Carrie’s Favorite Books of 2015

To be honest, this year was a difficult one, both personally and reading-wise.  I found it harder to connect to characters and had little patience for plots to roll out. Thankfully, this year is ending on a high note and I very much look forward to 2016!  Listed are a few of my favorite books this year…. [Read more…]

Carrie’s Favorite Books of 2014

2014Lots of great reads in 2014! I could’ve listed a few more but wanted to just give you my most favorite of the year. I especially loved favorite authors that started new series (Callihan, Andrews & Bennett) and new to me authors (Bowen). Bring on 2015!

New Adult

hook upThe Hook Up by Kristen Callihan – Callihan’s foray into New Adult is a smash and my #1 reread of 2014. Star quarterback falls head long for a smart sarcastic girl who wants nothing to do with him. Fantastic tension with well-developed relatable characters with a seriously steamy story made this riveting read.

Click to purchase: The Hook Up

The Year We Fell Down by Sarina Bowen – A new to me author that I’ve fallen for. The first book in the Ivy League series is a sentimental coming of age story with a strong heroine who is navigating a different kind of freshman year after a hockey accident landed her in a wheelchair. It gave me all the angsty butterflies that a first love can give. [Read more…]

Review: Into the Shadows by Carolyn Crane

into the shadowsReviewed by Carrie

This is the third book in Crane’s romantic suspense series, The Associates.  Although each can be read as a stand alone, there is an over reaching arc that threads through the books; some readers might find themselves a bit lost with missing information.

Thorne McKelvey has been working his way up the notorious Hangman game for years.  No one knows that he’s really a plant for Dax, the head of the super-secret spy ring, The Associates.  Many years ago, Dax noticed Thorne’s skills and made a deal with him.  Dax would give him the new identity of the man who murdered his sister in return for working for him.  [Read more…]

Favorites From… Carolyn Crane

Carolyn Crane
Hey Jen!!

Thanks so much for having me over to your recommending event! And how fun to do this.

Okay, a little background: I didn’t grow up reading romance, a fact I see as totally pathetic and sad. Oh, how my teen years would’ve been improved by some good romances.

But, oh well, I’m one of those people who came to romance later in life, entering through the door of urban fantasy and fantasy, which led me to paranormal romance, and then my ultimate love historical romance, which is what I read for pleasure, but would never be able to write in a million years.

Anyway, since my historical romance reading life started in 2008, I missed out on the great 1990’s Fabio era of books, these books people swoon over when you say their name on Twitter. But little by little I’ve been digging back and trying them out. Some of the oldies leave me thinking wtf!! (The Windflower, for example.)

Others have left me breathless. Panting for more. Amazed out of my head!

One of these amazing books is Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale. Is the greatness of this book old news to everyone here? Is posting about this like announcing George W. Bush won an election? Are there other people like me who haven’t read it? Because it was just startling to me.

First published in 1992, the tale begins when the brilliant, dashing, rakish math genius, the scandalous Duke of Jervaulx, captures the eye (and pious disapproval because he’s a yummalicious rake) of sheltered Maddy, a Quaker goody two-shoes who assists her mathematician father.

Nothing comes of the brief interaction, but then Jervaulx is struck by an illness that leaves him unable to speak. People think he’s crazy and throw him into a horrible asylum. His mother thinks he’s being punished for his wicked ways.

The Duke of Jervaulx is alone in the world.

Maddy, who so looked down on him, is the only one who realizes he’s not the monster everyone thinks he is. She alone understands him, she alone can rescue the super-hot and damaged duke from the clutches of evil people. OMG, if you haven’t read this book, don’t even listen to my sucky description. It is so exciting and good.

Honestly, when I was reading this, I would often exclaim to my husband, OMG, I can’t believe how amazing this book is!!

He, of course, gave me massive crap for the Fabio-esque cover – yes, this is the edition I found at my trusty USB. Well, it was worth it. I can’t remember the last time I was so heart-racingly compelled by a plot and a hero and heroine.

So that is my recommend. A blast from the past. I hope, if you pick it up, that you enjoy it as much as I did.

Thanks so much to Caroline Crane for sharing her flashback recommendation! I asked Caroline to be a part of this feature because I loved her Disillusionist trilogy. They are original and engaging and they shocked me with great plot twists. The story follows a hypochondriac heroine who ends up using her illness as a weapon. Plus, a great love triangle develops.  If you haven’t read these books, I strongly suggest you give Mind Games a try. I’ll bet you can’t stop there.

