Friday, December 31, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

'Twas the Night by Sandra Hill, Kate Holmes, Trish Jensen

All aboard for the Santa Brigade!!

When I requested this book from, I was expecting your standard holiday anthology. But as I tried to determine which stories were 1, 2, and 3, I was surprised to learn that this was not an anthology at all, but a single story written “round robin” style by 3 authors. I’m glad I didn’t know that upfront because I probably would have passed on it. Why is that, you ask? Well, with an anthology, if you start 1 story and don’t like it – maybe the story itself isn’t appealing, or you don’t like the author’s writing, you can move on to the next. But with a book like this, you’re kind of forced to read through the "bad" to get to the good. Well, I’m happy to tell you that there was no "bad," and I’m so glad I had the chance to read this book.

‘Twas the Night is a contemporary romance, however there are actually three couples involved, each the focus of their own happily ever after. The way it was written was ingenious, if you ask me. Each author was writing about a different hero, with all three stories overlapping. Chapter 1 was about Sam, chapter 2 was about Kevin, and chapter 3 was about Stan. Then in chapter 4 we're back to Sam, chapter 5 is Kevin again and so on and so on. We were seeing similar scenes, the same happenings, but through different eyes, and I loved how seamlessly it all flowed together.

Now on to the story itself.

Imagine this – It’s a few days before Christmas and Sam, Kevin and Stan are trying to make their way back to Snowdon, Maine for their dear friend and mentor George’s wedding. Well, it just so happens that there’s a horrible snow storm and all planes have been grounded and trains halted. So how are they going to make it back home in time for the wedding? The Santa Brigade, of course! The Santa Brigade is made up of a bunch of senior citizens and others who spend their holiday on a bus traveling from one homeless shelter to another, spreading Christmas cheer to young and old alike. It was such a funny, heartwarming part of the story that I found myself cheering them on as they made their way to each place, sometimes having to call in hilarious favors for snow plows and assistance breaking into stores, as much as I did the couples and their budding relationships.

I just can’t emphasize enough, what a wonderful, feel good story this was. There was nothing intensely thought provoking or life altering to the story, but the romances were touching and there was enough steam to keep things interesting. It was definitely cheesy in places but really, it was worth every minute of every hour it took to read it.

I wavered between a 3.5 or a 4 star rating, but because in the end I was left with fond memories of their exploits and a huge smile on my face, I'm giving this story a full 4 stars. 'Tis the season, after all!

***Slight Spoiler/Question For Anyone Who Might Know***
This story was first published 9 years ago and what I read was the newly republished version. The epilogue invites us to the wedding of the three couples taking place in July 1st, 2011. Does anyone know If there’s another story related to this one being released at that time?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Red-headed Stepchild by Jaye Wells

Red-headed Stepchild is the first book in the Sabina Kane series. We’re introduced to, of course, Sabina Kane, who is half mage, half vampire. We’re also introduced to a hilarious demon named Giguhl, a nymph named Vinca and a hot mage named Adam.

This is my first read by author Jaye Wells, and I enjoyed it. There were some very funny moments, and I have to be honest here and say that I think Giguhl, who spent a good part of this story as a bald cat, is probably my favorite character of the book. There were times I really liked Sabina, and times I didn’t. She’s not a heroine I connected to in a big way, and found myself more concerned about the outcome of the secondary characters than I did her. In fact, it took me well over ½ the book before I became interested in her at all, and to really love a story, I need more than that from my heroines.

One of my favorite scenes takes place with Giguhl and Sabina, when she tries to use magic to send him back home:

"Are you sure you can handle it? I mean, you've never done magic before, right?"

“It seems pretty straight forward. You game?”

He jumped off the couch and looked back at me. “Sure. What’s the worst that could happen?”

Twenty minutes later, we had our answer.

“I can’t freaking believe this!”

I cringed. “I’m so sorry.”

“I’m bald!” Giguhl continued. “I look like a freak.”

“It’s not that bad,“ I said. But it was. Oh my lord was it bad. I’d never seen an uglier cat in my entire life. “Look at the bright side, you won’t have to worry about shedding anymore.”

Urban Fantasy isn’t my favorite genre, but that said, Red-headed Stepchild is a pretty decent beginning to a promising series. And as I mentioned before, I did end up liking this book more than I thought I would, but the world in general didn’t grab me and suck me in as I had hoped it would, and even though I did enjoy Giguhl, Vinca and Adam, I’m not sure I’ll continue on with the series.

