Tag: romance

August 2, 2017

Review | Voyager by Diana Gabaldon

Review | Voyager by Diana GabaldonVoyager by Diana Gabaldon
Series: Outlander, #3
Publisher: Delta, December 1993
Pages: 870
Format: Paperback
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From the author of the breathtaking bestsellers Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber, the extraordinary saga continues.
Their passionate encounter happened long ago by whatever measurement Claire Randall took. Two decades before, she had traveled back in time and into the arms of a gallant eighteenth-century Scot named Jamie Fraser. Then she returned to her own century to bear his child, believing him dead in the tragic battle of Culloden. Yet his memory has never lessened its hold on her... and her body still cries out for him in her dreams.
Then Claire discovers that Jamie survived. Torn between returning to him and staying with their daughter in her own era, Claire must choose her destiny. And as time and space come full circle, she must find the courage to face the passion and pain awaiting her...the deadly intrigues raging in a divided Scotland... and the daring voyage into the dark unknown that can reunite or forever doom her timeless love.

If Outlander was about finding your true love and Dragonfly in Amber about making heartbreaking decisions, Voyager tells of consequences.

Typically, “consequences” has a negative connotation. It’s used by parents to frighten their children into behaving, by teachers motivating their students into completing the homework. But in Gabaldon’s world, consequences are more than that. They’re the results of the love of Outlander, the tough decisions made in Dragonfly, and the turmoil of Voyager.

The love of Outlander

Watching Claire try to rebuild her life after Jamie was heartbreaking. I didn’t know if I would make it through those sections. But she grew a little bit stronger, page after page, and me with her. Even though I knew they had to get back together at some point, the distance of 200 years never seemed so long.

Despite their love, Claire had to assume Jamie had died at Culloden and he only had the faint hope that she had made it back to her own century. The only solution was to move on, keep building, and keep the other’s memory alive. While I understood it, I struggled with Claire returning to Frank and Jamie’s various adventures. They were supposed to be together, damnit!

The consequences of the first two books created an entirely different relationship when they finally reunited in Voyager. I liked the dynamic, the acknowledgment that time has passed, that need to rediscover.

I was a little worried about how I would relate to the characters after so long had passed, but Gabaldon made it as easy as stepping forward into their world.

The decisions of Dragonfly

Dragonfly is full of decisions. Decisions to go to France to stop Prince Charles, to fight on the Culloden field, to return back to the 1940s. Each of these decisions played a huge role in how Voyager unfolded. I was surprised at how frustrated I got with some of the characters’ decisions. Maybe it’s hindsight, maybe it’s foreshadowing, but I found myself hoping, desperately, that a particular character wouldn’t do this, wouldn’t do that. Kind of like when you wish the heroine in the scary movie would just MOVE AWAY FROM THE DARK, SCARY DOOR instead of opening it.

Yet, if they had, what kind of story would it have been?

I loved that Voyager brought some previous characters back into play (nope, no spoilers). They were entirely unexpected, but the plot twist increased the tension in an already tense end of the book.

The consequences of Voyager

Mainly, I was hooked. I had to know what happened, how they got there, and how on earth they were going to get out of the mess this time. It’s almost addictive, this need to delve back into the world of Jamie and Claire. I have the Drums of Autumn and The Fiery Cross on my shelves now, and it takes a constant strength to not run over, pluck up the next book and see how the romance of Jamie and Claire goes on.

5 Stars

Posted August 2, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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July 27, 2017

Review | Nobody’s Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Review | Nobody’s Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsNobody's Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars, #3
Publisher: AVON Books, February 1997
Pages: 374
Format: Paperback
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Librarian Note: There is an Alternate Cover Edition for this edition of this book here.
Genius physics professor Dr. Jane Darlington desperately wants a baby. But finding a father won’t be easy. Jane’s super-intelligence made her feel like a freak when she was growing up, and she’s determined to spare her own child that suffering. Which means she must find someone very special to father her child. Someone who’s more comfortable working out his muscles than exercising his brain.
Cal Bonner, the Chicago Stars’ legendary quarterback, seems like the perfect choice. But his champion good looks and down-home ways are deceiving. Dr. Jane is about to learn a little too late that this good ol’ boy is a lot smarter than he lets on—and he’s not about to be used and abandoned by a brainy, baby-mad schemer.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Nobody’s Baby But Mine is one of those romantic comedies that make you laugh, cry, and cringe, occasionally all at once. Why? It all comes down to one thing: snap judgments.

