Soul of the Sword (Shadow of the Fox #2) by Julie Kagawa

One thousand years ago, a wish was made to the Harbinger of Change and a sword of rage and lightning was forged. Kamigoroshi. The Godslayer. It had one task: to seal away the powerful demon Hakaimono.
Now he has broken free.

Kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko has one task: to take her piece of the ancient and powerful scroll to the Steel Feather temple in order to prevent the summoning of the Harbinger of Change, the great Kami Dragon who will grant one wish to whomever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. But she has a new enemy now. The demon Hakaimono, who for centuries was trapped in a cursed sword, has escaped and possessed the boy she thought would protect her, Kage Tatsumi of the Shadow Clan.
Hakaimono has done the unthinkable and joined forces with the Master of Demons in order to break the curse of the sword and set himself free. To overthrow the empire and cover the land in darkness, they need one thing: the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. As the paths of Yumeko and the possessed Tatsumi cross once again, the entire empire will be thrown into chaos.

The Shadow of the Fox ended with Yumeko and her companions in an unexpected and dangerous position. In other words, it ended with one heck of a cliff hanger. Soul of the Sword continued their journey to deliver the piece of the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers that Yumeko had been entrusted with to the Steel Feather temple. That’s no longer their only mission though. Yumeko can’t bring herself to give up on Tatsumi. She wants to save him and his soul from possession.

Soul of the Sword was an amazing followup to Shadow of the Fox. The POV switched between Hakaimono and Yumeko and a couple of other “voices” throughout the story. Connections were made with some of the side characters that were slightly vague in Shadow of the Fox. Yumeko learned a lot about herself and what she was capable of as well Tatsumi’s past during her travels. There weren’t quite as many “light” moments in Soul of the Sword, but there were just enough to break through a little bit of the darkness – which there was plenty.

I loved the way Soul of the Sword continued to weave the past and present and give even more dimension to all the characters. There was even an unexpected bit of romance that made me smile. Things are far from over for Yumeko and her companions. Decisions and unlikely alliances were made that changed the course of their mission and left them in even more danger. Needless to say, I can’t wait until the next book in the Shadow of the Fox is released.

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The Scarecrow & George C by Mia Kerick

High school senior Van Liss is barely human. He thinks of himself as a scarecrow—ragged and unnerving, stuck, and destined to spend his life cold and alone. If he ever had feelings, they were stomped out long ago by his selfish mother and her lecherous boyfriend. All he’s been left with is bitter contempt, to which he clings.
With a rough exterior long used to keep the world at bay, Van spooks George Curaco, the handsome new frycook at the diner where he works. But George C senses there is more to the untouchable Van and refuses to stop staring, fascinated by his eccentricity. When Van learns that George C is even more cold, alone, and frightened than himself, Van welcomes him to his empty home. And ends up finding his heart.
Their road to trust is rocky and, at times, even dangerous. And looming evil threatens to keep them apart forever.
Fair warning: You may want to strap in. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

My initial response when I finished The Scarecrow & George C? This author is getting really good at breaking my heart…

These boys were definitely meant to be with each other. They were both so broken, although George hid it well. Van kept himself closed off, but he couldn’t help himself from being drawn to George. I loved watching him open up and become “real”.

I loved George, but it was hard for me to not get mad at him – yet when everyone else gave up on him, Van didn’t. Oh Van was crushed and my heart broke for him (more than once) but once he got himself together, he realized that some things were worth fighting for.

There were so many layers to The Scarecrow & George C. Heartbreak, trust, forgiveness, love, true friendship and most of all, there was hope. There was also a strong sense of family – not by blood, but the found kind of family. Sometimes those form the strongest and most dependable bonds. Watching these characters grow and learn to trust (and not just each other) was amazing.

