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Monday, May 31, 2010

Aces and Eights by Victoria Allen

Aces and Eights by Victoria Allen
Publisher: Captiva Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short (12k words)
Heat: Hot
Rating: 3.5 Books
Reviewed by Poppy

When the turn of a card seals your fate, you need to stack the deck.

Jessica Windemere loses her freedom when her father bets her in a poker game. But she isn’t willing to accept her fate without a fight. To have her revenge, she first must survive an unknown world while contracted as some stranger’s wife. She wants nothing more to do with men until a huge, dark god rides into her camp. Can she risk losing her new love on the turn of a card?

Kiernan Randall is on his way home from a trading mission. The group of abandoned women he finds were definitely not expected, especially their feisty, red-haired leader. She is contracted to his enemy, but gives herself to him and firmly entwines his heart. Can he trust her enough to let her wager their future together on her skill with cards?

What do you do when you’re a strong-willed, independent woman who’s drugged and put onto a ship going who-knows-where, with a contract promising you to a man you despise? Take back control, of course!

Jessica wakes from a drugged slumber and finds herself on a spaceship filled with women who have marriage contracts to wed men they’ve never met. Her father lost her in a poker game and she’s now required to marry a man against her will. Jessica has a poor self-image and sees herself as bony and unattractive, especially compared to the curvy, lovely women she’s stranded with.

They’re taken off ship into a dismal, hostile environment and then find themselves abandoned. What do they do now? To stave off the panic growing amongst the women, Jessica takes charge, assigns duties and looks for ways to survive alone. She’s a smart, stubborn woman who refuses to let life lead her – instead, she takes life by the throat and gives it a good shake. I like how she took everything thrown at her in stride, considered the odds and then made a choice, standing by her decisions regardless of what comes next.

Things change, though, when a band of big, tough men show up. Jessica is immediately attracted to the leader, Kiernan, and it sort of annoys her. He takes charge, tells them that the women must come back to his home town or they won’t survive the upcoming winter. He’s a strong man attracted to a strong woman—Jessica. She finds it difficult to believe he really likes her, figures he’s just been alone too long and needs an itch scratched. Since she’s feeling itchy, too, though she’s not opposed to the idea!

This story has action, excitement, fun characters, surprises and lots of hot times between the sheets (and in the shower...). I was completely caught up in Jessica’s plight, and couldn’t wait to see how she got herself out of it. My only complaint was that the story was far too short, and because of this lacked the detail I wanted to see. It felt a bit rushed at times, especially the ending, and that affected my overall enjoyment. I wish the author had taken as much time with the end as she had the beginning – but even so, I loved some of the twists the story took and wouldn’t mind finding a Kiernan of my own!

If you like light science fiction stories (the kind where you don’t need a degree in physics to understand what’s going on) that have a solid plot and fun characters, with some steaminess thrown in, I think you’ll enjoy Aces and Eights. I’ll be looking for more from this author.

Burning Love by Jana Richards

Burning Love by Jana Richards
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short (114 pages)
Heat: Sweet
Rating: 4 Books
Reviewed by Ivy

After causing three cooking fires in her apartment, Iris Jensen finds herself evicted. She lands on Riley Benson's doorstep, looking to rent a room in the beautiful old home he's restoring. It's only for six weeks until Iris leaves Portland, Oregon for her new job on a cruise ship. Firefighter Riley knows firsthand what a bad tenant she can be. But he needs money to finish the work on the house he loves. And something about Iris pulls at his heart…

Meanwhile, in Heaven, two angels watch over the young lovers. Angelica and Hildegard work in Heaven's Relationship Division, where angels match mortals with their soul mates. The angels believe so strongly in Iris and Riley’s love that they break Heaven's rules to help them. Can the angels convince them they belong together forever before time runs out?

When Riley Benson meets Iris, he's not sure she's not a crazy arsonist. This fireman shows he has a heart of gold when he lets the accused fire-starter into his home after she's turned out of hers. Burning Love is an enchanting story about love at first sight and the influence of two cupid-playing angels in Heaven.

