Archives for February 2012

Series Reading Order: Mark of the Vampire

This is the reading order for the Mark of the Vampire series by Laura Wright:

* Denotes short story/novella

Review: Blame It on Bath

Reviewed by Jen

Caroline Linden hasn’t let me down yet and this latest book is no exception. It picks up as a companion story to One Night in London, though I think it would still make sense as a standalone. The premise to the series: after the Duke of Durham’s death, his three sons find out that his marriage to their mother may have been invalid. A blackmailer claims to have proof that the Duke was married to another woman first and never divorced. With their legitimacy and estate at risk, the sons now must find out who the blackmailer is –and stop him before he ruins their future.

This story follows the efforts of the youngest son, Gerard. He plans to track down the blackmailer and silence him by whatever means necessary. But as a third son, he knows that even if he is successful, he’ll need a wealthy bride to keep up his standard of living. Enter Katherine. She’s heard about the scandal surrounding the Durham family and she presents herself to Gerard for marriage. She is a very wealthy widow, albeit a plain one, who has nursed a secret affection for him for years. Of course, he doesn’t remember the one time they met years ago, but her offer and her sizable funds prove to be irresistible.

After a quick wedding, the two of them head out for Bath, so Gerard can continue his quest. Katherine, or Kate as he calls her, is quiet and kind of awkward. But Gerard quickly indoctrinates her into the ways of passion. They connect quickly in the bedroom, but Kate finds herself longing for a deeper connection with her husband. It’s a pretty straightforward love story, as Gerard slowly realizes what a hidden gem his wife really is. In the meantime, Kate must learn to stop hiding behind the careful façade that she built to deal with her unkind mother and uncaring first husband. She must also learn to trust in Gerard and believe in her own worth.

I know I have said it before, but one of the reasons I like Caroline Linden books is because she doesn’t rely on standard tropes to advance her stories. I never find myself rolling my eyes or annoyed by unnecessary misunderstandings. We’re just watching two people grow and learn what it means to love. Oh yeah, and the sex is hot too.

We don’t get much further in the blackmailing arc, but the story sets up Charlie’s book nicely, where we’re sure to see a resolution. I’m also happy to say that we got an appearance from Margaret, the heroine from “I Love the Earl.” We get her perspective on the scandal surrounding her brother (the Duke) and we see how her HEA played out. I enjoyed this one. 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
Blame It on Bath
by Caroline Linden
Release Date: February 28, 2012
Publisher: Avon

AAD Author Spotlight & Giveaway: Samantha Kane

Joining us for today’s AAD author spotlight is Samantha Kane, whose erotic historical menage stories are hot enough to curl your toes.  Please help me welcome her to the blog!
Jen: Tell new readers about the Brothers in Arms series.

Sam: Brothers In Arms is a Regency historical menage series. The series is based on a group of veterans from the Peninsular War (part of the war between Britain and France in the early 1800’s). Most of the men are suffering from some level of PTSD or physical injuries from the war. During the war the men became very close and paired off as lovers or best friends who shared women in bed. After the war they can’t or won’t give up the close relationship between them and end up finding a woman who can love them both and accept a non-traditional marriage. Each book contains m/m sexual situations as well as m/f and m/m/f.

Jen:What do you think draws readers to menage stories?
Sam: The titillation of the forbidden. The idea of two men for one woman, sort of having your cake and eating it, too. 😉 You get double the romance hero, double the conflict, double the emotion, double the excitement. It’s a great romance book squared.

Jen: What are your thoughts on m/f/m versus m/m/f?

Sam: Well, they’re not interchangeable. They are completely different stories. I like to say that in any menage, m/m/f or m/f/m, you have four romances. Hero1/heroine, hero2/heroine, hero1/hero2 (in m/f/m this could be a bromance, friendship), and hero1/heroine/hero2. You have to give each relationship attention and a complete story arc, or the HEA just doesn’t work. But clearly, if the two heroes are not lovers, or in love, then it completely alters the nature of two of the four relationships in the book (hero1/hero2 and hero1/heroine/hero2). I prefer a m/m/f menage, because I just don’t find it realistic that two men would be naked in bed together and not be sexually attracted to one another. If you’re going to get naked and horizontal with someone, you’ve got something going on. IMHO.

