Friday, September 22, 2017

Review - - Archangel's Viper

Archangel’s Viper
By Nalini Singh
Publisher: Berkley Jove
Release Date: September 26, 2017
Reviewed by Nancy Northcott

Any long-running series has the potential to go stale, to become repetitive and give the reader a sense of “been there, read this already.” Nalini Singh juggles two series and manages to keep both fresh. In Archangel’s Viper, the tenth installment of her Guild Hunter series, the heroine, Holly Chang, is a character from the series’ first book, Archangel’s Blood.

In that book, Holly and a group of her friends were kidnapped by an insane archangel, Uram.  He tortured and killed Holly’s friends in front of her and forced Holly to drink his blood.  The experience not only left Holly traumatized and suicidal but transformed her into something uniquely Other.  Archangels have the ability to create, or Make, vampires. They are not, however, supposed to change anyone who doesn’t choose to be altered.

Complicating matters is that Uram did not intend to Make Holly, so he didn’t follow the protocols for that process.  His abuse changed her into something neither vampire nor human and gave her tiny fangs, inhuman speed and reflexes, and toxic blood. Closely watched and trained by the archangel Rafael’s personal guard, known as the Seven, and supported by her family, Holly has clawed her way to acceptance of her new life.  She even has a job, serving as Raphael’s ears in the shadowy parts of New York City. There’s a catch, though.  Something of Uram remains within her, a darkness that grows steadily stronger.  If that darkness becomes ascendant and turns her into a menace, one of the Seven will end her life. 

Word of Holly’s uniqueness has spread, and someone has put out a bounty on her. Protecting her is Venom, a vampire who’s one of the Seven.  Neither of them is happy about the attraction between them, so they deal with it by aggravating and needling each other. As the stresses on Holly escalate, however, Venom takes care of her, revealing kindness she hadn’t suspected was in him.

The meals he fixes for her open a door to his past and lead him to tell her that he grew up in an inn on the Silk Road, the great network of trading paths in the ancient world. He learned to cook in the inn’s kitchens.

It’s common knowledge that Viper was made a vampire by the archangel Neha, who’s known as the Mistress of Poisons.  He has snake-like, slitted eyes with nictitating membranes and toxic, venomous blood. Because most people find his eyes off-putting, he wears sunglasses almost all the time.  Holly, however, likes his eyes, which secretly delights him.

As they work together to solve the dual problems of the bounty on Holly and the dark power growing stronger within her, she realizes that his outward confidence covers the fact that he is as isolated by his uniqueness as she is by hers.  The attraction between them steadily deepens, but the darkness within her is gaining power and has the potential to kill her.

Much of the Guild Hunter series has focused on the politics of the world’s archangels, who’re known as the Cadre.  As with the Psy/Changeling series, however, Singh has created a world with so much depth and texture that she has many different ways to focus her stories.

Archangel’s Viper explores the seamier side of life in New York and of vampires’ existence.  It isn’t all fabulous due to enhanced lifespans and physical abilities. Some vampires are no better able to cope with life than their mortal counterparts.

Both Holly and Venom are complex characters.  She struggles to find her place in the world while he is secure in his role, but each has personal demons that haunt them.

The action sequences are well done and utilize the characters’ paranormal abilities believably. The story moves at a good pace. Familiar characters make brief appearances in ways that mesh well with the overall plot.

I highly recommend Archangel’s Viper. Five stars.

I also have to say the cover is just smokin’ hot.  Not that one reads a book for its cover.  Just sayin’.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review - - Fool Me Once

Fool Me Once
By Catherine Bybee
Publisher: Montlake
Release Date: September 19, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

For divorce attorney Lori Copeland, there is no rest. She has not recovered from the divorce party celebrating Avery Grant’s amicable divorce and $5 million reward for her brief Alliance-arranged marriage when Samantha Harrison, owner of Alliance, an exclusive agency that offers marriage-for-hire services to an elite group of wealthy clients, phones with the news that Fedor Petrov, one of their clients, has committed suicide. Conscious of the coming media storm, Sam and Lori rush to the side of Fedor’s widow, Trina Mendez-Petrov.

