Review: Alec Mackenzie’s Art of Seduction

Review: Alec Mackenzie’s Art of SeductionAlec Mackenzie's Art of Seduction (MacKenzies & McBrides, #9) by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Mackenzies and McBrides #9
Published by JA / AG Publishing on November 14th 2017
Genres: Historical
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: This was a very enjoyable book. I loved Alec and Celia together and there is a good plot surrounding the romance.  I can’t wait for the next book.

THE STORY: Alec Mackenzie is dead…at least to the English who are searching for the traitors after the Scottish uprising that ended with Culloden. After his remaining family fled to France, Alec has returned to England with his young daughter in order to search for his brother Will who may have been captured by the English. Alec is masquerading as Mr. Finn, a poor Irish artist taking on students. His student is Lady Celia who is the daughter of the duke that Alec suspects is implicated in his brother’s disappearance. Celia is intrigued by Mr. Finn and feels that there is much more to the man than he presents.

OPINION: I loved the interaction between Alec and Celia. That interaction is what made the book for me. Like the other Mackenzie books, this book has larger than life characters who have intense feelings for one another. The connection between these two is immediate and quite beautiful.

Alec’s kindness and gentleness made me fall for him, too.  He is a man who has big emotions and love. One of his best qualities is the love he has for his daughter and his family. He is adorable in that seriously manly fashion. As he meets Celia, he is pulled into caring for her as well. His support for her artistic talent and her wishes and thoughts is very attractive as well.

Celia is strong and determined even under the intense manipulation and pressure of her mother.  Her willingness to do what is right for her despite the pressures of society which leaves her ruined, her complex feelings for her family members, and her insistence of being treated as a partner give Celia depth that I enjoyed as well.

The plot here works as well. Alec’s search for his brother involves various schemes and plots and unwinding the villains and heroes. There is also enjoyable glimpses of the remainder of the Mackenzie family so those who have read THE UNTAMED MACKENZIE will be pleased to see what has happened with the family since the events of that book.

Ian and Beth also open and close this novel. Fans of the original books will be pleased. I’m hoping that in the next book we will get to see more of the more of the Victorian era Mackenzies.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This book sets up Alec’s brother Will’s book. I can’t wait to hear his story.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  ALEC MACKENZIE’S ART OF SEDUCTION is the ninth book in the Mackenzies and McBrides series. While this book is a self-contained romance (which is a prequel to others in the series), there is an introduction from Ian Mackenzie (THE MADNESS OF LORD IAN MACKENZIE) and I think at least that book should be read first just to put the story in context.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC from the author in order to provide a review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-half-stars

Review: Red Wolf

Review: Red WolfRed Wolf by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Shifters Unbound #10
Published by Berkley Books on May 2nd 2017
Genres: Paranormal
Pages: 336
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: A friends to lovers story with an exciting mythology laden plot, Dimitri and Jaycee — red wolf and leopard — are an exciting pairing.

THE STORY: Shifter Dimitri is a red wolf and has had to fight for most of his life because of his uncommon nature and because of his stutter. He has mate claimed leopard shifter Jaycee but she hasn’t decided whether or not to accept his claim. When they are asked to investigate some shifters who are involved in mysterious and perhaps dangerous actions, the two are challenged both in their relationship and also their lives.

OPINION: This friends to lovers story has depth because these characters are challenged again and again in their relationship. There is also an intriguing story that keeps the pace of the novel hopping. Dimitri and Jaycee are already comfortable together but the story asks the question — are they meant to be together forever as mates or is their friendship with occasional benefits what they are meant to have.

Jaycee is a strong, kick-butt heroine. She is certainly Dimitri’s equal the two are partners and friends who are challenging one another. I loved how their relationship develops as challenges comes from all quarters. Again and again, these two have to evaluate what they want from their relationship.

There is a little slow start to the story, but once Dimitri and Jaycee are off on their mission, the pace picked up quite a bit.

I love the Shifters world and this book expands the mythology of the series in ways that I can’t wait to see what develops.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book has a reveal that sets up the next stage of the overarching storyline.

CONNECTED BOOKS: RED WOLF is the tenth book in the Shifters Unbound series. This series is much better read in order although the romance is self-contained in this book.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Tyler

Review: TylerTyler (Riding Hard, #4) by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Riding Hard #4
Published by JA / AG Publishing on April 19th 2017
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 265
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“Well, hello tall, dark, and sexy.”

FINAL DECISION: Loved this story. There was an immense sense of kindness between these characters along with the attraction and lust. One of my favorites of the series.

