Saturday, July 30, 2011

NJ Bloggers: Dinner, Books and the Heat!

Christine, Mariana, Natalie and I decided to have our NJ Bloggers Summer's get together last Friday, July 22nd. It was the single, hottest day of the month in our area... that day the heat index hit 114℉ or 45.5 ℃ in our area. It was brutal! But, we were determined and met anyway.

Christine was coming from home, Mariana and Natalie were lucky enough to be working from home that day due to the heat, I had to go to the office but was released early -- by 3:30 p.m.  Unfortunately, buses were breaking down left and right because of the weather, and by the time I caught one and arrived home it was 5:00 p.m. and I was feeling a bit fried from commuting. Brutal!

After a quick shower and change, Christine and the ladies picked me up and we took off for our meeting place, Houlihan's in Weehawken. We sat inside because it was too hot for enjoying outdoor sitting that day, but our table had a wonderful view of New York City and the Hudson River, and soon we were all relaxing. We had a cozy, lazy time and all had tasty dinners and great drinks (I'm having one of those martinis next time, Christine!), and shared one of their delicious desserts (they're huge!). Our conversation strayed toward the personal, but I can say that we were all quite proud of Christine's dedication, persistence and how brilliantly she has met her athletic challenges. She was still sporting the identification number from her last endeavor, which was temporarily tattooed by the sun on her arm while she biked... I wanted to take a picture of it, but if you haven't figured it out yet, this is not a picture-taking group. [grin]

We left our bookish discussion and book exchange for later. This all took place after dinner while we sat on a bench by the Hudson River. Christine brought a whole box of books so we looked through those, chose our books and left the box in the trunk of her car. Mariana and I brought tote bags brimming with books, so all four of us settled down on a bench to check out what we wanted from each other.

Despite the sheer amount books available, this time I only chose six books that I've not previously read. From Christine's box I chose four historical romances:
  • With Seduction in Mind by Laura Lee Guhrke
  • The Seduction of An Unknown Lady by Samantha James
  • The Highlander by Heather Grothaus (new-to-me author)
  • Barely a Lady by Eileen Dreyer

From Mariana's books I chose two romance suspense novels by Linda Howard, plus a few first edition romances by Nora Roberts for my collection -- I've already read these books by NR and still have them all, most of them in collections of three, but I still wanted these! I split those with Natalie who is a great Nora Roberts fan and is still making her way through her backlist. Here's the list.

  • Open Season by Linda Howard (Hardcover)
  • Now You See Her by Linda Howard (Hardcover)
  • Local Hero by Nora Roberts
  • Untamed by Nora Roberts
  • Blithe Images by Nora Roberts
  • One Summer by Nora Roberts
  • Sullivan's Woman by Nora Roberts
  • A Will and a Way by Nora Roberts
  • Unfinished Business by Nora Roberts
  • Genuine Lies by Nora Roberts

I read Genuine Lies a long time ago and thought it was part of my collection, so when I saw it in the bunch I past it along to Natalie, who past it back to Mariana, who gave it back to me and somehow remained in my possession. I thought of giving the book to my daughter, but when I went through my books at home realized it was not there. How could that be? I MUST do an inventory of my NR books! So, thanks Mariana for insisting. You all know what that means, right? Now I have to re-read it. LOL!

Anyway while all this was going on, Christine, Mariana and I exchanged and shared impressions from our RWA experience about authors and books with each other and with our sweet friend Natalie who didn't attend. Plus, we shared our thoughts about our latest favorite books and reviews, grading reviews, ARCs, publishers and publishing... all of it as we perused and discussed some of the books we were exchanging, and tried not to think of the heat! By that time it was almost 10:00 p.m. and I'm pretty sure we were all thinking: water! shower! So, we finally drove away and said so long, hopefully until our next get together in the Fall.

One last thing... Happy Belated Birthday, Natalie!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Review: Waking Up With The Duke by Lorraine Heath

They are masters of seduction, London's greatest lovers . . .

Renowned for his bedchamber prowess, Ransom Seymour, the Duke of Ainsley, owes a debt to a friend. But the payment expected is most shocking, even to an unrepentant rake—for he's being asked to provide his friend's exquisite wife with what she most dearly covets: a child.

Living for pleasure, they will give their hearts to no one . . .

Lady Jayne Seymour, Marchioness of Walfort, is furious that such a scandalous agreement would be made. If she acquiesces, there must be rules: no kissing . . . and, certainly, no pleasure.

Until love takes them by surprise.

But unexpected things occur with the surprisingly tender duke—especially once Lady Jayne discovers the rogue can make her dream again . . . and Ransom realizes he's found the one woman he truly cannot live without.
Waking Up With The Duke by Lorraine Heath was a highly anticipated read for me. I had a few doubts about the premise when I read the summary, but still there was hope. It could have worked.

Let's begin by summarizing the story. Walfort is crippled and impotent as the result of a carriage accident that occurred a few years back while carousing in Ainsley's company. Walfort feels Ainsley owes him a great debt since he was the driver at the time of the accident, and as repayment asks him to bed his wife so Walfort can have an heir, and Jayne a child. Jayne was pregnant at the time of the accident and lost her baby when she found out Walfort was injured, she dislikes Ainsley and blames him for the accident but agrees to bed him for a month to please her husband and to conceive a child. Ainsley feels guilt over Walfort's injuries, but his agreement is based on his secret attraction to Jayne and a desire to make her happy.

I really liked Ainsley in the previous stories and loved the way he was characterized. However, because of the way he was previously portrayed, I just couldn't see him taking such a passive role throughout this whole situation. In Waking Up with the Duke, Ainsley is still a likable character to a certain extent. Initially, he's deeply attracted, but evidently falls in love with Jayne quickly and although not quite seductive, Ainsley is both tender and passionate. However, even considering the guilt involved and the strong attraction he feels for Jayne, I still feel that he plays too passive a role with both Jayne and Walfort. They walk all over him and that's not the Ainsley I expected to encounter in this book.