Lori, who, in addition to taking care of the legal needs associated with Alliance marriages, is also in charge of helping divorcĂ©es transition from wife to ex, decides that a Mediterranean cruise is in order to get Trina away from relentless media coverage, much of it suggesting that she was responsible for her husband’s suicide. It seems wise to include Avery since a photo of her celebrating her divorce with a male stripper is also attracting attention. Lori invites Shannon Redding, former wife of Paul Wentworth, current governor of California, to round out the group.  The women call themselves the First Wives Club.

The cruise has barely started when the women meet Reed Barlow. Handsome and charming, Reed is a big hit with them. The attraction between him and Lori is immediate and potent, but Lori, jaded from her years as a divorce lawyer and her own divorce, is cautious. Nevertheless, Reed wins her over and the two become lovers. Their affair continues once the cruise ends, and Lori is soon thinking about a pre-nup, a sure sign of how serious the relationship has become. The problem is that Reed is a private investigator hired to find dirt on one of the “First Wives.”  Once Lori knows who he is, a DOA may be likelier than an HEA.  Add a greedy Russian villain who is not above threatening Lori’s life and a sexy ultra-competent investigator known as Sasha whose allegiance is unknown, and things get complicated on multiple levels.

Catherine Bybee introduces the First Wives series, a spin-off of her popular Weekday Brides books, in Fool Me Once. Lori and her three clients are all women who for various reasons did not find an HEA in their first marriages. Bybee gives enough information about Avery, Trina, and Shannon to make readers eager for follow-up stories for these “first wives,” but the focus in this book is on Lori and Reed. Lori is less cynical than she thinks, and Reed’s heart is more vulnerable than he suspects. Some readers may find Reed’s deceit off-putting, but his conscience bothers him almost from the beginning. And he never uses the information that he finds through his contact with Lori.

If you liked the Weekday Brides, I predict that you will enjoy Fool Me Once.  It offers the same combination of sophistication, sexy scenes, and suspense that characterized that series, and it requires the same suspension of disbelief. Weekday Brides fans will doubtless be pleased to see that characters from the earlier series appear in this book. A couple of visits to the familiar Tarzana house are also included. However, it looks as if readers may see some changes in Alliance in upcoming books.

Despite all the connections to the earlier series, this book can be appreciated without having read other books. I admit I prefer the heart and substance of the Most Likely To series, but Fool Me Once is an entertaining read. If you like contemporary romance set among the very wealthy, I think you will enjoy this book.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Teaser Blitz - - Duke of Desire

