Book Reviews, magic, Paranormal, Romance

Paranormal Romance Review: Magick and Moonlight (Marie Lavender)

If you liked Practical Magic with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, one-click Magick & Moonlight by Marie Lavender. Both Jessie and Ethan are hiding in small-town Oregon from something in the past. Can they resolve their mutual reservations about magick and learn to live – and love – again?

Small businesswoman Jessie was taught the ways of Wicca by her beloved late grandmother. While privately practicing the rituals of her faith in the forest, she is interrupted by a strange man. Is he worth the risk of her heart, her career and her life?

Ethan is a former cop laying low in a secluded cabin while seeking new direction in his life. Romance is the furthest thing from his mind when he chances upon a woman in the woods. Is their love real or is he simply spellbound?

View the Magick & Moonlight trailer: Click here.

Enjoy an Excerpt:

“A spell?”  His eyes flew to the black cauldron.  He remembered the strange chanting he’d heard before.  “You’re practicing witchcraft?  That’s a new one.”

“Wicca, actually, is a religion based on the elements of nature.  It’s a way to harmonize with our environment.”

“Is that right?”

“Yes.”

Unnerved again by her naked body as well as her suggestion, he shrugged out of his barn coat and approached her.  He draped it around her shoulders and buttoned it over her, aware that he might as well be caressing her, he was so close to her.  He realized that his coat was touching her luscious, naked body, her most secret spots.  The thought made him clench his fists.  “Can I give you a ride back home?  My truck is nearby.”

A long silence fell.  Her gaze on his, it seemed to take her awhile to decide if she could trust him.  “All right.” She dropped the knife she held.

Inwardly relieved, he sighed.  “We need to put the

fire out,” he pointed out.

He took a stick and nudged the cauldron enough so that it spilled its contents onto the fire.  A puff of smoke filled the air, causing them both to cough at the whiff of herbs and something else that smelled burnt.  He began to doubt if she was really a witch after all.  It was likely she was dabbling in the arts because she was bored.  When she gasped, he turned, alarmed.  “What is it?”

She pointed to the mess he’d created with the broth and the campfire.  “I wouldn’t have done that if I were you.”

“Oh?  Why not?”

She opened her mouth as if to explain, then suddenly closed it.  “Never mind.”

“Fine, then.  Let’s get out of here.”  With a hand against the small of her back, he nudged her gently toward the path he’d taken to find her campfire.  “So, how long have you been dabbling in—”

“In what?  Magick?”

He wondered if her contrariness was borne out of the urge to make him more uncomfortable about the subject than he already was.  “Yes.”

“All of my life.”

He raised his eyebrows.  This woman was getting more interesting by the moment.  And for all he knew, she might be crazy.  “I see.”

“I doubt it.”

Not only was she sexy as hell, she was feisty.  He fought down the response of his libido to that deadly combination.  Perhaps she was a witch.  She would be nearly impossible to forget now that he’d met her.  “Maybe you could tell me your name?”

“You can call me Jessie.”

He grinned.  At least now he could put a name with a face.  Or a body.  “Well, nice to meet you, Jessie.  I’m Ethan Hamilton.”

“Good to meet you too.  What are you doing out here though?”

“I have a cabin not too far from here.  I was by the shore when I saw the light from the campfire.”

“Oh.  Sorry for disturbing your peace.”

“Believe me.  It was no bother.”  At least not if he didn’t want to sleep tonight.  His body was as hard as a rock, clenched in anticipation of what he could share with this woman if she let him.  And that wasn’t likely, considering her reception of him.  “We’ll reach the truck soon, I promise.  You’ll be home in no time.”

“Thanks.”

“No problem.”  He cleared his throat.  “Is there a reason I found you naked out there?  I mean, you lost your clothes somehow, right?”

The secret smile she gave him made his throat feel dry.  “Do you want me to lie?”

“Of course not.”

“The ritual was best practiced in the nude.  Skyclad rituals are very common, you know.  The Goddess tells us, ‘You shall be free from all slavery, and as a sign that you be truly free, you shall be naked in your rights.’”

He lifted a brow.  “Even if that were the case, you didn’t walk there naked, did you?”

“Didn’t I?”

Maybe she was crazy after all.

“I didn’t walk at all.”

He thought she might be saying that she was transported by magic.  Yep, she was batty as hell.  He was so not touching that one.  He cleared his throat again.

A sharp cry startled him and instinctively, he reached forward and grabbed her when she started to fall. Unfortunately, she ended up right in his arms.

Or maybe it was fortunate after all.  With her luscious lips so close, he could almost taste her.  And her scent…dear God, she was intoxicating, like a mixture of night air and jasmine.  “You all right?” he managed.

She nodded.  “My foot caught on a rock, I think.”

“Is it bleeding?”

“My foot or the rock?”  Her cheek dimpled.

He laughed.  “Your foot, of course.”

“No, I don’t think so.  It’s all right.”

“Good.”  He realized his mistake immediately.  Some strange instinct caused him to keep her close.  Stepping back would be a crime and she was seductive.  Knowing she was naked underneath his coat didn’t help anything.  She was way too accessible.  Heedless of the costs, he plunged a hand into the soft waves of her dark hair and lowered his mouth to hers.

