Saturday, November 7, 2015

Fun, Family, Romance and Suspence: It's All Here -- "Sinful Intent" by Chelle Bliss

It was supposed to be simple. Find the bad guy and save the girl.

I hadn’t expected Race True—a golden-haired beauty with a silver tongue that made me want to toss the rules aside.  I tried to fight my attraction to her, but she made it impossible.  Our chemistry became too much to ignore.

Temptation is dangerous.

In a moment of weakness, everything changed. We gave in to our carnal desires, letting ourselves drown in the passion we could no longer deny.  The problem was that I still had a job to do before her world collapsed.

If I failed at finding the person behind the threat, I’d lose Race forever.

This first book in a new series by this author is a spin-off from Men of Inked by Ms Bliss, a series that many of us really enjoyed.  The rambunctious carryings on by the Gallo Clan never seem to quit and as open hearted as they all seem to be, they are just as open in expressing their feelings about each other, romance, marriage, life in general and any subject that comes up in particular.  The previous novels focus on each of the Gallo siblings and this new series takes up the family saga but begins to focus on members of a new private investigative organization begun by Thomas Gallo and his sister's husband James.  Into this new configuration comes Morgan DeLuca, cousin to Thomas.  Morgan's mother is sister to Uncle Sal Gallo.  Morgan has just returned from eight years in the military where he was an intelligence-gathering individual in the Middle East.  His skills make him particularly suited to the investigative tasks at ALFA PI and he happily relocates from Chicago where the winters drive him crazy, to Florida with its tropical climate.  The only problem is that his mom decides that she is going to follow him.  Oh well, it's called "Taking the good with the bad."

This is Morgan's adventure, to be sure, but the novel is also the tale of a woman who seems to have lost everyone who is important to her.  Her beloved father was killed when Race was 12, her mother has blamed her ever since for her father's death, and now she has parted company permanently with her mom.  She has poured her heart and soul into building her career and even that is now threatened.  It is this which has brought her to the ALFA PI guys and it is here that she meets Morgan.  

Their story is filled with coming and going, hot and cold, on again-off again involvement.  Even when their relationship seems to have come to a settled phase, all is overshadowed by the increasing menace of a stalker, someone who is threatening Race in a very personal and hurtful way.

This is a really terrific read and has so much going on in it from page one.  I don't think anyone will not like the family dynamics, the rockem-sockem repartee between the Gallo men and those around them, the hot and erotic encounters between the characters, and the tension which is a part of the danger growing around Race and Morgan.  It is all tied together by an invincible bond of family love and acceptance.  

Beautifully written and told in the first person throughout, shifting POV and changing venues, readers will be delighted with all the complications, the threads of the story that the author so skillfully weaves together into a terrific book.  I hope the novels keep coming.  There are still so many interesting characters whose stories need telling in this panoply of players.  Stay tuned . . .

Thursday, October 29, 2015

I Can Do Just Fine Without a Man! Can't I? "Bunny and the Beast" by Heather Rainer

Hard-working, strong, and sassy, Bunny Carrigan desires a simple life, far away from the complications of the big city, posh houses, and materialism. She makes her own rules and has no time for pushy men in fancy suits or playing games.

Joseph Hazelle enjoys taking control and has very set ideas about what the ideal submissive looks and acts like. In fact, his ideas are so set they might as well be concrete. Vibrant and full of life, Bunny challenges Joseph’s preconceived notions and she’s determined that if she submits at all, it’s going to be on her own terms.

Accustomed to being the instructor, Joseph discovers that Bunny has claimed his lonely heart and has a thing or two to teach him. All he has to do is educate her about his world and convince her that she does indeed “do” submission. What could go wrong?

Those of us who have read and re-read the Divine Creek novels are always delighted when a new book comes along.  Where Ms Rainier comes up with these fun characters is locked in the depth of her imagination.  They come alive on these pages and for those of us who feel like we know this community backward and forward, meeting new folks or exploring characters who have already shown up previously makes reading these books a very satisfying experience.  

