3.5 star review

Review – Only a Promise by Mary Balogh

Only A promise

While I have read some very good books of late, they have been decidedly less optimistic in tone and I felt the need for change. Fortunately the Houston Public Library was able to come to my aid. Since the previous four books gave me the warm fuzzies, I figured this would hit the spot.

Ralph Stockwood prides himself on being a leader, but when he convinced his friends to fight in the Napoleonic Wars, he never envisioned being the sole survivor. Racked with guilt over their deaths, Ralph must move on . . . and find a wife to secure an heir to his family’s title and fortune.

Since her Seasons in London ended in disaster, Chloe Muirhead is resigned to spinsterhood. Driven by the need to escape her family, she takes refuge at the home of her mother’s godmother, where she meets Ralph. He needs a wife. She wants a husband. So Chloe makes the outrageous suggestion to strike a bargain and get married. One condition: Ralph has to promise that he will never take her back to London. But circumstances change. And to Ralph, it was only a promise.

Yes, I figured there would be a high degree of angst, this being book 5 in the Survivors Club series (a group of friends who survived the Napoleonic wars at great personal cost). But based on past behavior I expected an unmitigated happy ending, which of course this being Balogh I got.

The survivor here is Ralph, but Chloe has survived more than her fair share of heartache. They are two abjectly lonely people, no matter how they fill their lives with people and things to do. And much of their romance and being in their heads was lovely. But damn me if this wasn’t absolutely depressing for the first three quarters of the book. Chloe and Ralph, along with us readers are ran through the proverbial ringer. There are no Big Misunderstandings, no Big Secrets, just two lonely and damaged people finding their way, often painfully, to each other. And then we see the turn, and for me at least I realized that that turn had been inexorable, it was only when mired in the midst of tragedy that there seemed to be no way out of the morass. I can only suspect that our two protagonists felt much the same way.

And damned if I don’t sound overwrought and melodramatic. I suspect it is just that Balogh makes me feel that way. The ending though was rather delightful, if wrapped up a bit too neatly. But I just didn’t care if it was overly perfect and overly neat, I wanted the sweetly sappy and romantic and that is just what I got. And I felt that Ralph’s PTSD was handled very sensitively and that while he found true love and happiness, it wasn’t that he was cured by true love.

This was another satisfying read by Balogh and I can’t wait for the 6th one to come available from the library.

Only a Promise: A Survivors' Club Novel

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4 star review

Review – Way of the Serpent by Donna Birdwell

Way of the Serpent

I received a copy of this book from the author, this does not affect my opinion of this book or the content of my review. In the interests of full disclosure, I’m acquainted with this author as she is a former professor of mine. This fact may indeed be influencing my opinions and the content of this review, however, if that is so, it would be to make me harsher than usual. Tough classes breed tough critics, and who has never wanted to be the one to critique their teacher’s works?

When Jenda Swain – youthful and vigorous at the age of 111 – encounters an incongruously old woman at an out-of-the-way café, her life veers in a new direction amid unsettling questions about her own identity and her role in the corporation-dominated culture of 2125. Her journey takes her into the arms of a Latino artist, who has a quest of his own. Answers come together as their world falls apart.

So starts the beginning of what I am told is to be a series, the next one which may be coming out Spring 2016.

So what happens when everyone can live for practically ever? In literature it is almost always a cautionary tale, because there simply must be a trade off of some sort. Somehow I feel that when we get to that point in our medical revolution we will race forwarded with no real thoughts to the outcomes, just as people in this world have done.

Jenda Swain lives in a post-apocalyptic world, though few know that this is so, as the end of all they knew came gently and everything seemed for the good. The trade off for longevity and eternal health doesn’t seem so dire. Merely your memories, but that isn’t so bad, because technology once more evolved to rescue them. Imagine if Facedbook was where you went to store all your memories, imagine then that with all this power, government and governance was a mere shadow and corporations are the real power. That last part doesn’t seem so far fetched at the moment, to be honest.

But this is the world Jenda lives and works in. She is a cog in the machine of exomemories, until that chance encounter mentioned in the blurb sends her spiraling off her pre-planned and narrowly defined life.

