Welcome!

Read any good books lately? I have! Grab a cup of coffee or a beverage of your choice and sit back, relax, and have a peek at the books I've loved, the books I didn't, and the reasons why. Enjoy, and happy reading!

NOW LIVE!

It's official! The OGBDA Blog has expanded and our website is now live. Please visit the One Good Book Deserves Another website to see the new site and drop a line to my awesome webmaster, who I've finally let out of the webdesign dungeon...for a quick break, anyway, before he'll be commanded back to the grindstone. ;-)

This is the first of many exciting changes that will be happening over the next several weeks, so stay tuned for more news as OGBDA continues to evolve and grow, and as always, happy reading!

~Tracy

Review Archive

Favorite Quotes

Kindle Fire

Blog Buttons

Get Listed!

Parajunkee Design

Featured In

NetGalley

Amazon

Moonlight & Mechanicals by Cindy Spencer Pape

Genre: Steampunk Romance
Series: Gaslight Chronicles, Book 4
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 176 Pages
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.




Really Loved Wink

Inspector Liam McCollough has captivated Winifred "Wink" Hadrian since she was fifteen years old. Though her strengths lie with all things mechanical, even she could see the haunted loneliness in his eyes the day her adoptive parents wed. It has been enough to make her yearn to be the one to soothe that ache. She just had to grow up first.

Unfortunately, when she finally does, Liam has other ideas.

Wink deserves someone far better than he, safer and more stable, and Liam knows that the beast inside him is none of those things. One of his best friends, however, is. He's a Knight of the Round Table and would make Wink the perfect husband.

Maybe once she's married Liam will finally stop dreaming of her. That is if he can control the possessive fury that stirs his beast whenever he sees her with another man.

It becomes obvious that fate has other things in store for them both when Wink comes to him for help after the son of a friend from her old life goes missing. The investigation throws them into very close and frequent contact even as it uncovers some disturbing facts about odd disappearances all over the city. As the tension mounts and the danger rises, Liam is finding it harder and harder to imagine his life without Wink in it...but the threat to crown and country could result in just that.

~*~

Starting a series anywhere but at the beginning is always a crapshoot, but Pape did a nice job with the plot of this book. The main story arc was layered and suspenseful, and any series arc elements remained ancillary to the external conflict and the romance. While I did feel a lack of emotional connection to some of the secondary characters who had obviously been previously introduced in the series, it didn't at all negatively impact my ability to understand the world or follow the story.

I will admit, some aspects of the world and story struck me as a little odd, but that's not uncommon when I jump into an existing series somewhere in the middle. I think that's just a result if missing out on the learning curve and detailed explanation of mythos that generally builds in the first few books in a series.

I will say, the more I read in the steampunk genre, the more I enjoy just about everything about it. In this one Pape had a goldmine in Wink, who was exactly my sort of female protagonist. Keenly intelligent, impatient with society's limitations, free-thinking and spirited, she's great. By far my favorite character in the book.

Liam, though he had his charms, wasn't quite as appealing to me. In his defense, he had his reasons (such as they were), but there's little that annoys me faster than a guy who makes unilateral life decisions for the woman he's interested in. As a source of relationship conflict, it's not one that works for me, so Liam's attempts to get Wink married to his friend frustrated more than it entertained, even as I got a chuckle whenever he got growly about seeing them together.

The issue with the friend persisted long into the book, too, seriously impinging on the evolution of the romance between the main characters. As a result, it felt like there was a severe lack of any significant romance in general, with the vast majority of the plot focusing on the investigation into the rash of disappearances. Those were some dark, ominous, suspenseful threads that I enjoyed for most of the book, but the lack of romance disappointed.

I did think the story bogged down a bit as it started to approach the climax, the mystery elements loosing a little suspense as the lack of answers dragged on and on. The climax itself also had some elements that I couldn't quite connect to. It was really the first time I felt not reading the earlier books had noticeable impact on my appreciation of the read.

Though not without its issues, I still enjoyed much of this book, and I have a renewed appreciation for Pape, whose work I was previously only marginally familiar. She's an author to keep an eye on in the steampunk genre. Her authorial voice and the definition in her female protagonists are a boon for me as a reader, and I'm greedy with things like that. I look forward to more.

Men of Smithfield: Seth and David by L.B. Gregg

Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance; LGBT
Series: Men of Smithfield, Book 2
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 101 Pages
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



Second Trip to Smithfield

It was supposed to be a simple weekly massage, routine and uneventful, albeit relaxing and the only thing that has provided Seth Weston any relief from the tension in his life. His twin sister, dead. Her six-year-old daughter, Molly, now his to raise. His former boyfriend, gone...along with most of his money. All of that is constantly grinding together into a mountain of stress that buries him deep on a daily basis.

So he needs that massage.

He got a lot more than he bargained for when his normal masseuse was unavailable and the young, fey-looking David Cooke took her place. Gorgeous the young man may be, but too out there, too wild in clothing, style, and temperament to be taken even remotely seriously. And Seth is all about taking things seriously.

At least he always has been, until the massage David provides ends in a much more...relaxing (for Seth) manner than either men had been anticipating. David, on the other hand, was less than amused. And if it had been any less explosive for Seth, he would probably be mortified. Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Honestly, all Seth truly cared about was making sure David became his new weekly masseur, regardless.

He didn't expect to keep running into the young man every time he turns around, though, and he sure didn't expect to feel such an irresistible attraction to someone so obviously ill-suited for him. But expectations aside, the more time he spends with David, the more Seth starts to wonder if the a man so obviously Mr. Wrong in every way that's ever mattered to him before may just be the one and only man he truly needs.

~*~

There were so many very good things about this second installment of Gregg's Men of Smithfield series. I think, overall, it's a smoother, more defined story with the sort of depth and attention to detail that I felt was lacking in the first. There was also another small suspense thread that had marginally more impact on the overall story than the one in the first book.

And of course the sex in this one was just as hot, if not hotter.

David was a total doll from start to finish, and Molly was a cutie-pie. Gregg did a great job with her character, incorporating some of the long-term effects of childhood loss and balancing them nicely with the natural resiliency of children. It made Molly seem very authentic, and she was a delightful presence in the narrative. I just wish I was able to warm up to Seth.

I can appreciate that he was intended to be a flawed character. His being a sanctimonious, judgmental, elitist, standoffish prick was intentional. I get that. The problem for me was both the first impression he made in the massage parlor and the persistence and frequency with which he made such a flagrant ass out of himself. By the time I factored in his unrelenting self-absorption, his character held little appeal, and I grew more and more annoyed with him as the story progressed.

Don't get me wrong, I felt for his losses and wanted to sympathize with the guy, but his character didn't exactly leave a lot of room for sympathy. And where flawed characters tend to be redeemed by the end of a story, especially in romance, I think in Seth's case it was too little too late for my taste. Frankly, I kept wishing David would just put his foot down and really let Seth have it for all the criticism and offense Seth gave the poor guy.

Because Seth was such a jerk for so long in the story, the romance suffered and ultimately failed to touch me the way that Mark and Tony's did in the first book. For all that this story was, in my opinion, a more well-rounded and fully developed tale than its predecessor, my issues with Seth kept it from being as entertaining as I was hoping.

There's no disappointment with the amount of sizzle, though. Smithfield, too, maintained its charm as the perfect quirky backdrop for this very quirky series. With the stronger storytelling this book provides, I have high hopes for the next in the series and look forward to my next stop through town.

