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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Review: What Happens Under the Mistletoe

What Happens Under the Mistletoe What Happens Under the Mistletoe by Sabrina Jeffries
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cute Christmas Collection of Novellas

This is a collection of four short novellas connected by the theme of Christmas and an encounter under the mistletoe.

THE HEIRESS AND THE HOTHEAD by Sabrina Jeffries -- Lord Stephen Cory, the younger brother of a marquess writes radical articles about the plight of mill workers and child laborers. He wants to meet Miss Amanda Keane, an American who owns mills, in order to prove that mill owners everywhere are atrocious. When he meets Amanda, he finds that she is more than he expected. This story is book 1.5 of the Sinful Suitors series. I have not read the other books in the series so it is not necessary to do so. I liked this story. Both Stephen and Amanda are headstrong people who have strong opinions. I liked that Stephen moves tremendously in his opinions. The two are cute together and the characters are well developed for such a short story. I liked this one. Rating: 4 stars.

TWELVE KISSES TO MIDNIGHT by Karen Hawkins -- Marcus Sutherland, Duke of Rothesay, encounters Kenna, Lady Montrose after ten years. The two were once engaged to be married. After their betrothal was broken, Marcus left England and Kenna married an Earl. Now a widow, Kenna wonders if there is anything left between them. I didn't get the connection between these characters. Perhaps this would have been a better story in a longer format. I thought that the two fought for too long and their reconciliation was too short. In addition, I never really understood what broke them up 10 years ago. There was an explanation, but it didn't feel convincing. Rating: 2 stars.

BY ANY OTHER NAME by Candace Camp -- Rylla Campbell, determined to find her missing brother, dresses as a man to search for him in clubs, taverns and gaming hells. On her first adventure, she meets Gregory Rose who is intrigued by the daring woman. He ends up helping her and struggles between wanting to protect her and just wanting her. I liked this story because of the adventures between Gregory and Rylla and their sweet romance. I like stories where women masquerade as men. Rating: 4 stars.

SWEETEST REGRET by Meredith Duran -- Georgiana "Georgie" Trent is left by her diplomat father to entertain his guests for Christmas and to search for a letter that one of the guests has stolen. To assist her, her father sends Lucas Godwin. Lucas broke Georgie's heart two years ago when he left without a word to her. The two fight one another while searching for the letter and end up discovering what actually happened two years ago. This was my favorite novella in the book. Georgie and Lucas have a tremendous amount of sadness and pain behind them. Even when they discover the truth, Georgie doesn't believe that they have a future. The twists of this story were intriguing and the characters were well developed. Rating: 4.25 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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Friday, October 9, 2015

Review: Dragos Goes to Washington

Dragos Goes to Washington Dragos Goes to Washington by Thea Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dragos and Pia Return to the Spotlight

“He basked in the sparkle that lit her eyes as if it were sunlight. Her happiness warmed and sustained him. Her feminine scent fed a ferocity of hunger that never faded or mellowed, no matter how he tried to sate himself on her.”

FINAL DECISION: A novella primarily about Dragos and Pia from the Elder Races series, this story gives readers an update on the Wyr couple, tosses in some significant events in their lives and sets the stage for more political intrigue in the Elder Races world. For fans of the series, this is great reading, funny and sexy.

THE STORY: Dragos and Pia and their amazing son Liam are continuing their lives. After the recent problems with the Elder Races that have been obvious to humans, tensions have arisen. Thus, there is a planned summit between leaders of the elder races and human government leaders in Washington, D.C. Dragos and Pia are to attend. Dragos, who is not good at being diplomatic, intends to rely on Pia to help him not eat people who make him angry. The relationship between Dragos and Pia is also touchy as the mating instinct between them is high.

OPINION: Although the description of this book discusses primarily the plot of this novella as being about the political summit in D.C., I was pleasantly surprised that this book is really an update on and an extension of the relationship between Dragos and Pia (with a little Liam thrown in). As a big fan of the Elder Races series and especially Dragos and Pia, I love seeing these two continue to develop their relationship. I don’t want to spoil the plot but there is a significant event that occurs in this novella that clearly will have implications in the future. Harrison has done a good job here of allowing Dragos and Pia to grow without fundamentally changing their characters. Dragos is still the ancient dragon and I love how he views the petty human political world. Because the focus here is on Dragos and Pia’s relationship, this novella is kinda sexy as well. Can’t wait to read the next novella in this trilogy.

WORTH MENTIONING: Niniane and Tiago make significant appearances here. Love them.

CONNECTED BOOKS: DRAGOS GOES TO WASHINGTON is a novella of the Elder Races series. It can be read as a standalone but really should be read after DRAGON BOUND AND LORD’S FALL which are about Dragos and Pia. DRAGOS GOES TO WASHINGTON is the first of a three part novella mini-series.

STAR RATING: I give this novella 4.25 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this novella 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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Monday, October 5, 2015

Review: Christian Seaton: Duke of Danger

Christian Seaton: Duke of Danger Christian Seaton: Duke of Danger by Carole Mortimer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Final Book in the Dangerous Dukes series

FINAL DECISION: Almost a really good book, I really enjoyed the interaction between Christian and Lisette. Unfortunately, the romance aspect sputters out and what could have been a sexy amazing book was just an average one.

THE STORY: Christian Seaton, the Duke of Sutherland, is in France investigating French agents who are working in England against the British crown. He comes to a tavern to investigate its owner and encounters, Lisette Dupree, a frenchwoman who apparently is the daughter of one of the conspirators. Christian knows that he needs to take Lisette back with him to England to have her questioned. His course is complicated by the fact that he is deeply attracted to the young frenchwoman and begins to believe that she is really an innocent bystander.

