Saturday, March 31, 2012

Review: Inherit the Sky

Reviewed by Jen
In his early 30's, Caine isn't getting what he wants out of life. He's in a lackluster relationship and his terrible stutter keeps him from advancing in his job. So when his uncle dies and leaves his Australian sheep farm to the family, Caine sees a chance to make a change. He packs his bags and moves to the Outback, determined to forge a new path for himself, following in his beloved uncle's footsteps.

Caine isn't stupid. He knows that he has a lot to learn about the job. So he goes in with deference to the ranch foreman, Macklin. He has every intention of simply learning what he can so he can do the job right. But Macklin is prickly and skeptical. Every so often, the older man seems to warm to him, but he goes back to being cold just as quickly.

Caine is attracted to Macklin and never dreams his feelings would be returned. But when his life is put in danger, Macklin reacts with a fury and passion that can't be denied. After that, Caine has high hopes something can grow between them, but Macklin has never been in a real relationship with another man. His love life has been nothing but a string of meaningless sexual encounters. In addition, Macklin is afraid to pursue something with Caine because of the potential fallout should their affair become public knowledge.

I enjoyed the story. Caine's stuttering and determination to turn his life around make him very sympathetic. He's a good guy who knows who he is and what he wants. He is gentle without being a wuss; and he is patient without being a doormat. Macklin is gruff and sexy, though his mood swings and his stand-offishness make him less accessible. The sex stays mostly on the tamer side, but I think it was well done. And the Australian backdrop gives the romance a little extra flavor.

The story was pretty low key. And the ending was a little convenient. But I liked watching this couple find their way together. 3 1/2 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
Inherit the Sky
by Ariel Tachna
Release Date: February 20, 2012
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Review: A Sliver of Shadow

Reviewed by Jen
OK. I have to start out by telling you that this book ends on a massive, hairy cliffhanger. I want to get this out of the way because it's the only thing that did not absolutely rock about this story. I loved it from beginning to... well, ALMOST the very end.

The action picks up about six months after the events of the last book. Brystion is still gone. Abby is working to become stronger in the Dreaming. And Moira has left again. This time, she is in Faery, taking care of her sick mother, the Fae Queen. Abby is watching over the baby and maintaining her job as the Touchstone of the Protectorate.

All that is plenty to deal with --but things get more complicated when a Fae woman shows up, claiming to be Moira's replacement. And then it really hits the fan when the Queen shuts down the paths between human and Faery realms, leaving many Fae trapped on the wrong side of the doors. Abby joins forces with Moira's brother Talivar and those closest to her --to travel to Faery, hoping to convince the Queen to re-open the paths.

There is so much going on, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I love the world-building in these books, which are heavily steeped in the Fae. But even more than that, I love the rich and fleshed out characters at the heart of the story. Allison Pang does such a fantastic job, I feel like I know them. Abby: the woman trying to learn her place in the world and striving to do the right thing by everyone, while struggling to know her own heart. Talivar: the crippled prince with vulnerability and a nobility that extends far beyond his royalty. Brystion... OK, I still don't know what the deal is with Brystion, but he does come back. And the spark is still there.

Speaking of which, we've got a love triangle all of a sudden. I understand why Abby is torn (though if my vote counts, it goes to Talivar.) There is great chemistry with both men, though their relationships are very, very different. I still feel like the reason Brystion left at the end of the last book was lame; and it's made worse that he seems to change his tune for no tangible reason at all. Whereas, Talivar is broken. But his role in Abby's life --and their blooming relationship-- are healing him. He is a good man and he is good to her.

There's satisfying sex, family drama, action, danger, legend, blossoming love and sacrifice on a massive scale. And somehow, during it all, it still manages to make me laugh. Frankly, who doesn't love a cantankerous, horny, miniature unicorn? There's so much more that I want to say, but I already feel like I am rambling. I'll leave you with this: I have no idea what is going to happen next, but I can't wait to find out. Almost 5 stars.

*ARC Provided by Pocket Books

Click to purchase: Amazon
A Sliver of Shadow
by Allison Pang
Release Date: February 28, 2012
Publisher: Pocket Books

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review: A Brush of Darkness

Reviewed by Jen
Allison Pang has created an interesting and unique world with the Abby Sinclair series. It's one dominated by the Fae, but features an array of supernatural species from angels to demons and everything in between.

Abby is a human, but she's special. She serves as a Touchstone to the Fae Protectorate, Moira. Her job is essentially to anchor Moira to the human plane, help her cross between worlds, and to assist with disputes and problems Moira helps settle. In exchange, Abby will not age for the seven years of her contract with Moira; and when she is done, she gets one wish. Unfortunately, Moira has gone missing and Abby has to hold down the fort in her absence. She keeps the disappearance a secret as long as she can, but things are becoming more complicated than she can handle alone.

A sexy incubus named Brystion shows up, needing help to find his missing succubus sister. Abby agrees to work with him, which lands her in the thick of danger. The succubus is one of several of her kind who has disappeared --and it all may or may not be tied to what happened to Moira. Tensions run high as Abby is blamed for her boss' absence. And all of this is happening as she deals with her own internal demons that have been plaguing her ever since the car accident that killed her mother.

It took me awhile to connect with the book because the world building was revealed so slowly. Often in the early chapters, I felt lost or like I had missed something. But once the basics were laid out and the romance started to build steam, I got more invested. (Didn't I mention the romance? Come on! The hero is an incubus. What did you expect?) I found myself going back and forth with how I felt about the relationship between Abby and Brystion. There were times, in his softer moments, that I really rooted for these two. But then, I'd find myself questioning how real it all was and how much it had to do with the fact he was an incubus. Does he want her for who she is or for the juice she can give him?

The questions, the sex, and action really got me wrapped up in it all. Not to mention, a healthy dose of humor, some really engaging secondary characters --and a talking, horny miniature unicorn. I was really enjoying it all until I slammed into the brick wall of an ending, going about 90 miles per hour. Don't worry, I'm not going to spoil the end. But I will tell you that I didn't like it. And I didn't understand a single good reason why it had to go that way, except to set the stage for the next book. And that kind of ticks me off.

So I am conflicted about how to rate the book. For the most part, it was really great. It made me laugh out loud. It surprised me with its twists and turns and unexpected betrayals.  But it also confused me occasionally and it made me mad. Mmm... 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by Pocket Books

A Brush of Darkness
by Allison Pang
Release Date: January 25, 2011
Publisher: Pocket Books

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Review: Lover Reborn

Reviewed by Jen
I'll tell you what: JR Ward gave me my money's worth with Lover Reborn. A far cry from the anemic Lover Unleashed, this book is massive in scale. It brought me back to the characters I care about. It gives the primary romance the attention it is due, and weaves in subplots that interest me. Ward revisits old relationships and lays the groundwork for new ones. She made me laugh; She made me cry; She made me curse. She took me on a journey and made me glad to be back in Caldwell.

I wasn't happy with the idea of Tohr getting a new mate. I've never gotten over Wellsie's death. And I figured that if I couldn't get over it, surely he shouldn't be over it either. But once I started reading the book, I realized that the whole point of the story is that he's not over it. He can't let Wellsie go and by holding onto her so desperately, he is preventing her from going into the Fade. Wellsie and her baby are trapped in the In Between and their spirits are fading. As Lassiter explains, either Tohr finds a way to let go, or there will be nothing left of the woman he loved.

