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Red Hot Books

My name is Jen. I read too much. I drive my husband crazy. I share books with my friends and we spend too much time talking about them. I enjoy Urban Fantasy & Romance (mostly PR & Historicals.) I’m also a mother of two and work full-time as a tv news Executive Producer.

Review: The Spider

The Spider - Jennifer Estep

I wish I could say that I loved this book. I’m a long time fan of this series, but ever since the destruction of Owen, things just haven’t been the same.  Owen isn’t my problem here, but I did have many issues. Don’t get me wrong, there were things I enjoyed, but I think it’s time for me to accept that this series and I are just drifting apart.

 

This is a flashback book, which was kind of disappointing off the bat.  After all, by its very nature, it could not advance the overall storyline.  What it did, instead, was give us an extended look into Gin’s past.  The blurb describes it as an origin story for how she became the Spider. That’s not exactly what I would call it.  It’s more like a pivotal job that taught her valuable lessons.

 

Gin’s trying to prove herself to Fletcher and make a name for herself.  The details of the hit aren’t that important. Suffice it to say, the job isn’t exactly as it seems. Let me rephrase that. The job isn’t exactly what it seems TO GIN.  To the reader, we are practically hit over the head with the reality.  It was painfully apparent that Gin was making Bad Choices and the villain may as well have had a neon sign blinking above his head.  It was all so obvious, I felt like I could predict the entire plot of the book by the end of chapter 6.

 

My other big issue: every single character in the present day storyline ended up in the flashback.   Including characters that don’t come into play until years later.  One cameo appearance, I could be ok with. But the foreshadowing was so heavy handed, I found myself rolling my eyes. Specifically, this was the case with Owen and Bria.  I don’t know if Jennifer Estep thought all the coincidences would be fun, but I actually found myself rolling my eyes.

 

It pains me to be so negative, because I love Gin.  I still love her here, especially as she shows both her strength and vulnerability.  As always, the character delivers.  Another thing I really loved: Fletcher.  Since he died at the beginning of the series, I feel like we’ve really missed out on the relationship he had with Gin.  After all, he was her mentor and father-figure. We know how much he shaped her, but we’ve never gotten a chance to know him.  I really liked getting that chance here.  It was also kind of cool to see Gin as a younger, weaker version of herself. We can see how much she has grown since then –and in some ways, how she has held on to the same issues and insecurities.

 

Despite the things it had going for it, I really felt like this was my least favorite installment of the series to date.  Will I read Poison Promise? Yeah, but I am really going to need to see something new to keep going beyond that.

 

Rating: C/C-

 

*ARC Provided by Pocket Books

Review: No Good Duke Goes Unpunished

No Good Duke Goes Unpunished - Sarah MacLean

Temple has lived the last 12 years of his life suspected of a murder he didn’t commit.  Not even he is sure of his own innocence.  He only knows that –shortly before his father’s wedding– he woke in a strange bed, covered in blood. The bed belonged to his would-be step-mother, and she was never seen or heard from again.  Since that day, he has lived in disgrace under the moniker “The Killer Duke.” He is part owner of a notorious gaming hell, and he fights night after night in the ring.  The only respect he has, he’s earned with his fists.

 

Mara is the woman he is accused of killing, and she most assuredly is not dead.  She wasn’t even trying to fake her death all those years ago, merely her ruin –so she could escape an arranged marriage to a man old enough to be her father.  She would have never returned, except that her brother Christopher has racked up a significant debt in Temple’s club.  Not only did he gamble away all of his money, but hers as well –money she had set aside to run the orphanage she founded.  She approaches Temple with an offer to clear his name in exchange for the forgiveness of Christopher’s debt.

 

Of course, her proposal enrages Temple.  After all, she is trying to use the situation she created against him.  As readers, we know that she is trying to save her orphans, but to Temple, she is manipulative and cruel.  She demands payment for every increment of her time; each of her services must be bought.  And while this isn’t a sexual transaction, its easy to see how he could liken her to a whore.  There is a sea of animosity between these two.

 

Yet there is also a pull.  The same pull that drew them together all those years ago… back when she chose him to be the means of her ruin.  I can see why she falls for him. Temple is no gentleman, but he has his own code. He is beautiful in his masculinity.

 

He’s hard on the outside, but has vulnerability beneath.  But I am honestly not sure how he manages to fall for her.  The readers know she isn’t a bad person, and she has pure motives in taking care of her boys.  Yet, she never shares the truth with him. It was exasperating! She could have saved them both so much angst by the telling him what was going on.  Moreover, while I didn’t find her to be a bad person, I did think she was a selfish one –and lacked a depth and maturity one would think she would have developed over the years.  How she treated Temple was inexcusable.

 

Still, the sexual tension was outstanding.  And I found myself rooting for these two, if only to give poor Temple what he wanted.   As the book progressed, I felt like the playing field finally started leveling off between these two.  And there was one scene with the two of them in the fighting ring where I actually felt sorry for Mara.

