Archives for July 2013

Review: Ignited

ignitedReviewed by Carrie

Whew!!  I just finished this book and sat down to write the review and my heart is still pumping from the last quarter of the book!  If you like your romantic suspense heavy on the suspense, then this is the book for you!

Working as security contractors, Hunter Phillips and Scottie Easton were protecting diplomats when they were overcome in a Benghazi-like attack and Hunter’s best friend and ex-SEAL teammate paid the ultimate price.  Although still grieving, Hunter agrees to head up the Titanium security team for Khalia Patterson’s trip to Pakistan in support of her educational foundation for girls.

Khalia  knows Pakistan is a long way from her life as a high school math teacher but she is bound and determined to continue the work her father began and ultimately died for.  When Hunter helps her to barely escape a double suicide bomb, reality begins open her eyes.   The Taliban-led terrorist cell that murdered her father wants to shut down the school for girls her foundation is opening and take her out in the process.  Each step she takes closer to her endgame become more dangerous and more secrets are revealed.

As I stated before, this is book is heavy on the suspense.  The romance takes a back seat as it appeared to be born of two people in mortal danger who just sought each other out in a life affirming way.  There is a slow burn attraction, but after the hits (literally) keep coming, the insta-love is understandable even if it’s a little eye rolling.

The plot is very fast paced and exciting.  There are enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing but not overwhelmed.   Although the “mystery” was solved, there seems to be a larger story arc for the series and I am intrigued. What I absolutely have to give the author proper due for is her research and attention to detail.  Very few military romantic suspense authors do due diligence when writing about SpecOps characters.  It really pulls the reader into the story and this history nerd appreciates it immensely.

The secondary characters were mainly in the back seat here, except for Hunter’s second in-command, Gage and his former girlfriend, Claire who he is still pining for.  Second chance romance for the win in the next book!  Sign me up!

Grade: B+

Click to purchase: Amazon

Ignited
by Kaylea Cross
Release Date: June 15, 2013

Review: On the Scent

on the scentReviewed by Janell

In this romantic suspense, Hannah, a nurse, inherits a cat, a dog, and $10 million from her elderly patient. After someone breaks into Hannah’s new house, she hires Zach’s detective firm for some security and investigation. Zach used to pretend to be a psychic for a reality tv show, but he’s not really psychic. He doesn’t want to handle Hannah’s case for personal reasons, but everyone else in the firm is busy, so Zach’s the man for the job.

After Zach gets hit in the head by an intruder, he starts hearing what the dog and cat are thinking. The dog is all, “Treats, pee, treats, hello man,” and the cat is all, “You idiot, we’re all going to die, give me some tuna fish.” The cat ends up giving Zach some helpful hints, so the mystery slowly gets deeper and then gets solved.

Of course Zach and Hannah are hot for each other. They’re both single and attractive, and they’re spending time together in close quarters. I didn’t track the timeline of the book, but I think it takes place over a week, maybe two, so they can only fight their hormones for so long. Zach straight up tells Hannah that they can’t have a relationship because she’s his client, and he has rules, so she tells herself to be patient. But then it only takes one more kiss and he carries her off to bed, patience and policies be damned!

I don’t usually read suspense because I find that it gets in the way of the romance. That’s my own personal reading preference. In this story, there’s the question of who’s after Hannah, plus Zach’s sudden psychic powers and his disbelief of them, interfering with the getting-to-know-you stage. It does force them closer, but I wouldn’t have minded a little more chit chat and a little less, “You’re in danger, let’s keep you safe” talk.

I also would have loved more talking animals. Zach didn’t believe what he was hearing at first, and then he tried to hide it. I would have had fun if he told people what the animals were thinking, because it was pretty funny stuff. Plus, why not let other people think he was crazy? It could have been a visible chink in his armor.

This book is the first in a series, I assume the other books will be about the other detectives in the agency. Zach’s story had a few loose ends, so I’m curious about how they’ll be handled. And, like I said, I would love if more psychic stuff was incorporated. Overall this was a fun read, but a little light on the romance for my taste.

