Tag Archives: series

December Read-a-Thon: Bayou Noel by Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright Offers An Addictive Holiday Snippet of a Great Series

23 Dec

Bayou Noel (Bayou Heat #8.5 – Garrick & Molly) by Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright (Amazon Digital Services, December 11, 2013)

In my job as a librarian during the day, I often recommend great YA novels to my teenagers with the laughing caveat that certain books should come with warning stickers like “Warning! You will not do any homework while this book is on your end table.”

Please note the adult warning for Bayou Noel. “This delicious holiday novella is a gateway drug to the addictive Bayou Heat series.” Come on. Everyone is doing it (in these books!).

Granted, it is the holiday, which means that hopefully the vast majority of romance readers have more time off for reading. Add to that this novella is a mere 60 pages and you can devour it between ham bastings. The best part is that, like me, you can read it with zero knowledge of the series and no difficulty understanding anything. (And then, like me, run out and buy the first six books of the series which you read while your husband watches three football games in a row.) Since Bayou Noel is currently free on Amazon – and a great deal that I featured in my Sunday Reflection post yesterday) – you can read it and see if you like the writing of Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright. I certainly did!

Set in the world of the Pantera, mythical puma shifters living in an enchanted world in the Louisiana bayou where humans cannot enter, this book is a prequel (and should actually be labeled book #0.5) since it happens prior to Raphael finding his mate in the magical human Ashe in book one of the Bayou Heat series. The Pantera work hard to insure the safety of their people, particularly since their numbers are dwindling with no new babies in the last 50 years. They may be a long-lived species but mated pairs want cubs. With the Nurturers handling the medical and personal care, the Suits handling diplomacy and business out in the human world, and Hunters insuring the safety of their people, each person is sure that their efforts help their friends and family.

Raphael / Parish (Bayou Heat 1 & 2 – Raphael and Ashe, Parish and Julia) by Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright (Amazon Digital Services, January 3, 2013)

Garrick knows that his work on behalf of the Pantera is worthwhile. Coming from a long line of diplomats, he’s seen the sacrifices his family have personally made for their people which is why he’s busy in Paris negotiating the purchase of a safe house. Returning to his apartment, he’s immediately cheered to see a letter from home. Molly, his elderly mother’s caregiver, always sends him missives filled with humor and all the news of the bayou and these notes continue to keep him strong. He’s naturally shocked and borderline ballistic when the letter he thought was a newsy installment instead turns out to be Molly’s resignation. Without even thinking about it, he books a flight to Louisiana.

Molly is sad to be leaving the pithy, elderly Virginia but she knows it’s the right choice to go back to Medical for her career and her personal peace of mind. She’s loved Garrick for five years, the two of them pouring out their hearts and minds to each other in their letters, but every time he’s come home (and that hasn’t been often), he’s treated her like an aloof employer. She needs to give up on her dream of him and even Garrick bursting on the scene and ordering her not to leave is not going to dissuade her. But for all his bluster, can Garrick face what’s between them with courage, or will he simply run away again?

Garrick is the ultimate, oblivious alpha male. Everyone around him can clearly see that he’s desperate to mate Molly if not for the emotional baggage he’s carrying from his childhood, baggage she has no knowledge of since he’s managed not to mention it in his letters. Molly is the spunky heroine we all are bound to admire who won’t let herself be used by Garrick when her heart is on the line – she’s strong enough to demand all or nothing and you’ll be ready to cheer her on even after a short acquaintance.

The Bayou Heat Bundle (the first six books of the series) – a steal for only $4.99 when the books would normally cost you around $7, plus you can get Bayou Noel for free!

In sixty pages, the talented team of Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright managed to have me order the first book of the Bayou Heat series, Raphael/Parish, which then led me to return it so I could instead purchase the very affordable (and better financial deal) of the Bayou Heat Bundle which includes books 1 – 6 and is only $4.99. As each “book” is only just under 100 pages, and they each have a cliffhanger ending which takes you right into the next one of the series focusing on another couple, I’m going to strongly recommend that you’ll want to prepare yourself for needing to know what’s next. These are fun, almost breezy paranormals which nevertheless possess interesting world-building and a compelling story arc of a vivid human threat to the Pantera’s existence. Paranormal romance readers looking for a free holiday read as a present, shouldn’t hesitate to download this story – just be warned. One hit will not be enough!

Happy reading!

Gina Gordon’s Recipe for Attraction Is Delicious – With Author Interview!

25 Nov

Recipe for Attraction (Madewood Brothers #2 – Carson and Neil) by Gina Gordon (Entangled Brazen, November 25, 2013)

I love Entangled Brazen’s books (as you know) and today I’m promoting two of them in particular, Gina Gordon‘s Recipe for Attraction (the second book in her Madewood Brothers series) and the next in Tessa Bailey’s amazing Line of Duty series (do you remember how much I love this one?), Asking for Trouble.