So what did I think of this book? It was very interesting. I enjoyed the wheels within wheels conspiracies and the intricate ways different plot threads were woven together to form a rich albeit care worn and oft mended tapestry. And Jenda’s emotional turmoil at discovering the lie that is her life,  that was believable and engaging, as was her relationship with Luis. What I struggled with was how the story was told, with much telling and less showing, and much of that in Jenda’s head, and she seemed so removed from many of the events. This puts the reader at a slight remove, watching the events of the story unfold instead of feeling immersive. But the way the author blended components of a morality play with a mystery and a thriller was all but riveting. The sum of the whole was greater than its parts, much like human memory, so while the way the story was written may have not have been to my preferences, the story itself absolutely was and was what kept me racing through it.

In retrospect, I suspect the stylistic choices were purposeful and were likely a mirror and commentary on the events of the story itself. It just wasn’t, as I said, my preference. But that ending though was amazing and emotional. I almost wish I had waited to read this until the sequel comes out early 2016 so that I can binge read and find out what happens next.

Fortunately dear readers, I did not and am able to tell you about it while this book is currently on sale for the holidays so check it out.

Way of the Serpent
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3.5 star review

Review – The Forbidden Zone by Victoria Zagar

The Forbidden Zone

I received an ARC of this book from the Publisher, via Netgalley, this does not affect my opinion of this book or the content of my review.

When Julian’s mentor urges him to accept an invitation to study the dying sand of Valeria, all he sees is another assignment. Valeria’s ban on romantic and sexual unions seems a trivial price to pay in the name of scientific progress; even the constant supervision by the Sisters, the advanced A.I. that runs Valeria, seems a negligible point.

When the situation proves to be more difficult than anticipated, Julian finds a lifeline in Saidin, a warm, emotional individual who has somehow survived a world of passive expression and uniformity. As they work together to try and solve Valeria’s degradation problem, they learn the Sisters had a much more sinister reason for inviting Julian to Valeria, and the two of them may not be able to save themselves, let alone an entire planet…

I picked this one up because it sounded interesting, and I already had some success with Less Than Three Press.

This is the saddest loneliest book I’ve read all year. It is also well written, lyrical, and deeply introspective. We spend a great deal of time in Julien’s head, and while I can’t say I precisely enjoyed it as there was too much misery in the events, but I found myself deeply empathizing with this character. Saidin was much more of a cipher, as we are never in his head and only learn of him from Julien’s perceptions, but he provided an appropriate foil.

As for the plot itself? Wowzers, I was totally not expecting that. A complete surprise. At times the themes and morals were presnted a bit heavily handed. But overall it was an interesting and lovely melancholy love story. And the ending was quite positive and the culmination of dramatic character growth.

I liked it much better than the first chapter lead me to believe I would. The story is getting 3.5 stars from me and a solid recommendation to anyone (but particularly fans of m/m) who likes a good sad love story where redemption is found in the end.

On a related note, if the two Less Than Three Press books I’ve read are any indicate of quality, this is a publisher I will continue to watch. While I can enjoy stories that may not be so well edited, it is much easier if they are.

The Forbidden Zone

 

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4.5 star review

Review – Feel the Burn by G.A. Aiken

War makes strange bedfellows.

I, Gaius Domitus, one-eyed rebel dragon king of the Provinces, know that better than most, since I have to fight off half my ungrateful family on a regular basis to keep law and order here in my lands. But I never expected to have to consort with a barbarian human woman.

Kachka is beautiful, if you like them fierce—and of course I do. But she keeps complaining about how spoiled and decadent I am, and how a feared Daughter of the Steppes has no time for foolish dragons. I think she likes my eye patch, though. It is quite dashing. With death always at our tails, we take our passion like we take our allies. As they say, love the barbarian you’re with…

I received an ARC of this book from the Publisher, via Netgalley, this does not affect my opinion of this book or the content of my review.

I’ll admit I was hoping we’d FINALLY get Gaius’ story when I read Light My Fire, and to be honest I was a bit baffled when it wasn’t his turn. But I ended up loving Celwyn the Charming and Elina Shestakova of the Black Bear Riders of the Midnight Mountains of Despair in the Far Reaches of the Steppes of the Outerplains for themselves. And it lead us to the perfect heroine for Gaius, so it was absolutely worth the wait.

