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Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Review: Only Mine by Susan Mallery (Fool's Gold #4)

Book cover of Only Mine by Susan Mallery (Fool's Gold Book #4, contemporary romance)
Cheers to Susan Mallery for bringing us back to Fool’s Gold!  After publishing three books about the California town with a serious man shortage, Mallery returns to Fool’s Gold with a new trilogy featuring the three Hendrix sisters – Dakota, Nevada and Montana.  (If you’re wondering about the geographic names, you have to read the books to see why the ladies are so uniquely named).  With Only Mine, Mallery has once again penned a winner that will appeal to fans of contemporary romance.

Goodreads summary: You can’t win if you don’t play…

Her town’s lack of men may make headlines, but it isn’t news to Dakota Hendrix. The beautiful blonde has bigger problems to deal with, such as overseeing the romance reality competition filming in Fool’s Gold. Screening eligible bachelors is a difficult enough task, but Dakota hits an unexpected snag when a sexy stranger comes to town.

Finn Andersson will do anything to keep his twin brothers—the perfect contestants—off the show. Despite Dakota’s better judgment, she finds herself drawn to the mysterious outsider. Like her, Finn knows about heartbreak and how a family can fall apart, so she doesn’t dare to hope for anything more than a fling. After all, even in the Land of Happy Endings, finding true love is never as easy as it looks on TV.

My thoughts: I like every one of Mallery’s books, and this one is no different.  In fact, I’m thrilled that Mallery decided to write more Fool’s Gold books because I loved the first three – I probably read Almost Perfect at least five times.

The Hendrix triplets are only peripheral characters in the first three Fool’s Gold Books (Chasing Perfect, Almost Perfect, Finding Perfect), but they were obviously meant to each have their own story.  Dakota is first up, and her relationship with Finn is based on both attraction and friendship.  They bond first over their distaste for the reality TV show, but their relationship quickly develops into something more.  Their romance is sweet and relatively uncomplicated, though their love scenes are more intense than some of Mallery’s other books (hey, I’m not complaining!).  However, I was actually more interested in the romance between Finn’s brother Stephen and his on-screen “reality” girlfriend – there was greater suspense and angst involved in their happily ever after.

Mallery is exceptionally good at creating an entire world based around Fool’s Gold – the characters and fabric of the town are just as much character as setting.  Based on her multi-media creation of the Fool’s Gold world (see her website, newspaper, etc.,), I hope she's planning to write more books about the town and its people beyond the planned six books.

There are some unexpected plot twists that I won’t spoil for you here, but they keep the story moving quickly.  My one complaint is that I wish we could have seen more of the bond between Dakota and her sisters.  Obviously, they are extremely close, but Nevada and Montana weren’t as prominent as I would have expected, and the triplets seemed to live fairly separate lives.  Mallery is so good at writing about relationships between women (see my review of Already Home) that I hope she’ll explore the close relationship between the Hendrix sisters in upcoming books (Only Yours on August 30, and Only His and September).  Regardless, Only Mine guarantees that Mallery will continue to be one of the most successful authors in contemporary romance/women’s fiction.

Romance Novel Book Reviews by Sarah The Brazen Bookworm (Only Mine Fool's Gold books by Susan Mallery)

I received this book from the publisher and NetGalley in return for a fair and honest review.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Beach Read Wednesday! The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman

Book cover of The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman
This week’s Beach Read Wednesday pick is more romantic comedy than pure romance, but it’s a book that’s been on my keeper shelf for ages and one that I recommend to everyone.  If you’re looking for the perfect book to while away a summer afternoon, look no further than Elinor Lipman’s The Inn at Lake Devine.

Goodreads summary: It's 1962 and all across America barriers are collapsing. But when Natalie Marx's mother inquires about summer accommodations in Vermont, she gets the following reply: ‘The Inn at Lake Devine is a family-owned resort, which has been in continuous operation since 1922. Our guests who feel most comfortable here, and return year after year, are Gentiles.’ For twelve-year-old Natalie, who has a stubborn sense of justice, the words are not a rebuff but an infuriating, irresistible challenge. 

My thoughts: Everything about The Inn at Lake Devine is wonderful. Romance, humor, friendship, food poisoning by mushrooms – what more does a book need?  It begins with a girl determined to challenge anti-Semitism, but it becomes so much more than that.  Natalie is an utterly charming heroine as both tween and adult, and the back-up cast is equally entertaining and endearing.  The book is alternately witty, thought-provoking and touching, and Lipman’s writing is perfectly suited to the story.

Photo of a Cape Codder drinkThe Inn at Lake Devine is a relatively short book (272 pages) but it’s a complete and satisfying story – a highly recommended read.

Recommended drink while reading The Inn at Lake Devine: A Cape Codder (cranberry and vodka), or a Sam Adams.  Hey, Natalie’s from Massachusetts so we have to honor her heritage.  

Romance Novel Book Reviews by Sarah The Brazen Bookworm (The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Book Setting: Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Photo Mormon Row Grand Teton National Park Jackson Hole Wyoming
Mormon Row, The Grand Tetons - all photos by my mom 
Photo Mt. Moran Grand Teton National Park Wyoming
Mt. Moran

Today begins the annual family trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming!  We usually spend two weeks here every summer – hiking, kayaking, canoeing, and drinking on the balcony while staring at the mountains.