 

I enjoyed the book, though the heroine did frustrate me at times.  No really big surprises, but I Temple made the journey worthwhile. Plus… the Epilogue spill a shocking set-up for Chase’s book.  Wow.

 

Rating: B

*ARC Provided by Avon

Review: Wildfire Gospel

Wildfire Gospel - Kenya Wright

Love triangles make me want to pull my hair out.  From the very beginning of this series, I have been completely and totally Team Zulu. He has always been so compelling. Powerful. Sexy. Enigmatic. And completely amazing with Lenore.   Then there is MeShack, the man-whore who broke her heart; the guy that can't keep it in his pants for five minutes.  Yet, I saw the writing on the wall back in Fire Baptized.  MeShack grew up with Lenore.  They share years of common history and love.  No matter what roundabout fashion we have to get there, that's they guy who always gets the girl.  And he does not deserve the girl.

 

In cases such as these, there are not many ways to level the playing field.  The author can either kill off the great boyfriend (a la Kim Harrison) -or pull some character assassination out of left field (ie. Jess Haines.)  I'm sure there have always been some MeShack fans out there. But with things as they were, there was no viable way to discount Zulu, so we must look to the options above.

 

At the end of The Burning Bush, MeShack died.  I celebrated.  I knew that was likely a fake-out, but I let myself hold out hope that the love triangle was over and Kenya Wright had totally proven me wrong and actually went the way I wanted. Nope.

 

We find out on page one that MeShack is alive. I'm not going to spoil the how's and why's of it, but he is no longer the man he was. Half the book is written in his POV, and follows his journey as he struggles to understand how he has changed and deal with it.  The other half follows Lenore as she seeks vengeance for what happened to him and Cassie -as her relationship with Zulu grows even more intense.

 

I knew at the 21% mark how it was all going to play out.  I hoped I was wrong.  I wasn't.  My worst fears were confirmed 68% in.  I hated that Wright went in this direction, but I am also mad at myself because I should have known better.  I did know better.  But it upset me all the same.  I almost quit reading the book… which says a lot, because this is a really good series. I was that pissed off.

 

I'm glad I didn't stop reading.  Things didn't wrap up quite as tidy as they could have and that lets me (foolishly) hope the end-game isn't really a foregone conclusion.  Aside from that, there is some cool stuff going on.  If you're not all about the relationships, or if you're not in the Zulu camp, the book will likely rock your socks off.  As with the previous installments, the story is layered and smart; the action is intense (though gory at times); and the heat level is molten hot.  Wright knows how to deliver in her love scenes.

 

Did I give it all away?  Did I say anything of value here?  (*sigh*) I don't know.  Wright has obviously done something right, in that I care so much about these characters.  But I don't like being sucker punched either. - I will read the next book, but I don't have the excited joy going on that I had the last two times around.

 

*ARC provided by author for review

Review: Dragos Takes a Holiday

Dragos Takes A Holiday (Elder Races) - Thea Harrison

This novella will be a real treat for Pia and Dragos fans.  It’s a little slice of life, set just after Kinked, that gives us a look at the family dynamic since the birth of the Peanut.

 

Basically, the story follows Pia’s plan to take a family vacation. She entices Dragos with the idea of searching for sunken treasure –and before you know it, they are on holiday in Bermuda.  There’s a little plot about the treasure and some nefarious fortune hunters thrown in there, but at its core, this is a story about the Cuelebre family; about the relationship between Pia and Dragos; and about the emerging personality of their son.

 

It’s sweet to see how the mighty Dragos loves his baby. And despite becoming parents, there is still a notably sexy vibe between him and Pia.  But my favorite parts were probably those told from baby Liam’s POV.  It’s different and fun.

 

This isn’t standard Elder Races, obviously, in the sense that it’s not a story about falling in love (or lust.) And though there is sex, it’s not sexually driven. There are diapers and breast feeding along with the blow jobs and sex on the beach.  It’s a story about contentment, and following this couple into a different phase of life.  A nice follow up to their love story.

 

Rating: B

Review: Long Time Gone

Long Time Gone  - S.E. Jakes

I think if I would have had to wait any length of time between the end of Catch a Ghost and the beginning of this book, I would have been a very frustrated reader.  It was such a gnarly ending, with our heroes deciding to each go their own way. But as this installment begins, Tom is already regretting the decision.  He is desperate to find Prophet… to let him know that he still cares, that he made a mistake. But Prophet is nowhere to be found. What only the reader knows, is that he has thrown himself into his work, taking dangerous missions, and is nearing the point of no return.

 

Until he finally decides to read Tom’s emails.  Dozens and dozens of them, that talk about his life, his regrets, and his concern over his aunt who is refusing to evacuate her New Orleans home during an impending hurricane.  Tom’s boss won’t let him go to her, so Prophet takes it upon himself to do the job and keep her safe.

 

Tom, of course, has no idea. He decides to walk off the job and go to her, himself.  And that’s when the magic happens.

