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A Wolf in Wolf's Clothing by Deborah MacGillivray

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: The Sisters of Colford Hall, Book 3

Genre: 3.5 Stars
Length: 303 Pages, 4801 Locations
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

A Wolf in Wolf's Clothing
Love and a Touch of Magic

It was supposed to be a simple task, really. Doing his part in his eldest brother's plan to bring down the company of the man responsible for their father's suicide, Trevelyn Mershan goes undercover to get close to Raven Montgomerie and use her to get close to her brother Cian and the business the three Mershan brothers were preparing for a hostile takeover. But it bothered Trev on a deep level that he hadn't been able to get the beautiful Raven out of his mind since first seeing her months previously - in ways that had nothing to do with a life-long game of revenge.

When he finally speaks to her for the first time, finally gets a chance to have her in his arms, he quickly realizes that the woman is more than fair in face and form, she's beautiful in heart and mind. And he wants her. Torn between duty to his brothers and love for his woman, confused by mystical forces he doesn't understand and isn't sure he believes in, Trev feels his carefully planned life slipping out of control...and into dangerous waters that may strip everything he cares about from him. Including the woman he loves.

There is much to like about this contemporary paranormal romance, and I was surprised to find myself enjoying it as much as I did, though I'm not sure why I had such low expectations - maybe because I haven't read anything else in the series and I'm leery of picking up in the middle like I did. In fact, it was my first Deborah MacGillivray read at all, but it was comprehensive and thorough and easy to appreciate as a stand-alone book, even with the concept and subplot that was built around the three brothers, which I'm sure was initiated and further developed in the first and second books.

I liked Raven quite a lot; the unprepossessing lifestyle independent of her family's wealth was an appealing aspect of her character and her love of all things wounded, needy, or one-footed was charming. Trev was more than just a chest thumping alpha male, he was quick to accept his feelings, even when they were less than flattering or caused conflicts, and I liked how he was able to accept the possibility of the mystical and embrace the lack of logic in magical potential. They were a solid couple, though I do prefer my female leads with a little more fight, and wish Raven would have handled her ex-husband Alex a little differently. That's strictly a reading preference, though, not a complaint.

There were some stylistic aspects of the book of which I wasn't fond. The narrative tended towards a slightly florid formality that seemed ill suited for a contemporary romance and, along with the setting, made it hard for me to remember that it wasn't a historical romance, until mentions of modern times and technology jolted me back into contemporary parameters. It didn't make for the smoothest read at times. I also felt the fairy tale and wolf themes were overdone. The Big Bad Wolf/Little Red Riding Hood (et al) references got a little heavy handed and I felt a little bludgeoned with the wolf theme overkill by the end.

Then there was the characters' annoying - and frequent - habit they had of talking to themselves. Muttering under their breath I could understand, but speaking full sentences to themselves all the time? Who does that? It felt very unnatural and I didn't like that method of storytelling for informing readers of character thoughts and feelings, especially when the book is written with the options offered by a third person omniscient point of view. It ended up feeling very awkward, and as the book starts with Trev having all sorts of conversations with himself - sometimes as he was looking at himself in the rear view mirror of his car - the book started on a rough note for me.

It got better, though, and I ended up liking it, with just a few reservations that were more about my preferences and tastes than anything else. The plot wasn't particularly ground breaking, and I wonder if I missed some important setup in the paranormal theme of the romance...maybe even in the first two books?...because while I liked the paranormal aspects, the mythology of it didn't quite seem all there in reference to the auld souls. It just wasn't quite fully realized or developed enough within this book to really blend well with the romance for me.

Despite those issues, I'm pleased I read A Wolf in Wolf's Clothing, doubly so to find another new-to-me author who has several books I can take a look at. I certainly don't think this will be the only MacGillivray book I read, and while there was definitely a sense of conclusion to the trilogy of the three Mershan brothers with the three Montgomerie sisters, I was pleased to find out that the author is planning on continuing the series with other Montgomerie sisters. That's good news for fans.

I Thought It Was You by Shiloh Walker

Genre: Paranormal Romance, Menage a trois
Series: Grimm's Circle, Book 2.5
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 821 Locations
Formats: Kindle

I Thought It Was You: Grimm's Circle, Book 2.5
More a Coda Than a Short Story

Ren is still hurting from losing his best friend and century-long occasional lover, Elle, after she and the man she loved, Michael, reunited. That pain is adding stress to the pressure of the darkness that is never far from his mind lately. Leave it to their boss (for lack of a better term) Will to send him back to Elle and Michael to wait for another task that the three Grimm must handle.

Seeing Elle is like salt in a grievous wound, and even her kindness causes pain. As an empath, he knows she feels his pain. As Elle, he knows she'll try to ease it. What surprises him, almost unmans him, is that Michael is surprisingly amenable. And the truth, the one that neither Ren nor Elle can escape, is that both still bear wounds not yet healed, and each needs the other for the love of their friendship and the hope of some peace.

For those unfamiliar with Shiloh Walker's Grimm's Circle series, this is not the place to start to become familiar. This short story is more of a coda on the end of the second book in the series, No Prince Charming, and should in no way be considered a self-contained short story. There almost no explanation of the events in the book preceding it, and little exposition on the world in which it occurs. For those who haven't read that second book, this short story could seem little more than a salacious bit of gratuitous erotica.

In truth, though, it's closure for two people who desperately needed it, and though the focus is on Ren, whose story is up next in the series (yay!), the events are just as important to Elle. Her death was such that it scarred her in ways that aren't important to list here, but with this little tale, those scars were tenderly addressed.

I'm not entirely convinced it was necessary to be handled in this format, though, and I was disappointed that the sole focus was on the sexual scene. The "job" Will sent them on was completely ignored except in passing. It did make this little piece of fiction seem a bit unnecessary and salacious, even to me, who is a fan of this dark and unique series. It wasn't bad, but it isn't enough to draw in new readers - may in fact give them the wrong impression of the series, and it isn't quite enough to entertain beyond the sexuality for those who are familiar. I'd recommend it only for those who are Grimm's Circle fans.

