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May
19

Review + Giveaway: Behind the Mask by Carolyn Crane

Review + Giveaway: Behind the Mask by Carolyn Crane Behind the Mask Author: Carolyn Crane Reviewer: Jen Twimom Rating: A+ What I’m Talking About: As a former CIA agent and co-founder of The Associates, Zelda knows she has no choice but to step in on behalf of her twin sister Liza, who is going to be “loaned to” a Mexican drug cartel for the weekend. Although she hasn’t been undercover in six years, since the mission that broke her, she understands that getting into Brujos’ territory would save countless lives. However, when things go horribly wrong and Zelda is further traded to the dangerous El Gorrion cartel, she realizes that she may have to break cover and escape. Hugo is a loaner, but enjoys his isolated life outside of Buena Vista, Valencia. However, when El Gorrion’s men threaten the town and its rare savincas crop, Hugo knows he must resurrect a dangerous ghost from his past. When he finds an American prostitute among the men he goes after, he decides to take her captive to help him around the house, seeing something more in her eyes that the woman she claims to be. I absolutely love The Associates series, and think Behind the Mask may be my favorite title of the series. I love how the author parcels out clues and information, while the reader waits to see how it will all play out. The suspenseful storyline is intelligent and exciting. And Ms. Crane’s story makes me feel. There were parts when I was afraid to read the book because I knew it would have to get bad before it got good. Bringing me into the world and keeping me so emotionally and mentally engaged made for a very rewarding read. Additionally, there are some intense scenes between Zelda and her co-founder, Dax, that are all the more powerful for those who’ve read the series from the beginning. I completely adored both main characters. Even though she’s one of the Associates’ founders, we’ve never really known anything about Zelda, so she felt like a fresh, new character to me. She is haunted, and this journey is very cathartic. Since part of the story is shared from her POV, the reader is privy to the wide array of emotions and steps she must go through to begin to heal. Her passion and inner-fire were a complete joy to read. Likewise, Hugo had his own path of self-discovery, realizing that the ghosts he’d laid to rest are still under the...
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May
18

Review: Walking on Sunshine by LuAnn McLane

Review: Walking on Sunshine by LuAnn McLane Walking on Sunshine Author: LuAnn McLane Reviewer: Ang Rating: A- What I’m Talking About: If I had to describe Walking on Sunshine in one phrase, I would say it is “Country Charm meets British Class with just a touch of Southern Sass.” Per McLane’s usual style we have two lovely couples looking for love, or at least two couples who find love when neither is really looking for it. Garrett and Mattie are our young twenty-somethings. Garret is a British boy who has come to Cricket Creek to help his dad at My Way Records. He stumbles into Mattie’s restaurant for breakfast as she is chasing Rusty the Ham-stealing dog and the sparks fly. Their chemistry is seen right from the start, and I love that despite Garrett’s worldly experience, he appreciates Mattie for the simply complex southern tom-boy that she is. Their conversations are honest and heartfelt and allow us to see each of them without pretense, which is something I always appreciate in Ms. McLane’s novels. Laura Lee and Shane are our over forty couple, looking for second chances and redemption, mostly from themselves. Both feel like love has likely passed them by, only to find that love really doesn’t know age or timetable. I enjoyed Shane’s candor and Laura Lee’s vulnerability and internal struggle after dealing with an abusive ex-husband; allowing herself to love Shane is a huge step. Meanwhile, Shane realizes just how much he has given up in order to be a country music star. Both couples are struggling with how to deal with fame, the world and it’s expectations, and how to maneuver a relationship in context to that fame. And although the storyline feels a bit contrived and definitely rushed in spots, overall it was a lovely diversion, peppered with people we have come to know and love in Cricket Creek. Ms. McLane does a beautiful job of updating us on many of those characters without allowing their stories to over shadow the ones playing out before us. The banter was fun, the descriptions picturesque and the people delightfully southern. Walking on Sunshine is a perfect throw-in-your-bag and take to the beach read, and I don’t doubt I will see it near a variety of pools and beaches this summer. If you’ve never visited Cricket Creek, come on over, you’ll love it and won’t feel the least bit lost if you haven’t read the other books. If you’ve visited before, Walking On...
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May
14

