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Liz’s Review

Double Down by Katie Porter
Contemporary romance released by Samhain Publishing on July 31, 2012

Vegas Top Guns, Book 1
Desire as reckless as a fighter jet in freefall…and just as dangerous.

As part of the 64th Aggressor Squadron, Major Ryan “Fang” Haverty flies like the enemy to teach Allied pilots how not to die. The glittering excess of the Strip can’t compare to the glowing jet engines of his F-16. But a sexy, redheaded waitress in seamed stockings? Now she gets his blood pumping.

Cassandra Whitman’s good-girl ways haven’t earned any slack from her manager ex-boyfriend, or prevented a bad case of frazzle from holding down two and a half jobs. She sure wouldn’t mind letting the handsome Southern charmer shake up her routine.

Their wild weekend lives up to Sin City’s reputation. Especially when they discover a matched passion for role-playing. For Cass, it’s an exciting departure from her normal, shy persona. But for Ryan, it triggers memories of a time when his fetish drove away the woman he loved–leaving him reluctant to risk a repeat performance.

Except Cass refuses to settle for ordinary ever again. She’s about to show the man with hair-trigger hands that she’s got a few surprise moves of her own.

Warning: This book contains dirty-hot role-playing, featuring an all-alpha fighter pilot and an ambitious waitress with a fabulous imagination. Also: dressing-room sex, a plaid schoolgirl skirt, and a sprinkling of spankings.

I’m not even really sure where to start talking about this book.  It’s just an incredible story on so many levels that putting one first seems almost impossible.  Katie Porter, I’ve come to learn, is the name of the writing team of Carrie Lofty and Lorelie Brown.  I haven’t read anything by either author prior to this collaboration, so I had no expectations going into the story except to – hopefully – enjoy myself and I really, really did.  I haven’t read many role-playing books before this one, usually finding the odd “dress like a cheerleader” request in the romance novels I normally choose, so picking this one that has role-playing as a central theme was new for me.  When I think of role-playing I automatically think about the French Maid costume, but Katie opened up my eyes with this story, weaving a tantalizing tale about a man who isn’t sure he should like the things he does, and a woman who really would do anything for the right man.

As a girl who enjoys a man in uniform (my hubby was in the navy), Major Ryan Haverty already had brownie points with me in the hotness category.  His odd fascination with waitress Cass’ seamed stockings as she took his order at the restaurant where she worked started the first of many quirks that came to define him as a character.  Ryan, known to his fellow soldiers as Fang, is a dual personality – one part of him is what he perceives as normal and the other part kinky, specifically into role-playing.  In Ryan’s case, he’s desperate to keep the kinky part of himself well hidden, so deeply buried that it won’t ever come out.  The problem with secrets, as we all know, is that eventually they come out and Ryan was ill prepared for the fall-out.  Ryan’s reasoning for squashing his kinky fantasies is two-fold.  One, he’s an officer in Air Force, stationed at a nearby base, so indulging in role-playing in public could cause problems with his job.  And the other is that he once got his heartbroken by a woman that he revealed his kinkiest needs to and swore to not do that again.  What I really found fascinating about Ryan’s development in the story is that just one taste of fantasy for him and he slowly unraveled into a downward spiral of self-loathing and recrimination.  As the reader, we’re treated to his POV, and the disgust he feels for his suddenly increasing fantasies involving Cass roll off the page.  You can feel how much he hates himself, how much he wishes he didn’t like to role-play, how frightened he is when it clearly overwhelms him and pushes at the careful boundaries of his ordered life.  On the outside, Ryan is a hero and a leader, a man with loyal friends who has seen battle and lived to tell about it.  On the inside, however, Ryan is a festering mess of conflicted feelings, desires, and needs.

Cass was positively brilliant.  When challenged, she proved herself to be up for anything.  She was a heroine that I could get behind and cheer for.  What I found most interesting about her character was her background and family.  Her family is wonderful and amazing, but very smothering and insistent that she helps with the family business.  You get to see the way she feels pulled in separate directions – one for her passion of art and the other to support her family – and it’s not until Ryan’s influence that she begins to see herself as the independent woman she really is.  Her character flowered spectacularly.  There were no abrupt changes of heart or sudden decisions, but a gradual bloom that seemed real and earnest.  When her heart is breaking, her chin is held high and her belief in herself keeps her from accepting anything less than everything she deserves.  For that reason alone, Cass has become one of my new favorite female characters.