I’ve read enough books by this author now to understand that their books aren’t exactly easy to read from an emotional standpoint, but they are totally worth every tear that’s shed. ❤

Sisters of Summer’s End (Summer Resort #2) by Lori Foster

As the summer ends, friendship begins…When single mom Joy Lee abandoned her old life to take a job at a lakeside resort, she found something that her family’s wealth and influence could never buy: peace of mind. Not easy to come by for the once-burned divorce who keeps everyone at a distance. But when her new friend, Maris, dares her to take a chance with the drive-in’s charismatic new owner, everything changes for Joy and her young son. A difficult childhood has left Maris Kennedy with definite priorities. Her job running Summer’s End, the camp store and cafe, comes first. Always. Nothing could ever make her risk that hard-won security–especially not her free-spirited colleague. But the more she encourages Joy to open herself up to new experiences, the more Maris begins to wonder what she, too, might be missing. Learning how to trust will bring Joy and Maris together.
And soon they form a friendship that leaves them as close as sisters–and open to love where they least expect it…in Summer’s End.

I’ve really enjoyed the Summer Resort series, which started with Cooper’s Charm. I think that Sisters of Summer’s End may have been even sweeter than the first book. For one thing, the only real conflict in this one was emotional. There was a touch of danger in Cooper’s Charm that was absent in the second book. That’s not a complaint though. Although I love Lori Foster’s suspenseful books a little more, the sweet ones definitely have their own appeal 😉

Just like Cooper’s Charm, there were two couples featured in Sisters of Summer’s End and I enjoyed both of them. Both women had interesting back stories and both men were determined to find a way into both of their hearts.

I’m not sure if there’s more to come with the Summer Resort series, but I have no doubt that there’s much more to come from Lori Foster, regardless.

The Midnight Twelve (Outlaw Seven #1) by Hairann

Ezra Grayson arrives in the small town of Edgewood, following a clue that will hopefully lead him to the men responsible for the deaths of his parents. His desire for revenge, the only thing keeping him going after five years of trailing the midnight twelve.
Colleen Warren was not like the other girls working at the Lady Luck Saloon in Edgewood. It was not easy to explain to her customers that the soft, feminine Colleen was also the hard, masculine Cole.
A miscalculation throws them together as they run from the law and the bounty on Ezra’s head, but it is fate that guides their journey across the land; bringing them closer to the answers they both seek and to each other.

This story pulled me in little by little. Both Ezra and Colleen/Cole had suffered tragedy at an early age – but in very different ways. Ezra had lived with loving parents until the night they were murdered and Ezra escaped. Colleen/Cole had rarely had anyone show him any type of care or affection until he met Ezra.

Even though the references and speech didn’t always match the historical time frame, I still enjoyed the story. Historical fiction isn’t my “go-to” genre, so other readers may find it more distracting. What drew me into Ezra and Colleen/Cole’s story most was Ezra’s acceptance of Colleen/Cole. That’s not saying he wasn’t confused at times – but he didn’t judge. Honestly, Ezra had little or no sexual experience at all, so he wasn’t sure about his attraction to them regardless of his/her gender.

The rest of the story was intriguing and the action/danger for both Ezra and Colleen/Cole didn’t slow down. There is most definitely more to come and I can’t wait to see how Ezra’s justice plays out and how the relationship between Ezra and Colleen/Cole develops.

Blood is Forever by Asta Idonea

As a fae-vampire hybrid, scorned by all, Holden’s life has never been easy. The one bright spot is his job testing blood at supernatural crime scenes. It’s routine work, until the day he finds a victim he can’t read.
When one murder becomes two, and then three, it’s clear there’s a serial killer on the loose—one with a penchant for collecting hearts. Finding the bad guy could cement Holden’s career, but he’s drawing a blank. And it doesn’t help that the expert his boss calls in to assist him is the man Holden’s been crushing on for years.
With lives hanging in the balance, Holden and Val must solve the case before the killer strikes again. But will they come out with their hearts still intact?

Standalone books are great, but every once in a while, I read a book that isn’t a part of a series that I really wish was. That’s how I felt when I finished Blood is Forever. I loved getting to know Holden and Val and their story came to a satisfying end, but I couldn’t help thinking that it would be great to get more from them. *sigh*

Holden was one of those characters that I just wanted to hug. He was treated as an outcast by pretty much everyone. His only true friend was someone who didn’t even come into his life honestly. He became a friend because he took the time to really get to know Holden and not judge him because of his parentage.

