Slave to Sensation, Nalini Singh

My transition into being someone who reads Paranormal (Shifter) romance has been long and slow. You could say it has kind of snuck up on me. First there was Vivian Arend, then Shelly Laurenston, Dana Marie Bell, and now Nalini Singh.

I know. I can hear you all now. “What do you mean you didn’t read Nalini Singh?!” Yup. I hadn’t. It has taken my friend Lillie almost a year of nagging gentle nudging before I would finally try it. And, honestly, it might have even taken me longer, except this opportunity came up to review Slave to Sensation.

As someone who isn’t a fan of alternate worlds/realities, this series has me hooked. I started this on Sunday and I’ve now read the first four books, and to no one’s surprise, the shifters, especially Lucas, are my favorite.

Ms. Singh has created a slightly futuristic world with an alternate timeline, and she’s done it in a way I totally buy into it. There are the unemotional unfeeling Psy, the predatory changelings, and the humans. There was a lot of world building in this book, but it never overwhelmed the story, nor did it feel like she was throwing details in to set us up. In fact, in later books she’s layered in more details about the different races and their abilities.

There’s a desperation in this story between Lucas and Sascha. Lucas is determined Sascha will be his, free and able to feel. Sascha believes her fate is worse than death and there’s no hope.

For one instant, their minds were one and he saw how desperately, how wildly, how unreasonably she loved him—enough to break a promise, to choose death so he could live.
She saw how much her panther adored her, how his heart beat for her alone, how life would turn into death after she was gone. The beast was angry at her for attempting to deny him his mate, and the man was beyond angry, but beneath the anger was hunger, need, love. Such intense, furious love that it had no beginning and no end.

If you can read that and NOT fall in love with Lucas (and his Panther), then your a better person than I am.

I loved seeing Sascha come into her own, on all levels, and embrace her abilities. She really discovered who she truly is and did the difficult, scary, and dangerous thing because of her love for Lucas.

Lucas, for his part, is all predator. He’s the alpha of his pack and he wields his power well. At first he sees Sascha as prey of a sort, but once he realizes who she is to him, he pulls out all the stops to make her his permanently.

So the TL;DR version: Go read this book. You’ll be hooked.

Rating: 4 Stars

Lynda the Guppy
A PNR Reader
aka The Fish With Sticks

Razed, Shiloh Walker

I loved Razed. I loved Zane and how he was with Keelie. And Keelie was absolutely NOT what I was expecting based on her behavior in Wrecked.

We met Zane and Keelie in Wrecked. Zane has always been interested in Keelie who thought she was in love with Zach who has always loved Abbie who was totally oblivious to it all. Confused? Don’t be. Zach is both Zane’s brother and Keelie’s business partner. Unfortunately things are strained between Keelie and Zach right now because she kissed  caused a lot of upset between him and Abbie in Wrecked.

So now Abbie and Zach are finally married and she has realized she was using Zach as a way to keep men away, so now she’s looking and she finally sees Zane.

One of my favorite tropes is friends to lovers, and this series is so far 2 for 2. Zane and Keelie have known each other for several years already, but they’re still finding their way as a couple. Zane is in the process of moving his life to Tuscon so he can be closer to Keelie (and Zach and Abbie). Keelie, in the meantime, is picking up more responsibility at the tattoo shop to help lighten Zach’s load. How do they turn the friendship they have into a relationship? Does Keelie even WANT a relationship? How can Zane get her into one without her noticing?

He does, and quite well. I loved seeing how settled Zane was and how patient. He knew what Keelie needed and did his best to give it to her in ways that supported her without the reader feeling like he was sacrificing everything for her. Keelie for her part was always honest with him, with her fears and her needs as far as their relationship went. Even when she didn’t want to tell him something, she would say it straight out instead of trying to lie or prevaricate. And it doesn’t hurt that Ms. Walker knows how to write some smoking hot sex.

I’m looking forward to the next book which is Trey’s. Looks like a tortured hero AND a small child. Shiloh Walker just gets me.