Jen: My husband teases me mercilessly for the dirty romance novels I love to read. What kind of reaction did you get from your husband/ family when you decided to start writing them? Does anyone in your family read your books?

Sam: My husband has always supported me 100%. He was the one who encouraged me to write my first erotic romance. I discovered Ellora’s Cave and saw in the Romance Writers Report (the monthly Romance Writers of America magazine) that EC was looking for menage/gay romance. I told him, “I think I could write that.” And he said, “Sure you can! Do it.” And so I did. He was my first reader and my first fan.

I didn’t “come out” as an erotic romance author until after my second book was released. Brothers in Arms was very popular from the first book, The Courage to Love, and when the second book, Love Under Siege, was as successful, I wanted to brag about that success. There were some shocked reactions, and quite a few family members have not read my books because they find it hard to reconcile me with what I write. But overall there has been overwhelming support from my family for my writing career.

Jen: Can you give us a little teaser/ snippet from your latest work? (We like it dirty please, m’am.)

Nick tapped lightly on the door. It had been left ajar, so both he and Oliver assumed this was it. If not, they would have to do some quick explaining.

The door was yanked open and a disembodied hand came out of the interior darkness and grabbed Oliver’s arm, yanking him inside. Oliver laughed and in turn grabbed Nick and dragged him right behind. Once they were in there he only got a quick impression of Vanessa before she slammed the door and they were all lost in the dark.

“Are you mad?” she hissed. “Knocking on the door? What if someone heard?”

“Well, just in case they didn’t, it’s a good thing you slammed the door behind us so they’d be sure to hear that,” Oliver drawled with a thread of laughter beneath his words.

Vanessa moaned as if in pain. “I’m not very good at this sneaking about business,” she confessed in a miserable tone. “Perhaps this was a bad idea.”

“It was a brilliant idea,” Oliver said soothingly. “Now where are you?”

Nick felt a hand on his hip and he caught his breath at the thrill that shot through him. Here in the dark he could enjoy Oliver’s touch without anyone noticing or caring. He stepped closer, but Oliver patted his buttock and pulled away.

“That’s the wrong person,” Oliver quipped lightly. “Ah, there you are, my dear,” he purred, having obviously found Vanessa. There was some rustling in the dark and then a soft, fragrant shape was pressed against Nick.

“Oh,” Vanessa said softly. She squirmed, and Nick forgot his disappointment over Oliver moving away. He bent his knees and pressed his hips into Vanessa’s soft bottom. He gave a little rub and a slight moan escaped him.

“Oh,” she said again, and the wonder and uncertainty combined in her voice hit Nick hard and his heart was suddenly pounding in excitement, his cock hard. The transition had been so quick he ached from it. He hadn’t been this aroused from a simple touch in a very long time. Was it the thought of Vanessa’s innocence? Her trust in them? More likely simple anticipation. He’d seen the fire in her. Now he wanted to taste it—to possess it and be consumed by it.

Vanessa made a little distressed sound and started to move away. Her steps were clumsy and Nick could tell that Oliver was blocking her retreat.

“Don’t,” Nick rasped. He reached out and put his hands on her hips, holding her against him. “Please don’t.”

“Open the door,” Oliver demanded. “It’s too dark. I want to see you two.”

“No,” Vanessa gasped. “They’ll see.”

“Who? There’s no one up here but we three.”

Oliver’s argument was sound, but Nick wanted it dark for reasons of his own. “No,” he said. He wrapped one arm around Vanessa’s waist and with the other found Oliver’s arm. “No. Leave it be. I like the dark.”

For a moment they all stood still, their harsh breathing cutting the air. There was heat arcing between them, and Nick felt like the conduit. He was burning up inside. Giving in to temptation, he leaned down and breathed in Vanessa’s scent. His nose found her hair and he followed the curve of her cheek down to her neck. When he put his mouth on her sweet-smelling skin she whimpered.

