Monday, April 24, 2017

Review: Nine Minutes Past Midnight by Lena de Savoie

Title: Nine Minutes Past Midnight
Author: Lena de Savoie
Genre/Age: Romance/Erotica
Series: None
Publisher: Self-published
Format: ebook via The Romance Reviews
Rating: ✺✺✺
SynopsisIt’s Venetian Carnival time: the masks are on, but the clothes are coming off…

Successful, hardworking and ambitious, Faye Brennan has it all. Well, not quite all – she doesn’t have a man to share it with, and she’s okay with that.

British playboy Crispin Sinclair always gets what he wants. And what he wants right now is Faye. Naked, in his bed, and letting go of her inhibitions.

For Faye, the speed with which Crispin melts through her defences is almost as quick as the speed with which he gets inside her knickers. But once she discovers her own dark side, will Crispin be able to prove to her what they have can be more than a Carnival weekend hook-up?

The Romance Review

**Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book.**

This was hot carnival fun!

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Faye is in Venice on business and even though everyone around her is relaxing on vacation, she can't even remember what that feels like. Her world revolves around work and little else. Her love life is practically nonexistent but her body still recognizes the signs of attraction. Especially when a certain cocky pilot is around.

Crispin knows what he wants and what he wants is Faye. He doesn't believe the rumors that she's a cold woman and their age difference means nothing to him. So when an opportunity presents itself and he has the chance to corner Faye in his favorite city, he pulls out all of the stops. He will win her over no matter what it takes and thaw that chilled heart of hers in the process.

Even if Faye does give in to their undeniable chemistry, she is determined that it won't go any further than a single encounter. But Crispin sees the passion beneath Faye's tough exterior and he suggests they attend a masked Venetian ball where people are free to experience their wildest fantasies without fear of judgement. If he can convince her to join him, he's sure he can finally tear down her walls and show her ecstasy that she's only dreamed of.

Whoa. People, this was one steamy frickin' novella!

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My only complaint is that there wasn't more of it. Yes, this is erotica so there is plenty of naughty time. But this book also had an overworked woman who needed a good dose of a charming man to show her that there's more to life than her job. Crispin was the perfect guy for the task. He was patient and attentive, yet persistent in his pursuit to get Faye to break her rules and give him a shot.

There isn't much of a plot outside of the romance and I'm glad because a book of this length would have felt smothered if there was more to the story than our couple coming together. There is mild character development but enough that I got a sense of who the pair were. Again, this was due to the fact that it was a novella. I would gladly have read an entire novel with this couple.

In closing...
This is my second book of this series and both were five suns for me. There is one more brother to meet and I'm anxious to see his story unfold. Five naughty suns!

Book provided by and reviewed for:

Giveaway: Last Chance Matinee by Mariah Stewart

Prize: Hardcover Library Edition of

To Enter: Just comment on this post with your favorite theater play & your email!
(USA only, sorry!)

P.S. My favorite play is Wicked!

Also, follow XOXO After Dark on Twitter (@xoxoafterdark) today to see which other blogs are also hosting a giveaway for The Last Chance Matinee! #MondayMatinee

I have read, reviewed, and loved this book. Here is my review, in case you need more convincing to enter the giveaway! 

Title: Last Chance Matinee
Author: Mariah Stewart
Genre/Age: Women's Fiction/Adult
Series: Hudson Sisters Series (Book One)
Publisher: Gallery Books
Format: ebook via NetGalley & Galley Books
Rating: ✺✺✺
SynopsisFrom New York Times bestselling author Mariah Stewart comes the first novel in her all-new series, The Hudson Sisters, following a trio of reluctant sisters as they set out to fulfill their father’s dying wish. In the process, they find not only themselves, but the father they only thought they knew.

