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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

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Black Wings by Christina Henry

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Black Wings, Book 1
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 295 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

Didn't Totally Fly For Me

Madeline Black knows death. Not personally, really, but certainly more intimately than most. She is, in fact, an Agent of Death. Much like a junior associate at any major corporation, she's fairly low on the totem pole, but she and other agents like her get their weekly assignments of impending demises. It's her job to go out and collect the recently departed souls, give them their choices, and guide them to the door.

The Door. The one between the living and the dead, between this plane of existence and whatever is next. Maddy has no more an idea of what's beyond that door than the normal mortal. No one does until they go through it themselves, agents included. Maddy's in no rush to find out for herself.

Pity for her, then, that someone or something wants to hasten the process along.

When her best friend is killed and she comes face to face with the monster that killed and - god - maybe ate his soul, Maddy's horror knows no bounds. She barely survives the experience, but not before the creature tells her that he's the thing that killed her mother. And now he's coming after her.

With a suspicious new tenant who is more gorgeous than human, a mysterious increase in demon encounters, and a sudden massive fluctuation in her own magical ability, Maddy's life is suddenly thrown into chaos. The kind that will kill her if she doesn't figure out what's going on around her, what part she has to play in it, and who she can trust. Without those answers, Maddy will end up just as dead as those she guides.

~*~

It seems I can't crack an urban fantasy book lately without brushing up against some sort of angel mythos. That wouldn't be a problem if I liked angel mythos, but it's not my favorite thing. I don't hate it, but it's very hit-and-miss for me. In this one it was more of a miss, but part of my problem with it in this case was the confusion created by the delivery, as opposed to the proposed mythos itself.

There was a lot going on in the plot of this book, a couple of different factions trying to put an end to Maddy's life, and a lot of people creating chaos in that life. It certainly made it hard to keep the rules of the world straight, because the Bad Guys don't follow them, yet Maddy was often held accountable for them. I wish the story had been a little more streamlined, or that some of the developments had been held off for later books. I think it would've helped both with my big picture comprehension and with the overall appeal of the book.

I didn't mind Maddy as the lead character, so that's a plus. She was fairly standard for the genre with her irreverent nature and her trouble with authority. Much more wise-ass than bad-ass, but I have to admit, I'm a fan of the snark. Her gargoyle Beezle provided some amusement as a secondary character, too, but her new tenant Gabriel didn't really work for me as the love interest. His backstory was interesting, but I didn't feel the chemistry that I was being told existed between him and Maddy. Instead I felt a bit emotionally manipulated by their relationship restrictions.

A few things about the story threw me off. I thought Maddy's reaction to her friend's death was oddly unremarkable. Her sudden power upgrade struck me as not only too convenient but also a bit contrived, and gave her a vibe that tread dangerously close to being Mary Sue. I didn't like the sudden declaration from her boss at the end, either. That came out of nowhere and just seemed to muddy already heavily muddied waters.

Muddy water actually about sums up how I feel about the whole read. There was nothing I could point to and say that it was unequivocally bad or that I didn't like it, per se, but there wasn't anything of particular merit that stood out as unabashedly awesome, either. The story was a little muddy, the characters a little pedestrian, and the mythos a little convoluted and not to my personal taste. It was, for me, just an okay read.

Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: N/A
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 342 Pages
Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle, Audio

A Ghostly Good Time

Andie Miller is on a mission. As soon as she confronts her ex-husband and gives him back the checks he's sent her every month for the ten years since their divorce, she can finally close that unfortunate chapter of her life. She has to; she's planning to marry her soon-to-be-fiance. That's the only reason she's back in the prestigious lawyer's office, staring at him over the very desk that caused so many problems in their marriage. It's the only reason she's intent on getting North Archer to stop reminding her every single month about the depth of the mistake she made all those years ago.

That being said, she's not quite sure how North manages to rope her into doing him a favor that includes leaving town and moving into an allegedly haunted house to act as teacher and nanny to two troubled young children to whom North serves as guardian. Okay, yes, Andie actually is a teacher, and is sure she can handle that aspect of it, but she has a future she needs to see about living without facing more and constant reminders of the only man she ever loved so wildly and incandescently that it almost completely burned her out when she lost him. After all, she and North had their chance and he didn't just lose it, he threw it away.

North is still reeling from the thought of Andie getting remarried, but he refuses to let that sway his behavior. Well, he'll stop letting it sway his behavior as soon as she's set up in that monstrosity of a house he inherited and is taking care of his two charges. It's not like he expects Andie to stick around for long. Andie never sticks with anything - not even their marriage - but he is desperate with the loss of the last nanny and a bit intent on getting Andie away from whomever she's planning on marrying. Not that he'd allow that desperation to show...or determine his actions, really. He's far too mature for that nowadays.

But if she needs something for those children while she's at the house, she'll have to call him. And he'll make sure she has what she needs. Even if, or maybe because of it, what she'll need is him.

~*~

What an odd book. In many different ways, actually. It's set in 1992, first of all, and the reason for that, according to a comment in the book, is "just because." It's a romance, but the romantic lead characters aren't even in the same part of the state through most of the book and their only communication is occasional phone calls. It's cute and has a light theme, even a nice bit of humor, but the ghosts - and there are ghosts - are creepy and deadly and the children have been traumatized by them. It's all just rather peculiar.

But it is original, I'll give it that.

Not everything worked for me. The romance, a second-chance romance for those who favor the type, wasn't completely successful with me. I had a hard time wrapping my mind around how Andie and North acted with each other after seeing each other for the first time in ten years. That seemed a really long time to just turn around and ask your ex-wife to drop everything and trot on down to a veritable castle and watch over the two troubled kids you inherited. It was even more disconcerting to me that Andie did it, and that the subsequent communications between them were friendly enough, and familiar enough, to disavow a ten year separation. Odd.

By the time North and Andie were once more face-to-face, weeks had passed, as had the majority of the book, so the reconciliation period was very brief. It seems more a romance based on new awareness of what happened in their past than building on who they are as people in the present. Fortunately, I happened to like both North and Andie very much, so I was at the very least amenable to their romance, but it didn't really factor into a large portion of my enjoyment with the book.

I do, however, have a bit of a soft spot for ghost stories and haunted houses, so the storyline was particularly appealing. So were the kids and their evolving relationship with Andie. I don't usually prefer children in my romance books, but Alice and Carter stole my heart quickly, efficiently, and completely. They, along with Andie, were the high points of the book and what motivated most of my pleasure with the read.

Andie was a great character. She's got a practical nature and a take-charge attitude that appealed. She has some commitment issues, but she quickly becomes fiercely dedicated to those kids, and I thought Crusie did a particularly fantastic job evolving her from a ghost disbeliever to someone who was facing down spectral anomalies like a pro and protecting her charges like a mama bear. I know I tend to be hypercritical of female lead characters, but I enjoyed Andie quite a lot. I don't think this book would have worked nearly as well as it did for me if I hadn't, either, because it's really more her as a lead character than her and North sharing those duties.

North did have his moments, though. His dry and sardonic wit - especially in the scenes with his mother - were fairly brilliant with understated elegance.

