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Skin in the Game by Jackie Barbosa

Genre: Contemporary Romance; Sports Romance
Series: Play Action, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 145 Pages
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Brazen publisher Entangled Publishing via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.




Sexy Series Debut

When NFL quarterback and hometown hero Cade Reynolds returns to Harper Falls for the first time in sixteen years to do a favor for his old high school football coach, the town's welcome is...well...slightly underwhelming. No one even recognizes him. At least, no one but the stunningly sexy woman who is on her way out of the coffee shop when she sees him sitting at a table.

The heated recognition that flares in her eyes puts Cade's blood flow on a southward bound sex train. He should probably meet her first, however, before asking her to be his lusty conductor.

Angie Peterson couldn't imagine what her former high school crush was doing back in Harper Falls after all these years. She knows he's still rehabbing the shoulder injury that knocked him out of the game for almost two seasons, but all reports indicate he should be heading back to the sport soon. She should know, she's followed Cade's career as devotedly as she follows football. One is her life and her passion, the other, well, a different sort of passion. So the frank interest she sees in his eyes when she meets his gaze thrills her to her core.

Thankfully, he doesn't seem to remember her. That opens the door for all sorts of delightful recreation. After all, it's not like the illustrious Cade Reynolds is likely to be in town for long.

After a decadent night of unbridled passion, Angie returns to the real world and her job as math teacher and assistant football coach for the high school. Coming face-to-face with Cade at work so soon after relegating their fabulous night together to the past is a shock, but it's finding out exactly why Cade is back in town that really tilts Angie's world on its axis and threatens everything she's worked so hard to achieve.

He may be there to take a job that should rightfully be hers, but when it comes to football, Angie is a master at strategy, and this is a game she has every intention of winning. Even if it is against the only man she's ever truly wanted.

~*~

As a mostly cute and wickedly sexy little contemporary romance with heavy sports influences, Barbosa's series debut works nicely and even has a few nifty little unorthodox touches. I enjoyed both characters, even though Cade's character stayed fairly consistent with the wounded sports hero stereotype. He had enough charming traits that went against-type to keep him interesting. It was Angie's character, though, that really brought a breath of fresh air to the read for me.

I loved that she's not only an assistant coach, but she's brilliant with game strategy and play calling. That was a particularly nice touch in a sub-genre where the female protagonists are usually stuck working for a sports team's front office or as some sort of sports reporter.

Angie and Cade had excellent chemistry, too, and the level of competition between them set the evolution of their relationship on a very nice simmer as the story progressed. And it has to be said...Barbosa completely delivered on the page-burning, sizzling sex. It was fan-worthy and positively delicious.

The overall plot wasn't terribly complex, and the few threads of external conflict were fairly anemic in both depth and definition, with a resolution that I found lacking. Still, this isn't the sort of story that necessitates a tremendous amount of complexity to be entertaining. Some elements were pretty far from realistic, others could have been a little more believable with a little more foundation, but those are really pretty minor issues, all things considered.

I didn't like the end of the book, though. That was a problem. And I hate when a book ends an unsatisfying or disappointing note when so much else in the story works for me. Whenever that happens, my overall impression of the read takes a hit. Too much about this ending, though, felt more like a setup for the next book than a satisfying conclusion to this one and I just wasn't happy with it.

I was happy with much of the rest of it, though. It was sexy as hell, with solid characters in a contentious but fiery romance and a story that had just enough individuality to make it memorable. A steamy-hot way to spent a few fun reading hours. Speaking as a football lover, I'd say this one made it to the end zone, even if it missed the extra point.

Forbidden by Jacquelyn Frank

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: The World of Nightwalkers, Book 1
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 288 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Ballentine Books publisher Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



Not My Cuppa...Unfortunately

Docia Waverly's last thought as she went over the bridge and plummeted to her death at the hands of an unknown assailant was a fervent hope that her body would be carried downriver and out of her brother's police jurisdiction. She never doubted she was going to die. No one survives what the stranger in the SUV did to her.

Turns out, she was right...and wrong.

