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Friday, March 30, 2012

Into the Mists Forever by Rosemary Laurey

Into the Mists Forever by Rosemary Laurey
Publisher: Ellora’s Cave Publishing
Genre: Historical, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (37 pgs)
Heat Level: sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Water Lily

In fourth century Britain, regimental surgeon Justinius Corvus encounters a local woman called Gwyltha and assumes she is the wife of some local chieftain. When they meet again during an epidemic, he learns she is a local healer. What he does not learn is she is an ancient one—a vampire. After a heated and passionate encounter, she disappears and, despite his efforts, Justinius learns little about her until she reappears to him when he’s wounded in the field of battle. He then understands the true nature of his lover…when she gives him eternity.

Into the Mists Forever, the prelude to Ms. Laurey’s Forever vampire series, has me hungering for more.

Don’t let the modern look of the cover confuse you, this short is set in fourth century Britain. I love how Ms. Laurey handles vampires in this story. They aren’t the standard blood-thirsty, lusty creatures of the night we are familiar with. She calls them “the Timeless” and they apparently have no problems with daylight or the general populous’ fear-factor. In fact, people seem to like her and respect her, probably because she’s a healer who ministers to the people—a people she considers her own, under her protection.

Gwyltha is well-rounded and real with well-motivated actions. Roman healer, Justinius Corvus, is also a nicely fleshed out character. The level of character development and the way the story ends makes Into the Mists Forever read more like a character study than a true short story, but that works well since it appears that the purpose of the story is to hook the reader on the characters so they’ll buy the upcoming Forever series. It worked for me. I’m hooked.

I don’t know how Into the Mists Forever relates to Ms. Laurey’s present Vampire series which also use the word “forever” in the title. I do know that if the Forever series is about Gwyltha and Justinius, I’ll be grabbing the first one for sure. I hope you’ll pick up Into the Mists Forever and enjoy meeting Gwyltha and Justinius as much as I did.

Queen in Exile by Donna Hatch

Queen in Exile by Donna Hatch
Publisher: Walnut Springs Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full length (373 pgs)
Heat Level sweet
Book Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Rumors of war hang over Princess Jeniah's peaceful country of Arden, a land that shuns both magic and warfare. Following a lifelong dream, Jeniah forms a telepathic bond with a revered creature called a chayim, who is prophesied to save her kingdom. But when a Darborian knight, Kai, comes upon Jeniah with her chayim, he sees only a vicious monster about to devour a maiden, and he slays the beast.

Devastated by the loss of her chayim, and fearing that her magic is evil, Jeniah doubts her destiny. When an enemy invades Arden City, they slaughter the people, storm the castle, and execute the entire royal family except the princess. Rescued by the knight who slew her chayim, Jeniah is now heir to the throne of Arden and the only hope for freeing her people.

On the run and hunted by enemy soldiers, Jeniah must place her life and the fate of her kingdom in the hands of this trained killer. Torn between embracing her destiny as queen of Arden, and her love for a mere knight, she must ultimately rely on her magic to save herself and her people from death and tyranny.

Everyone knows a member of royalty can’t marry a commoner. So why would you want to fall in love with one?

This story grabbed my attention right away when Jeniah went for a walk in the woods and met a chayim. The prophecy about her life included the chayim and she’s bonding with him when a foreign knight rides into the clearing and kills him! This author writes a story full of action, a bit of magic, staunch friendships, and a fight to the death between good and evil.

Ms. Hatch’s words flow smoothly, the plot is multifaceted, and the story is never boring. It was a real joy to sit and read about Jeniah’s adventure as she comes of age while fighting for her life. The author has researched this time period and makes her tale authentic as well as entertaining.

Jeniah is a young woman who knows she is to fulfill a prophecy, but has no idea how. Kai is the best knight in country, but he specializes in knowing how to fight, not how to make princesses happy. The attraction between them is forbidden, but neither can stop it. Kai does his best to ignore it. This torment makes their survival even harder because they are distracted. This adds to the emotional tension that runs through the storyline.

Ms. Hatch has woven a story of magic gone wrong, an immortal evil king, a sorceress and a small contingency of honest, good people who are fighting them. Jeniah might be a queen of a destroyed kingdom, but she doesn’t give up. Neither do the warriors that have agreed to defend her. This would make a great movie.

