Surrender the Dark (Dark #1) by Tibby Armstrong

Benjamin Fuller is a hunter, born and bred. Blinded as a child by the vampire who slaughtered his family, he’s blessed with a second sight that allows him to catch and kill his quarry. What his gift can’t help him see coming is his fierce, almost carnal attraction to the mystery man who claims to be a fellow hunter and whose touch triggers both lust and revulsion. When he gains the upper hand, Benjamin vows to bring his enemy to his knees.
After many years spent in exile, the only one who can help restore Tzadkiel Dragoumanos to his rightful place as War King is a blind hunter with golden curls, a lithe dancer’s physique, and distinctive facial scars—scars Tzadkiel gave him two decades ago. The mere scent of Benjamin Fuller provokes an unwelcome rush of insatiable desire. Yet to win an all-out supernatural war, Tzadkiel must resist the ravenous hunger to possess his prey—for now.

I honestly can’t believe that Surrender the Dark is the first book by Tibby Armstrong that I’ve read. I’ve been following her for a while now and I really did think that I’d read at least one of her books, but I was wrong. There’s obviously nothing I can do about that now, but after finishing the first book in her newest series, I’m hooked and anxiously waiting the next book in the Dark series.

Not surprisingly, it was really easy to sympathize with Benjamin. I’ve got to admit that I was wondering exactly how the author was going to bring these two characters together after all the pain that they caused each other. Tzadkiel was the enemy. He was a monster that had tricked Benjamin, caused him to lose his sight and killed his family. Things aren’t always exactly as they seem though and there were a lot of interesting twists in Surrender the Dark.

Once I started to understand Tzadkiel’s history and how things really played out I wasn’t sure who to sympathize with because I found my heart breaking for both of them. So much so, that I wasn’t disappointed at all to find that the real enemy in Surrender the Dark wasn’t who I expected.

Beyond the story, the writing in Surrender the Dark drew me in. The descriptions were almost poetic, but not over the top. The characters were well developed and there was even humor laced within all the pain, anger and danger. Just a few of the reasons why I’ll most definitely not only be following the rest of this series but I’ll also be searching out more books by this author.

The conflict was over between Tzadkiel and Benjamin by the end of Surrender the Dark, but there’s still more to come. More than one character’s fate was undecided. Even though the next book, Taste the Dark, centers around at least one of those characters, I’m pretty sure readers haven’t seen the last of the King and his mate. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to it. 😉

Cask Strength (Agents Irish and Whiskey #2) by Layla Reyne

Professionally, the FBI team of Aidan “Irish” Talley and Jameson “Whiskey” Walker is as good as it gets, closing cases faster than any team at the Bureau. Personally, it’s a different story. Aidan’s feelings for Jamie scare the hell out of him: he won’t risk losing another love no matter how heart-tripping the intimacy between them. And loss is a grim reality with the terrorist Renaud still on their trail, leaving a pile of bodies in his wake.
Going undercover on a new case gets them out of town and off the killer’s radar. They’re assigned to investigate an identity theft ring involving a college basketball team in Jamie’s home state, where Jamie’s past makes him perfect for the role of coach. But returning to the court brings more than old memories.
As secrets and shocking betrayals abound, none may be more dangerous than the one Jamie’s been keeping: a secret about the death of Aidan’s husband that could blow his partner’s world apart and destroy forever the fragile bonds of trust and love building between them.

The plot thickens… Single Malt ended with quite a revelation – that Jamie promised not to share with Aidan. It also left Jamie in a very precarious position. He was getting closer to Aidan and secrets between lovers never ends well.

I gotta say, I’m loving this series and Cask Strength cemented that feeling. Even though these two characters broke my heart – more than once. Jamie was all in when it came to his feelings about Aidan. The only thing was that Aidan was only all in when he was physically with Jamie. Nothing’s ever exactly what it seems and things started getting really interesting when the agents went under cover.

I don’t want to give too much away, but both Jamie and Aidan thought they had reason to be jealous. Jamie seemed to be in his element when he got back on the court. Then lines started blurring when Aidan worked under cover way too well.