Rating: 4 Stars

Lynda the Guppy
Gimme Those Tortured Heroes Guppy
aka The Fish With Sticks

Merry Christmas Baby, Jill Shalvis

I have a confession to make. I’m behind on Jill Shalvis’ Lucky Harbor books. SERIOUSLY behind. I think there are 5 or 6 of them I need to read. Did that stop me from reading this Christmas story with a Marriage in Jeopardy plot? OF COURSE NOT.

In Merry Christmas, Baby we go back to one of the three original sisters: Chloe. She’s 8 months pregnant and her husband Sawyer is heading out of town for a job for the DEA. As someone who lives with asthma, although nowhere near as debilitating as Chloe’s, she was always the one I connected to the most, and I enjoyed revisiting her and Sawyer to see how they’re dealing with her pregnancy and all the hormones that go with.

While Sawyer is physically gone throughout most of this story, his presence is very much felt, both with Chloe dealing with her insecurities regarding her marriage and being a mom, and with how she’s been acting lately because of those same things. When Sawyer does return, he’s very Sawyer. Strong, steady, and Chloe’s rock. The one who will be there for her forever. Or as he keeps telling her always.

At 65 pages this was a VERY quick read, but Ms. Shalvis delivers. Not only does it not seem rushed, but this book feels slow in the very best way. It’s the kind of slow that comes when you’re preparing for a new adventure, but need to take a few moments to stop and think about where you are and how you got there.

In this crazy holiday season, it was lovely to sit and take a break and enjoy Chloe and Sawyer and a glimpse into the lives of those in Lucky Harbor.

Lynda the Guppy
aka Merry Christmas, Fishy
aka The Fish With Sticks

One Sexy Ride, Vivian Arend

Another winner from Vivian Arend. *yawn* What else is new, right?

This time it’s sexy, adventurous and great-with-power-tools Janey and her hero Len who has far less experience than everyone believes and a love for Janey that just won’t quit. Which is good, because she’s been in love with him forever.

He’d hate me saying this, but Len was adorable. He was so sweet and a little unsure and a little emotionally damaged. He lost his mom to cancer when he was 15 and he has some serious guilt which stems from that. Janey, on the other hand, was raised by emotionally distant parents and has siblings who disregard what she is doing with her life, but still she manages to grab as much happiness as she wants.

While I get that maybe Ms. Arend didn’t want to have too many issues come up for Janey and Len, and she probably felt they had quite enough going on, I wish Janey had been able to deal with her family. I kind of wish we had seen her tell them what was important to her.

Len is just adorable (there’s that word again). He feels he’s so damaged that he can’t even take the chance on finally going to Janey until he thinks she’s leaving town. And Janey’s finally given up. She’s been throwing herself at Len for years and nothing. But once Len has to step in and spend the night to protect her, all bets are off. He may be inexperienced, but he makes up for lost time with Janey. And OOOOOH BOY does he catch up QUICK.

If you’re a regular reader here, you know two years ago my mom finally succumbed to the cancer which had ravaged her. In One Sexy Ride, Len is still dealing with the loss of his mom to cancer when he was 15. Thankfully, I was warned before I ever picked this book up, so I was prepared, though I’m usually okay with stories like this. I’m not sure who Ms. Arend has lost in her life to cancer or other long illness, and, frankly, it’s none of my damn business, but she GETS it. She gets it in a way I’m almost certain she’s been there. This part here was like she reached into my brain.

The strangest things could set him off. A combination of words, the scent of antiseptic like at the hospital.

One time someone’s phone had gone off, and their ring tone had been a series of beeps eerily reminiscent of a heart-rate monitor. He’d come within three seconds of snatching the phone right out of their hands and grinding the case to pieces under his heel.

That’s one thing that still surprises me. Those little moments of rage where you just want to rip people’s faces off for little things. I still can’t leave the house on Mother’s day weekend for fear of just screaming at people to SHUT. THE HELL. UP. And it’s totally me and not them, and I know I’m being crazy, but knowing it doesn’t do anything to stop those emotions. It’s something I don’t know if people understand unless they’ve gone through it themselves.