So, do you want a blast from the past?   I’m giving away an ecopy of Flowers from the Storm via Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  If you can receive an ebook from them, you are eligible to win. Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below.

Be sure to check out all of the Favorites From My Favorites posts and giveaways this month, by clicking here.

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*”Favorites from…” photo: Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos  

AAD Author Spotlight & Giveaway: Carolyn Crane

I am a big fan of the lovely Carolyn Crane and her fabulous Disillusionists books.  I highly recommend you check out the series if you haven’t already!  Carolyn was kind enough to chat with me about the books as well as some of her upcoming projects. Please help me welcome her to the blog!
Jen: Thank you so much for taking the time to visit with me today.

Carolyn: Hey, thanks so much for having me! I was so happy to be invited. I know these spotlight interviews are a lot of work for bloggers, but so much appreciated!
Jen: The Disillusionists series isn’t your standard Urban Fantasy fare. For those who haven’t read the books, how would you describe them?

Carolyn: The Disillusionists trilogy follows the journey of Justine Jones and her friends—former losers, whose weaknesses were turned into crime-fighting powers—and Justine’s suitors: two flawed but brilliant men—one on a journey of redemption, the other descending into a pit of moral depravity.

Jen: When we first meet Justine, she is as far from a kick-ass heroine as anyone could imagine. Did you consider it a risk to make her so damaged?

Carolyn: I really didn’t think of it as a risk – it just seemed like a more interesting scenario to me. Like so many writers, I write the books that I want to read, and I tend to enjoy psychological drama and also, everyday people.

Jen: Moving on to the men in her life. In the first two books, I really found my loyalties torn between Otto and Packard. And even at the end, I still felt a little sympathy for, well, let’s just call him “the loser.” Talk to me about creating these two very different characters who both connect to Justine in such a major way.a href=”http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-I_I84UCjGys/TztNBawHYSI/AAAAAAAAB9c/FD34joaiKQE/s1600/dcr.jpg”>

Carolyn: LOL the loser!! You are funny. But thank you for being so non-spoilery! I actually love both of these characters. I think it would be so boring if Justine had two men to choose from and one was great and the other sucked. All my characters get redeeming qualities.

The thing is, Justine is on a journey, and growing and evolving as a person, and the stronger and more true to herself she becomes, the more clarity she gets in her romantic choices. One guy is more appropriate for Justine when she’s the weak old Justine. The other fits with her highest self, her strong and true self she is growing toward. The love triangle was part of the character arc.

Both Packard and Otto have upsides and downsides. Otto is the dashing hero with a dark side. Packard is sort of inspired by Sam from Casablanca, the man always out for himself who has to step up in the end or lose out.

Jen: Was the series always a trilogy in your mind?

Carolyn: Yes. I felt like readers might get a little bit claustrophobic inside Justine’s head for too many books. And there is something I just so love about a trilogy; it gives you the ability to tell a nice big, fat, juicy story without dragging it on.

Jen: You changed publishers between the 2nd and 3rd book. How did that impact you and/or the series?Carolyn: Well, the biggest impact is that it put such a delay between the Double Cross (book #2) and Head Rush (book #3). I had originally imagined there would be 6 months between them, but when Spectra declined to buy book #3, honestly, my thought was, Noooo! after the ending of Double Cross, I can’t make readers wait!! I knew people liked the series and that somebody would pick it up or that I’d put it out myself, but it killed me to have people wait like that.

And of course, Head Rush is a digital-first book, so poor print readers are still waiting, and I feel for them, because I hate to wait for things myself. But that is part of what makes Samhain nimble, and I feel happy in my new home with them. They took a chance on book #3, and have been awesome in general, and I love the cover of Head Rush! I love how action-y she looks, and no knife.

Jen: (I never did why she had a knife on the other covers.) I loved Shelby so much!! Who was your favorite among the secondary characters and why?

Carolyn: I’m so glad you like her!! Shelby is one of my favorite characters to write for sure. It’s always fun coming up with lines for her, because, there is always just a bit of truth in her dark vision of things. I also love working with Simon, because he insults the other characters and just breaks things up.Jen: I’m so excited that Simon is getting a story. Can you tell us anything about Devil’s Luck?