I really loved this story and am keeping this book for my personal library. I know I can pick it up and reread it and enjoy it all over again. If you like magic, romance, and action, this book is for you.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Wanted: Undead or Alive by Kerrelyn Sparks

Wanted: Undead or Alive by Kerrelyn Sparks
Publisher: Avon (Harper Collins)
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (374 pgs)
Heat Level: spicy
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

He's a vampire from the big city . . .

Phineas McKinney thought New York City was tough, until he was attacked by Malcontents—evil vampires who consider mortals to be snacks. Saved by the good vampires, Phin swore to devote his now undead life to stopping the Malcontents. He's got his job cut out for him when word comes that their enemy may be hiding in Wyoming. What does a city boy like him know about horses and campfires? Good thing he's got Brynley Jones with him . . . if only she didn't hate every vampire on earth.

She's a werewolf princess . . .

Bryn believes vampires are seductive and charming, and that makes them dangerous. So she's more than a little annoyed about teaming up with Phin, even if he is the only bloodsucker able to make her inner wolf purr. But as they hunt down the new leader of the Malcontents, danger threatens . . . and Phineas and Brynley discover a passion that will rock the foundation of their supernatural world.

I think I’m in lust with Phineas. Along with all the other characters in the previous books, I thought the Love Doctor was a little over the top and pretentious. What I discovered about him in this book where he finally gets a chance at being the hero, is that he has a lot more depth to him than the author previously let on. His story is more than a pleasant surprise, it was a delightful revelation.

The first thing I want to share is that I am tickled pink with Ms. Sparks’ inclusion of what has to be one of the most sexy and exciting commercials that T.V. has seen in years. To say I got a kick out of how she integrated it into her hero is an understatement. I remember when it made the rounds with all of my fellow romance readers on Facebook because it was not only well done but the man was incredibly hot. Ms. Sparks took that little idea and ran with it, giving me one of the most grin worthy and wonderful experiences that I’ve had since I began reading her Love at Stake series. In my mind’s eye I now know exactly what Phineas looks like and when I applied that vision to the man who makes the heroine alternate between growling and lusting, I’m right there with her. I want to meet a man like that and nip and nibble him all over, but I’m sure Bryn would have something to say about that.

Ever hear the song, Tears of a Clown by Smokey Robinson? That’s Phineas’ theme song. What started off as a joke had turned into a travesty, leaving him alone and lonely. I felt so sad for him. The author presented valid and emotion tugging reasons for the hero’s outlook on life and how it shaped him. He alternated between wanting respect and feeling like he didn’t deserve it. He made some huge errors in his past and didn’t think they were redeemable. As regular folk, humans are their own worst critics – we judge ourselves harshly – but only when we are in fact really good and honest citizens. Criminals couldn’t care less. It was heartbreaking to realize Phineas couldn’t get past his mistakes and thought himself as nothing but a petty criminal. It took Bryn to force him to see the truth by seeing himself through her eyes, and that was an excellent way to show the healing power of love. It packed a powerful punch.

Bryn needed healing as well, but it’s not from something she did as it was something done to her. But first, she had trust someone and with that person, boldly find the courage to stand up and face her fears. That was a hard thing to do when she felt all alone and abandoned. She had good reasons for feeling that way and they were truly awful. The interesting quirk about her character is that even though she felt helpless and hunted, she did find ways to fight back, to help others and to change things that no one wanted to change. The heroine certainly earned the title of “hero” because she didn’t talk, she did, she acted and she made a difference. I liked that about her. Passive aggressive retaliation can be quite effective. Oh, but when she’d finally had enough? When scary push came to threatening shove, I was awed by what the author chose to have happen to Bryn. That was so cool! It was a total surprise not only for me but for a certain jerk of a person. I was so proud of her.

Secondary characters abounded in this book, much to my delight. I always enjoy it when folks arrive from previous stories to help out and kick Malcontent derriere when needed. This tale used them to good effect. There was lots of action, growling, shooting and chasing. The villains were a carryover from the last couple of installments but readers can be assured that Wanted: Undead or Alive can stand on its own merits. Ms. Sparks did throw in plenty of background information to catch a new reader up to speed without being overwhelming or resorting to ‘telling’.

