Tag Archives: Samhain Publishing

Review: Winter Wonderland by Heidi Cullinan

Karen’s Review of Winter Wonderland by Heidi Cullinan
Contemporary m/m romance published by Samhain Publishing on November 10, 2015

Winter WonderlandPaul Jansen was the only one of his friends who wanted a relationship. Naturally, he’s the last single man standing. No gay man within a fifty-mile radius wants more than casual sex.

No one, that is, except too-young, too-twinky Kyle Parks, who sends him suggestive texts and leaves X-rated snow sculptures on his front porch.

Kyle is tired of being the town’s resident Peter Pan. He’s twenty-five, not ten, and despite his effeminate appearance, he’s nothing but the boss in bed. He’s loved Paul since forever, and this Christmas, since they’re both working on the Winter Wonderland festival, he might finally get his chance for a holiday romance.

But Paul comes with baggage. His ultra-conservative family wants him paired up with a woman, not a man with Logan’s rainbow connection. When their anti-LGBT crusade spills beyond managing Paul’s love life and threatens the holiday festival, Kyle and Paul must fight for everyone’s happily ever after, including their own.

Warning: Contains erotic snow art, toppy twinks, and super-sweet holiday moments. Best savored with a mug of hot chocolate with a dash of spice.

Well, reading a Christmas book while on holiday in the South of France may not sound like a great idea, but weather aside, lying on a beach was at lest as good as reading this by a roaring fire – which would really be its natural habitat. Continue reading

Review: The Girl Next Door by Amy Jo Cousins

Karen’s Review of The Girl Next Door (Bend or Break) by Amy Jo Cousins
Contemporary romance released by Samhain Publishing on June 16, 2015

The Girl Next DoorWhen it comes to love, go big or go home.

Bend or Break, Book 3

Charles “Cash” Carmichael traded his high-rise condo and family-firm career for a job coaching soccer for Chicago’s inner-city kids. He’s adjusting to living on minimum wage when his young cousin, newly out and running away from home, shows up on his less-than-luxurious doorstep.

Angsty teens definitely aren’t Cash’s thing. He needs local backup, and there’s only one name he can think of: Stephany Tyler. Back in the day, the bisexual Steph was the perfect friend with benefits until she fell in love with a woman.

To his relief, his former friend steps up to the plate. Soon, though, Cash finds himself feeling the familiar need to keep her in his bed, and in his life. But Steph, burned by the ex-girlfriend and by the absentee dad she’s been trying to connect with, won’t risk her heart again.

Good thing Cash believes in leaving it all on the field. If he can just convince Steph to get in the game, there’s a chance they can both win.

Warning: This book contains ex-friends with benefits crossing boundaries a second time, several steamy encounters on staircases, copious discussions about gay sex from a “straight” guy, a shout-out to magic buttons, and an especially memorable going away threesome.

While this is part of the bend or Break series, it can be read as a standalone. I enjoyed Off Campus, the first in this series and the book where we meet Cash and Steph, I loved Nothing Like Paris (both books are m/m) and my jaded heart rejoiced when I heard that The Girl Next Door was going to be m/f albeit with a queer twist. Amy-Jo Cousins writes with such emotion, and her ability to get inside her characters heads is second to none. I wanted this book really badly… Continue reading

Guest Review: Trust In Me by Dee Tenorio

James’s review of Trust in Me by Dee Tenorio
Contemporary Romance released by Samhain Publishing July on July 23, 2013​

Trust In MeSometimes falling in love is the easy part…

A Rancho del Cielo Romance

Locke Jackman is single, childless…and he has a bad case of empty nest syndrome. For years, as he fought tooth and nail to keep his brothers and sisters together after his parents died, his entire life was focused on his responsibilities.

Now his siblings have all moved on with their lives, and there’s no one around to distract him from his overpowering attraction to his sister’s best friend. Their mutual desire is stunning…but then again, so are the secrets keeping them apart.

Susie Packard’s nightmarish marriage taught her what happens when she gives in to her weakness for powerful men. Too bad the big, stoic frowner across the street—the one who sets her bells jangling just by breathing—has her in his sights.

