Tag Archives: Liz’s Review

Review: Mark of the Bear by N.J. Walters

Liz’s Review

Mark of the Bear  by N.J. Walters
Paranormal romance released by Samhain Publishing on April 16, 2013

When the devil wants a deal, there’s no bowing out gracefully.

Hades’ Carnival, Book 2

At twenty-nine, Hollywood scream queen Kellsie Morris is acutely aware the clock is ticking on her career. Luckily, the one big role she needs to pad her retirement fund has just come through—the story of an immortal, shape-shifting warrior trapped in a carnival run by the Devil’s minions.

When Kellsie arrives on set, she can’t resist climbing aboard an amazingly realistic carousel bear—and finds herself flung into a world where the horror is real. As real as the heat radiating off the half-naked hunk in her arms.

Marko has waited an eternity for the chance to free his goddess, the Lady of the Beasts, and his fellow warriors from an ancient curse. But once he lays eyes on Kellsie, he knows to the bottom of his soul that his purpose is to protect her life.

But in this hellish game, it’s the Devil’s move. And there’s no predicting when and where the final, brutal stroke will fall—and which lover will pay the ultimate price.

Warning: This book contains a heroine who’s a screamer—in and out of bed—and a warrior who gives a whole new meaning to “method”. After reading, please use caution when standing up. Your knees may be weak.

Since I read the first book in this series, Night of the Tiger, I already knew what to expect as far as general plot. Heroine rescues trapped hero and they have to work together to stay alive for twenty-four hours or Hades gets both of their souls. But because I also am a big fan of N.J. Walters, I know that even when she does a series, each book is unique. There are no cookie-cutter storylines with her. Yes, it’s the same scenario, but the characters, the background, and the details are very different. Not once when I was reading this book did I think, “oh yawn, I’ve read this before”, and that’s the hallmark of a great series for me. If an author can redraw the same scenario in each book so that it feels different, then it’s a winner.

I love a heroine that is emotionally damaged, but not so worked-over that she can’t function. Kellsie started off her acting career with a boyfriend who became a famous actor and left her behind in the dust to play quickly-killed characters as a b-movie scream queen. She’s all alone in the world and she only has herself to rely on. She’s the epitome of an independent woman, that doesn’t need a man to help her. She looks after herself, because no one else ever has. It’s that tough outer skin and bruised heart that make her so endearing. She takes an acting job on a film titled “Hades Carnival”, which takes her into a remote mountain area for filming. Immediately she’s aware that things aren’t what they seem, and in no time she finds herself in a battle for her soul.

Marko the bear. What to say about him? Several words come to mind. Yum. Hot. Big. Fierce. He was a fantastic hero, full of love for his goddess and his brothers-in-arms, the other shape shifters. Once freed from his animal form upon the carousel that inhabits Hades Carnival, he knows that the coming twenty-four hours will be the most grueling and important hours of his long life. He must keep himself and Kellsie alive or see both of them spend eternity in hell. As the hero in the previous book did, Marko tries to set himself emotionally apart from Kellsie, because a distracted warrior makes mistakes and he can’t afford to make any when the stakes are so high.

Hades proved once more to be as crafty as expected, offering first Kellsie and then Marko anything they desired. Hades needs the shape-shifting warriors to lead his armies against the other gods so he can take over the world. In the first book, we find out that two of the shifters have died with the women that freed them, one managed to survive, and one turned against his goddess and now works with Hades. But Marko isn’t going to give up so quickly, and Kellsie is just the woman to stand by his side.

What I really love about these books is the real emotion. Even though the majority of the book surrounds the twenty-four hour time frame when the beast is freed from the carousel and Hades and his minions go after them, nothing feels rushed. Can a person fall in love in twenty-four hours? Maybe you believe that or not, but in these books the emotions are real and timely, neither rushed nor too slow, but just perfect. And the author doesn’t shy away from allowing the characters to question their feelings. Both Marko and Kellsie wonder about the feelings they’re having, wonder if the other can be trusted, wonder if they’ll survive and if so…what happens next. While there is less sex in this book than in the first one, the scenes are no less scorching and emotionally powerful.

I enjoyed this book, losing myself in the mix of mythology and modern times, shape-shifters, a scream queen, gods and goddesses, minions, and souls-in-the-balance battles. I’m looking forward to reading the next two books in the series and finding out what happens to the two remaining shifters.

Grade: B+

You can read an excerpt here or buy a copy here.

Review: Mystic Cowboy by Sarah M. Anderson

Liz’s Review

Mystic Cowboy by Sarah M. Anderson
Western romance released by Samhain Publishing on January 1, 2013

One good man could drive her all kinds of crazy.

Men of the White Sandy, Book 1

Just who does Rebel Runs Fast think he is? Dr. Madeline Mitchell, the new doctor on the White Sandy Lakota Indian Reservation, knows there’s a good answer to that question. Somewhere.

