Thursday, April 28, 2016

Review: The Untamed Earl by Valerie Bowman

The Untamed Earl by Valerie Bowman
Series: Playful Brides, Book 5
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Genre: Historical Romance
ISBN: 9781250072580
Release Date: May 3, 2016
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N

Lady Alexandra Hobbs, the daughter of the Duke of Huntley, has intended to marry Lord Owen Monroe since she first glimpsed him from the window of her bedchamber, back when she was just a girl. But the duke has already chosen Alex’s infamously spoiled elder sister, Lavinia, for Owen. And now there’s no turning back.

Owen has spent most of his bachelor years drinking, gambling, and skirt-chasing. He won’t see another pound from his parents, however, until he’s engaged to Lavinia. Desperate, he accepts an offer from her innocent and spirited―and absolutely beautiful―sister Alex: She will
turn him into a perfectly tamed suitor, and show him how to woo the shrew. But when Alex’s true motives come to light, will their bargain lead to recriminations―or to a romance that defies everyone’s expectations?

Lady Alexandra Hobbs fell in love with Lord Owen Monroe when she was fifteen and saw him standing up for her brother and his friend against some bullies. It’s been three years since that day and though Owen has a reputation for being a wastrel, Alex is still dazzled by him. Unfortunately, Alex’s parents have just declared that Owen will be courting and (they hope) marrying Alex’s sister, Lavinia.

Owen has no desire to marry just yet, but he’ll be cut off if he doesn’t acquiesce to his own father’s demands that he get Lady Lavinia Hobbs to marry him. It’s just Owen’s luck that Lavinia is a shrew in every sense of the word and that her sister, Alex, is much better suited to him. Then fate seems to deal Owen a kind hand, for Alex makes a bargain with Owen: in exchange for helping her become more polished in order to catch the attentions of a man she’s in love with, Alex will teach Owen what he needs to know to win Lavinia. But what will happen when Owen discovers that he is the man Alex has her eye on?

There are those books that are so fun, so charming, so irresistible that you smile when thinking of them long after you’ve finished the last page. The Untamed Earl is exactly that kind of book. Valerie Bowman’s fifth Playful Brides book is a sprightly, engaging, utterly delightful historical romance that I simply adored.

I absolutely loved Alex. She’s open, honest, funny, and just a bit daring. She’s also been overlooked most of her life; the consequence of being neither the spoiled eldest daughter nor the male heir. I wanted to see Alex find someone who would love and appreciate her for who she is, and it’s no surprise that Owen is the man for the job. Owen has spent a good number of years drinking, carousing, and caring more about his clothes than anything of substance. But beneath all that there lies a man with a good heart and a quick mind who just needs that extra push of someone believing in him. It was great watching Owen come into his own over the course of the story, to see him become the man those who know him best are sure he can be.

As individuals, Owen and Alex are easy to like. But together they are simply fantastic. The dialogue in The Untamed Earl is bright, snappy, and made me grin more than once. Though Alex has had a crush on Owen for years, what we see develop over the course of the story is a true romance between two equals. Owen and Alex’s love story develops organically, though Ms. Bowman doesn’t make things easy on them. The drama created by the obstacles that keep Alex and Owen apart did threaten to make the book falter once or twice, but – given that our hero and heroine had some extra help from past Playful Brides heroes and heroines – I had no doubt the story would reach a satisfying conclusion.

It’d be remiss of me not to mention that The Untamed Earl is loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Ms. Bowman weaves the elements of the Bard’s work in seamlessly, and it was fun to see parts of the play pop up, though the story does stand strong on its own. I love stories that are a twist on the classics and Ms. Bowman does it just right.

The Untamed Earl is the fifth book in the Playful Brides series, but having not read the previous four novels I can safely say that Owen and Alex’s book can be read as a standalone (if you don’t mind a few minor spoilers). The upside to starting with The Untamed Earl is that I can glom up the rest of the Playful Brides stories and make the wait for the sixth book, The Legendary Lord, feel shorter. Having loved Alex and Owen’s story as much as I did, that’s exactly what I’ll do. If you enjoy lighthearted, fun historical romances, you won’t want to miss The Untamed Earl!

