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Apr
4

Review: Blow Down by JL Merrow

Review: Blow Down by JL Merrow Blow Down Author: JL Merrow Reviewer: B. Rating: B What I’m Talking About: Several months have passed since Tom Paretski got engaged, saw his best friend married, found out his “Dad” wasn’t really his biological father, and became the resident hero by saving a barmaid from dying in a fire. Now something of a minor celebrity thanks to news coverage exposing his psychic “gift,” he’s in demand for more than his plumbing skills—this time finding himself obligated to unearth a stolen necklace for a recently-wed, high-ranking member of the local diocese (who nobody seems to like very much). At least his life’s not boring. As was the case with the previous titles in the series, Blow Down begins with the discovery of a corpse. Poor Tom’s knack for finding dead bodies hasn’t subsided at all, and has once again placed him in the crosshairs of a murderer. With multiple suspects all capable of rampant greed, hatred of the deceased, or both, this was an interesting crime for Tom and Phil to crack. Although, in truth, I had more fun waiting to see what they, and the other returning characters would do than I did trying to puzzle out the mystery itself. One aspect of the earlier stories I wasn’t sure about, but which I thought was among the most enjoyable parts of Blow Down was Tom and Phil’s relationship. While they’re still learning about each other outside of their shared past, I found the teasing, protectiveness, and fondness that’s so evident between them to be endearing. In fact, the entire narrative is more affectionate than its predecessors, yet it maintains the familiar and comforting level of snark that has so strongly contributed to the personality of the series as a whole so far. Though I wasn’t able to get quite as wrapped up in the mystery of Blow Down as I was in the previous stories, it moved things along just fine. Despite the entirely new group of characters introduced for the purpose, there were somewhat limited options when it came to the sinister narcissism that seemed most indicative of the killer. While there’d be no story without the whodunit, it felt more like a vehicle for everything else that’s going on with Tom, rather than the objective of the narrative. Having missed the original publication of The Plumber’s Mate Mysteries, I admit that it has been nice to read them so closely together. As someone who is unfamiliar...
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Apr
3

Review: Play for Keeps by Maggie Wells

Review: Play for Keeps by Maggie Wells Play for Keeps Author: Maggie Wells Reviewer: Nima Rating: B What I’m Talking About: Play for Keeps, the second book in the Love Games series by Maggie Wells is good, but I did not like it as much as the first book, Love Game, because the relationship between public relations genius Millie Jenkins and basketball coach Ty Ransom is very messy. Their love story takes a much longer, and possibly unnecessary arc before we reach a happily ever after.  Some readers will think it’s perfect, others will be disappointed where it went. If you life is already pretty messy, you don’t necessarily want your fantasy life to be messy too.  Wells had an option; she took her characters down the harder—some might argue more interesting—path. I liked Ty.  With heroic patience, he commits himself to a course and doesn’t waver.  We like a steady guy, no matter what other characters throw at him.  He was always trying to do the right thing and Millie puts him, and herself, through the ringer.  With such a large personality, she seems to need a large obstacle to overcome before there can be a conclusion.  There is one, but it’s not the obvious one.  As is the case with stubborn personalities, she is her own worst enemy. Millie’s friends, prominent in the first book, are a little cliche’d in this installment.  There is a true Gilmore Girls moment that made me chuckle as much as roll my eyes. Wells substitutes wine for cookie dough, although I don’t know why you couldn’t have both, and does go on to justify the nod very respectably with some significant growth on Millie’s part. There is hot, steamy sex in this book.  A lot of it.  If it weren’t for the plot at the beginning, end, and tie into the first book, it might—probably would—fall over the line into erotica.  Ty goes along with all of it because even though it’s a sexist thing to say, he’s a guy with a pulse.  Ty wants Millie though, and he’ll take her any way he can get her.  My favorite quote in the book, and there were several, appeared fairly early on.  Ty says to Millie, “The first time I saw you, I recognized you.  Not your face, but you.  All I could think was, ‘Yes, there you are.’” *swoon* Millie is messed up emotionally and rather than dealing with it, she keeps it all pushed down with ludicrous...
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Apr
2