Val wasn’t someone who was easy to like, especially since he treated Holden just as bad as everyone else during their first encounters. He was arrogant and rude, but not everyone or everything is exactly what they seem at first glance. There was a lot more to Val than he let others see and it didn’t take long for Holden to become even more enamored with him.

There were a lot of unexpected twists and turns in Blood is Forever and at times the situation that Holden and Val found themselves in seemed hopeless. Love has a way of turning things around though, even when betrayal comes from some unexpected sources.

Give Up the Ghost (Not Dead Yet #2) by Jenn Burke

Immortal not-ghost Wes Cooper and his vampire partner, Hudson Rojas, have it all—rewarding private investigation work, great friends and, most important, a love that’s endured. But ever since Wes sent a demon screaming back to the beyond, his abilities have grown overpowering and overwhelming. He’s hiding the fact that he’s losing control the best he can, but it’s hard to keep anything a secret for long when your partner’s a former cop…and especially when your partner’s a former cop who wants to move in together.
When all hell literally breaks loose in Toronto and superstrength ghosts are unleashed on Wes and his friends, he and Hudson are thrown into a case unlike any they’ve seen before. To save the city, Wes needs to harness his new power…and find some answers. But when he gets them, the solution to fix it all could mean losing everything.

This is one of those series that I’m so glad I stumbled on. Not Dead Yet was a great start to this series and Give Up the Ghost may even be just a little bit better… even though I spent a fair amount of the book wanting to smack Wes. *sigh*

By keeping his secret, Wes put his friends in a lot of danger. He didn’t mean to, he was just afraid of loosing Hudson if he knew what he was hiding. The only problem was that the longer he hid it, the more out of control his power became. In trying to save his relationship he almost lost everything important to him.

There was a lot more to Wes’ power than he even knew and the temptation use it, even in the most innocent ways, was strong. He ended up putting everyone he was trying to protect in even more danger. So much that he was willing to sacrifice everything – even himself – to make sure no one else was hurt, physically or emotionally.

I loved all the twists and turns and unexpected revelations. The danger and suspense definitely kept the pages turning. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Wes, Hudson and the rest of their “family” in Graveyard Shift. In the mean time, I may have to make room on my ever growing TBR pile for other reads from Jenn Burke 😉

Arctic Wild (Frozen Hearts #2) by Annabeth Albert

When a plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, the best place to land is in the arms of a younger man…
Hotshot attorney Reuben Graham has finally agreed to take a vacation, when his plane suddenly plunges into the Alaskan wilderness.
Just his luck.
But his frustrations have only begun as he finds himself stranded with the injured, and superhot, pilot, a man who’s endearingly sociable—and much too young for Reuben to be wanting him this badly.
As the sole provider for his sisters and ailing father, Tobias Kooly is devastated to learn his injuries will prevent him from working or even making it back home. So when Reuben insists on giving him a place to recover, not even Toby’s pride can make him refuse. He’s never been tempted by a silver fox before, but something about Reuben is impossible to resist.
Recuperating in Reuben’s care is the last thing Toby expected, yet the closer they become, the more incredibly right it feels, prompting workaholic Reuben to question the life he’s been living. But when the pressure Toby’s under starts closing in, both men will have to decide if there’s room in their hearts for a love they never saw coming.

Frozen Hearts started with Griffin and River in Arctic Sun. Even though you could probably read either book as a stand alone, there are some cameos from previous characters, plus readers do briefly meet Tobias in the first book. I’m a series “junky” though, so, it’s up to you if you want to start here. 😉

I really liked getting to know Toby better in Arctic Wild. There was certainly a lot more to him than the playboy readers met in Arctic Sun. He’s under a lot of pressure and responsibility – which is why losing time from work after the accident is such a hard blow. It also makes it hard to become too dependent on Reuben, especially since getting attached to someone who doesn’t plan on sticking around is risky – mainly to his heart.

