Thursday, March 29, 2007

On the Edge by Shannon Stacey

When an explosion rocks the Devlin Group, two agents must risk everything to save them all. Book 2 of the Devlin Group series.

Tony Casavetti emerges from an undercover assignment only to be summoned to NYC by Charlotte, the Devlin Group's executive administrator. When he arrives, he finds out she may be ruthlessly efficient, but his assumption about her being matronly was dead wrong.

Charlotte Rhames has it all-looks, wealth and the respect she craved. But an attack on the Devlin Group throws her back into the pit of sex, money, and murder she'd crawled out of.

With Tony's life at stake, how far is she willing to fall?

I admit I'm a Romantic Suspense Junkie, I love them. If I know one is coming out I mark it on my calendar and then anxiously await it's release. This was the case with Shannon Stacey's Newest release. I must have read the excerpt and stalked her site over and over again. As soon as she said that she was writing the next Devlin book I was ready to read it. So since I managed to read it today in one sitting after owning for all of an hour I thought I might type up this little review.

Like the previous installement of this series we jump right into the action. Which for me is key especially in Romantic Suspense. Jumping right into the action lets me know that this author is going to provide the suspense half of the genre.

As On the Edge opens we find Tony embroiled in a shootout involving a man that IMO get s exactly what's coming to him. From the very first sentences I was drawn into the action and I could see it as is played out through Ms. Stacey's words. I found myself cheering Tony on and applauding him for his quick thinking that made an extremely difficult situation end in the best possible way.

However, as the action unfolds we get a peak at the relationship between Tony and Charlotte. One that has been taking place over the comm link for the last eight years. Tony and Charlotte are nothing but voices to one another , but soon the agent and the admin are going to meet in the flesh.

I found Tony's interdialogue about what Charlotte looks like to be funny and if I didn't know better I may have agreed with him. His surprise when he sees her in the flesh was comical yet laced with sexuality that left me feeling as though it was an honest reaction.

Charlotte of course knew what he looked like, but even she admits that he is better in person then in his company file. Their conversations and dialogue are very well written, I found myself chuckling a little at some points and I definitely felt the sexual tension between them.

Charlotte is what I look for in a herione for this type of book, Like Grace in 72 hours, she is strong and knows what to do and when to do it. She takes risks and when she and Tony are thrust into bad situation after bad situation she holds up. She defends herself as best she can and she fights for herself as well as Tony's survival.

As for Tony he fits the bill of action lead to a T, but yet he is still human. There is a small piece of dialogue in the book that sums up his humanity for the reader. I'm paraphrasing here since I don't have Ms. Stacey's permission to post her work.

While discussing the last mission Tony was on Charlotte mentions that the young girl he saved, Rosa is OK and back with her family. His response to this is that then everything that happened was worthwhile for him. He does what he must to get the job done , but he still manages to feel for those he saves and or has to destroy. Tony Casavetti is definitely a stand up guy as well as a great agent. Plus he's a cowboy, who doesn't love a cowboy, but that's a topic for another post entirely.

What I really liked about this book was that overall it was believable, the characters and their plans were slightly flawed and in turn makes them all the more human. Both of them throughout the 200 pages of the book are faced with choices that at times are far from easy and yet they continued to persevere and fight back against some really tough odds.

While many may disagree with some of the choice they have to make in the end it worked for me.

I'm not one who usually rates a book , but this one is so well written and believable that I would give it 5 Gold Stars.

I'm sure I will be rereading this as well as the previous installment in the future while I wait for Ms Stacey to write Gallagher's Book.

If you are interested in buying this title you can do so here. To learn more about Shannon Stacey and her books, please visit her website.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Wild Wicked and Wanton by Jaci Burton

Wild, Wicked, & Wanton

Three friends...three secret desires...three chances to make it all come true.

They're inseparable best friends who delight in sharing their wildest secrets and dares. But their latest bet is the boldest one of all: each must sleep with whomever the other two have chosen for her. And come back with every juicy detail...


Abby married the town bad boy. And he lived up to his reputation, bedding any woman who let her guard down. She swore off men for good, but never counted on a pair of sexy veterinarians who are fulfilling a desire of their own.


Blair is the town heartbreaker. Afraid to commit, she's broken off three engagements. Yet there's one man she never had the courage to bed. The one man she really loved. But now, the decision is out her hands.


Callie is the sensible one....but beneath it all she's a true romantic, with the broken heart to prove it. Now her long-dormant fantasies may be getting a workout. A new man enters her life and everything about him is irresistible.

So let me first say how incredibly lucky I feel to have read this book before it's release. It the first Arc I have every read and I am so happy that it's from one of my favorite authors. That being said here we go.

For the longest time I was hesistant to read anthologies, as well as quickies, for me it is very hard to sell a love that will last and give me a HEA in such a short format. Once I finally decided to take the plung I was pleased to see that there are many authors who can plunge you head first into a story and still make you believe that the connection and the love is there. This book is definitely one of them.

From the opening pages of the book I felt connected to Abby, Blair and Callie. Each woman was different and had her own fantasies to fulfill and from the first few paragraphs I was fond of these women. I was cheering them on as they sough out there fantasies and felt as if they were real women I could be friend with them.

First up is Abby, she is the wild one or at least she wants to be. Since her divorce she has been working to make her life what she wants it to be and as she gets closer and closer to her graduation she is presented with a propostion from her bosses at the vet office. Her internship is coming to a close, but for Mike and Seth they have one more lesson they think Abby needs to learn and they are both more than willing to show her.

Both of these men are hot, I won't lie. While one of them is outwardly sexy, That would be Mike, with his movie star good looks and his killer bod he has not trouble finding a willing woman. Seth of course is the quieter of the two but he is just as hot, in that cool I wanna strip you down and lick you all over kind of way. They both want Abby, even if they have to share.

Poor Abby gets to have a hot, erotic threesome with her bosses and then she gets to decide if she wants to see one or both of them. It's a hard job, but believe me Abby is up for the challenge, in the end she make the best choice for her and I couldn't agree more.