Docia wakes up in the hospital with no idea why she was targeted and no clue how she survived. And the second attempt on her life was no less a surprise. This time, though, a huge, stunningly gorgeous stranger steps in to save her. Definitely a much less painful way not to die. But then Docia's world takes an even more surreal turn. Hot Stranger Guy keeps referring to her as his queen - how weird is that? - and tells her that she's not Docia any longer...or, not just Docia.

The guy, and really, he's got to be completely off his nut, more's the pity, spouts off about being her guide and protector, then something about a transition period, whatever the hell that is. Frankly, Docia is a hairsbreadth away from freaking right the hell out. Especially when he and his doubly huge and far less pleasant friend kidnaps her.

Wait...is it kidnapping if she goes with them to protect her brother?

Ram, skilled warrior and right hand of the Bodywalker king, Menes, is tasked to protect Docia and the slowly transitioning queen of his people who now shares her body. The feelings she stirs in him, however, make him feel traitorous to his king, who loves his queen above all else.

With the war between the Politic he serves and Templars he loathes heating up, and all evidence pointing towards a growing crisis of nightmare proportions, one prophesied to unite...or destroy...all Nightwalker kind, Ram can never act on his startling emotions. To do so would violate his honor and his centuries-long fealty to his king. And risk the lives of the thousands who depend on him.

~*~

When I first started getting into paranormal romance, it was Jacquelyn Frank's Nightwalkers series, along with a handful of other now-classic PNR series, that really lit the fandom fire that has endured for so very many years. Still, it has been a long time since I've read a Frank book. I wasn't crazy about the Shadowdwellers series debut and I never got around to picking up the books she's written since, but I was excited to hear about this Nightwalkers series spin-off and had high hopes that I would be able to embrace another equally beloved series.

It wasn't the story that bothered me. Or the characters, either, really. I still love this world, and was especially tickled by the prologue that opens this book. It was like a short, fun visit with long-lost friends. I also thought Docia was a good heroine, feisty and loyal and strong, and Ram was as brooding, hot, and sexy as any of my favorites of Frank's leading men.

The myriad shifting points of view in the narrative and sheer number of characters who were featured in them didn't thrill me, but they weren't a deal breaker. I loved Docia's brother Jackson and thought his secondary storyline fraught with emotion and intensity. It was a nice complement to Docia's and Ram's plotline. Enough so that I didn't mind so much shifting focus from the main couple to his storyline, even though I do think it hampered the fluidity of the read a bit and prevented the main characters and their storyline from reaching their full potential.

Unfortunately, though, I had a huge problem with this book that no amount of deft writing, lovable characters, or imaginative storyline could overcome. I hate the concept of Bodywalkers as a race and detested the mythos surrounding them. Everything about them either freaks me out, makes me uncomfortable, or just isn't to my taste.

The idea of sharing a body with another person, willingly giving up your individuality, the very essence that makes you unique, to blend with another soul...one personality subsuming the other (yeah, that whole concept of "blending" didn't quite cut it for me), just gives me a major case of the wiggins. Absolutely everything about it disturbs me on a very visceral level.

I don't know why...and maybe I'm weird for feeling that way...but there it is.

Egyptian mythology and history isn't really my thing, either, but it's definitely a change from the plethora of Greek and Roman elements in the genre, so I couldn't complain too much about that, but I just could not reconcile myself with the concept of Bodywalkers and their...parasitic existence. To me, that just seems like giving up your core self to allow some random traveler to hitchhike in your body.

And on top of that, instead of having two people involved in a romantic relationship, you've got four separate personalities. I don't even like ménages à trois in my romance fiction. The whole thing was all a little too Sybil for me and pushed me way past my comfort level.

I so wish I didn't have to say this; I was completely looking forward to this series. I'm afraid, though, given what I read here, this spin-off isn't going to be for me. I know this book wasn't, despite the many good points it did have. Damn it.