OPINION: I wanted to like this book so much. Christian and Lisette are a great couple from the start. I especially liked Lisette who is gentle and yet has the intelligence and natural leadership ability that make her a good candidate for a duchess. I thought that their story began on a promising note. Lies and secrets and danger seemed a great combination. The book went very well until the two are back in England. Then the sexy story fades away, there is a brief resolution of the ongoing story and then a tame banal ending. Their sexual encounter is interrupted on their journey to London and that is a great metaphor for this book. Their relationship ends up feeling unfulfilled and incomplete.

I found this a shame because this series began with such a sexy story that I hate to see this book end on such a note. For men supposedly known for their exploits with women, Christian's relationship with Lisette ends up very tame.

WORTH MENTIONING: Mortimer gives readers an update on the other Dukes and their Duchesses.

CONNECTED BOOKS: CHRISTIAN SEATON: DUKE OF DANGER is book number 6 in the Dangerous Dukes series. It can be read as a standalone. It is the final book in the series and wraps up the ongoing story.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3.5 stars.

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Review: Ms. Manwhore

Ms. Manwhore Ms. Manwhore by Katy Evans
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great Conclusion to the Manwhore Series

"I love single-Rachel. But she was never as happy as I am now."

FINAL DECISION: This novella is really an extended epilogue to the series. I greatly appreciated the time to see Malcolm and Rachel happy. It gave me a better appreciation for the other two books in the series because I got to see this couple truly happy.

THE STORY: Rachel and Malcolm have weathered their storms together and now are moving toward marriage. Dealing with the announcements, the bachelor party, the wedding dress and all the other things that accompanying merging together two lives are things the two now have to deal with. Will Rachel have the wedding of her dreams with the man she loves?

OPINION: I greatly appreciate that the author wrote this novella. I love seeing the happy ending for couples and this novella allows the entire happy ending to play out in a satisfying way. In many ways, I liked these characters better here than in the two previous novels because in this novella they are genuinely happy and the only drama is from the normal wedding issues. After the drama and stress of the previous two novels, it was nice to see these two characters be happy. This novella is really for fans of the series since there is no storyline that needs resolving other than the marriage itself. For fans of the series, however, this is mandatory reading.

WORTH MENTIONING: There is a new romance in the air.

CONNECTED BOOKS: MS. MANWHORE is the third book in the Manwhore series. It concludes the story of Malcolm and Rachel. The romance is already concluded by the time this novella opens. This is a nice long epilogue to the series so readers should start with the first book.

STAR RATING: I give this novella 4.25 stars.

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Review: Deceived: The Wicked Woodleys

Deceived: The Wicked Woodleys Deceived: The Wicked Woodleys by Jess Michaels
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wallflower Gets Her Happy Ending

"Josie Westfall despises me, you know."

FINAL DECISION: At times heartbreaking, DECEIVED is the story of a Wallflower who ultimately prevails in getting the man she always wanted. Although the hero is a true jerk at times, he grovels enough in the end to gain my forgiveness.

THE STORY: Josie Westfall had a crush on Lord Even Hartwell as children. He thoughtlessly destroyed her in dismissing her and giving her a nickname which haunted her in society. Sixteen years later, Evan and Josie are thrown together again at his sister's wedding. Encouraged by his brother, Evan tries to find out what Josie knows about the location of his sister who has been missing. Even as he tries to get information from Josie, Evan begins to realize how badly he has hurt the sweet Josie and is surprised by the attraction between them. Torn between his duty to his family and his attraction to Josie, Evan worries who will he have to betray.

OPINION: I'd like to start by saying that I think that Evan is jerk for most of this book. He's not a hero that I adore. From the beginning, Josie is too good for him. His repeated and thoughtless action in hurting Josie might be understandable, but they are not easily forgiven. What I did like in this book is that ultimately Evan really does have to grovel to get back into Josie's good graces. The redemption of the hero is is a jerk depends so much upon the quality of the grovel and Michaels has done a good job of making Evan pay for his thoughtless treatment of Josie. I really liked the character of Josie who is stronger than she believes she is. Although at first she doesn't believe herself worthy of Evan, she eventually realizes that she deserves to be treated with respect and dignity and that might make her too good for Evan. I am a fan of the Woodley family and am happy to see them again and I am looking forward to the next two books in the series.

WORTH MENTIONING: The outlines of the next romance for the Woodleys is beginning to be made clear in this book.

CONNECTED BOOKS: DECEIVED is the second book in the Wicked Woodleys series. It can be read as a standalone although I recommend reading the other books in the series because there is an ongoing story involving the Woodley sister that has an important part in the story in this book.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.25 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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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Review: Rock Redemption

Rock Redemption Rock Redemption by Nalini Singh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dark, Powerful, Haunting But with Hope and Light as Its Promise

“She still had forty-five minutes before she had to leave for the studio. Plenty of time for her to become Kathleen Devigny again, sophisticated, talented, and far too intelligent to have her heart broken a second time by a rock star who had never loved her like she’d loved him.”

FINAL DECISION: Never an easy book to read, ROCK REDEMPTION is painful and difficult but ultimately a tribute to the redemptive power of love. Kit and Noah have a twisted journey but the happy ending is well earned and even more satisfying for that journey.

THE STORY: Kit and Noah appeared to be heading toward a classic friends to lovers stories. Noah St. John is a member of the famous band Schoolboy Choir. Kit Devigny, an actress, met the men in the band when they were all struggling to make it in Los Angeles. From the beginning, there was something special between Kit and Noah although both had avoided the connection for years. Finally, the two became friends. They could spend hours together talking. Kit knew that they were moving toward something more when Noah betrayed her in the worst way possible. One night after a concert, she came to Noah’s hotel room and found him having sex with a groupie. Even worse, she knew that he had created the scene on purpose because he had known she would be there.

