Sunday, July 31, 2011

Review: Confessions of an Improper Bride

Reviewed by Jen
What a surprising gem this book turned out to be.  It wrapped me up from the very beginning and I didn't want to put it down until it was over.

At just 18, Serena Donovan fell in love during her first season in London.  But Jonathan was above her station. When the two of them were caught in the midst of a tryst, she was ruined in the eyes of society. And Jonathan turned his back on her. She was forced to set sail for her home in Anguila, with her twin sister Meg at her side.  During a storm at sea, Meg went overboard and was never found.

Six years later, Serena discovers that her mother informed London society that it was she, not her sister, who died in that tragic accident. What's more, her mother has been corresponding with Will, the man Meg had been in love with.  Will has believed he has been writing to Meg all this time and has now asked her to return to London to wed.  Serena's mother insists that Serena go in Meg's place. If she marries Will, she can restore honor to the family and help finance a future for her younger sisters.

When Serena arrives in London, she comes face to face with Jonathan again.  He's the only one who seems to recognize her for who she really is.  Of course, this takes time to come out in the open.  In the interim, Serena does her best to stay away from the man who broke her heart so completely all those years ago.  But it's a losing battle.

There was so much raw emotion in this book.  Serena's anguish over her past is palpable.  She is such a sympathetic character, because you can see how trusting and in love she once was.   Her shattered self esteem is crushed even more as she is forced to sublimate herself to take on her "good" sister's persona.  But she does it for her family... for her remaining sisters who would have no future otherwise.  She struggles with the lies she must tell and fights her own heart to stay away from Jonathan... even after he reveals that he knows who she is.  And even though it would be easy to hate Jonathan for all he put Serena through, you can see the depth of his grief at her loss --and the honesty in his love for her now. 

It was really very good and makes me want to find more from Jennifer Haymore.  Almost 5 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley
Confessions of an Improper Bride
by Jennifer Haymore
Release Date: July 26, 2011
Publisher: Forever (GCP)

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review: Dark Guardian

Reviewed by Jen
The Carpathian men just keep getting older and more powerful.  Yes, I know I said that in my review of Dark Legend, but it's still true. To be fair, Lucian is actually Gabriel's twin, so they're actually the same age, but it's pretty clear that if push comes to shove, Lucian could kick his brother's ass into next week.

Lucian was finally ready to meet the dawn when Gabriel's lifemate told him that his fated female was out in the world, in need of him. Sure enough, he finds Jaxon has led a horrific life. As a child, her father's friend developed an unhealthy obsession with her. He killed her dad, then became her stepfather. A few years later, he murdered her mother and brother, no longer hiding his true nature. Ever since then, he has been killing off everyone Jax has ever loved... he never found anyone worthy of her. And as a result, she has never allowed herself to get close to anyone again.

As Lucian enters her life, Jax is a cop, wounded on the job. He saves her life and slowly brings her into his world. Despite the hallmark repetative vocabulary of the series, this book had a distinctly different flavor. This is due in large part to Jaxon's fortitude and growing need to protect Lucian. In almost all of these books, it's only about the male protecting his woman. And while that is still happening her, Jax needs to take care of Lucian every bit as much as he needs to take care of her. What's more, Lucian recognizes this in her and doesn't try to sublimate it.

Lucian is so powerful, there is never a sense that a vampire could ever best him. Yes, there are vamps, but the real villian of the story is a human one; and he is no bumbling, ineffective zealot. He is skilled; he is calculating; and he is every bit of a monster as the undead. One of the best in the series. 4 1/2 stars.

Velvet count: 38

Dark Guardian
by Christine Feehan
Release Date: May 2002 
Publisher: Leisure Books

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Review: Her Kilt-Clad Rogue

Reviewed by Jen
I liked this short story well enough, but I probably would have liked it more if I had not felt like I had read it before. Sure, the details are different, but the basic plot treads very familiar ground: woman comes to man's home to be governess to his child. The man is a widower. His marriage was loveless. People think he killed his wife. There is an attraction between the man and the governess. Is it real or just a dalliance? Is he really a good man or are the whispers true?

It's like Dangerous Lord, Innocent Governess and This Perfect Kiss, had a love child... sprinkled a little Jane Eyre on top... put a kilt on it...  and this novella was the result.

It's a short, easy read; and I'm always a sucker for a Scotsman with a brogue (and a kilt.) We're just not treading any new ground. 3 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Her Kilt-Clad Rogue
by Julie Moffett
Release Date: August 1, 2011 
Publisher: Carina Press

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Review: Dark Taste of Rapture

Reviewed by Jen
Gena Showalter is on her A-game with this latest installment in her Alien Huntress series.  I wasn't sure how I'd feel about this one. I didn't exactly love Noelle in the last book. But here we get to see that there is much more to her than good looks, piles of money, and a perverse sense of humor.  And Hector... (sigh)... he is my favorite kind of hero: broken, tortured, powerful and unsure.  Not to mention: ripped, loyal and sexy.  Yum.

I expected the book to pick where Ecstasy in Darkness left off... but it actually started about a year before the events of the last book.  Noelle and her best friend Ava were just beginning their training for the Alien Investigation Removal (AIR) agency.  Hector is one of the instructors there, as are his best friend Dallas and Noelle's cousin Jaxon.  Right away, Hector is taken by Noelle's beauty. But she projects the image of a spoiled debutante. It's a defense mechanism she uses to keep people from seeing the real her.  And slowly, Hector begins to see past the facade.

