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

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~Tracy

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Sleep with the Lights On by Maggie Shayne

Genre: Paranormal Romantic Suspense
Series: Brown and De Luca, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 384 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Harlequin MIRA via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.




Great Psychological Thriller with Paranormal Elements


Homicide detective Mason Brown broke the very law he's worked his entire adult life to uphold. In his defense, he had a very good reason. There was no way he could let his mother, his sister-in-law, or his two nephews find out that the man they knew as a beloved son, husband, and father, the man Mason himself knew as a big brother, was, in fact, a cold-blooded serial killer.

When his brother suicides in Mason's apartment, leaving a self-pitying note of confession and a horrific mess to deal with, Mason does the best he can. He hides the evidence, and given the chance to make some sort of amends, donates his brother's organs. He hopes that saving some lives will balance out, just a little, what his brother took from so many.

After twenty years of blindness, the corneal transplant that restores Rachel de Luca's sight is like a miracle. Like something the famous self-help guru spouts in one of her own books, not that she's ever believed her own drivel, as wildly successful as it may be. As it turns out, Rachel's miracle is not without a few...glitches.

The nightmares of blood and gore and visions of murder start on her first night home from the hospital. Seeing and feeling the actions of a vicious killer is as confusing as it is terrifying, and as another victim falls, it makes Rachel wonder just what sort of person her donor had been. And how much the cop responsible for her transplant really knows.

Mason is absolutely certain that the serial killer dubbed The Wraith is dead. But when another victim is taken, and the woman who got his brother's corneas shows up, knowing things she shouldn't know about the crime, he doesn't know what to think. He just knows Rachel De Luca holds the key to figuring it out. If she doesn't end up being targeted by a dead killer first.

~*~

I'm so anal about series reading order that it's virtually unheard of for me to go back to read an earlier book in a series after I've read a latter one, but I literally couldn't help myself with this series debut by Shayne. I so enjoyed the characters in this series' second book, Wake to Darkness, I wanted to read Mason and Rachel's introduction, even though the second book tipped me off to several points in the first. And I was pleasantly surprised at how much of this book was still a mystery even after reading that one.

With a point of view that shifts between Rachel's first person perspective and a third person omniscient when focusing on Mason and glimpses of the killer, this series works for me in both style and substance. The concept isn't a new one. Heroine gets a corneal transplant and starts seeing death and mayhem because of the donor. Books and movies have tread that ground before. It was Rachel who set this book apart.

She was awesome. Sarcastic, often bitchy, and not exactly the most patient person on the planet, she's not your typical helpless, blind-then-newly sighted heroine. And she's no one's damsel in distress. Plus, she's a self-proclaimed fraud who writes writes wildly popular self-help books full of touchy-feely crap and disdains the very people who buy into them. I loved her.

As tough and independent as she was, she was a total softie with Myrtle (love Myrt!). She took no prisoners when faced with some pretty horrific images and definite woo-woo stuff, but took such gentle care of the old, blind dog. She was stubbornly self-sufficient and intelligent, but she also had a heart that lent warmth to her character. It didn't hurt she had such a biting and sarcastic sense of humor, either. That's one of my favorite things in a character.

I liked Mason, too. Maybe not quite as much as I did Rachel, but beyond being a gorgeous bit of man candy, I felt bad for the guy. He did the best he could for his family when it came to the fact his brother had been killing people for years. And the chemistry between him and Rachel pleased my romance-loving heart even though it never really becoming a focus in the narrative.

The plot of the book appealed to me, too. I'm a big fan of serial killer psychological suspense, an even bigger fan of paranormal romance, so the blending of the two in the story worked really well for me.

I do wish there had been a bit more explanation or backstory to better explain Eric's psychosis both before and after he died. I like having reasons for things, so there were elements that could have had a bit more definition in that regard. Too, the book went a little off the rails for me during the climax. Due to the nature of the tale, it skirts plausibility from the start, which I'm perfectly fine with, but there was a scene in the climax that went so far beyond plausible that it pretty effectively crushed my willing suspension of disbelief at a crucial moment.

Sound travels on a lake, man, that's all I'm saying. 

All-in-all, though, there was a nice blend of character-driven psychological thriller and paranormal mystery with a thread of romance and it kept me entertained throughout.

I already know what comes next in the series, and highly recommend it if you liked this one. I think I prefer the external conflict in this one a little better than in that one, but for me, the storyline isn't the most appealing element of either read. The characters are. I love Rachel so much, and like Mason too, that I'll be following along with their antics for as long as I can. Heck, I must love them, I went back and read a series out of order for them. That's a huge deal for me.

