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.

Along Came Trouble by Ruthie Knox

Along Came Trouble by Ruthie Knox

  • Title: Along Came Trouble
  • Author: Ruthie Knox
  • Series: Camelot, Book 2
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Loveswept, February 2013
  • Source: NetGalley ($2.99 ebook)
  • Length: 121 pages
  • Trope(s): Uptight Single Mother, Ex-Army Hero, Insta-Lust, Evil Ex,  Big Misunderstandings
  • Quick blurb: A single mother’s tightly-ordered life is disrupted when her pop-star brother insists on assigning her a security guard.
  • Quick review: More great characterization and smoking-hot chemistry, but the short timeframe and small-town antics got in the way of the relationship-building.
  • Grade: B

Get a grip, she told herself, but her libido had no claws, and the situation was slippery — a bizarre combination of socially awkward and inconveniently arousing.

So. I first attempted just a One-Quote Review because I’m lazy, but this book made me have THOUGHTS. And FEELINGS.

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Medieval Mania: By Royal Command by Laura Navarre

  • By Royal Command by Laura NavarreTitle: By Royal Command
  • Author: Laura Navarre
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Carina Press, July 2012
  • Source: NetGalley ($4.16 ebook)
  • Length: 274 pages
  • Trope(s): Widow, Alpha Male(s), Beta Hero, Big Misunderstanding, Simile Sex, Hair Fetish, Evil Royal Relation
  • Quick blurb: Newly widowed niece of King Ethelred (he of the Unreadiness) is forced into a betrothal with a Norman nobleman – but she’s distracted by the large and tawny Viking assigned as her escort.
  • Quick review: The author has a thesaurus, and she knows how to use it.
  • Grade: D

Grappling with savage urgency in a riot of tumbled cushions, she plunged headlong into rapture in the arms of her wrathful angel.

Status Updates: Read With Me Vicariously

You can tell by the dates that I avoided writing this review.

  • 09/12 – 40%: “…the curving shell of secrets nestled between her thighs” o.0
  • 09/13 – 42%: This book is much more Bodice Ripper than I anticipated….
  • 09/13 – 58%: The metaphors. EVERYTHING is a water, fire, weather or war metaphor. And the interjections. By Odin’s smelly underpants, the INTERJECTIONS! Lots of references to Odin and Thor, but no Loki yet. Heroine prefers to invoke St. Cuthbert and St. Wilfrid.
  • 09/14 – 65%: The book that will never end. I made it this far, but this is taking WAY too long to finish.
  • 09/15 – 78%: Still not done… *whimper*
  • 09/17 – 100%: Finally finished, and I still haven’t quite distilled why this didn’t work for me.

When I finally started the distillation process, I had to put the crankypants on.

The writing style….

I can’t really call it the author’s “voice,” because I never really heard one. Instead, I felt bombarded with every literary device we learned in junior high language arts class. Action verbs. Adjectives. Metaphors. Interjections. Euphemisms. Rinse. Repeat.

As he fitted himself against her, an epiphany burst within….

She opened herself to the storm of sensation, reached for him with both arms as he surged inside to fill her. Their joining brought him toppling down on her, in the blazing splendor of the archbishop’s bed. He gripped her in the same desperate clutch, held her moored against his rapid thrusts. Her tight channel stretched to accept him, ripples of pleasure pulsing through her. Blindly, she struggled toward the conflagration.

Without warning, it ignited her. She dug her nails into his sinewed back and clung with all her strength. The cataclysm flung her high, outside herself, as he went rigid in her arms.

The hundreds (literally) of other examples can be grouped into thematic categories, including:

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One-Quote Review: Heart Murmurs by Suleikha Synder

Let the Sunday of Squee commence!
Heart Murmurs by Suleikha Snyder

  • Title: Heart Murmurs
  • Author: Suleikha Snyder
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Wild Rose Press, August 2012
  • Source: Amazon, 99¢
  • Length: 34 pages
  • Trope(s): Alpha Male, Smart/Smartass Heroine, Age Difference, Lust in the Workplace
  • Quick blurb: Hospital heartthrob finds a challenge in a smart and prickly surgical resident.
  • Quick review: I’m having withdrawal symptoms. I think I need a sequel.
  • Grade: A

He was a prick, and Anu wanted him so bad she could taste it: sharp and hot, like his smile. It was sheer insanity. Having a crush on an attending – on a department chief, at that – was right up there with hallucinating leprechauns.