By the way, the author has committed to donating half of her author royalties from this book to her local animal shelter’s Second Chance Fund, if that influences your purchase!

Grade: B-

Click to purchase: Amazon

On the Scent
By Angela Campell
Release Date: July 25, 2013
Publisher: Harper Impulse

Review: The Heiress Effect

heiress effectReviewed by Jen

Sometimes I worry that I sound a little like a broken record when I review a Courtney Milan book. But it’s not my fault, really. She is just so consistently good that all the same accolades apply.  Her characters are so well drawn. They make me feel; they make me cry; they make me shake my fist and jump up and down in the chair.  Milan paints such a clear picture, I am completely drawn into the story and I don’t want to put it down, even after I get to the last page.

This second story in the Brothers Sinister series, focuses on Oliver Marshall, a bastard son who aspires to be more than his place in society. He is educated and savvy, and he has a plan to reach his goals in politics. Unfortunately, he needs the support of a less than stand-up nobleman to make it happen.

Jane is independently wealthy, and any man would want her sizeable dowry.  Unfortunately, marriage is the last thing she wants. She needs to stay single in order to live with her younger sister and to care for her.  If she receives a solid offer, she knows her uncle will expect her to take it, so she makes herself as unattractive to suitors as possible. She is loud, garish, and tactless at every turn. No one wants her around — much less on a permanent basis.  She is so offensive to the ton, Oliver is tasked with taking her down, by the very man whose support he needs in Parliament.

The thing is, Oliver is largely a good guy. His parents taught him right from wrong. But his ambition is strong, making his choice a difficult one.  It gets even harder once he learns the truth about Jane’s behavior.  They fall for each other, each knowing that it could never work between them.  No matter how much he sees her worth, Jane would be a liability to his future –and therein lies real problem.  It’s either give up his dream or give up his heart.

I’ll tell you, this book made me tear up. Jane felt so real to me. She has to endure so much to take care of her sister.  And she faces it all with such strength and stoicism.  I wanted so much for her to feel real love and acceptance from someone after all that ridicule.  But Oliver let me down more than once.  The thing is, though, I understood him too.  Why he felt he had to what he did.   Even in the face of this undeniable tie between them.  I believed in the romance 100%.  The sexual tension was amazing. The love scenes were great. It was wrenching and consuming and just so good!

There is also a great little b-plot romance for Jane’s sister I enjoyed; and a good setup for Sebastian’s story. I must find out what is going on with him and Violet!  Even the “bad-guys” were interesting.  All in all, it’s a really good book — and you don’t have to be familiar with the series to enjoy it.  But it’s nice to see what happens to the child at the center of The Governess Affair, and to see Hugo again.

Rating: B+

*ARC provided by author for review

Click to purchase: Amazon

The Heiress Effect
by Courtney Milan
Release Date: July 15, 2013

Review: To Sin With a Viking

to sin with a viking
Reviewed by Carrie

Vikings are a hot commodity these days with the success of the History channel show, Vikings. They seem like the perfect romance heroes – brutal and primal with a whole mythology of their own. Honestly, I picked this book because the cover was super hot and I loved the title. This was my first experience with a category romance. I was hoping for some sexy Viking loving, but didn’t know what to expect beyond that.

Styr Hardrata sets sail from his homeland in an effort to restart his life. He was stifled by his brother, the Jarl, and his marriage was circling the drain after years of infertility. Styr decides to pick up his life with a group of fellow tribesmen and resettle in Ireland.

Caragh Ó Brannon’s small tribe is starving to death. When Styr’s longboat comes ashore, the Irishmen surprise the Vikings by overtaking the ship, including Styr’s wife, Elena. To save her brother, Caragh manages to capture Styr and holds him captive.

While captive, Styr observes Caragh. Her survival instincts and quiet strength speak to him as he reflects on his marital woes. Caragh’s innate kindness makes her care for Styr as a kinsman even while chaining him. Eventually they come to an agreement and Styr helps her to find food. During these foraging forays, they learn more about each other and affection deepens.

