Sunday, January 29, 2017

Under Pressure

Under Pressure (Body Armor) by [Foster, Lori]

















Under Pressure- Lori Foster
HQN Books
Release Date: January 24, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis: Leese Phelps's road hasn't been an easy one, but it's brought him to the perfect job—working for the elite Body Armor security agency. And what his newest assignment lacks in size, she makes up for in fire and backbone. But being drawn to Catalina Nicholson is a dangerous complication, especially since it could be the very man who hired Leese who's threatening her. 

What Catalina knows could get her killed. But who'd believe the sordid truth about her powerful stepfather? Beyond Leese's ripped body and brooding gaze is a man of impeccable honor. He's the last person she expects to trust—and the first who's ever made her feel safe. And he's the only one who can help her expose a deadly secret, if they can just stay alive long enough…

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Under Pressure is the exciting start of a new Lori Foster series, with some familiar faces for fans of Foster's Ultimate Fighters series.  Leese Phelps has transitioned from being an MMA fighter to bodyguard at the elite Body Armor security agency.  He's calm, cool, and collected but his newest assignment throws him for a loop: protecting Catalina Nicholson from unknown threats.  Cat has been on the run for over a month and is wearing down.  So when an unknown man steps up to defend her against a group of street toughs, she lets him.  Turns out, he's her new bodyguard and has been hired by one of the very men she's trying to run from.  But Cat trusts her instincts, and her instincts say that Leese is one of the good guys.  Soon they are working with Body Armor's boss Sahara Silver and new hire (and former MMA fighter) Justice to not only protect Cat from those out to get her, but to bring down some very powerful men whose secrets are worth killing to protect.

Lori Foster has done it again, creating an exciting plot, a believable romance, and a world we hate to leave.  While it was fun to get to see some of the characters from the Ultimate Fighters series (Leese was always a favorite of mine!) a reader new to Foster's books won't feel like they need to read that series in order to follow this one.  Though they will probably want to read them while waiting for Justice's book to come out in March!  Leese is a great contrast to a stereotypical movie bodyguard- he thinks first, uses a gun only as a last resort.  His sense of humor, calm demeanor, and overall caring (and hotness) make it no surprise that Catalina is instantly drawn to him.  Catalina is the woman we all wish we could be if we ever found ourselves in her position: resourceful, strong, and a survivor.  While running from powerful men she's overheard admitting to murder she sees herself as a coward while everyone else sees her as being both strong and brave enough to even try and get away.  She sees her fear as a weakness while we see it as not only perfectly normal, but are impressed that she has powered through it.  She wants to protect Leese and her new friends at Body Armor, which Leese may see as a lack of confidence in his abilities but is a sign of her strength and love.

Under Pressure is a fast read, well written, and with all of what I've come to expect in a Lori Foster book: humor, witty dialogue, off the charts chemistry, believable relationships, and creepy bad guys.  The twists and turns come as we try to figure out exactly how many bad guys we're up against, who is working with whom, who is not?  Secondary characters like Sahara, Justice, and Enoch are as carefully written as the main characters and readers can be sure that we will continue to see them grow throughout the series.  Tender, quiet moments and sizzlingly sexiness combined with heart-pounding danger led to a story I couldn't wait to get through and was sorry to have to put down when it ended.

Warning: Don't start this book in the evening- you'll stay up all night to find out what happens next!  

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

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Law and Disorder

Law and Disorder (The Finnegan Connection) by [Graham, Heather]

















Law and Disorder- Heather Graham
Harlequin Intrigue
Release Date: January 17, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis: Desperate to escape her kidnappers, Kody Cameron can turn to only one man…and he's holding a gun. Outnumbered and trapped in the deadly Everglades, she has little recourse, but something in this captor's eyes makes her believe she can trust him. Does she dare to take the risk? 

