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review 2018-02-20 01:16
Release Day ARC Review: Teaching Ben by Shae Connor
Teaching Ben (Dreamspun Desires Book 52) - Shae Connor

Ben Cooper put in his time with the military, but at 24 is now looking for a fresh start, using his GI bill to attend college in Savannah, GA. And finally step out of the closet. 

David Powell is a TA in Ben's class, same age as Ben, but obviously off-limits due to his status. David also had some struggles in his past, but has tried hard to stay away from temptation and stay the course. 

The attraction is immediate, but neither can act on it, thus there is lots of UST in this book, and the romance is super slow burn. David and Ben become friends, and as they learn more about each other, and secrets are revealed, their friendship, while platonic, becomes even stronger. 

I liked how the author gave Ben room to expand his horizons, how she let him spread his wings, away from his commandeering father, away from the rigors and structure of the Air Force, building the life he wants to live. 

David made a huge mistake once and it cost him dearly. He's making up for it, but he also knows that he cannot step a single foot out of line, no matter how attracted he is to Ben. The author did a fine job fleshing out his character and giving him a background story that felt realistic and believable in how much it still impacted his life. 

Told alternatively from Ben's and David's point-of-view, we get a well-rounded story with a believable plot that even had a bit of suspense, though the villain of the story was rather clear from the get-go and the suspense was more in how this particular piece of the plot would unfold and impact their budding relationship. 

As with all the books in this series, there is little explicit steam on page, which is fine as far as I'm concerned. I much rather read about the relationship development, and how the two MCs get to their HEA than about what they do in the bedroom. I much rather see an emotional connection develop more so that a romp in the sheets, and I got that here. Ben and David really clicked, like they were meant to find each other, with both of them having had to struggle to get to this point in their lives, which meant that they were more aware of what they found and thus more protective of it. 

I enjoyed reading this. 


** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher in exchange for an honest review. **

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review 2018-02-16 01:49
ARC Review: Wolf And The Holly (Rowan Harbor Circle #2) by Sam Burns
Wolf and the Holly (The Rowan Harbor Cycle Book 2) - Sam Burns

In this 2nd book in her new series, Sam Burns gives us Jesse Hunter, brother to Wade, childhood friend to Devon, reluctant would-be Alpha wolf, who came back to Rowan Harbor five years ago after dropping out of college for reasons not entirely clear and has been sort of drifting along aimlessly ever since. He's the accountant for many of the business owners in town, still lives with his parents and doesn't want to take his mother's place on the town council.

The night before his 30th birthday, which is where the book opens, we find Jesse in the bar with friends, trying out one of Cassidy's new concoctions and generally feeling a little sorry for himself. The evening is interrupted when a rogue vampire named Sol enters the bar. He's known to both Cassidy and Max and warned immediately to not feed from humans, but register with the bloodbank. 

Jesse has a bad feeling about the new vamp - he smells wrong, and Jesse's wolfy nose is still perfectly functional, no matter how much he tries to deny the wolf inside. 

As Jesse leaves the bar and walks home, he smells blood in an alley way. Thinking the rogue vamp may have struck, he investigates and find his childhood friend Isla slumped at the end of the alley, unconscious and bleeding from a head wound. 

Thus the author has set the scene for what follows, and Jesse can no longer deny his instincts - the wolf wants free to protect his family and friends. 

This is billed as a paranormal romance, and there is a romance inside as Jesse finds his mate in Sean Anderson, who recently returned to take over the flower shop in town (a unique place, you'll see). The romance however takes a backseat as the paranormal and suspense parts of the plot unfold. 

The whole story is told from Jesse's POV. Sinister forces may be at work, and Jesse must use his wits and overcome his reluctance to figure out what is going on and how to stop it and who's behind it all. I still had questions at the end, and can barely contain my excitement at the prospect of book 3.

Most of the world-building was taken care of in the first book, and these cannot be read as standalones - don't even try. A lot of the background information provided in book 1 is needed to understand the dynamics and the events in this book, and I expect that the subsequent books will be no different. The author calls this a trilogy of trilogies so these must be read in order as well. There is also no HEA for Jesse and Sean in this book, only a HFN, which made sense to me because they have only JUST found each other. I also like very much that while there is a mating pull at work, the couples aren't automatically in love - they still need to learn about each other and forge a relationship. 

This book is alternatively edge of your seat intense and giggly fun (such as when Jesse gets zapped by Sean, as I knew he would), but there are also parts that really showcased the author's talent in creating fully fleshed-out characters, who are flawed and complex and don't always have their act together. Jesse's self-doubts, his fears, and the reason he's denied his wolf for so long - there were moments when I wanted to either shake him to pull his head out of his rear end or hug him and tell him that yes, he could become what he was meant to be. 