The story begins just weeks after the events of Lover Mine and it felt more like a continuation of that book than the last one. (Thank goodness for that.) No'One is staying with the Brotherhood, hoping for a chance to get to know her daughter. She finds herself becoming friends with Tohr. She knows he still mourns his wife, which makes her more comfortable around him than other men. Their friendship --and Lassiter's prompting-- lead her to offer her blood to him when he's in need. And from there, the bond between them grows.

It's definitely not an easy road and it's one filled with starts and stops. (And I felt it drag occasionally, especially early on.) Tohr's grief is tangible, but there are times his behavior is extreme and harsh. No'One is a difficult heroine to get excited about. She is meek and subservient, broken and pitiful. She puts up with alot of crap and sometimes stretches the limits of believability in how accommodating she is. But at least that is addressed as the story progresses. I like that their relationship is an evolution; that there is no quick fix. And we see them move forward through trial and error.

While all this is going on, the main b-plot is focused on Xhex and John Matthew. The honeymoon phase of their relationship is over quickly. And they are struggling to reconcile Xhex's warrior nature with John's instincts as a bonded male. I loved this part of the book. I've always had a real soft spot for these two and their problems make total sense within the world-building of the series.

We're also brought back into the Band of Bastards and their plans to overthrow the king. And in doing so, Ward sets up a fabulous possibility that I never saw coming to get rid of give an HEA to Layla. Alas, it doesn't happen soon enough. (*spoilery*) The one thing I feared most would happen in this book, does indeed come to pass. I'm sorely disappointed Ward picked this predictable route. Without telling you outright what happens, I will simply remind you what a big Qhuay fan I am and leave it at that.

Before I find myself back in the cursing fit this initially brought on, I'm going to skip to the end. The end, which was amazing. I cried and cried and cried. Ward saved the most powerful punch for the last few chapters and left me feeling satisfied, optimistic, and excited for what's ahead.

I'll leave you with my favorite line of the book: "Our future has come." You'd better deliver on that, JR Ward. Verily. 4 stars.

Click to purchase: Amazon
Lover Reborn
by JR Ward
Release Date: March 27, 2012
Publisher: NAL

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Review: The Kingdom

Reviewed by Jen
This book was nothing like I expected it to be and yet it manages to advance the Graveyard Queen series in a way that maintains the tone and answers some of the questions set up in The Restorer. It has elements of horror. It has danger. It, of course, has ghosts. But what it doesn't have... is John Devlin. But I'll get back to that in a minute.

It's been a few months since the events of the last book and Amelia has accepted a new job in a new town called Asher Falls. She has been trying to keep her distance from Devlin and she feels like this new project will help her do that. But even aboard the ferry --on her way to the secluded town-- there are signs of trouble. An underwater graveyard is one --a mysterious and compelling man is another.

In Asher Falls, she finds a place that's cut off from the rest of the world.  A powerful family is responsible for its ruin and, perhaps, things which are much worse.  There is an undeniable evil in the town. It recognizes Amelia and she becomes a target, in more ways than one.

I'm not going to get into the details of the plot, because I don't want to ruin the surprises and revelations. I will say that I wish I would have re-read The Restorer before beginning this installment. I found myself struggling to remember some of the particulars that were only mildly referenced here. Perhaps because of that, I had a little bit of trouble getting back in the groove at the beginning of the book. Or maybe because --with a new town and a new supporting cast-- I almost felt like we were starting over.

I was intrigued by the new love interest... but I was very put out that the Devlin storyline was put on the back-burner. I liked learning more about Amelia's past and what makes her who she is. I'll admit that I figured out the "big reveal" early, but I certainly wouldn't call it predictable --and other elements of the story still managed to surprise me and keep me guessing until the very end.

And while we are on the subject of the end --the last line of the book was completely awesome and now has me panting to get my hands on The Prophet. (Thank goodness it will be here in April!) 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
The Kingdom
by Amanda Stevens
Release Date: March 27, 2012
Publisher: Mira

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Series Reading Order: Graveyard Queen

This is the reading order for the Graveyard Queen series by Amanda Stevens:

*Denotes short story/ novella

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Review: Sacrificial Magic

This book is amazing. This series is phenomenal. The characters are so very deeply flawed: filled with insecurities, addiction, rage, lust and sorrow. But through that, they so are so very real. I read most of this book with a knot in my stomach. In turns, I felt hopeless and crushed, joyous and elated. Because that is what Chess felt. And Stacia Kane masterfully put me inside of her head.

The story picks up shortly after the ending of City of Ghosts. Chess and Terrible are in love, but there are no guarantees for their future. And no one knows that better than Chess. Kane never takes the easy way out. It would be so satisfying to see Chess just begin to rebuild herself with the love of this amazing man. But the truth is, she is still Chess. Even though she sees Terrible for the gift that he is, what is just as important is how she sees herself: as unworthy of him. And with dread and inevitability, we watch her obsessive fears become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Of course, there is much more happening in the book. Primarily, Chess is on a case from the Church which coincides with an investigation she has going on for Bump. Lex is back, bringing more complications. Chess faces danger from humans and ghosts alike. It's exciting and unpredictable. But the truth is, the internal conflict is far more interesting than the external one.

It's like watching a star explode: It's beautiful and destructive and you can't take your eyes off of it. And before I convince you that it's all heartwrenching sadness, remember that joy and elation I talked about earlier. It's not all one way or another. This book took my emotions on a roller coaster. When it was over, my heart was in my throat; I felt satisfied and exhausted; and I'm already dying to get back on the ride. If you have never read this series or if you gave up on it early, you are truly missing out.  5 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
Sacrificial Magic
by Stacia Kane
Release Date: March 27, 2012
Publisher: Del Rey

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Author Interview: Stacia Kane

If you have never read the amazing Downside Ghosts books by Stacia Kane, stop what you are doing right now and go buy Unholy Ghosts.  No, I am not kidding.  Go now. I'll still be here when you get back.  

As for the rest of you,  it's been a long wait for Sacrificial Magic, but I can tell you it's my favorite book in the series so far.  Please help me welcome Stacia to the blog today! 

Jen: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me!

Stacia: Thanks so much for inviting me!

Jen: I feel like I came late to the Downside Ghosts party, but I am so glad that I found this series. It's not like anything I have read before. The main character, Chess, is so flawed and yet so sympathetic. How do you strike that balance with her?

Stacia: Hmm. I just try to make her as realistic as possible, really. I think everyone has both good and bad parts; everyone has flaws. And I think it's the flaws that make us interesting.

For me a big part of what makes a character--any character, or even any person--sympathetic is that they acknowledge their flaws. Having flaws doesn't automatically make you sympathetic if you refuse to admit or accept that you have them; it just makes you a jerk, really. Chess acknowledges her flaws, and even as she rationalizes them and even hides behind them, she still accepts that they are indeed flaws.

Jen: As damaged as she is, do you think she is capable of ever really being happy?

Stacia: Oh, that's a good question! I do, yes. But then I also think happiness means different things to different people. I think Chess is capable of happiness. I think she can probably at some point reach a place emotionally where she's mostly at peace. Whether that means hopping out of bed every morning with a grin on her face is another question. But I think she's growing, and I think she's changing and maybe starting to see that there is hope for her, that she can let herself feel something positive.