Iris tasted of red wine—the red wine she must have drunk at dinner—and all the reasons he shouldn’t do this fled his mind. A vital chain broke in his psyche and everything he’d held back, everything he’d restrained with all his might, was suddenly set free. He surged into her mouth, desperate for the feel, for the taste of her, his wife, his duchess, his Iris. She was soft and sweet and warm and he wanted to devour her. To seize her and hold her and never let her go. The deep unfathomable well of his urges toward her frightened him, and he knew that if she became aware of them, they would frighten her as well.
But that was the thing—she wasn’t aware of them. She thought she was simply consummating their marriage or some such rot, God help them both.
She gripped his naked arms and the beast within him shuddered and stretched, claws scraping against the ground.
Dear God, he wanted this woman.
But he had to remember—to keep that human part of his mind awake and alive—that he mustn’t seed her.
Must never do as his cursed father had done.
He broke from her mouth, feeling the pulse of his cock against his breeches, and trailed his lips across her cheek to her ear. “Come with me, sweet girl.”
She blinked up at him, wide blue-gray eyes a little dazed.
He covered her mouth again before she could speak—either to consent or decline—and drew her slowly backward, step by step, toward the bed, until he hit it with the backs of his legs. He broke the kiss, looking down at her, her wet ruby lips parted, her cheeks flushed pink.
She looked edible.
“Raphael,” she whispered, his name on her lips like a plea, and something within him broke.
This wasn’t what he wanted. This wasn’t right. But it was the only thing possible and it would have to suffice because it was all he could do.
And trying to resist was killing him.
He traced a hand up her arm, over her shoulder, to her neck, and from there touched her bound golden hair. “Will you take down your hair for me?”
She gasped—a small, quick inhalation—and nodded.
He watched as she raised her arms, her stormy eyes locked on his, and withdrew the pins from her hair one by one until the heavy mass fell like a curtain around her shoulders. He bent then and gathered the locks in his hands, burying his face in her neck, inhaling her.
His woman.
He felt her tremble against him and then her fingers speared through his hair. “Raphael.”
He lifted his head.
Her hands fell away and she began undressing, her head bent down as she unhooked her bodice. He saw that her fingers fumbled and he knew that a better man would turn aside. Would give her privacy to collect herself and disrobe with modesty.
But he wasn’t such a man. He wanted all of her—her mistakes and her private moments, her shame and her worries—everything she held back from the rest of the world. As he wanted this. This moment of fumbling.
This moment of intimacy.
She pulled the bodice from her arms. Untied her skirts and let them pool around her feet before kicking them aside. Glanced up at him and then worked at the laces to her stays.
Her unbound hair fell over her shoulders, nearly to her waist, thick and swaying gently as she moved.
She was beautiful.
She pulled her loosened stays off over her head and stood in chemise, stockings, and shoes. The tips of her breasts peeked out from beneath the thin cloth.
She began to bend for her shoes, but he stopped her. “No. Let me.”
He grasped her by the waist and lifted her to the bed.
Carefully he drew off her slippers, letting them drop to the hardwood floor before running his hand up her left calf. The room was so quiet he could hear each breath she drew. She watched him as he reached under her chemise, into that warm spot behind her knee, tugging at the ribbon of her garter.
Her breath hitched.
He glanced up at her as he found bare skin. Hot, so hot under her skirt. He could almost imagine he smelled her, standing between her bent legs. He pulled the first stocking off and moved to her other foot, smoothing his thumb over her arch, over that high instep, that sweet, delicate ankle. The curve of her calf—one of the loveliest curves in nature—elegant and perfect. Someday he’d like to draw her nude.
The faint, almost inaudible whisper as he pulled the ribbon off raised the hairs on the back of his neck. His nostrils flared and he couldn’t wait any longer. He lifted her bodily, moving her farther up on the bed, placing her head and shoulders against the pillows, and then pushed up her chemise, crawling between her spread thighs and settling to enjoy what he’d found.
There. There she was, her pretty, pretty pink cunny, all coral lips and wispy dark-blond curls. He hiked her trembling legs over his arms, ignoring her gasp of shocked surprise. He glanced up once and saw wide, wondering eyes gazing back at him. Her gentlemanly first husband had evidently never done this to her.
More fool he.


by Elizabeth Hoyt
The Maiden Lane Series #12
Grand Central Publishing
October 17, 2017

Refined, kind, and intelligent, Lady Iris Jordan finds herself the unlikely target of a diabolical kidnapping.  Her captors are the notoriously evil Lords of Chaos.  When one of the masked-and-nude!-Lords spirits her away to his carriage, she shoots him…only to find she may have been a trifle hasty.

Cynical, scarred, and brooding, Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, has made it his personal mission to infiltrate the Lords of Chaos and destroy them.  Rescuing Lady Jordan was never in his plans.  But now with the Lords out to kill them both, he has but one choice: marry the lady in order to keep her safe.

Much to Raphael’s irritation, Iris insists on being the sort of duchess who involves herself in his life—and bed.  Soon he’s drawn to both to her quick wit and her fiery passion.  But when Iris discovers that Raphael’s past may be even more dangerous than the present, she falters.  Is their love strong enough to withstand not only the Lords of Chaos but also Raphael’s own demons?