He is unbearably attracted to her, but fights his feelings tooth and nail.  He can't be with any woman.  When he gets angry or aroused, his hands and arms atomize, turning anything in his path to dust.  The one time he tried to be intimate with someone, he killed her. And he isn't taking that chance again.  At least, that's what he tells himself.

Noelle has other ideas.  She wants Hector and manages to get close to him once or twice.  Just enough to excite them both... and send him running for the hills.  Fast forward a year, and both Hector and Noelle are AIR agents. He's been trying to avoid her all this time, but they are forced together by a case.  And if things aren't complicated enough with Hector's disability, we've got Dallas thrown in the mix.  He's had a vision that he and Noelle are supposed to sleep together... and another vision that Hector and Noelle are supposed to be together.  If the wrong chain of events is set in motion, it could be disastrous for him. But he has no idea which path is the right one.  (This thread of the storyline confused me a little. I remember his visions in the last book, but I still don't get how an "unchangeable" vision can still be wrong.)

Aside from my Dallas-induced head-scratching, I was completely besotted by this book. There was great action, as Hector and Noelle worked their case together.  There was great sexual tension.  And there was romance.  Perhaps one of the things I liked most about the book was the fact that this was no flash in the pan, instant-love.  The attraction happened right away, but the feelings developed over time.

(By the way... There was no mention of the ongoing arc involving the evil-Queen-alien turning people into cannibals.)  We do have appearances by the great cast of characters we have grown to love, including Mia, Devyn, Ava, and McKell.  And we see someone introduced in Awaken Me Darkly, who I didn't expect to see again.  Somehow, I think Mr. Surprise will end up with his own book.  One can only hope.  5 stars.

*ARC Provided by Pocket Star/ Simon & Schuster

Dark Taste of Rapture
by Gena Showalter
Release Date: August 23, 2011 
Publisher: Pocket Star

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Series Reading Order: Draicon Werewolves

This is the reading order for the Draicon Werewolves series by Bonnie Vanack:

Phoenix Force

*Denotes short story/ novella

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Review: By His Majesty's Grace

Reviewed by Jen
If Lady Isabel had her way, she'd never marry.  She is so opposed to the idea that she constructed a so-called curse to dissuade potential suitors. Any man who tried to force a loveless marriage with Isabel or one of her two sisters would face disaster. But Braesford doesn't fear the curse. He relishes the idea of marrying Isabel... and his friend King Henry has helped him, by giving him the lady in a royal decree.

At first, it seems that Isabel will be spared the marriage she hopes to avoid. Just before the wedding, Braesford is arrested on suspicions that he killed the King's illegitimate newborn. The couple is summoned to the King's keep, but even while the investigation is underway, Henry hastens the marriage. The story follows Braesford's quest to prove his innocence, while a relationship develops between him and his new bride.

I understand that this is a different time. But over and over, I cringed to watch Isabel's wants and feelings be completely disregarded. She is forced to marry Braesford. She is forced into a physical relationship. I felt her helplessness her indignity. Of course, she comes around as Braesford awakens her to sensual pleasures, but I had trouble getting past what she had to endure before then. And even as she came to enjoy her interludes with her husband, Isabel's complete lack of control over her life, both in and out of the bed continued to bother me.

As circumstances worsen for Braesford, Isabel has a rare window of opportunity to make her own path in an attempt to exonerate him. It was nice to finally see her make her own choices and embrace her freedom while she has it. There was a lot of intrigue surrounding Tudor-era politics. It got a little complicated, when we got into the specifics of bloodlines and loyalties.

The best thing the story had going for it was the romance. I'm glad Isabel developed feelings for Braesford, since Lord knows she had so little say in the matter. He is a good man... stalwart, with a strong moral code. He clearly loves Isabel and despite the disparity of power between them, I did want them to have their happy ending. It was just a long road to get there. 3 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

By His Majesty's Grace
by Jennifer Blake
Release Date: July 26, 2011 
Publisher: Mira

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Review: The Lost

Reviewed by Jen
Adam Bruno is no ordinary man.  Unfortunately, he doesn't know exactly what he is.  As a child, some traumatic event robbed him of his memories.  The only family he has is Salvatore, the adopted father who raised him.  But even Salvatore is wary of his powers.  Adam manipulates energy; he can siphon it from other living things; he can direct it outward; he can even shapeshift.  But there is a growing disquiet within him. Something is missing and he feels a void that he doesn't know how to fill.

We learn early on that Salvatore is planning to betray his adopted son.  He cares for Adam, but he has big plans for his son's gifts. Salvatore has made contact with Alexander, a man who has similar powers to Adam.  Both men, for their own reasons, want Adam to mate with a woman of his own kind in order to create a new generation of power.

While all these machinations are going on, Bobbie enters Adam's life with the force of a hurricane. She is an Iraq war vet, who is recovering from serious injuries. But she still helps thwart a kidnapping attempt on Adam when she sees it happening. There is instant chemistry between these two.  And while Bobbie has never believed herself to be anything other than human, Adam sees more within her. 

Both Adam and Bobbie are terrified of opening themselves up to anyone else.  Adam is afraid of his powers and the damage they can do.  Bobbie needs to hide all of her scars, both inside and out. Yet, they forge a fragile relationship... one that grows as the book progresses. 

It took me a little while to invest in the story.  Several characters are introduced in a very short time and there is extensive world-building surrounding Adam's people.  And honestly, I struggled at times to keep everyone straight.  But despite that, Caridad Pineiro created two main characters that were very sympathic and I found myself rooting for their happy ending.  It's always a peeve of mine when a couple throws out the "L"-word after only a few days together --and unfortunately that was the case here. However, I did enjoy the love scenes and the way they transcend traditional sex.  Overall... I liked it, but I didn't love it.  3 1/2 stars.

