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The Duke of Snow and Apples by Elizabeth Vail Weaves a Magical Blend of Historical Romance and Fantasy

2 Sep

The Duke of Snow and Apples by Elizabeth Vail (Entangled: Select, August 26, 2014) – The only think I didn’t like about this book was the cover – what is up with her hair?

I honestly did not know what to expect when approaching The Duke of Snow and Apples by debut author Elizabeth Vail. The reviews I had read were overwhelmingly positive on Goodreads, but some readers voiced criticisms over the heroine’s entitled behavior at the start of the novel or the intricate but unexplained fantasy elements of the magic of the noble class.

What novel were these people reading?

This is one of the best fantasy romances I’ve read in years, blending many familiar elements of historical romance (strict social class boundaries, etiquette conventions that cannot be broken without dire repercussions and delicious historical costumes) with seamless layers of magic as part and parcel of this world. Vail pulls off her world building with aplomb, doling out place names, magical social strata and even different time conventions effortlessly, never once info-dumping on the reader or having a character launch into a tedious explanation of history. Thank you!

Charlotte Erlwood is grateful for the chance to not only visit her estranged aunt but to escape the humiliation and betrayal that awaits her at home. Her beautiful older sister became engaged to the man courting Charlotte and the world is obnoxiously cheerful despite how awful Charlotte feels. When her relative sends a ridiculously handsome and serene footman, Charlotte’s wicked side can’t help but bean him with the apple that was supposed to be her snack. His mischievous reaction is the first time her heart lightens in days and the perfect start to her friendship with Freddy, who her aunt assigns to wait upon her during her stay.

Charlotte's shot of an apple to Freddy's head is like the blooming of color in a life he covered with frost. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Charlotte’s shot of an apple to Freddy’s head is like the blooming of color in a life he covered with frost. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Frederick is content in his position of footman in this noble house, having honed his serenity and aloofness after a decade of brutal practice. He fled his home and title as a teen after wreaking havoc with his magical gifts which can not only sense but leech emotion. He’s astonished that the lovely and animated Charlotte, whose sadness and bravery he can see emanating from her in a rainbow of color, becomes a stifled and boring miss in the company of others. Determined to help her fulfill her potential, he manipulates circumstances into revealing the vibrant woman he sees during the day. Yet as time goes on, his friendship with her becomes something much more, awakening all the emotions he’s suppressed, her magic bringing his own to the fore. When his past not only smacks him in the face with the arrival of his stepfather, but he witnesses friends and acquaintances beginning to become “gray” (their inner selves leached of emotion), Frederick must decide whether to face his past or leave everyone, including Charlotte, behind once more.

Charlotte melts the ice encasing Frederick's heart and mind, allowing them both to reach their potential as individuals, both emotionally and magically. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Charlotte melts the ice encasing Frederick’s heart and mind, allowing them both to reach their potential as individuals, both emotionally and magically. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Charlotte easily could be seen as spoiled and entitled, but the fact that Frederick sees her emotions allows him to see past her mannerisms to the true person underneath, a device which fleshes her out immediately as a three-dimensional and empathetic character. Charlotte didn’t love her suitor, it’s the perceived betrayal by her older sister that has her dreadfully hurt and bent on winning a proposal from someone just as good if not better. That she still is capable of seeing Freddy as a man and a person – and indeed from the first her magic mirrors his, allowing her to see his loneliness and pain – demonstrates her good qualities, as does Frederick’s need to bring her out of her shell and gain confidence. The layers of conflict – Frederick’s very serious struggle with his magic, the evil villain (who inspired my only frustration as I yelled at the book, “Think, Frederick, THINK about the magic!”), the sister tension, and naturally how the romance would someone resolve itself – made this a masterwork I’m going to reread just to figure out how Vail managed to pull it off.

The emotional roller-coaster is on tilt-a-whirl in this story, as Frederick’s refusal to return to his title prevents any future with Charlotte, yet they can’t keep away from one another. When his secret is outed the danger increases rather decreases, culminating in a rip-snorting ending that had me turning the pages and refusing to make dinner (thank you, my Chinese takeout was delicious). Vail’s ability to keep me on the edge of my seat reminded me a little of Kathryne Kennedy, but devoid of the bogged down detail Kennedy can descend into. Mary Robinette Kowal’s magical Glamourist Histories Regency novels or Patricia C. Wrede’s Cecilia & Kate books are probably close in tone although with less focus on the romance than The Duke of Snow and Apples. The best part is that this deliciously hefty volume is fantasy sized at 351 paged but priced currently at $.99 thanks to Entangled’s intro pricing.

Will there be other books set in this world? I cannot wait to read more of this author and encourage anyone who loves fantasy and romance to pick it up and enjoy the magic created by Elizabeth Vail.

Happy reading!

 

Lone Wolfe Protector By Kaylie Newell Brings Gothic Overtones to Contemporary Romantic Suspense

1 Sep

Lone Wolfe Protector (Wolfe Creek #1 – Maggie and Koda) by Kaylie Newell (Entangled: Covet, August 25, 2014)

I love paranormal and I also adore romantic suspense, but I was surprised and inordinately pleased to see that the combination of the two in the hands of author Kaylie Newell became something more than the sum of these two genres.

Lone Wolfe Protector is filled with chills which are occasionally thawed by the building heat between the hero and heroine and finished off with a whodunit suspense that I did not see coming. The ghostly town of Wolfe Creek – with its suspicious mountain folk and troubled beginnings – lent the entire novel a creepy tone I can best describe as gothic, that brand of romantic 19th century fiction in which the setting lends such a tone to the horror of the novel that it becomes another character.

