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:  Never Kiss a Rake by Anne Stuart

REVIEW: Never Kiss a Rake by Anne Stuart

Dear Ms. Stuart:

In 2010, you released two enjoyable historical romances in your The House of  Rohan series (not to be confused with the Kings of Rohan). The two books, Reckless and Ruthless, featured classic Stuart heroes: gorgeous, sexy men with power and wealth who nefariously seduce spinster heroines whom they then fall deeply, irrevocably in love with. My favorite of the two Rohan books is Reckless whose hero, Adrian, is a sinfully magnetic rake. Now, in the mid 1800′s Adrian was not a common name for men. I am thus baffled you, in Never Kiss a Rake, named the hero of this novel Adrian too. The only answer I can come up with is that Never Kiss a Rake is a rehash of names, personalities, plot, and prose from your earlier books. If there’s an original thing in this book–other than the heroine having had small pox as a child–I missed it.

Never Kiss a Rake by Anne StuartThe heroine of this book, Bryony Russell, has been left penniless by her ostensibly feckless father. Bryony (like Elinor Harriman, the cranky heroine of Ruthless) is responsible for her sisters (one of whom is gorgeous just like Lydia in Ruthless). Bryony is convinced that her father, in the weeks before his death, was swindled then murdered by one of his investors. She leaves her sisters with their kindly elderly Nanny (there’s one of these in Ruthless too) and gets herself hired as the housekeeper in the house of one such investor, Adrian Bruton, Earl of Kilmartyn.

Adrian Bruton is a notorious womanizer with a faithless, evil wife whom he stays married to under the threat of blackmail. He’s a celebrious Cyprian who drinks far more than he should, is seemingly self-indulgent, and has few compunctions about going after what he wants. (Are there any guilt-stricken Stuart heroes?) Like Adrian the first, he’s gorgeous, tall, graceful, with a full mouth and bright eyes. From the moment he sees Bryony, he considers seducing her–like many a Stuart hero, her primness strikes him as wildly erotic. She’s calling herself Mrs. Greaves, but he’s sure there’s never been a Mr. Greaves and that she’s untouched. She’s prickly–her personality reminds me greatly of the heroine of Ruthless–and Adrian decides to mess with her just because he can.

Bryony moves in Adrian’s household and, despite being from the upper class, not only pulls off being a housekeeper but does a ridiculously good job at it as well. The servants–the ones she doesn’t fire–all come to love her and work to protect her from both Adrian’s dissolute charms and from the nastiness of Cecily, Lady Kilmartyn.

When Bryony is not scrubbing, polishing, cleaning, or supervising, she’s obsessing over Adrian.

Is he her father’s betrayer? Why does he put up with his witch of a wife? What would his lips feel like if she stole a kiss  from his beautiful mouth when he’s passed out drunk (answer: firm and with a hint of the “smoky flavor of the whiskey“)? Why did he use the world “orgasmic” to describe the way she eats and what does that word mean anyway? And what on earth would happen if she accidentally on-purpose wandered in to his bed one night and, horrors of horrors, he was in it? And he was naked?

“Are you going to rape me?”

“Of course not. I wouldn’t have to. I could have you eating out of my hand if I set my mind to it.”

She ground her teeth. “I am not a virgin, I am not puritanical, we are not going to have any kind of . . . carnal debauchery at all. Now let me up.”

He didn’t laugh at her this time. He fell back against the mattress with a weary sigh, still holding on to her wrist. “Now that’s the damnable problem, my angel. I’m all set to play the villain, have my disgusting, delicious way with you to both your pleasure and mine, and you say something completely adorable like ‘carnal debauchery.’ How is a man to react to something like that?”

“He’s supposed to release me.”

“I ought to,” he said. “If I had any scrap of decency left in me.” He turned his face, and she could see him in the shaft of moonlight, his skin white gold. It was then she realized he wasn’t wearing a shirt. Realized that he wasn’t wearing anything at all. “Fortunately,” he added, “any decency is long gone.” And he pulled her over on top of him.

“If you keep this up I’m going to get dizzy.” This time she managed a satisfactorily dry, cautious tone.