Gina Gordon was a completely new author for me, so I actually went out and bought the first book in the series, Recipe for Satisfaction and then tackled the ARC of Recipe for Attraction I received from Entangled.

The Madewood Brothers series has a fresh premise in the world of contemporary romance. Four foster brothers are bound together by the woman who adopted them out of heinous conditions – the millionaire philanthropist and widow Vivian Madewood. Having recently passed away, the four adult men are still reeling from her loss but are staying busy with the many restaurant businesses that have become their livelihood. Vivian made their heart of their home the kitchen and the boys grew into men who felt that the culinary arts offered them the challenges and opportunities they wanted, not just in business in helping other disadvantaged children find a profession through their charity which goes into schools to prepare them to work in a kitchen.

Having been adopted as older children, these men – Jack, Neil, Finn and Cole – still have quite an edge. Tattoos and motorcycles abound, but they are extremely caring, committed workholics clearly just waiting for the right woman to come along. In the first book, Recipe for Satisfaction, readers have the joy of watching the reformed playboy Jack Vaughn fall for professional organizer Sterling Andrews and it’s nothing short of delicious! Now in Recipe for Attraction, it’s pushy, driven oldest brother Neil’s turn.

Recipe for Satisfaction (Madewood Brothers #1 – Jack and Sterling) by Gina Gordon (Entangled Brazen, December 31, 2012)

Neil Harrison been incredibly busy over the last year working to get the family’s biggest project off the ground – a deluxe restaurant and farm which will showcase the Madewood farm to table philosophy. That he’s had to deal with the infuriating, but talented architect Carson Kelly has been an extra thorn in his side, but he can’t argue with her results – their vision has come to life.

Despite immersing himself in work, Neil has been battling his demons since his mother’s death, with the only thing that seems to erase the anger he feels over his loss being the rush of illegal street racing on his motorcycle. He’s shocked when a mysterious new rider shows up to his latest race and by her world-class ass he knows that it’s none other than Carson. His secret is out, but Carson has her own boatload of baggage, including way too much insider knowledge about street racing. When she offers to help him battle his desire for speed with working out his frustration between the sheets with her, it seems like a perfect solution, except both of them discover way more than they bargain for, in one another.

While all the brothers have the emotional baggage of their past, Neil is carrying one of the heavier loads as he was the oldest when he came to Vivian, old enough to remember his abusive father and slow to trust the woman who became his mother. Like in the first book of the series, the heroine is dealing with her own family situation as Carson has a demanding father as head of the family architecture firm who not only is never satisfied, but who actively distrusts her judgement and defers regularly to the other major architect, a total asshole who wants to marry Carson. I appreciated (even if no one else did in the novel) that the project was literally in the last couple days of tying everything up, so Carson and Neil’s affair didn’t feel like it crossed any professional line for me. The villain is sooo awful that you are thrilled to see him get his comeuppance (although I felt like police prosecution would have been a good idea). The heat between Carson and Neil is outstanding and most important was watching the evolution of Neil’s character as he realizes what a total jackass he’s been to the people he loves most in his life as he changes for the better.

I did have a couple questions for Gina Gordon, which she was kind enough to answer. Take a look!

It’s terrific to see the romance fiction trope of a band of foster brothers who do NOT automatically open a security firm! What gave you the idea to have them be talented chefs? Did you use any actual celebrity chefs as inspiration?

LOL! The idea for the Madewood Brothers came from a real life hot chef sighting. A friend of mine was at a food event and one of the catering companies was owned by two hot, tatted-up chefs. When she told me about them my imagination immediately ran wild. Although the Madewood brothers weren’t inspired by any celebrity chefs, I’d have to say my favorite male celebrity chef is Chuck Hughes. If you like tats, you MUST google him.

There are some pretty awesome sexy times in this series (motorcycles as foreplay will appeal to plenty of readers, I’m sure). What do you think is the most important element when writing a good sex scene?

I think the most important element when writing a sex scene is the emotion. It’s great to have the dirty talk and the rubbing body parts but if there isn’t any substance behind it, I don’t think the scene has the same effect.

In your author bio, you tout yourself as a “cupcake connoisseuse” (which is awesome, and not just because you use the proper French). What would be your perfect cupcake?

My perfect cupcake is Red Velvet. Well, to be honest, anything with cream cheese icing on it would be my number one pick.

Thanks for having me, Tori!

And thank you readers for visiting!! Make sure you enter my blog tour grand prize — a Rafflecopter giveaway for a $50 Amazon gift card. 

I for one am pleased there are two more brothers to see get their HEA (and what is going on with Cole and the Madewood’s employee Penn?). This is a hot, emotional series with a unique twist which has carved a special niche for itself in the world of contemporary romance. Don’t forget to follow Recipe for Attraction‘s terrific blog tour for more great information and giveaways!

