Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Immortal Unchained


Immortal Unchained: An Argeneau Novel by [Sands, Lynsay]















Immortal Unchained (an Argeneau Novel) - Lynsay Sands
AvonBooks
Release Date: March 28, 2017

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

Synopsis: Ever since Domitian Argenis recognized Sarita as his life mate, he’s been waiting for the perfect moment to claim her. Those fantasies did not include him being chained to a table in a secret lab or both of them being held hostage by a mad scientist. Somehow, they have to escape…

Sarita has seen some crazy things as a cop, but nothing to rival Domitian. A vampire? Seriously? But his healing ability, incredible powers, and their mind-blowing physical connection—none of it should be possible, yet her body knows differently. Now, not only do they have to save each other, but other innocent lives are at stake. Failure is not an option, for Sarita intends that Domitian show her exactly what an eternity of pleasure feels like…

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Domitian Argenis has known Sarita is his life mate for nearly 15 years. He's waited for her to grow up and become her own person, all the while imagining how he would arrange for them to 'accidentally' meet, how he would romance her, and they would live happily ever after.  None of those fantasies involved him going to the secluded island of a maniac to try and rescue Sarita, or being drugged and waking up chained to a table in a lab where he and Sarita are being held prisoner.  Not quite the romantic beach retreat he'd fantasized about.  Sarita flew to the island off Venezuela to see her grandmother and ended up drugged and trapped with a strange man who claims he's a vampire and she's his life mate. They have to learn to work together to free not just themselves, but all the other victims of a mad scientist.

Long time readers of the Argeneau series have been waiting for this book for awhile.  Sands has been building us up to this Island of Dr. Moreau reminiscent story for the last few books now (Immortal Nights, Runaway Vampire) and Immortal Unchained does not disappoint.  Dr. Dressler is every bit the mad scientist whacko we figured he'd be, and then some!  On the one hand he readily admits that immortals are pretty much people just like anyone else, with families and lives and loved ones.  On the other, he has no problem kidnapping all the immortals he can get his hands on and experimenting on them.  Is he trying to learn how to recreate the original Atlantean nanobot technology?  Does he want to become immortal himself?  Is he just a sick mad scientist who likes torturing people in as many ways as possible?  Does it have to be just one of those?  (hint: no, it doesn't.  Remember, he's a psycho)

Fortunately, the mad doctor doesn't get too much "onscreen" time.  He has set up a remote location as a "romantic getaway" for Sarita and Domitian and they know whatever experiment he's set up, they want no part of it.  It was a lot of fun getting to know Sarita and Domitian and watching them get to know each other while they work on escaping.  Domitian is a great guy who blends complete sincerity with some very smooth lines.  How can you not fall for a man who learned to cook so he could woo his life mate with amazing food (though he didn't eat at the time) and quotes The Princess Bride?  Likewise Sarita is a modern, independent, practical woman who became a cop so she could make a difference and help people.  She has no intention of sitting around and waiting for someone to save her when she can do it herself.  She takes most of the craziness of the island in stride- it's hard to say vampires don't exist when the proof is right there.  There is a great scene where they are getting to know each other and Sarita asks about Domitian's past.  She's able to handle the whole "vampire thing" but when it sinks in exactly how old he is she goes straight for the open bottle of wine!

Sands does an excellent balancing act with the tone for Immortal Unchained.  Obviously with the threat of a mad scientist, Unchained couldn't have the entirely light, often madcap, humor of some of the other Argeneau books.  However, that humor-in-the-face-of-all-odds is also a trademark of any Lynsay Sands book and couldn't be left out here.  I thought Unchained was perfectly balanced between the two.  There's a scene in the beginning where our fears of the doctor are confirmed and Sarita realizes what she's walked into that the overly squeamish may want to skim over.  Very quickly the complete threat the doctor represents is realized, without going into (too) gory details.  No similar scene needed to be written for the entire rest of the book, it haunts us the way it haunts Sarita, threatening the worst while still reminding us that immortals are pretty hard to kill.  We feel the urgency Sarita and Domitian feel to rescue everyone without continually being reminded through additional sessions with the doctor and Sands was smart to leave it that way. 

