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:  The Lord of Wicked Intentions by Lorraine Heath

REVIEW: The Lord of Wicked Intentions by Lorraine Heath

Dear Ms. Heath:

Fairytales often feature evil step-sisters, but rarely evil step-brothers. The latter are more common in romance novels–Prisoner of my Desire and A Kingdom of Dreams come to mind–especially in historical romance. The evil step-brother (he’s technically a half-brother) in your latest novel, The Lord of Wicked Intentions, is the greedy and immoral Earl of Wortham Within a week of their father’s death he has invited a group of men over for an evening of bidding on, ugh, his sibling, Evelyn Chambers. He’s assured his creepy pals his beautiful sister is a virgin and he’ll sell her to the highest bidder. Evelyn, who is indeed a violet-eyed virgin, doesn’t really understand what’s going on. She assumes the men are here to offer her marriage–she’s quite the innocent.

The Lord of Wicked Intentions by Lorraine HeathRafe Easton has come to the auction because Evelyn’s brother, Earl of Wortham, owes him a ton of money the Earl gambled away at the tables in Rafe’s hell. Rafe has no interest in the auction; he’s there to “watch these lords make fools of themselves as they vied for the lady’s attention, to measure their weaknesses, and to discover means of exploiting them” and to make sure Wortham gets the money he needs to cover his debts to Rafe. However, surprising no one but himself, as the bidding begins, Rafe speaks up.

“I’m taking her.” Rafe could hardly countenance the words that burst from his mouth with such authority that Ekroth and Wortham stumbled in their tracks, while the other lords gaped at him. Obviously, he’d imbibed a bit more than he’d thought, but it didn’t matter now. The challenge had been spoken, and he never recanted his statements.

Standing, he tugged on his black brocade waistcoat that suddenly felt far too tight. “If any of you touch her, I shall separate from you the particular part that touched her. Wortham has assured us that she is pure. I don’t want her soiled by your sweaty hands or anything else. Have I made myself clear?”

“But you were only here to watch, to ascertain—” Wortham cut off his sentence and stepped nearer, lowering his voice, “—to ascertain my ability to cover my debt.”

“When have I ever confided my plans in you?”

“Then you’ll pay me the five hundred quid that Ekroth was willing to pony up?”

“I’ll allow you to continue to breathe. We’ll call it even, shall we?”

The next day, her brother takes Evelyn to Rafe’s palatial home and leaves her there without telling her she’s to serve as Rafe’s mistress. He tells her Rafe will explain “everything” to her. That night Rafe does.

Better to just get it said. “You’re not to be in my employ. You’re to be in my bed.”

She blinked, blinked, blinked. Opened her mouth, closed it. Blinked again. “I beg your pardon?”

“Your brother was seeking to find a man to take you as his mistress, not as his wife.”

She shook her head slightly as though she were almost frozen in disbelief, as though working out what he’d said was taking all her energy. “That can’t be. He promised Father that he would see that I was well taken care of.”

“Mistresses are often treated better than wives. At least I have no wife on the side, which is more than I can say for a few of the gents who were in attendance last night. As my mistress—”

“You can’t possibly want me to be your mistress. You don’t even like me.”

“I don’t have to like you to bed you. Truth be told, it’s better that there be no sentiment between us.”

Evelyn is shocked and runs out into the cold, wet night. Rafe retrieves her, talks her into being his mistress–she hasn’t any better options–and tells her he’ll give her a few days to get used to the idea before he takes her to bed. Oh, and she’s never allowed to put her arms around him.

I almost quit reading at this point. I disliked the premise, I disliked Evelyn, I disliked Rafe. However, I’d read the first two books in the series–this is the last–and I was somewhat curious about Rafe, the most mysterious of the three lost lords. The Lost Lords of Pembrook series tells the stories of three brothers who, years ago when their uncle murdered their father, were forced to run away. They spent ten years apart, each in rather horrific circumstances but have now returned to London and claimed their birthright. The other two brothers, Sebastian and Tristan, have found happiness and their families are close but Rafe has kept to himself and rarely even speaks with his brothers.