Reuben is a certified work-a-holic, but while he’s taking care of Toby, he realizes that there’s more to life than work. Getting close to Toby while re-connecting with his daughter makes him want even more. Toby doesn’t trust what they’re feeling to be enough to pull Reuben away from the fast-paced business world he seems to thrive on. Watching the three of them (including Reuben’s daughter) become closer and eventually trust what they’re all feeling was the best part of the story, at least for me.

The rest of the supporting characters were also great and added a lot to the story. (I especially loved Toby’s sister.) Even the characters that I didn’t like very much kept things interesting.

The next book in the Frozen Hearts series features a character that readers only met briefly in Arctic Wild, so I’m sure Arctic Heat can also be read as a stand alone.

American Fairytale (Dreamers #2) by Adriana Herrera

New York City social worker Camilo Santiago Briggs grew up surrounded by survivors who taught him to never rely on anything you didn’t earn yourself. He’s always dreamed of his own happily-ever-after, but he lives in the real world. Men who seem too good to be true…usually are. And Milo never ever mixes business with pleasure…until the mysterious man he had an unforgettable hookup with turns out to be the wealthy donor behind his agency’s new, next-level funding.
Thomas Hughes built a billion-dollar business from nothing: he knows what he wants and isn’t shy about going after it. When the enthralling stranger who blew his mind at a black-tie gala reappears, Tom’s more than ready to be his Prince Charming. Showering Milo with the very best of everything is how Tom shows his affection.
Trouble is, Milo’s not interested in any of it. The only thing Milo wants is Tom.
Fairy-tale endings take work as well as love. For Milo, that means learning to let someone take care of him, for a change. And for Tom, it’s figuring out that real love is the one thing you can’t buy.

I really liked American Dreamer, the first book in Adrianna Herrara’s Dreamer series and even though American Fairytale didn’t quiet measure up for me, I enjoyed it too. Honestly, the only issue I really had with Tom and Milo was the lack of communication. What I liked most about American Fairytale was supporting characters who were there for both Tom and Milo.

Tom wanted to share what he had to help Milo – he couldn’t understand why Milo wouldn’t accept the help. Milo was too proud and stubborn to even consider the help he was offering and adamant about not accepting it. I could see both their points, but I also have to admit, I got kinda frustrated with both of them. Even so, I could still see how great they were together. I was really impressed with the way Tom figured out a way to help, even if he wasn’t sure Milo would understand.

There’s still more to come with the Dreamer series and the next couple featured has already piqued my curiosity. After reading the description for American Love Story, I’m even more excited to get to Easton and Patrice’s story.

Spells, Salt, & Steel – Season One by Gail Z. Martin & Larry N. Martin

“When all else fails, the ass end of a carp makes a damn fine weapon.”
Your new favorite monster hunter has arrived! Bubba the Monster Hunter has some competition in this horror comedy collection from best-selling author duo Gail Z. & Larry N. Martin!
By day, Mark Wojcik can be found elbow-deep in engine grease, making cars and trucks safe for the highway. By night, he can be found traipsing through the wilds of Pennsylvania, making the world safe for humans. He’s more than just a mechanic, he’s a New Templar Knight. He travels the backroads and byways fighting weresquonks, ningen, selkies, ghosts, and…gnomes? Is that gnome…naked? (sigh).
Season One collects the first four novellas in the Spells, Salt, & Steel series –
Spells, Salt, & Steel • Open Season  • Deep Trouble • Close Encounters

Some of you may have noticed that I’m moving right along with the books in this crazy world created by Gail Z. Martin (AKA – Morgan Brice) and Larry N. Martin. You also may have noticed that I’m not exactly reading them in order. If you’ve read more than a couple of my reviews, you have probably noticed that’s not anything new. I have a little bit more back tracking to do because I’ve only scratched the surface – so stay tuned. 😉