Maggie Sullivan has spent a year grieving. A year ago, her road trip with her friend Aimee ended in disaster when Aimee disappeared from the bathroom of the lone gas station in the Pacific Northwest town of Wolfe Creek. Despite her friends and family telling her to move on from the tragedy, Maggie has never given up hope that the mystery of Aimee’s disappearance will be solved, even appearing on television shows and criticizing the law officials who have come up with no leads in all that time. Determined to take matters into her own hands, Maggie leaves her job as a copywriter, taking up indefinite residence at the bed & breakfast in the center of Wolfe Creek.

The dark, lush forest of the Pacific Northwest, even in the cold, works as another character in the novel.

The dark, lush forest of the Pacific Northwest, even in the cold, works as another character in the novel. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

While friendly former-stripper-turned-waitress Candi is happy to befriend her and help, Maggie discovers more questions than answers. Deputy sherriff Koda Wolfe and his n’er do well brother Zane keep turning up at the inn where Maggie is staying since the woman who runs it is their aunt and the former foster mother of both the brothers and Candi. Descended from the founding fur trapper and his Native American bride, the brothers know the town history and the stories of the people in it, but can’t bring themselves to point to even the most nefarious resident as a murderer. Protector Koda finds himself drawn to the elfin but stubborn Maggie despite his disdain for how she’s chosen to criticize the law. The more time they spend together, the more they are drawn inextricably toward one another, but both the person responsible for Aimee’s disappearance as well as Maggie’s suspicions of that person’s identity might tear the new couple apart.

Rather than an obvious villain or hero as in most paranormal novels, the wolf in this one occupies a grey space regarding its role in the attacks in the town. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Rather than an obvious villain or hero as in most paranormal novels, the wolf in this one occupies a grey space regarding its role in the attacks in the town. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

While so much modern paranormal suspense is either more world-building about the supernatural (in this case, werewolves) or places emphasis on the villain (who you can spot by page 30), Newell defies these conventions. She manages to establish a history of werewolf lore within the Native American community of the Pacific Northwest but doesn’t really labor over the werewolf piece in this novel putting her energy (correctly) into tone and character development. It’s clear that future books focusing on other characters will naturally explain more of the curse the Wolfe sons continue to suffer, but for now Koda and Maggie’s dilemma takes center stage. I liked that the author chose to forgo insta-love and instead showed our main couple slowly taking the time to get to know each other, attracted to one another despite their best instincts.

The mystery was outstandingly well done with a villain you are happy to hate and a twist at the end that just begs for future books. Zane and Candi have a distinctive past (and with my dislike of on-again, off-again relationships while the people hook up with other partners, I’m not sure how I’m going to handle that particular novel) but I’m certain this book was too good for me not to read the next one in the series and forego my usual reservations.

I was wowed by my first Kaylie Newell novel and hope the next one is out in time for some windy fall or winter evening if it manages the same spooky tone as Lone Wolfe Protector. At the introductory rate of $.99, I suggest paranormal romantic suspense readers take advantage of the price. You’ll be baying to the moon in praise of this story!

Happy reading! 🙂

Dirty Deal by Christine Bell Proves The Best Kind of Romance Bargain

30 Aug

Dirty Deal (Perfectly Matched #2 – Selena and Bryan) by Christine Bell (Entangled: Brazen, August 25, 2014)

I am a big fan of Christine Bell. Her Dare Me series is a great example of her writing which combines dirty, bad boys who think they aren’t good enough for the woman they love with heroines who bring a Samsonite collection of emotional scars. Her trademark sense of humor always shines through her characters’ dialogue and thoughts but her writing never ceases to impress. She makes a clever turn of phrase that encapsulates a scene or emotion look effortless. Love her.

With my fangirl chops established, it goes without saying that I was looking forward to the release of the second book in her Perfectly Matched series focusing on a dating service in Salem, Massachusetts. Grace Love, the business founder (and owner of the requisite “tingles” that let her know when a perfect match has been made), found her true love in the form of her playboy best friend and SWAT leader, Patrick Mathews, in the first book of the series, Dirty Trick. Business co-owner and socialite, Selena Elliott, was due to take a fall from her love ’em and leave ’em ways and that future is delivered in the pages of Dirty Deal via the form of Dr. Bryan Metcalf, army ER trauma doctor and auctioned bachelor.

Bryan can’t believe that he’s let his professional party-planner sister talk him into doing this bachelor auction, but considering that it’s to benefit the hospital, he could hardly say no. While walking out in some little leaf costume and nothing else makes him wish he could chose Afghanistan again, he still goes out, and is frozen in place when a bidding war breaks out between his stalker ex-girlfriend, Piper, and Grace Love, the owner of the dating service who wants him to do an ad campaign for her company. At the last minute, a stunning platinum blond grabs Grace’s paddle, delivers some smack talk to Piper, and saves the day with the winning bid. Thinking he might just have won the dating jackpot, Bryan is disappointed to find out that the woman who won him for the night is Grace’s business partner, Selena.

Dirty Trick (Perfectly Matched #1 – Grace and Trick) by Christine Bell (Entangled: Brazen, September 2013)

But he quickly realizes that while he can’t take his eyes off Selena’s gorgeous body and beautiful face, she actually is the real deal – funny, smart, and just as anti-commitment as he is. Considering his philandering military father scarred him with the prospect of ruining any relationship he might attempt while he’s still in service, Bryan has made a point of keeping things light. The times he didn’t ended in disaster. Not only is Piper still stalking him nine years later but he’s had women attempt to kill themselves or make other grand stunts that just embarrassed themselves and him. Selena’s cool demeanor and healthy sexuality reassure Bryan that he won’t have to worry about that reaction and he can’t deny the strongest attraction he’s ever felt for a woman. He finds himself agreeing to be the ad campaign boy for her dating business and the phenomenal sex that follows on the beach melts his brain.