It's no spoiler to say that we get the expected happy ending while at the same time getting a to-be-continued threat of more trouble to come.  Readers new to Lynsay Sands' Argeneau series will need the first chapter to catch up, but should then enjoy it as much as the rest of us (plus have the additional fun of being able to read the rest of the series for the first time before the next book comes out in September!).  Long time fans get to enjoy cameos by a few Argeneaus and Rogue Hunters we already know and love, while now adding Domitian and Sarita to the extended family tree.  

A great new addition to the Argeneau series, Immortal Unchained lives up to high expectations while opening some new doors for potential future stories.  A must read for paranormal romance fans and Lynsay Sands fans! 




Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Hard Justice

Hard Justice: A Steamy, Action-Filled Bodyguard Romance (Body Armor) by [Foster, Lori]

















Hard Justice (Body Armor #2) - Lori Foster
HQN Books
Release Date: March 21, 2017

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

Synopsis: Justice Wallington knows how to harness his strength and intimidating size—skills he put to good use first in the MMA cage and now as a bodyguard at the Body Armor agency. But no opponent has ever left him feeling as off balance as his new client, heiress Fallon Wade. Far from a spoiled princess, she's sweet and intriguingly innocent. It's a risk-free assignment, until he's required to fake a relationship with her in order to blend in. 


Sheltered from the world after a family tragedy, Fallon longs to experience life—going to bars, dancing, talking to strangers. Not easy with a huge, lethal-looking bodyguard shadowing her every move. Justice seems like her polar opposite, but pretending to be a couple stirs undeniable heat. And when danger strikes again, it's not just her safety in jeopardy, but a passion that's real, raw and absolutely against the rules…


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Justice Wellington is still figuring out his place at the Body Armor agency when he's assigned to guard Fallon Wade.  Although there are no specific threats against her, her ultra-rich, ultra-protective parents want a body guard with her when she takes some time off work.  Fallon's been mostly hidden from the world after a family tragedy and just wants to experience a little life as a normal young woman: going to bars, dancing, visiting street fairs.  She's not so sure about dragging a heavyweight ex-MMA fighter around with her, but she and Justice hit it off right away.  When seemingly innocent accidents turn into danger impossible to ignore, it will take Justice, Body Armor, and their MMA friends to keep Fallon safe.

Lori Foster hits it out of the park again in her second Body Armor novel.  The attraction between Justice and Fallon is immediate and magnetic.  Fallon is not just sheltered, she has little confidence in herself and it was wonderfully sweet watching Justice help her blossom as a person.  It was also great to get to see Justice in the main role and come into his own.  He tries to learn from watching Leese in Under Pressure and balance to role of body guard with his developing feelings for Fallon, even trying to quit so that he can date her. 

You would think that two such nice and regular people wouldn't have anyone potentially trying to kill them, so the fact that you spend most of the book debating between three or four suspects is a little alarming.  Who's behind the vandalism, Fallon's accidents, and trying to set Justice's car on fire (with him in it)? Should we be worrying about the new MMA fighter that Justice KO'd in his final fight and won't give a rematch?  Fallon's jerk ex-boyfriend?  The jerk ex-boyfriend's creepy "business" partners?  Foster masterfully braids it all together so that any (or all) of them seem like viable suspects until the very end. 

Readers new to the series and Foster's MMA world won't feel lost starting here and Foster devotees will enjoy seeing Leese, Cannon, Armie, and the rest of the fight club again in supporting roles.  From main characters to supporting roles, everyone is believable and multi-layered.  Hard Justice is a wonderfully written, fast-paced mix of romance and adventure that will grab you and not let go until the final page.  

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

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Wake a Sleeping Tiger


Wake a Sleeping Tiger (A Novel of the Breeds) by [Leigh, Lora]
















Wake a Sleeping Tiger (Breeds Series) - Lora Leigh
Berkley
Release Date: March 21, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis: Once, he was Judd—Bengal Breed and brother to the notorious fugitive Gideon.
After Gideon disappeared, Judd was experimented on until his tortured body knew nothing but agony.
 