I have found that all Ms Rainier's books are really focused on needs and issues these characters manifest, most if not all are those we all experience or find living in those we love or in friends and co-workers.  Yes, this is erotic romance and that's just what it is.  Yet there are some very real human bits and pieces that I think most readers recognize in these characters.  It is one of the main reasons we who love this series keep coming back for more.  No matter if the context is one in which a reader has never indulged, the issues of living and loving are common to all of us.  

For the hero, Joseph Hazelle, life has become predictable and he has become set in a lifestyle that seems to be just as he has ordered it.  While he comes and goes as any ordinary man does, he lives in a bubble of his own making and it takes the antics and unpredictable manners of a young woman who is anything but staid, submissive, or whose days are ordinary.  Bunny Carrigan has not had it easy and she has learned to meet life head-on. It's almost as if she head-butts her way through her days, very sensitive to anything or anyone who seems to put her down or make her feel less about herself or what she does.  The last thing she can even imagine is turning her life and her future over to someone who thinks he knows better than she does.  And even though the glow of aliveness surrounds her and draws Joseph like a moth to a flame, she wants nothing to do with any way of living that she believes will take away her self-determination or her right to order her own life.

What doesn't show up right at first is that underneath the external realities of their lives, both these people are desperately lonely, so very weary of being disconnected and of not really being valued for who they are at their core.  Both have spent so much time working to manage their lives, they have not left time for the nurture of their inner selves.  Joseph is amazed that he comes alive when Bunny is around, even though she really rubs him raw at times.  Bunny, on the other hand, has never had anyone upon whom she could lean, who could help her carry the burdens of a difficult life, who truly cares enough to put her first simply because she is a beautiful and sensual woman and not because of what she can do for him.  Joseph's dominant ways go over like a cement canary at first, but as he learns to look deeper into her life and into his own heart, he finds ways of slowly drawing her into a new relationship.

This book has just a bit different flavor than many of the books in this series.  I'm not really sure what it is but it just feels that way to me.  Yet it still bears the unmistakable marks of Ms Rainier's quest for exposing the humanity in her characters and for connecting her readers to the action in her stories.  Whether it is in Joseph's BDSM world or in Bunny's world of rush, rush, rush from dawn to dusk, we all recognize the need to be truly be important to someone who will esteem us and partner with us in this task known as living.  I think this is at the core of this story.  I read this book through twice because I was fascinated with how different these two were from not only many of the characters in Divine, but how they seemed so very unlikely as lovers.  Yet what brought them together was that recognition that the other brought alive a need that they had either chosen to ignore or which had lain dormant for far too long.

As always, this novel is beautifully written and flows seamlessly from scene to scene.   It is the kind of romance that drew me in because I was fascinated to watch these two people somehow connect when I couldn't imagine that they ever would manage it.  It is the kind of story that will pique one's interest and hold it for the duration.  Ms Rainier has a winner here and I hope that you all will avail yourself of this terrific book.

And while you're at it, check out The Book Binge for more really great reviews.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Growing Up The Hard Way: "The Liberty Series" by Leigh James

My name is Liberty and I'm a good girl. I come from nothing. I have no one but myself. Sometimes I do things I don't want to -- I do them because I have to. Stripping. That's my life in Vegas. And my boss keeps pressuring me to do more than just take my clothes off... 
Then John Carter Quinn crashes into my life. He's an older, gorgeous billionaire in a thousand dollar suit. He keeps coming to see me, night after night. I'm not sure what he wants -- but one night at my club he takes down a bad guy, and I find out what type of business he's actually in. Hint: he doesn't sit at a desk, he employs a bunch of ex-military operatives, and it's lethal to be on his bad side. 
Like me, John has his share of secrets. Dark secrets, dark pain. One of his secrets involves my past. These secrets will bring us together... and then tear us apart. 

This series was released earlier this year but I know that I had read portions of it previously.  However, this is the first time I had put the entire story together in its proper context and everything made much more sense than had been the case in the past.  Some of the reviews of this series have not always been glowing, but I have to say that looking at it from the point of view that Liberty just needed to "grow up" and slot in all the experiences she was having into her maturing process made the book better for me.  