Jen: The drugs are a really big part of her life and the series. Did you ever worry that might alienate readers?

Stacia: You know, I was actually more worried that it might be triggering for some people, or that readers of my previous books--which were much more light-hearted in general--just wouldn't like the darker tone. I honestly didn't think it was that big an issue; I mean, at the time I started writing it or when it sold, WEEDS was on TV, BREAKING BAD was on TV, HOUSE was on TV. There were quite a few male characters who were addicts or alcoholics. And I never saw anyone taking issue with those or saw any huge backlash where people called the scriptwriters or producers names. So I really didn't think it was going to be a big deal (and if I had it wouldn't have mattered, because I needed to write Chess, for a number of reasons).

So I wondered, and of course any time you have a book coming out you worry how it's going to be received. But there were a lot of other things I worried about more.

Jen: Let's talk about Terrible. I loved that you acknowledge the odd names in "Rick the Brave." What were you thinking when you gave him the name?

Stacia: Ha, yeah, that was really fun, to do that in RICK. I just wanted a name that fit him and fit the world, really. Given his history it wouldn't make sense for him to be a Bill or a Joe, and it certainly wouldn't make sense for him to have a more "UF hero" type name. It needed to be something that made sense given the kind of place it was.

I'd once had a few drinks with a guy whose nickname was Horrible (although in his case it was a joke), and there's another nicknamed-Horrible as a very minor character in my favorite novel, so when I was thinking of a name that would both identify and kind of describe this character--who wasn't even really a character yet at that point, just a "This is his job"--that popped into my head, and I decided to go with it. It seemed to fit really well. It made sense people would call him that and see him that way, and that the name would kind of define him in the eyes of other people. I mean, when you hear Bob is after you it just doesn't inspire the same kind of foreboding that you might feel when a guy everyone calls Terrible is after you. You wonder why they call him that and how he came to get that name.

Jen: And you made him ugly! A bold choice for a romantic lead. Have you been surprised at how beloved he is among readers?

Stacia: Totally! I never expected that. I mean, I hoped, because I love him so much, that others would feel the same. And he was a real challenge for me, a real test of my skill: could I create a character who is deliberately ugly and brutal but manage to write him in such a way that readers would see who he is inside? Could I pull that off, and illustrate the point that not only can looks be deceiving but that how people look to us changes as we get to know them, and that who people are inside matters more than what they look like?

I wanted to be very careful with him and how I revealed his character, because I wanted readers to undergo the same transformation as Chess does: first finding him unappealing, not very smart, etc., and then slowly seeing how much more there is to him. And I wanted to do that just through Chess's eyes, so that he starts to change for the readers at the same time as he does for her, and we can follow her thought process and see how things change as she gets to know him and they both start to open up to each other more and trust and understand each other. I wanted to immerse readers into the characters and world that much more by doing that, you know?

Of course, whether I really succeeded in that isn't for me to say, but it's amazing to see how much people love him!

Jen: I'll say it: you were very successful.  He is one of my very favorite heroes in print! Will there ever be further consequences to the sigil Chess put on him in Unholy Magic?

Stacia: Oh, yes. Yes yes yes. I don't want to spoil anything by saying more, but absolutely. It's going to have a huge impact. We'll see a bit more of that in SACRIFICIAL MAGIC, and then a lot more in CHASING MAGIC, and then...well, it's a big deal, that sigil.

Jen: The street language people use in Downside is very unusual, but it's very consistent in the books. What did you base it on?

Stacia: I just made it up, really! I considered at first using a sort of Ebonics-type dialect, but I didn't want to do that for a couple of reasons: One, I wanted to be very careful of looking like I was co-opting an existing culture, and Two, I wanted to make it very clear that this is a different world.

I did get a lot of the words from old slang, though, like Georgian/Victorian slang. I have a dictionary of it, and I had so much fun reading it and I was so excited at the idea of using some of those words. And the Downspeak kind of evolved from that, too, because I needed something where those words legitimately fit, and didn't sound too out-of-place.

Jen:  Was the series initially supposed to be a trilogy? At what point did you realize it would be more than that? Did you already have a direction for the series to continue in your mind?

Stacia: Actually, no, it was never a trilogy; I wrote UNHOLY GHOSTS as the first in a multi-book series and that's never changed. I'm not sure where the idea that it was originally a trilogy came from unless it's the fact that the first three books were released back-to-back.

I did make sure that I gave the third book a definite ending, though, because of course I wrote that one a year or so before release, and when I wrote it I had no idea if the first two would sell enough copies for my publisher(s) to want more. So it was really important to me that readers at least get a solid resolution to the Chess-Terrible story, just in case. I hated the idea that they might be left unsatisfied.

I will say, though, that originally I hadn't intended for them to make their big declarations until the fourth book; the third book would have essentially been the same as far as the physical aspects, but without the big ending. Then the fourth would have shown them as having gone on for a few more months of this sort of sleeping-together-but-not-making-any-commitment kind of situation, where he was just immensely reluctant to actually get emotionally involved.

Whether that would have been better I can't say, of course. Certainly part of me thinks it would have made more sense given his character and the depth of her betrayal, but at the same time I think given what happened to her at the end of CITY OF GHOSTS, it's also believable--I hope it is--that he would have basically said, "Well, yeah, she did this, but thinking she was gone for good made me realize that I can forgive it." You know? When you think someone you love is dead you realize how lucky you are to have them at all, even when they've hurt you. Especially since--again, hopefully--it's clear that even after he said he was done with her he really wasn't, not in his mind or his heart, and that not speaking to her or hanging out with her was just as painful for him as it was for her. Chess missed the person she'd become so close to, the only person she felt really understood her and accepted her, but so did he; her friendship and company meant at least as much to him as his meant to her. So he wasn't just hurting her when he wouldn't speak to her. He was hurting himself, too, and thinking she was dead made him realize he didn't want to do that anymore, that he couldn't keep holding a grudge--even though he had a good reason--when life is short and they could be happy.

Jen: Like so many fans, I am very excited about Sacrificial Magic. What can you tell us about the book?

Stacia: Ohh...let's see. The first reviews are starting to appear now, so some of the biggest stuff is probably already out there: that trust is a huge issue in this book, that Chess has to really open herself up in this one and try to learn to accept the idea of being loved. There's some good stuff in store for Elder Griffin that I'm really excited about, and that's going to have some big impact in CHASING MAGIC. There's a new character being introduced and that's pretty exciting (for me, at least) because it's yet another example of how Chess's world is expanding. Which is really healthy, and a really good thing for Chess, but at the same time brings her problems into sharper relief. Because when the series started, she had no one; she had work and she had being home alone, and that was basically it--yes, she was/is friends with Edsel, and it is a genuine friendship, but she kept him at quite a distance. So her addiction didn't affect anyone but herself; there was literally no one to be hurt by it but her.

But now, with every new person she lets in there's one more person who can be hurt by her behavior, who can have feelings about it, who can be damaged by it. So it's kind of a double-edged sword; she wants to have these people in her life because they make her feel good, but it also means having to accept that her actions can have consequences beyond just what they do to her personally, and that makes her feel worse, because she doesn't want to let them down but isn't strong enough/ready to make changes.

