The Pianist in the Dark by Michele Halberstadt

The Pianist in the Dark by Michele Halberstadt

  • Title: The Pianist in the Dark
  • Author: Michele Halberstadt
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Pegasus Books, July 2011
  • Source: Purchased*
  • Length: 150 pages
  • Trope(s): Musician, Physician, Disability, Overbearing Aristocratic Parents, Good and Faithful Servant
  • Quick blurb: Celebrity physician attempts to cure virtuoso pianist of blindness.
  • Quick review: So much potential, so much disappointment.
  • Grade: D+

It was imperative that, upon being introduced to her, he be seized by sudden inspiration.

The Pianist in the Dark is based on the true story of 17-year-old virtuoso Maria Theresia von Paradis, the only child of a high-ranking Austrian diplomat. Maria Theresia has been blind since the age of three, and while she’s made a name for herself as a musician in music-mad 1770s Vienna, her father has subjected her to endless painful and humiliating treatments to restore her sight.

When famed physician Franz Mesmer — he of the “magnetism cure” for anxieties, neuroses, epilepsy and other “nervous disorders” — offers his services, Maria Theresia’s father agrees and send her off to live at Mesmer’s house/hospital.

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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.

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.

Doubleheader: Ride with Me and About Last Night by Ruthie Knox

After only two novels, Ruthie Knox has a spot on my DIK and auto-buy lists.

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Ride with Me

  • Ride with Me by Ruthie KnoxTitle: Ride with Me
  • Author: Ruthie Knox
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher:  Loveswept, February 2012
  • Source: Amazon, $2.99
  • Length: 207
  • Trope(s): Angst, Redemption, Dysfunctional Family, Beta Hero
  • Quick blurb: Chatty teacher and brooding loner on a cross-country bike ride.
  • Quick review: This is my new standard for contemporary M/F romance.
  • Grade: A

Interesting how getting your ass kicked by love could change your perspective.

The happy couple….

Lexie is a follow-the-map high school teacher who doesn’t trust her own judgment after two failed engagements. Tom is a brooding loner who most definitely does not want a female chatting in his ear for three months straight.

The setting….

A 4,500-mile bike ride across the United States – with a few scenic detours along the way.

The storytelling….

I was right there with them all the way across the country. The set-up was entirely believable, and the ups and downs of their emotional connection mirrored their physical journey.

The romance….

The relationship-building was perfect – it never fell into a predictable Romance-O-Matic formula. No Insta-Love, no “I Hate You Except When We Kiss,” no Big Misunderstanding. Tom’s honorable angst was just deliciously sexy, and Lexie was a realistic mix of smart, funny and vulnerable.

And the Red Bordello Motel Room Birthday Sex? OH. MY. GOD.

“—Right now you need to let go, sweetheart. Open your eyes and let go. I’ll keep you safe.”

He wouldn’t let her look away. When she came, his gaze held her in place, his eyes huge and black and unspeakably tender, and he didn’t allow her to shrink back from the tsunami of sensation that swept through her. He held her there and made sure she felt every last unbelievable second of it, and then he blinked and came himself with a helpless sound that was almost a roar. She watched him, holding on tight until it was over.

Still shuddering, her hot cheek pressed against his shoulder, Lexie closed her eyes and cursed him. Because now it was no longer possible to pretend.

Tom was going to break her heart, and she was going to let him.

It made me swoon and cry at the same time. Good lord.

The recommendation….

This is my new standard for contemporary M/F romance. And Tom Geiger is my new Contemporary Fictional Boyfriend.

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About Last Night

  • About Last Night by Ruthie KnoxTitle: About Last Night
  • Author: Ruthie Knox
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher:  Loveswept, February 2012
  • Source: Amazon, $2.99
  • Length: 207
  • Trope(s): Angst, Redemption, Beta Heroes, Dysfunctional Family
  • Quick blurb: Bad girl and banker in London
  • Quick review: Two-for-two puts Ruthie Knox on my auto-buy list.
  • Grade: B+

“I never thought I’d be penetrated by a Neville,” she said wonderingly. “Maybe a Colin, or a Simon….”

The happy couple….

Cath is a struggling museum assistant who’s sworn off men because she doesn’t want to have to add to her collection of “lessons learned” tattoos. Nev is a sensitive artist hiding behind a yuppie banker’s façade to please his overbearing family.

The setting….