I guess having grown daughters and granddaughters, watching them struggle and learn and grow, all helped me appreciate that Liberty had to experience some of the highs and lows in her life in order to move beyond her evident naivete and her fear of life.  Being shackled to a junkie mother didn't help, and then having the responsibility of caring for a woman who really chose drugs over both her daughters made her close in on herself.  Add in a potentially abusive drug dealer who really cared for nothing and no one except himself and you have a young woman who doesn't trust her own judgment and yet must make some life decisions that may or may not be wise.  

This author has put together a cast of characters that all hold their own even though Liberty and John take center stage.  John's early life experiences have formed him into a hard man who finds his only joy in "taking out the bad guys" that fall through the law enforcement cracks.  John's dad is a caring and understanding man who still grieves the loss of John's mother but who wisely allows John to pursue his chosen life path.  Yet their is deep sadness and regret that colors all of John's experiences and even though his new relationship with Liberty had brought a sense of contentment and "coming home" into his life, he still is broken by loss and grief.  Putting these two broken people together into a relationship that seems lopsided is something that this author pulled off well.  The story moves along, albeit it does stumble from time to time, and I got just a little weary of the fight scenes, but that may say more about me than about the story itself.  Even so, the thrust of the story never seemed to waver, IMHO.  I think all of it was intended to bring the reader into Liberty's experience more deeply.  And I think the author succeeded in that goal.

All in all, this is a good series of stories, taking Liberty from the stage of a seedy stripper club, to the jungles of So. America, to the terror of a Mexican drug cartel, and into the politics of a highly dysfunctional family unit she had not idea of which she was a part.  No wonder she was overwhelmed.  Yet in the end, I think she put the puzzle pieces of herself together, saw more clearly who she was capable of being, and finding a path toward greater contentment than ever she hoped to find.  The books are well written and I think the editing was good, surely a good thing for those of us who read so many badly edited books.  Don't be put off by the ups and downs in this woman's life.  It's part of the growing and maturation process.  She makes some foolish choices and she and those she loves pay dearly.  But she learns and her life experience expands.  A really good read when all is said and done.  I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.

Check out The Book Binge for some really good reviews on the latest books.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Screwing Up The Best Laid Plans: Riding Dirty by Jill Sorenson

Psychologist Mia Richards wants revenge. Her new client, tattooed Cole "Shank" Shepherd, provides the perfect means. She just has to manipulate the felon-turned-informant into eliminating her husband's killers—members of Cole's rival motorcycle club. The first step, seducing Cole, is simple. As for walking away before she falls hard—it's already too late…

Dirty Eleven practically raised Cole, and he plans to double-cross the cops rather than sell them out. But smart, sexy Mia is an irresistible distraction. While she's evaluating his mind, all he can think about is her body… until he discovers her true intentions. Walking a fine line between desire and betrayal, they'll have to outrun her past, his enemies and the law for a love that's dangerously real.

Motorcycle club fiction is all the rage now, and I, for one, and delighted that is so.  I guess it is sort of walking on the wild side for those of us who are way past getting involved in that sort of lifestyle, yet the human interaction of those who live on the outer edges of society still manage to fascinate.  This is a new book which I received from Netgalley and which is being currently released.  There is a sequel which is called Shooting Dirty and which, in my opinion, is every bit as good and deserves to be read as well.

It has been said that . . . "revenge is a dish best served cold." Mia is anything BUT cold . . . she is burning up with the need to find justice for herself and her deceased husband.   Yet for this intrepid woman whose life has been upended by the murder of her husband, revenge has sustained her and kept her focused in the years since the home invasion that resulted in the death of her husband and her near-rape at the hands of members of an outlaw motorcycle club.  The hero in this story is just about as anti-social as they come, a young man whose life really never had a chance and whose spirit has been crushed by the abuse of family and the disregard of a society who sees him as a throw away person.  Yet the attraction between these two has a curious effect which spins this tale in directions neither the reader or the characters could have anticipated.  It is a complicated story, filled with characters who aren't your desirable good neighbor kinds of people.  Yet the loyalty that many have for one another goes far beyond that which many of us experience among people who think themselves of a far better class.  