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.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: Magic Binds by Ilona Andrews

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine which spotlights eagerly anticipated upcoming releases!

I absolutely love the fabulous author duo that is Ilona Andrews and whenever I recommend their work, I always say start with the Kate Daniels series. It's an incredibly smart, interesting, funny as hell, completely addictive series with a kick-ass heroine that leads the charge of characters you have to love. The only downside to the Kate Daniels books is that each time I finish one, I want the next right away, which is why I'm incredibly impatient for the release of this week's Waiting on Wednesday pick, Magic Binds!

Warning: Minor spoilers for the series are in the blurb below.

Magic Binds Cover Title: Magic Binds
Series: Kate Daniels, Book 9
Author: Ilona Andrews
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace
Release Date: September 20, 2016
Ilona Andrews Reading Order

Book Description (from Amazon):

Mercenary Kate Daniels knows all too well that magic in post-Shift Atlanta is a dangerous business. But nothing she’s faced could have prepared her for this...

Kate and the former Beast Lord Curran Lennart are finally making their relationship official. But there are some steep obstacles standing in the way of their walk to the altar...

Kate’s father, Roland, has kidnapped the demigod Saiman and is slowly bleeding him dry in his never-ending bid for power. A Witch Oracle has predicted that if Kate marries the man she loves, Atlanta will burn and she will lose him forever. And the only person Kate can ask for help is long dead.

The odds are impossible. The future is grim. But Kate Daniels has never been one to play by the rules...

Monday, April 25, 2016

Review: Seattle Wolf Pack Boxed Set by Kristin Miller

Seattle Wolf Pack Boxed Set by Kristin Miller
Series: Seattle Wolf Pack, Books 1-3
Publisher: Entangled: Covet
Genre: Paranormal Romance
ISBN: 9781633756281
Release Date: April 25, 2016
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N

You’ll hunger for more…

Delicious alpha heroes protecting their mates at all cost? Yes, please. Take a bite out of these three, steamy full-length novels from New York Times bestseller Kristin Miller in this exclusive boxed set for a limited time only. Exquisite paranormal love stories with super hot alphas and the tenacious heroines who make these werewolves howl.

Devour them all in just one click.

Gone With the Wolf
When CEO and alpha werewolf Drake Wilder discovers that his one true love is a secretary in his company, his primal instincts kick into overdrive. Free-spirited bartender Emelia Hudson wants nothing more than to make her Seattle-based bar succeed. Upon learning that her bar has become property of Wilder Financial, Emelia is determined to get some answers. When Drake’s twin brother senses that Drake has found his match—and now inherits their father’s billion dollar estate—he plans to take Emelia out. Drake vows to protect her at all costs, but he might have to pay with his own life.

Four Weddings and a Werewolf
Logan Black, former Marine and bodyguard for the Seattle Wolf Pack, hates weddings and has no plans to enter into matrimonial misery. But when he’s hired to protect a hot-to-trot wedding planner with a werewolf stalker, he’s forced to put his feelings aside. Not such an easy task when the damsel can turn him on with a single smoldering glance. The chemistry between them seems fated, but with his playboy attitude, her hatred for werewolves, and a stalker lurking in the shadows, will passion be enough to keep them together?

So I Married a Werewolf
Carter Griffin, enforcing officer for the Seattle Wolf Pack, has been offered the promotion of his dreams…if he can find a wife to prove he’s over his playboy ways. But Carter’s already been there, done that. Faith Hamilton needs money to put her younger brother through college. Okay, and she totally wants Carter, her sexy next-door neighbor, to look at her as more than a friend. It’s too bad size 12 and plain isn’t his type. At all. When the two friends strike a deal to help one another out, will it spark a love neither anticipated?

