Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top Off Tuesday: Picture Me Naked by Lisa A. Olech

Just picturing him half-naked on this cover is a pleasant experience. 
I do love a good cover and will admit that this is another I bought just because...
well, look at him.
Look again.
No one can blame me.
So very, very pretty.

Story Overview:
Z. Z. LAMBERT wasn't born uptight, but someone needed to be the adult. Zee's a "color-inside-the-lines" artist with a hippy mother, a mostly dead grandmother, and a cat named Isabella Rossellini. Add to her life's palette a stunning new life model, Jagger Jones. Is it just her, or does all the air leave the room when he shows up? Good thing he's just passing through. This is no time to fall in love, especially not with her model, no matter how perfectly knee-melty he may be.

Australian JAGGER JONES is a rolling stone. Living with nothing to tie you down takes talent. Posing without your britches is a piece of cake. He's three years into his walkabout with only his dead father's ashes for company.

But Z.Z. Lambert stops him faster than a croc in the mud. Her paintings of him are incredible. She sees past all of his posturing, past the flesh and bone and uncovers his heart. Zee understands the promise he made his father, and comes to love him enough to let him go. But does she love him enough to let him stay? His only other choice is a future without her. And he can't picture that at all.


It's so fun to see so many people get excited about this meme.
(But honestly, we're looking at gorgeous men and talking about books...how can that be a bad thing?)
If you want to play along, we have a plethora of Top Off Tuesday buttons for you to choose from:
created by Deb at HEA Romances with Kick

created by Missie at The Unread Reader


created by Diana at Book of Secrets

Pick one...or all and post it to your blog post.
Then find you a gorgeous cover featuring a gorgeous male specimen and head on over to The Geeky Book Blogger and post your link. We can't wait to see what good books you've found!
Hosted by Geeky Book Blogger's Book BlogOn a Book Bender, & Smitten with Reading (me!)

Badlands by Jill Sorenson

Title: Badlands
Author: Jill Sorenson
My Rating: A

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: Aftershock #3
Main Characters: Owen and Penny
Release Date: December 2013
Publisher: Harlequin
Links to Purchase
Sexual Intensity: hot

Story Overview:
Love is the most dangerous territory of all . . .

Every day, bodyguard Owen Jackson puts his life on the line — and keeps his feelings for Penny Sandoval locked away. Assigned to protect Penny's father, a presidential candidate, Owen can't get emotionally involved. That is, until Penny and her young son, Cruz, are abducted and taken deep into the California badlands.

Owen knows the bleak territory from his childhood. Worse, he knows the gang leader making ransom demands — his own brother, Shane. When a terrified Penny escapes into the desert with Cruz, Owen has to save her: from the elements and from the gang in close pursuit. Owen has hidden the darkness in his past from Penny. Now his only chance of keeping her alive is to let her see the man he really is — even if it means losing the only woman he'll ever want.

My Review:

We met Penny and Owen five years ago in the first book of this series when the overpass collapsed in the earthquake. At that point in time, Penny was 8 months pregnant, but Owen fell hopelessly in love with her then. She was 18, he was 21. She was the daughter of a powerful Latino congressman. He was a con and a member of the Aryan Brotherhood gang. Not exactly an expected match. That's why five years later, they have a stilted relationship...more of an acquaintance than anything. He's Penny's bodyguard now as her father makes his bid for the White House.

Since that week trapped, Owen has worked to turn his life around and he's been very successful at it. But that doesn't change the fact that he thinks he's not good enough for Penny. He's also promised her father that he'll stay completely professional with her. No friendship or anything more. 

For Penny, after the earthquake, her entire family realized how close she came to death and that changed things. They were never happy about her teenage pregnancy (in fact, they'd kicked her out), but the earthquake changed that and they took her back in. Penny was too grateful for that support and has since let her father dictate her life to a certain extent which she hates. The power her father holds over both of them is the one little issue I had with this book, but that is where the bulk of the conflict in the story comes from and there is a change in that as the book progresses. As a result, I can live with them being weak characters when it comes to standing up to her father at the beginning of the book. 

