Friday, April 18, 2014

Stolen Kiss From a Prince

I'm not a huge fan of royalty books, and for the record, I'm less of a fan of fake, made-up royalty books.  I "get" why they're popular within romance circles, especially with American readers.  Heck, we tell King George III to take a hike and then we spend the next 200+ years obsessed with all things royal.  To Americans, especially, royalty is immediate short-hand for "fairy tale."  We're a country that made Walt Disney a boatload of cash after all.  So while Stolen Kiss from a Prince is a book that wouldn't normally land in my wheel-house, I've been meaning to try Teresa Carpenter again.  Mostly because she's a local author, and the one previous book I tried was a DNF thanks to my own wacky, irrational reader baggage.  My foibles aren't her fault, and I liked the writing well enough to give her another go.

Julian is the "spare" Prince to the throne of Kardana.  While he was groomed to be a fine, upstanding, proper royal, the threat of him actually taking over the throne is slim.  His older brother, Donal, is married and son, Samson "Sammy,"  is a toddler.  Then Donal and his wife decide to take a ski holiday and a winter storm nobody thought would be severe, lead to a downed planed and a missing royal couple.  Sammy is in the neighboring kingdom of Pasadonia, and Julian goes to collect him, to bring him back to his family, and runs up against nanny Katrina Vicente.

Katrina is a nanny in the royal house of Pasadonia, and is a minor royal herself.  However it's not a relationship she plays up - just the opposite.  Katrina's goal in life is to blend into the woodwork as much as humanly possible.  If she could morph into a potted plant she would.  She's been the one caring for Sammy, who has become uncontrollably distraught after his own nanny opened her big fat mouth and tells him about his parents being missing and implying that they're never coming home - which honestly, nobody knows for sure yet.  Now in storms Julian, disturbing the child even more after she nearly pulled her own hair out to get the child to settle down and rest.

We all know where this is going, right?  Julia is all Alpha male, jumping to conclusions and making assumptions.  Katrina is the nanny who can soothe the most savage of toddler beasts.  Before you can say Cinderella, Katrina is charged with keeping watch over Sammy as the trio flies back to Kardana, Julian oversees his missing brother's duties, and keeps on top of the rescue efforts.

This is an old-fashioned romance.  Which implies that I'm damning it with faint praise, which isn't my intention.  "Traditional" is probably the better word.  If you were a romance reader who discovered the genre thanks to that ubiquitous grocery bag full Harlequins at 1) grandma's house 2) at the babysitting job and/or 3) in mom's closet - this is the sort of story you probably would have found there.  I could totally see this being a "gateway" book for some romance neophyte teen girl, rummaging around at a library used book sale.  It's got all the ingredients to make fairy-tale lovers happy - the heroine who doesn't want to be the center of attention but swoops in to save the day anyway, the handsome Alpha prince with just the right amount of Jerk Tendencies, family tragedy to ramp up the emotional angst, and lest we forget - the precocious tot.

Where this story elevates itself from just your normal, run-of-the-mill fairy tale is with the ending.  Eventually, like should happen with all good romance heroines, Katrina finds her voice.  She learns to stand tall.  To a certain extent she does continue to run scared, but she also is unwilling to settle for second best.  She loves Julian, but she's not going to settle for just loving him and Sammy.  No, she deserves to be loved in return - which means Julian having to wake up and smell the coffee.

So while this normally isn't my sort of read, it's a very pleasant way to spend the time.  If you're not a huge fan of royalty books, there's probably not a ton here to sway your opinion. But if you love the fairy tale?  If you want the handsome prince hero?  Look no further.

Final Grade = B-

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

TBR Challenge 2014: How To Misbehave
The Book: How To Misbehave by Ruthie Knox

The Particulars: Contemporary romance novella, 2013, Loveswept, Digital-only, Camelot series #1

What Was It In Wendy's TBR?:  I picked this up last year at the RWA Conference in Atlanta.  Mostly because I've never read Knox and everybody seems to lurve her books.

The Review: 
"Quit 'honeying' me.  I'm not your honey.  I'm a person, Tony, and I want to have sex with you.  Don't go thinking you're some kind of god just because you know I like you."
And that would be why I ended up liking this novella.  Certainly I had my quibbles (this is me we're talking about) but this was such an enjoyable story I want to drop everything and read ALL the Ruthie Knox I can get my hands on.  Which, I can't right now, but I'm still tempted.

Amber Clark has led a fairly sheltered life.  She grew up in a conservative, religious household in tiny Camelot, Ohio, attended a Christian college, and then came home to work as the director for the local community center.  That's how she comes into contact with Tony Mazzara, a building contractor who is doing some remodeling work at the center.  Tony, typically, leaves late which means Amber gets stuck waiting around for him to finish so she can lock up.  Which is how she finds herself at the center when the town's tornado sirens go off.  Now she and Tony are stuck in a dark basement together.  Gee, however will they pass the time?

