Thursday, May 26, 2016

Review: Blurred Lines ~ Lauren Layne

Blurred Lines
Lauren Layne
Contemporary Romance
Love Unexpectedly/Book 1
Loveswept/August 25, 2015

When Parker Blanton meets Ben Olsen during her freshman year of college, the connection is immediate—and platonic. Six years later, they're still best friends, sharing an apartment in Portland's trendy Northwest District as they happily settle into adult life. But when Parker's boyfriend dumps her out of the blue, she starts to wonder about Ben's no-strings-attached approach to dating. The trouble is, even with Ben as her wingman, Parker can't seem to get the hang of casual sex—until she tries it with him.

The arrangement works perfectly . . . at first. The sex is mind-blowing, and their friendship remains as solid as ever, without any of the usual messy romantic entanglements. But when Parker's ex decides he wants her back, Ben is shocked by a fierce stab of possessiveness. And when Ben starts seeing a girl from work, Parker finds herself plagued by unfamiliar jealousy. With their friendship on the rocks for the first time, Parker and Ben face an alarming truth: Maybe they can't go back. And maybe, deep down, they never want to.

My first Lauren Layne and it won't be my last! Don't you just love it when you find a new author whose voice flows so well from the page? And Blurred Lines is a friends-to-lovers romance which is one of my favorite tropes!

From the first, it's obvious Parker and Ben should be more than roommates. There is a deep, lasting love based on friendship but neither of them seem inclined to take it further. It's as if their subconscious minds are afraid becoming romantically involved might break their friendship, which is important to both of them. People will go from friends to lovers, pledging if it doesn't work out, they'll stay friends. We all know it's not true and you can never go back to how things were. Parker and Ben make that vow and then break it.

Parker is all about control. She likes to control her environment and her relationships. She likes lists and predictability in her life. It's cute and I can totally relate. I felt sorry for Parker when she gets blindsided by her boyfriend. I was angry for her, for what he did and how he made her feel. It was heartbreaking but necessary for Parker to get out of her rut and get into something different with Ben.

Ben is such a good guy. He's a good friend to both his male friends and to Parker whom he treats like one of the guys - to a certain point. He's there to comfort her when she gets dump. A very broad shoulder to cry on. It was awesome to see Ben start to notice Parker as more than a best friend and roommate. When he starts to notice how sexy and attractive she is, it's satisfying to see him struggle with his attraction to Parker. His brain tells him one thing but he's not always thinking with his brain.

I could easily see this as a romantic comedy. It has two wonderfully engaging main characters complete with passion, wit, and flaws. We get both Parker and Ben's point of views which makes getting into their heads that much easier. Neither are perfect and both make mistakes when it comes to their arrangement of casual sex. The mistakes are not about their physical side, that's smoking hot, but the messy emotions that always seem to creep in, even when you tell yourself it's just sex.

What complicates matters is the six year history that Parker and Ben have. Casual sex would be far easier if they didn't care so deeply about each other. We see the pain they go through when they realize the arrangement has become more than sex but they're both afraid to tell the other how they feel. It's frustrating because as the reader, you know what is in both of their hearts and you want to tell them both to "Wake up! You're screwing up the best thing either of you will ever have." I did yell at them but it took them awhile to listen to me. Kind of like my kids. ;)

Blurred Lines is a charming friends to lovers romance. There are a couple of bumps in the road which could have been avoid if only Parker and Ben had talked. The estrangement between Parker and Ben went on a bit too long but in the end, they found their Happily Ever After.

Rating: B+

Love Unexpectedly Series ~

Blurred Lines
Good Girl

Blogger, You're Messing Up My Challenge

A couple of weeks ago, I missed posting one day. I thought I had written a review and posted it but it wasn't there so I thought I must have forgotten to post. Yesterday, I posted a review and thought everything was going fine. Then I noticed the review is not there. I checked my posts in blogger and the review shows as posted. I search and find it posted on the day two weeks ago! I can only guess the review got scheduled to post that day, May 12, which is odd because I rarely schedule posts, I just post when I'm done writing them. And then I never hit "publish" which is why it was still listed under draft posts. So now it looks like I missed another day, yesterday.

So if you're interested in reading a review on Sarina Bowen's The Shameless Hour, hop over to the May 12th post. It's a good book and wonderful series.

Okay, off to write a review to post for today, May 26. :)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Review: The Fifteenth Minute ~ Sarina Bowen

The Fifteenth Minute
Sarina Bowen
New Adult/Contemporary
The Ivy Series/Book 5
Rennie Roads Books/October 13, 2015

Freshman Lianne Challice is known to millions of fans as Princess Vindi. But sometimes a silver screen sorceress just wants to hang up her wand, tell her manager to shove it, and become a normal college student. Too bad that’s harder than it looks.

She’s never lived a normal life. She hasn’t been to school since kindergarten. And getting close to anyone is just too risky — the last boy she kissed sold the story to a British tabloid.

But she can’t resist trying to get close to Daniel "DJ" Trevi, the hot, broody guy who spins tunes for hockey games in the arena. Something's haunting his dark eyes, and she needs to know more.

DJ's genius is for expressing the mood of the crowd with a ten second song snippet. With just a click and a fade, he can spread hope, pathos or elation among six thousand screaming fans.

Too bad his college career is about to experience the same quick fade-out as one of his songs. He can't get close to Lianne, and he can't tell her why. And the fact that she seems to like him at all? Incredible.

The final book in the Ivy Series was an excellent installment and the best news - there will be a spin-off series! I've enjoyed this series from the start and look forward to seeing some of these characters in the future.

The character of Lianne Challice made me think of what it would be like for Emma Watson, who played Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies, to go to college. To drop the celebrity and try to be a student like everyone else. As Lianne proved, it's not easy. She tries to be as inconspicuous as possible but she is recognized and whispered about. I felt sorry for her when she would hide away in her dorm room, not wanting to deal with the whispers and teasing. She is desperate to shed her Princess Vindi reputation and take more mature roles. Meanwhile, she must deal with a serious attraction to a guy who doesn't seem too phased by her fame.

DJ has had some serious trouble in recent months and while he's attracted to Lianne, he doesn't feel like he's in the right place to start a relationship. Still, it doesn't stop him from spending time with her and getting to know the real Lianne. DJ was such a good guy! He was considerate, funny and tries to do the right thing, especially when it comes to Lianne. They made a superb couple.

Between DJ's troubles with the school and Lianne's trouble with her career, these two have plenty to keep them stressed over. They do, at times, come across as far more mature than their ages. (Lianne-19/DJ-20). One of the best ways they de-stress is sharing their love of music. DJ aka Daniel, provides the music for the college hockey games. Prior to reading The Fifteenth Minute, I had no idea how detailed and critical the selection and playing of music was to a game.  I appreciated the details Ms. Bowen applied to the story and found myself looking up quite a few songs to listen to as I read.

The resolution of both DJ and Lianne's difficulties was almost too perfect. Still, the ending was appropriate for them both with the combination of both of their passions. I'll miss spending time at Harkness College but look forward to reading the spin-off series.

Rating: B+

The Ivy Series ~

The Year We Fell Down
The Year We Ran Away
Blonde Date (novella)
The Understatement of the Year
The Shameless Hour
The Fifteenth Minute

Monday, May 23, 2016

This Weeks New Releases

And the TBR pile continues to grow. Many a good book is coming out this week. I've added six to my list and I have no doubt more will be added before the week is out.

This sounds intense and different from my usual reads. The friends to lovers trope is one of my favorites but this, this has it's own twist. I have not read anything from Kendall Ryan, so we'll see if she can convince me of the set-up. I hope she can.

Kendall Ryan
Contemporary Romance

Hard-core fucking.

It’s not what I really want, but it’s all he has to offer. He’s filled with turmoil and heartache and regrets, but for two hours every Wednesday all he feels is me. How much I desire him, how desperate he makes me, how much I’d like things to be different between us. Real.

He used to be my best friend back before he got married. And now? Now, he’s a young widower. It would be wrong on so many levels to expect something more from him, so I give him what he needs. Dark, delicious fucking.

But I know I can’t keep this up. I’ve already given him my body, my soul. I want him to have my heart. It might drive him away forever, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Wednesday is an angsty romp told from dual points of view. If you’re in the mood for something quick and dirty, you’ve found it. Proceed at your own risk.

Oh, yes! This has been a wild ride. The movie based on the first book was a little of a disappointment. No surprise it wasn't as good as the book. But I have been looking forward to this third and final installment ever since reading the last book.

The Last Star
Rick Yancey
Young Adult/Dystopian
The Fifth Wave/Book 3

We’re here, then we’re gone, and that was true before they came. That’s always been true. The Others didn’t invent death; they just perfected it. Gave death a face to put back in our face, because they knew that was the only way to crush us. It won’t end on any continent or ocean, no mountain or plain, jungle or desert. It will end where it began, where it had been from the beginning, on the battlefield of the last beating human heart.

Master storyteller Rick Yancey invokes triumph, loss, and unrelenting action as the fate of the planet is decided in the conclusion to this epic series.

Recently finished listening to the audio book of Built, the first book in Jay Crownover's newest series and no surprise, enjoyed the heck out of it. It's a spin-off of her Marked Men series which I would definitely recommend. Happy I didn't have to wait long for this next book. The hero and heroine both first appear in the Marked Men series, and I've been wondering about them ever since.

Jay Crownover
Contemporary Romance
Saints of Denver/Book 2

Avett Walker and Quaid Jackson’s worlds have no reason to collide. Ever. Quaid is a high powered criminal attorney as slick as he is handsome. Avett is a pink-haired troublemaker with a bad attitude and a history of picking the wrong men.

When Avett lands in a sea of hot water because of one terrible mistake, the only person who can get her out of it is the insanely sexy lawyer. The last thing on earth she wants to do is rely on the no-nonsense attorney who thinks of her as nothing more than a nuisance. He literally has her fate in his hands. Yet there is something about him that makes her want to convince him to loosen his tie and have a little fun…with her.

Quaid never takes on clients like the impulsive young woman with a Technicolor dye job. She could stand to learn a hard lesson or two, but something about her guileless hazel eyes intrigues him. Still, he’s determined to keep their relationship strictly business. But doing so is becoming more impossible with each day he spends with her.

As they work side-by-side, they’ll have to figure out a way to get along and keep their hands off each other—because the chemistry between them is beyond charged.

After reading Sawyer Bennett's Cold Fury Hockey series, I knew I had to read more from this author. Her newest, a trilogy, begins with Sugar Daddy. I'm cautious about reading this too soon since it ends on a cliffhanger with the hero/heroines story continuing in the second book, which also ends on a cliffhanger. I might just wait until the final book of the trilogy comes out and read the three back to back like one long romance.

Sugar Daddy
Sawyer Bennett
Contemporary Romance
Sugar Bowl Trilogy/Book 1

Sela Halstead lost her innocence in a way that no sixteen-year-old should ever have to endure. She’s spent years trying to forget that night even while wondering about the identities of the monsters who brutalized her—until a telltale tattoo flashes across Sela’s TV screen. The incriminating ink belongs to Jonathon Townsend, the millionaire founder of The Sugar Bowl, a website that matches rich older men with impressionable young women. Obsessed with revenge, Sela infiltrates Townsend’s world, only to come face-to-face with a tantalizing complication: Beckett North, his charismatic business partner.

The tech mastermind behind The Sugar Bowl, Beck always gets what he wants, in business and in bed. And yet, for a man who’s done every dirty thing imaginable, there’s something about the naïve, fresh-faced Sela that sparks his hottest fantasies. Because with her, it’s not just about sex. Beck opens up to her in ways he never has with other girls. So why does he get the feeling that she’s hiding something? In a world of pleasure and power, the shocking truth could turn them against each other—or bind them forever.

Laura Griffin's Tracers series has provided hours of suspenseful reading along with romantic high jinx. Can't believe this is already book ten in the series. I might be a book or two behind but still plan to get this one.

Deep Dark
Laura Griffin
Romantic Suspense
Tracers Series/Book 10

The moment detective Reed Novak steps onto the crime scene, he knows the case is going to rock his world. A beautiful young woman murdered at home. No sign of forced entry. No motive. She’s obviously not the killer’s first victim, and Reed’s instincts tell him she won’t be his last. Reed’s first clue comes via a mysterious text that links to a dating profile, but even more intriguing than the clue is the person who sent it.

As a white-hat hacker in the Delphi Center’s cyber investigation unit, Laney Knox sneaks into some of the deepest, darkest corners of the Internet looking for predators. Laney would prefer to stay away from Austin PD’s most recent murder case, but she can’t ignore the chilling similarities between that crime and her own brutal attack years ago. Laney offers to help the sexy lead detective, but he wants more from her than just a promising tip—Reed wants her trust. Laney resists, but as their relationship deepens she’s tempted to reveal the closely guarded secrets that could make her a key witness…or the killer’s next victim.

A debut author with an intriguing premise. I'm curious as to the relationship between the twins. If there is possibly something darker going on than one twin protecting the other.

Please Don't Tell
Laura Tims
Young Adult/Suspense

Joy killed Adam Gordon—at least, that’s what she thinks. The night of the party is hazy at best. But she knows what Adam did to her twin sister, Grace, and she knows he had to pay for it.

What Joy doesn’t expect is that someone else saw what happened. And one night a note is shoved through her open window, threatening Joy that all will be revealed. Now the anonymous blackmailer starts using Joy to expose the secrets of their placid hometown. And as the demands escalate, Joy must somehow uncover the blackmailer’s identity before Joy is forced to make a terrible choice.

In this darkly compelling narrative, debut author Laura Tims explores the complicated relationship between two sisters, and what one will do for the other. It’s a story that will keep readers turning pages and questioning their own sense of right and wrong.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Keeper Shelf Sunday

One of my all time favorite authors was Johanna Lindsey. Maybe I shouldn't use the word was because she still is but for her older novels than her more recent releases. I haven't read one of her releases in quite a few years, but have wonderful memories of her earlier releases. Everything she wrote prior to this century, so odd to write that, but everything prior to 2000 I own in print. To me, her novels were filled with strong heroines, swoon-worthy heroes and witty dialogue all featured among a variety of historical backdrops. She even had a few futuristic space romances!

Her covers are also memorable. Who could forget Fabio, all bulging muscles and flowing hair, demonstrating his dominance?

Lindsey has written addictive series like the Mallory family which is one of my all time favorites. Then there are her western novels. Her Wyoming trilogy: Brave the Wild Wind, Savage Thunder and Angel were such a treat to read. I even managed to find Savage Thunder in hardcover.

Savage Thunder
Published by Avon Books

Newly widowed after a shockingly brief marriage to an elderly British lord, Jocelyn Fleming still aches with the pain of unexplored desire. And now her restless heart is leading her far from the protective bosom of polite London society to the perilous beauty of the American West . . .and to Colt Thunder. Breathlessly exciting but dangerously unpredictable, Colt is a loner whose Cheyenne blood burns hotter than the blistering Arizona sun. Jocelyn's wealth and title mean nothing to this strange whose passion rules his actions and his heart. But neither the wild desert stallion nor the untouched English rose can deny their irresistible attraction. . .or prevent the firestorm of emotion that erupts when their vastly different worlds collide.

The hero's name is such a classic! Colt Thunder! Yes, it dates the book but it still makes me smile. And Jocelyn is a strong heroine, a British aristocrat in the American wild west. She travels with an entourage, complete with carriage, as if she is still in England. I remember enjoying the banter between Colt and Jocelyn. He's very straightforward and Jocelyn is well, properly British. Another thing I remember about this story is the secondary character of Angel. He has a mysterious air of danger surrounding him. The best part, he gets his own book which became another favorite of mine.

Savage Thunder is memorable not only for the hero and heroine but for a scene that I don't think I'll ever forget, even when I'm old and senile. I might not be able to remember what day it is, but I'll remember the "they did it on horseback" scene.


Chapter Thirty-Eight

She climaxed in her dream. She woke up with it, still throbbing, the most blissful languor drifting through her limbs - and not a clue to what she had been dreaming about, though it wasn't difficult to hazard a guess.

Jocelyn stretched deliciously, yawned - and realized she was on a horse. Her eyes popped open to a number of other realizations clamoring for notice. The sun was setting. The horse was just plodding along, its reins wrapped around the saddle horn. Her Jacket was wide open, as was her blouse. And the right side of her lacy camisole was tucked beneath her breast, exposing that plump mound to the rosy glow of the sunset. But that wasn't even the worst of it. Her skirt was hiked up to her hips, revealing the unladylike spread of her legs on either side of the horse. And between her legs . . .

