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Review: Truly, Madly by Heather Webber

trulymadlyLucy Valentine’s family have been matchmakers for as long as anyone can remember.  Each member of the family sees a colored aura around people, enabling them to match the perfect couples.  Due to a strange accident in Lucy’s youth, she can no longer see these auras, but she can find people’s lost belongings.  That’s no use in the family business, however, and so Lucy is at loose ends when her father leaves her in charge.  She doesn’t stay that way for long with sexy private investigator Sean Donahue upstairs and a murder mystery to solve.  Perhaps Lucy’s talent for finding lost things will come in handy after all.

This was a really cute, light read.  Lucy is a charming character and I definitely wanted success for her.  I could understand how terrified she was to match couples when she didn’t actually have the ability to tell if the romances were going to work, and I thought her efforts to get people to give one another a try were really sweet.  Her own beginning romance was cute, too, but doesn’t wrap up as neatly as most novels would have done.  I suspect it will continue to grow in later books of this series.

The mystery was fairly predictable, but I didn’t expect anything else to be honest!  The groundwork for the solution is well-laid and for once I actually picked up on it, and as a result I was groaning when Lucy willingly threw herself into danger without putting the pieces together.  While this would ordinarily have irritated me, for some reason it didn’t here as I knew the plot had to wrap up and this was the only way it could happen.  Lucy’s talent was intriguing and I was glad she put it to good use.

Truly, Madly certainly isn’t going to make my favorites of the year, but it is definitely a perfect choice for anyone who wants a fun, romantic read.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

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Combined Review: Vision in White and Bed of Roses by Nora Roberts

Four women, who have been friends since childhood, together run a wedding company called Vows.  Each woman has control over one aspect of the business.  Mackenzie Elliott is the photographer and, despite capturing other people’s special moments every day, is determined to resist every special moment of her own due to a selfish, overdramatic mother who has effectively ruined any concept of romance she might have had.  Until Carter Maguire enters her life again, at least.  Carter had a huge crush on Mac in high school and it hasn’t gone away, but he needs to convince her that love isn’t always a battlefield.

I actually enjoyed this first book, Vision in White.  I didn’t think any woman but Mac was particularly fleshed out, and if they hadn’t had one defining characteristic each, I’m sure I would have mixed them up easily.  That one characteristic makes them incredibly shallow, but their relationships still manage to be sweet and makes me think about how nice friends can be.  The romance between Mac and Carter was similarly sweet – actually the whole book is probably best described as that.  They get together about halfway through and then the book becomes a struggle between Carter loving Mac and Mac determined not to stay with him, which is a little tiring.  Overall, though, it wasn’t too bad, and it was perfect for my stress-fogged brain.

In Bed of Roses, Emmaline Grant is the total opposite.  She adores romance and has held her parents’ love story as ideal for her entire life.  She wants candles, dancing in the moonlight, expensive dinners, and weekends away in New York City.  The girls’ close friend Jack Cooke has almost always been attracted to Emma, as most men seem to be, but only just gets the courage to act on it when she realizes she might be reciprocating his feelings.  But Jack hesitates with women, and doesn’t want the permanency that is Emma’s goal.  She’ll have to convince him that their love is worth it.

I’m sure just by reading that summary it’s pretty obvious that this book is almost a carbon copy of the last one.  Sure, some of the events are different, but it’s exactly the same pattern of someone wanting a marriage because their family is perfect and someone determined to avoid it because their parents screwed up.  Does every child of divorce remain convinced that marriage isn’t for them?  Obviously not, given my own marriage (and those of a number of my friends).  This sort of stereotype irritates me because it casts all people as the same.  The book was way too predictable on the heels of the last one.  The characters are still much too shallow, with virtually one facet each.  Parker plans, Emma is romantic, Mac is a tomboy.  Laurel is the only one I can’t really pin down as anything but a little outrageous.  Jack is defined by his desire to avoid marriage and long-lasting relationships.

I’m sure at least a little part of my dislike of these books is because I’m not really into the wedding thing.  My wedding was tiny and involved a minimum of fuss.  For these people the wedding practically is the marriage and that’s an attitude I don’t really understand.  Their job is wedding planning, of course, so the books contain plenty of details about the days.  I may have to reconsider Nora Roberts as one of the only two contemporary romance authors I read, though.  I know all romances are predictable to an extent, because they have happy endings, but if I can predict what goes up to the ending as well, I just get bored.  And it doesn’t help that she’s already established exactly who is going to match up in the next two books.  I find I’m not really interested after all.