However, I have been known to change my mind :)


Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas

Anyone who reads historical romance has probably already been introduced to the art form that is Lisa Kleypas’ storytelling, so you’ll understand when I say that there really are no words to describe just what a talented writer she is. Therefore, I’ll save you all a lot of time and keep this short.

It must not be easy to give readers the feel of a full length novel in a short story such as this because very few authors actually do it. But with Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, we were given a truly sweet story with just the right amount of holiday magic. It’s a heartwarming tale that has all the right ingredients to make this a 5 star read. There’s Holly, an adorable little girl whose loss broke my heart. We have Mark Nolan, a very sexy hero who, because he understands the importance of family and was willing - without hesitation - to give up his own life’s plans to care for niece, earned my respect. And finally, Maggie Collins, a truly enjoyable heroine who I came to admire because while she had heartbreaking emotional baggage, she didn’t let it ruin her life. And I haven’t even mentioned Mark’s brothers, Alex and Sam, who were amazing men in their own right and will no doubt have fabulous stories. Wow! All this was accomplished in just over 200 pages.

And why did that surprise me? In a way, it didn’t – this is Lisa Kleypas we’re talking about here – but this was my first contemporary read by her, so I had no idea what to expect. Silly me! There are some authors who might be fabulous writing within the confines of one genre but can’t venture any further than that or they lose their magic. And then there are some authors who, regardless of the genre, can do no wrong. Lisa Kleypas is one of those rarities, and Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor is without a doubt, proof of that.

And look at this - I went on longer than I had intended, but when it comes to Ms. Kleypas' stories, that's easy to do.

I'm very excited that Rainshadow Road will be out soon, because I just don't think I could wait much longer!
5/5 Stars

Christmas Mischief by Mary Jo Putney

This book of 3 short historical romance stories by Mary Jo Putney is my first read by this author. Anthologies are hard for me to review and rate because I worry I’ll say too much, so in this case I won’t give away much about the storylines because they’re short enough that to do so would be to spoil the reads entirely.

The Christmas Cuckoo - 3/5 stars

A case of mistaken identity gives this holiday tale a humorous twist. This was a sweet story, but without much substance to it, then toward the end, things became more interesting. I had finally started caring about Jack and Meg, and then before I knew it, the story was over. I wish I’d had more time to spend with the Lambert family, to see how things would come together.

Sunshine for Christmas - 4/5 stars

According to the author, this story is related to a secondary character, Lord Randolf Lennox, who had lost his lady love because of a “single bit of foolishness when he was young.” He had appeared in the full length novel called The Rake (originally published as The Rake and the Reformer ), and Ms. Putney decided that he was deserving of a happily ever after, too.

The first story, The Christmas Cuckoo was my first read by this author and I had expected that this one would have the same feel, but I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of emotion in this story and I really enjoyed it! So much so, in fact, that I want to get my hands on The Rake!

The Christmas Tart – 3.5/5 stars

This was another sweet story about finding love and acceptance in the most unusual of circumstances. I enjoyed the Phillip’s and Nicole’s stories, and it was nice to see a happy hero, one who had been raised in a loving home and who appreciated family.

The Bottom Line - These three stories were fun to read. There was very little, if any, heat at all, but the romances made for sweet and enjoyable reading.

3.75/5 stars

Monday, December 20, 2010

Naughty and Nice Holiday Anthology

Holiday Sparks -  Shannon Stacey  3.5/4 Stars

Chloe Burke has come home to house sit for her parents who have taken a holiday cruise. It’s been a long time since Chloe has been here, and much to her surprise the house is an accident waiting to happen. She learns this the hard way when she tries use the microwave and loses electricity to half the house. Had she found the note her mother left explaining that she shouldn’t use the microwave while the light over the sink was on, she wouldn’t have had the problem. This note listed several other things she shouldn’t do - such as blow dry her hair in the bathroom with the light on.  Concerned for her parent’s safety, she decides that for Christmas she’ll have her parent’s house rewired and puts in a call to the town’s electrician who, unbeknownst to her, is very happy to hear from Chloe.

