Monday, November 28, 2011

Guest Review: Rameau's review of Her Dark Knight by Sharon Cullen

Her Dark Knight by Sharon Cullen

Read from November 26 to 28, 2011

A girl walks into a bar, she's groped, and she's saved by the owner. That owner just happens to be a seven hundred year old immortal Knight of the Templar who just happens to be mourning a dead woman from centuries ago. And the lemon twist in this cocktail is the girl being the reincarnated love of his life.

So far, this is a solid setup for a paranormal romance with a sprinkling of angel and demon lore thrown into the mix. Salty.

I should have asked for the Tequila instead.

The story certainly starts out better than the word solid would indicate. It begins in 1309 when Christien (which I kept reading as Christian throughout the book) Chevalier is dying, but receives a holy task and the curse of immortality instead.

Then, abruptly, we're thrown back into the modern time and into Lainie Alexander's aching shoes. She goes by the name Lainie, but of course he insists on calling her Madelaine, just like his dead love. Oozing romance, isn't he?

It turns out that there are darker forces at work and that they've organized this happy reunion. Christien, the ever aware, is of course on top of things and suspects Lainie for working against him with the evil side. Somehow though he can't keep away and they keep bumping into each other, more or less literally. Lainie doesn't quite catch on until she starts dreaming of her past life in the early 14th century.

I couldn't tell you exactly what or how it happens, this modern romance of an immortal dark knight and his reincarnated love, because the book literally put me to sleep. Twice. What I can tell you is that Lainie's dreams are the reader's gate to the past timeline and flashbacks to what happened the first time around between Madelaine, Countess of Flanders, and her Templar Knight.

These sparse flashbacks are the real treat of this book, and it's thanks to them that I actually finished reading it. I'm not a history buff and I couldn't tell you how accurate or inaccurate the scenes are, but I do know that there was a magnificent, believable and bewitching story there. Or it was that up to the point the Countess died. This brings me to the reason why I ended up hating this book.

Despite my drowsiness, I came to believe that the point of Madelaine's reincarnation was for her to learn new things. Small things like self-defense. Here, you open the vodka and pour it down my throat straight up. It's either that or a mallet to beat some sense into my thick skull.

Of course, the point wasn't for Madelaine to reemerge as a strong, capable woman who just happens to love an immortal thug from the Middle Ages. Of course, she's not supposed to be anything other than a burden to him, and of course, her whole existence screams for self-sacrifice in the name of God and his treasure. The sad thing is, I really liked this book up until the last 15% or so. I was actually sad that I didn't think I could give it the fourth star, that how much I loved the medieval romance.

Oh, no. This is a book about the man. This is a romance novel about HIS suffering and HIS pain. This is about HIS reward.

Two stars.

To think I managed to write this review without lambasting the sex scenes or mentioning the ridiculousness of a man telling an Archangel what to do.


I received an Advance Readers Copy from the publisher through Net Galley.

The 2012 Book Challenge

I am joining the 2012 Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge and am committed to read at least 20 books for the challenge.

Information can be found here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Women of Eaton Trilogy - Book 1

In book one, we meet Spence, an artist/painter, and Erin, an editor working for a publishing company.

Erin is portrayed as a nice, intelligent young woman, an image that should be questioned when we find out that her ex-husband Aidan still lives with her after their divorce while he looks for a place to live. We are given the impression that Erin is just too nice for her own good because anyone else would have tossed his cheating behind out on the street.

Spence, a reported womanizer, has been given a large advance to write a book about his painting, his methods and such, but has so far not produced a single chapter. Erin, known for motivating authors to meet deadlines, is assigned to track him down and get him writing.

She locates him at his NC home, lying in a hammock on the beach, giving her the impression of a laid-back, lazy bum, an image he apparently projects to the world to be left alone. She is immediately irritated by his behavior, protests whenever he calls her 'babe' or sweetheart'. The lady doth protest too much.

The attraction and subsequent UST are nearly instantaneous and when Spence persuades Erin to go sailing with him, they set off on a trip down the coast to the Keys during which they fall into a physical relationship that soon, at least on Erin's part, transcends to infatuation and then love.

Book? What book? While she makes a few half-hearted attempts to get him writing, even writing some of the chapters for him, they distract each other most of the time with how they lust. And in close quarters on Spence's catamaran, they soon get to know each other better and better. Life is pretty good, Erin decides, while they are floating on the open waters and enjoying each other's company.

And then the angst and drama really start.

Spence overhears part of a phone conversation, draws some wrong conclusions, his questions prompting a lie from Erin about Aidan needing her help and Spence goes off in a huff, leaving the cabin to return to his home in NC.

Erin returns to D.C., heartbroken and crying, having to fend off advances from Aidan (who apparently figured out that he had a good thing and lost it) and moping for a few months over losing Spence.

The book ends with Spence and Erin meeting again at a gallery opening where his latest paintings are shown, the same paintings he drew of her while they were in NC and frolicking on the boat. Cue romantic music and awwws. Erin confesses her feelings as does Spence and they lived happily ever after. There's even allusion to a pregnancy and a marriage before we leave these two to their happy ending.