I was intrigued by the plot of this story: A clumsy girl with a wandering heart and habit of causing accidental fires can't seem to make any place feel like home until she finds the man of her dreams. The only problem is the man of her dreams is as insecure as she is. With Iris working as a travel agent, I found her dilemma of whether or not to take a job on a cruise ship totally believable. Who wouldn't want to travel abroad by sea to experience the world? But how much would one sacrifice for true love? While Iris struggles to find the courage to accept she's falling for Riley, Riley must face the fact that he needs a sincere, romantic woman in his life to help him stay grounded and find ways to trust. His bumbling attempts to sweep Iris off her feet are charming, but his reluctance to believe in her is frustrating.

Author Jana Richards throws a fun monkey wrench into this well-written romantic tale. Her two angels working in Heaven's matchmaking department--the repressed Hildegard and the hysterically flaky, Angelica--watch the story unfold and do their best to bring Riley and Iris together. But some of their interferences only cause more problems. Although I found the chapters with angels, Hildegard and Angelica, disconcerting at first, their personalities and chemistry grew on me so much that I wasn't happy to close the book. I wanted more angelic intervention stories.

The journey to love for Riley and Iris is sweet, sincere, authentic, and enjoyable. These two lovers in Burning Love leave the reader sighing with contentment. The two trouble-making cupids leave one wondering where they might turn up next.

Very pleasant read.

Storms In A Shot Glass by Nolwynn Ardennes

Storms In A Shot Glass by Nolwynn Ardennes
Publisher: Eirelander Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full (208 pages)
Heat: Hot
Rating: 4.5 Books
Reviewed by Honeysuckle

A little bump is about to cause a lot of ripples.

Personal Assistant Jane Smithers needs a baby as much as she needs the immature boss, bitchy mother and lunatic Russian models cohabiting peacelessly around her. What she also doesn’t need is a man who pops out of nowhere, intent on taking over her accidental pregnancy.

Cold logic and hard facts rule the world of millionaire corporate lawyer Michael Rinaldi. Until he meets Jane, and the insignificant-looking woman plunges him head first into the churning waters of tempestuous emotion and hot-blooded impulse.

Unlikely feelings crop up at the same time relentless gossip escalates. Both realize their respective world has irredeemably changed. The question is - will they be able to live with this reality?

It’s New Years Eve, drinks are flowing, your neighbor’s a good looking guy, conveniently single and hitting on you…oh, why not? What’s the worst thing that could happen? Uh, Surprise? You're still single, he’s now engaged and you just found out you’re pregnant! Oops!!

That’s basically how executive assistant to bank President Umberto Renaldo, Jane Smithers’ year began. Not what she planned, but manageable. Women raise children on their own every day, right? Lucky for Jane, Umberto’s estranged son Michael steps into the picture and manages to step into the role of expecting father by placing a few well chosen assumptions to just the right people. What ensues is a roller coaster ride of emotions, humorous misunderstandings and a happily ever after for more than just Michael and Jane.

Ms. Ardennes painted a very romantic if slightly unorthodox courtship of two very strong-willed and independent characters. Jane and Michael are alike in so many ways it’s no wonder they were attracted to each other. They both have parental issues that affect their relationships as adults even though they do their best to avoid the problem parents.

Michael’s acceptance of the pregnancy and concerted effort to make everyone think the baby is his is a little unbelievable but it’s also what makes him more than just the sexy Italian hero of the story. His take charge personality and charismatic charm makes him a delicious foil to Jane’s “my life is my life” attitude.

I really enjoyed Storms In A Shot Glass. I was hooked from the first chapter and each successive meeting between Jane and Michael reeled me in until the satisfying finish. Well done!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Blaze of Glory by Sheryl Nantus

Blaze of Glory by Sheryl Nantus
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (176 Pages)
Heat: Sensual
Rating: 4.5 Books
Reviewed by Honeysuckle

Saving the world is easy for a superhero—unless you’re a fraud.

Jo Tanis is a superhero, fighting evil on the city streets, using her ability to feed off electromagnetic energy and fire off charges—and it’s all just a show. The Agency captures her and others like her when their powers begin to manifest, pitting them against each other in staged, gladiatorial fights. An explosive implant on the back of her neck assures she’ll keep right on smiling for the camera and beating up the bad guys.

When Earth comes under attack, suddenly the show becomes deadly real. Unable to deal with a real alien, the “supers” are falling in droves. Millions of innocent civilians are going to die…unless Jo can cobble together a team from among the fake heroes and villains the Agency enslaved. Including Hunter, who not only promises to show her how to deactivate the implants, but seems to know more than he should about how the mysterious Agency operates.

