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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

ARC Review: The Freezer by Timothy S. Johnston

If Agatha Christie, Michael Crichton, Isaac Asimov, and Alfred Hitchcock had a (literary) love child, it’d likely take the form of Timothy S. Johnston’s second book in The Tanner Sequence series, THE FREEZER. A masterful combination of horror, sci-fi technothriller, and locked-room mystery, Mr. Johnston’s sophomore novel delivers a tautly paced thriller with Hitchcockian pitch-perfect tension and suspense that surpasses his excellent debut, THE FURNACE, and will have you staying up all night to finish it.

Homicide investigator Lieutenant Kyle Tanner—whom we first met in THE FURNACE, though the mysteries are all self-contained—is en route to Pluto for his engineer girlfriend’s latest assignment and working cases along the way when a mysterious death on a colony in the asteroid between Mars and Jupiter summons him to Ceres. The case is a strange one: a physician-scientist formerly on Jupiter’s ice moon Europa, dead from an aneurysm caused by a nano-bomb inserted in his aorta. A second, more personal—and shocking (apologies to the passersby startled by my very vocal “you did NOT just go there!” outburst upon reading it)— murder by the same MO and Tanner’s discovery that he harbours a nano-bomb himself that will rupture his aorta in four days sends him to a military outpost known as The Freezer in the barren and inhospitable wasteland that is Europa to investigate. Nothing at The Freezer is as it seems and no one is cooperating, and Tanner must unravel the facility’s secrets and find the killer whilst his life ticks away and he stands at the edge of an emotional precipice. The successful locked-room mystery requires that the tension be kept high and the characters (and reader) feeling claustrophobic throughout to stretch everyone’s psyche to the breaking point, and Mr. Johnston does it masterfully from the opening pages. Tanner’s happiness and blossoming new life with girlfriend Shaheen; the deeply personal nature of that second murder; the looming death sentence from the bomb; the dangers of The Freezer’s environment, where the unstable ice, cold, or radiation could easily kill you; the scarce means of escape; the secrets and deception and inability to know whom to trust; the horror of The Freezer’s true purpose; the gruesome murders—it all combines to ratchet up tension with every passing page in a way that does Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense himself, proud.

Less heavy on the science—but still very much science-driven and clearly well researched—than its predecessor, THE FREEZER is more fast-paced and action driven than THE FURNACE. In keeping with Mr. Johnston’s style of melding mystery and suspense/thriller elements, the first half of the book is primarily an Agatha-Christie-in-space whodunit, and Kyle Tanner is a futuristic Hercule Poirot whose knack for uncovering clues and putting together the pieces of seemingly unsolvable crimes is astonishing. Unlike the bombastic and egocentric (albeit admittedly brilliant) Poirot, Tanner is humble, likeable, and real, and on an emotional journey that challenges who he is and what he believes in. The Tanner Sequence books are set in the not-too-distant future where the Terran Confederacy and its Council have saved humanity from greed and corruption and now rule with an iron hand, ruthlessly crushing any semblance of opposition to its authoritarian rule. As a member of the military, Tanner is a tool of that dictatorship and finds himself conflicted between the unquestioned obedience & adherence to the chain of command demanded by the military and the disgruntlement & dissidence of civilians. Tanner’s growth as a character and evolution in this respect is most evident and compelling reading the series in order, but new readers who discover Mr. Johnston’s work with THE FREEZER will still be able to appreciate the richness and awesomeness of Tanner’s character. I’m generally not a fan of first-person narratives, but it works beautifully to make the Tanner Sequence books experiential for the reader and greatly up the ante: I felt as if I was Tanner, racing against the clock to kind the killer and unsure of whether I would live past the next minute.

