Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Rogue's Passion by Laurie London

The Basics:

Rogue's Passion by Laurie London
Aspendawn Books
Romance, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Book 2 in the Iron Portal series
Published October 21, 2013

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Hidden within the rugged mountains of the Pacific Northwest, Iron Portals separate the modern and ancient worlds. Only a chosen few, Warriors of the Iron Guild, know their locations.

For years, Olivia Crawford has kept a low profile in order to keep her para-ability secret. If the army finds out she’s a Healer-Talent, they’ll force her to work for them—just like her brother who was taken as a boy and never seen again. But when a terrible explosion rocks New Seattle, she risks everything to save the injured, including a handsome stranger with secrets of his own.

Blaming himself for the death of a friend, Iron Guild warrior Asher Kane vows to bring those responsible to justice. After he’s hurt on a mission and nursed back to health by a beautiful yet mysterious woman, this dangerously sexy bad-boy finds himself falling for her…even as he struggles to stay away.

But stalking them on the streets of New Seattle is a cruel and vengeful evil—one that threatens to destroy them both…

What worked for me:

I was so into this book when it started. I liked the set-up for both characters, the explosion and ensuing chaos. I was into the two of them teaming up to escape the notice of the authorities - all good.  Lots of good stuff here. 

What didn't work for me:

Then the book suddenly became erotica. Olivia goes home with Asher and the two not only have sex, but Asher reveals his dominant streak and Olivia decides she's into being submissive with him, and Asher decides she needs to be punished - by being his sex slave for a week.

And that's where the book lost me.

Now, obviously I like erotica - I wouldn't review it otherwise! But after the opening of the book, the erotic scenes took me by surprise. I wasn't expecting them after the way the book started, and some of it felt contrived so that we could have sexy times.

There's a scene in a department store that did not endear me to either character. I think it was meant to bring a little levity to the story, show the two characters bonding in a humorous situation, etc., but for me, it didn't work.

Similarly, Olivia had a few lines during the book that irked me - throwaway comments about being hormonal or about the deal she made with Asher being a joke (except that they more or less abided by that deal! So... you know. Where's the joke?).

Back to what worked for me:

I did enjoy the Fixer plot, and the few insights into him that we got. I think it would have been more effective to have the hero/heroine spend more time directly interacting with that, rather than off playing private sex games (sometimes in public!). 

On the plus side, the sex was mostly well written so that was good. It's a little more risque than I'd expect in a romance novel, and while I still think it was out of place in this book, it wasn't terrible.

Bottom Line:

This book was neither great nor terrible. It wasn't what I expected: I thought I was getting a paranormal romance, and instead it was something closer to erotica with a paranormal romance wrapper. I wish I could go back and read it for the first time expecting erotica to see how that impacted my experience!

3 stars
For readers who like the risque with their romance, fans of books with paranormal talents.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Perfect Mate by Aubrey Rose

The Basics:
Perfect Mate by Aubrey Rose
eXcessica Publishing
Erotica, Romance
Published September 25, 2013

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's blurb:

The standalone romance novella which follows the #1 Bestselling Shifter Romance Blind Wolf!

Julia always thought that she was human. When the blind leader of a pack of straggling misfits claims her as his one true mate, she accepts that she is in love with Damien despite their radical differences.

But after another shifter wolf attacks them, he points to her as he dies and utters words that will change Julia's life forever:

"...she's not what you think she is..."

What worked for me:

For a short novella, there's an actual plot here. It wasn't just a bit of fluff to satisfy readers with a happily ever after ending or to give us an x-rated follow-up to a tamer tale.*

There's definitely a big reveal in this story, and it makes me wonder how that plays out in the third book. 

I liked that Damien is a non-traditional hero. He's blind, and the book embraces that. Julia's also apparently a curvy woman, though I didn't really get that vibe in the novella. She *did* have a moment of self-consciousness and self-doubt but I didn't realize it was motivated by issues regarding her weight.

I liked Grandma Dee once I got to know her beyond her overprotective-without-upfront-explanation behaviour. It's hard not to like a tough, old broad though, right?  

What didn't work for me:

Possibly because I hadn't read the first book - Blind Wolf - I didn't really care for Julia. She seemed pretty passive in this book - maybe she was more active in the previous book? Or maybe she grows into being a more active character in the third book?

The erotica component was pretty tame, which was a bit of a disappointment for me. There was a connection between the two that allowed Damien some insight into what Julia was feeling, which I thought could have been used to even greater effect. Still, the sex wasn't poorly written, so this wasn't a big negative.

Bottom Line:

If you read the first book, Blind Wolf, and enjoyed it, I imagine you'll enjoy this as well. If you're looking for tame erotica, this might also be for you - there's no kink here, so it's not a bad place to dip your toes! 