“Kiss me, Vanessa,” Oliver whispered. “Please.”

Her neck arched under Nick’s lips as she tilted her head up, and he nibbled on the taut tendon along the side. He felt her tremble under his hands. And then he heard it. Heard the sound of their lips meeting, the gentle sounds of a sweet kiss. His fingers tightened on Oliver’s arm and he pulled Vanessa closer against him.

“Have you never been kissed before, pretty Vanessa?” Oliver murmured.

“I…yes, yes, I’ve been kissed,” she stammered breathlessly.

“Not really kissed,” Oliver said. His hand brushed Nick’s cheek as Nick nibbled on Vanessa’s ear. Oliver pulled his hand back, and it hovered near Nick’s face for a second before he brought it back again and finished the caress, just a fleeting touch. Then he must have used his other hand to caress Vanessa’s cheek. She sighed and tilted her head as if leaning into his hand.

“What does that mean?” Vanessa asked softly.

Nick pressed his finger against the corner of her mouth. “Open up,” he whispered. “Let Oliver taste you. And you can see what love tastes like.”

“Love has a taste?” she whispered skeptically. He liked the feel of her mouth moving against his finger and he slid it along her lower lip, outlining it. His breath caught when her tongue dashed out to lick her lip and found the pad of his finger. She gasped lightly and he slid the tip of his finger into her mouth, just a little, and then dragged it over her lip as he took it out, pulling her lip down slightly.

“It has many flavors,” he told her kissing her cheek down to her jaw. “But I don’t think we’ll get to all of them tonight.”

“Why not?” Nick was amused by the haughty tone in her voice, as if she were affronted that they had the temerity to withhold something from her.

Oliver laughed. “We don’t have the time or space to do things properly here,” he told her. “But what we share tonight will make you crave another taste, I promise.”

“I think it is you two who crave, not I,” she said coolly. She tried to slide out from between them, but neither he nor Oliver budged an inch. There was no way she could move.

“Why are you angry, little dove?” Oliver murmured. “Don’t fly away.”

“I am not angry.” Her words said one thing, her voice another.

Nick was confused. What had they done? “Don’t play games,” he told her roughly. “Speak plainly. If you don’t tell us what we did wrong, we won’t know not to do it again.”

She stilled between them. “Is it that easy?” she asked incredulously. “Just tell you, and you won’t do it again?

You are very unusual men if that is all it takes to mend your ways.”

“Mend what ways?” Oliver asked patiently.

Vanessa sighed, clearly defeated. “You seek to make me crave you. Why? What do you want from me?”

Her question was like a blow to Nick. He hadn’t realized what it must be like for her. Did she have no friends, no lovers, who wanted her just for herself? Was she so accustomed to being used and deceived she could no longer see the obvious? “You. We want you. Like this.”

He turned her face to his with two fingers on her jaw and pressed his lips to hers. In the dark he missed, his lips only half covering hers, but she drew in a sharp breath and it gave Nick the opportunity to slide over her open mouth and lick inside. He didn’t kiss her like she was an untried virgin, but as if they were already lovers. Some instinct told him that was the way to have her. Not with kid gloves, but with assurance and vigor. Vanessa wanted to be craved, not wooed. She wanted to be possessed, not have a man ask permission with delicate kisses. If they wanted this to work, and right now Nick desperately wanted this to work, then they couldn’t afford to give her time to have second thoughts.

Vanessa responded as he’d known she would. She opened her mouth and let him in, and once she’d learned how to kiss him back she battled to dominate the kiss. He didn’t let her, and he could feel how his mastery aroused her. Her breath was quick on his cheek, her heart pounding beneath the arm he had wrapped around her, as she moved restlessly between them, seeking more but not sure how to get it.

She tasted like champagne and sweets. Her mouth was small, her teeth straight and smooth against his tongue. He wanted to lift her up and throw her down on the nearest soft bed, mount her and fuck her until she admitted he owned her. He wrapped his hand around the back of her head and held her mouth to his, breathing her air and drinking her desire until she whimpered.

