Monday, January 15, 2018

Review: Down by Contact by Santino Hassell

Down by Contact by Santino Hassell
Series: The Barons, Book 2
Publisher: InterMix
Genre: Male/Male Contemporary Romance
ISBN: 9780399586309
Release Date: January 16, 2018
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N

Two rival football players begin a game with higher stakes than the Super Bowl in this steamy romance from the author of Illegal Contact.

Simeon Boudreaux, the New York Barons’ golden-armed quarterback, is blessed with irresistible New Orleans charm and a face to melt your mama’s heart. He’s universally adored by fans and the media. Coming out as gay in solidarity with his teammate hasn’t harmed his reputation in the least—except for some social media taunting from rival linebacker Adrián Bravo.

Though they were once teammates, Adrián views Simeon as a traitor and the number-one name on the New Jersey Predators’ shit list. When animosity between the two NFL players reaches a boiling point on the field, culminating in a dirty fist fight, they’re both benched for six games and sentenced to joint community service teaching sullen, Brooklyn teens how to play ball.

At first, they can barely stand to be in the same room, but running the camp forces them to shape up. With no choice but to work together, Simeon realizes Adrián is more than his alpha-jerk persona, and Adrián begins to question why he’s always had such strong feelings for the gorgeous QB…

Down by Contact is insanely addictive! Like the first Barons book, Illegal Contact, Simeon and Adrián’s story is so compelling that you’ll want to be sure you have plenty of time to devour it in one sitting. Santino Hassell’s writing has power and passion and his characters are so vibrant that there’s no way this story won’t stick with you.

I dare readers not to fall in love with Simeon from the start. He’s so charming that he lights up the page and it’s easy to see why almost every one he meets is instantly at ease with him. In the previous Barons book, Illegal Contact, Simeon came out as gay in solidarity with his best friend and teammate, Gavin. Coming out hasn’t harmed Simeon’s reputation in any visible way, but the invasiveness of the media and the online taunting from his former teammate now rival, Adrián, is wearing on even the generally positive Simeon. Simeon isn’t perfect, but he’s a pretty perfect hero. He’s kind, generous, and has a spine of steel. He doesn’t let anyone walk over him, but he’s also willing to forgive. I absolutely loved him and couldn’t wait for him to fall for someone who’s his match.

While Simeon made me swoon, Adrián isn’t immediately endearing. And though it might sound weird to say it, I enjoyed the fact that Adrián is deeply flawed at the start, because he grew into a hero worth rooting for. Adrián is aggressive and doesn’t think before he speaks, throwing out comments he doesn’t even realize are homophobic and deeply hurtful. He also carries deep resentment toward Simeon for leaving the Predators to play for the Barons. Part of Adrián’s animosity also stems from the fact that he’s bisexual and doesn’t realize it. I really liked that Simeon was able to open Adrián’s eyes about his behavior. Adrián isn’t a bad person, which is why his change over the course of the story is organic. It was great to see him realize just what he had been saying and the impact it had. He not only starts to think before he speaks, but becomes a better, more aware person, one who is happier and more at peace with himself.

Adrián and Simeon may hate each other at the start of Down by Contact, but the former friends turned enemies have one hell of a love story. When the tension simmering between them explodes into a fistfight on the field, they’re both suspended and forced to teach teenagers how to play football. Having to put the kids first means they have to put aside their animosity, which of course leads to the barriers between them coming down. It’s clear from the start that these two have incredible chemistry and I couldn’t wait for Adrián to realize that his feelings for Simeon run far deeper than he ever could have imagined. The sexual tension between them is incredible, and when it boils over Down by Contact gets insanely hot. In bed and out, Adrián and Simeon make a fantastic couple. That doesn’t mean the road to happily ever after is an easy one. Adrián not only has to come to terms with the fact that he’s bisexual, he and Simeon have to make hard decisions about their burgeoning relationship that could impact the careers they love (and those are only the non-spoiler obstacles). Mr. Hassell makes every bump in the road worth it, because the ending of the story left me grinning.