When celebrated and respected agent Fritz Hudson passes away, he leaves a trail of Hollywood glory in his wake—and two separate families who never knew the other existed. Allie and Des Hudson are products of Fritz’s first marriage to Honora, a beautiful but troubled starlet whose life ended in a tragic overdose. Meanwhile, Fritz was falling in love on the Delaware Bay with New Age hippie Susa Pratt—they had a daughter together, Cara, and while Fritz loved Susa with everything he had, he never quite managed to tell her or Cara about his West Coast family.

Now Fritz is gone, and the three sisters are brought together under strange circumstances: there’s a large inheritance to be had that could save Allie from her ever-deepening debt following a disastrous divorce, allow Des to open a rescue shelter for abused and wounded animals, and give Cara a fresh start after her husband left her for her best friend—but only if the sisters upend their lives and work together to restore an old, decrepit theater that was Fritz’s obsession growing up in his small hometown in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. Guided by Fritz’s closest friend and longtime attorney, Pete Wheeler, the sisters come together—whether they like it or not—to turn their father’s dream into a reality, and might just come away with far more than they bargained for.

Praise for The Last Chance Matinee:
“The combination of a quirky small-town setting, a family mystery, a gentle romance, and three estranged sisters is catnip for women’s-fiction fans, and the backdrop of the faded movie palace adds a fascinating element to the story. Stewart’s lively, warmhearted series starter [The Last Chance Matinee] will have readers eagerly awaiting the second installment.”

“A good read, with a nice blend of mystery, family drama, and romance. Readers will look forward to the next installment.”
—Library Journal

**Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book.**

Fantastic start to the series!

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I am a big Mariah Stewart fan. Her Chesapeake Diaries series made her my third favorite author, behind only Nora Roberts and J.K. Rowling. Yes, I love her that much. So when I found out that she was starting a brand new series, I don't think I even read the synopsis entirely before I jumped to request it.

After Cara's father suddenly passes away, she's hit with another blow: she has two half-sisters and must complete a renovation in order to receive her inheritance. Wait. What? Yep, you read that right. The three sisters have to come together and restore an old theater to working condition or none of them receive a penny of their father's money.

The women barely have time for the news to settle in before they're making their way to Hidden Falls, a small town where they have strong family roots they knew nothing about. Soon, the sisters have a project manager hired, bank account opened, and the project to bring life back to the theater begins.

But it's not all smooth sailing. Each woman brings baggage along that isn't in a suitcase. Cara is recently divorced and left unsure about her dating future, even when the handsome Joe enters the picture. Allie misses her daughter and can't seem to kick her alcohol addiction, drawing attention from the police chief. And Des has hit a plateau in her love life where her only companions are the foster animals she cares for.

This is women's fiction with romantic elements. It's not my usual reading genre but I loved every page of this book. The primary focus is on the sisters and their troublesome relationships with each other. The romance is secondary, but it's still plentiful and has substance. I am definitely rooting for Cara and her hunky handyman.

The characters were layered and real. Some had more flaws than others but their struggles were believable. I might have wanted to pinch Allie a few times, however, I'm looking forward to her chapter in this series the most. Even the supporting characters had grit and added humor and intrigue to the storyline.

There is a lot of mystery here, as well. Fritz Hudson left an enormous amount of questions unanswered and the sisters are each discovering that they never really knew their father or only met one side of him. I'm curious as to what will be revealed as the series progresses.

In closing... 
I was easily swept into the mystery and family dysfunction of the Hudson sisters. Great start to the series and I'm anxious to see where the story goes next!

Excerpt & Tour: Beneath the Night by Jen Colly

Title: Beneath the Night
Author: Jen Colly
Genre/Age: Paranormal Romance/Adult
Series: The Cities Below Series (Book Three)
Publisher: Lyrical Press
SynopsisSometimes survival means surrendering everything...

Lord Navarre Casteel wakes from a long sleep to find the vampire city he rules forever changed and his future in the hands of a mysterious beauty who offers her life for his. Fiery-haired Cat survives his feeding, fueling Navarre’s body and mind—as well as his suspicion that she is one of the Forbidden—a lethal mix of vampire and human blood. Yet that doesn’t stop the throb of Navarre’s desire, the feeling that she is destined to be his mate, to hell with consequences...

