Review: Unlaced by the Outlaw by Michelle Willingham

unlaced by the outlawReviewed by Jen

With most historical romances series, I rarely feel like I’ve missed something when I jump in with a later installment. Here, I have to say that starting out with the fourth book in the Secrets in Silk series, there was no doubt I was coming into a story in progress. Even though each book has its own HEA, there was obviously a lot of history in play, both in the romance and the larger story arc. [Read more…]

Review: To Sin With a Viking

to sin with a viking
Reviewed by Carrie

Vikings are a hot commodity these days with the success of the History channel show, Vikings. They seem like the perfect romance heroes – brutal and primal with a whole mythology of their own. Honestly, I picked this book because the cover was super hot and I loved the title. This was my first experience with a category romance. I was hoping for some sexy Viking loving, but didn’t know what to expect beyond that.

Styr Hardrata sets sail from his homeland in an effort to restart his life. He was stifled by his brother, the Jarl, and his marriage was circling the drain after years of infertility. Styr decides to pick up his life with a group of fellow tribesmen and resettle in Ireland.

Caragh Ó Brannon’s small tribe is starving to death. When Styr’s longboat comes ashore, the Irishmen surprise the Vikings by overtaking the ship, including Styr’s wife, Elena. To save her brother, Caragh manages to capture Styr and holds him captive.

While captive, Styr observes Caragh. Her survival instincts and quiet strength speak to him as he reflects on his marital woes. Caragh’s innate kindness makes her care for Styr as a kinsman even while chaining him. Eventually they come to an agreement and Styr helps her to find food. During these foraging forays, they learn more about each other and affection deepens.

Much to my dismay, there really isn’t any hot Viking loving. The book claims there isn’t adultery, but one scene treads a very fine line without even mentioning all the emotional aspects. Styr’s internal dialog does a good job of making the reader more comfortable with his attraction to Caragh. This is where the book length really inhibits the story. I feel that had the author had another 50 or so pages more the story might have been able to develop more naturally. As it is, everything just happens all too fast.

There were many things in the book that felt anachronistic – from speech to customs to actions. When I pick up a supposed historical novel, I do feel like the author should have done some historical homework. I don’t know if that’s the case with all category romances, but this one had issues.

The novel is good for those looking for a fast read with lots of tension. As for me, the shorter length is really not my style, but I’m hoping more authors will try their hand at writing Vikings.

Rating: C

*ARC Provided by Harlequin

Click to purchase: Amazon

To Sin With a Viking
by Michelle Willingham
Release Date: July 23, 3013
Publisher: Harlequin

Review: Warriors in Winter

Reviewed by Jen

This anthology revisits Michelle Willingham’s world of the MacEagan family, with three short stories from the second generation of sons and daughters.

In the Bleak Midwinter – This is a story about moving through grief to find new happiness.  It’s been a year since Brianna’s husband was killed by a Norseman, but her heart is still broken. When a handsome Spaniard named Arturo ventures to her village for his sister’s wedding, she is shocked by his interest in her. But he understands her loss. His wife died three years ago and he wants to help soothe her hurt.  The question is, can she let him inside?

I really felt poor Brianna’s heartache here and as a result, this story was pretty heavy. But I liked Arturo and enjoyed watching him break down her walls.  Their romance was really fast –crazy super fast– but it was bittersweet and emotionally resonant.

The Holly and the Viking –  I really, really enjoyed this one. It’s my favorite in the anthology. I am such a sucker for broken heroes.  And I was pleasantly surprised to find the hero and heroine of this story were familiar faces from the first one.  Kaal is the Viking who killed Brianna’s husband. But all was not as it seemed when he pulled his spear. It turns out, Kaal is blind.  And that day he defended himself, he lost everything he held dear.. including his young daughter.

Rhiannon never thought she would find love, but a terrible storm drove her to Kaal’s cave and she quickly fell for the man’s quiet strength and sensual touch.  Kaal believed he would be alone the rest of his life, so it was so satisfying to watch the romance develop between these two.  Yes, it was really fast (again,) but it hit all of my favorite romance buttons, so I barely noticed. I wish there was more of this one!

