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Immortal Rider by Larissa Ione

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Lords of Deliverance, Book 2
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 414 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Forever book publisher Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.


That First Kiss is a Doozie

For five thousand years she's ridden. She is Famine, one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Raised in hell, betrothed to Satan, she is a warrior unparalleled, both feared and respected for her skill, revered for her beauty. Cloaked in shadows and mystery, she lives a life of responsibility and struggle...when she's not tripping off to her swank beach home for random and frequent parties and revelry.

And please, call her Limos, party girl extraordinaire. That whole Famine thing is such a downer. After all, who the hell wants to be shackled to the most heinous force of evil that exists? Or sit around waiting for her agimortus to break and turn her into a world-destroying psychopathic monster like her beloved brother Reseph, now known only as much-less-beloved Pestilence.

A party is just where Aegis warrior Arik Wagner is sitting, watching the delectable Limos as she and her brothers, as well as several other demonic and human factions, party down in celebration of both big brother bad-ass Ares' engagement and the latest triumph over Pestilence. Just watching Limos gets Arik's juices pumping and makes his body tight with need. That is one fine looking Horseman. A total HILF.

When he slips away from the crowd to get some much-needed space to regain his equilibrium, he isn't expecting her to follow and offer to spar with him to work off his tension. Given that the tension he's feeling is centered in his pants, he doesn't mind at all taking her up on it. The move he makes, locking lips with the beauty, turns out to be the single biggest mistake of his life. And as he's dragged down to hell to suffer unending torture for daring to kiss the fiancé of the world's most jealous überdemon, he realizes a brutal truth. That mistake may very well be his last.

~*~

The dark, violent, disturbing world that Ione has created for both this series and her earlier Demonica series is not for the faint of heart. Nor is Ione, for that matter. She is brutal on her characters and seems to relish making them earn their Happily Ever Afters through much blood, torment, and crippling injury. And she's damn good at it.

There's a lot of story in this book. The plot is complex and layered...and a little chaotic (in a good way)...with several secondary and ancillary plot threads woven together with the arc of the relationship between Arik and Limos. Sometimes, if I'm completely honest, I felt all that story overshadowed the main characters' relationship to varying degrees.

Pestilence, the Horseman I love to hate, has some awesome page time that I really enjoyed. From the early stages of the first book in the series, I've assumed we're eventually going to see him get some sort of redemption - though I can't currently imagine how that would happen given everything he's done. Still, the glimmers we see of Reseph through the unmitigated horror that is Pestilence is so damn powerful. It's heart-breaking and painful and absolutely perfect in a gut-clenching way.

This isn't a book I'd want to be my first experience with the series. It probably could be done, there's enough explanation and exposition provided to bring readers up to speed on the big points, but I think the book would have much less emotional impact and much of the nuance in the writing would be lost. I'm even glad I've read the Demonica series before this one, for that matter. Knowing the characters and experiences from that series provides a solid foundation in this one, especially when those characters cross over.

With all that, though, and as well written and imaginative the book and the series are, I ended up feeling very conflicted about the overall story here. It's such a maelstrom of agony, lies, and manipulations, including the relationship between Arik and Limos, that I can't actually say I enjoyed it. There was an awful lot of hopelessness and pain, and some of the story elements were more depressing than the HEA between Limos and Arik were able to balance.

Still good story, though. Intense. Powerful. Full of action, witty dialogue, and hot sex. And the story elements that serve as an introduction to Thanatos' upcoming book are far too compelling for me to even consider not continuing the series. I just hope that Ione will go slightly easier on the poor guy than she did on Arik. I don't expect her to, of course, but I can hope.

Quotables:
"Helloooo. I'm a Horseman of the Apocalypse, and I'm betrothed to the most infamous, most powerful demon in existence. I couldn't draw more attention to myself if I wore Lady Gaga's meat dress to a PETA convention."


Lords of Deliverance Series:
 

The Tears of Elios by Crista McHugh

Genre: Fantasy Romance
Series: The Elgean Chronicles, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 320 Pages
Formats: Paperback, 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.



An Ambitious and Expansive Debut

The Elgean kingdom is ruled by a tyrannical king intent on racial cleansing, but non-human races and their human sympathizers have formed a unique alliance, a gathered in a Resistance against the genocide. As Elgean forces are set to march against the Resistance, four people will rise up for the cause, going above and beyond to secure the freedom of all.

A shape-shifter named Ranealya breaks every one of her own rules for a human who showed her unusual kindness. That human, Gregor Meritis, lives a quiet, scholarly life in the woods, content with his studies until the wounded Ranealya drops into his life. Knowing her will change him forever.

As leader of the Resistance, High Elf Galen has more responsibility on his shoulders than many could imagine. It makes him wary and suspicious of strangers who could threaten the growing group of rebels he leads. When faced with the magician apprentice Kira, his reaction is dire and forbidding. She is a young human woman who stirs his suspicions and his desires and until he's sure of the one, he can't risk giving into the other.

Kira, overwhelmed by the Resistance stronghold after a sheltered city life, is tentative but captivated by the High Elf, but she's determined to give her aid. Even as she struggles to understand how Galen makes her feel.

The four of them will seek out the Tears of Elios in a desperate gambit that could kill them all. More than the hope of peace between the races is on the line. They fight for life, for the basic freedom from extinction. And they must not fail.

~*~

McHugh kicks off The Elgean Chronicles in this series debut, introducing her readers to an imaginative world with a solid story, one that appealed to me on a lot of levels. It's an ambitious endeavor, creating a world, defining it, inhabiting it, and stirring up conflict for the plot, then setting that conflict alongside two separate threads of romance. That's a lot to accomplish in one book, and there certainly were a plethora of diverse characters and a wealth of story being told in this one. It ended up, for me, being a bit too ambitious.

With so much going on and so many things and people being involved, the book really could have used another fifty to a hundred pages to get into the sort of depth of plot and character development necessary to be completely successful for me. What's there is nice, and McHugh has a talent for creating intriguing, unique characters. It's a double edged sword for me in this book, though, because I wanted to spend more time with them and I wanted to know them better than I was given a chance to do.

The shifting focus and different points of view between Ranealya and Gregor's thread and Kira and Galen's worked well in this book. It provided a wide, panoramic view of what is going on in Elgean from several different perspectives and kept me engaged in the threads as they progressed. McHugh was adept in shifting story focus seamlessly and fluidly, drawing the reader along with her as she weaves the characters lives together until all four intersect.

In truth, though, I found myself more personally invested in Ranealya and Gregor. No disrespect intended to the other two, but I thought everything from the shape-shifter mythos and Ranealya's individual backstory to Gregor's talents and familial connections were original, imaginative, and enjoyable, and I liked seeing them learn to trust each other as their relationship evolved. I spent most of the book yearning for more of them even as I enjoyed what was there.

But that sums up my largest issue with the book as a whole. For all that I liked what was there, there just wasn't enough to fully flesh out the world, the characters, and the story that was being told. McHugh has written a tale that kept me guessing and drew me along, she created and maintained characters who fascinated me and engendered sympathy, but it wasn't quite the layered, rich, and vibrant reading experience that it could have been had there just been more of it. I do hold out hope, though, that the continuation of the chronicles, now that the introduction is over, will be.

The Night is Mine by M.L. Buchman

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: The Night Stalkers, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 384 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.



