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.

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.

Continue reading

One-Quote Review: Trust Me on This by Jennifer Crusie

Trust Me on This by Jennifer Crusie

  • Title: Trust Me on This
  • Author: Jennifer Crusie
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Bantam, October 2010 (originally published June 1997 by Loveswept)
  • Source: Public library
  • Length: 320 pages
  • Trope(s): Battle of the Sexes, Mistaken Identity, Slimy Villain, Bimbo Sidekick, Mature Couple
  • Quick blurb: Fraud investigator mistakes a reporter for a con man’s shill.
  • Quick review: Fast, funny and pure fluff, but definitely worth reading.
  • Grade: B

“A million guys in this city, and I have to hit a bleeder.”

I got this from the library on a whim after wishlisting all the If You Like Mature Romance recs at Dear Author. Crusie pulls off the farce really well, zinging back and forth between the older and younger couples with great one-liners and a surprising amount of romantic and sexual tension. It’s a fun and memorable one-night read.

One-Quote Review: Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare

Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare

  • Title: Any Duchess Will Do
  • Author: Tessa Dare
  • Series: Spindle Cove, Book 4
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Avon, May 2013
  • Source: Edelweiss
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Smartass Heroine, Brooding Duke, Marriage-Obsessed Mama, Bad Knitting
  • Quick blurb: Duke’s mother declares she can turn a barmaid into a duchess in one week.
  • Quick review: Shut up and quit bugging me, I have to read the whole series again.
  • Grade: A-

Her. I’ll take her.

The only other time I’ve used a gif in a review was the previous book in this series. So…yeah.
My Sweet Babboo

One-Quote Review: After Hours by Cara McKenna

After Hours by Cara McKenna

  • Title: After Hours
  • Author: Cara McKenna
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Erotica
  • Publisher: Penguin/Intermix, April 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 281 pages
  • Trope(s): Loners, Annoying Siblings, Tragic Pasts
  • Quick blurb: A rookie psychiatric nurse gets involved – very reluctantly – with her enigmatic coworker.
  • Quick review: Just add me to all the other “holy shit wow” reviews.
  • Grade: A-

“What we have between us is strong and stupid.”

When I beg for “something different,” THIS is what I mean. Difficult, dark characters in a desperate, almost desolate setting, and McKenna makes it all subversively romantic.

One-Quote Review: The Lady Most Willing by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James and Connie Brockway

The Lady Most Willing...A Novel in Three Parts

  • Title: The Lady Most Willing…: A Novel in Three Parts
  • Authors: Julia Quinn, Eloisa James and Connie Brockway
  • Series: Lady Most, Book 2
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Avon, December 2012
  • Source: Edelweiss ($5.69 ebook)
  • Length: 385 pages
  • Trope(s): Insta-Love, Amusing Abuction, Impoverished Rake, Stuffy Duke/Earl (one of each), Red-Headed Smart-Mouthed Scottish Lasses, Surprise Virgin, Loud Laird
  • Quick blurb: Drunken laird and his kilted kin kidnap fair maidens as potential brides for his nephews, and accidentally abduct a duke at the same time.
  • Quick review: Banal and predictable.
  • Grade: D+

Hell was obviously freezing, decrepit and located in the Scottish Highlands.

I loved 2010′s The Lady Most Likely — the balance of stories was great, with one insta-love, one childhood-friends-to-lovers, and one sibling’s-best-friend-from-afar. And more importantly, each couple and their courtship was unique and memorable.

The Lady Most Willing, however…. Blech. Blah. Boring. Four — count ‘em FOUR (4) — insta-love quickies with only the barest hint of characterization. The only exception was foul temptress Marilla the Maneater and her Cleavage of Doom, who was so ridiculously vamped up it was almost embarrassing to read.

I considered going with a C- grade, but these are authors who have given us much, much better in the past.

The Duchess War and A Kiss for Midwinter by Courtney Milan

The Duchess War

The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

  • Title: The Duchess War
  • Author:  Courtney Milan
  • Series: Brothers Sinister, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Historical (Victorian)
  • Publisher: Self-Published, December 2012
  • Source: Amazon ($3.99 ebook)
  • Length: ??? pages (5068 Kindle locations)
  • Trope(s): Tragic Past, Parental Issues, In Disguise, Virgin Hero, Smartass Heroine, Blundering Hero
  • Quick blurb: Progressive but guilt-ridden duke brings unwanted attention to heroine who’s desperate to remain an overlooked wallflower.
  • Quick review: A lot I really liked and a few things that just didn’t work.
  • Grade: B-

Favorite quotes:

  1. “I’m winning,” he announced. “You can’t bore me into a surrender.”
  2. “Don’t tell me to look up. Don’t ask me to want. If I do, I’ll never survive.”
  3. “I’ve always found that the quickest way to make someone relent in his foolish edicts is to take every command literally and to perform it with flagrant obedience.”
  4. “A paste emergency!” she huffed. “A paste assault, that’s what we had.”
  5. It wasn’t fair that he could rob her heart of anger and her lungs of air with just one word.
  6. “The male of the human species has a fundamental flaw. At the moment when we most want to say something clever and impressive, all the blood rushes from our brains.”
  7. His voice was rough when he spoke again. “So beat me to flinders,” he said. “Win. Overmatch me, Minnie. And when we’re alone…” His fingers touched her chin lightly. “When we’re alone,” he whispered, “look up.”
  8. She was a shard of stained glass, casting colors about the room, and yet capable of slicing everything she touched.
  9. “No,” Minnie said bitterly. “I earned this, fair and square.” Well, maybe it hadn’t been fair. And maybe it hadn’t been precisely square. Still, she’d earned it legally. Legally and…rectangularly. That would have to do.
  10. It was messy and slippery and wrong, and it felt so, so damned right.

