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Shotgun Wedding by Maggie Osborne

Even though I love Ms Osborne’s Silver Lining (review here), I had not sought out any of her other novels—I’m not exactly sure why. However, Super Librarian Wendy has talked about loving most of what Ms Osborne has written1 and… well, when I saw a copy of Shotgun Wedding at the USB last week, I just couldn’t resist it.

Set in the late 1800s or very early 1900s, the novel details events occurring during the few months between late Spring and early Fall in the small Kansas town of Marshall.

Here’s the back cover blurb:

Annie Malloy is in a fix. She’s gotten herself into the worst kind of trouble, and there’s really only one way out. It seems the town’s handsome new sheriff, Jesse Harden, has taken a shine to her—and has offered her a way to end the scandal once and for all. But Annie soon finds that the quiet life she once lived has been exchanged for one full of chance, desire, and the breathtaking possibility of true love.

Jesse John Harden has always followed his instincts and has no doubt that he can turn this marriage of convenience into a true marriage of the heart. With each day that passes the bond between him and his pretty new wife grows stronger and the spark between them gets hotter. But Annie is hiding a secret that could destroy their delicate happiness. Now Jesse must convince Annie to let him stand beside her to face the past so they can have a chance at a happy future.

The first thing that struck me as I began to read the novel was that once again Ms Osborne’s writing drew me into the story so deeply that I couldn’t stop reading—even when at times I wanted to.

As the novel starts, we learn that Annie Malloy has been having an affair with a rather not-desirable sort of man and that she finds herself pregnant. He offers her marriage, but since he’s a bank robber, she realizes that she can’t marry him.

Which leaves her in a rather difficult position.

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Big Bad Wolf, by Christine Warren

Two quick caveats: this novel contains quite explicit depictions of sex and is not suitable for minors (or people who are easily offended, by sex1 and/or adult language), and it is one of the many shiny books I got at the RWA National Conference last week.

This is the first novel of Ms Warren that I’ve read—and I realized too late that it’s actually part of a series (in fact, it is the expanded and revised version of the previously published second story in the world of The Others). It follows unassuming kindergarten teacher Missy and hot werewolf Alpha Graham during their whirlwind… courtship? marathon to HEA? (if I understood correctly, the novel takes place in exactly seven days).

Here is the back cover blurb:

Missy Roper’s fantasies have revolved around Graham Winters since the moment they met. But the imposing leader of the Silverback werewolf clan always seemed oblivious to Missy’s existence. At least he was, until Missy collides with him at a party and then abruptly runs away—arousing Graham’s interest…and wild desires.

Lupine law decrees that every Alpha must have a mate, and all Graham’s instincts tell him that the sensual, beguiling Missy is his. Trouble is, Missy is human—every delectable inch of her. Convincing his clan that she’s his destined mate, and keeping her safe from his enemies, will be the biggest challenge Graham has ever faced. And now that he is determined to have her—as his lover and his mate—Missy’s world is changing in ways she never imagined…

The first thing I have to mention is that Ms Warren excels at the difficult art of writing believable (and yes, arousing) sex scenes. In them, there is some internal dialogue going on, from both of the protagonists’ points of view, but it doesn’t get in the way of the (heh) action.

Pretty early in the story it is made clear that Missy and Graham have met more than once during the previous couple of months, which would make the whole “her scent told him she’s his mate” a bit iffy for me, if Ms Warren hadn’t made a point of explaining it: each time they have met before, they’ve been surrounded by many other humans, whose perfumes, soaps, etc. have all but obliterated Missy’s own natural scent. It is only when alone with her that Graham identifies her as his mate.

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The Search, by Nora Roberts

Reader beware: I am a fan of Ms Roberts’ writing, and very rarely do I feel disappointed by it. The Search was definitely not one of those rare books. In fact, it was quite the opposite: an engrossing read with interesting characters, great dialogue, and solid writing.

Here is the hardcover jacket blurb:

Number-one New York Times-bestselling author Nora Roberts presents a novel set in the Pacific Northwest, where an island provides sanctuary, the lush forests seduce the unwary, and a man and a woman find in each other the strength to carry on.