An Action-Packed Free Fall into Danger and Suspense

Captain Emily Beale may have been born to fly, but she chose to both be the best and fly the best. She's the only woman to ever qualify to fly with the Night Stalkers, the Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), flying Black Hawk helicopters in combat in service to her country. In achieving that goal she's fought tirelessly to be perfect, to fit into a world where only men dare tread, fighting more than a war - battling stereotype and prejudice just as fiercely.

She is a triumph and a credit to her country. It's all she has ever wanted to be. So when Emily is suddenly pulled from her division and brought stateside for a security detail that equates to little more than babysitting the First Lady of the United States, Emily is...less than happy for several reasons. Not the least of which is that she can't turn down a direct request from her Commander in Chief, even though she grew up with him.

Still, she's not the only one fuming over her new assignment.

Major Mark "Viper" Henderson is furious when his best combat pilot is yanked from his command by his superiors without so much as a by-your-leave and little in the way of explanation, apology, or information. He respects the hell out of Beale's skills with a Hawk and there isn't another pilot he trusts more to get the job done. Her reassignment will create a hole where her talent once shone.

And he shouldn't have kissed her. That wasn't the brightest move he's ever made. Not only because it was the height of impropriety and broke several significantly punitive regulations, but because it was motivated by a painful ball of frustration, fear, and fantasy that he's worked hard to keep under wraps. Plus, now that he's tasted her, felt her against him, he has memory to add to his dreams and imagination. Memory of the woman he loves and can never have.

He shouldn't have kissed her. But despite knowing that to be true, it doesn't stop him from digging to find out where she's been sent, and it doesn't prevent him from calling in every favor he's owed to rush to her side when he gets word that she's in trouble. Not even the mighty force of the U.S. military can keep him from her when he finds out there's a killer out there, one who sees Emily as nothing more than collateral damage. And very expendable.

~*~

I debated reading this book. Prejudice almost had me dismissing it out of hand. I'm sad to say I don't have a lot of trust in male authors when it comes to writing romance fiction that works for me. I have my reasons. Combining those reasons with a lack of interest in the military elements of this story made me more than a little leery to pick this up.

I'm sorry about that...you know...now. Mea Culpa, mea maxima culpa! I loved this book! Pulse-pounding action, danger, wicked suspense...great characters, intense emotion, hot sex, conflict, gunfire, helicopters... Wow, what a rush!

From the opening scene, I adored Emily. What a perfect way Buchman had of slamming his readers into her life and addressing head-on several of the very prejudices and unlikely conveniences that would make this book more than a little implausible in both concept and construct. And it was implausible. Almost ridiculously so on more than one level throughout the book, if not downright impossible without resulting in several criminal charges and possibly a court-martial or two.

I had no illusions about that when I was reading. Come on, the list of highly unlikely events, circumstances, defining moments, and character traits stacked up higher than the Washington Monument. It was just such a kick-ass read I couldn't find it in me to care overmuch. Seriously, I know I should have cared, I know I usually do care, but in this book I enjoyed the read despite it all (though it did affect my rating).

It was Emily and Mark. I loved both of them. Emily from the moment she shoots the laptop and Mark from the moment he showed up and spent the night in absolute silence. Okay, okay, I entertained lusty, deliciously impure thoughts about his fine self long before that, but that's when I fell in love with the guy. And together? Now that's what I call chemistry.

The story was great, too. Taking the book at face value, the characters were layered and nicely fleshed out and the plot was complex and had nice balance. The romance threads were laden with emotion, tension, and passion, with some impressive areas of genuine relationship conflict from both internal and external forces.

The suspense was solid throughout the book, but faltered a bit for me during the revelation stages of the conflict resolution. The motivations and disclosed endgame of the characters involved didn't exactly wow me with its Master Criminal-level of intellect. Seemed an awful lot of high-risk gyrations to go through to end up in mostly the same place, really. But that didn't detract from how pleased I was with the main characters' journey in uncovering the truth. Very nicely done.

Let me be honest, I still have that prejudice about male authors writing romance to my taste. It's long-standing and dug in through years of personal experience. Not much I can do about that. There is one thing I plan to do, though...read the next book in The Night Stalkers series when Buchman has it available. Call it my civic duty or something. That works.

Summoning the Night by Jenn Bennett

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Arcadia Bell, Book 2
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 352 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by the author. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



Kicking Butt with Cady and Co.

If Arcadia Bell thought surviving her parents' Machiavellian plot was going to allow her to get back to the life she was living before they tried to sacrifice her to a ritual slaying...well, she was right. Mostly. She's settled back into her job at her tiki bar, and her relationship with Earthbound demon Lon Butler is progressing nicely. So is the one between her and Lon's son, Jupe. They're almost like a family.

Thing is, just because Cady is able to relax into a relatively normal day-to-day life doesn't mean that peace is going to last long. Before she gets too comfortable, a dark cloud of evil intention cloaks the city in tension and fear, one that directly threatens Earthbound young. A madman is kidnapping the children of the members of the Hellfire Club. The powerful head of that club, Ambrose Dare, wants it stopped before a heinous tragedy thirty years in the past is repeated in brutal, vicious fashion.

Lon may vouch for the Earthbound demon Dare, but Cady doesn't trust anyone or anything connected to the thrice damned Hellfire Club. Not to mention, tracking down a couple of missing teenagers isn't exactly in her skill set. Dare's request is compelling, though, and her power and magical skill may be all that stands between a power-hungry psychopath and the slaughtered bodies of seven children. With Lon at her side and an irrepressible Jupe winding around her heart, Cady agrees to stop the killer.

She's got to find him first, though, and the search itself may expose more than a trail to a madman. It may strip her bare and leave her helpless against someone who wants to use her power for their own ruthless games.

~*~

It can't be overstated just how much I enjoy the characters in this book. I like Cady quite a lot, have a huge soft spot for the taciturn Lon, and absolutely adore the irrepressible Jupe. The three of them together, hashing out an odd and quirky little family, are a joy and a delight, even in these early stages. I sincerely hope that continues and both strengthens and deepens as the series progresses, because I can't imagine losing either male from Cady's life. Not when the boys are so darn good for her - Lon as a partner, friend, and lover who grounds Cady and touches her heart, and Jupe as a glittering, vibrant connection to youthful normalcy (relatively speaking) that Cady missed out on while she was growing up.

All three characters are vital to this series for me.

On her own merits, Cady is a solid heroine. She's strong and competent, and her command over her magic has always seemed nicely representative of her history and her experiences. She is also a bit emotionally damaged and inherently wounded from a past that would have left many broken. Sometimes she makes mistakes, and she certainly doesn't open herself or trust easily. I can't say I blame her for that, even when I get a little frustrated by it. It's definitely in line with who she is, and I commend Bennett for creating such a layered and realistic character and maintaining her well through the growing pains we see her encounter in the series.

The plot of this second book was less intense and compelling to me than that of the first, but that's hardly surprising. In the first book, Cady's life is on the line and the entire foundation of that life, as well as every memory and belief she had of her parents and her family, was brought under fire and burned away by a truth both harsh and criminally brutal. Maybe it's me, but the kidnapping of unknown teenagers, children of parents who are members of a club I hold in great contempt, just didn't have the same emotional impact. That's not a fault of Bennett's writing, it just is what it is.

I do wish the timeline of the plot had been tightened up a bit. I was already struggling to connect to it because of the nature of the conflict, and that was made harder by the meandering trail Cady and Lon were following to get to the truth. Nothing about their investigation really struck me as vitally time sensitive or having any sense of urgency, including the actions of the main characters, until late in the book when the job became far more personal.

