Immortal Unchained by Lynsay Sands


Immortal Unchained by Lynsay Sands
An Argeneau Novel
Publisher: Avon Books
Genre: Action/Adventure, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (251 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Ever since Domitian Argenis recognized Sarita as his life mate, he’s been waiting for the perfect moment to claim her. Those fantasies did not include him being chained to a table in a secret lab or both of them being held hostage by a mad scientist. Somehow, they have to escape…

Sarita has seen some crazy things as a cop, but nothing to rival Domitian. A vampire? Seriously? But his healing ability, incredible powers, and their mind-blowing physical connection—none of it should be possible, yet her body knows differently. Now, not only do they have to save each other, but other innocent lives are at stake. Failure is not an option, for Sarita intends that Domitian show her exactly what an eternity of pleasure feels like…

I realize it’s a cliché when a reviewer says that the storyline grabbed them from the first page but that really happened to me. Right off the bat, the novel opens up with a dramatic prologue where Domitian is in a heated discussion with Lucian and it’s a shocking exchange. I had no idea so many Immortals had disappeared, especially people who I’ve ‘met’ in previous books; characters that I’ve come to adore and love it whenever they are on stage. To think that someone has the ability to overpower my favorite descendants from Atlantis boggled my mind. How? What powers do they have? Yes, those first few pages lay the groundwork for an amazing, mind blowing and stunning adventure that raises the bar in the Argeneau saga to new levels. Readers, buckle up. Immortal Unchained is a wild ride and is nothing you’ve seen before. Ms. Sands has a true winner on her hands and it’s stunning.

The first full chapter introduces Sarita, the heroine. It starts off so benign and innocuous. Don’t let it fool you. The heroine isn’t a helpless damsel; she is a cop and she has good instincts. Something doesn’t add up so being the good officer she is, she investigates. What follows propels the plot and story forward at a dizzying speed. Sarita is abruptly thrust into the world of the Immortals and their fight to survive in what turns out to be a hellish captivity. What the villain does to them is truly horrifying. Ms. Sands’ writing makes that very vivid and clear to a reader. The good news is that the disturbing, dark and insane goings on does not overwhelm a reader. Ms. Sands walks a fine line between horror and dramatic adventure while keeping the growing romance between Domitian and Sarita front and center. This novel has a hefty plot that is amazingly intense. The pace is furious and gripping; I couldn’t flip the pages fast enough because revelation after revelation left me astonished and dumbfounded. How could the villain do what he did for so long? The hero and heroine stumble upon their answer and once again the truth is jaw dropping. There is no way I could have guessed the true scope of what Domitian and Sarita are faced with. The big question, will they escape? How? There doesn’t seem to be any allies to help them and there’s no way to contact the outside world to send out a cry for help to Lucien and the rest of the Immortal Hunters. It looks so hopeless. Help comes but from a quarter that a reader can’t even guess or fathom. I remember sitting there, staring at the pages in astonishment. This book is awesome!!!

There are a lot of important new secondary characters, some of which I suspect will show up again in the future because they have a certain …edge which could really help the Immortals. They’re going to need all the help they can get because the final showdown closed this story arc but effectively opened up a new one. Yes, there is a solid and satisfying happy ever after that is as sexy and romantic as a reader could wish, and many loose ends are tied up but the biggest loose end is a new beginning. A new threat has emerged and I bet it’s going to be unpredictable, challenging and diabolical. Just you wait until you get to that part of the book then you’ll understand why the next book in the series can’t come fast enough. There are new characters to sympathize with and I want to know what happens to them. The world as they knew it is no more, so what’s going to happen now? Ms. Sands has made me care for these new characters and I expect them to be an asset to the series. Certainly these people help breathe new life into what is already an awesome and riveting succession of novels. I don’t know how Ms. Sands does it but she’s getting better and better and readers and fans reap the benefits.

Run, don’t walk, and grab your own copy of Immortal Unchained. This novel is going to find a welcome and permanent spot on my keeper shelf. It’s that marvelous.

