Friday, June 29, 2012

ARC Review: Can't Buy Me Love

Can't Buy Me Love
Molly O'Keefe
Contemporary Romance
Crooked Creek Series/Book 1
Bantam/June 26, 2012

A girl from the wrong side of the tracks, Tara Jean Sweet knows that opportunity will never knock. She'll have to seize it. Elderly Texas rancher Lyle Baker has a dying request: He will give Tara Jean a stake in his leather business in exchange for a little family subterfuge. All Tara Jean has to do is play the part of a gold-digging fiancée to lure his estranged children home. And the mission is soon accomplished.

Now, Lyle's gone—and his ridiculously handsome son, Luc, an ice hockey superstar sidelined by injuries, is the new owner of Crooked Creek ranch. He's also Tara Jean's boss. But being so close to sinfully sweet Tara Jean does crazy things to his priorities. Like make him want to kiss her deepest secrets from those irresistible lips. But when Tara Jean's past demands a dirty showdown, will Luc stay and fight?

The setup for Can't Buy Me Love made me think of something J. R. Ewing would pull.  The way it's execute is a little bit different but no real surprises.  It was pretty obvious early on what would happen and while part of that is to be expected, a couple of surprises would have been nice.

Luc Baker is facing the ending of his career, he just doesn't want to acknowledge it.  With a serious head injury and the potential for it to become even more serious if he continues to skate, Luc needs to face reality.  Then his father is back in Luc's life after years of estrangement.  It's a messy, angry reunion that Luc is forced into.  His only real family loyalty is to his mother, sister and nephew.   Throw in a gold-digger with big boobs and short skirts and Luc is ready to leave this nightmare of a family reunion.  I did like Luc but found his stubbornness regarding his injury juvenile.  He's thirty-seven and he says hockey is his life, his doctor is telling he may not have a life if he continues to play hockey.  He's not even suppose to train but he does that anyway.  It's hard to respect a man who has so little respect for himself and his body.  Wow, that sounds very judgmental but it's what came across to me.  

Tara Jean, oh boy did we have some issues.  She's not only from the wrong side of the tracks but from the wrong side of the law.  She is trying to be good and has been working (legally) very hard for a number of years.  But as the blurb says, her pasts comes back to haunt her in a big, nasty way.  I did respect her wanting to better herself.  The issue I had with her was her continued respect and to a certain extent,  defense of Lyle Baker.  The guy was a complete asshat of a father to his kids.  Just because Tara Jean believes he treated her well, he used her, doesn't erase the years of abuse he inflicted on his children.  The other thing about Tara Jean is I never felt I really got to know her.  She kept switching who she was to the point where Luc even said every time he turned around he didn't know who he was going to get.  I didn't either. 

Victoria is Luc's sister and Lyle's daughter and only feels she has value as a wife.  She's going through a rough time but I had very little sympathy for her due to her continued poor me attitude and not learning from her recent and very big mistake of trusting the wrong person, her deceased husband.  Instead of learning and focusing on her son, she decides she needs a man and trusts a guy she knows little about.  I did like her son Jacob.  The kid was cute and brought out some good in Victoria.

Tara Jean and Luc's romance definitely had some steam.  They did get to know each other very well with their clothes off.  It was with them on that needed the work.  I do think Luc brought more to the relationship after he changed his opinion of Tara Jean.  At first he was very attracted to the big boobs and short skirts, which pissed him off and I found amusing.  Then once he became to understand her situation he was far more forgiving of Tara Jean than she was of herself. 

I wish this romance had been able to work it's magic on me.  I could have done with Luc working through his retirement from hockey rather than fighting it.  And Tara Jean's "demon voice", as she called the voice inside her head which she had conversations with, I could have done without.  I think for now I stick with Ms. O'Keefe's Harlequin romances. 

Rating: C

Crooked Creek Series ~

Can't Buy Me Love
Can't Hurry Love (July 31, 2012)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

ARC Review: Thief of Shadows

Thief of Shadows
Elizabeth Hoyt
Historical Romance
Maiden Lane Series/Book 4
Grand Central Publishing/June 26, 2012


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.

Absolutely Love This Series!  There, had to get that out.  Now on to the much anticipated story of Winter Makepeace and the woman who captured his heart.  Once again Elizabeth Hoyt has woven a beautifully written, suspenseful romance that brings the reader into the world of the dark and dangerous St. Giles district of 1730's London.

We first met Winter Makepeace at the beginning of the series in Wicked Intentions.  Ever since then I've been curious about this quiet, intellectual man.  He is very proper, coming off a little too stiff even for this time period.  We finally get to really know Winter and I couldn't be happier!  He is an alpha hero in beta clothing.  Winter cares deeply for the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children.  It's not just a family obligation but very dear to his heart.  I loved seeing him with the children, his patience and love for them show what a fascinating man he is.

Lady Isabel Beckinhall has made previous appearances in the series but little is know about her. She's a proper lady who tends to hide her quick wit behind her manners.  I simply adored Isabel with her intelligence and need to love and be loved.  She seems to have it all for a woman of her time period, independence and wealth but she doesn't have what she needs.  I loved Isabel's bravery and her ability to take control of a situation.  She's a bit older than Winter, six years, and more experienced.  It was a pleasant surprised to have the tables turned. 

The mystery of young orphan girls disappearing in and around St. Giles is the focus of Winter's night time ventures.  He is obsessed with not only protecting his children at the orphanage but the other children of St. Giles.  Winter has such an overwhelming desire to care for and protect it was nice to see someone take care of him when Isabel came into his life.

