The Cruellest Lie by Susan Napier

I bought this for 75 cents at Salvation Army because I liked the other Susan Napier I read.

Premise: Claudia was the girlfriend of a famous race car driver (Chris Nash) who died on the track while she was pregnant with his baby. A few months later, Claudia is seven months along into a difficult pregnancy when Morgan Stone arrives at her door, assuming she’s sleeping with his son Mark and is having Mark’s baby. Morgan makes several withering assumptions about Claudia and won’t let her get in a word edgewise to clear up the mistakes. During his visit, Claudia falls and when she’s taken to the hospital she discovers she’s lost the baby. It’s not Morgan’s fault, but in her grief Claudia allows him to believe he was responsible.

Fast forward two years – Claudia hasn’t seen either Mark and Morgan since she lost her baby, when she runs into them both at the hotel she’s working as a PR rep for. The father and son have a better relationship, but there’s a bit of a weird competitive edge to Morgan about Mark where Claudia is concerned. Morgan decides to offer the hotel (and Claudia) a chance to work with him on race-oriented functions surrounding a five-hundred kilometre sports car race in Wellington and sparks fly.

My Thoughts: When they first met, Claudia seemed to have a backbone, mocking and getting angry at Morgan for what he says, but the second meeting – while she tries at first, it seemed like he’d always win the conversation, never really listening to her or twisting things around his way. It was really annoying to read! It did not make me like either of them very much – him for being a jerk, her for being a doormat (she’s also described as fragile and actually swoons at one point).  Morgan was definitely the more annoying of the two characters however. Here are some examples:

  • Morgan jumps to some conclusions and makes an ass of himself on a regular basis but actually has the gall to point out to Claudia that: “people generally do seem to prefer making unflattering assumptions from the bare facts.” When she assumed something I felt much more minor than what he believed of her.
  • Mark calls Claudia while Morgan was in her office about an apartment for rent she may be interested in. Morgan puts it on speakerphone (Claudia somehow doesn’t realize this until Morgan tells her to say no), then takes the phone and tells his son she’s going to be busy and then makes innuendos about the two of them. The weird competitiveness Morgan has for his own son over Claudia was creeping me out. I have no problem with Morgan being almost 40 and Claudia in and Mark in their twenties, but it got weird.
  • Morgan actually figures out some of the misunderstandings from their first meeting but never tells Claudia he knows. No, he just uses it and her guilt to further his agenda. When she she tells him the truth and is shocked he didn’t tell her, he says “it was your story to tell Duchess, not mine”. EH? WTF excuse is that?
  • At one point he gets very angry, calls her a bitch a couple of times, and “he used a word which made her flush violently, then pale again as he continued with coruscating contempt.” – Isn’t this verbal abuse? So not romantic.
  • This also creeped me out (Morgan vs. his own son again): Morgan decides to get very jealous, cups Claudia’s breast in front of Mark, kisses her, and tells her to tell Mark that Morgan is the most important man in her life. Then he calls Claudia Mark’s stepmother and then acts like this is a proposal! A nugget from this particularly wallbanger-worthy seciton of text:

‘Or I could just throw you on that bed and strip you,’ he threatened silkily. ‘You never say no to anything I want there. Hell- a few minutes of foreplay and you’re usually the one begging…’


RIGHT? Isn’t this inappropriate? He’s saying this crap in front of his son? Aieiee!!

Also there really is a scene here with a bodice, but no ripping of said bodice. OK I’m done.

Overall: I liked the other Susan Napier book I read, The Price of Passion (reviewed here) MUCH better than this one. Here I found both the hero and the heroine hard to identify with, and the hero was particularly offputting. I believe this is because this book was written a long time ago (1993), and the author’s writing has improved quite a bit since then.  I’m still going to look out for this author and try another one if I find it.

Baby Bonanza by Maureen Child

OK, a quick review here. This is another one of the 16 free Harlequins, this time from the Silhouette Desire line.

Jenna Baker worked for Nick Falco on one of his cruiseships, but after a week long affair together, Nick fired her because she didn't tell him she was his employee. Jenna got pregnant, but Nick ignored all her emails, phonecalls and messages for months and has no idea that he's a father. Jenna just wants Nick to know and to ask for child support for the twins, so she buys a ticket on his newest cruise to approach him in person.

