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Readers Challenge: finalists

17 March 2011

We are into the final round of the ARRC2011 Readers Challenge now – which means that the winners from Rounds 1 to 4 are going head to head in a final vote.

The four reviews in the final round are reproduced below. A link to vote for your favourite will be sent to the ARRA members loop and the ARRC Lounge tomorrow.

Voting will close on Friday 25 March and the winner will be announced at the Awards Dinner on Saturday 26 March.


Round 1 winning review

The Dream Master by Maggie Nash

Part of my escapist tendencies require my romances (or fiction in general) to be set in another place, time or heck, when in the mood for it, “in a galaxy far far away” so I don’t often read novels set in Australia. That aside I enjoyed this short steamy read by Maggie Nash (whom I’d like to thank for the free copy!), which reads a lot like Mills & Boon Blaze.

The story opens up with our heroine Helen “Hels” Peters being quite the voyeur and a little embarrassed at the fact that she enjoys it. She’s an undercover cop investigating the inner workings of an organisation lead by the mysterious “Dream Master” (obviously a douche bag but my first impression was maybe there were paranormal elements involved, like let’s say an incubus but to avoid spoilers I won’t confirm or deny my hypothesis). Of course to be able to do effective and thorough infiltrating one needs a good partner and that’s where the dark dimpled Dimitri (whose last name I can’t recall ever being mentioned or I may have just missed it) comes in, posing as her lover.

I couldn’t help but feel that The Dream Master would have made a great romantic suspense had it lasted much longer in that I didn’t feel any pressing danger from the antagonist. As a consequence Helen and Dimitri’s romance also felt a tad ‘rushed’. To be fair the two have apparently been partners for years but I felt like I started to watch a film that’s already halfway done (rewind please!!). Although I liked them both, Dimitri was cheated in being portrayed as a one dimensional six-foot-two guy with the Greek god good looks who’d had ‘thousands of girlfriends’ and Helen as the friend slash co-worker who was afraid of forever being stuck in the friend zone.

The Dream Master kept me riveted but all in all I just wanted more­ – more depth, more pages… However, a story that features Krispy Kremes (I’m almost positive that’s what those donuts were!) and imaginative use of the humble strawberry is fabulous any way you put it.

Round 2 winning review

Archangel’s Consort by Nalini Singh

Archangel’s Consort continues the story of Elena, former Guild Hunter and newly made angel, and her lover Raphael, the archangel of New York. Vampires are breaking their Contracts all over the city and archangels are showing signs of madness. Either an old foe is targeting Elena, Raphael’s greatest vulnerability, or an ancient power is awakening­one that Raphael will have to confront but may not be able to vanquish.

Newcomers to the Guild Hunter series shouldn’t find it difficult to pick up the basic characteristics of the world Singh has created. The violence is graphic, but less so than in previous books. The power struggles between angels may get confusing, but it’s easy enough to follow the external plot even without fully understanding these nuances.

As the title suggests, the story’s emotional arc explores the way in which Elena and Raphael negotiate their relationship­ – her desire for independence despite her limitations, his determination to protect her, and their struggle to balance the vulnerability of humanity against the power of immortality.

Singh has set up some beautiful tensions in the series. Is Elena Raphael’s strength or his biggest weakness? Is humanity a blessing or a curse? Can theirs be a love between equals, when Elena is always at a physical disadvantage? Many of the power struggles between Elena and Raphael are intense and deeply romantic. They spend a lot of time in the bedroom­ – perhaps a little too much.

Though it pains me to admit it, at a certain point the scenes between Elena and Raphael begin to feel repetitive. They have issues to resolve, but playing these out in the bedroom, with the same level of intensity each time, is exhausting and adds little to the story­ – there just isn’t enough conflict between them.. (That said, I’m sure many readers will relish these scenes. You know who you are!) As a result, the external plot, though intriguing, lacks room to properly and subtly develop, especially with all the minor characters who come into play.