Secondary characters include Cass’ parents, her sister, brother-in-law and niece and Ryan’s fellow Air Force pilots.  Cass’ parents are the overbearing sort that expect their children to be happy living the dreams of their parents and not their own.  Their tour company is in trouble and the guilt comes out in buckets when Cass tries to improve her position at an art gallery so she can do what she loves for a living.  I loved to see her take her own life by the horns and make a stand for herself.  It’s one thing for a woman to stand up to a man about what she will and will not tolerate in a relationship, but it’s an entirely different, earth-shattering thing for a woman to stand up to the people who raised her and do her own thing.  Ryan’s two pilot friends, Tin Tin and Princess, are colorful and fun.  Tin Tin comes from money and comes across as an arrogant pretty-boy that would toss a girl aside when he’s done with her.  While it may be true in some ways, he shows his true nature when he stands by Princess’ side while she’s heaving up her drinks in the bathroom.  Now, who doesn’t want a guy like that?  And as for Princess, she’s got some serious issues.  Wound as tight as a spring, she seems to have no off-switch, flipping from calm and controlled to wild and berserk with no stops in between.  Both characters have their own stories in this series, and I think their characters are well worth looking into and deserve their own stories.

I can’t review the book without talking about the sex.  Holy role-playing Batman!  This book is just packed full of fantastic sex.  Each scene is unique as they move forward in their relationship, switching between sweet vanilla sex and kinky sex, initiated most often by Cass.  Cass has an internal radar that seems to sense whenever Ryan is turned on by something, and she turns the tables on him as often as she can.  Ryan struggles internally throughout the role-playing.  Like a dieter who eats a big piece of cake, he loves it at the time and hates himself afterwards, afraid that if Cass would find out the depths of his desire for role-playing that she would walk out on him.  I can’t even tell you the crazy things that they do without giving up too much of the story, but suffice it to say that although the book starts off with a bang (literally), the characters and the storyline don’t suffer for the attention to sexy details.  Well balanced, the loving is exactly what the story needed to ratchet it up a few million notches, from a romance about a pilot and a waitress to a sizzling story about just how much fun two consenting adults can have when they open their minds to the possibilities.

When I first began reading the story, I wasn’t really prepared for how much I would like the characters and become invested in their lives.  The story grips you by the neck and doesn’t let go, while you watch the lovers dance.  This story has got so much going for it, between the role-playing, the family issues, and the characters coming to terms with what they want in their lives, this book is full to the brim with heat and passion.  Unlike other stories in this vein that might focus solely on the sex, Porter broadens the scope to share the life-altering decisions that both Cass and Ryan make as they explore the kinkier, darker side of pleasure.

Grade:  A-

You can read an excerpt here and buy a copy here.

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Erin’s Review:

Book CoverThe Rogue Countess by Amy Sandas
Historial romance released by Samhain Publishing on July 24, 2012

A passion neither of them wanted…and neither can deny.

Anna Locke was once young, naïve and infatuated with the handsome Jude Sinclair. Until the charismatic “gentleman” showed his true colors by abandoning her on their wedding day.

In the years since, she has transformed herself into a confident, successful woman, independent of her errant husband’s aristocratic family in every way but name. When Jude unexpectedly returns demanding a divorce, she quashes the butterflies he still elicits, and resolves to show him she won’t be so easily cast aside.

Jude has come home to assume the responsibilities left to him upon his father’s death, and to finally end the marriage into which he was tricked. To his surprise, Anna is no longer an awkward, skinny girl with a furtive gaze. She has become a lush, enigmatic vixen with dark eyes that shield secrets she seems determined to keep.

In their intimate war of wills, the heat of bold desire flares into passion—and casts light on a shared past tangled in lies and blackmail. But until Jude can win her trust and learn the truth, there will be no destroying the obstacles that loom darkly between them…and the love that should have been theirs.

Warning: This title contains a shockingly revealing sapphire gown, highly improper behavior at a masquerade, a tangled web of deception, and perhaps most scandalous of all, a fiery passion that flares to life between a husband and wife who have been estranged since their wedding day.