Undercover agent Nick Connolly has met Kody before and knows she might very well blow his cover. Though determined to maintain his facade, he can't let Kody die. He won't. And his decision to change his own rules of law and order are about to make all hell break loose. 
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Law and Disorder jumps straight into a manic hostage situation and search for buried treasure.  Kody Cameron and a group of others are taken hostage by a gang who want to use her knowledge of gangster history to find the buried treasure of mobster Anthony Green.  The treasure has been hidden for decades and head bad guy "Dillinger" thinks Kody can find it where so many others have failed.  She turns to "Barrow", one of the gang, for help.  He seems familiar but she can't figure out why.  Turns out Barrow is really Nick Connolly, undercover FBI agent who once briefly met Kody in a bar in NY.  In an amazingly short period of time the FBI have negotiated for the release of hostages, met the bad guys' demands for motor boats and Dillinger, Barrow, and Kody are heading into the Everglades to find where she thinks the treasure is hidden.  
I liked the idea of this story- undercover agent works against crazy bad guy to free hostages and falls in love with one of them. Instant connection between the two heroes, building off of a brief moment months before leading to a deeper relationship may be unlikely in real life, but it's a lot of fun in books.
 Unfortunately, I ended up being highly disappointed in this book.  Between pages of information on the Florida Everglades, historical mobster data, house architecture, and the dangers of the swamp at night there wasn't a lot of time for a developed plot and even less for a developing romance.  Stilted, unrealistic dialogue; a bad guy who seemed more like a caricature from a movie; and a heroine who mouths off beyond the point of bravery and into annoying stupidity left it hard to like any of the characters.  We never find out why Dillinger is so obsessed with the hidden treasure that he would kidnap Kody not once but twice to try and find it.  And Graham repeats herself so much, and puts tons of details where they don't work that it is impossible to ever really get into a rhythm - the book keeps interrupting itself.  When Kody gets a gun held on her in the first two sentences of the book I thought I'd be pulled in and not be able to put the book down.  When Kody responds to the gun in her face by thinking about all the times she and her friends played cops and gangsters as kids, leading to her love of historical mobsters and the history of the house she's at, I was thrown off, and never really managed to get back into it.  The amount of repetition (always a big pet peeve of mine in books) made me wonder if Graham thought her readers weren't paying attention or if she wasn't.
With a lot of editing, Law and Disorder could have been a good book.  However, it read more like a first draft than a polished mystery to me.  I've seen Heather Graham books out for years and this was the first one I've read.  And while I know everyone can have an off book, I can't say this one made me want to try another of Graham's books to see if this one was just a fluke.   

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


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Back Check

Back Check: An Aces Hockey Novel by [Jamieson, Kelly]

















Back Check (Aces Hockey series)- Kelly Jamieson
Loveswept/Penguin Random House
Release Date: January 10, 2017

Warning: Potential Spoilers!

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis:  Tanner Bennet hates weddings. They just remind him that he simply isn’t cut out for any kind of healthy, committed relationship—never has been, never will be. After getting rejected by the girl he thought was “the one” all those years ago, he made a huge mistake and married the wrong person. Now that the divorced heartbreaker has reluctantly agreed to be a groomsman for one of his NHL teammates, the last thing he expects is a chance at redemption with the one that got away.

After Marc Dupuis of the Chicago Aces hires wedding planner Katelyn Medford, she discovers that her big break comes with a twist: a reunion with her college sweetheart. The way she dumped Tanner still haunts her. Eight years—and three broken engagements—later, Katelyn knows she’ll never have that kind of innocent, wide-eyed passion again. Still, she and Tanner soon generate enough body heat to burn up the sheets. And even with Tanner’s career with the Aces up in the air, Katelyn’s wondering whether the time is right to let him in for real.

