Sleepwalker by Karen Robards

Audiobook narrated by Kate Rudd

Karen Robards has written some of my favorite books and I’ve long counted her as a favorite author. Sadly, those juicy books that stir my blood were written a long time ago.

Sleepwalker is romantic suspense that is lackluster in the romance department and short on the suspense. It has plenty of action — car chases and shootings and such — that fall flat. There are elements of romantic comedy that aren’t all that comedic. I can think of dozens of contemporary romances with cute bickering couples that are far more entertaining.

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Ravished by a Highlander by Paula Quinn

Audiobook narrated by Carrington MacDuffie

Why is the image so large? Well, duh.

In 1685 Scotland highlander Robert MacGregor and his kinsmen happen upon a convent under attack by unknown soldiers, arriving just in time to rescue two lone survivors. Rob feels honor bound to take novice Davina and her guard Edward Asher to safety at Camlochlin, his family’s well-guarded keep hidden in the mists on the Isle of Skye. Asher confides to Rob that Davina’s life is at stake and she will continue to be hunted down by the King’s enemies. Davina’s true identity is a Big Secret, but the warning from the King’s Guardsman regarding the King’s Enemies is, well, a Big Clue.  Continue reading

The Second Chance Cafe by Alison Kent

 

Audiobook narrated by Natalie Ross

I’m a bit late in discovering Alison Kent, but the good news is that she has an extensive backlist to explore. Kent is nothing if not versatile. I’ve enjoyed her works of romantic suspense, sweet home town stories, an angsty reunion, steamy encounters, and incredibly hot cowboys. All good!

I want to call The Second Chance Cafe a sweet romance — and it is — but it’s not uncomplicated nor without angst. There are enough conflicts, obstacles, and hardships here to keep it from being too sweet. I know that I can count on Alison Kent for real grown up characters who behave like adults — flawed adults who struggle to do the right thing.

Grade B for a lovely story and for Natalie Ross who is terrific as usual.

Knight Awakened by Coreene Callahan

Audiobook narrated by Susan Crowley

The promise was there and there were some spectacular moments but this book never came together the way a book should. It read like a series of blackout sketches that left me feeling punked. Add in the nonsensical “history” and the author’s penchant for referring to her characters by different name and allowing them unchecked navel gazing plus hour after hour of irrelevant detail — all of which should have been cut by half — and I’m not a happy listener. I never thought I’d wish for an abridged audio but I sure did with this one. I can’t figure out why the author bothered to provide a 14th century date since this is straight up fantasy complete with magic and dragons. There wasn’t even a wink and a nod given to historical accuracy; every character speaks in 21st century slang.

While I liked a lot about Susan Crowley’s narration, the text kept getting in her way. Excessive repetition is even more annoying when read out loud. The phrase “nape of her neck” is clearly one of the author’s favorites as it seems to appear thousands of times and hearing it over and over again stepped on my last nerve. By the way, we have only one nape and it’s “of” our neck. It is analogous to saying “nose of her face” or “fingers of her hand.” And while I’m nitpicking, every time I heard the heroine’s name Afina my brain heard a mispronunciation of Athena. Was the hero’s name Xavian or Ram? And I have to mention one of my top ten romance novel pet peeves: the sheltered virgin who instinctively knows how to give a world class blow job. Please. Knight Awakened is the first in a paranormal series published by Amazon’s Montlake digital imprint. Montlake gave the series a big PR push when they should have given it a ruthless editor. It’s bloated and lacks continuity and coherency. Too bad because the author is an imaginative storyteller. Grade D for a book that coulda been a contender and grade B for a narrator who enhanced it as well as she could.

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Simply Irresistible by Rachel Gibson

Audiobook narrated by Kathleen Early

I started reading romance novels about the same time Rachel Gibson started publishing them. I’m pretty sure I read Simply irresistible circa 1998 when it was new. I remember that I loved it — really, really loved it. When I saw there was to be a new audio production of the beloved story I had such tender feelings for, I was a little afraid to test my memory and see if my first hockey romance was as good as I remembered.

There’s an awful lot of talk in online romanceland about tropes-tropety-trope-tropes that serve a purpose for some reviewers to in allowing them to pigeonhole, condemn, dismiss, the lovely things about romance novels that made me fall in love with them in the first place.

Let’s see, here we have a bimbo-ish heroine, an alpha asshole hockey star hero, a meet cute, a one-night stand, a secret baby, a long separation, infidelity, an impossibly cute kid, and a woman who rejects help from her very rich (this was before billionaires were all the rage) baby-daddy.

I loved every word of it! It was fresh back then and holds up very nicely thank-you-very-much in the hands of a talented writer of Rachel Gibson’s skill who knows how to deliver a romance. It’s warm and funny and hot and sexy.

Narrator Kathleen Early does a pretty good job. There are narrators who could have punched it up some, but the story is most important here and Early didn’t add much nor detract from it.

Deadly Heat by Cynthia Eden

Audiobook narrated by Justine Eyre

As someone who came to romance through romantic suspense, I’m predisposed to love a firefighter and an FBI agent on the trail of a murdering arsonist. Sadly, my niggles with Deadly Heat started (very!) early and rapidly grew into festering pustules of disbelief and dread that it was going to get worse. It did.

Charlottesville, Virginia firefighter Lora Spade, cavalierly disregarding pesky chain of command, takes it upon herself to call in the FBI because she alone is convinced that a serial arsonist is preying on her town. The FBI, inexplicably, responds with blinding speed (as if POTUS had called), sending in top brass and crack special agent Kenton Lake and team to save the day. Lora and Kent are seized with instant lust, indulging in erotic fantasies at the most amazingly inappropriate moments; for example they’re thinking the sex thoughts while trapped in a burning building and again (my favorite part) over a crispy corpse on the autopsy table. Nothing stops these two bunnies from their mental lusting. Problem is that it was jarring — not organic at all — and I could not stop my eyes from trying to roll out the top of my head. Within hours of their first meeting they lay it all out in a conversation that goes something like this: ‘You’re hot and I want to fuck you.’ That pretty much set the tone for the romance part of the program.

You Belong to Me by Karen Rose

Audiobook narrated by Marguerite Gavin

 Karen Rose’s romantic suspense has set the high bar for tightly plotted, realistic police procedurals with a romance organically woven in. You Belong to Me kicks off a new series set in Baltimore and as anyone who is familiar with her style knows, the action starts with the discovery of a murder victim and the tension doesn’t let up until the last page. Medical examiner Lucy Trask and homicide detective JD Fitzpatrick literally meet over their victim’s corpse and team up to solve what turns into a series of brutal murders. Soon it becomes apparent that all of the victims hail from a nearby small town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, which just happens to be the home town Lucy left behind as a teenager. JD realizes that convincing Lucy to spill the town’s secrets is the key to stopping the murder spree. But as much as Lucy wants to help, she’s as much in the dark about what turned someone she may know into a mad serial killer as the detectives are. Reluctantly agreeing to return to the place that holds dark secrets and memories for her, Lucy and JD work together, get their man, and fall in love. The entire book takes place over the course of a few days and the pace is frenetic.