I am E_bookpushers and I am addicted to books. I have to thank my mother for my addiction because one of my fondest memories involves bedtime stories. No, I am not talking about Dr. Seuss, Bernstein Bears or Madeline, those were daytime learn to read books, but I am talking about Tolkien, Richard Adams and Asimov…
Thanks to my mother’s open mindedness I did not grow up a genre snob. While I tend to read and enjoy SF/F in its various permutations, romance and its sub-genres I also read and enjoy westerns, murder mysteries etc. If a book can capture my attention, spark my imagination; carry me into a different world/reality than I am willing to give it a try. So bring on your recommendations so I can update my TBR list.
Publish Date: Out now
How I got this book: ARC from the publisher via Netgalley
I’ve battled the Reapers of Chaos before–and survived. But this time I have a Bad, Bad Feeling it’s going to be a fight to the death … most likely mine.
Yeah, I’ve got my psychometry magic, my talking sword, Vic–and even the most dangerous Spartan on campus at my side, in Logan freaking Quinn, but I’m no match for Loki, the evil Norse god of chaos. I may be Nike’s Champion, but at heart, I’m still just Gwen Frost, that weird Gypsy girl everyone at school loves to gossip about.
Then someone I love is put in more danger than ever before, and something inside me snaps. This time, Loki and his Reapers are going down for good … or I am.
This blurb came from the author’s website.
There is nothing like being hooked with the first book of a series and staying as captivated through the very end. Over the intervening years since I picked up First Frost I have also been lucky enough to review most of them and show my enjoyment. So it was with a combination of eagerness and sadness that I cracked open the cover to the final installment in Estep’s Mythos Academy series. When I read the back cover blurb and tried to figure out exactly what was going to make Gwen snap I had a guess and it proved to be accurate. That was the only thing I guess correctly about Killer Frost which meant I enjoyed the twists and turns even more. If you haven’t read the previous installments you need to stop reading now, enjoy the series up to this point and then pick up reading this review again. In other words I will be unable to avoid spoilers from earlier in Gwen’s life but I will avoid any major spoilers from this installment.
The story opened in a way that made me both laugh and grimace a bit. Gwen’s roommate, Daphne, was trying to convince Gwen to relax and enjoy her double date. Gwen can’t shake the feeling that something bad is going to happen given her experiences during her last date with Logan. But as time goes on it appears as if all she has to worry about is Logan’s reluctance to touch her because of his PTSD caused by his actions while under Loki’s control. Then Logan’s father, Linus, showed up and once again his presence seemed to indicate everything was going to slide downhill rather quickly. The Protectorate had retrieved a large stash of artifacts at least one of which was vital to the Reapers attempts to completely restore Loki to power. Linus wanted Gwen to use her psychometry to determine which artifact and why it was so important. After the Reapers failed to secure the artifact during an attack on the convoy, they decided to switch tactics and go after someone Gwen loved. At that point Gwen decided she had nothing to lose and everything to gain so instead of just reacting she started planning to end it once and for all.
I loved seeing everything from the past stories pulled together. Gwen’s arguments with Linus and his continuing blindness to what really mattered were something to see. All of the allies Gwen gained, the lives she touched and improved, and friends she didn’t know existed all banded together when she least expected it. I also loved seeing her take some observations over the years and give a few individuals a push towards potential happiness. It was as if Gwen’s fears about surviving the next encounter with Loki made her more sensitive to enjoying what was available at the present because the chance might never come again. Her habit of displaying loyalty towards others regardless of the personal cost in previous installments continued as a theme in Killer Frost.
As much as I enjoyed seeing the threads pull together, I certainly did not feel like all of the action occurred in previous installments. On several occasions Estep provided moments when I felt like my heart was in my throat because things looked very doubtful but then she would add a resurgence of hope and I would start breathing again. Estep also continued to weave the threads of myths and legends as she provided closure marking a definite ending to the series yet leaving me wondering how the final events would leave a lingering mark on the survivors.
Estep did a wonderful job with Killer Frost as the final story. I felt fully satisfied because the events that occurred followed the same logic as the entire series. Not to mention all of Frost’s characters remained within their established personas regardless of the difficulty of the situation. I am very glad I picked this series up and I hope that Estep decided to continue writing in the YA/Fantasy genre.
I give Killer Frost an A
Publish Date: Out now
How I got this book: ARC from the publisher via Netgalley
My name is Kye Rivers. I am a Deuce Crescent, which means I have magick running through my veins. Even though my family is Deuce, too, I have always felt like an outcast. Why? Because my particular gift revolves around sensuality, which makes my family uncomfortable. I get my validation and satisfaction from helping people with their sexual pathos. The price for my magick is that falling in love interferes with my abilities. Losing my abilities, and my career, isn’t worth getting involved with some guy who will probably break my heart anyway.
When I met the new bartender, a rare Caido who works at the nightclub that serves as my office and second home, I felt an electric draw like never before. Even scarier, Kasabian isn’t like other angel/human Crescents, who are cool and asexual. Kasabian craves emotions…and he craves me. I fear that what’s different in him is dangerous for both of us.
This blurb came from the author’s website.
I have been eyeballing this series for a while and when I read the back cover blurb of this story I was tempted to give it a try. So I went out and purchased the first novella in this series and found the world intriguing. I continued to read until I was up to the point of this installment but unfortunately I found the magic missing. I really wasn’t able to connect with either of the main characters, and about halfway through I found myself struggling to keep the plot threads connected.
The world Rush has created is populated by those with magical abilities: some are dragon shifters, some seem more human, others are angelic decedents, and then there are the angels themselves. Regardless of their supernatural bloodline, all require exposure to a certain level of essence. This is the force that powers their supernatural abilities. Caido are half human/half angel and have a reputation of being impossibly attractive and completely uninterested in feelings or emotions. A few have developed an addiction to feeling and emotions, but the method they use requires another person who eventually dies.
Kye made her living as a combination sex and relationship therapist. As part of her practice, she discovered, in certain circumstances, she had the ability to allow Caido to feel without killing another person but it wasn’t without side effects. Finding herself drawn to Kasabian at first just put her livelihood in danger. Then as world events continued to develop, her life was at risk.
Kasabian didn’t quite fit with his kind. Mentally scarred from his childhood, he spent his time tending bar, working at a children’s shelter, and not exactly avoiding emotion. Then he spotted Kye and felt a desire to be around her as much as possible. Fearing what could happen to her, he did his best to stay away, and to tried keep her from seeking him out until he discovered the nightmare from his childhood was happening again to other children.
While I admired the dedication and loyalty both Kye and Kasabian demonstrated as they tried to solve the issue of who was behind the kidnapping and what the motivation was, I was not as fascinated with their romance. It seemed as if outside their physical attraction Kye and Kasabian were reluctantly drawn to each other. They only seemed to consider how much they valued the other person when an outside entity tried to keep them separate until the end of the story. Regardless of how crucial Kye was to Kasabian’s success, he repeatedly kept vital information from her. Kye kept information from Kasabian that directly related to their bond, which impacted their chances of success. They did manage to work together on certain occasions but each was followed by a period of enmity—usually on Kasabian’s side.
I did want to find out the story behind the missing children but a lot of that information was provided by the glimpses of the bad guys. So instead of having a mystery to solve along with Kye and Kasabian, I had to focus on seeing if they would put the pieces together in time and manage a successful rescue. Unfortunately I found myself lost trying to keep track of who did what, when, where, and why and partway through not really hooked enough to try to figure out where the different threads went. I think if I was more invested in the romance and the overall problem in this particular installment instead of the overall series, I would have felt differently.
In Angel Seduced Rush took the world I found fascinating and added a few new complexities all of which did not exactly work for me. I did have a glimpse at a dragon but this installment focused on the Caido and their obsessions. I hope in future installments dragons come to prominence once more and the focus shifts back to the overall problem facing this world. I would like to see a return to the magic that made me decide to take a chance on Angel Seduced.
I give Angel Seduced a C-
Publish Date: Feb 25th
How we got this book: ARC from the publisher
What the mind forgets, the heart remembers.
Since the moment Katy Thompson transformed from annoying tagalong to desirable woman, Gage Jenick has awaited his chance. When she kicks her boyfriend to the curb, he doesn’t hold back—in spite of the next day work assignment that will take him completely off the grid for two long months.
After a head injury sustained on a storm-swept road, Katy can’t remember her own email password, much less how the little pink “positive” on the pregnancy stick got there. Barring an influx of midichlorians, she’s at a loss to explain what happened, or when…or with whom.
Suddenly Gage is back in her life as if he has a right to be there. While she vividly remembers the crush she had on him, she’s no one’s charity case. But another thing she’d forgotten was just how stubborn Gage can be—especially when her domineering ex tries to stake a claim…
Warning: An unforgettable night that gets forgotten. A crazy redneck ex, and a hero who’s ready to take on the world, and his past, for his heroine.
This blurb came from the author’s website.
E: A few weeks ago I reviewed Marked which contained the first installment of Arend’s Thompson & Sons series. Katy is in a few scenes but I didn’t really get a chance to know her so I was very curious to see what Katy’s story was. When I read the introduction, I realized that Baby, Be Mine was one of the stories using favorite tropes that came from a lovely twitter discussion. Now I really couldn’t wait to read this. I have to say Arend threw in some favorite tropes and then a lot more. I loved how she set up the combination of pregnancy and amnesia so Katy didn’t know who the father of her unborn baby was.
Meka: Oh, this book! Pregnancy! Amnesia! Who could ask for anything more? I read and reviewed Marked where we get to see Mitchell, Katy’s brother, get his HEA. All of this made me very interested in learning more about his family and the people important to them. While we got just a few snippets about Katy and learned that she was important to Mitchell, we didn’t really glean much. And so here is this book with its amazing tropes that are some of my absolute favorites, and how could I say no? Loved the beginning where we see Gage finally ready to make his move and Katy taking him up on said challenge. That particular opening was one of the absolute sweetest that I’ve ever read in a romance.
E: Katy about broke my heart. She had gone from a strong woman finally getting what she wanted for years to a woman recovering from a serious head injury whose memory and brain aren’t working they way they did. Pregnant, not sure of who the father was, more attracted to Gage but unable to believe she couldn’t remember their time together Katy was struggling. Her ex kept trying to get her back and claim they had reconciled during the time she could no longer remember. Gage kept trying to remind Katy of their past as he knew it but she wasn’t sure who to believe. I enjoyed how she wasn’t sure of what happened but she knew, she felt more for Gage. Her strength as she got through all of the wickets thrown in her way by her ex’s plots was absolutely amazing.
