The Promise: The ‘Burg, Book 5

The PromiseAuthor: Kristen Ashley
Book Name: The Promise
Series: The ‘Burg
Order: #5
Genre: Romance
Rating:  Good
3+stars

 

Blurb:  Since his brother’s death, Benny Bianchi has been nursing his grudge against the woman he thinks led to his brother’s downfall. He does this to bury the feelings he has for Francesca Concetti, his brother’s girl. But when Frankie takes a bullet while on the run with Benny’s cousin’s woman, Benny has to face those feelings.The problem is Frankie has decided she’s paid her penance. Penance she didn’t deserve to pay. She’s done with Benny and the Bianchi family. She’s starting a new life away from Chicago and her heartbreaking history.Benny has decided differently.But Frankie has more demons she’s battling. Demons Benny wants to help her face. But life has landed so many hard knocks on Frankie she’s terrified of believing in the promise of Benny Bianchi and the good life he’s offering.Frankie’s new life leads her to The ‘Burg, where Benny has ties, and she finds she not only hasn’t succeeded in getting away, she’s doesn’t want to.

Review:  Writing this one is hard because it is the first time I’ve had to give a KA book a less than stellar review.  Also for the first time, I actually struggled to stick with this during the first half of the book.  It really almost feels as if the first half was written by another author.

Since this book is really placed chronologically right after At Peace, it started off hitting a speed bump.  It kind of threw me off that the last couple of books that I’d just read in this series hadn’t happened yet.  I thought for a while that there’d be a time skip to get us past those books to current time but that never happened.

Several of the important plot points early on were confusing to me.  The break with the Bianchi family and why there was that break really tripped me up and it just didn’t make a whole lot of sense.  The entire family blamed Frankie for Vinnie’s choices and his resulting death to the point they completely shut her out for years, but she gets shot and all is clean slate, no revelations that the choices where his not hers, no explanations, just straight to no hard feelings all is forgiven.  On all fronts.  That all goes from full stop zero contact to all in your face we love you closeness.  An emotional wound like that takes at least a little time before things can get to smooth, so this whole thing was really off for me.

Along those same lines, Benny and Frankie’s relationship made no sense at all to me in the beginning.  Everything seemed like it went from all out hate on Benny’s side to no doubts totally in love in a second.  It felt completely unrealistic as I felt like there was a huge part of the foundation for that relationship missing.  We did get a little bit of that in the end of At Peace, but not enough to really explain how these two are actually attracted to each other.

I wasn’t a fan of Frankie’s character.  Not at all.  I thought she was spunky and smart and good crazy when we met her in the end of At Peace, but it was like she underwent a personality transplant between the two books.  Here she is (at least in the beginning) neurotic, flaky and really kind of a crazy bitch.  We do get a little bit of an explanation of why, but again, it just doesn’t really work.  Like there is something missing.

Benny isn’t a whole lot better except he is more of just an ass.  The whole first half of the book he talks to Frankie as if she doesn’t have a brain in her head and it seems as if he doesn’t have any respect for her at all.  He doesn’t listen to what she says and when she talks his attitude is all “Aww cute!  She is trying to be smart.  Let’s shut her up by throwing her around and screwing her until her brains fall out.  She doesn’t need them anyway.”

KA is the queen of writing bossy alpha males.  She does it in such a way that the bossy rides a knife edge of tough that is still sweet without falling into true asshole.  We did not get the sweet in this, at least not the first half.  The way Benny was bossy was missing that essential KA element that made it truly sexy and not dickish.

I won’t say that I disliked this book because I didn’t.  It got way better in the last half and is the only reason I gave this the higher rating, but by the end I still wasn’t much of a fan of either of the main characters.  As of right now, it is my least favorite KA book and more than likely I won’t ever take the time to read this one again.

I think it is sad that the absolute best part of this book was the speech given at Vi and Cal’s wedding rehearsal dinner.  That was absolutely beautiful and had me crying like crazy yet it had not one thing really to do with the main characters in this book.

Thoughts on Reading and Writing: Male vs. Female Authors

Most everyone has preferences when it comes to reading.  Those may be the genres and subgenres they lean towards, paperback/hardcover vs. ebook, specific authors or even writing styles.  Another big preference potential is male or female authors.

Male and female authors very often write from differing or even contrasting world views.  As I mentioned in a previous post on perspectives, readers bring their life experiences into what they read.  Authors do the same thing when writing a book.  Since men and women have very different struggles and obstacles in their lives, their base level life experiences are going to be different, so how they approach the stories and characters they create are also going to be different.

It has been my experience that, as a woman, I struggle to connect with books that are written by male authors.  I can absolutely enjoy them and appreciate the artistry that is behind those stories, but I have yet to find a male author that inspires me to be watching impatiently for their next book release.

I have found that books written by male authors (though I must say that my sampling is on the narrow end and really only range in a few genres) tend to focus more on action than emotion.  The big, exciting parts of those books fall heavily into that range.  When there is an emotional context, it is often times harder to actually grasp the emotion the author is trying to impart because it comes from a different perspective than mine.  It is also more of a punctuation to different points of their stories rather than a threaded part of the cohesive whole.

A female author tends to have that emotional thread underlying and permeating everything.  When a reader sees a character developing, that character’s thoughts, actions and personality is woven in along with their feelings about themselves and everyone around them.  This applies to male and female characters.

Male and female authors usually portray their male and female characters differently.  What a woman sees as important or appealing aspects to her male and female characters is often going to be different than what a man sees for those same characters.  While both tend to either overtly or subtly objectify the opposite sex in their characters, women are more likely to emphasize non-physical or imperfect physical traits in their characters.  I think that they are also more willing to place both women and men on equal or at least balanced footing.

