Monday, March 30, 2009

REVIEW: Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas

St. Martins Press
March 31, 2009

Smooth Talking Stranger is Lisa Kleypas' third contemporary romance novel featuring the lives and loves of the Travis family. All three of Lisa's contemporary novels are told from the first person point of view of the heroine and each story is in essence the story of the woman's journey to discovering her true self and the road to her happily ever after. Smooth Talking Stranger is the story of Ella Varner and how her world gets turned upside down and rocked all over the place by her sister's newborn son Luke and even more so by the man her sister implicates as Luke's father--one of Houston's most eligible bachelors, Jack Travis. While Smooth Talking Stranger is not without a few flaws and inconsistencies, the story is completely absorbing, entertaining, very sweet and definitely romantic.

Ella Varner has come a long way in creating a safe haven for herself since distancing herself from her atypical upbringing within a very dysfunctional family. Ella and her sister Tara have been through a lot of craziness in their childhood ever since their father walked out on the family when they were very small. Their mother, Candy Varner is not an easy person to live with. She's insecure, unstable, selfish and has never been a positive influence on her daughters. Ella was smart and strong enough to get out when she could and after therapy, a lot of self reflection and a whole lot of will power has created a stable, content life for herself. She lives with her steady boyfriend Dane in an Austin apartment, has a steady job writing an advice column for a city newspaper, a network of friends, and thinks she's got her happily ever after going on. Her sister Tara, on the other hand, hasn't found her way out of dysfunctional as successfully as Ella. Not that she's necessarily following her mother's footsteps, but she's definitely been struggling with finding happiness and direction.

Ella has been out of regular contact with her mother and sister for a while and one day gets a call from her mother reporting that Tara left her surprise newborn baby with her and left without a trace. Candy is now demanding that Ella come to Houston to retrieve Tara's newborn baby before she turns him over to social services. Without hesitation, and much to her boyfriend's chagrin, Ella drops everything in her life and heads to Houston to look after the baby while she hunts down Tara and the baby's father. Finding Tara proves more difficult than she expected, but their cousin gives Ella a few leads, including the tip that the baby's father is the successful businessman and much sought after eligible bachelor, Jack Travis.

Before Ella hears from her sister with confirmation whether or not Jack could actually be the baby's father, Ella confronts Jack at his workplace about his potential paternity and makes quite an impression on him as he watches her attend the baby and demand that Jack take a paternity test. Jack insists that it is simply not possible that he be the father because he's never slept with Tara, but Ella doesn't believe him. He has all rights to get extremely agitated and angry with Ella's accusations and demands, but he doesn't. He's actually intrigued by her. Ella is very different from the women Jack usually takes notice of, and while he can't quite put his finger on why, he's certainly going to find out more about Ella Varner.

Ella soon hears from her sister and gets some answers. She finds out who isn't the baby's father and what is actually going on with Tara that led her to abandon her baby. It is going to take Tara a few months before she can take back Luke, so Ella agrees to care for him until then. Back in Austin, Ella's boyfriend Dane won't allow Ella to bring Luke into their home and into their world, so Ella decides to stay in Houston in the interim. Fortunately her job as an advice columnist allows her to work remotely, and she sets up an apartment for her and Luke. Still determined to hold Luke's father accountable, she pursues all avenues. During this time, Ella bonds with both baby Luke and with Jack Travis, both of whom throw her for a loop, forcing her to rethink a lot of her views on life, love and the kind of happily ever after she's always deeply craved.

Smooth Talking Stranger is the romantic tale of Ella Varner's journey of self discovery that puts her on the path to her happily ever after. It is a very engaging and fast paced romance of a seemingly unlikely pair, but for those of you who don't like babies in your romance, be warned that Luke is an important element in this story. While his presence does not overshadow or interfere with the romance between Ella and Jack, he is still an integral part of the story and
his presence actually has an important role in teaching Ella about unconditional love.

Ella has some baggage from her past and while she thinks she has found her happily ever after with Dane, she's really just been maintaining this perpetual state of friendship with the added benefit of occasional physical release through sex. She's not experiencing passion, adventure and true love. She quickly finds out what she's missing, however, when she falls for Jack Travis. Jack is everything that Dane is not and more. He's open minded, kind, caring, possessive and passionate and although it takes a while, Ella finally lets go of safe and comfortable and takes a chance with Jack who offers her a better, more fulfilling love, the likes of which she's never known. I loved watching Ella come to realize she wants what Jack has to offer, working through her doubts that it could be something that will last a lifetime. It's a very beautiful journey thanks to Jack's patient and yet seductive nature.

