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Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Review: Big Sky Mountain by Linda Lael Miller (Swoon-Worthy Cowboys #2)

Book cover of Big Sky Mountain by Linda Lael Miller
Linda Lael Miller is undoubtedly the queen of the cowboy romance, and her McKettrick and Creed series are the top of the genre.  This summer she introduced a new series, the "swoon-worthy" cowboys of Parable, Montana.  The first book, Big Sky Country, was a disappointing intro (my review) and I had high hopes for Big Sky Mountain, the follow-up novel.  Though Big Sky Mountain is much more of a romance than book one, and isn't a bad read, it's still not the well-crafted, strong romance novel that readers have come to expect from Miller.

Summary: With his rugged good looks, vast wealth and family name, hell-raiser Hutch Carmody is still the golden boy of Parable, Montana. But he's done some growing up-making peace with his illegitimate half brother and inheriting half of Whisper Creek Ranch, which should have been all his. These days, Hutch knows there are some things money can't buy: like the heart of loving, ladylike divorcée Kendra Shepherd.

Kendra's quiet mansion reminds her of what she wants most-a devoted husband and the pitter-patter of little feet. She can't get Hutch Carmody out of her mind. But a rough-and-tumble cowboy like Hutch, coming home for family dinner? Seems crazy! Then again, crazier dreams have become reality under the vast Montana sky. – Goodreads

My thoughts: Though Big Sky Mountain was better than its predecessor and its romance is much more interesting, the book was on the dull side overall.  Hutch and Kendra are more interesting than their Book One counterparts, and the romantic tension between them is apparent from the beginning of the novel.  Unlike Big Sky Country, where it took the hero and heroine most of the book to even kiss, Kendra and Hutch act on their feelings much sooner and this is one of the things that makes the book more successful.  It helps that they had a past relationship, one that ended with miscommunication and hurt feelings.

In fact, Big Sky Mountain is a second-chance romance and it's gratifying to see Hutch and Kendra work their way back toward each other.  Despite full lives, both are lonely and need each other to fill in what's missing.  The pace of the relationship is gentle, but they have good chemistry and their attempts to build a new relationship are believable.  Hutch is particularly attractive in the care and attention he gives to Madison, Kendra's daughter.  It'd be hard for any woman to not fall in love with this cowboy when he spends so much time making her daughter happy.

Ultimately, though, there are too many uninteresting subplots and non-romantic detours for Big Sky Mountain to live up to Linda Lael Miller's previous successes.  Some of the minor characters are annoying – interfering housekeeper Opal grated on my nerves and the drama created by Deputy Sheriff  Treat McQuillan was tedious and out of place.  Oh, and as a side note, I was appalled by the number of times Kendra left her puppy in the car.  In July.  Luckily, the dog made it to the end of the book unharmed, but we all know this is a really bad idea, right?

It seems as though Miller has set up an additional book in the series that will feature single dad Boone and his  neighbor Tara, but I can't find any information about a possible release and it doesn't appear that it's slated for any time in 2012.  I'd also love to see a story featuring two very minor characters  country superstar Casey Elder and Walker Parrish, the father of her two kids.  I hope Miller continues the series with these two couples, but I also hope their stories are more satisfying than either of the other Parable, Montana, books.

Updated 8/17/12: Big Sky River, the third book in Linda Lael Miller's Swoon-Worthy Cowboys series (Parable, Montana) will be published in December 2012.

Rating: C
Publisher: HQN Books
Publication Date: July 31, 2012
Length: 384 pages
Sensuality: Steamy

Other reviews of Big Sky Mountain:
Book Lovers, Inc. (4 stars of 5)
Hott Books (Rating: B+)
Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews (4.75 stars of 5)

Romance novel book reviews by Sarah the Brazen Bookworm

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

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Photo of house on Mormon Row in Jackson, Wyoming (Grand Teton National Park)
Photo by Heather Weisse Walsh
Just a little note to let you know why I may have fewer posts in the coming days...I'm on vacation with the whole fam for the next few weeks!  Every year, the clan heads out to Jackson, Wyoming, for a few weeks of hiking, kayaking, biking, etc.  If you've never been to Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons, you can check out my favorite Wyoming-themed books for a taste of the valley and its treasures.  In the meantime, I wish you all happy reading!

Romance novel book reviews by Sarah The Brazen Bookworm

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Beach Read Wednesday: Once Upon a List by Robin Gold

Book cover of Once Upon a List by Robin Gold
Lately, it seems everyone has a bucket list full of items they want to complete before they shuffle off this mortal coil.  Imagine, though, if you chose to live out the bucket list you created as an adolescent.  That's exactly what Clara Black, heroine of Robin Gold's Once Upon a List, chooses to do as she recovers from the death of her fiancé.  Unsurprisingly, Clara's decades-old bucket list is made up of exactly what a pre-teen's list should be, and it leads to a series of adventures (and misadventures) that put help her move past her tragedy.

Summary: Never in her wildest dreams did Clara Black imagine she'd fly to Vegas just to eat at America's biggest buffet, or that she'd be digging holes in her mother's backyard to unearth her brother's screechy plastic recorder. But if that's what it takes to get past the car accident that changed her life...she'll do what she must.

