Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Release Day Launch: Laura Kaye's HARD AS YOU CAN (Hard Ink Novel #2)

It's here, it's here, it's finally here! (No, seriously. You have no idea how long I've waited to post this review. Months, people, months.)

Laura Kaye's newest Hard Ink novel, HARD AS YOU CAN, hits bookstores TODAY and if you like heart-pumping suspense, steamy romance, and an original plot that keeps you turning pages long into the night, then you absolutely need to get this book!!

(Here are convenient links to AmazonBarnes & Noble, Kobo and iTunes. Go ahead. Click them. I'll wait.)

This post has it all - my review, an excerpt, a giveaway, even a Facebook party! So have at it - this is a top pick for me for 2013 (yep. I read it last year, and twice since) and with the (well-deserved) rave reviews it's getting all over the romance blog circuit, it truly is a must-have for your bookshelf (digital or print!).

Title: Hard As You Can
Author: Laura Kaye
Publisher: Avon (HarperCollins)
Release Date: February 25, 2014
Where to Buy: Amazon Barnes & Noble | iTunes
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

From the book:

Five dishonored soldiers.
Former Special Forces.
One last mission.
These are the men of Hard Ink.

Ever since hard-bodied, drop-dead-charming Shane McCallan strolled into the dance club where Crystal Dean works, he's shown a knack for getting beneath her defenses. For her little sister's sake, Crystal can't get too close. Until her job and Shane's mission intersect, and he reveals talents that go deeper than she could have guessed.

Shane would never turn his back on a friend in need, especially a former Special Forces teammate running a dangerous, off-the-books operation. Nor can he walk away from Crystal. The gorgeous waitress is hiding secrets she doesn't want him to uncover. Too bad. He's exactly the man she needs to protect her sister, her life, and her heart. All he has to do is convince her that when something feels this good, you hold on as hard as you can—and never let go.

My review:


In a heart-pounding follow-up to HARD AS IT GETS, Kaye lets us into Shane McCallan's super-sexy, incredibly intelligent head. He's a man with a dark past, one that makes me shiver in horror - when he was just 13, he was in charge of his 8 year old sister. She was kidnapped...and never recovered.

Whoa. Every parent's worst fear, tied up inside the mind of a little boy who blamed himself (still blames himself). My heart stuttered when I read this.

During Charlie Merritt's rescue at a local strip club, Shane ran into a waitress (Crystal Dean) who begged him to knock her down the stairs, so her mob boss boyfriend wouldn't suspect she knew anything about anything. Ever since the encounter, Shane can't get her out of his mind, and he sets off to find out more about her and why she's working where she is, and who she's dating.

The trust between Shane and Crystal builds slowly throughout the novel, and it is never rushed. Crystal doesn't want anything to do with what goes on at the club, but she's indebted to Bruno; he got her and her younger sister, Jenna, out of a tough spot. He pays for Jenna's medical bills, school bills, and their apartment - all in exchange for herself. She not only has to hand over most of her paycheck every shift, but she has the unenviable task of sleeping with this guy. (*shudder*)

It really takes most of the book for Crystal to fully trust Shane, and it's done so effortlessly and it's so believable that I didn't once think Hurry up already! No, instead, I faltered right along with Crystal. Not because Shane isn't the best kind of hero - he is, in all his alpha, tortured, hot, charming, smart and smooth glory - but because Kaye did such an amazing job of describing Crystal's life that I felt as though I was right there with her, making choices, feeling her fear and revulsion, her mistrust and her desire to trust someone good.

The gritty underground Baltimore scene Kaye creates is one part horrifying and one part fascinating; the things she weaves into her stories (such as human trafficking, money laundering, and kidnapping) all have a point. They're not in there for shock value or to fill up the page - the men of Hard Ink are on a mission, and that mission becomes even clearer in this book: They must take down a gang that routinely carries out crimes (mostly against women) in the sex slave industry. But there is so much more to this - and Kaye expertly reveals a bit more in each subsequent novel, daring you to come back to find out how deep this thing goes.

And it goes deep. (Get your mind out of the gutter! Actually, on second thought, the sex scenes are pretty fantastic as well. Carry on.)

Kaye doesn't leave you hanging. The story of Shane and Crystal is absolutely tied up, just as Nick and Becca's was in HARD AS IT GETS (see my review). But the bigger picture - what this team of ex-Special Forces is up against - is revealed piece by excruciatingly appalling piece. When I finished Book 1, I couldn't wait to get my hands on Book 2. Now, I just want the whole damn series in my hand. Immediately.

It's not often that an author can take me so far out of my comfort zone that I race to get her next book. In fact, it's never happened, until this series. Laura Kaye gives me the happily-ever-after that I need in my romances, but she also provides a glimpse into an all-too-real world that makes my heart race and my hands sweat. And if I've learned anything from the first two books, it's to trust her. For whatever awful thing she exposes in the bad guys, she counters it with the best of humanity, ingrained within these five heroes. It's in their core, to serve and protect...and the balance of suspense, humor, love and friendship is what makes Laura Kaye the best of the best.

Five stars.


“Don’t look at me like that, Crystal,” Shane said, his voice a raw scrape. It wasn’t a demand or a threat. It was a plea. And the thought that this big, strong, powerful man was begging her for anything was thrilling.

“Like what?” she asked, dragging her gaze up to his. In the diffuse light of the streetlamp, she could tell his eyes were absolutely blazing, and it only fueled the arousal rising up inside her.

“Like maybe you want me the way I want you.” Tilting his head, he nuzzled his face against hers, the tip of his nose trailing over her cheek, his breath ghosting over her lips. “Like maybe you’d let me kiss you and touch you.” A quick brush of his lips against her temple and ear. “Like maybe you’d let me in.”

Crystal could barely breathe for the way her heart was pounding and her pulse was racing. She slid a hand up his chest to his neck, wanting, needing, just absolutely yearning to have this. Just this once.

Leaning into him, Crystal held his gaze and adored the way his expression filled with such expectant satisfaction, like she’d surprised him. Pleased him. She pressed her lips to his.

The groan he unleashed was needful, almost triumphant. His arms came around her gently and pulled her in. And it wasn’t enough. She needed to be closer. Deeper.

She needed more of Shane McCallan.

She might never get another chance.

A flicker of unbidden panic whipped through her body. Bruno had been her only lover for the past four years, and she’d only been able to take him inside her after months’ buildup of trust and familiarity of touch. That was back before he’d shown his true colors. Or before she’d shed her naïveté. Maybe they were the same thing. Who knew? Stop thinking about Bruno and get out of your head. Just feel. You deserve this. You need this. Besides, cart before horse, much?

Shane pulled away and rested his forehead against hers. “I didn’t come here expecting this. Hoped, maybe.” He smiled. “But I really just needed to see you.”

“I’m glad you came,” she said, combing her fingers through the sides of his hair, then holding his face in her hands.

“What do you want, sweetness? I’d give you anything.” Over her hoodie, his hands rubbed up and down her back, hip to shoulder, hip to shoulder.

Crystal couldn’t find the words, so she tilted her face and claimed his lips, and this time the kiss unleashed a fire that seemed to flash through both of them. She shifted into a kneeling position between his thighs, and he hauled her into his lap so that she straddled him. The position brought the hard length of his cock between her legs and she gasped and moaned at the feel of him so close to where she was wet and wanting.

They pressed closer, held tighter, kissed more deeply until all Crystal knew, all that existed in the world, was this moment, this place, this man.

Shane’s hands moved over her body. Fisting in the long lengths of her hair. Gently cupping and massaging her breasts. Stroking her bare thighs. Crystal adored the way he seemed to need to touch her. How powerful and necessary human touch was. How life-giving and affirming. And how simply mind-blowing was it to discover that touch could be a giving thing, not just about taking, that touch could be healing, and not just about hurting, that touch could comfort, and not just exert control. Even when things had been better with Bruno, they’d never been like this.

And to think she’d found someone who could teach her something so fundamental that she’d never known before. Or, maybe, she’d known but hadn’t believed. Now she did. Because of Shane. No matter how little time she got to have him in her life, she would always be grateful that he’d shown her what it could be like. With the right person.

Gripping her hair in his fist, Shane reclined her head, opening the line of her throat to his worshipful lips and tongue. He trailed a path of liquid fire over her flesh that left her dizzy, totally awash in sensation. He tugged her hips in tighter, and Crystal moaned at the friction the movement created. He was deliciously hard and thick between her legs. Unable to resist, she rocked herself against him as he laid her back farther so he could kiss her the small part of her chest the V-neck of the hoodie revealed.

Slowly, he drew down the zipper, trailing kisses lower and lower until the heat of his breath fanned over her nipple through the thin fabric of her uniform. Just as slow, Shane raised her back up, bringing their bodies together again. Crystal ran her hands over his chest and stomach, but what she most needed was to feel him, skin on skin. Pulling back from their kiss, she tugged at the hem of his shirt, silently asking for permission.

“Anything you want,” he whispered, taking her belly and her heart on a loop-the-loop.

About the Author

Laura is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over a dozen books in contemporary and paranormal romance. Growing up, Laura’s large extended family believed in the supernatural, and family lore involving angels, ghosts, and evil-eye curses cemented in Laura a life-long fascination with storytelling and all things paranormal. She lives in Maryland with her husband, two daughters, and cute-but-bad dog, and appreciates her view of the Chesapeake Bay every day.


Laura's giving away five $10 gift certificates to either Amazon or Barnes and Noble! Enter below.
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Facebook Party 

Join NYT and USA Today Bestselling author Laura Kaye as she celebrates the release of HARD AS YOU CAN (Hard Ink #2) with a day of prizes, excerpts, teasers, Q&A, and tons of awesome guest authors! 