What would you do if at 16, the people you were to trust the most betray you for their own gain, which destroys multiple lives and before you could even say a word, the one person you hoped could save you abandons you for the next 8 years and pretends you don’t exist?  You’d plan your revenge too!

Anna, know 26 has lived the last few years of her life they way she wants to.  She calls herself Mrs. Locke And distances herself as far from her husband’s family as possible.  She’s intelligent, resourceful, and much to her mother in law’s dismay in TRADE.  But underneath her harden and worldly exterior is a vulnerable girl who wishes to be wanted, loved and protected.  Something she never felt as a child and had hoped to gain in her marriage.

Jude was an angry boy who grew up into a scorned man.  Leaving his new wife on the house steps immediately after the wedding, he spent the next few years roaming Europe and trying to forget the betrayal of his family and the witch he refuses to call a wife.  He has returned to England after learning of his fathers death more mature and ready to pick up his responsibilities, as soon as he rids himself of the woman he sees as ruining his life.

This is one of the best debut novels I have read and I had to double check that this was a debut novel. The writing and polish is one expected of a much more seasoned writer.  The author tackled this estrangement plot line and difficult characters (especially the sister) with aplomb and grit.  Each character in the novel, even the more minor ones, were complex and  not one dimensional.  Not only could I imagine meeting people like the characters in real life, I have met people like them.  They have their flaws and their walls.  But it is how the author goes about opening up the characters to their own flaws and tunneling under each others walls that makes this story so good.

It was refreshing to come across a story where no one should blame either Anne or Jude for how they feel about their marriage.  Neither party is at fault for anything other than being to immature and to hurt to see the situation from any perspective than their own.  Each has had plenty of time to build up the idea of whom the other is that is shattered to pieces starting with their very first interactions.  The author reaches a fine balance of the couples’ antics between mischievousness, annoying the other, and getting attention, without spite, harm, or  childishness.  You will not forget Anne and her whip.  From there the author manages to create a realistic and creative story that continues to throw these two in each others path allowing the final vestiges of their preconceived notions to disappear but gives them, especially Anne , a chance to believe in love and each other.  For both revenge turns out to be very sweet indeed. Like most romance novels, the characters around the couple see so much more clearly than the hero/heroine do and give them little nudges as needed.

While the author moved the plot line via internal conflict of the main characters and a lack of open discussions between the two.  She did so in a way that actually works and doesn’t make you want to slap someone for stupidity.  It is not even pride that keeps these two apart, but a external threat and in my eyes a very effective plot ploy that works within the psyche and construct of the characters.

An excellent debut romance that should not be missed

Grade: A-

You can read an excerpt of the book here, or buy it here.

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Hi everyone! A treat today! Double post, and with this, something definitely new, and interesting! Shelli is on vacation so we weren’t sure if she would be able to get her post so me, so I went to twitter to ask for help, and Ms. Heidenkind immediately stepped up. I haven’t read manga in a long time, but I know it’s even more popular now. I’d also never heard of this series, and as you see, it’s gorgeous. So everyone, give Heidenkind a very warm welcome!

A sekret: I am a bit obsessed with Mongolia. I have wanted to go there ever since I wrote a report about it back in high school. So I was super-excited when I heard that Kaoru Mori, who wrote and illustrated the fabulous Emma (review here), was working on a manga series set in 19th-century Mongolia.

If you’re unfamiliar with manga, it’s basically a type of comic book that comes from Japan. If you enjoy any kind of genre fiction, there’s probably a type of manga out there for you–the categories are highly specialized. I started with vampire romance mangas like Midnight Secretary and Vampire Knight, both of which are extremely unputdownable and full of win. I think most of the appeal of these books is their exoticism, and the fact that by US standards they’re pretty subversive. A bit like soap operas, mangas can go on forever and usually have tons of characters, and A Bride’s Story isn’t any different.

A Bride’s Story centers around Amir, who at twenty is extremely long in the tooth to be getting married. Her husband, Karluk, is only twelve. Awkward! Actually that’s less than the age difference between me and my bother, but it’s still kinda skeezy. But obviously that’s just my modern bias. And if you think there’s no sexual tension going on in these books, well… you’d be wrong, although Karluk does pull a Louis XVI despite Amir’s wiles.

It’s small wonder that Amir hasn’t been married before now, because she’s a little odd. And not just in a, “You’re not from around here, are you?” sort of way; also in a, “Why are you watching me sleep like that?!” way. For realz, I think she might be a little unbalanced. There were times when I felt like I was reading Fatal Attraction: Mongolian Edition.