A Season to Forgive – Here we revisit Adriana and Liam, a couple first featured in the previously released short story “Lionheart’s Bride.”  And this story was a tough read.   Adriana is set to marry Liam, but she is hiding a terrible secret. She bartered her virginity to the king in order to save Liam’s life… and he has no idea.  She spends most of the story holding in her heartbreak.  But when Liam learns the truth, things only get worse.

I was very disappointed in how Liam handled the news.  I felt like he blamed her and ultimately she had to convince him to forgive her for an act where she was the victim.   This made it very difficult to like Liam, even when he finally comes around.

I enjoyed the book as a whole. I liked the way all three stories were intertwined.  Though it’s listed as book 7 in the MacEgan Brothers series, I had no trouble following along. In fact, it made me want to check out the backlist (especially Kaal & Brianna’s story!)

Rating: B- (We lost points on Liam.)

*ARC provided by author for review

Click to purchase: Amazon
Warriors in Winter
by Michelle Willingham
Release Date: November 13, 2012
Publisher: Harlequin

Favorites From… Michelle Willingham

Michelle Willingham

I think all authors are also book-hoarders. I have a closet with bookshelves from ceiling to floor and both are stuffed to the brim and overflowing. Some are books I’ve kept since I was in high school, others are research books, and some are new authors I’ve discovered through word of mouth. I tend to read a little of everything, and when I’m working on my own historical romances, I like to read paranormal romance.

The first romance I ever devoured was The Maiden by Jude Deveraux. It was medieval, set in a fictional country, and I was completely hooked from page one. I went on to read all of Jude’s books, and spent many happy hours reading and re-reading her historical romances.

While Jude’s stories were the ones that hooked me on romance, it was LaVyrle Spencer who held me in awe. The emotional complexity of her stories held me spellbound, and I’ve read her books so many times, they are falling apart. Favorites include: Morning Glory, a WWII-set story about an ex-con and a pregnant widow who shuns the town; The Endearment, a mail-order bride story; and Vows, which featured a heroine who wanted to be a veterinarian. Even now, I can re-read these books and find something new to savor. If LaVyrle ever comes out of retirement to write a new book, I’ll be first in line to buy it.

There are two series in the paranormal world that I adore. First, JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, and in particular, Lover Awakened is my all-time favorite. It’s a Beauty and the Beast story, but with a paranormal twist. And as far as tortured heroes go, Zsadist is one messed-up hero….which makes it all the more delicious when he earns his happy ending.

The second paranormal series I’ve enjoyed is Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series. The first book, Dark Fever, featured a heroine who reminded me of Elle from Legally Blonde. When MacKayla tries to find out who murdered her sister, she discovers an apocalyptic world of things that go bump in the night¬—and her manicure will never be the same. It’s a funny, suspenseful series that grabs you by the throat and the transformation of MacKayla is amazing. I loved every minute of it, and was thankful I hadn’t started the series until Moning had finished the last book. I read all of them in a week.

These are some of my favorite books, and I hope you’ll try some of them!

Thanks so much to Michelle Willingham for sharing these fantastic recommendations. I asked Michelle to particpate in this feature because her tortured hero in Tempted by the Highland Warrior really hit my sweet spot.  The guy was so tortured he lost the ability to speak!! It was a great love story and a Highlander book and if you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend that you check it out.

In the meantime, I must say that I am also a huge fan of Karen Marie Moning. So much so that I invited her to participate here as well. Unfortunately, she is crazy-busy with the upcoming Iced release. But she offered to provide a signed copy of Fever Moon to give away to one of you! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below to enter to win.  US/CAN only.

Be sure to check out all of the Favorites From My Favorites posts and giveaways this month, by clicking here.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*”Favorites from…” photo: Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos  

Review: Tempted by the Highland Warrior

Reviewed by Jen

This is the best Highlander book I have read in a long time.  It has such a fantastic tortured hero.  Callum was taken prisoner when he was only 12 years old.  For seven long years, he was tortured. It not only battered his body, but it stole his voice.