The Lord of Wicked Intentions did not turn out to be a terrible book. Nor is it a good book. It’s a reasonably well-written, inoffensive historical and, by its end, I no longer hated the protagonists.

Ms. Heath spends most of the book rehabilitating Rafe. From the moment Evelyn moves into his house, he begins to shed his emotional and psychological barriers. And it is he who works on himself. He’s not cured by Evelyn’s magic vagina though he does make her his mistress. (He waits more than just a few days to do so.) He desires Evelyn from the first night he sees her and that never changes. Part of his motivation for becoming a more open, connected person is to better seduce Evelyn. But he also realizes, as he interacts more with Evelyn, his brothers and their wives, he’s lonely. He is well on the way to becoming a changed man before he falls in love with Evelyn which I liked.

It’s a good thing Ms. Heath focused so on Rafe because he’s more interesting than Evelyn. She is a very typical historical heroine: a virgin who becomes a sensual lover overnight, a woman who loves a man she thinks will never love or marry her, a lady who is kind to everyone no matter their background. She’s also breathtakingly beautiful with tiny hands and feet and hair “a shade that rivaled the sun in brilliance.” Her choices, even her words, were predictable. I bought that Rafe loved her, but I sure didn’t.

Ms. Heath does write sex and sexual tension well. The love scenes in this book are hot and don’t impede the plot. The secondary story involving the previous owner of Rafe’s den also doesn’t hurt the book but nor does it add to it.

This is one of these books I suspect gets many of the historical details of the time wrong but for me there was nothing so glaring that it took me out of the story.

If you’ve enjoyed the other books in this series, I suggest that you read this one. It is the best of the three and does a nice job of wrapping up the stories of the lost lords. If you are looking for an inoffensive historical romance with good sex scenes, you’ll probably like this book too. If you don’t fall into either of these categories, I advise skipping this book. It’s just OK and there are better books out there. I give it a C.





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REVIEW:  Against the Dark by Carolyn Crane

REVIEW: Against the Dark by Carolyn Crane

Dear Ms. Crane:

I read your romantic suspense novel the day after I (very belatedly) saw Skyfall. For plot and passion, I prefer your novel, Against the Dark. (I’m still not clear on the plot in Skyfall or why a woman who’d been a sex slave wouldn’t freak out when a man she just met shows up in her shower. I know: “It’s Bond, James Bond.“)

Against the Dark by Carolyn CraneAgainst the Dark is briskly action-packed, genuinely suspenseful, wryly witty, and hot. Plus it has a villain who’s so evil it’s quite a satisfying thrill when he gets his comeuppance.

Angel Ramirez has been living on the right side of the law for five years now. Yeah, all those times she and her two best friends from middle school–White Jenny and Macy–successfully stole all the bling they could fence were fun, but fear and remorse coupled with her family’s disdain for her life choices just weren’t worth it. These days, Angel runs her interior decorating business and stays out of trouble.

But then a lowlife gang named The Flesh Boys kidnapps Macy’s Aunt Aggie and demands a ransom of a pouch of diamonds belonging to Walter Borgola, “the biggest pimp-scumbag and God knows what else in L.A.” Borgola’s stored the diamonds in his bedroom in a rare Fenton Furst model safe. There are only a few in the world who can crack a Fenton and Angel is one of them.

The three women come up with a complex plan for stealing the diamonds from Borgola’s hideously tacky mansion. On the night the heist is planned, Borgola is throwing one of his infamously sleazy parties. Angel, Macy, and White Jenny head over there, dressed in their hottest outfits. They’re “posing as party girls—hookers paid by Borgola to have sex with the party guests.” As they wait for the right moment to begin the robbery, Angel can’t stop staring at one of the guys on Borgola’s security team because 1) the guy is gorgeous and 2) the guy keeps staring at her. Finally, Angel walks over to him, acting like the hooker she’s supposed to be.

“Now what are we going to do with you?” he asked with a hint of humor in his voice.

Focus, she told herself. You’re a hooker who doesn’t know he’s security. She shrugged her shoulders.