Much to my dismay, there really isn’t any hot Viking loving. The book claims there isn’t adultery, but one scene treads a very fine line without even mentioning all the emotional aspects. Styr’s internal dialog does a good job of making the reader more comfortable with his attraction to Caragh. This is where the book length really inhibits the story. I feel that had the author had another 50 or so pages more the story might have been able to develop more naturally. As it is, everything just happens all too fast.

There were many things in the book that felt anachronistic – from speech to customs to actions. When I pick up a supposed historical novel, I do feel like the author should have done some historical homework. I don’t know if that’s the case with all category romances, but this one had issues.

The novel is good for those looking for a fast read with lots of tension. As for me, the shorter length is really not my style, but I’m hoping more authors will try their hand at writing Vikings.

Rating: C

*ARC Provided by Harlequin

Click to purchase: Amazon

To Sin With a Viking
by Michelle Willingham
Release Date: July 23, 3013
Publisher: Harlequin

Review: Sweetened with a Kiss

sweetenedReviewed by Janell

This book surprised me in such a good way! I agreed to review it because the blurb mentions pastry school, and if you know anything about me you know that I love dessert, so I was hoping for some pastry porn. I expected the characters to be more shallow, the romance to be flimsier, the ending more superficial. Then as I was reading, I thought, “Wait a minute, this is interesting!”

Jen has lived with Stefan’s family since she was twelve, after her family died in a car accident. Stefan is older, but I never got a firm grasp of his age, so maybe he’s about six years older? Their two families owned a business together, and Jen inherited stock and a trust fund, which Stefan has been managing. Jen has had a crush on Stefan forever, and Stefan noticed that Jen was desirable when she was sixteen, but his dad forbade any action between them until she was legal. So it was unrequited love on her part, and biding-his-time love on his part, but apparently they never talked about it.

The book opens when Jen is returning from six months at pastry school in Paris. She is engaged to Stefan because, on her twenty-first birthday, he put a ring on her finger and she was basically dumbstruck. He’s never kissed her deeply, and he acts kind of controlling, so she’s decided to break the engagement so that she and her friend can open their own pastry shop. She loves Stefan, but she doesn’t believe that he’s in love with her, so she thinks he’d be better off without her.

Stefan is a planner. He doesn’t like wild cards, he ignores questions he doesn’t want to answer, and he’s been planning to seduce Jen for the first time on their wedding night, so he always pulls away when she kisses him too much. In the beginning, he’s a serious alpha-hole. He’s silent, he orders her around, he gets pissed when she wears a sexy dress where others will see it, he pins her against a wall to control her. I… hated him. And I did not want Jen to learn how to deal with it because he was horrible.

Then, Jen stands up to him. Not only that, she baits him, makes him mad on purpose, and does not back down. She has a spine, you guys! Stefan, the unyielding, begins to see the real Jen, not just the princess he’s been fantasizing about, and he likes her more. He falls for her so hard, it’s beautiful. He changes for her, agrees with her decisions, pretty much lets her be the boss in their relationship (not just sexually), which is not what he’d planned at all. He basically throws all his plans out the window when it comes to Jen and smiles while doing it.

There’s some business about the car accident when Jen was younger, and the company they run, that’s kind of blah but necessary for the pretty cool way they get separated (because couples always have to get separated.) It’s not a silly misunderstanding, it’s an excellent, well-played betrayal that gets wrapped up nicely, although a little quickly.

Overall, this book was surprisingly awesome. I have to ding it a little because Stefan really was terrible in the beginning, and there were a lot of extra characters muddying the waters just a tiny bit (but generally they were cool.)

Here’s my favorite quote from Stefan: “I’ll be black-tar heroin in your veins and you won’t be able to go four hours without me somewhere deep inside you.” Steamy and funny, yep.