One of my favorite things about Ms. Arend’s books are that the conflicts in the book are never ridiculous. There’s never the moment of frustration where the reader thinks if everyone would just have a freakin’ conversation, this would be settled. That’s not to say her characters don’t have miscommunications or don’t speak to each other about important stuff. It still happens, but she doesn’t drag it out. And her characters are never stupid, so they KNOW what’s going on, and everyone gets treated like grown-ups fully capable of dealing with their own issues.

I also love her sense of family in all her books, whether it’s by blood or by choice. In this case, both. The Thompson family is one that is loving and supportive and will tease the hell out of you in an heartbeat. I laughed hard during their first date at the cafe. “No one could torture you like family.” Absolutely true.

This book was HOT. The build up of sexual tension here was slow and expertly done. By the time Len and Janey finally made it to bed, I was practically sweating. And then what they do IN the bed…and the truck…and the shower…*fans self* Whoo. Vivian Arend does write them hot and sexy, and she believes in truth in advertising because this book really is One Sexy Ride.

Lynda the Guppy
aka Addicted to Viv
aka The Fish With Sticks

Rating: 4 Stars

Baby Be Mine, Vivian Arend

The biggest problem I have with Vivian Arend’s books are reading them in public without someone reading over my shoulder and being scandalized by all the hot sex. LOL  I’m all for it, but sometimes it’s best if I don’t read her stories in public, IfYaKnowWhatIMean.

If you’ve read the Marked anthology, you’ve seen glimpses of certain parts of Baby, Be Mine, but it can absolutely stand on its own. This book starts out with Gage finally seeing Katy Thompson as a grown woman and not just little Katybug. Things progress rapidly, as she’s finally dumped Simon, her asshat of a boyfriend. The problem being Gage leaves the next day for six months in the middle of nowhere working in the oil fields. They have a narrow window of time and they’ll take it!

Then disaster strikes. And the fates conspire to keep Gage and Katy apart for a little while. Just long enough for her to be injured, get amnesia, and not remember how she got pregnant. WHOOPS!

I love Vivian Arend and her writing. She writes people you just want to sit around and have a beer with, maybe play some pool, have a barbecue. The romance is always wonderful and the sex…*fans self*…Well. Let’s just say she doesn’t need any pointers on how to write sex scenes. LOL. For that matter, highly emotional scenes don’t seem to give her any problems either.

If you’ve been reading my reviews for any length of time, you know I LOVE Novellas. LOVE them. They’re like my book crack. I have a ton of them and I am an absolute sucker for a novella of any kind, but the good ones are SO AMAZINGLY GOOD. J.D. Robb’s Midnight in Death was so intense I remember having to put it down and walk away to literally catch my breath. Shannon Stacey’s Mistletoe and Margaritas makes me sob BUCKETS when I read it. I think this book will stay pretty high on my list of favorites, along with those.

Ms. Arend has made me fall in love with Gage, and then she broke my heart. Gage is amazing and supportive and wants nothing more than to love and protect Katy forever, and there comes a point in this story where it becomes…difficult…for him to do so. But it doesn’t stop him completely. He just gets creative to do whatever he can and as much as he can because Gage’s love for Katy won’t let him do anything else. Even when confronted physically, he only uses his strength to protect, and never to deliberately inflict harm. On anyone.

And what can I say about Katy? After everything that has happened to her, it’s amazing she has so much trust and faith in Gage. She loves him and trusts him and nothing shakes that faith, even when she can’t remember details. She and Gage end up doing something so difficult, so incredibly heartbreaking and difficult, and they do it because they know at the end, it’ll be worth it. It totally broke my heart for Gage and Katy, and I’m not sure I’ll forgive Ms. Arend for making me cry like that.

Oh, who am I kidding? I’m a total slut for her books. We all know I’ll be back as soon as she has a new ARC for me to pounce on.

Lynda the Guppy
aka A Fish With An Arend Addiction
aka The Fish With Sticks

Rating: 4 Stars

Love a Little Sideways, Shannon Stacey

Oh, Ms. Stacey. I love your books so much. The Kowalskis are a family I want to just hang out with and play dirty scrabble and water games of DOOM. And if Leo and Mary could adopt me, that would be great. Get on that for me, would you? Thanks.