Author Kim Harrison posted similar thoughts on male vs. female author character representation on her FB page.

There will always be exceptions to every rule, but in the broader spectrum, these generalities tend to run true from what I’ve noticed.  I can admit that I’m biased here as I prefer a female author and often will skip even reading the blurbs of books that are obviously written by male authors.  I know that I have a better chance of connecting to how the female authors have written their stories and portrayed their characters as they are coming from a similar world view and life experience.  This absolutely is not always the case, but it is often enough to allow that to impact my reading choices.

That doesn’t mean that I am a staunch male author hater.  I will read something if it looks appealing.  I am always on the search for new favorite authors to add to my collection.  I just haven’t found one that gets to me yet.

 

Games of the Heart: The ‘Burg, Book 4

Games of the HeartAuthor: Kristen Ashley
Book Name: Games of the heart
Series: The ‘Burg
Order: #4
Genre: Romance
Rating:  Favorite
5+stars

 

Blurb:  From the balcony of his house, Mike Haines can see the quiet, commonplace beauty of the Holliday farm. But what he remembers is the little sister of his high school girlfriend, Dusty who grew up there. As a teen, Dusty had gone off the rails but when she was a kid, she was sweet, she was funny and she had a special bond with Mike. But after high school, she took off and Mike never saw her again.

Then tragedy strikes Dusty’s family, she comes back into town and Mike thinks she hasn’t changed back to the sweet, funny girl he knew but instead continued to be selfish and thoughtless, leaving her family alone to deal with their mourning. So he seeks her out and confronts her in an effort to understand what went wrong and to force her to sort herself out.

He finds out quickly he’s wrong about Dusty Holliday. Very wrong. And right after Mike discovers that, the bond they had years before snaps back into place in ways he would never suspect.

But Mike Haines had a bad marriage then he played games of the heart for a good woman. And lost. In order to protect himself and his kids, he’s cautious, he’s careful to read the signs and he’s not interested in finding a woman he has to fix.

Then he learns what happened to Dusty and he thinks she needs to be fixed. He swings, he misses and in this new game of hearts, for Dusty, Mike just got strike three.

Review:  Another stunning one from Ms. Ashley.  I think I liked this better than the last several in this series.  Every single character had something of interest to contribute on this one.

The focus of this book was almost as much about Reesee and Fin as it was Mike and Dusty.  I had a few issues with this, the biggie being the complete and utter support of the adults when it came to a relationship between a 17 year old and a 15 year old.  It threw me off a bit a couple of times, even though that relationship still stayed on the sweet side.

Dusty was a kick ass lady who had zero hesitation being exactly who she was without apologizing for it.  Loved her character.

This, as is kind of standard practice for a KA book, had all the right pieces in all the right places to make it an excellent read.

All She Ever Wanted: Rosalind Noonan

All She Ever WantedAuthor: Rosalind Noonan
Book Name: All She Ever Wanted
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating:  Okay
3+stars

 

Blurb:  For years, Chelsea Maynard has longed to be a mother. She’s imagined caring for a new baby in the lovely house she shares with her husband, Leo, fondly planning every detail. But after a difficult birth, those dreams of blissful bonding evaporate. Chelsea battles sleep deprivation and feelings of isolation. Little Annabelle cries constantly, and Chelsea has dark visions fueled by exhaustion and self-doubt. Her sister, Emma, insists she gets help for post-partum depression, but Chelsea’s doctor dismisses her worries as self-indulgent.

Doubting her ability to parent–even doubting her own sanity–Chelsea is close to collapse. Then an unthinkable crisis hits. And suddenly, Chelsea is compelled to face both the fragility and resilience of life, and the extraordinary depths of love.

Review:  I’m still puzzling out how this one ended up on my to be read list as it doesn’t fit the genres I usually look into when looking for new reading material.  Because it doesn’t fit my normal choice of reading, I’m probably not the best to review this as it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

I really didn’t connect with any of the characters in this book.  There was a whole lot of jumping around from perspective to perspective, even going to the baby’s perspective at one point (she is 4 months old, there isn’t much perspective to be had with that), that you didn’t get enough time with any one character to be able to really get to know them, let alone empathize with them.

It was also really difficult to get into this as the book wasn’t even sure what kind of book it wanted to be.  Was it supposed to be about a woman suffering from postpartum depression?  Was it supposed to be about a family going through that and the possibility and fallout of a kidnapping or even the mother killing her child?  Or was this a crime drama?  The focus was in one place, solidly, then it moved on to another place, again solidly, with very little to no back focus on the previous place.  It was difficult to determine what the actual intent of the book was, even by the end.

This was an okay read with a decent story but it just didn’t really feel cohesive or emotional and a story about postpartum depression or child abduction should be a whole lot more emotional that what I got out of this.

Magic Shifts: Kate Daniels, Book 8

Magic ShiftsAuthor: Ilona Andrews
Book Name: Magic Shifts
Series: Kate Daniels
Order: #8
Genre: Fantasy
Rating:  Really Good
4+stars

 

Blurb:  After breaking from life with the Pack, mercenary Kate Daniels and her mate—former Beast Lord Curran Lennart—are adjusting to a very different pace. While they’re thrilled to escape all the infighting, Kate and Curran know that separating from the Pack completely is a process that will take time.

But when they learn that their friend Eduardo has gone missing, Kate and Curran shift their focus to investigate his disappearance. Eduardo was a fellow member of the Mercenary Guild, so Kate knows the best place to start looking is his most recent jobs. As Kate and Curran dig further into the merc’s business, they discover that the Guild has gone to hell and that Eduardo’s assignments are connected in the most sinister way…

An ancient enemy has arisen, and Kate and Curran are the only ones who can stop it—before it takes their city apart piece by piece.

