Sunday, September 22, 2013

Against the Ropes by Sarah Castille

Synopsis: He scared me. He thrilled me. And after one touch, all I could think about was getting more...
Makayla never thought she'd set foot in an elite mixed martial arts club. But if anyone needs a medic on hand, it's these guys. Then again, at her first sight of the club's owner, she's the one feeling breathless.
The man they call Torment is all sleek muscle and restrained power. Whether it's in the ring or in the bedroom, he knows exactly when a soft touch is required and when to launch a full-on assault. He always knows just how far he can push. And he's about to tempt Makayla in ways she never imagined...

My Thoughts: After a really rough start I found that I was able to enjoy some of what this book offered despite the improbable occurrences that kept cropping up over and over and over again.

What Didn't Work: The present tense first person narrative can be quite off putting. It took quite a while for this to work for me and even then there were times that I was still pulled away from the story because some of the sentences just felt awkward. Also, there were several instances of texting between the two main characters. The formatting was a bit off as there were several times that the author of the texts were unclear because one line could contain both Torment and Makayla's texts together.

Normally I'm not one to complain about an Alpha Male hero but in this case Torment (aka Max) often came across domineering and controlling to the point of red lights and alarm bells going off in my head as I was reading them. He forbid her to do this. He ordered to not do that. He said it was for her own good, so he could protect her. In addition to Torment's extreme character flaw, Makayla wasn't all that great. She claimed to be able to "handle him" over and over. Again with the warning bells and blinking red lights! Makayla's flaws didn't stop with that, however. She had such an extreme reaction to violence (which included things like cold sweats, vomiting and almost fainting) yet she had no problem patching up the MMA fighters wounds as a result of the violence. She happily did it as a matter of fact. I think the topping on the I Hate Makayla cake had to be when she all of a sudden exhibited a seriously TSTL (too stupid to live) moment. It counteracted all her "I'm a big girl. I can take care of myself." moments reducing her to a shell of a woman and one I'd never want to meet.

So, all that's really left is to mention a bill collection company named Collections R Us, who apparently allow their collection team to call debtors from their personal cell phones and scream obscenities at them, an administrator in a hospital that is allowed to date their underlings, an organ donor list that requires monetary donations to get a name to the top and one person's past filled with anguish and mafia hit-men. Really. I'm not joking.

What Worked: Despite the over the top ickiness that was Torment's caveman mentality there were quite a few tender moments which melted my frozen-I-hate-these-characters-heart just a bit. The more I read the more I really believed he loved Makayla. I am not foolish to believe that love conquers pent up rage and violence but for the sake of fantasy I did enjoy those tender moments. In addition to the tender side of this book (and Torment) I thought the sexual encounters between our two love birds were very well done (except for the first one on the motorcycle...that one was a horrible example of BDSM and a Dom working with his sub.) So, first one aside I actually enjoyed reading the encounters and liked that even though there were a lot of them, they did not over power the story.

In a Nutshell:  Keeping in mind that if you've read (and liked) one of those other super popular series involving BDSM, Dom/sub relationships, extremely rich heroes or MMA fighters this book will not overly impress you on the originality front-line but it should be likable enough to spend a few hours of your time. For me, as an independent-mature-40 year old woman, I have long since outgrown my days of weekend binge drinking and reading about them coupled with Makayla's attitude and immaturity made it hard to connect to her and ultimately the book. But hey, at least the cover was hot!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Bite Me by PJ Schnyder

Synopsis: Few people walk the streets of London since the zombie outbreak, but that's not an issue for Seth. As a werewolf, he can handle himself and save humans reckless enough to take a nighttime stroll. While on patrol he comes across a group of people under attack. The one woman brave enough to take a stand against the zombies catches his eye—and not just because of her way with a gun. Learning the beautiful woman is homeless and fends for herself only intensifies his urge to protect and care for her.

Maisie can't help but admit that she's attracted to her werewolf rescuer. She's drawn to Seth's strength and ferocity, and finds herself opening up to him in ways she never imagined, even though she's determined to not rely on Seth or anyone else. She doesn't want another person to get hurt—or die—for her sake. She has enough scars, physical and emotional, from the last time…

But when Seth realizes something is drawing the zombies to Maisie, there may be nothing he can do to save her…

My thoughts: Despite this being a novella of less than 100 pages I thought this story was a great introduction to PJ Schnyder's writing and her new London Undead series. I love books with zombies and I'm so happy that this one didn't try to portray any zombie as a hero. They were dead disgusting buggers and I loved reading about them.

What Worked: I think Schnyder did I commendable job introducing us to her London Undead world. Although we might not have all the information we could have had if this had been a full length novel I think what she was able to accomplish was a great start.

Her characters are strong and intelligent. I really liked that our heroine, Maisie, could take care of herself without fear freezing her up. I liked that Seth recognized her strength and although it is in his DNA makeup to take care of her he knew she could do it herself.

I also liked that Schnyder doesn't have the characters falling into insta-love because there wasn't enough time to develop a longer courtship. I was quite satisfied with the way the characters came together in the end.

