Category: reviews

March 24, 2017

Review | Dream Lake by Lisa Kleypas

Review | Dream Lake by Lisa KleypasDream Lake by Lisa Kleypas
Series: Friday Harbor, #3
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin, August 2012
Pages: 374
Format: Paperback
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They say that opposites attract. But what happens when one of them has been devastated by betrayal and the other is so damaged and jaded that his heart is made of stone? In New York Times bestselling author Lisa Kleypas's Dream Lake, readers well enter the world of Friday Harbor, an enchanting town in the Pacific Northwest where things are not quite as they seem and where true love might just have a ghost of a chance. . . .
Alex Nolan is about as bitter and cynical as they come. One of three Nolan brothers who call Friday Harbor home, he's nothing like Sam or Mark. They actually believe in love; they think the risk of pain is worth the chance of happiness. But Alex battles his demons with the help of a whiskey bottle, and he lives in his own private hell. And then, a ghost shows up. Only Alex can see him. Has Alex finally crossed over the threshold to insanity?
Zoë Hoffman is as gentle and romantic as they come. When she meets the startlingly gorgeous Alex Nolan, all her instincts tell her to run. Even Alex tells her to run. But something in him calls to Zoë, and she forces him to take a look at his life with a clear eye and to open his mind to the possibility that love isn't for the foolish.
The ghost has been existing in the half-light of this world for decades. He doesn't know who he is, or why he is stuck in the Nolans' Victorian house. All he knows is that he loved a girl once. And Alex and Zoë hold the key to unlocking a mystery that keeps him trapped here.
Zoë and Alex are oil and water, fire and ice, sunshine and shadow. But sometimes it takes only a glimmer of light to chase away the dark, and sometimes love can reach beyond time, space, and reason to take hold of hearts that yearn for it. . . .

Dream Lake’s Alex Nolan is having a bad day.

Or rather, more like a bad couple months.

Okay, a bad year. His wife has left him and is kicking him out the house to put it up for sale. His construction business is floundering because rumors of his drinking are spreading. He can’t get his mind off the beautiful chef at the B&B and, oh yeah: he’s being haunted.

On the surface, Dream Lake‘s romantic plotline is fairly predictable. Broken man finds loving woman to heal his wounds. I’m okay with that. In fact, I’ve even a fan of the cookie cutter plot because it allows so much room for creativity. And Kleypas has plenty of creativity, namely the ghost.

The ghost is a unique plot twist. He has no idea who is he, why he seems to be tied to the house (then Alex), or if he can move on to the next life. In short, he’s the perfect foil for grumpy, defensive Alex, who would probably throw a hammer at your head if you looked at him funny.

Yet the ghost isn’t enough to make Dream Lake memorable. His story alone? Fabulous. Intertwined with the fairly mundane and – dare I say it? – predictable romance between Alex and Zoe (aforementioned loving woman)? It’s not enough.

The thing about Zoe and Alex is that they weren’t exciting. There wasn’t a new tweak to the stereotypical characters, aside from Alex being haunted. Alex is mean to Zoe, Alex kisses Zoe, Zoe cooks for Alex, and here we are.

From Kleypas’ past books, I expected more. More zing, more banter, deeper characters. With that, Dream Lake could have been great. As is, it’s okay.

3 Stars

Posted March 24, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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March 23, 2017

Review | First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Review | First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsFirst Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars, #8
Publisher: William Morrow, August 2016
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
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Piper Dove is a woman with a dream—to become the best detective in the city of Chicago. First job? Trail former Chicago Stars quarterback, Cooper Graham. Problem? Graham’s spotted her, and he’s not happy.
Which is why a good detective needs to think on her feet. “The fact is...I’m your stalker. Not full-out barmy. Just...mildly unhinged.”