While living in Houston, Ella also befriends Haven Travis, the heroine of Blue-Eyed Devil, and their friendship, although not explored in huge depths, really touched me. Both women have survived very unpleasant situations--Ella with her extremely dysfunctional family, and Haven with her abusive first marriage. Their friendship is very genuine and it allowed for some really great insights into the importance of friends whether those friends last a lifetime or they just walk through your life for a few seasons. It was a very nice touch to the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Smooth Talking Stranger, but there are a few elements that kept this book from being perfect for me. One is a scene in which Ella and Jack have unprotected sex. This is completely out of character for both of them who make it very clear that they are very careful and never have unprotected sex, but then there they were! I imagine that this was the first time either one of them have ever done such a thing, because the chemistry between them was uniquely intense and passionate, something neither of them has ever before experienced. And I believed that. But yet, neither one of them said so afterward! If only Ella blurted out that she was on the pill within the few seconds right before the act instead of ten minutes after, this scene would not have tripped my radar. Or if both of them panicked afterward or something to indicate that this was completely out of character for them. Otherwise, it was an amazing scene.

Another small disappointment was a plot device toward the end of the book that forced Ella into admitting her love for Jack that seemed a bit contrived. On the other hand, it definitely added tension and emotional climax to the ending, and taught Ella the lesson that it is better to have loved and lost than to never love at all. It led to some beautiful and romantic dialogue, so I forgave the author rather easily, but I still kind of wish it came about a little differently. It also set up some rather interesting background for what I think is Lisa Kleypas' next contemporary romance featuring Joe Travis.

Smooth Talking Stranger is a fast paced, engaging and very romantic story that will grab you from the first page and not let go until the very end. I read Smooth Talking Stranger in barely over a 24 hour period, which is so unusual for me, but also a true testament to the author's talent. The story flows smoothly and effortlessly, is at times poetic, always honest and beautifully romantic. Lisa Kleypas has the wonderful ability to share a realistic and passionate glimpse into a woman's life at which she is engaged in a soul searching journey ending with the perfect happily ever after.


A big thank you to Brie from Musings of a Bibliophile who so willingly shared her ARC of Smooth Talking Stranger with me as soon as she finished reading it. And she just so happened to post her review today, too!

Thank you, Brie!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

REVIEW: Passion Unleashed by Larissa Ione

Release date: March 31, 2009
Grand Central Publishing


Ecstasy was never so dangerous . . .

Passion Unleashed is the third book in the paranormal romance series called Demonica by Larissa Ione. The hero of each of the first three books in this series centers around one of three demon brothers who founded the first ever hospital for demons--Underworld General Hospital. Pleasure Unbound is the story of the oldest brother, Eidolon; Desire Unchained is Shade's story; and Passion Unleashed is the story of the youngest brother, Wraith.

Wraith is the bad boy of the brothers so to speak, but for founded reasons. Wraith was born half vampire-half demon, an almost impossible mixed breed. Wraith's mother was a vampire who had been violently impregnated and repeatedly raped by his post s'genesis demon father while he held her captive for the duration of her pregnancy. Once his offspring was born, the demon father took off, leaving the newly turned vampire with her young. Needless to say, when Wraith was born and it was discovered that he was not full vampire, he was considered an abomination to his mother and her entire vampire clan. Instantly he became an object of deep hatred and resentment who was only kept alive for so his mother could torture, abuse, and punish him for his very existence. Eventually he escaped, but was caught and tortured to near death by his uncle before Shade and Eidolon found and saved him. [You can read this intense and brutal tale in the short story The Reckoning that can be found in the online Demonica Compendium. You can access the book from the Demonica Compendium widget on my sidebar or at Larssia Ione's website at]. Since then, and understandably so, Wraith is a bit cold and distant. He does not get close to anyone, barely even his brothers. He does what he wishes, when he wishes, hunting, fighting, and getting laid his only priorities. He is a tiny bit discriminating with the females he lays, though. For reasons tied to his horrific past, Wraith will never feed from or have sex with a vampire or human. Ever.

At the end of Desire Unchained, Wraith went through his s'genesis and was enjoying being able to seduce as many females as possible without a care in the world . But now there's a problem. Wraith was poisoned and is now dying. With no antidote in existence, his only hope for survival is to acquire a very specific immortality charm that is in the possession of one female named Serena Kelley, who must remain a virgin in order for the charm to stay intact. All Wraith has to do, then, is to seduce it from her. The catch is that Serena is well... human. It gets even more complicated than that, in ways that I won't explain because it is all tightly woven into an intricate story arc that spins out of control right to the very last pages of this novel.