Sure, the Lakota medicine man is every cowboy-and-Indian fantasy she ever had, but he sends patients to sweat lodges instead of clinical trials, talks them out of flu vaccines. Even more irritating, he makes her heart race.

Rebel swore off the white man’s world—and its women—years ago. Madeline doesn’t speak the language, understand the customs, or believe he’s anything more than a charlatan. Yet she stays, determined to help his people. And he keeps finding excuses to spend more time at the clinic.

When he discovers her in the throes of dangerous heat stroke, Rebel’s efforts to cool her down set fire to a passion neither thought they wanted. But when the people start falling violently ill, the cultural gap stretches the connection between their hearts to the breaking point…

Warning: This book contains smoking-hot skinny dipping, emotional and emotionally satisfying sex, and a shirtless cowboy who is also an Indian.

When I got into reading romance novels during my first pregnancy, after a long affair with mysteries, one of the types of books that I always looked for were the Native American/Settler historical romances.  If it took place during pioneer times, with a restless heroine looking for something to tickle her fancy and a shirtless young man waiting in the brush to steal her away to his camp and make her his bride, I would snatch it up right away.  Loved them.  Devoured them.  Still enjoy them.  So when I saw the description for a contemporary romance taking place on a Lakota Sioux reservation, I was more than willing to indulge.  I haven’t read anything by Sarah before, but I loved the premise.  Overzealous, under-informed white woman doctor tries to make a difference on a Lakota reservation and tries extremely hard not to fall in love with the local medicine man?  Sign me up!

First, I’ll say that this book felt very real to me.  I have read a great deal about the current situation on reservations in our country, and it’s appalling.  People live with nothing and are glad for what they have.  People like the ones portrayed on the White Sandy Indian Reservation in this book are happy to just have groceries.  It’s easy to see that Sarah has done her research, and that helped me to connect to the characters and fall in love with the world she built.

Dr. Madeline Mitchell has excellent intentions when she signs up for two years as the reservation doctor.  What she doesn’t expect is the awful conditions that she’s expected to work in, between the lack of funding from the government for basic supplies to the language barrier she faces between the older residents who speak only a bare amount of English.  Immediately she butts heads with the medicine man, Rebel Runs Fast, cursing his good looks and charm as she watches him direct her patient to his sweat lodge instead of a hospital for treatments.  When the book begins, Madeline is escaping from a failed relationship and an uptight world, hoping to make a difference.  An icy exterior and a cold glare that can stop a man at twenty paces are her hallmarks, as well as her ability to leap to insane conclusions and not let people speak their minds fully.  She’s immature at times, in her views on life and love and men, but she’s also driven, dedicated, and honorable, qualities that more than make up for her flaws.

Rebel Runs Fast is a sexy surprise a minute.  From one moment to the next, the reader is treated to another layer of the depth that brings us closer to finding out just who Rebel is and why he walks the line between two worlds.  On one hand, a talented artist that poses for publicity shots and uses his earnings to help his people. On the other hand, a spiritual guide, medicine man, and full blooded Lakota who loves his people and wants to be there for them in every possible way.  It seems impossible for both sides of the man – Jonathan the artist and Rebel the Lakota – to exist at the same time, and this constant struggle kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the whole book.  Even the romance aspect of the book kept me wondering, made me not want to put the book down.  I love it when an author makes you work for the love and doesn’t just hand it to you.  Rebel suffers in this book between his duty to his people and his desires as a man, and I suffered right along with him.

The romance between Madeline and Rebel is wonderful, and when they finally get together, things get hot very fast.  Even in the middle of the hot lovin’, there’s this undercurrent of tension that heightens all of it.  Can Madeline live in his world?  Could he let her go if she couldn’t?

Rebel has a vision of his people dying, and when they begin to grow sick, the only person he can count on is Madeline.  Through this plot, the reader is reminded of the atrocities brought on the native people by the white man.  It’s not done in a finger pointing, shaming sort of way, but rather brought about with compassion and yearning for things to be different.  Can one person really make a difference in a situation that seems so hopeless?  The book, even though it’s fiction, answers that question in a most amazing way.

I loved the secondary characters.  Madeline’s family has dwindled down to only her sister, Mellie, due to the deaths of their parents.  Mellie at first comes across as a flighty debutante, but like many of the characters, she’s not just a one-dimensional character.  The clinic where Madeline works is full of amazing characters, from Albert, who sweeps the floors and speaks little English, to Nobody Bodine, Rebel’s friend and a man determined to find out why his people are getting sick, to Tara, who works at the clinic with Madeline.  Each character was rich and vibrant and made the story come alive.  And I can’t say enough about Nobody…he rocked my world.  Love him so much, I sincerely hope the author is planning another book in this series because I will pounce on that like nobody’s business!