Now he is Cullen Maverick, serving as the commander of the Navajo Covert Law Enforcement Agency in the small community of Window Rock, Arizona. Despite his genetics, Cullen is able to pass as human because his Bengal traits are recessed. He lacks the ability to smell the emotions, bonds and fears that other Breeds take for granted. And he remains tormented that he wasn’t able to mate the woman he loved—at the cost of her life.
 
He’s no longer a Breed, merely a man. . . or so he thinks. But his tiger is about to be awakened by the one woman destined to be his—Chelsea Martinez. And their world will never be the same...


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The newest of Lora Leigh's Breeds series remains focused in the community of Window Rock, part of the Navajo Nation.  It centers on Cullen Maverick, once known as Judd, whose insane twin brother Gideon (now called Graham) has been the focus of the last few books.  Unlike Graham, Cullen is a recessed Breed, his Bengal traits asleep.  The tiger inside of Cullen starts to wake up however, when Chelsea Martinez threatens to leave the Nation because no one will give her the jobs she's trained to handle. Chelsea has been working with the Breed Underground for years, training with the best to work in the field, rescuing escaping Breeds from the Council, and the only job she can get is filing paperwork thanks to her overprotective family.  After saving a young girl in the desert and nearly being knifed by an attacker, Chelsea also winds up with a very overprotective Cullen to deal with.  As the attempts on Chelsea's life start piling up, so do the list of suspects: from Council agents to a local drug cartel to something much closer to home- can Cullen and Chelsea stay alive long enough to figure out their new bond?

Like many of Leigh's recent books, Wake a Sleeping Tiger takes a good plot, adds a lot of unnecessary distractions, and gives the reader ultra hot scenes while not providing too layered character development.    It's hard to get attached to Cullen and Chelsea because we don't know all that much about them.  Hints are there, Leigh will start to give us character depth, and then we get distracted by a new threat to deal with.  Cullen starts to figure out his emotions and then something happens before he can face up to them, let alone admit them to Chelsea.  Chelsea sees her family and Cullen worrying over her as them trying to change her and not loving her as she is, instead of realizing that they might worry about the danger but not want her to be different.  She and Cullen do a lot of dancing around the idea of respect in the first half of the book: can he respect her for who she is, that she wants to fight at his side instead of stay hidden behind him?  It's a challenge that comes up for most Breeds: they fall for strong, independent women and then have to figure out how to balance that core of the woman they love with a desperate need to protect their mate from all dangers.  It was interesting in Tiger to see the question of a woman's role come up not just with Chelsea but also with Cassie Sinclair.  She is running her own op and when Rule questions her, she forced him to realize that he would never question her or make her explain things if she were a male. 

Graham continues to stand out as one of the more entertaining characters and we get to see him here through a twin's eyes instead of his own.  What Cullen calls Graham's "Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hide" personality keeps scenes with him among the best part of the book- especially a memorable scene where he starts asking a cartel leader about preferred torture methods, because he has trouble keeping people conscious long enough for the good stuff.

Heavy repetition remains a constant in Tiger and I found myself skimming paragraphs at a time because it was the exact same thing I'd read two pages earlier.  This is a particular pet peeve of mine in books, and one I can always count on Leigh to irritate. While heavily complicated and intricate plots might make new readers think they should start at the beginning of the series, it has reached a point (for me at least) where reading previous books doesn't help keep some of the details straight.  There are however, enough characters of interest to keep me reading, and Leigh does a good job of throwing in new twists and new characters with just enough teasing to have you eagerly awaiting the next book.  Will we focus on Ashley?  Will Cassie finally get her book?  What's the story of the new Coyote we meet at the end? Chances seem high the next book will focus more on the Coyotes, who are always favorites of mine. 


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

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Last Night with the Duke

Last Night with the Duke: The Rakes of St. James by [Grey, Amelia]


















Last Night with the Duke (Rakes of St. James #1)- Amelia Grey
St. Martin's Press
Release Date: March 7, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
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Warning: Possible Spoilers

Synopsis: The Duke of Griffin has never lived down his reputation as one of the Rakes of St. James. Now rumors are swirling around London that his twin sisters may bear the brunt of his past follies. Hiring a competent chaperone is the only thing Griffin has on his mind--until he meets the lovely and intriguing Miss Esmeralda Swift. In ways he could never have expected, she arouses more than just his curiosity. 