Piper soon finds herself working for Graham himself, although not as the bodyguard he refuses to admit he so desperately needs. Instead, he’s hired her to keep an eye on the employees at his exclusive new nightclub. But Coop’s life might be in danger, and Piper’s determined to protect him, whether he wants it or not. (Hint: Not!) If only she weren’t also dealing with a bevy of Middle Eastern princesses, a Pakistani servant girl yearning for freedom, a teenager who just wants to fit in, and an elderly neighbor demanding Piper find her very dead husband.

And then there’s Cooper Graham himself, a legendary sports hero who always gets what he wants—even if what he wants is a feisty detective hell bent on proving she’s as tough as he is.

From the bustling streets of Chicago to a windswept lighthouse on Lake Superior to the glistening waters of Biscayne Bay, two people who can’t stand to lose will test themselves and each other to discover what matters most.

Don’t judge this book by it’s cover…or rather, it’s title. I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little put off by the nursery rhyme title (even M raised his eyebrows at me when he saw the cover), but First Star is one of SEP’s best.

Why? Her characters.

Like each of her novels, First Star is entirely character-driven. I loved Piper Dove, struggling private investigator with a soft heart but stubborn nature. Cooper Graham, retired star quarterback who is trying to break into the nightclub business, appears to be her exact opposite, but they are essentially two peas in a pod: soft on the inside, hard on the outside. And believe me, that made for some intense tension.

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But Phillips didn’t rely on that tension to carry the novel. It’s the wacky characters, from Piper to her elderly neighbor Berni, to Cooper and Jada, the teenage “assassain” who befriends Piper when she moves in. There’s an element of reality in the wackiness, one that both brings the characters and story alive.

I loved how both Piper and Coop go through separate heroic journeys, yet use each other as support. Piper’s initial friendship with Coop allows her to slowly let down her defenses she’s held up for so long, and Piper’s instinct to protect him lets Coop realize it’s okay to rely on someone else (well, someone who’s not in football pads).

The cameos from other characters in the Chicago Stars series cracked me up, especially Heath‘s role in Piper and Coop’s relationship. It created a kind of closure in the series, and since I think SEP originally intended this to be the final Chicago Stars novel, it fit.

Whether you are kinda into contemporary romance or a major fan (*raises hand*) First Star is simply a must read. From the hilariously relatable characters and original plotlines to the breathtaking romance, SEP’s latest is a must.

5 Stars

Posted March 23, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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January 23, 2017

Review | Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

Review | Dragonfly in Amber by Diana GabaldonDragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
Series: Outlander #2
Publisher: Bantam, August 2001
Pages: 743
Format: Paperback
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 With her now-classic novel Outlander, Diana Gabaldon introduced two unforgettable characters—Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser—delighting readers with a story of adventure and love that spanned two centuries. Now Gabaldon returns to that extraordinary time and place in this vivid, powerful follow-up to Outlander.  DRAGONFLY IN AMBER  For nearly twenty years Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to Scotland’s majestic mist-shrouded hills. Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as stunning as the events that gave it birth: about the mystery of an ancient circle of standing stones... about a love that transcends the boundaries of time... and about Jamie Fraser, a Scottish warrior whose gallantry once drew a young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his.   Now a legacy of blood and desire will test her beautiful copper-haired daughter, Brianna, as Claire’s spellbinding journey of self-discovery continues in the intrigue-ridden Paris court of Charles Stuart... in a race to thwart a doomed Highlands uprising... and in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves.

Claire Randall Frasier has lived the past twenty years believing that Jamie was dead. And finally, she has gathered the courage to go back to Scotland for the first time in nearly two decades to discover what happened to him at the Battle of Culloden.

Dragonfly in Amber is, quite simply, an emotional roller coaster ride. Gabaldon’s narrative switches between 1968 Claire, a woman who is trying to make it work after she loses the love of her life and 1740s Claire, trying desperately to stop the fall of Scotland. While the same women, these two characters are vastly different. It’s hard to believe t

While the same women, these two characters are vastly different. It’s hard to believe that 1740s Claire could be considered naive, considering what happens to her in Outlander, but she embodied it again and again as they worked to stop Charles. Yet naive doesn’t mean stupid. I loved how she stood up for herself and others in a society where women weren’t often allowed or encouraged to do so.