I am an Amazon Associate. I bought these books (at a charity shop, which I am now happy about, and where I suspect they will go back.)

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Review: Slave to Sensation, Nalini Singh

In the Psy-changeling world, Psy attempt to deny themselves all emotions, becoming cold but completely logical.  On the other hand, changelings turn into animals and are largely ruled by those emotions, accepting all of their people for who they are.  Sascha Duncan has always struggled with being a Psy, unable to stop herself from feeling emotions.  She has never come into her cardinal powers, either, and she knows she’s flawed, incapable of joining her mother in Psy government.  When she launches a project with Lucas Hunter, a panther changeling, she realizes for the first time that there’s another world out there, and that perhaps it’s acceptable to feel.  But with a changeling killer on the loose, how long will she have to feel?

I am of two minds about this book.  Half of me loved it and the other half of me didn’t like it so much.  Most importantly, I think, is the fact that I was really intrigued by the world.  I tend to think that paranormal romance is mostly set in our world except the people in it are vampires/werewolves/fairies/whatever.  This is totally different, it’s set in a completely different world.  There are humans, but I don’t think there are any in this particular book.  The Psy are all connected mentally, which I found to be quite an interesting concept and it worked extremely well within the context of the story.  I definitely wanted to spend more time in this world.  I liked the quest to catch the changeling killer.  I didn’t think it took away from the romance at all even though it’s a fairly large part of the book.  Rather, I enjoyed the way the storylines fit together.

It’s the romance that I didn’t like so much.  While I didn’t particularly mind either of the main characters, I thought it moved way too fast and had far too many sexual scenes.  It happens virtually every time the hero and heroine are alone.  As we all know, I’m not really a fan of the lust = love romance, and so the first half of the book disappointed me in that way.  By the end, though, I did think they’d grown past it and had been through enough together for me to “get over” the first half.  Slave to Sensation definitely wasn’t as moving as it could have been.

Still, I think I’ll be reading more of Nalini Singh.  I liked the world enough to continue this series and I think the author has a lot of potential.  I also happen to have Angels’ Blood courtesy of Tasha at Heidenkind’s Hideaway, so I’ll be reading that next.

I am an Amazon Associate. I purchased this book.

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Review: Legend of the White Wolf, Terry Spear

Faith heads to Canada in an attempt to find her ex-boyfriend, Hilson, who stole her father’s research paper, and to figure out what has her father so excited.  Cameron is there looking for two missing partners.  Thanks to a mix-up in their hotel, Faith ends up in his room after he’s just taken a shower.  Nothing happens, but they realize they’re heading in the same direction.  Almost immediately, they’re thrown into a confusing world of werewolves and people intent on eliminating them.  As their lives change drastically, Faith and Cameron find themselves falling in love.

I really enjoyed Terry Spear’s last offering in this series, so I was really looking forward to this one.  I read very few romances set in the present, but the werewolf elements liven these books up.  I love Spear’s lupus garou universe, even though the characters were new to me in this one.  Both Faith and Cameron are bitten and their first transformations are really interesting.  Cameron for one doesn’t even realize he’s a werewolf at first; he thinks he’s just dreaming but is confused by the fact that everything is the same when he supposedly wakes up. I’m sure it would be difficult to realize that you’re a werewolf when you don’t even believe that they exist!

The romance was sweet, too.  I thought Cameron and Faith were a little too hasty when it came to jumping into bed, but they definitely bonded over their shared predicament.  I liked Cameron in particular; he was an extremely compelling character and I could believe in his feelings for Faith.  I felt for her, especially given her ex-boyfriend’s bad behavior, but he was just that much more appealing.  The secondary characters were not too detailed, but I was given enough that I wouldn’t mind reading their stories, too.

Legend of the White Wolf and all of Terry Spear’s books would be great choices for paranormal romance fans, especially those who are tired of always reading about vampires!

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free from the publisher for review.

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Review: Crimson & Steam, Liz Maverick

On the West Coast of this alternate United States, vampires reign supreme, but Marius Dumont has a problem.  He’s in love with Jillian Cooper and always has been, but he must marry Tatiana Asprey, a New York werewolf, in order to maintain peace between their races against the humans.  He’s determined to put his love aside for politics until a deadly virus hits the vampire population, and he and Jillian must team up to discover a cause and a cure before it’s too late.  Interspersed with their gripping story is the Victorian tale of Edward Vaughan and Charlotte Paxton, an uneven match that proves the basis for everything Jillian and Marius deal with in the present day.