Review:  Book 8 in the Kate Daniels series is right up there on the same level with the previous seven.  As a series, I have absolutely loved this world and all the characters that exist there.  It is so incredibly vivid that you absolutely get absorb into it while you are reading.

Where in most of the other books it seemed as if the characters never got a moment of peace, this book has a few more places where the pace is slower and a bit less chaotic.  I do have to say, though, that I didn’t feel like I really got anything new going on, at least with regards to the characters’ growth.

For Kate, she didn’t get any new understanding or hold on her powers.  There is a very fine line between having your character become ever increasingly, and conveniently, powerful (to a ridiculous point) and leaving them to stagnate.  The series as a whole has done a great job at keeping a happy balance, but I think this book landed Kate’s character slightly on the stagnate side.

Curran does seem to have found a purpose outside of being the Beast Lord, so we do have a bit of growth there, but that is about it.  While we got to see many of the secondary characters that are so much a part of this world, I don’t think we really spent enough time with any one of them to see any kind of real change.

Even with those things that I would have liked to have seen a little different, this was still an awesome book.  I was thrilled to see a hint at a solution to the Roland dilemma.  Makes me wonder if the next book is going to be the end or if that is going to get stretched even further.

Golden Trail: The ‘Burg, Book 3

Golden TrailAuthor: Kristen Ashley
Book Name: Golden Trail
Series: The ‘Burg
Order: #3
Genre: Romance
Rating:  Favorite
5+stars

 

Blurb:  Tanner Layne and Raquel Merrick fell in love young, hard and fast and both of them knew a beautiful life they thought would be forever.

Until Rocky left Layne, no explanation, no going back.

Layne escapes The ‘Burg only to come back years later because his ex-wife has hooked herself to the town jerk and Layne needs to make sure his sons get raised right. Layne manages to avoid Rocky but when Layne gets three bullets drilled into him while investigating a dirty cop, he can’t do that because Rocky stops avoiding Layne. They make a deal to work together to expose the dirty cop but they have no idea the strength of their enduring attraction or the sheer evil at work in The ‘Burg.

As Tanner Layne and Raquel Merrick play their game and dance around the pull that draws them together, Layne has to discover the dark secrets buried so deep in Rocky’s heart she doesn’t even know they’re there at the same time untangle a sinister web of crime so abhorrent it has to be stopped… at all costs.

And to do it, Layne has to enlist everyone, including his ex-CIA mentor, Rocky’s detective brother, the town’s unpredictable informant and Layne’s two teenage sons all the while stopping Rocky from doing something crazy and keeping their game secret so Layne won’t get himself dead.

Review: Yes, this was a great book and it gets top ratings.  That said, there were a couple of aspects that I had a hard time with, which is really rare for me when it comes to a Kristen Ashley book.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Rocky’s character.  It took almost the entire book to get her whole story and when I got it, I struggled with it and the drama around it as it just didn’t all add up for me.  I ended up not liking her dad or her brother at all because of it as that whole situation was completely f’d up.

I think that part of the reason I struggled to connect with Rocky is that, for the first time (that I’ve seen) a KA book is told entirely from the guy’s perspective.  Normally, she goes from the female perspective or bounces around between the two main characters (which I think I like the best) and sometimes even has bits in there from secondary characters.

Because we got nothing from Rocky’s side, we could only get her personality from how Layne sees her.  Honestly, there were times where I think he had some major blinders on and she really wasn’t all that.  I’d have to say, that Rocky is probably one of my least favorite KA characters ever.

Still, I did love this story and the secondary relationships that exist in this book.  While this is probably going to fall towards the bottom of my KA favorites list, it is still light years ahead of most any other romance on the market.

 

As Long As You Love Me: Ann Aguirre

As Long As You Love MeAuthor: Ann Aguirre
Book Name: As Long As You Love Me
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Romance/New Adult
Rating:  Okay
3+stars

 

Blurb:  Most people dream about getting out of Sharon, Nebraska, but after three years away, Lauren Barrett is coming home. She has her reasons–missing her family, losing her college scholarship. But then there’s the reason Lauren can’t admit to anyone: Rob Conrad, her best friend’s older brother.

Football prowess and jaw-dropping good looks made Rob a star in high school. Out in the real world, his job and his relationships are going nowhere. He’s the guy who women love and leave, not the one who makes them think of forever–until Lauren comes back to town, bringing old feelings and new dreams with her.

Because the only thing more important than figuring out where you truly belong is finding the person you were meant to be with.

Review:  I really struggled to get into this one as I just wasn’t much of a fan of the characters.  Rob bugged me the most as he is like this kicked puppy that will love on anyone for a pat on the head.  It isn’t adorable, it is kind of sad.

Lauren is messed up, but is also the absolute perfect person.  I so didn’t by the cat fight into insta BFFs with Rob’s ex.  Lauren should be submitted for sainthood she is so perfect outside of her anxiety issues.  Again, that isn’t adorable or cute or funny or aww inspiring.

I’m all for broken characters that fight through their issues to become better people, but the way this was played out, that scenario just didn’t seem all that genuine to me.  So, not much of a fan on this one.

 

Thoughts on Reading and Writing: Perceptions

It is easy as a reader to think that when you open that book, you are starting with this blank space that the book fills completely.  That the book will succeed or fail entirely on its own merits.  That is great in theory, but theory and reality rarely ever travel along the same path.  In this, the theory breaks because while the book may be a blank slate, the reader is not.

We each bring our own issues, experience and history onto that slate before we ever even glance at the cover.  Our own well covered slate has us beginning to form thoughts and expectations on that first glance before the spine is even cracked.  It is impossible to not let our slate color the slate of the book.