Crimson Death by Laurell K. Hamilton


Crimson Death by Laurell K. Hamilton
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Suspense/Mystery, Horror
Length: Full Length (708 pgs)
Other: BDSM, M/F, M/F/M, M/F/F, F/F, M/M, F/M/M, Multiple Partners, Menage
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

In her twenty-fifth adventure, vampire hunter and necromancer Anita Blake learns that evil is in the eye of the beholder…

Anita has never seen Damian, her vampire servant, in such a state. The rising sun doesn’t usher in the peaceful death that he desperately needs. Instead, he’s being bombarded with violent nightmares and blood sweats.

And now, with Damian at his most vulnerable, Anita needs him the most. The vampire who created him, who subjected him to centuries of torture, might be losing control, allowing rogue vampires to run wild and break one of their kind’s few strict taboos.

Some say love is a great motivator, but hatred gets the job done, too. And when Anita joins forces with her friend Edward to stop the carnage, Damian will be at their side, even if it means traveling back to the land where all his nightmares spring from…a place that couldn’t be less welcoming to a vampire, an assassin, and a necromancer.

Ireland.

Ever have a book that gripped you so hard that it sucked you right into the author’s world and your own faded away? That’s what Crimson Death did to me. I only did the bare minimum of household chores. I read late into the night until it flipped to morning, grabbed a few hours of sleep only to wake up a few hours later to devour a few more chapters before having to slog off to work to simply come home to read and read some more until almost midnight the next night. Yeah, so, it took me two days to read, but what an amazing two days it was.

I’ve been following this series for years. I’ve watched Anita view everything as black and white; a character was either good or bad, no quarter. Monsters were bad, humans could be bad too but they were human. As the series unfolds, the heroine realizes that she can no longer ignore the ‘gray’ areas; life is a LOT more complicated, and messy and as she grows, Anita realizes that gray areas not only exist, they’re huge. It opens her up to accepting and doing things she never, ever, in a million years would think or do. Following her has been an amazing journey and that journey continues in Crimson Death. Sure, there are original fans that prefer her early years when it was all about the mystery, the horror, the suspense, drama and how it affected her. I mean, first person point of view really gets into a character’s head and the author has the daunting job of staying there. Ms. Hamilton has done Anita for so long, it seems second nature – I’m always right there with Marshall Blake, even when the blood flows.

This huge novel is no different when it comes to exploring her growth, both in her personal life and in her power. Yes, there is large section that explores Anita’s power’s connection to sex within her small group of loves and lovers, but before anyone scoffs at all the sex, be aware that there are a few astounding and earth shattering revelations that ripple through the rest of the novel stemming from all that erotic sex, which includes just a smidgen of voyeurism and exhibitionism from one of mine and Anita’s favorite people. Another warning to die-hard fans – be prepared to sniffle or cry or just get serious goosebumps on what happens. The one huge tragedy that affected me the most ends up being a turning point in Anita’s life that will have ginormous ramifications for future books. I didn’t want it to happen. All I could say was ‘no! no! no!, but of course Ms. Hamilton excels at writing the hard scenes – scenes for which a reader ultimately comes to the sad but resigned conclusion that it served a valid, crucial and necessary purpose. I don’t have to like it but I recognize Ms. Hamilton is staying true to Anita’s journey.

A lot of my favorite recurring secondary/primary characters populate this novel. There is one new character that sheds some light on Edward/Ted. It was actually humorous at times, which I didn’t expect at all. I think Anita was just as bemused as I was. Thing is, she has the ability to pester him in future books to satisfy her curiosity. I’m looking forward to what she finds out.

Of course the main villain and cohorts are truly evil, nasty, horrific, sociopathic and creepy. However, not all the cohorts are there willingly and how the author dealt with them kept my heart pounding with dread. This is such a powerfully, well written book, I could not remain unaffected.

This isn’t truly a standalone read because some of the things that occur are at their most commanding and powerful if a reader is personally vested in caring for certain characters from previous stories. If a person were to just start with this book, there are mentions of past experiences that provide Anita with the power she currently has, and they might be shocked by how erotic and numerous the sex initially is, but the main mystery of trying to figure out who or what is making all these vampires and why, can carry this novel by itself. It also might capture new fans and they might be inspired to read the series from the beginning or at least a few of the books that were alluded to in this one.

I am a fan of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, and I highly recommend this novel to fans that’ve followed her all this time. Crimson Death wowed me to the point that writing this review was a compulsion. I just HAD to tell you how marvelous and incredible Crimson Death was, and recommend it to readers with high praise and accolades.

