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Shannon Stacey

REVIEW: Holiday Kisses by Jaci Burton, HelenKay Dimon, Alison Kent, Shannon Stacey

REVIEW: Holiday Kisses by Jaci Burton, HelenKay Dimon, Alison Kent, Shannon...

Holiday Kisses Jaci Burton Alison Kent HelenKay Dimon Shannon StaceyThis Time Next Year by Alison Kent. Brenna Keating is traveling to her grandmother’s house for their annual Christmas celebration when a storm strikes and she is stranded after she loses control of her vehicle attempting to avoid a deer. A gruff man comes to her rescue and carries her off to his cabin. Dillon Craig knows an awful lot about Brenna but she’s never heard of Dillon Craig, a military doctor who has sought refuge in the mountains and provides medical services to its residents, like Brenna’s grandmother. Brenna views her ignorance of Dillon with suspicion. She’s close with her grandmother and knows the story behind every person on the mountain. Except Dillon. And Dillon knows what Brenna does for a living, what her parents do, that she is about to leave for Africa to offer her nursing services to disadvantaged.

Like most stories about small communities, this story celebrates the close knit community while still providing Dillon the space to heal from his war experiences. The downsides for Dillon, if there are any, is having too many casseroles from the single ladies but as a refuge, it’s perfect. There are no surprises here and the pairing of a nurse and a doctor who are both interested in providing services for the underserved is convenient. Still, it’s hard to not be moved by Dillon’s grief over the men he couldn’t save and Brenna’s melancholy over the limited time she has left with her aging grandmother. B-

A Rare Gift by Jaci Burton

Calliope Andrews and her partner are ready to expand their day care business and Wyatt Kent of Kent Construction is sent out to bid the job. Wyatt is reluctant to undertake this task because Calliope is the younger sister of his ex-wife. While Wyatt professed to be over his ex wife, even the mention of Cassandra, the ex, could cause Wyatt anxiety. Calliope has had a crush on Wyatt since the first time she saw him in her house, she aged fifteen and he twenty-three.

Wyatt’s lingering unhappiness over his failed marriage and his constant comparisons between Calliope and Cassandra were discomfiting. The emotional character arc for Wyatt included letting go of his animosity toward Cassandra, but the ease at which he later moved beyond this didn’t match the intensity of his anger. I would have liked to have seen more accountability from Wyatt as well in that his marriage failed not so much because Cassandra was horrible but because they were two obviously different people with different dreams (big city v. small town etc) While I liked Calliope’s assertiveness, I couldn’t help but wonder if she wouldn’t be better served by a different Kent brother, one who didn’t have so much baggage that was so intimately tied to Calliope. C

It’s Not Christmas Without You by HelenKay Dimon

In light of the settings of the other three stories, this Washington, D.C. placed story provided a nice respite from the small town. Carrie Anders is thriving in her position as an employee with National Museum of Women in the Arts. Her job is great (she’s in charge of a lecture series surrounding the museum’s Mary Cassatt exhibit), her co workers are fun and if she misses her ex boyfriend, Austin Thomas, the pang of loneliness is chased away by memories of the breakup.

Carrie and Austin were high school sweethearts but their long dating history was no proof against their varying dreams. Austin is intent on continuing his family’s landscaping business that was based in Halloway, two hours away from Georgetwon, while Carrie longs to be steeped in the world of art and artists.

The love isn’t enough theme is a great one for a genre that is built on the healing power of the emotion. While both Carrie and Austin acknowledge their feelings for one another, getting back together means only more pain when they are both faced with the inevitable breakup that results from one party refusing to give up on their own dreams. Both Austin and Carrie make cases as to why their dream is important. Austin’s ties are deep and generational while Carrie’s love for art cannot be slaked in her small town. Sacrificing dreams now leads to bitter recriminations later. The ending has no easy answers but I was satisfied with it. B

Mistletoe and Margaritas by Shannon Stacey. This was my favorite. Stacey has a real knack for short stories. I still remember her adorable electrician story from last Christmas. Justin McCormick had loved Claire for years, from the time he and his best friend, Brendan Rutledge, met her. Whether it was fate or circumstance, Claire spent a few moments alone with Brendan rather than Justin one night and that was all it took. Claire and Brendan became the couple and Justin became the friend. Brendan died in a terrible car accident and his loss brought Claire and Justin closer together but Justin is at the end of his tether. His relationships have all been abbreviated and he knows that his friendship with Claire is what is preventing him from even trying to commit to another woman. He is determined to cut his losses, but wanting to sever his relationship with Claire and actually doing it is proving painful. It’s not just that he loves Claire but that his whole life is entertwined with his. Brendan’s family is his family. Their holiday traditions were his as well.