3 stars
For fans of Blind Wolf, tame erotica, werewolves

*I don't know whether Blind Wolf was tamer or not. And, to be clear, I *thought* that Blind Wolf was actually a full length novel, with this novella as an add-on. Knowing now that it was roughly the same length, I'm curious about what the content of the first book was like.

Friday, October 25, 2013

French Roast by Ava Miles

French Roast by Ava Miles
Aspendawn Books
Book 2 in The Dare Valley Series
Romance, New Adult
Published August 13, 2013

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchage for an honest review.

Taken from

Small-town biz wiz Jill Hale has been in love with her childhood best friend Brian McConnell for as long as she can remember. A falling out led to years of estrangement, but when Brian returns to Dare Valley after trying to make it big as a chef in New York City, Jill’s determined to make amends. She’s convinced that starting a restaurant together will be the perfect win-win situation, allowing her and Brian to work together and play together.

After a series of missteps sliced and diced Brian’s career in the Big Apple, he came home to regroup and find himself. He’s convinced that reestablishing his connection with Jill, the girl who got away, will put his life back on track. And when she approaches him with her plan for going into business together, he’s certain it’s the one way he can have it all—his dream job and his dream girl.

Jill and Brian are falling for each other all over again when Brian’s ex sashays into town, intent on sabotaging their reunion. Add in a mysterious investor who’s determined to get Jill on board with his project, and the bond between the couple is tested to the limit. Will their second chance at love implode, or will they find their own recipe for a happy ending?

What worked for me:

I picked this book up because I was intrigued by the label "An exciting new contemporary romance with a New Adult and foodie flavor." I ended up enjoying it not because of any New Adult or foodie component, but because the relationship between Jill and Brian was written with such rich layers.

These two have to overcome genuine struggles in order to explore a romantic relationship together. They have real conflicts over career goals and visions for the future, as well as lingering trust issues. I was hooked on watching them muck through their troubles while trying to cope with their new, sizzling romance.  

Then there's the waffling. Part of the tension between Jill and Brian comes from Brian's indecision regarding his career. Now, as I was reading, I completely believed his difficulty in deciding whether to pursue a restaurant in Dare or to revive his career in New York or to embrace any other option made available. His struggle with temptation was realistic, but it wasn't romantic. This was sort of saved by the way in which Miles' resolved the situation, which I won't discuss so as not to spoil for the reader. It was believable for me, and I think I would consider it a 'pro' of the book, but it didn't really contribute to the romance for me.

The main characters for the third book in the series - The Grand Opening - are introduced in this one - Peggy McBride and Mac Maven. I wanted to go a bit deeper with Peggy: her actions in this book require an explanation that is hinted at by her brother, Tanner, but I wanted more so that I could forgive her, if that makes sense. My lingering frustration with her is both a push and a pull towards reading the third book. Certainly though, my interest in Peggy and Mac's contribution to French Roast invested me even more in the story and in the series.

There's another character, Pete, who belongs to the same teenage clique as Jill and Brian, whose story I would like to read. He might take us beyond Dare Valley - perhaps an opportunity for Miles to create a second, parallel series in a different geographic location? 

What didn't work for me:

Jill's meddling family drove me to distraction. I could understand why they wanted to protect her but I didn't like that they didn't respect her privacy at all. Meredith's reactions were especially irritating - why Jill had to apologize to her for pursuing her relationship to Brian confused me. It's one of my pet peeves when family and friends don't give a character as much credit as they deserve - particularly when it comes to making their own life choices. It's one thing to offer solicited advice and express concerns, but it's another to meddle. 

Now, having complained about this, I don't think that it was necessarily a misstep on the author's part. I think this is probably more my pet peeve than something that might be a negative for someone else's reading experience.

I do question the New Adult label for this book. Jill and Brian are in their mid-twenties, both have established their careers. Jill's got a thriving coffee shop, and though Brian's reputation as a chef in New York has been damaged, he's still got that valuable work experience on top of his education.  

It seems to me that the New Adult label should really be applied to books involving characters fresh off to college or in their early twenties, at the very start of their higher education or careers. While 'finding oneself' or forging an adult identity is a clear theme for the genre, I don't think that embracing that theme really qualifies a book regardless of other elements. 

Bottom Line:

French Roast was entertaining with a complex relationship at its core.  This isn't a super sweet romance by any means - there's enough struggle with temptation, hurt feelings and trust issues to make it more nuanced than that. 

I would recommend it to fans of contemporary romance - it's got some meat to it, and it's a little non-traditional without being disappointing. In fact, I was thoroughly satisfied by the time I reached the end of the book.  

