Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean

January 28, 2015
Let me muse on that, again and again and again.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes books by different authors sort of blend in together? I had to keep reminding myself that this book was part of the Rules of Scoundrel's series by Sarah MacLean and not part of the The Wild Quartet by Miranda Neville. It just seemed to me that I could mix the stories together from either series and not be able to tell. Of course, that really doesn't have anything to do with my review, it was just a thought that crossed my mind while reading this story. I had numerous ponder moments while reading this story, much like the characters in Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover. Yes, there was a lot of brain activity going on, a lot of pondering and musing by Duncan (hero) and Chase, aka Anna, aka Georgina (heroine).

This has not been my favorite series by Sarah MacLean; we've had a couple of whiny heroes in it and the title of this one might lead one to think this is a light-hearted story - it's not. By the way, I am not overly fond of the "cute" titles that are flooding Romanceland these days. Not only do they misrepresent the stories, but some of them are really close enough to puns that they travel into groan territory. Catch a Falling Heiress, Earls Just Want to Have Fun, The Immortal Who Loved Me, The Nightingale Before Christmas, etc.

Now to our story. If you have been following this story you will know that there is a gaming establishment called Fallen Angels. There are four partners - Temple, Bourne, Cross, and Chase - and we've had all but Chase's story. Go no further if you haven't read any of these books! It was revealed in the last story that Chase was... wait for it... not a man but a woman! Yes, Chase is a woman disguised as a man. And, here I go again. I just have to say - again, I don't understand how these women in Romanceland can get away with pretending to be men for so long. Unless a woman is really really quite masculine I've never understood how they do it. Besides that we all know that women in Romanceland are not masculine looking. Oh sure they have wrap-around long legs, even when they are only five feet tall, but usually these women have curves - curves all over the place. So this disguised-as-a-man routine hasn't always been one of my favorite themes. At least this time she's not pretending to be a nine year old boy. I digress.

So, we have Chase the pretend guy who is the founder of the Fallen Angels and at times he pretends to be a "lady of the evening," sort of like Kitty from Gunsmoke. When Chase is a strumpet he becomes a she by the name of Anna, but in reality she is Georgina the sister of a duke. Now, Georgina made a mistake when she was sixteen. She laid in some straw with the stable boy, who she thought she luved, had a spot of whankee-roo, confessed her love, and watched as he grinned and walked away. Because of his cavalier treatment she can never trust another man. Not only that, but she finds out she is pregnant from the short encounter. So, she hides away with her child until she decides to reenter society. As luck would have it a cartoon of her scandalous past is broadcast in a scandal paper and now everyone is talking about her. Because of all the gossip it will make it harder for her to marry.  Somehow in her thinking she thinks that marrying a title will be of more benefit to her and her illegitimate child than being a sister to a duke. I never quite understood how she thought that a husband's protection would be any better than a brother's protection - but hey that's the plot. And, that is what she goes after with a unrelenting mind-set. Nothing can keep her from her goal of a guy with a title, even love. This stubbornness at times makes her unlikeable and often irritating.  Not only is she determined to find a titled husband, she is also not above using blackmail to do it. Over the years in her career as Chase she has documented files and files on people - secrets just waiting to be exploited. She is also not above using those secrets to seek revenge on people she perceives as ridiculing her in the past/present and future. She is an interesting woman and one that nobody wants to antagonize.

The most important thing to her is to see her daughter established in society, whether her daughter wants to be or not. Even if she was to fall in love with the richest, most powerful-lest, hunk-i-est manly man guy in the world. If there wasn't a title in front of his name, she wouldn't want him. Which leads me to our hero, Duncan, a powerful newspaper man, who coincidentally is responsible for the release of the scandalous cartoon. But that's ok, he's sorry. He is also similar in personality to Georgina. He is ruthless and occasionally vicious. In fact, he reminded me a little of William Randolph Hearst in his brutality, except Duncan is handsome. Together Duncan and Georgina make one volatile couple. There isn't any soft side to these two, which didn't bother me. What did bother me, what exasperated me was the constant, repetitive thought processes they gyrated through. I love you, who is Chase - I love you - I can't tell you - you love Chase more than you love me - I love you - I can't trust you - what are your secrets. In my opinion, trust and love walk hand and hand, you can't have one without the other. The constant thoughts of love or falling in love between Duncan and Georgina followed quickly by not trusting each other went on waaaaay too long.

Sometimes I read or see something that embarrasses me, even when it's not happening to me, and I had one of those moments in this book. For some reason Georgina decides that confessing her identity as Chase on top of a table in a room full of people is the way to save Duncan. Which was followed by one of those "I am Spartacus" moments with all of her friends yelling out that they are Chase. Not only was I embarrassed by this scene, I wondered how this was going to help her reputation or help her daughter's reentry into society.

Bottom line, I was not as enthralled with this story as I wanted to be. I was tired of the repetitive brain think, and Georgina/Chase/Anna's reasoning powers were beyond me. Duncan had issues with trust and not being able to catch on to who Chase really was - even after all the hints that whizzed by his head.  Duncan and Georgina/Chase/Anna annoyed me too much to enjoy this story.

