One-Quote Review: Gambling Men by Amy Lane

  • Gambling Men by Amy LaneTitle: Gambling Men
  • Author: Amy Lane
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, M/M
  • Publisher:  Dreamspinner Press, May 2012
  • Source: Free from the publisher via NetGalley ($5.38 Kindle, $14.99 paperback)
  • Length: 220 pages
  • Trope(s): Friends-to-Lovers, Alpha Male, Beta Hero, Gambling
  • Quick blurb:
  • Quick review: A few too many heavy-handed metaphors take the focus away from the characters.
  • Grade: B-

And it was poker – the water they swam in; the air they breathed; the language they spoke; the solid, bass, masculine sound of love that had no soft edges.

I always love Amy Lane’s characters and gorgeous writing, but the combination of poker AND hunting metaphors got to be too much by the end.

Also: I think hairless dude on the cover must spend a LOT of money on manscaping.

One-Quote Review: Redemption of a Hollywood Starlet by Kimberly Lang

  • Redemption of a Hollywood Starlet by Kimberly LangTitle: Redemption of a Hollywood Starlet
  • Author: Kimberly Lang
  • Series: The Marshalls, Book 3
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher:  Harlequin (Presents Extra), June 2012
  • Source: Free from the publisher via NetGalley ($2.99 ebook, $4.99 MMPB)
  • Length: 192 pages
  • Trope(s): Movie Stars, Parental Pressure, Manwhore, Slut Shaming, Misogyny
  • Quick blurb: Slut-shamed Hollywood princess attempts a comeback in a film produced by the ex who led her down the path of wickedness.
  • Quick review: Promising premise, but the execution was a huge missed opportunity.
  • Grade: D

“I think we’ve proved that you can raise hell and people will still respect you, but I can’t. It’s a horrible double standard, so I’ve worked very, very hard to clean up my act.”

The set-up for the oh-so-promising premise was there, but the story never even came close to being the “redemption” I was looking for. The HERO was the one who needed to get his head out of his ass, not the titular Hollywood Starlet. Exalted Manwhore + Slut-Shaming = Misogyny Wins Again.

One-Quote Review: Lady Maggie’s Secret Scandal by Grace Burrowes

  • Lady Maggie's Secret Scandal by Grace BurrowesTitle: Lady Maggie’s Secret Scandal
  • Author: Grace Burrowes
  • Series: Windhams, Book 5
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher:  Sourcebooks, May 2012
  • Source: Public library ($6.39 ebook, $7.99 MMPB)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Beta Heroes, Tormented by Guilt, Regency, Illegitimacy, Courtesans, Damsel in Distress
  • Quick blurb: Illegitimate duke’s daughter finds her carefully constructed cover-up of family secrets – and her carefully guarded heart – unraveling when she hires an investigator to find missing documents.
  • Quick review: My favorite Grace Burrowes so far – but she’s still not quite an auto-buy for me.
  • Grade: B

With that soft, slightly anxious look in his dark eyes he’d broken rules and commandments and equivalent of papal bulls issued by Maggie’s common sense and countersigned by her instinct for self-preservation.

A slow start (good lord, just LOOK for the stupid reticule, already, sheesh) that evolves into some deliciously angsty romance-building before flaming out into a disappointing Manly-Men-to-the-Rescue ending. But I’ll forgive almost anything for a swoon-worthy beta hero like Benjamin Hazlit.

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.


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.


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.


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.

How to Sell Me A Book

Every time I see something like this:

Hidden book description

…I shake my head sadly. And then I click away to another book.


Why do authors and publishers do this? I don’t understand. It violates the golden rule of e-commerce and online marketing: Make it as easy as possible for a potential customer to purchase your product.

If you want me to use this:

Buy button

…don’t bury your back cover blurb below this:

Show More link

It’s that simple.

Lady Alexandra’s Excellent Adventure by Sophie Barnes

  • Lady Alexandra's Excellent AdventureTitle: Lady Alexandra’s Excellent Adventure
  • Author: Sophie Barnes
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical (er, Mistorical)
  • Publisher: Avon Impulse, May 2012
  • Source: Borrowed from public library ($3.99 at Amazon)
  • Trope(s): Regency, Virgins, Beta Heroes, Spies, In Disguise, TSTL, Mistorical
  • Quick blurb: TSTL hoyden teams up with worst spy ever to rescue brother who may be a traitor.
  • Quick review: Spectacularly unsuccessful mashup of Julia Quinn and Joanna Bourne.
  • Grade: D-

Lady Alexandra’s Excellent Adventure popped up on the “Recently Added E-Books” list at my local public library. I figured, “Hey, it has a cheesy title, but you never know.”

