review: after we fall

After We Fall by Melanie Harlow (2016)

If this is the only sentence you read, here’s what you need to know: read this book if you love romance novels. It’s the first novel to get a five-star rating from me this year and I want to read more books by Melanie Harlow. After We Fall is the second book in Harlow’s After We Fall series. I downloaded a heaping handful of samples onto my kindle one morning and when I got to the end of the sample for this book I instantly hit buy and there’s not a bit of buyer’s remorse.

This is the story of Margot and Jack. Margot is your stereotypical rich city girl, the daughter of an old money family in Detroit. Her father is running for Senate, and her mother is all about appearances and tradition. Margot has always gone along with her parents’ wishes, being the dutiful daughter and doing what was expected of her (going to Vassar, majoring in English). The next step in the line of duties seems to be getting married and starting a family. At the start of the story, Margot is on the cusp of doing exactly that. Indeed, her story begins with a marriage proposal. A dozen thrown scones later, she’s effectively banished from Detroit and told to keep a low profile until her shocking and scandalous behavior is forgotten. This is the catalyst that pushes Margot out of her normal world and into a new world she knows nothing about—a small farm in northern Michigan. In many ways, Jack is Margot’s opposite. He left college to enlist in the military after 9/11 and spent eight years in the Army. After returning home, Jack marries the love of his life, Steph, who died two years later. When the story begins it’s been nearly three years since his wife’s death. Jack is still grieving and is also dealing with traumatic events that took place while he served in Iraq, events that make him feel directly responsible for his wife’s death. The only things Jack seems to find any joy in are spending time with his one-year-old nephew, Cooper, and working the farm he owns along with his brothers, Pete and Brad. It’s those brothers, along with Pete’s wife, Georgia, who hire Margot’s marketing firm to help them build the farm into a successful business, a decision that forces Jack out of his normal world.

The ensuing romance between Margot and Jack is turbulent and more than once evoked an emotional response from me (I teared up and laughed out loud). Margot and Jack are honest and real characters, relatable and vividly drawn. Repeatedly they are thrown into situations with each other that highlight their differences and show who they are, what they want and what matters most to each of them. Sometimes they do the right thing and sometimes they make mistakes, but the whole time I was reading I was invested in their love story and kept reading to see how they would get their happily ever after. Jack’s character arc is more fully developed than Margot’s and thus he undergoes more change throughout the story. And yet Margot changes as well, starting out as the dutiful daughter that cares what other people think of her and becoming a more independent woman who lives her life on her terms regardless of anyone else’s opinions. Harlow drives this home during a conversation between Margot and her mother near the end of the story. The point I’m trying to make here is that both Jack and Margot are engaging characters. I was completely engrossed in their story and I think you will be, too.

The story is told through Margot and Jack’s alternating first person point-of-view (POV), and it turns on the recognizable trope of the city girl/country boy opposition (though why it’s always the woman from the city who is the fish out of water in the country, and rarely vice-versa, is beyond me). I have to admit that Harlow does something in this book structurally that typically turns me off when it comes to a romance novel. The meet cute between the lovers doesn’t occur until chapter seven. While I’m pretty adamant about the meet cute happening in the first or second chapter (at the latest) of a romance novel, the delayed moment of Margot and Jack’s meeting works in Harlow’s favor here. I got to know Margot and Jack a little bit before they met, pulling me into their separate lives and seeing them as individuals before they are thrown into the falling in love portion of the story. Another aspect of the novel that did have me raising my eyebrows is the supporting cast of characters. Margot’s friends—Jaime and Claire, who are featured in books one and three of this series—are fine, but I gave Jack’s brothers, Pete and Brad, the side-eye. Jaime and Claire work in terms of showing Margot’s support system, but Pete and Brad don’t really come off as being all that supportive of a brother who’s had the experiences Jack has had. Perhaps that’s the reason for including Georgia in the supporting cast. I kind of wanted to tell Pete and Brad to have some compassion, but maybe their lack of compassion and brotherly love and support further underscores the myriad of reasons Jack is struggling with his past and having trouble moving forward.

I loved this book. I don’t give out five-star ratings easily or often, but After We Fall earned it. Not only does Harlow deliver a compelling romance, she also manages to slip in an important message about agribusiness and food justice. This was exactly the kind of read I was looking for and it definitely goes onto my recommended reads list and my list of favorite books for 2018. Give this one a try, it’s book budget money well-spent.

Have you read After We Fall or any other books by Melanie Harlow? What did you think?

review: witness to passion

Beware: Witness to Passion is a racy read. It contains naughty language and graphic sexuality. If you prefer sweet romances, this one is not for you.

Witness to Passion by Naima Simone (2015)

Witness to Passion is a standalone story in Naima Simone’s two-book Guarding Her Body series (note: from what I’ve been able to gather, this series is loosely connected to her Secrets and Sins four-book series). As I was getting to the end of this book, one thought going through my mind was that I want to read more books by Naima Simone. In my experience, it’s difficult to find quality reads in the romantic suspense genre. This book is a steamy, quality read and if that’s how you like your romance novels, pick this one up and give it a try.

This is the story of Fallon and Shane. When the story opens, it’s Fallon’s twenty-fifth birthday. She’s standing in a coffee shop getting coffee for herself, her boss and the boss’ handsy son. Upon leaving the coffee shop, she gets into her car and finds a break-up tweet from her boyfriend. But before she can drive away, Fallon witnesses a murder. The murderer approaches her and threatens her life should she tell the police what she saw. Fast forward three months, and Fallon has lost her job, is now working in a small diner to make ends meet, and is the prosecution’s star witness in a murder trial. What Fallon wants most is to start her own event planning business, and she wants to be able to live comfortably without being a financial burden and without relying upon her father’s wealth. Her parents’ marriage failed because of infidelity, and her mother is a serial dater. As a result, Fallon doesn’t see marriage in her future and views happily ever after as nothing more than a fairy tale. Shane, on the other hand, wants marriage, family, the house in the suburbs with the white picket fence. This difference in what they want puts them at odds and is a source of conflict and tension between them for much of the book. It is also an inversion of stereotypical gender roles and gender representation that normally offers a woman who wants marriage and family and a man who prefers to continue a streak of one-night stands. Shane is a security specialist, and when he learns from his sister (and Fallon’s best friend) that Fallon is in danger, he assigns himself as her bodyguard. Shane’s leading character trait is that he is a protector (my favorite kind of male protagonist), and we learn that while serving in the military he sustained serious injuries that pushed him into an early discharge.

The story is set in Boston and is told from Fallon and Shane’s alternating, third person point of view (POV). Simone strikes the right blend of romance and suspense and keeps the story moving forward. I wanted to keep turning the pages and it was hard to put the book down. In addition to playing on the inversion of gender stereotypes, the story turns on a recognizable trope in romance novels—she’s my sister’s best friend and therefore untouchable. Although the love plot and the suspense plot follow the expected, conventional paths, Fallon and Shane are likable and relatable characters and as a reader I was easily pulled into their love story. Unresolved sexual tension jumps between them and the romance is believable (because let’s be honest, in some books, it’s hard to believe that the two lovers are really falling in love, right?). Fallon and Shane are surrounded by a small supporting cast of characters, mostly comprised of Shane’s business partners and friends. With the exception of Tristan, one of Shane’s closest friends, none of the supporting characters is fully developed; however, there is enough to make you curious to know more about these characters and to serve as an introduction in the event that each one will be featured in a future book.