Next up is Blair. Blair has a secret one her best friends don't know. One that she even hides from herself, but Rand McKay knows what Blair wants and he is man enough to make sure she gets it. When Blair's plan to take control of her weekend trist with Rand goes wrong, she soon finds out that sometimes giving in is the greatest reward. One of the things I found most interesting in this part was that Rand and Blair had been dancing around each other for so long and yet still did nothing about it. What was even hotter though was when Rand pulled Blair over for speeding, But you'll have to read the book to find out what happened.

Oh yeah did I forget to mention Rand is the town Sheriff and that he has wanted Blair for 15 years. He is one patient man and hello he has handcuffs. Need I say more.

I didn't think so.

Last up is Callie. Callie's story was probably the saddest of the bunch. it has been five years since her husbands death and she has fought long and hard to rebuild her life. She has her own home, her own business and her very own kinky Fantasy. Take one lonely, sexually repressed widow and add on very hot corporate lawyer with his own streak of kink and you've got the man to make all Callie's dreams come true.

Watching as she explores her hidden desires with Jack had me cheering for Callie. From the very begining of her story I was waiting to see how Jaci would give her the HEA she really deserved.

As usual Jaci Burton pens a story packed full with emotion and love, with more than enough of the hot steamy sex she writes so well. This single author anthology is well rounded, emotional and well worth the read. I received this as an ARC from her and I will be ordering it in paperback to add to my growing collection of her books.

If you haven't read Jaci's books you should. Trust me they are so worth it.

You can order Wild Wicked and Wanton here. It releases on May 1st from Berkely Heat.

Now I just wonder how I can convince her to give me an ARC of Hunting the Demon. Well that's another post for another day.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Visions Of Heat by Nalini Singh (spoilers)

Difficult to review this one. Pulling my thoughts together, I was reminded of my experience with Frank’s Jacob. If you had asked me my opinion of that book while I was reading it, my response would have been less than flattering. But days after finishing it, my feelings were quite positive. I thought it a worthy read, worth struggling through her clunky prose to reach the overall value of the story and its characters.

The opposite is true of Visions Of Heat. Sorta. Had you asked my opinion while I was reading it, I would have gushed shamelessly. Days later, I see more flaws than accomplishment. But I still like it. So yeah, difficult to review.

Go deeper into the world of the Psy and the changelings, where a gifted woman sees passion in her future-a passion that is absolutely forbidden by her kind...

Used to cold silence, Faith NightStar is suddenly being tormented by dark visions of blood and murder. A bad sign for anyone, but worse for Faith, an F-Psy with the highly sought after ability to predict the future. Then the visions show her something even more dangerous-aching need...exquisite pleasure. But so powerful is her sight, so fragile the state of her mind, that the very emotions she yearns to embrace could be the end of her.

Changeling Vaughn D'Angelo can take either man or jaguar form, but it is his animal side that is overwhelmingly drawn to Faith. The jaguar's instinct is to claim this woman it finds so utterly fascinating and the man has no argument. But while Vaughn craves sensation and hungers to pleasure Faith in every way, desire is a danger that could snap the last threads of her sanity. And there are Psy who need Faith's sight for their own purposes. They must keep her silenced-and keep her from Vaughn...

It is the romance in this book that I loved so much and yet found disappointing in hindsight. Singh did not choose a long build up in the romance between Faith and Vaughn. Instead, she employed the instant mate recognition that I usually resist. Vaughn comes face to face with Faith. Distrusts her instinctively. For a few hours. Then appears to claim her (in his mind) just as instinctively. And that’s it.

From Faith’s POV, we see a woman stirred by the sensory reactions Vaughn elicits. It really is the most we can expect from someone of her race, trained to feel no emotion. But I wanted something more in the way of vulnerability. There is some fear that loving him could shatter her on the psychic plane, but Singh diminishes that threat by revealing what Vaughn’s animal sense is telling him. That she can withstand his touch without losing her mind or her life. His pack leader accepts it as truth and so does the reader.

Once we accept that their bond (the mating bond) is inevitable, Singh presents the possibility that Faith will choose to stay in the Psy world, forsaking Vaughn. In words, that threat to their HEA sounds pretty devastating. But it doesn’t stand, IMO. Faith’s life as a Psy sucks. She is isolated. She is used. She is destined to fall into madness. She lives under the constant threat of being terminated so her brain can be dissected. Add to that the visions she is now experiencing. Again, early on, she decides, with Sascha’s advice, to accept the visions, to use the gift to prevent harm. We all know the Psy won’t allow it. She’s been hiding the truth in order to survive and specifically seeks Sascha’s advice because she knows it will only be a matter of time before her life in the Psy world is ended. So how are we supposed to believe she would actually choose to stay in the Psy world? In STS, Singh gave us the very real possibility that Sascha would not survive if she chose to live with Lucas. That one or both of them would die. In VOH, the threat to Vaughn and Faith’s HEA is flimsy. I just didn’t buy it. I did read on however, and eagerly at that, to watch them come together.

Flipping to the side of me that adored this couple without criticism, I have to say that I absolutely loved Vaughn’s primitive claim on Faith. And this is where I think Singh made it work. She gave us a hero more animal than man. It is that animal that provides the truest threat. It was the source of the book’s sexual tension, the source of the greatest character depth and the most honest vulnerability presented in the story. Matching his barely restrained animal to Faith’s fragile mind makes for the most interesting and emotional passages in this book. Had Singh focused the telling of Vaughn and Faith’s bond on this aspect—without digressing—I would have been hard pressed to find complaint.

Unfortunately, Singh did digress, erecting external threats to the HEA that confounded more than solidified. There was the need to avenge the murder of Faith’s sister. This event was important because it ties to Faith’s ominous visions—the very thing that brought her into Vaughn’s world. But tracking and eliminating the killer felt tangent to other events and ended rather abruptly, IMO.

There was also consideration of Faith as a candidate for a seat on the council—a twist that could have served to make her want to stay in the Psy world, rejecting Vaughn. But again, I didn’t see Faith as a woman with any real attachment to the leaders of her race. Nor could I reconcile her growing belief that she could use her gift for good with the knowledge that the council would never permit it. Singh needs us to believe there is a difficult choice for Faith here, but I just didn’t see it as a choice at all. I would rather have remained immersed in the conflict between Vaughn’s dominant animal and Faith’s fragility.

