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1. Review: Ransom Canyon by Jodi Thomas

 

This morning I have a review of Jodi Thomas’ Ransom Canyon, but first, Jodi dropped by the virtual offices with a special greeting for all of you!

Greeting from Jodi:

The idea for RANSOM CANYON came from living in the Texas Panhandle.  I wanted to write about the real west of today.  I wanted my people to be like the men and women I grew up with, honest and true.  Not the cowboy on a book cover who has never been on a horse, but the cowboy who gets up at five to load his own horse and make it to the ranch before dawn.  He doesn’t work by the hour, but by the day.

As I began my first book in the series Staten Kirkland jumped off the page.  He’s strong and good, a rancher everyone looks up to, but he’s broken and only one woman can calm his heart. Shy Quinn asks nothing of him.  She offers understanding amid the storm of his life.

Their friendship develops into a gentle, loving affair that grows to rock both them with its depth.  Staten will have to learn to love again and Quinn will have to open up to someone.  The whole town watches the birth of passion and love as Staten stands beside her letting her be strong and quiet Quinn discovers one man’s love can wash away all the pain in her past.

Readers will feel, not like they came to visit, Crossroads, Texas, on the edge of Ransom Canyon, the town will start to feel like home.  My goal as a writer is to keep you up late reading because you have to know what happens next.

So come along with me on a series set in today’s West.  You’ll love it.

Jodi Thomas

www.jodithomas.com

www.facebook.com/jodithomasauthor

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

One of the aspects of a Jodi Thomas novel that I enjoy is getting to know all of the characters.  There are usually 5 or 6 major characters, and their personal stories are told from alternating points of view.  Because of the small town setting, their lives often intersect, so we get so see how others perceive them, too.  Ransom Canyon takes place in Crossroads, Texas, a tiny town that most people just pass through without a second glance.  Staten Kirkland’s family has lived there for generations, running a large cattle ranch and investing their time and money supporting the small, close-knit community.  The story is mainly Staten’s struggle to learn how to live again after the tragic deaths of his beloved wife and teenage son.

Staten wasn’t my favorite character.  He’s emotionally detached because of his heartbreaking past, and I thought he was just taking advantage of Quinn, a childhood friend who has become his buddy with benefits.  Quinn was his wife’s BFF.  After Staten’s wife succumbed to cancer, and his son died in an accident just a few years later, his world crumbled.  He found himself seeking comfort from Quinn, a reclusive woman he’s known all his life.  Whenever the weather turned dark and stormy, just like the night his son was taken from him, he visits Quinn.  She never turns him away, and more times than not, they end up in bed.  Then Staten steals quietly from her small house and heads back home, firmly putting any feelings or deeper meaning to their hookups out of his mind. 

Quinn has loved Staten since grade school.  She has kept it a secret, because her best friend and Staten had already formed an unbreakable bond.  After Staten loses his family, Quinn is content to give what comfort she can, knowing that Staten will never return her feelings.  When unplanned complications arise, their friendship is put to the test.  This is when I decided that I really didn’t like Staten all that much.  The guy is completely clueless. Quinn lives like a hermit, and she is uncomfortable around other people, so for him to voice his doubts like he did got him exactly what he deserved.  While he eventually manned up, I wasn’t completely won over by his contrite apology.

The other characters are Lucas and Lauren, high school students who both have their stuff together.  Lucas wants to make something of himself, so he works on ranches, moving the cattle from one pasture to another, riding fence lines, and saving every penny he earns.  He has big dreams, and he’s not going to let anything get in the way of them.  He has a crush on Lauren, the sheriff’s daughter, but because she’s younger than him, and because the timing isn’t right, he decides that their friendship is going to be more important, right now, than dating her.  Lauren’s also an intelligent, caring young woman, and she agrees with Lucas.  They both have things to accomplish before they can even consider a romantic relationship.  Sometimes you meet the right person at the wrong time, and that is the theme of their relationship.  Of all the couples in the story, though, I thought they have the soundest foundation for a lasting relationship, and I hope we see more of them in later installments.

Yancey rounds out the cast.  He’s a young ex-con, in town looking for an opportunity to score a little cash and move on.  His plans are interrupted when his backpack and all of his meager possessions are stolen, and if it weren’t for the kindness of the small local retirement community, he’d be up a creek without a paddle.  Yancey is a fun character because he has so few practical life experiences.  He’s spent most of life on the wrong side of the law, in and out of jail because he can’t catch a break.  When the seniors take him under their wing, he finally discovers a sense of belonging that had been missing in his life.  It helps to ground him, and finding steady employment and a group of people who care for him make all the different in the world.  He’s goofy, naïve despite his rough edges, and he was probably my favorite character.

If you are a fan of Jodi Thomas, Ransom Canyon won’t disappoint.  If you haven’t read her yet, give it a try.  I find her books fast, soothing reads.  Despite how messed up a character’s life may appear at first, you can be confident that they will find the right person to love them and give them their HEA.

Grade:  B

Review copy provided by publisher

About the book:

From New York Times bestselling author Jodi Thomas comes the first book in a compelling, emotionally resonant series set in a remote west Texas town—where family can be made by blood or by choice

Rancher Staten Kirkland, the last descendant of Ransom Canyon’s founding father, is rugged and practical to the last. No one knows that when his troubling memories threaten to overwhelm him, he runs to lovely, reclusive Quinn O’Grady…or that she has her own secret that no one living knows.

Young Lucas Reyes has his eye on the prize—college, and the chance to become something more than a ranch hand’s son. But one night, one wrong decision, will set his life on a course even he hadn’t imagined.

Yancy Grey is running hard from his troubled past. He doesn’t plan to stick around Ransom Canyon, just long enough to learn the town’s weaknesses and how to use them for personal gain. Only Yancy, a common criminal since he was old enough to reach a car’s pedals, isn’t prepared for what he encounters.

In this dramatic new series, the lives, loves and ambitions of four families will converge, set against a landscape that can be as unforgiving as it is beautiful, where passion, property and pride are worth fighting—and even dying—for.

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2. Manga Review: The Desert Lord’s Bride by Sakumi Hanada and Olivia Gates

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

All of the sheikh stories I have been reading are starting to blend together. I think it’s time for a break, but there seem to be so many of them!  And I really did like the cover, so I jumped into The Desert Lord’s Bride with a great deal of anticipation.

Unfortunately, the plot was pretty forgettable.  I read this one night and I could barely remember any of the plot details the next morning! Shehab, the heir to the throne, is determined to con the newly discovered princess of a neighboring kingdom into marrying him.  That kind of makes her sound like a new species of flower or butterfly – unknown princess appears on the radar!  The whole marriage game is upended!  Which handsome prince can marry her and cement his place in the succession of his kingdom?  It wasn’t even as exciting as that.

Farah’s already turned down Shehab once, so he disguises himself and pretends to not be himself.  Farah is immediately drawn to him, then agrees to go out to dinner with him.  What she doesn’t realize when they hop on his private jet, is that they’ll actually be flying somewhere.  Uh, hello, what else would you do on a plane but fly it somewhere?  If I had been Farah, I would have put the brakes on when we pulled up in front of Shehab’s aircraft.  There would be no way I would get on a plane with a guy I had met an hour ago, but then again, I am to susceptible scary news stories about stranger danger, abductions, and murders.

To make things even more uncomfortable for me, Shehab whisks her away to his private island paradise, where they enjoy a multi-week vacation. I don’t have enough vacation days to miss that much time from work!  Apparently, princesses, whether they want to be royalty or not, don’t have to worry about mundane things like that. 

I thought Shehab was a bit creepy and stalkerish. He never seemed sincere in his pursuit of Farah, but then again, he wasn’t. He concealed his identity for almost the entire time and then ended up professing his undying love for her – I just didn’t buy it.  I liked the art, though, so the story wasn’t a total loss.

Grade:  C / C-

Review copy purchased from Amazon

“I promise to give you the best moment of your life,” whispers a beautiful, mysterious man after a passionate kiss. Those words make Farah throw all reason out the door. Career woman Farah is actually a desert princess, and had just found out that she is to be in an arranged marriage with a prince from a neighboring kingdom. Farah has always wanted to marry the man she falls in love with, and hoped that this man, who made her crazy, would be the one. Hot passion takes her over. Please, take me now! At that moment, the man’s eyes shine like a beast.

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3. Review: Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I’m late to the Mercy Thompson band wagon.  I don’t know why I avoided the series, but I just didn’t find them appealing, despite the kickbutt covers.  Then I started reading the Alpha and Omega series, and I decided to give them a chance.  I think a big stumbling block for me was the 1st person POV, which isn’t my favorite (I am learning to appreciate it, though).  However, after listening to part of the audio book, I jumped to an ebook copy during last week’s marathon of pre-surgical appointments.  The audio book was very entertaining, but not practical to listen to in either the doctor’s office or the hospital, and that is the only reason I switched versions.  I highly recommend the audio book if that is your preferred reading method.

I loved Mercy.  She’s a a Walker, and she shapeshifts into a coyote.  Her ability to shift in not linked in any way to the cycle of the moon.  She was raised by Bran’s pack after her mother, scared and not quite sure what to do with a shapeshifting daughter, gave her to the werewolves with a plea for help.  Living with the wolves gave her a backbone, because they are constantly on the edge of violence and aggression, and it also gave her a very clear picture of how to behave when around them.  Though she was raised by the pack, she wasn’t part of the pack, and she wasn’t compelled to follow Bran’s orders.  So, to say that she’s a strong and independent, and certainly not a pushover, is somewhat of an understatement.

Mercy lives in Washington, where she runs an auto repair shop.  Her life takes a turn for the chaotic when Mac, a young werewolf, turns up at her door, looking for work.  Mercy senses that there’s something off about him, and her instincts prove correct.  When the alpha of the local pack is attacked and his daughter is kidnapped, Mercy suddenly has her hands full.  She fears a traitor in the pack, and with no other options, takes the grievously wounded alpha, Adam, to Bran to help heal him.  Then Mercy, Adam, and Samuel are in full out pursuit of Adam’s attackers.  Adam wants his daughter back, and he won’t let anyone stand in his way.

