Saturday, December 31, 2011

November Reads...

Almost caught up. Now if I can just get the Decembers reads up before spring, I'll be okay. LOL

Is everyone spending a quiet or maybe semi-quiet New Years Eve at home? Or are you out painting the town? Me, I'm home watching Big Bang Theory marathon, hanging with the kids, reading and enjoying some wine. Did you know that Paul Newman's company also makes wine? I love that his company gives to charities.

On to the reading...

Audio Books

1. Heart of Fire/Linda Howard/RS/B+
2. The Next Always/Nora Roberts/Contemporary/B-
3. No One Heard Her Scream/Jordan Dane/RS/C
4. No One Left to Tell/Jordan Dane/C-

The Linda Howard was a good one and one I hadn't read before. Lucky I got it in audiobook since the print version has been sitting on my TBR piles for what has probably years!

Print/Electronic Books

1. Hot Zone/Catherine Mann/RS/A
2. Head Over Heels/Jill Shalvis/Contemporary/A
3. The Scorpio Races/Maggie Stiefvater/YA Fantasy/A
4. Scandalous Desires/Elizabeth Hoyt/Historical/A-
5. Forever Mine/Elizabeth Reyes/YA Contemporary/B+
6. Chased/Lauren Dane/Contemporary/B
7. Home for Christmas/Kate Davies/Contemporary/B
8. Hammered/Kevin Hearne/UF/B
9. Promises, Promises/Erica James/B
10. Must Love Mistletoe/Christie Ridgway/B
11. Shatter Me/Tahereh Mafi/YA Dystopian/B-
12. A Cold Day for Murder/Dana Stabenow/Mystery/C+

A good month with the standouts being a mix of Romantic Suspense, Contemporary, Young Adult and Historical. Good to know I didn't get into a rut!

*This is the picture currently on my desktop. I simply love wolves! I've also been feeling the need for some Patricia Briggs wolves. Might need to do a re-read of Cry Wolf and Hunting Ground before Fair Game comes out in March!

Review: Not Another New Year's...

Not Another New Year's
Christie Ridgway
Contemporary Romance
Sequel to Must Have Mistletoe
Avon/January 2007

From Goodreads ~

After all, this year brought Hannah Davis nothing but the memory of her wandering fiance marrying someone else behind her back. Now, sitting alone at a bar in Coronado, California, on December 31, she decides to do something radical . . . and lets a brooding good-looker take her to bed. But when a hysterical woman bursts into their room much too early on New Year's Day, Hannah realizes this guy's more complicated than she thought . . .

Ex-Secret Service Agent Tanner Hart screwed up, big-time! Hoping to temporarily boot some of the ghosts from his life, he hooked up with this sexy stranger for a hot one-night stand—only to discover she's the woman he's agreed to protect... from men just like him!

But a new year is a time for fresh beginnings. Despite the danger, the hoopla, and the hangovers, if Hannah's brave enough to risk her heart again—and Tanner's wise enough to realize he deserves it—maybe this one will be different.

What's a girl to do to get over her ex on New Year's? Go to bed with a bar pick-up! And if she doesn't remember what happened the next morning, all the better! This is an amusing romance with some action and suspense added to the mix.

Hannah Davis is searching for some answers. She's come to Coronado, California hoping to find those answers. But first she stops off at a local bar, has one too many Mojitos and wakes up in a stranger's bed. Then things get even weirder. Hannah is likable enough but she did have a few "I Love Lucy" moments. I'm a little surprised she made it to the end of the book without major trauma.

Tanner Hart is feeling sorry for himself. He made headlines during an attempted assassination, left his job as a Secret Service agent and is now passing the time in his brother's bar. He has a chance to get his job back - all he has to do is play tour guide. Tanner played Desi to Hannah's Lucy, using his Secret Service training to keep her (mostly) out of trouble. Tanner's a good guy but he really wallowed in the self pity a little too long.

The secondary romance is a delicious little side venture that I found sweet, tender and funny. Unfortunately, I liked the secondary characters and their romance more than the hero and heroine. I wish it had been their story in the spotlight.

The situations Hannah and Tanner found themselves in are a little too far fetched to take seriously. It's as if the story couldn't decide if it was a romantic comedy or a romantic suspense. I certainly would have preferred one or the other but by trying to be both, neither felt complete.

Not Another New Year's has it's good points, the sex scenes were smoking hot. Too bad the secondary romance out shown the main romance.

Rating: C+

Friday, December 30, 2011

Review: Holly Lane

Holly Lane
Toni Blake
Contemporary Romance
Destiny/Book 4
Avon/November 2011

From Goodreads ~

The weather outside is frightful, but kisses by the fire are so delightful...

Sue Ann Simpkins is working hard to rebuild her life and find some holiday spirit. A weekend away from Destiny in a cabin on nearby Bear Lake seems like the perfect Christmas gift to herself—until her ex’s best friend, Adam Becker, shows up at the door, claiming the cabin is his! And if that’s not trouble enough, how had she never noticed how gorgeous he was?

Alone for the holidays and forced to play a reindeer at the local department store, Adam’s been feeling rather Scrooge-ish himself. But finding the smart, sexy woman he’s admired since elementary school waiting in the house he rented is helping to brighten his humbug mood. And when a sudden snowstorm strands them together in very close quarters, leading to one very hot night together, Adam soon realizes that what he really wants for Christmas is a second chance at love. Now all he has to do is convince Sue Ann...

A friends to lovers story is one of my favorite tropes and Holly Lane certainly delivers. Not only do these friends take their friendship into the bedroom, they deepen their friendship, learning more about each other.

Sue Ann Simpkins is trying to recover from her divorce while keeping the holidays happy for her young daughter. It's not easy with her recent ex-husband being such an ass but she's trying. Between the holiday stress and dealing with her idiot of an ex, Sue Ann continues to encounter Adam Becker. They do live in a small town but Adam does seem to pop up a lot! LOL I really enjoyed seeing these two take their hesitant steps from friends to lovers. The lovers part happened quickly but it was the deepening friendship and the falling in love that really sparked the story.

Adam Becker is at loose ends after his twin boys go on vacation with Adam's ex in-laws, leaving Adam alone during the holidays. He's reaches out to his best friend's ex-wife who also happens to be a childhood friend of Adam's. See, small town. Adam is pulled in two directions, between his growing feelings for Sue Ann and his long time friendship with her ex. There were times when I wanted to smack Adam for even thinking of siding with Jeff, Sue Ann's ex. I get the long time friendship but Jeff treated Sue Ann horribly and how anyone could side with him was beyond me. Adam lost a few points for that but gained them back in his wooing of Sue Ann. He really was a sweet and sexy guy!

The days leading up to Christmas are not only filled with Sue Ann and Adam's growing romance but with catching up with the heroes and heroines from the previous books. This is one of the reasons I like romance series. I love seeing how everyone is doing - it's like a little family reunion.

Holly Lane is another sweet, funny, emotional romance in this wonderful series. I found it a great way to spend a few hours and look forward to more from Destiny, Ohio.

Rating: B+

Destiny Series ~

One Reckless Summer
Sugar Creek
Whisper Falls
Holly Lane
Willow Springs (July 2012)
Untitled Book 6 (February 2013)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

October Reads...

It's not even the end of the month and the monthly reads post is up! Unfortunately it's my reads for October. LOL Where did this year go!? I'm sure I say this every year but this year has flown by! The busy, craziness of Christmas is past but I find I'm having a hard time getting back into the groove. The distractions multiply everyday and the blogging and reviewing are paying for it. That's where determination and pure stubbornness come into play. The reading hasn't suffered much and I did manage to read some good books way back in October.

