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Currently Browsing: romance
May
23

Review: Song of Blood & Stone by L. Penelope

Review: Song of Blood & Stone by L. Penelope Song of Blood & Stone Author: L. Penelope Reviewer: Jen Rating: B What I’m Talking About: In the days of old, a Lord and Lady arrived from a distant, dying world. Upon their arrival, they used their Earthsong magic to bring life to the withered land. The Lord and Lady and their nine children lived among the native cave dwellers and eventually, the children mated with the original inhabitants. Their offspring were either Earthsingers, or Silents (those without magic). Many centuries later, the two lands are at constant war, with only a magical wall helping keep the peace.  Jasminda lives in Elsira and is the daughter of an Elsiran (Silent) mother and a refugee Lagrmarian father, who was a POW of the Fifth Breach. She shares her father’s dark skin and magical abilities, making her an outcast in her mother’s homeland. On her own after losing her entire family, Jasminda is being forced off her land by her estranged grandfather.  As a member of the Elsiran Army, Jack is on a return trip from his spy mission into Lagrmari when his pursuers wound him. Jasminda saves the stranger with her Earthsong, and the pair works together to escape their rough Lagrmari captors. Jack knows he must make it back to the capital to share the horrible plans of the True Father and his designs to take down the Mantle, starting another Breach War. Song of Blood and Stone shares with readers a unique and interesting new world. I found myself engrossed in the intricacies of the mythology, which is grounded in a solid, familiar story, yet wholly different from what I’ve read before. Like many first books in a series, Song of Blood and Stone spends much of the book building its world and solidifying the background and lore. The flow is smooth, although the first half of the book is much slower due to the development of the world and characters.  From the start, I found myself fascinated with Jasminda. She’s a stranger of her people (the Lagrmari), having grown up in Elsira. Her father rarely talked about his homeland, and didn’t teach Jasminda about her Earthsong or the customs of the Earthsingers. Unfortunately, at times Jasminda’s naivety and isolation made her seem too young and out of sync with her physical self. While it worked for her as she learned more of her people, I felt it worked against her in the romantic aspect of the story. ...
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May
8

Review: The Hookup By Erin McCarthy

Review: The Hookup By Erin McCarthy The Hookup Author: Erin McCarthy Reviewer: Nima Rating: A What I’m Talking About: Erin McCarthy is not an entirely new author to me.  I have read and enjoyed—some more than others, several of her contributions to anthologies.  So I’m not sure why I haven’t read a full length novel from her before given that she’s a solid romance writer with multiple titles and series under her belt.  From what I have read, her writing has a certain intensity about it, but that intensity totally shines in The Hookup, the first installment in the Jordan Brothers Series. In this book, McCarthy uses her intensity to accomplish the seemingly impossible in the romance genre—she writes a completely, brutally honest character who is uniquely likable and a seemingly worthless jerk who is, also, surprisingly likable.  Furthermore, there are no real bad guys as main characters.  The bad guys are peripheral, justifying certain emotions and choices, but almost without dialog.  The consequences of their choices interact with the main characters more than the people themselves. It doesn’t seem possible that an author could maintain tension under these circumstances, but McCarthy pulls it off. Sophie Bigelow is a socially awkward academic.  She loves numbers.  She likes problems she can work and solve and get a definitive “right answer.” It’s not fair to compare her to Sheldon Cooper because she’s more real than that, not just a comedic stereotype or punchline.  People are not so easy to solve.  Sophie is not adverse to relationships, but she has no filter and that much honesty can be off-putting.  As a result, she’s made it to her mid-20’s as a virgin. Sophie makes a good point, “When you reach the age of damn near twenty-five and hadn’t relinquished your V-card, the assumption is you’re waiting for Mr. Right, which basically ruins potential relationships before they even have a shot.  Or men assume you’re a freak.  I wasn’t either.” While at their family beach house in Maine for her sister Bella’s wedding, Sophie meets Cain Jordan. It felt a little obvious at the outset that the “bad one” in a set of gorgeous identical twin brothers was named “Cain.“ Even if everyone in the family has a name that starts with “C” how does “Cain” even get on the list?  His mother doesn’t come off as the brightest bulb in the bunch, but she is sincere.  Cain has just cause to be depressed about the circumstances of his life,...
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Jan
17

