Friday, November 29, 2013

Searching for Someday by Jennifer Probst

The Basics:

Searching for Someday by Jennifer Probst
Gallery Books
Romance
Published November 26, 2013

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:

First in a sizzling new series from Jennifer Probst, the USA Today bestselling author adored for her “fresh, fun, and sexy” (Romancing the Book) storytelling!

In charming Verily, New York, Kate Seymour has a smashing success with Kinnections, the matchmaking service she owns with her two best girlfriends. But Kate’s more than a savvy businesswoman: She’s gifted with a secret power, a jolting touch that signals when love’s magic is at work. It rocked her when she picked up a strange volume of love spells in the town’s used bookstore . . . and it zapped her again when she encountered Slade Montgomery, the hot-tempered—and hot-bodied— divorce lawyer who storms into Kinnections demanding proof that playing Cupid won’t destroy his vulnerable sister, Kate’s newest client. The only way to convince this cynic that she’s no fraud, and that love is no mirage, is for Kate to meet his audacious challenge: find him his dream woman. Can Kate keep their relationship strictly business when her electrifying attraction nearly knocked her off her feet? Or has the matchmaker finally met her match?

What worked for me:

Pretty much the whole book worked for me. I loved Kate and Slade together with their opposing views on love, each formed very reasonably (within context). I liked the little hint of paranormal - just enough to give the story flavour and provide another issue for Kate and Slade.  

Kate and Slade are both fully developed characters with baggage that needs to be addressed before they can develop any kind of relationship. I love that Kate works so hard to remain professional, and that Slade does give the Kinnections treatment he receives his best shot, despite his growing desire for Kate.

And what I liked most in this book is that both Kate and Slade make mistakes and then acknowledge and correct them. There's very little skating by in this book, which is nice. And at the same time, while there's ample passion and problems, this book never felt really heavy. It was a fun read even through the couple's rough patches.

The supporting characters at Kinnections - Kate's friends Arilyn and Kennedy - are potential heroines in their own novels, and I'll look forward to their stories or whatever Probst writes next!

What didn't work for me:

There's one scene in which Kate's mom pops by, basically to mess with the relationship between Slade and Kate by telling him things Kate wasn't ready for him to hear. It was really jarring and I think if there'd been a more solid reason for her to visit beyond a poorly timed popover, I might have found it less obviously to mess with them. 

Other than that one nitpicky thing, I really enjoyed this book.

Bottom Line:

This was an extremely satisfying read. The romance is balanced with lots of passion. Slade, as an alpha male, isn't over-the-top demanding, and Kate realistically walks the middle ground between standing up for herself, and wanting to give up.

Strongly recommend this for romance fans and I'll be watching for sequels.

5 stars
For fans of romance.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Firefly Hollow by T. L. Haddix

The Basics:

Firefly Hollow by T.L. Haddix
Streetlight Graphics Publishing
Book One in the Firefly Hollow Series
Romance
Published September 23, 2013
Amazon  Kobo  Barnes and Nobles

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:


The mysterious recluse… 
Owen Campbell holds himself apart from other people. Badly scarred from emotional wounds that have never healed, he doesn’t expect to find true love or happiness. He remains isolated in a prison of his own making, determined to not let anyone close enough to hurt him again.

But his willpower is shaken to the core when Sarah Browning enters his world.


The girl next door…

Sarah Jane Browning is three years into her college degree when a call from home changes everything. Back at the family homestead in the heart of Appalachia, she’s forced to reevaluate her hopes and dreams for the future.

Distraction from her heartache comes in the form of her parents’ neighbor. Whispers about “odd Owen Campbell” abound in their small community, and Sarah’s curiosity is aroused. When she breaks the rules and trespasses onto his land, what she finds is beyond her wildest imaginings.


As Sarah struggles to overcome tragedy and loss, her burgeoning relationship with Owen is sorely tested. Will love conquer all, or will the secrets from Owen’s past tear them apart forever?


Why I picked it up:

The cover of this book is *gorgeous.* I thought the image was so magical and romantic, I needed to find out if the story matched. I wish I had this in paperback, along with the other two books in the series - Butterfly Lane and Dragonfly Creek - just so that I can admire them on my book shelf from time to time.

My thoughts:

This book was unexpected in a lot of ways, and I don't want to reveal too much here in my review. Simply put, there's a paranormal element to the story that I hadn't expected. It gives a nice flavour to the novel, particularly the way that everyone reacts to it. 

The book is set in the late 1950s, and it's very much styled that way. There's a 'small town, slow paced' way about Firefly Hollow that is entirely appropriate for the story - but that unfortunately was too slow for me. I had trouble getting through the book only because there was so much time spent mulling over the various problems facing Sarah and Owen. I think partially I expected more... magic? Not in a paranormal sense but in terms of something sparking in me as I read the story. I couldn't get that connection going, and I was frustrated by that.

As a romanticized throwback to the period, I think it works really well. I liked seeing how some of the conventions of the period affected the romance between Sarah and Owen. ** I came back to this review after having a couple of days to think about it, and I want to be clear that while I still think there's a quaint, 'more innocent time' vibe going on with this book, there are events in the book that are quite disturbing - very, very disturbing. Glossing over that would sell the book short and not prepare other readers. 

As an aside, I often wonder about these long-term immortal relationships and what they look like as they experience these differences in society. Modern conventions are so different (in some ways, and not so different in others), that I wonder how these relationships coped with older/different notions about behaviour and propriety and such.

Back to Firefly Hollow: I appreciated some of the really frank conversation, particularly between Sarah and her mother, Eliza. I thought Eliza was a delight with her open, honest mothering. I defy you not to want to give her a big hug by the end of the book. 

Bottom line:

This is a sweet story about a couple who are drawn to each other while facing various personal issues. I had a hard time connecting with it, but I think it is a well written story. There's lots to like here - primarily in atmosphere and overall tone. I just wanted something... more. That elusive something.