Joint Review: Into the Aether by PJ Schnyder

Joint Review: Into the Aether by PJ Schnyder Into the Aether Author: PJ Schnyder Reviewer: Una + Jen Twimom Rating: A and B+ What We’re Talking About: Today Una and Jen are here to talk about a new steampunk anthology from one of our favorite authors, PJ Schnyder. Which was your favorite story in the anthology and why? Una: Tough question since I enjoyed all three stories. I think I would have to pick Keeping Cadence (though it is a close race between it and Swan in Siam) since it was the most complete story, and I loved the happy romantic ending. Plus, I really enjoyed Cadence and was surprised by the twists in the story. Though it was a “love at first sight” story, it was really well done and not over the top. Jen: I agree, my favorite is also Keeping Cadence for many of the same reasons. I found Cadence to be one of those favorite flawed, but super strong heroines that I could read about over and over. I also appreciate that it is a complete package with a strong storyline and sweet ending. What was your favorite steampunk mech in the book? Jen: I LOVED Evie’s mech “pet,” Toby, from Evie’s Gift. While it’s probably the most far-fetched piece of machinery, I loved how it worked with Evie’s unique gift and helped in all sorts of situations (like pinning up her hair or torn dress). Una: I loved the “music box” in Swan in Siam.  The melody and the movements of it was enchanting, not to mention the mechanical quirk of it. This question is for Una: Having never read any of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences books, what were your thoughts about A Swan in Siam? Did it pique your interest to read the series by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris? I loved it, I found it enchanting. The mixture of legends and steampunk was beautiful, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. And yes it has piqued my interest; it left me wanting to read more in that world. And for Jen: Since you are a fan of MoPO, how well do you feel PJ’s story fit into the frame work? Oh, this short story was really well done and fit perfectly into the Ministry world. But learning some unique mythology – something not from the UK – was exceptionally interesting and intriguing. I could totally imagine Books and Braun going to Siam some day and meeting Phailin. Did you have any...
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May
7

Listen Up! Audiobook Reviews: Kowalski Family Series 5-6

Listen Up! Audiobook Reviews: Kowalski Family Series 5-6 Welcome to my weekly feature that focuses on audiobooks. It’s time to… Audiobook reviews: Kowalski Family series Author: Shannon Stacey Narrator: Lauren Fortgang Audio Speed: 1.25x Series: Kowalski Family #5 & #6 Genre: Contemporary Romance Source: purchased All He Ever Desired (Book #5) Just after college, Ryan Kowalski took a risk and asked his best friend’s wife and young child to run away with him, but Lauren Carpenter loved her husband and said no. And when her bad marriage ended in divorce, Lauren always wondered what if… Now that Ryan is back home for a while to help refurbish the family’s Northern Star Lodge, he can no longer avoid Lauren, especially since her son, Nick, is working for Ryan to pay off a debt. Spending more time together leaves the pair considering why they should keep saying no to any kind of relationship. All He Ever Desired is yet another wonderful tale from Shannon Stacey’s Kowalski Family series. Back in small-town Whitford, Maine, the book continues the story of the Northern Star Lodge that began in the previous book. I liked how the work on the Lodge and Josh’s concerns over running it flowed from the previous book right into this story, giving the whole series great cohesiveness without repetition. And seeing basically the same cast of characters really solidified my adoration of Whitford and the Kowalskis. Lauren and Ryan share great chemistry, although I wish they’d have acted on it a little sooner in the book. However, the stories outside of the romance were equally as strong, so it didn’t bother me too badly that it did take some time. I adored the pair, loved their banter, and found Ryan’s dealings with Lauren’s son to be fantastic. In general, I feel like the last couple of books have become a bit more serious. I still laughed and smiled so many times over the course of the story, but there is some hard reality going on, too. As much as I adore Lauren Fortgang’s narration and found her performance in All He Ever Desired to be excellent, I have to admit I missed some of Renee Werbowski’s voices, especially since it was her voice I first associated with many of the characters. In fact, I struggled a bit with Ms. Fortgang’s Rosie after being accustomed to Ms. Werbowski’s version. But in the end, the narration was near perfect, and I am happy with the performance. Definitely another must read from Ms. Stacey. Story: A- Narration: A- All...
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May
4