Eight months after losing her fiancé just before their wedding, Clara still can't seem to escape her fog of sorrow. On a visit to her childhood home, she encounters her fifth-grade time capsule and a very special bucket list written by her ten-year-old self. When she impulsively fulfills one item, Clara finds that revisiting the woman she thought she'd become may just be her way out of grief and back to life. With Milk Dud the one-eared wonder dog, her zany but loving family, and an unexpected someone from her past by her side, Clara discovers that sometimes life's unplanned moments are the sweetest, and sometimes the only bridge to your future is your past. – Goodreads 

My thoughts: Once Upon a List is a bittersweet but ultimately rewarding story about a woman who is forced to rebuild and recreate her world after tragedy.  Watching Clara self-destruct after her fiancé's death is painful, but Robin Gold's novel is lighter than the circumstances would seem to allow. As she attempts to live out her tweenage dreams by completing her 5th grade bucket list, Clara begins to heal in ways she never thought possible.  She creates a new reality for herself and finds new ways to make herself happy.

Once Upon a List is a quick read and I enjoyed Clara's journey of discovery.  Her list is a blend of everything a 10-year-old imagines as glamorous and wonderfully adult – everything from jury duty to hot air balloons to donating blood.  As she seeks to complete this list as a 33-year-old, comedy ensues even as Clara learns about herself and what she truly wants from life.  The secondary characters in the book help her in her quest, and they're quirky and interesting.  Her hero (no spoilers for those who don't figure it out right away!) is ridiculously cute, and their romance developed in a sweet and believable way.  This guy is exactly who Clara needs to help her start living again.

If some of the issues are glossed over or the language is occasionally a bit stilted for characters in their early 30s, it didn't affect my overall enjoyment of the book.  It was light without being fluffy, serious without being heavy, and charming without being twee – a good, solid summertime read.  Bonus: Most of the book is set in Chicago!

'lemonade' photo (c) 2008, liz west - license: drink to complement Once Upon a List: Let's just go standard, old-fashioned lemonade this week.  The sweet and tangy mix is an appropriate match to Clara's story.  Of course, if you want to add some sweet tea vodka and create a John Daly drink, I happily endorse that too.

Rating: B
Publisher: Avon Books
Publication Date: May 1, 2012
Length: 324 pages
Sensuality: Minimal

Romance novel book reviews by Sarah the Brazen Bookworm

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

Monday, July 23, 2012

Audiobook Review: Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness (All Souls Trilogy #2)

Book cover of Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
Since the moment I finished the last page of Deborah Harkness' stunning fiction debut, A Discovery of Witches, I've been counting the minutes until I could get my hands on the sequel.  The first book in the All Souls Trilogy was a stunning blend of magic, history, literature and science, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on the continuing story of Diana Bishop and her vampire lover, Matthew Clairmont.

Shadow of Night is not just a worthy follow-up to A Discovery of Witches – it's an expansion of everything that made the first book so good even as it introduces a host of additional issues and problems.  This time around, I opted to listen to the audiobook version of the book, and I couldn't have made a better choice.  Jennifer Ikeda gives one of the best audiobook performances I've encountered, and I'd happily listen to the book again and again.  At nearly 25 hours, the book is a long, intense listen, but it's impossible to turn it off.

Summary: Scholar and witch Diana Bishop has time-traveled to Elizabethan England with her vampire husband Matthew Clairmont in search of a mysterious and dangerous alchemical manuscript.  As Diana and Matthew move among the most notable figures of the age, they're also forced to navigate the power structures of the era.  At the same time, Diana seeks a witch who can tutor her and help her harness her magical abilities.  Traveling throughout Renaissance Europe in search of Ashmole 782, Diana and Matthew must present a unified front even as they continue to define their respective roles in their marriage. 

My thoughts: I adored every single minute of Shadow of Night and thought it was a fabulous follow-up to A Discovery of Witches.  Once again, Deborah Harkness has crafted a novel that is flawlessly plotted but full of rich details that creates a vivid world. The book has a different feel from A Discovery of Witches – Diana and Matthew face very different threats than those in the first book – but the essence of the story hasn't changed.  In Shadow of Night, the threats are more insidious and Diana and Matthew must discover whom they can trust instead of battling overt evil.  Because of this, the pace of this book is significantly slower, though it's no less enjoyable.  As much time is spent on clothing descriptions as it is on court intrigues, but it's all an essential part of the world that Harkness is creating.

Outlander Read-a-Long: Chapters 36-41

Book discussion questions for Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Final week for the Outlander Read-a-long!  I'm so glad I had the chance to reread this book, and to hear everyone's thoughts.  I was reminded of the things I loved about the book and the things that irked me, but I'm glad to find I still really love this book.  My love for Jamie Fraser continues to know no bounds!

1. Jaime has the worst case of seasickness. Do you get seasickness or motion sickness? If not, is there something else that makes your stomach a bit queasy?

