Monthly Archives: April 2015

Review: LEAD by Kylie Scott

A young woman hired to babysit a rock star in recovery for drug and alcohol addiction finds herself emotionally involved.

Lead (Stage Dive, #3)

Lead

At the start of the Stage Dive series, lead singer Jimmy Ferris is a villain. He’s mean and disloyal. We’ve gotten hints that he’s having issues with his drug-addicted mother extorting money out of him. In spite of running off all of the recovery companions that his record label hires for him, he’s working hard to stay away from things that trigger downward spirals–drugs, alcohol, women. But the recent death of his fellow band member Mal’s mother, who was a surrogate mom to Jimmy and his brother, has shaken him.

Lena Morrissey is Jimmy’s newest recovery companion. She’s not crazy about the job, but it pays really well and she needs something to keep her mind off the fact that her fiance dumped her for her sister. Lena Steels herself against both Jimmy’s bad attitude and his charm. They develop a weird and highly amusing co-dependency, which becomes an issue when Lena finds she’s fallen for him. She tries to quit, but he’s not having it.

From the start there’s a nice spark between Jimmy and Lena. He’s got a lot of baggage. There’s a lot of “he wants her, he doesn’t want her.” Yet, when she questions their relationship, his reaction is brutal. Since he’s already the hardest band member to like, this nastiness is hard to stomach. I found myself pitying Lena for running after him and moaning over him. I think the author need to give us just a little more evidence to support Jimmy’s unexpected appearance at Lena’s sister’s wedding.

The other band members are there to stick their noses in and nudge the pair together. And, as usual in a Kylie Scott novel, there’s a lot of humor to get you through the angst.

LEAD is a story about a man learning to negotiate emotions he’s always avoided and a woman who’s had her heart stomped on one too many times. It puts readers through hell, but the end makes the journey worth it.

Review: PLAY by Kylie Scott

When Anne Rollins’s roommate bails and leaves her broke and about to lose her apartment, she agrees to a job pretending to be a rock star’s girlfriend.

Play (Stage Dive, #2)

Play

I loved Mal Ericson in LICK, the first book in the Stage Dive series. He was funny and affectionate and, well, just a little insane. Here we get all this good stuff as well as a peek into the man behind the mayhem. Anne isn’t a starry-eyed heroine. Nor is she jaded and broken. She’s a young woman who’s faced hard knocks in her life and dealt with them in a level-headed and responsible manner. Her devotion to her sister solidified my affection for her. I also like that she’s so normal in appearance. It gets dull always reading about gorgeous women and the gorgeous men who love them.

I don’t know how much I buy that Mal needs a “good girl” on his arm to rescue his image, but the story is engrossing enough that I’m willing to go with it. And it turns out that Mal is facing an overwhelming crisis. His refusal to talk about it causes much of the trouble in his relationship with Anne. He makes some dumb moves that cause her pain. Seeing as Mal’s the nicest of his whole band, this behavior seems out of character and confusing–until we learn what it is he’s hiding.

Want a sample of how weird Mal is? Here’s a snippet:

“Hello, Anne’s clitoris. It’s me, Malcolm, your lord and master.”

“Oh, god, no.” I covered my face with my hands. “Please don’t.”

“Shh. This is a private conversation.” He brushed hot, feverish kisses up and down the lips of my sex. My stomach tensed so hard it hurt. “Look at you all pretty, pink, and excited. Don’t worry, I’ll look after you.”

Need I say more?

The city of Portland is well depicted and adds a lot of texture to the novel. It’s also fun meet back up with all the characters we fell for in LICK. The ongoing relationships between the band members, their girls, and assorted side characters draw you in.

Lots of angst and tears in this one, but it’s also incredibly funny.

Review: GONE FOR YOU by Jayne Frost

** I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review

A musician in an up-and-coming rock band falls for a disowned heiress.

Gone for You

Gone for You

Cameron Knight is a real good-time-guy. As the book opens, he’s kind of cocky. When he tries his smooth skills on Lily Tennison, in charge of guest relations at a tony hotel, she puts him in his place. But then she succumbs a little quickly for my taste. Luckily there’s enough to her character to redeem this. Lily has an interesting back story. Her mother hates that she wants to be an artist. The woman is a nightmare. Lily’s father doesn’t stick up for his daughter until the end. I like that Lily works so hard to stand on her own feet. She has more depth than Cameron. He’s funny and likable, but he’s doesn’t have much substance to him.

