Thursday, January 31, 2013

SUNNY: BOOK REVIEW - "Entice" by Ella Frank

SUMMARY From Goodreads:

What if everything you think you want isn't what you actually need...

Dr. Shelly Monroe is a woman who doesn't shy away from going after what she wants, but lately good sex has been hard to find. Shelly's become increasingly frustrated with the men she's been dating and the men she believes are the right choice.

Joshua Daniels is certainly not even close to the right choice. In fact he is exactly the wrong choice. For one thing, he's Mason Langley's best friend and best man. Second he's too much of a risky complication for Shelly to even consider.

Then why can't she stop thinking about how delicious he looked that first night she met him at Exquisite? Why is it so imperative to keep her lusty desire for a man that doesn’t meet her preconceived mold hidden from Lena and Mason, her trusted friends? 

It seems unreasonable that being with a man completely wrong in theory could somehow feel so right. Then why is it the more she sees him the more enticing he becomes?

Entice is the highly anticipated sequel to Exquisite.  How anticipated?  Well, I squealed a little when I found out that it was available three days earlier than expected and of course, I purchased it on the spot and devoured it that night.  Exquisite was one of those books that I liked but I liked even better the more I thought about it and decided I liked it a lot when I saw the trailer for this book.  I couldn't believe how inordinately happy I was that this sequel was forthcoming.

Who knew Ella Frank was such a romantic? This is book is an old fashioned love story peppered with some of the hottest scenes in print. The story really belongs to Shelly - her insecurities, her broken past, her determination to not be like her mother. I loved how Ella Frank took us out of Chicago to take a little trip down South to Savannah, to experience the scenery, the pace, and another side of Shelly. Josh is warm, kind, loving, and also a little weary, but he has no defense against this man-eating Georgia girl. 

This is not a perfect book. I wanted to get to know Josh's character more. Read more interactions with his brother and friends. How did Josh become the almost perfect hunk? 

And speaking of friends, if you are a fan of the first book, you will be please to see Mason, Lena, and Rachel woven intricately into the story. We even get to "participate" in Lena and Mason's wedding - I got a little weepy during the vows.

Ms. Frank does a wonderful job of setting us up for her next book by giving us just a peak into the first contact between Rachel and Cole. The whole idea of watching too very tightly strung people unfurl is making me giddy. It is enough to whet my appetite and keep me anxiously waiting for their story. Luckily we don't have to wait too long.

IN A NUTSHELL:  If you are a fan of Exquisite, this book is NOT TO BE MISSED.  If you are jumping into the books for the first time, Welcome to the hot world of Ella Frank.  

Saturday, January 26, 2013

SUNNY: BOOK REVIEW "Games of the Heart"


Mike Haines
Dusty Holliday

Mike Haines has known Dusty Holliday since childhood.  She is the kid sister of his girlfriend.  From the start, they share a deep and abiding connection. However, after graduation, Dusty leaves the 'Burg and Mike doesn't see her again.  

Fast forward twenty year and they reconnect at the death of Dusty's brother, Darrin.  And the story begins...


Kristen Ashley is in love with Mike Haines.  How do I know?  I know because only an author with deep affection for a character could have written a story to encapsulate the almost perfect man that is Mike Haines. Mike is caring, loving, giving, romantic, alpha, controlling, brave, possessive, and yummy.  Although he is wounded, he is not broken, and this book is less about redemption (there is a dash of that) but about love done the Kristen Ashley way.  Unlike some of her other works, there is less suspense - there is no serial killer, no mob boss, no sexual predator - but plenty of drama.  This book is like Mike Haines' kisses, a slow burn that elevates the reader's temperature.  It takes a deep foundation of phileo love and layers it with eros love.

The narrative is woven with stories of the next generation of Kristen Ashley characters - Fin, Reesee, No, and Kirby. With Fin, we get to see an alpha in the making - the trials that forge the character of a young man into a wise one.  It is as much their stories as it is Mike and Dusty's.  

I also loved revisiting with the other 'Burg characters - Colt, Merry, Sully, Cal and Ryker.  Through Mike's relationship with them we get a stronger understanding of Ms. Ashley's love and respect for the 'Burg - the friendships, the deep loyalties, the donuts.  As Mike loving puts it:  "Most folk think Indiana's a state to drive right through.  They took a minute to eat our food, experience our hospitality, understand the depth of our loyalty and they did it in the Fall when the trees are in color, no one would ever leave." The way she writes it, it feels like truth.

I felt completely satisfied when I finished this book.  Actually, I felt a sense of joy and contentment.  This was a beautiful read.  