Having read the first two Alpha and Omega books, it was great fun to have someone else’s perspective of Bran and the other wolves.  Again, because Mercy isn’t part of the pack, she doesn’t necessarily jump at his every command.  She and Bran’s son, Samuel, also have a bittersweet history.  When Mercy was a teen, she loved Sam with all her heart.  Now that she’s an adult, she questions his motives for his interest in her.  When he gives indications that he wants to pick up where they left off, she’s not so eager to go along with him.  Adam adds to the tension between Mercy and Sam, because he thinks of her as his.  So, while these two tough, dominant wolves are posturing and trying to prove who’s the boss, Mercy doesn’t really have much time to spare for either of them.  One fear I have in future installments is that the love triangle will drag out, and I hate love triangles.  I think Adam is the wolf for her, and she needs to realize that sooner rather than later.

Part of the reason for the conflict in this book is Bran’s intention to make the existence of werewolves common knowledge.  As with in Hunting Ground, not everyone is on board with his decision.  This causes a lot of grief for Mercy.  Soon, not only are renegade wolves involved, but so is the local nest of vampires.  I love the world building in the series.  There are all kinds of paranormal creatures, some known to the general public, some still keeping a low profile and trying to blend in with the humans.  While Mercy is certainly a strong, powerful woman, many of the beings around her are doubly so.  I like that that Mercy is often outgunned, and that she has to rely on guts, brains, and pure old-fashioned luck to get herself out of some the messes she winds up in.  The world feels very believable, especially the pack politics and pecking order.  Even though Mercy is outside of that, it still affects her, and how she relates to other beings she encounters.

Now I am hooked on two Patricia Briggs’ series, and I’m looking forward to getting to know all of the characters better.  If you haven’t given them a try yet, I highly recommend both the Mercy Thompson and the Alpha and Omega series.

Grade:  B / B+

Review copy borrowed from my local library

Mercy Thompson’s life is not exactly normal. Her next-door neighbor is a werewolf. Her former boss is a gremlin. And she’s fixing a VW bus for a vampire. But then, Mercy isn’t exactly normal herself.

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4. Manga Review: Limit V 3 by Keiko Suenobu

Contains Spoilers

Review:

It’s been a while since I read the first two volumes of LIMIT, but I didn’t have any problems jumping back into the series again.  This is a survival story; a bus of high schoolers is headed to the mountains for a camping trip.  There’s a terrible accident, and the bus plunges off the road and down the mountainside.  There’s only a handful of survivors, and they are all girls.  Bickering and power struggles begin at once, and Morishige, the only one with a weapon, quickly takes charge.  Morishige has issues.  She has grudges against the other girls, and establishes herself as the leader of her battered, hungry, and terrified classmates.  When Isui changes to power dynamic by running off with Morishige’s scythe, there’s a rebellion against Morishige’s cruel leadership.

Things are pretty grim for our tiny group of survivors.  Usui has run off into the fog and hasn’t been seen since.  There’s only a little food to share, and Morishige is still trying to keep herself in control through threats and violence.  Since she doesn’t have her weapon anymore, that is only getting her so far.  She and Ichinose fight, bickering about how misguided Morishige’s behavior has been.  In a fit of rage, Morishige storms off.

In the morning, Konno goes off in search of Isui.  Weak and cold, she falls into a lake and almost drowns.  At the last minute, she’s saved!  By Hinata, who everyone thought was dead.  And boy am I glad he’s not, because I really like Hinata!  If I was stranded on a mountain with bleak prospects for rescue, I’d want to see his cheerful face.  Hinata is a force of positive thoughts and good vibes, and if anyone can make the impossible come true, I firmly believe it’s him.  Of course, his sudden resurrection doesn’t sit well with Morishige, especially after he calls her out for her previous “leadership” skills.  Morishige, getting back to her issues, has a real problem with males.  After a flashback to her dreadful homelife, one can’t help but understand where her lack of people skills stems from.  The victim of abuse, she doesn’t know how else to deal with her problems other than to strike out against them.

LIMIT is a very fast read that will keep you on the edge of your seat.  It’s brutal, suspenseful, and creepy.  The dire situation isn’t bringing out the best in everyone, and in fact, the utter hopelessness is turning some of the cast into evil little monsters.  There’s very little one for all and all for one until Hinata shows up.  There’s a lot of self-destruction and back-stabbing, as well as resource hogging, because who wants to share when it means that you may not have enough to eat and starve to death?  Desperate times means really, really bad behavior! 

I love the art, which matches the tenor of the story perfectly.  It’s detailed and expressive, but also dark and brooding.  Moods change in an instant from hopeful to oh my gosh we are all going to die, and the art clearly reflects that.

Grade:  B

Review copy provided by publisher

In the third volume of The Limit the survivors’ worst fears have come true. One of their members has fallen. And this death amongst them will test the limits of their unity. New fears will be born from this tragedy and instead of using their combined strength to search for a way home, their lack of trust will force them all to retreat into their own micro-cliques. The balance of power is now undone, and a new face-another survivor-will eventually turn things upside down!

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5. Manga Review: Tokyo Ghoul V2 by Sui Ishida

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I am trying to get back into the swing of reading multi volume manga series again.  It has definitely gotten more difficult for me to maintain any level of enthusiasm when there is a wait of months, sometimes many, many months, between volumes.  When my favorite series go on hiatus, or get canceled by the US publisher, it breaks my heart.  I love comics, I get all caught up in the stories and the characters, and when all of that grinds to a premature halt, it stings.  I’m not a happy camper, and I’m reluctant to become invested in other series.  That’s one of the reasons I enjoy the Harlequin manga adaptations so much; it’s usually only volume and you’re done.  I was also burnt out on all of the series I had been following.  Now, though, I feel the urge to dip a toe back into the manga waters. I’d like to finish up some series that have concluded, and maybe test drive a few new ones.  Tokyo Ghoul looked interesting, so I decided to give it a spin.

This is the second volume that I’ve read.  The story is finally starting to pick up some momentum for me.  The world building is getting more complex, and Kaneki has more to worry about than how he’s going to keep himself fed.  The Ghoul Investigators are descending on the 20th Ward, searching for ghouls trying to blend into human society.  When Kaneki witnesses the brutal murder of a customer of the café he works at by the ghoul police, he is distraught over his sense of helplessness.  After Touka takes matters into her own hands, and fails to achieve the vengeance she sought, Kaneki asks her to show him how to use his kagune, or weapon.  While he still refuses to kill humans, at least he’ll be able to defend himself or his friends if they are attacked.

The investigators are a shady bunch, and Mado is one creepy dude.  It will be interesting to see how Kaneki and Touka keep from meeting an unpleasant end from them, because they are as ruthless as the ghouls.  The series is starting to click for me as Kaneki struggles to fit into both human and ghoul society.  He is so passive that I didn’t find him a compelling character at first, but now that he is determined to not be a doormat, I am hoping that he blossoms into a stronger individual.  I don’t have prior knowledge of this series, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it progresses.

I am not overly wild about the art, maybe because so many of the characters are so unpleasant to look at. It does have a dark vibe that is perfect for the story, but it isn’t a favorite of mine.

Grade:  B-

Review copy provided by publisher

About the book:

Ghouls live among us, the same as normal people in every way—except their craving for human flesh. Ken Kaneki is an ordinary college student until a violent encounter turns him into the first half-human half-ghoul hybrid. Trapped between two worlds, he must survive Ghoul turf wars, learn more about Ghoul society and master his new powers.

Unable to discard his humanity but equally unable to suppress his Ghoul hunger, Ken finds salvation in the kindness of friendly Ghouls who teach him how to pass as human and eat flesh humanely. But recent upheavals in Ghoul society attract the police like wolves to prey, and they don’t discriminate between conscientious and monstrous Ghouls.

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6. Audio Review: Hunting Ground by Patricia Briggs

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I am not big on audio books, and prior to Hunting Ground, I could count the number I’ve listened to on one hand.  I had a long solo drive to a horse show, though, and thought that listening to a book would keep me alert and less stressed during the drive.  I picked this book because I loved Cry Wolf, but I haven’t had time to read any further in the Alpha and Omega series.  At first I was a little hesitant as I pulled out of the driveway and started my journey, but MY.GOODNESS!  I didn’t want the drive to end, I was that engaged in the story!

The narrator, Holter Graham, was incredible.  The different voices he used for different characters were spot on, and now I can’t imagine that they would sound otherwise.  He varied the cadence of the words depending on the pacing of the particular scene, and wow, I was so caught up in the story that I can’t imagine reading it instead of listening to it now.  The story translated well to audio; it’s fast-paced, exciting, and there’s a lot of action that is read with a staccato of sounds.  It was like listening to a long, intricate song, with changes in reading tempo and crescendos of action.  I loved the narration, and I’m so glad I picked it for my first foray into Scribd’s audiobook library.

The story, for me, is all about Charles and Anna, and their blossoming relationship.  They are sent to a meeting in Bran’s place, to discuss the Marrok’s plan to let the world know about the existence of werewolves with some of the foreign alphas.  Charles fears that something bad will happen to Bran, so he and his father had been fighting about Bran’s attendance.  Shy, quiet Anna forces the two to see reason, and soon, she and her new mate are headed to Seattle, Washington to meet with some of the biggest, baddest  werewolf leaders in the world.  As the snarling males circle each other, looking for weaknesses, Charles was right to be concerned.  There is a lot of animosity between the wolves, especially for Bran, and not all of the alphas are on board with coming out to the general public.  A gruesome murder doesn’t help, and Charles finds himself framed for a crime he didn’t commit.  Only Anna’s clear thinking and bravery helps root out the true villains.

The characters are what make this such a good series.  Anna is still suffering from her mistreatment with her previous pack, and Charles, his father’s enforcer, is feared by the other wolves.  Because he might be required to kill any one of them at any time, he also seeks to keeps himself emotionally distant.  Only with Anna does his wolf feel at peace. Anna is learning that being Omega doesn’t mean being a pushover.  She does not have to be submissive, she does not have to yield, and she has a strength she didn’t think herself capable of.  Anna’s mere presence in a pack brings it peace and a sense of calm.  While Charles’ job is to control the pack and protect the weaker members, Anna’s is to make everyone in the pack happy.

This was such a successful endeavor that I started listening to Moon Called, also by Patricia Briggs.  So far, it is also an engrossing listen; too bad I don’t have any long trips in the near future!