My attention was more riveted by the secondary and ancillary plot threads surrounding Lon and Cady's evolving relationship, Jupe's developing knack, and the growing cohesion of their little family-shaped unit. They provided me the brightest and most entertaining parts of the story. I also enjoyed some of the secondary characters, both those familiar from the first book and new to the series. There were scenes related to the investigation that do stand out, though, and I have to admit, I kind of totally liked Hajo...maybe even more than I should, considering he was a dangerous thug and a drug-dealing junkie.

There are also things about the story that bothered me or that I just didn't like at all. While I applauded Cady's personal growth and subsequent admission to Lon that she didn't want secrets between them, I was furious when Dare started stirring things up and she didn't tell Lon about it. Not only did Dare reveal himself as the repugnant filth that he is, which as far as I'm concerned stamped an end date on his forehead, but Cady compounded my disgust by keeping it all a secret.

Best case given the timeline, she may not have done so purposely, but she definitely did so passively by not immediately disclosing the information to Lon. I don't know which it is, but regardless, she holds onto her secrets and seems to have no inclination to share them. Maybe that'll be addressed in the next book, but that sort of crap just frustrates the hell out of me. Sort of decries all that personal growth that so pleased me earlier in the book.

On a brighter note, I was pleased to realize that I no longer have any issue with the age difference between Lon and Cady. I was very disappointed in myself about my feelings about that in the first book, but in this one, something about the way the two of them fit together absolutely resolved all of my qualms. Maybe a part of it was having their relationship disparaged and criticized by outsiders, too. I know I'm prone to rally around my heroes and heroines when they are threatened. Whatever it is, I'm happy to be free of my reservations about the difference in their ages and wish nothing but a long and happy relationship for them.

Unfortunately I've been burned a lot in urban fantasy series I follow, too often getting dismayed and horrified by series that totally muck up the relationships between main characters, or pile on the emotional angst until I'm choking in it. I so wish that won't be the case here. I'd love to read a series that doesn't equate relationship and personal growth with agonizing emotional pain or betrayal. That truly would be a unique and heartening reading experience.

Hope springs eternal, doesn't it? And given how much I love the characters in this book, and how invested I am in their lives and their story, all of which is a huge credit to Bennett's writing, I can't help but continue with the series to see just what they get themselves messed up in next. I just hope it comes soon.

Arcadia Bell Series:
  

Bear Meets Girl by Shelly Laurenston

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Pride, Book 7
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 407 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle



Laurenston Books Are My Crack

Lou "Crush" Crushek is not a happy polar. He hates change, and since he got word that he is being transferred to the NYPD's shifter division, he's been downright depressed about it. He likes his job with the NYPD just fine, being undercover and playing the badass to catch the real bad guys. No need to fix something that's not broke.

That depression is the only reason he goes to the party at a friend's house. It's certainly the only reason he starts in on those deliciously jiggly Jell-O shots from hell. Crush doesn't remember much after he slurped down the eighth. He blames the depression! And the lion! It's always a lion's fault!

When he first wakes up with a raging hangover and a traitorous body responding to a naked feline female sprawled on top of him, Crush still thinks that a job transfer is the largest impending change in his life. Poor, deluded bear. He hasn't learned the meaning of the word change. He hasn't, after all, actually met the female tiger shifter using his naked body as a pillow.

Marcella "Bare Knuckles" Malone is a fixer, a killer, a daughter, a mother, a KZB agent, and a hockey player, and that's just the short list. She's also a feline, and come on...what feline could resist swatting playfully at such a comfy but uptight bear as the unknown male she wakes up on top of? It's so much fun trying to make his head explode! After all, it's not like they had sex. She just needed to sleep off the booze and he was a better - and more comfy! - option than those damn yipping canine breed shifters sacked out in the other rooms.

That's why she teases him so unmercifully until he stomps off in a polar-sized snit...which really is fairly large. Most. Fun. Ever! That's also why she keeps teasing him every time she sees him. Which, as it turns out, is fairly often, what with his transfer, her job, and both of their ties to hockey. Woo hoo! Fun times had by her!

That is, it's all fun and games until she finds out he was transferred because his cover was blown, he's got bears after him, and the job that she's working on with the combined forces of the NYPD, the Group, and the KZB has suspiciously similar bear-prints all over it. That changes things considerably.

Because she's a Malone, and a feline, and inherently Cella...what that changes the game to will also likely make a poor polar's head explode. Either that or some other freakishly large part of him, anyway. Woo hoo!

~*~

I'm a fan of this series. A huge, squealy, pre-order-as-soon-as-possible, jiggle-butt-booty-dance-when-it's-released, laugh-maniacally-when-I-see-it-on-my-Kindle fan of this series and this author (including her G.A. Aiken nom de plume). And no, the booty dance ain't pretty. Doesn't matter. I love these books, I love this series, and I love, love, love Laurenston.

Of course I adored this book. First, I can't help but smile when it comes to the bears. Between Lock and Bo, and now Crush, the bear shifters are my favorites for the male leads in the series. Okay, true, Bo is a mighty bear-cat, but he's mostly polar when he's in man form, so he counts. Anyway, I fell hard for Crush. His cute hockey fan geekiness, his by-the-book mentality, his morality and his utter disgust with Cella's apparent lack of same all just tickled me to death.

And how could I not totally adore Cella for who she is, how she is, and how funny it is to see her torment the poor guy? Loved that! I also loved that there was much more to Cella than meets the eye. Honestly, between the issues with her family and her daughter, her hockey career, and her job with the KZB, I think Cella may be the most layered character I've seen in the series. Looking beneath the snark and the feline hijinks, there is actually quite a lot going on to make Cella the way she is. There are glimpses of insecurity about her daughter's happiness and her own worth as a mother, struggles with feeling hemmed in by family, intimacy issues, and issues with both careers. And with all that, when she wasn't driving Crush out of his mind, sparring with Dee-Ann, or just being a tiger shifter, she was a decent, hard working female who people can trust and rely on.

The story behind all the feline and polar craziness was solid, too, if a little hectic. After the conclusion of the three book arc of hybrid pit fighting in the last book, I wondered what was going to fill that hole as the series continued. I like what Laurenston did here to kick off a thread of external plot conflict that is a threat to the full bloods. Woven in beside several other plot threads and individual character threads, it helps to make the whole of the plot one complex, layered, wacky, and wild story that I was able to really sink my teeth into. No pun intended.

Not everything, though, is a bed of roses. I'm all for a subtly evolving romance in my...uh...romance...but wow - there's subtle and there's non-existent, and I think this one tilted a little too far towards the non-existent for me. The conflict between Cella and Crush was great for laughs, the sex was - as always for Laurenston - smoking hot, but I almost fell out of my chair when love was brought up, not only because of where it happens in the book, but because I didn't see it evolving in the story.

Yes, I expect love to be a part of a romance book. I also, oddly enough, expect it to be featured, shown, alluded to, mentioned, given evidence of, thought about...something...as the relationship between the two main characters develop. I can't say that happened between Crush and Cella, and that disappointed me. Don't get me wrong, I loved the scene where they express that feeling for each other - totally loved it - but I didn't really believe it at that point given everything I read leading up to it. They just didn't seem to be there yet. And considering that was at the end of the book, I have a problem with that.

I also felt a little short-changed in relation to Crush's issues with his transfer. This book is pretty Cella-heavy. We see everything related to her as a character pretty well wrapped up by the end of the book, but the same can't be said for Crush. I had no idea if he got comfortable with his transfer, or if he'd get there eventually, or even what his job would be like in that division. His initial discomfort and uncertainty with it had been such an issue in the story - for more than just his hating the change it denoted - that some resolution or attention to that issue would have been nice.