Lord Logic and the Wedding Wish by Melynda Beth Skinner


Lord Logic and the Wedding Wish by Melynda Beth Skinner
Publisher: Pedestal Books
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (222 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Oil and Water…

Born on the same day, best friends and fiercest rivals Orion Chase and Artemis Rose are separated when they’re eight. When they come together once more as adults, nothing has changed. Still best friends, still oil and water.

When Artemis arrives on foot at his country estate, the ultra-logical, ultra-fashionable Orion Chase, the Earl of Lindenshire, is happy to welcome her–at first. Rejected by her mother’s family, Artemis, the granddaughter of an Earl, has been living as a Gypsy for the past 16 years and lives her life guided by signs and portents. But Artemis’s outlandish Gypsy ways can’t bother Orion, who hides his scientific bent with a facade of fashionability. After all, Artemis won’t be around long–or will she?

Orion’s not happy when his mother hires Artemis as her companion. And he’s even less happy when the ton mistakes Artemis for his mistress. A sham betrothal to save both of their reputations is in order–but it turns out that Orion is the only one who believes the wedding won’t happen!

This is such an adorable story. If you think the title is cute, just wait until you delve into this novel’s pages. The theme is ‘friends to lovers’ except a lot goes on between when they knew each other as kids, and when they meet as adults. Their mutual and fond background gives Miss Artemis Rose and Orion Chase a solid base to work with but their experiences in the ensuing years between kids and well- mannered adults creates a challenge to overcome. You see, Orion deals in facts, in theories he can prove with touch, observation and the use of his brain and technical tools of the time. Artemis on the other hand, has had an unconventional upbringing. The main influence in her life has been the beliefs of the Romany people and the heroine believes in signs, tea leaves and portents, basically obscure things based on conviction of her beliefs, not science. To say that this drives Orion barmy is an understatement. That dichotomy between the two protagonists is why I enjoyed this story very much.

What made this book especially delightful were the other ladies in Orion’s life; his mom, Lady Lindenshire and his really good friend, Mrs. Robertson. Between their conniving antics and belief in what Artemis believed, truly the hero didn’t stand a chance at resisting his falling in love with the heroine. Oh, he tried. Yes, indeed he tried, but the very last chapter proved to me that Orion’s path was forged many years before. Love has a way of making the impossible, possible. The most romantic part in the whole book which provided a definite ‘awww’ moment was that one scene that brought Artemis and Orion full circle to when they were kids. It left me in no doubt whatsoever that their happy ever after was guaranteed and they lived happily ever after.

The only element that hindered this story from being a higher rating was Orion himself. He resisted a bit too much, too long, and then there was Artemis for whom things just seemed to work out so perfectly. For every dip there was an immediate high, for every negative, something would happen to make the sweetest of lemonades from the profuse lemons that seem to be thrown at the heroine. Reading about the plot conflicts in this book was like eating Sour Patch Kids – it’s sour for just that little bit, then Bam! it shifts to the sweetest, yummiest flavor to enjoy. I think that’s why they are addicting, and why I couldn’t stop reading about Orion and Artemis.

Lord Logic and the Wedding Wish delivers a solid, enjoyable romance story. The heroine is quirky and adorable and the hero is a handsome geek who becomes his own man. In the end, he accepts himself for the person he is and ceased chasing a dream that was never his own. His personal growth was another of the strong elements that made this novel worth reading. For fans of historical romance that focuses on the relationship and romance, and not the bedroom, this is a recommended read.

The Switch by Lynsay Sands


The Switch by Lynsay Sands
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Historical, romantic comedy
Length: Full Length (362 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

When they first met Lord Jeremy William Radcliffe, Charlie and her twin sister, Elizabeth, were escaping from their uncle-taking turns acting the young gentleman to avoid detection. But Charlie couldn’t help falling head over heels – and out of a window – for the handsome lord. Of course, that was only the beginning; Lord Radcliffe insisted on showing “him” and her lovely sister to London.

But how could he do that? With every touch, Radcliffe seemed unknowingly to incite indecent desires in Charlie, and his fraternal intent was certain to land her in a fine mess. Though it was a great game to play a boy, there was more fun in being female. And after one brush of his fiery lips when her guise was gone, Charlie swore to be nothing but his woman forevermore.

