Review: Smoke and Sin

Review: Smoke and SinSmoke and Sin (The Perfect Gentlemen Book 4) by Lexi Blake, Shayla Black
Series: The Perfect Gentlemen #4
Published by Black Oak Books on September 26th 2017
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 452
Goodreads
five-stars

DO NOT SPOIL THIS BOOK FOR YOURSELF. Avoid spoilers and this book will not disappoint.

“Dealing with any of the Perfect Gentlemen was always an intricate game of chess. Thankfully, she’d had a lifetime to become a master.”

FINAL DECISION: Hot, angst filled, dramatic and full of surprises. This second chance at love story kept me up until 3am and then all I wanted to do was re-read it.

THE STORY: Years ago Roman Calder and Gus Spencer had a hot affair. Things blew up because the passion and intensity of the relationship was something that scared Roman. Yet the two cannot completely avoid one another because Gus is the sister of one of Roman’s best friends. And perhaps they don’t actually want to avoid one another as Gus took a job at the White House where Roman is chief of staff. As the Perfect Gentlemen’s investigation takes them to London, their proximity heats up the lingering passion between them. The question is whether they have a better chance the second time around.

OPINION: This is a difficult book for me to review. Not because I didn’t love it, I certainly did. Not because I’m confused, I’m not. The problem is that almost anything gives away too much in this series now. This book was so good that I started reading it immediately upon it downloading to my Kindle and then just kept reading, without stopping, until I finished at 3am. When I got up in the morning (after only 3 hours sleep), I just kept thinking “I need to re-read _________”. And that is why I give this book 5 stars. The romance, the story, everything worked for me in this book. For me, the only part I hated is that the next book of the series won’t be out until October 2018.

On the plot, readers of the series will be familiar with the Perfect Gentlemen’s quest. Beginning with the death of the sixth of their group, Maddox, in the first book of the series, the conspiracy has expanded to include the deaths of a number of people and a connection to the Russian mafia. As book 3 ended, a number of the PG were on their way to London to investigate another suspicious death. That is the setup for this book which begins just as the prior book ended.

As I warn at the beginning of this review, this is a book that is meant to be experienced as the story unfolds. I encourage you to not read spoilers because this book is packed with secrets and reveals.

I won’t give anything away, but I assure you that the investigation continues, there is more danger and suspense and the plot continues to unfold. AND I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED how the story line continues to be interwoven and reexplained and unraveled. I generally find the plot in romance books to merely be vehicles for the romance, but here the plot is so exciting and well done that I continue to puzzle over the details between books. That continues to be true here as I keep wondering about the details and what they mean. That’s all I’m giving away on the plot. You’ll have to read the rest yourself.

Even as the plot was thrilling, what I really love about these books are the relationships: between the PG, between the heroes and heroines, and the developing friendships between the women. In the prior books, Roman and Gus were the most difficult characters for me. There was something unclear about who they were. That explodes here as the story between these character covers a lot of ground.

Gus is a strong, vibrant woman. She is brash and unapologetic, openly a sexual being, intelligent. She’s put the PGs in their place for years. What I didn’t expect was how I would fall in love with Gus because of all those qualities that I knew but also the softer side of her character that is revealed here. Both Roman and Gus present themselves as impervious and yet there are depths to them that are shown here and which I would never have expected.

Roman was also a surprise for me because he is more unsure of himself than I expected. This book tackles head on the idea that he was threatened by Gus in ways that romance books rarely address. I thought their story was thoughtful and difficult. Lots of angst and pain between these two (but totally different vibe than between Dax and Holland in book 3). By the end of this book, Roman has had to ask himself some fundamental questions about himself and I liked the journey so much.

This book is hot and exciting, but I really felt the pain and desire for connection between these characters. And perhaps that is why I felt the most satisfied with the conclusion of their story — because they had to travel so far and overcome so much to be together and yet they managed to make that journey.

WORTH MENTIONING: Readers of the series won’t be surprised that much of the overarching story isn’t resolved here. In fact, the story goes in a whole new direction.

CONNECTED BOOKS: SMOKE AND SIN is the fourth book in the Perfect Gentlemen series. This series is meant to be read in order and the book really doesn’t stand alone because it depends upon information in the prior books (although the romance is self-contained).

STAR RATING:  I give this book 5 stars.

five-stars

Review: Big Easy Temptation

Review: Big Easy TemptationBig Easy Temptation (The Perfect Gentlemen, #3) by Shayla Black, Lexi Blake
Series: The Perfect Gentlemen #3
Published by Berkley on May 3rd 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 384
Goodreads
five-stars

“You broke her heart.”

“Yeah, well, she broke mine, too.”