Knox has essentially written a small-town contemporary that didn't set my teeth on edge, which I'm beginning to believe is no small feat.  I loved that Amber grew up in a religious household, and while having lost a hold of her faith, she's a good person who is somewhat innocent without being naive or brain-dead.  She's a girl who desperately wants a life, but has made a few missteps along the way.  Tony is the kind of guy who would inspire a saint to have naughty thoughts, and I loved how she flirted and bantered with him without coming off like some insipid ingenue I want to smack half to death.

Tony is all Alpha Male With A Tragic Past.  What I liked about him is that the author gives him some minor, realistic flaws.  I mean, just the goofy stuff that bothers us "normal" folks.  Things like, he doesn't like spiders and pitch-black-darkness tends to freak him out.  Certainly Amber's brand of sexy sweetness flips his switch (typical), and he does have an annoying tendency towards pet names ("bunny" and "honey" being the two favorites) - but he's Grade A Solid Blue Collar Hero, and really what's not to love about that?

There's plenty of angst to propel the emotional payoff forward, and while it would seem like these two characters have nothing in common, I'm left with the feeling that they're a good fit.  I did think there was a fair amount of Insta-Love going on here, but it's a minor quibble when I got sucked into the writing, enjoyed the characters so much, and got a bunch of delicious angst.

And now, once again, I'm off to get my hands on the rest of the series.  Another counterproductive TBR Challenge read.  Read one book, buy three more.  Which is a happy problem to have - although someone please tell me Knox gives me more brother Patrick Mazzara down the line.  Because....dayum.

Final Grade = B+

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Dear Mr. Verlander

Dearest Justin,
Last night was your night.  The night it finally happened.  You not only got your first major league hit, but you got two major league hits and came around to score your first run.

I know, those silly National League teams.  Making pitchers have at-bats.  It's cruel.  It's unusual.  I'm pretty sure it defies the Geneva Conventions.  And as interleague play has rolled around every year, you've had to toil away at the plate and encounter nothing but futility.  You've had to contend with reporters pestering you with "So, is this the game you think you'll get your first major league hit?"

Now I know you're a professional athlete.  I know you are THE Justin Verlander.  I know you must work very hard at your job.  But let us reflect for a moment on WHY you got those first two major league hits and scored your first run all in the same game.

A game played a San Diego.

A game that THE Super Librarian, along with the added punch of the Super-Parents just happened to be in attendance for.

That's right Justin.  Ma, Pa and most importantly - me, me, me - just might be your good luck hitting charm.  I mean, I know you're rumored to be dating Kate Upton, but honestly what does she have that I don't have?



But was she ever RWA Librarian of the Year?  Can she create whole plots of Harlequin novels based on your teammates?  Oh sure, she may look OK in a bikini but really, what's more important to you?

Wait.  Don't answer that.

But hey, I was there Justin.  I was there for those two hits.  I think we both know that me being in the stands had everything to do with everything.  You know, just like in The Natural!

Just replace the hat with a tiara and add a cape.  You'll get the idea.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Reminder: TBR Challenge for April

For those of you participating in the 2014 TBR Challenge, this is a reminder that your commentary is "due" on Wednesday, April 16.  This month's theme is Contemporary romance.  This one should be pretty easy, right?  However, remember - the themes are totally optional and are not required.  Maybe you're in the mood for a paranormal or historical?  Hey, that's OK!  It's not important what you read, just that you pull something (anything!) out of the TBR pile.

It's also not too late to sign up for this year's challenge.  For more details, please see the information page.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Digital Review: Every Part Of You: Takes Me
Megan Hart wraps up her first serial, Every Part of You, with this fifth and final installment, aptly titled Takes Me.  Like pretty much all of Hart's work, I quickly got hooked on the characters and became invested in them finally, blessedly, working their way into a committed relationship.  This one has been bumpy, thanks to a hero with serious Daddy Issues.

When last we saw Elliott, he was being an asshat to Simone.  Takes Me opens up with Simone wallowing.  She's hurt, she's wounded, she's a shell.  She made the colossal mistake of falling for Elliott, who has turned tail and run.  Her ex, who cannot bare to see her like this, thinks that what she needs is a sex club - and off she goes to get some release.  Meanwhile, Elliott has a run-in with Simone at their office building that leaves both of them battle scarred and wounded.  Then his past shows up on his doorstep one evening and Elliott has to face the cold, stark reality that the best thing he ever had in his life?  He threw away.  Is it too late for him and Simone?

