27 February 2015

Bounty Hunter (Loveswept No. 707)


Synopsis from back cover: “You have something that belongs to me – my heart...”

Hired to locate a runaway wife, he'd blown into her life like a hawk riding he wind, bu when Kane Hawthorne found Elizabeth Lawson, he wanted her for his own! A desperate woman who trusted no one, she tried to keep him from making her enemies his, but Kane insisted on fighting her demons. Could she cherish her savage hero until his own ghosts were silenced?

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, published by Bantam Books,1994

How acquired: Won from the author in a giveaway on her Facebook page.

First line: “Find my wife, and I'll make sure you never want for anything in your life.”

My thoughts: I'm a sucker for an old school category romance, and BOUNTY HUNTER didn't disappoint. A Native American (Shoshone) bounty hunter is hired to track down a rich prick's runaway wife. He claims he cut off her credit cards and she ran off in a snit. But when Kane catches up with Elizabeth (using the name Annie) he immediately senses there's more to the story. So rather than hustle her back to her husband, he convinces her to hire him on for room and board to help out around the falling apart at the seams house and barn where she's trying to start a canning business. And of course, despite wariness and misgivings on both their parts, they fall for each other, while it becomes obvious both their lives are in danger. And then Kane has to come clean and tell Elizabeth the real reason he showed up at her door, and hope she won't hate him.

No need to tell you how it ends, because how else could it?

Favorite lines:
"Shhh. Stop trying to carry the whole world on your shoulders. Let someone hold you. Let me."

Who wouldn't melt at that? 

23 February 2015

Rereadable Lines

"Shhh. Stop trying to carry the whole world on your shoulders. Let someone hold you. Let me."

Kane Hawthorne
BOUNTY HUNTER, by Donna Kauffman

22 February 2015

Dog Day Wedding

Synopsis from Goodreads: Giovanni Roma was jilted at the altar. Twice. Meeting Natalie is an enchanting distraction—too bad she’s engaged to another man. To top it off, Giovanni’s mother has a mouth with no filter and is obsessed with finding her son a suitable baby-maker.

Natalie DeMarco is a good cop with one problem. Cold feet. Her fiancĂ© is a decent man, but she’s starting to wonder if decent is good enough. Maybe the doubts could be blamed on Giovanni, that guitar-making Italian hunk next door.

Giovanni knows he must do something, but things get out of hand when he learns he’s not the only one who objects to the wedding.

Stats for my copy: Kindle edition, published by Season Publishing, 2015; received through Netgalley for review.

First line: “Somebody kill me,” muttered Giovanni Roma, fiddling with his cufflinks.

My thoughts: If I had to describe this book in one word, that word would be Fun. With a capital F.

The story opens with Giovanni being stood up at the altar. As he drives away from the church, he stops to help an elderly woman catch her runaway dog, and almost gets a ticket for leaving his car parked in the middle of the street, but the officer takes pity on him and lets him off with a warning. Later he meets that officer again – turns out she's his neighbor's granddaughter.

Natalie is about to marry Jacks, despite the fact that he seems more interested in his car than in her. He doesn't even know her favorite color or flavor of ice cream. After not giving Giovanni a ticket, she sees him again while at her grandfather's house – outside, in his yard, in his underwear. He certainly gets her attention.

I loved the banter between Giovanni and Natalie, and they seemed to click together right away. Most of the characters in the book were pretty memorable, with their own distinct personalities. Giovanni’s mother isn't very likable, calling her son rude names while obsessively trying to match him up with someone who will quickly produce grandchildren. But his friends Stevie and Danny were welcome additions who I enjoyed. There's also Precious, the runaway dog who Giovanni finds himself dog sitting, and who was the catalyst in putting Natalie and Giovanni into each other's company.

A new character was introduced towards the end of the book, and his appearance came out of left field. His involvement and the direction the story took disconcerted me a bit. I felt like the plot almost went over the top at that point. However it was all resolved very satisfactorily.

It's not a deep character study, but rather a light, frothy, funny story that made me laugh out loud several times. It's refreshing to find a cute romantic comedy written by a man, and I've already bought, and look forward to reading, Mr. Amooi's previous book, FIVE MINUTES LATE.

15 February 2015

Against the Law (Against Series/Raines of Wind Canyon, Book 3)

Synopsis from Goodreads: At thirty-two Dev is "mostly retired" from Raines Investigations, content to run operations from his sprawling Arizona home. But Dev has never been able to say no to a beautiful woman, so when Lark Delaney comes to him for help, the former U.S. Army Ranger from Wind Canyon gets back in the game.

