Tempting Boundaries, Carrie Ann Ryan

Because I have my Review Policy posted, I almost never explicitly state where I obtained my copy of the book for review. But in this case, I need to let you all know I threw myself on the mercy of the author and begged. I was facing an entire morning getting my car serviced, I had this review due, and all the other ARCs I had to read aren’t going to be published for at least 6 weeks or so. I was desperate.

Luckily, Carrie Ann Ryan likes me and immediately sent me this ARC. Let me clearly state, however, that in no way did Ms. Ryan influence this review. This is a completely honest review which is 100% my own.

Oh, Lordy. Let me start off by saying the decision to read this in a public waiting room was clearly not the best choice. It was hot and sexy and emotional and tragic and just all around wonderful.

In the second book of the Montgomery Ink series, Decker has been in love with Miranda for years, but he refuses to admit it to himself and he refuses to do anything about it. Miranda has been in love with Decker for years and has decided she’s going to take matters into her own hands and make a move. This does not go well for them. This book starts out slow, in that the relationship doesn’t really get going until the middle of the book, but you don’t feel like it’s dragging. There’s lots going on, both with the Montgomery family and all the drama that entails, as well as a subplot with Miranda and…well, you’ll just have to read for yourself.

Decker is my favorite kind of hero. He’s not only in love with his best friend’s little sister, but he’s absolutely broken. He believes he needs to stay away from Miranda for her own sake because he’s no good for her. He has family issues that loom so large in his head that he doesn’t see how to get past them. Miranda, for her part, doesn’t completely recognize his demons so she doesn’t know how to help. I’m not even sure she realizes he NEEDS help, but also, she’s dealing with her own more current trauma.

My biggest (and really only) complaint in this book is one you’ve heard me say before. There wasn’t enough grovel. I know. I’m a total grovel whore, but in this he REALLY needed to do more, IMNSVHO, and she let him off pretty lightly. I understand why, but he emotionally abandoned her when she needed him most, and that’s a pretty huge betrayal to get past, and I don’t think he did the work needed to heal that wound. We’ll have to see how it plays out in future books.

In the meantime, I’m off to pick up the rest of the Montgomery Ink books so I can catch up. I’m looking forward to Luc and Meghan’s book.

High Seduction, Vivian Arend

One of these days Vivian Arend needs to write a book I won’t FanGirl over.

I mean, the law of averages has to come into play at SOME point, doesn’t it? The woman’s too prolific for me to love EVERYTHING…isn’t she? This is Ms. Arend’s 38th book, and I’ve read probably close to 30 of them and loved them all. Really. She’s going to need to stop this or I’m going to run out of nice things to say. (Don’t stop, Viv. Please don’t stop).

Out of all of her books, High Seduction ranks up there in the top 3 as one of my all-time favorite Vivian Arend books. I’ll tell you right now, if it wasn’t for my absolute and unending love of Travis from Rocky Mountain Freedom, Tim would be my favorite hero. He’s amazing. He is absolutely in love with Erin and not afraid to show her how he feels. He knows they had problems years ago, but he’s willing to do the work it’s going to take to get through them and get her back. For good.

As for Erin, she’s in denial for a little bit, but Tim and his constancy quickly win her over. She recognizes she still has lingering issues from their previous relationship, but she’s able to face those issues and learn from them without pushing Tim away in the process.

Tim, for his part, is willing to take a huge risk to help her work through whatever she needs to. As much of a dominant as Tim is, he never tries to force Erin through her mental blocks. He knows if she’s not in this relationship all the way, there’s nothing he can do to make her get there, but he’s willing to fight for them. He helps her where he can, and shows her the way, so to speak, and then stands back until she decides what she wants. Tim is, above all, a caregiver in every sense of the word. He loves Erin and would die before hurting her in ANY way. I love how he snuggles with her. To me snuggling/cuddling is one of the most romantic things a guy can do. Totally makes me melt every time.

Being an Adrenaline Search & Rescue title, of course there’s some suspense, but Ms. Arend kept the focus on Erin and Tim and….others…and didn’t spend too much time focusing on the suspense subplot. Which was just fine. Anything with more Tim was good for me.

I loved how, even with Erin’s initial reluctance to deal with Tim again, she was always professional. Neither she nor the team did any of the “we hate the new guy” posturing. Tim is new to the team, yes, but he’s an experienced SAR and the team recognizes and respects that. There’s hazing, but more in a good natured “welcome to the team” kind of way and not “let’s terrorize the new guy until he quits.”

There’s a new character introduced in this book. Matt, who plays a big role in High Seduction. I loved him and am hoping we get to see more of him.

