Friday, May 22, 2015

ARC REVIEW: "Cold Burn of Magic" by Jennifer Estep


Cold Burn of Magic 
by Jennifer Estep
Book 1 in the Black Blade series



There Be Monsters Here. . .

It's not as great as you'd think, living in a tourist town that's known as "the most magical place in America." Same boring high school, just twice as many monsters under the bridges and rival Families killing each other for power. 

I try to keep out of it. I've got my mom's bloodiron sword and my slightly illegal home in the basement of the municipal library. And a couple of Talents I try to keep quiet, including very light fingers and a way with a lock pick. 

But then some nasty characters bring their Family feud into my friend's pawn shop, and I have to make a call--get involved, or watch a cute guy die because I didn't. I guess I made the wrong choice, because now I'm stuck putting everything on the line for Devon Sinclair. My mom was murdered because of the Families, and it looks like I'm going to end up just like her.

After reading this book, I know one thing for sure; Jennifer Estep knows how to build a darn good magical world with just the right amount of Southern charm. 

In Cold Burn of Magic, book one in Ms. Estep’s new Black Blade series, we are introduced to the charming town of Cloudburst Fall, West Virginia – where the magical creatures are the focal point of tourism.  Underneath the pretty Disneyland-like fa├žade is the dark and dangerous world of family dynasties and rivalries that put the mafia to shame – the Sopranos have nothing on these families.   

Lila Merriweather is a teenager that has been on her own, escaping the foster care system after her mother died.  She is a high school student currently living in a storage room at the local library. She survives by committing petty crimes and helping out her “Uncle” Mo, a friend of her mother and sometimes guardian.  Mo sends her out on “missions” to steal or reposes items from the rich.  Lila also has a secret. Although not obvious from the outside, Lila has special and unique powers that could make her a target for exploitation. 

Lila soon gets involved with the Sinclair family when she saves the favored son, Devon’s, life.  Through circumstances, she then becomes his bodyguard, following in her mother’s footsteps.  

I enjoy this new set of characters.  Lila is a survivor.  She is scrappy, living on the streets because she has to.  She reminds me of a young Gin Blanco from Ms. Estep’s other series, Elemental Assassin.  (I guess the comparison is inevitable, right?).  On the outside she is aloof, tough and thick-skinned. On the inside, she wants to see the good in people and situations.  She has skills, but more importantly, she has a huge capacity to care.  This is not a new type of character in the urban fantasy genre, but Lila’s is really developed well. 

Devon is a standout from one of the ruling families.  Despite the questionable behaviors of his family’s business, he has been able to maintain his goodness.  However, rival families target him because of his special gift. This is a risk that Lila and Devon share. 

There are great fight scenes, highly dramatic revelations, and just a wee bit of angst – enough to make the story interesting, but not too much to turn people off if you are not a YA reader. 

This story takes place in the Elemental Assassin universe.  There is mention of Ashland – home of The Spider, Gin Blanco.  This will, of course, invite comparisons.  But I found that it also helped me rediscover and appreciate Jennifer Estep’s creative and imaginative writing.  With a long running series like Elemental Assassins, where the context is familiar, it is easy to forget how difficult it is to continue to create something new and fresh.  That is what Ms. Estep does here.  She balances elements that are familiar with a fresh new set of characters and storylines that are attractive and engaging.  After I finished, two words flashed in my head, “Gimme more!”

IN A NUTSHELL:
Where you are a long time fan of the author or someone new to her work, this is a fantastic start to a new series. 

Thank you to the author, publisher and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Jennifer Estep is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, prowling the streets of her imagination in search of her next fantasy idea.

Jennifer writes the Elemental Assassin adult urban fantasy series for Pocket. Books in the series are SPIDER'S BITE, WEB OF LIES, VENOM, TANGLED THREADS, SPIDER'S REVENGE, BY A THREAD, and WIDOW'S WEB. THREAD OF DEATH, an e-novella, is also available. 

HAINTS AND HOBWEBS: AN ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN SHORT STORY can be found in THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF GHOST ROMANCE.

DEADLY STING, the eighth book, is set to be released on March 26, 2013.

Jennifer also writes the Mythos Academy young adult urban fantasy series for Kensington. 

Books in the series are TOUCH OF FROST, KISS OF FROST, and DARK FROST. CRIMSON FROST, the fourth book, is set to be released on Dec. 24, 2012.

FIRST FROST, a prequel e-story to the series, is available as a download. HALLOWEEN FROST, an e-short story, is available in the ENTANGLED e-anthology.


Jennifer is also the author of the Bigtime paranormal romance series. Books in the superhero-themed series are KARMA GIRL, HOT MAMA, JINX, and NIGHTINGALE. A KARMA GIRL CHRISTMAS, an e-story, is also available.