Review: Licks by Kelly Siskind

Review: Licks by Kelly Siskind Licks Author: Kelly Siskind Reviewer: Jen Rating: A+ What I’m Talking About: Growing up as neighbors, Gwen never told her best friend August that she was in love with him. And instead, stopped talking to him in high school when he started dating someone else. After a year and a half of the silent treatment, Gwen drunk texts August on her birthday, which leads to a mistake that ends their friendship for good. Fast forward nine years later. August is a full-time musician touring in Europe, and he never got over his feelings for Gwen. He returns home to see Gwen because he has an important message for her from her deceased mom. As one serendipitous event leads to another, the pair begin a 36-hour quest to discover the identity of Gwen’s father. What can I say about Licks other than it is one of the best stories I’ve read? There are so many things that are perfect about this story, it’s hard for me to capture my emotions and thoughts in a review. Right from the opening chapter, I had all the feels for Gwen and August. Their history is gutting, and so relatable. And as I read each page, every chapter, I fell hard for August and Gwen. I was flooded with emotions and the need to keep reading because I had to know they would make it. It’s always difficult for me to write a review of a book I just absolutely adored. How do I express why I liked a book that I connected with down to my very soul? But that’s just it… I found that I connected with every aspect of the story. Everything Ms. Siskind created resonated with me. The character’s emotions, from joy to despair, from heart ache to love… I’ve felt them all, and they are written so genuinely, so sincerely, that I experienced them along side Gwen and August. While the romance is utterly emotional, both tender and gritty, the plot to uncover the name of Gwen’s father is captivating. The unexpected turns shocked me, taking my breath away. There are plot twists that feel as natural as they are surprising. And the whole quest gives Gwen and August a route to emotional clarity and freedom from their past mistakes. The dual aspects of the plot—unrequited, unrealized romance and the search for Gwen’s father—played together perfectly, weaving and dancing around one another and together with sublime effect. Following the...
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Mar
29

Review: Dearest Ivie by J.R. Ward

Review: Dearest Ivie by J.R. Ward Dearest Ivie Author: J.R. Ward Reviewer: Una Rating: A-/B+ What I’m Talking About: Dearest Ivie is a novella in the world of Black Dagger Brotherhood (BDB).  I enjoyed this short story of romance that alludes to a previous novel but instead of following the heartbreaking ending, this one is happy and hopeful. I really enjoyed Ivie’s character.  She is a nurse working in Haver’s clinic.  Though a commoner and more mainstream “American” than members of the aristocracy, I liked her strength of self.  She is unapologetically Ivie, daughter of a biker and a forthright and intelligence female.  Though we encounter a few of the mainstream BDB characters, the story truly is focused on Ivie and Silas. It is an attraction of opposites as Silas is an aristocrat, older and moneyed.  Ivie is compassionate and outspoken, definitely not a wilting, wealthy female.  Through this whirlwind romance, Silas learns everything about Ivie, while keeping himself shrouded in mystery.  But when his secrets come out, it is a heartbreaking realization.  Yet, Ivie is a fighter and her determination and willingness to speak and work to find a solution is endearing.  The happy ending was worth the anxious tension while reading. For fans of the series, this is a must read.  I am overjoyed that love wins in the end and there is a happily-ever-after.  I eagerly look forward to catching a glimpse of Ivie and Silas in future BDB world novels. My Rating:  A-/B+ Liked It A Lot About the Book: The last place Ivie expects to be approached by a devastatingly handsome male is in a crowded, smoky cigar bar rarely frequented by vampires—yet here he stands. Silas is flirtatious, gallant, and, above all, mysterious. Ivie is anything but. A nurse at the healer’s clinic and the daughter of a biker, Ivie is accustomed to speaking her mind. So she does. Since aristocrats rarely pick up females of her class, Ivie asks Silas just what kind of game he thinks he’s playing. Despite her guarded exterior, Ivie surrenders to the fierce desire she feels for Silas. And yet, just as their courtship is heating up, he reveals that it cannot last, for he is bound to return to the Old Country. Their bond only deepens as they make the most of their precious time together. But when she learns the truth, Ivie must find a saving grace—before all is lost. . . . Release Date: Ballantine Books Publisher: March 13, 2018...
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Mar
26