Stuff I liked:

  1. Heroine named Minerva. I am a complete sucker for this.
  2. Hero who’s an anti-Duke.
  3. Heroine who isn’t a TSTL doormat.
  4. Victorian NON-LONDON, NON-COUNTRY-HOUSE-PARTY setting.
  5. Relationship between Robert and his illegitimate half-brother Oliver (“…because he chose me first”).
  6. Robert struggling with his loyalties between Minnie and Oliver.
  7. Severe anxiety issue that doesn’t evaporate with a Magical Orgasm Cure.
  8. Awkward wedding night with Robert shutting his eyes and thinking of England and Minnie unashamedly taking matters into her own hands (literally).
  9. Dowager Duchess swooping in à la Lady Catherine de Bourgh and then acknowledging the literary reference herself.
  10. The non-threatening reason for the “Brothers Sinister” name of the series.

Stuff that didn’t work for me:

  1. Repetitive angstifying (on both sides) after the meet-cute and before the Paste Incident. I really struggled with the book until I got past the halfway point.
  2. Needlessly blatant telegraphing of yet another upcoming round of angst (“…a blood-red portent of things to come”).
  3. The over-the-topness of the Dowager Duchess (except for the incident mentioned above) with a complete personality overhaul in the schmaltzy epilogue as she turns into the perfect grandparent.
  4. The goat rampage. Yes, I was warned, but sheesh. Was that really necessary? I think NOT.
  5. On the whole, I found it surprisingly earnest and heavy-handed, without Milan’s trademark dark humor that sets her writing apart.

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A Kiss for Midwinter

A Kiss for Midwinter by Courtney Milan

  • Title: A Kiss for Midwinter
  • Author:  Courtney Milan
  • Series: Brothers Sinister, Book 1.5
  • Genre(s): Historical (Victorian)
  • Publisher: Self-Published, December 2012
  • Source: Amazon (99¢ ebook)
  • Length: 121 pages
  • Trope(s): Ruined by a Rake Predator, Parental Issues, Blundering Hero, Non-Euphemistic References to Naughty Bits
  • Quick blurb: Eleventh prettiest girl in Leicester rebuffs wooing of doctor who knows her secret.
  • Quick review: I loved this one almost as much as A Governess Affair.
  • Grade: A-

Favorite quotes:

  1. “Work your way on to number twelve,” she snapped. “Number eleven wants nothing more to do with you.”
  2. But it was too late. Miss Lydia Charingford wasn’t just on the list. She was the list, and he hoped God would have mercy on his soul.
  3. She leaned in and whispered. “Let me tell you a secret. I’m not stupid.”
  4. “Well,” she finally said, “you’re doing it wrong.”
  5. Even if she swooned at whatever poetic nonsense he managed to spout, she would only be disappointed once they grew comfortable with each other and he went back to making jokes about death and gonorrhea.
  6. “Maybe,” he said, “I’m thinking that the days are dark and long, that midwinter is approaching. Maybe, Miss Charingford, all I really want is a kiss.”
  7. “I believe,” he said, “that there is a special place in hell for those who steal truth. And that man—whoever he is—I hope he is burning there.”
  8. “Once you speak,” he said, “you have no equal.”
  9. “Sometimes,” she said, “it feels like there are some hurts that can only be cured by this. By warmth. And touch.”
  10. “I suppose it’s too much to hope that you have a question about gonorrhea. Those questions are so much easier to answer.”
  11. There was the mistletoe piled on a market table, a poisonous, parasitic reminder that kisses could lie.
  12. Even the way he talked to her. It was outrageous. It was blunt. It was impossible. And it was…precisely what she needed, the truth boned and filleted without garnish or flourish, placed in front of her for her decision. He made her wants seem ordinary instead of dark and dangerous.
  13. “The truth isn’t a gift,” she told him. “It’s a terror. And every time I look at you, I feel it.
  14. He’d never noticed before how much a breath could say. It seemed more than the transportation of air to lungs. The act of breathing with another person—of accepting silence together, of simply living in tune with the rhythm of someone else’s existence—was deeply intimate. They said more to each other with quiet respiration than they’d managed in sixteen months of bickering. [*SWOON*]
  15. I only said I would stop talking to you, he’d written. I never promised to stop loving you. [O.M.G. *~*~*SWOON*~*~* <thud>]

(Yes, I know that was longer than the list for the longer novel. Just shut up and keep reading.)

