Sunday, July 24, 2011

REVIEW: "How to Marry a Duke" by Vicky Dreiling

Tristan, the Duke of Shelbourne is a man with a mission: find a wife he can tolerate as long as they both shall live. Love is not necessary--nor desired. But how to choose among a dizzying array of wealthy-yet-witless candidates? Hire London's infamously prim and proper matchmaker. Then pretend she's not the most captivating woman he's ever met...

Helping a devilish Duke create a contest to pick his perfect mate is the kind of challenge Tessa Mansfield relishes. Her methods may be scandalous, but she's determined to find the notorious bachelor more than a wife--she'll bring him true love. Yet when Tessa watches the women vie for the Duke's affections, she longs to win his heart herself. And after a stolen kiss confirms Tristan's desire, Tessa knows she has broken a matchmaker's number one rule: never fall in love with the groom.

Overall Ranking: 4 out of 5 Stars

Genre: Historical Romance
Setting: Regency England
Hero: Tristan Gatewick, Duke of Shelbourne
Heroine: Tessa Mansfield
Sensuality Rating: Warm

"How to Marry a Duke" is Vicky Dreiling's debut historical romance and, in my opinion, she does an amazing job right out of the gate.  As mentioned in the summary above, this is the story of Tristan, Duke of Shelbourne, who is in desperate need of a wife.  He has exacting qualifications for his wife-to-be and (Surprise!) is having a difficult time finding someone to meet them.  Specifically, he wants "an angel in the ballroom and a temptress . . . in private." (pg. 29)  After his mother refused to assist him in finding a wife to fit his desires, Tristan meets Tessa Mansfield at a ball.  There he discovers that she is an accomplished matchmaker who specializes in finding husbands for wallflowers and plain-janes.  Because he is so desperate, Tristan decides to hire Tessa to help him find the wife he believes he needs.

Tristan, at first glance, is a fairly common romance novel hero.  He inherited his title at a young age and also inherited large amounts of debt that his father rang up.  Tristan decided against marrying a rich young lady to save his family's estate and set about correcting everything himself.  Due to this, he is obsessed with his ducal duty.  Also, Tristan's father caused scandal because of his blatant infidelities and gambling habits.  In addition to being obsessed with duty, he is also hyper aware of not causing a scandal like his father.  That is why his 'qualifications' for a wife are so cold-hearted though he is open about his desire for passion in his marriage.

Tessa Mansfield is a twenty-six year old spinster whose beauty is not conventional for the time period being small yet curvy.  Tessa's uncle left her a great inheritance upon his death and she has been able to live independently.  This lifestyle helps her hide from a painful past which the reader gets hints about throughout the book until the Great Secret Reveal!  She takes great pleasure in creating matches for girls/women she feels are outsiders or wallflowers.  This showcases her thoughtful yet determined nature.  She has a great understanding of the ton and how to make a courtship successful.   

It becomes obvious from their first meeting that Tristan and Tessa are meant for each other.  They catch each other's eye rather quickly and a sense of easy friendship from the beginning.  When Tessa decides to help Tristan find a wife, they work together to figure out the best way to 'weed' out the girls that don't fit the duke's requirements.  Through all the preparations, the sexual tension continues to grow as these two fall harder and harder for each other.  The biggest obstacle for this couple is trust.  Tristan must learn to trust Tessa to always have his best interests at heart even when he may disagree with her actions.  Tessa, on the other hand, must trust Tristan with the truth about her past.

There are a great many secondary characters in this book.  Some of my personal favorites are Tristan's opinionated yet romantic mother, his best friend Hawk who steals every scene he is in, and a couple of the girls that Tristan is courting throughout the book.  I cannot wait to read more about Hawk and Tristan's sister, Julianne, in the next book of this series.

What I liked about this book: I really enjoyed the realistic growth of the relationship between Tristan and Tessa and the friendship between Tristan and Hawk.  There was also a sense of humor throughout the story.  There are a great many funny lines and situations and this really gives the book a sense of relaxation and fun.

What I did not like about this book: The courtship plot started to wear a little thin by the end.  I liked how it got Tristan and Tessa to work together, but some of the subplots were a little tedious.  I also felt like the ending was anti-climatic.  The villain was not fully developed, in my opinion, and he was thwarted rather quickly.

Wishlist for this book:  I wish there had been a more detailed love scene.  I liked the carriage scene, but the actual consummation was a disappointment especially after the great sexual tension from earlier.