Grade:  B+

Review copy listened to on Scribd

About the book:

The first Alpha and Omega novel, Cry Wolf, unlocked the doors to a unique urban landscape in “a great…new werewolf series” (Darque Reviews). In Hunting Ground, #1 New York Times bestselling author Patricia Briggs invites readers to follow her even deeper into that seductive realm of the unknown…

Anna Latham didn’t know how complicated life could be until she became a werewolf. And until she was mated to Charles Cornick, the son—and enforcer—of Bran, the leader of the North American werewolves, she didn’t know how dangerous it could be, either…

Anna and Charles have just been enlisted to attend a summit to present Bran’s controversial proposition: that the wolves should finally reveal themselves to humans. But the most feared Alpha in Europe is dead set against the plan—and it seems like someone else might be, too. When Anna is attacked by vampires using pack magic, the kind of power only werewolves should be able to draw on, Charles and Anna must combine their talents to hunt down whoever is behind it all—or risk losing everything…

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7. Review: The Girl Who Rode the Wind by Stacy Gregg

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I noticed The Girl Who Rode the Wind while trolling the shelves of my local library.  How could I ignore a book with a horse on the cover?  When I read that the book features Italy’s Palio, the world’s oldest, most dangerous horse race, I had to check it out.  I had just seen a video short about the race, and I’d read about it when I was a kid.  I have always found the race interesting, so I couldn’t wait to read this.

I have to admit that I was not immediately caught up in the plot, and I thought about putting it down.  But then Lola describes an altercation with a bully, and I was hooked.  After the academic achiever is suspended from school, her grandmother proposes a trip to Italy for the summer.  Her grandmother hasn’t been back to her homeland since just after WWII, and she’s finally ready to face her past.  She rarely discussed her childhood in Siena, and instead focused on the present and the family business; training racehorses.

The story revolves around horses.  Lola wants to work with them when she’s older, but her father won’t hear of it.  With her grades, he expects her to be a doctor or a lawyer.  The only time Lola is happy, however, is when she’s with the horses.  She’s angry because her older brothers are working on the track, training to be jockeys.  Her father was a jockey, and Lola wants to be one, too.  She doesn’t particularly want to go to Italy with her grandmother, but her father is so disappointed with her behavior that he refuses to allow her to help out at track over the summer.  Suddenly, a summer in Siena doesn’t sound so bad!

Lola meets a local boy whose father trains racers for the Palio.  They become friends, and Lola is invited to help work the horses.  As Lola learns about the race and makes friends with the other exercise riders, her grandmother slowly opens up about her own past, and her history with the Palio.  Her family bred horses for the race, and her older brother was a winning jockey several times. Then the war came, along with unbelievable hardships.  The race was canceled, and it was hard to feed themselves, let alone the horses in their care.  Her father was forced to join the army, even though he didn’t believe in the war, and her brother joined the freedom fighters.  By the end of the war, her nonna’s world was torn apart, and she fled Italy for America and the chance to start over.

I did have a few issues with believability.  I found it so difficult to swallow that a 12 year old American girl would be allowed to excise the horses, let alone ride in a dangerous race like the Palio.  Think of the bad press if she was injured, or worse, during the rough, no holds barred race.  Another thing that irked me was that everyone spoke English, a huge convenience for Lola, since she didn’t speak Italian.  This is the second book I’ve read this summer that the youthful protagonist was in another country, and everyone else spoke English.  It wasn’t believable in the first book, and I didn’t like it here, either, but that is a pet peeve of mine.  

Despite the highly unlikely premise, this was an enjoyable read. The horse races were exciting, and Nonna’s acceptance of the past, after so many years of guilt, was touching. Lola’s struggles with bullying rang true, and her father’s insistence that she become a doctor or a lawyer instead of a track rat gave Lola another conflict to solve. There were also great characters, including the horses.

Grade:  B

Review copy borrowed from my local library

About the book:

An epic, emotional story of two girls and their bond with beloved horses, the action sweeping between Italy during the Second World War and present day.

When Lola’s grandmother Loretta takes her to Siena, Italy, for the summer, Lola learns about the town’s historic Palio races – a fast and furious event where riders whip around the Piazza del Campo, and are often thrown from their horses while making the treacherous turns. Lola is amazed to learn her grandmother used to take part in these races – and had the nickname ‘The Daredevil’!

Nonna Loretta tells Lola that she used to race in a rival team to the boy she loved – who was captured by the Nazis in 1941. Lola develops a bond with a beautiful racehorse. She jumps at the chance to enter the Palio – can she win, in honour of her grandmother? And can she uncover the mystery of the boy’s capture and fate all those years ago?

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8. Novella Review: The Great Bazaar & Brayan’s Gold by Peter V Brett

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I had fond memories of The Warded Man when I saw this novella.  It was one of the first fantasy galleys that I ever received, and I was looking for a fix while I was waiting (forever!) for the next installment of GRRM’s Song of Ice and Fire.  I gobbled up The Warded Man, finding it innovative, engaging, and oh-so-hard to put down.  Then I held off on reading The Desert Spear because I was still stinging over the wait for GRRM’s book, and I decided at that time to not read series until most of the books were released.  Lately I have broken that rule, but I’m not as anal about finishing what I started as I used to be.  Now, if it crosses my path, and I have the time to read it, I will, regardless of where it is in the longer series. The only series I won’t break the rule for is Song of Ice and Fire; they are just too long, the waits are interminable, and I can’t remember what happened from book to book.

I enjoyed Brayan’s Gold the best of the stories in this collection, and thought it a good representation of the longer series. Arlen is reckless and refuses to be cowed by the demons that rise from the Core at dusk every evening, searching for prey to tear to shreds. I love the concept of this series: being outside after dark is almost a certain death sentence, unless you are protected by magic wards. Arlen is a gifted warder, and he won’t live locked behind walls when there’s a whole wide world to see and try to take back from the corelings. Brayan’s Gold showcases his ability to think on his feet and not be ruled by his fears, though this almost costs him his life on several occasions.

The rest of the content, while entertaining, didn’t entrance me like Brayan’s Gold. If you haven’t started reading the Demon Cycle, this novella collection is a great place to start.  You’ll get an introduction to Arlen, as well as another major character in the series.

Grade:  B / B-

Review copy purchased provided by publisher

From the dangerous world of the Demon Cycle comes the early adventures of Arlen, Peter V. Brett’s quintessential fantasy hero. These exciting origin tales follow Arlen as he learns to navigate a world where the elemental forces of evil conjure themselves from the earth each night.

Humanity has barely survived a demonic onslaught by using magical wards that protect their cities and homes. Only a handful of mercenaries and explorers risk traveling after the sun sets. Arlen, seeking adventure and fortune, is barely protected by the warded armor upon which he has inscribed intricate defensive runes. From a journey ferrying a wagonload of dynamite to a mountain stronghold, to a dangerous mission to recover desert treasures, Arlen faces friends and enemies with a strong arm and a cunning wit.

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9. Review: Frozen in Amber by Phyllis Ames

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I wanted to read Frozen in Amber because it’s about shifters, and I generally enjoy shifters stories.  Also, Phyllis Ames is a debut author, and I like discovering new authors right as they hit the ground running.  This book didn’t start successfully for me, but as I became more embroiled in shifter politics and the secrets Amber’s grandfather had been keeping, I found myself caught up in the story.  By the end I couldn’t put it down, and I thought the ending, despite some loose ends, was a perfect solution for Amber.

When Frozen in Amber starts, Amber has been hunted by a group of unknown men the night of her shift.  She is a WerCougar, and she hates shifting and her beast.  She wants to be human, and she rejects everything about her other self.  She’s a vegetarian, she avoids hunting after her shift and prefers being locked in a padded room to prevent her cat from hurting anyone, and she spent seven years in exile after killing a human.  She hates her lack of control when she’s a cat, and far prefers her life as a human.  She’s a defense attorney at her family’s prestigious law firm, and she relishes in the order and routine of her career.

Then all of that blows up after she’s hunted and shot with a tranquilizer.  In her cat form, she experiences the fear and hopelessness of capture and human hands on her, but the next morning, she awakens in her bed and wonders if she imagined the whole thing.  She rarely remembers what happens when she shifts, so she thinks she’s just had a weird nightmare, until she notices the welt on her backside that won’t heal and won’t go away.  Even with her shifter healing abilities, the wound is painful and troublesome, and it just won’t go away.

As her current case defending a suspected killer begins to tumble out of control, she knows that she can’t trust or believe her client, but she can’t smell a lie on him.  There’s a vested interest for the Wer community to get Bergman off on the charges, because he claims that he’s developed a cure for the Wer condition.  The Wer Court would like to get their hands on it, for when bitten pups can’t get control of their Wer.  Amber is intrigued by the prospect of giving up her cat and living as a normal human.  But Bergman hides an explosive temper behind his charming demeanor, and she starts to wonder how much she can trust him.  Her Wer senses are also becoming erratic, and she wonders if she’s been targeted to test the experimental drug.

There’s a lot of office politics at the law firm, as upstarts challenge Amber’s authority.  There’s also interest by the FBI and CIA, with the agencies battling for control of the Wer community.  There are rumors that a new, unstable alpha wolf is having humans bitten, turning them into members for her growing pack.  There is a lot of concern at the idea of so many unsanctioned wolves running around town, because newly turned shifters have zero control over their Wer self.  Attacks on Amber make her even more determined to figure out what’s going on, and who’s behind ambushing her during her nighttime hunt.

While I couldn’t embrace Amber’s rejection of her shifter side, I slowly started to like her.  I read these kinds of stories because I like the struggle between the human side and the animal side of the shifter, but Amber flat-out kept her cat on a tight leash.  While she hates shifting, she does make good use of her enhanced senses every moment she can.  I thought that was hypocritical; if you deny your Wer self, you shouldn’t be able to exploit the traits of your caged cat.  It seemed to me that she was cheating, and I had a hard time accepting that.

Once the action got going, though, I had a hard time stepping away from the story.  Amber’s love interest is extremely likeable, and the office politics were engaging.  Her urgency to discover the identity of the person who shot her becomes even more pressing after her grandfather becomes ill, and Amber suspects that he, too, was hunted during the last full moon.  The pacing improved as the story unfolded, and I was glad that I stuck with it.  In the end, even after the rough start and not being Amber’s biggest fan, I thought this was a gripping read.

