Archives for March 2013

Review: The Mane Squeeze

Reviewed by Jen

Just when I feared every single shifter in the world of the Pride series was an over-the-top, bizarre, or arrogant joke, Shelly Laurenston proves me wrong.  Only HALF of this couple fits the bill.  Yes, tigon shifter Gwen is violent, bawdy and a bit, er, low class.  But the hero, Lock, is actually kind of normal.  At least, as normal as a guy who shifts into a grizzly bear can be.  This is progress.

You may remember Gwen from the earlier books in the series. She is Mitch’s half-sister from Philly. I mention her hometown, because it’s brought up so often in the book, it must be very, very important. Anyhoo, she is now moving to New York to join a business venture with best friend –and fellow hybrid outcast– Blayne.  As the story begins, the two women are attacked by some vicious wolves –and they run to Lock for cover.  Gwen remembers him from a friend’s wedding (Smitty & Jess from The Beast in Him) where he stepped in to save her from a fight. She figures he could save her again… and he does, but she is still injured in the skirmish.

The two forge a connection that day, but it’s not until months later that their relationship is rekindled, thanks in no small part to some friendly meddling by Blayne.  These two are so different, yet they strike a real chord with each other.  I liked Lock much more than any of the other heroes we have met in the series.  He is humble and unassuming, even though he is one of the biggest and baddest shifters out there.  He is earnest and genuine in his feelings for Gwen and he doesn’t take shortcuts in their relationship.

Gwen is somewhat less appealing. She’s not all that different from Ronnie, Sissy May, or the other farcical characters we have met already.  She’s always spoiling for a fight; she loves to talk trash; blah blah.  Just instead of making her hillbilly, the author makes her “street.”  She does soften around Lock, though, and that is probably her saving grace.

There’s a bit of an external conflict going on with a family feud, but the romance is the real draw.  Gwen and Lock really work in an “opposites attract” sort of way.  The series’ trademark humor is still present; so is the smoking hot sex.  And I feel like we got a pretty good set-up for a Dee and Ric story, which intrigues me.

I think this has been my favorite installment so far.

Rating: B

Click to purchase: Amazon
The Mane Squeeze
by Shelly Laurenston
Release Date: November 1, 2009
Publisher: Kensington

Review: The Trouble With Sin

Reviewed by Shelly

Continuing with the story of Ludovic DeVere and his friends, Vane’s latest is a prequel vignette (about 40 pages) to the story of Simon “Sin” Singleton and his adventures. Just the name, Sin, tantalizes the senses doesn’t it? This is also a prequel to Jewel of the East (book #5 in the Devil Devere series)

Simon loves his parents, his mom is a bit tyrannical, but that’s okay because she’s got his best interest at heart. His father rightfully thinks that Simon’s best friend DeVere is a bad influence and makes a slight adjustment in Simon’s allowance, while his mother thinks that the best thing for him is the priesthood. It’s too bad that Simon loves the ladies too much to let little things like money and his mother hold him back. After a night of drinking, Simon has found a way to do the things he loves best – poetry and whores.

In the words of Sir Walter Scott ‘Oh!‘what a tangled web we weave when we […] practice to deceive’. Simon’s interactions with his mother are absolutely brilliant! If any other man was caught in those situations I don’t know how they would be able to face themselves in the mirror but, oh no, not our Simon. He’s one part mischievous and one part naïve and gets himself in some very interesting positions all in pursuit of his two passions. I’m really looking forward to reading more about him and catching up on Ned and Ludovic.

Happy Reading Folks!

Rating: B

*ARC provided by author for review

Click to purchase: Amazon
The Trouble With Sin
by Victoria Vane
Release Date: March 11, 2013

Review: Her Lucky Love

Reviewed by Shelly

What a pleasurable read – quick, fun and left me wanting more. Even though I didn’t read the first three stories in the series, I honestly didn’t feel left out or uninformed. I might even have to dig up some of Ryan’s other work, I enjoyed this read so much.

Set in the small town of Holiday, Montana, where the Cooper brothers live, this story tells the tale of heartache, redemption and true love. Brayden Cooper’s special gift is that he’s lucky. This luck has brought him a good and loving family, a successful and thriving business, and a significant amount of wealth from smart investments. Even through her wreck of a marriage, Brayden has been in love with Allison Malone. What I found admirable about that was that even though Brayden felt this way, he never left town and he never revealed his feelings to anyone, including Allison, because he was convinced that Allison didn’t need him. Awwwh, so sweet. Allison dang near turned me into a sniveling idiot — she’s a widowed, working mother of three, fighting for the safety of her young children because her dead husband’s family has decided that they want her kids. She’s proud of her children and she’s determined to raise and protect them on her own. Is there anything or anyone more tenacious than a mother protecting her young?