Don't Bite the Bridesmaid by Tiffany Allee

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Sons of Kane, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 209 Pages
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Covet publisher Entangled Publishing, LLC via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



Light, Fun Vamp Romance

Alice Shepard is thrilled about her sister's upcoming wedding, but the idea of attending alone and having to face her cheating bastard of an ex-boyfriend and traitorous ex-best friend makes her sick inside. She needs a date. Actually, she needs a sinfully handsome guy to act completely enthralled with her for the duration of a wedding cruise. And Alice is certain that her long-time neighbor, the gorgeous and enigmatic Noah Thorpe, is perfect for the role.

Convincing him to go along with the plan is another matter altogether.

Noah is in a bind. The Council, the group of vampires who rule his people, is pushing him into a forced bonding with a stranger out of some high-handed and misguided concern for his welfare. Though his best friends are trying to reason with them on his behalf, it's not looking so good for Noah's continued bachelorhood.

Getting out of town for awhile may be just what he needs, and Alice's offer may come just when he needs it, but the idea of spending a week on board a cruise ship full of humans with his gorgeous but odd neighbor as his date is a hell of a price to pay to slip The Council's leash. On the bright side, sharing a small stateroom with the woman and having her alluring, addictive scent and delectably perky body teasing his senses every minute of every day may go a long way to footing that particular bill.

~*~

I don't normally favor paranormal romance with this sort of fluffy, romantic comedy tone, and the romance theme, drag-a-stranger/friend/neighbor-to-a-wedding-as-a-fake-date-and-fall-in-love, has been done far too many times for my taste, but I have to admit, there was something about the combination of these characters and Allee's writing that made the story work for me a lot better than I was anticipating.

Alice was a little quirky and odd, but plucky and cute. Noah was all dark and broody in his own mind, but endearingly out of his depth when Alice is in his personal space and absolutely charming with her family. They had great chemistry from the start and I enjoyed their relationship evolution quite a lot, despite the week-long time frame.

The non-paranormal elements of the read were fairly formulaic. The threads of conflict between Alice and her ex could have been in any of a hundred other similarly-themed stories I've read. I still enjoyed seeing Noah deal with him. The paranormal elements weren't as defined as I would have preferred, and they had a more understated impact on the whole of the story than I was hoping, but there were a few nice surprises and one twist in particular that absolutely delighted me.

I could have done without the Big Misunderstanding as the relationship conflict, and I never felt Kane's sudden appearance made all that much sense for the external conflict, nor did I feel his motives were clear, but overall, there were no big issues that put a serious crimp in my reading enjoyment. Mostly this was just a sexy, fluffy, fairly superficial but cute read. It definitely provided more fun than I was anticipating. Enough to make me interested in reading more stories with the other sons of Kane.

Running in the Dark by Regan Summers

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Night Runner, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 146 Pages
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

I Love Sydney

She tried retirement. It didn't agree with her.

Vampire courier Sydney Kildare survived a turf war in Alaska and retired to Hawaii, a wonderfully vampire-free state. She was enjoying island life just fine (being bored senseless) until the goons of a sucker with a grudge showed up and tried to kidnap her. That's about when she realized the danger was the most fun she'd had since she retired.

Now Sydney is in Chile with her vampire sorta-boyfriend Malcolm, who had been sent to South America to manage the holdings of master vampire Bronson in his continued absence. Sure, Sydney can't speak the language beyond a few important phrases, she's stuck with the low-money newbie routes at her new courier agency, and the car she's driving is a real POS, but the thrill being a runner is universal.

All in all, life is going pretty well for her. At least it is until vampires on her route start dying under highly disturbing circumstances and an old enemy of Malcolm's decides that the best way to piss him off is to break the little human courier he's so fond of. As she is that little human courier, that's a plan that just doesn't work for Sydney. Whether or not she'll survive long enough to lodge a formal complaint is another matter entirely.

~*~

There's just something about Sydney Kildare, and because of her, this series, that makes me smile. There is a lot of charming...and sometimes not-so-charming quirks in her character. She's an inveterate adrenaline junkie, but she's not foolhardy with her safety. She runs messages, a dangerous occupation on lots of levels, and that puts her into direct contact with vampires she mostly fears and dislikes, but she is hyper-vigilant around them. She keeps everyone she knows at a distance and looks at the world through street-wise, sometimes jaded eyes, but throws herself into a relationship with a vampire she doesn't exactly know that well.