Overall: OK, but I ended up not really liking this one. I thought Falco sounded like a big jerk. For example: "His plan to seduce Jenna and then lose her was backfiring […] Time to take her to bed. Before they got the results of the DNA test." He thought she was a liar but he didn't mind sleeping with her – and then discarding her. When his assistant tells him she thinks Jenna is being straight with him - "He shifted uncomfortably because he didn't want her to be right. It was much easier on him to think of Jenna as a liar and a manipulator. Those kind of women he know how to deal with". Um.. Ok so what is Nick's view of most women? Liars? After this I was somewhat disappointed at how easily Jenna jumped back into bed with Nick. His player persona was off-putting, and I had a hard time buying the transformation into a family guy – it seemed superficially done. The sex to romance ratio was more on sex, little on romance. At one point they were doing something in what I think was in the same room as their sleeping babies! Ack. Page 159 by the way. At least his trying to get back into her good graces was alright, but after what he put her through I think Nick should have had to work a little harder than he did.

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The Price of Passion by Susan Napier

Hohoho, I read another one of the 16 Harlequin free books this weekend, this time the Presents line (according to Amazon, this one belongs to the subset Pregnant Mistresses!!). This one is the line I think of where the hero does those punishing kisses. Harlequin says the heroes are "ruthless, dark and powerful". Indeed.

The setup: Katherine (Kate) is a researcher for a publishing house, who is pregnant with the baby of Drake Daniels, a wildly famous author whose "speciality was constructing tough, gritty, anti-heroes who were rude, crude and lethal to know". He often disappears for months, no one knows where, to write his novels, but Kate has figured out that he has a house in Oyster Beach, New Zealand. She follows him there to try to break the baby news. Kate and Drake and he have a "no strings" relationship, and Kate believes the only reason she's lasted two years with him was because she never sleeps the night and never disturbs his work. Both are the product of tough childhoods, she has an ambitious, cold mother who had no time for a kid, and his father walked out on his mother, who was so grief-striken, she eventually committed suicide, leaving Drake to take care of himself.

Overall: The best Harlequin I've read so far. I'd recommend this one. If I graded, I'd say B+?

What I liked:

  • I loved that this wasn't set in the U.S. The writing has a New Zealand slant, and uses non-American words for certain things. Quite a refreshing change.   
  • The banter was fabulous, both of them using lines from classics and old movies on each other. It flowed well and was fun to read. You really feel a connection between the characters and the romance felt believable because of it.
  • Kate I liked for keeping in character most of the time by exuding a calm exterior even when she's nervous, she may be thinking about something that will reveal her secret, but she doesn't do anything TSTL. Basically, she was good at recovering and I liked that she had spine.
  • Drake is very manly and whatnot. Do people like this exist? He came off extremely gruff at first but then warms to a "hard shell, soft center" kind of guy. Drake had one really big jerk moment in the book, but he did grovel afterwards and admitted his communication issues so he was decently likeable overall. He is also dyslexic which made him a bit more human.
  • They both had childhoods that reasonably explained their actions; like Kate learning from her mother never to bother someone when they are busy with their career or life, which is why she thinks Drake doesn't want her bothering him.
  • Cute pets. A three-legged dog (!!) and a kitten who squeaks. And they move the plot along, not just there to be cute.
  • My favorite lines in this book:

"'I'm not good with words -"

Her eyes widened. 'Drake, you're a writer.'"

I guess my only nits would be that a couple of things were a little cliched. Maybe Drake sometimes. And the description of him on the first page made me roll my eyes. She too is drop dead gorgeous of course, with almost silver eyes. Mmm hmm.  And something about the ending that was a bit too pat.

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Speed Dating by Nancy Warren / Free Books from Harlequin

OK, if you're like me and subscribe to a good 80 some book blog feeds, you'll have heard this news several times over. Harlequin celebrated its 60 anniversary by putting up 16 ebooks to download for FREE. I was going to go see what I liked and just download those, but I ended up downloading them all! Ha..

Here's the link for downloading:

Harlequin has pretty much something from every one of it's lines. I am going to try to read all 16 books, we'll see how that goes. So far I have one down.

Taking my little Lenovo Ideapad S10, I started reading the NASCAR offering by Nancy Warren: Speed Dating. I know, I am so not interested in NASCAR, but eh, why not? At least there's a smiling guy on the cover who looks semi-cute and not bare chested. I'm tired of guys with creepily shaved chests, likely on steroids, with a silly dramatic expression on their faces being on romance covers. Is that sexy to people?