If you need a book that affirms your belief in love, you must read Games of the Heart.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

SUNNY: BOOK REVIEW - "Beautiful Bastard" by Christina Lauren

SUMMMARY from Goodreads:
An ambitious intern. A perfectionist executive. And a whole lot of name calling. Discover the story that garnered more than two million reads online.

Whip-smart, hardworking, and on her way to an MBA, Chloe Mills has only one problem: her boss, Bennett Ryan. He’s exacting, blunt, inconsiderate—and completely irresistible. A Beautiful Bastard.

Bennett has returned to Chicago from France to take a vital role in his family’s massive media business. He never expected that the assistant who’d been helping him from abroad was the gorgeous, innocently provocative—completely infuriating—creature he now has to see every day. Despite the rumors, he’s never been one for a workplace hookup. But Chloe’s so tempting he’s willing to bend the rules—or outright smash them—if it means he can have her. All over the office.

As their appetites for one another increase to a breaking point, Bennett and Chloe must decide exactly what they’re willing to lose in order to win each other. Originally only available online as The Office by tby789—and garnering over two million reads on fan fiction sites—Beautiful Bastard has been extensively updated for re-release.

Beautiful Disaster began as a Twilight fanfic - online stories written by fans of the original.  There are definitely some strong opinions by readers not only about the story but also because some have accused the writers of exploiting their fans by rewriting and selling the story.  

This story is probably written for readers like me who don't read fanfic and come to the book with an interest but no background.  

I've heard it said that in erotica genre the sex leads the story, if there is any story at all.  Clearly, whoever said that has not read authors like Sylvia Day, Anne Calhoun, or newcomer Ella Frank, all of whom write stories that are as compelling as their smokin' hot sex scenes. This story is somewhere in between.  Christina Lauren (the team of Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings) has the sex stuff down.  From the get-go this book starts off as a 10 in the hot meter.  However, the sexual obsession between Choe and Bennett is so overwhelming and numerous that it becomes almost comical.  I have to say I did laugh at inappropriate times.  Still ultimately, the story finds its way to an emotional path and it worked. 

However, I did wonder what kind of message it is implying about hooking up with (unprotected, no less) sex with someone and expect a HEA.  

IN A NUTSHELL: It is a fun read if you are looking for something hot, but a little light - you know, like an afternoon delight.  

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for the ARC via Edelweiss.

Monday, January 7, 2013

SUNNY: BOOK REVIEW - "Sweet Talk" by Julie Garwood

Olivia MacKenzie
Grayson Kincaid

Olivia MacKenzie is an survivor.  As a child, she participated in an experimental study to help stop the ravages of her cancer.  There she makes lifelong friends, Jane, Collin, and Samantha, whom she considers her family.  (It is a perfect set up for a series).  Her own family is MIA during her illness not wanting to be associated with weakness.  

Olivia is now grown up and an attorney who works for the IRS.  In a twist of fate, she ends up at a lunchtime interview with a CEO of a financial services company who is under scrutiny by the FBI.  The whole encounter goes haywire with Olivia being pursued by a bodyguard with a gun at which time she yells. "Do you have a permit to carry that gun?"  Oh yes, just the kind of snarkiness that I like in a heroine. The encounter may have gone wrong but she does meet handsome, FBI Agent Grayson Kincaid (hubba, hubba).  Under the guise of following up on the incident, Grayson gets close to Olivia and discovers that she in more danger than at first blush.  Turns out Olivia is going after her father, a supreme conman who is swindling people out of millions of dollars in a grand ponzi scheme (ala Bernie Madoff).  This sets off Grayson's protective instincts and gives him the opening to pursue her as well.  

I chose this book because something about the cover appealed to me - a well built man in a suit with a holster.  Yup, my kinda guy.  Ok, go ahead, call me superficial.  And although I have long learned not to dismiss books because of the cover, I assert that an attractive cover will always get a second look.  

This is the first book I have read from Julie Garwood.  I will probably read more from this author, but not if I have to pay what I paid for this ebook.  This is an indulgence because I really liked the cover (did I mention that before?). 

This book starts off really strong.  Olivia is witty, funny, and smart and I looked forward to the more of it.  Unfortunately, there isn't that much more.  There is some clever banter between Olivia and Grayson, but most of her dialogue is internal and she worries a lot - worries about getting involved with Grayson, worries about the kids she rescues and represents, worries about what her family thinks about her...  She talks a lot in her head.  She is obviously witty and clever (as is set up in the Prologue), I wish we could see more of Olivia's sense of humor.  

Grayson and Olivia make a hot couple.  Grayson is just enough alpha to make Olivia push back.  Their desire for one another is uncontrollable and I can feel the energy vibrate off the page, but this book lacks the graphic sizzle of other romance novels.  Admittedly, that is not always necessary, but I think this book does a great job of setting up the action and could've benefitted from a little extra detail.  