Grade:  B / B-

Review copy purchased provided by publisher

From Amazon:

Amber Treganis constantly reinvents herself. New clothes, new hairstyle, new car—anything she can do to exert a level of control over her life. What she can’t control is her shape-shifting other self: the WerCougar that sinks its claws into her brain during the three nights surrounding the full moon.

Though she is a natural-born shifter from a prominent WerCougar family, Amber has been unwilling to change into her cat form ever since a terrible tragedy cost her the man she loved. And she has little patience with Wers of any species who embrace their otherness more than their humanity. She focuses on her life as a defense attorney in Mt. Hood, and stays out of Wer politics.

But after a blurry night of hunting, Amber begins to notice changes in her transformation. When she hears rumors of research to discover a treatment for shifting, she suspects she may have been unknowingly given the experimental therapy.

With the help of Adler, a WerEagle active in community politics, Amber tries to hunt down the truth about this cure, while staying off the radar of the FBI, which tracks and manages Wer communities in secret.

But Amber doesn’t realize how much she depends on her Wer sense until, one by one, they begin to fade. And Amber is left increasingly ill—and increasingly human. Can shifter who is losing her abilities survive for long in either human or Wer society?

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10. Blog Tour: Ruthless, Michelle St. James

It’s release day for Ruthless by Michelle St. James. We’re so excited for this sexy mafia romance! Michelle is sharing an excerpt and a fantastic giveaway so be sure to check out all the festivities! 

(My Review will be up soon! So come back! Make sure you read to bottom, awesome giveaway!!!-Laura)

About Ruthless:

front_6ix9i_RGB_300dpiTwo years out of college, Angelica Bondesan spends her time working as a barista, keeping in touch with her prodigal brother, and trying to figure out how to bridge the gap with her father, a wealthy real estate developer.

But all of that changes the night she’s kidnapped. Thrown into a windowless room, Angelica is positive there’s been some kind of mistake —until she meets Nico Vitale.

Gorgeous and frightening, Nico became the boss of New York City’s Vitale crime family after the execution style murder of his parents two years earlier. Since then he’s turned the old-school mob into a sleek, modern army of ruthless men who understand that physical violence —while always an option —isn’t the only way to get what you want.

Now Angel is forced to face the truth;

Her father is not the man she believed him to be.

Nico Vitale is dangerous, possibly lethal.

She is falling in love with Nico Vitale.



Blurbs

"From page one you're hooked and sucked into this corrupt thrilling world. A masterful romance of deep dark suspense, complicated emotions, and exciting action." - New York Times bestseller, M.J. Rose

Amazon

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Exclusive Excerpt

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Nico Vitale was kneeling in one of the pews at St. Monica’s, praying for his mother and father. They’d been gone two years, but the pain of losing them still lingered. He had only been twenty-eight when they’d been killed, and he’d expected to have them for many more years, to give them the daughter-in-law and grandchildren they had wanted.

Their future had been stolen. From all of them.

He forced down the fury that had become all too familiar. Anger was good. Productive. It’s what drove him to seek justice, to right the wrong perpetrated against his family, against the honor code that had survived decades under the rule of some of history’s most violent men.

But this wasn’t the place for anger. This was the place for peace. Repentance. He took a deep breath and tired to calm himself.

His mother had always gone to St. Patrick’s, but Nico made a point of moving around the city, sitting in any church with an open door. He liked the anonymity of it. Liked knowing that no one would know him or remember his parents.

His faith was only a shadow of the belief that had sustained them. Nico didn’t believe in the edicts of the Church. It had been organized by man to benefit man. He worshipped his own god, and his god didn’t turn the other cheek. He might forgive, but that forgiveness didn’t preclude a punishment justly earned. Still, he liked to sit in silence and remember, to send love to his parents, wherever they were, and to stand on the side of any god who believed in vengeance.

He was reciting the Lord’s Prayer when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He instinctively shook off the hand. When he turned to see who had interrupted him, he was even less pleased.

“What is it, Dante?”He forced his voice even as he took in the leather jacket and jeans worn by the man in front of him. A dress code was part of Nico’s organizational reboot, but keeping cool was a point of pride, part of his mission to remake his father’s business for the twenty-first century. And having a reputation for being calm only made him more formidable when the situation called for his wrath.

Dante shifted in his seat, his face flushed, eyes feverish with excitement. “We got her,”he said. “We got the girl.”

Nico looked around before tipping his head at the church’s massive double doors. “Not here.”

Dante stood, hurrying down the aisle. Nico followed slowly, letting the peace of the church wash over him as he made his way out the door.

He took his time following Dante down the steps of the church. When they reached the sidewalk, they stepped back to stand near an adjacent building.

“Any trouble?”Nico asked.

Dante shook his head. “She didn’t see it coming.”

Nico didn’t like the note of excitement in Dante’s voice. Nico’s father had ingrained old-fashioned chivalry in his bones, and Nico never sanctioned hurting women. These kinds of things were a necessary part of doing business, not something he enjoyed.

“You didn’t hurt her.”It wasn’t a question.

Dante sighed, and Nico caught a hint of annoyance in the other man’s face before he could hide it. “We did it just like you said. Knocked her out, put her in the van, took her to the basement. She’s fine.”

Nico nodded. “Good. Make sure she’s comfortable.”

“Comfortable?”Dante’s laugh was bitter. “Why do we care if that bitch is comfortable?”

Nico clamped a hand on Dante’s shoulder and squeezed until he flinched. “We don’t call women bitches in this organization. Ever. Understand?”

Dante nodded, his eyes lit with the fire of indignation.

“Good.”Nico released his grip. “Now go make the pick-up.”

“Will do.”Dante rolled his shoulders, like doing so would free him of Nico’s grip when they both knew only death or dishonor would do that. “Want a ride back to the office?”

“No.”He didn’t owe Dante an explanation.

Dante nodded and headed for the car double parked at the curb. Nico watched him get in and drive away. He waited for the car to disappear into traffic before he started walking.

Dante was a problem. Nico understood it, but he was still trying to settle on a strategy for dealing with it. He knew Dante resented him. That Dante believed his father, Gabriel Santoro, should have been Underboss to Nico’s father before his death. If that had been the case, Dante’s father would be Boss now, and Dante himself would be the crown prince of the New York territory.

Instead, a year before his death Nico’s father had inexplicably turned to Nico, pleading with him to step in as Underboss. Only twenty-seven at the time, Nico wasn’t ready to take on the mantel of responsibility held by his father. He didn’t even believe in the mob. Not the way it was then; stealing and killing and raping in the name of money. In the name of power.

But his father had been unsettled. Even Nico, as young and wrapped up in himself as he’d been at the time, could see that. And his father -- his family -- meant everything to him. So he’d gotten his act together and joined the business, learning it from the inside out. He was just beginning to feel like he had a handle on the basic operations when his parents were murdered, execution style, outside the restaurant where they’d met over three decades ago. They had been celebrating their thirty-second anniversary.

Nico had spent the two years since remaking his father’s legacy. Raneiro Donati, head of the Syndicate that acted as governing body to criminal organizations all over the world, had stepped in as a mentor and father figure, guiding Nico through the early stages of grief and the rage that threatened to undo him. Gradually, Nico had found a focus for his fury, and he’d poured every ounce of his energy into targeting that focus and reimagining his father’s legacy.

Some of Nico’s soldiers embraced the change. Others, like Dante, clung to the old ways. Nico understood, but the reorganization wasn’t optional. They would comply or they would be gone.

Nico didn’t like taking the girl. A decade ago, something like that would be off the table, a blatant breaking of rules that had been in place since before the Syndicate formally existed. But nothing could be rebuilt without first dismantling the rotting foundation of what had come before.

And unfortunately, the girl was part of that foundation.

He checked for traffic on 2nd Avenue and crossed just before a taxi barreled through the intersection. He felt liberated by his time at the church. Lighter on his feet. Maybe he would call one of the women who acted as a physical companion when he felt the urge.

After all, he wasn’t a saint.



Michelle St. James Bio:


Michelle Zink
Michelle St. James aka Michelle Zink is the author of seven published books and six novellas. Her first series, Prophecy of the Sisters (YA), was one of Booklist's Top Ten Debut novels. Her work has also been an Indie Next selection and has appeared on prestigious lists such as the Lonestar List, New York Public Library's Stuff for the Teen Age, and Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best. Her character, Alice, won the Teen Read Awards for Best Villain against Harry Potter's Lord Voldemort.



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11. Review and Giveaway: The Veil by Chloe Neill

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I wanted to read The Veil because it’s the first in a new series, and it’s written by Chloe Neill.  I haven’t had the pleasure of reading her yet, because the thought of jumping into her longer series is daunting, but then this came along.  I loved the dystopian New Orleans setting, and was curious to learn how the war with supernatural beings from beyond the Veil had changed life for the city’s inhabitants.  While I found the initial pacing slow due to all of the set up, the story did pick up and deliver a solid read.

Claire runs a shop in New Orleans, helping to provide the remaining inhabitants with both essential and luxury (things like butter) items.  Since the war with the paranormal inhabitants beyond the Veil seven years ago, life can be challenging in the city.  Electricity is unreliable, once common goods are almost impossible to get, and there’s a fear that the magic that ripped the city apart could cause further havoc.  To ensure that it doesn’t, anything remotely considered magical has been banned by the government, and punishment for breaking the law can be brutal.  Getting thrown into the Devil’s Isle, a walled off section of the city where anyone suspected of magic, as well as the stranded fae from beyond the Veil, is the usual punishment, and life there is very bleak.

Claire has a terrible secret.  She’s a Sensitive.  She has powers because her body absorbs the magic leaking from beyond the Veil.  She’s terrified of being found out and getting locked away in Devil’s Isle, so she goes to extreme lengths to keep her secret a secret.  When a woman is attacked by a wraith in front of her, though, Claire has to act.  Using her powers, she saves the woman, and then frets about the authorities coming to take her away.  To monitor illegal magic use, the entire city is wired with recording devices and alarms to alert the citizens to rogue paranormals. 