Those sorts of quirks, when paired with an inner monologue peppered with sarcasm and attitude, make her a very appealing and interesting heroine. She's certainly not out to save the world, just survive it while making the most money possible. I have to admit, her prosaic approach to her life appeals to me.

I like the stories Summer writes surrounding her, too. This is not a warm, fuzzy world. It's dark and gritty, and while vampires may have an excellent PR firm, Sydney is under no delusions about their nature. That's probably a good thing given how often she seems to find herself in situations that show off the worst of it. Meanwhile, her relationship with Malcolm, which is really more of a subplot of the story, is fraught with the sort of growing pains one would expect from two people who not only don't know each other well, but are in very different places in their lives, despite the obvious chemistry between them.

I like Malcolm a lot. I like his relationship with Sydney, too, and I literally laughed long and loud when he cooked (or tried to) paella for her. I'm just not on real firm footing about the potential longevity of that relationship. There is a lot about them together that works, but there's also a hell of a lot of things that could explode them at any given moment, and they don't actually seem to really have a place in each others world. It makes me leery of becoming too attached to him.

I'm already attached to the series. I do wish there'd been a bit more resolution of the plot thread left dangling in Don't Bite the Messenger, but that got only a passing nod a time or two in this story. It looks like it was being set up to be addressed in the next book, so hopefully we'll see resolution some day. I still believe that reading DBtM before this one is the way to go, even if you're like me and prefer to avoid prequel novellas. In this case, it was integral in setting up the world and the relationship between Sydney and Malcolm, and shouldn't be missed if you're going to read this book.

And really, if you like urban fantasy that's just a step outside the box with a heroine who can drive like a demon and the vampire who will brave electronic equipment for her, you should read this book. I just hope like hell we'll see a "second" book in the series soon.


The Night Runner Series:

Dead Spots by Melissa F. Olson

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Scarlett Bernard, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 283 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me through the Amazon Vine program at Amazon.com. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.




Urban Fantasy Series with Potential

Scarlett Bernard is mostly human, but it's the very rare and not-so-human part of her that makes her valuable to the three magical factions of the Old World that calls Los Angeles home. Scarlett is a null. A magical dead zone. If a vampire or a werewolf comes within ten feet of her, the magic that makes them what they are shorts out and they become human again, and witches can't so much as mutter a spell in her vicinity.

It's a very useful gift to have when dealing with things that can kill you before you could blink.

It's also useful to the supernatural community. When one of their own does something that leaves a mess of the dead body, blood and gore, or spell-gone-wrong variety, Scarlett gets a call to go in and clean it up so humans don't become aware of all those things that go bump in the night.

Her current call is at the abrupt command of the most powerful immortal in the city, the vampire Dashiell. Three unidentified victims have been butchered in horrific fashion and left in a public park, but before Scarlett can do so much as open up a trash bag to start collecting the...pieces, LAPD detective Jesse Cruz stumbles onto the scene and gets an up close and personal glimpse of the darker side of the Old World.

As if keeping Dashiell from killing Jesse for his new-found knowledge isn't enough to deal with, Scarlett has even bigger problems. The victims were vampires, and the evidence in their grisly murders is pointing at the only person in town who could have incapacitated three of their kind at the same time: Scarlett.

Now Scarlett has less than forty-eight hours to bring the real killer to Dashiell for retribution. If she doesn't, the master of the city will execute her for the deaths of his people. Whether she proves she had no hand in their deaths or not.

~*~

Urban Fantasy used to be one of my favorite genres, but lately I've been having trouble finding new series that hold my interest. There are too many interchangeable heroines with varying degrees of personal damage and emotional retardation, too many love triangles...or quadrangles...or pentagons...etc., too many worlds that aren't unique enough or interesting enough or dangerous enough, with stories that leave me feeling ambivalent.

I keep trying, though, hoping for the series that will spark my old love for the genre.

I don't yet know if I've found that with Olson's series debut, but it wasn't a bad start and it's definitely got promise. The world is interesting, and I love the idea that LA is the Old World equivalent of Nowheresville. It's not exactly the happening place for otherwordly creatures. It's still dangerous, though, and the vampires in particular are more deadly than sexy hunks of non-breathing love.