Meet Jane.

Dr. Jane Darlington is a physicist, thankyouverymuch. Her research is world renown and, despite her boss’s efforts to dim her star, she is quickly becoming one of the bright lights in scientific research. But Jane still needs something to complete her life: a baby.

Jane is the nerdy girl who was unashamed of knowing the answer. Among scientific theory and experiments, she’s in her element. But in social situations, Jane’s a duck out of water. So, logically (because Jane is nothing but logical), she decides to get pregnant by some dumb jock that won’t want to have anything to do with her or the baby. While morally questionable, it’s not the worst plan in the world…but it all falls to pieces when she picks legendary Chicago Stars quarterback Cal Bonner to help.

Meet Cal.

Cal is sick of the young guys coming in and trying to usurp him on the team, especially Kevin Tucker. He’s stubborn, a bit cranky, and likes to be in control. After dating legions of young, beautiful girls Cal wants a woman with a little more substance, but Jane Darlington isn’t what he had in mind. Especially when Cal discovers he can’t quite keep his hands off her.

About those snap judgments…

As book lovers, we know the old adage about not judging a book by its cover, but Jane does just that. She pegs Cal as a dumb jock, the kind of guy who loves ’em and leaves ’em. While she’s not wrong on the latter part, none of them have gotten pregnant. And Cal isn’t the type of guy to let the woman carrying his baby just walk away.

Nobody’s Baby But Mine is built on snap judgments. Jane’s snap judgment of Cal leads her to the plot’s primary device while his judgment of her is the key that turns both their worlds upside down. Phillips’ dueling narration lets the reader in on how wrong they are about the other but lets them (sometimes painfully) work it out.

While I hope most world class physicists aren’t poking holes in their sports star lover’s condoms, Phillips embodies Nobody’s Baby with a sense of realism that makes her stories so much fun to read. Each character, from Cal’s family to Jane’s evil boss, become so real and vivid that I feel I drop into their world. I cheer for Jane even as I cringe at her choices. I sympathize with Cal even when he’s digging himself in a hole. And my heart melts at the last romantic scenes.

Phillips is always a winner, but Nobody’s Baby raises the bar for contemporary romance.

4 Stars

Posted July 27, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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July 25, 2017

Review | Echoes in Death by J.D. Robb

Review | Echoes in Death by J.D. RobbEchoes in Death by J.D. Robb
Series: In Death, #44
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks, February 2017
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
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Lieutenant Eve Dallas encounters her toughest case yet when New York's wealthiest couples are the targets of a calculated killer in Echoes in Death, a crime thriller from #1 New York Times bestselling author J.D. Robb.
When the young woman--dazed, naked, and bloody--wanders in front of their car, Roarke slams on the brakes just in time, and Eve--still in glittering gown and heels--springs into action. It's been a long night for the tired homicide cop, and it's far from over.
Daphne Strazza is rushed to the ER, but it's too late for Dr. Anthony Strazza. A brilliant orthopedic surgeon, he now lies dead amid the wreckage of his obsessively organized town house, his three safes opened and emptied. Daphne would be a valuable witness, but in her terror and shock, the only description of the perp she can offer is repeatedly calling him "the devil."
While it emerges that Dr. Strazza was cold, controlling, and widely disliked--and that he treated Daphne like a trophy wife--this is one case where the evidence doesn't point to the spouse as the first suspect. So Eve and her team must get started on the legwork, interviewing everyone from dinner-party guests to professional colleagues to caterers, in a desperate race to answer some crucial questions:
What does the devil look like? And where will he show up next?

