Archives for December 2012

Review: A Marry, Merry Christmas

Reviewed by Jen
 

This anthology features two historical and two contemporary romances with a Christmas wedding theme.

“His Indecent Proposal” – After years abroad, Victor has returned to his brother’s home. He is shocked to find out that the family’s governess is the same feisty woman he nearly accosted in a tavern years ago.  The attraction he felt for her then is still strong now. He wants to make her his, but she believes a future together is impossible. Can he change her mind?

The premise for this story is fairly good, but I felt like it was rushed in places.  Penelope changes her tune very quickly and it seemed abrupt and forced.  Maybe it’s because the story is so short, but I needed a more realistic transition for her… and a better explanation for her initial rejection of Victor’s honorable proposal.  It’s not a bad story, it just felt like it had some holes in it.

“A Love Like That” – After two years, Tina is still mourning the loss of her husband David.  But she is determined to open herself up to new possibilities for happiness.  Enter her neighbor, Wade.  It turns out that the sexy plumber has been doing small acts of kindness for her for months. From plowing her driveway to fixing her mailbox… to a lovely rose he left behind.  He is so different from her husband, but she can’t deny her growing feelings for him.

I liked this one. Of course, I am a sucker for stories where the hero doesn’t feel good enough for his heroine.  I liked the pacing and almost everything about this one, except for how quickly the L-word started flying.  The last chapter/ epilogue solidified the HEA, so why profess love on the second date? (*sigh*) Even though that bugged me, I enjoyed this one overall.  It was probably my favorite of the bunch.

“Forever Winter” – Susanna feels like she has been waiting for her wedding day forever, but when it finally arrives, it’s one disaster after another.  A terrible snowstorm delays her dress, injures the reverend, and keeps away many of the guests.  Then, an attack from her horrible brother-in-law takes things from bad to worse. But all she wants is to marry the man she adores.

I would be upset, too, if my wedding day tanked this way, but Susanna came off a bit like a spoiled child.  Camden made an admirable groom, but I wish I would have had a chance to know him better.  Then, after all that build-up, I have to say I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to see the payoff.  I would have preferred to read about the wedding night, rather than the epilogue five years in the future.

“Together at Christmas” – We switch back to contemporary for this last story.  Penny is a widow with two kids who is going home to visit her family for the holidays, when she accidentally grabs the wrong little boy at the train station and pulls him on the train.  It turns out she took the foster son of a station employee named Rick, who cared for her child until they could switch the kids back.  The story follows the couple falling in love and creating a blending family.

This was by far the least compelling of the stories in the book.  While I thought the premise was fine, I saw absolutely no reason for these two to fall in love. There is no build up. No emotion. No sexual tension. Nothing. And they end up married in a week.  Not to mention, Rick orchestrates an adoption in even less time.  Totally implausible, without even a strong emotional tie to make me ignore it.

Overall Rating: C

*Book provided by author for review

Click to purchase: Amazon
A Marry, Merry Christmas
by Amber Daulton, Lynn Kellan, Susan Kaminga, & Terry Long
Release Date: December 4, 2012
Publisher: Bradley Publishing

Review: Visions of Heat

Reviewed by Jen

I can’t say I enjoyed this second installment in the Psy-Changeling series quite as much as I liked the first.  “What changed?” you may ask. Well, not very much. And therein lies the problem. In many ways, it felt a lot like I was reading the same book all over again.

The premise: Sascha Faith is a powerful cardinal of the Psy race.  Their people are bred to eschew emotion, to achieve a calm equilibrium and focus on the power of their minds.  Only, our heroine’s powers are not quite right.  She fears that if she can’t get a grip on her backfiring talents, the Psy Council will figure her out and mark her for “rehabilitation.”

Lucas Vaughn is a powerful changeling… a shapeshifter with a heartbreaking past. He has survived his adversity, but the heartaches involved have never truly gone away.  He is shocked when he finds himself drawn to a Psy.  But the attraction between them can’t be denied.  In the meantime, a serial killer is targeting his next victim and only Sascha Faith can stop him. Using her powers, she puts herself at risk, navigating the Psy-Net and dealing with the treacherous council, in order to save the next victim and avenge those who have come before her.

Ahem.  Sound familiar?