Spells, Salt, & Steel
When all else fails, the ass end of a carp makes a damn fine weapon.
No, that didn’t come from the lips of Bubba the Monster Hunter, but it sure could have! That sentence right there kinda encapsulates the life of Mark Wojcik, Monster Hunter. A blue-collar mechanic from the wilds of PA, Mark likes his beer cold, his poker games private, and his monsters…well, he doesn’t like them at all. So when he finds himself dueling a Japanese mythical monster in the Linesville Spillway in the wee hours of the night, he has to use every available weapon to survive and vanquish the ningen.
Even if it means beating the damn thing to death with a carp.
If interloping Japanese fish-monsters weren’t bad enough, there’s a Nazi ghost terrorizing the community. Somebody needs to gank the ghostie, and Mark is the man for the job.
He hopes.
They are the first line of defense against the things that go bump in the night.
They are the keepers of a centuries-old legacy of The Church defending the world against the forces of darkness.
They are a bunch of highly armed rednecks, internet video celebrities, soccer moms, and assorted broken nutjobs.
They are the new Templars, and things are about to get weird.

That reading order thing? Yeah, this particular book in the Spells, Salt, & Steel series came out before the previous books I’ve read (Badlands, Witchbane, Sons of Darkness & Dark Rivers.) Which only means that I feel like I already knew Mark before I started, even though pretty much all of his interactions with the other books were by phone. It didn’t take me long to totally fall in love with Mark Wojcik. ❤

He shares a lot in common with his fellow hunters, mainly, most of them fell into this business by loosing someone they cared about to the monsters that most people don’t even know exist. One thing that I’ve noticed already is that these authors are great at writing monsters – in all their gory detail. *shivers* And for the record – I love every minute of it. This story, just like the others, has some really great supporting characters from all walks of life. What I really loved about Mark so far, was his sense of humor. There were some pretty gruesome moments in Spells, Salt, & Steel that were made a lot lighter by Mark’s quips and inner dialogue.

Basically, this was a great beginning and I can’t wait to continue. 😉

Open Season
The carp-slapping, grenade-launching son of a gun Mark Wojcik is back, and this time he’s going hunting!
When there’s trouble in the Pennsylvania wilds, there’s only one person to call. It’s out of Bubba’s jurisdiction, so the monster mashing falls on part-time mechanic, part-time cryptic killer Mark Wojcik. He’s got a gun, a cast of supporting characters you won’t believe, and more ammunition than you can shake a stick at. This time, there’s something funky happening in the woods, and Mark is about to learn more about hunting, and The Hunt, than he ever wanted to!

I can’t remember the last time I started reading an Urban Fantasy and highlighted as many “LOL” moments as I have while reading the books in this series. Mark faces real danger with every case he takes. Some think he has a death wish and sometimes he thinks he might as well. Yet, he’s determined to rid the world of creatures like the ones who tore his family from him – and not just the ones who didn’t survive the attack that changed his life. Then there are lines like this that can’t help but make me want to get to know him better:

So here I was, loaded up with more weapons than Elmer Fudd in duck season, looking for a carnivorous cryptid in a bottomless swamp. What could possibly go wrong?
F*ck-all, that’s what.

I’m beginning to adore Mark Wojcik. 😉

As the title suggests, most of the “hunts” that Mark is hired for in Open Season have to do with “hunting” and not just the kind Mark does. People are disappearing, evil’s lurking in unexpected places and new and interesting allies are found while old enemies are still just as crazy as ever. Through it all, the “family” that really matters is right by his side when he needs them most. ❤

Deep Trouble
Mark Wojcik is back, and this time there are ghosts, gnomes, dragons, and way more than you ever wanted to know about a gnome’s fiddly bits!
When there’s trouble in the Pennsylvania wilds, there’s only one person to call. It’s out of Bubba’s jurisdiction, so the monster mashing falls on part-time mechanic, part-time cryptid killer Mark Wojcik. He’s got a gun, a cast of supporting characters you won’t believe, and more ammunition than you can shake a stick at. This time, Mark’s not sure what’s more dangerous, a haunted hotel, or the live guests at his girlfriend’s work soiree!

Another installment in the Spells, Salt, & Steel – Season 1 that makes me adore Mark Wojcik even more. He gains even more unlikely allies in Deep Trouble that add to the menagerie.