Time/Place: Regency England
Sensuality: Hot


Here They Come!!!Historical Releases for February 15 to March 14, 2015!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

January 23, 2015
Authors with an asterisk*, I'm picking up! For more Upcoming Releases that aren't historical see Hey Delia!!! For: February 15, 2015 to March 14, 2015.
Cynthia Breeding

Sister of Rogues, ebook
Rogue series
February 17
Georgie Lee

A Debt Paid in Marriage
February 17
Hannah Howell

Highland Guard
The Murrays series
February 24
Hope Tarr

Claimed by a Rogue
The Claimed series
March 4
Isabella Bradford*

A Sinful Deception
Breconridge Brothers
March 3
Jane Ashford

Married to a Perfect Stranger
March 3
Jennifer McQuiston

Diary of an Accidental Wallflower
Seduction Diaries series
February 24
Julia Justiss

The Rake to Rescue Her
The Ransleigh Rogues series
February 17
Katherine Ashe*

I Loved a Rogue
Prince Catchers series
February 24
Lisa Plumley

Morrow Creek Runaway
Morrow Creek series
February 17
Madeline Hunter*

His Wicked Reputation
The Wicked series
March 3
Marguerite  Kaye

The Soldier’s Dark Secret
Comrades in Arms series
February 17
Stephanie Laurens

The Tempting of Thomas Carrick
Cynster series
February 24
Susanna Ives*

Wicked, My Love
Wicked Little Secrets series
March 3
Suzanne Enoch*

Mad, Bad, and Dangerous in Plaid
Scandalous Highlanders series
March 3
Tracy Anne Warren

The Bedding Proposal
Rake of Cavendish Square series
March 3
Vicky Dreiling

What a Devilish Duke Desires
Sinful Scoundrels series
February 24


The Duke of Dark Desires by Miranda Neville

January 21, 2015
Finally, paydirt!

Yes, fellow romance readers, I believe Ms. Neville as finally hit paydirt.
My opinion - The Duke of Dark Desires just may be Ms. Neville's best story to date. And, am I glad. After Lady Windermere's Lover I was vexed. Yes, vexed! In fact, I debated whether to pick up this one. However, Ms. Neville lured me into her web and I'm glad she did.

This was a gem of a story filled with dark secrets, angst, guilt, revenge, lies, mistrust, and an occasional comic relief moment. Thank goodness we were given some laughs hither and yon, 'cause this story would have required some Valium without them. Was I ecstatic with everything in this book? Puleese, of course there were a few features I had problems with, but those were minor bumps in the road and we will talk about those later. First, let's talk about what I loved.

Let's begin with Julian Fortescue. We got us a hunk here, people! He has one of my favorite attributes - no, not that, although he does seem to have a pretty active Mr. Toad - he's has lonnngg black hair and startling sky blue eyesss. Startling blue eyes - what does that mean? Does that mean the blue is startling or are the eyes big and round? Somehow, I don't think our hero has Orphan Annie eyes. He also admits to being hairy - not sure how much though, and he is the proud owner of a roiling sac (sounds painful.) Beyond the physical, he is also a very complex guy. His mother has just dumped his three half-sisters on his doorstep and high-tailed it off with her new young husband. He has tried to maintain a distance from his sisters. One of the best things in the book is Julian and his sisters' growing relationship. The sisters each have their own separate personality. When they are first introduced into Julian's household they are resentful for being dumped on his doorstep, just as he is resentful for their being dumped. I enjoyed watching Julian and his sisters - Maria, Fenella, and Laura - test the waters of bonding. Fenella, my favorite, was a commanding secondary character and I imagine Ms. Neville had quite a time keeping her from taking over the book.

Then we have Julian's relationship with our heroine, Jane Grey, aka Jeanne de Falleron. There was a lot going on here. Jane/Jeanne's family fell victims to the Reign of Terror in France - her father, mother and two sisters. Jane/Jeanne's purpose in being in England is to look for the betrayer of her family and all she knows is that he is a Fortescue. Her alias of Jane Grey allows her to be a governess, which comes in handy because Julian Fortescue needs one. How convenient - yes, there are a lot of coincidences in this story. So, now she can try to find the Fortescue who sent her family to the guillotine. Of course, along the way she becomes entangled with her feelings for Julian's sisters, to say nothing of her reaction to Julian.

Ahhhh, Julian. Julian is a rake, he's a sensualist, he loves women and sometimes with Jane/Jeanne he gets really close to crossing the lines of boss/subordinate sex. In fact, when he interviews Jane/Jeanne for the job he hires her to be his mistress, while she thinks he's hiring her to be a governess. Well, it doesn't take long for Jane/Jeanne to catch onto Julian intentions - maybe it's that he puts her in the bedroom next to his. Jane/Jeanne is no shrinking violet, she tells Julian where he can get off and the relationship moves on from there. They become comrades of sorts, friends, and even though he still wants her, he pulls back on the intimidation. Then he finds out about her past life, some of the things she had to do to survive, and feels like a heel. Their whole unfolding relationship was incredible to read, because there is a secret we know that they don't. As we watch these two fall in love, we know that sometime, somehow the eggs, pie, stuff is going to hit the fan - and it does. In one glorious "oh nooooo" scene. Ah, the tension.

