Sunday, February 19, 2012

Review of Sheryl Nantus's Blood of the Pride

Title: Blood of the Pride
Author: Sheryl Nantus
Publisher: Carina Press
Format: eBook
Source: NetGalley (and purchased – see below)
Publication Date: February 13, 2012
Rating: 4 out of 5

A few years ago I was looking for some steampunk novels for my Kindle, and Amazon recommended that I read Sheryl Nantus’s Wild Cards and Iron Horses. I liked the book so much, I went back and bought two more of her books, both in wildly different genres. Blaze of Glory features reality tv super heroes suddenly forced to step up and actually BE super heroes, and What God and Cats Know is a mystery with a feline shapeshifter PI. I loved all the books, so when I saw Blood of the Pride was available on NetGalley, I immediately requested it, thinking it was a sequel to What God and Cats Know. I realized as soon as I started reading that it’s not actually a sequel – it’s the same book published under a different title. That’s actually not a bad thing. I suspect that Ms. Nantus will get wider distribution with Carina Press, and I loved the book the first time I read it. Upon re-reading it for review, I STILL love the book.
Rebecca Desjardin is a Felis shifter kicked out of her Pride nearly 20 years earlier, because she was unable to shift. She’s living in the human world, working as a private investigator, when a severed rabbit’s paw mysteriously appears in her office, the signal that the Pride wants to meet with her. A woman was murdered, and photos of her corpse stuck in mid-shift are splashed across the pages of a tabloid. Even though Rebecca’s convinced that no one will take the photos seriously, the pride wants her to investigate the woman’s death.
Investigative reporter Brandon Hanover found copies of the photos slipped under his door and decided to publish them, even though he’s convinced they’re nothing more than the tabloid’s usual fare. But there’s no doubt that the woman in the photos was brutally murdered, so when PI Rebecca Desjardin approaches him for his help, Brandon senses that there’s more to the story. Before long he’s involved in a world of felis shifters that he never knew existed, and he’s very interested in the mysterious felis PI. But the more they learn, the more danger both Rebecca and Brandon find themselves in. Can they solve the case without exposing the felis shifters to the world?
If you’re looking for a strong romance, this is not the book for you. While the book has a romance, that’s not the principal focus. For at least the first part of the book, I found Brandon to be a bit of a nuisance, and while he eventually won me (and the heroine) over, the most important storylines of the book are the mystery surrounding the murder and Rebecca’s broken relationship with the Pride.
That said, the book drew me in from the first. Rebecca is a strong character who’s dealt with rejection from her pride while carving out a new life for herself. She’s a kickass PI, and I love that she’s the focus of the novel. Her relationship with Jess Hammersmythe, the leader of the Pride, is complex and troubled, as Jess made several troubling decisions about Rebecca in the past in order to protect the Pride. As Rebecca uncovers the truth behind the murder, she risks exposing the Pride and has to make difficult decisions about her future and how best to punish the murderer.
All of the above makes for fascinating reading. I was as invested in solving the mystery the second time I read the book as I was the first, and if you’re a fan of strong female characters and mysteries with a paranormal twist, this is a real winner. I have high hopes that one day I’ll see a sequel to this book, since the story really sticks with you.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Review of Jill Shalvis's Time Out

Title: Time Out
Author: Jill Shalvis
Publisher: Harlequin Blaze
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: February 19, 2012
Rating: 4 out of 5

