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1. Review: His Favorite Cowboy by Leigh Duncan

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I purchased His Favorite Cowgirl during an Harlequin sale, based solely on the cover.  There’s a cowboy.  And a cowgirl.  Sometimes that’s all the motivation I need to read a book!

Kelly Tompkins has to return home after her estranged grandfather has an accident.  His health isn’t good, and it’s been determined that he’ll need long term care in an effort to recover.  Kelly has a fast-paced job in Texas at a family owned boot maker, and she’s about to land the deal of a lifetime.  If she can close on it, she’ll guarantee her future with a promotion and a pay raise.  Unfortunately, her grandfather has neglected his ranch, allowing it to fall into disrepair.  The cattle are thin and scrawny, there are back taxes due, and if Kelly wants to provide the care her grandfather needs, she’ll have to get some repairs done and sell the land that’s been in her family for generations.

Hank Judd, her old high school flame, offers to help her fix up the place if she’ll give him the property listing.  Hank’s fallen on hard times with the recession, and he’s lost his real estate business.  After his father’s death, he moved back to the Circle P, where he grew up, to help his friend run his ranch.  His job as ranch foreman is temporary, and Hank plans to save up so he can move back to Tallahassee and start over again.  He’s got a lot to make up for; he was so busy chasing the good life that he neglected his young daughter, and now that he realizes life can be unexpectedly short, he wants to get to know her.  He’s been divorced since she was a baby, and now that she’s ten, she’s like a stranger to him.  Arranging for her to spend time with him on the ranch while his wife travels with her wealthy parents, he has no idea what he’s getting himself into.  His daughter is spoiled and overindulged, and he’s lacking the skills to deal with her without conflict.

Kelly takes pity on the girl, remembering how she felt when her mother dumped her with her grandfather.  Kelly is a woman who has been lacking expressions of love, and after a disastrous fight with Hank just before graduation, her grandfather threw her off the ranch.  Kelly’s family and the Circle P have been feuding for decades, and her grandfather saw her relationship with Hank a betrayal.  With no one to turn to, Kelly struck out on her own, working hard to make a career for herself.  She’s still hurt from being kicked out of her home, and for Hank letting her down when she needed love and help the most.  Seeing him again doesn’t bring back happy memories.  Instead, she remembers the bitterness of being let down by the man she loved with all her heart.

While I enjoyed His Favorite Cowgirl, some things did not work for me.  The major deal killer was how hypocritical I thought Kelly was.  She is infuriated when Hank never mentions that he no longer has his real estate business, while keeping details of her changed employment status to herself.  I completely understood how embarrassed Hank was over his changed circumstances, and how he wouldn’t want to share the details of his failed business with anyone.  Kelly is always quick to think the worst of him, and while some of her distrust was understandable, I thought she needed to cut him some slack.  Both of them needed to open up and communicate better, because both of them kept important details about their lives a secret, and that bothered me.

I did like how Hank and his daughter slowly came to love and respect each other, and how Kelly acted as an intermediary to allow that to happen.  I also enjoyed the daily ranching activities, and the barrel racing lessons.  I wonder if Pixie could learn to run a cloverleaf around barrels without giving herself a heart attack?  Those barrels terrify me whenever I see them in construction zones!

Grade:  C+ / B-

Review copy purchased from Harlequin.com

From Amazon:

You Can Go Home Again

A stint as ranch manager on the Circle P may be the perfect way for Hank Judd to reconnect with his ten-year-old daughter. And selling his former girlfriend’s family ranch will provide the cash he needs to restart his failed real-estate business. He just has to resist falling for the girl next door all over again.

Kelly Tompkins needs to sell her grandfather’s ranch quickly to pay for his medical expenses and get back to Texas before she loses her chance at a promotion. Hank is the last person she wants to see, but she can’t deny she needs his help. But spending time with the boy who let her down twelve years ago may unearth a heartache that has never truly healed….

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2. Review: Psycho Bonkers #1 is a cheat code for fun

Psycho Bonkers #1

Psycho_Bonkers-v1-01

 

Story: Vince Hernandez

Art: Adam Archer

Colors: Federico Blee

Letters: Josh Reed

Publisher: Aspen Comics

 

 

Like a lot of you; I love me some comics, I love me some games. Adaptations or series based on –one or the other–seem to be more frequent in the age of modern marketing. Every once in awhile something comes along which incurs the two worlds to make one completely new thing. Aspen Comics, a company not known for all-ages material, creates that thing. They call it Psycho Bonkers, we call it an instruction manual for fun.

Psycho Bonkers is a tale of a technologically advanced world obsessed with kart racing. Picture Mario Kart, but with more LEDs and blinky things. This story, written by Vince Hernandez, is about a rambunctious girl named Shine and her anamorphic mouthy car named Shiza. Readers are dropped in the middle of the duo trying to win the historic Bonk Rally race Shiza has been obsessed with since she was a little girl growing up in a racing family. It’s a journey of twist, turns, and atmospheric drops while avoid the distractions of other drivers.

Shine is a compelling character living in Aspen’s version of a Pixar story. Like any good animated story, there’s an element of real world tragedy that drives her. Her rebellious outer shell hides a deep mystery of her family’s turmoil that’s peeled back through flashbacks.

The debut issue gives readers a glimpse of Shine’s family, love interest, and supporting cast without making them feel buried in exposition. Though, Gabbo the repair bot that lives in Shiza would have benefitted from playing the straight man to the colorful character of the car instead of having a similarly sarcastic voice as the car.

Visually the art of Adam Archer is mix of frenzy and clean line work. The team’s love of video games shines through with nods to some of your favorite racing games *CoughNintendoDon’tSueCough* . Psycho Bonker’s underlining theme is speed and the book shows it by making everything feel like it’s in constant motion.

Psycho_Bonkers-v1-01-2

For a publisher known for mature themed fantasy tales, Psycho Bonkers is uncharted waters. Lap one is a spark of speed fueled heart they can hopefully build on. It has a few things to work out, but delivers an emphatic opening that mixes the excitement of a racing game with comic book storytelling. You should definitely “press start” on this title.

1 Comments on Review: Psycho Bonkers #1 is a cheat code for fun, last added: 5/21/2015
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3. Review: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

 

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

The Wrath and the Dawn is a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights.  I was curious to read it, because how do you make a guy who kills a young girl before dawn breaks a sympathetic character?  And why does a young woman with her whole life ahead of her volunteer to be one of the Caliph’s doomed brides?  When I first started reading this, it did not hold my attention, and I thought that Shazi’s stories weren’t compelling enough to save her from her ghastly fate.  But once Shazi and Khalid started doing something other than staring warily at each other in Shazi’s quarters, the plot took off.  Both characters were given depth and faults and reasons for their behavior.  After a romantic interlude in the market, I couldn’t put it down.

Shazi has volunteered to become Khalid’s latest bride.  She knows that she probably won’t live to see the dawn, since he has been murdering scores of young brides for weeks.  Her best friend was one of his victims, and Shazi wants revenge.  She gives up her old life, and her old love, in an attempt to find out why Khalid is killing his wives.  She wants to stop him, so no one else will have to suffer the fate of those innocent girls.  During her wedding night, she begins to tell her murderous husband a story, stopping at a cliffhanger and refusing to speak any further until the next evening.  Her ploy works, and Khalid doesn’t have her killed.  Score one for the clever Shazi.

Khalid has been cursed, and he frets that if he doesn’t take a new life every dawn, his people will suffer.  There is something about Shazi that stays his hand, however, and makes him tempt fate.  She proves to be incredibly clever and brave, and she is everything that the Caliph’s spouse should be.  She cares about the welfare of his subjects, and as she gets to know Khalid, she begins to care about him.  It did drive me crazy that they both kept so many secrets from each other, and that it took until almost the end of the book for him to tell her why he was killing the girls, but I am not known for my patience.

While Shazi is attempting to solve the mystery behind Khalid’s behavior and put a stop to it, her task is complicated by her childhood friend, Tareq. At first I was afraid there would be a love-triangle, but thankfully it was more one-sided.  Shazi was too intent on obtaining her revenge to spare romantic thoughts for Tareq.  Yes, she felt guilty once she was drawn to Khalid, and yes, she was torn by her loyalty to Tareq, but once he shows up on the scene, he only seems to get in the way of Shazi’s plans.  He keeps interfering, and she just wants him to go back home.  What she doesn’t know is that he has started a rebellion against the Caliph.  There are many people upset by the murders, as well as power hungry individuals just waiting for their chance to make a power grab.

I liked Shazi because she doesn’t just sit around waiting for someone else to solve her problems.  She’s courageous and willing to put her life on the line to stop Khalid from killing again.  I liked Khalid, too, because it’s obvious that he’s suffering horribly from the things he’s done, but he doesn’t know how to put things to rights.  Add in some action, lots of angst, and a couple who come to care for each other despite all of the challenges facing them, and you have a book that is hard to put down.  Fair warning: this doesn’t end so much as it just stops.  If I had realized it was a series, I probably would have waited until it was finished before I started it.

Grade:  B / B+

Review copy provided by publisher

From Amazon:

A sumptuous and epically told love story inspired by A Thousand and One Nights

Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.

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4. Novella Review: Into the Fire by Donna Alward

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I love Donna Alward’s writing, but I haven’t read much of her work outside of her Harlequins.  When I saw that Into the Fire had an animal shelter, I had to read it.  This is a quick read, with a hero who isn’t afraid to admit that he has made some mistakes, and a heroine with self-esteem issues.  I really enjoyed it.

Ally and Chris are brought back together after a fire destroys her animal shelter.  She is mourning the loss of the animals she couldn’t save, and isn’t ready to head home to her demanding parents yet.  Chris, her ex, offers to take her to his place, where she can take a shower and get herself back together.  Because Chris is being so kind, and because she’s in shock, she agrees to go with him.

Ally broke up with Chris three years before, and she never really got over him.  She felt pressured into marrying him, though, and she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life.  When she learns that he’s become a volunteer fireman, and that he’s purchased a house of his own, she feels even more upset with herself.  While Chris has moved forward with his life and achieved some of his goals, she feels as though she hasn’t accomplished anything. She still lives at home, her parents are disappointed with her, and she’s just lost the only thing that mattered to her.  While she wasn’t make any money running the shelter, it gave her a reason to get up every day.  She knows that working part time, for minimum wage, at the local drug store isn’t a career, but it allowed her to keep the shelter going.  Now that it’s gone, she’s at lose ends.

