July 6, 2012

The Watchmaker's Lady by Heather Massey (The Clockpunk Trilogy, Book 1)A novelette that contains some of the most fascinating themes I have ever read in a romance, let alone an erotic specfic, and leaves behind a strong and inspiring sentiment.

I am receptive to just about any story—it doesn’t matter what it’s about, or how morally ambiguous or taboo it is, it’s all in how it’s written and presented. The Watchmaker’s Lady certainly makes for unconventional reading, challenging the traditional notions of a romantic story, as it involves a deeply loving and sexual relationship between a man and a doll.

That’s right, a doll.

The exploration and exploitation of the fetish isn’t exactly new in fiction, but it’s arguably a daring premise in the romance genre. I’ve put it quite crudely just now, but don’t go pulling repulsed faces yet. The Watchmaker’s Lady does have a man and a female automaton having sex—lots and lots of sex—but this is no typical fetish story. Author Heather Massey assures us that ‘if you dig a little deeper beneath the kink you’ll discover a heart-warming romance between two soul mates’.

And so it is, but it does take some digging.

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July 2, 2012

Handpicked by Siew Siang TayA mixed bag—the characters aren’t sugar-coated, but the plot and characters lack depth, and I’m not entirely sold on the ending.

This review is part of the AWW2012 Reading and Reviewing Challenge. Click here for a list of books I’ve read so far.

It’s taken me three years to finally read this story about Laila, a mail-order bride from Malaysia looking for a better life in South Australia with a man she’s known for a year via letters.

On one hand, the plot intrigued me. The term ‘mail-order bride’ is often pejoratively used, and I wanted to see its portrayal by Malaysian Australian author Siew Siang Tay. On the other hand, I wasn’t sure I’d like the ending.

When Laila leaves her family in Malaysia in order to marry a man she’s never met, her father all but disowns her. But she has bigger dreams than an arranged marriage and life in a farm, and when she lands in South Australia and finally meets Jim, she’s overwhelmed with happiness.

Until she sees the caravan.

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June 29, 2012

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (His Fair Assassin, Book 1)A fresh, new series that will appeal to teenagers and adults alike. Also, killer nuns, historical intrigue and romance!

Ismae is the 17-year old daughter of Death. Rescued from her life and delivered to the Convent of St Mortain, she is trained to be an assassin. Her mission is to protect the Duchy of Brittany’s heir, Anne, from her many enemies. Ismae is sent to court to kill the traitor set on destroying Anne’s future but finds that all is not what it seems.

I loved this book. First of all, there are killer nuns. Ismae is rescued from her father (who was always pissed that death sired a child with his wife) and sent to the convent. She discovers a natural expertise in poisons and learns how to kill people with different weaponry. I love how the nuns have their own talents, and how their many weapons are hidden in what I feel are realistic ways under their clothing. (Anyone ever seen an action movie and wondered just where the women put those giant guns under their mini-skirts? (No, not that giant gun!))

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June 15, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. JamesThis book has surpassed its humble origins, and if you can overlook an under-defined heroine and clunky prose, you’ll find a lot to enjoy, especially in the bedroom.

This series has engendered some very polarised opinions. Some people refuse to read it on principle because of its origins as Twilight fanfic (posted as Master of the Universe). As dirty as I feel to think that just a pair of fangs and a sparkle may be all that separates me from the Twihards, my opinion is what it is. Fifty Shades of Grey hit the mark for me.

I originally read the e-book a few months ago, looking for BDSM smut and as long as the story (and especially the sex scenes) can convince me of the inherent conflict, connection and creativity between the hero and heroine, I might not notice or care about things that irritate other readers, such as the first person/present tense writing, hero Christian Grey naming his company Grey Enterprises Holdings when either Holdings or Enterprises would have sufficed (Holdings gets my vote), or Ana describing Christian’s ‘cool, cold lips’.

Although the quality of the writing is questionable, I sometimes wonder if that isn’t part of its appeal, lending a greater sense of intimacy because it feels less like a professionally published book than someone’s diary.

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June 6, 2012

Jilted by Rachael JohnsA rare species—an outback romance that fits squarely into the romance genre without losing its character. The setting is familiar but not intrusive, and the story navigates some very emotional territory.

This review is part of the AWW2012 Reading and Reviewing Challenge. Click here for a list of books I’ve read so far.

It’s no secret that I love the idea of outback romance, but I’ve not had much luck finding authors who hit the right balance of romance, setting and character for me. With her new release, Jilted, published under Harlequin’s Mira imprint, Rachael Johns has become one of those rare authors.

Aussie soap star Ellie Hughes is persona non grata in her home town of Hope Junction. Ten years ago, she stood up her childhood sweetheart, Flynn, before going on to become a media sensation and household name.

Now she’s back, determined to care for her injured godmother even though she knows she’ll be walking into hostile territory. Flynn has never forgotten his childhood sweetheart—nor the kind of man he became when she left him standing at the altar. Neither has Hope Junction, and they’re going to make sure Ellie knows it.

Jilted is an outback romance with broad appeal. The setting never overshadows the characters, and the romance follows a familiar path without being too predictable. It feels like an extended Australian Superromance. The plot navigates some very emotional territory and, yes, it made me cry.

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May 25, 2012

Destiny of the Light by Louise Cusack (Shadow Through Time Trilogy, Book 1)This book is heavy on the intrigue and light on the introspection, but there’s plenty of room for strong, independent female characters.

This review is part of the AWW2012 Reading and Reviewing Challenge. Click here for a list of books I’ve read so far.

Catherine lost her mother to cancer and her twin brother in an apparent suicide. When she visits the cliff where she last saw her twin, she’s compelled by a voice in her mind to jump.

So she does.

Catherine wakes up in a strange land in which she is apparently the long-lost Princess Khatrene and her brother, now called Mihale, is the ruling king of Ennae. Though she dies after her jump, Talis, her Guardian, saves her using his special brand of magic.

What follows is a kind of epic road trip interspersed with battles, pursuits, magical machinations and political intrigue. It’s not always easy to follow the plot. There are so many characters and strands that you need to be fully invested in the story to keep track of it all, and I admit that the story couldn’t always sustain my attention.

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May 23, 2012
The Duke's Perfect Wife by Jennifer Ashley (Highland Pleasures, Book 4)

The Duke's Perfect Wife by Jennifer Ashley (Highland Pleasures, Book 4)

A moving second-chance romance with well-developed characters. I can’t say enough about this series.

Hart Mackenzie, head of the notorious Mackenzie family, plans to run for prime minister. He took over as head of the family at a young age, protecting his younger siblings from his psychotic father. He was once engaged to Eleanor Ramsay, the love of his life, daughter of an eccentric but impoverished earl. Unfortunate circumstances led to the breaking of their engagement and it’s quite obvious from the start that they never really got over each other.

Now, Eleanor is back in his life, having received a nude photograph of Hart taken a long time ago. Who sent the photos? And can he really handle having Eleanor back in his life?

This story reads like it could have come out of a modern tabloid. Aspiring political candidate let his ex-mistress take photos of him naked when he was young, she died under scandalous circumstances (see book 1) and suddenly his ex-fiancee is receiving the photos in the mail, one by one. If this gets out in the press, Hart’s political career and his party are ruined and with it his dream of an independent Ireland (then Scotland!) someday. So in comes Eleanor, the ex-fiancee, to find the origin of said photos, under the pretense of being his secretary.

I love well-written second chance romances and author Jennifer Ashley does them very well. To me this is what the story is about, and the photos come second. Ashley does a good job of fleshing out Hart and Elizabeth’s relationship and slowly showing us what led to the last big break up before bringing them back together.

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May 4, 2012
The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa (The Blood of Eden, Book 1)

The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa (The Blood of Eden, Book 1)

A compelling read, given Julie Kagawa’s brilliant writing and ability to create characters we can sympathise with, but it offers nothing new in terms of the vampire mythos.

Oh how I wanted so badly to LOVE this book! It had all the ingredients of a five-star read—most especially in today’s young adult (YA) market. Post-apocalyptic? Check. Vampires? Check. Did I hear you say, What about zombies? Check that, too (though they’re not named thus in the book, they are pretty much the mindless, walking dead with a one-track mind: to eat you).

Throw in a feisty katana-wielding female lead and a love interest worthy of being swooned at and it should have been a straightforward A+. Ach, but it pains me to admit that it falls short of being mind blowing.

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May 2, 2012
Flawless by Carrie Lofty (The Christies, Book 1)

Flawless by Carrie Lofty (The Christies, Book 1)

A second chance romance filled with adventure and set in a South African diamond mine. Not your conventional romance.

Lady Vivienne Bancroft’s father, Sir William Christie, died and left each of his four children an inheritence. For them to claim it, each one has to take a part of his business and make it successful. Vivienne ends up with a diamond mine in South Africa that she has to make profitable in a year.

Miles Durham, Viscount Bancroft, and his wife have been estranged for a few years. He wants to get her back and somehow prove himself to her by taking part in making the venture profitable.

I love adventure romances in your not so average settings! It’s not often that you get a romance in colonial South Africa—in a diamond mine, no less—and for that alone I bought this book. (Okay, Rendezvous also recommended it in their newsletter.) It didn’t disappoint.

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April 26, 2012
The Lone Warrior by Denise Rossetti (Four-sided Pentacle, Book 3)

The Lone Warrior by Denise Rossetti (Four-sided Pentacle, Book 3)

Despite some poignant moments, too many inconsistent elements may prevent you from fully enjoying the story. Best enjoyed as part of the series in which it belongs.

This review is part of the AWW2012 Reading and Reviewing Challenge. Click here for a list of books I’ve read so far.

When Denise Rossetti this year’s Australian Romance Readers Award for The Lone Warrior for Favourite Erotic Romance, I knew I had to read this book. I’m not sure who categorised this book for the awards, but it’s more fantasy romance than erotic, and the publisher label at the back of the book says ‘paranormal romance’.

When Mehcredi’s attempt to do the Necromancer’s bidding goes awry, she’s bound to the service of earth shaman Walker. Abandoned as a child, Mehcredi doesn’t know how to be with people, and effectively being trapped into dealing with a bunch of strangers brings old insecurities to the surface.

Mehcredi gradually finds some peace within Walker’s circle of friends, and some measure of self-confidence. When Walker frees her from her bond so he can pursue his quest to avenge his slain kin—he’s the only one left after they were wiped out by demons—Mehcredi insists on coming along, disguised as Walker’s apprentice.

The beginning of this story had me hooked. Until Mehcredi and Walker set off on their journey, I was invested in her story—of her awful childhood and how she makes new friends, gains self-esteem and, at times, loses progress. I was particularly moved by her description of masturbating, as a child, in a closet:

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