All in all, I thought Ms. Dreiling did an admirable job on her first book.  Her writing style is easy to read yet poignant.  Her sense of humor definitely carried alot of weight as well.  I can't wait to read more from her!

Favorite Quote: "You are my one and only, for all eternity."--Tristan

Book Trailer:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

REVIEW: "Between Sinners and Saints" by Marie Sexton

Levi Binder is a Miami bartender who cares about only two things: sex and surfing. Ostracized by his Mormon family for his homosexuality, Levi is determined to live his life his own way, but everything changes when he meets massage therapist Jaime Marshall.

Jaime is used to being alone. Haunted by the horrors of his past, his only friend is his faithful dog, Dolly. He has no idea how to handle somebody as gorgeous and vibrant as Levi.

Complete opposites on the surface, Levi and Jaime both long for something that they can only find together. Through love and the therapeutic power of touch, they’ll find a way to heal each other, and they’ll learn to live as sinners in a family of saints.

Genre: Contemporary Romance, Male-Male
Setting: Present-day Miami, Florida
Hero: Levi Binder
Hero: Jaime Marshall
Sensuality Rating: Hot

Overall Ranking: 5+ out of 5 Stars

I have only just started reading male/male romances this year.  I was inspired by Suzanne Brockmann's wonderful secondary couple Robin and Jules to try out others in this genre.  Marie Sexton's newest release "Between Sinners and Saints" is probably my favorite male/male romance so far.  To me, everything about this book worked from the fully developed characters to the complex relationship within the Binder family.

Levi Binder, as mentioned in the summary, is a bartender who is rebelling against his Mormon upbringing by sleeping with any guy who smiles at him.  It is pretty obvious to the reader that this one night stand pattern is taking its toll physically and emotionally on Levi.  He is searching for something in all these encounters, but is blind to this desire.  As a character, Levi is confident and self-serving while still having a hint of vulnerability from his family's treatment of him and his lifestyle 

Jaime Marshall is a massage therapist who Levi hires in response to some pain in his lower back and legs.  Jaime, unlike Levi, is a very contained character.  He is the victim of childhood sexual abuse and it has scarred him in many ways which are revealed throughout the story.  Jaime is attracted to Levi from the beginning, as Levi is to him, but is unwilling and unable to go through with his desires due to his fear.  He believes he is too damaged to have a successful relationship especially with someone as seemingly perfect as Levi. 

What the reader sees in "Between Sinners and Saints" is how these two men who could not be more different learn to accept each other and themselves.  Both Levi and Jaime need something which the other can provide.  Jaime desires a family while Levi desires acceptance.  Through their relationship, they get what they most need and desire.  I liked how Sexton does not hasten the relationship between Levi and Jaime.  Jaime is tramatized by his childhood and Levi understands this very quickly.  He falls in love with Jaime pretty early on and is determined to help him in any way possible.  The growth of friendship and then romance, to me, is very realistic in this book.  They have squabbles and misunderstandings along the way, but eventually realize that they need each other to be complete.

I also liked the depiction of Levi's family.  The Binders are Mormon and most are devoted to their religion.  It could have been easy for the author to use them as 'villains' that look down on Levi and Jaime.  But, Sexton uses these characters to explain where Levi is coming from.  Levi's parents and siblings love him and care deeply about what happens to him.  His lifestyle is a conflict that they struggle with throughout the book.  I am not Mormon, but I feel the family is very realistic.  They love each other and believe family is the most important thing.  Yes, many of them feel like homosexuality is a sin, but they are not cruel about it.  They truly believe they can help Levi and only want him to be happy.  Their journey to accepting Levi is sometimes just as poignant as the Levi/Jaime romance.

All in all, I loved every minute of reading this book.  The characters were not stereotypical and all of them had a journey to make in this story.  To me, the true theme of this book is love and acceptance and I feel this is shown in many different ways.  Even if you are new to the male/male romance genre, I highly recommend this story about the healing power of love and the importance of family.

Favorite Quote: "I think you want very much to make this black and white--to make us all out to be sinners or saints.  But its just not that simple.  I think what you need to accept is that, just maybe, we're all something else.  Maybe we're all something in between."--Jaime Marshall (Between Sinners and Saints)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

2011 READS-First Half Superlatives

Here are my superlatives for the first half of 2011!  Please note that these cover all the books I've read this year so many of them are not just 2011 releases.  However, any titles that have an asterisk (*) next to them indicate a 2011 release.  Enjoy!

