Author: Jen

Guest Review: Before the Dawn by Cynthia Eden

Posted July 19, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 0 Comments

Guest Review: Before the Dawn by Cynthia EdenReviewer: Jen
Before the Dawn by Cynthia Eden
Series: Killer Instinct #2
Also in this series: After the Dark

Publication Date: July 25th 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Romantic Suspense
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four-stars

The Killer Instinct series from New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Eden continues as an FBI profiler tracks a case that resurrects ghosts from his past

Ex-SEAL Tucker Frost knows that the world is full of evil. He saw it in the face of his own brother, Mason Frost, a cold, methodical, sadistic killer. A killer Tucker put down with his own hands in order to save Mason's final victim—Dawn Alexander, the only girl who got away from the infamous "Iceman."

It's Tucker's up close and personal experience with evil that's made him perfect for Samantha Dark's experimental profiling division in the FBI. Samantha wants agents who have personal ties with killers, who have unique insights into the minds of monsters. And when women start turning up murdered with the same MO used by the Iceman, Tucker is sent back to Louisiana to investigate.

The last person he expects to see is his ex-lover, Dawn. Ten full years have passed since the night that Tucker faced down his brother…and since he last saw Dawn. But the dark need still burns just as hot between Tucker and Dawn. As they grapple with a desire that never died, they must also face the shared shadow from their pasts. Both Tucker and Dawn have the same question—has Mason Frost come back from the dead to hunt again? And this time, will he succeed in killing the victim who got away?

I have been on a major Cynthia Eden kick this year. Fortunately, she’s publishing books nearly as fast as I can read them, plus her back list is huge, so I have plenty to keep me entertained. Before Dawn is the newest book in her Killer Instincts series, which centers around a special FBI team made up of people with some kind of personal connection to killers. Eden has several series going right now, and they are tied together in various ways. For instance, there are a couple Harlequin Intrigue titles that are not marked as part of the Killer Instincts series but that really are tied in. And then I swear some of her LOST series books also crossover, but I could not for the life of me remember which ones and how they tied in. Moreover, because I’m confused about the order, I don’t read them in order, so I keep reading Eden books and being pleasantly surprised to find I’m reading the story of a character I already learned about in some other Eden book. Basically, I’m saying it’s damn confusing and I have no idea how to untangle the threads. You’re on your own.

What I can do is tell you about Before Dawn, though! I really loved the first book in the series, After the Dark. As I said, the series is about this special team of people with connections to killers, which is pretty unbelievable but makes for a superb book premise. This time, we meet Tucker Frost, whose brother was a serial killer. His final attempted victim was Tucker’s girlfriend, Dawn. Tucker killed his brother to save Dawn, but because his brother messed with Dawn’s head, and because he looked just like Tucker, Dawn was understandably traumatized, and her relationship with Tucker didn’t survive. Tucker has spent his life trying to prove he isn’t his brother and atone for what his brother did. Dawn, on the other hand, hardened after her attack and is still dealing with the psychological trauma. When Tucker returns to town to investigate some recent murders that bear a striking resemblance to his brother’s crimes, he and Dawn have to deal with their past and work together to figure out what’s going on.

I liked Dawn and Tucker as characters. Dawn was prickly and smart, but she’s clearly still suffering greatly from her earlier attack. It was a bit hard to read sometimes, especially the flashbacks to when Tucker’s brother had her captive. He was physically brutal and manipulated her into doubting Tucker. It was totally understandable that Dawn would struggle to be around Tucker later. Tucker was great, too. He tried to be there for Dawn after her attack, but when he realized his presence was too painful, he disappeared from her life. My heart hurt for him, because what an impossible situation to be in! I appreciated that he tried to let Dawn set the tone for their interactions, and all he wanted was for her to be at peace.

I did have some niggling doubts about whether Tucker and Dawn could really move beyond their past, though. Dawn was terrorized by a man with Tucker’s face. Was it really possible for her to see beyond that? Dawn clearly still needed a lot of serious professional help to process her trauma. I’m not sure love would be enough, even ten years on. I also felt like the intense alpha-schtick Eden usually writes was a little out of place here. Dawn wasn’t breakable, but I kind of wanted Tucker to tone it down. You’re trying to convince her you’re nothing like your violent brother, so maybe dial it back a bit, huh dude?

I didn’t enjoy this one as much as After the Dark, but it was still a good read.

Grade: 4 out of 5

*I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

four-stars


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Guest Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Posted July 11, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 0 Comments

Guest Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins ReidThe Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Published by Atria Books
Publication Date: June 13th 2017
Genres: Women's Fiction
Pages: 400
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four-half-stars

From Taylor Jenkins Reid comes an unforgettable and sweeping novel about one classic film actress’s relentless rise to the top—the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine.

Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds through the decades—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Filled with emotional insight and written with Reid’s signature talent, this is a fascinating journey through the splendor of Old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means—and what it takes—to face the truth.

While this story is definitely not in my usual wheelhouse, someone whose opinion I admire raved about this book, and the premise reminded me of another book I really enjoyed, The Thirteenth Tale, where a famous elderly woman selects a seeming nobody to write the story of her life. I decided to take a chance on it, and I am so very glad I did. 

At the beginning of the book, journalist Monique Grant is getting divorced, is going nowhere in her career, and is not terribly happy with anything in her life. When reclusive, aging movie star Evelyn Hugo asks for Monique, and only Monique, to write a piece about her, she’s shocked but excited. Evelyn promises complete and total honesty, and as her tale unfolds, Monique learns that Evelyn, and indeed all human beings, are more complex and messy than they at first appear.

One of the first questions Monique asks Evelyn is “Who was the love of your life?” While Evelyn doesn’t answer immediately, the question sets the stage for their conversation, and you get a sense that answering that question is one of Evelyn’s primary reasons (but not the only one!) for telling her story in the first place. This isn’t a romance, though there is a love story (several, really). More importantly, the underlying theme of Evelyn’s story is love, which is why I think this book may appeal to readers of this site–who you love, why you love them, how you can love different people differently, what you will do for love, and when love sometimes isn’t enough. We see how Evelyn came from a background with little love and eventually fashioned a life for herself and created a family of people who loved her immensely. It was touching to read about.

Evelyn is a fascinating and richly drawn character. She had a desperately poor and unhappy childhood, but she’s determined to be a star, and she makes it happen through a combination of looks, natural (if unpolished) talent, and no small amount of pure determination. Some parts of her story are downright painful to read about, as she does what she has to do to get ahead, but the most poignant parts of the book are when she does things to protect the people she loves. (The chapter where she talks about her marriage to her third husband is particularly heartbreaking.) Even when she’s protecting others, though, she’s also protecting herself. Evelyn is clear with Monique that she isn’t the “good guy” in her story, that she can be self serving, vain, and cruel. The trick of Taylor Jenkins Reid, though, is that for the most part, you’re on Evelyn’s side through most of the book. You see the reasons for her choices, and it’s hard not to admire her determination and her fierce loyalty for those she loved. Then, she reveals a big secret near the end, and suddenly you’re left questioning, and some of the consequences of Evelyn’s choices become a bit less abstract that they were before. It’s nuanced and complex and fascinating to read.

While Evelyn’s stories vividly bring other characters to life, Monique is not as finely drawn. Her story isn’t fleshed out as fully as I would have liked. Her dissolving marriage was never quite explored and seemed more like a vehicle for showing how much Evelyn inspired Monique than an integral part of Monique’s own story. Monique’s mom is similarly shallowly portrayed and just added a hint of the “flavor” of Monique’s life without much substance. The ending was also rushed. Evelyn finally reveals her biggest secret, and I didn’t feel like there was enough time or interaction afterwards for Monique to process it all.

I found this book both captivating and beautifully written. It wasn’t at all what I expected, but it was a great book for stepping out of my usual genre.

Grade: 4.5 out of 5

*I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

four-half-stars


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Guest Review: Drakon’s Plunder by N.J. Walters

Posted July 4, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 3 Comments

Guest Review: Drakon’s Plunder by N.J. WaltersReviewer: Jen
Drakon's Plunder by N.J. Walters
Series: Blood of the Drakon #3
Also in this series: Drakon's Promise, Drakon's Prey

Publication Date: July 3rd 2017
Genres: Paranormal Romance
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four-stars

Life is not going well for archaeologist Sam Bellamy. She's stuck in the middle of the ocean on a salvage boat with people who want her dead. It wasn't her gift for being able to sense objects of power that got her here, rather her need to make a secret society called the Knights of the Dragon pay for killing her mentor. Sam doesn't believe in dragons, but the Knights do, and if she can get one of the sacred artifacts they're searching for away from them, she'll consider it payback.

Ezra Easton is content to run his marine salvage company and live alone on his private island. He may be a four-thousand-year-old water drakon, but he's civilized enough to know just because he pulls an injured woman from the ocean, doesn't mean he gets to keep her...

When she wakes up, she has a few tall tales to share, and it seems the Knights are after her. But this drakon won't give up his treasure.

I have really been loving the Blood of the Drakon series, and book 3 is a solid addition to the story.

This time, the heroine is Sam Bellamy, an archaeologist working on a salvage dive sponsored by Karina Azarov. You might remember that Karina is the head of the Knights of the Dragon, an ancient organization whose purpose is to enslave dragon shifters (drakons) for their blood. Sam has her own agenda in working with the Knights, and when she finds an artifact the Knights are desperate to get their hands on, she steals it and sneaks away in the night. When she gets shot during her escape, she’s saved by water drakon Ezra Easton. As in the earlier books, Ezra isn’t sure who Sam is or whether he can trust her, but the Knights are definitely hunting her, and she did steal something important from them, so Ezra decides to play the ignorant rescuer while he tries to learn more about Sam.