Carolyn: Fawna, the heroine, sees the future and feels trapped by that knowledge. Simon wants nothing to do with the future – he’s into recklessness and taking losing gambles. So, they want nothing to do with each other, but when they come together, everything just ignites. It’s the most intense thing I’ve ever written.

Jen: Do you think you’ll revisit any of the other Disillusionists?

Carolyn: I might. If I get a great idea for one of the other characters I will.

Jen: What is you favorite scene from the series and why? (Mine is the bathroom scene with Packard in Double Cross… Duh.)

Carolyn: Oh, how I labored over that bathroom scene. It was so important to me. (obviously!) And I’m glad you like it. You know my favorite scene is the interrogation with Marty in the beginning of Double Cross. I loved how it turned out, with the power shifting back and forth, and then the end when Packard arrives.

Jen: What are you working on right now?

Carolyn: I’m working on my paranormal romance spy series. I should have news of when it will be out by the end of March.

Jen: Can you give us a little snippet from one of your upcoming projects? Just a little, bitty, teeny, tiny, super-awesome peek?

Carolyn: Nobody has ever asked me to do that. I would love to! My Ghost story is coming out in the Mammoth Book of Ghost Romance this summer. It’s a straight paranormal that I had so much fun writing.

The opening:
Cassie Nolan addressed the tourists in a solemn tone. “Ready?”

They nodded and murmured their yeses. It was a small group tonight—six adults and two kids, standing out on the porch of the Old Salt Tavern in the growing dusk.

She raised her eyebrows as the town clock rang eight chimes, scrutinizing their faces, as though she wasn’t convinced they could handle Old Salt’s nightly haunting…as though it might be too frightening, too horrifying, too shocking.

Not.

Old Salt William McHenry was the most pathetic haunter ever. Clearly he was a real ghost, that’s what frustrated Cassie. Could he not come up with something cooler and scarier than dragging an invisible chain around on a dock? Maybe throw stuff around? Smash something?

The tourists would stand there in awe of Old Salt’s ghostly clanking, and she would stand in awe of his ghostly ineptitude, thinking, A chain? Really? That’s what you came up with?

So, she totally insults this ghost all the time when the tourists aren’t around, but then something happens to bring her and Old Salt the ghost into contact, and he is mad about being insulted by her all those years, and also totally hot and hunky.
Jen: I will have to check that one out! What are you looking forward to most about AAD in NOLA?

Carolyn: Just meeting everybody! So many readers and authors and blogger I feel so warm toward from twitter and elsewhere online are going. I’m looking forward to talking books, and being in a place where it’s not uncool to have a half-naked man on the cover of your book, and to be with those who understand why a totally messed-up guy with a name like Zsadist can be awesome, and on and on.

Jen: Thanks again for taking the time to do this! I can’t wait to meet you this summer.

Carolyn: Jen, I am really looking forward to meeting you. I think this is going to be a really one in a million convention. Also, thanks for inviting me over to your blog!!

Carolyn is sharing a copy of Devil’s Luck with one of you! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form to enter.  If you want to learn more about Carolyn Crane, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

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Review: Devil’s Luck

Reviewed by Jen

It’s amazing how much heart Carolyn Crane can shove in to such a small number of pages. I didn’t care much for Simon in the Disillusionist novels. He wasn’t always very nice to Justine; and he had an enormous chip on his shoulder. But with this novella, we learn why he is the way he is.  It makes him all the more compelling and it humanizes him in a way that was desperately needed.

Simon’s unlikely love interest in the story is Fawna, a prognosticator who can’t allow herself to live in the moment. She is a slave to her visions, allowing them to cage her as effectively as those who kept her prisoner most of her life. She’s never liked Simon and the feeling has always been mutual, though it’s really been more of a dislike for the other’s gift: Simon’s disdain for future-telling and Fawna’s rejection of the way he lives with reckless abandon.

But all that changes with the events of one day. Fawna catches a glimpse of the freedom Simon gains with his rejection of fate. And she somehow becomes a partner in his lifestyle, someone who he could really share himself with. But the thing is, when all is said and done, Fawna still is who she is –and growing to care for Simon only makes it harder for her to let go of the future she has seen for him.