THE FREEZER is a gripping page-turner that surpasses its already-excellent predecessor and makes a fantastic addition to The Tanner Sequence series. The science is compelling, the writing is excellent, and the depth of human depravity it explores is both disturbing and realistic. It’s not for the squeamish, but fans of mysteries and technothrillers should certainly check out Mr. Johnston’s work. I look forward to Tanner’s next adventure in THE VOID, and any future books in The Tanner Sequence!

**ARC provided by Author**

Purchase: | Amazon | B&N | Kobo |

ARC Review: Dare to Submit by Carly Phillips

Wow! I’ve read Carly Phillips before but “Dare to Submit” From the “Dare” series was way more than I expected!

Decklan Dare is part of the Dare family. He is a cousin of the Dare brothers and lives in New York. He is as a New York City detective. As a person he is very intense and also very shut down. He refuses to do relationships. Because Decklan lost his family at a very young age he is use to taking care of himself and he likes to feel in control. In order to fulfill his need for control he visits a fantasy club. At this club he first sees Amanda Collins.

Amanda is also very shut off. She also does not do relationships and she too frequents this fantasy club. Although she knows that Decklan has being eyeing her since her first laid eyes on her he has never approached her. Amanda is also pretty intense. She lives in California but gives herself some release at this fantasy club as well.

When Amanda and Deck finally decide to give into their mutual temptation, they both agree that their relationship will be purely physical. They both decide that they will enjoy their time together as long as it lasts and that is it. As tends to be the case neither one can deny the feelings that they develop for each other. By alternating weekends in NYC and California, they make sure to spend time together. Deck takes on the Dom persona and Amanda the submissive they both fall into an easy routine. When Deck’s family unexpectedly comes by and they meet Amanda they both realize that they have fallen in love with each other.

Amanda realizes that she has fallen in love with Deck and wants to tell him about a big secret that she has been keeping form him. Before she can tell Deck he finds out and he feels betrayed. I really liked Amanda and Deck and skipped the previous book in the series, Dare to Surrender because I was drawn to Amanda and Decks story. I thought that some aspects of the story were dark but it also made sense since both characters are intense. Their scenes together are also very intense. They really push each other’s limits in an attempt to learn to trust each other and communicate. The only reason this was not a five star for me was because of how Deck handled Amanda when he found out her big secret. I also wanted there to be a more emotional and stable connection between them. Overall, I’m enjoying all of Phillips books and plan to read “Dare to Surrender” next! This was a hot and steamy romance!

**ARC provided by InkSlinger PR**

Purchase: | Amazon | B&N |

Guest Post with Author Mira Lyn Kelly and Giveaway

Meet Mira Lyn Kelly, author of True or Dare.

USA Today bestselling author Mira Lyn Kelly grew up in the Chicago area and earned her degree in Fine Arts from Loyola University. She met the love of her life while studying abroad in Rome, Italy, only to discover he’d been living right around the corner from her back home. Having spent her twenties working and playing in the Windy City, she’s now settled with her husband in rural Minnesota, where their four beautiful children provide an excess of action and entertainment. When she isn’t reading, writing, or running to keep up with the kids, she loves watching movies, blabbing with the girls, and cooking with her husband and friends.

Find Mira Lyn at:

Audiobook Review: Lead Me Not by A. Meredith Walters, Narrated by Shayna Thibodeaoux and Sebastian York

After reading Reclaiming the Sand by A. Meredith Walters, I jumped at the chance to get Lead Me Not. I really loved her writing style, and I felt like Walters was really able to capture the true nature of the characters and made them seem so real. That story was raw and emotional, so I really wanted to see what she would do with a good girl that falls for a bad boy in the underground club scene. I expected this one to be really emotional and raw, and Walters definitely delivered. This story was more than I ever could have expected, and I really felt like she captured the addiction and struggles with drugs well. But while I did love the story and can't wait for more, I had some problems with the narration of this audiobook.