She tasted like wine, potent and sweet.  He explored her mouth slowly, allowing her the chance to pull away or slap him.  He knew he’d deserve it.  He’d never stolen a kiss before, and he couldn’t think why he’d done it now.  But, she tasted delicious.  And her body felt so good against his.  He groaned and drew her closer.  When she moaned in return, he kissed her deeply and moved a hand down her back.  His hands wanted to roam further, but he held himself in check.  If he was a real gentleman, he’d pull away now.  Reluctantly, he did.

He drew back and tried to get his libido back under control.  “Ah…sorry.  I wasn’t thinking.”  He swept a hand through his hair.

He thought she looked just as shaken.  But she smiled a little.  “It’s okay.  No harm done, right?”

This is my first read of Magick & Moonlight. It’s the third book I’ve read by Marie Lavender, the others being Second Chance Heart and Blue Vision, which I also enjoyed. Lavender takes a hapless couple in a rural setting, stirs in some well-researched and rich details and sprinkles them with her gifts for romance, storytelling and language. The result is a delicious love story that will leave you satisfied, yet coming back for more of Marie Lavender’s works.

Buy Magick & Moonlight by Marie Lavender at Amazon or Solstice:

Universal Amazon:  http://bookgoodies.com/a/B00IRKN5P2

myBook.to/MagickMoon

Publisher:  http://solsticepublishing.com/magick-moonlight/

Reviewer Bio

Belinda Y. Hughes is an author, blogger, editor, proofreader, reviewer and unit study developer. Her vegetarian cookbook, Confessions of a Red Hot Veggie Lover 2, and lesbian romance, Blues in the Night, are available on Amazon. Her latest project, Unit Study: DERELICT by LJ Cohen, is available at Apple (iBooks), Barnes & Noble (Nook), Inktera and Kobo.

DISCLOSURE: I paid for this book out of my own pocket.

Advertisements
Standard
Book Reviews, Comedy, Satire, Scifi

BOOK REVIEW: There Goes the Galaxy (Jenn Thorson)

cover

Douglas Addams fans rejoice! If you enjoy avant garde scifi satire, like Dr. Who, the original Star Wars movie, and the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, you’ll tumble down the rabbit hole into author Jenn Thorson’s world of misadventures and misfits. Life As We Know It is in danger. Only everyman Bertram, a grad student kidnapped en route to his PhD by an alien Indiana Jones and now bouncing like a human pinball through the Greater Communicating Universe, can save us. Help!

EXCERPT:

Bertram came-to lying at the bottom of a ramp, and any embarrassment at having fainted was nicely smoothed by terror, as the ramp rattled to life and grinded its way back inside the spacecraft.

He leapt to his feet, fear of abandonment tossing aside his nausea, prickling limbs, worries about breathable atmosphere and any other more practical concerns. Being abducted by aliens was bad enough. But being abducted and then dumped off on a planet that wasn’t even yours? He found himself waving his arms at the craft, a lumpy, graceless ship that bore more resemblance to a brachiosaurus in need of a diet than Earthen concepts of alien transport. “Wait! Wait!” he shrieked. “Don’t go!”

He sprinted to the slowly retracting ramp, getting a foot up onto it, then another, before the ramp slipped out from under him, burying itself into several thousand tons of metal. Leaping to his feet, Bertram pounded on the ship’s hull with bruising fervor, before realizing that all had gone silent. No rumble of rockets. No whine of turbine.

Bertram stood. He paused.

“We don’t have big skulls you know,” a voice said from behind him. And Bertram Ludlow turned, squinting up in the burning sunlight to see his extra-terrestrial kidnapper. Under the blazing suns, the stranger’s short, untamed hair looked precisely as full of white light as his clothes didn’t. And in a single spidery hand, he clutched some sort of remote control.

Bertram’s knees wobbled. “Uh…?”

“Big skulls,” repeated the alien conversationally. “We don’t have them. And very few of us are actually green. That,” he continued, “should be made abundantly clear.” He dropped the gadget into a pocket at his thigh.

“My God,” Bertram breathed. Because now it was clear. Now he understood that this was never about alien abduction. It was never about stun rays and parallel evolution, worm-holes and other too-slim probabilities. It was about only one thing…

Bertram Ludlow had cracked under the pressure of getting his Ph.D. It had been known to happen. He’d just expected to pick up on some warning signs first.

“It’s what you Tryflings are always flapping on about, aren’t you?” persisted the figment of Bertram’s imagination, wiping his brow. He patted his pockets and, after one trial-and-error, withdrew a pair of sophisticated-looking binoculars. “Aliens: the hairless little slaggards with big heads and eyes, dialing home and giving everyone enemas? I mean, you people, you’ve got the universe just dripping with rampaging acid-spitters, half-breed progeny, and lizard babies, don’t you?”

He peered through the binoculars, scanning the vast empty horizon. “In my experience, only one species bears lizard babies. And you wouldn’t want to call them that. Unless you were up for one fragging huge fight… Ah! Hello—there we are!” The man tucked the binoculars back in a pocket and motioned. “Come on, then.”