Audio Books

1. Unholy Ghosts/Stacia Kane/UF/B
2. One Grave at a Time/Jeaniene Frost/PNR/B-
3. New York to Dallas/J.D. Robb/Futurists RS/C+

I think some audio books are missing from the list but one of the best finds for the month was Stacia Kane's Downside Ghosts series. The narrator is Bahni Turpin who does an excellent job of bringing these characters to life. Absolutely love the accents she gives the characters. Very distinct and unique.

Print/Electronic Books

1. Snapped/Laura Griffin/RS/A
2. The Rose Garden/Susanna Kearsley/Time Travel/A
3. The Iron Knight/Julie Kagawa/YA Fantasy/A-
4. Real Men Will/Victoria Dahl/Contemporary/A-
5. City of Ghosts/Stacia Kane/UF/A-
6. The Virtuoso/Grace Burrowes/Historical/B
7. Unholy Magic/Stacia Kane/UF/B
8. After the Fire/Kathryn Shay/Contemporary/B
9. Frostfire/Lynn Viehl/PNR/B
10. Devil's Own/Veronica Wolff/Historical/B
11. Only His/Susan Mallery/Contemporary/B-
12. Devil's Highlander/Veronica Wolff/B-

As I'm writing up this post, I'm remembering all these wonderful books. Included are four new to me authors. Stacia Kane, Susanna Kearsley, Kathryn Shay and Veronica Wolff. All four are certainly worthwhile reads but at the same time, very different. Love it when I find new authors to read, although my mountain of a TBR pile merely groans in resignation!

*The stunning picture above was submitted by Sean Heavey for the 2010 National Geographic Photography Contest. You can see more submissions and the winner here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Review: The Comforts of Home

The Comforts of Home
Jodi Thomas
Harmony/Book 3
Berkley/November 1, 2011

From the Back Cover ~

In Harmony, Texas, twenty-year-old Reagan Truman has found her place and found her family. But with her uncle taken ill and her friend Noah lost and disheartened with his life, Reagan is afraid of ending up alone again, and she's not the only one. Harmony seems to be full of people yearning to make a connection. Like funeral director Tyler Wright, who longs to take his relationship with his friend Kate to the next level, but doesn't know how. And Ronelle Logan, a woman frightened of everyday human interactions, until she meets an angry, lonely man - someone just like her.

When a terrible storm threatens the town, the residents of Harmony are forced to think about what they really want. Because making the connections they so desperately desire means putting their hearts at risk...

This book and the series itself are not what I would call a typical romance novel. They are more of a look at small town life which includes romances but the romances are not the focal point of the story lines. It's more about character growth, both within the romantic relationships and without. And those romantic relationships are not always typical either with some getting their HEA and others... not ready for their HEA just yet.

Coming back to Harmony, we find Tyler Wright, the owner of the town's mortuary, still in the odd relationship with Kate Cummings. They mainly communicate through emails with the occasional get together but remain more friends than romantically involved. Although it's obvious to anyone Tyler's feelings go beyond friendship. The guy's in love with Kate but she keeps holding back. Tyler is willing to take whatever he can get from Kate which I thought was sad. I also thought it wasn't right how Kate kept stringing Tyler along. Either take the next step or let him go. Their odd romance didn't do much for me aside from annoy me.

A couple of new characters certainly held my attention. Ronni has worked at the small, local post office for many years. She goes beyond shy, becoming afraid when she thinks someone might talk to her. Much of this attitude can be laid at Ronni's mother's feet - a horrible woman who has taught her daughter to fear life. One of my favorite parts of this book was seeing Ronni come out of her shell and build confidence in her decisions. The catalyst for this was gruff, former ski star Marty, who Ronni develops a friendship with. Their story line left me feeling satisfied with the results yet still wanting to know more.

Two of my favorite characters are back! Reagan is a character I've enjoyed from the first book. She's the reason I read the second book. The relationship between Reagan and Noah has had many rough spots and they are still going through a transition where neither seems certain what the outcome will be. I feel so sorry for Reagan and Noah but more for Reagan because she's giving up more. Noah gets to go for it while Reagan must wait even though he doesn't ask her to wait which I'm not sure how I feel about that. It's as if he's not holding to his dream but he's not letting her completely go.

There are reoccurring characters to catch up with as well as another romance that I've had no interest in since it began. A new secondary character, Autumn, that I liked. She's a survivor and adds color to this seemingly wholesome town. No doubt will see more of her in books to come. I find I'm finally comfortable in the all encompassing feel of this series. There is no one main focus but several getting more or less equal page time.

The farther I go in to this series, the more I like it. I've come to what you might say is an understanding with this series. My expectations are different than they are for my usual romance novel. The series as a whole has grown into itself and continues to get better. I do think it's best to start with the first book, even though it was my least favorite. It does introduce the reader to the town, the characters and the feelings Thomas' writing produce in this small town setting.

Rating: B

Harmony Series ~

Welcome to Harmony
Somewhere Along the Way
The Comforts of Home
Just Down the Road (April 2, 2012)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidays!

It's Christmas night here and let me tell you it's been a long, long day. It was good seeing the extended family but it's also good to be home and winding down. The kids are playing with their new video games and I'm huh, doing laundry and catching up on emails. (This laundry thing on Christmas is becoming a bad habit.)

If you celebrate Christmas, I hope you and your loved ones had a wonderful day. And for all of you, I hope the coming new year brings you much joy, love and peace.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

TBR Challenge Review: One Cowboy, One Christmas

One Cowboy, One Christmas
Kathleen Eagle
Double D Ranch/Book 2
Silhouette/December 1, 2009

From Goodreads ~

Stranded and half-frozen in a South Dakota snowstorm, bull rider Zach Beaudry reached out for help at the nearest house he could find. And the beautiful rancher-schoolteacher who answered the door was a vision. Zach thanked his lucky stars for the kindness of strangers. But to Ann Drexler, this man was no stranger.

Zach didn't seem to remember their shared night of passion all those years ago—but how could Ann forget? Seeing Zach on her doorstep was as shocking as seeing the ghost of Christmas past. And though running her family's wild mustang ranch gave Ann a thing for strays, she tried to keep her distance. Yet as Zach regained his strength and became indispensable with the horses, Ann had to wonder—was a second chance with this cowboy in her Christmas future?

The first book In Care of Sam Beaudry, which I read, was about Zach's older brother. And while the books are about brothers, the stories are set in different states so the characters may be related but the stories are written as stand alones. Both books are contemporary westerns complete with cowboys and ranch hands and at times a little heavy on the cowboy vernacular.

The life a rodeo cowboy takes it's toll on the body and for Zach Beaudry his body is about to give out, just like his truck does, leaving him stranded. This guy is banged up and in need of some tender care. In walks Ann Drexler who just happens to find the cowboy passed out on her doorstep. Ann and her sister Sally take in Zach and bring him back to life. Zach agrees to help out on the ranch in return for his truck is being fixed.

Ann and Zach have an almost immediate attraction even thought Zach isn't at his best when he shows up at Ann's home. Ann does have an advantage - she remembers Zach and the night they spent together eight years ago. Zach - no clue. They've both changed in those eight years, most notably is Ann's weight loss and increased self confidence. Zach is still himself, only older and we hope, wiser. He has slowed down his partying and given his current circumstances, that isn't going to change.

The romance is kinda sweet, kinda cute but I didn't fall into it like I had hoped. It came across as more of Ann's crush on Zach bearing fruit. I'm not sure why Zach fell for Ann. She's a nice person but would he have fallen for her if they hadn't been so isolated? Not sure. I think this is one romance that could have used more time to develop rather than the week or so that it took for Ann and Zach to fall head over heels.