Jayne's character is incomprehensible to me. She loves Walfort and dislikes Ainsley, but decides to go along with Walfort's crazy scheme to pacify him and to selfishly gain a child by using Ainsley. In the process she never really gives a thought as to how this will affect the man. In the beginning, I didn't care for her for that one reason alone. Jayne blames Ainsley for her husband's situation. Why? Even without having deep knowledge of what occurred the evening her husband was crippled, it was well-known that Walfort chose to go on that carriage ride and that he was known for his recklessness. Why didn't she place any blame on Walfort's shoulders?

Later on during their month together, Jayne certainly falls fast (and I mean fast!) enough for Ainsley's sexual seduction and supposedly falls in love with him. The bedroom scenes between Jayne and Ainsley are both sensual and steamy, and Ms. Heath excels in creating a personal intimacy between the two that for a while spells romance. But that feeling is quickly lost... because how the heck does that tie in to even later when Jayne, again, blames Ainsley for her husband's failings after finding out the truth, or when she selfishly won't think of their child's future, let alone Ainsley, yet she gives Walfort a pass after discovering his blatant betrayal and lack of respect?

Obviously, Jayne is not a favorite character and Ainsley didn't quite do it for me either. To top it all off, we never really get a real picture of how Walfort really feels. Some of his thoughts throughout the story don't make sense when taken into consideration how it all ends. The plot is highly implausible and the resolution even more so. I did like the resolution to the secondary romance, that of Leo (good for Leo!) and the Duchess of Ainsley who is my favorite recurring character throughout this series.

I'm glad that I was able to finish this series, especially since the first two books of Ms. Heath's London's Greatest Lovers trilogy were both highly enjoyable reads. Unfortunately, although Waking Up With The Duke has its good moments, overall it fell short of the mark for me.

Category: Historical Romance
Series: London's Greatest Lovers
Publisher/Release Date: Avon/July 1, 2011 - Kindle Edition
Grade: C-

Visit Lorraine Heath here.

Passions of a Wicked Earl, #1
Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman, #2
Waking Up With The Duke, #3

Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: What I Did For A Duke (Pennyroyal Green, #5) by Julie Anne Long

For years, he's been an object of fear, fascination . . . and fantasy. But of all the wicked rumors that shadow the formidable Alexander Moncrieffe, Duke of Falconbridge, the ton knows one thing for certain: only fools dare cross him. And when Ian Eversea does just that, Moncrieffe knows the perfect revenge: he'll seduce Ian's innocent sister, Genevieve—the only Eversea as yet untouched by scandal. First he'll capture her heart . . . and then he'll break it.

But everything about Genevieve is unexpected: the passion simmering beneath her cool control, the sharp wit tempered by gentleness . . . And though Genevieve has heard the whispers about the duke's dark past, and knows she trifles with him at her peril, one incendiary kiss tempts her deeper into a world of extraordinary sensuality. Until Genevieve is faced with a fateful choice . . . is there anything she won't do for a duke?
What I Did For A Duke by Julie Anne Long is a May/December romance with one of those memorable, hilarious first chapters that hooked me. What I found after that is a historical romance with some fabulous wit and snappy dialogue between the two main characters that kept me reading. That hilarious first chapter sets the stage for subsequent scenes that continue in this same amusing vein, although not as extreme or memorable, but then there's more.

What happens in that first chapter? Well, Ian Eversea messes with the wrong Duke by seducing his fiancee, and gets caught with his hands in the wrong cookie jar. What a scene! Moncrieffe doesn't kill him but decides to make Ian sweat by obtaining an invitation to a house party taking place at the Eversea's country home. His plan is to seduce Ian's younger sister Genevieve to get even. Surprisingly, Genevieve turns out to be a smart cookie and figures him out, but there are other reasons for Moncrieffe and Genevieve to team up, and for seduction to take place... plus Ian still needs to suffer.

Moncrieffe is old, and by that I mean he's almost forty! He has the "been there, done that" type of attitude and frankly, he has done it all. He's a Duke, rich, doesn't owe anyone anything, has loved and lost and knows tricks the younger men and women around him can't even fathom. He has a reputation for being intimidating, arrogant and calculating and he loves it. Moncrieffe is actually a mature man who knows himself and his own nature quite well, both flaws and vulnerabilities. He is ohhhh so seductive and passionate, and sneaky and lovable. I fell in love with the man. Once he sees Genevieve for who she really is, his yearning and passion for her are sigh worthy. Best of all the two of them sizzle when together.

Genevieve is a young woman, but she gives Moncrieffe a run for his money when it comes to being brilliantly cunning. I love that she figures him out and calls him out on all of his crap. Genevieve doesn't let him get away with anything, even when she's kind and naive to a certain extent. She's slowly seduced by Moncrieffe and doesn't even realize it, while still pining for her one and only love Harry. Genevieve's one flaw is the longevity of her self-imposed blindness when it comes to her feelings for Harry and his feelings for her.

What I Did For A Duke is a passionate May/December historical romance where Julie Anne Long effectively combines angst, yearning and humor. I laughed out loud more than once throughout the story while loving the seductive dance, the passion and romance. And even at the end when the romance is at its peak, the fun didn't stop. (Bastard!)

Category: Historical Romance
Series: Pennyroyal Green
Publisher/Release Date: Avon, February 22, 2011
Grade: A-

Visit Julie Anne Long here.

The Perils of Pleasure, #1
Like No Other Lover, #2
Since The Surrender, #3
I Kissed An Earl, #4
What I Did For A Duke, #5
How The Marquess Was Won #6 - Releases January 2012

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Review: Silk Is For Seduction (Dressmaker Sisters, #1) by Loretta Chase

From the Design Book of Marcelline Noirot:
The allure of the perfect gown should be twofold:
ladies would die to wear it . . .
and gentlemen would kill to remove it!

Brilliant and ambitious dressmaker Marcelline Noirot is London's rising star. And who better to benefit from her talent than the worst-dressed lady in the ton, the Duke of Clevedon's intended bride? Winning the future duchess's patronage means prestige and fortune for Marcelline and her sisters. To get to the lady, though, Marcelline must win over Clevedon, whose standards are as high as his morals are . . . not.