A solitary fighter sworn to protect the children in her charge, Cat never expects to feel so much for Navarre in the face of his savage feeding. Which is why his offer of protection is nearly her undoing. For how can she let down her guard when she has always walked alone? But Cat has never faced an enemy like the one she faces now, never felt such a powerful need to surrender to the force of love...

Peace. He didn’t care for the word, didn’t believe in its existence. The concept seemed possible, and certainly desired, but he’d yet to witness it in his own life. Even when Balinese had been under Lord Navarre’s rule, the city prospering and harmonious, Devlin Savard had not been at peace. Savard glanced over his shoulder for the second time tonight. Something had him on edge. He scanned the tree line at his back. Nothing.

From where he stood, high on a hillside, the impressive château below him seemed somehow benign. Yet it concealed the entrance to Balinese, a vast underground city of vampires. The forest surrounding the château took it a step further, cloaking the stone structure from any who might wander near.

Winter was well on the way, and though snow had yet to fall, it would come soon enough. The château had been sealed and prepped months ago, and only in the last few weeks had the chill of the night permeated the ground and seeped into the city below.

Savard cocked his head slightly. A low ripple of energy in the air sent his senses on high alert, rousing survival instincts that had refused to fade over time. Someone, or something, approached.

He curled his fingers around the hilt of his sword, but then the shift in energy became substantial and settled at his right side. Heavy, like waves on the ocean. Then, though the air around him was already cold, a chilled patch of air pushed toward him.

“Report,” Savard commanded. Keir dropped out of his invisible Spirit form and appeared at Savard’s right.

“You’re damn hard to sneak up on,” Keir said, and then suddenly thinking better of his words, he raised his hands in mock surrender. “Not that I was sneaking.”

Savard nodded, but said nothing. It was best others didn’t know how Savard’s talents worked, especially when he knew of no other who possessed a similar gift. In Spirit, Keir moved with a certain high-energy fluidity, something Savard had yet to encounter in another vampire, and was easily recognizable.

Finally glancing at the man who had joined him, Savard asked, “What did you find?”

“Nothing,” Keir said, supremely confident in his own abilities.

Savard simply nodded.

“I give you the same answer every night. Seven years of nothing. You’re not paying me to say ‘nothing’ to you every night.” Keir scratched his chin, the goatee darkening his already sinister look. “You bought my loyalty.”

“Have I?”

Keir cracked a grin. “Yeah, you have.”

“Perhaps.” Savard looked over his shoulder, once again peering deep into the forest, but still finding nothing amiss. “One day your answer will change.”

“And when it does?”

“Then everything will change,” Savard said, his tone even, expectant. Savard would have been a fool to not at least attempt to buy Keir’s loyalty, and so far it had paid off. The man was an ace in his pocket. While Savard’s own ability to travel in Spirit was extensive, Keir’s was unsurpassed.

Since the phenomenon of traveling in Spirit only seemed to surface when a vampire was caught in a fight-or-flight situation, Guardians tended to be the most likely to possess the ability. The species had lived in peace for centuries, and few had experienced even a small taste of taking Spirit.

Once the trick of walking in Spirit was learned, it was simple to duplicate, though most couldn’t advance beyond several feet in this invisible form. Some grew physically ill should they pass through an object. The process also seemed to deplete the body so extensively that most vampires needed to feed soon after traveling in Spirit.

Not only could Keir travel great distances and pass through multiple structures with ease, he could linger in Spirit for nearly an hour. Invisible and undetectable, he was the perfect spy. Having Keir on his side had been useful, and on occasion, life-saving.

“Same time again tomorrow?” Savard asked.

Keir shook his head, smiling just a little. “And again and again.”

The radio at Savard’s hip popped with static and Steffen’s voice came through, sounding hollow as it floated away on the chilled night breeze.

“Several animals were just spooked.”