Witness to Passion is an excellent read and I’m glad I stumbled upon it. I will definitely read more books by Naima Simone and watch out for new releases from her. If you are looking to sample a book by a new author, or if you like romantic suspense, I think you will enjoy Witness to Passion. It’s worth your reading time and the debit from your book budget.

Have you read Witness to Passion or any other books by Naima Simone? What did you think?

review: damaged!

Beware: Damaged! is a racy read. It contains naughty language and graphic sexuality. If you prefer sweet romances, this one is not for you.

Damaged! by J.S. Scott (2017)

Damaged! is the third book in J.S. Scott’s Walker Brothers series. Though I was a bit skeptical of the book due to the exclamation point in the title (why is this necessary?) and though billionaire romances are a dime a dozen and so few stand out from the forgettable glut of books in this category, I have enjoyed other books by this author and decided to give this one a try.

This is the story of Kenzie and Dane. Kenzie has recently lost her job as a receptionist in a New York City art gallery. On the verge of being homeless and destitute, she gets a job offer from Trace and Sebastian (Dane’s older brothers) to be their brother’s personal assistant. With no other viable options, Kenzie packs her things and makes the journey from New York to Dane’s private island in the Bahamas. Having worked in an art gallery and being a novice artist herself, Kenzie is excited to meet Dane Walker, a world renown artist. Upon her arrival and first interaction with her new boss, she learns the reason that old saying exists—never meet your heroes. Dane has been living on the island for the past eight years in near isolation. He bought the island at the age of eighteen, after being a passenger in a plane crash that killed his father and left him with numerous scars on his body. Though the extreme isolation has taken a heavy toll on Dane’s psychological state and he longs for social interaction, he is irate with his brothers for sending Kenzie to the island and hiring her as his PA without his knowledge. His first inclination is to send her back to New York, but once he learns the circumstances she’d be going back to, he relents and allows her to stay. As the story progresses, both Kenzie and Dane show all the ways in which they are damaged, and readers are invited to believe in the power of love to heal all wounds.

Both Kenzie and Dane (is it wrong that I keep wanting to type Deeks here?) are likable characters. The story is told through their alternating first person point of view (POV), with a heavier bias towards Kenzie’s POV. Structurally, Scott does something noteworthy with the narrative. For about the first half of the book, she intersperses chapters from Dane’s POV that show specific moments in his past. She starts with a scene from eight years ago, then seven, then six, etc. Once those narratives catch up to the present time, she mirrors this framework with Kenzie’s POV, having her scenes also count down from past to present. One reason Scott has for doing this (at least in my opinion) is that she is trying to show what Kenzie and Dane were going through at relatively the same point in time. She continues this interweaving by giving them both a mantra they repeat to themselves to keep themselves going, to not give in or quit. Scott drives home this interconnectedness by making their birthdays be exactly one day apart. All of this makes the narrative a more interesting read for the careful and attentive reader.

The love plot turns on a highly prevalent and recognizable trope found in contemporary romance novels—namely, a romance between employer and employee. Given the current environment where a news article revealing sexual harassment appears every day, I question how long readers of romance novels will continue to find this an acceptable trope or if it is one they will begin to avoid or shun. I’m also curious about whether or not authors will continue to use the trope or if they will begin to cast it aside in favor of other tropes. Only time will tell.

I liked Damaged! I didn’t think it was great, but it was more than just okay. I was entertained and invested in Kenzie and Dane’s story. I say if you have read any of Scott’s work in the past and enjoyed it, you’ll likely enjoy Damaged! If you’re a new reader and can’t really find anything else to read, but you’re intrigued by the back cover copy, give it a try. I don’t regret spending the money and I didn’t at any point want to put the book down and stop reading.

NOTE: I enjoy reading steamy romance novels but it’s not easy to find quality reads in this category. It can be challenging—even after you’ve read the back cover blurb and a sample—to know for sure if a particular book is worth your time and money. If you’re a reader like me who likes this category but wants quality over quantity, then drop a comment below and let me know if this review was helpful to you.

review: close contact

Close Contact by Lori Foster (2017)

When it comes to romance novels, I like mine sexy hot and with a heavy dollop of suspense. It’s no surprise, then, that I settled on Close Contact by Lori Foster while searching for my next read. I’ve read Foster’s work before, but it’s been awhile. Still, I thought I knew what I’d be getting with one of her books—steamy romance, independent female protagonist and a male protagonist with a protector streak two miles wide. Close Contact is the third book in Foster’s Body Armor series, featuring MMA fighters-turned-bodyguards. In the genre of romantic suspense, how could this go wrong, right?

This is the story of Maxi Nevar and Miles Dartman. I’m not a proponent of spoilers, so I’ll just say here that one night, something scary happens to Maxi, who is currently living on a 25-acre farm left to her by her late grandmother. Not sure what to do, she reaches out to her former lover, Miles for help. Miles has recently retired from his career as an MMA fighter (for reasons that remain shrouded in mystery for some time, and when the reveal does happen, it’s a bit disappointing in the sense that Foster could have done so much more with it) and now works for Sahara Silver, owner of Body Armor Security. After a somewhat tense reunion, Miles agrees to play bodyguard, and the pair return to Maxi’s farmhouse. Once there we learn that there are various potential suspects—Maxi’s ex-fiance, Gary, her brother and her sister who want her to sell the farm, and a township cop who seems more than a little shady. Aside from the general threat whose source remains elusive, the farmhouse and barn need lots of repairs, and Miles and his friends offer to do the work while also trying to pinpoint the source of the threat against Maxi. Continue reading

review: one snowy night

One Snowy Night by Jill Shalvis (2016)

This novella is book number 2.5 in Jill Shalvis’ Heartbreaker Bay series (preceded by Sweet Little Lies and The Trouble with Mistletoe, and followed by Accidentally on Purpose, which I reviewed here). One of the good things about this series is that each book stands alone and the books can be read in any order. I’ve said this before and will say it again, Jill Shalvis is one of those authors whose books I will always check out because I know exactly what I’m going to get. I don’t know if I would put her in my list of favorites, but she’s dependable and entertaining and hasn’t ever disappointed me.

One Snowy Night is an easy and quick read. I tried to read with my “reader” hat on but somehow my “writer” hat kept demanding to be worn. While reading, the development of the main characters—Max Stranton and Rory Andrews—preoccupied my mind as well as the basic story structure. The story is told through Max and Rory’s alternating third person point of view, and while I would say that the narrative is split fairly evenly between them, I wouldn’t say that by the end of the story I know either of them especially well. Sure, I know them in terms of their current situation—Rory has agreed to accept a ride from Max as they both travel from San Francisco to Tahoe on Christmas Eve to spend the holiday with their families. Perhaps that is attributable to the short narrative as well as the fact that the story itself takes place within a time frame of approximately twelve hours.

The desire for forgiveness is what drives Rory’s character. What haunts her is the way she left home. At seventeen, she ran away from home after her junior year in high school in order to escape a household where she didn’t fit in and a family who blamed her for things she hadn’t done. Six years later, she is finally returning home and fears that she will do something to make her family continue to believe she is flaky and undependable. Proving that she has changed is the thing that drives all of her actions and emotions. In the end, it is her interactions with Max during the drive from San Francisco to Tahoe that shows what kind of person she is, and it’s up to her family to see and accept for themselves the woman she has become.