The Dirty Eleven MC is a curious collection of social misfits and is a club that is happy to live on the edge most of the time.  But their secrets are in danger of causing the ties that bind them together to unwind, and the pressures exerted by a rival gang, one which may have been involved in the murder of Mia's husband, are another important factor in the unlikely coupling between "Shank" and Mia.  If a reader likes complicated stories, if one is not offended by the anti-social attitudes and actions that characterize these people and their lifestyle, than this will be a very enjoyable read.  Ms Sorenson is an author who has paid her dues, so to speak, and who has proven to vast numbers of readers that she can put a vibrant and imaginative story together and make it work.  I was delighted to find this novel and highly recommend it as one that will definitely hold your interest.  I give it a rating of 4.5 out of 5.

Be sure to check out The Book Binge for more fine reviews of the latest romance fiction.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Complications Afoot: The Reluctant Duchess by Sharon Cullen

Lady Sara Emerson was jolted out of her dull provincial life by her cousin’s murder. Now that the killer seems to be targeting her, Sara seeks help from the man who was once her cousin’s fiancé, Gabriel Ferguson, Duke of Rossmoyne. With his towering frame and fiery personality, Ross cuts an intimidating figure. Living under his protection, however, has its own hazards—like the sudden urge Sara feels to take their relationship in new, exquisitely inappropriate directions.

Dazzled by the social graces of his betrothed, Ross never noticed her shy, blushing cousin. Looking at Sara now, though, he’s drawn to her lovely eyes and calm disposition. Funny how a year away from the hustle and bustle of the tonchanges a man. But Ross has no intention of allowing a woman to interfere with his plan to return overseas. He will simply capture the murderer and set sail once again. The problem is, with her beguiling lips and heavenly touch, Sara makes him never want to leave home—or his bed—again.

I think it is safe to say that I have read hundreds of historical romance novels, short stories, and novellas, and have come to feel that I cannot ever again read one that conforms to one of several formulas that seemed to be the templates all historical novel authors followed.  Most assuredly, there are some authors whose work has indeed set the bar for all who follow, but even those novels often begin to all sound or feel the same.  Such is not the case with this new novel by Sharon Cullen.  She is an author who seems to find bits and pieces to toss into the action of her stories that bring in the twists and turns, the complications and the angst that make a story come alive and stop it from being just another historical.   I am ever amazed at the creativity of some many writers and Ms Cullen is one of them.

Suffice it to say there is a heroine who is reluctant to be one, much less reluctant to become the talk of the ton by marrying one of its most distinguished members.  The Duke of Rossmoyne is known for being the erstwhile fiance of a murdered woman as well as going abroad to India as the Queen's ambassador and peace negotiator.  Returning to London is not his idea and from the moment his foot lands on English soil his life becomes something he has been trying to avoid for years and wants to be shed of as soon as possible.  

Those familiar with the latter years of Queen Victoria's reign will recognize some of the difficulties this man encounters as he is hoping to make quick work of reporting to the Queen and then hastening back to his Indian home.  It is not to be.  Her majesty was known for being a difficult woman to deal with, a troubled woman who has never let go of her grief over the death of her Prince Consort, and who then proceeded to cause almost everyone in the kingdom to take a back seat to that grief.  Thus, Ross is stuck, and in being stuck, he is also made aware of several things he had hoped to avoid.  One, the allure of his dead fiance's cousin, a woman he had previously never noticed;  and two, the danger that arises to her which then causes him to be increasingly concerned for her personal safety.

All in all, this is a wonderful read and one that will please those readers who really love a colorful, complicated, energetic historical romance.  No long drawn out monologues, just lots of interaction and a balanced amount of introspection on the part of the main characters.  Just nicely proportioned, I would say.  And most of all, for those of us who really love the English language, this book is written well, uses good vocabulary, proper tenses, and doesn't overuse adjectives, one of my personal pet peeves.  I highly recommend this novel and hope that all of you who love historical fiction will enjoy it as much as I did.  I give it a 5 out of 5 rating.