P.S. Check out the book trailer:

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

The Lost
by Caridad Pineiro
Release Date: July 26, 2011
Publisher: Forever

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Review: Temptation of a Highland Scoundrel

Reviewed by Jen
The Cameron, Macintosh and MacDonald clans hold an uneasy peace. They each inhabit a different part of the same glen and were forced to stop fighting by the King. Each chief has a sister and the three women have entered a pact to make the peace more meaningful. Each plans to marry a chief from one of the other clans, forging unbreakable bonds between the families.

Lady Isobel Cameron is crazy about Kendrew, the chief of the Macintosh clan. He has never paid her much attention, which makes her plan to seduce him so much easier. She shows up at a Macintosh clan gathering, known for its hedonism. She presents herself to Kendrew and the two of them get down to business before he realizes who he is dealing with. Let me just say, I love it when a book jumps in with both feet!!

Anyway, Kendrew gets quite a shock when he realizes A) he just shagged a virgin; B) she is a lady; and C) she is a Cameron. He sends her packing. But Lady Isobel is determined to get her man. She loves his brutish Viking ways, his wildness, and his fierce home. And despite his protests, he is crazy about her too. I loved watching the dance between them as they take two steps toward a relationship, then one step back again.

But reading Temptation of a Highland Scoundrel was almost like reading two different stories in one. The main arc is the one featuring Kendrew and Isobel. But at the same time, there is a secondary storyline involving ghosts and dragons. I didn't understand how this fit in with the present day story at all. It was completely unnecessary and, frankly, distracted me greatly from what was going on with our main characters. I wanted to skip these parts but I was afraid it would tie in to the main storyline as the book progressed. It didn't. I could have skipped it and missed nothing except the confusion it generated.

Kendrew and Isobel's story is sexy and full of adventure. And we've got a great set-up for Marjory and Alasdair. I think I'd like to read their story, minus any supernatural side-adventure. 3 1/2 stars but it would have been more for just Kendrew & Isobel's part of the book.

*ARC Provided by Forever via NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
Temptation of a Highland Scoundrel
by Sue Ellen Welfonder
Release Date: July 26, 2011 
Publisher: Forever (GCP)

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: Storm's Heart

Thea Harrison has a gift for writing sexy Alpha heroes. First, she gave us Dragos... And now we have Tiago. (Purrr.) We first met the ancient thunderbird during the last story and honestly, I was a little disappointed that he would be the next Wyr to get his own book. We didn't really get to know him in Dragon Bound, except as a hulking, intimidating sentinel, who was fighting with Tricks. But sometimes an author knows what we want better than we do. This is one of those times.

As the story begins, Tricks has left the Wyr kingdom behind and is going to claim her place as the Queen of the Dark Fae. Things go bad quickly, when she becomes a target for assassination. So Dragos sends Tiago to find and protect her.

Even though Tiago and Tricks both worked for Dragos for hundreds of years, they didn't interact much. Now that they are thrown together, the fireworks are unmistakable. Tiago is commanding, powerful and sexy. And Tricks eats it up with a spoon. The sexual tension between these two was outstanding! What's more, there were plenty of opportunities for familiar tropes to take hold: lack of communication; big misunderstandings; self-sacrifice for the other person's supposed happiness or safety. I kept waiting for the inevitable, familiar roadblocks to fly up. There was one scene in a nightclub, where I was just so sure we were going to have all three devices take hold at once... I swear I was already rolling my eyes. But Thea Harrison sidesteps the conventional foils, leaving me jumping up and down on the sofa, hooting like an idiot. (Yes, I can admit that.)

In the meantime, there is a great storyline going on. We're treated to lots of action, as Tricks and Tiago fend off her enemies. And we've got a great mystery to solve as our couple works to figure out who is trying to kill her. As much as we learned about the Wyr in the last book, now we're getting a peek inside some of the other Elder Races. Harrison reveals more details about the inner workings of the Dark Fae and the Vampyres. And we travel to Adriyel, the magical Dark Fae land.

This book gave me everything I wanted. A hot Alpha hero, a smart and resourceful heroine... love, sex, action, adventure, strong secondary characters, and world building that is both consistent and easy to understand. The Elder Races series is a PNR fan's dream. Thank you, thank you, Thea Harrison. I'm pretty sure I love you. 5 stars.

*ARC Provided by Berkley

Storm's Heart
by Thea Harrison
Release Date: August 2, 2011
Publisher: Berkley

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Review: Ashes of Angels

This book actually contains two stories: a novella that's about 40 pages, called "The Ninja Vampire's Girl," in addition to the full lengths Ashes of Angels. Both are part of Michelle Hauf's ongoing series Of Angels and Demons. And believe me, it was very apparent that I came into the series late.

I'll talk first about the full length story, featuring Sam, a Fallen Angel, and Cassandra, his muse. The story starts out with too many characters and too much terminology out of the gate. For people who have been reading this series all along, that's unlikely to be a problem. But I, on the other hand, was scrambling to the Club Scarlet online page to see if the glossaries or character description pages the author provided would help me fill in the blanks. They helped a little, and in all honesty I did eventually figure out what was going on, but my utter cluelessness distracted me in the first half of the book.