Seasickness isn't a problem, but I get nauseous riding in the back of a car.  My sisters claim I'm making it up, that it's a ploy to always claim shotgun, but it's true.  Personally, I think my sisters just enjoy making me suffer whenever the family is together.  Nobody can play on your weaknesses quite like your siblings, right?

2. How did you handle reading the details of Jamie’s torture at the hands of Randall? Did you blame Jamie for anything that happened during the encounter with the captain? If you were Claire, how do you think you would have taken hearing about the abuse from your husband? What did you think of Claire’s method’s to get Jamie to start healing psychologically from his wounds from Randall (when she filled his room with opium and simulated another attack by the Captain)?

That makes my stomach queasy.  I'm disturbed by almost everything that happens once Jamie allows Randall to keep him, and I hated it as much this time as I did in the past.  If I were Claire, I would be absolutely destroyed by Jamie's suffering, though I doubt I would have gone to the same lengths she did to help heal him.  Given the eventual outcome, I suppose she knew what she was doing, but I still hate that poor Jamie has to endure anything more.

3. “history, warfare, medicine, sex, violence, spirituality, honor, betrayal, vengeance, hope and despair, relationships, the building and destruction of families and societies, time travel, moral ambiguity, swords, herbs, horses, gambling (with cards, dice, and lives), voyages of daring, journeys of both body and soul…you know the usual stuff of literature.”

Which of the above elements of Outlander were you most looking forward to? Which did you enjoy the most while reading? Which did you enjoy the least while reading? Which did you just not care about? Any of these do you which there were more of? Or less of?

I reread Outlander because I wanted to experience Jamie and Claire's romance and relationship development again.  It's what made me love the book in the first place, and it'll always be my favorite part.  Everything else is just window dressing that enhances Jamie and Claire's love story.

4. Share with us your overall thoughts on Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Your favorite quotes, scenes, and/or your favorite words that had you searching for a dictionary. If you haven’t been marking your favorite quotes/passages, you can find Outlander quotes on Goodreads.

A few favorites: Jamie and Claire's wedding and the night that follows; discovering Geilie's secret; hearing how Jenny and Ian came to be married; and the scene at the stones where Jamie and Claire both make vital decisions.

5. Are you going to continue with the series or are you done after Outlander? For those of us who are new readers of this series, any predictions? Do you think participating in the read-along helped or hindered your experience with the story? For those of you who’ve already read Outlander and books beyond, how much did you enjoy (or not enjoy) this re-read?

When I originally read the series, I read up to the end of The Fiery Cross, and I later ended up skimming the books after that.  I enjoyed Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager, but my interest waned by Drums of Autumn.  As I said, I love the book because of Jamie and Claire's love story, and as the story expands to include countless other characters and subplots, I just wasn't as invested as I was in Books 1-3.  Right now, I don't feel any strong inclination to read the rest of the series, though I recommend new readers do so.  Jamie and Claire's story never lacks for drama, and their story takes some dramatic twists and turns.  I'll just stick with rereading Outlander.

Many, many thanks to the lovely ladies who hosted the read-a-long and who came up with such excellent questions!  You did a fabulous job, and I appreciate the chance to reread Outlander with a group – it was like a virtual book club!

Outlander Read-a-Long
Sponsored by Gone with the WordsThe Reading HousewivesStalking the Bookshelves
Into the Hall of BooksTangled Up in Blue and Logan E. Turner

Romance novel book reviews by Sarah the Brazen Bookworm

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Book Review: Summer Nights by Susan Mallery (Fool's Gold #8)

Book cover of Summer Nights by Susan Mallery
Even the best heroine can't save a book if her hero isn't worthy of her.  Annabelle Weiss is the heart of Summer Nights, the latest entry in Susan Mallery's Fool's Gold series, and she's a charmer.  The sexy librarian knows who she is and what she wants.  Sadly, Shane Stryker, who appeared so promising as a secondary character in Summer Days (Fool's Gold #7), proves he doesn't have the character or backbone to deserve Annabelle.

Summary: Horse whisperer Shane Stryker is done with passion. This time around, he's determined to meet someone who will be content with the quiet life of a rancher's wife. And the fiery, pint-size redhead who dazzles him at the local bar definitely does not fit the bill.

Small-town librarian Annabelle Weiss has always seen herself as more of a sweetheart than a siren, so she can't understand why Shane keeps pushing her away. Shane has formed the totally wrong impression of her but only he can help her with a special event for the next Fool's Gold festival. And maybe while he's at it, she can convince him to teach her a few things about kissing on hot summer nights, too-some lessons, a girl shouldn't learn from reading a book! – Goodreads

My thoughts: Summer Nights rivals Finding Perfect (Fool's Gold #3) for the weakest entry in Susan Mallery's otherwise enjoyable series.  The quaintness of the California mountain town of Fool's Gold was a bit over the top in this book, but the biggest problem was with Shane, the hero.  Quel jerk.  He has all the requisite parts for a strong and sexy cowboy, but he quickly proves that he may have been kicked in the head by a horse a few too many times.  Damaged by his ex-wife, Shane is determined to think the worst of Annabelle despite all evidence that she's really a decent person that any man would consider a catch.  He continuously compares Annabelle to his wild ex-wife simply because of one incident at the beginning of the book.  And despite the great times he spends with Annabelle, he willfully treats her like a drama-driven diva.

