Archive | August, 2012

Feminism, Sports Bars, and Playboys Make for a Great Romance Combination in The Booby Trap by Anne Browning Walker

28 Aug

The Booby Trap by Anne Browning Walker (Pixel, September 1, 2012)

I’ll admit to loving any romance that has a university somewhere in it. It’s probably my being a librarian, but being surrounded by the world of conjecture and hypothesis is easily the sexiest thing (you know what they say about your biggest erogenous zone being your brain). When I read the NetGalley description for Anne Browning Walker‘s debut novel, The Booby Trap, and realized that it involved a Ph.D. candidate named Bambi working in a Hooters-like atmosphere and trying to teach a rich playboy about the danger of making assumptions, I thought, “Hmmm…this could either be really good or the worst thing ever.”

It’s really good.

It takes a talented writer to build the characters sufficiently to make this work, and new fiction author Anne Browning Walker does it well. The setting of Boston is well-drawn (it’s my favorite city, so I’m super picky) and the characters, including secondary ones, are fleshed out while experiencing real conflict. This is a very impressive debut book!

The unfortunately named Bambi Benson is in fact a women’s studies Ph.D. candidate trying to make ends meet while starting her dissertation interviews with the other women who work with her at The Booby Trap, a sports bar featuring scantily clad beautiful waitresses. Luckily for all of them, the owner of the bar is a sweetheart of a man who has known Bambi since she was eight, but even his influence isn’t enough to stop the annoying comments and come ons by the men who come for sports and “atmosphere”.

Trip Whitley comes from a prominent Boston family, albeit one that owns an extremely high-end dating service. Heading for thirty, his family is a little tired of Trip taking advantage of the never-ending stream of hot women who come through expecting to land Trip, the highly visible cornerstone of their marketing campaign. He’s incensed when a PR consultant tells his father that he’s becoming a liability and he needs to have a visible relationship with the same woman for nine months to not damage the business.

Pissed at the decision, Trip heads to the bachelor party for his best friend and co-worker, Pat, which happens to be at The Booby Trap. As the bourbons continue to flow, he realizes the blond, busty waitress named Bambi is the perfect female to flaunt as payback for his family’s manipulation and he propositions her with an acting arrangement. She’ll pretend to be his girlfriend for the next nine months on a series of public dates and he’ll pay her a generous amount for her time and trouble.

Bambi is incensed at the offer; it’s very clear that the semi-drunk Trip has written her off as some kind of bimbo who would be willing to do this publicity stunt, but the more she thinks about it, the more she realizes she needs the money to get to London where an important women’s studies conference is being held. The head PR consultant figuring out that she isn’t as dumb as she’s acting is icing on the cake – they are both a little fed up with Trip’s behavior and realize he needs a reminder that you can’t judge a book by its cover.

Anything that smacks of a revenge theme usually makes me uncomfortable, but the fact remains that Trip initially does nothing to find out more about Bambi, making it quite easy for her to continue her ruse of being vapid and shallow. The themes of Bambi’s intellectual interests and the scenes with her thesis advisor and department head are excellent and add a nice view of both the heroine’s prodigious brain and insight into her ambitions.

It’s easy to see that Trip is reaping what he has sown with his family. He’s been a jaded bachelor for so long that no one takes him seriously, despite his MBA, and he’s feeling dissatisfied in the family business as a result. Hiring Bambi is a rather immature act of revenge (further building on that theme in the book) and karma comes home to roost with a vengeance for everyone concerned.

The emphasis is not on the physical side of Trip and Bambi’s reactions since the sex scenes are rather tame and perfunctory (this is at the level of a Harlequin Presents novel, not a Blaze romance) but rather on the emotional journey of the hero and heroine outside of the bedroom. I think if Browning Walker would consider seeing how scenes of physical intimacy can advance the emotional plotline while they occur, she would find even more of a readership who like things a little closer to the Blaze end of the scale! I did feel like there was a loose end regarding what actually happened with Bambi’s stepfather – I’m still freaking out not knowing if she was assaulted or manipulated into a situation and it would greatly help me to know what age she was when it happened. And what was the deal with Trip’s ex-girlfriend Connie? Did she really want him back or was she working with the paparazzi to sabotage his relationship with Bambi? I swear, I’ll be awake at 2 am tonight thinking about this.