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Fatal Strike by Shannon McKenna Shoots for Heart with Pulse-Pounding Romantic Suspense

11 Oct

Fatal Strike (McClouds & Friends #10) by Shannon McKenna (Kensington, September 24, 2013)

I’m finding that the authors who emerge as some of my favorite writers are ones who aren’t afraid to push the category envelope. Whether it’s the explosion of ebooks which allows publishers to promote new novels under a variety of categories (versus the bookstore model where there was only one shelf a book could sit upon) or just reader demand, stories that involve multiple elements make me putty in the hands of a good writer.

Shannon McKenna’s McClouds & Friends series is just such an example. I fell in love with a NetGalley copy of One Wrong Move, instantly intrigued by her combination of romantic suspense, paranormal elements and an alpha hero teetering on the edge of asshole. Her writing is tight and suspenseful with McKenna unhesitant in continuing detailed story arcs of villainous bad guys and their evil henchmen who must fall (or at least retreat) in the face of the McClouds and their allies in each book in the series.

Fatal Strike not only met all my expectations but it melted my inner marshmallow with the evolved hero, Miles. It’s been easy to love gentle Miles over the series as he assisted the McClouds with his high tech wizardry and suffered at the hands of McCloud in-law, the slutty Cindy, who would always cheat on him until he cut her loose. But the final showdown in One Wrong Move left Miles in a coma after brutal torture with psi-powers and he has emerged a changed man.

In his opinion, it’s not been a change for the better. His psi-ability is now off the charts, and while he has invented an elaborate shield in his mind in an attempt to initially protect himself (and now to control his ability), he nevertheless is constantly being fed physical and environmental data that has elevated him from techno-geek to official badass, finally unleashing all the skills the McClouds have attempted to teach him for his own protection over the years.

The only thing that makes him feel better as he lives in the wild and hide from his friends is when the image of Lara Kirk – the woman Miles searched for over the course of months and never found – slips right through his defenses and comes to visit. She’s a beautiful dream and one so erotic that their encounters exceed any actual physical sex he’s ever had, but she’s also a symbol of how crazy he’s become and her recurring presence has him pondering how long he has before his friends have to commit him to a mental hospital.

One Wrong Move (McClouds & Friends #9) by Shannon McKenna (Kensington, June 2013)

A major wrinkle in his thinking is that Lara is not a dream. By focusing on her over all those months of searching, Miles unknowingly created a back door for her to enter his mental refuge and his shield is just that – a refuge of safety – to Lara as well. She’s being held and tortured with psi-drugs developed by a man bent on “saving humanity” from itself, and part of that plan appears to be unleashing Lara’s powers. She doesn’t know who the erotic sex god who occupies this lovely Citadel is exactly, but he’s the only thing that helps her cling to sanity.

It’s only when a series of events reveals to each of them that this isn’t fantasy – the realization which helps Miles free Lara from her prison – that their dream world becomes a living nightmare. Because even with their strong psychic connection and intense physical attraction, a man continues to stalk them, bent on using both of them to kill thousands if not millions of people.

Is there anything sexier than the geek turned total alpha hottie? (Don’t answer. That was a rhetorical question.) Of course not! Miles, who we know is a love of a guy, is so damaged and yet trying to do the right thing even when no one around him understands, that your heart breaks right at the beginning of this book. I found myself clinging to Lara as much as Miles did because I understood that to each of these broken people, the other person was going to be their refuge and their salvation.

McKenna’s ebook bundles of the early books in the series are terrific deals in your local library isn’t carrying them (or you just want them on your ereader!).

Lara was a terrific heroine who had just as pure a heart as Miles and yet whose fragility masks intense strength, even when she wasn’t ready to see it herself. I love it that she always called Miles on his bullshit (McKenna never writes a hero who doesn’t at some point turn into a complete asshole – for good reasons in his head, but still) and that she could love him even when she was angry at his behavior. There are a few scenes that make you want them both to see a therapist, but they are luckily the work of the situation and hardly a permanent dynamic. McKenna also possess a real talent for the three-dimensional villain, who has you understanding his twisted motives even while you’re busy hating his nefarious plans.

I’m sure with Fatal Strike the tenth book in this long-running series some readers might be hesitant about jumping in. Don’t be. McKenna has the talent of writing each of her books in such a way that while you recognize other characters clearly have their own back story, you do not need to have read those books in order to appreciate the novel in question. Fans of the series will love the appearance of so many of the previous couples and their burgeoning families, however, with their presence much more visible than in One Wrong Move.

It’s worth mentioning that McKenna has bundles of the first books in the series available for ereaders, with the first five going for under $15 or the first seven books costing a smidgen over $20, both excellent deals as her books run in the 350 to 400 page range. I think readers who love paranormal psychic storylines and/or lovers of romantic suspense will both find so much to admire and enjoy in Shannon McKenna’s McClouds & Friends series. Walk don’t run to your bookseller or library to pick up a copy!