Selena isn’t sure exactly what Bryan uses to mesmerize these crazy women other than an unusual dose of intelligence, good looks, and a great sense of humor, but she knows how to keep her distance from guys. Her parents may have left her a massive trust fund and palatial home, but what she really inherited was a disbelief in real love and family after seeing her parents’ affairs and being raised by a series of boarding schools. Despite telling him that their awesome sex was a one-off, Selena finds herself spending all her time with the sexy doctor and hanging out with his great family seals the deal – she’s in big trouble. When her attempt to tell him how she feels dredges up all his phobias about clinging women, she thinks her chance at love is over. But Bryan needs to figure out who Selena is and get past his own history in order to embrace what might be the best gift he’s ever received.

I loved seeing Selena’s character fleshed out in this book and Bell does a great job showing us all her insecurities and damage while also letting us admire Selena’s confidence and the way she managed to raise herself with the help of her one caring relative, her grandmother. Selena literally doesn’t know what to do with herself around Bryan and the feelings he stirs in her, but she finds a measure of bravery even as her fight or flight instincts are telling her to run in the opposite direction and protect herself. Bryan has spent so long avoiding a real relationship (and his avoidance is part of the reason why he still has the psycho contingent around him since a nice restraining order would have given the feedback some of these women needed), that he also is off-kilter with Selena, especially after seeing how great she gets along with his sister and grandmother. Selena’s big moment and Bryan’s gut reaction is heart-wrenching, as is his grand gesture to try and get her back.

Dirty Deal is classic Christine Bell. Not only do I heartily recommend it to lovers of contemporary romance but I strongly exhort them to also sample the Dare Me series as well since this author offers readers delicious characters and fabulous writing in all her novels. The summer might be waning but Bell will always bring the heat!

Happy reading! 🙂

 

 

Stealing His Heart by Diane Alberts Will Run Away With Yours

29 Aug

Stealing His Heart (Shillings Agency #2 – Jake and Tara) by Diane Alberts (Entangled: Brazen, August 25, 2014)

Diane Alberts (aka Jen McLaughlin) is a contemporary romance author at the top of her game. Whether it’s her raw and emotional Take a Chance series, or her super hot contribution to the multi-author Wedding Dare series (*fans self*), this writer knows how to create vulnerable and appealing heroes and heroines who come together in a burst of heat under unusual circumstances only to find that the unlikely pairing is actually a perfect match.

When her first book in the Shillings Agency series, Temporarily Yours, came out this past winter, I was most definitely hooked with Cooper and Kayla’s story, and the latest installment, Stealing His Heart, has proved no exception. A testimony to Alberts’ talent is that I usually don’t have the time of day to give to “reunion” romances (it’s a personal mental block – they are great books), but when she writes one, all I can do is turn the pages faster!

Tara Harris isn’t a thief, she’s a “recovery consultant” who tracks down stolen items and then steals them back in order to return them to their rightful owners. Having seen the justice system fail both her and the people she loves means she doesn’t have a high opinion of the traditional route of turning to the authorities. Her genius IQ and the trust fund left to her by her parents’ untimely death mean no one considers that this unassuming and wealthy young woman is one of the premiere cat burglars stealing from mob bosses and seamy celebrities. But when what should have been an easy art theft has her caught red-handed, she’s shocked to discover that the man so effectively holding her still is none other than her former friend, partner and first love, Jake Forsythe.

Falling for the Groomsman (Wedding Dare #1 – Christine and Tyler) by Jen McLaughlin (Entangled Brazen, June 2014) – This is the story of Jake’s sister and gives an interesting perspective on his childhood trauma of losing their parents

Jake wishes he wasn’t enjoying keeping Tara pinned against the wall as much as he is. The two of them came together as kids with the common ground of her loss of her parents at the same time he lost his. The difference was while she went to a loving if prissy grandmother in a mansion, he went to an abusive foster home, separated from his sister, Christine. Thankfully his sister has found happiness with a doctor and she’s back in Jake’s life happy and content, but her bliss only emphasize how alone Jake is.

Years ago before the military, Tara was his lifeline – his partner in crime (literally) and the princess who was so irresistible to him. Their one night together had him satisfying her without taking the final step of taking her virginity, as he knew she deserved better than his dark desires. He ran off to join the military the next day and the years in his country’s service have taken their toll, mentally and physically. His leg is covered with scars and hardly fully functional, but it’s nothing compared to the emotional scars left from the IED explosion that killed most of his fellow soldiers on patrol. He knows he’s cold and alone but that’s what he has to be in order to do his duty for the Shillings Agency. After Tara got past their security and stole a vase from a client, they’ve needed her to show them how she bypassed their system, hence the sting that nabbed her.

Tara felt rejected twice being trapped by Jake – the first time when he left her high and dry after delivering more pleasure than her young self thought existed and now when it’s clear he’s been back stateside for a while and never looked up his former friend despite them having been so close. But the real sense of betrayal comes when he cooly informs her that she is going to have to show his security agency how she got past their system on her last job or they’ll use the footage from this break in to put her in jail. She’s not about to give up either her code knowledge or endanger her network of contacts who help her. However, she’s happy to play along since Jake’s body is clearly enthusiastic to see her even though his frowny face says otherwise and she wants to figure out what’s really going on in that gorgeous head of his.