Forcing a rag-tag bunch of former enemies to work together is the least of Jo’s problems. The trick is determining if Hunter is friend or foe—and becoming the hero everyone thought she was before the world is destroyed for real.

The Earth has just been attacked by giant human looking men in flying avocados who, by the way, appear to be impervious to everything that is thrown at them. The vast majority of the Earth’s Super Heros and Super Villians (Supers for short) have been killed in the first wave leaving a handful of “second string” supers to deal with a possible take over at best and annihilation at worst. Wooo! Where are Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum when you need them!

Jo Tannis, Surf to the Supers, never wanted to be a super hero. She only came into her electromagnetic powers after a traumatic head injury. Thanks to a plug implant and the threat of death by The Agency, she fights super villains on a regular basis or should I say on a scheduled basis, a television schedule to be more precise. The fights are arranged and fixed for the sake of viewer ratings, only the viewers don’t know that what they're seeing isn’t real. Neither do the aliens who have come to challenge the best the Earth has to offer.

Lucky for Jo, she isn’t alone. Ms. Nantus created a colorful and often entertaining cast of characters to aid Jo in defeating the alien swarm. Just how they accomplish that I’ll leave to your imagination or better yet read the book!

Ms. Nantus accomplished something within the pages of this novella that is difficult and often poorly executed by other authors. She created a dialogue that could have been hokey, but came off anything but. To say exactly who Jo's dialogue is with would be spoiling it, but I was very impressed with how well it flowed.

If you’re looking for a mushy love story with a lot of sheet action this isn’t the book for you. But, if you enjoy an exciting Mankind vs. Aliens action adventure with a budding romance and some quirky quasi-supers on the side you will love Blaze of Glory. I know I did.

Dangerous by Diana Palmer

Dangerous by Diana Palmer
Publisher: Harlequin
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense
Length: Full (314 pages)
Heat: Spicy
Rating: 5 Books
Reviewed by Camellia

Tall, lean and headstrong, FBI agent Kilraven lives by his own rules. And one of those rules includes keeping his hands off Jacobsville’s resident sweetheart, Winnie Sinclair, no matter the temptation. Shy and innocent, Winnie couldn’t handle a man like him—a merciless man with a haunted past. And this small town may hold not only the woman he fights to resist, but the answers to a cold case that is very personal to Kilraven....

Winnie has had her own share of sorrow and senses Kilraven’s pain. Even though she tries to deny it, the gentle 911 operator feels a connection with the darkly handsome agent. When he makes the disturbing discovery that her family’s unsavory past might have a bearing on his case, Winnie is determined to help him crack it...and the ice around his heart.

As they combine forces in a dangerous investigation, the stakes rise ever higher. Winnie’s life is on the line, and she’ll need Kilraven more than ever. But if they are to have a future together, her ruthless Texan will need to confront his past and risk it all for their love.

In true Diana Palmer style, the characters come alive on the pages of Dangerous and the plot is a tapestry of the best and the worst of humanity. How love and forgiveness find their way through all the dark intrigues, political corruption, sexual perversion, and greed makes this a gripping story.

While Wilraven is a dangerous alpha male, Winnie Sinclair is a desirable darling who dares to gamble on her love being enough to catch and keep the “old Lobo Wolf”. She endured her father’s hate, copes with her intimidating, overprotective big brothers, and works at a high-stress job as a 9-1-1 dispatcher. Her second sight reaches out to protect Wilraven when he is in danger and her heart longs for him in a way that she has never before experienced. Naïve and innocent in the ways of “man and woman” love, Winnie faces some major decisions as she works toward her goal.

Wilraven, as cold and forbidding as the winter weather that prowls across south-central Texas, lets nothing deter him from his seven-year search for the people responsible for the death of his three-year-old daughter and her mother. Visions of how they looked after being killed with a shotgun at close range inhabit his nightmares that haunt his nights. A more tortured hero I have yet to meet.

The secondary characters are intriguing in their own roles. Gail Rogers, now a successful detective, continues to pay a high price for mistakes she made years ago. Matt, the twelve-year-old in a wheelchair is totally captivating. Of course, if you are a Diana Palmer fan you will recognize some of these characters and feel like you are getting to catch up with what has been going on in their lives since you last saw them. Wilraven’s half-brother Jon Nighthawk and Cammy bring a touch of humor to the story, but have a hard time when it comes to the driven Wilraven whom they both love.