THE STORY: Stunt cowboy Tyler Campbell is saved from a severe beating at a biker bar by divorced mother Jessica. Despite the sad pasts of both, there is an intense connection between them that leads to a night together. In the morning, however, Jessica has second thoughts about getting involved with Tyler. When danger threatens Jessica and her son, however, she turns to Tyler and his hometown for help.

OPINION: There are some books that I shouldn’t start reading late at night because they are so addictive that a chapter or two just won’t do it. This is one of those books. I loved it from the beginning. Tyler and Jess are both so nice and skittish without have a thick skin separating them from others. Once these two get together there is not question that they are meant for one another. In fact, most of the drama is external which makes the sweetness between these two special.

I also really enjoyed seeing the couples from the previous books and other characters from the series. My favorite series are ones that don’t forget that the other characters exist in the same world.

Both Jess and Tyler have scars that make them skittish with one another and yet the two quickly find that they have something special together. I liked how everything worked in this story (except that points of the plot resolution seemed a little farfetched, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment). I finished this book in the middle of the night and didn’t regret it at all even though I had to wake up early to start my day.

WORTH MENTIONING: Lots of children in the air.

CONNECTED BOOKS: TYLER is the fourth book in the Riding Hard series. While this romance is self-contained and can be read as a standalone, there are secondary characters from other books in the series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: A Mystery at Carlton House

Review: A Mystery at Carlton HouseA Mystery at Carlton House by Ashley Gardner, Jennifer Ashley
Series: Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries #12
Published by JA / AG Publishing on March 18th 2017
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: This series never disappoints. With a great mystery combined with personal character development, this book kept my interest from page one in a way that feels fresh even as it conforms to the mystery template.

THE STORY: Having returned from Egypt to his life where more domestic matters take precedence, Captain Lacey is asked to investigate the theft of items from the Prince Regent’s Carlton House. Lacey has pressure on all sides to discover what is really happening. A bow runner is trying to blackmail him, the Prince Regent expects a quick resolution and Mr. Denis (the criminal mastermind) is protecting the suspect. Lacey conducts his investigations while personal dramas for his friends and family also come to the forefront.

OPINION: The mystery here is not as intricate as others in the series, but in exchange there is intense personal character matters involved. This book has various overlapping storylines and the reader is kept guessing which, if any, are part of the mystery.

What I love most about this series are the depictions of Lacey and his friends and family. I prefer to read books where the characters are the forefront, not a tricky plot. Readers who enjoy some mystery with strong characterizations will enjoy this book. I liked that we got to know more about the secondary characters and also get to see more of Lacey and Donata in their domestic relationship.

This book is sweet and funny and exactly what I expected to enjoy.

WORTH MENTIONING: Baby, baby, baby.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A MYSTERY AT CARLTON HOUSE is the twelfth book in the Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries series. These are self contained mysteries and thus can be read as standalones. There is, however, continuing character stories that continue from book to book.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: The Longest Night

Review: The Longest NightThe Longest Night: Fantasy Romance (Nvengaria Book 4) by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Nvengaria #4
on December 13th 2016
Genres: Historical, Paranormal
Pages: 98
Goodreads
three-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  This is a nice novella with some suspense and the romance between a half human, half logosh shapeshifter who acts as spy and assassin for Nvengaria and the Scottish widow who entranced him a year ago.  It’s a fun read with some emotional moments.

THE STORY:  Mary Cameron a Scottish widow with a seventeen year old son is lonely.  A year ago, she met Baron Valentin a shapeshifting logosh from Nvengonia.  The two shared some kisses and Valentin asked her to join him in Nvengaria.  She never showed. Now the two meet again in London and Valentin has no intention on allowing Mary to escape him again.

OPINION:  This novella like the other Nvengarian stories are a combination of historical and paranormal fantasy with a fairy tale aspect.

In this story Mary is a woman of thirty-five who has a seventeen year old son. The world tells her that she should be satisfied with being a widow and mother and respectable chaparone and not be concerned with love or sex.  But she can’t help thinking about both when around the sexy, younger man, Valentin. She thought about following Valentin to Nvengaria a year ago but got cold feet thinking about who he is.  The truth is that they didn’t know each other very well for her to give up everything to follow him.

Valentin is a man who has lived with the desire for revenge and the regret of making mistakes. He now wants to be with the lovely widow. He has been sent to London to spy on a potential traitor. But he has an ulterior motive…he wants to see Mary again.  Outwardly self-contained but passionate, Valentin has no intention of allowing Mary to slip past him again.

I liked the older woman, younger man story here and I liked how honest Valentin was with Mary. He admires her for all her strengths. There is a decent suspense story here involving Valentin’s mission.  Because of the length of this novella, there is less plot and character development, but that works here because Mary and Valentin have a simple story between them and need the small plot to keep the story moving.