Those extremely minor notes aside, The Booby Trap represents a fresh and unique novel to hit the world of romance fiction. After all, any contemporary romance that manages to footnote the Transcendentalists and deal with the grabby hands of sports bar patrons is carving a niche that didn’t previously exist.

Star Crossed by Kele Moon Sends You Into the Stratosphere

6 Aug

Star-Crossed (Book 2 Battered Hearts Series – Romeo and Jules story) by Kele Moon (Loose ID, July 3, 2012)

Kele Moon won my trust months ago after I read her first book in the Battered Hearts series, Defying the Odds. This is actually unusual for me since one book does not a trusted author make, but there was something about her deft characterization and perfect plot pacing that made me feel I was in the hands of a romance novel master.

It’s because I was.

This point has only been proven again, with Star Crossedthe fabulous follow-up to Defying the Odds, and when I tell you that I was waiting with bated breath for this romance, I’m not exaggerating.

I love being immersed in the small southern town of Garnet, which specializes in producing UFC fighters and people who are in each other’s business in a big way. In the first book, Defying the Odds, we met Clay, a UFC champion who was becoming less enamored of his sport and more interested in the lovely new waitress of the local diner, Melody. In the course of their incredibly hot relationship (“watch that plate or you’ll burn yourself” should be the warning on that book), Clay trains with the help of his two best friends, Wyatt and Jules Conner, for a championship match against contender Romeo Wellings. In the aftermath of the fight, Melody’s psycho abusive ex-husband finds her and attempts to kill her, with Romeo and Clay saving the day.

In gratitude, Clay offers to help Romeo train since he plans on retiring after a final promotional tour, and it is this construct which sets the foundation for our newest book in the series. Romeo Wellings is one of three illegitmate sons of a loving Italian mother. Growing up on the tough streets of New York and with ties to the mafia, he learned how to fight the practical way before training with a local martial arts school. He’s used his immense skill at fighting to support his two younger brothers but there is a lot missing from his life. One look at the tall blond drink of water which is Jules Conner, Clay and Melody’s grateful friend, and Romeo finds he has a powerful thirst only she can quench.

A view of the Las Vegas skyline with all the luxurious hotels. I pictured Romeo and Jules’ room having a view like this (not that they were looking out the window all that often!).

Jules realizes that while she’s thought of Romeo as the enemy forever, his designer clad form and good heart has her recognizing that her sex dry spell has lasted wayyyyyy too long. Taking him out to a thank you dinner has them both viewing each other through a shimmering heat wave and getting a hotel room. And let me tell you, it’s a wonder that the hotel fire alarm doesn’t go off, the chemistry is that combustible between them.

But Jules has to go home to Garnet to her legal practice and Romeo needs to head home and then go on the promotional tour with Clay. Saying that it was a one time thing is all well and good, but the reality is that their connection goes deeper than just a one-night stand, and they find themselves texting and calling each other all the time. While the sexual attraction is there in spades (phone sex and webcams are beautifully utilized here, something I didn’t think I’d write ever), without either Romeo or Jules paying attention, the two of them are in a relationship with each other, one built on common interests and actual friendship.

This is where Kele Moon continued her maestro-esque writing. While I am usually a content reader, happy to indulge a love at first sight trope (even outside of paranormal romance), it’s rare I like a book that has a normal timeframe for two people getting to know each other. This is probably because it either goes wayyyyy too slow for me, with little emotional intimacy taking place and I get the physical aspect of the relationship either delayed (which frustrates me) or an initial encounter is not given the emotional importance I think it deserves. Kele has managed to give me the sensual heat early on, and actually (miraculously) continues it in the exchanges between Romeo and Jules, showing their continued attraction while simultaneously demonstrating their mental and emotional closeness. Oh. My. God. It makes for one incredibly sweet, hot romance.

There is plenty of conflict here, much of it seeming insurmountable. Jules’ twin brother and best friend, Wyatt, hates Romeo with a passion and is not thrilled that Clay is training him. He becomes less enthusiastic when he discovers that Romeo has a record – as a sheriff, Wyatt doesn’t have a lot of patience for people operating outside the law. As a result, Jules’ feels she has to keep her relationship with Romeo under wraps, which makes Romeo feel like her dirty secret and allows them both to delude themselves that this is more about hooking up and less about an actual relationship. Romeo feels that his ties to the mafia and need to free his brothers from its influence has painted a target on his back and he doesn’t want Jules caught in the crossfire.