Our slates help us to form opinions and perceptions about what we are reading.  It is what helps us to like characters, plot elements, settings, everything that make up that book.  It is also what can make us dislike all those same things if they don’t fit into our personal version of the perceptions we form.

A book may connect on a seriously deep emotional level with a reader that has a personal experience that resonates with the subject in the book.  While that same book may be incredibly unemotional to a reader that their own history doesn’t give them the background to create any kind of a bridge between them and the book  to help them empathize.  The second reader may still be able to enjoy the book, but they just won’t be able to connect in the same way or on such an emotional level.

As  reader, I try to keep in mind what my own slate has written on it and attempt to understand how a person with a different history may view a story that I’m struggling to connect with.  There are times when my imagination just isn’t good enough to stretch that far, but sometimes, I can get a different perspective on a story and understand it on a different level.

I find it fascinating to look at how differing perceptions form peoples opinions with regards to books.  There are times when I’m floored after I’ve read a book that I thought was stunningly written only to then go read how other people have reviewed that book and find out that they completely hated it.  A lot of times, if the review is well articulated, I can totally understand how someone might feel that way.  I many not agree, but I can understand it.  Other times, I’m on the opposite end of that concept when I’ve found a book I really didn’t like that is heavily praised.

Understanding how my perceptions influence my opinion has also helped me learn to articulate what or why I like or dislike certain aspects of the books I’ve read.  It still isn’t always easy, not by a long shot, but it does help.  Eh… sometimes.

At Peace: The ‘Burg, Book 2

At PeaceAuthor: Kristen Ashley
Book Name: At Peace
Series: The ‘Burg
Order: #2
Genre: Romance
Rating:  Favorite
5+stars

 

Blurb:  Violet Winters once had it all but lost it when her husband was murdered by a criminal madman. During a cold winter night Violet has to leave her warm bed to tell her neighbor to turn the music down. And that’s when she meets sinister, scarred, scarily attractive security specialist, Joe Callahan.

She wants to deny it, but Violet can’t beat back the hunger she feels for Joe so she gives in again and again. Feeling it himself, Joe feeds Vi’s hunger, breaking his own rules to keep her in his bed.

Even though Violet had only one man in her life, she’s sure Joe is giving her the signals and Vi decides she’s ready to take a second chance at life and, maybe, love. But Violet doesn’t know the dark secrets in Joe’s past, secrets so soul-wrenching, they’ve drained him dry. With nothing left to give, Joe’s determined to live his life alone and he breaks Violet’s heart.

Crushed by Joe’s betrayal, Violet comes to terms with the fact that, no matter what signals he gave, Joe was not theirs to win. But Violet’s husband’s murderer is obsessed with her and heartbreak again haunts the door of the Winters home. When it does Joe is forced to face the knowledge that he can’t fight Violet’s pull, she’s under his skin and filled him full to bursting.

Joe needs to win her back and put his life on the line to keep Violet safe. But, having had it all once, can Violet endure losing Joe?

Review: The best of the best of the best!  So, I’m a little biased in that Kristen Ashely is my favorite hunky, sexy, funny, crazy, quirky, deep, sweet, heart wrenching romance author and I don’t think anyone really comes close to her ballpark.  This book is no exception at all.  Seriously loved it.

As usual, these characters are so realistic and personable.  Wasn’t a huge fan of Joe in the beginning, but again, as usual that works itself out in the story.  Kind of the same with Violet.  That is what is awesome about Ms. Ashley’s characters.  They are far from perfect, but all their quirks and bumps and wrinkles are what make you love them.

If I had one negative thing to say, it would be the issue I had with the pet name “Buddy”.  For me, that is what you call your guy friends, your dog or even a kid, not the hot chick you are dating and getting crazy in the sack with, so that kinda tripped me up here and there, but it wasn’t near enough to take me out of this awesome addition to the KA repertoire.

 

Dark Dreams: Fall of the Fair Isle, Book 2

Dark DreamsAuthor: Rowena Cory Daniells
Book Name: Dark Dreams
Series: Fall of the Fair Isle
Order: #2
Genre: Fantasy/Romance
Rating:  Okay
3+stars

 

Blurb:  Fair Isle was once legendary among the lands, a place of wealth, elegance and culture. Now it lies blackened and despoiled, its barbarian Ghebite conquerors trampling places that, for centuries, had known only peace and beauty.

Imoshen, one of the last of the T’En—legendary for their magical powers and their ethereal grace—carries the Ghebite General Tulkhan’s child, but she must still battle to defend both her position in his new kingdom and her people’s lives and futures. Tulkhan himself, bewitched both by her fierceness and her country’s ancient heritage, fears and resents her even as he grows to love her.

And something else threatens Imoshen’s safety in this new world. For there is one other living T’En—Reothe, a prince of her people, and once her betrothed—who means to reclaim his country and his throne once more; and Imoshen besides…

Review:  The annoying parts of book one managed to continue into book two, only they were worse in that they were still going on.

This isn’t so much an epic fantasy series as it is several books about a love triangle that repeatedly yo-yos back and forth with the trust between Imoshen and Tulkhan and then Imoshen and Reothe.  It wore out its interest level in the first book and was just too much in this one.

I think I’m going to have to be pretty bored to pick up the third and final book in this series because I’ve gotten to the point where I just don’t care what happens to any of the characters.

 

The Opera House: Hans M Hirschi

The Opera HouseAuthor: Hans M Hirschi
Book Name: The Opera House
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Romance/LGBT
Rating:  Didn’t Like
2+stars

 

Blurb:  Raphael doesn’t believe in a higher power, or in anything, for that matter. After the death of his son, his life shattered, Raphael regrets that he didn’t lie about some perfect paradise, and he pushes away everything that once mattered to him—his lover, his job, his reputation as a top architect.