Doranna Durgin Adds Another Strong Shifter to her Sentinels Series with Kodiak Chained

25 Nov

Kodiak Chained (Sentinels #5) by Doranna Durgin (Harlequin Nocturne, November 13, 2012 for paperback, December 1, 2012 for ebook)

For people who enjoy paranormal romance, there are always bigwig authors like Nalini Singh, Jennifer Ashley, and Shelly Laurenston to satisfy a desire for sexy shifters who protect what’s theirs, but what if you are high and dry between releases? Truth be told, there are plenty of highly mediocre shifter romances on the market and once burned, twice shy. However, I’d strongly encourage you to take the plunge with Doranna Durgin and her Sentinels series, particularly since she just added to it with her latest novel, Kodiak Chained.

Durgin has created a world in which she has rooted an ancient sibling conflict and obscured it through time, with growing repercussions for her modern characters. Long ago a woman married a druid and had a son, a son who possessed the magical ability to change into a wild boar. After her husband was killed, she was given to a Roman and had a son with him as well. The second son felt the power given to the first was wrong, and vowed to hunt him in order to protect the people who could not shift. The descendants of the boar, many of whom took other animal forms, felt their duty was to the earth, to protect it and the weaker forms of life (human or animal).

What makes Durgin’s world building so clever is that she shows how, in modern times, all this noble protecting from both sides has gone a little south. The people who identify with the intentions of the ancient Roman son call themselves the Atrum Core. While technically they answer to their princes and have treaties in place in order to live with a strict set of rules alongside the shifters, known as sentinels, the reality is that many of them are filled with hate, hate manifesting itself in mad scientists and magic wielders bent on shifter destruction. The sentinels are certainly our heroes and heroines, but even they struggle as much of their world suffocates under layers of bureaucracy and out-of-touch leaders.

I approached this series slightly backwards, becoming intrigued with the world via the NetGalley of Kodiak Chained and then purchasing all the books in the series (which were all a pretty terrific value at around $3.50 per ebook for 240 to 280 pages each) and reading them in order. I don’t think it’s necessary to read all of them to understand what’s going on, but they are certainly enjoyable with a few really standout novels that I’ll be rereading in the months to come. Let’s tackle them in order, though, so you can be brought along slowly (skip ahead to the book you’d like information on if you’re already familiar with some of these!).

Jaguar Night (Sentinels #1) by Doranna Durgin (Harlequin Nocturne, April 1, 2009)

The first book published in the series was Jaguar Night and it does a terrific job orienting readers to the backstory of the world as well as the current bureaucratic struggles. Dolan Trevino finds himself on the dusty Texas ranch where his older brother met his death years ago trying to protect a young coyote-shifter mother who could wield powerful magic, magic that has been hiding an object the Core would do anything to get their hands on. Now the ranch is in the hands of the daughter of that shifter and Dolan finds he is fascinated by this strong woman who wants nothing to do with sentinels, no matter how in danger she might be.

Meghan Lawrence can’t shift herself, nor does she have the ability to wield strong magic like her mother could. Raised by her aunt after her mother was murdered when Meghan was just a child, she remembers that they were both pretty much written off by the sentinels and she’ll be damned if she’s going to help them now, not even when their emissary is an unbelievably sexy jaguar shifter. She sends him on his way but when she finds him dying after an attack, treating him is a given and she’s shocked to find that the bond between them is much stronger and more compelling than she realized. What’s more, the more time she spends with him, the more her own previously weak magic is awakened. Whether it will be in time to save them and the ranch she loves from the Core, is another matter entirely.

It’s immediately apparent to even a city reader that Durgin knows what she’s talking about when she describes ranch life (and for the matter, her animal observations are outstanding throughout the series – she’s clearly part naturalist). Meghan is easy to sympathize with considering the level of rejection her family experienced from the sentinels who believed them too weak and just wrote them off as not being an asset. Add to that her mother’s mysterious death and she’s carrying a decent amount of resentment that seems justified.

Dolan is a bit of a rogue sentinel, equally as scarred in his adolescence with his brother’s loss. Now he has to deal with a frustrating brevis (sentinel headquarters) not listening to him when he tells them he needs agents at Meghan’s ranch yesterday since there have already been Core encroachments. Dolan knows that Meghan’s mother (who was working with his dead brother) hid a powerful book the Core desperately wants, a book that would shift the already tenuous balance of power in their world. While Dolan wants that book, he wants Meghan more and keeping her safe is his top priority.

It’s intriguing that Durgin does not cave to the traditional shifter trope of finding a magically bound partner as a and calling them a “mate” – she never uses that word and I’m guessing it might be due to her scientific accuracy (for most predators, that bond is hardly a permanent one). You never doubt the strong bond between the hero and heroine however, nor how evil the Core and their goals are. My next favorite character was easily Meghan’s Lipizzaner gelding who added to both the plot and my enjoyment of the book!