Gone with the Wolf
Kristin Miller starts off the Seattle Wolf Pack trilogy with a bang! Gone with the Wolf is a fast-paced and fun story of opposites attracting. Drake Wilder is a centuries-old alpha werewolf who has long since given up on finding his Luminary, or fated mate. Drake’s life is serious and orderly… Or at least it is until his Luminary, Emelia Hudson, bursts onto the scene. Emelia is a bar owner who wants to take the stuffy Drake down a peg or two, especially when his company buys her bar out from underneath her. Emeila and Drake couldn’t be more different, but their attraction is instantaneous and knocks them both off their feet. Emelia’s sassy, independent nature is at odds with Drake’s idea of how his mate should behave, so it’s no spoiler to say that the road to happily ever after isn’t an easy one. There are ups and downs, miscommunication and misunderstandings on both sides, and neither Drake nor Emelia are perfect. That being said, when they’re together they shine and the pages of Gone with the Wolf fly by. Both Emelia and Drake have a lot of learning to do, and watching them grow and move from lust and a fated pull toward one another to true love is lovely.

The world of the Seattle Wolf Pack series that Ms. Miller sets up in Gone with the Wolf is intriguing. There’s danger, politics, history, and tradition that adds weight to the story and I wanted to dive more into the world and Drake’s family in particular. I was also left with questions on some (spoilerish) world building points I wish were better explained. However, even with these minor quibbles, Emelia and Drake’s story is a spirited, sexy tale that’s just plain fun to read.

Four Weddings and a Werewolf
What do you do when you’re a werewolf who is tasked with guarding a woman who hates your kind? If you’re Logan Black, you find yourself in a heap of trouble when you fall for said woman.

Veronica Vale is one of the rare humans who knows all about werewolves; no surprise since her sister was attacked and turned into one. Veronica loathes werewolves, but she doesn’t have time to dwell on her hatred since she’s got a secret admirer who may or may not be a stalker, and a werewolf sister who’s marrying anther werewolf. Four Weddings and a Werewolf is entertaining, but it misses a bit of the magic of the other two Seattle Wolf Pack stories. The story’s at a disadvantage because it features a heroine who is blindly prejudiced against werewolves and a hero who has to keep his supernatural nature a secret from her in order to protect her. I understood Veronica’s prejudice initially, but it wore thin after a while. And though I eventually grew to like her, I never adored her. As for Logan, he’s a sinfully sexy hero and – after his all-too-brief introduction in Gone with the Wolf – I couldn’t wait to learn more about him. Logan has seen what love and fated mates can do to a person, and he doesn’t want that for himself (for reasons too spoilerish to explain). He’s a funny, sensual, and protective hero, but I never felt we got to dive into his past as much as I had hoped. I wanted to see more of Logan’s history, but this is a tale definitely dominated by the heroine (which would have been fine if I had liked her more). As a couple, Veronica and Logan have good chemistry, and by the end of the story I was rooting for them.

The threat of danger from Veronica’s stalker added a level of intrigue and excitement to Four Weddings and a Werewolf that definitely benefited the story. So while I had some issues with the character development, I enjoyed Four Weddings and a Werewolf overall.

So I Married a Werewolf
I’m an absolute sucker for a good friends-to-lovers story and So I Married a Werewolf is an utterly delightful one. Ms. Miller brings the Seattle Wolf Pack trilogy to a satisfying close with Carter and Faith’s heartwarming romance.

Carter Griffin is a playboy werewolf who needs to improve his image for a promotion by getting a fake fiancée. Faith Hamilton, werewolf dog trainer and Carter’s best friend, is the perfect woman for the job. Carter knows he’s in no danger of falling for Faith – even if she was his type, Carter found his fated mate long ago and they had an absolutely horrible marriage. For her part, Faith has had the hots for Carter for a long time, but she knows he’d never be attracted to her, let along fall in love with her. But she’s working herself to the bone to put her brother through school and Carter offers to loan her money in exchange for her help, so what’s a girl to do?