I liked the book very much. So much that I'd happily reread it in the future. Not for the romance, though. For the ghost story and the characters, absolutely. It wasn't what I would consider traditional Crusie, even if she does seem to favor male and female protagonists from very different backgrounds or diametrically opposed ideologies, usually one who is wrapped pretty tight and one who isn't. That element was apparent in this book. It was just such a secondary storyline that it didn't really drive the narrative. For me, it was all about Alice, Carter, and Andie, and I liked that just fine.

The Demon Lover by Juliet Dark

Genre: Paranormal Gothic Romance
Series: Fairwick Chronicles, Book 1
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 448 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Ballantine Books publisher Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

Not What I Was Expecting

It was as if she was under a compulsion, her rash acceptance of the teaching position at the small, middle-of-nowhere Fairwick College in upstate New York. It wasn't as if city lover Cailleach McFay could seriously imagine living in such a remote backwater. Still, from the moment Callie set eyes on the ramshackle but historically significant Victorian known as Honeysuckle House, nearly overrun by the nearby forest...or overrunning it, she wasn't quite sure, Callie's long-term goals seemed to vanish in a puff of smoke. She accepted the associate professor position. She bought the house. She moved to Fairwick. Moved into Honeysuckle House.

And the dreams began.

Dark, seductive, deeply sexual, she dreams of a mysterious man of moonlight and shadow slipping into her room, taking control of her body to rapturous ends. These dreams wring her out, leave her worn of body and mind and wan by the light of day, yet she yearns for him, for her ghostly lover's embrace. Until she finds out what he is, what she is, and exactly what sort of town she's moved to.

Callie has been ruthlessly seduced and drained by an incubus, she's a witch, and Fairwick is hometown to all manner of supernatural beings. It is, after all, the home of the last door between the human realm and Faerie. A fact that had been rather pointedly withheld from both the town's and college's informational materials.

~*~

Atmospheric and highly stylized, Dark's narrative pays tribute to classic Gothic horror in more ways than one. It's beautifully written, with passages that are pristine in description and dipped in the quagmire of emotional obfuscation. There were moments that were effortlessly creepy and rich with portent, and others that were more amusing than dark. In all, the theme and the style of the story were fully satisfying and artfully crafted.

I just wish I'd liked the actual story being told.

In truth, it wasn't what I was expecting. For some reason I'd gotten the impression it was more of an urban fantasy romance, or paranormal romance, and instead it was more like...Harry Potter goes to college on Quaaludes. Or like it's intended to be a bit more towards the high-brow literary reading end of the spectrum than mass market consumption, if you know what I mean.

Hey, don't get me wrong. I like the high-brow just as much as the next girl, but when you're expecting one thing and get another it's a bit jarring. And I can't even say there's anyone to blame for that erroneous impression but myself, either. I don't even know how I got it, but had it I did. Because I did, my expectations for the pace of the story and the content of the plot were skewed. I'm sure that affected my impression of the book, too, which is a shame.

I was expecting something significant to happen, for example, and nothing ever really did until close to the end of the book. Instead of settling in to admire the way in which the story unfolded, I was put off by how slow the plot was to develop, how it seemed to meander aimlessly in the middle, and how laborious the wait seemed before anything of note actually did occur. The book had its creepy moments, and it had parts that hinted at things not being quite right, but the storyline was more a culmination of several little things and few of those developed into notable action.

As far as the characters went, my favorites were the secondary characters, who were underutilized but charming and vibrant in their scenes. I couldn't quite pin down Callie, though. She had her strengths as the lead character, and I think there's potential there, but she wasn't the most aware or intelligent chickadee in the nest for much of the tale, and some of the things she did towards the end of the book bothered me. I didn't like her choices.

Frankly, I felt more sympathetic to the "bad guy" of the piece than I did her. In fact, I was a little disturbed by how the plot ended.

Beautifully written as it was, the story was too disappointing for me to actually enjoy the read. Maybe part of that was the unrealized expectations I had, but regardless, I can't say I liked this one. Even more, given the ending, I'm leery about seeing how things develop and progress. Callie's choices and actions were so suspect to me at the end that I'm not sure revisiting her world would appeal. Maybe some distance will change my mind about that. I'd at least have a firmer grasp on what to expect, and there were a couple of characters and a few plot threads I am truly curious about. We'll see.

Hard to Hold by Mallory Kane

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: New Orleans' Finest, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided to me by the author for review. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

A Series Debut Worth Attention

In The Big Easy, a couple of dead bodies garner more flies than interest, especially considering the victims are high risk runaways. Except these victims have a connection that TV news journalist Reghan Connor suspects is more than just a coincidence. One man, NOPD Detective Devereux Gautier, knew both victims, had helped both of them at the teen center he'd created during an eight month suspension he'd recently served. A suspension that Connor's unrelenting and unforgiving investigation into the detective's mysterious past had instigated.

Yeah, they have a past, she and the detective.

When she gets to the crime scene of the second victim and has her suspicions confirmed in gruesome fashion, Reghan has no choice but to acknowledge the truth. She may know who is behind the killings and she may know exactly why they're happening. If she's right, that means her and the black-eyed, surly detective are destined to have a future together, too. And for some reason that thought sends a frisson of sensation through her that far more closely resembles anticipation than dismay...

~*~

Mallory Kane kicks off her new romantic suspense series with the solid opening gambit that is Hard to Hold. It's clear very early into the book that the characters and backstory have been previously introduced, but not in such a way that made it difficult to follow the storyline here. I do wonder if some of my impressions during the final quarter of the book would have been different had I read the book that spawned this spin-off series, The Lawman Who Loved Her, a Harlequin Intrigue published in 2001. There were a couple of times I felt I was missing some information, but nothing that became significantly detracting.

I'm a big fan of the psychological thriller type of romantic suspense, and the suspense thread in this one was very entertaining. Kane creates a casually intense narrative with seeming ease, stacking up the bodies and focusing the investigation as the danger to the main characters climbs ever-higher. I never had any question about who the Big Bad was, but whether or not I'm surprised by a big reveal at the end has never been a determining factor in my level of appreciation for a book.

What is a factor is the appeal of the main characters. NOPD Detective Devereux Gautier, a name that couldn't be any more Cajun if it tried, is a dark, brooding, intense alpha male with a ton of baggage and a heart of gold he's kept so carefully hidden he doesn't even realize it's there. Absolutely nothing wrong with his intense, yummy goodness, trust me. He's hotter than the Louisiana bayou in August, and he's got the sort of maelstrom-behind-locked-doors presence that I find particularly appealing. Investigative reporter and TV news journalist Reghan Connor was more of a conundrum for me.

I honestly can't think of one single book I've read prior to this one that inspired such diametrically opposed feelings about one character. In the current events that comprise the suspense plot arc of the book, I liked her very much as a lead character. She's smart and stubborn, she's understandably fearful when the bad stuff starts to get directed at her, and yet she doesn't let that fear destroy her gutsy determination, and once a bad thing happens, she bounces back relatively quickly. She is not a whimpering victim. Those are all very big positives for me. Problem is, her backstory, her history with Dev, her initial attitude and a few of the things she says early in the book were so completely repugnant to me that I honestly would have cheered had she been an early victim of the killer. And not all the issues I had were resolved to my satisfaction by the end of the book.