 

Their reunion is like a microcosm of their entire relationship. It’s explosive and sexual; angst ridden and emotional.  Yet, for all that they clearly pine for one another, they still can’t quite put all the pieces in place.  Prophet simply can’t open himself up.  Tom’s kind of hesitant too, but the circumstances force him to do it anyway.  Years of built up animosity in his old hometown are coming to a head.  Some of his old enemies are turning up dead and all of the blame is falling on Tom.  He finally opens up to Prophet, as all of his old hurts come back to bite him.

 

I’ll grant you that just about everything about Tom and Prophet are over the top: their histories riddled with abuse and torture; their extreme reactions to each other and the world around them; even their phenomenal sex.  Everything is big.  You just kind of have to take it all with a grain of salt and let go of the fact that it’s larger than life. Because it’s just so gripping. I was totally invested in their angst and passion, anger and love.  I want these two to make it work. I NEED these two to make it work.

 

I got frustrated a little at times, because they seem to go round and round with each other.  Then, I would try to remind myself that these are two royally screwed up people, and that would help some.  It was often a step forward and then another step back, but in the end, I feel like we made progress.  And in the interim, had a decent mystery and a lot of great sex.

 

Now, I am not only hungry to see how their story plays out, but how Mal and Cillian make a go of it.

 

Rating: B

Review: Catch a Ghost

Catch a Ghost - S.E. Jakes

I am a huge fan of Abi Roux’s Cut & Run series and it’s impossible to read this book and not make a comparison.  It’s not that Tom and Prophet are exactly like Ty and Zane, but they are more similar than you can ignore.  Instead of a pair of unlikely FBI partners, our heroes are unlikely mercenary partners.  Like Ty, Prophet is the younger, sexy, nearly unhinged former soldier who is equal parts charming and infuriating.  Like Zane, Tom is the straight man who seems to have himself together, until we learn there’s disquiet beneath his still waters.

 

The two are forced together by their boss and sent out on a mission.  They fight. They, er, fornicate.  And without ever throwing the l-word around, start to fall for one another.  Like I said, a lot like Cut & Run.  And in some ways, it was a little bothersome, because I love Ty and Zane and I don’t necessarily want to read about some copycats.  Yet, I found myself sinking into the story and the relationship drama for all of the same reasons. And the more I got into it, the more I started seeing this book as something that stands apart from the other series.  It’s similar, but not exactly the same.  It is its own story.

 

I found Tom to be the much more sympathetic character.  I mean, Prophet is soooo screwed up.  His past is revealed layer by layer, and the author doesn’t hold your hand to connect all the dots. You have to pay attention and think about what you’re learning as more is uncovered.  Prophet seems to be holding himself together by a slender thread and getting close to Tom threatens to tilt his world off balance.  Sex is one thing, but anything more could upend his hard-fought equilibrium. His emotional distance makes him harder to relate to.  But poor Tom lays it all out there, at least to the reader.  You can see how hard he is falling for Prophet and every time he got pushed away, I loved his cursed little heart a little bit more.

 

There’s a solid plot with their mission and it all ties in to Prophet’s backstory, which is cool.  The real draw, though, is in the romance (if you can call their emotional tug of war a “romance.”)  I was totally invested and the sex was hot.

 

It wasn’t perfect.  Like I said, sometimes the C&R similarities bugged me.  Beyond that, I didn’t like a pseudo-second love interest for Prophet. I didn’t like that Prophet was giving this guy the side-eye, when he so clearly belongs with Tom.  And the ending is not a HEA. Not even a HFN.  It’s a stinky, stinky ending. And if I did not have book two standing by to read, I would have been seriously pissed off.

 

So be sure to have book two handy.  And get ready for some m/m love-hate-sex. Rrraw.

Rating: B

Review: Dark Wolf

Dark Wolf - Christine Feehan

Fans of Christine Feehan’s Dark series have been waiting a decade or so for this book. For some, there is no way anything she were to write would satisfy after a build like this.  Others will be so glad to get the story, that it will be an automatic 5 star read. I’ll be honest, I went into this one with my expectations at an all-time low. The past few books have been so disappointing that I was ready to quit the series.  Until I found out that Skyler and Dmitiri were finally on the horizon.  I’m pleased to say that I enjoyed this book much more than I thought I would.

As the story begins, Dmitri is in the custody of the Lycans. He is being tortured for being a mixed blood.  None of the Carpathians can find him. In fact, Skyler doesn’t even think they are looking. So she teams us with her friends Josef and Paul for a rescue mission.  Let me stop here and share a few thoughts right off the bat. Skyler is one powerful young woman.  She is also smart, resourceful, and determined to save her man.  I loved that. But what I loved even more is that Dimitri accepted that. Of course, he wanted her to stay safe, but unlike most Carpathian males, he did not forbid her assistance.  He was worried for her, but he listened to her. He respected her need to help him and her ability to be smart about it.

