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99 cent ebook: The Piano Tutor by Anthea Lawson

Short and sweet, The Piano Tutor by Anthea Lawson is the story of the time when Lady Diana Waverly threw propriety to the goats.

As the short story begins, widow Diana is roused by beautiful sounds of a melodic piano, only to discover that her stepdaughter’s piano teacher has not arrived, but instead has sent a much younger substitute in his place. Diana quickly falls for Nicholas Jameson, offering to him something she hasn’t given to anyone in quite some time…

Before it was published as an ebook, The Piano Tutor was originally featured in The Mammoth Book of Regency Romance, an anthology of Regency short stories. Because of the length of the story — about 20ish pages — it is difficult for Lawson to fully develop the characters. Instead of getting to know Diana and Nicholas, the reader is forced to simply enjoy the pace and movement of the story.

In this instance, it works in Lawson’s favor. She’s paced the story well, filled it out with a lot of beautiful writing and flowery prose, and given the reader a reason to believe in love stories. It’s short and sweet, and there isn’t a whole lot to it — I would call it an estory rather than an ebook — but it likely will leave you smiling at the end.

Title: The Piano Tutor | By: Anthea Lawson | Publisher: Anthea Lawson, 2011 | RLB Grade: B | Find it on Amazon: The Piano Tutor


Chocolate Goodies by Jacquelin Thomas

I really, really wanted to like Chocolate Goodies by Jacquelin Thomas. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Business is good for chocolate-store owner Coco Stanley, who comes from a long line of chocolatiers. But when D-Unit moves in across the street, bringing what Coco judges to be “thugs” to the area, she’s less-than thrilled. That is, until she meets Ransom Winters, the Grammy-award winning songwriter who just happens to be the owner of D-Unit.

Coco quickly discovers that D-Unit is a program for at-risk boys suspended from school. Though she initially dislikes having the “dangerous” boys in her neighborhood, Coco eventually learns to look past the clothes and attitudes while learning what has put the boys in their specific circumstances. Through the boys, Ransom teaches Coco that a person can’t be judged his or her appearance, all while discovering his birth family and convincing her that he is the man for her future…

I loved the premise of this story. Though I personally am not from a broken home, I grew up in an area where broken homes were semi-common. It was normal to hear of classmates who hadn’t been able to finish their homework because they’d been at work to help support their family. It wasn’t uncommon for students to make what appeared to be poor choices out of desperation.

Luckily, I personally never faced any of those types of difficulties, but I saw many friends and classmates with potential ruin their lives because they didn’t know where to turn. Too embarrassed or too proud to ask for help, they struggled along trying the best they could to help their families while watching grades fall, forever changing the futures.

Those friends faced a very different future than I did. For them, it wasn’t about getting good grades and going to college. It was about survival.

Those are exactly the type of students that Thomas describes in her novel – the ones with talent, with intelligence, with ability, but with no one to help, no one to care, and no one to put them in line. Because I saw so many classmates in the same situation growing up, I was thrilled to see that Thomas had written a novel to shed some light on the good students who just need a little help; who just need someone to care.

And while I loved the premise, I did not at all love the story. Granted, the boys in the story were not the main storyline, but rather a subplot – but one that added dimension to the story.

And boy did the story need dimension. By the time Coco and Ransom declared their love for one another — ON PAGE 82! — I was ready to quit reading. There is, honestly, no reason to care about either character in this book. They are so one dimensional and so flat that I just could not eek out any feelings for either of them. The chemistry between the two of them is non-existent, and I simply did not care if they got together forever or not.

On top of that, the dialogue is painfully wooden and the prose is merely serviceable. There is no drama, no rising or falling action in this story. It just carries along at a slow, even-keeled pace. There is nothing to evoke emotion whatsoever.

If I had to describe it in one word: Boring.

I did like the theme of the story — essentially don’t judge a book by its cover, first impressions aren’t always what they seem — but it’s just not enough to push me to recommend the book. Even with a premise I loved, this book wasn’t worth it. Skip this one.

Title: Chocolate Goodies | By: Jacquelin Thomas | Publisher: Kimani Press, 2010 | Series: Ransom (Not official name) | ISBN: 978-0373861491 | RLB Grade: D | Find it on Amazon: Chocolate Goodies


The Sheik and the Bought Bride by Susan Mallery

There is just something about a sexy man of the desert that gets me going. Kateb of Susan Mallery’s The Sheik and the Bought Bride is no disappointment.

Victoria, the heroine, however, is disappointing at times. Though she clearly is a strong and motivated character, Victoria just wasn’t convincing for me. Perhaps it was because she developed feelings for Kateb after he offered her an electric outlet to curl her hair.

But I digress – let me start at the beginning. In The Sheik and the Bought Bride, Texan Victoria McCallan is roused from her sleep in the middle of a desert palace after her father has cheated in a game of cards with Prince Kateb. Being the scoundrel that he is, Victoria’s father didn’t have the money to pay up on his wagers, so he offered his daughter, currently an assistant to Prince Nadim, in exchange.

Instead, Kateb plans to throw Victoria’s father in jail. That is, until he learns that Victoria is willing to offer herself in exchange for her father’s freedom. Although Kateb is uncomfortable with the exchange, he feels it is necessary to recognize and honor such a selfless compromise.

Except, Kateb isn’t really interested in Victoria. He doesn’t trust her and believes she’s simply out to marry for money, as she openly admits to trying to attract Prince Nadim for the financial security he would be able to provide. When Kateb discovers that Victoria is not as shallow as he believed, however, he begins to think twice about the arrangement…

As mentioned, Kateb is an awesome character. He’s brooding, dark, handsome, has a strong back-story and is well developed. I love him and instantly felt a connection with him.