Jackson Hole is the name for the large valley surrounding the town of Jackson – surrounded by mountains on three sides and Yellowstone National Park to the north.  It’s the most gorgeous place on earth, and many writers have figured that out.  In honor of the trip, I’m presenting my favorite books set in or near the Grand Tetons.  (Note: These are all fiction books about Jackson Hole.)

Book cover of Dancing in the Moonlight by RaeAnne Thayne (Idaho romance novel with wounded female soldier)
Dancing in the Moonlight by RaeAnne Thayne – Former army nurse Magdalena Cruz returns to her Idaho hometown after being wounded in an attack in Afghanistan.  Jake Dalton, the town doctor, has had a crush on Maggie for years even though she can't stand the sight of him.  Unfortunately, Jake may be the only man who can help Maggie heal physically and emotionally.

This one is set on the Idaho side of the Tetons, but I’m including it because of its proximity to Jackson.  Dancing in the Moonlight is just one of books in Thayne’s series about the Dalton brothers and Cold Creek Ranch.  *It's a Kindle freebie, so you really should check it out.*

Book cover of Letters from Yellowstone by Diane Smith (historical fiction book set in Yellowstone National Park)
Letters from Yellowstone by Diane Smith – This one is historical fiction with some romantic elements.  Alexandria Bartram cons her way onto a scientific expedition to Yellowstone, to the consternation of the expedition leader and her family.  The book, told entirely through letters and diary entries, contains a great deal of debate about scientific process and land use and development.  As I said, this is more historical fiction than romance, but it’s an excellent depiction of the early days of Yellowstone National Park.

Book cover of Angels Fall by Nora Roberts (contemporary romantic suspense novel in Jackson Hole, WY)
Angels Fall by Nora Roberts – Of course Nora Roberts has a book set in Jackson Hole!  She has books set everywhere!  Reece Gilmore survived a horrific attack and is on a cross-country journey, trying to recover.  She ends up in Angel’s Fist, Wyoming, where she finds a job as a short-order cook.  Life there is good – and sexy writer Brody makes it even better – until Reece witnesses a murder and finds herself hunted by the killer.  It’s typical romantic suspense from Roberts, but the setting makes it somewhat special.

Photo of a really big buffalo
He loves JH books too!
So these were the best books I came up with off the top of my head – any good Jackson Hole or Wyoming books I’m missing? I’d love to find some new ones!


Updated (8/28/2012): I adore the contemporary romance novels of Victoria Dahl, and she's publishing a series of steamy cowboy romances set in Jackson Hole.  Check out my review of Close Enough to Touch.

Romance novel book reviews by Sarah The Brazen Bookworm (Jackson Hole romance novel)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Book Review: Playing Dirty by Susan Andersen (Sisterhood Diaries #3)

Book cover of Playing Dirty by Susan Andersen
How much should your high school actions weigh on the rest of your life?  Can a guy who pulls a total jackass move at age 18 be excused when he’s in his 30s?  And what does he have to do to prove that he’s truly changed?  Those questions are at the heart of Playing Dirty, the final book in Susan Andersen’s Sisterhood Diaries trilogy.

Summary: Ava Spencer fell in love with Cal Gallari when she was 18 years old.  How could she help it? He was the popular, handsome guy, and the only one who had ever been interested in quirky, overweight Ava.  When Cal humiliated Ava in front of the entire school, though, their relationship ended in disaster and heartache.

Flash forward thirteen years – Ava runs a sought-after concierge business in Seattle and Cal needs her help for a documentary he’s filming.  Sparks fly again between the two, but can Ava really get past what happened in high school?  Does Cal even deserve the chance to try to win her over?

I hadn’t read the first two books in the trilogy (Cutting Loose and Bending the Rules) so I was at a slight disadvantage when I started this book.  Honestly, I assumed from the title that Playing Dirty would be a baseball romance.  Oops.

The opening scene in the novel is a flashback to the mortifying day that Cal dumps Ava in the high school cafeteria, and it’s truly awful.  I wasn’t sure that Ava would ever forgive Cal, and I still don’t know whether he deserves to be forgiven.  Eighteen-year-olds are technically adults, and by that point, your character is pretty much set, right? Andersen explains away Cal’s actions later in the book, but I’m still not convinced that what he did is forgivable.

However, Cal at age 31 does seem like a decent, hard-working, responsible guy, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.  As for Ava, she’s definitely found herself and her calling.  She’s confident and happy, and she’s built an excellent life for herself.  I loved that Andersen didn’t make Ava lose a ton of weight in order to be attractive – Ava still has her curves, but she dresses to emphasize them.  She has that Marilyn Monroe va-va-va-voom thing going for her, and it has Cal’s jaw dropping again and again.

Andersen does an excellent job with the Seattle setting.  She frequently includes the names of Seattle places and special Seattle treats that had me dashing to Google (Fran’s Gray and Smoked Salt caramels? Yum!).