He put his lips to her ear, and she could feel his hot breath against her skin. “You already are dizzy, my dear Miss Greaves. Your heart is pounding, your pulses are racing, and your nipples are hard. I’m willing to bet my sweet little virgin is wet.”

She frowned, ignoring the nipple part. “Wet?”

“Between your legs. It’s a sign of arousal, your body readying itself for mine.”

“That’s disgusting.”

Well, the sex isn’t disgusting but it’s prosaic. It’s possible I’ve read too many Anne Stuart novels but I feel sure I’ve read every sex scene in this book before. Adrian’s a god in bed who, even as he murmurs he shouldn’t, takes her virginity and teaches her the joys of one or two Latin terms. Bryony needs loads of reassurance her flaws (a slightly pockmarked side of her face and lack of familiarity with male anatomy) don’t make her unworthy of his ministrations. Even as she moans beneath him, she wonders if he’s a murderer. (I can think of at least eight Stuart heroines who’ve quivered and questioned in the same way.)

It’s annoying to spend so much time reading about Bryony’s fears about Adrian because there’s no suspense whatsoever about whom the big bad really is. And, if you’ve read the heroine in danger scene at the end of Reckless, you’ve more or less read the heroine in danger scene at the end of Never Kiss a Rake.

I like many of Anne Stuart’s novels. I like some of her books that are obviously derivative of other Stuart works. The entire Ice series shares many similarities none of which kept me from enjoying (most 0f) them. Never Kiss a Rake is, however, derivative and dull. The former characteristic highlights the latter. In the hands of a weaker writer, this book would have gotten a D from me. Ms. Stuart writes well, however, and her prose is smooth and assured. I’m going with a C-.


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REVIEW:  Undone by Shannon Richard

REVIEW: Undone by Shannon Richard

Dear Ms. Richard:

I confess I am not a great fan of Florida. My family moved there, from the Bay Area, when I was 15 and, to this day, the charms of the Sunshine State escape me. Your book, Undone, is set in the Floridian town Mirabelle. Mirabelle is my idea of Florida at its worst. It’s hot, sticky, buggy, small-minded, dull, and hostile to new ideas and new people. It’s a mean Mayberry without the cute kid.

Undone Shannon RichardAs a romance reader, I’m on the fence about small town sagas. They aren’t my favorite setting, especially in contemporaries, but I don’t shun them either. Done well, the small town setting can give a novel’s characters an understandable framework and, in the best of small town narratives, can be both realistic and endearing. In Undone, Mirabelle isn’t the least bit endearing and, as a context, it makes your leads harder to like.

Paige Morrison’s life has fallen apart in the very big city of Philadelphia. In short order, she loses her job, her boyfriend, and her apartment. Bereft of any other options, she does what Gen-Xers everywhere do and moves back in with Mom and Dad. Sadly, for Paige and for the reader, the Morrisons have relocated to the small stifling town of Mirabelle.

Page arrives in Mirabelle and, at first, her streak of bad luck holds. You see, Paige is a modern woman. (Yes. I know. Modern women are often better prepared for disaster, but that’s one more quibble and I’ve enough for one review.) And, modern women, with their big earrings, high-heeled red shoes and smart mouths, aren’t welcome in Mirabelle. Mirabelle, population 5000, is, the sort of place where any woman having more than two piercings–and they, must of course, be in the ear lobes–is labeled “an outsider.” And by “outsider,” the townsfolk mean freak.

Paige has been in Mirabelle for three months and no one has been willing to give her the time of day, let alone a job. Her parents’ neighbor thinks she’s a pot smoker prone to orgies. A nasty little old lady crashed into her at the Piggly Wiggly and caused an unpleasant scene for which Paige was blamed. Paige has no friends, no love life, and, no future. And then, after yet another horrendous job interview, her orange jeep breaks down and must be towed.

Spongeworthy mechanic Brendan King gets the call. He’s stoked to finally meet Paige–somehow, in a town of 5000, despite being in the same age group, they’ve never met–whom he’s seen jogging around town in “in a wide variety of the brightest and shortest shorts he’d ever seen in his life.”  Brendan arrives and despite his hotness, he pisses Paige off.