I liked both Ally and Chris.  Ally is consumed with self-doubt, thinking that she’s disappointed her parents and that she isn’t doing anything worthwhile with her life.  Chris understands that he did push her three years ago, and now he’s willing to give her the space and time she needs if it means that they can get back together again.  What he doesn’t count on is Ally’s opposition to his job as a fire fighter.  After losing her sister, Ally is terrified of losing someone else close to her, and Chris’s job puts him in harm’s way every time he responds to an emergency call.

The conflict was believable, as Ally grappled for an identity for herself, as well as a way to reconcile herself to the danger presented by Chris’s job.  It’s easier for her to run away again, however, than it is for her to deal with her problems.  She did frustrate me when she refused to compromise, and I thought that Chris did all of the giving at first, which made Ally seem selfish and unworthy of his love.  She turns it around by the end, earning this a solid B.

Grade:  B

Review copy obtained from my local library

From Amazon:

The heat is on…

First Responders, Book 3

The last person firefighter Chris Jackson expects to rescue from a burning animal shelter is Ally Gallant—his ex-fiancée. Even though three years have passed since she gave him back his ring, one look at her frightened face in the haze of a smoky building is all it takes for him to realize he’ll still do anything to protect her.

Ally’s put her heart and soul into the shelter, and she’s devastated when it’s destroyed. What’s more, Chris is suddenly there for her in ways she doesn’t expect—ways she’s sure she doesn’t deserve—as she makes decisions about her future. Then there’s the not-so-small matter of the blazing passion between them that refuses to be extinguished.

But when Chris is injured while on a call, Ally’s reminded of all the reasons she walked away. Now she must look deep within herself to find the courage to put fear on the back burner and step into the fire—into love.

Warning: Adorable dogs, a hot firefighter and five-alarm passion. Fire extinguisher (or cold shower) highly recommended.

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5. Review: Once a Champion by Jeannie Watt

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

Once a Champion pushed all the right buttons for me.  Both the heroine and hero are wounded in believable ways, and both are struggling to make sense of their new realities.  Matt is an aging rodeo star with a torn up knee, a will to compete that won’t die, and no other options in life.  He refuses to take good advice and retire for the sake of his body.  He knows that he has at least another good season in front of him, if only he can work past his injury.  Liv has been raised to always be agreeable, to always give in to other people’s happiness, despite how unhappy it makes her.  She has been drilled that she must always compromise for the sake of family and relationships, until that doesn’t work for her any more.  And what draws the line in the sand for her?  An injured horse that she refuses to give up on.

I loved how the plot threads tied Matt and Liv together.  Liv had a hopeless crush on Matt in high school.  She tutored him so he could bring his grades up, a requirement if he wanted to continue to compete in the rodeo.  Once he’s in the clear, though, instead of Liv’s dreams coming true and the two of them getting together, Matt starts dating Liv’s stepsister.  Ouch!  Quiet and trained to never cause waves, Liv suffered in silence, watching as her dream guy walked out of her life and never gave her another thought.

Flash forward to the now, and Matt is frantically searching for his missing horse.  He heard a rumor that it’s on Liv’s father’s farm, so off he goes to see if it’s true.  And it is true.  Liv bought Beckett from Matt’s wife, right before their divorce.  The horse’s back was an infected mess, and Liv wasn’t going to leave him in Matt’s care.  Matt was off on the circuit, and he had no idea that his wife sold his horse.  Now he wants him back, and he feels that his future depends on it.  Liv refuses to sell Beckett back to an animal abuser, and the two of them go toe to toe about the ethics of Liv keeping the horse from him.

What Matt doesn’t know is that Beckett was the catalyst to Liv’s self-discovery.  Her fiancé forbid her from buying the horse.  Something snapped inside Liv, and she realized what an unhappy road she was headed down if she stayed with Tim.  When he tells her to pick between him or the horse, I’d have picked the horse, too!  This is the moment that Liv takes a long hard look at herself and decides that she doesn’t like who she is.  She’s going to buy that horse, start her physical therapy practice in the small town where she grew up, and move in with her cranky dad while she figures out what she’s going to do with her life, and who she wants to be.  Little does she know that that horse is going to change her life, Matt’s life, and her father’s life.

I liked both Matt and Liv.  Matt is desperate to get back on the rodeo circuit so he can ignore his messed up family.  If he can’t compete, he doesn’t have many options for a career.  While his family owns a successful ranch, he’s been so angry at his father for the better part of the last 15 years that the thought of working with him makes him spitting mad.  Ignoring his doctor, his physical therapist, and even Liv, he continues to push himself and his knee.  His mid-life crisis is of epic portions.

Liv has two stubborn men to deal with now: Matt and her dad.  Once she lets her guard down about Matt, she decides she’s going to burn off some steam.  Her dad is making her crazy because she knows that he’s not feeling well, but he won’t admit it.  His communication skills are practically zero.  So Liv needs a distraction.  Making it very clear that they can never have a relationship, she and Matt start stumbling down the road of something that looks very much like one.  Liv refuses to compromise any more though, and she thinks that if she and Matt are a couple, she will lose the independence that she’s just so painfully gained.  So she draws another line in the sand, but this one taunts her at every turn.

I enjoyed Once a Champion so much.  It’s like the plot was written just for me.  There’s all of the horsey stuff, fun drill team practices, calf roping, and even Craig, Matt’s geeky teenage cousin.  All of the pieces fit so well together, and they revolved around things that I love reading about.  I could empathize with Liv, and Matt, too.  Who wants to always give in gracefully, without ever getting what they want?  Who wants to give up on a lifetime of competition, even though, physically, it’s the smart thing to do?  The supporting characters were engaging, and that final sentence, in that wonderful epilogue?  Perfect!

Grade:  B+

Review copy purchased at Harlequin.com

From Amazon:

It starts with the horse…

Liv Bailey never forgot her high school crush. Champion roper Matt Montoya always did have that irresistible daredevil swagger. But Liv isn’t Matt’s shy tutor anymore. She’s a grown woman and a physiotherapist with a painful past. Matt isn’t the only tough one now, and when their tempers clash over a horse they both claim ownership of, sparks fly in more ways than one.

Liv’s willing to let Matt bring some passion into her life, but when he opens his heart to her, she’s scared of being hurt again. Liv knows there’s more there than just desire—if she can only trust the cowboy who loves her.

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6. Review: Finally a Hero by Pamela Tracy

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

Finally a Hero did not really work for me.  It is a fascinating read, but the abrupt ending and tepid romance didn’t earn any brownie points from me.  If Jesse’s struggle to become a good man and to put his past behind him hadn’t been so compelling, I don’t think I would have finished the book. 

Jesse has a  history of making poor decisions, and the last blunder put him behind bars for five years.  On the day of his release, he receives an unpleasant surprise.  The mother he hasn’t seen in over five years is waiting to give him a ride, as well as drop a bomb shell on him.  Jesse is the father of a five year boy he didn’t even know existed.  His ex showed up at his mother’s place, sneaking out the bathroom window and leaving the kid behind.   After his mother ditches him in a diner with the unkempt boy, all of the carefully thought out plans for a future on the straight and narrow are immediately derailed.

Jesse has all of fifty bucks on him, ill-fitting clothes, and not much else.  No cell phone, no friends, no real prospects for a bright future.  What he does have is an interview for a job on a ranch, but once the owner learns about Timmy, he doesn’t have the time of day to spare on Jesse.  Desperate, Jesse offers to work for one week for free, and if he doesn’t do a good job, he and Timmy will hit the road.  Jacob is skeptical, but he agrees. 

When Jesse and Jacob arrive at the ranch, Jacob’s daughter Eva is not amused.  She witnessed the whole family drama of Jesse and Timmy being ditched by Jesse’s mother when she was in town, and she doesn’t think Jesse will be a good fit for the ranch.  After a wedding party canceled their reservations, she doesn’t think they can afford him, either, but her father, stubborn as a mule, disagrees.  Eva’s initial attitude towards Jesse is one of suspicion and distrust.  Her father has hired other ex-cons, but they never stick around for long.  Either they break probation or they cut out when the work gets to be too much.  She doesn’t think there is any place for either Jesse or Timmy with them, and she doesn’t need all of the drama, either.

Despite Jesse’s best efforts to be a good dad and provide for his son, he hits roadblock after roadblock.  Matilda, the boy’s mother, has disappeared, and since she left the father’s name blank on Timmy’s birth certificate, gaining custody of him is an expensive, uphill battle he can barely afford.  Timmy also won’t talk, shows signs of abuse, and spends more time hiding under tables than not.  Medical bills and professional fees are almost insurmountable expenses, but Jesse refuses to give up Timmy.  His own mother abandoned him time and again, and he refuses to do that to his own son.

Jesse’s struggles are  heartbreaking.  He is trying to do everything he can to get ahead, or at least to get on an even keel, but he keeps getting knocked down again and again.  Suspicions from the local police force keep tripping him up, and even though he hasn’t done anything illegal, proving it is an entirely different matter.  Eva, at first judgmental, sees how hard Jesse is struggling to provide a stable, safe home for Timmy, and she’s moved to help him as much as she can.  When even her father’s attitude changes and he begins to see fault in everything that Jesse does, she’s desperate to help him keep his job.

While I found Jesse’s attempts to better himself engrossing, I didn’t feel that the romance developed believably.  Eva and Jesse didn’t have much chemistry, and the sudden declarations at the end, as well as some plot points being left in the air, frustrated me.  I will probably read the next book in the series to see if Timmy and Jesse are given any page time, because this HEA felt incomplete to me.

Grade:  C+

Review copy borrowed from my local library

From Amazon:

Suddenly a Daddy  

Jesse Campbell’s determined to forget his past. He’s moving to a dude ranch in Arizona to start getting his act together. Parenthood isn’t part of the picture—until Jesse meets the son he didn’t know he had. Now Jesse has some new goals: learning to be a good father—and a good man. The kind of man Eva Hubrecht, his boss’s daughter, can trust. He knows Eva isn’t happy about Jesse and Timmy coming to the Lost Dutchman Ranch, but the little boy soon starts to win her heart. Jesse can only hope that with time and patience, this rancher’s daughter will find room in her life for him, too. 

The Rancher’s Daughters: Sisters find hope, love and redemption in the Arizona desert.

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7. Review: The Mist-Torn Witches by Barb Hendee

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

This is a series I would have completely missed out on if I hadn’t received an email from the publicist about it.  Since I’m going through a fantasy phase, I thought I’d give it a shot, and I’m so glad I did.  It’s a very fast read, I liked the protagonists immensely, and there’s enough court intrigue that it kept me guessing.