Review: Can’t Stand the Heat by Peggy Jaeger

Review: Can’t Stand the Heat by Peggy Jaeger Can’t Stand the Heat Author: Peggy Jaeger Reviewer: Jen Rating: B+ What I’m Talking About: Stacy has successfully produced three cooking shows for the EBS network and is known for being able to get the job done. She recently pitched a new idea for her own show, one her boss is interested in, and tells her he’ll green-light it, if she’ll produce a show for him in Montana. Figuring she can deal with eight weeks on the road, Stacy agrees, only to discover after that the director is one of the best and most difficult in the business. Nikko doesn’t need anyone from the network looking over his shoulder and making changes to his program, so he was ready to hate Stacy the minute he saw her. However, she’s unlike anyone he’s worked with before and his daughter seems to like Stacy, and the more time he spends around her, Nikko realizes he needs Stacy for more than just his television show. Can’t Stand the Heat is the third, standalone story from Ms. Jaeger’s Will Cook for Love series. While characters from the first two titles make an appearance in this title, and we originally meet Stacy in the first book, having read the previous books isn’t necessary to enjoy Can’t Stand the Heat. Unlike the first two books (and much to my joy), this story is straight up contemporary romance, without any bit of suspense or danger tossed in. The story focuses on Nikko and Stacy—getting to know one another and learning how to move on from past heartache and pain. At the start, Nikko is an ass, not just to Stacy, but to all those he works with. He’s a perfectionist and master of his trade, but he’s unkind. His demeanor is in part due to his control freak nature, but also partly due to the physical pain he endures, stemming from a car crash that killed his ex-wife (the mother of his teenage daughter) less than two years prior. Worry for his daughter, whose life was completely rearranged by the death of her mom, provides additional stress, making Nikko unbearable most of the time. Yet, he is a smart man, and he recognizes the truth in Stacy’s kindness and learns how to become a better man by accepting her generosity, which allows him to grow. Meanwhile, Stacy has her own demons that drive her work ethic. However, she’s balanced, using yoga as an outlet for stress...
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Mar
21

Review: Eight Simple Rules for Dating a Dragon by Kerrelyn Sparks

Review: Eight Simple Rules for Dating a Dragon by Kerrelyn Sparks Eight Simple Rules for Dating a Dragon Author: Kerrelyn Sparks Reviewer: Una Rating: A What I’m Talking About: Ms. Sparks continues to enthrall me with her Embraced fantasy romance series.  I thoroughly loved Gwen and Silas’s journey and look forward to the next installment. I was most intrigued by the hint in the last book, So, I Married a Sorcerer that Gwen would be the next heroine.  She is the most unique appearing of the Isle of the Moon “sisters”; her elven features easily distinguish her ethnicity.  Though accepted by her sisters, many others do not. It was sad to see that the animosity from the extended wars between the elves and humans color how the majority of folks treated her.  This was most emphasized by her reception after being kidnapped and dropped among Silas’s people. Silas is no stranger to be ostracized, even though he is a prince.  Unfortunately a curse seems to plague not only his country but himself.  Gwen’s personality; her wit and intelligence combined with her unique beauty calls to Silas.  I enjoyed their courtship, even though Gwen fought stubbornly against it.  She feared she would never be accepted by Silas’s people and therefore would rather her heart break than his.  Though it was trying at times, I could understand Gwen’s reluctance to place Silas in a more negative position than he already was.  Thankfully true love wins, as always, giving Gwen and Silas a happy, though bittersweet ending.  The revelations of Gwen’s past along with the mystery of the curse was gripping. As I said, I continue to love this world and witness how these embraced sisters are bring about a positive world impact. The world is rich, the characters are endearing and the plots are intriguing.  I am eager for the next novel in hopes that our heroes will finally banish the evil that is trying to take hold. My Rating:  A, Loved It About the Book: Gwennore has a talent. An Elf able to track down the cause of an illness and heal it, she’s a valuable asset to her people. But when the kidnapping of a young girl thrusts Gwennore into the very heart of the realm of the dragons, she discovers not only a place of power and magic, but also a haunted land, plagued by an ancient curse that all but ensures extinction to the royal family. But when she meets the smoldering General Silas Dravenko, they strike a...
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Mar
19