Lark is sexy, successful and dedicated to tracking down the baby girl her sister gave up for adoption. It should be a straightforward case, but it's not long before Dev uncovers a shady adoption ring and worse—the child's parents have been murdered and the little girl has been taken.

As the case grows dangerous and Lark needs him more than ever, Dev can't ignore his growing attraction for her. He also can't trust his judgment with women or the emotions he's long-since buried. But there's a chance, if he gets this right and saves Lark's niece, that he'll end up saving himself, too.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, published by Mira Books, 2011.

How acquired: Through Book Mooch.

First line: He had everything he ever wanted.

My thoughts: I went into this book with a little trepidation, knowing that the heroine was going to hire Dev to help her track down the child her sister had placed for adoption four years earlier. Knowing, from the synopsis, that the adoption probably was not conducted legally. This is one of my hangups. I work in the adoption field, and I hate seeing stories, on film or in print, that give adoption a bad name. And lines like this, nineteen pages in, did not help:
Once they located the adoption agency, the address of the adoptive parents should be easy enough to find. Assuming the agency people could be persuaded to give up the information.

The only thing that would persuade the staff at our agency to divulge a family's address would be a warrant. Well, maybe a gun to the head would do it for some of our staff. But we would never just hand that information over to anyone who wanted it.

Several pages later, after talking to another girl who also placed a child, and was currently pregnant and placing that child as well, albeit with a different agency, Lark wonders how much the girl earned, and Dev speculates:
She's blonde and blue-eyed. Caucasian babies are in high demand. Twenty thousand, maybe more. It isn't against the law – not if the agency is licensed and following all the state mandates.”

Maybe that's not illegal in Arizona, but it sure is in my state. We can pay a birth mother's living expenses – within reason and with a judge's signature on a court order – but we can give her money, and she does not get paid to place the child.

And now I'm probably just being a little nitpicky, but a few pages later they walk into a daycare center, and while Dev approaches the receptionist desk, Lark wanders around the play area, and then talks to a little boy. I cannot imagine any daycare in the country where a person can just walk in off the street and roam around among the children.

Anyway, after it was stressed a couple of times that Lark only wanted to be sure her sister's child was in a safe and loving home, and had no intention of disrupting that, I began to relax a little and enjoy the story. And then when they finally went to that home, just in time to see masked men fleeing after having gunned down the adoptive parents and the household staff, while terrified little Chrissy was hiding in a closet, I was completely hooked. And after that, it wasn't about adoption (other than Lark of course eventually adopting Chrissy). It was about drug cartels, and Mexican criminals, and lives being in danger, and me turning pages faster and faster.

I loved Dev and Lark together. Lark is a successful businesswoman, running her own company and making and selling designer handbags. Now that she has Chrissy to raise, the last thing she needs is a relationship. Dev is the youngest of the Raines brothers, and after his fiancee broke up with him days before their wedding several years ago, he doesn't trust women and is determined to never fall in love again. They may say they love you, but how can you know if they really mean it? The answer is to have fun with pretty women but never get serious with them. The attraction between Dev and Lark is palpable, but Lark is Dev's client, and he doesn't mix business with pleasure, so she's off limits as one of his flings. When they do finally give in to the chemistry between them, it was pretty sizzling.

We meet several men who work for Dev, or who served with him in the military and are called upon now to help out. The action never lets up as Dev, Lark, Chrissy, and other men are thrown into one intense situation after another. Of the three books about the Raines brothers, this one is definitely my favorite. The next three books in the Against Series feature three of the other men involved in this one, and I am eager to read all of them. So eager in fact, that I've already placed an order through Barnes & Noble for the next book, along with two other books in the Against series, and the first book in the Brodies of Alaska series.

So despite my initial misgivings, this was a very good suspenseful story with a complex plot. There were lots of scenes that made me either laugh out loud or grin like an idiot, and when the danger was over and Lark and Dev were coming to grips with their feelings for each other, there were some scenes that literally made me cry. I can't get the next book quick enough. 

09 February 2015

Protective Custody


Synopsis from Goodreads: When Skye Madden is caught trespassing at an exclusive ski resort while trying to support herself as a tabloid photographer, she is stunned to discover that her childhood crush, Aidan Hastings, is the head of security. More shocking still, Aidan tells her in no uncertain terms that if she is found snooping around the resort again, he’ll take her over his knee and give her a spanking she’ll never forget.