To most people, Fiona Bristow seems to have an idyllic life—a quaint house on an island off Seattle’s coast, a thriving dog-training school, and a challenging volunteer job performing canine search and rescue. Not to mention her three intensely loyal Labs. But Fiona got to this point by surviving a nightmare.

Several years ago, she was the only survivor of a serial killer—a madman who stalked and abducted young women, strangled them, and left them buried with a red scarf on their bodies. As authorities were closing in on the Red Scarf Killer, he shot and killed Fiona’s cop fiancé and his K-9 partner.

On Orcas Island, Fiona has found the peace and solitude she needed to rebuild her life. Yet all that changes on the day Simon Doyle barrels up her drive, desperate for her help. He’s the reluctant owner of an out-of-control puppy, foisted upon him by his mother. Jaws has eaten through Simon’s house, and he’s at his wit’s end.

To Fiona, Jaws is nothing she can’t handle. Simon is another matter. A newcomer to Orcas, he’s a rugged and intensely private artist, known for creating exquisite furniture. Simon never wanted a puppy, and he most definitely doesn’t want a woman. Besides, the lanky redhead is not his type. But tell that to the laws of attraction.

As Fiona embarks on training Jaws and as Simon begins to appreciate both dog and trainer, the past tears back into Fiona’s life. A copycat killer has emerged out of the shadows, a man whose bloodlust has been channeled by a master with one motive: to reclaim the women who slipped out of his hands…

By choice I have read very few in the way of actual reviews of this novel. Generally speaking, when one is spoiler-phobic, it’s wiser to avoid most chatter on books one is planning on reading. However, it is difficult to avoid all mentions of highly anticipated novels—which happens to be the case with most of Ms Roberts’ releases.

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Welcome to Harmony, by Jodi Thomas

Between having a couple of older books by Ms Thomas in the scarily huge TBR mountain range and seeing this novel mentioned often around the blogosphere, I couldn’t help but pick it up when I saw it at my local grocery store. I am glad I did.

Ms Thomas’ writing voice is both soothing and engaging; so much so that it took me a good hundred and fifty pages to wonder whether Welcome to Harmony was a romance. It so happens it is not—classified as mainstream fiction in Ms Thomas’ own website and with the word “novel” in the spine, the novel focuses mainly on Reagan’s growth during the first few months of her stay in Harmony, though not as exclusively as the blurb may make you believe:

A place to belong

Sixteen-year-old runaway Reagan has always wanted a place to belong. She’s never had a real home of her own, but maybe she can borrow someone else’s. At least for a little while…

At the nursing home where Reagan works, Miss Beverly Truman’s fond memories of Harmony, Texas, seem to fill an empty space inside the girl. After Miss Beverly passes away, Reagan travels to Harmony, pretending to be the woman’s granddaughter, and is taken into the home of Beverly’s surviving brother.

Still, Reagan is afraid to trust the gruff kindness shown to her by Jeremiah Truman and the warm friendship offered by another teenager named Noah, who dreams of being a rodeo star. She keeps her distance from Noah’s sister, Alex McAllen, who’s the town sheriff and busy with her own stormy relationship with volunteer fire chief Hank Matheson.

But when prairie fires threaten Harmony, Reagan learns the true meaning of family, friends, and home…

The novel starts as Reagan, having hitchhiked her way from Oklahoma, arrives in town. Inspired by the fond memories of a now dead old woman, she has decided that this little town in the middle of nowhere will be the starting point to the rest of her life.

Reagan, being a newcomer, is the perfect vehicle to introduce the reader to the town and its residents It is through her eyes that we meet many of the other characters whose lives and relationships make the fabric of the story, starting with the three ‘founding families’ of Harmony: the Trumans, the McAllens and the Mathesons—and their long standing feuds.

There are a number of threads weaving around each other throughout the novel. (more…)

Her Secret Fling, by Sarah Mayberry

After reading so much praise of Ms Mayberry’s work, it was inevitable that I would grab the next one of her novels that crossed my path—and this Blaze title, released in June 2010, was it. (Which means, kmont, Kristie(J) and SLWendy, that I am a Mayberry-virgin no longer). Her Secret Fling follows Australian swimming star Poppy Birmingham as she starts to build her life-after-the-Olympics. This entails finding a paying job—no matter how good the endorsement contracts, no money lasts forever when one has to eat, right? And for a former Olympic athlete, the offer to become a sports columnist for the Melbourne Herald is really too good to pass up.

