Ablaze by Nancy Tesler

BLAZE
Ablaze by Nancy Tesler
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (330 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Thornapple

Samantha Barron, victim witness advocate for the Bergen County, NJ prosecutor’s office and a Munchausen by Proxy survivor, has her world shaken up when the man who threw her off his elite crisis response team for defying his orders and running into a burning building to save a dog, insinuates himself into a case involving the disappearance of one of her clients. A terrified young girl had shown up at Samantha’s office blurting out a story about having witnessed a horrific stabbing murder at the Greenwich Village Halloween parade; then suddenly bolts crying that she is a Judas, she should never have come.

Samantha must put aside her feelings about this man, attorney, Douglas Ruark, with whom she had once been passionately in love. They are forced to work together to find and rescue the girl before the religious cult that they believe is holding her captive discovers that she can identify the murderer. When another eyewitness is found bludgeoned to death and a prostitute mysteriously kidnapped, Samantha, to Ruark’s distress, agrees to enter the cult house ostensibly as a perspective convert, but in reality as bait.

From the relatively safe streets of suburbia to the remote country house of a malevolent sect, Samantha finds herself caught up in a world where power and greed rule, where “love” is given and withdrawn as a brainwashing technique, and life is cheap if you’re a troublemaking outsider…

The title says it all! This book sizzles with suspense, mystery, drama and steamy romance. Samantha and Douglas are white hot together. When a young girl needs help, Samantha and Douglas team up once again to expose a deadly religious cult.

Samantha almost lost her career because of Douglas. He’s the last person on earth she ever wanted to work with. Douglas did what he could at the time to keep things from completely derailing her career, but it’s obvious Samantha hates him with a pink, orange and purple passion. These two just can’t keep from getting under each others skin. Douglas deals with his frustration by being sarcastic and Samantha closes herself off so he can’t get too close. The two wind up having several ultra knock down drag outs. I couldn’t help but laugh since it was so clear they wanted each other.

When certain information comes to light regarding Samantha’s childhood, Douglas realizes he was a little too harsh on Samantha in the past, but he simply can’t seem to stop trying to control everything so she will be safe. Samantha of course resents his interference. Both Douglas and Samantha had tragedy in their past and it has made them into the people they are today. That could be a good thing or a bad thing. Both are sensitive to crimes against children especially and that makes them consider going outside proper procedure to save a life. I loved this couple and enjoyed their fiery banter and hot passion

While we don’t often hear about religious cults in the press like we once did, they are still very active.  Cults have always creeped me out. The idea of being brainwashed and manipulated is just spooky. The fictional cult featured in this book is especially disturbing.

As the case heats up so does the heat between Samantha and Douglas, but Samantha has a big job ahead of her and it’s really dangerous. I was on the edge of my seat when Samantha has to do a little undercover work.

I thought the blend of romance and suspense was well balanced and evenly paced. The characters were human and had good qualities and of course like all of use there were a few flaws. Samantha and Douglas both wanted to be charge and run things their own way, but for different reasons. Trust is a really big thing in relationships and when you have been through something as traumatic as these two have, trust is even harder to achieve.

The storyline is interesting and although cults have been written about numerous times, it’s been awhile since I have read a book that drew attention to this disturbing phenomenon as well as the Munchausen syndrome. The story involving Samantha’s mother was chilling. I don’t know how I would feel in Samantha’s shoes. I do think she handled the situation with grace and for her own sanity it was the best way to go.

There weren’t any psychological twists but there were a few really big shocks, horrifying actually. So, the suspense was top notch.

The book ends on a really positive note. I think Sam and Doug are going to have a red hot relationship and could make a good investigating team if the author ever wanted to bring them back. I could see this turning into a long running series.

I love it when I read a book that entertains me and if I learn something I didn’t know before that makes the experience that much more rewarding. Reading about cults and learning which ones are still going strong in the US right now was very thought provoking. This is still an issue regardless of the lack of exposure the press gives the topic at this time. I’m glad Nancy decided to go ahead with this book even if the original plans for it didn’t work out. Well done!