HARD AS YOU CAN New Release Party on Facebook

  • Jennifer Probst 
  • Joya Fields
  • Cristin Harber
  • Robin Covington
  • Carrie Ann Ryan
  • Heather Long
  • Tonya Burrows
  • Lauren Blakely
  • Diane Alberts and Jen McLaughlin
  • Christi Barth
  • Rachel Van Dyken
  • Nichole Chase
  • Jay Crownover
  • Gina L. Maxwell

(Disclaimer: I was provided an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) from the author for an honest and unbiased review. She signed it. I squee'd. Then I got serious and read it for content, cohesion, and writing style.)

Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Review and Giveaway: RUSHING AMY by Julie Brannagh

Title: Rushing Amy
Author: Julie Brannagh
Publisher: Avon (HarperCollins)
Release Date: February 11, 2014
Where to Buy: Amazon Barnes & Noble | iTunes
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

From the book:

Julie Brannagh's sparkling and romantic Love and Football series continues!

For Amy Hamilton, only three Fs matter: Family, Football, and Flowers. It might be nice to find someone to share Forever with, too, but right now she's working double overtime while she gets her flower shop off the ground. The last thing she needs or wants is a distraction … or help, for that matter. Especially in the form of gorgeous and aggravatingly arrogant ex-NFL star Matt Stephens.

Matt lives by a playbook—his playbook. He never thought his toughest opponent would come in the form of a stunning florist with a stubborn streak to match his own. Since meeting her in the bar after her sister's wedding, he's known there's something between them. After she refuses—again and again—to go out with him, Matt will do anything to win her heart … But will Amy, who has everything to lose, let the clock run out on the one-yard line? 

My review:

Amy Hamilton feels she lived in her sister's shadow for too long, and she realizes that she's only been there because of herself; no one put her there, or treated her as though she wasn't any less than her sister. But the fact remains that Emily was always - is still - the more talented of the two.

Amy's made something of herself by opening a small business - a flower shop in Seattle. It's hard work, the hours are long, and her nails will never be manicured again, but she's finally at a place where she's happy with herself and her choices. She has recently got out of a long-term relationship (ok...she was dumped, unceremoniously, by a crap boyfriend), and she's just not interested in starting anything again for a good long while.

Matt Stephens is just the opposite. He wants something real and lasting - something that's eluded him for so long, he isn't sure it exists. When he meets Amy after Emily and Brandon's wedding, he sees something in her that he likes, and isn't afraid to go after it.

Matt understands Amy from the beginning - he asks her out until she can't say no any longer. His intuition about Amy doesn't feel forced or unnatural in the story; he seems to really get her. He's willing to work hard at the chance to date her, see if he can turn his attraction into something more than a notch on the bedpost, and his perseverance pays off when she finally says yes. And I loved watching her mind change! Her thought process was so much fun (...and very much an insight into the way some women's minds work).

I enjoyed RUSHING AMY even more than the first novel, BLITZING EMILYThe best part about this story wasn't the story itself. It was the writing - I saw, from BLITZING EMILY to this one, a transformation. The writing was tighter, the characters had a bit more depth to their overall back story, and the secondary characters (especially Matt's daughter and ex-wife) gave the entire plot a better flow than BLITZING EMILY. 

I didn't realize these things when I read Emily's story, but now that I've read RUSHING AMY, I can see how the author's style is growing, evolving, and getting better with each book. The only thing I didn't like was lack of introduction of the next book's characters in the previous book (I don't recall Matt Stephens in BE, and I didn't notice Cameron in RA). However, that minor point aside, I can't wait to read CATCHING CAMERON.

Four and a half stars.

About the Author

Julie Brannagh has been writing since she was old enough to hold a pencil. She lives in a small town near Seattle, where she once served as a city council member and owned a yarn shop. She shares her home with a wonderful husband, two uncivilized Maine Coons and a rambunctious chocolate Lab.

Julie hasn't quite achieved the goal of owning a pro football team, so she created a fictional one: The Seattle Sharks. When she's not writing, she's reading, or armchair-quarterbacking her favorite NFL team from the comfort of the family room couch. Julie is a Golden Heart finalist and the author of four contemporary sports romances.

Website: http://www.juliebrannagh.com
Facebook: Julie Brannagh
Twitter: @JulieDuvall

Julie Brannagh on Goodreads


Two digital copies of BLITZING EMILY - one for you and one for a friend!

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Feb 12th- Book Mama Blog- Guest Post
Feb 13th- Chicklit Pad- Guest Post
Feb 14th- Romancing the Readers- Review

Feb 17th- We're Jumpin' Books - Review
Feb 18th- Words with Leti Del Mar- Guest Post
Feb 19th-A Tasty Read Book Reviews- Promo/Guest Post
Feb 20th-Crystal Blogs Books - Review

Feb 20th- Harlequin Junkie- Guest Post
Feb 21st- My Written Romance- Review/Promo

Feb 24th- Girl Meet Books- Guest Post/Review
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Feb 27th- Snarky Mom Reads...- Review
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(Disclaimer: I was provided a digital Advanced Reader Copy (e-ARC) from the publisher for an honest and unbiased review.)