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Monday, June 29, 2009

Review of The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley
She had me at the first page. I LOVE Ian Mackenzie (that would make a really good bumper sticker!). How amazing is an author who has the cojones to write a hero with asperger syndrome, and make him a fascinating, sexy and heroic character? Pretty damned amazing. I inhaled this book from start to finish...Ian Mackenzie and his fabulous brothers are the most unique, outside-of-the-box characters I have ever read in a historical romance novel. With all sorts of fantastic flaws which have already made this family totally addictive. I cannot wait to read the next one of this series -- Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage will be released sometime in mid-2010. (Also, a holiday anthology, A Christmas Ball, with Jennifer Ashley, Emily Bryan--another one of my favorite historical authors-- et al, will be released in October of 2009. Yippee!!)

Ian Mackenzie suffers from mental illness and was committed to an asylum by his father after witnessing a murder. Doesn't sound so sexy, does it? Well, I am here to tell you that this book is very sexy, and Ian is the coolest hero I have read in a very long time. Ashley is a brilliant writer...all of Ian's quirks and eccentricities paint an amazing portrait of this man. His blunt dialogue, all-absorbing interest in Beth, intense sexuality and single-minded determination to marry this woman make him one hot tamale. 

The mystery is engaging, and the sex is off the charts hot! (I really love historicals that are very, very wicked!). My only criticism of this book is that sudden POV changes within a scene were at times confusing and popped me out of the narrative. 

As I have said before, what really makes a romance novel "sing" for me is the characters. And the characters in this book are unforgettable. After reading a somewhat disappointing mystery novel this week, this fantastic book perked me right up! I cannot recommend this book highly enough, especially for those of you looking for something a bit outside of the regular historical romance formula. I loveitloveitloveitloveitloveit....hee hee...you have to read this book to get that joke! Happy July to all! Grade: A
Looking forward to a jubilant Independence Day celebration, 
Penelope

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Review of Larceny and Lace by Annette Blair



Larceny and Lace by Annette Blair
Penelope has been feeling somewhat cranky lately and nothing could bust me out of my funk. Not my new professional margarita maker. Not a soak in the hot tub at the pool. Not even Top Chef Masters edition. Then, I dove into Annette Blair's latest installment of the Vintage Magic Mystery series, Larceny and Lace, and my whole mood changed. It was better than Lexapro, baby! Why, you ask, did this delightful book accomplish what no frozen alcoholic beverage was able to do? Where to start? Awesome first person narrative, colorful, smart and sassy heroine Madeira Cutler, touching secondary characters including a romantic ghost pining for his lost love who is now 103 years old, as well as a lovely secondary story line with Maddie's widowed father and her Aunt Fiona, snappy dialogue, intriguing mystery (with no excessive blood and violence, which I detest...I like to call Annette's stories "light" mysteries), and finally, delicious sexual tension with Detective Wiener (oops! I meant Werner...hee hee!).

Blair's writing is an absolute breath of fresh air...witty, original, perfectly-paced, and filled with fascinating tidbits. The vintage clothing angle rocks out and makes me want to jump onto a train to NYC and shop for vintage clothes like I did during my freshman year at Vassar with my best friend Jilly B. In spite of the fact that this book has no sex scenes, I hardly noticed. Why? Because the delicious and unexpected sexy undercurrents flowing between Maddie and Wiener (oops! I mean Werner) were soooo totally satisfying. Plus, there was even a scene with a dachshund! You have got to be kidding me...all my favorite things in one book, even a wiener dog!!! Yippee! The only thing that makes me sad about this book is that it's over.

All right, confession time. I actually cried TWO times while reading this book (I know, I know, I'm a big crybaby). The scene where Maddie and her father both smell chocolate, a paranormal indicator that her dead mother's presence is being felt by both of them, was so sweet and touching, I welled up and cried. And the final scene of this book is absolutely wondrous! It was hands-down the best scene in a book I have read in...well, forever. So romantic, so sweet, so embarrassed I was blubbering when my kids got home.