Then he meets Brian, a homeless, maybe hopeless kid, a street kid. When he disappears, Raphael realizes that he cannot fail another person, and he launches a full-out search.

What he finds both breaks his heart and begins to heal it. The price of saving Brian is high, maybe too high.

But Raphael is no stranger to sacrifice, and he’ll risk everything to save Brian and reunite with the man Raphael now loves. The question is—how?

Like the architecture of the opera house Raphael designs, the steps to regaining his life will depend not just on careful planning, but faith, hope, and maybe just the magic of love.

Review:  I really wasn’t a fan of this one, which is sad because the beginning of the book was incredibly heart wrenching.

Once I got past that part, it was a real struggle at times to follow along.  The dialog just didn’t flow in a natural conversational rhythm and there were word choices and phrases used that seemed really off.  I’d guess that English is not the author’s first language and, based on the author blurb in the back and the fact that this author’s homeland is Sweden, those issues are potentially the difference between cultures and countries.

The struggle to follow or get over term or phrase hiccups made it difficult to really connect emotionally with the characters.  Some of the situations seemed extremely far fetched, even ridiculous at points.  The deeper into the book I got, the less in tune I was with what was going on.  In a few places, the plot timeline seemed out of order and there were several things that were flat out, word for word repeated at different points in the story, which became annoying.

I liked the basis of the story, but just not the follow through and how it was fleshed out.

All or Nothing: Trust No One, Book 1

All or NothingAuthor: Dixie Lee Brown
Book Name: All or Nothing
Series: Trust No One
Order: #1
Genre: Romance
Rating:  Didn’t Like
2+stars

 

Blurb:  Someone wants Cara Sinclair dead. One minute she’s halfheartedly enjoying an Oregon Coast casino, and the next she’s being chased by hit men. Rescued by a total stranger, Cara must decide whether she can trust her safety to this Joe Reynolds and his team of ruthless mercenaries. The more time she spends with Joe, the more her desire for him grows. But can he truly protect her, or is she placing them all in mortal danger?

Joe agreed to protect Cara as a promise to a dying man. He never expected to feel such heat between them, or her total lack of faith in him. Now he must convince her that her only hope lies with him. Because Joe is starting to realize that he won’t be satisfied with just saving her life . . . now, he wants it all.

Review:  Should have stuck with my first impression on this one and skipped it.

This was more of a book about the Too Stupid to Live chick from the horror movies rather than a book about people coming together and falling in love.  I’d go into the details about all the ways that Cara’s character proves her utter lack of basic self preservation and common sense, but I’d be reciting the whole book and it wasn’t worth it the first time around.

The yo-yo effect going on here is enough to make anyone dizzy.  Not sure but I think we saw a change of heart at least three times in less than a dozen paragraphs at one time.  The I don’t trust them, I love them, I don’t trust them, Oh!  I really do… oh… no…  got old by the 4th chapter, but it never ended.  Not even by the end of the book.

The plot had lots of places where it fell down as well.  It was so incredibly unbelievable.  Sorry, but no one suddenly becomes an expert at anything after a half hour or so of instruction and training, let alone self defense techniques, knife skills and explosives.  It is even less believable from some with the intelligence level of a peanut.

Apparently this is my week to break my rule about not bashing books, but it was so hard not to with this one.  I think the only reason I didn’t drop the rating lower is the fact that the book was actually edited and there was a plot.  It wasn’t a great one, but at least it had one.  So, yeah.  Didn’t like this one at all.

 

 

When Skies Have Fallen: Debbie McGowan

When Skies Have FallenAuthor: Debbie McGowan
Book Name: When Skies Have Fallen
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Romance/LGBT/Historical
Rating:  Really Good
4+stars

 

Blurb:  For many in war-torn 1944, love blossoms in the dance hall, and airman Arty Clarke is no exception. He’s a thinker and a dreamer; however, it’s not the beautiful, talented dancer in his arms—his best friend Jean—who inspires his dreams. For when his gaze meets that of Technical Sergeant Jim Johnson, Arty dares to imagine a different dance.

Their love is forbidden, by both the armed forces and the law, but with Jean’s cunning and support, Arty and Jim try to bridge the distance between them and find true love despite the danger and a life-threatening disaster that could destroy Arty’s dreams for good.

Can the pair stand strong together, no matter how many skies have fallen?

Review:  While at times a little slower paced, this is a beautifully sweet, endearing story.  The characters are warm and heartfelt.  This story spans decades so you get more than just the falling in love part.  You get the working and living through the love and enduring all the bumps and sink holes in the road along the way.

The author does an amazing job of sinking the reader into the middle of those difficult times, pulling you right along with these characters.

The Life List: Lori Nelson Spielman

The Life ListAuthor: Maddie Dawson
Book Name: The Life List
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Romance
Rating:  Good
3+stars

 

Blurb:  One woman sets out to complete her old list of childhood goals, and finds that her lifelong dreams lead her down a path she never expects.

1. Go to Paris
2. Have a baby, maybe two
3. Fall in love

Brett Bohlinger seems to have it all: a plum job, a spacious loft, an irresistibly handsome boyfriend. All in all, a charmed life. That is, until her beloved mother passes away, leaving behind a will with one big stipulation: In order to receive her inheritance, Brett must first complete the life list of goals she’d written when she was a naïve girl of fourteen. Grief-stricken, Brett can barely make sense of her mother’s decision–her childhood dreams don’t resemble her ambitions at age thirty-four in the slightest. Some seem impossible. How can she possibly have a relationship with a father who died seven years ago? Other goals (Be an awesome teacher!) would require her to reinvent her entire future. As Brett reluctantly embarks on a perplexing journey in search of her adolescent dreams, one thing becomes clear. Sometimes life’s sweetest gifts can be found in the most unexpected places.