None of these characters are perfect, not Devon whose anger can make buildings shake, nor Wade who can be a bit grumpy, nor Isla who has been running for years for reasons explained within, nor Jesse, the wolf who left to find his place in the world, only to realize that his rightful place is home in Rowan Harbor, doing what he was born to do. 

The townsfolk have interesting dynamics. Some made me laugh and some made me think - especially since not all is as it seems at first. So well done.

At the very end, the author cleverly sets up the events to come in book 3 - I cannot wait. Is it March yet?



** I received a free copy of this book as part of a review tour, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. **

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review 2018-02-11 00:59
ARC Review: Blackbird In The Reeds by Sam Burns
Blackbird in the Reeds (The Rowan Harbor Cycle Book 1) - Sam Burns

This, ladies and gents, this is how you write the first book in a new series. The world-building and character development in this book are absolutely fabulous. There is absolutely no info dump. Each piece of new information is revealed via the plot progression, and while I still had no idea what was actually going on at about 30% in, I couldn't wait to find out.

Devon Murphy, from whose 3rd person POV the story is told, rushes home to Rowan Harbor, Oregon, at the request of his grandmother. Who never asks for anything. Some years ago, Devon fled his hometown because everyone knew everyone, and everyone had their nose in everyone else's business. But now Gran needs him, and Devon rushes home. He's in such a rush that he gets into a car accident not far from town and comes face to face with a massive wolf. 

I'm not going to give away the plot - you should read this book yourself to find out what happens within. I will however tell you that this series is planned for 9 books, and I cannot wait to devour each one. This author mixes a suspenseful whodunit with a paranormal romance, and it all fit exceptionally well together. I was on the edge of my seat more often than not, and grinned and giggled when Devon gets zapped by Wade Hunter, and then comes to terms with what that means. 

Supernatural politics? A town council? The Knit Nights? Devon being treated like the town's long lost son, without having any idea why? Each step forward in unraveling the mystery surrounding this small coastal town only poses more questions, with some hinting at things to come in future books.

The romance itself was more subdued and doesn't really come to fruition until the latter part of the book, which made sense to me, considering the many things Devon has to explore and figure out. While there was some mating compulsion at play here, there was no insta-love, and while the book doesn't end on a cliffhanger, there's no HEA - obviously. I did believe though that Devon and Wade will get their happy ending, once the series runs its course, and I had no doubt whatsoever that they are truly in love, but still need to learn so much about each other. 

This author is quickly becoming one of my favorites. The first series, Wilde Love, was obviously very different from this one, but Sam Burns is an author to watch and I will gladly read anything they decide to publish. 

Fabulous, just fabulous. Go get yourself a copy, stat!

 

 

** I received a free copy of this book from its author. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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review 2017-11-10 00:33
ARC Review: Birthday Presents by Dianne Hartsock
Birthday Presents - Dianne Hartsock

This is NOT a romance. This is a horror story. I knew this going in, and I was still pretty horrified while reading. 

Birthday Presents is dark. It contains rape, torture, and death. The villain is seriously disturbed. There are explicit scenes that are difficult to read. This book is not for the faint-hearted. 

The plot is fairly straight-forward, and we know from the get-go who the villain is. Spending time in Crimson's mind made me want to bleach my brain to get the disturbing images gone - he's vile and insane. He's a hunter, he is a murderer, and he has no conscience. He lives for the hunt, for the kill, for the depravity of his actions.

There's an attempt at making the reader sympathize with the villain, though that didn't work with me - I am firmly in the camp of not believing that a rough and abusive upbringing excuses the actions of our villain. 

I appreciated that the author gave the victims strength and allowed them to be more than just simpering damsels in distress. They fight for their survival, they do what they must to live. 

There's a bit of a mystery as to who's helping the villain, though I wasn't completely shocked to find out who the mystery person was - there were sufficient hints along the way. Still, that was a well-done plot point that kept me at the edge of my seat.

I hope that Tracey and Kyle get the psychological help they both need after living through these horrors, but I felt confident that they will both get through this. As for the little bit of romance we get toward the end, between Gene and his co-worker - that development came a little out of left field for me, and I didn't quite buy the long-time pining that's insinuated here. 

The writing was inconsistent in some instances, and I had to reread a few passages to understand what the author was trying to tell me. I also thought that the characterizations were uneven, and in some moments, the characters' actions didn't make sense to me. YMMV.

 

 

** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher via Netgalley. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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review 2017-09-25 00:56
ARC Review: Pins And Needles by A.J. Thomas
Pins and Needles - A.J. Thomas

This is only my 2nd book by this author. The title is apt - I was on pins and needles for most of the time while reading this excellent story of suspense, intrigue, and romance among the ruins. 