It took me 45 minutes to choose just one quote from the dozens of smartass and swoon-worthy lines I highlighted. This short story is pretty close to perfect, and I want MORE MORE MORE.

Heiress Without A Cause* by Sarah Ramsey

* Plus a little bit about Book 2: Scotsmen Prefer Blondes at the very end.

  • Heiress Without A Cause by Sarah RamseyTitle: Heiress Without a Cause
  • Author: Sara Ramsey
  • Series: Muses of Mayfair, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Spencerhill Associates, February 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($3.39 ebook)
  • Length: 314 pages
  • Trope(s): In Disguise, TSTL, Mistorical
  • Quick blurb: Spinster agrees to chaperone disgraced lord’s sisters – but when he recognizes her actress alter ego, she must pretend to be his mistress.
  • Quick review: A hot mess of a premise and a TSTL heroine, slightly redeemed by a few flashes of compelling writing.
  • Grade: C– (really more of a D+, but it’s not a Lady Alexandra level of bad)

The entire premise of this book is a big ol’ Hot Mess, with all the requisite confusing plot contrivances to force the action and motivations into something vaguely resembling logic.

I came very, very close to DNFing, but some swoon-worthy sentences (and the irrelevant fact that the author claims to be an Iowa girl) gave me hope that the writing might somehow overcome all the early red flags.

The setting….

Regency London. The fantasy-land Mistorical Island version (see below).

The backstory….

Our heroine, Lady Madeleine Vaillant, is half-French, orphaned by the guillotine because her parents stayed behind to protect their chateau. Or something like that. She lives in London with her aunt and cousins, desperately yearning for someone – anyone – to adore her (more on this later).

Our hero, William Avenel, is the newly-titled and very reluctant Duke of Rothwell. He’s edging his way back into the ton nearly ten years after purposely getting himself exiled to Scotland to escape his humorless father. The duke has three sisters – two are much-younger twins in need of a society chaperone, the other a scandalous widow.

The plot….

This is going to get a little hairy. Please be patient and save all your questions until the end.

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, ca. 1885-1900

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, ca. 1885-1900

Believing herself to be trapped in a “boring but comfortable prison,” and being desperately desperate for adoration (see below), our heroine decides her only option is to become An Actress.

Here, in a white muslin ball gown, with her brown hair tucked into a spinster’s cap, no one spared her a first glance, let alone a second.

Last night, wearing breeches and a wild, unkempt wig, everyone cheered at her feet.

The breeches and wig are part of her costume for her role in Hamlet. To be more specific, the LEAD role.

Our hero, who just happens to own the theater, is naturally stunned stupid by Lady Madeline’s amazing acting (performed under a French pseudonym, of course). Naturally, he accosts her in her dressing room, where he immediately recognizes her as the quiet Mayfair spinster he hoped to engage as a chaperone for his young sisters.

This recognition leads to our heroine (in her actress persona) pretending to be the duke’s mistress. For scandal-proofing and safety reasons, of course.

If you’re thinking that all these contrivances to get them into bed defy logic and reason, you are correct. All this happens in the first third of the book.

What made it even more frustrating is that our happy couple’s backstories are revealed too little, too late. Instead, we’re immediately dumped into the characters’ heads, where inexplicable things are happening. My “oh, really???” bullshit-o-meter was starting to veer off the charts to the Land of DNF. But once I understood Madeline and Ferguson’s motivations, I was much more willing to keep reading.

Of course, I still held a grudge throughout the rest of the book. My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever. Usually. I occasionally relent if the sexy times are hot.

There was nothing too painful about the predictable “Oh NOES, I’m RUINED, no wait, NEVER MIND” road to the predictable baby-filled epilogue. In fact, the calming of the craziness allowed for some really good writing and characterization to peek through – just enough to make me feel a teensy bit guilty for my petulant snarking.