Amir is watching you. Always watching.

But there are tons of other characters, of course, including a bad-ass grandma, an anthropologist from England, Amir’s friend, Pariya, who always looks angry; a street-smart guide; Amir’s evil male relatives; a pretty nomad woman who lives with her mother-in-law; and the rest of Karluk’s family. The only secondary character who’s been explored with much depth so far is the anthropologist, Mr. Smith, but I’m sure as the series goes on other characters’ stories will be fleshed out.

The art in A Bride’s Story is also gorgeous, full of tons of detail, yet still easy to read. Mori isn’t one of those manga artists who only has 3 faces in her repertoire (coughBrideoftheWaterGodcough), and each character is completely individualized and recognizable. As with Emma, it’s clear Mori has done tons of research into this setting, and I can always appreciate thorough research.

I’m not as into A Bride’s Story as I was into Emma–not yet, anyway; sometimes it takes a few volumes for me to really get into the story–but I do think these volumes are a promising start to the series. I love being transported to Mongolia, and a few of the characters are really interesting, so I’ll definitely be continuing series.

Thanks for guesting with us, Heidenkind, and also for sharing about A Bride’s Story – and manga in general!

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Liz’s Review

Protector (The Elect, Book 1) by Loribelle Hunt
Paranormal romance released by Samhain Publishing on June 26, 2012

He will protect her. No matter the threat.
The Elect. They aren’t human. They’re the next step in evolution and they’re hiding in plain sight. They’re stronger, smarter, and faster. Nature’s perfect predator.
Welcome to the top of the food chain.
Braxton Lee is the protector of the Elect and it’s a job he takes seriously. As president of the committee that governs the Elect, he overseas everything from finance to security to keeping their existence hidden. He’s driven and ruthless. The Elect will not be exposed on his watch.
Unfortunately his research chief, Zach Littman, is contacted by a former colleague who’s run a DNA analysis of a blood sample and gotten weird results. The blood isn’t human, and Dr. Esme Durand is smart enough to know it. Brax will do whatever it takes to keep her silent. Until he meets her. Because Esme has a secret. She’s one of them. Brax wants nothing more but to bring her into the fold and into his bed.

Warning: This book contains hot sex, the next evolution of mankind, hot sex, a race to find a bad guy, a hot hero trying to prove his love, and did I mention the hot sex?

As a child of the 80s, I grew up with a healthy fascination of all things sci-fi from the hilarious ALF to Alien Nation to the revival of Twilight Zone.  Protector, at its core, is a sci-fi book about a new generation of humans, in which a small number have been born with some pretty amazing psychological and physiological talents, including mind-reading and thought projection.  I haven’t read anything by Loribelle before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  What I hoped for, when I read the blurb and saw the cover (he reminds me of a young Jeremy London), was that she would be able to mix the futuristic idea of human evolution in modern times and make it work.  And she does!  After just the first chapter, I found myself wishing I had some of the talents that she mentions her characters have.  Such as, I’d love to know what my husband is really thinking when he says “whatever you want,” when I know for sure he doesn’t really mean that.  Loribelle starts the book off with a bang, and keeps the momentum going.  It’s not a novella, but it’s not a full-length book either (under 100 pages), and she manages to weave a compelling and curious world about the Elect, a secret society of advanced human beings that have been around since the 50s.

Brace yourselves, kids, because I’m about to rant about alpha-holes again.  On the surface, I like Brax.  Hot, sexy, protective, good at keeping secrets.  But under that, is a man that expects things to go his way all the time.  When he meets Esme, it’s not too long before he figures out that she’s his mate.  (As an avid reader of paranormal books, I don’t have any trouble accepting the instant-mate-attraction that most of these books contain, although usually for me, one or more of those involved gets furry once a month…but I digress.)  Brax knows that Esme has got nary a clue about what her powers really mean, the special group that she’s now part of, or that Brax is her mate.  Instead of just giving her time, he pushes.  Pushes her to accept their connection, pushes her to make decisions after a crisis that would knock anyone on their butt.  He can’t stand that she’s feeling torn about her brother and nephew, that she would choose her family over him when she’s only known him for a minute.  He’s been waiting years for his mate; she never knew that anyone besides herself and her brother had extra powers.  So the protectiveness, instead of giving me the warm-fuzzies, makes me want to tell Esme to run far away in the other direction.

