review: wild in love

Wild in Love by Bella Andre & Jennifer Skully (2018)

After a bit of a reading break, I went to my book shopping list and discovered that Wild in Love by Bella Andre and Jennifer Skully had finally been published. Quickly, I snapped it up and planned to spend my day reading the last book in the Maverick Billionaires series (which, by the way, apparently isn’t really going to be the last book, but more on that later). My reading excitement stemmed from my previous experiences with the first four books in this series. I knew I had liked them all, and I’d been waiting for this last book for more than a year. Well, I bought the book, I read the book, and here I am to review the book. Spoiler alert: I was a little disappointed.

If you are new to the Maverick Billionaires series by Andre & Skully, then know that you can read these books in any order. For the most part they standalone. You can safely read ahead, as there won’t be any spoilers of any other books in this series. If you want to read the series from the beginning, start with Breathless in Love.

This is the story of Tasha and Daniel. At the beginning of the story, Tasha is in a self-imposed exile, intent upon doing penance for the sins of her father. She has bought a wreck of a cabin by the lake, but to keep herself busy and turn the cabin into a livable home, she has dived into DIY home improvement. The solitude and loneliness weigh on this natural extrovert, though. Tasha believes this to be her due and that she doesn’t deserve to have friends, happiness, or anything good in her life. Daniel is vacationing at his lake house, the interior of which is still under construction. It’s a project he intends to complete himself, and since he has made his fortune by opening DIY home improvement stores and making DIY videos, completing the interior of the house is more a labor of love than work. Daniel is the last of the Mavericks who is still single, and from the beginning of his story, we are given a man who wants to find a perfect love, the kind of love he believes his parents have. No messes, no arguments, just an endless string of moments of bliss. But a phone call with his mother disturbs his image of the idyllic love and marriage. From the outset, the trajectory of each character’s growth arc is clear: Tasha has to return to the world of the living and accept that she’s not responsible for her father’s sins, and Daniel has to learn that there’s no such thing as a perfect love or perfect marriage and be willing to risk his heart anyway.

You know how you read a novel and you get close to the end and realize not a whole lot has happened so far? Wild in Love is like that. Don’t get me wrong—there is a story, but there’s no plot. One side of my brain wants to defend this and point to this book as an example of the character-driven story. Perhaps, but if that’s the case, I need much more compelling characters whose motivations and desires cause them to make choices that complicate their lives and the lives of others before they get to the end of their growth arcs. That’s not really the case with Wild in Love, and maybe part of that is due to the isolated, single setting environment in which nine-tenths of the story takes place. Because the story takes place on the lake where Tasha’s and Daniel’s homes are somewhat secluded, there isn’t the opportunity for external conflict to come in and be disruptive. So Andre & Skully rely heavily upon internal conflict and the tension between Tasha and Daniel. For this reader, it doesn’t really work. I did keep turning the page, but mostly because I didn’t want to abandon the book, especially a book whose release I’ve been waiting for. I’m one of those readers who wants to care about the characters, and it was hard to do that with Tasha and Daniel.

Then there’s the fact that this is the last book in the series. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might know how I feel about the last book of a series—it should be epic. The tension should be higher, the stakes should be greater, the emotion should be at its highest peak. To be clear, I really did enjoy all four books prior to this one, and I have been looking forward to reading the last Maverick’s story. But there wasn’t anything epic about this book, and there really wasn’t anything special about it either, and that’s disappointing. At the same time, it is a reminder of the challenges that come with writing a series. Some books in the series will be better than others. However, based upon what I read in the back matter of the book, there is going to be at least one more book in this series. From what I can tell, it will be what I’m calling “Maverick-adjacent” since it features a character we’ve met before, but who isn’t part of the original group of five.

Final analysis? It’s hard for me to say to skip this book if you’ve read all four of the previous books. Wild in Love gives closure to the original concept of each Maverick getting his own story. So if you’ve read all of the other books and decide you want to read this one, maybe go in with lower expectations than I did. If you’ve not read any of the books in this series, please don’t start with this one. Indeed, I’d say start with any other book but this one.

