Shuzluva’s Big Ole Review Extravaganza, Part Deux


Ghosts, magic and shapeshifters, oh my! If I keep repeating that phrase will I get through the books in time? First: that might have been the biggest box of books EVAR. Are you trying to make me go blind? Second: I am in the middle of busy season, but feel REALLY bad about not reviewing more often. Third: I am employing the lightning review technique used for the last box. Since there were so many books, I’d like to make sure I get through as many of them as possible, so everyone can share the love! Here we go again with Shuzluva’s Superfast Box Review!

Book: Heart Fate
Author: Robin D. Owens
Grade: D+

In Brief. The story of Tinne Holly and Lahsin Burdock is the 7th book in the HeartMates series by Ms. Owens. Clearly, I’m well behind the curve here since I haven’t read any of the previous books in the series. Lahsin is on the run from her husband as her powers are beginning to appear. She seeks shelter in a hidden corner of Druida City that can only be found by those truly in need. Tinne has just been forced to divorce his wife Genista and seeks refuge in the same hidden spot. Tinne knows that Lahsin is his HeartMate but can’t tell her for some reason that I wasn’t quite clear about, and I’m not spoiling anything here, because there is a list of characters and their relationships prior to the first page of the story.

What I Liked. Hm. I’m going to have to get back to you here. I read the book first out of the box, and really can’t remember anything positive from my reading.

What I Didn’t Like. Where to begin? I want to keep this brief, since I’m including a lot of books, some of which I liked a lot, some of which I didn’t like at all. Suffice it to say that 1) Lahsin’s sudden acceptance of her abilities coupled with an instantaneous backbone didn’t sit well with me, 2) the family names and references confused the daylights out of me, 3) it felt like a poor cousin to Dara Joy’s Matrix of Destiny series, 4) I felt absolutely no romance between Tinne and Lahsin, and 5) jumping into this series in the 7th installment didn’t pan out well since I’m not inclined to read any of the others.

Book: Servant: The Acceptance
Author: L.L. Foster
Grade: D

In Brief. Apparently I should have read the first in the series, because I missed that the protagonist, Gabrielle Cody (I just can’t call her a heroine) was debating the acceptance of her destiny as a warrior for G-d. Well, in this book, she’s accepted, and is intent on destroying evil and staying away from Luther Cross, a detective who was totally into her in the first book, and supposedly reminds her of her humanity.

What I Liked. Not a whole heckuva lot.

What I Didn’t Like. I had a major squick issue going on here. To me, Gabrielle reads like a 15 year old delinquent. And her total innocence about sex in what is supposed to be an urban fantasy world creates a giant disconnect. I also don’t see any of the redeeming (or attractive) qualities that Luther sees in her, other than she’s hot. So was Lindsay Lohan at 15, but EW! Also, rather than being drawn into the urban fantasy world that Forster has created and the murder mystery that Gaby and Luther are trying to solve, I felt like an outside observer. Part of that might have been due to the constant need for a dictionary while reading. The book is weighed down by a crazy vocabulary of $0.50 words. Let me give you examples of some of the words that were in the first hundred or so pages:


I included some words I know (and left out some that were obvious, at least to me). I know I have a better than average vocabulary, but What. The. Fuck. And why? Remember, this is just a smattering of what I found in the book. I don’t think writing needs to be (or should be) pedestrian to have mass appeal, but when one is writing from the point of view of an uneducated, barely 18 year old girl, I find a vocabulary such as this hard to swallow. Coupled with the squick factor of the love story and my general inability to relate to the characters or the story, I won’t be back for the next installment.

Book: Casting Spells
Author: Barbara Bretton
Grade: B+

In Brief. Chloe Hobbs owns a wildly popular and well reviewed knitting shop in Sugar Maple, VT. Go to Sticks and Strings and your yarn will never knot, you’ll never drop a stitch; the place is magical. And that’s the key: Sugar Maple is a safe haven for fairies, witches, selkies, trolls…keep going and you’ll get the picture. Chloe is the daughter of a sorceress and a human father, and is supposed to come into powers of her own to help protect the town and retain ownership of The Book of Spells, a book that has been handed down through 300 generations of Hobbs women. But Chloe is getting older, and the protective magick of her ancestors’ spell seems to be wearing off – for the first time since her parents were killed in a freak accident nearly 30 years ago, there has been an accidental death in Sugar Maple. The death of Suzanne Marsden forces Montpelier to take a hard look at Sugar Maple, in the form of Luke Makenzie, a Boston cop looking for small town life. Um…I’ll stop here otherwise it won’t be brief. Can you tell I liked it?