Here is the much-better-than-average back cover blurb:

Talk about office politics!

Jake Stevens—start reporter and celebrated literary genius—is a snake. How else to explain the way he turns Poppy Birmingham’s hero worship into loathing with a single conversation? So what if she’s got a lot to learn about journalism? Aren’t they coworkers now? On the same team? Jake can take his attitude and…

Then during a job-related road trip, their relationship goes from antagonistic to hedonistic in no time flat. And suddenly Poppy can’t think of anything more delicious than having a secret fling with Jake. But with all this intensity, can she really keep it no-strings-attached?

Why much better than average?, you may ask—and it would be a good question. Read it again, carefully.

Got it?

No?

Okay, I’ll tell you: it’s all about Poppy. Her feelings, her reactions, her perspective.

Mind, the author does an excellent job of showing us Jake’s perspective as well, but the blurb beautifully avoids the… well, the cheesy-ness that afflicts many a category back cover blurb. So yay for that! (more…)

All of Me, by Patricia Ryan

Before there were Blazes, there were Harlequin Temptations. Then someone had the brilliant idea of introducing “spicier” novels to the line and the Temptation Blazes were born (tag line: “BLAZE—Red-hot reads from Temptation!”)

All of Me, which I believe to be my first story by Ms Ryan, was one of the line’s launching titles, back in the dark ages of 2000. The novel follows the relationship of innocent and beautiful Nora and experienced and debonair David. Here is the back cover blurb:

He wanted a rose in his lapel…

David Waite knew exactly how to please a woman, but he’s had enough of social climbers and users. His solution? “Arm candy”—a beautiful woman to accompany him, no strings attached, either emotional or sexual. Then he saw Nora, and had a sudden, sharp craving for sweets…

She was it

Nora Armstrong was a wholesome, virginal beauty fresh from the Midwest. Her cousin asked a favor—go out with David Waite. She couldn’t say no, any more than she could say no when David asked for a second date, and another. According to “arm candy” rules, she should have been safe, except David wanted to break the rules. Then Nora realized it was a risky business, being flavor of the month… and falling in love.

As the novel starts, (more…)

Parker’s Price, by Ann Bruce.

First things first. Reader beware: I received a review copy of this book directly from the author. Further, I’ve reviewed only one other story by Ms Bruce, “Rules of Engagement,” and I liked it—a lot.

A contemporary romance with a hint of suspense and just shy of 200 pages, Parker’s Price is longer than a novella yet still shorter than most novels. One of Carina Press‘ launch titles, this is an ebook only story. Here is the blurb:

She was sexy, smart…and not for sale. But that won’t stop him.

When Parker Quinn is forced to accept an outrageously high bid at a charity auction, she has no choice but to go out with the last man on earth she wants to spend time with. Dean Maxwell may be one of Manhattan’s most eligible bachelors, but he’s also the man who had an affair with her sister and abandoned her when she became pregnant with his child.

Dean doesn’t know why Parker hates him so much, but he’s determined to show Parker the type of man he really is. Whisking her away to a private island in the Bahamas for a sensual, sun-drenched week together, Dean leaves Parker’s preconceptions shattered and her desires inflamed.

But even as their passion reaches irresistible heights, Parker has a decision to make. Can she allow herself to fall for the seductive magnate, or will family secrets and a dangerous ex tear them apart?

Since its release about a month ago, I have read a number of reviews of Parker’s Price, often contradictory (Wendy the Super Librarian thinks Dean is too sexy for words, while Mandi at Smexy Books thinks he’s too alpha). Having read the novel, I have to tend to agree with Wendy, while sorta understanding where Mandi is coming from (I think… please do feel free to correct me in the comments if I’m wrong).

The story begins during the auction mentioned in the blurb. (more…)

What the Librarian Did, by Karina Bliss

I liked the first novel by Ms Bliss that I read (Second-Chance Family, review here) well enough that I was willing to buy What the Librarian Did when I saw it at the grocery store, book budget be damned. (Of course, it didn’t hurt that I had read mostly positive things about it around the blogosphere*.)