Thank you, Annette Blair, I bow down to the greatness that is this book. Now if there was only a way to package it in pill form, I would be all set. I'm not sure if there is a grade good enough for this baby, so I'm bestowing my first A++! Grade: A++
Larceny and Lace will be released on August 4. It is available for pre-order now from Amazon.
Ready to shop till I drop,
Penelope

Monday, June 22, 2009

End of June Update From Penelope



Only one day left of school! Hard to believe that summer vacation is right around the corner...and all that entails. The ice-cream truck blaring that idiotic music every night and sending my daughter into a sugar-induced coma, being packed in the local pool like a bunch of sardines, and waiting for the most-hated children's complaint since the beginning of time..."Mom, I'm bored!" Actually, I am looking forward to my new Williams and Sonoma margarita maker and lots of fun vacation time spent on lovely New England beaches. 

I also am enjoying some excellent books at the moment. I am thrilled to admit I got a sneak peek at Annette Blair's newest installment of her Vintage Magic Mystery series, Larceny and Lace. It will be released on August 4, just in time for your summer beach trip. Needless to say, it is absolutely marvelous...sweet, sexy and oh so romantic (Penelope is somewhat embarrassed to admit that she cried not once, but twice, while reading this book!) I will be posting my review soon. I also am reading the final book of the Rei Shimura series by Sujata Massey, called Shimura Trouble. This is a superb multi-cultural mystery series with lots of sexual tension between Rei and the men in her life. My latest re-read was Christine Feehan's Dark Fire. Every once in awhile I get in a Carpathian-vampire-sort-of-mood, and plow through the Dark series with gusto. This week I was in the mood for Darius and Tempest, and I think I will pen a Blast From The Past review ASAP. Hope all of you are ready to embrace summer! Get ready for summer romance reading...yah!
Jonesing for a pistachio ice-cream cone,
Penelope

P.S. In celebration of Larceny and Lace, I am posting a photo of one of my Nana's festive vintage hand-bags. Nana's favorite colors were pink and green, and her entire house was decorated accordingly. Check out this delightful basket hand-bag, with pearl peas-in-a-pod, strawberries and watermelon, and a nice collection of bumblebees. More photos to come later in the summer. Do you have any favorite vintage hand-bags? Send me a photo and I'll post it (penelope.romance@gmail.com). 

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Review of Seducing An Angel by Mary Balogh

Seducing An Angel by Mary Balogh
Mary Balogh is breaking my heart. As I mentioned previously, I was wary of this new Huxtable family series. Could they possibly compare to the Bedwyns? --one of the most memorable and fabulous families of romance novel history? I was skeptical, and it appears for good reason. I could tell right from the get-go that Constantine was the most interesting character in this family, and his story has yet to be told. Why did Balogh need to release so many books in such a short amount of time? Not sure what's up with this blitzkrieg of releases, but my feeling is that her writing suffered accordingly. There's something to be said for waiting a whole year for this priceless treasure, a new Balogh book! Yeah, sometimes it's painful, but it makes the book all the more special.

This series started with First Comes Marriage, which offered some possibilities and a sweet love story. The second installment, Then Comes Seduction, was not good. Boring characters make for boring stories. The third book, At Last Comes Love, was a huge improvement, since the characters (particularly the hero Duncan) were much more interesting. However, Balogh has fallen again with Stephen's story, Seducing An Angel. I must admit I never found his character all that intriguing in the previous books. These Huxtables are much too tame for Balogh's usual sense of drama. I also don't really dig heroes with cherubic blonde curls...I know, that's my own personal preference, but there you have it. Now, if he looked like an angel, but was really a devil....that would have made a cool story! But no, he looked like an angel, and he basically is an angel. Bor-ing! Once again, the non-Huxtable characters turn out to be much more interesting -- Cassandra is rumored to have axe-murdered her husband and is now determined to live as a courtesan to survive. The very things that I usually love about Balogh books, such as the long-winded dialogue teasing apart the definition of love, etc., etc., are starting to wear on my nerves. If the characters aren't up to the task, then her books are not successful. Because I am a huge Balogh fan, I'm going to give this book a B-, mostly for effort! (I think you can all tell why my ninth grade science students loved me, right? Easy grader, in addition to showing Arnold Schwarzenegger movies during lab!). But for those of you who are looking for something as wonderful as Simply Love or More Than A Mistress, you will be sorely disappointed. Grade: B-
Thinking I should wait and buy the paperback next time,
Penelope

Monday, June 8, 2009

Favorite Re-Reads..."I'm in the mood for a little..."


