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June 2014

Then Came You by Jill Shalvis (Book 5 in the Animal Magnetism series)

9780425270172_CL-250x403Last Summer/Fall I binged on Jill Shalvis’ Lucky Harbor series, and although I didn’t love the later books in the series as much as the original three, they are all very solid small town romances. I am not exactly sure why I didn’t give the Animal Magnetism series a try when I ran out of Lucky Harbor books to read. I suspect that since I am not much of a pet person, the photo-shopped pets on the covers just didn’t appeal to me. What did appeal to me about Then Came You was the blurb. I love fish out of water stories, and I love it when one-night stands don’t stay anonymous.

Emily has a master plan for her life. Finish Veterinary School, land a posh internship in Beverly Hills Clinic, get a great start on lucrative career in her hometown of LA and maybe reconnect with her old study buddy, John when she has time to date again. Romance is way down on her priority list. Despite her careful planing things are just not working out as she intended. Instead of the easy Beverly Hills internship she had her eye on, she ends up assigned to busy practice in Sunshine, Idaho that serves the neighboring ranching and farming communities. Emily is professional however, and while this it is not what she had in mind she always lives up to her commitments. What throws her for a loop is that one of her supervisors is Wyatt, her one one-night stand. What Wyatt and Emily shared at a Reno Vet convention earlier in the year was the hottest & best sex she ever had, but Wyatt is just not on part of her plan. Wyatt however is thrilled to see Emily again. While he has not been pining away or actively doing anything to track her down, he can’t deny that they have a chemistry he would love to keep exploring.


What I loved: Both Wyatt and Emily are very responsible, hard working people. Neither of them are actually very casual about sex, but they had no regrets/angst about their one-night stand. They love their work, they love their families (however difficult they are), and they go out of their way to take care of those around them. Despite appearances (Wyatt is easy-going and seemingly laid-back and Emily is driven and obsessive planner) this was not an opposite-attracts story. Both Wyatt and Emily have made choices about how they run their lives in reaction to their families of origin so while on the surface they seem quite different they have more in common than they expect.

Emily’s parents made emotional choices, that led to financial and emotional instability. Wyatt’s parents dragged him and his siblings all around the world and as result Wyatt learned early not to get attached and to never expect anyone to change their plans for his benefit. While Emily’s obsession with sticking to her life-plan seems like the biggest obstacle in their relationship it was Wyatt’s no-pressure laid-back approach that proved to be the most dangerous.

What didn’t work for me: The resolution of the dog-in-peril subplot. Early on in the novel Emily find mysteriously injured dog. Her attachment to this dog and other animals she starts rescuing put lie to the notion that she is making purely rational decisions about her life. However three-quarters of the way into the book, this secondary plot takes center stage. While this plot worked to heat up Emily and Wyatt’s relationship, I didn’t like that the surprise out of nowhere evil-villain turn by one of the supporting characters.

Although Then Came You was book five in the Animal Magnetism series, it works to read as stand-alone. While previous couples make appearances their presence never overpowers or distracts from the main characters. I will definitely be looking to pick up the previous books when I next have hankering for small-town romances.


4 out 5 stars

A e-copy of Then Came You was provided by PENGUIN GROUP Berkley, NAL / Signet Romance, DAW for review purposes.


Publication Date July 1st.


Have Mercy by Shelley Ann Clark

8fbb66fc9fbcc672639515b648926320Emme is on the cusp of stardom in the Alt-music scene, which is much better than being caught in the middle of the scandal that ended the last band she was in. Emme is focused on breaking through, and walking the straight and narrow so she can put it all behind her. If she forgets she has two of her oldest friends on tour with her ready to stare her down.

Tom took over running his dad’s bar when he died, and has been looking out for his little sister since his mom ran off. He keeps things running but his heart isn’t in it. When Emme’s band plays a pre-tour gig at his bar and he hears from his friend Andy that they are going to need a new bassist for the tour, Tom for the first time in a long time start thinking a little selfishly. Can he have this? Can he do this one thing he loves, for just a little while. Once on tour Tom isn’t the only one getting a little greedy. Emme knows she shouldn’t but she can’t keep herself from thinking of and wanting Tom. And Tom would do anything for her.

