Posts Tagged sensual romance

E. Ayers’ “A Skeleton at her Door” — A Quick, Fun Halloween Read

Who’s up for a little Halloween-themed romance?

Tonight’s review is for E. Ayers‘ novella A Skeleton at her Door, an American contemporary romance featuring a winning heroine, Angie Robertson, and a likable hero, Tom Meyers. Both are divorced thirtysomethings, both are lonely, but because of some past relationship distress, they’ve become quite wary of romance.

A Skeleton at her Door opens with Angie literally opening the door to Tom in a skin-tight skeleton costume. Normally, Angie wouldn’t do this, but it’s Halloween, and she’s expecting her friend Matt, who lives two doors down, to come over in costume. So since the man’s build is close to Matt’s, and the height is close also — and because Angie cannot tell under the black and white makeup who is wearing that skin-tight costume — Angie mistakes Tom for Matt.

It takes Lissy, Angie’s young daughter, to point out that Matt has blue eyes, while the man in the skeleton costume at the door has brown ones. This causes Angie some embarrassment until she realizes that the man at the door (who she doesn’t yet know is Tom) is looking for Matt’s apartment, not hers.

So, of course, Angie sends the man on his way. And we’d not have a story, except that Tom sends Angie flowers the next day . . . plus Matt, of all people, vouches for Tom.

See, Tom is a good guy. He has two teenaged children, he works hard and has a nice house, and he normally doesn’t try this hard. But there’s something in Angie that calls to him, so he’s willing to perhaps make a fool out of himself to get to know her.

Also — and I’m not sure how he figured this out — he realizes very quickly indeed that Angie is gun-shy. Because of that, he’s careful in how he woos her, and makes sure to include her daughter at every turn.

All fine and dandy, yes?

But there’s more to this story than meets the eye. Angie, you see, is dealing with some serious relationship trauma — much more serious than we were initially led to believe — and has a hard time saying “no” to men. And Tom nearly oversteps his bounds four or five times, all to get Angie to react rather than simply withdraw into submission.

Note that the submission I’m discussing here has nothing to do with BDSM. (If it did, I’d not be reviewing it, methinks.) Instead, it’s all about this wounded woman, Angie, and how she has a hard time actually having conversations that include the words “no” or “not right now” with men. Even men she deeply cares about . . .

Perhaps especially the man she cares about most, Tom.

Of course, once she realizes she can trust Tom, how long do you think it’s going to take these two to make a commitment to one another? (Further reviewer sayeth not . . . at least, not about this.)

The biggest plus here is Ms. Ayers’ strong sense of craftsmanship. The set up of A Skeleton at her Door is masterful. We know right away there’s something lurking in Angie’s background that’s made her distrustful of men, but we also know that the skeleton (Tom) is going to be different…and not just because Angie cheerfully leered at him when she thought he was her neighbor, Matt (safely in a relationship with someone else).

However, the biggest minus is a lack of internal monologue, especially on the part of Angie. I would’ve liked a great deal more depth in two places in this novella, one right before Angie decides to sleep with Tom, and the other right before Angie decides to marry him. The second is a much bigger problem than the first, because I didn’t once get the sense that Angie had any trepidation about Tom at all once she’d slept with him (and confronted him, gently, over his four-five attempts at getting her to say “no” to him, sometimes about the most innocuous of things).

Mitigating this lack of internal monologue to a degree, though, was some very nice character development between Tom and Angie. Tom, you see, is into Angie in every way, even to the point where things she sees as flaws are seen as badges of honor by him. And because Tom sees Angie in this way, she can drop some of her body consciousness and just get down and dirty with him…especially as he’s made it clear that they will not have sex in front of any of their children before they are married. (Instead, they find somewhere else to have sex while making sure the kids are taken care of, a sensible and smart precaution.)

Bottom line: While I would’ve liked to see a bit less emphasis on the physical perfection of Tom (as that gets old, fast), I enjoyed A Skeleton at her Door quite a bit. It’s a quick, fun, Halloween-inspired read that any romantic will enjoy…and I look forward to reading more of Ms. Ayers’ work in the future.

Grade: B-plus.

Reviewed by Barb

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Romance Saturday Returns with Aaron Paul Lazar’s “The Seacrest”

Folks, it’s Saturday night . . . and long-term readers of Shiny Book Review know exactly what that means.

Yes, it’s time — and past time — for a romance.  Which is why I turned to Aaron Paul Lazar’s THE SEACREST, a sensual contemporary romance with a rather interesting hook.  THE SEACREST features Finn McGraw, an artist-turned-handyman, and Libby Vanderhorn, a wealthy horsewoman whose family he works for . . . who also happens to be his first love, who spurned Finn years earlier, reasons unknown.

At the beginning of THE SEACREST, Finn’s working at Libby’s family’s horse ranch, The Seacrest.  He’s flat broke, tired, has no time for his art work, and his marriage to Cora seems a bit off . . . then he gets shocking news: his wife has been found dead, and his estranged brother Jaxson with her — the two being passengers in Jaxson’s car at the time it went over a cliff.  Jaxson was drunk at the time, so their deaths are quickly ruled “death by misadventure.”

Finn, of course, is absolutely devastated.  He and Cora weren’t really getting along, no, but she was his wife and he sincerely loved her, even though it wasn’t the passionate love he’d felt years earlier with Libby.  And the circumstances of her death make no sense to him; as far as he knew, Cora and Jaxson didn’t even know each other, so what were they doing together?

Then, Finn finds out that despite being estranged from Jaxson, Finn is Jaxson’s sole heir — the rest of their family having died in a house fire years ago.  (It’s because of that house fire that neither brother has spoken to one another for years, as Finn believes that Jaxson had something to do with it.)  And Jaxson was extremely well-off due to a number of investments, to the point that Jaxson has restored the old family home (yes, the same one that had been damaged in the house fire) to its previous dimensions.

Finn debates a little, but decides he’s going to accept Jaxson’s inheritance.  (This makes sense considering how angry Finn is with Jaxson, who was having an affair with Finn’s wife.)  But because Libby and her family still need help at The Seacrest, he continues to help them while slowly adjusting to his new life — and his twin losses.

But that’s not all that’s going on here, as Libby’s soldier husband has been missing in action and presumed dead for three years in the Middle East for over three years.  But “presumed dead” is not nearly the same thing as actually dead . . . so what happens after Libby’s husband shows back up again?

I’ll stop there with the plot summary, as I really don’t want to spoil your reading.  (Granted, I’ve gone a bit further than most reviewers as it is.)

So there’s plenty here to keep you riveted, if you’re a romance reader.  There’s Finn, a deeply honorable man who never, but never, cheated on his wife, finding out that his wife was not as faithful as he by a mile.  There’s Libby, who’s been mistaken for years about Finn and Finn’s motivations, which is why she spurned him in the first place.  And there’s all the stuff going on about their families — Libby’s is enormously wealthy, and that’s one reason Finn wasn’t immediately welcomed as a sixteen-year-old suitor, while Finn’s is deceased in the present day, but vitally alive in the many flashback chapters.

Speaking of that, the dual setup of “present day/past actions” works nicely in THE SEACREST, to the point that I didn’t skip any of the sections — not even once, which is quite rare in my experience as I usually am quite impatient with numerous flashback sequences.

You see, the reason I didn’t skip anything — and the reason I didn’t even want to skip over anything — is because of Aaron Paul Lazar’s effortless prose.  I cared about Finn from the very first chapter, you see.  I cared about him in the present, wounded heart and all . . . and I cared about him in the past when he was a virginal, lovestruck teen.

More to the point, there wasn’t a character here I wasn’t interested in reading about — not the odious Jaxson, nor the rather shallow and spoiled Cora, nor complex and tormented Libby, and not even Libby’s nasty husband, Ian.  Because all of them worked in the context of this novel, and all of them held my interest.

That, my friends, is the power of a truly great romance writer.  Which is what Aaron Paul Lazar is — this being his first-ever romance novel notwithstanding.  (Mind, he’s written many, many other books, almost all of them mysteries of one description or other, which is one reason his characterization and plot are so assured.)

Now, as far as what I thought of the plot?  It’s what you’d expect, really, of a good-to-better sensual contemporary romance.  You have two lovers, Finn and Libby, who’ve been parted for far too long with reasons that don’t stand up under the weight of adult examination — and when they try to get back together, all sorts of adult obligations get in the way.  But the power of love has the ability to conquer all obstacles if you let it . . . which means that if you give THE SEACREST time to work its magic, you’ll almost assuredly enjoy it as much as I did.

The only minor drawback is this — the ending wrapped up a little too quickly and a little too neatly for my liking.  (Then again, romance readers want a HEA — happily ever after — and Lazar delivered, so that’s why it’s a minor issue.)  I would’ve liked to see another ten pages to fully flesh out the last plot complication, and I definitely would’ve liked to see these two actually marrying.  (Which really shouldn‘t be considered a spoiler — it’s how they get there that I tried hard not to spoil!)