What follows is an exercise in frustration – for both of them. The spark they knew as kids is a raging inferno now and while Jake makes clear that his need for being dominant in the bedroom should scare Tara away, she can’t wrap her head around submitting to anyone, although Jake makes the idea damn appealing. Her practical joker tendencies quickly crack Jake’s shell with her mouth and body widening the gap to his heart. Tara finds that Jake is exactly what she needs but since he’s about to land her in jail, they hardly have a future. With Jake torn between his duty and saving Tara, he knows he’s forced to betray her trust in a way that might have her cutting him out of her life. But now that he’s had a taste of what it means to feel again, he’s not about to let her get away.

Temporarily Yours (Shilling Agency #1 – Cooper and Kayla) by Jen McLaughlin (Entangled Brazen, February 2014) – This is Cooper’s story of how he came to fall in love and decide to go back to Maine to the family security business.

There is no way to not love the isolated Jake who made the biggest mistake of his life not heading back to find Tara the instant he was stateside. That they are clearly exactly what each other needs is evident, but he is reluctant to let go of his mental image of her as a past princess who deserves the best. Diane Alberts writes the sexy times like nobody’s business, but it was the incredible moments of laughter that got to me. Because Tara knows Jake and all his buttons, her jokes were awesome, penetrating right through the drone shell he’d adopted to cope with his life. Cooper Shilling, Jake’s boss, was just as yummy as I remembered him from the first book in this series, Temporarily Yours, and I liked that, knowing his own personal happiness and what it gave him, he didn’t hesitate to kick Jake in the right direction when it came time for him to figure out the “grand gesture” that would bring Tara back to him. And what a gesture! I was tearing up in that final scene as Jake proved he knew the real Tara as much as she knew him.

Stealing His Heart is an excellent buy for $3.99 and I eagerly await the next book in the Shillings Agency series, which I hope will star Jake’s coworker and playboy, the tattooed Gordon and the cool blonde he was sent to investigate in this book.

Happy reading!! 🙂

You’ll Find Yourself Down For the Count With Abby Niles’ Latest, Winning Love

26 Aug

Winning Love (Love to the Extreme #3 – Mac and Gayle) by Abby Niles (Entangled: Select, August 26, 2014)

Gah. When I read the second book in Abby Niles’ Love to the Extreme series, Fighting Love, I remember thinking “well, there’s no way she can top this one” but I appreciate a writer proving me wrong!

Designed so they can be read independently from one another, the latest installment of this MMA-focused collection of novels, Winning Love, delivers the to-die-for characters and heart-wrenching dilemmas of the rest of Niles’ work. Heat is delivered in abundance as Love to the Extreme characters never just “sort of” want each other; they contract a flat-out, bad case of lust from the get go.

Mac Hannon has returned to Kansas to help out a good friend of his, despite his finding MMA success in his new life in Atlanta. It’s not easy to be around people who knew him when he was a laid back chef who loved his wife and enjoyed training for the ring. After the tornado that robbed him of not only his life but his future, Mac earned his moniker of “the Snake” by channeling all his rage into the cold way he cuts down his opponents. Shacking up at a friend’s farmhouse has the not so welcome surprise of the professor next door being anything but a gray-haired old maid. Gayle Andrews has killer curves and a smile that lights up a room. When she clearly sets her sights on Mac, he knows he’s in more trouble than if he was fighting against the #1 ranked contender.

Gayle is happy to help her neighbor and his cute daughter whenever they need her since she’s come to treasure friends and experiences when she can get them. Having had everyone close to her ripped away from her in her youth drove her passion with meteorology. Becoming one of the premier storm chasers allows Gayle to face her darkest fear on a regular basis and remind herself she’s alive. One of her favorite ways to do that is to find someone sexy to spend some time with, and Mac’s expiration date and proximity makes him the perfect fling. She can tell he’s into her and she’s going to lay it all on the line as she can see he needs to let go of the dark knight brood he’s got going and live a little. But when her job and his past collide, Gayle is despondent as the future she couldn’t help imagining despite her best intentions can never happen, no matter how her feelings are telling her otherwise.

Fighting Love (Love to the Extreme #2 – Tommy and Julie) by Abby Niles (Entangled: Select, December 31, 2013) – Mac appears in this book as well with his dark past well-hinted at while he helps along Tommy and Julie’s transition from best friends to lovers.

Reasons I adored this book. Gayle is an effervescent, uber-smart woman who fiercely embraces life in order to get the most out of it, and her pigtail-sporting head has some serious seduction techniques trapped inside. Mac never stood a chance! And a chiseled fighter who has remained true to his wife’s memory who is also a restaurant-level cook? Ladies, where do we sign up? Kansas should use this book as marketing to get people to move to the state. Single women would be populating farmhouses in a heartbeat.

It’s impossible not to fall for these empathetic characters (and Niles provides her usual brand of strong supportive secondary sidekicks destined for a feature role in the next book in the series), but the conflict is so outstanding, I kept turning the page desperately trying to figure out how Mac and Gayle were going to work through their differences. Both of them were forced to confront their darkest fear in their desperate bid to see if they could be together and their version of compromise was nothing short of perfect while also being highly realistic. The sex was off the charts hot (another Niles speciality) but I honestly think that the muddy, obstacle course event Gayle suckers Mac into doing was one of the most sensual and emotional scenes I’ve read in some time. Well done, Abby!

This book is a full-length novel and the price of under $6 for the ebook and around $11 for the paperback reflects that. Abby Niles is one of those authors I will cheerfully pay full-price for as she delivers a quality of writing that I think is at the top of the contemporary romance genre.

Happy reading!