Ever since I read the first Demonica book last June, I have been anticipating Wraith's story. There is something incredibly appealing and satisfying about the love story of a tortured, lonely and misunderstood hero, and Wraith certainly fits that profile. He's the aloof brother with the don't-care attitude, causing all kinds of trouble and hardships for his brothers. Yet the truth is that he does care and throughout the first two books, the reader gets glimpses of a vulnerability and tenderness that's buried under his tough demon exterior.

Serena Kelley is a fantastic heroine and a perfect match for Wraith. If there was one human female who could turn Wraith inside out and upside down, it is Serena. She's an archaeologist--a treasure hunter, just like Wraith who travels the world in search of magical artifacts and rare ingredients for demon remedies. Serena is smart, confident, honest and knows what she wants. At 25 years old, she has successfully maintained her virginity in order to preserve her charm, but she's not completely innocent. She is a very sensual woman who has a lot to offer the right man. She is also well aware that she is being deprived of experiencing the ultimate expression of love and intimacy with another person. The sharing of body and soul with the one you love. And she craves that for the first time ever with the male who has to power to destroy her.... Wraith.

Wraith and Serena's love story is heart wrenching and heart warming. Wraith is obviously out to deceive her and starts out their relationship based on some very big lies. All the while, Serena is pretty honest and upfront with him, and as he sets out to carefully seduce her and not scare her away, he really gets to know her. And himself, too, actually. He starts falling for her... a human! Who'd have thought he'd ever fall for someone, let alone a human? But he does, and the author orchestrates it just perfectly. Every single nuance with Wraith's character, with Serena's character, and their romance is perfectly paced and completely believable. Their reactions to each other and to all that happens to them and around them makes sense and builds to a very exciting and climactic happily ever after.

The romance plot in Passion Unleashed is intimately connected to the story arc for the entire novel, as are several secondary story lines featuring familiar characters from the first two books, along with some new characters as well. Although, calling these story lines 'secondary' really does an injustice to them, for they are crucial to the evolution of the overall story arc. Once again, Larissa Ione does a fantastic job of developing an intricate plot with all kinds of unexpected plot twists and revelations that ultimately connect for a thrilling climax. And I'm talking thrilling. The ending of this story is an incredible whirlwind of action, surprise twists, and soul satisfying happily ever afters all around.

I think the huge climactic ending of Passion Unleashed provides closure for all three of the Demonica books, which makes sense since I believe Larissa Ione was originally contracted for only three books in this series. However, she cleverly slipped in an unexpected surprise toward the end of Passion Unleashed that can serve as the gateway to future Demonica books. Thankfully, Larissa's book contract has been extended and we can expect two more full length novels in the Demoncia series. Unfortunately, we will have to wait until 2010 for the next book! But wait until you find out who gets the next book! It's a doozy! ;)


BOOK GIVEAWAY: Win a copy of Passion Unleashed!

Forbidden Temptations .... Fatal Desires ....

Those words come from the book blurb on the back of Passion Unleashed and they truly convey the tension of the highly charged, sensual and tender romance between Wraith and Serena. You know you just have to read this intense, action packed, sexy, fun book!

I'm going to help five lucky readers get their hands on this book, compliments of Hachette Book Group. To enter for a chance to win a copy of Passion Unleashed, all you have to do is leave me a comment telling me who your favorite Demonica character is and why.

If you haven't read this series yet, read the book blurbs at Larissa's website and tell me which of the three brothers or books interests you the most. If your name gets drawn, you still only win a copy of Passion Unleashed. You'll have to buy the first two on your own to catch up!

I'm sorry, but only residents of the USA or Canada are eligible to win and no PO boxes, please.

Contest ends on Tuesday, March 31, 2009 at 11:59 pm EDT.

If a winner does not reply to me with their address by Sunday, April 5, 2009 to claim their prize, new winners will be selected.

Good luck!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Loving Larissa Ione!

I love Larissa Ione's Demonica series. Demonica is a romance series at heart, but it also contains tones of urban fantasy and even horror. Those dark, edgy, and sometimes gruesome elements set this series apart from other typical paranormal romance series, making the Demonica series really shine for me.

The Demonica Series Overview:
The Demonica world is a complex world made up of many different species of demons, vampires, weres, fallen angels, and humans. Only a select group of humans are aware of the existence of nonhuman creatures, human Guardians called the Aegis and an elite military group. All of the different beings in this world do what is inherently natural to them in order to survive and thrive in this world. With different needs and means for survival, one can only imagine the conflicts and potential for catastrophe that can occur. The lines between good and evil are certainly blurred in this world, making for some very interesting story telling.