Elizabeth Hoyt is the New York Times bestselling author of over seventeen lush historical romances including the Maiden Lane series. Publishers Weekly has called her writing "mesmerizing." She also pens deliciously fun contemporary romances under the name Julia Harper. Elizabeth lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with three untrained dogs, a garden in constant need of weeding, and the long-suffering Mr. Hoyt.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Review - - Breakup in a Small Town

Breakup in a Small Town
By Kristina Knight
Publisher: Harlequin/Superromance
Release Date: September 1, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

When an F4 tornado devastated Slippery Rock, Missouri, Adam Buchanan suffered injuries that changed every part of his life. His doctors are delaying surgery on the injuries that confine him to his wheel chair until they discover the right combination of medicines to control the epileptic seizures that are a result of the brain injury. Angry and depressed, he refuses physical therapy and the use of a service dog. He is mired in self-pity, convinced that he has become useless as a husband and father.

Jenny Buchanan has also been changed by her husband’s injuries. Married at eighteen, she has been content to let Adam be the decision maker in their domestic life and in the business, Buchanan Cabinetry, which she and Adam bought from his parents. After Adam’s injury, she was forced to make decisions at home and to fight to keep her well-meaning but conservative in-laws from sabotaging the vision she and Adam had for the business. She is also concerned about her two young sons who are anxious and fearful after the tornado and the changes in their father. Stretched thin from all these demands and with Adam rejecting her every effort to help him return to the man he was, Jenny wonders if even love is enough to save her marriage. She asks Adam to leave.

Adam goes only as far as the borrowed RV he has parked on the couple’s property, but it is far enough to make him aware of all that he could lose. Is it too late for him and Jenny to rediscover the connection they believed was forever?

This is the third novel in Kristina Knight’s Slippery Rock series, following Famous in a Small Town and Rebel in a Small Town. Readers of the earlier books will be familiar with the Buchanans, although it is not necessary to have read the other two books to enjoy Adam and Jenny’s story. Knight does an excellent job with this marriage-in-trouble tale. Adam and Jenny are both flawed but sympathetic characters. Adam’s injuries are not the cause of their problems; they serve rather as the pressure point that exposes the cracks in what appeared to be a happy marriage. Despite his responsibilities as a business owner, husband to Jenny, and father to Frankie and Garrett, Adam has remained in many ways the boy he was. His car, an inappropriate choice as a family vehicle, and his reluctance to lose it are symbolic of his immaturity. Jenny is generally more likable than her husband, but she also bears some responsibility for the weaknesses in the marriage. Conditioned by her relationship with her parents to allow someone else to run the show, she has never asserted herself.

Knight has a gift for creating a believable community and characters who are interesting and relatable. Breakup in a Small Town is the most complex story in a solid series. I recommend it—particularly for readers who like books that explore what happens when the HEA proves to be more real life and less fairy tale. Adam’s brother Aiden is another interesting character, one who makes me hope to see at least one more book in this series.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Italy: The Country of My Heart - Part 2

While the Amalfi Coast is known for its lemons there are other products that call this region home as well. In Positano, you can find some of the finest linens in the world. I had way too much fun buying table linens in - what else - a lemon motif! 

In Ravello, pottery is one of their claims to fame (wool and cashmere are two others). I only bought a small pitcher but I drooled over so much more. Sometimes, living in a condo is good for the bank account. *grin*

Ravello is a small town high in the mountains. We visited on a lovely Sunday afternoon when tourists were not thick on the ground, allowing us to leisurely stroll through the town and enjoy the open square that faces a church with an ancient bell tower and also offers beautiful views of lemon groves that line the hills as well as the sea far below. It was one of my favorite stops. 

Gotta love those massages!

Another favorite stop on the tour was at the "cow spa" as our tour guide, Marcello dubbed it. 

The actual name of this organic buffalo farm near Paestum in southern Italy is Tenuta Vannulo though in actuality, "cow spa" isn't far from the truth. The water buffalo who reside here are truly living the good life with classical music piped in every morning, self-milking stations, and massage machines.