Here’s another aspect of this series that I am pleased with. Even though this is book number twelve, the author continues to earn my devotion because of something she hasn’t done. She has not let this series spiral down into dark depravity and violence. So many of my favorite paranormal series have taken this route to such a degree, it’s no longer worth my time to read in order to reach the HEA. I’m too stressed, am not entertained and find that pushing the envelope to make the villain even worse than the one before does not interest me enough to see his/her downfall. Ms. Sparks has consistently presented stories that have a wonderful balance of light drama and suspense, interesting and varied characters, fun romances and a sense of humor that is refreshing, and runs the gamut of knee slapping and grin inducing or snorting soda out my nose when I least expect it. I can rely on this author to mix things up a bit to keep things fresh and quirky while delivering a story about people I continue to want to know about, to follow and be amazed at. The villains are no less nasty and troublesome but they don’t undermine the romance nor do they overshadow the intent of the story. Even with Queen Corky at her worst, I had the best time.

The dialogue was entertaining and the back and forth snapping between Bryn and Phineas was very insightful. I felt bad for the poor trees, enjoyed getting to know Phineas’ brother, was proud of Phil when he stood up to you-know-who, and got the biggest charge out of Digger and his aluminum hat wearing dog. The pace of the plot was brisk where it needed to be and slowed down when I wanted it to so I could savor the growth of the hero and heroine’s relationship.

Wanted: Undead or Alive is a hoot. There’s plenty of action, thrills and romance to keep a reader satisfied and entertained. It was a long time in coming but Phineas’ happy ever after was worth the wait. I definitely recommend this book to fans of not only the series but any paranormal romance fan who enjoys a smile with their teeth and fur. It’s a keeper and I’m thrilled to add Wanted: Undead or Alive to my pile of beloved books.

Yesterday’s Tomorrow by Ceri Hebert

Yesterday’s Tomorrow by Ceri Hebert
Publisher: Still Moments Publishing
genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (46 pgs)
Heat Level: sweet
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed Water Lily

What would you do if life gave you another chance to go back and get it right?

No one needs a mental health day more than forty-four year old Lila Weidner, but when the overworked HR director wakes up in her twenty-three year old body, she’s left wondering what is going on. Where is her life as a successful business woman? Where is her equally successful husband? And how is she going to maneuver through the day in order to stay on the same path she followed over twenty years earlier? Lila soon rediscovers old dreams and old friendships that she left behind and wonders if this is her chance for another shot at a truly fulfilling life. Does she dare to step off her original path and allow yesterday to become her new tomorrow?

Yesterday’s Tomorrow starts with an intriguing premise and gets even better.

Langston Hughes wrote a poem that asks, “What happens to a dream deferred?” Ceri Hebert answers it in her very satisfying short story, Yesterday’s Tomorrow.

Do you remember “do overs” as a kid? At forty-four, Lila Weidner gets one. I love what she does with her “do over”, and I’m willing to bet you will, too. This story is not only immensely satisfying, but it gets stuck in your brain because it gets you to think—way more than those “Freaky Friday” shows ever did. Lila has to decide what she’s going to do if she doesn’t go back to her old life, and equally important, what she’s going to do if she does.

This book is about dreams, those realized and those deferred. It’s about choices and claiming the right to be happy. It’s about settling and about risking everything. It’s about joy and love. I loved this story. I loved how it made me think of Langston Hughes’ poem “A Dream Deferred.” But mostly, I loved how it made me look at my life and think what I’d do differently, and more importantly, what I can do now to achieve those dreams deferred. Quite a lot to accomplish in forty-six short pages, but Ceri Hebert manages it quite nicely. Good job, Ms. Hebert.

I hope you’ll get this short story and that you enjoy it as much as I did.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lord of the Black Isle by Elaine Coffman

Lord of the Black Isle by Elaine Coffman
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (333 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

Elisabeth Douglas, a modern woman, is suddenly pulled back into 1515 Scotland by an ancestral ghost. She uses her skills she learned in medical school and quickly gains renown as a great healer. When the Earl Of Kinloss, Devan Murray, wrongfully blames Elisabeth for his sister’s death, Elisabeth finds herself being accused of witchcraft. Devan is soon betwitched by Elisabeth, but can he put aside his grief and woo her before it’s too late?

What a delightful sight to see a fresh-bathed knight drying in the Scottish sunlight. However, if one is running from kidnappers then first things must come first.