As things in the identity theft case started to wrap up, the case they left behind took another strange turn. The cliff hanger in Cask Strength wasn’t quite as crazy… well, not in the same way, anyway… as Single Malt. That doesn’t mean that I can’t wait to pick up Barrel Proof. Even though I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be ready to say goodbye to Jamie or Aidan, Cask Strength ended in a twist that I never saw coming and I’m kinda hoping that there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation, but…

Forest of Thorns and Claws by J.T. Hall – Bout of Books 19 Review

Donovan McGinnis, a veterinarian and conservationist at a research center in Sumatra, is fighting to save the rainforest from poachers and politicians alike. One day he discovers a tigress trapped by a snare, and while treating her injuries, she bites him. He becomes ill with strange symptoms that leave him feverish and dreaming of the jungle and blood.
Kersen and his family are part of the Harimau jadian, a clan of tiger shifters hidden away in a secret village near the rainforest. When Kersen’s sister is caught, he knows he must free her before she infects someone with their magic and reveals their secret.
But Donovan has already been turned, and only time will tell if he can control the tiger within. Kersen must help him, but will the fierce attraction between the pair bring ruin to them all? With the rainforest under threat from outside forces, they may be doomed anyway, unless Kersen and Donovan can find a way to defeat the danger from inside and out.

I love books that convey an important message without being ‘preachy’ about it. You know what I mean, right? Forest of Thorns and Claws was one of those books. The message was about conservation and the affects that both legal and illegal actions can have. The story was centered around two very special characters. One who fought for the wildlife and its habitat even before he knew its magical secrets and the other who lived in that magical world with his family. That would have been enough to draw me in, but there were tigers, one of my favorite big cats, so I probably would have picked this one up regardless.

Kersen belonged to a clan of tiger shifters who had kept themselves hidden from humans for centuries. It was important to keep their secret, but it was even more important to rescue his sister. Once he found out that Donovan had been infected, he had more than one issue to handle. The doctor could be an ally, but what if he wasn’t. He had to get him away from the other humans before things got worse. Once he started spending time with Donovan, the attraction between them added another element.

Having Donovan turn into a shifter was kind of poetic in a way. His devotion and respect for the tigers was apparent in everything he did. It didn’t take him long to feel a part of the clan, which took his protection instincts to a whole new level. Thrown into the mix were untrusting villagers, a political and bureaucratic nightmare and a meddlesome friend. Needless to say, there wasn’t much down time in Forest of Thorns and Claws.

The romance was heated and intense, the suspense was gripping and the message was clear. If you read Forest of Thorns and Claws, don’t skip the author’s notes at the end. Her personal message to readers is worth the read. Enjoy!

 

Summer Stock by Vanessa North – Bout of Books 19 Review

Tabloid scandals have driven TV star Ryan Hertzog to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where he’s hiding out doing summer stock at his cousin’s seaside theater. When a hookup with local handyman Trey Donovan results in Ryan being photographed butt naked, he vows to keep his pants on and his hands off Trey. How was he supposed to know Trey would turn out to be the summer stock set builder?
Trey isn’t looking for a relationship; he’s still recovering from the emotional fallout of an abusive marriage. But Ryan’s laughter draws him in again and again, and he’s not about to say no to fooling around.
As the summer heats up, the paparazzi catch Ryan in increasingly compromising situations. Ryan might be too much drama for a summer fling—and Trey might be just an intermission from Ryan’s Hollywood life. But if they take their cues from Shakespeare, all’s well that ends well.

Summer Stock was a lot more than I expected. The cover (although I NEVER judge a book by its cover 😉 ) promised a fun summer romp in the sun. Although it did deliver on that promise, even the supporting characters had a lot of extra baggage that they hid behind those playful smiles.

It was easy to spot the ghosts of Trey’s past. His ex did a real number on him, both physically and emotionally. He had a long way to go before he could even think about trusting someone. A Hollywood TV star was definitely not the type of person he was looking for. As transparent as Ryan’s life seemed, there was a lot that he kept hidden. Hiding behind the facade was easier than baring his soul, especially with a summer fling.