Additional plotlines included the threat from a competing candidate, the magical presence of the NetMind and the ambiguous position--a question of loyalty really—of Faith’s father and clan. All interesting and all relevant to the world building going on in this series. But none pertinent to Vaughn and Faith’s bond.

The end result, for me, was a powerful and unique romance all but buried under the rubble of politics. But again, I come back to the fact that, while I was in this story, I enjoyed myself immensely. Both the romance and the politics. I just enjoyed them separately. Looking back, I would have preferred a more cohesive, single read.

Overall, I remain fascinated by the world, races and characters that Singh has created. I look forward to the direction she appears to be taking them—with a Psy rebellion on the horizon. I think there is a wealth of possibilities left—across the three races that occupy this world—for subsequent installments of the series. I find Singh’s writing strong, engaging. And am near to bursting with want for the next book.

I simply found Visions Of Heat of less value than Slave To Sensation. I liked it nonetheless—despite its fragmentation of my enjoyment—and will continue to follow Singh’s rise.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Thief Of Hearts by Teresa Medeiros

An oldie but goodie that I picked up for grins at my local UBS. You know those moods, the times you seek the comfort of romance novels as we used to know them. When vamps and weres resided in science fiction and few SEALs or bodyguards ventured outside of category titles. This one fit the bill for me and I enjoyed every moment of it.

From the storm-lashed decks of a pirate schooner to the elegant grounds of an English estate comes a spellbinding tale of love and deception...

An Innocent Beauty

Prim and pampered, Lucinda Snow knew little of men and nothing of danger, until the fog-shrouded night she found herself abducted--and at the mercy of the legendary Captain Doom. Ruthless and mocking, tender and virile, the notorious pirate awakened all Lucy's passionate longings, then abandoned her with nothing but a kiss...

A Pirate's Prize

Now, safely at home, the alluring waif is tormented by treacherous memories--and by the presence of Gerard Claremont, her mysterious new bodyguard. Everything about him, from his forbidding size to his impertinent manner, sparks her defiance. And even when Gerard's smile turns seductive, no one can make her forget Doom. Yet only when Lucy's path crosses the captain's once more, will she learn who is on a voyage of retribution, and who is out to steal her heart...

The heroine, Lucy, is entertaining, with a humor and carriage perfectly suited to the story and its time in history. Her vulnerability is touching and while it sparks the alpha protectiveness I love, it did not serve as the basis of the story. IOW, “fixing her” is not the hero’s sole purpose for living. I was growing tired of that storyline. This one, also common, is one in which the hero, bent on his own agenda, is simply sidetracked by his growing adoration and ultimate love for the smart and sassy heroine. Medeiros balances the progression with both humor and tenderness.

The true hero of this story, Gerard, is also entertaining, despite his hardships and resulting quest for vengeance. He too wields humor and strength befitting his character. We witness his humor most often when he is with Lucy. Theirs is one of those romances fueled by contrariness (hers) and patience (his). I love a patient hero.

I also appreciated the telling of the story. Medeiros is very adept at drawing readers into her tale. And she succeeds in keeping them there with just enough romance, just enough intrigue and just the right culmination of both to end the story. That’s another irritation of late. Too many push me, pull me plots that bring the couple together, rip them apart, bring them together, rip them apart…I just finished one from an author that did that no less than six times.

So Thief Of Hearts was a relaxing, romantic read (a one day-er) that I would easily recommend to friends. If you like the old style historicals, this one is pretty much guaranteed to please.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Midnight Run by Lisa Marie Rice

Claire Parks has been very sick, but she's fine now—just fine—and ready to paint the town red. Well, pink. On her first excursion into the wild world of dating, she nets Bud, a tall, sexy, good-looking lumberjack. She won him fair and square, her prize for not dying. But after a weekend of wild sex, she discovers he's not what she thinks he is.

Undercover police officer Lieutenant Tyler "Bud" Morrison can't believe his eyes. What's a 'princess' doing in a dance club known for its rough trade? She needs rescuing, and rescuing women is what Bud does best. He saw Claire first—finders keepers. After a weekend of the hottest sex he's ever had, he's definitely keeping this one. When trouble comes her way, he pulls out all the stops to protect her. Except Claire doesn't want Bud at her back. She wants him in her bed.

Aggravating disappointment. Eons ago, when I first discovered Ellora’s Cave, I purchased Rice’s Midnight Man. I thought it a very good book. Well written, engaging characters and plot, sexy. It gave me hope for the publisher and the electronic format. Shortly thereafter, I read a blogger review of Midnight Run and, based on the reviewer’s gush, I put it on my TBR list.

Eons later, I used a B&N gift card to purchase it in print. I was that confident that I would like it. Well, first I ordered Midnight Man by mistake. Sent it back—a pain in the ass—and correctly ordered Midnight Run. Got it and hated it. A DNF. So some aggravation—my fault—and a huge disappointment.

Side by side, I’d swear two separate people wrote these two books. I can’t fathom how Rice produced a solid, well-written (key here) story in one and failed to even construct a believable tale, let alone a readable paragraph in the other. Midnight Run features a cop hero with no history of emotional commitment and a heroine who has spent her life up to this moment battling a life-threatening illness. He prefers marathon sex with experienced women that make no emotional demands. She is a virgin in both the physical sense and the emotional. IOW, she was too busy fighting for her life, sheltered by an overly protective father, to grow and mature much beyond girlhood. Rice brings them together the night they meet.

So, he doesn’t do virgins. But he does her the night they meet. His thoughts (of which we see too much of) keep flitting back to a waitress—with little going on upstairs—that will bang him without strings. But he bangs the virgin heroine, and falls for her, despite her own glaring immaturities. The heroine is desperate to take control of her own life, moving out from under her father’s stifling protectiveness. But what draws her to the hero is his protectiveness. Inconsistencies galore.

Add too much info dumping in the first 20 pages (including an entire history of his investigation into Russian mobsters that I had to reread eight times to understand), abrupt shifts in POV, far too much rambling internal thought and paper-thin characterization…and I just couldn’t finish it.