This story had me from the first paragraph. The writing sucked me in and wouldn’t let go. Allison is that mom who, even though she made some bad decisions in her past (like staying with her abuser of a husband,) puts her children first. She’s raising them to be better than she could hope to be, and that in itself tells me that she’s much smarter than she gives herself credit for. The writing for her was spot on.

What can I say about Brayden? Although he doesn’t need to, he’s a hardworking mechanic and knows the joy of a good day’s work. It’s this simple enjoyment of life and family that allows him to fall in love with Allison. Brayden also knows the delight of loving Allison’s children and being that father figure to them – and for me that was a true joy to read. Most kids bounce back from tragedy so quickly and Allison’s were no exception. The interaction between Brayden and especially the youngest and only girl, Lacey was sweet and adorable. There were moments where the oldest son’s character really shined and played in nicely to the dynamics of this blended family.

Brayden’s love for Allison jumps off the page and made me believe. The sex was pretty hot too. Together these two were a lovely couple and I couldn’t have wished for them a better ending than they got. My only complaint is that the conflict was resolved a little too quickly, but it was still a nice ride. Well done Ryan – you’ve got a new fan.

Happy Reading Folks!

Rating: B+

*ARC provided by author for review

Click to purchase: Amazon
Her Lucky Love
by Carrie Anne Ryan
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Publisher: Fated Desires Publishing

Review: With This Kiss

Reviewed by Jen

This is my first experience with a serial romance.  I opted to read all three installments back to back, but I will break down the review by the three parts.

Part One:  Grace was only 10 years old when she realized something was special about Colin.  Their families were close and they grew up visiting each other over the years.  But like with everyone else, she was practically invisible to him.  No one ever paid attention to her when her sister Lily took the spotlight.   But as they all grew older, and Colin joined the Navy, Grace carved out a special place in his life by writing him letters.  So when he comes home, will he finally see her or will he only have eyes for Lily?

I was surprised at how quickly I grew to care about Grace.  She is thoughtful and loyal; and she is amazingly understanding of how people ignore her in favor of her sister.  The events of the story actually brought tears to my eyes, which I consider pretty remarkable, considering how short it was.  I really enjoyed it and it made me very excited for part two.

Part Two:  Grace is doing her best to move on from Colin. She is even planning to marry another man, but she doesn’t realize that Colin has finally realized what she means to him. He plans to tell her, but he is injured before he can do it. He comes home with an infirmity that both thrusts them together and leads to even more confusion and misunderstandings between them.

This installment took my emotions on a bit of a roller coaster.  There were too many misunderstandings, though.  It was hard watching these two go through the wringer, when we know how they feel about each other. The circumstances of the sex were a little too convenient and a bit unrealistic.  But it was hot, nonetheless.  (*fans self*) The cliffhanger definitely serves to get make you anxious for the last installment.

Part Three: It’s time for Colin and Grace to lay all of their cards on the table.  Colin doesn’t know how to convince her that she is really the woman he loves, but he is determined to do it.  Grace wants to believe Colin shares her feelings, but it’s hard to put aside her hurt over feeling second place to her sister once again.

I enjoyed watching Colin prove himself. This third installment is almost entirely written as payoff for the heartbreak and longing of parts one and two.  And as a lover of the happy ending, I reveled in it. Again, the sex is great!  There aren’t any surprises or anything; it’s a pretty standard HR HEA.  But the resolution is satisfying.  I enjoyed it.

Overall, I liked the serial.  I think it would have been frustrating, though, if I would have had to wait between installments.

Rating: B

*ARC Provided by Avon

Click to purchase: With This Kiss Part 1
Click to purchase: With This Kiss Part 2
Click to purchase: With This Kiss Part 3
With This Kiss
by Eloisa James
Release Date: March 26, 2013
Publisher: Avon

Review: Secret Desire

Reviewed by Shelly

I’m usually excited when I read about new (to me) authors and this was no different. When I read the blurb I immediately thought – oh yeah, this will be some sweet Young and the Restless drama. Well, I didn’t get what I was expecting.

I like twin stories as much as the next person, as there’s usually a bond that binds that most of us don’t understand, but we can still identify. This set of identical twins was the antithesis of that. Mild mannered staff writer by day and writer of erotica at night, Claire Robertson’s parents were killed in a car accident (that’s not a spoiler – it happens way too early to be one) and she’s the twin who’s left with going home to pick up the pieces.

