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Some Like it Hot by Susan Andersen

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Razor Bay, Book 2
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 334 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Harlequin HQN via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.





Nice Bite of Sexy Fun

Quintessential rolling stone Harper Summerville loves her job. She travels the globe, staying in a place just long enough to investigate the charities that have submitted a request for financial assistance from her family's Sundays Child foundation. It's Harper's job to determine the requesting organization's needs and the quality of care they provide, to make sure foundation funds are going to the best candidates.

It's the sort of job that fits her right down to her toes, because Harper's never been - and never will be - one to let any sort of moss grow under her feet. At least, that's what she keeps telling herself. Now that she's in the Washington town of Razor Bay and has met the delectable sheriff deputy Max Bradshaw, Harper has started to wonder about some of her wanderlust ways.

It's never been hard to move on before, in fact, she gets downright itchy if she stays in one place for too long, but there's something about the gorgeous, kind, but wounded Max. Harper's feeling an itch all right, but it has nothing at all to do with getting out of town and everything to do with one tall, dark, and oh-so-handsome lawman. 

~*~

If you haven't read the first book in Andersen's Razor Bay series, don't worry. I haven't either, and it didn't cause me any problems with this book, though it was clear that all the characters and some of the underlying issues were previously introduced. Frankly, I'm okay with not reading that first book, because while I liked Jenny and Jake well enough as secondary characters in this book, I don't know that they would've appealed to me as much in the primary roles as did Harper and Max.

Well...okay...mostly Max.

Not that there was anything wrong with Harper. There wasn't at all. She's a smart, independent woman with a big heart and caring nature. I wasn't totally able to relate to her rolling-stone ways, and I didn't like that the relationship between her and Max got physical before she got honest with him about her true purpose in Razor Bay, but watching her reach out and form deeper connections with friends and coworkers as her character grows in the story was a part of the fun of the read.

The lies and secrecy did make the inevitable relationship conflict too predictable and the buildup to the conflict climax more than a little formulaic, but in this sort of light, sexy romance, predictability and formula aren't huge detractors. In fact, this book is just the sort of reasonably uncomplicated brain candy that I was hoping it would be. There isn't a huge morass of angst or a lot of emotional melodrama, just two good looking characters with varying degrees of personal baggage and a few external complications.

And I loved the heck out Max. He was quite the full package in romantic heroes. Despite the troubled childhood and an adulthood shadowed by elements of darkness, he was still a truly nice guy - but with just the right amount of sexy edge and a dash of social awkwardness that warmed my heart even as it heated my blood. He was so, so yummy.

I liked the slow build in the relationship between him and Harper, too. They fit nicely together from the start, their initial run-ins flavored with sizzling sexual chemistry and the sweetest taste of earnest uncertainty. I was also pleased that the narrative didn't rush to throw them together romantically for the sheer purpose of getting them naked and horizontal. The majority of the first half of the book showed them mostly dancing around one another while each dealt with their own various internal and external issues.

Of course, them getting together didn't suck either. There were plenty of hot times in Razor Bay.

This was just an all around fun read for me, good for a few solid hours of light reading enjoyment. Basically what I expect from an Andersen romance, really. There was even a few teasers for what's to come in the next book in the series. Luc's introduction was a little heavy-handed in the last bit of this book, but there's an interesting dynamic between him and Harper's friend Tasha that's hinted at here and I'll keep my eye out for their book when it comes out.

Turned by Virna DePaul

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: The Belladonna Agency, Book 1
Rating: 2 Stars
Length: 384 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Bantam Dell publisher Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.





Too Many Issues

Ty Duncan is a Special Agent with the FBI...on paper, anyway...but since being tortured and turned into a vampire against his will six months ago, he - and a small group of specialized agents - work for the covert group called the Belladonna Agency. Belladonna has a specific purpose: stop Rogue vampires at any cost.

To that end, Ty has been sent to Seattle to recruit a new Belladonna member. Seven years ago, Ana Martin was known as Eliana Garcia, street-wise gang member and a favorite of the gang leader. Those gang ties are why Balladonna needs her. They need access to a place run by Ana's former gang leader, a place that may be a front for a Rogue blood slave market.