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I'm not usually big into second chance romances, but Back Check may have just converted me.  Tanner Bennet and Katelyn Medford fell in love in college but separated when he signed with the NHL and she stayed to finish college and (unbeknownst to Tanner) care for her ill father.  Years later they are both still hurting over the breakup and it has affected all future romantic relationships.  Now in Chicago they have a surprise reunion as Katelyn is hired to plan an Aces teammate's wedding.  She's starting her own business, he's in contract negotiations that could send him to another team.  Both have unresolved issues.  Can they start over or will they end up making the same mistakes the second time around?

Kelly Jamieson mixes sweet and sexy, fun and serious, romance and friendship in another great book with Body Check.  I liked that, when they looked back with adult hindsight, what Tanner and Katelyn realized was that a lot of their problems the first time around were that they were too young and still finding themselves.  When faced with major decisions like staying home or going with Tanner to New York Katelyn may have made the right call by staying, but realizes that she might not have handled thing as well as she could.  Tanner might resent her choices, but can't argue with them when he understands everything.  Katelyn was determined not to burden him or slow him down as he began his career.  Tanner was too quick to see Katelyn staying behind as rejection.  A family history of divorces, rejections, and being ignored gave Tanner a complex that he doesn't realize he has- until he faces losing Katelyn a second time.  I really liked that Jamieson gave us an emotionally vulnerable hero in Tanner- someone who seems to play through life and worry about nothing, but who has been shaped by his past to worry about everything and expect no one to stay in his life.  Spoiler alert: the apology his teammates help him send to Katelyn at the end is both a tearjerker and hilarious- and should probably be sent to all boyfriends to take notes on for any apologies they may have to make in the future.

Katelyn and Tanner are well written, complicated characters and completely relatable to the reader.  Once again, Jamieson shines with a couple that have chemistry that will set the pages on fire and perfectly balances that with two people learning to balance emotions and life together outside of the bedroom as well.  A great team of supporting characters from the Aces and their ladies that you don't need to have read previous books in the series to enjoy also fill in the wonderful 'real life' sense.  And Jamieson's love of hockey is evident throughout- to the great delight of this hockey fan.

Back Check performs a hat trick of hockey, romance and friendship for a winning book. 

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




Monday, January 9, 2017

Wild Wicked Scot


















Wild Wicked Scot- Julia London
HQN Books
Release Date: December 27, 2016

Rating (out of 5):
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Warning: Potential Spoilers!

Synopsis: Born into riches and groomed in English luxury, Margot Armstrong didn't belong in a Scottish chieftain's devil-may-care world. Three years ago she fled their marriage of convenience and hasn't looked back—except to relive the moments spent in wild, rugged Arran McKenzie's passionate embrace. But as their respective countries' fragile unity threatens to unravel, Margot must return to her husband to uncover his role in the treachery before her family can be accused of it. 


Red-haired, green-eyed Margot was Arran's beautiful bride. Her loss has haunted him, but her return threatens everything he has gained. As the Highland mists carry whispers of an English plot to seize McKenzie territory, he must outmaneuver her in games of espionage…and seduction. But even as their secrets tangle together, there's nothing to prevent love from capturing them both and leading them straight into danger.


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In the first of a new series Julia London introduces us to Margot Armstrong, a young English society girl still learning the ways of the world, and Arran McKenzie, a proud and wild Scotsman.  Margot's father agrees to marry Margot to Arran for lands on both sides of the border and before Margot knows what's happening she's on her way to Scotland, a country she doesn't know, married to a man she barely knows.  Unable to handle Arran's world on her own she leaves her husband and returns to her father. Three years later her father sends her back to discover if Arran is plotting with the Jacobites to overthrow the queen and put a Stewart king on the throne.  With his wife's sudden return Highlanders begin to accuse Arran of plotting with the English against Scotland.  The two may be virtual strangers (with LOTS of emotional baggage between them) but they are going to have to work together to escape a web of deceit and danger.

