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:  Dark Waters by Toni Anderson

REVIEW: Dark Waters by Toni Anderson

Dear Ms. Anderson:

I picked up Dark Waters because I’d read and enjoyed your 2010 release Sea of Suspicion. As I began to read Sea of Suspicion, I was struck by how much it reminded me of Anne Stuart’s Moonrise, albeit with a less wimpy heroine. Both books have a killer for a hero and a daughter in need. Both books have the heroine come to the hero’s deserted house at night and have him think she’s there to kill him. Both heroines have serious sexual hang-ups which dissolve in the face of the hero’s magical touch. Both books have a power-mad shadowy general who is a deranged threat to world peace. Dark Waters’s heroine is Anna; Moonrise’s is Annie. You get the idea.

Dark Waters by Toni AndersonI liked Dark Waters a bit better than Moonrise. Dark Waters’s hero is saner and the heroine stronger.  The plot is marginally less whacked. Both books are C reads.

Your heroine, Anna Silver, is a schoolteacher with a sad story. When she was a teen, her father was convicted of embezzling money and sentenced to a long jail term. Her mom fell apart and then remarried a control freak whose son raped Anna on the night of her senior prom. Anna has grown up to be a loner who can’t stand to be touched by any man. She’s still angry at her father although she’s made an effort to stay connected to him since he got out of prison.

The book opens with Anna’s father Davis discovering his employers–a shady charitable organization that ostensibly helps injured vets–are stealing millions. Davis transfers sixty million dollars into another account, prints off a list detailing where the money has gone, and leaves his office. He is immediately chased by two thugs he knows will kill him. He mails the list off before they catch him to “an old but familiar address” and runs into the subway. In his last few moments he calls Anna from his cell phone and leaves her a panicked message.

Anna, I’m in big trouble. But I didn’t do anything wrong, I swear it…. I’m on my way to the FBI offices, but they’re too close. I’m never going to make it. They’re gonna kill me. They’re going to be looking for their money. I mailed you the printouts, but they don’t know where I sent it. You know. Take the information to the feds.”

She squeezed her eyes shut and held the phone so tight it was a wonder the casing didn’t crack. What had he been involved in? Something illegal?

“You need to get out of there until things quiet down.” The fine hairs on the nape of her neck stood upright. “Dammit, I’ve done it again.” Please, no, Papa. “I love you. And I’m sorry for everything. There’s only one person I trust besides you, you know that, right? Go to him, tonight. Tell him I’m cashing in those promises we made one another.”

The him is Brent Carver, the man who was Davis’s only friend in prison. Anna’s never met Brent, but she’s heard her father talk of him and knows where Brent lives. Anna, upon learning her father has been killed, decides to take her father’s advice.

Brent, like Anna, had an awful childhood. He killed his abusive father when he was a teen and served twenty years in prison. He’s been out for four years and, in that time, has become a reclusive world-famous artist. (He paints under an assumed name.) He lives an isolated life on the west coast of Vancouver Island. He is a total loner–the only woman he ever cared for was murdered last year (that story is told in Dangerous Waters and has Brent’s younger brother Finn as the hero.) Brent has enough self-loathing in him to stymie even Dr. Phil. He paints, broods, and swims. Then broods some more. He is, of course, gorgeous, but he hasn’t slept with a woman since he was sent to the pokey.

Anna shows up on his doorstep at two in the morning. Brent, who was brooding on his front porch naked, initially thinks she must be there for some nefarious purpose and pins her against his door. She screams, he drags her into his house, gets an awkward erection, and demands to know who she is. It takes the two of them a while to sort out the situation, but once they do, Brent is adamant Anna needs to let him help her.

The two of them stood close in the darkness. Too close. The hollows of her collarbone and graceful line of her neck called to something primitive inside him, and he had to force himself not to touch. She’d grown from the pretty teen he’d seen in photographs, into a pretty woman—maybe even beautiful. But her oval face was punctuated by that stubborn jaw that would have told him she’d be trouble even if she hadn’t landed in his lap in the middle of the night. Harsh gasps made her breasts stretch the thin fabric of her shirt, but as her expression once again morphed into fear, he worked very hard not to notice.

Fear wasn’t the same as weakness. Everyone in jail was intimately acquainted with the difference.

