Review: Romancing the Countess by Ashley March

Format: mass market, ebook
Pub Date: September 6, 2011
Publisher: Signet
Length: 320 pages
FTC: Review copy provided by the publisher

I'm not normally a fan of books that deal, even indirectly, with infidelity. It's just not a favorite theme of mine. Romancing the Countess surprised me, though, by the way it takes two characters linked by that ultimate betrayal and fashions a new, happier story for them.

I think this is one of those books that people will love or hate. It's hard to assign a grade to, at least for me, because it is so very angsty. Sebastian, in particular, is wounded by the discovery that the wife he loved so deeply was having an affair and died while trying to leave him. He's angry as well (with good reason) and I felt for him.

The writing is excellent. So good, that I felt Sebastian was damaged. Too wounded for me to believe he would recover so quickly from it to fall in love again. Especially with someone who could daily remind him of that betrayal.  This was a deep, well  done story, but because I'm unsure of the HEA, I'm lowering the grade just a little.

My Grade: B+

The Blurb:
Sebastian Madinger, the Earl of Wriothesly, thought he'd married the perfect woman-until a fatal accident revealed her betrayal with his best friend. After their deaths, Sebastian is determined to avoid a scandal for the sake of his son. But his best friend's widow is just as determined to cast her mourning veil aside by hosting a party that will surely destroy both their reputations and expose all of his carefully kept secrets...
Leah George has carried the painful knowledge of her husband's affair for almost a year. All she wants now is to enjoy her independence and make a new life for herself-even if that means being ostracized by the Society whose rules she was raised to obey. Now that the rumors are flying, there's only one thing left for Sebastian to do: silence the scandal by enticing the improper widow into becoming a proper wife. But when it comes to matters of the heart, neither Sebastian nor Leah is prepared for the passion they discover in each other's arms....


The woods are lovely, dark and deep

Since I am suffering from earthquake hangover due to the 4.7M earthquake that woke me out of a nice, comfy snooze last night, I decided today would be the day I took a walk in the woods. There's a lovely outdoor education program up here, with equally lovely trails situated near our elementary school. I figured if kids can walk it, I can too.

So, huffing and puffing (and toting my camera) I walked up Boyle's Ravine. At least a little way.

This doesn't look too bad, right? It gets steeper. Wheeze.


Hump Day Classic Movie: The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

Raise your hand if this movie scared you as a child/adult. When I was little, The Watcher in the Woods was constantly on the television. And no matter how many times I saw it, it scared me. Something about Bette Davis's creepiness gives me the chills even now. (Although NCIS junkie that I am, I can now enjoy the incredibly young David McCallum aka Duckie)

Honestly, it's hard to believe this is a Disney movie. Disney is so toothless anymore. But if you need a Halloween movie that is spooky without being gory, this is it. (I know I mentioned this in passing last year, but it really does deserve its own Hump Day post.)

The trailer is available on youtube here:

If you want something more modern this Halloween, try Monster House. It's a little intense for really young children, but it has lovely animation and lots of heart.


TBR Challenge Review: Soulless by Gail Carriger

Format: ebook (also available on audio and mass market paperback)
Pub Date: 2009
Publisher: Orbit
Length: 384
FTC: Purchased myself


I am a sucky TBR Challenge participant. This makes the third month in a row I've procrastinated on my challenge read. Although it's the first time I've actually MISSED the posting day. Apologies for my suckiness.

Anyhoo, this month's topic was paranormal or romantic suspense.  I finally managed to read a book I've had on my Kindle for months (maybe a year?) and whose praise I've been hearing for even longer: Soulless by Gail Carriger.

Billed as a steampunk romance, I can say with confidence that it's really not. There are a few scattered elements that may qualify, but they are minimal window dressing. Gaslight? Maybe. Paranormal? Definitely.


Review: Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue by Stephanie Laurens

Format: Mass market pb
Pub Date: August 2011
Publisher: Avon
Length: 440 pages
FTC: Purchased myself

I am a hopeless Stephanie Laurens addict. Hope. Less. I own most of the original Bar Cynster in hardcover. A Secret Love is one of my all-time favorite books. But even I had to admit that the last series Stephanie Laurens put out was...not good. A few of the books in the Black Cobra Quartet were downright unreadable. At least for me. With this book, she's returning to her successful Cynster series and sounding more like her old self.