Seriously, though, I spent a thoroughly enjoyable Sunday with Liz and Drew and the rest of the Kowalski clan (both branches!) reading Love a Little Sideways. While I wish I had been able to re-read the series so as to refresh my memory about who is who and what happened in which book, this book absolutely stands by itself, and it is quite the achievement. To thrust a reader into a family this large and rambunctious and make us feel right at home immediately is the mark of a talented writer.

Yup. Can you believe it? I was worried for a minute there might not be any DOOM. Boy, was I wrong!  There was Water Ball of Doom and mentions of Romance of Doom and Baby of Doom and of course the “Annual Kowalski Volleyball Death Mach Tournament of Doom.”

“It’s going to feel unreal to go back to work tomorrow. I’ll be adding ‘of doom’ to everything.”

“You can give speeding tickets of doom. Those are way more fun than regular speeding tickets.”

I know how you feel, Drew. I find myself adding “of doom” to many things after spending time with the Kowalskis, too.

One of my favorite thing about the Kowalskis is how much fun they are. These books are sweet and sexy, but also funny and fun. The family all gets up in everyone’s business, as a close family likes to do, but if the chips were down, you couldn’t find better people to have your back. And even though half the family married in and some are really just Kowalski Adjacent (like Drew), they’re all treated like Leo and Mary’s kids. or Rosie’s kids. They may all be treated differently because they’re different people, but they are all loved the same. Without exception. That sense of family is comforting and lovely, especially now when the holiday craziness is upon us. It was also nice to read about a summer vacation when it’s starting to get cold here.

There were so many parts of this book which made me laugh out loud. The reason Drew loans Liz his car. And why she accepts. The post-it note in the shower. The scene with Bobby and the handcuffs made me laugh so hard my sides ached and the cat ran into the other room. I had to put down my Kindle because every time I picked it up to start reading again, I’d laugh even harder. Why Liz gets “middle named” during dirty scrabble. The RULES for dirty scrabble! LOLOL.

So go pick up Love A Little Sideways. You won’t regret it. Well, until your boss asks you why you just scheduled a Conference Call of Doom. That might get you a few looks.

Lynda the Guppy
aka The Fish With Kowalski Sticks of DOOOOOOM
aka The Fish With Sticks

Rating: 4 Stars

Holiday Games, Jaci Burton

Ahhhh Holiday Stories. Is there anything better to read in November and December? I didn’t think so.

I’ve read the first three books of Jaci Burton’s Play-by-Play series, and have enjoyed them quite a bit. I love reading sports heroes. There’s just something so sexy about a hero so focused and athletic. *shiver*

And seriously, does ANYONE get men on their covers hunkier than the ones for these books? Because YOWZA. They’re the few covers I actually collect.

PlayByPlay

See what I mean? The first one, The Perfect Play, remains my favorite cover. Mmm.

With Holiday Games, Jaci Burton gives me what I consider to be an ideal holiday story. Lots of family, holiday festivities, a little angst, but not a lot, a look at favorite characters from past books, and a quick read. It’s the Christmas cookie of books. Sweet and tasty, and perfect this time of year.

I’ve always liked Liz. I know she was a total bitch in The Perfect Play, but her heart was in the right place, and she more than makes up for it in her book, Changing the Game, so I was excited when I saw she and Gavin would be the focus of Holiday Games.

Liz and Gavin are trying to have a baby, but they’ve been trying for a while and it hasn’t happened yet. Liz is getting a little discouraged, but she’s determined to keep her hopes up and tries to hide how she’s feeling from Gavin because she doesn’t want him to be upset because she’s upset.

What’s fantastic about this book is these two are totally honest with each other. I know. I just said she’s trying to hide her feelings, but she’s not successful. LOL And when he realizes she’s making herself crazy over their first time hosting Christmas at their house, he calls his mom for help. Yeah, he does it and doesn’t tell Liz, but she knows. They both act out of their great love for each other and they have each others’ backs at all times. When she isn’t sure if she wants to talk to the family about something, he covers for her without even thinking about it. These two are clearly A COUPLE and NOTHING will shake them.