It doesn’t take long before Carter and Faith’s fake engagement sparks some very real interest on both sides. Carter definitely needed to be smacked upside the head more than once over the course of their developing relationship, but he’s a good man (and wolf) at his core. As for Faith, perhaps my favorite thing about So I Married a Werewolf is watching her gain confidence in herself over the course of the story. She deserves to be loved and appreciated for who she is, and I loved that she finally understands that. Their romance is filled with ups and downs, takes a couple of twists, and is wonderfully satisfying. Of all three books, this one is definitely my favorite, in part due to reader preference (my fondness for the friends-to-lovers trope) and in part due to the world of Ms. Miller’s werewolves feeling the most established in this tale. Whatever the reason, I absolutely adored Carter and Faith’s romance and felt it ended the series on a high note.

The Seattle Wolf Pack Boxed Set contains three fun, very different werewolf romances in one. Though the trilogy’s main characters sometimes pop up in each other’s stories, each book can be read as a standalone. That being said, it was nice to have them all in one set so I could dive into one right after another. Kristin Miller mixes together supernatural entertainment, sensual romance, and humor incredibly well in all three books and the result is one fast-paced, addictive trilogy.

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.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Review: A Most Dangerous Profession by Karen Hawkins

A Most Dangerous Profession by Karen Hawkins
Series: Hurst Amulet, Book 3
Publisher: Pocket Books
Genre: Historical Romance
ISBN: 9781439175941
Source: Publisher
Blue Ribbon Rating: 5 out of 5
Original Review Link
Book Purchase Link

Moira MacAllister has been a spy, a thief and a con artist, but never before has a job been so important. An enemy has kidnapped her daughter, and to get the child back, Moira has to steal an ancient onyx box. But someone besides her unwanted employer is also looking for the box…a man Moira fears she cannot outwit; her husband.

Robert Hurst has never forgiven Moira for tricking him into marriage. Unfortunately, he also has never been able to get Moira out of his mind. While searching for an onyx box that holds the secret to finding a family heirloom, Robert’s path crosses with Moira’s once again. This time, however, Robert is not about to let his wayward wife go. She’s hiding something from him – something important. But will Moira’s secret be the thing that brings them together? Or will it be the final straw that breaks their marriage apart?

I have a new favorite Karen Hawkins book; A MOST DANGEROUS PROFESSION! There’s an energy in A MOST DANGEROUS PROFESSION that buoys the book along at lightning speed. The sources of that energy are Moira and Robert. I love nothing more than a great thief meeting her match, and Moira definitely meets her match in her husband. Individually, both Moira and Robert are lively, endearing characters. As a pair, they have a reckless, wild passion that, when paired with their intelligence and kind hearts, make them impossible to resist.

Ms. Hawkins delivers one heck of a ride in A MOST DANGEROUS PROFESSION, and I did not want to put Moira and Robert’s book down. In the engaging HURST AMULET series, this book stands out. And given the teasing glimpses Ms. Hawkins has given regarding Michael Hurst and his heroine, I am excited as all get out to read the next HURST AMULET tale!

Note: My review was written for Romance Junkies and is cross-posted here with permission from Romance Junkies.

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.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: Sweet Little Lies by Jill Shalvis

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine which spotlights eagerly anticipated upcoming releases!

I absolutely love Jill Shalvis's work! Her stories never fail to be sexy, romantic, and just plain fun. They're also incredibly addictive. Ms. Shalvis is on my autobuy list, so it's no surprise that my Waiting on Wednesday pick this week is her first Heartbreaker Bay novel, Sweet Little Lies. Even if this wasn't a story written by Jill Shalvis, I'd be picking it up - it sounds right up my alley :)

Sweet Little Lies Cover Title: Sweet Little Lies
Series: Heartbreaker Bay, Book 1
Author: Jill Shalvis
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: June 28, 2016
Jill Shalvis Reading Order

Book Description (from Amazon):

Choose the one guy you can’t have...
As captain of a San Francisco Bay tour boat, Pru can handle rough seas—the hard part is life on dry land. Pru loves her new apartment and her neighbors; problem is, she’s in danger of stumbling into love with Mr. Right for Anybody But Her.