For the uninitiated, Stephanie Laurens has a very specific voice. Certain phrases crop up. And there are OMG-will-it-never-end? sex scenes. And horse metaphors. But the books are STILL addictive.


Review: Joanne Fluke's Lake Eden Cookbook

Format: Hardcover, ebook
Publisher: Kensington
Pub Date: October 1, 2011
Length: 320 pages
FTC: Review copy courtesy of the publisher

I've seen a few cookbooks based on popular series come and go over the years, but this is the first one that I can say did a good job capturing the feel of the series on which it was based.

There are zero pictures in the Lake Eden Cookbook. It is, instead, a hardcover copy of what one would expect from a real community cookbook. The kind you buy from churches or as a fundraiser where everyone contributes a recipe or two and the notes/serving suggestions are delightfully informal. There's even a full color map of the town on the endsheets.

The recipes themselves are mostly baking ones (in line with what Joanne Fluke's readers would expect). There are a few, homey recipes for main dishes as well. This book has all of the recipes from the series so far as well as about a dozen new ones. The only thing that bugs me is that the butter used is "salted" and I'm an unsalted butter purist. *Shrug*

Bottom line: This is a well done series tie-in book. It might not fit the bill for those who want photos to work from, but it will make an excellent holiday gift for any culinary mystery fan. Well done.

My Grade: A-


Hump Day Movie: Once Bitten (1985)

I'm not a huge Jim Carrey fan. Most of his movies annoy the heck out of me. But I have a soft spot for this one.

Don't get me wrong. Once Bitten sucks. (Pun intended) But it's also fun to watch Carrey at the beginning of his career, before he went all crazy and weird and was just plain goofy.

 Plus, how can you resist with a plot like this: A vampire Countess needs to drink the blood of a virgin in order to keep her eternal beauty. It seems that all is hopeless, until she bumps into Mark Kendall.


Cookbook Review: Junior's Dessert Cookbook by Alan Rosen, Beth Allen

Junior's Dessert Cookbook: 75 Recipes for Cheesecakes, Pies, Cookies, Cakes, and More

Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Taunton
Pub Date: October 2011
Length: 192 pages
FTC: Digital review galley from the publisher

I was looking forward to reviewing this cookbook, since I loved the original Junior's cookbook. But unfortunately, the recipes were not to my taste. I love baking, as followers of the blog know very well, but not when every recipe calls for dozens of ingredients and the instructions take up two full pages.

The few easy recipes in the book are so overly simplistic, they feel like filler.

Bottom line is that I wasn't even tempted to try the recipes. I was turned off by their complexity. This might work for someone with pastry chef-like dedication or someone who really wants to stretch their abilities. But for the average, everyday chef, it's a small book filled with yummy looking, but intimidating recipes. I'd far rather buy most of these desserts than make them. And maybe that's the point?

Also, this is a hardcover with a list price of $25 for a grand total of 75 recipes and 192 pages. No. Just no. 

My Grade: C-


Tis the Season to be Sinful by Adrienne Basso

Format:Mass Market, ebook
Pub Date: October 1, 2011
Publisher: Kensington
Length: 343 pages
FTC: Review copy courtesy of the publisher

There's a lovely, old-fashioned feel to the prose in Tis the Season to be Sinful. It's one of the few books I've read recently that feels thoroughly steeped in the period. But, unfortunately, the conflict is all over the place, the characters somewhat shallow, and the holiday elements seem more engaging than the romance.

My problems with the book center mainly around the lack of focus to the story. It seems like it's just not sure which problem it wants to explore about our hero (our heroine seems marginalized throughout.) Do we explore the working class values of the American? His inability to join in with Christmas festivities? His absence from the new home he married to get for months on end? Or his strained non-relationship with his wife's children?  There are so many different mini-conflicts in this book that all are dealt with in an unsatisfying and superficial way.

While this book did its job, it's not something I'll be reading again. I loved the holiday elements, but for some reason, the romance was just...ok. Since I did manage to read it in only a couple of sittings, I'm giving it higher marks than it might sound like it deserves.

