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

Review: The Alexandria Affair

Review: The Alexandria AffairThe Alexandria Affair by Ashley Gardner
Series: Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries #11
on May 17, 2016
Genres: Mystery
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“In late August, 1818, my wife had me abducted, trussed up, and taken down the Thames to be put on a tall ship bound for Egypt.”

FINAL DECISION: These books just keep getting more amazing.  This book is a blend of a buddy travel book, an adventure story, a mystery and a look into Regency antiquities.  I love Lacey more and more in each book and I can’t wait for the next one!

THE STORY:  Captain Lacey’s wife is determined that Gabriel is going to Egypt with his friend Lucius Grenville.  Gabriel has been wavering because of his wife’s pregnancy.  Trussed up and sent away, Gabriel and Lucius quickly turn to the adventure of exploring the exotic locale.  Unfortunately, Gabriel gets mixed up in a murder and treasure hunting prompted by his crime boss contact Dennis.  There is much danger and the return of Gabriel’s “twin” who has been trying to murder him and those he cares about.

OPINION:  One thing I have always loved about the Captain Lacey Mysteries is the intriguing mix of mystery and romance.  Well, in this book the romance element is lessened — although Lacey never forgets about his beloved wife — but there is a new adventure element to take its place.  The emphasis of this book is the mystery so readers should not be fooled.  Here, I was much more intrigued by the adventure story than the mystery.  I became fascinated by the descriptions of Regency Egypt and the expeditions going on there.  There is some progress on some ongoing stories including Lacey’s mystery stalker.

This has become one of my favorite series because it has so many good characters with twisty stories that I want to follow.  I can’t wait until the next book because I knocked off 1/2 star merely because I love the interaction with Lacey and his wife and I missed that here.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This book has a lot of cool information about Regency Egypt and the discovery of antiquities.  It feels like an adventure book as well as a mystery.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE ALEXANDRIA AFFAIR is the eleventh book in the Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries series.  The mystery in this book is self contained but there are some overarching storylines and relationships.  I think a new reader could read this book without missing much.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: White Tiger

Review: White TigerWhite Tiger (Shifters Unbound, #8) by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Shifters Unbound #8
Published by Berkley on April 5th 2016
Genres: Paranormal
Pages: 335
Goodreads
four-stars

“Addie never paid much attention to Shifters — they weren’t part of her world. And now one had come to her diner to eat pie.”

FINAL DECISION: An enjoyable romp, WHITE TIGER continues to expand the Shifter universe.  As always, the world building is strong here. The sweetness of the romance between Kendrick and Addison is matched with an adventurous story.  The only thing I missed here was a progression in the overarching story.

THE STORY: Kendrick is a Guardian and the white tiger shfiter leader of a group of uncollared shifters. A father with motherless children, Kendrick has lived for so many years in secret in order to protect his family and his shifters, Kendrick has not been able to resist a nightly trip to a diner to see a waitress Addison Price.  When an attack leaves them all vulnerable, Addison is pulled into the world of the Shifters.

OPINION:  I really enjoyed this book because Kendrick and Addison are such a sweet pair. Addie is really strong as a woman and I love her protective instincts.  Kendrick has a hidden gentleness to him and the pain he has experienced makes him wary of falling for Addie but he quickly does even as he wants to keep his distance to protect her.

Most of the conflict in this story involves Kendrick’s clan and a shifter who wants Kendrick for herself.  That part of the story didn’t work as well for me, but I enjoyed the overall story in such a way that I could overlook it.

Aside from the romance, my favorite part of the book was watching Kendrick, with Addie’s help begin to build a home for his shifters.  The sense of finding a home and building a place where shifters can find happiness and community just made me happy.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Any book where Tiger appears is a great book to me!  I love that guy and was pleased to see this part of his story.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  WHITE TIGER is the eighth book in the Shifters Unbound series.  It can be read as a standalone although a new reader might feel challenged by the worldbuilding that has already been done and isn’t explained here.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Wild Things

Review: Wild ThingsWild Things (Shifters Unbound #7.75) by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Shifters Unbound #7.75
Published by JA / AG Publishing on March 22nd 2016
Genres: Paranormal
Pages: 220
Goodreads
four-stars

Sweet Romance But It’s The Shifter Info Revealed that Is Really Good

FINAL DECISION: Enjoyable with a less experienced Shifter male and a woman who has tried to find love in the wrong places. This novella expands readers knowledge of what is going on in the Shifter universe. Sweet and fun.

THE STORY: Mason McNaughton is a wolf shifter (youngest brother of Broderick from BAD WOLF) is tired of the feral feline living in his house driving him crazy and sometimes trying to kill him. He decides to help search for a cure which leads him to a psychic in New Orleans Jasmine Samuelson. Mason doesn’t believe in psychics but Jasmine is known for finding people and Mason needs her help to find the elusive Guardian healers who might be able to turn the feral back from his madness. Jasmine finds Mason sexy but she has had bad luck with men including a shifter who broke her heart before.

OPINION: This romance is sweeter and less intense than others in the series as this short novella has a lot of plot to get in. That being said, I enjoyed seeing Mason who is somewhat younger and more inexperienced than the typical Shifter in this series fall in love. Mason is really sweet even as he says that Shifters are wild and dangerous. The connection between Jasmine and Mason is quick and there is little conflict between them except for Jasmine’s wariness because of her past. I enjoyed this book especially because of the return glimpses of some of my favorite Shifters. This is not that deep of a book, but it is enjoyable and expands the Shifter universe.

WORTH MENTIONING: Lots of cameos from series favorites! There are lots of cubs arriving soon!

CONNECTED BOOKS: WILD THINGS is book number 7.75 in the Shifters Unbound series. It can be read as a standalone EXCEPT a reader has to understand a bit about the Shifters because it is not explained here.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

Save

four-stars

Review: Dreamwalker

Dreamwalker
Dreamwalker by Allyson James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Return to Stormwalkers Universe

FINAL DECISION: A book ultimately about connections, caring and relationship wrapped in a paranormal shell, this book moves the mythology of the Stormwalkers series forward with the presence of all of Janet’s family and friends.

THE STORY: Janet Begay, Stormwalker and half-goddess, is planning her wedding to dragon Mick when the most powerful mage Emmett Smith demands her magic mirror or else he will take it from her — and he doesn’t care who gets hurt. When a battle with demons knocks Janet out and sends her to a dream world in the past, Janet and her friends and family begin to live in a world where the dreams of the past may not happen like before and where there are real dangers. Janet needs to find a way back to the present and defeat Emmett before everyone she loves is destroyed.

OPINION: This book has a lot of drama as Janet struggles through her dreams. Janet struggles with her ever increasing group of loved ones and friends. The more she cares about others, she is both more powerful and also more vulnerable. I especially liked how Janet’s relationship with her sister continues to evolve. In this book, they have a breakthrough. I also enjoyed being able to see Janet evaluate her relationship with Mick in her dreams. After reading the other books in the series, this book gives a sense of how far the two have traveled together and developed. While this book has a lot of action in it, I appreciate the relationships more.

WORTH MENTIONING: This is the first Stormwalker novel after a several year hiatus. Thankfully, the tone of the novels and the characters blend in nicely with the previous novels.

CONNECTED BOOKS: DREAMWALKER is the fifth book in the Stormwalkers series. The story here can be read as a standalone although there is a continuing mythology.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

Review: Nightwalker

Nightwalker
Nightwalker by Allyson James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Action Packed with Overlapping Mysteries in this Paranormal Series

FINAL DECISION: An exciting, action packed entry in the Stormwalkers series. All the series favorites make appearances here and the mythology of the series continues to develop in new and unexpected ways.

THE STORY: Stormwalker Janet Begay owns the Crossroads Hotel. The friends, family and fiance consists of a variety of magical and non-magical creatures. When Ansel, a Nightwalker (aka vampire) is being sought for the murder of his girlfriend, Janet and her fiance Mick don’t believe that Ansel would have committed the crime. Unfortunately, Ansel himself is not sure that he did not kill her in a blood frenzy. When powerful magical creatures come after Ansel, Janet realizes that more is going on here than a possible murder.

OPINION: This book is an exciting chapter in the Stormwalkers series. There is much ambiguity here which is where this series excels. It is not certain that Ansel is innocent — in fact everyone and everything points to guilt on his behalf. Janet’s defense of him threatens her life and those she loves. The struggle with power, the betrayal of friends, mistakes made. All these themes are present here. This book is filled with a whole cast of characters from the series as it appears that everyone is after Ansel. Janet and Mick’s relationship opens in new directions in small ways in this book. Mick opens up in ways he hasn’t in previous books in the series. All this combines into a good paranormal mystery adventure.

WORTH MENTIONING: What is Mick up to?

CONNECTED BOOKS: NIGHTWALKER is the fourth book in the Stormwalkers series. The story is self contained and can be read as a standalone, however, there are ongoing personal stories regarding the characters that span the series of books and are not necessarily understood by reading only this book.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

Review: Shadow Walker

Shadow Walker
Shadow Walker by Allyson James
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

My Favorite of the Series

“Nothing quite makes your night like falling two hundred feet into a sinkhole.”

FINAL DECISION: This is my favorite book in the series. The drama with the relationship between Janet and Mick raised the importance and tension in the story.

THE STORY: Janet Begay is a Stormwalker with a boyfriend, Mick, who is a dragon. When the ground collapses beneath Janet, she finds something dark under the ground. Even worse, it seems like darkness is all around and even Mick begins to act strangely.

OPINION: For me the best part of this book is the change in Mick and the threat to his relationship with Janet. Janet is challenged here because she realizes the real possibility of losing Mick. In many ways, she has taken their relationship for granted. The story in this book forces her to consider how much Mick means to her. There are other strange things going on in this town, but, for me, this book is best when Janet is having to consider how much the relationship and Mick means to her. This book is sad and at times very filled with angst. Because of the development in the relationship, this book is my favorite.

WORTH MENTIONING: One of the interesting things about this series is that the end of each book gives a little teaser about what is coming up in the future setting up one of the continuing stories.

CONNECTED BOOKS: SHADOW WALKER is the third book in the Stormwalker series. The story is self-contained although the continuing character relationships and some of the stories are continuing throughout the series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.