I found Winter and Isabel's romance charming in how Isabel was the aggressor with Winter attempting to maintain some distance.  He is very good with the word play but Isabel is certainly intelligent and able to keep up.  Their dialogue is a lovely prelude to their more intimate moments. 

There are a number of secondary characters who play into Winter and Isabel's developing relationship, all associated in one way or another to the home. I love this sense of connection the characters have, whether they be a house maid or a titled lady.  Hoyt shows how each character views the home, the Ghost and the place each of them have in society.  It's a very enlightening look at the society of the day. 

One thing I got a thrill out of was the swordplay scenes.  They were exciting and so very well written.  Hoyt makes the reader feel as if you are right there, front row to the action.  This series continues to surprise me.  Just when I think Hoyt can't top her previous book, she gives us a different type of hero who is as complex and captivating as previous heroes.  Add in the strong, intelligent heroines and you have a lovely historical romance series worth reading. 

Rating:  A

Maiden Lane Series ~

Wicked Intentions
Notorious Pleasures
Scandalous Desires
Thief of Shadows
Lord of Darkness (February 26, 2013)
Duke of Midnight (2013)

Monday, June 25, 2012

ARC Review: At Last

At Last
Jill Shalvis
Contemporary Romance
Lucky Harbor/Book 5
Grand Central Publishing/June 26, 2012


Amy Michaels loves her new life in Lucky Harbor. A waitress in the local diner, she's looking forward to her first weekend hike through the mountains. But when a wrong turn takes her off the trail, she finds herself up close and personal with forest ranger Matt Bowers. And even though she's tempted to kiss that sexy smile right off his face, she won't make the mistake of getting involved with the town heartthrob.

A former cop whose life went south, Matt doesn't let anyone get too close. But something about the feisty beauty caught his eye the moment he first saw her in the diner. After a hot night under a starry sky, Matt can't deny their attraction-or the fact that for the first time in a long time, he feels the stirrings of something more. Now it's up to Matt to help Amy see that, no matter what is in their past, together they can build a future in Lucky Harbor.

The Lucky Harbor series is one of my favorite contemporary series and to have three, back to back releases just thrills me!  At Last is the second release this year and another stunning entry for the series about women with issues, men with issues, women who love chocolate and men who love women who love chocolate.  The trademark Shalvis humor is very much present and so appreciated.  Shalvis has a way of balancing the serious with the humorous and not letting the story get too dark but still giving readers something to think about.  

I've been so curious about what has been going on between Amy and Matt.  There is a tension when they're both in the same room.  It's not a bad tension but more of a "I want you but I must resist" impression from Amy and Matt... well, Matt's a guy so he just plain wants her, no attempts to resist on his part.   Which only makes Amy more tense.  It's a vicious cycle and something has to give. 

Amy Michaels' fresh start in Lucky Harbor is going well.  She has a job she enjoys and has made some good friends.  She also has the serious hots for Ranger Bowers but refuses to act on those feelings.  Amy has this tough girl exterior covering a heart of gold.  I found her very relatable even though it takes a while to truly get to know her and her secrets. I really enjoyed reading about Amy's quest to find her family history in Lucky Harbor.  Learning about that history with Amy made all her actions and emotions connect, giving her character even more depth. 

Ranger Matt Bowers aka Ranger Hot Buns is definitely an outdoorsman.  His job keeps him on the move throughout the mountains and hiking trails near Lucky Harbor. He has this touch of wildness about hims that I found very sexy!  He such a guy, thinking Amy just wants a sex only, no strings relationship.  Come on Matt, you know she wants more and so do you!  Matt also has a few skeletons in his closet he eventually brings out.  It was nice to see he wasn't this perfect guy with no baggage.  Everyone has baggage but Matt prefers to keep his in the past.

The romance of Amy and Matt is so sweet and sexy.  They have this wonderful smart-ass banter that I love!  The chemistry is there in spades with both Amy and Matt very aware of it.  The way they dance around it is fun to watch and makes the reader want to know more about these characters that we've come to care about.  I think that's one of Shalvis' strengths as a writer - she makes the reader care about her characters.  We want them to not only get the guy or girl but be happy beyond the hot sex.  

The town's Facebook page is alive and well.  It's becoming a character in the series, a very nosy, amusing character.   I love the small town feel Lucky Harbor has and while it can feel intrusive like a interfering family member, it's also funny and shows the depth of caring the residents have for their town and it's inhabitants. 

The women in this series are not the only ones with strong friendships.  The men have built that camaraderie too, but in the way guys do through manly physical endeavors.  They tease and joke around but also listen and give advice, not always the best advice but they do try.  It's an interesting look at the male relationship that goes past the stereo typical sitting around, drinking beer and watching the game.

I love the direction Shalvis has taken this series, encompass the different people and places of the town.  It gives the town a complete feeling, getting to know the people who are at the heart of it. If you're looking for a smart, funny, sexy contemporary romance series, look no further.  Shalvis' Lucky Harbor series is it!

Rating: A-

Lucky Harbor Series ~ 

Simply Irresistible 
The Sweetest Thing
Kissing Santa Claus novella in the anthology Small Town Christmas
Head Over Heels
Lucky in Love
At Last 
Forever and a Day (July 31, 2012) 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Review: The Duke's Perfect Wife

The Duke's Perfect Wife
Jennifer Ashley
Historical Romance/London/1884
Highland Pleasures/Book 4
Berkley Sensations/April 3, 2012

Lady Eleanor Ramsay is the only one who knows the truth about Hart Mackenzie. Once his fiancee, she is the sole woman to whom he could ever pour out his heart.