Lynda the Guppy
aka Vivian Arend’s FanGirl
aka The Fish With Sticks

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Snowbound with the CEO, Shannon Stacey

This review was original posted
at www.wickedlilpixie.com

One thing you need to know about me. I am an absolute SUCKER for holiday stories. Holiday novellas, especially. They’re usually short enough to be quick reads between family holiday…excitement…and yet long enough to be satisfying romances. They’re sentimental and sappy and I love them like you would not believe.

Back in 2010 when I was just beginning to figure out this whole Twitter thing, I was following Sarah from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and she was raving about a short story titled Holiday Sparks by an author I’d never heard of: Shannon Stacey. I took a chance, (and, hey, Holiday story!) and bought the novella. I remember I sat at my dining room table while my mom was getting ready for us to go to a New Year’s Eve party at my aunt’s house and read the entire thing. I. Loved. It. The next day I went to Amazon and bought her entire backlist.

In 2011, Shannon Stacey published Mistletoe & Margaritas. Another holiday story! Yay! I continued the tradition and read it on New Year’s Eve. Loved it even MORE than the last one.

So imagine my disappointment when I found out there would be no holiday story from Ms. Stacey in 2012! But…but…but…WHY?!?! Turns out she wrote a summer short story. Well, okay, at least I got a story, but it just wasn’t the same. Rumors of pouting, whining, and throwing myself on the ground kicking and sobbing are absolutely true greatly exaggerated.

This year Ms. Stacey is OBVIOUSLY making it up to me, because I get not one, but TWO stories this holiday season. YAY! I haven’t read Snow Day (yet), so I’m not sure if its actually a holiday story or not (I don’t really care. Snow. Novella. Shannon Stacey. I’m in), but Snowbound with the CEO most definitely IS and it’s a fantastic way to kick off what I like to call “Holiday Novella Season.” It may be too early for Christmas lights (Staring at you, neighbor down the street) or Holiday displays in stores, but as soon as Halloween is over, I start hoarding ALL THE HOLIDAY STORIES. I store them like a squirrel stores nuts, keeping them to help me through the bleary winter days with too much food and WAAAAY too much family togetherness. LOL.

In Snowbound with the CEO, Adrian Blackstone is a handsome and successful owner and CEO of Blackstone Historical Renovations, and he wants his executive assistant “more than he’d ever wanted a woman in his life.” Rachel Carter wears sensible heels, professional clothes, has been working for Mr. Blackstone for 16 months, and is trying to remember seducing her boss will end with being unemployed.

They’re at one of Adrian’s former renovations to meet with and impress a potential client. As the title suggests, they get snowed in and hijinks ensue. They’re snowed in at a luxury hotel with guests and a full staff, so its not like they’re roughing it. The nice bit about this (versus the usual “stranded by ourselves, whatever will we DO until help arrives?!” plot) is it gives Ms. Stacey the ability to focus solely on Adrian and Rachel and their interactions with each other, rather than having to spend precious novella pages rescuing themselves in some way. That kind of thinking and paring a story down to focus on its most important elements are things Ms. Stacey excels at and is part of what keeps me coming back book after book.

After discovering they’re snowed in, Adrian heads to the bar and sees a woman at the bar whom he is instantly attracted to. She laughs and he’s entranced. When he sits down next to her he discovers…its Rachel.

Number thirty-two, or thereabouts, on Rachel’s list of one hundred and one ways to seduce her boss was to pretend to be a stranger in a bar. Being mistaken for a stranger in a bar was close enough to send a little sizzle down her spine.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you laugh like that before,” he said, and it wasn’t in his Mr. Blackstone voice. It was definitely a picking-up-a-woman-in-a-bar voice.

“You’ve never told me a joke about two elves, a reindeer and a candy cane.”

He swiveled his stool a little toward her, so their knees almost touched. “Let me buy you another drink and I’ll think of a joke.”

They share their first kiss after a dance, and I melted. A good sexy dance scene is nearly as romantic and sexy to me as anything that happens in the bedroom.

…since I’ve only heard you call me Adrian in my mind— sometimes when I’m dreaming and sometimes when I’m in the shower— I want to hear it from you more often.

Although a conversation like this while dancing ups the Sexy Quotient drastically. fans self*

This was a fun and (not to be to redundant) a sexy read. They spend the better part of a weekend in bed in a lodge only to come home and have a misunderstanding or two which keeps them apart for a little while. There is some angst, and there are some supportive family, a Stacey trademark, and a Merry Christmas and Happily Ever After, of course. It IS a Holiday Novella.