The book had some shortcomings, though. We see the nasty end to their teenage relationship, but we don’t see the romance that leads up to it.  Since we only read about Cal-as-douchebag, it’s hard to believe that he and Ava once got along well enough for her to sleep with him.  He has somewhat redeemed himself by the time he and Ava reconnect, but I would have been more willing to believe that Cal deserved a happily ever after with Ava if I could have read how they fell in love the first time around.

There is a mystery surrounding the house where the movie is being shot, and a backstory involving Ava, her two best friends, and a rich elderly woman who acted as a mother figure throughout their teenage years.  Neither of those plot lines really kept me reading, though – I was far more interested in how Ava and Cal would finally work it all out.

This book works as a standalone, but I think I would have enjoyed it more had I read the first two books in the series.  If you liked the series and are a fan of Andersen, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this book.  I’ll absolutely read more of her stuff – she writes contemporary romance very well – but I just didn’t love this one.

*Since I’ve never been to Seattle, I read this book as part of the Vacation Reads Challenge hosted by Ruby’s Reads and Manga Maniac CaféNow I’m ever more determined to get to Washington one of these days!

Romance Novel Book Reviews by Sarah The Brazen Bookworm (Playing Dirty by Susan Andersen contemporary romance)

I received this book from the publisher and NetGalley in return for a fair and honest review.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Beach Read Wednesday! Paradise by Judith McNaught

Book cover of Paradise by Judith McNaught (contemporary romance novel set in Chicago)
Three cheers and bottoms up for another Beach Read Wednesday!  Today’s pick is an oldie but a goodie – Paradise by Judith McNaught – and it was my entry into contemporary romance novels.  My friend Jenn introduced me to McNaught years ago and her books quickly became my guilty pleasure, then my stand-by favorites.  McNaught is best known for her historicals (Whitney, My Love is often credited as the book that began the Regency craze) but her contemporary novels are equally good.

Book Summary: Corporate raider Matthew Farrell had come a long way from the poor, scruffy kid of Indiana’s steel mills.  A long way from the country club where, feeling like an outsider, he had dared to fall in love with a beautiful blonde named Meredith Bancroft, and known a once-in-a-lifetime passion and betrayal that still haunted his memory….Now world leaders courted him, the media watched his every move, and he was ready to move in on the Bancroft empire.

A cool, poised executive in her family’s legendary department store chain, Meredith had once defied her father for the sexually magnetic, intense Matt Farrell – and their brief, ill-fated marriage was the disastrous outcome.  Now, as the Bancroft firm is threatened by a hostile takeover, Meredith is forced to confront Matt. As tensions build between them, bittersweet memories rise to the surface, leaving them suspicious, restless, and uncertain.  Will they be able to believe in each other – and grasp the tender miracle that is before them?

Paradise can be a bit dated at times – it was originally published in 1991 – but the chemistry between Meredith and Matt hasn’t dimmed at all.  Despite their eleven years spent resenting each other, they never really fell out of love and their second chance at love is compelling and heart-rending.  Judith McNaught's heroes can be aggressively alpha, but Matt's ruthlessness is tempered by his love for his family and Meredith.  Oh, and did I mention it takes place in Chicago?
Photo of gin and tonic 
Recommended drinks while reading Paradise: Bombay Sapphire & tonic – I know it sounds a bit fancy for the beach or pool, but Meredith is a country club heiress so she expects fancy.

Romance Novel Book Reviews by Sarah The Brazen Bookworm (Paradise by Judith McNaught)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Author Miranda Neville on Loving a Non-Rake

Book cover of The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton by Miranda Neville

I am so excited to have author Miranda Neville here on tour for her new book, The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton.  If you've never read any books in The Burgundy Club series, you're in for a treat.

As I read Miranda's books, I was struck by the fact that her heroes aren't the usual Regency rakes - they're the nice guys who end up getting the girl nonetheless.  Today, Miranda tells us why we should all love a non-rakish hero.

Photo of British historical romance author Miranda Neville
Miranda Neville: Thanks so much, Sarah, for inviting me on your blog today, and thanks for suggesting this topic because it’s one close to my heart. Not that I don’t love rakes as much as the next reader: there’s something about reforming the bad boy that never fails to appeal. But somehow I haven’t (yet) managed to write one.

The hero of the first book in The Burgundy Club series set out to be a rake. The heroine of THE WILD MARQUIS thinks he’s a rake. But as I delved into Cain’s story he turned out to genuinely like women: all women, not just the heroine. And because he has so much affection and respect for the sex, he’s incapable of treating a woman callously. However, like all good rakes, once he’s settled on Juliana as “the one” he’ll do anything to overcome the obstacles dividing them.

Sebastian, the hero of THE DANGEROUS VISCOUNT, is the opposite. Frankly, he’s a nerd: a bespectacled scholar who dresses like a scarecrow. He has a livelong disgust and distrust for females and has taken his aversion to the point of remaining a virgin. But when he falls he falls hard. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun with a hero as I did with this very unlikely bookworm. By the way he turns out to be quite buff underneath his baggy clothes and he cleans up very well.