What Didn't Work: Just a few minor points actually. The length of the story really limited a longer courtship, the background on the characters and the world building. As I mentioned before, I think PJ really did a great job within the novella limitations but as a reader I just wasn't ready for the story to end. I could have happily settled in for another several hours worth of reading about these characters and the Undead world. Seth and Maisie's story is not finished. I hope PJ has realized this and plans to write more about them in the future. Oh and Seth's playful way of tossing Maisie up into the air repeatedly while carrying her was a bit much. Coming from someone with a bad leg, the jarring would have hurt. See, told you they were only minor points.

In a Nutshell: A new Urban Fantasy setting well worth the read but I'm begging you PJ, please, please, please give me more! Write that full Undead London novel. I'll definitely read it!

When We Touch by Brenda Novak

Synopsis: You’re invited to a wedding in Whiskey Creek, Heart of the Gold Country
Unfortunately, it’s the wrong wedding. Olivia Arnold is arranging the festivities—and it’s the hardest thing she’s ever done. Because she should be marrying Kyle Houseman. They were together for more than a year…. But her jealous sister, Noelle, stole him away—and now she’s pregnant.
All their friends in Whiskey Creek know as well as Olivia does that Kyle’s making a mistake. His stepbrother, Brandon, knows it, too. But Kyle’s determined to go through with it, for his child’s sake.
Olivia’s devastated, but surprisingly Brandon—the black sheep of the family—is there to provide comfort and consolation. The intensity between them, both physical and emotional, shows Olivia that maybe Kyle wasn’t the right man for her…
But is Brandon?

My Thoughts: This is actually a novella with an approximate page count of 100. I normally do not read novellas because I haven't had great experiences with them. The limited page count often translates to a limited story and limited romance. While this is certainly true with this story I did actually enjoy it.

What Worked: The romance was actually quite believable despite the limited pages. Having the characters with a dating past and knowledge of each other was a pretty smart move on Novak's part. When you create two characters who don't know each other and have them fall in love within 100 pages we end up having to believe in insta-love. Typically, romances readers do not enjoy or believe in insta-love. So, thank goodness for no insta-love!

This novella is listed as #0 (zero) within the series and should be read before starting any of the other books because it is an excellent introduction to characters that keep cropping up within the series. One of those characters, Kyle, is not portrayed in a positive light in this novella but the reader does get a glimpse of intelligence, humility and regret which is a good thing to keep in mind because eventually, Novak will give Kyle another chance at love because this wedding is obviously doomed to end in divorce.

In addition to the negative image Novak created for Kyle she did a doozy of a job on Olivia's sister Noelle. There is absolutely nothing to like about her. If you ever wanted a fictional woman to hate, Noelle is it.

What Didn't Work: Although I really enjoyed hating Noelle she really does come across almost as a caricature of an actual person. She is over the top nasty and if I didn't recognize this as a flaw I'd be a bit remiss in my review.

Speaking of the series as a whole, I think it is important to read them in order. I tried reading the 3rd book first and found that the large cast of secondary characters had very little meaning to me without reading some of their stories first. Because the order in which the series should be read is important I've included it in my 'what didn't work' section. I really think romances should be able to stand-alone even if they are part of a series. 

In a Nutshell: Overall this really was a great story. I really enjoyed that Brandon had been in love with Olivia for years and finally was able to act on it. Olivia and Brandon make sense to me. Kyle on the other hand is on my short list of anti-heroes and I'm just wondering what exactly Novak has in store for him.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Win an ARC from my friend Miranda!

My friend Miranda has received 2 reviewer copies of His By Christmas by Kaitlyn O'Riley and she's giving away one of them to one of her followers. Check out her blog post, comment on the giveaway and leave your email address. Super easy right? Her blog is great by the way! She reads and reviews a little bit of every kind of romance but she also reads mysteries too. So go check her out and don't forget to follow and comment for a chance to win that book! Just click on the book's cover and it will take you to Miranda!


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt

Infamous for his wild, sensual needs, Lazarus Huntington, Lord Caire, is searching for a savage killer in St. Giles, London's most notorious slum. Widowed Temperance Dews knows St. Giles like the back of her hand-she's spent a lifetime caring for its inhabitants at the foundling home her family established. Now that home is at risk . . .
Caire makes a simple offer-in return for Temperance's help navigating the perilous alleys of St. Giles, he will introduce her to London's high society so that she can find a benefactor for the home. But Temperance may not be the innocent she seems, and what begins as cold calculation soon falls prey to a passion that neither can control-one that may well destroy them both.

My Thoughts: I really wanted to like this story. I read the 4th book in the Maiden Lane series and enjoyed it quite a bit. This book, however, featured two unlikable characters that I never warmed up to, or in the heroine's case, I slowly lost all  respect for until I was rooting for the murderer to kill her.

