One-Quote Review: The Duke’s Match Girl by Lila DiPasqua

This one gets its own post because DUDE. The Duke's Match Girl by Lila DiPasqua

  • Title: The Duke’s Match Girl
  • Author: Lila DiPasqua
  • Genre(s): Historical, Holiday
  • Publisher: Self-Published, December 2013
  • Source: Purchased (99¢)
  • Length: 99 pages
  • Trope(s): Smartass Heroine, Arrogant Aristocrat, Forgiveness & Redemption, Angry Sex, Makeup Sex,
  • Quick blurb: Recently widowed duke goes on campaign to woo back his first and only love
  • Grade: A (maybe an A+, need to read it again, might be lacking a big slobbery dog)

Your Grace,

Your man has informed me of your offer. He was quite uncomfortable about relaying my response. It is for his ease that I put it to you here in writing. As to your offer — and say this with the utmost sincerity  you may take it, and insert it into your exalted posterior.

Sincerely,

Suzanne

Drop whatever you are reading and READ THIS INSTEAD. No, really. Yes, the description says it’s a retelling of the Danish fairy tale, but trust me. I would never recommend a romance where the titular character freezes to death in a doorway.

Instead, it’s hilarious (the excerpt above is a mere hint) and madly sexy (as in angry makeup sex in a carriage) and breathtakingly romantic (I almost used “speechlessly” as the adjective but it sounded weird, which is kind of ironic when you think about it) with just the right amount of holiday seasoning.

Let’s just put it this way: The hero is a SMARMY ALPHA-HOLE AND I LIKED HIM ANYWAY. Christmas miracles, indeed.

The Holiday Novella Binge Begins: Matzoh and Mistletoe by Jodie Griffin

Matzoh and Mistletoe by Jodie GriffinTo ramp up the festive spirit around here, I’m going to use Naughty & Nice Lists for all my holiday novella reviews.

  • Title: Matzoh and Mistletoe
  • Author: Jodie Griffin
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Erotica
  • Publisher: Carina Press, November 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 92 pages
  • Trope(s): Awakening the Innocent, Alpha Cop, Evil Abusive Ex, Sex in the Snow
  • Quick blurb: Cop/Dom helps Nice Jewish Girl learn to give blowjobs.
  • Quick review: Some really promising elements, but too much How To Be A Submissive In 100 Easy Pages
  • Grade: C

He tasted like peppermint candy canes and kissed like a bad boy.

The Nice List….

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One-Quote Review: Skin in the Game by Jackie Barbosa

Skin in the Game by Jackie Barbosa

  • Title: Skin in the Game
  • Author: Jackie Barbosa
  • Series: Play Action, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Cntemporary
  • Publisher: Entangled (Brazen), May 2013
  • Source: Review copy provided by author
  • Length: 250 pages
  • Trope(s): Lady Football Coach/Math Geek, Injured Superstar, Lust in the Workplace
  • Quick blurb: Pro quarterback gets involved with hometown high school coach.
  • Quick review: Another one written JUST FOR ME.
  • Grade: A-

In fact, she doubted anything could make him less hot, short of a restraining order from an ex-girlfriend.

Heroine is a prickly math geek and football coach. Hero is an angsty athlete who can do the dirty talk. Author knows her football — and her dirty talk.

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.

The ‘Oh Crap It’s Only A Week Until Christmas’ Holiday Book Binge, Part 2

I did a LOT of reading last weekend. My house is a complete disaster and I DON’T CARE. Santa and his stupid Naughty List can just bite my big ol’ you-know-what.

Unless he’s bringing me stuff from my wish list. I might even actually fold all the laundry on the couch AND put it away for one of those books.

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Naughty and Nice: Three Holiday Treats (Anthology)

Naughty & Nice: Three Holiday Treats anthology

  • Title: Naughty and Nice: Three Holiday Treats
  • Authors: Ruthie Knox, Molly O’Keefe and Stefanie Sloane
  • Series: Crooked Creek Ranch, Book 2.5 (O’Keeffe)
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Historical
  • Publisher: Loveswept/Random House, November 2012
  • Source: NetGalley ($1.99 ebook)
  • Length: 210 pages
  • Trope(s): Grand Gesture, Family Drama, Small Town Guilt, Recalcitrant Farm Animals (thankfully not a goat this time)
  • Quick blurb: An homage to It’s a Wonderful Life, an HFN contemporary prequel, and a boring and silly historical.
  • Quick review: It’s all about Room at the Inn.
  • Grade: B

Room at the Inn by Ruthie Knox

Mother of God, he had great hands.

Carson Vance can put those hands on me anytime. I have a major Author Crush on Ruthie Knox because she knows exactly how to Push My Buttons. Including the Gloriously Groveling Grand Gesture. She makes me use Initial Caps.

All I Want for Christmas Is You by Molly O’Keeffe

“Any promise you make…half of the promise is commitment and the other half is faith. Faith that your commitment is enough.”

This was my first by O’Keefe — I was disappointed in the story as an happy-for-now prequel, but there was enough honest emotion and realistic angst to keep her Crooked Creek Ranch series in my TBR queue.