Esme is a perfect heroine.  Plucky, independent, loyal, smart, and not swayed by heaven in tight pants.  When her world is flipped upside down, she wants to first protect her brother and nephew and then second, go back to work.  I love that.  I love that even when she was in Brax’s arms, she was still her own person, not carried away in a flood of hormone fueled oohs and aahs, but grounded and steadfast.  When she is rightly confused about the new world that is suddenly open to her after an attempt is made on her life, she doesn’t drown in her anxiety and reach out for the first strong pair of male arms.  She demands answers and she reasons her situation out.  As a scientist, she wants to seek the answers to questions about herself and family, find the cure to her nephew’s mysterious illness, and lastly figure out just who these Elect are and what that means for her.

The few secondary characters in the story – her fellow scientist Zach, her brother Carter, and her nephew Kaden – are not well drawn.  Zach is virtually invisible as a character, only a vehicle with which her scientific discovery of something unique in a blood sample is given to the Elect.  Carter is angry and reserved, played as a typical hardened military man who believes he and his personal resources and contacts can protect his son and sister better than the Elect.  He has no time to grow as a character; he’s just an outline, a sketch.  And little Kaden, who is so ill and no one has been able to figure out what is wrong with him…but he’s also lost in the sea of the non-memorable, half-drawn cast.

I had no trouble with the “science” of the story.  Loribelle created a world in which ordinary humans eventually began to evolve new powers, and as such they knew they needed to be kept secret to prevent the government from experimenting on them.  The way she wrote the story makes that seem not only plausible, but possible, and for me, that just makes the story.  As an avid reader of both straight sci-fi and paranormal romance, I would have preferred this story without the romantic sub-plot because it detracted from the story that needed much more fleshing out and the characters that needed more time to develop.

What bothered me most about the story, besides Brax’s arrogant behavior, was the ending.  There I was, reading along, when WHAM! it’s over.  It ended so abruptly, and with so many loose ends, that I actually thought the book had been cut off accidentally.  But I couldn’t ignore The End.  I don’t mind the occasional cliffhanger, but this ending took the cake, and in essence, ruined what had been up to that point a decent read.  The characters had some major emotional reveals in the last few paragraphs, when up to that point neither had really been given the chance to show that they were moving to those conclusions.  I can suspend disbelief about a lot of things, but the revelations coupled with the abrupt ending brought me right back to a reality in which I didn’t care for this book and I won’t be looking for any further in this series.

Grade:  D+

You can read an excerpt here, or buy a copy here.

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Liz’s Review

Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase
Historical romance released by Avon on June 16, 2012

From the Journals of Sophia Noirot: A dress is a weapon. It must dazzle his eye, raise his temperature . . . and empty his purse.

A blue-eyed innocent on the outside and a shark on the inside, dressmaker Sophy Noirot could sell sand to Bedouins. Selling Maison Noirot’s beautiful designs to aristocratic ladies is a little harder, especially since a recent family scandal has made an enemy of one of society’s fashion leaders. Turning scandal to the shop’s advantage requires every iota of Sophy’s skills, leaving her little patience for a big, reckless rake like the Earl of Longmore. The gorgeous lummox can’t keep more than one idea in his head at a time, and his idea is taking off all of Sophy’s clothes.

But when Longmore’s sister, Noirot’s wealthiest, favorite customer, runs away, Sophy can’t let him bumble after her on his own. In hot pursuit with the one man who tempts her beyond reason, she finds desire has never slipped on so smoothly . . .

I haven’t ever read anything by Loretta Chase before, mainly because her genre is historical and that’s not my go-to (…which is paranormal.  Now, if she wrote about werewolves at balls wearing the latest fashions from London, I might jump right on that!).  But once I read the description and saw the gorgeous cover, I wanted to check it out.  I follow several discussion boards about romance books and Loretta’s have come up time and again, so when I had an opportunity to get an ARC of one of her books, it was no contest.