London (Greenwich, to be specific) and a country estate complete with servants and formal gardens.

The storytelling….

Spot-on characterization and dialogue – and a lot of smokin’-hot sex – keep the poor girl/rich boy premise from becoming formulaic or overly melodramatic.

The romance….

Their relationship starts with her passing out in his bed – before they even know each other’s names –and it just gets better from there. I loved how Cath continually rewrote her self-written rules to rationalize her overwhelming and unwanted attraction. Nev seemed a little too perfect at first, and then too much of a wuss, but he totally redeems himself with a swoon-worthy Grand Gesture.

He’d stolen her whole life story and flipped it around, making it beautiful and tragic instead of sordid and stupid.

*~*happy sigh*~*

The recommendation….

Loved the characters, loved the writing – hurry the hell up with the next one, Ruthie!

Galley Proof by Eric Arvin

  • Galley Proof by Eric ArvinTitle: Galley Proof
  • Author: Eric Arvin
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, M/M
  • Publisher: Dreamspinner Press, January 2012
  • Source: Digital ARC via NetGalley ($5.38 on Amazon)
  • Trope(s): Angst, Family Drama, Commitment Issues, Fictional Author
  • Quick blurb: Cranky reclusive writer gets the hots for his new editor and goes on Roman Holiday.
  • Quick review: Great premise, entertaining first half, cracked second half.
  • Grade: C-

I was hooked by the title, cover and blurb, and had it on my wish list for months, so when I saw it on my first cruise through NetGalley I kinda geeked out a little bit.

It’s nice that I can still be optimistic about a new book, but sometimes it can come back and bite me in the ass. (NO comments or editorializing, please. Thank you.) Galley Proof  has some really good writing, but it was overshadowed by numerous distractions that kicked me out of my reading trance again and again and again.

It’s two different stories: The angsty, romantic Budding Relationship in the first half and the campy, shallow Shame Spiral in Scenic Surroundings in the second half. And I didn’t like the hero in either environment.

The blurb:

Fiction writer Logan Brandish is perfectly happy in his peaceful small-town routine with his best friend, his cat, and his boyfriend—until he meets the editor of his next book, the handsome Brock Kimble, and the lazy quiet of everyday living goes flying out the window….

Our heroes are Logan and Brock. The frat-boy/soap opera names should have been a red flag.

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Cowboy Heat by Sable Hunter

  • Title: Cowboy Heat
  • Author: Sable Hunter
  • Cowboy Heat by Sable HunterSeries: Book 1 in the Hell Yeah! series
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Erotica
  • Publisher: Self-Published, October 2010
  • Purchase: Amazon, free (now regular $4.99, free in Kindle Lending Library)
  • Tropes: Insta-Love, Virgin Heroine, Alpha Male, Wicked Ex-Wife, Magical Orgasm Cure, Plot Moppet, Simile Sex, Sports Metaphors, Religious Metaphors, Cowboy, Sensitive Artist
  • Quick blurb: Virgin cancer patient, artistic cowboy, orgasmic brownies. You do the math.
  • Quick snark: A truly astounding collection of Sex Similes.
  • Grade: D-

I’m always on the lookout for cheap, fun and short erotica, and this one caught my eye because it was free, it had decent ratings on Amazon and Goodreads, and the blurb was intriguing:

Aron McCoy has sworn off women – except for sex. When Libby Fontaine arrives at Aron’s Tebow Ranch, she is determined to cram a lifetime of living into a few short months. The doctor has told her that she can’t count on her remission from leukemia being a permanent one. Their attraction to one another is instantaneous and overwhelming. But when Aron finds out that Libby is innocent – he backs off. He has nothing to offer a girl who deserves white lace and promises. Then Aron catches Libby pleasuring herself in his stock tank and hears her cry out his name – and the heat is on.

I wasn’t expecting award-winning literature, but this went straight onto my “Thank God It Was Free” shelf. Inconsistent characterization, random point-of-view changes, painful dialogue, laughable sex….

And the similes. MY GOD, the similes.

You’ve never seen a collection of Sex Similes like this, and you likely never will. Here’s a quick sample to get your juices flowing:

Twin globes of perfection hung down like the most delicious melons. Sweet Jesus! Honey-dews!

No, really. And that’s just a teaser.

(Didja get that “juices flowing” metaphor? <snort> I crack myself up sometimes.)

Read the rest of the review at DearAuthor.com