4 stars
For fans of contemporary romances, fans of complicated relationships, foodies.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Date with a Vampire by Raine English

The Basics:
Date with a Vampire by Raine English
Book One in The Tempted Series

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

She gave him her heart, but he wanted her soul…

Melody Johnson dreams of meeting a man as dashing and wonderful as the heroes in the books she reads. Being a realist, she knows that’s highly unlikely. Besides, men always leave her for someone more exciting—until she wins the lottery, that is. Pursued by scores of men happy to help spend her fortune, Melody longs to have her quiet life back. When a network executive offers a reality show, she seizes the opportunity to show the world she’s off the single’s market. Melody leaves her quaint hometown in New York for a sunny island in the Pacific where twenty gorgeous bachelors will vie for her heart and where she can stage a phony engagement. What she never expects, though, is to fall in love with a vampire. 

Guystof LeBreque is a four-hundred-year-old Romanian vampire who hates the taste of blood. He’s roamed the earth for centuries, loathing the monster trapped inside him. After his mother’s death at the hands of vampire-hunting assassins, Guystof vows never to turn a woman into a vampire. But when his father gives him an ultimatum to marry a rich woman in sixty days or lose his legacy to his bloodthirsty brother, Guystof battles his conscience. Does he keep the promise he made to himself, or does he keep his brother from power? Guystof resorts to drastic measures. He becomes a bachelor on a hit reality show. What he doesn’t anticipate is losing his heart to the woman whose mortal life he must end.

What worked for me:

There are so many good ideas in this book:

  • Small town girl wins a huge lottery and has to cope with the ensuing attention, romantic and otherwise.
  • Small town millionaire winner goes on dating-style reality show to find true love and/or escape unwanted romantic attention.
  • Small town girl falls in love with Romanian Count who happens to be a vampire, whose brother tries to sabotage relationship.
  • Romanian Count/Vampire needs to woe wealthy woman, who fears being wanted/used only for her money, to become his bride to save his kingdom from his evil brother.
  • Romanian Count/Vampire struggles to present himself as human while wooing wealthy woman to be his bride, while trying to cope with all the modern trappings of a reality tv show....

Lots of story to work here, many different angles to work with, lots of room for romance!

That Guy was a hot Romanian vampire who didn't want to drink blood was a nice touch. I also appreciated that his family's castle is in some disrepair due to their financial straits. Exploring that poverty alongside Melody's sudden financial windfall was another potential avenue for this book to explore.

What didn't work for me:

There's so much stuffed into this book that there's no time to explore any of it in any depth. Each new threat is introduced only long enough to propel the characters running head along into the next one. 

While this might have increased the tension, the writing isn't strong enough to support it. 

That's the part that really drags the book down for me - the writing just isn't very strong. Some of the things that are thrown out there - particularly the cannibals, their existence suspected because of some dead livestock - result in reactions so farfetched that I would have thrown the book at the wall if I wasn't reading it on my laptop. The romance happens so quickly - there's an initial attraction quickly followed by strong chemistry, but the encounters that follow don't always improve Melody's opinion of Guy and vice-versa. That they bond so quickly and so thoroughly was a bit baffling. 

Theo, Guy's brother, is also a bit of a letdown. His meddling starts by enlisting one of the other bachelors on the show to woe Melody away from Guy. However the bachelor he chooses is fairly incompetent at this, and Theo has to step in and literally take control of him. This is another wasted opportunity as he's quickly revealed to Guy, and any headway he potentially could have made with Melody is wasted. If the bachelor he magicked to his side had been a little suaver or if Theo had himself (or while in control of the bachelor) been able to woe Melody without revealing himself to Guy, there was opportunity for some really interesting conflict. Instead Theo drinks blood from, and kills, some livestock, inciting cannibal theories, shutting down production of the reality show early, and so on....

There's no subtle touch here, everything is big ideas that immediately fizzle under the speed at which they are played out. It was frustrating, because I really liked the concept presented in the blurb, and there *was* so much that could have been really, really good.

Bottom Line:

Date with a Vampire has lots of good ideas that fizzle out under the weight of so much *stuff*. This book had great potential, it needed to have a narrower focus to make it really shine. There were too many details that missed the mark for the book to be a hit. I was disappointed because there was so much promise in the basic concepts. 

2 stars
For only the most dedicated of vampire romance fans.

The Bughouse Affair by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini

The Basics:
The Bughouse Affair by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini
Tom Doherty Associates
Published May 22, 2013

I picked this book up in my local library's "What's New" section.

In The Bughouse Affair, this first of a new series of lighthearted historical mysteries set in 1890s San Francisco, former Pinkerton operative Sabina Carpenter and her detective partner, ex-Secret Service agent John Quincannon, undertake what initially appear to be two unrelated investigations.

Sabina's case involves the hunt for a ruthless lady "dip" who uses fiendish means to relieve her victims of their valuables at Chutes Amusement Park and other crowded places.  Quincannon, meanwhile, is after a slippery housebreaker who targets the homes of wealthy residents, following a trail that leads him from the infamous Barbary Coast to an oyster pirate's lair to a Tenderloin parlor house known as the Fiddle Dee Dee.
The two cases eventually connect in surprising fashion, but not before two murders and assorted other felonies complicate matters even further. And not before the two sleuths are hindered, assisted, and exasperated by the bughouse Sherlock Holmes.