If I hadn’t spent so much energy just trying to get the book, I would have likely moved on without reviewing it. I rarely waste time reviewing (buzzing) a book that I don’t like. But in this case, I was aggravated enough to waste a few more minutes writing it up.

Will I try another Rice book? Guess there is a 50/50 chance. If you can recommend a good title, of Midnight Man’s caliber, I would welcome it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Nothing Personal by Jaci Burton

Nothing Personal by Jaci Burton
Length: Category.

It was nothing personal, just a business arrangement.

Ryan McKay is a multi-millionaire with a problem. He needs a bride to fulfill terms of his grandfather’s will. Unfortunately, the one he chose just bailed on him and he’s hours away from losing his company. Enter Faith Lewis - his shy, devoted assistant. Ryan convinces Faith to step in and marry him, assuring her their marriage is merely a business deal. Ryan is certain he can keep this strictly impersonal. After all, he’s the product of a loveless marriage and for years has sealed his own heart in an icy stone. Despite Faith’s warmth, compassion and allure, he’s convinced he’s completely immune to her charms.

Faith will do anything for her boss, but marry him? The shy virgin sees herself as plain and unattractive, a product of a bitter mother who drummed it into her head that she wasn’t worthy of a man’s love. But she agrees to help Ryan fulfill the terms of his grandfather’s will, hoping she doesn’t lose her heart to him in the process.

But love rarely listens to logic, and what follows is anything but business.

I really enjoyed this book. A fun, fast-paced read. Ms. Burton notes on her blog that she wrote this during a period when she was trying to be published in category, which explains the Harlequin/Silhouette feel to it. If you enjoy a good Silhouette Special Edition, then you'll really enjoy this story. I honestly have to say that it was category's loss not picking this one up. Huge.

The blurb tells you everything you need to know about the book and I'm not going to ruin it for you by telling you more of the plot. So, you can find it here, at Samhain Publishing, to buy it and read it for yourself or read an excerpt here.

My Grade: A.

Next Review(hopefully today or tomorrow): Under The Wire by Cindy Gerard.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Matchmaker by Jamie Denton

Fucking fabulous. Yep, another one of those reads.


The dead always have a story to tell. All he has to do is wait for the truth to be revealed to him. The living trust him with their grief - and their dirty little secrets. Only then is he able to ensure that the dead are given the happy ending they'd been deprived of in life. Only then can he set about playing matchmaker, uniting the dead with their true soul mates ... for all eternity ...


Exhuming a body over a contested will is the last thing former FBI profiler Greer Lomax wants to do. Just the thought of it brings on the panic attacks she's fought for two years. Now, as deputy sheriff, Greer Lomax is going to have to face her darkest fears. Becaue the body she's exhumed isn't alone. He's joined by a young woman whose name is on a missing person's list.


The one person Greer can call for help is FBI agent Ash Keller. Ash hasn't forgotten the hot blonde with the too-sexy smile - the one who spend many sizzling nights in his bed - and he hasn't forgiven her for leaving him behind when she quit the Bureau. But he's not about to let her go solo on this one, not after last time. Working the case sparks the fiery attraction they've tried to deny for too long and unleashes a passion they can't control - one that could blind them to the most dangerous mistakes of the past ...

The romance in this book is highly emotional and completely unexpected. I did expect romance yes, but not in the form of….can’t say it without spoiling it. The blurb isn’t really off. But Denton’s twist on this romance was a kicker. It heightened everything for me. Her emotionally debilitating trauma and his guilt combine for a pretty tenuous shot at happiness together. It was difficult to read at times. Their struggle provided the focal point for this story, and it was played out against a backdrop that artfully mirrored their pain AND supplied the book’s element of suspense. Romantic suspense with the emphasis on romance.

Or not. The suspense was all that and more as well. It triggers more of the anxiety attacks Greer still suffers, delaying any hope or allusion of recovery. It also brings Ash back into her life. From there, it serves as the challenge they both need to come together. Denton tangles all of this together so beautifully, delivering pivotal moments in brief snatches. Leaving the reader at loose ends until, at unexpected intervals, the pieces come together. Not a breeze of a read, but worth the added concentration.

A bit more about the emotion in this book. Greer, the heroine, suffered severe trauma two years ago. And she deals with it by simply refusing to deal. She runs at every opportunity and refuses to allow even the simplest of emotions anywhere near the surface. She has essentially stopped living. Ash, the hero, suffers unspeakable guilt for his role in causing that trauma. Denton lays it all out without softening either character’s feelings. As a result, the reader feels the same sense of hopelessness, the same deep-rooted belief that this problem is insurmountable.

It prompted me to think about other romances featuring a damaged heroine—a popular theme. In those that work, there is usually an alpha hero strong enough to carry them both to their HEA. Here, Denton’s hero is alpha. Strong, intelligent. Deeply in love with Greer. But despite all of his strengths, neither he nor the reader is certain that she will ever be able to live with him again. The face of the problem is too absolute, too ugly. And not altogether fixable. Like I said, hard to watch, difficult to read.

I did have one complaint. Although Denton did not attempt to cure Greer, for which I was thankful, she did lose me a bit on the last stretch. We saw Greer coming to a critical realization over the course of a few scenes. But I failed to see the final acceptance of that realization. It was just suddenly there and then the book was over. Given the nature of her fear, I admit that it could not have been as easy as “ok, I’m going to do it”…but still, I would have liked a better view of her thought process there.

Overall, a wonderful, rewarding read. I wish I could thank the person who recommended it personally. It was a blogger; I just can’t recall which one. This title has been on my TBR list for a long time.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Drop Dead Gorgeous by Linda Howard

Blair Mallory has already survived one murder attempt. Now, while planning her wedding and dealing with holiday-season madness, Blair once again dodges a bullet. Or more precisely, a Buick. And though the driver’s identity remains a mystery, his or her murderous intentions are all too clear.