Rating: C

Double D Ranch Series ~

In Care of Sam Beaudry
One Cowboy, One Christmas
Cool Hand Hank
Once a Father

Monday, December 19, 2011

ARC Review: How to Save a Life

How to Save a Life
Sara Zarr
Young Adult/Contemporary
Little, Brown/October 18, 2011

From Goodreads ~

Jill MacSweeney just wants everything to go back to normal. But ever since her dad died, she's been isolating herself from her boyfriend, her best friends--everyone who wants to support her. You can't lose one family member and simply replace him with a new one, and when her mom decides to adopt a baby, that's exactly what it feels like she's trying to do. And that's decidedly not normal. With her world crumbling around her, can Jill come to embrace a new member of the family?

Mandy Kalinowski knows what it's like to grow up unwanted--to be raised by a mother who never intended to have a child. So when Mandy becomes pregnant, she knows she wants a better life for her baby. But can giving up a child be as easy as it seems? And will she ever be able to find someone to care for her, too?

This is a story of surviving loss and moving on. Jill and her mom Robin are trying to survive the devastating loss of father and husband. Mandy is trying to survive the loss of everything she knows, even if those things and people are not good for her. All three women take an interesting journey to find what the next stage in their lives will hold.

Jill and her mom Robin are coping with the loss of Mac, father and husband, who died unexpectedly. They are well off financially but both still struggle with an emptiness Mac left behind. Robin decides to not only adopt a baby but bring the birth mother home to live them until the baby is born. This doesn't go over well with Jill who thinks it's a crazy idea. It does sound farfetched - a 50-something woman with a seventeen year old deciding to adopt a baby. But Robin, like Jill, is reacting from the death of her husband Mac. I thought Robin was a little too trusting for a woman who is portrayed as a very intelligent business woman. But she is thinking with her emotions when it comes to the adoption.

Robin thinks the baby will bring hope into their lives but Jill thinks it all a big mistake. She was very close to her father and it shows in how she thinks of him and what advice he would give her in different situations. Jill has tried to shut out the world so bringing a very pregnant Mandy into the home is seen by Jill as an invasion. I thought Jill's reactions were genuine given the situation. It's less than a year since her dad died and while she may act like she doesn't want attention, she still needs her mom. So to have her mom focus on this stranger and her unborn child causes Jill to become defensive.

Mandy is an odd character. At times she is comes across as innocent and younger than her years (she's 18, nearly 19). Her life has been sheltered but she's also had her share of abuse. She has a tendency to say what she's thinking, often being too blunt. Her thought process and actions don't always show someone with a sense of how society and social situations work. She wasn't an easy character to relate to.

How to Save a Life is intriguing for it's contrasting look at grief and how people work through that grief. I could easily picture this as a Lifetime movie. The characters are solid but not easy to connect with. The ending didn't come as a surprise, it was fairly obvious how it would end early on. Even with the predictable plot, How to Save a Life turned out to be a satisfying read.

Rating: B

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review: Once Upon a Winter's Eve

Once Upon a Winter's Eve
Tessa Dare
Historical Romance/England/1814
Spindle Cove/Book 1.5
Samhain/November 15, 2011

From Goodreads ~

Some wallflowers bloom at night...

Violet Winterbottom is a quiet girl. She speaks six languages, but seldom raises her voice. She endured bitter heartbreak in perfect silence. The gentlemen aren't beating down her door.

Until the night of the Spindle Cove Christmas ball, when a mysterious stranger crashes into the ballroom and collapses at Violet's feet. His coarse attire and near-criminal good looks would put any sensible young lady on her guard. He's wet, chilled, bleeding, and speaking in an unfamiliar tongue.

Only Violet understands him. And she knows he's not what he seems.

She has one night to draw forth the secrets of this dangerously handsome rogue. Is he a smuggler? A fugitive? An enemy spy? She needs answers by sunrise, but her captive would rather seduce than confess. To learn his secrets, Violet must reveal hers—and open herself to adventure, passion, and the unthinkable... Love.

After reading and loving the first book in this series, when I read Tracy's review for this one, I knew I had to read this novella. We head back to Spindle Cove during which an uninvited guest crashes the officer's ball. He's certainly not dress for the ball and turns the village of Spindle Cove upside down with talk of spies and invasions.

Violet Winterbottom has been hiding out in Spindle Cove but her seclusion is about to end when she returns to her family and London society. The night before she is due to leave a surprise is delivered in the form of a man at her feet. Violet has a gift for languages and is given the task to find out what she can about this stranger. I love how Violet takes charge of the situation, using her intellect and bravery to get to the bottom of the mystery. She doesn't back down when her captive refuses to cooperate.

As the night progresses, Violet learns exactly who has invaded her solitude leaving her with decisions to make that will affect her future. Even though this is a novella, there is plenty of emotions and action packed into the short format. We see Violet come out of her seclusion, demonstrating her strength and her deep love of the man she never forgot. It's obvious the forward thinking of the women of Spindle Cove have had a profound affect on Violet, giving her confidence in herself and her decisions. The hero, I will only say that he is smart and amusing, filling the role of dashing man of mystery exquisitely. But it is Violet who held this reader's attention, with her hero there to champion her.

Dare's writing is smart and fast paced giving the reader a romantic adventure with Violet and her mysterious hero playing the separated lovers. I only wish it had been a full length novel so more time could have been spent with Violet and her hero. Certainly a wonderful addition to the series.

Rating: A

Spindle Cove Series ~

A Night to Surrender
Once Upon a Winter's Eve (novella)
A Week to Be Wicked (March 27, 2012)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Review: Dark Inside

Dark Inside
Jeyn Roberts
Young Adult/Dystopian
Simon & Schuster/November 1, 2011

From Goodreads ~

Since mankind began, civilizations have always fallen: the Romans, the Greeks, the Aztecs…Now it’s our turn. Huge earthquakes rock the world. Cities are destroyed. But something even more awful is happening. An ancient evil has been unleashed, turning everday people into hunters, killers, crazies.

Mason's mother is dying after a terrible car accident. As he endures a last vigil at her hospital bed, his school is bombed and razed to the ground, and everyone he knows is killed. Aries survives an earthquake aftershock on a bus, and thinks the worst is over when a mysterious stranger pulls her out of the wreckage, but she’s about to discover a world changed forever. Clementine, the only survivor of an emergency town hall meeting that descends into murderous chaos, is on the run from savage strangers who used to be her friends and neighbors. And Michael witnesses a brutal road rage incident that is made much worse by the arrival of the police--who gun down the guilty party and then turn on the bystanding crowd.

Where do you go for justice when even the lawmakers have turned bad? These four teens are on the same road in a world gone mad. Struggling to survive, clinging on to love and meaning wherever it can be found, this is a journey into the heart of darkness – but also a journey to find each other and a place of safety.

Another young adult dystopian novel you say? Yes it is. I could say this is different because it is. And I could also say it's creepy as hell because it is. And filled with suspense that will keep you glued to the page because it is. It's all that and more.

The dark inside has come out to play and those left to face it have very little chance of surviving it. Those that do survive the initial outbreak are forced to fight for lives never knowing when or where the next attack will come from. We follow four teenagers in the aftermath of horrendous events which leave them to face the uncertainty of a world gone mad.

I started reading this late at night, planning to only read a little before going to bed. At nearly 3 am I forced myself to stop and get some sleep. It's a very fasted paced story with five different POVs that switch with each chapter. This is really my only complaint. It's like reading different stories that eventually intersect but until they do, you must keep track of each separate story line. This caused some problems with the flow of the story because each time the POV switched, I had to scramble to remember that particular character's story line.

The four main characters not only come from different places but different backgrounds. Marcus was raised by his single mom. They are very close and her loss devastates him. He has no chance to mourn before the world falls apart around him. Aries is separated from her parents and has no chance to search them out before she is running for her life. Michael's parents are divorced and he lives with his dad who is out of town when disaster hits. Clementine's story is heartbreaking - she is forced to run, knowing death is all she's leaving behind. Her only hope is traveling cross country to find her brother. The fifth POV comes from Nothing. It's left up to the reader to decide who or what Nothing is.