Esmeralda Swift considered herself too sensible to ever fall for a scoundrel, but that was before she met the irresistibly seductive Duke of Griffin. His employment offer proves too tempting for her to resist. She can’t afford to be distracted by his devilish charms because the stakes are so high for his sisters’ debut Season. . .unless one of London’s most notorious rakes has had a change of heart and is ready to make Esmeralda his bride in Last Night with the Duke, the first novel in the brand-new Regency Rakes of St. James series by New York Times bestselling author Amelia Grey.

________________________________


The Duke of Griffin and his friends, the notorious Rakes of St. James, enjoyed their youthful antics as much as any young blade of the Ton.  But now, years later, past scandal may be coming home to roost.  Griffin's twin sisters are making their Society debuts and rumors are swirling that someone (or someones) may pay Griffin back by ruining his sisters.  Griffin decides the best way to help his sisters is to hire a chaperone to keep an eye on them when he can't be there.  Almost by accident, he finds himself at Miss Mamie Fortescue's Employment Agency.  He's just in time to hear a young governess getting dressed down politely but firmly by the agency's head, Miss Esmeralda Swift.  As soon as he hears her, he knows she's the only one who has a chance of dealing with his sisters.  As soon as he sees her, Griffin knows he wants Esmeralda as more than just an employee.  She matches wits with him, keeps him guessing, and isn't (too) afraid to say "no"- not what he's used to from a woman!  Griffin knows he needs to focus on tracking down the rumors and can't seduce a woman who's technically staff, but isn't sure he can be the honorable gentleman that Society thinks he isn't!

Esmeralda is the niece of a viscount, but her mother was disowned after remarrying a poor Irish poet.  She has no fondness for the gentry after how her mother was treated.  Hired as a governess by Miss Fortescue, she now runs the agency and takes care of her half-sister Josephine.  The last thing she wants is to work for a duke who is so used to getting his way.  But Esmeralda is also a realist and the amount of money he's offering for the job can help her out of debt.  What could possibly go wrong?

Esmeralda is undoubtedly the star of Last Night with the Duke. She is a wonderfully written character who could be any woman, but happens to be the lucky one to catch a duke's eye.  All the choices she makes are with her younger sister's best interests in the front of her mind, but she isn't too proud to admit to herself that she's attracted to Griffin.  She's never had a Season of her own and you can often hear whispers of the young, romantic girl she used to be in her reactions to Griffin.  She is infatuated enough to cling to things he says that, taken in a different context, would be highly romantic instead of practical.  But at the same time, she's old enough and wise enough to keep her fantasies to herself and act professional around him.  That might work, except that Griffin isn't interested in keeping things purely professional.  Griffin isn't the rake he once was, or that Society sees him as, but he's still alluring, and possibly dangerous.  As we learn about the past scandal that's come back to haunt him it's much easier to see him as a slightly wild youth than a villain out to harm innocents.  Now that's he's grown he still may bend the rules when it suits him, but it always suits him to protect those under his care.  He follows his instincts and, while he has his moments of male stupidity, is still a great leading character.

A few of the possible side stories of Last Night didn't get as much play as I would have liked.  We keep hearing about the conflict between Esmeralda's mother and brother, and how Esmeralda won't go to the family for help because she expects to be treated the way they treated her mother.  But nothing ever follows through on that and it becomes just a bit of gossip instead of a resolved issue.  Whether the family chose to accept Esmeralda and Josephine or cut them the way Esmeralda imagines would have been interesting to resolve and added an additional layer of drama and conflict.  The rumors of ruining Griffin's sisters started out as the impetus for Griffin to hire Esmeralda, but then became more of an afterthought thrown in occasionally than a major problem.  By the end it's more of an anticlimactic issue than the relationship between Griffin and Esmeralda.  Which both worked (there's only so much that can fit well into one book) and didn't quite work (you keep waiting for something serious to come up with the sisters).  But there's enough chemistry and drama between Griffin and Esmeralda to keep everyone happy.  