Wild Thing (Sentinels #.5) by Doranna Durgin (Harlequin Nocturne, May 1, 2009)

Durgin chose to release a prequel short story,entitled Wild Thing, a month after Jaguar Night. Mark Burton is a non-shifting sentinel who still carries much of his lion character in his tracking and prescience abilities and right now he is assigned to watch Tayla Garrett. When hasn’t he been watching her is the better question. Ever since this cheetah was a few years behind him in high school, he’s been mesmerized by her long-legged grace and copper hair, so much so that she’s starred in his fantasies for over a decade. Now that they are working out of the same brevis headquarters he sees her all the time but she doesn’t even spare him a glance.

Tayla has had a crush on Mark since the first moment she saw him, but he always had some girl on his arm back then and didn’t seem to notice her. Not wanting to be a complete fool, she developed strong calluses where he was concerned and just decided that she didn’t see him. Ever. Now that she’s screwing up regularly at work with an important assignment around the corner, she’s ordered to work with Mark. Finding out that her boss, Nick, thinks that her problem is that she’s never been initiated – and that Mark is the man to do the job – has her horrified and aroused.

This short story does a great job bringing home a major point about sentinels. In order to fully access their magical abilities and, in fact, find a balance of power within themselves, they have to go through initiation, which is a carefully managed sexual partnering between two sentinels. (In fact, this understanding helps when reading the fourth book in the series, Tiger Bound.) Because of their animal selves, sentinels are very open about their sexuality, but it doesn’t mean that emotion is taken out of the equation. Tayla has basically ignored other sentinels because in her heart she sees only Mark, instead settling for relationships with humans. Once she realizes that Mark has had feelings for her all along, nothing is going to stop her from being with him, particularly Core agents who want to make sure their latest assignment fails.

Lion Heart (Sentinels #2) by Doranna Durgin (Harlequin Nocturne, July 1, 2009)

This was a nice little transition to the second book in the series, Lion Heart. Lyn Maines was the competent tracker and team player we met at the end of Jaguar Night and she’s back on the trail of Joe Ryan, a suspicious sentinel holed up outside of the Grand Canyon. Joe’s partner died and he came into a large amount of cash, cash that would have been helpful to pay for his half-sister’s bone marrow transplant. When Lyn goes to investigate some strange Core involvement in Ryan’s area, she comes face to face with the mountain lion and despite wanting to believe in his guilt, he’s not what she expected.

Ryan should be cynical enough by now not to be surprised when the gorgeous little ocelot sentinel shows up. He’s amazed at her tracking ability but even more so by her ability to shield him. He hasn’t begun to tell brevis headquarters the extent of his power surfing ability and power is what rolls off these sacred mountains in waves. But something is tainting that power and endangering the lives of the people and animals who call the place home. Ryan tries not to feel hurt that Lyn refuses to trust him, but he needs her all in so they can figure what’s really happening.

You don’t have to read this book to understand other books in the series, but there are a few key pieces in it. One of the characters, Anorrah the communications specialist, is on her first field assignment and she screws up, badly. Add to that the incident at the Flagstaff hotel which injures a large group of sentinels (and these injuries factor strongly as plot points in future books) and you have story arcs that show up time and again in the series. Probably the biggest piece to take away whether or not you choose to read it is that Joe Ryan is another Rogue sentinel who, like Dolan in Jaguar Night, knows what the hell he’s talking about and brevis chooses to not listen. Another good example of how the bureaucratic structure is not used to a quick response.

Wolf Hunt (Sentinels #3) by Doranna Durgin (Harlequin Nocturne, January 1, 2010)

Speaking of all the sentinel bureaucracy, one leader’s name keeps cropping up and that’s Nick Carter, the wolf second-in-command of the Southwest brevis. Everyone knows he’s really in charge since the older boar-shifter, who is technically in charge, seems disengaged to put it mildly. Nick is a savvy wolf whose human hair appears gray but is actually the hoarfrost on his gray wolf’s coat. In his book, Wolf Hunt, he’s heard about purebred dogs going missing and, knowing the Core likes animals for their sick magic experiments, goes to the local dog show to ferret out information.

And that’s where he spots her, the stunning black haired woman, dressed in head to toe clingy black who turns heads everywhere she goes, and not just because of her beauty. She’s so clearly wolf and has never learned to hide it as all sentinels are taught. Even while his body is responding to her, Nick is irritated. All sentinels in his jurisdiction are supposed to report to him and he has no idea who this woman is. They approach each other and rather than submit to him, she challenges him to a playful race in their wolf form, right then and there. And then takes off.

Jet is elated when Nick accepts her invitation to play. The Core is responsible for transforming her from a wolf to a woman and they continue to hold her pack hostage. She’s been instructed to bring them Nick Carter but she sees what they didn’t tell her, that underneath his tailored suits he is a true alpha deserving of respect, unlike the cruel people who manipulate her at Core headquarters. When she sees further proof that the amulet she was given to subdue Nick  after they promised her that no harm would be given, understanding of Core perfidy sinks in. Jet tells him who she is and her dismay at how she’s been lied to, unable to be anything but honest.

To call Nick astonished that the woman who sets his blood thrumming through his veins is an actual wolf is an understatement. As she cares for him after the amulet works its debilitating magic and tries to call in help from his “pack” (her name for the sentinels who work for him), he quickly comes to the realization that there is a serious mole or moles at brevis. He wants to free his people of this particular Core villain and also wants to help Jet, who is at the organization’s mercy since they planted her with an amulet where they can cut her off from her wolf at will, a torture she must be freed of. The thought that she might return to her wolf self and never see him again after freeing her pack sickens him, but his position of responsibility means that he must do the right thing, no matter what the cost.

This is one of my favorite books in the series and it’s easily due to Jet. She has no ability to dissemble and there are a lot of human customs she has little use for (like modesty). That she entrances Nick is no shock but it’s gratifying to see the man who is always thinking politics and team assignments finally letting loose the inner wolf inside himself with her guidance. She imprints so strongly on him that her loyal nature is readily transparent and just makes her that more appealing.

Tiger Bound (Sentinels #4) by Doranna Durgin (Harlequin Nocturne, August 1, 2012)

My other favorite book in the series is next in line, Tiger Bound. We’ve met Maks Altan as a go to team member, silent but strong, in previous books and seen him badly wounded in Lion Heart as well as frustrated and recovering in Wolf Hunt. Finally sent on assignment, Nick Carter chooses to send Maks, who has been cleared for duty by brevis medics (although some have their doubts) who seems the best person for the job since he was originally found as an abandoned adolescent tiger in that part of the country. Granted it’s a puff first assignment back, guarding a sentinel healer/psychic who is having some trouble, but Maks has always done what he’s told and he is a protector by nature.

The last person Katie Rae Maddox expects to brevis to send is a recovering Siberian tiger – she’s a Chinese water deer, for goodness sake! How can she relax enough to have him help her, hoping that he won’t see her as prey? Even stranger is the fact her healer self is telling her that something is wrong, much more wrong than just the muscle and bone damage Maks took back in Flagstaff. His injuries seem related to memories dredged up from being back in the mountains where he was originally found but another huge part of it seems to be Katie and the flaming attraction between them. Are they both crazy? Is it just her healer ability gone awry, forming a connection where there is none?

I love shifter heroes who are big, strong, and silent and Maks fits the bill. He’s heavily damaged, physically from the Flagstaff debacle in Lion Heart and emotionally from an incredibly rough start in life. His mother was bred in Core captivity and she died helping him escape, living on his own in the woods as a child/tiger cub from the age of four. Maks hasn’t lacked for female companionship but his reaction to Katie is totally beyond what’s normal for him. Rather than fighting it, Maks uses his Buddhist approach to life of just…being. He takes each moment as it comes, a lesson he’s happy to share with her. Though Katie is a deer, she’s no doormat either, and her stubborn nature is exactly what’s needed to puzzle out some of the scary symptoms Maks is experiencing. Seeing how her healing binds the two of them together is incredibly sensual and emotionally beautiful.

The stunning Kodiak bear which Ruger shifts into.

Finally, we come to the fifth book in the series, Kodiak Chained, the NetGalley that inspired my foray into all things Doranna Durgin. Ruger is the steady healer/bear also injured in the Flagstaff explosion in Lion Heart only his wounds are more catastrophic in impact to the sentinels. Previously considered one of the most powerful healers (and one that can kick-ass and be a great team member to boot), somehow he can no longer access his healing power. He’s still a warrior and he knows plenty of medicine and herb lore, but to lose the power he’s had since adolescence is a huge blow to his self-identity. When he spots a lovely female black bear, Mariska, at a Celtic festival, his heart and body don’t hesitate to take her up on her invitation to go back to her house. He feels like this is the start of something special, something that might inject a little meaning in his life at a time when he could most need it.

Which is why he feels to horribly betrayed when he sees Mariska sitting at the table near Nick Carter as he greets them as a team for their next assignment. The feeling morphs into complete anger when he next hears that her assignment is to guard him, taking away the one final piece of himself he can offer his friends. It’s clear from her face that she knew all of this prior to sleeping with him the night before, so clearly he was the only one feeling like there was anything special between them. It’s a punch to the gut he can’t hide and his fellow teammates and friends are pissed that this female bear – clearly smelling of Ruger, so there’s no doubt what they were up to last night – has taken him out in front of everyone.