Review + Snippet + Giveaway: Busted by Shiloh Walker

Review + Snippet + Giveaway: Busted by Shiloh Walker Busted Author: Shiloh Walker Reviewer: VampBard Rating: A+ What I’m Talking About: It’s no secret I love Shiloh Walker’s books. I have this ongoing ‘thing’ with her writing. I have to be ready, prepared to read about the situations her characters survive. But it’s not just about the tortured alpha males, nor the strong and tenacious women that turn them into puddles of quivering man-candy. It’s about the interaction between characters. I’m totally invested in the Barnes Brothers series, but I’m pretty sure I’ve found my new book boyfriend. I may be ruined for other hot and angsty dudes because of Trey Barnes. I think I was drawn in from the very beginning. I’ll admit I savored Busted. I re-read passages. I felt like I knew Trey and Ressa—like they’re my besties or something. I tried to read every spare moment. I found myself rolling over plot points in my head when I wasn’t reading, trying to figure out how everything would happen before I finished the book. Mmmhm. Once again, Ms. Walker managed to surprise me. I shouldn’t be shocked by this. Ever. I should know better, Walker does this to me ALL the time. Trey Barnes lost his wife, and nearly lost his son. We pick up five years later, and learn the heartbreaking backstory of Trey and Clayton. No one should believe me if I say ‘nah, I didn’t cry’. Losing my spouse is one of my biggest fears, and Ms. Walker pushes that button well. I feel whole because of Mr. VampBard, and I don’t think I could ever recover. Watching Trey find Ressa was beautiful, and the route they traveled to be together was inspiring. From the sly glances to the hoping-for-chance-meetings, Trey himself reminded me a lot of my own alpha male, which was touching and anchored me to him as a character in a way I never thought possible. His character traits and his personal guilt over the events surrounding and following the death of his wife completely wiped me out emotionally. What WAS refreshing, however, was his change in thinking. How Trey decided it was time to move forward, and he wouldn’t let anything stop him in attaining his goal: Ressa Bliss. I’d say Trey decided early on that Ressa was going to be his ‘rebound’, but that wasn’t the case, ultimately. Ressa, guardian for her cousin’s daughter, was definitely a lioness. Fiercely protective of her younger cousin, Ressa also had...
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May
1

Review: Snowcroft Safehouse by Christi Snow

Review: Snowcroft Safehouse by Christi Snow Snowcroft Safehouse Author: Christi Snow Reviewer: B. Rating: A- What I’m Talking About: One year ago, Declan Jasper, aka “Dex,” lead singer of a famous rock band, lost his bandmates when a rigged explosion onstage killed them all. Now known as “Finn Alexander,” he’s the reluctant pawn of the FBI, hiding out in the tiny town of Snowcroft in an effort to keep him alive until he can testify. Getting involved with someone in the midst of all the chaos is the last thing he has in mind. But, there’s no denying that the reserved, gray-eyed man behind the bar in a local tavern draws him like no one else has since before his world fell to pieces. Jack Walker is the single father of a middle school student, his restaurant and bar is painfully understaffed, and staying lonely and closeted for the sake of his daughter is becoming more and more difficult to bear. That he can’t get the quirky, sexy new band teacher at her school off his mind is an unwelcome addition to the pile, to say the least, and resisting the man is crucial to keeping his world from spinning out of control. Still, something has to give, and soon, and following his heart might be the very thing to save him after all. Although I enjoyed the first story in the series, I liked this one even better. There seemed to be an easier feel to the interplay between all the characters, and a more confident tone all around that Snowcroft Lost, in retrospect, didn’t achieve quite as uniformly. Any awkwardness stemmed from the uncertainty between Finn and Jack and made those scenes more earnest and believable than they would have been otherwise. The tension in the story also builds along two distinct lines, and Ms. Snow does an admirable job maintaining their separateness without letting the reader forget either one. I did have a little bit of trouble accepting the necessity of the extremes Finn’s nemesis goes to in the end, but it definitely left a strong impression. There’s actually quite a bit going on in Snowcroft Safehouse that could have had a negative impact on the story, yet doesn’t. One man is closeted, one isn’t. One has a child, one doesn’t. One of them has lost everything. The other has everything to lose. Nevermind the bogeyman lurking on the periphery, waiting to pounce. The constant doubts about a long-term relationship between Jack...
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Apr
30