“Why? Where?” Bertram shielded his eyes. The rust-colored landscape was bone-dry, exhaustively rocky straight to the horizon and completely devoid of life. It didn’t even have a smell. There were no wafting blossoms, or the territorial musk of skulking beats. If there were a smell at all, it was the scent of hot. The only sounds? The crunch of gravel underfoot.

But his abductor just pointed to an area every bit as flat and rocky as the rest, differing only by the long, mysterious shadow that fell beyond it.

And as they approached, Bertram glimpsed two figures—rather big-skulled, he thought—until closer inspection proved them to be their own distorted reflections in the wall of a tower.

The tower was rendered virtually invisible by mirrored glass. Its walls were built on an outward angle, reflecting the earth below. And its roof was angled to catch the sky. From a different position now, the structure was almost blinding.

A tower. Bertram had expected more from his subconscious than such blatant Freudianism. An age-old symbol, representing any of a variety of control issues, he supposed, though none sprung to mind for him personally. At twenty-eight, single, and with his own key to the psych lab, Bertram Ludlow had all the freedom necessary for academic excellence. He’d wrap up the thesis this semester, defend and then, barring some unforeseen setback—like, say, a severe psychotic breakdown—graduate to a prime research position in the university of his choice.

There Goes the Galaxy grabbed me from the get-go, much in the same way Bertram was grabbed in his sock feet by Rollie. And unlike Bertram, who at one point is abandoned at an alien spaceport, author Jenn Thorson never released me, not even at the end of the book, when I was ready for the second course, the sequel The Purloined Number. The pacing is outstanding, with the two leads on the run and time running out, it’s mostly fast, but things like characters preparing in intriguing ways for the next scene still happen in the lulls, so there’s never a dull moment. Infopills between a few chapters give necessary background info in the style of Ben Bova, but more humorous..Plenty of celebrity references provide belly laughst in the course of this satire, much in the manner of Futurama and the Simpsons, only better! This book lasted me about a week, reading on breaks, at mealtimes and bedtime. I’ve now read it three times and probably will again. It’s action-packed fun, like a graphic novel, only it’s a word comic you can’t put down. For scifi lovers, it’s a gift that will never be forgotten!

Buy There Goes the Galaxy at Amazon.

DISCLOSURE: I bought my copy of this book on my own dime. I received no compensation whatsoever for this review. I just love the hell out of this book and I can’t shut up.

Belinda Y. Hughes is the author of Blues in the Night, Confessions of a Red Hot Veggie Lover 1 and 2 and Living Proof. Her next lesbian romance, a sequel to Blues in the Night featuring a disabled veteran U.S. Army nurse and a younger attorney, will be released Thursday, November 12, 2015, so watch this blog. Belinda enjoys classic rock and chocolate, candles and incense, bubble baths and beading.

Standard
Book Reviews, Cozy Mystery

BOOK REVIEW: Killer Cupcakes (Leighann Dobbs)

dobbs-killercupcakes

Lexy Baker’s muffin tops are truly scrumptious, but they’re landing her in trouble, and in love! She’s at the top of Detective Jack Perillo’s list, both as a murder suspect and potential girlfriend. Her passion for sexy designer stilettos isn’t helping either of them. Read on for a free excerpt from this first book in the Lexy Baker cozy mystery series by Leighann Dobbs.

EXCERPT

 

“How can I help yo…?” Lexy’s words were cut off, her mouth forming a surprised O when recognition dawned on her.  Standing on the other side of the case was Jack Perillo, her neighbor.  Somehow, he looked different.  It took her a minute to realize the difference was the official looking badge he was holding in front of her face.

 

“Oh…Hi.”  She said, her mind whirling.  Did he come just to visit her?  And what was flashing the badge all about?

 

“Hi, Lexy.”  Lexy saw a look of discomfort pass his face. He quickly added, “I’m a detective with the BRPD, and unfortunately, I need to ask you some questions.”

 

“Questions?” Lexy felt her face eyebrows knit together in confusion. “I don’t understand.  What’s this about? Did something happen to my grandmother?”  

 

“No, Mona is fine. It’s about your boyfriend Kevin.”

 

“Kevin?  He’s my ex-boyfriend. I haven’t seen him in almost two years.”  

 

“Well, I’m sorry to tell you he was found dead. Murdered.” 

 

The impact of the news hit Lexy like a ton of bricks.  Murdered? Kevin?  Even though they had broken up two years ago, and he had treated her badly, she still felt a pang of sympathy for him.  

 

“Murdered?  But what does that have to do with me?”  

 

“Well, that’s the thing,” Jack said, his face a mask of stone. “He was found face down in a box of your cupcake tops. They were poisoned”.

 

Lexy felt a jolt of shock, her head swam, her ankles starting to wobbled.  She grabbed the side of the display case to steady herself, wishing that just for once she had the good sense to wear shoes with a lower heel.

I love a good cozy mystery and this was a convenient quick read with a sweet theme, romance, a hot cop, gorgeous shoes, cute clue-finding dog and genuinely helpful grandma. Plus the decadent recipe at the end, which I hope to someday convert to a gluten-free, sugar-free and vegan recipe on my food blog, if that’s ok with Leighann.

Author Leighann Dobbs just updated the series with new cover art and Killer Cupcakes, the first in the Lexy Baker Cozy Mystery series, is currently FREE on Amazon Kindle!