“Look.” He held his hands aloft and stepped back. “You can leave any time you want. I don’t want you here any more than you want to be here, but…” Her bottom lip stuck out just enough to set off a chain reaction in his body that ended at his dick. Off limits, partner. “Your dad was the only friend I had in prison and more like a father than my own.”

Anna and Brent then spend the next week and 250 pages avoiding the creeps who killed her father while trying to keep from acting on the attraction they feel. Brent thinks he’s too old (he’s almost 40, Anna’s 26) and too damaged and just plain too bad for sweet Anna. Anna finds Brent’s alpha male hotness both arousing and, given her history, terrifying. The bad guys chase the two while shooting and assaulting innocent by-standers. Anna’s mom sees whales and a way to marital freedom. There are snipers. Anna finds the package and sneaks peeks at Brent’s package. She realizes the truth about her father. Brent broods.

All of this takes too many pages–Dark Waters would have been a better book had it been a third shorter. On the upside, the plot is interesting and Ms. Anderson writes descriptive scenes well. Brent has a dry sense of humor that lightens the darkness of his tale. Anna’s mom is deftly portrayed. I’d like to see Brent’s art–he’s more Rothko than Kinkade.

By the end, Brent believes he’s worthy of Anna and Anna has overcome her sexual reluctance with zest. The latter bothered me more than the former–honestly, I was thrilled to encounter less brooding.

I was discomfited with the way Anna so easily overcame years of disabling sexual shame.

[spoiler]I could believe she was attracted to Brent. I couldn’t believe that in less than a week of meeting him and having been kissed by him once, Anna told her story, shed her fears, and found her orgasmic self. In a way, her relatively easy conquest over her past trauma made that trauma seem less powerful. Given that she’s spent ten years being unable to be touched by or feel passion for a man, and has been unable to connect emotionally with anyone, it’s clear her teenage rape shaped her profoundly. One night on a beach with a guy who has been essentially celibate his entire adult life–this just adds to the weirdness–is unlikely to “cure” her. It’s clear Ms. Anderson has great sympathy for victims of rape and her portrayal of that crime and its influence is detailed and sympathetic. Her able handling of the damage rape does makes her quick fix stand out as facile and, in 2013, unaware.[/spoiler]

Those looking for a strong romantic suspense novel would be better served reading Sea of Suspicion (or good Anne Stuart) than Dark Waters. Dark Waters has its strengths but lacks the credibility necessary to make its HEA believable. It gets a C+ from me.



P.S. And maybe it’s just me but there’s no way sand adds a “fine layer of friction” to sex. There’s a reason for beach blankets.




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The Duchess Hunt by Jennifer Haymore

The Duchess Hunt by Jennifer Haymore

Dear Ms Haymore:

I’d hoped to like The Duchess Hunt. I enjoyed the first two chapters you released with your novella The Devil’s Pearl. And years ago, I read and liked your debut novel A Hint of Wicked. But The Duchess Hunt didn’t do it for me. The hero’s behavior was, at times, decidedly unheroic and his motivations, a mystery. And when you resolved your protagonist’s problems by introducing a developmentally disabled man, I was ready to toss the book. However, I’d read three-quarters of the book at that point and decided to soldier on.

The Duchess Hunt by Jennifer HaymoreSarah Osborne, at eight, moves with her father, a gardener, to Ironwood Park, an estate owned by the Duke of Trent. In her first week there, she, while chasing a butterfly, becomes entangled in the thorns of a blackberry bush. She is rescued by a tall boy with “dark blonde hair” and “crystal-green eyes.” Simon cuts her free and takes her to Ironwood Park to have the housekeeper there tend her scratches. Sarah is terrified when she realizes the boy is the Duke of Trent and the woman he’s just introduced her to is his mother, the Duchess. The Duchess is immediately taken with Sarah however–the woman has six sons–and decides on the spot Sarah will join her sons in their studies. (This seemed far-fetched to me, but I’ve encountered less likely plots before, so I read on.)

Sixteen years later, Sarah is a maid in the house but not just any maid. She “had embedded herself so deeply into life at Ironwood Park that she sometimes knew things that occurred here that none of the rest of them did.” Simon spends most of his time away from Ironwood Park. He’s not been home in three years but when his mother disappears, he returns.