Having left home years earlier, Claire is leery of returning because she still has a lot of feelings left for the boy next door, Dustin Murray. It turns out that Dustin dated her twin sister Fran while they were all still in high school and Claire has not forgiven either of them. Dustin has always regretted the decision he made to date Fran, because he’s always been in love with Claire. He’s determined that once Claire arrives home, she’s not leaving without him.

I’m not sure why, but I never felt vested in either Claire, Dustin or their relationship. Claire just came across as a bit of a whiner and she never seemed willing to stand up to either her sister, or even Dustin for that matte,r for the way they both hurt her with their teenage relationship. Dustin was an average guy who had the potential to be so much more. And of course, because there’s the twin relationship, the dynamic between Fran and Claire was really off and kinda weird, actually – talk about the bad seed — Fran was a straight up bitch.

This story has so much potential, but I found that I had too many unanswered questions. Claire and Fran’s relationship was so fractured and heartbreaking. Fran’s selfish need for recognition, separate from her sister, came at the price of Claire’s peace which I didn’t understand at all, as no background information was offered from either sister to clue me in. The past relationship between Dustin and Fran wasn’t explained either, which left me really frustrated because I thought that let Fran off the hook. For as many pages that this book had, I was expecting more of a well-rounded story.

Happy Reading Folks!

Rating: C

*ARC provided by author for review 

Click to purchase: Amazon
Secret Desire
by Susan Taylor
Release Date: February 1, 2013
Publisher: Etopia Press

Review: Immortal Trust

Reviewed by Jen

One of the things I like about The Curse of the Templar series is that each hero is deliciously tortured and alpha. Though admittedly, Lucan doesn’t come off as quite as tortured as Merrick and Farran, he made up for it with earnestness and charm.

This installment in the series is actually different in a few ways. Not only is our hero a bit less miserable than his predecessors, unlike them, he knows who his seraph is from the start. As the story begins, he is already seeking Chloe out at the archaeological dig she is leading in France.  Chloe doesn’t know it, but she is about to uncover a vital artifact to the Templars, the Veil of Veronica.  Not only do the Templars want the items, but so do the evil minions of Azazel.  The dark lord has infected her brother in order to get to the item by any means necessary.

Lucan is determined to handle his mating better than his brothers did. He is resolved to take things slowly, and to court Chloe properly.  It’s not that easy, though. Chloe has been plagued by demons for years. Between that, and a bad relationship in her past, she is dead set against a future with the man she sees as a representative from the Church at her dig.  Her brother’s negative influence makes it even harder for Lucan to gain any ground. But, of course, it’s only a matter of time until destiny becomes a reality.

I liked Lucan a lot. He is gentle and loving with Chloe and takes great care with her emotions. It’s nice to see a hero who isn’t so dominating that he loses sight of his woman’s wants and needs. It is frustrating at times to see the hesitation he has –as it will so clearly burn him in the end.  You see, both Lucan and Chloe hide the truth from each other for most of the story. Chloe keeps her demons a secret because she doesn’t think Lucan will believe her. And Lucan keeps the Templar truths quiet, because he fears Chloe may already be compromised by Azazel.  Secrets, as always, lead to misunderstandings, which can drive you crazy when you see them coming a mile away.

However, the romance is sweet, and I like that this is a bit different from the previous books, because that keeps the series from getting stale. The sexual tension is great and the bedroom action is definitely worth the wait!

We’re still keeping up with some of the other familiar knights… but I am coming to think Claire Ashgrove is only giving me glimpses of Declan and Tane to torment me. When will they get their books, for crying out loud???

Overall, it was sexy and sweet, though a little predictable.

Rating: B

*ARC Provided by Tor

Click to purchase: Amazon
Immortal Trust
by Claire Ashgrove
Release Date: March 26, 2013
Publisher: Tor Books

Review: Lover at Last by JR Ward

Reviewed by Jen

I feel like I have been waiting for this book forever, and I have to wonder how much my hopes and expectations played a part in how I felt reading it.  There were parts of it I really enjoyed; other parts left me frustrated; still others, left me scratching my head.

Anyone who has kept up with the series knows that Blay and Qhuinn are both completely in love with each other; and both feel like a relationship is completely impossible.  After all, as the book begins, Blay is in a long-term relationship with Qhuinn’s cousin Saxton. And Qhuinn has just gotten Layla pregnant.  Not exactly a clear path to happiness.  But Layla’s pregnancy is a rocky one, and surprisingly, this is what begins to clear the path to a Qhuay pairing.