The first three novels in the Demonica series are centered around three Seminus demon brothers who were sired by the same father, but have different mothers. Their lives are intertwined not only through brotherly bonds, but also literally through the blood, sweat and tears they each gave to found the demon hospital Underworld General Hospital. I have read and reviewed both Pleasure Unbound and Desire Unchained (loved them both!) and am currently reading an ARC of Passion Unleashed. Each book is a dark, edgy, and very sexy romance filled with complex, seemingly insurmountable conflicts and plot twists within the hero-heroine relationship as well as within the politics of the Demonica world. Passion Unleashed is no exception. I'm currently shocked at some plot twists and on the edge of my seat in suspense wondering how in Heaven, Earth or Sheoul there can be a happily ever after. Yet I know Larissa will make it work. I just have to keep reading to find out how she does it. One hundred pages to go....

Upcoming Review and Book Giveaway:
I'll be posting my review of
Passion Unleashed within the next day or two and I'll be giving away 5 copies of Passion Unleashed compliments of Forever Romance from Grand Central Publishing. Don't miss this awesome chance to win your own copy!

Demonica Compendium:
In the meantime, be sure to check out the Demonica Compendium by Larissa Ione, available to read online at the Hatchette Book Group website. You can get there by clicking the
BROWSE INSIDE THIS BOOK button on the widget below. The compendium is chock full of all kinds of fascinating information about the different demon species, and other paranormal beings; the hospital, and key characters in the Demonica world. Not only that, it contains a great short story called The Reckoning about how Shade and Eidolon found Wraith and saved him from a slow and torturous death at the hands of his own vampire clan.

If you like Meljean Brook's
Guardians series or Nalini Singh's new Guild Hunter series, I think you'd enjoy Larissa Ione's Demonica series as well.

You can visit Larissa Ione at her website

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

TBR Challenge Review: FAIL!

It's not that I forgot. I simply haven't finished reading my selection yet. I have less than 100 pages left, and while I could feel this self imposed pressure to hurry up and finish the book and write up a quick review before midnight tonight, I thankfully thought twice about it. I think rushing would definitely detract from my reading pleasure, so I opted to just finish the book at my own pace and get the review up as soon as I can.

I'm reading Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas, the first book in the Wallflowers series. I love Lisa Kleypas' contemporary romances, having read and loved Sugar Daddy and Blue-Eyed Devil and more recently, an ARC of Smooth Talking Stranger (look for that review coming up soon, as well...), yet I haven't yet read any of her historical romances. Shortly after the release of Sugar Daddy in hardcover back in March 2007, which is when my admiration of Lisa Kleypas' work began, I picked up the four Wallflowers books at a going out of business sale at a local bookstore and they've sat on my TBR shelf since then. So when I saw that this month's theme for the TBR Challenge was historical romance, I decided straight away that I would read Secrets of a Summer Night. It was about time I sampled Lisa's historicals. 

While Secrets of a Summer Night isn't going to top my charts of favorite books, I am enjoying it very much. Annabelle is a spunky, determined heroine and Simon is just what she needs. It's a lot of fun watching her figure that out. Anyway, I can't wait to finish and share my thoughts, especially as I know this series is so popular with many romance readers. 

Note: Please do not post spoilers in the comments to this post. I'm highly allergic. Thanks. ;)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

REVIEW: The Windflower by Laura London

So you never thought you'd see the day, did you? I'm finally getting around to posting my final thoughts on The Windflower, largely due to the pressure that Shannon of What Women Read has finished reading the book and anticipates posting her thoughts very soon. My apologies to the other participants in The Windflower Blogging Extravaganza for holding up the tour with my turn. All of you make horrible pirates and really should have made me walk the plank several times over by now. Seriously. No eye patches for you.

So without further ado, I present to you my long awaited final comments on The Windflower....

The Windflower is an historical romance set in 1813. The story starts out stateside in Virginia where our young heroine, Merry Patricia Welding lives with her Aunt who serves as her guardian since her mother passed away and her father and brother are both too preoccupied with their military efforts for the American cause against Britain during the War of 1812 to properly see after Merry.

Merry is a recreational artist, and is quite good at it, too. One of her greatest talents is her ability to draw accurate sketches of people she simply sees in the streets. Capitalizing on this, Merry's brother takes her to a local tavern at which he wants her to take careful note of some British pirates who are expected to show up there so that she can draw sketches in order to create wanted posters of them. Well, plans don't go exactly as planned and Merry makes a narrow escape from the tavern, but not before the pirate Devon Crandall corners Merry in order to extract details about her suspicious behavior and ends up stealing extremely passionate kisses with her. Passionate and mysterious, because both Devon and Merry are strongly effected by a few simple kisses.