The love scenes that sizzle, the work ethic, the advice to never let anger decide which direction to take in a crossroads and the way love meets and beats its adversaries linger in the mind long after the last word is read. Dangerous is one to keep and read more than once.

Be Mused by J Morgan, Katie Charles, Stephanie Burkhart, Nicole Zoltack, Sandra Sookoo

Be Mused - an A-Muse-ing Anthology by J Morgan, Katie Charles, Stephanie Burkhart, Nicole Zoltack, Sandra Sookoo
Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing
Genre: Paranormal
Length: Full (164 pages)
Heat: Sweet
Rating: 4 Books
Reviewed by Fennel

Muses are fickle creates, sprinkling inspiration on their wards as they see fit.

They live in a world just right of center from ours, and to them, we're just the day job. Muses need lives too, you know.

Enjoy this collection of stories compiled by several authors at Desert Breeze Publishing that will give you some insight into the world of the ethereal creatures who inspire the arts.

There’s something for everyone in this anthology. You could be forgiven for wondering whether non-writers would appreciate the humour behind the stories, but it doesn’t matter because in each and every one of the stories the reader can identify with the characters.

How often have writers stared gloomily at a blank screen/page and wondered where the next word will come from, the next scene, the next conflict, and when in all that agonising have we given a thought to our Muse[s]?

The shenanigans and angst and manipulations that go on beyond our ken, are both hilarious and humbling. Do they really get as frustrated as we do? Apparently!

For those who sit back and enjoy the fruit of the Muses and their endeavours to keep the writers on the straight and narrow, this anthology should give you a good laugh, as well as an insight into the lives, loves, trauma, and frustrations of the writers who bring you plenty of books to read when you want to curl up with your favourite author and enjoy the manifestations of their hard work. Next time you do, also give a thought to the hundred – perhaps millions – of Muses out there, whose work ‘is never done.’

This collection of stories will not only give you a new perspective to the writer behind the words on the page you are reading, but a good laugh as well. I thoroughly enjoyed this book!

The Making of a Duchess by Shana Galen

The Making of a Duchess by Shana Galen
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Genre: Historical
Length: Full (368 pages)
Heat: Spicy
Rating: 5 Books
Reviewed by Camellia

Twelve years after fleeing their burning chateau, Julien Harcourt, Duc de Valère, searches for his lost twin brothers. His frequent travels between England and France at a time when the exiled Napoleon is reported to be marshalling his troops raises the suspicions of English authorities who set secret operative Sarah Smith on his trail. A risky game of cat and mouse leads the two from the ballrooms of London to the prisons of Paris and into a fragile love that neither dares to hope for.

The first in a trilogy of three brothers struggling to reconnect and restore their noble heritage in the aftermath of the French Revolution, each losing his heart along the way.

Being told to be a spy and being a spy are two very different things. Sarah Smith, a self-effacing governess, repeats her motto of “chin up” often as she enters the home of Julian Harcourt, duc de Valere to find information her employer Sir Northrop wants concerning Julian’s activities.

Sarah, an orphan and considered a bastard, has never felt loved or wanted; even as a governess she is an outsider. However, she has phantom dreams of happiness and love with a mother and father. She is a heartwarming heroine that proves to be intelligent, resourceful, and a force to be reckoned with when pushed too far. She does have one weakness that is embarrassing, but comes in handy in times of extreme stress.

Julian Harcourt, duc de Valere took on heavy responsibilities at an early age when he and his mother escaped the peasant revolt in France. After twelve years in England, he is a wealthy man of business, a very eligible bachelor; but he is still a displaced nobleman. His clandestine actions make him suspect, but his desire to find his brother in France overrides the danger he encounters. Stern and socializing only to further his own agenda, Julian does not play the games of matchmaking in London’s High Society. However, when Sarah arrives as Serafina de Greyene, masquerading as another displaced person of French nobility, he decides to do what is expected of him. A new phase of Julian’s life kicks in. My goodness, what a phase it is.

Shana Galen creates a captivating tale that has all the trappings of the Regency era as background. But the dialogue, charming wit, the intrigues, and the steamy love scenes in The Making of a Duchess make the novel a page-turner. It bristles with secondary characters like the privateer Captain Stalwart and the forger Thompson that facilitate secret dealings of a shadowy world apart from London’s High Society. As Julian and Sarah deal with both levels of the society, they put their lives in peril and question if their relationship can survive amid all the deceptions and turmoil.

