Here's the second half of my book reports on the Instant TBR:
Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs -- making the jump to hardcover, Patricia Briggs offers the latest installment in the Mercy Thompson series, and it didn't disappoint. Beautiful cover art on this one; I thought whoever did it finally captured the character. Before I say more, I should point out that I would buy anything the author writes, even if she published it in crayon on cocktail napkins, so consider me biased. But hey, she's that good. In the previous novel, Mercy suffered a horrendous ordeal, and in this one she's recovering and moving on. At the same time, there's a standlone story that weaves in nicely with the continuing plot threads. Mercy never walks the easy road, but in this book she's got trouble coming at her from all directions. I liked the progression of her characterization in this one; it's subtle but somewhat superior to the previous books in that it wasn't all Mercy against the universe. It's great to have an independent protagonist, but at times even the toughest chick needs backup and support, and she needs to accept that she needs it. That was delivered, along with an exciting story that makes a superb addition to the series. Off to the keeper shelf it goes.
Kiss of Fate by Deborah Cooke -- This is a third novel in a series with rather complex world-building, and I stopped reading it after I kept getting lost. Some series books do need to be read in order, I think, to fully understand and appreciate the established universe. Although I'm not crazy about dragon books, I liked the writing and the lyrical qualities this author offered in the portion of what I did read, so I'm going to put this one aside for now, order the first two in the series on faith and read them, and then come back to this one.
Dogs and Goddesses by Jennifer Crusie, Anne Stuart and Lani Diane Rich -- evil yellow cover art can't detract from decent story, and this was, as I'd expected, mainly a fun read. You can tell the authors had an excellent time writing it, and poured a great deal of energy into it. The wattage and humor occasionally went over the top for me, but I don't read this side of the genre very often, so maybe this is the norm for this kind of book. The male characters were certainly an eyeful, but like the humanized dogs, they didn't have much personality and were nowhere near as developed as the female protagonists. Disclaimer: I'm much more interested in the guy characters than the girls, and I find that the older I get, the less patience I have with my own gender and some of their issues. If you're big into feminine bonding, highly idealized friendships between women, and the glitter of the hooha, this is definitely the novel for you.
A Long, Hard Ride by Alison Kent -- I have a prediction to make about Alison Kent: if you read her, she's probably going to ruin a lot of category romance writers for you. Her latest Blaze is just another example of what a seasoned professional brings to the table -- great writing, deep characterization, interesting plots and no hesitancy or apology. Since I happen to live with a mechanic, and have many family members in one mechanical trade or another, the story of the mechanic/race car driver and a rival car-racing family's daughter made me grin and chuckle more than a few times. I also enjoyed the generational cast, the seventy-year-old mystery, and how deftly she composed the pretense engagement plot, which is a very familiar category theme and can get pretty hokey if not handled correctly (she writes it like she invented it.) One of Alison's style hallmarks is that she writes romance for grownups, not little girls, so she's not for the cutesy/coy fairytale-lovers. But if you appreciate authenticity and maturity, particularly in characterizations, as well as a steamy romance, it doesn't get better than this.
Dark Protector by Alexis Morgan -- for a kickass paranormal this one surprised me -- it has all the elements and such but it also contained a really sweet romance, something you rarely see in this genre. The tone is a bit like Suzanne Brockmann but with immortal warriors instead of SEALs. I liked the author's style and admired her control, although I would have liked to see the world building developed a bit more than it was. The bad guys were very cool, and one aspect of the ending has me putting the next book on my shopping list; I definitely want to read more. A neat read.
Bad Penny by Sharon Sala -- it's been a while since I read romantic suspense, and this was a good spot to jump back into the genre. The third book in a trilogy or a short series is generally not a good place to start reading a new-to-you author (as was evident with the Deborah Cooke novel), but if the world-building isn't too complex and the writer is skillful enough with backstory, you should be fine. Such is the case with this book. The author has a nice style all her own; a bit like Sandra Brown before she went mainstream, but without the melodrama. Don't get me wrong, the story was dramatic, often nerve-wracking, and passionate, but the author didn't overplay her hand. Keeping a story like this plausible is a major accomplishment, I think, and while the sequence of events was the stuff of fiction, it didn't read that way, if that makes sense. I enjoyed the realism, the triumvirate of entangled plots, the interesting POVs, especially (thank you, Ms. Sala) that of the Mexican homicide detective, who is not the typical oily fat grafting moron cliche that is so often served up in romantic suspense. Considering that the protagonists have (I assume) been together for two books already, the romance was alive, full-bodied and satisfying. By the end of the book I was so on edge I felt like reading while peeking through my fingers while chanting, "Don't kill them. No, don't die. Oh, Lord. Look out!" An excellent read, particularly if you're interested in studying how to do backstory well.
Fragile by Shiloh Walker -- I'll warn you ahead of time, this one's a real heart-wrencher. Being ex-military, ex-medical, and having dealt with the ugliness of being stalked, I immediately, closely identified with both of the protagonists, which rarely happens. The protagonists have to put their future on the line to deal with their past sorrows and present dangers, and even that's not enough; they have to face their worst fears. At times I felt like they were put through a little too much in the story and the pressure became merciless -- but that is the definition of a heart-wrencher. The structure of the story is unusual, in that you have the relationship development in three major stages with their own arcs, during which the emotions on both sides are tested many times. There's also a kind of duality to the novel, in that it's as erotic as it is scary, and that worked for me but may not for some readers who want one or the other. It's also not a book I'd recommend to readers who want perfect pristine protags and a tidy, non-threatening storyline; these two are seriously damaged people and they go through sheer hell. But if you want a lot more than dark-colored fluff in your erotic suspense, do check this one out.
Thanks to everyone who offered the recs for my instant TBR, as it was fun to read what you guys like. I picked up a couple of new authors to add to my shopping list, stepped out of my routine, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.