Several weeks pass after this incident and Merry's aunt decides it is time to take her to England for a holiday, and with hopes of possibly meeting some suitable man for marriage. Well, plans don't go exactly as planned again, and shortly after boarding her ship bound for England, Merry gets inadvertently kidnapped and delivered to The Black Joke, the pirate ship of Captain Rand Morgan and his cohort, yes, you guessed it, Devon Crandall. Merry spends most of the remainder of the book as a prisoner on The Black Joke pirate ship,keeping out of harms way and inevitably lands a special place in the hearts of the crew--especially one such pirate named Devon Crandall who falls deeply for the beautiful, naive maiden, and she for him. Of course she tries desperately to not fall for him because he's a brute and an ass. And of course he tries desperately to resist falling for her because he thinks she's the lover of his worst enemy. Of course she refuses to denounce any false accusations about what she was doing in the tavern that night in order to protect her brother and his American idealist role in the war. Plus Devon isn't actually forthright with why he needs to know, either, so their game of cat and mouse ensues. Secrets and confusion between Merry and Devon are the norm for pretty much the entire novel, yet truths are finally reveled and they acknowledge their love and go on to live happily ever after, the end.

The Windflower pretty much exemplifies a lot of stereotypes of the romance genre and I can't seem to blame anyone who rolls their eyes at this novel. Merry is the classic young, naive, virginal damsel in distress who cries, flails her dainty wrists, and gets an entire crew of pirates to fall for her. Devon is the domineering, controlling, aggressive .... oh, I don't know.... jerk? I'm pretty sure the only reason I tolerated his character is because I enjoyed witnessing Merry squirming whenever they interacted, followed by her feisty, intelligent and consistently amusing responses. Their verbal banter was fairly entertaining, I must admit. In fact, I liked Merry a lot from the very beginning right through to the end. Except for one thing: I just don't get what she saw in Devon. At all. Especially after we meet the cast of colorful characters on board The Black Joke. I could think of at least three secondary characters (Cat, Raven, and even Captain Morgan!) who were no doubt more worthy of Merry's affections. They were caring, funny, intelligent, and suave. I really liked them. Devon, not so much. He was simply a brute. What the heck did Merry see in him? I never figured it out. Considering The Windflower is a romance novel, I should have been convinced that their love was well founded and I wasn't. I think Merry would have lived more happily ever after with someone else.

Aside from Merry, I have to say I really enjoyed some of the secondary characters, specifically Cat, Raven and the Captain. They had personality and character. I believed in their earnestness and felt they grew and changed just like Merry did during the short time their lives were intertwined.

The political conflicts throughout the story turned out to be more complex and interesting than I expected. The little plot twists and character revelations that unraveled as the story progressed added much welcomed depth to the story. Especially in light of the fact that the love between the hero and heroine was so shallow.

Overall, I enjoyed Merry's character and her interactions with Cat, Raven, and Captain Rand Morgan, yet the romance between Merry and Devon failed. I was never convinced that what Merry felt for Devon was really love, and in fact her relationships with the secondary characters were more genuine and believable and what held the story together. I'm glad I had the opportunity to read this popular old school romance so that I could find out for myself what the big deal is over it, but frankly.... I didn't discover any big deal at all.


The token Windflower World Tour pose upon completing the read and review. Copied from KMont who copied from Ana.

Next up on The Windflower World Tour is Shannon of What Women Read. Keep an eye out on her blog. She'll be posting her thoughts on The Windflower very soon!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Last night's winning Scrabble word

I scored 68 points with QUELL. :)

Playing Scrabble with my husband always seems to bring out this little competitive streak in me. I enjoy playing with him first and foremost because I simply love to spend time together, but I can't help but want to do really well in Scrabble when I play against him. I think in part, it's because I know he has a more extensive vocabulary than I do, so if I can do well or even win, it makes me feel good about myself. But really, I think the biggest reason, is that yes, even after almost twenty years.... I still want to impress him. :)

Here's how the 68 points racked up for me:
Q (10 pts.) on a triple letter square = 30 pts.
U, E, L, L (each 1 pt.) = 4 pts.
Total: 34 points
Double word: 68 points!

What are your favorite board games? Do you get competitive when you play? 

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cover Art for Double Blind by Ann Aguirre

Author Ann Aguirre revealed this gorgeous new cover art for her upcoming Sirantha Jax novel titled Doubleblind due out in October 2009 on her blog today.  I found it so beautiful and striking that I couldn't help but want it to grace my blog for a spell. 