As I’ve mentioned before, if a book has Jill Shalvis’s name on it, it’s pretty much an auto-buy for me! Time Out is her latest category romance published by Harlequin Blaze, and it’s also a reunion romance of sorts, making this a win-win for me. Time Out is just under 200 pages, so it’s a short and sweet book that’s lots of fun.
Rainey Saunders is a community youth center coordinator in a town ravaged by wild fires. She’s scrambling to find coaches to help keep the town’s teens busy, but because so many houses were destroyed, many of the parents are struggling to make ends meet, making it difficult to scrounge up volunteers. When NHL coach and hometown boy made good Mark Diego shows up with several of his players to offer their services, it’s the perfect solution for Rainey and Mark. Two of Mark’s players got into a knock-down, drag out fight, and they’re assigned community service to help improve the league’s image, and since Mark’s brother runs the community center, it’s an easy way for Mark to spend time with his family while keeping an eye on his players.
Rainey’s had a thing for Mark for years, although she’s tried hard not to show it, since she managed to humiliate herself thoroughly when the two were teens. Assigning Mark to coach the teenage girls’s softball team seems like the perfect revenge and a great way to keep Mark busy and out of her hair. Mark has different ideas, though. He’s always been attracted to Rainey, and his summer at home seems like a great time to act on that attraction. He’s not into anything long term, though, and Rainey knows it. When the summer’s up and hockey seasons starts again, can these two find a way to be together?
What I love about Ms. Shalvis’s romances is that her characters always come across as real people. Rainey is the girl next door, and she’s a lot of fun, and, while Mark may be a superstar NHL coach, he’s still just the boy next door at heart. The sparks between the two of them are undeniable, even though both make desperate attempts to deny it. The secondary characters are hilarious, especially the two hockey players forced to perform community service in what they consider to be a Podunk town. However, it’s clear that they get as much out of their time there as the kids the players are coaching, which is nice.
My only criticism of the novel is that the ending is very, very abrupt. In fact, I kept trying to turn the page, thinking something was wrong with my Kindle, because I didn’t realize that was the end! It resolved both the romance between Rainey and Mark and a secondary plot line quickly and in a way that struck me as a bit too convenient. However, I suspect that the format and length of the category romance genre have much to do with this particular ending.
That said, this is definitely a keeper! The romance is sizzling, the characters are engaging, and the reading so easy that the pages just fly by. Time Out is a fun, quick escape that I highly recommend.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Review of Anthology Kiss Me, I'm Irish!

Wow, I am so far behind on my reviews it’s not even funny! Here’s hoping that I can take some time off from doing my taxes and grading exams to write a few reviews this weekend!

Title: Kiss Me, I’m Irish
Authors: Roxanne St. Claire, Jill Shalvis, Maureen Child
Publisher: Harlequin
Format: eBook and Mass Market Paperback
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: January 31, 2012
Rating: 4 out of 5

Anything with Jill Shalvis’s name on it is going to be an auto-buy for me, so when I saw this anthology on NetGalley, naturally I requested it. I hadn’t read anything by either of the other authors, but of course I recognized their names, so I was really excited to check out this book. I’m happy to say I was not disappointed! The three novellas have been previously published separately, so if you’re a fan of these authors, check your bookshelf before purchasing the anthology. Even though these novellas were published as early as 2003, for the most part they manage to remain relevant, although there are a few parts of the Roxanne St. Claire novella that were fairly dated, even though it’s only 6 years old.
Roxanne St. Claire The Sins of His Past (originally published 2006)
This was a touching reunion romance between baseball star Seamus “Deuce” Monroe and Kendra Locke. Years before Deuce had hooked up with Kendra, his best friend’s younger sister, then never called her afterwards. Fast forward to the present, and Deuce has returned home after a car wreck and accident that’s forced the baseball team to invoke a contract clause and fire him. He’s planning on running the family-owned sports bar, Monroe’s, but when he arrives at the sports bar, Kendra has turned it into an internet café. Deuce’s father finds himself in the awkward position of having to decide if he’ll continue with the plans to turn Monroe’s into an internet café or if he should allow Deuce to turn it back into a successful sports bar. There’s also some mystery as to why Kendra, the smartest girl in high school, dropped out of Harvard.
This was a sweet romance, filled with lots of angst and difficult decisions. Unfortunately, the premise of the internet café really dates the story. With the popularity of smart phones today, the internet café and Kendra’s reasons for starting one are very dated. That said, the romance between the irresponsible Deuce and the go-getter Kendra sizzles, and you’ll root for both of them. 4 out of 5
Jill Shalvis Tangling with Ty (originally published in 2003)
I really enjoyed this story of child genius turned doctor Nicole Mann and the aloof architect Ty Patrick O’Grady. Because of Nicole’s high IQ, she graduated high school and college at obscenely early ages, making it difficult for this workaholic to relate to people. She’s currently living in an old apartment building, and the two other young women in the building have taken her under their wings. When the building’s owner hires Ty to look into fixing up the building, he and Nicole set off sparks, but the two loners struggle to find their way.
I liked the pairing of this couple, although you have to suspend disbelief a bit to accept that these two loners would actually find their way together. But my absolute favorite part of the novella is how Nicole deals with her boss, who’s trying (and failing) to sexually harass her. Really, that was the most satisfying part of the entire novella. 3.5 out 5
Maureen Child Whatever Reilly Wants (originally published in 2005)
Marine Connor Reilly is a triplet and quite the hottie! Unfortunately, he and his brothers made a bet with their older brother Liam, a priest, that they can’t remain celibate for 90 days. If they lose the bet, they have to shell out $10,000 and dress up in embarrassing costumes. One of the triplets has already bit the dust, and the novella begins just after his wedding. Mechanic Emma Jacobsen is a friend of Connor’s and is stunned when he tells her how much her friendship means to him, because he doesn’t think of her as a woman! Naturally this means war. Emma goes on the offensive, and Connor never sees it coming.
This was a cute story, and I really liked how Emma deals with the situation. She makes Connor take notice, but I love that she confronts Connor with who she really is, pointing out that he didn’t notice her as a woman until she changed. 4 out of 5