Please check out The Book Binge for more really great reviews.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Healing Power of Love, With a Little Kink Thrown In: Lumberjack Weekend by Heather Rainier

Violet Tyler’s heart was broken after discovering she was the third wheel in her big-city ménage. Relegating the idea of being loved by two or more men to fantasy material, she throws her heart and soul into her business, Violet’s Emporium.

Watching from the sidelines while they renovate her emporium, Josh and Lucas Abbott want her more every day and see the way her former lover chips away at her heart each time he pays her a visit. They’ve stretched out the renovation as long as they can and finally it’s time to claim her or let her go.

Invitations to a fantasy weekend at Hazelle House give the three of them a no-strings-attached chance to make her lumberjack ménage fantasies a reality. But when the weekend is over and the real world—and her former lover—come calling, can her ménage fantasy live in the light of day?

Yeah, I know I have been missing for nine months, but that's what happens when you just get knee deep in good books and take a hiatus from the blogging world.  But I just had to share this book as Heather Rainier remains right up at the top of my Favorite Author List and this 21st book in the Divine Creek Ranch Series is one that continues the fine writing and her particular agenda of giving readers sexy, erotic romances with some mystery thrown in from time to time, some social upheaval once in awhile (Grace Warner and her three husbands manage to stir things up from time to time), and lots of folks in this fictional town who have found deep and abiding love in threesomes and foursomes as well as the socially acceptable MF coupling.  Yet this latest book is somewhat different in that it is written around a single weekend event in which these two brothers have an opportunity to finally show their brokenhearted beauty that their regard for her is deeply loving, and to show her how their particular penchant for kink can bring energy and deep trust into a relational configuration that has only brought pain and heartache to Violet in the past.

Our heroine, like so many in real life, longs for the love of a man or men that is respectful, enduring, and one that will continue to grow and deepen over time.  This was her hope as she entered into a Menage relationship in the past, one that ended up hurting her deeply.  She learned accidentally that she was an emotional burden for one man and for her other lover just a woman he loved but not enough to give her access to his whole heart.  So now she has decided that a threesome is not going to ever be hers again.  No, not ever, uh-huh!  Yet the Abbott brothers have a different idea and this weekend gives them the opportunity to change Violet's perspective because the people involved are different.  In this case they both love her unconditionally and are prepared to take her love any way they can get it, as soon as they can get her to admit that they are important to her.

Ms Rainier continues to grow as a writer and her skills just keep on getting better and better.  That is not to say she was ever bad.  I just finished re-reading Divine Grace, the first book in this series, and believe me she hit the ground running and has just kept on giving her fans books that are winsome yet gritty, filled with unique characters that I still think are iconic as they represent so many of the people we meet in life, living out needs and wants that are common  to all of us.  I will comment that there appears to have been less connection in this book with others who have populated the other books in this series.  As this was a single weekend, that is completely understandable.  Simply an observation on my part.  It does not detract from the purpose of the book.  And as in all of her books, Ms Rainier has challenged readers to accept authentic loving relationships regardless of their configurations.  Yet, these are fictional characters, but they teach a lesson about the healing power of love, the power of allowing others to renew us and revive us, especially after experiences that hurt and have have the potential to destroy one's faith in the possibility of a loving future.  This is a book that will challenge all of us to be open to new experiences.  This short novel is powerful in many ways and will be a joy to read for Ms Rainier's fans and perhaps a fun introduction to others who may not have read all her other books in this series.  I, for one, hope she just keeps on giving us the stories that connect us with this interesting community.  

I wholeheartedly give this book a five out of five rating.

Be sure to check in at The Book Binge for more excellent reviews.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Something Great, Something Wonderful, & Something Forever by M. Clarke

She didn't know what she was missing...until he found her.

Maxwell Knight was dangerously good-looking, seductively charming, and definitely trouble. He was everything Jeanella Mefferd did NOT need now.

Fresh out of college, life was predictable and comfortable for Jeanella. She had the strength of her friends, the security of her job, and she was dating a reliable man; it was all smooth sailing. That was until one night, when she met someone who made her feel things she'd never felt before—dangerous, heart pounding, breathless heat. 