I would have at least liked to see some genuine regret for the hand grenade she'd exploded all over Dev's life and maybe a small paradigm shift acknowledged given her desperation to protect her privacy at the end of the book. Without it she seemed fairly hypocritical, what with her initial assertion that facts and truth are the same thing and people deserve to know all the facts all the time. Ugh. Even now I shudder thinking of the highly implausible ignorant naivety she was spouting in the first few chapters. I really didn't like her very much at first.

Maybe that affected the appeal of the romance arc in the book. I'm not sure. I do think that story-wise, there was a bit of a disconnect with those plot threads. At the beginning, Connor said she'd met Dev exactly three times, one of those time when she'd dissected him in front of a TV camera for her television show. The results were ugly but she is quite clear of conscience (what little she has) about the whole thing and damn the consequences...or the reasons. Throughout the book, the focus of the story stays closer to the suspense than the romance, so by the end, when the inevitable HEA scenes started piling up, I hadn't been sufficiently drawn into any sort of emotional connection between Dev and Connor and hadn't been able to buy their sudden depth of feeling for each other. I was still stuck on the idea that Connor had a lot of apologizing and growing up to do emotionally and professionally, and I couldn't help thinking that without some severe grovelling, if I were Dev, I'd never forgive her.

As well written and cohesive as the suspense was in the book, the problems I had with Connor and the romance arc kept me from being completely satisfied with the read. I enjoyed the suspense plot quite a lot, though, and I'm really hoping the second book in the series features Rick. I think he was in all of two scenes in the whole book, but he so stole each one of them that I'm a bit desperate for his story. I'd love it, though, if the female lead in that book didn't have quite so tumultuous a past with whomever is going to be the lead male.

Bad Boys Do by Victoria Dahl

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Donovan Brothers Brewery, Book 2
Rating: 5 Stars
Length: 384 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by HQN Books publisher Harlequin via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

They Do, They Really Do!

After divorcing a man who had crushed her spirit and cheated on her, Olivia Bishop is determined to get herself a life. When her attempts have her crossing paths with the good looking and charming bartender Jamie Donovan, she throws caution...and maybe even a little good sense...to the wind and makes a trade with him.

The quintessential bad boy will show her how to have fun and she'll help him, teaching him all she knows about how to effectively start and manage a restaurant. That's what she does, she teaches business classes at the university. One of which, a non-credit course, Jamie attends religiously.

Not that his brother and sister know that. No. Jamie Donovan has long since given up hoping either of them will take him seriously about anything he does or any plans he has for their brewery. Not that he blames them, really. His past hasn't been exactly problem-free. Still, he's grown up more than they will ever give him credit for, especially his brother.

Maybe that's why Olivia seems like such a breath of fresh air to Jamie. She's all kinds of sexy and sophisticated, and at a few years older than Jamie, she's got an air of maturity that he finds very appealing. And she takes his dream for expanding the brewery seriously. Takes him seriously.

Teaching her to have fun serves them both, because being with her makes him happy in a way he's never felt before. Problem is, on a personal level, she's not looking for anything beyond the fun they're having, and for the first time in Jamie's life, he is.

~*~

I have to admit, I wasn't a fan of the characters in Good Girls Don't. I couldn't stand Tessa and felt only slightly more charitable towards Jaime than his brother Eric did. Despite Dahl's unquestionable writing accumen, that book didn't work for me because of it. And for the record, you could've heard the emotional whiplash I was getting as I read this book. I loved it. Not only did I love it, but I gained a whole new level of respect for Dahl. I've admired several of her books as the light, sexy reads they are, but she really struck a chord with me in this one, a chord much deeper than I was anticipating.

Parts of this book were gut wrenching. The confrontations between Jaime and Eric just killed me, and Jaime's insecurities because of his guilt and his helplessness over the brewery were written with such poignant realism that it grabbed me by the throat and squeezed. For all the surrounding lightness and fun of the romance, there was a plethora of significant and painful issues that touched me deeply.

And okay, as much as I loathed Eric for his...well...Eric-ness, I can't help but think back to how I felt about Jamie after the first book. Given the lack of info Eric has, I can sorta understand his feelings. I still think he was a jackass, and out of line more than once, but I understood his motives. This is one deeply wounded family still carrying a tremendous burden over the death of their parents. It fractured them on a fundamental level and Dahl has proven brilliant in the deft portrayal of the many faces of grief.

But lest I give the impression that this book was all weighty, emotional issues, let me assure you - most of it was just flat out fabulous, flirty, sexy romance. Olivia and Jaime were three dimensional and very believable, and their chemistry was wonderful. Part of that chemistry was built around each individual character's quirks and peccadilloes, so it all felt very organic and natural, realistic and believable. Their relationship maintained a unique blend of innocent fun and seductive intensity that both charmed and thrilled me.

I absolutely fell in love with Jaime. He was such a great character. Sexy, sure, charming, absolutely, but his quirks and insecurities added depth and made him three dimensional. It gave him an often nebulous sense of genuine human appeal I've often felt lacking in the characters of lighter-themed modern romance. He was mature, which was a pleasant surprise, and intelligent, and he had an open, honest nature that I liked and admired. I found him thoroughly entertaining and endearing.

I also liked Olivia very much, even though her behavior was suspect in a couple of places. She, too, was a character to whom I could relate. Olivia's latent insecurities and the scars she bears from her past define her character but didn't limit her ability to reach for happiness. Just her willingness to trust that it would last. I got that. I understood her, and more, I respected how she behaved late in the book following the ubiquitous relationship conflict between her and Jaime. I do think she got off a little easy for all she said to the man, some of which was pretty harsh, but that is literally the only niggle of the entire book for me.

I'm still a little stunned by the complete about-face I felt between the first book and the second, but I'm going to try not to dwell. I'm just going to savor the read, content in my respect for Dahl and my appreciation for her touching, poignant, heart-felt...and yes, fun, flirty, and sexy romance. I can't wait to see what she does for Mr. Uptight himself, Jaime and Tessa's brother Eric.


Donovan Brothers Brewery Series:
  

Play of Passion by Nalini Singh

Genre: Paranormal Romance; Alternate Universe; Futuristic
Series: Psy/Changeling, Book 9
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 356 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

Not a Favorite In the Series

Tensions between the Psy and the changeling have never been higher as Silence continues to fracture and the insidious Pure Psy movement grows. The SnowDancer pack and their allies DarkRiver are bracing for increased hostilities and surprise attacks. It's definitely not a good time for hormones to be raging out of control, especially if you're a dominant female wolf and one of the pack alpha's most trusted lieutenants.

Indigo Riviere doesn't have time to play around with pack flirt and charmer, Drew Kincaid. He's declared his interest in her but he pushed too far and is too obviously looking to work off some stress in the naked and sweaty way. Problem is, he's younger than her, also dominant, and his position in the pack is...complicated. It's confusing her wolf. Hell, it's confusing her, too. She doesn't want to lose his friendship, there's no doubt he stirs her blood, but Indigo may just be too dominant to ever accept him.