Then there’s Tarquin, the hero of THE AMOROUS EDUCATION OF CELIA SEATON. He’s the consummate Regency dandy, the best dressed and most fashionable man in London with a sharp wit that depresses pretension at every turn. When planning his story I always intended to remove his clothes, his social armor. I also considered the persona of a dandy, which is all about surface impression. To lay him bare, emotionally as well as physically, I gave him a tiny touch of amnesia. He finds himself half naked with no clue who he is, out in the wilderness of the Yorkshire moors. By luck, his companion is a disgraced governess who was the target of one of his cruel barbs and she’s out for a little gentle revenge. Stripped of his exterior trappings, he is able to become the wonderful man he always was underneath. The real trouble starts when he regains his memory and must reconcile the two parts of his nature.

Rake or not, what all our heroes have in common is the ability to love once they find the right woman, and a determination to win her, no matter what. Overcoming the obstacles to love is the essence of every romance and it’s what all our heroes, rakish or otherwise, have in common.

What about you. Can you love a hero who’s a good guy? Who are your favorites, rake and non-rake?

Thanks so much, Miranda, for this fascinating post!  Readers - Miranda has generously offered a $25 Amazon gift certificate to one random commenter on this week's blog tour.  So, in true Chicago fashion, I urge you to comment early, comment often!  Thanks to Judy & Marianne at GoddessFish Promotions for arranging for Miranda's visit to The Brazen Bookworm.

Historical Romance Novel Book Reviews by Sarah The Brazen Bookworm

Friday, July 15, 2011

Book Review: The Secret Mistress by Mary Balogh (Mistress Trilogy #3)

Book cover of The Secret Mistress by Mary Balogh (Mistress trilogy Book #3)
Mary Balogh’s fans have been clamoring for years for a prequel to the Dudley brothers’ stories, More than a Mistress and No Man’s Mistress.  In both those novels, Lady Angeline Heyward, née Dudley, plays a prominent role in her brothers’ lives.  Readers always wanted to know, though, how the exuberant, garrulous Angeline and her quiet, unassuming earl managed to fall in love.  With her most recent book, The Secret Mistress, Balogh completes the Dudley series and finally gives us Angeline and Edward’s love story.

Lady Angeline Dudley has lived a secluded, restricted life on her family’s estate, just waiting to make her London debut.  For a young woman who’s never been allowed to explore the world around her, London Society is endlessly thrilling.  Of course, Angeline’s primary duty is to find a suitable husband, and no one is more suitable than the new Earl of Heyward.  The minute she meets the earl, she knows he is positively the only man she can marry. 

Edward Ailsbury never wanted to become earl, but after his brother’s untimely death, he finds himself inheriting the estate and needing to produce an heir pronto.  Though he’d like nothing more than to be comfortably married to the daughter of his former professor, his family wants him to court the eligible Lady Angeline.  Edward is uncomfortable, though, with Angeline’s irreverent attitude, garish fashion sense and complete inability to according to Society’s rules.  Of all eligible women, Angeline is the last woman he would choose as his wife.

Angeline and Edward are, by all appearances, hopelessly mismatched.  For Angeline, everything is a superlative – every bonnet is the “loveliest,” all social events are the “most wonderful.”  Her over-exuberance, though, masks the loneliness she’s felt throughout the years as she was put down by her mother and carelessly forgotten by her loving but distant brothers.  Edward is generally considered a dud, overshadowed by his late brother’s bold spirit.  

These are two insecure people who each consider themselves unworthy of romantic love, though they hide their insecurities in vastly different ways.  Angeline smiles relentlessly; Edward buries himself in silence and duty.  Ultimately, though, they’re meant to be together.  Getting to the happily-ever-after isn’t easy – Edward does everything he can to avoid a marriage with Angeline, breaking her heart in the process.  Watching Angeline find strength despite her pain was truly touching.   

If you’re a Balogh fan, this is a must-read.

Yes, The Secret Mistress is the first book in the series, though it was the last book published.  I honestly can’t tell you what order I think would make most sense – go for whatever strikes your fancy!  Each stands alone very well.  Side note: I love Mary Balogh’s books, but I do think someone needs to caution her on the abuse of italics.  They became a serious distraction at some points.  

Other books by Mary Balogh: The Proposal

Historical Romance Novel Book Reviews by Sarah The Brazen Bookworm (Mary Balogh)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cowboy Lovin' Giveaway!

Book cover of Going Cowboy Crazy by Katie LaneBook cover of Make Mine a Bad Boy by Katie Lane

The publisher sent me an extra set of Katie Lane's Going Cowboy Crazy and Make Mine a Bad Boy, the first two books in her Deep in the Heart of Texas series, so I'm going to pass the cowboy lovin' on to all of you!  If you want to enter, simply fill out the form below.  It ends at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, July 20, since I'll be out of town after that - out in Jackson Hole looking for a hot cowboy to call my own!