Jen: And there are at least two more after that?

Stacia: Right now, yes. CHASING MAGIC and the sixth, which isn't officially titled (or written!) yet. Hopefully SACRIFICIAL MAGIC will be successful enough that I get to do more; the continuation of the series really does rest on its performance, so I'm very nervous and trying to be very hopeful. I'd love to keep writing these books.

Jen: Again, I thank you so much for answering my questions. I wish you great continuing success for the series!

Stacia: Thanks so much again for having me, I really appreciate it!

If you would like to learn more about Stacia Kane, you can visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Review: Confessions from an Arranged Marriage

Minerva is different than the regular young miss coming out to the ton. She is beautiful and knows her manners, but instead of frivolity, her interests lie in politics. Her dream is to marry a man with political aspirations and help him effect change. But those hopes were dashed when Lord Blakeney confused her for another woman at a party. As she slept off a migraine in the library, he drunkenly thought she was someone else and put his head up her dress. Of course, that was the moment other people began to walk in the room.

The couple is forced to marry to avoid scandal and neither is happy about it. Blake just wants to live a life free of constraints...a life that includes his sexy and worldly mistress. And though he is next in line to the Dukedom and is devilishly handsome, Minerva can think of nothing but the fact that Blake is notoriously stupid. What the reader learns quickly, is that Blake is not really stupid, but likely dyslexic. He's never been able to read well and cultivated the image of a lazy rake to hide behind. He is terribly ashamed of his shortcomings and he knows that his academic wife would reject him further if she ever knew the truth.

It was very hard for me to like Minerva. Even though she is not wealthy or of high station, she is so very snobby that it's nearly unbearable. She is constantly ruminating about how stupid Blake is and she is completely self-absorbed with her political machinations. Blake was an ok hero, but I never really felt like he got his due. He never really gets over the belief that he is anything more than the brawn in their relationship and that was a shame. It took him a really long time to share his secret --and I don't blame him one bit.

Tying into Minerva's whole reformist yearnings, there is a lot of political weaving in the book. And there is a little blackmail scheme and a dab of danger at the end. But the story really focuses on the mismatched pairing of Blake and Minerva. I can see why she eventually falls for him, but I'm not so sure why he ever falls for her.

This is the fourth book in the Burgandy Club series and it made frequent references to the events of The Dangerous Viscount, which I have not read. Things are explained fairly well, but I was very aware that the books were tied together. This could be read as a standalone, but I feel like it would be better for those who have a history with the series. 3 stars.

*ARC Provided by Avon

Click to purchase: Amazon
Confessions from an Arranged Marriage
by Miranda Neville
Release Date: March 27, 2012
Publisher: Avon

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Review: A Taste for Passion

Lucian has waited decades for the reincarnation of his beloved Elizabeth to appear. And just when the desolate vampire was about to give up hope, he meets Rana. He is drawn to her right away, but her identity is confirmed as his lost love when she makes a connection to the spelled ring that once belonged to Elizabeth.

Rana is mourning the death of her grandfather and fears at first that her attraction to Lucian is really just a way to fill the emotional void in her life. But every night when she closes her eyes, Lucian is there to fulfill her desires. And that makes it harder and harder to resist him in the flesh.

In the meantime, Lucian has decided to take his place as the vampire leader. But his nemesis Kraid wants the position for himself and plans to gain it at any cost --including going through Rana. Kraid's actions have serious consequences that I can't get into without spoiling the story. But I will say that for their severity, the repercussions were laid out too quickly and without enough explanation for me. It's never made clear who or what is responsible for mitigating the fallout and, later, why and how the rules were able to change.

I felt like we had to take a lot of the book at face value and that the story did not have a chance to be terribly deep. While some scenes were rich with detail (mostly the steamy ones,) it just seemed like some elements were addressed too superficially. The book was closer to novella sized than a full length novel and maybe that had something to do with it.

I did enjoy the romance, though. The sex is hot and because of the reincarnation element, the quick attachment between Lucian and Rana didn't bother me. I also liked that the story featured a smattering of well developed secondary characters, which we'll see more of in future installments of the series.

Overall, it was a short and sexy read, but one I may have enjoyed more with a little more fleshing out. 3 stars.

*Book provided by author for review

Click to purchase: Amazon
A Taste for Passion
by Patrice Michelle
Original Release Date: August 2003
Publisher: Ellora's Cave
Re-Release Date: December 2, 2011

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Review: A Kiss in the Wind

Reviewed by Jen
All Marisol wants is to find and rescue her missing brother Monte. Her father, the pirate captain Alain, believes he is dead. So does her other brother Luc. But Marisol knows Monte is alive. And now she believes he is on the merchant ship Gloria.

When Marisol learns that a messenger travels with word of the Gloria's location, she heads him off and gets ahold of the missive. Her escape throws her directly in the path of Captain Blade Tyburn, a pirate as well known for his mastery of women as his mastery of the seas. She picks his pocket, having no idea that the cameo she is palming holds great value to him. And through a series of events stemming from her theft, she ends up on his ship, headed straight for the Gloria.

Blade is both drawn to and repulsed by Marisol. She is spirited and bold, but she's also a liar and a thief. He tries to fight his physical attraction to her, but it's a losing battle. He does better when he faces her over and over in battles of wit and will.

The story follows the intrigue surrounding the Gloria and a missing shipment of silver. Not everyone is what they seem, which keeps the book interesting and pacing pretty quick. I did get a little confused a couple of times trying to keep all the ships and their crews straight in my head. But really, what matters in the story is the relationship blooming between Blade and Marisol. It's not exactly an epic love story, but Marisol has had a pretty tough life and she suffers a great deal of betrayal and loss in the story. Blade becomes her first true comfort and the only person she can really count on. Plus, the sex is hot.

Entertaining with a lot of twists and turns.  3 1/2 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
A Kiss in the Wind
by Jennifer Bray-Webber
Release Date: March 26, 2012
Publisher: Carina Press

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review: Artistic Pursuits

Reviewed by Jen
FBI agent Frank Jennings and Interpol operative Leslie Carlton are thrown together by the theft of some antique windows in Milwaukee. The windows are very valuable and Leslie believes they could tie into an international art thievery case he has been working for years.

The men aren't sure what to make of each other at first. They are attracted to one another, but neither knows whether the other is gay --and both are wary of getting involved with someone on the job. It doesn't take long, though, before they give into their desires and fall into bed. The book follows the men as they try to solve their case and navigate their growing relationship.

I must say that the sex in this book is really well done. It's very hot; it's satisfying; and it's realistic. Every single sex scene was a winner. In the bedroom (and the shower), we really see the passion these men have for each other. However, the relationship didn't work for me in every way. My biggest beef was with the dialogue. People simply don't talk the way these characters do. For instance:
"You look like alabaster, do you know that?" Frank asked as he moved closer, their chests touching. "A perfect alabaster god, and you are right here in my bedroom."
Not to mention all the times Frank asks Les if he does (insert awesome sex-type thing) only for him, or tells him how "responsive" or "vocal" he is, or whatever. Or when he calls him "sweetheart." It just didn't ring true. Nor did the declarations of love and the overhaul of one of their lives --after essentially only a week or two in each other's company.