This is the perfect book to read when recovering from the last vestiges of the flu. Granted, the volume of pages was initially daunting but if anyone is a fan of Ms. Sands, they well and truly know just how quickly and easily her books can grab a reader’s attention and entertain all the way through. The Switch did that and more.

The idea of ladies running away from the prospect of horrible marriages isn’t a new idea. Neither is putting on a disguise in order to facilitate their escape, and that includes a lady dressing up as a man. What the author did with those historical romance tropes is another matter entirely. Ms. Sands made them her own by virtue of some hilarious twists, complications, escapades, memorable characters and hysterically funny internal dialogue from the hero.

One side effect of my flu was the unique, raspy snicker a la Muttley, the cartoon dog from the 60’s cartoons, Wacky Races. Yes, I’m dating myself. However, that sound effect was me to a T and I employed it surprisingly often during the course of the book. I couldn’t help myself. Poor Charlotte had to turn into Charlie, the male fraternal twin. Posing as a male was quite a stretch for a gently bred lady of the ton, but she sure got into the swing of things. And the scrapes she got into! ‘Charlie’ found all sorts of amazing, comedic, daring and madcap adventures awaiting her, all the while dragging a bemused and confused Lord Radcliffe into some very dicey escapades.

Actually, the confusion of Jeremy, Lord Radcliffe is a guaranteed giggle producer. The poor guy seriously thought there was something wrong with him because he’s attracted to Charlie AND Elizabeth. How can a man’s lust flip between a male and female? Why does he sometimes feel like Charlie is like a brother and other times, uncomfortably so, his body reacts like it would to a female? Talk about playing mind games! Ms. Sands employed her comedic skill with the laser focus of a chess master.

Charlie’s sister, Beth, had her own mild adventures and romance to pursue, but every now and again they crossed over with what Charlies was trying to do and that generated more laugh out loud moments for a reader to enjoy. I can’t even give a reader a hint about some of those moments because not only will it will ruin the effect but actually reveal pivotal plot points.

Readers will adore the secondary characters as they pop up, especially the puppies. How the puppies came into the Radcliffe household was dramatic but what happens afterwards is pure genius. I also found the villains to be villainous and surprising. The surprise came from not even suspecting who one of them was. I was completely shocked and because of that, thrilled. I love it when an author pulls off a Ta-Dah! moment.

I truly can go on and on about what I liked about this novel, which is everything, but I hope I gave you some teasing tidbits to whet your appetite so you might check out this story. There’s lots of romance, great dialogue and humor. The pace is fast but the character development is complete. When the time comes for Charlie to discover the joys of being a woman in Jeremy’s arms, it’s sensual, sexy and delightful. Every single thing in The Switch worked for me. This is a keeper, a winner and a book to cherish and re-read when life seems a bit overwhelming. It’s a cure for the blues, and a smile in the making. I highly recommend reading The Switch and I hope it will grace your keeper shelf too.

How to Tame a Beast in Seven Days by Kerrelyn Sparks


How to Tame a Beast in Seven Days by Kerrelyn Sparks
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (297 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Luciana grew up on the Isle of Moon, hidden away because of her magical powers. But when her father arrives, he offers her a choice: remain on the island or return with him and marry the Beast of Benwick in order to save their legacy—and her father’s life.

Lord Leofric, the Beast of Benwick, has not been touched since he was a child. Born with the power to harness lightning, he is a danger to everyone he touches. When he meets his betrothed, he expects a loveless, lonely marriage…until he discovers she’s vastly more powerful than he realized. But is she strong enough to withstand his touch?

If they can survive, their love will alter the future of the kingdom. But will their extraordinary powers cost them everything?

Talk about a meaty piece of world building! Ms. Sparks has embarked on a new series and if it means to go on as it’s started, then this should be an adventure that fans are going to gobble up. There’s mystical prophecy, power plays, subterfuge, shape changers, ghosts, secrets and noble deeds. There’s an intricate plot of intrigue and deception and the heroine, Luciana is the focal point. She was innocent and ignorant of so many things about the world outside the Isle of Moon where she’s lived all her life. She’s known nothing else except her sisters. One clandestine visit from a surprise visitor leads the heroine onto a path she never imagined, and for readers, the adventure begins.

Ms. Sparks was meticulous about setting the stage for not just this book, but for all the novels to come. She did it in such a way that captured my interest and kept it. Secondary characters are slowly introduced and each one propelled the plot forward, contributed to the conflict or assisted in the eventual blossoming romance between Luciana and Leo. I enjoyed watching them fall in love; not the easiest thing to do amidst such mistrust and evil portents dogging their steps. Thank goodness for Leo’s stalwart friends, friends like Brody. I really liked him and he provided comic relief every now and again. But Brody isn’t a jester – he’s brave, courageous and loyal and has a lot of hero potential.

There’s a very clever evil dude that made quite an impression. He’s diabolical, wily and I bet he’s going to be a reoccurring pain in the neck for future heroes and heroines in the series. He’s unlike any villain I’ve seen so kudos to Ms. Sparks for introducing a convincing adversary.

What makes Leo such a fascinating hero is his…talent. It’s a very scary and powerful ability that has the power to kill everyone. That kind of puts a kink into any romantic plans he has or would ever have. How in the world did the author come up with such a surprising and effective work-around I can’t even begin to imagine. But it works, it’s amazing and it made perfect sense within the world that Ms. Sparks has created.

There is suspense, drama, action and even some humor. Of course, when Leo and Luciana finally stumble upon a way to love each other physically, the romance zooms off the charts into the stratosphere of pure satisfaction. Those scenes simultaneously made me smile (lightening rod) and swoon (romance and joy). They were SO good together!

There is absolutely no doubt that How to Tame a Beast in Seven Days is going to knock readers’ socks off. It has that wonderful storytelling voice that Ms. Sparks is known for, plus characters that are engaging, well rounded and vivid. I am an ecstatically happy reader and I’m looking forward to going wherever the author is going to take me next.

The Ruthless Billionaire’s Virgin by Susan Stephens


The Ruthless Billionaire’s Virgin by Susan Stephens
Publisher: Harlequin
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (185 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Handsome but brutally scarred, elusive billionaire Ethan Alexander shuns the limelight. So when his gallant rescue of Savannah Ross forces him into the media’s glare, he’s less than thrilled.Savannah’s buxom figure belies her inexperience–she’s not quite sure how to handle her fierce protector! But when he whisks her to his palace deep in the Tuscan hills, she sees a glimpse of the magnificence beneath his flaws. This is a man with a darkened heart in need of salvation–and only an innocent in his bed can unlock it….

The premise of a last minute replacement for a sick singer ending up a star is a favorite type of story. I like it when an unknown talent wows people when they least expect it and the new vocalist ends up realizing her dreams. It kind of reminds me of Susan Boyle from Britain’s Got Talent. In this novel, Savannah is the soon-to-be star and Ethan Alexander, the hero, is a scarier prospect than Simon Cowell.

When the story opens, a reader is introduced to Savannah and learns about her insecurities, her current dilemma and her dreams. Then Ethan is on stage and I learned why he’s feared but I only get hints about why he is the way he is. That gets revealed much, much later. It was like pulling a very stubborn tooth to get the hero to open up but Savannah is persistent, even to the point of incurring the hero’s wrath. A wrath that is quite formidable. His reticence to talk about his scars and the anger and/or coldness he responds with to deflect any inquiries is typical of an over-the-top Harlequin alpha.

Both hero and heroine took turns throughout the story being entertaining, sexy, annoying, grumpy and sometimes very romantic and insightful. The locations were exotic and intriguing and made the read enjoyable. The race from the media/paparazzi was a bit unrealistic but fun. Ethan fought the good fight against admitting he had fallen in love with Savannah, of course, and it dragged out until almost the very end. There’s a reason he’s called, The Bear, stubborn to the last. The happy ever after wrap up was satisfying and complete made all the sweeter with a wonderful epilogue.

On the whole The Ruthless Billionaire’s Virgin is an easy, quick and fast flowing read. It has solid entertainment value and I had fun.

Hotly Bedded, Conveniently Wedded by Kate Hardy


Hotly Bedded, Conveniently Wedded by Kate Hardy
Publisher: Harlequin
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (186 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

THE PASSIONATE PLAYBOY’S CONVENIENT WIFE

Alex Richardson has the ultimate playboy lifestyle, moving from one luscious, long-legged woman to the next. So why would he want Isobel, his short, curvaceous friend who loves him from afar?