Luckily for Claire, Liam gets to her first.  He’s a bounty hunter, and he tracks down wraiths – Sensitives who have been consumed by magic, and now mindlessly prey on humans.  He’s gruff and tough, but he wants to give Claire a fighting chance, so he offers to show her how to use her powers and how to keep them concealed.  Claire also wants to help Liam track down the wraiths she encountered, because there was something off about them.  It seemed to her that they were communicating with each other, which means that they are getting smarter, something that is frightening to contemplate.

As they work together, they uncover a plot to reopen the Veil.  Now they are racing against time to prevent another war from breaking out between the humans and the fae.  To make their task even more daunting, they discover that there are humans trying to open the Veil, which will bring nothing but disaster to what’s left of New Orleans.

As I mentioned previously, the pacing until about the 50% point was a struggle for me.  It also felt like there was too much telling and not enough showing at first, but after the groundwork was established, that wasn’t a problem anymore.  I enjoyed the bleak city Claire lives in, where life is tough, but people have learned to get along despite that.  Claire’s friendships gives her a sturdy support system, and she and her circle of friends have learned to take the good with the bad.  When things are bad, well, things will get better sooner or later.  And when they’re good, what better excuse to get together to enjoy a good meal and bask in the glow of not being alone.

While The Veil wasn’t a total win for me, I am looking forward to seeing what happens next.  Now that all of the set up is done, I think the pacing will improve, and I’m curious to see where Liam and Claire’s relationship is going.

Grade:  B-

Review copy purchased provided by publisher

A brand new series from New York Times bestselling author Chloe Neill.

Seven years ago, the Veil that separates humanity from what lies beyond was torn apart, and New Orleans was engulfed in a supernatural war. Now, those with paranormal powers have been confined in a walled community that humans call the District. Those who live there call it Devil’s Isle.

Claire Connolly is a good girl with a dangerous secret: she’s a Sensitive, a human endowed with magic that seeped through the Veil. Claire knows that revealing her skills would mean being confined to Devil’s Isle. Unfortunately, hiding her power has left her untrained and unfocused.

Liam Quinn knows from experience that magic makes monsters of the weak, and he has no time for a Sensitive with no control of her own strength. But when he sees Claire using her powers to save a human under attack—in full view of the French Quarter—Liam decides to bring her to Devil’s Isle and the teacher she needs, even though getting her out of his way isn’t the same as keeping her out of his head.

As more and more Sensitives fall prey to their magic, and unleash their hunger on the city, Claire and Liam must work together to save New Orleans, or else the city will burn…

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12. Manga Review: The Secret Princess by Chikako Kawakami and Jessica Hart

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I checked out The Secret Princess on a lark.  I was pressed for time with review books, but I saw the cover while browsing the virtual shelves at the library and was hooked.  It’s very cute, and I like the art style.  So I clicked the Borrow button and sat down to read it right away.  The story is cute too, so I’m glad I had a case of ADD.

Lotty has always behaved as her grandmother wished, and never rebelled against her.  The princess of Montluce, she has a reputation and public image to uphold.  When a series of threats against the throne make her grandmother nervous about the succession, she arranges for Lotty to marry her cousin.  Even though Phillippe is her best friend, she just can’t see herself married to him.  Besides, he’s in love with her friend, Caro, and she doesn’t want to come between them.  Taking Phillippe’s advice, she runs away from home, determined to use this opportunity to kick up her heels and experience the freedom she’s been denied for so long.

She goes to Scotland because her mother loved the country.  Unfortunately, her wallet is stolen soon after she arrives.  Penniless, she’s desperate to get a job, and asks Corran McKenna to hire her, despite the locals warnings to stay far away from him.  The grumpy guy is quick to point out that she isn’t strong enough to help him work his land, and he has no use for a woman employee.  Undeterred and persistent, she pesters him to point that he offers her a position.  If she can get a cottage in desperate need of TLC cleaned up and painted by the end of the weekend, he’ll hire her.  Not one to turn down a challenge, Lotty proves that Corran has underestimated her, and he reluctantly offers her a job.

Once she starts working alongside Corran, Lotty feels guilty for lying to him about her true identity.  Corran knows that there’s something off about her, but he just thinks that she’s a spoiled rich kid who has run away from home over some petty argument with her family.  As the two get to know each other, Lotty learns that the villagers think Corran stole the land from his younger brother.  He doesn’t hesitate to tell her that there is no love lost between his step-mother and his half-brother, and that his father turned his back on him after leaving his mother.  Corran ended up with the land because his father knew that the upkeep would be a financial burden, and he didn’t want to pin that on his youngest son. Instead, in spite, he left the land to Corran, who loved it and wants to make improvements, but can’t because he can’t get a loan. 

I enjoyed The Secret Princess because of the pretty art, seamless translation, and engaging story.  Lotty really is a kind person, and she’s determined to make the villagers see that they are wrong where Corran is concerned.  Before she leaves, she wants to repay his kindness by setting the record straight with the people who have basically shunned Corran.  Despite their rocky start, Lotty has come to care for her gruff employer.  She also loves the land, and wants to see Corran’s dreams come true.  She knows that they have no future together, so she’s decided to live for the moment, for the first time in her life.

The pacing is spot on, and the HEA, though highly unbelievable in this age of heightened security, is satisfying.  I was completely sold on their joyous future together.

Grade:  B

Review copy borrowed from my local library

From Amazon:

Princess of Montluce, Lotty, is very introverted and has never been able to express herself. Her grandmother wants to arrange an engagement for her, and she ends up running away. She wants to see what she can do on her own, and possibly fall in love for the first time… However, she loses her wallet in some town since she’s not used to having one, and ends up working for a man named Corran as a maid. At first, she is angered by his rudeness, but she ends up smitten by the kindness behind his crude demeanor.

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13. Micro Reviews: Demons, Race Horses, Assassins and Majors

And here’s another catch up post of long overdue mini reviews.

The Shadow Ellysium by Django Wexler

B / B+

This short novella served its purpose as a teaser to generate interest in the Shadow Campaigns series. I loaded The Thousand Names on my Kindle – now I just need time to read it!

 

To Win Her Favor by Tamera Alexander

B / B+

This inspirational romance caught my eye because of the horse on the cover.  Maggie is dismayed when her father arranges her marriage to Cullen, an Irish immigrant.  She’s reluctant to marry a complete stranger, and an Irishman at that.  She’s also fearful that he’ll object to her training her mare to run in an upcoming race. 

I enjoyed the development of the romance, as well as the details of daily life on a farm in post Civil War Tennessee.  The author doesn’t shy away from describing the prejudices and terrible treatment of the Irish and African Americans.  At first I had a hard time with Maggie because her thoughts and views mirrored those of her neighbors, but as she got to know Cullen and the farm hands working for them, she began to finally see them as individuals deserving respect.  And the horsey bits were entertaining. 

 

 

Hit! by Deliah S Dawson

C-

This just did not work for me. I can’t help but think that a huge banking conglomerate would have a better solution for deadweight borrowers than having them assassinated, or forcing them to be assassins. Meh, I didn’t care for HIT.

Mad About the Major by Elizabeth Boyle

B

Fun read with a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off vibe. Lady Arabella escapes the suffocating confines of her father’s estate to grab a small taste of freedom before she’s forced to marry a stodgy old bachelor. Her father is furious with her because a handsome stranger made a spectacle of her at a ball, and now he’s adamant that she marry before she’s completely ruined. She runs into the rakish Kingsley, the stranger from the ball, after he almost runs her down with his carriage. Arabella convinces him to accompany her on her day of freedom, arguing that he owes her three favors for his behavior at the ball. What follows is an enjoyable romp through London, as Arabella and Kingsley fall for each other during their unusual adventures. I really enjoyed this.

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14. Micro Reviews: Pop Stars, Cowgirls, Zombies, and Beasties!

 

I have been reading up a storm, but I’ve been lax on writing reviews.  Here’s a quick catch up post with short reviews.

Hello, I Love You by Katie M Stout

C-

This dragged for me, and I didn’t think there was any chemistry between Grace and Jason. I read this mainly for the setting, but the school might as well have been anywhere, which was a big disappointment. Cultural details were sparse and shallow.  I didn’t get a feeling that Grace was in a foreign country, and the fact that everyone she interacted with spoke English didn’t help make this unique or different. It also bugged me that Jason and his sister were the only Koreans to use Korean names.

 

The Surgeon and the Cowgirl by Heidi Hormel

C / C+

Both protagonists were all about “Me, me, me!” and it felt like it took forever for them to mature. I’m not completely convinced that they will ever effectively communicate, which made the ending rushed and not completely believable.

What Once We Feared by Carrie Ryan

Not enough here to even call this a short story. Lots of potential, but it fell flat because it felt so incomplete. This should have been called a teaser, not a short story.

 

Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

B/ B-

Fun, quirky read that somehow combines ballroom dance with mythological critters.

Verity comes from a long line of cryptozoologists, but her true passion is for competitive dance. She’s spending a year in Manhattan to pursue her dance career, as well as to keep an eye on the beasties living in the big city. When Dominic, a member of Covenant, arrives in town, his kill all non-humans before even asking them how their day is going attitude gets on Very’s nerves. Both Dominic and the sudden appearance of a snake cult in the sewers under the city have made her life extremely complicated.

Though it got a little draggy in places, and was over the top in others, overall Discount Armageddon was a fun adventure.

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15. Review: The Texas Wildcatter’s Baby by Cathy Gillen Thacker

 

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

Continuing my Harlequin marathon, I discovered that the library has Harlequin bundles in their collection.  BUNDLES! Of HARLEQUINS!  It’s like being a kid in a candy store after hours, with no supervision and nobody to tell you to STOP gorging yourself with all of that yummy candy!  This discovery is the equivalent of finding King Tut’s tomb, so forgive me as I gleefully consume as many Harlequins as I can. Every day I read until my EYES BLEED!

Getting back to the topic at hand:  I borrowed the March 2014 American Romance bundle because it was actually available for check out.  These bundles are very popular, and I am on wait lists for about 4 others.  I love the opportunity to read new to me authors, because when I pick single issue titles, I go by authors I have already read, or a brief perusal of the blurb.  I don’t even look at that with the bundles.  I just start at the beginning and work my way to the end.  I have yet to encounter a title I disliked so much that I didn’t want to finish it, and it’s been fun just reading for the sake reading. 