I'm going to rate *my* experience with Firefly Hollow a 3.5/5 stars, but I would really love to hear from other readers, to see how your experience with the book compares. Did you find that spark?

3.5 stars
For fans of sweet romances, heroines who have a sweet innocence about them, light paranormal romances.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Basic Renovation by Sandra Antonelli

The Basics:
A Basic Renovation by Sandra Antonelli
Escape Publishing
Romance
Published February 1, 2013
Amazon.ca  Kobo

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:
When it comes down to it, rats in the oven trumps Lesley’s desire to never set eyes on another Brennan family member. So Lesley, a pro at property redevelopment, scrambles to Dominic Brennan’s hardware store for supplies. Dominic knows poison — rat and otherwise — and he sees it in Lesley. The woman ruined his brother’s life. Now that she’s back in town, Dominic’s afraid she’ll drag up the past, the secrets, and the pain. They clash immediately, but mix in a teenage boy, a puppy, some white paint, and some loud music, and what starts as cold fury transforms into a nuclear attraction. This basic renovation becomes a major life refurbishment for them both.

Why I picked up this book:

I'm usually a fan of Harlequin books (Harlequin in Australia is behind Escape Publishing), and this one looked promising what with the cute cover (cute dress, cute boots!), and the potential for comedic crossed wires.

My Thoughts:

Sometimes you pick up a book to read at the exact right time: the book is exactly what you needed in those moments. This was one of those books. I don't know if it was actually as good as I thought it was because I read it at the height of a particularly bad cold, BUT, I loved this book. It kept me happy while I was laid up sick, and that's really the most I wanted from it.

Dominic and Lesley have complicated past and when she comes back to her hometown to flip a house, it all gets splayed out all over town. I loved the tension between these two - both so certain that nothing could ever come of their attraction -, and I appreciated the fact that as each lie from the past was unveiled, their relationship hit increasingly rocky grounds.

There was some business with Lesley's grandfather courting a woman which made me think of the grandmother in the Stephanie Plum books - a supporting character whom I tolerate marginally better than many others as that series grinds on and on (curse you Ranger for bringing me back over and over again!). GP, as Lesley calls him, isn't as irritating, and there's something kind of sweet about his scheming. I kept picturing my grandfather-in-law and my great grandfather who were both active into their early 90s and it made me grin to think of them getting up to these antics. Also, it made me picture a lot of that side of the story happening in slow motion, even while I was zipping through the book.

The relationship between Dominic and his son, Kyle, is so down to earth and... guy-like? Is that a thing? The man-to-man conversations they shared were amusing, awkward, I'd like to think insightful. I liked the way they spoke to each other, and I could completely understand Dominic's worry for his sixteen-year-old as he lobbied for car ownership. I tend to steer away from romance novels where kids are involved (out of habit at this point rather than a preference), but I'm so glad I picked this one up. This relationship was as rewarding as the one between Dominic and Lesley.

Bottom line:

I recommend this one, definitely. There's some heartbreak in it, there's lots of humour as things go from bad to worse in spectacular fashion, there's love at all ages!

5 stars
For fans of contemporary romance, love-hate relationships, renovations, the Stephanie Plum series

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Awakening the Warriors by S. E. Gilchrist

The Basics:
Awakening the Warriors by S. E. Gilchrist
Escape Publishing (Harlequin Enterprises Australia)
Erotica, Science Fiction
Published May 1, 2013

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:
Fran must have been crazy to leave her ordinary (and safe) life and volunteer as a colonist to terra‐form a new earth. Now she is trapped in a prison cell on an alien planet a zillion miles from home and bound for a hideous death in notorious research chambers.
She has one chance of escape. Awaken the long dormant sexual urges of the Darkon Warriors shackled in the next cell.
A desperate job, but someone has to do it.

Why I picked it up:

I picked this up on the strength of the blurb alone. I liked the idea of this prisoner needing to awaken the desires of multiple men also held as prisoners.





What worked for me:

Awakening the Warriors has a lot of potential.

There's a rich universe to learn about - Gilchrist has published previous works set in it, and it looks like she has another coming out in February 2014. There's enough detail about it in this novella to make me curious, but not so much that I feel like I could really strongly describe what makes it tick.

I liked Fran, and I liked that she knew that a fair amount of the pull she felt for the two warriors was related to biology rather than simple lust or some sudden onset of love. I wanted to know more about her, and how she and the Darkon warriors related to each other. The warriors themselves felt less detailed but were still intriguing enough that I want more of them.

The escape was well-written - Gilchrist is clearly comfortable writing action scenes. I could easily picture what was happening and was rooting for *everyone* to make it out alive.

What didn't work for me:

There's too much happening in this novella for me to really sink my teeth into anything - and boy did I want to do that to those Darkon guys. They sound quite lovely, but I didn't feel like the erotica got enough screen time. For one, it takes no effort on Fran's part to awaken the Warriors: being present is apparently enough to turn the guys on, despite their wounds. Then there's a whole escape and travel time afterwards that's virtually void of anything steamy. Which on the one hand is fair enough - these characters have other things on their mind. But on the other hand, when they do come back together, it's pretty jarring.

I think I would have been happier if the erotica had been a little dirtier, grimier to fit the setting, and if there was only the barest implication of an emotional bond - perhaps one entirely based on having saved each other's skins, or one set off by the aforementioned biology. This easily could have been/could be the novella prologue to a more science fiction-based story featuring the same three characters with a menage flair.

Bottom line:
This erotic novella is muddled by having to do too much with too few words. There's a lot of universe lore to fit in so that we have a frame of reference, there's an escape plot, there's what seems like set-up for another novella or novel in this universe, and there's the erotica itself.

I think it would have benefited from another 25 pages or dropping one of those elements. Didn't love it, but there's so much here that I *want* to love, I'll look for Gilchrist's other work.