Review: Guardian of Darkness by Katie Reus

Review: Guardian of Darkness by Katie Reus Guardian of Darkness Author: Katie Reus Reviewer: Jen Rating: B What I’m Talking About: Vega is the half-werewolf, half-vampire daughter of two very powerful supernaturals and has long been the darling of her father’s pack. When we met Vega in the first Darkness book, she was a teenager, and although we didn’t see most of her years since then, she’s now a recent college graduate who is ready to make her mark in the world. Knowing her parents may object, Vega joined a secret government supernatural Black Ops team and is heading out on her first mission. Gabriel has known Vega is his destined mate long before he even met her, and when his feelings started to become more-than-a-Guardian in nature, he put distance between himself and Vega. He thinks staying away from her will prevent the vision of her death coming true; however, when he sees her strike out on her own with a dangerous group, he is compelled to intervene. Now he’s part of her Black Ops mission and heading straight into the heart of his former home, where he foresaw Vega die. Ms. Reus’s Darkness series is a favorite of mine. I enjoy the breadth of the mythology, bringing in all types of supernatural beings, including different half-breeds, each unique and with interesting abilities. Vega is a wonderful example; she was something different and new to the Pack when we first met her, and her abilities continue to evolve as she matures. One thing I adore about Vega and Gabriel’s story is the straightforward nature of relationship. Don’t get me wrong – there is subterfuge, and both keep secrets, but once they are together and working on the mission, they open up. For example, Gabriel’s vision was used in the past as a way to keep the pair apart, and could have easily continued to remain a secret, but he shares with her his knowledge and concerns rather than allow them to fester. Likewise, Vega could have hidden her sleuthing activities from Gabriel, but she is honest, and they work as equals on a team. The mutual respect and admiration ignites their sexual chemistry, and they cannot keep their lust at bay. Guardian of Darkness introduces several new interesting individuals to the Darkness world, each with ties to existing characters. While the addition of so many new players could feel cumbersome, Ms. Reus integrates each with a solid storyline, and in the process has created several...
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Mar
14

Review: On the Brink of Passion by Tamsen Parker

Review: On the Brink of Passion by Tamsen Parker On the Brink of Passion Author: Tamsen Parker Reviewer: Jen Rating: A What I’m Talking About: Jubilee, a veteran SIGs pairs figure skater, has returned to the spotlight with new partner, Beckett. She was the SIGs four years ago with her husband as her partner, but shortly after, he suffered an untimely death. Vowing never to lose so much all at once again, Jubilee appreciates Beckett because he is hard working, dedicated, and has no desire to her friend. Beckett missed out on the SIGs four years ago, after which his then partner and lover, Sabrina, dumped him. Finding Jubilee was a godsend, and the fact that they are favored at the SIGs after only two years together is almost a miracle. Beckett is looking forward to the competition, and everything (and everyone) that comes along with the ride. Through a mistake in room assignments, Jubilee and Beckett are placed in the same suite, and neither is happy. Jubilee needs her downtime and private space. Beckett needs to get laid, but the Ice Princess won’t allow him to bring anyone back to the room. So on a dare/joke, the pair decide to sleep together. On the Brink of Passion is a wonderful, amazing story and by far my favorite of the Snow and Ice Games series. It works for several reasons, namely it punches all my yes buttons. I enjoy books where the primary couple already has a strong sense of an established, non-sexual backstory, which is especially important when characters fall deeply in love on a shortened timeline. I also love books that pull at my heartstrings, allowing me to feel the heartache and/or suffering of one/both characters, but also brings me up so high in their love. Finally, the story is well-written, lacking any side stories or distractions that detract from the ebb and flow of the book. The romantic journey begins well before the book starts – even though neither Beck nor Jubilee recognize it. The pair meshes perfectly on ice, creating an intimacy even though they aren’t friends or lovers. This gives the book a solid foundation for which their love affair can grow. The ludicrous start, being placed in the same suite and having sex on a dare, creates a forced proximity and more intimacy, once again, even though the characters attempt to keep a distance. Beckett is strong and kind, funny and determined. There were times I was laughing out loud at his...
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Mar
13

