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1. Review: The Sheikh’s Princess Bride by Annie West

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I waited a long time on library hold for The Sheikh’s Princess Bride.  After reading The Sultan’s Harem Bride, I was interested to see what happened to Asim’s sister, Samira.  I was ultimately disappointed, though, because the book featured one of my least favorite tropes – the miracle baby.  There wasn’t one hint in the synopsis about it, or I probably wouldn’t have checked it out from the library.  This trope almost never works for me, so it was no surprise that it didn’t work here, either.

Samira longs for a family.  After her miscarriage, she is unable to conceive again, so she decides to ask her childhood friend, Tariq, to marry her.  He lost his wife and has young twin boys to raise, but juggling the duties of ruling Al- Sharath with raising his energetic sons is challenging.  While at first put off by Samira’s proposal, he agrees to her plan, without telling her that he doesn’t really agree with her only condition, and who could blame him?  What man would settle for a marriage in name only, without any of the benefits of matrimony?

Once Tariq makes it clear after their wedding that they will be a couple in all ways, Samira feels betrayed.  Tariq had given his word that there would be no sex, after all, and now she can’t trust him. He’s persistent and persuasive, however, and she soon gives in to her attraction to him.  They have agreed that neither will fall in love with other.  Both have had disastrous relationships in the past, and neither wants to suffer through that again.  Samira was publically cheated on by what she thought was the love of her life, and Tariq watched his wife wallow in sadness when he just couldn’t return her feelings for him.  Both Samira and Tariq swore that love would never bring them low again, and of course, neither can stick to their guns.

Samira quickly finds married life satisfying and fulfilling.  She now has two sons and an attentive husband.  When she discovers that, miraculously, she’s pregnant, she can’t understand Tariq’s sudden distance from her.  Tariq is still suffering from the guilt of not being able to save his late wife, who died in childbirth.  At first he’s angry at Samira, believing that she lied to him, and then he’s fearful that the same fate will befall her.  Samira is hurt now that Tariq is suddenly too busy to spend any time with her, and she wonders what she’s done wrong.

As previously stated, I dislike the miracle baby trope, so that earned a big groan of dismay from me.  The other problem for me was Tariq.  He constantly insists to himself that he is incapable of love because of his harsh upbringing, yet he dotes on his young sons.  He’s furious that Samira didn’t discuss the pregnancy with him first, too, which made me want to slap him on the side of the head and say, “Hello!!  Miracle baby, dude!  These things just aren’t PLANNED!”  It took him so long to realize that he did have deep feelings for Samira that I started getting impatient with him  When she decided to put some physical distance between them and go to Paris – that was when Tariq finally has his light bulb moment.  If I had been Samira, I’d have made him work a little harder for her forgiveness. 

If the miracle baby trope doesn’t bother you like it bugs me, you will probably enjoy The Sheikh’s Princess Bride better than I did.  Though it ultimately wasn’t my cup of tea, I did remain invested in the story.

Grade:  C-

Review copy obtained from my local library

Wanted: royal bride and mother

For Sheikh Tariq of Al-Sharath, one miserable marriage was enough. With a kingdom to rule, he has no time—or wish—to find a bride, but his children need a mother. 

Could Princess Samira of Jazeer be the answer? Samira has sampled passion, and it left a bad taste. With the knowledge she can’t have the children she’s always wanted, Samira steps into Tariq’s ready-made family. Her only condition? No sex!

Samira thought royal duties and her love for Tariq’s children would fill the hole in her heart, but a craving is building that only the sheikh’s touch can cure…

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2. Leaky Cauldron Restaurant Needs Your Vote

The Leaky Cauldron at Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley needs your vote to be ranked Best Amusement Park Restaurant.  USA Today has nominated 20 restaurants from theme parks across the United States and is asking readers to select their favorite to create a ranked list.  As of this morning, the Leaky Cauldron is ranked #2.

Harry Potter fans will love tasty British fare, such as fish and chips, cottage pie and bangers and mash at this pub located in Diagon Alley. The Leaky Cauldron was carefully-crafted to ensure authenticity after years of studying Harry Potter books and movies as well as typical British pubs. Of course, Butterbeer — the popular wizarding beverage — is available for purchase.

Several of our Leaky Cauldron staff have good things to say about the restaurant.  Emma Pocock says, “The Leaky Cauldron has a great atmosphere, and really adds to the ‘English village’ vibe they’ve got going in this section of the park – the food is great, too! It really feels like you’re walking into the real thing, but the weather’s probably hotter.”

Alysha McLeod writes, “Stepping into The Leaky Cauldron is like being whisked into Harry’s world by a portkey. The atmosphere is incredible, and the food is wonderful. It’s a nice change of pace from most theme park food–everything is so comforting and homemade-tasting. The Yorkshire pudding and minted peas were a particular highlight for me.

Finally, Catherine writes, “When eating at the Leaky Cauldron, I found myself expecting to see Harry, Ron and Hermione, sitting at a table in the corner, huddled away with their glasses of Butterbeer. The extraordinary attention to detail makes one feel as if they have actually stepped into the world of Harry Potter; with every glance around the room I found something new. The family atmosphere, excellent witches and wizard on the wait staff, and good English food made the Leaky Cauldron exactly how I imagined it would be. One of the best parts of my visit to Diagon Alley was enjoying a Butterbeer at the Leaky Cauldron (and hugging the cracked Cauldron, of course). On my last night in Diagon Alley, as the park was closing, I specifically bought a Butterbeer from the near-empty Leaky Cauldron restaurant, and sat on the window sill, watching muggles and magical folk trickle back though the brick wall, while the music and the lights remained alive. It was a truly magical experience, and The Leaky Cauldron deserve to be voted America’s #1 Theme Park Restaurant.”

Each person can vote once daily until July 7 to support the Leaky Cauldron restaurant.  Thanks Robert Martinez Jr. and Marianella Zapata Noriega for letting us know that our shared namesake has made this list!

See here to cast your vote.

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3. Mini Manga Review: An Uncommon Abigail by Kyoko Sagara and Joanna Maitland

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

This is another .99 Harlequin manga that I nabbed from Amazon.  An Uncommon Abigail would have received a higher grade if it had been the complete story, but there are a lot of loose ends that need to be tied up.  I am assuming those will be tied up in The Prodigal Bride.  When I purchased this, I did not realize that it is not complete in one volume, and there is no mention of that fact in the manga itself. I had to use Google-fu and Amazon to track down the next volume.  (The Fortune Hunter is the first volume – it took me even longer to figure that out!  I only managed that because I finally located the original book the manga is adapted from.)

Amy, fearful that her younger brother has been kidnapped, disguises herself as a lady’s maid with the help of her friend Sara.  Together, they attend a house party, searching for clues as to Ned’s disappearance.  While snooping through Major Anthony’s rooms, Amy discovers a naked man!  Little does she know that she’s uncovered another mystery, but this one may cost her her reputation.

This is a cute, fast read with pretty art. The lavish details given to clothing and backgrounds made for a visually interesting read, and emotions are deftly revealed through facial expressions.  Amy is determined to save Marcus after he protects her from an unruly house guest, putting himself in danger of discovery.  Wanted for the merciless beating of a gentleman, Marcus is hiding until he can clear his name.  Now that Amy is on the case, he’s worried that she’ll be ruined or injured by his foe.  I was entertained right up until the point that it dawned on me that – NOPE! – I wasn’t going to find out what had happened to Anthony’s wife, (he’s been accused of murdering her), or to see William’s comeuppance. That was disappointing because I wasn’t expecting it, as the Harlequin manga are typically complete in one volume.

Grade:  B- / C+

Review purchased from Amazon

Amy, despite being of noble birth, is attending a grand party at the famous Lyndhurst Chase estate, not as a lady but as a maid. Her younger brother Ned was last spotted at Lyndhurst before his mysterious disappearance. And there are rumours that Major Anthony, the owner of the Lyndhurst estate, is responsible for the disappearance of his own wife not long ago. What kind of trouble has her brother gotten into? Under the disguise of a lady’s maid, she sets off to look for clues of Ned’s whereabouts. But during her search, she comes across a mysterious man in hiding. Who is he and could he have something to do with Ned’s disappearance? But the more Amy learns about this handsome stranger, the more perilous her world becomes. Especially after she falls in love with him.…

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4. Review: Undone by the Sultan’s Touch by Caitlin Crews

Contains Many Spoilers

Review:

I haven’t read anything by this author before, and honestly, I’m not sure what prompted me to borrow this particular title from the library.  I don’t usually read the plot summaries for Presents, so it wasn’t that.  The cover?  Nah, I don’t think it was that, either.  Sure, the dress is beautiful, spread out around the couple, but the rest of it is a confusing mess.  Are those rose petals? A carpet?  Pink lily pads?  It was probably the latest Harlequin release that was actually available for check-out, so check it out I did.

I have a love-hate relationship with Undone by the Sultan’s Touch.  I don’t even know what to rate this. On one hand, it is emotional and angsty, with a whirlwind romance in an exotic location and the promise of a fairy tale that ultimately goes unfulfilled. On the other hand, Khaled was a jerk, and I was waiting for the big grovel from him. It never came. Instead, Cleo just takes him back. He was right in thinking she was a mouse. The thought of spending the rest of my life with an emotionally disconnected guy like that is so NOT appealing. Both characters were emotionally stunted, and neither took ownership of their faults. It was always someone else’s fault they acted/reacted the way they did.

Cleo is running away from the embarrassment and heartbreak of catching her fiancé, Brian, doing the nasty with another woman, two weeks before their wedding.  When she angrily calls off the ceremony and vows to have nothing else to do with him, her family urges her to forgive him and just go with the flow.  Cleo digs in her heels, packs a bag, and heads off for parts unknown to find herself.  The whole time, she fumes and broods about the ex, even after meeting Khaled.  Which made me think that her initial interest in her handsome sheik was just her idea of revenge against Brian.  His presence in the story is like that of an abscessed tooth, ceaselessly irritating.  Cleo brings Brian up so often, it was obvious that she hadn’t forgiven him, hadn’t gotten over him, and wasn’t ready for a new relationship.  There could be no other reason for her to pick Khaled, because he’s not exactly a knight in shining armor, either.

Khaled’s motivation for his courtship and marriage to Cleo are purely selfish.  His country is in political turmoil, as well as financial distress.  He is courting foreign investment, and he believes that by marrying Cleo, he will make Jhurat more appealing to Westerners.  So he remakes Cleo into a fairy tale princess, with a new look, beautiful clothes, and a romance to be the envy of women the world over.  Only he’s just pretending, and Cleo, who is so out of her depth, doesn’t realize that all he wants is a wife, an heir, and no emotional entanglements.  His plan is to get her pregnant, send her to the family estate outside of the city, and rule his country without the interference of messy emotions. 

Cleo, caught up in the fantasy, ignores the warning signs that something is wrong.  She marries Khaled, and then doesn’t understand why, after their wonderful honeymoon, a week at Khaled’s private oasis, he suddenly doesn’t want to spend time with her.  He won’t even let her move into his suite.  Nope, she’s going to stay in her own room, and when he wants her, he’ll seek her out.  When she dares to go to him, to invade his space, he is appallingly cruel to her.  After that, I was expecting a great big grovel from Khaled into order for me to believe that he loved her and would try to put her, if not first on his list, at least second after Jhurat, because, you know, he’s the sultan and he is Jhurat.  Instead, we don’t really get to see his remorse, and Cleo decides that she is just as much to blame for their problems as he is.  Say? What??  UGH!  I disliked how meekly Cleo went back to Khaled, after finding the strength to leave him.  I didn’t find her revelation a measure of her new found maturity or a show of courage; instead, I found it the exact opposite.  I thought it a weakness, that she was blinded by sex,  and I never got the feeling that they had worked through their very different ideas of love, marriage, and companionship.  It was a very disappointing ending, and I am so unconvinced of their HEA that I am weeping bitter tears over the 3 hours it took me to finish reading this.

Despite my reservations, I want to read another book by this author.  I found the writing emotional and raw, and had a hard time putting Undone by the Sultan’s Touch down.  So, I guess you can say that I enjoyed the author’s writing style far better than I enjoyed this particular romance.

Grade:  ?? B-? C? D??  I have no idea what grade to give this one!

Review copy obtained from my local library

“Kiss me, if you are so daring!”

When Cleo Churchill’s travels land her in the path of Khaled bin Aziz, Sultan of Jhurat, she’s instantly transfixed by his warrior physique, commanding presence and intense eyes. But what would a sultan want with an ordinary girl like her?

Cleo is exactly what Khaled needs: a convenient, yet beautiful bride to unite his warring country. He’ll offer her diamonds and riches but nothing more.

Yet as their marriage plays out in the darkness of the night, the passions unearthed threaten to consume them both!

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5. Review: Running Wolf by Jenna Kernan

 

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I haven’t read a historical romance featuring Native American protagonists in a long time, so I snapped this up from the library.  When I was younger, I used to eat these up.  Ride the Wind, Nakoa’s Woman, Only Earth and Sky Last Forever – if it featured Native Americans, it ended up on my wish list.  There were so many of them published in the 80s and 90s, and then – nothing!  Regencies took over, I read more fantasy and comic books, and that was the end of that reading phase of my life.