Celine and Amelie Fawe are trying to eke out a living in their little village, which has been impoverished by the noble in control of it.  After Celine’s mother died, Celine did her best to run their apothecary shop, and while selling herbs brings in some cash, and she enjoys that aspect of the business, the big money is in fortunetelling.  Her mother was a gifted seer, and with her gone, Celine pretends to be one.  Clever and observant, she asks leading questions and gives vague enough answers that her customers are satisfied.  When a young man asks her advice about who he should marry, she has no way of knowing that her response will cause so much grief for both herself and the young man.

When she’s ordered to advise a young woman to marry Sub-Prince Damek, and paid handsomely to do so, Celine experiences her first real vision.  Much to her horror, it reveals a ghastly end for the noblewoman if she does marry the cruel Damek, the man responsible for so much of the misery afflicting her village.  Unable to live with herself if she does as she’s ordered, she advises the young woman to reject the offer.  Later that evening, the sisters’ shop is set on fire, and assassins attempt to kill them.

Unknown to Damek’s people or Celine and Amelie, Sub-Prince Anton has been spying on his cruel older brother.  Anton’s soldiers save the girls and take them to Anton’s castle.  Under his safekeeping, Anton has a proposition for them; if they can solve the mysterious deaths plaguing young women in his city, he’ll allow them to take over operation of the apothecary shop in town, which has been abandoned since the apothecary died the previous summer.  Tempted by both the prosperity of Anton’s holdings, and by the shop itself, Celine agrees to help him.  If word of his inability to protect his subjects reaches his father, he’s afraid that he will not be named heir, and that his awful brother Damek will instead.

Celine’s dishonesty from that seeing years ago is back to bite her in the butt.  Anton was the lad she advised, and things did not turn out well for him.  His young bride died, and he’s been a train wreak since.  He looks weak willed and emotionally distraught, and I thought he needed to worry more about his personal image than catching the mysterious murderer.  Everyone thought he was on the edge of a breakdown, and he wasn’t exactly my idea of the guy I’d want in charge of a kingdom.  While he’s a wise leader and compassionate, he’s also sickly and more an object to pity than one to follow.

The Mist-Torn Witches worked for me because I liked Celine and Amelie so much.  They are both smart and independent, and they empower each other.  They also have different strengths and weaknesses, and both play a huge part in solving the mystery plaguing Anton’s court.  As Celine has visions of death after death, she becomes frantic trying to save the girls from their horrible fates.  This drives a wedge between Celine and Amelie, and then between Celine and almost everyone else in the story.  She wonders what good her visions are if she can’t change the future to save one innocent life.

I polished this off in two sittings, and if I have any complaint, it’s with the ending.  The story just kind of peters out, which made me immediately borrow the next book, Witches in Red, from the library (so I guess it served it’s purpose!).  I like a little more closure than I got here, but I loved this book anyway.  If you liked A Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier, I think you will enjoy The Mist-Torn Witches, too.  While the story isn’t as heavy or as dark, there is a similar feeling to both.

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by publisher

From Amazon:

National bestselling author Barb Hendee presents a dark, fascinating new world and the story of two sisters who will discover they have far more power than they ever envisioned….

In a small village in the nation of Droevinka, orphaned sisters Céline and Amelie Fawe scrape out a living selling herbal medicines in their apothecary shop. Céline earns additional money by posing as a seer and pretending to read people’s futures.

But they exist in a land of great noble houses, all vying for power, and when the sisters refuse the orders of a warlord prince, they must flee and are forced to depend on the warlord prince’s brother, Anton, for a temporary haven.

A series of bizarre deaths of pretty young girls is plaguing the village surrounding Prince Anton’s castle. He offers Céline and Amelie permanent protection if they can use their “skills” to find the killer.

With little choice, the sisters enter a world unknown to them—of fine gowns and banquets and advances from powerful men. Their survival depends on catching a murderer who appears to walk through walls and vanish without a trace—and the danger grows with each passing night.

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8. Review: Rodeo Dreams by Sarah M Anderson

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I purchased Rodeo Dreams from Harlequin.com back in December when they had a sale on eBooks.  Silly me, I didn’t realize the hoops I would have to jump through to read the titles I purchased there on my Kindle.  Unlike Amazon’s simple system for downloading purchased books, I had to download the Overdrive app, go through the hassle of setting up a new account because I used a different email address than the one I had used previously, and then I had to download each title, one by one.  The whole process pissed me off, and I decided that even with a discount, it’s not worth buying direct from Harlequin.  The books and the app were temporarily lost (I don’t use that Kindle very often, and yes, I collect Kindles like some people collect socks. It’s a terrible weakness of mine).  Since I haven’t been feeling well this past week, I was looking for something different to read, and lo-and-behold! I remembered about all of those Harlequins sitting somewhere on a Kindle (somewhere!).

After getting the Overdrive app up and running again, I dove into this book.  I was anxious to read about a young woman who wanted to be a bull rider.  I mean, who in their right mind would want to try to sit on a wild and crazy animal that weighs almost a ton?  An angry beast that wants nothing more than to slam you down on the ground so it can tap dance on your fragile body?  Barrel racing, calf roping, even steer wrestling make more sense that this!  Once I got to understand June’s motivation and began to appreciate her iron will, I could understand why she’d want to do something so dangerous, but me?  No. Thank. You.

June has wanted to ride bulls forever, much to her father’s fury and her mother’s dismay.  Raised on the reservation, June hasn’t had a life of luxury.  Struggling to make ends meet on her mother’s welfare checks, while her father does time in jail, she’s decided that the bull riding circuit is her ticket out of poverty.  If she can only put away some money so she and her mother have a little cushion, she can finish work for her degree and become a teacher.  She knows it’s a long shot to make it to the pros, especially with the chilly reception she’s received from other riders, but she’s not going to let anything stand in the way of her giving it her best shot.

Her biggest obstacle turns out to be Travis, a bull rider who has fallen from the big leagues.  After getting his body busted up by a bull named No Man’s Land, he has become a safety nag.  He doesn’t think June should be allowed to ride because she’ll just get hurt.  He’s still in pain three years later, and thoughts of his harrowing surgeries and physical therapy has left him a changed man.  He’s only riding again because he doesn’t see that he has any other option in life.  He didn’t finish school, he has no other experience, and the thought of working a minimum wage desk job for his current sponsor has him feeling low.  He does know that his come back has to be achieved quickly and that his competitive career has a rapidly approaching expiration date.

When June does her time on a rank bull, the organizer refuses to listen to Travis.  June will have appeal to a younger audience, and if gate sales go up, everyone benefits.  Since he’s not getting any satisfaction talking to Mort about banning her from competition, Travis decides to go straight to the horse’s mouth and tell June she’s making a big mistake if she thinks she can compete on the circuit (especially without a helmet!  I loved his helmet safety nagging.  June, not so much).

Big mistake!  June won’t let anyone chase her off.  Her father’s physical punishments didn’t work, and this noisy guy’s predictions of gloom and doom aren’t going to either.  I loved how grounded June was, and how confident she was in her own abilities.  She knows that she was born to do this, and she’s going to prove it to everyone else.  She quickly makes friends and foes among the other competitors, and finds a pair of cowboys to cover her back in return for keeping their secret. 

I enjoyed Rodeo Dreams, both for the behind the scenes glimpses of the bull riding circuit, and for the strong, determined heroine.  In addition to being driven, June is also smart.  She knows, like Travis, that her bull riding career won’t be long, so she’s going to shoot for the highest placing she can, and she’s not going to let a wet blanket like Travis get in her way.  I liked how the romance developed – slowly and believably as June and Travis both have to make concessions to each other to make their relationship work.  Travis was dumped at the lowest time in his life, and he has serious trust issues that he needs to deal with, too. 

If you’re looking for a romance with a unique heroine, Rodeo Dreams might be just what you’re looking for.

Grade:  B / B+

Review copy purchased from Harlequin.com

From Amazon:

Love is one unpredictable ride

Ride straight to the top of the rodeo circuit—that’s June Spotted Elk’s dream. Yes, bull-riding is a man’s world, but she won’t let anyone—not even a sexy, scarred stranger—get in her way. 

Seasoned bull rider Travis Younkin knows what it’s like to make it to the top—and then hit the bottom. Back in the arena to resurrect his career, he can’t afford a distraction like June. No matter how far he’ll go to protect her from the danger. No matter how deeply the stubborn and beautiful rider gets to him…

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9. Review: Injustice Gods Among Us Year Four #1 (Digital) = Buy Me!

Injustice Gods Among Us: Year Four #1

Injustice- Gods Among Us - Year Four (2015-) 001-000

 

 

Writer: Brian Buccellato

Art: Bruno Redondo

Inks: Juan Albarrran

Colors: Rex Lokus

Publisher: DC Comics 

 

Since the series inception under writer Tom Taylor, Injustice Gods Among Us digital first book (based on the hit game by Mortal Kombat creator Netherrealm Studios) has been one of the overall best books in DC Comics line up. Now under the meticulous pen of current Detective Comics co-writer Brian Buccellato, Injustice methodically kicks off its Year Four story.

Chapter one is part epilogue along with being part set up as it deals with the aftermath of the destructive battle between Mr. Mxyzptlk and Trigon at the end of Year Three. Superman continues his crusade to save the human race from itself by his iron fist rule, Batman has gone into hiding as he plots his next idea to remove him from power, and all the while Ares schemes to return the worship of mortals to the gods instead of Earth’s metahuman pretenders. Since the series takes place five years before the events of the game, this volume is already hinting at some of the threads that are left to be tied together such as Damian’s transition to Nightwing and Batman’s plan to bring the heroes from the other dimension over.

Injustice- Gods Among Us - Year Four (2015-) 001-017

Buccellato continues to show why he’s one of comics most underrated writers. His understanding of how these characters differ from the regular DCU books is put to use in showing how the cracks in Superman’s regime develop. Hal Jordan and Superman show an intolerance for each other you wouldn’t see anywhere else. His Damian Wayne has a different type of chip on his shoulder compared to the regular DC version. It’s almost like he blames Batman for the actions that led to his killing Dick Grayson and that makes him as far from the boy seeking his father’s approval as you can get.

The art teams seen before in previous issues will be returning to action in Year Four. Issue one features the line work of Bruno Redondo. Out of all the artist the series has seen, Redondo’s work is most representative of the visual world established by Netherrealm in the game.

While this opening isn’t new-reader friendly to those who haven’t read any of the Injustice books or played the game; it’s a great continuation of the events unfolded thus far. Year Four is a carefully paced opening that’s a prime example of the writer’s strengths. Buccellato has a habit of making his characters earn their big moments, which make those points even better reads.