Love, wiggling its way in among all the problems, becomes an oasis that succors Julian and Sarah. DELIGHTFUL READING!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Moonlight, Motorcycles, and Bad Boys by Lynnette Hallberg

Moonlight, Motorcycles, and Bad Boys by Lynnette Hallberg
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full (316 pages)
Heat: Sensual
Rating: 4.5 Books
Reviewed by Fern

One pro-football player, one sex-ed teacher, an embezzler, a shocking secret, and hot Georgia nights equal spontaneous combustion!

Katie Sara McMichaels spends her life following the rules. She defines the envelope, while her former high school sweetheart, bad boy Reiner Broderick, spends his days—and nights—pushing that same envelope. Neither has any intention of returning to Paradox, Georgia.

Fate, however, is fickle. When Katie Sara returns home to bury her father, she takes the job of sex-ed teacher at the small town’s high school. Reiner, the permanently sidelined, Super-Bowl-winning quarterback, finds himself called to duty as bachelor-father to his pierced, Goth, purple-and-red-haired niece while his brother and sister-in-law serve in the Middle East.

One touch and the magic is back…but so are the problems. Broken promises, betrayal and devastating secrets. Can Reiner and Katie Sara learn to trust…and love…the second time around?

Moonlight, Motorcycles, and Bad Boys -- the title alone is enough to snare a reader’s attention. However, it is the fantastic story contained within the pages that will lure you in and maintain your interest. Author Lynnette Hallberg has created a book that will keep you reading and, by the time you’ve finished the journey, steal your heart.

Katie Sara has returned to her hometown of Paradox for a fresh start. Her past is laced with pain and heartache and she just wants a chance to settle down, find a level of peace, and move on with her life. Unfortunately, her high school sweetheart turned world famous quarterback has also returned to their former stomping grounds. Now she is stuck in a battle that combines the past with the present. Reiner was everything she wanted -- smart, gorgeous, and the consummate bad boy. Time hasn’t changed that. However, Katie Sara has a secret that could end everything before it’s even had the opportunity to begin.

Thus is the basis of Moonlight, Motorcycles, and Bad Boys, and as the mystery was unraveled, I found myself unable to turn away. I couldn’t wait to discover what the “big secret” Katie Sara had kept over the years, and although I was able to figure things out just before the reveal, I can say I was pleasantly surprised at the level of emotion, heartache and forgiveness involve. There is so much more here than what you see on the surface, which is always a pleasant surprise.

Moonlight, Motorcycles, and Bad Boys is one of those stories that a reviewer has to be careful not to spoil as a reader should experience the journey as intended. Romantics will absolutely love Katie Sarah and Reiner, as well as the secondary characters that are wonderfully developed and play such an important role in the work. The writing is fantastic, the material is tightly written, and the characters and their motivations keep you turning the pages to learn what happens next.

Those in the mood for a solid romance with an enormous amount of humor, wit, and heart should be sure to place Moonlight, Motorcycles, and Bad Boys onto their TBR lists. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and cannot wait to read more from Ms. Hallberg in the future.

Nebula’s Music by Aubrie Dionne

Nebula’s Music by Aubrie Dionne
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: Short (76 pages)
Heat: Sweet
Rating: 4 Books
Reviewed by Lavender

Each note brings her one step closer to the truth.

When the cyborg Nebula plays the piano she experiences memories from a time before her creation. These memories…which involve a captive rebel fighter being held on their ship…bring with them complex human feelings and awaken a desire for her to discover her origins.

Radian is the long lost love of the woman from which Nebula was made. He’s vowed to avenge his finance’s death and rescue her sister from the Gryphonites, a fierce race out to enslave the galaxy.

Nebula grapples with her identity and how much of who she is comes from someone else’s past. She is not the woman that died, yet she is undeniably drawn to Radian.

Together Nebula and Radian seek to rescue his fiancé’s sister and end the Gryphonites’ cruel reign. But can Radian learn to love again and can Nebula accept a past made from someone else’s memories?

Nebula’s Music by Aubrie Dionne is a wonderful short story, and I really enjoyed it. Firstly, I’m a fan of romance, and there is a romance here, an unconventional one, but satisfying just the same.