What Worked: The murder mystery of who killed Marie Hume was actually quite interesting. I liked being privy to their entire investigation and the outcome was a plausible one. In addition to this, Hoyt's typical writing style of having a story within a story was an excellent addition to this, otherwise, sub-par romance. The addition of the mysterious Ghost of St. Giles helped keep the intrigue moving along also. There were a few secondary characters that I very much enjoyed as well, Godric and Lady Hero are among my favorites.

What Didn't Work: The characters of Lazarus (aka Lord Caire) and Mrs. Temperance Dews were just horrid. Hoyt spent so much time making Caire out to be a sexual deviant and someone who abhorred any kind of physical touch (from anyone--to the point it made him physically ill) that it's no wonder he never resonated as a hero with me. The physical touch issue was never fully explained nor addressed other than after awhile Temperance's touch no longer bothered him. His constant verbal bullying of Temperance was another issue with me. It was unclear if he was purposely trying to shock her, push her away from any emotional attachment to him or he was just an jerkwad. I settled on him being a complete jerkwad.

Temperance's characterization was not good either. She appeared to be a strong intelligent woman yet allowed Caire to repeatedly say things completely inappropriate to her. Things that often were extremely hurtful. She acted hurt by them yet she continued to go back for more of the same all of which she ultimately justified by 'realizing' Caire was only trying to get her to admit everything was for her own good. While reflecting upon it all she actually was thankful to him for helping her to admit what was buried within herself. In addition to this, her admission of her deepest inner secret guilt was enough to make me hate her.

I also think the Ghost of St. Giles thread could have been utilized more effectively. Since I've read another book in the Maiden Lane series I am more familiar with the Ghost but found in this book, for those who are just starting in this series, his plot thread might be a bit lacking. The thread of Temperance's sister Silence, was also quite lacking. It was choppy and failed to make a positive impact which may effect some readers' desire to continue on with the series.

In a Nutshell: Taking into consideration the negative with the positive this book rounds out to an average read. Hoyt does have a way of making her stories intriguing regardless the likability of her characters. However, if this had been my first Hoyt I might have considered shelving the rest of her books for an undetermined length of time regardless of the intrigue The Ghost of St. Giles produced. Thankfully it wasn't and I won't. She can write a great romance. This just wasn't one of them.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Head Over Heels by Jill Shalvis

Synopsis: Breaking rules and breaking hearts
Free-spirited Chloe lives life on the edge. Unlike her soon-to-be married sisters, she isn't ready to settle into a quiet life running their family's newly renovated inn. But soon her love of trouble--and trouble with love-draws the attention of the very stern, very sexy sheriff who'd like nothing better than to tame her wild ways.
Suddenly Chloe can't take a misstep without the sheriff hot on her heels. His rugged swagger and his enigmatic smile are enough to make a girl beg to be handcuffed. For the first time, instead of avoiding the law, Chloe dreams of surrender. Can this rebel find a way to keep the peace with the straitlaced sheriff? Or will Chloe's colorful past keep her from a love that lasts . . . and the safe haven she truly wants in a town called Lucky Harbor?

My Thoughts: After finishing book 2 in the Lucky Harbor series and absolutely loving it I might have gone into this book with too high of expectations because I found it a bit lacking.

What Worked: Sheriff Cutie was my kind of hero. Dark and brooding, his presence often spoke more than his mouth did. His by the rules no thrills lifestyle is nice compared to so many broody book boyfriends who have almost too much baggage. He did have some but I kind of blew it off as unimportant. Speaking of Sawyer I liked that a thug from his past (an old high school buddy if you can believe that) brought a sense of conflict that I thought was well played out.

The dynamics between the 3 sisters had nice conclusion in this 3rd book of the series. Growing up as strangers and being brought together for the common good (or their inheritance actually) made their interactions more and more important as the series progressed. It was nice to see them become friends but more importantly, actual sisters.

What Didn't Work: Chloe. Her character is a total free spirit which was fully blamed upon her dead mother's parenting skills (or lack thereof). This might explain why she was wanting to run away from any attachments within Lucky Harbor, whether it be with her sisters, Sawyer or the family business. However, her 'wildness' seemed over the top and the physical danger she put herself in seemed way too self destructive than her free spirit ways should have allowed. There is a balance between dancing to the beat of a different drum and thumbing your nose at fate. Her constant asthma concerns were prominent in every encounter we witnessed. She couldn't help paint without a mask because of the asthma. She couldn't sit by a bonfire because of the asthma. She couldn't have mind blowing sex because of the asthma (for real). Yet, she could go mountain climbing or hang gliding with no trouble? What? I would think the change in atmosphere might be a problem for someone with that severe of a problem. The asthma was never an issue on her adventures with her friend Lance. Weird. My other problem with Chloe is the only time I saw much emotion from her was when she was discussing Lance's disease and it's progression. Even during her "I Love You's" with Sawyer felt out of place and unbelievable.

In addition to Chloe's inconsistencies, the big showdown between the bad guys and Sheriff Sawyer was anti-climactic. It was wrapped up way too quickly and left me wondering if I missed a few pages.