For those of you unfamiliar with the world-building, I'll save you some trouble. A long time ago, a group of Angels decided to fall from Heaven (or Above as they call it). Their primary motivation was lust; they wanted to experience carnal pleasures with human women. Before their feet hit the ground, a handful of Fallen were snatched away from their brethren... destined to become demons who would hunt the others who fell. After a time, a great flood swept the remaining Fallen into an otherworldly planet, where they have lived ever since. Some have made it back to Earth, though, with their minds set on finding their Muse... the one human woman who is their predestined mate.  The thing is, not all the Muses are willing partners, but the Fallen don't care. They just want that carnal pleasure. And physical unions result in pregnancies and, later, births of hideous flesh eating monsters called Nephilim.

Anyway, Cassandra is a Muse who has been preparing for the day she would need to defend herself against her Fallen. But when Sam finds her, she discovers he is nothing like the others of his kind. He wants to stop the other Fallen and protect the Muses, in the hope he may one day return to live Above. He's actually a good guy; and that's very fortunate, because the vampires are summoning the Fallen back to Earth. They want more Nephilim created, because they think the monsters are the key to help them one day walk again in the sun. Cassandra and Sam decide to work together to foil that plan and protect the Muses.

While Sam's motives are pure, he is still fiercly attracted to Cassandra. And with her desire for danger, she finds she wants him too. Now, I understand what's going on with Sam, but frankly Cassandra's thing for flirting with danger was a turn off for me. Her grandmother groomed her since childhood to fear and fight the Fallen. And here she is with her tongue in his mouth in a New York minute. Oh yeah... and other stuff too. That's a lot of trust for your life-long enemy, Caz. No matter how hot he is.

There was just too much for me to take in. And for Cassandra to be this woman who is trained and prepared and smart, she struck me as pretty stupid to let herself be lead by lust. I don't know if I would have loved it, even if I knew what was going on the whole time. (I know I would have never been ok with Sam calling Cassandra "Bunny" in any scenario.) But I am sure I would have at least enjoyed it more than I did.

As for "The Ninja Vampire's Girl," this short story features Cassandra's sister Coco. At the beginning of the book, the author recommends that you read this first. I wish I had. It clearly and consisely lays out the world building that took so long for me to grasp in the full length book. Unlike Cassandra's story, this was told in first person, switching back and forth between Coco and Zane's perspective. Basically, our hero and heroine meet as Coco is trying to steal a halo to give to Cassandra for protection. Zane is hunting the Fallen it belonged to. And as they book work toward their respective goals, their paths cross and a spark is born between them. I liked this novella quite a lot. It was action packed, straightforward and sexy. More than the full length story did, the novella makes me want to check out the backlist in the series.

3 1/2 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley
Ashes of Angels
by Michele Hauf
Release Date: July 19, 2011
Publisher: Harlequin Nocturne 

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Review: Dark Magic

Barbarians are attacking Princess Devon's people.... and there is nothing she can do to help.  As she sits in her room, she is visited by a strange and handsome man. He kisses and touches her in ways she's never felt before.  And he talks of dragons and magic forbidden by her father.  Galladar comes and goes like magic and awakens feelings Devon didn't know existed. 

When Devon learns that her father plans to give her to the barbarian leader in exchange for peace, she goes on the run.  Legends tell of a dragon who may be able to help her people in exchange for a virgin sacrifice.  Devon decides she will be that sacrifice.

It's no great surprise when we do meet the dragon.  The story is predictable, though fairly pleasant to read.  Essentially, the dragon awakens Devon to being a woman, while her innocence and goodness open up possibilities for him that he has never imagined.  Short, sweet, with a small pinch of sexy. 3 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Dark Magic
by Rebecca York
Release Date: August 1, 2011
Publisher: Carina Press 

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Review: Dark Legend

Reviewed by Jen
Just when you think you've met the oldest and most powerful of Christine Feehan's Carpathian males, she produces one who's even older and more powerful. We've heard the stories about the legendary Daratrazanoff twins, Gabriel and Lucian. Gregori's older brothers were great fighters and protectors of the Carpathian people. Everyone has believed them dead for centuries, but they've really been locked beneath the earth all this time.

The brothers made a pact early on that should either one become a vampire, the remaining sibling would take his life. When Lucian began to show all the tell-tale signs that he had succumbed, Gabriel tried to keep his promise. The two clashed over and over again, with neither emerging the victor... until Gabriel tricked his brother and bound them together underground.

A disturbance awakens the twins in modern-day Paris. Shortly after rising to the surface, Gabriel meets Francesca, his lifemate. It turns out that she's lived hundreds of years without him... convinced he sacrificed their chance at happiness to be a guardian for his people. Now he must break through the walls she has built around herself and convince her that they are meant to live together as one.

Francesca isn't your average Carpathian heroine. For one, she's already Carpathian. Two, she herself is an ancient. She is powerful in her own ways, as well as resourceful and determined. She has suffered in Gabriel's absence all these years... but at the same time, so has Gabriel. He is, of course, a bossy, alpha, Carpathian male. But at least he values her mind and her gifts; he cares about her feelings; and feels real guilt for the way his actions have impacted her life.

I really enjoyed the twin dynamic between Gabriel and Lucien. Unlike Aidan and Julian, these two have a tangible connection. And the addition of young Skylar to the family, touches a real chord. Already, Feehan is laying the foundation for that one day love story between her and Dimitri... you know, the one I'll get to read before I collect Social Security... or maybe not.

As with all the books in this series, there's a bit of repetition. We get reminded of the same facts over and over. And Ms Feehan reminds us again that her favorite words are velvet, lightning and sheath. Still, one of better books in the series. A little over 4 stars.