This group is queueing up to be milked. Each cow (female water buffalo) has a tag around her neck that carries her name (Yes, they are all named. I was introduced to water buffalo Britney, named after Britney Spears.), rate of milking, output, etc. When the cow feels ready to be milked, she simply enters the queue to go into the automatic milking machine. 

Opening the gate after milking to head to the feeding station.
When she's reached the amount of milk output her tag says is optimum for her, the machine shuts off and she's gently nudged out. She then opens the gate (with her nose) and wanders over to the feeding station. After eating, they can snooze in the sun, hang out with their friends, get a massage, or cool off in the misters. It's one of the coolest places I've ever visited. 

All that care sure shows in the milk they produce which is used to make a variety of products, including some of the best buffalo mozzarella and gelato I've ever tasted. The organic farm grows the feed the buffalo eat as well as the fruits and vegetables that are served to the people who visit. Our lunch at the farm included fabulous organic cherry tomatoes and mozzarella we watched being made that morning! 

Food. There aren't enough superlatives to describe how much I enjoyed the food of southern Italy so I'll just share a few photos. Feel free to drool. I did. ;-) 


Eggplant, Pumpkin, and Fennel


Fresh seafood platter.

Warm, freshly picked tomatoes at a vineyard on Mt. Vesuvius. An explosion of sweet, earthy, flavor in my mouth.

Antipasto at the same vineyard. I could have eaten an entire platter of just the sundried tomatoes. 

Tomatoes from the same vineyard drying in the sun. The volcanic ash from Vesuvius creates some of the best soil in the world for growing fruits and vegetables. I gave serious consideration to stuffing as many as I could into my bag. I didn't, but I sure wanted to!

Caprese Salad. I had nine of them during the trip. I could have eaten more. ;-) 

Prosecco. A nice welcome to our hotel in Positano!

Seafood delight. Mussels, clams, and prawns straight from the sea. Yum!

Delicious lemon sorbet made with fresh, Amalfi Coast lemons.  

Custard filled dessert. 

Gluten-free pizza that actually tasted like pizza! Italian restaurants are very conscious of customers with Celiac disease and gluten sensitivities. The gluten-free dishes I ate were fabulous!

Making our dinner at an Agriturismo (tourist farm) in the mountains. What fun that was!

I couldn't have these (gluten) but there were plenty of moans and groans from everyone else at the table. The center was melted chocolate.

This lemon risotto was incredible. Made with fresh picked lemons from the restaurant's groves, it was my favorite dish of the entire trip. I could have happily eaten it at every meal!

Our final day in Positano was also one of our most enjoyable. After a leisurely walk from our hotel down to the docks, we boarded our private boat for a full day of cruising along the coast, including two swim stops (I was surprised by how cold the water was!) and lunch at a restaurant that can only be reached by water. Viewing the Amalfi Coast from the sea gives you a completely different perspective.

I'd probably give up boating if I had to climb up and down that path each time I wanted to go out on the water!

One of Sophia Loren's homes. We waved. Alas, nobody waved back. ;-)

They grow lemons everywhere!


I love the homes and villages tucked into the nooks and crannies along the coast. 

No helicopter on this yacht but they brought their own slide. Looks like fun!

Our final day in Positano. This was taken from my hotel room balcony. Believe me, it was no hardship waking up to this view every morning. Saying arrivederci? Not so easy. 

As lovely as Positano is by day, at night, the magic comes out.  

I hope you've enjoyed this brief peek into my Italy tour and a few of the (thousands of) photos I took. Sharing it with you has reminded me of how fortunate I was to take this trip and how very much I enjoyed it. 

Have you ever gone boating in an ocean or sea? Did you enjoy it?

Which of the food dishes above would you most like to try?

What would be your biggest indulgence if you traveled to the Amalfi Coast? Linens? Food? Wine? Pottery? Cashmere? Something else?

PJ's Birthday Month Giveaway

One randomly chosen person will receive a book from my conference stash and a bar of organic yogurt and honey soap from the cow spa. (U.S. addresses only)

One randomly chosen person will receive a book from my conference stash and a linen bread bag. (U.S. addresses only)