I enjoyed Running Wolf, but I did have some problems with it, mainly due to the power disparity between Running Wolf and Snow Raven.  After she is captured in a raid, she is taken to Running Wolf’s village.  As his captive and a hated Crow, his Sioux clan does not treat her well.  She is beaten and stripped naked, and after Running Wolf gives her to his mother, Ebbing Water, she is ill-treated and only given food and a blanket because of Running Wolf’s intervention.  His mother hates Snow Raven because she is a Crow, and a Crow warrior killed her husband.  She is instantly suspicious of her son’s motives.  Why has he brought this captive to their village?  While he claims that he captured Snow Raven so she would have a servant to make her life easier after he moves into his own tepee, even Running Wolf knows that he’s not being honest with himself.

Snow Raven is fierce and independent, and when she’s taken captive, she thinks about taking her own life.  She doesn’t want to die, however, and she thinks that her father, Chief Six Elks, will eventually rescue her.  Then she realizes what an impossible task that will be for her people.  All of their horses were stolen by the Sioux, winter will soon settle over the Plains, and preparations need to be taken for the winter.  How will they even hunt without their horses?  This does pose an almost insurmountable challenge for her village, because they depend so heavily on the horse to help with hunting, protection, and moving the village as the weather changes.

Once she’s given to Ebbing Water,  she understands the position she’s in.  Snow Raven has to work for everything, and still she’s given only meager servings of food and nothing to clothe herself with.  She didn’t expect to be treated well, and her own people probably would have killed a captive Sioux, but she’s not willing to just give up.  After her mother died, Snow Raven began to pursue tasks typically undertaken by boys.  Though her father didn’t encourage her, she was taught to hunt, ride, and shoot a bow like a man.  These skills are put to good use, as she is able to trap small game, and because of Running Wolf, she is allowed to keep the hides. 

I liked Snow Raven, because she is tough and determined to survive.  She’s also capable and brave.  Running Wolf, on the other hand, I had a harder time with.  He is a war chief, and he believes that his duty to his people trumps everything else.  These feelings for this Crow captive?  They are fleeting and a test of his ability to be a future leader.  As a war chief, he’s not supposed to be selfish and keep things for himself.  Whenever he thinks of Snow Raven, he becomes jealous and possessive.  He only gives her to his mother because it would be unseemly for him to keep her for himself.  So, instead of just keeping her, and keeping her safe, he puts Snow Raven in so many needlessly dangerous situations.  His mother hates her because she is Crow, and she would be more than happy to cut her throat.  Many of his tribesmen are accusing Snow Raven of being a witch and casting a spell over him, and his erratic behavior towards her doesn’t help matters.  I thought he was the exact opposite of what he wanted to be: by pretending that Snow Raven didn’t mean anything to him, he came across as selfish and unfeeling to me.  While I’m sure he pacified some of his people, he alienated me, the reader, and I just wanted Snow Raven to steal a horse and run far, far away.

My opinion of him improved later in the book, but if I hadn’t liked Snow Raven so much, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed Running Wolf.  It’s grimmer and a little grittier than I was expecting, and I didn’t find it particularly romantic.  I did find it engrossing and hard to put down, but if you are looking for sunshine and rainbows, I don’t think you are going to find it here. 

Grade:  B

Review copy obtained from my local library

 

Rival tribes…

Running Wolf is a valiant Sioux warrior. During his first raid as war chief, he captures a surprising Crow enemy—a woman! This spirited fighter is unlike any he’s ever met. Her beauty and audacity are entrancing, but threaten his iron resolve…

…rival passions

Snow Raven must focus on freeing herself, not on the man who keeps her captive. But as she falls deeper under Running Wolf’s spell, she realizes he is her warrior—and she’ll risk everything for him!

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6. Manga Review: A Game of Chance by Linda Howard and Nanao Hidaka

 

 

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

Once a week or so, I search through the Harlequin manga for the .99 titles.  I purchased A Game of Chance because it was written by Linda Howard and it is part of the Mackenzie Family series. I was very disappointed with it; the adaptation from novel to comic did not work for me.  I felt that the story was way too complicated for the allotted pages, and I never got a sense of who the characters were. 

Chance Mackenzie is trying to track down evil terrorist Crispin Hauer, and after hacking into a government database, he located the birth certificate and adoption records for Hauer’s daughter, Sunny Miller.  He cooks up an elaborate plan to get her on his private plane and crash into a remote, inaccessible mountain range in an effort to get to know her and get her to give up the goods on her father.  He can’t fight the undeniable attraction he feels for her, and soon they are caught up in a steamy affair.  It soon becomes clear to Chance that Sunny doesn’t know anything about her birth father, and she’s spent her enter life running from him and his men.  Not one to fail at a mission, Chance decides to use Sunny as bait to bring down his target and put an end to Hauer’s terrorism.

That’s an awful lot of story to fit into 192 pages of a comic book.  The story didn’t flow well for me, and the romance was far too rushed and unconvincing.  Both protagonists’ casual disregard for using protection also grated on my last little nerve, especially after Chance boasted about the number of condoms he had.