Have you read Wild in Love or any other books in the Maverick Billionaires series? What did you think?

review: fast burn

Fast Burn by Lori Foster (2018)

Do you remember when I reviewed Close Contact, which is the third book in Lori Foster’s Body Armor series?  Well, I didn’t like that book and found it to be a bit disappointing.  Since then, though, I have read the second book in this series, Hard Justice (which I loved and recommend for fans of romantic suspense) and I just finished reading the fourth and final book, Fast Burn.  I loved reading this one, too, and honestly, I now want to go back and read the first book in this series.  The third book may have been a dud, but Fast Burn was the perfect read for a lazy Sunday.  If you like reading about lady bosses, the trouble that finds, and the men who love them, pick up this book post haste.  The suspense kept me turning the pages and this one will appeal to readers who like their romances to fall more on the sweeter end of the spectrum.  I actually went into a physical bookstore and bought the paperback edition of this book (thanks to a gift card from someone who loves me, a 17% off coupon for St. Patrick’s Day, and my store membership).  It’s worth your book budget dollars and your reading time.

This is the story of Sahara and Brand.  Sahara is the owner of Body Armor Security, a company she took control of when her brother, Scott, disappeared mysteriously in a boating accident.  In the sixteen months that she’s been in charge, she has remade the image of the agency, handpicking MMA fighters seeking a new life after ending their fighting careers and training them to be bodyguards.  Hands down, Sahara is my favorite lady boss character I’ve read all year.  She’s smart, resourceful, good at reading people and situations. There are really two things she wants most when the story begins—to finally recruit Brand Berry into the agency as a bodyguard (something we see her trying to accomplish during books two and three of the series) and find her brother, who’s presumed dead by everyone except her.  Brand is an MMA fighter who is considering what the next step in his career will be.  He is interested in Sahara’s job offer, but he wants to date Sahara, not work for her.  He has to make a choice about whether or not to accept a fight in Japan, which will help him cover new financial obligations arising from his birth mother’s recent health crisis.  Though Sahara and Brand are firmly locked in a clash of wills through most of the story, I wouldn’t really call this an enemies-to-lovers story (putting that out there in case that particular trope isn’t really your thing).  It creates the tension and conflict that moves the love story along, but these two don’t have to get over hating each other before falling in love with each other.  Consequently, the romance plot of the story drew me in as a reader and immediately I felt invested in these two finding their happily ever after.

The story is told through the alternating third-person POVs of Sahara and Brand, but also be aware that there is a third POV from the antagonist’s POV (again, putting that out there just in case multi-POV isn’t your thing; it’s not really my thing but it’s not bothersome in this story).  If you’ve read any of the previous books in this series, you were already primed to expect that the suspense plot of Sahara’s story would revolve around finally finding out her brother’s fate.  After being kidnapped by a group of men who have a connection to her brother, she is closer to her goal than she’s ever been before.  This is where the main characters from the previous books enter the story, ready and determined to help Sahara stay alive and find the truth. Her character arc can only come full circle once she knows what happened to her brother and as a result, is able to move on with her life and out of the limbo she’s been in since his disappearance. In the process, Sahara also learns that while she is very much the boss, she’s also part of a family.  And if it seems that Fast Burn is all about Sahara Silver, well, it is.  She is the focal point of the story and everything in the novel revolves around her.  Don’t get me wrong—Brand isn’t a flat character who is there only to be a plot device and a means for propelling Sahara’s character development. I like Brand and he’s very much a part of the story, but this is one of those stories where if you don’t like Sahara, you won’t like the book.

But like I said earlier, I love Sahara’s character and I really enjoyed this book.  The Body Armor Series is a good example of a series where not all of the books are equally entertaining but as a whole it’s a series worth reading.  The good news is that if you want to skip any book in this series, or if you want to skip around and not read them in order, you can and you won’t have missed anything important or be confused.  There were, however, several references to the first book in the series that I didn’t get because I haven’t read that one, but otherwise I followed along just fine.  If you’re looking for a good romantic suspense series with likable characters, smart suspense plots and satisfying love stories, try this series.

Have you read Fast Burn or any other books by Lori Foster? What did you think?

review: the valley of fear

The Valley of Fear by A. Conan Doyle (1915)

Reading The Valley of Fear, the final Sherlock Holmes novel, has been on my to do list for quite some time. Imagine my surprise when I started reading and discovered that I had at least started it in the past. I’ve got notes in the margins and underlined sentences throughout the first part of the story, but then nothing for the second part, which leads me to think that I started the book but then didn’t finish it because this is one of the Holmes novels that does that thing I don’t really like—but more on that later. Like I said, The Valley of Fear is the final Sherlock Holmes novel. In case you’re wondering, the others are (in order): A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of the Four, and The Hound of the Baskervilles. Also, if you are a fan of the BBC’s Sherlock, the beginning of The Valley of Fear will be familiar to you, as the decoding of a cipher received by Sherlock is adapted in the series one episode titled, “The Blind Banker”.