Alex needs a convenient wife — and Bel is his first-choice bride! Shocked at his proposal, Bel has doubts about his crazy plan. Then Alex gives her a taste of just how hot they can be together, leaving Bel begging him to finish what he started — on their wedding night!

If you feel the need of a cotton candy fix for the brain, then Hotly Bedded, Conveniently Wedded should satisfy the urge. It’s romantic, sweet and perfect for a stress-free, enjoyable experience. This is also good for fans of the ‘friends to lovers’ theme.

Alex has the perfect plan to land the perfect job; find a lady to be his wife so he’ll be viewed as dependable and capable of following through with commitment. What bigger commitment is there than marriage? It’s a risky venture so who’s the perfect candidate? His best friend, Bel. She’s been there for him when life was challenging, and he’s been there for her when life threw her some very big lemons. It should work right?

The one word that was overused during most of the book was ‘perfect’. Alex could do no wrong, make a bad choice or act like a typical self-absorbed male. He was a practically perfect romantic lead. The only person with a bona fide conflict is the heroine. It doesn’t make waves until later in the novel but it’s fairly effective. It does get resolved and the joy commences.

On the whole, Hotly Bedded, Conveniently Wedded is a happy book. It’s full of optimism, heart, love and lightness. Even when the bad stuff happens, it’s mitigated by their love and Alex proves to be the man every woman wants on planet Earth. When I read his dialogue and how he reacted, the author effectively showed me a man who I’d want at my side when life is at its hardest. That for me, made this book worth reading and glad to have read it.

Ashes by Steven Manchester


Ashes by Steven Manchester
Publisher: The Story Plant
Genre: Contemporary, Mainstream Fiction
Length: Full Length (257 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Middle-aged brothers Jason and Tom Prendergast thought they were completely done with each other. Perceived betrayal had burned the bridge between them, tossing them into the icy river of estrangement. But life and death has a robust sense of irony, and when they learn that their cruel father has died and made his final request that they travel together across the country to spread his ashes, they have no choice but to spend a long, long car trip in each other s company. It’s either that or lose out on the contents of the envelope he’s left with his lawyer. The trip will be as gut-wrenching as each expects it to be . . . and revealing in ways neither of them is prepared for.

Get ready for a gritty, true-to-life feel when you crack open the pages of Ashes. Mr. Manchester brings his two characters to life in all their fallible glory with convincing dialogue, introspection and hard truths. This novel explores how Jason and Tom’s childhood made them enemies and through a quirk of their abusive father’s whims, his last weird request gives the brothers a chance to reconcile before it’s too late. The journey is not as dark as one would expect because there is this glimmer of hope that gets brighter and brighter as the story progresses until it’s realized in an extremely unexpected way. There is so much within in each of us to be found in the personalities of both Jason and Tom that this novel has the capacity of reaching each reader differently from a variety of backgrounds. Ashes is an amazing piece of literary art.

There is humor, but it’s dark and self-effacing at times, other times self-derogatory, and as the journey unfolds, true delightful humor surfaces as the brothers discover how more alike they are in ways they never dreamed. Eventually the smiles and laughter come from someplace honest, healthy and full of promise. Seeing their relationship evolve in a positive manner was a true delight. Bear in mind that they’re guys and some of their words, jokes and references are a little coarse and blunt, but that is one of the charms of the book – I could believe they were real people.

The author was quite detailed in description so a reader could get a true feel of their surroundings, their experiences and the atmosphere. Every word seems chosen with precision to provide a reader with the best reading experience. I was 100% engaged.

It might even be hard for readers to learn just how nasty and scary Jason and Tom’s home life was like as children. It certainly was for me, but it’s integral to the plot conflict and resolution. If not for visiting the past, I’d never know how truly miraculous the eventual ending was. And what a wonderful ending it turned out to be. However, the author had a couple of surprises for readers and main characters alike. I didn’t have a clue what was coming and I think that’s why it was so powerful. Talk about jarring the heartstrings!

Ashes is a compelling read. It just is. It’s character driven, emotionally fulfilling and Jason and Tom are characters a reader can sympathize with. It explores the domino effect of a harsh upbringing and how it can manifest in adulthood – pros and cons. You wouldn’t think that getting beat up by a parent could have any positive aspects, but Mr. Manchester produces a believable and intriguing possibility and it astounded me. The one thing that beastly father did was produce two survivors who became more than the failures that they were labeled as, repeatedly. Jason and Tom, for all their tribulations, are heroic in living their lives successfully, and finding that being a brother to each other is the most heroic thing of all.

