville yeah, like a bedazzled hairnet. But I think it was the “snug” part that got me o.0
  33. kelly_instalove
    @sean__kennedy The fez thing is way too Doctor Who *shudder* and I must admit I had to look up trilby *shameface* @ann_somerville
  34. kelly_instalove
    “The next thing he knew, her bra was AWOL.” (His hands are on a humanitarian mission.)
  35. ReaderLas
    @kelly_instalove now I’m tempted to break my rule and read a Christmas story.
  36. We now interrupt this live-tweet for some much-needed sleep….
  37. kelly_instalove
    Live-tweeting of “The Spy Who Saved Christmas” will resume shortly. I know you’re all anxious about the Rendezvous at the Railroad Bridge.
  38. kelly_instalove
    @JenniferRNN I’ll be Storifying. Hero is a Biker Baker Black Ops kind of spy. Heroine is a 6-ft-tall butcher. Yes, really.
  39. JenniferRNN
    @kelly_instalove A biker baker black ops dude??? This sounds awesomely cracktastic.
  40. kelly_instalove
    @JenniferRNN The last discussion before I went to bed was alternate titles for “Hot in a Hairnet.”
  41. kelly_instalove
    @JenniferRNN It was 2 a.m., so “discussion” wasn’t exactly high-brow. And then @oddmonstr kept throwing in SyFy “Sand Shark” pics.
  42. kelly_instalove
    Live-tweeting of “The Spy Who Saved Christmas” is about to resume – for realz this time. I actually had to *work* at the day job today :-P
  43. kelly_instalove
    Chapter 8 – let’s just say the Rendezvous at the Railroad Bridge did not go well. Mostly because the heroine can’t follow directions.
  44. kelly_instalove
    “They probably weren’t used to people begging to be kidnapped…. This was why you didn’t bring a civilian to a hostage exchange, dammit.”
  45. kelly_instalove
    “He was pretty cool during missions. Someone had once compared him to the iceberg that sank the Titanic.”
  46. kelly_instalove
    “She was a woman, falling in love with the man who was the father of her children.” Also, she’s a Cleaver-Wielding 6-Ft-Tall Lady Butcher.
  47. kelly_instalove
    Hero’s newly-married ex-partner: “So anyway, I told her about the twins. And you know how pregnant women are. *OUCH!*.”
  48. kelly_instalove
    “Look, you obviously don’t know anything about intelligence work, lady. It’s an X-K-Red-27 technique.”
  49. kelly_instalove
    “..I know perfectly well that you don’t keep the general public informed when you are “debriefing KGB defectors in a safe house.”
  50. JenniferRNN
    @kelly_instalove I am so going to have to read this. I can see it in my future.
  51. kelly_instalove
    @JenniferRNN Hee – those last two were from A Fish Called Wanda :-)
  52. kelly_instalove
    I’m throwing in marginally relevant movie quotes to liven things up on the long drive to Slaughterhouse Road for the Secret Baby Swap.
  53. ViolettaVane
    @kelly_instalove your description of the ransom gone wrong reminds me of the one in The Big Lebowski where Walter jumps out of the car
  54. kelly_instalove
    @ann_somerville No, but a slaughterhouse is a vertiable treasure trove of weapons for a Lady Butcher who lost her gun.
  55. kelly_instalove
    Success! “We kicked terrorist butt, didn’t we?”
  56. kelly_instalove
    Biker Baker Baby Daddy can tell twins apart after spending 15 minutes of quality time with them in the back of an ambulance.
  57. ann_somerville
    @kelly_instalove of *course* he can. Because he used a marker pen to put a sekrit symbol on one of their ears :)
  58. kelly_instalove
    @JenniferRNN I’m waiting for the scene where he hides his coveted Crusty Roll Recipe inside a diaper @ann_somerville
  59. kelly_instalove
    “Our second time and you’re already bringing up variety? A lesser man could develop a complex.” (1st time was baby making in the bakery)
  60. kelly_instalove
    “Because the first time, on a flour-dusted table, I didn’t know you were a virgin.”
  61. kelly_instalove
    @GrowlyCub 1st time was deflowering on flour-dusted table in bakery. 2nd time 2 years later. In between, he fake-died in bakery fire.
  62. kelly_instalove
    Nookie Night in a cheap motel is apparently really good therapy for recently wounded hips and shoulders.
  63. kelly_instalove
    “The twins were quiet, happy as clams, thanks to their complimentary candy canes.”
  64. kelly_instalove
    “…narrow lips tilted up in an evil smile. Every instinct she had told her that he wasn’t here to do his last-minute Christmas shopping.”

  65. kelly_instalove
    “The way he scurried forward reminded her of a rat running from a sinking ship. Which gave her a really, really bad feeling.”
  66. kelly_instalove
    Chasing a bad guy through a crowded mall is difficult, but even more so when you’re pushing a double-wide baby stroller.
  67. kelly_instalove
    FBI Suit: “You’re here to provide intelligence only… There’ll be no rogue missions here.” Pfffft. AS. IF. It’s a Harlequin Intrigue.
  68. The_Book_Slayer
    @kelly_instalove lol. Who doesn’t love a man in a suit with the added bonus of a badge & gun?!
  69. kelly_instalove
    “Extra attention from a deranged terrorist was the last thing she wanted. Not unless they were one-on-one and she had a cleaver handy.”
  70. kelly_instalove
    “And she was willing to bet a year’s supply of filet mignon….” I personally would only bet six month’s worth of pork chops.
  71. kelly_instalove
    “Blue wire or red wire?” If this was a Bond movie, Q would saunter over and calmly flip the power switch to off.
  72. kelly_instalove
    “The perfect time for swearing his heart out, but he was a father now and just yesterday he had promised himself to let go of that habit.”
  73. kelly_instalove
    “‘Fudge cookies,’ he said instead, with feeling. Then cringed. If his SDDU buddies could hear him now…” THIS is why I love @danamarton.
  74. kelly_instalove
    ““I’ll go home with you for a while. The bread needs time to rise.’ Something between them clearly didn’t.”
  75. kelly_instalove
    He: “We should visit our old friend the dough-kneading table.” She: “The last time you said that, you got me pregnant. Again.”
  76. The_Book_Slayer
    @kelly_instalove This conversation sounds like one I have had with my husband. 0.0 *snickers*
  77. kelly_instalove
    “She had her own life, her own challenges, her own wonderful family. Her very own spymaster who was about to save Christmas. Again.”
  78. ros_clarke
    @kelly_instalove Why don’t I have my very own spymaster to save Christmas again? I’ve always had to share my spymasters.
  79. kelly_instalove
    @ros_clarke You need to move to Hopeville, Pennsylvania. The spies have taken over an entire strip mall.
  80. Best epilogue EVER:

    “Due to the economy, a lot of stores had gone out of business in the small strip mall. And every time one did, the top-secret unit Reid worked for bought the place. They put a man behind the counter as a front. Business continued as usual. But in the sizable attic that stretched above the row of stores, a super high-tech mission center had been sneakily built. Reid had found a way to do his job and still keep them safe. The strip mall’s security—although invisible to the untrained eye—rivaled that of the White House. And since Reid was the coordinator, he rarely left on missions; he arranged for background support when needed, utilizing his considerable knowledge of the field. Oddly, business also began doing better than ever before. The strip mall was gaining steadily in popularity, especially with the ladies. The men on Reid’s team, handsome hunks to the last, didn’t escape notice.”

  81. kelly_instalove
    The End. Happy Holidays! Hallelujah! Holy shit! Where’s the Tylenol?