The book begins with Penny, Owen, and her five year old son, Cruz, being kidnapped by Shane, Owen's brother, and a group of the Aryan Brotherhood gang. They are taken to the Badlands, a desolate stretch of land where Owen grew up. It was interesting to "see" this bit of land that I've never heard of before. (note: Jill Sorenson has photos of her and her family visiting the areas talked about in the book on her blog which is really interesting to look at.) The entire book is action packed as the three of them try to get out of this situation. The action begins on page one and never ends. For a lot of RS authors, they use that adrenaline as an excuse for the romance. I liked that Jill Sorenson didn't do that. The romance is built up really slowly, even though both of these characters have been fighting their feelings for years. 

There is also some great backstory with Owen and how he ended up where he was....OMG, this guy....I loved him before, but now I love him even more. He made some mistakes along the way, but honestly, he was just trying to survive. His entire life has been a struggle and this book goes into all that. The last scenes between him and Shane (his brother) broke my heart...for both of them. That's one thing Jill Sorenson does really well....she can provide the human side of her characters...even the ones that are doing despicable things (here, I'm referring to Shane, not Owen). 

This book was a great end to the story of the people we met in the original book. While you absolutely can read this one without having read the last two, it's interesting to watch how Owen has grown and evolved over the years (yes, he was in book #2, also). Overall, it's been a great series and I was thrilled to see at the end that it's expanding. There is a book #4 coming... Yay!

I received a complimentary copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Big Sky Secrets by Linda Lael Miller

Title: Big Sky Secrets
Author: Linda Lael Miller
My Rating: B

Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Series: Parable, Montana #6
Main Characters: Landry and Ria
Release Date: December 2013
Publisher: Harlequin
Links to Purchase
Sexual Intensity: spicy

Story Overview:
The First Lady of the West, #1 New York Times bestselling author Linda Lael Miller delivers the stunning finale of her acclaimed series set in Parable, Montana;where love awaits

Self-made tycoon Landry Sutton heads to Hangman Bend's Ranch to sell his land to his brother Zane. Though he's got cowboy in his blood, Landry plans to return to city life before the dust even settles on his boots. Of course, he didn't count on falling for Big Sky Country or Ria Manning.

Ria's starting to settle into country life herself until she has a close encounter of the terrifying kind with a buffalo. Turns out the peeping monster belongs to the cowboy next door and he has her running even more scared than his bison. She wants a home where the buffalo don't roam, and the men don't either. Could Landry's homecoming be her heart's undoing?

My Review:
The one thing I can say about Linda Lael Miller's books....I know going into them that they are simply going to be an afternoon's entertaining diversion. This one was no exception. 

We met Landry in the last Parable book so knew I already knew quite a bit about his back-story since that was his brother, Zane's book (although, no worries if you haven't read it...this one definitely works as a stand-alone.) Landry is still trying to find his place in Parable. He came to the ranch from a very high-powered executive job in the city after his divorce. He's now quite sure how to settle into ranch life which runs at a very different pace. Helping to keep him in line (and offering a bit of comic relief) is his butler Highbridge, who he got to keep in the divorce (and suddenly that name doesn't seem right for the butler, but it's close to that.)

Ria is a newcomer to Parable, too. She's only been here for a couple of years, but has settled in pretty well. She runs a flower farm and while it can be a bit lonely, she's pretty happy in her life. She's a widower. Her firefighter husband died while on the job, but that relationship left scars both from the loss of his death, but also because he cheated on her. She's not sure she ever wants to open herself up and trust again.

Like I said before, these books are just nice reads. They center around small-town ranching life and I enjoy that style of novel. Landry and Ria in this one have some pretty spectacular chemistry and I really enjoyed that aspect of their story. Neither one of them is particularly interested in a relationship with the other. In fact, most the time, they actually don't even really like each other.   But they touch and things become pretty combustible pretty quickly. You have to love couples like that. 

This book also has the added drama of extended family. Both Ria and Landry are dealing with some of that and that always makes life a bit more exciting. It was a good conclusion to the series. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review. 