This book was such a pleasure to read that I was sorry when it was over.  It’s one of those books that when it was finished and I’d read the last word, I cuddled my Kindle a little closer and grinned like an idiot.  A rollercoaster ride from beginning to end, with dynamic characters, a rich background and history, a touch of supernatural element with Rebel’s visions, a mystery to be solved, and lives to be saved, this book grabbed me by the throat from the first word and didn’t let go until my eyes passed over the very last word.  Now that I’ve read one of Sarah’s books, I can’t wait to read more.

Grade:  A

You can buy a copy here.

Review: Come Fill Me by Tina Donahue

Liz’s Review

Come Fill Me by Tina Donahue
Paranormal Romance released by Samhain Publishing on December 18, 2012

Two men will stop at nothing to have her gift, her desire … and her love.

The Prophecy, Book 1

Years ago, with the healing abilities afforded by her blend of Aztec and extraterrestrial blood, Liz was free to do as she wished. Now she is trapped in a blood feud, forced to heal one of her clan’s most dangerous rivals so they can exploit his gift of prophecy.

As she drapes her nude body over his, the rush of his returning strength overwhelms her, and his stunningly sensual caress pushes her to her sexual limit.

Zeke Neekoma never expected to hunger for a woman he’s supposed to hate, but now that he’s tasted her, he has no intention of denying himself the pleasure of her body—or of kidnapping his enemy’s most cherished plaything.

Brought to Zeke’s stronghold to heal his brother, Jacob, Liz surrenders her body’s most traitorous needs to the unrestrained desires of two powerful men. And the brothers fill the lonely void she has too long endured.

But her clan doesn’t intend to let her go without a fight…and the ecstasy that binds Liz to her lovers could be the thing that breaks them.

Warning: Worlds collide when two Alpha males crave a woman they shouldn’t have. Their dominance and desire knows no limits, culminating in sex so torrid this babe’s never gonna be the same…or free of one brother’s touch.

This book was a complete and utter surprise from beginning to end. First, I read the description and completely pictured a story taking place a thousand years ago. All the historical buzzwords were there – clan, Aztec, blood feud, healer – but it actually takes place in the present. But it’s a present that is deeply steeped in the history of the Aztecs, interwoven with sci-fi tidbits like healing abilities and alien ancestors.

The story opens with Liz Munez, a doctor, who is also a powerful healer. Her father is being held by a really nasty man named Carreon, and Carreon is using her father to force her to heal people at his command. She’s a strange dichotomy. On the one hand, she loathes Carreon. She loved him at one time even though he was a thoroughly abusive asshole who shared her sexually with his people. Now, she fears and loathes him but also accepts that he can control her because he has her father held prisoner. She appears to be strong willed, but she is easily controlled because she fears for her father’s life. When Carreon shows up at her office and demands she heal someone for him, all it takes is one mention of her father and she follows willingly. She swears to kill him if he hurts her father, but they’re empty threats that even Carreon recognizes.

Carreon is one evil SOB. He is the leader of a clan of their people, who is trying to destroy their enemies. He uses Liz to heal his wounded men. He’s charming, smiling broadly while he lies, and he wants Liz by his side forever. He’s a perfect bad guy: ruthless with his enemies, willing to step over innocents to save his own hide, and utterly entranced with himself.

Zeke Neekoma is the leader of his clan. They’re different from Liz and Carreon’s people, rumored to be descended from aliens. Their people have the power of sight – the ability to see into the future – and Zeke is the most powerful of their people. He is a man that has been deeply scarred by loss through Carreon, who killed his beloved daughter, Gabrielle. He had a vision of Liz and was ambushed by Carreon on his way to save her. Near death, he’s healed by Liz and promises to keep her alive if she comes with him. His animosity for her, when he assumes she is still Carreon’s willing lover, shifts quickly as his desire for her grows. He needs her, he wants her, and he’ll have her whether she likes it or not.

Secondary characters include Zeke’s brother Jacob, who engages in the most ridiculous form of sibling rivalry ever. When he sees that Zeke wants Liz, he promptly decides to go after her himself. He appears to be immature, only interested in on-upping his older brother. Liz’s father is a very powerful healer. He would rather die than heal on command for Carreon or anyone else. He is the very definition of a strong-willed person. Kele is part of Zeke’s clan and in love with Jacob. She throws herself at him again and again, only to be rebuffed. She can’t take a hint and blames Liz for coming between her and the man she loves. In a fit of rage and grief, she does something so stupid that I wanted to reach into the book and smack her. This book has a lot of bad guys – an entire clan of them as a matter of fact – but Kele isn’t a bad guy, she just makes bad decisions.