FAVORITE HISTORICAL ROMANCE: When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James*
Honorable Mention: Unveiled by Courtney Milan

FAVORITE CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE: Between Sinners and Saints by Marie Sexton*

FAVORITE PARANORMAL ROMANCE: Dreams of a Dark Warrior by Kresley Cole*
Honorable Mention: Kiss of Snow by Nalini Singh*

FAVORITE URBAN FANTASY: Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning*

FAVORITE 'OTHER' ROMANCE: Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair (science fiction)

FAVORITE YOUNG ADULT: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

FAVORITE NON-ROMANCE: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

FAVORITE NOVELLA/ANTHOLOGY: Unlocked by Courtney Milan*

FAVORITE AUDIOBOOK: Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost

FAVORITE CHARACTER: Bones from Jeaniene Frost's Night Huntress series

FAVORITE HERO: Hawke from Nalini  Singh's Kiss of Snow

FAVORITE HEROINE: Cat from Jeaniene Frost's Night Huntress series

FAVORITE COUPLE: Jericho Barrons and Mac from Karen Marie Moning's Fever series

BIGGEST GLOM: Jeaniene Frost's Night Huntress series

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Wedding of the Season by Laura Lee Guhrke*

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

WISHLIST: July 2011 Releases

Here is a detailed list of the books that  are being released in July which have peaked my fancy. 

Title: "Love Story"
Author: Jennifer Echols
Genre: Young Adult-Romance-Contemporary
Series: n/a
Release Date: July 19, 2011
Description: For Erin Blackwell, majoring in creative writing at the New York City college of her dreams is more than a chance to fulfill her ambitions--it's her ticket away from the tragic memories that shadow her family's racehorse farm in Kentucky. But when she refuses to major in business and take over the farm herself someday, her grandmother gives Erin's college tuition and promised inheritance to their maddeningly handsome stable boy, Hunter Allen. Now Erin has to win an internship and work late nights at a coffee shop to make her own dreams a reality. She should despise Hunter . . . so why does he sneak into her thoughts as the hero of her latest writing assignment?
Then, on the day she's sharing that assignment with her class, Hunter walks in. He's joining her class. And after he reads about himself in her story, her private fantasies about him must be painfully clear. She only hopes to persuade him not to reveal her secret to everyone else. But Hunter devises his own creative revenge, writing sexy stories that drive the whole class wild with curiosity and fill Erin's heart with longing. Now she's not just imagining what might have been. She's writing a whole new ending for her romance with Hunter . . . except this story could come true.
Why I'm Interested: Jennifer Echols is one of my favorite young adult authors.  Her characters are always fully realized, non-cliché teenagers with legitimate issues to overcome.  This book especially intrigues me since it deals with the thoughts of a growing writer (one of my favorite character quirks).  I also like how Erin is from a farm in Kentucky which has local appeal for me.

Title: “The Secret Mistress”
Author: Mary Balogh
Genre: Historical Romance-Regency
Series: Dudley Family #3
Release Date: July 26, 2011
Description: Lady Angeline Dudley is poised to make her coming-out. A lady of her stature is expected to catch a wealthy, titled gentleman of the ton, but Angeline harbors a secret wish: to marry a simple, ordinary man. When Edward Ailsbury, the new Earl of Heyward, rescues her from public embarrassment, Angeline falls instantly in love. But the stuffy Earl has little concern for Angeline. Edward wishes only to wed an old friend for an amicable companionship, a good match for his staid persona. But Angelina may show Edward that comfort is no match for passion...
Why I’m Interested: I am a certifiable Mary Balogh fangirl and I’ve read almost all of her books (not counting the traditional regencies that are out-of-print).  I have always loved her Dudley series and, like many other fans, found myself fascinated by the relationship between Angeline and her husband Edward.  They seemed like such polar opposites that I wondered how their story panned out.  Now, Ms. Balogh has provided us with their story!