Or are they? After all, Blair’s homicidal ex-husband and his partner in crime/wife are safely behind bars. And even Wyatt Bloodsworth, her police detective groom-to-be, isn’t inclined to believe she’s being targeted again. All of which makes Blair wonder if her close call was simply a mishap. But the wondering stops when she narrowly cheats death again in another seemingly innocent accident. Two strikes is all it takes to convince Blair that she’s back in someone’s crosshairs. And the only thing more frightening is that Wyatt still doubts her. That means this time, no one will be watching Blair’s back when she sets out to get the drop on her would-be killer–before whoever it is finally drops her.

To echo the sentiments of my reading girlfriends, this one disappointed. I won’t say it all out sucked because I was drawn into the dynamic that is Blair and Wyatt AND I finished it without effort. Overall though, it didn’t pack near the punch To Die For did.

Its first person POV didn’t bother me. Nor did Blair’s hyper-stereotyped cheerleader persona. I liked that ditz with depth angle in the first book as well. Unfortunately, Howard takes her dangerously close to the edge of stupidity—again and again. Not in action, but in thought. The mental tangents this broad goes on were distracting and frankly, not altogether flattering. Without them, I’m convinced that Drop Dead Gorgeous could have been a decent follow up to the first book in this series.

As for Wyatt, he edged close to a stereotype of his own. I love an alpha male as much as the next romance reader. But, like most readers, I like a quiet intelligence behind the brooding. He had that in To Die For. Here, we saw him more as a working man, a bit short on patience and with less page real estate on which to show his smarts.

So yeah, disappointing. But I’m not sorry I read it. And I did get a few laughs and more than one Wyatt-induced shiver. Will there be another in this series? If memory serves, it was expected to be a trilogy. No author website—that I can find—so the answer eludes me.

Chased by Lauren Dane

ChasedI was lucky enough to receive an ARC of this (thank you, Ms. Dane!). So far, I have truly loved the Chase brothers. Now, before I start, I should point out that this book seems to utilize one of my least favorite plot devices - heroine with the "older woman-younger man issue". This has been discussed in numerous blog posts out there. And does this cover make it look like he is jailbait, or what? Sorry, but the hero is almost 30 - that is no 30 year old, that is my 18 year old nephew. All that is said with no offense meant to Ms. Dane, as authors do not have final control over the cover art, which I would have liked had he been a tad older. But on to the book itself.

As I said, the plot device appears to be the "older woman-younger man" and all the issues that women seem to have with that. But Ms. Dane is far too sophisticated and mature an author for that. The Chase books have all delved deeply into the heroines' innermost fears and anxieties, and this book is no exception. It just requires a little patience to reach the brass ring.

While the first two books in the series were romantic suspense, this is more of a relationship book. Dane once again explores the relationships that I enjoyed so much in the first book - those between girlfriends, and between brothers, and in a wonderful scene, fathers and sons. Once again, we have a man falling for a woman that dated his brother. Marc doesn't want his brother Matt to be uncomfortable, so he brings his growing feelings for Liv out into the open almost immediately, in one of several scenes of the four brothers getting together to discuss women in general, and Marc and Liv specifically. It was terrific to get a bird's eye view into the gossipy circle of these very close men. In one scene in particular, their father gets in on the action, and all four men listen intently as he doles out the advice. Wonderful - there are still men out there that respect their parents and listen to them.

In many gossip sessions between Liv and her girlfriends, Maggie and Cassie, they discuss men in general (and ogle them as well *g*) and Liv and Marc specifically. It was a delight to see the girls' conversations mirroring those of the guys'. And I loved that although Maggie and Cassie are married to hot men, they still ogle and check out other guys. Because we all do that. Very realistic.

In an interesting juxtaposition, the one woman in the trio of friends who appears the stongest is actually the one with the lowest self-esteem, and some of the biggest insecurities. I found this almost painful to read (though not in a bad way), and I'm not sure why. Usually Ms. Dane's heroines are so strong, and although Liv may appear so on the surface, and may believe that she is, she is not. Ms Dane's heroines in this series so far have been the opposite - appearing outwardly fragile at times, but with an inner strength that belies their supposed weakness. Perhaps Liv was just not what I expected. Perhaps it's a testament to the strength of Ms. Dane's ability as an author.

As in Giving Chase, this relationship grows out of friendship (those are the best kind *g*). As they get closer and the relationship grows more intense, Liv uses the excuse that she is 6 years older than Marc to distance herself - brings it up repeatedly (thus the old "older woman - younger man" device that I dislike so much in other books). Plus, she wants to get married, and Marc is a confirmed bachelor - a big-time ladies man. However, Marc wants her for good, and insists on digging deeper than Liv's excuses to the true issues below. Those issues have absolutely nothing to do with the age difference and everything to do with Liv's biggest fears - that the people she loves will leave her. After much soul-searching, and Marc's dogged determination, Liv comes to understand the true issues that she is running from, and learns to open her heart to Marc. Only then does the inner strength that was missing come to light.

Ironically, the one person I didn't care for so much in the book, once again, was Shane. Something about him doesn't sit well with me, and hasn't from the start. Here, I think it was that he was not alpha enough, not rough enough around the edges. It didn't fit with the pitcure I've developed of him in my head. Now, granted, the man had just returned from his honeymoon. I'm sure he was happy as a clam. And I have to laugh at myself, because in the past I've complained about him being too alpha, too rough around the edges. (*smacking self* make up your mind!)

So, while I truly enjoyed this book, really dug it, in fact, the last third left me feeling uncomfortable in a way I didn't expect. I don't believe this is a bad thing. In fact, a book that makes you think, takes you out of your comfort zone can be a great thing. And I thank Ms. Dane for exploring Liv deeply, and for making the issue one that I can understand, one that I can sympathize with. Had this been about "older woman - younger man", I would have been sorely disappointed. And I would hate to hate a Lauren Dane book. Thankfully, that is not the case. I loved it. I couldn't put Chased down, read it all in one sitting. Took less than a couple hours. That's usually my key indicator. This is another fantastic entry in the Chase brothers series. Buy it here beginning Tuesday. Next up is Matt, in June.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Innocent In Death by JD Robb

Interesting to me that whenever Robb gives us more police procedural than romance in this series, we cry for more romance. More of Eve and Roarke, their marriage, their love. And when she gives us an installment nearly dedicated to that romance, leaving the police investigation as background noise, we damn near come out of our skin. Indisputable testament to the power Robb has created in these two characters. Every single thing that happens to them is personal to us. And in this case, gut wrenching.