Going Cowboy Crazy: Faith Aldridge wants answers. Bramble, Texas is the only place she can find them . . . as well as Hope, the identical twin sister she never knew she had. But the townsfolk reckon that shy city-girl Faith is really her long-lost sister Hope, back in Bramble at last. And they're fixin' to do whatever it takes to heat things up between her and Hope's long-time flame, Slate Calhoun. If that means rustling her car, spreading rumors like wildfire, and reining in some explosive secrets, well, there's no way like the Lone Star way... 
But Slate's no fool. The woman in his truck may look like Hope, yet the way she feels in his arms is altogether new. He's determined to keep thistwin in his bed and out of his heart. Trouble is, the real Hope is headed home, and she's got her own designs on Slate. If Faith wants to avoid heartbreak, she'll have to show a certain ruggedly handsome cowboy that this crazy-impossible love is worth fighting for

Make Mine a Bad Boy: Hope Scroggs is finally ready to get hitched. After years of sowing her wild oats, the former head cheerleader and homecoming queen has returned to Bramble, Texas, to marry her high school flame. But her perfect wedding plans are stomped to smithereens when her adoring cowboy two-steps down the aisle with someone else. Now Hope is stuck with the one man from her past she can't shake: Colt Lomax, an irresistible bad boy whose sultry kisses are hotter than the Panhandle in August...
Colt lives for freedom and the open road; he never gets attached, never looks back. Still, he can't forget the night of passion he once shared with Bramble's sweetheart—a night he wouldn't mind repeating. So, he piles on the Texas charm to tease the feisty beauty back into his bed, while shetries her darnedest to resist. But something unexpected is about to tie their fates together . . . and oh, baby, will it ever!

*PS: I haven't read these books yet since I've been saving them for the annual JH trip, but everyone else seems to like them!  If you win, you can let us all know what you think!

Romance Novel Book Reviews by Sarah The Brazen Bookworm (book blog giveaways)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Beach Read Wednesday! Tall Tales and Wedding Veils by Jane Graves

Book cover of Tall Tales and Wedding Veils by Jane Graves
How did it take me so long to find Jane Graves?  And why isn’t everyone who likes funny contemporary romance reading her?  She writes in the romantic comedy style of Rachel Gibson, and her stories pack the emotional punch of Susan Elizabeth Phillips – Jane Graves is my favorite Summer 2011 find.

I randomly picked up one of Graves’ books from the library last week, and by the end of the weekend I had finished four of her books.  Any of those books would be an excellent beach read, but the official Beach Read Wednesday pick this week is Tall Tales and Wedding Veils.

Summary: What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay there.  Heather Montgomery and Tony McCaffrey have been regulars at the same bar for years, only he’s never seemed to notice she exists.  A chance run-in in Vegas and a drunken night out turn Heather and Tony into more than just acquaintances, though, if the marriage license on the hotel dresser is real.  And it is.  Heather and Tony plan a quick annulment, hoping to be divorced without anyone back in Texas hearing about it.  When the news follows them back home, though, Heather and Tony find themselves living together as a “married” couple.

Tall Tales and Wedding Veils is a terrific opposites-attract story.  Heather’s an uptight CPA who needs some more fun in her life, and Tony needs to give up his frat boy existence and his womanizing ways.  I loved watching these two come together – as they gradually fell in love, they helped bring out the best in each other. 

I was impressed that Graves didn’t dumb-down Heather’s character at all – in so many romances, the wallflower immediately succumbs to the hot guy’s seduction.  Not Heather – she knows her own worth and her limitations, and she doesn’t let herself be manipulated into a situation she doesn’t like.  As for Tony, he was a genuinely nice guy, initial bimbo lifestyle aside.  At heart, this book was about two likable characters who don’t seem right for each other but who end up being perfect together.  
Picture of a Seabreeze 
Jane Graves is now on my auto-buy list, for sure.

Recommended drink for reading Tall Tales and Wedding Veils: Since Tony owns a bar, you can pretty much have anything, but I think a Seabreeze would be perfect for this book, especially given Tony’s propensity for ending up naked on a beach.

Other Books by Jane Graves: Heartstrings and Diamond Rings

Romance Novel Book Reviews by Sarah The Brazen Bookworm (funny texas romance)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Book Review: Should've Been a Cowboy by Vicki Lewis Thompson (Sons of Chance #4)

Book cover of Should've Been a Cowboy by Vicki Lewis Thompson (Wyoming romance novel)
That is some serious man candy on this cover, huh?  And it’s a good indication of the all action that occurs in Vicki Lewis Thompson’s Should’ve Been a Cowboy – whew, this is one hot cowboy romance!

Summary: Last summer, Alex Keller and Tyler O’Connelli spent a steamy few hours in a hayloft at the Last Chance Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  She then went back to her job as activities director for a cruise line and he stayed behind to work the ranch, but they never forgot each other.  When Tyler returns for a visit to Last Chance, she and Alex rekindle their relationship, but they’re still from different worlds and neither can believe this fling has any long-term potential.

I love cowboy romances and I seriously love any book that takes place in Jackson Hole, so Should've Been a Cowboy worked for me despite some shortcomings.  The secondary characters were interesting and three-dimensional, and the family dynamic on the ranch was fun and entertaining.  This was the fourth book in Thompson’s Sons of Chance series – Alex and Tyler’s memorable roll in the hay (literally) was featured in one of the previous books – but I had no problem picking up the story threads.