Word count: Velvet - 18; Sheath - 9; Lightning - 24 (though to be fair, a few of those actually did refer to the weather phenomenon.)

Dark Legend
by Christine Feehan
Release Date: January 2002 
Publisher: Leisure Books

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Review: Lord of the Vampires

Where are my nipples?
Reviewed by Jen
I feel like a traitor. I LOVE Gena Showalter. She is one of my top go-to authors for paranormal romance. So when I found out about this book and the Royal House of Shadows series, I was sooo excited. But (I can't believe I'm saying this) I was disappointed. This book had all the hot sex you'd expect from a Showalter story, but for me, it was missing something substantial. I couldn't connect with it; I couldn't feel what the characters were feeling.

The premise of the series is this: An evil sorcerer has killed the king and queen of the magical world of Elden. But before they died, the sovereigns used their last bits of power to reach out to their four children. The king instilled in them a burning need for vengeance; while the queen wished them away to safety. Each of the four gets his or her own book, penned by a different author. Showalter's book features the eldest prince, Nicolai.

When his mother's magic whisked him away from the castle, he was in the middle of a sexual conquest... And with the strange way the magic worked, he reappeared as a sex slave. Some evil witch princesses bought him and had his memory erased. He doesn't remember who he is, but his need for revenge still burns in him and on some level, he knows he is more than a slave.

Using magic, Nicolai summons a human named Jane to free him. (The how and why of this are revealed over the course of the book.) Jane appears in the visage of one of the princesses and together, they flee from the royal court. The two are instantly attracted to each other. It's one of those "mine-at-first-sight" things. I'm not usually bothered by the whole alpha-male "mine" mentality, but here, it went on and on.  And while I am a big fan of some steamy love scenes, I tend to enjoy them most when they resolve an underlying sexual tension. I just didn't feel the tension here... the two of them were ready to get busy with each other from the first moment they saw each other. No build-up at all. Nothing to grab me and say, "If I can't see these two get together soon, I'll die."

Beyond that, I never felt a fear that something would come between them. Jane's concerns about Nicolai's reaction to her job felt out of left-field and contrived. Worries that he might have a woman floating around out there... suffice it to say, I wasn't worried. Then to top it all off, I didn't understand how Jane resolved the final obstacle to their happily ever after. Nicolai sends her a note telling her to "use her head" and then all of a sudden her science experiment works in a way it's never worked before? I'm just... kind of at a loss.

I'm sorry, Gena, because I really do think you're awesome. 3 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Lord of the Vampires
by Gena Showalter
Release Date: August 23, 2011 
Publisher: Harlequin Nocturne

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Series Reading Order: Royal House of Shadows

This is the reading order for the Royal House of Shadows series:

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

I'm Geeking Out: A Big PNR Day

I feel like a kid on Christmas morning! This has just been a fantastic day for my inner PNR geek. As my day began, I picked up and finished Storm's Heart by Thea Harrison. It was phenomenal!! (I'll post the review on Monday.)

Then, one of my favorite authors, Karen Marie Moning posted her much anticipated sex scene from Barrons' point of view. If you didn't already know, Shadowfever is my absolute favorite book of all time! This scene is a gift from Moning to her fans. And I kind of expected it to take place post-Shadowfever. But it didn't. It's actually set just after Barrons and Mac meet in Darkfever. If you're scratching your head about that, just indulge your curiosity and go read it!!

I have mixed feelings about the scene. Moning left it open ended as to whether the events really took place. And I'm going to choose to believe they did not. It also kind of weirds me out that Barrons actually talks to Moning, but.... Holy hell, it was hot. Karen Marie Moning has a gift. Barrons is such a sexy, visceral character. And the sex is just... wow.

Moving on to my third thrill of the day. Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series is being made into a tv show!! Oh. My. God. I die.

I'm not sure if there are enough hot men in Hollywood to adequately cast this series. And who could possibly measure up as Acheron? In related news, Kenyon's Chronicles of Nick series is being made into a motion picture. Again, my number one concern is Ash casting.

I beg two things of the entertainment Gods:
1. Please put this series on HBO.
2. Don't let Alan Ball anywhere near it.

I must go sit in the corner and rock myself a little while.

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Review: The Taming of the Rake

Reviewed by Jen
There's a reason we tell people not to judge a book by its cover. Nothing from the outside gives you a real feel for what you'll find on the page here. First, I take issue with the title. Beau is not a rake and the book is in no way about changing his habits with women. Second, the cover is terrible: the models, his outfit... blech. And finally, the blurb. It makes this sound like it's about Beau's quest, with Chelsea as a distraction... when in fact, our heroine is truly the driving force in the story. Indulge me for a moment, and let me tell you about what you'll really find if you open up this book.

Chelsea's boor of an older brother Thomas wants to force her into marriage with a disgusting clergyman. So she makes a run for it, heading straight to the door of Beau Blackthorn. It's been seven years since she last saw him.... on the day he tried to propose to her older sister Madelyn. Not only did Madelyn spurn his affections, but Thomas horsewhipped him in the street for reaching above his station. Beau may be a man of means and education, but he and his brothers are bastards and will never truly be accepted by the Ton.

Over the years, Beau has been working secretly to ruin Thomas financially. And Chelsea knows all about it. So she presents him with an offer of marriage. It will allow her escape from her brother and give Beau a chance for true revenge against the man who humiliated him all those years ago. He accepts and the two of them go on the run to Gretna Green with Thomas, Madelyn and the Reverend in hot pursuit.