Review: Shooting Star by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: Shooting Star by Jeffe Kennedy Shooting Star Author: Jeffe Kennedy Reviewer: Una Rating: A- What I’m Talking About: Shooting Star is a darker contemporary romance.  At first, I did not think it was my cup of tea.  But I have enjoyed several of Ms. Kennedy’s previous works and she has never let me down.  After the first couple chapters, I was utterly hooked with my fingers crossed that Joe and Ava could not only survive the journey, but heal and flourish. It’s true I was a bit reluctant when I started this novel.  The obsessed fan getting into the inner circle of his object of obsession was unnerving.  However, in the past, Ms. Kennedy took me on some darker fantasy rides, so I put aside my fears and jumped in.  This story was unlike anything I could have imagined.  It is the simply the story of two people, broken, living each day to at least get by.  Both have their crutches, their unhealthy coping mechanisms.  For Ava, it’s alcohol mainly while for Joe, it’s Ava.  But what starts as an obvious recipe of disaster for Joe turns into salvation…for both of them. Joe is recovering from trauma suffered overseas.  The scars ones he will carry outside as well as inside.  While recovering in the hospital, it was Ava’s music, her voice and the lyrics that kept him going.  Once fully discharged from military and hospital, Joe is able with the assistance of Arlin his therapy dog to about life one day at a time.   Arlin senses when he is getting overwhelmed, losing his grip on reality and falling into what he has named the nowhere zone.  Arlin’s steady presence is able to keep him grounded when the world threatens to fall away.  The solace and strength he found in Ava’s music became a passion that moved into obsession – he was drawn not only by her looks but by the mind that created the lyrics that spoke to his soul.  It was not surprising that he became not just a fan, but obsessed with everything Ava. Though he tries to fight it, Joe cannot help but accept the job as driver and bodyguard for Ava.  However, through this experience he discovers how much depth and pain those golden eyes try to hide behind the glamour; the make-up and dazzling smile.  Her past was brutal, full of abuse that has left deep scars, emotionally and psychologically.  But Ava still has been able to retain...
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Mar
7

Review: Heat Trap by JL Merrow

Review: Heat Trap by JL Merrow Heat Trap Author: JL Merrow Reviewer: B. Rating: B What I’m Talking About: Having enjoyed the first two Plumber’s Mate Mysteries a great deal, I was happy to jump into Heat Trap fairly soon after finishing the second story. And while the half-year interim in the timeline is plenty long in some ways, certain aspects of Tom’s life appear not to have progressed much at all. Granted, Tom was dealt a tremendous shock at the end of Relief Valve, but I was left feeling uncertain at times as this narrative unfolded. Tom continues to be a likable character, even though I was disappointed by some of his reactions, especially towards Phil. The two have been together for more than six months at this point, during which time they’ve exchanged both house keys and “I love you’s,” and are making plans for the near future. Rather than appearing more solid, however, it felt as if Tom’s faith in him was too easily shaken when tensions began to escalate, resulting in him keeping Phil at a distance in the process. Phil, on the other hand, I liked more than ever. While I was initially skeptical of his interest in Tom—his seeming lack of regret over his earlier treatment of Tom being a sore spot—his affections in Heat Trap are indisputable. He has the anxious, yet hopeful demeanor of someone who has already put his heart on the line unreservedly, and I couldn’t help but be firmly in Phil’s camp for most of the story. Happily, some of my other favorites are back, and better than I remembered. Darren and Gary, in particular, are delightful in their pre-wedding bliss, and I honestly would have been glad to see them turn up in even more scenes. Tom’s sister, Cherry, is also a more constant presence in his life now, and was a lot of fun when she popped up. The mystery in Heat Trap involves some noteworthy characters from Tom’s preferred pub, “The Devil’s Dyke,” and it was nice to gain more insight into their roles, as well. Overall, I had mixed feelings about Heat Trap. While I don’t think it shows Tom in an especially favorable light at times, I was thrilled with the way things seemed to be going for him and Phil by the end of the story. The mystery itself was likewise interesting, although it felt secondary to the relationship struggles Tom is trying to come to terms with....
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