Men of Smithfield  Series:

  

Men of Smithfield: Mark and Tony by L.B. Gregg

Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance; LGBT
Series: Men of Smithfield, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 114
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



A Fun, Sexy Revisit

If Mark Meehan had known that finding his boyfriend banging their landlord in their bed would end up being just one of the many, many transgressions Jamie's made against him, Mark would have used something far more substantial than a bible to bash him over his cheating head during that Ash Wednesday mass he thoroughly disrupted. On the bright side, finding out Jamie had also stolen him blind definitely helped push Mark through that annoying grief process.

Normally even-tempered, an utterly betrayed Mark goes off the deep end and keeps right on going. So much so that his actions are a little...extreme. But again he underestimates Jamie, and suddenly Mark is very glad he has a friend in Smithfield Police Officer Tony Gervase.

Though, to be honest, Mark has always wanted Tony as more than a friend.

As Jamie's actions become more and more threatening and Tony comes to his rescue more than once, the sparks between Mark and Tony start flying hot and hard. Maybe after all these years of pining for the cop he's loved since high school, Mark will finally have a chance...and Jamie's betrayal will turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to them both.

~*~

I think it was 2009 when I first read and enjoyed this book in its Gobsmacked incarnation. Now it's got a hot new cover, a more appealing title (subjectively speaking, anyway - I've always loved the word 'gobsmacked' and thought it fit nicely as the title), and the story has been gussied up a bit (honestly, I didn't really notice a difference, but it's been several years) to spearhead the re-release of the previously released titles and the continuation of the series. That was very happy news for me as a reader, as I have fond memories of Smithfield and enjoy Gregg's fun, sexy, humor-rich writing style.

Of course, the off-the-charts, sizzling hot sex doesn't hurt, either.

The story still has some of the technical issues that I remember from the first read and the narrative is still extremely fast-paced. The story lacks the sort of detailed description, world-building, and plot complexity that slows a read down even as it fleshes it out and adds depth. Scenes tend to shift quickly and story elements pop up, then pass in a blink as the bare-bones plot races towards the end with a singular focus.

Even with that, though, I enjoyed the story. I absolutely adored Mark and liked Tony quite a lot. There's something about the combination of their personalities that had tons of appeal, and a sort of friends-to-lovers/unrequited-to-requited hybrid theme that worked well for them. Mark's wacky, high-strung antics were a nice compliment to Tony's more steady, solid nature and made me a big fan of them together. So much so that I didn't even mind the first-person point of view in the narrative, something that usually doesn't work for me in romance.

Men of Smithfield: Mark and Tony is simply a fun, sexy read with fun, sexy characters. Shorter than I would've liked, definitely, with a story that progresses too fast for my taste, but still entertaining. It isn't dripping angst or splattering deep interpersonal issues everywhere, but it made me smile, chuckle out loud in places, and even fan myself here and there.

I'm so glad I got this chance to revisit Smithfield, and I'm very much looking forward to renewing my familiarity with the stories I've read as I bide my time for the stories I haven't. I hope they come soon, as Smithfield is just one of those places that begs for frequent visits and I can't wait to spend more time there.

Born to Be Wild by Donna Kauffman

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: The Three Musketeers, Book 2
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 212 Pages
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Loveswept publisher Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



Vive le Musketeers!

Dara Colbourne grew up chasing after her twin brother and his two best friends, always the fierce little firecracker, d'Artagnan to their Three Musketeers. But that was fifteen years ago, and she's no longer the fearless and feisty girl she once was. She's just lost too much, suffered too deeply because of high-risk jobs and thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies. Now she focuses all her passions on the job and calling she loves, working tirelessly to grant as many wishes as she can for sick and terminally ill children through the Dream A Little Dream Foundation.

As the foundation is funded entirely on private donations, Dara can't turn down the generous...if unfortunately specific...donation made by one of her brother's best friends. She doesn't have time to get Jarrett to change his mind about those specifics, either, even if she had access to him while he's on his honeymoon. That's why the bane of her childhood existence is in her office, spilling coffee all over her and generally sucking up all the air with his extreme hotness.

Zach Brogan, thrill seeker extraordinaire, owns and runs Great Escape, an outfitter that caters to the wildest and most dangerous challenges of man against nature - and against himself. If she had a choice, Dara wouldn't go anywhere near him or his outfitter business. Problem is, she doesn't have a choice. What she has is a deeply disturbing reaction to the one man she needs to avoid at all costs, and a fear that in granting the wishes of the children, she'll end up risking far more than she's willing to lose...again.

~*~

This second installment of Kauffman's The Three Musketeers series is a cute, sexy romance that's held up well in the years since its original release. Kauffman certainly creates interesting, diverse characters with highly individual personalities. It was a strength in the previous book and it's as significant a benefit here. Dara and Zach are original, solid, three-dimensional characters with great chemistry.

The plot of this classic romance doesn't pack much in the way of surprises, and it has a lighter, more traditional style and substance than its predecessor, but on the surface that's not necessarily a bad thing. Unfortunately, it was a detriment to me, but only because I was so pleasantly surprised with the unique elements in the first book. Kauffman set the bar there and I don't think this one quite matched it, even though the conclusion to this story felt much less abrupt and campy than in its predecessor.

The emotional baggage Dara lugged around from the loss of her father and fiance, and the ramifications from those losses, were realistically portrayed. In fact, I preferred her character to Zach, who struck me as a bit too much of a Peter Pan for me to fully embrace as a romantic lead. Maybe that says more about my own issues with thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies, but I have to admit, I was more sympathetic of Dara's reasons for not getting involved with Zach than I was impressed with Zach's assertions that he was careful with the risk-to-danger ratio in his lifestyle and occupation.

It's not that I disliked Zach; I don't mean to give that impression. He had several sterling qualities, and I enjoyed him quite a lot during his more serious, intense moments. He was an absolute doll with the children from the wish foundation. He's just not the sort of character that translates well to the long-haul, Happily Ever After guy in my mind, but again, that's probably more about my issues than in any way a criticism of the story.

Regardless of those thoughts and impressions, I have to admit I was most tickled by Zach's nickname for Dara. It's silly, I know, and I'm not even sure why it had such appeal, but I grinned every time he called her Dart (short for d'Artagnan). I'd love to take the high road, say the appeal was in the exemplary way it helped define Dara's personality and backstory with an economy of words, as the nickname in general and the manner in which Zach used it in particular said a lot about who she was before her losses and it set a framework around her childhood relationship with Zach. Truth is, I just liked the sound of it. It was peppy.

Hey, I said it was silly.

Had I read this book first, I may have felt more favorably towards the reading experience, because without a doubt, Kauffman creates a cute, fun, touching, and sizzling romance that holds its own in the modern world. In light of the first book, though, this one was just slightly less entertaining and had fewer perks and unique gems to make it stand out. That one was memorable for those facets. This one probably won't stick with me for long, but still kept me mostly entertained while reading it.

The Three Musketeers Series:

Litha's Constant Whim by Amy Lane

Genre: M/M Paranormal Romance; LGBT
Series: Green's Hill, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 106 Pages
Formats: Kindle




Powerful Emotions in a Small Package

As unique and magically peculiar as the sidhe are, none are quite like Whim. Flighty, forgetful, adorably but perpetually inconsistent, Whim isn't a very powerful sidhe. Power struggles, dominance displays, and general strife just don't hold his attention. Nothing does, really. He's the freest of all free spirits.

Nudged by his prince to step beyond his Green's Hill home, Whim passes into the mortal realm on Litha, the night of the summer solstice. Whim had no idea that taking that one risk, slipping outside his comfort zone that one time, would change his life forever.