Scott Quinn has had a crazy secret crush on Chloe Burke ever since high school, but when she moved away to Boston, he moved on with his own life, too – not that she’d ever noticed him anyway. Now she’s back and in need of his electrical skills, and he can’t help but imagine his other “skills” he’d like to impress her with.

Holiday Sparks is my first read by this author and I enjoyed it. This was a sweet, romantic story with enough sizzle to heat things up and make this a sexy holiday read.

All She Wants for Christmas –  Jaci Burton 4 Stars

A deep hurt and betrayal sent Riley Jenson running from her home in Deer Lake, from Amanda, who she thought was her best friend, and from Ethan, who she thought was her boyfriend. But catching them in bed together told her she’d been wrong about all that. She wasn’t about to stick around and ask questions – she didn’t need to – the answers were right there in front of her eyes. Now, 10 years later Riley is a huge Nashville star and she’s come back to her hometown, strictly for business. She doesn’t want to see Ethan or Amanda, who married after she left, and plans to do anything she can to avoid them. But what she doesn’t know is that Amanda has passed away, and fate—and her agent—bring Ethan and Riley face to face again. Can they work things out and let go of all the hurt they’ve known these past 10 years? Well, it’s Christmas time in Deer Lake and anything is possible.

I enjoyed this story a lot more than I thought I would. When I learned that Ethan had slept with his girlfriend’s best friend, I was tempted to skip the story, but since I’m reading/reviewing this for Netgalley, I thought it only fair that I stick it out. I’m glad I did. It turned out to be an awesome story of understanding and forgiveness, and a steamy holiday read.

Unwrapped – Megan Hart 3 Stars

Leah and Brandon Long are spending their first Christmas together as newlyweds skiing in Vail, but a twisted ankle has Leah off the slopes with nothing but time on her hands. So what are the newlyweds to do? Well, skiing is out of the question, but they manage to fill their days with some easy going sightseeing and lots of sex.  I liked the message of the story, about letting go of the past and learning to trust, learning to give and take, but I wish it had been a more obvious part of the story and not just there at the end. 

Unwrapped is an epilogue type short connected to Taking Care of Business and No Reservations, and while I wasn’t confused at all by having not read those two books, I didn’t have much of an emotional investment in the couple. The sex was plentiful and would have probably been very erotic had I cared more about Leah and Brandon. I was also disappointed that this story didn’t have that same holiday magic that the previous two did.

Believe – Lauren Dane – 5 stars.

I loved this story! Believe is another epilogue type short in this anthology, this time connected to the novel Second Chances, which I haven’t read yet. I wasn’t at all lost while reading Believe and was actually surprised to learn this wasn’t a standalone because it was so well written and I felt completely invested in and connected to Rori Helm and Jude Callahan, not only as a couple, but as people trying to heal from a rocky past and the death of Rori’s husband, Zach.

Years after Zach’s death, Rori and Jude are a couple, trying to make their own history together, a life without Zach’s memory influencing them. They both love and miss him, but now is their time together and they want to move forward instead of living in the shadow of the past.  Jude decides that a Christmas getaway together is just what they need and arranges a secluded cabin where they can devote themselves to one another and not have to worry about friends and relatives dropping by while he’s got his beautiful woman naked, tied up, and screaming for…well…you get the idea

This is a very hot, sexy story, with some light BDSM and I will definitely be getting my hands on Second Chances.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lust by Charlotte Featherstone

“High and mighty they call me. Frigid. But I am neither of those things. I am Chastity—my name and my virtue. It is who I am, my entire being. It, I fear, is my prison.”

Every one hundred years, seven women are born, each the embodiment of one of the seven blessed virtues; chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness and humility. Chastity Lennox is one of four sisters who were born Virtues and she has lived her life believing that she’d never feel what a woman should feel for a man. She believed herself to be merely a vessel whose body would be a thing for her future husband to take his own pleasure from, finding her joy and solace in the children she would bear him. She never believed she’d know passion, arousal - lust.

“You do not know the power of the Dark Fae,” she murmured, wringing her hands. “Their glamour, it is the most beautiful in the world. Their seduction, the sweetest, most heady arousal you have ever felt. Even as your mind hates them, your body—“ she trembled then steeled herself, “—your body desires them, craves them. These women, they may not have a chance to protect themselves if they fall prey to a Dark Fae’s glamour.”