This book is very raw and graphic. Through Liz’s memories, we learn about all the things that Carreon forced her to do with himself and his men. I’m not a big fan of the “c” word, and Liz uses it in her own thoughts and I find that a bit surprising. Aside from the harsh language, the book is heavily suffused with sex. Liz’s special healing abilities come from her touching skin to skin with the person she’s healing. If they’re very badly injured, she will have to have sex with the injured person in order to completely heal them. In the past with healings, Carreon treated her like a toy, watching her heal his injured men and then having sex with her before passing her around to his people. There are times when she remembers these events with shame and others when she is turned on at the memories. I found her wishy-washy thoughts to be a bit confusing.

Overall, this was a decent book with deep characters and a well-thought-out storyline. It was an engaging story that I had a hard time putting down once I started reading it, but I never really connected with Liz like I wanted to. I liked Zeke and even Jacob, but Liz didn’t come across as sympathetic which, in the end, is what lead me to not enjoy the story as much as I wanted to. Normally, if I was reading a story about a sexually abused woman who finally finds a man worth loving, I’d be cheering for her. But this story left me feeling cold towards Liz. She bounced between too many beds all for the sake of healing and it made it difficult for me to care about what happened to her.

Grade: C+

You can read an excerpt here and buy a copy here.

Review: Hearts of Darkness by Kira Brady

Liz’s Review

Hearts of Darkness by Kira Brady
Paranormal romance released by Kensington Publishing on August 7, 2012

In the first of a dazzling new romantic trilogy, one woman’s courageous search plunges her into a millennia-old supernatural war–and an irresistible passion. . .

Nurse Kayla Friday has dedicated her life to science and reason. But for her, Seattle is a place of eerie loss and fragmented, frightening memories. And now the only clue to her sister’s murder reveals a secret battle between two ancient mythologies. . .and puts Kayla in the sights of lethally-sexy werewolf mercenary Hart. He’ll do whatever it takes to obtain the key to the Gate of the Land of the Dead and free what’s left of his soul. But seducing the determined Kayla is putting them at the mercy of powerful desires neither can control. And as the clock ticks down to hellish catastrophe, the untested bond between Kayla and Hart may lead to the ultimate sacrifice.

As an avid sci-fi/paranormal fan, I knew when I began reading Hearts of Darkness that I was in for a wild ride.  Set in present-day Seattle, the story opens from first hero Hart’s POV and then heroine Kayla’s POV.  Werewolf Hart has only one thing on his mind and that’s finding the key to the Gate so he can get out from under his blood-debt to his boss.  The only thing on Kayla’s mind?  Identifying her murdered sister’s body.

Kayla Friday is a unique character in a book filled with incredibly unique characters.  On the surface, she is simply a human woman filled with grief and determined to find out who killed her sister and why.  Underneath that, we find that she is a strong-willed, compassionate woman who trusts too easily.  When she is first given a glimpse into the supernatural world all around her, she is struck with disbelief.  She powers through that disbelief, knowing that the secret to her sister Desi’s demise came at the hands of someone in this newly revealed world that is invisible to humans.  Hart tells her to run as far and as fast as possible, but true to her character, Kayla stays, desperate to know what happened to her sister.  She’s attacked, drugged, taken against her will, and betrayed, but still she finds the strength to keep going.

Hart is a werewolf.  There are several groups of shifters, including the new-to-me Thunderbirds (think human-sized black birds).  An outcast, Hart has a chip on his shoulder the size of California and is only doing what he has to do to free his soul.  Blood-bound to Norgard, a dragon shifter and all-around bad-guy, Hart must complete tasks in order to free his soul and escape.  Complex on a hundred different levels, Hart is a mercenary that thought he needed no one but himself.  A classic look-out-for-number-one sort of man, he finds himself surprised at Kayla’s ability to trust in him and just how much he likes her faith.  Hart was a sexy, likeable, frustrating character.  At times I wanted to both hug him and strangle him.

At war in this world are the Kevarti and the Drekar.  The Drekar have vowed to help humanity, the Kevarti just want to rule the world.  Shifters abound, both in the furry and feathered form, and in the dragon form as well.  In the world that Kira created, the humans are unbelievably obtuse to everything supernatural that is happening around them, explaining away things they don’t understand.  I really, really enjoyed the world because she turned everyday things into supernatural occurrences.  The need for gaslights?  It’s because the aether (which is a supernatural thing) causes the lights to go out.  Cars won’t start?  Ghosts.  It was clever and added a touch of realism to a completely unrealistic world, which is just exactly what a paranormal book needs to be plausible.

I love mythology.  As a teen I devoured books about ancient Greece and the gods and goddesses.  Hearts of Darkness treads heavily in the world of ancient beings, and in some ways it bogged the book down for me.  So many names and histories and words that needed explanations.  It felt at times that I should be taking notes so I would remember the players’ names and connections.  Ancient history lessons abound as Kayla is let into the world by slow degrees, learning about curses, other realms, possessions, ghosts and what happened to her sister, Desi.  And in a world where even the good guys do bad things, it was hard to know just whose side who was on.