On the other hand, 1968 Claire was charming, engaging, and initially allowed a little of her sorrow to show. All naivete was gone, erased by the loss of her husband, a scar she hid well. It’s this Claire, this dynamic, fascinating character, that was the star of Dragonfly.

She was cool and composed on the outside, an exterior that hid rioting emotions: guilt, wistfulness, joy, and sorrow. It was only once she, Brianna, and Roger started their hunt for Jamie that this calm composure began to crack.

It’s been a while since a book made me feel the way Dragonfly did. From the battle scenes of 1740s Scotland to the drafty graveyards of the 60s’, Gabaldon tugged – no, YANKED – at the heartstrings.

Yet the second Outlander installment did have its faults. There were pages of information, large sections filled with what felt like the most minute details of the French court, the Scottish towns, and everywhere in between, that could have been summarized or possibly skipped entirely. Maybe this is more of personal preference; I wanted the story to get on with it.

In retrospect, that was a minor detail. The beauty of Dragonfly in Amber isn’t in the particulars of the setting or the descriptions of dress. Instead, it lay in Claire, a woman torn between two marriages, two times, and two worlds.

4 Stars

Posted January 23, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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January 9, 2017

Review | The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Review | The Fate of the Tearling by Erika JohansenThe Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Series: The Queen of the Tearling, #3
Publisher: Harper, November 2016
Pages: 478
Format: Hardcover
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In less than a year, Kelsea Glynn has grown from an awkward teenager into a powerful monarch and a visionary leader.
And as she has come into her own as the Queen of the Tearling, she has transformed her realm. But in her quest to end corruption and restore justice, she has made many enemies - chief among them the evil and feared Red Queen, who ordered the armies of Mortmesne to march against the Tear and crush them.
To protect her people from such a devastating invasion, Kelsea did the unthinkable - naming the Mace, the trusted head of her personal guards, Regent in her place, she surrendered herself and her magical sapphires to her enemy. But the Mace will not rest until he and his men rescue their sovereign from her prison in Mortmesne.
So, the endgame has begun and the fate of Queen Kelsea - and the Tearling itself - will be revealed...
With The Fate of the Tearling, Erika Johansen draws her unforgettable story full of magic and adventure to a thrilling close.

I have extremely mixed feeling about The Fate of the Tearling. One one hand, I loved it. On the other, well, let me explain.

In the first two books of the Tearling trilogy, Kelsea discovers that she is not just an ordinary girl – she’s the queen. As she grows into both herself and her reign, the Tearling faces an impending threat from Mortmesne, the terrifying country ruled by the Red Queen. Together with her second in command, the Mace, and her loyal guards, Kelsea takes the reins as she prepares her peaceful, utopian country for the fight of its life.

Kelsea herself goes through a tremendous transformation throughout the trilogy. She’s always a little rough, a little blunt, but she evolves from an uncertain girl into a strong young woman. That’s not to say she doesn’t have her insecurities; those moments of uncertainties are what reminds us of her humanity in Fate. It’s the moments she’s presented with an obvious choice in Fate that made me fall in love with her character even more.

Yet Johansen makes sure that Kelsea isn’t the end-all of the series. The side plots and more minor characters are powerful enough to carry the divided narrative of Fate, even occasionally making me wish they had more page time. Johansen made it clear that Fate isn’t just Kelsea’s story – it’s the Tearling’s.

I loved that Johansen makes room to tell the Tearling’s history, but as continued, I felt a little confused. Instead of the high fantasy I expected, Fate verged more into an alternate reality. There was talk of Boston, modern medicine, and other things common in today’s society, but unexpected in a world of swords, medieval battles and magic. The alternative timeline threw me, and I couldn’t quite get back on track.