Thane is a fey prince, a Dark Fey, who, because of his father’s transgressions, has been cursed to bear one of the seven cardinal sins. He, along with his brothers, each embody one of the dark sins; vanity, gluttony, envy, wrath, avarice, and sloth, and drawn to his Sin’s opposite, needing her to break the curse on his family, Thane is determined to make Chastity his, in every possible way. He’ll take his time, woo her, seduce her, win her over, for only if she comes willingly to his Unseelie court will the spell be broken. But Thane’s sin is Lust. It lives within him, a separate being and it fights Thane, demanding to possess the innocent Chastity - now - and Lust will not be denied.

“Like the visit from the angel Gabriel to Mary, my father was visited in his slumber from the faery queen, who foretold the coming of our births and the importance of not only myself, but my three sisters. In his dreams, it was whispered to him the part we would play in a world that we had not yet seen—a world it seems, we will never really become a part of.”

Lust is a story of blessings and curses, virtues and sins. It’s a tale of right and wrong, good and evil, innocence and guile. I loved how quickly I was pulled in and how it had me feeling sympathetic for both the Seelie ("good") and the Unseelie ("bad") Courts. I found myself loathing the “good” guys and cheering on the “bad” guys and wishing that somehow, both sides could win!! Truth be told, I wasn’t just pulled into the story, I was enveloped by it.

“Yes, yield to me. Let me come to you as I am. Embrace the darkness in me, and let me take you…corrupt you.”

Charlotte Featherstone knows how to write erotica, there’s no question about that, but this book was so, so much more. It’s magical, mystical, fanciful, sensual, and most definitely erotic. But most importantly, it's a truly romantic experience - a love story. While reading Lust, I felt like I was living the fairytale – the Dark Feyry Tale – and I didn’t want it to end.

"I am a virtue. A savior in my new home, for the Unseelie Court is now home. The Dark Fey my family. I have given up my mortal life to become the first of seven women to save a dying court – a court as misunderstood as I once believed I was.

My family resides “up top” in the mortal realm. I come to them at night, in their dreams, through the magic of my husband. I miss them, especially my sisters whose fates are entwined with mine. I speak to them of the splendor of the court, the pleasures that await them – the princes who desire them. But they are still virtues, and not ready to heed to call of desire. But still, their Sins await them, ever patient, ever proud. Ever eager to give them a taste of the desires harbored within a dark fey. Soon they will come. They will listen to their hearts, and they will trust as I have trusted. We will be reunited—in this world. I am certain of it."

It's not often I'm left so in need to have the next book in my hands, but I am truly - truly, looking forward to Vanity, the second story in The Sins and the Virtue series.

5/5 stars

----This ebook was provided to me by

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Flat-Out Sexy by Erin McCarthy

A big shout-out to whoever listed this “dish” as part of the "We Love Lisa Klepas Pot Luck Reading Challenge" on Goodreads! THANK YOU!!!

Flat-Out Sexy is my first read by Erin McCarthy and I am so, so looking forward to the next installment of the Fast Track series. This was a fun, sexy read. A great story, nothing heavy or angsty, just a “sit back and enjoy the ride” good time! And that’s exactly what I was looking for. I’m not going to go into plot detail, because the story blurb tells you quite enough without me re-hashing it for you, but I will share my thoughts about the characters.

Elec is such a great guy. Easy going, caring, hard working…the perfect non-alpha/caveman type hero. He was patient with Tamara and respected her need for privacy and discretion when it came to their relationship. I appreciate that in him, and was glad that he didn’t just tolerate it, but truly understood it. That spoke volumes about what a thoughtful man he was. I thought that Tamara was also awesome. A young, widowed, mother of 2 kids, she did a great job caring for them and trying to provide them with the right atmosphere. I love how the relationship development took place. She didn’t just jump right into dating, nor did she suddenly thrust Elec on her kids. She respected their memory of their father and took her time easing them into the idea of having another man around. That was very real to me, and made me think of her as more than just a character written on the page, but a living, breathing, caring mother.

As for our secondary characters, there was quite a bit of angst, bitterness, animosity between Suzanne, Tamara’s best friend, and Ryder, Suzanne’s ex-husband. Clearly there are unresolved issues in that relationship and I can’t wait to read their book and find out exactly what that said issues are! Then we also have the whole Ty-Nikki-Imogen thing brewing. Nikki, while I’m certain she does have more brain cells than a grain of sand, though not many, seems like such a sweet girl. But I just get the feeling that “sweet” isn’t enough for Ty, and I’m wondering - hoping - that Imogen might have a chance at winning his heart.