Of all the different main characters I found I liked something about each one of them. Marcus for his deep emotions and kindness. Aries for her leadership and determination. Michael - I'm conflicted about. I found his perceived faults fascinating but are they really faults or just genuine human reactions to horrifying situations? Would the other characters have done the same? The one character that surprised me the most was Clementine, the cheerleader from the Midwest who would probably be at the bottom of the list to survive but she has guts and a fierce will to go on.

The monsters are here and they're hungry. This time it's not zombies or aliens or vampires or werewolves. The monsters are humans. Humans who have lost their humanity and become the thing of nightmares. They terrorize and kill, roaming in groups using cunning and deceit to capture their victims. There are no true safe places since these monsters can go anywhere the survivors can. This kept the suspense high, never knowing where the next killer may turn up.

Dark Inside is a clever, highly addictive novel about what could happen if the darkest side of human nature is released.

Rating: A-

Sunday, December 11, 2011

ARC Review: A Lady Awakened

A Lady Awakened
Cecilia Grant
Historical Romance/England
Bantam/December 27, 2011

From Goodreads ~

Newly widowed and desperate to protect her estate and beloved servants from her malevolent brother-in-law, Martha Russell conceives a daring plan. Or rather, a daring plan to conceive. After all, if she has an heir on the way, her future will be secured. Forsaking all she knows of propriety, Martha approaches her neighbor, a London exile with a wicked reputation, and offers a strictly business proposition: a month of illicit interludes . . . for a fee.

Theophilus Mirkwood ought to be insulted. Should be appalled. But how can he resist this siren in widow’s weeds, whose offer is simply too outrageously tempting to decline? Determined she’ll get her money’s worth, Theo endeavors to awaken this shamefully neglected beauty to the pleasures of the flesh—only to find her dead set against taking any enjoyment in the scandalous bargain. Surely she can’t resist him forever. But could a lady’s sweet surrender open their hearts to the most unexpected arrival of all . . . love?

A different twist is spun on the hiring of a lover. A desperate woman looks to her neighbor for his services in the hopes of keeping her home. All he needs to do is get her with child then fade into the background. It sounds simple enough especially when you consider the neighbor in question is quite fond of women. But everything doesn't go as planned when emotions become involved.

Martha Russell is a widow with only one option if she wishes to keep her home from her late husband's reprobate of a brother. She contrives to get with child and her sights land on Theo Mirkwood, whom she first sees across the aisle in church. She hears of his reputation with women and decides he would make the perfect candidate for hire. So that's what she does, hire him for stud service as he puts it. I had a very difficult time warming up to Martha and so did poor Theo. She is very proper and exact in her demeanor. Theo finds this out rather quickly as well as her fridged complacency in bed. She looks upon their arrangement as a task that must be done, and done quickly. Nothing more.

Theo Mirkwood has been sent to the family country estate in an attempt to mend his ways. His father sent Theo from London after one too many indulgences and now Theo is rusticating and growing quite bored. Then Mrs. Russell propositions him with a highly unusual request. But Theo thinks quickly on it and agrees. No surprise there. But it turns out this "job" isn't as easy as he expected. Theo really has to work at getting Mrs. Russell to loosen up and not be a "corpse", as he refers to her at one point. The beginning scenes of the attempts at conception left me feeling quite sorry for Theo and feeling his frustration. Martha might as well have been doing needlepoint for all the encouragement she gave him. Theo has a lot of work ahead of him to awaken his lady.

In between trying to conceive the heir that will save all, Theo is learning more about the estate where he has been banished. There is talk of fields and cows and the repairing of roofs. All of these topics seem to hold more interest for Martha than anything they do in bed. It was very odd and I kept wondering if she would ever thaw out. She did eventually because Theo is nothing if not persistent. Their romance didn't start out very romantic and took a long time to get to the romance. There was too much frustration on Theo's part and too little warmth on Martha's. I will say that Martha did try but she was not an affectionate woman by nature and her attempts came across as too analytical rather than emotional. While both Theo and Martha did alter their thinking regarding not only each other but the environment they found themselves in, it was Theo who showed the most progress with Martha still having a ways to go.

A Lady Awakened is not a fast paced romance, instead it takes it's time with the relationship. You could say Theo and Martha start at the customary end as they start off with a physical relationship that progresses to a friendship and emotional bond. The writing is good, if a bit slow in spots and I look forward to reading more from this new author.

Rating: B-

Monday, December 5, 2011

Review: Head Over Heels

Head Over Heels
Jill Shalvis
Contemporary Romance
Lucky Harbor/Book 3
Grand Central/November 22, 2011

From Goodreads ~

Free-spirited Chloe lives life on the edge. Unlike her soon-to-be married sisters, she isn't ready to settle into a quiet life running their family's newly renovated inn. But soon her love of trouble--and trouble with love-draws the attention of the very stern, very sexy sheriff who'd like nothing better than to tame her wild ways.

Suddenly Chloe can't take a misstep without the sheriff hot on her heels. His rugged swagger and his enigmatic smile are enough to make a girl beg to be handcuffed. For the first time, instead of avoiding the law, Chloe dreams of surrender. Can this rebel find a way to keep the peace with the straitlaced sheriff? Or will Chloe's colorful past keep her from a love that lasts . . . and the safe haven she truly wants in a town called Lucky Harbor?

The third novel in the wonderful Lucky Harbor series does not disappoint. In fact, it might be my favorite so far. This story centers around youngest sister Chloe Traeger and Sawyer Thompson. There has been something going on between these two, a sort of underlying tension and it's about to explode.

Chloe has always been thought of as a free spirit. A lot of that is due to her nomadic upbringing, never settling down in one place for very long. Then she and her two half sisters inherit a run down inn and decide to make a go of it. They each lend their expertise to the inn with Chloe's area of beauty treatments. She also lends a hand whenever and wherever needed. Chloe is at a crossroads in her life and has some tough decisions to make. Adding to the new complications are her growing feelings for Sawyer. He's the law and Chloe and the law rarely see eye to eye.

Sawyer is a very black and white type of guy with no patience for the gray areas. It's the gray areas where he continues to find Chloe. Their time together becomes more intentional and less accidental with both seeing things in the other that draw them together time and again. Sawyer holds himself up to very high standards due to his need for redemption. Chloe isn't the only one to be called wild. Sawyer was a troubled teen who is now trying to make up for his past mistakes. He projects this air of cool confidence but deep down he's still this guy trying to be worthy of the trust the community has placed in him. I adored Sawyer with all his different sides. The by-the-book sheriff, the good friend and the attentive lover. He's a keeper!

Chloe and Sawyer not only have their odd couple relationship issue but there is Chloe's relationship with her sisters that still needs work. And Sawyer has some major father issues he needs to work through. The way they help each other and learn to lean on each other was very realistic. They are a couple that don't seem to fit on the outside but Shalvis makes it work to perfection! The best part - they accept each other just as they are, warts and all.

We do get to see Maddie and Jax and Tara and Ford again. I love the scenes with the guys hanging out, just talking about everyday life, giving each other shit all the while knowing they've got each others' backs. Shalvis has a knack for the male dialogue.

The secondary characters are a collection of small town living. They're a fun, eclectic group, much like what you would expect to inhabit a fictional Shalvis town. They add much to the story without taking away from the main focus. I especially liked Chloe's friendship with Lance, her partner in crime. Chloe has a hard time saying "I love you" but she has no problem showing it, her friendship with Lance is proof of it. They have some emotional scenes that really got to me.

One of my favorite things about Head Over Heels and the series in general, is that I have no problem immersing myself into these characters lives. Lucky Harbor is a place I can easily imagine, feeling as if I'm right there while reading about some of my favorite characters.