Structurally, The Valley of Fear is a framed narrative. The story is divided into two main parts and the frame is closed with an epilogue. The use of the framed narrative is actually one of the things that turns me off about the story, and I’m guessing that it was at the start of the inner story that I put the book down. That being said, the framed narrative works for this story. At the beginning of the novel, Sherlock receives a coded message from one of the many confidential informants he’s built a relationship with over the years. The message warns of mortal danger to John Douglas, owner of an old manor house called Birlstone. However, before Holmes can act to save the endangered man, he receives a visit from Inspector MacDonald, who brings news of the brutal murder. Holmes, Watson, and MacDonald make plans to travel to Birlstone the following morning. Prior to their arrival, Watson inserts a chapter into the story that reveals the statements made by those within the house at the time of the murder. In this way, Watson provides back story and what basically amounts to an information dump, so that when the trio arrives at the manor house, Sherlock and Inspector MacDonald can begin their interrogations of the witnesses. Because Sherlock falls into the category of the “Great Detective,” it is often the case that he makes deductions, solves the mystery, and reveals the solution to readers in such a way that readers cannot themselves figure out whodunnit. The Great Detective is needed to explain the crime to us. The first part of The Valley of Fear follows this same structure, however, perhaps more than any of the other novels (and short stories), there is a heavy smattering of clues. While I wasn’t able to figure out the whole of the mystery, there were parts of it I had already deduced before the reveal of the solution. One other noteworthy aspect of the mystery itself is that it is a kind of “locked room” murder mystery, in that the manor house at Birlstone is surrounded by a moat and thus can only be accessed by a drawbridge. Douglas insists the drawbridge be raised every night, and the fact that the drawbridge was raised at the time of the murder is another puzzling fact that Holmes must take into account as he deduces the chain of events leading up to and immediately following the murder.

The opening frame ends with the presentation of the solution to the murder. The inner story then goes back twenty years into the past. Part of the function of this inner story is to further illustrate the character of John Douglas. Indeed, it is in many ways a character study. It is also there to explain the motive for murder. Part two of the story paints a vivid and engaging portrait of the man as well as the so-called Valley of Fear, explaining the source of the title. However, what I think is most notable about the second part of the story is that it meditates upon the issue of class warfare and considers the limits of what constitutes justifiable behavior in the struggle between the “little man” and the large corporation. At the same time, the inner story invites us to determine how we feel about a character who is presented as being more than a little morally grey. We have to ask ourselves how we feel about him. Do we like him? Do we abhor him and his actions? Do the ends justify the means? These questions earn greater importance as the inner story concludes, and we as readers must reconcile our impressions and judgement of Douglas in light of the conclusion to his story. The inner story is complex and pushes the reader outside of the bounds of detective fiction and into the margins of moral fiction. Read in this light, the inner story fascinates me on a level that I hadn’t quite expected but definitely appreciate.

Finally, the closing frame of the narrative calls back to the opening, where the spectre of Professor Moriarty hovers of the story as the catalytic force that sets the whole of the initial murder mystery into motion. Because The Valley of Fear was written after “The Final Problem” it is worth pondering how Conan Doyle shaped this story based upon his knowledge of how Holmes’ battle with Moriarty played out. That is, his hindsight allowed him to sprinkle in these references to Moriarty and show him to be the masterful consulting criminal who cannot fail. It could be that if Conan Doyle hadn’t written “The Final Problem” when he did, the stories and this novel that come after it would lack these elements of intrigue and insight into Moriarty as well as the struggle between Sherlock and Moriarty for supremacy.

Though the structure of the framed narrative frustrates me on one level—because I read the Sherlock stories because I want to see Sherlock and Watson in action—I have to admit The Valley of Fear commanded my attention and provoked me to think about the story on a philosophical level. Even though it took me two attempts to get to the end, I recommend reading this novel, especially if you’ve never read any of the stories or novels. You will definitely watch film and television adaptations of the Sherlock and Watson stories in a different way after you’ve read the stories that inspire them.

Have you read The Valley of Fear? What are your thoughts?

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: playback

Playback by Raymond Chandler (1958)

Playback is the final novel in Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe series that was completed before his death in 1959.  Although this book is the last in a series, each of the books mostly stands alone so there’s no reason to warn you about spoilers.  One thing that happens at the very end of the previous novel in the series, The Long Goodbye, does pop up a couple of times in the book so beware if you are or intend to read the books out of order (and by the way, the first book in the series is The Big Sleep, which I highly recommend).  Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, onto the book itself.