As I said, though, some stuff in the book just didn’t work for me.  Things between Alex and Tyler got super hot-and-heavy right from the start – seriously, they were already getting it on by page 52.  (Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books wrote a great article about the too-much-too-fast phenomenon for Kirkus Reviews.) 

One other thing that really threw me in this book – the hero and heroine both have gender-neutral names and a few times I had to stop and remind myself who was whom.  I’m all for fun and different names (after 100 books, I’m sure Thompson has to get creative), but please don’t make me have to work so hard to keep the characters straight.

If you’ve read the other books in Vicki Lewis Thompson’s Sons of Chance series, or if you’re in the mood for some steamy cowboy lovin’, you’ll definitely like this book.  Fair warning though, you might have Toby Keith stuck in your head the whole time you’re reading it!

Romance novel book reviews by Sarah The Brazen Bookworm (sexy cowboy romance)

I received this book from the publisher and NetGalley in return for a fair and honest review.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Audiobook Review: The John Corey series by Nelson DeMille

I’ve put in a transfer to the ATTF’s Irish Republican Army section, which I will probably get.  I don’t have any real feelings about the IRA either way, but at least the IRA babes are easy to look at, the guys are more fun than your average Arab terrorist, and the Irish pubs are primo.  I could do some real good in the anti-IRA section.  Really.  – John Corey, The Lion’s Game

Book cover of Night Fall by Nelson DeMilleIt took me more than six weeks to listen to the five books in Nelson DeMille’s John Corey series, but it was time well spent.  Everything about these books is fantastic – DeMille is the master of taut, suspenseful thrillers, and reader Scott Brick nails every performance.

John Corey is a wiseass NYPD homicide cop with an unerring nose for trouble and a healthy aversion to following orders.  When he’s injured on the job and pensioned off, he becomes a contract agent for the Anti-Terrorism Task Force, where he continues to pursue justice the way he sees fit.  Corey has an obsession with the truth, and his deep-seated sense of justice and fair play often forces him to work outside common boundaries.  If he gets in trouble with his superiors while doing so, well…it's easier to beg forgiveness rather than permission, right?  That's pretty much John Corey's motto.

John Corey Books in Chronological Order
  1. Plum Island
  2. The Lion's Game
  3. Night Fall
  4. Wild Fire
  5. The Lion
  6. The Panther (expected publication: Fall 2012)
Book cover of The Lion's Game by Nelson DeMille
I cannot emphasize how well Scott Brick performs John Corey’s character.  He has the NY accent down cold, but he also captures Corey’s irreverence and sarcasm perfectly.  Just how good is he?  Nelson DeMille has said that when he writes the books, he hears Scott Brick as John Corey in his head.

The books are nearly a hundred hours in total(!), but they’re so action-packed and fast-paced that I barely noticed how long they took.  I’ve listed them in chronological order above, but put them in order of my favorites below. If you're game for a lot of audiobooks, by all means read them in order, but if you only have time for one or two, follow this list.  I read them out of order, and each book works well as a stand-alone.

  • The Lion’s Game – This one goes on my list of all-time top audiobooks and is one I’ll happily listen to multiple times despite its length.  When a jumbo jet from Paris lands at JFK with all its passengers and crew dead, Corey finds himself hunting a vicious terrorist with a thirst for revenge against America.  To complicate matters, Corey is assigned to work with Kate Mayfield, a straight-laced FBI agent whom he dubs “Wendy WASP from Witchita," and who is determined to keep him in line.  I gave this audiobook to my brother and, no joke, he called me everyday to tell me how good it was.  Take his word for it – it’s that good. (No. 2 in the series; 24 hr, 52 mins)

  • Night Fall – Five years after the crash of TWA Flight 800, Corey and Kate Mayfield (now his wife) want to reopen the investigation into the mysterious crash off Long Island.  Was it terrorism, friendly fire or a mechanical accident?  Unfortunately, someone in the government doesn’t want them getting too close to the truth.  This book highlights Corey’s detective instincts and is a fascinating glimpse into pre-9/11 anti-terrorism efforts and the build-up to 9/11. (No. 3 in the series; 14 hr, 45 mins)

  • Wild Fire – One year after September 11, Corey and Kate investigate a secret right-wing club bent on ending Islamic terrorism permanently.  DeMille claims the premise of the book (a government program titled Wild Fire) is real.  For all our sakes, I hope not.  This one is an interesting look into homegrown terrorism.  (No. 4 in the series; 18hr, 51 mins)

  • Plum Island – In the first book in the series, Corey is recovering from his on-the-job injuries by relaxing at his uncle’s beach house on Long Island.  While there, he’s unofficially pulled into a murder investigation that involves the threat of biological weapons and hints at a history of piracy.  This one starts off really well but lost steam toward the end.  Still, it’s a great intro to Corey.  (No. 1 in the series; 19 hr, 42 mins)

  • The Lion – This is a direct sequel to The Lion’s Game, but it's a bit too gory for my taste.  Corey faces off against an old nemesis, but after an attack on Kate, he seems to lose all sense of honor or perspective.  It’s still a good listen, but it didn’t have the humor of the previous books. (No. 5 in the series; 15 hr, 45 mins)
Thanks to Jen at Devourer of Books for hosting Sound Bytes, a weekly audiobook feature!  Visit Jen’s site for links to other audiobook reviews.  Happy listening!