Charlie, a troubled young man on the cusp of a horrendous decision, is knocked sideways by the sheer presence of Whim. The chance meeting redefines Charlie's understanding of the world and sets the two men on a path that will span more than a decade, molding their lives year by year. It will define them. Remake them. And all of it will happen in one-night-a-year increments, when the magic of Litha allows them to come together in ways that both inflame their senses and alter their souls.

But when an immortal sidhe falls in love with an all-too-mortal human, the journey their relationship takes has one inevitable conclusion. The damnable irony of it all is that unless Whim can work magic far, far beyond his capabilities, he will lose Charlie for the very reason he first won his heart all those years ago.

~*~

While I think this Lane series debut might be slightly more entertaining for fans of Lane's Little Goddess series, with its concurrent timeline and character crossover, I enjoyed the characters so much, and felt so much for their relationship, that I still liked the read quite a lot despite having never read that series. It's a long novella-length romance; there isn't a lot of world definition for readers new to the world, nor any significant external plot conflicts, but there didn't really need to be.

Whim and Charlie really were enough for me. Their relationship was a sexy, angsty, wildly emotional quagmire that sucked me in and kept me locked in place. I loved Whim's character evolution throughout the book. He was the primary focus of the narrative, so I felt closer to him by default, but Charlie's growth from nearly-man to fully-man, seen in snippets and yearly summaries, was just as profound in its own way.

I wish there had been a bit more substance and detail in the read. Another fifty pages that further fleshed out Green's Hill and Whim's life there, or filled in more of the secondary and ancillary characters, would have been appreciated. What Lane does exceptionally well in this story, though, is offer readers a sweeping romantic epic in a tight, fresh, original package that's just a bit smaller than my greedy little heart wanted.

It would have been nice having the Little Goddess series as a background, but I didn't feel like the story suffered overly because of it. I just think it dimmed a bit of the emotional impact for me. Maybe that's not a bad thing, actually, as this little gem packed plenty of powerful emotion on its own. Enough to satisfy the romantic in me, for sure...and, okay, make me tear up more than once, too.

That's a testament to Lane's ability to make readers care about her characters.

Santuario by G.B. Gordon

Genre: M/M Science Fiction; LGBT
Series: Santuario, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 258 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Riptide Publishing via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.




A Slow-Building, Unique Surprise

It's called Santuario. Rocked by poverty, ruled by powerful and corrupt familias, the southern island is populated by a race of people who landed on the planet two hundred years ago. Santuario became their home...though reservation may be a more accurate term.

The Skanians, themselves long settled on the planet, banished them to Santuario out of fear and distrust. Two hundred years later, that decision has bred discontent and shame among the Skanians and change is in the air. The political climate is heated, and while there are Skanians who want to keep the walls raised high between the two cultures, none are as adamant about maintaining the status quo as the brutal heads of the familias.

They are, without a doubt, adamant enough to kill to get their way, but they wouldn't leave a corpse around for the police to stumble across. They are too well versed at disposing of their enemies, especially as crimes like murder are reported to the Skanians. None of the familias want that.

No, the dead body that police tentiente Alex Rukow is called to investigate is a victim of something else entirely. All he knows is the entire case feels like one huge, potentially deadly nightmare. One that will be bringing the Skanians to Santuario and putting Alex directly in their path, as he's one of the few on the island who can speak their language.

When the Skanian investigator Bengt shows up, surly and huge and sick from the heat, Alex has every intention of washing his hands of the whole of the investigation and leaving it to the huge blond man. Then a second victim is discovered, and with it, a whole new range of far-reaching implications and deadly danger. Investigating what is fast becoming a complex and complicated case is definitely bad for his life expectancy, but the longer Alex and Bengt work together, the more Alex likes the man he's working with and the more determined he becomes to see this through to the end.

In ways, perhaps, that could bring more danger to both men than all the familias' fury combined.

~*~

I liked this book very much, but to be honest, it wasn't exactly love-at-first-sight. I had to work at it. In fact, there were several times in the first quarter of the book that I debated leaving it unfinished. The world was very sparsely defined and confusing, the murder investigation didn't do much for me from the beginning because I was missing so much of the context, and the overwhelming presence of Santuarian words (obviously heavy on the Spanish influence) in the narrative made it very difficult to fully grasp what I was reading and killed any chance of a smooth, flowing reading experience.

Not to mention it gave my embarrassingly shoddy high school-level Spanish comprehension a workout.

There really was only one reason I kept muddling through the tough spots until the story picked up for me, but it was a very good reason: Alex Rukow. He was an insular, solitary main character, that's for sure; an intriguing mix of jaded cynicism, hopeless ambivalence, tense apprehension, and wary doggedness. I just couldn't seem to stop reading about him. Intelligent, painfully resigned, surprisingly kind and generous...but so bruised by life and world-weary in a way that painted its own layer of complexity on his character, I found him utterly compelling.

For all that optimism left Alex behind a long, long time ago, there was a long-suffering sense of justice, fairness, and honesty about him that appealed. And kept appealing long enough for me to meet the other reason I didn't put the book down.

Bengt. He is light to Alex's dark, and I'm not talking about skin tone. From the moment Bengt stepped onto Santuario, he was the perfect compliment to the other man. His slightly superior attitude, the disdain he has for the heat and accommodations, his temper, and the frustration he feels with Alex's apparent apathy to life in general and the case in particular all combined to make him stand out like a vibrant, Viking-esque bastion of all things Alex doesn't have it in him to be.

There is an veritable cornucopia of problems between the two men from the very moment of their introduction. Their differences were profound and absolute, and watching them bridge the distance first to work together, then to forge the bonds that lead to the slowly-evolving relationship between them proved, for me, to be the most captivating and entertaining aspect of the entire book.

I was especially fascinated by the differences in their sexuality. The openly gay Bengt comes from a place where there is no stigma at all to being so, and Alex was raised in a place where it is considered such an unspeakable sin that he hadn't once even pondered the merest possibility that he was anything but a vaguely disinterested heterosexual. Which, really, spoke for itself in all sorts of deliciously subtle and foreshadowy ways from very early in the story.

The evolution of their characters and the slow, sometimes painful process of two such disparate personalities finding common ground and working together, then coming together, is where I felt the core power of the book really lies. I did enjoy seeing Santuario slowly expose its dark, corrupt, gritty underbelly as the investigation proceeded, though. Those elements gained greater and greater appeal as I gleaned enough information about the world the characters inhabit to better put things in perspective.

Romance lovers should be warned that a romance between Alex and Bengt is never the focus of the book and those plot threads are ancillary at best. Though there is sex in the book, it's by no means plentiful and what there is is mostly brushed over and written in carefully euphemistic ways. As a result, this book struck me more as an intriguing, complex journey of two very different men who come to realize they offer each other far more than either one of them knew they needed, as opposed to a more traditional-style romance novel.

Surrender the Dark by Donna Kauffman

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: The Three Musketeers, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 240 Pages
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Loveswept publisher Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



Great Characters

Two years wasn't long enough. It's been that long since the last time Rae Gannon saw her former boss Jarrett McCullough, since she returned home after being freed from the captives who had tortured and nearly broken her only to realize that the man who had hired her and groomed her into one of his top covert couriers had blacklisted her. He couldn't risk the chance that either she or the information she carried was compromised, so she was out.

It was worse than the torture and captivity combined.

For the two years since, Rae has struggled to put her life back together. She retreated from the world, settled into a private home deep in the mountains, and worked through her issues with her art - something she'd picked up during the long months of therapy. It worked for her...most of the time.

Stumbling over the bloody body of a seriously wounded and unconscious McCullough not even a stone's throw from her mountain sanctuary was not one of those times.