Now all Ty has to do is convince a very wary Ana to return to the life she's worked so hard to forget while fighting a desire for the feisty woman that stirs all his darkest yearnings - for her body, her blood, and most dangerous of all, her heart.

~*~

I had a lot of problems with this series debut by DePaul. The world building is pretty sparse, and what few details are provided stick to the broadest of broad strokes. I would have liked to have had a clearer idea of just how long the FBI have known about vampires (the book says "years" but not how many), how they found out about them, how long before they gave up on the born vampires and decided on trusting Rogues for their turning program (which, as far as I'm concerned, puts the FBI fully in the TSTL category, because really - there was no way that was going to end any way but badly), how many recruits have been turned, and what roles those turned recruits had in the FBI.

Not that having answers to any of those questions would have improved my opinion of the FBI's callous disregard for life or their general idiocy, but it may have given me a better handle on the world and the reason for Belladonna's existence.

Its supposed purpose is to quietly clean up the Rogue problem so the FBI could get back to making their turned vamps. That never struck me as the noblest mission statement, given the FBI's duplicitous and suspect actions, but maybe a clearer picture of their history with vampires and their beneficial utilization of turned recruits would have helped.

And not for nothing, but it seemed odd to me that neither the FBI nor anyone in Belladonna seemed to know all that much about vampires. Not even Ty, who was one. I'd think that at least knowing how to kill one would be one of the first things the FBI would want to learn about deadly creatures they're stockpiling.

There were too many problems and troubling elements with the world, the vampires, the FBI, and Belladonna in general for my comfort, but one point in particular stripped away my ability to willingly suspend disbelief. According to the mythos, the act of turning a vampire is fatal to the maker. At face value that's not a problem, but when I thought about Ty's brutal turning and certain other story elements, that detail created way more trouble than it was worth, making several plot points seem highly implausible.

But my problems with the book extended beyond those weighty issues. As characters, I thought Ty and Ana were the strongest part of the book. I liked them both as individuals. Ty's issues with his vampirism and Ana's ties to her sister gave them each depth and helped shape their definition. Unfortunately, I wasn't nearly as fond of them together as a couple.

Their initial chemistry was strong, and I liked the level of heat between them, but as their relationship progressed it started to sputter under conflicts that were inconsistent and hard to follow. Some of that was a reflection of the two characters who were, themselves, inconsistent at times. I had a hard time figuring out exactly what was bothering each of them with the relationship, or determining from one chapter to the next which one was martyring themselves for the greater good. And when I was able to follow the twists, I didn't like what I found. 

Ana, in particular, committed what I consider an ultimate sin for a romantic heroine. At one point she pushes Ty away in a completely unequivocal...and rather hurtful manner, completely repudiating any significance in their relationship, then gets all wounded and insecure when as a result, Ty pulls back and treats her strictly professionally. I hate that sort of hypocrisy.

Secondary and ancillary characters, like the other women recruited to Belladonna, had potential to add positives to the story, but they ended up getting little definition and had almost no impact on me one way or the other. They were just too underutilized. Though I do think the reason they were tapped for Belladonna, once revealed, was incredibly weak considering the importance of the jobs they have been recruited to do and the training that would be necessary to do it effectively without getting themselves killed.

Altogether, there were just too many things stacked against this book for me. Too many elements didn't appeal; too many questions left unanswered. Far too many things that just didn't make sense. As a series debut, it posed too many problems for me to feel any desire to follow the Belladonna Agency into the next book.

A Righteous Kill by Kerrigan Byrne

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: Shakespearean Suspense, Book 1
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Length: 394 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by the author for review. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.





Totally Righteous Read

They call him John the Baptist, the serial killer who likes to nail young women to a cross and stab them in the side before dumping them into one of Portland's rivers. FBI Special Agent Luca Ramirez has been hunting him for months, driven to stop a madman before he can kill again.

He is just coming off a fourteen hour shift when he gets the call. Another body has been found at the river. She's been crucified like the others. Stabbed like the others. But unlike those poor lost girls, John the Baptist's latest victim is still alive.

Hero Katrova-Connor survived a nightmarish hell against all odds, but survival and safety are two different things, and the Baptist isn't done with her yet. Going undercover to keep her alive is just another part of Luca's job, but the longer the investigation goes on, his growing feelings for the woman get harder and harder to ignore. She becomes more than just a job to him. She's the woman he'll die to protect.