Aubrey Duncan is determined to help others in a way that she didn't help her sister. She is attending Longwood University and has been assigned a support group that she will help co-facilitate in order to continue her education. She meets Maxx Demelo in the group, and is instantly drawn to him. While Maxx may be captivating in group and draw the attention of those around him, Aubrey can tell that there is much more beneath the surface with him. Maxx is supporting his little brother by working the underground club scene, and selling pills to those looking for an escape. But he has also been using the pills to self medicate from dealing with his troubles. When Aubrey comes along, Maxx realizes that Aubrey could be the one to save him, and he is just as drawn to her as she is to him. They quickly form a connection and find themselves unable to stay away from one another. But despite the feelings between them, Maxx sinks further into the dangerous world of drugs and addiction. As Aubrey struggles with her feelings for Maxx and the complication they provide in regards to her future, she must also figure out a way to help him out of the dangerous situation he has found himself in. But in order for Aubrey to really help Maxx, he has to want to be saved. Aubrey knows that the longer she continues to let things go on between them, that they more likely she is to end up with a broken heart and a shattered future.

I really felt that Maxx was a good guy. He was in a bad situation and had been struggling with all of the responsibility he was forced to take on at such a young age. Maxx was such a different person when sober and I really loved seeing that side of him. It was hard to watch him spiral out of control and I kept hoping that he would be able to pull himself out of he destructive patterns. I think that Aubrey meant well, but she didn't really go about helping him in the right ways. Aubrey was pretty hard for me to connect with and I didn't understand her much of the time. For someone that had suffered the loss of her sister from drugs, I would have expected for her to do more than just barely try to convince Maxx to leave the drugs behind. At one point she literally just walks away and leaves him behind when it becomes too much for her to handle. I felt like she could have done so much more for him and I just didn't get it. She did save his life, and I was glad when she finally was able to stand up and say enough was enough. I think that she made the right choice in the end and did what was right for both her and Maxx, even if it was hard on both of them. I really felt the chemistry and emotions between them, and I could see that they both clearly loved each other.

While I felt like Sebastian York did an excellent job narrating Maxx's character, I did not care for Shayna Thibodeaux's narration at all. This is the second story that I have listened to her as the narrator for the female character, and not only does she sound way too young for the character but she also sounded exactly the same. She didn't do the character justice, and her voice was not right for the story in my opinion. I feel like she reads everything the same, and she also has a tendency to speak in crescendos. It gets very irritating, and really distracts from the story. Sebastian York however was the exact opposite. I felt like he brought Maxx to life and really portrayed the raw and gritty emotions that Maxx was experiencing. His voice was easy to listen to and was very engaging. I found myself enthralled with the story and didn't want to stop listening when he was speaking. I would definitely be interesting in listening to more stories with Sebastian York as a narrator, and I thought that his portions were by far the highlights of this audiobook. Despite Shayna Thibodeaux's narration, I really felt like the story was so good that I wanted to keep listening. I really can't wait to get more about Maxx and Aubrey and I will be anxiously awaiting the next installment in this story. While this one does not end with a huge cliffhanger, A. Meredith Walters does leave us wanting more and with things unresolved. I think that this book is definitely worth the read/listen if you are looking for something real and raw. This story might not be all hearts and flowers, but I think that is what makes this one worth the time. I can't wait to read more from A. Meredith Walters in the future and I would love to listen to more narrated by Sebastian York.