Title: “The Bride Wore Scarlet”
Author: Liz Carlyle
Genre: Historical Romance-Victorian
Series: Fraternitas #2
Release Date: July 26, 2011
Description: Passion and secrets simmer behind the elegant faÇade of Victorian London in another deliciously intriguing novel featuring the mysterious men of the St. James Society.
AnaÏs de Rohan has faced danger in her past, but never anything so great as posing as the new bride to one of the St. James Society's most magnetic—and ruthless—leaders. But Lord Bessett's bold challenge to prove herself worthy of joining his secret all-male society is impossible to resist. So she daringly agrees to travel with the enigmatic nobleman on a dangerous mission to save one of their own—a little girl with a frightening gift.
Soon intrigue swirls about them, drawing them ever closer. And AnaÏs quickly realizes that the intimacy of sharing Lord Bessett's bedroom is proving a temptation impossible to resist. As for Bessett himself—well, he might be a soldier sworn to the Society, but he certainly isn't anyone's saint. . . .
Why I’m Interested: Liz Carlyle is one of my auto-buy historical romance authors.  I love how her characters always seem a little left of center with daring plotlines that push the boundaries of typical romances.  I will admit that I was not a fan of the first book in this series “One Touch of Scandal”, but I appreciate Carlyle’s talent enough to continue with the next installment.

Title: “The Bed and the Bachelor”
Author: Tracy Anne Warren
Genre: Historical Romance-Regency
Series: Byrons of Braebourne #5
Release Date: July 26, 2011
Description: Everyone knows the Byron brothers are “mad, bad and dangerous.” But the devilishly desirable fourth son, Drake, is too scholarly to misbehave…or is he?
Lord Drake Byron has no time in his busy life to worry about taking a wife. He is more interested in the unbreakable code he has developed to defeat Napoleon’s forces. Little does he know that the irresistibly lovely new housekeeper he’s hired is really a French secret agent.
Sebastianne Dumont is not at all who she seems to be. Forced to spy to save her family, she embarks on a mission that takes an even more dangerous turn when she falls in love with the surprisingly tempting man she must ultimately betray. And if she succeeds in her mission, will she also break Lord Drake’s heart, while leaving her own behind?
Why I’m Interested: I adore family series especially in historical romance.  And Tracy Anne Warren’s Byron family is one of my current favorites.  I like how different each sibling is yet they still retain their loyalty and humor.  Drake is one of the most unique in this family.  His intellect makes him appear absent-minded in the early books of the series and I am stoked to find out more about him.  Also, I like characters in disguise especially when it’s the heroine. 

Title: “The Amorous Education of Miss Celia Seaton”
Author: Miranda Neville
Genre: Historical Romance-Regency
Series: The Burgundy Club #3
Release Date: July 26, 2011
Description: Being kidnapped is teaching Miss Celia Seaton a few things about life:
Lesson one: Never disrobe in front of a gentleman . . . unless his request comes at gunpoint.
Lesson two: If, when lost on the moors, you encounter Tarquin Compton, the leader of London society who ruined your marriage prospects, deny any previous acquaintance.
Lesson three: If presented with an opportunity to get back at Mr. Compton, the bigger the lie, the better. A faux engagement should do nicely.
Lesson four: Not all knowledge is found between the covers of a book. But an improper book may further your education in ways you never guessed.
And while an erotic novel may be entertaining, the real thing is even better.
Why I’m Interested: Miranda Neville has only had a few books published, but she is making a definite name for herself in romance land.  The Amorous Education… is the final book in the Burgundy Club series which is about friends who are involved in rare book collecting.  Tarquin Compton has been on my hero-radar since the first book so I’m excited to see what type of woman brings him to his knees.  Plus can’t beat faux engagement storylines!

Title: “Touch of Frost”
Author: Jennifer Estep
Genre: Young Adult-Paranormal
Series: Mythos Academy #1
Release Date: July 26, 2011
Description: My name is Gwen Frost, and I go to Mythos Academy — a school of myths, magic and warrior whiz kids, where even the lowliest geek knows how to chop off somebody's head with a sword and Logan Quinn, the hottest Spartan guy in school, also happens to be the deadliest.
But lately, things have been weird, even for Mythos. First, mean girl Jasmine Ashton was murdered in the Library of Antiquities. Then, someone stole the Bowl of Tears, a magical artifact that can be used to bring about the second Chaos War. You know, death, destruction and lots of other bad, bad things. Freaky stuff like this goes on all the time at Mythos, but I'm determined to find out who killed Jasmine and why—especially since I should have been the one who died. . .
Why I’m Interested: I haven’t read any of Ms. Estep’s adult paranormals though I’ve heard great things about them.  I am pretty picky when it comes to my young adult paranormal series, always on the lookout for Twilight-wannabes.  Touch of Frost’s plotline intrigues me with the whole mythological aspect.  I am a total sucker for mythology in paranormals so I will definitely check this one out.