Scot begins by alternating between the present and the past, which is a little jarring until you realize what's happening.  I don't usually like that, but here it created an interesting emotional effect as we jump between meeting the young, innocent Margot and the Arran who is so bitter about his marriage failing.  For me it created the initial effect of not liking either character, but wanting to find out how they got to where they were.  As the book progresses and you see things through both their eyes and come to understand them it becomes heartbreaking to see how these two, both inexperienced in the ways of marriage and compromise, were unable to make things work.  You might not agree with either of their early choices, but you begin routing for them to figure out how to come together.

London's writing is detailed but fast-paced and all her characters have wonderful layers.  I especially can't wait to see if Margot's brother Knox gets his own book- he doesn't get too much time here, but what you see of him (especially at the end) makes you want lots more!   Our heroes experience everything from joy, despair, lust, hope, disillusionment, love, and everything in-between- and the reader is swept right along the emotional roller coaster with them.  It's an emotional journey that proves that while compromise and communication may be the most important things in a relationship, sometimes they are also the most difficult.

Wild Wicked Scot is an emotional gripping adventure of love and loss, deceit and trust.  An exciting start to Julia London's new Highland Grooms series.

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

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Archangel's Heart


















Archangel's Heart (Guild Hunter Series)- Nalini Singh
Berkley
Release Date: November 1, 2016

Rating (out of 5):
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Warning: Potential Spoilers Ahead!

Synopsis: One of the most vicious archangels in the world has disappeared. No one knows if Lijuan is dead or has chosen to Sleep the long sleep of an immortal. But with her lands falling into chaos under a rising tide of vampiric bloodlust, a mysterious and ancient order of angels known as the Luminata calls the entire Cadre together to discuss the fate of her territory.
 
Accompanying her archangelic lover Raphael to the Luminata compound, guild hunter-turned-angel Elena senses that all is not as it seems. Secrets echo from within the stone walls of the compound, and the deeper Elena goes, the uglier the darkness. But neither Raphael nor Elena is ready for the brutal truths hidden within—truths that will change everything Elena thinks she knows about who she is…


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Two years have passed since the events of Archangel's Enigma and life has returned to normal for Elena- or as normal as possible when you're consort to the Archangel of New York.  No one has seen or heard from Lijuan, the insane Archangel of Death, since the last major battle and no one knows if she's alive, dead, or Sleeping.  But China is beginning to fall apart without an Archangel in charge and so the mysterious order of angels called the Luminata calls the Cadre to meet and resolve the situation.  While a meeting of archangels is never a lot of fun, Elena discovers this meeting is just the beginning. . .

In many ways, Archangel's Heart  goes back to the basics: Elena and Raphael continue to learn to work together as a team; the world altering power plays and politics is peripheral to the book's ultimate mystery; and love and family remain at the heart of everything.  I love how family has so many meanings to them- there is the immediate blood family and all their complicated associations; and there are friends who become family. Heart does a great job of showing how interconnected Elena and Raphael's families have become, especially between Elena and Caliane.  Caliane might not play a pivotal role in Heart but she has amazing impact each time we see her, and some of her scenes became my favorites.  As "other" as angels, especially archangels, may be, Archangel's Heart shows us some of their more "human" moments and values.  Both Elena and the reader see additional facets to each archangel's character, new layers that may only be seen for an instant, but remind us of the hidden complexities (both good and bad) inside each of these archangels.  Likewise, Aodhan gets to 'sparkle' with a larger role.  We get to see him start to come out of his shell and begin to find himself again.  I'm definitely looking forward to when he gets his own book!

While the question of Lijuan hovers over the Cadre and the purpose of this meeting, the mystery itself surrounds the Luminata. Singh does a fantastic job combining some of the original purpose of the Luminata- their search for enlightenment, their desire to preserve beautiful works of art or literature- with the gritty reality of what happens when a group of people begin to feel that they are untouchable and can do whatever they want.  Singh blends great cruelty, love, obsession, indifference, and hope together into a compelling and wonderful story.