This is book 8 in the series (really, it seems like half the books I’ve reviewed for the past year have been book 8 in a series), and it isn’t a stand alone, so stop now and start at the beginning. No seriously, this series is too much fun and there will likely be spoilers for previous books in this review. For more information about reading order and the mystery of the changing author names, see my previous review.

Now onto my gushing. Aiken/Laurenston is one of my absolute favorite authors. Let me give you a clear picture of my great love for this author. I am a freaking cheap skate. My husband says with great relish that I am so cheap I squeak when I walk, well he doesn’t say it exactly like that, but close enough for government work. And my love for this author is so great that despite the fact that I now have my hot little hands on and ARC and can read it for free, I kept it on pre-order and am still going to pay my hard-earned money on it. If that doesn’t express my love for this author I can’t imagine what will, I mean I am the sort of person who drinks only water at restaurants because eff paying that kind of mark-up on a beverage.

But you dear readers don’t care about my great and terrible love, or my equally terrible cheapness. You care about the story. A wonderful story about a psychotic queen, ball busting steppes women, and dragons. Because really, what else is there to care about? But don’t worry, this is Aiken, and that is exactly what we get.

This was a romp in the truest sense of the word. Yes, there is an evil cult trying to gain traction in the world so the sightless god can destroy all who would oppose him. And yes this furthers the existing story arc. But it is still predominantly Kachka and Gaius’ story, and I adore them like the suns. I seriously didn’t think any characters could out crazy the dragons, but the Daughter of the Steppes take the cake. Loud, aggressive, dominant, uncouth, and completely matriarchal – they are hilarious. And they way they butt heads against the arrogant male dragons (or really anyone) is not to be missed.

And it was flat enjoyable getting to know King Gaius better. And seeing how he just came to life under Kachka’s influence was glorious. The two have adventures, singly and together. The make friends and find themselves and their places in the world. And now with the Scourge of the Gods at his side, how can he lose?

This was a really enjoyable story, assuming you enjoy loud and ridiculous characters, which I do. It also turned out the be a turning point in the story arc and makes recent events make much more sense. Which is kind of odd, because while those events are overall important, they weren’t an intrusion into the main character’s stories. I love it when an author can manage that. I am giving this book 4.5 stars, and I can’t wait to find out who is featured in the next one.

Feel the Burn (Dragon Kin, #8)

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3.5 star review

Review + Giveaway – Winter Secrets by M. Limoges

Winter Secrets

I received an ARC of this book from the author, via HCBS, this does not affect my opinion of this book or the content of my review.

Patience is a virtue…a lesson Stephen Dorsett has learned over the years, wooing his mate. He loves the prickly woman with all his heart, but he’s keeping a secret from her—one that will soon change the entire dynamic of their relationship.

Kate Matthews has a secret of her own, but she’s reluctant to share her surprise with Stephen. With her mate spending too many long hours and late nights at work recently, Kate begins to second-guess Stephen’s commitment to her.

One simple misunderstanding, fueled by insecurities and doubts, is all it takes to throw Kate and Stephen off course. Will they allow their secrets to pull them apart, or make their love stronger?

I picked this up because it sounded cute and holiday. And then I looked at the backlist…good googly moogly, there are 33 books in this series. Granted, they are by a handful of different authors, but still, I am picking up book 33 here. Ok, so no matter how I love reading an entire series before reading and reviewing a current book, that just wasn’t possible here, so I went back and picked up number 8, Taming His Mate, which is when these two crazy kids got together.


Excerpt

Kate Matthews gaped at the small, plastic stick she clutched with a death grip. The frantic drum of her heart beat against her ribcage while her stomach churned in discord. A swift influx of panic, elation, disbelief, and fear bombarded her all at once, dragging the air from her lungs in a noisy whoosh.

Pregnant.

“Oh, shit.”