Andrew Kincaid has bled for his pack and he's killed for them. His job demands it. He deals with the dark weight of responsibility by smiling, flirting, and having a good time. It's a coping mechanism, and it has its own purposes, but it doesn't for one minute mean he's the harmless young rogue Indy thinks he is. Drew is a dominant wolf who knows exactly who his mate is and he will use every bit of charm at his considerable disposal to convince the stubborn woman, no matter how long it takes. Indigo is his, and not even she can say otherwise.

~*~

Let me just get this out of the way before I go any further: Singh is one of my favorite authors, both her Psy/Changeling and Guild Hunter series are two of my favorite series, and I love how she writes. I need to say that first because I this book didn't really work for me, and within the parameters of the series, it was a little disappointing. I'm not saying I think it's a bad book. In any other series by any other author, I probably would've liked it just fine, but in this series the bar has been long-since set extremely high, and this one didn't reach it for me.

First, the characters. I was a little surprised at how flat and two dimensional both Indigo and Drew seemed to me. That's nothing near normal in this series. Hell, even the characters I haven't liked since the series started have gotten more fleshed out than these two. Their relationship evolution, as well as the requisite conflicts between them, also seemed limited and lacking depth.

She's a dominant; so is he. She's older than he is, and his pack position isn't quite clear in the hierarchy of SnowDancer. That's the whole of the relationship conflict that gets hashed out throughout the romance arc of the book. Oh, and he's charming and she's stubborn.

There's something wrong when I can sum up both Singh's main characters and their relationship conflict in a couple of sentences. And this is something I never thought I'd say, but I was a little bored by the will they/won't they mating dance. It was just too limited to really seem like a question with consequences.

On the other hand, the "they will" moments were chock full of lusty good times and smoking hot sex scenes!

There were plot threads that could have added some depth or insight into the characters, but they were dropped or lacked development. Drew speaks with Indigo's mother and she mentions he needs to meet Indigo's sister and someone else that she keeps nameless for a time. I got the impression that meeting these two were supposed to give Drew insight into Indigo's personality. He never met the sister, and I think the nameless one was supposed to be Indigo's aunt Aida, but when he did meet her, nothing was mentioned that hearkened back to that conversation between Drew and Tarah, so I wasn't sure.

Another problem for me with this book was the limited page time the characters were given for their relationship to evolve. Between the shifting focus in the narrative from plotlines that encapsulated the pack's issues and the Psy Council antics, neither of which were particularly cohesive, nor furthered the series storyline arc in any significant manner, the whole book felt jumpy and jerky and a little disorganized to me. It also seemed largely inconsequential to the series big picture.

It did, though, serve as a very nice prologue to set up what I can only guess is going to be a cataclysm of storytelling in the next book. Hawke's book. Sienna's book. The one I've been waiting for since the series started. The tension between those two has been ratcheting up, over, and off the charts for several books now and I can't wait to see how it all plays out. But not at the expense of this one, and that's exactly how I felt about this book at the end. That it was little more than cannon fodder for the next.

But I stand by my opening comment. Singh's a favorite. So is this series. While Play of Passion may not have lit my fires, there's just been too many fantastic reads so far to get upset about it. Every series has its transition books, books that seem more to change the series direction than further the established series arc, and maybe that's exactly what this book was intended to do. It would've been a great book in any other series or world. Just wasn't quite enough to make me happy in this one.


Psy/Changeling Series:

  
  
  

Head Over Heels by Jill Shalvis

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Lucky Harbor, Book 3
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 368 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Forever publisher Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

The Wild Child Strikes Sparks

As the only one of three half-sisters actually raised - if you can call it that - by their footloose and free-spirited mother, Chloe Treager didn't have a traditional childhood. Since then she's spent her life living exactly as she's wanted. Irresponsible, sometimes, larcenous, occasionally, but she lives life on her own terms.

Chloe had been drawn into helping renovate, co-own, and run the Bed & Breakfast left for her and her half-sisters when their mother died, and the three women who started out as strangers have slowly grown closer in the interim, becoming tentative friends, even contentious family. More and more lately the wild child is feeling things, thinking things she's never thought or felt before. Words like home, roots, and family are taking on whole new meanings. It's both terrifying...and a little thrilling.

Women might not like to admit their age, but men don't like to act theirs. ~ Chloe Treager

Sheriff Sawyer Thompson has been the bane of her existence since she arrived in town, dogging her steps the whole way. Sexy, solid, and utterly inflexible, he's like the poster child for anti-fun. He obviously doesn't approve of her, which is fine, as she doesn't much care for him, either...even though that body of his does make her reach for her asthma inhaler whenever he's in sight. And the intensity with which he's been looking at her lately is making her wonder just how many laws she would need to break to snap his ironclad control.

Between her limitations, though, and his steely spine, any scenario between the two of them could only be a pipe dream. Right?


~*~
It's always darkest before dawn. So if you're going to steal your neighbor's newspaper, that's the time to do it. ~ Chloe Treager

As one of the most dependable of my go-to authors for fun, sexy contemporary romance, I've read several books by Shalvis. Not once have I been disappointed. It was no surprise that the Lucky Harbor book I had been most looking forward to was such a darn good time. I'd have been stunned if it hadn't been. There's just something about the combination of characters and story that Shalvis creates that hits my happy reader buttons just right. Sure, some books hit them harder than others, but all have entertained. With this one, she's delivered my favorite of the three sisters' books and thrilled me with the glimpse of the future installment. I'm so glad this series is continuing, because both the town and the inhabitants of Lucky Harbor are wonderfully quirky and comfortably familiar and I'm not ready to pick up stakes and leave town limits just yet.

Finally, finally happy readers get a closer look at the inner workings of former bad boy and current straight arrow Sawyer Thompson. He's a whole lotta yum wrapped up in a Sheriff's uniform. I loved his quiet intensity and his inner demons, and I was thrilled by how he struggled with his desire for the one woman who he thought was the worst woman possible for him. Solid, strong, kind, dependable, he was steel wrapped around granite imprisoning a wild, untamed passion.

And he and the wild child were perfect for each other.

They say money talks, but all mine ever says is, "good-bye, sucker." ~ Chloe Treager

Speaking of the wild child, I think it was Chloe's emotional journey and personal evolution that touched me the most deeply in this book. Her childhood was not the stuff of fairy tales and dreams. Seeing things from her side, exploring the ghosts of her past and finally understanding that being the child that their mother kept wasn't necessarily a good thing, was important in this book. It redeemed a character who came off as flighty, self involved, and irresponsible in the first book...marginally better in the second...and added a poignant depth to her character that Chloe herself would probably scoff at before acknowledging.

This book is pure Jill Shalvis romance fun. And unlike the previous book, which I felt gave too little attention to the sister relationships, this book had plenty of great scenes with Maddie, Tara, and Chloe together. I had felt there was still a lot of room for development between the three of them and I was thrilled that they were given the plot threads and page time to fully evolve and cement their bonds as sisters. Oh, and for the record, Chloe's friend Lance broke, crushed, and stomped on my heart. That poor guy just killed me. I'm praying for a fictional miracle there, I have to be honest.