And One Last Thing... by Molly Harper

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: N/A
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 384 Pages, 4353 Locations
Formats: Paperback, Kindle

And One Last Thing ...
Beware the Scorned Woman

When Lacey Terwilliger finds out that her husband of eight years is cheating on her with his secretary, she fights back. For eight years she's been the little woman, the housewife dedicated to her husband's career and their social standing, chairing causes, setting up lunches and meetings, doing whatever she could and whatever he asked to further his career. And when she thinks about it, she can't even say she was happy in the marriage. She was consumed by it. So to have her husband become such a tragic cliche blows her world apart...then ignites her temper.

In a fit of well-deserved fury, she emails every single friend, client, and family member with the monthly newsletter that she writes for her husband. Except this one is a heck of a lot more...newsworthy.

When that letter goes viral, everything in Lacey's life pretty much hits the fan. She leaves her husband, but the ensuing media frenzy forces her to leave town. People hate and are embarrassed by her, her soon-to-be ex-husband is suing her, and her own father is giving her the cold shoulder. She slips away to her lakeside cabin to lick her wounds, only to find surly, unfriendly neighbor Lefty Monroe, who is ready to bite her head off every time he sees her.

At first it didn't seem like the second phase of her life was off to a very auspicious start, until Lacey realizes that the very thing that got her into this mess to begin with, her writing, could be exactly what gives her a new chance at life...and love.

Written with Molly Harper's quirky sense of humor, And One Last Thing ... is a light, humorous chick lit read. It was nice to see Harper transition into a non-paranormal genre. I appreciate her sense of humor and enjoy her technical skill and writing style.

I hesitate, though, to consider this a romance novel, as it spoke louder to me as light woman's fiction. I was more compelled by Lacey's evolution from a woman who defined herself by her husband's career to a woman who found her independence and blossomed. The romance was more of a subplot in that regard and while I enjoyed Monroe and liked him and Lacey together, the evolution of their relationship hit a few sour notes with me. There were a few times when Monroe's reaction to some of Lacey's actions and decisions seemed a bit...over the top or overly vehement.

The humor in the book was a bit more muted than I'm used to from Harper. It was a less comedic read than either her Jane Jameson or Naked Werewolf series. But maybe that's just my impression because I sympathized with the betrayal to such a degree. I wasn't thrilled at Lacey's father's lack of support, though, or how often Lacey got smacked on the hand for posting that letter, and the entire town turning against Lacey seemed a little much.

Actually, this is one of those books that I can appreciate for the skill with which it's written, but isn't to my personal taste. The romance seemed secondary to Lacey's post-letter awakening and as the narrative is told in a first person point of view (never a preference of mine for romance), I didn't get the sort of insight into Monroe that would have really fleshed him out as a romantic lead.

I wasn't pleased with the reaction Lacey got for writing that letter nor was I thrilled with the direction of the book from there. All of the reactions to Lacey seemed so extreme, and the backlash for writing the letter so negative, I found it upsetting instead of humorous. Where were the Lacey supporters? Where were the women who admired her for doing what they wished they had done or could do? Was it just Maya? That's depressing. True, it's very southern in that accepting-whatever-crisis-comes-your-way-just-don't-make-a-scene sort of way, but I subscribe to the other southern way of handling a cheating spouse: gator bait.

In the end, I just didn't feel like the story went in the direction my tastes and preferences lie, and the romance wasn't as large a part as I would have preferred. It's a good book, but it just didn't speak to me personally. I can't wait for Harper's next Naked Werewolf book, though. It's been a while since I've laughed as often as I did when reading How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf and I can't wait to see what the little psycho Maggie has up her sleeve.

How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf by Molly Harper

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Naked Werewolf, Book 1
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Length: 384 Pages, 4620 Locations
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf
All Hail The Mighty Morphin Power Penis!

Slipping out of Mississippi and moving to the small town of Grundy, Alaska to escape the invasive influence of her hippie parents seemed like a great idea to Mo Duvall-Wenstein, but the culture shock may just kill her - if she can survive the winter, the quirky locals...oh yeah, and the surly, cantankerous werewolf. Who may or may not be savagely killing locals and tourists.

And the sad thing is, all that still beats being close enough for her mother to barge in on her whenever she wants.

Molly Harper kicks off a hilarious new paranormal romance series that ended up teaching me a bit about myself as a reader. I'm a sucker for stories that make me laugh out loud (I knew that already), and there were plenty of giggles, guffaws, and snorts of amusement in How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf. First person POV isn't my preference for romance novels, but Mo's wacky, sharp-witted, and often self-deprecating humor really sold me on this book. I enjoyed her so much, in fact, and appreciated the very thorough view into her psyche and her life, that other aspects of the book that might normally concern me just seemed like background noise that was easy to take in stride (that was the surprise).

The plot was simple but the uncluttered nature of it really worked for me when mixed with the comedic style. I didn't find myself getting overly concerned about the immaturity and impulsiveness of a twenty-nine year old woman basically sneaking out the back door of Mississippi while her parents weren't looking and high tailing it to Alaska, maybe because Mo was upfront and very astute in acknowledging both the necessity of doing so and the immaturity of it. It was a stretch for me, but several solid examples of the justification and the overall humor of it kept it from feeling too kitschy.

There wasn't a tremendous amount of world building in the paranormal arena, and what was there was mostly imparted in narrative dialogue between Mo and the werewolf Cooper so it never really felt like it was being incorporated into Mo's expanding worldview or becoming part of some large paradigm shift, just imparted like a story within the story. In fact, despite a glimpse or two of the pack and pack life, there just wasn't a lot of the paranormal theme in the book at all, which did seem odd considering the male romantic lead was a werewolf. In that vein, the book seemed more like a contemporary romance where one of the leads just happened to turn four-legged and furry.

The ease in which Mo accepted the existence of supernatural creatures was a bit surprising and the subplot of a rampaging wolf/werewolf was pretty predictable and wasn't very original, but within the scope of the book, neither were a major detractor. In almost any other book, though, all of those things would be - and have been - major complaints of mine, yet I loved this book despite them all.

Mo was a blast and I thought Cooper was perfect. I loved his gruff, standoffish demeanor just as much as I enjoyed when that got peeled away to show off a playful, protective man. I also loved how Harper developed the relationship between him and Mo. Again, maybe not the most original in concept, or the most complex in design, but it worked so very well here. And it was all so very, very funny.

He peed on her porch, for goodness sake! That's hilarious!

Molly Harper has the sort of comedic voice that most appeals to me in writing, and she develops likable characters as she tells decent stories with that voice. I was very fond of her Jane Jameson series, but the style of the story in that light urban fantasy series isn't a favorite of mine. It was the humor that drew me in there and the cast of quirky characters that kept me coming back. This book falls far closer along my lines of reading preference and it was much funnier, and I loved Mo in a way I just couldn't bring myself to love Jane. I've pre-ordered the next book in the Naked Werewolf series, The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf, and can't wait to see what Cooper's violent little werewolf sister Maggie brings to the table. Given Harper's sense of humor, writing style, and the sort of bawdy, ribald fun that was shown here, I envision nothing but a rip-roaring, howling good time.

Brazen Virtue by Nora Roberts

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: D.C. Detectives, Book 2
Rating: 2 Stars
Length: 279 Pages, 4910 Locations
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle, Hardcover, Audio Cassette

A Victim of the Times

Writing murder mysteries has given author Grace McCabe a successful career, but when her sister is brutally slayed while Grace is visiting her in D.C., murder hits far too close to her heart. Struggling to come to terms with the woman her sister really was and who she is in the wake of her loss, a deep-seeded desire for justice starts to burn in her, even as a different sort of desire is sparked for her sister's neighbor, D.C. homicide detective Ed Jackson.

From the moment Ed saw Grace leaning out the window of his neighbor's house, he was captivated by her. Realizing she was an author whose books he favored only made him want to meet her more. The steady and thorough man with a gentle heart and warrior's eyes recognized her as his future almost immediately, but the discovery of her sister's body, and helping Grace through the loss even as he investigates the crime, has created a tension in him that he can't quell. He knows there is a killer stalking his victims, and he knows Grace would do anything - including put herself in a monster's sights - to stop him.

I've been a huge fan of Nora Roberts for more years than I care to admit to and have spent so very many hours lost in the worlds she creates, adoring my stays there. Unfortunately, Brazen Virtue wasn't one I favored, but in this case, I may have no one to blame but myself. Perhaps if I'd read this sequel to Sacred Sins back when it was originally published in 1988, I would have felt vastly different about it, because the truth of the matter is, it's difficult for a book of this nature to feel fresh twenty-three years after it was released.

A maestro of character study and well conceived plots, a virtuoso of lyrical prose and realistic dialogue, Nora Roberts is a goddess of romantic fiction, and those traits are in evidence in Brazen Virtue. I'm always fond of main characters who are authors like Grace is, because there always seems to be a bit more...something...part realism and part emotional honesty in those characters (be it real or imagined on my part) than in others, like the author his/herself is speaking a personal truth through their characters. It's something I've always found appealing and I did so in this case as well. Ed was no slouch either as the quintessential good guy that Roberts is so adept at writing. Both lead characters are three dimensional and realistic.

In fact, as far as the technical aspects of the story go, it's Roberts. If she doesn't do it well, no one does.

I can only imagine that when the book was originally released, it was probably a very taut, tense, and timely suspense novel, but now, over two decades of wars, politics, natural disasters, heinous crimes, and acts of terrorism, technological advances, and an entertainment industry overflowing with every single sharp-eyed observation of man's inhumanity to man has stripped this book of its sophistication and polish, leaving it feeling too tame and plodding to feel at all current...or substantial.

I don't need to wonder what that says about today's culture...or my own jaded world view.

Beyond that, though, I didn't like what I was reading. I wasn't sold on the timing or alleged romantic intensity between Ed and Grace - most of that was because I didn't find Ed's character to be to my taste. He was a bit too quietly solid and seemingly easy going for me. I preferred Ben in this book just as much as I did when he was featured in Sacred Sins. I also didn't like how Kathleen's character, Grace's sister, was slowly dragged down through the evolution of this book, to go from a struggling woman fighting her rich and influential ex-husband, scrambling to fund the investigation and battle for custody of her son, to a cold and self absorbed, bitter, drug addicted woman who made a horrible wife and mother and a judgmental, envious sister. It was unnecessary and seemed contrived to allow for Grace to heal from her loss quicker, as if to justify her quickly moving on from Kathleen's death.

The police procedural part felt very awkward, and the connection to Fantasy, Inc. seemed so glaringly obvious yet overlooked as a serious possibility for far too long, but again, I think my dissatisfaction is another symptom of the perils of the modern world on a book published so long ago.

I can't go back to 1988 (thank hell...because the hair and the clothes, people!) and view this book through the lens of a simpler, less dangerous, far less controversial time. I can only assume that if I could, this book would have seemed tense, atmospheric, and shocking. With today's headlines and over two decades of history between now and then, however, Brazen Virtue seemed too much a victim of the modern world...and maybe we're all a little worse off for it.

Nobody's Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Genre: Contemporary Romance, Sports Romance
Series: Chicago Stars, Book 3
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 384 Pages, 4946 Locations
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

Nobody's Baby But Mine
Shines Bright After a Rough Start

At thirty-four, Dr. Jane Darlington is a brilliant physicist with the sort of genius that has always set her apart from contemporaries, inspiring envy and discomfort. She's buried so deep in her work, she's accepted that, but it does limit her social options. On her thirty-fourth birthday, though, those limitations are felt keenly and she wants nothing more than a baby. Her intellect hampers her options and she's determined not to subject her child to the same hellish childhood she had, ostracized and segregated by the very mind that has brought her such professional success. She needs a man with limited intellect to balance out her genes.

Enter thirty-six year old Chicago Stars Quarterback Cal Bonner. A man in the twilight of his career and clinging to football with everything he has, Cal comes off on camera like a slow-witted good ole boy, his accent and his predilection for the word "ain't" convincing Jane that he is a worthy potential father for her child. Driven by desperation, she goes against everything she believes is right and takes a wild chance when it falls in her lap, using Cal in the most heinous of ways. She gets pregnant, but when Cal finds out, rage burns through him, and he demands...and gets...a much deserved retribution.

Now living a farce of a marriage, sequestered in the mountains of North Carolina, Jane's future is double damned when she finds out that the illustrious QB isn't the dumb yokel she thought he was. He is, in fact, a highly intelligent summa cum laude graduate of a prestigious university with a degree in biology. Now her baby is going to be doomed to be a freak like she was. To make matters worse, Jane starts to have feelings for the man who has every reason to loathe her for her actions until the end of time, no matter how much Cal seems to have softened towards her in the months that she's been hidden away with him.

Never let it be said that two highly intelligent people can't also be such total idiots.

In all fairness, I was monstrously leery about this book before I even started it. I love the Chicago Stars series, but the premise of this book really bothered me. I was unsurprised by the fact that I loathed every aspect of the first 25% of it. Jane's behavior was utterly contemptible and grotesque, and definitely something I consider a heinous cross between rape and theft. And that's not even mentioning the idiocy of someone of Jane's education being so flagrantly ignorant of basic reproductive concepts on genetics and their relation to intelligence. Then there was her distasteful desperation to have a child and her willingness to prostitute herself to do so. Ick. Ick. Ick. There was nothing remotely redeemable about her character or actions for the first few chapters of the book.

Cal was slightly less reprehensible, but he was a man with a habit of dating girls young enough to be his daughter, and had a willingness, however it came about, to have unprotected sex with a woman he had reason to believe was a prostitute. Ewww. I'm not even going to mention the grossly over-the-top stereotyping of football players and the disgusting behavior of jock groupies. Gah! There was so much that completely repulsed and offended me about the first five chapters of this book!

Oh, sure, it was well written, but the concept and characters just didn't work for me at all.

Then came Chapter Six. And what started out as one of the most offensive books I've read lately swiftly and irrevocably morphed into one of the most entertaining. I'm actually a little agog at how quickly I became enchanted with the story after such a rocky start, and found myself, much like Cal, completely falling for Jane right around the time she found out how smart Cal was, and totally loving them together from the moment that the marshmallows went missing! Uh...that'll make sense when you read the book.

I almost can't believe it, but SEP managed to not only completely win me over with one of the most humorous and perfectly fit couples I've had the pleasure to read lately, but she also impressed me with the way that the comedic aspects were blended in with some valid and realistic serious issues, such as the crumbling marriage of Cal's parents and the trouble Cal was having with the idea of his career coming to an end. And as for Jane and Cal, two characters I loathed almost from the start, I found myself understanding and sympathizing with them on more than just a surface level.

Honestly, if it wasn't for those first five chapters, this book would have been the most enjoyable contemporary romance I've ever read. Even with those first five chapters, I loved the rest of the book so much that it's my favorite of the series so far, even though I rated it to include my impressions of the first part.

There was just something that worked for me about Jane, Cal, and Cal's family, about how the characters evolved, how the relationships evolved, how issues arose and were dealt with, even about how some issues were mentioned but stayed out of the purview of this book, like the loss of Cal's brother's family. It all came together to feel like a very genuine, heartfelt story that had little or nothing to do with football and more to do with families and love and values. Shocking, really, after such a repugnant beginning. Now I'm ready and raring to go with the next in the series, my faith in SEP restored.

In the Blood by Adrian Phoenix

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: The Maker's Song, Book 2
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 400 Pages, 6469 Locations
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

In the Blood: Book Two of the Maker's Song
Not Boding Well for Damaged Dante

FBI Agent Heather Wallace knew that the events in D.C. hadn't been a victory for the home team. Not fully, anyway. She returned to Seattle, leaving Dante in New Orleans, both to give herself time to come to terms with the massive paradigm shift she went through when her hunt for the serial killer known as CCK dropped her into a dark world of vampires, fallen angels, mad scientists, and government conspiracy, and to try to protect Dante as much as she could through controlling the information the Bureau had on him. Okay, and to try to do some damage control on her career, too. But the Powers That Be aren't nearly done with Heather yet, and her superiors give her an ultimatum that lets her know just how precarious her position...and her life...really is.

And those are just the PTBs she knows. There are others. Darker. More dangerous. And they're the ones that don't want to control Heather...they want to control Dante. They want Heather dead.

Dante's band is on tour, heading to Seattle. Despite his worsening health and shattered psyche, the nightkind goth rocker is intent on safeguarding Heather. Suffering seizures, riddled with pain and barely holding on, he's heavily self medicating as his friends and fellow band members keep a wary eye on him. No sooner does he reconnect with Heather than their world is once again rocked with intrigue and danger. Dark shadow agencies are out to kill them, freaks of nature are out to kidnap them, and more than one very powerful supernatural force is searching, endlessly searching for him.

A flawed and broken Dante and world-weary Heather are once again at the center of a storm powerful enough to scour the earth...or unmake it.

The dark saga of True Blood nightkind and Fallen creawdwr Dante Baptiste and the FBI agent who loves him, Heather Wallace, continues in this second installment of The Maker's Song series. Slightly less gory and disturbing than its predecessor, In the Blood is just as complex and layered, grim and disturbing as the first, but it doesn't have quite the same level of sick, sadistic trauma that E brought along with him in A Rush of Wings. Oh, it definitely has some, as Dante's past is just about as sadistic and twisted as it gets, but fortunately the glimpses readers are afforded of Dante's childhood come in fractured, brutal little pieces that are easier for me to deal with than E's over-the-top sexual sadist butchery. At least in part.

There's no shortage of story here, but in that regard this book slightly edges out the first, because while there are plenty of layers to the plot, much complexity to the characters, and a plethora of conflicting agendas attacking from every side with each party of bad guys working dangerous and quick-changing angles, there's a slightly neater trail through that wild, ravaging forest than existed in A Rush of Wings. This book isn't quite as chaotic, didn't get quite so heavy laden with over-telling, and offered up a few moments of hope that the first book totally lacked.

There sure are a lot of different faces of corruption and evil in this series, though. If the Bureau and the SB aren't enough, there's the morally bankrupt Dr. Wells, who definitely won't be winning any Father of the Year awards in this millennium, and don't even get me started on the Elohim, who have just as many agendas and grimy graspers of power as you would expect any group of Fallen angels to have. Poor Dante really is the quintessential superstar - everyone on this planet and beyond want a piece of him, no matter how thoroughly it will destroy him. His story is tragic, heartbreaking, nauseating, and just plain sad.

In fact, that's starting to be one of the drawbacks of this series for me. Two books in and so much horror has been heaped onto Dante's plate, so much agony, misery, and treachery, that it's more than a little depressing. You can't like him as a character without wanting him to triumph in this, and honestly, I'm just not seeing enough glimpses of hope and happiness, tremulous as they may be, on this spiral into the hellish infernos of Phoenix's imagination.

I thoroughly respect Phoenix's talents. She's created such a flawed and broken protagonist and I can't help but root for him. Heather didn't do much for me in the first book, but in this one I really started to enjoy her spirit and appreciate her dedication to Dante - I just hope that dedication doesn't wane and that he doesn't have to suffer one more loss in his painfully short but horrifying life. He keeps pushing her away, but so obviously needs her. Wants so desperately to keep her safe, and knows that he's her biggest threat. It's all so Shakespearean.

I'm becoming quite fond of the llygad Von, who we met in the first book but really took on a distinct personality of his own in this one, and Cortini shows a lot of promise for a cold blooded executioner. They are both welcome additions to the story and added some nice depth to the good guy column...though as has been quite clear since the beginning of the series, "good" is relative. I was disappointed in Lucien's storyline, though. I can't seem to warm up to the Elohim contingent as story conflict fodder, and find their agendas and mythology often seem discordant when paired with the governmental and medical meddlers. I wish that planar aspect of the baddies had been dealt with first before the dark Aingeals had their part to play. And if wishes were fishes...

Adrian Phoenix has created a terrifying world with this series, a world on the brink of annihilation, when the big picture gets closely examined, and she's not above putting her main characters through debilitating misery. I have to be honest...that scares me. I have no idea if there will be a happy ending in this series, or even how I would define "happy" after two books of bleak hopelessness and a well told, if heartbreaking story. Because the series is so unique and the path so winding as I've read to this point, I'm really wondering how this is all going to turn out, but I'm almost afraid to read it and see. I said in my review of the first book that I like dark tales, and I do. But I'm starting to realize just how much I need at least a little lightness mixed in with it, and I favor an ultimate happy ending. I just don't know if I'm going to get that here. It may be a while before I pick up the next book in the series, though I do intend on doing so. And frankly, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with what that says about me...on any level.

A Rush of Wings by Adrian Phoenix

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: The Maker's Song, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 416 Pages, 6295 Locations
Formats: Mass Market PaperbackKindle

A Rush of Wings: Book One of The Maker's Song
A Dark and Ambitious Series Debut

For three years FBI Special Agent Heather Wallace has tracked a killer as he cuts a swath of sadistic torture and bloody death across the country. The trail leads her behind an underground club in New Orleans, where the latest victim has been left bloody, raped, and forever broken, and a message - the killer's first - is scrawled on the wall in the victim's blood. Is Heather wrong? Has the Cross Country Killer changed his MO at this late date? And if so, why?

The answers to those questions open the FBI agent up to a dark world beyond her wildest imaginings, a world of vampires, fallen angels, and government conspiracies. Of psychopaths born, made, and hidden behind the faces of mad scientists. At the center of a hellish firestorm stands Dante: nightkind, True Blood, and goth rocker beloved for his edgy style and angelic looks...tormented, tortured, suffering a debilitating and paralyzing loss of memory, his childhood a blank, buzzing slate of icy misery.

Once firmly ensconced in her world of black and white, Heather has to embrace all manner and shade of gray as she stands beside this young man, intent on protecting him from the forces trying to destroy him. Whatever their source.

Dark and at times disturbing, A Rush of Wings kicks off a complex, original dark urban fantasy series that features a plethora of bad guys with overlapping and often conflicting agendas, where the blood drinkers aren't nearly as bad as the human contingent, and where morality is questionable, flexible, malleable, or nonexistent, depending on the circumstances. The many shifting points of view and the slightly overpopulated cast of bad guys did get a little overwhelming at times, declaring open warfare against the world building and character development aspects of the story...and winning. It muddied the waters more than a little, especially towards the middle of the book, but it was worth sticking it out to the end.

I wish there had been a little more development given to Heather and Dante, both as individuals and together, as I felt that their characters became too easy to overlook or miss completely when viewed beside the full scope of the things going on around and being done to them. It felt like there was just a bit too much story in it - too many subplots and minor arcs in this non-stop adrenaline ride. From beginning to end there just weren't any moments of quiet or down time in which the characters got to breathe a little or the world got to be explained a bit. It was definitely dark, and I like dark books, but some of the best parts of a dark tale are the quiet moments given to the readers to let them form attachments to the characters the author then plans on heinously torturing...not to mention the occasional glimpses of hope and light through the darkness, no matter how small those glimpses, and there just wasn't any of that in this book.

Maybe it sounds like I didn't like A Rush of Wings, and that's not the case at all. I did like it, and I appreciated it for the very thorough, technically skilled book that is is. Adrian Phoenix has her own voice and style that is both recognizable and appealing. She writes a tragic, atmospheric tale that is at turns heart-breaking and stomach-turning.

In truth, I'm not totally sold on Dante as a character, as he has some personality issues that I don't always find appealing, and I was pretty ambivalent about Heather throughout the book. I feel for Dante's plight, though, even when I don't necessarily like his actions or think very highly of his attitude, and I do find his journey compelling. His future is shaky and teetering between uncertainty and utter destruction, and that's best case scenario. His past is utterly horrifying. His story...worth reading.

Eve of Samhain by Lisa Sanchez

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Hanaford Park, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 216 Pages, 4427 Locations
Formats: Paperback, Kindle

Eve of Samhain (The Hanaford Park Series, 1)
Entertaining Despite Some Issues

When the most stunningly gorgeous man she'd ever seen escorts his clingy date into the nightclub where Ryann Pierce serves drinks and avoids grabby hands while working her way through college, she almost trips over her tongue like some Warner Brothers cartoon character. Then, of course, he speaks. So much for his appeal. He may be gorgeous, but he's also a total tool. Rude, presumptuous, and with an ego larger than his freakishly gorgeous body, Ryann battles his arrogance with sharp-tongued wit, even as she serves him and his boobilicious sycophant date their drinks. Just another night at the club.

Her night takes an odd turn when tall, dark, and douchebag breaks up an altercation, then disappears from the club, leaving his vapid date sitting, more dazed and confused than even her intellect would normally allow, with apparently no memory of how she got to the club and no recollection of the sexy, sexist sex god she was with. Which was sorta creepy, really, when Ryann thinks about it.

Then the sex god shows up at her class the next day, a different beauty clinging to him. Same egotistical attitude, though, as he taunts her with his sex appeal even as he introduces himself. Quinn Donegan is her worst nightmare. And he just keeps showing up unannounced. The next time back at the club that night, the same beauty that had clung to him during her earlier class still on his arm. Until as the night before, Quinn leaves the club and one confused, memory wiped coed behind.

As Quinn worms his way into her life for reasons only he knows, a confused and suspicious Ryann stumbles onto some disturbing information that changes her understanding of the world around her. The things that go bump in the night aren't just relegated to fairy tales and camp fires...they stalk the living just as someone or something is stalking Ryann. Is Quinn a part of it, or is he trying to protect her from it...and why would he care either way?

Definitely one of the most unique paranormal romances I've read lately, Eve of Samhain is quirky and oddly charming, despite some issues. Told in Ryann's first person perspective, the narrative is full of earthy wit and crass witticisms, plainly spoken and uncultured. She's a funny if unsophisticated heroine, and her eventual dedication to the incorrigible Quinn is endearing. Quinn is a bit more of a puzzle, with his five hundred plus years as a cursed Faerie, doomed to sex up the female population and drive them mad with it. The idea of Ryann being the only one in all that time to resist his mystical charms, thereby drawing him to her like a moth to flames didn't totally work for me, but as he can't touch her without putting the whammy on her, their relationship is definitely unique in this genre.

The feelings between them develop too quickly for my taste, and are a bit overdone as the book progresses, but some interesting secondary characters and a subplot of an evil stalker after Ryann draws some attention. Not always to the book's benefit, as in the case with the stalker. I was disappointed in that plot thread. It was poorly explained, lacked foundation, and dropped completely for a significant portion of the book before being brought back at just the right time to bollocks up Ryann's attempts to help Quinn with the curse. That was a little too convenient for me.

I also had a hard time figuring out why, beyond the fact that she didn't cave to his mystical charisma, Quinn had such a jones for the relatively common Ryann. She was feisty, but also lacked intelligence at times, and her whining over her size eight body with the oft-mentioned bodacious ta-tas and J-Lo booty got very old very, very quickly. Trust me when I tell you, I wasn't exactly feeling her pain as she bears that particular cross like a discomfited martyr. And her emotions were all over the map; everything felt and experienced with wildly melodramatic intensity. There's almost no subtlety nor sophistication in the book, nor in Ryann. She would have been far more palatable to me had her character been toned down a bit and her emotions more controlled.

Despite all that, I liked this book. I'm not even sure I can put my finger on why, exactly, because many of the issues in it are well known bugaboos that usually put me off my read. Maybe part of the appeal was the novelty of the non-touchy relationship, or the fact that Ryann's inner monologue and the dialogue between her friends and with Quinn made me chuckle. Ryann was a rather pedestrian and superficial character, but she grew on me. And Quinn, despite his ego and his history, really did try to improve himself for her. They were sorta sweet together. Sure, I couldn't quite see the appeal she held for him, but it was cute watching it. I ended up feeling surprised that I liked the book as much as I did, and despite issues, would continue with the series. I'm just not totally sure why.

Seduce Me by Jill Shalvis

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: N/A; Harlequin Temptation
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 218 Pages, 2584 Locations
Formats: Paperback, Kindle

Seduce Me
Simple But Sweet

Samantha O'Ryan lives life on her own terms. She surfs when she wants, owns her own beachfront sandwich place, and lives a simple and easy-to-maintain lifestyle above it. She dates casually when she wants, goes where she wants, buys what she wants. The only thing she can't do is bake brownies. And she's tried. Repeatedly. She doesn't do relationships - her choice. Losing her parents at a young age scarred her and she's never felt comfortable with commitment. The only two people she's close to is the uncle who raised her as best he could and the best friend she's had all her life. She'd do anything for either of them.

That's the only reason she ends up agreeing to a blind date even though her best friend Lorissa has set her up for some real  doozies. There was begging. And pouting. And puppy dog eyes. She caved. When Jack Knight knocked on her door, though, it appeared her blind date luck had significantly improved.

Jack "Scandal" Knight retired from a highly successful basketball career after a crippling knee injury a year ago. Surgery gave him back the ability to walk, but years as the media's bad boy had him shunning the spotlight since then. Only a dedication to his sister and a desire to help her cause to aid underprivileged children caused him to need a date to a fundraiser. He didn't have high expectations for the blind date...or any, really. By the end of the night, though, he was smitten with the free spirited Sam. He knew he was in real trouble when her intention of keeping things casual bothered him in ways it never had before. Convincing the gun shy woman that he wanted to be in this for the long haul could prove more debilitating to his heart than a career in the NBA ever was to his body.

This light contemporary romance has all the earmarkings of a traditional Jill Shalvis novel: likable characters in realistic situations overcoming personal issues on their bumpy road to love. It lacked a little of the depth and complexity of some of her longer books, as one would expect, and I would have enjoyed a little more depth in both the characters and the plot, but Seduce Me does very well for itself as a Harlequin Temptation book.

I had a hard time warming up to Sam, though. I don't know if it was just that I had difficulty relating to the surfer girl who wears her bikini under everything from the ballroom to the bedroom and dumps any guy who she gets close enough to sleep with, or if I thought her character definition wasn't enough of an explanation for her personality, but something just didn't quite click with me in relation to her character. There were moments I liked her a lot, especially when she was helping out with the kids, but other times she left me cold. Jack, on the other hand, was the total pleasure package. He was an endearing charmer, especially when he was trying to learn to surf or calling Sam every day just to talk.

There isn't much in the way of groundbreaking fiction here, but it's a sweet, endearing romance that developed nicely over the course of the book. The characters were sufficiently developed and I appreciated the scenes where they were apart and dealing with secondary and ancillary characters, as it gave me a good glimpse of them outside of the parameters of the romance plotline. There were nice touches, like the daily phone calls and the dunking booth, that really made me smile, and I was pleasantly surprised that the affection between the characters was solidly based on genuine friendship and mutual admiration as opposed to simple lust. All in all a nice, pleasant, feel-good read without much in the way of surprises or serious conflict.

A Certain Wolfish Charm by Lydia Dare

Genre: Historical Paranormal Romance
Series: Westfield Brothers, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 384 Pages, 4084 Locations
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

A Certain Wolfish Charm
Certainly Charming

Infuriated over the Duke of Blackmoor's flagrant disregard for his ward after several attempts to contact the blackguard via letter, Lily Ruttledge, the Aunt of the twelve-year-old Oliver, is left with no option but to track the man down. She will force him to pay attention to the rising crisis of a boy who is changing in ways that are starting to scare the normally unflappable Lily. One conversation with Your Grace Simon Westfield, however, and all she wants to do is wring his neck. And if he didn't kick her out of his home and shove her back into the carriage that brought her without hearing a word she said, she would have done just that.

It was far too close to the full moon for Simon to have a delectable little morsel like Lily in his arms. The beast inside him was wild enough as it is. When his highly observant butler mentions that Lily's fears over the changes with her nephew sounded quite similar to Simon's particular history, however, the Duke is horrified that he'd let the child's development go untended for so long. He races after Lily's coach...and if he's just as interested in seeing the tall beauty again as he is in bringing Oliver to heel, well...it's not like he plans to bed her or anything.

Except everything about Lily stirs the man and calms the beast, and the longer she's in his house, the more he can't imagine her ever leaving. When a meddlesome neighbor intent on some pot stirring does what she does best, Lily ends up ruined and Simon - who swore long ago never to marry - assumes the blame for Lily's dismal future and takes her as his wife. And if the thought of Lily belonging to anyone else enrages him and the notion of any other woman but her in his bed leaves the former rakehell cold...well...it's not like he plans to make her his Lycan mate or anything. Really.

Lily knows Simon is keeping something from her. A secret so mysterious every attempt to discover it leads her in frustrating but widening circles. She may love her new husband, but she's determined to be done with secrets once and for all. Simon is doubly intent on keeping her from ever finding out. After all, if Lily were to find out that he is a werewolf, either she'd leave or he'd hurt her when she tried to stay, and above all else, that he definitely will not do.

Not without its own wolfish charms, A Certain Wolfish Charm is a light, easy read that had some genuinely entertaining moments. I'm particularly fond of growly wolves who act all surly and pouty when, in getting what they want, they realize they wanted something else entirely, so pretty much any scene about or surrounding the ball was a truly humorous delight. So were several other scenes, most notably whenever Simon's brother Will decided to poke at him, or when Lily went toe to toe with Simon.

I liked the characters, and though the tone of the book didn't lend to a lot of complex character development, I found there to be enough to enjoy. I think Simon started to get a little too bullheaded and was a bit too obtuse as things progressed later in the book, but sometimes he was just such an adorable little troglodyte I couldn't hold it against him.

I didn't care for the conflict of the book at all, though, and that does tie into Simon's actions throughout the story. The main conflict in the book is the secret that Simon is keeping from Lily. It's a secret almost everyone else, including the reader, knows, so it caused a few problems for me on several different levels. In fact, I never felt like it was a plausible conflict to begin with. Simon lies and hides the truth from Lily again and again because he was supposedly so paralyzed by the fear of ending up like his cousin Daniel (a man he acknowledged never had the training and control Simon did) despite Simon's lifetime experience of having parents as roll models who had a long, loving, and fully Lycan relationship. I didn't buy that at any point in the book. Nor do I find that sort of conflict in a plot arc to be compelling, original, or interesting enough to be the driving force in the book. It's a secret, so it's a foregone conclusion that the secret will be revealed, and because the book is a romance, there's not even a question of how it'll be resolved at the end. Then, when it finally was resolved, the actual resolution was nowhere near as ominous, dangerous, or threatening as it had been set up, warned about, and feared throughout the whole book. That's sort of the antithesis of climactic.

Other than the conflict not working for me, I wish the narrative had been developed differently. The story progresses quickly - too quickly, I felt, and instead of a gradual evolution of emotion and a natural progression of the relationship between Lily and Simon, their story read more like a Reader's Digest condensed version of a much longer and more involved book. The major points of transition in Simon's feelings for Lily, as well as his intentions towards their relationship, were leaped over and advanced without warning or set up, so the profligate who dipped his wick into every light skirt, cheating wife, and merry widow in the nation at the start of the book...a man who resolutely would not marry...became a fully committed and devoted, not to mention thoroughly monogamous lover of Lily, in astoundingly short order without much in the way of actual story to describe or note the change.

Still, I can't deny that several parts of the book were entertaining and enjoyable. Not everything worked for me, some things less than others, but other parts worked nicely. It's a Regency era romance, which normally doesn't hold much appeal for me, but in this case those aspects were tempered nicely by Lily's independent nature and fighting spirit. I also appreciated the glimpse into Will's future book as he and Prisca locked horns and traded barbs to my amused delight. That bodes well for his installment in the series.

Say Goodbye by Lisa Gardner

Genre: Thriller/Suspense
Series: FBI Profiler, Book 6
Rating: 5 Stars
Length: 368 Pages, 6045 Locations
Formats:  Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

Say Goodbye
Torturous. Devastating. Tragic. Brilliant.

Every once in a while I read a book that affects me a little deeper, digs in a bit more, disturbs or touches me just a little differently than those I read the rest of the time. They're often the most difficult books to rate, because I can't qualify them as easily. Did I like? Love it? Those aren't the right words for something so deeply disturbing, or hauntingly chilling. Well, did I at least enjoy it? Again, enjoyment isn't even close. I'm left shattered, brittle...moved. Horrified and saddened by the damnable tragedy of it all yet deeply admiring of the talent it took to write.

Say Goodbye is one of those books.

In the mountains of Georgia there is beauty and brutality and, of course, there are spiders. A killer hunts his prey and prostitutes vanish. But so do little boys. Stolen to assuage a monstrous appetite. In those graceful, gruesome mountains innocence is irrevocably, irretrievably shattered.

FBI Special Agent Kimberly Quinn, now five months pregnant, gets drawn into a case that threatens her marriage, her unborn child, and the foundations of her sense of self. What starts out as a few potential missing prostitutes and an unsolved and seemingly random homicide of a former high school jock is all a part of an insideous web of such utter destruction that the scope is almost beyond comprehension. Just...look up.

I'm emotionally spent after finishing this book. Utterly wiped out. It's brilliantly written. Stylistically it's crafted just as intricately as any spider's web and is just as deceptively strong . Kimberly is a solid heroine, and Gardner has offered up her flaws, foibles, and fascination with pudding to create a complex but genuine woman struggling with the confusions and conflicts of looming parenthood. I didn't always like her. I sided with her husband on a few critical issues, but saw Kimberly's side as well, even if I didn't happen to agree. She was selfish at times, for all her intelligence and dedication, and some of her motives and actions were less than pure. No, I didn't always like her. But I respected the hell out of her, because I believed her. I believed in Gardner's rendition of a character who is very conscious of her own demons, and still manages to step on their toes now and then, even as they chase her.

Technically and stylistically, this book knocked it out of the park. The transitions were extremely effective and there were several long, hard looks at the descent into despicable evil. And it was so very scary that I was able to sympathize with a man-made monster. So very, very scary. The police procedural aspects of the story were perfect. Gardner creates characters, then lays out the clues, and spins it all into a taut, gripping, devastating story. I could practically feel the time ticking in the back of my head through every moment of the read, ticking and tocking away as my stomach clenched and rolled, desperate for some light at the end of a most desolate tunnel.

It must be said - must be said and re-said, actually, that this book is not for everyone. Readers need to be more than warned, there needs to be great big flashing lights and maybe a few of those disaster sirens going off for this one. Do not read this book if you are in any way sensitive to brutality against children, because there is plenty of that in this book.

Was it graphic...? It wasn't graphically described blow by blow, no...but it's plainly and coarsely referred to and mentioned several times in several horrifying ways throughout the book. The monster - and he is monstrous - is a pedophile who kidnaps, rapes, and kills little boys...among other things that are equally disgusting. The scope of his crimes, the level of his brutality, and the horror of the debasement of his victims are not spared in the telling of this book. Please do yourself a favor and try another one of Gardner's titles if you think you may not be able to handle that.

I don't consider myself a sensitive reader. I love books and shows that deal with psychopaths, watch and appreciate true crime documentaries, and am fascinated with aberrant psychology. I thought Silence of the Lambs (both the book and the movie) was brilliant and chilling, and Hannibal Lector will always look like Sir Anthony Hopkins in my mind. But Silence of the Lambs didn't affect me like this did. Maybe it was because the violence was mostly against children. Those are the most difficult victims to have to accept, and when coupled with the perversity of the antagonist, I was deeply disturbed.

Did I like it? Love it? No. In fact, it was disgusting and traumatic in parts. I appreciated the intelligence and style with which it was written. I thought the concept, plot, and characters were robust, fully realized, and freaky with atmosphere. I had a couple of minor issues with a subplot, and there was a plot twist that I saw coming a mile away, but they didn't affect my appreciation of the book. It was a polished, sophisticated novel with power and intensity.

And it was the most disturbing book I've read in a good long time.

Ratings Guide

Here is a rundown of what the star ratings mean to me! It's not a perfect system, so you may see me add in a .5 star here and there if my impression of the book falls somewhere between these:

5 Stars - Loved it
4 Stars - Liked it
3 Stars - It's okay
2 Stars - Didn't like it
1 Star - Hated it

2014 Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Tracy has read 22 books toward her goal of 175 books.


Tracy's bookshelf: read

Zero at the BoneHead Over HeelsLord of the WolfynIn Total SurrenderA Win-Win PropositionNorth of Need

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