It wasn’t until Oliver put his arm around him and buried his hand in Nick’s hair and forcibly pulled him away from her that Nick realized how rough he was being. “I’m sorry,” he gasped. “Damn, you just…you feel so good.”

Oliver kept his hand in Nick’s hair, although his hold was gentle now.

“How do I taste?” Vanessa asked, as breathless as he was.

“Taste?” Nick asked stupidly. He was having a hard time thinking with Vanessa in his arms and Oliver’s hand petting him like that.

“Do I taste like love?” she asked. “Did I do it right?”

Nick found her hand pressed up against Oliver’s chest and he dragged it down between his own legs. He pressed her palm against his erection. “Yes, you did it right. Feel how right.” He thrust into her hand and held his breath, waiting to see how she’d react to his crudity.

She cupped her hand around him and her fingers explored the length and width of him. He groaned and grabbed her skirt, trying to yank it up.

“Nick,” Oliver said roughly. He grabbed Nick’s wrist, stopping him. “Don’t.”

“Do,” Vanessa said, her voice unsteady. “I want you to touch me.”

“Damn me,” Nick murmured. “Yes.”

“May I kiss you again, Vanessa?” Oliver asked. He sounded hesitant, which was so unusual for Oliver in these situations it momentarily took Nick’s mind off getting under Vanessa’s skirts.

“I wish you would,” she responded with an ingrained politeness that made Nick smile. Then she added, “Just like Nick, please,” and Nick began pulling up her skirt again.

Jen: (*fans self*) You also write some sci-fi and contemporary romance. Do you like the variety or do find yourself pulled back to regency and/or menage subgenres?

Sam: I find myself pulled back. I love sci-fi and contemporary, don’t get me wrong. And I think I have a pretty good voice in both. But my first love is historical romance. As for menage, the only menage series I have is Brothers in Arms. I wrote one contemporary m/f/m menage-Play It Again, Sam-but that’s was an exception to jump start a new series at EC. I don’t see myself writing another menage series anytime soon. When I think of a m/m/f relationship, it’s always within the confines of the Brothers In Arms world. When that changes, well, we’ll see.

Jen: What are you working on next?

Sam: I have a couple of new projects in the works. I’ve recently signed a contract with Bantam for a new mainstream Regency historical series called The Saint’s Devils. The first two books, The Devil’s Thief and Tempting a Devil, should be out at the end of this year. I’m very excited about this new series, and this new direction in my writing career. I’ve also co-authored an alternate history steampunk series (historical and sci-fi mixed together-I love it!) with Mari Freeman that we’re hoping will be picked up soon.

Jen: Do you get to go to many conventions? Have you ever had a geeky-fan moment meeting another author?

Sam: I try to get to two or three conventions a year. I’ll be at the Romantic Times Booklovers’ Convention in April, possibly the RWA convention in July, Authors After Dark in August, of course, and a great little writers’ con called The Writers’ Police Academy in September. At my first convention, RT in Houston back in 2007, I met Kate Douglas my first night in the bar. She took me around and introduced me to people and I ended up sitting at a table with Kate and Robin Schone having drinks and talking books. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. And the next night I met Kate Duffy, who was with Kensington and probably one of the most powerful editors in romance at the time, and we had drinks and a great conversation. Oh, and I met Charlaine Harris in the elevator, lol. I swore at that con that I would try to attend as many as possible.

But that didn’t really answer the question. Um, my geeky fan moment was meeting Lee Child at Book Expo America, which is an industry convention. He was signing books and I gushed about how much I loved him and had my picture taken with him. It’s on my website. I’m such a dork. And when I met Jessica Andersen and then asked her to introduce me to J.R. Ward at RT in 2010. Another geek moment also immortalized on my website.

Jen: What are you looking forward to most from AAD in New Orleans?

Sam: The workshops at AAD last year were some of the best workshops I’ve ever given or attended. I’m really looking forward to more of the same this year.