This was an enjoyable read and is a definite need to read for those who liked HIGHLANDER EVER AFTER and want to know what happens after…

WORTH MENTIONING:  THE LONGEST NIGHT was originally published in A CHRISTMAS BALL.  This version has been edited and expanded by the author.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE LONGEST NIGHT is the fourth book in the Nvengaria series.  The romance in this book begins in HIGHLANDER EVER AFTER and I recommend reading that book first even though the events in that book are explained here.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 3.5 stars.

three-half-stars

Review: Highlander Ever After

Review: Highlander Ever AfterHighlander Ever After (Nvengaria, #3) by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Nvengaria #3
Published by Leisure Books on April 1st 2008
Genres: Historical, Paranormal
Pages: 323
Goodreads
three-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  Enjoyable read but not as good as the second book in this series.  I enjoyed the relationship between Zarabeth and Egan but for me the conflict wasn’t strong enough to justify the time these two were at odds.

THE STORY:  Egan MacDonald has loved Zarabeth for years. Despite her marriage to another man, he has not been able to forget her.  When her husband plots a coup against her cousin, the Prince of Nvengaria, Zarabeth reveals the plot and is now in danger for her life.  Zarabeth’s cousin sends her to his friend Egan in Scotland for protection.  Zarabeth is not the exuberant woman that Egan remembered.  While Zarabeth is in danger, Egan and Zarabeth have the chance to rediscover a path together that they missed years ago.

OPINION:  This is a second chance at love story about a woman who has been deeply hurt and the man she always loved.  Zarabeth and Egan are a good match for one another despite his attempts to keep her at arms length.  He loves her but he doesn’t believe himself good enough for her.

While there are magical elements in this story, the core is the relationship between Zarabeth and Egan. Her desire for him and her fears as a result of her marriage, his desire for her competing with his belief in his inadequacies.

I liked the romance here which was quiet and took a while for the two to work through their problems.

For me the negative of this book was that the conflict was not strong enough to really justify these two being at odds for so long.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This book introduces the couple for the novella THE LONGEST NIGHT.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  HIGHLANDER EVER AFTER is the third book in the Nvengaria series.  This book can be read as a standalone because the romance is self-contained although there are overlapping characters.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 3.5 stars.

three-half-stars

Review: Holiday Heat: the Men of Starlight Bend

Review: Holiday Heat: the Men of Starlight BendHoliday Heat: The Men of Starlight Bend by Jennifer Ashley, Jennifer Probst, Erin Quinn, Calista Fox, Mary Leo
Series: Riding Hard #3.5
on November 8th 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 241
Goodreads
four-stars

This is an anthology of 5 novellas which all take place in the small town of Starlight Bend.  They are connected only by the setting, a special Santa and a town Wishing Tree for needy children.

SNOWBOUND IN STARLIGHT BEND by Jennifer Ashley: In this city girl/country boy story, Haley McKee is a CEO from Seattle who ends up stranded in Starlight Bend during a snowstorm. Maddox Campbell rescues her. Maddox is a horse trainer of stunt horses (he provides them to his cousins in Texas — the Riding Hard series Campbells). Maddox has been hurt before by a woman who wouldn’t stay in Starlight Bend and it looks like history might be repeating itself. This was a good story.  Maddox is a good man who has a crusty exterior and a heart of mush.  Haley is a woman who has made a name for herself, but doesn’t have a real purpose to her life. The two are funny and spirited together. This was a very enjoyable tale of two mismatched people.  My only complaint is that I wish there was some view of what their life ultimately would be like because it is hard to figure out how Haley will be happy in town outside of her relationship with Maddox.  Rating: 4 stars.

THE LONG GONE GIRL OF STARLIGHT BEND by Erin Quinn: Kari Dale is a burned out wanderer who co-owns a chain of men’s clothing stores. She has come to Starlight Bend to open a new store and then intends to move on. Tyler Timberlake is a high school history teacher who was born in Starlight Bend, left to pursue bigger dreams, but ended up returning to his hometown to find purpose. This story was good.  The themes of home versus leaving, dreams versus love are well developed in various levels. Kari and Ty are sweet and hot together. I loved the complexity of this story. Rating: 4 stars.