Fall for him—hard...
Pub owner Finn O’Riley is six-foot-plus of hard-working hottie who always makes time for his friends. When Pru becomes one of them, she discovers how amazing it feels to be on the receiving end of that deep green gaze. But when a freak accident involving darts (don’t ask) leads to shirtless first aid, things rush way past the friend zone. Fast.

And then tell him the truth.
Pru only wants Finn to be happy; it’s what she wishes for at the historic fountain that’s supposed to grant her heart’s desire. But wanting him for herself is a different story—because Pru’s been keeping a secret that could change everything...

Monday, April 18, 2016

Review: 'Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick

'Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Historical Romantic Suspense
ISBN: 9780399174469
Release Date: April 19, 2016
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N

Calista Langley operates an exclusive “introduction” agency in Victorian London, catering to respectable ladies and gentlemen who find themselves alone in the world. But now, a dangerously obsessed individual has begun sending her trinkets and gifts suitable only for those in deepest mourning—a black mirror, a funeral wreath, a ring set with black jet stone. Each is engraved with her initials.

Desperate for help and fearing that the police will be of no assistance, Calista turns to Trent Hastings, a reclusive author of popular crime novels. Believing that Calista may be taking advantage of his lonely sister, who has become one of her clients, Trent doesn’t trust her. Scarred by his past, he’s learned to keep his emotions at bay, even as an instant attraction threatens his resolve.

But as Trent and Calista comb through files of rejected clients in hopes of identifying her tormentor, it becomes clear that the danger may be coming from Calista’s own secret past—and that only her death will satisfy the stalker…

'Til Death Do Us Part is deliciously atmospheric and oh so much fun to read. Amanda Quick has deftly blended romance, mystery, and Victorian London’s obsession with death and spiritualism into one captivating tale.

I’ve been a fan of Ms. Quick’s work for years, and 'Til Death Do Us Part is quite different in tone from her historical romances that I devoured in the '90s. What remains the same are the characters at the heart of the tale: smart, unique people who don’t fit into the molds society would put them in. Calista Langley is a businesswoman ahead of her time. She runs an “introduction” agency, where intelligent, likeminded people can meet and form friendships and perhaps even find romance. Calista has made a good life for herself and her brother, but when someone begins to send her momento mori (items made for those in mourning) with her initials on them, she’s shaken. It’s clear someone is stalking Calista, but she doesn’t know why. Luckily for her, Calista has just made the acquaintance of Trent Hastings, author of the popular Clive Stone detective novels. Though their initial meeting doesn’t go well, the two of them are intrigued by one another, and when Trent learns of Calista’s stalker, he insists on helping her.

On their own, Calista and Trent are incredibly appealing characters. Both of them are hardworking and intelligent, and though Trent is a bit rough around the edges, it’s clear that he, like Calista, has a good heart. Neither of them are perfect, and that added to their appeal. What’s more, Trent charmed the heck out of me with his wry sense of humor and the trials and tribulations that go along with being a popular author. As a couple, Trent and Calista are fantastic. They’re perfectly matched physically and intellectually, and their love story is sensual, sweet, exciting, and – even with death and danger threatening them at every turn – just plain fun to read.

Even if you took out the wonderfully engaging romance between Calista and Trent, 'Til Death Do Us Part would be impossible to put down. The Victorian London of Ms. Quick’s creation, with its gothic undertones and shadowy threats lurking around every corner, is completely addictive. I was so immersed in the tale that I read the story in one sitting, loving the chills and thrills each page provided. I cannot reveal much about the story without spoiling it for readers, so I’ll leave it at this: whether you like historical romance, romantic suspense, gothic novels, or all of the above, you don’t want to miss 'Til Death Do Us Part!