The prize seems well worth the risk—but this time Marcelline's met her match. Clevedon can design a seduction as irresistible as her dresses; and what begins as a flicker of desire between two of the most passionately stubborn charmers in London soon ignites into a delicious inferno . . .and a blazing scandal.

And now both their futures hang by anexquisite thread of silk . . .
Well, I loved Silk Is For Seduction by Loretta Chase. This first book in her new Dressmaker Sisters series is a rich, lush installment that left me wanting more, now.

Marcelline Noirot and her sisters, Sophie and Leonie, built their dress shop Maison Noirot from the ground up to ensure a future for themselves and that of Marcelline's daughter Lucie. Marcelline is a designer and an artist, and as such she's not content with the mediocre. No. She considers herself the best modiste in the world and wants everyone to know it. When the news hits London that the Duke of Clevedon will soon return to propose to his intended Lady Clara, the Noirot sisters come up with an elaborate and risky plan to dress the beautiful, but dowdy, future Duchess. They calculate that once the new Duchess is a patron at their shop, the rest of the aristocratic ladies will follow.

The plan takes Marcelline to Paris and the Duke of Clevedon. The idea is for Marcelline to approach him directly, and while modeling her gorgeous, fashionable designs at different functions, convince him that his future Duchess must exclusively wear designs by Maison Noirot. Clevedon is stunned when he meets the gorgeous Marcelline, and although her intent is always to sell her gorgeous gowns, she's the one who leaves an impression as sparks fly between the two. The stage is set in Paris as Clevedon begins by making an error in judgment and ends up taking Marcelline, a dressmaker, to a ball sponsored by the Parisian aristocracy, making this the first of many instances during the story where he breaks with society's rules as this unlikely relationship progresses.

Events continue to escalate between them once they arrive in London and Clevedon is due to propose to the insightful and very likable Lady Clara. Rumors abound about Paris, Marcelline and the ball, plus circumstances, Marcelline, and eventually his feelings keep getting in the way of a proposal to Clara. As an effective side story, the competition attempts to steal original designs from the Noirot sisters.

Marcelline as the female protagonist is portrayed as both passionate and down to earth. The fact that she's one of the terrible DeLuceys makes her a con artist at heart, however she turns out to be straight forward and honest about her motives from the beginning. Quite an interesting lady! I really like her and love the way she puts Clevedon in his place and doesn't let him get away with anything.

Clevedon is a bit of a rake that needs to be taught a few lessons along the way. His character is less unique: good looking, arrogant and selfish to a certain degree, with a sad family history. As a man and a Duke, Clevedon has little to show as he's basically led a dissipated life and ignored his duties since inheriting the title. He wants Marcelline, and even though there's a planned engagement in his immediate future, he must have her no matter the consequences. He's impulsive and doesn't always consider how his actions will affect Clara, Marcelline and/or even himself in the long run. However, what makes him stand out in this story is the fact that he shares the pages with a great heroine like Marcelline, and that there's character growth so that by the end the changes in him are quite apparent.

Passion and sexual attraction between the main characters hit the reader almost immediately after the two first meet, however the romance is developed at a slower pace. Chemistry and sexual tension are abundant and the passion between Clevedon and Marcelline steam up the pages. I love the dialogue between them and was convinced that Clevedon was so dazzled with Marcelline that he couldn't help but to fall in love with her despite the differences in class. And Marcelline? Well, she just fell...

"The scent of you," he said so softly. "Heaven help me the scent of you."
"His hands, his hands."
I particularly liked the way Chase incorporated Marcelline's daughter Lucie and made her part of the romance. Most importantly, to make this romance work, the engagement issue between Clara and Clevedon was resolved satisfactorily. The meticulous dressmaking details are lovely and add richness to this story. Ms. Chase uses snippets from different books, trades, ads and guides of the times to illustrate life as it was throughout the 1800's.

Silk is for Seduction is an excellent beginning to what I hope will be a favorite series by Loretta Chase. I loved this first book! I'm hoping that Lady Clara will find her happily ever after with her own story, however Sophie Noirot's romance is next. Lord Longmore, Lady Clara's brother, is slated to be this cunning woman's victim beau. I can't wait to find out how their story will turn out.

Category: Historical Romance
Series: Dressmaker Sisters
Publisher/Release Date: Avon/June 28, 2011
Grade: A

Visit Loretta Chase here.

Silk is for Seduction, Book 1

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mini: Yours to Keep by Shannon Stacey

Hello! This gorgeous, hot summer is playing havoc with my blogging. I'm busy at work, reading, reading, reading, and well... slow blogging these past few weeks.

What am I reading? Well, I've read a few contemporary romances that worked for me and a couple that didn't, although this past week historical romances have been the preferred fare for me.

Yours to Keep by Shannon Stacey is one of those contemporary romances that really worked for me. The story of the Kowalski cousin, Sean who comes back from the service and is ambushed by Emma Shaw when he's asked to pose as her fiancee to reassure her grandmother that all is fine in her world. See, Emma lied to her grandmother by telling her that Sean's her fiancee... she even sent her photoshopped pictures of the two of them and has them spread out around the house! After thinking about it for a while Sean agrees, moves in with Emma while grandma visits from Florida and the rest is history.

This was just a plain fun, sexy contemporary romance. He thinks she's crazy... she thinks he's yummy... they have to sleep in the same bedroom, and drive each other nuts! She gives him a book with notes about herself that he calls a "manual," and he writes these wonderful little post-it notes that he leaves stuck on the bathroom mirror, telling her his likes and dislikes. These two rather stubborn, sexy people were meant for each other. Even with the rather improbable story line and the photoshopped pictures that initially creeped me out, I quickly fell in love with Sean, Emma and grandma Cat.

I really enjoyed the fact that Yours to Keep is a true contemporary focused on the main couple with excellent secondary characters that complement the romance. Grade B+

Sunday, July 17, 2011

2011 Mid-Year Recap

I'm a bit late posting my mid-year recap, but it's still July, so not too late. :)

It's not easy choosing top new releases for me. I don't give away too many A's (8), and some of those are either for re-reads or older publications that I've read. So when it comes to choosing favorites, I do go to the top grades but then have to dig into my pool of B+'s (19) and B's (23) which are more abundant.