How to Marry a Cowboy by Carolyn Brown

boy
How to Marry a Cowboy by Carolyn Brown
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (324 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Rancher Mason Harper’s two little girls want nothing more than a mama of their own. So when a pretty woman appears on his front porch in a tattered wedding dress, while Mason’s looking for a nanny, he can’t help but wonder if it’s fate.

Annie Rose Boudreaux is in a downright hellish mess. She’s just a few steps ahead of the low-life ex who’s been hot on her heels, but she’s tired of running, and nannying Mason’s two sweet girls may be just what she needs. As her days on the ranch fly by, and the night’s with Mason get hotter, Annie Rose decides that she’s going to stay…for a lifetime.

Carolyn Brown has done it again.

I don’t say that lightly. She’s written quite a few books, but she’s one of the few authors I grab once I see the book on the shelf. Her work sparkles and I’m glad to get the opportunity to read the novels. This one is no different. I felt like I was right there with Annie Rose and Mason. The book is a fluffy, happy read that should be a staple at the beach or on your kindle.

Mason is a bit of a broken and frazzled man. He’s got two little girls who are champions at chasing away potential nannies. Why? They’re precocious kids. They are off the charts. Then again, I can’t say I’ve met too many completely docile kids. I loved how Ms Brown makes Mason lovable and kept nudging me to want to hug him. Did I mention she describes him well, too? Oh yeah.

Annie Rose is another fine mess. Really. She’s on the run from an abusive relationship, ends up in a pond, submerged and in a wedding dress. See? A fine mess. There were times I loved her and times I thought things were a tad too easy for her. Still, I rooted for her the whole way.

If you want a book that is sheer entertainment, then this might be the book for you. Grab a copy today!

Before the Dawn by Emma Weylin

DAWN
Before the Dawn by Emma Weylin
Secret Blood Book 2
Publisher: Liquid Silver Books
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (95 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Samantha Moore doesn’t know she’s a werewolf. For years she believed she was a monster until a hot stranger walks into her father’s bar. With the promise of a better life and freedom from a cage, she decides to trust her animal instincts.
Nicodemus Wolcott works for the shape-shifter Tribunal. When he goes to investigate a report of a distressed shifter, he doesn’t expect to find his mate. He can teach his she wolf how to be a werewolf, but his one chance at love could be lost when nothing turns out as it seemed.

Before the Dawn is a sexy short shot of romance, paranormal drama and wolfish delight. It’s a fast paced novella that covers the gamut of what I look for in a book without being too heavy handed on any of its conflicts.

Samantha is the heroine who has the most adjustment to make in this tale. She’s been living a lie and what I really liked about getting to follow her on her journey was that nothing was as it first appeared. I was surprised, which is a credit to the author’s talent. Samantha has a great capacity for forgiveness despite what she’s gone through. I credit that to her mostly normal upbringing when she was her littlest.

Nicodemus has his hands full. He’s the man who has to juggle all the issues and problems Samantha unknowingly carries with her and I liked that the hero was written in a strong manner. Admittedly he comes across as an alpha jerk too. But for all his heavy handedness, I appreciated that he liked Samantha standing up to him and refusing to take any of his guff. When they butt heads it is fun and entertaining reading. I got to see Nicodemus at his wolfie best and that was fun too.

When Samantha and Nicodemus finally culminate their hot passion it was well done and nicely balanced within the action of the tale. I liked their dialogue, their push/pull relationship and the way the author had them work it all out.

Granted, it being a short story means things happen fast. Some jumps occur that seems way too convenient and improbable; but having the protagonists plod their way through logic and strict reality would have bogged down the story and stalled the fast pace. I guess something had to give. Who needs pesky logic when the story is so fun?

The villains were delightfully treacherous and nasty and I enjoyed how the author lead me through the dawning realization of just how insidious were their plans. It made the final confrontation satisfying.