If I had a quibble with this story it was in Jane/Jeanne's belief that she was a whore because of the way she chose to survive. For me Jane/Jeanne was such a strong personality that I found the pity-poor-me routine out of character. When she accepted her horrible cousin's browbeating about a Falleron would die rather than submit, I wanted her to slug him - instead she was the one who was hurt. I thought the choice she made at the age of 15 was the right one. Her life choices were what made her a very compelling character, and there was a bit of that lost in her boo-hoo moment.

Except for a few minor hiccups, I loved this book. I loved watching the poignant scenes between Jane/Jeanne and Julian's sisters. The loss of her own sisters and her growing love for his three siblings was almost tear-worthy. Julian and Jane/Jeanne were an incredibly strong couple who fall in love. They are good for each other, they give each other courage to continue and they both learn to forgive. This is a must read.

Time/Place: Regency England
Sensuality: Hot


Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare

January 15, 2015
Anachronism: "something (such as a word, an object, or an event) that is mistakenly placed in a time where it does not belong in a story, movie, etc." Merriam-Webster.

I, like most romance readers, have seen tons of books loaded with anachronisms pass by my eyes. Sometimes we whine, rant, and throw tirades about them. Sometimes we just shrug our itty-bitty shoulders and move on. There are message boards loaded with discussions on the proper use of this and that. Whether they be the words used or the objects, or the event, it doesn't take too many anachronisms to stimulate romance readers into expressing themselves - unless - yes, I am throwing an unless into the pot - unless they like the book. And, that's the royal "they." I have tried to analyze why I found some books using anachronisms to be more irritating than others and I haven't really figured it out. Sometimes, I just like the story so much or the hero or the heroine that I ignore those nasty 21st century things. I have also read authors who write contemporary people dressed up in historical costumes and I have accepted those stories. I find it easier to accept those books if they have an element of humor in them; dark, angst-filled historical dramas filled with 21st century words, actions and objects are less acceptable.  If you haven't caught on by now, Say Yes to the Marquess was filled with dialog, thoughts, objects that were not of the time period portrayed. While I did appreciate most of the story and enjoyed the hero and heroine, loved the secondary characters, the 21st century reared it's unpleasant head one too many times. Sorry to say, I didn't enjoy this story as much as I wanted to.

Our romantic couple are Clio and Rafe and they have the advantage of knowing each other since they were young. Rafe has been in lust with Clio since she started budding, which could be a problem seeing as how she is engaged to his brother, Piers. So, poor ol' Rafe has gone his way, becoming the black sheep of the family, irritating his father, drinking, carousing - you know the standard ploy. He has also chosen as his career, boxing. I confess, I confess, I'm not a big fan of sports, any sports and if I was forced to come up with a list of sports I would actually watch, boxing would be on the very bottom. I do like Rhythmic Gymnastics - can't really see a manly man twirling a stick with a ribbon attached though. I digress. Rafe lust after Clio, but Clio is engaged to his brother. And, when I say engaged, I mean e-n-g-a-g-e-d - for eight l-o-n-g years.  I must admit when I found out how long Clio had been mildewing away I asked myself, "why?" My initial reaction to Clio's waiting was "Are you kidding me? Are you crazy? What kind of a doormat are you?" So, I had a hard time liking her namby-pamby ways.

Through most of the book Clio was two different people; she was the woman who let people walk all over her (which includes her insensitive sister Daphne) and the woman who has a dream - a dream where she is the owner of a brewery. I can only assume that a woman owner of a brewery would be mighty hard to pull off in Clio's time period. So, I respected the dream girl, but at the same time I was irritated with the subservient drudge. I think I would have liked Clio better if she had stood up to someone - anyone. I don't care who! There were so many people walking all over her, her sister, her brother-in-law, her fiancé and even Rafe. I would have loved to see her blast just one of those people.

On the other hand, I loved Rafe. There wasn't too much about him that bothered me; he was just a standard, guilt-ridden hero. If I had to pinpoint an issue I had with him, it would be that he didn't listen to what Clio was trying to tell him. Oh sure, he's aware that she's talking to him, after all her mouth was moving; he's just not hearing what she's saying. (Sort of like what happens every day at my house.) Rafe was a strong lead, I just wish the woman he fell in love with had been his match. 

My favorite people in the book were secondary characters, Bruiser and Phoebe. Bruiser seems to be Rafe's trainer, however, in some pretty comedic scenes he pretends to be a wedding planner. Even though the scenes with Bruiser were pretty unrealistic, they were also very funny. The other interesting character was Clio's sister Phoebe. She seems to be some kind of mathematical genius, maybe a little autistic savant, I'm not sure or maybe she's just socially inept. If Ms. Dare does chose to have Phoebe in another book I would hope she doesn't use a heavy hand with her. Right now she is a delightful character and if written properly her story could really be good.