Hart has it all--a dukedom, wealth, power, influence, whatever he desires. Every woman wants him--his seductive skills are legendary. But Hart has sacrificed much to keep his brothers safe, first from their brutal father, and then from the world. He's also suffered loss--his wife, his infant son, and the woman he loved with all his heart though he realized it too late.

Now, Eleanor has reappeared on Hart's doorstep, with scandalous nude photographs of Hart taken long ago. Intrigued by the challenge in her blue eyes--and aroused by her charming, no-nonsense determination--Hart wonders if his young love has come to ruin him . . . or save him.

After reading and love The Many Sins of Lord Cameron, I immediately started on the next book in the series, The Duke's Perfect Wife.  While I didn't find the Duke's Wife to be as perfect as those sins of Lord Cameron, I did enjoy it and can't wait for the fall release of the next book in the series.

If we go back to the first book, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, Hart Mackenzie was a cold, calculating duke who rarely invoked any warmth or compassion the way his brothers do.  Hart still maintains those characteristics through most of his story, giving way to some warmth and tenderness to those who matter most to him.  The catalyst for Hart is Eleanor and to a lesser extent, Hart's family.  It was a pleasure to see Hart make the small changes and then turn them into something much bigger and far more important.  And each step of the way, Eleanor was never far from his thoughts.

Eleanor Ramsay has been living a quiet but poor life in her family home, far away from London.  She takes care of her brilliant if absent-minded father and seems content. Her contentment is not deep but more from acceptance of fate.  Her fate to live alone without the man she loves.  I did like Eleanor and her resolution to help Hart however she could but still maintain her distance from Hart.  The pull is too great and Eleanor is still very much in love with him.  I loved how Eleanor battled with Hart, circumventing his orders and doing what she thinks is best for Hart.

The romance of Hart and Eleanor burns hot and fierce.  The feelings are still there as strong as ever but also more mature, with Eleanor having an unconventional upbringing to the point of her speaking openly and curiously about sex.  I loved how she could shock Hart, who is well versed in women and sex.  Even with Hart's vast experience, Eleanor needs to put him at ease, and she does.  She has this incredible power over Hart but she doesn't abuse it.  

The story wouldn't be the same without the Mackenzie clan making not only an appearance but getting right into the thick of it with Hart and Eleanor.  I love how this family argues, aggravates and annoys each other.  The love of this family is there throughout the story even with the arguments.  The clan is the heart of the series, enhancing the romances.

The political drama surrounding Hart's bid for prime minister is interesting but sometimes it felt intrusive in the developing relationship of Hart and Eleanor.  The politics and power are what drive Hart so it did play a very important role in Hart's life but I could have done with a little less of it.

The Duke's Perfect Wife had a few minor imperfections but aside from those, it was a pleasure to read!

Rating:  B+

Highland Pleasures Series ~

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie
Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage
The Many Sins of Lord Cameron
The Duke's Perfect Wife
The Seductions of Elliott McBride (December 2012)
The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (2013)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Review: Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
Kele Moon
Contemporary Erotic Romance
Battered Hearts/Book 1
Loose Id/December 20, 2011

When struggling waitress Melody Dylan gives a handsome, lonely stranger a simple gift she has no clue her life is about to take a drastic turn.

The stranger ends up being Clay Powers, a famous UFC heavyweight fighter. Clay’s large build and dangerous fists have always intimidated. People in his hometown keep their distance and Clay is fine with that. Everything changes when a new waitress at the local diner buys him a piece of pie on thanksgiving. Touched by the gesture when it’s obvious she can barely afford to survive, her warm smile and lush body churn up powerful feelings that leave Clay wanting more from her than pie.

Melody is running from her past and the small, country town of Garnet is the perfect hiding place. With an ex-husband after her and scars from her abusive marriage etched deep, the last thing she expects is to fall for a man who makes a living with his fists, but she can’t resist Clay or the tender connection they share.

Finding love in the most unlikely of places, the passion is undeniable, but Clay and Melody know their haunted pasts and unpredictable futures leave the odds stacked against them.

Publisher's Note: This book contains explicit sexual situations, graphic language, and material that some readers may find objectionable: violence.

I'm not into any of the fighting sports whether it be wrestling or mixed martial arts but I did enjoy reading the fight scenes and the rivalry as well as the camaraderie.  These guys really get into pummeling each other.  But it's not about anger as much as it is about competition not only against their opponent but against their own abilities.  These guys push themselves very hard!

Clay Powers aka Powerhouse, has come home for what he hopes will be a little break from the spotlight.  He's also there to get ready for a very important match.  He's become disillusioned with his celebrity, tired of everyone wanting something from him.  Clay's burnout comes across well.  He's tired of living in the spotlight but still loves the challenge of the fight.  That shows in the training scenes when Clay and Wyatt spare.  They don't think they've trained hard enough unless someone bleeds!

Melody Dylan is thankful for the kindness of strangers.  The folks in this small town took her in and helped her when she was at her lowest.  Now she's working hard to show them that she's worth taking the chance.  I liked Mel's spunk!  She's sexy in a sweet, almost innocent way.  Almost like she's oblivious to her allure.   She does have moments when she seemed almost too sweet, too trusting after everything she's been through.