Buy Killer Cupcakes at Amazon

Belinda Y. Hughes is a book reviewer, blogger and author of Blues in the Night, Confessions of a Red Hot Veggie Lover 2 and Living Proof. Her vegan jewelry designs are available on Etsy. She is currently working on the lesbian romance sequel to Blues in the Night.

Standard
Book Reviews, Mystery

BOOK REVIEW: Tess’s Tale (Donna Joy Usher)

tessnewB

How does mafia wife Tess explain her decades-long disappearance – to her daughter, her ex-husband and her cop boyfriend? How does she choose between two men fighting to the death over her? This is the story of a blues club singer and the gorgeous construction worker who never wanted to run the Vegas mob.

When she showed up on Madame Liss’ doorstep, Tess was the victim of an abused alcoholic mother and her abuser, the Las Vegas Mafia King’s money man, Lou the Brain. Little did she know at the time that her mother’s voice held the power of life and death – and prosperity. Or that she was good with gore – and a gun.

When Harry first laid eyes on Tess, her hair was perfect, except for one stray strand that refused to stay in place as she passed his site. Then he saw her walk into the club. So he walked into the club – a few hours later with his father and associates, including Tess’ twin sister. Then two million dollars went missing and over the next few weeks – and years – everything hit the fan – whenever the Big H and Tess weren’t making mad, passionate, true love.

Tess’s Tale is a departure from Usher’s earlier book, the Seven Steps to Closure. Seven Steps was more of a rom com. Tess’s Tale has more of a 40’s detective noir feel to it, despite seeming to be set between the 1990s and 2000-teens, which actually, I quite enjoy. In addition, as an American, it’s rather an interesting experience to read a casino heist novel set in Las Vegas but written in Australian English. Almost like reading along on the left side of the road. After a bit you become accustomed to it and it’s more of a laugh that balances the nature of the noir. While many details are accurate, the author explains her few liberties in the preface.

The story takes off and rolls along rather well as Tess goes back in time to explain herself to all concerned. It turns out she’s far more adventurous than her young adult daughter thinks her to be. For me, it’s as decadent as a chocolate fudge sundae with extra cherries on top.

Excerpt

Harry had promised me a night alone. Just him and me. Like it used to be before Tweedledee and Tweedledum came along. Mickey and Riley were almost impossible to get rid of.

I said goodbye to Liss, who was getting ready for a night out with Thor. Being the only night the club was shut, Monday nights were sacred. A warm breeze blew over my skin as I walked back home, but the sun was close enough to the horizon that I wasn’t covered in sweat.

Normally when I walk, I’m in my own little world. Thoughts of Harry or singing keep me so occupied that a comet could land and I might not even notice. But today I kept an eye out for Tristan Penn. I wasn’t ready for an encounter with him yet. My self-assurance still hadn’t recovered from the last one.

I turned the last corner warily, poking my head around to check the street was clear. If I hadn’t, I may not have noticed the strange men coming out of Harry’s and my house.

I’d had a lot of men in and out of my house over the last couple of weeks, but I knew these were strange because they carried three, limp bodies. Harry, Mickey and Riley.

A white van was parked out the front of the terrace, its door already open. They threw the bodies in the back and while four of them scrambled in after them, one slammed the door shut and jumped in the front passenger seat, and the other climbed into the driver’s side and started the engine.

The few minutes it had taken them to kidnap my husband had been the longest of my life. My heart banged around in my chest like a ping-pong ball as cold sweat broke out over my body.

Please let them be alive. Please let them be alive.

Sadly, all I had to cling to was the knowledge that Giuseppe would want to torture them before he killed them. I had to hold onto the very small hope I could rescue them before he got to that part.

As soon as the van left the curb I rushed up the road, running as soon as I was sure they wouldn’t notice me. I dug around in my handbag hoping I had put the spare set of car keys in there that morning with the house keys attached.

My hands closed around them and I shoved them into the driver’s side door and wrenched it open. The van was slowing for the corner at the end of the street as I started the car. It turned left as I roared away from the curb.

Six of them. There were six of them. I was pretty sure it had been Giuseppe who’d climbed into the driver’s side.

Fear, panic, nausea – I pushed them all away as I gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles.

Six of them.

I stayed far enough back that they wouldn’t notice me tailing them. The growing shadows from the setting sun helped. We drove for what seemed like forever but I’m sure was not that long.

Please let Harry be alive. Please.

Finally they turned up a side street and into the back of a building. It looked like a warehouse.

I drove past the entrance and around the corner and then jumped out of the car. I wished I’d had time to get the gun. I wished I’d had time to ring for help. But who would I have rung?

Liss and Thor? I would never forgive myself if something happened to them.

But, six men!

I walked back past the end of the driveway, risking a quick glance as I went. Riley was halfway out of the van, struggling ineffectively at the men holding onto his shoulders and feet. Neither of them saw me.

I waited another minute and then walked back in the other direction. The lane was empty.

Before the logical part of my brain could register what my feet were doing, I darted up behind the van. A quick peep inside showed me it was empty. Any moment now they were going to start torturing them. Chopping off fingers and toes. Working their way around the bodies till there were no more small bits to cut off. Then things would get really serious.