I don’t want to spoil too much about the book, but I’ll give you some broad strokes.  I’ll start with what didn’t work for me.  The biggest problem was the nature of the conflict between our heroes.  Yes, there actually were some obstacles there at the beginning. But as the book progressed, I felt like the biggest thing standing between Qhuinn and Blay were… Qhuinn and Blay.  If the two of them had been honest with each other in, say, Chapter 5 or so, there would have been little need for all of the angst that followed.  Blay could have –and should have– come clean about what was happening with Sax.  Just as Qhuinn should have stopped playing the martyr and copped to his real feelings. (Just so you know, I blame Blay more than Qhuinn here.)  It was overly prolonged and at times, even felt contrived.

Big issue number two: all the cut-scenes.  I forgot how much these drove me crazy in the earlier books.  Back then, it was all Lesser POV.  Now, the scenes are divvied up between Assail, Trez, and –to a lesser extent– the Band of Bastards.  Just when we would get some movement on Qhuay, Ward would yank us into something else.  And it took everything in me to actually read the pages instead of skipping back to the Qhuay action.  Assail’s sidestory took up the bulk of the cutaways and it didn’t get interesting until the very, very end.

Final issue: the sex.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s hot sex. Ward doesn’t pull any punches. Unfortunately, she doesn’t use any lube either. The sex is often angry and raw, and I kept getting pulled from the moment, when all I could think about was… “ouch.”

Now, for what did work.  Of course, seeing Qhuinn and Blay finally together, in the moments they let themselves revel in each other. These times were great.  I also loved delving more into their backstory and what they have meant to each other over the years; seeing their families and learning what has shaped them into the males they are.  Really good stuff.

I was also, surprisingly, a big fan of Layla.  I have actively hated her for… well, forever.  But I couldn’t believe how much I grew to like her in this book.  She has grown so much.  And I’ll be honest with you, there is a scene with her and Xcor which was probably my favorite scene in the entire book.  I re-read it three times.  –Now THAT is a real relationship with obstacles.  Such a great star-crossed lover story –and I cannot wait to read that one.

And finally, I have to say I loved the way Qhuinn’s life finally comes together. With Blay, of course, but in so many other ways as well.  He is such a damaged person, but with a good heart and an honor of his own.  It made me really happy to see him get everything he deserves.

All in all, the book was a little bit of a mixed bag.  I think that if the story had focused more on our heroes and had their obstacles felt less of their own making, I would have crossed over from liking it –to loving it.

Rating: B

Click to purchase: Amazon
Lover at Last
by JR Ward
Release Date: March 26, 2013
Publisher: NAL

Review: Twice Tempted

Reviewed by Jen

As much as I enjoyed Once Burned, I really think this sequel delivers just as much! It’s sexy; it’s heartfelt; and it’s got just enough intrigue and action to keep me glued to the page, without ever detracting from the romance.

I hate to say it, but as the story began, I wasn’t really happy with Vlad. If you’ll recall, he is determined that love will never play a part in his life again. This is a real problem, since Leila is head over heels for him.  The great thing about her, though, is that she refuses to settle for anything less than his heart.  And while it shreds her to do it, she walks away from the only man she’s ever loved.  And he lets her go.

Of course, they don’t stay apart.  Someone targets Leila and that brings her back into Vlad’s life faster than you blink.  But who is out to kill her and why?  Where does the sexy and eager Maximus fall into her life?  Can she ever break Vlad’s cool exterior and find his feelings underneath?  Can the sex surpass the infamous chapter 32?

I won’t spoil the answers… OK… I’ll answer that last one with a resounding yes.  The sex was molten hot here.  Scorching.  Wow.  Thank you, Jeaniene Frost.

I’ve loved Vlad since he first entered the Cat and Bones world and he grows so much in this book. I never thought I could love him more, but now I do. He is violent and tyrannical and controlling; but once we end up exposed to the emotions he works so hard to tamp down, we also see the fierce love and loyalty in him.  Meanwhile, I respected the heck out of Leila for not settling.  She manages to hold on to her backbone without being bitchy or diminishing her love for Vlad.  And Frost does a great job showing us that it’s the real man she loves, not an idealized version of him.  Sometimes it’s messy; sometimes it’s hard; but it’s real.  And I totally believed it.

Really good.

Rating: A-

*ARC Provided by Avon

Click to purchase: Amazon
Twice Tempted
by Jeaniene Frost
Release Date: March 26, 2013
Publisher: Avon

Review: Deadly Sting

Reviewed by Jen
I still love you, Jennifer Estep.  And I still love the Elemental Assassin series.  But Owen… I feel like my longstanding and overwhelming love for Owen Grayson has suffered irreparable damage with this book. Which makes me both a little bit angry –and sad.

The following will contain spoilers for anyone who has not already read Widow’s Web.