Rating: A

Lucky Harbor Series ~

Simply Irresistible
The Sweetest Thing
Kissing Santa Claus(novella in Small Town Christmas anthology)
Head Over Heels
Lucky in Love (July 2012)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

ARC Review: Hot Zone

Hot Zone
Catherine Mann
Romantic Suspense
Elite Force/Book 2
Sourcebooks Casablanca/December 1, 2011

From the author's website ~

Days full of danger…
For Pararescueman Master Sergeant Hugh Franco, it’s all about saving other people’s lives. Then he moves on. But when he pulls beautiful Amelia Bailey and her adopted nephew from the rubble of a catastrophic earthquake, he finds himself entangled in their lives in ways he could never have imagined…

And desire-filled nights…
Amelia’s trip to the Bahamas to help with an international adoption has been no vacation, but the hardest part is yet to come. As Amelia and Hugh are pulled unawares into a deadly smuggling scheme, simmering beneath their growing need to protect each other is a compelling attraction they’re both determined to deny…

The second book in Catherine Mann's Elite Force series about a group of Pararescuemen pulls you in tight and never lets go. It takes place in the beautiful Bahamas but this time it's more deadly than beautiful after an earthquake shatters the region. The team is sent to help in the recovery after the devastating earthquake, risking their lives in the unstable environment.

Hugh Franco doesn't mind the more dangerous jobs, he volunteers for them. Some might say he has a death wish, and they might be right. Hugh takes his job very seriously but feels he has nothing to keep him here and everything waiting for him on the other side. Mann does a good job conveying Hugh's feelings of longing for his deceased wife and daughter and his hope that he will be with them again in death. He's not a reckless, loose cannon type rather he feels that he's the one who should take the most dangerous missions since he has no one waiting at home for him. The people he loved most are dead.

Amelia Bailey went to the Bahamas to help her sister and her husband with the adoption of their son. She never expected to be fighting for her life and the life of her nephew. It's in those desperate hours that she meets her hero and the man who will have a far greater impact on her life than she ever imagined. Amelia is a prosecutor back in Alabama so her expertise is in the courtroom, not trying to keep herself and her nephew alive while buried underneath the rubble of a building. The way Amelia reacts to her situation was very realistic. She tries to be calm and in control but has her moments of panic like anyone would. I do think a lot of that calmness was because she was also responsible for her nephew. She's a fighter and doesn't give up.

The scenes when Amelia and Hugh first meet during the rescue are amazing. Seeing Hugh's training at work, how not only his physical abilities but his mental abilities all play a part in the rescue was fascinating. Trying to stay calm and in command while keeping a civilian calm and knowing that any moment they could be crushed made for some very stress-filled scenes. Of course I knew they would live through it, occurring as it did at the beginning of the book. But I still felt that tension as each moment passed as their lives were still in jeopardy.

After the rescue neither Amelia or Hugh can put the other out of their thoughts. Amelia is recovering from her injuries and needs to find her sister and her brother-in-law. Hugh is still part of the rescue team but finds time to check on Amelia. It's that pull towards each other that finds them together again in dangerous circumstances. This is definitely an action oriented novel and even during the slower scenes, you could feel the energy of the surroundings just below the surface. It's a story where I liked all the plots and sub-plots but I did enjoy Amelia and Hugh's the best. I liked them together as they fought for their lives and still found those little moments to learn about each other. Their romance may start as gratitude on Amelia's part and fascination on Hugh's but it becomes much deeper the more they know of each other.

There is a flirtatious second romance blooming between Major Liam McCabe and a rescue worker. They were a fun pair - him a total player and her not falling for his lines. Which makes him change his plan of attack and stop the BS with this woman who has captured his interest. I liked this pair a lot and hope they get their own story. We also see an established couple dealing with the stress of the dangerous situation and loss. Mann does well showing how they must rely on each other through the crisis.

Ms. Mann does a wonderful job showing all the different emotions played out during a crisis. I enjoyed the tropical setting coupled with the danger and instability running through the story. The obstacles Amelia and Hugh had to overcome were huge and at times held a dose of implausibility to them but in the end Hot Zone proved to be a spectacular ride.

Rating: A

Elite Forces series ~

Cover Me
Hot Zone
Under Fire (May 2012)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Review: Forever Mine

Forever Mine*
Elizabeth Reyes
Contemporary Young Adult
Moreno Brothers/Book 1
Self-published/September 6, 2010

From Goodreads ~

Seventeen-year old Sarah’s life is turned upside down when her single mom is sent to jail. She’s forced to move, leaving behind everything she’s ever known, including her best friend Sydney. Lost and bitter in a new school, her one goal is to save money and move back home. Then she meets Angel Moreno.

Enigmatic but gorgeous, Angel is almost too good to be true. Except for one thing, his archaic belief that guys and girls can never be “just friends”. The problem? Sarah’s best friend Sydney is not a girl.

With their unexpected romance intensifying to places neither ever experienced, how long can Sarah keep Angel in the dark about the guy waiting for her back home?

It's another free Kindle download and another worthwhile read. Hey, I'm on a roll here! This is categorized as Young Adult but I would say it is for older teens because of the sexual situations. Many young adult novels will state ages 12 and up but I would go a bit higher on this one.

Sarah's lucky in my opinion. Her mother is headed to jail but instead of foster care, Sarah is headed to La Jolla, California where her aunt lives. Yes, she's upset about leaving her friends and familiar surroundings in Flagstaff, Arizona but still... it could have been much worse. Sarah does try to make the best of it but her intent is to return to Flagstaff when she turns 18 after the first of the year. Sarah's home life hasn't been very stable, moving a lot with only her mother as her family. When they settled in Flagstaff, Sarah finally felt like she could put down roots. So it's understandable that she would want to go back. I do think she didn't show as much gratitude as she should have towards her aunt and her family. Her focus was getting out of there and she didn't seem to realize how that may have made her aunt and cousin feel. Then Sarah meets Angel and while she's very attracted to him, wants to be with him, she's still adamant in her plan to leave.

Angel Moreno isn't in a gang or in trouble with the law. He is instead a decent student, star athlete and raised in a close family. He works when he's needed in the family restaurant along with his parents and siblings. He's a decent guy if a bit possessive when it comes to Sarah. It never felt like he was too controlling but he does have a very distinct idea of relationships between males and females. We see it not only in how he is with Sarah but also how protective he is with his own sister. He's almost too mature, he could have easily been a college senior instead of a high school senior. His maturity is what Sarah needs since she had to grow up quickly and carry a lot of responsibility. Now Angel is there for her and he wants her to stay.

There is conflict beyond Sarah wanting to leave and the secret she's keeping from Angel about her best friend being a guy. There is also Angel's fan club to deal with. He's very popular with the girls at school and one in particular has fixated on him. She gives Sarah some difficulties but Sarah's secrets and lies are what really cause the problems.

The secondary characters of Angel's family, Sarah's cousin Valerie and her BFF Sydney all play their roles well. There are romances in the making between some and they do get their own books in the series. The struggles Sarah and Angel go through are resolved but not without some misunderstandings, tears and grief. When they finally do get their HEA, it's well worth the adversity they have faced.

Forever Mine was an enjoyable read that left me wanting to know more about the Moreno family and the people in their lives. The free read did what it was suppose to - captured my interest and made me want to read more from this author.

Rating: B+

Moreno Brothers Series ~

Forever Mine
Always Been Mine (Adult Contemporary)
Sweet Sofie (Mature YA)
Romero (Adult Contemporary)
Making You Mine (Adult Contemporary/December 2011)

Mini-Prequel of Sarah and Sydney on author's blog.

*Currently a Free Read on Kindle

Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: Home for Christmas

Home for Christmas*
Kate Davies
Contemporary Romance
Samhain/December 18, 2007

From Goodreads ~

She left everything familiar behind-but love found her anyway. A story from The Perfect Gift. Sophia is determined to spend Christmas on her own terms this year. Her daughter will be spending the holidays with her boyfriend's family, and Sophia has no intention of staying home alone with her memories. She knows Ethan would be more than happy to keep her company. But he's her business partner-and her late husband's best friend. It's past time to stop leaning on him and learn to stand on her own two feet. A cruise to the Caribbean might be just the ticket to discovering who she is now, and what she really wants.