Since I don't have that many top reads so far this year, I've decided to make it easy on myself. I'm choosing the top 3 A's & 1 B+ for new releases, top 3 A's for backlist reads, and 3 honorable mentions that, although they didn't receive an A grade, were highly enjoyable for me personally and are books that I highly recommend.

Total New Books Read January through June: 83
  Contemporary Fiction/Romance: 28
  LGBT Fiction/Romance/Mystery: 17
  Historical Romance: 16
  Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance: 10
  Science Fiction/Fantasy: 8
  Mystery: 2
  Poetry: 1
  Anthology (mixed genres): 1

Favorite new releases to date:
  • Kiss of Snow (Psy/Changeling, #10) by Nalini Singh (Berkley) Grade A: This is a book that was highly anticipated by me personally and didn't disappoint. I love that Singh hasn't lost her touch when it comes to her tight world building in this long paranormal romance series, and that she continues to focus each story on the main couple. Hawke and Sienna were da bomb! Loved, loved their slow-building courtship and of course, their happily ever after. I'm not the type of reader who likes to invest in long series, so it says a lot to me personally that I can't wait to read the next book and the next book in this series by Ms. Singh. (Paranormal Romance)
  • The Sweetest Thing (Lucky Harbor #2) by Jill Shalvis (Forever) Grade A: A contemporary romance that took me by surprise, especially since I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did. The Sweetest Thing is a book that I enjoyed from beginning to end. I loved the combination of Tara's tart personality with Ford's super sexy persona. The community of Lucky Harbor, Tara's sisters and the fun events that developed made this a fun, sexy and romantic read that I just loved and will most definitely re-read in the future. (Contemporary Romance)
  • Slant by Timothy Wang (Tincture, Lethe Press) Grade B+: This gay fiction read was Wang's first novel and, with minor exceptions, it was a magnificent debut. The writing, characterization and plot were all excellent, with a narrative voice that kept me wanting more until that last page was turned. I loved his multi-layered approach to the subject at hand, where he confronts one Asian gay man's confusion and struggle on different fronts: sexuality and ethnicity on a personal level, as well as within the gay community and mainstream society as a whole.  (LGBT - Gay Fiction)

Favorite book from backlist or previous year's releases:
  • Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie (St. Martin's Press) Grade A: I was introduced to Crusie's backlist last year and this was a book that everyone seemed to love. I loved it too. I fell in love with Min and Cal, after all what is there not to love? But most of all I liked that Crusie focused this book on the very sensitive subject of women, weight and romance. Specifically, I liked that she showed both sides of the coin -- those who find beauty and truly love the person for who they are (Cal); and those who "claim" to do so, but whose love turns out to be the "toxic" kind (Min's mother). I've seen too much of this type of "toxic love" not to recognize the truth of it... so needless to say the whole story resonated with me. (Contemporary Romance)
  • The Perfect Family by Kathryn Shay (Bold Stroke Books) Grade A: This touching contemporary tale about the struggle a family experiences when one of two sons comes out of the closet stayed with me for quite a while. It was complex, entertaining and true to life. This is a book that I recommended and think should be read by all those who are interested in helping family, neighbors or friends that are going through this struggle. (LGBT Contemporary)
  • Song of Seduction by Carrie Lofty (Carina Press) Grade A-: Now here's a book that took me totally by surprise. I won this book at DIK and read it off the cuff without really knowing what I was in for... and boy did I enjoy it! I don't have a lot to say about it besides all the praises I sang to it in my review, except to repeat that I really appreciated the true passion and the historical details found in the story. I read the second book in this series Portrait of Seduction and it was a B+ for me, not in the A category but a winner nonetheless, making Carrie Lofty a must read author for me in the future. (Historical Romance)

Honorable Mentions:
  • Dust by Elizabeth Bear (Jacob's Ladder, #1) (Spectra) Grade B++: The first book in this science fiction opera trilogy turned out to be a total obsession for me. I couldn't put it down until I was done with it. I gave it a B++, but it really should have been an A-... it's one of those books where the grading needs to be adjusted. Really! This book's world building was complex, but the story itself was quite absorbing and just the fact that I was obsessed with it says a lot. At least for me. :) (Science Fiction)
  • A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear (Tor) Grade B+: This fantasy story by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear was another one that really stayed with me for a while. The way the authors interpreted the bond between animal and man was quite unique and absorbing. However, what I find interesting about this story is that although most of the main characters are male and in the surface males rule, there's a distinctive undercurrent of female power in the story. There's a second book releasing in the fall and I'm certainly curious as to where the authors will go with the story. (Fantasy)
  • Summer at Seaside Cove by Jacquie D'Alessandro (Berkley) Grade B: Here's a contemporary romance that I enjoyed so much that I ended up writing two posts about it. It's a book that I recommend if you want to read a fun romance this summer. There's romance, heat, sand, a great beach front community and an adorable dog that will win your heart in about a second. Yes, I'm still talking about that dog, lol! It's interesting because although I gave this read a solid B, it really should have had that + sign at the end based on the fact that I enjoyed it so much. (Contemporary Romance)

Needless to say there are other books that I loved and recommended throughout the first half of the year. I really DO hate to simplify my favorites to such a short list because there are many books that stay with me. I cannot end this post without mentioning the following:

Within contemporary women's fiction/romance there are two such books:
Slow Dancing on Price's Pier by Lisa Dale: B+, and
Sunset Bridge by Emilie Richards: B+

In contemporary romance, I'll go with
A Lot Like Love by Julie James: B+, and
Twisted Creek by Jodi Thomas: B+

Then there's historical romance where I "discovered" and highly enjoyed:
The Sergeant's Lady by Susanna Fraser: B+, and
Somebody Wonderful by Kate Rothwell: B+

In addition, within the M/M romance sub-genre, Harper Fox became a favorite author with the titles:
 Driftwood: B+ and
 The Salisbury Key: B+.