This is a nice contemporary romance novel worth a read, but you might want to wait for it to go down in price before you pick it up. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

SUNNY: BOOK REVIEW - "Hooked" by LIz Fichera

When Native American Fredericka ‘Fred’ Oday is invited to become the only girl on the school’s golf team, she can’t say no. This is an opportunity to shine, win a scholarship and go to university, something no one in her family has done.

But Fred’s presence on the team isn’t exactly welcome — especially not to rich golden boy Ryan Berenger, whose best friend was kicked off the team to make a spot for Fred.

But there’s no denying that things are happening between the girl with the killer swing and the boy with the killer smile...


I liked it, but I really wanted to like it more!  I didn't because, though a sweet story, it is a little too familiar.  As a teen romance, Hooked channels the movie Pretty In Pink:  Girl from the other side of the tracks falling in love with the boy on the golden trail and makes him a better person.  Standing in the way is Ryan's bestfriend, Seth, the bully, bigot, and maintainer of the status quo.  I expected James Spader to come off the pages and smirk at me.  

However, I do realize that there are probably at least two generations of kids who have not had the pleasure of watching Pretty In Pink, so for them, I recommend this for it is a sweet story.  

What is excellent about this book is LIz Fichera's portrayal of the type of subtle bias experienced by young adults of color.  The type of discrimination and prejudice faced today is not the over-the-top racism.  Most people know better than to use racial slurs or promote hatred.  And for most people, this kind of vitriol is easily dismissed as extremism.  What is more problematic is the little indignities experienced daily - the assumptions, the stereotypes, the name-calling like "Pocahantes." I felt Fred's frustration and anger at the injustice.  It is disappointing at first that Ryan chooses to be a bystander rather than an ally, but it's nice to see him come through in the end. 

This is not necessarily a new story, but still, it is done well and gives insight into social issues. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

SUNNY: BOOK REVIEW - "How to Misbehave" by Ruthie Knox

SUMMARY from Goodreads: 
As program director for the Camelot Community Center, Amber Clark knows how to keep her cool. That is, until a sudden tornado warning forces her to take shelter in a darkened basement with a hunk of man whose sex appeal green lights her every fantasy. With a voice that would melt chocolate, he asks her if she is okay. Now she’s hot all over and wondering: How does a girl make a move?

Building contractor Tony Mazzara was just looking to escape nature’s fury. Instead, he finds himself all tangled up with lovely Amber. Sweet and sexy, she’s ready to unleash her wild side. Their mutual desire reaches a fever pitch and creates a storm of its own—unexpected, powerful, and unforgettable. But is it bigger than Tony can handle? Can he let go of painful memories and let the force of this remarkable woman show him a future he never dreamed existed?

Ruthie Knox's novella, How to Misbehave,  serves up a perfect little amuse-bouche to start her Camelot series about the Clark family. This story is emotionally rich, with spicy sexual notes, and more than a dash of humor. Despite the fact that it is merely a "little taste", the Ms. Knox manages to get surprising depth with her characters. 

Amber Clark is a "good girl" and Tony Mazzara has a reputation for being a bad boy.  He is misunderstood, wounded and carries a certain "rep" around town.  Simply irresistible, right?   Mother Nature brings them together during a storm in the basement of the Community Center and they have to ride out the tempest. 

This story is more raw that Ms. Knox's previous works.  Amber is a little sheltered, a little naive, her previous experiences with sex are less than stellar, and Tony is teaching her to let-go, articulate her wants: "Tell me what you like," he said. "That's how we get good at this."  He helps in her sexual discover and it is hot.  She helps him forgive himself after a family tragedy leaves him agonizing over his reckless behavior.  She helps him find his second chance.

My one critique is that I needed more of Tony and Amber!  I loved this story and am looking forward to reading the series most especially  Caleb's story.  I can already feel a crush coming on...

Thank you to the author and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this little diddy.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

SUNNY: BOOK REVIEW - "Lover Unbound" by J.R. Ward

Dr. Jane Whitcomb

SUMMARY from Goodreads:
Ruthless and brilliant, Vishous, son of the Bloodletter, possesses a destructive curse and a frightening ability to see the future. As a pretrans growing up in his father's war camp he was tormented and abused. As a member of the Brotherhood, he has no interest in love or emotion, only the battle with the Lessening Society. But when a mortal injury puts him in the care of human surgeon, Dr. Jane Whitcomb compels him to reveal his inner pain and taste true pleasure for the first time-until a destiny he didn't choose takes him into a future that cannot include her...