3 stars
For fans of science fiction erotica, S.E. Gilchrist

Monday, November 25, 2013

Menage on 34th Street by Elise Logan and Emily Ryan-Davis

The Basics:

Menage on 34th Street by Elise Logan and Emily Ryan-Davis
Carina Press
Erotica, Romance
Published November 21, 2013
Purchase from Carina Press

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:


Katrina and Liam Holland have the perfect marriage, a home in the trendiest part of Baltimore, and a scorching sex life. As another Christmas approaches, there's only one thing still on Kat's wish list: Hunter Croft. But she made peace long ago with his decision to choose the marines over their relationship. Until seeing him again arouses feelings she thought were in the past…

Hunter has spent a decade outrunning his attraction to both Kat and Liam. But now that he's stateside, his self-control crumbles when he comes face-to-face with the two people who star in all his favorite fantasies. Their reunion is both erotic and emotional—and has Hunter wondering if three's really a crowd, after all.

Liam can't imagine his life without Kat. But he can imagine a future where the three of them live and love under one roof. Liam and Kat have shared their bed with other men, but Hunter is the only one who could ever have a place in their hearts. And this holiday season, Liam intends to make their dream a reality.

Why I picked the book up:

This time the blurb got me. I like a good menage story and I liked that this one emphasized the attraction between all partners. I was also curious about Hunter choosing the marines instead of the couple, and wanted to see how that played out in the story.

What worked for me:

You'd think this novella hinges on the menage component, with lots of sexy times featuring three people between the sheets, but no, you'd be wrong.  Instead, we've got three people who are each involved with each other individually and as a whole, and we get that throughout the novella in both sexy times and serious times. That is the part that really works for me. There's a sense that everyone's interconnected in a way that sometimes doesn't happen in such a complete way in menage erotica.

I liked that everyone was fully in command of their own sexuality. Yes, there was some trying of new things, but no one was being cajoled or seduced into anything they really weren't sure about - there was real and expressed desire to participate in everything.

There's an intricacy in terms of the emotional baggage and the difficulties of making a menage relationship work that was also appealing, and helped bridge the gap between erotica and romance.

What didn't work for me:

This novella is part of a holiday anthology, but it definitely didn't have a heavy Christmas theme for me. There's references to it, but the overall tone was more about coming home/finding each other after years apart. This isn't really a problem when you read the novella on its own - and I'd like to read the rest of the collection to see how it fits within that grouping rather than just abstractly as part of a holiday anthology.

The other thing that irked me was that nothing seems resolved at the end of this story. Yes, there's a tentative plan in place for the three to share a life together, but it's so tentative, and I felt like the groundwork was laid for so much to go horribly wrong with Hunter's job and for Kat who seemed to be settling for a lot less than she really wanted. This was a real problem for me - I wanted things tied up more neatly because as it was, there were enough painful edges that I was left unsatisfied (despite some really satisfying sex scenes!)

Now the positive is that there's supposed to be a novel follow-up that will address, I imagine, those very issues. So this is good!   

Bottom Line:

The sex was well-written - the encounters were varied, creative and hot. The relationships and the concerns everyone had about them felt real and honest. There was an acknowledgement that a menage lifestyle would be made particularly difficult because of Hunter's military connections. 

That said, this is the first book in a while that I ended up sneaking a peek at the end of the story before I'd gotten very far into the book. I read a fair amount non-linearly before I went back to the beginning to read from the start through to the end in one shot. There's something missing, and I think it's that sense of resolution, that it's possible for everything to be okay.

Pick this novella up for the steamy menage, get hooked by the complex relationships, and wait, I guess, for the follow-up novel to see how it'll all come together!

3.5 stars
For fans of menage erotica, military heroes and recovering lost love

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Stacking the Shelves





Stacking the Shelves is an awesome meme hosted by Tynga's Review.

Basically, it's a way to share what books you've picked up in the last week or so, to let people see what treasures you've hoarded. 

(Okay, treasures might be *my wording*)

Anyways, on to the books!  I'm only going to reference the ones I purchased this week, though I did get a dozen ebooks for review this week. On that note... there should be reviews every week day for the next several weeks.


I'm not supposed to be gathering more books these days - I'm supposed to be on a book buying diet, but I did pick up a selection of books on sale this week. Kobo's 99 cent sale reeled me in for:



 


















Earlier in the week, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books ran a Books on Sale post that caused me to snag these two Courtney Milan titles:



And then I picked this up... I can't even remember where I saw information about it, but I was looking for some inexpensive but promising erotica and this is what I ended up with:




Friday, November 22, 2013

Twice the Temptation by Beverley Kendall

The Basics:
Twice the Temptation by Beverley Kendall
Season Publishing LLC
Book One of The Temptresses
Romance
Published November 18, 2013

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.



Blurb:

Gentleman of the ton...prepare to be tempted

Temptation is as old as Adam and Eve. Unfortunately, succumbing to it is as natural as breathing to the gentlemen in the haut ton. For prospective brides bent on fidelity, three of the ton's most ravishing beauties will help determine the faithful from the philanderers. What they hadn’t counted on was emotional entanglements…

A Temptress in Love

Catherine Rutherford has been smitten with the sinfully handsome American, Lucas Beaumont, since their introduction the year before. And he appears just as enamored of her, for following his return to London he launches a seductive campaign to ensnare her heart and capture her hand in marriage. Never has Catherine been so confident in the outcome of a courtship…that is until she discovers her would-be groom proposed marriage to her sister first.

Although she and her twin share the same face, Catherine refuses to share a man’s affections much less be any woman’s substitute. With the aid of her twin and two friends, she challenges the man she loves to the ultimate test of fidelity. Posing as her heartbroken sister—who is really anything but—Catherine seeks his solace from an “unhappy marriage” and begins a tempestuous game of seduction where the true proof of his love lies in his ability to resist her charms

***

I wanted to read this book because I liked the cover, I liked the suggestion that Catherine is pretty forward and aggressive in the description above. I also wanted to read a historical romance as a shift
from all the contemporary books I've been reading of late.