Listen Up! Audiobook Reviews: Kowalski Family Series 3-4

Listen Up! Audiobook Reviews: Kowalski Family Series 3-4 Welcome to my weekly feature that focuses on audiobooks. It’s time to… Audiobook reviews: Kowalski Family series Author: Shannon Stacey Narrator: Lauren Fortgang Audio Speed: 1.25x Series: Kowalski Family #3 & #4 Genre: Contemporary Romance Source: purchased Yours to Keep (Book #3) Sean Kowalski is finally home from a 12-year stint in the Army, most currently serving overseas in Afghanistan. Not ready to go to the family lodge in Maine, Sean makes a stop over in New Hampshire to visit his aunt, uncle, and cousins. To his surprise, he finds out that Emma Shaw considers Sean her “fake” finance, telling Grandma Shaw in Florida that Sean is living with her and helping take care of her large New England home. Emma and best friend Lisa Kowalski made up her fake relationship to pacify Grandma Shaw’s concerns over leaving Emma alone when she moved to Florida. Now Grandma is coming to visit for a month and Emma wants Sean to move in with her and pretend to be the fiance Grandma believes he is. I cannot express how much I absolutely adored Yours to Keep and continue to enjoy the Kowalski family. I was a bit concerned that moving away from the original family after only two books would be too soon, but Ms. Stacey intergrates new-comer Sean perfectly into the Kowalski fold. Emma and Sean’s story is utterly adorible and simply lovely. While the fake-fiance trope could have been silly, instead, the story was full of humor and heart. At times I was laughing uncontrollably at the antics of trying to keep the various secrets straight and in place. The light-hearted humor and Kolwaski antics make this wonderful romance a perfect story. After getting over the initial shock of suddenly being with one another under false pretenses, Emma and Sean realize that they cannot hold back their mutual attraction. Of course, spending so much time together, coupled with indulging in some extracurricular benefits, the pair begin to fall in love, all the while ignoring and denying the obvious signs they are happy being a couple. The pace of their romance and the overall story is perfect, keeping my earbuds firmly planted in my ears. I fell in love with the couple as they fell in love with one another. The side plot involving Emma’s grandma, Kat, finding potential romance with old friend Russell is sweet and adds dimension to the overall story. The best side plot, however, is Aunt Mary and Kat coming together with their own, well-intentioned scheming. At more than...
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Apr
28

Review: Cold Burn of Magic by Jennifer Estep

Review: Cold Burn of Magic by Jennifer Estep Cold Burn of Magic Author: Jennifer Estep Reviewer: Gikany & Una Rating: A What We’re Talking About: Cold Burn of Magic is the debut novel in Ms. Estep’s new Black Blade young adult series.  Gikany and Una loved it!  This is a fabulous start to a great urban fantasy series. As some of you will know, we loved Ms. Estep’s previous young adult series, The Mythos Academy.  When we heard she was writing a new series, we knew we had to read it.  We enjoyed this fresh and interesting new world.  The mafia element mixed with monsters and magic was fascinating.  We enjoyed how magic worked in this world, and that it wasn’t hidden but a naturally occurring tourist attraction.  The politics between the founding families added an interesting tension and twist to life in this town.  The plot lines of the mystery of the threat against Devon, Lila trying to keep herself safely hidden, and Lila’s desire for vengeance against the ones responsible for her mother’s murder wove together to create a quick, engaging, and engrossing read. Lila is a fascinating heroine.  Although she reminded us a bit of Gwen from the Mythos Academy series at first, Lila is far more confident in herself and her abilities.  She has to be to survive.  We loved her grit, her sarcasm, and the deep-down core of goodness she possesses.  She is clever and respectful to a point (and it varies depending on whom she faces), but most of all heartbreakingly loyal.  We loved that she is a young adult heroine with a healthy appetite.  Considering her athletic ability, it is commendable to see her have an appetite that is appropriate for someone of that age and activity.  Her love of bacon cracked us up. The other characters in the novel helped to ground the story and round out the feel.  We enjoyed Devon and his complexity as he struggled with the role he plays in the Sinclair family.  Felix and Mo were wonderful characters who not only helped to lighten both the novel and Lila, but also added some intrigue.  Oscar the pixie has already become one of our most beloved characters.  The gruffness that he uses to try to keep his emotional distance was touching.  His reluctant care of Lila was endearing.  We look forward to seeing them in the next novel. Cold Burn of Magic is a great novel for anyone who enjoys intrigue, magic, and sarcasm.  We...
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Apr
27