Try as she might to keep her emotional distance, Locke is determinedly knocking down all her walls. But as much as she wants to be the woman he needs, she knows better than most—passion may have its rewards, but every secret has its price.

Warning: This book contains a hot, modern-day Viking seducing his way to the heart of his woman, a stubborn lingerie designer with a world of secrets and a very deep bathtub… Enjoy!

Dee Tenorio is one of my personal favorite authors, so I jumped at the chance to review this one. I’m happy I did because this turned out to be my favorite romance of the year. Continue reading

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: Muscle for Hire by Lexxie Couper

CJ’s Review

Muscle for Hire by Lexxie Couper
Contemporary romance released by Samhain Publishing on January 29, 2013

Protecting her was never going to be easy.

After sixteen years as the personal bodyguard to the world’s biggest rock star, ex-SAS commando Aslin Rhodes excels in the role of intimidating protector, oozing threatening menace. Now that the singer has retired, Aslin takes a new assignment as a military consultant on a blockbuster film. But just as he’s getting comfortable in the world of Hollyweird, he faces an unexpectedly immovable object. An American martial arts expert no taller than his chin, who promptly puts him on his arse.

Rowan Hemsworth’s focus is two-fold—keep her famous brother grounded, and never again be a defenseless victim. She has her hands full as the fun police, keeping her brother’s money-sucking entourage at bay. But nothing prepared her for the British mountain of muscle who makes her knees go uncharacteristically weak.

When a string of accidents on set convinces Aslin that Rowan—not her brother—is the target, things get bloody tricky as he tries to convince the stubborn woman she needs his protection. And accept that she belongs with him. In his arms, in his bed…and in his heart.

Warning: The strong, silent type don’t come much more silent and strong than Aslin Rhodes. But when he does speak his British accent will drive you mad with desire. As will his menacing, dominating power. And what he can do to a woman on the back of a motorcycle.

When I first saw this ARC up for grabs, I leaped on it without hesitation. A strong, loyal heroine? A guy who could effortlessly throw me against the bed? Yes, please!  Oh, and the fact he had a British accent didn’t hurt either. I’d never heard of Ms. Couper or her books before, but after reading the blurb I thought I was getting into a pretty standard romance with some spicy bits. I didn’t realize just how hot it was going to be.

When I first started reading I was a little hesitant. The story seemed scattered, with too many outside influences obscuring what was really going on. All that changed as soon as Rowan puts Aslin on his arse, but not for long.

Ms. Couper seems to have drawn Rowan from some of the most common tropes in fiction, trying to blend them into one character. She’s both the overprotective big sister, who doesn’t know when to let go, and the girl who’s turned badass to hide her vulnerability. Unfortunately she comes off two-dimensional and pasted together. She’s frustratingly stubborn and can’t seem to accept that others might be right. Usually a strong, protective heroine automatically endears herself to me, but Rowan’s irrationality tested my patience on numerous occasions.

Aslin falls into genre stereotypes too, although he didn’t annoy me nearly as much. It probably helped that he ticked off my fantasy boyfriend checklist: tall, strong and British with biceps worth talking about. And let’s not forget the ability to bring a woman to orgasm three times in the space of several paragraphs… and then over and over again all night long.  I’m not the only one who’d need an ice cream break, am I? I was pleasantly surprised by a couple of lovely tender moments later in the book which gave depth to his character in a way I wasn’t expecting.

I really liked the premise of this book, and the mystery element was pretty well done. I managed to guess the culprit in the first chapter or two, but confirming my suspicions was probably the main reason for me sticking with the book until the end. I also enjoyed Ms. Coupers ability to make me giggle with her one-liners. Chris and Rowen were particularly good at it, with such gems as “You insured your face? Oh, Chris, I thought we talked about that kind of pretentious crap?” and “That’s taking my animal magnetism to a whole different level,” when a kangaroo takes particular liking to Chris.

I’ll admit, I’d thought, hoped, the relationship would be explored a little more carefully. The sex seemed to overshadow everything else.  I found the insta-lust, although not unbelievable, rather crude, and the insta-love way over the top. It seemed to be mere days before they’re declaring their love for each other.