The details were different.  Vaughn is a jaguar instead of a leopard and he is a sentinel as opposed to the Alpha of the pack.  Faith isn’t an E(mpath)-Psy like Sascha, but an F-Psy that can foresee the future.  And instead of a business deal drawing our couple together, Faith meets Vaughn when she seeks out Sascha to find answers about her faulty powers.  Oh yeah, and Faith is even more sensitive to touch and feelings than Sascha was.  And there endeth the differences.

I still liked it.  Maybe I would have liked it a lot if I hadn’t just read its book-twin the day before.  I can only hope that the series opens up and spreads its wings a little in future installments. I have faith. All of my book-buddies love this series and I wouldn’t have gotten so many recommendations if it gets stale and stays that way.  Therefore, I’m gonna give book three a try and hope for the best.

Rating: B- (*ducks head*)

Click to purchase: Amazon
Visions of Heat
by Nalini Singh
Release Date: March 6, 2007
Publisher: Berkley Sensation

Review: Hunter’s Prey

Reviewed by Jen

 

The more I read from the Bloodhounds series, the more I enjoy them.  They’re this gritty blend of shapeshifter, old west, steampunk, and holy hot sex –and I am already jonesing for the next one.

This story features Hunter, the man turned into a Bloodhound against his will and kept caged and tortured by the vampires in Wilder’s Mate.  He is trying to aclimate himself to his new life, but he is having a hard time reconciling the man that he once was, to the beast that is now inside him.  He is living with Wilder, Satira, Nate, and Ophelia –and he is coming on his first new moon where he is not locked behind bars.

It’s Ophelia who he wants to slake his lust upon during those three days of burning need, but he fights it. He is afraid he’ll hurt her. But when the time comes, his beast will accept no other.

Thankfully, Hunter’s feelings are not one sided.  Ophelia wants him too and only fears that the man in him doesn’t want her as much as the Bloodhound does.  The story follows their path to mating, as Archer and Wilder search out a new vampire threat.  Oh –and some guys from the Guild come sniffing around to check out Hunter and Nate.

It absolutely must be said that the sex in these books hits all of my happy buttons.  It’s just the right blend of dirty and needy and passionate without crossing the line into eye-rolling.  The sexual element of Hunter and Ophelia’s relationship is awesome, but I also really liked their tentative romance as well.  They both have issues that make them fear rejection from the other, but I love that it’s handled honestly between them.

There is action and violence and an interesting plot to go along with the loving too.  There is also a wealth of fleshed out secondary characters which give depth to the world and plant the seeds for future stories. It’s just cool all over.  You should definitely check this series out.

Rating: B+

*Book provided by authors for review

Click to purchase: Amazon
Hunter’s Prey
by Moira Rogers
Release Date: March 6, 2012
Publisher: Samhain

Review: Romancing the Holiday

Reviewed by Allison

“We’ll Be Home for Christmas” by HelenKay Dimon

Lila Payne has been trying to find her way after her marriage fell apart and she thinks that moving to Holloway to take care of the campground “resort” that her uncle gave her is as good a place as any to start over. Only she didn’t expect that when she went to Thomas Nurseries to pick up something her uncle ordered, she’d run into the man she hasn’t been able to get out of her head for three months… not since their hot and heavy 3-night stand. Once Spence spots her, he can’t help but be drawn back to her with memories of that weekend in the swank hotel, and he’s dying to know if it was just a one-time sizzle or if the fireworks are still there.

My trip back to Holloway was even better than the last! Spence was the perfect balance of smart and sexy with shake-your-head-he’s-such-a-man. This short story was so emotionally charged between the devastation of a marriage gone wrong that Lila was dealing with and the lifetime of women leaving (starting with his own mother) to complicate his commitment issues on Spence’s end of things.

All the smexy lovin’ happened behind closed doors but this story was SO good, it didn’t even matter. The emotions were intense, the tortured hero just right, and the “moment of truth” so satisfying that even though it wrapped up a bit quick, it was easily forgivable.

The growth that he showed in just a few chapters was truly a joy to read and made it hard to stay mad once he decided to finally make the dive into the unknown with the woman he found himself willing to risk being with – whether she stayed or left.

Grade: B+

“Ask Her at Christmas” by Chrisi Barth

This short was about best friends, Caitlin and Kyle. BFFs since high school, they take care of each other, lean on each other, talk each other to sleep every night… and hold back their true feelings in order to keep the friendship at a safe level. Unfortunately, when Kyle pops the question and reveals that Caitlin is his “practice run”, she might have lost him for good.

Kyle explains that he is proposing to his girlfriend of six months to make his father proud and to solidify a merger between the two families companies. He figures that even thought it’s essentially a business transaction, he’d put a little effort into it to try to at least base the marriage in respect and friendship.

