Monday, November 30, 2015

Review: Sweet Ruin

Sweet Ruin Sweet Ruin by Kresley Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"What won't we do for the people we love."

"She was a killer with blood on her hands, but she wanted to give her heart away . . .Jo yearned for her other half with all the desperation of someone who'd always known something was missing."

FINAL DECISION: The story of two lonely immortals desperately needing connection, SWEET RUIN demonstrates the best in the Immortals After Dark series: humor, adventure, hot sex and deep loving bonds.

THE STORY: Rune Darklight is the assassin of the Morior (the group of ancient immortals coming to earth for the Accession for their own purposes). Rune is half fey/half demon which makes him dark fey. His black blood is poisonous to all but his own kind. For the first several hundred years of his life, Rune was a slave and trained as a sexual weapon. Rune is on earth hunting the Valkyrie Soothsayer Nix in order to assassinate her. While pumping some nymphs for information, Rune senses a voyeur and sets out to find out who the sweet scented female is.

Josephine Doe is an orphan without any knowledge of who or what she is. All she knows from the age of eight is that she has to protect her baby brother Thaddeus. When her brother is taken from her and her life changes dramatically, Jo first decides that she is destined to be a superhero. Her taste for vengeance and blood convince Jo that she is actually the villain of the piece. When she sees the mesmerizing Rune with his nymphs, she is intrigued by the male but as wary as a feral cat.

OPINION: "When two people form an unbreakable bond, it's like a reactor, feeding them power and heat and a sense of belonging. It makes them strong. They're the true superheroes."

Rune and Jo are both damaged people. I am a big fan of damaged characters where the rough edges of both seem to fit so well. Rune's past as a slave and a whore have made him doubt his own self-worth. He uses his sexuality as a crutch in his business because that is how he has learned to do his job. He thinks nothing and feels nothing during sex because it has become meaningless to him. Despairing of ever finding a mate, Rune desperately wants a connection that he knows will poison and kill any female foolish enough to get close to him.

Josie is feral. Years of living on the street and protecting herself have given her a hard shell. She is foul mouthed, prickly, and completely badass. Separated from her brother, Josie does not have a connection to anyone but desperately wants a connection. She has learned to vicariously experience relationship with others through use of her her abilities. Completely ignorant of the Lore, Rune is the first fellow Immortal that Josie has spoken with.

The relationship between these two jaded people ends up being incredibly sweet. The two learn the value of themselves as they bicker and fight and love their way around the world chasing Nix. They end up finding value in the relationship between them even as they discover and rediscover their own pasts. I did especially like the sweetness of their relationship in light of how dark their pasts were. Josie (although far from sweet and innocent herself) brings a freshness and newness to Rune's life which often feels oppressive and dark.

In the mythology of the Immortals After Dark series, this book continues Nix's work with the Accession (the battle between the creatures of the Lore). Some parts of her plans are disclosed while many others remain murky. It has become clear that Nix is not as crazy as she appeared in earlier books in the series but instead is making intricate chess moves to bring about a conclusion that she wants. There are numerous connection and appearances by past characters which will please fans of the series.

This book seriously moves forward the mythology of the series without every losing sight of the importance of the romance and connection between the main characters. One of the best of the series.

WORTH MENTIONING: From the offhand reference to a female vampire living in New Orleans, I have hope that we will be seeing more of the Dacians from SHADOW'S CLAIM.

CONNECTED BOOKS: SWEET RUIN is the sixteenth book in the Immortals After Dark series. At this point, I believe that readers should read the other books in the series if they wish to fully enjoy this book. The romance here is self-contained, but there is so much else going on that is directly connected with events in the series as a whole.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I recieved an ARC of this book via Netgalley in order to provide an honest review of the book. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own.

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Review: Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brilliant Conclusion to the Rules of Scoundrels Series

“Men see what they wish to see.”

THE STORY: Lady Georgiana Pearson was only sixteen when she gave herself to a man who she believed she loved but who abandoned her leaving her pregnant. Utterly ruined, Georgiana has secretly resurrected herself into the most powerful woman in Britain. At the tender age of twenty, she founded The Fallen Angel recruiting as her partners three men who had also fallen from the grace of the aristocracy.

“She might never again be accepted by society, but now she held the power to destroy it.”