And last, but not least, I decided to place this top pick separately because it's not romance or fiction. Although I rarely indulge my love of poetry in this blog, I do put up a post here and there. As a result I can't end this post without mentioning one of my favorite books this year so far, a small book of poetry I reviewed back in February, Empire by Xochiquetzal Candelaria. This is a book I truly enjoy -- because I still re-read it -- and which received one of those rare A's from me.

That's it for the first half of the year. I've already read some wonderful books in July! How about you? What book was your top choice for the first half of 2011?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Review: Deceived by the Others (H&W Investigations #3) by Jess Haines

Deceived by the Others is the third book in Jess Haines' H&W Investigations urban fantasy series. In this installment, Shia is taking a little vacation to recuperate from recent injuries and events. She decides to take the time to strengthen the bond with her on again, off again, werewolf boyfriend Chaz by joining him at a resort in the Catskills and getting to know his pack the Sunstrikers during the full moon where they'll be shifting and hunting through their change. She goes as far as bringing a binding contract along with the hopes of proving her love for Chaz. However, once they arrive things don't work out as smoothly as they planned. Some pack members are not happy that Shia is there, and after their cabin is ransacked and Chaz is attacked, Shia puts her P.I. hat on and goes on to investigate. What she finds is a shocker, and after that everything spirals out of control.

This is the first book I've read related to this series, so as you can imagine, the characters and the story were all a new discovery for me. Events and relationships are explained and the story is easy to follow, however, I do recommend that this series be read in order.

As a character I really like Shia. She is a "normal" in the midst of "Others" -- Weres, vampires, mages, witches. Her job is to eliminate the monsters, and in the past she has been quite vocal in her anti-Other sentiments, except that she's found out they're not all evil. The tough part for her in this installment is coming to terms with who is who. Shia puts on a great show as a no nonsense kind of gal but is not overconfident of her personal abilities, and I also like that she is not the typical sarcastic or cynical narrator. Instead, I find her to be quite amusing and love those moments when she just doesn't know what to do. Shia isn't the typical "kick ass" heroine in this installment, except that somehow she always figures out how to take care of herself and doesn't take crap from anybody even when scared.

Chaz on the other hand didn't turn out to be a favorite character from the beginning, which is unfortunate because both he and Shia are the focus of this story. The two biggest problems for me where he's concerned were that I had trouble seeing Chaz both as Shia's boyfriend and as the Sunstriker's alpha. On the other hand, there's a character that is mentioned throughout the book and that makes an appearance at the end, the vampire Alec Royce, who just steals every single little scene where he appears in the book. I want to know more about him! Hopefully there will be more from this character in the next installment.

Although Deceived by the Others is a quick read, the pacing of the story itself is not a quick one. There is a lot of build-up as events unfold between Chaz, Shia, and the pack with small incidents here and there, but the real action doesn't really kick in until after the first half of the book. This worked out for me personally, as it afforded me the opportunity to learn a bit about the characters and the background story. However once the action finally picked up, so did my interest and I rushed to the end to find out the outcome. This in itself was a letdown, as there were really no answers to the two big issues that were raised throughout this installment, although there is a big reveal about Chaz, and something that happens to Shia in this book that I won't spoil for fans of the series.

Deceived by the Others was interesting enough for me that I'll go back and read those first two installments to catch up with this series, and I'll definitely read the next one to find out what happens next. For established fans of the series I would say that although this installment is not packed with action, there are enough new revelations in this book to maintain excitement, plus those issues mentioned above that are left unanswered? One of them is huge for Shia! The next book is a must read.

Category: Urban Fantasy
Series: H&W Investigations
Publisher/Release Date: Zebra - July 5, 2011
Source: Kensington Publishing
Grade: B-

Visit Jess Haines here.

Hunted by the Others, #1
Taken by the Others, #2
Deceived by the Others, #3

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Review: Shaken and Stirred by Kathleen O'Reilly

As a student and part-time bartender in Manhattan, Tessa Hart has found that a succession of roomies and cramped apartments are necessary evils in her life. Until she's out on the street and Gabe O'Sullivan, her mentor, boss and certified babe-magnet, steps in.

Any other woman would die to share his apartment--not to mention his bed--but Tessa's determined that they should stay just friends. The fiercely independent mixologist has to prove to their skeptical coworkers at Prime--the O'Sullivans' hot Manhattan bar--that the arrangement is strictly hands-off! But Tessa has trouble adhering to her own "no touching" rule when the actual sharing of close quarters day and night leaves her shaken and stirred....
Oh boy! This book has one of the best male protagonists around. Gabe O'Sullivan is one of those hot, sexy, sweet, understanding, lovable guys that are just total keepers, in and out of bed.

Tessa and Gabe are friends. They've been friends ever since Tessa hit New York City after a disastrous affair left her homeless and jobless in Florida and she decided that Manhattan was the place for her. Gabe gave Tess her first job as a bartender at Prime -- his family's bar -- and has always been there for her with words of encouragement, advice and a shoulder to cry on. Although Gabe is a gorgeous piece of eye candy, Tess sees him as the only dependable man she knows not as someone she would date.

Gabe is a happy man who has everything he wants out of life. His bar Prime is successful and he's about to expand to make it even better. He's single and has no problems finding women when he wants them, plus his two brothers are there to help him if or when he needs them. His only preoccupation seems to be his friend Tessa who is in trouble again. Her roommate bailed out on her and with five days to find an apartment with a roommate, she's about to go on the streets. He's not about to let his friend become homeless, especially since he has an extra room at his apartment. But when Gabe's naughty brother Sean O'Sullivan starts a bet at the bar assuring everyone that these two won't be able to keep their hands off each other, the long-time friends begin to see each other in an entirely different light.

I love the premise of this story, the friends to lovers trope and I absolutely fell in love with Gabe, there's no question about that. He not only gives Tess a place to live, but once the two of them do have their first hot sexual encounter and Tess freaks out, he gives her understanding and goes along with all of her fantastical requests. As the story goes along and Tess makes more and more unreasonable requests of Gabe, even after he tells her that he loves her, he still gives his lover and friend the benefit of the doubt along with passion, love and understanding. He's a keeper all the way, but... Tessa? I had a few problems with Tessa.