Back to the story. Dimitri is really messed up…. like, almost dead.  Yet he never succumbs. He fights to live for Skyler. And about the first third of the book is tied up in his rescue.  From then on, it’s about healing and dealing with the increasing tensions between the Carpathian and Lycan people. Tension, that could boil over into a war.

The plot was fairly good.  But the best thing this book had going for it was the romance and its key players.  Dimitri is everything you could want in a Carpathian man. He is strong and powerful without ever being an alpha-hole. He is patient and kind to his young lifemate. He loves her unconditionally and --here's something unusual-- he respects her.  He never berates her; never makes her feel foolish or less than him in any way.  His care and generosity don't ever make him look weak, either. He's easily one of the best heroes the series has seen.  Their love story is gentle and sweet. I believed in their feelings for one another. There's no real internal conflict, just the two of them banding together to survive the threats against their lives and their people.

The supporting cast is a who's-who of the series.  From Gabriel and Francesca, to Lucian and Darius, Zacharias, Nicolas, Razavan, Ivory, Byron, Mikhail... almost everyone is here.  I loved catching up with old characters and getting to know more about the "next generation" that includes Josef and Paul.  The whole book felt like a homecoming in a way.

It wasn't perfect, mind you.  The "spells" Skyler cast got on my nerves to no end.  The chanting and rhyming have GOT TO GO.  I also had a gripe about how the story dealt with the sex.  Such a fine point has been placed on Skyler's sexual abuse in the past.  It was the big stumbling block to her accepting Dimitri as a lifemate.  Yet, when it's time for these two to get horizontal, it was way too easy.  It was like she just decided she was over being raped and passed around in the sex trade for years.  She decides she is over it and everything is fine.  True, there is a point later in the book where she has a moment of fear, but it's really small potatoes considering her history --and considering the build-up.

And speaking of the sex, I have two other observations.  One, I stand by the last review where I said I think Feehan has a ghost-writer for her sex scenes. They are unrecognizable from the earlier books.  I mean, I almost fell out of my chair when Dimitri referenced his cock.  And two, that flower ritual is just damn stupid.

Overall, I was satisfied with book, and pleasantly surprised. I think most Carpathian fans will be too.

*ARC Provided by Berkley

Review: Soul Resurrected

Soul Resurrected  - Keri Lake

I’m always a sucker for the tortured brother… and Logan sure fits the bill! He was betrayed and abused by his mother, then spent decades tortured in hell after he finally got free of her.  He doesn’t believe that love exists.  Other than the devotion he has for his brothers, all he feels is a concoction of numbness and anger.  As the book begins, this is even more true than usual. He has just been brought back from death. He can’t even move –and he is seething.  He got into this situation saving the Alexi Calla from a rape.  If it wasn’t for her, he wouldn’t be weakened.  He feels no sympathy for what she’s endured or any gratitude for the blood she gave to save his life.

Calla is a strange blend of innocence and strength. She was an Alexi soldier. She is trained to kill and knows how to fight. But she is emotionally fragile, especially after the death of her brother.  And she is a virgin.  I can’t stress that enough. (Or at least, the book can’t stress that enough.) It’s really important.

Anyway, Calla has been tapped to help Logan through his post-resurrection recovery.  This isn’t an easy task, since he is an asshat of epic proportions and he seems to
dislike her more than most.  But underneath the animosity, there is a deep seated attraction, brought on by her blood coursing through his veins.  Not only does that make Logan lust after Calla, it also makes him protective of her.  And the longer they are under the same roof, the more those feelings come to the surface.

Poor Logan is such a hot mess.  Yes, he is a jerk, but he has been through so much. Some of the flashbacks made me cringe. And Calla is such a balm for his soul. 
The thing is, she has her own demons lurking. Despite her technical virginity, she has been abused as well, so when she and Logan finally come together, they both have mountains to climb.  It’s sad and sweet and sexy all at the same time.

I find that I really like this series.  It’s got that familiar Black Dagger Brotherhood vibe, with its group of screwed up, pumped up, sexy brothers fighting the things that go bump in the night.  It’s PNR, but right there on the cusp of UF, with its great world building,  a wide range of characters, and a continuing story arc that follows from book to book.  I am already so invested in Gavin, Calix and Zeke, and intrigued by the other brothers, as well.

This installment did a good job expanding the scope of the enemy.  And it opened up even more of the world, by taking us into the demon realm and introducing us to the leadership there.  But the big draw was the romance.  I liked Calla ok, but Logan… (*swoon*)…  I hurt for him and wanted so much to see him find his happiness.  It’s not an easy road, but I was very satisfied with the journey.

Rating: B

*ARC Provided by author for review

Soul Avenged  - Keri Lake

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover and that is true, but I’ll be honest and tell you that the cover drew me to this book when I first saw it. It reminded me of Underworld and when I read the blurb, I could see the heroine, Ayden, in something like that Kate Beckinsdale role.  So I gave it a go.

 

It didn’t feel like Underworld exactly, but that is a good thing. It’s its own story, but there were some common threads –enough that I got what I was looking for.