The crime-solving part of the story moved well and provided a good backdrop for the romance. And we got a solid secondary character in FBI agent Karl. I liked both our leading men and I liked them together. But I would have liked the relationship better with a little more realism, especially in the speed of which they developed their emotional connection. 3 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
Artistic Pursuits
by Andrew Grey
Release Date: February 13, 2012
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

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18 & Over Book Blogger Giveaway Hop

It's giveaway time again!  Welcome to the 18 & Older Book Blogger Giveaway Hop, hosted by Bitten by Paranormal Romance and Getting Naughty Between the Sheets.  90 great blogs are participating, each giving away a book or book related prize.

As many of you may be aware, DABWAHA is underway right now.  If you're not familiar with it, some of the best romance books of the year are going head-to-head in a battle royale.  I read about 350 books last year and was still stunned to find how many of these popular titles I had never tried.  So in honor of the competition, I am giving away the book of your choice from among the DABWAHA finalists.  That's 64 books you have to choose from. 

The contest is open internationally, but if you live outside the US, your selection must be available at The Book Depository.  US residents can choose from TBD, B&N, or  (All selections must be valued at $15 or less.)

To enter, just fill out the Rafflecopter form below. Good luck!

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Review: In the Flesh

Well, my goodness.  This is my first Portia Da Costa book and I went in to it thinking this would be a standard 19th century London historical romance.  (Those of you already familiar with Da Costa can stop laughing at me now.)   This is not a story of a gentle romance where the innocent virgin lands the rakish gentleman.  It more like the randy and explicit sexual adventure where the innocent virgin lands the rakish gentleman.  Let me explain.

No one will ever look at Beatrice as a lady again, ever since nude photos surfaced of her on cabinet cards in the gentleman's clubs. Granted, her ex-fiance drugged her beforehand, but no one knows that.   And because of the photos, she has caught the eye of Edmund Richie, a notorious and wealthy ladies man. Richie offers to pay off her brother's debts and give her an allowance if she agrees to be his mistress for a month.  With no other prospects and the debts piling up, Bea accepts.

Richie's seduction is a slow one, but he gives Bea quite the education.  Most of their interactions surround some kind of sexual act ranging from masturbation to voyeurism and sex toys to, eventually, the full monte.  Richie is nearly obsessed with Bea because of the cards. And because of his tortured past relationships, he feels like an affair is all that can ever be between them.  Bea is truly an innocent as the book begins, but ends up quite the lusty temptress.  And that's not only bed play the story has to offer.  There is also a spicy subplot featuring a m/m/f menage, with Bea's brother in the center of it all.

The romance is essentially the plot.  Bea and Richie fall in love, despite the futility of a relationship between them.  But theirs is a relationship that is built almost entirely on bedsport.  Don't get me wrong. The sex is hot.  And I cared enough about both characters to want them to have a happy ending.  It was clear there was only one way that could happen, so in that respect it was a little predictable --or perhaps, I should say, inevitable.  But it entertains and titillates along the way.

I don't think anyone looking for an erotic historical would be disappointed.  I just wish we could have experienced the couple together a little bit more out of bed, to make the deeper emotions a little more believable.  3 1/2 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
In the Flesh
by Portia Da Costa
Release Date: March 20, 2012
Publisher: HQN Books

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Review: Natural Evil

It feels like the Elder Races series has taken a detour from the Wyr in recent books, but Thea Harrison brings back her sexy shapeshifters with this latest novella. Our hero is Luis, a 20-something Wyr whose alternative shape is a large dog. Our heroine, Claudia, finds him in animal form on the side of the road, nearly dead. Someone had shot him, dragged him, and beaten him, but he still managed to cling to life. Claudia rescues him, bringing him to a local vet for healing.

Claudia is 40 years-old and retired Special Forces. She was just traveling through the small mining town where she found Luis. But she finds herself drawn to the battered Wyr and decides to stick around for his rehabilitation and to solve the mystery of who hurt him and why.

This novella had a different feel for me than the other books in the series. It's a good story, but the romance is slow in coming. Halfway through, Luis is still a dog and that makes it hard to find a love --or even a lust-- connection. Once we see him as a man, the sexual tension comes quickly. The age difference and Claudia's competence and maturity help give the story a fresh feel. But there's simply not enough page-time for me to really develop strong feelings for our couple. If anything, it feels like set-up for a love story (with one of Harrison's hot sex scenes thrown in.)

I liked it, but for me it ran more on action and adrenaline than heart. 3 1/2 stars.

*ARC Provided by Samhain

Click to purchase: Amazon
Natural Evil
by Thea Harrison
Release Date: March 20, 2012
Publisher: Samhain

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AAD Author Spotlight & Giveaway: Julia Talbot

An adopted native of Texas, Julia Talbot is a full time writer. And homoerotica is her genre of choice.  Please help me welcome her to the blog.

Jen: What drew you to writing homoerotica?

Julia: Oh, man. I admit to being of the age where Anne Rice and Poppy Z Brite were my first tastes of same sex love. I was very much like, "You can do that in a book?" I was hooked, but I didn't start writing m/m until I got back into fiction in the late '90s. I wrote feature articles and ad copy for a long time. Once I got back into the romance genre, though, I thought there was a missing niche, and my journey into m/m was on its way.

Jen: Tell new readers about the Bloodrose series.

Julia: I started the Bloodrose series on a whim. I was writing about werewolf genetics, and I needed a place for creatures of the night to meet and feel safe. Jonny, the owner of the club was meant to be a bit character, but he was so yummy that I had to write more. The series started with The Werewold Code, which is about private investigators Deke and Kasey, One's a vamp, one's a werewolf, and I mention briefly in this mystery story how the two met at an auction at the club Bloodrose. Readers demanded that story, and it all started rolling from there.

Jen: In Cereus: The Building, you collaborated with other authors, using the Bloodrose series as a platform.  What was it like to have other authors contribute to a world you created?

Julia: It's amazing. The questions they ask when they're writing their stories are so neat, and such fuel to the creative process. They think of stuff I would never even imagine.

Jen: I've noticed that many authors have other author friends that form a close support or collaborative network.  Is that true for you? And if so, what does it do for you personally or professionally?

Julia: Oh, absolutely it's true for me. Back when we were all novice authors I got to be friends with Sean Michael, Chris Owen, Jodi Payne and Tory Temple. BA Tortuga is my life partner, so I'm not sure I can classify her as just a collaborator. We're all close enough that people have accused us of being the same person (man, I wish I had time to write as much as all those folks combined) but we're all over the world and all different, and it makes for a wonderful sounding board and a great group of inspiring conspirators. I also get great geographical information, as they range from the far East Coast to California to Canada.

Jen: Some of your stories are very short.  For instance, Crate Trained is less than 20 pages.  Is it still satisfying to publish short little snippets of stories?  Are you ever tempted to go back and further develop your short stories?

Julia: I love short stories. When I first started writing fiction, back in my late teens and early twenties, that was what I did. I wrote horror and gothic fiction, and I loved that the shorter a story was, the scarier it was. As I got into romance, I found that sometimes I just wanted to know how two guys met, or how they got over a hurdle in their partnership. I find in general it's the readers who want more, and sometimes that's awkward, as all the story I have to tell is told!