Wow! I’m glad I chose this book as part of my “meal plan” and am truly excited to read more of this series.

4/5 stars

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Warrior by Zoe Archer

“And what are these paragons called, who safeguard the world, and save England from herself?”

Before she even spoke, he knew that everything was about to change. And change forever.

“The Blades of the Rose.”

With the Blades of the Rose series, Zoe Archer has given us a fabulous new world. With characters that captivate and situations that are exciting and action packed, Warrior is a cross between Indiana Jones and The Mummy. Trying to fit this into a single genre is difficult because this story is fantasy, historical romance, action/adventure and steamy hot goodness all rolled into one.

Captain Gabriel Huntley of the Thirty-third Regiment witnessed a brutal attack, and tried to intervene. In the end the victim, Anthony Morris, died, but not before he in turn saved Gabriel’s life. Anthony’s dying request is that Gabriel deliver a compass, and a message, to his friend Franklin Burgess - in Outer Mongolia! Far away, true, but did Gabriel really have a choice, though? After all, Morris had just saved his life, but still… Outer Mongolia? But then Morris pleads, “Please. You must deliver the message to Burgess. Thousands of lives at stake. More, many more.” Gabriel knows there’s no way around it, he has to go – his honor and the debt owed to a dying man demanded it. Then, three months later when the message is delivered, he realizes that his journey hasn’t ended, it’s only just begun.

Thalia Burgess would like nothing more than to follow in her father’s footsteps and be accepted into the Blades of the Rose, a secret society whose members devote their lives to making sure that certain magical artifacts never fall into the hands of The Heirs, another secret organization who would use the powers held by the artifacts to gain control over the entire world. But she’s not so sure about this Gabriel Huntley who came all the way from England, bringing news of Anthony Morris’ death, and isn’t interested in accepting his help, in fact, she wants nothing to do with him at all.

After delivering the message to Burgess and his daughter, Thalia, Gabriel is even more curious about what it all means - the significance of the compass and the cryptic message. He’s offered his help, but it’s clear to him his help isn’t wanted. But why let a little thing like that stop him? Gabriel decides he’s going to help, whether the Burgesses want him to or not, and it’s a good thing for us he did, because the story that follows is so, so good and I would have hated to have to missed it!

Gabriel and Thalia are great together! I love strong, independent heroines, and what makes this even more appealing is that Gabriel comes to recognize her strengths and doesn’t get all alpha/caveman and refuse to let her use them to help find the priceless, magical artifact before The Heirs get to it first. The story – their journey – had me sitting on the edge of my seat, anxiously following along as they discovered more and more about The Heirs, the artifacts, and even themselves.

Warrior is a fast paced, exciting introduction into this series, and I’m happy I decided to give it a try. It’s not the kind genre mix that I usually find appealing, but Zoe Archer has created a world so interesting, so captivating, that I can’t wait to read the next books, Scoundrel, Rebel and Stranger, and see what lies in store for the Blades of the Rose.

4.5/5 stars.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage by J. Ashley

Having read and LOVED The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, I thought I’d go crazy waiting for this book to come out, and at times I nearly did. But let me just say, it was well worth the wait!

Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage is, of course, Roland “Mac” and Isabella Mackenzie’s story. From the first book in the Highland Pleasures series, we learned that they had married under unconventional, AKA scandalous, circumstances, then separated a few years later. It was clear that their relationship had been intense, a roller coaster ride of epic proportions, and that there were still deep, unresolved feelings between them. This book gives us a much closer look into their relationship and what went wrong.

I’ll start off by saying that while I love this book, I mean really love it, it still didn’t quite compare to my absolutely-over-the-top-bordering-on-unhealthy-adoration of Ian’s book, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie and honestly, I’m not terribly surprised. I’m only mentioning this to you, dear readers of this review, because in most series, the first book is the weakest and the others just get better and better. In this case, I found the first book to be incredibly phenomenal and the second book merely wonderfully splendid!!!

That said, here’s what I loved about Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage :

Jennifer Ashley has the Mackenzie family down to an art. Each brother has his very own quirks and peculiarities, which was quite fashionable during that time period which means that while in some circles they were merely tolerated, in others they were nearly worshipped. While Ian’s “madness” wasn’t something he could control, it made him such an endearing character, and some of the highpoints of Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage were the times we spent with him.