Meka: There were so many things that I enjoyed about Katy. She had such a strength about her and I loved to see it shine through. She didn’t want to be coddled, she wanted people to understand her. Her skepticism of Gage was completely natural, and her confusion about who was the baby’s father really made her struggles to find normalcy in the crazy more poignant. Learning to trust Gage and her own heart just brought out the sweetness in this story and I enjoyed watching their journey.
I loved that she had the most incredible friends. Too often, romancelandia heroines live in an island unto themselves. I *loved* that she had friends that she could BS with and talk smack. It made for some real laugh-out-loud moments in the book.
E: Gage was a rough, angry man who didn’t shy away from using physical force to defend what he cared about. Finally giving into Katy after she broke up with her boyfriend he planned to return from his contract job and pick up where they left off. But she never responded to any of his emails and then he discovered she was pregnant, amnesiac, and as a result didn’t know who to believe. While he never lost his temper with Katy, his actions towards her ex resulted in even more stress until after the results of a paternity test were reported. His steadfast determination to care for Katy and do to everything he could to show her he cared was very moving. I loved how he carefully skirted the rules yet made sure he was around when she needed him.
Meka: Gage is going down as one of my favorite romance heroes. He was sweet, attentive, and aware of his temper but afraid of it as well. I loved the way that he supported Katy and was there for her during the changes in her life. His concern over not receiving those emails was palpable, and it was interesting to watch him have to rethink his strategy of approaching Katy after the changes. He dealt with both her ex and Katy’s protective family in stride. A scene close to the end of the book that involved Gage made me tear up, as did the last part because we got to see him in his element. We got to see all that gruff package show all of himself instead of just parts and pieces and it made me happy *sigh*.
E: Baby, Be Mine was a lot of fun to read. Arend took a few tropes, spun them on their heads and not only provided an entertaining story but also made me think about how very precious my memory is. The tension between Gabe, Katy, and her ex along with the many obstacles kept me wondering how things were going to work out. Katy’s story was a great follow-up to the glimpses I had of her in “Rocky Ride”.
I give Baby, Be Mine an A-
Meka: Baby, Be Mine took tropes that I love and wove them intricately in to a story that made me both laugh and cry. I was reading this while traveling, and there was a part that made me stop reading, go to twitter, and flail, but the payoff was so worth it. if I had a quibble, it would be that I might be too much of a vengeful reader and wanted a little more commupence for someone, but that’s just me. It was a fun book with a sigh-worthy couple who got the HEA that they most definitely deserved. It’s also putting Vivian Arend on my auto-buy list. I give Baby, Be Mine an A.
Publish Date: 25 Feb
How we got this book: ARC from the publisher
He usually gets what he wants. What he wants is her…and all that comes with her.
Sex in the office? Lincoln Campbell knows better. His assistant, Thea Marshall, is off limits—until her back hits the door and her clothes come off. The next day brings more than morning-after regrets. It brings damning evidence that Thea stole business secrets.
Three months later, he can’t shake the doubts in his gut, so he heads for Thea’s family cabin by the lake, ready to talk. He’s not ready for the woman who answers the door. She was shapely before…and it won’t be long before she’s a totally different shape.
After Linc escorted her off company property while her protestations of innocence fell on deaf ears, facing off with him now isn’t exactly Thea’s idea of a good time. She needs a few more weeks to plan the drastically different direction her life has taken, but now he’s here—and refusing to leave.
With a storm rolling in and snow piling up, there’s nothing to do but face the past…and try to resist the real man behind the suit.
This blurb came from the author’s website.
E: When I started hearing buzz that a few authors I enjoyed were plotting based on twitter commentary about favorite tropes I knew I had to get my hands on those stories. Dimon’s Baby, It’s Cold Outside started off with a with a blast of heat as Lincoln and Thea spent an evening in his office working through their mutual sexual tension, then the very next day everything changed. Instead of dealing with the stress of hiding their affair, Lincoln was confronted with proof that Thea was providing bid secrets to his rival and Thea found herself tossed out of the company without a single idea as to why. With this beginning Dimon certainly had me hooked.
Meka: I obviously missed that twitter conversation, but E and my tropes twin Lillie know when a book is going to be good for me, especially in terms of which tropes I enjoy. The beginning of the book definitely caught my attention. Frobidden sex in the office with the man who is basically breaking all of his own rules? Oh yeah. Thea’s determination to get what she wants after she’s had to wait all this time? Completely refreshing to read! That’s why when Thea is escorted out of the office without a reason why, it was all the more gut-wrenching and difficult to read.
E: Lincoln had a hard time believing Thea was really betraying the company but until evidence proving otherwise showed up he felt that he had no other choice. I liked that he went after Thea more than once, to try to find out why and to get her back into his life. But I didn’t like that he was pushy and refused to actually talk to her except about his thoughts and feelings. However, I loved his insistence that regardless of anything else, he would take care of his responsibilities and not just from a distance.
Meka: Lincoln was a bit of a hard sell for me, honestly. They had such amazing chemistry together and then he never asked Thea if she did anything, simply assumed based on the evidence but refused to point it out to her. That really annoyed me, but he did make up for it by being intense and manning up when he really needed to do so. His angst over wanting Thea even though he truly believed that she had stolen company secrets made him more likeable, but I was totally on Team Thea. His expectations of making things up to her and trying to power his way through made me admire his persistence even as I cringed at his arrogance. When some things are revealed, I nearly cheered at the way that he took responsibility and didn’t pull a card that is all too familiar. He was pushy, arrogant, and frustrating, yet sweet, willing to back down, and quite an adorable worrier.. after he confided in Thea, I completely understand why he was that way.
E: I mostly liked Thea because she was a strong woman. When her world turned upside down not once but twice instead of curling up, she gave herself time to heal and figure out what she was going to do next. I loved her optimism and determination that she wasn’t going back to Lincoln until he came to the realization that she was innocent. I also liked how she also planned to share certain information with Lincoln instead of leaving him unaware. She also struck me as rather emotionally mature with her willingness to talk things out regardless of how angry and hurt she was feeling. I did a little mental happy dance when she successfully managed to get Lincoln to prove her entire point to himself.
Meka: Thea was such a wonderful character that I could really cheer for. She had the emotional fortitude to deal with all of the mess that Lincoln slung her way, and yet was also able to deal with her own flaws. While Lincoln put her through a lot of emotional upheaval, she was not afraid to stand up for herself and kick him out if need-be. She was able to deal with a terrible situation, and yet we also weren’t spared her emotional vulnerabilities or how the hero’s actions affected her. I love that she didn’t just let him waltz back in to her life—he had to find it. Like E said earlier, she really had the chance to be completely immature about a certain situation, so I was so thrilled that she took the high road instead.
E: While I enjoyed Baby, It’s Cold Outside, I found myself feeling slightly letdown by the end. As much mental and emotional anguish Lincoln put Thea through, I expected to see a mega groveling scene. Yes, Lincoln was suffering from a few shocks as he discovered what happened, but he appeared to have a problem looking at anything from a different perspective. As a result, I never reached the point when I felt he had actually learned and would ask before leaping to a conclusion despite a heated discussion with Thea. So I was slightly disappointed when she took him back after the big reveal but without a big grovel. That being said Baby, It’s Cold Outside was an enjoyable read and I do look forward to seeing what else Dimon has up her sleeves for future installments in her Men at Work series.
I give Baby, It’s Cold Outside a B
Meka: I really enjoyed this book and the building that needed to be done in order to repair the relationship between Lincoln and Thea. This book tugged on all of my emotional strings and tied them in a knot, and I really loved that. However, I, too, felt as though Lincoln needed to do a whole lot of groveling at the end. I didn’t realize that was what was leaving me feeling a little disappointed, but it’s exactly it. I wanted the big grovel, the I’m totally sorry. I don’t know that I am sold on their happily ever after, but I do believe that they are off to a good start.. With great characters, wonderful dialogue, and an emotional story to boot, I give Baby, It’s Cold Outside a B.
Publisher: Book View Cafe
Publish Date: Out now
How I got this book: Purchased
“…we are all Death’s pupils, we practitioners—students of the great healer.”
When magic broke free in my blood, I chose to follow our ancient family path and become a practitioner. I’m learning to heal, and to protect innocents. I dip into minds, stalk vampires, and set wards by the light of the moon. I can hear the children of the night calling.
But there are other families…and other paths. Families with twisted ambitions and frightening powers. On the frontier, folk whisper that one clan is the most dangerous of all.
Chief among those dark sorcerers is a man known as the Keeper of Souls.
And now he wants to keep mine.
This blurb came from Goodreads.
Yesterday I reviewed the first book in this series, Night Calls, and I am very happy to report that Kimbriel made me almost miss my bus stop at work because I had to read just one more page. Alfreda was well on her way learning the arts of a practitioner when she discovered that not all who could see the world’s extras delighted in them for the same reasons. As a result, she learned some very interesting lessons and kept me extremely captivated.
I loved seeing Alfreda back visiting her family and friends for a little while. Just as she had changed, she learned her family had as well. Watching her take on the role of instructor to her younger brothers while ignoring one of the side effects of her growing power was extremely cute. I thought the way she patiently walked the boys through figuring out what they should do and why boded well for her future training others, provided she survived to that point.
Speaking of lessons, Alfreda’s formal training continued to increase in complexity. I had the sense that while there was a particular order to the lessons, life’s circumstances were the ultimate decider once the apprentice achieved a solid foundation. Kimbriel did a great job of showing how every piece of information and lesson was critical. Not just practitioner and woodcraft lessons, but also those about human nature in general. The importance of loyalty, sheer determination, common sense, and a willingness to seek allies all came in handy. I loved how Alfreda was forced to use everything she learned throughout her life if she wished to survive her encounter with the dark sorcerers.
Kimbriel avoided the sophomore slump with Kindred Rites, and if anything, managed to ensnare me deeper in this series. Alfreda’s growth and the slow reveal of things left hidden earlier kept my curiosity peeked. The inclusion of two entities as prominent characters added both a bit of levity, and a sense that nature does have an order and will accept assistance in maintaining that order. I thought the final decisions Alfreda made regarding the survivors of her encounter with black sorcerers both emphasized her basic character knowledge, and set up some very interesting potential situations for future installments.