~*~

This series debut by new-to-me author Byrne hit so many of my Happy Reader buttons I was practically vibrating with book-crack bliss. The wealth of solid plot-driven suspense kept me on the edge of my seat, the humor that peppered the narrative was right up my alley, and Luca and Hero had so much sexual chemistry sizzling between them that I was glad I was reading on my Kindle. No worry about the pages going up in flames that way.

Hey, it was a legitimate concern. Yowza.

The uber-alpha male Luca stole this show. He was rockin' the personal demons and aggression management disorder. Often grim, sometimes broody, with a fairly bleak self image, he thought himself little better than the monsters he is so good at catching. That would have been more than enough to appeal to me, but in Luca's case, there was this whole other level to him that completely stole my heart.

He was just so completely and obviously butt over brains for Hero from the moment they met, fighting it every step of the way (of course) out of a mix of professionalism (or, you know, fear) and male stupidity, and was utterly endearing for all of it. Well...if a gun-toting, foul-mouthed, hot-tempered, four-hundred-dollar-shoes-wearing alpha male can be called endearing. His struggle with his desire for Hero was the source of many humorous moments in the book and I savored them all.

Then there's Hero. Artist. Yoga instructor. A little bit of a hippy. She celebrates her individuality and embraces her sexuality. Strong, independent, spirited, maybe a little sheltered, she is the best thing to ever happen to Luca and she knocks him for a loop, tickling me pink in the process. Her personality was a breath of fresh air and I loved how she acts and reacts to things in the story.

And there was nothing I loved more than the fact that while Hero may have been victimized by a serial killer, at no point in the book was she ever a victim.

Serial killers are my favorite type of Bad Guy in romantic suspense fiction and there was a very solid plot arc surrounding John the Baptist in the book. It could have been given a bit more prevalence in the story at times. There were a few places I thought the story was focusing a bit too much on the evolving relationship of the main characters and not quite enough on the murder investigation. To be honest, though, that's not really a complaint. I loved Luca and Hero so much that it didn't really bother me their relationship arc got more of the story's focus, but I would have liked just a bit more balance in places.

That said, if it came down to choosing between better balance and giving up a single moment of the several stellar scenes with Hero's family, then I'm happy to live with the imbalance, because the Katrova-Connor clan stole every scene in which they were included. Admittedly, the book's prologue threw me a little at first, but when Bryne ties that scene to Hero's family dynamic further into the book, I was totally sold and seriously crushing on every single person in the Katrova-Connor clan.

Frankly, there just wasn't anything in the book that I didn't like. It was a fun, sometimes serious, suspenseful, dangerous, smoking hot read with characters that explode across the pages with vibrant intensity. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for the next book in the series, anxious to get those Happy Reader buttons pushed yet again.


Quotables:

Okay, now she was just being a bitch, but at least she could fortify the moral high ground by avoiding being childish. Because he started it.

~*~

"I thought you were a vegetarian."
"I am." Hero closed her eyes to savor the smell. "Thus the Tofurkey."
"But there's bacon in it."
She shrugged. "Well yeah, but it's bacon."
Knox nodded his agreement.
"Bacon is meat. It comes from a pig," Luca said.
"It doesn't count as meat because it's bacon." She was looking at him as though he was the one who'd lost his mind.
"That makes no sense."
"It doesn't have to make sense, bro," Knox said sagely. "It's bacon."

Gilded Hearts by Christine D'Abo

Genre: Steampunk Romance
Series:  The Shadow Guild, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 384 Pages
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Forever Yours publisher Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.
Want it?: Gilded Hearts





 Jack the Ripper, Steampunk, and Romance, Oh My!!

A vicious killer is slashing his way through the soot-slicked streets of New London's Whitechapel district, leaving the broken, bloody bodies of prostitutes in his wake.

King's Sentry Sergeant Samuel Hawkins has, in the course of his police work, had the occasional dealing with an Archivist in the five years since he fled their Guild, but Piper Smith isn't just any Archivist. Her arrival at his crime scene affects him more deeply than he was expecting. Once both best friend and deepest desire, Piper was little more than a girl when he'd begged her to leave the Guild with him all those years ago.