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.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Review: Ain’t She Sweet by Marie Force

Ain’t She Sweet by Marie Force
Series: Green Mountain, Book 6
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary Romance
ISBN: 9780425280836
Release Date: April 26, 2016
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N

Charlotte “Charley” Abbott has gone out with every guy under thirty-five in Butler, Vermont—except for one. Tyler Westcott’s attempts to date her may be determined, and frequent, but Charley can’t stand how he acts like he knows her better than she knows herself. So when Tyler turns up at the running club Charley joined to train for a marathon, she’s almost ready to quit before she even gets started.

Tyler knows that behind Charley’s prickly personality and dismissive attitude is a sweet woman he wants in his life. And when Charley suffers an injury while training, Tyler is ready to prove that the perfect man for her has been right there all along…

Ain’t She Sweet is a romance that’s as sweet as can be without entering saccharine territory. Marie Force isn’t afraid of giving her stories and unconventional start, and Charley and Tyler sure get one. The story kicks off with Charley taking what could have been a lethal fall off a mountain. It isn’t the close call that changes her life forever, but rather Tyler stepping up to help her heal from her injuries. Though she’s been turning him down right and left, Tyler knows Charley is the woman for him. And when he nearly loses her, he manages to convince her to recuperate at his home. While Tyler’s only thought is to help her, being in close quarters with the woman of his dreams does give him the opportunity to break down the walls around Charley’s heart.

Charley is the prickliest of all the Abbott siblings, and with a family as picture-perfect as hers, that was my favorite thing about her. In her own story, she’s missing that prickliness, though taking a tumble off a mountain could easily do that to a person. In Ain’t She Sweet, we get to see the real Charley. She’s been hurt in the past and has no desire to take a chance on a man like Tyler, someone who is too perfect for words. And Tyler really is the perfect hero. He’s smart, kind, incredibly generous, patient to a fault, successful, wealthy, and gorgeous. He also had a hidden dirty side that I really wish we could have explored, because the glimpses that were given added a much-appreciated hit of spice to the tale. As much as I liked Tyler (and I really did) he was a bit too perfect for me. I wish Ms. Force had given him some flaw, or even a mildly annoying quirk or habit that would have made him feel more real.

Tyler and Charley have a relatively easy slide into love, and they are both so likeable that it’s easy to root for them. That being said, for me the story was missing something. I don’t need angst in my romance and I appreciate the lack of formulaic plot points that would have added unnecessary drama. However, given that we were told of the tension between Charley and Tyler before her accident, it would have been nice to see it. I haven’t read all of the Green Mountain books, so perhaps their dance was included in previous stories, but I would have loved to see some of their history. I truly did like Charley and Tyler’s story, but there were a couple of missed opportunities that would have taken the book from good to great.

Ain’t She Sweet is the sixth book in the Green Mountain series, and if you don’t mind some spoilers from previous books, this one can be read as a standalone. That being said, the Abbott family is out in full force, and they do tend to overtake the story, pulling focus from Charley and Tyler. Whether or not you enjoy this could depend on your level of investment in the series and its characters. I fell somewhere in the middle, as I would have liked more depth and focus on Charley and Tyler, but you can chalk this up to reader preference. All in all, I found Ain’t She Sweet to be a fast-paced, entertaining read with a likeable hero and heroine whose happily ever after will leave you with a smile on your face.

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.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Review: Festive in Death by J.D. Robb

Festive in Death by J.D. Robb
Series: In Death, Book 39
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Futuristic/Mystery/Suspense
ISBN: 9780515154153
Source: Publisher
Blue Ribbon Rating: 5 out of 5 — Recommended Read
Original Review Link
Book Purchase Link
J.D. Robb Reading Order

How do you catch a killer when all of your suspects had the means, motive and opportunity to do him in? That's the question for NYPSD Lieutenant Eve Dallas when she investigates the death of Trey Ziegler. Ziegler was a personal trainer, but it wasn't a fight over burpees that did him in. The more Eve learns about her victim, the more it's clear that he belonged behind bars himself. Loathing the victim doesn't stop Eve from working the case, but Eve will have to balance blackmail, drugs and kitchen knives with mistletoe and mayhem as she prepares for something even more frightening than a stone-cold killer: her husband's annual Christmas party.

The IN DEATH books are often dark and intense, but every so often there's a story with some incredible fun mayhem mixed in with murder. FESTIVE IN DEATH is a holiday treat, blending Eve unraveling a murder mystery with her facing down holiday shopping, a Christmas party and her greatest fear: Trina the hair stylist.

What makes FESTIVE IN DEATH so memorable for me are all the personal moments woven into the tale. Eve's life has grown so much from when we first met her in NAKED IN DEATH. She has a lot of people she cares about now in her life, and she doesn't truly realize how much that number has grown until she is faced with the daunting task of buying Christmas gifts for everyone. She also has to balance her work with the social life she's acquired as Roarke's wife, something she is actually getting far better at than she realizes. She's still the same Eve at her core, but it's so much fun to see how she's grown and watch her interactions with others. The number of small moments between Eve, Roarke and their loved ones makes FESTIVE IN DEATH a book that's particularly enjoyable for longtime fans of the series.

Holiday fun aside, Eve has to investigate a murder case with a truly horrible victim. To say that Ziegler is a rat is an insult to rodents, but that doesn't mean Eve slacks off. The case is an incredibly interesting one, and even after reading this story multiple times I still enjoy watching Eve put the pieces of the puzzle together.

FESTIVE IN DEATH is wonderfully entertaining and the look author J.D. Robb gives us into Eve and Roarke's life makes this story shine. Ms. Robb knows how to write gut-wrenching cases, but this relatively lighter book is a welcome break from the darkness. It may sound odd to say a murder mystery is fun, but that's exactly what this book is. I loved everything about FESTIVE IN DEATH and I'm sure other fans of the series will too!

Note: My review was written for Romance Junkies and is cross-posted here with permission from Romance Junkies.

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.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Review: The Obsession by Nora Roberts

The Obsession by Nora Roberts
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Romantic Suspense
ISBN: 9780399175169
Release Date: April 12, 2016
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N

Naomi Bowes lost her innocence the night she followed her father into the woods. In freeing the girl trapped in the root cellar, Naomi revealed the horrible extent of her father’s crimes and made him infamous. No matter how close she gets to happiness, she can’t outrun the sins of Thomas David Bowes.

Now a successful photographer living under the name Naomi Carson, she has found a place that calls to her, a rambling old house in need of repair, thousands of miles away from everything she’s ever known. Naomi wants to embrace the solitude, but the kindly residents of Sunrise Cove keep forcing her to open up—especially the determined Xander Keaton.

Naomi can feel her defenses failing, and knows that the connection her new life offers is something she’s always secretly craved. But the sins of her father can become an obsession, and, as she’s learned time and again, her past is never more than a nightmare away.

Nobody mixes light and shadow quite like Nora Roberts. The Obsession is a compelling story of the terrifying evil humans are capable of and the incredible strength, courage, and heart it takes to survive and thrive even after facing that darkness.

The Obsession is a story that’s easy to fall into, thanks in no small part to its heroine. Naomi went through hell as a child, discovering that her father was a serial rapist and murderer. We spend a significant amount of page time with Naomi in the past, seeing how her life changed because of her father’s crimes. This is important, because it sets the stage for who Naomi becomes as an adult. She’s strong, so incredibly strong, but the past hurts her, causing her to throw up walls right and left. Naomi has never fully healed from the traumas of her childhood because she tries to keep the past behind a firmly shut and locked door. What I loved about The Obsession was watching Naomi grow as a character. She comes alive over the course of the story and faces her demons to come out stronger. I’ll also add that her love for photography is almost a story in itself, and “watching” Naomi work was one of my favorite things about this book. Her artist’s eye is what makes Sunrise Cove irresistible to her, and that leads to Naomi putting down roots for the first time in her adult life. This move is the catalyst for her change, though the timely arrival of a lovable rescue dog and a handsome mechanic don’t hurt.