In a Nutshell: Despite my feelings toward Chloe (I like her least out of all 3 sisters) I really enjoyed the book. Chloe and Sawyer had some excellent scenes together that were just plain fun (their drunken painting project comes to mind.) The growing Bed & Breakfast business is a joy to watch if you've read the books in order and have seen them overcome their huge obstacles. I would recommend not only this book but the entire Lucky Harbor series to romance readers. Jill Shalvis has a wonderful way of combining excellent characters, stunning scenery, laugh out loud humor and sizzling hot passion. It's a winner of a series!

Two of a Kind by Susan Mallery

Synopsis: Felicia Swift never dreamed she'd hear a deep, sexy voice from her past in tiny Fool's Gold, California. The last time Gideon Boylan whispered in her ear was half a world away...on the morning after the hottest night of her life. Her freaky smarts have limited her close friendships, and romance, but she came to Fool's Gold looking for ordinary. Gorgeous, brooding Gideon is anything but that.  Black Ops taught Gideon that love could be deadly. Now he pretends to fit in while keeping everyone at arm's length. Felicia wants more than he can give-a home, family, love-but she has a lot to learn about men...and Gideon needs to be the man to teach her.   As these two misfits discover that passion isn't the only thing they have in common, they just might figure out that two of a kind should never be split apart.

My Thoughts: I have to admit to starting this book almost 2 months ago. I didn't get that far before I set it aside while spending a few days in the hospital recovering from surgery and unfortunately I forgot about it. I wished I'd had continued with it back then because I enjoyed this book so much more than I did the one before (Just One Kiss). While Fool's Gold had a weird Stepford feel to it in Just One Kiss (at least it did to me) the creepiness of the perfect little town was all but gone in this installment. I did think Mayor Marsha was still pretty creepy with her "I know everything" comments but I was able to ignore most of that.

What Worked: Felicia was such a great character. Typically, I have a soft spot for tortured brooding men but Gideon really took a back seat to Felicia. She was so super intelligent and socially awkward that it was hard not to really like her. Her character is exactly like the Tempe Brennan character on the tv show Bones (not the book Tempe....she's completely different.) Anyway, Felicia, like Tempe will all of a sudden start spouting facts about ancient tribal coming of age customs while talking to a 13 year old boy when he's claiming to "not be a child". I totally confess to having a whopper of a girl crush on Felicia. She's that awesome.

Gideon was a great counterpart for Felicia. For someone so analytical, like Felicia, Gideon's inability to emotionally connect seemed a perfect match. After having been held captive and tortured while in the military he feels he is a broken man, unable to love. As a matter of fact he credits his inability to love for saving his life while all his fellow soldiers died one by one crying out to their wives and children. Who doesn't like a tortured hero? Plus he has an amazingly hot bedroom voice that the women of Fool's Gold stay up listening to during his late night radio show.

Because Felicia is now the Festival Coordinator we get a glimpse of her behind the scenes action organizing them. It was nice to understand a little more about the ever present 'Festivals' that Fool's Gold has every month. This made Fool's Gold more of a quaint touristy town to me instead of the perfect Stepford town.

I also liked how Mallery brought in several new characters who will, no doubt, have their own books in the future. We get to see Angel and Consuelo, both of whom are part of Justice's Body Guard School (sounds like a weird an unnecessary school but I just went with it.) Taryn Crawford is new in town also who 1/3 owner of a PR firm called Score that is coming soon to Fool's Gold. She blew in briefly to another up and coming business (The Christmas Attic) while looking for directions and made a great impression on Felicia, her friends and myself. I'm sure she will develop into another great character, one I am looking forward to.

What Didn't Work: Gideon's long lost son's plot thread. I'm not totally heartless but his addition to the story was pointless. He didn't seem a believable 13 year old boy. He made friends quickly with another 13 year old boy and together they cooked up a plot to get Gideon and Felicia to marry. After only a few months of knowing both Gideon and Felicia his match making ideas seemed just odd. I also thought he came across as a little too adjusted for someone having lost his mother to cancer (her second bout of it by the way). In my head she probably didn't go quickly and he witnessed her illness progression with no emotional support as there were no other relatives. His mom's friends were his foster family but they were going through a divorced so in a matter of one year he lost his mom and 2 homes, went by himself to a dad he didn't know (who didn't know anything about him) to a town he never heard of. Also not one person  ever said anything close to..."Maybe we should seek out someone Carter can talk to, maybe a child psychologist or something." Despite a child's appearance of normalcy after having gone through a traumatic loss, such as losing the only parent he ever knew, counseling should have been a priority after making sure he was living in a safe environment.

