14 August 2016

Wild (Amber Eyes, Book 1 and Book 2)

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS WHAT SOME MAY CONSIDER SPOILERS


Synopsis from Goodreads:

Golden Eyes
When Duncan finds an injured cheetah, questions about how she wound up in his mountains—and going after the poachers pursuing her—can wait. First he brings her home. Then he checks in on his patient, and finds not a cat, but a gorgeous, very naked woman.

Aliyah Carter spent the past six months trapped in cheetah form, a prisoner of the poachers who took her to use in an illegal exotic-game hunt. Finally she’s escaped, but now she faces another problem. A devastatingly sexy sheriff who knows her secret.

Amber Eyes
The beautiful, timid cougar that appears at Hunter and Jericho’s remote cabin breaks their quiet routine, warms their hearts—and rouses their curiosity. Why would this wild creature want to form a friendship with humans?

Kaya has survived a lifetime of isolation in her shifted form. Yet there’s something about these two men that draws her to embrace her human side. In the shelter of their love, she blooms. Then they are called away on a mission that goes terribly wrong. Now pregnant and alone, Kaya’s only hope is that the men who love her will find their way home.

Warning: This title contains explicit sex, adult language, sweet lovin’, multiple partners and ménage a trois.

Stats for my copy: Trade paperback, Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2010.

How acquired: Borrowed from a friend.

My thoughts:  Maya Banks is one of those authors I see all the time, but have never actually read until WILD. I really enjoyed her take on shapeshifters, which has always been one of my least favorite tropes in the paranormal genre.

The first story, “Golden Eyes”, is about Aliyah, who is a cheetah when she's not a woman. While in cheetah form in Africa, Aliyah is captured by poachers, who are bringing wild animals to the Rockies and then releasing them to be hunted. Duncan, the local sheriff, is out investigating sightings of a tiger and a lion when he comes across the injured cheetah, and rescues her from the poachers. I enjoyed the story, and the characters, especially Duncan. Their relationship built up pretty fast, and almost bordered on the fated mates trope, which I'm not crazy about. As per the warning on the synopsis, there was quite a bit of explicit sex, and I loved seeing how Duncan reacted to Aliyah, surprising himself with his own fierceness. In between the beddings, they track down and shut down the poaching ring and it all ends on a nice HEA.

Amber Eyes” was very different. The heroine is Kaya, who is a cougar. She was mentioned in “Golden Eyes”, as she's Aliyah's sister, who disappeared when they were young children. Unknown to her family, she'd been captured, and eventually managed to escape, but by the time she found her way home her family had moved away, and she thought she'd been abandoned and was unwanted. She's been living on her own in the mountains, spending most of her time in animal form, since then. Hunter and Jericho live in a remote cabin, and are a bit of a mystery. They've loved and lost a woman together, but to honor her memory they carry on with their work, which they don't ever talk about, and all we know is they could be called away for an assignment at a moment's notice.

Amber Eyes” had so much more actual story to it – there is no sex until at least the halfway point if I remember correctly. While Aliyah was cautious and wary lest her secret get out, Kaya is much more so. Having not lived among humans since she was a child, she's much more terrified of being discovered and put in a cage. She's drawn to the cabin, drawn to the two men, and has been watching them from a safe distance for a long time, unbeknownst to them. It isn't until she has an injured paw that she finally becomes brave enough to actually approach them.

With Kaya we get a lot of internal dialogue as she worries about being discovered, worries about surviving, worries about Hunter and Jericho knowing her secret, worries about whether or not they want her, especially Hunter who is more standoffish. In the beginning the two men were almost interchangeable for me, in that I had trouble keeping up with which one was which. I liked them both well enough, but not as much as I liked Duncan.

My heart broke for Kaya over and over, as her tragic past and angtsy feelings were revealed. I became much more vested in her story than I had with Aliyah. The pacing of the relationship between Kaya and the men was much slower than the one between Aliyah and Duncan. Hunter and Jericho have loved the same woman before, and while they shared her, it was never a smooth and comfortable relationship because she never truly trusted the relationship. They both want Kaya, but they're reluctant to go through that heartbreak again.

Lots of feels here. Eventually the men must leave for an assignment, and are gone much longer than anticipated. When they are all finally reunited, I teared up. Then Kaya and Aliyah are reunited, and I cried a bit. And then Kaya is finally reunited with her parents, and I blubbered like a baby. So much emotion packed into the last thirty pages or so!