Things got complicated when all the people that were not only dealing with their own problems, tried to protect both Ryan from Trey and Trey from Ryan. It was compounded by the fact that part of Trey’s defense mechanism seemed to sabotage any hope they had at building a relationship and Ryan’s lack of self esteem made him an easy target. Despite all that, I was really hoping these two would make it. Readers could tell if they let themselves, they’d be really good for each other.

By the end of Summer Stock I even started to respect the characters that I wasn’t sure about in the beginning. I love it when that happens. Don’t avoid this one if you’re just looking for a fun summer read – not to mention a dog that steals the show more than once. It really does deliver on that end, there just happens to be a lot more to the story than you may be bargaining for, and that’s never a bad thing 😉

Snared (Elemental Assassin #16) by Jennifer Estep

Irony 101—The Spider herself snared in someone else’s web…
Another week, another few clues trickling in about the Circle, the mysterious group that supposedly runs the city’s underworld. Gathering intel on my hidden enemies is a painstaking process, but a more immediate mystery has popped up on my radar: a missing girl.
My search for the girl begins on the mean streets of Ashland, but with all the killers and crooks in this city, I’m not holding out much hope that she’s still alive.
A series of clues leads me down an increasingly dark, dangerous path, and I realize that the missing girl is really just the first thread in this web of evil. As an assassin, I’m used to facing down the worst of the worst, but nothing prepares me for this new, terrifying enemy—one who strikes from the shadows and is determined to make me the next victim.

I can honestly say that I have never ‘met’ an Elemental Assassin book that I didn’t like and Snared was most definitely no exception. If you’ve read any of my other reviews in this series, you’re probably getting tired of hearing some of the same things over again. Trust me, it’s not because the books are all the same, not by a long shot. It’s because they all have the same elements that I love and that consistency – knowing that what’s always drawn me into Gin’s world is going to be there – keeps me coming back.

Things started heating up for Gin and company in Snared because she was getting close to identifying members of the Circle. She knew who a few of the key members were, which was helpful, but she really wanted to get to the top of the organization. When she’s asked to help find a mob boss’s missing sister, she has to change her priorities, but only for a little while.

I have to admit, I figured out who the bad guy was before Gin, but that didn’t lesson the mystery. There was a lot more going on behind the scenes and one character in particular that I really want to figure out. So does Gin…

As usual, one of my favorite aspects of the Elemental Assassin books is the sense of family. It seems like that family just keeps growing and new ‘members’ find their way into this tight knit group in some unexpected ways. There’s definitely more to come in the series and I can’t wait to see what happens next because I have a feeling things are about to get even more interesting in Ashland. 😉

Wake Up Call (Porthkennack #1) by J.L. Merrow

South London mechanic Devan Thompson has gone to Porthkennack to track down someone he’s been waiting all his life to know. But Dev’s distracted from his quest by Kyle, a broodingly handsome local of only a few months, who’s already got a reputation as an alcoholic because of his strange behaviour—including a habit of collapsing in the street.
Kyle Anthony fled to Porthkennack to escape from the ruins of his life. Still raging against his diagnosis of narcolepsy—a condition that’s cost him his job as a barrister, his lover, and all chance of normality—the last thing he wants is another relationship that’s doomed to fail. But Dev’s easy-going acceptance and adaptability, not to mention his good looks, have Kyle breaking all his self-imposed rules.
When disaster strikes Dev’s adored little sister, Kyle steps up to the plate, and Dev sees a side of his lover he wasn’t prepared for: competent, professional—and way out of Dev’s league. With one man determined that they don’t have a future, and the other fearing it, life after Porthkennack is starting to look bleak for both of them.
 

Oh, the ‘British’ is strong with this one. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s worth mentioning, mainly because the dialect takes a little getting used to – at least it did for me.