I found the action in some sequences to be confusing and difficult to imagine; several times the characters seemed unaware of their particular spatial constraints. The catalyst for Rowen’s desire never to become a victim feels contrived and not very thought out and I struggled to understand how Aslin saw enough of a pattern in two accidents to jump to the conclusion that Rowen was the target, not Chris.

Overall this book didn’t really excite me. I don’t think its potential was fully explored but aspects of the plot pulled me through to the end. I’d say people who like a side of a whodunit with their sex give this book a try.

Grade: D+

You can buy a copy of Muscle for Hire 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: Rogue of the Highlands by Cynthia Breeding

Erin’s Review:
Rogue of the Highlands by Cynthia Breeding
Historical Romance Samhain Publishing October 16, 2012

She must tame a Highland barbarian…before he steals her heart.

Rogue, Book 1

With the death of her elderly husband, the Marquess Newburn, Jillian Alton is relieved that she will never have to endure another forced marriage. Until his long-lost son reappears to claim his title and holdings.

Left penniless, Jillian reluctantly accepts a tidy sum from the Prince of Wales to “refine” a Scottish Highlander who has inherited an English title—a man who shakes her resolve to never again let a man close enough to snare her in unwanted wedlock.

Ian MacLeod never planned to set foot in England, but the breakup of the clan system has left him in need of claiming the profits of his inherited English lands to support his people. When he meets the very proper Lady Newburn, he is intrigued…and determined to melt her icy heart.

It shouldn’t be much of a challenge. After all, he’s never met a lass who didn’t quite willingly succumb to him. But he quickly learns that the beautiful, auburn-haired Jillian is no mooning maiden.

And there’s something about her stepson that raises the hair on the back of his neck—a clear signal of danger that has never proved him wrong…

Warning: This book contains a sexy Highlander who will make the most proper of ladies have very improper thoughts.

Sexy kind highlander complete with kilt and large sword: check

Upright, proud by scarred widowed noble woman needing someone to sweep her off her feet: check

Moving romance where you can truly hate the villain: check

It is always difficult for an author to start off a new series let alone a new series in a new genre. Rogue of the Highlands is Cynthia Breeding’s first foray into regency romance and she shows up with an emotional churning quick read in with enduring characters you won’t be able to get enough of.

Jullian Alton is the widow of the late Marquess of Newburn. With the heir returning from France, she is desperate for funds to support herself and her sister. Despite being young, Jillian is deeply aware of the depths of depravity men can bend to. Abused and left scarred by her husband, she has sworn to never, ever allow a man to have any control over her. Because of her past, she underestimates her worth, setting up the perfect opportunity for the right man to worm his way into her heart.

And Ian Macleod is the right man. Warm, caring and gentle, Ian is the romance novel’s stereotypical highlander. He has a high respect for those weaker than him, which includes animals and woman, but secure with his own self that he does not need to dominate or degrade. He seeks a partner in life instead of a typical English trophy wife. Upon meeting Jillian, he must convince her that despite all the difficulties, a life with him is possible.

While I enjoyed the gentle romance building between Ian and Jillian, what I truly enjoyed with this book was rooting against the Villain, the Newburn Heir. He is a despicable man, in a number of ways, and I took delight in Ian and Jillian thwarting him at every turn. Newburn is the counterbalance to Ian. Where Ian is honorable and kind, Newburn is an evil two faced liar. Where Ian is gentle and kind, he is abuse and demanding. As the book is written from a Scottish point of view, this parallel continues to mirror the differences between the Scottish and the English.

And like Jillian, how can you not swoon when a man, in that lovely burr that just warms you to your toes, knows exactly what to say to heal your heart. He does not judge her, but instead teaches her to trust and to believe in just a wee bit of highland magic so she can find her happy ending. There is really nothing to dislike in Jillian and Ian. The only thing I could complain about is the very end Jillian forgets some key information that could have changed the course of the book, but given the circumstances she is forgiven.

One final note, Ms. Breeding has a delightful cast of characters in this book and it bodes well for the other books in this series. While I down played the abusive themes in the review, they are fairly prominent in the book and may turn away some readers. There are several episodes of physical and sexual abuse as part of the story, but it is not gratuitous or inappropriate given the story.