The setting for Playback isn’t Los Angeles, but instead a small town south of the city, seemingly somewhere between Los Angeles and San Diego.  One of the reasons the setting is important is because the law enforcement in Esmeralda bear little to no similarity to the corrupt Los Angeles Police Department that Marlowe has battled and contended with throughout the series.  The first time we encounter the police, Marlowe obviously comes to the meeting with his jaded and negative prior experiences to inform his words and responses.  And yet, Captain Alessandro is not like other police captains, and in fact there is a moment where a wealthy man attempts to use his wealth to demand that the captain do what he wants and accuses him of corruption; Captain Alessandro basically tells him that neither he nor his department is corrupt and sends the wealthy man away angry that his money did not buy him the influence he is used to receiving.  In his interactions with Marlowe, while he doesn’t necessarily trust him completely, he does allow Marlowe to pursue his current investigation without the usual threats we have become accustomed to the LAPD issuing him in previous novels.  As a result, one of the conventions of hardboiled detective fiction–rampant and unchecked corruption with law enforcement–is notably absent in Playback.

The case that sets the story in motion is an attorney, Clyde Umney, who hires Marlowe to follow a woman who is arriving in Los Angeles by train.  Umney provides no other details, particularly the reason that he wants Marlowe to follow her and report her location back to him, and so at the beginning of the book, the woman herself is the mystery. Eventually Marlowe learns that her name is Betty Mayfield, and not long after she arrives in Los Angeles, she is approached by a man named Larry Mitchell.  Through observation, Marlowe guesses that Mitchell is blackmailing Mayfield, but what exactly he has on her takes a while for Marlowe to learn, and although he approaches Betty many times and offers his help, she remains unwilling to tell him why she left the East or reveal her secrets.  But as is the case with the genre, the mystery of Betty Mayfield only leads to a deeper mystery when he learns of a murder.  Because it’s Marlowe, he feels compelled to investigate and get to the truth, even as Betty continues to refuse becoming his client while continuing to try to throw money at him.  His actions and his pursuit of a murderer highlight Marlowe’s “knight complex” that has driven him throughout the series.  He has no idea what Betty has done, but he believes she’s a woman who needs help and he intends to help, whether she’s willing to accept that help or not.

Like other books in this series (and The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye come immediately to mind) the murder victim is someone shown to be morally deficient and a person who preys upon others.  Thus, there is no outrage on the victim’s behalf, and although Marlowe is motivated by a sense of right and wrong to solve the murder, he isn’t equally motivated to reveal the identity of the murder to the police.  This is in contrast to a suicide that Marlowe discovers–he feels obligated, on a moral and legal level but also as a man trying to be decent human being in a world that so often seems to lack common decency, to inform the police of the man’s death, even though it may get him into trouble with the police.  On the one hand, Marlowe continues to search for the murderer because he feels that in doing so he will protect his unwilling client, Betty, but because he will not allow him to stop until the case is closed.  But, Marlowe moves further into that grey area between right and wrong when, after confronting the murderer, he returns to Los Angeles without telling Captain Alessandro his suspicions.  In doing nothing, it is left to us as readers to determine if he walks away because he believes that perhaps justice has already been done, with one less predator in the world. Is it out of a sense of powerless? Or is he tired of the fight that never seems to be won? I don’t know the answer to the question, and perhaps neither does Marlowe.

The novel ends on what feels like a much more hopeful note than The Long Goodbye. After Marlowe returns from Esmeralda, he looks around at his house and expresses the sentiment that no matter where goes or what he does, these are the same walls he will always return to.  In a way it’s comforting, but in another it has an edge of nihilism, suggesting that nothing he does matters.  And yet early in the novel there’s a strong indication that those walls matter to him, or at least memories made within those walls.  The way the novel ends leaves the impression that there’s a possibility for more memories to be made there.  It also challenges the idea of Marlowe as an isolated loner, an aspect of the prototypical hardboiled detective.  Don’t get me wrong–Marlowe is a long way from being assimilated back into society or even close to being surrounded by family and friends.  There’s not even the hint that that kind of life awaits him, but there is hope that he’s not entirely alone.  Again, a divergence from the traditional conventions of the hardboiled detective fiction novel, but given the fact that this is the final novel in the series–though not by design–leaves me with a feeling of satisfaction that the series on a note where Marlowe has something more to look forward to than the next case.

If I were reading this book through my literary lens, I would question how the novel was impacted by the events happening in Chandler’s life.  There is the character of an old man in the book who contemplates verbally on several ideas, particularly that death will come for him soon and what his last days will be like, and a kind of relief that death is the one thing a person only has to experience once.  I don’t know if he is a fictional reflection of Chandler’s mindset or offered as a looking glass into a possible version of Marlowe in the future.