Mariska does not need a blinking neon sign to tell her that she has screwed up royally. She was so excited to work with the Southwest brevis and especially Ruger for fieldwork when she has done mostly guarding. When she saw him at the festival, her soul just responded to him and her bear impulsiveness took over. She knew he was going to take her assignment badly but she had no idea the extent to which her behavior could be seen as betrayal. Not only was she an idiot, but now the whole team has made it perfectly clear that they can’t trust her after she’s played their friend. No amount of apologizing to Ruger seems to matter and she has the distinct feeling she’s lost something precious, right when she had just found it. Now all she can do is try and do her job as best she can, but it might not be enough.

I get really uncomfortable when a main part of the storyline involves one of the protagonists betraying another – fake betrayal I can almost handle since you know it will at least come out in the end – but actual betrayal? Mariska is likable enough barring her total stupidity – could she really not keep her pants zipped long enough to let Ruger know her true job there? But her behavior is meant to show us her forthright and impulsive behavior, which thankfully is combined with enough honesty that you know she has a chance of clawing back. Ruger is pretty stubborn himself (maybe it’s a bear thing) but his grounded nature and the respect he has from every member of team is a good indication of how great he is as a person and he can’t hold out against Mariska’s nature for long. It’s fantastic to see Jet again and I loved seeing the tenderness between Maks and Katie as they help on the mission. It’s like old home week, with a new romance blossoming to boot. It’s a good addition to the series and we don’t lack other characters to star in future novels.

Above and beyond her actual novels, Durgin needs slightly better brand management, at least as it relates to her Goodreads account. She is missing a link to her webpage from her Goodreads page (and no indication of her Facebook or Twitter accounts, which she definitely has). Social networking cannot be overemphasized for authors! I was also concerned that there was a lack of consistency regarding how the books in this series were cataloged – books 1 through 3 clearly have the parentheses with the series name and book number present, but the last two books are listed without the series mentioned as part of the title. This would be very frustrating to a new reader, particularly since I think you’d be several shades of lost without reading the previous books.

Tiger Bites (Sentinels #3.5?) by Doranna Durgin (Harlequin Nocturne, December 1, 2011)

Super annoying is the fact that, left out of the series list entirely, was the short story, Night of the Tiger, which finally tells Marlee’s story (Marlee was one of the sentinels working in the brevis headquarters who had been programmed since childhood to help the Core). While I think $2.51 is overpriced for 48 pages, I’ll probably cave and get it since it was clear that Durgin was building Marlee back into everyone’s good graces. I’m guessing since this was published in 2011 that technically this story should be listed as Sentinels #3.5.

Harlequin Nocturne has a good stable of paranormal writers like Kendra Leigh Castle, Laura Kaye and Bonnie Vanak, and I feel terrible for not knowing that Doranna Durgin was such a solid show horse. I’ve enjoyed the Sentinels series and will be sure to purchase future additions to this series, not only to revisit characters I now know and love, but also to enjoy new heroes and heroines in this interesting new world. Thanks, Doranna!

Sexy Texans and a Close-Knit Irish Family in C. H. Admirand’s The Secret Life of Cowboys Series

11 Jun

Tyler (The Secret Life of Cowboys #1) by C. H. Admirand (Sourcebooks, March 1, 2011)

Despite being a born and bred Easterner, I’ll happily admit to enjoying a good Western romance. The small town atmosphere that usually accompanies these books is always a pleasure and a real cowboy, one with a sense of honor and a direct approach to getting his woman, fits my romantic ideal to a “T”. That’s T for Texas, folks, that hot and steamy home of cowboys who can knock your boots off if they kiss you right.

They are like Scotsman but with boots instead of kilts.

I actually read the third book of the series first as a NetGalley review and was so utterly charmed by it that I had to read the first two. I’m so glad I did! The Garahan family is comprised of a hardworking trio of cowboys who are desperate to save the ranch that has been in their family for generations in the middle of Pleasure, Texas. The Circle-G with its feed bill and mortgage payment needs money like a steer needs fresh pasture and the Garahan brothers – Tyler, Dylan and Jesse – can barely make ends meet working dawn until way after dusk.

In the first book, Tyler, when the oldest Garahan brother sees a job listing at the new bar that’s opened up in town, he figures he can make some extra money lugging kegs. He’s startled when the lush figured, no-nonsense redheaded owner, Jolene Langley, asks him to strip. He didn’t realize that this was a strip club and that a real live sexy cowboy is great for business. He begins to think the money isn’t worth it until the second sexy redhead walks out to join her cousin.

Emily Langley might be covered in chocolate after losing a battle with her mixer and some brownie batter, but all Tyler can think is that he wants to lick it off her considerable chest. Those whiskey-colored eyes hold a sweetness that make this bookkeeper warm something deep inside him that none of his ex-girlfriends have touched before. When he realizes that someone is out to stop the Lucky Strike club from succeeding, all his protective instincts are aroused (a long with some other parts of him).