Monday, February 13, 2012

Review of Stephanie Julian's Sex, Lies, and Surveillance

Title: Sex, Lies, and Surveillance
Author: Stephanie Julian
Publisher: Carina Press
Format: eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: January 16, 2012
Rating: 3 out of 5

This is the second book of Ms. Julian’s that I’ve read, and it’s a fun, short read, full of sizzling chemistry with an intriguing premise. Unfortunately, it bogs down a little in the middle, and what promised to be an action packed romantic suspense turned out to be stronger on the romance than the suspense. That said, I like the premise of the novel, and the secondary characters are perfect for a continuation of the series.

Janey DeMarco is the youngest child of two legendary CIA agents who run a PI firm. When the DeMarco name surfaces in an NSA investigation into weapons dealers, the NSA sends an undercover agent to check out the family’s connections. Malcom “Mal” Laughlin’s partner was shot during the investigation into weapons trafficking, so he jumps at the chance to check out the DeMarcos. But he wasn’t counting on falling for Janey, and she certainly didn’t expect to find the geeky former Marine quite so hot!

What I liked most about this book was the chemistry between Mal and Janey. I love that Mal is quite the hunk and yet also comes across as a bit of a nerd. You can see Mal’s struggle with his conscience over starting a relationship with Janey since he’s undercover, but it’s also really sweet how he tries to justify what he learns with what he’s observed about Janey and her family.

Janey’s relationship with her family and Mal’s “relationship” with his deceased father are also big selling points. Janey only remains with the family firm because she’s worried about her father’s health, but her interaction with her brothers and parents make it clear that there’s little to worry about. Mal’s interior monologues with his snarky “Dad” are a hoot, since his Dad remains the voice of his conscience.

Both Janey and Mal were likeable characters, but at times I didn’t understand their motivations. Janey’s constantly concerned about her father’s health and gives his health as her reason for working in a job she confesses is not challenging her, which comes across as a bit whiny after a while, especially after all the other members of the family reassure her on numerous occasions that her father will be fine. Mal was an appealing hero (alpha AND nerdy - nice!), but for an experienced NSA agent, he sure does jump to conclusions quickly!

Unfortunately it was also really difficult to get into the plot. At several points I put the book down and then had to make myself come back to it so I could write the review. The focus of the book is much more on the romance, which has the action falling a bit flat. Very little happens in the middle of the book to advance Mal’s investigation, and the stalker subplot with the Hollywood director didn’t really add much, and I found it really annoying whenever Bennett showed up.