Although the romantic in Caitlin is completely horrified (I’d feel the same way!) she has always supported Kyle and won’t stop now. She does everything she can to plan a romantic proposal, giving him plenty of Christmas-y ideas like the ice rink, a fairy tale ending in front of Macy’s Christmas windows, and a surprise Christmas gift. Nothing seems right to Kyle but as the days to Christmas tick down, the plan gets more real, and he doesn’t know if he can go through with it.

It was absolute torture watching Kyle try to please his dad by ruining not only his life, but Caitlin’s. These two are so perfect for each other that while rooting for them you go from wanting to beat him over the head with a blunt object one moment, to cheering like a crazy person the next!

This story will make you fall in love, get pissed, stand proud, and swoon in 24,000 words – in short, you’ll love it!

Grade: A

“The Best Thing” by Jaci Burton

Tori has worked for Kent Construction for a few years, but the past 10 months have been especially difficult – ever since Brody Kent kissed her at the company Christmas party and she bolted. She’s been in love with Brody for years, but can’t let her heart get involved because of Brody’s playboy reputation. She knows she wouldn’t be able to handle being used and tossed aside by this man. So when Brody’s brothers tell him to “fix it”, he starts a dialogue with her that eventually ends in a magical weekend for the both of them… but can Tori get past her trust issues and can Brody finally man up and settle down?

I really liked Tori and Brody, but I think some background from the previous stories (this is book 3 in the series) would’ve helped frame their struggles a bit better. I also think that Tori had good reasons to be wary of Brody and while he did prove himself, I think she forgave him a little too easily. That’s probably due to the nature of the short story though, because it’s still a great tale of love and family with a Christmas twist!

Grade: B-

All three of these stories are the absolute perfect Christmas read, they’re emotional without being overwhelming and will satisfy every hopeless romantic’s need to swoon this holiday season!

*ARC provided by Carina Press via Netgalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
Romancing the Holiday
by HelenKay Dimon, Jaci Burton, & Christi Barth
Release Date: December 3, 2012
Publisher: Carina Press

Review: A Love Untamed

Reviewed by Jen

As the newest member of the Feral Warriors, Fox is still trying to learn his place in the elite brotherhood.  It’s a task made even more difficult by the fact that he came into his animal at the same time a group of tainted animal spirits found their hosts.

He’s barely instilled in Feral House when one of the tainted Ferals kidnaps Kara the Radiant, mate to the Feral leader and source of their power.  Now Fox and his new brothers must join forces with members of the sensual and powerful Ilinas to rescue Kara and bring her back home.

It becomes immediately clear that Melisande, second in command of the Ilinas, is meant to be Fox’s mate.  That doesn’t really go over big with either one of them. Fox is a playboy with no desire to settle down.  He thinks he can scratch his itch with Melisande and be done with it.  Melisande’s issues, however, are far more complicated.  She is the victim of horrific abuse that she has never gotten over.  She has cut herself off from tender feelings to become a merciless killer for her people.  And she fears that if she lets any emotions in, she will shatter.

For longtime fans of the series, the book shows Melisande in a very new light.  She has done some coldhearted things in her past, but now we see why.  It may not be enough to make everyone warm to her, but suffice it to say, she has been through a lot.  Fox is pretty much your standard heartbreaker.  He is gorgeous and he knows it.  He loves playing the field and lives up to his reputation… until he realizes there has been a woman out there for him all along.

I like the world-building in this series for the most part, though it can get a little cheesy at times with the animal names and nicknames.  I like that Pamela Palmer isn’t afraid to get dark with it  (though fortunately not as dark as in her Vamp City books.) In that vein, the way that Fox deals with Melisande’s history of abuse went a long way to improving his character in my opinion. Though with the gray cloud of her past hanging over them, I didn’t find the sex, well, all that sexy.

She does a good job on setting up a story for the side character Grizz.  Though it’s a Wulfe story I really want.  Overall, I found the book pretty good, but I didn’t emotionally invest enough for it to be great.

Rating: B-

*ARC Provided by Avon

Click to purchase: Amazon
A Love Untamed
by Pamela Palmer
Release Date: December 26, 2012
Publisher: Avon

Review: Last Kiss Goodnight

Reviewed by Jen

I absolutely love that Gena Showalter is expanding her Alien Huntress world with this spinoff series.  This story serves as a great introduction for new readers, but also fits very well with the existing books.  It has a sexy, unloved alpha-male… and a tortured heroine who hasn’t allowed her difficult life to diminish the light of her spirit.