That same disjointedness continued throughout the end of Fate. Instead of the ending I expected (even hoped for), Johansen threw us for a loop and closed out Kelsea’s story in an entirely unexpected way. Personally, I wasn’t a fan: it left me with more questions than answers, and I felt lost without certain plot closures. This unusual ending dropped my review from what could have been four or five stars to three.

What do you think of the ending? Did it fit the storyline? Or were you expecting the more traditional ending?

3 Stars

Posted January 9, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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January 5, 2017

Review | Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Review | Under a Painted Sky by Stacey LeeUnder a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, March 2015
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
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Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.   This beautifully written debut is an exciting adventure and heart-wrenching survival tale. But above all else, it’s a story about perseverance and trust that will restore your faith in the power of friendship.

Under a Painted Sky is the tale of two girls, wronged and misjudged by society, hitting the open trail to leave their past behind. It’s a story full of friendship, brimming with buoyancy, and made of morals. I should have loved it.

I didn’t.

Initially, I was hooked. The drama of the hard last words Samantha said to her father, the danger she suddenly finds herself in, and the unlikely ally in Annamae was exactly what I wanted to read. It was engaging, fascinating, and so chockful of potential that I settled in for the long haul.

And then, rather abruptly, the bottom fell out from the story.

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All of that lovely potential disappeared. Samantha and Annamae, so ALIVE in the first pages of Under a Painted Sky deflated like someone let out their air. The narrative felt flat, rehearsed. I had the abject feeling of reading the dialogue instead of seeing the characters play out the scene in my mind.

Yet all this isn’t to say Under a Painted Sky is a bad book. It’s not. The descriptions of the Oregon Trail brought back memories of playing the game on bulky PCs in elementary school. The morals of the power of friendship, perseverance, and destiny are great, especially for the YA reader (this book’s target audience).

But after it failed to live up to the first few heart-pounding, emotionally wrenching pages, I was disappointed when it didn’t continue. I couldn’t get excited about the law, hot on Samantha and Annamae’s heels, or feel their concern when they worried their boyish disguises were slipping. I lost that connection with them and, without it, Under a Painted Sky couldn’t pull me back in.

2 Stars

Posted January 5, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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January 2, 2017

Review | Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Review | Three Dark Crowns by Kendare BlakeThree Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
Publisher: HarperTeen, September 2016
Pages: 398
Format: Hardcover
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When kingdom come, there will be one.

In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born—three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.
The last queen standing gets the crown. 

In Fennbirn, the island kingdom set apart from the rest of the world, the battle for the crown is a dangerous ritual. Every generation, a three sisters are born, destined to fight each other to the death for the honor of wearing the crown. But this year, with these sisters, things just aren’t going as planned.

The premise of Three Dark Crowns drew me in instantly. Hunger Games meets female Game of Thrones? Yes, please!

While the novel had all the necessary elements to create a YA fantasy battle of the royals, it dropped the ball. Why? The narration. Simply, it took too long for something to happen, and I found myself running out of both patience and sympathy for the three young women thrust into this destiny.

Despite each girl having her own unique brand of magic (nature, poison, and elements), their lives were remarkably similar. Each had friends who thought they were the absolute best, someone who hated them, and some twisted romance. Creating such similar plot lines did each character a major disservice: they quickly became hard to tell apart, and I started to not even try.

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Three Dark Crowns picked up in the last quarter of the book as each magical faction brought the sisters together at Beltane to showcase their talents. With tempers starting to run high, the pace of the narration finally began to turn. I loved the showcase sections, the love affairs brought to light or destroyed, and the way the sisters found unity with each other.

However, I didn’t realize Three Dark Crowns was a series. I had hoped for a stand alone novel and was looking forward to a neat tie-off in the end. Instead, the story concludes with a cliffhanger, one that I’m not entirely sure I want to read on to the finish.