The romance happens fairly quickly which really didn't surprise me.  They definitely have steam but Melody did too much apologizing for her issues stemming from her abuse.  Clay was a sweet, gentle giant who was far more accepting of Melody than she was of herself.  He could be overprotective with her but really tried to understand her problems and work with her to overcome them.

There are some light, humorous moments throughout the story as well as darker, emotional moments. The story takes place in a small town known for producing UFC fighters.  There's even a training center owned by Clay and his two best friends, siblings Wyatt and Jules.   I liked the setting and the look into the world of mixed martial arts and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

This is the first book of a series that I will absolutely be reading more of.  Looking forward to reading more about the secondary characters.  Bring on more sexy fighters! 

Rating: B 

Battered Hearts Series ~

Defying the Odds
Star Crossed (July 3, 2012)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

TBR Challenge Review: Mail-Order Bride

Mail-Order Bride
Maureen McKade
Historical Romance/Western
Avon/January 5, 2000

Kate Murphy arrives in the Rocky Mountain mining town as a mail-order bride— just in time to discover she's a widow before she's a wife. Looking to earn the stagecoach fare out of this dangerous town, Kate never expects the true peril to come in the tantalizing form of Trev Trevelyan. 


The handsome mine superintendent desperately needs someone to care for his two young, motherless children, and Kate is delighted to take the job. But first the children capture her heart...and then the leaping attraction between sweet Kate and the smolderingly handsome Trev is too powerful to deny. Although Kate longs for the safety of his arms, will she ever be able to accept the danger of his life?

This month's suggested theme is Westerns and boy do I love a western! I had plenty to choose from and decided to go with one of my favorite tropes - the mail-order bride.  I've read a couple of books from this author so I was curious to see how well she could make me believe in the mail-order bride romance.

A mining town is a dangerous place, not only for miners but for single women. Kate Murphy doesn't plan to stay single long, she just needs to find her fiancé. When Kate learns her intended has just been killed in a mine accident she is desperate to get out of this rough town and to the nearest city, Denver.  Fate places Kate in the path of Trev Trevelyan and she is hired to care for his children.  It's funny because Kate has no experience but Trev doesn't have a lot of options so he trusts Kate. I think her looks helped her get the job if only on a subconscious level since Trev definitely noticed Kate's looks.  I did like Kate's tenacity that was balanced with her ignorance of mining and the culture of the mining town.

Trev Trevelyan is a very busy mining supervisor, putting in long hours with little time for his children.  The time he does spend with them, he cherishes which made me like him.  He did come across as very driven to succeed at all costs.  This was due to him growing up the very poor son of a miner in Cornwall.  If it hadn't been for his relationships with his children he would have felt distant, a character with little warmth.  Eventually that warmth was shown towards Kate but the convenience factor did play a role in their romance.  Kate was there in Trev's home with no other respectable options for earning money.  They did make time to talk and get to know each other but it felt contrived.

The town itself, the mine in particular, play an important role in Kate and Trev's romance.  Trev being the superintendent for a number of mines has his future tied to the wealth and future of the mines.  Kate doesn't like the danger of the mines or the violence that springs up with the miners and talk of unions. The tension between Kate and Trev is fueled by the drama surrounding the mines.  Even with that drama, the plot moved fairly slowly and predictably.  The antagonists were obvious, even the one(s) who were not suppose to be.  The romance too was predictable with Kate determined to leave and Trev wanting Kate to stay and take care of his children and him as well.  Kate was portrayed as an independent woman wanting to make her own way but this was after her fiancé died which didn't fit with a mail-order bride scenario.  

Mail-Order Bride might be suffering from predictability but that won't keep me from trying more western romances from this author. 

Rating: C

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Review: The Many Sins of Lord Cameron

The Many Sins of Lord Cameron
Jennifer Ashley
Historical Romance/England/1882
Highland Pleasures/Book 3
Berkley/August 2, 2011

He is a man of simple tastes - and complex pleasures...
Cameron Mackenzie is a man who loves only horses and women - in that order - or so his mistresses say.

Ainsley Douglas is a woman with a strong sense of justice and the desire to help others - even if that means sneaking around a rakish man's bedchamber.

Which is exactly where Cam finds her - six years after he caught her the first time. Only then, she convinced Cam she was seeking a liaison, but couldn't go through with it because of her husband. Now a widow, she's on a mission to retrieve letters that could prove embarrassing to the queen. Cam has no interest in Ainsley's subterfuge, but he vows to finish what they started those many years ago. One game, one kiss at a time, he plans to seduce her. And what starts out as a lusty diversion may break Cam's own rules - and heal the scars of a dark and damaging past...

So happy I picked up this book.  I had no idea how ready I was to get back to the highlands and those enticing Mackenzie men!  The black sheep of the family, Cameron, is so not a hero.  He doesn't want to be and has no illusions of attempting to be a hero.  But we know all it takes is the right woman to bring the hero out and it seems those black sheep tend to make some of the best heroes!

Cameron Mackenzie could easily be called an rake.  He loves his horses, his family and women. But it's the women that he has no real use for other than carnal.  The exceptions being his sisters-in-laws whom he adores. It's not that he is cruel, he just doesn't want anything other than sex from them.  Cam is brash, sometimes crude but oh so easy to fall for.  He's not a pretender but is exactly what you see.  I loved that about him!  I also liked seeing not only Cam's relationship with Ainsley develop but his relationships with his brothers, sisters-in-law and his son.  I'm glad Ashley included Cam's strong bond with his horses and his good friend Angelo.  The horses are such an integral part of Cam it would have lessened the story had they not played a important role.