Golden Eyes” is an enjoyable, sexy story. “Amber Eyes” is a wonderful and touching and sweet character study. And Maya Banks has a new fan. 

06 August 2016

Whispering Rock (Virgin River, Book 3)


Synopsis from back cover:

Virgin River became a safe haven for Sacramento prosecutor Brie Sheridan after she nearly lost her life at the hands of a crazed criminal. Though she still has fears she can't escape, she also has someone who wants to show her just what it means to trust again.

A decorated marine reservist, LAPD officer Mike Valenzuela was badly wounded in the line of duty. Twice divorced, he secretly longs for the kind of commitment and happiness his marine buddies have found – a woman who can tie up his heart forever.

Mike will do anything to help Brie free herself from painful memories. Passionate, strong and gentle, he vows to give back to her what she's so selflessly given him – her heart, and with it, a new beginning.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Harlequin MIRA, 2007.

How acquired: Bought.

My thoughts:  I loved the first two Virgin River books, and the first book is still my favorite so far. Some of the best scenes in this one were between Jack and Mel, the hero/heroine of the first book.

We met both Brie and Mike in the previous book. Brie is Jack's younger sister, a tenacious state prosecutor who has made a career out of sending rapists and other criminals up the river. But she lost her last case, and a serial rapist walked. And then he attacked Brie and raped her. And now her entire life has fallen apart.

Mike is part of Jack's band of brothers and one of his best friends. An LAPD cop working the gangs division, he was shot down in the previous book and badly wounded. He came to Virgin River to recuperate. He's known Jack's little sister for ages, but he never made a move on her – she was happily married back then, plus there's the whole best friend's sister thing.

While Mike and Brie didn't resonate with me quite the way Jack and Mel did, or Preacher and Paige from the second book, I was still quite mesmerized with the story. As with the other books, lots of other Virgin River residents are woven in and out of the story, including characters we've already met and new characters. I got very excited halfway through the book when one of my favorites, the illegal marijuana grower, made an appearance, but to my disappointment he was only observed for a few minutes at a distance by Mike, and did not turn up again.

There's a wonderful birthing scene where we see Mel, a midwife, in action. And when Mel realizes she is pregnant again, her reaction to that, and Jack's reaction to her reaction, were a lot of fun to read. And in the last quarter or so, I cried several times.


I think this may be my favorite series now, after Outlander of course.

30 July 2016

Kink


Synopsis from back cover:

SEX, LIES, AND BONDAGE TAPE

Clayton's one hunk of a musician. A pinup hottie for squealing teens everywhere. And he's gay, Kelly Burton discovers when she sneaks into his dressing room for an autograph, but gets a peep show instead. But Kelly's soon distracted: a bouncer has found her. A bouncer with pecs of steel, a six-pack, and sinewy arms. After a scolding, the bouncer decides to have his wicked way with the naughty-but-eager groupie. And what follows is a night of passion, hard-rock style...

WATCH ME

Some people have coffee. Some have tea. But the only thing that really wakes Bethany Mack up in the morning is sex. Too bad marriage to Grant has settled into a sex-starved routine. That is, until she spies a hot roofer next door. Broad, sexy shoulders: check. A muscular chest you could nuzzle all day: check. And under those jeans, well, the thought just makes her weak. So she puts on a little show for him through the window, letting her inhibitions loose, and discovers a naughty new addiction. But how will her husband react when he discovers just how far a desperate housewife will go for some lovin' from him?

Stats for my copy: Trade paperback, The Berkley Publishing Group, 2007.

How acquired: Borrowed from a friend.

My thoughts:  The first story is “Sex, Lies and Bondage Tape”, by Saskia Walker. When one of Kelly's roommates is injured skiing and unable to attend a concert, she gives her ticket to Kelly. While Kelly enjoys the concert, she's not quite as gaga over the rock star Clayton as her friends are, but at the end of the concert she decides to sneak backstage and try to get his autograph for her roommate. Of course she gets caught and is carried out by security, aka Tommy. Literally, as in Tommy swings her up over his shoulder and carries her out, giving her bottom a couple of smacks on the way. Tommy thinks Kelly is just another groupie, and one of his personal rules is he doesn't hook up with groupies. But when he realizes that Kelly seems to be enjoying his manhandling of her, he ramps it up a notch, and they end up spending the night together in his hotel room.