What worked for me:

So, I don't think I really read the description that carefully before I picked up this book. And I'm kind of glad that I didn't because it gives away a fair amount of the plot. That said, I found a lot in this book to enjoy whether you know it's coming or not.

I loved that the characters had already been physical with each other before the book started. I liked that they knew each other, and that their chemistry had already been established.

I have to imagine that the way this book addresses sex is probably more true to life than the average historical romance. I liked the treatment of it, and there are definitely sexy times, which is always a bonus, I think.

Lucas putting it all on the line for Catherine was really the best part of the novel. That they're so drawn to each other right off the bat makes this book really feel good, even when it isn't. And I mean, we all know that a romance novel is going to end happily, but I find that when I'm absorbed in reading, I often forget that or it isn't really present as I'm experiencing the story. For this book, that connection that Catherine and Lucas have from before the book starts through to their reunion in the early chapters, it really made me feel extra positive and good about this couple.

Also, Olivia and Meghan, Catherine's best friends - and even Charlotte, her twin - were all really pushy. It kind of bugged me while I was reading that they pushed Catherine into things so much, but then I realized that I liked that she was able to persevere despite their intereferences.

What didn't work for me:

The only thing keeping Lucas and Catherine apart are Lucas and Catherine. And while normally I would be delighted by this because it actually felt a lot more honest than some melodramatic criminal subplot might have (for example), I couldn't help but think about how the book would be different if they *could* actually get their signals straight and put all the cards on the table and *still* have something legitimate standing in their way. I don't know what that book would have looked like - it probably wouldn't have been any better than this one. I still kept thinking about it though.

There was one detail about Catherine's past that she thought might stand in the way of marriage to Lucas that I felt was sort of tossed in as a leftover detail from a previous story (specifically her sister's). It was such an after thought for her to share it with Lucas that I really felt like the author knew she should include it for people who were familiar with the twins' story but who had already seen it played out in a previous novel. It probably should have been in Catherine's mind earlier in the novel as a potential hitch - particularly since she really had a laundry list of issues and it didn't make it on to that list until the end.

I also felt like there needed to be a moment wherein Catherine fully articulated her self-doubts about being a lesser version of her twin, and Lucas addressed them directly. This did come up in various moments over the book, but I didn't feel like it was wholly resolved to my satisfaction. Still, Lucas did a lot to put Catherine's mind at ease on this front, so it certainly wasn't a detail overlooked by the author.

Bottom Line:

There wasn't anything in Twice the Temptation that will really stick with me beyond the memory of an enjoyable and honest read. But, I definitely would put this one on my re-read shelf alongside Amanda Quick and Julia Quinn. It was a happy read, and a comfortable one, and I think I'll look for the next books in the Temptresses series.

4 stars
For fans of historical romance, of 'communication gone wrong' plots.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Her Sexiest Mistake by Jill Shalvis

The Basics:
Her Sexiest Mistake by Jill Shalvis
Forever Yours
Romance
Published November 5, 2013
** Note that this is the ebook version.


I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:
Mia Appleby finally has the life she always wanted. She's escaped her trailer trash childhood and built a nice life for herself with a marketing job and a cute, little condo. But no matter how much baggage she's ditched from her past, she still hasn't managed to shake her greatest weakness-men. So when her new neighbor turns out to be single and oh-so-sexy, Mia's worried she's playing with fire . . .

Kevin McKnight can't get enough of his gorgeous neighbor, but after one amazing night, she's already showing him the door. Something tells him this is the way she handles most men. But Kevin is far from your average guy-and he's ready to prove it to Mia. When a blast from her past shakes up Mia's life in a major way, will she stick with her self-sufficient solo act . . . or take a chance leaning on Kevin's strong shoulders?

What worked for me:

I have a weak spot for 'hot for the neighbour' romances. Usually these start where the attraction has simmered to a boiling point - well, in this book, that boiling point is pretty much the minute they meet!  There's some sizzling chemistry in this book, and Shalvis doesn't skimp on the sex.

There's a ton of character growth in this novel, and that's surely a good thing. I can appreciate that there were different motivations and directions for people to grow in - whether it was their professional life, and maturing into adult responsibilities, or their personal life, learning to open up emotionally or to relax attempts to control everything. There's some really strong subplots apart from the central romance - particularly the development of a relationship between Mia and her niece, Hope.

What didn't work for me:

I thought this was a really uncomfortable read. Mia was put under an incredible amount of stress - her emotional limits tested by the unexpected bond with Kevin, the arrival of a niece she had never met before who proceeded to act out in a way that put more tension on already tense workplace situation....  There was so much on her plate, and everyone seemed to expect so much from her, I felt really bad for her.

I also didn't like that Kevin was set up as the guy who knew it all. It seemed to be that he was always in the right, where Mia never was. This created a really unequal relationship, one that made me very uncomfortable. Yes, it was good for Mia to break out of her emotional shell and learn to connect to people again, I simply didn't thrill to the way in which it was done.

It also felt a lot like Mia was Kevin's fixer-upper. That he really *didn't* love her the way she was, but instead had to improve her. My heart broke every time she wanted to be enough for him, and wasn't.

Bottom line:

I've read Shalvis before and really enjoyed her work - this definitely didn't live up to my expectations. The discomfort caused by the inequality in the relationship between Kevin and Mia, and the position that Mia was put in really made it difficult for me to connect with this novel.

3.5 stars
For fans of contemporary romance, of fix 'em up plots.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Darkness Watching by Emma Adams

The Basics:

Darkness Watching by Emma Adams
Curiosity Quills Press
Book One of the Darkworld Trilogy
New Adult, Young Adult
Published October 10, 2013

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:
Eighteen-year-old Ashlyn is one interview away from her future when she first sees the demons. She thinks she's losing her mind, but the truth is far more frightening: she can see into the Darkworld, the home of spirits- and the darkness is staring back. 