Annabelle herself was a cute character, and I loved that Susan Mallery created a heroine who defies popular perceptions of librarians.  She's quirky, energetic, fun-loving and attractive.  She's well-liked throughout the town, and she has a close group of friends who always have her back.  Essentially, she's the girl next door and someone you'd happily invite to a girls' night out.  I just wish she found a hero who deserved her.  I also wish we'd spent less time focusing on yet another charming and wonderful Fool's Gold festival.  I think I'm in the minority among readers, but I'm wearying of the never-ending cycle of town events.

Happily, All Summer Long, the ninth book in the series (to be published July 31, 2012) is one of the best entries in the series and erased the disappointments of Summer Nights.  Though she is skilled at creating the small town world, Susan Mallery truly excels at character-driven romance, and that's what this most recent book lacked.

Rating: C-
Publisher: HQN Books
Publication Date: June 26, 2012
Length: 378 pages
Sensuality: Hot

Other books in the Fool's Gold series: Only MineOnly Yours, Summer Days

Romance novel book reviews by Sarah the Brazen Bookworm

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

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Beach Read Wednesday: The Next Always by Nora Roberts (The Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy #1)

Book cover of The Next Always by Nora Roberts (Inn BoonsBoro #1)
Even though this week's Beach Read Wednesday choice is The Next Always by Nora Roberts, I could have chosen almost any Nora book to fill this role.  Pick up a Nora Roberts book and you're guaranteed a few things: well-drawn characters, charming setting, believable dialogue, good storytelling and a solid romance.  The Inn BoonsBoro trilogy is Roberts' latest series, and it's set at the real-life inn owned by Roberts and her husband.

Summary: The historic hotel in BoonsBoro, Maryland, has endured war and peace, changing hands, even rumored hauntings. Now it's getting a major facelift from the Montgomery brothers and their eccentric mother. As the architect of the family, Beckett's social life consists mostly of talking shop over pizza and beer. But there's another project he's got his eye on: the girl he's been waiting to kiss since he was fifteen... – Goodreads

My thoughts: Nora Roberts does a stellar job depicting the idyllic town of BoonsBoro, Maryland.  No big surprise there – Roberts is the town's most prominent resident.  In The Next Always, Roberts hands over management of her inn to the Montgomerys, a trio of brothers each responsible for part of the inn's reconstruction.  The first book in the series stars Beckett Montgomery and Clare Murphy Brewster, the girl that got away.  Clare is now a widow with three sons, and she owns and manages the town bookstore (in reality, BoonsBoro's bookstore is owned by Nora Roberts' husband).

With Clare and Beckett, Roberts creates a sweet romance that offers a second chance for both of them.  I especially liked that Clare's boys are an important part of the story – in order to win over Clare, Beckett has to win over her sons too.  Though their attraction is present from the beginning, their lasting romance takes time to develop.  Roberts doesn't rush the plot, and it moves along at a pace that allows her to include both a suspense subplot and a paranormal subplot.  Seriously, only Nora Roberts could write a book like that and actually make it work.

The setting is a bit cutesy, yes, and the architectural/construction details might not interest everyone, but The Next Always is representative of what Roberts does so well.  She also manages to set up the rest of the series without forcing too much information down readers' throats.  If you're someone who hates to wait for sequels, book two of The Inn BoonsBoro trilogy, The Last Boyfriend, was published in May and The Perfect Hope will arrive in November.  Note: I tried this one on audio first and couldn't get through it.  It worked much better in print, and I recommend you choose that version.

Photograph of a mug of beer
Deviant Art
Recommended cocktail to accompany The Next Always: Maryland is home to a ton of microbreweries, and Beckett and his brothers are the type of guys who like to kick back with a beer after a hard day of inn-building.  For local suggestions, check out The Brewers Association of Maryland.

Rating: B+
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Publication Date: November 1, 2011
Length: 384 pages
Sensuality: Steamy

Romance novel book reviews by Sarah the Brazen Bookworm

Monday, July 16, 2012

Outlander Read-a-Long: Chapters 29-35

Book discussion questions for Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
So, um, I totally missed last week's Outlander Read-a-Long.  The problem with being a teacher in the summer is that sometimes you forget what day it is, and last Monday just came and went too fast.  I'm back now, though, and ready to answer this week's questions!

1. We are now settled into life at Lallybroch. What are your impressions of this place, and Ian and Jenny Murray? How do the stories of Jamie’s life here growing up shape your feelings toward him?

It's easy to see why Lallybroch is so important to Jamie, and why he chooses to take Claire there.  Being there gives Jamie a sense of peace.  It's more than just the land he loves, it's his connection to his family, most importantly his late father.  Lallybroch is an essential part of his identity and his adolescent experiences there have shaped the man.  I adore Jenny and Ian, and especially their love for each other.  Wee Jamie is pretty cute too.

2. What do you think of the story of what really happened between Jenny and Jack Randall? Could you have been as bold as Jenny? Does this change your understanding of Randall?