For years, Georgiana has had three different roles: Georgiana, sister to a duke and a fallen woman; Anna, the madam of the Angel and the most famous whore in London; and Chase, the mysterious man who holds all the secrets of the Angel and the aristocracy. At the beginning of NEVER JUDGE A LADY BY HER COVER, Georgiana is reluctantly seeking out a husband. She wants the respectability of a title to protect her daughter Caroline’s future prospects and as a result has had to re-enter society.

“She was like no woman he’d ever known.”

At a ball, Georgiana “meets” Duncan West. Unknown to West, the two have actually interacted for years. Chase and West have been partners of a sort in the secrets of London. The two have sent messages back and forth dealing in the secrets of the ton. Anna and West have also done some mild flirting as Anna acted as messenger for Chase. It is meeting, Georgiana, however, that most intrigues West.

Duncan West is “brilliant and powerful and handsome as sin.” A newspaper magnet, West owns five newspapers and magazines known throughout Britain. (Readers of MacLean’s other books will recognize West’s publications. West himself appeared in ELEVEN SCANDALS TO START TO WIN A DUKE’S HEART along with the prior books in the Rules of Scoundrels series). A self-made man, West has dangerous secrets of his own that he is working feverously to keep hidden. Considered an unofficial fifth partner in the Fallen Angel because of his critical rule in controlling and disclosing the scandalous information that the Angel trades in, West knows nothing about the roles that Georgiana plays for the Angel.

“He was a man, and men saw only that for which they were looking. And still he seemed to see into her.”

Almost immediately in the story, West discovers part of Georgiana’s connection with the Angel. Thus begins a dance between Georgiana and West where each discloses and conceals truths about themselves while making deals and trades and also falling in love with one another. West agrees to help Georgiana capture a titled husband at the same time that the simmering attraction between them begins to consume them both.

OPNION: NEVER JUDGE A LADY BY HER COVER is a book I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since I read it – twice already. Georgiana is a heroine that is so incredibly unique and brilliant. Determined, driven, witty, sarcastic, ambitious, smart and loving, protective and caring, Georgiana is a woman on par with the men of the Fallen Angel. My favorite part of this book might be her relationship with Bourne, Cross and Temple who clearly care about her and yet treat her as a strong, independent partner and not a woman that has to be protected. They treat her as an equal and MacLean has written Georgiana as their equal. Duncan at first wants to protect Georgiana and yet as he gets to know her, he also learns to respect and ultimately be in awe of what she has done with her life.
Georgiana is not a weak young woman who needs to be rescued. She is the linchpin, the creator, the originator of the Fallen Angel. She has been so integral to the happy endings for others (her brother Simon, Bourne, Cross and Temple) sometimes to her own detriment that her journey to happiness had special meaning. Georgiana is a woman who has made herself strong and yet is not hard. She gives everything to those she loves. That trait, which led to her ruination, also makes her capable of having a forever type of love. By the end of the book, the girl who wanted so much to be wanted, is shown as a woman who has the loyalty and love by more people than she would have imagined.

The relationship between Georgiana and Duncan is truly a match of equals. The clever and witty repartee between them urged me to return to their interactions again and again to re-read them. The two are on guard with one another and the tension created by the fear that each has of disclosing their weaknesses while at the same time deeply hungering to reveal themselves to one another drives a great deal of the emotional angst of the story. While stories based upon the keeping of secrets from the other can be quite tedious an annoying as the reader yells – “just talk to one another already” – this is NOT one of those books. The secrets that Georgiana and Duncan are keeping have the power to utterly destroy them. To disclose secrets is to give power to the other. As the two begin to build trust between them, the secrets are revealed. By the time the ultimate secret, Chase’s identity, is revealed, it feels like the proper time.

I greatly appreciate the heat level of NEVER JUDGE A LADY BY HER COVER. The book is sexy and hot, but not gratuitous or crass. The heat level is high but always grounded in the emotional intimacy of the characters. Plus, there is a very sexy scene in an indoor swimming pool.

This historical feels incredibly fresh and new. Georgiana does not react in stereotypical historical heroine fashion. The opening where Georgiana and West meet is one of the most amazing scenes I have read. All readers of historical romance have read the scene where a heroine is being savaged by gossips in the ton. What was unusual is Georgiana’s reaction. She does not simper or whine or fear. Instead, she is incredibly strong and dark in her reaction. I loved the reaction of Georgiana and it is a risk for MacLean to make her heroine vengeful in those circumstances – but entirely within the character of the woman who created the Fallen Angel.

As a lover of dark, angst filled romances, this book was a tumultuous emotional ride. MacLean’s writing goes deep inside the emotional journey of her characters and drags the reader along. The focus is always on the characters and their connection to one another. The story is painful and funny and sexy and empowering. The writing is at turns brisk and lush declarative and evocative. Rather than reading like a high school English paper, this book is more like poetry or stream of consciousness. MacLean uses all the tricks of a master writer who knows how to break the rules that schoolchildren are taught to increase the tension and flow of the story. It is a book that I could not put down and immediately wanted to read again.

WORTH MENTIONING: Fans of the Rules of Scoundrels series and her Love By Numbers series will be pleased with the amusing cameos MacLean gives of the lives of the heroes and heroines from those books. By using the excerpts from West’s newspapers, MacLean gives readers updates on those characters, glimpses into their lives, that don’t interrupt the flow of the story. Also, for Georgiana switches from breaches to dresses and is comfortable in both which I love!

FINAL DECISION: NEVER JUDGE A LADY BY HER COVER is a winner of a book. Dark, emotional, fresh with a hero and heroine who are strong and smart and clever. A fan of the series, I was worried that this book would be a disappointment because I expected too much. Those fears were unfounded. While Pippa and Cross remain my favorite couple, NEVER JUDGE A LADY BY HER COVER may be the best all around book. I highly recommend the entire series. I've already read this book twice and look forward to revisiting the story for a long time.

CONNECTED BOOKS: NEVER A LADY BY HER COVER has been a long time in the making. Georgiana was first introduced in MacLean’s Love By Numbers series. Readers meet her as a pregnant unwed teenager in TEN WAYS TO BE ADORED WHEN LANDING A LORD and then as a new mother in ELEVEN SCANDALS TO START TO WIN A DUKE’S HEART. She, of course, also appears in the first three books of the Rules of Scandals series although readers do not know her true identity. This book can be read independent of the others but readers who really want to enjoy this book should start at the beginning of Georgiana’s story in TEN WAYS TO BE ADORED WHEN LANDING A LORD. MacLean has created a world where every one of her books inhabit the same world. Readers can start with her New Adults Novel THE SEASON, read the three books of her Love By Numbers series, and then the four books of her Rules of Scoundrels series and see cameos by characters throughout. A small spoiler that Lady Sophie who appears briefly in this book will be the heroine of her next book THE ROGUE NOT TAKEN.

STAR RATING: Unreserved 5 stars! Immediately a keeper.

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Review: Pia Does Hollywood

Pia Does Hollywood Pia Does Hollywood by Thea Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tense, Dramatic and I love seeing Dragos, Pia and Liam

"Pia was the crown jewel in the dragon's hoard."

FINAL DECISION: Filled with intense scenes between Dragos and Pia, the novella adds to the Elder Races storyline while exploring a deeply personal plot that threatens both Pia and Dragos.

THE STORY: The diplomatic pact made in DRAGOS GOES TO WASHINGTON means that a member of each demesnes ruling family must travel and stay with another demesne ruling family in order to foster peace and develop relationships. As a result, Pia has to spend a week with the Light Fae Queen in Hollywood. Dragos is not invited but has no intention of allowing Pia to go without him. He travels secretly to California. There are deadly secrets in Hollywood and they put Pia and Dragos in danger. In the process, the secrets that Dragos and Pia are keeping also are threatened to be revealed.

OPINION: I love Dragos and Pia. I would be pleased just to get an update on what they are doing (along with their adorable and amazing son Liam), but this novella ends up being a tense action suspense story that is immensely satisfying.

Dragos and Pia's strong loving relationship is intensely sexual as well. Even this short novella depicts how much these two love and want one another. Fans of Dragos and Pia should be pleased to see that their relationship is well but still deepening and becoming more complex.

This novella also deals with the difficult relationship between the demesnes. Readers of the series know that distrust typifies the dealings between the different elder races. This time the suspicion and mistrust puts all the races in danger -- and especially Dragos and Pia. The political dealings are always a highlight in this series and the interactions between Dragos and the Queen are really good stuff.

Finally, the action adventure plot surprises with its tension and drama. While I knew that everything would resolve itself in the end, I had to restrain myself from reading ahead to assure myself of it -- the story was tense and people are in real danger. The introduction of new characters also hints at future storylines.