I give Before the Dawn high marks for entertainment value. It is totally a standalone read with only minor references to the previous book, Dark Forest. This story is wholly focused on Samantha and Nicodemus with a few interesting secondary characters to spice things up. It’s a one sitting read due to the author’s talent of making each chapter even more interesting or revealing than the last. I think paranormal romance readers are going to like this one, especially if they enjoyed Dark Forest. Ms. Weylin knows how to weave a fun tale.

Thornbrook Park by Sherri Browning

PARK
Thornbrook Park by Sherri Browning
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (359 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Nympahea

In a world poised for epic change…

Disowned for marrying beneath her, Eve Kendal has returned to England destitute after her husband’s death and the mysterious disappearance of their savings. She’s looking for survival, not romance. But from London to the Yorkshire countryside to the elegant estate of Thornbrook Park, Eve’s path seems destined to cross that of the dashing but violent Captain Marcus Thorne.

Anything can happen…

For Marcus, a return home means facing the demons that drove him to war in the first place. As he and Eve begin a steamy affair, tensions that had been simmering just beneath the surface threaten to explode and shake the very foundations of Thornbrook Park.

Two hearts that might not have found their way together will always find love.

This is the first book I’ve read by Sherri Browning, but it won’t be the last. I’m on the look out for more of her works. Why? The writing flowed well. There were times when I didn’t care for the characters, but the writing sparkled and I had to know what would happen next. These characters have flaws, but it was like reading about friends. I could get in their heads and know what was going on with them. That’s pretty cool.

I do have to say there are parts of the book that are predictable. There’s a meddling family member, displeasure in the family and a spark that brings everyone together. Now, that said, the author delivers this story in a fresh way that kept me reading.

I liked Marcus and Eve. Marcus is a typical wounded hero. He’s suffering from PTSD and uses prize fights to keep from dealing with his ‘black rages’. It’s an interesting way for him to deal and I liked how the author wrote him tough but tender. Eve comes to his rescue. She’s in a bind herself and can use him. The sparks really do fly in this book and it’s fun to watch them dance around each other.

If you want a book that’s got plenty of heart, a little fighting and a little meddling, then this might be the book for you.

Dangerous Territory by Emmy Curtis

TERRITORY
Dangerous Territory by Emmy Curtis
Publisher: Grand Central / Forever Yours
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (104 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Hawthorn

A SEXY STRANGER

Flirting with danger is reporter Grace Grainger’s modus operandi. But she’s learned the hard way not to grow attached to the soldiers she’s embedded with in Afghanistan. To escape from her pain and loneliness, she fantasizes about the hot night she spent with a gorgeous stranger three years before in D.C. Grace never thought she’d see him again—let alone need him to rescue her . . .

AN EXPLOSIVE NIGHT

Air Force Master Sergeant Josh Travers knows journalists are nothing but trouble. So when he has to risk his team’s lives to save some reporter who’s been separated from her patrol, he’s not happy—until he recognizes her stunning eyes and delicious curves. Josh has never wanted a woman like he wants Grace. He needs her—even in an Afghan cave with a sandstorm and enemy troops closing in. This might be the end for both of them—or one hell of a beginning.

The conflict between their jobs and the desire they feel for each other forces Josh and Grace to make tough decisions.

People in high-stress job situations are unlikely to have quiet family lives. If anything, the tension and stress are conducive to passionate, but dangerous, romances. Ms. Curtis makes such a situation very believable when she clearly paints the struggles, stress, guilt, and grief that Grace and Josh face in the war zone. Their inner conflicts make them very interesting characters as such, and turns their romance into a lot more than a fling or momentary release. It’s their way of finding inner peace and home.

What added an additional thrill to the story is how authentically the author described the landscape and war zone, the military operations, and the reactions of the local population. This made the dangers that Grace and Josh faced all the more real and thus the novella even more suspenseful and thrilling – and perhaps Josh’s and Grace’s romance more exhilarating.

What I’d like to read more about was Grace’s background, or Josh’s for that matter. His family back home is vaguely mentioned, but we don’t see any of the reasons for Grace’s ‘homelessness’. While this information wasn’t strictly necessary to follow the story, it would’ve added a bit more insight into the main characters.