One of the things that make me like Mark so much (and there are many, many things) is the fact that he doesn’t just arbitrarily eliminate every “monster” he hunts down. If they’re not a danger to anyone around them, he finds a way to help them.

There’s only one more story left in Season 1 and with the promise of more to come, I can’t wait to get to know Mark and friends even better. 😉

Close Encounters
There’s a drunk werewolf passed out on his porch, a monster mistaken for a mammoth stalking the nearby woods, zombies at an abandoned sanitarium, and his niece has been kidnapped by a haunted hotel that makes the Overlook resemble the Waldorf Astoria.

For Mark Wojcik, it’s just another week in the wild backwoods of Pennsylvania.
That’s right, Mark Wojcik is back, with more monsters, more one-liners, more action, more mysteries, and now with added shady government conspiracies! This time old family ghosts come calling when his dead brother’s widow calls to tell him his niece has gone missing, Mark knows she’d rather cut off her arm than ever speak to him again, so if his sister-in-law is calling, it’s gotta be serious. Mark finds out just how serious when he realizes that his niece has vanished into a haunted hotel that only appears once every few decades, so if he’s going to get her home safe, he’d better haul some serious ass!
Can Mark save his niece when he couldn’t save his brother?

Things get a little personal in Close Encounters and then a little crazy… uh crazier? than normal.

This is the last book in Season 1 of Spells, Salt & Steel, and if I didn’t already know that the 5th installment was already in the works, I’d be a little miffed. As it is, I’m going to have a hard time waiting to see what happens next. It seems that Mark’s ghost hunting escapades have just leveled up a notch.

All the stories in this installment are even more connected than all the others and trust me when I say, they end with a bang… literally. I love how this series is also connected with characters from other series – even characters that don’t belong to just Gail Z. Martin, Larry N. Martin and Morgan Brice. As a matter of fact, I’m planning on delving into the characters created by other authors because this world is amazing.

Stay tuned! I can pretty much guarantee that there’s MUCH more to come!

Running on Empty (Havoc #3) by S.E. Jakes

After a brutal capture at the hands of the Heathens Motorcycle Club, Linc is just trying to heal, mentally and physically. But he’s got men in his life who are complicating everything. There’s Mercy—a Havoc MC biker and the man he is falling fast for—plus an undercover ATF agent and a rogue Havoc member.
But Mercy’s keeping him at arm’s length, and Linc is spinning. In an attempt to regain his equilibrium, he heads to the bar where he first met Mercy. Night after night, he escapes Havoc bonds and continues down his merry path of mayhem . . . mainly in the hopes that Mercy will give chase.
Since Linc’s capture by his old MC, Mercy’s been dealing with the fallout of his guilt. He’s trying to give Linc space and still watch over him—all without Linc’s knowledge. But with Linc’s old job calling and a threat to Havoc MC heating up, can they make their way back together?

I liked Running on Empty, but to honest, this one was my least favorite in the Havoc series so far. I think it’s a “me” thing though and I blame it totally on my feelings toward Mercy. I’m not the only one who was less than impressed with the way Mercy was acting though and I’m not talking about fellow readers. His brothers in Havoc and even others weren’t real happy with him either.

I understand his hesitance, but he almost gave Linc too much time. After everything that Linc endured in Running Blind, he needed Mercy, even though he was trying to push him away. He had other people to be there for him. He was broken and it took him a while to start feeling anything close to normal. When Mercy finally made his move, Linc knew in his heart that it was only out of guilt, it couldn’t be because he actually cared. Mercy wasn’t ready to let Linc know how he really felt, mostly because he didn’t think he deserved Linc’s love. *sigh*

Things get even messier when Linc has to face letting people he’s closest to know that there’s a huge part of his life he’s kept hidden. Mercy isn’t the only one with secrets that have the potential to harm those around him. Needless to say, there was a lot happening in Running on Empty. Some of the danger is taken care of by the end, but it’s obvious that things are far from over. I have no idea what’s next for Havoc, but I can’t wait to find out.