I wouldn’t let them steal my husband away from me. Not like that. Piece by piece. Scream by scream.

The back door of the warehouse was closed but there was a small window to the left of it. I poked my head up until I could see over the window sill. The back room was empty except for one man.

I let out a small gasp as I ducked back down. An anxious couple of seconds passed before I was certain he hadn’t heard me. I’m sure he was meant to be guarding the back door, but from what I’d seen, he was more interested in what was happening in the next room.

It was going to start any moment. I had to hurry.

Buy Tess’s Tale at Amazon.

 Read my review of Donna Joy Usher’s earlier book,

The Seven Steps to Closure.

About the Reviewer 

Belinda Y. Hughes is the Louisiana author of Blues in the NightLiving Proof and Confessions of a Red Hot Veggie Lover 2. She enjoys reading, writing, beading, baking and hiking in the woods with her old dog. She is eager to write in a variety of genres. Follow Belinda on AmazonGoodreads and Twitter.

DISCLOSURE

I received an advance review copy (ARC) of this book for the purpose of writing this review. Opinions are my own.

Standard
Book Reviews, Murder Mystery, Mystery, Romance

BOOK REVIEW: Not Without Risk (Sarah Grimm)

Not Without Risk

Not Without Risk by Sarah Grimm is an edgy suspense thriller and sizzling romance. Featuring classic cars, police procedure and the outrageous twists and turns of the devious criminal mind, the chemistry between a sexy single detective and his prime suspect brings it all together. If you love cops, murder mystery and romance, you’ll be proud to own this book and read it again and again.

Paige had been a good Boston girl, obeying her parents right up until she balked at law school. Instead, she became a photographer and fell in love with a cop. Just days before the high-end client appointment that will set her career soaring, Paige gets a mysterious call that turns her world upside down – again. Not just because the caller ends up dead, not just because her own life turns out to be in danger from an elusive, game-playing madman, but also because the investigating detective is the cop of her dreams and she doesn’t date cops anymore after her fiance’s death.

Justin was the job. For thirteen years, he’d busted butt and stayed focused to earn his shield and make it home alive every night. Only to lose focus after a tough day on the job and not make it home. Six months later, his first case on his first day back turns out to be his undoing. Not just because he came back too soon and is still wracked with pain that’s exacerbated by job stress, not just because time is running out to solve the case and he can’t do it after reading through the file thirty times, but because his prime suspect is a devastating Boston beauty well versed in investigation tactics who could take his career and his life down with her.

Not Without Risk is the third book by Sarah Grimm that I’ve read and I can hardly wait for more. It’s evident from the start that Grimm has done her homework on police procedurals, classic cars and criminal behavior. And she weaves it all together so beautifully with her distinctive style, letting the romantic tension build between the MCs while the detectives and suspect/victim investigate in the aftermath of the worst kind of murder – a fallen fellow officer. If you bleed blue, get this book and tell all your friends, male and female. It’d be a great gift for anyone on the force and romance lovers alike. Enjoy the free excerpt.

Excerpt

“Sergeant Simmons, I don’t know if Justin has mentioned anything to you about my break-in last night?”

“He did and call me Allan.”

His attention appeared hung up on her face. Suddenly self-conscious, the urge to hide behind her sunglasses flared to life. She’d done her best to camouflage her bruising under a few layers of makeup. Had believed she’d done a credible job. His distraction made her wonder if she shouldn’t have just left it alone.

“Okay. Well, Allan, last night there seemed to be some question about whether or not someone had been in my home. This morning, I received proof.”

“What kind of proof?” Justin ran his hand through his hair and then shoved it into his front pocket in a move she was beginning to understand indicated his level of tension.

Briskly, she unzipped her laptop case. Without glancing at them, she passed the photos she’d printed just that morning to Justin. His steady stream of expletives, spoken under his breath, brought the tiny hairs on her arms to attention.

“Where’d you get these, Paige?”

“When I checked my e-mail this morning, I found them.”

Justin fell silent, a muscle flexing in his jaw as he flipped through the photographs one by one, studying each one individually before passing them to Allan.

“Look at the way the body’s positioned,” Allan said as he studied the first picture.

“Body?” Paige couldn’t stop the shiver that passed through her. “That’s not just any body.”

“It’s you,” Justin growled.

“Yes. You have to stop this guy.” The irony of this latest threat hadn’t escaped her. The fact that this man had used photographs against her—a photographer. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”

“The message is clear,” Allan began, taking the remaining photos from Justin and shuffling through them. “He took the time to manipulate her, but left her unharmed.”

“Is it? I’m not certain I’m getting it. If he wants me dead why—” Shock slammed through her system as his words registered. “Wait a minute. What do you mean by manipulated?”

“Did you eat or drink anything out of the ordinary last night?”

“No. No, of course not. Why?”

The expression that settled onto Justin’s face had Paige stepping back. Tension pulsed off of him in waves. His hand fisted against his thigh.

“Why?”

Allan looked up from the photographs in his hands. “These pictures are similar—”

“Frighteningly similar.”

“Yes,” Allan agreed. “To the shots we have from the St. John homicide.”