He spread his legs open a little. “Come here.”

“You wanna play?” she asked, heart racing. It had been such a long since she’d been around a guy like this. He didn’t add up as a nerd. He didn’t add up as a member of Borgola’s security team. He didn’t make sense to her in a lot of ways. But she wanted him; that one fact cut through everything.

“I want you to come here,” he said.

She stepped in close. Her girls would grab her if she gave the signal, but she still couldn’t tell if his interest was professional or sexual. A real poker player, this guy.

He hooked a finger over the top of her bodice and pulled her even closer, and she allowed it. His skin felt electric near hers.

“There’re a lot of bad girls at this shindig,” he said, lips too close, filling her with need. But it was his eyes she worried about. He was seeing too much.

“I don’t need no muthafuckin’ memo to tell me there’s bad girls here,” she replied, throwing off her perfect grammar for the role she was playing.

He scrutinized her more. The intense intelligence that radiated off him scared her.

She looked away from his eyes, but that left her gazing at his straight, strong nose, and then his lips. Oh, yeah, his lips.

She knew that he’d kiss her moments before he did it, as though the kiss came from outside of them, pre-ordained by the universe. Wild energy danced in her chest as he drew in; at the last moment, he paused, letting her feel his heat. Then he closed his lips over hers.

His kiss was light and heavy at the same time, like summer fog, rich with mysterious magic. There, then gone.

As he ends the kiss, he disarms Angel of the handgun she’s strapped to her thigh. He also takes her tiny safe-cracking kit–it’s disguised as an mp3 player–but she snatches it back from him. He then tells her to get lost and seems to lose interest in her which, of course, he hasn’t.

Cole Hawkins isn’t who he’s pretending to be either. He’s an operative for a shadowy good-guy spy group called The Associates. Cole is a genius with anything that involves numbers… and he’s lethal when he needs to be. Right now, he’s investigating Borgola’s child trafficking.

Evidence suggested they were from Southeast Asia or possibly former Soviet states; he didn’t have that piece of the puzzle yet. One thing he did know: they had five days until they landed, and then they’d be lost. Borgola’s snuff films—violent, disturbing sex films that always ended in death—seemed to be filmed in trucks and shipping containers, mobile studios that could be anywhere.

Cole had originally been planted undercover in the team to develop intelligence on a different operation of Borgola’s, sex slavery out of Myanmar. He’d worked out the details pretty quickly. And then he’d uncovered the snuff film operations. He hadn’t found direct evidence of the films; rather, he’d discerned the operation’s presence via his equations, like a ghost limb. He’d asked Dax to let him stay on and bring it down. Dax was all for it.

Associates sometimes got planted in deep cover for years doing unthinkable little things and sometimes unthinkable big things to keep their credibility. They helped with the small plots and sabotaged the big plots and leaked information and executed people when they had to. Officially, no governments knew about them; unofficially, they were central to the international fight against crime.

Cole knows the info he needs is hidden in a secret safe–another Fenton, not in the bedroom. He’s determined to find it.

Team Angel pulls off a brilliant robbery and Angel returns to her crime-free life. That is until, Cole shows up, waiting for her in her apartment. He’s tracked her down and wants her help. He knows she can crack the secret safe and he pretty much blackmails her into helping him.

What follows is fast, fun, and sexy. Angel and Cole have great chemistry before, during, and after the two get down and dirty.

Against the Dark avoids the too much love in too little time trap by pacing out the next robbery and by giving Cole and Angel time to connect. It’s quick but not too quick.

The suspense plot is excellent. The stakes for Cole and Angel start high and get higher as the novel winds on. Cole needs to do whatever it takes to save those kids. Angel needs to do whatever keeps Macy and White Jenny safe. Borgola needs to do the sickest thing you can think of. Cole and Angel keep just one step ahead of Borgola and his cretins and the plot spools out tautly.

I enjoyed this book. Even the secondary characters are well done and, given that it’s the start of a new series, I bet we will be seeing more of them in the future. I’m looking forward to it.

Against the Dark gets a B from me.


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