Being a novella, there isn't a lot of time for true character development, but I enjoyed what little we did get. Kelly has issues dating back to her father abandoning her mother when she was young, and Tommy thinks Kelly settled for him when she couldn't get Clayton. Neither of them are planning to start a relationship when they hook up for the night, so afterwards there's a lot of internal dialogue as they each explore their own doubts and feelings. In between some pretty hot bouts of sex, there's Kelly running all over town trying to track Tommy down, and then later Tommy trying to track Kelly down.
What is it with you two? You shag, you say good-bye, and then you realize you haven't got each other's phone number?”

The writing is good, the characters are likable, and while the plot may be a little unrealistic, I don't read these books for reality, and this story was a nice way to while away part of an afternoon.

The second story is “Watch Me”, by Sasha White. This one started out a little slower for me. Bethany's husband Grant has become immersed in his work after a promotion, and she's feeling neglected. Then she inadvertently discovers the joys of teasing strangers in public, from giving little peep shows to masturbating on a bus. Exhibitionism and masturbation are two of my least favorite tropes, for lack of a better word, and here they both are in one story. But eventually Grant catches her, and while his initial reaction was anger and storming off in a huff, his later response was smoking hot and got my attention right along with Bethany's.

This story was told in first person POV, so we only got insight into Bethany's thoughts and feelings, as she grappled with missing her husband's attention, and then getting his attention and loving it but still feeling that under the surface things were not yet right between them. I would've loved for this story to be a full length novel as it ended way too soon. Or too late, as I sat up until midnight last night reading. The resolution between them, Grant opening up about his feelings, came rather abruptly, and I would've loved to see some more exploration – and action – before everything was neatly wrapped up. But the resolution was satisfying and left no doubts of the couple having their HEA.


The back cover blurb is a little misleading, as both stories had more depth and plot to them than I had anticipated, which is a good thing. 

28 July 2016

A Rogue's Proposal (Cynster, Book 4)


Synopsis from back cover: Demon Cynster has seen love bring his brethren to their knees, and he's vowed that he will not share their fate...until he spies Felicity Parteger sneaking around his country estate. Demon remembers Felicity as a mere chit of a girl, but now she stands before him – begging for his help – all lush curves, sparkling eyes...and so temptingly worthy of the love he's vowed never to surrender to any woman.

Felicity knew Demon was one of the ton's most eligible bachelors and a rogue of the worst sort, but he was the only one capable of getting her friend out of trouble. Her fascination with him had nothing to do with the power lurking just beneath his devil-may-care facade – or with the desire that flares when he takes her in his arms. She knows he'll never yield her the love she desperately seeks, but could a marriage with passion alone – even with a man like Demon – be enough?

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Avon Books, 1999.

How acquired: Book Mooch

My thoughts:  This is definitely my favorite Cynsters book so far. I loved both Felicity and Demon from the start. Demon, like his brother and his cousins before him, has no need of a wife and no intention of losing his heart to a woman. Felicity, like her own predecessors, is a strong and independent woman who won't meekly bow down to any man and can hold her own with the best of them. Demon owns a stable of racehorses, and is quite impressed with Felicity's riding skills and knowledge of horses. I think that was part of the charm of the book for me in the beginning, all the horse talk. Yes, I was one of those teenage girls who loved horses above all else, especially racehorses. I even dreamed of being a jockey for a couple of years.

The mystery this time around involves a race fixing syndicate that Felicity and Demon begin investigating after Dillon, Felicity's guardian's son, gets involved with them and then goes into hiding. (It seems that orphaned heroines with either a guardian or a brother is a theme with Laurens' heroines). To Dillon's continual frustration, not to mention that of his right hand man, Gillies, Felicity is constantly bolting off on her own and putting herself either in danger or in socially inappropriate situations. The syndicate plot kept my interest non-stop, and watching Demon and Felicity fall for each other along the way was almost like a bonus. Especially watching Demon. Once he realized he wanted to marry Felicity, he was relentless. But like all the Cynster men, he was also arrogant and overbearing and incapable of admitting his feelings, other than the lusty ones, and Felicity was determined that she would only marry him if and when he truly loved her.

Part of the book is set in the relaxed country, where Demon and Felicity are able to spend time riding together or driving into town without her needing to be chaperoned, and part of it is set in the city, where social proprieties must be observed, and I loved seeing the contrast between those two worlds.


This entry in the series was more fun than the previous books, so much so that I didn't even notice – most of the time – the flowery superfluous writing and the author's habit of never using five words when ten are available. 

18 July 2016

Only Daughter


Synopsis from Goodreads: In 2003, sixteen-year-old Rebecca Winter disappeared.

She'd been enjoying her teenage summer break: working at a fast-food restaurant, crushing on an older boy and shoplifting with her best friend. Mysteriously ominous things began to happen—blood in the bed, periods of blackouts, a feeling of being watched—though Bec remained oblivious of what was to come.

Eleven years later she is replaced.

A young woman, desperate after being arrested, claims to be the decade-missing Bec.

Soon the impostor is living Bec's life. Sleeping in her bed. Hugging her mother and father. Learning her best friends' names. Playing with her twin brothers.

But Bec's welcoming family and enthusiastic friends are not quite as they seem. As the impostor dodges the detective investigating her case, she begins to delve into the life of the real Bec Winter—and soon realizes that whoever took Bec is still at large, and that she is in imminent danger.

Stats for my copy: Trade paperback, Mira Books, per the cover it goes on sale October 2016; per Goodreads the expected publication date is September 20, 2016.

How acquired: Won in a Goodreads giveaway.

My thoughts:  Normally I'm not a fan of first person present tense narration, but I barely even noticed it here, which I assume is a testament to the author's writing. ONLY DAUGHTER opens with the narrator getting busted for shoplifting, and then announcing to the police that she is Rebecca Winters, and was abducted eleven years ago. The narration then switches back and forth between our first person narrator telling us her story in 2014, and third person narration giving us Bec's story in 2003, shortly before she disappeared. The writing flows and I bounced through this book quickly. Bec's disappearance, of course, was never solved, and still haunts the detective in charge of the investigation, as well as her family and friends.

As the impostor settles into Rebecca's life, her home, her old bedroom, her family, she teeters between staying one step ahead of the detective and convincing everyone she is Bec, and the growing feeling that someone is watching her, that whoever took Bec is going to try to take her also. We, the reader, think we are figuring out what happened to Rebecca, how she disappeared, but then some new little tidbit of information will come to light, pointing us in another direction.

Even knowing that the impostor is not the real Rebecca, she becomes a sympathetic character. She may be lying to everyone around her, but she is still a reliable narrator, and I began rooting for her, while very much wanting to know what became of the real Rebecca.

I think I saw somewhere that ONLY DAUGHTER is a Young Adult book, and it reads quite easily without any dumbing down. It was interesting the see the contrast between the supporting character's personalities (Bec's family, her best friend Lizzie) in 2003 and then eleven years later in the wake of Bec's disappearance, and how it affected some of them. It's grim, and I cant even imagine how horrible it would be to have your child suddenly gone and to never know where to or why.


And as the end of the book looms, the tension ramps up. Following the real Rebecca in the days and hours leading up to her disappearance, following the impostor as she becomes more afraid for her own life. And then a twist, followed by another twist, which I never saw coming. A truly gripping and captivating book. 

17 July 2016

A Distant Tomorrow (World of Hetar, Book 2)

BERTRICE SMALL

Synopsis from Goodreads: Five years have now passed since the Winter War between the Outlands and Hetar. But Gaius Prospero has not given up his scheme to become emperor, and unexpected tragedy causes Lara to once again heed the pull of her destiny. Finding herself across the sea in a secret new world known as Terah, she discovers that her magical abilities grow greater with each passing day. Using her newfound powers, Lara lifts an ancient curse from the men of Terah, earning its ruler's gratitude and his deep and passionate love.

Stats for my copy: Trade paperback, Harlequin Books, 2006.

How acquired: From a BookCrossing member.

First line: Vartan, Lord of the Fiacre and head of the Outlands High Council was dead.

My thoughts:  I think I liked this a bit more than the first book in the series, LARA. In this entry, Lara's destiny calls to her again, telling her it's time to get a move on. Her husband has just been murdered by his brother, and Lara leaves her young children with his cousin and his wife, and begins her travels once more. She winds up in the Coastal Kingdoms, where she learns about another land across the sea, called Terah, whose goods the Coastal Kingdoms trade for and then sell in Hetar. Next thing you know she's been drugged and handed over as a slave to the Dominus, who rules Terah. Of course she's not about to be any man's slave, and soon has the Dominus wrapped around her little finger. That exquisite fairy beauty, you know.