Mac is an artist, and like most artists are, he’s quite eccentric. But what I adored about him was that he was so willing and able to accept the blame for what went wrong in his marriage, and he believes that most, if not all, of their problems were his fault. He makes no excuses for his behaviors and is willing to do whatever it takes to win Isabella’s heart again. The thing is, and what Mac doesn’t understand is that he hasn’t really lost it, not yet anyway. But we can’t mistake his acceptance of blame for playing the martyr, which he did not. My grandmother, on the other hand, was the queen of disingenuous martyrdom! She was someone who didn’t like to accept blame. She had this act she’d fall into whenever someone accused her of something that she knew darn well she was guilty of. “Go ahead, heap it on! Blame me, my shoulders are wide,” she’d say, slapping herself on the shoulders, “I can take it!” The thing was, we all knew she was in the wrong and knew that she knew she was wrong, but she played that part to get everyone to shut up. LOL!!! Ummm… yeah, so, where was I? Oh, yes! There was nothing like this about Mac. He was actually very straightforward about what blame he’d take as his own and what he would not, which is why I believe that he meant what he said when he said he was the one who had ultimately driven Isabella away. Wow! How refreshing is it to find that in a man?!?

Isabella was so, so young when they met and married. There was no way she would have the “tools” or the experience to deal with a man like Mac, yet she fell in love with him anyway. I have to admire the way she tried and tried and then when she finally what her entire life would be if she didn’t do something, she finally left him. For one so young, she was amazingly insightful. Thankfully for her, and for us, Ian had been there for her over the years of her and Mac’s separation. All of the Mackenzie brothers were. They adored her and still saw her as a member of their family. They watched out for her, protected her, and loved her every bit as much as they ever had – in fact, even though blood is thicker than water, I think if they had had to choose between Mac and Isabella, they would have chosen her. Their unfailing devotion to her was a brilliant bit of storytelling because it allowed us to accept her easy, believable return to the family when it happened.

With the exception of a subplot used to help propel the reuniting of Mac and Isabella that I thought was rather weak and didn’t really “grab” me, I adored every minute of this book. And while, as I said, I didn’t care for that subplot, I loved the outcome, for what it means for Mac and Isabella. And of course, the high points of the book were Ian’s appearances. I’m thinking that once this series is through, Jennifer Ashley should just write a series based solely on Ian – perhaps he’d make a great investigator with his eye for detail and being able to read even the most subtle of nuances. And I’ll be the heroine **big grin**

Now, I have a question/thought for those of you who have read both books - Spoiler Why do you suppose Inspector Fellows, who was revealed to be a ½ brother to the Mackenzies, is never mentioned as such, either in character dialog or in author narrative, in this book? I found that odd and it had me questioning whether or not I was remembering correctly exactly who Inspector Fellows was.End Spoilers

Well, I’m going to stop here because I’m just rambling anyway and honestly, I could go on for pages and pages about the Mackenzies and yet never do them justice. I just adore them, each and every one of them, but the truth of the matter is that I’m not eloquent enough a speaker or writer to express in words how much I feel for this incredible family. I’ll just say this; Jennifer Ashley, with the help of Clan Mackenzie, has created another masterpiece with Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage.

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley

Minor Plot Spoilers

This is my first read of any of Jennifer Ashley’s works and I was not disappointed, in fact, I was very, very pleased. I found her writing style to be flowing and well thought out, and her ability to weave a tale that kept me wondering, *sighing* and hopeful through the entire novel made this, for me, a story that was “un-put-downable” (Yep, I made up that word. ) *grins*

This is one of those times that, even though much of the story is based on Ian’s past, we didn’t need to have it all laid out in a prologue. Instead, we learn through flashbacks told from his brothers’ points of view, as well as Ian’s, about the youngest Mackenzie being institutionalized and subjected to all manner of horrible experiments performed under the guise of "treatments." Jennifer Ashley did an excellent job of giving us just enough details of his dismal existence for us to really understand what Ian had been subjected to, without going into so much detail as to make this an uncomfortable read.