3 Stars

Posted January 2, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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November 7, 2016

Review | Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes by Denise Grover Swank

Review | Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes by Denise Grover SwankTwenty-Eight and a Half Wishes by Denise Grover Swank
Series: Rose Gardner Mystery #1
Publisher: Createspace, July 2011
Pages: 374
Format: Paperback
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For Rose Gardner, working at the DMV on a Friday afternoon is bad even before she sees a vision of herself dead. She's had plenty of visions, usually boring ones like someone's toilet's overflowed, but she's never seen one of herself before. When her overbearing momma winds up murdered on her sofa instead, two things are certain: There isn't enough hydrogen peroxide in the state of Arkansas to get that stain out, and Rose is the prime suspect.
Rose realizes she's wasted twenty-four years of living and makes a list on the back of a Wal-Mart receipt: twenty-eight things she wants to accomplish before her vision comes true. She's well on her way with the help of her next door neighbor Joe, who has no trouble teaching Rose the rules of drinking, but won't help with number fifteen-- do more with a man. Joe's new to town, but it doesn't take a vision for Rose to realize he's got plenty secrets of his own.
Somebody thinks Rose has something they want and they'll do anything to get it. Her house is broken into, someone else she knows is murdered, and suddenly, dying a virgin in the Fenton County jail isn't her biggest worry after all.
Winner of The Beacon 2010 Unpublished Division, Mainstream Category

Rose Gardner doesn’t want to make a fuss. She would rather go completely unnoticed, thank you very much. After living her twenty-four years with her overbearing, bossy mother, Rose finally loses her patience. Storming out of the house, Rose makes a list of 28 wishes, 28 things she wants to do before she dies. And since she just had a vision of her death, it’s time for Rose to strike out on her own. Unfortunately, the very day Rose declares her independence, her controlling mother is found dead…and all fingers are pointing at Rose.

Rose is, without a doubt, one of the most naive characters I’ve come across, but it worked for her. She’s sweet, innocent, and the highlight of Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes. Her character journey, from a young, innocent 24-year-old girl to a slightly-less-innocent but more independent woman is the star of the story. I loved her. Her gentleness and sweet nature creates her problems, but also gives her allies. It was a perfect balance, only going into overly sweet every once in a while.

I accidentally picked up Thirty-Five and a Half Conspiracies from the library a few weeks ago, not knowing it was part of a series, so I had a clue that the hunky next-door neighbor Joe McAllister wasn’t what he seemed. But, oh, I loved every damn scene that he was in. There was something so obviously off about him (his secrecy, his intimate knowledge of Rose’s murder case, and his middle-of-the-night activities) but his sweetness and obvious attraction to Rose made me rush to the end to make sure they had a happily-ever-after.

The romance of Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes is a winner in my book. Soft and sweet, but tense and hot, it quickly won me over, despite Joe’s secrecy. It brought me into Rose’s world, and I can’t wait to return in Twenty-Nine and a Half Reasons.

4 Stars

Posted November 7, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 28, 2016

Review | The Duke is Mine by Eloisa James

Review | The Duke is Mine by Eloisa JamesThe Duke Is Mine by Eloisa James
Series: Fairy Tales, #3
Publisher: Avon, December 2011
Pages: 367
Format: Paperback
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Destiny will be decided between the sheets in this all-new tale of The Princess and the Pea.
For Olivia Lytton, betrothal to the Duke of Canterwick—hardly a Prince Charming—feels more like a curse than a happily-ever-after. At least his noble status will help her sister, Georgiana, secure an engagement with the brooding, handsome Tarquin, Duke of Sconce, a perfect match for her in every way . . . every way but one. Tarquin has fallen in love with Olivia. Quin never puts passion before reason. And reason says that Georgiana is his ideal bride. But the sensual, fiery, strong-willed Olivia ignites an unknown longing in him—a desire they are both powerless to resist. When a scandalous affair begins, they risk losing everything—Olivia's engagement, her sister's friendship, and their own fragile love. Only one thing can save them—and it awaits in the bedroom, where a magnificent mattress holds life-changing answers to the greatest romantic riddle of all.