Desperate to escape the demons, Ash accepts a place at a university in the small town of Blackstone, in the middle of nowhere - little knowing that it isn't coincidence that led her there but the pull of the Venantium, the sorcerers who maintain the barrier keeping demons from crossing from the Darkworld into our own world. 

All-night parties, new friendships and a life without rules or limits are all part of the package of student life - but demons still stalk Ash, and their interest in her has attracted the attention of every sorcerer in the area. Ash is soon caught between her new life and a group of other students with a connection to the Darkworld, who could offer the answers she's looking for. The demons want something from her, and someone is determined to kill her before she can find out what it is. In a world where darkness lurks beneath the surface, not everyone is what they appear to be...

What worked for me:

This book has a lot of great, big ideas: Demons. The people who can see them. A self-appointed secret organization to police said people. Using college to re-define oneself/start over without the weight of high school impressions. The heroine being targeted by a murderer. There's a lot going on here, and it all comes together in a relatively interesting package - which is lukewarm praise, I know. 

Ashlyn has an interesting emotional journey both within this book and as implied by the aftermath of this book's events. Armed with more information about herself, I'm curious to see how Ashlyn gets on from the point where things end in this book.

What didn't work for me:

I didn't feel any urgency in this book. Now, I had to read it in a bit here and a bit there - but if I'd been really interested, I could have stolen time in longer increments to finish it. still, I didn't necessarily get the real rhythm of the book because I couldn't read it in big batches. But never did I really feel like there were dire consequences on the horizon. 

Somewhere in the middle:

The cast of characters varied from mildly interesting to expected YA-type tropes. There's a hazy love triangle set-up, there's an anti-heroine female character, a pair of adequate potential new best friends in the form of flatmates. Surprisingly, Ashlyn retains her best friend from high school (despite, by her own admission, having withdrawn emotionally of late), which is a nice change over either being surrounded by high school friends or completely dropping everyone upon entering the hallowed halls of post-secondary education. It's also a far more realistic portrayal of that transition than either of those two usual depictions.

There wasn't *enough* of anyone for me to really connect - or not - with them. And that was the rough impression I had of the whole book. Lots of material sketched out, but I never felt like I was sinking into it all. 

Bottom line:

Lots of good ideas, but Darkness Watching only scratches the surface. I'll definitely try the second book in the series, but I'm going to need more oomph to push through to the third. Overall, not a bad read, so check it out with moderate expectations.

3.5 stars
For fans of urban fantasy, of demons in their fantasy, of college-age adventures

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Syria's Seduction: Complete Boxed Set by Starla Cole

The Basics:
Syria's Seduction: The Complete Boxed Set by Starla Cole
Rev It Up Press
Erotica
Published October 14, 2013

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:

Syria is a shy Oklahoma girl whose explosive meeting with a boudoir photographer becomes a seduction that will open her eyes to both the beauty within her and an art form that will become her new passion. 

In this series, her work in her boudoir studio brings a host of fun and intriguing clients: 

--A sexy Santa Claus who turns out to be a stripper 
--A contortionist who performs in pirate-themed sex shows 
--A Japanese Bondage expert who invites Syria to participate in a demonstration 
--A billionaire who offers Syria a position as his personal escort and exhibitionist for half a million dollars 

Even as Syria experiences new lifestyles and partners, she works to maintain her on again, off again relationship with her Santa stripper, who despite his distance and his occupation, has begun to steal her heart.


What worked for me:

This set of five novellas works better together as a package than I suspect they did on their own. Syria's story really needs to be told as a whole to be satisfying, I think.

Fortunately, there's a lot here that is satisfying. There is no mistaking this set as anything other than erotica. There's not enough meat for it to be anything else - one titillating encounter after another. Yes, there's a bit of a love story running through each novella but it's so based on sex that I wouldn't call it romance at all. Not that this is a bad thing - just something to be aware of!

My favourite element is definitely the photography. It's extremely sensual throughout and used to decent effect as reminders of Syria's past encounters. The lighting detail is particularly exquisite, and the contrast between the almost loving boudoir shots and the images of sexual excess is quite erotic in and of itself.

What didn't work for me:

The first novella describes Syria's launch into her photography career and there's *such* a huge leap between this prologue-type tale and the four following episodes that I found it quite disjointed. There's also a strong attraction between Syria and Anthony that I expected his return later on - something that never happens.

Also, the final scene with Erik in the last novella, with an artificial lowering of Syria's inhibitions was rather off-putting for me. She's come so far in terms of sexual experience and remains so conscious of her limits in a way that I really respected up until that point. It was an unfortunate near-end to the story, I thought.

Bottom line:

A solid collection of erotic tales. Fluff, but fun fluff. Get the whole set to avoid disappointment.

3.5 stars
For fans of pure erotica, exhibitionism, bondage

Monday, November 18, 2013

Beg by CD Reiss

Beg by CD Reiss
eXcessica Publishing
Book One in the Songs of Submission
Erotica, Romance
Published April 13, 2013

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Blurb:

My name is Monica. I'm a singer born and raised in Los Angeles. 
I've stopped dating. When I cut a record, or win a Grammy, maybe then I'll be with someone, but every man in my past has done everything he could to make me submit myself to him, and it's gotten in the way of my career. I won't do it again.

But there's Jonathan. He owns the high-rise hotel where I work, and he is gorgeous and charming. I refuse to fall in love with him, even though when he asks me to submit to him, I want nothing more.


My thoughts:

My feelings about this episode of the longer e-serial Songs of Submission are so mixed I can't separate pros from cons without discussing them back and forth.

So, Beg introduces a struggling musician - Monica - working as a waitress to make ends meet. She and her friend (also her ex) are shuffling his sister back and forth between them to protect her from herself and the crippling depression she falls into when her meds aren't working. We also meet Jonathan, a wealthy fella who takes a liking to our heroine, and winds up having her under his control for a night of sexy games. 