I give Kindred Rites an A
Publish Date: Feb 25
How I got this book: ARC from the author
Even in the darkest of shadows, love can light the way.
Nicholas Graham is caught in the middle: of his family, of his desires, of his own unhappiness. After he meets Winnie Watson, his self-imposed curmudgeonly existence pales in comparison to spending time with her. He wants to be with her, to get to know her. She is a beacon to all the secret cravings he has controlled. Until now.
Winnie Watson endured, and survived, a horrendous childhood that would give others nightmares. She started over, a new name, a new goal in life. Then she met the Grahams and everything went sideways. She’s done the unthinkable and struggles to accept it. She wants to forget it all again, but the specter of Nicholas Graham, physical and in her dreams, won’t let her move on.
Caught between their needs, their wants, and what the world will allow them, Nick and Winnie are doomed from the moment they met. However, love will teach them that even the biggest obstacles can be overcome if you believe in love .
This blurb came from the author’s website.
Last year I reviewed Vaughn, book 4 in the Circle Eight series and enjoyed it as I did the previous installments. Nicholas met Winnie during some rather tense times in Vaugh and had a chance to see who they could be as they worked to help their family succeed. Yet the two of them parted, each thinking they were not good enough for the other while knowing they had glimpsed something wonderful. When I found out Nick and Winnie were getting their own story I couldn’t resist. This review is going to be shorter than my usual reviews because it is going up several days before its official release.
Initially I struggled immersing myself in this story because the conflict was all self inflicted but then things changed. Lang added external conflict to the mix and suddenly I could understand where their mutual angst originated and I began cheering them on. Nicholas needed someone who wouldn’t let him wallow in the inner workings of his thoughts. Winnie needed to be loved for who she was regardless of the choices and circumstance of her childhood. One of the things Lang appears to have specialized in with this series is heroines with unusual pastimes or pasts who refuse to be regulated by what society has said they should be. I thought it was great to see Winnie own her past and refuse to be dragged down by it but try to make things better for others. And Nicholas supported her as he understood the pain of her past. Their slow progression from physical attraction to self-realization to open love was extremely moving.
Nick and Winnie’s romance was set against the mystery of an event in her past. They had to work their way through emotional highs and lows, hopes and fears, anger and sadness along the way and realized having a partner made things much more bearable. I enjoyed watching each take turns encouraging and supporting the other. Even if sometimes it appeared as if they were provoking anger instead of providing comfort. I loved how it took both Nick and Winnie to piece together the entire story and a willingness to accept help when it was offered to succeed.
In addition to the primary romance and mystery, Nicholas included the start of a secondary romance. I am hoping to see that romance play out as the focus of an upcoming installment because the drama and potential angst should be very entertaining. Once I got past the set-up for this story I found it very engrossing. Lang has continued to find ways to keep Circle Eight feeling fresh even though the problem that started this series was solved a couple of installments ago. As I said earlier I am looking forward what comes next.
I give Nicholas a B
Publisher: Book View Cafe
Publish Date: Out now
How I got this book: Purchased
“When you have the Gift, your life is not your own.”
I was born to a family that harnessed the winds and could read futures in fire and water. Yet my mother kept her secrets.
Then the werewolf came, sharing his madness.
Now it’s my turn to keep secrets….
Descended from powerful magic-users, but ignorant of her heritage, young Alfreda Sorensson learns magic and wisdom from her extended family in an alternate early 1800s Michigan Territory.
This blurb came from Book View Café.
I have been relatively vocal about saying that if an author has a website, they don’t need to have a blog just a place for me to find out what is coming out next, what is out now, what was out in the past and where I can buy them. However, if an author does have a blog one of the things I love is seeing what they have read and enjoyed. I was browsing through Laura Anne Gilman’s blog about five months ago when she had a book recommendation post. She was recommending Night Called and made mention that she felt it belonged on the shelf with The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. I you have been following us for a while you know that I absolutely LOVE Robin McKinley and tend to re-read both The Hero and The Crown and The Blue Sword on a regular basis so that statement sent me on a clicking frenzy to get to the blurb. I really don’t know why I bothered to read the blurb because the combination of who recommended it and the recommendation itself I knew I was going to buy it. Life happened to get in my reading way so I didn’t manage to read Night Calls until after the New Year when I was dealing with the post holiday slump. After I finished reading it I knew three different things. First, I really hoped she Kimbriel was writing more Alfreda stories. Second, I HAD to review this and spread the word. And finally Gilman gives good book recs.
Night Calls is like an epic fantasy/alternate historic world coming of age with a heroine as the central character. Alfreda lived in a rather small town and dealt with the usual trials and tribulations of growing up and trying to fit in while being slightly different. Then after the visit by a werewolf Alfreda learned she was part of a world that she didn’t know existed. This was a world well known to her family, but her mother’s fears about the very real dangers kept Alfreda ignorant until it became obvious she was in even more danger with her lack of knowledge. Not only was she in danger, but for some reason her town seemed to attract a growing number of creatures or supernatural entities who thought of humans as prey.
Told from Alfreda’s perspective as she learns about this new aspect to hear world and the role she can play in it I found this story an absolute delight. Alfreda did not have all the answers, nor was she all-powerful but she was determined to learn and do the best she could to help deal with the problems. In addition to learning about her abilities, Alfreda was still dealing with school, first crushes, and adults disregarding her thoughts because of her age. I loved the combination of challenges both in her day-to-day life and in her training/apprenticeship.
Kimbriel also created a very interesting world. The merging of magic and supernatural with rustic historic living and superstition was very deftly done. I enjoyed the hints that not all supernatural was evil and sometimes what appeared evil was created by humanity itself. The supporting cast was also evenly balanced, they weren’t all good, bad, or indifferent but appeared to be fully fleshed out. I also think several other families from Alfreda’s town have secrets of their own I am looking forward to discovering. While the focus of the story is Alfreda, her training came from both men and women, which I loved because it showed gender wasn’t a limitation.
Night Calls was a wonderful reminder of why I read epic coming of age fantasy for years and still hope to find that sense of adventure and wonder. I will also agree with Gilman that Night Calls is one I plan to re-read right along with McKinley’s stories. I am looking forward to Alfreda’s continuing adventures.
I give Night Calls an A
Where did you get the book: Bought/ARC offered by the publisher
Publisher: Choc lit Books
Release Date: Out now
Kael Vapensigsson is one of the elite Chosen—a Warlord whose strength comes from the gods themselves. But despite all his power and prestige, he is plagued by a prophecy that threatens to destroy everything he loves.
When Kael summons Ishtaer to his room and discovers the marks of the Chosen on her body, including the revered mark of the Warrior, both Warlord and slave seem to have met their match.
But as their lives become increasingly entangled and endangered, Ishtaer is forced to test whether the Chosen ever have the ability to choose their own fate.
Lou: When Has first told me about this book, I wasn’t quite sure if I should read it. The last book, or should I say series, I read featuring a Warlord hero was Warprize by Elizabeth Vaughan. And nobody–and I mean nobody–has come close to that masterpiece featuring Keir and Lara. But Has kept pushing me and so I finally caved in. And I’m glad I caved in despite some of the issues I had with the book because it was an enjoyable read with a great cast of characters. Kael is a Warlord and whilst he’s done Warlord stuff like killing and sword-fighting, and Warlord stuff, he was quite humorous. He almost wore a facade of what a Warlord should be like. I liked him. I also liked the heroine, Ishtaer. Up until Kael came across her in an almost slave encampment, Ishtaer had a terrible and horrifying existence. She was beaten and starved by her captive, and she was also raped by the engineering of her captive.
While I liked Ishtaer, I didn’t like how the author made her into this almost mary sue character where she was the best of all of the gifts that the God granted her. I wished she had fewer gifts. It felt as if the author had to compensate Ishtaer for her what she had to go through but instead of it being believable, it came across as Mary Sueish, especially when Ishtaer had to go through another terrible experience towards the end of the book. But despite my issues, I really did enjoy the worldbuilding and the author’s voice. The romance wasn’t instant, and Kael had to do some grovelling for behaving like an idiot. I loved at times that Ishtaer was stubborn, and there’s an empowering scene where Kael experiences a horror of Ishtaer’s past. Ishtaer was a wonderful character, despite her perfections, and she was by no means perfect when it came to her personality. Ishtaer does a lot of growing up in this book, and she is separated from Kael whilst she learns her Gifts.
I’d love to see more books set in this world and more of Kael and Istaer. All in all, I give Impossible Things a B-
Has: When I got offered the book, my book spidey senses were tingling and I definitely agree so many books are hard to live up to the Warprize trilogy by Elizabeth Vaughan. However, there was something compelling and enjoyable about IMPOSSIBLE THINGS but I agree about the heroine being too powerful, although I think the book and romance wouldn’t be as good if she didn’t go through a tortuous and dark past. And while I liked how the world-building was set up with people from certain blood-lines who were marked with gifts that were energized by crystals, I did find Ishtaer being thrice-marked as a Seer, a healer and a warrior made her almost too perfect especially when she in fact blind and was still able to fight defensively well with a sword. But I agree–I think it would have actually strengthened the book more if she was just double-marked as well. And I there were a couple of scenes that I had to suspend my belief. I would have also loved to see more of Ishtear’s training in her skills which I felt was glossed over and that would have helped to illustrate her breaking out of shell and building up her confidence. But I have to say the world that Kate Johnson created was a fantastic amalgamation of different cultures and time-periods, and that produced a colourful and vivid backdrop to the romance.
Kael is definitely not like a typical alpha warrior, and I really loved that his beta qualities were kept hidden, but revealed to only those who knew him well. It helped to define and flesh out his character beautifully. And even though I found Ishtear’s character to be too powerful with her magical abilities, I did think Kate Johnson’s depiction of Ishtear’s healing emotionally and psychologically from her past and slowly regaining her agency helped to make Ishtear more sympathetic and real. Those scenes, especially when she has a trigger moment later in the book, was well written and fleshed out her character for me because it was realistic and emotive. I also loved the scene soon after with Kael and that becomes a turning point in their relationship which is a real highlight of this book. Because their romance develops as a slow burn, the tension builds up subtly which reflects Ishtear’s slowly defeating her own demons and fears, and due to this I fell in love with their romance.
I also loved and enjoyed the touches of humour which gave the book another fun dimension and there was some humorous scenes with the supporting characters which just sparkled with dialogue that was sharp and snappy. Although for a historical fantasy setting, the language was very modern but I didn’t mind this as much as it added to the humorous overtones and the mishmash of the world-building.
Overall, Impossible Things has a wonderful and emotional touching romance which I enjoyed immensely but the world-building was also well fleshed out and I would also love to see more of this world because it certainly has a scope for more stories. But even though there were several issues with the book, this was one of the best fantasy romances I’ve read in awhile and I am so glad I listened to my spidey sense!
I also give Impossible Things a B-
E: I bought this book because a certain Has pushed it on me. It had been a while since I read an epic fantasy/romance so I decided to give it a try. I thought the basic idea of “Chosen” ones with tattoos identifying who has certain abilities and as a result of those powers gained certain privileges and responsibilities. I was also curious about the implied lack of choice in what those Chosen were allowed to do with their lives. Johnson created a very fascinating world with multiple sub-plots. I was never bored with the complexity but I think the story suffered a bit as a result. Some of the subplot solutions were too coincidental towards the end of the story but overall I enjoyed this story and I hope that Johnson continues writing in this world.
As this story started, I was very unimpressed by Kael because of his behavior towards Ishtaer and the situation she was in. Kael had a lot of work to do to become heroic in my eyes. For a very long time he struck me as being rather self-centered and doing actions for personal gain. Yes, I did discover he had personal responsibilities as well as an obligation to the tradition of the Chosen but I struggled believing he saw Ishtaer as an individual and not just a tool to gain favor/prestige. However, Ishtaer taught him a lot and he was able to redeem himself although I thought he was going to break my heart for a while.
Ishtaer went from being the lowest of the low to extremely high with a combination of abilities no one else possessed. I agree with my fellow Pushers that the leap was perhaps a bit much. I did appreciate how only one of her powers seemed to be innate, the others she had limitations or self-imposed blocks but even those didn’t stop her from becoming acclaimed. Her unique childhood did provide Ishtaer a different perspective that served her well as she struggled to find a place that felt like home, not just for herself but for those she encountered who also didn’t quite fit. She also knew what the responsibilities of being Chosen really meant and how with the privilege came sacrifice.
Johnson provided me with several aspects that I enjoyed. One was the slow growing romance with its ups and down. Everytime Kael took Ishtaer for granted, I loved how she used her growing confidence to topple his assumptions. I also thought the way Ishtaer could take control during a crisis yet feel much more uncertain during non-crisis or personal situations was very telling. It clarified the difference between confidence that came with a knowledge of your stature from birth versus the confidence in what was innate as being a Chosen.
As I stated earlier, I found Impossible Things an enjoyable read with some niggles. I thought the world-building was extremely vivid and full of possibility for future stories. The characters and their messy lives were also captivating but what I think really solidified my enjoyment of this story was Kael’s path to redemption. As much as Ishtaer’s life changed over the course of the story, she seemed more to grow into who she could have been while Kael had to change who he had become. I am looking forward to seeing what Johnson does with this world next.
I give Impossible Things a B
Publish Date: Out now
How we got this book: ARC from the authors
BP Note: The Book Pushers are huge fans of Dane, Arend, and Rocha so when we found out they were plotting together for a self-published anthology we couldn’t wait. As they continued to work on their individual projects and started tweeting things about how they were blushing as they typed, how this was potentially the hottest thing they had written to date, and how good the stories from their co-conspirators were the wait seemed endless. It was a great relief to finally get our hands on this anthology and see for ourselves if our anticipation was worth it.
ALL THAT REMAINS
New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author Lauren Dane takes you into a brand new world in ALL THAT REMAINS. Summer Killian falls fast and hard when Charlie arrives in Paradise Village. But the heat turns all the way up when she learns Charlie is also with Hatch – the man she loved three years before. While she’s not sure she’s cut out for a triad, neither man is going to give her up.
Has: Out of the three authors, I’ve only read a handful of books by Lauren Dane. “All That Remains” is the start of a brand new series set in a post apocalyptic world where society has changed drastically. I am a huge fan of post apocalyptic settings, but Dane has approached this premise with a different twist which I liked. It is set a few centuries after a catastrophe and humanity has evolved into different norms and mores, where men far outnumber women due to the calamity. Instead of having a darker edged and tone like The Handmaid’s Tales sort of stories of women being oppressed, it is the other way round where they’re respected and have more agency and power. I really liked how she depicted this new world and the characters who resides in them especially the heroine Summer, who is open and upfront and enjoys and owns her own sexuality.
However one day her tranquil existence is turned upside down with the arrival of two men to her village, and they both challenge her in every way. She is reluctant to embark on a long-term relationship. Hatch and Charlie who are both deeply attracted to her as well being in their own relationship see that she is perfect to form a triad relationship and are willing to put down roots down. But Summer finds the dynamic of being involved with a triad relationship difficult, because of her own issues with a past relationship and her sister’s experience in one which left scars. I loved that Dane has created a true menage relationship instead of just focusing on the heroine, the focus of the romance is very much between Charlie and Hatch. Their dynamics in their relationship was interesting because while Charlie was easy-going and relaxed, Hatch was more alpha and demanding, which Summer found at times hard and there were real problems and kinks to work out within their relationship. It definitely heightened the tension in the romance and I liked how it played out. Although I wished we got to see more of the world-building, which didn’t go into much depth or the backdrop of the big catastrophe. Nonetheless, this was a solid introduction to this new world, with hot love scenes.
E: While I haven’t read everything that Dane has published, I have read a lot. She has several series I continue to love so when I saw she was starting a new series, Metamorphosis, set in an entirely new world I was even more curious. As I gathered, well as Dane released, information about her contribution it started looking like her story was going to hit several of my love to read buttons; post apocalyptic, shortage of women, second chance at love, and an overall slower lifestyle. “All That Remains” managed to eek out a standing as my favorite in this anthology.
I loved how Summer had rebuilt herself and created a life full of happiness when the life she planned altered abruptly. She had no shame about enjoying men nor did she depend on them for her quality of life. She felt an instant attraction to Charlie but when she discovered he was with her former love she was ready to end what might have been. Somehow Charlie and Hatch convinced Summer to give them a chance. So many times I thought Hatch was going to ruin it by his apparent unawareness of the multitude of levels his actions as a young man had hurt Summer. Each time Charlie was able to smooth things over but it was up to Hatch to prove he had learned, changed, and was someone Summer could trust to stick around.
As much as this story focused on Hatch and Summer’s second chance Dane provided equal attention on the growing relationship between Charlie and Summer. Yes, Charlie was the peacemaker but Summer valued him for more than that role, she liked him for who he was. Charlie also adored Summer for who she was and what she brought out in Hatch as he consciously matured. I also found that the sexytimes between Charlie, Hatch, and Summer regardless of the combination were extremely intense and hot. There was a balance between one on one and the trio as a whole which made me think the individual connections were just as important as the overall relationship.
Since this was a novella, the supporting characters were not as fleshed out as Dane’s novels but some significant time was spent with Summer’s sister, Dulce who was the catalyst for Summer’s fresh start. She has a tragic backstory and I can’t wait to see her find happiness again. With the depth of emotion and complicated world-building Dane provided I really didn’t miss learning more about the supporting characters. I am sure that information will come as Dane continues to write in this world.
Meka: “All That Remains” is a sizzling story of second chances, owning up to what you’ve done, and taking a chance with the idea that your heart may be torn in two. Dystopian novels are not my theme because they tend to be a little too dark for me, but this setting showed a different take. Paradise Village isn’t the gritty, everybody-for-themselves type of place that it could be, namely because we are also about 300 years beyond the fallout resulting from the apocalypse. The beauty of this story is that it focuses on the here and now and relationships that people have with one another.
Summer and Hatch used to be an item before Hatch left. This resulted in Summer having to hold herself together and continue living life without him even though her heart was broken. Four years later, and we see a very different Summer from the type of person that she used to be. I could likely gush on and on about what happens in this particular novella, but I want to focus on some key points.
Lauren Dane can write relationships, whether it’s a romantic one or friendships. She has always impressed me by pulling in the side characters and not allowing anyone to be a lonely island where their world only revolves around their significant other. This makes her writing layered and nuanced, bringing the characters to life in a way that makes me wish I knew these people for real. I’m so glad that Lauren said there’d be a book about Summer’s sister, because I need this in my life like right now.
By the time we meet these characters, summer has moved on as best she can, and Hatch is now in a relationship with Charlie. For me, the beauty of this story was watching them navigate the treacherous waters of someone being betrayed. Hatch was arrogant and knew what he wanted, Summer was passionate and yet cautious, and Charlie was the one who could soothe the both of them. I really loved that Summer could stand up for herself and refused to be run over roughshod just because Hatch wanted everything. She made certain he understood how much his leaving hurt, and that she wasn’t the same person that she used to be.
None of these characters are perfect, but they are all three worthy of love if they can give it a chance. Summer’s resistance to Hatch was understandable. Hatch’s need to get things back to the way that they used to be could be understood too. Both of them could rub each other the wrong way in any moment, but together as a triad, it really worked. Dane writes these characters in a realistic manner and makes me want to delve more in to this new world that she has created.
Take a ROCKY RIDE with New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author Vivian Arend as she leads you back to the Six Pack Ranch. Anna Coleman might be the law around Rocky Mountain House, but bad boy Mitch Thompson knows that under the stiff RCMP uniform is a woman with a passion for speed and pleasure that matches his own, and he’s not giving up until she’s his.
Has: I think “Rocky Ride” was my favourite story of the anthology, although the other stories were great, but I was really engrossed with Anna and Mitch’s romance which was sweet but very very sexy. The opening chapters were beyond scorching and the chemistry between Anna and Mitch was on fire. Anna is a RCMP officer while Mitch is a mechanic/biker and even though they’re jobs and roles are poles apart, their attraction has driven them to go on a red hot affair. Mitch soon realises this is much more than great sex and goes on a mission to woo Anna that they could have something more permanent. Although things don’t go smoothly with Anna’s boss, Nick who disapproves of their relationship and her own reluctance to open up.
But I loved that Mitch managed to get Anna to explore more of her wild side, and to break out her inhibitions because of her job and her own reserved nature. It was fun to see her break out of her walls and that was really part of the charm of the romance, also the sexual chemistry was smoking hot which added another layer to the story which I enjoyed immensely. While this story was a spin-off from Arend’s Six Pack series, it was also cool to see some cameos and scenes featuring some of those characters.
Overall, I was left very satisfied with this novella, because even though it was a short-length, the romance, the love scenes and the introduction of series was just perfect. I am definitely looking forward to the next book in this series because this was a wonderful and sexy start.
E: Arend is another of my auto-buy authors. “Rocky Ride” is the first of her Thompson & Sons series which is a spin-off of the Six Pack Ranch series. I was very excited at the possibility of starting this new series because the area around the Six Pack Ranch is packed full interesting characters. The inhabitants do not shy away from enjoying each other and when they find love, they hold onto it regardless of public opinion. However, Anna as a member of the RCMP did need to maintain a certain level of public decorum and getting involved with one of the crazy Thompsons certainly didn’t seem to match that expectation. So as the story opens Anna and Mitch have an arrangement. They meet, have an extremely enjoyable time, then Anna leaves, and they act like nothing has ever happened but Mitch wants more. He was tired of being Anna’s dirty little secret so he created a plan that would result in everything he hoped for or the end of an enjoyable interlude and a broken heart.
I loved watching Mitch and Anna take things outside of secluded meetings. Anna did have some valid reasons for wanting to keep her relationship quiet because Mitch had a well earned reputation. She was supposed to uphold the law and Mitch had a habit of stretching if not breaking the law. It took Mitch a little bit to realize how to walk the line between coaxing Anna out of her shell and indulging in activities that pushed her away. While Anna was struggling mentally she also had to deal with a partner who seemed determined to make Anna doubt her own judgment. If that didn’t work he was completely willing to use other techniques to keep her doing exactly what he wanted, which was not happy with Mitch Thompson. It was a lot of fun to watch Anna and Mitch worth through their issues both within their relationship and with outside interferences. I think my favorite scene here was a certain nighttime dirt bike race. That scene said so much about Anna’s personality when she wasn’t dealing with fears about her professional future and Mitch’s enjoyment of life. “Rocky Ride” was a great introduction to the Thompson & Sons series and I can’t wait for the next installment.
Meka: I have not read this series yet, but it was not difficult for me to keep track of what was happening. I feel curious about the characters that I have been missing out on and plan to read their stories, because after this one, I am totally hooked.
This novella is not just about a good girl falling for a bad boy, but the vulnerabilities that they both share, and the biases and judgment calls that we make every day about other people. Anna is portrayed as a woman who likes to live on the wild side but is often too afraid to really let that side of her out. When Mitch, the man that she’s been having a fling with, decides to push her a little harder because he’d like more, Anna is nervous but is more than ready for the challenge.
Watching this story unfold was such a treat. Being able to see Anna, a constable and someone who works really hard at what she does, take chances and defend what she wanted was incredibly special. Watching her own up to how she’d been unfairly stereotyping Mitch was even better. Seeing her pal around with his family, go biking, and just totally be with Mitch and give him more of her heart was totally sweet.
Can I keep Mitch? He only wanted the best for Anna and longed to see her shed her inhibitions and just fly. He wanted to take their relationship to the next level, but was also full of vulnerability that we got to see. Oh, and let us not forget absolutely sexy. He was ready to take Anna anywhere she wanted to go fantasy-wise and Vivian Arend pulled no punches in that department.
As they learned to navigate the waters of what they wanted, we got to see a couple truly worthy of their HEA. Anna truly blossomed once she was able to simply let go, and Mitch learned that he had someone in Anna that he could depend on and trust. Even after Mitch did a bone-headed move, I was still cheering for things to work out. And the last surprise that Anna had for Mitch wrapped that story up with a nice little bow.
Kit Rocha returns to Sector Four in BEYOND TEMPTATION. A promise to a dying friend backfires when Noah Lennox finds that the girl he was supposed to rescue is all grown up–and wearing O’Kane ink. He wants to protect her from the secrets of their past, but she wants him. And an O’Kane woman always gets what she wants.
Has: I always look forward to a Beyond book by Kit Rocha, and I was definitely eagerly waiting for Emma and Noah’s story which was touched briefly on in the last book by setting up their story. Noah has finally tracked down Emma who he has lost track of the past few years but is surprised and happy that she’s safe and made a real home with the O’Kanes. Emma is happy to be reunited with Noah and their feelings for each other are instantly rekindled although the secrets of their past threatens their tentative new relationship.
I think with each new installment, the Beyond series gets better and better. I love the world-building and the cast of characters which all share an amazing chemistry with each other. In “Beyond Temptation” establishes another tantalizing plot thread which will intertwine with the ongoing arc that was set up in the previous book. But the real focus is on the romance between Emma and Noah which develops beautifully. I was really happy how Kit Rocha maintained the tension between them and their sex scenes were beyond blazing hot which ratcheted their sexual chemistry.
While I loved the romance, I found the plot-line that connects Emma and Noah’s past to the current issues the O’Kane clan will face left me wanting. In a lot of ways this felt like a mini-episode of a huge saga that is playing out and I wanted to see more of this plot being expanded because it was more like a teaser rather than a sub-plot involving them. However I am definitely looking forward to the next installment which promises to be explosive in so many levels.
E: “Beyond Temptation” took two supporting characters with a complicated past and gave them a chance to smooth it out. Emma, now an O’Kane, who was Ace’s apprentice and a generally sweet girl had been in love with her brother’s best friend almost her entire life. When he practically disappeared from her life she never quite felt the same way about anyone else. She had a home with the O’Kanes, and while she shared their love of pleasure, she never paired off with anyone. Then she discovered Noah was still alive. Noah thought Emma was safely away from the sectors and happily married until he received a note saying she needed him. When he found out she was an O’Kane he knew that he needed to get revenge on the woman who lied to him and to see if Emma needed rescuing. He was not prepared to see grown-up Emma who was no longer sweet and innocent. He was also not prepared for the depths of his feelings towards Emma and what more he would do to keep her safe.
I loved how Emma had to push to get Noah to open up to her and prove to him what love meant. She also had to prove she was grown and didn’t need someone to make her decisions for her. Noah had to learn to open up and to trust that Dallas and Lex really did care about the O’Kanes. But when their mutual past resurfaced Noah had to make a hard decision. This was another fun read but it felt more like the installment of a serial instead of a complete story. There was a conclusion but I am hoping more of their story shows up as the series continues because there is a lot hanging on the results of Noah’s decision.
Meka: I could not read this story straight through. At first I thought it was because of the raw sensuality of this dark and gritty world, but now I realize that might not be entirely accurate. It was because we see the stark reality of these characters and practically every scene is intense. We get to feel their emotions, their desperation, their simply trying to live and make a life for themselves. So I had to read this one in fits and spurts, because such stark depictions were hard for me to swallow at once.
I have not read all of the books in this series (a normal occurrence if you know anything about my reading quirks), but I did read Beyond Shame which I loved. In this novella, Emma is an O’Kane and has been inked. It’s four years since she found herself in their territory and she’s a different woman than she was when she lost her brother with no word from his best friend. In the meantime, Noah, her brother’s best friend, is fighting guilt over his death and nursing a need for revenge that has left him room for precious little else.
What he gets is a different Emma, one who is confident with herself and her life. She’s a fighter, someone who can be straightforward and give him everything he wants while demanding her own needs and the truth.
Emma’s life of practically everything and then the return of Noah made this a heart-wrenching story to read. Watching her come to terms with Noah, and then the truth of a secret that he’d been hiding was both devastating and wonderful.
Watching Noah’s reactions to the new Emma through his eyes was a treat. We got to see him slowly open up to her and come to terms with his guilt that life hadn’t gone the way that he had expected it to for Emma. His grief, his anger, his need for revenge were all real things.
Let’s not skip the sex, either. This novella was filthy and I loved every sordid detail. If the Apocalypse happens, I’m finding a Sector Four.
All in all, I cheered for these characters and the ones that I remembered from book one. It was great to see how far they all had come.
Has: The Marked anthology definitely delivered fantastic installments of erotically charged romance. I think with certain scenes if I held a thermometer close to my kindle while reading this book, the mercury would definitely have exploded due to the heat level. The Kit Rocha story was a fantastic entry to their post apocalyptic MC romance, and Lauren Dane’s entry was a great introduction to her new series. But I think the story I really fell in love with was Vivian Arend’s which just hit the sweet spot for me. Overall, you cant go wrong with a book full of bad boy heroes, hot, scorching love scenes and romances that really satisfy you at heart.
I give Marked an overall fiery B+
E: Marked is certainly a successful anthology with all three authors providing memorable enjoyable stories. Like always I didn’t like them for the same reasons or in the same way but it was certainly worth the anticipation. I think Dane, Arend, and Rocha need to conspire more often and continue trying to out-dirty the others because I think they all brought it to a new level. One of the things I love about all three of them is how their sex scenes are an organic part of the story not just thrown in to have a scene. Rocha provided a very interesting connection between two side characters and the greater battle for stable power in the sectors. This was a great interlude and I hope we get future installments of Noah and Emma. Arend introduced Thompson & Sons a Six Pack Ranch spin-off with a slightly wild RMCP and her bad boy. I think the Thompson clan is going to be a lot of fun. My favorite out of this anthology is Dane’s contribution which also introduced her new Metamorphosis series. I certainly recommend Marked to anyone who wants to read a smoking hot erotic romance anthology.
I give Marked a B+
Meka: I love the idea of anthologies. Who doesn’t want to read a bunch of stories with similar theme? But usually, only the title story captivates me. Rarely do I enjoy all of them. When I heard that Lauren Dane, Vivian Arend, and Kit Rocha were doing an anthology together, I could not understand how so much awesome could be packed in to one single book, but now I do.
The overarching theme is tattoos, something I’m too chicken to ever get. There were other themes as well. Strong heroines, persistent and sigh-worthy men, the joys of friendship, and people who did not hold back. I loved this entire anthology from front page to back and I wholeheartedly give Marked an A.
Publish Date: Out now
How I got this book: ARC from the publisher
The last place he expected to find lasting love was back in his hometown…
Slater knew tragedy from a young age, but with the support of his foster family, he turned his life around. Now, back from a stint in the Navy, he’s packed up his motorcycle and returned to Red Hook to help to run the family restaurant—a job that comes with a tantalizing upside. Her name is Rocki.
Flirty, sweet, and outgoing, Rocki brings in crowds as the lead singer of the house band. And although she’s unable to resist the charms of this intense bad boy, she refuses to open her heart to him. Until a family crisis shatters Rocki’s easygoing demeanor, exposing something from her past she’d always hoped would stay hidden.
But Slater knows a thing or two about family secrets—and he sets out to prove to Rocki that their relationship could finally give them both a future worth believing in.
This blurb came from Goodreads.
I read the blurb and liked the thought of former military, foster family, and hidden secrets but I was leery about requesting this because it was the third and I had not read the previous ones. So I bought the first one and after giggling my way through it I bought the second, then went ahead and requested Had to be You. I am very glad I read the first two installments first because I would have been completely lost. As a result I highly recommend giving the first two a try if you are intrigued. I will try to avoid spoilers from the previous books.
Slater arrived back home ready to do his part in helping his foster father continue to recover from his heart condition. When Slater entered the family restaurant among the changes he noted was the live music, especially the lead singer. He was only planning on sticking around for a few months before heading overseas on a contract so he wasn’t going to pass up the idea of a little fun. He and Rocki hit things off quite well until all of a sudden she shut him down and tried to keep things friendly but distant. Not one to give in easily since Rocki’s interest to him was obvious, Slater used every opportunity to be around her and provide temptation.
Rocki loved her time in Red Hook and had found almost a second home complete with friends and family. As much as she loved her time there, Rocki was extremely careful about sharing any real personal information managing to deflect or distract inquiries. Then during one of her sets, a strange man walked into the bar and managed to disturb her usual performance concentration. Looking forward to some flirtation and maybe a good time Rocki’s hopes were dashed when she learned that Slater was one of Pop’s kids. She immediately put an end to the flirtation only to discover that he kept showing up and tempting her to change her mind.
As Slater and Rocki danced around their attraction the supporting characters started exerting their influence. Rocki’s friend Patrice known for her inquisitive and interfering nature started throwing them together while pestering Rocki about her life before she arrived in Red Hook. Nicki, the latest of Pop’s kids, whose parentage is an ongoing question throughout this series kept throwing Slater off of his game by insisting on his interaction. Nicki had already bonded with Slater’s two brothers in previous installments. I kept giggling as I watched Rocki and Slater’s mental gymnastics as they dealt with the others in their lives. Then Rocki received a phone call and everything changed.
I enjoyed the growth Rocki and Slater experienced. Rocki learned that true friends are upset when they feel cut out not because they need the information but because they care about you as a person. Slater learned there was a lot more to family than he ever guessed even with Pop’s example. Learning Rocki’s past really explained a lot of her behavior and showed how she and Slater had similar issues trusting other people. Watching Rocki, Slater, and Nicki overcome their pasts, learn to trust and love each other, and learn what they would do for that love was very rewarding.
Had to be You provided a very satisfying ending to the three foster brothers. I enjoyed their stories and fell for the entire town not just the main characters. The central position held by the restaurant, the esteem everyone had for Pop, and his attempts to arrange everything just the way he wanted it. I loved the inclusion of Rocki’s family in the later part of the book and found myself really hoping a certain daredevil gets his own story. I also think I need to look at some of Kaye’s backlist while I wait and hope.
I give Had to be You a B
Publish Date: Out now
How I got this book: ARC from the publisher
They can’t hide from desire…
After life as a cop in Denver leaves him burned-out, Lucas Ridgeway returns to Walkers Ford, South Dakota, to serve as their chief of police. He’s hoping to start over with a clean slate and avoid any emotional entanglements—even after his next-door neighbor kisses him senseless. Alana is passionate, dedicated, and most importantly leaving town soon. So why not have some fun?
Alana Wentworth comes from a larger-than-life political family, yet all she wanted was to be a librarian. Then after an embarrassing marriage proposal from Mr. Not-For-Her, she jumps at the chance to live her dream for a few months. She wasn’t supposed to get involved with the community—or sexy, troubled Lucas. But when the time comes for Alana to put Walkers Ford behind her, she’s not ready. And Lucas may not be ready for her to go…
This blurb came from the author’s website.
After reading and enjoying Uncommon Passion last year when I saw a new Calhoun release I had to request it. I didn’t realize at the time that this was a small town, non-erotic, contemporary romance. I also didn’t know this was the second of the series until I realized a few things from the previous book were referenced. Thankfully my ignorance in no way prevented me from thoroughly enjoying this story and going back to read the first one. While the heat level was much lower than Calhoun’s erotic romances, she didn’t skimp on the characterization or world-building.
Alana grew up in the family of politicians turned philanthropies. They were all famous, very visible, and used to getting their own way. Alana on the other hand was never interested in the spotlight. She enjoyed the research aspect of the family foundation and as a result was a certified librarian. After years of taking the path of the least resistance when it came to her family she was shocked into finally taking some action and leaving to work as a contract librarian in Walkers Ford as she tried to find herself. Her contract was almost over when she decided that after weeks of not really flirting with her landlord the local chief of police that she was going to take things into her own hands and get what she wanted.
Lucas returned to his hometown of Walkers Ford after life as a cop in Denver left him bitter, disillusioned about people and life in general, and certainly not looking to settle down with anyone anytime soon. Serving as chief of police in his hometown meant he knew all the likely suspects, how they would end up, and expected them to live up to or really down to his expectations. However, he didn’t quite know where to categorize his classy tenant. He thought she was attracted to him but she also looked like the settling down-type and that didn’t work with his thoughts of the future. Then one night during a plumbing repair visit **no snickers** Alana took matters in her own hands and gave him an unmistakable signal.
I loved watching Alana and Lucas teach each other different aspects of life. Alana taught Lucas that it was OK to expect the best out of others or at give them the benefit of the doubt that they could choose to change. At the same time Lucas taught Alana that when you involve yourself in people’s lives they in turn develop expectations of you; thinking you will continue to be around and stay involved. I also thoroughly enjoyed watching the town and people of Walkers Ford suck Alana in bit by bit and force her to lose some of her distant objectivity. She also experienced first hand how she was changed by becoming personally invested in a project instead of just researching various options. Lucas learned that sometimes, all it takes is one person’s openly stated belief in another to change lives for the better.
In addition to Walkers Ford, I thought Alana’s interactions with her family explained her life pattern really well. They made me laugh while I also wished Alana would continue to refuse to let her family plan her life. At first I wasn’t a huge fan of Alana’s sister but as the story continued I found myself wanting more because it was evident she cared and acted in certain ways as a shield for their mother’s attention. I also loved the final scenes with Alana’s family because they showed the impact of Alana’s decisions and how her decisions reverberated through others.
Jaded was a very enjoyable read. Calhoun toned down the activity during the sex scenes compared to her erotic romance but she kept the sexual tension and attraction high. She retained her gift for characterization and I felt she expanded the details of her world-building. I thought her ability to capture and retain my interest in this subgenre shift bodes well for my future reading but is perhaps not so good for my wallet. I loved the journey Alana and Lucas took and how each had to grow, learn, and decide they were going to break out of their comfortable rut. I hope Calhoun returns to Walkers Ford for future installments.
Publish Date: Out now
How I got this book: ARC from the publisher
Forty-two-year-old single father Griffin Turner couldn’t have made it through colic and calving season without his mother’s babysitting services. But just when he thinks he’s got the hardest part of the infant learning curve licked, he gets devastating news. Mom is sick. And Griffin is forced to hire a nanny.
With nothing but twenty dollars in her pocket and her voice, Nola Brady wants to leave small-town Wyoming to pursue her dreams in Nashville. She answers Griffin’s ad to keep body and soul together until her big chance arrives. Love isn’t even on her radar…until she unexpectedly falls for the rough-and-playful cowboy.
Between the sheets, they’re poetry. Outside the bedroom, he inspires her to be more woman than she ever dreamed possible, which scares her enough to put on the brakes…and hit the road.
But if she thought he’d just let her leave quietly, she was wrong. Because hell hath no fury like a cowboy in love…especially one with a baby on his hip. And a ring with her name on it.
Warning: This cowboy daddy is determined to make a May/September romance work—even if he has to lay down his palm or his mouth on a round ass cheek to do it.
This blurb came from the author’s website.
I think I made it through the first paragraph of the blurb before I had written this down as a request. The single father, rancher, sick mother, and requiring a nanny sent me back to the contemporaries I read much earlier in my romance reading life with a modern slant to the heroines’ dreams. I enjoyed the twists Petrova included in this story along with how she showed the mental struggle both Griffin and Nola experienced. In case you are worried about needing to read the previous three books before starting this one, I didn’t have any problems and in fact, I did not realize this was part of a series until I was looking up the administrative information for this blog post.
Griffin was a rather bitter man who only trusted two women; his mother and his baby daughter. He was doing everything possible to raise his daughter and make it through the hardest part of the farm year when his mother was diagnosed with cancer and instead of helping him, she needed his help. Desperate he placed an ad for a nanny, expecting the grandmotherly type to reply, and instead the only applicant was the young, attractive, saving to make it to Nashville, singer Nola. Griffin felt a combination of mad and guilty about his attraction to Nola because she reminded him of his daughter’s mother. He also did not want to become attached because she was planning on leaving.
Nola needed a job outside of working for her father so she could earn enough money to make it to Nashville and achieve her dreams of becoming a profession country singer. She wasn’t expecting to apply for a job as a nanny for the very attractive older man who turned down her advances one night at the local bar. She also wasn’t expecting to fall for him or his daughter and struggle with leaving to achieve her dreams or letting her dreams slip away. I found Nola very full of life and while much younger than Griffin, she wasn’t going to let him treat her anyway he felt.
I really enjoyed the sexual tension between Nola and Griffin because it never let up. They tried to maintain their professionalism and ignore their mutual attraction as long as possible. I enjoyed how Petrova included that pause in the relationship pacing because it allowed me to watch as Nola and Griffin found more to admire about each other besides their physical appearance. I could also see why Nola felt comfortable enough to continue working for Griffin. It was also refreshing to see that after they give in to their attraction Nola continued to maintain her sense of self and refused to let Griffin run over her.
Watching Griffin and Nola reluctantly fall in love was a lot of fun. I also enjoyed how Lyric wasn’t this perfect baby who cooed, smiled, and only fussed a little bit. Instead Lyric had a bit of a temper, demanded food and attention on her schedule, and did not have any issues making it known if things were not going the way she thought they should. Nola also wasn’t a Mary Poppins type of nanny as much as she cared about Lyric. I loved her technique of singing to Lyric in an attempt to keep her calm and happy and the side effect her voice had on Griffin. Griffin could also be an ass. The more he cared about Nola the worse his memories of the past prodded him until they would come out in the form of nasty commands regarding her responsibilities as his nanny. Nola refused to accept that sort of treatment and when Griffin refused to change his ways, she did what she needed to do.
Somethin’ Dirty was a fun read. As I said earlier I enjoyed the sexual tension, Nola’s strength and independence, Griffin’s scarred heart, and their mutual ability to move beyond the past towards the future they desired. Lyric’s actions as a baby really solidified Petrova’s characterization because she wasn’t just there as a reason for Griffin and Nola to be around each other. I was also extremely satisfied with the resolution of Nola’s dreams.
I give Somethin’ Dirty a B.
Publish Date: Out Now
How I got this book: ARC from the author
All’s fair in love and murder…
Araneae Nation, Book 3.5
Betrayed by her lover and exiled from her clan home, Nicolette has carved herself a new identity from the heart of her old life. Hardened by grief and desperate to survive, she hones a new skill set…and the daggers that go along with it.
Armand is heir to the wealthiest clan in the Araneae Nation. His entire life is as mapped as his heritage. Tradition dictates his every decision, and the one choice he ever made for himself cost him the woman he loved.
When Nicolette is offered a contract she can’t refuse, she returns to Erania with deadly intentions. Her secrets are safe behind the façade she created. Or they would be if Armand would stop chipping at the cracks in her veneer.
One kiss ignites an old flame, and suddenly their history is in danger of repeating. Armand falls for Nicolette’s charade, but she can’t let a second chance at happiness distract her from her mission. Someone in the Araneidae nest is marked for death, and Nicolette aims to deliver.
Warning: This story contains one heroine bent on revenge and one hero determined to atone for his sins. Also included are venom kisses, poison hangovers, pointy objects and questionable taste in condiments. Expect fireworks, near-death experiences and one surprise ten years in the making.
This blurb came from the author’s website.
One day, a couple of years ago, I was browsing new releases as I tend to do when I spotted Edwards’ A Hint of Frost and decided to give it a try. Since then, I have read and enjoyed every installment. As a result, when I was contacted to see if I was interested in reviewing this self-published novella I didn’t think twice before accepting. I do recommend that you read the previous installments, at least the very first one because the set-up depends on some of the events that occurred in A Hint of Frost. This installment was full of revenge, angst, twisted plots, double or triple crossing, regret, and how people change over time. Nicolette and Armand shared a complicated history. Armand lost the girl he loved, but retained his family. Nicolette lost the boy she loved, her home, and her family, but she gained strength, skill, and found a new family.
I loved watching the past and the present collide. Nicolette returned to her childhood home with a contract to assassinate the woman responsible for the death of another clan’s heir. While there, she discovers extra motivation to accomplish the murder because her client knew the one person Nicolette valued and shared that information with other assassins who used that knowledge as incentive for Nicolette to complete her assignment. I can’t say wny that person is valued because that would be a spoiler. She also learned that her former lover, Armand, gained a reputation as “one for the ladies”, but never settled down. Armand knew he had to marry eventually, but he never stopped regretting the one he lost. He felt an instant attraction to Nicolette, but she refused to meekly fall in line with his wishes for mutual physical enjoyment..
I enjoyed the attraction between Armand and Nicolette. I also thought Nicolette’s mental struggle about what choices to make and how to handle the opportunity for a future were very well done. I do wish I had seen Armand’s arguments as he tried to find an opportunity for the happiness he saw between his sister and her mate. The scenes when Armand and his sister found out about Nicolette’s secrets were also incredible. The combination of understanding, regret, and pain about what happened, but not wallowing in the missteps of the past was very moving. I will admit at first I wanted to see more from Armand after the secret reveal, but thinking about the bargain he struck and the result if Nicolette changed her mind really said a lot.
A Kiss of Venom was an enjoyable novella. I thought Edwards was able to include a wide array of feelings and provide a different view of the Araneae nation. While some events occurred off-page that I wished I had seen, I still felt satisfied by everything Edwards included. The complexity of the assassination plot pointed towards a long-standing goal of beheading Armand’s clan and hinted they have more worries to add to the overarching issues in the series so far. I am looking forward to the next installment, and also have my fingers crossed hoping a certain individual gets what I think should be coming to her.
I give A Kiss of Venom a B+
Publisher: Berkley Sensation
Publish Date: Out now
How I got this book: ARC from the publisher via Netgalley
As the chopper pilot for the elite Lifeline search-and-rescue team, Erin Tate is used to handling power. Calling the shots in the air is one thing—in the bedroom it leaves her cold. What she wants is a man strong enough to strip away her control.
Paramedic Timothy Dextor has a wild card reputation, and the dark appetites to prove it. The only thing missing is a woman he can share them with. Landing a position on the Lifeline squad puts his old flame back within reach. He already knows what Erin needs, and this time he’s not letting her go.
But when an emergency throws Erin and Timothy together in unanticipated ways, the stakes are raised—on the job and off. Now they’ll both discover the real meaning of control…and the risks that come from falling in love.
This blurb came from the author’s website.
I am a huge Vivian Arend fan and I fell in love with the members of the Lifeline search-and-rescue when I read the first installment High Risk a year ago. I found each installment moving in a different way and when I finished this latest one I found myself at a loss for words. I walked around for a day or so and all I could think of was “GO! BUY! READ!” and while that might work for a few of you, unfortunately I don’t think my fellow reviewers will let me get away with that for longer than this paragraph. With that impulse out of the way, I started trying to figure out exactly what about this particular story created such an impact, and the word TRUST came to mind. This story was all about trust. You might think the entire series is about trust and you would be correct because the team cannot function without it, but there are different layers of trust. Professional trust is very different from personal trust, which is also different from intimate trust, especially when that trust has been lost in the past. Watching Erin and Tim grow and learn throughout this story was extremely moving.
After the troubling events of the last installment, the Lifeline team was trying to rebuild their sense of unity and replace injured teammates. They were having a hard time replacing their paramedic until a man from Erin’s past showed up intending to get her back. Erin was professional enough to recommend Tim as a member of the team, but she was extremely skittish about starting up any sort of personal relationship with him again. Tim had done some serious growing and thinking during their years apart, and was determined to regain Erin’s trust so they could rekindle their relationship. To him, this meant giving her time and space, paying attention to her cues, but also refusing to be shutout of her life.
Speaking of the different layers of trust, the distinction between professional and personal was very evident from Erin’s first introduction of Tim to the Lifeline team captain. When they were forced to unexpectedly work together, I thought it was good to see that regardless of their personal issues, they were able to work together extremely effectively. To me, that meant both Erin and Tim were adults who had a chance to work things out one way or another. As I continued to read, that ability became more and more important along with demonstrating a growth in maturity since their first relationship.
I loved how Tim gave Erin space and control and allowed her to discover something was missing from their relationship when she overtly controlled the pace. I also liked how Erin decided to take a chance and explore the possibilities. I thought the slow progression was very important to see because it demonstrated the slow growth of trust and allowed me to buy into their second chance. Arend included several key conversations which provided more emphasis on correcting what went wrong the first time, not just avoiding the underlying issues as if time had solved everything. For me, I thought the decision Tim made in his attempt to get over the final hurdle was an incredible gamble. Watching that scene progress and the realizations Erin made during it really sealed the deal for me.
High Seduction was an incredibly moving read. If you haven’t started the series yet, I urge you to do so and if you have, you really need to take some time to read this installment. Arend took two hurt, strong-willed individuals and gave them the maturity and opportunity to work through their past towards a wonderful future. Along the way, each learned valuable lessons about the different layers of trust, how you have to trust yourself, and your partner. Seeing their growth was a wonderful treat. In other words, “GO! BUY! READ!”
I give High Seduction an A+
Publish Date: Out now
How we got this book: ARC from the publisher via Netgalley
Having finally reunited, and fought off The Deceiver for now, Mary and Michael race up the Michigan peninsula to meet Astra before police forces catch up with them. But the closer they get, the less Mary is willing to trust a woman who by her own admission will do anything to finish The Deceiver – even if it means killing Michael and Mary to try again in another life. As they face their final battle unsure if they can trust either side, Michael’s loyalties are tested, making him vulnerable just when Mary needs him most.
This blurb came from the author’s website.
E: I read and reviewed the first installment of Harrison’s Game of Shadows duology Rising Darkness with Has last year. We both found it very different from her Elder Races novels but intriguing enough and with a hook so we requested the final installment. If you do not read the first one you will NOT understand this one because it literally starts right after the first installment ended. Luckily enough for me I found the ending of Rising Darkness vivid enough that I was able to slip right back into the world, but I would still recommend a refresher even if you read it before.Falling Light continued to raise the tension and showed the possibility of danger not just from The Deceiver but also from the woman who was supposed to have all the answers. As Mary and Michael continued to work through their fated but not exactly chosen bond the stakes for their future happiness and that of the world increased.
Has: Oh I totally agree, this book is very much like the second half of a much larger story, which is epic in scope and settings. Because it covers, so different past lives and a battle between good and evil over thousands of years. While I had mixed feelings about the first book, I foundFalling Light, made more sense with the world-building because it answered a few questions and niggles I had with the first book, Rising Darkness. The clues that Thea Harrison sets up in the first book were expanded and cemented the mythology and the back-story of Michael and Mary with their mission. It felt more cohesive and the action was fast pace from the get-go – which is why I felt this book very much felt like a true second half of a larger book.
E: What I found rather compelling about this second half was the transition or rather addition of relationship challenges. Michael and Mary, even though their souls had been paired through the centuries, were not automatically perfect for a relationship together. They had to work through not just the detritus of the past but also the emotional scarring caused by their 900 year separation. Added to that tension was the underlying sensation that Astra, the woman they were depending on, wasn’t exactly on their side as partners. Her obsession with the Deceiver at the cost of everything else made it a challenge for Mary to relax and regain her skills. I did absolutely love it when they went against Astra’s wishes to help their allies because it kept them anchored to the world.