I’m thrilled to add Snowbound with the CEO to my Shannon Stacey Holiday Novella Collection. I’ll be reading it every year just like I do Mistletoe & Margaritas and Holiday Sparks. Reading these stories has become one of my favorite holiday traditions.

Lynda the Guppy
aka No Grinch With Sticks
aka The Fish With Sticks

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Diamond Dust, Vivian Arend

This review was originally posted at Wicked Lil Pixie
on August 22, 2013

I loved this book. I loved this book so much I’ve read it twice in the last 6 weeks. Believe me, that’s pretty unheard of in my world. Usually I need to space it out further. I think Tyler has to be one of my favorite heroes of Vivian Arend’s. Tyler Harrison is wonderful. He’s funny, smart, protective, caring, and a bear.

That’s right. I said bear.

Tyler’s a bear shifter, to be precise, and where can I get one of my own? He’s the head of the Harrison Delegation who are headed to Whitehorse to meet in Conclave, which is the Bear version of…well…Conclave. They’re there to choose a new leader, and Tyler means to be the one chosen. The problem is there’s another delegation who is just as determined, but not nearly as worthy as Tyler. Of course.

Caroline is a human who grew up with a stepfather and half-sister who are wolf shifters, so she knows how shifters operate. She also has been having a long-term relationship with Evan who is the Alpha of the Takhini pack, as well as running the hotel the Takhini pack own. She may be human, but NOBODY crosses Caroline. Whether its fear of her or of Evan, she’s not sure, but whatever it is, it works.

Evan and Caroline are really more like best friends who have a lot of sex, which is good news for Tyler! Evan breaks up with Caroline right as Tyler arrives to town, and I’ll let Evan fill you on the reasons. Poor Evan. Ms. Arend tortures him so in this book. Once Tyler comes to town, things heat up FAST. He needs help schmoozing the Bear community, and maybe some help smoothing things over with the Takhini pack wouldn’t hurt, either. Caroline decides to help him, because she sees the potential disaster within the shifter community if someone unworthy is the head of the Bear shifters.

Caroline and Tyler are a good team. She sees things within the community which Tyler, being so used to how things are, doesn’t notice. Caroline ends up being invaluable to Tyler in helping win over a large part of the population, but what made this book so special for me is how Tyler is this big, gruff, bear. He’s a total take charge kind of guy and he’s used to being the biggest threat around. And because of those traits, he could just run right over Caroline, but he doesn’t. He realizes what she needs more than anything is to really be heard. For someone to listen and understand just what she needs, even if she doesn’t necessarily articulate those needs. He ASKS her what she wants, he doesn’t demand to know. He’s also very affectionate.

“Who said anything about leaving the bed?” He rolled far enough to tip her to the mattress then bundled her into his arms, nuzzling her neck and dropping kisses on her face.

Well, this was sweet. “Okay, I know guys are usually, well, up in the morning, but you’re, like, way affectionate.”

Tyler adjusted position to look into her eyes. “You were nice to my bear. He appreciates that.”

Really, you should give Tyler a chance. Vivian Arend’s shifters are really such wonderful characters, and Tyler is my absolute favorite.

For now.

Ask me again after Evan’s book.

Lynda the Guppy
A Bear?! Bears Are Sweet!
aka The Fish With Sticks

RATING: 4.5 Stars

Cut & Run Series, Abigail Roux & Madeline Urban

This review was originally posted at Wicked Lil Pixie
on January 16, 2013

There is a sub genre, I guess you’d call it, called M/M. Which is a romance where both characters are men. My only previous exposure to this type of story is Suzanne Brockmann’s book “All Through the Night.” Of all her Troubleshooters books, this was my favorite because my love for Jules knows no bounds. Other than that, though, I’ve never really read M/M. I didn’t know much about it or the authors, so I never really tried it. One of my fellow bloggers (Lori) kept going on and on about this one series of books she was reading. The Cut & Run series by Abigail Roux and Madeleine Urban. All right. I’ll give them a try. I picked up the first book on January 5. 7 days and 7 books* later, I’m wondering when the next book comes out! (April 8, 2013, according to Goodreads). I’ll have you know I was up until sunrise nearly every day this week reading these books.

The first four books were co-written by Abigail Roux & Madeleine Urban, and, honestly, they write together well enough that there is a seamless transition between the books written jointly and those solely written by Ms. Roux.