My hat is once again off to Shalvis for providing such a fine bit of reading enjoyment. There seemed to be less relationship angst or heartache in this book than in the previous book, which I appreciated. There was also an ancillary suspense plot arc that was nice. Oh, and of course there was a very healthy amount of sizzling sex. It wouldn't be a Shalvis book without the sexy love scenes. Or the humor that was liberally sprinkled throughout this book. I just adored the Chloe-isms. In short, Head Over Heels is a completely feel good romance and classic Shalvis entertainment, and I can't wait for my next fix.


Lucky Harbor Series:

  

Lord of the Wolfyn by Jessica Andersen

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Royal House of Shadows, Book 3
Line: Harlequin Nocturne
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 288 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Harlequin via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

What Big Teeth He Has

On the day that his life was forever changed, Prince Dayn was furious with his parents. He wanted the freedom to love whom he wanted, but as second son, his parents the King and Queen had a more political alliance in mind for his future. He hated it.

He was riding his horse hard, racing away from the castle, when the echoes of magic carried to him the screams of pain and bloodshed that heralded a brutal conquering. Horror slammed into his head and ripped open his heart. As he screamed in rage and fear and spun his horse to return to his parents, to take up arms against the evil force that was destroying everything in its path, he was swept up by a cyclone of magic fueled by his parents' death and their intent to save his life and the lives of his three siblings.

He woke in another realm, his homeland lost to him, the memory of a voice in his head telling him that a guide would be coming. When that guide arrived, he would be taken back to the land of magic and the kingdom of Eferem. With his siblings, if they lived, he would fight to reclaim the castle and kill the evil sorcerer responsible for it all.

He waited twenty years.

Reda Weston thought it was a dream...or a hallucination...or a nightmare. Her life had been a nightmare lately, between the guilt and self loathing for freezing that day in the convenience store when her cowardice resulted in the death of her partner and threw her career on the police force into a tailspin. To make matters worse, she'd been having odd dreams and feeling odd compulsions. One caused her to track down a book shrouded in mystery and cloaked in the mists of a child's memory.

Finding the book was a miracle - or a curse. Reading the inscription on the back cover, though, took things to a whole other level of weird. As a magical vortex started spinning around her, the life she knew and the reality in which she had previously been secure were stripped away from her with a chilling ease that matched the ease with which she was stripped from her world. When she regained consciousness, the face hovering above hers was hauntingly familiar. She'd known it since she was a child; she'd dreamed of it often more recently. It was the face in the book, the face of the huntsman in her mother's version of Little Red Riding Hood.

And he had, apparently, been waiting for her for a long, long time. Suddenly, Reda didn't think she was in Kansas anymore, metaphorically speaking.

~*~

Three books into the Royal House of Shadows series, I can't help but think back to when I first heard of the series concept. Four books, four authors, four twists on four different fairy tales. It was an intriguing idea. This late into the series, though, I'm still not sure how well it's been executed. Each book has had good points, each has had its problems, but the vastly different styles and strengths of the different authors are creating a bit of a disconnect in me, and I'm not feeling any particular series cohesion. I think that's clouding my ability to fully embrace the individual books. It's not the only thing, though. This book, like the first two, had pluses and minuses.

I knew going in to this book that one of Andersen's greatest strengths is her gift for detailed and creative world building, so I was unsurprised by the depth and complexity of the world and mythos she's created here. I was duly impressed by the creative blending and modernizing of the Little Red Riding Hood tale. The plot of the book was comprehensive and, beyond a slight question about series continuity, I felt it held up its end of the four sibling series quite nicely.

I was less pleased with some of the individual book elements.

Call me old fashioned and provincial, but I don't like when my initial impressions of one of the lead characters in my romance books includes sex scenes with someone who is not the other romantic lead. I find it off putting, especially when combined with an abbreviated timeline for the romance arc. That's a completely subjective complaint, but it tends to cast a shadow on the romance for me.

I liked Dayn well enough, despite first impressions, though he wasn't my favorite of the royal siblings...maybe because of them. I did not like Reda. She was riddled with unappealing neurosis and didn't snap out of her self absorption soon enough to become palatable to me in her relationship with Dayn. Unfortunately, when one of the leads in a romance lacks appeal, the romance can't completely satisfy me, so that aspect of the tale wasn't a complete success.

There were a couple of different external conflicts in the book, and I really liked the one concerning the wolfyn. Andersen's creativity shined here, with a concise yet three dimensional conflict and resolution that climaxed with a surprising plot twist. I found the other major conflict, with the witch as the Big Bad, a bit of a letdown. It had a nice set up and some emotional trauma induced by the casualties, but the climax lacked any real confrontation and resolution. I also thought a couple of the scenes felt a little repetitive in both emotional impact and circumstance.

In the end, I felt fairly conflicted about this book. I think it was more creative and comprehensive than the first two, and it blended the fairy tale into the world mythos quite nicely, but I wasn't fond of Reda and some of the plot elements felt incomplete. The romance wasn't a complete win for me, but the wolfyn storyline was highly entertaining and had the sort of complexity and depth that I felt could have been expanded to happily sustain an entire book on its own. After such extensive buildup for the series arc, though, nothing could keep me from finding out how it all ends.


Royal House of Shadows Series:

   
   

In Total Surrender by Anne Mallory

Genre: Historical Romance
Series: Secrets, Book 3
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Length: 384 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Avon Books publisher HarperCollins via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

So Much Fun!

Phoebe Pace will do whatever it takes to keep her family from the poorhouse and her father from debtors prison. She knows he wasn't responsible for the mistakes he made, and she knows why, but to reveal the truth would only serve to worsen an already grave situation. So Phoebe does what it is in her indomitable nature to do...take control of the situation, seek the help that she needs, regardless of the source, and persevere. Through guile, cunning, and a bit of trickery, she will follow her instincts and beard the lion in his den. And what a fine lion he is.

Andreas Merrick is a Bad Man. For twenty years he has built up a fortune and a reputation as such. Driven by the fiery need for vengeance for a childhood that almost killed him, he will use every tool at his considerable disposal to destroy his enemies, regardless of the collateral damage. And if he could just get that damnably persistent and beguiling beauty - no, harridan! - out of his office and his life, he'll be perfectly content to continue on along his dark, dangerous path.

Yes. That's the plan. As soon as he can stiffen his spine against that winsome, perfect smile of hers...maybe if he were blind - being blind wouldn't be that bad...he can get back to being the feared demon his opponents believe him to be. Damn that infuriating, stubborn, willful...deliciously-scented, bewitching Miss Pace for asking for his help.

~*~

I had the best time reading the first part of this book! Seriously, the absolute best time, even if some of the story detail was a bit confusing at first. I haven't read the first two books in the series, and there were elements of the plot and history of the characters that had obviously been previously introduced. I was able to focus on the story as told, though, even when I didn't necessarily understand it all. I pieced things together well enough to feel that it read all right as a stand alone. And even with the confusion, the first third of the book delighted me.

The characters were the key. Adreas' dark desire for revenge fuels his less than savory character, and everyone is terrified of him. Except Phoebe. Phoebe is like a perpetually sunny, curious, fascinating, and excessively bright locomotive that plows into Adreas before he knows what hit him. Despite every instinct in his body pushing at her to stay away, he's quite literally helpless against her. It was at turns adorable and hilarious to see him become his own worst enemy as he struggles to survive her relentless onslaught.