My Grade: C

The Blurb:
The Season For Surprises. . .
Juliet Wentworth knew what she was getting into: a marriage of convenience that will save her estate and protect her family long into the future. But she wasn't expecting to find the passion of a lifetime in her new husband's arms. After just one night, Juliet knows a marriage in name only will never be enough. . .
The Season For Seduction. . .
Richard Harper's beautiful new bride has him reeling with desire--and running for cover. After all, falling in love was never part of the bargain. Yet when Christmastime celebrations bring him back to their country manor and back into Juliet's arms, Richard finds his wife is determined--and all too able--to win over his heart, one kiss at a time. . .


Review: A Beginner's Guide to Rakes by Suzanne Enoch

Format: mass market paperback, ebook
Pub Date: October 4, 2011
Publisher: St. Martin's
Length: 339 pages
FTC:  Review copy courtesy of the publisher

Let's just get this out of the way: the title, A Beginner's Guide to Rakes,  has zip to do with the story. Nada. Zilch. Squat. It's a throwaway title. And that pisses me off a little because this plot could have had so many good titles for it. Some hint about the contents. But...no. There is no guide. And the "hero" isn't really a rake, either.

The basic premise: a destitute widow blackmails an old lover into funding her plans for a gaming club. The club, the Tantalus Club to be precise, is located in the downstairs portion of her only remaining residence, having sold all other property to settled her deceased husband's debts.

When I heard Enoch was moving to a new publisher, I was, quite frankly, a bit worried. She has a unique voice. Her characters are nearly always smart, witty, and give as good as they get. That isn't missing here, but the book as a whole reads a little more bitter and sharp in tone than most of Enoch's backlist. There's very little real humor here. And nearly no family dynamic, which tends to soften some of the Enoch books.

Hump Day Movie: Muppets from Space (1999)

With the new Muppet movie coming out soon, Muppets are back in style. At least in this household. The boys are finally enjoying our (vast) collection of Muppet movies. And while I love The Great Muppet Caper or the original Muppet Movie, my favorite is Muppets from Space. It's one of the newest muppet movies, and has some of the newer characters I adore. Like Pepe the Prawn.

The plot revolves around Gonzo. We all know he's a "whatever." But what we don't know is exactly what that is. We find out in this movie. And, as with all of the Muppet movies, there are some hilarious cameos. My favorite is Ray Liotta's where Miss Piggy fogs his brain with a mind control perfume.

A big part of what makes this fun for me is the soundtrack. It's wall to wall funk. An usual choice for the Muppets, but I think it works.

And, while looking up info on the new movie, I discovered a wealth of Youtube videos featuring muppets: classics and new ones! Including this one, which is so silly I was gasping with laughter.


Review: Bad Boys Do by Victoria Dahl

Format: mass market paperback, ebook
Pub Date: September 27, 2011
Publisher: HQN
Length: 384 pages
FTC: Review copy courtesy of the publisher

Without a doubt, this is my favorite book of Victoria Dahl's new Donovan Brothers brewery trilogy. A sexy, vulnerable and yummy hero and a smart, compassionate, and sexually insecure heroine. With plenty of sizzle and outrageous humor to keep the pages turning.

Victoria Dahl's heroines are always interesting. Olivia is fascinating. I love that she's a mix of repressed sexuality and insecurity combined with a level headed competency.

Jamie is probably Dahl's best hero. He's so vulnerable. Sexy but with this inner core of neediness that just gets to you. In the first book of the series, he seems immature, selfish, but possessing a good heart. The second book, his book, shows that the immaturity isn't as real as his family perceives. His family really doesn't know him that well.Which is part of the tragedy in Jamie's life. Despite being so charming and friendly, no one is truly close to him.


Review: Unclaimed by Courtney Milan

Format: mass market, ebook
Pub Date: October 2011
Publisher: HQN (Harlequin)
Length:432 pages
FTC: Digital review copy courtesy of the publisher


I love Courtney Milan's writing. It's very smart, with smart characters, smart dialogue and smart premises. Sometimes, though, it's a little too smart. And that was the case with Unclaimed.

The concept of this book was definitely unique: a virgin hero and a courtesan heroine. Everyone struggles with the concept of chastity in this book. Especially the heroine:

"But you're–you're—A virgin?"
There was a note of amusement in his voice. "True. But just because I don't believe in poaching out of season doesn't mean I can't hunt."

I loved Mark Turner. I loved his honesty, his self awareness, his compassion. I did not love the heroine. It wasn't her profession. It was her choices. It was her mercenary nature. It was her lack of honesty throughout the first 2/3 of the book.