I was a little disappointed by the constant repetition used throughout the book.  We were often told something four or five times when once would have been enough.  Some pieces that were fine on their own (like a knife throwing challenge at the beginning, or the number of times Elena and Raphael have brief, touching "I love you" moments) seemed, to me, to distract from or jar the flow of the story.  While I've come to expect that from some authors, this was the first time I've noticed it enough to detract from one of Singh's books.  Hopefully it is an aberration and future books will return to the more tightly written and edited style of Singh's other books.

Overall a great addition to the series.  Readers discovering the series with Archangel's Heart won't be floundering to figure out what everything is about, although they'll get much more out of reading the series in order.  Wonderful continued development of characters and some shocking (both bad and then ultimately good) twists at the end will leave readers eager for the next book in the series to see how things develop! 



Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Burning Page


















Burning Page (The Invisible Library #3)- Genevieve Cogman
Roc
Release Date: January 10, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis: Due to her involvement in an unfortunate set of mishaps between the dragons and the Fae, Librarian spy Irene is stuck on probation, doing what should be simple fetch-and-retrieve projects for the mysterious Library. But trouble has a tendency to find both Irene and her apprentice, Kai—a dragon prince—and, before they know it, they are entangled in more danger than they can handle...
 
Irene’s longtime nemesis, Alberich, has once again been making waves across multiple worlds, and, this time, his goals are much larger than obtaining a single book or wreaking vengeance upon a single Librarian. He aims to destroy the entire Library—and make sure Irene goes down with it.
 
With so much at stake, Irene will need every tool at her disposal to stay alive. But even as she draws her allies close around her, the greatest danger might be lurking from somewhere close—someone she never expected to betray her...

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The Burning Page is the exciting third book in The Invisible Library series.  It manages to pick up where The Masked City left off while still allowing new-comers to enjoy without feeling like they need to read the series in order (although I highly recommend it because they are all great books). 

In Burning Page, Librarian Irene and her dragon apprentice Kai have been dealing with business as usual: jumping to different worlds, stealing important books, and bringing them safely to the Library while trying to avoid people who want to kill them.  After one gate between worlds catches fire when Irene tries to open it, they get concerned- are they not being told detail that would make the jobs more deadly or is there a problem with the Library?  Turns out the problem is with the Library.  The traitorous former Librarian Alberich (who Irene first met in The Invisible Library) wants to destroy the Library and everyone with it- including a rather personal grudge against Irene.  She'll need all her allies- both human, dragon, and Fae- to help save the Library before it can be destroyed!

While I found The Masked City  a little darker and slower than The Invisible Library, The Burning Page has the same feel as Library: fast-paced, fun, dangerous and light all at the same time.  Irene's wit and I'll-panic-later approach to danger are a joy to read and I have enjoyed watching Irene grow as both a Librarian and a person- and as she has discovered the difference between the two.  She may think she's only happy among books, but in Page Irene discovers she's become devoted to people even above books.  Friendships have become more important and betrayals more personal.  She's willing to do whatever she can to help her friend Vale after he's chaos-contaminated, but still leave the final decision up to him instead of assuming she knows best.  She's willing to look at all sides of the problem and her potential allies, while Kai still refuses to see the possible good in any Fae (although considering what he's been through in Masked City it's hard to blame him).  Irene is that perfect heroine who is both relatable and who we wish we were, strong but entirely human and fallible, and able to keep her snark about her while in the most death-defying of situations. 

Cogman's world-building continues to gain layers even after you thought she'd given you everything. Her descriptions and details make the characters and the places spring to life for the reader.  I couldn't read the final battle between Irene and Alberich fast enough to find out what would happen next, and I know when I re-read the book (and the series) I'll continue to discover nuances and angles I had missed before. There are plenty more worlds to discover and questions to answer so I hope the series continues, but if it remains a trilogy there is a satisfying ending that won't leave you hanging.

Readers who enjoy Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next and Deborah Harkness' All Souls' books will be thrilled to discover a new brilliant author in Genevieve Cogman and her worlds of the Invisible Library.

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