 

Ayden is a death-dealer of sorts. She is on a mission to kill every Lycan she can find, and she uses her super-human abilities to do it.  She’s not a vampire or a shifter, but an Alexi, a super-soldier created with the anti-bodies to the Lycan virus.  Her deadly purpose is fueled by a Lycan attack that killed her family and nearly ended her life.  She doesn’t really remember much of the life she lost –only her last moments– a side effect of her change.  But that only allows her focus to stay singular.  It’s only about killing the beasts.

 

She is a client of the Wrath brothers, demon siblings who carry out vengeance contracts.  In fact, they are almost like family, since she nearly settled down with their leader, Gavin.  Not only do they help her fight demons, but protect her from the Alexi group she abandoned, and who now want her back.

 

Anyway, Ayden is on a killing spree when she stumbles on Kane, a human who has just been bitten by a Lycan. Since his transformation is inevitable, she moves to kill him, only to be assaulted by memories when she touches him.  She is intrigued and decides to give him a stay of execution while she investigates the phenomenon.  She takes him prisoner to the Wrath home.  Suffice it to say that Kane is the hero and the prisoner dynamic doesn’t last, and an unlikely connection forms between Ayden and Kane.

 

I had a lot of trouble with Ayden in the first third of the book. She is an unreasonable bitch.  She is horrible to Kane. Yes, I know how she feels about Lycans, but he was a victim and the way she treated him made me want to kick her in the face.  I actively disliked her, while poor Kane was almost too good to be true.  Despite the fact that he is changing into a Lycan, he holds on to his humanity, and faces his impending death with dignity and acceptance.  I had trouble relating to them both.  And when their relationship dynamic changed, it felt abrupt.

 

However, once they did give into their attraction, I got really into the book. By then, I finally understood the relationship between Gavin and Ayden. (I was confused a little by the push and pull between them when I knew a romance was brewing with  different hero.) I was starting to get to know the Wrath brothers. And hello, the sexy times were amazing.

 

I liked the world that Keri Lake has created here and the foundation she has set for the series.  I like that she doesn’t always go for the obvious… like the first book in the Wrath brothers series does not actually use one of the brothers as a hero.  Though it confused me a little at first, I liked that Gavin, an obvious future hero, was hung up on Ayden. I liked that I didn’t guess how the plot would play out, that I wasn’t always sure who was a bad guy, who was a good guy, or who will end up with who.  I’m so tired of books that are obvious. This one wasn’t. Which makes me want to read more of the series.

 

I’ll admit, I almost put this down a couple of times in the beginning, because Ayden was so awful that I didn’t even want to see her get an HEA. But I am glad I stuck with it, and I really think that with a more sympathetic heroine, I will enjoy future books even more. I’ll keep you posted.

 

Rating: B

The Sum of All Kisses - Julia Quinn

Another great read from Julia Quinn.  I love physically flawed heroes! Not only is Hugh disabled, he questions his worth as a man.  He questions whether he is good enough for his heroine.  All of these things are more reasons for me to love him.  And love him, I did, despite the stupid mistake that got him into this position in the first place.

 

Hugh has an affinity for numbers. He is brilliant with them, so much so that when he lost a card game one drunken night years ago, he was sure his friend Daniel had to be cheating in order to win.  He promptly challenged his (also drunk) buddy to a duel, bringing about two life changing events.  One, he got shot in the leg, damaging the bone and muscle for life.  And two, his father blamed Daniel, running him out of town with threats to his life.

 

Daniel’s return to society was all part of the last book, but now it’s Hugh’s first real opportunity to reconnect with his old friend.  And he does it over the course of two family weddings –Daniel’s (from A Night Like This) and Honoria’s (from Just Like Heaven.) It’s all a bit awkward, but it gets even more so when he is paired with Lady Sarah for the duration.  Sarah is Daniel’s cousin and blames Hugh for the heartache and scandal the family endured while Daniel was on the run for his life.  But Honoria asked her to keep Hugh company, so she is doing her best to please the bride.

 

The relationship between Hugh and Sarah is so adversarial and witty and fun.  She hates his guts and has treated him abominably. He doesn’t just take it though. He gives as good as he gets, and over time, they grow to enjoy their banter.  Eventually, they even begin to see the good in one another, and after that, attraction and deeper feelings take the forefront.  I loved the moments each of them realized their attraction.  I loved how they fought against it, but lost so thoroughly.

 

I also loved how Hugh’s disability was portrayed.  How it affected him both physically and emotionally.  How he blamed himself for all of it.  Sarah, on the other hand, was a little more hit and miss for me.  She was a bit immature and over the top, especially in the beginning.  But she did get better over time.  And ultimately, I was very satisfied with the progression of her romance with Hugh. Especially when all that sexual tension came to a head!

 

Good stuff.

 

Rating: B

Hunter's Moon - Lisa Kessler

This is the second installment in Lisa Kessler’s Moon series. It could hold up as a standalone, though reading Moonlight will give you a better idea of the backstory between the hero and the heroine.  Back in book one, Sasha did some serious damage to Aren’s pack. She was working for the evil Nero organization. She ruined Aren’s ankle and was at least partly responsible for the death of his father.  That doesn’t exactly scream mate-material. But that doesn’t change fate.  She is Aren’s intended.

 

For what it’s worth, Sasha isn’t a bad person. She was turned into a jaguar shifter against her will. She was only working for Nero because they promised her a cure.  But the promises were lies.  Sasha knows that now, all too well.  Nero wants her dead and they keep sending assassins to kill her.

 

Aren has resigned himself to the fact that Sasha is his mate and he is dedicated to keep her safe, even though he knows his pack will never understand. He has been picking the bad guys off, one by one.  Sasha finally confronts him after he is hurt during one of the kills.  She tries to get him to back off. After all, how could he wish her anything but ill will after all she has done? Yet, deep down, she knows he is a good man, and when she realizes Nero is targeting her sister, she turns to him for help.

 

From there, Aren and Sasha team up to fight the latest assassin on her tail.  Aren wants nothing more than to claim his mate. He has already put their past behind him. But Sasha fights the attraction. She has been burned by love before. The last time she trusted a man, she lost her humanity. She won’t make the same mistake again.  But she can’t resist the good, loyal, sexy man in front of her, and it’s only a matter of time before he breaks down her walls.

 

Books like this are PNR comfort food.  It’s predictable and familiar.  From the beginning of the story, you know how the relationship will play out between Sasha and Aren. You know it the moment he makes the stupid mistake that will come back to haunt him.  It all follows the path you expect, but it works.  I think I would have liked a surprise or two in there in the relationship development… something to shake things up. But at least there were some unexpected developments in the action-part of the story.

 

If you are looking for some comfortable werewolf shifter romance, this one will probably hit the spot.  As an added bonus, Aren is a strong, capable hero who is not an alpha-hole.  He is patient, open, and good –without ever being a doormat.  Before it’s over, we’ve got a setup for book three.  This one will be Nadya’s book. But will the hero be Jason or Gareth?  My money is on Gareth. There is some good tortured hero potential there.

 

Rating: B-

Entwined - Kristen Callihan

Anyone in the mood for a virgin blacksmith hero? Do I really need to ask??

Kristen Callihan delivers again with this novella installment in her Darkest London series.  If you don’t already read her books, don’t worry.  This works 100% as a standalone.  (But the series is so great, I tell you without reservation… go read it now.)  This story only ties with the other books by the slenderest of threads.

 

More than anything this is a Cyrano story.  Aidan has been betrothed to a woman he has never seen and has no desire to marry. (I think he is gay, but he never comes out and says so.) He does take his family name seriously, though, and does not want to go back on his father’s word. So he resigns himself to going forward with the wedding. When his betrothed sends him a letter, his inability to read and write prompts him to ask his brother Eamon to write to her on his behalf.

 

Eamon thinks it’s crazy for his brother to marry a stranger, so he starts the letters out with the intention of driving the girl away. However, he ends up falling for her after writing back and forth for years.  She falls for him, too, only she thinks it is Aiden she is forming a relationship with. So when it’s time for her to finally go forward with the marriage, she travels to meet her betrothed and finds a man nothing like she expected.

 

The story is short and I don’t want to give away all the twists and turns. I will say, though, that it may be humanly impossible not to love Eamon, at least a little bit. He is such a good man. Quiet. Strong.  His size and unusual gifts have made him a bit of an outcast and his red hair had his father convinced he was the devil’s spawn. But he loves Lu so much. He is so sweet with her. And he saved himself for her, even when he thought she could never be his. (*swoon*)

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this one.  I especially liked that Kristen Callihan actually allowed Eamon to be so awkward on the wedding night! The story is sweet and sexy and moved quickly.  I only wish there had been more.

 

Rating: B+

Demon Forged - Meljean Brook

Wow. This book sure changes things, doesn’t it?

I thought this is one of the strongest (if not the best) installment in the Guardian series to date.  Not only is the romance good, but there are major developments in the series arc.  Plus, we get a really big dose of Michael here.  We get to find out who will be his HEA.  And our team takes on a more difficult fight than ever, with at least one surprising casualty.  Not a drop of boring to be found.

 

We got a pretty good setup on the romance in the last book.  Irena is the tough-as-nail Guardian who can manipulate metal. (She’s tight with Alice.) And Alejandro is the master swordsman who can wield fire.  There is obviously a history between them, and rather quickly in the book, we learn what that is.  Irena was once tapped to train Alejandro and attraction bloomed fast and hard between them.  But before they ever really had a chance to be together, a demon nearly killed Alejandro.  Irena made it in time and struck a bargain, giving herself to the demon in exchange for her love’s life.