What worked for me:

It's been a long time since I've read a straight mystery, and I found the experience quite enjoyable. I was very conscious of reading in a different way than when I read romance or fantasy or another genre. Mysteries contain a lot more detail and require you to either fully buy-in or else be unable to engage with the story at all (in my opinion).  

The Bughouse Affair was satisfyingly thick on details. The criminal world of 1890s San Francisco comes alive as Sabina and John investigate their two cases. From the language used to the techniques that criminals employed, it's clear that this was a well-researched novel. I did have to think through some of the slang - I was unfamiliar with a fair amount of fit - but it added some needed colour to the book.

I think that the structure of the book - chapters written from either John's or Sabina's perspective - was a clever way to allow the husband-wife team to write the book together. The two characters are written as fully conceived persons: they have histories, they have flaws and different strengths. I was impressed by just how much of their characters came through - sometimes I find detectives in mystery novels to be hastily sketched at best. Of course, given the accolades that these two authors have garnered for past work, I'm not surprised by the quality of the writing.

What didn't work for me:

The inclusion of the Sherlock Holmes character was an interesting choice for me. I didn't necessarily dislike it, but it seemed like an element out of place in a book that was otherwise plausible.  

I had a hard time sinking into this book. I'm not sure what it was - I liked it, definitely. Maybe I just didn't care enough about the resolution of the murder? The stakes didn't seem high for Sabina and John, so perhaps I wasn't invested in the outcome? Regardless, I picked up and put down the book several times before I was able to finish reading it - rarely a good sign! 

Bottom Line:

This was a solid mystery set in a fully rendered 1890s San Francisco. The characters were real to me, I wanted them to be successful.... But. The book was lacking something - perhaps high stakes, perhaps tension, perhaps I simply lacked the attention span for it right now. Whatever the case, it was good, but I didn't ever feel that need to keep turning the pages, to find out what was going to happen next and to make sure that the detectives solved the case(s)!

3.5 stars
For fans of period mysteries,  male-female detective teams, dry wit, Sherlock Holmes.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Window by Michele Renae

The Basics:

Window by Michele Renae
Swell Cat Press
Pub Date: Oct 22 at

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Back cover text taken from the author's website:

An erotic romance behind glass

The first time she sees her new neighbor, his sexy smile arouses her curiosity — and her desires. His hard, chiseled muscles and playful invitations are irresistible.

Bared before their windows, framed and displayed above the streets of Paris, they embark upon a provocative affair.

Their daring game of exhibitionism lures her back for more and more, and she quickly realizes he is the man she has dreamed about.

Yet she’s never heard his voice. Never felt his touch. Never thought she’d experience something this exquisite.

Or this bold…

The sensual give and take of the exhibitionism is supported by the heroine's active imagination. Her fantasies about "Monsieur Sexy" (her nickname for her neighbor) emphasize how the mind works as an erogenous zone.

What worked for me:

This book was hot hot hot! from start to finish. While the action itself builds slowly from teasing glimpses of naked skin to more erotic displays, the heroine's constantly imagining one hot scenario after another. This takes what could have been a really slow story and turns it into a sizzling romp from start to finish.

I loved that the heroine was so self-aware. She knows what she likes in a lover and she's happy to take inspiration from her life to build a new erotic daydream. The way the heroine described the sexual power she derived from her new Louboutins and the ensuing fantasy about a lover slowly removing them was a compelling argument for shoe/foot fetishes. Being able to relate to the confidence that a really sexy pair of shoes can bestow, I found this a particularly convincing scene in the book.

The hero - Monsieur sexy - is a dream in and of himself. As we get to know him through the window, he seems almost to good to be true. Sexy, intelligent, playful, eager to be with our heroine and happy to let her set the pace, he certainly makes an impression. After reading so much erotica featuring alpha males/dominants who need to control every encounter or who push the heroine to go beyond her limits, it was a novelty and a pleasure to read about a man who happily let the woman expand and explore her sexuality on her own schedule. 

There's a secondary plot involving the heroine's day job that I hope will dovetail into the affair over the rest of the trilogy. I was so caught up in the developing sexual relationship that I wasn't as engaged with the heroine's day job. Still, there's something of a mystery here, and it's clear that she values variety in her day to day as much as in her sexual play - a detail that I appreciated for its consistency.

What didn't work for me:

Have you ever watched one of the reality tv shows that feature buyers looking for homes on the international market?  I've seen a handful that feature young people looking for apartments in Paris and the apartments are always the size of a breadbox. So I had a few twinges about these two individuals who could afford apartments with seemingly large bedrooms as well as living rooms. It's such a minor quibble, and the more I thought about it, the more I accepted that she was making really good money as a research assistant and that the trust fund she mentions must also have been rather large.  