Jenny is one of my favorite characters in the entire series, and I know I could never be as brave and bold as she is.  She is one tough chick, and I'd definitely want her on my side in any battle.  She was clearly playing with fire, though, when she engaged Randall.  It's clear that the man has some, um, insecurities and it's never a good idea to laugh at a guy like that!

3. For the second time, we see Claire warning a Fraser about future events. Do you think this is wise? Or does this mess with history/the space-time continuum/the natural order of things? 

My perspective is colored by the fact that I've been listening to Deborah Harkness' Shadow of Night (which is amazing, though at 24+ hours long, it's taking me a while!) and the impact of time travel is frequently discussed there.  Although Claire's advice to Jenny is rather innocuous in the space-time continuum sense, I don't think it's wise for Claire to reveal anything about major future events.  I understand her desire to do so, but I think there's a serious risk of altering the future and that seems unimaginably dangerous.  On the other hand, how could she not want to warn Jamie about Culloden?  I probably would have done the same thing.

4. Do you consider Claire brave or foolish for going after Jamie? Would you be courageous enough to go into enemy territory to try and save the man you love?

A little bit of both? I admire her bravery and determination to go after Jamie, but she's still not totally prepared to face some of the challenges posed by 18th-century Scotland.  Thankfully, she recognizes she cannot do it alone,  that she accepts help from Murtagh and Dougal - in the end this is the right thing to do.  I'd hope I'd be brave enough to go after the man I love in such a way, but I know I couldn't do it alone.

5. Jamie makes a gut-wrenching decision in Chapter 35. Do you blame Claire for putting him in that position? What kinds of repercussions do you expect?

While I don't fault Claire's motives, I am frustrated that once again her actions have made a total mess of things.  When is she going to figure out that, despite her 20th-century abilities, she's not well equipped to manage events in this time period?  Regardless of her actions, though, this is an absolutely heartbreaking scene, and it makes me despise Randall more than I thought possible.  Quel creep.  He literally makes my stomach queasy.  As for repercussions..."not good" would be an understatement.

Check out my answers to Week OneWeek Two and Week Three of the read-a-long.  Many thanks to the fabulous hostesses of this event!

Outlander Read-a-Long
Sponsored by Gone with the WordsThe Reading HousewivesStalking the Bookshelves
Into the Hall of BooksTangled Up in Blue and Logan E. Turner

Romance novel book reviews by Sarah the Brazen Bookworm

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Book Review: Wicked Nights by Gena Showalter (Angels of the Dark #1)

Book cover of Wicked Nights by Gena Showalter
Say the word angel and most people conjure up some form of haloes, white robes and wings.  In short, angels aren't the most obvious of romance heroes.  A warrior angel, on the other hand, is about as uncherubic as you can get, and can fit the mold of hero just as well as any rake or shapeshifter. Warrior angels in all their tormented glory are the stars of Wicked Nights, the first book in a new series from bestselling author Gena Showalter.

Summary:  Leader of the most powerful army in the heavens, Zacharel has been deemed nearly too dangerous, too ruthless – and if he isn't careful, he'll lose his wings. But this warrior with a heart of ice will not be deterred from his missions at any cost...until a vulnerable human tempts him with a carnal pleasure he's never known before.

Accused of a crime she did not commit, Annabelle Miller has spent four years in an institution for the criminally insane. Demons track her every move, and their king will stop at nothing to have her. Zacharel is her only hope for survival, but is the brutal angel with a touch as hot as hell her salvation – or her ultimate damnation? – Goodreads

My thoughts: Though I'm generally not a fan of paranormal romances, I enjoyed Wicked Nights and thought Gena Showalter's worldbuilding was solid.  Yes, much of the book is a set-up for the series so there is a great deal of weighty explanation, but Annabelle's chilling story was intense and very real.  She's accused of murdering her parents and is never allowed to mourn their brutal ends.  Amazingly, she manages to retain a good grasp of reality and even an irreverent sense of humor.

It's Annabelle's resilience and strength of character that both attract and confuse Zacharel, a stoic figure who's never had to deal with humans.  Watching his transformation – a direct result of his interactions with Annabelle – was one of the more intriguing parts of the book.  I was engrossed in Zacharel's story, both his fall from grace and his growing ability to love the human he's rescued.  As the plot progresses, Zacharel becomes more than just a demon-killer, but a warrior determined to protect the woman he loves...which is problematic given he's thousands of years old while Annabelle is a mere 24 and mortal at that.

Much of the book focuses on battles and even a few executions, so squeamish readers may want to skip those parts.  At the same time, Annabelle adds a lightness that keeps Wicked Nights from being too dark.  Showalter has portrayed a victim of tragedy, yet one who refuses to let it define her.  I admire Showalter's ability to create complex characters who are otherworldy in behavior yet very human in their emotions.  She has also positioned many of the secondary characters, all part of Zacharel's army of misfit angels, to have their own story and I'm curious to see how those are resolved.  Beauty Awakened, the second book in the series, will be published in 2013 and seems promising. 