Here’s the rather coyly phrased back cover blurb:

When the librarian met the rock star…

Is Rachel Robinson the only one on campus who doesn’t know who Devin Freedman is? No big deal except that the bad-boy rock star gets a kick out of Rachel’s refusal to worship at his feet. And that seems to have provoked his undivided attention. Devin, the guy who gave new meaning to the phrase “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.” Devin, the guy who somehow becomes wedged between her and the past she’s kept hidden for years.

It’s up to this librarian to find out firsthand just how “bad” he really is. Because her secret—and her growing feelings for a man who claims he’s bent on redemption—depend on his turning out to be as good as he seems. Which is really, really good.

Before starting on the review proper I have to say that I like that the cover, corny as it may look, actually reflects the characters in the novel. Okay, so Devin’s tattoo should be much larger and reach all the way to the back of his hand, but at least it’s there; and Rachel’s penchant for wearing old fashioned clothes that match (and, I’m tempted to say, mock) many people’s preconceptions about librarians is crystal clear, from the blue neck ribbon to the waist high, knee long pencil skirt.

The novel starts with a humorous meet-cute: retired rock star and recovering addict Devin is being shown around the campus library by an oblivious Rachel, when a small group of infatuated teenagers barge in. The following snippet of conversation sets the tone for many of the exchanges between these two: (more…)

In compliance with FTC guidelines, be aware that I bought this book.

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Atlantis UnmaskedAtlantis Unmasked, by Alyssa Day

The latest entry in Ms Day’s Warriors of Poseidon series, Atlantis Unmasked follows Atlantean warrior Alexios and rebel fighter Grace—who just happens to be a descendant of Diana the Greek goddess. If that seems a bit confusing, it’s because this is one of those series where reading previous installments is pretty much required—between recurring characters and on going story arcs, a newcomer to this universe would scratch her head a number of times while reading this one.

In other words: beware for series spoilage, ye Warriors of Poseidon virgins out there!

(For those readers out there who don’t mind jumping in the middle, you crazy people you, I’ll add a brief primer to the universe after the blurb, as well as linking to my reviews of the previous titles at the end of this one.)

Humdrum back cover blurb ahoy: (more…)

Reader beware: In compliance with the FTC guidelines, be aware that I bought this book.

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Parallel AttractionParallel Attraction, by Deirdre Knight

The first in the Midnight Warriors series, Parallel Attraction is also Ms Knight’s debut novel. And boy oh, boy, talk about starting out with a bang! This is very much a romance novel (and there is some sexxoring in it, if you are wondering), but it is also a science fiction story, in which the author takes a well-known twist and… well, twists it some more. 😀

The world Ms Knight creates seems quite simple at first, but pretty soon into the story the reader realizes that there are layers of complexity there, many of which are hinted at almost carelessly—one phrase, one short passage—until their time to shine comes. Here’s the back cover blurb:

It has been years since exiled alien king Jared Bennett thought of anything other than his people’s fight for freedom. Now his rebel force has the one weapon that can turn the tide against their enemy: the key to the secrets of time. Victory has never been closer, but one woman has the power to change everything.

Kelsey Wells can’t deny that there is something unearthly about her fierce attraction to Jared Bennett. His revelations about alien wars and time travel can’t possibly be fact. Yet with every seductive touch, every searing kiss, Kelsey circles closer to the truth: Although Jared is exactly what he says, he hasn’t told her everything. And when the future crashes into the present, Kelsey must decide if Jared’s deception will cost them the love that should have been their destiny.

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Reader beware: In compliance with FTC guidelines, please be aware that I was given a digital ARC of this novel by Ms Singh for the purpose of writing a review. In the end, I bought my own, dead-tree copy of the novel anyway.

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Blaze of Memory, by Nalini SinghBlaze of Memory

Part of Ms Singh’s very successful Psy/Changeling romance series, Blaze of Memory picks up the trail of two characters introduced in the fourth and fifth novels in the series (Mine to Possess and Hostage to Pleasure, respectively): Devraj Santos, apparently human and director of the Shine Foundation, and Ekaterina Haas, psy and erstwhile assistant of Ashaya Aleine in her research for the Council.