Bottom Line:

If you read erotica, buy this book. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. This super sexy erotic novel was fun from start to finish. It was light-hearted without feeling like fluff.

I loved the equality in the relationship, I loved the playfulness of it. I loved the slow shedding of inhibitions, the active inner life of our narrator and the realm of possibilities left open at the book's end.

This series easily makes it on to my 'must acquire' list - I look forward to Screen by Michele Renae, coming in Feb 2014.  

I'm looking forward to hearing what you think about this book - remember, October 22nd from!

4.5 stars
For anyone who likes erotica, fans of exhibitionism/voyeurism, anyone with a foot or shoe fetish. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Crystal Illusions by J. E. Taylor

The Basics:

Crystal Illusions by J. E. Taylor
All Night Reads
Book 5 in the Steve Williams series
Mystery/Thriller, Romance
Available now from

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Plot description from

Assistant D.A. Carolyn Hastings has an uncanny knack for putting away criminals. With one of the best prosecution records in recent history, her future as Manhattan’s next District Attorney looks certain. But her sixth sense for winning cases threatens to work against her when she starts seeing a string of murders through the eyes of the killer. 

With suspects piling up as fast as bodies, and the motives of those closest to her questionable, Carolyn doesn’t know who to trust. When the FBI assigns Special Agent Steve Williams to the case, Carolyn discloses her deepest fear - that the man she loves may be the one responsible for the city’s latest crime spree. 

The only thing Steve knows for sure is Carolyn has an inexplicable psychic connection with the killer, and all the victims have one thing in common…a striking resemblance to Carolyn Hastings. 

And he knows it’s only a matter of time before this psychopath knocks on her door. 

What worked for me:

The heart of this book is the serial killer mystery, and it works fairly well. As Carolyn realizes she could be a target, everyone around her takes on sinister overtones. I was flip-flopping back and forth when it came to who I thought was the real killer, trying to figure it out and actually caring about who would turn out to be the bad guy - and that's a mark of a good mystery for me. 

This is where the book both shines and breaks down - *everyone* seems like a potential suspect except for her roommate, Olivia. From boyfriend to artist, to other lawyers and her intern, everyone in her life seems like a potential serial killer. I was on pins and needles every time Carolyn was alone with someone, which made the romance component difficult (see more on this below).

The psychic aspects made this book stand apart from more generic serial killer mysteries. I felt a little behind the curve because I hadn't read any previous novels in the series. Every reveal of Steve Williams' abilities was a... what?... moment for me, but Carolyn's psychic connection to the serial killer is well established in the first chapter, and I liked the way it was used throughout the novel.

What didn't work for me:

I could not accept this book as a romance - and it was presented as both a mystery/thriller *and* a romance when I picked it up. Randy is extremely volatile and it takes very little for him to get fed up with Carolyn. Now, if I scratched my expectations of romance and instead of thinking I was meant to root for their relationship, I just focused on it as part and parcel of the backdrop of the murder mystery - then I'm a much more satisfied reader.

I found it hard to buy the setting for this as Manhatten. It felt very small town to me - particularly when they were viewing video footage of City Hall. Just a weird plot point that stuck for me. I went back after I finished the book to confirm the setting because I couldn't quite believe I was remembering it correctly.

I did find the writing a little flat sometimes - there was something missing to elevate the book from okay to gripping. I think it was a lack of finesse in the dialogue, primarily, that rendered the relationships a little blocky and one-dimensional. Still, it was serviceable and I didn't notice any technical issues that put me off. There was just a disconnect for me that made it hard to get swept up into the Steve Williams world.

Bottom Line:

I cannot recommend this if you're looking for a romance novel with a mystery component. But if you want to read something with a dysfunctional relationship, potential threats at every turn, and a heavy dose of the paranormal via psychic/telepathic/etc.-type powers, then this is your book.

This was an interesting but not compelling book - good as reading material for waiting rooms, standing in lines and commuting to and from work.

I'll be interested to read what other people thought about the writing style of this novel - could you get into it or not?

2.5 stars
For mystery readers who like psychics, someone expecting to be frequently interrupted.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Charming by Elliott James


Charming by Elliot James
Orbit Books/Hachette Book Group
Book One of Pax Arcana
Urban Fantasy
Published Sep 24, 2013

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

John Charming comes from a line of knights charged with upholding the Pax Arcana - a spell that keeps mortals from knowing about the magical creatures on earth. Any creature that threatens to expose that supernatural realm is fair game for the Knights Templar. 

Unfortunately for John, his mother was bitten by a werewolf before he was born and has inherited both the need to be a knight and some of the qualities of the werewolf. His fellow knights were not, ah, amused.

Hiding out as a bartender, John's life takes a turn when a beautiful blonde and a vampire both walk into his bar. Surviving them will be a trial fit for a 'prince'....