Sophy Noirot is adorable.  I absolutely loved her character.  She was a clever mix of innocent maiden and sultry temptress.  She was used to seeing skin as a dressmaker, and her sister Marcelline is married and has shared secrets of the bedroom with her, but other than kissing, she’s still an untried woman.  In a time when women fainted frequently and spectacularly, Sophy is a breath of fresh air.  She dons costumes and crashes high class affairs to spy for a gossip rag, she only faints when she needs to create a distraction, and she is fiercely protective and loyal to her sisters and their business.  When Clara, the sweet, extremely innocent younger sister of Harry Longmore finds herself in an incredibly compromising position, Sophy shows herself to be witty, selfless, and willing to do anything to see all their problems solved.

Harry Longmore is a rake.  I love that word when it describes a man in a historical novel.  It brings to mind all sorts of seedy, naughty things.  But the truth is that I really didn’t know what the term meant so I had to look it up.  I was positive that Longmore was a rake, but I had to make sure.  Turns out…it’s a perfect word for him.  A rake, which I’m sure you historically-reading folks know, is a man that’s wanton, loose, corrupt and many other fun things.  Basically, a male whore.  Good times!  But underneath the gorgeous visage, the tailored clothing, and the unashamed way he plays with women, is a man who loves his family and will do anything for them.  And he’s completely entranced by Sophy from the start.  When the book shifts to his point of view, we’re treated to his hilarious inner monologue as he argues with himself about his self control where Sophy is concerned, and his growing feelings for her.  Charming and protective with a wry sense of humor, he’s a great leading man.

The most innocent of the women in the story is Longmore’s sister Clara.  So innocent!  I loved her, I felt sorry for her, I wanted to stand up to the rogue who put his hands on her myself!  When she runs away, I admired her courage even as I cringed knowing just how unprepared she would be for the real world.  But the very act of running away spoke volumes about one woman who had enough of polite society telling her what she could and couldn’t do with her body, and who she could do those things with.

Sophy’s sisters are background players but important to Sophy, not only as her business partners but as her family.  Marcelline and the youngest, Leonie, help Sophy as she and Longmore set out to find Clara and bring her home and fix the awful mess she found herself in.  And little Fenwick, the pocket-picking orphan that Sophy takes under her wings is charming and endearing.  I loved his cockneyed accent, the way he used an “f” in place of “th”, so he would say “fings” instead of “things”.  Longmore spends a good bit of time correcting the poor boy.  Sophy uses him to spy around town in exchange for giving him a place to stay and food to eat.  His addition to the adults in the story was funny and added another layer to an already colorful cast of characters.

Sophy, as a dressmaker, is privy to the highest fashion and the descriptions of her outfits were vividly painted.  I could picture the lace and bows, the billowy sleeves and the outrageous hats.  I’m really glad I didn’t live in a time when I had to have so many layers on!  What an ordeal to get dressed and undressed.

While I often say that I won’t read historical novels, I do actually have a few good reasons for it.  One, I don’t like to read stories where the heroine is a virgin.  They squick me out and I find them (often) hilariously overrated.  We should all be so lucky (but I digress).  And I really don’t like reading about the time in history when double standards were so ridiculous.  I loved that Loretta broached this very subject during a conversation between Sophy and Longmore, when she suggested that he took advantage of her by being such a good kisser and she was overwhelmed.  How easy it would be for him to do something to her to “ruin” her in public, when she was dizzy from being kissed so well.  This double standard is what bothers me about historical novels, that a man can feel up a woman and walk away unscathed with only the “rake” moniker as a warning to future women, but the woman herself is sometimes forced to marry said rake to save her good name and that of her family.  I know that this is historically accurate, but it’s part of why I don’t (usually) read novels from this time period.  I’ll take books after women’s lib for $500, Alex.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel.  Once I opened the book, I found myself completely entranced with the world that Loretta spun and thoroughly enjoyed it.  The characters were well developed, the descriptions of the people, clothing, and journey were amazing, and the plight of not only Sophy but her sisters and Clara were engaging.  I am looking forward to reading more from this author.

Grade: B+

You can read an excerpt here or buy a copy here.

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Patch of Darkness by Yolanda Sfetsos
Urban Fantasy released by Samhain Publishing on May 15, 2012

All it takes is one weak seam for everything to fall apart.

Sierra Fox, Book 1

In a perfect world, Sierra Fox would have stayed away from the Council she left years ago. But in this world—where spirits have the right to walk among the living—it’s her job to round up troublesome spooks and bring them before that very same Council.