I really enjoyed this part of the story, where she's arrived in Terah and gets to know the inhabitants there. She's told that women in Terah do not speak. Not because they don't want to or are down-trodden by their men, but because of an ancient curse placed on them. They are physically incapable of speech. Once she's alone with the women, however, she discovers that they can indeed speak – the curse was actually placed on the men, rendering them incapable of hearing their women. So now she sets out to remove the curse. That's not her destiny though. Her beloved Outlands people are in danger from Hetar, and she must also find a way to save them.

The conversations between the characters often felt stilted or wooden, slightly monotonous with short bursts of emotion thrown in here and there. Lara's son is six or seven, and her younger brother a year older, but both spoke and held conversations with her like adults. I was quite happy to not read as many references to “man roots” in this book as in the first one, though there were several mentions of “seed sacs” and way too many mentions of “love juices”. I don't think there was quite as much sex on the page this time around, but as with the first book, those scenes weren't particularly sexy.


I don't have the third or fourth books in the series, and while I won't knock myself out looking for them, should I come across them I probably will read them. Like Lara, I'm very curious as to who or what may reside in another distant land that she spots while riding her flying horse one day. The world building is what kept me interested in the first book, and that interest still continues. 

12 July 2016

Trouble at Lone Spur (Harlequin Superromance, No. 716)

ROZ DENNY FOX

Synopsis from Goodreads: Lizbeth Robbins has been following the rodeo circuit for the past six years, learning the farrier's trade, dragging her little girl from town to town. But now her daughter's in school and Lizbeth needs a more permanent job. She's relieved to find one at the Lone Spur, shoeing Gil Spencer's quarter horses; even if it was his foreman who hired her and the man himself doesn't want her anywhere near his ranch! Gil Spencer hates rodeos mainly because his ex wife loves them. While he was busy pulling his ranch out of the red, she was busy pursuing a career as a champion barrel racer. Worse yet the ex Mrs Spencer abandoned her husband and their twin sons for the dubious charms of some bronco rider. So the last person Gil wants on the Lone Spur is a former rodeo employee. Even if Lizbeth Robbins is the most attractive woman he's met in years. Especially then...

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Harlequin Books, 1996.

First line: In the two weeks since Lizbeth Robbins had hired on as farrier at Gilman Spencer's ranch, she hadn't laid eyes on the man.

My thoughts:  TROUBLE AT LONE SPUR reminded me of how much I love Roz Denny Fox. It's been awhile since I devoured a book in two days, staying up until midnight two nights in a row (and paying for it with a massive book hangover this morning, not to mention oversleeping and getting up an hour late).

Liz is a farrier who recently left the rodeo circuit in hopes of providing a more permanent, stable home for her six-year-old daughter, Melody. Getting hired on at the Lone Spur ranch as resident farrier is a dream come true. She still has nightmares about the bull who killed her husband before Melody was born, but they live in a cottage instead of a trailer, Melody has a cat, and she's a happy little girl.

Gil is the owner of the ranch, and when he comes back from a trip and finds out his ranch foreman has a woman shoeing his horses he has a fit and promptly fires her. He's sure that having a woman around the hands will distract them from their work, and ever since his wife left him to pursue her barrel racing career – and a bronc rider - he hates anything and everything to do with rodeos, so Lizbeth's background does not impress him.

I loved Liz. I loved Gil. They were both well rounded characters, each fighting their own inner demons, and trying to do the best they can for their kids. Gil has nine-year-old twin boys who run amuck when he's not around, playing pranks on Liz and creating havoc. Liz and Gil were constantly at odds with each other, while fighting their mutual attraction. One of the twins took to Liz, but the other waged an all out war against her, trying to keep her and his dad away from each other.

I learned more about horseshoeing than I ever thought I'd want to know, and more about the drama and work that goes into well rescues than I'd ever dreamed of, and I really appreciate the research Ms. Fox put into both subjects to bring realism to her story. The kids were also integral, and actual supporting characters rather than just plot moppets. There were some scenes that made me laugh, and the last quarter of the book got a bit tense and made me emotional. Not to mention the cute cover picture!


Romance done right.