If a reader enjoys a story that explores sibling relationships in all their tumultuous roller coaster glory then Ashes is the perfect novel to add to your reading experience.

Haunted by Heather Graham


Haunted by Heather Graham
Publisher: Mira
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (297 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Love is everywhere. . .

When does a gift become a curse?

Matt Stone doesn’t believe in ghosts. But there are those who are convinced his home, a historic Virginia estate that dates back to the Revolutionary War, is haunted. Pressured to get at the truth about some strange happenings at Melody House, he agrees to let Harrison Investigations explore the house. But he isn’t ready for beautiful, intriguing Darcy Tremayne.

As a paranormal investigator, Darcy has learned to believe in the unbelievable. And she’s given Matt fair warning: sometimes people don’t like the skeletons she finds. She never dreamed that the warning would apply to herself. For she’s about to discover that Melody House holds much more than a simple mystery form the distant past. What it holds is a very real and lethal danger, one that will cast her into a struggle against the worlds of both the living and the dead.

I love a gripping mystery with a convincing dose of romantic complications to make things interesting. This is my first foray into the writing of Ms. Graham and I think I made a lucky pick because this book knocked my socks off. Talk about an edge of your seat mystery where anyone or anything could be the killer. Is the killer a ghost? A disturbed entity from the town’s many onsite battles come to right a wrong? Enter an intrepid paranormal investigator with a past as fascinating as any ghost. Darcy is not a typical heroine and I was completely enthralled. When I first met her as a teenager, my sympathies were engaged almost immediately. They were firmly in her corner right after the funeral. The rest is a journey like no other.

Matt, the sheriff and male lead opposite Darcy is a facts man. He doesn’t believe in the paranormal and is a firm believer that everything can be explained by science, and usually a human is behind any crime. But he was forced to admit something weird was going on so he called a good friend in for help. First, he didn’t expect Darcy in place of his friend; his reaction was fun to watch. Second, the poor guy had a real hard time coming to grips that maybe, just maybe, his house wasn’t as safe and benign as he believed. Watching him slowly face the unimaginable was both painful and kind of funny, in a dark kind of way. He liked Darcy, but didn’t want to; he trusted her but didn’t and he wanted to believe her and in her, but that meant that he has to accept that he, as sheriff, and a take charge alpha male, did not have all the answers. Not only that, but you can’t cuff a ghost. Poor Matt. He was a bit discombobulated. The plot sure got interesting when he could sink his law teeth into something he could understand and deal with, but it wasn’t enough to solve the mystery. There was more, much more to come and I was glued to this book’s pages.

I enjoyed the slow buildup of tension, the red herrings and the challenge of trying to figure out just what or who could be behind all the weirdness at Melody House. I liked meeting all the secondary characters and Ms. Graham imbued her cast with unique and individual characteristics that contributed to the feel and flow of the novel. By the time I read three fourths of the book, I finally had an inkling as to a possible motive, victim and culprit. I was right on only one account which meant I was taken by surprise. I loved it!

Another treat were the sparks that ignite between Matt and Darcy. Of course it reached a flashpoint and their coming together was ever so satisfying. It wasn’t smooth, easy or without its bumps but it sure was romantic and passionate. Eventually, Matt comes around and a happy ever after is guaranteed. It’s who helped Matt past that final hurdle in believing that made me sniffle a time or two. I was filled with a lot of emotions at that point and I credit that to the excellent writing skill of Ms. Graham.

If readers have yet to discover Ms. Graham, then they are missing out. I was missing out. No more. Haunted has whet my appetite for more books by this author. This was an amazing read that’s made an indelible impression and I can’t wait to read more. I can wholeheartedly recommend this novel to romantic suspense/mystery readers everywhere. It’s a winner.