Scarlett is also not one of those interchangeable heroines. She's less kick-ass than cover-her-own-ass. In a world where things bite and claw their way to the top, she's just a step above human, and her gift often puts her at odds with the very people for whom she works. She is also not particularly constrained by the concepts of human morality and ethics, which makes her interesting to me as a reader, even though her moral ambiguity made me uncomfortable in a couple of places.

Unfortunately, her character, while interesting, isn't always likable. She is dragging around a pretty big suitcase of emotional baggage, and the guilt she feels for her parents' death always felt grossly misplaced. She's got the exact sort of emotional retardation that most bugs me, so whenever the focus was on her damage, I started to get itchy, and it came up in the story too often for my tastes.

The plot was strong, though, with several nice twists that added danger and intrigue, and it started off with a devastating prologue that hit hard. I was also pleased with the smooth transitions in the shifting points of view in the narrative. I've rarely seen it done as seamlessly as it was here. Shifting between Scarlett's first person point of view to third person omniscient for scenes focused on Jesse was a nice way to get readers into Jesse's head and define his character without being colored by Scarlett's opinions. It made him a more three dimensional character than he might otherwise have been.

I'm not sure yet how I feel about Eli. He wasn't fleshed out enough for me to get a good read on him. Considering his history with Scarlett and how he felt about her, that was a bit of a problem for me, and it created another point of contention with her as the heroine. There wasn't a love triangle, per se, but that's more because Scarlett is too damaged to be seriously interested in any man, not because both Eli and Jesse aren't interested in her. They are, so I foresee a bunch of emotional angst between the three of them in the future. Can't say I'm looking forward to that.

I am looking forward to more in the series, despite that, though. Scarlett wasn't consistently likable, but she definitely had her moments. I loved her moral ambiguity and when she wasn't beating herself up for the past, she was sympathetic. I also love that she holds her own despite being the most fragile of creatures in a deadly world. With the twist at the end, which was a particularly nice tease for the next book, I'm looking forward to my next visit to LA, Old World style.

Don't Bite the Messenger by Regan Summers

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Night Runner, Book 0.5
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 91 Pages
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



A Good Start

Being a courier for the technologically challenged vampire population is a balls-to-the-wall adrenaline rush that pays very well, but it doesn't come with any of those nifty bennies that safer, tamer jobs offer. Like a long life. In fact, at twenty-six, Sydney Kildare is the oldest runner in Anchorage, and she's just a few runs shy of her goal of retiring somewhere hot and sunny. And vampire-free.

Unfortunately for Sydney, one of her runs lands her smack in the middle of a vampire turf war, and as excellent as Sydney is at staying off vampire radar in normal situations, the grim fact is that they are the ultimate predators. If they focus their attention on finding you and using you, you get found and used. For whatever nefarious purposes they have.

Well, either that or you get real dead, and that would definitely put a crimp in Sydney's retirement plans.

~*~

Novellas and short-length novels are often hit-or-miss with me not so much because of what's written on the pages, but because of what isn't. Novellas such as this one, which appealed to me on a lot of levels, can still leave me feeling like I was missing something from the read. When the story is especially promising, or the characters particularly likable, as was the case here, I can often feel very frustrated by the end.

I loved Sydney, and the gritty, dangerous life she's living as a vampire runner. Her character, which is nicely rounded out with several quirks and peccadilloes to make her interesting, had enough heart and inner strength to make her an easy champion for the series. The brief but tragic glimpses into her past were especially nice. I loved Malcolm, too, though I still don't feel like I've got a complete handle on his character just yet.

The world they inhabit felt fresh and original, and the amount of world-building was excellent for novella-length fiction. For all that goodness, though, I felt several key elements of the external conflict lacked the definition and explanation necessary to make it really work for me.

The bulk of the plot conflict revolves around Sydney's significance to the vampire community in general and the master vampire Bronson in particular, but I never really felt that the importance of her job and her uniqueness in doing it had been defined well enough to allow me to accept the amount of effort spent in targeting her. Because of that, and despite how much fun her being targeted was to read, the reasons behind it fell flat, which crippled the plot for me.