Tessa, Tessa, Tessa... what was wrong with you? I wanted to shake her. She begins as a likable character with possibilities then slowly deteriorates. Tessa is scared because of her past relationship, and for her it's all about making it on her own. Which is fine and dandy, except that she goes far in her quest, blindly too far in my opinion, to gain this independence as she lies and manipulates her friend and lover to get there. Although Tessa comes to the right conclusions by the end, I'm afraid that by then she was not a favorite.

What saved this book for me? Well, Gabe. Gabe and the fact that as O'Reilly is developing the relationship between the protagonists, there's in-depth character development. She also includes some intensely hot sexual scenes throughout the story, plus the other sexy O'Sullivans are woven into the plot, giving the story depth and making it tough to put the book down. The story gave Gabe his happy ending and I was glad for him, although I'm not ashamed to say that I wish he'd made Tessa suffer... at least a tini-tiny little bit before the end.

I have the other two books of the series in my TBR thanks to Tabitha who sent them to me, and I'm really looking forward to reading them. Despite my troubles with Tessa as a character, I can tell you that O'Reilly writes one sexy Blaze!

Category: Contemporary Romance (Category)
Series: Those Sexy O'Sullivans
Publisher/Release Date: Harlequin Blaze, March 1, 2008
Source: Received this book from Tabitha
Grade: B

Visit Kathleen O'Reilly here.

Shaken and Stirred, Book 1
Sex Straight Up, Book 2
Nightcap, Book 3

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Review: Give Me A Texas Outlaw by Jodi Thomas, Linda Broday, Phyliss Miranda, DeWanna Pace

If Cozette Camanez's groom doesn't show up for their wedding by dawn, she'll lose her family ranch. Trouble is, the groom doesn't exist—until unsuspecting thief Michael Hughes comes along. Never was an outlaw faced with such a lovely—and willing—target. . .

Larissa Patrick, the beautiful daughter of a wealthy rancher, has been kidnapped. Only one man can save her: gunfighter Johnny Diamond. Rescuing Larissa is the easy part—but getting her home without losing his heart will take the discipline of a saint. And Johnny's no saint. . .

Lawman Ethan Kimble is finally face to face with his quarry: socialite and bank robber Savannah Parker. The only thing between them is a Winchester pointed at his heart—and some undeniable sparks. If Kimble can tame the Texas Flame, they may ignite a passion that breaks every rule. . .

When outlaw Shadow Rivers and desperado Odessa Kilmore escape a hail of bullets and team up on a long journey, both are determined to hide their secrets—and their attraction. No easy task as they discover a love more powerful than their enemies combined. . .
The Give Me A Texas Outlaw anthology with Jodi Thomas, Linda Broday, Phyliss Miranda and DeWanna Pace is a book that was on my radar for a few reasons. First, hmmm.... cowboys! It's about cowboys, but not just any cowboys, it's outlaws finding their happily ever after. Everybody knows I love that combination!

In the first story, The Outlaw by Jodi Thomas, Cozette is in big trouble. After a man betrays her trust, she finds herself pregnant and lies to her dying father. Cozette's elaborate lies about a husband who is meeting her soon result in high expectations of a real wedding at the ranch. On the morning of the wedding Michael holds up Cozette at the church as his three uncles steal the wedding gifts and get caught. They make a deal, Michael will marry her and stay until her father dies, and she'll save his three bumbling uncles from hanging.

I loved this story by Ms. Thomas. This is a short novella, but it has all the ingredients I love in a western romance: a villain to fight, secondary characters that are memorable, a romance that focuses on the main protagonists with a female who, although in need of saving, is strong enough to fight in her own way, and a male protagonist who is protective, strong, tender and passionate. The Outlaw is sensual, as a tender and passionate Michael seduces Cozette, and himself, into love. Grade: B+

Trouble in Petticoats by Linda Broday, takes place on the road as Larissa Patrick stubbornly follows the outlaw her father pays to rescue her kidnapped sister Beth. Larissa is the daughter of a wealthy and ruthless rancher, and Johnny Diamond is a man who makes a living using his Colt. They have five days to rescue Beth before a ransom has to be paid, and throughout a desperate trek through a sandstorm, hails of bullets, and dangerous confrontations with the villains, Johnny and Larissa find they have lots in common, including a burning attraction for each other. One note, the blurb provided for this novella is misleading, Larissa is not kidnapped, she rides to her sister's rescue.

There's a lot of western style action and danger in this story: shootouts, sandstorms, and villains left and right. However, Broday makes sure that her protagonists get to know each other in this short novella as they ride to Beth's rescue. Sexual tension prevails throughout although the romantic scenes between Johnny and Larissa are few and true to the circumstances in the story.  Grade B-

In Texas Flame by Phyllis Miranda, outlaw Savannah Parker is tracked down by lawman Ethan Kimble after she robs her father's bank and then goes on a spree throughout Texas with the Texas Flame gang. He finds her protecting a young man whose thought process seems to be impaired. Savannah and Ethan have known and loved each other since childhood, but being on opposite sides of the law makes this reunion a tough one, especially since their feelings for each other have not changed.

Miranda's contribution to this anthology is a friends to lovers story, with a female outlaw and a male lawman, making this was a different read from the other novellas. The past history between the protagonists ensures that the romance is believable. However the rest of the story, although filled with western style action, felt a bit convoluted with stop and go dialogue between the protagonists, as well as misunderstandings. It is obvious that this novella is part of a series and that reading about those other characters and/or stories would make Texas Flame complete. Grade C

Most Wanted by DeWanna Pace is a novella that I found quite amusing and that fit the western style romance perfectly. In Odessa Kilmore, we have a reluctant female outlaw who ran away from home after "stealing" money from a couple. Desperate to get home but with bounty hunters on her trail, she needs a fast gun to help her and finds one in Shadow Rivers, a legendary gunman who is tired of it all and is ready to retire. He is also being trailed, and the question is which of the two is most wanted. As they embark on a perilous journey as husband and wife, these two have to fight villains, dodge bullets and the urge to keep their hands off each other.