There was a good balance between Justin being a masochist and trying to do the right thing. It never seemed right to pursue Claire and yet his love for her wouldn’t allow him to be anything but supportive and kind. Claire wasn’t intentionally leading Justin on. She had no idea of his feelings toward her and she had spent the last two years mourning. But she was young and she missed intimacy and companionship and began to awaken to the possibility of a new love. B

The writing in the anthology is very good. All four authors have a good ear for dialogue and the emotions nor the sexual encounters aren’t forced even in the shortened format. My guess is that the favorite story of each reader will depend on which type of romance they are drawn to best. I’m a sucker for the unrequited love and I think that is why I liked Stacey’s story. What I appreciate is that none of these holiday stories are over saccharine.  It’s about two people finding hope and comfort and companionship with one another at a special time of the year. Two years, two good anthologies. The Carina Press holiday anthology is becoming a wonderful tradition.

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Note: Each story can be purchased separately.

Reading List for Jane, Ending October 4, 2011

Reading List for Jane, Ending October 4, 2011

I’ve been reading a lot of ARCs so most of my reading list are for titles not published until November, December and January. I hope that is okay with the readers.

Contemporary:

Holiday Kisses, an anthology by Shannon Stacey, HelenKay Dimon, Jaci Burton, and Alison Kent. I liked all the stories in this contemporary Christmas anthology although Burton’s was my least favorite. Burton’s story was about the ex husband of the heroine’s sister and I felt that the short story format didn’t allow for nuance (ie. perhaps the sister and the hero were just two different people rather than the sister being the evol one). I probably liked Stacey’s story the best although Dimon and Kent’s were also heartwarming. It’s a good follow up to last year’s Christmas anthology. Maybe next year, we’ll have some non Christian holiday celebrants in the collection.  Full review to come in December.

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Behind the Scenes by Natalie J. Damschroeder. This is a romantic suspense. The heroine is a security expert and she is asked to provide security for movie that is being directed by a friend of hers. She falls for the main lead. I believed in their love story. The hero was really attracted to the heroine and her passionate belief in the services that she provided. I wasn’t necessarily sold on this hero as an actor. He lacks a certain gravitas and hubris that I associate with celebrities. Full review to come in November after the October 31 release date.

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Fatal Heat by Lisa Marie Rice. I recommend this for LMR fans only. It’s short on  substance and long on total unbelievability. At least it was only $.99.  Hero is SEAL who was wounded and sent to his CO’s condo to heal. He is not returning to the teams.  Heroine is CO’s niece and researcher. One look at the heroine and the hero gains a new lease on life. Heroine’s life is endangered. Hero does really amazing physical things to save her. HEA.

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Mouth to Mouth by Erin McCarthy. This was a reread after the post by Maili regarding deaf characters. I really like the story and I thought that McCarthy did a good job of showing some of the challenges of a deaf person. There are a lot of things that McCarthy got wrong as pointed out by Maili. I didn’t recognize those so they didn’t affect the reading experience for me but I can see how it would be a challenge for someone who was hearing-impaired to be fully satisfied with the rendering.  Full review here.

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Whispers in the Dark by Maya Banks.  I liked it but didn’t love it.  Features a heroine who has a psychic connection to the hero.  I felt like there was too much telephathic talking and way too much PDA.  Fans of the series will probably enjoy the series. At least the heroine isn’t from outer space.

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Historical

Mad About the Earl by Christina Brooke. I haven’t read Brooke before and I found the “Ministry of Marriage” concept to be kind of ridiculous and the cast of characters is huge. I actually stopped reading to go to the author’s site to see if I could find a character guide or something. The author doesn’t have much of anything on her site but it was enough to provide a basis by which I could return the book. Essentially there are six Westruther cousins that were all wards of one man. He apparently does not have an heir and I suspect that there will be a story for him at a later date. Problematically, is that there are several titled individuals who have the same name (deVere or Westruther) and it was a real challenge to keep everyone apart.  Having said that, I did enjoy the book once I got a handle on the cast. Full review to come in January 2012.

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Category

The Man Every him Woman Wants by Miranda Lee. This is a December Harlequin Presents. The hero is a former soccer great who now represents other athletes. The heroine is an attorney who reviews his contracts. She asks him to pose as her boyfriend and he agrees. It’s a sweet story and they were both cute characters–No alpha asshole–but the endless exposition toward the end was a little much.

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A Christmas Night to Remember by Helen Brooks. Another December Harlequin Presents. Heroine, a dancer, is hideously scarred as a result of an accident and wants to leave her husband, a famous director. She can’t compete with the glitterati and thinks she is bound to lose him because of her scarred body. He pursues her relentlessly and won’t let her push him away. It was okay.

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Craving the Forbidden and In Bed with a Stranger by India Grey. This is a December and January HP release, respectively. There is an HEA in both but the second book does feature the same characters. The first one, the heroine poses as the girlfriend of her gay bestfriend and falls for said best friend’s brother. I like them both and would recommend them. Full reviews to come.

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Sweet Betrayal by Helen Brooks. This is a Harlequin Treasury book. As I said in the podcast with Sarah this is all about a heroine who jumps to awful conclusions and says awful things as a result of those awful conclusions and I just could not stand her.