Some of the issues I had with Cameron may have to do with the pacing of the book. It moves very quickly. On one hand, it’s nice that the action keeps us interested. On the other, the pacing makes it hard to build a relationship with the characters.

I think the book needed to be twenty pages longer. The length really becomes an issue as we get to the end and are introduced to numerous characters who will likely star in future installments of the series. There are so many of them introduced in so few pages, that I found it hard to keep track of them. Just as I should have getting a satisfying wrap up of Lily and Cameron’s romance, I became buried under all these new people and their relationships to one another.

In short, I’d say Jayne Frost tried a little too hard to make GONE FOR YOU the start of the “Sixth Street Band” series. All the set up for future books undermined the strength of this one as a standalone.

Still, GONE FOR YOU is a light, fun story. It left me interested enough to read more about the Sixth Street Band.

Review: LICK by Kylie Scott

During a trip to Vegas to celebrate her 21st birthday, a young woman wakes up married to a rock star.

Lick (Stage Dive, #1)

Lick

Evelyn Thomas is generally a “good” girl. She has serious professional plans to become an architect and a strong need to live up to her father’s exacting standards. Too bad those standards are blown to pieces on her birthday trip when she gets so drunk she marries some guy she just met and then blacks out. Sure, the trip to Vegas was supposed to be a little racy, but this changes Evelyn’s life. Turns out the guy she married is a world famous rock guitarist.

David Ferris is as surprised as Evelyn by the whirlwind nature of their relationship, but he’s also really annoyed when she doesn’t remember it the next morning. Then, when she assures him they can just get a quiet annulment, he’s more than annoyed. But what can he do? Unfortunately, by the time her return flight touches down in Portland, Oregon, it seems everyone knows what happened. David wants her to come to LA to work out legal details. She thinks this is unnecessary until she experiences the full might of the paparazzi.

Turns out fleeing to David’s LA mansion is no escape at all. Scott does a good job depicting the world of the rich and infamous. Evelyn finds herself surrounded by sharks. David’s manager Adrian is probably the biggest. It’s hard to watch how poorly he treats Evelyn…and harder to watch David standing back while it happens. Same goes for his personal assistant Martha. I can’t say too much about her without spoiling major plot points. Suffice it to say that David is kind of unlikable at times. He annoyed me enough that I took away a star.

Evelyn is sympathetic. I also loved Mal, the band’s drummer. He’s warm and funny. From the moment he meets Evelyn, he takes a brotherly interest in her, even giving her the nickname “Child Bride.” Mal also functions as an intermediary for the couple. He keeps Evelyn calm in the midst of L.A. craziness and arranges for her and David to have the space and privacy they need to connect as people. Unfortunately, David’s secretiveness and defensiveness undermines the progress they make as a couple.

There’s enough chemistry between Evelyn and David to make the pairing realistic. Also, David’s back story is compelling. It explains some of his less than stellar behavior, though it doesn’t excuse it.

Kylie Scott is an Australian author and there are times when this slips out in her word choice and in the cadence of the character dialog. While it didn’t ruin the story for me, it did distract me at times.

Overall, though, LICK is a fun and sexy start to the Stage Dive series. Scott gives us an interesting mix of personalities, and I’d like to see how things develop for them

Review: RESCUED BY THE WOLF

A woman stranded on Chicago highway during a blizzard is rescued by a soldier who’s also a wolf shifter.

Rescued by the Wolf (A BBW Shifter Romance)

Rescued by the Wolf

This is Marie Mason’s second BBW shifter romance starring the highly eligible McCall brothers. Hunter McCall is basically married to the military, which is a problem when he encounters his fated mate on a snowy highway. Julie Monroe is on her way to a friend’s wedding. Her romantic history is nothing to write home about, so she’s not quite ready for her attraction to Hunter.

The setting and situation are well set out with good development for a relatively short book. The lonely, frozen roads and the motel full of stranded travelers add a lot of texture and interest to the story. The characters have a great chemistry, plenty of push-pull as they battle each other and their own inner doubts.

Hunter can get a little arrogant. And man-whorish. I’m not crazy about how dismissive he is of the women he’s been with or of those who show attraction to him, like the clerk at the airport rental car counter. It borders on unkindness. I know he’s alpha and all that, but he still needs to be likable. He kind of plays with Julie at first. The guy’s more than willing to screw her, but he’s not going to “claim” her, though he knows she’s his fated mate. He tells himself that he’s the one who’ll suffer…the mating thing has effectively put other women off limits…but that she’ll be able to go on and live a normal, worry-free life without him. Her feelings about this plan of his are of no interest.