Ty and Zane are FBI agents assigned to work together to catch a serial killer in New York. When we first meet them Ty is irreverent, headstrong, and a rule breaker, while Zane is buttoned-up, Mr. By-the-Book, and will absolutely not do anything to get himself in trouble. Things change, though, as we learn more about these two. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Ty is still irreverent, headstrong, and a total rule breaker, but he’s also brave both with his body and his heart. He’s kind and loving and romantic. Zane is the one who surprised me. As we learn more about Zane we find he HATES being a buttoned-up Mr. By-the-Book, but he feels he has to be, as he’s on shaky ground with his career.

Watching these two fall for each other and fight it all the way was fascinating. Because both main characters are male, there’s a whole different dynamic at play with the two of them. They’re rougher and more physical than a Hero would ever be with a Heroine. But at the same time, there’s more fear there due to the inherent problems of being gay in today’s society. Do they come out to their friends? their coworkers? their families? What happens if they’re rejected by those around them? What if they each can’t deal with their relationship and one rejects the other?

My biggest complaint, and it was resolved eventually, is that there is more emotional game playing with these two than I would like. A lot of unwillingness to trust.  In a more traditional romance, “I love you’s” would have happened in book 1, and while I might have preferred it a LITTLE earlier than where it occurred in this series, I think Ms. Urban and Ms. Roux really were true to the characters by making them work things out. Slowly. In fact, one says “I love you” far earlier (as in an earlier book) than the other. No, I won’t tell you who. That’s half the fun!

Once they start working through their emotions and really commit to each other, however, their trust is absolute and they are strong and supportive of each other at every step. They’ve made a pact to be more honest with each other and really TALK about things, especially things from their pasts. I enjoyed that the conflicts they face rarely come from within the relationship, but are external forces (murderers, thieves, cats, puns).

I’m so happy I listened to Lori and Pam and read these books. They were absolutely right and the books were totally worth the lack of sleep. I’ll be on the lookout for more, both in the series and from the authors.

*There are actually only 6 books in the series right now, but on Pam’s recommendation I read Warrior’s Cross between books 4 & 5 as some of those characters play a large role in book 5. More on that book another day.

Lynda the Guppy
aka Bring on the Men Guppy
aka The Fish With Sticks

RATING: 4.5 Stars

Wolf Nip, Vivian Arend

This review was originally posted at Wicked Lil Pixie
on February 12, 2013

Here I go again, trying something new. Vivian Arend is an evil, evil woman. She kept posting quotes from Wolf Nip on Twitter until I finally caved and read it. It’s possible she was just trying to entice ALL readers, but as the world revolves around me, I choose to believe it was a plot against me personally.

I’ve never been a fan of Shifter stories. As the daughter of a Special Effects guy for the movies, I always knew how the tricks worked, so I was never able to suspend my disbelief enough to buy into the premise. Plus in one of the series’ I read AGES ago had guys with penises with weird barbed things or extra protrusions. It was creepy and SOOO not my cuppa. I gave up and never tried them again.

I finally picked up the first Granite Lake Wolves book, Wolf Signs, on Sunday and finished the 6th book, Wolf Nip, on Monday. Yup. Read all 6 in 2 days. To be honest, they’re novella length, so it’s not like I read 6 full-length novels in 2 days. I think you can safely assume I loved the series.

Wolf Nip is the story of Tessa Williams and Mark Weaver. We met Tessa who is Keri’s best friend in Wolf Line. In that book we saw how antsy and energetic she is, constantly on the move. Oh, yeah. And she’s a cat. That’s right. A cat. She meets Mark, a wolf, and he declares she’s his mate. The problem is wolves know their mates instantly. Cats don’t. So while she believes HE believes he’s her mate, she wants to take some time and actually get to know him. Maybe fall in love the traditional way.

Throughout this book the main conflict is how a wolf and a cat–and a man and a woman–learn how to connect and fall in love and accept their differences. It was a fun story, as there were lots of cats vs. dogs jokes, and the final scene cracked me right up. It was sweet watching Mark do everything he could to provide for Tessa and her slowly realize how incredible he is and how much he loves her. I also liked how her best friend Keri sat Tessa down and gave her a good dose of reality, as a good BFF should.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed throughout all the Granite Lake Wolves books is how the Pack is always supportive. Sure, there are a few petty differences, but the leaders are fair, and the pack is for the most part accepting of all. A true family. And if anyone gets out of hand, well, there’s always a good Sharpie to the rescue.

Finally, one of my favorite scenes references Romeo & Juliet and it was nice seeing someone, fictional or not, agree with my sentiments about those twits. Don’t get me started there. That’s a whole other review.

My suggestion: Go forth and read this book! It’s out today! And if you haven’t read a shifter book, take a chance, be fearless, and try something new. Maybe you’ll fall in love with these wolves just like I did.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Lynda the Guppy
aka Howler Guppy
aka Fish With Sticks