Book Review: Violets & Violence by Morgan Parker

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5 riveting Stars

Secrets. We all have them. Some are little, benign little things that stay hidden from a sense of embarrassment or lack of interest. But some are sharp around the edges; potentially lethal in their consequences and ramifications. Some stay buried out of desperation. A lingering panic that arises whether bidden or not with the thought that they may one day come to light. Those secrets are the ones that are truly dangerous and luckily they make for the very best stories.

Violet is a magician, or more to the point, an illusionist. She can disappear at will. She can walk through plate glass. She can meet an outwardly unremarkable man and show him what magic really means just with her smile. She is vivacious, stunning and much of the time, larger than life.

Carter is an outwardly unremarkable man. He has a high pressure, but relatively boring office job working numbers within the stock market to make his clients as much money as he can possibly wring from the highly fallible and unpredictable system. He’s also dead honest, slightly broken, impossibly smart and utterly charming. And from the moment he lays eyes on Violet, he is ridiculously smitten.

Luke is steel wrapped in charisma. He is ruthless, wickedly smart, manipulative and always striving to rise just a bit further off the ground. He is the eye of the storm, the keeper of the passwords and the vault where all of Violet’s sharpest secrets live. His inner monologue is so much fun to read because of how smart he is and how he not only uses wit to highlight his intelligence, but keeps it caged and takes it out to play only when it really matters.

The characters in this book are impossibly complicated, even when it looks like they’re finally letting down their guards and giving you answers. There’s always one more corner to turn before you finally get the full landscape laid out before you.

Morgan Parker has used the razor’s edge inherent in his characters and used it to finely hone his writing in this book. His writing is always simultaneously laced with humor, heat and hope, but he’s filed those down to their finest points and then threads a threat through the entire book that is entirely new to his writing. And it is drop dead gorgeous to read. By the time I reached the end of this book, I was so tightly strung I thought for sure I would snap. And then I did. It took me two days to be able to write this review because of how completely I snapped. It’s a break I will willingly sign up for every single time, especially as crafted by Parker.

This book is absolutely riveting. Thoroughly infused with a sense of magic so menacing that you don’t know if you want the grand finale after all, but you keep reading because you just have to see how it all comes together.    And the payoff is huge and supremely fitting to the setup.

Morgan Parker just keeps getting better. If you’ve not yet picked up one of his books, let me say (again) that this is a perfect book to start with. It’s the consummate magic trick – beautiful, endearing, dangerous and in the end, you look back at the whole thing and smile slowly as it all sinks in exactly how grand of a trick you were just fortunate enough to witness.

Book Review: A Condo with Two Views by Al Daltrey

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4 authentic Stars

Sometimes you need a book that isn’t full of the classic battle between good and evil. There are no nefarious bad guys. No knights in shining armor. No insane drama that wrenches emotions from you with or without your permission. Sometimes you need a book that gives you an inside view on incredible people, just living their lives, figuring it out as they go. Sometimes you want to peep through the keyhole into someone else’s life and just see how they live for a while.

A Condo with Two Views is exactly that opportunity to peek into someone else’s life and be the proverbial fly on the wall as they go about their daily life. With one little unexpected surprise – Jack and Chloe Gibb are a BDSM couple living completely normal, every day lives most of the time. But this story gives readers an inside view into what that really looks like – what does a newly married couple who participate in some of the more kinky aspects of the BDSM lifestyle do everyday?

Jack Gibb is a successful businessman. He works hard and he loves his wife all the way to his bones. He is also her Master and occasionally lends her out to fulfill sexual tasks as he sees fit. He is strong, kind, tender and unyielding in his expectations. He is also human and we get to see how that humanity serves as both the strongest and weakest pieces of his Dominance.

Chloe Gibb is a strong, independent, smart and witty woman. She too works hard and loves her husband down to her bones. She is also a submissive and an eager one at that. She places herself completely in the hands of her Master and the level of trust she displays is absolutely gorgeous to watch. Her incredible inner strength is also amazing to witness.

These two characters are a match made in heaven. They compliment each other beautifully in so many ways. The way that Jack takes Chloe’s submission and channels it into tasks that please them both is both ingenious and very fun to read. The genuine love between them serves to deepen not only the meaning behind every task and interaction, but also the reader’s investment in the characters and story.

A Condo with Two Views is not only an honest love story between two people living their lives, but it’s also a truly authentic view into the BDSM lifestyle. When there are so many books written these days that incorporate elements of the lifestyle into their storylines, it’s absolutely refreshing to read one that gives such an authentic and loving portrayal of its possibilities.