Of course this all comes back to bite him. The damage is done, heart-wise, for both of them. No going back. It’s kind of fun to watch the pair of them come to terms with this. I also love the epilogue. We get a tantalizing peek at the future–and the next book in the series.

RESCUED BY THE WOLF is a fun, sexy romance with plenty of plot and character development.

Review: AT ALL COSTS (The Michael Prentiss Stories Book 5)

Secret government agent Michael Prentiss faces his most personal mission yet, when his lover is vanishes while infiltrating a terrorist cell.

At All Costs (The Michael Prentiss Stories Book 5)

At All Costs

Having read all of the previous Michael Prentiss adventures, I know full well that Andrew French (read my interview with him HERE) is hard on his characters. He puts them through hell, brings them face to face with the worse humanity has to offer, including the darkest parts of themselves. AT ALL COSTS has that same raw honesty. Our heroes are older now, and they’re getting tired. It’s crossroads time for Michael especially. His double life has hardened him. Sometimes he’s not sure there’s a way back to any kind of normalcy.

Luckily Angela Lane crashed into his life. Her work is dangerous, too, but she and Michael have connected on the deepest level and this keeps him from tipping into the abyss. They are ready to build a life together, excited by the changes ahead of them. Only Angela has one last mission–infiltrate the terrorist cell of IRA heavy weight Declan McLaughlin, whose plans for bombing the London Underground promise massive casualties. Declan isn’t quite as outlandishly psychotic as some of French’s villains (one Cillian Rainey comes to mind), but he’s in the grips of a deadly political fervor and has absolutely no conscience. Unfortunately for Angela, he’s also damn clever.

Michael has a slim chance of recovering Angela alive. He has nothing on his side but the loyalty and friendship of fellow operative Richard Jordan and their former commanding officer, Colonel Mabbitt. As usual, these two are all-in, even though it’s likely they’ll die in the attempt. Their experience and skill comes in handy as Michael struggles to balance his raging fear for Angela with the calm resolve necessary to get her back.

The action takes us all the way to terrorist training camps of Libya and back to London. It’s a physically punishing ordeal for all involved. There’s resolution but no true triumph, as Michael and Angela suffer heartbreaking loss.

An excellent adventure with twist after twist.

Review: THE ADVENTURES OF AN URBAN FOX–MAGGIE ARRIVES

A pair of cats must make some adjustments when a fox begins visiting their East London garden.

The Adventures of an Urban Fox: Maggie Arrives

The Adventures of an Urban Fox: Maggie Arrives

In this early-grade chapter book, Tabby Cat and Black Cat are not quite in agreement about what to do when Maggie the Fox begins visiting. It’s bad enough that she’s intruded upon their garden, but then she comes inside the house and makes an awful mess. Black Cat is ready for war. Tabby isn’t so sure and thinks they can all come to an arrangement acceptable to all sides. Territorial rivalries turn into serious business when Maggie becomes ill and the cats struggle to arrange help for her.

I love how each of the animal characters has a distinctive voice and personality. There are many funny parts. My favorite is when Maggie discovers the humans’ socks. I do wish the humans themselves were brought in just little more prominently. It’s never explained how/why they begin leaving food out for Maggie.

Overall, though, this is a charming story with beautiful illustrations. It manages to entertain as it instructs readers about the nature and habits of urban foxes.

Review: Evidence of Autumn

Fifth entry in an anthology photo series. Short fiction, memoir and poetry on an autumn theme.

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Evidence of Autumn

The work in this thin volume is highly personal and touches upon family, nature, good times and bad. There’s a nice variety of approaches to the theme. There were a couple of real standouts. “A Prepper’s Dream” by Mary Garica is a short mystery with paranormal elements, “The Autumn Dance” by Casey Fry is an odd, sad story that left me with many questions. And the poem “Joy of Family” offers snapshots from a large family gathering celebrating longstanding relationships and new arrivals.

Autumn is my favorite season and this anthology captures its spirit.

Interview with Romantic Suspense Author Pepper O’Neal

Today we have a big treat for fans of romantic suspense. Pepper O’Neal, author of both the Black Ops Chronicles and the Blood Fest paranormal series was kind enough to answer some questions about her work and her writing process.