Emily and Jolene are hilarious spitfires who give feisty a capital “F” and the crew at the Lucky Strike are a nice mix of minor characters. The heat between Tyler and Emily is off the charts, with both their scarred hearts taking a chance on one another. The snootypants prisses from the town (who want to change the town’s name from Pleasure to Emerson since it’s less risque) provide a good foil and there is a ton of small town atmosphere, always a hit with romance lovers. We get a good sense of taciturn Dylan and talkative Jesse, and the fact that all three brothers have regular fistfights to blow off steam is an adorable indication of the machismo factor at the ranch.

Dylan (The Secret Life of Cowboys #2) by C. H. Admirand (Sourcebooks, January 1, 2012)

In the second book, Dylan, the quietest of the Garahan brothers agrees to take over for Tyler, who has had a nasty run in with a bull at the end of the previous book. In one of Dylan’s early performances he is asked to lasso a blindfolded brunette celebrating her birthday, but when the blindfold comes off he is astonished to find a glaring pair of emerald eyes. The undertones of vulnerability in those same peepers reel him in for a mind-blowing kiss, but when he asks her to stay and meet him after the show, she gives him sass like he’s never received. Rather than put off, he’s turned on beyond belief.

Ronnie DelVecchio is a transplant from New Jersey. She’s fled an ex-husband who decided to have an affair with her best friend and her heart is more than a little wary. Add to that the DelVecchio curse – that once every other generation a DelVecchio woman loses her heart to a pureblooded Irishman and promptly has twins – and she’s running away fast from Dylan Garahan, despite the pull of those incredible kisses. But running away is slightly complicated by the fact that her friend Emily has arranged for Dylan to help Ronnie put her store back together after the town vandals decimated the interior. The fact that she’s supposed to be paying him by cooking her home-cooked Italian cuisine for the brothers puts her right in arm’s reach of that quiet middle brother who is short on talk but long on action.

Since I’m originally from Northern New Jersey, Ronnie’s character of a hot-tempered, loving Italian who believes firmly in her family’s curse is a fabulous character I immediately loved. After having her heart broken by her philandering husband, it’s easy to understand why she is not ready to leap back into love. Her gut tells her that she is in danger whenever Dylan is around. He might hesitate to talk, but his tender actions and hot loving tells her practically everything she needs to know about the kind of man he is. Dylan gave his heart to his childhood sweetheart only to get hurt when she wiped the dust of town off her feet eight years later and headed off to adventure. But he never felt like this about anyone, and he’s not about to let go of Ronnie. You will love the law that gets invoked at the end of the book!

Jesse (The Secret Life of Cowboys #3) by C. H. Admirand (Sourcebooks, July 1, 2012)

Poor Jesse. We saw his friend Lori break his heart (for the second time) in Dylan, and Jesse now sports a barbed wire tattoo around his arm to symbolize how he isn’t going to let any woman get past it to his heart. Until he stops to help a gorgeous blond with car trouble, that is. One look at Danielle Brockway and her tiny daughter, Lacey, and he falls hard for both of them.

Danielle doesn’t want to jump from the frying pan into the fire. Her rodeo husband left her and their daughter, taking all of Danielle’s hard earned savings while he was at it, and she’s retreated to Pleasure to stay with her loving uncle who owns the town diner. She might be attracted to the hunky youngest Garahan but she’s a mother first and she needs to do what’s best for Lacey.

Little Lacey steals the show. She’s the tiniest cowgirl in pink boots and a matching hat she wears to bed every night, and Jesse being a real cowboy puts her over the moon. Jesse wants Danielle and Lacey at the ranch all the time, but is harboring a secret. He’s taken an outside job to help with the mortgage payment (no, not at the strip club) and is being secretive about it with everyone. Danielle is worried she might have picked another man who is going to put her second, but she’s bolstered by seeing the loving Garahan family in action. Any man who comes from this crew is bound to be a solid citizen.

I might have wanted to shake Jesse a couple times in this book, but he’s likely to be my favorite Garahan so far (fear not, Tyler and Dylan, I still love you both). C. H. Admirand does a great job of showing how brusque cowboys can still be Southern sweet-talkers when they want to be and if the sex they dish out is any indication, there will be hordes of women moving to Texas post-haste. The best part of the book is when the Garahan cousins – the cops from New York and the U. S. Marshals from Colorado come out to join in the town of Pleasure’s annual party. I’ve got all my fingers and toes crossed that Admirand isn’t an author who would tease a reader with a bunch of sexy, single male cousins and then not deliver on future books starring them. Don’t disappoint me, Ms. Admirand! 🙂

If you feel like a little twang, a wonderful small town, hot lovin’, and some sexy cowboys who find the women who make them sit up and realize what love is, you are more than ready to add The Secret Life of Cowboys series to your reading shelf. Jesse doesn’t come out until July 1st, but you can get started with Tyler and Dylan. But let me warn you. Reading about Texas in the summer is H-O-T, so be sure to have a cold glass of sweet tea nearby to cool yourself down.

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