On their travels, we see a real relationship begin to develop for our couple of convenience. Chelsea is determined to press forward, to create a real marriage that Thomas cannot impeach. But she can't know how real the passion will be or that her emotions would become so invested. By the same token, Beau thinks he only accepted Chelsea's offer for its face value. He thinks after the debacle with Madelyn, he'll never love again --nor does he want to. But Chelsea is like no woman he's ever known. She is bold, honest and seems not to care at all about their social differences.

I really liked Beau. He's been kicked in the teeth, but still manages to be a good man. He's even more appealing because he doesn't see his own worth. Watching his tentative steps towards love is really quite nice. (And I'll admit, I enjoyed the love scenes too.)

There are also some really engaging secondary characters. Thomas is a fairly good foil. But the big draw is Beau's dysfunctional family. His mercurial brother Puck... his dark, mysterious brother Jack... his horrible, selfish mother. All were fascinating --and will make for some great future books.

There were only two things that really didn't work well for me. The writing style was, at times, a bit difficult to follow. By that, I don't mean the story was hard to follow, but rather, the sentences often felt like they had way too many words or phrases stuffed in them to read smoothly. Sometimes, there were so many dependent clauses crammed into one sentence, I'd have to go back and re-read it a couple of times to understand what it meant. The whole book wasn't written this way, but it happened enough times that it bothered me.  Let me give you an example from the very first page:
"And so it was that, with the clouded vision of a man besotted, that the same Oliver Le Beau Blackthorn, raised to think quite highly of himself, the equal to all men, did, with hat figuratively in hand, hope in his heart and a bunch of posies clutched to his breast, bound up the marble steps to the mansion in Portland Place one fine spring morning and smartly rap the massive door with the lion's head brass knocker."
That is all one sentence.

My second problem was more of a plot issue. In the last quarter of the book Thomas ends up changing his outlook on life several times in just a few short chapters. I didn't really understand what drove the developments for his character once they neared Gretna Green and it kind of left me scratching my head.

But overall, I did enjoy the book. And I look forward to seeing what happens with the other Blackthorn brothers... especially Jack. 4 stars. 

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

The Taming of the Rake
by Kasey Michaels
Release Date: July 26, 2011
Publisher: HQN Books

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Review: Notorious

On its surface, Notorious is a sexy Regency Romance... a battle of wills between two former lovers with conflicting agendas. But underneath, it's a story of loss, regret, and self-realization. It is, in turns, sad, steamy, frustrating, and rewarding.

Devlin and his sister Chessie have always had to scrape to make ends meet. But they finally seem to have a comfortable future in their grasp. Devlin is engaged to a wealthy woman of the Ton. He doesn't love her, but he is pragmatic about the marriage. Chessie is in love with a wealthy peer named Fritz. And while they are not betrothed, he has been seriously courting her for some time.

All their grand plans go out the window, however, when Devlin's former wife shows up with an eye for Fritz. (No one knows that she has really been hired by Fritz's parents to lure him away from Chessie.) Devlin is floored by her presence. She abandoned him nine years ago, the morning after they wed... and he has thought her dead for years. It turns out that Susanna left him in an act of innocent self-sacrifice, but she lets him believe the worst of her, to keep him away. Of course, that doesn't work.

For two people who consider themselves puppetmasters of other people's emotions, there are very real feelings between these two. It's kind of ironic that their initial parting is what hardened them both in so many ways. But when they are together, they are unable to maintain the walls they have worked so hard to build around their hearts.

As more and more of Susanna's backstory is revealed, the story grows heavier and heavier. She has been through so much... and to a lesser extent, so has Devlin. Their past heartbreak is set against their flirting and fighting in the present day. And it doesn't just make me ache for them to give in to their mutual attraction, but makes me beg for them to find a little bit of peace and real happiness. Unfortunately, their financial positions make any hopes of a happily ever after seem unlikely, if not impossible.

It was a good love story with a surprising depth. But on a side note, I have to say I had a hard time relating to Chessie and the choices she makes. The resolution of her arc left me scratching my head a little.

This is book four in the Scandalous Women of the Ton series. I haven't read the previous books, and though Devlin's uncle Grant and his wife were featured in an earlier book, I never felt lost.

4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

by Nicola Cornick
Release Date: July 19, 2011
Publisher: Harlequin 

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review: Blood of the Demon

Reviewed by Jen
Ever since she was a child, Brynn has had special abilities. She can touch an object and sense the history surrounding it, and she can drain the energy of others if she tries. But she never dreamed that she was anything other than completely human. Until Keegan comes to her life. The handsome stranger kidnaps her and brings her to a New York penthouse, where he and his three brothers are staying. Keegan and his brothers are all half-demons, who work as enforcers for a kind of interspecies-council. They've been tasked to track Brynn down because of her special heritage.

Brynn is the last remaining descendant of an ancient Egyptian who created a book that can raise zombies. Only her blood can unlock the book's spells. The evil and powerful demon Mammon is after the book and plans to use it (and Brynn) to take over the Earth. To stop him, the brothers must either beat him to the book or keep Brynn out of his reach... even if that means killing her.

Of course, it doesn't take long before the spark between Brynn and Keegan to grow into a fire neither can ignore. Keegan has never sought anything for himself in his life. His only concerns have been his brothers and his duty. But Brynn touches him on a gut-level. I really enjoyed watching the two of them give in to their attraction. The sexual tension was hot and the love scenes, steamy. It was also powerful to watch Keegan struggle with making the right choices.