This novella has a lot of stuff for fans to dig into for the future.

WORTH MENTIONING: Stinkpot.

CONNECTED BOOKS: PIA DOES HOLLYWOOD is book 8.6 in the Elder Races series. It is also the second book in the novella trilogy that began with DRAGOS GOES TO WASHINGTON. This novella can be read as a standalone. I do recommend, however, that readers first DRAGON BOUND and LORD'S FALL which are both about Dragos and Pia. While PIA DOES HOLLLYWOOD can be read apart from DRAGOS GOES TO WASHINGTON, this novella continues the overarching story begun in that novella.

STAR RATING: I give this novella 5 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book in order to provide a review. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review: The Highwayman

The Highwayman The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Story of Love and Secrets

"Her husband. A thief, a highwayman, a criminal. A coldhearted killer."

FINAL DECISION: I loved this book because of the timeless nature of the love between the hero and heroine. It feels like they were always fated to find one another.

THE STORY: Farah Leigh Mackenzie is an innocent widow who is working as a clerk in Scotland Yard. As a child she loved a boy with whom she was in a orphanage. She was devastated when he died in prison. Now seventeen years later, she meets Dorian Blackwell, the Blackheart of Ben Mar who is a criminal mastermind who worked his way into being one of the wealthiest and influential men in England. Dorian offers Farah the opportunity to avenge her lost love (with whom Dorian was in prison) and deal with a secret that Farah herself has. All she has to do is marry him.

OPINION: This story is built on a sad story of Farah's lost love. When she meets Dorian, she begins to find that this scarred and hardened man is more complex than she imagined. His friendship with her childhood loves convinces her to trust him and ultimately to marry him. Dorian has emerged from his childhood and young adulthood, scarred both on the outside but also on the inside. His life has compelled him to do bad things, but he is vulnerable to the sweet innocent Farah.

I thought the setup for this book was wonderful. The angst, the drama, the conflict was so good. The weakness of the story is that too many extremely painful parts of Farah and Dorian's lives are too quickly resolved. What saved the book for me was that the two acknowledged that there will be days of darkness to come.

This book also has interesting secondary characters, some of whom will be the subject of later books.

WORTH MENTIONING: I am a fan of historical books that don't take place in society ballrooms.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE HIGHWAYMAN is the first book in the Victorian Rebel series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.25 stars.

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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Review: The Thames River Murders

The Thames River Murders The Thames River Murders by Ashley Gardner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Intriguing, Great Combination of Characters and Mystery

"I was unfortunately drawn to intrigue, especially when it involved a poor individual who couldn't fight back, or who had lost against a stronger opponent."

FINAL DECISION: One of the better books in the series, this book deftly combines the elements of mystery and romance along with characters that are well-drawn and intriguing. The new overarching story that begins here is especially good. Can't wait until the next book.

THE STORY: Captain Lacey, settling into his happy marriage with his combined family, is asked to investigate a cold case. A young woman's body was found in the river ten years ago and her identity and murder were never solved. Lacey also has to deal with his daughter's debut which is rattling him and with a blackmailer who is threatening him.

OPINION: This is one of the best integrated Lacey books. The mystery is neatly balanced with Lacey's relationship with his wife, his concerns about this daughter's debut, his budding relationship with his stepson and a new overarching mystery concerning attempted blackmail. The best part of these books to me is learning more about Lacey and his friends and family and seeing how his life progresses. This book is rich regarding those stories. Any fears that a happy home life might make Lacey dull can be dismissed. It is quite amusing to see Lacey be a grumpy father trying to scare off his daughter's suitors.
The mystery of the book is also a good one that brings Lacey in contact with both old favorite characters and some intriguing new ones. Lacey also steps into a new world -- that of the Jews living in London and both Lacey and the reader learn about that group of people living in London. One of Lacey's best qualities is his ability to cross social, cultural, and ethnic boundaries in his investigations and this book continues that tradition.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book ends on a high note with a new very intriguing mystery concerning who is trying to blackmail Lacey.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE THAMES RIVER MURDERS is the tenth book in the Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries series. This book, like each in the series, has a self contained mystery and thus can be read as a standalone. For me, however, the best part in the series is the continuing story of Lacey and his friends and family. These stories continue from book to book. Indeed, this book starts are new overarching mystery concerning Lacey and the blackmailer.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: Cold-Hearted Rake

Cold-Hearted Rake Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Welcome Return by Lisa Kleypas to Historical Romance

"You are the vilest man I have ever met."