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Heart of the Desert by Carol Marinelli. I liked the tone but not the storyline which portrayed the heroine Georgie as an irresponsible chit when she didn’t want to tie herself down to the rules imposed by the desert kingdom in which her sister lived. I did like that her sister and her didn’t have a hearts and roses relationship given that the sister was a former HP heroine (ha, that sounds funny). I did like the mysticism that the desert held for the people, though.

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Missing Mother-to-Be by Elle Kennedy. I wanted to give this a negative grade I disliked it so much. No worries. We will have a full review full of quotes and everything.

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The Most Coveted Prize by Penny Jordan. Hero is gross. Sets out to seduce a virgin and discard her so he can win a contract from her half brother.  Not because he needs revenge or any ridiculous HP ideal but because he wants this final contract to cement his place as a financial power.  She’s 19.  He’s in his 30s.  The power dynamic, not to mention the very skeevy way in which the hero set out to seduce the heroine, was quite disturbing.

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The Ice Prince by Sandra Marton. The hero delights in being a sexist jerk. Isn’t reformed into a non sexist jerk, just a sexist jerk who loves the heroine. Essentially, this is an opposites attract story where the hero owns some land in Sicily and the ownership of the land is challenged by a mob boss in the U.S. Mob boss sends his daughter, a lawyer, to Italy to negotiate a deal. Hero and heroine strike sparks off one another, first in anger then in passion. He grovels heavily to her brothers and then goes to her and proposes marriage. Whilst he was groveling to her brothers, I kept wondering why he wasn’t abasing himself before her.

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PNR

Ilona Andrews was looking for reviewers of Silver Shark and I volunteered. Silver Shark is a short story set in a futuristic world. I thought Andrews did a great job of imparting little details like vegetation to provide authenticity for world. I thought, though, the heroine embraced her lust for the hero too quickly, particularly since she was supposed to be shut down emotionally.  I do need to do a review of this and will next week.

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Fate’s Edge by Ilona Andrews. This is an ARC of a December release (late November). Heroine is a magically gifted Edger who is trying to make it in the Broken as a private investigator. She thinks she loves the normalcy of it. Unfortunately her con artist father gets her to participate in one last heist which leads her to be the target of the very evil group called the Hand, a kind of special police of a magically gifted faction in the fae land called the Weird. She gets some help from an agent of the Mirror and the brothers of Rose, the heroine in On the Edge. The agent of the Mirror is the cousin of Cerise Mar from Bayou Moon. Enjoyed this quite a bit and would recommended. Full review to come in December.

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Of course, this led to a re-read of Bayou Moon and On The Edge by Ilona Andrews.

Envy by JR Ward. This book just showed up on my doorstep. I opened it up and I start reading and the next thing I knew, I was hooked. I actually stopped reading Ward after the ghost story and lost interest in the BDB series. I thought the Fallen Angel series was much more urban fantasy than romantic but I found Envy to be very romantic.  Thomas DelVecchio Jr. is the son of an infamous serial killer.  He blacks out and when he comes to a suspected killer is savaged and Veck thinks he might have done it.  IA officer (not detective?) Sophia Reilly is called in to investigate. She clears him pretty quickly as the savaging was done by a wild animal (or so everyone thinks) but there is a battle over Veck’s soul.  The battle is the overarcing series plot pertaining to a contest between good and evil.

I then went and bought the previous 2 books and I tried to read Crave and could not get past the 1st chapter again so that was a waste of $7.95. Tried Covet and again that book did not work for me in any fashion so I just did a search and find so I could read the parts about Jim and his new love that is kind of referenced in Envy. And I chalk that up to a $16 mistake. (I’m sure at one time the publisher had sent me Covet and Crave in paper but I’m also sure that I don’t have those anywhere in my house).

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I also re read some of Nalini Singh’s Archangel series. Not very productive behavior.

Erotic Romance

Double Shot by Christine D’Abo. I can barely remember what this book is about. Sadie is part owner in a catering coffee shop. Her family business is asked to cater a party at a sex club. This is all an effort for Sadie and sex club board member to get in each other’s pants. I felt the hero was too emo and the primary sex scene in this novella featured a “Sadie, may I” game which got old after the second “Sadie, may I” but you have to endure it for at least a half a dozen times. That was five times too many for me.

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Sapphire by Jeffe Kennedy.  BDSM books with the male as a dom who knows everything have always bothered me and this is no different.  The hero came off as very smug and superior who felt like it was his duty to show the heroine what a true “sub” she was.  A very “father knows best” sort of tone.  And it wasn’t as if the hero sensed this *just* about the heroine.

This is a guy who has mechanical controls in his library and bedroom including hooks and rings that come out of the floor and lower from the ceiling. Did he just troll the streets looking for those secret subs?  And when he was whipping her with his belt, it was because he said she wanted it and needed it to free her of her own inhibitions.  I hated his know-it-all smugness and how I felt he took advantage of the heroine’s competitive nature. She did not want to give in to him and say the safe word.  There is a slight turn around in the end, but by that time, I just despised the hero.

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