Award-winning author, Pepper O’Neal is a researcher, a writer, and an adrenalin junkie. She has a doctorate in education and spent several years in Mexico and the Caribbean working as researcher for an educational resource firm based out of Mexico City. During that time, she met and befriended many adventurers like herself, including former CIA officers and members of organized crime. Her fiction is heavily influenced by the stories they shared with her, as well her own experiences abroad. When she’s not at her computer, O’Neal spends her time taking long walks in the forests near her home or playing with her three cats. And of course, planning the next adventure.

Connect with Pepper:

http://www.pepperoneal.com

https://www.facebook.com/pepper.oneal

https://twitter.com/pepperoneal

Be sure to read on after the interview for my review of her second Black Ops Chronicle–Dead Men Don’t

PepperO'Neal_Author_Badge-300x300

1. How did you start writing fiction? Is it something you’ve always done in one way or another, or did you come to it later?

I guess it is something I have always done. I was first published in the fifth grade, when I won a contest and had a story published in the local newspaper. So I always knew that it was something that I wanted to do. However, I didn’t trust myself, I guess, as I went into non-fiction for many years, before coming back to my first love, which is fiction.

2. How can you tell when a plot idea has what it takes to make it all the way into print? Have there been times when you’ve had to abandon a project after a promising start?

I tend to finish what I start, one way or another, so I haven’t abandoned any projects, although a couple of them are, and will probably remain, at the bottom of the sock drawer. I guess you could say that a story has what it takes to become a project when it won’t leave me alone and I find myself focusing on it more and more.

3. Your heroes and heroines are pretty complicated compared to many others I’ve met in romantic suspense novels. How do you balance strength and vulnerability in your heroes, and create heroines who are likable, but don’t get steamrolled by their assertive co-stars?

I am not sure I can answer that. Characters seem to appear in my head, with all their strengths and weaknesses. People are complicated, at least real people are. They have layers, like Shrek and onions. There is the top layer they show to the world at large, a deeper layer that only their closest friends and family see, and finally, the layer they keep strictly to themselves. I think the more someone is aware of these layers in themselves, the more they like themselves, and the fewer secrets they keep from themselves, the more comfortable they are with showing others their faults as well as their strengths, i.e., being who they really are. I try to show a bit of all the layers. I also try to be true to my characters and not have them do something that doesn’t fit with their particular nature or personality, simply because it would be convenient to the plot. In fact, I often find that if I am having trouble with a scene that just isn’t coming together, it is because I am asking a character to do something that they would not do if they were real.

4. Dead Men Don’t, book two of your Black Ops Chronicles, has an intricate plot full of twists, turns and fairly involved action/escape sequences. What goes into developing such meaty plots—especially while remaining in the length constraints of the average romance novel? How do you balance strong plotting with good character development?

An author I respect once told me that you can’t write good fiction by being nice to your characters, and that is advice I took to heart. People don’t want to read just about sunshine and roses, they want to read about people overcoming obstacles and hanging on when things go wrong. And before you can show your characters doing that, you first have to make things go wrong. So I spend a lot of time thinking “What is the worst that could happen here? And how can he/she overcome or get around it?” And it’s easier with some characters than others. Levi, the star of Dead Men Don’t, is one of my favorite characters. He is based on a good friend of mine, who is one of the most capable and competent men I have ever met, so I get a kind of dark glee from making things as difficult for him as possible in my books. Levi was in the first book in this series, Dead Run, as well, and he had a heck of a time. His real life counterpart told me, after reading the book, that he was glad that I had no control over his real fate.

5. Your Black Ops Chronicles are a series of standalones, with each book focusing on a particular member of an extended group of covert operatives. How do you handle the story elements that have to carry from book to book and avoid continuity errors? Do you have a “big picture” plan for the series worked out ahead of time, so that you can keep your details straight?

I write everything down. I have an almost photographic memory, but even so, I don’t trust it completely. So I write dossiers on all the characters, as well as physical descriptions and time lines so I don’t lose track and I don’t have to rely just on my memory. If I can remember and don’t need it, that’s great. But if I do need it, it’s there. The hardest part is putting enough information into the following book that readers who haven’t read the previous book know what came before, but not so much that people who have read the previous book get bored because they already know it.

6. I don’t know about you, but I find balancing the creative side of writing with the nuts-and-bolts business of promotion and marketing my fiction something of a juggling act. How do you protect your creative time?

With a cannon and a bloody hatchet! Seriously, I lock the office door, unplug the phone, and shut down my Outlook. I figure anything that is an emergency will probably get through, and anything that isn’t can wait. If I am on a roll and the work is going well, I will stop every few hours and make sure the rest of the world is still there, but other than that, I consider that time precious and guard it fiercely.

7. What is your favorite way to engage with readers? Facebook? In-person events? Newsletter? Does reader feedback on a project ever influence future work?

I get a lot of emails from readers, and I really like that. I don’t have a lot of time to spend on Facebook, so I mainly use it for announcements. But reader feedback does affect me. If I get a lot of feedback telling me about something they didn’t like, or something they did like and want more of, I naturally adjust my stories as much as I can. Of course, you aren’t going to please everyone, and you first have to be true to yourself and your story, but readers know what they like, and I find that if they don’t like something, there is usually a good reason for it.

8. What’s next for our Black Ops heroes? And I just found out you have another series—Blood Fest, a paranormal romantic suspense series full of werewolves, weretigers and other exciting creatures, any future additions to that one on the horizon?

Right now, I am working on the third book in the paranormal series Blood Fest, doing the edits on Running Scared, which is coming out in the summer. Once that is done, I will start on the third book in the Black Ops Chronicles series.

Review–BLACK OPS CHRONICLES: DEAD MEN DON’T

Black Ops Chronicles: Dead Men Don't

Black Ops Chronicles: Dead Men Don’t

Levi Komakov doesn’t realize what he’s getting himself into when he’s charged with rescuing Anderson “Andi” Merrit from what appears at first glance is a kidnapping for cash or influence. Most likely the latter since her father is a heavy hitter for a crime family. Without spoiling the plot, let me say that the truth is far more twisted. Someone close to Andi has betrayed her and set her up for a life of servitude and abuse.

Is it any wonder then that Andi is a bit uncooperative when Levi first appears on the scene? From her point of view, this man may be someone just as dangerous as her captors, someone who wants her for his own ends. So, I can forgive her for making her rescue far more dangerous and complicated than it needs to be. Still, there are points in the novel, usually when the situation is most grim, that her temperamental displays grated on me. On the other hand it was a pleasure to watch her gradual transformation from victim into hero.

Andi’s growth is in large part due to Levi taking her seriously and not underestimating the danger she’s in or the power of the people who are after her. Though he falls a little too hard too fast…and then constantly second guesses himself…he’s a good alpha with a nice balance of sensitivity and strength. He and Andi share plenty of chemistry.

For a romance novel, the plotting is ambitious. Locations range from rural Washington state to the D.C. area to the Middle East. Every time I thought I knew where the story was heading, O’Neal threw in a twist. In particular, the Mission Impossible action at a foreign embassy was a nail biter. I held my breath the whole time.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any more dramatic for this pair, the author throws a huge curve. Again, I don’t want to spoil the book for readers. Let’s just say that, along with Andi, we are taken into a world that few westerners get to see. Levi and his Special Ops buddies have a hell of job with this one. Andi, too, is pushed to her absolute limit physically and emotionally.

I always begin a book with optimism…I assume I’ll enjoy the ride. Well, I liked this one way more than even I expected. It’s an exciting blend of romance, action and suspense. I’m going to go back now and read the first one in the series!

Review: A Winter Wrong

The first in a series of novellas re-imagining the events in Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

A Winter Wrong: A Pride and Prejudice Novella Variation (Seasons of Serendipity Book 1)

A Winter Wrong: A Pride and Prejudice Novella Variation

Let me say from the outset that Jane Austen purists might not be thrilled with this one. It offers a unique variation on the classic novel: what if the Bennet girls’ worst fear was realized and their father died. This is exactly what happens at the time of Jane’s illness and stay at Netherfield Park. Mr. Collins indeed takes possession of Longbourne and much unhappiness ensues…but also some unexpected good fortune.

I think West got a little obscure with some of her Regency-era idioms. And the switcheroo she pulls with Bingley–gives him more backbone early on and then cools his ardor markedly. Will he and Jane find their happily ever after? Eventually. Maybe. That’s another thing I didn’t realize when I downloaded the book–it isn’t a standalone novella in a series of linked novellas. It’s the first episode in a true serial. These days most writers make this explicit in the book description in the form of a clear disclaimer. It avoids misunderstanding and reader disappointment.

Despite the fact that I don’t care for serials, the story (or the portion included here) is fun and well written. Lydia’s worse than in the original. But Mary is much better, which is nice. I’ve always liked Mary. Mr. Darcy isn’t quite as forbidding. Not sure how I feel about that, but I did enjoy getting to know West’s version. The plot is intricate given the length and well paced. There’s plenty of tension.

Overall, an intelligent and creative riff on an old favorite.