Dangerous Territory is a story about people with demanding jobs few of us, ordinary people can imagine, but it’s a story about craving intimacy and love, too – something we can all identify with.

The Captive by Grace Burrows

CAPTIVE 2
The Captive by Grace Burrows
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (415 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Peppermint

Christian Severn, Duke of Mercia, is captured out of uniform by the French, and is thus subject to torture. Christian does not break, not once, and is released when Toulouse falls. Back in England, Christian has great difficulty taking up the reins of his life until Gillian, Countess of Windmere, a relation of his late wife, pointedly reminds him that he has a daughter who still needs him very much—a daughter who no longer speaks. Gilly pushes, pulls, and drags Christian back to life, and slowly, she and he admit an attraction to each other.

Christian offers Gilly marriage, but Gilly is a widow, and has fared badly at the hands of her first husband. Gillian will not pledge her heart to a man bent on violence, for Christian cannot give up his determination to extract revenge from his torturer. What will it take for them to give up their stubborn convictions and choose each other over the bonds of the past?

Gillian knew that society expected her to be in mourning over her late husband, but instead of mourning, she found herself intrigued and pinning for the Duke, Christian Severn, so damn what society would say.

Christian’s captivity certainly changed him, in some ways the worst, in others for the better. I am not sure if this is what made Gillian want to know more about him, but it made me interested. It was clear that he came to appreciate things such as family, honor and freedom a bit more than he previously had. It also made a made suspicious of those around him, and in need of some physical healing. In some ways he reminded me of stubborn toddler in need of assistance, but determined to do things on their own. Luckily Gillian seems to be up to the challenge, and as a bonus she loves children including Christian’s daughter.

Gillian was a character that I had mixed feelings about. I liked her new founded independence, but with it seems to come a disregard for her own welfare. It seemed at times she was so worried about standing on her own two feet, that she failed to seek or accept help when needed. For example, there are a few times when her life is possibly in danger, and she seems to just brush it off, or not want to admit the severity. This frustrated me, because I just could not imagine someone being so careless with their life.

The romantic development with this story was right on point, and I really enjoyed how the author incorporated Christian’s daughter in the story. In more than a few cases Christian even used Gillian’s love for the girl to help win Gillian’s heart, which I found amusing. It seemed as if Christian new exactly what to do when it came to winning Gillian over, except when it came to him seeking revenge, but even then he tried to keep it from Gillian, and protect her at all costs, even if from himself.

While the story was a bit difficult to follow in the beginning, once I figured out the characters, I was able to enjoy the story. I even got to meet a few supporting characters that I really enjoyed and hope to see more of. This is a true redemption story, which kept me entertained for hours.

Together Always by Mimi Barbour

Cover_Together Always

Together Always by Mimi Barbour
Publisher: Self
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full (181 pgs)
Heat: spicy
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Poppy

A new body, a new life…

Because of a facial disfigurement, Nurse Grace Joye has never felt beautiful, and when she’s told a brain tumor will end her life within a matter of weeks, she’s devastated. Grace’s friend, psychiatrist Dr. Robert Andrews has been experimenting with spirit travel. He suggests that Grace transfers her spirit to the body of his newest patient–Mrs. Vanessa Knight, a gorgeous-looking woman who is soon to be released from life-support. Grace doesn’t need much convincing to take this drastic step. She will live on and realize her two dreams: to be a mother, and be loved by a man. Only to hear her soon-to-be husband’s whispered words just before the life-support is switched off: “Good-bye, darling. I’m glad I’ll never have to see you again.”

Lucas Knight has been contentedly preparing for Vanessa’s death. Throughout their marriage, this volatile woman had become increasingly vicious towards him and their young son. Therefore, he’s appalled and traumatized when, miraculously, she comes out of her coma. Strangely, this girl isn’t anything like the witch he’d said goodbye to. He could love this gentle angel. But, can he trust her to stay this way?