"Colt Thunder!"

" 'Bout time you woke up."

"Remove your hand at once!"

"I like it where it is."

"I don't care what you—"

"Stop screeching, Duchess, or we won't have any dinner tonight. You'll have scared away every animal for miles around."

She was close to sputtering, while he offered her nothing but a lazy drawl? "To hell with dinner! You can't-"

He interrupted her again. "I already have. And leave your blouse alone. It took me a damned long time getting it open, and I like it, too, as it is."

When she didn't obey him, his fingers delved more deeply inside her. She gave a tiny moan, of protest or pleasure, he wasn't sure which. Neither was she, but finally her hands fell away from her clothes to grip his thighs instead.

"That's better," he bent to whisper by her ear. "Do you still want me to remove my hand?" She wouldn't answer. "You liked it, didn't you?"

She still wouldn't answer. But her back arched, her head reared back, and her fingers were now kneading his thighs in a desperate manner. He took advantage of her exposed neck to graze his teeth along her skin, sending ripples of excitement down to her belly. His other hand, which had been spread across her middle to hold her against him, came up now to her exposed breast. The nipple was already hard and begging for his touch. He teased it a while before satisfying it with the firm pressure of his palm in a circular motion. The other breast was soon bared for the same tantalizing treatment. And the fingers of his other hand, still slowly moving . . .

"I'm sorry I couldn't wait, Duchess, but you were given fair warning, weren't you?" His hot breath filling her ear was nearly her undoing.

"I didn't . . . expect to be attacked . . . when I wasn't looking," she finally got out, only to hear him chuckle.

"It makes no difference when or how, when it's not up to you. You relinquished all choices when you agreed to take off with me. Actually, you relinquished them a while back. You just didn't know it."

"What are you talking about?"

"If a Cheyenne maiden allows a warrior to touch her body intimately, that warrior wouldn't be criticized if he then treats her in a proprietary manner. It would, in fact, be unusual if he didn't consider her his belonging. You allowed me more than a mere touch, didn't you, Duchess?"

Proprietary? Belonging? Why wasn't she incensed by those words? And why was it the deep timbre of his voice stimulated what she was already feeling? And his fingers . . . dear Lord, she could barely draw breath to answer him.

"I'm not Cheyenne."

"No. . .but I am."

"Only half."

"And the white half has had one helluva time resisting twenty-two years of ingrained customs and beliefs lately. Now turn around."


"Turn around. I want you facing me."

"But-but why?"

"Why do you think?"

There was enough insinuation in that to give her the answer. And he had ensured, with the deft movements of his fingers deep inside her and with his possession of her breasts, that she wouldn't object to his intention too strenuously. She just couldn't believe he was serious about the way he meant to do it.

"Why don't you stop the horse?"

"And waste time spreading a blanket? I'd have to take my hands off you to do that, and I don't think I can. Besides, this is the way I thought about it, Duchess, when you were making all those sexy little sounds in your sleep. You rode my fingers to the rhythm of my horse. I want you riding me to the same rhythm."

She was lifting her leg over the horse's neck before he'd even finished talking. He helped her bring the other one around. There was a brief problem with her skirt, but by the time she'd solved it, he was also ready, and before she even thought to wonder how they were going to do this, he lifted her, impaled her, and then dug his heels into his mount. With a gasp, all Jocelyn could do was hold on.

It was the most incredible ride of her life. Arms locked around Colt's neck, legs around his hips, she didn't have to move a muscle, just glide with the motion of the man and the horse. It was when Colt took the animal through its slower gaits that things got re-ally interesting, especially when he no longer moved with the flow of motion, but against it, forcing her to bounce, grind, and slam against him.

By the time the horse came to a standstill, she had climaxed three times with soul-searing intensity. She was also slightly dazed, so it took her a while to realize they had stopped, or that Colt was kissing her in a sweetly tender way.

"Are you all right?"

"I haven't the faintest idea."

He chuckled. God, she could feel it between her legs—they were still connected. She was also still clinging to him. She let her arms slide down his shoulders as she leaned back. Her blush was thankfully indistinguishable in what little light there was left in the day. But he must have sensed it. He tilted her chin up and placed another soft kiss on her lips.

"You'll get used to it, Duchess. I intend to see that you do."

To his lovemaking? Or to his new manner with her? She was so accustomed to his surliness, his bitterness, his pushing her away by deed or word. He'd changed since leaving Santa Fe, and she didn't know quite what to make of the new Colt Thunder. She wouldn't go so far as to call him charming.

Proprietary came to mind, and she recalled what he'd said earlier. He hadn't really been serious about considering her his belonging, had he?

"Ah—didn't you mention something about dinner tonight? I'm not certain, but I may be starving."

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Review: The Virgin

The Virgin
Tiffany Reisz
The Original Sinners:White Years/Book 3
Harlequin - MIRA/March 31, 2015

For years, Kingsley Edge warned Eleanor the day would come when she, the mistress of a well-respected Catholic priest, would have to run and hide. She always imagined if that day came she'd be running away with Søren. But instead, she's running from him.

Knowing Søren and Kingsley will their use their influence to bring her back, Eleanor alone, penniless and scared takes refuge at the one place the men in her life cannot follow: the abbey where her mother has taken orders. Behind the cloistered gates of the convent, Eleanor hides from the man she loves and hates in equal measure.

She cannot, however, hide from her true nature. When Eleanor befriends a young virginal nun, she faces a startling sexual awakening. But Eleanor can't stay forever, and the lure of her real life beckons beyond the locked gates. But to follow her fate means to leave Kyrie behind, a sacrifice Eleanor refuses to make.

The lure of the forbidden. The temptation to sin. The price of passion has never been higher, and Eleanor will have to pay it if she ever wants to go home again.

If you're like me and have not read this series, you mind be a little lost at the beginning if you start with The Virgin. I felt like I stepped into the middle of a mystery and all the clue had already been revealed. As the story progresses, we find out how the characters came to be where they are now. This helped tremendously in filling out the characters and what made them tick.

The three main characters are also lovers. Elle, Søren and Kingsley have known each other for years and are comfortable with where their relationship is. But it hasn't always been that way. The author does well in showing how the dynamics of this unique relationship work. Not only are they lovers but they also have serious relationships with other lovers. To put it one way, the beds are busy and always occupied!

As the story begins, Elle, Søren and Kingsley are in Scotland for a wedding. As they prepare for the celebration, talk comes up about something that happened years ago. It's a sensitive subject and one that was never discussed but long overdue. It's Elle and Kingsley who tell the story of what happened twelve years ago. Both went through hell, finding themselves at loose ends with not idea how to get back to their lives or if they even want to go back.

I did feel a little let down when we find out why Elle ran away. She is presented as a strong character but she lets the men in her life push her around and I didn't like that about her. She does seem to have changed as she has aged but it ultimately comes back to putting her needs after Søren and Kingsley's.

Søren and Kingsley are both interesting characters with Kingsley playing a larger role in the story. We didn't see much of Søren so I don't feel I know him as well. He's a Jesuit priest and a sadist with numerous lovers. Yeah, that about says it all.

The two main story lines held my interest if only to see how they end. There was some dragging of the plot and I would have liked more participation from Søren. He was the catalyst for what happened but afterwards almost incidental to the story.

I don't see myself going back and reading the previous books or continuing with the series. While the writing is good, I was not left with any desire to know the rest of the stories.

*This is hardcore BDSM and it gets very intense at times. If you're looking for light BDSM or a traditional romance, you won't find it here.

Rating: C

The Original Sinners Series ~

The Siren
The Angel
The Prince
The Mistress
The Saint
The King
The Virgin
The Queen

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Magnificent Seven Movie

Oh, I was so happy to see this trailer! I loved the original movie, remember watching it with my dad. This looks like it has all the action, humor and western grit that I love in my western movies as well as western romances.

The movie is not out until this fall so until then you could get in the mood by reading a western romance, or six. I'd recommend The Rock Creek Six series by Lori Handeland and Linda Devlin aka Linda Winstead Jones. This series is a lot of fun. I enjoyed every book, some more than others.

And it stars Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Review: The Winner's Curse ~ Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Curse
Marie Rutkoski
Young Adult/Fantasy
The Winner's Trilogy/Book 1
Farrar Straus Giroux/March 4, 2014

Winning what you want may cost you everything you love...

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

~ Review is of the audio book, narrated by one of my all time favorite narrators, Justin Eyre.

This is a case of interest in a new release, final book in the trilogy, leading to picking up the first book in the trilogy. What a stroke of luck coming across Marie Rutkoski's brilliantly beautiful story of a girl, a guy and a need to set the world right.

The Winner's Curse took me to a world where not everyone is what they seem. Some are hiding behind their perceived short comings while others allow people to believe what they see, instead of showing what is real. For Kestrel, she believes her father can never be proud of her, that she is only a disappointment to him. For Arin, he is a slave with a past in conflict with his present. It is a past that will soon collide with the present and his feelings for Kestrel.

Kestrel is a such a complex character, for being only seventeen. She is the daughter of the general of the Valorian army. Lady Kestrel is meant to be taken care of and held above the lesser people. She is accustomed to others doing the menial tasks and for herself, trying to live up to her father's expectations but always seeming to fall short. Kestrel did not always come across as a seventeen year old young woman but resembled someone far older if not in experience than in wisdom. She has a sharp mind and uses it to her advantage to disentangle herself out of the formidable situations she finds herself in. I loved seeing how her mind worked and the results of her creative thinking. This showed how her strength would lead her down her true path. It's is not an easy path and I did questions some of her decisions, that's when I was reminded that she is a seventeen year old young woman who has lived a fairly sheltered life. It was fascinating to see her sheltered life fall away and for Kestrel's new experiences to shape who she is to become.

Arin is a character whom you know from the start is not all that he seems. He is a slave, bought at auction and taken into Kestrel's home. But you get the sense he is no ordinary slave. He is far too outspoken, too familiar to the world around him, Kestrel's world, to not have some experiences outside that of a slave. Arin, was a tough character for me to like because I fell for Kestrel so quickly. When Arin's true motives are shown, I understood what inspired his actions but the fallout was not always easy to take. Still, seeing Arin's conflict for what he must do and how the results affected him, showed a side of him which made it easier to understand and like him.

The world Rutkoski has created is multifaceted, like a jewel of the rarest stone.  From the grand mansions to the meager slave quarters, the descriptions give life to the places Kestrel and Arin take us. But the world is really a backdrop for the story of Kestrel and Arin and their fight for what they believe in. The conflict between them only heightens the difficult decisions they must make.

What makes this story such a winner is you knows something big is going to happen and while I wanted to get to what I knew was coming, I also wanted to enjoy the ride getting there. It's that feeling you have when you're exciting about a upcoming event. The days prior with the build up of excitement all leading to the culmination of the event. That's how this felt and it was wonderful!

This is a trilogy which means the ending of The Winner's Curse is not a true ending for Kestrel and Arin. Their story continues in the next book. So if you don't like cliffhanger endings, then think of The Winner's Curse as a part of the whole story and read the next book, The Winner's Crime.

Rating: A

The Winner's Trilogy ~

The Winner's Curse
The Winner's Crime
The Winner's Kiss

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

TBR Challenge Review: Sword-Dancer

Jennifer Roberson
Tiger and Del/Book 1
DAW Books/September 1986



He was Tiger, born of the desert winds, raised as a slave and winning his freedom by weaving a special kind of magic with a warrior's skill. Now he was an almost legendary sword-dancer, ready to take on any challenge--if the price was right...or the woman pretty enough.

She was Del, born of ice and storm, trained by the greatest of Northern sword masters. Now, her ritual training completed, and steeped in the special magic of her own runesword, she had come south in search of the young brother stolen five years before. 

But even Del could not master all the dangers of the deadly Punja alone. And meeting Del, Tiger could not turn back from the most intriguing challenge he'd ever faced--the challenge of a magical, mysterious sword-dancer of the North.

Well would you look at that - I made the challenge! A challenge within a challenge! I wasn't sure if I would make this month's TBR challenge since I've done terribly in the past couple of years. But with Ames' 30 Day Challenge spurring me on, I decided to go for it!

This month's TBR Challenge suggested category was to read something different, out of our comfort zone or an unusual setting. Fantasy genre isn't out of my comfort zone but it is a genre I haven't been reading a lot of. I picked up Jennifer Roberson's Sword-Dancer because the blurb sounded like a magical adventure and I was right! I came by the book by an inheritance from my daughter when she moved out nearly two years ago. She enjoyed the series and since she has good taste in books, I had a feeling I would too. 