Bound by Night by Larissa Ione

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: The MoonBound Clan Vampires, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 400 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Pocket Books publisher Simon & Schuster via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



Dark and Edgy Series Debut

Nicole Martin has feared and hated vampires for every one of the twenty years that have passed since the vampire slave revolt that slaughtered her parents and almost cost her her life. Now CEO of Daedalus, her parents' multinational corporation, and a respected researcher specializing in vampire physiology, Nicole has returned to her childhood home in Seattle to deal with some corporate issues, issues that have the Vampire Humane Society and their ilk up in arms. Before she can even meet with the board, however, her home is broken into and Nicole comes face to fangs with her worst nightmare.

The vampire she witnessed kill his own mate and unborn child when Nicole was a child.

Riker's clan MoonBound is facing a brutal war they cannot win. If they don't return a gifted visiting female to her clan, they will exact revenge. The larger and more unscrupulous clan will wipe MoonBound off the planet. Problem is, the female has been captured by Daedalus, a company that has made billions enslaving his kind, torturing them, or treating them like disposable lab rats. A company run by the family responsible for the death of his mate and unborn child.

Riker's plan is simple: break into the Martin home and get Dr. Nicole Martin to give him the missing female...by whatever means necessary. Unfortunately for both Nicole and Riker, things don't go even close to according to plan, and soon the two mortal enemies are going to have to put their animosity aside just to survive.

~*~

Larissa Ione proves yet again she's at the top of her game with this dark, edgy series debut. I've long been a fan of Ione's complex world building, damaged characters, and sexy-as-sin romance, and was delighted to see her kicking off a new series outside the world of her Demonica and Lords of Deliverance series. She definitely delivered on this one.

This book has everything I need in a series debut and then some. The world building and mythos were complex and layered, providing a rock-solid foundation for the plot, one that tantalized and teased, revealing itself gradually as the story progresses. Nicole and Riker were great lead characters, each with their own demons and damage, and their chemistry burned up the pages, even when they hated each other. Maybe especially when they hated each other. The sexual and emotional tension they generated from the start set a perfect tone for the slow-boil of their relationship arc.

Another Ione standard, a diverse cast of likable secondary characters, was also in evidence. They provided a perfect blend of friction, support, and even humor as they were introduced, acquitting themselves well in the story. I'm dying to find out about Myne's past, see what Hunter got himself into at the end, spend more time with the weird but brilliant Grant. And Bastian. And Lucy. And...well, I could definitely go on. Ione doesn't skimp on her secondary characters, and they all feel deliciously three-dimensional and real.

The book has a lot going on for it story-wise, too. There's quite a journey between Nicole and Riker's initial introduction and the story's conclusion. A lot of conflict. A lot of danger and deadly consequence. A lot of blood and pain. Between Nicole and Riker, between the vamps and the humans, between the different vampire clans...the story is overflowing with conflict. They are many and varied, providing action, danger, and deadly threat, often laying waste to the characters' lives. It was a very meaty and full-flavored plot in that regard.

Maybe there was even a little too much going on against Nicole and Riker. It didn't leave quite enough room for me to really believe the relative speed with which they went from bitter enemies to lusty co-conspirators. There were a lot of cards stacked against them, especially in the beginning, and I'm not sure I bought how quickly their attitudes changed. It wasn't a deal breaker for me - frankly, I was enjoying the hell out of the world so much that I was able to mostly forgive it - but I did notice it.

I think my favorite elements were the world and the mythos. It's a dark, often ugly, very dangerous world where the slavery, rape, and torture of vampires are de rigueur and even the "good" guys are unapologetic - if justified - killers. Including the main and secondary characters. But the humans are so very much worse. As twisted as it makes me, I liked that aspect in particular very much.

This book just worked for me. For its originality of premise, (relative) plausibility, great characters, wealth of story, and future story potential it left me hungry for more. The smoking hot sex wasn't exactly a turn-off, either; Ione's no slouch in that department. I can't wait to find out what happens next.

Undeniable by Shannon Richard

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Country Roads, Book 2
Rating: 1 Star
Length: 400 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Forever publisher Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



I Wanted to Like It

Small town baker Grace King has loved her big brother's best friend Jaxson Anderson since she was a kid. Problem is, Jax has always treated her like a younger sister, protective and caring. That's great and all, but Grace is no longer a child and her feelings for Jax are anything but immature. He's her one and only. He just doesn't know it. Yet.