Even though Crimson & Steam is apparently the eighth novel set in this universe, I had no trouble at all quickly picking up on the story and surprisingly falling in love with it.  It will shock no one that the Victorian sections were my favorite part.  When it comes to romance, generally the only kind I like is historical, and Edward and Charlotte have a very sweet story that is totally relevant to the modern day part.

What is surprising is how much I liked that modern day part.  Jillian and Marius don’t really have a romance exactly; they are soul mates and Marius is capable of hearing Jillian’s thoughts and sensing her emotions no matter where she is.  It’s established that they’ve had this connection for a good long while.  At first, I had Jill pegged as a very weak and whiny heroine, incapable of facing the world without a man she’d come to rely on.  She got stronger in the end, but ultimately I still preferred Charlotte, the Victorian heroine.  Marius could have been annoying himself, given his clear love for Jillian yet insistence on marrying someone else, but I thought the political situation was well played out and I understood his motives.

I liked it all so much, I think, because there was a clever plot behind it and the focus was on that, rather than what was happening between Marius and Jillian.  The side characters of Tatiana and Hayden, Jillian’s ex-boyfriend with some back story issues of his own, really livened up the story.  There is just the right amount of suspense and because it doesn’t feel much like a romance novel, I wasn’t sure the happy ending was guaranteed in either of the storylines.  I found I was much more engaged and interested as a result.  Plus, I loved the steampunk world and reading about it in the present day and then back to its Victorian origins was a lot of fun.

Crimson & Steam was a great light read that I’d recommend to romance or urban fantasy fans.  An intriguing world, a clever plotline, and a few great characters make this a very enjoyable book.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book from the author for free as an ebook.

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Review: Heart’s Blood, Juliet Marillier

Caitrin arrives at Whistling Tor having fled her entire life.  After her father’s death, she was abused by her distant cousins to the point where she runs away with only her writing box, for she is a scribe by trade.  Whistling Tor is not the average Irish town.  The lord is reclusive, bound to the hilltop, and the villagers are frightened to go away and fear he does not care for them.  Throwing caution to the wind, Caitrin travels up the hill when she hears that the lord is in need of a capable scribe that can read Latin and Irish.

I adore Juliet Marillier’s work.  I won this book in a giveaway before its release and I can’t express how excited I was to read it.  I have huge expectations for this author and the best part is that she hasn’t let me down yet.  Her fantasy world, with strong characters and often a large romantic sideplot, simply appeal to me in every way.  Heart’s Blood was no exception and I loved it.  This book is all about moving beyond the past and forging a new future.

Caitrin is interesting because she is a very damaged heroine.  She’s been abused and lied to by people who claim they are her family.  Her sister married and left her, not realizing what would happen.  She flinches every time a man gestures in her presence.  At the same time, she has a core of steel that hasn’t been beaten down, and a very large part of this book is her recovering her strength, her ambition, and her determination to live her life.  I loved Caitrin’s character development.  I felt like her struggle was very realistic; even when she knows, realistically, a man isn’t going to strike her, she’s been beaten into submission and it takes a long time for her to stop reacting in fear.  Her struggles and her move towards becoming a courageous new woman makes her a character to cheer for.  Besides this, she is a scribe and she’s often busy researching, an activity close to my heart.

Anluan, the lord of Whistling Tor, has been convinced of his own inferiority for a long time.  He’s disabled from an illness, and moreover is bound to the hilltop because of his ancestor’s dark sorcery.  That is due to the host – a hoard of ghostly figures brought back from the dead by accident who are only kept in control by the lord’s presence.  They need to prove themselves, too.  Every character, except for ultimately the villain, has something to grow beyond.

I loved both the story with the host, which has several members we get to know, and Nechtan’s sorcery, and the romance between Anluan and Caitrin.  It takes true courage and strength for them to get past their individual handicaps and grow into loving one another, not to mention believing that they love each other.  It’s beautifully done and this book is amazing.  I grew to realize the ending of the host story before Caitrin did, but that didn’t make her revelations any less fascinating and compelling.  Besides that, I love Marillier’s writing.  I was doing nanowrimo while reading this and realized that I was actually imitating her writing, which is embarrassing, because I just love it so much.

Had it been Anluan whose presence I had sensed before, standing in the doorway watching me without a word?  He was seated on the bench now … White face, red hair; snow and fire, like something from an old tale … I found it difficult to take my eyes from him.  There was an odd beauty in his isolation and his sadness, like that of a forlorn prince ensorcelled by a wicked enchantress, or a traveller lost forever in a world far from home.

I loved Heart’s Blood. This is quite simply a perfect book for someone who enjoys fantasy and romance, and perhaps a little poking about in old books.

I am an Amazon Associate. I won this book in a giveaway.

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Review: One Deadly Sin, Annie Solomon

Edie Swann, formerly known as Eden Swanford, is determined to wreak revenge on the men that she thinks are responsible for her father’s death.  She returns to the town of her childhood and starts to send out black angels to scare them and make them remember what they’d done.  When the men start dying, Edie becomes a suspect, even in her own mind; she fears she has set in motion a much larger plan than she’d ever bargained for.  Meanwhile Sheriff Holt Drennen knows Edie is up to something but can’t stop his attraction and simple liking for her.  Even though she is the obvious culprit, he believes in her innocence, and he’s willing to fight.

If this is representative of the romantic suspense genre, I definitely want to read more. The mystery in this book was so engaging.  The different threads wove between the two main characters, the men who were implicated in the murder of Edie’s father, and even through Holt’s adorable daughter.  There were layers and layers to this story and as they were slowly peeled away, the craving for more knowledge just kept on growing.  I’m always bad at guessing the murderer, so I can’t guarantee that this isn’t a predictable read for someone else, but to me the plot felt surprisingly tight, exciting, and suspenseful. That isn’t even discussing the romance, which sizzles right off the page. Edie and Holt are not only a very enticing couple but a believable pair.  The book doesn’t end in marriage but in a commitment to try out their relationship, which I really appreciated after they’d been through so much.

Edie as a character really got me into the book.  She’s a strong woman, but there are forces beyond her control going on here.  It’s so easy to feel for her when she’s lost almost everyone in her life, and it’s perfectly understandable that Holt has to build up her trust in him.  She’s actually horrified by the fact that the men start dying, even though she thinks they killed her father.  Even if she intends to make them a little anxious, she never intended to do any physical harm, just encourage the truth to come out.  Her character really starts to come out when she finds her own life in danger.  There were also some great family dynamics in this little novel, mostly centered on Holt’s relationship with his parents and his daughter, which made it feel more realistic and well-rounded.

I really enjoyed One Deadly Sin. It appeals to the part of me that loves this kind of exciting suspense.  With both a great plot and fantastic characters to care about, there is no way to go wrong with this one.

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Review: The Day the Falls Stood Still, Cathy Marie Buchanan

It is the end of Bess’s junior year at Loretto Academy, a high school for girls run by nuns in the shadow of Niagara Falls.  She knows something is wrong when her father doesn’t appear at the graduation ceremony and when the nuns inexplicably present her with farewell gifts; her father has been fired from his job as the director of the Niagara Power Company.  Bess must return home, care for her suddenly ill sister Isabel, and assist her mother in dressmaking to keep the family afloat.  On the way from Loretto, a young man carries her trunk, and later passes by her house, with the gift of a fish.  Bess had counted on hardship, but she hadn’t counted on love with a riverman or the future she would have.

There are many things to love about this book.  The prose is gorgeous, for one thing, as are the descriptions.  It’s almost possible to feel the cool mist off the falls, as the characters do, or the deadly beauty of the whirlpools.  Bess is a strong woman up there with the best of them, coping with her family’s losses and tragedy and somehow managing every single time.  Her strength grows over the course of the novel, from a girl afraid of what her mother is thinking to a woman that has her own business and is ready to turn down society ladies regardless of what they think.  There is all the innocence and wonder of a first love affair, more so because this one is so explicit, that conflict between duty and desire.

And yet there was somehow a lack of connection.  I liked the book, but I didn’t love it.  Bess is a sympathetic character but always from a distance; by the end of the novel she has grown so strong that any attempts to empathize with her feel as though they would be pushed away.  It felt as though she didn’t experience emotions strongly enough at that point, she just moved on.  The book had potential to be one of a series of great, sweeping romances marred with tragedy, but it stopped just short.  Or maybe I just was in the mood for something more explicit, or perhaps I’m just lucky that I’ve never had to be that strong.  To be honest, I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that the book is in present tense, which always feels more distant to me.

I much preferred the historical bits.  I loved learning more about Niagara Falls and that Tom Cole was based on a real man.  The pictures evoke a sense of history a little bit stronger than the words themselves and the newspaper articles, fictional or not, fleshed out the history of the story without long or boring exposition.  I was interested in the sewing techniques and the dresses Bess described, in the books she was reading, in the new electric appliances that houses had.  I was fascinated by the setting and I wouldn’t mind spending a little more time there.