Saving the life of a man she hated bred enough resentment to fuel her art for years to come, but Rae had no intention of letting him die in her home. Patch him up, get him out. That was the plan. Problem is, a conscious but vulnerable McCullough is a far more dangerous beast than she'd ever dreamed. She hates her body's traitorous response to the sheer approachable masculinity of the man almost as much as she hates what he asks her to do.

Two years wasn't nearly long enough.

~*~

Another solid re-release of a Kauffman classic from Loveswept! I love finding previously released authors who have slipped under my radar, and Kauffman impressed me on a lot of different levels with this one. The characters' backstory was truly excellent and I love how deftly Kauffman fit their complex and emotional history into the tapestry of their story.

I loved Rae and Jarrett. Rae was a hard core survivor, and her reaction to having Jarrett in her home, being forced to nurse him back to health out of common decency, was maybe my favorite part of the book. I love how she faced him, called him on the roll he took in their past, and challenged him at every turn. She was fairly awesome. And even when she started to soften, when she started to feel attraction for him, the conflict of her emotions added a layer of depth to the story I appreciated.

Jarrett was a bit harder to warm up to for me, in large part because of a scene in the very beginning of the book. I started to appreciate him more and more as the story progressed. He was unflinching in his acknowledgement of the sins and omissions of his past, but shaken by the effect it had on Rae. It sparks a metamorphosis in him that felt very organic to his character, as if he's slowly waking up to the human element that had bled from his life as a byproduct of his commitment to his cause.

The enemies-to-lovers storyline here was powerful, and though it happens over a short span of time, usually one of my bugaboos, the history between them muted that issue enough that I was able to enjoy their romance. The secondary storyline, a thread of suspense that wends its way through the book, provided the impetus behind the majority of the characters' actions, but it lacked the sort of detail and description necessary to really sustain itself consistently.

My only serious issue with the book was, unfortunately, the end. Up until the climax and subsequent resolution, I was enjoying the read quite a lot, but then the characters' romance thread intersected with the suspense thread and things went a little wonky for me. Suddenly it was like Rae and Jarrett were on a relationship fast-forward, and their HEA took on a sort of forced, cheesy, chick flick tone that didn't appeal to me at all. Or make much sense. I just couldn't figure out why the rush to the end point in the book, given everything.

Though this Kauffman re-release was shorter than I'd expected, ending at the 82% mark on my Kindle, and I had some problems with the end of the story, this was still a fun read with a more complex emotional landscape than I was expecting. Rae and Jarrett were great characters, and Kauffman, new-to-me before I started this book, detailed their evolving relationship with aplomb.

Until There Was You by Jessica Scott

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Coming Home, Book 2
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 230 Pages
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Loveswept publisher Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



Left Me Confused

It started with a kiss. Claire Montoya is a woman who fought her way out of a hardscrabble life and kept right on fighting through her enlistment and into a commission. She's a woman who follows only those rules she deems valid. Evan Loehr is a West Point grad, a by-the-book poster boy for the elite military man. He lives for and by all the rules, no questions, no evasions.

From the moment they kissed they knew, absolutely knew, how incendiary their attraction was. And how completely unsuited they were for each other.

Their professional relationship has grown more and more contentious as the years passed. Claire and Evan do not get along. Neither has forgotten that one moment of passion three years ago, but now that they're working together, they can't afford to dwell on it. It's a pity that knowing that and living it are two very different things.

Colorado in winter is Claire's version of hell, but dealing with Army bureaucracy while trying to train a company for Iraqi deployment is definitely one of the lower levels. Nothing about the Army's focus for this training session makes sense to Claire, and nothing she says or does sways Evan in the least. It's enough to drive her out of her mind. It's enough to scare her senseless, too, because poorly trained soldiers are dead soldiers.

If Claire takes matters into her own hands, she'll be forced to wage a personal war on the one man in all of Colorado who could keep her warm during the snowy nights, because for all his many, many...many faults, the fact is that Captain Evan Loehr is both a hell of a soldier and a hell of a man. She's left with no good options and a troubling bottom line: if she risks her career she could potentially save lives, but she'll definitely lose her heart.

~*~

I'm so confused. It's been a few months since I read series (and Scott's authorial) debut, Because of You, but I haven't forgotten that the expectations and assumptions I'd made about that book prior to reading it affected my impression of it. It was a much weightier, emotionally intense read than I was expecting, so I prepared myself for this one. Expected angst. Had tissues standing by. I was ready.

Yeah, well, Scott threw me again. This time, though, I feel a little lost. On the bright side, I liked the characters well enough, and I was much fonder of Evan than I was of Shane in the first book. There wasn't an overload of angsty emotional landmines in the characters' personal lives or relationship, either. Some might consider that a bad thing, but I was happy about it. The first book was just too heavy for me, especially as I was expecting a sexy, light read (the cover of that book did me no favors in that regard).

Problem is, for all that I liked the characters in this book, they weren't the characters I was expecting, nor was the storyline what I'd thought it was going to be. The first book left several plot threads dangling and posed a very grim glimpse into the lives of two secondary characters whose marriage was crumbling. At the conclusion of that book, I figured that was going to be a storyline that was carried over to serve as a cohesive element in the series.

I was wrong, because unless I'm mistaken or have forgotten something, there was not one single character crossover between book one and two and no story threads that were picked up and continued from there into this one. There was, however, an opening sequence that was startlingly similar to the beginning of the previous book, and not in a good way. Small details were changed, but the entire dynamic was far too similar and put this book on a shaky foundation for me from the start.

You will get no argument from me about the fact that Scott can write. She paints a cohesive, detailed picture of military life that is intriguing and disturbing at turns, and as often frustrating and perplexing as humbling and amazing. The psychology of career military personnel is captured perfectly as her stories unfold. The Army itself is portrayed as having a few...idiosyncrasies that are completely realistic and utterly believable. And more than a little scary.

I do wish there had been less emphasis placed on the scheduling snafu as the main conflict in this book. I absolutely believe it's an accurate representation of similar real-life situations, but it was belabored throughout the first half of the book to the point that character discussion and arguments over the issue became repetitive, and as a main plot conflict I felt it lacked complexity and depth.

The issue with Claire's best friend's alcoholism was also emphasized a little too much for me. Initially I was bothered because the character seemed a little too similar to a secondary character in the first book, but as his drinking problem became a larger issue, that became less of a point. It astounded me that so little was done to address what was a massive problem, especially for a soldier facing time in the sandbox. So many rules were broken to protect him that I couldn't fathom the "friendship" justification.

Not only was his character hugely unsympathetic to me through most of the book, but more troubling was my dissatisfaction with Claire's hypocritical reactions to his alcohol abuse. I would think that a man that messed up is no less deadly to himself and surrounding soldiers than one who is poorly trained. It didn't speak well of her character that she hadn't addressed that fact at any point.

As far as romantic arcs go, the one between Claire and Evan was handled well. It felt more like what I consider a traditional romance than the arc in the previous book. Sometimes Claire's prickly personality annoyed me, and sometimes Evan's frustratingly rigid stance made me want to kick his shin, but overall, their relationship was satisfying, sexy, and entertaining. It was probably the highlight of the read for me.

I don't know what to make of this series at this point. I'm disappointed that the threads left dangling in the first book weren't picked up, and because they weren't, I don't know that they ever will be. That cast a pall over both reads for me. If the series continues along with each book as disconnected as the first two, and the emotional tone of the series continues to vacillate so wildly with such unpredictability, then it won't matter how pleasant the main characters' romance is or how realistic the portrayal of military life, I will be disinclined to soldier along with it.