As it turns out, I have read Cathy Gillen Thacker a few times before.  Each title has been a solid read.  The Texas Wildcatter’s Baby featured a great hero, but I had some trouble with Ginger, the heroine.  She is fearful of being betrayed after an unhappy marriage, so she has become super independent.  When she learns that she’s pregnant after a night with her serial hook-up Rand, she’s momentarily panic-stricken.  She is bidding on the biggest oil drilling project of her career, and she only has one shot to get it right.  This is a make it or break it moment for her fledging business.  Now that she’s pregnant, she’s afraid of how it will impact her career.  The oil business is dominated by men, and after her husband’s company humored her ambitions to build a career for herself, she’s afraid of anything that will make her look weak before the competition.

With a plan in mind, she confronts Rand with the news.  Then she proposes a temporary marriage to him, just until the baby is born.  It will be better for her business if she’s married when the pregnancy is common knowledge.  She also wants Rand to be a part of their baby’s life.  They agree to a quickie wedding at the county courthouse, but things don’t go exactly as they had planned.  Instead, they show up at Rand’s family home, where his family has already learned about the marriage and throws them a surprise wedding party.  It’s also a chance to catch up with a few of Rand’s brothers, who have been featured in other books.

Once they’re married, it’s all about work for Ginger.  She has to nail down her proposal for the oil drilling project, and work comes first for Ginger.  She now has a little one to worry about.  Forget about Rand!  He’ll be fine one his own.  That’s what drove me bonkers about Ginger.  Rand is one of the most perfect romance heroes that I’ve come across, and Ginger is too busy maintaining her independence to figure that out.  He’s kind, protective, and helpful.  What woman wouldn’t give her eyeteeth for a guy who FOLDS laundry??  Or lets her sleep in and catch up on her rest?  The list of his positive qualities is endless, but Ginger turns a blind eye to all of them.

To stir up trouble with the couple, they also have to deal with Ginger’s clingy mother and her devious ex.  Through it all, Rand has her back, and eventually, even Ginger begins to appreciate his presence in her life.  She’s just too afraid of losing her independence to admit it to him, let alone herself, so the grade took a knock because I was so frustrated with her.  It’s not until 4 or 5 pages until the end that she gives in to her feelings and confesses her love, and that was cutting it far too close for me.  Otherwise, this was an enjoyable read.

Grade:  C+

Review copy borrowed from my local library

Love Isn’t Part of the Deal

Ginger Rollins can’t believe she gave in to temptation—again! It’s time for her and Rand McCabe to face the consequences. Never mind that the geological engineer and sexy environmental cowboy are on opposite sides when it comes to the Texas land they both love. Now that she’s pregnant, they have one option.

Rand isn’t used to being proposed to by a woman—especially one as gorgeous as Ginger—but he’s all for getting married. Too bad the independent wildcatter sees their union as a nonnegotiable deal. Doesn’t she know they share more than hot chemistry? How long can he keep his feelings—and their baby—a secret? Rand vowed to love and honor Ginger forever. And it’s a promise he intends to keep….

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16. Review: The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I read The Girl Who Could Fly because I received a copy for a blog tour.  I love middle-grade books, and since it’s been a while since I read one, I was excited to start this.  I loved the author’s voice, especially while Piper is still at the family farm.  She’s a surprise to her older, salt of the earth parents, and when the lively, happy Piper is born, they are taken aback.  They are, while not joyless folk, serious and dedicated to the land that has been in the family for generations.  They don’t need much and are content to get by, farming the land, tending their livestock, and fitting, uneventfully, into their community. 

Then along comes Piper.  She floats.  Her mother Betty immediately realizes that her daughter isn’t “normal.”  To a woman who embraces being normal and not tempting fate, who relishes doing things as they have always been done, Piper is an unexpected hiccup in her road of normalcy.  Betty decides that it’s best to keep Piper on the farm, homeschooled and doing her chores, so that the neighbors don’t start gossiping about them.  Piper upsets her plans one summer day, when she watches a momma bird push her babies out of the nest.  Piper wonders if she can fly too.  And once Piper sets her mind to something, nothing is going to get in her way until she accomplishes it.

An unfortunate event at the Fourth of July picnic, the first that Piper’s been allowed to attend, has disastrous consequences.  The entire community learns that Piper can fly.  Soon, the entire world knows.  When Dr Letitia Hellion and her crew from the top secret institute I.N.S.A.N.E. show up at the farm, promising to school Piper in her abilities, and to keep her safe, the McClouds have no choice but to let their daughter go with them.  What Piper finds isn’t exactly the paradise she’s been promised, but it takes the help of a mean supergenius to figure out that she’s actually a prisoner and not a student at the high tech facility in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by miles and miles of snow and ice. 

I loved Piper and Conrad.  Piper is completely guileless, the total opposite of Conrad.  Conrad is frustrated and just plain mean, and Piper’s happy  attitude grates on his last nerve.  He picks on her mercilessly, and Piper, who doesn’t have much experience in social settings, first tries to win him over, and when that doesn’t work, tries to ignore him.  Of course he gets her into trouble every chance he can, until one disturbing event makes Piper realize that all is not as it seems at the institute.  Conrad and Dr Hellion have been locked in a battle of wits for four years, and Conrad believes that with Piper’s help, he’ll finally get the best of her.

I liked how Piper fought to be true to herself, even at a terrible price to herself.  While she yearns to fit in, she begins to realize that being who she is is more important that being popular.  Her sunny disposition does endear her to others, regardless of how hard they try to resist.  I liked the message that being different isn’t bad, and everyone deserves a chance to be who they really are.

The Girl Who Could Fly is a quick read, with action, adventure, and danger.  It’s also about learning to get along with others despite their differences, and the importance of being yourself.  I am looking forward to The Boy Who Knew Everything, because I enjoyed Conrad so much.

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by publisher

About the book:


You just can’t keep a good girl down . . . unless you use the proper methods.

Piper McCloud can fly. Just like that. Easy as pie.

Sure, she hasn’t mastered reverse propulsion and her turns are kind of sloppy, but she’s real good at loop-the-loops.

Problem is, the good folk of Lowland County are afraid of Piper. And her ma’s at her wit’s end. So it seems only fitting that she leave her parents’ farm to attend a top-secret, maximum-security school for kids with exceptional abilities.

School is great at first with a bunch of new friends whose skills range from super-strength to super-genius. (Plus all the homemade apple pie she can eat!) But Piper is special, even among the special. And there are consequences.

Consequences too dire to talk about. Too crazy to consider. And too dangerous to ignore.

At turns exhilarating and terrifying, Victoria Forester’s debut novel has been praised by Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight saga, as “the oddest/sweetest mix of Little House on the Prairie and X-Men…Prepare to have your heart warmed.” The Girl Who Could Fly is an unforgettable story of defiance and courage about an irrepressible heroine who can, who will, who must . . . fly.

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17. Review: House Immortal by Devon Monk

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I loved House Immortal.  I purchased it when it was an Amazon deal of the day, and I read it on the plane to Tampa two weeks ago.  Everything about it felt fresh and new, and I really liked Tilly.  I didn’t like the cliffhanger ending, but since I have the next book in the series cued up on my Kindle, the irritation didn’t last long.

Matilda Case has been living a low profile existence on the family farm, taking care of her senile grandmother, as well as the creatures her father stitched together.  Tilly herself is a galvanized, a being stitched together from bits and pieces.  When she was a child, she became ill and would have died if her memories hadn’t been housed in the stitched together body.  Now she’s hiding out on the farm, pretending to be human, while avoiding allegiance to any particular House.  In Tilly’s world, there are only twelve galvanized beings (thirteen, counting Tilly), they gave up their rights to be considered human to stop a war, and now they are possessions, fought over by the powerful Houses that rule a post-apocalyptic Earth.

When the head of one of the Houses, Slater Orange, of House Orange, learns about Tilly, he’s sure that his mind and memories can be stitched into another body, too.  With Quentin, Tilly’s genius brother, a prisoner in his House, he’s racing against time to see his dream realized before the disease ravaging his body kills him. With Tilly’s life hanging in the balance, Quentin is reluctantly forced to cooperate with Slater.

Tilly has been worried about Quentin. He hasn’t been home in years, and she hasn’t heard a word from him.  When the peace of the farm is shattered by the arrival of Abraham, one of the galvanized, she’s forced to leave her home and pledge to a House.  Otherwise, because she doesn’t have any rights under the law, the Houses will fight for her and she could end up with any of them.  Determined to make the best of a bad situation, Tilly has decided to use her new connections to locate her missing brother.

That’s the basic plot, and I don’t want to give away any more details.  I enjoyed the pacing and the characters.  Tilly is one tough, independent woman, and she doesn’t let anyone intimidate her.  Because she has the strength of a galvanized, she’s doesn’t back down from confrontations.  She’s also basically immortal, which also gives her confidence in tense, life-threatening situations.  I guess if I was that hard to kill, as well as that valuable, I wouldn’t be a pushover, either.

There are some light romantic elements between Tilly and Abraham.  Abraham also serves as a mentor as Tilly negotiates the confusing new world she’s become enmeshed in.  I liked the concept of these powerful, immortal beings that are also powerless in the society they live in.  Abraham brokered the peace to end the war, convincing the other galvanized to give up their rights under the law to prevent the slaughter of more humans.  Some of the galvanized are not in good situations and they are mistreated by their current contract holders.  Once they sign a contract with a House, the word of the House leader is law, and they have to follow whatever orders they are given, whether they agree with them or not. 

If I have one complaint about the story, I thought that the pacing got bogged down a little near the end.  I didn’t care about another roll call of the galvanized and their accomplishments; I wanted to find out what happened to Quentin and Abraham.  Otherwise, I thought House Immortal was exciting, suspenseful, and creative.  I can hardly wait to crack open Infinity Bell, the next book in the series.

Grade:  B+

Review copy purchased from Amazon

One hundred years ago, eleven powerful ruling Houses consolidated all of the world’s resources and authority into their own grasping hands. Only one power wasn’t placed under the command of a single House: the control over the immortal galvanized….

Matilda Case isn’t like most folk. In fact, she’s unique in the world, the crowning achievement of her father’s experiments, a girl pieced together from bits. Or so she believes, until Abraham Seventh shows up at her door, stitched with life thread just like her and insisting that enemies are coming to kill them all.