This is an urban fantasy tale from a male perspective (both from the first person point of view of a male character, and written by a male author). James' book calls to mind comparisons the Hunted series by Kevin Hearne and (inevitably?) Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. I think Butcher's work has a bit more depth, but I could see this on par with Hearne's material. Another book or two in the series should solidify where Charming belongs in the pecking order, as it were.

Shaking things up from my normal review format for a moment:  this book is all about momentum, which both works and doesn't work. 

Momentum is a key part of every fight scene (of which there are many!). James writes these in a meticulous fashion, tracking body position and motion in a distinctive way that I suspect means I could pick his fight scenes out of a line-up. I liked it, but it did  give some fights a slow motion effect. 

Pacing is definitely a weak point for this book. It starts off quite slow because of large amounts of exposition, and then builds to a very enjoyable clip by the end of the book. Truthfully, after the first thirty pages, I thought this was going to be a write off, but by the time I finished?  I can't wait to read the next book in the series. 

There's also John's personal dilemma. The guy's clearly struggling to come to terms with his inner beast, and this is another area in which momentum comes to play. Once he starts trying to work through his conflict, things start to snowball - I can't say more without getting spoilery!

What worked for me:

The Pax Arcana is a clever device for keeping the normal population unaware of the supernatural. I like the need to uphold it with the Knights, I like that it has limitations and that modern technology places new tensions on its effectiveness. In general, I liked the world that James is building here, even if I don't agree with how much of it he threw at us in big chunks.

This book has an abundance of interesting characters. John Charming intrigued me - both as a male main character which is the minority in urban fantasy, but as a man who has some fairly serious issues to work through above and beyond the vampire threat. I liked that he seemed like a real guy. There's also a team of people that I easily would have spent more time with - Sig and Molly in particular made an impression.

I found the author interview at the end of the book interesting and it  explained some of the issues I had with the book. It's worth a read just to see where James is coming from and if you read between the lines, I think it's possible to infer discussions he had with his agent or editor which was pretty informative.

What didn't work for me:

There are a number of plot points that are left dangling or that are not fully explored. Without being too spoiler-y, there's a love quadrangle and one member of it is given fairly short shrift. The material that doesn't really conclude in this book is easily fodder for future books, so I'll look forward to James making use of those pieces. 

The exposition and weighty descriptions were all indicators of a rich world that James has created. In the interview at the back of the book, he mentions just how much detail he developed that didn't make it to the page - including several more interludes. Thank goodness these were removed! The effects on the pacing of the story would have been dreadful. I think it still could have been tightened up, particularly in the first several chapters.

For example - Chapter 7: How to Ghoul-proof your Home - includes a couples pages of information about the defenses John has set up at home. However, none of these seem to come into play at all - even when a potential threat *does* enter his home later in the book. There's no payoff for wading through the description, in this case. It's all interesting material, but it's presented as these info dumps that can be off-putting.

The only disappointment I really had by the end of the book was that there weren't more traditional fairy tale components worked into the story. Hopefully more will be present in future books in the series.

Bottom Line:

When I started reading the book, it was dragging so much, I wondered how I would finish it in time for the review date I had set for it. But once the vampire hunt plot heated up, I had a hard time putting the book down to deal with life. I'm definitely interested in reading a second book in this series!

4 stars
For fans of urban fantasy, of Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid series, of strong women and the men who adore them.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Desire by Marina Anderson

The Basics:
Desire by Marina Anderson
Forever (Grand Central Publishing)
Part One of the Dining Club

I received this ebook via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Grace and David have been involved for six months. She's falling in love, he's not quite there yet. But he is prepared to induct her into his secret sexual world - the Dining Club! Can she face down rival Amber, overcome the four trials, and maybe even earn David's love along the way?

Desire is the first three chapters of this story, released in a serial form.

What worked for me:

Not a lot, unfortunately. I think if I read more, I could like Grace quite a bit. She handled David's revelations pretty well - she wasn't shocked by the prospect of kinky sex. I liked that she wasn't naive or too sheltered to understand the implications of the Dining Club.

I *am* curious about the trials, and about whether or not the story gets hotter once Grace is properly introduced into the Dining Club.

What didn't work for me:

My biggest problem was plot/character related: David being involved in the Dining Club actively and secretly while in a sexual relationship with Grace. That's a deal breaker for me.

I like serialization. It reminds me of nineteenth century literature, published in a serial format in newspapers. This kind of literature relies heavily on  cliffhangers to draw you back for the next installment. It seems a little counter-intuitive to me to write erotica in this format because you don't want to leave the reader unsatisfied - or wanting more, as it were. Erotica is about satisfaction, is it not?  On the plus side, the plot at the core here - the trials - lends itself to ever increasing heights of titillation, so there's certainly room for improvement. The way in which pain alongside pleasure was used thematically in this installment didn't really do it for me, but as David points out in the third chapter, paraphrasing, different strokes for different folks.