Ainsley Douglas has been tempted by Cameron before but found strength to restrain herself from giving in to his allure.  This time she's widowed and while she's aware of Cam's reputation with women, she still finds herself pulled in by him.  He's hard to resist and I liked how Ainsley worked her way around to giving in.  She's logical in her thought process and realistic in what the most likely outcome of their relationship will be - nothing long term but she's determined to enjoy Cam while she can.  That  doesn't mean I wasn't rooting for this couple.  The fit well together, they just had a few issues to get past.

The Mackenzie clan is a boisterous bunch with love, tenderness, teasing and loyalty all rolled into a very wealthy and powerful family.  They also enjoy meddling in each others lives which provides some very humorous encounters.   Ashley does well in balancing the serious with the humor as well as the romance in Cam and Ainsley story.  I completely fell in love with these wonderfully wicked Mackenzies!

Rating: A

Highland Pleasures Series ~

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie
Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage
The Many Sins of Lord Cameron
The Duke's Perfect Wife
The Seductions of Elliott McBride (December 2012)
The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (2013)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

ARC Review: Willow Springs

Willow Springs
Toni Blake
Contemporary Romance
Destiny Series/Book 5
Avon/June 26, 2012

This lovesick matchmaker has finally met her match…

Amy Bright might be the best matchmaker in Destiny, Ohio, but she's desperately shy when it comes to her own love life—and helpless when it comes to Logan Whitaker, the best friend whom she's head-over-heels in love with. So Amy decides to become Logan's secret admirer, sending him sensual love letters steamy enough to unseal their own envelopes. One letter leads to another, one thing leads to another, and then comes an unplanned kiss…

Overcoming a tragedy from his life as a firefighter, Logan needs a friend. Thank goodness for Amy. But when a woman from Logan's past resurfaces right as some anonymous letters send Logan's pulse hammering, suddenly he doesn't know what he needs—a reliable friend, or a passionate lover? One smoking-hot kiss could change everything…but will it ruin a one-of-a-kind friendship, or show Logan and Amy that they've already found everything they need, right here in Destiny?

I've enjoy Ms. Blake's Destiny series but had mixed feelings about Amy and Logan as a couple.  Would there be enough conflict to hold my interest?  Amy, for one, seems far too mellow to cause anything close to conflict.  Logan is a childhood friend of Amy's and seems to think of her as a sister.  The possibility for sexual tension seems fairly low.  Which is why I was pleasantly surprised at how hot these two got once they finally did get together.

Amy Bright is a sweet, funny hometown girl who's grown up into a successful local business woman and remains good friends with many of the kids she grew up with.  It's easy to see why everyone likes Amy, she's a people-pleaser.   Nothing wrong with that except she does have a tendency to go overboard and into meddling territory.  I wasn't crazy about the secret admirer idea.  It felt too much like something a teenage girl would do.  Amy's 34 years old and I wish she would have been more mature and simply told Logan how she felt.  They would have had plenty of things to work out taking a long standing friends into a romance.  Instead she does the anonymous love letters and it backfires.

Logan is in a downward spiral after a tragic fire and his friends are about the only thing keeping him afloat.  I get that the loss hit him hard but he went from such a happy, good natured person to someone who doesn't care about anything thing or anyone, not even his dog.  That seemed too extreme.  Once he does pick himself up he still has this dark cloud hanging over him but you can tell he is trying which made more sense than his I-don't-give-a-damn attitude.  He does perk up when an old friend comes back to town which is where some of that conflict comes into play.

We do get to see many familiar faces since this is a small town romance and many of the couples are friends.  I really enjoyed Amy's relationships with her girlfriends.  They are a close group of women who look out for each other.  The guys are very similar in that they look out for each other but in that "guy" kind of way.  They give each other grief and tease but it's all because they care about each other.  I think that was one of the strengths of the book and the series itself - the friendships.

Amy and Logan do eventually get it on and they really do click.  There are some misunderstandings and some wrong assumptions made but you can also see how their friendship became even more solid as their romance grew.

Willow Springs turned out to be a pretty good romance.  Amy and Logan ended up working for me as a couple and it was good to see some familiar faces.  That's one of the big appeals of small town romances, the familiar faces of previous couples as well as the continuing secondary characters.  I look forward to seeing what will happen in the next story and the role one character in particular will play. 

Rating: B 

Destiny Series ~

One Reckless Summer
Sugar Creek
Whisper Falls
Holly Lane
Willow Springs

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review: In Honor

In Honor
Jessi Kirby
Young Adult Contemporary
Simon & Schuster/May 8, 2012

Honor receives her brother’s last letter from Iraq thee days after learning that he died, and opens it the day his fellow Marines lay the flag over his casket. Its contents are a complete shock: concert tickets to see Kyra Kelly, her favorite pop star and Finn’s celebrity crush. In his letter, he jokingly charged Honor with the task of telling Kyra Kelly that he was in love with her.

Grief-stricken and determined to grant Finn’s last request, she rushes to leave immediately. But she only gets as far as the driveway before running into Rusty, Finn’s best friend since third grade and his polar opposite. She hasn’t seen him in ages, thanks to a falling out between the two guys, but Rusty is much the same as Honor remembers him: arrogant, stubborn. . . and ruggedly good looking. Neither one is what the other would ever look for in a road trip partner, but the two of them set off together, on a voyage that makes sense only because it doesn’t. Along the way, they find small and sometimes surprising ways to ease their shared loss and honor Finn–but when shocking truths are revealed at the end of the road, will either of them be able to cope with the consequences?

