Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

About Dabney Grinnan

I loved romances when, back in the mid 70's, in junior high, I read every Barbara Cartland novel I could check out from the library. Then, thanks to a savvy babysitter, I got my hands on the hot stuff. To this day I can remember how astonishingly steamy I found Rosemary Rogers' Sweet Savage Love. I abandoned romance when I went to college and didn't pick one up again until 2007 when I got my first Kindle. Since then, I’ve read countless romances; loved many, liked more, hated some. Most of what I read is historical and contemporary romance, but I’m open to almost any genre. I like my books to have sizzle, wit, and plots that make sense. I’d take sexy over sweet any day. I’m a sucker for smart heroes and smart-mouthed heroines. When not reading or writing about reading, or wishing I could rule the world, I'm meddling in the lives of my kids--I have four, ages 17 to 21--, managing my husband's practice, doing bossy volunteer work, and hanging out with Dr. Feelgood.

Posts by Dabney Grinnan:

REVIEW:  Uncommon Passion by Anne Calhoun

REVIEW: Uncommon Passion by Anne Calhoun

Dear Ms. Calhoun:

Uncommon Passion is easily the best book you’ve written. The novel takes the strengths of your earlier works–strong characters, sensual sex scenes, believable redemption–and expands on them. Everything works: the lovers, their back-stories, the setting, the passage of time, the secondary characters, the plot, and the deft insights you offer into human behavior. I’ve read Uncommon Passion three times now and, each time, I am more taken with its worth.

Uncommon Passion by Anne CalhounRachel Hill is, at twenty-five, new to the world as we know it. Seven months before Uncommon Passion begins, she ran away from the Elysian Fields Community of God, an isolated religious community in rural Texas where she’d lived her entire life. Since then, she’s begun to build a new life for herself. She’s gotten a job and a place to stay at an organic farm, bought a car and a cellphone, and filled out an application for veterinary technician school.

Rachel left Elysian Fields because, as she says,

They needed me to be someone I am not. They expected me to surrender all choice and control in my life to God, and if God’s direction wasn’t clear, my pastor or my father would explain it to me.

One of the choices Rachel’s never been able to make is to touch or be touched by a man. In Elysian Fields, all sexual contact is saved for marriage and Rachel, who stayed stubbornly unwed, is a virgin in every sense of the word. One night, while working at a charity bachelor auction, Rachel decides she’s ready to get rid of her virginity with Ben Harris, a sexy SWAT officer up for auction. She wins him with a two thousand dollar bid.

Ben looks to Rachel like the perfect man for the job.

Perfect, because she’d just bet two thousand dollars that he had no interest in a relationship, no sense that sex was something special reserved for the marriage bed, no inclination to call again.

She doubts he’ll even notice. And she’s right.

They agree to go out one night the next week. It’s Rachel’s first ever date. Ben picks her up and takes her out to dinner. After they’re done eating, though he’s already sure of her answer, he asks what she’d like to do next.

She bit her full lower lip, but met his gaze head-on. “I’d like to go back to your place.”

Her tone, low and clear, set his radar pinging because the words sounded almost rehearsed, but really, he didn’t give a fuck. This was who he was, what he did, because he could do this.

Ben doesn’t give a fuck. Not about anything but his job and his brother. He sure as shit doesn’t give a damn about the women he has sex with. But when he wakes up the morning after fucking Rachel, he’s first shocked and then furious to see blood on his cock. He tracks Rachel down and asks her what the hell she thought she was doing. She tells him her virginity was hers to lose and, anyway, she didn’t think he would know or care. Ben, angry and intrigued, tells her he wants another shot, that he’s got what she needs. 

“You don’t know what I need,” she said as she glanced toward the barn….

“I remember,” he said without lowering his voice, “how you were shaking under me at the end. Look me in the eye and tell me you don’t need more.”

She went still again, stiller than he thought possible….

“I want an explanation. You want to do it again. Longer. Slower. Hotter. This time we’ll both get what we want.”

Rachel and Ben begin meeting each Sunday for sex. And though they both believe sex is all they’re there for, as the weeks go by, sex turns into passion which turns into something more, something with a gravitas that surprises them both.

Ben’s and Rachel’s affair is the opposite of a closed door romance. The majority of their interactions are sexual and intrinsic to understanding the relationship they build.

Ben, who has slept with so many women he can’t remember their faces let alone their names, finds making love with Rachel to be outside the realm of his prodigious experience. Ben uses sex to escape from feeling. It’s a tool, like the risks he takes in his job, designed to keep emotion at bay.

Rachel uses sex to feel. She makes each encounter an implement for self-discovery. As Ben watches Rachel push herself to experience all she was denied at Elysian Fields, Ben begins, almost against his will, to see himself differently. Rachel’s inherent strength and the sheer rightness of what she wants make Ben question the confines of his life in ways that challenge and unsettle him.

Ben and Rachel are as engrossing apart as they are together.

It’s satisfying to watch Rachel create a life for herself. The book is written in third person but there’s no distance between the narration and the feelings and thoughts of the characters. Every experience Rachel has, whether it’s watching the way the Texas A&M boys working at the farm for the summer play poker or taking in the expressions of amateur poets at open-mike night at her favorite bookstore in Galveston, Rachel processes it profoundly, using it to build on what she’s previously seen and felt. She’s in control of her life and every step she takes towards her future is authentic and heartfelt.