I liked Des (Odessa) and Shadow... their adventure was thrilling in a western style and amusingly sensual. Poor Shadow found himself in a bit of a pickle with a rather outspoken, sensual and innocent Des, a madam for a future mama-in-law, and well... you'll have to read the story to find out. Sexual tension is used throughout the story, and the romance is not short changed while the adventure takes place in all its western glory. A highly enjoyable western romance novella by Ms. Pace. Grade: B+

One last comment: I love, love the book cover!

Category: Historical Romance
Series: Western Anthology
Publisher/Release Date: Zebra - July 1, 2011
Source: Kensington Publishing
Grade for Anthology: B

Anthology Series:
Give Me A Texan 
Give Me A Cowboy 
Give Me A Texas Ranger
Give Me A Texas Outlaw
A Texas Christmas - Releasing October 4, 2011

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review: The Darkest Sin by Caroline Richards

Desperate Deceptions

Lord James Rushford is the only man in London who can lead Rowena Woolcott to the villain who has been tormenting her family for years, and she will stop at nothing to enlist his help. Even if she must pretend to play a dangerously enticing role: his mistress.

Shadowed Secrets

Rushford has demons of his own—a dark past that haunts his memories. Yet the temptation that Rowena presents is more than he can resist.

Relentless Desire

Claiming to be lovers should not be so easy—or feel so achingly appealing. But as Rushford ushers Rowena through London's most elite clubs and sinister underworlds, truth and fantasy blur. And as the threat to Rowena grows near, the masquerade of passion begins to feel startlingly real. . .
Rowena Woolcott was kidnapped from her home, drugged and left for dead. She was rescued by a stranger as she was drowning, but as a result part of her memory is gone. However, Rowena knows that someone wants to hurt her family and she can't return home. For a year she has been hiding as a governess in London and accumulating money to find help. After reading newspaper accounts about the Cruikshank murders, she decides to hire Lord James Rushford to help her find the culprits so she can eliminate the threat to her family. What she doesn't expect when finally meeting Rushford, is his reluctance to help her or the almost instant and familiar passion she feels for him.

Lord James Rushford has personal baggage and leads a guilt-ridden life. He's also known throughout London as a kind of sleuth after solving the Cruikshank' murders where Sir William Hutcheon was found guilty and hanged. None of these events make him a well-liked member of the aristocracy, but they do make him the perfect man to help Rowena Woolcott solve her problem. Rushford, however, is more than reluctant when he refuses to help her, and it's perfectly obvious that there's something more to his reaction to Rowena from the beginning.

The Darkest Sin by Caroline Richards is a bit Gothic(ky) with great atmosphere and good characters. Rowena Woolcott as the heroine is likable, although she displays lack of judgment more than once due to her stubborn belief that she can handle anything on her own, even after she goes to Rushford for help. Rushford as the hero is mysterious, yummy and likable, if a bit too riddled with guilt and obsessed with his dead ex-mistress. The sexual encounters between Rowena and Rushford are sensual and passionate, beginning with tension and ending with some excellent desperate sexual encounters between these two.

The plot is slightly convoluted with a romance that focuses on the couple, a suspense with action, and a villain that is a bit mad and over the top. The reader is left in the dark as to what's behind the villain's real motivations, with the reveal possibly coming out in an already planned sequel. I recommend this historical romance for those who enjoy a bit of the Gothic atmosphere and suspense weaved in with their romance, as well as some excellent sensual and passionate scenes.

Category: Historical Romance
Publisher/Release Date: Brava - June 1, 2011
Source: Kensington Publishing
Grade: C+

Visit Caroline Richards here.

The Deadliest Sin
The Darkest Sin
The Deepest Sin - Releasing January 1, 2012

Monday, July 4, 2011

Catching Up on June's Events, Books & Bloggers!

June was a very busy month filled with exciting events, and a few contretemps. You've heard all about my meeting Ms. Nalini Singh earlier during the month for the book signing of Kiss of Snow, and how I lost my glasses and couldn't read for almost a week due to blindness. Ugh! But this last week... well, this last week was just plain fun!

Books from Nath:
Jill Shalvis, Gini Koch, Katie MacAllister
Nath and her sister Emilie came down last Saturday night, June 25th to stay with us prior to the RWA Conference. Nath came bearing gifts... yummy, out of this world sweets from Canada that we all love, and, well... books!

Sunday we went shopping at one of our big outlet malls in New Jersey for about six hours or so. The ladies are seasoned shoppers, and I promise I didn't faint, lol! Then I rushed over to my brother's house to visit with my youngest brother and sister-in-law who arrived from Orlando at the same time as Nath and Emilie. On Monday, I left work early and Nath and Emilie and I went over to my family's house for a get together and a family dinner with everyone, this way combining both visits for me. No time to read or blog people, but a great time!

Tuesday was nuts! I worked again and barely got out in time for the RWA Literacy Signing, and made it after an altercation with the bus driver who was giving us a tour of NYC instead of parking the bus at the Port Authority.... well, needless to say the New Yorker in me came out full force (but that's a story for another time, lol) and I finally made it. That was a really exciting and wonderful part of the week that I've been looking forward to for a year. Besides meeting the authors, I had a wonderful time with Mariana at the Blogger Bar Bash afterwards where we chatted for a while with other bloggers, Nath, Librarian of the Year Wendy, KristieJ, Lusty Reader, Christine, author L.B. Gregg and other bloggers  who came around on and off (although I missed meeting Rosie!). The table was grand central. It was such a pleasure to meet them all and lots of fun!

Books from Tabitha:
Patti O'Shea, Laura Griffin, Jill Shalvis
Kathleen O'Reilly, HelenKay Dimon
My week didn't end on Tuesday though. I went to a work-related event on Wednesday night and didn't get home until past midnight, but when I arrived home there was a box waiting for me! It was from our friend Tabitha who shipped a box of books to Nath at my address, but as it turned out most of the books were for me. Thanks Tabs!