Lover Unbound is book 5 in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. This is Vishous' story.   This book is a break from the BDB formula - the lessers hardly exist, there is no battle, no kidnapping, no lesser politics.  This book really focuses on Vishous. We, the readers, get a hint of his story in the previous books, but the depth of his tragedy and pain is agonizing.  As we get one revelation after another, I keep asking myself, "how much more can a person take?" From his brutal childhood that left him scarred in so many ways to his discovery of his parentage, it is a wonder that Vishous isn't a walking sociopath.  Instead, we have a deeply wounded warrior with a capacity to love and care - who has the the intense desire  to be loved, accepted, and be someone's one-and-only.  

In some ways, this book read like a bit of a love letter to V from the author. After reading it, you just cannot help but be head-over-heals for this guy.  

Because of that, my one small critique is that I didn't get enough of Jane.  Luckily, she is likable and able but not memorable. Doesn't Vishous deserve a more outstanding soulmate?  She has all the right credentials and is set up perfectly, but then her character is overwhelmed by his.

Nonetheless, this book is touching and immensely satisfying.

IN A NUTSHELL:  Here's to the alphas males who overcome tragedy to become become better men. Read this series!

SUNNY: BOOK REVIEW - "Shades of Gray" by Maya Banks

P.J. Rutherford, David "Cole" Coletrane

SUMMARY for Goodreads:
P.J. and Cole were sharpshooting rivals on the same KGI team and enjoyed a spirited, uncomplicated camaraderie. Until the night they gave in to their desires and suddenly took their relationship one step further. In the aftermath of their one night stand, they’re called up on a mission that goes terribly wrong, and P.J. walks away from KGI, determined not to drag her teammates into the murky shadows she’s poised to delve into.

Six months later, Cole hasn’t given up his search for P.J., and he’s determined to bring her back home where she belongs. Bent on vengeance, P.J. is on a mission that will plunge her into a serpentine game of payback and make her question everything she’s ever believed in. Cole—and the rest of their team—
refuse to let her go it alone. Even if it means sacrificing their loyalty to KGI and their very lives...

Shades of Gray is the highly anticipated book 6 in the KGI (Kelly Group, International - a kickass group of black ops operatives who do contract work for the US government) series by Maya Banks. This is the story of the heretofore only female operative, PJ, and her teammate Cole.  We meet PJ and Cole as periphery characters in the other books.  They are a part of the KGI "family" and we understand that they are skilled, hard-nosed, and kick-ass.  There are two basic teams in KGI (and a recently formed third by this book).  PJ and Cole belong to Steel's group. 

When we start this book, we don't know a lot about PJ or Cole.  We know that they are teammates on Steel's team.  We know that they are both snipers, with PJ being the better of the two.  We know that Cole is a former seal that was shot in a previous book. We know that PJ is a former SWAT member who left under uncertain circumstances.  We know that these two are an essential part of the KGI family.  But we really don't know THEM.  I think that is why this story took some time getting started.

The story begins with a hot encounter between PJ and Cole to establish their attraction to one another (and yes, it is a smokin' moment).  Then the story quickly moves to an operation that goes terribly wrong and PJ is violated. For me, it brings to mind the scene in GI Jane when Jane is going through SERE training and the instructors try to use the threat of rape to get her peers to talk. It is a reality for women that in war, rape is a weapon. It is the same for the women who work on special ops teams as well. The trauma is terrifying and heartbreaking:

She was shaking from head to toe, and the memory of that night was so vibrant in her mind that no amount of wishing would make it go away.

But this is also the story about love, redemption, recovery and justice.

There are others authors who write wonderful romantic suspense. They are good at creating kickass, alpha males who show varying degrees of vulnerability that hooks the reader.  What sets Maya Bank's characters apart in her KGI series is that her alphas also show gentleness not seen in many books. Cole is full of "sweet" as he helps P.J. recover:

The physical scars don't change who you are, P.J. The emotional ones do.  Those are the ones I want to help you with...I'll wait as long as it takes...I'll do whatever I can to help you.  Whatever it takes for your to heal physically and emotionally.  Just know that I'm not going anywhere, and it's time for you to stop running.

My critique about this book has more to do with P.J. Her character didn't resonate with me as much as Cole's.  In my opinion, I think there is a challenge to write a female, alpha character.  There is always the struggle to balance the masculine parts of the personality with the feminine, to make the female strong and yet soft. Many writers in the paranormal romance genre seems to do this well.  I'm not sure that Ms. Banks is completely successful with P.J. She seems to vacillate to the extremes. 

This book is gritty and full of heartbreak, but also the love and support of a good, alpha male.  It is great to see the KGI family back and this only whet my appetite for Steel's and Donovan's stories.

IN A NUTSHELL: If you are a KGI fan, you don't want to miss this book. If you haven't read the others, I suggest you start at the beginning, get to know their world. .