Down by Contact is the second book in Mr. Hassell’s Barons series, but it can easily be read as a standalone (though you’d be missing out on a great story if you skip Illegal Contact). I absolutely loved Simeon and Adrián’s romance. It’s sexy and sweet, but also interesting and layered. I cannot wait to re-read it!


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Best Books of 2017

2018 is here and with it comes a batch of highly anticipated reads. But before I fully dive into the new year looking for some new favorite books, it’s time to take a look back at the best books of 2017. I read 138 books last year, including quite a few re-reads that I fell in love with all over again. I tried 31 new (to me) authors and discovered some wonderful authors (like Rebecca Brooks, Santino Hassell, Stefanie London, and Heather McCollum) whose backlists I cannot wait to dive into. And finally, I participated in my eighth A to Z Reading Challenge, a fun challenge that usually leads me to at least a couple of books I might not have moved to the top of my TBR pile otherwise.

I read a number of excellent books in 2017, but I did manage to narrow the list down so I could spotlight my 17 favorites of '17 – the ten best new reads and the seven best re-reads.



Top Ten Books of 2017
Top Re-Reads of 2017

My Top Ten Books of 2017

Note: My picks weren’t all published in 2017 (one is even a 1930s classic), but all were new-to-me reads for the year.
Also note: The books are alphabetized by author as I love them all equally.


1. White Hot (Hidden Legacy, Book 2) by Ilona Andrews
My Review | Purchase Link






2. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Purchase Link




3. On Broken Wings (Wild Aces, Book 3) by Chanel Cleeton
My Review | Purchase Link






4. Illegal Contact (The Barons, Book 1) by Santino Hassell
My Review | Purchase Link






5. Fair Game (All’s Fair, Book 1) by Josh Lanyon
Purchase Link







6. Fair Play (All’s Fair, Book 2) by Josh Lanyon
Purchase Link






7. Fair Chance (All’s Fair, Book 3) by Josh Lanyon
My Review | Purchase Link






8. Trouble Next Door by Stefanie London
My Review | Purchase Link






9. The Wolf of Kisimul Castle (Highland Isles, Book 3) by Heather McCollum
My Review | Purchase Link






10. Silver Silence (Psy-Changeling Trinity, Book 1) by Nalini Singh
My Review | Purchase Link










My Top Re-Reads of 2017


1. Rock Chick (Rock Chick, Book 1) by Kristen Ashley
Purchase Link




2. Quinn’s Hart by Cassandra Gold
My Review





3. Azagoth (Demonica Underworld, Book 1) by Larissa Ione
Purchase Link






4. Accidentally Compromising the Duke (Wedded by Scandal, Book 1) by Stacy Reid
My Review | Purchase Link






5. One Hot December (Men at Work, Book 3) by Tiffany Reisz
My Review | Purchase Link






6. Angels Fall by Nora Roberts
Purchase Link







7. High Noon by Nora Roberts
Purchase Link

Monday, January 1, 2018

Review: Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley

Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Kat Holloway Mysteries, Book 1
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Historical Mystery
ISBN: 9780399585517
Release Date: January 2, 2018
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N
Jennifer Ashley Reading Order

Victorian class lines are crossed when cook Kat Holloway is drawn into a murder that reaches all the way to the throne.

Highly sought-after young cook Kat Holloway takes a position in a Mayfair mansion and soon finds herself immersed in the odd household of Lord Rankin. Kat is unbothered by the family’s eccentricities as long as they stay away from her kitchen, but trouble finds its way below stairs when her young Irish assistant is murdered.

Intent on discovering who killed the helpless kitchen maid, Kat turns to the ever-capable Daniel McAdam, who is certainly much more than the charming delivery man he pretends to be. Along with the assistance of Lord Rankin’s unconventional sister-in-law and a mathematical genius, Kat and Daniel discover that the household murder was the barest tip of a plot rife with danger and treason—one that’s a threat to Queen Victoria herself.

Murder, secrets, and seedcake all come together to form one highly entertaining mystery in Death Below Stairs. Jennifer Ashley’s first Kat Holloway novel is a delight, thanks in large part to the wonderful cast of characters.

Kat Holloway is a talented cook and I loved seeing how a Victorian-era household chef works. Yet while that’s interesting in its own right, that’s not what endeared her to me. Kat is smart, no-nonsense, and stands up for what is right, even when it might get her in trouble. She’s a clever sleuth, and when her assistant is murdered in the middle of the night, she becomes determined to find out who killed the girl and why. But a cook – no matter how quick – cannot solve crime alone, which is why she needs the help of Daniel McAdam. Daniel is a mysterious figure who puts on and sheds personas at the drop of a hat. He seems to be able to find anything at any time and I’m desperate to know more about him. What I do know so far, I absolutely adore. Even though this isn’t a romance (though it does have romantic elements), I still have to say that Daniel is a pretty swoon-worthy hero. His charm radiates off the page and the way he interacts with Kat makes me sigh more often than not. The two of them have seriously fantastic chemistry that I’m hoping will continue to develop over the course of the series.

Daniel and Kat are at the heart of Death Below Stairs, but they’re not the only interesting characters. Daniel’s son James is as charming as his father and Kat’s daughter Grace is as sweet as can be. Lord Rankin’s household staff are a bunch of colorful characters that add life and depth to the story. Every single supporting character in this book is well-drawn and adds to the tale. But though the characters are what stood out most to me in Death Below Stairs, that doesn’t mean the mystery is lacking. A not-so-simple case of murder leads to clues about a Fenian plot, one with dire implications that leads to an exciting race against the clock. Ms. Ashley seamlessly blends historical details in with fiction and the result is a marvelous mystery that’s filled with action.

Death Below Stairs is the first full-length Kat Holloway novel and readers can easily dive right in here. However, there is a prequel novella, A Soupçon of Poison, that I highly recommend reading first. It gave me a better sense going into the novel of Kat’s character, background, professional situation, and her relationships with Daniel, James, and Grace.

Death Below Stairs is an engaging murder mystery overall. Jennifer Ashley’s writing always draws me in and this story is no exception. And while I finished this book a well-satisfied reader, I cannot wait to see what Kat and Daniel take on next in Scandal Above Stairs!


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Promise Not to Tell by Jayne Ann Krentz

Promise Not to Tell by Jayne Ann Krentz
Series: Cutler, Sutter & Salinas, Book 2
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Romantic Suspense
ISBN: 9780399585272
Release Date: January 2, 2018
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N

A painter of fiery, nightmarish visions throws herself into the sea—but she’ll leave some of her secrets behind…

Seattle gallery owner Virginia Troy has spent years battling the demons that stem from her childhood time in a cult and the night a fire burned through the compound, killing her mother. And now one of her artists has taken her own life, but not before sending Virginia a last picture: a painting that makes Virginia doubt everything about the so-called suicide—and her own past.

Like Virginia, private investigator Cabot Sutter was one of the children in the cult who survived that fire…and only he can help her now. As they struggle to unravel the clues in the painting, it becomes clear that someone thinks Virginia knows more than she does and that she must be stopped. Thrown into an inferno of desire and deception, Virginia and Cabot draw ever closer to the mystery of their shared memories—and the shocking fate of the one man who still wields the power to destroy everything they hold dear.

Promise Not to Tell is a real page-turner. It’s fast-paced, interesting, and has some great twists and turns without ever losing sight of the main couple. I absolutely hated it whenever I had to put Virginia and Cabot’s story down, and quite honestly, by the end of the book nothing could have torn me away.