I love a good road trip book.  It speaks to my needs of adventure and my love of driving in those wide open spaces the Chicks sing about.  Bonus points for driving an Impala on the trip.  Supernatural fans would appreciate that!  The two characters on this road trip are brought together by grief and loss.  Not the best beginning for any trip but it works this time around.

Honor hasn't had the easiest of lives.  She was orphaned at an early age, raised by her aunt, she only had her older brother Finn as family.  When Finn dies Honor loses something beyond her sibling.  All sense of normalcy is gone.  She's drifting and doesn't know how to find her way back to anything close to normal.   Then she reads the letter from Finn and finds at least something she can do, a direction she can go even if it is to California.

The trip begins as a stowaway of sorts comes along for the ride and it's all Honor can do to keep her cool.   Rusty likes his alcohol and tries to drown his sorrows but ends up heading to California with Honor.  It's good he does since it's not a trip Honor did a lot of planning for.  At the beginning of the trip, Honor's focus is completely on the destination - Kyra Kelly's concert.  Rusty, well, he acts like he had nothing better to do which it turns out has some truth to it but he also has his reasons for going with.  

The trip from Texas to California is long and not always the most scenic.  It gives these two a lot of time to think.  Even though the story is told from Honor POV, we still see what Rusty is going through although it's not as profound as the changes we see in Honor.  Both characters tend to act close to what you'd expect of them given what we know of them.  There are a few major coincidences on this road trip where it felt like a  Lifetime movie.   The setups a little too perfect. 

The pacing was surprisingly slow at times given the short time frame Honor has to get to California if she wants to make the concert.  The stops the duo made along the way are more like a type of spiritual guidance rather than simple rest stops and bathroom breaks.  I liked how each significant event of the trip can be seen as stages of Honor and Rusty's lives before and after Finn's death. 

In Honor is a tender, sweet and emotional story about loss and how each individual deals with that loss.  I will admit to tearing up at one point - Kirby does well in bringing out some strong emotions in her characters.  I do wish the pacing had been a bit quicker but otherwise, a very enjoyable story. 

Rating:  B+

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Review: The Art of Duke Hunting

The Art of Duke Hunting
Sophia Nash
Historical Romance
Royal Entourage/Book 2
Avon/March 27, 2012

Last night was a blur. This morning is a shock. Tonight will be a secret...

The Duke of Norwich has two rules: never marry and never go to sea. So on the morning after the most extravagant royal bachelor party of the century, he is stunned to find himself aboard a storm-tossed ship and locked in the arms of a proper lady.

The Countess of Derby has two rules as well: never give away your heart and never let anyone get in the way of your life's deepest passions. But Esme cannot resist Roman when all seems lost at sea. Yet when their ship returns to London, everything will be forgotten... as long as they can keep their secret from the Prince Regent. For if the future king commands them to marry, all their fondest dreams will be ruined. But where love is concerned, some rules are made to be broken...

A widowed heroine and a cursed hero are sure to add some spice to this historical romance.  A ship in a storm and a hero in need of rescuing all lead to a historical hook-up on the high seas.  This second book in the Royal Entourage series started out quickly then stalled a bit, only to pick up steam again and leave me wanting the next book in the series.

After a night he barely remembers, Roman Montagu, the Duke of Norwich, finds himself in one of the last places he ever wanted to be.  Living with a duck related curse and a fear of all things watery, Roman wants to be far away from the sea.  When he does finally sight land it's in the company of the Countess of Derby who plays havoc with his senses.  At times I found Roman both interesting and sad.  Both traits coming from his history in dealing with his family curse.  He is a believer of the curse that all the Dukes of Norwich will die young and a duck will be involved.  Yes, the history of the curse is there and does make you wonder but the sadness I felt towards Roman was that he let this curse rule his life and his life wasn't all that happy.

Esme March is in for a surprise and a challenge.  When she is confronted with the crazy, drunken man on the sea tossed ship, she is determined to save him.  After saving him she finds herself reluctant to part from him even though he doesn't fit into the plans she has made for her future.  Esme has some life experience but dreams of having even more.  She is widowed and cousins to some of the more powerful of the ton but doesn't hold herself above those of lesser ranks.  In that respect, she is likable but didn't leave a lasting impression on me. 

Roman and Esme's romance is far from conventional.  They are both intelligent, witty people and it shows in their dialogue.  They have this strong attraction that both try to downplay since neither wishes to marry.  Roman refuses marriage due to his duck curse and Esme has dreams that will take her far from London.   In spite of what they each want, circumstances throw them together as well as family and friends.  I did enjoy the teasing both Roman and Esme employed with each other.  It was funny and added a lightness to the story.  It also implied a level of comfort they felt shortly after meeting.  The resolution to Roman and Esme's problems seemed obvious to me once Roman got over his duck curse fear but it seemed to take the couple a while longer to come to the conclusion.  Why, I'm not sure.  

The series wouldn't be complete without Prinny and his entourage sticking their noses in Roman and Esme's lives.  Closes to the couple are the Dukes of Candover and Abshire, who while good friends with both Roman and Esme, can't stand each other.  There is certainly a story there but it looks like we'll have to wait for that to play out at a later date.  Along with the two dukes is Verity Fitzroy, good friend and cousin of Esme's as well as sister of Candover.  Verity has some secrets that I wanted her so badly to spill but my guess is that we'll have to wait for her book for those dark secrets.  She is a good friend and confident to Esme, giving advice and a shoulder to cry on when needed.  One thing about this series is that the secondary characters are developed just enough to make them interesting and leave the reader wanting more.