Fascinating idea! I loved the concept of a terminally ill woman switching bodies with another woman who’s been declared brain dead, especially when the woman suffers from a physical disfigurement and has never felt beautiful, and the body she’s taking is just amazingly lovely. Since Grace is gorgeous on the inside, she deserved for her outside to match.

I also liked the idea that the husband of the brain dead woman, Vanessa, hated her passionately and wanted nothing more than to see the plug pulled. It certainly added plenty of conflict, especially when his “wife” comes back to life and has a completely different temperament.

The secondary characters certainly added flavor here. Comic relief of a sort came from Mrs. Dorn and occasionally from Grace’s dearest friend, Tobias, who’s the man behind the idea for the switch. My heart absolutely broke for Lucas and Vanessa’s son, Samuel. He’s the sweetest child and when we hear why he took his mother’s picture, and the punishment he received for the theft, well … it certainly didn’t endear Vanessa to me and helped me understand why Lucas felt as he did.

The only struggle I had came when Vanessa entered the picture. I truly hated her passionately, possibly more than Lucas did. What she did and her previous behavior was unforgiveable. Clearly Grace is a much kinder person than I am, as she strove to help Vanessa get past all the things that made her the way she was. But my negative feelings for her were so strong, it was all I could do to read through those portions where she participated. And there’s a significant part near the end where it’s all Vanessa. Had I not been reading for review, I might have been tempted to put the book down. On the other hand, it’s a testament to the author’s skill that I became so involved with all the characters and felt as strongly as I did. If they hadn’t been so realistically written, I wouldn’t have cared so much.

The author has a descriptive way with words that I appreciated and the story was cleanly edited and enjoyable. I truly think most romance readers will completely enjoy Together Always, especially if you don’t feel as vehemently as I. The romance between Lucas and Grace is lovely, and watching Samuel learn to trust again was a glorious thing.

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Blame It On Texas by Amie Louellen

TEXAS
Blame It On Texas by Amie Louellen
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (109 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Hawthorn

Every first love deserves a second chance.

Shelby Patterson has come back to Texas for one reason and one reason only—to get her husband to sign divorce papers. She’s worked hard to build her California bakery, where clients clamor for her one-of-a-kind creations.

Seven years after her disastrous marriage, she’ll finally have everything in perfect order—just as soon as Ritter McCoy signs the dotted line.

Ritt is still pissed that Shelby walked out all those years ago without giving their marriage a chance. Sure, they were young and had just lost the baby that had rushed them to the altar, but they’d loved each other beyond reason.

Ritt gave up his college baseball scholarship, only to have Shelby and her mom take his parents’ bribe money and run. If Shelby wants those papers signed, she’ll just have to wait until he’s good and ready.

Or maybe, before she flies the coop again, he can convince her the love they had between them is still there—and still hot enough to melt their hearts back into one.

Everything is not just bigger in Texas, it seems everything is also more complicated. At least, that’s how it seems when Shelby comes home to get her husband to sign the divorce papers.

The author managed to show the tension between Ritt and Shelby very nicely; there’s attraction but also the insecurity and fear that they feel because of the events from seven years ago. Both are presented as complex characters, with believable development and complicated emotional lives. The other characters were well-written despite having very small roles.

The novella was the perfect length to tell the story with an effective pace. I was slightly disappointed by the ending (I’m referring to Ritt’s secret) that felt a bit out of character and threw a shadow on an otherwise fitting resolution. It made the ending less believable and therefore less satisfying. The wonderful characters deserved better.

The story could benefit from better copy-editing and fewer clichés, but the characters and the story were compelling enough to help me ignore that. The conflict between the main characters was especially strong because it originated in a misunderstanding that was based on Ritt’s and Shelby’s emotions. The progression from their doubts and fears to realization and acceptance was nicely shown through the story and it made it easy to identify with them.

I wished for the story to never end, I couldn’t get enough of Ritt and Shelby. This is a hot summer read.

What Echoes Render by Tamsen Schultz

Cover_What Echoes Render

What Echoes Render by Tamsen Schultz
Publisher: Booktrope
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full (361 pgs)
Heat: Spicy
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Poppy

There’s a killer in Windsor intent on making Jesse Baker burn for the sins of others. But arson investigator David Hathaway isn’t about to let that happen. As the past echoes through their lives, will they remember that history, like fire, can give life just as easily as it can destroy it?

Thoroughly enjoyable, What Echoes Render is a well written story with one foot solidly in both the romance and suspense camps.

Jesse, the heroine of our story, is a great woman. She’s strong, smart, determined. She’s a great mom, but not without her flaws or without a troubled backstory. I really liked Jesse, though I wasn’t completely sold on her reasons for keeping her budding relationship with David a mystery.

David was pretty amazing, too. Much like Jesse, he’s strong (but compassionate and caring), smart, determined, loyal and a good dad. But also with a difficult past in both the personal and professional sides. He puts up with a bit of an emotional yo-yo from Jesse, but sticks it out because he sees what’s underneath her insecurity. I liked, too, how he involved her boys in much of what was going on with their relationship. As a single dad, he really understood that area.

The mystery was intriguing and had plenty of clues, both real and the red herring type. I was certainly engaged in trying to find out whodunit and why. I suspect many true mystery buffs will figure out the villain before our protagonists do, but even so, I absolutely enjoyed this part of the book. In fact, despite being very much a romantic, I chomped at the bit when the author turned away from it and turned to the community building.

What community? Well … this is a small town story, so there are plenty of secondary characters to liven things up. However, as entertaining as they were, I admit I tended to skim past the parts that weren’t directly involved in either David and Jesse’s relationship or the mystery. Maybe if I’d read the first books in the series, I would have been more engaged in those folks, since it’s clear they figured in previous stories. But since I didn’t already know them, I just wanted to get on with the story I was reading!

Even so, What Echoes Render really sold me on the author. Her skill with prose and plot is undeniable, and I’m betting this book (and the entire series) will be a hit to other romantic suspense fans.

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Spirit of Love by J.L. Addicoat

LOVE
Spirit of Love by J.L. Addicoat
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (120 pages)
Heat Level: Hot
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Old buildings have an eerie haunting feeling, and the 17th Century Manor house in the Cornish countryside Julia intends to restore, is no exception. Originally her dead husband’s dream, she feels it’s up to her to complete it in his memory. When she arrives, she realizes it’ll take more than a quick clean to put the dilapidated old Manor to rights.

While exploring the house, she feels as someone, or something, is watching her. Darting shadows and movements, seen from the corner of her eyes, seem to confirm sinister happenings at the Manor in the past. The discovery of an old diary hidden in a chest of drawers and the story it tells, lead Julia in a different direction than she originally thought she would be taking.

Grief does funny things to people. All it’s made Julia want to do so far is turn back the hands of time. Will a change of scenery help her or will it only make her miss her husband even more?

I was expecting a lot of things out of this story, but laughter certainly wasn’t one of them. Ms. Addicoat has a bawdy sense of humor that worked really well with these particular characters. It’s difficult to say anything else about this without giving away spoilers, but the scenes that dipped into this genre were by far my favorite ones of them all.

It would have been helpful to get to know Julia better. She switched so rapidly between serious indecisiveness and giving clearcut instructions to her new servants that I was never quite sure which side of her personality was the more accurate one. Julia also had a few ditzy moments that seemed out of character for someone who has been successfully self-employed for so many years, but once again I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to find her a little flighty or if I was reading too much into the clues that were provided about the kind of person she was before her husband died.

The romantic elements of this tale are just as strong as the fantasy ones. At first I was little skeptical of how everything would be tied together since there were so many things going on in the plot simultaneously, but the people involved in it were given ample time to get to know each other first. Allowing their attraction to one another to heat up slowly was definitely the right choice in this case!

I’d particularly recommend Spirit of Love to anyone who likes paranormal romance novels that have one foot planted solidly in each genre.