Also, the number of secondary and ancillary characters that make an appearance in this book are a problem for me. It's the same problem, in fact, that I had in the previous book. There are so many characters in this story, both old friends and new acquaintances who get introduced, that Crush and Cella don't actually spend all that much time in the same scene, not to mention alone together.

It's like the series has taken on a character snowball effect. It started small at the beginning of the series, just a handful of characters packed together, but with each subsequent book, more characters are met and rolled up into the mass of the story, getting bigger and bigger with each book and each character. It's great to see how all these characters' lives meet and mingle, and seeing the relationships of favorite couples as time progresses beyond their Happily Ever After. I love that, I really do. But not when it detracts from the development of the main characters and their relationship with each other. And it does in this book even more than it did in the previous one.

You know what, though? I still love this series with a rabid fanaticism not unlike Crush's love of hockey or Bo's dedication to his lists. And I liked this book very much. Yeah, I would have liked it better if... But even without that "if," I'll take what I got and be damned happy with it. And when the next is available for pre-order, I'll be there, snatching it up, and doing my warm ups for the subsequent jiggle-butt booty dance. I'm just that big a fan.

Pride Series:

  
  

Honor Bound by Brenda Novak

Genre: Historical Romance
Series: N/A
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 372 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.
Note: This book was originally titled The Bastard.



Romance on the High Seas

The French Revolution stole much from Jeannette Boucher and her family. She had little choice but to marry well to lift her family out of the shame-and-grit-filled gutters of destitution. Her new husband is a wealthy Baron, respected and old, but she accepted her duty. Until she finds out her aged husband is also impotent and plans to give other men the use of her body so he can beget an heir.

Sick with fear and dread, Jeannette flees, intent on meeting back up with her family in London and securing an annulment. Instead she ends up out to sea, dressed in men's clothes, signing on with the Royal Navy in their war against the French. The frigate she boards is bound for London before it returns to war, so she thought it was the fastest, safest route. She needs fast and safe, because Jeannette has no doubt her new husband will be looking for her. And he will not be happy.

Royal Navy Leiutenent Crawford Treynor is furious when he finds out he's allowed himself to be duped, that the boy he's allowed to board his ship isn't a boy at all, but a sharp-tongued and belligerent young woman. And as he's already heard the news that a Baron is missing his new bride, Treynor has no illusions about just who the troublesome little beauty is. Now she's stuck on a ship bound not for London as their previous orders stated, but out to sea to join in the naval barricade.

Treynor will keep her hidden and protect her as much as he can, but it would be nice if she'd stop flinging herself into dangerous situations every time his back turned. And that's not even accounting for the war they're sailing to meet. Still, protecting Jeannette becomes more and more vital to Treynor as his attraction to her grows. Unfortunately, it's far easier to keep her away from a debauched husband while out to sea than it will ever be protecting her from the grim realities of naval war. A reality what could end up costing both their lives.

~*~

I'm no history buff, but I admit, I enjoy historical romance that I feel teaches me a little something about life within the era and location the book is set. I had never really pondered the intricacies and dangers of the naval battles centuries past prior to coming across this book, and I knew even even less about life on board a warship in the early eighteen hundreds. Novak brought to the story a fabulous depth and wealth of information and attention to historical detail that fascinated and intrigued me.

It was, to me, the strongest element of the book and added a wonderfully authentic tone to the whole of it.

There certainly is no dearth of plotted story, either. Jeanette's wedding night and the nefarious plot that's uncovered before she is victimized jump-starts the elements of action and suspense in the storyline and everything else flowed very nicely and naturally from there.

I wish I was as enamored of the characters as I was of the historical detail. Unfortunately, I couldn't stand Jeannette for the first half of the book, and while I liked Treynor and very much appreciated the depth of his character and backstory, I couldn't figure why he put up with the level of haughty disdain and venom that Jeannette spews at him. I would have tossed her uppity butt overboard.

Jeannette has fled from her disgusting husband but, when Treynor warns her that she has to remain inconspicuous and stay dressed as a boy for safety sake, she tosses aside his warning and grabs on to that eschewed husband's coattails, claiming no man on ship would dare hurt her because she's a baroness. Later she vows to get even with Treynor as she eats with the common sailors while he eats with the officers. After putting herself into the position to do so to begin with. The frequent evidence of her ignorance and selfish willfulness got on every one of my nerves throughout the beginning and straight to the middle of the story. I could have cheerfully throttled her more than once.

Her character does improve around the halfway point in the book, and she does prove herself to be caring and fiercely loyal straight to the end. Which is when I felt Treynor's character - and the climax of the story itself - went off the rail. I didn't like the last couple of chapters and struggled with understanding Treynor's actions, as well as the actions of some of the secondary and ancillary characters. Because of that, the romantic resolution fell pretty flat for me and wasn't nearly as satisfying as I'd hoped.

There truly is some good story before then, though, and despite my issues with the characters and the romance resolution, I liked the plot. I could have loved it with a less annoying heroine in the first half. The best parts for me, though, were the authentic-seeming glimpses of an aspect of history I hadn't had before. The vibrant, gritty, descriptive writing and attention to detail brought life on a naval ship into sharp, obviously pungent, occasionally brutal focus. I thought that was exceptionally well done.

Rules of Negotiation by Inara Scott

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: N/A
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 162 Pages
Formats: Kindle


Breaking The Rules Is Such Fun

Forget the Greeks, beware CEO's bearing gifts. Of all the rules of negotiation that lawyer Tori Anderson lives by, that's the one she should have kept in mind. A tricky contract deal on the cusp of being signed is suddenly altered and improved, and not at the request of her client, but by Brit Bencher, CEO of the corporation procuring the acquisition. To say that's an unusual occurrence would be an understatement.

If that didn't make her wary enough, Brit tosses his company's lawyer out of the room and starts...flirting with her? What kind of Bizzaro world has she suddenly stepped into? All Tori knows is that it's making her defensive and wary. She has no idea what Brit wants with her, especially when he asks her to dinner.

Brit has an ulterior motive, it's true. One look at Tori, though, and he knows she's a worthy opponent. His plan is simple and his motivation is well-intentioned. What could go wrong? He doesn't see the glimmers of vulnerability beneath Tori's fierce exterior. He's not looking for that, it would ping his conscience too much. After all, when a man is planning to woo a woman in order to get an in with another of her clients, he's not exactly acting honorably. It's justified, though, if he can help his sister. Anything is.

Except there's a fly in his oily ointment. Playboy Brit isn't expecting the connection that springs up between him and Tori. He doesn't expect to like her as much as he does. He's unprepared for the pull of intense attraction. And suddenly Brit's wavering between grinding desire and crushing responsibility, relieved that Tori at least doesn't know why he first pursued her.

And we all know how long that's going to last.

~*~

What a nifty bite of sexy, fun, touching romance! I love the characters that Scott writes, they have realistic issues and very human failings and they always strike a chord in me. It's not so much a matter of them being realistic or believable so much as it is the real sense of genuineness about them. They make sense to me. They're exactly who they should be given their backstory and their life, and they act, speak, and think accordingly.

I'm probably explaining that badly but it's a very good thing, and something I find surprisingly rare in romance fiction.

The plot of the book didn't seem groundbreaking to me, but Scott's sharp writing and my appreciation for her characters made it quite a tasty little read. Not only did I really enjoy Brit and Tori as individuals, they had a chemistry that was sometimes contentious, but always spicey and hot. They fit very nicely together and I enjoyed seeing them go toe-to-toe as much as I did when they were lip-to-lip.