While this novel could be read as a stand alone title, I definitely would recommend reading at least the two mentioned. Not only are there a number of secondary characters whose presence in this story will make more sense to a reader familiar with the series, but the relationships between the different human groups are also rather complex at this point in the main story arc. Beyond those two reasons, the intricacies of the psy vs changeling and/or human physiologies will probably be easier to digest to people who already know Ms Singh’s psy/changeling universe.

Here’s the back cover blurb: (more…)

Reader beware: In compliance with FTC guidelines, readers should be aware that my copy of this novel was obtained directly from Ms Milan in a multiple-title drawing she held at her blog in early December. Thank you.

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Proof by Seduction, by Courtney MilanProof by Seduction

Published by Harlequin Historical Romance, this novel is Ms Milan’s full length debut. Set in London during the late 1830s, Proof by Seduction follows the story of one Jenny Keeble—aka Mme Esmerelda, soothsayer and future diviner—and a marquess.

Here is the (much hated) back cover blurb: (more…)

Busman’s Honeymoon, by Dorothy L. SayersBusman's Honeymoon

The last of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels, Busman’s Honeymoon is as much a detective story as a romance. It is also the fourth and last story in the Harriet Vane story arc***. What with one thing and another, it also happens to be Lord Peter’s readers’ last opportunity for years to see these beloved characters.

Here is the brief blurb from the back cover of my copy:

Murder is hardly the best way for Lord Peter and his bride, the famous mystery writer Harriet Vane, to start their honeymoon. It all begins when the former owner of their newly acquired estate is found quite nastily dead in the cellar. And what Lord Peter had hoped would be a very private and romantic stay in the country soon turns into a most baffling case, what with the misspelled “notise” to the milkman and the intriguing condition of the dead man—not a spot of blood on his smashed skull and not a pence less than six hundred pounds in his pocket.

As a first class nitpicker, I’ll say that the mystery plot in this novel is one of the best out of the eleven Wimsey books—up there with Whose Body? and Unnatural Death. What sets this book apart is that, indeed, some of the most intense exchanges between the main characters occur after the how and the who have been revealed.

But let me start at the beginning… (more…)

Contrary to my habit, there will be some spoilers within this review—reader, beware. Oh, and I got the book as a gift from my beloved, if anyone cares.

The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken FollettThe Pillars of the Earth

This mammoth work of fiction is my very first exposure to Mr Follett’s writing—late as ever, aren’t I? Anyway, considering the length of this novel—close to a thousand pages, nacht!—the back cover blurb is woefully inadequate, in my opinion:

As a new age dawns in England’s twelfth century, the building of a mighty Gothic cathedral sets the stage for a story of intrigue and power, revenge and betrayal. It is in this rich tapestry, where kings and queens are corrupt, that the common man shows eternal promise—and one majestic creation will bond them forever.

The first thing I need to get off of my chest is that I am a bit sorry I made the re-read a relatively negative experience for my beloved Issek. Perhaps it was the fact that reading out loud made it easier to catch all the annoying aspects of the writing, or perhaps it is my annoying—if lovable, ahem—ability to retain odd bits of the narrative for hundreds of pages. Either way, I spent more time that it’s probably seemly pointing out my issues to him.

Sorry, love!

No, really, I’m sorry. See?

*ahem*

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Dark Country, by Bronwyn ParryDark Country

The second title in a planned trilogy set in the Australian Outback, Dark Country takes the reader back to the small town of Dungirri. Kris Matthews, the heroine, was first introduced in the course of the previous novel, As Darkness Falls (review here). The hero is bad boy Morgan “Gil” Gillespie, son of the area’s drunk.

Here’s the pretty accurate back cover blurb (from the author’s website):

Most people in the small town of Dungirri have considered Morgan ‘Gil’ Gillespie a murderer for eighteen years, so he expects no welcome on his return. What he doesn’t expect is the discovery of a woman’s tortured body in the boot of his car, and new accusations of murder.