Jen: You have several different series out there.  Which are the most fun to write?  Tell us about a few.

Julia: Oh, I love the Bloodrose, series. I love my Colorado smokejumpers, the Thatcher brothers. Those are all novels, and while the second book, Landing with Both Feet has gotten me more hate mail for having a breakup in it, it's still one of the best books I've ever written. If I had that one to do over, I would rearrange it a little as far as what goes in what book, but I love it. I also really like Jackass Flats and Just a Cowboy, which are two related stories about my hometown in New Mexico.

Jen: So many authors of m/m romance are women. Do you find most of your readers are also women or a mix of men and women?  What are your thoughts on that?

Julia: Well, this is just my experience, but most of my fans are women. If I can get my books into men's hands, they love them, but in general women are the readers who are looking for romance. I think reading m/m gives women the opportunity to take out their need to relate to the heroine, which so often just isn't possible, and let's face it, two men is a lovely, lovely visual.

Jen: What is releasing next from you?

Julia: I have a m/m coming out from Torquere called Loose Snow. It's a novela about two Forestry service rangers and one of them gets caught in an avalanche, leading them to really look at their relationship. I also have a m/m/f coming out in February from Changeling Press. called Outfoxed. It's the beginning of a new series called Mixed Breeds, and it's all about different kinds of shifters making lives together.

Jen: What are you most looking forward to from AAD in NOLA this summer?

Julia: Oh my gosh. I'm looking forward to meeting all sorts of new people, and to seeing old friends. I'm on a bunch of paranormal panels, so I get to blather about stuff I adore, and I'm doing a party this year with my partner, BA Tortuga, so everyone can come see us! (NOLA in August? Not so much with the hooray. I will be wearing lots of tank tops and capris and still sweating) grins.

Jen: Thank you so much for sharing your work with me and for taking the time to chat! I look forward to meeting you in New Orleans!

Julia: Thanks so much for having me! It's been a blast.

Julia is giving away $10 AllRomance Omni Bucks to one lucky winner.  To enter, just fill out the Rafflecopter form below.  You can learn more about Julia on her website and on Twitter.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Review: Darkest Knight

Reviewed by Jen
Since I finished this book, I've been wracking my brain, trying to put my finger on what keeps this series from reaching its potential for me. And I think I've finally come up with the answer. It feels like a YA book. Yes, I know the heroine is 28, but I stand by this and I'll tell you why. She doesn't really act her age. Chalice has lived most of her life enslaved to an organization of dark magic. She only became free at the end of the last book and really, this series is her journey of self-discovery. She is learning about who and what she is. She is learning about her parents and how her family fits into her world. She is falling in love for the first time. And she is surrounded by a bunch of young women, also just coming into their powers and learning their place in the world.

As the story begins, Chalice is planning to meet her "sisters" in the Order of the Hatchet. But just as she is on her way, many of them are mysteriously slaughtered. She travels to her grandmother's home to meet the woman and some of her surviving sisters in training. Though she is looking for connections, she finds a lot of jealousy and immature cattiness from the other girls. (It was unnecessary and felt like high school, by the way.) Chalice quickly solves the mystery of who is behind the murders and spends the rest of the book trying to save the day.

In the meantime, she is also working to turn her love interest, Aydin, back into his human form. (He became a gargoyle at the end of the last book.) While she had affection for him before, that has now morphed into love. The growing relationship between Chalice and Aydin was very subtle in the last book and I was happy that it looked like it was going to take a bigger role here. Until I got to the first love scene, which was so vague, I had to read it three times to determine whether they actually had sex. I'm pretty sure they did. But you can be the judge. At this point in the story, Aydin is still a gargoyle and can only visit Chalice in dream form:

His body appeared hazy, like a blurred rendition of his former self, yet I could sense every part of him, smell his skin, taste his lips as he kissed me.  I pressed against him and felt the hardness of his body as sensations thrilled my every cell.  Dream or not, my body was consumed by passion that melted into me like hot lava.

Aydin filled my mind, which enabled me to get inside his.  I found love there, and concern, and hesitation. His need overwhelmed me, yet knowing his feelings were as strong as mine put me at peace.

His arms held me close, his chin pressed against my neck as we lay spooned on the bed. I snuggled against his naked chest and his hold on me tightened as he gently nibbled my ear.

"I wish this was real," I told him. He kissed my hair.

"It is real."

I smiled. "I know, but I mean physically real."

"Felt pretty real to me." He rolled me over onto my back and ran a finger from the hollow of my throat down to my navel. "I still need to get some sleep."

"You are asleep."

I sighed. "You know what I mean. Dream sex is confusing."

"But you enjoyed it."

I reached up to pull his head down close so I could kiss him. "Yes I did. Very much."

Wha?? That was the whole scene.  I can't begin to tell you how cheated I felt here. There is one other sex scene in the book, and while it's not very long, at least that one acknowledges the necessary body parts to complete the act. But again, a first love scene like the one above reinforces my whole YA theory. Not what I'm looking for when my hero and heroine finally get together. (I should also point out, there's a minor secondary love interest, as well, but there is no way to take him seriously.)

The world-building is interesting and it's different from a lot of what's out there, so I must give the book credit for that. I can also say it wasn't predictable and I enjoyed the direction that the author took the story. It just didn't strike a great chord with me overall. Maybe it would be a better fit for someone with different expectations. 3 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
Darkest Knight
by Karen Duvall
Release Date: March 20, 2012
Publisher: Harlequin

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Review: Much Ado About Rogues

Reviewed by Jen
I've been looking forward to this book ever since Jack was first introduced in The Taming of the Rake. He's the dark one among the three Blackstone bastards. He's mysterious and broody and I couldn't wait to learn his secrets and watch him surrender to love. Sadly, the book did not live up to my expectations. Let me give you a little info on the story.

Jack works for the crown, doing super-secret government missions. His latest assignment is to track down his missing mentor. That means he must confront the man's daughter, Tess, who was once his great love. Four years ago, he was involved in a plot with her dad that ended with the death of her twin brother. She was never able to forgive him. It turns out, though, that her father is the real villain. While he pretended to work for the crown, he was more interested in his secret job as an antiquities thief. And he never cared about his children as much as his stolen treasures.

Once Jack fills Tess in on her father's true nature, they must work together to track the man down. But time after time, they realize that they are dancing to her father's tune. You see, Daddy is uber-brilliant, and is always several steps ahead. He is hoping to draw out Jack to help him foil his other protege, the Gypsy. And he's willing to fight dirty to get what he wants.

We get the details on Tess and Jack's initial love story as the couple looks back on what went wrong. That was kind of disappointing, because we miss out on all the delicious new love/ attraction build-up. The couple starts the book with all this history behind them and they're already mired in angst. Of course, the mission puts them on the road to reconciliation. It's not a bad romance, but it wasn't great either.

There were two major things I didn't like about the book. One was puppetmaster quality of Tess' father. It's hard to swallow that the man is so dastardly brilliant that he has master plans that span years and pulls everyone's strings. It was too much. (Plus, I found the resolution to his part of the storyline to be very anticlimactic.)