The narrative is written with a style that made it a little hard to follow in places, especially in the opening chapters where I wasn't too sure what was going on or how the characters and story connected to one another. As I became more familiar with the plot and the characters' thoughts, I was able to better understand the almost truncated inner monologues of Adreas. He tended to think in bare bones words and phrases, and his thoughts jumped around whenever Phoebe was around. That either lessened as the book progressed or I got so used to it that it no longer bothered me, but it definitely gave me some issues at first.

While I totally adored the first third of the book - loved it with a passion because of Andreas' hapless struggles against the unconquerable Miss Pace, the narrative shifts focus from Andreas to include Phoebe's perspective and the pace of the book slowed a bit. The scenes including Phoebe's mother did little for me or for the plotline. I completely enjoyed Phoebe as a character, and I loved just how deliciously devious and sneaky she was when she needed to be, but I preferred the narrative from Andreas' point of view. He's a dark and tortured sort of hero who appeals most when he's floundering and utterly out of his depth with Phoebe, so I hungered for those scenes.

I did think there were some missed opportunities in the evolution of his dealings with Phoebe's presence. The food Phoebe makes for Andreas is an example. Throughout the first part of the book, Phoebe is baking and bringing it to Andreas daily. He pushes it away, refuses to eat it, and each day it gets more and more tempting to try it. Then the story shifts and we're not brought back to Phoebe's baking ways until he's already to a point where he'll only eat what he makes himself or what she bakes for him. I would have loved seeing that final crumble into his first taste, and that missed opportunity was indicative of a wider issue. Andreas was fighting a losing battle for so long, and the lost ground was so delightfully entertaining as each inch slipped away, that suddenly shifting to the battle lost and his dark resignation over her victory was slightly less satisfying than it could have been.

The romance between Andreas and Phoebe was the book's shining star. I would have liked seeing more of Phoebe's antics as she fought for her family's company, and I would have liked more of Andreas' point of view. As written, though, it's a wonderful book with some truly excellent parts and I enjoyed it immensely.

A Touch of Crimson by Sylvia Day

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Renegade Angels, Book 1
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 344 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Signet Book publisher Penguin Group USA via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

Has Both Potential and Problems

Lindsay Gibson has always known she's a bit...different...than other people. The weather speaks to her, for one thing. She can sense evil, for another. Oh...and she hunts and kills vampires. Not as a day job or anything, because the pay sucks, but because when she was five years old she watched in horror as a vampire murdered her mother. Since Lindsay was old enough to wield a knife, she's been driven to find the one responsible and end her...taking out as many of the monsters as she can along the way.

The differences that define her also segregate her, forcing her to keep relationships superficial at best, non-existent most of the time. And until she looks across a crowded airport and set eyes on Adrian Mitchell, she was mostly okay with those sacrifices. One glance of such a powerfully, viscerally stunning male, though, changes all of that.

Actually, it changes absolutely everything about and in her life. Lindsay just doesn't know it yet.

As soon as Adrian meets Lindsay's eyes across a crowded terminal, he knows. His beloved Shadoe, the mortal woman who both damns his soul and completes it, has returned in yet another vessel. Generation after generation he's waited for her rebirth, his existence focused on savoring her for however long he has with each new incarnation. The past two hundred years without her have been the longest she's been gone from him and he's been going a little insane from the loss. Now she's returned to him and the cycle has started once again.

Her father Syre, the former Watcher whose wings Adrian himself had severed, spawning the race of Fallen and their vampire children, will be vying to claim her, to turn her into one of his kind. Adrian, head of the elite group of Seraphim warriors tasked with keeping the Fallen in line and slaying the vampires that break their laws, will do everything to stop him. Even though his own crimes match those that caused the Watchers to Fall in the first place.

As loyal as Adrian is to his Creator, as dedicated as he is to his job as the Seraphim Special Ops leader, he will stop at nothing, do anything, to save Shadoe's soul from Syre's clutches. He loves her with a passion that is frightening in its intensity, however wrong that love is, and he will not fail her again.

Even if he has to wage a war to keep her.

~*~

I have to give Sylvia Day credit, she doesn't start small. There are so many different story elements and plot points, rising insurgencies, conflicting motivations, character backstory, and conflicts in this very full series debut that it could have been comfortably split into three separate books. On one hand, it made for a very complex world and story, the kind I like with lots of gray areas and no clear black or white lines which too easily differentiate the alleged good guys from the not-so-good guys, or even the totally-bad-guys. On the other hand, I felt too much of the meat of the external conflict book arc took a back seat to the will-they/won't-they tug of war that was the romance arc between Adrian and Lindsay, to the detriment of the book as a whole.

That being said, I had absolutely no trouble seeing the wealth of potential in the series. I love that the Seraphim aren't perfect. The Sentinels treat the lycan like slaves - like dogs, even. The Fallen aren't all bad, either, and I found them sympathetic after spending some time with Syre and Torque. The Sentinels' opinions of both lycan and Fallen is terribly antiquated.

The lycans' growing dissatisfaction is completely understandable. It's so easy to sympathize with their desire to be free from the angels who consider them indentured servants. I loved Elijah and want much more of him. One thing is very clear, as a war seems to be imminent, the enmity between the Fallen and Sentinels will need to change if either have hope of surviving.

Despite the truly meaty world building, intricate mythos, and densely-woven plot threads that made the best parts of the book shine brightly, several issues popped up as I was reading and many things didn't thrill me. I can't say I enjoyed how it all began. The first third of the book felt rushed and crammed with what felt like repetitious reiteration of the dangers inherent in the relationship between Lindsay and Adrian. The last couple of chapters felt abrupt and lacking in any sort of solid conclusion or sense of accomplishment for any of the many and varied external conflict plot threads.

I also have to admit, the longer I think about the mythos that's been created for this series, the more I struggle with seeming contradictions, murky definitions, and hypocrisy. If I understand what I read (and believe me, at this point, that's debatable), souls seem to be what makes a person a person, imbuing them with their identity, and souls don't survive the Change. But Syre is Fallen and his son Torque is Minion. Both seem to be who they were before Falling/Changing, even though they would have lost their souls in the Change. They certainly seemed intent on recovering Shadoe's soul as their daughter/sister, and Adrian is all about Lindsay's soul being what makes her Linds.

So...which is it? Are souls tied inextricably with personality or not? What personality changes do Fallen and Minions go through when they lose their souls? It doesn't seem to make them inherently evil...Lindsay didn't sense evil in Syre and Torque. It doesn't seem to always change their personalities, either. I found that all very nebulous and confusing, and given that it's such a major element of the main plotline of this book, the lack of any clear definition and the seeming contradictions were an issue for me.

Not my largest one, however. That's reserved for Adrian's hypocrisy. There are hundreds of instances in which he committed the same crime as the Watchers - during every one of Shadoe's incarnations, in fact. So why hasn't he been punished as grievously as the Watchers were? Why hasn't he at least stepped down long before now if he's at all honorable? He chases down Helena days after he finds out about her indiscretions. He sliced the wings off Syre so shortly after his that his mortal children were still young (though I'm still unclear if Nephalim are mortal, so I may be wrong about that). Why does Adrian get a pass for thousands of years?