FINAL DECISION:  The most emotionally complex story of the series so far, BIG EASY TEMPTATION expands the overarching conspiracy while always keeping the focus of the story on the characters and their relationship.

THE STORY:  At their first meeting almost decade ago, Naval Officer Dax Spencer knew that Holland Kirk would be special to him.  The two circled around one another for years until 3 years ago.  The death of Dax’s father brings the two together as Dax seeks answers to what happened to his father.  Holland’s work as a NCIS agent gives her jurisdiction and for a time the two work together and finally begin building a relationship.  Then everything falls apart separating the two.  Now the two reunite as the conspiracy The Perfect Gentlemen are investigating appears connected to Dax’s father’s death. Dax has questions for Holland about what happened three years ago.

OPINION:  I loved the emotional complexity of this story.  The narrative is unusual in that the story is divided in two parts. The first part takes place in the past and ends badly with Holland and Dax separated.  The second part begins in present time and ultimately brings the two lovers back together.  I especially liked that the story takes the time to bring readers into the past and show the entirety of what went wrong with Holland and Dax.  Without that context, it would be difficult to understand and forgive the betrayals that tore them apart.  By following Dax and Holland through the entirety of their story, the pain they both experience is more immediate, fresher and thus more devastating than a mere exposition of the past would have been.

This is a second chance at love story and I became engrossed in Dax and Holland’s journey and was deeply saddened at the end of the first part of the story and then rejoiced when the two found on another again.  The complexity of the story, the characters and the emotional heft of the story matched the increasing complexity of the overarching story.

One thing I especially like about this series is that each of the books in the series is different.  This is the not a series with different characters in the same story. Each of the stories, each of the characters, each of the situations and challenges are different.  At the same time, each of the novels adds to the overarching story and I love that I get to see all the characters throughout the series.

Both Dax and Holland make many mistakes on their way to finding one another and I like the optimism of that.  Even with all their mistakes and misses in getting to their HEA, the do eventually get there.

The most angst filled story so far, this book feels like a pivot point in the series as the third of the five Perfect Gentlemen gets his woman and some of the outlines of the conspiracy are beginning to be revealed.  The conspiracy which has ensnared The Perfect Gentlemen is breathtaking in its scope.  It also keeps me guessing!

WORTH MENTIONING:  This book also reveals the likely pairings for the other Perfect Gentlemen and now I can’t wait for the next book.

CONNECTED BOOKS: BIG EASY TEMPTATION is the third book in The Perfect Gentlemen series.  This book should be read as part of the series because the suspense thread is part of an overarching story.  The overarching mystery continues past this book as well so be willing to continue to read the series.  Not a hardship!

STAR RATING:  I give this book 5 stars.

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

five-stars

Review: Seduction in Session

Review: Seduction in SessionSeduction in Session (The Perfect Gentlemen, #2) by Shayla Black, Lexi Blake
Series: The Perfect Gentlemen #2
Published by Berkley on January 5th 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 400
Goodreads
five-stars

“He’s taken one glance inside Lara’s fridge and known he would need help to survive.  The woman didn’t even have real milk.”

FINAL DECISION: The second entry in The Perfect Gentlemen series is funny, suspenseful, and spicy hot.  Connor, Lara and all the supporting cast of characters makes this a read that is fast paced and exciting.

THE STORY:  Connor Sparks, one of the Perfect Gentlemen, has picked up the mystery of who killed one of their own. A mysterious informant has sent the crew looking at Lara Armstrong, who runs an online tabloid, Capitol Scandals.  Connor, who works for the CIA, intends to use all his skills to find out what Lara knows.  Pretending to be a bodyguard, Connor inserts himself into Lara’s life but finds that the quirky woman brings a light to his life that the man who has lived in darkness for so long desperately wants.  Lara is a woman who wants to change the world but when someone tries to kill her, she has to turn to her sexy new bodyguard for protection.

OPINION: A perfect blend of humor, complex drama and suspense, SEDUCTION IN SESSION picks up where the first book in the series left off.  The overarching mystery continues as the question of who killed Maddox expands into a true conspiracy that goes far beyond the murder of one man.  I love that the suspense story is not external to the characters and the romance, but rather is built into the fabric of the relationships both between the hero and heroine but also The Perfect Gentlemen themselves.  I adore a good romantic suspense but only where the focus remains on the romance and not the suspense.  Here, as with the first book in the series, I found the balance just perfect. The overarching story kept me turning pages, while I relaxed into the romance between Connor and Lara.

The romance between Connor and Lara is complex and intriguing with a layer of humor which kept the story from being too dark.  Connor is a man who is marked by all the work he has done to protect people.  Working for the CIA has led Connor into a dark world and he now sees himself separate from those he cares about because of his secrets.  When he first approaches Lara, Connor knows that he will find a spoiled girl who is playing at revealing secrets or a woman who is trying to harm his friends. What he discovers instead is a woman who believes in the good in people and who wants to help others.