Review:  When a book starts you out near tears within the first couple of pages , it is easy to assume that this is going to be a good one.  This definitely ends up being a roller coaster ride, but only because there are times that all the pieces just don’t seem to work together at all.  The peaks and valleys of that roller coaster define the good and the not so great parts in this book.

My first issue is with Brett.  She is 34 but most times her maturity level comes across as barely adult.  She is self centered in so many cases and tends to feel more desperate than genuine.  Every single potential romantic interest seems to be all about how the guy looks and she quickly jumps from one to the other without much depth to support the her interest.  She is really flaky.

I was also hugely confused by the whole will and list demands.  As a parent, you want the best for your children, but you would never force them to suffer.  Not only does the mother force Brett to jump through all these hoops but does so along with taking away her job and not giving her any real kind of support, like even letting her stay in her house until she can find some solid footing.

The demand to have a child and find true love with a time limit on those demands, while interesting in a general romanticized sense, is more likely to force someone to make decisions for the wrong reasons only to seriously regret them later.  Yeah, this is a book, but come on!

Another big confusion factor in the will is why the brothers get a free pass.  It is obvious based on some of the BS that gets spewed from them that they are just as far from perfect as Brett is, but they get their millions delivered in Waterford crystal, yet Brett has her entire life upended.  Again, it makes so little sense that it is hard to sink into the concept.

The lack of real reaction or trauma that occurs after it is discovered that the mom had an affair also doesn’t quite ring true.  The brothers have zero reaction and Brett is all “Yup, that makes sense.  The guy that raised me didn’t treat me like a princess so he is a jerk that means nothing to me”.  Yes, the guy was so not a good father, but to just drop that relationship with zero real emotional baggage and welcome real dad with complete open arms is hard to believe.

Also wasn’t a fan that you have all this build up with the letters and the inheritance and, in the end, the reader never sees the final letter or learns what the actual inheritance is.  It leaves you feeling like you missed a piece of the story.  The version of the book I read did end up having that last letter in some Q&A in the back of the book, but having to read it out of the context of the story loses all emotional impact.

There are absolutely some great parts to this book.  Parts that had me in tears and really feeling for Brett.  Others, like the ones above, negate the emotional momentum that those parts generate.  I’d even go so far as to say that the not so great parts made me really dislike Brett’s character by the time I got to the end of the story.

The Opposite of Maybe: Maddie Dawson

The Opposite of MaybeAuthor: Maddie Dawson
Book Name: The Opposite of Maybe
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Romance
Rating:  Didn’t Like
2+stars

 

Blurb:  Jonathan and Rosie have been together so long they finish each other’s sentences–so when he (finally) proposes and asks her to move across the country with him, everyone is happily surprised.

But when things suddenly unravel, Rosie sends Jonathan packing and moves back home with Soapie, the irascible, opinionated grandmother who raised her. Only now she has to figure out how to fire Soapie’s very unsuitable caregiver, a gardener named Tony who lets her drink martinis, smoke, and cheat at Scrabble.

It’s a temporary break, of course–until Rosie realizes she’s accidentally pregnant at 44, completely unequipped for motherhood, and worse, may be falling in love with the sentimental, troubled Tony, whose life is even more muddled than hers.

It’s not until Rosie learns the truth about her mother’s tragic story that she wonders if sometimes you have to let go of your fears, trusting that the big-hearted, messy life that awaits you may just be the one you were meant to live.

Review:  I just really could not get into this book and it was all because of the characters.  Every single one of them comes across as a dopey sheep that cannot manage to think for themselves and just takes whatever anyone tosses at them as okay.

Jonathan is so incredibly selfish that he cannot see beyond his tiny, narrow little world and treats every single person in his life as if they are not individual beings with feelings or emotions.

Rosie is just… she has no spine and really doesn’t care that she has no say in her life and is beyond willing to live with less than mediocre when it comes to a loving relationship.  Even when she has the opportunity to have real, honest mutual love and respect, she still chooses mediocre until it has practically beaten her bloody over the head.

Tony is a walking door mat who is willing to do just about anything to have even a scrap of a portion in someone else’s life.  Sorry, but being willing to only see your kid for 4 hours a week because your wife’s new girlfriend is some child specialist and says that anything else might be harmful?  Yeah, that so doesn’t work.  Anyone that loves their kid that much is not going to just roll over because someone said so.  They are going to fight.

I also couldn’t stand the snobby attitude of most of the characters and then the complete and utter dumbing down of Tony to the point of bumbling idiot.  It makes them all so far from realistic it is crazy to think they’d be even remotely believable.

Beyond the insipid personalities of the characters, this story was overly bloated and took so long to get to a resolution that it made reading the last 1/3 of the book a huge chore.  We get the characters are clueless, but it really, really takes that long to figure out that you aren’t happy where you are?

I’m not really a fan of just out and out bashing a book, but this is one of those that I kind of wish I’d just put down right away and not wasted the time.

 

Ugly Love: Colleen Hoover

Ugly LoveAuthor: Colleen Hoover
Book Name: Ugly Love
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Romance
Rating:  Excellent
5+stars

 

Blurb:  When Tate Collins meets airline pilot Miles Archer, she doesn’t think it’s love at first sight. They wouldn’t even go so far as to consider themselves friends. The only thing Tate and Miles have in common is an undeniable mutual attraction. Once their desires are out in the open, they realize they have the perfect set-up. He doesn’t want love, she doesn’t have time for love, so that just leaves the sex. Their arrangement could be surprisingly seamless, as long as Tate can stick to the only two rules Miles has for her.

Never ask about the past.
Don’t expect a future.

They think they can handle it, but realize almost immediately they can’t handle it at all.