Review: Taken by HelenKay Dimon

Review: Taken by HelenKay Dimon Taken Author: HelenKay Dimon Reviewer: VampBard Rating: A What I’m Talking About: Not gonna lie. When I read HelenKay Dimon’s first Holton Woods book, I was clamoring for more of Eli and Wade’s story. Fortunately, Ms. Dimon was given the go-ahead and got this hot little M/M story in our hands. Never read a M/M romance? This *might* be a good gateway story for you! My only complaint about Taken was that it wasn’t long enough. At an estimated 119 pages (only available in e-book, as far as I could tell…), I devoured this title in an evening while I was resetting from an unbearable day at my #dayjob. Luckily, Taken was just what I needed. M/M romances are a little different from the usual M/F fare. I think they’re more intense, and get straight to the issues, oftentimes creating deep characters and intense emotions. I like to read M/M stories when I’m frustrated myself, because it gives me an intense fictional outlet for my own emotions which, if I think about it, are really superficial compared to the intensity of emotion from most characters. Wade, a staple through the Holton Woods series, finally gets a moment to tell his story—and what we resoundingly hear is that Wade is miserable without Eli. They’ve got this on/off relationship going, complete with hot sex and undeniable chemistry. What makes me cheer for Wade (most of the time…) is that he feels so deeply for Eli, and it’s an unknown for him. I think many readers can relate—that rush when your other half walks into the room, the intensity of attraction, and wondering whether it’s just a serious case of lust or whether it’s the real deal. Eli, damaged and broken by circumstance, has led a life of duplicity. He’s vowed to ‘go straight’ because the CIA lifestyle isn’t for him. When several someones from Eli’s past show up, the pull to his past life is undeniable, but manageable. Because in his heart, he knows what he really needs, and it’s Wade. The two engage in a complicated dance, trying to determine whether they’ll be able to meet the needs of the other. And. It’s. Hot. *fans self* In the midst of working out all the kinks in Wade and Eli’s relationship, Ms. Dimon completely sets up her next title in this series, Mine, scheduled for release October 2015. I do believe it’s essential to read the Holton Woods titles in order....
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Apr
23

Listen Up! Audiobook Reviews: Kowalski Family Series 1-2

Listen Up! Audiobook Reviews: Kowalski Family Series 1-2 Welcome to my weekly feature that focuses on audiobooks. It’s time to… Audiobook review: Kowalski Family 1 & 2 Author: Shannon Stacey Narrator: Lauren Fortgang Audio Speed: 1.25x Series: Kowalski Family #1 & #2 Genre: Contemporary Romance Source: purchased Exclusively Yours (Book #1) I just adore Shannon Stacey’s voice and storytelling. After reading a couple of her stand alone novellas, I was excited to finally start the Kowalski Family series. I started listening to the first book, Exclusively Yours, and pretty much consumed it within 24 hours of starting. It was just that good and well-narrated. Keri Daniels and Joe Kowalski have a history. Once high school sweethearts and lovers, she broke his heart when she left their small New Hampshire town for the bright lights of California. After 18 years of living on the West Coast, she’s come home to see Joe with hopes of getting an exclusive interview with the now famous (and reclusive) author. Forced into the situation by her editor and her job on the line, Keri agrees to Joe’s requirements that she go on the two-week Kowalski Family camping trip in order to get the interview. Once on vacation, the pair’s passion reignites, confusing what should be a simple 2-week professional interview. Ms. Stacey writes feel-good, happy romances, and this book fits that bill perfectly. But don’t mistake feel-good for emotionally shallow because Exclusively Yours is anything but. Full of three-dimension characters who are gritty and real, the tale has both highs and lows, laughs and tears. While the story focuses on Joe and Keri’s personal journeys and eventual love affair, we are also treated to the marital and family drama of his three siblings. I appreciate and enjoy how real and touching each sibling’s story thus far and look forward to seeing where life takes them in the books ahead. Joe and Keri make for a special couple. While the word sweet comes to mind when describing their romance, so does sexy and passionate. Rekindling an 18-year old flame happens quickly and naturally, but there are bumps in the road. I fretted over what would happen and celebrated their successes as I listened. And mostly, I enjoyed the honest emotions and true character growth that infused the tale. The narration by Lauren Fortgang was superb! After listening to her as Gin in the darkly wonderful Elemental Assassin series, I wondered how it would translate to this light-hearted contemporary romance. I was pleased that from the moment I started listening, I...
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