What I Liked. Chloe, Luke, the secondary characters, the town and the worldbuilding were all delightful. The writing quickly and strongly captured personalities, the charm of a New England town in high winter season and the magic and excitement of all of the town’s inhabitants. I really wish the book had been longer…but more on that below. Oh, and the author is a Jersey Girl and not afraid to admit it. LOVE THAT!

What I Didn’t Like. The book didn’t get an A for me because it’s told from the point of view of both Luke and Chloe, which limited the storytelling in certain ways. The town and characters were so damn fantastic that I felt like I was missing out on a ton of action. I also had a hard time feeling some of the sparks between Luke and Chloe because the POV kept changing. Also this book is a trade paperback but the font is gigantic, and the story seemed to be incredibly short. I was sorry Ms. Bretton didn’t go into more detail or make it longer, but again, POV limitations clearly precluded this. I am definitely going to try some of Ms. Bretton’s other books.

Unravel Me
Author: Christie Ridgeway
Grade: C+

In Brief. This book is the follow up to How to Knit a Wild Bikini and is the story of Juliet Weston, a young widow who might be the loneliest soul I’ve ever read about. However, Juliet discovers (no, no spoiler here) that she has two long lost half-sisters in Niki Carmichael (subject of the first book in the series) and Cassandra I’ve-Just-Blanked-On-Name (who is the subject of the upcoming third book). Juliet’s story is one of self discovery as well as a love story – she’s falling for Noah, the man that used to assist her husband, and is looking to find herself and her place in the world.

What I Liked. Juliet and Noah’s story on it’s own is pretty good. Noah doesn’t want to be seen as the “help” and Juliet wants to be seen as more than “General Weston’s Widow” or “The Dealbreaker” (I’ll come to that in a moment). While their story starts out very organically, there is so much side action going on that it sorta gets lost in the mix.

What I Didn’t Like. Juliet seems like such an innocent. She’s called “The Dealbreaker” because she married a MUCH older man and it’s believe that their marriage screwed his political career. Said older man died of…cancer(?) and left Juliet alone. And I mean ALONE. This woman cultivated no friendships, had no one to lean on, and apparently, all of General Weston’s friends didn’t like her either. It was…weird. She also seemed to be two different ages and maturity levels; younger when dealing with the remnants of her life with The General and age-appropriate when dealing with her half-sisters, stepdaughter and Noah. Oh yeah, the stepdaughter, who of course, is nearly Juliet’s age. That was a dangling storyline that never got wrapped up. In all, I felt that this was a bit of a mess and lacked the lighthearted excitement of HTKAWB. I sincerely hope Cassandra’s story goes back to that relaxed feeling, but I don’t have a particularly good vibe after reading the teaser. I’m going to read it anyways, because I always hold out hope when an author starts as strong as Miss Ridgeway has.

Book: Tall, Dark and Kilted
Author: Allie Mackay
Grade: C+

In Brief. Cilla Swanner is a jeweler (actually, it sounds like the stuff she makes should be sold on – love it!) who is trying to escape the crappy remnants of a relationship and a nasty woman who ended said crappy relationship. She goes to Dunroamin Castle in Scotland to get away from it all and hang with her cool but kinda out there Aunt and Uncle. Of course, you can’t be in a Scottish castle without it being haunted…and Sir Hardwin de Studley of Seagrave (yes, you read that right) is haunting the castle as his own version of R ‘n R. Luckily, he’s referred to as Hardwick in the book, and he takes one look at Cilla and his eternal peace and quiet is OVAH. Cilla and Hardwick must solve the mystery of who is driving off the tourists at the castle and figure out how they’re going to make their relationship work. Crazy kids.

What I Liked. Cilla may jump at shadows, but she’s intrepid nonetheless and wants to help keep her Aunt and Uncle in a profitable position at Dunroamin Castle. When she realizes Hardwick isn’t a figment of her imagination, she takes it quite well. When she realizes she’s falling in love with him, she does her utmost not to balk. Hardwick, while being a medieval Scotsman, doesn’t fall into the “me Tarzan, you Jane” alpha male role, which is quite nice. While their love story isn’t exactly memorable, it was a relatively quick, light read and I didn’t feel like I was being smothered by a kilt.

What I Didn’t Like. Hardwick’s relationship with The Dark One, and TDO’s ability to do bad stuff to people that he (she? it?) shouldn’t kinda annoyed me. TDO functioned somewhat as a tool to get the H/H where they needed to be. In addition, the reasoning behind Hardwick’s ghostly existence was a loose thread. I enjoyed the book well enough while I was reading it, but wouldn’t rush to pick it up again.