Thursday I worked past 7:00 pm... got home and collapsed! Friday, I basically did all the things I should have done during the week at home, ran errands and actually saw that stranger I refer to as husband! (and finished a book, yay)

Madeline Hunter, Jodi Thomas,
Lisa Dale, Heather Webber,
Diana Gabaldon, Julie Kagawa
Saturday Nath and Emilie came back from the RWA conference to New Jersey to pick up their car. Nath came back bearing more gifts... books signed by authors I missed on Tuesday, plus books by other authors that did  not attend the signing, but whose works she knows I really enjoy. I was quite overwhelmed.

Later that same day, they decided to do some more shopping and twisted my arm convinced me to go with them, lol. Good thing too, I found some great deals! Then we all went to dinner together, and they were off!

So here I am... it's July and the long Holiday weekend's here. Time to relax. And after that long post, finally here are my June reads which thankfully are not many!

Total June Reads: 10
Contemporary: 2 (Women's Fiction: 1, Romance: 1)
Historical Romance: 4
LGBT: 3 (Fiction: 1, Romance: 1, Mystery: 1)
Urban Fantasy: 1

  1. Slant by Timothy Wang: B+
  2. Sunset Bridge (Happiness Key Series) by Emilie Richards: B+
  3. The Salisbury Key by Harper Fox: B+
  4. More Than a Mistress by Mary Balogh: B+
  5. Magic Slays (Kate Daniels, #5) by Ilona Andrews: B
  6. Her Wyoming Man by Cheryl St. John : B
  7. Come Unto These Yellow Sands by Josh Lanyon: B
  8. Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn: B
  9. The Darkest Sin by Caroline Richards: C+
  10. Bodyguards in Bed by Lucy Monroe, Jamie Denton, Elisabeth Naughton: C+
  11. Pleasure Me by Monica Burns: DNF

Note that I have one DNF listed this month. I usually place books back in my TBR and read them later, but in this case I really tried to read Pleasure Me by Monica Burns. I read half way through before deciding that this book is not for me. :)

Upcoming reviews and minis for the books I missed reviewing in June. So how was your month? My top read in June was Slant by Timothy Wang... how about you? Which book was your favorite?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Review: Sunset Bridge (Happiness Key #3) by Emilie Richards

In Sunset Bridge, the third and last book of the Happiness Key trilogy, Emilie Richards writes a wonderful story of close friendships between five women, a romance for two of them and still manages to include a suspense story line with action that kept me interested until the end. Of course in this story the characters take center stage. Their lives are full of real life issues, their reactions are relatable and as in real life, there's humor to go along with all the drama.

Tracy has come a long way from the person she used to be, the cold socialite with a con man ex-husband who left her broke and broken. Out of her little community of friends at Happiness Key, she created a close-knit family and also found Marsh Egan, a man who makes her happy. But things change between Tracy and Marsh once she realizes what her bouts of nausea really mean. An unplanned pregnancy is the last thing Tracy needs, especially when her relationship with Marsh is just taking off... now, how will she be able to tell weather he wants her for herself or for the baby?

Janya's seems to be content in her arranged marriage to Rishi and the life they've made for themselves at Happiness Key. They long to have a family and after a few years of marriage their hopes seem to be dimming. However, tragic circumstances bring two small children to Janya and Rishi... but, will they be able to keep them?

After years of being a mother and the wife of a cop, loud and opinionated Wanda finally realizes her dream and opens Wanda's Wonderful Pies. She's happy with her life, her husband and her friends, but things are about to change for her. Her daughter Maggie is moving back home after leaving her job and live-in boyfriend in Miami, and their mother-daughter relationship is not exactly a close one. Plus, her business is about to take off in unexpected directions.

Maggie quit her job as a cop in Miami after an investigation didn't go her way. To her way of thinking, long-time lover and cop Felo didn't back her up either, so she left him too. Now she's coming back to work with her mother at the pie shop and to live at Happiness Key. Her future is as uncertain as her feelings for Felo. When a couple is murdered, Maggie finds herself involved in an investigation after agreeing to help a friend... and her future might not be the only thing hanging in the balance.

Alice loves her granddaughter Olivia, but as she recuperates from her stroke keeping up with the young girl becomes harder each day. How will she manage to maintain the pace and her health?

In Sunset Bridge, Richards weaves a story of friendship, love and suspense that flows and that kept me turning those pages. Although at the beginning it took me a while to orient myself, soon the characters began to take shape and became people who interested me.

There's Tracy who with her hormonal changes, her insecurities and pregnancy issues drives Marsh nuts throughout the story. Marsh is a guy and of course clueless for much of the story, although I admit to feeling sorry for him more than once when well... he didn't read Tracy's mind or gave the right answer at the right time. Theirs is a humorous and frustrating situation that I enjoyed to the end. And then there's Maggie... with her angsty and very serious trust and control issues. I was pulling for Maggie to wake up and smell the roses, as I fell in love with her man Felo myself. These two story lines gave the book that touch of romance that I needed to really enjoy this book.

However, the central story is about the friendship, and I love the way the women support each other throughout all types of situations, both light and dire. Best of all I really enjoyed the way they tell each other the truth, and call each other out when they're wrong without being either pushy or interfering. The older women, Wanda and Alice, don't have a problem telling the younger ones, especially Tracy and Maggie, why they're decisions are questionable. Janya falls in between, she is young but has wonderful insight and wisdom, making her one of my favorite characters in this story.

Although Sunset Bridge is the last book of the series and the relationships have been developed throughout the first two books, Happiness Key and Fortunate Harbour, in my opinion it stands quite well on its own. This is a wonderful story about friendship between different women from different cultures, of different ages and ways of life. I really enjoyed it and recommend it as a great read.

Category: Women's Fiction
Series: Happiness Key
Publisher/Release Date: Mira, June 21, 2011
Source: ARC Planned Television Arts, Ruder Finn
Grade: B+

Visit Emilie Richards here.

Happiness Key, Book 1
Fortunate Harbour, Book 2
Sunset Bridge, Book 3