This book is well written and chock full of truly interesting characters doing fun, sexy, hot as hell things with each other. Daltrey has written a book that is not only fun to read, it’s intelligent, interesting, creative and truly allows the reader insight into the characters by telling the story from both Jack and Chloe’s perspectives. The dual story is never repetitive, but instead just gives fantastic insight into the characters and how the story unfolds.

If you’re looking for a truly authentic, fun to read story, this book is it. Give yourself permission to peek into Jack and Chloe’s life, I guarantee you won’t regret it and they love being watched.

Book Review: Prince of Demons Part One by Victoria Danann

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4.5 tantalizing Stars

Prince of Demons is the 8th book in The Order of the Black Swan series. By now, its faithful readers have gotten to know the universe in which this series operates (and all of the dimensions therein) relatively well. We’ve taken the characters, new and old, and happily made them at home in our hearts and minds, tucking them in and making sure their favorite things are in the fridge.

Even though each book is written as a stand alone, they all flow gorgeously into one another. Building upon the last until you’ve got this spectacular vista laid out in front of you, making you yearn to chase the horizon. And this book is no different.

Atalanta Ravin just got left at the altar. She spends more than enough time perfectly content to exist in an ice-cream induced coma before she finally decides that a complete break from her current circumstances is needed for her to regain the joy her fiancée sucked out of her life when he bolted from the chapel on their wedding day. She buys a boat, oversees its renovations and happily moves to Boston, ready to spend her days grinning at the skyline and the sunset. Until she finds herself trapped in a fog that delivers her right onto the doorstep of an alternate dimension.

Cal Magnus is an adventurer. He works for Black Swan retrieving demon artifacts and loves his job. Recovering from an unfortunate side effect of the job, he is put directly in Lana’s path when he’s sent to discover if she’s telling the truth or truly deserves the padded cell for which she might be destined. He’s funny and authentic and is confident in a way that makes you believe that he’s holding the big picture in the palm of his hand.

Lana and Cal play off of each other beautifully. They are sweet and sassy and they push each other to their very best. I have no idea if they’re going to get a happy ending, but just based off of their interactions in this book, I surely hope so.

Prince of Demons give the reader a couple of really fun things that none of the other books do. The first of which is a glance at The Order of the Black Swan through the eyes of someone new. After seven books, I found myself kind of taking it for granted. It had lost some of the awe and spectacle with which it originally bubbled, simply because I know it so well. But seeing it through Lana’s eyes, renewed my deep appreciation for what an amazing organization it is. The second of which is a sense of suspense based purely in the fact that this book is being written and released as a serial.  I’m so accustomed to getting a hold of a new Black Swan book and knowing I have a complete story in my hands. Knowing that I was holding just one part of the bigger story infused in me a sense of urgency that I don’t necessarily have and while I know that may translate to frustration for some, for me it was invigorating and I am now perched firmly on the edge of my seat, anxiously awaiting the next installment.

Victoria Danann doesn’t know how to disappoint. She tells a story like she’s singing her favorite song – drawing a deep breath from her toes and letting the notes flow effortlessly from her fingertips. This book made me laugh out loud, drew out of me a deep sigh of contentment and made me grin with anticipation for what’s to come. I’m madly smitten with Lana’s character; her grit, savvy, confidence and utterly authentic nature drew me in immediately. And I’d very much like to curl up into Cal’s arms and have him read me a bedtime story, knowing that the comfort and safety will be balanced by his wit and sense of adventure.

Just like with all Order of the Black Swan books, I’m all in. Fully invested. And ready and waiting for the next piece in this wonderful story, unfolding before my eyes.

Book Review: Debt by Nina G. Jones

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5 murdered Stars

Love. It takes all shapes and forms. And is written about every single day, from every single angle, from every single perspective. It’s at the heart of almost every book I read. It always manifests differently in individuals both in life and circumstances, but it’s always there. In one way or another it’s always there. It’s what we’re all looking for. That flash of epiphany when you feel something click into place with another human being. When you feel thoroughly seen and understood by your beloved. The passion that races through your nervous system at the realization that THIS one is different. It all boils down to love, one way or another.

And revenge is an equally potent motivator. After all, hate is a feeling too.

Meet Tax Draconi. This man is savage, cruel, impossibly tender and ridiculously fucking sexy. There is no good reason why anyone should like this character. None. But I did. From the very first moment we met him, I fell head over heels in love with how feral he is. How he owns a room even when he’s lurking in its shadows. How easily he fits such everyday things like jogging into the grander scheme of his psychopathic nature. Tax is truly larger than life.