While Rory’s character arc is clearly defined, Max’s is a bit blurry and indistinct. He is haunted by the same incident in Rory’s past but his experience of it was different and he begins the story blaming Rory for what he thinks was her part in it. During the drive, he learns the truth about what actually happens, and this does change the way he sees Rory and allows him to act on the attraction he has felt for her in the time that they have both lived in San Francisco. Max travels a flat character arc through the story. He doesn’t change in any significant way (yes, it can be argued that he admits his love for Rory and that that is a significant change, but in my mind, this is a romance and that is what is expected and without that element the whole story fails to work). Rather, he reflects Rory’s positive change arc and assists her along the way, ensuring that once she does finally make it to her family home, her opinion of who she is and understanding that she is no longer the seventeen-year-old girl who ran away from home six years is what matters most. She won’t be devastated if her family doesn’t see the change and we feel confident that she’ll continue to be who she is even if she doesn’t have her family’s acceptance.

The structure of the story is also difficult to define in absolute terms. When it comes to story structure, I’m looking for the following six key turning points in the plot: catalyst, big event, midpoint, crisis, showdown, revelation. One Snowy Night does have external conflicts and obstacles that the characters must overcome along with inner conflicts that the characters must resolve. And yet, the lines between acts one, two and three are blurry and indistinct, and in my opinion, the turning points are largely absent. This is more observation than judgmental. The story moves along fine and has good pacing; there wasn’t a moment when I wanted to put the book down and stop reading.

If you’re looking for a few hours of escape into a book and want a light romance, One Snowy Night delivers. If you want something a bit deeper and more complex, I can recommend the first book in the series, Sweet Little Lies and the third book, Accidentally on Purpose. If you’ve already read every book in this series, well, then, perhaps like me you’re waiting for Spence’s story to finally be told in Chasing Christmas Eve.

Have you read One Snowy Night? Hit the comments and tell me what you thought of it.

review: just one touch

Just One Touch by Maya Banks (2017)

For the part of me that is a writer, it is a challenging task to write this book review.  I find myself wanting to temper my comments and yet I know that I just need to come right out and say what I’m really thinking.  What I’m really thinking is that this book isn’t any good.  I have read and liked other books by Maya Banks in the past, but this one definitely is not like the others, and in this case that’s a bad thing.  The only reason that I got to the end of the book was because, well, I forced myself to keep reading.  Not because I thought it would get better (I didn’t and it didn’t) and not because I have some sort of personal rule about finishing every book I begin (I don’t and have given up on countless books).  The idea of the story had potential, but it was wasted time and time again.  I’m putting this book into my newly minted “Don’t Bother” category of books, and here’s why.

In theory, Just One Touch should be able to stand alone.  It is the fifth book in Banks’ Slow Burn series; however, the series isn’t serial in nature in that the events of one book are a continuation of or dependent upon the events that took place in the book or books that came before it.  The books are set in the same world and you will see characters from previous books make appearances; however, these do not have to be read in order, so you can jump in at any point or pick and choose to read the stories that appeal to you.  One of the problems with the book is that even as it tries (and fails) to stand alone, it reveals a lot of the details of other books in the series to the point that if you hadn’t read the others, you’d already have them spoiled for you.  In addition, if you haven’t read the previous books in the series, you will be confused by some of the actions of the supporting characters.  What’s more, you’ll be called upon to care about the fate of those characters in this book, to be empathetic and sympathetic toward them, but if you haven’t read each of their stories, that aspect of the story will be lost to you and only further decrease the odds that you’ll enjoy the book.  In my opinion, if you’re going to write a series you have to either (1) have each book be a link in a sequential chain, where you must read them in order, or (2) have the books exist within the same world and with recurring characters but each book can and does stand on its own.  For this reader, Just One Touch misses the mark.

The characters, as well as the development of those characters, also fails to deliver.  There’s no real depth to either the male protagonist or female protagonist.  Instead, Isaac and Jenna are both cardboard, two-dimensional stick figures who do what they’re supposed to do but are in no way engaging or interesting.  Both characters’ pasts are shrouded in mystery.  At least, I think that’s the intent.  I’m not spoiling anything by saying that at the beginning of the story, Jenna has escaped from a cult.  Though the question of how she came to be a member of the cult is answered in the faintest of terms by the end of the story, the answer itself is rendered meaningless because I don’t ever get to the point where I really care.  Likewise, Isaac’s history is also shrouded in secrecy, and though the intent is to show that whatever is in his past haunts him to the point that he needs a kind of spiritual healing, it’s never specifically spelled out what, exactly, haunts him.  I didn’t ever really know who the main characters were, and I was never invested in them.  There were moments when Jenna in particular is supposed to be read as strong, selfless, and courageous.  Honestly, I kept thinking “Is this really the choice you’re going to make? Seriously?”.  She’s not believable as a character.  None of the character development worked for me.

Oh, and this is a romance, right?  Not only was I not invested in Isaac and Jenna as separate characters, I wasn’t invested in their love story either.  There was never any chemistry between them, no tension, nothing to make it hard for me to look away and put the book down.

There’s also the dimension of suspense, right? The villain of the story (and yes, in my mind villain is the accurate term to use here instead of antagonist because the character isn’t nearly complex enough to earn that descriptor) is yet another cardboard figure.  Apparently, nothing more than evil and a quest for immortality drive his actions.  Throughout the story, his machinations are nothing more than plot devices.  The crisis/all is lost moment in the story is quite predictable and the showdown is anticlimactic at best.

Then there’s the epilogue.  Don’t read it.  Trust me, just skip it altogether.  If I hadn’t been reading on my e-reader I would have thrown the book against the wall.  As it is, I’m rolling my eyes and shuddering just thinking about it.

It’s rare that I give a book a one-star rating.  I know from experience how hard it is to write a story from start to finish, and consequently, I typically choose not to review books if I think I’m going to struggle to find good things to say about it. I’m changing my mentality (or trying to change it) on that because I think if you’re a writer, you can learn from books that are not executed or written well. That’s what Just One Touch is for me.  A lesson on what not to do in my own writing.

review: hard to let go

Hard to Let Go by Laura Kaye (2015)

And then we came to the end. Hard to Let Go is the final (full-length) installment in Laura Kaye’s Hard Ink series, which follows a group of five men who were discharged from Army Special Forces in disgrace and are trying to unravel the truth behind the event that ended their military careers. If you haven’t read all of the books before this one, then here’s your spoiler alert warning. Stop reading because there are spoilers dead ahead. If you’re interested in checking out the series, I do recommend the first book, Hard As It Gets.

Is it part of a series?
Yes. This is book six in the Hard Ink series and I would advise reading them in order. Hard to Let Go wraps up the larger mystery threaded through the series and ties off all the loose ends.

What is it about?
If you look at the book in terms of its placement in a series, then you can guess that Hard to Let Go is the climax of the series as a whole. The book begins where the previous book in the series, Hard to Be Good, leaves off. There’s been an attack on Hard Ink and in terms of the series’ story structure, the team’s investigation into the events surrounding their discharge from the military and the coverup of what actually happened has reached its moment of crisis. The attack brought death and loss straight to the team’s door, and the beginning of Hard to Let Go is basically the aftermath. The team is reeling but still intent upon pursuing their investigation to the end, particularly in light of all of the sacrifices they’ve made up to this point. In this book, Kaye gives us the revelation of the mastermind as well as answers the questions of what the initials GW and WCE mean, sets up the final confrontation and showdown between the team and the villain, and delivers closure and realization for the team. Oh, and of course there’s the romance plot between Beckett and Kat.