Eve’s hurt was as real to me as any of my own. It was well founded and portrayed with truth. It was not a matter of perception. It was not the result of immature or blind insecurity. There was justified fear there and I felt it as deeply as she did.

Roarke’s failure to comprehend that fear was honest. It was not contrived to further the story. It was not out of character. I did not see it as an attempt to humanize him. He is human and we’ve all witnessed his fear, humor, temper and joy. Furthermore, we already know he is vulnerable. Robb hasn’t kept that from us either.

In short, there was nothing over the top in this episode. Robb didn’t spike the punch, so to speak. She didn’t even shake the foundation much, IMO. What she did do was share—intimately—the pain and fear that accompanies a great love. And she did so flawlessly, refusing to mar it with Eve’s expected immaturity or Roarke’s reputed omniscience. If we are coming out of our skin, it is because we were gripped by the same fear and panic. Not because one or both of these characters behaved or felt inappropriately.

That’s my gut reaction, filtered through the buzz surrounding this book. Reaching for more objectivity, I come back to the word flawless. No, fucking flawless. I loved how Robb juxtaposed the powerlessness Eve felt at home with a murder investigation she appeared powerless to solve. A case where she felt none of the hardness, none of the menace that typically surrounds a victim. In other words, her case did not provide a place or alternative target to vent her frustration.

Then, after Eve has spent the better part of the book under an emotional microscope—expected by friends and readers alike to falter--her case ratchets up to an emotionally taut and mind-numbing conclusion. A conclusion she reaches before anyone else. A conclusion that casts more doubt on her emotional maturity and her coping mechanisms. Robb is subtle but effective with these parallels. Eve’s and Roarke’s mutual innocence beneath their misunderstanding. The victim’s innocence and his killer’s unfathomable lack of innocence. The truth in both outcomes—heart twisting. Just fucking flawless.

I also enjoyed all of the references to previous books. Their fight cum jungle sex in Judgment In Death, contrasted hotly against Eve’s own jealous reaction. And her taking a full stun for Sommerset in the parlor in yet another title. God, when he thinks back to that moment and knows that what he is about to say will hurt her even more than that….well, I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to spare her as much as he did. There were also plenty of references to old cases. We really are getting to that point beyond standalone. We have a history now—reader and characters. No going back.

I also enjoyed Eve’s totally unexpected physical response to the final provocation. I was dutifully stunned then perfectly humored. It was absolutely hilarious and just the right exclamation point on the final “they’re back”. These are Robb’s characters and no one, NO ONE, knows them better than she does. Sigh. Fucking. Flawless.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The McKettricks by Linda Lael Miller

The McKettrick series is kind of like the Coulter series (Catherine Anderson) in that some of the books are western historicals and some are contemps, but they are all about the same family. However, I must say that Miller and Anderson's writing styles are totally different. Anderson's style is much softer, more laid back, albeit thoroughly enjoyable. Miller's books, especially the historicals, have somehow sparked a different type of interest in me. I'm thoroughly loving the historicals - I have found them exciting, well written, romantic and fun. The two (and a half) I've read have drawn me in immediately and kept me there. The contemps read more like your everyday HQN contemps, which is a shame, but I'm enjoying them anyway. Just in a less intense, less "must have now" mode.

The Historicals:

McKettrick's ChoiceMcKettrick's Choice
When news came that there was trouble back in Texas, Holt McKettrick left a mail-order bride and his family on the spot! And he never looked back. He just prayed he'd be in time to save the man who raised him as a son and to keep his best friend from the gallows. He knew he'd encounter rustlers, scoundrels and thieves. But he'd never expected to find a woman like Lorelei Fellows.
Setting fire to her wedding dress in the town square probably wasn't the best way to stand her ground. But Lorelei had had enough. She was sick of men and their schemes. All she wanted was to stake her claim on her own little piece of Texas. And with Holt McKettrick as a neighbor, things were beginning to look up. The man was a straight shooter with a strong will, a steady aim and a hungry heart.

Holt know what it is to be abandoned. His father, the patriarch of the McKettricks, left him with relatives following the death of his wife. He was unwanted and ran away young, finding a loving home with a black man and his daughter on their ranch. Interesting premise in the 1860s. Having gone by the name Holt Cavanagh for years, he has returned to the McKettrick fold where he has 3 younger brothers (all already married - I read this out of order *g*) and all the ego and competetiveness that goes along with 4 very alpha males in the same family.

The book opens with Holt's wedding to one of his brother's "leftover" mail-order brides. However, word comes from far away of trouble for his foster father and that his good friend has been accused of murder. He feels the urge to leave immediately to help them. Although he offers to marry his bride (and then leave her high and dry), she opts out.

When we first see Lorelei, she is burning her wedding dress after having caught her fiance in bed with the maid the week before the wedding. She's not buying the "boys will be boys" story. Her father, the local judge, basically disowns her for it.

The rest of the book revolves around Holt's attempts to prove his friend's innocence, help his "father", and Lorelei's drive to prove her worth as a grown woman. I enjoyed the interaction between all the McKettrick men, as Holt continues to find his way in a family he never knew and feel comfortable there. I liked Lorelei - she is a strong woman, almost anachronistic in her desire to make it on her own, but she did in some parts feel harsh and a bit abrasive.

All in all, a terrific western, incorporating a cattle drive, where much of the connection between Holt and Lorelei occurs. If there is any flaw in this book, I would have liked to have felt even more of an emotional connection between Holt and Lorelei. I felt it between him and everyone else, but I felt it was a smidge lacking between our H&H.

There is some suspense, as we wonder if Holt will be able to prove Gabe's innocence in time. A wonderful, albeit very secondary romance, between Gabe and his already pregnant lady-love, and a truly remarkable story of acceptance surrounding Holt's adoptive family round out this wonderful book.