“Leroy.” Nausea rolled in her stomach as she saw him again, stomach down, sheet tangled around his legs.

It hadn’t registered. Not when she opened her email and discovered them, or later as she’d developed them. She hadn’t realized just what about those photographs froze her heart with fear. The thought that someone had been in her home, standing over her bed for God knew how long before she came awake was terrifying enough. But now…

The images shifted in and out of focus—images of her, deep asleep, face buried into her pillow, sheet riding low on her hips. Shock snapped across her nerve endings.

“N-no.” Her gaze swung between the two men. “The similarities don’t mean anything.” They couldn’t mean anything. This put a whole new spin on things. One she couldn’t accept. “I did not sleep through some…” What was the word she wanted? “Person positioning me like the body of one of his victims. That’s just how I sleep.”

Justin and Allan’s swift exchange of looks spoke as loudly as their silence.

“I’ve always been a stomach sleeper. The rest is just coincidence.”

“I believe this goes a step beyond coincidence.”

Buy Not Without Risk at Amazon.

Read my reviews and excerpts of Sarah Grimm‘s

Black Phoenix rock star romance series:

After Midnight and Midnight Heat.

About the Reviewer 

Belinda Y. Hughes is the Louisiana author of Blues in the NightLiving Proof and Confessions of a Red Hot Veggie Lover 2. She enjoys reading, writing, beading, baking and hiking in the woods with her old dog. Belinda is eager to write in a variety of genres. Follow Belinda on AmazonGoodreads and Twitter.

Disclosure: I am a member of Sarah Grimm’s Street Team. I paid for my copy of this book out of my own pocket. Opinions are my own.

Standard
Book Reviews, Football, Romance, Sports

BOOK REVIEW: To Win Her Love (Mackenzie Crowne)

ToWinHerLove_750

 

If you love football, chocolate chip cookies and Meg Ryan movies, you’ll adore To Win Her Love by Mackenzie Crowne. I never thought I’d like a sports romance novel, but this one stole my heart with its absolutely magnificent storytelling. Crowne’s three generations of characters play the games of professional football and love from every angle with exceptional skills and strategy. Are the X’s and O’s players on a board or kisses and hugs? Which team will you root for?

For twelve years, sports blogger Gracie Gable has been denying herself her heart’s deepest desire, a family of her own. Now it’s been handed to her on a silver platter, along with a farm and the sexy football star of her fantasies – and the chance to finally meet her father. But can she play a dead man’s crazy game to win or lose it all?

One day Manhattan Marauders’ Outlaw Tight End Jake Malone is endangering his career in a war of words with the Gridiron Girl and her minions. The next, he’s forced into a custody battle with the tall, leggy blonde for two little girls he never even knew existed. Can he keep his head in the game and save his career while sharing a roof with a violet-eyed temptress with her own playbook?

This is the first book of Mackenzie Crowne’s that I’ve read. Her writing style stands out as unique, inspiring and easy to read. If you’re thinking of trying your hand at romance writing, this book is a fine example to learn from. If you read to relax, escape or get in the mood, To Win Her Love will warmly embrace you, exercise your heart and leave you refreshed, energized and happy. I say get it – along with some chocolate chip cookies and Kleenex.

Excerpt

Like pure, walking sin, Jake Malone closed the distance in a deceptively lazy saunter. Gracie Gable fought the nearly overwhelming urge to take off running. Clenching her jaw, she lifted her chin. Without knowing her true identity, the various press publications flooding her blog’s inbox with requests for interviews had been stymied in their attempts to track her down physically. How the hell had Jake?

And oh, God, why now?

A horrified groan rumbled deep in her chest. Having no idea what was in Pete’s will, she couldn’t afford to do anything to jeopardize her guardianship of the girls—like going toe-to-toe with the Manhattan Marauders’ Outlaw Tight End right here on her brother-in-law’s front lawn. She shot a worried glance down the historic farmhouse’s long driveway, relieved to find it empty. With a little luck, Pete’s attorney would be delayed long enough for her to deal with the famous all-pro’s justified, but still overblown ego. She’d promise him anything—apologize profusely for insulting his integrity, offer him a bribe, whatever would get rid of him before Anthony Spinoza arrived.

Six foot five, with a fallen angel’s face and the body of a god, Jake continued to approach. Gravel crunched beneath the heels of his boots, marking his long-legged swagger, as his thigh muscles flexed and stretched under faded blue jeans. A worn and battered leather bomber jacket rode his yard-wide shoulders. His trademark black Stetson and snakeskin boots completed the image of the Outlaw who held his own against opposing defensive lines and cast him in countless feminine fantasies. Hers included. She’d enjoyed more than her share of secret imaginings concerning the Marauders’ number one tight end.

Though his nasty insults during their disastrous exchange on her blog the other day should’ve dealt a death blow to her foolish infatuation, the two-dimensional image she’d admired on her TV screen couldn’t have prepared her for the flesh and bone temptation that was Jake Malone. Dismay crowded panic as every double X chromosome in her body quivered with giddy, XXX delight.

The X girls danced with anticipation, and the erratic thump of her heart increased with every fall of his size fifteen feet. Down, girls. He may look like every woman’s deepest sexual fantasy, but those boots are more likely to stomp us into the ground than end up under our bed.