One other thing, I grow weary of whankee-roo interruptus in my books. Please lock the doors before you proceed with your maneuvering!

For me this was an uneven read. There were parts that I enjoyed, and I loved Bruiser and Phoebe. I found Rafe to be charming and Clio to be weak. I also was irritated that I noticed the anachronisms, which is never a good sign.

Time/Place: 1820s England
Sensuality: Hot


What a Lady Demands by Ashlyn Macnamara

January 5, 2015
"You can do side bends or sit-ups, but please don't lose that butt." - SirMixaLot

Yes, yes I confess! I was surfing the Barnes and Noble website when the cover of What a Lady Demands caught my eye. It's really quite a cheesy cover but, hey, my eyes just couldn't look away from the firm butt packed in those tight white pants. So, what could a girl do? I bought the book. See, sometimes book covers do sell - you just never know.

What a Lady Demands is the second in The Eton Boys trilogy and it probably would have helped a bit if I had read the first in the series. There are parts of this story that are not meant for a standalone novel. There seems to be a large back story for our heroine, Cecelia Sanford, and that back story wasn't full explored, so at times I had hard time understanding Cecelia's motivation. Because of this missing part I didn't have a clear understanding of Cecelia's need to hide from her brother, and that was irritating. It should not have been necessary for me to read the first story in the series to catch on to what made Cecelia click.

Nonetheless, I did like the Cecelia we are presented with in this book. She is an endearing character who has some dark secrets. (By the way, those dark secrets were more titillating than anything else and didn't really add much to the story.)

I found the first half of the book enjoyable; however, the last part of the story lost its sparkle when all the doom-and-gloom secrets are revealed. Between Cecelia and our hero, Lindenherst, there is plenty of guilt, angst, and lies hanging over their heads - maybe too much. Spoiler alert.

I believe I would have like the second half of the tale better if Lindenherst hadn't been so stubborn and persistent with his revenge. I also had a problem with his treatment of his son. His demeanor toward Jeremy was not hero-like. He was cold, disproving, and unloving to the boy. At first, I didn't know if he was cold to the child because Jeremy had some kind of disability or, as I suspected, because Jeremy wasn't his son. For me it didn't matter what his reason; his treatment of a very endearing child was atrocious.

What saved the story for me was the relationship between Cecelia and Jeremy. Cecelia is able to break through Jeremy's wall of pain to the child beneath who is desperately seeking his father's love. I just wish Lindenherst had been more deserving of Jeremy's idolization. However, this story is a romance and the strongest chemistry should be between Cecelia and Lindenherst, not Cecelia and Jeremy.

Villains: Let's talk about the two men in this book who were villains - two villains - one for the hero and one for the heroine. The heroine's villain, Eversham, is a handsome, sensual sleaze ball and is truly a villain. The hero's villain, Battencliffe, happens to be his ex-friend and one of the Eton boys. Battencliffe is handsome, selfish and has a long way to go to become a redeemable honorable hero. He is also the one who Lindenherst is seeking revenge against. I also have to say that at one point in this book our true villain, Eversham, is leaning against a fence. Now, I admit I have a thing for guys in romance books leaning against things. I don't care if it's a wall, fence, fireplace, horse, chair, there is just something about that action that is very sensual. And, in this book when the author propped up the villain against a fence, my little heart went pitter-pat. Be careful, authors, when using a stance mostly reserved for heroes; it may make the villainy harder to grasp. As far as Battencliffe, I have to say the author has created a pretty intense bad boy for her next hero. He is hardly honorable, incredibly selfish, so it should be interesting to see how Ms. Macnamara does it.

Overall, What a Lady Demands was a story that could have been so much more. The first part of the story was lovely with a strong heroine and an angst-filled hero. What started as a strong beginning was lost in the revenge plot and an over-the-top villain in the second half. I was disappointed the second part didn't live up to the promise of the first. This could have been an outstanding romance if not for the revenge/blackmail distraction of the second part.

Time/Place: Regency England
Sensuality: Hot

Goodbye 2014

"Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana." - Groucho Marx

Goodbye 2014. What a year! it certainly seemed to go by fast. During this year we bid a fond farewell to The Romance Reader website. TRR was one of the first romance book review sites to hit the worldwide web. It was an outstanding example of fairness, and influenced many present day sites. This year I said goodbye to Tracy at Tracy's Place aka Ahhhhhromance. After considerable reflection she decided to call it a day. Thank goodness I can still catch her on Goodreads and Book Binge. I do keep checking back to see if she's changed her mind. So far she hasn't.

Let's talk about me. This year I began two projects. One of those projects I forgot I was doing, however, my A-Team project is still going strong. In fact, because of my A-Team, my 2014 Outstanding list is larger than it would have been.

Farewell. Voices that have been taken from us this year: Aaron Allston, Maya Angelou, Benita Brown, Mary Rogers, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Mary Stewart, Leslie Thomas, Aimee Thurlo.