I really loved Tori. Her intelligence and the blend of emotional insecurity and steely strength really worked for me. I loved how she figured Brit out and the actions she took as a result; I respected it and got a chuckle out of that whole morning at the ball field. Call me twisted, but few things tickle me more than a male who's royally screwed up...and who is completely oblivious to it.

The secondary characters were great and added quite a bit to the story despite an economy of attention. Seeing Brit's brothers and sister, niece and nephews helped explain a lot about who Brit is and what he's spent his life focusing on - and why. The sibling relationships felt very natural and organic...and charmingly frustrating as only sibling relationships can be. It also created a bit of a vacuum on Tori's side, highlighting how barren her life is. Which, really, is the point.

I do wish that Tori's fanaticism with her work had been even more clearly delineated throughout the book and I wish her mother's storyline had evolved a bit differently so the end didn't feel quite as conveniently timed. That said...there were some gut-wrenching, tear-inducing moments late in the book concerning some journal passages. Wow - they packed a hell of an emotional punch. I have to admit, it had me in tears and touched my heart. Nicely done.

In fact, the whole read was nicely done. Sexy, sweet, with moments of humor, tension, and sorrow, the emotional gamut was well-run throughout. I liked it very much. And for the record, I'm not at all surprised that Scott wrote something that charmed me, entertained me, and made me smile. In my experience, that seems to be a habit she has. May she never break it.

Turn to Me by Tiffany A. Snow

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: Kathleen Turner, Book 2
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 311 Pages
Formats: Paperback, 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. The author has my permission to use parts of this review in promotional and/or informational capacity including but not limited to the book's synopsis blurb both on the book and at various online retailers.


Kat's Gonna Need Nine Lives This Time

When Kathleen Turner, office runner for the prestigious Indianapolis law firm of Kirk & Trent, started dating the boss about six weeks ago, she knew the risks and accepted the dangers. Senior partner Blane Kirk is known for being a notorious player, a man who is like the Baskin Robbins of serial dating – with a different flavor every month. While there is no doubt Kathleen has been having some of the happiest times in her life, especially as Christmas approaches, she has always accepted that there’s a termination date on their relationship.

She just didn’t expect the sort of termination that comes with an obituary notice.

A festive afternoon of Christmas tree shopping turns threatening when gunshots ring out and Kathleen and Blane find themselves under fire. Confused and alarmed, they make it home alive, but it doesn’t take long for Kathleen to find out that her boyfriend has been keeping several secrets from her. The deadly kind.

Blane’s current case is drawing heated debate and stirring the pot of public fury, and Kathleen is horrified about the threats – and worse – that are being lobbed at him. A former Navy SEAL stands accused of the wrongful death of an unarmed American citizen during a military operation overseas. The case has far-reaching political and military implications and someone with a lot of money and even more clout wants Blane to lose.

Dead bodies start piling up, people connected to the defense being silenced forever, and it becomes painfully clear that disappearing witnesses and coerced testimony are no longer enough for whoever is intent on guaranteeing the Navy SEAL gets convicted. Kathleen races to track down who is taking shots at Blane and meddling in his case, but the killer has decided to move straight to an endgame that guarantees Blane suffers horribly as he falls. By painting a target on Kathleen's forehead...and pulling the trigger.

~*~

Before I go any further, I want to say that this isn't typical review for me. It can't be. After reading and reviewing No Turning Back, I was contacted by the author with a request to lend her a hand. I read this book (more than once) during the editing process, offered opinions, a few suggestions, and if I happened to notice any plot conflicts or holes, I let her know. The salient point is that I got to know this book and its author very well while I was doing that, and I even (to my surprised delight) had an effect on the final product in one or two places. Because of that, I don't think a normal review is possible. It feels too much like a conflict of interest or something similar. Instead I tried to stick to those aspects of the book, the story, and the characters that I had no direct hand in.

~*~

Snow is back with her second installment of the Kathleen Turner series. The first book, No Turning Back, broke my brain a little. I liked it despite my rabid dislike of emotional angst, romantic triangles, and weak, damsel-in-distress heroines. Well guess what, I'm no fonder now than I was then of the angst, and I still have no affection for romantic triangles, and Turn to Me has both. In fact, there's even more angst in this one and the triangle gets even more complicated. Also in this one, the external plot conflict was slightly less compelling in concept to me than that in the first book.

That being said, I still prefer this book over its predecessor. There are lots of reasons for that, and each one of those reasons is a credit to the characters, characters I've completely fallen in love with - even if I don't always like them. The most notable improvement, I think, was with Kathleen, who made me want to strangle her more than once in the first book for so very many reasons.

There were far fewer reasons in this one, and I couldn't be happier about that. In fact, the only thing that really bugs me about her in this book is that she's under the impression she's optimistic in nature and all the evidence points to the contrary. She's so neurotic about the impending doom of her relationship with Blane that I wanted to smack her more than once.

On the other hand, I was thrilled to see her stand up for herself a bit and call Blane on a couple of really important points that he needed to wake up to.

The dark duo of crime and punishment, brothers Blane and Kade, are back in high form in this book. All three characters get more character development in this, but it's Kade's history and character that garners the most (which, let me assure you, is no hardship). Several of the scenes between him and Kathleen reached inside and gripped my guts hard, making my heart bleed for the man.

Of course I have my hopes for the relationship resolutions (and Snow can stop beating me to death with that angst stick any time now - seriously!). I'm currently Team Blane, but I have to admit, I have some reservations about him after this book and Kade gained some major ground with me. Major ground. He was my favorite character in this one.

Blane, on the other hand, didn't fare too well in this one. I swear, the guy did everything but open a vein for Kathleen to prove his commitment to her and to their relationship, but she just refuses to see it. She refuses to see that he so obviously loves her. Unfortunately, it's also obvious that he doesn't totally respect her as an equal - and that's something she does see.

In truth, she's not Blane's equal. She's twenty-four and young with it, even after everything she's lived through in two books. After the events in this book, though, she may finally be starting on her way there. Whether she'll still want Blane by the time she makes it is anyone's guess.

While I wasn't as connected to the external plot conflict concept as I was to that in the first book, the action and suspense in this one was non-stop and wickedly intense. Far more so than in No Turning Back. There were many awesome edge-of-your-seat moments. And it's just as diabolically shifty and twisty plot-wise as the first book. Also, Kathleen's actions and decision-making are more organic to who she is as a character, and they're better supported by logic and circumstance than they were in the previous book.

On a side note, there's something else I want to address. I thought I had respect for authors and the work required to put out a solid product before I started with this book. I thought I had the faintest idea what went into it.

Wow, was I wrong. I was clueless about just how much work, stress, and unrelenting reading/rereading/rereading again went on in just the editing process alone. A conscientious author could easily drive herself nuts polishing a book they've already spent months writing. Seeing it first hand, being in any way a part of it, raised my previous level of respect straight to the stratosphere. And independent authors who have to rely on friends and random strangers with OCD issues and an obscene attention to detail have an even harder road. I'll never forget that.

Bottom line time. I liked this book more than the first. More than a four star rating would indicate, honestly, but not quite to the level of four and a half. There were a few technical issues I didn't mention in the review, and for all that the story is strong and the characters have a place in my heart, I truly do hate (loathe) a ton of emotional angst (which was ratcheted up in this one) and romantic triangles (and the one between Blane, Kat, and Kade is even more intense). The characters, though, are memorable. They live and breathe on the pages. Their lives have become personal and real to me, and they hit my emotions even harder for all that. I enjoyed them...and their story. So very much.