Nevertheless, Archangel’s Consort is a solid instalment in the series. Fans will be pleased to know there are plenty of scenes with Dmitri and Illium, and they’re as mysterious and swoonable as ever. Despite Elena and Raphael’s individual issues to resolve, their romance seems fairly complete, so it’s not surprising that the next book, Archangel’s Blade, features Dmitri and an as yet unrevealed heroine.

Round 3 winning review

My Reckless Surrender by Anna Campbell

“I want to be your lover.”

Diana Carrick presents the Earl of Ashcroft with an offer too good for a notorious rake to refuse. So when he declines, she doesn’t know whether to feel relief or despair. She’s made a bargain with the devil: a child in exchange for marriage to the man who controls the estate in which Diana grew up and which she loves.

Tarquin Vale, Earl of Ashcroft, is intrigued by the mysterious proposition but senses a bit of, well, dodginess about the entire affair. But this is a romance, after all, and his willpower is no match for Diana’s allure. Ashcroft embodies that favourite of all historical romance heroes­ – the rake who’s not really a rake­ – with an added bonus of being powerful enough to vanquish villains.

Anna Campbell has gone from strength to strength, and this is her best book so far. Although the bad guy is a caricature of sleaze and nastiness, Ashcroft and Diana are nuanced characters. Campbell balances Diana’s internal conflicts so that she comes across neither mercenary nor stupid.

Campbell’s work has been christened “Regency Noir” and, to the extent that the villain creates a potentially sordid situation for Diana, My Reckless Surrender fits the bill. But doesn’t come close to the darker themes of Claiming the Courtesan and Untouched. Much of the first part of the story revolves around Diana and Ashcroft’s mutual seduction, and these pages are dominated by passionate and sexy scenes. We also get subtle touches of humour that are not only delightful to read, but serve to demonstrate why Diana and Ashcroft are right for each other.

Campbell’s prose veers towards purple, but those of us who love her work already know this. There’s something delicious about Campbell’s masterful lovers, and there’s something charming about Diana, who is in the process of discovering passion and desire, yet whose chaste background betrays her every time. For this I can forgive the use of the term ‘interior passage’. Maybe.

Inevitably, Ashcroft discovers Diana’s scheme before she finds the courage to tell him. The climax of the story is dramatic, thrilling and, yes, a little over the top­ – vintage Anna Campbell.

Round 4 winning review

Secrets in the Marriage Bed by Nalini Singh

Every marriage has its secrets. They were reconciling. That was all Caleb Callaghan could focus on when his estranged wife, Vicki, shared the news of her pregnancy. He was determined that this time, the marriage would succeed, no matter what it took.

But was Vicki’s price too high? She wanted more than his love and support … she demanded honesty between them, starting with his secrets. But there was something in Caleb’s past he could not – ­would not – share. For the truth would only destroy them.

This did have some romance novel cliché­ ‘misunderstandings’ between the couple, which threaten to tear them apart and secrets that are damaging to their relationship. But I felt the character of Vicki was refreshing, in that she may be scared to speak up (initially), but she’s strong enough to go after what she wants, even if it scares the crap out of her.

I also liked that this isn’t the typical, girl meets rich, fabulous Greek tycoon, who sweeps her off her feet and they live happily ever after. This is a much more real scenario­ – that sometimes you may meet that perfect someone, but that it isn’t always puppies and kisses, you have to make an effort to keep the love alive.

Both characters have a lot to do if the marriage is going to work – ­both as a couple and by themselves – and I think Singh did a good job in setting them up to do this. This is shown both with the background given to us about the characters and the events that unfold as you read the story. While reading the book, I got the feeling that Caleb and Vicki love each other, despite the separation and misunderstandings and this I think is due to Singh’s great writing.

I enjoyed reading the book, but I didn’t love it. But that is more because I usually read paranormal romance or urban fantasy. I haven’t read anything else by this author, but this had definitely caught my interest and I’m looking forward to reading more of her titles.

  1. Barbara permalink
    18 March 2011 7:54 pm

    Best of luck to all

  2. Aimee permalink
    18 March 2011 8:34 am

    Good Luck!

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