Rating: B
Publisher: HQN Books
Publication Date: June 26, 2012
Length: 411 pages
Sensuality: Hot

Romance novel book reviews by Sarah the Brazen Bookworm

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Beach Read Wednesday: Manhunting by Jennifer Crusie

Book cover of Manhunting by Jennifer Crusie
If you're looking for a fun romantic comedy to accompany you on vacation this summer, you can't ever go wrong with Jennifer Crusie.  Her books are funny, clever and fabulous, and she specializes in well drawn characters and witty dialogue.  Manhunting is one of my favorite Crusie books, and it's a must-have for your beach bag.

Summary: Kate Svenson may be a dynamite businesswoman – but after three failed engagements, she’s decided she’s hopeless at romance. What she needs is a Business Plan to help her find Mr. Right. The Cabins resort is ripe with eligible bachelors, all rich and ambitious – just her type. But they’re dropping like flies, and after fishing Kate’s latest reject out of the swimming pool Jake Templeton is convinced that Kate is nothing but trouble. Especially for him. A man who’s sworn off ambition and a woman hanging from the top of the corporate ladder don’t have much in common. But in that unpredictable territory known as the heart, anything can happen... – Goodreads

My thoughts: I lost count of the number of times I laughed aloud while reading Manhunting.  Kate is one of my favorite types of heroines – she's a smart, no-nonsense business woman who isn't afraid to be herself and can hold her own anywhere.  The only person who really challenges Kate, intellectually and emotionally, is Jake Templeton, the groundskeeper and the Kentucky golf resort Kate visits.  A high-powered, career-driven businesswoman falling in love with a laidback good ol' boy? Doesn't seem likely.  Jake, though, isn't what he seems.

Manhunting is quintessential Crusie – snappy dialogue, comical situations and palpable romantic chemistry.  The idyllic Kentucky resort setting is the perfect backdrop for this book, and had me pining for a visit to the rolling hills of the Bluegrass State.  I could do without the frequent references to Jake's mustache (too Tom Selleck-y for me) but that's about the only thing I don't love about this book. Oh, and if you'd rather close your eyes while you soak in the sun, the audio version of Manhunting is great too.

Image of bourbon cocktail
Credit: Michael Dietsch
Recommended drink to complement Manhunting:  Since the book is set in Kentucky, bourbon is the obvious choice.  It's hard to think of bourbon on the beach, but then I found a Serious Eats recipe for a Derby.  The combination of bourbon, lime juice and Grand Marnier sounds refreshing enough to enjoy poolside or anywhere else this summer.

Romance novel book reviews by Sarah The Brazen Bookworm

Guest Posting at Reflections of a Bookaholic!

Button for Reflections of a Bookaholic
I'm excited to be part of the Why I Love... Wednesday feature over at Reflections of a Bookaholic!  Alexis is one of my favorite bloggers, and I trust her reviews implicitly.  While she studies for the bar exam, she's handed over her weekly feature to some other bloggers.  Today's topic is favorite bookish worlds...any guesses what I picked??
Romance novel book reviews by Sarah The Brazen Bookworm

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Book Review: Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase (Dressmakers #2)

Book cover of Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase
Loretta Chase's most recent series, The Dressmakers, is the best kind of romantic decadence.  The books feature beautiful romances, yes, but they also have abundant descriptions of the fashion indulgence.  The series follows a trio of sisters building a fashion house in pre-Victorian London.  Silk is for Seduction, the first book in the series, was intense and angsty. The second book, Scandal Wears Satin, is lighter and more humorous, but the romance is just as good.  

Summary: From the Journals of Sophia Noirot: A dress is a weapon. It must dazzle his eye, raise his temperature...and empty his purse.

A blue-eyed innocent on the outside and a shark on the inside, dressmaker Sophy Noirot could sell sand to Bedouins. Selling Maison Noirot's beautiful designs to aristocratic ladies is a little harder, especially since a recent family scandal has made an enemy of one of society's fashion leaders. Turning scandal to the shop's advantage requires every iota of Sophy's skills, leaving her little patience for a big, reckless rake like the Earl of Longmore. The gorgeous lummox can't keep more than one idea in his head at a time, and his idea is taking off all of Sophy's clothes.

But when Longmore's sister, Noirot's wealthiest, favorite customer, runs away, Sophy can't let him bumble after her on his own. In hot pursuit with the one man who tempts her beyond reason, she finds desire has never slipped on so smoothly... – Goodreads

My thoughts: Scandal Wears Satin works so well because of its heroine, Sophia Noirot.  The second of the three Noirot sisters is the cleverest and most ruthless.  She's quick-witted, sharp-tongued and far too smart for her own good.  She's also reckless and not afraid to play dirty in defense of her family and their business.  She first met the burly but handsome Earl of Longmore in Silk is for Seduction, and from the moment he met her, Longmore has been plotting to get her into bed.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Guest Post + Giveaway: Delayed Gratification, or My Favorite Reading Experiences by Molly O'Keefe

Picture of romance author Molly O'Keefe
I'm so pleased to welcome author Molly O'Keefe today to discuss some of her favorite romance series!  Molly's most recent release, Can't Buy Me Love, has been garnering rave reviews across the romance world and trust me  the book really is that good (review coming soon).   