Chance is the most unprofessional undercover agent ever, and getting the daughter of the international terrorist you are trying to catch pregnant isn’t really good form.  I had a problem with  his background story, too.  If he was a feral kid living on the streets until he was 14, he must have had one heck of an awesome tutor to get him all caught on the schooling he missed out on so he could join the Navy, become a SEAL, and learn his super-duper computer hacking skills.  I guess anyone can learn how to fly a plane, especially a SEAL, but crashing it into a mountain and not getting a dent on it, despite all of the rocks it scraped up during the crash landing – I just didn’t buy that. I wish I had his spy budget and could crash a plane in a remote area for a little downtime (I of course would make sure all of my Kindles were charged prior to takeoff.) And how convenient that Sunny carries an emergency kit complete with first aid kit, rations, water, blankets, and a….tent?  NOPE.  That just seems like an awful lot of stuff to drag around every day, even if your father is an evil terrorist trying to catch you, and was a wee bit too convenient.

I didn’t care for the art, either.  Character proportions are awkward and the artistic style is more minimalistic than I care for.  It’s functional, and that’s about it.  Glad I only paid .99 for this.

Grade:  D-

Review copy purchase from Amazon

Intelligence operative Chance Mackenzie has been looking for an elusive international terrorist, and finally comes across some information about the terrorist’s beloved daughter. Her name is Sunny. She is clearly in league with the terrorists. Chance fakes a “chance encounter,” gets Sunny on a private plane and crashes it in a canyon. It was all part of his plan to get her alone and trick her into revealing her father’s location. But her bright, sparkling eyes and golden hair are so pure and angelic… Chance is confused by these new, intense feelings brought about by a passionate kiss.

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7. Review: Tycoon’s Delicious Debt by Susanna Carr

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

As you know, Harlequins are my crack.  It doesn’t matter which series, I love them all.  I can always count on them for a quick escape from reality, so when the author of Tycoon’s Delicious Debt asked if I would review it, I jumped.  I haven’t read Susanna Carr previously, so I was eager to give a new to me author a try.  I have read a few of the books in The Chatsfield continuity, which was another plus because once I start something, I try to finish it, (though I’m not always successful!).

Serena Dominguez is consumed by an all-encompassing rage that has directed every move she’s made since she was old enough to work. The Brocks destroyed her family, plunging them into poverty and despair.  She was forced to watch as her mother sold off one piece of jewelry after another to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.  Finally, the strain became too much for her parents and they divorced, another casualty of the Brock family.  Seething with an anger that can only be quenched after she has done to the Brocks what was done to her family, Serena finally has the means to bring about their ruin.

Cooper Brock took over the family business after his father, Aaron, retired.  Cooper is aware that his father didn’t play on a level playing field, and heck, he hasn’t either.  Pressured to be successful in every endeavor, Cooper cheated his way into his first major deal, giving himself a reputation that he hadn’t really earned.  When Serena appears with a tantalizing offer, he must reject it because the price is too high.  She sniped a land deal from him, and now she’s willing to sell it to him for hotel shares he owns.  He needs those shares, though, to keep the lid firmly sealed on his previous dirty deal.  Now that he has become successful in his own right, through legitimate negotiations, he isn’t proud of his past and he’ll do anything to keep it quiet.  When Serena threatens to reveal his father’s dirty laundry to the press, however, he realizes that he may be forced to sacrifice his own reputation to protect his father.

I enjoy the enemies to lovers trope, so I plowed right through this book.  While I had a hard time sympathizing with Serena, I loved Cooper.  He astutely chastises her for wasting most of her adult life seeking her revenge, even after her parents had moved on with their lives.  When it’s revealed that her father wasn’t a completely innocent victim – well, that made her thirst for vengeance less warranted.  Serena picked and chose which transgressions deserved to be punished, conveniently ignoring that her father was just as shady as Cooper’s.  That and her insistence that it was her due to have the privileged upbringing that Cooper had just grated every time she brought it up. 

Both Cooper and Serena had empty lives, and they needed each other to realize what a hot mess they made of their potential.  Serena wasted all of her energy chasing something that didn’t really matter any more, and even with her goal in reach, she was still unhappy.  There was no joy or satisfaction in bringing about the ruin of another life.  Cooper spent his entire life trying to be perfect, to earn the love and respect of his parents, something that he never received.  All of his accomplishments meant nothing because he didn’t have anyone to share them with.  Cooper and Serena are able to finally let their guard down around each other, and discover a sense of peace and belonging.  Cooper felt especially grounded when he was with Serena, and he’s the first to realize how special their relationship is.  Serena fights him every step of the way because she can’t set aside her anger, and that was my greatest complaint with the story.  Serena just can’t let it go, even after Cooper proves himself to be a caring, honest man, and I found her constant distrust of him irritating.  I thought the resolution was a little too rushed, but overall, I enjoyed Tycoon’s Delicious Debt.

Grade:  B   Great read for the beach!

Review copy provided by the author

He has a debt to pay…

Cooper Brock knows Serena Dominguez can ruin him with a snap of her delectable fingers, but he won’t give in to her demands easily. Instead, he gives Serena his own ultimatum: to confront the smoldering attraction between them.

And she’s ready to collect!

Serena has spent her life planning the downfall of this man. But when she yields to his challenge, Serena is stripped bare by Cooper’s raw passion. As he holds her in his arms and whispers her name, Serena realizes she may have just fallen in love with her enemy…

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8. Review: THE FOUR POINTS #3

The Four Points #3

TheFourPoints-v1_03-Aspen

 

Story: Scott Lobdell

Art: Jordan Gunderson

Colors: Valentina Pinto

Letters: Josh Reed

Publisher: Aspen COmics

 

 

 

Team stories are probably the hardest to tell in comics, maybe anywhere. To enjoy any tale; the reader needs to know whose story it is. A perfect example would be when you watched The Mighty Ducks, the movie was the redemption story of Gordon Bombay, but we’re made to believe this is a movie about a hockey team. That film also exemplifies how once we know whose story it is the supporting characters need to have a delicate balance that doesn’t steal the focus but keeps them from being trees in the background. The Four Points by Aspen Comics has been that right team story and it doesn’t even have Emilo Estevez or Joshua Jackson in it.

Four Points is the story of a mental patient named Gia who through both a gift and a curse is forced to bring together three volatile elements to save the world from the approaching horsemen of the apocalypse. These elements are in fact complete strangers from around the globe. A Russian wind rider named Ivana, the fire goddess Ara, and the publisher’s most recognizable face Aspen Matthews. So far this dysfunctional group has survived a confrontation with the horseman known as War. In issue #3, the team is in the middle east investigating a plague ravaging the population. It’s easy to guess which horseman they’ll have to deal with in order to put an end to the suffering, but where the book poses its heavy questions is in the hard choices they’ll have to make if they want to stop it. If you’ve read any of the Fathom volumes, you already know Aspen Matthews is a morally centered agent of life. Her affiliation to Gia’s crusade will be tested if she’s forced to play the role of assassin. In the end, more questions about this ominous threat are raised as these Four Points struggle to aim in the same direction.

Writer, Scott Lobdell isn’t particularly known for lacing his stories with political undertones. It’s why Four Points feels different from most of the work he’s done. He’s brought together female characters of radically different cultural backgrounds and melts the pot in front of the readers eyes. The big questions of Four Points surround Gia and the messed up mindset she inherited from her family. Finding out where the voices in her head come from is just part of the appeal. There’s a hook in how much mistrust the other three have for each other but know they can’t save the world alone. Sure it’s been done lots of times before, but when done right it’s still good every single time.

Lobdell has always been a writer whose story can be greatly deterred by subpar artwork. Fortunately, artist Jordan Gunderson is solid here. Any Fathom story needs to have the spirt of a Michael Turner book. Gunderson imitates the iconic artist’s most notable trait without cloning it, sex appeal. Turner had a gift for drawing the most gorgeous female characters and giving them allure without crossing the line of cheap. The sultry eyes and powerful posture are well used in this book. Gunderson still has some room to grow when it comes to the faces in smaller panels but his larger detail work makes up for it.

If you’re on the fence about trying Four Points, you definitely have to start at the beginning. The story is one of the best put out by Aspen so far this year. It’s a familiar dive into the fantasy pools they like to swim in, but it manages to do a lot of fresh things. Despite a bit of an abrupt ending, Four Points #3 is worth picking up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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9. Review: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I was in the mood for something different, and when I saw Elantris mentioned on a list of zombie books, I decided to give it a shot.  While there aren’t zombies in the traditional sense, Prince Raoden, is technically dead, with no heartbeat, no real need to eat, and wounds that never heal.  When he becomes the victim of a curse that makes him one of the living dead, his father sends him to the deteriorating city of Elantris, which was once the shining beacon of Arelon.  Now its magnificent buildings crumble and its streets are coated in slime.  The other cursed residents of Elantris suffer from an all-consuming hunger, and every little wound causes unending suffering.  Those that have succumbed to the pain lie huddled in the streets, muttering and no longer aware of their surroundings.

At over 500 pages,  Elantris is a bit longer than novels that I usually read.  This isn’t a conscious decision on my part, but most of the books that I read clock in at around 350 pages.  I don’t know if that’s because publishers are so focused on series now and the pressure to produce books on a steady time table has put a dent in page count. Or maybe reader attention span has forced shorter books to prevail.  Regardless, when I see a longer book, I do sometimes think twice about picking it up because they can take so long to read.  A thousand pages can be off putting.  Five hundred pages – that’s doable in a few days for me, so I clicked the Borrow button and settled down with my first Sanderson read.

I really liked the characters, and there are a lot of them. Sarene was my favorite, with Raoden running a close second.  They were engaged to be married, until Raoden’s untimely “death.”  When Princess Sarene arrives from Toed, she’s dismayed to discover that she’s now a widow.  The terms of the marriage contract between Toed and Arelon stipulated that should Raoden die, the marriage instantly becomes binding.  Toed and Arelon are the last two countries holding out against the religious fanatics from Fjordell.  The marriage between Sarene and Raoden was meant to cement their countries together and make them allies against the priests of Shu Dereth.  With a convert or die policy, countries have fallen like dominoes under the might of Fjordell.  Sarene is committed to resisting conversion to Shu Dereth, and she and Hrathen, a high priest who has been sent to convert Arelon, battle to sway the populace of Kae, Arelon’s capital.  Sarene fears that if Arelon falls to Shu Dereth, Teod won’t be far behind.

Sarene learns that Raoden had gathered together followers to oppose his father, King Iadon.  Iadon is a poor ruler and has weakened the country considerably since he took control ten years ago, just after the collapse of Elantris.  Iadon instituted a policy that rewarded the wealthy, and made virtual slaves of the poor.  The injustice is so great that Raoden and his father constantly butted heads over Iadon’s policies.  Sarene wishes to infiltrate Raoden’s group and persuade them to continue their opposition to Iadon, as well as to fight against Hrathen and his efforts to convert the citizens of Arelon to Shu Dereth.

More than anything, Elantris is about politics.  Arelon is seething with political cesspools, from the threat of forced conversion to Shu Dereth, to the possibility of rebellion from a group of nobles.   With Raoden in the decayed city of Elantris, struggling to understand the power behind the Aons that once created the magic and wonders that held Fjordell at bay, there’s yet another threat that few are even aware of.  Everyone thinks that Raoden is dead, and Iadon hasn’t done anything to enlighten them.  A petty man ill suited to leadership, Iadon believes that wealth is an indicator of the right to rule.  With his repressive laws, the poor suffer and seethe at the injustices shown to them.  It’s a huge powder keg just waiting for a spark to ignite.  Sarene turns out to be that spark, but has she brought greater ruin down on the her new country?

I really enjoyed this book.  It’s a nice blend of political intrigue and mystery, with a light romance thrown into the mix.  I wanted to know what happened to the gods of Elantris, those mighty beings that once ruled Arelon.  Why didn’t the magic work anymore, and why were those taken by the Shaod now cursed, powerless shells instead of the once powerful gods that the transformation turned them into?  While I liked Sarene, I was dying to find out the secrets behind the fall of Elantris.  And what was the deal behind the monasteries of Shu Dereth?  The momentum flagged a bit with the chapters featuring Hrathen, but I found him, at the beginning at least, to be humorless and void of a personality.  No wonder he was having trouble winning over the masses during his quest to convert the citizens to his religion!

Grade:  B

Review copy obtained from my local library

From Amazon:

Elantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling.

Arelon’s new capital, Kae, crouches in the shadow of Elantris. Princess Sarene of Teod arrives for a marriage of state with Crown Prince Raoden, hoping — based on their correspondence — to also find love. She finds instead that Raoden has died and she is considered his widow. Both Teod and Arelon are under threat as the last remaining holdouts against the imperial ambitions of the ruthless religious fanatics of Fjordell. So Sarene decides to use her new status to counter the machinations of Hrathen, a Fjordell high priest who has come to Kae to convert Arelon and claim it for his emperor and his god.

But neither Sarene nor Hrathen suspect the truth about Prince Raoden. Stricken by the same curse that ruined Elantris, Raoden was secretly exiled by his father to the dark city. His struggle to help the wretches trapped there begins a series of events that will bring hope to Arelon, and perhaps reveal the secret of Elantris itself.

A rare epic fantasy that doesn’t recycle the classics and that is a complete and satisfying story in one volume, Elantris is fleet and fun, full of surprises and characters to care about. It’s also the wonderful debut of a welcome new star in the constellation of fantasy.

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10. Review: Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I saw Slave to Sensation on Netgalley, and the new cover immediately caught my eye.  Though curious about the Psy-Changeling series, I have been avoiding it because it’s over 10 volumes long, and the thought of catching up on that many books was a bit off-putting.  After finishing this, though, my opinion about that has done a 360, and I’m looking forward to learning more about Nalini Singh’s paranormal world.  This was a great read, hard to put down, and now I understand why her books are so popular. 

Sascha Duncan is a Psy, and her people have stamped out emotions.  To have them is to be flawed, and flawed individuals are sent to rehabilitation, leaving them virtual vegetables.  Sascha’s mother is a powerful Psy and part of the ruling Council.  Sascha is a cardinal Psy. Cardinals are usually extremely powerful, but Sascha’s potential was never realized.  Instead of following in her mother’s footsteps with ambitions to also join the Council, she works diligently for the family business, ever fearful that her terrible secret will be revealed.  Sascha is flawed, and she has spent her entire life hiding her imperfections from the entire Psy community.

When her mother decides to go into business with a pack of changelings, Sascha’s world is tilted on end.  The changelings are considered lesser creatures by the ruling Psy, ruled by their emotions instead of calm intelligence.  Sascha and Lucas, the leopard pack’s alpha, are instantly drawn to each other.  As Sascha’s mental wards begin to crumble, one by one, she worries that she’ll be detained and rehabilitated.   Lucas and his pack are a constant enticement to her, however, and she is overwhelmed by new experiences and an aching need to belong somewhere.

The tension between Lucas and Sascha zinged off the pages.  Neither trusts the other, and Lucas has good cause to be suspicious of his new business partner.  Changeling women are being tortured and murdered by a serial killer, and they believe that the murderer is a Psy.  After a young wolf is kidnapped, the clock is ticking.  The tenuous alliance between the wolves and the leopards is put to the test.  The wolves want to start a war to get their packmate back, but Lucas convinces them to wait a week and allow the leopards to try to find her before her kidnapper kills her. He hopes that he can learn about the Council members from Sascha, because he knows that the Council is covering up the murders and protecting the killer.  Sascha doesn’t believe that her mother would ever agree to be part of that, but as her emotional state turns ever more precarious, and her mind keeps coming into contact with the the anguished kidnapped wolf, she is determined to save her, even if it costs her her life.

I enjoyed learning about the Psy-Changeling world, and found it interesting enough to actually be excited that there are a number of other books in the series already available.  Since the Psy were basically the villains here, in addition to being cold and emotionless, I found them difficult to relate to.  I loved the Changelings, and am looking forward to the other pack members, (both the leopards and the wolves, and whatever else Singh throws in there) finding their HEA.  The romance was hot, and while Lucas is an alpha, he’s one of those tough but tender kind of heroes that I love to read about.  He wants to take care of his pack and his mate, and he would die to do just that.  Sascha is not willing to let him call the shots, though, and their battle of wills was entertaining.

I’m so glad I decided to read this.  While I have many volumes to catch up on, I’m happy to know that there is a good size backlist to hit up whenever I have an open spot in the reading schedule.  Slave to Sensation was a fast read, with likable characters and a suspenseful plot.  I’m curious to see if the rest of the books are as creative and fun.

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by publisher

From Amazon:

THE FIRST PSY/CHANGELING NOVEL from the New York Times bestselling author of Shards of Hope, Shield of Winter, and Heart of Obsidian…The book that Christine Feehan called “a must-read for all of my fans.”

In a world that denies emotions, where the ruling Psy punish any sign of desire, Sascha Duncan must conceal the feelings that brand her as flawed. To reveal them would be to sentence herself to the horror of “rehabilitation”–the complete psychic erasure of everything she ever was…

Both human and animal, Lucas Hunter is a Changeling hungry for the very sensations the Psy disdain. After centuries of uneasy coexistence, these two races are now on the verge of war over the brutal murders of several Changeling women. Lucas is determined to find the Psy killer who butchered his packmate, and Sascha is his ticket into their closely guarded society. But he soon discovers that this ice-cold Psy is very capable of passion–and that the animal in him is fascinated by her. Caught between their conflicting worlds, Lucas and Sascha must remain bound to their identities–or sacrifice everything for a taste of darkest temptation…

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11. 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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12. 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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13. 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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14. 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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15. 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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16. 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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17. 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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18. 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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19. 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.

Convergence (2015) 003-005

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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20. 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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21. 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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22. 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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23. 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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24. Review: Secret Wars #1 is an Omelet of Marvel Warfare

Secret Wars #1

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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.

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

Injustice Gods Among Us: Year Four #1

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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.

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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.

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