Welcome. Some debut authors who have crossed my radar: Sheila Athens, Ann Bennett, Kat Beyer, Elle Daniels, Kaitlyn Davis, Kelly Bowen, Sally Orr, Krassi Zourkova, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Maggie Hall, Catherine Finger, Charlee Fam, Rachel Lacey, Laura Johnston, Sara Raasch, Amy Ewing, Marcus Brotherton, Anouska Knight, Gabriel Weston, Tiffany King, M.P.Cooley, J.C. Nelson, Carrie Stuart Parks, Carolyn Dingman, Rachel Allen, Edoardo Albert, Julia Fierro, Kathryn Ma, Mary Rickert, Downey Greene, S.E. Green, S.R. Savell, A.J. Larrieu, Kate Breslin, Anne Leonard, William Shaw, Patricia Bradley. Congratulations!

Outstanding! These are some of my favorite books of the year - and this year my list is heavily populated with some old classics. In no particular order:
1. Julia Ross - The Seduction, 2002
2. Elizabeth Boyle - The Viscount Who Lived Down the Lane
3. Amanda Quick - Rendezvous, 1991
4. Jennifer Ashley - Rules for a Proper Governess
5. Lisa Kleypas - Then Came You, 1993
6. Lisa Kleypas - Devil in Winter, 2006
7. Bettina Krahn - Behind Closed Doors, 1991
8. Bettina Krahn - Caught in the Act, 1990
9. Courtney Milan - The Suffragette Scandal
10. Deborah Simmons - The Last Rogue, 1998
11. Suzanne Enoch - A Matter of Scandal, 2001
12. Caroline Linden - It Takes a Scandal
13. Meredith Duran - Fool Me Twice
14. Eloisa James - Three Weeks with Lady X
15. Mia Marlowe - Plaid Tidings
16. Joanna Bourne
- The Spymaster’s Lady
17. Joanna Bourne
- The Forbidden Rose
18. Joanna Bourne
- Rogue Spy
19. Joanna Bourne
- The Black Hawk
20. Elizabeth Hoyt - Darling Beast

Classics! Now for some fore-v-e-r and e-v-e-r golden classics. Instead of putting these on my 2014 Outstanding list, I decided they deserved a list of their own. These books always make me feel good. Even with the passing years and changing language, they remain close to my heart. They also represent what I consider some really fine romance writing. And I will read them again and again.

1. Mary Jo Putney - The Rake, 1998 (aka The Rake and the Reformer, 1988)
2. Laura London - The Windflower, 1984 (happy anniversary!)
3. Loretta Chase - Lord of Scoundrels, 1995
4. Judith Ivory - The Proposition, 1988
5. Deborah Simmons - The Vicar's Daughter, 1995
6. Lisa Kleypas - Dreaming of You, 1994

Disappointing. Disappointing is such an interesting word, don't you think? We.., I'm about to apply that word to a number of books I read in 2014. The following list contains books I was disappointed in for a variety of reasons. Maybe I had high expectations for a book and they weren't met. There are also some authors I hold to a higher standard and sometimes they just have bad days. Sometimes I've been misled by bombastically glowing reviews only to discover not everyone has the same taste. Of course, maybe just maybe I don't like it. Maybe the writing is sloppy, the characters cardboard, the hero a bonehead and we have a TSTL heroine. Whatever the reason here is my list of books I was disappointed in this year:

1. Victoria Alexander - The Shocking Secret of the Guest at the Wedding
2. Elizabeth Essex - A Scandal to Remember - short story from Christmas Brides
3. Valerie Bowman - It Happened Under the Mistletoe - short story from Christmas Brides
4. Robert Galbraith - The Silkworm
5. Manda Collins - Why Lords Lose Their Hearts
6. Michele Sinclair - A Woman Made for Sin
7. Sherry Thomas - My Beautiful Enemy
8. Nancy Martin - A Little Night Murder
9. Jude Deveraux - The Black Lyon, 1980 - a wallbanger if ever there was one
10. Miranda Neville - Lady Windermere's Lover
11. Loretta Chase - Vixen in Velvet
12. Louise Allen - Scandal's Virgin
13. Valerie Bowman - The Unexpected Duchess
14. Kasey Michaels - What a Hero Dares
15. Madeline Hunter - The Counterfeit Mistress
16. Jillian Hunter - The Countess Confessions
17. Manda Collins - Why Earls Fall in Love
18. Loretta Chase - The Lions Daughter, 1995
19. Loretta Chase - Captives of the Night, 1994
20. Laura Lee Guhrke - When the Marquess Met His Match

Now to the prestigious awards.
Mommie Dearest Award. No more wire hangers! As everyone knows there are a lot of angst-filled heroes and downtrodden heroines in Romanceville. Do you ever wonder why these people are the way they are? Well, it's because there are boatloads of horrible relatives to make them miserable. From the dominating mother, forcing marriage down someone's throat, to the evil uncle slipping poison into some virgin's tea, romance books are loaded with them. Lucky for us, 2014 was no different. For your perusal:

1. From The Shocking Secret of the Guest at the Wedding by Victoria Alexander we have Mrs. Channing. Mrs. Channing had a secret for 32 years. You see, she told her son Jackson his father died when he was two. And, she neglected to tell her husband (who she left shortly after the honeymoon) that he was a father. The worst part was that at no time did she ever show any contrition.
2. The guardians of Merrie from Caught in the Act, 1990. What a pair of conniving, murderous couple. They work really hard trying to separate Merrie and Jack. It's a good thing Jack is a manly man.
3. The mother-in-law from hell in Bride of a Scottish Warrior by Adrienne Basso.
4. The in-your-face mother from Meet the Earl at Midnight by Gina Conkle.
5. From Scandal's Virgin by Louise Allen, we have the mean mother who actually tells our heroine that the baby she had is dead. I guess that was supposed to protect her somehow. 

