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:  Unforgiven by Anne Calhoun

REVIEW: Unforgiven by Anne Calhoun

Dear Ms. Calhoun:

I’ve liked your erotica–your novella Breath on Embers was on my top ten list for 2012–and was excited to see you’re venturing into the realm of contemporary romance with your latest novel, Unforgiven. As you say on your website,

If you’ve ever read one of my books and thought, “Boy, I wish these two would stop having so much hot sex and do stuff together, like deal with terrible mistakes and broken dreams and find their way to an emotionally satisfying new life together” this is the book for you!

Your summary of Unforgiven is apt. It is a story of two people both of whom have stunted lives, limited by choices they made years ago. Unforgiven is a somber book, similar in tone to Breath on Embers. Marissa and Adam are damaged characters who have spent their adult lives internalizing their pain and denying themselves happiness. The book is, at times depressing, but the sadness that infuses Marissa’s and Adam’s lives makes the joy the two experience in the end rich and satisfying.

Adam Collins and Marissa Brooks grew up in the small town of Walker’s Ford, South Dakota. It’s a place where the sun rarely shines, where not only does everyone know your name, they know you and judge you with the familiarity that comes with consistent forced closeness.

When Adam and Marissa were seventeen they were in love and Adam was young, reckless and wild. (Now I’ve got Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” in my head.) Every chance they could get, they fooled around, doing everything but having intercourse. (It’s the one thing Adam thinks is too risky to chance.) Other than each other, they each dreamed of one thing. Adam lived for speed, for riding his Hayabusa motorcycle, going ninety miles an hour on eastern South Dakota’s backroads, dreaming of a career on the racing circuit. Marissa dreamed of owning and restoring Brookhaven, the mansion her family owned for decades and lost when she was a child.

Adam smashed both of their dreams one night when he was beyond reckless and the next day, he joined the Marines. Twelve years later, he returns to Walker’s Ford, having left the Corps. On the night he returns, he walks in the door of a gorgeous, and almost fully restored (and owned by Marissa) Brookhaven, where a party is being held to celebrate the impending wedding of Adam’s best friend, Keith, and Delaney. It seems as though all of Walker’s Ford is there and they are shocked to see Adam in large part because, until eight months ago, Delaney had been engaged to marry Adam.

From the moment Adam walks into Brookhaven, he is drawn to Marissa like the proverbial moth.  Within an hour, the two are having sex in the pantry. For both, the other is the one that got away and now that Adam’s returned to town, the attraction that burned between them as teenagers flares up again.

Unforgiven by Anne CalhounDespite the hot sex and their intense connection Marissa doesn’t want to take up again with Adam. She’s sure he will abandon the plans he has to go to the nearby university to study architecture and will once again leave Walker’s Ford. Adam’s leaving her twelve years ago broke her heart and she’s determined not to risk that again. The irony is that Adam is here to stay; it’s Marissa who longs to leave Walker’s Ford. She obsessively dreams about sailing around the world although she’s never left her land-locked state.

There’s much to like about this book. The focus here is firmly on Marissa and Adam; each scene deepens the reader’s understanding of their personas and their demons. The writing is excellent. Ms. Calhoun conjures up a gloomy, claustrophobic town where nature and man make life a struggle. Ms. Calhoun’s love scenes are superb; the sex is deeply erotic and emotional. Everything that happens in this book feels real. The plot, which spools out slowly, is engrossing. Each chapter reveals more about the past and the present. Ms. Calhoun’s characters are so defined by their pasts, it takes enormous effort for them to change, to trade oppressive expectations for self-defined lives. Adam and Marissa have to allow themselves to fall in love, to feel as though they deserve joy. Their journey isn’t easy. I read the novel during a stressful few days in my life and, at times, found Unforgiven a challenge to stay with simply because the issues it explores are done so with palpable power. Since I finished it, I’ve read it again and found more joy in the prose than I did my first go-round. Unforgiven is a rewarding read but not a light one.

I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. Not because it wasn’t an easy read but because Adam and Marissa are so emotionally locked down, I found it hard to connect with them. I was interested in what happened to them but felt more removed from their story than I’d have liked. I also found some of the plot lines a bit baffling. I never really understood why Adam and Marissa never made love as teenagers or why Adam behaved so destructively in Brookhaven on the night everything went to hell. And I was distressed by, although completely believed, the town’s labeling Marissa as a semi-slut simply because she’d slept with several men.