Though I liked and didn’t love The Day the Falls Stood Still, I’d still recommend it for those who enjoy historical fiction or are looking for a compelling love story.

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Review: To Tempt the Wolf, Terry Spear

Hunter Greymore, an alpha lupus garou, or grey werewolf, has lost his pack.  All but his sister have abandoned him due to a forest fire in California and because he refuses to move them to a city.  They take up residence in Portland while he finds himself near the cliffs, in the woods.  When three wolves take away his sister and he goes after them, Hunter is seriously injured.  Tessa Anderson, a human woman who finds herself strangely attracted to wolves, finds him and brings him home.  When Hunter discovers that a werewolf is stalking Tessa, he quickly realizes that he must do everything in his power to protect her, even if all he wants is to make her his mate for life.

This is the third book in a series, but I never would have noticed if it didn’t say so on the book and it stands alone very well.  I hope that these characters appear in the next book, as I’ve grown fond of them, and I’m looking forward to reading the first two.

For all that the hero of this book is a werewolf (and so are many of the secondary characters), this was a nice romance.  The hero isn’t threatening but the stalkers are, which means it’s much easier to champion Tessa with her rescuer than with anyone else, especially not her ex-boyfriend from high school.  As a result, the couple worked nicely together, with a great dynamic of their own when it was allowed to come to the fore.  At times it feels that the book focuses too much on constant threat and injuries instead of the developing romance, but that may be just a personal preference.  For readers of romantic suspense, this wouldn’t be a problem.

Where this book truly shines is the werewolf society and the group dynamics amongst them.  The sparring between the alpha leaders is top notch and it’s fascinating to see how wolf habits transcend into human behavior, such as how Hunter’s sister Meara is grumpy not only because she is experiencing her first werewolf “heat” but also has a very human desire for a relationship with someone who can match her in all of her strengths.  Hunter is also torn because while he wants to make Tessa his mate, he doesn’t know whether or not she would be an alpha, and if she was a beta, she would never be able to exercise the authority that he does over the pack.  It is an interesting, close look into the pack, although I found it a little strange that while Hunter’s pack and their friends are reluctant to turn people, the other packs are not.  Perhaps Tessa is just the (un)lucky exception.

All in all, I enjoyed To Tempt the Wolf.  It wasn’t an earth-shattering romance for me, and I could have done with less of the suspense, but I am definitely looking forward to following up with the rest of the series.

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Review: The Treasures of Venice, Loucinda McGary

Kiernan Fitzgerald’s sister Kathleen has been kidnapped, and if he can’t find the Jewels of the Madonna in time, he fears for her life.  On the run from the men who took his sister, Kiernan runs into Samantha Lewis at a cafe and asks her to pretend to be his date so he can escape.  Perplexed, Sam goes along with it, hoping Kiernan might help her forget her horrible ex-fiance, especially given she is on what was meant to be their honeymoon.  When she experiences strange dreams and flashbacks, Sam begins to wonder whether she and Kiernan are reincarnations, reliving a love story that happened more than five hundred years ago.

I liked The Treasures of Venice a lot more than I was expecting to!  I normally don’t like romantic suspense novels; I read this one for the dual history prospect since I enjoyed The Reincarnationist by M.J. Rose.  Normally, I find romantic suspense isn’t conducive to believable relationships, since at least half the book will be spent intriguing, running away from bad guys, or having the characters’ lives in danger.  That’s also the case here, but I liked the couple and I loved the historical tie-in.  I felt that the second, older timeline was a little gimmicky; I could actually believe in the present-day love story a little more, probably because the latter is given more screen time.  Maybe also because I had trouble believing that any fifteenth-century woman would have a chance to escape her entourage in broad daylight every single day.  It was completely necessary to have both storylines, though, or the ending would have felt very deus ex machina instead of having been built up the whole time.  I did love the little trip into Venice’s history, the cathedrals, the detective hunt for specific graves, the gondola trip, and so on.

As I mentioned already, I liked the couple that were the main focus of the book.  Even without the physical spark between them that we’re explicitly told about, I felt they had a connection from square one and then built on it nicely, so I found myself hoping for them to be together.  The suspense towards the middle-end of the book ramped this up for me a lot and I found myself realizing just why people like romantic suspense.  It was cute how worried the main characters got about each other, especially when the bad guys were all taken care of, because they didn’t know how to act without that filter of danger.  They figure it out, though, of course.

I really enjoyed The Treasures of Venice and would definitely recommend it to those who enjoy contemporary romance or romantic suspense, with a hint of historical mystery.

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