The characters were very engaging and the writing was so good, I just wanted there to be more. I loved seeing Packard again and the way Crane weaves in the backstory from the previous books is fantastic. I loved Simon’s secret and how much that reveals about him. I loved Fawna’s coat and the fearlessness she found with Simon. The only thing I didn’t love was the ending. We have to take the future on faith and knowing what we know, that’s a scary thing. I understand why it fleshed out the way it did, but deep down, I wanted the author to promise me it was all gonna be alright.

Still, I really enjoyed the story. I hope Crane decides to revisit the Disillusionist world again. She’s created something really good. 4 stars.

Click to purchase: Amazon
Devil’s Luck
by Carolyn Crane
Release Date: February 28, 2012

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.

Click to purchase: Amazon
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

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

Review: Double Cross

Reviewed by Jen

Wow. Just wow.

I thought the ending for Mind Games was unexpected. But clearly Carolyn Crane was just giving me a sneak preview of how blown away I would be by the end of Double Cross. Did I just say blown away? How about shocked? Flabbergasted? Amazed? All of the above!!

As this installment begins, Justine is with Otto, but their relationship is still on tender ground. She is working with Packard and her fellow disillusionists to reform all the people Otto has locked up with his force fields. One of the marks is Ez, a woman with the power over dreams… a woman who worms her way into Justine’s mind while Justine does the same to her. But I’ll come back to that in a minute.

As the disillusionists attend to their duties, there is a new threat to the city. A group of people are killing off highcaps. The killers not only have the ability to identify their targets, but they are also immune to their powers. Packard and Otto both fear the threat, and Justine finds herself working to identify the killers as well.

Amidst all of this, Justine continues to struggle with her conflicting feelings. She is torn about the morality involved with disillisioning. And even though she loves Otto, she is still drawn to Packard. Those feelings are intensified when Ez starts pulling Justine and Packard into each other’s dreams.

There is so much going on, and much like Justine, I found my affections bouncing back and forth between Packard and Otto. Until the end. The Omigod I can’t believe that just happened end. The end that I will not spoil for you. But I will tell you that it turns everything on its ear.

While Mind Games was good, this book truly bumped the series up a notch. Justine is growing so much. She has a moral center that so many people around her lack. I found myself loving Shelby, growing more interested in Simon –and sinking deep into the backstory between Packard and Otto. It was just fantastic. But don’t read it without having Head Rush standing by. Otherwise, you might just pull your hair out. Almost 5 stars.

Click to purchase: Amazon
Double Cross
by Carolyn Crane
Release Date: September 28, 2010
Publisher: Spectra

Review: Mind Games

Reviewed by Jen

Do you have any idea how hard it is to look at a book’s big picture when all you want to talk about is the end? Indulge me for just a moment as I get this out of my system: Where the hell did that ending come from? This book took me on a ride to places I never thought I would go –and it was an unexpectedly entertaining journey.

I’ll admit that, for me, it was a rocky start. Our heroine, Justine, is a neurotic hypochondriac, who is bordering on a mental breakdown. She is convinced she has a rare neurological disease and her fear is taking over her life. Until she meets a mysterious man in a restaurant. Packard tells her that he can take her fear away –and ultimately proves that he can– at a cost.

Packard has a special ability that allows him to understand people on a very deep level. And he can help siphon off negative energy. But ultimately, Justine must go to work for him, among his team of Disillusionists. They go after evil people and hoist their various mental or emotional damage upon them… to break them down… in some cases for vengeance, in others rehabilitation. But either way, the results are twofold: 1) Justine purges herself of the fear for weeks at a time; and 2) she must put herself in the path of danger to complete her missions.

There is a great attraction between Justine and Packard, but their relationship is a rocky one. This is due in part to the fact that she already has a boyfriend, and in part because she is constantly learning about information he has kept from her. It’s obvious he has a bigger plan for her, but it takes a long time before we see what it is.

I found Justine to be very off-putting at first. (And I also had trouble with the fact that the book is written in present tense.) But the more I read, the more I became complete wrapped up in the story. Not only did I have no idea what would happen with Justine’s personal relationships, I was also kept on the edge of my seat by her psychotics marks and Packard’s end game. I’m not generally a fan of love triangles, but there is a good one here –and in the interest of full disclosure, it wasn’t even the triangle I expected.

There is moral debate, action, excitement, misdirection, betrayal, and some pretty good sex before all is said and done. I can’t wait to see what happens next. 4 stars.

Click to purchase: Amazon
Mind Games
by Carolyn Crane
Release Date: March 23, 2010
Publisher: Spectra