FINAL DECISION: The return by Kleypas to historical romance typifies the heartwarming, character driven, deeply romantic books that made her a favorite among readers. COLD-HEARTED RAKE has one one my favorite storylines -- a man who is changed for the better by a good woman.

THE STORY: Devon Ravenel unexpectedly inherits an earldom upon the death of his hated cousin. Devon has devoted his life to pleasure and lack of responsibility and the last thing he wants are floundering estates and caring for tenants and relatives of his cousin. He goes to the estate intending on sending the widow and sisters packing and selling the entirety of the estate. Kathleen was made a widow after only three days of marriage. She knows that the appearance of the new earl means that she must make her own plans for her future and is disgusted by Devon's lack of caring about the history of the estate and the lives of the people who depend upon it. Open warfare emerges between Devon and Kathleen but the surprising result is that Devon wants to spend more time with Kathleen and begins to try and save the estate in order to spend more time with her.

OPINION: Devon and Kathleen are both strong willed and they have a passionate relationship. The relationship begins with passionate arguments and then turns to sexual passion. Kathleen is a woman who cares deeply although she constrains herself with rules and propriety. Her life has been filled with pain but she has reached out to others in response. Devon also has a painful past, but he has retreated to a life of excess in order to hide his pain. His interactions with Kathleen begin to change him. Determined never to marry or have children because of his own childhood, Devon slowly begins to change as his attraction to Kathleen compels him to reconsider his notions about responsibility. Kleypas writes wonderful rake stories. She realistically demonstrates how a woman can begin to change a man. Devon doesn't even acknowledge that he is changing throughout the novel. He just knows that he is compelled to continuously make changes in his life in order to spend more time with Kathleen. Even better, Kathleen doesn't become the catalyst for change by being a loving doormat...no, she changes him by challenging him to be a better person. It is only after he has changed that he becomes the kind of man who can love Kathleen.

This book is also filled with compelling secondary characters. I look forward to reading more about them as the series continues.

Kleypas fans rejoice. She has returned to historicals and hasn't lost a step.

WORTH MENTIONING: I really liked this book but I am looking forward to the next book MARRYING MR. WINTERBORNE even more. The couple is introduced in this book.

CONNECTED BOOKS: COLD-HEARTED RAKE is the first book in a a new series about the Ravenel family and friends.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Review: Harlot

Harlot Harlot by Victoria Dahl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sad,Painful But Ultimately About the Power of Love and Acceptance

"Caleb might come back and what if he did? He wouldn't return to apologize or make amends. He wouldn't come back to court her. She was a whore. There was only one reason he might return, and he'd thrown it to her in scorn. I can pay."

FINAL DECISION: Sad, thoughtful but with a message of acceptance and forgiveness, HARLOT is emotional but also sexy. Loved these characters who are survivors.

THE STORY: Caleb Hightower left town two years ago to make money working in California with the intent to return to his childhood sweetheart and marry her. He returns to find out she has become a harlot. Jessica Willoughby was left penniless after the death of her father. She ended up making a deal in which she agreed to sell herself. Now that Caleb has returned, she agrees to allow him to use her body in order to purge the anger Caleb feels toward her.

OPINION: I found this book compelling and heartbreaking. What I loved best about it was how the central theme is about forgiveness. But the important forgiveness is not Caleb forgiving Jessica, but Jessica forgiving herself and learning to live again rather than just exist. She learns to accept that she did the best she could even if her decisions were difficult ones.

The connection between Caleb and Jessica is so strong from the beginning that there are no doubts that they love one another. The question is whether they can forgive and move forward. As the book begins, Caleb wants to hurt Jessica and Jessica wants to be hurt because of her decision to sell herself. Through their sexual relationship, however, they find out that there is something deep and true between them.

As the secrets in this story are revealed, I especially liked that Caleb and Jessica are able to reconnect apart from Caleb finding out what actually happened. He loves and accepts her before the truth comes out.

This is not a light read, but it is a beautiful love story.

WORTH MENTIONING: I appreciated that this book took a hard, realistic look at prostitution rather than romanticizing it.

CONNECTED BOOKS: HARLOT is a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in order to provide a review. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

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