Doubleblind is the third novel in Ann Aguirre's captivating sci fi romance series featuring the heroine space "jumper" Sirantha Jax.  

I love the way this cover portrays Jax. Her hair has grown in since Wanderlust and she's gained a bit more muscle.... she looks more beautiful than ever. But what truly draws me to this cover is Jax's facial expression. The cover artist must be reading these books, because she or he has perfectly captured the spirit of Jax in the art: She's fierce, determined, and headstrong, yet she exudes this air of melancholy that tugs at your heart. I'm so looking forward to reading Doubleblind. Especially after the heartbreaking ending of Wanderlust... 

I also love the title tag line:

Humanity's last hope. Run for your lives. 

If you've already read Grimspace and Wanderlust, you just know therein lies nothing but the truth! 


Jax, Jax, Jax.... 

*double sigh* 

Anyone want to speculate on the meaning behind the title Doubleblind? I'm thinking that Jax is going to be blind to two major deceptions that will seriously jeopardize her mission and or the safety of her and her crew. Something like that, anyway. ;o) 

To take a closer look at the cover art for Doubleblind, visit Ann Aguirre's blog

To read a chapter excerpt for Doubleblind, visit the Doubleblind page on Ann Aguirre's website.

And if you haven't yet read Grimspace and Wanderlust, I highly recommend you do. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ann Aguirre's Blue Diablo Blowout SWEEPSTAKES!

Ann Aguirre is one of my favorite authors. Her sci fi romance series featuring the smart and savvy heroine Sirantha Jax won me over with its intense action, creative world building, and poignant story lines. Now I'm anxiously awaiting the release of the first book in Ann's new romantic urban fantasy series, Blue Diablo on April 7, 2009.  I'm really looking forward to discovering this whole new world along with the heroine, Corinne Solomon.

All the information you need to learn about this promising new release can be found only a click away on the widget above, including praise from authors Patricia Briggs and Rachel Caine, a book blurb, pre-order information and an excerpt! 

So click away and then head over to Ann Aguirre's blog for contest rules and a peek at the sweet prizes she's giving away. 

You won't want to miss out on a chance to win. 

Mega prizes, people. 

Seriously, this promotional sweepstakes would be more aptly named SWEETSTAKES!  

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

REVIEW: Desire Unchained by Larissa Ione

Demonica series, Book 2
Grand Central Publishing
February 24, 2009

Caution: This review contains slight spoilers from the first book in the series, Pleasure Unbound.

For a more thorough explanation of the Demonica world, see my review of Pleasure Unbound, Book 1 in the Demonica series.

Desire Unchained is the second book in Larissa Ione's dark paranormal romance Demonica series. The series revolves around the three brothers who operate a demon hospital called Underground General Hospital (UGH). Eidolon is the founder and lead physician of UGH, and is the hero of the first Demonica book, Pleasure Unbound. At the end of that novel, the human culprits behind an ugly demon organ harvesting ring were discovered and killed. However, questions were still left unanswered questions and the brothers strongly suspect there are others even more powerful than the humans behind the ring who need to be taken out.

The hero of Desire Unchained is Shade, the Seminus demon born from an Umber demon mother. A product of rape between his un-mated post s'genesis father and a docile Umber demon who normally only births females, Shade was still welcomed, loved and nurtured by his mother. Umber demons are extremely protective, nurturing and family oriented--all traits that Shade has inherited from his mother. Shade still harbors guilt over tragic losses in his family when he was young, and has consequently become even more protective of any females he comes to care about. Although he does his best to hide this protective streak, he really does long to be bonded to a mate and have a family of his own. Unfortunately, that can never happen because Shade is love-cursed.

Many years ago, when compelled by his gift of healing to help a female, Shade was love-cursed by the woman's angry wizard husband. The curse dictates that Shade would live in eternal torment--a fate worse than death-- should he ever fall in love. At the time of the events of Pleasure Unbound, Shade had a fleeting fling with a young human named Runa who was shy, demure and rather clingy, yet she tugged at his heart like no other female. When she walked in on him in bed with two female vampires, it was nothing short of a blessing in disguise for both of them. Had he continued a relationship with Runa, he may have fallen for her and set the curse in motion, dooming them both. Instead, because of his Seminus demon nature, he inevitably betrayed her, causing her to flee from him. Heartbroken, Runa ran from his apartment and into the clutches of an enraged werewolf at the cusp of the full moon. The werewolf's mate had just been violently killed by human demon-slayers before, and in a violent rage, the werewolf attacked Runa leaving her for dead. Runa survived the werewolf attack, however, and now months later, has returned in search of Shade determined to confront him on his betrayal of her several moons ago. She gets to confront him, alright, but not exactly on the terms she had planned.