Ethan is stunned to discover that Sophia has decided to go on a cruise for Christmas-alone. He'd thought something more was finally developing between the two of them. If she's ready to move on after the loss of her husband, he'll be damned if he lets her move on without him!

On the spur of the moment, Ethan books a stateroom, determined to prove to Sophia that what they have goes far beyond friendship. The romantic atmosphere of the cruise sparks a passion the two had only dreamed of before-but can their fledgling relationship survive beyond the vacation of a lifetime?

Warning, this title contains the following: explicit sex, graphic language (but don't tell my mom).

This was a sweet, quick read with a holiday theme but a very different location. The cruise ship gets both Sophia and Ethan away from everything familiar and lets them concentrate on enjoying each other. It's finally time for them to take the next step in their relationship and the romantic Caribbean is the perfect setting.

Sophia loved her husband Dan very much. That's never in doubt. But he's gone and she's not sure what her next step should be. Her heart knows what it wants but she's afraid to take the chance. The previous Christmas was so hard to get through so Sophia decides to get away but her daughter and her business partner are not thrilled about the decision.

Ethan is such a cool hero! He doesn't hesitate but follows Sophia to Florida and the cruise ship. He surprises her and is determined to show her how interested he is in her. It was just what Sophia needed to get her to realize Ethan felt more than just friendship for her.

The romance had both Ethan and Sophia learning new things about each other not just as friends but as lovers. They both have insecurities about this new relationship and while it felt they worked them out a little too quickly, I chalked it up to the cruise ship/holiday atmosphere.

Home for Christmas is a short read so don't expect highly developed characters or any great plot twists. It's fairly predictable. I would have liked more background on both Sophia and Ethan but the short format doesn't allow for that. It's not at all heavy on the holiday theme and could have easily been set during another season with few changes. A greater sense of the holiday season would have been nice.

Rating: B

*Currently available for free on Kindle.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Review: The Scorpio Races

The Scorpio Races
Maggie Stiefvater
Fantasy/Young Adult
Scholastic Press/October 18, 2011

From the inside cover ~

Some Race To Win
Others Race to Survive

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line.

Some riders live.
Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a choice. So she enters the competition – the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

When I was a kid I loved horses, was a bit obsessed with them even. I would save my money and buy Breyer collectible horse figures. If there was a chance to go riding, I was there. So when I heard that Stiefvater's next release involved horses I knew I had to read it. Plus, the teen read it before me and gave it a thumbs up. Which was saying something since she didn't like Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy but I did.

The races take place on an small island where everyone knows everyone. That is except when the tourist come for the races. Then the population swells and the money flows into the island. The races are big business for this small, fairly poor community but it's the final race that everyone is anticipating. It's the most exciting and the most dangerous. Stiefvater does an exceptional job building that excitement leading up to the finale.

Puck Connolly loves her horse Dove. Dove is not only a wonderful horse, she's Puck's best friend. When Puck's life takes a dramatic turn, she needs money fast. The upcoming excitement for the races pull her in and she suddenly finds herself stating that she will ride. The only problem, she doesn't have a capaill uisce, a water horse and no chance of catching and training one by race day. Puck is stubborn and fierce in her convictions to not give up. Her choices are few and when everyone tells her she doesn't belong in the race, well that just makes her even more determined. I adored Puck. I loved her stubbornness, her kindness and her love for her family. It would have been hard not not to cheer her on.

Sean Kendrick is a celebrity on the island, having won the last four races. He doesn't revel in his popularity but keeps to himself. He's a hard worker, has no family and his only companion is his horse, Corr. Corr is the water horse that Sean has ridden in the past races and plans to run in the upcoming race. Sean understands Corr and would do anything to keep him. He doesn't think Puck should be in the race either but as he gets to know her, he comes to care for her. They have much in common, both orphans and both love their horses, treating them like family.

The story is told in alternating POVs between Puck and Sean. I liked that we got the two perspectives of the same events. Even though Puck and Sean have grown up on the island, they don't really know each other. The preparations for the race allow them the time, placing them together on the beach for training. In Puck's view we see the rookie rider, inexperienced in the challenge but making up for her inexperience with guts, bravery and her knowledge of horses. In Sean we see the veteran rider, a bit jaded with the experience but still holding on to the love of the race.

The way Puck and Sean's relationship develops, both wary of the other but drawn together by their love of horses and their love of the island, gives the reader insight to why they make the decisions they do. Due to circumstances both Puck and Sean face far more hardships in addition to what they will face on race day.

There are a few secondary characters have a profound impact on the lives of Puck and Sean. The way Stiefvater wrote them, you can easily see how the lives of the residents of the island are intertwined. Not only did I come to care about Puck and Sean but also about some of the other residents on the island.

The people are not the only inhabitants who make their presence known. The personalities of the horses, mainly Dove and Corr, shine through. They are as much a part of the story as the people. The capaill uisce are as beautiful as they are dangerous. They are alluring in their promises of fame and fortune. They are fascinating in their savagery, scary in their determination to dominate their riders and their surroundings.

The Scorpio Races, per Ms. Stiefvater, is intended to be a single title with no plans for a follow up book at this time. And I'm fine with that. The ending felt complete even though there is certainly more story that could be told about Puck, Sean and the island. So either way, if there is a sequel, I would definitely read it. If not, I'll hold fond memories of this beautifully written story.

Rating: A

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Review: Must Love Mistletoe

Must Love Mistletoe
Christie Ridgway
Contemporary Romance/Holiday
Avon/December 1, 2006

From Goodreads ~

Bailey Sullivan can't stand Christmas, even though her family's business is a store specializing in the perfect holiday. But now her hometown's chief supplier of rooftop Rudolphs and treetop angels is in danger of going under—it's up to Bailey to save the shop.

She has it all planned: She'll arrive on December 1 and be gone by Christmas. Plus there's always spiked eggnog to ease the pain. But "Humbug" Bailey's not the only one home for the holidays. Finn Jacobson—legendary local bad boy-turned-Secret Service agent and Bailey's long-lost high-school sweetheart—is once again the boy next door. Only this time he's all grown up, and the sparks are flying faster and hotter than ever!

Bailey believes in true love about as much as she believes in Santa Claus. But as the holiday draws closer, she's starting to think about one thing she'd like to find under her tree . . .

This was a quick read with a holiday theme but not overly heavy on the Christmas references. There is talk of Christmas since Bailey is working in her family store, The Perfect Christmas, and gets reluctantly involved in hosting various holiday events in the store. She needs to recruit a Santa and as it turns out, a pirate Santa will do.

Bailey Sullivan practically ran from Coronado and her family legacy. She lives in Los Angeles, managing a large law firm. No Ho Ho Hos or reindeer in sight. The last thing she wants is to go back and run the family holiday themed store. When Bailey gets back to Coronado she learns how much she left behind. She's reunited with her childhood best friend and her first love. We see how Bailey learns to open up and form the begins of long term relationships. She has always maintained it's best to get out before things get ugly. A legacy from her father before he took off when she was a child. She learns how wrong that is and I liked seeing the process she goes through to get there. I do think she took a little too long to realize what's really important. Too stubborn for her own good.

Finn Jacobson is in Coronado to take care of his grandmother as she recovers from an illness. He and Bailey were friends as children when Finn would spend the summers at his grandmother's, Bailey's neighbor. They became more than friends when the teen years hit. Then Bailey ran and left Finn heartbroken. Now they're both back and Finn is carrying some serious baggage. I think Finn's issues helped keep this story from being too sweet, lending a seriousness to the plot. That along with Bailey's commitment issues gave the story a nice balance between the humor and holiday spirit.