A tiger, a blond and a sword walk into a bar...

The story begins in a little cantina where Tiger is keeping himself busy between jobs. He has two of the local woman, one on each knee and a glass of the local booze. Tiger forgets all about his lady friends when Del walks in. It's obvious she doesn't belong this far south. She's too fair skinned, with hair too light. Del is like a breath of fresh, cool air in the parch desert climate of the south. And Tiger wants to breath deep of that fresh air.

Del's first impression of Tiger doesn't show Tiger at his best. He's condescending towards Del. Not believing a Northern woman can hold her own against the harsh Southron landscape let alone use the sword she carries. Tiger can and is at times a chauvinistic ass. When they later meet up, it's not a great reunion. Tiger does redeem himself somewhat when he agrees to take Del into the Punja to search for her kidnapped brother.

The developing relationship between Tiger and Del is fraught with the battling temperments of two people who are from different worlds. The one thing that does bind them is their need to rely on each other for survival. The Punja is brutal as are those who call it home. It isn't long before Tiger and Del are tested with the worst the Punja has. The tense situations, vivid landscape descriptions and beautifully broken characters all make for an exciting story.

The story is told from Tiger's point of view and I'm not sure if it made the story stronger or weaker. I would have liked to see certain events from Del's perspective but at the same time, having only Tiger's perspective streamlined the story.  They are in his land, the place he is familiar with so in the end, this was more his story than their story.

Sword-Dancer has a combination of an old western, fantasy world, and fight or die reality rolled up in enchanting words conjuring a place for a reader to fall in to and not want to leave. I'm not only thrilled I read Sword-Dancer, I'm excited to know there are six more books in the series.

Rating: A-

Tiger and Del Series ~


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Review: Hero ~ Samantha Young

Samantha Young
Contemporary Romance
NAL/February 3, 2015

Alexa Holland’s father was her hero—until her shocking discovery that she and her mother weren't his only family. Ever since, Alexa has worked to turn her life in a different direction and forge her own identity outside of his terrible secrets. But when she meets a man who’s as damaged by her father’s mistakes as she is, Alexa must help him.

Caine Carraway wants nothing to do with Alexa’s efforts at redemption, but it’s not so easy to push her away. Determined to make her hate him, he brings her to the edge of her patience and waits for her to walk away. But his actions only draw them together and, despite the odds, they begin an intense and explosive affair.

Only Caine knows he can never be the white knight that Alexa has always longed for. And when they're on the precipice of danger, he finds he’ll do anything to protect either one of them from being hurt again…

~This review is of the audio book, narrated by Angelica Lee, a new favorite.

If the title is referring to Caine Carraway, not sure I agree. I didn't like him for much of the book. Once his deep, dark secret is revealed, I still thought he acted an ass towards Alexa far too often but at least I understood why.

Alexa is a strong woman who has suffered a terribly stressful family life. It's her family that connects her to Caine. Their first meeting is memorable but not in a good way. Alexa saved the story for me. I didn't always agree with her choices, I thought she put up with too much crap from Caine but when she did tell him exactly how she felt, she didn't mince words.

Their relationship is such a roller coaster ride. First Caine can't stand Alexa but he's physcaattracted to her which frustrates him. Which I find amusing because I didn't like him at the beginning and I didn't think he deserved her. As their work relationship progresses, Alexa starts to break through Caine's wall of indifference and I liked how we did get to see a nicer side of him. But then the wall would go up again and he would do something to Alexa that would piss me off and I wanted to tell her to just walk away from him.

As you can tell, Caine was not a favorite of mine. He left me so angry with him far too many times which made it a challenge to find any affinity for him let alone see him as a hero. I wold have like to see more of his kindness because it was there but he tries his best to keep it in the shadows. Ultimately, I did start to like Caine a little bit towards the end.

As much as I loved Samantha Young's On Dublin Street series, Hero didn't have the same romantic feel to it. The romance was not as satisfying as what I'd hope for. The writing of Ms. Young is still wonderful, these characters simply didn't do it for me.

Rating: B-