Home is a safe place. It’s where we go to relax, to unwind, to feel safe after dealing with whatever we’ve faced that day. But in J.D. Robb’s latest novel, Echoes in Death, that safety is violated when a killer destroys that santicty. Even worse? He’s dressed as our deepest fears.

There’s always a psychological element in Robb’s work, but Echoes in Death brings it to the forefront. She delves not only the psychology of the criminal, but into their many victims, their lives, and in turn, our own. It took me on a more personal thrill ride through my own fears (you can bet your doughnuts I got up to check the doors and windows were locked after finishing this book) that was pleasantly unexpected.

Each victim represents something we recognize in ourselves or in our lives. The first victim is struggling with an overpowering husband and an unhappy marriage. The second victims (a couple) feel more like the pinnacle relationship we all wish for. On and on, each brings something new to the table, something that will strike a chord in each individual reader. I loved it.

Eve, as always, kicks ass as the main protagonist. Her personality shines through even more while she’s helping the victims of the Echoes in Death criminal, creating the image of an avenging angel…that is, if angels wore magic leather coats and had short shaggy hair. In this installment, she reminded me most of Murphy, that sometimes love-interest/foil to Jim Butcher’s Dresden. Both have a great resemblance to the avenging angel stereotype, take absolutely no shit, and have no problem going after what they want. They are the type of female characters that I love to read.

From the theatrical, terrifying nature of this criminal to the dark psychological underbelly of society that they reveal, Echoes in Death is a winner for J.D. Robb’s fans and mystery lovers alike.

5 Stars

Posted July 25, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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June 21, 2017

Wrap Up! The Latest Romance

Format: Ebook, Paperback
Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceThe Billionaire and the Virgin (Billionaires and Bridesmaids, #1) by Jessica Clare
Pages: 250

The Billionaire and the Virgin appeals to a very select group of people. But for me, the excessive sex scenes overwhelmed the romance of the Beauty and the Beast retelling that I was so looking forward to. Clare’s treatment of her hero, a man scarred physically and emotionally, was the only saving grace.

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceLove in the Afternoon (The Hathaways, #5) by Lisa Kleypas

Kleypas’ wacky Hathaway family holds a special place in my heart and, luckily, Beatrix’s story is up to that standard. Genuinely sweet and funny, Love in the Afternoon is a great romance for a long summer afternoon. The only drawback? Beatrix’s childlike nature didn’t always lend well to romantic situations.

 

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceThe Boy Is Back (Boy, #4) by Meg Cabot
Pages: 400

The queen of contemporary romance is back! Cabot’s unique narrative – created from IMs, text messages and emails – fits the hilariously sweet story of Becky and the one-that-got-away, pro golfer Reed Stewart.

 

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceIrresistibly Yours (Oxford, #1) by Lauren Layne
Pages: 236

This spicy contemporary romance blurs the line between workplace friendships and irresistable chemistry. Loved the complex characters and the plot’s determination to keep throwing them together.

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceSeven Minutes in Heaven (Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers, #3; Desperate Duchesses, #9) by Eloisa James
Pages: 404

Ranks among the most stilted, obvious historical romances I’ve read. So much potential in the master of the house/strict governess dynamic, but the borderline predictability and the dull characters drained all the passion.

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceThe Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata

I’ve been on a sports romance kick lately, but The Wall of Winnepeg had one major fault: the narration. A potentially fun story (a football player opens his eyes to finally see what’s always been in front of him) is ruined by the dragging narrative.

 

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceSustained (The Legal Briefs, #2) by Emma Chase
Pages: 267

LOVED this! Cold, rough and tough lawyer Jake gets caught up with a gorgeous woman who has adopted her suddenly orphaned nieces and nephews. Sustained spins together a heartwarming family story, a heroic journey, and a fabulous romance into one neat package.

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceBecause of Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys, #1) by Julia Quinn
Pages: 375

Cute historical romance with a flaw: Billie Bridgerton was practically perfect in every way. All joking aside, the constant fawning over the heroine made her unrealistic and caused the rest of the story to fall apart.