A good story with a few stops and stalls.  I look forward to reading about the rest of Prinny's entourage and their outrageous love affairs. 

Rating:  B

Royal Entourage Series ~

Between the Duke and the Deep Blue Sea
The Art of Duke Hunting

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Review: No One Left to Tell

No One Left to Tell
Karen Rose
Romantic Suspense

Baltimore, MD
Signet/June 5, 2012

A woman is dead and her fiance is serving a life sentence for a murder he didn't commit.  Now PI Paige Holden holds the only piece of evidence that could see him freed, and she cannot take it to the police. With the help of disarming state attorney, Grayson Smith, Paige is determined to avenge the murdered woman and set an innocent man free. 

But Paige has only scratched the surface of a cover-up far deadlier than she could ever imagine. A string of mysterious deaths of women with a shared past sets Paige on the trail of a ruthless killer. The problem is, the killer's on her trail too ...

No One Left to Tell is a stand alone but is linked through characters to Rose's previous book, You Belong to Me.  Personally, I wouldn't skip any of Karen Rose's books but if you are anxious to read No One Left to Tell, I won't tell if you skip right to it.  The heroine, Paige Holden, is from Minneapolis and has ties to characters from Rose's two books (Silent Scream and I Can See You) set in that city.

Paige Holden is trying to make a fresh start.  She's still ruled by a past tragedy but is determined to move on with her life.  In her previous life she worked towards helping people, women in particular, especially those who had experienced domestic violence. To say Paige can kick-ass isn't stretching the truth. She's a black belt who has competed internationally for many years.  Paige is portrayed as this strong, intelligent, capable woman who locks herself up at night in her apartment.  The contrast is profound and Rose does well showing how Paige is constantly battling her demons and trying to get to a new normal but still has a long way to go.

Grayson Smith may look like he has it all but he's missing a few things.  One would be down time.  He's a workaholic and his conviction records shows it.  Grayson is certainly an alpha hero not only with his courtroom dominance but also with his ability to take charge in tension situations.  He doesn't hold a black belt like Paige but his is familiar with guns.  For all his toughness, Grayson has a softer side when it comes to his family.  He's such a sweetie when it comes to his mom!  Loved seeing their relationship.  It told a lot about the type of man he is.

Ms. Rose is a master at the suspense, giving the reader not only heart-stopping action but intricate plots that are woven together so by the end it become a complete and fulfilling story.  She's very good at connecting the dots and dropping the hints along the way.  She's also very good at distracting the reader with potential suspects which makes the story that much more interesting when the true criminals are finally revealed.

Grayson and Paige are thrown together and basically stay together for a great deal of the story.  Even with the time spent together I was a bit surprised at how quickly Grayson fell for Paige.  At first, skeptical that it would feel real and not just an "in the moment" type of falling when people find themselves in stressful and dangerous situations.  But as Grayson and Paige continue their investigation to find out who is behind the attacks and the cover-up, they learn about each other as only two people who must trust each other can.  Before the end of the book I believed in Grayson's feelings for Paige and it didn't feel like he fell for her too fast.

No One Left To Tell is a powerful, complex romantic suspense novel.  It pulls the reader in with it's fascinating characters and a riveting plot that will leave you wanting more from this author.

Rating: A

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Review: Last Man Standing

Last Man Standing
Cindy Gerard
Romantic Suspense
Black Ops Inc. Series/Book 7
Pocket/January 31, 2012

*Spoilers for Previous Books*

A deadly mission. 
A thirst for revenge.
One headstrong alpha hero and one daring woman will settle the score. 

Special operative Joe Green has gone vigilante. His mission: avenge his Black Ops, Inc., brother’s death during a bloody ambush years ago in Sierra Leone. He refuses to drag the BOI team or his lover, Stephanie Tompkins, into the hunt for the man responsible, so when he finds himself beaten, starving, and alone after being falsely imprisoned for the murder of a Freetown priest, he knows he’s as good as dead. 

Joe meant to protect Stephanie when he walked out on their relationship, but he can’t stop her now from executing his escape. Breaking him out of prison is the easy part. After Joe’s explosive theory pans out and his cunning enemy emerges as the front runner for a high-level presidential appointment, he and Stephanie must race to derail the traitor’s conspiracy if they are to save their loved ones, the nation, and each other.

The very last book in the series, or is it?  Actually, per Ms. Gerard's website her next series, One Eyed Jacks, is a spin-off of her popular Black Ops Inc (BOI) series.  The first book, Killing Time, has a tentative publication date of February 2013 and features a secondary character from the BOI series.  I can't tell you how happy I am to hear this news!  I know I'll be reading Ms. Gerard new series.

"Mean" Joe Green, tough on the outside, sweet on the inside.  Okay, maybe sweet is taking it a little too far but he does have a soft, tender side when it comes to Stephanie Tompkins.  That's why he is trying desperately to keep her out of the danger he finds himself in.  Joe is the strong, silent type so I didn't feel like I really knew much of him from prior books.  A little bit once he and Stephanie became intimate so it was satisfying to get his point of view as well as Stephanie's take on him.  I found I liked his quietness, his hidden sense of humor and his deep loyalty towards him team members, friends and Stephanie.