6. Two meanie mommies from Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner. I'm not sure which one of the mothers is the most horrible. The heroines mother who constantly browbeats her daughter - you're-too-fat-you're-stupid-you-can't-do-anything-right.  Or.  The hero's mother who had political ambition for her sons. She was domineering, controlling and had her hands up all of her sons' cavities deciding what allll their lives were going to be. It was almost too much. Two monster mothers in one story.

And the winner is Laetitia's mother from Eloisa James' Three Weeks with Lady X. What a truly horrible mother. She is all the Disney villains rolled into one - a truly obnoxious person who should never have been a mother (great job writing a mean person, Ms. James.)

Bonehead heroes. These guys irritate me. They are supposed to be our heroes, they are supposed to be men our heroines fall in love with. However, they can't forget the first women they ever loved or that bad woman who broke their heart by marrying their best friend - oh, boo-hoo alllll women are tarts. They use women, they are cold, they lie, and they are jealous, possessive, obsessive, and unfaithful. They jump to conclusions and their apologies are either non-existent or a pitiable "sorry." Here are my nominees for the Steve Morgan Bonehead Hero award: 

1. Cormoran Strike from The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowlings. Yes, I know he's a private eye not technically a romance hero, but he is a leading man. However, for me the days of Sam Spade - "all women are dame" is in the past. While I may consider Sam Spade a classic detective, and The Maltese Falcon is one of the best gumshoe stories ever, the Sam Spade mentality is a thing of the past and I expect better of the men of today. Cormoran Strike coldly uses women, and on top of that he's a know-it-all. He's a whiney poor-me-I-lost-a-leg-guy. He needs to shed the Sam Spade persona and come into the 21st century.
2. This year we have a Bonehead heroine in the form of Perdita from Why Lords Lose Their Hearts by Manda Collins. This woman just could not get past her distrust of men because of her horrible dead husband. Her blinders made it impossible for her to see the delightful beta hero standing in from of her. What a harpy.
3. Bonehead heroes can be oblivious, and that is what we have in A Woman Made for Sin by Michele Sinclair. For almost 200 pages our hero, Reece, wanders around his ship hearing a woman's voice. I'm not sure why it didn't click in his brain that there was a real live female on his shop - it's not as if he's a whacko, he doesn't normally hear voices.
4. Normally, we have Bonehead Heroes, but I would like to mention a Bonehead secondary character: Gus, Nora's boss in A Little Night Murder by Nancy Martin. Nothing says sexual harassment more than this guy.
5. Penthurst, our chest thumping, bossy, know-it-all hero from The Accidental Duchess by Madeline Hunter.
6. Let’s not forget Avery, our juvenile, jump-to-the-wrong-conclusion guy in Scandal's Virgin by Louis Allen. In fact, this book had numerous obnoxious characters. They were all irritating and this book almost hit the wall.
7. The Handsome Stupid Man, aka Gavin Norwood from The Counterfeit Mistress by Madeline Hunter. Gavin was a great secondary character, but when the time came for his own book it didn't work. This is an assumption kind of guy and all of his assumption were wrong - alllll of them.
8. Coming in a close second was Damien from Lady Windermere's Lover by Miranda Neville. Here is a guy who blames everyone but himself for his problems. He is spoilt, he is callus, he jumps to conclusions and he holds grudges. He has to be one of the worst friends ever. He almost won the bonehead award, but there was a real horrible stinker-hero this year, thanks in part to my A-Team Project. I have no idea what I was thinking in 1980 when I first read this book and actually liked it.

Our Bonehead Winner-ur-Loser for 2014 is Ranulf de Warbrooke from The Black Lyon by Jude Deveraux. Granted this book was written in 1980, the era of true bodice rippers, but even so this guy takes the cake. How anyone could find this jealous, possessive, violent rapist romantic is beyond me. The heroine is so innocent, so in love, never understanding what she did wrong - and, she did nothing wrong. All the problems are created by his pig-headed-jealousy - he is an abusive creep and he never should have been a hero.

Sidekick aka Secondary Characters aka Supporting Cast. 
Oh those great scene stealers, those characters we hope show up again in the next book. Sometimes they are good enough to have their own book. When this happens sometimes they live up to our expectations - Derek Craven. Sometimes they should never have a book of their own but do - Sebastian, Duke of St. Ives. And some we just keep hoping we will see again - Cat. Well, here is my 2014 crop of secondary characters who either stole the show or I'm hoping for a sequel or both.