In a Nutshell: Despite Carter's story line that I disliked a lot the rest of the book was pretty awesome. I love Felicia. I enjoyed my visit to Fool's Gold this time and am looking forward to another visit while reading  Three Little Words soon. I really think those who are already fans of Fool's Gold will love this book and more importantly newbies to the series will enjoy it also. As an added bonus even though these books are all part of a series they can be read out of order (I have been doing just that). This is book 12 but only the 6th book I've read.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Fire by James Patterson

Synopsis (courtesy of YOU WANT A FAIRY TALE, DON'T YOU?
Whit and Wisty Allgood have sacrificed everything to lead the resistance against the merciless totalitarian regime that governs their world. Its supreme leader, The One Who Is The One, has banned everything they hold dear: books, music, art, and imagination. But the growing strength of the siblings' magic hasn't been enough to stop the One's evil rampage, and now he's executed the only family they had left.
Wisty knows that the time has finally come for her to face The One. But her fight and her fire only channel more power to this already invincible being. How can she and Whit possibly prepare for their imminent showdown with the ruthless villain that devastated their world-before he can truly become all-powerful?
In this stunning third installment of the epic Witch & Wizard series, the stakes have never been higher—and the consequences will change everything.

My Thoughts: While slogging through this 3rd installment of the series I found myself willing to set it aside for typically mundane things, like, watching corn grow. Unfortunately despite the fact that I do live in Iowa I don't live near a corn field so I opted to do things like removing my pillows from my pillow cases and putting them back in because they seemed just a little crooked. Or constantly booting up Words With Friends to see if anyone took their turn (even though 25 seconds earlier they hadn't). After almost 2 days of reading then avoiding this book I finally finished.

What Worked: Well, we did get more information about Shadowlands. As near as I can tell this area is an in between for the dead. Dead people congregate there and wait. Some, will move on to somewhere else (although I don't recall where they move on to) and some, the ones who were nasty pieces of work on earth, stay there forever and become one of the Lost.

Unfortunately I can't think of anything else that worked for me about this book.

What Didn't Work: Going from one Witch and Wizard book to another it becomes glaringly obvious that we readers are not sure what timeline is at work here. From the end of the second book to the beginning of this third much has happened that we readers must pick up second hand. There is a blood plague systematically wiping out much of the Overworld. What? What is the blood plague? Where did it come from? How did it start? Never fear good must have been started by The One Who is the One to get rid of those pesky resisters of his New Order. At least that is what we think but there is nothing to confirm this.

The continuous usage of the letter M for magic. Not sure if this was used much in the first 2 books but in this installment it got annoying. Wisty asking Whit about his M. Bad guy Pearce mocking Whit about his lack of M. It felt like a false slang term used in attempts for an older person to connect with the younger generation. Speaking of Pearce. This was the first book in which he appeared and he had a wicked powerful 'gift' of melting peoples faces off. It was apparently given to him by The One. We have to assume that The One can bestow magic on his lackeys from Pearce's abilities but it is never confirmed.

The final showdown was almost anticlimactic also. When the Allgood kids used their magic against Pearce or The One instead of hurting them and/or killing them, the magic actually made them stronger. So how did The One get defeated when the Allgoods used even more magic against him? I don't know.

Another question I have is where are all the parents? We have a handful of the Resistance group....all of them are children. No one seems to have parents. The New Order has training facilities (all for children). Their troops seem to be all kids too. Where are the adults?

In a Nutshell: After reading 3 books in this series it has become more and more apparent that this is actually a poorly produced retelling of the Harry Potter series. We have magical children, dead parents, The One Who is the One (couldn't they come up with something other than this? I mean get real. Lord Voldemort was He Who Shall Not Be Named....seems pretty close to me.), multiple fighting scenes resulting in death and despair and lets not forget about Pearce with slicked back blond hair (Draco Malfoy anyone?). I know this series is not identical to the one written by JK Rowling but there are enough similarities that it's hard not to compare. I would not recommend this series to fans of YA novels. I'd push them towards his Maximum Ride series first.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Winterblaze by Kristen Callihan

Synopsis: Once blissfully in love . . .
Poppy Lane is keeping secrets. Her powerful gift has earned her membership in the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals, but she must keep both her ability and her alliance with the Society from her husband, Winston. Yet when Winston is brutally attacked by a werewolf, Poppy's secrets are revealed, leaving Winston's trust in her as broken as his body. Now Poppy will do anything to win back his affections . . .
Their relationship is now put to the ultimate test.
Winston Lane soon regains his physical strength but his face and heart still bear the scars of the vicious attack. Drawn into the darkest depths of London, Winston must fight an evil demon that wants to take away the last hope of reconciliation with his wife. As a former police inspector, Winston has intelligence and logic on his side. But it will take the strength of Poppy's love for him to defeat the forces that threaten to tear them apart.

My Thoughts: I love this series. I love historical romances. I love paranormal romances. When I can get both of them together I'm doubly in love.

What Worked: Win and Poppy. Despite the secrets they both had from each other two people couldn't have been more perfect for each other (except maybe Miranda and Archer....oh yeah, and Daisy and Ian LOL). Win's pet name for Poppy has always been Boadicea which was so appropriate. She is such a strong and powerful woman and I'm glad Win ended up being her equal in strength of character. Together they were so very passionate that it was hard to not get swept up in it.

The sensuality was also top notch. After 16 years of being together it was as if they were newly weds still. Typically I don't add the sexual parts of books to the plus column in my reviews but in Poppy and Win's case I have to. I enjoyed them immensely.