HIS ANGEL OF STARLIGHT BEND by Calista Fox: Dr. Anna Voss is vet in Starlight Bend. One day a boy named Jake comes to her office interested in the animals.  It turns out Jake’s father is the man that Anna loved as a young woman and has never forgotten. Dr. Nicholas Hoffman is a neurosurgeon from New York. He spent time with his grandmother in Starlight Bend but eventually left the town and Anna. The two have loved one another and yet their lives have always seemed to be going in different directions. This was one of my favorite stories of the anthology. These two seem destined to both love one another and be apart. I loved that the story showed that love alone is not enough and being together takes will and determination. Rating: 4.5 stars.

ROPIN’ THE LONE COWBOY OF STARLIGHT BEND by Mary Leo: Jolie Shepard has come to Starlight Bend no knowing what she should do with her life. She’s from Las Vegas and hasn’t connected with a career or a purpose in her life. She meets Red Wiseman when Jolie and Red are both choosing a wish from the Wishing Tree. Red is a man grounded deeply in Starlight Bend where he raises horses and gives riding lessons. The characters in this story were nice (especially Red) but I found Jolie very immature for her age. I have a hard time seeing how things would work out for these two long term, but the story was nice.  Rating: 3 stars.

THE GRINCH OF STARLIGHT BEND BY Jennifer Probst:  Noah Elliott was a generous angel to the community of Starlight Bend until an accident shattered his body and his faith in his fellow man.  He became the Grinch of the town and hides away in his mansion. Josephine “Joey” Whitman is a social worker who chooses a wish from the town Wishing Tree and is determined to make the child’s dream of a carnival happen even if it means bearding the den of the Grinch.  I loved the sweet redemption of this story which had a definite Beauty and the Beast vibe along with the Grinch story. Noah is a man who is looking for someone to redeem his faith in humanity and Joey is the woman who heals his heart.  Sweet and a good conclusion to the anthology.  Rating: 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: The Mad, Bad Duke

Review: The Mad, Bad DukeThe Mad, Bad Duke (Nvengaria, #2) by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Nvengaria #2
Published by Leisure on October 18, 2016
Genres: Historical, Paranormal
Pages: 383
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: Incredibly enjoyable for readers open to fusion romances.  This charming historical paranormal perfectly merges the genres to fashion a fairy tale about a former villain who can’t help but fall in love (because of a love charm) with a woman he never would have chosen on his own.

THE STORY: Megan Tavistock gets unexpectedly snared by a love spell which results in her ending up married to Grand Duke Alexander of Nvengaria.  Alexander has been sent to England because he plotted against the Prince of Nvengaria.  In England, Alexander is redeeming himself being running intricate plots to protect Nvengaria’s interests. A widower with a young son, Alexander never thought to marry again, especially not an innocent like Megan, but when the love spell results in him ruining Megan, Alexander is determined to protect Megan and discover who is trying to plot against him.

OPINION: Ashley has a way with men who are handsome and unconventional. Here, Alexander is a man who has been isolated and alone. He doesn’t have strong connections with people and sees his only value in intrigue and deception. Having been married and with a young son, Alexander remains essentially alone.

This book is inspired by the fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast and the inspiration is cleverly done without being a scene by scene repeat of the classic.  Alexander is a man isolated and when the beautiful and innocent Megan comes into his life, Alexander is dazzled by her even as he tries to keep her at a distance.

The love spell works to bring these two together quickly and unexpectedly. Their first meeting is hot and passionate and I really liked how the love spell worked in the story. It is the catalyst that forces Megan and Alexander together so that they can spend time together working though their relationship.

The mix of genres really works in this book in a way that it didn’t completely mesh in the first book in the series.  The combination of paranormal and historical and fairy tale gives this book interest and heft and I just loved every page.

Like a true beauty, Megan transforms the beastly Alexander into a loving husband and father by the end of the book and allows his true self to be revealed.

WORTH MENTIONING: The Scot Egan MacDonald has a significant role and his story is up next.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  The Mad, Bad Duke is the second book in the Nvengaria series. While this story can be read as a standalone, I think it is better having read the first book in the series so that readers can truly understand what a potential bad guy Alexander is.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: Penelope and Prince Charming

Review: Penelope and Prince CharmingPenelope and Prince Charming: Nvengaria (Historical Paranormal) by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Nvengaria #1
Published by JA / AG Publishing on August 1, 2006
Genres: Historical, Paranormal
Pages: 377
Goodreads
three-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  A fun mixture of fantasy, fairy tale and historical, this book introduces a new series.  While the insta-love reduces much of the emotional drama, the story was interesting and the characters have a good story to tell.

THE STORY:  Miss Penelope Trask is a double jilt after ending two disastrous engagements.   She has resigned herself to never marrying when Prince Damien of Nvengaria appears informing her that she is the the woman he has come to England to find.  The woman destined to be his bride and help him rule his land.  Penelope knows that something magical is happening (and this book has magic in it) but knows that men have deceived her before.  Damien and Penelope must battle those who are trying to prevent Damien from returning to his country and certainly trying to prevent a marriage between them.