I’ll be blunt:   the book is complicated.  But it’s also wonderfully written, engaging, and sexy.  This isn’t a book you can flip through casually, because it’s enchanting and complex and worth every minute that you’ll spend devouring it.  As a lover of all things paranormal, I felt right at home in Seattle with Kayla and Hart as they tried to reconcile their growing attraction and face an uncertain future where life hangs in the balance.  I will definitely be picking up the next book in the series.

Grade:  A-

You can read an excerpt here or buy a copy here.

Review: Double Down by Katie Porter

Liz’s Review

Double Down by Katie Porter
Contemporary romance released by Samhain Publishing on July 31, 2012

Vegas Top Guns, Book 1
Desire as reckless as a fighter jet in freefall…and just as dangerous.

As part of the 64th Aggressor Squadron, Major Ryan “Fang” Haverty flies like the enemy to teach Allied pilots how not to die. The glittering excess of the Strip can’t compare to the glowing jet engines of his F-16. But a sexy, redheaded waitress in seamed stockings? Now she gets his blood pumping.

Cassandra Whitman’s good-girl ways haven’t earned any slack from her manager ex-boyfriend, or prevented a bad case of frazzle from holding down two and a half jobs. She sure wouldn’t mind letting the handsome Southern charmer shake up her routine.

Their wild weekend lives up to Sin City’s reputation. Especially when they discover a matched passion for role-playing. For Cass, it’s an exciting departure from her normal, shy persona. But for Ryan, it triggers memories of a time when his fetish drove away the woman he loved–leaving him reluctant to risk a repeat performance.

Except Cass refuses to settle for ordinary ever again. She’s about to show the man with hair-trigger hands that she’s got a few surprise moves of her own.

Warning: This book contains dirty-hot role-playing, featuring an all-alpha fighter pilot and an ambitious waitress with a fabulous imagination. Also: dressing-room sex, a plaid schoolgirl skirt, and a sprinkling of spankings.

I’m not even really sure where to start talking about this book.  It’s just an incredible story on so many levels that putting one first seems almost impossible.  Katie Porter, I’ve come to learn, is the name of the writing team of Carrie Lofty and Lorelie Brown.  I haven’t read anything by either author prior to this collaboration, so I had no expectations going into the story except to – hopefully – enjoy myself and I really, really did.  I haven’t read many role-playing books before this one, usually finding the odd “dress like a cheerleader” request in the romance novels I normally choose, so picking this one that has role-playing as a central theme was new for me.  When I think of role-playing I automatically think about the French Maid costume, but Katie opened up my eyes with this story, weaving a tantalizing tale about a man who isn’t sure he should like the things he does, and a woman who really would do anything for the right man.

As a girl who enjoys a man in uniform (my hubby was in the navy), Major Ryan Haverty already had brownie points with me in the hotness category.  His odd fascination with waitress Cass’ seamed stockings as she took his order at the restaurant where she worked started the first of many quirks that came to define him as a character.  Ryan, known to his fellow soldiers as Fang, is a dual personality – one part of him is what he perceives as normal and the other part kinky, specifically into role-playing.  In Ryan’s case, he’s desperate to keep the kinky part of himself well hidden, so deeply buried that it won’t ever come out.  The problem with secrets, as we all know, is that eventually they come out and Ryan was ill prepared for the fall-out.  Ryan’s reasoning for squashing his kinky fantasies is two-fold.  One, he’s an officer in Air Force, stationed at a nearby base, so indulging in role-playing in public could cause problems with his job.  And the other is that he once got his heartbroken by a woman that he revealed his kinkiest needs to and swore to not do that again.  What I really found fascinating about Ryan’s development in the story is that just one taste of fantasy for him and he slowly unraveled into a downward spiral of self-loathing and recrimination.  As the reader, we’re treated to his POV, and the disgust he feels for his suddenly increasing fantasies involving Cass roll off the page.  You can feel how much he hates himself, how much he wishes he didn’t like to role-play, how frightened he is when it clearly overwhelms him and pushes at the careful boundaries of his ordered life.  On the outside, Ryan is a hero and a leader, a man with loyal friends who has seen battle and lived to tell about it.  On the inside, however, Ryan is a festering mess of conflicted feelings, desires, and needs.