From what I understand from reading other reviews, Ian’s “madness” is a form of autism, Aperger's Syndrome, though I don’t remember anywhere in the book where they gave it any specific medical name, not even one accepted during the time of this story. “Madness” is such an all encompassing word, but I suppose with the way the characteristics of his condition manifested themselves, “madness” would have summed it all up quite well.

I loved that we were introduced to Ian right away, and got a glimpse of one of his “quirks” – his passion for Ming vases – early on. A man of complex contradictions, Ian is often withdrawn, yet easily enraged. He has a childlike honesty about him – he literally doesn’t know how to lie – yet understands that he can avoid telling the truth by withholding it. If I were a licensed psychiatrist/psychologist, I would likely still be on page 1 trying to unravel the complex and intricate weave that makes Ian, Ian – a hero unlike any other hero I have ever read about, and I can’t tell you how refreshing that is.

Beth, a compassionate, nurturing woman unconcerned with society’s ideas of propriety and morals spent most of her life giving service to those in need. She had cared for her alcoholic mother until she passed, then as the wife of Thomas, the vicar, she cared for those in his flock. When, after only a year of marriage he became ill, Beth cared for him until he passed. She was fortunate enough to then become the companion of an wealthy, opinionated old woman with whom she spent many years, and when the woman became ill, Beth cared for her, too, until she died. Care, care, care…caring for people who were unable do so for themselves was something Beth was all too familiar with. Only a person who had walked in Beth’s shoes could see past the rumors and the lies which shroud the Mackenzie family. She was able to peel away the layers and see that there was much more to them than they allowed people to see. It took very little time for her to realize how much Ian needed her, but knowing what I did about Ian, I had expected that this would turn out to be a story of unrequited love. I believed that Beth would care for him, maybe even grow to love him, in spite of his madness – or perhaps because of it – yet never feel his love in return. Nor would she expect it because he had made it clear to her that he couldn’t… literally could not, love her.

I found it interesting that Ian believed he couldn’t feel a person’s love for him, nor could he return that love and yet, he felt and reacted to fear, anger, disgust, compassion, lust… so this didn’t make a lot of sense to me. When he first met Beth, he had to have felt something for her or he wouldn’t have been compelled to help her. As the story progressed and situations came about, he reacted much the way a man in love would; he became protective, possessive, domineering and demanding. So, I found myself thinking that perhaps because he had never felt this kind of love for someone, he didn’t know what to label these new emotions, or how to express them. Thankfully this issue was resolved to my satisfaction towards the end of the book.

I would love to go on and on, dissecting each little nuance of both Ian and Beth, but there are so many *sigh* moments and subtle things to love about them both that it would take pages and pages - and honestly, I don’t want to deprive you of finding them yourself because it’s those moments that make this, for me, a truly great story.

Ian’s 3 brothers, Hart, Mac and Cameron, played big parts in this book and their characters, as well as their checkered pasts, were so well developed that I am already impatiently awaiting their stories.

While The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie is not exactly what I had anticipated, it turned out to be more than I had hoped for. By page 5 I was completely captivated by Ian and by page 13, I wanted to bring him home with me and love him forever. *sigh* But I will have to be content in knowing that he has his Beth to love him like no one else ever could.

Update: There have been many discussion about Ian's "madness," and what it is exactly. I sent Ms. Ashley an email today and asked her if she would share with us some insight into writing Ian, his "madness," and her research. I was thrilled to have gotten an answer right away and with her permission, I'm posting her reply:

"Ian has Asperger's (which, as you say, is high-functioning autism). I wanted to explore what it would be like to have Asperger's before it or autism was recognized or even had a name.

People with Asperger's can have a variety of traits, and not every person has the same (e.g., some are fine with looking into other people's eyes, some have a great sense of humor, while others are painfully shy and take everything literally). So Ian has Asperger's and a little OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). A great memory for certain things, usually very focused on details.

I did a ton of research on Asperger's and autism (heartbreaking stuff), and then started writing. Once I was writing, though, I totally fell in love with Ian! He was the toughest hero I've ever written, but he was worth the pain. :-)

Jennifer Ashley"

My sincere thanks to Ms. Ashley for sharing that information with us, and for giving us Ian, a truly *sigh* worthy hero.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Unveiled by Courtney Milan

And ye shall tread down the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of
your feet. - Malachi 4:3.