Book: Highland Knight
Author: Cindy Miles
Grade: B

In Brief. Mystery writer Amelia Landry is experiencing writer’s block, probably due to her failed relationship and her inability to get over it. As a gift, her awesome buddy ZuZu buys her a summer getaway at a castle in the Scottish Highlands that was once inhabited by The Bludy Munro, a legend surrounded by death. Ethan Munro and his five kinsmen have been trapped in a strange ghostly existence since the 14th century, and become corporeal for the gloaming hour. Ethan is sure Abigail is the key to solving the mystery surrounding their strange existence and the death of his wife of less than 24 hours back in the (medieval) day. Ethan and Abigail begin to fall for each other, and realize that whatever forced Ethan and his kin into their weird half-life might end up killing Abigail.

What I Liked. Ethan and his kin are pretty awesome. they’re like a super-frat of hot boys with swords, but they are all sensitive without it being disgustingly sweet. Abigail is a mystery writer, and maybe that breed of woman has a ton of backbone, but she did things that would never, ever cross my mind to try. Like spending a summer in a supposedly haunted castle with only the castle caretaker for company. Beyond the ghost/TT aspect, that was out there for me. However, Miss Miles makes the story quick, light and very believable, which allowed me to put aside the Mary Sue feelings I had about Abigail.

What I Didn’t Like. What’s with Abigail suddenly becoming a born-again virgin? I thought that was incredibly strange. In addition, I don’t think it ratcheted up the sexual tension much. If Ethan and Abigail had a timely series of interruptions I would have probably liked it better as I find the whole BAV hard to swallow. That being said, I read Highland Knight directly after Tall, Dark and Kilted, which probably wasn’t the most brilliant idea. Both books were Scottish ghost stories with time travel; however, HK was the better of the two for me.

Book: Ready & Willing
Author: Elizabeth Bevarly
Grade: C

In Brief. Another ghost story mixed with a crafty type: Widow Audrey Magill impulsively buys the portrait of a 19th-century riverboat captain as she’s shopping for knick knacks for her new hat shop. As it turns out, Silas Summerfield, the man in the portrait, lived in the house Audrey now occupies, and believes that his great-great-(keep going) grandson’s soul is in peril. He makes sure Audrey buys his portrait, and immediately enlists her help in saving Nathaniel Summerfield’s soul.

What I Liked. Audrey is creative and her business (a hat shop in Louisville, KY) is perfectly poised for an event like the Kentucky Derby and makes real sense. Her relationship with Silas is superb, and I was sorry to see that the story was about her and Nathaniel, rather than with Silas. Therein lay my problem.

What I Didn’t Like. Silas is an extremely well-drawn character. His quirks, belief system, and reactions are right out of his era, and he is an excellent foil for Audrey’s creative and wild side. On the other hand, Nathaniel felt more like a caricature of a corporate lawyer on the fast track. I couldn’t get into his relationship with Audrey. It felt forced, whereas a relationship with Silas would have been more organic. Silas had a heavy secondary story going with Cecelia, Audrey’s neighbor and a battered woman on the run from her former psycho boyfriend. I almost feel that the author should have focused on Nathaniel/Cecelia and Silas/Audrey, which, while for the secondary characters doesn’t seem as organic, seemed to me to be a more natural progression of the main story.

Book: Swap
Author: Jenesi Ash
Grade: D

In Brief. Four friends have an erotic weekend. There’s the Free Spirit, The Dominant, The Submissive, and The Adventurous. Sexin’ ensues.

What I Liked. I had an ARC, so I’m hoping that the name confusion has been cleared by an editor, but in more than one sex scene, the partner swap became a character swap in the middle of the action. That said the scenes were generally written in a decent fashion.

What I Didn’t Like. I could have read this in Penthouse Letters. There was no “romantic” element to speak of, and the story line barely tied everything together. It was really thin.

Book: Prey
Author: Melina Morel
Grade: DNF

In Brief. Vivian Roussel is a Russian arts and artifacts (if you can call a Samovar an artifact) dealer. Oh, and she’s a werecat and descendant of an ancient demigoddess. Vivian and her brother Marc become embroiled in a plot that revolves around a priceless icon and murder. The moment they become targets, Viv and Marc hire a surveillance expert. Pavel Federov also happens to be a werecat and is intensely attracted to Viv. They work together with a vampire, a werewolf huntress and other werecats to secure the safety of the icon and unravel the murder mystery.

What I Liked. I liked the idea of the story and the plot, but the writing and characterizations just didn’t hold it for me. The one bright spot was Bella Danilov. While she was a total caricature of a gold-digging bitch, I loved her complete lunacy and disregard for reality.

What I Didn’t Like. I felt no connection between Pavel and Vivian other than what the author was telling me I should feel. Their personal conversations were disjointed and plodding and the author’s completely closed door on sex wasn’t a surprise since I didn’t feel any sparks when the door was open. I was also annoyed with the constant explanation as to why the werecats could change form and be clothed, how they were related to/blessed by/loved by gods and goddesses, and that the septs (different types of cat) weren’t allowed to interbreed and they all looked down upon Siberian cats. There was a lot of info-dumping when it came to the were-worldbuilding, but I had the feeling that a paragraph or two was left out in places, because a piece of the puzzle always felt like it was missing. I’m about 200+ pages into the book and I keep putting it down to pick up others in the stack. Why do I keep picking it up? I suppose I keep expecting it to be better. So far, I’ve been disappointed.