Cass was positively brilliant.  When challenged, she proved herself to be up for anything.  She was a heroine that I could get behind and cheer for.  What I found most interesting about her character was her background and family.  Her family is wonderful and amazing, but very smothering and insistent that she helps with the family business.  You get to see the way she feels pulled in separate directions – one for her passion of art and the other to support her family – and it’s not until Ryan’s influence that she begins to see herself as the independent woman she really is.  Her character flowered spectacularly.  There were no abrupt changes of heart or sudden decisions, but a gradual bloom that seemed real and earnest.  When her heart is breaking, her chin is held high and her belief in herself keeps her from accepting anything less than everything she deserves.  For that reason alone, Cass has become one of my new favorite female characters.

Secondary characters include Cass’ parents, her sister, brother-in-law and niece and Ryan’s fellow Air Force pilots.  Cass’ parents are the overbearing sort that expect their children to be happy living the dreams of their parents and not their own.  Their tour company is in trouble and the guilt comes out in buckets when Cass tries to improve her position at an art gallery so she can do what she loves for a living.  I loved to see her take her own life by the horns and make a stand for herself.  It’s one thing for a woman to stand up to a man about what she will and will not tolerate in a relationship, but it’s an entirely different, earth-shattering thing for a woman to stand up to the people who raised her and do her own thing.  Ryan’s two pilot friends, Tin Tin and Princess, are colorful and fun.  Tin Tin comes from money and comes across as an arrogant pretty-boy that would toss a girl aside when he’s done with her.  While it may be true in some ways, he shows his true nature when he stands by Princess’ side while she’s heaving up her drinks in the bathroom.  Now, who doesn’t want a guy like that?  And as for Princess, she’s got some serious issues.  Wound as tight as a spring, she seems to have no off-switch, flipping from calm and controlled to wild and berserk with no stops in between.  Both characters have their own stories in this series, and I think their characters are well worth looking into and deserve their own stories.

I can’t review the book without talking about the sex.  Holy role-playing Batman!  This book is just packed full of fantastic sex.  Each scene is unique as they move forward in their relationship, switching between sweet vanilla sex and kinky sex, initiated most often by Cass.  Cass has an internal radar that seems to sense whenever Ryan is turned on by something, and she turns the tables on him as often as she can.  Ryan struggles internally throughout the role-playing.  Like a dieter who eats a big piece of cake, he loves it at the time and hates himself afterwards, afraid that if Cass would find out the depths of his desire for role-playing that she would walk out on him.  I can’t even tell you the crazy things that they do without giving up too much of the story, but suffice it to say that although the book starts off with a bang (literally), the characters and the storyline don’t suffer for the attention to sexy details.  Well balanced, the loving is exactly what the story needed to ratchet it up a few million notches, from a romance about a pilot and a waitress to a sizzling story about just how much fun two consenting adults can have when they open their minds to the possibilities.

When I first began reading the story, I wasn’t really prepared for how much I would like the characters and become invested in their lives.  The story grips you by the neck and doesn’t let go, while you watch the lovers dance.  This story has got so much going for it, between the role-playing, the family issues, and the characters coming to terms with what they want in their lives, this book is full to the brim with heat and passion.  Unlike other stories in this vein that might focus solely on the sex, Porter broadens the scope to share the life-altering decisions that both Cass and Ryan make as they explore the kinkier, darker side of pleasure.

Grade:  A-

You can read an excerpt here and buy a copy here.

Review: Protector by Loribelle Hunt

Liz’s Review

Protector (The Elect, Book 1) by Loribelle Hunt
Paranormal romance released by Samhain Publishing on June 26, 2012

He will protect her. No matter the threat.
The Elect. They aren’t human. They’re the next step in evolution and they’re hiding in plain sight. They’re stronger, smarter, and faster. Nature’s perfect predator.
Welcome to the top of the food chain.
Braxton Lee is the protector of the Elect and it’s a job he takes seriously. As president of the committee that governs the Elect, he overseas everything from finance to security to keeping their existence hidden. He’s driven and ruthless. The Elect will not be exposed on his watch.
Unfortunately his research chief, Zach Littman, is contacted by a former colleague who’s run a DNA analysis of a blood sample and gotten weird results. The blood isn’t human, and Dr. Esme Durand is smart enough to know it. Brax will do whatever it takes to keep her silent. Until he meets her. Because Esme has a secret. She’s one of them. Brax wants nothing more but to bring her into the fold and into his bed.

Warning: This book contains hot sex, the next evolution of mankind, hot sex, a race to find a bad guy, a hot hero trying to prove his love, and did I mention the hot sex?