Reeling from the revelation, she stumbled backward to drop onto the toilet lid before her weak knees buckled. Unfortunately, she miscalculated the distance and fell in between the sink and toilet with a surprised squeal, landing in a squished heap and banging her head on the wall in the process. Temporarily rendered stupid, she simply sat there, wedged in the tiny space, gawking at the little strip of plastic glaring the truth at her.

“You all right in there?” her mate, Stephen, called from the other side of the door. No doubt he’d scented her distress.

Alarm whipped through her bloodstream, and the pregnancy test flew from Kate’s trembling hand to clatter on the floor in front of her. When he twisted the doorknob, she bolted from the floor and snatched the small stick from the bathroom tiles.

“I’m fine,” she exclaimed. “There was a spider.”

He twisted the knob again, and she sent up a quick prayer of thanks she’d had the foresight to turn the latch.

“Why’d you lock the door?” A mix of irritation and concern tinged his deep voice.

Frantic, she stashed the plastic strip in a box of tampons in the cabinet under the sink, certain he’d never look there, and then darted for the entrance. Once she fumbled with the lock, she tugged the door open and came face to chest with Stephen.

“I must’ve locked it by accident when I came in.” The excuse sounded weak to her own ears. Surely, he would think the same. They never locked the bathroom door, if she could get him to close the damn thing at all.

A frown creased his golden features. He watched her through narrowed blue eyes—attempting to decipher the obvious lie and cow her with his probing stare at the same time.

Drop it. Drop it. Please, for the love of God, drop it.


These are short stories or novellas (I seriously struggle with the distinction) and while I am sure there is a certain continuity throughout the series, these can definitely be read as standalones. In fact, if you aren’t already fans of the series, I don’t know that I suggest reading these two back to back as I have. With as many as 25 different stories between these two, I bet the impact would be different.

Because dear lord do these two need to learn to talk to each other. For two people who have known each other almost their entire lives I just don’t get the secrets, I sincerely don’t.

But, the writing is well done, the characters are engaging, and while the tropes used don’t usually work well in a longer story, they are very effective here with the shorter format. We have fated mates, brother’s best friend, Big Secret, and Big Mis. Which makes it sound like it is trope salad, but it isn’t. Because I genuinely liked the characters (even when they were pissing me off) and cared about their stories.

What the Black Hills Wolves seems like to me, is a supernatural soap opera in book form. Each episode has it’s own conclusion, but the threads are ongoing, and within each story are threads of other episodes. SO this series seems ideal for both the binge reader (seriously, so much binge), or the reader who likes to pick through story threads and just follow the ones that interest them.

And much like soap operas, I think this stuff could be addictive. There are a few story lines I really feel the need to go back and read, and the foreshadowed one that might be next in the series is truly tempting. I struggled with the rating on this, because I really did like it, and I am very likely to go on (or go back) and read more, but I don’t think I will ever go back and re-read this, so I am sticking with 3.5 stars. But I am definitely recommending this for reader who like the short, sexy, and soap opera-esque.

About the Author

Melissa Limoges lives along the Gulf Coast with her OCD cat, Mr. Tibbs. Tax assessor by day, romance writer by night, she enjoys anything coffee related, traveling, and reading happily ever afters.

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Taming his Mate (Black Hills Wolves, #8)

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4 star review

Review – Here Be Magic: 8 Magical Tales From The Realm of Paranormal and Fantasy

Here Be Magic 8 Magical Tales From The Realm of Paranormal and Fantasy

I received an ARC of this book from one of the authors, Angela Campbell, this does not affect my opinion of this book or the content of my review.

Here be eight wonderful stories of magic and the paranormal, brought to you by eight outstanding authors, headed by New York Times and USA Today best seller Rebecca York. You’ll thrill to high adventure, deep emotion, and that all-important happy ever after. Travel from the eastern shore of Maryland through magic realms that will stir your imagination and your senses. From sweet and sexy to high drama and heart-warming, the stories will leave you wanting more from these masters of the fantasy genre.

TERROR MANSION by Rebecca York
His psychic dream can save her life—if she’ll only trust him.

NIGHTGAZER by Joely Sue Burkhart:
A princess on the run. A grumpy wizard stripped of his power. Can she heal him in time to save her throne?