Secondly, I enjoy a good science-fiction story. Nebula’s Music is terrific in this regard, sure to satisfy many sci-fi fans. I like Star Trek, among other stories of this genre, and I was drawn right into Nebula’s Music. The descriptions throughout are great. They’re vivid and create a believable futuristic world.

Another thing I appreciated was that this story was well written. It has a poetic opening: “Nebula’s fingers struck the keys of the Steinway and a cascade of chords tinkled down like falling stars.” As a musician, I loved it. I wish I had Nebula’s ability to download musical talent into my brain! The musical aspects were woven into the tale with expertise - artistic and lovely.

Nebula meets Radian, a member of a rebel group. Instantly, sparks happen between them. She, a cyborg, looks exactly like the woman Radian lost, and there’s a good reason for that.

Nebula becomes more and more human throughout the story, and it is well done and plausible.

Then there’s the adventure on another planet, in a hidden city. The ensuing adventure is entertaining and isn’t written for the sake of action alone. There is a higher purpose and an exciting attempt to help enslaved people. Can Nebula and Radian succeed and then rally earth to their cause? Well, during the course of events, Nebula’s heroic nature comes out. She and Radian are quite likeable, as is this story. I’d recommend it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Unraveled Souls by Sandra Sookoo

Unraveled Souls by Sandra Sookoo
Publisher: Liquid Silver Books
Genre: Historical, Paranormal
Length: Short (131 pages)
Heat: Spicy
Rating: 4 Books
Reviewed by Poinsettia

Noelle Radliffe can communicate with ghosts. They haunt her nights and show her dreams of things that haven’t yet occurred. When she has a vision of a dead lion and sees the name of a man, she searches the city to find him only to become sidetracked by an addiction she can’t fight.

Enter Nicholas Pemberton. Although charming and charismatic, he hides a secret, one that is deadly as well as mysterious. He’s a shape shifter and the urge to change into a lion is a battle he constantly wages with himself, second to the recently discovered obsession he feels for Noelle.

As the two fight their mutual attraction to each other, Nicholas attempts to elude the local police force intent on linking recent murders to his name, while Noelle continues to seek peace in her life and to understand her purpose. Their connection is too strong to ignore. As passion ignites, so does the danger. Lives are threatened and destinies collide, but will love be enough to save their souls?

Noelle Radliffe wasn’t looking for romance, but one taste of Nicholas Pemberton’s lips had her craving much more.

Noelle gave up hope of having a normal life a long time ago. With her nights filled with visions of the future and the occasional ghostly visitor, the most Noelle can hope for is not to attract too much attention. She was content living in her cozy bungalow with her sister Kitty, until Nicholas appeared in her dreams.

The moment Noelle dreamed of him, she knew she had to find him. Something sinister was about to happen and somehow he was connected to it. Noelle manages to track him down and from the moment they meet, the sexual tension between them is palpable. Noelle has never felt anything as strong as what she feels for Nicholas, but is it love or lust? Even as Noelle is drawn to Nicholas, she senses he hides a dark secret. As the two explore their feelings for each other, Noelle’s dark dreams persist. Will they learn to trust each other, or will their secrets destroy any chance for love?

As a reader, I love heroines who are strong, but I also enjoy those who are a little vulnerable as well. Noelle is a wonder blend of the two traits. Her unusual abilities have set her apart from mainstream society, so she’s had to develop a tough exterior in order to ignore the looks from other more “respectable” members of society. However, underneath it all is a woman simply trying to find peace. She wants to love and be loved in return, but doesn’t think that a normal relationship is possible. She struggles to convince herself that what she feels for Nicholas is temporary, but the more time she spends with him, the more she craves his attention.

Nicholas is the classic troubled hero. He comes off as arrogant and egotistical, but as with most heroes, the attitude is simply a way to distance people from him. Underneath the haughty exterior is a good man with monumental problems. Noelle is the first woman who has breached the wall he’s built around himself. Suddenly Nicholas is dealing with emotions he’s never experienced. Will he run away from his newfound feelings or embrace them?

Ms. Sookoo also skillfully blended the paranormal and historical genres in crafting Unraveled Souls. The paranormal elements are clearly dominant, but she weaves in historical details and references that provide a wonderful backdrop for the story.

Unraveled Souls is an enjoyable read. The characters are interesting and the romance is compelling. Fans of Ms. Sookoo’s work will not be disappointed. I recommend it to anyone who likes a great paranormal romance.