Never imagining she would see him again, Jeanella has no idea what to do when fate steps in and thrusts Maxwell Knight into her life, just as things were beginning to change around her. When she lands her dream job and travels to New York for Fashion Week, can she focus on her career instead of on Maxwell? 

Will she ignore all the danger signs and jump straight into his arms; or would she miss out on the chance of finding something great?

Once again I have found a great trilogy of books through that dependable and ever productive service called "Book Bub."  And this first book in the series was free to boot.

It is the story of a woman who has been very limited in her dating life, especially since finding her almost fiance in the bed of her roommate in college.  Add to that the fact that the affair had been going on for several months.  Since then Jenna (as her friends called her) had been definitely reluctant to date and most certainly wasn't interested in any many who was less than steady, who was low risk, etc.  She had found that in Luke, a man she had met through her contacts in her present job.  They had a very low key relationship--Jenna hadn't even allowed him to kiss her until challenged by her friends.  (It's about time you found out if he makes you sing the "Hallelujah Chorus.")  It is then she meets Maxwell Knight, totally unaware that he is about to become her new boss.

Maxwell is a man who is one of those guys who could be featured on any GQ magazine cover in the world.  He makes the women in his company swoon just in his daily business suits.  Yet he is more than willing to admit that he really doesn't know what love feels like.  When he first encounters Jenna over a series of random meetings, he is quite "taken" with her and pursues her even after she becomes one of his employees.  He is a man of principle, has lovely manners, and doesn't seem to  harbor any scandalous secrets.  Yet Jenna is still worried that he will be "too much" for a low key girl like herself.

This story is really about two people who have tasted disappointment and who are both wary of what it might be like to take an emotional risk.  Even as a a high profile character in the high-powered world of fashion publishing, Max is still not sure he can ever find a woman who will love him for himself and not his money or contacts.  So their story is full of ups and downs, miscommunications and misunderstandings, hard lessons learned and a number of important "ah ha" moments about themselves and each other.  

The background characters in this story are important.  Max's brother Matthew is a man who is working so hard to gain back a life that is not mired in grief over the loss of his fiance.  Becky, Jenna's best friend and present roommate is a far more experienced woman sexually, yet she and Jenna have become sisters in every way and are equally important to one another as each must journey toward their destinies.

This trilogy is a really delightful set of three stories, and each is important in fleshing out the journey that Jenna, Max, Matthew, and Becky must take toward the future.  There are other good friends who are present and who compose the context of these books.  Each is so well written and I am delighted to have found another author who seems to have such a good "handle" on what life can offer, how people interact romantically, and how the rough and tumble universe of human love and be endured and sometimes bring the joy we all ultimately seek.

This second book is really about how Max and Jenna now move into a more mature aspect of their growing relationship.

Sometimes falling in love means letting go of the past…

Jeanella’s confidence and trust in Max continues to grow, and life seems to be on track. Then Crystal decides to pursue a sexual harassment lawsuit, and Jeanella’s world turns upside down. Once again, she wonders if she will ever be enough for Max. Jeanella is forced to make a decision; stay and fight for her man or leave him for good. 

Becky's unexpected friendship with Matthew continues to blossom, as they try to define the boundaries of their relationship; but a one-night stand threatens to ruin it all. As Matthew’s feelings for Becky grow, he’s torn between guilt and heartache over his deceased fiancée. Can Becky break through his wall and help him heal?

This third book definitely has some unexpected twists and turns for both Max/Jenna and Becky/Matthew.  There are still the old hurts of the past and the shadows of ghosts that haunt Becky and Matthew.  And life hands Max and Jenna a surprise they may just not be able to move beyond.

A heated moment.
Desperate decision.
Life altering choices.

Max and Jenna are forced to test their relationship. Will they be able to embrace the challenges life throws their way? Secrets can ruin the foundation of a relationship. Will Matthew choose to withhold vital information from Becky that could consume her with doubt about their future?

When it comes to love, Something Great can turn into Something Wonderful, but can it be Something Forever?

All in all, this is a terrific set of books and one I highly recommend.  They have made their appearance over the past months of 2014 but their subject matter is as contemporary as ever.  I highly recommend them and hope some of you will search them out and enjoy them as much as I did.