Kathleen Turner Series:

  

Assassins in Love by Kris DeLake

Genre: SciFi Futuristic Romance
Series: Assassins Guild, Book 1
Rating: 4 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.



A Deadly Debut

Rikki Bastogne kills people for a living. She's good at it. She does so legally, more or less, careful of the jobs she takes and the locations in which she works. Even so, it's not like her occupation is the most risk-free, nor do her targets line up with a relaxed smile and wait to be removed from existence. It's a dangerous, solitary life of secrecy and hypervigilance.

One thing is absolute for Rikki. She wants nothing to do with the Assassins Guild. She's not a joiner, the only rules she follows are her own, and she's damned if she's going to turn over any of her money to an organization that requires one and demands the other.

That's why she's traversing the NetherRealm on a spaceship cruise, trying to get her latest target out the airlock. And she's none too happy to be interrupted by one of the most gorgeous men she's ever seen while she's doing it. Her level of happiness isn't destined to get any higher when the man pushes her out of the way, completes her task, and sweeps her up as he makes his suddenly drunk-appearing way through the ship in as public a manner as possible.

Nothing covert about that. He's going to get them both arrested. And that's her greatest concern until she finds out exactly who he is. After that she's just convinced he's there to kill her.

Misha doesn't know if Rikki is immoral or just incompetent, but whichever it is, he's tired of getting picked up and questioned for jobs she's done. As an Assassins Guild member, rules and control are his religion and her actions are starting to affect his excellent reputation. That's why he's hired Rikki for the job on this ship. He had planned to yank her in and nail her down, find out if she's trying to ruin him or if she just needs his help, and either get her into the Guild or out of the business.

Misha had no idea how instant and intense his attraction would be for the fiery woman, or how memories of their past would affect his behavior. Maybe if he had, he would have done something different. Maybe if he had, he wouldn't have spent an unforgettable night with her, then let her get the better of him. Maybe he wouldn't have had to track her halfway across the galaxy all over again. Maybe. But after that one night, just one night of feeling her, tasting her, having her...Misha definitely had his doubts.

Fortunately for him, as an assassin, he's especially excellent at tracking a target down. Unfortunately, as an assassin, Rikki is especially excellent at staying hidden. Let the best one win.

~*~

If the name Kris DeLake isn't familiar to you, maybe Kristine Kathryn Rusch rings a few bells, or a couple of the award-winning author's other pen names, Kristine Grayson (romance) or Kris Nelscott (mystery). If not, then I have to admit, you're not alone. They were new to me, too. Explains a few things, though, because this book sure didn't read like an authorial debut.

Tight writing, an imaginative, futuristic SciFi world of mayhem, death, and hot sex among the stars, great characters, and a layered plot gave this novel a wonderfully robust balance of fun and chaos that appealed to me from the first paragraph. It's an odd story, I'll say that. Or maybe unique is a better word - less negative connotations. Quirky, even.

The hard-as-nails Rikki and the chameleon Misha are far more complex and in-depth characters than those easily attached adjectives would indicate. In fact, Rikki's past and her insecurities go a long way in defining her, just as Misha's resolute dedication to his code of honor does him. In them, DeLake has crafted two memorable characters with the sort of chemistry that approaches the level of incendiary...then tossed in the match. They were fun, sexy to the point of sizzle, and oh-so-deadly.

What impressed me the most about them, and about the book, actually, is how cleverly written their interpersonal journey was. The prickly lack of trust and wariness that ebbed and flowed between them as the story progressed perfectly suited the characters and their personalities and became an organic extension of their inherent natures. It was a little frustrating on a romantic level, because you can't really grow depth of emotion in soil made rocky by distrust, but it was just right for the story and felt very realistic. Plus, by the time those trust issues started to finally be firmly resolved, several major story elements surrounding them had been kicked off and nicely fleshed out, providing a well-rounded tale that fit perfectly with the characters featured in it.

I wasn't completely sold on how the timeline of the plot and the plot itself had been laid out. There was more than one plot thread throughout the book, and it seemed the three major ones were segregated into the beginning, middle, and end of the book instead of being more cohesively blended together throughout. Each of those parts was told well enough, but the number of them prevented each from being fully developed in the page time they were given.

Especially disappointing to me was the almost perfunctory plot thread surrounding the Guild in the latter part of the book. I would have loved to have seen more of that plotline and the secondary characters introduced in it and less of the cruise ship shenanigans in the beginning. I felt the late-page introduction short-changed the ending quarter of the book just enough to keep that aspect from fully satisfying. The resolution, too, was a bit anticlimactic.

Still a very fun read overall, though.

That really sums up the whole experience of the book, too. It was fun. A lot of fun. There was originality in story, a healthy dose of sizzle in the relationship, and two damaged souls that find each other, feel each other's hearts, and realize they need each other to claim their happiness as they dodge massive meteor-sized space drama. Together.

White Dawn by Susan Edwards

Genre: Historical Romance
Series: The White Series, Book 1
Rating: 2 Stars
Length: 90,000 words
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.



Too Dark a Dawn for Me

She is sixteen and alone in a wilderness she can't survive. Her parents are dead, cut down right in front of her. It's 1810, and Emily Ambrose is terrified, grief-stricken, and broken. And then she is found by a young Indian, one who guides her, protects her, provides for her, makes love to her. But never speaks to her. Until he too, leaves her.

Emily doesn't know why. Or what she did that made him leave. She knows she loves him and is devastated by his loss, even if she never knew his name. She knows her hope and confidence, and any meager joy she had found since watching her parents slaughtered, is gone. Not even the gentle kindness of the trapper John Cartier, the man who finds her after even her Indian left her, is enough to convince Emily she has any worth at all, or any hope for a future too bleak to survive.

From the moment John stumbles upon Emily in the woods, she's like sunshine to him, a bright source of warmth and joy. He can tell she's deeply wounded, emotionally drained. Fortunately, John's a patient and caring man, and he sees Emily as just another wild, traumatized soul who needs help similar to that he's always given the creatures of the forest. He yearns for her, but he knows, beyond doubt, that unless she's given space, time, and gentle handling, the bright light that shines in her will go dark forever. And that's just not acceptable to John.

He wants a chance at a future with Emily. She is forever to him. He just needs to convince her.

~*~

Originally published in 2002, White Dawn has been re-released along with the other eleven books in Edwards' popular White series. Western Romance novels aren't my favorite type of historical, but I was curious about this one and wanted to see where the series began. I wish I'd liked it more.

My issues had nothing to do with how the book was written. It's certainly authentic for the time and the story  is told with solid technical skill. There were some minor issues with a bit of repetition in some of the plot points, but that complaint was minor. The characters were nicely fleshed out, Emily's backstory intensely sympathetic, and John's past well-defined.

Unfortunately, I thought the first quarter of the book too harsh and depressing to be entertaining and I got very frustrated with Emily's character when she was mired in her depression. It was realistic, I suppose, and even understandable. There is such a thing as too realistic for me, though, and this is a good example of it.

Plus, I couldn't help but be a little squigged out by her relationships with both her Indian (because of the result) and John, who at ten years her senior seemed to have achieved an aura of adulthood that Emily had not. It wasn't the age difference - that' wasn't my problem. I just never felt Emily was all that grown up at any point. And that bothered me. I know that a sixteen-year-old was considered an adult back then. I do. But there wasn't enough maturity in Emily's character for me to forget or forgive the instinctive ick-factor of a young girl in her position.