McKettricks of Texas: Garrett by Linda Lael Miller

McKettricks of Texas: Garrett by Linda Lael Miller
Publisher: Harlequin
Genre: Contemporary, Historical (Western/Cowboys)
Length: Full (376 pages)
Heat: Spicy
Rating: 5 books
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Fast track up the political ladder, fast cars, fast women—that's Garrett McKettrick. Make that was. A scandal has brought him home to Blue River, Texas, a place where a man can slow down, take stock and plan his next move. Which doesn't include staying at the family ranch with his brothers. A city boy, Garrett doesn't think he has the land in his blood.

But Blue River has other attractions, like his former high school nemesis, Julie Remington. Now a striking woman, Julie comes complete with a four-year-old cowboy, a three-legged beagle and deep ties to the community. Good thing they have nothing in common…except their undeniable attraction and a future brighter than the Texas sun.

This book should appeal to fans of western romances that enjoy hunky cowboys, a mystery, a scandal and a sweet and spicy romance. If it sounds intriguing, then Garrett’s story should be right up their alley because it’s all that and more.

Garrett is the second McKettrick brother and he believes his path is far from the saddle and the land he grew up on. It wasn’t until I’d read the entire book that I figured out why that is, and it’s poignant. Until he comes to that realization, his journey is one of self-discovery -- of who he is, what he really wants and discovering that love was right under his nose.

Sometimes the sweetest romance is between a man and woman who were great friends as kids, who know all of each other’s past foibles and stick by each other anyway. Garrett wakes up to that understanding eventually and it’s as heartwarming as a reader could wish. He’s a man’s man, a real cowboy with integrity and manners, and his inner strength is just as formidable as the land he rides over. He puts his all into anything he does and commands respect from his peers and the world he controls -- until the scandal hits. A person can’t control everything and everyone, so I found his reaction to the situation to be another great measure of the man. He comes home to question so much about his life and it’s not easy on him. Add in the mystery of what’s been happening on the ranch and his part in discovering the villains and he becomes a man of action, of passion and bravery. A man with that many burdens on his shoulders needs a life partner and Ms. Miller gives him the perfect lady.

Julie is a single mother, a teacher and sister to Garrett’s older brother’s future wife, Libby. What I liked about Julie was her close relationship with her two sisters and their dialogue throughout this book. The thing that impressed me most about her character, and I have to give major credit to Ms. Miller in her creation, is her absolute dedication to her son Calvin. The love, the constant respect for motherhood and its challenges and joys, were woven consistently throughout this book. It was very well done. Calvin was not a prop but an integral component in understanding Julie and her capacity to love. The three-legged fur baby was a nice touch too. Another thing I liked about Julie was her restraint. When her son’s biological father appeared on the scene, it would have been so easy for Ms. Miller to resort to the heroine being a victim or a viper. Instead, the author had Julie making the best of a scary situation. I know personally a woman who made the same choice for her son and like Julie, it worked out wonderfully for the child. I could really relate to this story because of the full and vibrant personalities that Ms. Miller has imbued her characters.

I also liked the secondary characters that pepper this story. They added substance, heart and plot momentum. I think the climactic confrontation with the bad guys was gripping and intense. I was entertained by the conversations between the three McKettrick brothers as I was between the three Remington sisters. I really want an Esperanza of my own. Last but not least, when Julie finally admits she’s got a hankering for Garrett and succumbs to her desire, their loving is sweet, passionate and romantic.

Garrett’s story is an entertaining, fast paced read that kept me flipping the pages until the happily-ever-after ending had me sighing in satisfaction. The story is a bit fancy in parts but that’s what makes it so fun and a joy to read. It’s that Prince Charming syndrome - he’s ordinary but bigger than life with a way about him that makes a woman swoon – including this reader. I am so happy I got to read Garrett’s story and look forward to more by this author.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Wolf Next Door by Lydia Dare

The Wolf Next Door by Lydia Dare
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Genre: Historical, Paranormal
Length: Full (402 pages)
Heat: Spicy
Rating: 5 Books
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

They can’t even be in the same room together…
Ever since their failed elopement years ago, Prisca Hawthorne has taunted, insulted, and in every way tried to push him away. If only her heart didn’t break every time Lord William Westfield left her…

But staying apart is even worse…
Lord William throws himself into drinking, gambling, and debauchery and pretends not to care about Prisca at all. But when he returns to find a rival werewolf vying for her hand, he’ll stop at nothing to claim the woman who should have been his all along.