Tell me more about the main characters.
Beckett Murda is the fifth and final member of the team to find love. For most of the series, Beckett has been the one on the fringes of the group. He feels guilty and responsible for the injury his best friend, Derek “Marz” DiMarzio (whose story is told in Hard to Come By) suffered during the firefight that ended their military careers. He is also struggling with his past, which has led him to be emotionally numb and caused him to believe that he doesn’t deserve love and that no one wants him in their lives, as either friend or family. Katherine “Kat” Rixey is Nick Rixey’s sister (whose story is told in the first book, Hard As It Gets). She’s come to Baltimore to visit her brother and also put distance between her and a threatening ex-boyfriend. Kat is an attorney at the Department of Justice, and she reveals that her office has been investigating some of the same people that the team has identified as being part of the plot to discredit them. She agrees to provide the team with documents that could be helpful to them, risking her career in the process. Although Beckett and Kat’s relationship begins with the familiar “I can’t stand you” trope, they work well together as the leads of the story. Both of them are likable characters, and if you’ve been invested in Beckett’s character throughout the series and waiting for his story, you won’t be disappointed. Another highlight of Kat’s introduction into the story is that there is additional emphasis on the aspect of family. Nick, Jeremy, and Kat are their only family unit, as are Becca and Charlie, but Kat’s inclusion into the story reinforces a running thread throughout the series, which is the idea that family isn’t just about blood relations. Sometimes family ties are forged in blood. With Kat’s appearance, there’s also the sense that the Rixey family has once again been made whole, and that the ties between brothers and sister are stronger than ever. Indeed, the same can be said of Becca and Charlie in light of the revelations of their father’s actions before his death.

What is the narrative style?
Like many romance novels, the narrative is told in third person point-of-view, alternating between Beckett and Kat’s POV. The narrative style works and I liked being able to see the story, at last, from Beckett’s point of view.

Should I invest my time?
If you’ve come this far into the series, then yes, you should definitely read this book. Again, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in how the overarching story ends or in the romance plot between Beckett and Kat. I actually gave this book five stars when rating it, which isn’t something I do often. In my opinion, the book earned that rating from me because it not only rewarded my investment in the series as a whole, but it also drew me into Beckett and Kat as characters and convinced me to become invested in their story. I see this series as falling into the subgenre of romantic suspense, and since that is what I write myself, I appreciated the way this story (and the series as a whole) was structured and how the romance plot and suspense plot were intertwined. Though I am sad to see this series come to a conclusion (yes, there’s one more novella after this one that I’m guessing is actually an epilogue to the series as whole), I was more than satisfied by the conclusion. I’m also comforted by the fact that there is Kaye’s new series, Raven Riders, to look forward to. The Hard Ink series is definitely one that I recommend to anyone who likes their romance and suspense to walk hand in hand.

review: accidentally on purpose

Accidentally on Purpose by Jill Shalvis (2017)

Do you have “dependable” and “reliable” authors on your bookshelf?  You know, those authors who you can depend on for a good read, no matter what book by them you might pick up? I do, and Jill Shalvis is one of those authors for me.  She is reliable in that whichever book of hers I happen to choose to read, I know I’m going to get a good book with characters I like and a charming supporting cast of characters that deepen the story. All I wanted from my day was to sit on the couch and read a book, and Accidentally on Purpose, the third full-length novel in Shalvis’ Heartbreaker Bay series did not disappoint.

What is it about? It’s the story of a woman who is strong and independent, needs no one, and is accustomed to being in control of every aspect of her world and a man who is used to be in control of every aspect of his world and who is the protector–he protects his friends, the people who work for him and his clients.  Because of the way she grew up and a shared experience in the past that was mutually defining for both of them,, she has trouble letting people in and letting down her guard, and he is dedicated to making sure she is always safe and protected. They are two strong personalities who clash repeatedly until they learn to work as team and transform from you and me to ‘we’.

Who is in it?  Elle is the female protagonist and she is like many of Shalvis’ strong female characters who can and do take care of themselves and find it difficult to build trust and emotional intimacy.  Archer is the male protagonist and he is a successful business owner who has until now been emotionally unavailable.  Elle and Archer met when she was sixteen and he was a rookie cop.  After that, Archer kept tabs on how she was doing, and then eleven years later she takes a job managing the building in which he has his office.  She’s been a presence in his life for a year when the story begins, and though all of their friends can clearly see the attraction between them, Elle and Archer have been ignoring it, but that changes when Archer asks Elle to assist him with one of his operations.  She agrees, something she has done several times in the past, but this time, neither of them can easily walk away from the other.  When trouble arrives in the form of Elle’s sister, Morgan (could she possibly star in her own book in this series at some point in the future?), Archer’s commitment to convincing Elle to take a chance on him solidifies.

The supporting cast of characters will be familiar to you if you have read any of the other books in this series, but it is not necessary to read these books in order.  For those who have, Finn, Willa, and Spence make appearances in this book, with Spence’s presence being the strongest of all (I would love to know if his story will be the focus of the next book in the series).  In fact, I learned a lot about Spence in this book.  He is not as fully drawn, of course, as Elle and Spence, but I felt like there was a good introduction to who he is and sets readers up nicely to anticipate his story.

The story is told in third-person point of view and switches back and forth between Elle and Archer, though I would say a greater proportion of the story is told from Elle’s point of view.  I mentioned above that Archer character fits into the protector archetype.  That being said, I don’t think he’s a flat character, and neither is Elle.  Though they will both feel familiar to readers of romance, they aren’t colorless or cardboard copies of a character type.  There really are several moments during the story where I felt the emotion in a particular scene that Shalvis intended to evoke in readers.  Another thing that made this book satisfying to me?  Most readers of the genre are more than familiar with the typical plot pattern for a romance–girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy back (or vice-versa, depending on who the main character is).  It’s the second part of that plot pattern-girl loses boy–that is quite often the most tiresome and disappointing aspect of most romances I read.  I understand why this moment always happen–it’s the crisis moment, the all-is-lost moment, that every book needs.  And yet for me it’s often the least enjoyable part because so frequently it’s just unbelievable.  But the good news is that the way that Accidentally on Purpose handles this moment wasn’t one that wanted me to throw the book (read: my e-reader) across the room and didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.

Final analysis? If you enjoy contemporary romance with engaging characters, give Accidentally on Purpose a try.  I have also read the first book in this series, Sweet Little Lies, and recommend it as well.  Jill Shalvis is a dependable author who will deliver a satisfying read, and if you are interested in reading more by her, I would also recommend her Lucky Harbor series.

review: come a little bit closer

Come a Little Bit Closer by Bella Andre (2013)

Come a Little Bit Closer is the seventh book in Bella Andre’s featuring the Sullivans (specifically, the San Francisco Sullivans) and tells the story of Smith Sullivan, mega-movie star and the woman he falls in love with Valentina Landon.  The Sullivan books don’t have to be read in order, but they are certainly more enjoyable when you do.  Case in point: one of the supporting characters in this book and Valentina’s sister, Tatiana Sullivan, will return in the tenth book of the series, Just to Be With You.  That book makes several mentions to the movie that Smith is producing, directing and starring in during this book, Gravity.  Another kind of easter egg is that at the close of this book, there’s a reference to the Maverick Group, which is a nod to another of Andre’s series that she co-authors with Jennifer Skully.  To recap then, you can completely read these books in any order and you can skip books if you don’t they will appeal to you.  On a personal note, I’ve skipped books three and eight, but read all of the others in the San Francisco and Seattle Sullivans series.