That said, this was a quick read, and for those of you who prefer your romantic suspense to be light on the violence, this book would definitely fit the bill. I like how Ms. Julian portrays the attraction between her heroes and heroines, so I’ll probably give the second book in the series a chance, but I’m hoping it will be a bit more action-packed.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Review of Veronica Scott's Priestess of the Nile

Title: Priestess of the Nile
Author: Veronica Scott
Publisher: Carina Press
Format: eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: January 16, 2012
Rating: 3 out of 5

This is a very short novella (about 21,000 words) set in Ancient Egypt. While it’s a lovely story that I very much enjoyed, the romance fell a bit flat for me, probably because the length of the novella prohibited much character development. That said, I absolutely loved the Egyptian setting and was drawn in almost at once by the detail.

Merys is the great-granddaughter of a priestess of the Crocodile god, Sobek, and is fishing on the shore of the Nile near the god’s abandoned temple when a handsome stranger approaches. He introduces himself as Bek, but he’s actually the Crocodile god Sobek in the flesh. Sobek is fascinated by the charmingly innocent Merys, but he knows that the gods are not allowed relationships with mortal women. Despite this, he finds himself falling for the young woman and begins searching for a way for the two to be together.

There’s much to like about this novella, particularly its setting. Ms. Scott does an amazing job of immersing the reader in the culture and surroundings of Ancient Egypt without bogging you down in excessive details. The political organization of Egypt plays an important role in how the story unfolds in ways that I didn’t expect but very much enjoyed. I’m not at all conversant with Egyptian history, but the novella comes across as very well researched, and I like benefiting from that research in such a pleasant manner.

Because the novella is so short, there’s little time to develop the characters of Merys and Sobek adequately, which is why the romance suffers a bit, I think. Merys is portrayed as an innocent Cinderella type, forced to work as a servant for her evil stepmother, but we don’t learn much about her beyond that. Sobek begins as an arrogant god but soon becomes all too human in his dealings with Merys, which is forbidden for the gods of this pantheon. I feel like I would have enjoyed the romance between Sobek and Merys a bit more if we could have spent more time with the two of them together. I also would have liked to see Sobek’s personality changes develop slowly, but, again, the length of the text prohibits this.

Frankly, this was a quick read with a refreshing setting, and I would like to see more of Ms. Scott’s work because of how well she incorporated the setting and her research. I feel that this novella was very successful as a story that draws a reader in, but the romance needed a little bit more development.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Review of Kristen Callihan's Firelight

Title: Firelight (Darkest London #1)
Author: Kristen Callihan
Publisher: Forever
Format: Mass Market Paperback & eBook
Source: NetGalley & Purchased
Publication Date: February 1, 2012
Rating: 4 out of 5

I saw some really great reviews of Firelight online, so when I saw it in my local Barnes & Noble this past weekend, I grabbed a copy and ran for the door, shrieking, “You hipsters will never catch me! BWAHAHAHA!!” I’m now writing this review from jail. Okay, I lied. I actually paid for the book, but my first story is much more exciting. Anyway, I got home, read the book, loved it, then 2 days later received an e-ARC for review from the publisher. Whoopsies! All that aside, this historical paranormal retelling of Beauty and the Beast is fabulous. I loved the heroine and can’t wait for the second book in the series to come out.
Miranda Ellis is a pyrotechnic who managed to destroy her father’s shipping fortune by setting fire to his warehouse when she was 10. Now that she’s all grown up, she’s forced to steal for him to make ends meet. Lord Benjamin Archer is a mysterious peer of the realm who’s never seen in public without a mask covering his face. Three years prior to the beginning of the novel, he was on his way to kill Miranda’s father for cheating when Archer interrupts two youths who’ve accosted a disguised Miranda. He intercedes on her behalf, then realizes who she is. Captivated by Miranda’s beauty, Archer gives her a gold coin, then leaves.
Three years later, Miranda’s father informs her that he’s marrying her off to the mysterious Lord Archer. Miranda doesn’t realize at first that this strange man is the same she met three years ago, but she’s drawn to him all the same. They both have secrets to hide, but when former associates of Archer’s are murdered one by one and he is implicated in their deaths, Miranda decides that she’s had enough with all the secrets. But can Lord Archer trust Miranda with his secrets without endangering her life?
There was so much to like about this novel! I love that Miranda and Archer slowly begin to trust one another and that their relationship develops gradually over the course of the book. Because Archer is hiding his appearance from Miranda throughout most of the book, the sexual tension gradually builds, and there’s only one sex scene late in the text. There’s definitely chemistry between them, and the mystery and secrets surrounding both characters makes learning the truth about them an intriguing puzzle. Miranda is a delightful heroine as well, stubborn and intelligent. Archer is also stubborn, but in his attempts to shield his wife from danger he manages to make the situation worse.
It takes a lot for plot twists to surprise me these days, but that’s exactly what happened with this book.  Fairly early on there were several clues concerning the nature of Archer’s curse, and I thought I’d figured it out, only to be proved wrong later in the book. I also thought I had identified the villain quickly, but that character was soon revealed to be more on the side of good than evil.
One weakness in the book is the historical setting. The action takes place in London in 1881, but from the description of the events and people in the book, it could have occurred at almost any time in the 19th Century. I’m not sure why this particular moment in history was chosen for the setting, and while the lack of historical detail doesn’t detract from the action, it doesn’t add anything to it either.
However, this is one of the better books I’ve read thus far in 2012. I’m really looking forward to reading the next book in the series, but in the meantime I’ll be catching up on the prequel, “Ember,” which was just released as an eSpecial.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Review of Bella Andre's Can't Help Falling in Love