One Perfect Christmas by Stephanie Sloane

Blast that word, “if.” Two letters, without which there was no hope.

Also a first for Sloane — unfortunately, nothing about this impressed me. I’m a sucker for the friends-to-lovers trope and the MCs were likeable, but the story was oh-so-predictable and I found some of the smexing to be awkward instead of sexy.

Any Regency has to be very, very different to stand out among the hundreds of others out there, and this one was just too cookie-cutter to be memorable.

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Twelve Days by Ros Clarke

Twelve Days by Ros Clarke

  • Title: Twelve Days
  • Author: Ros Clarke
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Self-Published, December 2012
  • Source: Provided by the author (99¢ ebook)
  • Length: 35 pages
  • Trope(s): Big Misunderstanding (Big. HUGE.), Family Drama, Reunited, Flash Mob
  • Quick blurb: A public marriage proposal doesn’t go quite as planned.
  • Quick review: Sad-cry + happy-cry = *happysigh* (all in only 35 pages!)
  • Grade: B+

The singers had already reached the three French hens verse, and on cue a chicken ran across the road.

For anyone who cringed at the grand gesture in Room at the Inn, read this. Trust me.

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Wish List by Sylvia Day

Wish List by Sylvia Day

  • Title: Wish List
  • Author: Sylvia Day
  • Series: White Hot Holidays
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Self-Published, December 2005 (originally published January 2005 by Ellora’s Cave)
  • Source: Amazon, $2.51 ebook
  • Length: 40 pages
  • Trope(s): Lawyers, Secret Santa, Secret [NO SPOILERS!]
  • Quick blurb: Law firm Secret Santa gift exchange gives attorney the opportunity to fulfill his colleague’s no-longer-secret wish list.
  • Quick review: Hero goes from Alpha to Beta in only 40 pages. I love it when that happens.
  • Grade: B+

“This isn’t about getting laid,” he insisted hoarsely.

“I know.” Her hands clung to his straining, sweating back.

“This isn’t temporary.”

“I – I…”

This is another author first (I know, I know), but I shall remedy that soon.

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.

World Series of Romance: Stealing Home by Allison Pittman

Get your protective choir robes or holy underwear or whatever ready, because it’s going to be RAINING SQUEE AROUND HERE.
Stealing Home by Allison Pittman

  • Title: Stealing Home
  • Author: Allison Pittman
  • Series: The Baseball Novels, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Historical, Inspirational
  • Publisher: Multnomah Books, April 2009
  • Source: Amazon ($9.99 ebook)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • Trope(s): Celebrity & Commoner(s), Unrequited/Reunited, Beta Hero(es), Plot Moppet (but in a good way),
  • Quick blurb: A staid and “dry” small town in Missouri is turned upside down when a newly-sober ballplayer arrives to continue his recovery.
  • Quick review: The Music Man + The Natural + Field of Dreams + Places in the Heart = BIG FAT WIN.
  • Grade: A+

“Don’t worry. This is baseball. There’s always a second chance.”

Read With Me Vicariously: Status Updates

11/18/12 – 25%:
Shut up and quit bothering me, I’m reading a REALLY GOOD BOOK.

11/18/12 – 50%:
I love this book soooooo much. If this tanks in the second half like my last three books, I’m going to be upset. VERY upset.

11/19/12 – 75%:
Dear God — and I mean that in both the holy and blasphemous connotations — I love this book.

11/19/12 – 90%:
Never mind, I HATE this book.

11/19/12 – 100%:
I am going to need several days to recover from this one, and the full review is going to be a completely incoherent mess of stupid.

Let the mess of incoherent stupidity commence. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This is also very long, so go ahead and make a trip to the kitchen for Diet Coke and cookies before we get started. Or communion wafers and wine. Whatever floats your boat.

The set-up

Picksville, Missouri – March 1905:

Dave was sending her a man. And he was coming on the two-o’clock train.

Dave Voyant is our heroine Ellie Jane’s older brother. He’s a Chicago sportswriter who somehow got himself involved in getting Duke Dennison, the league’s most die-hard drunk, dried out enough to return to the Cubs’ starting lineup.

1905 Spalding Bseball GuideWith “dry” being the key word, Dave offers up his hometown of Picksville as an ideal place for Duke to continue his recovery when he’s released from the “sanatorium.”

No saloon. Just like Voyant told the doctor. Some kind of small town ordinance. Welcome to Picksville. Doctor’s orders. For at least thirty days.

When Duke steps off the train, he makes quite an impression on his welcoming committee, especially Morris Bennett, an ambitious “Negro errand boy” enlisted by Ellie Jane to carry the royal baggage:

Now I know a rich white man when I see one. But this guy — he is almost pretty. He’s wearin this suit the color of molasses cake and one of those dandy hats and more jewels than I’ve ever seen any man wear — diamond rings on each hand, gold watch, pearl tie clip and cuff-buttons.

When the big-league city slicker turns his charm on Ellie Jane, the exchange is almost too much for our hero Ned, who’s watching from across the platform:

Ned cringed at Ellie Jane’s girlish reaction, bringing her other hand up to capture what must be a lovely giggle while allowing herself to languish in this forward embrace.