Review: Trick Roller by Cordelia Kingsbridge

Review: Trick Roller by Cordelia Kingsbridge Trick Roller Author: Cordelia Kingsbridge Reviewer: B. Rating: A- What I’m Talking About: Three months after the Seven of Spades went to ground, Levi Abrams and Dominic Russo have made a lot of progress—professionally as well as personally. Dominic is training to be a private investigator, while Levi has his own apartment and is ready to put his last long-term relationship behind him for good. Best of all, though it’s still early, both men have begun thinking about a future together. But, with shadows from the past starting to gather, and a serial killer biding their time, Dominic and Levi discover that the real test is just beginning. After having enjoyed Kill Game, the first novel in the Seven of Spades series, as much as I did, I was really excited to jump into the second so soon. While there are some significant differences between the two stories, I found Trick Roller to be just as intriguing. This time, the Seven of Spades is a dormant factor for a good bit of the narrative—although we’re reminded throughout that they’re still out there waiting to pull the strings again—allowing us to get to know Levi and Dominic more comprehensively, including their triggers and tipping points, as well as some of the things that haunt them. Dominic and Levi’s journey from “enemies to lovers” has evolved into something much deeper by this point, as well. Though the heat between the two was evident before, it was tempered by their respective situations and a mutual agreement to “take things slow” in the wake of the abrupt demise of Levi’s last relationship. In Trick Roller, they not only dive headlong into the sexual attraction that’s been tempting them, but each has begun turning to the other for help and comfort above anyone else. I especially liked that they know which tells to look for before things go really wrong and are willing to intercede—even physically, if necessary—to keep one another from self-destructing. Compatibility between the two main characters aside, Trick Roller still has lots of suspense and crime-solving to maintain the story’s balance. Between a truly loathsome murder victim, blackmail, infidelity, robberies, false accusations, etc. there’s plenty of badness to keep Levi and Dominic busy at their day jobs. Add in the “independent investigation” they’re both doing on the Seven of Spades, and the plot advances at a pace that kept me reading well past when I’d planned to stop for a break....
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Jan
3

Review: Pressure Head by JL Merrow

Review: Pressure Head by JL Merrow Pressure Head Author: JL Merrow Reviewer: B. Rating: B+ What I’m Talking About: I was immediately curious about Pressure Head based on the premise alone: a plumber who has an affinity for water, uses his “gift” that causes him to be drawn to “hidden things” to find clues—and dead people. Tom won me over quickly, his funny (and often snarky) observations combining with his inability to keep himself out of trouble to make him a generally lovable character. As the sole narrator, his perspective did a lot to counter the more significant issues that I had with the other MC, Phil, and trusting Tom with his own choices made the romantic aspects of the story easier to accept as the narrative progressed. Despite such an intriguing framework and Tom’s winning personality, I never felt the same for Phil. While it is absolutely true that people change, and that Phil was right to apologize for his role in the worst parts of Tom’s past, his “second chance” got off to a bad start for me, some of those negative traits seeming to have stuck with him into adulthood. He is at once dismissive and controlling, and engages in some victim blaming that didn’t endear him to me. I understand the likely intent, though—we have to do better collectively to accept others as they are. I did like Phil more by the midway point, however, and it’s hinted that we’ll learn more about him in the future, which I’d like to see. Something that I enjoyed tremendously about Pressure Head was the cast of secondary characters, Tom’s best friend Gary and his new boyfriend Darren, most especially. These two are among my favorite characters ever, I think, and I was delighted each time they made an appearance—particularly during their post-service discussion outside a local church. Others, including Edith and Pip, also threatened to steal every scene they’re in, and allow Tom to shine even more as an incorrigibly charming flirt. And although theirs isn’t a comedic presence, Merry the vicar and Graham Carter are differently powerful entities that left a strong impression in their own right. Of course, the cats—Arthur and Merlin—have to be given their due, as well. What Pressure Head lacked in romance it made up for in the whodunit itself. It’s a mystery, after all, and Merrow serves up a good one here. Not overly complex, it doesn’t try too hard while being highly entertaining at the same...
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Dec
27