I’ve really liked all the heroines in the series, but Sam is definitely my favorite so far! She is incredibly smart, and I loved her practicality and quick mind. For instance, when Ezra first shows her his shifting abilities, she is the only heroine to have doubted what she saw. Come on, wouldn’t you think something was wrong with your brain if the sexy guy kinda sorta holding you captive (they’re on an island and she has no way to leave on her own) suddenly changed into a dragon?! Of course, as Sam learns more she accepts the situation, but she remains curious and thoughtful about it. She’s also the only one to really consider why these drakon brothers are suddenly falling in love at the same time, and she has excellent instincts about how to handle the Knights as well. Without Sam, I probably would have given this book a slightly lower score; I enjoyed her that much.

These books are not reinventing the wheel. The brothers are all similar to each other. They’re all possessive, all domineering, all hot for the heroines instantly, and all sex gods on earth. Ezra isn’t much different, which is fine because these books have sucked me in. I am interested in how the brothers will manage to stop the Knights (because we all know they’re going to stop ‘em), and I’m VERY interested in the final brother, Nic, who I’m hoping is more complex than his playboy image might suggest. I haven’t heard yet when the next book is coming out, but I will eagerly wait for it.

Grade: 4 out of 5

four-stars


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Guest Review: Drakon’s Prey by N.J. Walters

Posted July 3, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 2 Comments

Guest Review: Drakon’s Prey by N.J. WaltersReviewer: Jen
Drakon's Prey by N.J. Walters
Series: Blood of the Drakon #2
Also in this series: Drakon's Promise, Drakon's Plunder

Publication Date: April 24th 2017
Genres: Paranormal Romance
Pages: 330
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four-stars

Valeriya Azarov turned her back on the family business to write and illustrate children’s books. But with a sister who leads the Knights of the Dragon, it’s impossible to get away from the secret society whose mission is to destroy and enslave dragons. When information falls into her hands along with the opportunity to save at least one of the ancient creatures, she can’t turn away any longer.

When a woman moves into the cabin above Tarrant Cooper’s secret underground lair, he’s both suspicious and intrigued. He hasn’t lasted four thousand years being careless, so when he suspects her of being a part of the Knights, the plan is to kidnap her and find out how much the organization knows about him and his brothers.

He’s drawn to Valeriya, but trusting her could get him killed. Even if she’s a pawn in the war between drakons and Knights, giving her his heart would mean forever.

It’s time for drakon brother #2! To quickly recap the premise, the series follows four half human, half dragon brothers who are being hunted by an ancient evil organization (Knights of the Dragon) that wants to capture them and use their blood to achieve immortality. Somehow, the group found brother #1, Darius, but they don’t actually know about the other three brothers. All the brothers are trying to stop the Knights without being discovered. You could certainly understand the plot if you started with this book, but you’ll get the most out of the build up if you start with book 1.

We briefly met Valeriya Azarov in book 1. She’s the sister of Karina Azarov, the ruthless leader of the Knights of the Dragon. (An Azarov has apparently long been head of the Knights; Karina is the latest.) Valeriya is nothing like her sister, however. She’s a children’s book author mostly raised by her kind-hearted grandparents, who helped keep her away from the Knights. Valeriya doesn’t actually believe in the dragon part of their mission, but she knows the Knights are bad news. Though she feels a certain warmth for her sister, Valeriya’s not stupid and recognizes that Karina probably wouldn’t hesitate to get rid of her if the need arose. When Valeriya learns the Knights are hunting someone named Darius, she decides she can’t ignore that info and goes to try and warn him. When she and brother #2, Tarrant, cross paths, he isn’t sure what to do with her. She acts innocent, but she’s the sister of their enemy. He decides to keep her with him until he figures out what is going on.

I enjoyed this book even more than book 1, mostly because of Tarrant and Valeriya. They are both so awesome. Tarrant is a tech genius and the one who’s most security conscious among the brothers. He’s built this incredible underground home that has some truly bananas security measures, which end up coming in very handy! I loved that he tried to be sensitive to Valeriya’s feelings and needs, once he started to trust her. There’s a scene where he calls up the heroine from book 1 to ask about “girl food” because he wants to make Valeriya happy and understand her needs. (And Sarah’s advice is perfection too–just ask what she wants, ha.) Valeriya is the perfect foil for him. On the surface she seems fragile, but she takes a major stand by trying to help Darius, despite the fact that she knows nothing at all about him. She just knows it’s the right thing to do, and while at first she hopes she can do it without her sister knowing, she recognizes the risk and does the right thing despite the consequences for her own life. My favorite part of this book is the way both Tarrant and Valeriya will do anything to protect the other. That kind of willingness to sacrifice is totally my catnip, and I gobbled it up.