I like learning about new locations, even if they’re totally fictional. I also like getting to know characters dealing with things that I know little or nothing about. Of course I’d heard of narcolepsy, but I’ve never met or read about a character who dealt with it. Kyle was dealing with his diagnosis the only way he knew how, by shutting himself off from everyone. Not exactly healthy, but in his mind he had lost everything important to him. His former partner didn’t do anything to sway that opinion.

I have to admit, that Devan was my favorite between the two characters. Kyle eventually grew on me, but I liked Devan from the very beginning. The supporting characters were pretty great too, once readers got to know them better. Porthkennack may have been a tourist town, but some local residents weren’t exactly welcoming.

As much as I liked the story and the characters, except for the ones that I didn’t like at all (there were quite a few that were really easy to dislike) there were a few things about Wake Up Call that drove me nuts. One, maybe even two, misunderstanding are acceptable. Between Kyle and Devan though, it seemed like every other situation put them in another moment of doubt. There were times that I wanted to drag back the one (because both of them were guilty) that ran off in a huff and make them really listen to the other. This happened from the time they met and even though I understood, it was still a little annoying.

This is the first book in a series that promises to be interesting. It includes both contemporary and historical books, which is a unique approach. Each book is also written by a different author, so readers will be provided with a variety of perspectives. The next book in the Porthkennack series is A Gathering Storm by Joanna Chambers, which is historical. I haven’t decided if I’m going to pick that one up or not, but the next contemporary, Broke Deep by Charlie Cochrane is already on my TBR list. 😉

For a Good Time, Call… (Bluewater Bay #17) by Anne Tenino & E.J. Russell

Thirty-seven-year-old Nate Albano’s second relationship ever ended three years ago, and since he’s grace—gray asexual—he doesn’t anticipate beating the odds to find a third. Still, he’s got his dog, his hobbies, and his job as a special effects technician on Wolf’s Landing, so he can’t complain—much.
Seth Larson, umpteenth generation Bluewater Bay, is the quintessential good-time guy, content with tending bar and being his grandmother’s handyman. The night they meet, Seth’s looking for some recreational sex to escape family drama. But for Nate, romantic attraction comes before sexual attraction, so while Seth thinks they’re hooking up, Nate just wants to talk . . . genealogy?
Dude. Seriously?
So they declare a “just friends” truce. Then Seth asks for Nate’s help investigating a sinister Larson family secret, and their feelings start edging way beyond platonic. But Nate may want more than Seth can give him, and Seth may not be able to leave his good-time image behind. Unless they can find a way to merge carefree with commitment, they could miss out on true love—the best time of all.

For a Good Time, Call… was a great addition to the Bluewater Bay series, but I wanted more. *sigh* I know, that’s a somewhat frequent complaint I have of books that I really like. This time though, it’s more because so much was happening, so many little story lines were thrown into the mix and not all of them were fleshed out. It just seemed like there either needed to be more, or there needed to be a sequel.

That’s just my opinion though and despite that one minor flaw, I really enjoyed For a Good Time, Call… I liked the slow burn between the two characters and the vast difference in their approach to attraction. For Seth, it was a loose concept. He was up for ‘a Good Time’ pretty much 24/7. For Nate, it was a little more complicated. Their attraction to each other was a surprise for both of them. Nate’s past made him keep his distance regardless of what his heart and body were telling him. Seth just tried to keep himself in check because he didn’t want to risk the bond that was growing between them. 

Aside from the romance, the history and ancestral angle was really interesting. I loved the bond between Seth and his grandmother (who, by the way, was one of my favorite characters.) I liked the fact that this story pulled readers into the Bluewater Bay community and history – its roots, but there was still a strong story line within the Wolf’s Landing cast and crew. There was also an interesting twist that I’m really hoping gets explored more because that story line is just too intriguing to be left hanging. There were also a couple of other loose ends that I want to know more about, but we’ve already discussed this, right?