The book addresses Adrian's hypocrisy, and he acknowledges it, but that certainly doesn't excuse it. It also doesn't forgive the seeming contradiction between what Adrian tells Helena and his own situation with Lindsay at the end of the book. Unless, of course, I seriously misunderstood or missed something in the story - which, like I said, is entirely possible.

I have to admit, it sure feels like I did. And I guess, when I think about it, that's its own problem, isn't it? I started the book, read through it, enjoyed some parts more than others, had a few problems of varying significance, and finished the book. Still, despite my excitement over the potential for subsequent books in the series, I can't help feeling like I missed something big in this one.

North of Need by Laura Kaye

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Hearts of the Anemoi, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 234 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Entangled Publishing, LLC via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.


A Toasty-Warm Read For Any Cold Night

Still crippled by grief from the loss of her husband two years ago, Megan Snow is holed up alone in their...her mountain cabin. Christmas is the worst, the two year anniversary of his death, and being with family and friends is unthinkable. Alone is better. Marginally. Or...as the pain of loss threatens to crush her, pushing her out into the snow, nearly compelling her to exhaust herself just so she can sleep, maybe alone isn't the best thing at all.

But she did get a snowman family made while she was out there. The sight of which, father, mother, and child snowman representing the family that she would never have, made her break down completely. Her tears soaked into the largest of the three as she crumpled against it, lost, alone, and in so much pain she couldn't see straight.

She'd made it back inside before the blizzard hit, the fierce storm battering the cabin and pounding the snow against the outer walls. It was the sort of storm that could kill if you're caught in it, so when Megan hears the sound of something slam down on her porch, she's horrified to open the front door and find a man, unconscious and freezing, lying there. 

Owen Winters opens his eyes to the concerned gaze of Megan Snow, the woman whose tears and grief had cried out to him and drawn him to the corporeal plane. As a god of winter he has until the next thaw to endear himself to her if he has any hope of remaining. Unless Megan falls in love with him as he had her before he even spoke to her, he'll lose her and any hope of becoming human. 

~*~

The one constant between the three vastly different Laura Kaye books I've read is this: they've reached into my heart and squeezed. Her books are full of sweeping emotion that run the gamut and her characters are so believable that I can't help but be drawn into their lives, feeling for their loves, their pains, their miseries, and their joys. Her books are a sure bet for emotionally satisfying entertainment.

In this paranormal romance series debut, Kaye also thrills with some genuinely original mythos and unique world building, providing both a fresh sense of fun and relief from a market glutted with vampires, werewolves, angels, and demons. I loved the introduction to the Anemoi, and thought the blend of mythology and real world global climate issues was a brilliant element that added a particularly appealing layer of logical plausibility to a wildly imaginative world.

Megan and Owen were solid, likable characters. Megan's grief and guilt were poignant and painful, and Owen's enthusiasm for life...and for Megan...was infectious. They had great chemistry. I would have preferred the evolution of their relationship to not be quite as condensed as it was, though. My reading preferences lie in a slower, more organic romantic relationship development. Less than a week between Megan's sobbing grief and her willingness to embrace both the supernatural elements of Owen's existence and a new love in her heart seemed a bit of a stretch, even for the romantic in me.

I liked Owen a lot. He was charming and cute in a totally endearing sort of way. I have to admit, though, I prefer my leading men to be a little more intense alpha male. For all that I enjoyed him, there were times when he reminded me more of a big, enthusiastic puppy than a sexy winter god. His love of ice cream was cute. Making an igloo was cute. Hell, even his mismatched eyes and aw-shucks personality were cute. Cute just doesn't totally crank my personal engine for male romantic leads.

The storyline may not have had a lot of surprises, as it followed a fairly predictable formula, but the creativity of the world building, originality of the mythos, and the appeal of the characters more than made up for it. I'm excited to see what Kaye comes up with next in this wonderful world she's created. I have no doubt it'll pack an emotional punch. I have no doubt it'll be a thoroughly entertaining read with both sweet and sexy moments. I have absolutely no doubt that when I read it, it'll leave me feeling good. That, beyond all else, is what Kaye books do, after all.

One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: October Daye, Book 5
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 354 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle

One Fine Daye

October "Toby" Daye is starting to relax into her life with her stronger body and heightened powers, her queen-appointed position as Countess Goldengreen, and the new awareness of her true heritage. Now that her old beau, Connor, has gotten his marriage to the disturbed Rayseline annulled, she's even enjoying the bennies of a regular sex life. In her spare time she trains with her liege lord, Duke Sylvester Torquill, who's trying to help her not get her butt kicked quite so spectacularly...or so often. He calls it sword training. She calls it torture. All-in-all, though, things are going pretty well for Toby, which, really, should have been the first clue that her life was about to go to hell. Again.

When one of the world's oldest and most powerful beings calls in a few of the favors you owe her for all those savings of your ass, you agree to help, regardless, even though we're not talking about one of those psychologically traumatic but relatively harmless fourteen-years-as-a-fish sort of hell. Nope, this is the-world-as-you-know-it-is-ending sort of hell. A bend-over-and-kiss-your ass-goodbye sort of hell. Someone has kidnapped the two children of the Duchess of Saltmist, the Undersea Duchy, and she and her consort have laid the blame the Queen of the Mists. And declared war on them all.

A war between the immortal races of land and sea would be devastating beyond the potential casualties. It is  always a brutal, horrifying affair that reshapes worlds and kill thousands, even if it doesn't spill over into realm of humans. Preventing it is imperative. Finding out who would be so grossly dismissive of Oberon's laws to dare attack children and threaten their lives in such a matter is paramount. Unfortunately Connor, being a kelpie, owes his allegiance to Undersea, and the King of Cats, Tybalt, has been out pussyfooting around for the past several weeks. Toby hasn't even seen him. This time she's on her own.

The Luidaeg is counting on her. The Duchess of Saltmist is conditionally trusting her. The Duchess' sons lives depend on her. The queen loathes her and refuses to listen to her. And the outbreak of war lies in the balance of it all. No pressure. Just another day in the life of Toby Daye.

~*~

Toby is back in this fifth installment of the October Daye series. She's a bit like the pink bunny in those commercials that way, what with all the going and going and going she keeps doing. Not that all her goings haven't taken a toll. How could they not? She lives with her death Fetch as a roommate, has a lunatic Firstborn as a mother, and both her boyfriend's former wife and her own queen would happily kill her as soon as look at her. Toby doesn't exactly live what anyone could consider a normal life. It's a hell of a lot of fun to read, though.

This book is a bit more linear and cohesive in plot than some of the others I've read in the series, which is nice. Sometimes the mix of McGuire's incredible imagination and the complexity in the ways in which she stirs up trouble in Toby's life can be a little overwhelming. Or a lot. But as I've gotten more familiar with Daye's world and the various peoples who inhabit it, it's gotten a little easier to follow the labyrinthine plots...and even more rewarding when they're less convoluted, as this one was.