Now several years later, a late night call from Noah who is in distress brings Kit back into close contact with Noah. When gossip threatens a breakthrough role or Kit, Noah agrees to act as her boyfriend to protect her. Thus begins a journey into the pain of Noah’s past and his motivations for hurting himself and others who want to care for him. The question for Kit is whether she is willing to open herself up to the possibility of allowing Noah to break her heart again.

OPINION: I have written a lot of online reviews of romance books. Usually I take notes and have a plan of where I want to go with the review from the blurb on the back. From the prologue of ROCK REDEMPTION, however, I could only read the pages before me. I knew that I would have to reread the book in order to formulate any articulate review. This book is heartbreaking and painful and incredibly beautiful and redemptive.

Anyone who has read the prior books in the Rock Kiss series know Noah and Kit’s story. They had developed a relationship that was friendship but was clearly slipping into something more when Noah orchestrated Kit walking in on him having sex with a groupie. He purposely devastated Kit and for over two years the two have been on barely speaking terms.

Readers also know that Noah has dark demons. These he both smothers and fulfils by engaging in serial meaningless sexual encounters.

I have had a feeling what might be at the root of Noah’s self-destructive behavior from what was described in prior books. I was right but this book is just devastating. There are no easy answers for these characters. Their relationship is painful and difficult and at times appears hopeless.

Noah is a man who hates himself and has wanted to protect Kit from himself by driving her away. But even so he also desperately loves and wants her but has no voice to be able to tell her what haunts him day and night.

Kit is amazingly strong. No one could blame her if she never forgave Noah for his purposeful betrayal of her. Readers should know that he continues to hurt her for a long time in this book. The beauty of the writing of this book is that ultimately, Noah’s betrayals are understandable and Kit’s forgiveness comes from strength and not weakness.

Singh is a master character writer. Knowing Kit and Noah’s backstory from the prior books in the series, it was hard for me to imagine that Noah could actually be redeemed. Singh knows how to dig deep in the characters and make them real and understandable and capable of being forgiven and even more incredibly realistically giving forgiveness without appearing weak and ineffectual.

Even as painful as this book sometimes is, I was also attracted by the sweetness and sexiness of the relationship between Kit and Noah. The demonstration of how much these characters love and need one another brings the light and joy into the story.

This was a book that I finished reading but could not walk away from. The pain, the redemption, the ultimate joy and peace and love that this book expresses is haunting. This book is not an easy read. It is not a book that one walks away from with all smiles, but it is powerful and a story that is not forgotten.

WORTH MENTIONING: Content warning and spoiler! (view spoiler)

CONNECTED BOOKS: ROCK REDEMPTION is book three in the Rock Kiss series. It can be read as a standalone although I recommend reading at least the first book in the series and the first novella to truly understand the relationships between the members of the band which is important to this book.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.


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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Review: The Legend of Lyon Redmond

The Legend of Lyon Redmond The Legend of Lyon Redmond by Julie Anne Long
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

DAZZLING, EMOTIONAL CONCLUSION TO THE PENNYROYAL GREEN SERIES

Once in every generation, a Redmond and an Eversea are destined to fall in love with disastrous results…
“It was time for a reckoning.”
FINAL DECISION: Beautiful, satisfying and so different than I imagined, THE LEGEND OF LYON REDMOND rewards readers of the Pennyroyal series with a book worthy of the anticipation built up over the series.

THE STORY: The Redmond and the Everseas have been enemies for generations. An ancient curse holds that once in every generation, a Redmond and an Eversea will fall in love but that it ends in disaster. The curse appears to have been fulfilled with the heir Lyon Redmond falls in love with Olivia Eversea. Rumor has it that Olivia broke Lyon’s heart and he left for parts unknown five years ago and has not been seen since.

In the intervening years, Lyon has been masquerading as Mr. Hardesty, a trader with an alter ego of Le Chat, a notorious pirate. In the meantime, Olivia has been dazzling suitors but always keeping herself emotionally apart. To the shock of all of society, she has finally agreed to marry a viscount.

“She’s getting married on the second Saturday in May.”

A note sends Lyon back to Pennyroyal Green to confront the woman he loved. The years have changed them both…but will love finally prevail between the Redmonds and the Everseas.

OPINION: After ten books of build up, I approached THE LEGEND OF LYON REDMOND with trepidation. I have often been disappointed with the final book in a series. After so much buildup, it becomes difficult for a mere book to satisfy the raised expectations of readers. The romance between Lyon and Olivia already was legendary before the first words of this book. It would have been simple for this book to fall into simplistic drama and conflict. I am happy to report that this book not only met but exceeded all of my expectations.

At the onset, I encourage readers to avoid spoilers. The book develops in unexpected ways. Fans can be assured that this book answers the question of what happened between Lyon and Olivia five years ago.

I started this book expecting angst and drama, but instead I found a treatise on the beauty and pain of love.

“Of course. Of course it’s you I’ve waited for my entire life. Of course we’re meant to be together forever. Of course.”

Powerful and mysterious figures throughout the series, this book delves deeply into Lyon and Olivia. In many ways the catalysts for the romances of the prior books, Lyon and Olivia have a powerful connection from the moment they first see one another. I am not sure I have ever read another romance book where the entire book is so concentrated on the thoughts and emotions of the hero and heroine. Everything else in the world falls away when Lyon and Olivia are together and this book reflects in its construction that reality.

The contrasts between the simple things that Lyon and Olivia find joy together in and the intense melodramatic storm that the two are caught up in give this story realism and yet an epic feel. I love that Lyon and Olivia are the ultimate star crossed lovers and yet they are intrinsically human.

“They were born to love each other.”

The hard question that this book raises is not about love. There is never any doubt about the love between Lyon and Olivia…the question is what lengths will one go to for love.