As a child of the 80s, I grew up with a healthy fascination of all things sci-fi from the hilarious ALF to Alien Nation to the revival of Twilight Zone.  Protector, at its core, is a sci-fi book about a new generation of humans, in which a small number have been born with some pretty amazing psychological and physiological talents, including mind-reading and thought projection.  I haven’t read anything by Loribelle before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  What I hoped for, when I read the blurb and saw the cover (he reminds me of a young Jeremy London), was that she would be able to mix the futuristic idea of human evolution in modern times and make it work.  And she does!  After just the first chapter, I found myself wishing I had some of the talents that she mentions her characters have.  Such as, I’d love to know what my husband is really thinking when he says “whatever you want,” when I know for sure he doesn’t really mean that.  Loribelle starts the book off with a bang, and keeps the momentum going.  It’s not a novella, but it’s not a full-length book either (under 100 pages), and she manages to weave a compelling and curious world about the Elect, a secret society of advanced human beings that have been around since the 50s.

Brace yourselves, kids, because I’m about to rant about alpha-holes again.  On the surface, I like Brax.  Hot, sexy, protective, good at keeping secrets.  But under that, is a man that expects things to go his way all the time.  When he meets Esme, it’s not too long before he figures out that she’s his mate.  (As an avid reader of paranormal books, I don’t have any trouble accepting the instant-mate-attraction that most of these books contain, although usually for me, one or more of those involved gets furry once a month…but I digress.)  Brax knows that Esme has got nary a clue about what her powers really mean, the special group that she’s now part of, or that Brax is her mate.  Instead of just giving her time, he pushes.  Pushes her to accept their connection, pushes her to make decisions after a crisis that would knock anyone on their butt.  He can’t stand that she’s feeling torn about her brother and nephew, that she would choose her family over him when she’s only known him for a minute.  He’s been waiting years for his mate; she never knew that anyone besides herself and her brother had extra powers.  So the protectiveness, instead of giving me the warm-fuzzies, makes me want to tell Esme to run far away in the other direction.

Esme is a perfect heroine.  Plucky, independent, loyal, smart, and not swayed by heaven in tight pants.  When her world is flipped upside down, she wants to first protect her brother and nephew and then second, go back to work.  I love that.  I love that even when she was in Brax’s arms, she was still her own person, not carried away in a flood of hormone fueled oohs and aahs, but grounded and steadfast.  When she is rightly confused about the new world that is suddenly open to her after an attempt is made on her life, she doesn’t drown in her anxiety and reach out for the first strong pair of male arms.  She demands answers and she reasons her situation out.  As a scientist, she wants to seek the answers to questions about herself and family, find the cure to her nephew’s mysterious illness, and lastly figure out just who these Elect are and what that means for her.

The few secondary characters in the story – her fellow scientist Zach, her brother Carter, and her nephew Kaden – are not well drawn.  Zach is virtually invisible as a character, only a vehicle with which her scientific discovery of something unique in a blood sample is given to the Elect.  Carter is angry and reserved, played as a typical hardened military man who believes he and his personal resources and contacts can protect his son and sister better than the Elect.  He has no time to grow as a character; he’s just an outline, a sketch.  And little Kaden, who is so ill and no one has been able to figure out what is wrong with him…but he’s also lost in the sea of the non-memorable, half-drawn cast.

I had no trouble with the “science” of the story.  Loribelle created a world in which ordinary humans eventually began to evolve new powers, and as such they knew they needed to be kept secret to prevent the government from experimenting on them.  The way she wrote the story makes that seem not only plausible, but possible, and for me, that just makes the story.  As an avid reader of both straight sci-fi and paranormal romance, I would have preferred this story without the romantic sub-plot because it detracted from the story that needed much more fleshing out and the characters that needed more time to develop.

What bothered me most about the story, besides Brax’s arrogant behavior, was the ending.  There I was, reading along, when WHAM! it’s over.  It ended so abruptly, and with so many loose ends, that I actually thought the book had been cut off accidentally.  But I couldn’t ignore The End.  I don’t mind the occasional cliffhanger, but this ending took the cake, and in essence, ruined what had been up to that point a decent read.  The characters had some major emotional reveals in the last few paragraphs, when up to that point neither had really been given the chance to show that they were moving to those conclusions.  I can suspend disbelief about a lot of things, but the revelations coupled with the abrupt ending brought me right back to a reality in which I didn’t care for this book and I won’t be looking for any further in this series.

Grade:  D+

You can read an excerpt here, or buy a copy here.

Review: Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase

Liz’s Review

Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase
Historical romance released by Avon on June 16, 2012

From the Journals of Sophia Noirot: A dress is a weapon. It must dazzle his eye, raise his temperature . . . and empty his purse.

A blue-eyed innocent on the outside and a shark on the inside, dressmaker Sophy Noirot could sell sand to Bedouins. Selling Maison Noirot’s beautiful designs to aristocratic ladies is a little harder, especially since a recent family scandal has made an enemy of one of society’s fashion leaders. Turning scandal to the shop’s advantage requires every iota of Sophy’s skills, leaving her little patience for a big, reckless rake like the Earl of Longmore. The gorgeous lummox can’t keep more than one idea in his head at a time, and his idea is taking off all of Sophy’s clothes.