My other issue was the pacing. The book wasn't terribly long, but it felt like it was. Perhaps it's because there was so much more story even after the plot surrounding Tess' dad was put to bed. Maybe because I found the backstory on Jack's parents to be so terribly convoluted and unbelievable. Or maybe it was that it all ended in a way that was much too convenient. I'm not sure. I just know that it felt like it went on and on and left me disappointed. 3 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
Much Ado About Rogues
by Kasey Michaels
Release Date: March 20, 2012
Publisher: Harlequin

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hanging Out with Patty Briggs

If I wasn't a fan of Patty Briggs before, I definitely am now.  (OK, so I was already a Briggs fan, but now I love her even more.)  I was lucky enough to spend two hours with the author of the Mercy Thompson and the Alpha and Omega series at a signing for Fair Game in New Orleans Friday.

I spied Patty in the bookstore about a half hour before the signing began and she patiently and kindly let me babble and gush on about how great she is.  And she never called security even once.

The gathering was surprisingly small, which gave it a much more intimate atmosphere. It was almost like we were all just sitting around chatting.  Patty gave a short reading from the book then answered questions from fans.  We spent alot of time talking about Bran.  She says she is not as adamant as she used to be about not writing his book.  But it's more likely to be a short story.  (She's working on a collection of those.)  The thing is, Patty likes her books to have a happy ending or at least a HFN, and she doesn't know that she could do that with Bran.  She said that zealots rarely end up happy and that Bran really is a zealot: protecting his wolves is everything to him.

We talked about Leah and how many people wished for her death (myself included.)  But Patty considers her a strong and vital character.  We talked about how some relationships are simply dysfunctional. I asked her if we should feel sorry for Leah and she said that she does.  But Leah knew what she was getting into when she married Bran.  That what she wanted was to be the Queen Bee and she got what she wanted.  But she'll never have Bran's love --and really, if Bran ever did love her, she would be unhappy because she'd be incapable of living up to the demands his love would bring.

Patty also says she is definitely doing short stories for Samuel, Ben, and Tad (who is a favorite of hers.)  She says she doesn't take notes to keep her world straight in her head, but she is thankful to the ladies on her forum who keep it all straight in the Mercy Canon section of the site, which is pretty awesome.

She points out that even if you don't read the Alpha and Omega books, that you really need to read Fair Game before the next Mercy book. That amazing ending is going to carry over big-time.

Other tidbits:
  • Adam would rather bite his arm off than let Jessie become a werewolf, though she may feel differently.
  • The next Mercy book will open with Mercy and Jessie shopping on Black Friday.
  • Bran's short story may be set in the past.
  • Patty loved writing a short story for Warren and found it interesting that killing bothers him so little.
  • Sometimes she writes backstory for her characters, just to help herself understand them better. She did this for how Mercy and Zee met and it became the basis for the Homecoming graphic novel.
  • Alpha and Omega wasn't initially designed to be a series, but the short story was so well received that her publisher asked her to turn it into one. She said it made for a sticky situation with the beginning really taking place in a short story. When Cry Wolf is released in hardcover, it will include the novella.
It was a great night and Patty was a lovely lady!  I hope I get a chance to meet her again.

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Review: Bitter Harvest

Reviewed by Jen
I like sci-fi/ futuristic romance stories and I am known to enjoy the sexy goodness of some m/m loving --so I thought this novella would give me the best of both worlds. In this future/ alternate world, a computer generated mutation has taken over humanity, turning almost everyone into mindless sex machines. There are a few patches of survivors here and there, but it seems like they are only fighting off their inevitable fall.

Sutton is one of those left uninfected. He has a special immunity, of sorts, which allows him to withstand the super-mojo pheromones of the sex-zombies. (To be fair, they're not actually zombies. They're more like the Borg, but go with me on this.) When Rider stumbles into his camp, it's clear he's been altered by the nano-technology, but he clearly has disconnected from the sex-zombie hive mind. Sutton fears Rider is more likely a next-generation carrier, rather than someone who managed to escape. But when all the tests on him come back negative, he is allowed to stay in the camp.

Sutton's body wanted Rider's from the moment he laid eyes on him, but he fights the attraction. He manages to stay out of Rider's pants for about half the story, but really, that's only about 40 pages. Once they give in, well, I have to leave something unspoiled. But I will say that it's odd.

Honestly, the whole thing was kind of odd. Even those who aren't sex-zombies are all holed-up, humping each other like bunnies. And everybody wants to hump Rider. And most do. Which makes it hard to completely swallow this uber- connection he has with Sutton. What's so special about Sutton to make him the one, not just in the want-to-hump him way, but in the epic way that I can't talk about because it will spoil the end of story?

It's one of those books that you just can't take too seriously or question too deeply. It was entertaining, though, and it had some solid sexual tension and good sex. And if the idea of a sort-of a Skynet produced sex-Borg future sounds good to you, then you'd probably enjoy it. 2 1/2 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley 

Click to purchase: Amazon
Bitter Harvest
by Kim Knox
Release Date: March 19, 2012
Publisher: Carina Press

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Review: Moving in Rhythm

Reviewed by Jen
Mark is a man plagued by crippling shyness. He can't function in large groups and he can't hold a coherent conversation with any man he is truly attracted to. As a result, he's never had a real relationship. He's not even out of the closet. His life is solitary and kind of sad, until his brother asks him to come take care of his pregnant wife while he is deployed overseas.

Shortly after the move, Mark's sister-in-law drags him to a Zumba class, where he first meets Seth, the sexy instructor. Mark is so attracted to the man, he can barely function. That and a series of misunderstandings keep them at a distance, until Mark finds a way to share the truth about himself with Seth. From there, we watch them slowly form a relationship.

It really is a sweet love story. Seth is amazingly patient with Mark as he tries to overcome his insecurities. Don't get me wrong --the love scenes are hot-- but Mark's personal journey and the evolution of his relationship with Seth are the real focus of the story. Even within the confines of a short story, I felt like we really got to know both men and that their courtship never felt rushed. (Plus, I always give authors extra points for realism in sexual situations.) Well done. Almost 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
Moving in Rhythm
by Dev Bentham
Release Date: March 19, 2012
Publisher: Carina Press

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Review: Thief

Reviewed by Jen
For years, Lord Benjamin has wondered if a man could satisfy him the way that no woman ever has. Now he has decided to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and find out one way or another.

He visits a gaming hell well-known for a clientele of men who enjoy the company of other men. It's there he meets Cavin, though Ben has no idea that he is actually a small time thief hoping to score a little money off of their encounter. The two men hit it off right away, and it's only a short time until they're getting physical in a hotel room.

Their encounter is everything Ben ever hoped intimacy with a man could be. It's so good, in fact, that Cavin can't bring himself to steal from his new lover. Soon after, Cavin begins to turn his life around, but he feels himself to low too ever be really be with the Lord who has stolen his heart. Thankfully, Ben has other ideas.

I really enjoyed this novella. Ben's sexual initiation is so well done. It's incredibly hot and completely believable. And as for the relationship, I was grateful that we didn't jump straight into Love, but first enjoyed attraction and friendship between the men. Cavin's self-loathing was also a win for me. I love stories where a man feels himself beneath his HEA. It's always so gratifying to watch them learn they are worthy of love. Very good.  A little more than 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
by Ava March
Release Date: March 19, 2012
Publisher: Carina Press

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review: Motor City Mage

Reviewed by Jen
Des and Lana have been fighting their attraction to each other for awhile now. Des is a mage who works for a supernatural policing group opposed to mingling with other species. Lana is a werewolf; she's feisty and fierce, bold and beautiful. And she is nowhere near ready to settle down.