Sarah is and always has been in love with Simon. The last time he was home, they shared a passionate kiss that knocked her socks off.

Simon, for the past three years, has been guiltily in lust with Sarah.

His body came instantly alive at the sight of her, even after all this time. Even under the circumstances. Lust. Desire. Need. All of it barreled through him in a hot rush.

Damn, she was more beautiful than ever.

When he’d last come home to Ironwood Park, he hadn’t been able to keep his hands off her. God knew he’d tried.

Her mouth caressing his, the feel of her body under his hands…It had been three years. He should have forgotten all of it by now.

But how could he forget the sweetest lips he’d ever tasted? How could he forget the curve of her bottom, the feel of her soft, plump breasts under his hands?

How could he forget that he’d taken advantage of an innocent? Someone who worked in his house, under his employ? How could he forgive himself for crossing a line he never, ever should have crossed?

Why is Simon so freaked out about this kiss? Because the Duke loathes scandal. His parents caused endless nasty gossip when his father was alive and his brother Luke is widely known as a dissolute rake.  Simon’s life work (he’s twenty-nine) has been to improve his family’s reputation. He believes his desire for Sarah has and can only lead to bad behavior on his part.

A relationship between him and Sarah was impossible for a variety of reasons that would be too exhausting to explore. He was a member of the English aristocracy, which at times was prone to vice and debauchery, and he know what happened when men like him formed liaisons with women like Sarah. Nothing good could come of bringing her into his bed.

Furthermore it is time for Simon to marry a “suitable woman” and he plans to choose one this season.

Simon sends his brothers off doing any number of things to find their missing mother. He returns to London, bringing with him his youngest sibling and only sister Esme and Sarah, who is to act as her companion. (She protests she’s not of genteel birth and thus unsuitable. He says he doesn’t care.)

Once in London, Simon pursues a betrothal with Georgina Stanley, a pretty vapid blonde. He has myriad conversations with Sarah about how much he wants to make love to her but he knows it would be wrong. They run into each other in dark corners of the house, kiss madly, then break apart, rent with lust. Finally, Sarah, has had enough. One night, after Simon has had a particularly trying night, Sarah comes to his room at dawn and says, “Let me soothe you, Your Grace.” Simon, a whiz at subtext, realize she’s come to offer him her virginity. He rebuffs her for about two minutes–”No Sarah… That is too great a gift.“–and then caves. This love scene has several icky parts.

1) Sarah keeps calling him “Your Grace” even as he’s fingering her.

2) He asks her if he’s the first man to see her naked and when she nods, he says, “Another gift then.” (Is he keeping a list?)

3) He puts her hand on his hard-on and tells her “It hurts when it’s like this…. There’s only one way to soothe it.” (This is news to me.)

4) When they are interrupted by a servant knocking on the door, Simon must leave. As he goes he says “Soon, Sarah. Soon I’ll make you mine.” (His what? Doxy? Mistress? Hook-up? He’s sure she’s not wife material.)

He does get around to making her his the night before his betrothal to Miss Stanley is to become official. He doesn’t tell Sarah that, however. He just says to her,

What if I told you that tonight was be the last night I could come to you? The last night we could be together? Would you still offer me this gift?”


After this scene I never really warmed to Simon again.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering what happened to the missing matriarch? I regret to say, I don’t know. Her story meanders along, is confusing and never resolved. The Duchess Hunt is the start of a new series called The House of Trent. Given there are seven Trent progeny, the Duchess’s whereabouts is unlikely to discovered any time soon.  

I disliked Simon’s selfish behavior. I hated the way in which Simon is able to free himself from Mis Stanley. Miss Stanley’s father, a miscreant, threatens to ruin the Trents if Simon doesn’t make his daughter a duchess. Simon’s trapped until a deus ex machina occurs in the form of an “idiot.” I’m hoping this was indeed the term used at that time.  This discomfiting contrivance bothered me greatly.

On the upside, Ms. Haymore writes well and, with the exception of the first sex scene, her plentiful love-scenes are pleasantly hot. Sarah isn’t a ninny or a maidenly moppet. No one has sex in a library. And, thank the gods, there’s no treacly epilogue.

I can’t recommend The Duchess Hunt. I give it a C-.


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