Okay, so that latter part is a bit hyperbole - there are no actual ruins, per se. What is in ruins however is a promising career, a father/son relationship, and an invention that could revolutionize a part of the oil industry.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

This is a complex story, and it would behoove the reader to read slowly and carefully, much in line with the slow progression of the story. As it is so often the case, all is not what it seems, and it takes some time to untangle the many threads that make up this particular plot.

The book begins by introducing us to Nate Delany, a young lawyer working for his father's well-known company, who is basically the do-boy for another lawyer, and whose briefs, as eloquent and well-researched as they are, are not getting credited to him, but the "supervising" attorney. Nate is frustrated, especially as his father doesn't seem to realize that the brilliant briefs "written by" the supervising attorney are actually his son's work and believes that Nate is just a slacker, unable to run the company himself. At the end of his rope, Nate quits. 

On his way out, his assistant gives him the name and number of a man who had an appointment with the supervising attorney, but who was apparently deemed too rough, with too many tattoos, to warrant the jerk's time. 

Nate makes a call. Nate makes a visit to the hospital where he meets Sean Wilkinson, whose former foster father Hawk was the man rejected by Nate's father's lawyer. As Nate hears what happened to Sean, he can't help but be intrigued by the young man who after a terrible accident lost not only his leg, but also his livelihood and his career as a petroleum engineer.

Hounded by his employer's lawyers to agree to a ridiculous settlement after the accident, Sean needs someone in his corner to help him navigate these new rough waters. And Nate is just the guy to do that.

Both MCs have their own personal struggles and rather different personality-wise. 

Sean, with his difficult early life and rough upbringing, isn't quick to trust anyone and plays his cards rather close to his chest. He's not only a brilliant engineer, but also a fantastic tattoo artist, who learned the craft in his foster father's shop. Hawk is perhaps the closest thing to a real father Sean has, and their relationship is very close and supportive. He doesn't have any close friends; in fact even the people with whom he spent months at sea don't really know him at all, including his boss, with whom Sean has had an affair since he interned with the company at 19. 

Nate, on the other hand, had a rather normal, if affluent, childhood and appears to most people as someone who had everything handed to him - with his last name being so well-known and the assumptions which come with that. His personal struggles aren't as obvious, but they're just as real. Nate has to prove himself repeatedly at his father's company, more so really than any other newly minted attorney would have to, because he's his father's son. In addition, his parents have more or less forsaken him because their older son is a bigot and doesn't want his children or his wife anywhere near Nate. Since, you know, homosexuality clearly rubs off and we must think of the children. For years, Nate hasn't been able to spend holidayrs or any quality time with his family; it's as if he's been erased. No photographs of Nate are displayed at their house - it's as if he doesn't even exist. His name isn't ever mentioned around the older son, and his brother's kids have zero relationship with him. 

Taking on Sean as his first client after quitting his father's firm seems like a great idea at the time, even if it's just fighting for Sean to get the biggest possible settlement for the accident that cost him one of his legs, but there's a lot more to their case than just that. See, Sean invented something that's been used on the ship, and the case now also involves intellectual property rights. 

And someone may be out to kill Sean to silence him.

The romance that develops between Nate and Sean is by design a super slow burn. Not only is Sean seriously injured and still recovering from the accident, but he's also Nate's client, and there are a bunch of ethical issues to consider before the two of them can be together. As an added detriment, when Nate tries to find another law firm to represent Sean and remove the ethics issue, he finds that many firms will not even consider taking him on, because of who Nate's father is. No matter how brightly the attraction burns between them, Nate must first and foremost consider that any romantic relationship they might have could adversely impact Sean's day in court. 

Underneath all the suspense and intrigue, the point this book drives home time and again is that of family. Not necessarily the one you're born into, but the one you choose, the one you make for yourself. And for that, Sean had a great example in Hawk, his mother's ex-boyfriend, who took him in, no questions asked, when Sean was kicked out at home for being gay. A man who never asked for anything but was there time and again when Sean needed him. A man who not only gave him a home but also a way of paying the bills, when he taught him the fine art of tattooing. Nate has an example too, really - that of how NOT to treat your family. While I believe his parents loved him, they never even considered how hurtful their behavior was when they excluded Nate to appease their older son's homophobia and bigotry. 

My only niggle came toward the end of the book, during the big reveal as to who was behind all the bad things that happened. It felt a little over the top, and the villain really came out of left field, to be honest. Sure, the explanation made sense, but the way it all went down was a little... too much, I guess. 

Still, this was definitely an enjoyable read, with a satisfying HFN, and I would recommend you give this book a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed.


** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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