When her boss sends her back to the same resort a year later on another assignment, Skye can’t help but remember Aidan’s warning, but a spanking quickly becomes the least of her worries after she gets lost on the mountain. While trying to find her way back, things go from bad to worse when she witnesses a cold-blooded murder, and she is left with no choice but to confess everything to Aidan. Worst of all, it appears that the murder is connected to the Russian mob. 

Aidan decides he’s taking no chances with his best friend’s little sister, a girl he’s never been able to forget. As a former special agent, he is more than ready to do whatever is needed to keep her safe, even if that means taking her into hiding in an isolated cabin, whether she likes it or not. But Skye Madden has grown even more stubborn and headstrong than he remembered, and he soon realizes it will take quite a bit more than just a bare-bottom spanking to bring her in line. 

Even with her world collapsing around her, Skye wonders how she can let this man—someone who has a place called a “punishment room” in his house, on top of everything else—start to claim her heart again. Can she learn to trust her firm protector, or will she take matters into her own hands and put her life in even greater danger? 

Publisher’s Note: Protective Custody is an erotic novel that includes spankings, sexual scenes, anal play, elements of BDSM, and more. If such material offends you, please don’t buy this book.

Stats for my copy: Kindle edition, published by Stormy Night Publications, 2015.

How acquired: Bought.

First line: Skye Madden sat in the holding cell along with her colleague, Barb Smith, at the Blue Piste Ski Resort in Aspen, Colorado.

My thoughts: Skye is a photographer for a tabloid paper, a job she’s not necessarily proud of but it’s a job and puts food on the table. She and a colleague are caught trespassing on the grounds of a posh mountain resort, where the head of the security team turns out to be Aidan, who was her older brother’s best friend years ago, and who kissed her on her 18th birthday and then disappeared. He lets her go, with a warning that if he catches her sneaking around his mountain again, he’ll spank her.

A year later, and she is again sneaking around the resort, trying to get pictures of a celebrity rumored to be there with his mistress. But this time she witnesses a murder before getting caught by security, who once again deliver her to Aidan.
Given that two Russian mob families are involved, and Skye’s life would be in danger if they ever found out she’d taken pictures of them, Aidan makes Skye stay with him so he can protect her. And punish her.

I was drawn into the story very quickly. A tabloid photographer is definitely a sleazy profession, but Skye is a very likable character, though seeming younger than her age and pretty naive. Even while doing her job her conscience pricks her and she has misgivings, but a girl’s got to eat, right? It’s been ten years since Aidan, who is quite a bit older than her, kissed her, and she’s been angry at him ever since for just leaving and disappearing completely. Aidan has never forgotten that kiss either, but he believed at the time he was too old for her, and then he went undercover and couldn’t contact her or her brother if he’d wanted to.

The relationship between them develops quickly, which is expected given their history and the current circumstances, so it didn’t feel too rushed. The plot line with the Russian mob families at first felt a little unrealistic to me, but then quickly became suspenseful. In the middle of the heaviest action though the narrative sort of jumped over the action, so that events happened but were not described. For instance, Aidan leaves Skye at a hidden cabin, and she locks the door behind him:
But before she ever had a chance to unzip her bag and take out the blanket she’d packed, there was a muffled sound of something she wasn’t sure she recognized at the door and within a few moments, two men were inside, one reaching for her, silencing her with a hand over her mouth before she could even scream.
What happened during those “few moments”? How did the men actually get inside? Did they pick the lock? Break down the door? Jimmy it open? Too much was left out there. In another scene, Aidan is sitting in a chair, with a man standing behind him, holding a gun to his head:
Aidan jumped up from his seat while taking out his own hidden revolver and knocking the guard over the head.
With that sentence and the next one, the fight with the guard is over, and I felt like it should have lasted for several sentences. 

Other than that, the story is pretty mesmerizing. The characters are fairly well written, and the sex was sizzling. Natasha Knight specializes in erotic stories filled with spanking and other BDSM elements, and she's very good at it. For Skye, this is completely new territory, and her emotions are all over the place, as she tries to process and understand why Aidan's treatment of her embarrasses and humiliates her, yet thrills and arouses her at the same time. In addition to spanking, there is bondage and anal play. But there's also a sweet love story at the core, with a satisfying resolution. 