Inspired by the lists on Amazon, I decided to compile a list of my favorite re-reads. You know, sometimes you wake up and say, "Hmmm....I'm in the mood for a little bit of....Stephanie Laurens today!" And then you grab your favorite Laurens book and settle down with a cup of tea and a long-haired miniature dachshund curled on your lap. Penelope has so many old favorites that I couldn't possibly list all of them at once, so I'll start with this list of ten, and update it as time permits. 

In no particular order whatsoever....

Katie MacAlister is a master of light paranormal...who knew comedy and vampires were a good combination? But this old classic is my favorite of her books...It is a hilarious tongue-in-cheek take on a Regency romance, and it is superb. 
Goes well with a fuzzy navel.

Betina Krahn is a somewhat inconsistent author...some of her books are wonderful, and some are not. This one rocks! I adore Eloise and Peril, and I've probably re-read this one at least 15 times. A great historical. The seduction scene where they find the wine in the forgotten passageway and Peril seduces the "Sister of Virtue" is delicious.
Enjoy with a mellow glass of merlot.


I often get in a Quinn-ish mood, and re-read one of the classic Bridgerton series. Penelope and Colin are one of the most satisfying couples of romance novel history...the shy, overlooked wallflower who is actually much more than she appears, and the devil-may-care Colin, who is actually less confident than his family realizes. The love story between these two characters is blissfully satisfying.
Read while sipping a crisp classic martini with a twist.


Although contemporary romances are not my favorite, I absolutely adore this book. It is the perfect quirky book...highlights include a Chinese Crested dog who is a disco dance champion, a totally sexy undercover rugby player, and a down-to-earth vet with a crazy Chinese assistant, adopted teenage daughter, kooky father, and deranged ex-husband. The story is sweet, sexy and hilarious.
Pairs well with a margarita.

I could re-read this book a million times and I still get the time-travelling chills. Oh why, oh why, can't time-travelling Scottish warriors be real? Sniff, sniff. Moning's book is hot and decadent.
I'd cozy up with a Ghiradelli dark hot chocolate topped with loads of fluffy home made whipped cream! Whew!

Another one of the few contemporaries I find cute and fun and love to revisit. A cast of kooky characters and a sweet love story between a pair of original and refreshingly flawed 30-somethings makes for a super-fun read.
Suggested pairing: Frozen strawberry daiquiri with festive paper umbrellas.

Every once in a while, I re-read the entire Cynster series. I just get a hankering for those alpha male, sexual dynamo Cynster men and I can't help myself. In addition to her Cynster series, Laurens has created a Bastion Club series, and I also really dig these ex-spies and the ladies they love. I once read this on a cold winter day while drinking a hot cup of tea and tending the fire, and thus the pages are covered with soot and ash. It's a keeper!
Must drink hot cup of jasmine tea while reading about Tristan and Leonora.

Best Romance Couple Ever. Derek Craven and Sara Fielding. God, I love this book! This is the ultimate example of opposites attracting, and it works so well. Kleypas is brilliant. Derek is definitely on my top five romance heroes list (guess I better start working on that one, too!)
Corona with lime. Followed by shot of tequila.

I love the St. Johns brothers. Oh yeah! I love how Anna wins over the troublesome children, interferes with Anthony's fiancee, falls into the lake, etc. etc. So many good things about this book. It's tied with Marcus' story for my favorite Hawkins.
A chilled glass of sparkling apple cider would accompany this one nicely.


Any day of my life I could re-read this master of historical romance novels and sigh with happiness. Perfection. In. Every. Way. Jessica and Dain are one of the best pairings of all time.
There's only one beverage suitable for this book. Champagne.