I really liked John. Truly. He was a gentle giant and I loved how he related to the animals and to Emily. He was my favorite character in the book, hands down. His friends and his grandfather also made great secondary characters. I even liked Emily later in the book, when she'd warmed up to John and stopped being so depressed. There just wasn't enough of that for me to really appreciate her character in total.

The storyline was a little weird for me too. I know it's the first book in a well-developed series, but reading just this book on its own caused some problems for me. Swift Foot's backstory and his influence in Emily's life was not only depressing, his storyline cut off with no resolution and a sort of emotional downer. Maybe he's featured in other books, maybe he and his tribe play a part in later books, but it leaves a hole in this one. So did John's cousin. Not a good guy, obviously, but his storyline just sort of cut off suddenly with no resolution.

There were aspects of the book that I did enjoy. Plot points and characters that I found entertaining. Too few of them, though, for me to truly embrace the read or give me any interest in continuing the series to see if any of those threads that were left dangling get woven into subsequent books. This one's not for me.

Beyond the Misty Shore by Vicki Hinze

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Seascape, Book 1
Rating: 5 Stars
Length: 266 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Bell Bridge Books via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



A Love Story with Heart, Healing...and Ghosts

Artist T.J. MacGregor had come to the Seascape Inn to heal. To find peace. There had been a sense of something almost magical about the place on his first visit years ago, and after suffering yet another painful loss and a crushing personal blow, coming back to Seascape had offered him the only hope he could find. That was nine months ago. He still hasn't left.

He can't.

Whenever he tries to so much as step over Seascape's property line, his body is seared by a crushing and bone-deep cold, a brutal cold that strips him of consciousness and leaves him passed out and shivering. His hope has become his prison. His haven a hell. And he has no idea how to break free.

Two years ago, Maggie Wright's cousin Carolyn died in a mysterious car accident that Maggie suspected wasn't all that accidental. Only now can Maggie follow through on a promise she made, a promise to investigate what really happened, to find out why Carolyn was where she was when the car crashed, and maybe even discover who had caused the crash. Maggie had her suspicions and they began and ended with her cousin's fiancé, the respected artist Tyler James, also known as T.J. MacGregor. But she has to find him to question him.

She tries his studio in New Orleans first, but instead of answers, or the man himself, she finds a painting that practically reaches out and embraces her in a cocoon of peace and protection. A painting that shouldn't still exist, if the stories of Carolyn's accident are true. It is a piece she couldn't come close to affording on her own, but the sense of serenity she feels when she gazes at it is one she hasn't felt since she was a child. In that instant, Maggie knows she's going to the place in the painting, the Seascape Inn, for a stay. It is almost a compulsion. Or a quest for something she hadn't realized she desperately needed.

It's her good luck that the very man she seeks to question about her cousin literally trips over her as she is toting her luggage to her room in the inn just days later. Well, it's some sort of luck, at least, as meeting the surly and antagonistic man who probably had a hand in her cousin's death doesn't exactly strike her in any way good. In fact, he pushes every one of her seriously annoyed buttons, and despite the situation...or maybe because of it...she revels in doing her level best to return the favor.

She hasn't even gotten a chance to pin him down for answers before something...odd...about the inn they share starts to seep ever-so-slowly into her consciousness. There is peace - at times - and a feeling of being watched and weighed when no human eyes are around. Then there are those episodes she sees from her window. Inexplicable episodes of...something...when she spots T.J. down by the beach, when she sees him try - flailing and batting at an unseen assailant as he does - to step across some line she can't fathom. When he passes out and collapses from the effort. Every time.

Something is very weird at the Seascape Inn. Something Maggie doesn't understand but can't deny. And it's starting to draw her closer to the one man who not only obviously wants nothing to do with her, but who may have been responsible for the death of her cousin.

~*~

For all that I read, or maybe because of it, I'm rarely surprised by a book. There are always going to be books that are better than I expected, some that aren't as good as I'd anticipated, and occasionally a book blurb doesn't accurately represent the book's contents. That's just how it goes and it's not what I mean by being surprised. That's a part of it, maybe, but it's not the whole.


Beyond the Misty Shore surprised me. It was a wonderful love story. And it was so much more. It was a ghost story. A mystery. A sexy romance. It was quirky. Funny. Had moments of tragic loss and gentle hope. It had cute characters with small-town appeal. Stubborn characters with sardonic wit. It was weird. Even a little scary sometimes. It was written with poise and grace and had passages that were so beautifully lyrical they were almost poetic. It was, in a word, unique.

I wasn't expecting to be so captivated by the creep-factor. Or for the characters to grow on me so quickly. Or for the obviously haunted inn to be so subtly and sublimely woven into a story centered in the gift of timeless, selfless love and healing hearts. This book was just so much more than I expected on every front. It exceeded all expectation.

The relationship between Maggie and MacGregor, tense at first, then warming, but quirky and fun throughout, enchanted me. Both are wounded. Both find solace at Seascape and eventually with each other. Their neediness and yearning for peace was intrinsic to them but didn't make them grasping or needy. Their wounded wariness made them real. The metaphorical teeth they bared at each other because of it made them a lot of fun. And the sparks they struck off each other made me chuckle...and eventually pant.

I loved them for their humor when they needed to keep the fear of several big unknowns at bay. I felt for how their growing feelings for each other stirred their panic over their loss of control. They tease each other, and fight loudly, and I adored that. I understood who they are and sympathized with how damaged they were. They were as close to perfect for each other and as characters as any I've read in recent memory.

The grandmotherly Miss Hattie, caretaker of Seascape Inn, was a charming enigma. The woo-woo element of the place was both chilling and heartening at turns. More than one force was at work in the place, not all my questions were answered about that, and I sure did spend a good portion of the book debating on whether the haunting elements were well-intentioned or not. The book clung tight to its mysteries, for sure. All of that was icing on an already pretty fantastic cake, because it kept me thinking.

And simply, it was very beautifully written. It perfectly captured the scene and setting, the history and the mystery, and the deep, complex, sometimes conflicting emotions that are startingly realistic despite the fantastical situation. Powerful emotions, hearty story of love, loss, forgiveness and hope, sweeping romance. This book, quite literally, had it all. I loved it.

If you're a fan of the chilling spine-tingle of haunted houses, characters you want to bop on the head while they make you laugh, groan, and breathe heavy, and romance so powerful it makes your chest ache, this book is for you. If you love stories about the healing of wounded hearts and the magic of the most powerful sort of love, this book is for you. If you like two characters who squabble their way headlong into a relationship while the world around them watches and gossips as small towns do, this book is for you. If you like exquisitely strong writing that pulls you into a story that has all of that, this book is for you. It was, unquestionably, for me.

Enjoying the Show by Marie Harte

Genre: Erotic Romance
Series: N/A
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 91 Pages
Formats: Kindle



Sexy Little Bite of Yum

It's innocent, if slightly indecent fun. About as indecent as the shy and a little uptight Hailey Jennison gets, actually. She and her friends get together every Friday night for some very specific girl time. Gathering around the window in her friend's apartment, lights off, snacks and drinks in hand, they look out the window and down into the apartment of the man they refer to as Mr. Tool.

The man is smoking hot and has a habit of walking around his apartment barely clothed, sometimes not clothed at all (and aren't those happy nights!), with his lights on and his shades up. Hey, a girl's gotta grab whatever salacious fun she can, right? It's harmless and he's the man of her dreams - literally. Then she goes out to get some more booze for the girl's night and Mr. Tool confronts her about her and her friends' weekly activities.