I enjoyed the story. The concept is simple and the world building is easy to understand. I really liked that the brothers are each made unique by their individual heritage. Their bond will clearly hold up over the course of multiple books, but their distinct quirks should keep things fresh. (I loved the reveal on Keegan's genetic background, BTW. What a great combination!)

There were a couple of plot points where I felt like I figured things out too quickly. Then I wondered if maybe I was supposed to. It just took a little while for some reveals to catch up with things that were made obvious. But it didn't really cut down on my enjoyment. I liked Brynn well enough, but the brothers are really the selling point of the book. Add to that a thoroughly nasty villain, a fast moving plot and some good sex --and you've got a winner. 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon or The Book Depository
Blood of the Demon
by Rosalie Lario
Release Date: August 2, 2011
Publisher: Entangled Publishing 

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Review: Seduced by Her Highland Warrior

I wasn't sure how I would feel about a romance featuring a married couple. But for the most part, I enjoyed it. Of course, this isn't a story about the first blush of love or the first stirrings of passion. Laren and Alex have been married for about five years. They were wonderfully in love when they exchanged their vows, but the crushing loss of a baby three years ago drove a wedge between them that they have not been able to overcome.

The book opens with the MacKinloch clan under attack. Their homes are burned to the ground and Laren is injured. Despite her wounds, she doesn't turn to her husband. And it's his fear of her death coupled with the realization of her distance that wakes Alex up to the serious chasm between them. He vows to fix things, but watching the two of them try to reconcile is frustrating and sad. Alex is the chief of the tribe and he expects Laren to be the lady of his people. But she is terribly shy and her childhood as a poor outcast makes her feel unable and unworthy to be what her husband wants her to be. Instead, she finds her solace in glassmaking. It's a skill she learned from an old priest after her son's death. She finds beauty and purpose in her art and she has done it for years in secret.

Laren's glass can generate the money the clan needs to rebuild. But Alex feels betrayed that she has kept this secret all these years. The two of them clearly love each other. However, it's difficult to watch them blunder through their relationship. Alex lords over Laren the same way he rules the clan. He tries to bend her to his will. Though admittedly, his intentions are good, he does real damage to her spirit and makes her feel that he doesn't value her for who she is. At the same time, Laren is guilty of being a martyr. She hides her feelings and keeps her secrets by telling herself Alex doesn't need to be burdened by them. I wanted to just shake them both, especially during the first half of the book.

Things do get better, though, as our couple begins to understand and accept each other. And watching them finally come together is quite lovely. There is deep loss and sadness in their relationship, but there is real love there, which makes their journey worth watching... especially once they begin to communicate.

An external threat does hover over Laren and Alex, in the form of the clan's enemy... who is trying to crush the MacKinlochs once and for all. Also, we've got some strong secondary characters (like Alex's brothers) which give the book more depth. I'm really interested to read poor Callum's story --and I hope it comes next. 

Overall, I found that I did enjoy this, especially once our couple started actually talking to each other. 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Seduced by Her Highland Warrior
by Michelle Willingham
Release Date: July 19, 2011
Publisher: Harlequin 

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Snark: Romance Thesaurus

You all know I love romance.  Especially the ones where our hero and heroine get down to business.  But I have to take a pause to address some of the euphemisms and far-fetched notions that have become so commonplace, they borderline on ridiculous. 

I understand there are only so many ways you can describe inserting Tab-A into Slot-B.  And it would get boring if every sex scene sounded exactly the same.  But despite that fact that I am decidedly NOT prone to giggling... some of these expressions have yanked me out of a hot and heavy moment and dropped me straight into giggle-town.

1. Velvet. This is by far the most overused word in all romance novels.   A penis does not feel like velvet.  Not velvet over steel. Not velvet over iron. Not even a little bit.  I had a prom dress made out of velvet once, so I know what I'm talking about.  Being female, I can also assure you that a velvet sheath is also a serious misnomer. 

2. Honey.  Ha! We'd all like to think so, wouldn't we?  If we could all convince men that there is just a big honeycomb down there, ladies would be having more fun in the bedroom worldwide.  In romance novels, it's "honeyed heat" -- in men's locker rooms across America, "It smells like fish, tastes like chicken."

3. Shatters into a thousand pieces.  I can imagine that it's difficult to describe the female orgasm to someone who has never had one.  But for anyone who has, we know it doesn't feel like that. There is also no white lightning nor shooting to the stars. 

4. Dark spices.  What the hell does that mean?  At least one third of my heroes smell like this, and yet I am no closer to an olfactory experience than I was before the author described them.  At least with some commonly used males scents, like cedar or sandalwood, I can stop in the candle section at Kroger and sniff out what the author is talking about. But I am still looking for that elusive "Dark Spice" candle.

5. Biting a lower lip = turn on.  I have seen a few people chewing on their lips.  It's not sexy.  I want to offer them Chap-Stick.

6. Women who smell/taste like strawberries & cream.  Really? First of all, women don't smell like strawberries. OK, maybe I did for awhile in the third grade, when I played with those horrible scented Strawberry Shortcake dolls, but even those didn't really smell like strawberries.  And for those men wondering if the lady tastes as good as she smells... see item 2.

7. Women who feel a man's orgasm, triggering an orgasm of their own.  If women could really be brought to orgasm this way, everyone would be a lot happier, don't you think?  Ditto on all the orgasms brought on by just pulling on nipples or inserting one finger after a big build up.  Maybe there are some really lucky ladies out there that this actually works for.  But I haven't met any of them yet.