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The Black Sheep Sheik by Dana Marton

  • The Black Sheep Sheik by Dana MartonTitle: The Black Sheep Sheik
  • Author: Dana Marton
  • Category/Series: Intrigue, Cowboys Royale miniseries
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Suspense
  • Publisher:  Harlequin,  September 2011
  • Source: Amazon, $3.82 ebook
  • Length: 220 pages
  • Trope(s): Sheik, Alpha Male, Manwhore, One-Night Stand, Secret Baby, Pregnant Heroine, Coma, Kidnapping, Gangsters
  • Quick blurb: Sheik awakens from month-long coma thanks to Lady Doctor who is nine months pregnant with his Secret Baby.
  • Quick review: Author Dana Marton pulls out all the stops to save Kelly’s Month o’ Harlequin Experiment from its downward trajectory!
  • Grade: B
  1. kelly_instalove
    Continuing my Harlequin Experiment with Intrigue titled “Black Sheep Sheik.” I am determined to relax and enjoy it without cynicism.
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 17:47:21
  2. kelly_instalove
    Pregnant Lady Doctor: “I’m not marrying you and you can’t make me.” Cowboy Sheik: *glares regally*
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 18:16:33
  3. Liz_Mc2
    @kelly_instalove You know there are less crazy ones, right?
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 18:21:18
  4. sunita_d
    @kelly_instalove I, for one, salute you. I have been unable to bring myself to read about Cowboy Sheikhs. @Liz_Mc2
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 18:23:37
  5. kelly_instalove
    “I think I preferred you in a coma. You’re much nicer when you’re not talking.” I think I like this heroine #BlackSheepSheik
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 18:25:08
  6. kelly_instalove
    “I am your future husband. You should not think angry thoughts about me.” #BlackSheepSheik
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 18:27:52
  7. kelly_instalove
    “I’m thinking whether I’d lose my medical license if I strangled you with the IV line, Your Highness.” ::fistpump:: #BlackSheepSheik
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 18:29:26
  8. kelly_instalove
    Cowboy Sheik shoots bad guys with antique hunting rifle. Pregnant Lady Doctor ogles his ass through the open flap of his hospital gown.
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 18:52:40
  9. kelly_instalove
    He: “I’m out of bullets. Do you have more?” She: “Sure, and check for that grenade launcher under the seat.” I *really* like this heroine.
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 18:56:37
  10. kelly_instalove
    “Could you not accuse me of attempted murder in the middle of a high-speed, armed chase? It’s the first time I’m doing something like this.”
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 19:01:12
  11. kelly_instalove
    “Believe me, this is not your usual coma recovery.” #BlackSheepSheik
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 19:11:01
  12. kelly_instalove
    Two hours after awakening from month-long coma, Cowboy Sheik’s manhood has returned with a vengeance, ready to make up for lost time.
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 19:17:15
  13. kelly_instalove
    No need for paternity test; unborn son’s distinctive sheik-esque chin is clearly visible on ultrasound. #BlackSheepSheik
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 19:33:15
  14. JenniferRNN
    @kelly_instalove Really? How can people not want to read romances like these?
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 19:36:44
  15. willaful
    @kelly_instalove Also, he’s wearing a tiny cowboy hat and boots.
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 19:35:16
  16. JanetNorCal
    @willaful @kelly_instalove You are bad! I wondered if “chin” was substituting for another part of the anatomy.
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 19:37:20
  17. willaful
    @JanetNorCal @kelly_instalove Think how painful it will be to deliver a baby with such broad shoulders.
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 20:19:49
  18. kelly_instalove
    Cowboy Sheik is a seven-time veteran of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. More details to come after they escape hail of bullets. Again.
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 19:40:58
  19. kelly_instalove
    Cue entrance of Russian mob. #BlackSheepSheik
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 19:44:52
  20. kelly_instalove
    “Danger and romance are not as incompatible as one would think….” #BlackSheepSheik
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 19:46:40
  21. kelly_instalove
    “…why action flicks rarely featured pregnant women. No movies called The Gestating Spy or Mission: Maternity ever topped the box office.”
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 19:50:19
  22. kelly_instalove
    Pregnant Lady Doctor escapes kidnappers by using earring to pick lock. #BlackSheepSheik