Title: Can’t Help Falling in Love (The Sullivans #3)
Author: Bella Andre
Publisher: Self-published via Smashwords
Format: eBook
Source: Received from Author
Publication Date: December 11, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5

A few weeks ago, I was on Twitter and saw Bella Andre had tweeted about her new release, Can’t Help Falling in Love, so I retweeted her comment. Ms. Andre contacted me and asked if I was interested in a copy of the book for review. I hadn’t read any of her books before, but I’m always looking for new authors, so I was pleased to accept. I’m VERY glad I did, because Can’t Help Falling in Love is a fun, sexy contemporary romance, and, despite being the third in the series about the Sullivan family, it easily stands on its own. I went out and bought the second book for my Kindle after reading this one, and I can’t wait to catch up on the series.
Gabe Sullivan is a firefighter in San Francisco and one of 8 Sullivan siblings, all of whom seem to be incredibly gifted in some way. As the novel begins, he’s fighting a fire and learns that Megan Harris and her 7 year old daughter Summer are trapped in their apartment. He heroically rushes in to save them, all three barely escaping with their lives. Megan and Summer visit Gabe in the hospital to thank him, but he’s more than a little surly towards Megan, because he had a bad relationship with a woman he rescued a few years before.
Megan’s navy pilot husband passed away 5 years ago, so she’s not interested in dating any more adrenaline junkies, and Gabe’s made it clear that he wants nothing to do with her, but Summer has different plans. The chemistry between Megan and Gabe sets off sparks, but both are leery of any kind of commitment. Summer and the Sullivan clan have their work cut out for them if they’re going to get these two together!
This is a straightforward contemporary romance and very enjoyable. Megan and Gabe have great chemistry, and it’s fun to see them fighting the inevitable. The love scenes are sizzling, but it’s not all lust, all the time, which is a relief. The two spend time together and with Summer, so you can see the relationship develop over the course of the book, which is always a selling point for me. And while I read the book and jotted down some notes for this review nearly a month ago, the protagonists and supporting characters are still fresh in my mind.
I’m not usually a fan of children as secondary characters, because they can sometimes be just a bit too twee for my taste, but Summer was an important part of the story arc. Since Megan’s a single mom, it’s only natural that her daughter would figure in any decision to start a romantic relationship. I was a little surprised at how Summer (with some adult help) managed to manipulate Megan into a ski trip where they (surprise!) ran into Gabe. Frankly, my parents would have beat the stuffing out of me if I pulled that kind of stunt, but it worked in the context of the plot.
I really enjoyed this book, and I can easily understand Ms. Andre’s success at self-publishing. The book was well edited, polished, and very professional, not to mention well-written. I will definitely be reading more of her work!