I was okay with the abrupt ending and lack of resolution to a big portion of the external conflict, though, which surprised me. Maybe the fact that I had the "first" book in the series to read at the end of this "prequel novella" tempered my feelings in that regard. I will say this, though, I can't imagine, given where and how this novella concluded, that reading the "first" book in the series would be a good idea without first reading this "prequel." This story just contains too much groundwork for a world and conflict that, if not resolved in this story has to at least be given some attention in the next.

With Sydney's appeal as the heroine, and the intensely awesome burgeoning relationship between her Malcolm, I'm very much looking forward to seeing what Summers can do with it all in a full-length novel. Using this novella as a measuring stick, this series has a ton of potential to rock my Happy Reader buttons in all the right ways.

Bad Mouth by Angela McCallister

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: N/A
Rating: 2 Stars
Length: 247 Pages
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Covet publisher Entangled Publishing LLC via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.




The Problem Wasn't His Mouth

Vampire Liaison Valerie Craig has a big, bad situation on her hands. There have been a rash of bloodings lately, vampires draining human victims, and an increase in derangements, or a transformation from human to vampire that went wrong. She has no choice but to take the matter to the king and queen of the vampire nation and ask for help to put an end to the crimes.

There are a couple of problems with her goal, however. First, Valerie loathes vampires with a deep and highly bigoted passion, so dealing with them in person always gives her a case of the willies. Even if she can get a handle on that reaction, she's got to simultaneously convince two members of undead royalty that there is a problem, and that their own people are responsible, without making one single political misstep lest the temperamental Immortalis Dominorum view her accusations as an aggressive act, potentially kicking off an inter-species war in the process. The sort of war that would not go well for the human population.

As it turns out, the vampires do something even worse than start a war. They give her one single vampire to act as her backup and mouthpiece during her investigation. And if Val's instinctive reaction to the king and queen of Dominorum is bad, then the foul-mouthed, bad-tempered killer Kade is going to give her convulsions.

She hates vampires, he hates humans, and they will have to rise above their prejudices to work together to stop the killings and prevent a war that would decimate the population of both their peoples.

~*~

I think I should have reviewed this book sooner, because the more time that's passed since I finished it, the more problems I have with the story upon reflection. There were some nice, fresh elements in the world building and concept of the plot. I enjoyed the vampire caste system and the idea of the Vampire Liaison Office for which Val works. The external conflict of the investigation into the bloodings may have been a bit pedestrian, but it was introduced well and fleshed out enough to sustain the narrative. It also provided a nice framework for the relationship arc between the two main characters.

Unfortunately, all those good individual pieces weren't assembled in a way that appealed to me. I struggled with the characters, their romance, and various plot points and story elements that either didn't make sense in the framework of the story or contradicted previously established mythos. It all just ended up seeming a bit of a frenetic mess.

My concerns started early in the book. Val's ignorance and militant bigotry was so extreme it was off-putting. She was working on legislation that would eventually result in the eradication of an entire race of sentient beings because her ex-husband was a douchebag to her. Thousands of people expendable because one guy did her wrong. That made it sort of hard for me to warm up to her as the romantic heroine.

To make matters worse, she was a hypocrite. She blasts her friend Graham for going gaga over the vampire Rex and Domina when he meets them, but five minutes after meeting Kade she does the same thing. I was far into the book before her character evolved enough for me to find her tolerable, and even then she was too inconsistent for me to really like her.

I did like Kade, though. Quite a lot. Problem is, he's supposed to be this foul-mouthed tough guy. So much so that the book is titled accordingly. Except he wasn't. Oh sure, there was profanity, and every once in a while he'd blurt out something...earthier than what one would hear in normal polite conversation, but it never struck me as egregious, nor was it consistent throughout the narrative. And by the end of the book there were more cheesy-romance mouth moments than bad mouth moments.

Val still reacted to his language throughout the book like he was a drunk sailor with poor impulse control. It got tiresome.