A good choice for those liking Scottish heros and for those who may want a darker bit more mature themed romance.

Grade: B

You can read an excerpt of the book here, or buy it 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: 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: The Rogue Countess by Amy Sandas

Erin’s Review:

Book CoverThe Rogue Countess by Amy Sandas
Historial romance released by Samhain Publishing on July 24, 2012

A passion neither of them wanted…and neither can deny.

Anna Locke was once young, naïve and infatuated with the handsome Jude Sinclair. Until the charismatic “gentleman” showed his true colors by abandoning her on their wedding day.

In the years since, she has transformed herself into a confident, successful woman, independent of her errant husband’s aristocratic family in every way but name. When Jude unexpectedly returns demanding a divorce, she quashes the butterflies he still elicits, and resolves to show him she won’t be so easily cast aside.

Jude has come home to assume the responsibilities left to him upon his father’s death, and to finally end the marriage into which he was tricked. To his surprise, Anna is no longer an awkward, skinny girl with a furtive gaze. She has become a lush, enigmatic vixen with dark eyes that shield secrets she seems determined to keep.

In their intimate war of wills, the heat of bold desire flares into passion—and casts light on a shared past tangled in lies and blackmail. But until Jude can win her trust and learn the truth, there will be no destroying the obstacles that loom darkly between them…and the love that should have been theirs.

Warning: This title contains a shockingly revealing sapphire gown, highly improper behavior at a masquerade, a tangled web of deception, and perhaps most scandalous of all, a fiery passion that flares to life between a husband and wife who have been estranged since their wedding day.

What would you do if at 16, the people you were to trust the most betray you for their own gain, which destroys multiple lives and before you could even say a word, the one person you hoped could save you abandons you for the next 8 years and pretends you don’t exist?  You’d plan your revenge too!

Anna, know 26 has lived the last few years of her life they way she wants to.  She calls herself Mrs. Locke And distances herself as far from her husband’s family as possible.  She’s intelligent, resourceful, and much to her mother in law’s dismay in TRADE.  But underneath her harden and worldly exterior is a vulnerable girl who wishes to be wanted, loved and protected.  Something she never felt as a child and had hoped to gain in her marriage.

Jude was an angry boy who grew up into a scorned man.  Leaving his new wife on the house steps immediately after the wedding, he spent the next few years roaming Europe and trying to forget the betrayal of his family and the witch he refuses to call a wife.  He has returned to England after learning of his fathers death more mature and ready to pick up his responsibilities, as soon as he rids himself of the woman he sees as ruining his life.

This is one of the best debut novels I have read and I had to double check that this was a debut novel. The writing and polish is one expected of a much more seasoned writer.  The author tackled this estrangement plot line and difficult characters (especially the sister) with aplomb and grit.  Each character in the novel, even the more minor ones, were complex and  not one dimensional.  Not only could I imagine meeting people like the characters in real life, I have met people like them.  They have their flaws and their walls.  But it is how the author goes about opening up the characters to their own flaws and tunneling under each others walls that makes this story so good.

It was refreshing to come across a story where no one should blame either Anne or Jude for how they feel about their marriage.  Neither party is at fault for anything other than being to immature and to hurt to see the situation from any perspective than their own.  Each has had plenty of time to build up the idea of whom the other is that is shattered to pieces starting with their very first interactions.  The author reaches a fine balance of the couples’ antics between mischievousness, annoying the other, and getting attention, without spite, harm, or  childishness.  You will not forget Anne and her whip.  From there the author manages to create a realistic and creative story that continues to throw these two in each others path allowing the final vestiges of their preconceived notions to disappear but gives them, especially Anne , a chance to believe in love and each other.  For both revenge turns out to be very sweet indeed. Like most romance novels, the characters around the couple see so much more clearly than the hero/heroine do and give them little nudges as needed.

While the author moved the plot line via internal conflict of the main characters and a lack of open discussions between the two.  She did so in a way that actually works and doesn’t make you want to slap someone for stupidity.  It is not even pride that keeps these two apart, but a external threat and in my eyes a very effective plot ploy that works within the psyche and construct of the characters.

An excellent debut romance that should not be missed

Grade: A-

You can read an excerpt of the book here, or buy it here.