 

Taming His Tutor by Natalie Anderson Will Have You Looking For Lessons

25 Aug

Taming His Tutor by Natalie Anderson (Entangled: Brazen, August 25, 2014)

As a cerebral, bookish kind of gal, I’ve a soft spot for the trope about the nerd girl who falls in mutual lust/love with the jock guy, and I don’t think I’m by myself in the romance reading demographic.

If you count yourself as my sister under the skin, then I suggest you take a close look at Natalie Anderson’s latest, Taming His Tutor, which debuted today.

Abbi Hayes has come a long way from the math Olympiad circuit she did in high school. She’s lost the braces and the boob-hiding long scarf she sported, but even with her new hairdo and clingy wardrobe, her confidence still needs a boost. Her last (and first) boyfriend called her a cold fish in bed and her one and only one-night stand was a disaster. Working as the head IT person for a posh women’s magazine, she’s working hand in hand with her best friend and the magazine’s sex editor to not only develop a fabulous new app with sexual confidence tips, but to ingrain said ideas into her daily life. Easier said than done, as she’s literally saved from death-by-audiobook by none other than former NBA star Joe Fuller.

Joe can’t believe that the curvy goddess who almost became another pedestrian fatality is none other than the blue-eyed sweetheart of a tutor who helped him get through math class back in high school. If he had known she was hiding these killer curves under that sweet smile and earnest expression, he would have pursued her, but there’s no time like the present. Recognizing that the newly blossomed Abbi is stirring up a possessiveness and hunger he’s not used to experiencing with his casual “love ’em and leave ’em” lifestyle, Joe is ready to leave her after one hot but disastrous date. The realization that the little vixen has no idea of her sex appeal AND is researching sexual attraction for her app gives him the perfect opportunity to work her out of his system while also helping her gain her confidence. The problem arises when his previously perfect paradigm of leaving before getting attached hits the fan.

Oh, wow. Joe is sex on a stick – a hard-bodied NBA star who has never been anyone’s priority and as a result has managed to feel like a failure. A hurtful mother and a series of foster homes who put him second, a sister he felt he should have protected, and a professional team he felt he let down with his career ending injury and we have a recipe for a decade of therapy. Instead, Joe channelled his energy into building a highly successful gym business and releases some of his tension through the many classes he offers. Abbi at least has let herself be open to being hurt – and she has – but her time with Joe proves to her that she needed to focus on being with someone who actually turns her on and who she can pleasure in return. She tries to protect herself around Joe but she can see his vulnerabilities. Even if he doesn’t choose her, she insists on calling him out on his imposed lone wolf status. Abbi knows that Joe doesn’t deserve to be alone, no matter what he believes.

I’ve never read any Natalie Anderson before and that is something I plan to rectify soon. This talented Kiwi writer of category romance has an excellent grasp of character psychology, one which she uses to drive the evolution of her plot. Joe and Abbi are sympathetic characters and the heat between them is incendiary. The dialogue felt natural and I like the way they were flawed characters who occasionally hurt each other, but never irreparably.

Grab Taming His Tutor for a geektastic read filled with emotion and naughty bits that will have your e-reader smoking!

Happy reading! 🙂

Carrie Ann Ryan’s Montgomery Ink Series Leaves Readers Permanently Marked and Wanting More

13 Aug

Ink Inspired (Montgomery Ink #.5 – Shep and Shea) by Carrie Ann Ryan (Fated Desires, February 15, 2014)

The world of romance writing is a fabulous place.

While I have zero interest in ever getting a tattoo (or solving a murder, or meeting vampires, or extracting a hostage from the clutches of a drug cartel), I get to read about fascinating characters who love the world of permanent body ink, and who fall in love during the process of considering what body art to acquire.

At least I do whenever I have the pleasure of reading Carrie Ann Ryan‘s new Montgomery Ink series.

While the first full-length book of this series, Delicate Ink, will be published on October 14th, we can enjoy the two prequel novellas to the series that she has put out to tantalize us until then, both of which take place in that most sensual of cities, New Orleans.

Ink Inspired (which, let’s be honest, should win some kind of cover art award because yikes) stars Shepard Montgomery, a talented tattoo artist with an established reputation who has created a life filled with his art, friends, and his large and loving family but who finds himself wanting more. He’s tired of the semi-drunk tourists who stumble into his shop not caring what they are about to permanently put on their bodies, and it’s this attitude that has him being brusque with the prim blonde who can’t decide what tattoo she wants. That she’s scared to death is a given, and Shep isn’t about to ink her until she absolutely sure what she wants. What he can do is pursue her despite his poor first impression, as his mid-life ennui has disappeared in her presence with one look out of those big eyes.

Shea Little can’t tell the huge, handsome tattoo artist what she wants because she has no idea. She barely understands who she is, having suffered with the constant emotional abuse of her mother and her bossy ex-boyfriend. Coming from a politically prominent and moneyed family, Shea has tried to make a life of her own working in her little accounting office and wearing her suits. She can control her immediate world even if she can’t control the negative things her mother thinks and says, and choosing ink for her body wouldn’t just be a rebellion but a big step to asserting her independence. The sexy, oh-so-dirty Shep Montgomery, however, is not within her sphere of control, although she finds his relentless pursuit of her unbelievably sexy. When she develops feelings for this gentle, scorchingly sensual man, all her efforts to create her own life might come to an end when her family threatens to destroy him.

Delicate Ink (Montgomery Ink #1 – Austin and Sierra) by Carrie Ann Ryan (Fated Desires, October 14, 2014)

Oh. My. God. Shep is the last person you’d think to pair with Shea, so naturally he’s perfect for her, since he understands and supports her work to uncover who she is and what she wants on her own time. While he knows that he’s from a different world, Shea and Shep are kindred souls who learn from one another. That Shep is more than happy to show Shea what she’s been missing regarding her sexuality, is a bonus for readers and for Shea, and I defy you to find a more heinous bitch of a mother than the abusive and manipulative villain in this story. Remember, this is an edgy hero, with plenty of f-bombs, piercings in sensitive areas, and the frequent use of the modern adjective “hella” but chances are you are going to love him as much as Shea by the last page.

This novella is skillfully written as Ryan manages to lay the groundwork for the entire series, smoothly weaving in Shep’s Colorado cousins (the focus of the series and owners of their own tattoo business), minor characters in the New Orleans shop, and hints of the Montgomery clan’s own social and political influence (albeit the less prominent and far shadier variety than Shea’s family). Shea easily could have been a cowed, naive twit, but instead she is a woman struggling against the bonds that have tethered her personality for so many years, with Shep coming at exactly the right moment to help her break free. Shep is one of the sexiest, sweetest rough heroes I’ve read in a while, and I’m certainly hoping I get to see and hear from him in future installments of the series.

Midnight Ink Box Set (seen here with the individual book covers for each of the novels contained within it) featuring stories by Jayne Rylon, Sidney Bristol, Robin L. Rotham, P. G. Forte, Eden Bradley, R. G. Alexander, Carrie Ann Ryan, and Mari Carr (Amazon Digital Services, November 18, 2014)

Ink Inspired is also a great deal, only $.99 right now on Amazon, and you can get it as one of the novellas contained in the Midnight Ink box set if there are other authors in that collection who also appeal to you (and there are some doozies in there!). I can honestly say – as a decided connoisseur of boxed sets – that I was blown away by Midnight Ink, a collaboration of the group of authors who make up the Inkheart Authors (and several of whom are in the quality romance author group, the Smutketeers). These wonderful authors developed a New Orleans tattoo parlor, Midnight Ink, figured out who the key characters were (either artists, owners, or patrons) and then each developed a story. The result is a brilliant sequence of moving, erotic, emotional stories as these men and women move to find their happily ever after (HEA) in the Big Easy.

The consistent quality and deliberate cohesiveness of the anthology makes this feel almost like one of those big Baskin Robbin’s ice cream bowls with 21 flavors – they are all delicious but each have a different (delicious) taste. Keep in mind that the various stories’ focus ranges from more traditional uber-hot romance to menage to BDSM-themed romance, but with the execution and writing quality so high, I think even readers who don’t normally choose some of those themes will find themselves reading to find out how each character takes a chance on happiness. At $5.99 for over 500 pages, it’s a good bargain, although I’ll warn you that I loved so many of these stories that I went out and bought the other books related to them to find out more about the secondary characters and relatives of the Midnight Ink characters!

Ink Reunited (Montgomery Ink #.6 – Sassy, Rafe and Ian) by Carrie Ann Ryan (Fated Desires, January 29, 2014)

One character who we did not see get her HEA in the anthology was Midnight Ink’s receptionist, Sassy Bordeaux, who played matchmaker when she saw which way the wind was blowing with each of her coworkers and clients. Luckily Carrie Ann Ryan took it upon herself to not leave Sassy out in the cold, and Ink Reunited is a wonderful tale of Sassy realizing her own dreams. This novella explains how years ago the sensitive yet brash receptionist had fallen for two very different men after running away from her abusive, wealthy home. Rafe Chavez loved Sassy from the start when his loving parents added the homeless waif to their large family and she honed her administrative skills working in the Chavez chain of auto repair stores. But Rafe never considered Sassy a sister and the heat between them became all-consuming when Rafe brought home a wealthy stranded client, young millionaire Ian Steele. The three of them fell head over heels in love with each other, but when Ian began to distance himself emotionally from Rafe and Sassy, Sassy couldn’t handle yet another massive rejection from the men in her life and she ran.

A decade later, Ian has never stopped regretting the impulsive actions of his young twenties’ self so when Rafe tells him that Sassy has been in New Orleans hiding under their noses the whole time, they commit to winning her back and renewing their relationship, this time for the long haul. To say that Sassy is shocked by their appearance is an understatement, but her heart is reluctant to risk everything – again – on these two wonderful men. As Rafe and Ian convince her of their seriousness and show her how their unconventional partnership will hold up to family and public scrutiny, an ugly specter from her past rears its head to threaten everything they are trying to rebuild.

This is a wonderful menage story with a strong focus on the emotional journey of three people who have known and loved each other for a long time. Rafe and Ian would each be a catch, but both of them together? Sassy is one fortunate woman, whose heart of gold almost undermines her future. I loved this 100+ page novella which whetted my appetite for the upcoming full-length novel in the series, Delicate Ink.

Honestly, if you haven’t already gotten Midnight Ink, I would recommend getting it and Ink Reunited, as that gives you over 600 pages of amazing, spicy New Orleans romance for under $9.00, but with each story of the anthology available independently, the world is definitely your oyster if you want to pick and chose what you think looks good. Know that part of the Inkheart Authors and the Smutketeers motto is quality romance, which means that everything they publish is beautifully formatted and edited.

Just like a tattoo, the Montgomery Ink series and its related stories are bound to leave a permanent mark on your romance reading soul, but the good news is that, unlike going under the needle, this process is painless thanks the excellent writing of Carrie Ann Ryan and her fellow authors.

Happy reading!

Arms Deals, Hot Romance and Lizard Penises Make Tawna Fenske’s Latest, Fiancee for Hire, One of the Best Romance Novels of the Summer

21 Jul

Fiancee for Hire (Front and Center #2 – Kelli and Mac) by Tawna Fenske (Entangled: Lovestruck, July 21, 2014)

I’ve been reading a LOT of romance novels this summer and I have got to say that Tawna Fenske‘s latest release in her Front and Center series, Fiancee for Hire, has wowed me so much that it’s throwing elbows in the top three novels of the summer to date.

It was easy to love former Marine MacArthur Patton when Mac was busy hiring a friend to look after his sister and her new twins in the first of the series, Marine for Hire, but this overbearing brother has fully lived up to my expectations of his hotness. I loved not only the incredibly tender moments in the first novel of the series but also Fenske’s trademark brand of humor, which has me coming back to her novels again and again. Fiancee for Hire is her best novel to date, with a combustable couple, side stitch-inducing funny scenes and two protagonists you can’t help but love.

When Mac’s sister Sheri (of Marine for Hire) is tasked with finding him a demure, biddable fake fiancee for his latest covert op in Mexico, she feels a little payback for his interference in her life is in order. Enter her longtime friend, Kelli Landers, a blond pixie of a veterinarian whose knockout good looks bely her take-no-prisoners attitude and ability to wrestle mastiffs into submission. Kelli has had the hots for Mac since puberty but he’s never noticed her except as part of the furniture in the Patton household. Helping him broker an arms deal that will help fight terrorism while possibly tapping the hottie who has played a large role in her fantasies sounds like her patriotic duty. There’s no danger of Kelli’s heart coming into play because she’s actually an even worse commitmentphobe than Mac.

Marine for Hire (Front and Center #1 – Sheri and Sam) by Tawna Fenske (Entangled, February 2014)

Mac vaguely remembers seeing Kelli but he’s never really taken much notice and he’s wondering how the hell that’s been the case. One look at her blond curls and blue eyes and he feels like he’s taken a punch to the gut. Her sweet looks are in direct opposition to her appealing intelligence and devilish sense of play and Mac quickly realizes she’s not only a huge asset but a woman who matches him in the bedroom to a T. That T might stand for trouble however, as Mac begins to feel emotions that he’s closed off his entire life since having something to live for means having something to lose.

Oh. My. God. Kelli and Mac both have a decent amount of damage and guilt in their past, hence their almost identical outlooks on keeping relationships at bay, but the two of them together might very well short out your e-reader as this is one smokin’ hot combination. Even better, straight-laced Mac is the perfect foil for Kelli, who is as hilarious as they come and both the lizard penis episode and the Williams Sonoma registry scene will permanently live in my memory as stellar examples of Tawna Fenske’s fantastic humor. As usual, her secondary characters are outstanding, and getting to meet Mac and Sheri’s mother as well as one of the Patton brothers (perhaps the two remaining Patton’s will be our future heroes in the series?) added dimension and perspective to the story. The veterinary medicine and animals were outstanding in the research accuracy and detail, so much so that I want to take my animals to Kelli’s clinic!

The only problem with Fiancee for Hire is that now I’m chomping at the bit for the next book in the series. With Entangled’s amazing $.99 deal for new books, I’d get this puppy now and give yourself the present of a great romance (and some serious laughter). I guarantee that you’ll find it on the top of your summer romance list.

Happy reading!

You’ll Be Signing Up For This Dating Service After Reading Meeting His Match by Katee Robert

21 Jul

Meeting His Match (Match Me #1 – Addison and Caine) by Katee Robert (Entangled: Lovestruck, June 21, 2014)

Last month, I raved (justifiably so) about the multi-author Wedding Dare series, so I was thrilled to see that Katee Robert took a minor character from her contribution, Seducing the Bridesmaid, to form a spin off series, Match Me, the first novel of which features professional matchmaker Addison St. Claire, the good friend of New York headhunter (and nature-phobe) Regan Wakefield. In Meeting His Match, Regan has gotten her happily ever after with the gorgeous playboy Brock McNeil, but – worried about Brock’s older and more tightly wound brother Caine – she asks Addison to travel to Tennessee and do what she does best, namely find Caine a soul mate so he can find a little happiness.

Addison has not been feeling the joy her work previously gave her so a change of scenery is pretty appealing although she gives Regan the caveat that she can refuse the work after meeting Caine if she thinks it’s not going to work. One look at the gorgeous, harried CEO and she recognizes the loneliness she sees in herself. Installing herself in the McNeil mansion, Addison doesn’t hesitate to enact changes in Caine’s life and give him some home truths about the choices he’s making and how they can lead to a lifetime of emptiness if he doesn’t get his priorities straight.

Caine doesn’t know if he wants to strangle the gorgeous redhead bent on helping him or kiss her senseless. Her holding a mirror to his life shows him that he’s unfortunately closer to his father’s constant work and no play ideal, and it’s not a pretty picture. Her flying in one beautiful woman after another just proves to him the obvious truth – that the only woman who can divert him from his early heart attack path is Addison herself, but as Caine realizes that the feelings he’s developing go way beyond lust, he’s also aware of a major obstacle. Addison believes in one soul mate per person and she’s already had hers.

It’s tough not to fall for Komondor puppies, particularly when they are named for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

Katee Robert cannot be beat for outstanding storylines and compelling characters. While a knowledge of the characters in Seducing the Bridesmaid certainly aids in understanding the McNeil family background and some of the characters, it’s hardly necessary to enjoy every page of this wonderful novel. Addison is so firm in her belief that her dead husband was her only soul mate that she’s unable to see Caine for what he is – the perfect counterpoint and partner for her. Seeing Caine grow and change as Addison resuscitates his zest for life is heartwarming and those fantastic Komondor dogs don’t hurt either! The heat between them is exactly what you expect from Robert’s writing, and I guarantee you won’t be looking at the dining room table the same way again.