Anyway. The premise is that stiff, 31 year old actuary, Kendall Clarke finds out that her equally bland fiance Marvin has been having an affair with another coworker, and that coworker is pregnant. This is hours before Kendall is supposed to be awarded at an association dinner. Reeling from the blow, Kendall gets locked out of the room in her slip. Of course, she sneaks into another guest's room at the hotel when she sees 3 of her bosses walking down the hallway, and through a misunderstanding ends up pretending to be the girlfriend of stock car racer Dylan Hargreave at his ex-wife's wedding.

Yes, a hokey beginning! I was almost going to write this off as pretty cliched. Kendall wears bland suits in various shades or beige and brown, quotes statistics and calculates risks in her head, while feeling like she's not spontaneous enough. She acts completely out of character to prove something to her ex, and spends most of the evening in her underwear at a wedding?!

But – crazy as this start was, about midway, the book got better. I ended up thinking: hey I may actually kinda like some things in this book. Let's list:

  • The characters ended up having more depth. Well, Martin was sort of a jackass but he was forgotten soon enough. Dylan, the hero, was a truly nice guy. He treated women respectfully, was polite to fans, has cold parents, but turned out OK for the most part. I didn't quite buy why he thought he wasn't a guy someone should commit to, but that was minor. His ex-wife Ashlee acted like a spoiled drama queen, but she had her own nice qualities, and the love triangle between Dylan, Ashlee and her husband Harrison was an interesting plotline as was the way it was finally resolved.  I kept expecting characters to just be one-dimensional and was pleasantly surprised when they were not.
  • Kendall does grow a bit, and she becomes much less stiff and boring and more like a normal person. And she is  smart which was nice.
  • The relationship starts out as more of a friendship than a result of raging hormones. How refreshing. Although there's a lot of kissing going on as part of their cover relationship, and ok, lots of touching which didn't seem like just friends only to me, they ease into their feelings for one another over several weeks. The sex was very minimal in the book, the romance was a bigger focus. In fact, the sex happens literally behind a closed door. 
  • When Kendall and Dylan spend time together alone, especially the down time at his house, they were kind of a sweet couple.
  • And I learned a couple of things. NASCAR related facts. Plus this book used the word "animadversions". Nice!

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Two Quick Harlequin Intrigue reviews

Manhunt In The Wild West by Jessica Anderson (Bear Claw Creek Crime Lab): Chelsea Swann, medical examiner at Bear Creek gets kidnapped by escaping prisoners from nearby prison, ARX Supermax. The four escapees are 3 terrorists and undercover operator Jonah Fairfax. Jonah manages to keep Chelsea alive and both must work together to stop the terrorists from an evil plot.

Overall: Rather one dimensional bad guys (the leader was named Al-Jihad, which amused me), a hokey plot involving many law enforcement professionals not following procedure, and I didn't really buy the attraction between the two main characters. I felt irritated by the continual repetitions of Jonah thinking of Chelsea as being "sweet", and seeing her as a representation of all that is good about America (apple pie, picket fences, the American Dream), and of Chelsea taking note of Jonah's piercing blue eyes. There was also a weird back story where Jonah's first wife cheated on him and died during a miscarriage, which Jonah remembers as a "betrayal" which pushed him into his current loner state. What? She's DEAD now you know! What I did like in this book was the eventual backbone and self-awareness that Chelsea develops through the book.  I'd give this book an "Eh". ALSO: He never wears a cowboy hat in this story!

Around-the-Clock Protector by Jan Hambright (Intrigue's Ultimate Heroes): Carson Nash saves Ava Ross from russians in a mission mission with his team (a CIA rescue operation). He's shocked to find that Ava is who he rescued because she was supposed to have died in a plane crash 4 months ago. Now she's alive, with little memory of the last 4 months, and pregnant – with HIS baby!

I swear the model in this cover is the same guy as the model in the cover above!

Overall: OK. I believed more in the romance between the two characters here and saw more reasons for their attraction. There was more showing then telling there and I liked Ava in particular. I was somewhat annoyed at the "raging" lust Carson keeps feeling for Ava though, even when she's unconscious and beaten and he just rescued her. Time and a place buddy. There were also big plotholes (or maybe I missed something and was just confused), like exactly how Ava wasn't on the plane when it crashed and how she had amnesia and didn't know who she was but walked around free without going to the police? I feel like I missed something? Did I? Ava talks about getting up to go to the lavatory on the plane, but that didn't make sense as an escape from the crash. Finally – I didn't like this sentence: "Ava relaxed, letting the total-man-dominance thing sweep her into ecstacy". Total-man-dominance thing…

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