Problem? He's still hung up on his ex-wife, who broke his heart. So no commitment for Monica. And she's got some relationship issues too. Plenty of tension to go around.

Now, I'm reaching my limit for these hyper-controlling alpha men. Jonathan walks the line for me, and I think if I read more in the series, he'd probably drive me nuts. But this isn't a failing of the book, necessarily. He's got issues, he's sexy, and he's entirely appropriate for the sub-genre, so I can't *really* complain here. 

Monica is a sassy heroine, easy to root for, except for the part where she plays a little loose with her responsibilities to hook up with Jonathan. Still, I liked her, and I'm interested in *her* story.

The whole piece has a certain rawness in tone - everyone's wounds still feel fresh and open despite how long they've been carrying them, there's angry words, jealous words, and plenty of attitude to try to mask how close to the surface a lot of the emotion and baggage everyone's carrying around is. Reiss' ability to manage that rawness alongside a slowly rising sensuality is a real credit. This entry into the series is pretty striking.

The thing that  doesn't work for me is the format for publication. This portion is only about fifty pages long in the e-format I read, and while it works as a short story with many loose ends, knowing that there's at seven more parts to Monica and Jonathan's story is frustrating. I guess because I like my erotica with a side of happy for now or happily ever after, I'd rather read the entire story in one go (with crossed fingers because neither HFN or HEA is requirement for erotica!).

Fortunately, Beg was originally published in April of this year, and it is now available with the two other "Songs of Submission" stories in a three-pack on Amazon and from other retailers. The other parts are also available now, so you can purchase the entire story.

Bottom Line:

Beg was intriguing with lots of different elements to latch onto - I just don't know if I'm in for the rest of the story. It feels like a commitment to follow them to the end and I've been burned on these multi-book erotica stories before - I need the series to end in a happy place!

Still, if you like your erotica with BDSM and alpha males and the like, then this looks like a solid bet, and certainly Beg is a well-rounded start!

The best part? If you don't want to commit to picking up the trilogy - Beg is available right now for *free* in the Kindle format from amazon.com . Check it out and then come back and tell me what *you* thought about it!

4 stars
For fans of BDSM erotica, the e-serial format, erotica with plot

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Scandal Before Christmas by Elizabeth Essex

The Basics:
The Scandal Before Christmas by Elizabeth Essex
St. Martin's Press
Romance
Book One of the Reckless Brides
Published October 8, 2013

Blurb:

’Tis the season for a new holiday novella from acclaimed author Elizabeth Essex! The Scandal Before Christmas is romance so good it’s scandalous…

Lieutenant Ian Worth needs a wife by Christmas, and he can’t afford to be choosy. He has to find her, woo her, and wed her before he goes back to sea—all within a matter of days.  

Anne Lesley is a shy spinster with no prospects, and nothing and no one to recommend her but her own self. She accepts the lieutenant’s hasty offer only for the comfort and security it will bring. But when a midwinter storm snows her and Ian in, they both find they got much more than they bargained for—laughter, light, and a Christmas filled with honest to goodness true love…

There's supposed to be four books in this series, the next one coming in April 2014 - After the Scandal.

What worked for me:

The standout character in this work was the heroine - Anne. She was quiet to avoid both disappointing people and to maintain the peace. Her self-doubt was raised in really logical ways, and more intriguingly, all that suppressed passion, curiosity and lust for *life* (let alone Ian). 

There's a really sweet love story here - I like that both Ian and Anne have really good personal reasons motivating a quick marriage. I liked that it wasn't love at first sight, and that they both had to work at it a bit. 

What didn't work for me:

The most irritating thing in this book was the repetition of Ian as being shallow and ramshackle. He thinks of himself, or explains himself to Anne in these terms several times and it was very unnecessary. His behaviour in the book shifted from this to something much more palatable, and we didn't need him to constantly remind us that he didn't think he was worthy of Anne. 

There also seemed to be a convenient lack of servants. For a cottage with six bedrooms and a greenhouse, it seemed strange for there to be just Ian and Pinky living there. It seemed contrived to allow for more concerns about alone time between various combinations of the characters present.

I also wondered at the sudden disappearance of Anne's mother within the novella. One moment, everyone's concerned she's going to say something wrong to Ian's father. Anne stands up to her for the first time, and then blam, dear mom disappears. I'd have liked to have her continue to natter away in the background of the story.

Bottom Line:

This is a quick, sweet tale of love at Christmastime. There's a young woman coming out of her self-imposed shell, there's a young man finally growing up and standing up to his father. 

Definitely worth a read, and I'll likely keep an eye out in April for the next one.

4 stars
For anyone who loves romance, HEAs, well-defined characters, light and sweet stories

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire by Cora Seton

The Basics:

The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire by Cora Seton
One Acre Press
A Cowboys of Chance Creek Book
Romance
Published November 3, 2013

I received this book via LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:
Bella Chatham will lose everything – her veterinary practice, her animal shelter, and even her home – if she can’t find another source of income, fast. So when her best friend signs her up for the hot new reality television show, Can You Beat a Billionaire, Bella accepts the challenge and hopes against hope she can win the ten million dollar prize. If she doesn’t, it’s bye-bye pet clinic and shelter, bye-bye Chance Creek, Montana, and hello to marriage to the billionaire for a year! 

Evan Mortimer, billionaire, can’t believe he’s reduced to competing in a television contest to win a wife. Unfortunately, it’s the only foolproof way to secure his position as head of Mortimer Innovations. At least he’ll be able to dump his “spouse” at the end of the year; he’s much too busy to be tied down to a country bumpkin cowgirl. 