It is was easy for me to fall a little in love with Connor.  I love heroes who are wounded and have a darkness at their core. Connor is a good man who has had to do bad things for good reasons.  The love of a good woman brings him into the light.

Lara is not a character that I normally would like.  She is fussy with her Vegan diet, her obsession with environmental and social issues. She did eventually win me over because her genuine concern and caring for others, her ultimate recognition of the complexity of the world and her ultimate complete acceptance of Connor showed her to be someone that I could like and see as a match for Connor.

In less talented hands, these characters could have been caricatures.  Instead, the story goes deep into these two people giving them depth and complexity and life.

This series scares me a bit because I feel that it is one that I will want to re-read again and again, but so much depends upon the remainder of the series because these books are so intertwined.

WORTH MENTIONING: I’m not a big fan of pets in books because they often are a distraction, but I loved Lara’s struggling Vegan dog Lincoln.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  SEDUCTION IN SESSION is the second book in The Perfect Gentlemen series.  I cannot recommend a reader skip the first book, the stories build upon one another in the overarching story so just start at the beginning with this series.  You won’t regret it.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 5 stars.

five-stars

Review: Scandal Never Sleeps

Review: Scandal Never SleepsScandal Never Sleeps (The Perfect Gentlemen, #1) by Shayla Black, Lexi Blake
Series: The Perfect Gentlemen #1
Published by Berkley on August 18th 2015
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 400
Goodreads
five-stars

“Gabriel Bond really wanted to murder his best friend.”

FINAL DECISION:  How did I miss this series?  I absolutely loved this book which has funny, sexy and likeable characters, complex issues, an intriguing mystery and is hot, hot, hot!  I totally fell in love with the characters and flew through this book.

THE STORY: Gabriel Bond, one of the six “Perfect Gentlemen” of Creighton Academy, is left adrift after the death of one of his best friends Maddox Crawford.  Grieving and angry and a little lost, Gabriel seeks some forgetfulness with a woman he meets in a bar.  Everly Parker isn’t a woman who engages in one night stands, but the handsome and sexy Gabriel is an opportunity that she doesn’t want to pass up.  Things become complicated, however, when Everly and Gabriel meet again and find out that Gabriel is Everly’s new boss and Gabriel finds out that Everly is the woman he believes was Maddox’s mistress.  Then Gabriel becomes a suspect in Maddox’s murder.

OPINION: This book just sucked me in and wouldn’t let go. The Perfect Gentlemen are sexy, dominant men who have a funny and even somewhat sweet relationship.  They call one another brothers and their relationship is the central pivot point in the overarching story. The men needle, tease, taunt, challenge one another and are devoted to one another.  Without this foundation in the book, it would be impossible to understand or believe what these men are willing to do for one another.  The unshakable relationship between these men also serves to show how important the relationship between Gabriel and Everly becomes as she dislodges the other Perfect Gentlemen as most important to Gabriel.

Some readers might grumble about the fact that the overarching mystery that begins in this book with Maddox Crawford’s death is not resolved in this book.  I like my series to be closely connected and prefer that there be overarching issues which thread through all the books in the series.  This book is just about perfect in that regard.  Some questions are answered in this book and some questions linger on and is picked up by the next book in the series.  The romance itself is complete.

Before I began reading romances, I was an avid mystery reader and I still really enjoy a good romantic suspense or romance/mystery book.  My complaint is often that either there is too much suspense and little romance or the mystery is no real mystery but rather nothing more than an excuse to create drama for the hero and heroine.  Not so here.  The mystery seems organic and vital to the story and yet never overshadows the romance between Gabriel and Everly.  I was satisfied with the answers I got in this book even as I wonder about the bigger questions left unanswered.  Obviously, I don’t know what the ultimate answers are but the writers have earned my trust by creating a clever and intelligent beginning.

While Gabriel is definitely a yummy hero.  Unapologetically a highly sexed man, I loved how Gabriel doesn’t apologize for his sex life and doesn’t ask Everly to apologize for hers.  Powerful and yet willing to listen to Everly (after some initial misunderstandings). He treats her as an equal to him intellectually and sexually.  He’s funny and sexy and has some darkness in his past — what’s not to love?

I adored Everly as well.  She is smart and capable.  And can she handle Gabriel!  I especially like that Everly has a profession that is not usually given to women in books.  She is head of information security and is a hacker.  Her particular skills are especially useful in the mystery.  Loved, loved that Everly is not a damsel in distress but an active participant in the story and in the mystery.

This book just hit me in the right spot.  In fact, the hardest decision for me was whether to read the next book right away or re-read my favorite parts of this book.  My decision was to continue with the series and then re-read.  The best of both worlds.

WORTH MENTIONING:  The books in this series all deal with one overarching mystery that begins with the death of Maddox Crawford in this book. The overarching mystery is not resolved here even though the immediate issues raised in the book are resolved.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  SCANDAL NEVER SLEEPS is the first book in The Perfect Gentlemen series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 5 stars.

NOTE: I received a free paperback copy of this book at the RT Booklovers Convention. There was no request or requirement that I write a review or that I say positive things about this book.  All opinions contained herein are my own.

five-stars

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

Top 10 New to Me Books I Want to Read After RT Booklovers Convention

by Alice Clayton, Alyssa Cole, Donna Grant, Elle Kennedy, Em Shotwell, Julie Murphy, Katherine Reay, Leigh Bardugo, Lexi Blake, Savannah J. Frierson, Shayla Black

In April, I attended the RT Booklovers Convention in Las Vegas. It was a fantastic experience.  The parties were fun, the panels were usually very interesting and I came home with bags full of free books, but what I loved most was standing around talking with people about the books that they love.

The convention opened my eyes to authors, genres and all kinds of books that I never knew were out there.  I made a commitment that I would pick 10 books by authors that I haven’t really read before and try them out in the next year.

There is no method in the books I chose other than my limitation that they not be from authors that I regularly read. I ended up with dozens of possible books to read, and decided to just chose 10 that sparked my interest in some way.

What follows are my list of books in no particular order:

Blackbird Summer

Blackbird Summer by Em Shotwell: This might be the most shallow reason for choosing a book — I was walking around the book fair and loved the cover of this book.  I spoke with the author who gave a good pitch for the book.  It features a heroine with supernatural powers and takes place in the rural South. It happened to be on sale on Kindle so I bought it right then. The cover looks like a pictures I’d like to have on my wall.

Mixed Signals (Off the Grid, #3)

Mixed Signals by Alyssa Cole:  I saw the author speak at one of the panels and was impressed by how articulate and funny she was.  I really like clever books so I have hopes that this author’s personality will transfer to what she writes. The book is part of a post-apocalyptic series and I’m going to have to decide whether or not to read from the beginning of the series or start here.

Being Plumville

Being Plumville by Savannah J. Frierson:  I met this author at the Book Fair.  I was wandering around talking to different authors and approached her table.  I asked what her book was about.  When she told me that the story was about an interracial couple in the 1960s, I was hooked.  I know I haven’t read this book before so I was determined that it would make my list of books to read.

Scandal Never Sleeps (The Perfect Gentlemen, #1)

Scandal Never Sleeps by Shayla Black and Lexi Blake: One of my favorite events at the RT Convention was the Perfect Gentlemen event.  Lots of cool swag and a free copy of this book along with a signing by the authors.  As we waited in line for the signing, the group of women I was with laughed and drank the pink champagne.  It was a fun time. The entirety of the event plus the blurb on the back made me put this book in the read really soon pile.  A group of powerful and really sexy men finding strong women while investigating the death of one of their members is definitely my type of catnip.

Dumplin'

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy: This book was chosen as Book of the Year at the RT Reviewers’ Choice Awards.  I love the idea that all people deserve a happy ending.  Once again, I was impressed with the author as she accepted her awards that night.  Her remarks were touching and I knew I would have to read this book.

Wallbanger (Cocktail, #1)

Wallbanger by Alice Clayton: Lot of buzz about this author and series at the convention.  Someone else had recommended the book to me a while ago, Sarah MacLean has recommended it several times, and the repeated recommendations at the convention finally moved it to my list.

Dear Mr. Knightley

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay:  I went to the Sweet Romance Morning Coffee Break event and this author was in attendance.  One of the attendees at my table recommended reading this book and I was intrigued by the letter writing involved in the book and its connection to Pride and Prejudice.

Claimed (Outlaws, #1)

Claimed by Elle Kennedy: Another of those post-apocalyptic books, I received and ARC of the second book in this series at a blogger event and decided I had to look at this book to decide if I had to read it first.  I read the blurb “Her best chance at survival is Connor Mackenzie, an aggressively sensual fugitive who opens her eyes to the wicked possibilities of a world without rules.” and I had to add it to my list.

Smoke and Fire (Dark Kings, #9)

Smoke and Fire by Donna Grant: Dragon Shapeshifters.  Nothing else needed except I do need to decide where I want to start with this series.

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha, #1)

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo: I talked to many people able YA books and two different people suggested this book to me.  I know that it was on sale on Kindle not long ago so I decided I would give it a try.

Over the next year, I’m going to read these books.  Stay tuned to read my reviews.

Do you create book challenges for yourself? If so, what is on your challenge list?

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