Defying the Odds (Book 1 in Battered Hearts series – Clay and Melody’s story) by Kele Moon (Loose Id, December 20, 2011)

Let’s talk about the male character’s for a minute. I really appreciate that the men are not man whores. I’m getting tired in this day and age of historical romances and contemporary ones featuring playboys who have cut through a chunk of the female population and the heroine must deal with ex-lovers right and left. While Romeo (and Clay before him) admit to occasionally having slept with the groupies who follow them on the circuit, you don’t get the impression that these two disciplined fighters have succumbed to utter debauchery and it’s confirmed that they haven’t had sex in a while when they meet up with their destined heroine. It’s downright refreshing.

Another feature of this series from Kele Moon is that, in her couples, one member of the pair comes from an extremely tough background and has risen above their circumstances. In Defying the Odds, Clay has a terrible childhood and was actually taken in by the Conner family and raised alongside them, and we discover in Star Crossed that Romeo not only has had a rough time when he was young, but things aren’t that great for him now either as he deals with mafia pressures. Both these heroes must use the love they’ve found as fuel for the final push to break from their past and find a new future.

Perhaps most impressive with Kele Moon’s writing is that every character feels fleshed out. This could backfire on her – I think I’m going to be heartbroken if she doesn’t devote books to Romeo’s brothers Nova and Tino and continue the storyline of the hot, young UFC fighter who lives above Jules’ law office. Obviously, Jules’ often frustrating but always loving brother, Wyatt, is next in line for his own book, with the arrival of Tabitha, the girlfriend he has never gotten over, back in town.

I’m chomping at the bit for Wyatt and Tabitha’s story, not only to explore them as characters, but to see further evidence of the couples I already love and admire. I’m going to have to content myself with the fact that I now I have two novels in the series to reread periodically while I patiently wait for her next masterpiece. Thanks, Kele!!!

Kathryne Kennedy’s Enchanting the Lady Not Worth the Updated Cover

1 Aug

I remember having a conversation with my mother years ago about how we hate it when publishers reissue covers. Most readers are very visual when remembering books they’ve read, picturing a distinct cover. There is nothing more crushing than picking up what you think is the latest Nora Roberts novel, only to get it home and realize after 20 pages that you read it years ago.

Updating covers are a great idea, however, when the original covers are either extremely dated (think Fabio-esque bodice ripper cover) or just plain suck (we all remember my rant about the great Midnight series from Lisa Marie Rice and how I think those covers devalue a classic romantic suspense trilogy), but publishers need to be careful the public doesn’t think you’re either a) snowing them into buying books they’ve already read or b) trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

The Fire Lord’s Lover (#1 The Elven Lords series, Dominic and Cassandra’s story) by Kathryne Kennedy (Sourcebooks, 2010)

When I saw that Sourcebooks, a company who states as part of their mission a firm commitment to promoting each author in their stable, had a “new” Kathryne Kennedy book, I was pretty psyched. After all, her fantasy/alternate history romance, The Fire Lord’s Lover, was hands down the best fantasy romance novel I read last year. I adored Dominic, the half-breed bastard son of the evil Elven Lord, who had learned to control his emotions out of necessity. His father had tortured and killed anyone who Dominic ever cared for, so when he marries Lady Cassandra, a human with no apparent Elven traits, the passion between them is a shock for them both. Particularly for Cassandra as her marriage of convenience is actually the excuse for a suicide mission for the Rebellion since she is a trained assassin bent on killing the Elven Lord. Great couple, awesome world building, lots of unexpected twists, happiness as a reader ensues.

Except that the series didn’t really keep up its momentum for me. The two subsequent books focus on other couples supporting the rebellion and possessing specialized traits that enable them to fight the evil Elven Lords. But while I was being told that Lady Cecily and her champion Giles were falling for each other in the second book, The Lady of the Storm, I never really saw it (although I liked them both). The world building still held me, so I decided to keep plugging away and bought the third book, The Lord of Illusion, direct from Sourcebooks.