Bottom Line:

For something this short (three chapters), it covered a lot of ground. I think I'd prefer to read The Dining Club as a complete novel rather than in installments, but at the same time, David's not doing it for me.

2 stars

For anyone who likes their kinky sex with a little pain, for anyone wanting to get their toes wet in erotica without a big commitment

Friday, October 11, 2013

Getting Rowdy by Lori Foster

The Basics:
Getting Rowdy by Lori Foster
Book 3 in the Love Undercover series

Purchased ebook
See excerpt here

The latest in Foster's series featuring alpha men and the women who fascinate them. Rowdy and Avery appeared in the previous two books in this series. From Foster's site,

Charismatic bar owner Rowdy Yates isn’t the kind of man women say no to. So when he approaches waitress Avery Mullins, he fully expects to get her number. However, the elusive beauty has her reasons for keeping her distance—including a past that might come back to haunt them both.

Avery spends her nights working for tips… and trying to forget the secret Rowdy is determined to unearth. But when history threatens to repeat itself, Avery grows to rely on Rowdy’s protective presence. As the sparks between them ignite, she will be forced to choose between the security she’s finally found… and the passion she’s always wanted.

What worked for me:

I like Lori Foster's work, I find they're good examples of modern, contemporary romance with strong, complicated men and competent, endearing women. I never feel like the characters are mismatched - sometimes I find strong-willed men in romances run roughshod over women and I really dislike unequal pairings.

Rowdy and Avery worked for me as a couple. They were hot together, they were hot for each other and I liked the way their issues butted up against each other. The conflicts between them felt like the natural results of their upbringings. There were no head games here, though they both had a lot to work through mentally. Even the bits and bobs of jealousy didn't make me edgy and uncomfortable as they so often do in these books.  

The sex scenes were pretty hot - I particularly liked the scene with Avery and Rowdy in his office. It was a little unconventional, and an indicator of just how out of control they drove each other. 

I liked the subplot with Marcus and Rowdy - it was nice to have Rowdy's background come into play as more than back story to explain his promiscuity/wariness about relationships. I could have happily spent more time with Marcus and had less of Avery's drama.

What didn't work for me:

Avery sleeping in Rowdy's bed before they became lovers: why is this a thing in romance novels? Do people/women really do this - with men that they've met in their adulthood? I can't really wrap my head around sharing a bed with a man that I lust after while thinking that nothing sexual will happen. It just seems like... really? 

Also, there's a scene with Dash and the Lieutenant that was clearly a set-up for the fourth book. It stuck out a little too much and didn't really contribute to Avery and Rowdy's story at all. 

The Bottom Line
While I don't know that this romance will ultimately be particularly memorable, it was well written and had a good balance of sexy times and tender moments. Characters from previous books in the series were involved in logical ways so fans will be satisfied, I think. 

I'd definitely recommend this book, and Foster in general, to romance readers. 

Four Stars
For fans of the series, of sexy romance, of hot men with traumatic childhoods and the women who love them.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Chimes at Midnight by Seanan McGuire

The Basics:

Chimes at Midnight by Seanan McGuire
Book 7 in the October Daye series
Urban Fantasy

I purchased the paperback.

This is the seventh book in a series that I quite enjoy. Because I'm already a fan of the series, I was eager to read this one.

In Chimes at Midnight, October is trying to get to the bottom of recent changeling deaths, caused by overdosing on goblin fruit. The Queen of Mists is entirely unsympathetic when October puts the problem to her, exiling our heroine. October must race against the clock to reverse the Queen's decree, deal with the goblin fruit, save her own life and... oh wait, maybe the Queen shouldn't be the Queen after all!

What worked for me:

McGuire's series is one of my favourite urban fantasy series currently on the market. I enjoy October - she's snarky, competent and constantly under threat of death or worse. She has complex relationships that contain enough mystery and genuine friendship/loyalty/love to draw me back, book after book.

On the topic of mystery, there's so much that we still don't know - that October still doesn't know - that I will continue to come back for more, as long as McGuire keeps writing the series. For example, the reveal about Quentin wasn't unexpected by the time it happened, but it *did* successfully peak my interest in the next book, in which I presume we'll explore his background more.

The heightened threat level that pervades this series (see what didn't work for me) benefits greatly from the sense of sarcastic humor that underlines most of October's interactions. It provides relief from the tension, allowing McGuire to then ratchet things up to the next level. Just when you think October's situation couldn't be any worse....

What didn't work for me:

Well, I intended to read this book over the space of a few days, to savor it as it'll be another year before I get a new installment. And though I read the first two chapters and set the book down, I unfortunately picked it up an hour or so later and then gobbled up the rest of the book. I couldn't put it down. So now I have no new October adventures until next September.