Though her desk is piled high with open cases, she can’t resist an anonymous summons to a mysterious late-night meeting with a bunch of other hunters, each of whom seems to have a unique specialty. The news is dire: something is tearing at the fabric of the universe. If the hunters can’t find who or why in time, something’s going to give in a very messy way.

As current cases, family secrets, new clues and her tangled love life slowly wind themselves into an impossible knot, Sierra finds herself the target of a power-sucking duo intent on stealing her mojo. And realizing she holds the key to the last hope of sealing the widening rift.

Product Warnings
Spook catching: may contain traces of ectoplasm and otherworldly nasties. Not recommended for those with allergies to ghosts, demons, and with boyfriends who think your power is theirs. While reading, avoid dark patches and stay to the light.

The first thing you will notice about this book is that it is not a true romance. Instead it is a paranormal fiction with some romantic elements. Patch of Darkness is the first in a series of books around the main character Sierra Fox. Sierra is a spook catcher. A spook catcher is sort of a mix between detective and bounty hunter. Her job is to go out to haunted places and ensure that ghosts are following the rules set out for them by society and if not to remove them.

Sierra is a rebel who struck out on her own to take on the mega corporation, using girls with her talents, for their own profit. She doesn’t necessarily play by the rules. But she is also vulnerable because of her time with the corporation and the constant abandonment in her life. She has a justified fear of being used, which makes it difficult for her to trust her judgment and intuition.

Which is where the romantic conflict kicks in. Sierra is torn between the guy she thinks she should be with (current boyfriend, Jonathon) and the hunky private investigator (Papan) with the office above her. The conflict is really a small portion of the book, except for underscoring Sierra’s weakness in regards to trusting herself and ignoring important clues due to her denial.

The real plot of the book involves Sierra being invited to join a group which includes a witch hunter, demon hunter, werewolf hunter, and vampire hunter to help protect this word from paranormal rifts (which allow banished paranormal beings back into this world).

The book involves lots of twists and secrets about Sierra and those around her (no spoilers here!). It did start off fairly slow, which made it difficult to connect with the story. Part of this was that many things just didn’t seem to click in my brain. I had too many questions and not enough answers. By halfway through the book, the answers started coming and my interest in the book really started to rise. I thought the author did a good job of dropping clues to the reader while allowing Sierra to miss/ignore them and it not feel contrived.

Overall, I thought this was a decent introduction to the series. It is a short novel and leaves many questions unanswered about Sierra’s life, but does wrap up nicely the immediate problem. It will be an interesting book for those that enjoy paranormal stories, but it is not a book to read for romance. That is not the focus of the book and is almost an afterthought. But that fits in with where Sierra is at this point and works well within the author’s plan.

Grade: C

You can read an excerpt here or buy a copy here.

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Sunrise with a Notorious Lord by Alexandra Hawkins
Historical Romance released by St. Martin’s Press on January 3, 2012

Dashing, decadent, and deliciously seductive, the notorious Lords of Vice indulge their every desire—from dusk until dawn…

Christopher Courtland, Earl of Vanewright—known around London as “Vane”—is the very picture of a rich, handsome ladies’ man. Why shackle himself to just one lady when he’s free to sample them all? In spite of his own mother’s attempts at matchmaking, Vane has sworn to stay single. Until he has a chance run-in with Miss Isabel Thorne…

A modest and refined beauty, Isabel is a lot more brazen than she appears. When a pickpocket tries to make away with Vane’s bejeweled snuffbox, Isabel attempts to thwart his escape…and manages to steal Vane’s heart. But the harder he tries to seduce the sharp-tongued, strong-willed Isabel, the more she resists. Now it’s up to this tried-and-true bachelor to find a new way to play the game…or risk losing the one woman who’s ever captured his heart.

I liked Sunrise with a Notorious Lord [even] more the second time I read it. Both times I read the book in a day. (The first time in an afternoon, in fact.) I distinctly remember debating the merits of taking a bath, watching the Gator Bowl, and/or reading this book. I wanted to do all three concurrently. Obviously that couldn’t happen. Anyway. I thought I’d reviewed this book age ago, so imagine my chagrin when I saw I hadn’t. Nevertheless the next “installment” of the Lords of Vice is out in a little over a month, so the timing is perfect! (Don’t argue.)