Samantha is generously sharing a copy of Love’s Surrender to one lucky winner.  Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below. To learn more about Samantha and her work, be sure to check out her website.

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Review: Pack and Coven

Reviewed by Jen

Harry is an independent werewolf, who has no desire to join a pack. But the local female alpha has different ideas. After her husband gets carted off to jail, she tries to force Harry to step up. He doesn’t have many options, until June steps forward.

June is a witch, but her kind keep their existence a closely guarded secret. In fact, she has hidden behind the disguise of an old woman for years. She and Harry have been close friends, but he had no idea about who she really was or what she really looked like.

The story basically follows the pair as they first try to escape, and then try to hide from the pack. During their time together, their long-standing affection turns into more. There’s some sex to spice things up and there’s some shifter violence too. But try as I might, I just couldn’t connect with this story. Maybe it’s because it was hard for me to believe how quickly Harry was able to shift his feelings from his elderly friend to the sexy witch he wants to get busy with. Maybe it was the way June kept acting like an old lady throughout the first half of the book, worrying about her housecleaning and clucking over bad language.

I don’t know. The relationship just didn’t feel real, despite the characters’ history. The villain was one dimensional. The coven members came off as clumsy and stupid. They weren’t likable. The pack wasn’t likable. And the ending was rushed.

I’ll give the author credit for an interesting and original take on the origins of her witches. But this book was just not a good fit for me. 2 1/2 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
Pack and Coven
by Jody Wallace
Release Date: February 20, 2012
Publisher: Carina Press

Review: The Tattooed Duke

Reviewed by Jen

Her job as a writer is the most important thing in Eliza’s life. But she hasn’t had many stories published in the paper lately. The scandalous return of the Duke of Wycliff might change that. Her boss has given her the assignment to get the gossip on Wycliff –and put together a titillating article– or consider her career as one of the so-called “Writing Girls” to be over. She accepts the challenge and decides to go undercover as a maid in his household.

Wycliff has been away from London for many years, exploring the world.  He’s traveled the seas, been to exotic locations, and experienced different cultures. The stories of his exploits are legendary. Now that his father is dead, he must take over the dukedom, but his passion still lies in exploration. More than anything he wants to return to his travels and become the first Londoner to journey to Timbuktu and back.As a maid, Eliza has unfettered access to the duke and she quickly begins amassing information for her column.  But she never expected the attraction that begins to burn between her and Wycliff. As a relationship grows between them, she must weigh her ambition with her growing feelings for her subject… because her scandalous articles are wreaking havoc on his already tenuous reputation.  Add to that, a nefarious man from her past, the duke’s financial troubles, and his jilted ex-lover and things grow even more complicated.

I liked the story overall. Eliza is spunky and it doesn’t take long for her conscience to catch up with her.  Wycliff is sexy and worldly and free thinking. I was happy to find a heroine who was not a prim miss –one who works hard to take care of herself and direct her own life.  However, I did have some issues.

I felt like the amount of time it took Wycliff to figure out Eliza’s identity was ridiculous.  In addition, I thought the character development was only slightly beyond superficial.  Other than a desire to escape the confines of London and to indulge his wanderlust, we don’t see much depth to Wycliff. We do get a better glimpse into who Eliza really is, thanks to the unveiling of a major event in her past. But speaking of which, the resolution to Eliza’s personal obstacle to their relationship was dispensed much too easily.  And there was no sex until the very end.

This is book three in Maya Rodale’s Writing Girls series.  And while some of the previous couples are secondary characters, this works very easily as a standalone.  3 1/2 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
The Tattooed Duke
by Maya Rodale
Release Date: February 28, 2012
Publisher: Avon

Review: Love’s Surrender

Reviewed by Jen

My goodness, there is quite a bit of steam stuffed into these 100 pages! The story follows former soldiers Oliver and Nick as they seduce the virginal Vanessa into a threesome. The men have been sharing women for quite some time, but they have never acknowledged that there is an attraction between them as well. Once Lady Vanessa accepts their advances, however, that begins to change. And the sensual possibilities among the three of them are endless.