Dr. Elizabeth Douglas copes with being snatched from the twenty-first century and plopped down in sixteenth-century Scotland. She even puts her life back together after having the man she planned to marry snatched away by order of the King’s regent, but she is really tired of being kidnapped by the MacLeans. When the gorgeous knight, David Murray whisks her away to escape her abductors, she is not sure if she is being kidnapped again, but riding in front of him on his horse is magical and tilts her world. When he leaves her at her intended destination, a famous hospital with the friars where she is to study their methods, she feels a sad emptiness when he rides away. Elizabeth knows healing is her calling and sets about to learn how she can use her talents in this age before modern methods and medicines were known. The reader has a fascinating journey with Elizabeth as she moves toward her destiny, of course, with the Black Douglas ghost meddling along the way.

David Murray, Earl of Kinloss, an honorable knight with a sad almost unbearable past, feels the wholesome, pure, goodness, and giving nature of Elizabeth’s heart and soul as he holds her while they ride to the famous hospital, the House of the Holy Trinity, between York and Edinburgh. He comes to wonder if she was truly real or just a fantasy. Leaving her with the friars was one of the hardest things he had ever done. But he is mindful of his duty to his clan, a duty that he never shirks. When he has Elizabeth brought to Asiling Castle on Black Isle to tend his dying twin sister, another facet of his personality comes to light—a fearsome side. Dark, unhappy days come for all. How things evole makes intriguing reading.

If you’ve read The Return of the Black Douglas, you’ll recognize many of the secondary characters like Isobella, Elizabeth’s twin, the McKinnons, the MacLeans, and, of course, the Black Douglas ghost with his humor, compassion, sage advice, his guardianship, and especially his meddlesome ways. He brings a unique quality to the story.

Elaine Coffman’s compelling writing style gives a definite sense of time in history without getting into the wars and fighting. She focuses on the lives of the ordinary people and how they live, love, and take care of each other. The conflicts come from personal agendas rather than from political ones.

In Lord of the Black Isle, Ms. Coffman sprinkles in many jewels of literature that bring to mind old truths that still touch the emotions and senses. The poignant quotes that announce each chapter are special bonuses—many of them bring back memories of college days and long discussions about life. Also, her descriptions are captivating. They quicken the senses. For example one can almost feel the cold water of the burns and the cold damp that seeps in and chills when the sun disappears and the stinging cold of the rain driven by the cold wind comes. But one also sees the sparkling beautiful of the harsh country when the sun shines brightly.

Best of all in the descriptions is the love that grows strong and true--mental, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, plus the love scenes that swamp the senses and sweep the reader along on a euphoric tide toward ecstasy with the hero and the heroine—sensual, sizzling, and so satisfying.

Pointe of Danger by Lisa Greer

Pointe of Danger by Lisa Greer
Publisher: Musa Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense
Length: Short (34 pgs)
Heat Level: sweet
Rated: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

When Neve Warren finds an old pair of pointe shoes, a dangerous obsession from the past threatens to replay itself in her present.

Neve Warren, an injured ballerina, is spending the Christmas season in Ocean City, Maryland. Panic attacks and fears about her violent ex-boyfriend, Joshua Payne, challenge her attempt at recovery. After being followed one night on the local boardwalk, she realizes the past is never far behind.

Cam London, a police officer with his own troubled history, collides with Neve, literally, that night. When Neve finds out the history of the house she is renting and that the threats of the past coincide eerily with those of the present, can Cam keep her safe? And will Neve put the ghosts of the house to rest?

Lisa Greer’s thrilling Pointe of Danger packs the best of romance with a big splash of intrigue into a short, fast-paced read.

Ballerina Neve is in danger from the outset – she just knows it. And it's that danger that drives her straight into the most dashing man’s arms – a man with sapphire blue eyes. Of course, its Cam’s job to help out ladies in distress (he’s a cop), but somehow the conversation with him seems meaningful.

Neve’s past looms mysteriously from the shadows. She has the relatively recent bit of sadness, but more importantly, she also has that distant threat from a man she hoped she had left firmly in her past. Of course, reader’s suspicions are aroused at once. Neve has good reason for concern, but handily, that very concern brings Cam back in touch, with easy-to-believe reassurances.

Ah, we are relieved, and better yet, here is the nicely done kick-off to romance. Or is it?

Greer keeps us guessing with an unpredictable, yet somehow not complex, easy-to-believe plot line. She engages our emotions from start to finish.