The Coming Home Series:

  

Beyond Shame by Kit Rocha

Genre: Dystopian Erotic Romance
Series: Beyond, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 351 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



Dark and Seductive

Noelle Cunningham broke the rules, and punishment for her crime meant banishment from the city of Eden. It had been the only home she'd ever known. Now lost, alone, and deep in the slums that surround the walled Eden, she is at the mercy of the brutal thugs that rule the dark, decaying landscape.

Just as Noelle is about to fall victim of one such thug, she runs into a man unlike any she's ever seen. Inked up, grim, muscular, he could be her worst nightmare. Instead, as she falls into the unknown gang member's arms, drugged to the gills and barely conscious, she has only hope that he can be her savior.

Jasper McCray, right hand man to Sector Four's gang leader, is more devil than angel, but something about the helpless and innocent Noelle stirs every one of his protective instincts. She is elegance and refinement in a world that has lost both, and he wants her. Life in the slums is dangerous, though, even deadly, and the O'Kane gang runs the sector with an iron fist. They work hard, and they sure as hell play hard. Sex is frequent and varied and far darker than anything anyone in Eden could comprehend.

He may want the soft, beautiful Noelle, but she may not be able to handle living the life he lives, the sort of life everyone in the gang embraces. And if she doesn't give herself, if she can't give over to the sexuality he senses brimming in her, she will be no better off than if he'd not rescued her. Only time will tell if, when she's told what's expected of her, her initial survival will become permanent membership into the gang. Or death.

~*~

I wasn't sure this book was going to be my cuppa when I started it. I'm not crazy about post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction to begin with and I was aware it had BDSM and D/s overtones, as well as F/F and ménage à trois/quatre sex scenes (MFM, FMF, MFFM), none of which are really my thing, but several friends suggested I give it a try regardless. I was admittedly surprised that it worked for me as well as it did.

The BDSM and D/s elements were relatively low key, and stuck more towards kinky sex scenes that were both erotic and hot as opposed to characters deep into the lifestyle or any Master/slave leanings. And I found the dystopian world rather interesting, with the briefly-explained but terrifying and puritanical Eden standing in sharp contrast to the freer but far earthier and dangerous slums.

The highlight of the book for me was the characters. Complex and layered, with their own issues, faults, and strengths, they were colorful and entertaining. Well...except for Noelle. I understood her nature, easily grasped the impetus that drove her to violate Eden's laws and join with the O'Kane gang. Her timidity in all things as she started to recognize and embrace her sexual desires, however, bored me. She's just not the sort of female lead character I enjoy reading about.

Lex, on the other hand, rocked my world. Strong, smart, independent, wicked, powerful...with a soft, nurturing side just as significant, she was almost perfect for me. And her relationship with Dallas is definitely one of the more complex I've read lately. I enjoyed her quite a lot. Unfortunately she wasn't the heroine of this book.

I was both impressed with and entertained by the plot of the story. For me, the success or failure of an erotic romance read falls to how well the story wends around the sex scenes and if the sex scenes enhance or inhibit the external plot threads. There is a lot of sex in this book, and when there isn't actual sex going on, the characters are often talking about it, thinking about it, or planning the next time they'll be having it. But it fits in the world, it fits with the characters and the story going on around them, and maybe most importantly (for me, anyway), despite the orgiastic nature of O'Kane parties and the highly sexualized nature of the gang members, it didn't hit the same sort of negative buttons that cold and impersonal sex clubs or sex parties have in other similarly-themed erotic novels I've read.

It wasn't my favorite read of the year, nor am I certain at this point as to whether I would continue the series if given the opportunity. I think it would depend on who is featured as the main characters. I have to say, though...and maybe I'm damning the book with faint praise, but given how many elements of the book are in almost direct opposition of my personal reading preferences, the fact that I enjoyed it as much as I did is really a testament to the book and the pair of best friends who wrote it. I would absolutely recommend it for readers who favor those elements I don't.

Season for Surrender by Theresa Romain

Genre: Historical Romance
Series: Seasons, Book 2
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 368 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Zebra publisher Kensington Publishing via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



'Tis the Season

Lord Xavier has never made a wager he hasn't won. This time, though, he's been goaded into a wager with stakes that could cause irreparable damage whether he wins or loses. He's been challenged to invite a proper young woman to his annual Christmas house party. Known for its debauchery and wicked revelry, it's definitely a scandalous place for a young miss. And not only does he have to get a lady to attend, she's got to stay through the duration.

Determined to best the bet and maintain his spotless record, Xavier has to think outside the box. If the lady must stay through his party, then he'd make the party more suitable for a lady. Simple, really.

Or it would have been, had the lady in question not been Louisa Oliver, a brainy little bluestocking who had weathered scandal before and survived. They had a past, in a manner of speaking, and getting her to come to his party and stay for the duration would take more maneuvering than simply making it respectable. For the first time in...well...ever, the only way to secure Lord Xavier's reputation and protect Louisa is to reach past that reputation to the man he is beneath.

When he does that, however, he is forced into a shocking realization: Louisa Oliver is more than a match for both the myth of Lord Xavier and the man, Alexander Edgware. And when it comes to Louisa, all bets are off.

~*~

There's something inherently appealing to me about a romantic hero who falls in love with his heroine when she sees into the man he is, not the face he shows the world. Dante-loving, vision-impaired Alex is just such a man. While his Lord Xavier persona is shallowly charming, a touch scandalous, and a bit of a condescending prat, the title has become a velvet-lined prison, so much so that he has almost become completely subsumed by it.

Underneath, though, Alex was a more uncertain and private gent who would rather read a good book than set the ton on its ear with the next bit of salacious gossip. Two sides to the same coin, the one overshadows the other for the sake of reputation and popularity in a world defined by both. He could have annoyed me as character, but I was too amused by the cultivated facial expressions to feel pique at his relentless need to validate his reputation.

Louisa was far more a simply genuine, straightforward character, and I loved her for it. She's my favorite sort of historical romance heroine: intelligent, sharp-tongued, and just a wee bit of a social misfit. I enjoyed her immensely, especially when she was popping pins in Xavier's ego. And she handled herself quite nicely when she needed to with others, as well.

Romain created a highly entertaining and vibrant backdrop for their romance. The two-week Christmas party provided a festive theme and a colorful array of secondary and ancillary characters to meet and enjoy. The plot could have been trite, with the bet setting up a cliched relationship conflict time bomb, but Romain stepped smartly around that pitfall. Louisa finds out about it early in the book so it's a non-issue in the romance, but still a motivating factor in both Alex's and Louisa's actions throughout the story. I thought it was nicely handled all around, actually, especially at the end when the money changes hands.

I did have a couple of issues with the book. Rightly or wrongly, I've gotten the impression from other historical romance that it was considered ruinous for an unmarried young woman of society to spend time alone with a man. Louisa's aunt accompanied her to Xavier's estate, but she and Xavier spent a lot of time alone together. I would have thought that would have been a big no-no. That concern - admittedly, unlearned as it is - niggled me throughout the story and stretched my willing suspension of disbelief a bit.

A larger issue, though, had more of an impact on my appreciation for the read. The dialogue. I don't know if it was a commitment to authenticity in historical speech patterns, or if the dialogue, especially between Xavier and Louisa, was written to be purposely obscure, but it drove me a little nuts. There was so much doublespeak, so much subtext and euphemism, that I had to really struggle sometimes to parse meaning in the conversations, especially between Xavier and Louisa. It significantly slowed my reading and kept me from being able to completely engage with the read.

I haven't read the first book in this series, but the story read fine as a stand-alone historical holiday romance. The main characters endeared themselves to me and their evolving relationship was engaging as the primary plot thread. I just wish I hadn't had to work quite so hard or so often to figure out what they were saying to each other. Even with that issue, though, I felt there were several original and fresh elements in story and character definition. Enough that I'd be interested in following this series as it progresses.