I’ve found through the years that while I love books where the relationship is in jeopardy at various stages, my favorite books are usually the ones where the conflict comes from outside the relationship, and this one has the perfect amount of angst for me. It was a sweet, brief glimpse into the lives of the Riley family and a novella which will be added to my yearly rotation of holiday reads.

Lynda the Guppy
aka Can’t Stop Staring At Those Covers Guppy
aka The Fish With Sticks

Rating: 4 Stars

Touch And Geaux, Abigail Roux

This review was originally posted at Wicked Lil Pixie
on April 8, 2013

I’m a HUGE fan of this series. I devoured the previous 6 books and Warrior’s Cross in less than a week and have been waiting for the latest installment, Touch & Geaux. I stayed up all night reading it, SHRIEKED at the ending, and I have no idea when book 8 is releasing. *sob*

Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are two FBI agents who are partners both professionally and romantically. While they’re “out” to their families, and to Ty’s former Force Recon team, they haven’t outed themselves professionally yet. This book starts with a typical day at the office for Ty and Zane. They’re getting called into the boss’s office. This time they’ve being “selected” to be part of a calendar put together by a first responder organization for charity. And like any good FBI agents who have often been deep undercover, they are thrilled! Seriously, there’s some serious pouting going on.

McCoy smiled, though he looked as if he was trying not to. “Am I to assume the two of you will agree to representing the Bureau in this?”
“I think ‘agree’ is too strong a term,” Zane said. “This is a bad idea. Remember when we were on TV?”
“Yes, Grady got fan mail for a month.”
“I did?”
“We burned it, as you should all evil things,” McCoy answered.

And off they go to the calendar shoot. From there things start moving at a breakneck pace. A party, a panicked phone call from a friend, a worried flight to New Orleans, a kidnapping, a murder, and that’s just the first three chapters!

Of all the books in this series, this one was the most heartbreaking. Ty and Zane have some issues that come up which causes MAJOR problems, both between the two of them, AND within the trouble in the book. However, if I try to review any of it, it’ll give too much away. I, personally, LOATHE spoilers, so I hate spoiling anything for anyone else. Just know that I spent a lot of this book sobbing. And the very end? The last two lines? Shrieked AND sobbed. I think I broke something. I KNOW I scared the cat.

All that said, the issue that comes up between the two seemed a little…forced. While my heart totally broke for these guys, in the back of my head I was thinking it was a little TOO left field. I don’t know that we’ve really seen the seeds of this sown throughout the rest of the books. I think if Ms. Roux had written one more book where she dropped a few more hints, it wouldn’t have seemed so sudden. Of course, the shock and suddenness are what makes this whole argument so heartbreaking, so you decide.

Also, Ty and Zane have dealt with Nick O’Flaherty before. He was Ty’s best friend and his “second” in Ty’s Force Recon team. Nick, we’ve learned from past books, was in love with Ty. In fact, last time we saw him was when Ty told his team about Ty and Zane. Nick took it so well he kissed Ty and begged Ty to leave Zane. Yet, in this book, there’s none of that tension between the three of them. Sure, we assume they’ve dealt with it, and there have been calls between Nick and Ty, and even Nick and Zane, but Zane is way too possessive of Ty to have let that go so soon, especially with all the tension in this book. And with the problems between Ty and Zane, even though Nick doesn’t do anything to drive a wedge between them, there should have been more insecurity on Zane’s part.

All in all, I loved this book. I think it’s one of the best of the series. Ms. Roux began these books co-writing with Madeleine Urban, and I think there was a period of adjustment where Ms. Roux needed to learn who Ms. Urban’s characters really were before Ms. Roux hit her stride. I think she’s found it. Ty and Zane are far less interchangeable for me than they were in previous books. Well done.

Rating: 4 Stars

Lynda the Guppy
aka Team Meow Mix
aka The Fish With Sticks