OK, the sex was hot. Especially when Nick and Oliver give into their feeling for one another the first time. I actually was drawn more to their relationship with one another than anything Vanessa had to offer. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with her, but they have only known her for a few days. The entire span of the story takes place in less than two weeks –and I’m just not a subscriber to the insta-love thing. But Oliver and Nick have been together for years. Their relationship was much easier for me to believe and accept thanks to their history together.

The menage wasn’t the most believable true-love story for such a whirlwind affair, but I definitely enjoyed it for a little naughty fun. 3 1/2 stars.

*Book provided by author for review

Click to purchase: Amazon
Love’s Surrender
by Samantha Kane
Release Date: December 7, 2011
Publisher: Ellora’s Cave

My Favorite Books of 2012

I’m approaching my “Best of” post for 2012 a little differently than I did last year. Instead of trying to stretch my brain at the end of the year to recall which books I loved best –perhaps months after I read them– I’m keeping a running post this year that I will update as we go along. They’re listed by the month of publication.

February
by Kristen Callihan

It’s part historical, part paranormal, part faerie tale and all good. This original take on the Beauty and the Beast theme was a big winner for me at the beginning of the year. It appears to be just a marriage of convenience between Miranda (the daughter of a merchant) and the enigmatic Lord Archer… but it’s so much more. Our hero, Archer, is dark and mysterious. He wears a mask covering his face and he is deliciously tortured. The heroine is strong and loyal and the perfect woman to help tear down his walls and save him in every way that matters.

Click to purchase: Firelight

by Darynda Jones

This third installment in the Charley Davidson series is easily the best yet. It’s action packed, sexy and so funny! If you’re not familiar with the series, Charley is the grim reaper and a PI. She is irreverent and snarky. And she is in love with Reyes, someone –er– more than human. Theirs is a rocky road, but it’s so great to watch them stumble toward each other. A great twist at the end of this story has me panting for book 4.

Click to purchase: Third Grave Dead Ahead 

by Jennifer Estep

I was really worried when I finished Spider’s Revenge. After all, that book resolved the major conflict facing Gin Blanco throughout the course of the series. It was the perfect swan song… the logical conclusion to Gin’s story. But then Jennifer Estep delivered this: the best book yet in the Elemental Assassin series. The story follows our favorite assassin as she takes her little sister on vacation and learns that the Spider never truly takes time off. It’s fast paced, emotional and unpredictable. Very, very good.

Click to purchase: By a Thread

March
by Thea Harrison

As much as I loved Dragon Bound and Storm’s Heart, this latest edition of the Elder Races series is officially my favorite of the bunch. It centers on Khalil the djinn and his unlikely relationship with Grace, the young Oracle raising her sister’s children. It’s not a big, epic action book. It’s a love story. It’s sexy and it’s romantic. Khalil is a fabulous hero. Harrison doesn’t even try to make him human, and perhaps that is part of the reason why he is so captivating. I’d recommend this for fans of the series, but it would still be enjoyable for new readers.

Click to purchase: Oracle’s Moon

by Stacia Kane

I want to kick myself when I think about the fact I almost gave up on this series during the first book. Because it is now one of my top UF series of all time. This book proves once again what an amazing talent Stacia Kane has. She has created a heroine who is fundamentally broken in a way that may not ever heal. And Kane stays true to that, never giving in and simply fixing her. Here we see Chess trying to just be happy, now that she has accepted her love for Terrible. But they have many more twists and turns –and obstacles to overcome. Throughout the story, I feel what Chess feels. I watch her running toward her own destruction and basically turn my insides into something resembling a pretzel. But I couldn’t put the book down and I mourned it when it was over. (Not to mention, I think I may be in love with Terrible, myself.)