Savard searched the edge of the forest surrounding the château and saw nothing. Whatever movement Steffen noted had settled back into the safety of the trees. He gripped the radio in his hand, brought it to his lips. “Where?”

“North forest. Deer.”

The north forest was at his left, the château his right. A call concerning the north forest made him nervous. The entrance to the château, the gate, faced north. In the recent past, his Gatekeepers had occasionally reported the night going silent, or animals fleeing the woods. They’d come to associate these signs with the presence of demons.

“Damn it. If the deer are moving at this hour, then something deep in the forest disturbed them,” Savard said as he switched radio channels.

“Briona! I have Keir. I need two more Guardians at the gate. Now!”

“Already on their way!” the cheeky little half-Irish dispatcher yelled.

“Move your arse, m’lord.”

Jen Colly is the rare case of an author who rebelled against reading assignments throughout her school years. Now she prefers reading books in a series, which has led her to writing her first paranormal romance series: The Cities Below. She will write about anything that catches her fancy, though truth be told, her weaknesses are pirates and vampires. She lives in Ohio with her supportive husband, two kids, one big fluffy dog, and four rescued cats.

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Review: The Librarian and the Spy by Susan Mann

Title: The Librarian and the Spy
Author: Susan Mann
Genre/Age: Romance/Adult
Series: Librarian and the Spy Escapade Series (Book One)
Publisher: Zebra Shout
Format: Paperback via Reading Alley
Rating: ✺✺✺
SynopsisA librarian’s journey from the checkout desk to fast cars, stolen treasures, and international intrigue / with an introduction by suave, handsome “insurance” agent James Lockwood. 

Adventure-hungry Quinn Ellington’s job solving mundane mysteries for library patrons entangles her in a mission to decode the whereabouts of a weapons cache from a priceless work of art before arms dealers beat her to it. Her adventure is filled with twists, turns, and a budding romance. Transcontinental pursuit, daring rescues, and intense covert flirting follow. 

1. Spies—attractive. 2. London—criminal networks. 3. London—Harry Potter references. 4. Libraries—secrets of. 5. Best friends—nosy. 
I. Ellington, Quinn.

The Romance Review

**Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book.**

When the adventures in your favorite novels become your reality...

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Quinn is a librarian and she's really good at her job. Finding answers and solving puzzles is her life, just like the characters in her books. But she'd rather be out experiencing the excitement than reading about it. So when James, a handsome stranger, walks into her library and asks for assistance researching mysterious ancient items, she jumps at the chance to help.

While Quinn and James try to track down the origins of the items, they develop more than just a working relationship. Yet, just when their budding romance starts to heat up, a surprise twist throws Quinn for a loop. Her new beau isn't who he says he is and now they're both in danger. Unwilling to give up before the mystery is solved, Quinn travels abroad with James to solve the case once and for all.

This book left me with conflicting thoughts. I'll start with what I liked. I loved Quinn from the moment I met her. She was spunky and quick-witted, ready for a challenge and able to go with the flow. I liked James, as well. He was charming and humorous. I even liked them as a pair. Their chemistry was adorable and I think they were a natural fit together.

When I started the book, I waited on pins and needles for the adventure to begin. While I was happy to see our couple getting closer, I was disappointed at the pacing. We're halfway through the book before anything substantial actually happens. I wasn't tempted to put the book down but did wonder why the story seemed stalled.

And just when the romance begins to pick up, we're thrust into the covert mission and the romance takes a hit and the sparks start to wane. I don't think we get a real moment of passion until at least three-quarters into the book and even that moment is short and left me wanting. It's mostly just clues leading to more clues and Quinn hiding her crush on James. The plot seems to take over and leaves our couple's developing relationship in the dust. This wouldn't be a problem in a mystery or crime novel but since this is a romance, I expected a bit more focus to be on the actual romance. Perhaps, the next book of the series will be more balanced.