Alexandra Hawkins is an author I follow closely. Her first book (All Night with a Rogue) was one that helped me make my way out of a two year reading slump. If for no other reason than that, she gets a starred place on my “likes” list. Her writing has all that lofty place implies – great writing, characterization, and plot. As well as some very nice steamy scenes. Her Lords of Vice definitely live up to their names.

What I also love about the stories is that each book can stand alone.

Isabel Thorne is a lovely person. Literally and figuratively. Ms. Hawkins seems to enjoy writing heroines that carry the weight and responsibilities of their families. This generally makes them strong, pragmatic, and wise individuals. Definitely so in Isabel’s case. Not only that, but she’s lived her life putting her younger sister before herself. Isabel thinks of herself as not as important. And with her mother and sister’s selfishness, they’ve only underlined and synthesized that belief. For all that Isabel is such a strong character, she doesn’t have a very good sense of self. As in, she is uncertain as to her own worth, or undervalues it. She’s a very sympathetic, and likable character.

Christopher Avery Courtland, Earl of Vanewright is simply put, a fun hero. He’s something of a scoundrel, and not only does he know it, he embraces it. He knows he’s not that good, and while he doesn’t apologize about it, he also knows when what he does was wrong, and feels badly for it. I liked that Vane could admit his faults, and regretted some of his actions. He’s quite human, but definitely true to himself. He doesn’t become a paragon of virtue, he simply falls in love. Vane focuses his attentions on one woman, and is constant, rather than focusing on various women. I loved that he felt protective of Isabel, and jealous when she received attention from other men. Vane cared and that’s what’s really important in a hero.

Two things bothered me about this book. I’m having trouble deciding how much – but basically, the premise. I go between finding it somewhat believable, or not. I don’t think it’s giving the plot away, since the back cover copy clearly shows Isabel and Vane are the hero and heroine. But the book starts with the Marchioness of Netherley – Vane’s mother – asking Isabel’s assistance in matching Vane with Isabel’s younger sister, Delia. It’s clear from the start (at least to me) his mother never meant it, and always wanted Vane to be with Isabel.

However, neither Isabel nor Vane realize this. I had a hard time believing that was true, because Isabel and Vane are both astute. Especially Vane, who knows his mother will do almost anything to get him married. He’s on to her tricks and has been on to them. For her part, I can see Isabel being duped because it makes sense for someone – or anyone – to want their son to marry Delia. Not her. (That whole self worth thing.)

I didn’t think a loving mother, who has a good relationship with her son, would want him tied to a girl who is rather mercenary, selfish, and self centered. Delia isn’t a very nice girl – although in a way she can be forgiven because she was indulged so much by her family. Delia isn’t a static character, actually, but she doesn’t do much. She’s a perfect secondary character. So for such a smart character, Vane (and even Isabel) are rather thick when it comes to the motherly machinations.

I normally don’t go into such detail with the plot, but as you can see, that was my hang up. I think the second time around, I knew what my issues were, so I was expecting it. Also I knew to not let me bother it as much. The other thing was the abrupt ending. Someone actually messaged me on goodreads when she saw I’d rated the book to ask how my copy of the book ended. Obviously this isn’t as big an issue.

I loved the progression of Vane and Isabel’s relationship. It was fun to see a hero and heroine who don’t get on from the start. In fact, Vane decides Isabel intrigues him, while she’s oftentimes annoyed with him. It’s always nice when a hero has to work for it, and he does have some convincing to do here.

Lastly, I loved that Ms. Hawkins wrote an equal partnership. I never felt one character ceded too much to the other. They were moving together, and forward. Yes, some things were a bit rushed (I think Isabel capitulated to Vane too quickly, but I might not have felt she was as guilty as she did.) You’ll see when you read it.

It’s obvious I was very invested in this book. I’m actually not quite sold on the premise of the next Lords of Vice book (All Afternoon with a Scandalous Marquess), but I depend on Ms. Hawkins to convince me, as I know she can. If you enjoy reading historical romances, I definitely recommend Sunrise with a Notorious Lord as well as any and all of the other books in the series.

Grade: B

*Sidenote: ZOMG! Ms. Hawkins finally changed her website and it’s no longer flash based! Yay!!!

Sadly while there’s no excerpt, she has a book page with trailer here, and you can buy a copy here.

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