0 Comments on Review: Injustice Gods Among Us Year Four #1 (Digital) = Buy Me! as of 5/6/2015 4:51:00 PM
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10. Review: Secret Wars #1 is an Omelet of Marvel Warfare

Secret Wars #1

SCWARSCOV2015001_DC11

 

Writer: Jonathan Hickman

Artist: Esad Ribic

Color:Ive Svorcina

Letters: Chris Eliopoulous

Publisher: Marvel Comics

 

 

The time for talking and teasing is over, Marvel’s “mega game changing” event Secret Wars is upon us. Now, it’s time to see if the real thing can possibly live up to the hype. Free Comic Book Day gave readers a zero issue that served as a primer for anyone not caught up on current events in Avengers titles. Issue one of Secret Wars marks the real kickoff of the collision between the Marvel universe we’ve known for more than 75 years and the Ultimate universe launched back in 2000. With a lot of ground to cover we’ll keep it short and major spoiler free.

The opening chapter isn’t so much about the Battleworld or fighting Beyonders as it is a reckoning of the cataclysmic incursion between Earth-616 (regular universe) and Earth-1610 (ultimate universe). Before Secret Wars, writer Jonathan Hickman had set a chain of events in motion during his Avengers run where alternate universes could only survive annihilation by destroying other universes. It all gets extremely lightly touched upon in the opening through the dialogue of the evil Reed Richards from the Ultimate universe, but doesn’t explain all the events leading up to the end of the worlds. Hickman instead made this first issue a massive Marvel fight between Ultimate Nick Fury’s forces and the Avengers of the regular Marvel U. In the midst of battle, the good Reed Richards (616) attempts a last ditch effort to gather essential people on Earth to his life raft (that’s literally what they called it) in order to continue the human race once doomsday obliterates everything. The end of issue one is where the meat of Secret Wars battle for reality begins, but we’ll have to wait till issue two to see how things really take shape.

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An action packed story relies heavily on an artist who can cinematically capture it all. Esad Ribic’s work in the book is solid. The scale of the lens readers witness events through is massive and his panel layout choices move everything along at a break-neck pace. He does sacrifice fine detail in the drawings, but fortunately doesn’t skimp on the small details in the panels particularly the impact moments. Where the visual really pops is in the color work of Ive Svorcina. It brings out such a distinction in the contrast of the 616 and Ultimate universe that adds the much-needed definition between the sides in battle. Marvel’s AR app also gets a really great workout from the art in the book, if you haven’t used it, make sure you download it for this series.

SW_001_1

Overall, enjoyment of Secret Wars #1 is fragmented and where you find yourself depends on how closely you follow Marvel books. If you’ve been following Hickman’s Avengers titles then this series is a can’t miss payoff for your loyal reading. However, Marvel’s ambitions for Secret Wars went far beyond that audience. The publisher didn’t spend a year bombarding us with –teaser after teaser– and –press announcement after announcement– just to solely reward Hickman’s core audience. A highly touted PR campaigned combined with the timing of releasing right after the Avengers: Age of Ultron film hit theaters meant Marvel wanted to bring in everyone who’s ever read or even thought about picking up a comic book to buy this book. In this regard they didn’t make issue one as new-reader friendly as it should have been. If you haven’t been reading Avengers routinely then your level of indulgence from reading Secret Wars will depend on if you can accept the premise of this book without knowing the intricate moves that initiated it.

Having not finished the most recent issues of Avengers, I found myself scratching my head at some of the exposition all the different factions represented here are having in their conversations. However it didn’t dramatically hinder my enjoyment of the action and tension Secret Wars #1 was filled with. When you compare Secret Wars to DC’s Under the Dome; Marvel is making up serious ground. Though DC’s Convergence had more emotion in their opening; the current slow pace isn’t doing it any favors. While Secret Wars doesn’t quite live up to the hype, Marvel opened it with action movie like entertainment, and sometimes that’s all you really need to get hooked.

Note: Though we can’t talk about the tie-in series just yet. It’s important to note that after reading some of those #1s, Marvel is so far keeping to their promise of keeping Secret Wars main series as the only one you need to read. Check back later today and we’ll post a code for a digital copy of Secret Wars #1

3 Comments on Review: Secret Wars #1 is an Omelet of Marvel Warfare, last added: 5/9/2015
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11. Review: Her Knight in the Outback by Nikki Logan

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I borrowed Her Knight in the Outback because I have enjoyed several Nikki Logan titles in the past.  I enjoyed this one, too, but I wasn’t convinced that the protagonists will have a HEA.  Eve is just so damaged and heart broken that it was difficult for me to believe that she would be able to successfully put all of her emotional distress in the past and give Marshall all of the attention he deserves.

Eve’s younger brother disappeared almost a year ago.  After waiting unsuccessfully for the police to actually do something, like find him, she quits her job, sells her house, and purchases a converted bus so she can go look for him.  She feels guilty for not seeing the warning signs before he took off, and she can’t believe that he would just leave her and her father.  Armed with missing person posters, she intends to search every single town and city for Travis, and she has no intention of quitting until she finds him.

She comes across an injured motorcyclist on a deserted road, and even though she wants to keep on trucking by, she stops to see if she can assist him.  What if Travis needed help, and no one stopped for him?  When motorcycle dude approaches the bus, Eve is momentarily taken aback.  His bushy beard and tattoo alarm her.  What if he’s part of a motorcycle club?  What if he tries to hurt her in the middle of nowhere, where not even a cell signal is available?

It turns out that Marshall is the one who saves Eve.  After a not so memorable introduction, they cross paths again, and after clearing the air, they agree to travel together for a few days, until Marshall’s route diverges from Eve’s.  Marshall sees how hurt and emotionally vulnerable Eve is, and all he wants to do is help her forget about Travis for a little while and remember the joy of living her own life.  The only problem is that Eve’s guilt keeps getting in the way, and after being on the road for eight months, she has forgotten how to enjoy another’s company.

While the conflict was interesting, I’m not sure I bought the resolution.  Eve learns that Marshall pulled a disappearing act of his own, and she keeps throwing it in his face.  Every time they make some progress in their relationship, Eve is overcome with guilt for enjoying herself while Travis might be dead or worse.  Travis is the sum total of her existence, and she resents Marshall for getting in the way of her self-appointed mission of finding her brother.  Her inability to consider that Travis left of his own free will became tiring, and maybe that’s why the story was such a mixed bag for me.  I had a hard time connecting with Eve, which made it difficult to sympathize with her.

Grade:  C+ / B-

Review copy provided by publisher

From Amazon:

She didn’t know she needed rescuing! 

Eve Read doesn’t need help from anyone. She’s searching for her missing brother and doesn’t want any distractions. Yet sharing her burden with mysterious leather-clad biker Marshall Sullivan is a relief, and soon Eve can’t resist the sparks igniting between them! 

Meteorologist Marshall spends his life on the road, but there’s something about Eve that makes him want to stay put… 

Has Eve finally found what she’s been searching for all along?

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12. Review: The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I decided to borrow The Great Zoo of China from the library because it has dragons in a modern setting.  The Chinese discovered a cave filled with dragon eggs 40 years before, and they have been secretly studying their new treasures, in addition to building a zoo to showcase them.  In their intense competition with the US, the Chinese are seeking to create a vacation and pop culture behemoth to rival Disney World.  If there are occasion setbacks, like when the dragons attack and eat their caregivers, well, that’s just an acceptable price to pay to finally bump the United States out of their position as the number one world leader.

This is a very fast, exciting read.  I couldn’t help but compare it to Jurassic Park, which I read, oh, a gabillion years ago.  Jurassic Park, like so many of Michael Crichton’s works, is heavy on the science in an effort to make his world more believable.  The Great Zoo of China is like Jurassic Park lite.  Not so much science, but the action more than makes up for it.  The first 22% or so is set up for making the zoo believable, but it comes across as a huge info dump.  Once the dragons go on their bloody rampage, the pace picks up, the info dumping is left largely behind, and protagonist CJ Cameron falls into one hair-raising predicament after another.  While at times I echoed CJ’s “You’ve got to be kidding me!” the dragon battles and desperate attempts to escape a painful end gobbled up in their massive jaws kept me turning the pages.  Rapidly.  I couldn’t put it down and finished in just a few hours.

The overabundance of exclamation points was jarring, and I thought they took away from the tension of the action.  After the first few, I wished I could replace them all with nice, sentence ending periods.  Alas, I suffered through many, many exclamation points, which soon had me cringing each time I saw one.  I thought they over emphasized the dragons’ actions, and instead of making the moment more exciting, just made me think, “oh, brother.” 

If you need a book for lounging around the pool, The Great Zoo of China is a great choice for your summer reading list.  It’s pure popcorn, with a kick ass heroine with nerves of steel.  The dragons are frightening death machines that easily match the might and power of the most advanced military helicopter, and evil villains who want to protect the zoo, and their country’s reputation, no matter the cost, just add to the chaos after the dragons revolt.

Rated F for FUN

Review copy borrowed from my local library

From Amazon:

In the blockbuster and bestselling tradition of Jurassic Park comes the breakneck new adventure from the New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling author Matthew Reilly whose imaginative, cinematic thrillers “make you feel like a kid again; [they’re] a blast” (Booklist).

It is a secret the Chinese government has been keeping for forty years. They have proven the existence of dragons—a landmark discovery no one could ever believe is real, and a scientific revelation that will amaze the world. Now the Chinese are ready to unveil their astonishing findings within the greatest zoo ever constructed.

A small group of VIPs and journalists has been brought to the zoo deep within China to see these fabulous creatures for the first time. Among them is Dr. Cassandra Jane “CJ” Cameron, a writer for National Geographic and an expert on reptiles. The visitors are assured by their Chinese hosts that they will be struck with wonder at these beasts, that the dragons are perfectly safe, and that nothing can go wrong.

Of course it can’t…

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13. Review: Her Rodeo Man by Cathy McDavid

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I really enjoy Cathy McDavid’s novels, so I’m a little puzzled why I haven’t read more of them.  I like that her characters are every day people.  There’s not a billionaire in sight, just ordinary folk working hard to get through each day and provide for their families.  They could be my neighbors.  They could be me.  McDavid has a way of taking average problems and building them up into something that’s easy to relate to, and like Donna Alward, simple daily tasks become compelling efforts to better oneself and make the most of each protagonist’s strengths. 

Ryder Beckett is returning home to help his family run The Big Easy, an equestrian facility.  He hasn’t been back in years, and he’s still unable to forgive his mother for lying about his youngest sister’s parentage and breaking up their family.  He can’t understand why she kicked his father out of the house, why she divorced him, and why she hasn’t been paying him the agreed on profits from the The Big Easy.  He’s reluctant to return, but after being fired from his high-paying marketing position, he doesn’t have much choice.  He’ll help out at the family business until he has another option and can return to the career his poor choices have derailed.