I’m hoping that some of the women flown in for Caine’s perusal (part of Addison’s desperate bid to deter him from his pursuit of her) are going to meet their match in future books in the series as they were fascinating in the few pages in which they appeared. Katee Robert has hit another home run with this new series and these fabulous characters, so be sure to take advantage of the introductory $.99 price for the first couple of weeks to get this book at a bargain price.

Another great point to note is that this novel is one of the first on Entangled’s new Lovestruck line, it’s new category romance line that provides great contemporary stories longer than a novella but still a quicker read. If Robert’s newest novel is any indication of the quality we can expect, I’m looking forward to devouring future publications.

Happy reading! 🙂

Tango Into Love With Two New Releases from Audra North and Amanda Byrne!

14 Jul

The tango is without question the sexiest dance and two of Entangled Publishing’s newest releases feature it. I agreed to review them both, the first title because I’ve loved all of Audra North‘s Stanton Family novellas and wanted to read about the youngest sibling, Julie in A Lesson in Temptation (Bruno and Lily’s story, One Night in Santiago is my favorite but Adam and Meredith’s book, Falling for the CEO, is a close second). The second book by new author Amanda K. Byrnes, One Night in Buenos Aires, was a must-read because I love friends to lovers novellas. Both were excellent, so I wanted to showcase them for you in case they fit your romance reading beach pile.

A Lesson in Temptation by Audra North

Julie Stanton is the baby of the family, but she’s no less talented or driven than her older siblings. Having had a rough high school experience, she promised herself that she was going to chose to be happy and have fun, even while she accomplished all the goals she set for herself academically. A stellar finance student, she’s graduated with honors and landed a prestigious job at a financial firm where she was just promoted to senior analyst. But she’s resolved to not let go of playing, hence her signing up for tango lessons. Just milling around with the other people before class is enjoyable but her heart stops when she spots the man she had a huge crush on during college – hunky teaching assistant Adam Harkness.

Newly minted Columbia professor Adam Harkness cannot believe that he let his friends rope him into taking this tango class. He’s under enormous pressure to publish or perish plus he’s still supporting his family and their struggling farm back in North Dakota. Adam hasn’t had “fun” of any type since he started working at age 12 and he doesn’t want to start now. Tempted to turn on his heel and head home, he stops cold upon spotting Julie Stanton, the gorgeous student he almost kissed during a study session when he was her TA a few years ago. She’s not his student now and her smile has him drifting over to talk to her. She’s just as full of life as he remembered, and when they are partnered for the duration of the course – and when Julie proposes a drink and something more after class – Adam wonders if he can loosen up enough to have a no strings fling each week with the woman he couldn’t forget.

Julie is a delightful heroine, someone who experienced the loss of a parent and an episode of horrible bullying and decided to commit herself to getting the most out of life as a result. Her gamut of emotions dealing with not only her attraction to Adam but his stubbornness in resisting anything more is honest and natural. Adam is a little uptight and dickish in his one-track mind, but you understand why even while not loving the result. It’s great to see him loosen up slowly (and realize that his work doesn’t suffer) and he ends up having quite the messy epiphany at the end of the book about how much he might lose if he can’t win Julie back. His attitude turnaround seemed quick to me, but his is a brilliant mind, so I think when he finally got it, he GOT it. I loved hearing tidbits about the other Stantons and just wish we could have seen a few of them in person. Love those Stantons!

One Night In Buenos Aires by Amanda K. Byrne

I make no bones about how I adore the friends to lovers trope in romance fiction. Two people, already acquainted with the best and worst of each other who have enough in common to be friends, giving into a suppressed lust for one another is a recipe for heat in my book. Add to it a gorgeous foreign location, and I’m there.

That’s exactly what debut author Amanda K. Byrne gives us in her first book, One Night in Buenos Aires. Drea and Joe have been friends for years, working at the same firm and hanging out outside of the office, both with their significant others and with each other. Having landed a hotel chain client, they are given an all expenses paid trip to Argentina to check things out in person, but the trip goes awry when after an interminable series of flights, they arrive at the hotel to find that they have only one room, not the two bedroom suite they were promised. Dropping into the same bed from exhaustion, they awake to hot kisses and hotter caresses, before they both come to their senses. But the cat is out of the bag now, and there is no ignoring the lust between them.

Byrnes does a couple fascinating things with this story. Most friends to lovers have one or both parties as a playboy/playgirl type who don’t get involved in relationships, but Joe and Drea have had successful long-term relationships (which break up for various reasons) and more importantly they’ve seen each other in them. Drea is so hesitant about engaging in an affair with her best friend that she blows hot and cold, allowing her lust for Joe to take over one minute and then having her heart and head – which both know that sex means something to her and she doesn’t just want to be a hook-up – assert their good sense. Joe is a complex character who sometimes felt too much like a pitch-perfect guy to me (he isn’t a strong communicator and he said a few jackass things which he actually forgot until Drea brought them up again). Yet both characters are incredibly real amidst all their flaws and the emotion and heat they feel for one another is palpable. I loved that Byrnes brought this relationship back to their hometown and even gave us an outstandingly touching epilogue, all challenging to do within the page confines of a novella. She’s an author to watch, for sure!

It’s always great when an established author gives you yet another great book AND you get to discover a new author worth reading, but when both their novellas are priced at $.99 and there is a Rafflecopter giveaway for a $25 gift card, well, that’s pretty damn awesome. These are two novellas which provide a fun, quick read for your summer romance pile. 🙂

Happy reading!

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