Virginia and Cabot were children living in a cult until one fiery night where they lost their mothers and were rescued by the local police chief. It’s been over twenty years since the fire but both Virginia and Cabot are still haunted by the past. And when another cult survivor plunges to her death after sending Virginia an urgent message with hidden clues, she and Cabot will have to team up and face the demons of their past. Without sounding too vague, that’s about as much as I can say about the plot of Promise Not to Tell without giving away anything. Jayne Ann Krentz did an excellent job of combining mystery, suspense, and romance in this story. Cabot and Virginia may not have seen one another since they were kids, but their shared experiences and invisible scars give them an instant bond and help them easily open up to one another in a way they might not do with strangers. They’re both interesting, intelligent characters and it was easy to root for them to fall in love because they just plain fit. They had an easy chemistry that came off the page and their connection – not to mention the heightened drama around them – made their fast-paced romance work really well.

Intertwined with Virginia and Cabot’s romance is the suspense plotline involving the cult that was first mentioned in When All the Girls Have Gone, though you don’t have to have read the that book in order to follow this one. Ms. Krentz delves deeper into the history of the cult and Virginia and Cabot’s time there. The past is coming back to haunt Virginia, Cabot, and Cabot’s family in a very real way. As I said above, I’m hesitant to go into much detail for fear of spoiling the story. Suffice it to say Ms. Krentz has a lot of excellent twists and turns planned for readers and I was as taken with the cult plot as I was with the romance. While the ending of Promise Not to Tell left me a well-satisfied reader, I cannot wait to see what happens in the next Cutler, Sutter & Salinas book!


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

2018 A to Z Reading Challenge

I've had a blast doing this challenge for the past few years and I can't resist another go 'round. I've discovered a few now-favorite books I might not have otherwise noticed because of this challenge :)

Challenge details:
- Duration: January 1, 2018 - December 31, 2018
- Read 26 books which titles begin with the letters of the alphabet.
- You may ignore articles like A, An and The at the beginning of the title.
- For the letter X, any book title with the letter X in it is acceptable if you can't find one that begins with X.
- You can sign up anytime.
- Please only list books you have read. You can read them in any order.
- A book only counts once, so you can include a re-read the first time you read it.


My List:
A
B
C
Down by Contact by Santino Hassell – 1/12/18
E
F
G
H
I
J
K
L
Masked City, The by Genevieve Cogman – 1/7/18
N
O
Promise Not to Tell by Jayne Ann Krentz – 1/1/17
Q
R
She Tempts the Duke by Lorraine Heath – 1/10/18
T
U
V
W
X
Y
Z

2018 New (to me) Author Challenge

I've done this challenge for the past eight years and discovered some great new-to-me authors along the way (not hard to believe since I've read 537 new (to me) authors from 2010 to 2017). A few of my favorite authors that I've "discovered" over the past few years are Jenn Bennett, Kerrigan Byrne, Chanel Cleeton, C.C. Galloway, Larissa Ione, Robin LaFevers, Heather McCollum, Jeanette Murray, Lilah Pace, Stacy Reid, Tiffany Reisz, Riley Shane, Cherise Sinclair, Dee Tenorio, Lynn Viehl, Amanda Weaver, and Elia Winters.


The Challenge: Read 20 or more books this year by authors you’ve never read before.
Dates: January 1, 2018 - December 31, 2018

My list:

1. Author: Jen McLaughlin
Title: A Princess in Maine (McCullagh Inn, Book 3)

Books I've Read in 2018

For the past eight(!!!) years I've kept track of the books I read. I read so much that everything tends to blend together in my mental library. It's always fun at the end of the year to look back and see what I've read, loved, and want to re-read (and - on the rare occasion - want to avoid). Plus, it's great to share and compare lists with other book bloggers :)

This list is only of books and novellas I've read and finished (though if I read an entire anthology, I list only the anthology title). The books are listed in the order I read them.

There are sure to be many wonderful stories on the list, but the ones with a ** by them are ones I highly recommend.

1. Promise Not to Tell (Cutler, Sutter & Salinas, Book 2) by Jayne Ann Krentz
2. The Masked City (The Invisible Library, Book 2) by Genevieve Cogman
3. She Tempts the Duke (The Lost Lords of Pembrook, Book 1) by Lorraine Heath
4. A Princess in Maine (McCullagh Inn, Book 3) by Jen McLaughlin
5. Down by Contact (The Barons, Book 2) by Santino Hassell **