Especially when he’s standing next to Mia Tibbett. If Tax is walking, talking darkness, she is the light. It shines from her so unapologetically that you can’t help but fall in love with her as well. She could have easily swung into sticky sweet, but instead she’s smart, sassy and authentic. She meets Tax’s darkness in such a fearless way; so ready and willing to meet this man exactly where he is and that takes an incredible amount of courage.

Debt is aptly named as the subject of what balances the scales is laced throughout the entire book. Nina G. Jones explores every possible meaning of what it is to even the playing field through the lens of love. And every single character’s scales are out of whack for one reason or another. Every single character has sustained some monumental loss that leaves them on uneven ground, looking constantly for that which will bring everything back into synch. Unfortunately, life is not fond of the even keel. It likes to keep people thrown off balance, because that’s when we make the most interesting choices.

And Nina G. Jones is the queen author of writing interesting choices. When I first picked up this book, I fully expected it to be dark and one hell of a ride. What I did not expect was the story and the characters to so completely crawl under my skin and wring every possible emotional response from me. There were moments of brilliant snark that made me laugh out loud. There were moments that left me gasping from the heat or the suspense. And there were many moments that left me on the edge of unabashed sobbing because of the deep emotional ties I had built to these characters. This story absolutely, 100% murdered me. And I’ve never been happier to be laying in a chalk outline.

Put down all of your preconceived notions about what this book might be. Jump in willing to be swept away on a breakneck current hell bent for crazy and enjoy the scenery on the way. This book will make your heart beat faster. This book will make you wet. This book will make you growl and squeal and snort. But mostly, this book might just take you unawares as it teaches you something new about what love can look like when you’re least expecting it.

Book Review: Poughkeepsie by Debra Anastasia

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4.5 heart melting Stars

I’ve written about family before. About how family is a choice. And it comes in all shapes, sizes and forms. And that at the end of the day, blood often has very little to do with what ends up being your real family. The family we choose for ourselves has everything to do with unconditional love, honesty, respect and the continual choice to keep showing up for whatever your family needs.

Poughkeepsie is about family in the truest sense of the word. It’s about people that never should have found each other, coming together to form the closest knit group of people I’ve read about in a very long time. A group of people where everyone has a job, a place and purpose. From being the protector to being the very heart and soul that keeps thumping its way towards weaving that bond through their very DNA.

Livia and Kyle McHugh are sisters. They are so very, very different on the outside. Livia is studious, centered and driven. Kyle is colorful, vivid and loud. Livia takes care of everyone around her out of reflex. Kyle not only follows the beat of her own drummer, but constantly wails on the entire drum set, changing up the rhythm to suit her fancy on any given day. They compliment each other so beautifully and produce some of the sweetest, funniest interactions I’ve seen on the page in a very long time.

Beckett Taylor, Cole Bridge and Blake Hartt are brothers of the most unconventional methods. Landing in the same foster home together, they chose each other as more than siblings when the system thrust them together to walk through hell arm in arm and see each other safely through. Beckett is brash, dangerous and ridiculously funny. Cole is quiet and soulful. Blake is fragile and nurturing. Again, these three compliment each other so beautifully as they’ve forged their way in this world that can be so very, very cold to those who choose to live outside the box.

Eve Hartt is brutal, stunningly gorgeous and a stone cold killer. Tragedy took her warmth and her heart and not only encased it in ice, but took away her will to ever chip those pieces of herself free again. She sets herself on a terrible mission that ends up incredible complicated in ways she never could have foreseen.

Debra Anastasia has written these six characters in such a way that not only do I want to know them in real life, I’m pretty sure I’m going to run into them turning a corner one day. This book is real, honest and inspiringly three dimensional in its telling and progression. Her characters make mistakes, they laugh, they drink, they fight and they love with every single cell in their bodies. They are extraordinary in everything they do and their story is heart meltingly authentic in its pain and triumph. This book is terrifically well balanced between deeply emotional interactions, tremendously funny tension breakers and soul liberating epiphanies.

While the course of this book takes less than a year, it has a decidedly epic feel to the depth and breadth of the storytelling. When you pick this book up, be ready for a journey that will take you from safe and sound to the brink of heartbreak and back again. When you pick up this book, be ready for your definition of family to be forever changed for the better. When you pick up this book, be ready to be whisked away on the backs of these extraordinary characters and their intense stories. When you pick up this book, be ready to be touched in a way that happens seldomly.

Review: Hot-Blooded by Kendall Grey

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5 holy, holy Stars

Darkness is a central theme in a lot of books written these days. Darkness evident in people, the world, our very souls and breaths. There is a lot to be said for stories written about people who confront their darkness and overcome it. For love, for children, for the sake of choosing the light. Everyday people turned warrior, launching themselves into battle with the amorphous shadows lurking in doorways and memories. Amazing stories come from these wars waged; stories that can teach you something about yourself and even sometimes provide a needed catalyst to fire your own first shot.

Hot-Blooded is not about the choice between light and dark. It’s about characters that already embody the dark and relish in it. Own it. Allow it to seep into their pores, straighten their spines and infuse them with an entirely different kind of power. There are no gentle breezes sifting through tendrils of your hair in this book. There are gale force winds grabbing handfuls of your hair by the root, wrenching your head back and forcing you to stare straight into the ancient eyes of raw, all-consuming authority.

Keahilani Alana channels her volcano namesake in everything she does. She is precise and intimidating and always threatening to spew forth destruction. She has power coursing through her very veins and she wields that power with unflinching determination all in order to protect ‘ohana. Family. Ohana is everything. A belief passed from mother to daughter and transformed into a battle cry of deafening proportions.

Blake Morgan is a hired gun for one of the biggest drug lords in the Hawaii islands. Set forth to find the latest upstart threatening his boss’ pipeline, he crashes headlong into Keahilani and in her, finds the true meaning of fire. Once a ruthless killer willing to sleep with any woman who was reasonably clean and willing to spread her legs for him, he finds in Kea more than a mirror, but a lens through which to find focus and meaning where before there was just the daily grind.

Keahilani and Blake’s relationship provides context for a story that erupts with no warning pretty much from the first page. A multi-layered story set at a breakneck pace so punishing that I had to remind myself to breathe several times while reading it. A story rife with such intensity that each chapter may as well have ended with the crack of a whip, splitting and peeling back not only my expectations and foregone conclusions, but my very flesh, exposing me to the thundering heartbeat at the core of this book.

Kendall Grey has written a book that gave me chills in the face of its sheer power and audacity. Her writing style pulls no punches; her characters kidnapped me at knifepoint. And at the end, all I could do was stare back at the words and beg them to never end. To say that I was swept away by this story isn’t entirely true. Because that implies some sort of romance or rose petal lined liaison. This story is brutal and fierce and laced through with a mythology come to life.

Don’t pick up this book expecting to find redemption. Don’t pick up this book expecting some epic battle between wrong and right. Pick up this book because the darkness inherent in this story deserves to be heard. Pick up this book because it’s so incredibly well written you will see the world differently having read it. Pick up this book because you want to be haunted.

Book Review: Forgiving Gia by Gina Whitney

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4.5 passionate Stars

Saving Abel took me off guard. I had expected it to be a good book, but I never in a million years expected it to crawl under my skin the way it did. It stayed with me for days. By book’s end Abel and Gia were living, breathing people that I very much wished to know in real life. The sheer authenticity built into their characters was riveting and refreshing and I loved the honesty Gina Whitney laced through the entire book. That transparency served to bring the whole story into the real world, inject it with huge amounts of tangibility that enabled me to not only relate to the characters, but feel what they were feeling as they were feeling it.

When I opened Forgiving Gia, I expected more of the same. But I never expected it to be multiplied across so many levels to the point where I was breathless, sobbing and laughing out loud. And I was, all of those things. Whitney strips these characters down to the studs and then builds them back up, never once disguising any of the pain, discomfort or awkwardness of the process. We get to walk hand in hand with Abel and Gia as they continually find their way to each other and not only embrace what they find, but integrate it as their own.

This book picks up where Saving Abel left off. Gia and Abel both are trying to process the aftereffects of her lies and his reaction to the truth and neither of them is dealing well. We don’t have to wait long for them to get back together, however, thank goodness. While they are both intriguing characters on their own, they’re so much better together. The threat of Morgana and Gia’s mother still holds heavy in the air around Abel and Gia, but they continue to love and live in spite of that threat.

Whitney has once again infused this part of Abel and Gia’s story with an incredibly huge, thumping heart. Her writing is such that you have no choice but to feel everything so keenly right along with the characters. Every time Gia cried, I cried with her. Every time Abel raged, I raged right along with him. And every time they came together in the incredible sex scenes, well let’s just say I wanted to be right them then as well.

Saving Abel had a fair amount of objectivity in it; necessary because the reader had to have the time and ability to get to know the characters. That distance is gone in Forgiving Gia. You are walking right next to these characters (all of them, not just the main characters) as they move down the next piece of their journey. They are huge and vivid and so utterly emotional that you get sucked in immediately and never even want to look back.

I thought about laying out a skeleton plot for you in my review, but I went into this book blind, with no expectations and it was a gorgeous experience, so I want the same for you. Don’t read the blurb, don’t read other reviews, just read this book. It’s gorgeous, heartrending and so very, very worth the time and attention it commands.