They did have solid sexual chemistry, and had the timeline of the story occurred over a longer span than the handful of days it does, the romance would have been a plus for me. Val and Kade just went into it with way too much baggage for me to buy that they'd get over their prejudices and fall in love in less then a week. I don't like romance arcs that culminate that quickly to begin with, and these characters started with pretty virulent antagonism that quick-flashed into romance melodrama well before the end of the book. It didn't work for me.

There were some interesting secondary characters that had surface appeal, but none of them were really fleshed out in any great detail. If I'm dealing with a series that will feature those characters as protagonists in their own book at a later time, that lack of character definition doesn't bother me as much, but nothing I've seen has mentioned that's the case with this book so I wasn't even able to be really happy with them.

Other niggling details, like seeming contradictions in established mythos (Graham bounced back faster than I thought was possible), moments of character stupidity, questionable timelines, and a Big Bad's suspect motivations all served to muddy the waters more than they entertained. And boy howdy, that Big Bad took the concept of a Long Game to extremes far beyond insidious Machiavellian intent and straight into delusional idiocy. I'm still not sure I understand the reasons behind it all.

To be fair, I didn't dislike the book while I was reading it. I didn't love it, but it was okay. It wasn't until I gave it a few days to marinate in my mind, though, that the sum the issues that had built up throughout the story started to wear down my opinion of the read. It may have had all the right pieces, but it just didn't put them together in a way that left me happy with the book. I would like to revisit the world, though. There's potential there.

Heart of the Dragon's Realm by Karalynn Lee

Genre: Fantasy Romance
Series: N/A
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 142 Pages
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



Needed More Tathan

Princess Kimri of Anagard is furious with her brother the king. He has traded her hand to the King of Helsmont for an alliance and weapons. A worthy enough cause, given the toll the ongoing war with Kenasgate has taken on her land and people, but that doesn't excuse him bartering her like a piece of property.

Especially not to the enigmatic king rumored to have a dragon guarding his mysterious kingdom.

Arriving in Helsmont to meet her betrothed brings all manner of surprises to Kimri. The king is neither old nor unpleasant as she'd feared. In fact, he's quite arresting in stature and gracious in nature, and instead of a quick wedding, he is abiding by mountain custom and allowing her a year to make sure they suit before committing to the marriage.

As Kimri settles herself into an unfamiliar kingdom and acquaints herself with her betrothed and his people, finding acceptance and freedoms she hadn't even enjoyed in her own land, Kimri can't help but start to think that when it comes to betrothals to a handsome and kind mountain-king, perhaps a year is too long.

~*~

This was a lovely little tale, and despite having some issues with several elements of the storyline, I enjoyed it. The characters were likable and the writing was well-crafted and wonderfully descriptive. There was a fantastic amount of world building, especially throughout the first half of the book, and Kimri's character, as well as a couple of secondary characters, were memorable.

It's good that I enjoyed Kimri's character as much as I did, though, as she was the sole main character, and that's where my problems with the book started. At best, Tathan was an ancillary character in the story, sharing only a handful of scenes with Kimri. They spend a bit more time together off page, as Kimri refers to sharing their morning meals and accompanying him around Helsmont, but it still wasn't close to enough for me to be able to consider him a romantic lead character.

Kimri spends far more page time with Prince Herrol of Kenasgate, and while those scenes were nice enough to build towards the plot elements late in the book, it hampered my appreciation for the romance between Kimri and Tathan. That romance was understated nearly to the point of nonexistence and I felt Tathan, who I liked very much from what little I saw of him, was painfully underutilized. It was truly a shame, as this could easily have been a story I absolutely loved had he and their romance had more presence in the tale.

I did love the big reveal during the book's climax, even though I saw it coming, but that's about all I loved in the final quarter of the book. The storyline, which had been evolving at a relatively slow but pleasant, steady pace once Kimri arrived in Helsmont, started to come apart a bit for me as layers of external conflict were added into the plotline. The pace definitely picked up, and that would have been fine, but I thought the various plot points and elements of conflict got glossed over and rushed through as the story reached its climax.