GORGOUS NIGHTMARE by Angela Campbell:
Can a reluctant psychic stop a deadly killer before the woman he loves is murdered?

SAVED BY THE TRICKSTER by Shona Husk:
Zander has one month to prove he deserves to be let back into heaven. Lysanna is a Trickster, a demi-god charged with making people believe in Light and hope. Now, Zander will have to choose between his duty to heaven and Lysanna.

TALL, TALL TREES by Linda Mooney:
If fighting the animosity between their two tribes isn’t enough, Oron and Pellera must battle monstrous creatures and the deadly growler to save their love.

DEVIL OF BOURBON STREET by Cindy Spencer Pape:
For a widowed cop and a street musician, magic, murder, and New Orleans might add up to love—if they survive.

RAVEN’S SONG by Shawna Reppert:
Set between the first and second books of Reppert’s award-winning Ravensblood series, can a reformed dark mage save an opera star from a deadly stalker?

HEALER OF THE NILE By Veronica Scott:
Can a village healer persuade the god of Fate to help her save a soldier trapped between Life and Death?

I haven’t reviewed one of these massive anthologies in a while, but it was time and I really like some of the authors. So I went for it. Bear with me through what will probably be a fairly massive review.

Continue reading

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3.5 star review

Review – Ice Moon by Lisa Kessler

Ice Moon

I received an ARC of this book from the Publisher, via Netgalley, this does not affect my opinion of this book or the content of my review.

Jared Ayers works outdoors, embracing a solitary life, hiding from his inner demons. But after so many of his Pack brothers have found their mates, he starts wondering if there might be a mate in his future too. His world turns upside down after he’s hired by the “Ice Queen of Lake Tahoe”. One touch is all it takes. One touch to send the wolf howling within…

A gifted psychic with pyrokinesis, Taryn Goldstone wields fire beyond her control– sometimes with dire consequences. With Jared, she discovers that some flames are meant for passion–and healing. She has enemies who covet her powerful gift, but they are about to learn just how far a wolf will go to protect his mate.

Book 5 in the Moon series and up to this point it has seemed like the action was really ramping up. So Kessler changed the tune and really hit us in the feels. Dang but Taryn has had a hard row to hoe. And meeting Jared just doesn’t initially make it any easier. Fortunately for her he’s a hottie who knows what he is doing (when he isn’t being a bonehead with testosterone poisoning), and fortunately for us, this is romance so we know we’re going to get that happy ending.

It is a good installment. We’ve got wheels within wheels conspiracies and counter conspiracies. We have both an adorable plot-moppet AND a plot-pet. Both too cute for words. I shouldn’t really call them that, both characters are integral to the plot and not merely sops for cuteness. And we have a rugged, sensitive, rough-tough-cream puff for a hero. And then there’s Taryn, who for some reason reminds me of a Nalini Singh’s Ashaya from Hostage to Pleasure.

I’m still intermittently struggling with the alternating first person POV, it didn’t suck me in quite as well as it did with Gareth and Nadya (those two are still my favorite couple), but I do enjoy getting to be in both people heads throughout their courtship. How’s that for contrariness? But seriously, I think that you get a much richer sense of both characters this way, it is just that spending so much time in both characters heads has a tendency to slow the pace of the story down and, for me at least, the action. But that is a personal preference, as any long time readers here know, I tend toward more action-adventure Bruce Willis-esque stories.

As for the plot of this particular book, we took some strange and interesting turns, we’ve got some insight into multiple characters, and a pretty exciting conclusion to this books’ individual story arc. Though the overall series arc seems even more shrouded in mystery than ever. It is hard to say much more than that, since this is a series that definitely adds up, but suffice it to say I can absolutely see where the showdown is coming from.

But even with the small lags I mentioned, I find this series addictive. I like the characters, and I really love how the author is building up to a completed and cohesive story arc. This is the sort of thing you can easily binge on.

3.5 stars and I am eagerly anticipating the next one in March, bot because I am super curious who our hero is,and because it puts us that much closer to Book 8-the finale and the amoral hero that I love and love to hate.

Ice Moon
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