I’m not sure how I feel about The Duke is Mine. After falling for James’ other installments in the series, I was ready to love Olivia and her duke’s story. That isn’t quite what happened.

The other novels in the Fairy Tale series started with a bang, but The Duke is Mine took a long time to start. A long time. After reading page after page of dialogue between Olivia and her twin sister, Georgiana, I felt my interest waning. Then at Quin’s lackluster introduction to the story, I checked GoodReads to see if this installment was a dud. Surprisingly, reviewers raved about it. So I kept reading.

Although I am glad I kept reading, I wished The Duke is Mine picked up the pace much earlier. Until Olivia and Georgiana arrive at Quin’s home for his mother’s marriage competition (what else to call it?), the story slogged. It’s at Quin’s family home that both he and Olivia come alive.

All this said I loved Olivia’s feisty nature. She is stubborn as a mule but luckily more charming. Standing up to Quin’s mother, especially when she made no qualm about her perception of Olivia and her fiancee, must have been difficult, but she did it without a second thought. Her ability to find the fun in life was a quality lacking in not only Quin but society as a whole at the time.

Quin, on the other hand, needed to come alive much earlier to make a lasting impact. He was stuffy, aloof, and a little cold. Thankfully, James switches the narration between the two of them, giving us a chance to remember why we’re cheering for him. As his story comes out, it’s easier to see his kind, protective nature, but it would have been nice to have some explanation for his attitude earlier on.

My other issue with The Duke is Mine is the cheating. Olivia is engaged to another man. Quin’s mother has all but announced his betrothal to Olivia’s sister. It made it hard to hope for their romance when they were potentially hurting so many other people. I liked how James handled part of the situation, but View Spoiler ».

The romance was there, creating tension and atmosphere throughout the book. There were moments I loved and others I didn’t. The Duke is Mine might not have been my favorite of the series, but I enjoyed the rest.

3 Stars

Posted October 28, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 20, 2016

Review | O is for Outlaw by Sue Grafton

Review | O is for Outlaw by Sue GraftonO is for Outlaw by Sue Grafton
Series: Kinsey Millhone, #15
Publisher: Ballantine Books, January 2001
Pages: 354
Format: Hardcover
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Through fourteen books, fans have been fed short rations when it comes to Kinsey Millhone's past: a morsel here, a dollop there. We know of the aunt who raised her, the second husband who left her, the long-lost family up the California coast. But husband number one remained a blip on the screen until now.
The call comes on a Monday morning from a guy who scavenges defaulted storage units at auction. Last week he bought a stack. They had stuff in them—Kinsey stuff. For thirty bucks, he'll sell her the lot. Kinsey's never been one for personal possessions, but curiosity wins out and she hands over a twenty (she may be curious but she loves a bargain). What she finds amid childhood memorabilia is an old undelivered letter.
It will force her to reexamine her beliefs about the breakup of that first marriage, about the honor of that first husband, about an old unsolved murder. It will put her life in the gravest peril."O" Is for Outlaw: Kinsey's fifteenth adventure into the dark side of human nature.

Oh, Kinsey.

O is for Outlaw might have broken her heart. And mine.

As I put this book down, I remembered writing how I wished Kinsey showed more of herself in the novels, letting us as readers get to know her better. I got my wish.

Kinsey Millhone was married twice (and prefers to be single, thank you very much). We met her second husband in E is for Evidence, but her first is rarely mentioned…until we get to O. In Outlaw, Kinsey finally reveals their relationship when news arrives that Mickey Magruder, the pointedly-ignored first husband, has been shot and is in a coma in Los Angeles.