Still, there were very many good points in this read, and I enjoyed Lee's authorial voice. Had the story evolved just a little differently towards the end, and had Tathan had a much larger role, this could easily have been a five star read for me. It fell short in that regard, but I would still love to revisit this world if given the opportunity. Several characters, Commandant Beatris in particular, left a lasting impression. I was saddened by how her role in the story ended and would love to know what becomes of her.

The Rebound Girl by Tamara Morgan

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Getting Physical, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 236 Pages
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



Nice Guys CAN Get the Girl

Plastic surgeon Whitney Vidra is living her dream. Unfortunately for the city girl, that dream has landed her in the ultra-conservative town of Pleasant Park, PA, where her and her two best friends are starting up their own all-purpose medical spa. With no nightlife to speak of and locals who could sweat disapproval and disdain...if they sweat at all, Whitney is feeling a little hemmed in by the very opportunity she and her friends have been scrimping and saving for over a decade to achieve.

When she's approached by the adorable but obviously clueless Matt Fuller at what passes for a bar in her new hometown, Whitney takes one look at the man and is ready to run in the other direction. He's got Needy Nice Guy written all over him, and Whitney doesn't do charity cases any more.

Recently divorced grade school teacher Matt isn't her usual fare for sexy good times. He's got life-long commitment written all over him, and Whitney is terminally allergic to commitment. But when she finds out his marriage ended because of his wife's infidelity, Whitney realizes exactly what Matt needs to put his marriage behind him and move on. Just like she did when she'd had her heart destroyed by the man who cheated on her, Mr. Nice Guy needs a no-holds-barred, completely sexual, no-emotions-need-apply rebound relationship. And Whitney is just the girl for the job.

~*~

I went into this book expecting a light, sexy, summer romance read, and for all that unmet expectations usually kill a read for me, that wasn't the case this time. Not that the story wasn't sexy, because wow - it so was. Seriously and intensely sexy, in fact. It just wasn't exactly a light and easy summer fling of a romance.

It's a meatier, more complex tale than I had anticipated, featuring two truly damaged characters. There were moments of light, frivolous fun and an almost I Love Lucy-esque slapstick comedy in places, but those were just surface sheen that added some gloss to a story that had quite a lot of emotional depth.

Whitney carries the scars of some mighty big damage inside her. She could've been a porter for all the emotional baggage she hauls around. Sarcastic, sometimes cruel, often self-absorbed and entitled, she uses her sexuality as both a sword and a shield, honed weapons that attack and defend against the source of any potential emotional vulnerability.

There were moments when she was petulant, rash, childish, and ridiculously immature. Actually, there were a lot of moments when she was darn close to unlikable. Yet, for all that I feel her character went too far over the top at times, and she never quite seemed believable as an accomplished plastic surgeon, I loved those moments when she showed her softer side, her generosity of spirit, and her caring. And I loved her moxie.

Matt was her perfect complement, too. Generous to a fault, good-natured, laid back to the point of almost lacking a pulse about some things, rigid with steely resolve about others, at his core he's just a nice, normal, decent guy. He's also the perfect example of how too much of a good thing really can be way too much of a good thing.

His wife betrayed him, but he doesn't feel it like everyone says he should and he's still more than cordial with the woman. Therein lies the far more subtle flaws in his character. The emotional neutrality and sense of obligation he feels for his ex borders on unhealthy, and the dogged determination to help her whenever she calls is just as much a tell about his personality as Whitney's poor behavior.

Their relationship wasn't traditional but I liked how it evolved throughout the story. There were a few predictable plot elements, and I wasn't crazy about some of the latter story developments. I'm not a fan of the ubiquitous Big Misunderstanding and the resolution to it seemed odd to me. Still, it was a fun read. There was plenty of fan-myself-it-was-so-hot sexiness, just enough borderline-scandalous fun to keep it on the lighter side, and both characters had weighty emotional issues to add some nice depth. I liked it.

Ratings Guide

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

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

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2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Tracy has read 22 books toward her goal of 175 books.
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Zero at the BoneHead Over HeelsLord of the WolfynIn Total SurrenderA Win-Win PropositionNorth of Need

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