Grade: A-/B+

*ARC provided by author for review

Click to purchase: Amazon

Sweetened With a Kiss
by Lexxi Callahan
Release Date: June 25, 2013

Review: Kiss of Venom

kiss of venomReviewed by Jen

Oh Owen, this novella was almost what I needed to start forgiving you for your abject stupidity and completely out-of-character behavior in the past couple of books.  Your contrition was heartfelt and long overdue.  You owned your bad behavior. You move towards making amends. I just wish I would have gotten a little bit more of an explanation of WHY. It’s so close.

“…the really sad thing, the really pathetic thing, the truly unforgiveable thing, was that I knew exactly what kind of stupid ass I was being that night at the Dubois estate.  I’d known it the day I’d gone to see Gin at the Pork Pit and told her I needed some time to think about things.  And again when we talked in the moonlit gardens outside the Briartop museum, and she’d finally let me see how sick, weary, and hurt she was because of how I’d reacted to Salina’s death. Gin had risked her life to rescue me at Salina’s estate and then again at Briartop, and all I had done was wound her time and time again.”

 

Yes. Yes to all of that.  But I felt like I needed one more paragraph.  The one that said, “I knew I was being an ass, but I did it anyway, because (*enter your reason I can’t understand here*)” Because I still don’t get it.  You were wounded, ok. You felt guilty. Responsible.  Blind-sided.  But WHY, when you knew you were being an ass, did you hurt the woman you love most? Why did you do it again, and again, and again?

Obviously, I am not entirely over my Owen issues.  This story does help, though, and I wish I had read it before I read Heart of Venom. You definitely should.  The events here are referenced, but they are too cursory to have the same impact as they do from Owen’s POV.  There is stuff happening here: essentially Owen stealthily saving Gin from a group of would-be assassins. But more than that –the real crux of it– is Owen’s internal call to action to fix the mess he made.

I think this will make everyone feel a little bit better about forgiving him.  Me, too, albeit reluctantly.  Maybe there just isn’t a why.  Maybe I just can’t reconcile Owen’s behavior with his character as I knew him.  But all of this just goes to show how deeply invested I am in Gin and her world.  (*sigh*)

It’s definitely a must-read for fans of the series.

Rating: B

Click to purchase: Amazon

Kiss of Venom
by Jennifer Estep
Release Date: July 22, 2013
Publisher: Pocket Star

Review: Playing the Field

playing the fieldReviewed by Janell

Sonny is a 31-yr-old single mom of a diabetic kid. Her parents abandoned her. She got knocked up at 19 and then abandoned by her boyfriend, and everything terrible happened on a Saturday. She put herself through college and started her own organic goat cheese business that now boasts the best Gouda in the country. She rarely wears makeup and never uses a hairdryer. She has an eclectic yet tasteful decorating style. These facts tell you everything you need to know about her: she’s over-the-top perfect but she’s had her hard times so you’re not allowed to hate her.

JP is 26 (young man alert!) and a new shortstop for the Denver Rush. He is almost perfect, but slightly arrogant. He grew up in a loving farm family and, even though he’s a professional athlete, he doesn’t want to sleep around with airheaded bimbos. He wants a woman with substance, and he wants her for more than one night, because he’s just that committed to families and relationships. He meets Sonny at a charity event and decides that he wants her based upon her good looks and her inner awesomeness that shines through.

The chase goes like this: JP is direct in his desires. Sonny brushes him off and shouts, “I’m a single mom!” JP keeps showing up and buying goat milk. Sonny thinks about him a lot, then shouts, “I’m a single mom!” and runs away.

Finally, JP manages to get Sonny to kiss him, and of course it rocks both of their worlds. Then Sonny spends a lot of time thinking that she doesn’t want a relationship with JP because he’s a celebrity and has no privacy. Also, she’s a single mom! It’s just her and her son, no one else is allowed! She tried exactly one relationship in the ten years since she got pregnant, and it flamed out, so she believes that no relationship will ever work out again, but that’s okay because she has her son and they’re a team.

JP convinces Sonny that he’d be a good guy to have around, so they have sex, but then she never tells her son that she might be dating JP because she’s just not sure about a relationship with him. For reasons. Because she’s a single mom. When JP gets caught in a conversation with her son about their quasi-relationship, Sonny freaks. Then she sees a tabloid picture of her and JP groping under a tree and she freaks some more. JP asks a lot of people for advice, grovels, makes a big gesture, and finally Sonny says okay, he can be her boyfriend.