The writing style is mostly engaging and very descriptive though sometimes the descriptive narration becomes a little bit too much. The entire story is told through the eyes of Erin in the 3rd person though on occasion this is expanded to include the POV of Erin's sister while Erin and Spence are on the farm and at the cabin. While Mariah (the sister) provides some insights these could have been delivered in a different way than a POV change. 

Distracted is a typical contemporary romance, with a lot of the cliches of that genre present. Handsome, single, well-off, artistic man with a reputation, possibly undeserved. Single woman who's been hurt before and doesn't think she holds a candle to all the beautiful women that handsome, single man has supposedly cavorted with. Meddling secondary characters. Secrets, miscommunications, jealousy, 'oh, no he can't possibly love me', 'I have to leave before he leaves me instead', denials of emotions, sex too soon... It's all present.

As for continuity, the character of Patricia was a bit off to me. First, we hear her tell Erin to leave Spence before he breaks her heart, but then she seems to be the one meddling to organize their reunion at the gallery opening and encouraging Erin to go after him. The latter didn't mesh with the former, unless one assumes that Patricia a) had a change of heart, b) was contacted by Spence and told to set this up or c) the author messed up with the characterization.

Erin's behavior had me rolling my eyes. A lot. She supposed to be this really intelligent, methodical editor but when she is in Spence's presence she becomes this swoony little woman with Bella-Swan syndrome. And while that is a well-known cliche of the romance genre, it had me wonder on occasion why this young woman, who seems so capable in her professional life, is making such stupid decisions. 

Spence is deeper than you think, though we don't really get any of his internal musings, but there are glimpses of how he feels during the narration and the dialogue. He proves himself to be a man worth loving and a man who knows what he wants. Possibly also a man whose womanizer reputation is undeserved because not once do we see him flirting or going beyond what's proper while he is romancing Erin. He seems to be a good guy who's finally found the woman he's been looking for, and does what he can to ensure that he gets to keep her.

The dialogue is good, humorous on occasion and full of banter which had me giggling and smiling.

It's a good read for a quiet afternoon with a hot cuppa tea or coffee. As thus, it delivers. I found myself engaged enough to roll my eyes at Erin's stupidity, swoon a bit over Spence and smile happily when they got back together though you can see it coming from the time Erin gets the invitation to the gallery opening.

3 solid stars. I liked it.

The reviews for book two and three can be found on my Goodreads page.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Guest review - Rameau's review of "Heart of the Druid Lair" by Barbara Longley

Today's review is brought to you by Rameau whom you can find on her Goodreads profile.

Heart of the Druid Lair

Read from November 15 to 17, 2011

1 of 5 stars

Critique should always have both good and bad points. I'll try.

The premise looked so promising. Although, I'm not a fan of fairies in general I thought this just might be the book to change my mind, and in that, "Heart of the Druid Laird" succeeded. The fairies were easily the best part of this book.

See, it's working. Good news comes first and there's more.

I also really liked the structure of the plot. The author obviously knows how to plan events ahead while  giving herself some room for manoeuvring. All the plot twists were well set up and logical and the pacing was decent. There were no out of the blue surprises behind corners, but there was that telltale glow that warns about a speeding car.

And I really enjoyed Tommy and Zoe and their little side romance. They made the perfect addition so as not to burden the main couple with too much of the background reveal. Info dump nicely avoided and a golden star to the author.

Unfortunately, this was it. Now on to the bad.

Let's start with the ridiculous. For a while now, I've been aware of the fact that historical fiction is just that, fiction. As much as I'd like to think all men of old were nearly two metres tall and build like muscle towers, I know they weren't. Their nutritional status wouldn't have allowed it. I can suspend belief for one or three exceptionally well-built historical heroes at a time and enjoy the fluffy romance while they swoop their tiny, fragile heroines off their feet. But there's a limit to this goodwill of mine, and that limit is five. I find five 1650-year-old, extra-tall hunks walking down the street in formation ridiculous. When the number is upped to thirteen, it becomes absurd.

Shall we move on to the language then? Longley didn't overdo the Scottish accent apart from a handful of lines in dialogue, but the little touches she chose to use to imply the accent didn't work well for me. I stumbled over every single no' (not) even when I managed to get through the lines of heavier brogue.

This, however, was not my pet peeve. That honour falls to the cursing with all the effings and soddings and such. For the majority of the book, everyone acts like their mother is eavesdropping just behind the corner, ready to rap them on the knuckles for saying a rude word. Then when things get tense and the climax approaches they suddenly start dropping asses, arses, and shits. A few pages later, after the threat has been resolved, they go back to being prissy. Continuity, this book has none.

None of these little mishaps are as dire a failure as is the utterly bollocksed characterisation. I'm at a loss as to what to make of these characters. They continuously say and claim to think one thing, and then go on acting in the exact opposite manner. Dermot is supposed to get Sidney to Scotland to lift the curse and not get tangled up and hurt the girl's feelings, but he promptly starts wooing her. Later on, he blames her for distracting him before he could tell her the truth, which, might I add, would have simplified the plot substantially. She's supposed to be this hard-boiled single woman who doesn't date or even look at a man twice, but she melts into a puddle of goo just from looking at him. You can imagine the level of sexual attraction when he starts to speak.

Yeah, not so much. Didn't work for me. Sidney's crying fits and whiplash reactions to the truth (once finally shared with her) make her the first character to earn a place on my new vapid-insipid-divas-and-ingénues shelf. Until her, I hadn't felt tempted enough to make one.

The bad characterisation extends to Zoe and David, Sidney's friend, and brother, who basically act like a deus ex machina to get the unhappy couple together. Aside from Tommy, the muscle gang doesn't win in the personality lotto. Lachlan gets closest with few hits.

What really ends up killing this book for me though is the manufactured drama. With a set up like this, a reincarnation, a cursed immortality and a choice between loving and letting go, there's no need for all the fights originated in miscommunication. Dermot and Sidney have enough on their plates with a fairy princess and their growing feelings for each other interfering with the lifting of the curse, so they don't really need to be getting their wires crossed too.

A good critique should always end up on a positive note.

I can't complain about the grammar or editing.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Between Seasons by Aida Brassington

Between Seasons by Aida Brassington

Wow. Rarely does a story grip me like this one did. From the first word to the last, I was riveted to the pages, my eyes glued to the words and my heart breaking and rejoicing for Patrick and Sara.

It's a ghost story at the core and a love story at its heart. Patrick Boyle, 19, on the cusp of his 20th birthday, a day from being drafted into the Vietnam war, gets up one morning, gets dressed and heads downstairs for breakfast, anticipating and salivating over his mother's pancakes, the smell of which have made it up to his bedroom. In his haste, he trips over the loose carpet on the stairs and breaks his neck during the subsequent fall. And just like that, he's dead. 

For some odd reasons, none of which are clear to him, he's now a ghost, but he figures that God will come get him soon and he just needs to wait a little. God is busy, it seems, and Patrick has no choice but to watch his mother and father fall apart over his death and ultimately leave him behind, packing up the house and moving. At this point, I'm sobbing big fat tears over this poor boy as the author makes me feel his emotions so clearly. He feels abandoned, trying to get his parents to notice him, begging them not to leave him. I'm snotsobbing as he runs after them, only to be foiled by the door and his inability to leave the house. 

Seasons come and go, Patrick waits, watching life pass by through the windows of his house. He's alone, left with a few things he can actually touch (only things that belonged to him before he died) and without much to do. Still waiting for God, he's reduced to reading and re-reading the few books he managed to hide before his parents packed up and left. 

The writing is so descriptive that you actually feel his loneliness, feel his desperation and his yearning for someone to see him, to realize that he's still there. 

You need to suspend your disbelief in certain areas when it comes to ghosts and such things, but this story is simply amazing. There are passages where Patrick dreams (yes, ghosts apparently do sleep on occasion), and the things he dreams are actually a hint of things to come but at the time you read them, you are left to wonder what the purpose is. 

Some things that happen in this book made me angry and frustrated and it is a credit to the author that her words drew me into her story in such a fashion that I sat here with my fists clenched in helpless agony over what was happening to her characters. Patrick's loneliness and desolation, his tentative hope when Sara moves in, his inner musings and pervy thoughts, his confusion at modern things like cell phones and laptops - it's all so brilliantly described that you feel as if you're right there with him. His joy when Sara sees him for the first time, his disbelieving elation when she can feel him - absolutely amazingly written.

There are funny moments that made me giggle. There are moments that made me sigh and scenes that made me cry with frustration. Patrick is a typical teenager in many ways and his musings about his past and the possible reasons for being stuck are spot-on for someone his age, and the words/phraseology is consistent with the time in which grew up and died. 

Sara is also well described, from her pain at her recent divorce to her inability to stand up to her sister (who's a complete bitch, by the way, and I'd like to get my hands around her neck) to her tentative steps towards believing that Patrick really exists. 

Even the solution to their obvious problem is perfectly done. Again, suspend disbelief but the elation and joy was palpable and jumped right off the pages. It's somewhat open-ended but that leaves the reader to imagine how their future might unfold, which is not a bad thing at all. 

The book is well researched - I can tell that the author took her time to make sure she got everything right. The characters, including the supporting cast, are well developed and have a plausible background that explains their actions and reactions. None of them acted in a way I didn't expect or couldn't explain. 

Congratulations, Ms. Brassington. You've delivered an exceptional book that will stay with me for a long time to come. Please write another. 

About the author (from her Goodreads Page):

Aida Brassington is an award winning writer who lives in a haunted house in the suburbs of Pennsylvania with her husband of five years and a Great Dane named Patrick. She loves all things related to Halloween and spooky movies, but not because she shares her house with a ghost (and it should be noted her ghost does nothing more than occassionally appear in the second floor hallway and hide her keys) — she just likes being scared.

She is a former political junkie with a deep interest in artisan food, reading, and scuba diving. She has never spent time in a mental institution but often questions her mental health.

Aida can be bribed with Vosges chocolate. Bribed into what? Well, that all depends.

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