 

Buy links:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Win-Her-Love-Players-ebook/dp/B00PEOIZ4K/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/to-win-her-love-mackenzie-crowne/1120723911?ean=9781616507374

ITunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/to-win-her-love/id959374205?mt=11

 

About the Reviewer 

Belinda Y. Hughes is the Louisiana author of Blues in the NightLiving Proof and Confessions of a Red Hot Veggie Lover 2. She enjoys reading, writing, beading, baking and hiking in the woods with her old dog. Belinda is eager to write in a variety of genres. Follow Belinda on AmazonGoodreads and Twitter.

DISCLOSURE: I am a member of Mackenzie Crowne’s Street Team. I received an advance review copy (ARC) of To Win Her Love for the purpose of doing this review. Opinions are my own.

Standard
Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Ithaka Rising (LJ Cohen)

Need diverse scifi books for diverse readers? Look no further than the YA novel Ithaka Rising by award-winning and best-selling author LJ Cohen. Featuring a feisty lesbian heroine, a multicultural cast spanning three generations and a search and rescue mission involving a handicapped pre-teen, a wounded woman warrior with a prosthetic limb and a crone coding goddess, Ithaka Rising delivers diversity in spades.

Who Should Read This?

I would very highly recommend Ithaka Rising to librarians, teachers and parents wanting to motivate student interest, particularly girls and minorities, in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects, occupations of the future and leadership roles. Today’s veterans, especially wounded warriors, who love scifi and space will also enjoy this adventurous read. LGBT teens and adults will appreciate the relationship issues and community situations. Aspiring writers looking for great literature to learn from should grab this book with both hands. For adults and teens, it’s an exciting space opera flavored with Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr. Who and M*A*S*H!

Racially Diverse Characters

Ithaka Rising is Book Two in Cohen’s Halcyone Space series, which began with DERELICT. The series follows the misadventures of a core group of four to five pre-teen through young adult human main characters, including a Hispanic-Asian lesbian couple, two black brothers and a Caucasian guy. No aliens, yet, but I’m waiting.

Star Wars Similarities and Departures

The space exploration series is primarily set aboard the battle fatigued freighter Halcyone and her asteroid-bound base, Daedalus, which is the Siberia of the Commonwealth government. Halcyone is similar to the Millennium Falcon in that repairs are constantly ongoing, nobody else would want her for anything but scrap recycling and her renegade captain has a determined spirit and often finds herself in complex challenges, surrounded by players of varying loyalties, danger, a shoestring budget and a ticking clock, much like Han Solo. The big difference in Halcyone and the Millennium Falcon is her fusion of artificial intelligence, emotion and music, aided and abetted by First Mate Barre. Barre lives, breathes, thinks and communicates in music. He is genuinely gifted, but unappreciated by his career military physician parents, although respected by his younger brother, Jem the resourceful coding genius. Jem exceeds Halcyone Captain Ro Maldonado’s coding talents by light years, which is saying something. Dr. Adiana May makes her entrance in Ithaka Rising as the Obi Wan Kenobi of coding. Her Jedis are, of course, Ro, Barre and Jem.

Excerpt

Ro had no idea how long it had been since her confrontation with Barre when her micro buzzed, pulling her out of her latest battle with Halcyone’s jump drive programming.

Shit. She had never called Nomi. Damn it. Damn it. Damn it.

Blinking through layers of virtual windows, each running a custom diagnostic, it took her a few minutes to locate the small device. By the time she snatched it from where it lay on the main nav console, the call had ended, leaving a high-priority message scrolling across the screen.

The call had been from Commander Mendez. She wasn’t sure if she should be relieved or upset that it hadn’t been Nomi.

Ro had known this was coming. There was only so long she could lean on the station’s resources before Mendez’s gratitude expired. Sighing, she pushed away her guilt before sending a reply. Mendez first. And then try to fix things with Nomi. Her father would have ignored the call and the messages—both the explicit one and the implicit one behind it. Maybe she wasn’t entirely like him after all.

Shift change turned the corridors and the nexus into a traffic jam. Or at least the equivalent on Daedalus. The outpost station had few enough staff that even Ro was able to put names to all the faces she passed on her way to command. What surprised her was how many of them looked at her, smiling and nodding. It was unsettling.

Lieutenant Commander Emma Gutierrez stood at attention at Mendez’s office, her uniform crisp, her sidearm gleaming in its holster, her expression neutral. Older than Mendez by at least a decade, Gutierrez had the look of a lifer and the scars that marked her as having seen hard combat, probably in the war that had downed Halcyone. Part of her left arm and hand had been reconstructed—old battle tech that Gutierrez had never bothered to replace with more natural-looking prosthetics. But there was nothing wrong with how they functioned.

“The commander asked to see me?”

Gutierrez nodded and the door opened. Ro stepped through, feeling the intensity of the lieutenant commander’s gaze, like the laser sight of a gun on her back. The last time Ro had been in this office, Mendez had given her Halcyone.

“Ms. Maldonado. Please sit down.” Mendez came around the front of her desk and waved Ro toward a small table and two chairs in an alcove at the rear of her office.