ARC REVIEW: "Protective Instinct" by Katie Reus


PROTECTIVE INSTINCT
BY KATIE REUS
MOON SHIFTER, BOOK 5.5 

A woman worth fighting for… 

Wolf shifter Teresa is blown away by her packmate Ryan’s honesty about his past and his rare empathic powers. She wants him in her bed—and her life. The only problem: Ryan insists they wait, because the last thing he wants is to recreate the hellish family he grew up in. Frustrated, Teresa jumps at the chance to assist a packmate off the ranch—far away from Ryan. 


On the way, their vehicle is run off the road—and it wasn’t an accident. Ryan rushes to Teresa’s side, determined to protect her. But there’s a dangerous enemy lurking in the shadows, and if Ryan doesn’t break out of his old thinking and put his faith in his and Teresa’s love—and their ability to overcome obstacles together—it will be too late. 

This series makes me happy.  I can't tell you exactly what makes me feel this way, but I really enjoy these books. I rarely like jumping into the middle of a series, especially this far in, but after reading book 5, Hunter Reborn, I was hooked.

I am picky about PNR (paranormal romance), particular those featuring shifters, but these characters represent a good balance of human emotions and animal instincts. Additionally, I thought I would be irritated because there are so many unfamiliar characters, but it was easy to jump into the narrative. Moving deeper into this series, this novella highlights the members of the pack without unnecessarily complicating the story. 

This particular story is good.  My favorite part?  I really like the character of Theresa.  I remember her and Ryan from the previous book.  She is strong and independent. She has loved Ryan for awhile, but she was no weak-willed patsy.  I like, that if necessary, she could walk away from Ryan to give him space to make up his mind.  She doesn't have to nag; she doesn't cling.  Instead, she takes a break and embarks on an errand for the pack. Unfortunately, she gets caught up in a revenge plot by a female vampire that puts her in jeopardy.  

I like how the story starts right off the bat by jumping right into the relationship.  One might wonder, where do we go from here? But there is plenty of story to tell. The one thing that I struggled with is Ryan’s emotional hang-up about his mom and how he was raised. I understand his fear, but Theresa gives him no evidence that she is like his mother in any way.  His fear is unfounded and just a wee bit frustrating.  

IN A NUTSHELL:
If you are interested in shifter stories, you cannot miss this series!

Thank you to Katie Reus for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

BLOG TOUR, REVIEW AND GIVEAWAY: "Behind the Mask" by Carolyn Crane

Behind the Mask
by Carolyn Crane
The Associates, Book 4


Welcome to the Blog Tour Carolyn Crane's latest, Behind the Mask.  This is book 4 in The Associates series.  To say that I am excited about this book is like saying that The Voice is a nice, little singing contest.  The best part?  Behind the Mask exceeds my expectations. So, enjoy the review and don't forget to enter the Giveaway!


TO SAVE HER PROSTITUTE TWIN SISTER SHE HAS TO SWITCH PLACES WITH HER...

When her estranged sister is won in a card game by a brutal drug cartel, Zelda knows what she has to do: take her place. Save her. Focus on infiltrating the shadowy group--and try not to think about why she left the spying game years ago. She’s slept with dangerous criminals before; she can do it again. 

Hugo Martinez is one of South America’s most lethal and wanted men, a legendary mercenary living on a windswept mountain. Even at the height of the war he wasn’t in the habit of taking women captive, but the American whore has seen his face. And he and the orphan boy need a cook. He shouldn’t want this woman, but there’s something so unusual about her…

Meanwhile, Zelda finds herself falling for her captor…but is he the killer she’s been hunting all these years?



BUY LINKS: 


Zelda Pierce
Hugo Martinez

Behind the Mask is a rich, complicated story with Carolyn Crane’s most memorable characters yet. Mind you, this is the author who brought us a heroine whose strength is based on her hypochondria (Justine Jones, Mind Games) and a man whose super power is linguistics (Peter Macmillan, Off the Edge). 

This story is a study in contrasts.  It is earthy and fanciful, primal and elegant, and raw and sophisticated. 


Earthy
– Savinca flowers are featured. They flourish in this particular place, a special piece of earth. They become almost a physical part of the village and our characters.  

Fanciful - Yet, these flowers are fanciful. They come from Carolyn Crane’s imagination. They are unusual.  They have to be harvested and treated just so, otherwise, the crop is useless. 

Primal – the author says that Hugo may be the most “caveman” of all her characters. I couldn’t agree more.  Hugo is a caveman, but not kind that grunts and drags his knuckles. This caveman distills everything down to the essentials where emotions are on the top, right on the surface, primal. 