How to Run with a Naked Werewolf by Molly Harper

Title:  How to Run with a Naked Werewolf
Author: Molly Harper
My Rating: A

Genre: Paranormal Romance 
Series: Naked Werewolf #3
Main Characters: Caleb and Anna
Release Date: December 2013
Publisher: Pocket
Links to Purchase:
Sexual Intensity: spicy

Story Overview:
Caleb Graham is a werewolf by nature, a tracker by profession. He uses his “extra gifts” to find people, and not always in the most legal or ethical manner. He doesn’t care what they’ve done, or who wants them found, as long as his considerable fee is paid. He likes his life simple and uncomplicated.

Anna Moder, former physician to Caleb’s pack, happens across Caleb during a particularly violent “negotiation” that has left him bloodied and unconscious. She helps him, despite the fact that he’s cost her a car, so he insists that she stay with him on the road for a while. As they grow closer, Anna looks past the gruff exterior and and the questionable job to thoroughly decent werewolf underneath.

Anna – who is careful to edit her involvement with Caleb’s pack from their conversations – doesn’t talk about why a nice girl wants to live in the middle of frozen nowhere, but she’s obviously on the run from something. When Anna’s past collides with Caleb’s current assignment from one of his sleazier contacts, Caleb finally has to make a choice—protect his job…or his potential mate?

My Review:
It's no secret that I'm a fan of Molly Harper's books and this one was no exception. I really, really enjoyed this book. Molly Harper tends to write her books with the same cast of characters with a lot of surrounding ambience, usually through a small-town setting and all the quirky things that generally provides. This book was different from that in that the H/h are on the road...he's a bounty hunter. So pretty much the entire book focused on only the H/h. I liked that!

The book starts with a mystery. Right away you are with Anna as she's working as a checker at a supermarket, BUT then she's talking about doing her residency. What's a doctor doing working minimum wage as a checker? Before you can delve too far into that, she walks into the parking lot where she sees an altercation and a man is shot. She saves him from also being run over and escapes with him and things develop from there and it's good. 

Caleb is a bounty hunter, but he's also a werewolf from the pack that Anna has been working with for the last 4 years. They've never met before, but Anna figures that detail out pretty quickly. But Anna is on the run...all we know at first...and she's terrified to let Caleb know that at first. Let's face it, he chases down and profits from people like her. All she knows is that she feels safe with him so she plans to travel with him until her contact can create a new life for her in Anchorage.

Like all M. Harper books, this one was fun. I loved the little detail that Caleb 'marked' Anna when he was hurt. They are connected although she never seems to realize it. She worked with werewolves for 4 years, but is still somewhat ignorant about some things to do with their physiology. They go on a series of hunts for criminals with varying degrees of success, but really this story stays focused on just the two of them and the friendship/relationship they are developing. I liked that fact that they stayed the focus for the entire book without a whole lot of distracting sub-plots. 

There was a tiny twist/surprise at the end to do with Anna's Anchorage connection which I LOVED! This was just a fun book with a sweet romance about two people learning to lean on one another. Because the focus remained on the H/h, it amped up the romantic story line for me and I like that! Definitely a good book to add to my Molly Harper keeper shelf.

Monday, December 30, 2013

My Favorite Books From 2013

As I began to put together this list, I had a couple of realizations. If I cry while reading a book, that definitely increases its rating for me. I love authors that can pull that kind of emotion for a fictional character out of me. 

There were 47 total books that when I initially read them and wrote the reviews on them that I thought might make this list for 2013. But the main thing that puts them on the final list is if they stuck with me. I read around 400 books a year. Most don't stick in my mind. These ALL did...in a big way and I would sit down and re-read any one of them right now if I had the time. These are the books that last....in my heart, in my mind, and in my library. 

Most of these books, I own in multiple forms....ebook, audiobook, and print versions. I can promise you....ALL my favorite books, I buy in print for my personal library (if I can...some are only available in e-book and I hate that...LOL.)

So, without further ado, here is my 

1. Nightblade by J.C. Daniels
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Book #2 in this awesome series. Never in my life have I sobbed when reading a book like I did the final chapters of this book. It was an incredible book with an incredibly harsh ending, but I loved the book. I love the series. It's definitely up there with my top Urban Fantasy series that more people should be reading. Book #3, Broken Blade, is absolutely one of my most anticipated releases of 2014. 