I'll be honest - I didn't love this.  Mostly because I'm so over the sex club "thing."  I get why it's here, but I still wasn't in love with it.  Simone's ex thinks a "release" will do her good - and while the encounter is hot, and she gets off on it - it only temporarily fills the hole that Elliott's departure has left behind.  In other words, sex is great, sex is fun, but sometimes not even sex can fix everything that is making you feel "bad."

But still.  Sex club.  Blah.

Anyway, where this story does work is with Elliott's grovel.  This serial has mostly hinged on Elliott being screwed up emotional (oh boy, is he!) and him being a jackass.  For the most part, Simone holds her own with him.  She's emotionally "strong."  Her mistake is falling in love with him, and bless her heart - she doesn't make things easy for him when he tries to apologize.  He does a fair amount of begging and pleading, which well he should!

I did feel things were a little rushed at the end, but I'm not sure if that's because they were, or if I'm such a sadist I just wanted a lot more blood and angst on the page.  Also, by this point, I was pretty well invested in Simone and Elliott as "real people" (which I know they aren't - but Hart's characters have that effect on me) and just wanted to spend a lot more time with them.  This hasn't been my absolute favorite thing that Hart has ever written, but it was so very good and did what I want all serials to do - which is to hook me, propelling me through the installments with a sense of anticipation and urgency.

Final Grade = B-

Overall Grade For The Serial = B

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Third And Long
As a librarian I get asked the question (a lot) of why people choose to read romance.  The fact is, there are a lot of reasons why, and far be it from me to try to tell anyone why I think they're reading what they're reading.  I mean, they could just be reading it because they like it.  When it comes to answering that question for category romance, I'm a bit more forthcoming.  The appeal of category, I think, is that the shorter word count means a strong, intense focus on the romance.  And really, at the end of the day, aren't we all reading romance novels because we want the romance?  Which is where Night Games by Lisa Marie Perry stumbles for me.  As a family drama?  It's good.  As a soap opera?  It's borderline great.  As a romance?  Um, not so much.

Even though Charlotte Blue has a complicated relationship with her parents she accepts a job offer with the NFL team, the Las Vegas Slayers, that they just purchased.  Charlotte is an athletic trainer and isn't afraid to stand-up for herself in a male-dominated workplace.  Standing in her way?  Nate Franco, also an athletic trainer, whose father used to own the franchise before the Blue family "swindled" it out from under him.  The corker?  Nate and Charlotte have met before, in a club, where the sparks going off between them almost led to them burning up the sheets.  So needless to say?  Between the coitus interruptus and the family dynamic, things are a little complicated between them.

The problem with this story has everything to do with the pacing.  As a romance, a category romance at that, it just doesn't work.  Nate and Charlotte spend little to no time together for the vast majority of the story - which is instead spent on world-building (OK, normally a good thing), a plethora of secondary characters, and drama that is only peripherally related to the romantic conflict.  What this story wants to be, and really should be, is a full-length, full-blown, family saga.  You know the kind - the disapproving parents, the kids eager to prove themselves, the various villains working behind the scenes, the family secrets, the exes that just won't stay gone - that kind of family drama.

There's just too much going on outside of the romance, which means when it comes to the romance?  Charlotte and Nate get lost in the shuffle.  Honestly I was much more interested in all that family drama stuff than I was in the romance, and for what is supposed to be a romance novel?  That's the kiss of death.

There were also a few hiccups with plot and characterization.  Nate comes off as an entitled prick on occasion because of the fact that he feels the Blue family swindled him out of his family birthright.  Um, OK.  Listen cupcake.  The franchise was your Dad's business.  How about taking that silver spoon out of your butt and getting your own damn life?  Then there's the fact that I'm supposed to believe that Charlotte's twenty-two year-old sister would be in charge of PR for an NFL team.  OK nepotism, but really?!?!?!  Finally there's the idea that the NFL commissioner's office wouldn't be all over the sale of a franchise.  Heck, even when that runs smoothly (and there are no accusations of dirty dealing) you can bet your bottom dollar they'd be up to their armpits in it.

This leaves me feeling OK, albeit disappointed.  There's a lot of stuff going on here and because of that I never felt like the romance was center stage.  However it does leave me curious.  What will the next book in the Blue Dynasty series be like?  Now that the author has laid a fair amount of groundwork - will the next story, featuring a disgruntled quarterback and one of Charlotte's sisters, have a stronger focus on the love story?  Will I get all of the drama plus a strong, focused romance?  Time will tell.

Final Grade = C

Friday, April 4, 2014

H&H: Unusual Historicals For April 2014

New month, new unusual historicals!  I've over at Heroes & Heartbreakers with a new shopping list.  Nice variety this month - including the 1920s, colonial Salem, Massachusetts and a bookseller hero who sounds kinda dreamy.

Head on over and check 'em out!