But when the two of them get pulled into a case together, all of their resolve goes out of the window. Someone is working with demons to put a dangerous drug on the streets. Lana has a connection that can help Des track the drug down, but things don't go according to plan and they end up sucked into a demon dimension. They two must fight to stay alive and make it back to the human realm. They fall in love along the way.

There are obvious parallels you can draw between the species-ism in the story and racism in the mundane world. And our couple, especially Des, learns alot about the common threads in life which bind us all together. This part of the story was a little heavy handed. But the adventure was creative and the love story, satisfying. I like that we didn't have to wait long for Lana and Des to get physical and I enjoyed the progression of their relationship. (My only issue with their love story is that I felt like the issues keeping them apart were pretty weak in the first place.)

This is book four in the Urban Arcana series. The events of the previous books and featured characters are referred to quite a bit. Things are explained well enough that newer readers shouldn't feel lost, but it would probably much more gratifying for those who have read the earlier installments. The ending was strong and felt like it wrapped the series as much as this individual story. 3 1/2 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley 

Click to purchase: Amazon
Motor City Mage
by Cindy Spencer Pape
Release Date: March 13, 2012
Publisher: Carina Press

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review: Tempted by Blood

Let me start by saying that this is my favorite story so far from the Sweetblood series. Its hero is Jackson, the hot man-whore vamp who played a support role as one of the Guardians in earlier stories. Known best for his sexual conquests and devil-may-care attitude, you'd never know there is more to him than meets the eye. But there is.

Jackson fears he is on the edge of reverting to the dangerous and violent ways of his ancestors. He needs to feed on blood and energy in staggering amounts and he can barely control himself at times. He hides his needs from those around him, cloaking them under his party-boy persona. If the council so much as catches wind he is reverting, it would mean a death sentence.

Arianna has believed in vampires since she saw them kill her mother as a child. But no one believed her. Now she anonymously runs a blog devoted to exposing the paranormal. Her cousin, who she is caring for, was among the sweetbloods kidnapped and almost auctioned away in the events of the last book. Jackson is now monitoring the girl's safety --and that is what puts him in Arianna's orbit.

The short version is that Jackson is there to save the day when Darkbloods try to kidnap the girl again. And his attempts to make Arianna forget the incident ultimately fail. He ends up protecting her and her cousin from the persistent Darkblood threat and in the process, they end up falling for each other.

Women have always fallen at Jackson's feet, but I like the fact that nothing really happens between him and Arriana until she knows and cares for the man he is beneath his smooth exterior.  I love that he is vulnerable and insecure.  And she is so patient and understanding of his needs.

There is solid thread of danger that runs throughout, regarding the Darkbloods and their plans, but this book focuses more on the love story than anything else.  It's one of the things I enjoyed so much about it.  Oh yeah... and the sex was smokin-hot too.  --Plus I liked the way that the couples from the previous books are woven into the story.  It felt germane to what was happening... not like useless cameos.

Well done. 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon
Tempted by Blood
by Laurie London
Release Date: February 21, 2012
Publisher: HQN Books

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Review: The Darkness Within

Reviewed by Jen
Tucker is man who carries Darkness within him --an otherworldly essence that allows him to shift into a wolf, but can also make him violent and territorial. He had a tough time growing up, though he knew nothing about what he was then. His only happy memories were of the few years he lived with Del and her mom. He and Del were just friends at first, but when her mother walked in on them kissing, it all fell apart.

You see Del's mom was once married to Tucker's father. She knew about the darkness and feared for her daughter's safety. She explained the truth as she saw it: that Tucker was a monster; and she threw him out.

Now, years later, a suspicious death has brought Tucker's dad out of the woodwork. he kidnaps Del's mom, prompting Del to seek out the one person she knows she can turn to: Tucker. There is a whole lot of hurt and angst left between them. But more than that, there is still love and passion that simmers beneath the surface.

This is my second Offspring book and I'm still a little hazy on the dynamics of Darkness. But otherwise, this short story works really well as a standalone and it's a great place for new readers to step into the world. There's a great action storyline involving the kidnapping and attempts to rescue Del's mom. But there is an even better love story at the center of everything --as those old feelings flare up between Del and Tuck. It's sexy and emotional and a wild ride.

My only beef is that the ending cut off rather abruptly. Another chapter or a bit of an epilogue would have been welcomed. 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by Avon

Click to purchase: Amazon
The Darkness Within
by Jaime Rush
Release Date: March 13, 2012
Publisher: Avon

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Review: Infamous

Nick Gautier is back, and with him we finally get some answers --as well as some more questions. I'm happy to report that Nick is finally a year older, but at 15 he is basically a blend of immaturity and melodrama which takes center stage over the latest threat to his life.

Someone is spreading terrible rumors about the kids at Nick's school, pushing tension levels through the roof. Some of the students are devastated; others become bigger bullies than ever. Nick makes it his mission to discover who --or what-- is behind the slander campaign. In the meantime, he is trying to master his magic, while staying one step ahead of the agents of his father and the primordial gods who want him under their power.

All that would seem to be enough to keep him busy, but over and over again, the story comes back to the issues between Nick and his mom. Personally, I find Cherise to be over-rated. Throughout this series and the Dark Hunter books, we've heard about how awesome she is, but frankly, I found her completely grating. She has no faith in her son; she berates him constantly; and vacillates between treating him like a baby and a delinquent. As far as I can tell, her big claim to fame is that she loves her son and didn't give him up for adoption. Frankly, that's not enough to make her mother of the year... even though she's allegedly this paragon of motherly awesomeness.

The YA themes were pretty heavy in this one. From "my mom just doesn't understand me" to "drinking and drugs are bad" to "premarital sex is SUPER-bad," I felt like the book was practically screaming I am reaching out to teens! But for all of his glib "charm," Nick's actions and reactions feel more tweenish than a sampling of high school behavior.

All that aside, there is good news.  Kenyon finally gives us some insight on how this series may all fit in with the Dark Hunter version of Nick's life. The prologue explains alot about future-Nick's motivation and limitations. And later on, there's some talk of quantum mechanics. I didn't entirely understand that part, but I think it's laying the groundwork for how the changes to Nick's backstory can exist simultaneously with the events that lead up to him becoming a Dark Hunter.

Again, we get appearances with Dark Hunter characters like Ash, Kyrian, the Peltiers --and even Thorn. It's so strange how freely the information flows about these characters whose histories were so closely guarded in other books. But I do appreciate how Kenyon ties the people and events together with all we know from the adult series.

We still have a long way to go, however, before it all really comes together. I'm ready for Nick to mature a bit... and I'm hoping for the series to progress beyond the movie-of-the week lessons Nick is learning about life and what it means to be a good person. I know Kenyon has it in her. I just don't know if we're going to really see him grow up in this series. 3 stars.

*ARC Provided by St Martin's Press

Click to purchase: Amazon
by Sherrilyn Kenyon
Release Date: March 13, 2012
Publisher: St Martin's Griffin

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