**Audiobook Provided by Simon and Schuster**

Purchase: | Audiobook | Amazon | Kindle | B&N | Book Depository |

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

ARC Review : It's In His Kiss by Jill Shalvis

I want to be Jill Shalvis and live and Lucky Harbour when I grow up. Jill is the grande dame of small-town contemporary romance, able to perfectly meld serious topics with her trademark lighthearted writing style to create stories that tug at your heartstrings and make you laugh out loud in equal measure… even when it’s the tenth time around this particular block. IT’S IN HIS KISS is the first in the final set of mini-trilogies that make up the twelve-book Lucky Harbour series and is quintessential Shalvis (albeit perhaps not her best work): down-on-her-luck heroine with more strength of character than she realises at a crossroads in her life; brooding-but-loveable alpha-lite hero with a big heart but reluctant to fall in love; sizzling chemistry and delightfully fun sexytimes; hilariously accurate bromance between the hero and his BFFs that will star in the next (and last) two novels; and plenty of witty banter that will have you smiling the whole way. Longtime fans of the series will enjoy this latest entry—though the enjoyment is bittersweet, since it marks the beginning of the end—and new readers will be able to easily dive into the awesomeness of Lucky Harbour (and Jill’s work), and have 9 other books to satiate their appetite.

In true contemporary romance fashion, there isn’t much of a plot and the focus is strictly on the hero and heroine and their budding relationship—perhaps even more so than in previous Lucky Harbour books—so it’s a good thing Jill does characters and relationships so well. Heroine Becca Thorpe has finally had enough of living her life for others (chiefly her spineless musical prodigy of a younger brother) and has fled New Orleans and a difficult situation there to find herself and learn to stand on her own. Peaceful, quirky Lucky Harbour is initially nothing but a pit stop in her new life journey but quickly turns into much more as she finds herself belonging, the town ingraining itself in the fibre of her being, and falling for Sexy Grumpy Surfer and boat builder with family issues Sam Brody. Both Becca and Sam have a host of issues that are relatable and make them flawed, realistic characters. Becca’s dysfunctional family has made her life revolve around supporting her drug-addicted concert pianist brother on stage despite suffering from crippling stage fright. No one takes her seriously when she tells them she can’t do it anymore, instead continuing to pressure her and guilt her into coming back because her brother “needs her”. But Becca can’t fathom ever playing in front of an audience again; the mere thought of it puts her in a panic, and her struggle with something she’s clearly so passionate about—with music being such a big part of her life, even now with her job writing jingles for commercials and teaching the kids in Lucky Harbour music—is something anyone can relate to. Watching her stand up for herself with her family and having them recognise how unfair they’ve been with her is heartwarming and vintage tug-at-your-heartstrings Shalvis, as is the sweet way Sam goes about helping her deal with her performance anxiety. There’s also a big issue from Becca’s past that makes her skittish and that she strictly refuses to discuss [potential trigger warning] that Jill deftly deals with, keeping the overall lighthearted, feel-good tone of the novel without downplaying its importance.

Sam has his own set of issues that keep him from being too perfect but aren’t over-angsted to tortured-hero proportions. Having grown up bouncing between home and foster care due to his father’s inability to get his act together, Sam has had to be the responsible, dependable one all his life and has difficulty trusting anyone. Thanks to his father’s constant, careless “love ya, son”’s whilst spectacularly failing to do anything a father should, those three little words have always been devoid of meaning and ones he’ll never say… until Becca. To him, actions speak louder than words and—in typical man fashion—he thinks he’s speaking plenty, but Becca needs more and he’s not sure he can lower his walls enough to go there. I have a weakness for quiet and slightly-brooding-with-a-heart-of-gold heroes and Sam fits that to a tee, with Jill’s trademark knicker-melting hotness and Lucky Harbour-wide fan club layered on top. I really enjoyed watching him learn to trust and let Becca in, and his sweet side and willingness to recognise and apologise for his mistakes make him even more swoon-worthy. The ending and epilogue are incredibly adorable and make me want to keep Sam for myself.

I probably sound like a broken record every time I review one of Jill’s books, but I never get tired of reading her work, and even an average story from her is better than a lot of romance out there. With IT’S IN HIS KISS, Jill delivers more of what makes her tops in the genre and makes the town of Lucky Harbour feel so vibrant and real. Reading this series feels like coming home, and I’m already looking forward to Cole and Olivia’s story this autumn!

**ARC provided by Publisher**

Purchase: | Amazon | Kindle | B&N | iTunes |