07 February 2015

Mean Streak

Synopsis from Goodreads: Dr. Emory Charbonneau, a pediatrician and marathon runner, disappears on a mountain road in North Carolina. By the time her husband, Jeff, miffed over a recent argument, reports her missing, the trail has grown cold. Literally. Fog and ice encapsulate the mountainous wilderness and paralyze the search for her.

While police suspect Jeff of "instant divorce," Emory, suffering from an unexplained head injury, regains consciousness and finds herself held captive by a man whose violent past is so dark that he won't even tell her his name. She's determined to escape from him and willing to take any risks necessary to survive.

Unexpectedly, however, the two have a dangerous encounter with people who adhere to a code of justice all their own. At the center of the dispute is a desperate young woman whom Emory can't turn her back on, even if it means breaking the law. Wrong becomes right at the hands of the man who strikes fear but also sparks passion.

As her husband's deception is revealed, and the FBI closes in on her captor, Emory begins to wonder if the man with no name is, in fact, her rescuer from those who wish her dead – and from heartbreak.

Stats for my copy: Hardback, published by Grand Central Publishing, 2014. .

How acquired: Bought.

First line: Emory hurt all over.

My thoughts: Emory drives from her home in Atlanta to a small town in North Carolina and spends the night in a motel, so she can run the next day on the trails in a national park. Early in the morning she's an hour into a long run over mountain terrain. And then suddenly stars explode in her head and she's out cold. When she wakes up, with a killer headache from a nasty head wound, she's in a small cabin with a formidable looking man who says he found her unconscious. He answers her questions tersely or not at all, and won't tell her anything about himself, including his name. He does tell her the fog outside is too heavy for him to risk driving her anywhere on the icy mountain roads, and he has no phone or close neighbors. He disables her cell phone and won't give her the password for his laptop, so she can't even contact her husband or her partners in her medical practice to let them know she's okay.

Meanwhile her husband, Jeff, is canoodling with his girlfriend, and when the girlfriend begins to express worry over the fact that Emory hasn't called him and hasn't been home yet, he says Emory is probably still mad at him after the argument they had the night before she left. Eventually he does also start to worry, calling around to see if anyone's heard from her, and then driving to North Carolina himself to report her missing and hassle the local police for not doing enough to look for her. And of course, being the spouse, he's a suspect. We also meet the deputies investigating Emory's disappearance, an FBI agent, and an assortment of other characters, both good and bad.

So how did Emory get her concussion? I was pretty sure throughout most of the book that I knew who conked her on the head, or who was behind her being conked on the head. Pretty sure, but never one hundred percent.

Lots of books in the romance and/or mystery/suspense genres feature a hero who is a “bad boy”. A dark horse. Mysterious. You know who the hero is as soon as he's introduced, and you know the hero is a good guy. You know that, whatever crimes he's been accused of or actions have been attributed to him, there will be a reasonable explanation, or extenuating circumstances, or a clearing up of a misunderstanding. So I went into this book expecting that. But this guy. I wanted to like him. Did like him. Wanted to fall for him, the way I fall for every Sandra Brown hero. But I was conflicted. Plagued by doubts. Trying to reconcile his good traits with his bad traits. It was an emotional see saw. And that's a testament to Sandra Brown's writing ability. To her characterization.

The plot was so layered I never knew where it was going. And when I thought I did, Ms. Brown threw me a curve ball. The characters are all distinctive, and her descriptions of the landscape or the surroundings always left a clear picture in my head.

I love this book. 

03 February 2015

Against the Fire (Against Series/Raines of Wind Canyon, Book 2)

Synopsis from Goodreads: You can't fight what you can't see. And Gabriel Raines can't be sure just who's setting the fires in his new real-estate development. When two fires hit back-to-back, he knows it's personal, but any number of competitors or ex-employees could be the arsonist.

The police suspect Angel Ramirez, a local teen who's been in trouble before. But Mattie Baker, a volunteer at the Family Abuse center, just can't believe the kid she's been working with would go back to his delinquent ways. 

Determined to convince Gabe that she's right, Mattie must get close to him and find out who's putting their neighborhood in jeopardy. And just as the arsonist's flames continue to burn, they find a heat developing between them. It might just turn into a full-fledged fire if they can survive long enough.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, published by Mira Books, 2011.

How acquired: Through BookCrossing.

First line: The screech of the siren didn't reach him at first.

My thoughts: Gabriel Raines, the middle Raines brother, has a successful construction/remodeling business in Dallas. He buys old properties and restores them, and current projects underway when the book opens include an historic theater and an apartment building that had been condemned. Mattie Baker is a successful, award winning architect, who puts in lots of hours at the office, but also finds time to volunteer at a local family resource center, working with families who are putting their lives back together after domestic abuse/violence. Like Jackson in the first RAINES OF WIND CANYON book, Gabe is not necessarily looking for a wife or a relationship and seems pretty content with his life. Mattie was raised by a single mother after her father died when she was young, and after seeing how her mother struggled, and after a bad experience with an ex, she is determined to never put her trust and reliance in another man. Like Sarah in the first book, she is fiercely independent.

I liked Gabe, though not quite as much as Jackson. Maybe because, even though Gabe has a ranch, he doesn't actually spend much time at it, and so he isn't really a rancher like Jackson. He is, however, former military. I also liked Mattie, and felt like I could relate to her a little more than I had to Sarah.

Gabe and Mattie meet at a police station, when a teenager is arrested for setting a fire in one of Gabe's buildings. Mattie, who knows Angel from her volunteer work, is convinced that Angel is innocent, and she intends to prove it. So even though Gabe is the kind of man she'd prefer to avoid being around, she inserts herself into the investigation, insisting that he help her find the real arsonist. Gabe is willing to give Angel the benefit of doubt, plus Mattie intrigues him and he isn't averse to spending some time in her company.

The suspense in this second book was amped up a little more, and the plot felt more tightly drawn and not quite as far fetched as the first book. As the fires continue, Gabe and younger brother Dev compile a suspect list, investigate or question suspects, cross them off, come up with more suspects...I was never sure what direction the story would take next, and had no clue who the real arsonist was until the author actually introduced him to us, the reader, while still leaving Gabe and everyone else in the dark.

And of course amidst all the fires and investigating, Gabe and Mattie get to know each other and get closer. Mattie, being afraid of falling for someone, anyone, runs a little hot and cold, but when she realizes she may have pushed Gabe away one too many times, she bucks up and sets out to rectify that, rather than being all wishy washy. Gabe accepts his growing feelings quicker than Mattie does, but is plagued by doubts of whether she wants him or just wants him in bed. They are very well suited to each other, and the culmination of their relationship was quite satisfying.

Meanwhile, there's a side plot with Gabe's best friend, Sam, courting Mattie's best friend, Tracy, that was very sweet, but which left me asking why they couldn't have had their own book instead of being secondary characters here.

Very enjoyable story, with some great characters and a suspenseful plot. 

01 February 2015

Refined by Fire (Guardians of Peace, Book 1)


Synopsis from NetGalley: In the summer of 1976, the first women were admitted to the United States Military Academy, and the first women to complete a four-year ROTC program were commissioned as second lieutenants.

Lori, Maura, Anne, and Amelia’s journey into a male-dominated Army are chronicled in this exciting, page-turning adventure, as they face the challenges of being accepted into an army that is struggling to integrate women.

Refined by Fire shares the women’s uncertainty, frustration, and friendship, while accurately depicting the challenges both the academy cadets and active-duty lieutenants encountered in the United States Army of the mid-1970s. Refined by Fire, the first novel in the Guardians of Peace historical fiction series by Ruth VanDyke and Yvonne Doll, weaves a tale of young women surviving and thriving in sometimes difficult and completely uncharted circumstances.

Stats for my copy: Kindle ebook, published by Greenleaf Book Group, 2014.

How acquired: Received free from the publisher via NetGalley.

My thoughts: It took me much longer to read this than it should have. It was very interesting from an historical standpoint. There is an incredible amount of detail regarding the schooling and training cadets go through. And the hazing, which was often worse for the women than for the men.

But there was no character development. I never felt any connection to any of the women or felt like I really got to know any of them. In fact, I often had trouble remembering who was who, because none of them had a distinct personality or stood out from the others. At times, when the women were talking to each other, or to someone else, it felt more like their conversation was for the purpose of info dump, rather than natural conversation.

And then this just irritated me – when one of the women is transferred to a new location, she asks the officer showing her around what a TA-50 is. He expresses shock, asking in an incredulous tone:
“You don’t know what TA-50 is, ma’am?”
Maura shook her head. “If I did, I can assure you I would not have humiliated myself by asking a question that you obviously think is stupid…”
They then begin talking about something else and he never tells her what a TA-50 is, and I had to go to the glossary at the end of the book to find out. (Individual military combat gear, in case you're interested.)

Unfortunately, the book just didn't really hold my interest, and while I did finish it, I was glad to reach the end.