Review: Amid the Winter Snow Anthology

Review: Amid the Winter Snow Anthology Amid the Winter Snow Anthology Authors: Grace Draven, Thea Harrison, Jeffe Kennedy, Elizabeth Hunter Reviewer: Una Rating: A What I’m Talking About: Amid the Winter Snow is a deliciously enthralling anthology set in fantasy worlds near and far.  I loved all four offerings.  For ease of writing this review, I’ve given my thoughts in the order they are written as well as individual ratings. In the Darkest Midnight by Grace Draven was absolutely stunning and enchanting.  I loved Jahna and Radimar’s story set in a somewhat historical/fantasy setting.  It was utterly compelling with the elements woven together; Jahna’s birthmark, Radimar’s status, and their undeniable connection.  The poetic justice experienced first for Radimar and then later Jahna, was heartbreakingly freeing.  Though their journey took time and patience, the reward was all the sweeter for it.  A+ The Chosen by Thea Harrison takes place in a fascinating fantasy world.  Lily and Wulf’s meeting, their seemingly opposing factions and yet the overwhelming strength of attraction was well woven together against the backdrop of war.  Wulf’s honor and strength of his devotion was as humbling as Lily’s love and loyalty to him.  I enjoyed not only their commitment to their people but also to what is just.  Their journey was utterly gripping.  A The Storm by Elizabeth Hunter was an interesting play with half angel and fallen descendants.  Though the mythology was fascinating, I felt a bit at a loss for being my first introduction to the Irin Chronicles.  It was a bit confusing as the timeline jumps a bit, but Max and Renata’s journey was heartbreaking.  So much pain and anguish to overcome – long denied grief that had become poisonous.  Though it was compelling to watch and wait as Max slowly wears down Renata, proving there is more to them than just her fears.  I did enjoy their passionate and heart wrenching journey.  A- The Snows of Windroven by Jeffe Kennedy was absolutely stunning.  As a fan of her Twelve Kingdoms series, I was thrilling to be revisiting Ami and Ash (especially catching up on the little ones; Asher and Stella).  Though their end of their novel gave them a happily ever after – it was implied that it was certainly not a forever.  Ms. Kennedy gifted us with their sealed in platinum and covered in concrete HEA!  Though it was more their declining relationship that was the focal point, I enjoyed the ramifications in the mythology that conveyed hints for...
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Nov
10

Review: Perfect Gravity by Vivien Jackson

Review: Perfect Gravity by Vivien Jackson Perfect Gravity Author: Vivien Jackson Reviewer: Una Rating: B What I’m Talking About: Perfect Gravity is the second book in the sci-fi romance series, Tether.  Overall, I liked this installment though it had a bumpy start. This book begins before the last book, Wanted and Wired, ended.  It was a little disorienting at first as I had thought it was picking up where the previous had ended.  We are given a glimpse of Angela and Kellen reuniting since their young love breakup years before.  We learn why Angela felt the need to help protect Mari and what happens to Angela after the conclusion of Wanted and Wired. Kellen is one of Heron Farad’s crew of outsiders that are working to try to make this crazy world better.  He first met Angela when they were young at a boarding-type school for highly gifted children.  It is there they fell in love.  However, though one may be incredibly intelligent progeny – nothing ever makes one intelligent in love.  Though I felt that the blame of the breakup was a bit smudged, something remained.  They still were deeply in love with each other – even after Angela married her high powered husband and became a Senator. After learning of the death of Angela’s husband, I really liked that no matter how much Kellen burned for Angela, he held himself back. Wanting to reacquaint himself with her as so many years had passed.  There was time where they obviously yearned, but also cautiously stepped around each other as they didn’t want to make a false step.  But once they are tied at the hip to protect Angela and save the world – the passion explodes.  Though Angela had suffered and come to regret ending things with Kellen, her love for him had never ceased.  But the differences in their lives pose one large complication to them being able to have a happy life together. This is science fiction that isn’t weighted down by the science, but framed and grounded in it.  I’m not always sure about the basis of the technology, but it makes sense to me.  The volatile nature of politics, shadowy conspiracies and a race to stop the end of civilization are gripping elements in Kellen and Angela’s journey. Though it was a bit of a bumpy flow, especially with a few huge twists (one that gave me a bit of whiplash), I still liked the overall story.  I enjoyed revisiting...
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Nov
7