Stephanie Tompkins comes from money and power but those things can not keep pain and loss from entering her world.  She is close to the guys from the BOI but finally got her wish when she became closer to Joe Green.  It's obvious she loves him but she also understand him enough not to pressure him into talking about things he doesn't want to.  Stephanie is very smart but doesn't think of herself as kick-ass so it was fun to see her take on a physical role alongside Joe.  She's resourceful and continues to surprise Joe with her abilities.  Loved it!

The suspense is an important part of the series and would venture to say as important as the action.  Even though we know Stephanie and Joe will make it to the end alive and get their Happy Ever After, there is still much anxiety and concern for their well-being.  The romance is there, Joe and Stephanie love each other, but they are realistic when dealing with their situations and know that sex while bullets are flying isn't a good idea.  Thank god, cause one thing that will irritate the heck out of me is when the hero and heroine are running for their lives but have sex when they should be planning their next move.  

Joe wanted to keep everyone out of the mission and to a certain extent, he did just that.  But a one man team is not going to get the job done this time.  Joe's ass needs saving and Stephanie is just the one to do it.  We do get to see the rest of the team and their wives but much of this is focused on Stephanie and Joe, which worked well.   

Last Man Standing is a fitting end to a wonderful series.  The action, suspense and romance are well balanced with just the right amount of humor and passion.  It's about smart, strong and loyal men and women who go to phenomenal lengths for their brothers in arms and their families. 

Rating:  A-  

Black Ops Inc Series 

Show No Mercy
Take No Prisoners
Whisper No Lies
Feel the Heat
Risk No Secrets
Leave No Trace novella in Deadly Promises anthology
With No Remorse
Last Man Standing

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Review: Twisted

Laura Griffin
Romantic Suspense
Tracers Series/Book 5
Pocket/April 17, 2012

Motive, opportunity, and no alibi—it seems close to a slam-dunk. But while rookie detective Allison Doyle’s department has ID’d a suspect in a young woman’s vicious murder, she is uneasy. Then legendary FBI profiler Mark Wolfe shows up with a startling theory: if he’s right, the real murderer is an elusive psychopath just days away from another kill.

Using Allison’s contacts at the Delphi Center crime lab, Wolfe is finally in striking distance of the monster he’s pursued for ten years. Except that as they work together, Wolfe finds the ambitious, stubborn woman a tempting distraction. And with this brutal predator, every thread of evidence can make the difference between being the hunter . . . and the prey.

If you haven't started this series, start it Now.  Griffin continues to get better and better, expanding her characters and plots while making them believable.  Not only do we get well developed characters, the police procedural aspects and the DNA analysis are well written.  This is one romantic suspense series, heavy on the suspense, that you do not want to miss!

Allison Doyle is a good cop but doesn't always get the respect her male counterparts get.  She knows some of the men think she got the promotion to detective because of her sex and not her abilities.  She doesn't let it get to her, instead working her ass off to be the best and solve the cases.  Allison isn't intimidated by the guys and boy did I like that about her.  She's learning to trust her instincts and those instincts are telling her that something isn't right about a recent murder and her boss might just be looking in the wrong direction for the murderer.

Mark Wolfe is an older hero, forty-three.  I liked that he had some years on him, nicely seasoned but not too old to have a huge age-gap between the hero and heroine.  He has a lot of experience but those experiences are getting to him.  Mark has no real home, instead living out of hotels, eating at restaurants and spending a lot of time in airports.   He's well known and well respected which puts him in high demand.  Add in the demands he makes of himself and you've got a guy with not much life outside of work.  Mark is a quiet alpha, the type that sits back and watches until it's time to take down his target.  He is such an interesting character - easily one of my favorite heroes of the series. 

Allison and Mark clash a bit at first.  They both think there's more to the recent murder than the  ex-boyfriend as the suspect but Mark is talking serial killer and Allison isn't even officially on the case.  Plus, Mark prefers to work alone.  They have some obstacles to overcome, not the least of which is Allison's idiot boss.  One of the things that made me enjoy the heck out this suspenseful romance was how Allison and Mark's relationship went from professional to personal.  Allison has respect for Mark's experience and what he can teach her.  Mark learns to respect Allison's tenacity and her raw instincts which continue to develop with her experiences.  Even when they venture into intimacy, they keep developing their professional relationship right alongside their romantic one.

The romance is there but it is muted, with the main focus on the mystery and suspense.  But what is there is very passionate, with Allison and Mark trying to keep their focus on the murder case while going through this fierce need for each other.  Mark thinks he too old, too jaded for Allison's far less jaded outlook but Allison is persistent in not only her search for the real killer but in her need to get even closer to Mark.

The suspense is so well done!  Griffin keeps the reader on edge, giving plenty of details of the murders and getting into the killers mind through Mark's profiling.  It's a scary place and one that Mark has been to, many times over.  I loved following Mark and Allison through their discovering evidence and putting the pieces together.  The brilliant minds at the Delphi Center also contributed their cutting-edge resources in helping Allison and Mark with the case.  I find the details of the DNA and the computer sleuthing absorbing without going over my head.  Seeing past and hopefully future heroes and heroines adds to the overall cohesiveness of the series.  There is enough back story given that this could be read as a stand alone but to get a greater enjoyment, I would recommend reading the series from the beginning.

Twisted is a highly addictive, fast paced romantic suspense.   Allison and Mark are two dynamic characters with very different experiences who kept this reader wanting more!

Rating:  A

Tracers Series ~ 

Unstoppable (novella in the Deadly Promises anthology)
Scorched (October 30, 2012)