Vika grew up under the cruel hand of her father, the owner of a traveling circus.  His menagerie once held exotic animals. Now, members of otherworld races are caged and subjected to humiliation and torment.  Vika abhors her father’s actions, but he is too powerful for her to stop.  When she has tried, it has earned her beating after beating, including one viscous attack that took her hearing. She realizes she must plan her escape quietly –and in the meantime, offer what kindness she can to the prisoners.

Solo is an otherworlder who works as a black-ops agent, essentially killing people who need to be killed.  He grew up only knowing love from his adopted parents. Everyone else turned their backs on him, calling him a freak and a monster.  Just moments after he was tasked with tracking down some missing aliens, he was incompacitated and sold into the circus.

At first, he lashed out, but it did no good. And slowly, he began to see the goodness in Vika.  She seems to see him as no one ever has, and her gentle crush on him has an effect he can’t ignore.  The two grow closer and plot their escape. But can they really get out from under her father’s thumb?

I enjoyed the romance.  It was actually very sweet. Vika is innocent to the ways of love, but it felt much more genuine than with so many ingenue heroines.  She has to compromise what she knows is right in order to survive, but she hangs onto her humanity no matter the cost.  Solo is solid mildly-tortured hero.  He had a solid foundation with his adopted parents, so he wasn’t completely wrecked. But he struggles with the rejection of others and his assassin work doesn’t leave him feeling altogether worthy of love.  It’s quite nice to see them each find the love they never thought they would have.

There’s not a lot of sex, though we did have some toward the end.  I would imagine it would be hard to work in, with Solo in a cage for so much of the book.  Also, notably lacking, is Showalter’s fabulous wit and snark. This story is much more somber.

There’s a good set-up for future books, centering on the other members of Solo’s team who have gone missing.  And we’re even treated to a cameo from Dallas!  Overall, I enjoyed it and look forward to the next installment… especially if it centers on John.

Rating: B

*ARC Provided by Pocket Books

Click to purchase: Amazon
Last Kiss Goodnight
by Gena Showalter
Release Date: December 26, 2012
Publisher: Pocket Books

Review: The Boss’s Fake Fiance

Reviewed by Allison

Melissa Bencher is at a fundraiser for her boss and his company when she sees her cheating bastard of an ex slide his way toward her across the dance floor. Since she can’t get away, she grits her teeth and tries to stay cool. Unfortunately, the unapologetic twit gets under her skin (who could blame her – he slept with her [ex]best friend?!) and she ends up “confessing” her secret relationship with her boss, Garth Solen. Little does she know that when she wakes up the next morning the jealous idiot has told the paparazzi and now she and Garth are front page gossip news!

Although she is convinced she will lose her job, she’s shocked when Garth asks her to keep up the charade. We learn that although her sexy boss is very private, he’s also very family oriented and when his grandmother (the woman who raised him after his parents passed away) got so excited that he had finally found someone, he couldn’t bring himself to break her heart. Especially since she’s recovering from pneumonia and is having a hard time bouncing back.

And so a deal is struck. They pretend the engagement is real until his grandmother gets better and then they’re done. Of course, that’s not how the cookie crumbles…

Not another fake fiance story, you say? I’ll admit, I was wary going into it but to be honest even though the name is corny as hell and way too obvious, the story and characters truly made up for it.

I really liked Melissa and how even though she had been hurt, she was open to the possibility of something else changing her life –and that even though she knew she shouldn’t fall for Garth, she let herself do it anyway. That’s my kind of girl! Even if it hurts, every one should have that great big REAL love once in their lives. Garth, on the other hand, did everything he could to avoid it. It was really interesting and a little heartbreaking to see what he had been through as a child and how that shaped him as an adult. I couldn’t help but feel empathy for him when he revealed his condition at the end and how truly beat down the world made him about himself.

It was sexy and incredibly sweet, definitely a worthy read! I will make sure to go back and read about Melissa’s brother, Brit, in Rules of Negotiation.

Grade: B+

*ARC Provided by Entangled Publishing

The Boss’s Fake Fiance
by Inara Scott
Release Date: October 14, 2012
Publisher: Entangled Publishing

Review: Slave to Sensation

Reviewed by Jen

It seems like people have been telling me for ages that I needed to read this series… and it turns out, they were right.  It is fast paced and sexy, with intriguing characters and cool world-building.  Now that I have started these books, I am going to have a hard time keeping myself from reading them all back-to-back.