She stayed. He couldn't. But he never got over her.

Now both a fully grown woman and a full-fledged Archivist, Piper embraces her role as a memory retrieval agent for the Guild, though the shock of seeing Sam again almost ruins her first job. She's at the scene to take the memories of his murder victim, not to rehash their relationship, and focus is paramount. What she sees in the memories of the murdered woman, however, will shake more than Piper's focus, it will shake the very foundation on which she's built her life. 

As more bodies are found and a deadly finger of accusation points towards the Archivists' Guild, Sam and Piper will have to take a hard look at their own past and the secrets buried there. And just hope like hell they survive it.

~*~

Sometimes you just know, ya know?

I wasn't even a tenth of the way into this book before I knew it was going to really work for me. Between initial impressions of the dark, complex Steampunk world, the grim sense of danger and mystery in the opening murder scene, and the intriguing history and emotional detritus between the main characters, the story snatched me up from the start and kept me captivated throughout.

What a world. What a dark, dangerous, well-conceived and deftly-written world. I enjoy Steampunk for the imaginative, mechanically-enhanced alternative history inherent in the genre, but have to admit, the stories themselves are hit or miss for me. D'Abo struck just the right cord for my tastes, weaving a wealth of clever Steampunk elements together with a creative twist on Jack the Ripper, and did it in such a way that it enriched the various dramatic conflicts in the story without extraneous over-description or too much superfluous detail. Everything blended together nicely to provide a robust tapestry of story and substance.

The characters themselves were as carefully and intently created, and they acquitted themselves very well in the story. I think I preferred Samuel over Piper by a slim margin, though that had more to do with my sympathy for his traumatic childhood, as well as greater understanding of the choices he made and actions he took (as opposed to Piper's) both in his past and during the murder investigations. The guy is definitely dragging around a few demons, and D'Abo was deliciously cagey about disclosing those demons to her readers, but it painted a very solid and three dimensional picture of him as a slightly flawed, definitely damaged romantic hero.

Not that I didn't like Piper. I completely did. I found her wonderfully independent, feisty, stubborn, and fiercely loyal. I just also happened to be as disturbed by the Archivists' Guild purpose and presence in the world as Sam was, so the fact that Piper was a very determined Archivist, willfully and knowingly putting holes in her mind for an alleged greater good, was a bit harder to relate to than the guy who had escaped them and went on to make a career for himself in law enforcement.

They did fit together nicely as a romantic couple, though, with a chemistry that extended far beyond sexual and included an obvious and genuine childhood friendship. I loved the snippets of their past that get revealed in well-timed flashes throughout the book. Frequent flashbacks in a story rarely work for me and tend to jar me out of the flow of the current-timeline plot, but D'Abo mastered the transitions smoothly and had a judicious eye for how and when to incorporate them to add depth to the story and the relationship between Sam and his Pip. 

I enjoyed the hell out of the Jack the Ripper investigation, too, but have to admit, I got a little lost when it came to a political element in the investigation. That aspect of the world hadn't been explained quite enough for me to really understand everywhere the leads in the case took Sam and Piper. I didn't have trouble following the action, but I definitely felt an emotional disconnect with the story when it came to a few scenes.

And honestly, the resolution to the climax of the book left me feeling...disturbed and a bit unsatisfied.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the culmination of the Ripper investigation, and thought the evolution of Sam and Pip's relationship was nicely done. D'Abo built plot and relationship conflict from the first page of this book, adding layers of horror and dread, dastardly motivation and sick psychosis, and connected it all Sam's murky past in such a way that I was left impressed by the complexities and entertained by it all. I heartily enjoyed that very much.

How it resolved, though, and what it all means in the big picture, disturbed me. And it's virtually impossible to be any more specific without some huge spoilers and I don't want to do that. I will say this: I don't think there is anything right or good about the Archivists' Guild. Not one thing. That may pose a problem for me in future books depending on its role in the series. It definitely posed a problem for me at the end of this book.

It took a bit of the bloom off what was otherwise a passionate and perilous, wildly imaginative, darkly entertaining, bloody-red rose.

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

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