2. Six Ways from Sunday by Mercy Celeste
Genre: Contemporary Romance (m/m)
Again this is a book I sobbed through... twice, before I put it down. This is a friends-to-lovers story, but it's so much more than that. One guy's in the military, one is in the NFL. Their relationship has always been under-wraps because of both their jobs. Over the years, they get little snippets of time together, until their world is blown apart. It is such a GOOD BOOK. Omg, as I write this, I'm thinking it's time for another re-read of it. If you've ever debated reading male/male romance, this is a GREAT starter book with an incredibly romantic, heart-melting story.

3. The Witness by Nora Roberts
Genre: Romantic Suspense
This was a book I read way back in the Spring. I started the audiobook on a road trip and made a stop by the bookstore as I came into town to buy a hard copy so I could finish the book that night. It was that good. The book is excellent, but this is one of those that I HIGHLY RECOMMEND in audio because the narrator's voice interpretation is incredible for this story. It's not your normal love story, but it was an INCREDIBLE book and story. The first 25% of the book is about the heroine as a teenager and the backstory of how she ends up as this witness...not something I would normally enjoy. But this story...Nora Roberts wove it all incredibly well. If you haven't read it, you need to!

4. Fogotten Sins by Rebecca Zanetti
Genre: Romantic Suspense
I'm a sucker for a good amnesia story and this was an excellent one. Great characters in Shane and Josie and a heart-pumping story line that I loved. Romantic Suspense at its finest!

5. Who We Are by TJ Klune
Genre: Contemporary Romance (m/m)
This is another one of those books which is 2nd in the series and this one you definitely need to read #1 first (it's good, too...this one was just better.) This is a fabulous, fun, snarky book/series that keeps me laughing out loud the entire time I read it. The entire book/s is told from Bear's POV and he talks directly to the reader. There aren't many authors out there that use this POV, but I fell in love with it and this family of characters in this series. So sweet and heartwarming. I dare you to read it and fall in love with this family. They are awesome characters!

6. The Reason is You by Sharla Lovelace
Genre: Contemporary Romance...with a touch of paranormal
Everything about this story was good...the mother/daughter relationship, the backstory, the ghost and Dani's gift, the sacrifices she has to make for her daughter. All of it was so well-written and so heartwarming. This was one of those books that simply made me smile and happier for having read it.

7. Cowboy Take Me Away by Jane Graves
Genre: Contemporary Romance
This was another just really good book that made me cry. Great story. Great back-story. Incredible characters that I fell in love with. This book also made me re-examine my daughter's request for a cat for her 6th birthday...something I'd been resisting. The story line in this revolves around the animal shelter. As a result, we have two new members of the family....Max and Rascal...one year old cat brothers who were raised in the local shelter because no one ever adopted them. We love them.

8. The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay
Genre: Young Adult
I'm not a big YA reader, but I'm so glad that I made an exception for this book. This is another one of those that I started as an audiobook and then the book was just too good so had to move to reading it, although the audio was absolutely fantastic. If you have the time and patience to wait through a REALLY amazing book, I highly recommend the audio version on this one. The book is told from 1st person point of view, but that switches between the hero and heroine (the audio has both male and female narrators.) The characters are teenagers, but I dare you to not fall in love with them and all the angst in their lives. SO GOOD!

9. Don't by Jack L. Pyke
Genre: Erotic Romance (m/m)
I'll preface this with a warning....this is absolutely NOT a book for everyone. It's gritty and erotic and dark. It delves into the darker side of BDSM and definitely doesn't hold back any punches. But it's haunting and has such moments of emotion and suspense. The characters are extremely complex and again, the word haunting comes to mind. It's a book that's stuck with me and for me, that's a huge sign that it was a good one. 

10. Wait For Me by Elisabeth Naughton
Genre: Romantic Suspense
This is one of those stories...seriously, just haunting. His wife died 5 years ago. She doesn't remember anything prior to her life 5 years ago when she was in an accident. Coincidence?? Um, no. Such an amazing story that made my heart just ache for these two characters. As the whole story unfolded, the hope for a happy ending....a happy anything kept me reading. Two characters who deserve their HEA. They earned it the hard way.

Honorable Mention. Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
Genre: General Fiction
This book...wow. But there's a reason that it's an honorable mention and not on the main list although by rights it should probably be #1 or #2. If you can handle an unhappy ending, then you need to read this book. I am not that person. My review goes more deeply into the "why's" on this one.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Lifting Tail for the Alpha by Jenika Snow

Title: Lifting Tail for the Alpha
Author: Jenika Snow
My Rating: B

Genre: Paranormal Romance (m/m)
Series: Romance on the Go
Main Characters: Xav and Arsen
Release Date: December 2013
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Links to Purchase
Sexual Intensity: hot

Story Overview:
Being a bobcat shifter in a pack full of wolves, and gay on top of that, made Xavier feel as though he doesn't belong. To make matters worse he wants the future alpha of the pack, Arsen. But Arsen is arranged to marry a female wolf. Xav didn't think Arsen was gay, but that all changes when they find each other alone, and realize they are mates. 

Arsen is next in line to lead his pack, and is supposed to be mated to a female, but only desires Xav, the bobcat shifter that keeps to himself. One night at a party feral cravings ignite in both of them. Arsen realizes Xavier is his, and will not let anyone or anything stand in his way of claiming him. But not everyone is happy with the future alpha being mated to a bobcat, or a male at that.

My Quickie Review:
This was a hot little read. I enjoyed the set-up with the complexities of Arsen being the Alpha and Xav being a bobcat shifter....and then add in the m/m aspect and yeah, these two guys are definitely not going the easy way with this relationship. It was sexy. It was hot. It was entertaining for an hour. I enjoy shifter stories and this one was a good one. 

Grumble Monkey and the Department Story Elf by B.G. Thomas

Title: Grumble Monkey and the Department Store Elf
Author: BG Thomas
My Rating: A

Genre: Contemporary Romance (m/m)
Series: 2013 Dreamspinner Advent Calendar
Main Characters: Kit and Nick
Release Date: December 2013
Publisher: Dreamspinner
Links to Purchase
Sexual Intensity: mild

Story Overview:
Kit Jefferies, a part-time department store Christmas elf, is an artist who loves life and his family. Unfortunately, his car dies at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere as he is heading home for Christmas. Enter Nick St. George. 

Nick is a very unhappy man—he's achieved his professional goals only to find the rest of his life bleak and empty. Deciding there was only one way to make everything right, he is on his way to San Francisco on a dark mission, and even the horrible sleet storm that blocked his path won't deter him. That's when he found Kit. 

At first, Nick is pretty sure rescuing Kit was a big mistake. Kit's personality is just too, well, effervescent. But as the miles go by, Kit begins to bring light to his dark heart. It might even be bright enough to illuminate a Christmas miracle.

My Review:
Even though I had all my Christmas reviews already done and scheduled, on Christmas day I felt the need for a heartfelt little Christmas read and this was the novella I picked up. It was perfect!

Nick is not a happy guy. He's obviously very successful and rich, but that hasn't fulfilled him. He's bitter, almost mean, and very intolerant of other people. But when he's driving in the middle of an ice storm, he can't abandon Kit, a flamboyant, happy-go-lucky young guy stranded at a rest stop on Christmas Eve and ends up giving him a ride. It's an act of kindness that literally changes Nick's life. 

This book was pure romantic sweetness. These two guys are such opposites and they really have a hard time connecting at first. In fact, both of them begin to regret that Nick offered the ride, but then they find their mutual love of art. Kit is an artist and Nick runs a successful gallery in NYC. I loved this aspect of the story and how it created a common ground for the two guys. It made the connection between them more believable. They truly have an emotional connection through the emotions that they both feel for art. 

This is a book that all about the romance and the relationship. The sex scenes are there, but completely behind the scenes so that you can enjoy the build-up of the relationship and emotions between the two guys. This is a holiday story, but I'd recommend it as a read for the next snow/ice-storm that comes through your town, too, to put you into that wonderful happy, romantic place that the cold temperatures can bring. It was good.