It’s important to note that Tarrant does technically kidnap Valeriya and hold her against her will for a while. It’s partly for her own good, since she’s got bad guys after her too, but mostly it’s for Tarrant because a) he wants to find out what she knows so he can protect his brothers, b) he wants to stop her from causing trouble and c) he’s curious about her (and it doens’t hurt that he finds her hot). Honestly, it didn’t bother me much because Tarrant is part dragon, and as the books repeatedly emphasize their natural instinct is to hoard everything, including sexy ladies. Valeriya also isn’t an idiot and while there is major insta-lust, she doesn’t exactly trust him immediately either. YMMV depending on how you feel about kidnapping plots, though. The kidnapping also means most of the book takes place inside Tarrant’s underground home. There’s some action, but there’s a lot of talking, a lot of puzzling out the larger plot, and, naturally, a lot of sex time since that seems to be drakons’ favorite pastime. 

This is my favorite book in the series so far. These sexy drakon brothers are my jam, and I want more!

Grade: 4 out of 5

four-stars


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Guest Review: Drakon’s Promise by N. J. Walters

Posted June 27, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 1 Comment

Guest Review: Drakon’s Promise by N. J. WaltersReviewer: Jen
Drakon's Promise by N.J. Walters
Series: Blood of the Drakon #1
Also in this series: Drakon's Prey, Drakon's Plunder

Publication Date: December 5th 2016
Pages: 293
Buy on Amazon | Barnes & Noble
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three-half-stars

Darius Varkas is a drakon. He's neither human nor dragon.

He's both.

He's also the target of an ancient order who want to capture all drakons for their blood. When fresh, a drakon's blood can cure any illness and prolong a human's life, and the Knights will stop at nothing to get it.

When librarian Sarah Anderson stumbles across a rare book belonging to the Knights of the Dragon, she's quickly thrust into a dangerous world of secrets and shifters and things she never would have believed possible. When the Knights realize Sarah has a secret of her own, she becomes just as much a target as Darius. Her scary dragon shifter just might be her best chance at survival.

Here’s the tl;dr summary of this new series: Sexy, super-alpha dragon shifter brothers fall in love while they’re being hunted by an ancient evil organization who wants to steal their blood.

That would be enough for me to one click buy, but if you’re not convinced yet, let me say more!

Book 1 of this series starts out with librarian Sarah Anderson getting a new job helping a wealthy private collector catalog his library of rare books. When she overhears her new boss plotting to capture someone named Darius Varkas, she knows something really bad is happening. She steals the book her boss wanted her to find and tracks down Darius in order to warn him. At first, Darius isn’t sure he can trust her. Drakons have long been hunted by the Knights of the Dragon, a shadowy secret group who want to hold drakons captive because drakon blood, when consumed regularly, makes a human immortal. He’s not sure if Sarah is part of a Knight plot to trap him, but he knows he’s majorly drawn to her, and if she is an innocent she’s put herself in danger by helping him, so he decides to keep her with him. The two have to evade the Knights and also destroy the book, which turns out to contain the secrets for trapping drakons. And of course, they have plenty of opportunities for hot sexxing!

I had so much fun with this book. I should warn you right off the bat that there is some major insta-lust here (along with very quick love as well). Darius basically has a permanent hard-on around Sarah. You’d think immortal drakons would not be in such a hurry, but there you go. Still, I loved the chemistry between Sarah and Darius.

The series centers around brothers, and for me that is probably the best part. Most drakons are solitary creatures, but these four found each other (they have the same dragon father but different mothers) and have crafted themselves a family. It’s not really explained well why they did this, but who cares because they’re 4 super hot brothers, amirite? They communicate regularly, but they don’t see each other often because it’s dangerous. Still, it’s clear they genuinely love each other and would do whatever they can to protect one another.

For me, the premise and the larger cast of characters were what drew me in, not Darius and Sarah. They’re ok characters, and as I said they have good chemistry, but they weren’t all that memorable. As I sit here writing, I’m struggling to remember much about Sarah in particular. She and Darius move quickly. In part, the book explains it by just saying “he’s half dragon” and dragons like to hoard treasure (including, I guess, people) so he quickly decides she’s “his”. Still, it’s hard to get over the fact that things move very fast between the two. That’s not exactly a criticism; for me this book was fun and sexy. I probably won’t revisit it, but I can’t wait to see more of the world. It reminds me a bit of Rebecca Zanetti’s Sin and Blood Brother’s series, with MAJORLY alpha brothers who protect each other and the women they love from an evil organization that’s hunting them. I love Zanetti’s series, and this one is similarly crack-y for me.

Grade: 3.5 out of 5

three-half-stars


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