Burning Up by Anne Marsh

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: Smoke Jumpers, Book 1
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 304 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me for review. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



Didn't Light My Fire

The last thing smoke jumper Jack Donovan wants to do during an active fire season is ground his team and return to the small town he left ten years ago, but the phone call he receives one afternoon takes the options out of his hands. He may not be happy about it, but Jack cares too much to ignore the request from the woman who took him and his brothers into her home when they were children, then made them her own.

And when Nonna mentions the fires that have sprung up around the tiny town of Strong, fires that are too frequent and too controlled to be caused by anything natural, Jack does what any responsible son does. He goes home.

He's not back a day before Jack realizes that all is not right in Strong. The fires are more than just suspicious in origin, they are also occurring in a very definite pattern. One that surrounds a small farmstead under new ownership. When Jack finds out the name of the new owner, he realizes that this summer is going to burn hotter than any raging wildfire - and be just as dangerous.

Lily Cortez is back in Strong, the same Lily who haunts his memories, even after ten years. The Lily that he kissed the night before he put his hometown in his rearview mirror. And she seems to be the target of an arsonist.

Even as the battle in him rages between concern for her safety and trepidation about his control, he can still feel the press of her lips against his, remember the fit of her body to his. And in dreams and memories, he still tastes his need for her on his tongue. Seeing Lily again will leave Jack with not one doubt that this summer's fire season is going to be one for the record books. In all sorts of ways.

~*~

As soon as I read the blurb for this book I wanted to get my hands on it. A romantic suspense series is always a good bet for me, but one that features smoke jumpers? Hell yeah, now that's a veritable cornucopia of hot, alpha male goodness. That's like...firemen times four on the Sexy Meter. I was all in.

And before I make it sound like I was totally disappointed by the reality of this series debut, I have to admit, there was plenty of smoking-hot sexiness and alpha-male yumminess to be enjoyed. There were also a couple of great scenes in which the smoke jumpers were doing their thing against raging wildfires, and those were as chilling as they were deadly hot (the not-fun kind). I certainly have a whole new respect for anyone craz....er...dedicated enough to tackle that as a career.

I also had, though, a few pretty big issues with the story. I was never too keen about Jack as the lead character, first of all. He was sexy, yes, and had that whole bad boy thing going for him, sure, but I didn't like him all that much, either. Especially at the start of the book.

When we meet him he's annoyed and feeling put-out, wishing that he hadn't taken the phone call from Nonna because he feels his job is way more important than any piddly issues the town of Strong could possible have. His attitude, frankly, rubbed me all sorts of wrong ways. Then we find out that not only is Nonna the only mother he's ever known, but the man on whose behalf she's calling is the closest he's ever come to an uncle...yet Jack has not once deigned to visit either of them in the ten years since he left town. Even this time he seriously begrudges returning to a town that he seems to hate (for no good reason I could ever figure).

Yeah, at that point the first impressions weren't painting him as my kind of romantic hero. And it got worse before it got better.

Fortunately, there was Lily. And though there were times I questioned some of the actions she took and felt that some of her reactions to the Bad Guy seemed a bit off for someone as strong as she appears to be, I liked who she was as a person quite a lot. I loved that she went toe-to-toe with Jack more than once, thought she was fabulous when she was furious, and felt she handles Jack's return to her life with appealingly adult sensibility.

She was certainly more sympathetic and easier to relate to than Jack, especially at the beginning.

Another bone of contention I had was in the narrative. Most notable in the first half but present throughout, there was quite a bit of repetition that over-emphasized plot points and story elements. It got tedious. Jack and Lily's history was mentioned many, many times, Jack's determination to leave town at summer's end came up over and over, and I didn't need to be told Jack didn't like having walls around him quite as often as I was (though it would've been nice to find out the hows and whys of that phobia). Those and several other points were hashed and rehashed, and it cost the story the page space that could have been better served adding complexity and depth to the plot of both the romance arc and the Bad Guy's story threads.

Some contradictions in the story and a few minor holes in the plot were also troubling, though I enjoyed the concept behind the Bad Guy. Marsh handled the psychology of his character and the escalation of violence both consistently and believably. I wish he'd had a larger role in the storyline, because he posed a serious and significant threat to the characters, one that I would have enjoyed seeing expanded further.

I wish the characters had been better developed and fleshed out  more than they were. I don't think there was enough detail provided about Jack's past, and I don't think the secondary characters had a large enough role in the tale. It seemed like as soon as Jack locked eyes on Lily again he didn't stray far, and Nonna, Ben, even his brothers almost completely ceased to exist for most of the story. None of that made the story or the characters feel particularly well-rounded.

For all those issues, though, Jack grew on me later in the book and I liked him with Lily. The fire scenes were handled well and the stalker/arsonist was dangerous and grimly entertaining. Other than the repetition, always a hot button of mine, the book wasn't a bad read. It just wasn't complex enough in story or character to be consistently entertaining. I'd have to think hard about continuing the series, because the super-hot smoke jumpers just weren't enough for me in this one.

Rev It Up by Julie Ann Walker

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: Black Knights, Inc., Book 3
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 352 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Sourcebooks Casablanca publisher Sourcebooks via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



Almost the Charm

Four years ago, Navy SEAL Jake Sommers made the biggest mistake of his life. He's been paying for it ever since. He pushed away the woman he loved, lost her to his best friend, and held that much better man in his arms as he bled out in a hostile desert halfway around the world.

But that was then, and after working hard to get himself into a better head space, Jake "Snake" Sommers has finally come back to Chicago. He came for one reason: Michelle Carter, the only woman he has ever or will ever love.

His friend and former CO Frank Knight now runs a special ops unit fronted by a custom motorcycle shop. As far as Jake is concerned, Boss is just going to have to deal with him coming back for his sister Chelle. After all this time, Jake isn't going to be taking no for an answer, not from Chelle and certainly not from an overprotective big brother. Michelle is his.

She can't deny seeing Jake again after four long years is a shock that she hadn't expected. And if Michelle were honest, there's more there than just surprise. She's not, however, the same inexperienced woman she had been the night he broke her heart. She's a mother now, first of all, and absolutely nothing is more important to her than her son. Jake Sommers is not to be trusted.

When her brother gets word that his Black Knights are being targeted by a mobster with a grudge, the unit mobilizes and Jake steps up to the plate, offering his help in guarding Michelle - over her protests. As grimly certain as Jake is that no one is getting past him and threatening Michelle and her son, Michelle is equally convinced that having Jake in her home, her sanctuary, is a breach that will make keeping him out of her heart almost impossible.

And that's a fear that goes far beyond anything a potentially psychotic crime lord can dish out.

~*~

After three books of Walker's series, I'm still not entirely sure what to make of it. One one hand, it's got a lot of elements that I enjoy in romantic suspense: sexy alpha men on kick-ass motorcycles, lots of action and danger for all, and lusty, humor-laden romance. On the other hand, I continue to struggle with the dichotomy between the humor and the often brutal violence or serious themes, the only heroine I've liked is Becky from the previous book, and I haven't been completely sold on the plotlines of the external, non-relationship conflicts in any of the books.

It's a conundrum.

I have to admit, the appeal of this book was further hampered by a couple of personal reading preferences of mine. I'm not crazy about second chance romances and if children are involved in the story, I find single fathers far, far more palatable than single mothers. As this story features both a second chance romance and a single mother, it started at a disadvantage for me that is in no way related to the strength of the story.

Other issues were, however. I wasn't crazy about Michelle at any point in the story, but there is a fairly significant reveal late in the book that made me actively dislike her. Throughout the book, though, she seemed just a little too...sheltered, too cautious maybe. And in her environment, with the men as contrast, caution looks like weakness. I couldn't shake that feeling while I was reading. She also had some seriously skewed decision-making skills. Or lack thereof.

Jake was fine as the hero. He didn't wow me, exactly. His character was perhaps a bit too similar to every other alpha male warrior in the genre for that, but I did like him well enough. I understood his flaws and had sympathy for his pain and insecurities. I had quite a lot of sympathy for him towards the end of the book, when his world was spun on its axis, and I wish he'd held out a little longer on granting forgiveness over all that. I'm petty that way.

The threat posed by the Bad Guy was better balanced in the narrative than it has been in previous books. It's still not as fleshed out as I would have preferred, and there were a couple of questionable elements in the arc, but it provided a foundation for the plot that I did enjoy. And then there was the ancillary plot thread that focused on Vanessa and Rock.

I loved them! I loved everything about them both. Their plot thread, while not a complete secondary romance, was still more entertaining to me than the main characters' arc in a lot of ways. Vanessa made me chuckle and Rock melted my heart a little. They fit well together, and their chemistry was rock-solid. I'd love to see them in their own book and wish their roles had been expanded in this one. Without them, this would have been a much less entertaining read.

I really want to be able to connect to this series. So much of it is everything I like in romantic suspense. For one reason or another, though, something always seems to hold me back. In this book, one of the biggest "somethings" came with the big reveal that set up the relationship conflict towards the end of the book. Just thinking about it still makes my eyes cross. Plausibility did not seem to be a consideration for that one.

Normally, three books are more than enough to let me know if a series is going to be a good fit for me. Not so here, but I keep hoping for that one book to make everything click. So far it hasn't quite happened, though there are definitely series and story elements that totally work for me. Work so well, in fact, that it keeps me reading. I guess I'll continue to do so.


The Black Knights, Inc. Series:

  

Deadly Pursuit by Nina Croft

Genre: SciFi Romance; Paranormal Romance; Futuristic
Series: Blood Hunter, Book 2
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 286 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Entangled Publishing via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



Fierce, Furry, Futuristic Romp

Confused and disoriented, Jonathan Decker jerks awake aboard a strange ship. He's lying in bed in an unfamiliar room, not in a cell, and he's alive. He doesn't know why he was released from the maximum security prison he expected to die in, and he doesn't know who got him out.

It isn't until a young cabin boy shows up carrying clothes for him that he's told he's aboard a space cruiser called the El Cazador de la Sangre. Owned and piloted by a vampire, captained and crewed by what seems a band of misfits, it's enough to make his inner wolf twitch. Except for the blood sucker. He just makes Jon want to rend him limb from limb. Werewolves and vampires, after all, do not get along.

The cabin boy is interesting, though. It doesn't take Jon long to realize there's definitely a story there. His first clue is the fact that the boy isn't a boy at all, but a diminutive young woman. The second is that he seems to be the only one who knows that tidbit of information, and he just got there. Jon's not sure he cares enough to find out why that is, or what her story is, but his libido definitely takes notice.

Before he can decide whether to follow up on whatever secrets she's keeping, the ship is attacked and his life becomes more complicated than ever. Someone obviously wants him very, very dead, maybe more than one someone. Not surprising in theory, but almost inconceivable in practice. Then the girl turns out to be the runaway High Priestess of the Church of the Everlasting Life, one of the two most powerful organizations in the universe and not a big fan of his kind, and they're searching the galaxy for her. Which paints a bright red bulls-eye on the ship that is his only means of escape and survival. Not exactly where he needs to be to keep a low profile.

Who would've thought that a long, brutal end in a maximum security penal colony may have been the lesser of the two evils in this new nightmare called his life?

~*~

I'm a little surprised by how much I enjoy the mix of futuristic science fiction and paranormal romance this series provides. I wasn't expecting it with the first book, and though I knew of the juxtaposition going into this one, I was delighted to see it combined with a story that had more appeal than its predecessor. The longer format allowed for more depth and detail in character development, plot, and world definition, all things I felt lacking in the novella-length series starter.

Still, I'm glad I read that first book prior to this one. I don't think this one would read as well as a stand-alone. The story starts off almost exactly where the first book left off and if I hadn't read the other, I think a good portion of the first few chapters would be lacking in emotional significance and/or seem downright confusing.

I thought Jon was a solid lead character. He was abrupt and coarse at times, a bit of a smart ass, and a guy who loved pushing buttons, but he's also a wounded, deeply scarred male who has suffered painful loss and survived by insulating himself from life at every turn. Jaded, cynical, and standoffish, protective, proud, and passionate, there are many layers to that one, some of them downright unpleasant. He was also a fairly traditional alpha male and the lone wolf attitude fit him like a glove.

Alex wasn't as big a draw for me. I didn't dislike her, I just prefer a different type of heroine. Strength, intelligence, and independence are big to me and Alex didn't exactly overwhelm me in that regard. She was a little too skittish and inexperienced both physically and emotionally. It got her in trouble more than once. It wasn't until deep into the latter half off the book, as her relationship with Jon evolves, that I started to enjoy her and imagine them together. That put a bit of a crimp on my feelings about the romance arc of the book.

Beyond that, though, I thought the story was very solid. Full of action and danger, brushed by humor and spiced with lusty sexiness, the external plot conflict was a many-headed monster of tension and taut triumph. Like a juggler with his balls in the air, Croft kept each element of threat and danger churned up, tossed out, and caught again to finish the spin. Gave the book a hunted edge that worked nicely with the keen intent of the characters.

I wish the final conflict and resolution had been handled differently, though. After everything that happened, all that had been lost, found, stolen or sacrificed, the end struck me as fairly anticlimactic. It all got resolved too quick for my taste, and the epilogue didn't mitigate as much of that abruptness as I'd hoped it would. Leading up to that, though, the non-romantic story elements were wholly engaging.

This series is shaping up very nicely and has furthered the steady progress being made in turning me into a sci-fi romance fan. It wasn't too long ago that I didn't read sci-fi romance at all, but I have it admit, with entertaining stories like this one that blends my favored paranormal romance with the less familiar science fiction, the genre is definitely growing on me and I look forward to more.


The Blood Hunter Series:

  

One Wrong Move by Shannon McKenna

Genre: Paranormal Romantic Suspense
Series: McClouds & Friends, Book 9
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 400 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Kensington Publishing via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



My Wrong Move Was Not Picking Up This Series Sooner

Nina Christie has had bad days before. Who hasn't? She never expected to have the concept quite so thoroughly redefined for her, however. Then she was accosted on the street in the predawn hours, a crazed, beaten, and bloody woman calling her name, stealing her phone, stabbing a needle into her arm...

As the world goes dark, confusion and horror clamor viciously inside her. Nina recognized the woman who injected her with whatever was in that needle. But recognition brought no release from dawning terror.

One would think waking up in a hospital, realizing you're still alive, would be a general improvement at that point, but there were a lot of hours left in this particular bad day of hers. With one injection of an unknown substance, Nina has been hijacked from her safe little world, become the hunted for a power-hungry, evil group of people who have deadly, manipulative skills and abilities no human should ever have. And they want Nina dead. Not for who she is, but for what's inside her.

Fighting hallucinations, suddenly hearing people's thoughts, escaping a kidnapping attempt, barely surviving more than one attempt on her life, Nina's reality as been brutally stripped down to one prevalent fact: without help, she's dead. But even when friend-of-a-friend Alex Aaro rescues her from a fate worse than death and agrees to guard her until other help arrives, Nina can't help but wonder.