As much as he hates the name he was given by his religiously overzealous mother, he has every intention of living up to it. Mr. Ash Turner has spent the better part of his life watching, waiting for his chance to mete out revenge on his bitter enemy, the Duke of Palford. Now that the means have been laid at his feet, he’ll stop at nothing to see justice served. But will revenge be as sweet as he had always imagined it would be? The answer might just surprise him.

Lady Anna Margaret Dalrymple has found herself in a most unfortunate situation. Until recently, she was the daughter of a duke – the Duke of Palford – and enjoyed a life of comfort meant only for upper society. But now, evidence has come out proving that her father is a bigamist and that she and her brothers are bastards. And if that weren’t bad enough, with her father dying and no legitimate heirs to inherit the title, a distant cousin has decided to lay claim to the dukedom and that distant cousin is Ash Turner. Now it’s up to Lady Anna to help her brothers fight Mr. Turner’s claim by digging up anything she can on him that will prove him unfit to hold the title.

Ash Turner is the kind of hero I can honestly say I’d be attracted to outside of a book, which took me by surprise. Truly, how could I possibly come to care about someone who was willing to ruin the lives of innocents just to better the lives of himself and his brothers? Well, Ms. Milan pulled it off with skill and in doing so has given me another perfectly matched pair to add to my list of Top Ten Couples. Ash might be ruthless, but much to Lady Anna’s chagrin, he’s also honorable, kind, generous and fiercely loyal to those he loves. And he has a secret shame that no one, not even his brothers, know about, and one that had me in tears because for all his ruthlessness, he was so very vulnerable.

Lady Anna is such a wonderful character! She has a strength about her that we don’t often find in historical romance heroines. She’s willing to do whatever she has to do to protect her family, but when she gets to know Ash better, to see him for the man he truly is and not just the man he allows others to see, will she be able to follow through with her plan and betray him, using the knowledge he’s entrusted to her against him?

Throughout the story I was kept guessing as to how their differences could possibly be resolved allowing for both of their happiness, and in the end, I was very pleased with how things worked out, especially since it wasn’t something I had seen coming!

With Unveiled, Courtney Milan has given us a moving, romantic, passionate and sexy story. It’s a tale of deception, bitterness and loneliness, but it’s also a beautiful story about compassion, forgiveness and, under the most difficult of circumstances, finding that one person who loves you for everything you are and everything you are not. The person who is destined to give you the kind of happily ever after you didn’t believe existed.

5/5 Stars

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sword of Darkness by Kinley MacGregor

Whether writing as Sherrilyn Kenyon or Kinley MacGregor, this author knows how to give us amazing characters who are people we love – or love to hate – and worlds unlike any others. Sword of Darkness, the first book in the Lords of Avalon series, is a tale centered on the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, and is no exception.

There are so many things to love about this book, but standing out most of all is the hero! Kerrigan was incredibly tortured, scarred, angry and solitary – in short, the perfect hero. I absolutely adored everything about him, but it was his sense of honor, even though he thought he had none, that made me love him!

Seren was a likable, strong, independent heroine. I appreciated that, even at his worse, she accepted Kerrigan for not only who and what he was, but also for who and what he wasn’t. He was the kind of hero who had many things in need of changing, but she asked very little of him in that way.

There was a large supporting cast, a mish-mash of Merlins, gargoyles, dragons and demons. In the beginning I had a little trouble sorting out who was who, but by the halfway mark of the story I had it all pretty much figured out and was able to follow along nicely. And speaking of having trouble following along, I’d suggest that the very first thing you do is turn to the back of the book and read the sections marked ”The Legend," "The Thirteen Sacred Objects," and "Vocabulary." You won’t regret having all of that information under your belt when starting the actual story.

Now, all that said, you’d expect a 5 star rating, right? Well, there was something that really grated on my nerves, so much so that it really affected my enjoyment of the story. This isn’t something I’ve heard others complain about in their reviews, so it was probably just me. But since this is my review, and I can, I’ll mention it. Some of the dialogs between the characters would start out light hearted and funny, but would quickly evolve into a level of silliness that just annoyed me and distracted me from the actual story. However, one thing I did find very funny was the author endorsement on the cover: '“Kinley MacGregor writes fantasy the way I would.” – Sherrilyn Kenyon' That made me laugh out loud because, well, she is Kinley MacGregor!

So, would I recommend this story to my friends? Absolutely! It was an entertaining, exciting and very sexy read that kept me coming back for more. 

4/5 stars