The beach and tourist-y background are just right for a different, yet still nicely holiday-feeling story set at Christmas. The intrigue is well-supported by the dark and cluttered attic and Neve’s various explorations…and the premonitions in her dreams.

Ms. Greer's style is extraordinarily straightforward and readable. Her writing fades into the background, to allow her story to take center stage.

Gripping from the start, but with its tender moments too, Pointe of Danger combines the best qualities of romance with suspense; blends a Christmas tale with a bit of a thriller. You will find yourself hoping for mistletoe even while puzzling out the mystery.

Wicked Road To Hell by Juliana Stone

Wicked Road To Hell by Juliana Stone
Publisher: Avon
Genre Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (384 pages)
Heat Level: hot
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Sunflower

With the legions of the underworld gathering and chaos close at hand, Sorcerer Declan O’Hara’s deadly skills will be tested. But nothing will sway him from his duty…

Rescued from eternal darkness, vampire Ana DeLacrux owes her life to a mysterious stranger who asks for only one thing—her absolute allegiance. She serves this master without question until Declan, the one man who can make her forget her vow, returns. His magic is stronger, darker…more compelling than ever. His blood awakens a hunger she must resist, or risk deadly consequences.

As Ana and Declan join forces, the streets of New Orleans become a dangerous place for both humans and the otherworld. And the most dangerous place of all is a road Declan’s traveled before…the wicked road to hell.

Vampires and demons and magic, oh my! If you couldn't get enough of the remarkable world that author Juliana Stone created with the jaguar books, then fear not! Wicked Road to Hell is the beginning of a spin off from those previous books, and it is darker, sexier and more enchanting than before.

Those who have read the books from the jaguar series may remember Ana, the vampire. Here she is front and center for her own story feature. She's been to hell and back (literally, and all the while I kept humming the music from a Rodney Atkins country song: If You're Going Through Hell) Even without the fact that she's a vampire, Ana is fierce, mighty and tough. She's a heroine that I wouldn't want to cross. The type of woman you'd want on your side if things were to ever be troublesome. Despite the rough edges, though, Ana does have a good heart and is willing to help. The sparks surely fly when she's around Declan, that's for sure.

Declan is also another previous character getting his own story. What a surprise for him when he sees Ana after thinking she's dead and gone. He doesn't want to leave her side, but situations occur that test the boundaries and limits for the pair. He is not of her kind, and that alone causes mishap. But it doesn't stop there at all. Declan is also a strong character. He's a hero to swoon over. He takes many risks, but he's a fighter and believer in his causes.

The world in the League of Guardians is impressive. I like how the author created it, and there are many paranormal creatures that are a part of it. So far I have only read the first book in the jaguar series, and I felt like I was missing a lot of things that must have happened in book two and three. So if you're the kind that reads series in order, then before reading Wicked Road to Hell, you may want to read His Darkest Hunger, His Darkest Embrace, and His Darkest Salvation.

Overall, I enjoyed the story. The plot is filled with adventure, the love scenes are hot and filled with sexual tension. I won't hesitate to pick up more books from this paranormal author. If you enjoy darker romances set in contemporary times, then be sure to keep Ms. Stone on your list.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Kiss Me Slowly by Amber Lea Easton

Kiss Me Slowly by Amber Lea Easton
Publisher: Siren-Bookstrand
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full length (313 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

Neck-deep in a setup that could have him in jail or dead by Monday, Jonathan Alexander is desperate. It’s Saturday. His only hope is Grace Dupont, the best forensic accountant in Miami. But there’s a glitch with that idea. She is also his ex-girlfriend who would rather watch him drown than throw him a life vest.

Grace enjoys seeing Jonathan squirm. On your knees, boy, she thinks as he pitches for her help. Always a sucker for the dark-haired, blue-eyed boys, she risks her precariously balanced life of secrets to help him.

Trapped in a whirlwind of diamond smuggling and million-dollar money trails, Jonathan and Grace flee to the sea to stall for time as they try to prove his innocence. Romance sizzles beneath Florida Keys sunshine. Both scoff at happy endings. Both doubt justice. Both know each kiss could be their last.

If Jonathan’s only hope is a woman who hates him, he might be better off taking his chances with the FBI.