But when Longmore’s sister, Noirot’s wealthiest, favorite customer, runs away, Sophy can’t let him bumble after her on his own. In hot pursuit with the one man who tempts her beyond reason, she finds desire has never slipped on so smoothly . . .

I haven’t ever read anything by Loretta Chase before, mainly because her genre is historical and that’s not my go-to (…which is paranormal.  Now, if she wrote about werewolves at balls wearing the latest fashions from London, I might jump right on that!).  But once I read the description and saw the gorgeous cover, I wanted to check it out.  I follow several discussion boards about romance books and Loretta’s have come up time and again, so when I had an opportunity to get an ARC of one of her books, it was no contest.

Sophy Noirot is adorable.  I absolutely loved her character.  She was a clever mix of innocent maiden and sultry temptress.  She was used to seeing skin as a dressmaker, and her sister Marcelline is married and has shared secrets of the bedroom with her, but other than kissing, she’s still an untried woman.  In a time when women fainted frequently and spectacularly, Sophy is a breath of fresh air.  She dons costumes and crashes high class affairs to spy for a gossip rag, she only faints when she needs to create a distraction, and she is fiercely protective and loyal to her sisters and their business.  When Clara, the sweet, extremely innocent younger sister of Harry Longmore finds herself in an incredibly compromising position, Sophy shows herself to be witty, selfless, and willing to do anything to see all their problems solved.

Harry Longmore is a rake.  I love that word when it describes a man in a historical novel.  It brings to mind all sorts of seedy, naughty things.  But the truth is that I really didn’t know what the term meant so I had to look it up.  I was positive that Longmore was a rake, but I had to make sure.  Turns out…it’s a perfect word for him.  A rake, which I’m sure you historically-reading folks know, is a man that’s wanton, loose, corrupt and many other fun things.  Basically, a male whore.  Good times!  But underneath the gorgeous visage, the tailored clothing, and the unashamed way he plays with women, is a man who loves his family and will do anything for them.  And he’s completely entranced by Sophy from the start.  When the book shifts to his point of view, we’re treated to his hilarious inner monologue as he argues with himself about his self control where Sophy is concerned, and his growing feelings for her.  Charming and protective with a wry sense of humor, he’s a great leading man.

The most innocent of the women in the story is Longmore’s sister Clara.  So innocent!  I loved her, I felt sorry for her, I wanted to stand up to the rogue who put his hands on her myself!  When she runs away, I admired her courage even as I cringed knowing just how unprepared she would be for the real world.  But the very act of running away spoke volumes about one woman who had enough of polite society telling her what she could and couldn’t do with her body, and who she could do those things with.

Sophy’s sisters are background players but important to Sophy, not only as her business partners but as her family.  Marcelline and the youngest, Leonie, help Sophy as she and Longmore set out to find Clara and bring her home and fix the awful mess she found herself in.  And little Fenwick, the pocket-picking orphan that Sophy takes under her wings is charming and endearing.  I loved his cockneyed accent, the way he used an “f” in place of “th”, so he would say “fings” instead of “things”.  Longmore spends a good bit of time correcting the poor boy.  Sophy uses him to spy around town in exchange for giving him a place to stay and food to eat.  His addition to the adults in the story was funny and added another layer to an already colorful cast of characters.

Sophy, as a dressmaker, is privy to the highest fashion and the descriptions of her outfits were vividly painted.  I could picture the lace and bows, the billowy sleeves and the outrageous hats.  I’m really glad I didn’t live in a time when I had to have so many layers on!  What an ordeal to get dressed and undressed.

While I often say that I won’t read historical novels, I do actually have a few good reasons for it.  One, I don’t like to read stories where the heroine is a virgin.  They squick me out and I find them (often) hilariously overrated.  We should all be so lucky (but I digress).  And I really don’t like reading about the time in history when double standards were so ridiculous.  I loved that Loretta broached this very subject during a conversation between Sophy and Longmore, when she suggested that he took advantage of her by being such a good kisser and she was overwhelmed.  How easy it would be for him to do something to her to “ruin” her in public, when she was dizzy from being kissed so well.  This double standard is what bothers me about historical novels, that a man can feel up a woman and walk away unscathed with only the “rake” moniker as a warning to future women, but the woman herself is sometimes forced to marry said rake to save her good name and that of her family.  I know that this is historically accurate, but it’s part of why I don’t (usually) read novels from this time period.  I’ll take books after women’s lib for $500, Alex.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel.  Once I opened the book, I found myself completely entranced with the world that Loretta spun and thoroughly enjoyed it.  The characters were well developed, the descriptions of the people, clothing, and journey were amazing, and the plight of not only Sophy but her sisters and Clara were engaging.  I am looking forward to reading more from this author.

Grade: B+

You can read an excerpt here or buy a copy here.