Elegant – Hugo has an elegant way of fighting.  He doesn’t use a mundane, blunt instrument such as a gun, but prefers blades and swords.  

Raw – Zelda is raw.  She is a passionate woman.  She loved being a CIA operative until a tragedy took her out of the field. She is mired in the guilt and it impacts almost every area of her life; it drives her. The wounds are still raw. She has lost her joie de vive. 

Sophisticated – Zelda studies botany, a sophisticated natural science. It’s taught her to seek balance. Plants thrive through the balance of elements. 

In this complex tapestry is a story of two lost souls finding each other. Hugo is a retired and renown mercenary known as Kabakas, a near-mythical assassin, and the object of Zelda’s obsession when she was in the CIA.  After years of terrorizing the enemy and being wrongly accused of a terrible massacre, Hugo retires with his adopted son to the mountain top house in his deceased mother’s village. 

Zelda is one of the founders of The Associates.  She left the CIA after being tortured and forced to make a horrific decision.  She has to live with the guilt and consequences ever since.  She closes herself off so tightly that she is almost a machine.  When Hugo and Zelda finally find one another, their coupling is essential. It is as if they need each other to breathe. They learn to open up and feel again. After being wound so tight throughout the book, even I felt their relief coming off the pages.   

I must admit that I am a little unsettled by the Epilogue.  I want my HEA, and things between Hugo and Zelda were not completely resolved.  Is Zelda going to go back to The Associates?  If so, in what capacity?  Will Hugo be fully satisfied being a savinca farmer?  Is Kabakas really laid to rest? Then I decided that this ambiguity was a good thing because it leaves the door open for Zelda and Hugo to come back in another book, right? 

IN A NUTSHELL:
If you are looking for a straightforward romantic suspense, this may not be the book for you.  If you are searching for something twisty and curvy, something truly unique and interesting, you are going to want to get this book pronto. 

READING ORDER:



I am a RITA-winning author of romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and other tales of love and adventure (and erotic & dark romance as NYT bestselling author Annika Martin). My books have been published by Random House and Samhain, and I also go the indie route. I work a straight job as a marketing writer, I love to read in bed and run, I’m passionate about helping animals, and I make my home in Minnesota with my husband and two cats. 


(1) $75.00 gift card to Amazon or Barnes & Noble 
(winner’s choice & open internationally) 

(32)  Digital Copies of either Against the Dark, Off the Edge or Into the Shadows 
(winner’s choice & open internationally)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Join us for the rest of the blog tour stops:

Monday, May 18, 2015

Straight Shooting Book Reviews 
Romance Junkies 
Ramblings From This Chick
Under the Covers Book Blog 
Lush Book Reviews
Badass Book Reviews
Urban Girl Reader

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Happiness is a Book
Reading by the Book
That's What I'm Talking About
Cricket's Chirps
The Romance Dish
The Book Review

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Em & M Books
Ex Libris
Herding Cats & Burning Soup
The Book Nympho
Long and Short Reviews
Love Affair with an E-Reader

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Paranormal Haven
Becky on Books
Amy's Blog 
So Many Reads
Angela Quarles Blog
Goldilox and the Three Weres

Friday, May 22, 2015

Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell
Blogging by Liza 
Bring Your Own Book Club (BYOB)
Peaces of Me 
Ariesgrl Book Reviews
C. K. Crouch



























Monday, May 18, 2015

ARC REVIEW: "Game Changer" by Melissa Cutler


Game Changer
Book 3 in the Bomb Squad series
by Melissa Cutler


Welcome to Destiny Falls, New York, home of Bomb Squad—an ice hockey team full of rugged military heroes. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has the team captain packing his bags for greener pastures, but saying good-bye to the woman who’d captured his heart is easier said than done…

After being wounded in combat, Brandon Theroux lives every day as though it’s his last. He never could have imagined that the sleek mechanics of his prosthetic leg would open so many doors, including minor celebrity status as a fitness model and a well-earned reputation as a rakish playboy. The only door it hasn’t opened is the one to Harper Johnson’s bedroom.

Harper has too much self-respect to join the ranks of Brandon’s “carpe diem” conquests, but when she needs someone to keep the peace in the tavern she owns, Brandon offers his help—as long as she agrees to a very tempting trade. It isn’t long before the two realize that a deal struck between friends who can’t keep their hands off each other has the potential to be a whole lot hotter than either of them is prepared to handle…
Brandon Theroux
Harper Johnson

I discovered Melissa Cutler’s books last year. I completely devoured her Catcher Creek series and have been a huge fan of the Bomb Squad books. Her ability to get emotionally deep with her characters captures me.  This book has me hooked in so many ways, but what I love most about this story is Harper. 