I’m not sure if you can tell, but Sonny drove me crazy. Granted, I’m not a single mom, nor was I raised by one, so I can’t say how that would affect my relationship with men. But, come on. Most single moms do date eventually, right? Also, Sonny mentioned over and over again how she hated JP’s celebrity status. Was she worried that her son’s father would show up? Because he didn’t. Was she worried that her parents would surface? Because they didn’t. Did she think her peaceful farm would be disrupted by stalkers? Because it wasn’t. Did she think her business would fail (or thrive) based upon her association with a baseball player? Because it didn’t. The only disruption his celebrity had on her life was that, while on dates, people would ask for JP’s autograph, and sometimes a photographer would take their picture. You’re right, Sonny, that is way too much to deal with.

Poor JP, everyone told him that he screwed up and he believed it. Maybe I hated Sonny a little too much because I don’t think JP did anything that horrible. Nevertheless, he pulled off a big gesture that anyone would fall for, even Sonny. Luckily it worked because I was just about ready for him to move on.

This is part of a series about the players on the baseball team, so you might enjoy this if you like baseball, or if you like reading about hipsters shopping in thrift shops and eating goat cheese. I just didn’t find myself rooting for the romance at the end because Sonny was so annoying, but maybe it’s just me reading it wrong.

Rating: C+

*ARC Provided by Avon

Click to purchase: Amazon

Playing the Field
by Jennifer Seasons
Release Date: July 23, 2013
Publisher: Avon Impulse

Review: The Governess Affair

governess affairReviewed by Jen

You can’t go wrong with Courtney Milan! This is the novella that sets the stage for her Brothers Sinister series and it definitely whets the appetite for more, while still giving you a complete and satisfying love story.

Hugo Marshall is the son of a coal miner, with an unerring drive to make himself into something more.   If he can turn around the finances of the Duke of Clermont, it will put a tidy sum in his bank.  Unfortunately, there is something standing in his way –or rather, someone.  Serena is a former governess who was coerced into the Duke’s bed.  Now she is with child and is threatening a scandal if the Duke doesn’t do right by her baby.  The Duke dispatches Hugo to get rid of her, but refuses to tell him the nature of her grievance.

Day after day, Serena sits outside the Duke’s home, waiting for a response, until finally Hugo ventures out to address her directly.  He is intrigued by her fortitude.  One encounter turns into two, then more. Slowly, he begins to unravel her secrets and to fall for the woman who stands in the way of his future plans.

Milan is so great with novellas. Despite the short length, she really draws such well developed characters.  I felt like I knew them –especially Hugo. I understood their motivations and I believed in the development of their affections.  Hugo is a great hero. With the childhood he had, it’s easy to see why he is so determined to succeed, but when push comes to shove, his humanity wins.  I love the moment he finally makes his peace with the Duke!

The romance is really quite lovely.  Serena has given up on happy endings –and Hugo seems like the most unlikely man in the world to change that.  But somehow they fix something broken in each other. They see the value in one another that everyone else has overlooked.  It’s heartfelt; and when they come together physically, it’s quite satisfying too.

And the Epilogue is great too. (How rarely I say that!)  It sets up the remainder of the series in a way you can’t help but be excited about.  Another winner from Milan.

Rating: B+

Click to purchase: Amazon

The Governess Affair
by Courtney Milan
Release Date: April 21, 2012

Review: Cloak & Silence

cloakReviewed by Jen

I feel like I have been waiting forever for this book. It’s been more than a year since I read Born of Silence, and despite the elapsed time, my enthusiasm has never waned about seeing Maris and Ture’s story.  I will say this, League fans, be sure you’ve read that book before reading this one or you will be spoiled to high heaven.