Review: Lies Jane Austen Told Me by Julie Wright

Review: Lies Jane Austen Told Me by Julie Wright Lies Jane Austen Told Me Author: Julie Wright Reviewer: Nima Rating: A- What I’m Talking About: *stands up with a little wave*  Hello, my name is Nima and I am a Hallmark romance movie addict.  I did a little jig and set my DVR when Hallmark announced thirty-three new Christmas movies for the 2017 season.  Clearly, I am not alone.  What does that have to do with a book review? I’ve always contended that romance readers love relationships and Hallmark has proved that modern consumers are not put off by a lack of steamy sex scenes.  Shadow Mountain Publishing has a series of stand alone “proper romances” which banks on this niche group’s desire, which I surmise isn’t so niche, to soak up the actual romance and all the emotion that can be extracted from a glance and holding hands. We enjoy the butterflies. Up until now Shadow Mountain’s stand-alone romances have been historical, some even based on actual couples like Henry Longfellow and Fanny Appleton (Forever and Forever by Josi S. Kilpack.) Lies Jane Austen Told Me* by Julie Wright is their first foray into contemporary romance.  It reminds me in many ways of my guilty pleasure Hallmark movies as it follows Emma Pierce, who has grown up using Jane Austen’s classics as an outline for falling in love, while she waits for the wealthy and handsome Blake Hampton to propose.  Thankfully, Wright does not try to do what other authors have done by mimicking Austen’s storylines. Instead Austen is revered, but this is Wright’s original work. Wright was smart in making her love interests into work colleagues.  That’s a relationship which requires distinct boundaries, but lots of time in each other’s company.  It also keeps it from feeling intentionally prudish. He’d come impossibly closer, yet the only contact between us was my hands on his chest and his hands on mine.  How had he done that?  How had he crossed so much distance and still made no contact anywhere else? Not to put too fine a point on it, but the lack of sexual gratification equals enhanced tension that’s delicious.  It means there is a greater focus on the actual relationship—how they communicate and interact.  Without the need for “insta-love” to justify jumping in to bed, the depth of the relationship has the time to develop in a way that’s normal in the real world. When Blake does not propose, Emma is introduced to Blake’s brother Lucas...
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Sep
25

Review: Completely by Ruthie Knox

Review: Completely by Ruthie Knox Completely Author: Ruthie Knox Reviewer: Nima Rating: B+ What I’m Talking About: Like the rest of Knox’s New York Trilogy, Completely doesn’t fall into a tidy classification.  More than the others, however, it wants to tip over into the dreaded women’s fiction category. I think Knox has earned it this time, and I didn’t like it as much as the two (three) previous books being Truly, Madly, and the related About Last Night. About Last Night is probably my favorite book Knox has written so it pleases me that she’s chosen to return to the Chamberlain family with the New York Trilogy and not with the focus on characters one might expect.  Many authors just run through the siblings of a family in a series whereas Knox gives more emphasis to their love stories through the women in their lives.  In Completely, Knox focuses on Rosemary Chamberlain, Winston Chamberlain’s (Madly) ex-wife.  Winston is the older brother of Neville in About Last Night. Rosemary led a tidy, scheduled, polite existence as Winston’s wife, but that’s all she was doing, existing.  She describes herself as “wallpaper.”  Not to put too fine a point on it, but in Completely she struggles to find herself and stumbles upon love in the process.  Unfortunately, it is not as compelling of a read as Knox’s previous books because it starts with a character who is neither likable nor unlikable.  Through shared tragedy she falls in love with a man who works very hard at being desperately private.  As a result, there’s not much for the reader to relate to in either character. I found it difficult to invest myself.  Like its predecessor Madly, the characters don’t seem to go together, maybe even less so.  With a spread of seven years between them, not as many as between Winston and Allie, Rosemary is the older of the two.  No one would mistake her for a cougar.  Rather, she’s a proper, British, would-be baroness. Kalden Beckett, her love interest, describes himself as “brown.”  It’s meant as a skin color reference having a Tibetan mother and an American father, being born in New York, but spending a lot of time in Nepal as well.  Like Rosemary’s wallpaper label, it seems more designed to make him blend in with his surroundings, which in his case is dirt and trees. Getting to know them both literally takes the entire book. One of my favorite characters is peripheral, like Allie’s father...
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Sep
6