Tatum Mayweather is struggling to raise her three young children on her own.  A former teacher, she was pink-slipped and watched in horror as everything she worked so hard for was taken away from her.  She lost a job she loved, her house, and even, for a brief period of time, her kids.  The Beckett’s offered her a job that allowed her to rent another place and reclaim her children from her meddling mother-in-law.  Through all of her misfortunes, her ex-husband was too busy competing on the rodeo circuit to lend a hand or even send some money her way.  Tatum learned the hard way that the only person she could count on was herself, and that there’s no one else out there who will be there for her or her kids.

When Ryder comes back to The Big Easy, he notices the pretty Tatum leading her visibly lame pony into the barn.  Not quite ready to face his family, he helps her with the pony.  Then he realizes that she’s his sister’s best friend, and that he’s known her since childhood.  He’s immediately attracted to her, and Tatum has had a hopeless crush on Ryder since she was a girl.  Can she get involved with him, after learning that he’s just biding his time until he gets another big city job?  Or should she just ignore the feelings she has for the handsome cowboy?

Ryder and Tatum are working to promote the equestrian center and the rodeo events they host, as well as their bucking stock, which is Ryder’s father’s pride and joy.  I enjoyed following along as they worked through their tasks, especially getting ready for the rodeo.  You’d think that as much as I like horses that I would have attended a few rodeos myself, but nope, I haven’t been, so it’s fun to read about them.

Money is a huge issue for Tatum, something I can certainly relate to.  Feeding the kids, keeping a roof over their heads, unexpected medical bills – all of these weigh heavily on her mind.  Ryder lost a plum job, and the offers he’s receiving now are disappointing.  It’s a huge step back for him, and he’s frustrated that one mistake cost him so much.  He feels underutilized at home, though, and he just can’t forgive his mom for turning her back on his dad.  Both Ryder and Tatum have to learn to forgive and let go of the past, starting with themselves.  Life didn’t work out how they had planned, and they are both slow coming up with a new one.  Tatum is worried about losing her kids again, so she doesn’t want to do anything to antagonize her MIL, and number one on the list would be dating Ryder, so she resists.  So hard.  But she can’t say no to him.

If you enjoy sweet romances with a more real life slant, I recommend that you give Her Rodeo Man a try.  Despite the lack of glamorous locations or palatial mansions, it’s a solid, satisfying read with believable conflicts.

Grade:  B

Review copy borrowed from my local library

From Amazon:

RETURNING…HOME? 

Twenty-five years ago, the Beckett family was irrevocably divided by lies told and secrets kept. But Ryder Beckett comes back to The Easy Money to reconcile with his past and help run the rodeo arena until he can find a new job. He’s quick to fall into old ways—taking care of the horses, trying a few of his old rodeo tricks…and falling for Tatum Mayweather. 

Ryder’s childhood friend has become a beautiful woman. But how can he get involved with a single mother of three when he’s only at the ranch temporarily? Tatum deserves a stay-in-one-place kind of guy, and that has never been Ryder. Is the pull of family enough to keep him in Reckless, Arizona? Is this where Ryder truly belongs?

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14. Outstanding In The Rain by Frank Viva- a review



cover

I recently received a gorgeous copy of Outstanding In the Rain by Frank Viva, as I was one of the lucky prize winners of Tundra’s Reading Club blog contest. When the package arrived I quietly tore open the shipping packaging, excited to dive in before it disappeared... clutched within the little hands of one of my kiddos. I managed to sneak in a quick read before my youngest noticed it in my studio and "borrowed" it for a few days. :) *yes! I love that she is so excited about books*
I managed to borrow it back to read it again( a few times) and write my review.

 First off, let me just say I am a bit of a picture book design nerd, so before I even get to the actual story, I have to talk about the design. I  really love the large trim size, the height of the portrait orientation nicely compliments the action inside. And seriously, how eye-catching is this cover? We all remember catching raindrops on our tongue- looove it. The satin-y matte dust-jacket helps to accent the fun, retro vibe of the stylized illustrations and limited colour palette of both the cover illustration and interior artwork.  I know I have probably said this a ton lately but... I am so loving the trend of decorative/illustrated end papers. I love how it enables the illustrator to stretch out the story  and add their visual contribution... even before the story starts! 
(So... you can imagine, how  thrilled I was when Cheryl Chen, my editor at Fitzhenry & Whiteside, gave me the thumbs up to create illustrated end papers for Gerbil, Uncurled( written by Alison Hughes) due out this Spring. I can't wait for you to see them!) 

Anyway, back to this book!

front end paper spread

back end paper

The decorative end-papers set the stage; the front end-paper depicts bustling Coney Island’s beachfront board-walk in daylight then, to wrap up the story just so, the back end-paper ends depict the same setting but in two-tone night-time, moon/street-light perfection with the last few patrons(whom have braved the rain)  are illustrated in little hits of colour.

 Even the hand-lettered font of the title(see top image of the cover) is exciting and visually appealing. It sets the tone of the book wonderfully, introducing the fun word play of oronyms and mischievously hinting at the soon -to-be discovered die-cuts, with the tag line at the bottom of the cover -“A whole story with holes”.

 The story begins with a young child and his mother arriving at Coney Island by train. Here they spend their special day together going on rides, eating treats and exploring.  Along the way, things don’t go quite as planned and they encounter a few unexpected surprises.   Viva does a wonderful job of depicting the enjoyable ups and unexpected downs of childhood.  Oronyms- phrases that sound the same but have different meaning, are used creatively throughout the book.  Each page is skillfully designed to place these oronyms within a die-cut shape on the right-hand page which, upon turning the page, is now on the left-hand page, becoming an integrated surprise element within the illustration.  The cut-outs vary in size and shape, to compliment the text and their placement works to advance the story with successful visual appeal. Maybe this would be easier to describe with a visual?

 Here is an example from the book:




“ ‘Ice cream’, I say, my birthday surprise, he exclaims.” The word “cream” is placed within an oval shaped die-cut under “ice” which after the page turn becomes “ scream” when the boy sadly drops his treat. “ ’Oh no!’ I scream, with tears in my eyes”. The left-hand page now contains the oval die-cut, the shape of the boy’s mouth (showing his teeth). The teeth peek through from the previous page which was the front detailing of the D train entering Coney Island station.


 At times, due the restriction of using oronyms on each page, the rhyming text feels slightly forced, but all-around I think Viva succeeds in creating a delightful story unified by superb design. With features such as the fun die-cut elements, and retro-flavoured, colour-blocked illustrations all combined with  playful oronyms, within kid-centric text, this book is sure to elicit giggles and high-fives from kids and adults alike.  

Sending out a big  "Thank-you, Tundra" for having these fun Tundra Reading Club contests on your blog. It is such a great way to  promote your new titles, and  interact with book-loving folks. And...who doesn't love the chance to  win free books for that TBR pile?  

0 Comments on Outstanding In The Rain by Frank Viva- a review as of 4/23/2015 1:27:00 PM
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15. Review: Convergence #3, This Cold War Starts to Warm Up

CONVERGENCE #3

Convergence (2015) 003-000

Story: Jeff King

Art: Stephen Segovia

Colors: Aspen MLT

Inks: Jason Paz

Letters: Travis Lanham

Publisher: DC Comics

 

We’re about a quarter of the way through DC Comics event, Convergence. So far we’ve seen a lot of xenophobic worlds bent on destroying one another at the behest of Brianiac’s global caretaker Telos in all the satellite books. Seeing, literally, the exact same threatening words from Telos in multiple books is making that premise wear a bit thin. The event’s spine series has a little more going on than those titles, but we’re at a point where Convergence needs to punch it to fifth gear. So why is it starting to feel like it’s stuck in second?

After saving the mysterious Deimos in the last issue, the survivors of Earth-2 will follow him to the bowels of the planet in order to discover the key to stopping Telos evil multiversal Tijuana cockfight. Meanwhile, Dick Grayson and Thomas Wayne who, without spoiling events, are in for the fight of their lives against a small army of Bruce Wayne’s most formidable nemeses. It’s this part of the story that carries the tension and climax of this chapter to an ending that, while predictable, is so far the series biggest moment.

Sure there are a few problems with the pacing and dialogue in the issue. In fact, it feels like Convergence #3 is unintentionally a two-act book with it not introducing anything new. There’s a heavy sense of over explaining things in the front half of the book while the second half moves too quick to the dramatic finish. I can forgive most of these problems because Stephen Segovia’s art is lavish action. The fight scenes and scale of Convergence have been on point art wise for the series, but the plot needs to keep up or it runs the risk of becoming ineffectual.

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Convergence began with surprising promise from its zero issue. It played on the powerful force of nostalgia to get readers in touch with parts of the DC universe they’ve sorely missed. While powerful, nostalgia alone can’t carry an event. Issue three moves the narrative along more than any chapter thus far, but for being this far in, with this many orbiting tie-in books; the stakes need to have more weight by better defining the threat of Telos. If it’s not an Earth 2: Society post Convergence prequel, it needs to start showing it by actually having the different Earths start doing something.

1 Comments on Review: Convergence #3, This Cold War Starts to Warm Up, last added: 4/24/2015
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16. Manga Review: The Sheik and the Bought Bride by Mallery and Hashimoto

 

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I checked out The Sheik and the Bought Bride because the original novel was written by Susan Mallery, without realizing that it was illustrated by Takako Hashimoto, the same artist who worked on A Mediterranean Marriage, my review from last Friday.  I love her artwork!  Her illustrations are delicate and airy, and the exotic village in El Deharia was brought vividly to life, both through background details and Victoria’s wardrobe.  Her clothing was beautifully rendered and I loved seeing all of her costume changes.

The plot is a bit ridiculous, but because the art was so pleasing, I just “bought” into it.  Victoria’s father is an unrepentant gambler, and after losing to Prince Kateb, he offers up his daughter Victoria to cover his debt.  In addition to getting caught cheating, he earns Kateb’s distain by purchasing his freedom with his daughter.  Victoria, enraged by both her father’s gambling addiction and Kateb’s implication that she’s part of a scheme to make a play for his money, agrees to accept her father’s debt as her own, but only if she never has to see her father again.

Kateb promptly relocates to a village in the middle of the desert.  His younger brother is next in line for the throne, because their father believes his temperament and business skills are better suited for leading their small kingdom.  Kateb also tells Victoria that he was forced to kill a man when he was a boy, and the ugly scar that mars his handsome visage is both a reminder of his actions and the rebellion against his father that instigated the incident.  The tribesmen don’t need to constantly see his face, because they will only be reminded of the time some of them rose up against the king.

This is fun read.  Victoria is anything but demure, and her boldness both infuriate and intrigue Kateb.  He’s dead set against falling for her, but there is something about her vivacious personality that he just can’t ignore.  When she asks him to help an abandoned young boy, and helps the local craftspeople organize and sell their wares on the internet, she becomes popular with the villagers.  Even his old caregiver champions Victoria and appreciates the new life she’s instilled in the previously staid palace.

Besides the lovely art, there is action, a swordfight, and the romance to kept the reader engaged.   And, wow, I would love to own some of Victoria’s purses and shoes!

Grade:  B / B+

Review copy borrowed from my local library

From Amazon:

Victoria was handpicked to be an assistant by the crown prince of the desert kingdom of El Deharia. So then why would the Imperial Guard suddenly break into her room and drag her away wearing nothing but a negligee? Her good-for-nothing father has been in trouble for gambling before, but to think he would have tried to cheat at cards against Prince Kateb… The prince’s personality is as fierce as his scarred face. He earned the scars amid a failed kidnapping, during which they say he killed a man. Rejecting palace life, he has been known to disappear to a desert village for months at a time. Victoria despises her father, but can’t abandon the promise she made to her dying mother. She pleads with the prince to set him free, and the prince agreed…on one condition. She would become his lover, and join his desert harem!

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17. Review: A Wife in Wyoming by Lynnette Kent

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

Wow! Some times you strike gold when randomly checking books out of the library.  I didn’t even read the blurb for A Wife in Wyoming.  I just saw the cover, which I find very appealing, and clicked Borrow.  Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down.  I’ve been reading Harlequin American Romances forever, and I’ve never noticed Lynnette Kent before, but I enjoyed this so much that I immediately glommed onto her expansive backlist.  Thank goodness for Scribd!

Caroline Donnelly wants to start a program for troubled teens at Circle M Ranch.  Home to the Marshall brothers, Ford Marshall is visiting the ranch for the summer to help with the day to day operations after his oldest brother is injured in a fall from a horse.  What he doesn’t need is a bunch of delinquents running around his property.  He’s outvoted, though, and Caroline moves into the outbuildings with her charges, surly kids who don’t want to work and who have more attitude than is good for them.  Caroline, a social worker, refuses to give up on them, and she insists that with the help of Ford and his brothers, they can provide positive role models for them and set them back on the right track. 

Things don’t go smoothly, and Ford is more certain than ever that they are making a huge mistake.  A high-power attorney from San Francisco, he’s worried about the liability of having the kids underfoot.  What if one of them gets hurt and the parents sue them?  They could lose the family home.  With all of these worries clouding his mind, he’s also attracted to Caroline.  She’s the daughter of a wealthy rancher, and she has always been off limits for Ford.  In high school, she was pretty and popular, at the center of attention.  She rode for the rodeo team, was a gifted barrel racer, as well as a straight A student.  Fifteen years later, he still thinks she’s out of reach, despite his own personal and financial success.

I just loved this story.  The kids added tension to the plot, and they kept Ford and Caroline hopping to ensure they stayed out of trouble.  The teens are on the ranch to learn ranching skills, but none of them knows the first thing about it.  They can’t ride, they  resent their chores, and they constantly grumble about what they’re expected to do.  I enjoyed their introduction to horsemanship, as well as all the page time the horses were allotted.  Yup, once again my personal bias is showing.  Throw a few horses in there, and I am one happy camper.

Caroline and Ford have a lot of issues to work through.  Growing up poor, he pursued his high paying job to help out his brothers.  He sends money home, and he doesn’t feel that he can just give up his position in San Francisco.  Caroline is emotionally invested in her job and her charges, so relocating isn’t an option for her, either.  Their romance seems hopeless, because neither will budge on this.  Even with Ford’s brothers letting him know that they want him home and that they don’t need his money, he still feels obligated to return to a job he doesn’t have a real passion for.

A Wife in Wyoming pushed all the right buttons for me.  It has horses, the rodeo, families in turmoil, and a feel great ending.  I am certain that Ford and Caroline are going to enjoy their HEA, and I am looking forward to seeing the rest of the Marshalls find theirs.

Grade:  B+ / A-

Review copy borrowed from my local library

From Amazon:

RANCH RESCUE 

Ford Marshall returns to Wyoming temporarily to help his brothers run the Circle M. He’s looking forward to some hard work, but also peace and quiet—until Caroline Donnelly hijacks his ranch for her program to help troubled teens. 

Now he’s got unruly kids to deal with, a thousand chores and a growing attraction to Caroline that he isn’t sure he wants to deny. But Ford has nothing to offer a hometown girl. He has to return to his job in the city at some point soon—his brothers depend on that outside income to keep the ranch afloat. So why can’t Ford get the idea of a Wyoming wife, and coming home for good, off his mind?

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18. Manga Review: A Mediterranean Marriage by Graham and Hashimoto

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

Harlequin manga is my crack!  I purchased A Mediterranean Marriage when it was on sale for .99, and I decided to read it last night because, after a stressful week, I had the attention span of a small bug.  This was perfect for  my mood.  It’s fast paced, the art is lovely, and the exotic locale was painstakingly rendered for my reading enjoyment.  The biggest disappointment for me was Rauf, the incredibly jerky hero, who has a grudge against Lilly and treats her terribly, all because she turned him down three years ago and his delicate ego still hasn’t recovered.

Lilly’s family owns a travel agency that Rauf has invested in.  Three years after being rejected by Lilly, he’s still smarting from the perceived slight.  When her company fails to pay contractual dividends for two years, he thinks he’ll finally get his revenge.  Lilly comes to his office in Istanbul to explain, as well as to sell some property in Turkey,  and Rauf is prepared to make his displeasure with her family and their lack of payments well known.  Lilly, however, has documents and bank statements showing that the dividends were, indeed paid, but the money wasn’t going into Rauf’s coffers.  Instead, it was going to a company impersonating his, and Lilly’s family has been scammed for the last two years.

Rauf agrees to give Lilly’s family more time to come up with the money they owe him if she’ll accompany him in Turkey for a week.  During that time, she’s to help go over all of the documentation she’s brought so Rauf’s legal team can go after the scam company.  Because Lilly’s company is almost bankrupt, she has no other options, so she reluctantly agrees to go along with his request.  All the while she has to hide the fact that she’s in love with Rauf.

Rauf, having been burned by beautiful women in the past, instantly suspects Lilly of lying to him.  He doesn’t believe anything she’s told him, and he believes that she’s trying to cheat him out of the money her company owes him.  What’s really sticking in his craw, though, is the constant memory of her rejection.  How dare she?!  How could she possibly be indifferent to his charms?  I thought he was a complete butthead, and if that’s how he treated women, no wonder they only hooked up with him for his money.  He remains unrepentantly petulant until the last two pages.  If the pacing and the illustrations hadn’t been so skillful, I wouldn’t have enjoyed A Mediterranean Marriage as much, because it was so hard to like Rauf.  Lilly is a star, though, forgiving and honest, and Rauf, darn the man, was lucky she forgave him.

Grade:  B / B-

Review copy purchased from Amazon

From Amazon:

Lilly flies to Istanbul to appeal to Rauf Kasabian in person, an investor in her family’s travel company. He is suing the company for allegedly failing to pay its dividends, but she is unaware of any fraud. Rauf, who has gorgeous hazel eyes, coldly abandons her right after taking her virginity because he sees her as a wicked, calculating woman. Unbeknownst to Lilly, he plans to manipulate her for his own desires, thinking she is a fraud and a crook…!

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19. Manga Review: Undone by His Touch by Shinano Omi and Annie West

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I saw this at the library and had to check it out.  Why? Because they don’t have many Harlequin Comics and they are like my crack.  They’ve also greatly improved from the first ones I read, where the words didn’t even stay inside the word balloons.  Why even have word balloons, if the text is going to drift lazily beyond their borders?  It used to drive me crazy, so I’m happy to report that that particular issue is now a non-issue.

Chloe is a housekeeper for the wealthy Carstairs family, and one day, while doing her thing, she’s startled by a handsome man swimming in the pool.  His face and leg are marred by terrible scars, and Chloe learns that he’s Declan, the eldest Carstairs son, and that he survived a horrible mountain climbing accident that took the life of his brother. 

Chloe also discovers that he’s blind, and that he’s irritated with people mollycoddling him.  He’s frustrated that he needs assistance, so Chloe does her best to help him without robbing him of his pride.  She’s confused when Declan demands to know who was visiting with his brother, Adrian, before he died.  Adrian, she insisted, kept to himself.  She doesn’t share that he also stalked her and intimidated her, making her feel threatened whenever he stayed at the mansion.

Declan is still reeling from Adrian’s death.  The last thing he said before he fell off the mountain was that he couldn’t go on with his broken heart.  He then showed Declan a photo on his cell phone, the photo of a beautiful woman who took advantage of his little brother and then spurned him.  Declan vows that he will find her and extract his revenge upon her.

Declan and Chloe begin to grow close, and after a night of unbridled passion, Declan regains his sight.  But wait!  Now that he can see Chloe, he recognizes her as the woman on Adrian’s phone.  Shocked, he flees from the mansion without a word to Chloe.  Chloe is understandably hurt when she doesn’t hear from him in months, and then is suddenly called to work at a party he is hosting.  Once there, he springs his attack, accusing her of using and abusing his brother, and blaming her for Adrian’s death.  These two have quite an obstacle to overcome!

First off, the art is lovely.  The characters are long and lean, and everyone has hair that seems to take on a life of its own.  Facial expressions are easy to decipher, and the action flows seamlessly from panel to panel. 

The story, however, felt too abbreviated.  The introduction is well done, with Chloe helping the stubborn Declan with the things he can no longer do without his sight, but the conclusion was rushed and unconvincing.  Since these Harlequin Comics are only about 150 pages, there is a lot of story to fit into a short amount of space.  Declan treated Chloe horribly and completely misjudged her, and I didn’t think he groveled enough for her forgiveness. 

This is a common complaint I have with the manga based on Harlequin novels, but that being said, I still managed to purchase a bunch of them on Amazon over the weekend because they were priced at .99.  Who could possibly resist that?  If you’re curious about these comics, there are several titles available on Scribd, and you can check your local library too.

From Amazon:

One day, Chloe, the housekeeper of the wealthy Carstairs family’s villa, meets a mysterious man by the mansion’s pool. He has a strong, sun-kissed body with a long scar running down his thigh and a deep scar carved into his cheek. Learning that Declan is the owner of the house, Chloe tries to hide that she was gawking at her boss by greeting him. It is then that she realizes that he is practically blind. It is the beginning of their dangerous relationship, and Declan is on a mission to find the woman who jilted his deceased little brother.

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20. Review: Bringing Together The Four Points #1

The Four Points #1

TheFourPoints-01_vol1-AspenStory: Scott Lobdell

Art: Jordan Gunderson

Inks: John Ercek, Mark Roslan

Colors: Valentina Pinto

Letters: Josh Reed

Publisher: Aspen Comics

 

 

Despite the criticisms of delayed books and hyper-sensualized characters; for more than a decade, for better or worse, Aspen Comics has let their books speak for themselves. They, along with companies like Boom! and Image, bring new characters for the part of the market that doesn’t want the same old pliable superhero comics. Their newest debut, The Four Points, builds on the notion of a shared universe inside the publisher.

Issue one introduces three captivating female characters. Gia Sorentino, the institutionally committed daughter of billionaire philanthropists. Her Earth element powers put her in tune with everything that normal people can’t hear. Ivana Ghoul, a near invulnerable Russian wind rider with some deeply rooted trust issues. Then there’s Ara, a woman who uses her command over fire to pass herself off as a goddess on an island in the south pacific. Gia must bring these volatile elements together to defend the planet from the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Our heroines will have their ranks completed after being joined by a character very familiar to anyone that’s read the publisher’s flagship titles.

Writer Scott Lobdell introduces a hot concept to Aspen with Four Points. While it certainly isn’t revolutionary to bring a group of superpowered females together to fight evil; here, it’s solid. The opening chapter is all about the gravity of the situation and the unstableness of the elements he’s trying to bring together. Four Points #1 speeds through a lot of exposition and teases the potential chilling evil and blockbuster action we’ll see in the series. It moves so fast and drops the audience on a cliffhanger in a way that’s reminiscent of the writer’s X-Men work.

Jordan Gunderson’s art is a bit of a mixed bag of fine simple visual comic storytelling and large scale spread. The designs of the characters have that necessary majestic fantasy touch the publisher is known for, but you’ll see a few disproportional figures that jar you a bit. He did some excellent work on EA: Assassins, so I can’t wait to see what he does with bigger action scenes in this title, especially if he has the lead time he needs.

Four Points is a bit of a surprise. As a reader, Lobdell’s work has always been strange to me. He’s a writer that’s either into what he’s doing or he’s not, and it’s very easy for the audience to pick up on which Scott you’re getting. This new book feels like something he’s put a lot of energy into and even the slow opening is enough to invest your precious comic time. Four Points is an idea that’s right place at the right time for Aspen, which hopefully builds on everything in these pages.


Find out what Dave’s four points are on twitter, three of which are pizza toppings, or complain with him about the cringe worthy moments of looking at a computer screen when you type in an incorrect password.

0 Comments on Review: Bringing Together The Four Points #1 as of 1/1/1900
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21. Review and Giveaway: Four Nights with the Duke by Eloisa James

My thoughts:

I really enjoyed Four Nights with the Duke.  The setup is fantastic; 15 year-old Emilia is at a recital, and after retreating to the library, she’s forced to hide from a group of boys who noisily approach the room.  Among them is Evander Septimus Brody, the handsome lad she’s fallen in love with.  Vander’s mother and Mia’s father are in the midst of a scandalous, not  so secret affair, and one of their parents has given Vander The Love Song of E. Septimus Brody, the poem Mia wrote to immortalize her feelings for Vander.  Mia is embarrassed and infuriated over the boys’ callous jokes about her poem, and she angrily storms from her hiding place, gives them a set-down, and declares that she would never marry any of them, even if they were the last boys in England.

Oh, how times change.  Thirteen years later, Mia is desperate.  Both her father and her brother have been killed in an unfortunate accident, and if she doesn’t marry soon, her beloved nephew will become the ward of his villainous uncle.  Mia was jilted at the altar not a month before, and with no other options, she blackmails Vander into marrying her.  She has in her possession a treasonous letter written by his father.  If anyone else learns of it, he will lose his title, lands, and beloved stables.  So now it’s Mia’s turn to flaunt a letter in Vander’s face, and he has no choice but to comply with her schemes. 

However, he burns her letter outlining the conditions of their marriage before reading it, and comes up with conditions of his own.  Vander thinks that Mia is still in love with him, and so he scornfully declares that he’ll not  bed her unless she begs for it, and then, he’ll only pleasure her four nights a year.  Since Mia was planning on an annulment, she fiercely insists that she will never beg him to bed her.  So, yeah, both of them are so wrong it’s laughable.

I enjoyed Four Nights with a Duke so much because I liked all of the characters.  Mia has body image issues that challenge her self-worth, and at first, Vander takes advantage of this to wound her emotionally.  I was starting to think that he couldn’t redeem himself for this behavior, but Mia doesn’t always play fair, either.  For her nephew Charlie’s sake, she chained herself to a man who can’t forgive her for being her father’s daughter.  Vander struggles with the shame caused by his mother’s affair.  His father spent his adult life in and out of an asylum, and he blamed his mother and Mia’s father for all of the family’s troubles.  It isn’t until he learns the other side of the story that he can finally begin to heal from this childhood hurt.

This is a fast read with cleaver dialog, two wounded people trying to heal, and lots of smexy times.  I was entertained from the first page to the last, and found Mia and Vander’s courtship both amusing and touching.

 

 

Four Nights with the Duke
Desperate Duchesses # 8

By: Eloisa James

Releasing March 31st, 2015

Avon

Blurb

As a young girl, Emilia Gwendolyn Carrington told the annoying future Duke of Pindar that she would marry any man in the world before him-so years later she is horrified to realize that she has nowhere else to turn.

Evander Septimus Brody has his own reasons for agreeing to Mia’s audacious proposal, but there’s one thing he won’t give his inconvenient wife: himself.

Instead, he offers Mia a devil’s bargain… he will spend four nights a year with her. Four nights, and nothing more. And those only when she begs for them.

Which Mia will never do.

Now Vander faces the most crucial challenge of his life: he must seduce his own wife in order to win her heart-and no matter what it takes, this is the one battle he can’t afford to lose.

Link to Follow Tour: http://www.tastybooktours.com/2014/12/four-nights-with-duke-desperate.html

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21331590-four-nights-with-the-duke?from_search=true

Goodreads Series Link: https://www.goodreads.com/series/43059-desperate-duchesses


Buy Links
Amazon | Barnes | iTunes | Kobo

Author Info

A New York Times bestselling author, Eloisa James is a professor of English literature who lives with her family in New York, but who can sometimes be found in Paris or Italy. (Her husband is an honest to goodness Italian knight!) Eloisa’s website offers short stories, extra chapters, and even a guide to shopping in Florence. Visit her at www.eloisajames.com.

Author Links Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

 

 

Excerpt

Prologue

Spring, 1787

~ A Music Recital ~

The Duke of Villiers’s townhouse

At fifteen, Emilia Gwendolyn Carrington already had a pretty good idea of what hell was like. Mia’s governess had taught her all about Dante’s nine infernal circles.

Mia’s first circle had required her to make her debut at fifteen, under the aegis of a hired chaperone, because her mother was dead. Her second circle had added a far worse indignity: her charming, widowed father was conducting a flagrant affaire with a married duchess that everyone in the fashionable world knew about.

She had entered the third circle over the last year or so, when against all reason, she had fallen desperately in love with the same duchess’ son, Vander. He was the most sensitive, intelligent boy in the world (or so Mia thought). And he was beautiful too, with a face that resembled the stone angels that guarded baby’s graves.

The remaining circles of hell? All six?

They were revealing themselves in rapid succession. Mia had begged her father to attend the Villiers musicale on the chance that the object of her adoration, Evander Septimus Brody, future Duke of Pindar, would be present. It seemed probable since the Duke of Villiers’s eldest son, Tobias, was best mates with Vander.

As it turned out, the house was indeed overrun with boys on holiday from Eton and among the horde was Vander, who roundly ignored her. Mia didn’t mind that: she was happy worshipping him from afar. He was too godlike for someone like her.

Besides, it wasn’t as if he danced attendance on any other girl. He and the other Etonians spent their time swigging brandy although it was not yet noon, cursing loudly, and generally pretending to be far older than their fifteen years. Mia finally retreated to the library, a tranquil room with book-lined walls.

She was searching the shelves for anything resembling her favorite novel, Eliza Heywood’s Love in Excess, when she heard, to her horror, the sound of boys approaching. Even worse, she quickly recognized the voices as those of Vander and his friend Tobias, who seemed to be calling himself Thorn these days.

 

Rafflecopter Giveaway (Print Bundle of the entire backlist of the Desperate Duchesses series, books 1 – 7, Including, Book 1: Desperate Duchesses; Book 2: An Affair Before Christmas; Book 3: Duchess By Night; Book 4: When the Duke Returns; Book 5: This Duchess of Mine; Book 6: A Duke of Her Own; Book 7: Three Weeks With Lady X)

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22. Mini Review: Dust & Decay by Jonathan Maberry

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I read Rot & Ruin last year and loved it.  It was one of my top 10 reads for the year.  I loved how Benny and Tom’s relationship changed as they faced one life-threatening adventure after another, and how Benny grew from an angry, petulant teen in to a courageous young man.  When he learned the truth about First Night, when the zombie plague wiped out most of human population, he finally saw his brother in a new light and forgave him for abandoning his mother.  It’s one best bonding moments in young adult fiction, but really, the whole book is about Benny learning how to come to terms with his feelings for his brother.

Dust & Decay didn’t work as well for me.  It’s still a page turner, with loads of pulse-pounding action, but the deeper emotions from Rot & Ruin are lacking until the very end.  After seeing the plane at the end of the previous book, Nix and Tom want to go and find it.  Where there is a functioning plane, there must be an enclave of survivors with more technology than they have.  Lilah doesn’t like being in town, and Benny’s just along for the ride.  The closer it comes time for them to leave, the less certain he is that he really wants to go.  Nix, however, has nothing left in town since her mother died, and she wants to see what’s out beyond the fence.  She’s tired of being afraid and she’s tired of living with a bunch of people who are terrified at the thought of expanding out into the Ruin.

Things go wrong almost from the moment they step into the Ruin.  They are attacked by wild animals, keep stumbling upon zombies, and run into creepy individuals that make even Tom uneasy.  The predicaments they find themselves in are exciting, and I constantly wondered how they were going to get out of them unscathed.  It really was hard to put the book down.

The disconnect for me is with the villains.  They are one-dimensional, and that made them boring.  They are all bad, for no reason.  They don’t have an interesting backstory to explain their brutal ways, and because they are defined only by their evil deeds, with no real reason why they are committing these atrocities, there was nothing compelling about them.  I love a bad guy that has some depth, that I can feel even a twinge of compassion for, because something happened to turn them into monsters.  The only thing that happened to these guys is the same thing that happened to everyone else, but most of the surviving humans don’t run around killing children and anyone else weaker than them. 

There is a terrible, horrible thing that happens near the end that also spoiled some of my enjoyment, but after reading George RR Martin, the demise of favorite characters doesn’t pack quite the same punch as it used to.  Until that moment, there wasn’t much emotional connection to the story for me, and that’s why Dust & Decay fell a bit flat for me.  That being said, it’s still an adrenaline rush, and I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Flesh & Bone.

Grade:  B-

Review copy read at Scribd

From Amazon:

Six months have passed since the terrifying battle with Charlie Pink-eye and the Motor City Hammer in the zombie-infested mountains of the Rot & Ruin. It’s also six months since Benny Imura and Nix Riley saw something in the air that changed their lives. Now, after months of rigorous training with Benny’s zombie-hunter brother Tom, Benny and Nix are ready to leave their home forever and search for a better future. Lilah the Lost Girl and Benny’s best friend Lou Chong are going with them.

Sounds easy. Sounds wonderful. Except that everything that can go wrong does. Before they can even leave there is a shocking zombie attack in town. But as soon as they step into the Rot & Ruin they are pursued by the living dead, wild animals, insane murderers and the horrors of Gameland –where teenagers are forced to fight for their lives in the zombie pits. Worst of all…could the evil Charlie Pink-eye still be alive?

In the great Rot & Ruin everything wants to kill you. Everything…and not everyone in Benny’s small band of travelers will make it out alive.

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23. Review: Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

Written in the Stars is an emotionally compelling story, and man, did it make me angry!  To think that there are still cultures that value the lives and dreams of girls so little that they would sell them into marriage when they are still basically children makes me so frustrated for the future of all of us.  The protagonist Naila is a hard-working honor student with one goal in life – going to med school and becoming a doctor.  When she lies to her parents and sneaks off to prom, she’s punished in the most demeaning way.  She’s taken to Pakistan, lied to by her parents, and married off against her will.  Good-bye, intelligent, science-minded young woman. You are going to be a cloistered housewife for the rest of your life, and all of those endless possibilities that were once open to you?  Gone.  All of those people your medical skills could have saved?  Nope, your parents thought being barefoot and pregnant at seventeen was a more worthy pursuit for your keen mind.  Sigh.

Naila’s always been an obedient child, but when she enters her senior year in high school, she and Saif, also of Pakistani descent, can no longer deny their feelings for each other.  Saif’s sister, however, brought shame on their family by marrying an American, and Naila’s parents and their friends won’t have anything to do with the family anymore.  They gossip mercilessly about them, and no longer invite them for parties or gatherings.  Saif’s parents, they whisper to each other, did a terrible job raising them, and both Saif and his sister are disgraceful.  Naila must keep her feelings for Saif a secret.  She knows her parents would never understand or approve of her feelings for him, so their relationship is confined within the school walls.  Naila is just waiting to graduate, so that she can get out of her parents house, move into the dorm on campus, and have a little bit of freedom with she studies to be a doctor.

Her world shatters when she’s caught with Saif at senior prom.  Her parents promptly book the next plane to Pakistan, not even allowing her to attend her graduation.  Once at her uncle’s home, she starts to think that things will be okay.  Her parents are happy being back home with their families, and Naila is enjoying getting to know her cousins and her aunts and uncles.  She’s annoyed with all of the gatherings her mother keeps dragging her to, expecting her to dress up and answer bewildering questions about herself. After a month, it  all gets very tiring, and she just wants to get back to Florida so she can attend orientation.

Then she learns, to her horror, that her parents are searching for a husband for her.  She’s basically trapped, and has no one to turn to.  Her parents have taken her visa, her passport, and her spending money.  She’s in a rural village, and has no way to get to the airport.  Her parents are suddenly strangers to her, and she despairs at ever going back home to Florida.

Written in the Stars is hard to put down.  Naila’s narrative is so engaging that you don’t want to leave her world, as hopeless as it is at times.  She’s an intelligent young woman, though, and she doesn’t give up hope of getting the future she dreams of.  Just when she thinks she’s out of options, a new door opens, if only she has the courage to step through it. 

The details of life in rural Pakistan are colorful and vivid. The reader explores Naila’s  fascinating new world with her, and her daily activities come to life.  Most compelling, I think, is how powerless and how inconsequential she was to her family.  Her parents really thought they were doing what was best for her, but I had a very hard time understanding them, especially her father, who had to give up his own dreams of becoming a doctor to run the family dry cleaning business.  Family honor is of utmost importance, but being an American, the concept of doing everything your parents tell you, even into adulthood, is incomprehensible to me.   Though Written in the Stars ends on an upbeat note, it’s sobering to think of all of the girls in situations where there is no happily ever after.

Grade:  B+/A-

Review copy borrowed from my local library

From Amazon:

This heart-wrenching novel explores what it is like to be thrust into an unwanted marriage. Has Naila’s fate been written in the stars? Or can she still make her own destiny?

Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want her to marry him, now! Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif . . . if he can find her before it’s too late.

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24. Review: Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

Under a Painted Sky was such a fun read!  The time period is unusual – 1849 America.  The adventurous protagonists, Samantha, a young woman of Chinese descent, and Annamae, a runaway slave, disguise themselves as boys and head west from Missouri, hitting the Oregon Trail and pretending to be prospectors.  I love anything to do with the Oregon Trail, and this book is exciting, suspenseful, and completely engaging.  All I know is that I would never have had the courage to do the things both Samantha and Annamae are forced to do to save themselves after an accident forces them to run for their lives.

Samantha is having a terrible day.  First, she loses everything in a terrible fire that claims the life of her father, then she’s tricked and almost forced to work in a brothel.  Annamae saves her, and they both head west, looking for Sammy’s father’s friend, who headed to California on an unknown errand for Sammy’s father.  The girls run into a group of cowboys, and the boys agree to let them travel with them for a while.  The girls must hide their true identities, learn to survive in the wilderness, and protect themselves from unwanted attention.  Sammy knows that the law is looking for her, and she’s terrified to show her face to fellow travelers on the Oregon Trail.  Andy’s going to be in just as much trouble after running away, but she’s determined to find her older brother, who is somewhere out west.

I loved this book so much.  The details of life on the trail are fascinating and compelling.  Any little mistake can spell disaster or death, and Sammy is like a fish out of water.  At least she can ride, a huge help now that they are traveling with Cay, West, and Peety and their horses.  Andy is given the least well behaved mare, and she can’t ride a lick.  Talk about learning on the fly!  I’ve been riding for years, and I don’t think I could ride all day long, for months on end.  Wouldn’t it be fun to try, though? The  lack of running water or flush toilets gives me pause, though. I like my conveniences too much to reenact a journey on the Oregon Trail.

The fast pace of Samantha and Annamae’s adventures will keep readers on the edge of their seat.  Deep down, though, Under the Painted Sky is really the tale of friendship and grit; both girls face seemingly insurmountable challenges, but they refuse to give up their dreams or each other.  Highly Recommended 

Grade:  B+ / A-

Review copy borrowed from my local library

From Amazon:

A powerful story of friendship and sacrifice, for fans of Code Name Verity

Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

This beautifully written debut is an exciting adventure and heart-wrenching survival tale. But above all else, it’s a story about perseverance and trust that will restore your faith in the power of friendship.

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25. Review: In the Brazilian’s Debt by Susan Stephens

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

So I couldn’t resist the polo.  Where there is polo, there are polo ponies, or so my thought processes would like to think.  And yes, there were horses in Susan Stephens’ In the Brazilian’s Debt, but alas, not enough to keep me happy.  The biggest disappointment, however, was Chico, because he treated Lizzie so terribly after having sex with her.  He went from being Mr Hottie Sex God to Biggest Jerk on the Planet in 0 to 60, and I was like, “What?”

To say that Lizzie comes from a messed up family is the understatement of the year.  When she was 15, Chico and his mentor, Eduardo, visited her family’s stud farm in Scotland, and Lizzie and Chico formed a fast friendship.  Or so she thought.  She confided in him how awfully her parents treated her, and the terrible things that went on in her house, and she begged to go back to Brazil with him and Eduardo.  Chico promised to help her, but he suddenly left without a word to her.  Heartbroken, she watched as her parents brought ruin to the family legacy with their greed and depravity.  Only Lizzie’s grandmother’s intervention saved them from losing the land and farm that had been in the family for generations.

Years later, Lizzie’s the last hope for saving the family farm.  She’s won a scholarship to Chico’s polo training program.  In the intervening years, Chico has become a polo legend, and he’s worked hard to establish a multi-million dollar empire.  Chico came from the slums, and only Eduardo saved him from a life of poverty.  Now he gives back, by mentoring poor youths, and by teaching his equine skills to a select few.  He’s surprised to see Lizzie among the latest group of students; she left him high and dry after her mother accused him of raping her.  He’s still angry that she didn’t take his side, or that she ignored the letters that he wrote to her afterwards. 

There’s a lot of hurt feelings and misunderstandings for Chico and Lizzie to work through, but they both feel the same attraction for each other.  Though Lizzie tries to avoid Chico, it’s nearly impossible.  Still, she resists her feelings for him because finishing the training program means so much to her, and as the instructor, Chico is off-limits.  Until a sultry night, when she throws her inhibitions away. And then he treats her like a Class A Jerk, and my affections for him withered and died like my neglected house planets.

He did manage to get back into my good graces, at least a little bit, after a family tragedy forces Lizzie back home to Scotland. He’s very supportive, and sends her parents packing when they appear on the scene like so many vultures.  They are so awful they’re actually entertaining.  They both deserved an extended vacation at the local penitentiary.

I didn’t like Chico when he was in Brazil.  Chico in Scotland was more tolerable.  Given their history, he knew how poorly Lizzie had been treated by her parents, and that her grandmother was the only family member she could trust.  His casual treatment of her during the party was just…there are no words. He knew what her parents were like, and that at 15, she had no control over their actions (not like she had any control over them as an adult!). She deserved better, and I thought she forgave him far to easily.

Grade:  C

Review copy borrowed from my local library

From Amazon:

Paying for the past…

Lady Elizabeth Fane has two choices: lose her family’s Scottish stud farm or swallow her pride and beg Chico Fernandez for help. She’s never forgiven the arrogant Brazilian polo star for abandoning her years before, so instead she will collect on the debt he owes her. 

Yet in the sultry Brazilian heat passions flare, revealing feelings Lizzie thought she had long conquered. That is until Chico finally reveals the truth behind his desertion and Lizzie realizes that he not only has power over her body but it’s she who is in the Brazilian’s debt!

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