Hearts get infiltrated.
Promises get broken.
Rules get shattered.
Love gets ugly.

Review:  Holy crap this was amazing!  From the very first word this book sets a deep emotional tone and it sticks with it without fault through the entire book.

I loved the way the bits of the past are sprinkled in with the present here because, even though you are getting a look into why Miles is the way he is, you still do not know for sure until close to the end.  There are so many scenarios that were possible from the start, I kept thinking that I might have a clue but when that next glimpse or two is revealed and proved me wrong, I’d move to the next theory.  I still didn’t know how it was going to play out until it did and what it gives us is even heavier and deeper than the rest.

One of the absolute best things about this book and why the emotional aspects are so powerful is that it is so easy to understand where that emotion is coming from.  It is easy to step in to the characters shoes and know why they feel the way they do.

This is not a typical cookie cutter romance.  You cannot help but love all of Miles’ broken pieces and Tate for being willing to hold onto whatever jagged pieces she can, even if they do cut her up.

I’d have to say that this is the best romance book I’ve read all year.

 

Sweet Salt Air: Barbara Delinsky

Sweet Salt AirAuthor: Barbara Delinsky
Book Name: Sweet Salt Air
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Romance
Rating:  Okay
3+stars

 

Blurb:  On Quinnipeague, hearts open under the summer stars and secrets float in the Sweet Salt Air

Charlotte and Nicole were once the best of friends, spending summers together in Nicole’s coastal island house off of Maine. But many years, and many secrets, have kept the women apart. A successful travel writer, single Charlotte lives on the road, while Nicole, a food blogger, keeps house in Philadelphia with her surgeon-husband, Julian. When Nicole is commissioned to write a book about island food, she invites her old friend Charlotte back to Quinnipeague, for a final summer, to help. Outgoing and passionate, Charlotte has a gift for talking to people and making friends, and Nicole could use her expertise for interviews with locals. Missing a genuine connection, Charlotte agrees.

But what both women don’t know is that they are each holding something back that may change their lives forever. For Nicole, what comes to light could destroy her marriage, but it could also save her husband. For Charlotte, the truth could cost her Nicole’s friendship, but could also free her to love again. And her chance may lie with a reclusive local man, with a heart to soothe and troubles of his own.

Review:  Try as I might, I struggle to come up with a better descriptor than the word bland.  The pace of this was pretty slow and the book over long for what we get out of it.  The characters didn’t have anything all that impressive to offer other than maybe Julian who came across as a self absorbed pompous ass.

This kind of peeved me with the callous handling of the safe sex situation.  Even going so far as to have a hate mail letter to Leo about safe sex in his book, yet her own characters treat it with a very blase attitude and completely disregard it.  Safe sex isn’t just about birth control.  This is a button for me and I’m not a fan of authors who treat the subject so lightly.  Having your characters, even with their history, still not give the subject any level of real importance is incredibly annoying.

Don’t get me wrong.  The book wasn’t awful or anything.  It just didn’t do much for me intellectually or emotionally outside of the above irritation.  To say that was the only thing of real note in the story kind of says it all.

 

 

Treble Maker: Perfect Harmony, Book 1

Treble MakerAuthor: Annabeth Albert
Book Name: Treble Maker
Series: Perfect Harmony
Order: #1
Genre: Romance/LGBT
Rating:  Good
3+stars

 

Blurb:  On Perfect Harmony, the ambitious competitors heat things up on stage and off…

Cody Rivers is determined to be a rock star, but couch-surfing between bar shows gets old fast. Joining an a cappella group for a new singing competition show could be his last chance at real fame–unless the college boy from the heart of the country messes it up for him. Lucas Norwood is everything gothy, glittery Cody is not–conservative, clean-cut, and virginal. But when a twist in the show forces them together, even the sweetest songs get steamy as the attraction between them lights up the stage. Lucas wants to take it slow, but Cody’s singing a different tune–and this time it maybe a love song…

Review:  This is a sweet story where both characters work to find themselves and what is truly important to them.  There is much that is good and much that is on the cheesy, stereotypical side.  It did make me stop and think a few times about my own personal views and stereotypes and where I might need to rethink those lines occasionally.

I liked both Cody and Lucas, but their characters fell kind of in the middle of the road between being strong and just not doing it for me.  It is as if there just wasn’t quite enough to push them into the range of really loving them, as though they were missing some essential part to make them go from good to awesome.

It was kind of the same with the story as a whole I think.  It is a good, decent, sweet story, but nothing that makes me want to keep coming back for more.

Shatter: Phoenix Rising, Book 4

ShatterAuthor: Joan Swan
Book Name: Shatter
Series: Phoenix Rising
Order: #4
Genre: Romance/SciFi
Rating:  Good
3+stars

 

Blurb:  For seven years, Halina Beloi has been in hiding. But she’s never forgotten Mitch Foster, the long, lean man she had to leave behind. Until, that is, Mitch shows up with a list of questions and a 9mm in his hand.

All Mitch knows is that Halina broke his heart and disappeared. But new information has surfaced implicating her as a player in the deadliest game of Mitch’s life. This time, he’s not letting go without answers. Now terror, danger and heat will fuse them together or shatter the future. . .

Review:  This has been something of a roller coaster series for me.  Each book progressively got closer and closer to breaking the bounds of believably.  As a SciFi book that is kind of the point and you are willing to let that go for the sake of the story, but this one just pushed all of that right out the door.

Not sure if this is the last book in the series as the major, overarching story line gets resolved in this, but it is honestly kind of a let down resolution after all the drama this series built.  Also, when you take into account all of the secrets and the level at which they are being kept, it is incredibly hard to swallow and believe this resolution.  It just didn’t work.

