Review: Below the Belt, by Sarah Mayberry

Sarah Mayberry is a Blaze author I really enjoy, and Below the Belt (2008) is no exception. I have a Blaze audio subscription, and Gabra Zackman, who narrates all the Mayberry Blazes, did her usual great job with this one. One word of caution, though: Zackman is a New Yorker, and she voices the Mayberry characters with Australian accents. I think anyone with less of an ignorant ear than mine for accents might not be thrilled with this.

It’s no secret on this blog that while I like all kinds of romances, I have a special affection for romances that play with gender stereotypes.

Let’s see if you can guess whether it is the hero or heroine described below:

  • Seeks to restore the tarnished family name in the boxing ring
  • Named Jimmie
  • Initiates sexual relationship
  • Wants no strings attached sex
  • Gets wasted in a bar and has a brawl in the parking lot

All of those describe the heroine, Jamie Sawyer (also called “Jimmie”), whose father, a former heavyweight champion and Australian sports legend, threw a fight, went to prison, and then committed suicide.  She’s beautiful, tough, extremely talented athletically, and deeply wounded by her past, not just her father’s tragic end, but by an unscrupulous boyfriend who took advantage of her when she was at her most vulnerable. Jamie is the character who needs to grow the most in this book, and it is her story in every way: her athletic achievements, her recovery from past trauma, and her fledgling ability to give her heart to Cooper.

It’s too bad that in this case the cover image doesn’t resemble most women boxers, certainly not at the heavier weight class Jamie is supposed to be.  The cover model doesn’t appear to be able to lift a soup can judging from her twiggy arms. Check out photographer Delilah Montoya’s photo essay on women boxers to compare. That quibble aside, I loved the boxing matches and the portrayal of the sport, one I had had zero interest in previously.

The hero, Cooper Fitzgerald, is a recently retired (due to an eye injury) successful heavyweight boxer starting his own gym. He’s not one of those athletes who has trouble adjusting to civilian life. He’ll miss the ring, but overall, he’s ok with his retirement. After some initial strong reluctance (he has disdain for women’s boxing — something he overcomes a little too quickly to be convincing) he decides to take Jamie on. Cooper is in the “Rourke” mold of heroes. He’s nearly perfect, inside and out, but he’s still human (whenever he says “I’m no saint”, prepare yourself for some steamy pages. Mayberry excels at writing very intense love scenes). I happen to love heroes like that, but if you go for more angst, you might not enjoy this book.

I thought this was a terrific story. I was wrapped up in Jamie’s quest, in her matches, and in Cooper’s struggle with his growing feelings for a fighter he’s supposed to be training. Very romantic (yes, despite the relationship taking place in sweaty gyms and seedy towns), very sexy, very exciting, and, at times, very heartbreaking. Highly recommended.

I find Mayberry’s Blazes to be unexpectedly emotionally gripping and dramatic. I have often wished she wrote longer books, and to my delight I see she has a SuperRomance out, Her Best Friend, which I have already downloaded (for $3.98) to my Kindle.

Romances that really cook: BBAW giveaway

To help celebrate Book Blogger Appreciation Week, I am giving away a care package of three great romances which feature a hero or heroine who cooks for a living. But I am going to make you work for it. Read on…

BBAW_Celebrate_Books-1

Here are the books:

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1. Delicious, by Sherry Thomas (Bantam historical romance, 2008)

2. Burning Up, by Sarah Mayberry (Harlequin Blaze, contemporary romance, 2008)

3. Can’t Stand the Heat, by Louisa Edwards (St. Martin’s, contemporary romance, September 2009)

Click the title links for reviews and excerpts.

Since I haven’t reviewed CSTH, I’ll say something about it here. Cooking is, for hotshot Manhattan chef Adam Temple, not just a job he happens to have, but the key to his very being. He lives and breathes food, and sees the world in terms of it.

For example, when Adam first sees restaurant critic Miranda’s satin shoes, he thinks they have a patina “like you get on a good crème anglaise“. And when he considers the combination of her good looks and churlish demeanor, he’s reminded of what happens when he adds “a splash of lemon juice to a rich cream sauce.”  Adam is temperamental, loving, and, like all good chefs, crazily creative. Oh, and he’s hot, naturally, with fabulous taste in music (as the Clash poster on his wall indicates). I haven’t finished it, but it’s terrific so far.