1. The Duke of Montgomery, a seemingly frivolous fop, from Elizabeth Hoyt's Darling Beast. I want Montgomery's story to be next but I'm going to have to wait. Sigh.
2. Andrew, Sinclair's high-energy son from Rules for a Proper Governess by Jennifer Ashley. I thought the scenes with Andrew in them were very realistic. What made them even better was that they were in the pages of a book and not my living room. I loved the realistically drawn Andrews. He made me smile.
3. Sometimes secondary characters have very small parts in the book, but they are still capable of stealing scenes and that is what happened in Lisa Kleypas' Devil in Winter. MacPhee, the Scottish blacksmith was absolutely funny and his small comical part added to the story. His heavy Scottish brogue was wonderful and his interaction with our hero was a hoot.
4. Fagan from My Highland Spy by Victoria Roberts is already doing hero bickering with his future heroine, which makes me want to buy his book. He made a great supporting character, hop he can stand on his own.
5. We have a whole boatload of secondary characters in the ship's crew from A Woman Made for Sin by Michele Sinclair. This was a case when the secondary characters overpowered the story.
6. Baron Torgne Sigund from Behind Closed Doors by Betina Krahn - the bigger-than-a-tree-trunk guy was half of a very combustible team.
7. In It Takes a Scandal by Caroline Linden, it was nice to have an affectionate, loving family in the Westons. Their parents were portrayed as loving. The siblings were loyal one minute and bickering the next---just like real siblings. It was a refreshing change from the usual evil family fare.
8. Freddie from Heir of Uncertainty by Alyssa Everett. I loved Freddie; he was beautifully written. His honesty enhanced the story and gave it a bit of humor. Freddie's character allowed the hero to appear sympathetic and loving.
9. Only in the world of fiction can a ghost be a great supporting character. That is what happened in Plaid Tidings by Mia Marlowe. Yep, Brodie the ghost not only has his own mystery surrounding him but he is also the surrogate father of our heroine Lucinda. Brodie has always been there for Lucinda, and at time their relationship is very poignant. 

And the winners are, yes this year we have a tie. It's really not fair to the other secondary characters this year that I read two classic books with two all-time bestist of the best supporting characters...Derek Craven from Then Came You. And Cat from The Windflower, who never got his own story...ahem. I don't believe I need say any more about these two wonderful creations.

Garlic Breath Award. Gather 'round kiddoes...what does SidneyKay say about how to spot a villain? Look for a character with garlic breath and/or yellow teeth. Yes, yes, they are our villains. Here are some of the villains that slithered off of the pages this year...and some didn't even have garlic breath.

1. The omnipresent villain from Why Lords Lose Their Hearts by Manda Collins. He knew every place our heroine was going to be before anyone else, including her. If must have been his minions that made him so psychic.
2. This is one of the first time I've nominated an historical person in this category...let's give a round of applause to Elizabeth I as portrayed in Behind Closed Doors by Betina Krahn. This book is a sequel; however in this story time has not been kind to Elizabeth. She is now a jealous, vindictive, possessive, crafty woman who is downright scary in her obsession with the heroine.
3. Villains from older books showed up this year. First Francis Beaumont from Captives of the Night by Loretta Chase, a liar, pander, and drug addict who get his comeuppance and Ismal/Esmond from The Lion's Daughter by Loretta Chase. Ismal is a very evil, irredeemable villain in The Lion's Daughter. He shows up as the hero in Captives of the Night, but even the change of his name to Esmond doesn't make him hero material.
4. Coming in second is Jack from Falling for the Highland Rogue by Ann Lethbridge, a really spine-tingling creepy guy who doesn't need smelly breath to make him bad.

And, the winner of the Garlic Breath Award for best villain of 2014 is from another older book. This time it is Edward from The Seduction by Julia Ross. This guy is so creepy the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. He is a master manipulator, has so many moves that you really don't know what he's up to. Edward is a wonderfully sinister man created from the pen of a gifted author.

Gus Award. Once again there seemed to be a shortage of cute animals that caught my eye this year. Ho, those little balls of fluff or those mangy, slobbering, smelly mongrels or those disgruntled-don't-touch-me felines who almost steal the show. Yes, it's time for the scene stealing creatures that inhabit our books. (I'd say four legged but sometimes they have fins.)

1. The ferret from My Lord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne is my first nominee. That little guy added a bit of humor while still managing to point the good guys in the right direction. Nothing handier than a ferret who can find somebody who's kidnapped.

The winner this year is Daffodil, the adorable little Italian Greyhound from Darling Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt. Daffodil was just a jumpy, nervous, skittish wonderful addition to a great book.