Stuff I loved:

  1. Blundering hero who knows when to just shut up and listen.
  2. Troubled heroine who finally learns to start talking.
  3. Lydia’s quiet but loving-no-matter-what relationship with her parents, especially her father.
  4. Jonas struggling with love for and utter frustration with his aging father, and no Magic Grandchild Cure in the epilogue.
  5. Jokes about gonorrhea. This novella had all the dark humor the novel was missing.
  6. The sense of equality between Lydia and Jonas, as a romantic couple and as equally important characters who are never shoved to the sidelines for the sake of the plot.
  7. The achingly lovely intimate moments with no dialogue.
  8. Use of the word “ensorcellment.”
  9. Non-kissy references to mistletoe. Yes, it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m bitter and cranky and I haven’t started drinking yet. Shut up.
  10. Fascinating history without gratuitous info-dumping. I love it when authors are bigger nerds than I am.

Stuff I didn’t love:

  1. The premise seemed a bit too similar to A Governess Affair, with a gruff but sensitive hero overcoming the fears of a ruined heroine.
  2. See item #1. Other than that, I got nothing.

One-Quote Review: A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long

A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long

  • Title: A Notorious Countess Confesses
  • Author:  Julie Anne Long
  • Series: Pennyroyal Green, Book 7
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Avon, October 2012
  • Source: Edelweiss ($5.99 ebook)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Hot Vicar, Soiled Dove, Widow, Small Town, Beta Hero, Smartass Heroine
  • Quick blurb: A newly widowed former courtesan asks a handsome village vicar to help her make friends.
  • Quick review: A worthy addition to the series, but not one of Long’s best.
  • Grade: B

Yes…yes! He felt a twinge of something! It was coming now!

He scrawled:

I kissed her I kissed her I kissed her

Well.

As a sermon, it was a failure, but his parishioners would doubtless find it edifying.

Notorious Countess worked much better for me than the previous book in the series. (Where in the hell did those people come from and why should I care? And I didn’t care, because I don’t remember anything about it beyond the cheesy title). This one is a bit more fairy tale-ish than her other books, but Long still manages to pull off the tricky balance of broad humor and intimate yearning.

Another romance novel art that Long consistently does really, really well is showing, not telling, how her hero and heroine fall in love. It might be insta-lust or even insta-love, but by the time the first kiss happens, we know why her characters are drawn to each other.

I also appreciated that both the vicar and the courtesan did a lot of self-reflection and said some very hurtful but honest things to each other. HOWEVER…I was disappointed in how their interactions with the rest of the village were perfectly scripted to make them always come out on top of the uncomfortable situations.

And despite my recently admitted weakness for Grand Gestures, this ending was WAY too Love, Actually, with shamefaced parisioners standing up and spouting Magical Bible Verses like the LA wedding guests with hidden trumpets and trombones.

The Summoning of the Siblings bit was good, though — enough to make up for the goats and bring this up from a B- to a solid B.

[NOTE: I read an ARC, so I forced myself to ignore the dreadful editing fails. If that kind of WTFery had shown up in a published version I paid for, the grade would have been much, MUCH lower. Even so, my respect for Avon Books is diminished once again.]

One-Quote Review: Bite by Jenny Lyn

Bite by Jenny Lyn

  • Title: Bite
  • Author: Jenny Lyn
  • Series: Heated Measures, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Erotica
  • Publisher: Etopia Press, November 2012
  • Source: Provided by the author (99¢ ebook)
  • Length: 30 pages
  • Trope(s): Smartass Heroine, Food, Tattoos
  • Quick blurb: Smartass Heroine (did I mention the heroine is a SMARTASS?)  gets into hot water* with the instructor of her cooking class.
  • Quick review: Thirty pages of glorious smartassitude and stupidly hot smexing.
  • Grade: A

…My spine straightened at the scolding, but my mouth did what it knew best. “Well, that’s just a waste of perfectly good bourbon, if you ask me.”

…Crisis averted, he’d walked away, leaving me confused, frustrated, but still in possession of my eyebrows and a massive lady boner. I was hot for my teacher. The pork chops could go to hell.

..He flipped the chalkboard over. I read the intimidating words “Artichoke Soufflé,” and before I could perform the rare task of censoring myself, I blurted, “Oh, now you’re just fucking with us.”

…His gaze drifted down to my chest, stopping on the spot where I’d used a blue Sharpie to add the word “Me” behind “Bite,” the name of his restaurant. His eyes flicked back up to my face, staying there as he announced, “Class is cancelled for tonight, ladies.”

So, to hell with my stupid “One-Quote” format. That was all from TWO PAGES from the BEGINNING of this novella, and THEN it started in with the sexy times and I just about LOST IT. I don’t know what “it” was, specifically, but something down below was definitely off its usual axis when that Bite Me apron came off.

You’ll just have to READ IT YOURSELF to find out about the artichokes and the tattoos.

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*Yes, I KNOW that was totally cheesy and ridiculously obvious, but I DID IT ANYWAY. Once again proving why I’m a reviewer, not an author.