I could feel the walls closing in on Jonathan from page one. He absolutely believes he’ll be in “jail or dead by Monday.” His anxiety and desperation are palpable and I couldn’t help but wonder what he’d done, or rather not done, to be in such a precarious situation. Jonathan knows Grace is his only hope. However, they were high school sweethearts and to say their relationship didn’t end well is a massive understatement. Jonathan is so pitiful that Grace agrees to help him despite her wounded heart. From that moment on, the pacing of Kiss Me Slowly takes off and I was in for a high-speed ride.

Grace and Jonathan find themselves on the run dodging bullets and trying to unravel the web Jonathan is tangled in. Whoever is setting Jonathan up always seems to be one step ahead of them. The sense of urgency intensified with every page and had me racing to the end of the book. I do have to say, I don’t think there were quite enough clues to solve the entire mystery. I was able to fit most of the pieces of the puzzle together, but the final piece really seemed to come out of nowhere. I would have enjoyed the story even more if all the pieces had been presented.

Putting it mildly, Grace is a complicated woman. Her life has been one tragedy after another, including a very bad experience with the justice system that leaves her unwilling to trust anyone outside of her immediate family. This experience made her willingness to help Jonathan in ways that aren’t exactly legal completely believable. Grace tries very hard to appear cold and aloof, but it's all a mask. I really enjoyed watching her carefully crafted exterior melt to reveal a warm, caring, and very strong woman.

Jonathan is a good man, but he has absolutely no business being the CEO of a company. Like Grace, I couldn’t help but shake my head and wonder why he didn’t seek out help when he first began to notice that things in his business weren’t right. Even though he lacks a certain amount of common sense, Jonathan’s heart is usually in the right place. When things get dangerous, he does everything he can to protect Grace not only from whoever is out to ruin him, but also from the officials in law enforcement who wouldn’t approve of some of Grace’s “hobbies.”

Jonathan and Grace have chemistry to burn. They carry a lot of baggage that threatens to dampen the sparks between them, but their feelings for each other simply will not be denied. I liked that they didn’t ignore the past heartache. They faced it head on and had some pretty intense fights that had me wondering if they truly had a future together. Even though there was plenty of tension surrounding their relationship, it was easy to picture them as a couple. When they simply took a time out, they had an easy way of relating to each other that just made sense and had me hoping for a happy ending.

Kiss Me Slowly is a gripping suspense filled with plenty of danger and passion. Romantic suspense fans won’t want to miss it.

Schooling Miss Burke by Paty Jager

Schooling Miss Burke by Paty Jager
Publisher: Wild Rose Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (71 pgs)
Heat Level: sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

A letter from home shatters politician Caleb Jamison's world, returning him to his empty family home and cattle ranch.

Hettie Burke's life takes a life-altering turn when she becomes the parent of her twin niece and nephew. Looking for work, she stumbles upon a covey of soiled doves on vacation and learns sometimes fate takes precedence over best-laid plans.

When Hettie crossed paths with the party of soiled doves, she didn’t know what was worse. Should she stay on the trail by herself and perhaps run across outlaws or Indians? Or should she expose her niece and nephew to women who lived this type of life?

Ms. Jager writes a good tale of the old west and exposes several of the warts that plagued this time period. Caleb, her hero, is a strong man who's grown up on a ranch and has aspirations to be the Governor of Montana. Hettie is a young woman who hopes to get a job teaching school. The attraction between them is immediate, but Hettie can’t follow her heart. Her first priority must be the two children left in her care after their parents’ death.

The author adds the additional emotion of loss to both her characters. With Hettie it's her sister and brother-in-law. With Caleb, it’s his entire family. Both are feeling lost and incomplete until they find each other.

The soiled doves were the most interesting part of the story. Many got to that point because it was the only thing they could do to earn money. The author treats this part of the story with discretion and it’s just part of the story, not the main focus of the plot. That makes it more palatable.

The word play and hesitation on Hettie’s part is fun to watch since Caleb has made up his mind she will be his. The author gently works her magic on the characters and gives you a good romance and a happy ending to a story that might not have gone well. I enjoyed reading it.

Gold, Frankincense, and Murder by Barbara Early

Gold, Frankincense, and Murder by Barbara Early
Publisher: White Rose Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday, Inspirational, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (89 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

High school geometry teacher, Donna Russell likes her life well-ordered and logical, even if it is a tad solitary at times. But when a charming co-worker at the local food bank disappears just before Christmas, Donna is left with more questions than solutions.