Ben is equally compelling. His insouciant bravado is the top layer of a complex, angry man. He’s estranged from his family–with the exception of his gay twin Sam–and has spent years punishing himself and his father for actions Ben believes are unforgivable. The man he is in the beginning of the novel is sexy to Rachel–and to the reader–because of his confident diffidence. But the Ben that’s leisurely exposed, the man Ben holds himself back from being, that man, a Ben who can love and be loved, is breathtaking.

Whatever flaws there are in this book–and there are flaws in every work–are subsumed by the overall calibre of Ms. Calhoun’s writing. Every scene feels necessary to the storytelling; her descriptions broaden the novel’s emotional scope. The sex scenes are lush, erotic, and singular. The pacing layers the narrative; the ending holds a sense of sweet inevitability. The love story is, well, lovely.

Uncommon Passion gets an A from me. It’s uncommonly good. (Sorry. I couldn’t resist.)


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REVIEW:  Tempting Fate by Amber Lin

REVIEW: Tempting Fate by Amber Lin

Dear Ms. Lin:

Novellas are often an unfortunate way to be introduced to a series. I’ve not read any of your Lost Girls series–Tempting Fate is book three. I think had I read the books that preceded it, I would have seen all three of the major characters in Tempting Fate differently. Unfortunately, without that back story, your leads and their stories didn’t resonate for me.

Tempting Fate by Amber LinTempting Fate is narrated by Rose Murphy, a twenty-six year old ballerina who is ready to hang up her toe shoes and open her own ballet studio. Her joints hurt constantly and she’s worried she’s doing permanent damage to her body. There are two obstacles standing in the way of her dream. The first and most forbidding is her older brother, Philip; the second, finding a safe place in Chicago she can afford.

Philip is bad news. Here’s Rose’s description of him:

Philip was a criminal. Not the whitewashed, white-collar type to embezzle money or take the company jet out for a spin. He was an honest-to-God bad guy, grown up like a weed between the white trash of Chicago. Strictly speaking, he shouldn’t even be allowed in the starched crowds he frequented. But one thing tipped the scale: power.

Wealthy businessmen courted his favor. Their rich-bitch wives wanted to have sex with him. Sometimes he would oblige them. But that was Philip. He made the rules and then broke them.

Rose lives with Philip in his mansion and he, as much as he can, controls her life. He does so because he wants to protect her from the world–Rose has a trauma in her past that shaped her and how Philip sees her. In the years after Rose was first hurt, she needed the safe, “sterile” world Philip created. Perhaps if I’d met Philip in the earlier books, I might have seen him differently but, to me, he is a monster. The love he feels for Rose–it’s completely non-sexual–is corrosive. Rose understands that. She is ready now to live her own life, but she’s afraid to let her brother know because “Philip wouldn’t take that well.”

Her plans to open her studio are not the only thing Rose keeps from Philip. For years, Rose has been drawn to Drew, Philip’s lawyer.

I knew what it felt like to live in the outside world, which was exactly why I preferred my neat, sterile chambers. For years, I had preferred to stay frozen—untouchable. But lately the wicked thoughts about Drew had spilled over into heated feelings and busy fingers at night in my bed. And worse, I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep them to myself.

The changes weren’t all on my end. He looked at me longer, more intensely, and I stared back, so very tempted. Sometimes I thought that was all we’d ever do: forever watch each other, the air between us as formidable as ice, undaunted by the incipient heat of my body whenever he was near.

Rose believes, with good reason, Philip would furious if she and Drew got together. That fear, however, is no longer enough to keep Rose from going after Drew. For his part, Drew seems unfazed by the threat Philip poses. One night, Rose finally approaches him when Philip is out of the room. When Rose asks him if he wants her, Drew answers,“You would run from me screaming if you knew all the ways I want you.

Later that night, as Drew stands by his car, Rose is in her bedroom watching him. He sees her and begins to watch her back. Rose musters up her courage and performs a sensual strip tease. The next day, while Philip takes a call, Drew comes to Rose and returns the favor. They begin a relationship, one that Rose wants to keep secret and Drew does not.

Tempting Fate charts Rose’s journey to independence. The journey is a two steps forward, one step back one. In real and often terrifying ways, Philip blocks Rose’s efforts to be the sovereign of her own life. Rose is determined, however. She works to open her studio, and manage her finances–she doesn’t want a penny from Philip. At every juncture, Drew is there for her, supporting her, reaffirming her new sense of herself, and making her feel cherished. Drew’s behavior stands in stark contrast to Philip’s, so much so that they seem to represent good vs. evil.

The relationship between Philip, Rose, and Drew is complex and, in the too little time she has, Ms. Lin writes confidently about their emotions. But, even as I understood her insights, I didn’t experience them as a reader. I couldn’t understand what motivated Philip or Rose much of the time. Drew says he’s cared for Rose forever, but, without more context, I wondered why he was finally willing to risk so much now and not before. I felt like Ms. Lin needed more pages to tell her story convincingly.

Tempting Fate is a dark, sexy read. Ms. Lin’s writing is infused with melancholy. For Rose and Drew love is risky. Philip is a dangerous man and, even at the end of the book, I wondered if the HFN Rose and Drew carve out for themselves will last. Ms. Lin is writing one more book in the series, Philip’s story. It’s hard for me to imagine any believable redemption for him, but, here again, my perceptions of him are circumscribed. I only experience him as he reacts to Rose and the relationship she has with Drew.

I enjoyed Tempting Fate, but as a stand alone story, it doesn’t work. I give it a C+.


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