So yes, For a Good Time, Call… had a few bumps and wrinkles, but I still liked it and I’d still recommend reading this along with all the stories in the series. They’re written by different authors, some I’ve enjoyed more than others and they can pretty much all be read as stand alones. However, there’s enough of a common thread, regardless of how thin, that I think readers would get more out of any of them if they experienced most of the Wolf’s Landing/Bluewater Bay world.

Hopeless Romantic by Francis Gideon

Nick Fraser is a true romantic. He wants the guy instead of the girl, but other than that, he wants everything his favorite rom-coms depict: the courtship, the passionate first kiss, the fairy-tale wedding. But after breaking up with the love of his life, Nick wonders if anything fairy-tale will ever happen for him.
Then he meets Katie, who’s just like a rom-com heroine. She’s sharp, funny, sweet, and as into music and punk culture as Nick is. What’s more, he’s incredibly attracted to her—even though she’s a woman. Nick has never considered that he might be bisexual, but his feelings for Katie are definitely real.
When Katie reveals that she’s transgender, Nick starts to see how much he doesn’t understand about the world, queer identity, and himself. He is hopelessly in love with Katie, but this isn’t a fairy tale, and Nick’s friends and family may not accept his new relationship. If he wants it all, he has to have the courage to make his fantasy a reality.

First, a little insight into why I read some of the books that I do. I stayed away from the LGBTQIA genre for a long time because I didn’t think I could relate to the characters. I was wrong on so many levels. I can see that now. My go-to books and authors now include a pretty wide array of LGBTQIA, some of which have even helped me learn a little bit about myself, who knew?  I’ve only read a handful of trans books, and not knowing anyone who is trans I couldn’t tell you which ones have come closer to portraying a true trans man or woman. To me, that’s not the point. I’m not trying to be insensitive, just the opposite. I try to read books that may help me understand where people from all walks of life are coming from. Hopefully, it’s making me a better person in the long run. Maybe, maybe not, but since I live in a community where I’m sure the full spectrum of LBGTQIA people live right beside me, but for many reasons (family, church, neighbors, school, etc.) don’t feel safe being themselves, reading this genre is the only way I have of gaining even a little bit of understanding. Hopefully, one day, that will change, but I don’t see it happening any time soon.

For all those reasons, I’m not really sure how to write this review. I try not to read other reviews before I write mine, but this one was hard because the reactions were intense. This is the first book by Francis Gideon I’ve read, so I have nothing to compare it to, but I liked the story and the insight. If nothing else, it’s made me want to read more transgender books, because honestly, just like every other person on the planet, I would imagine that no two transgender people are the same or handle things the same way.

Again, I’m not trying to be insensitive, but I could relate to Nick. He was learning and yes, he may have faltered… a lot, but he was trying. He was also a bit flustered because being attracted to Katie kind of threw him. He had identified as gay his entire life and finding out that Katie was trans, relieved him in a way. I’m not saying that was right, it wasn’t. He just grasped at it in an effort to come to terms with the fact that he was attracted to a woman. Once he did come to terms with it, he still slipped a little, but he was trying.

Katie was an amazing character. She was patient with Nick, but she didn’t let him get away with his pre-conceived ideas and she made him take a good hard look at himself, more than once. She could have kicked him to the curb and left him more than once, but she saw something in him that wouldn’t let her. Love is love after all. 😉 On a side note, the thing that I noticed more than once was that from the very beginning, Nick only saw Katie as a woman. People around them, total strangers could see the masculine side of Katie, but Nick never did. To me it meant that he saw her for who she truly was… just a thought.

So, Hopeless Romantic may not have been the perfect portrayal of a trans/gay couple, but for me it was a sweet romance between two people that loved each other. Nick may have come off as insensitive to some, probably rightly so, but I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t make the at least some of same mistakes, but not purposely. Wrapping your head around something you’ve never experienced before isn’t always easy, but knowledge is powerful and sensitivity goes a long way regardless of who you are.