OPINION:  This book was an enjoyable mixture of historical, fairy tale and fantasy.  As the first book in the series, the mixture is not always smooth, but I found the combination both sweet and fun.  (There is also some sexy situations put in the mix to keep the sickly sweet possibilities away).

Damien comes to England to search for his destined bride, immediately falls for Penelope but then has to win her and her family over.  At the same time, the two need to battle the evil Grand Duke who wants to prevent the two from fulfilling the prophesy and returning to Nvengaria as the rulers.  There are assassins and monsters and magic sleeping spells along the way.

The insta-love in this book (consistent with the Cinderella fairy tale this is loosely based on) reduces much of the emotional drama between the characters.  The book also has bit of “marriage of convenience” feel to it as Penelope and Damien seem fated to be together but then have to learn to live with one another.

I loved Penelope in this one.  She is strong and independent and clearly the center of this book.  Nothing works in this book without her.  It is her discovery of her true self that makes this book work.  Like Cinderella, she is hidden in the small town she lives in.  In truth, she is a princess.  Her discovery of her abilities — her true self — makes her relationship with Damien work and also saves their country.

I also was intrigued by the story of the villain, Alexander (whose story is next in the series).  For me, I was more interested in his story than Damien’s (I have a thing for the anti-hero).  I would read the next book in this series simply based on Alexander’s story, but I also was intrigued by the combination of genres.

A reader of this book will have to be open minded because the book combines the fantasy elements of magic and monsters with a some very typical historical elements.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This book is a historical paranormal with magic and fantasy elements along with taking place in the regency period.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  PENELOPE AND PRINCE CHARMING is the first book in the Nvengaria series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 3.5 stars.

three-half-stars

Review: Guardian’s Mate

Review: Guardian’s MateGuardian's Mate (Shifters Unbound, #9) by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Shifters Unbound #9
Published by Berkley on September 6th 2016
Genres: Paranormal
Pages: 320
Goodreads
four-stars

“Rae looked across the tossing water at Zander Moncrieff and couldn’t decide whether she should jump overboard of leap onto his boat and smack him.”

FINAL DECISION:  Lovely story with lots of action and characters I liked and cared about.  My only negative was that the emotional connection between these characters happened so fast and only the circumstances of the plot kept them apart.

THE STORY:  Wolf shifter Rae Lyall is the chosen Guardian (the shifter who can send shifters to “heaven” at their death).  Her choosing by the Goddess causes unrest because a female has never been chosen from that position.  Now subject to suspicion and derision, Rae’s father sends her to polar bear shifter and healer Zander Moncrieff for protection and training.  Zander is Goddess touched himself and understands the challenges of the “gift”.

There is a reluctant attraction between the two but the threats that surround them keep Rae and Zander focused on working together while falling for one another.

OPINION:  I’m a big fan of Ashley’s shifter series. The series has a lot to say about issues of the day in an entertaining fashion.  I also enjoy how the Shifters have managed to retain their own traditions and identity despite the onerous restrictions placed upon them by humans.

In this book, Zander is a free spirit.  Seen as “crazy” by many, Zander suffers with his gift of healing.  Not only does he suffer by healing, he also knows that he cannot help everyone.  By making himself inaccessible, he limits the demands on his gift. Despite his behavior, Zander cares tremendously about others.

Rae is an orphan wolf shifter adopted by felines.  She loves her family but still feels the loneliness of being different.  Her choosing as Guardian further separates her from others.  She is strong and mouthy and just amazing although she is young and is still developing herself.

The interaction between Rae and Zander is funny and spicy and sometimes adorable.  The two banter and argue and have some hot scenes together.  They both have a core of not belonging that unites them.  Their gifts have separated them from others and this allows for true understanding between them.

The book is a roller coaster with lots of action with different storylines merging and weaving together in sometimes unexpected ways.  The resolution of the plot is surprising and yet completely in line with the story.  I loved how things came together.  Appearances by characters both new and old (Tiger!) never lets the reader forget that there is a larger world and story that these characters are a part of.

I love learning about new types of shifters and I look forward to their stories being told as well.

WORTH MENTIONING:  For readers of the series there are some reveals as to what the Fae are up to (with apparently some human allies).

CONNECTED BOOKS: GUARDIAN’S MATE is the ninth book in the Shifters Unbound series.  This book can be read as a standalone although there may be some learning curve as to the shifter world that this book resides in.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars