Wednesday, February 29, 2012


SMOOTH TALKING STRANGER (Travises #3) by Lisa Kleypas

Hardcover, 352 pages
Published March 31st 2009 by St. Martin's Press
Genre: contemporary romance novel
Rating: 5 stars

When writing the review of a LK’s book, the risk is to sound redundant because she consistently  delivers with her signature style and she is always at her best whatever she writes, either historical or contemporary.

So, let me give it to you straight and simple…there are at least ten good reasons to love Smooth Talking Stranger.
  1. The first person POV: Ms. Kleypas treats us to a smooth and flawless first person narrative style…what a pleasant surprise!
  2. The LK trademark descriptive style: Ms. Kleypas’s highly descriptive prose delivers dramatic and effective characterization of  protagonists and their (Texan) environment. STS, like many other LK novels, has a strong “film” quality. It would work beautifully on screen!  
  3. The richly nuanced characters: whether main or secondary, they are all striking and tridimensional, believable and endearing. Our heroine Ella Varner, in particular, with her tragic family background, her narcissistic mother and sister, her bookish personality, her fears and inhibitions.
  4. The “on the mark” description of family dynamics, either normal or dysfunctional. You can’t but relate to this fictional microcosm.
  5. The heart-wrenching storyline…I have to admit I got misty-eyed when the protagonist, Ella, heartbreakingly returns her baby nephew to the care of his mom. When a story is so well written, the suspension of disbelief kicks in…and you find yourself shedding tears, laughing and pining for these fictional characters and their fortunes/misfortunes.
  6. The love story, as much more emotionally charged as stronger is the reluctance of one of the protagonists to be sentimentally involved…because love means facing your biggest fears.
  7. Tasteful and sophisticated sensuality, building up through the pages and enhanced by a strong romantic tension.
  8. A great stand-alone novel, although embedded in a trilogy. And brace yourself, because a further installment of the Travises  Series is in the works!
  9. Male characters to die for…if you don’t fall in love with Jack Travis within the first one hundred pages, something is seriously wrong with you. Distractingly handsome and downright sweet…enough said.
  10.  Heartwarming fairytale quality: yes, you could certainly put this one on your “modern fairytales bookshelf” and keep it, because it will give you sheer joy reading it over and over again. SATISFACTION GUARANTEED!


Tuesday, February 21, 2012



Mass Market Paperback, 373 pages
Published August 1st 2000 by Avon Books
Genre: historical romance novel
Rating: 5 stars plus

This is not an ordinary well-written historical romance novel: this is one of the most  poignant, emotional, heart-wrenching love stories I have ever read. The two protagonists (the tough business man Zachary Bronson and the aristocratic and devoted widow Holly Taylor) are among the most unforgettable and three-dimensional characters Ms. Kleypas has ever created.
Incredibly wealthy and ruthless Zachary Bronson is in need of a highborn bride in order to be well accepted by the aristocratic society he longs to belong to. A street fighter in his younger days, he has accumulated wealth and power beyond belief as a speculator, landowner and entrepreneur in the flourishing business of the locomotive railroads.
He turns everything he touches into gold, but he lacks breeding, education, and refinement. Despised by the aristocracy for being as wealthy as vulgar,  he tries to buy his place in society hiring the aristocratic and beautiful widow Holly Taylor as a social guide for himself and his family. His need of an etiquette tutor is just an excuse : in reality he had already fallen in love with the widow during a ball and believing himself to be too unpolished and undeserving of her affection, he finds the way to hire her to keep her close as long as possible.  For those who are familiar with Dreaming of You (read my review here), another unforgettable LK historical gem, Zachary is a milder and more romantic version of another vividly portrayed self-made man, Derek Craven. 

The thing that never fails to amaze me about Ms. Kleypas is her wonderful descriptive style: every room of every palace, every character of every novel, either protagonist or secondary, their physical appearance, the way they dress, the way they talk, the way they look at each other, the historical background  is so accurately described and three-dimensional. The dialogues are always great, the interactions between the protagonists, the family dynamics  are always mesmerizing: in LK novels there is no room for those unnerving silly banters so typical of many other historical romances. This is a pure love story, perfect and captivating in its simplicity. The love scenes are scarce in the first part of the  novel, but the romantic and sexual tension pervades the entire book from page one and builds up throughout the chapters. Steaming passion imbues the second half of the novel, featuring some extremely tasteful  and emotionally charged love scenes. You can really tell that LK poured a lot of heart and soul in them. They are simply magnificent.

Unlike many other readers complaining  about the last couple of chapters as being superfluous and draggy, I particularly enjoyed the final pages because they help portray our hero Zachary as a real gentleman and they are quite gratifying: despite his reputation as a vulgar and ruthless social climber, Zachary proves to be honest, charitable , generous and compassionate. His interactions with Holly’s daughter and all the other scenes of family bliss are rather heartwarming.

What else to say…when I thought I had read her best works (Devil in Winter and Again the Magic), here is another  example of LK extraordinary story-telling talent. The quality of her writing style really sets her leagues and leagues above her fellow romance novel writers.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


LORD OF SCOUNDRELS (Scoundrels #3) by Loretta Chase

Mass Market Paperback, 375 pages
Published January 1995 by Avon Books 
Genre: historical romance novel
Rating: 5 stars
Of all the romance novels inspired by the timeless  fairytale of Beauty and the Beast, Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase is probably one of the best ones, my favorite anyway. What I loved the most about it is the strength and the vulnerability of the protagonists (polar opposites in personality and physical look), the way they wonderfully match and complement each other, the mutual trust they struggle to achieve and when they finally do…well, it’s heaven. 

Sebastian Marquess of Dain, notorious, brutish, arrogant, devilish, wounded and scarred at the age of eight by the loss of his mother, by the cold and cruel upbringing of his father and by the bullying he had to suffer in school because of his “not exactly handsome” looks, is attracted by Jessica’s clean innocence and determination, smart brain and delicate beauty. Jessica Trent , headstrong and independent, beautiful and ladylike, is charmed by his virility and strength, but most of all she can sense his incredibly deep and repressed need for love and acceptance.

Witty dialogues, steamy love scenes, great romantic tension, heart-wrenching plot…you couldn’t ask for more. Extremely enjoyable reading!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

THE DEMON LOVER by Juliet Dark

THE DEMON LOVER (Fairwick Chronicles #1) by Juliet Dark aka Carol Goodman

Paperback, 416 pages
Published December 27th 2011 by Random House Publishing Group 
Genre: paranormal romance novel, fantasy
Rating: 4.5 stars

I’ll begin this review by saying that I really loved this book and I would whole-heartedly recommend it, especially to those who enjoy reading books in a series. Since I don’t normally read paranormal novels, I had the advantage of having a non-biased frame of mind: whether a paranormal romance or an urban fantasy, I didn’t have any particular expectations about it and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The first thing that hit me about The Demon Lover was the cover: there’s something utterly alluring, gloomy and romantic at the same time (Gothic I would say) about the silhouette of a young woman with long russet hair, clad in a beautiful blue gown against a desolate landscape of bare trees and black birds… I know it would be a mistake to judge a book merely by the cover, but isn’t that the first thing that meets the eye? What shows on the first page grabs the attention and somehow sets the tone of the entire book.  In this case I was certainly not misled by the cover. 

Beautifully written in a pleasant and smooth first-person narrative style, TDL doesn’t fall in the clear-cut category of a paranormal novel , or an  urban fantasy  for that matter. It features a strong romantic spin that will appeal to a “romance-novel-reader’s sensitivity”, such as mine. And I was sold on it from the start…a marvelous blend of fiction, romance,  paranormal…what else can you ask for?

The Gothic and paranormal elements, the folkloristic aspects, the fairytale quality of a small and charming college town, the literary references, the romantic spin and the sensuality related to the myth of a supernatural being known as incubus, demon lover or love talker, everything falls into place and helps creating a fantasy world populated by otherworldly and vividly portrayed creatures, disguised as humans and perfectly blended in the academic environment of a colorful college town.
My favorite character is obviously the demon lover with his handsome human incarnation Liam: this creature made of shadow and moonlight, scented like ocean breeze and honeysuckle, is an interesting mix of love (for the heroine Callie), longing and hope (to belong to the human world once again) and doom (he has been chased away and is trapped in the shadows between two worlds). He is a dual character and, for this reason, he is even more intriguing. Like Callie, you can’t help falling for the supernatural seducer haunting our heroine in her dreams and for his incarnation, the loving, caring, passionate, romantic poet Liam.
Callie holds herself from diving completely into the emotional depths of her feelings for the demon which haunts her dreams (and eventually her real life) since her teenage years. There is a deep rooted connection between them: some important revelations about her origins will be unveiled in this novel, but we will probably need to wait for the sequel to fully understand their entity in relation to the incubus. The Demon Lover/Liam Doyle used to haunt Callie’s dreams after the loss of her parents: his presence was of great comfort and soothed  her sorrow by telling bedtime  stories. Over the years, Callie’s dreams involving this mysterious man become more erotic and vivid, only to stop when she starts some serious studies on the subject.  

Callie Mac Fay, recently graduated and author of a best-selling book about the sex lives of the demon lovers, takes a job  as a folklore teacher at the Fair wick College. Against her better judgment, she even buys an old (and haunted) Victorian house. Her instincts tell her to stay away from that remote place and to pursue a career at a more prestigious college in New York City, where she would also be able to continue her relationship with her college sweetheart. Quite inexplicably, something draws her to stay in the picturesque Fair wick,  where she will actually settle down and experience a surprising sense of belonging.  Daughter of two archeologists, orphan since the age of twelve, she had spent her teenage years with her glacial grandmother in a sterile New York apartment.
As soon as she moves in her new Victorian house, Callie is visited again by the demon lover and willingly seduced. Fed by her fascination and love, the demon incarnates in a flesh and blood poet/scholar who will join the Fair wick academic community, the handsome Liam Doyle. She is drawn to him, but she is reluctant to admit her feelings.

It is obvious that the author intended for this open-ending book to be the first installment of a series, and this is why we’re left on a huge cliff-hanger right at the end. The fact that TDL doesn’t really work as a stand-alone novel is one of the few flaws. In an effort to prepare the ground for a sequel (a trilogy apparently), the author starts different threads in the storyline: besides the romantic involvement between the demon and Callie, multiple characters and their mysteries unfold (the Bullard curse, Mara’s papers disappearance, The Grove, Frank’s under-cover investigations, the doors to the Fairy world, the Borderline creatures etc.) and none of them really has a closure within the final pages of this book.

The other flaw is that the multiple plot lines tend to distract the reader from what should be, by all means, the core of the novel. Unfortunately, the captivating relationship between the heroine and the demon doesn’t unfold as sweetly as we might expect. By the end of the book it will remain unfulfilled and at some point throughout the novel I found myself wondering what happened to the demon, left behind an array of other issues and mysteries. The final pages seem to be rushed and abruptly ended. The author wraps it up with the clear intention to leave some loose ends for a future installment, hopefully soon to come and worth the wait. I am hoping in a comeback of our demon lover: how delicious would the sequel be if he could redeem himself, regain his humanity and win Callie’s love not only as an incubus but also as a human being?
Anyway, I have rated TDL 4.5 stars in the light of what it could have been and will possibly and hopefully be in the sequel (The Water Witch).

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


MY RUTHLESS PRINCE (The Inferno Club #4) by Gaelen Foley

Paperback, 384 pages
Published December 27th 2011 by Avon 
Genre: historical romance novel
Rating: 4 stars
My Ruthless Prince is my fourth Gaelen Foley romance novel after Prince Charming, My Dangerous Duke and Lord of Ice, which I have utterly adored. Yet, I am afraid   this one didn’t live up to the high standards  set by my previous readings, all rated 5 stars and rightly so. 

If on one hand MRP fulfills my expectations in terms of clever plot, always intriguing and at times even breathtaking (the final chapters will keep your eyes glued to the pages of the book), I found the romantic tension between the protagonists to be surprisingly tame, especially if compared to the sizzling romance Ms. Foley has been able to create in the above mentioned novels.  
The reason probably lays in the very nature of our hero Drake Lord Westwood, a warrior perilously treading between good and evil, light and darkness: months of physical tortures, hatred, betrayal, revenge and deception certainly don’t encourage a free display of feelings, let alone love and passion.

Thank Heavens for our heroine Emily Harper! So genuine and fresh (like all Foley’s female characters are), so loving and generous, smart and ethereal like a fairy of the woods, perfect counterpart and matching complement of her dark and fallen lover Drake.  For me, she is the defining element of the novel, the spirit that holds everything together, symbol of the healing power of unconditional love, a love so powerful and deep that will bring our hero back to life, back to his true honorable self.