Tilly is one of thirteen incredible creations known as the galvanized, stitched together beings immortal and unfathomably strong. For a century, each House has fought for control over the galvanized. Now the Houses are also tangled in a deadly struggle for dominion over death—and Tilly and her kind hold the key to unlocking eternity

The secrets that Tilly must fight to protect are hidden within the very seams of her being. And to get the secrets, her enemies are willing to tear her apart piece by piece.…
FIRST IN A NEW SERIES!

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18. Georgie Donaghey in the Spotlight; ‘Lulu’ Makes her Debut

It’s not enough to just want something and hope that it will be delivered  to you on a silver platter. Unfortunately for most of us, life isn’t that simple. What we try to teach our kids is that you absolutely can achieve your aspirations, your goals, your dreams, but it takes work, persistence and determination. […]

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19. Violent. Fierce, Proud: Reviewing Lidia Yuknavitch's THE SMALL BACKS OF CHILDREN

Lidia Yuknavitch is fearless—a trait I typically admire. Her new book opens with an exquisite scene and then slowly peels away to fractions. My reflections on it all are here, in the New York Journal of Books.

0 Comments on Violent. Fierce, Proud: Reviewing Lidia Yuknavitch's THE SMALL BACKS OF CHILDREN as of 7/7/2015 3:50:00 PM
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20. Review: At the Count’s Bidding by Caitlin Crews

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I am having a love-hate relationship with Crews’ books.  I love the raw emotion of her writing, but gosh darn!  Her heroes can be such douche bags!  Since At the Count’s Bidding features the revenge trope, I was expecting Giancarlo to not be the nicest guy at first, but I had a hard time wrapping my head around how awful he could be.  It was hard for me to accept him as heroic or romantic, and I wondered what Paige saw in him.  I started to think that the only reason she was allowing him to treat her like that was because of all of that guilt she carried.  For what?  For something she did ten years ago, when she was just barely out of her teens.

At first I was upset with Paige for allowing Giancarlo to treat her like a doormat, but what else did she expect? Every adult in her life treated her terribly, especially her mother, so why would she expect her lover to take an active interest in her and find out why she did what she did?  Instead, he rejects her cold, disappears from her life for ten years, and then – poof!  He’s back.  That was completely Paige’s fault. How she thought working for his superstar mother could possibly be a good decision is beyond me.  But wait! I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

Ten years ago, Giancarlo fancied himself a director.  With his mother’s connections and his own personal wealth, playing out his fantasy of making movies was quickly a reality.  On the set, he saw Paige, and it was as if the earth stood still.  The two were drawn to each other like moths to flame, and soon were burning with passion.  Then Paige’s past caught up with her, she betrayed Giancarlo by selling pictures of them getting naughty to a tabloid, and Giancarlo thought the world had come to an end.  Now, don’t get me wrong, but most people craving privacy don’t get caught up in the movie biz, and most people in the movie biz would love a scandal like that to set their stars aflame.  There are several celebrities whose careers are built on little more than a sex tape here or there, so would he really get all bent out of shape about a couple of stills showing him in action?  He made the wrong career choice.

After they are reunited at his mother’s house after ten long and bitter years (for him), Giancarlo threatens to spill the beans on Paige’s past and get her fired.  Would his mother really allow her to stay employed after Paige betrayed him like that?  I was thinking that, yes, she probably would, because if his mother had thought of it first, she would have done the same thing!  She thrived on attention and the adulation of the press and her fans, so a little scandal would have gotten her what she craved without too much effort.  Heck, if she could have used their pictures again to get herself some press, she would have cheerfully done that, too! 

But Paige, terrified that she’ll lose her job and Violet’s friendship,  agrees to jump every time he snaps his fingers.  She’s to be there for him when ever he wants, where ever he wants, so he can finally achieve his revenge.  This, I did not like so much .  At first he starts to degrade and minimize her, until he realizes what a dick move that would be.  I had a hard time with his behavior in the beginning of the book, because after treating someone like that, it’s hard to come back from that and look noble and romantic.

I had so many issues with this book, when Giancarlo treated Paige horribly, and she acted like a doormat and accepted it.  When Giancarlo blamed Paige for getting pregnant because he THOUGHT she was on birth control, I thought, That’s it!  He can never recover in my mind from that!  What a jerk!  He didn’t even care enough to ASK  Paige about it, or better yet, take responsibility in his own hands and make sure that he didn’t get her pregnant.  A guy with that much money, who didn’t ever want to get trapped in marriage, would have not left something that important to chance!  Giancarlo was so selfish he didn’t even think that there might be more to what happened in the past than Paige wanting money. Ugh!

Even when I wanted to chuck my Kindle against the wall in utter frustration, I kept reading.  Why???  I know you are asking.  Because the strength of the writing kept me turning the pages. It is so emotional and melodramatic, and I really like Crews’ writing style.  I might not like what her characters do, but all of those words she uses to make them do it? Those I like!  She even made Giancarlo grovel before Paige took him back, and somehow let him redeem himself, even when I didn’t think that could ever be possible.  I have to keep reading her books to see if all of her heroes are douche bags.

Grade:  Story: C (Because of my reservations)

Hero: D for DOUCHBAG!

Writing: B+ for why else would I have finished this if I hated the hero that much???

Review copy obtained from my local library

 

 

“It’s the surrender. It’s all about the surrender.”

Paige Fielding has waited ten years for Giancarlo Alessi to walk back into her life. But the man she was once forced to betray isn’t interested in asking questions, or hearing apologies…

Shocked to discover Paige working as his mother’s PA, Giancarlo sees his thirst for vengeance reignite. So he lures her to Tuscany, where she will bow to his every pleasurable command.

But the lines between payback and passion quickly blur. And when Giancarlo discovers Paige is pregnant he must ask himself: Is it really revenge he so desperately craves—or her?

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21. Review: Blame it on the Rodeo by Amanda Renee

 

Most Certainly Contains Spoilers

Review:

My Harlequin-o-rama continues with Blame it on the Rodeo.  I borrowed this because Lexi is a vet, and there’s a horse on the cover.  I had no expectations going into it, and truthfully, I didn’t even read the entire synopsis.  Sometimes that bites me in the rear, but this time I was pleasantly surprised, and I could not put this book down.  I loved it!

I had a great feeling about the story when it started with an equine embryo transfer.  That is how my Morgan, Elle, was bred.  She’s an embryo transfer, and was carried by a Saddlebred surrogate.  I have never encountered this in a story before, and I was really excited to see it here.  When I pick up a book featuring a veterinarian, I expect the protagonist to do veterinarian things.  I was so pleased with all of the medical procedures in Lexi’s daily activities; Coggins tests, West Nile vacations, helping to with a difficult delivery – these are things I hope to read about, so Amanda Renee gets a double thumbs up for Lexi’s profession feeling authentic.

As the story progressed, I started to get a little apprehensive. When Lexi was an eighteen year old college student, she and her high school sweetheart shared a romantic weekend together, and Lexi wound up pregnant.  Home for Thanksgiving, she intended to tell Shane that he’s going to be a father, only to learn that he’s about to marry another woman because he got her pregnant.  Heartbroken that he cheated on her, Lexi kept her pregnancy to herself, carried her baby to term, and then, knowing that she’s not ready for motherhood, placed him with an adoption agency.  Now, thirteen years later, her secret has come home to roost.  Lexi suspects that young Hunter, a student at Shane’s rodeo school, is the son she gave up all those years ago.

Lexi’s anguish is compelling and believable.  After hiring a private investigator to confirm her suspicions, she is conflicted.  Does she disrupt Hunter’s happy life and let him know that she’s his mother?  Does she throw a major wrench in Shane’s life and tell him what happened?  She kept her pregnancy a secret from everyone, including her own family, and now she’s afraid of what they will think of her.  I was completely sympathetic, and wondered what she was going to do to bring a measure of peace to herself.

Shane, on the other hand…I had issues with Shane.  The first major strike against him was his cheating.  Sure, he was young, but I expect a romance hero to be faithful.  He is urged by his parents to marry the buckle bunny he knocked up, only to learn a year later that the child is not his.  Oops! Oh, the irony!  His long-time friend is pregnant with his child, and he marries a woman pretending to be pregnant with his child. Ouch!   Maybe he should have demanded a paternity test right off the bat.  He is devastated when he loses the baby he’s come to love, and he’s spent every day since wondering what happened to him.  Is he happy with his father, another rodeo competitor? 

Shane’s other problem is Shane’s preoccupation with himself.  He lives for the rodeo.  He longs to win the world championship, both for his ego and to help get his rodeo school on the map.  He’s dated just about every single female in town in an effort to forget about Lexi, but he doesn’t own up to his irresponsibility and his own actions that caused him to lose her.  He still loves her, but he won’t tell her.  He drove me bonkers!  And when he learns the truth about Hunter?  Ugh!  He comes across as a self-righteous ass and puts all of the blame on Lexi, without accepting that, ultimately, he was the one who screwed up.  While I’m still not sure I believe that he will ever be the kind of man Lexi needs, he did change by the end so that I was hopeful that he had learned some valuable life lessons.

I finished Blame it on the Rodeo and immediately wanted to catch up on the other books in the Ramblewood, Texas series, so I’ll call this a successful outing.

Grade:  B / B+

Review copy borrowed from my local library

From Amazon:

A Secret The Size Of Texas

Veterinarian Lexi Lawson has her hands full–and not just when she’s delivering foals at the Langtry family’s ranch. Working there forces Lexi to confront Shane Langtry, the man who broke her heart. True, he seems different now–more generous, more grounded. But Lexi isn’t fooled: Shane lives for rodeo competition and nothing else. Besides, after what he did to her, there’s no way she’d take him back.

Long ago, when they were in love, Lexi hid a terrible secret from Shane–one she planned to keep forever. But when he learns the truth, she’s forced to choose between the past she left behind…and the future they might still find together.

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22. Review: His Defiant Desert Queen by Jane Porter

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I read His Defiant Desert Queen because it was included in the Harlequin Presents bundle that I borrowed from the library.  I randomly checked it out because it also included a Caitlin Crews title.  I didn’t read any of the descriptions prior to  gobbling them up, and I definitely had mixed success with this collection.  I had so many reservations about this title, my first by Jane Porter.  Though I ultimately enjoyed it, I had to resist the very strong urge to DNF it at the beginning.