No doubt there are more. These are just off the top of my head. And I think I might come back and add to the list as the mood strikes me.  In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts.  Please share.

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Review: Anchor and Storm

Reviewed by Jen
I'm not usually a big fan of menage stories for anything more than a dirty diversion. But Anchor and Storm is more than just a sexy romp. It's a love story. --I know, I know, I've seen the cover too. But I promise, there is more to this book than meets the eye.

Emily was governess to Edgar's nephew's children when he met her. Even though he was older and in poor health, the two of them fell for each other and married. To an outsider, it may have looked like Em married him for his money and title, but her love for him was very real.

Edgar quickly realizes that he needs to get Emily pregnant. An heir would secure her future in the event of his death. But conception proves to be elusive. Soon, Edgar determines that the illness wasting his legs is a genetic one. He refuses to pass the illness on to a child, but he desperately wants Emily to have a baby. Enter Angus. He is the Highland horse groom of Edgar's household. He's crazy for Emily, and though the feeling is mutual, she is fiercely loyal to her husband. She figures it's an attraction she will never act on, until Edgar makes a bold suggestion: let Angus get her pregnant to provide the needed heir.

Like I said before, this really is a love story. Edgar and Emily love each other deeply and completely. It's also clear that Angus and Emily grow to love each other as well. But it's all laid out in a way that I never felt Em betrayed her husband for even a moment. When the book progresses to a point that they're all in bed together, it was far more believable than the premise for many m/f/m's that I have read. There's some steamy sex, but nothing over the top or really dirty. There is no m/m vibe at all... just two men, who hold a mutual respect for one another, head over heels in love with same woman. 4 1/2 stars.

*Thanks to Ann at Under the Covers Book Blog for the recommendation
Anchor and Storm
by Kate Poole
Release Date: February 9, 2009
Publisher: Ellora's Cave 

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Review: A Line in the Ice

Reviewed by Jen
This book definitely gave me the feel of a mid-grade science-fiction movie, a la Ghosts of Mars or something in the same vein. We've got a group of soldiers stationed together in Antarctica. There are six of them, each representing a different country. The conditions are horrible; their accommodations and supplies, meager. But their mission is critical: They're fighting the inhuman beasts appearing in the frigid landscape.

As the book begins, the soldiers discover a man climbing from the rift where the beasts have appeared. He doesn't have gear for the cold and he collapses immediately. The group takes him back to their base to try to figure out who he is and where he came from. Charlie takes a particular interest in him. And as he wakes up, he begins to tell her a fantastic tale about where he came from and why he sought them out.

Lysander claims he is from another world, called Illyria. His people are descended from a group of World War I soldiers lost in a similar rift, decades ago. But his people have been nearly wiped out by an alien race and he's made it his mission to protect Earth from a similar fate. Of course, a romance brews between Lysander and Charlie. But she is cautious, especially once she finds out his plan to return to his home world.

The romance is good, though it progresses at lightning speed. Lysander is a stalwart hero, with a big heart. Frankly, he's almost too good. The story features plenty of action. But I think I felt a bit removed from the danger, because we didn't have a face for the enemy. It was an entire race of bad guys who are a threat to the entire race of humanity. It wasn't a personalized danger, if that makes any sense. The tension was moderate, in both the romance and overall story arc. I was interested in how it all would play out, but not necessarily emotionally invested. It was ok. 3 1/2 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

A Line in the Ice
by Jamie Craig
Release Date: July 4, 2011
Publisher: Carina Press 

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Review: Touch of Frost

Reviewed by Jen
I don't usually read YA fiction, but I am a big fan of Jennifer Estep's Elemental Assassin books... and that is what led me to this first installment of her new Mythos Academy series.

The story centers on a teenage Gypsy named Gwen. She has the give of psychometry, which means she gets psychic impressions from the things she touches. Shortly after the death of her mom, Gwen's grandmother enrolled her in the Mythos Academy, a school for teenagers with special gifts. The halls are filled with Valkyrie, Amazons, Spartans, and other skilled warriors. But Gwen feels out-of-place. She's no warrior and she certainly doesn't come from the privileged background of her peers.

Things go from bad to worse for Gwen when she discovers the bloody body of the most popular girl in school in the library. In the aftermath, she is shocked to see that no one is mourning for the dead girl and no one wants to dig beneath the surface to solve her murder. So Gwen decides she will use her powers to figure out what really happened to Jasmine. The story follows her investigation and people who enter her life as a result.

This book has the same easy and relaxed writing style I've grown to love from Estep. Her books use simple and clear language which allows you to forget about the words and focus on the story. The concept of the series is pretty good, though not entirely groundbreaking. Gwen is a likeable heroine. And Estep does well to advance her story while still leaving the door open for much more in future books.

I liked the book, but I didn't love it. My biggest problem was in the repetition of thoughts we got from Gwen, especially in the first half of the book... her what-if's about her mom, her guilt, her angst, her same questions and reflections over and over. It did peter out before it drove me crazy, but I couldn't quite ignore it. Also, I didn't like how things played out with Logan, the love interest. I know Gwen was supposed to feel jerked around, but dammit, I felt jerked around by his hot-and-cold behavior. And while I know this is an ongoing story, I'm a stickler for an HEA, and I was annoyed by the resolution of this part of the storyline... or lack thereof.

I did enjoy watching Gwen begin her transition into something more than she was at the beginning of the story. I think over the course of the series, she is really going to blossom and that will be what makes the books shine. 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by author for review

Touch of Frost
by Jennifer Estep
Release Date: July 26, 2011
Publisher: Kensington

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