There are three watchwords around which much of the thematic content of the book revolves–close, closer, and gravity.  Not going to spoil that for you, but if you do pick the book up, make sure to pay attention to Andre’s use of those words in particular.  It gives a lot of insight into Smith and Valentina’s needs and their relationships with each other and their families.  As alluded to above, the story finds Smith starting the first day of production on a film where he wrote the screenplay himself and is producing, directing and acting in the film.  It is a major turning point in his career, and he is intent upon not losing his focus at such a crucial moment.  And yet, he can’t help but be distracted by his co-star’s sister, Valentina Landon.  As Tatiana’s business manager, she will be on the set everyday, and finding a way to ignore his attraction is part of his internal struggle.  The love story between Smith and Valentina takes place against the backdrop of a film in production, and it’s no coincidence that the film is also a love story, where the male protagonist bares many similarities to Smith, his creator.  One aspect of the novel that makes this book stand out among the other books in this series is that Andre plays with the narrative structure, showing the scenes that are being filmed by narrating the events so that readers can follow the parallel story.  She does this by showing it through Valentina’s point-of-view, though it’s not necessarily true to how we would absorb it if we were watching the actors play out the scene.  All we would see is the dialogue, the characters’ body language, the background; we wouldn’t have privy to the characters’ inner thoughts or the back story, but because Valentina has read the script, in a way she is our interpreter, our narrator, filling in the gaps between the dialogue..

Throughout the series, Smith Sullivan makes brief appearances, and there are times when his absence makes him a presence in the other books.  Consequently, it really is a delight to finally read his story, and as is sometimes the case in a series where one character’s story is long-awaited, I’m glad to report that I wasn’t at all disappointed with him or his story.  Smith’s character is a fully developed and realized character at the end of the story, and though perhaps he doesn’t go through as much of a change as other protagonists, there are bits and pieces that demonstrate that falling in love with Valentina has pushed him into unfamiliar territory and into behavior that is wholly uncharacteristic of him.  In some ways, he is your cliche character who is in some way famous (here an actor, but Andre has already given us this trope with in Marcus and Nicola’s story, Ryan and Vicki’s story and will use it again in Mia and Ford’s story). He doesn’t ever think he will be loved for who he really is beneath the fame and celebrity.  He has millions of adoring fans but none of them really knows who he is.  While that is the case, Smith is unique enough to hold your attention.

Valentina is also a likeable, believable character and she is strong enough to stand up to Smith and say exactly what is on her mind but she also conventional in that beneath the strength there is vulnerability and a fragile need for love.  She is also conventional in her insistence that she will not date an actor, providing Andre with a built-in way of increasing the unresolved sexual tension.  Another concern in a series like this where Smith’s story was long-awaited is that the mate chosen by the beloved character isn’t close to who you would imagine him finding a happily ever after with.  Again, this is something that doesn’t happen and Valentina is definitely not a disappointment.  She easily becomes a character readers can fall in love with and who easily fits effortlessly into the Sullivan clan.

I’ve had this book on my to-read shelf for a long time, and honestly, I hadn’t started reading it for the very reasons listed above–I was worried I would be disappointed.  Instead, this was the perfect book for a Saturday when all I wanted was to spend the day on the couch getting lost in a good book.  Come a Little Bit Closer is actually my second-favorite book in the series, and the thing that makes that statement interesting to me is that Just to Be With You (the book featuring Tatiana Landon and Ian Sullivan) is by far my favorite book in the series.  Somehow, Bella Andre got it right with these two Sullivans and the sisters they fall for.  It didn’t all five stars when I rated it after reading it (the end seems to drag a bit) but it is definitely one of my recommended reads and gets a star next to it on my list of books read for the year, reminding me it was a favorite.  Give it a try.  If you like contemporary romance, I think you’ll enjoy it.


review: hard to come by

Hard to Come By by Laura Kaye (2014)

Hard to Come By is the fourth installment in Laura Kaye’s Hard Ink series.  These books should be read in order but I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum.

This book picks up what feels like only hours after the conclusion of Hard to Hold on To, the third book in the series.  This one tells Derek “Marz” DiMarzio’s story, and though he is as intense as the other men in his team, he is also lighter and a bit more fun (he sings aloud and apparently does so terribly).  Marz is the computer genius of the team of former Special Forces men.  In this book, he has two primary goals to achieve: one, unlock the microchip drive that they discovered in the previous book and two, get close to Emilie Garza with the hope that she will in turn provide the team with the intel they need to find and capture Manny Garza, a man they suspect is working with Seneka Worldwide Security, a defense contractor that is well-known for its allegations of corruption, and is also somehow connected to the Church gang–the team’s primary adversary thus far as they try to unravel the secrets and lies that led to their team being ambushed in Afghanistan, seven of their brothers-in-arms being killed, and their less than honorable discharge from the service and their honor and reputations ruined.  One of the main characteristics of Marz that also drives a lot of who he is as a character when we first meet him and his development as the story progresses is that during the ambush he suffered a leg injury that led to his leg being amputated just beneath his knee.  Marz, Nick (their team’s leader) and Beckett (Marz’s best friend and fellow team member) all came back with varying levels of scars that are visible on the outside, and how he deals with the loss of part of his leg is inspiring and humanizes him as a character.  He is definitely a good guy, but that comes into conflict with the fact that for the first third of the book, the relationship he’s building with the Emilie is built on lies.

Emilie, on the other hand, wears her battle scars on the inside.  She is recently divorced from a man who shook her ability to trust, and she’s been dealing with her brother’s increasing erratic behavior.  Emilie is a trained clinical psychologist and believes that Manny is struggling with a form of PTSD, and she has been contemplating taking steps to have him involuntarily committed for a psychiatric evaluation because he refuses to seek help or even talk about what’s going on with him.  She isn’t the strongest female character you’ll find in a romance, but she’s also not portrayed as being weak and docile.  I liked her character, and her story arc is also one of healing in terms of learning how to trust again.  I would also say that part of her character development is coming to terms with the consequences of making an impossible choice that, even if it’s the right choice, it’s still not easy to live with.  If you have read the first books in this series, I think you’ll find that Emilie is a lot more like Becca (as opposed to Crystal/Sara or Jenna) and what you have in the romance plot between her and Marz is that two nice people end up falling in love with each other.

Yes, the books are romances, but there is a heavy element of suspense/action to the series as well.  In a way, the main thread that has carried through the series as a whole thus far is that at it’s heart, it’s a quest story.  This team of disgraced soldiers are looking for truth and redemption, and they are only going to be able to get it if they can find out exactly what happened in Afghanistan, why the military covered it up and hung the whole thing around their necks, and who is pulling the strings.  Hard to Come By takes another step in the quest by unlocking the microchip, which leads to a revelation that changes everything.  It also brings the threat of the Church gang to a conclusion, much in the same way a hardboiled detective novel resolves the mystery that you see on the surface but in doing so only leaves you with more question and a far more complex mystery to unravel.  Also, the mystery of the bracelet that the team’s former commander, Merritt, sent to his daughter, Becca is solved.  This is all to say that some questions and puzzles that have lingered since the first novel get paid off in the fourth book, but at the same time, the quest is not over.  I hope that what will follow in the last two books is a showdown that is both surprising but also brings closure and success to the team of men Kaye has convinced us to become invested in and care about.  Indeed, when the first book begins, the team–Nick, Shane, Easy, Marz, and Beckett–don’t look anything like a close-knit group and the bonds that had held them together as brothers-in-arms were in shambles.  As the series has progressed, those bonds are being rebuilt–and this book features the rebuilding of the friendship between Beckett and Marz, which has been strained since their return from Afghanistan–and on top of that, their family is growing.  Becca, Sara, Jenna and now Emilie are part of the family, Jeremy (Nick’s brother) has had his relationship with Nick strengthened, and Charlie, Becca’s brother, has also been brought into the family bosom.  There is a definite sense that until they met each other and came together to fight for a common goal, they were all adrift and isolated.  There’s even a moment in the book that alludes to this very idea.  Now, though, they have each other, and all that’s left is to finish what they’ve begun.