 

Since the misery that followed her sacrifice, hundreds of years have passed.  Alejandro has never forgiven himself for what he imagines Irena endured. And she has never gotten over the shame of it.  They still yearn for each other, put they have never spoken of what happened and never truly healed.  But now they are in each other’s orbit again and it’s all brewing right below the surface.  So they have to face their past and find a way to move forward… to finally have what they have always wanted.  (It’s a pretty tall order.)

 

In the meantime, Michael’s sister Anaria is trying to bust into the Chaos realm and snag herself a dragon. It’s all part of her bigger picture plan to usurp Hell from Lucifer and release all the human souls from Hell.  So the Guardians are working against that threat, and trying to figure out who killed the wife of Rael, the demon posing as human congressman Thomas Stafford.

 

The book is action packed.  It’s unpredictable.  There is death and heartbreak, but there are also second chances and love.  I adored Irena.  She is so strong, both on the inside and out. And she has endured so much.  I loved watching her finally succumb to her weakness for her Olek (Alejandro.) He is everything she needs.  Their reunion is so satisfying, it was almost enough to cancel out the fact he didn’t fight for her all those years and had relationships in the interim. (Almost.)

 

Anyway, I thought this was really good.  It got my blood pumping; it kept me turning the pages; and it even made me misty once or twice.  Well done.

 

Rating: B+/A-

The Last Hour of Gann - R. Lee Smith

Epic Science Fiction. It’s not a genre I have heard of before, but it seems to fit here.  This book is sweeping. It has depth. Breadth. It’s dark at times, but there is also hope.  There is love.  And there is, ultimately, an examination of what it means to be human and what truly constitutes a monster.  Epic.

 

The story follows Amber, a woman down on her luck, who in a last ditch effort to make a future for herself and her sister, secures passage for them both on a space expedition to colonize a new planet.   She is abrasive and overweight; people don’t like her.  But she is pragmatic and fiercely loyal.  Her already bad life gets unbelievably worse when her ship goes way, way off course, and crash lands on a mysterious planet after the passengers took a 200+ year nap.  The ship and most of the people on board go boom, leaving Amber, her sister, and about 50 other humans stranded in an alien world.

 

Our unlikely hero is Meoraq, a native to the planet who looks like a giant lizard. He is a warrior among his people and a deeply religious man.  When he stumbles onto Amber and her people, he sees it as a sign from God that he is supposed bring them on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  And over the course of the story, a meaningful connection grows between him and Amber.  They must face serious external threats and work through their own internal ones to find their place in each other’s lives and in the world they share.

 

There is a reason so many people speak highly of this book.  The world-building is really amazing.  The author really creates two cultures: the futuristic, awful human world where Amber comes from– and the vastly complicated culture of Meoraq’s people.  Both were drawn so clearly, they felt real.  Page after page, more of it is uncovered, drawing us further in, layer upon layer.   Even more powerful, though, are the characters.

 

Amber is not an easy woman.  Between her big mouth and her bluntness, though, she was so relatable to me.  I felt like I could be in her shoes, digging the same ditch she dug for herself among her shipmates.  That made it all the more disturbing as her fellow humans mistreated her, and as she faced horror after horror.  Then there’s Meoraq.  He is honorable in the way of his people, but very different than a traditional hero.  While he did and said things that would be unthinkable coming from a human man, for him, they fit.  He was… awesome.  And the development of his relationship with Amber was just so compelling.  I loved that it took time; that we got to see them really learn each other before they became friends. That we got to witness their internal struggle as they began to feel more.  That lizard sex could be hot. Who knew?

 

But part of what really makes the relationship so powerful, is its contrast to the interpersonal behavior among the rest of the characters.  Scott, the human “leader” was such an untenable bastard.  Nicci, Amber’s sister, was so spoiled and weak.  But lest you think that humans are the only monsters here, we get to see that evil is universal with the introduction of some really horrific lizard-people.  Corruption and misuse of power are clearly universal failings.

 

There are some tough things in here, I won’t lie.  There is rape.  More than one.  The hero doesn’t rape the heroine, but THERE IS RAPE, so be warned.  It was difficult to read, but being prepared for it by other readers helped. It also helped the way the way the victim is portrayed.  She doesn’t despair.  She keeps moving forward… through one awful thing after another. But there is a balance of darkness with hope, in the growing love between Amber and Meoraq.

 

It wasn’t a perfect book. There were some slow going parts, especially before Meoraq and Amber cross paths.  Plus, I would have liked to see more shades of gray among the peripheral characters.  For instance… did every single human HAVE to be one of the sheep?  Couldn’t anyone be redeemed?  Or on the lizard side, couldn’t anyone see the disparities in their culture? Did no one see the problems with the misogyny or slavery? (Hint: No.)  But this all did highlight what made Meoraq and Amber so special… so different from those around them.

 

Anyway, the whole book is a journey — both literally and metaphorically.  The pinnacle of that is such an awesome surprise… and it turns Meoraq’s whole word upside down.  It was so worth it. All of it.

 

The book is long –and it may be too dark for some readers– but in the end, I thought it was very, very good.