Oh, I should have known.

It didn’t take long to get to the second of many What. The. Fucks. in this book (I’m counting the title as the first). By the middle of chapter two, I was double-checking the front matter to see if my library had been suckered into offering vanity press titles.

Oh, Avon Impulse, if this is what you’re publishing as “fresh, exciting content,” I don’t think I’m the kind of “evolved” and “savvy” reader you had in mind. Unless, of course, “Insulting Mistorical” is one of your new subgenres.

But before we get into the CAPS LOCK OF INDIGNATION (to paraphrase The Book Smugglers – this wasn’t quite rage-inducing, but I’m definitely indignant), let’s go on an Excellent Adventure with Lady Alexandra & Friends.

Continue reading

Side by Side: Julia Quinn and Cecilia Grant

A Night Like This by Julia Quinn A Gentleman Undone by Cecilia Grant
  • Title: A Night Like This
  • Author: Julia Quinn
  • Series: Smythe-Smith Quartet, Book 2
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Avon, May 2012
  • Source: Amazon, $6.99
  • Trope(s): Regency, Virgin, Beta Hero, Angst, Redemption
  • Quick blurb: Ruined-by-a-rake governess finds love with tormented-by-guilt earl.
  • Quick review: Everything I expected from Julia Quinn – in a good way.
  • Grade: B
  • Title: A Gentleman Undone
  • Author: Cecilia Grant
  • Series: Blackshear Family, Book 2
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Bantam, May 2012
  • Source: Amazon, $7.99
  • Trope(s): Regency, Virgin, Beta Hero, Angst, Redemption
  • Quick blurb: Ruined-by-a-rake courtesan finds love with tormented-by-guilt soldier.
  • Quick review: Everything I expected from Cecilia Grant – and more.
  • Grade: A

I’m terrible at reviewing the books I love, which is why I cheat with my One-Quote Reviews. But with these two books, there’s no way I could have chosen just one quote – or even 10 or 20.

After several futile attempts to tone down the squee, I decided to take a more analytical approach to figure out precisely why I love these two very different authors. So I made a spreadsheet. Yes, I’m a nerd. I thought everyone knew that by now.

Why compare these two books? Both titles were released on the same day (May 29, 2012). Both are Regency-era historicals of similar length (approx. 370 pages) and both were published by imprints of Random House (Avon, Bantam). And, oddly enough, the basic plots are very similar, with ruined-by-a-rake heroines and tormented-by-guilt heroes finding love and redemption amidst secrecy and revenge.

Also, comparing them means I have one less positive review to write. I’m sneaky that way.

What sets each book apart – from each other and from other formulaic romances – is the author’s voice. While Quinn offers buoyant optimism with her trademark witty, lighthearted tone, Grant creates a much darker atmosphere of intensity and poetic despair.

Now I’m going to cheat again. Instead of trying to define or describe what “authorial voice” means, I’ll just let these two writers do the talking for me.

NOTE: The tables (colorcoded! to match the book covers!!!) below will probably look like crap in an email or RSS reader, but hopefully I’ve enticed you enough to click through to the real thing.

Continue reading

One-Quote Review: Off the Shelf by Lucy Felthouse

  • Off the Shelf by Lucy FelthouseTitle: Off the Shelf
  • Author: Lucy Felthouse
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Erotica, Short
  • Publisher: Xcite Books, May 2012
  • Source: Amazon, 99¢
  • Quick blurb: Travel writer gets the hots for an airport bookshop clerk.
  • Grade: B

…something about the way he was cradling a book in his hands made Annalise suspect she’d found a kindred spirit.

Fun, sexy short story with – believe it or not – a believable romance.


I know the cover above is a stock Jimmy Thomas, but I’m glad they changed it because I just couldn’t recommend it with the original cover:

Off the Shelf by Lucy Felthouse

I’m all for beta heroes with bedhead, but good grief, that poor boy needs a decent haircut.