My feelings toward Victoria, on the other hand, aren’t quite so cut-and-dry. On one hand, she’s shallow, as her feelings about Kateb her curling iron show. On the other hand, she, too, has a strong and interesting back-story, is multi-dimensional, and in the end, turns out to be the character that, as a reader, I wanted her to be.

I just felt a little bit like Mallery used her along the way to insult the reader somewhat. I mean, really, she recognizes her feelings for Kateb because he offers her electricity to curl her hair? And then to mention it several times throughout the novel? It’s just a little to thin to be believable.

Though I won’t go into detail, the ending of the story is a little unbelievable, as well, but I think it works. I was pleasantly surprised by the twist the ending took. It’s different from typical romance novels, and I kind of enjoyed the additional action. I definitely think it’s worth hanging on for.

So, while I undoubtedly have mixed feelings for Victoria, I still would highly recommend this book. It’s short — 210 pages — and a quick and easy read, but the pacing is great and the depth of the story is enough to keep the reader moving along. The story will be over before you know it!

Title: The Sheik and the Bought Bride | By: Susan Mallery | Series: Desert Rogues, Book 14 | Publisher: Harlequin, 2009 | ISBN: 9780373654819 | RLB Grade: B | Amazon: The Sheik and the Bought Bride (Harlequin Special Edition)


Spellbound by Nora Roberts

First things first: Spellbound by Nora Roberts is not a novel. At 81 pages, I would barely even call it a novella. It was released in 1998 as part of Once upon a Castle, a compilation of short stories. It was released in 2005 as a stand-alone story.  Unlike most of Roberts’ books, this one has an equal number of one- and five-star reviews on Amazon. Keep all of that in mind.

Spellbound is the story of American Calin Farrell, an over-worked, famous, 30-year-old photographer who has long had strange dreams. After a particularly stressful period, Calin decides on a whim that he is going to take off and relax in Ireland.

When he arrives in the countryside, he finds himself at a ruined castle, where he discovers that his fantasy dreams might not have been dreams, after all. At the castle, Calin quickly comes across Bryna, the beautiful woman — oops, I mean witch — who he’s seen in his dreams since childhood.

Turns out, Bryna and Calin have been bound together for more than 1,000 years through ancestry and spells. And now, Bryna needs Calin’s help before it’s too late…

While the love story between Calin and Bryna is definitely fast-paced and interesting, it’s simply too shallow. Because of the length of the story, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to develop any type of relationship or emotions for the characters. It’s hard to follow the thought process behind their actions, since there isn’t time for an explanation, and at times its difficult to understand the development of the situation. There isn’t enough back story for everything to make sense.

It’s too bad, because the premise is interesting, though maybe a little clichéd. The story had potential, but Roberts simply didn’t take the time to develop it into a full-blown novel. I would have liked to see more from this story.

If you would like to read Spellbound, I would recommend picking it up from your library or purchasing it for Kindle or in your local bookstore. Don’t buy it online in paperback form — it’s not worth the price of shipping. 

Title: Spellbound | By: Nora Roberts | Publisher: Penguin | ISBN: 978-0515140774 | RLB Grade: C

Find it on Amazon: Spellbound


The Vampire Voss by Colleen Gleason

I originally started writing the review for The Vampire Voss before I was finished with the book. It turned out to be futile, though, because my opinion changed dramatically within the last 40 pages. So I started over.

I was really excited to read this book because it combines two of my favorite subgenres: paranormal and historical romance. About 340 pages in, I was still a little disappointed — not because it was a bad book, but because I loved the heroine and hated the hero. Author Colleen Gleason managed to write a change in the hero that changed the way I felt about him and the novel as a whole.

In this regency romance, Angelica Woodmore finds herself in the precarious position of imposition on Dimitri, Earl of Corvindale, with whom she and her sisters have been sent to live. Angelica’s brother Chas, the head of the Woodmore household, has disappeared, and he has arranged for Corvindale to guard his three younger sisters in his absence.

In doing so, Chas, who happens to be a vampire hunter, has thrust his sisters into the middle of the vampire underworld. Ironically, a vampire is hunting Chas, as he has taken off with the sister of Moldavi, one of the most powerful vampires in Europe.

In an effort to bring Chas forward, Moldavi also is searching for Angelica, who happens to have the Sight — a gift from her Gypsy lineage that allows her to see when others will die.

Angelica’s gift is valuable to each of the vampires, but especially so to vampire Voss, Earl of Dewhurst, who fancies himself a collector and seller of information. When he begins to lust after Angelica, however, the stakes change. (I said stakes. Haha He’s a vampire.)

Initially, I started out liking Voss a bit, despite some foreshadowing in the prologue that showed Voss’ personality. It didn’t take long for my opinion of Voss to change, though, and by the time he violated Angelica, I began to despise the character. A truly old-school type hero, Voss was simply repulsive for most of the novel.

Luckily, though, Angelica is a strong and likeable enough character to carry the book. In fact, the offset of the hero and heroine might be what makes the books work. I liked Angelica’s honest and sweet personality so much that it made me momentarily hate Voss even more for his actions. 

But eventually, Voss starts to see the light. Though it’s hard to feel sympathy for a man who violated a woman (albeit not sexually) and made a deal with the Devil, Voss’ character improves. Notice, I didn’t say I liked him. He just became tolerable.

Despite conflicting feelings about Voss, and the clichés rampant in the novel, The Vampire Voss is interesting and worth a read. The pace is fast, and even if you hate Voss, Angelica is a worthy character. I will probably pick up other books from the Regency Draculia series in the future.

Title: The Vampire Voss | By: Colleen Gleason | Publisher: Mira, 2011 | ISBN: 9780778329527 | RLB Grade: B | Find it on Amazon: The Vampire Voss (Regency Draculia)