Click to purchase: Sacrificial Magic

May
by Abigail Roux
The Cut and Run books are, hands-down, my favorite m/m series.  And this book proved that Abigail Roux has what it takes to knock my socks off, even without longtime writing partner Madeleine Urban.  It has such fleshed-out characters, they almost feel like real people I know. There is tenderness, rocking-hot sex, action, danger, mystery and humor.  This story brings Ty and Zane to a whole new level in their relationship, while incorporating characters from the Urban & Roux book Warrior’s Cross… a genius idea that pays off in spades.  If you want to give m/m a try, start at the beginning of this series. If you’re already a fan, I promise you, this installment does not disappoint!
Click to purchase: Armed & Dangerous

Lethal Rider
by Larissa Ione

If you asked me before I read this whether I thought I’d ever find pregnancy sex, sexy, I would have given you an unreserved “no.” But Larissa Ione manages to do it here. And the sexy times are only a small part of what makes this book so good.  The world-building is amazing, the characters are engaging, and the plot kept me on the edge of my seat.  This is easily the best installment in the Lords of Deliverance series to date. Ione makes it even better as she incorporates her fantastic characters from the past.  It’s really, really good.
 
Click to purchase: Lethal Rider
June
by Jeaniene Frost
Part of me will always hold a soft spot for my beloved Cat & Bones, but the last few books haven’t really jumped out and grabbed me like the older ones.  I am happy to report that the magic I have missed is firmly in place with this Vlad spinoff.  Vlad is a sensational hero; cocky without ever being a dick to his heroine. The pacing is great and the sex is HOT.  Fans of the Night Huntress world won’t want to miss this one.  And I think it would be an easy jumping in point for new readers as well.
Click to purchase: Once Burned
 
by Elizabeth Hoyt
I didn’t just love this book because it had a virgin hero.  Or because he was a mild-mannered school-master by day and a masked vigilante at night. It wasn’t just the off-the-chain sexual tension or the uber-hot lessons in seduction. It was all of those things and more that made this historical romance a book that I could not put down.  I loved watching the stoic and repressed Winter break out of his shell as he fell in love for the first time.  (*swoon*)
Click to purchase: Thief of Shadows
by Michelle Willingham

This is another story made amazing by a fantastic hero.  I say all the time that I am a sucker for a tortured hero and that’s true, but some are done better than others.  And Callum is done right!! He spent the past seven years in captivity. His torture ravaged his body and stole his voice. But the kindness showed to him by his captor’s betrothed saved his sanity. Once he becomes free, he never gives up on the woman who touched his heart and changed his life. Go buy this book. Seriously.

Click to purchase: Tempted by the Highland Warrior  
August

Stars & Stripes
by Abigail Roux

I debated with myself about adding this one since I already have one from this series on the list. But the God’s honest truth is that I loved this book so much that I couldn’t live with myself if I left it off. The feel is very different than Armed & Dangerous. There is external conflict, but this is so much more a romance.  I am so invested in Ty & Zane and in their relationship and I feel like this book is a payoff on all the drama up to this point.  The sex is as hot as ever.  And it made my heart all mushy. Excellent.
Click to purchase: Stars & Stripes
September
by Anna Campell
I am such a sucker for a good Beauty & the Beast story.  Jonas Merrick is such a wounded and broken, scarred hero.  Branded a bastard and living a solitary life, his heart is awakened by the beautiful, innocent Sidonie. She agrees to give him seven days to seduce her, in order to clear her sister’s gambling debts. There is no way either of them can know how deeply they will change each other’s lives forever.  It’s sexy and it pulls on the heartstrings.  A fantastic historical romance.

Click to purchase: Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed

I’ll keep adding as the awesome books come in. Please share your 2012 favorites in the comments below!

Review: A Perfect Blood

Reviewed by Jen

Ever since I finished the amazing and phenomenal Pale Demon, I have been counting the days until I could get my hands on this book. Pale Demon was epic: huge action, major personal developments, and a sweeping array of the major characters in the Hollows universe. A Perfect Blood went in a decidedly different direction.

The first half of the book was hard for me to connect with. Rachel is being very introspective about the events of the last book and attempting to live her life without the benefits of ley line magic. She has been staying away from Trent and trying to find her footing in society now that she is “out” as a demon.