Review: The Shift of the Tide by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: The Shift of the Tide by Jeffe Kennedy The Shift of the Tide Author: Jeffe Kennedy Reviewer: Gikany and Una Rating: A What We’re Talking About: Gikany and Una were anxiously awaiting Zynda’s story.  The Shift of the Tide is utterly compelling and may have replaced Andi’s (The Mark of the Tala) as our favorite book in this series. Zynda has always been a bit of an enigma character.  She is beautifully mysterious and you just know there is much more going on in her head than she lets on.  Zynda is an amazing shapeshifter — the pride of her people, and she is a relative to the previous Tala Queen, Salena. Regardless, Zynda has a secret mission to save her people. This mission will require her to sacrifice her life as she knows it – to give up everything.  Zynda is prepared to make that sacrifice – she has prepared herself for most of her life.  However, her focus and dedication take a severe hit when Marskal is assigned as her watcher. Marskal is a fascinating character.  We absolutely loved his charm, patience, and wit.  Though charged with protecting Zynda, he never underestimates her.  We loved the give and take that Marskal abides with Zynda.  As Zynda never noticed him prior, he was (or has) been a part of the series since the beginning.  We loved their banter and especially the time spent with Marskal’s family.  He is a truly remarkable and endearing character.  Zynda was not the only one falling for him. The journey that Marskal and Zynda embark on is more than physical – more than her mission.  Zynda’s journey is not only external but internal.  The closer she comes to her goal, the more torn up inside she becomes – the more she questions the sacrifice required.  We loved how these two conflicts wove together becoming almost a single conflict.  It was utterly gripping and pathos riddled full of heartwarming moments. Though this novel is transitional in the battle against the Deyrr, it was still gripping as other issues in the realm are explored.  We loved the journey of Zynda and the heart wrenchingly romantic tale between her and Marskal.  We continue to enjoy this world and eagerly look forward to the next story in it. Our Rating: A, Loved It About the Book: A QUICKSILVER HEART Released from the grip of a tyrant, the Twelve Kingdoms have thrown all that touch them into chaos. As the borders open, new enemies emerge to...
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Aug
17

Listen Up! #Audiobook Review: Wildfire by Ilona Andrews

Listen Up! #Audiobook Review: Wildfire by Ilona Andrews Welcome to my weekly feature that focuses on audiobooks. It’s time to… Audiobook review: Hidden Legacy Series Book: Wildfire Author: Ilona Andrews Narrator: Renée Raudman Audio Speed: 1.25x Series: Hidden Legacy #3 Genre: Urban Fantasy Romance Source: purchased Wildfire Listening to Wildfire is my “re-read” of one of my favorite books of 2017. To recap: the book opens immediately after the conclusion of the previous one, with fears that Nevada’s paternal grandmother, Victoria Tremaine, has located the Baylors and wants to take the girls away to become part of her own House. Additionally, we discover that, Rynda Charles, Rogan’s ex-fiancee and daughter of Olivia Charles (antagonist from book 2), wants to hire Nevada because her husband is missing. Add to it the budding romance between Rogan and Nevada, a huge conspiracy to overthrow the existing government, and some crazy family issues, and you’ve got an amazing story! As with my audiobook review of White Hot (book 2), there isn’t much more I can add about Wildfire that I didn’t say in my original review. From that review: “The relationship of Rogan and Nevada continues to evolve, intensify, and mature. I adore their journey. Individually, each is learning how to adjust their own behaviors to better fit as a couple, while simultaneously working to accept the other’s idiosyncrasies and persona.” “Wildfire is a wonderful story in an amazing series. The authors have taken incredible care to create a whole set of characters beyond just the hero and heroine. I have become attached to each member of Baylor clan, and I adore that every character has purpose, each with their own story. While the action is intense, the emotional depth takes this story and series from great to amazing. I highly recommend reading the entire three-book Hidden Legacy series from the beginning.” As I have stated numerous times, the addition of Renee Raudman’s narration takes any book up a notch. By now, her unique and separate voices for each character have become so familiar to me, and listening to her read the story is a comfort, like hearing my mom’s voice on the phone after not talking for a while. But more than the voices, it’s the emotion she puts behind every performance that blows me away. From anger to fear, from joy to sorrow, I feel the power of her performance deep inside my heart. She takes the already amazing characters and makes them real. Wildfire is simply amazing and one of my favorite...
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