If for no other reason, you have to want to read a book that contains this passage:

Self-recrimination boiled up in his belly, bitter and acid. Not only had Adam lost his head and beckoned a viper into their midst, now he was screwing up the kitchen dynamic and taking his aggravation out on the crew.

Unacceptable. He had to pull himself together. And he knew just how to do it, too.

Adam was going to make pâté.

I love to cook, and this summer we experimented with a little organic sustainable agriculture of our own, which has had a terrific impact on our wallets and diet. September is harvest time here in New England, and boy have we got a harvest (I totally labeled these pics because I saw chef Jamie Oliver’s show on school lunches, and I now realize that many people cannot actually identify raw, unprocessed veggies). Allow me to visually brag:

IMGreen peppers garden 2009

Green peppers

IMG_4407

Beets

Garlic

Garlic

Ready for Halloween

Ready for Halloween

Onions

Onions

Thank you for indulging me. Now, on to the important stuff.

How to enter: by Friday, September 18 at midnight EST, write a comment in which you (a) share a favorite recipe which you have prepared for a loved one, and (b) say something about the occasion on which you prepared it and/or the recipient’s reaction.

Hopefully we’ll end up with some great recipes and fun stories.

There are lots of other contests running this week for BBAW, many with very generous prizes. Check this link for more.

Review: Burning Up, by Sarah Mayberry

My Take In Brief: A sexy and sweet romance with truffle oil, brush fires, and baby wombats!

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Cover Comment: Sophie has short pixieish hair. And this cover model…doesn’t.

Audio note: I listened to Burning Up on audio, and while I liked the narrator, Gabra Zackman, who does a lot of Blazes (Mayberry, Jade Lee, Stephanie Bond, etc.), I should warn you that this New York based actor does an Australian accent which would not be very convincing to anyone who has an ear for these things.

Read the first few pages on Mayberry’s website.

Setting: Australia, present day, almost entirely in a mansion in the hills.

Plot: After cooking in her boyfriend’s family restaurant for over a decade, Sophie takes a month long job as personal chef to Lucas Grant, a playboy actor with a knee injury.

Heroine and Hero: Sophie is a very good person whose safe, predictable life gets a shake up when her boyfriend dumps her. Lucas is a famous sexy actor, a charming cad.

Conflict: Lucas’s traumatic childhood prevents him from forming emotional attachments.

Word on the Web:

AAR, Katie Mack, B+

“While the casual-affair-turned-serious plotline isn’t new to series romances by any means, not a lot of authors write this evolution as effectively and enjoyably as Mayberry does.”

Racy Romance Review:

This is my 3rd Blaze by this author and I have yet to be disappointed. I can’t remember the last time I could not put down an audio book, but it happened immediately with this one. Granted, the alternative was grading papers, but I found myself taking the dog for extra walks. I actually tried to listen to it while playing cards with my kids, until they shamed me into turning it off.

Continue reading

Review: She's Got It Bad, by Sarah Mayberry

Heroine and Hero: Liam, former abused orphan bad boy cum multimillionaire custom organ-donor-on-wheels maker. Zoe, former good girl, now a bad ass tattoo artist who fronts a rock band.

Setting: Contemporary Melbourne

Word on the Web:

TGTBTU, Limecello, A

Dear Author, Jayne, B-


******************Spoilers ahead***************


Conflict: Over a decade after a one night teen fling that ended with Liam roaring on his motorcycle out of Zoe’s life “for her own good”, Zoe and Liam cross paths again. The attraction is as strong as ever, but Liam fears his history of being abused has made him unfit for romantic love, and Zoe fears her womblessness has done the same.

Racy Romance Review: I really enjoyed the first Mayberry I read, Anything For You, and SGIB shares many of AFY’s strengths:

  • Well written and compelling
  • Likeable if flawed h/h
  • Unusual h/h careers, described with enough detail to make them compelling and connect them interestingly to the characters, but not so much that it became distracting or boring.
  • Sexual tension with great payoff/s. Smoking hot without being gratuitous or gross.

The book started with a bang, as we find ourselves in the bedroom of teen-aged Zoe and Liam. Normally I don’t like romances which rely on a teen fling gone bad, but in this case, the teen fling alone wasn’t relied on to create the conflict years later: it was the results of the fling, plus some other things, that made the adult conflict work.

Liam has kept an image of Zoe as virginal, perfect, and wholesome in mind, and when he comes across a portrait of the very naked adult, punk, tattooed sexpot Zoe, he just has to track her down.  He does, and his dawning realization — achieved when he watches her perform as the lead singer in a rock band at a thrash club –  that Zoe is a wild child with enough sex appeal to incinerate the city, sets up one of my favorite conflicts in all of romance: the upright guy hangs around the errant girl for her own good, but cannot help but sample some of her goodies while her is “reforming” her.

Unfortunately, SGIB did not live up to the initial promise: Liam’s certainty that he is “bad news” just because his father beat him was not credible given his totally nonviolent upstanding adulthood (he does lose control eventually, but it’s too late for it to do much good).  And Zoe’s rock chick persona turns out to be a front, not a mark of female empowerment, but just the reverse: the result of old wounds that have not healed.

Maybe that’s a good thing in this case. Although Zoe the artist is given serious screen time, Zoe as a musician is an insulting joke. It amazed me that in two long scenes at the club, Zoe’s musical talent was not mentioned even once. It was all about her tits and ass. Real empowering, huh?

And what has messed Zoe up so much that she has to perform in her skivvies for men with hard ons and work as a — gasp — tattoo artist?

Zoe has become infertile via an ectopic pregnancy. I give Mayberry credit for raising this issue, and for not gifting Zoe and Liam with a miracle baby at the end. But Zoe refers to herself constantly as worthless and “an empty shell”. I really thought the days when women assumed they were only as good as their functioning uteruses were over.  I get it that infertility is a major issue, and I don’t mind reading about a character who feels devastated by infertility, but as a reader, I was left with the impression that fertility does and should fuck you up totally, and that an infertile woman really is a grievously impaired female.

Not my cuppa. But, like I mentioned above, the book had its real strengths, and I liked AFY so well that I will certainly try another book by this author.

My Beach Vacation with 7 Contemps and 1 Historical

Read on for mini-reviews and lots of Kindle-on-the-beach pictures of these:

  1. Talk Me Down, Victoria Dahl (2009, HQN 352 pages)
  2. Crash Into Me, Jill Sorenson (2009, Bantam Dell, 464 pages)
  3. Flat-Out Sexy, Erin McCarthy (2008, Berkley Sensation, 304 pages)
  4. Anything for You, Sarah Mayberry (2006, Harlequin Blaze, 256 pages)
  5. To Do List, Lauren Dane (2007, Samhain, novella)
  6. Just the Sexiest Man Alive, Julie James (2008, Berkley Sensation, 304 pages)
  7. Practice Makes Perfect, Julie James (2009, Berkley, 320 pages)
  8. Like No Other Lover, Julie Anne Long (2008, Avon Romantic Treasure, 384 pages)

Maybe it was the pina coladas (or sangria, or mojitos, or rum and cokes). Maybe it was the sun, the sand, the surf. Maybe it was my Kindle enthrallment. Or maybe they were just damn good books. But I enjoyed reading all of the above. I hope to write longer reviews of some of them at a later date, but until then…

talk-me-down

1. Talk Me Down: Heroine who secretly writes erotica has returned to small town. She and hero have hots for each other since high school. Hero is gossip-averse, alpha but not domineering, borderline stick in the mud small town cop. First a bone to pick with Dear Author and Smart Bitches: I thought the “Save the Contemporary” campaign was all about — er — the contemporary. Exclusive of both paranormal and suspense. But this was definitely romantic suspense, with the heroine in serious peril most of the book. I enjoyed it, but heroine was slightly immature (at what point in your adult life do you tell your family to accept you or shove it?) and static throughout book. I do love a nonpsychotically jealous hero, especially with bar scenes, and this had them aplenty.

2. Crash Into Me: Latina FBI agent heroine, hero is widower and single dad, former pro surfer, former adulterer and alcoholic. I picked this one for the Cali surf setting, so well developed and so appropriate for my vacation. I think people who like rom suspense will really like it: the question of who was the murderer really had me from the beginning. The romance did not work as well for me, despite hot and unique sex scenes, because heroine is dishonest with hero and hero’s behavior is questionable at many points. Secondary romance with teens was sweet and well done. I think I have to accept that this sub-genre is not for me. There were many truly horrible people in this book — misogynists, lying teen sluts, rapists, murderers, child abusers. It just doesn’t work with romance for me.  That’s my hangup, I realize.

flat-out-sexy

3. Flat-Out Sexy: A very nice romance with younger hero who is sincere and honorable. Sexy and sweet. Heroine is supposedly an academic but may as well have been window washer for all it mattered to her character. I did not like the stereotyping of her former fellow academic boyfriend, just maybe because I am a professor married to another professor. I don’t think everyone who drives NASCAR is buff and masculine and everyone who teaches anthropology is wimpy and effeminate. That said, I am allergic to NASCAR and yet found myself quite interested in the culture while reading this book.

anything-for-you-sarah-mayberry

4. Anything for You: What a great little book. H/H are best friends and business partners and heroine realizes all her emotional energy is going to him. In order to move on with her romantic life, she severs their ties, setting in motion a very funny and sexy series of events as hero is forced to reevaluate their relationship. Very focused and tight, with wonderful results. I am planning to glom Mayberry ASAP. Loved the Australia setting, the unique terminology peppered throughout.

lauren-dane-to-do-list

5. To Do List: My second Dane book, after Giving Chase. This one was also a friends into lovers book, but less successful than the Mayberry. Opening scene, h/h are kissing for first time, and within 3 days are engaged. I know it’s a novella, but it was just too fast, despite the fact that they knew each other all their lives. I felt like I was missing the first 5 chapters. Taught me a new saying, “Sweet baby Jesus on a skateboard.” Really no conflict to speak of, but on paper it’s that hero is organic farmer, heroine is uptight lawyer determined to make partner. He finds her OCD “sweet” and she finds his organic farming “sexy”.

sangria-and-mojito

6. Just The Sexiest Man Alive: I loved this book. Both Type A, she’s a hot shot lawyer, he’s basically Brad Pitt. He needs to learn how to act like a trial lawyer for a movie. Funny and engaging. And, one of my favorites things — a very sexy book with almost no actual sex!  I know I love a book when the insides of my wrists start tingling. The physiological explanation is that my wrists hurt because I am unable to put it down.  But I like to think of my wrist tingles as my own mystical sign of booky greatness. This is not a perfect book — do we really believe this guy is a changed man? And sort of stalled in last third. But still, I enjoyed it so much I immediately downloaded …

7. Practice Makes Perfect: I loved this one, too. Again, with the Type A hot shot lawyers, both of them this time. Very Tracy and Hepburn. Colleagues have hated each other for 8 years, now both trying to make partner, sparks fly. The stress of their career ascension is so well portrayed — anyone who has tried to make partner, or get tenure, will appreciate it. Heroine is a hippie’s daughter, public school, feminist vegetarian. He’s the silver spoon golfing Harvard educated prepster. Actually deals almost head on with class and gender issues, but veers away when things get interesting  — I want to write a longer review on this one to talk about that issue in particular. Again, NO SEX, but sexy as hell.  I so enjoyed it and am totally enamored of Ms. James.

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8. Like No Other Lover: What can I say? This is my 4th book by this author, and I have truly enjoyed all of them. In this one, a mild mannered but wealthy scientist type gets spurned by the beautiful popular girl. The tables are turned and they come to reevaluate each other. Has a Pride and Prejudice aspect (as did Practice Makes Perfect), a theme I adore. I loved both characters, and I love how forthright and mature Long’s h/h are. It’s also set at the hero’s home — did I hear house party? Squee!!! I have to admit however, that Long needs to be taken in by the Metaphor and Simile division of the RWA for some serious deprogramming. This woman has never met a person place or thing she could describe directly. Still, what a great read with a drinking game scene in the middle that had me laughing so hard people were staring at me over their mojitos.

I’ll do a separate post on my Kindle, but for now I leave you with this…

beautiful-caribbean-sea

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