If you were expecting the Duke the Magnificent Manly-Man to be the hero of this story, you might be disappointed – but don’t be, because Ned has “hero material” written all over him. Trust me.

And yes, this is going to be one of those reviews that’s one quote and excerpt after another. Suck it up and keep reading. You’ll thank me later.

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World Series of Romance: Squeeze Play by Kate Angell

Just so’s you know….

This started out as a One-Quote Review, and then four hours later I found myself in the throes of a Full Snark Bitchfest.

Shh! Mom's on the warpath!

You’re damn right I am. Also, if you give me
cake to relax, it better not be made of Ivory Soap.

If you read all the way to the end, you’ll see why.

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Squeeze Play (Richmond Rogues Book 1) by Kate Angell

  • Title: Squeeze Play
  • Author: Kate Angell
  • Series: Richmond Rogues, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: First published June 2006 by Love Spell; re-released as self-pub ebook December 2011
  • Source: Amazon (99¢ ebook)
  • Length: 318 pages
  • Trope(s): Angsty Athlete, Flaky Heroine, Friends-to-Lovers, Big Misunderstanding(s), Dumped in Public, Rebound, Small Town, Plot Moppets, Weight-Shaming
  • Quick blurb: Big-league ballplayers return to hometown for charity bachelor auction.
  • Quick review: A lot of eye-rolling and some major ::HEADDESK::ing.
  • Grade: D

The first in a steamy new series of romances featuring a hunky baseball team and the sirens who challenge the players in the game of love.

I have two positive things to say about this book:

(1) It was only 99 cents.

(2) It wasn’t Sweet Jesus! Honey Dews! bad.

But it was close.

I know I shouldn’t judge an entire series by the first book, but since it had a multi-arc storyline, I figured one book was more than enough.

You don’t believe me, do you? DO YOU? Well, all I can say is READ THIS:

My nipples picked you out of the crowd.

Him: “Your first blow on my coffee turned me on.”
Her: “My nipples picked you out of the crowd.”

My first idea was to do this as a Rogues vs. McCoys box score, but I’m kind of charted-out for a while. So this is going to be a Heroines vs. Heroes play-by-play with color commentary instead.

The match-up:

  • Home: The Small-Town Girls — Jacy the Wacky Coffee Shop Owner, Stevie the Low-Self-Esteem Tomboy, and Natalie the Big City Slut Who Tries to Throw the Game.
  • Visitors: The Richmond Rogues — Pro baseball players, in town for a celebrity bachelor auction, known by their on-field nicknames of Risk, Zen/ Einstein, Shutout, Romeo, Chaser and Psycho. Collectively known as “The Bat Pack.” No, really.

The scouting report:

  • Small-Town Girls Jacy and Stevie have the home-field advantage, and they know the value of well-timed coffee-inspired innuendo-laden puns.
  • Richmond’s local-boys-done-good Risk and Shutout have history with and insider knowledge of their opponents, but mental trips down Memory Lane might weaken their defenses.
  • Natalie the Slut, unexpectedly called down from her big-city penthouse, may throw both teams off their game with her wild pitching and penchant for crowd-baiting.
  • Irrational jealousy resulting from big misunderstandings will dominate play, but players will also need to be prepared for numerous distractions from both sides of the bench in the form of cleavage- and/or ass-flashing and baseball-metaphor sexual propositions.

The pre-game show (aka the prologue):

Bottom of the ninth in Game Seven of the World Series – Rogues down one against Tampa Bay, two outs with a runner on third.

After whiffing a backdoor slider¹ and a curve, veteran hitter Risk Kincaid proves his nickname by — wait for it —  CALLING HIS SHOT (see image at right).

And of course he knocks it out of the park. But it’s not just any ol’ game-winning hit! It’s a homer to the left field bleachers aimed straight at the scantily-dressed and vividly-coiffed female fan who taunted him on the Jumbotron.

While the 80,000² Tampa Bay fans pout, cry and head out to riot in the streets, Risk makes nice with the reporters for his SportsCenter highlight reel:

“What about the girl with the pink hair?” someone asked.

“What about her?” he shot the question back.

“You nearly slammed the ball down her throat³.”

A corner of his mouth turned up slightly. “She needs to learn to duck.”

Classy, huh? But I suppose taking her head off with a line drive homer is better than yelling “TAG” in the middle of a rodeo bar.

¹ Yes, “backdoor slider.” Take a WILD guess where my dirty mind went with that one.

² Yes, EIGHTY THOUSAND fans. Which is very impressive, because the largest pro baseball venue (Dodgers Stadium) has a capacity of only 56,000. I thought maybe the anticipated crowds forced a cross-town move to the Ray-Jay, but that only seats 65,000. So it must have been a cross-country displacement to Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles.

³ Intentional or unintentional? You decide.

First inning (chapter one):

Oh, bloody HELL — I’m balking on the first pitch.

This stupid book has 13 chapters, and I don’t have the time or patience for extra innings. I have more angsty athletes to read about, dammit. I also have difficulty maintaining extended metaphors.

We’ll go with some obscure stats and random trivia instead.

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