Has: I really liked the twists and turns which Mary and Michael had to face, especially with those they regarded as their closest ally, Astra who wasn’t as benevolent as she seemed. This added a cool twist to the book, as well a tense dynamic which added suspense to the plot, that kept me guessing about Astra’s true motives. I also felt the romance which developed further in the second half and I liked that there were issues and doubts which both Michael and Mary had to work on because their previous lives was disrupted by the danger that Deceiver had caused them, they’ve never really had time be reunited as a couple, other than a few moments or tragic endings with their previous lives.
I also liked how developments happened with the periphery characters like Nicholas, who worked closely with Astra and Michael but was murdered and is now existing a ghost. I felt that there was huge promise with the way plot twist to his character which was bittersweet and sad.
E: Oh my yes. I would LOVE to see Nicholas’ story because of all the feels! As the inevitable confrontation grew closer, it seemed as if the twists and turns continued to arrive. Both the Deceiver and Astra stepped up their efforts to counter each other. We also found out exactly why Astra was so different from Michael and Mary which clarified several things and made me wonder if the good guys were going to win and exactly how I would define the good guys.
Has: I definitely hope that Thea Harrison will continue this series and concentrate on Nicholas because it there are plot threads which are left open, but you are definitely satisfied and happy with the ending for Michael and Mary. But I would love to see more of this world being explored, because the mythology that is set up is rich and intriguing and while I am not a huge fan of reincarnation plot-lines, this was well done. I would also love to learn about the beings that Mary and Michael came from and hope that if there is a continuation, we will to know more about their world.
I found Falling Light to be much tighter with a plot that answers a lot of the questions that were set up in the first book. Although I have to warn you, you need to read the first book, because in many ways this is the second of a much larger book. The romance between Michael and Mary was fleshed out even more, and there was still tensions and issues which I like. Because with reincarnation plot-lines it can be easy to avoid this and that lessens the impact for the romance but overall, Thea Harrison, has created an interesting world and mythology filled with mystery and I loved the imagery that was used to describe the otherworldly beings disguised as humans. I hope she revisits it again!
I give Falling Light a B-
E: I agree with Has that Falling Light seemed a much tighter story. I know part of that is because the majority of the world-building took place in Rising Darkness. If you were waiting to check out this series I say buy them both and glom because I think reading them back to back will be very rewarding. Despite my fears about the results of the final confrontation I was extremely satisfied by that and the minor epilogue. Looking back the conclusion made total sense given the hints Harrison included along the way but I was so caught up in reading and the uncertainty I didn’t string them together until I could relax and breathe again. While very different in voice and tone from Harrison’s Elder Races series it contained the same attention to detail for the underpinning and the mythology behind her characters. I do hope Harrison treats us to Nicholas and future events in this particular world.
I give Falling Light a B.
Publish Date: 4 Feb
How we got this book: ARC from the publisher
Driven to win. Drawn to love.
Fresh from university, Eliza Hardison is determined to crusade for worker’s rights until her cousin Dexter, the Makesmith Baron, prevails on her to represent Hardison House in the American Dominion Sky and Steam Rally.
The competition is fierce, but only one opponent really matters to Eliza. Dexter’s protégé, Matthew Pence, was always like a big brother to her. But now she’s grown up, and Matthew has made a break from Hardison House with his own business venture—and his own entry in the rally.
Matthew intends to win while keeping Eliza safe on the perilous route from New York to San Francisco. But as the threats escalate through treacherous skies and uncharted American wilds, Eliza and Matthew must work together, discovering a bond deeper than either could have imagined… but is winning the rally more important than winning at love?
This blurb came from the author’s website.
E: I read and reviewed Dryden’t first steampunk Gossamer Wing last year and found it very enjoyable. So when I received Scarlet Devices for review I was excited. When I found myself making notes of quotes I enjoyed early in the story I knew I was in for a treat. I liked how this was set in the same world but took place in a different geographic area with threats outside of the spy game.
Marlene: I had heard so many good things about Gossamer Wing, that I actually bought it from Amazon, so when the the second book in the series came up for review, I decided it was high time I read the first one. Gossamer Wing was absolutely delicious. (Review at Reading Reality) The alternate history is a treat, and the author makes the “fake relationship” really zing! Scarlet Devices was just as much fun, but uses a different setting and new characters to explore a vast new part of her world.
E: Dryden combined the temperance movement, women’s rights, universal suffrage, and the steampunk equivalent of The Amazing Race as Matthew and Eliza learn who they are and what is really important. Eliza was interested in engine and tinkering with them but she focused her activities towards equal rights and protection for the common worker. Her efforts were rather futile and after a discussion with her cousin and his wife, Charlotte, she decided to take Dexter up on his offer and pilot his new vehicle in the American Dominion Sky and Steam Rally. She also agreed because winning would have the added benefit of annoying her cousin’s former apprentice, Matthew. Matthew thought he was rather enlightened and forward thinking but the last thing he wanted was Eliza participating in anything as potentially dangerous as the rally. Since he was unable to stop her, he decided he would watch out for her as best as he could but he wasn’t expecting the extent of danger along the race course. Watching them strike sparks off of each other as they worked together was very entertaining.
Marlene: The Sky and Steam Rally created a ton of opportunities for dangerous adventure and suspense, and the progression of Matthew’s and Eliza’s relationship fit incredibly well within the framework of miles raced, checkpoints and obstructions. As they traveled across the U.S., their own personal journeys, both towards each other and towards a decision about what they each really wanted out of life, proceed in tandem. Their relationship uses the trope about former childhood frenemies discovering they aren’t children any longer, while the race gave them each a chance to see what they themselves, and the other, were really made of. The dangerous conditions of the race, and the bonding between all the participants, also reminded me a lot ofthe Iditarod, the sled dog race between Anchorage and Nome. It is extremely dangerous, incredibly real, and even the losers get a prize because of just how difficult the race is.
E: I like those points you made regarding progression of the race and their personal journey. Now that you have brought it up, I can see the resemblance to the Iditarod. Like that race the updates tend to contain how many racers are left. As I was reading Scarlet Devices, I kept trying to count and figure out exactly how many competitors were left at each race pit stop. I thought the variety of different reasons people left the competition said a lot about the inherent danger of a rally along with some very effective sabotage. The mystery behind the sabotage was also fascinating on a couple of layers. It seemed as if the competitors while they were willing to form alliances were also on the look out for interference but were not expecting any outside concerns besides the unpredictable environment. Having a third player so to speak involved really increased the stakes for not just Matthew and Eliza but the other racers.
Marlene: The shifting alliances between the racers made it difficult to figure out what the big threat was, which ramped up the tension and sense of danger within the story. It made sense that they formed very loose teams, it seemed like a less formal version of the Tour de France teams. It added to the verisimilitude because it seemed logical. The deeper the logic layers, the easier to suspend disbelief on the parts that were less grounded in reality. The real mystery behind the interference with the race and with Eliza personally turned out to be a bit “out there”. I guessed who it was, and eventually why, but the evil dude himself was a bit past the crazysauce stage. Including the classic supervillain “I’m going to tell you my entire plot before I kill you spectacularly” speech. BWAHAHAHA
E: The overall villain was more of a parody of a villain especially in his final scenes. He certainly had extremely elaborate plans but I could see his underlying motivation was relatively solid. I did find myself very fascinated by the potential glimpse of one of his henchmen and what it could mean for the future in this series. As entertaining as I found the villain, I thought Eliza and Matthew’s mental and emotional journey was extremely touching. I loved seeing Matthew go from thinking, “Charlotte would make an excellent role model for Eliza: beautiful, unassuming, ladylike and comfortable in the role of administering a large, if unconventional, estate.” To realizing, “he wanted to keep her safe so he could have her all to himself and do wicked things to her.” And finally knowing Eliza was a trusted partner who didn’t need to cossetting. In the same vein Eliza moved from wanting to beat Matthew in the race because it would irritate him to realizing how much he meant when she thought he was dead. I also have to say that I loved how Dryden handled their sex scenes. They were full of humor, intensity, exploration, and shameless wonder.
Marlene: I did laugh out loud while Matthew was thinking what a great role model Charlotte would be for Eliza; from Gossamer Wing we know that Charlotte is considerably more than appears on the surface. In a lot of ways, Eliza IS following in Charlotte’s footsteps, she just isn’t aware of how much! But I agree with you that the emotional journey Eliza and Matthew make towards each other is the heart of the story. The rigors and danger of the trek make them see each other as adults, and not the children they used to be. Matthew goes through the stage of continuing to want to protect Eliza to realizing that she is a partner as capable, albeit in different ways, as he is. Eliza also has to come towards Matthew, she starts out fearing that any emotional attachment will make her “less than” the man she married, and law and custom still support that view. It takes the danger of the race, and the changes that Matthew goes through, for Eliza to trust that marriage does not have to mean subservience–with the right partner.
And oh my goodness are Eliza and Matthew sweet and sexy when they finally give in. (fanning self)
E: Yes, *pauses in memory* such wonderful scenes. The promise Dryden showed in Gossamer Wing did not let me down in Scarlet Devices. I thought the change in setting and main characters really expanded her world and kept me captivated. The mixture of challenges, threats, and personal growth had me rooting for Matthew and Eliza from their first scene together. I will admit I wish I knew how the events affected the rally organizers and the future of this race. Even though I thought the villain was overdone I enjoyed the overall story. With this second installment, Dryden has moved to the very short list of authors whose Steampunk is on my to-buy list.
I give Scarlet Devices a B+
Marlene: Scarlet Devices certainly lives up to the promise of the series title: Steam and Seduction, because it definitely has heaping helpings of both! The world-building in this series continues to shine as we explore the vast North American continent and discover the differences from the world we know. The whole concept of seeing the Great Plains and Rockies from an airship while they are still unspoiled is enough to take your breath away. Or my breath, at least. But it’s the way that the relationships are developed that keeps you turning pages. The romance between Matthew and Eliza was beautiful because it took their personal growth into account; they needed to discover who they really were before they could be ready for each other. I love it when the romantic HEA is the icing on the cake for the heroine, and not the whole cake, and they both needed to grow up for that to be possible.
The villain was overdone, but in the best melodramatic tradition, which made for scenery chewing fun to bring the adventure part of the story to a fitting conclusion. I can’t wait to see what happens next in Dryden’s next steampunk story: Gilded Lily.
I give Scarlet Devices a B+