 

 

Wrap Up! The Latest RomanceRun to You (Military Men #2) by Rachel Gibson
Pages: 384

An interesting premise – Florida bartender gets caught up in the mob’s crosshairs and is reluctantly saved by a former Marine – can’t get off the ground. Why? Stella’s constant whining drove me insane. I was tempted to knock her out myself if she said “I’m going to pass out,” one more time.

Posted June 21, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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June 17, 2017

Review | The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

Review | The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. PearsonThe Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
Series: The Remnant Chronicles #1
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co., July 2014
Pages: 486
Format: Hardcover
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A princess must find her place in a reborn world.

She flees on her wedding day.

She steals ancient documents from the Chancellor's secret collection.

She is pursued by bounty hunters sent by her own father.

She is Princess Lia, seventeen, First Daughter of the House of Morrighan.

The Kingdom of Morrighan is steeped in tradition and the stories of a bygone world, but some traditions Lia can't abide. Like having to marry someone she's never met to secure a political alliance.

Fed up and ready for a new life, Lia flees to a distant village on the morning of her wedding. She settles in among the common folk, intrigued when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deceptions swirl and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—secrets that may unravel her world—even as she feels herself falling in love.

All too often, fantasy books fall into a cookie cutter plot: girl runs away, boy chases her, magic happens, they save the day. The Kiss of Deception isn’t one of those books.

To start, the girl’s motive for running away is a good one. Princess Lia is moments away from an arranged marriage to a prince she’s never met and would rather not, thankyouverymuch. Her decision to run when the opportunity presents itself instead of dithering about whether or not she should (something I would do), won me over. She’s quick, decisive, but yet ultimately, a sheltered princess.

She’s quick, decisive, but yet, in the end, a sheltered princess. Her intent is good, but her experience outside the palace walls is limited. I liked that Pearson didn’t try to shield that side of her protagonist. Instead of expecting everyone to jump at her whim, Lia rolls up her sleeves and pitches in. A working, warrior princess is my kind of gal.

I’ve mentioned it before, and I will likely say it again, but I’m no fan of love triangles. However, in The Kiss of Deception, it worked. I would have been just fine without it, mind you, but Pearson’s treatment of the plot device fit it well into the story, instead of throwing it in to make a little more drama. It hooked me in and even now, I can’t wait for The Heart of Betrayal to arrive at the library SO I CAN FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED.

For me, that right there is why The Kiss of Deception is a winner. Sure, it had ups and downs. Sure, the narrative dragged a bit. But it’s that driving urge, that need to know what happened to these characters that I can’t help but cheer for, that will keep me hooked on this series long after I’ve finished.

4 Stars

Posted June 17, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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June 16, 2017

Review | Sparking the Fire by Kate Meador

Review | Sparking the Fire by Kate MeadorSparking the Fire by Kate Meader
Series: Hot in Chicago #3
Publisher: Pocket Books, September 2016
Format: Paperback
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Actor Molly Cade, America’s fallen sweetheart, finally has her shot at a Hollywood comeback with a dramatic new role as a tough-as-nails firefighter that promises to propel her back to the big time and restore her self-respect. Wyatt Fox, resident daredevil at Engine Co. 6, needs a low-key job to keep him busy while he recovers from his latest rescue stunt. Consulting on a local movie shoot should add just enough spark to his day. Especially when in struts Molly Cade: the woman who worked his heart over good, and then left him in the Windy City dust.

Their story is straight out of a script: irrepressible, spunky heroine meets taciturn, smoldering hero. But these two refuse to be typecast, and when the embers of an old love are stoked, someone is bound to get burned…

Sparking the Fire is the kind of book I pack for a beach weekend, long lazy afternoons in the park, or when I need a brain break. It’s got romance, wit, a coming-of-age story, and female empowerment. Plus a hot firefighter. What’s not to love?

America’s sweetheart Molly Cade is trying to pull her life back together after her very personal photos were leaked on the internet and this acting role looks like just the place to relaunch her career, and her life. But when Wyatt Fox, the man she had an intense, short-lived affair strides onto the set, her dreams for an easy comeback professionally shatter…that is, if she can keep her personal life out of the equation.

Molly could have been easily overwhelmed by Wyatt’s dominant, he-man (I say that in the best way possible) personality. He’s quiet, intense, guarded, and a little sarcastic. He’s used to getting his way and not arguing about it. Lucky for him (and the Sparking the Fire plot), Molly isn’t used to yielding just because someone else said so. This fire creates the chemistry that makes Meador’s third book in the series so much fun to read.

I loved all the side plots weaved into the story. Wyatt’s niece plays a significant role in his life: aside from helping to soften the he-man (again, best intentions) characteristic, she provides the foil to Molly’s own major life decisions. It’s a coming-of-age/rebuilding life story that brings the novel together.

Frankly, it’s weird to write this with my love of hot romance scenes, but the ones in Sparking the Fire were a little too much for me. Or unexpected? Maybe there were more unexpected. I didn’t expect the frequency of the hot-and-heavy scenes. Sometimes, it felt like they were supporting the plot, not all of the other fantastic elements Meador built into the story.

Either way, Sparking the Fire was a fun, quick read that I’d definitely grab again…that is, after I finish the rest of the Hot in Chicago series.

 

3 Stars

Posted June 16, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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June 7, 2017

Review | The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Review | The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey NiffeneggerThe Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Publisher: MacAdam/Cage, January 1970
Pages: 528
Format: Paperback
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The Time Traveler's Wife is the story of Clare, a beautiful art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian, who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-three and Henry thirty-one. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity in his life, past and future. His disappearances are spontaneous, his experiences unpredictable, alternately harrowing and amusing.

The Time Traveler's Wife depicts the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare's marriage and their passionate love for each other as the story unfolds from both points of view. Clare and Henry attempt to live normal lives, pursuing familiar goals--steady jobs, good friends, children of their own. All of this is threatened by something they can neither prevent nor control, making their story intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

Sometimes, I’m a part of a book’s adoring crowd, telling everyone I know (and occasionally people I don’t) about how much I love a book. Unfortunately, with The Time Traveler’s Wife, this isn’t one of those times.

To start from the beginning, this is M’s book. He doesn’t have a lot of books (being a movie kind of guy), but this is one he went out and bought. He’s been at me for years to read Niffenegger’s work, so I finally did. I finished it in one night, but not for the reasons you’d expect.

The premise is intriguing: A time traveler, constantly falling back and forth in time, keeps dropping in on his future/current wife at different stages of her life and his. But it’s that constant hope that they can be together that ties The Time Traveler’s Wife together…well, presumably.

I can’t help it; I found the idea of a forty-year-old man falling in love with a child extremely creepy. Granted, he was already in love with the future her, his counterpart, but the scenes between her as a child and him as a full-grown man gave me the major creeps. That’s not to say there was anything Lolita-like about this novel: Niffenegger keeps well away from that danger zone.

Eventually, I started to get fed up with all their trials. Every moment, right before they can finally connect, spend time together, whatever, he gets yanked away by the mysterious force of time, leaving her behind to pick up his discarded clothing. It felt like there was nothing to cheer for in their relationship; while it might be true love, it felt essentially doomed. And, quite simply, it broke my heart.

I didn’t feel that magic, that draw, that everyone (including M, who loves this book) feels with The Time Traveler’s Wife. I wanted so desperately some sort of happy ending, something to give me hope for these two people who have essentially lived their lives longing. Without that element, the story felt horribly sad, a novel I couldn’t wait to put down.

2 Stars

Posted June 7, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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May 17, 2017

Wrap-Up | The Latest DNFs

Wrap-Up | The Latest DNFsFalse Pretenses by Catherine Coulter
Publisher: Signet Book, March 2000
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback

"New York Times" Bestselling author. Her first contemporary suspense-now repackaged! Beautifully repackaged for her ever-growing legion of fans, this is the explosive story of how one woman must survive the destruction of her perfect life-and the intentions of three mysterious men.

I hate marking books DNF. Even though I’m coming to terms with it, it’s still a struggle because I know this is an author’s baby, their pride and joy. But sometimes, an individual book and I just aren’t a match. That’s what happened with these three.

Hearing so much about Catherine Coulter, I couldn’t wait to start reading her work. Being the slightly-Monk-like OCD person I am, I wanted to start at the beginning, or as close as I could get to her work. Which is what lead me to False Pretenses.

I was hoping for a Theresa RussellBlack Widow type character, or at least some kind of character growth. But concert pianist Elizabeth Carleton is meek and stilted. As the main character and focus of the plot, she needed to come alive to create the kind of tension False Pretenses needs to be alive. Instead, she just remains words on a page.

Without the great protagonist, the story sorely needed, the rest of the characters and their motives only fell flat. It was hard to believe all those men fell in love with her, making their own characters suspect and unbelievable.

Is there another Catherine Coulter book I should try? What do you recommend?

Wrap-Up | The Latest DNFsBlush by Cherry Adair
Publisher: Gallery Books, April 2015
Pages: 387

In the same pulse-pounding style as Maya Banks and Kresley Cole, New York Times bestselling author Cherry Adair delivers a sizzling erotic romance about a sexy billionaire who’s on the run—and the hit-man-turned-handyman who’s supposed to kill her.

Sex with a stranger. Learn to drive. Learn to cook. Learn to pole dance. Sex under the stars. Buy a truck. These are just a few of the things on Amelia Wentworth’s bucket list, but as the CEO and face of a multi-billion-dollar cosmetic empire, she’s never quite found the time to do them.

Until, after a series of accidents, Amelia discovers that someone wants her dead. But who? And why? She has no time for questions as she changes her name to Mia, buys a secluded fixer-upper near the Louisiana bayou where no one will recognize her, and starts checking things off her bucket list like there’s no tomorrow—which there might not be.

Meanwhile, Cruz Barcelona is a hit man who’s promised himself this will be his last job. Then he’ll take the money and move to a warm, sunny place where he doesn’t have to hide anymore. But when Cruz goes undercover to Mia’s ramshackle house, he starts to realize there’s far more to this poor-little-rich-girl than he thought—and he starts to fall for her. Which is going to make his job a whole lot harder…

A cosmetics CEO on the run, determined to cross off her bucket list. A dark assassin hired to kill her. Irresistible chemistry…right?

That’s what I’d hoped for when I grabbed Cherry Adair’s Blush off the shelf. Sure, the cover is a little more suggestive than I typically like to go for, but hey, I’ll try it. But when the protagonists start doing the dirty in the first chapter of the book, something’s off.

If you’ve been with me for a while or looked around on the blog, you’ll know I have no problem with sex scenes. However, I think these should be used to empower the story/character relationships/plot points. Blush uses them as plot points.

It felt like every time I turned the page, they were going at it again. There was no character growth in the first fifty pages. Instead, Cruz has an interior monologue about how he should complete his assignment and move on. Then Amelia walks in the room, and all bets are off.

Maybe Blush got better as it went, but after fifty pages of sex scenes, I was ready to DNF.

Wrap-Up | The Latest DNFsFallen by Karin Slaughter
Series: Will Trent,
Publisher: Arrow, June 2012
Pages: 496

Special Agent Faith Mitchell returns home to a nightmare. Her baby daughter Emma has been locked outside, and there's a trail of blood to the front door.

Without waiting for back-up, Faith enters the house. Inside a man lies dead in a pool of blood. Most worrying of all, her mother is missing.

When the Atlanta police arrive, Faith has some difficult questions to answer. But she has some desperate questions of her own. What were the killers searching for? And where is her mother?

Suspended from duty, Faith turns to her work partner, Will Trent. Together he and Sara Linton must piece together the fragments of a brutal and complicated case, and catch a vicious murderer with only one thing on his mind.

To keep on killing until the truth is finally revealed.

Police procedurals are my guilty pleasure this year. The complex relationships between the characters, the horrible crimes, the question of whether to stick by the book…I’m all about it.

Yet Karin Slaughter’s Fallen didn’t have that same magic for me. Maybe it was coming in on the fifth book of the Will Trent series instead of the first, but I couldn’t get past the first fifty pages and this book ended up on the DNF pile. I wanted to like it (love it, actually), but the characters weren’t there to draw me in. Instead, I found myself reading the same passages over and reaching for different books on my nightstand over this one.

 Stars

Posted May 17, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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March 27, 2017

Review | Her Darkest Nightmare by Brenda Novak

Review | Her Darkest Nightmare by Brenda NovakHer Darkest Nightmare by Brenda Novak
Series: The Evelyn Talbot Chronicles, #1
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks, August 2016
Pages: 407
Format: Paperback
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THE HUNT FOR A SERIAL KILLER
Evelyn Talbot knows that a psychopath can look perfectly normal. She was only sixteen when her own boyfriend Jasper imprisoned and tortured her—and left her for dead. Now an eminent psychiatrist who specializes in the criminal mind, Evelyn is the force behind Hanover House, a maximum-security facility located in a small Alaskan town. Her job puts her at odds with Sergeant Amarok, who is convinced that Hanover is a threat to his community…even as his attraction to beautiful Evelyn threatens to tear his world apart.

BEGINS WITH AN ESCAPE FROM HER PAST
Then, just as the bitter Alaskan winter cuts both town and prison off from the outside world, the mutilated body of a local woman turns up. For Amarok, this is the final proof he needs: Hanover has to go. Evelyn, though, has reason to fear that the crime is a personal message to her—the first sign that the killer who haunts her dreams has found her again. . .and that the life she has so carefully rebuilt will never be the same…

Despite her career working in the insane asylum, Evelyn Talbot thinks her darkest nightmare is behind her. She survived brutal torture and imprisonment at the hands of her high school boyfriend (after he killed her best friends in cold blood) and rebuilt her life to study those who can’t resist the call of the kill. But when asylum staff and townspeople from the small Alaskan town start to go missing, Evelyn fears the worst: her past is back to haunt her.

Here’s the thing about Her Darkest Nightmare: it has all the elements to be an insanely (no pun intended) creepy, heartstoppingly thrilling, breathtakingly romantic story. But it isn’t. Why? Evelyn.

Evelyn had so many issues. Granted, yes, she had a terrible event in her teenage years that would haunt anyone for the rest of their God-given days. Yes, she pulled herself together pretty well. But it’s the massive amounts of neurosis coupled with an unsympathetic, flat character that takes all the wind out of the story’s sails.

She can’t date Amarok, the cute Alaska State Trooper, because he’s younger than she is. I don’t know quite where that one came from – it’s never really explained except she’s afraid of being judged. She can’t be alone. Okay, this one makes sense, especially in the Alaskan wilderness. But then why on earth do you build a cottage on the edge of town with an unreliable snow car (a BMW, for heaven’s sake) and then whine when you can’t get home? She can’t connect well with others in the town/the asylum. Again, okay – she’s had some traumatic experiences. But she whimpers (there’s really no other word for it) whenever someone looks at her funny. When she does grow a backbone and stand up for herself, it’s so out of character that the whole story seemed off.

The reason the character development was so sorely lacking lay at the door of one key element: the dialogue. It was forced, awkward, and kept pulling me out of the story. I was keenly aware I was reading words on a page, not enveloped in a world of snow, sexy troopers, and murderous psychopaths.

Amaork had the most promise but he too suffered from Her Darkest Nightmare‘s stilted dialogue. I wanted MORE, more PASSION, more FIRE, more THRILL. And ended up turning this book back into the library early.

Novak’s latest just didn’t measure up for me. Maybe I’ll stick to her contemporary romances.

2 Stars

Posted March 27, 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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