He stopped behind the back of her Jeep for a moment, studying the half a dozen stickers that covered her bumper and part of her back window.

She had one that said MAKE ART NOT WAR in big blue letters, another said LOVE with a peace sign in theO. There was also a sea turtle, an owl with reading glasses, the Cat in the Hat, and her favorite that said I LOVE BIG BOOKS AND I CANNOT LIE.

He shook his head and laughed, walking to the front of the Jeep.

“What’s so funny?” she asked, catching up to his long stride and standing next to him….

“Just that you’re clearly not from around here.” He smiled, closing his hand over hers.

….“I am so sick of everyone saying that,” she said, ripping her hand out of his. “Is it such a bad thing to not be from around here?”

“No,” he said, his mouth quirking. “It’s just very obvious that you’re not.”

“Would I fit in more if I had a bumper sticker that said MY OTHER CAR IS A TRACTOR OR ONE THAT SAID IF YOU’RE NOT CONSERVATIVE YOU JUST AREN’T WORTH IT, or what about WHO NEEDS LITERACY WHEN YOU CAN SHOOT THINGS? What if I had a gun rack mounted on the back window or if I used buck piss as perfume to attract a husband? Would those things make me fit in?” she finished, folding her arms across her chest.

“No, I’d say you could start with not being so judgmental though,” he said with a sarcastic smirk.

“Excuse me?”

“Ma’am, you just called everyone around here gun-toting, illiterate rednecks who like to participate in bestiality. Insulting people really isn’t a way to fit in,” he said, shaking his head. “I would also refrain from spreading your liberal views to the masses, as politics are a bit of a hot-button topic around here. And if you want to attract a husband, you should stick with wearing doe urine, because that attracts only males. The buck urine attracts both males and females.” He stopped and looked her up and down with a slow smile. “But maybe you’re into that sort of thing.”

“Yeah, well, everyone in this town thinks that I’m an amoral, promiscuous pothead. And you,” she said, shoving her finger into his chest, “aren’t any better. People make snap judgments about me before I even open my mouth. And just so you know, I’m not even a liberal,” she screamed as she jabbed her finger into his chest a couple of times. She took a deep breath and stepped back, composing herself. “So maybe I would be nice if people would be just a little bit nice to me.”

“I’m quite capable of being nice to people who deserve it. Can I look at your car now, or would you like to yell at me some more?”

“Be my guest,” she said, glaring at him as she moved out of his way.

I didn’t like Brendan or Paige after reading the above scene. However, it seemed unfair to quit without even making it to the second chapter, so I read on.

Brendan is, of course, nice to Paige. He’s so nice to her that he finds her a job, repairs her car, introduces her to friends, shows her the joys to be found in Mirabelle, and makes her love life again. And they live happily ever after.

OK, I skimmed. I do remember Paige and Brendan spend a lot of time necking but not going “all the way” because Paige is the kind of girl who waits. Brendan is also besmirched in Mirabelle because his mom–she died of breast cancer years ago–had two children out-of-wedlock. The funeral home where Paige goes to work has horrible carpeting Paige rips up. Paige, Brendan, and their friends spend lots of time eating at an adorable cafe Brendan’s grandmother runs which is on the beach and also offers take out whenever Brendan needs it. Paige and Brendan have a big misunderstanding that almost but not quite causes Paige to leave Mirabelle. Brendan’s sister has the hots for his best friend (next book!). At one point, Brendan gets drunk.

Undone is a debut novel. I hope in Ms. Richard’s next book, her writing becomes less awkward and better edited. This version, which was an ARC, was riddled with errors and filled with unnecessary exposition.

Between the nastiness of Mirabelle’s mainstream population, the wandering plot, the snarky heroine, and the iffy writing, I struggled to find anything to like in this novel. I suppose that if you feel the small towns portrayed in contemporary romance are too tolerant and could use more guns and fewer neighborly senior citizens, you might like Mirabelle and its inhabitants. I did not. I give the book a D.



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