Overall, Unforgiven is worth reading and I’m glad I did so. At its end, Ms. Calhoun encloses an excerpt of her next contemporary, Jaded, also set in Walker’s Ford, which I definitely want to read.

Unforgiven gets a B+ from me.




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REVIEW:  The Mad Earl’s Bride by Loretta Chase

REVIEW: The Mad Earl’s Bride by Loretta Chase

Dear Ms. Chase:

Thank you for re-releasing your novella The Mad Earl’s Bride. I missed it when it was released in 2009 in the anthology Three Weddings and a Kiss. The Mad Earl’s Bride has the tone of my favorites of your books: witty, smart, and sweetly sexy. It even has Bertie Trent in it–as well as, briefly, Dain. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

The book is set in the late 1820′s, a time when misdiagnoses and harmful treatment in medicine were the norm. Even more poorly understood and treated was mental illness.

The Mad Earl's Bride Loretta Chase

The Mad Earl’s Bride Loretta Chase

The hero of this story Dorian Camoy, the Earl of Rawnsley, watched his mother succumb to madness, dying of what was diagnosed as genetic defect in her brain, one that could be neither detected nor cured. Her symptoms were these:

She heard voices, … and saw things that weren’t there, and screamed of ghosts and cruel talons ripping into her skull.

Several years later, when Dorian is 27, he begins to suffer from the same malady. The symptoms worsen and, within a year, he is sure he too will descend into insanity and perish.

He’d suspected, early on, that the illness, like his mother’s years earlier, had simply been the beginning of the end.

In January, when the headaches began, his suspicions were confirmed. As the weeks passed, the attacks grew increasingly vicious, as hers had done.

The night before last, he’d wanted to bash his head against the wall.

. . . pain . . . tearing at my skull . . . couldn’t see straight . . . couldn’t think.

He understood now, fully, what his mother had meant. Even so, he would have borne the pain, would not have sent for Kneebones yesterday morning, if not for the shimmering wraith he’d seen. Then Dorian had realized something must be done—before the faint visual illusions blossomed into full-blown phantasms, as they had for his mother, and drove him to violence, as they had done her.

I suspect many readers will quickly guess what afflicts the Camoys. In fact, that’s part of the fun of the story, turning the pages and wondering when will Dorian learn why he won’t die? We know he can’t die because he has to live happily ever after with Gwendolyn Adams, the young woman his family insists he marry so that he may beget an heir before his awful death.

Gwendolyn is fabulous.

Like Dorian, Gwendolyn was born in the wrong era of medicine. In her case, it’s because she desperately longs to be a physician. She’s learned everything society will allow her to; she’s even attended a cadaver dissection at a time when legal cadavers were very difficult to come by. Gwen’s uncle, the duc d’Abonville (the fiancé of Gwendolyn’s and Jessica’s grandmother, Genevieve) who is the nearest male kin to Dorian, has asked Gwen to be Dorian’s bride. She agrees to the deal because, as she explains to Dorian when the first meet,

“I do need the money, to build a hospital,” she said. “I have definite ideas about how it should be constructed as well as the principles according to which it must be run. In order to achieve my goals—without negotiation or compromise—I require not only substantial funds, but influence. As Countess of Rawnsley, I should have both. As your widow, I should be able to act independently. Since you are the last of the males of your family, I should have to answer to no one.”

After arguing against the match but finding himself outflanked by Gwendolyn and Dorian’s closest friend from school, Bertie Trent, Dorian marries Gwen. (The fact that he’s been celibate for the past year is also an inducement.)

Once Gwen is ensconced in Dorian’s home, she sets about first convincing him to talk to her about his illness and then researching its possible genesis. She also treats Dorian as a sane and smart man who just happens to make her swoon. Dorian, now that he has mental, emotional, and physical succor in his life, slowly falls for his wife. Their relationship is lovely.

Though this is a short piece, just 158 pages, Ms. Chase tells a complete story. Her characters have time to develop from total strangers to enamored spouses. The medical aspect of the plot is accurately and richly mined as well. It’s a rare novella that doesn’t feel too brief but The Mad Earl’s Bride does not. I recommend it highly. It gets an A.




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