Runa and Shade are abducted from the vicinity of Shade's apartment and held captive in a castle dungeon. The dungeon, they soon find out, of the villain behind the demon organ harvesting ring. The villain is a surprising one, and his motivations behind the organ harvesting are very gruesome and cruel. Luckily, Shade and Runa manage to escape the castle, but not before they were tricked into bonding--which will inevitably lead to the death of one or both of them. Shade already had a soft spot for Runa when she was human. Now as a strong, capable werewolf, she's even more alluring to him than ever before. She literally will be the death of him. Unless he kills her first, that is.

Killing Runa is exactly what Shade's brothers propose to do as soon as they learn of Shade and Runa's bonding. Shade, however, needs Runa to see him through the transition of his S'genesis. He thinks it might just work, too, since Runa is still very angry with him and makes it quite clear she's over her heartbreak and wants nothing to do with him. But of course, it's not really that simple. She's got a few ulterior motives of her own that send Shade for a loop. Without giving away too much of the plot, let's just say that both Shade and Runa have one hell of a time trying to stay alive and out of love with each other. They're both complex individuals with complex issues of their own. Once they're bonded, their problems just get even more complicated. Oh, and don't forget they've got the evil villain to take down, too.

The romance between Shade and Runa is very complicated both in what they truly feel in their hearts and in what they outwardly say and do to each other. While it is fairly obvious to the reader that they are attracted to and care about each other's well being from the start, the issues they face individually and as a couple are nearly insurmountable and it really would be best if they remained disconnected. Especially given the fact that the only way out of their situation is the death of one or both of them. Yet, as the story progresses and the plot thickens, forces drive them even closer together and Shade and Runa find answers in each other that might just make dying for the other one the ultimate expression of love. With the help of family, these two star crossed lovers fight for their happily ever after in a battle of strength of mind, body, and heart.

The complexity of Shade and Runa's romance certainly kept me on the edge of my seat wondering what else could possibly come between these two and how they could possibly get their happily ever after, but there are a few other elements of this story that really make it noteworthy. One is the brotherly bonds shared between Eidolon, Shade and Wraith. The past and present problems that these demon brothers carry on their shoulders are larger than life, and they guys outwardly give each other a lot of grief. They bicker, they accuse, and they even exchange a few punches now and then. Yet beneath their tough demon exteriors, these guys truly love each other. When push comes to shove, they'd each do anything to protect each other. Even the reckless bad boy, Wraith. Yes, it's true. Wraith might just prove to be the most heroic of the three yet. There are some great scenes between the brothers, one that got me teary eyed and others that quite honestly steal the show. Well, those brotherly scenes and a scene or two between Wraith and Kynan.

Speaking of Kynan, the fantastic cast of secondary characters in Desire Unchained is another element of this series that contributes to its overall appeal. The characters in this world are all very unique and appropriately developed as the series progresses. In Desire Unchained, the complexity of their relationships with the main characters and the other secondary characters is really well done. No secondary characters outshine the hero or heroine, yet the story just wouldn't be complete without them. For those fans of Pleasure Unbound, you'll be pleased to know that there is an interesting secondary plot involving Kynan and Gem. It's a bit dark and bittersweet, but works perfectly with the tone of the series.

Desire Unchained is another dark and intense story in Larissa Ione's Demonica series. The characters, their relationships, the diversity of the demon species, the conflicts, the strength of family bonds, and the complexity of it all really pull this story together and make Desire Unchained a great read in this fascinating world.


Thankfully there isn't a long wait for the next installment in the Demonica series. Wraith's book titled Passion Unleashed is scheduled for release on March 31, 2009. Based on events in Desire Unchained, I think we can expect a romance that is going to turn Wraith upside down and inside out!

You can visit Larissa Ione at her website .