Jemma Copeland is not having a good year.  Her father was busted for running the biggest Ponzi scam in history.  Instead of   paying his dues, he’s high-tailed it with some of his ill-gotten gains (he did get what he deserved), leaving his clueless family behind to deal with the scandal.  Jemma’s modeling career was destroyed, her fiancé dumped her, and her friends all turned their backs on her.  Now she’s struggling to make ends meet.  When she’s offered a modeling job in Saidia, she uses her sister’s passport to secure a visa after being denied entry into the country under her own name.  When Sheik Mikael  discovers her deception, he’s extremely displeased that Jemma  flaunted the laws of his country.  He also has a bone to pick with her family after his mother fell victim to her father’s schemes, leading to his mother’s death.

Mikael drags Jemma to his tribal village so the village elder can pass judgment on her.  Mikael is given two choices regarding her punishment.  Either she spends seven years as a “guest” in the village, or he marries her.  Even though he feels nothing but contempt for her, he loads her on a camel, ties her to the saddle, and rides off to his desert palace, all without her consent.  That right there almost caused me to stop reading the book.  In Mikael’s country, the sheiks have kidnapped their brides for generations, in order to cement tribes together through marriage.  I didn’t buy that, and had a hard time dealing with both his contempt for her and his treatment of her.

The story did get much better as it went along, despite my reservations with the premise. As Mikael and Jemma spend their “honeymoon” together in Mikael’s sumptuous home , they slowly get to know each other.  Mikael comes to understand that Jemma had no control over her father’s actions, and he slowly realizes that she’s nothing like he thought she’d be.  He also begins to put his own guilt over his mother’s death into perspective, and begins to forgive himself for how he acted after his parents divorced.  He has a lot of inner turmoil to overcome, and with Jemma’s help, he begins to work through them.

As far as Jemma went, I didn’t like her at first.  She is all about Me, Me, Me!  She agrees to go through with the farce of a honeymoon, knowing that in eight days she can just tell Mikael that she’s not happy and he’ll send her back home.  As the days go by, though, she starts to realize that she is happy, the happiest that she has ever been. She’s no longer lonely.   Mikael is a tender and passionate lover, and she genuinely enjoys his company.  Before she knows it, she’s fallen in love with him.  That turns out to be another point of contention, because Mikael has promised himself that he will never fall in love (this is such an overused trope in romance, and frankly, it is one that I am losing patience with).  This opens the door to more conflict, and Mikael’s final realization that he can’t bear to let Jemma go.

By the end of the story, I believed that Jemma was happy, and  that Mikael made her feel safe, protected, and cherished.  I also believed that Mikael forgave himself, allowing himself to find the love that had eluded him.

Grade:  B-

Review copy borrowed from my local library

I will not marry you. I will not!

When Sheikh Mikael catches notorious model Jemma Copeland flaunting Saidia’s laws—and her body—in his desert, he knows one thing: revenge against his family’s destruction is within his reach! To achieve it he makes Jemma an offer: imprisonment or marriage.

With her life shattered by the scandal that rocked her family, Jemma needed that modeling job. She didn’t know that she was breaking the law! But Mikael’s outrageous proposal pushes her beyond shock…to utter fury. If he expects her to be a meek, pliable bride, this arrogant sheikh has another think coming!

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23. What Makes a Book Worth Reading

Theory of Expanded LoveWhat makes a book worth reading?

A Theory of Expanded Love, for instance.

This coming-of-age novel by Caitlin Hicks plays out in the months between two famous deaths—Pope John XXIII and President Kennedy, in 1963.

I caught up with Caitlin Hicks to discuss issues important to fiction writers.

“What’s your book about, Caitlin? What’s its message?”

“Message?” she says. “No message. It’s a novel.” And a hilarious one, I might add.

And yet I don’t entirely believe her. Her story is definitely about something. I don’t give novels much of my time if they don’t appear to be about something. The story’s 12-year-old protagonist, Annie Shea, is too outspoken for the book not to say something.

Hicks soon confesses that she “had a question to answer with the story,” and so I ask her, “What question?”

“I’m not telling you!” she says. “I’m not telling anyone.”

She’s starting to sound like Annie, smart and sassy and skilled at digging her heels in.

“If you read the book,” says Hicks, “maybe you’ll find the answer.” Or maybe not. “Because it’s not directly answerable in an obvious way,” she says.

“Was your question answered for you?” I ask.

“Yes, but I’m not going to say what it was.”

Every good book has a secret centre

Caitlin Hicks is right to protect the mystery of her question. Readers love books that circle a central question, even if it’s never explained.

The best novels, like A Theory of Expanded Love, possess a secret centre.

I reflect on novels that have bored me—books whose point is quickly obvious. The hero’s trajectory is unambiguous, and so lacks mystery. The reading experience is mediocre, if not downright tedious. Genre fiction can get like that.

Caitlin Hicks 2Perhaps this is why A Theory of Expanded Love is getting such rave reviews, because it is about something that is “not answerable in an obvious way.” Something to do with love. Or the lack of it. That’s my guess.

One of thirteen siblings, Annie Shea had to fight for face-time with her mother. “I had been tracking her around the house so she would notice me,” says Annie. Perhaps there’s not enough love in a large family to go around. Or does love expand infinitely? That’s a theme you can build a novel around.

“Whenever I have a question,” Hicks says, “and I create something from that question, it usually turns out to have some holding power.”

By holding power she means compelling. I know writers who want to take that word out and shoot it. It haunts them and for good reason. Compelling is the Holy Grail for novelists who want to write a book worth reading.

As long as I’m exploring…

“As long as I’m exploring then it’s interesting,” says Hicks. “My curiosity is everywhere in the book.”

Hicks may be touching the heart of the matter: As long as the writer is exploring, the story holds the reader.

Few writers speak of stories having an unspoken theme or core. One believer is Orhan Pamuk (Nobel Prize for Literature, 2006):

“[The reader] cannot help reflecting on the meaning of life as he tries to locate the centre of the novel he is reading. For in seeking this centre, he is seeking the centre of his own life and that of the world.”

I wonder if Hicks is trying probe the centre of her own life in the novel. Is her story fact or fiction?

Memoir vs. novel

Since Hicks and her protagonist were both raised in large Catholic families in Pasadena, California, I have assumed that A Theory of Expanded Love is autobiographical.

“Annie Shea is not me,” Hicks says. “This is not a memoir, it’s a novel. I’m not a redhead. Annie is so much smarter and confident. I may have thought what she thought, but I didn’t question things. I was a well-bred Catholic girl all the way up to graduating from college. I was going to confession every day. I was trying to be holy.”

For Caitlin Hicks, her real-life family wasn’t sufficiently pregnant with story material.

“I couldn’t write a memoir because I felt like I knew everything I wanted to know about my family. But then ‘the question’ came up, and I wondered why that was?”

Out of that curiosity a novel was born.

It’s a novel that explores family life through the antics of a pre-pubescent girl, and it made me laugh out loud. Annie is a girl whose desperation derives not from abuse or neglect but from a powerful urge to know how life works. Especially love.

That’s definitely it. Something about love. Love expanding to nourish every newborn heart. Is that it, Caitlin?

“It’s not really a secret,” Hicks says. “But I’m not going to tell. It’s unmentioned, but through the whole book you get a sense of what that might be.”

Here’s what I think:

Love is infinite, and when you read this novel you feel it shining through the young and rebellious Annie Shea.

Annie’s story is more than well worth reading.

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24. Review: The Real Romero by Cathy Williams

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

Milly isn’t having a good day.  Her refuge for the next two weeks has been yanked out from under her, and instead of working as a chalet girl for a rich couple and their kids, she’ll be heading back home to face her friends’ pitying glances.  After catching her fiancé doing the nasty with her best friend, she’s lost a lot of confidence in herself, as well as her dreams for the future.  The temporary position in France was going to get her out of London long enough for her loser ex, Robbie, and her former BFF to clear out of her place, and allow her to squeeze in a little ski time, too.   Convincing her boss to let her stay in the chalet overnight to get some sleep before heading back home, Milly meets Lucas, a guy she assumes is a ski instructor.

Lucas is really a handsome young billionaire, and he owns the chalet.  When his mother’s friends can’t keep their vacation plans due to a family illness, Lucas pulls some strings and gets them to pay for Milly’s time anyway.  He’s annoyed that they didn’t let her know about their change of plans, and he finds her amusing and refreshing.  Milly doesn’t know who he is, and she treats him like a person, not a bank account.  He thinks that he’ll decompress for a few days, go skiing with Milly, and amuse himself at the same time.  When the cat gets out of the bag, he has an irate Milly to deal with.  She’s angry that Lucas wasn’t upfront about his identity, and she feels like a fool for jumping to conclusions.  He offers to help her out financially, if she’ll go to Madrid and pretend to be his fiancée.   His mother is not well, and he wants to her to stop worrying about him finding himself a wife.

While I enjoyed the author’s writing style, as well as Milly’s down to earth personality, there was a distinct lack of chemistry between the protagonists.  This was another story featuring a hero who has convinced himself he can never fall in love, due to an unpleasant experience when he was nineteen.  He’s in his thirties now.  I would hope that he would get over the unpleasantness after more than ten years!

Even though this story didn’t work for me, I would like to read more by the author.  I liked her easy-going writing style and the heroine’s inner monologs.

Grade:  C+

Review copy borrowed from my local library

The Secret Billionaire

Billionaire Lucas Romero is many things—brooding, talented and a consummate womanizer. The one thing he’s not? The “ski instructor” beautiful, innocent Milly Mayfield thought she was giving herself to in a sumptuous, secluded French ski chalet! And now she’s livid!

Arrogant playboy Lucas is bewildered by Milly’s decidedly unusual reaction to the revelation of his substantial wealth—he’s never had complaints before! But even Milly cannot ignore the sexual chemistry between them. So when a family emergency means he needs a willing woman by his side, Milly suddenly finds herself whisked away to Spain…and engaged!

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25. Scorpion Petting and Book Reviews

I love this Liana Brooks quote so much I decided to illustrate it. :-)

And on the topic of helping the authors whose work you enjoy, here are some ways to help authors even if you can't afford to buy their books.

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