Fasten your seat belts! It's time for the Timothy Toad award. What would we do without our Mr. Toads populating our books? Some of them are big-big-enormous, some are very very talented, angry, even red, hot, silky, soft/hard with giant bulbous purple heads...sounds appetizing doesn't it. Here are this year's stand-outs: 

1. Tristan, Sabrina Jeffries' hero from How the Scoundrel Seduces. Tristan's Mr. Toad has a mind of its own and so do his giant thighs. While Tristan may have a problem with women, his Mr. Toad doesn't pay Tristan any mind. Nope that guy is sending out all kinds of signals to our heroine, signaling her from across the room, waving his head - letter her know of his availability.
2. This year we have one of the most boring Mr. Toads ever.  From A Woman Made for Sin, no matter how hard he tries, after pages and pages of recreational activity Chase's Mr. Toad does nothing but make us fall asleep.
3. Then we have the Tree Trunk Mr. Toad from Behind Closed Doors by Betina Krahn. Just the thought of a giant throbbing tree trunk headed my way makes me want to run in the other direction. To say nothing of the bark. Ouch!
4. Then we have a disgusting, can't-get-love-without-a-drug Mr. Toad from Lady Windermere's Lover by Miranda Neville.
5. Let’s take a look at the interesting Mr. Toad from The Unexpected Duchess by Valerie Bowman. Not only is the Mr. Toad in this book a gymnast - all that flipping and flopping and plowing made me downright dizzy - but this Mr. Toad had a sidekick. Yep, he had a helper in the form of some big over-sized fingers. Yes-siree Bob, Derek had a handful of frenzied chipper-choppers, delving and digging whenever they could.
6. And, who could forget the Mr. Toad from Meredith Duran's Fool Me Twice! This amazing piece of equipment was made for one thing and one thing only and that would be whankee-roo-who; it didn't seem that Alistair did anything else with his Mr. Toad - like pee.
7. Then we have a Mr. Toad who is starting his own business. People who like to camp can go to this guy. The number of erect poles produced by the Mr. Toad from Wicked Little Secrets by Susanna Ives was simply amazing, just the thought of all those tents was astounding.
8. From The Countess Confessions by Jillian Hunter there's the Mr. Toad who thinks our heroine is a ventriloquist - really, conversation cannot be had when one's mouth is occupied entertaining you, Mr. Toad.

And the winner of this year's prestigious Mr. Toad award goes to the amazing Mr. Toad from Why Earls Fall in Love by Manda Collins. Granted this guy had some help and our heroine must have had quite a cavern in her valley. Timothy Toad and his cohorts were busy little fellas: tongues, fingers, elbows, kitchen sinks, and all of them thrusting, sucking, shucking; why, I could even hear an occasional echo. May there was even a lantern down there. Who knows they might even find Jimmy Hoffa.

Once again I have to thank you guys for making by days a little lighter. A number of you have provided me with some pretty big yucks and I bet I will find more of you in 2015.

2015. I'm happy for Deborah Simmons, who seems to have a new book out, It Had to Be You, even if it isn't a historical.  I'm looking forward to an upcoming historical release from Lisa Kleypas and keeping my fingers crossed that she still has that historical romance magic. Also, Courtney Milan is going to try her hands at contemporary romance. She is promising to continue writing her historicals. I hope she is able to keep her promise because I will be crying my eyes out if I'm not able to read at least one Courtney Milan historical a year.

“Hello, I must be going, I cannot stay,
I came to say, I must be going.
I’m glad I came, but just the same,
I must be going.”
- Groucho Marx

The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne

December 22, 2014

If I could write words that rhyme, I'd write an ode to Joanna Bourne. Lucky for you I can't.

What a great adventure this has been. Wow! I've just finished the last book in the Joanna Bourne's Spymasters series, The Black Hawk. I cannot express my opinion in this matter strongly enough - if you  haven't read this series yet, what are you waiting for? Pick this series up and read, read, read! I don't know if the Spymasters are done running around stopping those nefarious villains, but, I did check Ms. Bourne's website and I suspect she has more tales up her sleeves.

On to The Black Hawk. We are dealing with characters who are not pleasant people. Adrian Hawkhurst and Justine don't fit into our standard conception of a romantic couple. There are times when our couple is quite unsavory and do some very distasteful stuff. Hawkhurst and Justine have been continuing secondary characters in the previous books and now its time for their story to be told - along the way some loose threads from the other books are tied.

Even though this was a fairly dark book, the characters have a chance to exhibit an occasional glimpse of humor. We need that glimpse of fun because these people have to do some pretty unspeakable things to survive.

For those of you who are not fond of flashbacks, don't let that prevent you from picking this up. The flashbacks play an integral part in the compelling voice of the work. This story is a real gem. The Black Hawk was an epic of sorts. It covers the time period of 1794 to 1818, but don't groan too loud; this story wasn't close to the boredom of War and Peace. This was an exciting story, both in its romantic storyline and in the exploration of a couple of horrifying times in European history - the Reign of Terror in France and the Napoleonic War.

Justine and Hawk's relationship was fully developed and lush in its beauty. As you can imagine, considering there was a span of 25 years covered in this story, there was a great deal of change between our couple. I can't tell you too much about what happened in this story - I don't want to spoil it. However, there are murders to be solved, plots to be uncovered and villains to be caught. Through the flashbacks we watch two very complex characters grow, love, betray each other, and finally find their happy ending.

This is/was a wonderful book and the fantastic news for us is that it is part of one of the best series' I've read in a long time!

Time/Place: 1794-1818 England/France
Sensuality: Warm/Hot!