Molly O'Keefe:  I have been crazy lucky this year. In a lot of ways. I’ve got some books coming out, the winter was practically without snow. My daughter is going into full-day kindergarten – all things to celebrate. But those are not what has made me lucky. No, this year I had two amazing reading experiences – the kind that keep you up night, that make you read in the bathroom at work, or let your kids watch a couple of extra episodes of Backyardigans just so you can finish a few more chapters. 

These amazing reading experiences are all because I came into two really popular series late, after most of the books were already out and so the moment, the very moment I finished one book, I was able to download or find the next. Months and months of reading pleasure. Are you dying to know which series? I’ll get there, hold on.

The first time this happened to me was years ago through my RWA chapter. I made a new writer friend who opened up her keeper shelf and I was introduced, years after their first publication, to Suzanne Brockman’s ENTIRE back list. Which for unknown reasons I had never read. It was summer, I was pregnant and miserable and I read those books one after another, all the way up to the single titles. Bliss.

I love series. I love entwined story arc’s and characters that show up in various books. But it’s hard to delay gratification. To hold off finding out who the next book is about and where their story will go. But when it happens by accident? It’s like finding a show you love with all the episodes on DVD. In fact I’m saving Sherry Thomas’ new series until they’re all out and I can go on vacation at the end of summer and read myself sick with them.

So, the series I glommed this year?

Karen Marie Moning’s amazing Fever series. Initially I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. That first person point of view is hit or miss for me. But by the third book I was literally rabid for the books.

And the other series, though it’s not done, and now I’m waiting with millions of other people hoping that George RR Martin stays healthy enough to finish his Song of Ice and Fire series.

Sarah: I can speak to the Suzanne Brockmann glom!  A few years ago, I read nothing for several weeks but her Troubleshooters series.  Thanks again for stopping by, Molly!

Giveaway: Molly has generously offered a copy of Can't Buy Me Love to one lucky commenter.  Simply answer the question in the comments and don't forget to leave your email address!

How about you? Do you love series? Which ones do you love the most? What have been your awesome reading experiences been this year?

Book cover of Can't Buy Me LoveAbout Molly O'KeefeMolly O'Keefe has always known she wanted to be a writer (except when she wanted to be a florist or a chef and the brief period of time when she considered being a cowgirl). And once she got her hands on some romances, she knew exactly what she wanted to write.

She published her first Harlequin romance at age 25 and hasn't looked back. She loves exploring every character's road towards happily ever after.

Book cover of Can't Hurry Love by Molly O'KeefeOriginally from a small town outside of Chicago, she went to university in St. Louis where she met and fell in love with the editor of her school newspaper. They followed each other around the world for several years and finally got married and settled down in Toronto, Ontario. They welcomed their son into their family in 2006, and their daughter in 2008. When she's not at the park or cleaning up the toy room, Molly is working hard on her next novel, trying to exercise, stalking Tina Fey on the internet and dreaming of the day she can finish a cup of coffee without interruption.

Dishing It Out, her last Harlequin Flipside won the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice award for best Flipside in 2005.

Her Superromance Baby Makes Three won the RT Reviewer's Choice for best Superromance in 2006 and her novella, "The Christmas Eve Promise" in The Night Before Christmas was nominated for a RITA in 2009.

Romance novel book reviews by Sarah The Brazen Bookworm

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sports Heroines? (Discussion Post)

Picture of athletic equipment - Sports romance novels
Deviant Art
I love professional athlete heroes in romance novels.  Whether they play football, baseball, basketball, hockey, golf, etc., sports heroes have a special place in my heart.  Over the years, I've read sporty romances with athletic heroes from countless authors - Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Rachel Gibson, Deirdre Martin, Jaci Burton, Carly Phillips, Kate Angell and others.

Reading recently about the 40th anniversary of Title IX, I began to wonder where the sports heroines are.  I can't think of any romances where the heroine is a serious, dedicated athlete in the professional sense.  Granted, women don't have as many opportunities to participate in professional sports as men, but surely we've made enough progress that a woman can be the sports star of her own book?  Unfortunately, I haven't found any, so I'm throwing this question to the crowd.

Any recommendations for a romance with an athlete heroine?

Romance novel book reviews by Sarah The Brazen Bookworm

Monday, July 2, 2012

Outlander Read-a-Long: Ch. 15-21

Book cover of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Week Three of the official Outlander Read-a-Long!  I'm SO glad we finally get to discuss Chapter 15 – it's one of my favorite chapters of the entire series, and I never tire of rereading it.

1) We FINALLY get to the scene we've all been waiting for. You know what I'm talking about – yay sexytimes! What were your impressions? Was it what you were expecting? Or did you want more?

As I said above, I lurve Chapter 15, not so much for the physical aspect of Jamie and Claire's wedding night, but because of the emotional connection that is beginning to develop.  I love the care that Jamie takes with Claire.  When he takes her hands and asks her to tell him about Frank, I just melt every time.  It's such a telling moment that perfectly captures Jamie's innate nobility.  