Have Mercy is a story of wants and needs. Tom has never wanted anything more in his life. He needs to give himself permission to not be responsible for everything and everyone anymore. Emme wants people to stop judging her the scandal and to see her for who she is, not what the tabloids made her out to be. What she needs is someone who simply believes her and in her. Emme wants to sing, and she wants Tom. Tom wants Emme and to be happy doing what he loves. They just need to let each other reach for that.


What worked for me:

Both Emme and Tom have heavy burdens to carry and I thought depiction of the escapist power and secret joy of a forbidden infatuation was really well done. While I was initially surprised by the BDSM-flavor to Tom and Emme’s encounters, I was won over. This was not billionaire sex-club BDSM, but rather two people who have played around just a little bit, know they like it, but haven’t gone out and bought fancy toys and declared themselves to be in a lifestyle. Emme is simply starting to own herself, including her desire to tease and dominate, and Tom likes and accepts the part of himself that loves to be submissive in bed. Playfulness and vulnerability characterize their relationship and I was rooting for them even as I dreaded knowing the conflict and push back they were bound to encounter eventually. The most important part of their relationship however is that they give each other permission to be themselves, to want the best for each other, even if that means letting go of long-standing relationships.

What didn’t work for me:

The level of vitriol/hate/suspicion Emme faces from strangers and regular people like her neighbors. It seemed a bit hyperbolic. That her parents or industry folk judged her harshly and unfairly made sense for me but not that Jane Doe neighbor would consider her husband-stealing threat. Thankfully this was just a tiny part of the book.

What really did work was Emme just owning her truth. She has a choice late in the novel to do something expedient and instead makes a risky choice that means an incredible amount to those around her.


4 out 5 stars, and having the special distinction of being the first book about musicians that I have actually enjoyed.


A e-copy of Have Mercy was provided by Random House Publishing Group — Loveswept for review purposes.

(Disclaimer: I follow Shelley Ann Clark on Twitter, and I always root for librarian/writers).


Publication Date July 1st.



Rekindled by Maisey Yates ( A Silver Creek Novella)

Cover45467-smallLucy Ryan-Carter was the ruling rich mean girl in their high school who grew up to become a socialite trophy wife in NYC. Lucy left that marriage without a cent to her name, and when her parents turn her away she finds herself applying for a job as housekeeper to the man whose mother used to clean her floors. If being a horrible person as teenager isn’t enough to recommend her, the fact that she can barely cook and has no job experiences should be enough to disqualify her, but Mac Denton can sense that the Lucy interviewing for the job is very different from the girl who taunted him. Although parts of him enjoy the reversal of fortunes that lands her at his door begging for a job instead of feeling satisfaction and triumph he find himself feeling sympathetic and surprisingly attracted. Mac gives her the job and Lucy is determined to keep it and prove herself able to provide for herself.

As Mac spends time with Lucy, the more he has to fight what he now considers an inappropriate attraction to Lucy. An eye-opening conversation about needs later, he comes close to crossing the line and Lucy is left frustrated. After years perfunctory sex with a spouse that verbally and emotionally abused her, she just wants to sign up for some of that “Sweaty, hot, unattached sex” Mac has been having for years and Mac inconveniently wants to be a gentleman (Kindle Loc 529).

Despite of their good intentions, the close quarters and their ever growing attraction means Mac and Lucy don’t hold out for long. Lucy is determined not let things get awkward, confident she can hold her own by trying to keep clear boundaries in place. It is Mac who struggles the most of how they can keep their relationship limited to sex, when she is living in house, taking care of him in the ways that he imagines people in serious relationships care for each other. Still they eventually settle in upstairs/downstairs dynamic where they seem balance their sexual/domestic interactions in ways that seems to be working till it suddenly doesn’t. Lucy and Mac both have epiphanies but only Lucy is brave enough to own her feelings, and to express what it means to her and not settle for less.

Lucy finds a listening ear, and safe place to rebuild her confidence in Mac’s Ranch. The job Mac offers her and the humble little cottage it comes with gives her the space to start rebuilding her life. Mac however is not the only person to listen to her, and before long she making friendships and following up other opportunities. Despite getting emotionally and sexually involved with Mac, the life she dreams for herself is not about being with Mac, but instead living life on her own terms, of being confident in her own value independent of what others might think of her.