Bella doesn’t expect her adversary to be handsome – or funny, or compassionate – but Evan’s all three, and he’s proving a tough competitor, too. When they end up sharing a tent – and a sleeping-bag – her body betrays her with a longing so deep it cuts her to the core. Still, this cowgirl must stay strong. If Evan uncovers her secret fears, he’ll use them to win the contest – and then he’ll own her for a year. She’ll be out of luck, out of cash, and stuck being Mrs. Mortimer until he kicks her to the curb. Too bad she can’t decide which is worse – winning the show and losing Evan forever, or losing the show and only being his temporary wife. 

Evan can’t believe he’s falling for the one woman who doesn’t want him. This cowgirl’s not impressed by his money, his name, or his inability to sleep in a tent with her for an entire night, but every look and touch she gives him sends his desire through the roof. With a director determined to use his claustrophobia to make him look like a fool, and an adversary so sexy he can hardly see straight, he’ll need all his savvy to come out on top. Too bad he’s going to lose no matter how this show turns out. If he beats Bella, he’ll destroy the first woman he’s ever loved. If he doesn’t beat her, it’s bye-bye Mortimer Innovations. 

Will either of them remember in time that it’s not who wins or who loses – it’s how they play the game that really counts?

My Impressions:

This book started off on the wrong foot for me. Bella's best friend has entered her in this reality program without consulting with Bella in advance. Yes, the benefits are clear if she wins, but - hello? Agreeing to the 'married for a year' clause on Bella's behalf without any consultation?  I felt so betrayed by this, for Bella, that I had a hard time enjoying the rest of the novel. It was an unfortunate starting point.

I did, however, like the way in which the reality show was written - there was enough interference from the show runners, plus acknowledgement of the cameras and so on that it felt reasonably authentic, though the ways in which the show was rigged were hard to swallow. There was a certain slipshod feeling to the show's antics.

It was harder to accept how quickly Bella and Evan bonded, but I definitely enjoyed their interplay and the struggles that they faced together. Evan's waffling about how to handle his unexpected reaction to Bella was particularly amusing to me as I could imagine how much fun the show editors had trying to piece together a consistent narrative for the show. 

Bottom Line:

Overall, I enjoyed the journey and was rooting for Evan and Bella to pull through. At the end of a book, if I was at least that much invested in the characters, I can call it a success. Not a *great* romance, but a pretty good one!

3.5 stars
For fans of contemporary romance, reality shows

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

She Walks in Darkness by Evangeline Walton

The Basics:

She Walks in Darkness by Evangeline Walton
Tachyon Publications
Mystery/Thriller, Romance
Published September 30, 2013

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:

Beneath the beautiful estates of Tuscany lies another world, twisting labyrinths of catacombs, temples, and tombs filled with lost wonders of the ancient world. Treasures of ancient royal lines lie untouched, watched over by the unblinking eyes of pitiless Etruscan deities. Caught up in a gothic saga of passion, madness, honor, and revenge, a resourceful young woman must rely on her wits, or be lost to the tender mercies of a brutal goddess. This first publication of a newly discovered jewel of a period thriller is sure to please fans of all genres.

Note that I think this book should be labeled gothic and be done with it. There's no real romance component and the book is so steeped in the gothic style that there's really no other appropriate genre. That said, NetGalley doesn't have a 'gothic' option, so I understand the categorization as it was given to me.

What worked for me:

This is a skillfully written gothic novel. It calls to mind the work of Lovecraft in style if not content. The setting and atmosphere are pitch perfect, conveying the panic and terror of our narrator even as she explicitly describes her fear. The overall reading experience is sublime. 

This book is heavy on style, on the slow turns of the screw. It was so different from my usual reads - either breezy and light like so much contemporary romance or New Adult or that dark sensuality that tends to be so popular in erotica right now. I really enjoyed the slow, creeping realization that everything was not as it seemed. It was delicious!

What didn't work for me:

This is an old-school, slowly paced story. I had to read it over multiple sittings due to other obligations and that meant I didn't get the full impact of all the atmosphere and tension. 

The only thing that really bugged me about the writing was the attraction between our heroine and Floriano. That he was a beautiful male specimen is fair, and her attraction to him at that superficial level was fine, but that her *new* husband could be laying unconscious from an injury, while a murderer was on the loose, and she could be tempted at all... that really irked me. 

Bottom line:

If you have the time to read through this in one sitting, perhaps late one evening, curled up fireside with a cup of tea and a blanket, then this could be quite a good read. It's certainly not for everyone, written in a style that recalls those gothic stories of the late nineteenth century. If you want a breezy read, then bypass this one. But if you like to enjoy the journey of the book as much as the destination, this book is for you.

It's written beautifully, with rich, atmospheric detail that's so often missing in contemporary stories. 

4 stars
For fans of the gothic novel, of elegant writing, of that skin-crawling feeling you get as the terror slowly builds....

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Pleasure Dial by Jeremy Edwards

The Basics:

The Pleasure Dial by Jeremy Edwards
1001 Nights Press
Erotica, Romance
Published Oct 21, 2013

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:
The year is 1934, and amiable New York gag writer Artie Plask has taken the West Coast plunge. His first day on staff with a top radio show introduces him to the irresistible Mariel Fenton, a wit among wits who immediately takes an interest in all aspects of Artie's life--especially his private life.

As Artie finds his feet in a world of blustering comedians, pansexual sex goddesses, timid screen legends, exhibitionistic scriptwriters, and self-infatuated geniuses, Mariel leads him on a zany journey up and down the pleasure dial--a giddy romp through Hollywood that's chock-full of airwaves showdowns, writing-room counterplots, devious impersonations, naked meetings, and a sensuality-drenched assortment of erotic escapades. 

What worked for me:

When I picked this book up, I was intrigued by the combination of humor and eroticism that the blurb suggested. I also like to pick up romance and erotica by male authors because these tend to be female dominated genres. I appreciate different perspectives, and I was *not* disappointed by this read.