There was a mystery within the book about a Moira Darling. I thought this was well done and I enjoyed Win and Poppy's investigation of it and while that was all happening we got a glimpse into their past and what their courtship was like which was nice (but it also had issues....see below).

What Didn't Work: The flashback scenes of Win's courtship of Poppy. While I was happily reading along one of these chapters would bring the momentum to a sudden and abrupt halt. I did not like this but when reflecting about it I realized that had Callihan put all the courtship at the beginning it wouldn't have had as much of an impact and to tell the truth I would have been bored with it. Since I didn't like the way it was done I had to add it here (even though I wouldn't have liked it any other way either.)

Once again we are left in the dark about GIMs (Ghosts in the Machine). Mary Chase hinted that no one could fathom the power they actually had but we don't get to witness any of it other than their ability to leave their physical bodies making them extremely valuable spies. In addition to lack of knowledge about GIMs we are introduced to various Demons. There was limited information on these also but thanks to Poppy explaining a few pointers about Demons we know more about them than we do about GIMs.

The sisters are not featured in the book as much as I'd have liked. I am hoping that there will be a book later one that will feature all 3 women battling some sort of super villain.

The ending epilogue was another point of contention for me. It was pointless. It was a page of nothing to do with Poppy and Win and it ended abruptly. So abruptly that I kept turning the page back and forth to see if I was missing another paragraph or something. 

In a Nutshell: Overall I really loved this book. For every negative thing I came across I found something that just brought my enjoyment right back up there. In addition the next book is about Jack Talent and Mary Chase. Their secondary storyline in this book has whet my appetite for their book. Come on December!

Omens by Kelley Armstrong

Synopsis: Twenty-four-year-old Olivia Taylor Jones has the perfect life. The only daughter of a wealthy, prominent Chicago family, she has an Ivy League education, pursues volunteerism and philanthropy, and is engaged to a handsome young tech firm CEO with political ambitions.

But Olivia’s world is shattered when she learns that she’s adopted. Her real parents? Todd and Pamela Larsen, notorious serial killers serving a life sentence. When the news brings a maelstrom of unwanted publicity to her adopted family and fiancĂ©, Olivia decides to find out the truth about the Larsens.

Olivia ends up in the small town of Cainsville, Illinois, an old and cloistered community that takes a particular interest in both Olivia and her efforts to uncover her birth parents’ past.

Aided by her mother’s former lawyer, Gabriel Walsh, Olivia focuses on the Larsens’ last crime, the one her birth mother swears will prove their innocence. But as she and Gabriel start investigating the case, Olivia finds herself drawing on abilities that have remained hidden since her childhood, gifts that make her both a valuable addition to Cainsville and deeply vulnerable to unknown enemies. Because there are darker secrets behind her new home, and powers lurking in the shadows that have their own plans for her.

My Thoughts: Last night as I was reading I was totally stoked as to how much I was really getting into this book. I even spent 20 minutes trying to figure out who amongst my Shelfari friends recommended it to me and in which group so I could comment on how much I was enjoying it. (which I did thank her for the recommendation by the way.) AND THEN......right around the 400 page mark it went to Hell in a conspiracy theorist's hand-basket. Say WHAT????

What Didn't work: Right around the 400 page mark we were all of a sudden introduced to men in black secret CIA stuff and an acronym that didn't mean anything along with double secret probation or something along those lines. I got so annoyed that I stayed up until 3am to finish the thing so it wouldn't mock me today.

Ok, lets talk acronyms or in this case a code word that is unpronounceable and looks like an acronym. MKULTRA. Yes there really is something called Project MKULTRA. Armstrong didn't make it up. Just in case you feel the need to look it up here you go. So, it's a code word that according to Armstrong doesn't mean anything. So, this meaningless word was used so often in the last 200 pages that I had to either skip the annoying word or call it McUltra which sounds like a calorie and fat laden new mega mega sandwich from McDonalds. So be it. I'll take a McUltra and a Coke please. Ok I just can't let it go without saying that I would just like, no...I NEED to voice my concerns that one cannot have either an acronym or a code word without appointing some logic and/or meaning behind it. There I said it. I'm sure the US Government will take this into consideration.

In addition to this, the mystery aspect was only partially tied up. We still don't know if the Larsens killed the  couples they were convicted of. We don't know what is up with the town of Cainsville. We don't know if the secondary characters are even human or if the cat is really a cat. Pretty much we don't know anything and after reading a hardback book that was almost 500 pages I would expect some closure.

One more thing that goes in the minus column is the paranormal aspect of the book. Had there not been one obvious instance of paranormal super healing of a very minor character who was only in the book for a couple pages the entire book would have only hinted at the paranormal. As it stands the book seems to have an identity crisis regarding it. The main character constantly dismisses the possibility of the paranormal through the entire book to only, kind of, accept that, maybe, she can see omens at the very very end. As a reader of paranormal fiction I think the book should have just jumped into the woo-woo pool cannonball style and stopped with the hinting.