Home Fires (Common Law #4) by Kate Sherwood

Trouble comes to Mosely, Montana, from the outside world. When the residents of Mosely are left on their own, they can make things work. Sure, there’s always been a militia operating up in the hills, but they were small-scale—just survivalists doing their thing—until organizers came in from out of state. Now Jericho Crewe and the rest of the sheriff’s department are facing down a heavily armed band of fanatics, and the feds are busy elsewhere.
The odds are hopeless, but Jericho swore an oath to serve and protect the citizens of Mosely. He won’t walk away from that, even if Wade Granger’s begging him to run away somewhere and finally be together the way they always should have been.
But this time, it’s Jericho who refuses to leave Mosely, even if staying kills him.

Well, if things had to end… okay, so I’m still not happy about this series being over, but Kate Sherwood did an amazing job of wrapping things up for Wade and Jericho.

Jericho was so close to quitting, so close. Then things got even crazier in Mosely. So crazy that even Wade was ready to pack it up and move on, but Jericho couldn’t do it. Not when people he cared about were too close to getting caught in the cross fire, literally. There’s not a whole lot more to say than what you see in the description, except Wade blew me away in Home Fires. I honestly thought he was ready to call it quits, but then… yeah, you’ve gotta read this one to get the whole ‘Wade’ affect.

Common Law is the only series by Kate Sherwood that I’ve read. Actually, I’ve only read one other book by her and Mark of Cain kind of left me reeling. This series did the same in a whole different way. It also made me realize that I really need to add more books by this author to my TBR list. As I said in the beginning, I’m sad to say good-bye to these characters. There were a few that I wanted to get to know a little better and even more that I would have liked to ‘check in on’ to make sure they weathered through all the craziness that happened in Home Fires. They were all left in a pretty good place in the end though, so saying goodbye wasn’t quite as hard as I thought it was going to be. 😉

Wild & Sweet (Haven Brotherhood #1) by Rhenna Morgan

Live hard, f*ck harder and follow only their own rules. Those are the cornerstones the six men of the Haven Brotherhood live and bleed by, refusing to conform to society’s expectations, taking what they want and always watching each other’s backs. 
Zeke Dugan is not a man who walks the straight and narrow. He may have sworn an oath as a trauma doc, but he has zero problem leveraging his medical skills outside a hospital if it means giving the Brotherhood—the group of men he calls family—an advantage. Blood before business. All that changes when shy Gabrielle stumbles into his life and ignites his protective instincts. 
Mechanic Gabrielle Parker prefers the complexities of an engine over men. Her life wasn’t always quiet and well-ordered, but now that it is, she finds peace in the solitude. When a robbery in her neighborhood forces her out of her safe bubble, she never fathoms that a dangerous, cocky trauma doctor will fix more than her injuries. 
Zeke doesn’t play by the rules that Gabrielle follows but knows that he’s exactly what she needs in her life. He’ll show her the fierce and uncompromising protection that comes from belonging to a man like him. 
When tension outside the Brotherhood threatens Gabrielle, Zeke will do anything to keep her safe, and damn the consequences. No one will hurt his woman, even if it means putting the very men who saved his life at risk.
 

I mentioned that I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up the first book in Rhenna Morgan’s Haven Brotherhood series. It didn’t take long for Rough & Tumble to win me over though and Wild & Sweet pulled me even farther into their crazy world and made me fall in love with these guys and their women (including the moms) even more.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t totally understand Gabrielle’s reluctance to trust Zeke, especially when she found out that the Brotherhood skirted the law. She saw things in black and white… no gray at all. There was right and there was wrong and Gabrielle wanted to stay as far away from people who broke the law as she could, regardless of the reasons why. The thing was that when you fell under the protection of the Brotherhood you were considered family and nothing was more important than family. The fact that Gabrielle’s brother was slowly being brought into the Brotherhood brought everything up a notch.

So, in a nutshell… I loved the connection between Gabrielle and Zeke. I understood Gabrielle’s reluctance to trust, but I also respected Zeke’s determination to protect her, no matter what, as well as his patience and respect for Gabrielle. The danger, romance and heat between the two of them, along with the great supporting characters were an added bonus. For all those reasons, it should surprise no one that I can’t wait for the next book in the Haven Brotherhood series.