This first installment provides the set-up for the series.  The world consists of three types of beings: humans, changeling, and Psy.  The changelings are shifters: passionate and fiery with some of the traits of their animals.  The Psy are cerebral. They wield various psychic gifts and link together in a group consciousness called the Psy-Net.  And for generations, they have worked to weed out emotions of any kind.  If any Psy shows evidence of feelings, they are “rehabilitated” –a nice way of saying, lobotomized.

Sascha has always known she was unlike her Psy brethren and she has worked her entire life to hide it.  That suddenly gets harder when a work arrangement thrusts changeling alpha Lucas into her orbit. She is attracted to him like she has never been to any man.  He is pretty hot for her too. But his motives for getting close to her are more complex.  The changelings know that there is a Psy serial killer on the loose, targeting shifters.  Lucas hopes Sascha can give him enough insight into her people to help him figure out why they are covering up the murders –and how to catch the killer.

I really enjoyed watching Lucas tear down the walls Sascha worked so hard to build around herself.   He is both playful and sexy, powerful, protective, and possessive.  But he doesn’t cross the line into alpha-hole.  Not only is his romance with her satisfying, so are the bonds of family she forms with his pack. It’s very nice to see her finally get the love she has always craved.  And to learn that she is so much more than anyone ever predicted.

We’re introduced to a wealth of secondary characters that –no doubt– will all be the heroes and heroines of future books.  And I am very excited to see where Nalini Singh takes their stories.

The book isn’t perfect. I’ll admit I got lost a couple of times as Sascha went into detail about her psychic exploits inside PsyNet, but at a certain point I just wrote it off as “sneaky psychic stuff” and called it a day.  But overall, I liked it a lot… and can’t wait to continue on in the series.

Rating: B

Click to purchase: Amazon
Slave to Sensation
by Nalini Singh
Release Date: September 5, 2006
Publisher: Berkley Sensation

Series Reading Order: Psy-Changeling

This is the reading order for the Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh:

*Denotes novella
**Denotes free short story/ deleted scene provided by author

“Whisper of Sin” is listed as story 8.5 in the series, but takes place chronologically before Slave to Sensation.

Review: The Lady Most Willing

Reviewed by Jen

It’s anthology, but not.  It’s dubbed as “a novel in three parts” and I think that’s a pretty fair assessment. Each author tackles a different couple, but all three love stories fall under the umbrella of a bigger picture.  And for the most part, I really liked it.

The basic story is this: a Scottish laird, who sees no prospect of a wife and child of his own, decides to find a matches for his two nephews and potential heirs.  So he kidnaps four eligible heiresses (and one stuffy duke by accident) and drags them back to his castle to put his plan in motion.  Snow keeps anyone from leaving, and everyone ends up finding their perfect match over the course of a few days.

Generally speaking, I really hate it when couples fall in love in such a short time, but the story had almost a fairy tale type feel that made me fixate on this less.  And though the individual love stories were clearly defined, I thought the authors did a fantastic job of working together to make it all flow together in a cohesive way.

The first third of the book was my favorite.  It features a lovely pairing between the stuffy duke, Bret, and Catronia, a lesser member of the nobility. The laird didn’t really mean to kidnap either of them. After all, Catronia has no money to bring to a match with one of his nephews, and the duke is –well– a man.  But they really make a great couple, as the duke found someone to look past his title for the first time and see him simply as John.

Part two featured the laird’s uptight and proper nephew, Byron, and Fiona, the bespectacled redhead with a tattered reputation. This one was my least favorite of the three. I just didn’t think Byron made an attractive hero and his affections toward Fiona seemed to come out of nowhere.

Part three focused on the laird’s true heir, Robin, who has a reputation as a dissolute rake.  But Lady Cecily doesn’t judge him on the gossip. She is a firm believer in true love, and (though neither realizes it right away) theirs was a case of love at first sight.  Robin really tries to stay away from Cecily, because he believes she deserves better than him, but she won’t give up on what’s in her heart.

The whole thing was very easy reading… sweet and fun. I was a bit sad when it was over.  Definitely worth reading for fans of historical romance.

Rating: B+

*ARC Provided by Avon

Click to purchase: Amazon
The Lady Most Willing
by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, Connie Brockaway
Release Date: December 26, 2012
Publisher: Avon