Wearied by too many deaths and doubting her own skills, local police sergeant Kris Matthews isn’t sure whether Gil is a decent man wronged by life, or a brutal criminal she should be locking up. But she does know that he is not guilty of this murder – because she is his alibi . . .

Between organised crime, police corruption, and the hatred of a town, Gil has nowhere to hide. He needs to work out who’s behind the murder before his enemies realise that the one thing more punishing than putting him back in prison would be to harm the few people he cares about.

Kris is determined to help him, but will their search for the truth make her the next target?

My beloved Issek and I had the opportunity of reading this book together recently… (he received a copy, gratis, from the author, and I received an ARC, idem) so, after much cajoling and begging (and perhaps just a wee bit of pouting) he agreed to do another joint review with me.

warning: long conversational review ahead! 😉

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A Hearing Heart, by Bonnie DeeA Hearing Heart

Just shy of two hundred pages, set in a small town in Nebraska at the turn of the twentieth century, A Hearing Heart is a very moving story. From the setting to the issues it touches on, A Hearing Heart is definitely worth reading.

Here is the blurb:

The heart conveys messages beyond what ears can hear.

After the death of her fiancé, Catherine Johnson, a New York schoolteacher in 1901, travels to Nebraska to teach a one-room school and escape her sad memories. One afternoon, violence erupts in the sleepy town. Catherine saves deaf stable hand, Jim Kinney, from torture by drunken thugs.

As she takes charge of his education, teaching him to read and sign, attraction grows between them. The warmth and humor in this silent man transcends the need for speech and his eyes tell her all she needs to know about his feelings for her. But the obstacles of class difference and the stigma of his handicap are almost insurmountable barriers to their growing attachment.

Will Catherine flout society’s rules and allow herself to love again? Can Jim make his way out of poverty as a deaf man in a hearing world? And together will they beat the corrupt robber baron who has a stranglehold on the town?

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Black Hills, by Nora Roberts

Black Hills

I believe it is no secret that I enjoy most of what Ms Roberts writes to one degree or another. Like so many things in life, this is a two-edged sword. While this is good because it means that I can look forward to a number of books each year that, odds are, I’ll enjoy, it also raises my expectations as to the quality of each new novel. Ninny that I am, this may mean that I avoid reading the next book for a bit…

Yeah, I’m an idiot, go ahead and laugh.

After avoiding anything remotely resembling spoilers for more than six weeks, I finally cracked open my signed copy* of Black Hills last week—and stayed up all night reading it, all four hundred and seventy two pages of it. After reading the last line, I closed the book, sighed happily, went about my daily business with all the energy of a half dead mouse and, come evening, cracked the book open on the first page again.

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Heart Mate, by Robin D. OwensHeart Mate

The first in the Heart series set on the planet Celta, Heart Mate was also Ms Owens debut novel. Seven more books in the series have been written since its publication in 2001 (Heart Change, the eighth title, will be released in November). A wonderful blend of fantasy and science fiction serve as background to this romance.

The back cover blurb (from the 2006 reissue)
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At the Midnight Hour, by Alicia Scott*At the Midnight Hour

* This is an old pseudonym for suspense writer Lisa Gardner, under which she published her first thirteen novels with Harlequin in the early 1990s.

From the waaaaaay back machine (also known as my local library’s used book store 😀 ) comes this charming little novel—Ms Scott/Gardner’s fourth published work, in fact. It is also the first of her Guiness Gang quintet, which follow four brothers and their younger sister’s stories.

Current fans of Ms Gardner’s suspense novels will find these earlier efforts to be much lighter on the mystery, and to focus much more on the relationship. Coupled with the restrictions of category romance writing (length, language, etc.), these novels are quite different in style than her more recent releases. Nonetheless, they are quite good on their own terms.

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Rescue Me, by Christy ReeceRescue Me

The first in a trilogy of romantic suspense novels, Rescue Me is also Ms Reece’s debut. The books follow three operatives from the shadowy private organization Last Chance Rescue which, oddly enough, specializes in rescuing people (particularly children) when other, public channels, have come up dry. This installment follows one Eden St Claire, LCR operative extraordinaire, and Jordan Montgomery, literally a blast from Eden’s past.

Here is the terribly misleading back cover blurb:

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