Bottom line?  THE SEACREST is a winning romance full of heart and soul.  I enjoyed it immensely, and hope it won’t be Lazar’s last foray into the romance genre.

Grade: A-minus.

— reviewed by Barb

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Sabrina Jeffries’ “A Lady Never Surrenders” — Fun, Realistic Historical Romance

 Sabrina Jeffries’s newest romance novel is  A LADY NEVER SURRENDERS, the fifth and final volume in the “Hellions of Halstead Hall” series.  (The fourth story in the “Hellions” series, HOW TO WOO A RELUCTANT LADY, was reviewed here.)  These novels, while not technically “Regencies,” have many of the same elements — including house parties and high fashion — but a great deal more heart than most.

The plot for all five “Hellions” stories is roughly the same: Grandmother Hetty wants all five of the Sharpe children to marry, otherwise she’ll cut them out of her will.  As she’s quite wealthy due to the dint of her own efforts (she and her husband successfully ran a brewery; she’s kept it going since her husband’s passing), this is not an idle threat.  But Hetty made this threat for a good reason — she hates seeing all five Sharpe children believe they’re not worth anything merely because their parents died young, and in scandalous circumstances — which means her heart is in the right place.  All the Sharpe children know this, but they also deeply resent being forced to marry at Hetty’s whim.

It’s because of the Sharpe’s parents deaths being due to “scandalous circumstances” that Jackson Pinter, a Bow Street Runner, has come to know the Sharpes.  Oliver, the eldest Sharpe, has asked him to investigate the circumstances of the death of his parents; it was said at the time that it was a murder-suicide, but Oliver doesn’t believe it and neither do any of his siblings.  The youngest of the lot, Celia, especially doesn’t believe it, and has grown close enough to Jackson to ask his help in evaluating her three most-promising suitors (as she does have the proverbial Sword of Damocles hanging over her head due to her grandmother’s ultimatum).

But Jackson covets Celia for himself, something Hetty really doesn’t like; she’s afraid that Jackson is a fortune hunter, and almost immediately becomes a strong impediment to Celia and Jackson’s happiness.  Hetty doesn’t seem to realize that there is a very strong, very physical connection between Jackson and Celia, mostly because Celia is a chaste, all-but-untouched maiden of twenty-four at the start of this novel, and partly because Celia and Jackson try to conceal it due to Hetty’s past interference with the other four Sharpe siblings.

As Jackson gets closer and closer to solving the murder mystery (something I won’t reveal), he also gets closer to Celia.  The two have so much passion that it’s surprising that Hetty doesn’t see it; sparks seem to fly off them whenever they’re present in the same room, which other characters (including Hetty’s love interest, an elderly retired General) keep pointing out to Hetty’s annoyance.

Here’s a snippet from page 128 to give you an idea just how hot things are, even at the beginning of Jackson and Celia’s physical relationship:

“Now see here,” (Jackson) said, grabbing (Celia’s) shoulders.  “I didn’t kiss you ‘properly’ today because I was afraid if I did I might not stop.”

That seemed to draw her up short.  “Wh-what?”

Sweet God, he shouldn’t have said that, but he couldn’t let her go on thinking that she was some sort of pariah around men.  “I knew that if I got this close and put my mouth on yours . . . . ”

But now he was this close.  And she was staring up at him with that mix of bewilderment and hurt pride, and he couldn’t help himself.  Not anymore.

That, my friends, is really good writing.  It sets the scene; it explains what’s going on, and it shows more than it tells, which is a really neat trick when it comes to romance writing.  (Or any writing at all.)

But good writing wouldn’t be enough, not without good characters to go along with them.  And in Jackson Pinter, Bow Street Runner and possible future magistrate (think: policeman and future judge) and Celia Sharpe, we have two winning characters who love each other first in spite of their cultural differences, then learn to delight in their differences — which echoes the way a real relationship tends to go if you’re truly in love.  (Not to mention the minor characters, including Jackson’s tart-tongued Aunt Ada — excellently drawn, all.)

From top to bottom, Ms. Jeffries wrote another very good romance; it’s a fun, fast read that’s also realistic and humane.  There’s great romance, a good story, a long-unsolved murder mystery to resolve, and excellent characterization.  Add charm, wit, and sensuality — really, how can anyone who likes English historical romances dislike A LADY NEVER SURRENDERS?  Because this novel has it all, and in spades.

Grade: A.

— reviewed by Barb

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