I cannot express just how beautiful I thought this story was except to say that it exceeded all my expectations and raised the standards of what I expect from romances.

WORTH MENTIONING: Long has done a wonderful job of wrapping up the Pennyroyal Green series. Fans will be delighted to get a final look at their favorite characters in a way that is deeply satisfying.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE LEGEND OF LYON REDMOND is book eleven of the Pennyroyal Green series. While it is possible to read this book independent of the series, this book concludes the storyline that has run through the entire series. In my opinion, it should not be read before the others in the series in order to appreciate the story.

STAR RATING: This book gets five enthusiastic stars. The best of the series.


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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Review: The Bollywood Bride

The Bollywood Bride The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Painful, Sad but Ultimately Hopeful About Love

“Vikram was smiling. The last time she’d seen him he had looked like he would never smile again. She had looked into his eyes and watched him break, watched the gray-blue crystals shatter to bits. He was smiling.”

FINAL DECISION: Dark and emotional but ultimately uplifting, THE BOLLYWOOD BRIDE is darker in tone than Dev’s first book but infused with the same wonderful characterizations and sense of community and ultimately joy in life. Not an easy read, but a worthwhile one.

THE STORY: Ria Parker had loved Vitram Jathar when they were children. She knew, however, that they had no future and so she betrayed him and broke his heart. Ten years later, Ria is a successful Bollywood actress known as the Ice Princess because she doesn’t let anyone close. Her career has been scandal free until a paparazzi gets too close to her dark past. Returning to Chicago to attend a family wedding, Ria comes face to face with Vitram again. She knows that their being apart is best for Vitram but Ria can’t help but love the boy of her childhood and the man who hates her now.

OPINION: This book is sad and yet there is ultimately acceptance and hope. Ria is haunted by her family’s history and as a result has decided to spent her life alone. A casualty of that decision is Vitram. The two were childhood friends and young lovers together until Ria’s destiny tore them apart. I enjoyed the complexity of Ria. I didn’t like nor could I condone many of her decisions, but I certainly understood them. It is a special book that allows the reader to disagree with the character but comprehend their motivations. I liked Ria because she is an incredibly strong woman. She has dealt with so much in her life and tries to do her best.

Vitram is adorable. Strong and dedicated and yet gentle with those he loves, he makes a journey in this book. From anger, disappointment and hate, he opens himself up through forgiveness. Even before he understands Ria’s motivations, he forgives her.

Ria and Vitram have a serious and emotional chemistry from the moment they meet. They have no blinding moment of falling in love. The two have always loved one another – first as friends and then as lovers. The anger and pain that these two experience makes this a book that I had to read in bites and put down. The story is complicated and heartbreaking at times.

Dev has a distinctive voice. Her characters are immersed in their community and family. The story contemplates issues of destiny, identity, and family but always focuses on the characters. The desire to separate from one’s history, yet the inexorable pull back into the past is finally resolved when the characters accept the possibility of future pain but choose to be hopeful about the future.

I enjoyed this book and recommend it especially because of Dev’s strong, complex characters and unique view into Indian-American culture. My only downgrade of the book is because I wish that Vitram’s voice was more present. He is incredibly forgiving considering Ria’s actions and it would have been nice to understand more what was in his mind.

WORTH MENTIONING: Spoilers! This novel deals with mental illness is a realistic and painful manner.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE BOLLYWOOD BRIDE is a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.25 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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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Review: Sarah's Surrender

Sarah's Surrender Sarah's Surrender by Lavinia Kent
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"You do know I won't marry you."

FINAL DECISION: I am a fan of Kent's but this novella was not my favorite. I never really got over my annoyance with how the characters had acted five years earlier. On the plus side, the story was very sexy and well paced especially for a novella.

THE STORY: Sarah Swilp was in love with Jonathan Perry five years ago when he inherited a fortune and turned cold toward her. He told her that he would never marry her but wanted to sleep with her. She was devastated and turned away from him. Five years later, Sarah has become resigned to marrying the man her father wants in order to settle the family's debts. Just at that moment, Jonathan comes back into her life and Sarah decides that she might want a night with the only man she has wanted before accepting the future that is set out for her.

OPINION: Kent brings a raw earthy sexuality to her characters that is enjoyable. This novella is no different. The characters work out their relationship primarily through their sexual encounter which also includes finally talking to one another. That is the problem with the novella. Jonathan's treatment of Sarah five years earlier is terrible and despite his explanation, it never felt excusable to me. Because of the length of the novel, we do not get to see how Jonathan is scarred by his brother's experience and thus his explanation never has any weight behind it. To me, he comes off as a jerk and I am not sure how Sarah could actually forgive him.

Despite that, however, the relationship between Sarah and Jonathan works in the present time. The two obviously have chemistry and a connection to one another. I enjoyed the novella, but it just wasn't as good as the other stories in the series.

I recommend reading another book in the series instead and keeping this novella as a sweet side treat.

WORTH MENTIONING: I would recommend that readers try one of the Bound and Determined novels (rather than this novella) first.

CONNECTED BOOKS: SARAH'S SURRENDER is book 2.5 of the Bound and Determined series. It is only tangentially connected with the series and can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book through 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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Friday, September 11, 2015

Review: Thunder & Roses

Thunder & Roses Thunder & Roses by Mary Jo Putney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Intriguing Premise and Complex Characters

"They called him the Demon Earl, or sometimes Old Nick. Hushed voices whispered that he had seduced his grandfather's young wife, broken his grandfather's heart, and driven his own bride to her grave."

FINAL DECISION: Highlighted by a great premise that pushes the characters out of their comfortable existences, the story takes a saint and sinner premise and challenges the stereotypical categories in a way that gives the characters depth, complexity and ultimately a relationship that feels real and developed. A great start to a series.