What Worked: As Olivia and her kind of partner, Gabriel, looked into the deaths of the 4th couple the Larsens were convicted of killing I was sucked into the research and interviews of their investigation. It was very hard to determine who was telling the truth, who was lying and who was using who.

The characters were also a plus. The town folk were interesting and the main characters, Olivia and Gabriel, were multifaceted. Neither one was completely likable but every once in awhile we saw an action that redeemed them a little bit making them worth reading about.

Also the Omens, Superstitions and Portents mixed in with Celtic lore was refreshing.

In a Nutshell: Such an interesting book until the terrible CIA plot twist. This almost ruined the book for me but I persevered and at the end I decided it wasn't a horrible waste of my time. I'm not sure I'll pick up a second book in the Cainsville series unless I'm guaranteed no weird conspiracy theories are involved. If the next book even has the non-acronym acronym MKULTRA in it I will not read it.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Shadow Woman by Linda Howard

Synopsis: Lizette Henry wakes up one morning and makes a terrifying discovery: She doesn’t recognize the face she sees in the mirror. She remembers what she looks like, but her reflection is someone else’s. To add to the shock, two years seem to have disappeared from her life. Someone has gone to great and inexplicable lengths to keep those missing years hidden forever. But the past always finds a way to return.

Strange memories soon begin to surface and, along with them, some unusual skills and talents that Lizette hasn’t a clue about acquiring. Sensing that she’s being monitored, Lizette suddenly knows how to search for bugs in her house and tracking devices in her car. What’s more, she can elude surveillance—like a trained agent.

Enter a mysterious and seductive stranger named Xavier, who claims he wants to help—but who triggers disturbing images of an unspeakable crime of which Lizette may or may not be the perpetrator. With memories returning, she suddenly becomes a target of anonymous assassins. On the run with nowhere to hide, Lizette has no choice but to rely on Xavier, a strong and magnetic man she doesn’t trust, with a powerful attraction she cannot resist. As murky waters become clear, Lizette confronts a conspiracy that is treacherous and far-reaching and a truth that, once revealed, may silence her and Xavier once and for all.

My Thoughts: While I was a little disappointed in the lack of romance I found myself completely involved in Lizzy's newly discovered memories. The more she remembered the more I enjoyed her.

What Worked: The prologue did an excellent job of opening up the book and setting a nice pace for the book. Although political intrigues do not interest me much I was pleasantly surprised that even though the setting is Washington DC and the prologue has the president and first lady in it, the book itself is not about politics but about Lizzy who is trying to figure out why she is missing 2 years worth of memories.

As Lizzy remembers more and more it becomes evident that she is a woman who can certainly take care of herself. In addition the scenes depicting Xavier make him as interesting if not more so than Lizzy herself.

Although the book does tend to lag while Lizzy works out her memory loss once the book got to the half way mark it was no holds bar and took off like a shot. We have multiple teams sent in to kill our heroine and hero and we have a couple secondary characters that could be the bad guys but maybe not. For all Lizzy knows she is actually a bad guy herself. 

What Didn't Work: The prologue set a nice pace but the book came almost to a screeching halt while Lizzy battled with physical ailments to her returning memory. So the first half of the book's pacing was just slow, interesting, but slow.

The book also had a serious lack of romance. Sure there was sex but the characters weren't even together through most of the book and Lizzy's memories are so spotty that it was hard to accept Lizzy and Xavier's romance. This book would have worked just as well without the romantic element to it.

Carrying on that train of thought, the lack of interaction between the characters worked against the book. Since they were not together at all through the first 3/4 of the book I'd expect that they would spend the last quarter of the book together conquering evil or whatever. Yet, this is not what happens and we find the couple separated once again (although briefly) while Xavier goes about his super secret self appointed missions regarding Al and Felice.

Another thing that comes up a bit murky as how Lizzy's memory was wiped. The book mentions chemically altering memories but it does not explain the procedure only that Lizzy was the third person to have it done.

In a Nutshell: Howard did manage to keep my interest throughout the book because I really liked Lizzy and her change from a mousy girl to a kick butt woman. I was intrigued by Xavier also but wished he would have had more interaction with Lizzy. However, a believable romantic storyline would have been nice.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Hotshot by Julie Garwood

Synopsis: Peyton Lockhart and her sisters have inherited Bishop’s Cove, a small, luxurious oceanfront resort, but it comes with a condition: The girls must run the resort for one year and show a profit—only then will they own it.
A graduate of a prestigious French culinary school, Peyton has just lost her job as a food critic. Out of work and in a bad place personally, a year doing something completely different sounds wonderful.
There are countless challenges and too many people who want to stop the sisters from succeeding. Among them are Peyton’s contentious cousins, who are outraged that they didn’t inherit the resort, as well as a powerful group of land developers who have been eyeing the coveted beachfront property.
It’s soon apparent to Peyton that their efforts are being sabotaged, but she refuses to let the threats scare her—until she’s nearly killed. She calls on her childhood friend and protector, Finn MacBain, now with the FBI, and asks for his help. He saved her life once; he can do it again.

My Thoughts: My big mistake in reading this book was starting it after finishing another truly amazing romantic suspense novel. Coming off of a seriously awesome sauce of a book and trying to read another book of the same ilk is setting it up for failure. Unfortunately I didn't think of that until after I finished reading Hotshot. I really tried to separate the two but I kept comparing them over and over again. I feel kind of bad about it too but it is what it is.

What Worked For Me: Typical of Julie's writing style this book contained witty dialogue and just plain fun banter between the characters. Finn and Peyton had great chemistry together and their first 'meeting' during the Prologue was pretty amazing. Some of the secondary characters were pretty interesting also. Ultimately the story ended up being set in Florida and I really enjoyed the resort descriptions while the girls where remodeling it.

What Didn't Work For Me: Several things, unfortunately. First of all, the story relies on the reader suspending their disbelief. A LOT. Peyton is being described as a stunningly beautiful, well traveled woman who even spent several months studying the culinary arts in France. Yet, she remained a virgin. It is unclear as to how old she really is but I would estimate her age to be around 24. The problem I have with romance books with a contemporary setting having the heroine a virgin is that it is not typical of this day and age unless there is some meaningful significance behind it. There was no significance to Peyton being a virgin other than a string of horrible dates with unfortunate men.

The reader also had to suspend their disbelief that one person could all of a sudden have multiple people out to get them. This seems to be a theme to Garwood's contemporary heroines and one I'm not thrilled with. The multiple 'bad guys' create multiple story lines which can muddle the book up a bit.

The characters themselves are interesting but Peyton flip flops between really intelligent, witty and wise to spontaneously jumping headfirst into situations without thought. Her sister Lucy is nothing more than a shrieking shrew and I wanted to shove her face first into wet cement just to shut her up. How any man could view her as potential mate material is beyond me.

In a Nutshell: Overall this book does have some problems but I did enjoy it. I have a long term love affair with Julie's work and in my eyes she can really do no wrong. I know that there seems to be a lot more issues than good points in my review. As a reviewer I feel obligated to acknowledge the issues in addition to explaining the good stuff. When I rate a book I tend to go by my gut feeling. Did I enjoy this book? Yes. Will I read it again? I just might. Will I read the next book by Julie that comes out? Definitely.

Oh and I can't end my review without mentioning one of my favorite quotes from the book (there are several because this is what Julie does best).

"You have to set a trap," Peyton told them.
Both men looked at her, and Finn asked, "What do you have in mind?"
"I don't know. That's your area of expertise. I'm a chef. If you catch him, I'll make you a soufflé."


Sharpshooter by Cynthia Eden

Synopsis: Two years ago Gunner Ortez saved Sydney Sloan's life on a mission gone wrong. And ever since then, he's been watching her back. Now a hostage-rescue mission is about to blow the Elite Ops agents' lives apart once again.  Working side by side back in the jungles of Peru, the heat between Sydney and Gunner is hotter than ever-and so are the threats to their lives. With the danger escalating, Sydney knows Gunner is her only hope at successfully completing their assignment. But the ex-SEAL who arouses passion she'd only dreamed about also poses the greatest risk to the secret she carries in her heart...and in her belly.

My Thoughts: I used to read the Harlequin Intrigues exclusively, loving the mix of romance and suspense, but over the years I've neglected my gianormous stack(s) of Harlequins in favor of longer more main stream romances. It's quite unfortunate that the Harlequin/Silhouette category romances just don't get the word of mouth advertising and acknowledgement that other books do because many of these short thrilling Intrigues turn out to be quite good. I found that to be true with Sharpshooter, the third installment of Cynthia Eden's Shadow Agents series.

What Worked For Me: The passion between the hero and heroine was sizzling and the tension of the, well, intrigue, of the case that the Shadow Agents found themselves in was believable. Both the hero and the heroine were part of the Shadow Agents which gave me a totally kick butt chick to root for and a mysterious-can kill you with a paperclip-hero to worship a little bit. The hero was well fleshed out and it was easy to empathize with him throughout the book and the secondary characters Mercer and Cale were noteworthy.

What Didn't Work For Me: The heroine, Sydney, was just not as fleshed out as her counterpart, Gunner. We learned about Gunner's childhood background but learned virtually nothing of Sydney apart from a brief look into her relationship with Slade. In addition to the lack of character building of Sydney both the hero and heroine went on a mission and had quite the groan worthy faux pas. They had a TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) moment. While in the jungle on a rescue mission they stopped doing their job (in a highly hostile environment I might add) to argue about  their relationship. Say What?!?!?!?! Why would two extensively skilled special agents of a secret organization where they only hire the best of the best do this? How did they survive so long if they couldn't compartmentalize their feelings?

In a Nutshell: Despite a few issues I had with this book the overall experience was very good and I'll actively seek out the newest release Glitter and Gunfire (released August 20, 2013) because it's Cale's book (yahoo!) and also go back and read the first two books in this series. I would recommend anyone who likes a good romantic suspense to give this book a go.