I was disappointed by Mitch’s story because he has been this attitude filled badass so far and we didn’t really see any of that out of him here.  I also expected to get a better understanding of why and how he is such a badass with all the cool connections.  Again, didn’t get that.  Halina didn’t really have a personality that balance or complemented him.  It was nearly impossible to connect with her and believe in their relationship.

Also hard to not choke on was Owen.  In the last book, he was desperate over the loss of Jocelyn, the one who supposedly was the reason his marriage didn’t work, yet days later he is all about the FBI agent who he supposedly had this really deep connection with in the past.  Yeah, not buying that either.

Some books in this series have been really good and others just haven’t.  I hated that this one fell into that second category.

 

The Ones We Trust: Kimberly Belle

The Ones We TrustAuthor: Kimberly Belle
Book Name: The Ones We Trust
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Romance/Suspense
Rating:  Really Good
4+stars

 

Blurb:  A moving and evocative exploration of grief and guilt in the wake of one family’s devastating loss

When former DC journalist Abigail Wolff attempts to rehabilitate her career, she finds herself at the heart of a US army cover-up involving the death of a soldier in Afghanistan–with unspeakable emotional consequences for one family. As the story of what happened comes to light, Abigail will do anything to write it.

The more evidence she stumbles upon in the case, the fewer people it seems she can trust, including her own father, a retired army general. And she certainly never expected to fall in love with the slain soldier’s brother, Gabe, a bitter man struggling to hold his family together. The investigation eventually leads her to an impossible choice, one of unrelenting sacrifice to protect those she loves.

Beyond the buried truths and betrayals, questions of family loyalty and redemption, Abigail’s search is, most of all, a desperate grasp at carrying on and coping–and seeking hope in the impossible.

Review:  After reading The Last Breath and loving it so much, I had pretty high expectations for this one.  While it came close, it just didn’t quite reach the same level.  This is still a really good book, but it was missing some of the depth of emotion in its characters that was one of the reasons I loved the other book.

There were a couple of events in the story that I didn’t quite understand the point as they weren’t explained.  We know where the tail came from (I think), but we never understand why.  What was the purpose other than to create a level of suspense?  There is also the unknown point of the key, something that doesn’t get addressed.  I can take a guess that it is there to point out that not everything needs to have an answer and that it is okay to let some things go, but it kind of bugged me that it was even there if there wasn’t going to be something more with it.  There was enough else that was going on at that point, that I didn’t feel that it had a purpose.

One of the hardest things in reading a great book from a new author (new to you or to writing) is knowing that everything else that you read from them from that point on is going to be held up to that first book.  If it measures up, awesome! That is exactly what you want and expect.  If it doesn’t, even if only by a little bit, it is disappointing.  I hate to say that I was truly disappointed by this book, but I was hoping for something on the emotional and plot level of what I’d read before and this slid in just under that.  Considering how much I loved the other one, that is pretty telling, even with the things that I’m nit picking.

 

 

A Life Intercepted: Charles Martin

A Life InterceptedAuthor: Charles Martin
Book Name: A Life Intercepted
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Romance
Rating:  Okay
3+stars

 

Blurb:  Twelve years ago Matthew “the Rocket” Rising had it all. Married to his high school sweetheart and one of the winningest quarterbacks in the history of college football, he was the number one NFL draft pick. But on the night of the draft, he plummeted from the pinnacle of esteem. Falsely accused of a heinous crime with irrefutable evidence, it seemed in an instant all was lost—his reputation, his career, his freedom, and most devastatingly, the love of his life.

Having served his sentence and never played a down of professional football, Matthew leaves prison with one goal—to find his wife, Audrey, whom no one has seen since the trial. He returns to an unwelcoming reception from his Gardi, Georgia, hometown to learn that Audrey has taken shelter from the media with the nuns at a Catholic school. There she has discovered a young man with the talent to achieve the football career Matthew should have had. All he needs is the right coach. Although helping the boy means Matthew violates the conditions of his release and—if discovered—reincarceration for life, he’ll take the chance with hope of winning back Audrey’s love.

Review: I had a hard time with this one.  There are parts that I really enjoyed, which is pretty rare for me and male authors.  Then there are parts that were incredibly hard to swallow.

One of the biggest hurdles for me was connecting with and believing Audrey’s character.  Someone who manages to earn her own nickname as a girlfriend or a spouse in the world of sports because of her support and defense of the guy she is with doesn’t work as the same person that breaks so easily or quickly when things get ugly.  I felt this way about the fact that Matthew’s teammates also don’t stick by him and believe in him more.  If you spend so much time and that closely with another person, you know their character and what they are capable of for the most part.  When something so utterly outrageous occurs, even with the evidence provided, there is should be a whole lot more support there that what is presented in this book, especially from the wife.

The fact that the wife then only visits once while he is in prison, for 12 years, yet he stays loving and loyal to her when she didn’t stay by his side makes it all that much harder.  Then, when the truth comes out, everything is all roses and light on both sides.

The entire story, no matter how well written and presented, runs along that ultra perfect line.  The most perfect football career, perfect wife and then the everything is beautiful and perfect in the end with everyone able to forgive everything.  The guy was sent to jail for 12 years and had his entire life destroyed.  Sure, you have to be able to find peace with that on some level or it will eat you alive.  The way it was presented here just didn’t work for me.  Apparently, I’m not that forgiving of a person.

I also could have done without the football lessons.  There is a level that is needed to understand the story and get the gist of what is going on, but a huge chunk of this could have easily been cut down.  I ended up skimming over large portions because it started to feel like I was reading playbooks and primers on how to play football.  Once you get to a certain level of that, it becomes tedious filler.

All of that said, this author has a way with words that really drags the reader in to what is going on.  I was excited by the overall story, just not some of the specifics that round it out.