Despite my gripes, there was still a lot to like about this book. Quinn was a great female lead with intelligence and courage to spare. She was loyal to James even when the odds were stacked against them. Even though the plot was slow to build, it did eventually pick up and there were a few mild action scenes. The ending was sweet and setup for more adventures in the next book.

In closing...
A light read with likable characters. Four suns!

Book provided by and reviewed for:

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review: Buns by Alice Clayton

Title: Buns
Author: Alice Clayton
Genre/Age: Contemporary Romance/Adult
Series: The Hudson Valley Series (Book Three)
Publisher: Gallery Books
Format: Paperback via Reading Alley
Rating: ✺✺✺
SynopsisClara Morgan is living the dream, if you can call rebranding hotels that are desperate for a new life and running any kind of marathon a dream. Which she does. But the career she loves and the endurance races that keep her adrenaline pumping have kept her too busy to put down any roots. Growing up in foster care, she’s never been able to establish traditions of her own, which may be why she’s fascinated by the rituals that generations-old family resorts are known for. She’s especially interested in the Bryant Mountain House, and not just for their secret recipe for the yummy, gooey, can’t-get-enough-of Hot Cross Buns….

Archie Bryant, the man with the Buns, is fifth generation and one-day-owner of the charming yet run-down Bryant Mountain House in Bailey Falls, New York. He’s determined to save his family’s legacy from the wrecking ball the old-fashioned way—by gritting his teeth and doing what needs to be done. There’s no way Archie will be influenced by the new hotel branding expert his father brought in to turn one hundred and fifty years of tradition on its head just to attract a faster, younger, slicker crowd. But when some of Clara’s ideas start bringing in new, paying customers, Archie can’t deny that she may have just given him a shot at keeping his resort open.

It’s sticky, it’s messy, it’s sweet, it’s Buns.

The Romance Review

**Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book.**

It's a showdown between a bossy woman and a hotel heir!

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Clara is great at her job. She takes businesses that are in trouble and she uses her multi-step plan to turn them around, from struggling to thriving. When her services are needed in the town that her two best friends call home, she's sure that this will be the best job, yet. What she doesn't expect is to find the owner's son isn't on board with her plans.

Archie likes things the way they are in his family's hotel. The way they've always been. The tried and true methods that they've stuck to for generations. And when a woman comes in from the outside and starts to suggest changes, even if he agrees with them, he can't help but want to reject all of her ideas. The truth, however, isn't that he's startled by the effect that Clara's having on the hotel. It's the effect she's having on him.

This book starts off really well, with Clara and Archie getting off on the wrong foot and butting heads at nearly every turn. He's set in his ways and unhappy with the idea of change while Clara is a straight-forward woman on a mission to turn the hotel on its side. They can't agree on a single thing and their bickering was highly entertaining.

The work tension soon turns into another kind of tension, of the scandalous sort. Our couple have passion in spades and chemistry coming out of their ears. The love scenes were full of spice and well-written. I think the first kiss alone made me sigh in book-reading bliss. I love a little pent-up energy being spent in the bedroom between a couple who challenge each other.

But our characters also each have a past that left them with issues not easily overcome. Archie lost his wife and can't seem to part with his wedding ring. Clara grew up in foster care, unable to form emotional attachments to anyone. Their lust is quick to consume their relationship but the trust and emotion take time to form. The story moved at a steady pace and was filled with interesting secondary characters, as well.

My only real problem with the book was that it followed the typical formula that it seems almost all romance stories are going by these days. Man and woman meet and start a relationship, something goes wrong, couple separates for required amount of time, pair reunite and live happily ever after. I would have been more impressed if Archie had followed Clara or if her friends had come to bring her back or anything to stray from the predictable order of events.

Despite that, I really did enjoy this book. I liked the glimpse I got of the characters who star in the first two books of this series and it definitely left me wanting to read their books, too.

In closing...
A steamy read featuring a head-strong woman, a stubborn man, and a priceless mountaintop view. Four suns!

Book provided by and reviewed for: