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?

One-Quote Review: Mercenary’s Perfect Mission by Carla Cassidy

  • Mercenary's Perfect Mission by Carla CassidyTitle: Mercenary’s Perfect Mission
  • Author: Carla Cassidy
  • Series/Category: Romantic Suspense
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Suspense
  • Publisher:  Harlequin, May 2012
  • Source: Digital ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($2.99 ebook)
  • Length: 217 pages
  • Trope(s): Insta-Love, Plot Moppet, Evil Twin
  • Quick blurb: Mercenary falls for damsel in distress while saving idyllic town from the clutches of his Evil Twin.
  • Quick review: Once again, I manage to join a series already in progress.
  • Grade: B-

He was shocked to realize he somehow wanted to be the hero she’d never had in her life, the man she could depend on to get her son back, to make her world right.

Great premise and good writing, but I would have enjoyed it much more as a longer stand-alone novel instead of part of a series.

The Sheikh’s Redemption by Olivia Gates

  • The Sheikh's Redemption by Olivia GatesTitle: The Sheikh’s Redemption
  • Author: Olivia Gates
  • Category/Series: Desire; Desert Nights, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Harlequin, June 2012
  • Source: Digital ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($2.99 ebook)
  • Length: 192 pages
  • Trope(s): Alpha Male, Twins, Misogyny, Reunited, Revenge, Big Misunderstandings, I Hate You Except When We Kiss
  • Quick blurb: I assume the hero grovels for forgiveness at some point, but I didn’t get that far.
  • Quick review: I am sooooo not the right audience for this kind of book.
  • Grade: DNF

His face had been carved with lines of untrammeled power and ruthlessness. He’d become a god of virility and sensuality, hewn from the essence of both. As harsh as the desert’s terrain, as menacing at its nights. And as brutally, searingly, freezingly magnificent.

Once again, I really tried, but I just couldn’t do it. Asshole prince is an asshole who causes the heroine’s supposedly brilliant brains to melt and leak out of her various orifices. I liked the hero’s jealous twin (“Mother always loved you best!”) much better.

I bought an Intrigue sheikh book a few months ago that I’m hoping is more my style – the princely hero awakens from a COMA on a RANCH and has to protect his SECRET UNBORN BABY when SHOTS RING OUT even though he has AMNESIA. How can that NOT be brilliant??? Stay tuned!

Tripleheader: Harlequin Love Inspired – B+, C, C-

I’m not much of a category romance reader, so I thought I’d give a few Harlequin lines a try. I found these three Love Inspired titles – including historical, contemporary and suspense – to range from “yawn” to “hmm, that was much better than I expected.” All three are new-to-me authors.

The Promise of Home by Kathryn Springer

  • The Promise of Home by Kathryn SpringerTitle: The Promise of Home
  • Author: Kathryn Springer
  • Series: Mirror Lake, Book 5
  • Genre(s): Inspirational, Contemporary
  • Publisher:  Harlequin (Love Inspired), May 2012
  • Source: Free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley ($3.82 ebook, $5.75 MMPB)
  • Length: 224 pages
  • Heat level: Sweet
  • Trope(s): Surprise Parenthood, Plot Moppets, Beta Heroes, Tormented by Guilt
  • Quick blurb: City girl gets custody of neglected niece and nephew, and finds herself relying on a surly backwoods recluse for help.
  • Quick review: Believable and likeable, but with a bit of over-the-top melodrama.
  • Grade: B+

“Sailors and explorers looked to the North Star to help them remain on course. It might not be as flashy or get attention like a shooting star, but it’s the one you can trust to always be there. To help you keep moving in the right direction. A constant.”

The happy couple….

She’s a high-maintenance magazine columnist who’s suddenly dropped into parenthood when her wild-child sister goes into rehab. He’s a reclusive photographer hiding some Very Angsty Secrets.

The romance….

This one had some pretty good relationship building, starting with amusing mutual annoyance, then evolving into mutual trust (aided by the kids) and eventually love. There’s only one smooch at the end, but a few near misses interrupted by the kids and a ginormous slobbery dog.

The setting….

Mirror Lake, Wisconsin, is (painfully evident on the Rainbows & Flowers & Plot Moppets cover) an idyllic, idealized small town, overflowing with Godly People and Good Advice.

However, most of the action in The Promise of Home takes place in the remote back woods, where the heroine and hero are forced to learn to trust each other for the sake of the kids.

The storytelling….

I was surprisingly absorbed by the believable set-up and character-driven plot. While there were some of the expected heart-tugging “oh, those poor babies” moments, the troubled-kids drama was never manipulative or conveniently forgotten. The hero’s Very Angsty Secrets provided a bit of mystery, but the buildup to the rather melodramatic ending seemed like an afterthought.

The faith message:

“The heavens proclaim the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” – Psalms 19:1-4

For me, the spiritual themes played out really well in this book. We learn how religious convictions led the hero to become a reclusive photographer, and we see how his quiet, unapologetic faith affects the heroine’s perception of him.

The presentation of some the other residents of Mirror Lake, featured in previous books, was a little too jarringly “Rah! Rah! God is Great!” compared to the understated introspection of the hero, but fortunately their appearances were few and short.

The recommendation….

Great for readers looking for a contemporary inspirational with compelling characters – but I don’t think I’ll read the rest of the series. And I NEVER would have chosen this one based on the cover.

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Identity Crisis by Laura Scott

  • Identity Crisis by Laura ScottTitle: Identity Crisis
  • Author: Laura Scott
  • Series: N/A (sequel coming soon)
  • Genre(s): Inspirational, Contemporary, Suspense
  • Publisher:  Harlequin (Love Inspired Suspense), May 2012
  • Source: Amazon, $2.99 ebook ($5.75 MMPB)
  • Length: 224 pages
  • Heat level: Sweet
  • Trope(s): Twins, Amnesia, Reunited, Beta Heroes, Big Misunderstanding
  • Quick blurb: Murder and mayhem in Milwaukee
  • Quick review: Amnesia! Twin-switching! Abduction! Crooked cops! Money laundering! Explosions!  Escape on bicycle! And it almost actually kinda sorta works! But not really.
  • Grade: C

Sheer desperation had forced her to break her cardinal rule by borrowing Mallory’s identity. But she shouldn’t have rested until she found a way to warn Mallory. Now it was too late. Dear Lord, forgive me. Please forgive me!

The happy couple….

She’s a trauma nurse who’s forced to assume her twin’s identity when a dying patient divulges some Bad Stuff about some Bad Guys. He’s her loyal ex-fiancée, and her only hope of finding her twin and recovering her memory.

The romance….

One of three reasons I didn’t fully connect with this book. There was no relationship building and very little romantic conflict.

She broke off their engagement because he was “overly protective” and “didn’t have a close relationship with God” – even though she never bothered to ASK WHY he was so overprotective and so superficially faithful.

He gets a Big Reveal of his Tragic Past that immediately clears up the Big Misunderstandings.

The storytelling….

At first, my eyes were rolling freely. She gets amnesia when she trips and hits her head on the sidewalk, and then the hospital immediately sends her out the doors with a prescription for “wait a week and we’ll see.” The hero thinks she’s the Evil Twin faking it to get him even further on the outs with his ex-fiancée.

Fortunately, he realizes pretty quickly that she’s the Love of His Life, and the plot gets much better from there. It’s kind of a wild ride from one side of Milwaukee to the other – but it’s not really a ride because he’s dragging her and her sprained ankle across town on foot, which is a useful ploy to put them in greater danger.

The suspense….

The resolution of the plot is the second reason Identity Crisis didn’t quite work for me. The crooked cop is sufficiently sinister, and the sense of impending doom was enough to keep me reading – but then…. Blah.

There was something vague involving money laundering, the uber-villain is a vague non-entity until the very end, the hero’s father is vaguely threatened because of some vague connection as fellow college alumni, and the vague disappearance of the unseen Evil Twin (Who’s Really Just Misunderstood) is left hanging for a sequel.

The faith message….

“All the prophets testify about him, that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” – Acts 10:43

Reason number three. Ugh.

The heroine jilts her fiancée because he doesn’t love God as much as she does – she’s the Shining Example of Godliness that he has to live up to. His born-again best friend is used as a romantic threat.

I just wanted to hug the poor guy and tell him that he shouldn’t have to preach on street corners to prove he’s worthy enough.

The recommendation….

The middle – the fun suspenseful stuff – was enjoyable. The beginning and end, not so much.

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The Baron’s Governess Bride by Deborah Hale

  • The Baron's Governess Bride by Deborah HalTitle: The Baron’s Governess Bride
  • Author: Deborah Hale
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Inspirational, Historical
  • Publisher:  Harlequin (Love Inspired Historical), June 2012
  • Source: Free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley ($3.82 ebook, $5.75 MMPB)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Heat level: Sweet
  • Trope(s): Governesses, Widowers, In Disguise, Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful, Plot Moppets, Cinderella
  • Quick blurb: Gorgeous governess uglifies herself to land job with handsome, aristocratic widower.
  • Quick review: Yawn. Completely predictable and unoriginal.
  • Grade: C-

Part of her wished Lord Steadwell could see her like that, making the most of her God-given appearance rather than hiding her light under pinched spectacles and drab clothes.

The happy couple….

She’s a gorgeous governess who dons a mobcap and spectacles to find a new job because she’s tired of being accosted by slimy men. He’s an aristocratic widower with two young daughters.

The romance….

An attempt at a Cinderella story, but the “in disguise at the ball” scene is an uncomfortable plot contrivance to maneuver the staid hero and heroine into acting out of character.

The history….

No glaring anachronisms or inaccuracies, just the usual country estate and London ballroom and a few mentions of Napoleon. This story could easily be lifted out the Regency and plopped into virtually any time period – and I think it has been. Often.

The storytelling….

Again, nothing objectionable, but nothing special. The only conflict centers around the “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful” heroine’s deception in keeping her gorgeousness hidden from her employer, and that’s just not enough to drive the romance-building for me.

The faith message….

“Let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” – 1 Peter 3:4

There wasn’t a lot of proselytizing in The Baron’s Governess Bride, but the overall spiritual theme seemed rather heavy-handed and inconsistent, popping up occasionally to remind us that, yeah, this is an inspirational.

The recommendation….

Only for readers looking for a generic “governess + widower” historical.

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A quick ending commentary….

I want to point out how relieved I was that none of these stories – historical or contemporary – focused on virginity. In fact, I don’t think the topic was even mentioned.

I’m not sure if that’s a given in the Love Inspired line, but it’s really great to read contemporary inspirational romance where sexual history is a non-issue.