I’ve always wondered at Kinsey’s determined lack of information about her relationship with Mickey and her reaction to his condition solidified my theory: he was her first love. You know, that one we’re always slightly irrational about, even years later? Mickey Magruder, a paranoid vice cop a decade her senior, was the guy who broke Kinsey Millhone’s heart.

Being Kinsey, she can’t help but start investigating, despite the investigating cops’ warnings. She unravels the life of a serial playboy, a man destroyed, and an addict in recovery. In discovering so much about Mickey’s current life, she understands his past a little better and finally comes to terms with their relationship. But it’s the last scene that had me sniffling back tears.

The mystery in O for Outlaw was up to par, and Kinsey’s snooping nature brought light into an otherwise emotionally heavy story. The difference? Mickey’s shooting rocked her to her core, so her typical unbiased perspective was deeply slanted.

I wanted to know more about the characters, their situations, and their relationship to her, but there was only so much room in the book. Still, O is for Outlaw was a surprisingly intense story, one that I’m thrilled finally was told.

4 Stars

Posted October 20, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 17, 2016

Review | The Game Plan by Kristin Callihan

Review | The Game Plan by Kristin CallihanThe Game Plan by Kristen Callihan
Series: Game On
Publisher: NLA Digital LLC, November 2015
Pages: 331
Format: Ebook
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A beard-related dare and one hot-as-hell kiss changes everything.
NFL center Ethan Dexter’s focus has always been on playing football and little else. Except when it comes to one particular woman. The lovely Fiona Mackenzie might not care about his fame, but she’s also never looked at him as anything more than one of her brother-in-law’s best friend. That ends now.
Fi doesn’t know what to make of Dex. The bearded, tattooed, mountain of man-muscle looks more like a biker than a football player. Rumor has it he’s a virgin, but she finds that hard to believe. Because from the moment he decides to turn his quiet intensity on her she’s left weak at the knees and aching to see his famous control fully unleashed.
Dex is looking for a forever girl, but they live vastly different lives in separate cities. Fi ought to guard her heart and walk away. But Dex has upped his game and is using all his considerable charm to convince Fi he's her forever man.
Game On

I forget how much I love sports-centered romances until I get my hands on one. Ever since Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Lady Be Good, I’ve been hooked on them. There’s an intensity about professional athletes, a passion that fits in perfectly with the plots of today’s contemporary romances. Kristen Callihan’s The Game Plan is no exception.

At first, I wasn’t sure what to think about Dex, but the more time we spent in his head, the more I loved him. Despite the aggression required for his job, he has a quiet intensity about him that draws you. He’s a man of secrets, rare smiles, and an incredibly gentle heart. The contrast was borderline hypnotizing. I loved the quiet (and sometimes not-so-quiet) passion that ruled him, whether it was about Fiona or football. He was the fairy tale prince we all hope will arrive on our doorstep one day, but with enough flaws that he wasn’t unreachable.

In contrast to Dex’s romantic nature, Fiona is a pragmatist. She’s honest (except when it comes to her job) and doesn’t have a problem saying what’s on her mind (again…that job). I liked her realism and how her heart warred with it: despite knowing a long distance relationship with a famous football player might not work out, she never entirely gives up.

My only issue with Fiona was how she acted in – you guessed it – her job. See, Dex falls in love with her for her almost brutal honesty, but when it doesn’t transfer to her professional life, it felt off. How would a girl, so vocal about everything else, roll over in her particular situation?

The plot’s tension was tangible. I found myself running back to the office from my lunch break after getting hooked into the story. The Game Plan had this sweet yearning, born first of secret love, then a long-distance relationship. Even after it evolves from that (sorry, no spoilers), the yearning is still there, the search to find an authentic connection. That’s the magic of Callihan’s story: even when the characters should have everything finally go right, someone throws a monkey wrench, messing it up in the best way possible.

4 Stars

Posted October 17, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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