The Lady of the Storm (#2 Elven Lords series – Cecily and Giles story) by Kathryne Kennedy (Sourcebooks, August 1, 2011)

At which point I became uber-pissed and the top of my head flew off. This third book in the series takes place 50 years after The Fire Lord’s Lover, which is fine, particularly since everybody seems long-lived, but there’s a big, pink elephant in the room and it’s going rogue. You see, there are seven Elven Lords to defeat and with three books, I’ve only read about three of them. Not a huge problem, except we meet all the other couples who have stolen the magical scepters, undermining the Elven despots, and hear peripherally about their adventures, but I’m not getting the whole story here. And then Kennedy wraps the series up and solves the problems.

Um, what?! Did Sourcebooks renege on the other books so Kennedy put out the last one? I can’t imagine after reading how the whole world solves its problems we’re going to have other books in the series, and I guess since neither of the subsequent two were anywhere near as good as the first one that’s okay, but I’m not thrilled with having everything tied up with a bow for me. People, don’t introduce a zillion characters when I’m never going to get their stories. So not okay.

So I was disgruntled (to say the least) about the Elven Lords series not living up to the potential of the first book in the series (which honestly is so good that I reread it every couple of months). This made for ripe fodder when I saw Sourcebooks was reissuing Kennedy’s Relics of Merlin series and that the first book, originally published in 2008, Enchanting the Lady, was coming out in August.

The Lord of Illusion (#3 Elven Lords series – Camille and Drystan’s story) by Kathryne Kennedy (Sourcebooks, February 7, 2012)

But I’ve stopped hoping that any of Kennedy’s books will live up to my favorite. Enchanting the Lady has a very cool premise. Fulfilling a gaslight craze (maybe the reason Sourcebooks reissued it?), the book is set in an England in which magic is an accepted fact of the aristocracy, to the point that you can’t inherit an estate without it. The only nobles looked down upon are the class of baronet since they are shapeshifters who can see through magic and are self-appointed protectors of the crown.

Felicity Seymour is used to being invisible. Her looks aren’t anything worthy of notice, she’s an orphan set to inherit a big estate, but the only problem is she can’t. She didn’t inherit any magic from her parents so she has no dowry to attract a husband. After the public humiliation of her magical failure in front of the court to so much as light a candle, she knows she’ll have to rely on the largesse of her aunt and uncle and obnoxious cousin.

Terence Blackwell, baronet and werelion is astonished that no one seems to notice the stunningly beautiful Lady Felicity when she comes for her magic test in front of the Prince of Wales. The only problem is that she smells like the dangerous relic magic that took his brother’s life and that Terence is committed to hunting down. The relics place the crown in danger and he’s sworn to give his life to finding them. When the opportunity presents itself to court Felicity and discover if she’s a traitor, he’s all too willing to do it. What starts off as a lie rapidly becomes the truth as he falls for her, but will her fragile emotions and new self-confidence withstand the knowledge of his betrayal?

Enchanting the Lady (the original 2008 cover)

This book should have been amazing – alternate history/gaslight with a vibrant England populated with magic users and shapeshifters combined with the mores and clothes we love about historical romance. The plot device of dangerous relics left over from the time of Merlin ties in a very English story idea, but the book sadly suffers from the same complaint as the second and third book in the Elven Lords series. Two great characters but there is a lot of declaring feelings without a greater demonstration of why those two people are falling for each other. I loved Terence and Felicity both (particularly Terence when he was giving into his lion instincts of crowding and marking Felicity) but why are they into each other again? It seems like mostly chemistry – maybe if she showed a little more chutzpah with her obviously evil and magic sucking relatives, I might have seen what Terence clearly saw in her.

So here’s the thing. How I can I recommend a full price reissue of this book with the snazzy new cover from Sourcebooks, when you can buy the exact same book with a decent cover on it for a pittance used on Amazon? It’s a fun read, but not one good enough to exhort you to buy full price. This is a library check out or used book purchase for sure. Now The Fire Lord’s Lover, on the other hand, is totally worth a full price purchase and it’s got used paperbacks aplenty available! This book is a reasonable paranormal romance but failed at enchanting this lady.

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