Penelope would love to hear what's on your re-read list. Let me know!
All my best, Penelope

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Review of To Beguile A Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt

To Beguile A Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt
When I first read Elizabeth Hoyt's debut novel, The Raven Prince, I was amazed. The last time I read a debut novel and thought, Holy Mother, here's a new author I am already addicted to, was the book Warprize by Elizabeth Vaughan. (If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it!) The Raven Prince had a preposterous premise for the book, but nevertheless, Hoyt's writing is so fabulous that I truly didn't care. I absolutely fell in love with her "hero"- and I use that term very loosely, because Hoyt's heroes are flawed men, warts and all. The hero of To Beguile A Beast is no exception. Sir Alistair Munroe is horribly disfigured from an extremely traumatic wartime incident. He is cranky, blunt, irritable, and rude. I love him! And luckily for him, eventually beautiful Helen Fitzwilliam does, too. Hoyt's sex scenes are among the best written by a historical romance author...very earthy, lusty, and real. No flowery prose or formalities here. You get a very real sense of the characters' physical attraction, and that is not so common in historical romance. The underlying message about physical beauty is a theme I really like...Helen was chosen as a mistress by an arrogant duke because of her beauty, but it means nothing to her since he treats her as a possession. Alistair is so disfigured that small children scream in horror when they see him. And yet Helen and her children learn to love the man he is inside...filled with honor, integrity, and intellectual curiosity. As my faithful readers know, there is nothing I like better than the redemption of a broken man through the love of a good woman (Sydnam in Balogh's Simply Love, Zsadist in JR Ward's Lover Awakened, Zarek in Kenyon's Dance With The Devil). Watching the transformation of Alistair's crumbling castle and ruined life, into a home filled with love, and a future filled with hope, is a wonderful journey for the reader. I absolutely adored this book, and I know that it will be re-read many times in the future. Thank you Elizabeth Hoyt for creating another masterpiece for romance lovers everywhere. Grade: A+
Wishing Alistair Munroe was my next door neighbor,
Penelope 

Monday, June 1, 2009

Review of Illegal Moves by Dalton Diaz and Samantha Cayto

Illegal Moves by Dalton Diaz and Samantha Cayto
For the first time in Penelope history, I will be reviewing...an erotic menage story (oh! I am feeling a bit naughty!), as well as an e-book (Illegal Moves is available on Ellora's Cave).  I have read various erotic stories in the past, including some novels I really enjoyed by Emma Holly such as Prince of Ice and the amazing short story The Night Owl (found in the anthology Hot Blooded).  My romance needs are simple...I need some good old fashioned love with my sex scenes.  If an erotica has that all-important emotional connection coupled with the hot, steamy sex, then I'm a happy camper.  Illegal Moves has it all...characters who come to life (okay, every word I write seems to have a double entendre...this is going to be difficult), a great sense of humor, steaming hot sex scenes, and the emotional satisfaction of a couple finding love together again after fifteen long years. Diaz and Cayto write with a smooth, contemporary voice that seamlessly combines the humor, sex and storyline and keeps a brisk pace going throughout the book. (Yeah, I like it fast...okay, there's another one).  They are especially talented at capturing the male point of view.  Jordan and Seth are both highly likable characters...successful, loyal, sexy and loving. Caroline has a painful past to overcome, and she finds happiness with not one, but two wonderful men.  This erotic tale perfectly combines the lust and love, and rewards the reader with a HEA (Happily Ever After), and hopefully a sequel for Seth, who is totally cool and deserving of his own story.

Dalton Diaz is a member of The Quirky Ladies (my romance writers critique group), and I have had the extreme pleasure of reading several of her works in progress. The woman is a seriously talented writer. My manuscripts come back to me with MANY corrections from the Quirks (slashing adverbs left and right, criticizing the foul language of a bunch of elves, etc etc), but Dalton's books are basically flawless the first time around. Grumble, grumble. Anyway, for those of you looking for a spicy menage story, I hightly recommend Illegal Moves.  Kick it up a notch, baby!
Grade: A 
Penelope