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 19:53:15
  23. kelly_instalove
    “You’re getting used to me. You’ll barely notice that we’re married.” #BlackSheepSheik
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 20:07:52
  24. kelly_instalove
    “The regular rules of conduct could take a break when you were in middle of woods, have been kidnapped and were about ready to have a baby.”
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 20:42:39
  25. kelly_instalove
    I am much better at multi-tasking at home than I am at work.
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 20:50:32
  26. kelly_instalove
    Bad Guy: “Hotter than a whorehouse on nickel night out here.” #BlackSheepSheik
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 20:51:12
  27. kelly_instalove
    Heroine uses Phillips-head screwdriver found in car as weapon. Which is fortunate, because a mere flat-head screwdriver just wouldn’t do.
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 20:56:19
  28. kelly_instalove
    I don’t think Cowboy Sheik knows about the six-week post-partum no-sex thing. He’s going to be awfully disappointed. #BlackSheepSheik
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 21:04:20
  29. HeidiBelleau
    @kelly_instalove Haha six weeks? It’s been like a year and my vag is still basically a no-go zone.
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 21:05:50
  30. ann_somerville
    @HeidiBelleau gee I’m glad you shared that with us all 🙂 @kelly_instalove
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 21:08:06
  31. HeidiBelleau
    @ann_somerville @kelly_instalove sorry I have no filter lol
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 21:08:58
  32. kelly_instalove
    Trap door under rug proves difficult to open. If only they had a flat-head screwdriver. #BlackSheepSheik
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 21:09:13
  33. kelly_instalove
    I think this trap door is the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets. I hope they speak Parseltongue. #BlackSheepSheik
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 21:14:09
  34. kelly_instalove
    ” ‘Look out for snakes,’ she suggested.” SEE??? I *told* you. #BlackSheepSheik
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 21:15:34
  35. kelly_instalove
    Flashback to meet-cute at costume party. She: Belly dancer. He: Persian prince. I was wondering how author was going to get sexy times in.
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 21:19:08
  36. kelly_instalove
    He mesmerizes her with A LOOK and leads her out to the balcony. Her reputation as a virginal maiden is *ruined.* Oh, wait – wrong book.
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 21:21:06
  37. kelly_instalove
    Oh FFS, flashback was just a dream and take a wild guess when she wakes up. So unfair. #BlackSheepSheik
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 21:27:32
  38. kelly_instalove
    “She could see those hands wrapped around the steering wheel of some superexpensive sports car, or reining in a wild camel.”
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 21:30:11
  39. kelly_instalove
    “Or holding their baby.” #BlackSheepSheik
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 21:30:23
  40. kelly_instalove
    Hero: “You’re not going to get away with this.” Bad Guy: “We’ll just have to agree to disagree on that, I’m afraid.” #BlackSheepSheik
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 21:34:45
  41. kelly_instalove
    FYI: The Royal Palace of Jamala is surrounded by lemon tress. #BlackSheepSheik
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 21:40:11
  42. kelly_instalove
    “he needed to find the end of this tunnel and clear the exit, then he needed to widen the hole in the floor so she would fit through it.”
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 21:49:16
  43. kelly_instalove
    “It was official. Pregnancy hormones did give her brain damage.” Sing it, sister. #BlackSheepSheik
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 21:56:13
  44. kelly_instalove
    “So help me God, I will shoot you dead right now, right here. I’m a pregnant woman in labor. Do I look like I’m kidding?” #BlackSheepSheik
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 21:58:32
  45. kelly_instalove
    “The warrior blood of his ancestors rushed in his veins. Savagery filled him and he embraced it. He would not let her be harmed.”
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 22:13:04
  46. kelly_instalove
    “Now is SO not the best time to go medieval on me.” #BlackSheepSheik
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 22:16:42
  47. kelly_instalove
    Royal wedding! Bride wears jewel-studded breastfeeding bra. I’m not kidding. This book is AWESOME. #BlackSheepSheik
    Fri, Aug 03 2012 22:22:56

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!