Now that I have completed the series and can think of it as a whole, it is one that I would recommend to any reader who enjoys hardboiled detective fiction.  Although Marlowe is a product of his time in that he views his world through the eyes of a mid-20th century white male (there is no getting around his misogynistic or racial stereotyping) his journey through the series and the development of character still fascinates this 21st century reader and makes me think.

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: 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: dead ever after

Note: This is the final novel in the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire series.  If you’re not a fan of spoilers or haven’t read all of the books in this series, you might want to look away.

Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris (2013)

I am only just now realizing that I didn’t write any other reviews of the books in this series, which is surprising on one hand and not so much on the other.  When I first started reading this series at the end of 2013, I blew through the first eight (of thirteen) books in less than thirty days. At that pace there wasn’t much time to sit and reflect on what I’d read (or rather, inhaled). It took a while for me to finally get to Dead Ever After, and I didn’t download it onto my kindle until January 2015, and while I started it soon after, I only got about ninety pages in, and I put the book down for nearly the whole year before picking it back up again.  Wanting to complete some books I’d started but not finished was one of the motivating reasons for going back to the book, as was my motivation to finally complete or catch up on some series that I have been reading for a while.  The thing about Dead Ever After is that it bugs me and I think that’s why I have this need to write about it here.  But where to start?

This is the final novel of a 13-book series.  As I started reading the book, I had high expectations for the last book to be epic, to deliver a sense of dramatic finality, to be filled with a high level of tension and conflict as this world of Bon Temps, Louisiana was bid adieu by its author. Instead, the story starts out incredibly slow, so much so that I had no trouble putting it down for nearly a year and when I finally did decide to pick it back up, I had no real interest in re-reading the pages I had already covered. Though it does start to pick up, the plot and story felt like it was plodding along rather than building or even racing to a dramatic conclusion.  Let me say again, this is the final book in a series–I was expecting Harris to pull out all of the stops, to weave a story that made me not want to get to the last page because I absolutely did not want and couldn’t imagine having to say goodbye to these characters I’d spent so time with and in whom I’d become totally invested.  But the whole book was just lacking in the intensity I thought I was going to get.  I can’t help but remember the way that I felt when I was reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  There was a point in that book where I was so overwrought with emotion and really, really didn’t want the story to end that I actually put the book down and walked away for a couple of hours because I wanted to prolong and savor the epic finale. I needed to take a breath and just gather myself to get through the final 100 pages, the epic showdown that the whole series had been moving toward and the revelation of the aftermath. I had no such feeling as I moved through Dead Ever After.  So much of this world has been built upon Sookie’s relationship with the supernaturals, particularly the vampires Bill and Eric and even Pam as well as the werewolves, most notably represented by Alcide.  Those characters are basically non-existent in Dead Ever After and are in no way pivotal to the story. Instead they are more like afterthoughts, and maybe this is because Harris wanted to keep the focus squarely on Sookie and all the ways she has changed since the first book and all that she has lost or given up. When this is considered in light of the fact that Harris brings back other characters who throughout the series can only be considered minor characters and attempted to make them the primary antagonists only further frustrated me because these characters weren’t ones that I really cared about.  Am I wrong in wanting the final book in a series to focus on the characters that have been the most important ones throughout rather than marginalizing them and pushing them into the background?

Which brings me to the next thing about this book that bothered me. All of the books before this one are told strictly from the first-person point of view of Sookie.  Yet Harris breaks this pattern in the last book.  Why? I have no idea.  I hated it when Stephenie Meyer did the same in Breaking Dawn, and I hate it just as much in Dead Ever After.  The reason why she breaks away from the first-person narrative style is clear–she wants to be able to fill in some of the holes of what is going on within the story that Sookie’s first-person narrative can’t reveal because she’s not privy to those events.  It was jarring the first time it happened, and it continued to happen throughout the story.  If the change in narrative point-of-view wasn’t enough, the crisis point of the novel wasn’t so much a crisis but rather just another problem for Sookie to find her way out of, and even that didn’t take that long to happen.  The last few pages of the novel give a glimpse of what life (and ever after) might look like for Sookie Stackhouse but again the denouement was all too brief and completely disappointing.

In fact, the whole book itself was disappointing, which is unfortunate because I have really liked several of the other books in this series.  I think that if you’ve gotten through the first twelve books, reading Dead Ever After will give you closure in that you can say you’ve read the series from start to finish, but in my mind the finish wasn’t all that satisfying.