What I would like more of is the relationship between October and Tybalt. I do appreciate that this series isn't as heavily focused on their romantic involvement as we get in typical urban fantasy because I think it's easy for a series to burn out on that. McGuire gives us a few crumbs here and there, but never enough to truly satisfy the reader. Still, I'd like to read an October book - perhaps even just a novella - that runs with a plot that isn't always so dire. Give October a little more breathing room so we can have a scene or two featuring her and Tybalt without these other tensions pressing in on them. Please?

The consistently high threat level could probably also use some variation. Having October racing from place to place, trying desperately to beat the clock, is entertaining, certainly, but I think varying the pacing a bit more might give the reader relief beyond that offered by the comedic moments. It'll also help convey the truly heinous nature of the current threat, if we have more than the most stolen of moments to pause and appreciate everything that's at stake.

The Bottom Line

Genuine enjoyment of the series drove me to buy the paperback and it was worth every penny. I will pre-order the next book in the series as soon as it is possible.

Am I too much of a fangirl of this series to see potential flaws in the book? Possibly. I've heard criticisms about October's ability to bounce back from injury - a talent that October actually addresses in the book. What I like about the way she overcomes these setbacks is that she relies on this ever expanding network of friends and family who back her up in ways beyond the physical. October's grown from thinking she's a one-woman show to accepting that she has a broad social network of people who care about her. 

I absolutely recommend this book, and this series.

Five Stars
For Fans of the series, of urban fantasy, of books that incorporate faerie elements, of snarky heroines

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sweetly Bad by Anya Breton

The Basics:

Sweetly Bad, by Anya Breton
Ellora's Cave Publishing Inc.

I received this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This is the second book in the "Haizea Brood" series. I haven't read the first one, and that might account for some of my feelings about this one.

My impression is that this is one of the first in a new line of books called Curve Appeal featuring plus-sized women.

Roughly, the plot is that Drew, a playboy witch stranded with a broken-down Ferrari, must prove to his mother that he's turning his life around while being labeled kill-on-sight with the Underground.

Erica, our curvy heroine, is the irresistible mechanic who is willing to help Drew while working through some of her own issues.

What worked for me:

The author writes really consistent characters. Erica is sassy and capable, while Drew is a complete ass. I thought they were both fully realized, and believable as individuals.

Breton's also created a vibrant world that deserved better than this short book permitted. There's some interesting magic elements, some handy Cleaners to keep the witches secret from vanilla humans. Though the introduction of the paranormal into the book was both abrupt and delayed, this element was more interesting to me than the romance between Erica and Drew.

What didn't work for me:

Oh dear. 

As one of the first books in a series featuring plus-sized women, I wanted something that was generally positive about said women. Instead: nearly every speaking character comments on Erica's weight in a negative fashion, from her sister to her ex-boyfriend to the villains to Drew. Erica herself expresses some mixed opinions - I found it quite realistic that she'd both own her body *and* have some doubts. Unfortunately, having everyone else jump on the 'you can't be happy/sexy when you're size sixteen' bandwagon made it really hard to come away with positive feelings. Yes, Erica was depicted as a competent, even badass!, woman. And she, at times, was take charge about her sexuality. BUT the general lack of positivity about plus-sized women in the dialogue was just... ugh. I assume her weight was constantly raised as an issue to justify or underline the book as part of the Curve Appeal line, but because because it was always in a negative context, I found it very offputting.

There were several plus-sized cliches - a reference to a chubby chaser, inability to be happy at 'that' weight, breaking furniture. Each one made me feel increasingly uncomfortable - not a good response when reading erotica!

Ultimately I didn't think "Sweetly Bad" was a particularly erotic book. The first major sex scene was undercut by Erica's impressions about Drew. Not only was he a poor kisser, but Erica found his package, ah, lacking. It was hard to understand why the two of them were hooking up at all, given the begrudging attraction. There was very little tension between them other than in a 'will she throw him out the door or not' kind of way.

I think the book would have benefited from an increased word count - there was so much crammed in from Erica's ex-boyfriend issues to Drew being hunted by other witches to the redemption of Drew. Several more chapters would have made Drew's transition from asshole to contrite lover more thorough and believable.

The Bottom Line:

I was curious about the book (and the Curve Appeal line), which is why I requested it via NetGalley. If I'd paid money for it, I think I would have been disappointed that it didn't deliver on my expectation of a steamy erotic story featuring a plus-sized woman.

The book would have been better served if it was marketed solely as a romance. The more I thought about it, the more the story grew on me - but I can't think of many erotic novels that I've read and then spent much time analysing afterwards....

If you can get past the first thirty-five pages or so, I think there's something here to like, buried below the negatives. There wasn't enough to satisfy me, but your mileage may vary.

Two and a Half Stars
For anyone who is interested in the Curve Appeal line and isn't looking for hot erotica or anyone who doesn't mind spending some time thinking about the different elements of the novel afterwards.