I like Toby. I always have. She's a heroine who isn't the strongest, most powerful creature, but who still gets the job done against unlikely odds at best, miserable odds at worst. She's the most easily breakable of all those she deals with, and even now she's not the best fighter, or the smartest investigator, or even close to being a decent diplomat. She's stubborn, tenacious, and she's got a strong personal code that she lives by. She is, in short, a heroine who is easy to relate to and feel for as she amasses all the bruises, cuts, and broken bones she gets saving her little corner of the world.

Not all was rosy for me in this installment, though. While I thoroughly enjoyed the investigation into the kidnapping of the Saltmist heirs, Toby's personal life annoyed me. I've never been a Connor fan. I've always felt he was a bit of a milquetoast, and its hard for me to respect anyone who would put political responsibility before his heart like Connor did time and again. I have never been able to figure out why Toby would even still want him after doing so.

On top of that, love triangles have never appealed to me, even one as subtle and carefully written as the one between Connor, Toby, and Tybalt. For all the chemistry I've never felt between Toby and Connor, Tybalt and Toby are at the other end of the spectrum. Five seconds in the same hemisphere and they are shooting sparks off each other like two incendiary devices in a fireworks factory. I'm a Tybalt supporter all the way.

I felt there were some odd things about the conflict climax of the plot of this book. There were elements that seemed peculiarly anticlimactic given their significance, some that were overly abrupt, and others that didn't completely track with previously established information. The conclusion of the book, however, was ripe with all sorts of tasty information, answers to questions that have niggled me for awhile, and lots of potential for further development. I can't say that this book was my favorite in the series, but it had many more moments that thrilled me than didn't, and it tied up a few loose ends that I felt had been dangling too long. It was a fully entertaining read that left me highly anticipating the next installment.

Quotables:
I was getting tired of being in an endless succession of things called "the fight of a lifetime." Just once, I'd like to have the fight of a Tuesday afternoon.

October Daye Series: 

  
 

The Heart of a Killer by Jaci Burton

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: The Killer, Book 1
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Length: 400 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Mira Books publisher Harlequin via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

Got My Heart Pounding

That night had been like youth itself, full of promise and hope, colored bright by young love and flavored with the tight yearning of burgeoning sexuality. She'd been sixteen and nearly incandescent with it. Her boyfriend Dante, just a little older at nearly eighteen, and his three best friends, boys on the cusp of manhood all, were to her just her boys, and had stopped by the ice cream shop where she was working to pick her up after her shift.

It went so very wrong. The knowledge of how much worse it could have been still haunts her. And she still bears the scars.

Twelve years have passed and homicide detective Anna Pallino is called back to the cold, unforgiving alley that witnessed the end of her innocence and death of her childhood. The scene was horrifically familiar to her, the man standing near the body, surrounded by two others who she had once considered hers, was a shock.

Dante Renaldi had disappeared from her life after that night so long ago. He'd left town, left her, and she hadn't heard from him since. Now he's back, and near his feet is the body of a man he had considered his father. A man who had been beaten to death...like the young man her boys had beaten after her attack, with a carved heart on his chest...just like the one in her own scarred flesh.

Someone knows the secret they had kept for over a decade. Someone knows what happened in that alley, knows who was there, what was done. Someone knows and is taunting them as he claims more victims.

Dante knew that coming back would be painful, but he had no choice. His employers, the ones who had trained him so very well in the art of death and had erased his identity from existence, would cut him enough slack to do what he needed to do. But he hadn't expected quite so painful a reintroduction to the raging mistress of grief, and he certainly hadn't expected to come face to face with his past in quite so grim a circumstance.

Meeting Anna's eyes across the alley that had changed everything in his life reminded him of two things. He had never stopped thinking about her, and his regrets always came with too damn high a price tag. With his foster father murdered and the love of his life glaring at him as if he'd done it, all Dante knows for sure is that he isn't going anywhere until he finds the killer and reclaims what he lost all those years ago.

~*~

Maybe it's ironic, but for all the books I read and all the reviews I've written, I still can't quite put my finger on what it is that makes some books hit me with more force than others, touch me more, make me feel just a bit more. I haven't quite been able to pinpoint that wow factor. I can certainly recognize it when I feel it, though. I felt it while I was reading this romantic suspense series debut.

From the gripping prologue which, quite literally, had me by the throat in bony talons of dread, through to the surprise conclusion, which I hadn't seen coming, this book worked for me beyond the elements of quality fiction it features, beyond the sum of its parts, and it became one of my favorite romantic suspense reads of the year. I just don't know why...though I suppose the why doesn't really matter in the big picture.

What does matter is that Burton impressed me with her gritty, tense narrative and the shadowy secrets and taut suspense surrounding every one of her main and secondary characters. Nothing and no one is as they seem in this book, and it was done with such talent and intelligence that I just sat back and admired as I read along. Dante, in particular, was so much dark, dangerous fun that I fell for him quick and hard. He was a strong male lead and his character was written so well that the marks left from his shadowy past clearly defined him as a man and as a lover as he evolves throughout the book.

Anna was a little harder to enjoy, but the payoff was worth it for the attempt. Scarred by her past and so damn realistic and believable it hurt, she is prickly, closed off, and tough. Her independence and gritty determination in her job is the focus of her life...well...it is her life. She doesn't have much of one beyond the job. And I totally understood why, just as I understood her less than thrilled reaction to Dante's return. What I appreciated, though, was the book never swerved into a quagmire of emotional angst over the past and instead Anna and Dante owned up to the emotional fallout...if not always the reasons for it. It may have taken me a while to warm up to Anna, but I always respected her, and that was part of the reason why.

And Gabe? Wow, okay, he may have been a secondary character, but I can't wait for his book, because I loved everything about him. He stole every scene he was in.

Burton wove a tight, suspenseful psychological thriller and a decent police procedural together for the suspense arc of this book. Each piece of the puzzle was carefully distributed throughout the book, and the twists and turns in the story were as plentiful and as exciting as those on any theme park coaster. I was thrilled by the red herrings, by the investigative process, by the characters' interactions on the case, by the clues uncovered and the paths down which those clues took the book. I was thoroughly and fully engrossed in it all and enjoyed every minute of it.

That I also completely bought the realistic evolution of the romantic arc between Dante and Anna, and appreciated every single moment of their relationship development, just iced the cake and lit the candles. Okay, and yes, they were smoking hot together. Their chemistry was off the charts.

I have to admit, the conclusion wasn't quite as thrilling to me as all the rest. It's not that I thought the big reveal was disappointing - it was a true stunner. It's just...the level of crazy in the Big Bad was a little surprising. I can't say I completely bought into every aspect of the Big Bad's actions and motivations, or believe that that much crazy wouldn't have been at least been a little noticeable at some point. Still, I enjoyed it. And as that's the only complaint, small as it is, that I had with the whole book, you won't hear me belabor the point.

I still don't know what it is, what mysterious element or elements that combine to reach out and press that wow button for me. I may never know. It's more than just a particular mix of characters and story that makes up a book, of that much I'm sure. To be honest, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it. When I come across books like this one though, I sure do settle back against the cushions with a smile on my face, thoroughly and completely enjoying it. And really, that's enough for me.

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.
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Tracy's bookshelf: read

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

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