As the story begins, she is called in by the IS to consult on a horrific serial killer case, with overtones of demonic magic. It turns out the bad guys are actually trying to turn witches into demons, hoping to use their blood to twist curses. Rachel jumps into the case with both feet. This is partly to avenge the victims, but also partly because she knows she could be an ultimate target. She already has the perfect blood they need.

In the meantime, Rachel is sporting a new were-bodyguard –and having angst over the fact that Ivy and Jenks seem to be moving on in their lives without her. And all I could think to myself is: this would be so much better if Trent or Al were around. Trent made an innocuous appearance or two early on, but I kept wanting to skip ahead to get to the part where the spark comes back. The book just wasn’t doing it for me –until Rachel gets put in big danger around the half-way point. That’s when the sun came out from behind the clouds.

And from then on out, the book rocked. I became more invested in the storyline involving the killers. Al finally made an appearance. And we see more of the “real Trent” beyond his businessman facade. Is there romance? Well, it’s complicated. And sometimes ambiguous. And riveting and exciting and frustrating. Rachel is at her best when she embraces who she really is and what she really wants. That’s true when she’s kicking ass and when she’s navigating through her personal relationships. It just took her awhile to get to that point in this book. 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by Harper Collins

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A Perfect Blood
by Kim Harrison
Release Date: February 21, 2012
Publisher: Harper Voyager

Review: Head Rush

Reviewed by Jen

Carolyn Crane really put me through the wringer with her Disillusionists trilogy… ripping the rug out of from under me over and over again.  But here, in this conclusion, she gave me everything I wanted, leaving me warm & fuzzy, satisfied, and a little wistful now that it’s all said and done.

As the story begins, Justine is going forward with her plans to marry Otto, convinced Packard killed Avery and went on the run.  Of course, the readers know the truth.  And it’s great stuff as Justine comes to understand what really happened.  Once everything is out in the open, she knows where her true future lies.  But it’s not like she can just leave Otto.  He has become too powerful and he has quietly imprisoned too many of her friends.  So the book is essentially about how she can get free of him and save the people she loves so she can find true happiness with Packard.

This installment doesn’t have the same kinds of twists and turns as the other two. It’s pretty straightforward.  Which does NOT mean it’s slow or boring.  There is plenty of action and some very gratifying interaction between Justine and Packard.  Theirs is a love story that has been a long time coming.  But perhaps, what is just as satisfying is seeing the evolution of Justine as an individual. Her neurosis made her very difficult to relate to in the beginning of the series, but she has come so far.  I’m so proud of her.

And I would be remiss if I don’t give a shoutout to Simon and Shelby, two great supporting characters. Honestly, Shelby has some of the very best lines in the book, as far as I’m concerned.  –And Gumby. Let’s not forget Gumby.

It didn’t have the same shocking and dizzying qualities of the previous books, but it scored high points for hitting my emotional happy ending buttons.  4 1/2 stars.

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Head Rush
by Carolyn Crane
Release Date: December 6, 2011
Publisher: Samhain

Review: Kitten-tiger and the Monk

Reviewed by Jen

Sophia isn’t an easy woman to like, especially after the events of Double Cross. After all, it’s her job to rob people of memories and replace them with lies. But now, even she sees the monster she has become. And she wants to change. So she goes in search of the disillusionist known only as the Monk. With his powerful reputation, she believes he can make her change and turn her life around.

Sophia is shocked to discover that the Monk is actually Robert, her teenage sweetheart. We learn about their terrible history and despite the extenuating circumstances, I had real trouble forgiving her for what went down between them. Maybe I am still holding on to my anger for what she did to Justine, but I think she gets off way too easy here. (No pun intended.)

I did like Robbie, though, and his tie-in to the city’s tangled highway system. Let’s hope the results of Sophia’s “turnaround” reverberate into the next book. Almost 4 stars.

*This short story is part of the Wild & Steamy anthology

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Wild & Steamy
by Carolyn Crane, Meljean Brook & Jill Myles
Release Date: August 3, 2011