 

Rating: A-

Duke of Midnight - Elizabeth Hoyt

The third (and final?) Ghost of St Giles is finally unmasked in this latest installment of Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series.  I have been a big fan of the last two books, but I didn’t love this one quite as much.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked it. But it didn’t have the same spark as the previous books.

 

Maximus, the Duke of Wakefield, is the original Ghost. He began donning the mask as part of a quest for revenge in the death of his parents.  He still hasn’t found the man responsible, yet after more than a dozen years, he is still searching for the killer.  In the meantime, Maximus is on the hunt for a wife, but he doesn’t care for a love match. The only thing he cares about is finding a woman worthy of the Dukedom… someone who would honor his father’s lineage.  Lady Penelope would be perfect in that regard.

 

Penelope isn’t our heroine, however.  Instead, it is her companion, Artemis. As a poor relation, Artemis hold no illusions about her future. She doesn’t expect a husband or a family to call her own. Her focus lies solely with being a good companion to Penelope and in taking care of her brother Apollo, wrongly imprisoned in Bedlam for a murder he didn’t commit.

 

Penelope is quite the catch in that she is both beautiful and wealthy. Unfortunately, she is also a bit of a ninny.  She thinks it’s a grand adventure to accept a dare to venture into the seedy St Giles.  Of course, Artemis must go along for the ride.  It’s there they come face to face with the infamous Ghost.  She doesn’t realize his identity as Maximus right away, but with the Duke courting her cousin, it’s only a matter of time before she puts the pieces together… and then tries use that knowledge as leverage to help get her brother free.

 

Their relationship isn’t all blackmail, of course.  He appreciates her pluck and her lack of artifice.  He is both infuriated by her and attracted to her.  Yet he never sees her as a real possibility for a wife.  Meanwhile, Artemis may be the only person who really sees the man behind the title.  And so begins their affair.  Unfortunately, while I liked the characters fairly well as individuals, there romance just didn’t wow me.  I never really felt their fall into deeper emotions. It just kind of rolled along in a fairly predictable fashion without ever giving me any tingles.

 

Again, it was ok, but while I can list off the reasons these two were attracted to one another, it was all kind of superficial.  Just meh.  And the big reveal and faceoff with the villain was really anticlimactic.

 

The previous installments were good enough that I will definitely pick up the next book, but this one just failed to impress.

 

Rating: B-

Chimera - Kelly Meding

I enjoy this series and I look forward to the new installments, but this one wasn’t my favorite for a few reasons. The book is called Chimera, straying a little from the tradition of naming the story after the title character.  Chimera is the love interest, but Renee is the main character.  I guess the Powers That Be didn’t want a book named Flex.  But I digress.

 

Flex is the blue chick whose powers make her kind of like Plastic Man, or at least they did before terrible burns ravaged her body, severely limiting her abilities.  As a result, this became more of a story about how an almost powerless Meta could stand in the face of all that is happening, surrounded by others who could crush her with a thought.  Add to that, all the baggage that comes with being a Meta, and a horrible, abusive history to boot, and you’ve got Renee.  She is intensely loyal to her team; she has a huge chip on her shoulder about the Banes; and she is nursing a broken heart over William’s death.  It doesn’t exactly set the stage for romance.

 

Of course, there is a romance brewing here. It’s with (former) Bane, Derek Thatcher, AKA Chimera.  It seems his long-lost son is using his telekinesis to break the law.  So Renee and the other Metas get him off the prison island to help track the boy down.  The young man, Landon, isn’t the villain he first seems, however. We come to find out that he is part of yet another conspiracy regarding covert Meta groups and the manipulation of their powers.

 

I will take this moment to address one of my two main issues with the book.  The series has past confusing and landed firmly into the camp of convoluted.  There are so many characters and factions that I stopped even trying to connect the dots and remember who everyone is.  Even the recaps left me feeling lost and I have read all the books. I can only imagine how a new reader would feel. I honestly had to just ignore the holes and roll with it in order to stick with the story.  It bothered me.  (On a small, more specific note, it bothered me when we started separating Ace and Noah as two different people when I thought they had kind of merged into one… and when he (they?) referred to him(them)self as different people by name, my head threatened to explode.)

 

My other issue was that I wanted to spend more time with the romance.  It had really good set-up, at least on Renee’s side.  We never got past the superficial on Derek, though I did like what we were able to see of him. I wanted more.  And I definitely wanted more of them together, more stuff with their relationship.  Instead, we got a scene or two and more conspiracy, secrets, brooding, and pain.  It’s not that those things shouldn’t have been in the book, I was just too overwhelmed through much of it to enjoy the parts I liked.

 

I will say I am glad we got a resolution on the dangling Noah/Ace/Dahlia story.  Thank you, Kelly Meding, for addressing this situation.  And the last line of the book was great.  But I really hope this series will stop expanding and focus the next book on a smaller level. Let’s deal with the bad guys we already know about before adding more, and let us enjoy watching our heroes have a little more time balancing the light in their lives with the dark.

 

Rating: B-/C+