This –to the best of my knowledge– is Sherrilyn Kenyon’s first stab at m/m.  And I have to tell you, it feels just like any one of her m/f romances… only you get two tortured heroes instead of just one.  Two men who have known nothing but betrayal and derision.  Two men who have never been loved.  Essentially, you’re doubling the Kenyon effect.  For fans, it’s really win-win.

The story begins at the same time as the events roughly 3/4 of the way through Born of Silence, only it’s told through the eyes of Maris and Ture.  It starts with Ture and Zarya being tortured by the League and follows the events through their rescue and recovery.  Zarya was already trying to hook Maris and Ture up, and their connection was real from the very beginning.  Neither thought they could make a real go of it, though. Maris was too in love with Darling and Ture was too tied up in his work.  Yet, the more time they spend together, the more they are unable to ignore their growing regard and attraction.  And before they know it, they fall in love and their walls come crashing down.

There are problems, of course.  Their emotional scars run deep, but the external threat is serious. There is a huge target on Maris’ back, which means danger for Ture by extension.  And there is the Darling-factor.  Maris fears his love for his best friend will forever keep him from a real relationship.  But there is really no doubt that each man has finally found someone who would never hurt or betray him.

As for the sex… it’s pretty on par with the heat level of other League books.  For m/m fans, there is a noticeable absence of prep/ lube and Kenyon straddles the line of being mostly clear in what’s happening.  The lube issue notwithstanding, I was generally satisfied and I think most readers will be too.

Overall, I enjoyed it, though it was a bit predictable.  It was also a little over-the-top at times, with lines like: “Tell me what it’s like to be held by someone who really loves you” and “I can’t be hurt anymore. I am tired of it.”  Like I said before, it’s pretty standard Kenyon, but maybe a little more pronounced because of the double-hero factor.

Rating: B

Click to purchase: Amazon

Cloak & Silence
by Sherrilyn Kenyon
Release Date: July 8, 2013

Review: Frigid

frigidReviewed by Carrie

I’ll admit straight out that I am a sucker for friends to lovers stories, especially childhood best friends.  I read the first sentence of the blurb and I one-clicked.  I was pretty confident I’d at least get a decent story because I had enjoyed  J. Lynn’s (aka Jennifer Armentrout) other new adult novel.

Sydney has been in love with her best friend Kyler ever since a grade school rumble brought them together as friends.  Over the years, Sydney’s feelings intensified but she had been unable to speak them aloud.  Instead, she sat on the sidelines and watched Kyler run through girl after girl.

Unbeknownst to her, Kyler has always thought that Sydney was the epitome of perfection in a woman.  He felt that he could never be good enough for her, so he wasted his time in meaningless one night stands to take away the sting of not having her.  As fate would have it, they are snowed in during their annual ski trip in the mountains.  Sydney finally decides to come clean and put herself out there.

Sydney is a good girl, but she’s not virginial, nor is she stupid.  She has these feelings, but thinking Kyler wouldn’t reciprocate, she (get this) moves on.  Sydney dates a guy for years from high school to college.  Prior to the ski trip, she was about to do the same again.  She calls a spade a spade, as she sees it, and attempts to live her life instead of waiting around for “perhaps”.

Kyler is painted as this man-whore but he just comes off as a bit of a sweet dunderhead.  He really doesn’t see everything that had happened plain as day in front of his face.  Hearing his point of view allowed the reader to empathize with Kyler.

I liked that the story was told from alternate points of view which helped to easily understand the character’s motivations.  There is a little bit of angst, as one might imagine, but it’s not over the top. As Kyler and Sydney begin to realize that they share the same feelings, it is more sweet than angsty.  The sex scenes are kept to a minimum but are full of steamy goodness.  There is a very light suspense plot which didn’t make sense at first, but came together in the end.

I’ll end with my favorite quote which made me sigh happily:

“I’ve loved you my entire life,” he said, eyes locked on mine. “And I would love you for the rest of my life if you’d let me, Syd.”

Grade: B+

Click to purchase: Amazon

Frigid
by J Lynn (Jennifer L Armentrout)
Release Date: July 15th 2013
Publisher: Spencer Hill Contemporary