Mac has his own set of insecurities and fears about serious relationships stemming from the unhealthy relationships in his family of origin. Having effortlessly avoided serious relationships his whole adult life he is confused and troubled by how he feels about Lucy, unable to imagine a future where he doesn’t screw up their relationship. Mac’s crisis of confidence is only resolved when Lucy confronts him, with his actual track record, with the ways that he has been good for Lucy, and by refusing to let him think that he could be wholly responsible for the success or failure of their relationship.

So while books set on ranches with cowboys hats on the cover are far from my usual fare, I very much enjoyed this book. I thought the internal conflicts in the story were excellently crafted and I am very glad to have finally given Maisey Yates a try.

A copy of this book was provided by Penguin Inter-Mix via NetGalley for review purposes

The Rekindled Novella will be available starting on June 17, 2014


Deeper than Need by Shiloh Walker

Trinity Ewing is looking to start a new life and safe home for her son far from the heartache and scandal she left behind on the East Coast. She found a beautiful old house in need of renovations in a small town in rural Indiana. Madison is picturesque surrounded by Amish communities, and on the surface appears to be everything Trinity is looking for. But Madison isn’t what it seems & her old house has a horrible history.

Noah Benningfield has spent his whole life in Madison and knows


something of the town's dark side. Noah is a former pastor, contractor and an alcoholic who counsels some of Madison’s troubled kids. He does his best for a community that hasn’t done the best by him.

When an accident at Trinity’s house uncovers a long-dead body hidden in the cellar, Noah and Trinity are targeted by those who want to keep some of Madison's dark secrets from coming to light.

Why I read it: The blurb caught my eye and I was very curious to read a book with alcoholic ex-preacher contractor.


As the wife of a pastor I am always interested in the portrayal of pastors in popular fiction, particularly romance novels. In popular fiction it is very rare to see pastor presented in positive ways, and it is even rarer to see one with a complex and troubled history instead of being a caricature. I particularly appreciated how his faith and vocational history was organically revealed in the story.

What worked for me: I like the slow development of the romance for Trinity and Noah. Trinity has been very badly hurt, and Noah is only starting to get over the loss of his girlfriend 20 years ago in murky circumstances. Both carry bad memories, and are cautious people.

What didn’t work for me:


While not central to the story the portrayal of the Amish community and particularly Caine Yoder, Noah’s friend seemed a bit odd. I felt there were some missing pieces to their characterization, to the point of it not being clear if Caine is actually Amish or simply loosely affiliated with them. There are three e-novellas about some of the supporting characters that were released before this and I don't know if the peculiar nature of the Amish community near Madison were established there or not.


4 out 5 stars.

A review copy of Deeper Than Need was provided by the publisher St.Martin's Press via Netgalley

Salvation: A Defiance Novel by Stephanie Tyler

Salvation is the 3rd novel in the Defiance Series by Stephanie Tyler. I read the second book in the series, Redemption based on the recommendation of several folks in twitter.

The Defiance series is essentially a post-apocalyptic Motorcycle Club/New Adult novel. I enjoyed Redemption despite having the skipped the first book where I suspect most of the world-building for occurred.

Luna and Bishop were supporting characters in Redemption and I was eager for their story. Bishop and Mathias are blood brothers, who survived brutal childhoods together, escaped the military after the Chaos and are finding a place and maybe a home in Defiance.

In Redemption Bishop was also Mathias’s voice, speaking for him, since he only communicates through sign language forming a close relationship with Jessa. At the end of Redemption Bishop took Mattias place as a hostage in Keller’s compound. Keller is a mafioso, trading partner and occasional threat and rival to the Defiance MC. Luna is a legacy member of the Defiance MC who is scarred by the abuse and violence that was common there under the previous leaders. She had been ready to leave Defiance and take her chances in the outside world when Bishop arrived, so after waiting four months for his return she decides to follows Bishop to Keller's.

At Keller’s Luna finally lets Bishop claim her as his or have them both suffer the consequences of her impulsive and unsanctioned arrival. Keller’s compound is alluring mirage: freedom and excess on the surface and desperation and fear underneath. Bishop and Luna have to navigate treacherous relationships to stay alive, doubting every word they hear while projecting strength. I was disappointed by how little time Tyler spent deepening or building a romance for Bishop and Luna, with most of the story dedicated to the precarious political situation at Keller’s and reacting to outside threats by the LoV and the Government. Their relationship seemed to stall after a few chapters and boiled down to a lot of Bishop bossing her around and Luna liking it.

Declan one of Keller’s top men and Bishop’s assassination partner and Rebel, Luna’s best-friend and protector in Defiance however have a much more interesting relationship. Drawn together after Rebel traces Luna to Keller’s their relationship deepens beyond their initial intentions. They both live closeted lives, as their sexual orientation and S/M preferences are not acceptable to most the members in their rival organizations. Their relationship and growing attachment could be fascinating to read. I might give the next book a try to see if they can balance their conflicting loyalties to try unite their compounds survive the Government’s stepped up efforts at eradicating America’s undesirables.

The Defiance's politics are complex and well developed but I wish there had been less focus on the external conflicts.

3 out 5


A digital ARC of this novel was provided by the publisher, Carina Press in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Summer Rain Anthology with stories by Ruthie Knox, Molly O'Keefe, Charlotte Stein and more.

SummerRain-500x750(2)Summer Rain: Love in the Rain Series's nine story collection is the first of two  short story collections edited by Sarah Frantz. The proceeds from the sales of this anthology will got to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN).

This was a strong collection and I enjoyed the wonderful variety of style, setting and types of stories. I came to this  collection already knowing the work of  Ruthie Knox, Mary Ann Rivers, Charlotte Stein and  Audra North  but I loved having the opportunity to read stories by both newer authors like Amy Jo Cousins, Shari Slade and Alexandra Haughton and new-to-me authors like Cecilia Tan and Molly O’Keefe, whose work I had not yet enjoyed. While not every story worked for me, I thought the anthology as whole deserved 4 out 5 stars. I look forward to reading the next volume Winter Rain when it comes out in November.


Redemption by Ruthie Knox: Mike Kaminsky a divorced Green Bay handy-man and former roofer  and Jessie Bellin,a owner of a failing cheese shop have a very limited relationship.  Both know the rules and limitation of it and  all they ask from each other is sex. Sex that takes them away from their troubles, distracts them just a little and gives them enough pleasure to get through the hardest days. This was a sad story about making a go at relationships even when everything else has fallen apart. The story is about potential and expectations and how we can fail to put our trust in the right things and how the choice to stay and chance something might be the most important you can make. While I admire how truly weighed down these two are  and the message of the story I wish we had just a little more resolution as the ending barely qualifies as a HFN but instead is simply the possibility of one .

3.5 out of 5


The Heart of It by Molly O’Keefe: Outwardly a successful author Gabe Peterson is not at home in his own skin and is unable to have a satisfying sexual encounter without being drunk. Sober he is petrified of being touched in a sexual way due to childhood sexual abuse. Elena is a very expensive escort hired by Peterson to try to help him find a way to enjoy sex without getting drunk. After several failed attempts  Elena has grown invested in Gabe’s struggle. She won’t let him give up and pushes him past his panic to help him confront his hidden anger and shame to a breakthrough. However the person most affected by their encounter is Elena, who is unsettled enough by the truths she disclosed to Gabe and her own dark memories dreged up in their conversations to start making changes in her life. This was the first Molly O’Keefe story to capture my attention as I have tried several of her novels, but not been able to get past the first few chapters. Elena and Gabe’s conversations felt genuine, as did the decisions they've made along the way. There was also a marked lack of self-pity which was refreshing. I enjoyed this story enough that I will probably give O’Keefe's novels another try.

4 out 5 stars


Sacrifice by Cecilia Tan: A demigod in ancient Greece is trapped by the bargain he struck with the residents of  his valley. When they deliver him a virgin sacrifice  he must work magic that guarantees the fertility and fecundity for their crops. Over the years he come to hate this bargain, traumatized by the toll his bargain has taken on the young women brought to him as sacrifice. He now wishes for nothing more than to be left alone and forgotten. His solitude is interrupted when  a young Chinese woman sold into slavery by her trader father is presented to him as sacrifice. He is torn by the duty to his bargain, and  his need for her to be capable of consent so that she might come to want him without him without it destroying her. I was very skeptical coming into this story, not sure it could provide a satisfying romantic resolution to the conflicts in it, but the alternating POV chapters allowed the attraction to believably develop while not glossing over their fears and motivations.

4 out of 5 stars


Real Feelings by Charlotte Stein: A woman orders AI companion made to her specifications, meant to fulfill all aspects of her relationship needs without any of the risks (a walking-talking sex toy). When faced with him, in his nearly life-like glory she is unable to surrender to the fantasy of having a lover made to order, interested in pleasing her in every way. She feels shamed by her desires, her fears and loneliness and is horrified by the realization of how much it matters to her that he can’t choose whether he wants to fulfill her desires or not. Told exclusively from Moira’s point of view, I loved how much uncertainty and tension remains for the reader as Moira falls for her AI lover Michael, especially as Moira questions her sanity whenever she sees sparks of awareness, consciousness, and wanting in him. Another gem from Charlotte Stein.

 5 out 5 stars.


Rainy Season by Mary Ann Rivers:  Lisa Shirek is a barista who can sense the clouds of sadness and hurts enveloping her customers, and thrives on giving the comfort that they need but can’t ask for. Mark is a regular at the cafe, his presence is so bright and dazzling that Lisa can only admire him from out of the corner of her eye. I was so distracted by the high-concept atmospheric imagery and mathematical/metaphorical banter I didn’t really connect to the story till about half-way through when the descriptions became more grounded in the physical world focusing in on the textures of the lovers exploring of each other. Rivers was still able to move me tears however just not over the main couple.

3 out of 5 stars


The Rain in Spain by Amy Jo Cousins: Javi and Magda met in India, and married on impulse after spending only a sun-kissed week together, before Magda headed off to another travel assigment. It has been of year of tentative reunions and short times together at home in Chicago, and now on their belated honeymoon trip to Spain  Magda is questioning if they have  anything to hold them together. I really believed in Javier and Magda, with their unvoiced insecurities and their fear of speaking of them. As someone who has traveled a lot, I know how the tensions and small irritations of travel can reveal the fractures in a relationship.

4 out of 5 stars


Fitting In by Audra North: Stas Petrovich has a lot riding on the results of the upcoming college election. Son of poor gay immigrant parents, he has never known easy social acceptance, and want nothing more than to have the confirmation that he finally fits in by being elected class president. Leila dos Santos, doesn’t fit in, and doesn’t seem to care. When she is the only person to show up to Stas’s rained out paintball excursion, she rattles Stas. His certainty that he was right to change himself to be  accepted is shaken as they get to know each other over beers at her apartment. I really liked Leila, particularly her bravery in reaching out to Stas, letting herself being vulnerable when it has cost her so much.

4 out 5 stars.


Private Study by Shari Slade: After years of doing and studying only what her father wanted her to, Tess has escaped to a college far from home. She relishing  the opportunity to study what she wants and is trying to define who she is and what she likes. What she wants to learn more than anything else is sex. When a classmate find her sex vlog, and makes lewd entitled comments she realizes just how much she has exposed herself in her quest to learn more about herself. Seeing how upset she is Jameson , another classmate intervenes. Tess is torn between being grateful and embarrassed by his intervention. Tess is full of righteous indignation and inexperience and doesn’t really know what to do about Jameson’s interest in her and whether they can or should explore things together. Tess is at times unfair and jumps to conclusions too quickly and Jameson is  all at once curious,  tentative and wary which made them  both feel authentically young and inexperienced. I thought Slade did a great job capturing the the uncertainty, curiosity of young men and women just starting to figure themselves out.

4 out 5 stars


Storm Warning by Alexandra Haughton: Amy Collier had known Tom Wilson all her life. Seemingly inseparable, their friendship fell apart when Amy chose to go off to L.A. after college to become an event planner. After five years in LA, coming home with only the what she could stuff in her car, a pile of debt and broken dreams, the last person Amy wants to see is Tom. Tom isn’t waiting to kick her while she is down, but wants give her a job, and to find a way convince her to let him back into her life. I liked a lot of this story, particularly how Amy and Tom struggle to reconnect, and acknowledge the sexual tension that wedged them apart. However one of the other conflicts they have to overcome is Amy’s debt and her feelings of failure and desire to dig herself out it on her own. While interesting it seemed like one conflict too many in a story that already had plenty of internal conflict.

4 out 5 stars

A review digital ARC of Summer Rain was provided by Audra North one of the writers and organizers of the anthology.

 Summer Rain will be available starting  June 9, 2014

Grim Shadows by Jenn Bennett

Grim_Shadows_finalcoverI loved Bitter Spirits and I was very eager to have a chance to read the second novel in the series, Grim Shadows.

Set in 1920’s San Fransisco, Jenn Bennett’s Roaring Twenties series novels are atmospheric, lush and engrossing. Part paranormal mysteries, part historical romances these novel have an incredible sense of place and time. The Great San Fransisco earthquake of 1906 is still part of the popular memory and the scars it left on the residents and landscape of the city is well established. Bennett built a distinct paranormal world where the glittering flappers & aristocracy of bootlegging era rub shoulders with witches, spiritualist, herbalists & mediums  while remaining largely unaware of the existence of zombies, ghosts, and ancient death specters.

In Bitter Spirits we were introduced to the head of the Magnusson clan, Winter, the hulking Swedish bootlegging king of San Fransisco. When Winter is cursed by a rival to attract deathly specters he turns to Aida an independent and aloof traveling medium, who not only can see the spirits but repel them.

In Grim Shadows, Winter’s younger brother, Lowe returns to San Fransisco. Lowe is world-traveling rougue, an Archaeologist, part treasure hunter, part con artist. He arrives in San Fransisco with a valuable amulet to sell and powerful enemies to placate. The smooth-talking Lowe runs straight into Hadley Bacall, an Egyptian scholar whose expertise and affinity for Egyptian artifacts endangers Lowe’s latest scheme to profit from his discoveries.

Ridiculously unfair that an opportunitist loot-hound could be so blindingly, roughishly handsome.

Hadley seems to see right through him, calling him on his easy lies and manipulations, and Lowe can't stop looking at her, the closer he looks at her, especially when he catches a glimpse of some of the things she hides about herself

Imagine that. All her dour, black clothes were a false front, like a Wild West building in a Hollywood film! And underneath was all this ...color.  
Color and more.
So much more.

Hadley and Lowe team up to retrieve missing Egyptian artifacts hidden around San Fransisco by her mother. As they decipher the clues she left behind they expose a suffocating web of lies, obsession & revenge that has shadowed Hadley’s young life and is costing her father his life.

I loved Hadley, from her carefully cultivated control, and apparent detachment to her quick wit and intelligence. She had been under appreciated, underestimated and undermined by those closest to her, but she didn’t let it break her. I was slower to warm up to Lowe, whose roguish charm and questionable motives made his bootlegging brother seem like a pillar of society by comparison. But Lowe is able to do something for Hadley that no one else has ever been willing to do. He treats her with respect, recognizing her intelligence, and speaks to her with a frankness that nears honesty. After intial misteps, Lowe's patient and creative campaign to get close to Hadley who is extremely skittish, resisting even the most common of physical touches, slowly lights her on fire after years of fear and self-denial.

They both eventually bare not just bodies to each other but also the guilty secrets and mistakes that mark them. The novel deals with eloquently with the importance and challenges of honesty in relationships, the lies of lovers and friends and how frequently we can hurt the ones closest to us with lies of omission and self-deception.

I also love that Bennett’s San Fransisco is a diverse living city with Black, Chinese, Jewish and Latino people included into the fabric of the city and lives of the main characters. This diversity reinforces the sense that this world is populated with people, friends, neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances, and landladies, with actual human weight. You never get a sense that these people disappear when they leave the main character’s view or that they are simply props. They all have lives, places to go, and losses to feel. I grew very attached to several secondary characters and was deeply moved by the ways Hadley and Lowe’s choices impacted their lives.

This has been my favorite series of 2014 and I am looking forward to reading Grave Phantoms, Astrid Magnusson’s and Bo Yeung’s story, next year!

A copy of Grim Shadows was provided by the author for review purposes.