Zany is definitely the word for The Pleasure Dial. From Artie Plask's first up-skirt conversation with Trixie - a mannequin - to the final climax of the story, I thought it was so cleverly written. I was worried when I started the book that it would be silly and low brow, but it was never that, and the comedy never turned demeaning either, which was important for my enjoyment.

Edwards maintains quick paced, intelligent dialogue that often turns to innuendo and word play. Having radio play writers as main characters might have been a challenge for a lesser author, but Edwards pulls off believable conversations that emphasize the characters' love of words. 

Nearly all the characters in this book are sexual, active and pretty free-spirited. The sex is not without kinks - shockingly (and refreshingly) the BDSM and bondage themes so popular in erotica are not well represented here. Edwards manages to write sex that is funny and titillating and intriguing. His women know what they want and go for it and his men are happy to oblige. This is a world that I want to spend more time in!

Beyond this, the plot moves so quickly - there's crosses and double-crosses, characters in disguise, plans that seem completely out of left field and yet also oddly perfect for the problems they're intended to resolve. It's so well packaged and put together, all I could do was hang on for the wild ride.

What didn't work for me:

There's nothing overtly 'con' about this book. I guess if you're looking for something really sexy and serious, then this is a poor choice? All I know is that I really enjoyed it, far more than I expected!

Bottom Line:

If you've got a sense of humour about sex, and a love of words, then you've got to check this book out. It's entertaining, well-written and within my experience, entirely refreshing.

5 stars
For fans of comedy & erotica, people with a sense of humour, lovers of words and irreverent humour.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Definitely, Maybe in Love by Ophelia London

The Basics:

Definitely, Maybe in Love by Ophelia London
Entangled Publishing LLC
New Adult, Romance
Published October 28th, 2013

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blurb:

Her theory of attraction is about to get a new angle

Spring Honeycutt wants two things: to ace her sustainable living thesis and to save the environment. Both seem hopelessly unobtainable until her college professor suggests that with a new angle, her paper could be published. Spring swears she’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that happens.

"Whatever it takes," however, means forming a partnership with the very hot, very privileged, very conceited Henry Knightly.

Henry is Spring's only hope at publication, but he's also the ├╝ber-rich son of a land developer and cash-strapped Spring’s polar opposite—though she can't help being attracted to the way he pushes her buttons, both politically and physically. Spring finds there's more to Henry than his old money and argyle sweaters…but can she drop the loud-and-proud act long enough to let him in? Suddenly, choosing between what she wants and what she needs puts Spring at odds with everything she believes in.

Definitely, Maybe in Love is a modern take on Pride and Prejudice that proves true love is worth risking a little pride.

What worked for me:

As previously established, I'm a sucker for a good Pride and Prejudice update. Maybe it's that the Darcy character has to swallow all that formidable pride to apologize and make good with the Lizzie character. Yes, Lizzie has her own pride and prejudices to overcome, but there's something about a sexy, arrogant man humbling himself for love that gets me. Every. Single. Time.

So, how does London handle Austen's tale?  Really well. This version is reasonably faithful to the original text. We've got stand-ins for most of the main characters, with some doing double duty (as in the case of Julia acting as both Jane and Lydia). There's lots of updates for the original plot - I wasn't feeling the lack of anything (though there are elements that have been dropped entirely).

Perhaps most importantly, Henry makes an excellent Darcy. Henry's got the upper-class thing going for him in terms of a wealthy family and loads of opportunities that are foreign to us normal people. He's hot, he's initially really stand-offish and he's gradually revealed as both an all-around nice guy AND a sucker for our heroine, Spring.

Spring's a bit more complicated. She's big on her issues revolving around the environment. It's hard to see past her complete commitment to her cause, which has involved making herself over in the image of what she thinks the ideal environmental warrior should be. Even her two best friends comment on how aggressive she's become on this front, and how off-putting that might be for someone who doesn't know her very well.

Without being too spoilery, I did like the moment when Spring is forced to confront one of her hot button issues face on, and her willingness to acknowledge she may not have had all the facts. I think this is an important step towards softening her stance a little, and making her that much more likeable.

Possibly my favorite part of this book - okay, no, Henry was my favorite part - definitely my *second* favorite part of this book is that Spring struggles with her own identity throughout this novel. She's recently undergone this self-imposed make-over to make herself appear more committed to her causes, but she's still floundering with her thesis, and I think she's struggling to make a bold statement about who she is within the context of a movement that is so characterized by stereotypes. This development of identity/finding oneself is a critical part of the New Adult genre - for me, at least - and I really appreciated the way that London incorporated it.

What didn't work for me:

I think seeing Spring interact with characters who shared her passion for the environment and sustainability might have emphasized her identity issues. I do realize that this would have veered away from the original Pride and Prejudice story but perhaps there might have been a clever way to tease that out a little bit?

For all the intellectual/academic basis for Spring and Henry to come together, I really couldn't believe that he was the *only* student at Stanford who understood Spring's sustainability thesis. It was a bit of unnecessary contrivance to bring together the two characters - the attraction combined with convenience of being neighbours (and willingness to help!) could have been enough to make Henry Spring's best choice instead of only choice?

I also didn't think it was necessary for Spring to be noted as a virgin mid-way through the book. First, it set my expectations regarding how far her relationship with Henry would advance. Second, when there was a later discussion about her using random guys to satisfy her needs, it read a little strange. That said, I felt like her experience or lack thereof was a non-issue for me - it didn't bother me that she *was* a virgin, it just seemed like a strange detail to include at the time it was shared in the book.

Bottom Line:

If you love a good Pride and Prejudice adaptation, you're going to enjoy Definitely, Maybe in Love. London adeptly puts a modern spin on the tale, giving us a sexy hero to root for, a modern heroine trying to find herself and a cast of supporting characters that complicate everything!

I definitely recommend this book.

4.5 stars
For fans of Pride and Prejudice adaptations, of the New Adult genre, of young love and sexy heroes.