Book: Wild & Hexy
Author: Vicki Lewis Thompson
Grade: B-

In Brief. Annie Winston is back in Big Knob, IA for her sister’s wedding. Unfortunately for Annie, she’s just gotten divorced from the school’s golden boy and gained twenty pounds, taking the shine off her golden girl personal. Annie dreads spending time in a small town after the anonymity and excitement of Chicago, but Big Knob’s new residents, Dorcas and Ambrose Lowell, have a lot to hide behind their urbane exterior. Former matchmakers for witches and wizards, Dorcas and Ambrose have been charged with overseeing the maturation of a dragon in a nearby forest, and as a hobby are playing matchmakers for the town residents. They have the perfect match for Annie: shy (and kinda nerdy) Jeremy Dunstan, who has had a major thing for Annie since high school.

What I Liked. Annie’s struggle with her self-image is well conceived, yet written about in a manner that is enjoyable rather than depressing. She really tries to pick herself up by her bootstraps and move on with life, which isn’t an easy thing to do or to write about in a way that’s endearing. When she starts to fall for Jeremy, she questions the validity of her feelings: is it just because he makes her feel good, or is it because he really likes her and she really likes him in return? Other than Annie, the true highlights of the book came from Dorcas and Ambrose, who seem very new-agey but have real magic, and aren’t afraid to use it.

What I Didn’t Like. Jeremy came across as someone who should be questioning everything, but once his confidence around Annie receives a major boost and he’s suddenly doing crazy magic tricks, he takes it all in stride. Ms. Thompson frequently writes “beauty & the geek” type books, and while I haven’t read any of her previous offerings, I am sure that not every geek finds his inner alpha with magic. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a geek beta becoming a cool (yet having feelings) alpha, but I think there could have been less emphasis on magic and current nerddom and more emphasis on Jeremy’s business and inner confidence in himself.

Wow. And I have more. But I figure there might be some New Year’s goodness if I spread the reviews out. So be on the lookout for another set of reviews early in 2009! Happy holidays!


Last 5 posts by bam


Bam has been reading romance novels since she was 9 years old. She especially enjoyed the Sweet Valley High series, particularly the romance-centric ones. Her first real romance novel was "Perfect Partners" by Jayne Ann Krentz. She's obsessed with old-school Harlequin Romance novels and reads four or five a week.

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6 Responses

  1. Lori Foster says:

    So sorry that the book didn’t work for you! It sucks to read a book and not find any enjoyment. Life is too short for that. 😉
    Here’s hoping your next choice is much more to your liking.
    Happiest of Holidays to you!

    Lori aka L.L.

  2. Joy says:

    I liked The Acceptance – but it’s def a series that needs to be read in order. There is not a lot of info dumping – which works for me.

    However, apparently I just skip words I don’t know :-) I didn’t notice all the big words…

  3. ateclady says:

    I haven’t read either of the L.L.Foster books, so I’m going by what I’ve heard/read about the character, the language would jar me out of the narrative if it’s not consistent with the characterization–regardless of whether I understand the big words or not myself.

  4. bettie says:

    I haven’t read any of the books on the list, but now I totally want to read The Acceptance if only to find more words I’ve never heard before.

    caliginous? dehiscent? adumbration?
    I don’t have the slightest idea what those words mean…Awesome!

    I’m off to now–thanks Shuz!

  5. BevQB says:

    Shuzluva, you are a woman after my own heart. The things you said about this second of Foster’s Servant books is basically what I said about the first one, Servant: The Awakening. And based on your review of this new one, I won’t be picking it up to see if it was an improvement over the original.

    However, I DID learn a brand new word after reading that first one. And I now pass it on to you as a gift: lexiphanic (lĕks`ĭ`făn´ĭk) a. 1. Using, or interlarded with, pretentious words; bombastic; as, a lexiphanic writer or speaker; lexiphanic writing.

    Sorry Ms. Foster, I know you are a prolific Romance author, but as I said before (regarding S:TA), “there is a difference between writing intelligent prose and writing to impress the reader with your intelligence”. The first step in overcoming a thesaurus addiction is to admit that you have one. And while I understand you want your UF books to be different from your Romances, my perception is that you are trying to make the reader feel stupid as in “See how much smarter I am than you?”

  6. Lorelie says:

    Ready and Willing looks interesting, even including the c grade. (Not everything needs to be a keeper.) I haven’t read a ghost story in forevah. :)