One more thing. Each of these books takes place over the span of a week at most, and that works in this series because it gives a sense of immediacy and urgency, but it also gives each book a sense of purpose.  Each book lays out a challenge, and like I said, each challenge brings them closer to their goal.  The fact that these stories don’t take place over a longer period of time for me makes them more believable, because no way could this kind of intensity be sustained over a period of several months.

I really do like these books and recommend them to readers who enjoy romantic suspense.  There’s a nice balance between the romance plot and the suspense plot, and the books themselves are well-written.   If you want to give the series a try, start with the first book, Hard As It Gets.


Special Note: The Raven Riders series by Laura Kaye is an offshoot of the Hard Ink series.  I happened to have read Ride Hard before reading Hard to Come By, and it is in the latter that Kaye introduces the characters of Haven and Cora.  They are only in the book for a minute and it’s not necessary to read this series first; however, I will say that if you like the Hard Ink series and are interested in the Raven Riders series, finish this series first and then start with Ride Hard.  I wish I had.

review: demand

Note: Demand is the second book in the Careless Whispers trilogy.  If you have not read the first book in the series, please stop reading this post.  Spoilers are ahead and I don’t want to spoil the surprises for you.

Demand by Lisa Renee Jones (2016)

In the second book of her Careless Whispers trilogy, Lisa Renee Jones returns us to Italy and the world of Ella and Kayden at the exact point where she left off at the end of the first book, Denial.  In fact, Jones does something at the start of the book that I have never encountered before.  She devotes the first pages to a kind of “previously on Careless Whispers” intro that you would expect from your favorite television series, and you know what, it totally works.  She follows it with a list of characters, one that reminds me of what I would expect to find in a detective mystery novel, but that works, too.  Both reminded me of where I was in the story, of the characters I had met and would meet, and made me ready to take on the second book even though it’s been months since I read Denial.  I loved this device, and though there may be people who frown at it, as someone who reads a lot of serial fiction and sometimes installments are several months (or a year or two) apart, this was an excellent way to reacquaint me with the story and the characters.  Well played.

Like Denial, Demand is told completely from Ella’s first-person point of view.  One of the reasons this continues to be the most effective narrative style is that more and more, Ella is getting her memory back.  She remembers more about David, the man who was her fiance, about the mystery man that rescued her after she lost her passport and all of her money but also abused her sexually, and about her life before she travelled to Europe.  Having her as our narrator makes everything she is remembering, feeling and experiencing much more immediate, especially since a lot of what is revealed is happening in her own mind (as opposed through spoken dialogue) and also because with the exception of Kayden, there really is no one that she trusts enough to reveal all that she is remembering. The other reason this works is because, at least for me, I like Ella as a character and I’m invested in her story.  She is frequently just as clueless about what is happening as we are as readers, and thus we’re in the same boat, trying to navigate the confusing labyrinth together.

Though the story is told through Ella’s first person narrative, Kayden does not feel distant from us or an impenetrable mystery.  As this book unfolds, we find him being much more forthright and open with Ella than he was in the first book.  Kayden is the prototypical male protagonist you would expect to find in a book firmly placed in the erotic romantic suspense genre, but he’s not a carbon copy.  He, too, is likeable even though there is a definite edge to him and it’s clear that he does not always operate on the lawful side of the line dividing the good guys from the bad guys.  He isn’t so dark that it is hard to understand why the female protagonist would want to be with him, and if you like alpha male characters he delivers and compels you to want to keep reading and see how the romance between him and Ella will play out.

The plot of the story becomes more intricate in this book even as certain questions are answered.  Jones reveals the identity of the man that Ella can remember mistreating her but whose face she has been unable to recall.  There is forward progress on the plotline involving Gallo and his relentless pursuit to destroy Kayden, and at the end of the story we are left wondering how that will play out.  Niccolo makes an entrance into the story, and there is more revelation about why the butterfly necklace is significant and what Kayden’s relationship to its discovery is.  And yet there are new characters that we are not yet sure we can trust, and there’s also the recurring implication that the tower of the castle where Ella and Kayden live is under some kind of surveillance.  This feels like it is leading up to a betrayal from someone close to them that neither Ella nor Kayden will see coming.

While the Careless Whispers trilogy is a spin-off of Jones’ Inside Out series, you don’t have to have read the latter to enjoy this trilogy.  I would recommend this series to anyone who has enjoys the work of Julie Kenner (the Stark novels), Sylvia Day (the Crossfire novels), Meredith Wild (the Hacker novels), Lorelei James (the Mastered series) and Jones’ Amy Bensen series.  Lisa Renee Jones is solidly on my list of authors whose books I will automatically add to my to-read list.  I consumed this book in one day and had a hard time putting it down.  In my opinion, it’s not easy to find good books in the romantic suspense genre, but this trilogy definitely stands out and shines.  I’m looking forward to the final book in the trilogy, Surrender.

review: one with you

Note: One With You is the fifth and final book in Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series.  If you have not read the first four books in this series, there will be spoilers below.

One With You by Sylvia Day (2016)

One of the reading goals I set for myself for 2016 was to finish some series I had been in the middle of for a long while and catch up on others that have not yet ended.  The Crossfire series by Sylvia Day was on that list of series to be completed, and so here we are. The story of Gideon Cross and Eva Tramell has now reached its end.  I’m not going to lie–I was not happy with the way book four in this series, Captivated By You, ended, and also I haven’t been Eva Tramell’s greatest fan.  Looking at the series as a whole, my first conclusions is that I have liked the series, but maybe I haven’t loved it–at least, not since the end of book three. One of the first things you’ll read about this series is that it’s in the same category of Fifty Shades of Grey and well, I guess there’s no getting around that comparison though it’s one thousand times better than that series.  But, if I’m being honest, it’s also in the same category as the Hacker series by Meredith Wild and the Stark Trilogy by J. Kenner.  Of these four series, the Stark books by J. Kenner are the best, and though I don’t think it really matters, I still ask myself which is second best, the Crossfire series or the Hacker series.  I don’t yet know the answer to the question or if I ever will, but maybe I’ll work it out as I write about One With You.

Because this the last book in a series, there’s a lot of ground to cover, and perhaps that explains the length of the novel itself (and perhaps the length of the novel is one of the strikes against it rather than an aspect in its favor).  There are some loose ends to tie up in this series, and perhaps the best place to start with that without giving away too many spoilers is the resolution of the thread of the storyline that has explored Gideon’s relationship to his own family.  Throughout, he’s had strained relationships with his mother and his stepbrother, Christopher; his relationship with his stepsister, Ireland, has evolved; his relationship with his stepfather, Chris, got a lot more complicated at the end of book four but resolves itself in One With You.  Day doesn’t do the thing that you might expect–she doesn’t give an epilogue that tells you what the characters’ lives look like years into the future.  Instead, she leaves you with a chapter at the end of the book that gives you a sense that Gideon’s relationships with his family aren’t fully healed, but for the most part there’s hope for the future.  Along those same lines, now that Gideon and Eva are settling into married life and trying to figure out what it means to be a team facing whatever challenges come their way, it also means that Gideon has to handle becoming part of Eva’s family.  This aspect of the story plays into bringing the development of Gideon’s character to its finish.

Speaking of character development.  Gideon’s arc at the end of One With You feels like it ends with him being assimilated back into a familial structure that he appears to have existed outside of since his father committed suicide when he was a child.  He is still a flawed character prone to making mistakes, but at least now those mistakes don’t threaten to take away everything he holds dear.  On the opposite side is Eva’s character arc.  I said above that I wasn’t thrilled with how book four ended.  Probably because I felt like she resorted to a temper tantrum and an ultimatum to get her way and it just felt manipulative and selfish.  For me, one of the things she has had to learn throughout her journey is forgiveness as well as the fact that it’s unreasonable to expect that someone will always react and behave exactly as you want them to.  I don’t want to be critical, but I think that’s always been one of the aspects of her character that have turned me off from the very start.  No one can be exactly as we want them to be, even if they are trying their hardest to fit our ideal.  I think this is one of the realizations that was necessary for her character to show growth, and she does finally achieve it, though it happens after a horrible event takes place that I was not expecting at all.  One of the most important things about serial fiction that distinguishes the good from the bad is how invested I am in the characters and watching them develop over the course of several books.  In that aspect, the Crossfire series doesn’t disappoint.  Though I’m probably more partial to Gideon than Eva, I have to admit that once I started I couldn’t put a single one of the books in this series down.

Something else about the book that puzzles me and makes me want to write about it is one of the mysteries that surfaces in this book that has never been alluded to in any of the other books.  I don’t think it’s revealing too much to say that it is a mystery that involves Eva’s mother, Monica.  What I don’t really get is why this was even in the book to begin with.  Theoretically, it would be something that drives the action, but it’s a plotline that really just exists on the edges of the story and for me doesn’t really add much overall.  Also, One With You follows the same narrative structure as Captivated By You–the narration switches with each chapter from Eva’s first person point of view to Gideon’s (Eva has the odd chapters and Gideon has the evens).  This is worth noting because for the first three books in the series, the books are told entirely from Eva’s first person point of view.  The change was a welcome one in book four and I’m glad Day carried the narrative style into the final book.  It made the final conclusion much more satisfying than if I’d only gotten it from Eva’s perspective.

Ultimately, it wasn’t an epic ending.  Yes, some surprising revelations are made and Gideon and Eva are finally on the same page at the close of the novel.  Their love story has a happy and hopeful ending.  There is also a tragic event that turns up the emotion.  It was a satisfying conclusion and my investment in the characters was rewarded.  Perhaps it tried to do too much, but I would rather that be the problem than not doing enough.  In the final analysis, this series has been a good read and I would recommend it to fans of the genre.  I started this series almost two years ago, and though I have enjoyed checking in with the characters over that span of time, I’m also okay with bidding them farewell.

review: kiss of a demon king

Kiss of a Demon King (2009) by Kresley Cole

Kiss of a Demon King is the sixth book in Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series.  For the most part, these books can stand alone, so no need to worry about spoilers. This book features Rydstrom Woede (the fallen demon king of Rothkalina) and Sabine, Queen of Illusions.  In some ways, it’s a continuation and companion to the previous book in the series, Dark Desires After Dusk, which features Rydstrom’s brother Cadeon.  Though I say that these can stand alone, I recommend reading Cadeon’s story before Rydstrom’s for more enjoyment and because both stories are happening at the same time.  Some of the events in Cadeon’s story are spoiled in Kiss of a Demon King so do beware of that.

It’s no surprise that in a series of this length (right now, there are fifteen books in this series, so I’m not even halfway through what’s currently available) you’re going to find some books that are weaker and less appealing than others. Part of this is because of the need to write characters who aren’t carbon copies of each other, right? If every male and female protagonist were exactly the same as the ones that came before, it wouldn’t keep me invested as a reader or keep me coming back for the next installment.  Well, this is how I feel about Kiss of a Demon King.  It wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t wonderful.  The characters? Meh. One of the things I like about Cole’s writing style is that she does her best to present strong female characters.  She does this successfully with Sabine, who is a sorceress that has been hunted nearly all her life and has had only herself to depend upon.  As a sorceress, she is physically vulnerable and has no “battle magic”, and she has died dozens of times only to be brought back to life by her sister Lanthe, who has the power of persuasion and uses that power to bring Sabine back from death.  It is because of her vulnerability that she and her sister agree to become part of Omort the Deathless’ court in exchange for his protection.  Omort, as it happens, is the self-proclaimed new king of Rothkalina, assuming to throne after defeating Rydstrom in battle nearly a thousand years ago.  Yes, you got it–this puts Sabine and Rydstrom in opposition as enemies from the very beginning.  Cole takes these two characters and actually does a role/gender reversal with them.  After Sabine captures Rydstrom, it is he who refuses to surrender sexually and shuns marriage (I don’t want to spoil the reasons for this but they do make sense within the context of the book) while it is she who is the sexual aggressor and the one who insists upon marriage.  For much of the book it is a battle of the sexes and a clash of wills, with each one seeking to torment the other until one of them gives in.  The thing about Sabine, though, is that I don’t really buy into her feelings for Rydstrom, and that makes the romance part of this story not work at all for me.

What does work is the adventure part of the story.  Since we met the Woede brothers early in this series, we knew that eventually it was going to come down to whether or not Rydstrom would return to his throne and his place as king.  In this book, we see more of Rydstrom’s side of his relationship with Cadeon which is satisfying after reading Dark Desires After Dusk, and we also get to see how the final showdown between Rydstrom and Omort plays out.  Since this is happening during the Accession, it becomes clear that the Woede brothers are yet another group with the potential to reap gains during this period of tumult and life-or-death stakes.  They are clearly aligned as allies with the Valkyrie, the Lykae, the Wroth brothers, and the Witches.  They are on the “good” side of the Lore.

One other interesting part of this book–we get our first introduction to Lothaire, who was spoken of but not heard from in book seven, Untouchable.  Here we learn that he was an ally of Omort, and his character’s exit from the story promises his eventual return later, a promise that the next book also continues.  Right now he’s a mysterious character who’s allegiance isn’t yet fully known, but what we know if him so far is compelling enough to make me as a reader want to know more, so I’m looking forward to his story which is told in book eleven, aptly titled Lothaire.

Yes, I intend to keep reading this series.  I almost didn’t review Kiss of a Demon King because I just didn’t feel like I had a lot to say about it.  The role reversal keeps the tension going between the protagonists, but the part that really works is the adventure and ultimate resolution of the story of the Woede brothers.  Sabine is a strong female character, but the romance between she and Rydstrom wasn’t completely believable.  Typically I would say that I’m on to the next book in the series, but I have skipped book three, and since it tells the story of one of the MacRieve clan, and book eight also is about one of the MacRieves, I’m going to go back and read that one before moving forward.

Have you read Kiss of a Demon King? What were your thoughts?

review: hard love

Note:  This is the final book in Meredith Wild’s Hacker series.  If you haven’t read the other books in this series, there will be spoilers ahead.

Hard Love by Meredith Wild (2015)

We have now come to the end.  Hard Love, the fifth and final book in Meredith Wild’s Hacker series, spends part of its time wrapping the stories of the supporting characters while also resolving some of the larger plotlines threaded throughout the series.  It does this even as it throws Erica and Blake into one final crisis that threatens their happily ever after.

The supporting cast of characters all get their lives figured out in this book.  We find out what happens to Alli and Heath, James and Simone, Fiona, Daniel, and Marie.  Some minor characters come back for a bit–Michael, Blake’s mentor, his son, Max, and Risa, the woman who worked with Max to build a rival site to Erica’s Clozpin. Without revealing how everyone ends up, let’s just say there’s a bit of betrayal, a bit of forgiveness, a bit of redemption. Although this series isn’t really about the supporting characters, they add to the depth of the series and do a good job of being mirrors and/or antagonists to the main protagonists. The thing I appreciate is that these resolutions are, for the most part, sprinkled through the story rather than in one long epilogue at the end.

The main show is what post-wedding life looks like for Erica and Blake.  After learning in Hard Limit that she may not be able to have children, this becomes a focal point in their story as they try to make the impossible possible.  There’s also the main driver of the plot–upon returning from their honeymoon, they learn that Daniel (Erica’s biological father) has won the governor’s seat for the state of Massachusetts, however, the FBI and Boston Police are investigating what they think to be election fraud/rigging (a la Scandal, but let’s not get distracted). Blake becomes the main suspect, and proving his innocence becomes Erica’s priority.

The narrative departs from its first-person point of view that has been solely Erica’s for the first four books in the series.  Normally this bothers me, but in this book I love it and it works.  We get Erica’s and Blake’s first-person narratives, and the book is about half of one and half of the other.  Although I wouldn’t say there’s a distinctive difference in their two voices, I liked being able to see events from his perspective, and of course because of what happens in the story, his point of view is necessary or the book wouldn’t work at all.  One interesting thing about this is that there is a part of the story where Blake is not the character we have come to know.  He’s almost hopeless and drowning (and paralyzed by) his powerlessness.  At the same time, though, it’s Erica that uses what power she has to prove Blake’s innocence.  The power dynamics between them switch, and there’s no doubt in your mind that this power exchange has a lasting impact on each of them individually as well as on their relationship.  Erica realizes how strong she can be and the extent of the agency she possesses.  Blake is forced to cope with a sense of powerlessness and a period of time when he has no agency, and it is the impetus for the final change in his character arc–that is, he reaches the point of revelation and a moment when he finally breaks from the demons and mistakes of his past and fully embraces the “new” man he has become.  As I’m writing this, I’m actually resolving in my head the part of the book that wasn’t my favorite part and that has made me think that it’s not my favorite book in the series.  It’s still not my favorite book, but it’s completely necessary from the standpoint of completing Erica’s and Blake’s character arcs.

There’s a lot to like in this book and it is a satisfying end to the series.  I know there are readers who don’t like what they see as a recent trend (but which totally isn’t, serial fiction has been around for centuries) toward serialized fiction that follows the two main protagonists.  If that’s you, well, this series isn’t for you.  I have said this before and I will say it again–in my humble opinion, serial fiction is the book equivalent of a television series.  Just as much as I enjoy following all of the drama between Olivia and Fitz and Mellie on Scandal, so do I enjoy spending more than three-hundred pages with the characters of a particular book.  This is all to say that though I may not have loved the final book, I have loved this series and I’m glad that I started and finished it.  I haven’t been disappointed in it at all, and it’s a series I definitely recommend if you’re a fan of the romance/erotica genre.  I’m also a little sad to be done with this series.  My goal for 2016 is to complete some series that I am in the middle and have been in the middle of for quite some time.  Well, I can check the Hacker series off my list and say on to the next but I’m going to miss Erica and Blake.

review: untouchable

Untouchable* by Kresley Cole (2009)

*This full-length novel is the featured story within Deep Kiss of Winter, a collection of two books by Kresley Cole and Gena Showalter.

Untouchable is book seven in Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series.  In many ways, it is the final chapter in the part of the series that focuses upon the Wroth brothers, who were all turned into vampires during the eighteenth century.  This book follows the story of Murdoch Wroth and his Bride, Daniela.  The thing to know about this book going in is that it is better enjoyed if you have read the three previous books about the Wroth brothers–The Warlord Wants Forever, No Rest for the Wicked, and Dark Needs at Night’s Edge.  The reason for this is that although most of the books in this series can stand-alone, the events that take place in Untouchable are happening concurrently with the other books focused upon the Wroths, and so if you haven’t read the others, there are things that will get spoiled for you.  [Note: Although A Hunger Like No Other does not have one of the Wroth brothers as a main character, some of the events in that story are spoiled as well, so beware].

To be honest, the way that the events of Untouchable unfold is one of the most fascinating things about this book.  Cole is building a complex world within this series, and though she is carefully to welcome new readers and allow them to step into the series at any point, it also rewards readers who have been reading the series in order.  What I really appreciate about this book is the sense that all of the books in the series are truly happening at the same time, and this makes the Accession–a time when the separate factions of Lore, such as the Valkyrie, the vampires, the Lykae, and demons, battle each other and kill each other as a system of checks and balances to keep the population of the Lore in check–feel not like a protracted period of time, but rather a period of time during which all of these things are occurring and how each of these events will ultimately impact how the Accession plays out.  In other words, each book is–if I can borrow a term from American literary realism–almost a slice of life that is taking place within a larger world.  With each new book, the pieces that we’ve been given come together to give an increasingly holistic picture of the Lore as it moves through the period of the Accession, which occurs every five hundred years (or as Cole writes in the glossary of terms that appears before the start of each book “now”).  The more books in the series we read, the more we’re able to see the alliances that are forming and who will be the winners and losers of the Accession.  The fact that this aspect of the novel is complex but at the same time accessible is one of the accomplishments of the series as a whole.  It starts with the assumptions that readers are smart and intelligent rather than assuming the lowest denominator, and it trusts that as a reader I can understand the complex world and all its moving parts even while it gives me reminders from time to time of details that I may have forgotten or overlooked. Honestly, this is so refreshing, as I am of the opinion that a lot of books don’t think I have a brain in my head or that I know how to use it.

The two main protagonists of this story–Murdoch and Daniela–are presented with a lot of obstacles that make their path to true love fraught with difficulty.  Daniela is half-Valkyrie, half-fey; specifically, she’s an ice-fey, which means she can’t touch or be touched without experiencing or causing pain.  In this way she is literally untouchable.  Murdoch, on the other hand, is a vampire who has a history of being a rake; he is untouchable on an emotional level.  Naturally, the inability to touch each other causes tension in their relationship, and this becomes the thing that each character wants most but that is repeatedly denied to them.  It is actually the climactic moment of the story that paves the way for Murdoch and Daniela getting what they want. Although both characters fall into the typical archetypes for characters in a romance, they are both likable characters and I was invested in their story from the beginning.  Strangely, it is one of the strengths of the novel–that is consciously is occurring at the same time as other stories within the story-world–that is one of its flaws.  There’s a point in the novel where events get fast-forwarded and months pass by, and thus the characters’ plight loses some of its urgency and their story moves to the background in order to show how all four of the stories about the Wroth brothers are tied together.

Definitely don’t skip this book in the series.  It is a little annoying that Untouchable isn’t available on its own (I found a copy of Deep Kiss of Winter in the $1.00 clearance section at my local used bookstore, and being someone with a book habit, that is a total win when it comes to my book budget) but it is well worth the read.  At first, I thought it would be novella-length, maybe 100 pages at most, but that is certainly not the case.  It’s shorter than the other books, granted, but the characters and the story is well-developed, and the story-world is further expanded and developed.   Thus far, this series has not disappointed at all, and I recommend it as one to dive into if you haven’t already.