She studied the commander, wondering what kind of meeting this was to be. So far, it didn’t seem like any kind of hearing or disciplinary action. Then again, Ro was not technically under Mendez’s command. The commander sat and Ro followed her lead. The woman had always seemed stern and distant, but Ro saw the lines of fatigue at the corner of her eyes and the deep furrows across her brow, legacy of the mess that led to an ongoing Commonwealth investigation into her father, the smuggled weapons, and the war they were meant to spark.

The door opened again and Gutierrez entered, carrying a tray with two steaming coffees. Ro frowned, but watched as the old soldier easily set down a cup next to each of them with her bio-electronic hand, not spilling a drop.

“That will be all,” Mendez said. Gutierrez nodded, turned crisply, and left.

Ro waited until the commander picked up her cup before taking a sip of the coffee. It was the real deal—a smooth, dark roast, imported from the Hub at great expense. And served black, just the way she liked it.

“There’s been no word on your father.”

He was out there—Ro had no doubt about that. Alain Maldonado was too smart and too vindictive to be dead. She knew she needed to find him before he came for her.

“There was enough evidence just based on dereliction of duty to strip him of his rank in the engineering guild and his Commonwealth citizenship.”

It was far less than he deserved after what he had done to Micah, what he had threatened to do to her and Barre. Ro focused on the welcome burn of the coffee as she swallowed.

Mendez put down her cup. “They also confiscated his assets.”

Unfortunately, Ro had also expected that. She finished the coffee and carefully placed her cup on the small table, waiting for Mendez’s third and final blow. A freighter without jump capability was space junk. Sure, she could live aboard Halcyone. The water recycling worked, as did the air scrubbers. The ship had enough aduronium to fuel the interstitial engines for a thousand years, or until the base metals disintegrated back into star stuff. But being forced to drift through the sector where Daedalus Station orbited felt like slow suicide.

“As little as Halcyone draws from the station, there is a cost.”

Ro kept her gaze steady, but she couldn’t help the heat that rose to her cheeks. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t been expecting this. That’s what drove her to work nearly through all three shifts during the past long weeks, irritating and alienating both Nomi and Barre in the process.

And for nothing. The ship was likely irretrievably broken. And there was a good chance her relationships were, too.

“I appreciate all you’ve done for me, Commander Mendez.” Ro was shocked at how steady her voice was. “I understand. Thank you for your time.” She pushed her chair from the table and stood to leave.

“Sit down.” Mendez’s command filled the room.

Ro sat, the heat spreading out from her cheeks to her whole face.

“You need resources. I need an engineer.”

“Sir?”

“Until this mess with your father is straightened out and Commonwealth Command decides to fill my staffing request, I am short one chief engineer. You have the skills to do the job and a ship that won’t fly.”

“You’re offering me a job?”

“Such as it is. My budget is stretched thin. When they claimed your father’s resources, they also froze his salary. I can manage to continue your intern’s stipend, along with supplies for Halcyone in return for a part-time commitment.”

“But I’m not military.”

“Consider yourself an outside contractor.”

“Oh.”

“I’ve taken the liberty of pushing a standard agreement to your micro. Am I correct in assuming you’d prefer to stay aboard your ship, rather than return to your previously assigned quarters?”

Ro nodded. One of the first things she had done on her return to Daedalus was to salvage anything of value from the small living space she had shared with her father. At least the Commonwealth didn’t get the contents of his workroom. Though if they knew she’d taken his notes and his spare memory cube, they would come knocking. It was encrypted and locked, but Ro knew her father as well as anyone and given enough time, she was going to crack it. And then she was going to go after him.

To find her father, she needed a ship with a jump drive. To fix the ship, she needed to step into her father’s old job. Mendez had assured her she was not her father. She hoped the commander was right. But now she would have even less time to work on Halcyone and to try to repair her damaged relationships.

“Welcome aboard, Acting Chief Engineer Maldonado.”

Ro jerked, unable to quell the involuntary response of looking for him over her shoulder.

Mendez studied her carefully. “You are not to blame for your father’s crimes. And you will not be judged by his actions, but by your own.”

The coffee soured in her stomach. “Thank you, sir.”

Conclusion

What thrills me most about Ithaka Rising is the character diversity on so many levels: age, ethnicity, disability, military (active duty, veteran, wounded warriors), survivalism and sexuality. I especially enjoyed the steamy lesbian shower scene. Of course, what is character diversity without a great story? Ithaka Rising is chock-full of edgy, page-turning, plot-twisting action balanced with humor, compassion and democracy. There’s even Greek poetry, a New Louisiana and gumbo!

Special Note: Ithaka Rising author LJ Cohen is committed to diversity, literacy and reader access. She has donated a signed set of her books to the Ferguson Library.

Grab your copy of Ithaka Rising at Amazon.

Read my Author Interview with LJ Cohen on DERELICT.

About the Reviewer 

Belinda Y. Hughes is the Louisiana lesbian author of Blues in the Night, Living Proof and Confessions of a Red Hot Veggie Lover 2. Her poetry has been published in the Odessa Review, New Day Publications and Long Story Short. She enjoys reading, writing, beading, baking and hiking in the woods with her old dog. Belinda is eager to write in a variety of genres. Follow Belinda on Amazon, Goodreads and Twitter.

Standard