Is Aaro a grim-faced, aggressive, antagonistic, all around less-than-pleasant knight in shining armor...or is he just another deadly element in a day overloaded with them?

~*~

I love to read, and of course I prefer to enjoy what I'm reading, so I can't begin to tell you how annoying it is to realize I've missed out on so many potentially awesome books. Based on how much I enjoyed this ninth (and it hurts me just to type that) installment of McKenna's McClouds & Friends series, I'm going to be kicking myself over this one for a long, long time.

This was such an adrenaline-laced, action-packed, hell of a good time! I absolutely loved main characters Nina and Aaro, the world was well-defined and richly detailed, and the plot was a breakneck race for survival that left me breathless. Some elements were a bit confusing, and the scenes that featured characters who had obviously been previously introduced in the series didn't have quite the emotional impact on me that they would probably have had on a reader familiar with the earlier books, but this still read just fine as a stand-alone.

Not that I'm going to let it stand alone. I have absolutely every intention of continuing on in this series now that I know it exists.

Nina and Aaro were the absolute stars in the story in every way. Not only did I find them both well-conceived and layered, with their own flaws and peccadilloes defining and deepening them as characters, they were also just a lot of fun to spend time with. I was worried at first that Nina would be a bit of a damsel in distress, but she's a real trouper. Witty, sarcastic, and tough when it counts, she comes through nicely. And the banter between her and Aaro was truly classic.

About Aaro...wow...loved him so much. Sexy in that bad boy, alpha male, my-feminine-side-is-a-9mm sort of way, he was all sarcastic aggression, bad temper, and Slavic gorgeousness. Totally yummy and in no way a nice guy, I loved his beleaguered honor and integrity and adored his antisocial attitude. And watching him be floored by his reaction to Nina...that was all kinds of good times. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Yum!

Their chemistry was off-the-charts awesome, but I was so happy that McKenna kept their responses and evolving relationship as organic to their situation as it could be, all things considered. The timeline of the novel is rather brief, and I normally don't have a lot of tolerance for romances that spring up that quickly, but somehow, maybe because so very much is going on around them and happening to them in such a short time, the speed and depth of their feelings for each other didn't feel rushed or unrealistic.

The story itself was just as wild and wonderful as the relationship between Aaro and Nina. I have to admit, the beginning read a little slow to me because the book pulls no punches, dropping readers head-first into the established world. I was confused initially, and it did take me a little bit to wrap my head around some of the critical plot elements and the various factions involved. And frankly there was just a hell of a lot going on in the book with which I had to become familiar. I can't really blame McKenna for it taking me awhile to catch on.

The fact that I was eager to do so in the face of my initial confusion is a credit to McKenna, actually, because had Aaro and Nina not been such strong, compelling characters, I may have put the book down before I had time to get acclimated. I was hooked, though, the first time they spoke to each other over the phone, and on top of my delight over what a bad mood bear Aaro was, my interest in the story was cemented.

This is definitely a book I'd recommend to fans of romantic suspense with paranormal elements. It's a solid installment in a series I plan on continuing, and I'm sure I'll eventually stop kicking myself for missing out on so much of it. Now I know, and after enjoying Aaro and Nina's story I just couldn't be happier about that.

Quotables:

"They're watching us," he said. "They'll follow."

She looked around wildly. "But where? I don't see-"

"Me neither," he said. "I feel them. They make my balls itch."

"Oh," she said inanely. "Must be nice to have an early warning system. Are you sure it's not just a fungus?"


"So people shoot at you a lot, then?"

"More often than I'd like," he admitted.

"Have you considered trying behavioral modification to address that problem?" she asked, a little too sweetly.

He shrugged. "It's more time effective to just shoot back."


He opened the freezer, which was amazingly functional. Some grubbing around yielded a handful of Lean Cuisines. He pulled out five, threw them into the microwave to nuke. "There," he said. "See? I cooked."

"Wow," Nina murmured. "The confidence, the skill, the flair. That was sexy, Aaro. I love to see a guy strut his stuff in the kitchen."

Run the Risk by Lori Foster

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: Love Undercover, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 379 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by HQN publisher Harlequin via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



A Sexy and Fun Romantic Suspense

It was supposed to be a simple undercover op that would lead him to the man who killed his best friend. Detective Logan Riske has Pepper Yates in his sights and through her he plans to get to her brother, the only known witness to his friend's murder. All he has to do is play at being a construction worker, a helpful neighbor, and an interested red-blooded man as he slowly, carefully reels her in.

Logan is severely thrown, though, when he realizes just how much of her own reeling the shy, skittish, but surprisingly seductive woman is doing to him while he's at it. And just how effective it's been on his control. So much so that the longer he stays undercover, the more his focus switches from finding her brother to keeping Pepper safe from the crime boss that would happily see them both dead.

It never once occurred to Logan that he wasn't the only one keeping secrets in the relationship he's fostered with Pepper. And even as those secrets finally rear up and knock him flat, they could very well end up more than risking his case, but tearing his heart out as well.

~*~

For years I've enjoyed Lori Foster's romantic suspense novels and this series debut continued that streak quite nicely. Likable characters with sizzling chemistry combined with a solid plotline delivered a truly entertaining read. I enjoyed the plot twists and touches of humor, and the secondary characters provided intriguing glimpses into the future of the series. This was an all-around good read.

Not only was Logan a sexy bit of alpha male, but Pepper was a treat as well. I loved how they interacted, the heat between them was intense, and Pepper really kept the poor guy off balance from the start. Then there was the fact that Logan was hot for Pepper before he got to see beyond her disguise. That truly set him apart in my esteem. I'm always, always a sucker for the heroes who fall for the Plain Jane, seeing something of value in them beyond appearance, and that was totally Logan in this book.

And of course, when the gloves truly came off, I was tickled pink by Pepper's response and Logan's reaction to it. Loved that. I think I could actually hear Logan's jaw slamming on the floor in one scene.

Foster did a nice job keeping the threat of the Bad Guy cloaked in threats and mystery, teasing readers with the suspense threads in such a way that you don't really know the motivations or intentions of anyone but the main characters in most cases. Even partners and brothers were not immune from having their loyalties questioned. It kept the tension level high throughout the book.

Some elements of the plot weren't to my personal taste. I'm not a big fan of the mafioso-type Bad Guy trope, the city crime lord who holds court over a terrified populace. That's just not my gig and in this book it seemed a little overplayed and cliched, especially during the story's climax. Fortunately, my investment in the characters and their relationship was enough to balance that out and still keep me entertained.

This wasn't the most complex and mulit-layered story I've ever read, nor was it particularly gritty and realistic. There were several elements that worked to keep the tone set on the lighter end of the romantic suspense spectrum. I was perfectly okay with that, even when some of those elements tread closer towards absurdity for their humorous impact. There was simply a nice balance between the dark and the light that gave the book a sexy, fun feel as opposed to one more realistic and intense.

As far as series debuts go, this one hit the right notes to make me want to return to it when the series progresses. I very much enjoyed the introduction to the characters who will be featured in the next book. The chemistry between them was touched on very briefly and in some pretty amusing ways. With the hints given about one of those character's lives, there is some great story potential to look forward to.

Sexy, fun, graced by touches of humor and just enough danger to keep it relevant and interesting, this series debut by Foster delivered everything I was hoping for in a quick, easy, smooth read. Given my familiarity with Foster's work, I wasn't expecting anything less, but it's always nice to get exactly what you want out of a book when you want it.

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.
hide

Goodreads

Tracy's bookshelf: read

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

More of Tracy's books »
Book recommendations, book reviews, quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists

Follow OGBDA!

Follow with Linky

Follow by Email

Coming Reviews