After the missing man's neighbor, muscle-bound EMT Sam Holton, volunteers as Donna's crime-fighting sidekick, sparks fly between them. Donna wonders if Sam can be trusted, or if he's trying to throw an unknown into her calculations—and her life.

And when police recover a body from the icy Niagara River, Donna is faced with the most frustrating equation of all: can murder plus mayhem ever equal romance?

Something smells fishy at the food pantry, and it isn’t the old cans of tuna.

I knew I was in for an entertaining story as soon as I met Donna on the first page. As Donna restocks the shelves at the food pantry, she’s mildly annoyed at having to fill in for Neal, who missed his shift for the second Saturday in a row. I could clearly picture her banging cans of food around as she groused about men and her nonexistent social life. Even though Donna is wishing for a romantic relationship, I like that she didn’t wallow in self pity. She finds self-worth in her job, her volunteer efforts, and her faith. Things take a more serious turn when Donna realizes something might be wrong with Neal. Soon Donna finds herself investigating the murder of a friend, but she’s just an amateur sleuth. Will she discover the culprit before she becomes the next victim?

Donna is such a fun character. She’s smart, caring, and has a wonderful, wry sense of humor. While her mind is often filled with amusing thoughts concerning those around her, she laughs at herself just as much. She’s a little on the cynical side, but not truly bitter. I think she’d be a great friend. Donna also strikes me as a bit of a control freak who does not handle the unknown very well. When Neal’s attractive neighbor, Sam, offers to help her investigate, she's reluctant to accept his help. I laughed when she made a chart with one side labeled “Cute Sam” and one side “Scary Sam” that outlined the pros and cons of working with the man. Despite her reluctance, Donna and Sam have great chemistry and their sweet, flirty moments added a subtle, romantic touch to the story.

The secondary characters are not quite as rounded as I usually like, but they definitely frame Donna well and help move the plot along. Perhaps the most interesting secondary character is Donna’s cat, Soot. Soot’s battle with the Christmas tree had me laughing out loud.

Donna’s list of suspects is short, but I didn’t connect the dots until right before the murderer was revealed. All the pieces needed to solve the puzzle are present, and I was kicking myself for not picking up on a crucial clue earlier in the story. Once things click into place, the mystery is wrapped up quickly. Justice is served and there are no loose ends.

I thoroughly enjoyed Gold, Frankincense, and Murder. It is an all around fun mystery story with a dash of romance mixed in. Anyone looking for an entertaining cozy mystery with a touch of romance should certainly check this story out.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sapphire Dare by Tianna Xander and Viola Grace

Sapphire Dare by Tianna Xander and Viola Grace
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (72 pgs)
Heat Level: sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Instead of going back to Earth after one of her targets shoots her with a poison-tipped dart, Sapphire takes her mother’s advice and seeks out the greatest healer their people have. How was she to know that just being near him would send her senses reeling and tie her stomach into knots? When five males arrive to convince her that Galen is not the right dragon for her, will Sapphire run for cover or will she fight alongside the dragon male who saved her life and preserved her freedom to choose?

Dragons don’t mate like humans. The males fight over the females. Once a male “marks” her, she’s his for life. Sapphire is not really impressed by that. She thinks she has the right to pick her own mate. Good thing Galen is strong enough to fight off the other male dragons while she “decides.”

This series has been fun to read. The authors create very strong dragon characters and imbue them with honor, a firm sense of right from wrong, and a dedication to their duties. They are fighting fit and fast enough to win most fights. It’s like watching gladiators fight.

The standard theme through this series is that the dragon swans are being sent out to retrieve humans who have left earth. Originally they were either sent there as punishment or they volunteered to go due to religious beliefs, an urge to adventure, or for personal gain. Sounds a bit like Australia, doesn’t it?

This is something I could see happening in the distant future, so I like the concept. Especially since they have to retrieve the humans because the protective space about Earth is beginning to give up and they have to maintain balance.

The conflict between dragons and humans adds flavor and excitement to the story. I just wish they’d make the story a bit longer and explore the new relationships further. The novella length is short and while complete, it leaves me asking for more. The authors make the dragon relationships amazing and forceful which gathers your attention and entices you. You can tell the authors are working their way up to some spectacular conclusion down the road. Finding out about each new dragon swan and her dragon is well worth the read.

Why not grab this series and settle down to read about a world in the future where dragons and humans live together uneasily and an apocalypse could come to pass one day?