Bailey and Finn don't seem to have a shot at second chances - she's determined to leave on Christmas Day and he's still having trust issues regarding Bailey. So they try to fight their desires but it's hard to avoid the person you're lusting after when they live right next door. And Bailey does ask Finn for help which puts them together even more. It's sweet and sexy how they battle each other and their lust only to have them fall in love all over again.

The sub-plot of Bailey's mother and step-father trying to work out their differences fell a bit flat for me. I didn't dislike them but I didn't really care if they reconciled or not. There is also Finn's friend Tanner who could have been more fleshed out. He gets a book (Not Another New Year's) but I wasn't left dying to read his story.

Must Love Mistletoe was a fun, sexy romp with some serious issues thrown in the mix.

Rating: B

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Wishes...

Here's hoping you and all those you love have a wonderful, joy-filled holiday.

Safe travels if you're spending the holiday away from home. We're staying home to play and relax and enjoy the company of our family.

And if you're shopping on Friday - may the force be with you, because you're going to need all the help you can get!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cover Love : Thief of Shadows

Elizabeth Hoyt has posted the cover for the fourth book, Thief of Shadows, in her wonderful Maiden Lane series.

Isn't it gorgeous! Love the colors and of course the beautiful stepback. This is one of my favorite series and I can't wait to read Thief of Shadows! Previous delightfully good books in the series are: Wicked Intentions, Notorious Pleasures and the most recent release, Scandalous Desires.

Here's the blurb but if you haven't read the previous books in the series (do it now!) then don't read any further because there are SPOILERS AHEAD.

Winter Makepeace lives a double life. By day he’s the stoic headmaster of a home for foundling children. But the night brings out a darker side of Winter. As the moon rises, so does the Ghost of St. Giles—protector, judge, fugitive. When the Ghost, beaten and wounded, is rescued by a beautiful aristocrat, Winter has no idea that his two worlds are about to collide.

Lady Isabel Beckinhall enjoys nothing more than a challenge. Yet when she’s asked to tutor the Home’s dour manager in the ways of society—flirtation, double entendres, and scandalous liaisons—Isabel can’t help wondering why his eyes seem so familiar—and his lips so tempting.

During the day Isabel and Winter engage in a battle of wills. At night their passions are revealed . . . But when little girls start disappearing from St. Giles, Winter must avenge them. For that he might have to sacrifice everything—the Home, Isabel . . . and his life.

Thief of Shadows is set for release July 2012.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Review: Hammered

Kevin Hearne
Urban Fantasy
Iron Druid Chronicles/Book 3
Del Rey/July 5, 2011

From Goodreads ~

Thor, the Norse god of thunder, is worse than a blowhard and a bully—he’s ruined countless lives and killed scores of innocents. After centuries, Viking vampire Leif Helgarson is ready to get his vengeance, and he’s asked his friend Atticus O’Sullivan, the last of the Druids, to help take down this Norse nightmare.

One survival strategy has worked for Atticus for more than two thousand years: stay away from the guy with the lightning bolts. But things are heating up in Atticus’s home base of Tempe, Arizona. There’s a vampire turf war brewing, and Russian demon hunters who call themselves the Hammers of God are running rampant. Despite multiple warnings and portents of dire consequences, Atticus and Leif journey to the Norse plain of Asgard, where they team up with a werewolf, a sorcerer, and an army of frost giants for an epic showdown against vicious Valkyries, angry gods, and the hammer-wielding Thunder Thug himself.

The third installment of Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid Chronicles finds ancient druid, Atticus O'Sullivan preparing for a major battle. A battle he might not survive. But if he does, he'll need to go far underground, leaving all behind but his apprentice Granuaile and his best friend and all around awesome dog Oberon.

Atticus has a lot to do before he takes on Thor. It was interesting to see how many attachments Atticus had. He had survived for so long by laying low and not building lasting relationships. Now, he's realized how many people and places have become important to him. Lots of loose ends to tie up. While Atticus is busy doing this, we also get to know more about Leif and Gunnar. Leif is a lawyer and a vampire. No, really. Gunnar is the alpha of the local werewolf pack. They both want revenge against Thor and will be joining Atticus when he goes after him.

Atticus is under a lot of pressure, he knows he might not make it back alive but he still keeps his humor intact. It's one of my favorite things about him. There is a car/chariot chase scene with Leif driving, Gunnar as passenger and Atticus in the back adding his unique humor to the situation. Atticus and Leif end up in a dueling Shakespeare contest that had me in stitches.

It takes a lot for the gang to get to Asgard where they plan to lure Thor into a fight. It's not just Atticus, Leif and Gunnar who want revenge but there are three others who travel with them to Asgard. I liked the new characters, they were well developed for secondary characters and rounded out the "fellowship" determined to take down Thor. The pacing did slow down quite a bit as everyones' reasons for revenge were told around the campfire. The stories were interesting but tended to drag on too long and for some, the willingness to risk their lives didn't balance with the act Thor was accused of.

There are a number of fight scenes and while I liked them I did find it hard to keep track of everyone involved. There were so many engaged in the various fights. There are gods, goddesses and deities along with their supernatural sidekicks making me wish I had a score card to keep track.

The end provides some twists and turns along with sadness and loss. It also leaves the reader wondering what will happen next. We'll have to wait until next April to find out.

Rating: B

Iron Druid Chronicles ~

Tricked (April 2012)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Audio Review: The Next Always

The Next Always
Nora Roberts
Contemporary Romance
With Paranormal Elements
Inn Boonsboro Trilogy/Book 1
Brilliance Audio/November 1, 2011


From the Inside Cover ~

The historic hotel in BoonsBoro has endured war and peace, changing hands, even rumored hauntings. Now it’s getting a major facelift from the Montgomery brothers and their eccentric mother. As the architect of the family, Beckett’s social life consists mostly of talking shop over pizza and beer. But there’s another project he’s got his eye on: the girl he’s been waiting to kiss since he was sixteen.

After losing her husband and returning to her hometown, Clare Brewster soon settles into her life as the mother of three young sons while running the town's bookstore. Though busy and with little time for romance, Clare is drawn across the street by Beckett's transformation of the old inn, wanting to take a closer both the building and the man behind it.

With the grand opening inching closer, Beckett is happy to give Clare a private tour - one room at a time, in between blueprint meetings and kindergarten pickups. It's no first date, bu these stolen moments are the beginning of something that could arouse the secret yearning that resides in Clare's independent heart - and open the door to the extraordinary adventure of what comes next...

After reading and loving Ms. Roberta' Bride Quartet, I was looking forward to her newest contemporary series. I'm not sure if it's because the Bride Quartet's main focus was on the four women or if the setting of the was more enjoyable, probably a combination of the two. Either way, I didn't enjoy the trip to Boonsboro nearly as much as I thought I would.

All the talk around town is about the Montgomery brothers and the restoration of the famous inn. It's the inn and it's restoration that is a major focus of of the story. There is a romance between Beckett and Clare but it didn't feel like the central focus of the story. It was more of the restoration, the town and it's characters revolved around the romance. It is understandable that Clare and Beckett don't have an abundance of alone time. Clare has three boys to raise on her own and Beckett is busy with the inn. I liked both characters as well as the secondary characters but felt the inn and the town took too much time away from the romance.

The are two sub-plots running through the story. The first, which didn't work for me, was that of a stalker. It felt very much out of place in this closeknit community. I could see if there was another man competing for Clare's attention but creepy stalker dude just didn't fit in with the idyllic portrait of Boonsboro. He felt like he was transplanted from another book, say a J.D. Robb novel.

The other out-of-place character was that of the resident ghost at Inn Boonsboro. Beckett developed a relationship with the ghost right along with his relationship with Clare. Had the ghost been corporeal, maybe Clare would have had some competition. LOL The ghost angle didn't bother me but the way Becket talked to her did feel odd. He just didn't come across as a guy who would carry on conversations with a ghost.