In so many stories that feature a sports character, you can imagine the hero as larger than life.  Don’t get me wrong, Brandon is.  A personal trainer, model, amputee, veteran, and now star bachelor on a new “Bachelor”-like series, he is a hunk.  But Harper is the standout hero of this book.

Harper is one of thousands of women who carry a gene that makes them more at risk for cancer.  With a mother and aunt who died from the disease, she has to make some tough decisions in her life.  Does she take preventative steps or take a chance that she won’t get the disease? In the midst of this heart-wrenching decision, Harper has to decide whether she wants to take the next step with Brandon. He’s leaving soon to start his new tv career and she has the opportunity to have the fling of a lifetime. 

What is both sweet and bittersweet is how both Harper and Brandon deal with her diagnosis. Harper goes through the gamut of emotions from denial to defiance. For Brandon, he confronts the possibility of losing, not only a potential lover, but also a recently realized best friend.

This book felt very personal to me.  My mother was recently diagnosed with cancer and I watch her go through a kaleidoscope of emotions.  And I understood Brandon’s position.  He is someone who is standing on the outside, wanting to do whatever he can to help.  I empathized with  his feelings of helplessness and determination to “be there” for her. For the first time in forever, I cried in a book.

The romance in this book doesn’t hit you over the head.  Sure, the attraction is there from the beginning, but the true romance develops slowly, sweetly.  It is the opposite of insta-love.  And it is a pleasure.

In a Nutshell:

What can I say, I simply loved this book.  Melissa Cutler scores a hat trick with this one. I was utterly slayed.

Thank you to the author, publisher and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Melissa Cutler knows she has the best job in the world, dividing her time between her dual passions for writing sexy contemporary romances and edge-of-your-seat romantic suspense for Harlequin, Penguin, and Kensington Books. She was struck at an early age by an unrelenting travel bug and is probably planning her next vacation as you read this. When she's not globetrotting, she's enjoying Southern California's flip-flop wearing weather and wrangling two rambunctious kids. 

Find Melissa at: website | Facebook | Twitter

Friday, May 15, 2015

ARC REVIEW: "Retribution" by Katie Reus



Retribution
by Katie Reus


She sees brief glimpses of the future…

Nika and Alena Brennan will do anything to kill a vicious Russian crime boss and they’re using his only son to get to him. Yet when the time comes to execute their plan, psychic Nika hesitates due to an unexpected entanglement with sexy security expert Declan Gallagher. When her sister is kidnapped and all their carefully laid plans go awry, Nika must depend on Declan and her mortal enemy’s son to get her sister back.

He invades her dreams and teases her with sensual pleasures…

As a dream walker, Declan is capable of seeing anyone’s innermost thoughts as they sleep. With Nika, however, he finds himself playing a deadly, seductive game. He knows she’s not who she says she is and he’s determined to find out the real reason she’s in Miami before she gets herself or someone else killed.

Time is running out…

Nika’s window of opportunity is closing to save her sister and find a way to protect their secrets without landing them both in jail. With innocent lives at stake, Nika must decide if the retribution she’s waited a lifetime for is worth losing the man who has won her heart.

I have read and reviewed quite a few books by Katie Reus since discovering her Red Stone Security series.  I’ve enjoyed her romantic suspense (Red Stone Security and Deadly Ops) and her shifter stories (Moon Shifter and Darkness). This one felt a little different than her previous work.  I can’t decide if it is my bias because I know that this is a standalone or if is truly a departure.  

Katie Reus writes very tightly written romantic suspense.  Her books are fast paced and filled with adrenaline.  The elements fit together perfectly and, despite the occasional insta-love, the romance is very engaging and incredibly hot.  (Learning from my experience, do not try to read her books while standing in line at an amusement park. Just trust me on this.) This book is a bit of a departure.  Story lines are not as clear-cut.   There are side turns that make this narrative more complicated. I like chasing the story. However, it also feels slower paced with more emphasis on building the relationship.  I enjoyed going deeper with Declan and Nika, but there were times where their interaction that felt repetitive and it dragged down the story a bit. 

This is also not your typical paranormal romance (PNR).  With many PNR stories, you have shifters, vampires, witches, and mages.  They have over-the-top powers  This PNR focuses more on the extra-sensory skills.  Declan is a dreamwalker.  He can enter into and interact in most people’s dreams. This is a very clever and handy skill for a spy. 


Another interesting element is that although Declan and Nika are the featured characters, Alena and Andre have a significant role as well. There is more to their story and I hope someday the author will decide to develop this story line into a series.  

IN A NUTSHELL:
I will read anything that Katie Reus writes because I know that I will be entertained.  She has not let me down yet. 

Thank you to author for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.