A good start to a new series from the author of Mistletoe, Mischief, and the Marquis. Can't wait to delve deeper into the other Rakes of St. James! 

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

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Just Another Season


Just Another Season (The Blizzard Chronicles) by [Longley, Avery J.]















Just Another Season (Blizzard Chronicles #1)- Avery Longley
Pronoun
Release Date: March 15, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
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Warning: Potential Spoilers 

Synopsis: Emma is just another sports reporter...except she hates sports. Ryan is just another hockey goalie...except an injury has his career in doubt. What happens when these two are forced to live with each other over the course of the year? Will it simply be Just Another Season or will sparks fly?


____________________________________

Just Another Season, the first book published by Avery Longley, follows New Englander Emma Connelly, newly minted journalist who ends up as the sports reporter for The Kansas City Times in Missouri.  Emma knows nothing about sports, doesn't care much about sports, but is determined to do the best she can at the job.  New best friends Devin and Gabi Malone pitch in to teach her what they can and get her ready to report on the newest minor league ice hockey team, the Blizzard.  Turns out they have a little insider help- Gabi's brother and cousin, Ryan and Luke Perrault, have just been signed to the team!  What starts out as a rocky relationship slowly evolves into friendship with the Perrault boys and when goalie Ryan is injured, Emma agrees to let him stay with her in her ground level apartment.  Romantic feelings develop.  This causes some problems with teammate Trent, who might have feelings for Emma and had no idea how to act on them when he had the chance, but now is jealous.  Further complicating matters is that Ryan is also attracted to Trent, who is also attracted to him.  Sparks fly but will they light fireworks or burn things down?

I'm starting this review off with a warning: when you get towards the end of the book and start worrying about how will everything get resolved by the last page: it won't.  While the ending isn't a cliffhanger, it is definitely a "to be continued".  Though Longely's next book Too Many Men will be released April 2017, so we won't have long between installments.

Just Another Season is a hockey player romance that tackles some tough issues.  Ryan and Trent both struggle with their sexuality, and with how society will view them if they come out.  Athletes are the macho men of society and hockey players are the toughest of athletes- will their friends, families, teammates, and Emma still see them as "real" men if they admit to being bisexual? What does it mean to be a "real" man? There's a great scene late in the book where a player gets nasty with Ryan about his sexuality and the team and coach stand with Ryan to send a message: a person's sexuality is their own business, doesn't affect how they play hockey, and hate and intolerance have no place with the Blizzards.  When the threat comes that Ryan's sexuality might go public, you get the interesting "how do we get ahead of this and focus on the message of tolerance and support" spin.  As Emma points out, currently no hockey players have come out as part of the LGBTQ community.  By the end of Season nothing has reached the public at large, but you get the feeling it's only a matter of time.  It will be interesting to see how Longley envisions the outcome.

Season is a romance where none of the main characters seem to have enough experience with relationships to avoid making plenty of classic relationship mistakes- lying, avoiding tough issues, and running away from problems being top of the list.  Ryan, Emma, and Trent all have their moments of cowardice and the reader has to hope that they will learn from their mistakes as they get to Too Many Men.     

A sports reporter who doesn't know a baseball from a hockey puck and ends up romantically entangled with hockey players is a great premise.  The story drags occasionally, for the most part we don't get much depth on any of the characters, and there are some things that flip from one extreme to another for no discernible reason (Luke is a complete jerk when we first meet him, pegging Emma as a "puck bunny" before they are even introduced, complains without evidence that she's just out to bag as many hockey players as she can, then turns into a reasonably decent guy who's bedroom is a revolving door for women).  But overall a good story with some memorable scenes, like the rather emotionally touching and well written ending to the book.   It will be interesting to watch Longley develop as a writer and grow into her full potential.

Just Another Season and Avery Longley show promise to develop into a series (and writer) that is far from "just another" hockey romance, unafraid to tackle the everyday and the tough issues side by side.

NOTE: New edits were made to this book after the review copy was released