One night, Lady Marguerite sees his suffering firsthand.  She is betrothed to his captor, but she takes care of Callum. She nurses his wounds and gives him the first comfort he has known in years.  The two form a connection right away, and even after Callum is sent away to be tortured by someone else, his memories of Marguerite help him hold on to his fragile threads of sanity.

When Callum’s brothers come to finally rescue him, he is gone. But Marguerite makes her escape from her wretched fiance with the MacKinlochs. So when they finally do track Callum down, the two are reunited.   Their time together is brief, though, because her father comes for her quickly and has her engaged to someone else in a heartbeat.  Callum goes after Marguerite, knowing he can’t live without her.

I love Callum so much. He can’t speak, but we hear his thoughts.  Marguerite is his sun and moon… his savior. And she loves him too. They have so many things stacked against them, it seems impossible for them to make it work. But their stolen moments are so tender and so good.  Callum has been through hell, but he will do anything to be with Marguerite.  He is strong, but manages to be gentle with her.

Their obstacles are very real and my heart broke for them when they seemed insurmountable.  I hated Marguerite’s father and (*minor spoiler*) my only (small) complaint was his pseudo-redemption at the end. I couldn’t forgive the things he did and felt like he deserved more consequences for his actions. The sexual tension between Callum and Marguerite was good and I enjoyed the payoff, but it was more about the love there than anything else.

This is book three in MacKinloch series, but I think this would work easily as a standalone.  There’s not much in the way of a brogue, since our hero can’t speak, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this one to anyone who enjoys a Highlander or a tortured hero story.   I loved it.

Rating: A

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
Tempted by the Highland Warrior
by Michelle Willingham
Release Date: June 19, 2012
Publisher: Harlequin

Review: Seduced by Her Highland Warrior

Reviewed by Jen

I wasn’t sure how I would feel about a romance featuring a married couple. But for the most part, I enjoyed it. Of course, this isn’t a story about the first blush of love or the first stirrings of passion. Laren and Alex have been married for about five years. They were wonderfully in love when they exchanged their vows, but the crushing loss of a baby three years ago drove a wedge between them that they have not been able to overcome.

The book opens with the MacKinloch clan under attack. Their homes are burned to the ground and Laren is injured. Despite her wounds, she doesn’t turn to her husband. And it’s his fear of her death coupled with the realization of her distance that wakes Alex up to the serious chasm between them. He vows to fix things, but watching the two of them try to reconcile is frustrating and sad. Alex is the chief of the tribe and he expects Laren to be the lady of his people. But she is terribly shy and her childhood as a poor outcast makes her feel unable and unworthy to be what her husband wants her to be. Instead, she finds her solace in glassmaking. It’s a skill she learned from an old priest after her son’s death. She finds beauty and purpose in her art and she has done it for years in secret.

Laren’s glass can generate the money the clan needs to rebuild. But Alex feels betrayed that she has kept this secret all these years. The two of them clearly love each other. However, it’s difficult to watch them blunder through their relationship. Alex lords over Laren the same way he rules the clan. He tries to bend her to his will. Though admittedly, his intentions are good, he does real damage to her spirit and makes her feel that he doesn’t value her for who she is. At the same time, Laren is guilty of being a martyr. She hides her feelings and keeps her secrets by telling herself Alex doesn’t need to be burdened by them. I wanted to just shake them both, especially during the first half of the book.

Things do get better, though, as our couple begins to understand and accept each other. And watching them finally come together is quite lovely. There is deep loss and sadness in their relationship, but there is real love there, which makes their journey worth watching… especially once they begin to communicate.
An external threat does hover over Laren and Alex, in the form of the clan’s enemy… who is trying to crush the MacKinlochs once and for all. Also, we’ve got some strong secondary characters (like Alex’s brothers) which give the book more depth. I’m really interested to read poor Callum’s story –and I hope it comes next.
Overall, I found that I did enjoy this, especially once our couple started actually talking to each other. 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Seduced by Her Highland Warrior
by Michelle Willingham
Release Date: July 19, 2011
Publisher: Harlequin