Since I read so much more romance these days, I was surprised at the "fade-to-black" aspect of that chapter.  When I originally read it, I thought those scenes were ultra racy, but now they seem so tame.  I also find I am so much more interested now in Jamie and Claire's emotional connection, not their physical relationship.  Later on in the book, the scenes get a bit more explicit, but it's almost as though Diana Gabaldon wants the reader to initially focus more on the couple's friendship and the trust they're developing.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Guest Post + Giveaway: Author Elisabeth Barrett on Crafting a Small Town World

Picture of romance author Elisabeth BarrettI'm so pleased to welcome debut author Elisabeth Barrett today to discuss her newest release, Deep Autumn Heat, and how she created the world in which the novel takes place.

Elisabeth Barrett: I’d like to give a huge thank you to The Brazen Bookworm for hosting me as part of my blog tour for my debut novel, Deep Autumn Heat, which releases on July 9th. I’m very happy to be here! Today, I’d like to talk about crafting a small town world.

There’s nothing quite like living in a small town. Just one of the quirks of living in a tiny community is that you know everyone. My mom used to tell me to always look nice when I went out the door—even if it was just to run out to get a carton of milk—because I might see someone I knew. And she was right…I always saw someone I knew. It took a few times of me not looking my best for this to sink in. The flip side to this obvious negative is a positive—most of the time everyone knows where you are and looks out for you (and tells your mother they saw you).

Deep Autumn Heat is set in the fictional town of Star Harbor, Massachusetts, and is the story of two stubborn chefs who can’t help but fall in love. When Sebastian Grayson, chef-owner of New York City hotspot Helena, returns to his Cape Cod hometown of Star Harbor, Massachusetts to recharge, the last thing he expects is to find inspiration. But when he steps foot into the Lexie Meyers Kitchen and takes one bite of Lexie’s delectable coconut cake, he immediately gets hooked—on her.

When I started writing the Star Harbor series, I deliberately created a small town setting, for several reasons. First, I wanted to play up the idea of the hero returning to town a changed man. Seb was quite the hell-raiser as a kid. Returning to Star Harbor as a bad-boy-made-good made for a lot of fun scenarios with the locals. Which brings me to my second reason; in my mind, there is nothing more fun than local characters. They’re an integral part of the world, adding color, humor, and dimensionality. My third reason is simple: I love the sense of community in small towns. Each town has its own rituals and events. For example, Star Harbor has a well-attended Harvest Festival, where Lexie distributes samples of her fabulous cooking (she’s trying to launch a catering business out of her own, already-successful restaurant).

As you might guess, when crafting a small town, the devil is in the details. Just like building any other world, it’s the little things that make it real. Because Star Harbor is in New England, the locals needed to act like New Englanders. Polite, but a bit reserved when you first meet them, and with long memories. Star Harbor is on the water, so the landscape, architecture, and wildlife had to be carefully described (the sea birds include gulls, herons, and egrets, among others). Because I lived in Connecticut and Massachusetts, it was easier to get these kinds of details right, but I still did a lot of research. I also drew numerous street and town maps, which included houses, stores, and topography, to ensure I had everything in its right place. By the time I was finished with Star Harbor, it felt as real as my own hometown.

Giveaway: One commenter on my post will be randomly selected to win a NetGalley preview of Deep Autumn Heat (you can easily create a NetGalley account if you don't have one). Contest ends July 8th at midnight (EDT). To win, answer the question below:

Small towns or big cities: what’s your preference?

Book cover of Deep Autumn Heat by Elisabeth BarrettAbout Deep Autumn Heat:

In this sexy new Star Harbor romance series, featuring the too-tempting Grayson brothers, a celebrity chef turns up the heat for a local café owner—and things start to sizzle.

Lexie Meyers decides there’s nothing sweeter than watching Sebastian Grayson’s perfect, wicked mouth devour her coconut cake. He’s hot, he’s hungry, and he’s sizing her up like she’s the best thing on the menu. But she’s been burned in the past and flings just aren’t her thing. Too bad Sebastian can’t resist a challenge.

Worldly, famous, and notorious with the ladies, Seb had planned a weekend of fishing and relaxation with his brothers. Until Lexie, with her kissable lips and frosty “get lost” attitude, makes him want to forget his culinary empire and create some magic with her. After he fires up his charm—including challenging her to a televised cook-off to break through her resistance—it’s now hotter in the bedroom than it is in the kitchen and Lexie isn’t sure whether she’s lost her mind . . . or just her heart.

View an excerpt of Deep Autumn Heat on Scribd: Click here.

Pre-order Deep Autumn Heat: Kindle | Nook | ITunes | Other Formats

About author Elisabeth Barrett:  Raised in a sleepy little Connecticut town, Elisabeth draws on her upbringing to write small-town romances. Her summers spent living and working on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard were the inspiration for the Star Harbor series, which kicks off with Deep Autumn Heat (coming July 2012) and continues with Blaze of Winter (coming September 2012). Currently, Elisabeth lives in Northern California with her husband and three children. 

Find her online: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Romance novel book reviews by Sarah The Brazen Bookworm
Romance novel book review