Secondhand BrideSecondhand Bride
The youngest McKettrick brother, Jeb, is the wild one who never could stay out of trouble. And trouble is what he gets when heproposes to Chloe Wakefield. No sooner had he and the pretty schoolteacher tied the knot than Jeb discovers she's already married! After a major dustup with Chloe, Jeb hightails it back to the Triple M Ranch, certain that his chances of winning the spread in a marriage race with his brothers are dashed.

Now Chloe has come to Indian Rock, hoping to find her beloved uncle John and a much-needed teaching post. But when she unexpectedly crosses paths with Jeb, her rage - and passion - flare even stronger than back in Tombstone. Chloe never intended to mislead Jeb about her previous marriage to a scoundrel of a man, but when she finds out Jeb needs a bride and a baby in order to inherit the Triple M, she is livid.

Learning to trust will be the hardest part of this mixed-up marriage- until a stagecoach robbery and the return of a dangerous stranger prove to Jeb and Chloe that they need each other to love and honor as long as they both shall live.

This is Jeb's story. I got a kick out of this one. The characterization here is great. I immediately had a picture in my head of Jeb, the youngest McKettrick brother. Fun-loving, impulsive, handsome, yet also takes things to heart. He has always wanted to go his own way, yet like all the brothers, feels tied to the Triple M ranch.

I liked Chloe. She was strong, but not harsh. Emotional, but not a clinging wreck. She looked at her life and tried to make it better. She felt hurt and betrayed when Jeb left her on their wedding night. Chloe bonds with the other McKettrick wives, but is afraid to get too close. Her fear of this emotional commitment to the other women is heartwrenching, epecially when they so desire to bring her into the fold.

The connectedness that was missing from McKettrick's Choice is definitely here, as Jeb and Chloe spend an inordinate amount of time together, and Jeb begins to realize the depth of his feelings for her. I loved the scene where Jeb serenades Chloe in the middle of the night, drunk. It really captured Jeb.

Miller also, once again, does an excellent job of portraying the connectedness of the McKettrick family, as they all join together to fight off an unseen enemy. At the same time, she shows how Holt is still uncomfortable in his role as oldest son and brother (this is the book before Holt's). At the same time that he is dealing with the feelings of trying to belong, and wondering if he even wants to belong, he discovers that he has a daughter - one whose mother has died and has just witnessed the murder of her "aunt", a close family friend. Lizzy immediately feels a familial bond to the McKettricks, making Holt's decision to stay or go even more difficult. As he tries to deal with his feelings of betrayal and abandonment brought on by his father leaving him, he struggles to make those same types of decisions in dealing with his own child.

The bond that truly ties the whole family back together is the one that forms between Lizzy, Chloe, and to some extent, Holt. The raw emotions shared between Lizzy and Chloe were beautifully written, and Holt's growing feelings for Chloe, and Jeb's jealousy, were also wonderfully written. Humorous, yet poignant. (Note: had I not read Holt's book first, this book would have left me heartbroken and clamoring for Holt's story)

This was a terrific book, filled with fun, laughter, heartbreak, forgiveness, alpha ego, female bonding, and strong family ties.

Straddling - historical and contemp:
Sierra's HomecomingSierra's Homecoming
When she moved to her family’s ancestral ranch, single mom Sierra McKettrick was disconcerted by the Triple M’s handsome caretaker, ex-rodeo star Travis Reid. But when her son claimed to see a mysterious boy in the house and an heirloom teapot started popping up in unexpected places, Sierra wondered if the attraction between herself and Travis might be the least of her worries.
In 1919, widowed Hannah McKettrick lived at the ranch with her son and her brother-in-law, Doss. Her confused feelings for Doss and her son’s health problems occupied all her thoughts…until the family teapot started disappearing.
Could Sierra and her ancestor, Hannah, be living parallel lives?

This book left me with mixed feelings. I didn't care all that much for Sierra. I found her to be an overprotective mother, and not all that sympathetic a character. I felt sorry for her son, Liam. As an asthmatic myself, it would have totally stunk if I hadn't been allowed to do so many things. However, Sierra has led a difficult life, and her actions were all explained in a believable and realistic (if dramatic) way. In a strange twist, she is a descendent of Holt's, and she was also torn from the McKettrick family as a small child. She has now come back to the Triple M as an adult, much like her ancestor.

I did like Travis. I liked the way that he immediately bonded with Liam, and encouraged both him and Sierra to allow a few more freedoms.

The parallel storyline, taking place between Hannah and Doss, Holt and Lorelei's son, is where this book shined. Doss is about as alpha as they come. Gruff exterior, hiding the marshmallow interior that has been in love with his dead brother's wife for years.

As Hannah and Doss fight an attraction for one another, they soon give in and I must say, I was surprised at the love scene that ensued, given that this book is as SSE. They are usually pretty tame. Be that as it may, I really enjoyed the historical side of this book more than the contemp.

In a twist on the time-travel, somehow Sierra and Hannah, and their sons, connect. Sierra and Hannah through a diary where they each make entries, and the boys simply by sharing the same room - they see each other. They each learn about the other, and Sierra learns more about her family.

This connection, this bond, serves to soften Sierra toward the McKettricks, and to soften her attitude toward Liam as well. I did enjoy this book - in fact, it was this one that got me started on the McKettrick kick. I picked it up because the time-travel aspect back to the early 1900s appealed to me. And got hooked into the McKettrick dynasty.

The Contemps:
McKettricks LuckMcKettrick's Luck
Like his celebrated ancestors who tamed the wilds of Arizona, Jesse McKettrick's Indian Rock ties run deep. The Triple M Ranch is in his blood, along with the thrill of risk. But with his land at stake, Jesse won't get involved in Cheyenne Bridges' scheme-despite the temptation she brings.
Cheyenne grew up in Indian Rock and left its painful memories behind to become a self-made woman. Now her job is to convince Jesse to sell his property. Jesse's not the kind of man Cheyenne could ever forget, but he's too wild and dangerous for a woman committed to playing it safe. Yet sparks of attraction fly, tempting Cheyenne to lay it all on the line for the passion she sees in Jesse's eyes and the tenderness she discovers in his heart.