First Comes Desire by Tina Donahue


First Comes Desire by Tina Donahue
Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corp.
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (173 pgs)
Other: M/F, Anal Play, Forced Seduction,
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

On a lush, secluded island, one passionate adventure leads to another….
Diana Fletcher means business. The beautiful, innocent, reverend’s daughter has traveled all the way to a tropical island off Madagascar on a mission: To find her brother—and to punish the man who drove him to a life of piracy. But when she comes face to face with the enemy in question, the handsome, powerfully seductive man is not at all what Diana expected…

Tristan Kent never intended to harm Diana’s brother. A man of humble origins, Tristan claims he tried to save him from another ruthless captain. Diana is desperate to believe he is telling the truth…and that the intoxicating desire that escalates between them is true as well. But can she trust him? Or is Tristan’s story—and his heart—nothing more than fool’s gold? Amid the haze of sensual delights and soaring ecstasy Tristan has in store for her, all will be revealed…

Pirates, plantations, exotic locales, seduction and sensual delights are all in store for a reader in Ms. Donahue’s latest historical, First Comes Desire.

The premise of a sister looking for her brother and willing to do what needs to be done at all costs is a noble introduction to the conflict. Diana’s surprise comes from underestimating a pirate, especially if he’s highly intelligent, cunning, canny and astonishingly handsome. Tristan is all that plus more. The fact that he disconcerts, flusters and unnerves her makes Diana all the more determined to see Tristan hang for abducting her little brother. The fun comes from the hero’s point of view. Diana has no idea what plans he has for her and the lengths he’ll go to seduce her but, as a reader is seeing into both their heads, the outcome is quite apparent. The heroine is about to be delightfully and thoroughly compromised in a way only a pirate can get away with.

Erotic romance readers will find the usual array of sensual attacks on Diana’s senses effective, titillating and well written. There is some light bondage but I don’t classify it as BDSM, it’s just Tristan being a pirate and subduing the heroine’s feisty, contrary behavior. He utilizes every part of Diana’s body in an erotic attack that leaves the heroine breathless and awakened and aware of her body as never before. Readers know once that happens, once passion is unleashed, there’s no going back. Get ready to be satisfied.

Now comes the tough part, explaining the difference between me, a long time romance reader, and a newbie just dipping their toes into erotic romance. For new readers, this book should be a solid winner because it covers a favorite topic – pirates. It allows a woman to feel okay with a dominate man who does forceful and decadent things to get his way just because he is a pirate. The Dom/Sub aspect is definitely there even though this isn’t that kind of subgenre; it’s just Tristan’s nature to want to subdue a worthy opponent but wanting something far more, her trust and willingness to concede. There is an exciting conflict and a suspenseful, action filled conclusion that had a surprising resolution for some of the combatants. All of that works. However, from my perspective, I was disappointed because I recognized every pirate trope I’ve ever read crammed into this novel. I knew what was going to happen and who was going to cause trouble and how it was going to play out and a general idea as to who would get their comeuppance and even how it would happen just because of how those characters were written. In that, the book was predictable, formulaic and a trial to get through and I was disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, this novel is very well written and put together, and the erotic scenes definitely worked, but I’m too jaded by years of reading to be surprised at any of the plot/conflict points explored here because I had the feeling of been there/read that, and bought the book one too many times to get amazed by the turn of events. So please take this paragraph as an endorsement for fresh new eyes to the romance genre because I think they’ll enjoy First Comes Desire tremendously. For readers like me, unless you have a craving for manly pirates, and are in the mood for a predictable format, this might be a nice bit of sexy escapism to pass the time with but doesn’t come with any intriguing twists, shocks or unusual kinks.

All that being said, the author took some time to write a lengthy, meaty plot to couch the sex within and I found that to be a strong plus for this novel. I also appreciated how Diana had to come to grips with all the changes in her little brother, who wasn’t little any longer. I liked the solid friendship between Tristan and his friend, James. I also think that the author did an excellent job of depicted the pirates as nasty villains and effective stirrers of the plot conflict. Ms. Donahue convinced me that they were decidedly distasteful beings.

On the whole, First Comes Desire has a lot to offer readers who adore saucy, virile pirate heroes who lust after women who eventually bring out the noble men inside of them, much to their astonishment and consternation. Diana smooths Tristan’s rough edges as much as he unleashes the sensual, wild and passionate woman inside of her. The two of them are good together and the novel does conclude with a satisfying happy-ever-after that ties into the book’s title quite cleverly. I suspect a lot of readers are going to really enjoy this story and be happy they read it.