As a sheriff in the small Gulf Coast town of Mirabelle, Florida, Jax Anderson sees a broad spectrum of the worst in human nature. It's nothing he hasn't seen before, though, considering his violently abusive, drunken father and utterly disinterested mother. If it weren't for the King family, he probably wouldn't have made it as far as he has. And that's why he's always known he's not good enough for his best friend's little sister, Grace, no matter that he can't remember a time when he didn't want her.

He was doing an admirable job of ignoring the want until that accident that almost cost her her life. Since then Jax has been struggling with his control, haunted by what-ifs. Surely that's the only reason he totally snaps his chain with the woman when she pushes his buttons, wrenching the last shred of control out of his hands with a maelstrom of passion. He still knows he doesn't deserve Grace. Still has no doubt she will realize that eventually and leave him. But maybe, just maybe, he can have a little grace in his life before she does.

~*~

I really enjoyed Richard's first book in this series, Undone, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on Jax and Grace's story. That's why it kills me to say that so many things went wrong for me in this one that Undeniable left me...well...undone. From the characters, who I found largely intolerable, to the story, which wavered between boring and extremely frustrating, to the writing, which made me a little nuts in several places, there were just too many things that pushed all the wrong buttons.

The long-suffering, self-sacrificing martyr character type never works for me, and Jax rode the, "We can't be together because I'm not good enough for you," horse until it keeled over dead. It was a refrain that popped up so many times I lost patience with him even before I reached the halfway point of the book.

Honestly, I could never figure out why he was so down on himself. Sure, he has a horrible set of parents and his childhood was traumatic, but only parts of it, because the King family and others took care of him and showed him what love was all about - a fact that is also stressed several times throughout the narrative. He's now a well respected member of the community, has good friends, a good life, and money enough in his pockets to buy his own home. So...not really seeing any real motivation for the I'm-no-good self image. It didn't endear me to him at all. Mostly I just wanted to kick him.

I wish I could say I liked Grace more, but I didn't. Her desperation for Jax and the subsequent heartbroken angst after every single time he pulled the push-me-pull-you act on her was very off-putting. And really, more than once would have been too much, but the number of times she went back to him in a blink after his demons reared their oft-seen heads and he treated her like Kleenex yet again was ridiculous.

Not for nothing, but any man alludes to me as a whore - in public no less - and I don't care how much I love him, he's not going to be climbing back into my bed with just a weak-ass apology. Not without missing a few of his favorite appendages first, anyways. The fact that Grace just accepted his apologies with very little confrontation every time and cozied right back up to the guy didn't make me think too highly of her level of self respect.

Had I liked the main characters more maybe I wouldn't have been so disappointed with the plot of the story, but I was bored through most of it. There were a couple of threads of interest, however. I liked Grace's friend Preston. He had a nice ancillary storyline that added poignancy to the read. I also liked seeing Paige and Brendan again. I love them.

On the other hand, the town biddy was up to her old tricks. I just wish someone would make her a victim of a tragic underwater basket-weaving accident or something, because that bat has to go. She's more than a source of conflict, she's an utterly reprehensible, barely human being and I can't for the life of me figure out why someone hasn't at least sued her for slander. The fact that her behavior continues unchecked is really rubbing me the wrong way. As do the town's bad apples, the trio of terror. They're so over the top ugly that I struggle to believe that their behavior has gone unchecked for so long.

There was an anemic mystery thread surrounding a rash of robberies in town that could have been better developed and incorporated into the storyline, as well. It wasn't a bad idea, but as it was written, it just seemed contrived to put the characters in the position they were in at the climax of the book, and that bothered me. For that matter, I couldn't figure out why what happened in the climax suddenly wakes Jax up when what happened at the end of the previous book didn't seem to.

I wasn't thrilled with the narrative itself, either. It was over-burdened by way too much superfluous information and description. It seemed at times that every single element of a scene was described in minute and unnecessary detail and every ancillary character who was given so much as a mention had their life story and connection to the town detailed to the extreme. And there are a lot of characters mentioned. After a while it all became white noise, and it drowned out the stuff that could have really added to the narrative and the storyline.

There are just too many things about this book that either fell short or didn't work for me. I really enjoyed the first book, so I'm hoping that this was just not a good fit for my reading preferences. I'm not ready to give up on this series just yet. There's obviously something brewing between Grace's friend Mel and Jax's friend Bennett, who caught my eye in the first book. I'm sincerely hoping, though, that Bennett acquits himself better than Jax did here.

Ratings Guide

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

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

2014 Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Tracy has read 22 books toward her goal of 175 books.
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Tracy's bookshelf: read

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

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