I did like the time that Beckett and Clare spent together. Clare's boys are her life and the way Beckett becomes a part of that life felt very real. It wasn't easy getting all three boys to accept him without questioning what his place was in their lives. Beckett had to work for it, as it should be. We also see the relationship Beckett has with his two brothers, Ryder and Owen. It's evident they are the other heroes in this trilogy and we also meet their heroines. I liked the three brothers with their joking, teasing and obvious love for each other. Not sure how I feel about the pairings but we'll have to see.

The Next Always was a pleasant listen. While I didn't end up crazy in love with it, I did enjoy parts of it and will return to Boonsboro for the next Montgomery brother's story.

Rating: B-

Inn Boonsboro Series

The Next Always
The Last Boyfriend (May 2012)
The Perfect Hope (November 2012)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

TBR Challenge Review: A Cold Day for Murder

A Cold Day for Murder
Dana Stabenow
Kate Shugak/Book 1
Berkley/June 1992

From the back cover ~

She's a savvy investigator with the cool toughness of Sam Spade - and a smile that could melt a block of ice. Once the star of the Anchorage D.A.'s office, she's gone back to her roots in the far Alaska north. But Kate's taken her talent for detection along...and trouble knows where to find her.

The Dead of Winter

When a young national park ranger disappears during the long Alaskan winter, everyone assumes the cold got him. But when an investigator goes in after him, and never comes out, the weather may not be all that's killing. Or so thinks Kate Shugak. With her Husky-breed, Mutt, as an ally, she's hunting for answers among the pipeliners, Aleuts, and hardy eccentrics of the rugged American North. But she's heading for thin ice between lies and loyalties
...between justice served and the cold face of murder.

This month's suggested theme is "other genre besides romance". Not an easy task when 90% of the TBR pile is romance but I did manage to find a mystery in there among the rakes and rogues, mistresses and kick-ass chicks. I could have gone with Urban Fantasy but I do read those fairly often. So instead I decide to go in a direction that I rarely travel without at least some shades of romance. And low and behold there was a little smidge of romance in this one. More of a bad break-up with a glimmer of a reunion kind of romance.

This is Stabenow's first mystery novel but not her first published. That was the science fiction novel, Second Star. Then came the mysteries, garnering the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original for A Cold Day for Murder. The book ended up in my TBR pile not because of the award but because of the location. I've always wanted to go to Alaska. It's the wild far north with a history I've always found fascinating. As it turns out, the location was my favorite part of the novel.

Kate Shugak is hiding out and has been for over a year. Her isolation is about to end when an old friend comes calling with a request she can't refuse. When we first meet Kate, she is far from welcoming to her guests and makes it clear in her actions and words that she is not happy for the company. Kate is not an easy person to like or get to know. Which is why I felt distant from her - watching what happens but not completely engaged in her story. If this had been a movie on TV, I would definitely be doing something else while watching.

Kate may not have engaged my interest but the landscape and culture of the Alaska of her world did. I loved the feel of freedom and danger coming off the pages. It's a world so foreign to what I'm accustomed to and I soaked it up! The mystery and characters paled by comparison and took a backseat to the scenery.

The missing men and their fate is what drives Kate to discover the truth. As she tracks their last days before their disappearances, the tracks eventually lead back to the one place Kate doesn't want to go. The mystery and clues leading to the big reveal are sufficient to bring the reader and Kate to the end of a not so surprising finish. All in all, I might read the next book in the series, still on the fence about that. It's a quick read, only 199 pages, worth the short time to read but nothing to really pull me into the next book.

Rating: C+

Books in this series ~

1. A Cold Day for Murder
2. A Fatal Thaw
3. Dead in the Water
4. A Cold-blooded Business
5. Play With Fire
6. Blood Will Tell
7. Breakup
8. Killing Grounds
9. Hunter's Moon
10. Midnight Come Again
11. The Singing of the Dead
12. A Fine and Bitter Snow
13. A Grave Denied
14. A Taint in the Blood
15. A Deeper Sleep
16. Whisper to the Blood
17. A Night Too Dark
18. Though Not Dead
19. Restless in the Grave

Monday, November 14, 2011

Review: Scandalous Desires

Scandalous Desires
Elizabeth Hoyt
Historical Romance/London/1738
Maiden Lane/Book 3
Grand Central/October 24, 2011

From the back cover ~

Can a pirate learn . . .

River Pirate ‘Charming’ Mickey O’Connor has lifted himself from the depths of the slums to be the King of St. Giles. Anything he wants he gets—with one exception. Silence Hollingbrook has been haunting his dreams ever since she spent a single night in his bed.

That the only true treasure . . .

Once Silence was willing to sacrifice anything to save the man she loved. Now a widow, she’s finally found peace when Charming Mickey comes storming back into her life with an offer she can’t refuse. But this time she won’t be the only one paying the price for his sins.

Lies in a woman's heart?

When his past comes back to torment him, Mickey must keep Silence safe from a merciless enemy, while wrestling with the delicious hold this widow has on his heart. And in the face of mounting danger, both will have to surrender to something even more terrifying . . . true love.

A pirate hero, a widowed heroine and a cute toddler to bring them back together. It's time to find out just how bad Charming Mickey can be and how hard and fast he will fall. Silence is a match for the notorious pirate king. She is able to temper her fascination with her common sense when it comes to the enigmatic pirate.

Silence Hollingbrook has a history with Charming Mickey O'Connor and it's not a nice one. She was able to get away from him but the association left its mark and she's not happy to be back in his presence. The one thing that could bring her back is the child Mary Darling. A child she has come to love and will do anything to keep her safe, even from her father. From the previous books we know Silence loved her husband but with him gone she has put her energy into the orphan home and Mary Darling. I enjoyed the scenes with Silence and Mary Darling because we see a nurturing and protective side of Silence as well as a happy side which was rarely seen previously. As Silence comes to care about Mickey, we see those qualities when she is with him.

Pirate Charming Mickey O'Connor is a woman's fantasy complete with sexy Irish brogue. But he is a dangerous man who has committed numerous crimes to become powerful and feared. So the obvious question is - is he redeemable? Can he be saved from his life of crime to live a life on the right side of the law? Or better yet - should he? I liked Charming Mickey but I wasn't sure I'd like him as a country gentleman with legitimate business dealings.

Silence's relationship with Mickey is perplexing in that she knows he's a criminal, he makes no secret of it, in fact he enjoys boasting of his activities. But even knowing that, Silence not only tries to understand this criminal but begins to make excuses for him and of course, she tries to change his ways. It's the reformed by a good woman trope in full force. I don't think it worked completely because Mickey really didn't want to give up his lifestyle. After everything we learned about him, I still had a hard time believing he would let go of not only his riches but his power. He wasn't left a pauper but his lifestyle would certainly take a dramatic change.

In the romance department, it was a tug-of-war with Mickey issuing orders and Silence disobeying. Mickey would then "punish" Silence but there was no real punishment and Silence finally came around. I was surprised that it took so long for them to get together considering they were living in the same place and Mickey wanted her in his bed. He's really not accustomed to being told no. Silence did manage to hold out for a while but once she fell, she fell hard and fast. That's when the redeeming truly began.

We see some familiar faces in the cast of secondary characters and a few new ones. The most notable new character looks to be slated for the position of the next heroine. I liked what we saw of her, she's no pushover, and hope she will be a good contrast to the hero.

With Scandalous Desires, Elizabeth Hoyt has added yet another lovely installment in the Maiden Lane series. I had thought the anticipation for Mickey and Silence's story could not be topped but with the way things were left, the next book should prove equally if not more anticipated.

Rating: A-

Books in this series ~

Wicked Intentions
Notorious Pleasures
Scandalous Desires
Thief of Shadows (Summer 2012)