Sunday, March 1, 2009

REVIEW: Sex, Straight Up by Kathleen O'Reilly

Those Sexy O'Sullivan's trilogy, Book 2
Published April 1, 2008
Harlequin Blaze

NOTE: Sex, Straight Up was read and reviewed for my FEBRUARY Contemporary Reading Challenge hosted by Brie at Musings of a Bibliophile AND my FEBRUARY Year of the Category Romance Challenge hosted by Kmont at Lurv a la Mode. I realize it is March 1 by the time this review is posted on my blog, but well... at least it's still February somewhere. ;)

Sex, Straight Up is the second book in the Harlequin Blaze trilogy titled "Those Sexy O'Sullivans" by Kathleen O'Reilly. Each of the three books revolve around one of the three O'Sullivan brothers who co-own the famous Manhattan bar called Prime. Sex, Straight Up is the love story of the oldest brother, Daniel O'Sullivan and a fine arts dealer named Catherine Montefiore. Daniel's beloved wife of five short months was killed in the 9/11 tragedy that felled the World Trade Center's Twin Towers. Seven years later, Daniel still loves his wife very much remains faithful to her in mind and body, and in fact, still wears his wedding ring to prove it. In an effort to get their brother to relax, have some fun, and maybe hook up with a woman, Gabe and Sean convince Daniel to spend a long weekend in the Hamptons at a beach house occupied by several of Sean's single lawyer friends and an equal number of single female friends--without his wedding ring. Daniel acquiesces only to make his brothers happy, but still finds the whole party scene at the beach house very uncomfortable and ends up spending his time sitting on the vacant beach of the house next door.

Catherine Montefiore is staying at her grandfather's beach house for a quiet weekend away from the stresses of living and working in the city. A quiet, single woman who is comfortable being by herself, Catherine loves art and is always looking for inspiration for her sketchbook. She notices Daniel sitting on her beach and is instantly inspired by his handsome, sexy good looks, and even more so by the deep set of emotions that play across his face, so she spends the morning sketching him. Eventually they start talking and find that they're both really comfortable with the other's company. When Catherine offers for Daniel to stay in one of the spare bedrooms in her house to save him from the party house next door that he is so obviously uncomfortable with, he accepts. At the end of their evening together, Catherine spontaneously kisses Daniel goodnight, which sets off desires that have long lay dormant in both of them. They spend the rest of the weekend together having great, passionate sex and amazing conversation. At the end of the weekend, just as Daniel is ready to leave, Catherine spots his wedding ring on his duffle bag. Daniel makes a less than half hearted attempt to explain, and they abruptly and coldly say their good byes, Catherine disgusted with herself for having an affair with a married man.

Upon returning to the City, Catherine's family business is faced with a public scandal that could destroy the Montefiore auction house. Catherine's grandfather hires a private accountant who specializes in audits in order to save the business, who turns out to be none other than Daniel O'Sullivan. Daniel explains to Catherine that he is widowed, but she knows better than to compete with his deceased wife for his love, so tries to keep their relationship business only. However, as Catherine and Daniel team up to prove that the Montefiore Auction house was not involved in collusion with another auction house, they find it impossible to resist and indulge in a passionate affair once again. An affair that starts out as Sex, Straight Up, but ends up as so much more. So much more like Love, Happily Ever After.

Sex, Straight Up is yet another great installment in this fun, sexy, and romantic trilogy. Another relatively short novel, yet impressively packed with an interesting story line and fantastic character and relationship development that is realistic, emotional, and truly compelling.

The nature of this love story made for a fairly complicated emotional journey for Daniel O'Sullivan. He still loves his deceased wife, and knows he always will love her, but he also acknowledges that time has been telling him he's ready to move on. Throughout the pages of the story, Daniel's struggle to figure out how exactly to do just that is emotional and also beautiful. Once he and Catherine begin their affair the second time around, he's honest with Catherine and really does try to do the right thing. One can't help but empathize with him and admire him for his efforts.

At the same time that Daniel struggles with trying to let go of his past and start to move on, Catherine struggles with maintaining realistic expectations of her relationship with Daniel. She knows she's falling in love with Daniel, but knows it wouldn't be wise to just give her heart up to him. She wants to, though, because when she's with him, everything feels easy and right. And yet, when it does start to show that he loves her, too, she doesn't just cave into that without thinking. She's smart and knows Daniel isn't just going to get over his wife after a few nights or weeks of great sex and conversation. So she's cautious. And what's great about that is that while she's protecting herself from heartache, she's also helping Daniel figure out exactly what he needs, too. He is the one who has to figure himself out and when he does figure it out, he's the one who has to make it happen between them.

Sex, Straight Up is a really beautiful romance that is both passionate and tender. Both characters do a lot of soul searching as they try to figure out what they want from the other person and what is a realistic and fair expectation. Their actions are realistic and purposeful, even when it's just about the sex. When love comes into play, this couple share some very tender and romantic moments that had such depth of emotion and truth. You couldn't help but believe their love was true and meant to be.


Sex, Straight Up is difficult to find available for purchase new in paperback. Your best bet would be to purchase it either through a used book dealer or to buy the ebook version available at eharlequin HERE.

You can visit Kathleen O'Reilly at where you can even read the first two chapters of Sex, Straight Up.