Good website for audiobook reviews (

*Note all above links are to the unabridged books on

Sarah The Brazen Bookworm (Scott Brick John Corey Nelson DeMille audiobook reviews)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book Review: The Wedding of the Century & Other Stories

Book cover of The Wedding of the Century & Other Stories Harlequin romance anthology
Romance anthologies have their advantages and disadvantages.  The novellas are generally short – often a little over 100 pages – so they can be read quickly if you’re short on reading time.  They’re also great because popular authors use them as a vehicle to republish their backlist and new authors get a chance to show off their stuff.  On the other hand, the abbreviated length of these novellas often doesn’t contain the emotional punch and character development of a full-length book.

The Wedding of the Century & Other Stories, HQN's (Harlequin) most recent anthology of historical romances, definitely reflects all of the above.  Star authors Mary Jo Putney and Kristin James (pseudonym for Candace Camp) are featured alongside newcomer Charlotte Featherstone.

  • The Wedding of the Century by Mary Jo Putney (originally published 1994) – This Gilded Age story was my favorite story in the book.  New York heiress Sunny Vangelder is wedded to Justin, Duke of Thornborough, in a marriage of convenience: She gains a title and he replenishes his estate’s coffers.  Most of the story focuses on Justin and Sunny’s attempts to make their arranged marriage work. 
  • Jesse’s Wife by Kristin James (originally published 1994) – I usually love Westerns, but this one just didn’t do it for me – I didn’t think the hero and heroine and had any chemistry together.  When a traveling ne’er-do-well compromises Amy McAlistair, her future seems completely ruined.  Her father’s employee Jesse Tyler steps in with an offer of marriage, though, and saves Amy’s reputation.  Again, this is a marriage of convenience story, and I liked that Jesse was in love with Amy long before their wedding took place, but I couldn’t really get into it.
  • Seduced by Starlight by Charlotte Featherstone (published 2011) – Blossom is the only daughter of the Duke of Torrington, and she’s been betrothed to the son of a neighboring landowner since both were children.  When Samuel elopes with someone else, though, Blossom is left to deal with the consequences.  Enter Samuel’s older brother, Jase, who’s always had a thing for Blossom but obviously could never act on it.  I didn’t love this story – the characters were a bit too self-centered and eccentric for me to really care about – but Featherstone intrigues me and I’m eager to read her other published works.
The Wedding of the Century & Other Stories wasn’t my favorite romance anthology, but it’s a decent and varied collection.  If you’re looking for a fantastic collection of romantic stories, try It Happened One Night, featuring novellas by Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Jacquie D’Alessandro and Candice Hern.

Publisher: Harlequin
Publication Date: May 24, 2011
Length: 384 pages

Romance novel book reviews by Sarah The Brazen Bookworm (The Wedding of The Century and Other Stories)

I received this book from the publisher and NetGalley in return for a fair and honest review.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Beach Read Wednesday! It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (Chicago Stars #1)

Book review of It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (contemporary romance)
This week’s pick for Beach Read WednesdayIt Had to Be You, the first in Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Chicago Stars series.  SEP, as her fans affectionately know her, is the best author out there when it comes to romantic reads full of humor and emotion.  When I’m in a reading rut, she’s my go-to author and she never fails me.  Here are the reasons It Had to Be You is a great summertime read that’s also a great springtime/autumntime/wintertime read.

  • The heroine is a street-smart girl who doesn’t hesitate to play hardball with the boys – Yes, Phoebe Somerville looks just like her Vegas showgirl mother, and she isn’t afraid to use her bombshell looks.  But she also knows how to get what she wants by using her brains.  She’s the only female owner in the NFL but she doesn’t let the men push her around or manipulate her. 
  • The hero is a hard-headed sexy football coach with a strong sense of fairness. – Dan Calebow has some serious reservations about Phoebe and her ability to manage a winning program.  When she proves her ability, though, Dan becomes her biggest supporter.
  • There’s lots of gridiron action. – I love a good sports romance, and SEP does football better than anyone.  The guys on the Stars play an important role as supporting characters and they’re so great that SEP builds the rest of the series around them.
  • It’s set in Chicago. – I think my love for Chicago-based romances is fairly well documented.
  • The romantic complications are very real. – Phoebe and Dan face some serious issues that they overcome on their path to their happy ending.  I’m not going to lie – I was choked up more than once when it seemed as though Phoebe and Dan wouldn’t make it.
Picture of sangria in wine glassI’ve recommended Susan Elizabeth Phillips countless times and haven’t had a disappointed customer yet.  If you’ve never read one of her books, or even if you’re already a fan, It Had to Be You is the perfect beach read.  If you can't find that one, any of the other Chicago Stars books will keep you happy as well.