Can Prisca forgive the unforgivable, or are the moon-crossed lovers going to be forced into a battle of wills that could be fatal?

To forgive and forget is an adage easy to say but difficult to live and that is the crux of Lord William Westfield’s challenging problem.

Will’s problem has a name and she’s Prisca Hawthorne. The whole story’s conflict is fed by the dictates of the times. Men and women simply did not talk. They couldn’t date the way we do so there’s hardly any un-chaperoned moments. Too many topics were taboo. Various skeletons in the closet became monsters because the secrecy surrounding them blew them all out of proportion. And truths revealed too late cannot undo the damage the initial lies had wrought. Because pride and honor are held in lofty esteem, it’s quite a pickle trying to overcome the hurt they inadvertently reinforce.

That is the set-up poor Will has to fight against. Of all the brothers, both Simon and Ben from A Certain Wolfish Charm and Tall, Dark, and Wolfish, respectively, neither has a conflict so horrendous to overcome as Will does. Simon and Ben had their own internal issues which compounded their problems. Will has a very dangerous foe to deal with on top of the fact that the woman he loves is a spitfire and has an overdose of pride. Add in his own prideful lash-out and a reader is treated to a tumultuous, passionate and intense battle of wills between Lord William and Prisca.

Although this book does fine as a standalone read, it’s nicer to have read the previous two books in that a reader will come into this book thinking Will is a womanizer and doesn’t have a care in the world. The truth is, he carries the globe on his back. His world is his love for Prisca and the weight of it is crushing him because he believes its burden is made up of the fact she doesn’t love him – that she hates him. There can be no more tortured a hero than one who believes his love is unrequited. He’s filled with self-loathing and yet is ever hopeful. How can a reader not want him to succeed?

Prisca is the love and bane of Will’s life. She’s an amazingly stubborn character. With a little POV shift here and there, a reader gets her take on things as well as Will's. It becomes abundantly clear that these two wanna-be lovers are victims of their times. Prisca has been brought up in a house full of men. The only female influence has been Will's own mother. With a woman living in a house of rowdy, opinionated and protective men, it’s not a wonder she’s got an overdose of traits that make it difficult for her to be wooed. Prisca is pertinacious, headstrong, determined and yet, vulnerable and hurt. She’s great with the new brides of the Westfield men – even helps them, but she repudiates any help for herself. How can love flourish?

Enter Prisca’s brothers. A reader couldn’t ask for a better gang of secondary characters than the Hawthorne men. Emory is the eldest and the schemer. Pierce is the stuffed shirt, who someday, I strongly hope, Ms. Dare will get unstuffed. Then there is Darius and Garrick. They were excellent foils for plot movement and interest. I so enjoyed them that I hope someday I’ll meet them again in a new story by the talented Ms. Dare. Not only are they the springboard for matchmaking but the entryway for a devious and dangerous foe for Will. Oh, I can’t forget the Giddings sisters – they’re caricatures of the women all men run from. Too funny.

The external conflict comes from “that vile Brimsworth”. A man of mystery and supposed friendship, he ends up being more than any Westfield man bargained for, especially Will. The sub-story on him was pretty clever because Ms. Dare had me sympathizing and hating him all at the same time. Yet it fed my curiosity. Is he an anti-hero? Can he be redeemed? Does a reader want him to be saved? It’s a clever and unexpected twist.

There is humor in this book, like when Prisca and Will finally get married. It’s not quite conventional and I enjoyed her fashion statement. That woman has a devious mind.

After all that emotional hard work, there is a satisfying happily ever after for Will and Prisca and well deserved. If relationships gain strength from facing adversity together, then their union will survive anything because it’s tempered in fire. It’s solid and rewarding.

The Wolf Next Door is a wonderful historical romance that includes a romp on the wild paranormal side. It embraces the best of both worlds and for a reader who doesn’t read too many historical romances, this book and its two predecessors completely hooked me on this author’s talent. Her voice, her characterization, her world building within a well-known genre is fresh, unique and engaging. I’ll be keeping Will’s story on my keeper shelf and eagerly look forward to more adventures from the mind of author Lydia Dare.