Xander is a classic Nora Roberts hero. He’s a sexy, talented mechanic with a successful business, a good nature, a love of books, a protective instinct, and has good, solid roots in his hometown. In other words, he’s irresistible. Somehow, even though Xander is pretty much the perfect guy, he never feels like a cardboard perfect hero. He takes one look at Naomi and is intrigued, and though she resists the idea of falling for him, it’s pretty clear Naomi’s fighting a losing battle. They fit one another like lock and key, and their smooth slide into love is by turns sweet and sensual.

There’s a solid thread of suspense that twines through The Obsession, rounding out the story well. The person obsessed with Naomi seemed obvious to me, but – for me – this doesn’t significantly detract from the story because the heart and soul of the book is Naomi’s personal journey. The romance and the danger were solid additions to this, as was the absolutely wonderful cast of supporting characters who charmed me from the very first page. Naomi’s brother, her uncles, and the friends she makes keep this story light on its feet even when times are at their darkest. All in all, I found The Obsession to be an incredibly interesting read that I absolutely hated to put down.

Trigger Warning: The Obsession contains scenes of violence against women from the perpetrator's point of view.

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.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Review: Arena by Holly Jennings

Arena by Holly Jennings
Publisher: Ace
Genre: Science Fiction
ISBN: 9781101988763
Release Date: April 5, 2016
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N

Every week, Kali Ling fights to the death on national TV.
She’s died hundreds of times. And it never gets easier…

The RAGE tournaments—the Virtual Gaming League’s elite competition where the best gamers in the world compete in a no-holds-barred fight to the digital death. Every bloody kill is broadcast to millions. Every player is a modern gladiator—leading a life of ultimate fame, responsible only for entertaining the masses.

And though their weapons and armor are digital, the pain is real.

Chosen to be the first female captain in RAGE tournament history, Kali Ling is at the top of the world—until one of her teammates overdoses. Now, she must confront the truth about the tournament. Because it is much more than a game—and even in the real world, not everything is as it seems.

The VGL hides dark secrets. And the only way to change the rules is to fight from the inside…

Arena is a thrilling, high-octane read that will appeal to gamers and non-gamers alike. Holly Jennings’s debut is like an excellent popcorn flick – blockbuster action, cool characters, a hint of romance, and a story that will keep you glued to your seat.

In the near future, virtual gaming has been taken to a whole new level. Pro gamers are like athletes, complete with all the perks and problems that come with fame and fandom. Kali Ling has loved gaming all her life, and even among her teammates is known as the “warrior.” Kali has worked her butt off to go pro, and at twenty has become the first female captain in RAGE tournament history. But when one of her teammates dies, Kali begins to realize she’s losing her grip on reality. The lines between what’s real and what isn’t, what’s image and what’s truth, are blurring, and unless she does something, she’ll lose herself forever.

I absolutely loved Kali. She’s got a strong voice, a sometimes ruthless personality, and her dedication to the game and her teammates is absolute. Yet Kali isn’t invulnerable, and it was fascinating to watch her struggle to overcome the obstacles – many of which she has created for herself – in front of her. As Kali realizes her problems with addiction, she begins to peel back the layers of the world around her. Helping Kali is her new teammate Rooke, an enigmatic warrior with secrets of his own. Rooke, along with Kali’s other teammates Derek, Hannah, and Lily, are an interesting and diverse group. The dynamic of the team is one of the things I liked best about the story. The banter between them and the way they grow, work, and bond as a team balanced out the book’s action sequences perfectly. I also love that Ms. Jennings seamlessly worked Kali’s Chinese-American heritage and the teachings of Taoism into the book. Ms. Jennings truly made this a well-balanced story.

I’ve seen this book compared to Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One and Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, but having never read the former and with only a passing familiarity with the latter, I can’t honestly say how Arena compares. Taken on its own, Arena is tons of fun to read and the world Ms. Jennings has created has so much possibility that I can’t wait for the sequel!

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.