THE STORY: Nicholas Davies, the Gypsy Earl of Abderdare has returned to the family estate in Wales but the deep betrayal that sent him away from the estate four years ago has changed him. He has become more isolated, more distrustful and more cynical. When Clare Morgan, school teacher and daughter of a minister comes to Nicholas to plead for his help for the local people, he denies her his help unless Clare agrees to come and live with Nicholas for three months thus ruining her reputation. He his surprised when she agrees. Thus begins a battle, a friendship and a love that neither expects.

OPINION: I loved the premise of this book. The best part is that the bargain begins as a challenge that Nicholas doesn't expect Clare to meet. The two then enter a relationship that is part friendship, part seductive relationship and part fighting. As the book begins, Nicholas is closed off, damaged and unwilling to open himself up to others. Clare challenges Nicholas and thus the book chronicles his growth. In return, Nicholas challenges Clare. The book begins with her playing the part of the saint even going so far as to sacrifice herself for those in the town. Nicholas challenges her construct of herself forcing her own growth as a person. The typical saint and sinner story is elevated and made more complex by characters that do not fit neatly into the saint and sinner categories.

The relationship between NIcholas and Clare develops incredibly well. The two have a great chemistry. I loved how they interact. Even during their bargain, Nicholas always treats Clare with respect. Their relationship is allowed to develop over time rather than moving quickly to a sexual relationship and that permits the growth that occurs between the characters.

The background of the story is the dangers of mining in the historical era. This is examined with great depth without taking over from the romance focus. The integration of this storyline with the romance is done well with several significant scenes taking place in and around the mine.

There is also a dramatic story involving dangers to Nicholas and Clare's lives. I won't give spoilers here, but this dramatic story gives insight into the characters while also giving the story some momentum as the mystery plays out.

WORTH MENTIONING: I enjoyed the depiction of religion in this book. The heroine is a Methodist and the book uses her faith as a part of the book without being preachy or dismissive. It's a hard line for many authors to travel and I appreciated the efforts made here.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THUNDER & ROSES is the first book in the Fallen Angels series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.25 stars.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book from the author in order to provide a review. I also had previously purchased a copy of this book. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Review: Wicked Lies

Wicked Lies Wicked Lies by Lora Leigh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"They knew she was here now. They knew, and they wouldn't stop until they killed her, just as they had killed her mother and her uncle. And she still hadn't figured out who it was or why they wanted her dead."

FINAL DECISION: I enjoyed this book and it is good for readers who want a very hot read. I especially liked the relationship between Jazz and Kenni. Kenni is strong and able to take care of herself. Despite her troubles, she is a survivor and no shrinking violet. The book was emotional because Jazz had loved Kenni for so long and had been grieving for her.

THE STORY: Jazz Lacing had loved Kenni Maddox even when she was too young for him. Then she was gone, killed in a fire with her mother. In the decade since, Jazz has grieved the spunky, determined young woman. He had begun to think about the new Kindergarten teacher, Annie Mayes, however. Jazz knows that something is off about Annie and he is determined to uncover her secrets. What he finds out, however, is that Annie is really Kenni in disguise. She has been on the run for ten years trying to hide from those who are determined to kill her. Jazz knows that he won't let Kenni go again and he will make her stop running and start trusting.

OPINION: I liked this book much better than the first in the series. The relationship between Jazz and Kenni is very sexy and very emotional. Jazz is an extremely strong and confident man but it is clear from the beginning that he is completely committed to Kenni. Their story when she was sixteen is incredibly sweet, but that sweetness becomes hot and sexy and adult very quickly when the secret of Kenni's identity comes out.

Kenni's character is especially strong. She is frightened and uncertain, but she is not helpless. She knows how to take care of herself and she is a perfect match for Jazz. She refuses to succumb to his demands. She insists that she deserves the right to make her own decisions and not to wait to be saved. I liked her spunky personality as it came out as she reclaims her own identity.

There is an interesting plot regarding who is out to kill Kenni. I figured out the culprit early on but that was okay. What I didn't like was that the resolution was really rushed. I never got an identity from the villain and that made it hard to be satisfied in the ending. I also kept wondering in the beginning what is the Kin? It doesn't get defined until well in the story and it kept interrupting the flow of the story when the reference appeared.

WORTH MENTIONING: I can guess who the next couple is and I can't wait.

CONNECTED BOOKS: WICKED LIES is the second book in The Men of Summer series. It has overlapping characters but this book can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3.75 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book from 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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Monday, August 24, 2015

Review: Pursued by the Devil

Pursued by the Devil Pursued by the Devil by Carole Mortimer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Short, Sexy Novella About Alpha Male and The Woman Who Can't Resist Him

FINAL DECISION: This novella is short and sexy with a protective alpha male and the woman who is being stalked. The length of the story doesn't allow for much character development, but the chemistry between the hero and heroine makes this story a good read.

THE STORY: Lindsey Carlisle is a career woman. A lawyer, she is representing a company opposing a corporate takeover by Mikhail Lysenko. Mikhail is a Russian billionaire, alpha male and intensely attracted to Lindsey. Lindsey is attracted to Mikhail as well but knows that professional responsibilities mean that she cannot become involved in Mikhail. When Lindsey begins receiving mysterious black roses, Mikhail insists on protecting her from her stalker. The mystery of who is threatening Lindsey and the sexy romance between Mikhail and Lindsey are the focus of the story.

OPINION: This novella is short and as a result, there is not as much character development and I would like. The attraction between Lindsey and Mikhail is immediate and it would have been nice to understand more what Mikhail sees in Lindsey that makes him want to immediately toss aside everything that is important to him in order to pursue her.

I did very much enjoy the chemistry between Lindsey and Mikhail and he is so completely devoted to her that it was impossible for me not to like him. The story is simple, but effective.

I thought that Mikhail especially was a very interested character and I would have liked to get to know him better as a character. He does have very good qualities, however. His determination, protectiveness and single minded pursuit of Lindsey are attractive. He is a definite alpha male but Lindsey can handle him.

WORTH MENTIONING: Mikhail identifies strongly with the bear. I wish the title would have reflected that rather than using "devil" which doesn't really have any connection with the story.

CONNECTED BOOKS: PURSUED BY THE DEVIL is part of the International Bad Boys series. These books are loosely connected only by theme and concept without overlapping characters. Therefore, this book can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3.5 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 herein are my own.

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Review: If You Only Knew

If You Only Knew If You Only Knew by Kristan Higgins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Story About Love, Loss, Anger and Forgiveness

Jenny: “Today is one of those days when I realize that staying friends with my ex-husband was a huge mistake.”

Rachel: “I don’t want things to change. Please, God, don’t let Adam be cheating.”

FINAL DECISION: The story of two sisters confronting love, marriage, divorce, and personal identity in the modern world, IF YOU ONLY KNEW is heartbreaking and redeeming. Although it is not a traditional romance, this book investigates what it means to love – to love someone else and yourself.

THE STORY: IF YOU ONLY KNEW is the story of two sisters confronting difficulties in love and marriage. Jenny Tate, a wedding dress designer, struggles with her life after her marriage to the doctor that everyone loves fell apart. He has moved on and found a wonderful new wife and has a new baby. They are still friends but Jenny wonders what life has for her when she meets Leo Killian, a piano teacher.

Jenny’s sister Rachel is struggling with her own marriage. Rachel was finally happy with her life as a stay at home mom with three wonderful triple daughters when she finds out her husband has cheated on her. She loves her husband and her life but doesn’t know what to do with her anger at his infidelity.

The story of two sisters who help one another through their struggles, IF YOU ONLY KNEW is about love and forgiveness and the strength that comes from sisters who understand one another’s pain and joy.

OPINION: Honestly, when I read the description for this book, I didn’t expect to like it. I prefer traditional romance books and I was sad to realize that Higgins that turned toward “chick lit” or “women’s fiction” rather than writing a traditional romance as she has done in the past. Despite this, however, I decided to read this book and I am glad I did.

IF YOU ONLY KNEW is not a traditional romance with a focus on a romance and a happy ending but it is a thoughtful examination of the complexity of modern relationships. There are various relationships at issue here such as husband/wife, sister/sister, mother/daughter, friend/friend, ex-spouses.

This book thoughtfully examines the endings of relationships. Both sisters have to come to terms with what happens when trouble comes to relationships. Jenny still has feelings for her ex-husband and allows herself to be drawn into his new relationship in unhealthy ways because she is still clinging to the past. During the course of the book, she finally begins to recognize that her marriage was not perfect, that her ex-husband was not perfect and that she can move to build a new life. Rachel also has to confront an imperfect husband and has to decide whether her marriage is worth trying to save after his infidelity. Rachel has managed to devote herself to her marriage and her children to the detriment of her own identity. Her husband infidelity makes Rachel question who she really is and what her personal identity will be.

While some descriptions of this book depict it as a story of the relationship between these two sisters, I disagree. While the relationship between the sisters is certainly a part of the story, to me this story is really about what the meaning of love, fidelity and relationship is. Both Jenny and Rachel are struggling with their own identity in relation to marriage.

Told in first person by each of the sisters, the book alternates chapters between their viewpoints. The book delves deeply into the emotions of the sisters including bewilderment, anger, fear, affection and love. I loved the honesty and difficulties depicted in the book. It felt fresh and new and real.

For those romance fans, I assure you that there is romance in this book. Perhaps not in expected ways, but this is not a downer of a book. It ultimately has sadness and acceptance, but also joy and the possibility for more happiness.

WORTH MENTIONING: IF YOU ONLY KNEW is not a traditional romance book. It is women’s fiction and the focus is on the struggles of these two sisters and their relationship with one another. I did find the romance in this book satisfying in its own way.

CONNECTED BOOKS: IF YOU ONLY KNEW is a standalone book.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.25 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book from 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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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Review: Wildest Dreams

Wildest Dreams Wildest Dreams by Robyn Carr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Strong Story of Two Survivors

“Lin Su was proud, gentle, as strong as steel, as soft as a cloud, stubborn as an ox.”

FINAL DECISION: Realistic story of two survivors. The story of how those with pasts filled with disappointments can learn to open themselves up to the possibility of love. The heroine is closed off and takes some time to understand, but a mature, devoted hero is a highlight. This book doesn’t require reading the others in the series, but fans will get some happy updates.

THE STORY: Blake Smiley has come to Thunder Point to put down roots and make a home for himself. A professional triathlete, Blake is at a cross-roads in his professional life. He is getting older and knows that his time competing in elite competitions is coming to an end. But his end has not come let and Blake hopes to train without distractions in his new home. It is, of course, at this moment that Blake meets Lin Su Simmons and her teenage son Charlie.

Lin Su has had to rely on herself for a long time. Her Vietnamese birth mother put her up for adoption when Lin Su was three years old. Her adoptive parents wanted the perfect Asian genius for a daughter. When Lin Su ended up pregnant instead of at Harvard, her adoptive parents abandoned her. Lin Su has learned to rely on no one except herself.

Coming to Thunder Point has threatened Lin Su’s isolation as the people in town – and especially Blake – want to draw Lin Su into relationship with them and show her the benefits of being able to rely on other people.

OPINION: Blake is definitely a wonderful hero. Patient, successful, dedicated and reasonable, Blake is someone who has emerged from the hell that was his childhood a strong person. At the time readers meet Blake, he has conquered his demons and is in a good place in his life. He is ready for a serious relationship.

Blake’s maturity and openness is a counterbalance to Lin Su who has survived her childhood as well, but has done so by relying only on herself and distrusting the effort of others to help her. Lin Su is strong and self-reliant, but she is also afraid and stubborn. So many people have hurt and disappointed her that she doesn’t want to open herself up to the possibility of relying on other people.

Lin Su’s stubbornness makes her more difficult to get close to – not only for Blake, but also for the reader. She was a difficult heroine to get to know and care about. As she opens herself up to those around her in Thunder Point, however, her motivations become clearer. Her fear of being vulnerable is close to the surface throughout the book.
Lin Su’s son Charlie is also a wonderful part of the story. His relationship with his mother gives a window to get to know Lin Su. Through him and Lin Su’s work, readers can see that Lin Su gives a lot to other people but doesn’t know how to accept the generosity and caring of others.

This romance takes some time to get going. A slow burning romance is not a problem and for these characters – especially Lin Su – the amount of time that is needed until the romance takes off seems appropriate. Lin Su and Blake get to know one another in a platonic fashion before the romance takes off. Unfortunately, because of the length of the book, the romance is missing a little bit once Blake and Lin Su get together because of all the plot threads that need to be tied up.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book has a great amount of realistic detail in it that elevates it and makes it feel real with people that it would be possible to meet and know.

CONNECTED BOOKS: WILDEST DREAM is the ninth book in the Thunder Point series. It can be read as a standalone. I have not read the other books in the series, but enjoyed this one without any of the information from those books. There are updates about prior couples from the series, but this can be enjoyed without knowing the backstories.

STAR RATING: I give WILDEST DREAMS 4 stars.

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


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Friday, August 21, 2015

Review: Not Always a Saint

Not Always a Saint Not Always a Saint by Mary Jo Putney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wicked Woman Tempts Saintly Man

“I don’t belong with a man who is almost a saint!”
“I am no saint.”

FINAL DECISION: Complex, mature characters (and a woman with a shady past) enliven the story of two people who on the surface are completely wrong for one another and yet fit together perfectly. I love stories where the characters talk and manage their relationship as adults and this one fits the bill. Twists and turns in the plot kept me guessing as to what the ultimate outcome would be.

THE STORY:
“Inheriting wealth, influence, and a seat in the House of Lords is enough to drive any man to despair.”
Daniel Herbert unexpectedly inherits a title and an estate and fears that it will destroy his life. He is devoted to his medical work after the death of his sweetheart, but reluctantly enters society to seek a wife to secure his obligations. He is seeking a wife who is more mature (perhaps a widow), able to manage his estates allowing him to continue with his medical work, and not a beauty.

Then he meets Lady Kelham who simply takes his breath away because of her beauty.

Jessie Kelham is known as the Black Widow. Her elderly husband has recently died and she is forced to find a husband in order to protect their young daughter from her nephew who seeks to control her daughter’s inheritance. She wants a man who is “old and unhandsome” and will be kind to her and her daughter.

She is attracted to Daniel but he doesn’t meet her requirements for a husband. Even worse, she has met Daniel before even though he doesn’t remember her. She has dark secrets and is afraid that Daniel will remember her and expose her.

Even though Jessie doesn’t meet his requirement for a wife, Daniel knows that something special is between them and is determined to court Jessie.

OPINION: NOT ALWAYS A SAINT is filled with complex, multifaceted characters. The saint and sinner dichotomy is explored here in a thoughtful way where the choices and challenges of life have helped shape these characters.

Daniel is responsible, dedicated and kind. Readers and Jessie first see him as almost saintly as a dedicated doctor and ordained vicar, but he is not moralistic or condemning. His characters is contrasted with that of Jessie’s vicar father. Daniel has seen a lot as a doctor and has a more nuanced view of the foibles of people than might be expected. Jessie doesn’t expect the acceptance she receives from Daniel.

Jessie is a survivor. She has been an abuse victim and has managed to create a good life for herself. Vicar’s daughter, runaway bride, abuse victim, actress, mistress, dedicated wife and mother, widow. Jessie’s life might brand her a wicked woman to others – and perhaps to herself as well. Daniel recognizes in Jessie strength and loyalty and determination and the ability to survive and make the most of what she has been given in life. From Daniel, Jessie receives acceptance and the strength to confront the demons of her past.

The love between these two is adult and mature and responsible even while they have an incredible sexual attraction. I love that these two discuss their problems and manage their lives together. I am fan of couples who work together and build a partnership where they can discuss problems and fears and where the story doesn’t depend solely on dramatics in the story. By the end of the book, I had no question that Jessie and Daniel had built a relationship that would bring happiness for the rest of their lives.

The intriguing story of the threatening nephew and the secrets from Jessie’s past lend intrigue and drama to the story without overwhelming the relationship. This book is filled with historical details and intriguing twists based on real historical events that might surprise readers because of its reality. (Putney has an afterword which gives some real historical information).

Readers who are looking for complex characters who deny easy characterizations and who enjoy relationships built on respect and understanding rather than mere drama will enjoy this book.

WORTH MENTIONING: One of the secondary characters Gordon is one of the schoolmates of Daniel and the other men in the series. He seems to have an interesting story that I hope will be explored in the series.

CONNECTED BOOKS: NOT ALWAYS A SAINT is the seventh book in the Lost Lords series. This book can be read as a standalone. I have not read the prior books in the series and did not feel that I missed anything although the book made me interested to read the other couples’ stories.

STAR RATING: I give NOT ALWAYS A SAINT 4.25 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book from the author and Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

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Review: Miss Greenhorn

Miss Greenhorn Miss Greenhorn by Diana Palmer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sweet Story, Likeable Characters

"It was pure bad luck that the Hokokam ruin the professor was interested in was on property owned by Nathanial Lang, who seemed to hate science, modern people, and Christine with a passion."

FINAL DECISION: The typical experienced hero, virginal heroine story is elevated by revelations the defy expectations and a hero who at first appears to be heartless but ends up being incredibly sweet.

THE STORY: Christiana "Christy" Haley is a teacher from the east who joins an archeological excavation as part of her summer vacation and recent makeover. She meets ornery ranch owner Nate Long who is a westerner and who believes that the clumsy accidents that follow Christy are her way of trying to attract him. Christy is old fashioned and barely out of her shy, awkward stage. She finds she likes Nate but his misunderstandings about her push her too far too fast.

OPINION: This is a sweet gentle romance between two people that seem to be opposite. Christy is a woman who looks beautiful, but inside is shy and awkward. She is being noticed by men for the first time and doesn't quite know how to handle herself. Nate is a confident sexy cowboy and much more sophisticated that Christy -- or so she thinks. What is revealed through the story is that both Christy and Nate have mistaken impressions about one another.

This story is elevated by the fact that Nate recognizes his mistaken impression of Christy and is then conflicted because he likes this woman but doesn't want to be hurt by her -- or to hurt her. I felt that Nate is a sweet hero.

The end of the story (no spoilers) was simply adorable.

WORTH MENTIONING: As with many Palmer heroes, Nate mistakes Christy for an experienced woman and attempts to engage in a sexual relationship with her. Here, however, Nate is much more a gentleman that some Palmer heroes.

CONNECTED BOOKS: MiSS GREENHORN is a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Review: Forbidden

Forbidden Forbidden by Jess Michaels
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"For years he had born a secret. And with each passing day, it weighed more heavily on him."

THE STORY: Lady Audrey Woodley has been fascinated with Jude Samson for years. The friend and man of business of her older brother, the Marquis of Woodley. Although born of a good family, Jude and his mother were shunned by his father's family after his death and Jude has had to make his own way in the world. Although Jude has strong feelings for Audrey, he knows that they have no future together. He believes that his status as an employee disqualifies him from having a relationship with Audrey. Even worse, Jude has been keeping secrets that he knows that will make Audrey hate him if she knew. When the two end up unchaperoned at the family's country estate, Jude and Audrey cannot contain the passion that bursts between them. Jude knows that when his secrets are discovered that Audrey will never forgive him and he risks losing the family he loves.

OPINION: Michaels introduces readers to a fun, intriguing, sexy family that have enough secrets to justify the series that this books kicks off.

The Woodleys siblings are comprised of Edward (the Marquis), Evan, Gabriel, Claire and Audrey. Edward is newly married (A MARQUIS FOR MARY). The older sister has disappeared after running off to marry a man who turned out to be a scoundrel. Claire's disappearance negatively effects all the members of the family -- most especially Audrey who now fears passion as a result. Audrey is supposed to be hunting for a husband, but has lost interest because she worries about allowing her passions to lead her astray.

To give Audrey a break from the Season, her mother and she travel to the family’s country house that is being remodeled. Edward sends an unhappy Jude along to handle the business issues. Their seclusion allows the longtime friendship between Jude and Audrey to blossom into passion and love. Audrey and Jude do not plan on a longtime relationship even though each is attached to the other. Their passionate relationship begins on the excuse of showing Audrey that she doesn’t have to fear passion, but both clearly know that it is only an excuse and the trust is that Jude and Audrey have wanted one another for years.

The characters here are fresh and fun. Like the Flynn series, the Woodleys are not stuffy, staid typical ton. This is a family and they have deep connections to one another and their missing sibling has left a hole in their lives. Each of the siblings experiences that differently and Michael has managed to distinguish each of the Woodley siblings through their response to their loss.

Audrey is the more reasonable daughter. After what happened to Claire, Audrey fears and yet yearns for passion and love. She is not bound by convention and doesn’t allow expectations to interfere with her desire for Jude.

Jude has wanted a family like the Woodleys. Although they consider him a part of the family, Jude has been damaged by the rejection of his own family and cannot help but expect for the Woodleys to ultimately reject him as well. He knows that his affair with Audrey will ultimately separate him from the only family he has ever known but he cannot resist her. He wants the chance to love her and to show her that she doesn’t have to fear her passions. Jude has made poor decisions in the past and believes that Audrey will never forgive him. He is filled with guilt and yet continues to do what he feels best even if it means lying to Audrey.

I love these books where there are conflicts arising over the stations of the characters and Michaels does a great job reversing the usual trope of the woman being of a lower working class. (Michaels has a similar cross-station story in the excellent NO GENTLEMAN FOR GEORGINA). This book doesn’t shy from confronting the inadequacy that Jude feels because he is employed by Audrey’s brother.

What is also wonderful is the strong love that the Woodleys have for one another – and also for Jude even though he insists on not accepting that the Woodleys really do see him as family.

Finally, this book is really hot. Michaels has built on a true emotional relationship to make the sexual relationship between these characters not only hot and sexy, but also emotionally engaging. Michaels does a great job in writing hot sex scenes and her most recent books have also created fully developed engaging characters. Her characters are likeable people and it makes it easier to root for their happy endings.

WORTH MENTIONING: There is a fascinating story regarding the missing sister Claire that I look forward to discovering more about in future books. Her story appears to be an ongoing dilemma for the family that will cover several books.

FINAL DECISION: Likeable characters, sexy romance and secrets that threaten to tear them apart, FORBIDDEN is definitely a book I recommend. I can't wait to read the next book in the series to find out more about these Woodleys.

CONNECTED BOOKS: FORBIDDEN is the first book in the Wicked Woodley's series. There is a prequel story about the oldest brother called A Marquis for Mary. That novella is not necessary to read to enjoy this book, but I recommend reading it first anyway because it introduces the Woodley family.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.


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