As the story begins, Owen and Gin are still apart, as he deals with the fact that she killed his ex-fiance.  Nevermind the fact that Selina tried to kill his sister. Nevermind the fact that she was going to kill Gin and was obsessed with the idea of getting him back.  Oh yeah –and let’s not forget her big evil plan to kill all those folks with her big revenge plot.  But still, he’s off “thinking about things.” For three months now.  Gin is hurting (which I hate) but she is trying to soldier on.

Finn gets the bright idea to drag Gin to a huge party to showcase all of Mab Monroe’s treasures at an art museum.  He even talks her into getting a fancy new dress. But nothing is ever simple for Gin.  First of all, Owen is there. With a date.  Then the party turns into a huge hold-up as a group of giants plot to steal Mab’s fortune for themselves.  And Gin must find a way to take them all down before any harm comes to her loved ones who have been taken hostage.  Kind of like Die Hard. In a red dress.

As always, the action was great. I love that Jennifer Estep is always coming up with new ways for Gin to kill people.   While many of the last books focused on her ice magic, this book was more focused on the stone.  There were tons of cool fight sequences and big stuff with Jonah MacAllister.  Plus –a great setup for where the series is likely headed next.

If you’re anything like me, however, what you really care about is what’s happening with Owen.  Sadly, this was the only part of the story that I didn’t enjoy.  Owen was one of my favorite characters in a series filled with amazing characters. He came around on the heels of weenie-toad Donovan Caine, who made Gin feel damaged and unworthy –and he loved her for who she is.  He accepted her. And now, HE is making Gin feel small. And alone.  He is indecisive. He is a wuss.  And a stupid-head.  And honestly, no matter what happens in future books, I question whether I can ever see him the same way again.  Scratch that.  I know I can’t…. which really stinks.

Where do they end up?  You’ll have to read the book, of course.  I will tell you, though, that it is not a fun ride.  At least, it wasn’t for me.

This all leaves me with mixed feelings at the end of the book.  The parts that weren’t about Owen were everything I have come to love about the series.  I liked the plot, the villain, and the growing overall arc.  But the romance…. fail.

*ARC Provided by Pocket Books

Click to purchase: Amazon
Deadly Sting
by Jennifer Estep
Release Date: March 26, 2013
Publisher: Pocket Books

Review: The Mane Attraction

Reviewed by Jen

Who says you can’t go home again?  Sure, most of the folks in Smithtown would be thrilled never to see Sissy Mae Smith ever again; also true: the feeling is mutual.  But when the bounty on Mitch’s head nearly gets him killed, Sissy can’t think of a safer place to take her dear friend to recuperate.

The friendship between these two is really the core of the book.  Sissy and Mitch are two characters who are larger than life.  They both need to control everything around them. They both swim in self-confidence.  And in each other, they have found kindred spirits. They can talk to each other like no one else can: they tease, they mock, and they cut straight through the niceties.

While both swear nothing romantic or physical can ever happen between them, the sexual tension is present all the time.  Often, it’s couched in a joke, but it’s still there nonetheless.

“I’ve had a near death experience, Sissy… and I’m really horny. Uh… think we can–”
“No. We can’t. And you couldn’t even feed yourself too long ago.”
“It was all that chicken soup. It cured me.”
“Yeah. Right. And stop touching!” She slapped his hand away again.
“Oh come on Sissy. I almost died. Can’t you help me out?”
“You did not and I’m not having sex with you ’cause you almost died.”
“Fine. Hand job?”
This was pretty much the dynamic between them for most of the book.  Mitch is charming, and over the top lazy and hungry… which means he is constantly telling Sissy how she should be pampering and feeding him.  It should be utterly obnoxious, but with Mitch, it’s not.  He is funny and it’s clear he thinks the world of Sissy Mae.  She feels the same way.

It actually took longer than I expected for these two to leave the strictly-friends zone, but once they did, they were going at it like rabbits until the end of the book.   The only times they weren’t doing it were when Mitch was eating, playing football, or trying not to get killed; or when Sissy was trying to protect herself from her crazy family members and stupid ex-boyfriend.

Yeah, there is some other stuff going on outside of the relationship.  Surprisingly, little of it had to do with the hit on Mitch. Most of it was family drama among the members of the Smith clan… Sissy being out of control and larger than life… and Mitch being hungry, horny, and more than a little full of himself.

The book is funny and light. The characters are likeable and entertaining.  This entire series is that way.   They all kind of feel alike and there’s not really much depth.  But they’re kind of charming and they make me laugh.

Rating: B

Click to purchase: Amazon
The Mane Attraction
by Shelly Laurenston
Release Date: November 1, 2008
Publisher: Brava