This is the first of another McKettrick Men trilogy, this one a contemp trilogy. Jesse is a descendent of Jeb and Chloe, and very like Jeb in nature. He is the fun-loving one, at loose ends. Thanks to a great business deal that made him a fortune, he basically is at loose ends, and plays poker and drinks when the mood strikes him. This doesn't sit well with Cheyenne, whose father was an alcoholic.

Cheyenne has carried the responsibility of her family on her shoulders for many years. Her brother was injured in a car accident, and her mother works at low paying jobs. Cheyenne feels the weight of the financial and emotional burden with which she has saddled herself - her mother and brother truly do not expect her to carry the burden of the responsibility - they want to share in it.

This book reads like your typical HQN (is there such a thing as a typical HQN?). By that I mean, it felt a little formulaic to me, and this was a disappointment after the interesting and innovative books in the series I had read before this. There was a certain sense of individuality in the other books that was lacking in this book - I felt as though it struggled to find its identity along with the H&H's struggle to find their own. Yet I never got the impression that this was intentional at all.

I did enjoy the love that Jesse obviously feels for his land, but I didn't feel that same McKettrick connectedness that was present in the historicals, and I truly missed that. Perhaps because this book is about cousins rather than brothers, it lends itself to a certain distance. Additionally, the attempt to tie Jesse and Cheyenne back into Jeb and Chloe by taking us into their schoolhouse felt a little forced. I was disappointed to see some cliched romance novel tactics - Cheyenne walking in to find Jesse's ex-wife (although she is an unconventional ex) in his shirt and nothing else, only to misconstrue the situation... Cheyenne and Jesse on opposite sides of a business deal...

All in all, I was disappointed after 3 terrific reads, but I will persevere. I still need to buy High Country Bride (Rafe's story) and Shotgun Bride (Kade's story). My library diesn't have them, so it's off to Amazon I go to pick up the other two brothers' stories. McKettrick's Pride, the next contemp is due out in March sometime.

Innocent in Death by JD Robb

Some Spoilers may be included
* I have blogged about this book before here*

The phenomenal series set in a future New York City returns as NYPSD Lt. Eve Dallas hunts for the killer of a seemingly ordinary history teacher-and uncovers some extraordinary surprises. Craig Foster's death devastated his young wife, who'd sent him to work that day with a lovingly packed lunch. It shocked his colleagues at the private school, too, and as for the ten-year-old girls who found him in his classroom in a pool of bodily fluids-they may have been traumatized for life.

Eve soon determines that Foster's homemade lunch was tainted with deadly ricin, and that Mr. Foster's colleagues have some startling secrets of their own. It's Eve's job to sort it out- and discover why someone would have done this to a man who seemed so inoffensive, so pleasant . . . So innocent.

Now Magdalena Percell . . . there's someone Eve can picture as a murder victim. Possibly at Eve's own hands. The slinky blonde-an old flame of her billionaire husband, Roarke-has arrived in New York, and she's anything but innocent. Roarke seems blind to Magdalena's manipulation, and he insists that the occasional lunch or business meeting with her is nothing to worry about . . . and none of Eve's business. Eve's so unnerved by the situation that she finds it hard to focus on her case. Still, she'll have to put aside her feelings, for a while at least-because another man has just turned up dead.

Eve knows all too well that innocence can be a facade. Keeping that in mind may help her solve this case at last. But it may also tear apart her marriage.

Once again JD Robb delivers, but not maybe what her fans expected. When I blogged previously about this book before it's release, I was concerned for lack of a better word when I read the books description. It spoke of the marital issues Eve and Roarke were going to face and I just couldn't wrap my mind around how Nora was going to address the issue. Well she did and in a way that lets us her readers see how much emotionally Eve has grown since that first book. In the first few books of the series Eve struggles with accepting Roarke's love for her and with her ability to give that love back to him in return. We rode along for the ride as she said the words for the first time, as she struggled to balance her work and her life and we laughed as she tried to find that perfect Christmas gift for the man who has everything. I felt her pain when she had to go to Summerset and ask for his advice and laughed again as she realized she was supposed to get him more than one gift.

Eve has grown, from story to story, a little bit each time to come to this point. It was hard and I was admittedly in tears a few times as she struggled to hold onto what she had and to deal with her fear of losing the man she had come to love. It was a journey that Eve had to take and overcome in her own time and I admit that I was on pins in needles with Roarke as he fought with and for the woman he has always loved.

I found myself torn though out the story, I wanted to feel bad for Roarke because in all honestly he did nothing wrong. It was the circumstances and the motives behind Maggie's return that made it look bad for Roarke. Then of course other times I was mad at Roarke simply because he knows that while Eve is strong of body and intellect she is weak when it comes to things that touch her emotions.

One of the things I found surprising and I was not sure I was happy or not about was that the case itself took a back seat to the emotional story line of Eve and Roarke. So once things between them were on even ground again and she was once again back at her top performance level the case was slowly unraveled, and as it unraveled I found myself shocked once the killer was exposed.

In fact I was almost sick over it, I do not want to ruin this book for anyone, but I will say this Nora Roberts is where she is today because she crafts a story so rich and detailed that I did not see it coming. Not one little bit, I admit to being so involved in the trial and tribulations of Eve and Roarke that the case took second fiddle through most of this book, but all I can say is WOW! To say I was shocked just doesn't see to say enough.

So what the bottom line here, what works and what doesn't. Here goes.
As for what was missing, not much to be honest. I was a little sad we didn't see more of Peabody and McNab, Feeney, Commander Whitney, Mira and Mavis and Leonardo, but I guess it was hard to work them in. I mean this book was really all about Eve.
What works, in a word everything. Fans have been wanting Eve and Roarke to grow as a couple, for Eve to find herself and where she fits in her new life. To show her vulnerabilities and to love Roarke without question. She acknowledged her fears, the fact that she didn't want Roarke to one day regret his so called choice in loving and marrying her. What I think Eve finally realizes is that just like her it's not a choice she has to make or wanted to make, it is what she has to do. She loves Roarke as much as he clearly loves her.

I will probably always be a fan of this series and as long as JD Robb keeps writing them, I'll keep reading.

If you haven't started this series yet, you should. If you have and you haven't read INNOCENT in Death yet, then what are you waiting for, run and get a copy today.
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