Recommended drink while reading It Had to Be You: Red or white sangria, in honor of Phoebe’s Spanish mentor, Arturo

Susan Elizabeth Phillips book review of It Had to Be You

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Audiobook Review: Falling Off Air by Catherine Sampson

Book cover of Falling Off Air by Catherine Sampson
When it comes to audiobooks, it’s all about the reader (I know I’ve said that a thousand times before, but it merits repeating).  My favorite female narrator is Kate Reading, who is phenomenal at capturing the mood of a story and who manages to give every character a unique identity.  When I saw that Reading narrated Falling Off Air by Catherine Sampson, I downloaded it from Audible without even reading the book’s description.  Luckily for me, Reading came through again with a superb performance of this murder-mystery.

On a stormy London night, Robin Ballantyne glances out her window and is stunned to see a woman literally fall from the sky. Using her skills as a former TV documentary filmmaker, Robin delves into the mystery of how and why popular politician Paula Carmichael died – was it suicide or murder?  The more she investigates, though, the more Robin realizes how closely involved she is, until she herself becomes a suspect…

I was very impressed by Catherine Sampson’s debut novel, which was very much in the Agatha Christie tradition.  The setting is domestic in feeling (Robin is a single mum raising twins) but the murders are fairly grisly and red herrings abound.  There’s just the right amount of character drama too.  Not only is Robin trying to resurrect her career post-babies, but it turns out her former lover/baby daddy was well acquainted with the deceased.

As always, Kate Reading’s performance is flawless.  She masters a variety of accents – London, Scots, American – without a pause, and her pacing is perfect.  Falling Off Air was an excellent summer mystery read, and I highly recommend the audio version.  

Length: 9 hours, 3 minutes

Sarah The Brazen Bookworm (audiobook review of Falling Off Air by Catherine Sampson)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Lorraine Heath on Infidelity in Romances

Book cover of Waking Up with the Duke by Lorraine Heath (historical romance novel)I am thrilled to have NY Times bestseller and RITA award winner Lorraine Heath visit The Brazen Bookworm today!  Lorraine is here as a part of her blog tour to celebrate the publication of her latest romance, Waking Up With the Duke, and to offer a $25 Amazon gift certificate to one lucky commenter.  Welcome, Lorraine!

Lorraine Heath: Thank you so much for allowing me to visit with you and your fans today. You asked about infidelity in romance novels: How can it work without losing the reader?

I have to admit to feeling slightly presumptuous in tackling this question since I don’t know yet if I did manage not to lose the reader. The reviews for the book that I’ve seen have been wonderful, but I do know that the story contains a situation that might be off-putting to some readers.

As someone who has a strong opinion on fidelity and basically believes that there is no valid excuse for cheating on one’s spouse, I found this a very challenging book to write but quite honestly, those are the ones I enjoy writing. They stretch me as a writer and cause me to look deeply within myself.

When I wrote Always to Remember about a conscientious objector during the Civil War (the book is now only available in e-format from AvonBooks), I had my first experience at writing a hero who behaved in a manner that I truly did not understand or endorse. I am a firm believer in the adage that when your country calls, you fight. Writing this story taught me that I had to justify the hero’s actions not only to the reader, but to myself.

So it laid the framework for how I tackle any story where a character’s behavior might not be palatable to everyone. And I applied that framework to Waking Up with the Duke.

I knew it was important that each of the characters involved go through a tremendous amount of soul-searching and that they be reluctant about embracing this venture. I also felt that it had to be more than the heroine who wanted the child. I thought if the idea were her husband’s, then she couldn’t be viewed as “cheating on him” because he was encouraging her. I needed the characters to have powerful motivators to do what many might consider abhorrent actions. I used love, guilt, devotion, and a dream that could never be realized in any other way.

I think for a reader to buy into this scenario, she has to come to care for the characters so I spent about the first third of the book introducing the characters, giving the reader time to understand their reluctance, their personalities, their integrity so that she became invested in the characters, so that she would root for them to find a way to achieve their dreams. Only then did I allow Ainsley and Jayne to have their time together, but because they weren’t in love when they began the affair, I let the reader experience them falling in love. Then I showed all the characters struggling with the consequences, because they all went into it with good intentions. But only afterward did they really all come to understand the price they paid because what they did altered all the relationships.
Photo of romance author Lorraine Heath
As a psychology major, I was fascinated with all the different ways that I could take this story to the next level. Quite honestly, I never saw it as a story about infidelity. I saw it as a story about doing whatever was required to achieve a dream, and then living with the consequences afterward. In the real world, a lot of people have to make sacrifices to achieve their dreams—and sometimes they don’t realize the true cost they’ve paid until later. That was the underlying theme of this story.

Of course, because it’s a romance, it does have a happy ending—although I have to admit that I adored Ainsley and even if this wasn’t a romance, I would have made sure he acquired his happy ending.

Thanks so much to Lorraine Heath for visiting with us today!  Lorraine will be giving a $25 Amazon gift card to one blog tour commenter - the more you comment, the more chances you have to win!

Thank you to Goddess Fish Tours for arranging Lorraine's blog tour.  For more on Waking Up With the Duke, click here.

Sarah The Brazen Bookworm (romance book review of Waking Up with the Duke by Lorraine Heath)
Romance novel book review