Mr. Tool...Gage for those who actually know him as more than just a bit of man candy, gives Hailey an ultimatum. Either she goes out on a date with him, or he calls the cops and files a complaint about her and her friends' weekly peeping.

For six months Gage has been hoping for a chance with Hailey. She had moved out of the complex before he worked up the courage to talk to her, but he caught her and her friends spying on him one night and has gone out of his way to make sure she has plenty to see ever since. True, blackmailing the woman for a date isn't exactly the most gallant thing he's ever done, but it got the job done. Finally. Now, if he can just manage to get through the date without opening his mouth and sticking one or both feet into it.

To say Gage is socially awkward around women would be a gross understatement. It makes starting a relationship hard, especially when he is as attracted to a woman as he is Hailey. A little blackmail seems a small matter for his pride, though, if it gets him a shot with Hailey.

~*~

This deliciously erotic little bit of yumminess was fun for a hot, quick read. The plot was a bit light, and I'm not sure I bought the whole gorgeous-guy-has-to-blackmail-a-girl-for-a-date concept, but the characters were likable and the sex was abundant and hot. Sometimes, that's all I need to be happy with an erotic novella like this.

I liked that there was a surprisingly plentiful cast of secondary characters. The length of the story didn't give much room for them to be fleshed out very well, but spending time with Gage's family and Hailey's friends did add a bit of depth to both main characters. Depth that I enjoyed. I was amused by the relationship between Gage and his brothers and mother. Those weekly breakfast/guilt sessions and the sibling ribbings that went on seemed very natural to the characters and situations. I enjoyed them a lot.

I wish that Harte had pushed the envelope of Gage's awkwardness around women even further, because he never really struck me that way when he was around Hailey. He certainly wasn't Mr. Charming, but to have built up the level of neurosis he had over his lack of ability to speak to women without saying something wrong, I would have expected him to be much, much worse than he was. Maybe if he'd been even more blunt, or less endearing with his clumsiness, I would have bought into it a bit more.

Hailey didn't do much for me, really. She didn't annoy, but she's too familiar as the uptight, tightly wound Type A personality bordering on prissy. The girl with a killer bod and an ice maiden exterior fashioned from her fear of pain. I wish more originality had gone into her character, but she at least held her own.

I'm not a fan of the quick-to-love theme in romance, even in erotic novellas. That, for me, was the bigger issue with the story. I wish the romance had been given a longer lead time, even if it had been in condensed form. I also would have liked a meatier plot, and I'm no fan of relationship conflict that's nothing more than a failure to communicate, as it was here. Those are the things that held me back from completely liking what I read.

It was hot, though, I'll say that. And I do have a soft spot for the themes of unrequited love (or lust) and love (lust) from afar, like Gage had for Hailey. He was kind of geeky-cute with his affections and I enjoyed that aspect very much. For a quick read that will definitely raise a gal's body temp, I'd recommend this one, but I personally would have liked more story and a less annoying conflict.

Behind the Scenes by Natalie J. Damschroder

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: N/A
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 90,000 words
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.



An Explosive Package of Suspense, Action, and Romance

Driven by the murder of the elder brother she idolized, Kennedy Smyth has spent a decade building an elite security business with the sole purpose of protecting companies and charities working in dangerous countries. Her team is the best in the world. She's the best of the best.

When a family friend asks her to take a job providing security for his son's movie production, Kennedy wants to dismiss the job as frivolous. She doesn't do frivolous. Plus, she has doubts about the legitimacy of the threats against the director and lead actors, regardless of some of the dangerous rhetoric they've been receiving. Still, there are jobs she can decline, and those she can't, and a personal request from a family friend is definitely one of the latter.

Once on set, Kennedy and her crew are all business, doing their level best to secure the actors and director and make the environment as safe as possible. Complications, though, arise quickly on what should have been a simple job, complications in the form of the actor who is the movie's leading man. Try as she might to keep a professional distance between her and the good looking, charming Rogan St. James, he is intent on pushing through her defenses from the moment he sees her.

If she hadn't already been wrong once, and the danger to the set and the crew hadn't been proven to be all too real...and if she dared to be at all honest, she would be just as interested in him. Not that she would ever act on those feelings. No matter how enticing he is.

Those good intentions may be blown to hell when the job's complications turn critical. The machinations of a determined madman have become all too personal...and are targeting neither the movie nor its cast and crew, but Kennedy herself. If she doesn't stop a deadly foe she can't see or find before he can kill her and anyone close to her, she may lose more than her life, she may lose the man who - despite herself - has become the leading man in her heart.

~*~

Okay, I'm just going to rip that bandage off right away, because I had some issues with this book. The premise for the external plot conflict was a stretch for me. I just couldn't quite buy into the actions and motivations of the Bad Guy or understand why 'they' (as a gender-nonspecific pronoun) would go through the convoluted gyrations 'they' went through to achieve what 'they' wanted to achieve. Because of that, the security job on the movie set and the subsequent introduction of Roman and Kennedy came off as a bit contrived to me after the dust had settled.

I also wish more attention had been given to the relationship between Roman and Kennedy as it evolved. What was there was okay, and I did like them both as individual characters and as a couple, but Roman just didn't seem to be as significant a presence in the story as I would have liked him to be, and the romance arc suffered just a little for me because of that.

There, now that's said, let's get to the parts that I loved, which far outweighed those petty issues. I adored Kennedy as a lead character and love, love, loved that she was not only the top of her field in a very male-dominated occupation, but that she started and built her own company around that field. Yes, I freely admit, I have a wide and large soft spot for kick-ass heroines, but what I admire more in my fiction are women who excel at unconventional jobs, work hard, and command respect for it all.

That she was also a flawed and slightly broken woman still haunted by the death of her brother and was someone who definitely sacrificed a lot to be where and who she is just made it all the better. Loved her.

My hat, were I wearing one, would also be doffed for Damschroder for doing such a remarkably superb job creating and executing such an intensely complex security job. With seemingly effortless aplomb, she manipulated and wove together the myriad pieces of characters, setting, and suspense, and produced one of the most detail-oriented and believable scenarios of a realistic security detail that I've read in romantic suspense. Ever. And considering the proliferation of security teams/bodyguard organizations in the RS genre and the number of books featuring them that I've read, that's saying something.

I may not have totally bought into how Kennedy came to provide security for that movie, but I have nothing but admiration and respect for how bloody well written it was once they were there. Everything from the initial preparation of her team to the rising anxiety as the threat level increased to the actions and decisions made as a result of that increased threat worked perfectly for me. It was intense, compelling reading and I adored it.

The secondary characters that made up her security detail, while perhaps not excessively fleshed out, were given enough definition to seem completely individual and believable to me. I do wish Diane had been introduced a little earlier in the story, because I loved her attitude and thought she had a fantastic presence on the page. I would thoroughly enjoy a book that featured her as the lead character. That Damschroder was able to just plop her down, flesh her out, and make her so damn respectable and likable in such a short period of time shows off her impressive storytelling chops.

Without doubt, I thought the scenes surrounding the security detail job were brilliant and the plot - beyond the premise - was chock full of action, suspense, and intense emotion. The characters were well drawn and the storyline packed with enough depth to keep me engaged throughout. I wish the romance had as much emotional impact as the suspense, but what was there didn't disappoint, either. The excellent storytelling and strong characters made for memorable romantic suspense and created for Damschroder a new fan of her writing. I can't wait to see what else she has out there, and wonder what's coming next.

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

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

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