Review 25: J is for…

No matter how wild and crazy the setting might be: supernatural creatures, intergalactic empires, reverse harems of shapeshifters, the things that make for a successful book are always pretty basic. People who the reader can engage with in some way doing things that entertain or teach. And I love the BDSM Checklist series because the plotlines always grow out of the essential weirdnesses of the human condition.

At its core, BDSM is a set of guidelines that grew from a community of people who shared a basic interest and who said to themselves, “Humans are bad at communicating, but our interests can border on dangerous, so we need to make honesty a baseline of what we do.” And everyone agreed in principle. And the plot of “J is for…” hinges on the ability of people to always find a way to justify exceptions for themselves.

Davina and Grif are successful people in the real world, who think they’ve created the ideal relationship for themselves at Las Palmas. As a bonded pair of switches, they collaborate on their scenes and know each other’s predilections well. But the Overseers’ game forces them to admit that their rule about sharing nothing from their lives outside the club is limiting them, not freeing them.

As usual in this series, the scenes are blisteringly hot. But even more than that, I just loved watching this couple struggle with habits and assumptions and eventually have the maturity to make scary choices and take new chances. This is book ten in the series and it’s still going strong.

Review 24: Tombstones

In the weird way that social media is creating, I would say the Karin Enders and I are becoming friends, even though we’ve never met in real life. We hang out in a bunch of the same online venues and share some interests. I find her funny and earnest. She’s a relatively new author, with only three books in her Beekman Hills series so far. I’ve enjoyed them, so of course I was excited to be offered an ARC of the fourth release, Tombstones, to review.

The blurb will tell you straight up that this story uses the “unplanned pregnancy” trope, so I’m not spoiling anything there. As a general rule, I don’t pick my reading material by trope, but if pushed, I’d have to say that I’m neutral when it comes to the idea of procreating as a major plot point of the story – I don’t hate it, but I don’t seek it out. That said, I’d say that this one is well done.

Kate and Jack are my favourite kind of leading characters. Well rounded, fully developed, satisfyingly mature with the regular amount of baggage. No dark secrets or horrific circumstances, just the usual flotsam and jetsom that accrues when you try to live your life. Circumstances bring them together for what they think is going to be a satisfying tryst, and this being a romance novel, that plan is quickly complicated.

Readers who are familiar with McBride’s will have met Kate before and most of the previous characters make at least a cameo in this book. However, I think you could quite easily read this as a standalone without losing anything major. I chortled quite frequently as I read this and laughed so much during the epilogue that my giant dogs came to check on me in the bath and made a mess. I also cried at one point, which doesn’t happen often. I think this is a testament to the strength of the development, even in the secondary characters.

There is a scene or two that could use a bit of polishing but overall this was an engaging and satisfying read. I genuinely look forward to more stories from Karin, and maybe even the chance to meet her for real some day.

Review 22: Twist

I’ve been a bit lax posting reviews for books that I like, which is bad considering how much ratings and reviews can mean for independent authors. So, let me tell you a bit about Twist, by KC Enders.

This is a novella about another bartender at McBrides’s, Finn. He’s a young, cocky flirt who enjoys working his way through all the willing women he can. But his arrogance hides a secret. Until he meets Adelaide, who isn’t impressed by his posing and makes him re-think his usual approach.

I often find novellas to be disappointing – either the characters are great and I just want more or the plots are so abbreviated to meet the word count that they are either more like intros or force an HEA that isn’t justified by the action. This is one of the few that feels complete and fulfilling just the way it is. I think Finn and Addie are fun and I’d love to see more of them, but by the end, I felt like I was invested in them and the development of their relationship was realistic. I’d be happy to see them in again in future McBride’s books.

Review 21: Naked Love

I won my choice of ebooks from a member of Jewel E. Ann’s Facebook reader group and I chose Naked Love, her latest release. She has a fairly large back catalogue and I’ve only read three of them. I don’t know how much they tie together or not, so it was great to me that Naked Love features Jake, a secondary character from the Holding You duology, which I have read.

This book shares the plotting magic of the other books I’ve read. She has the ability to create one-in-a-billion situations to add stress to her characters’ relationships, without quite crossing over my “drama llama” trigger. She skates close enough that I don’t think I could binge-read a bunch of her books at once, but one or two are good for the days you feel like having your heart ripped out and then resuscitated.

I can’t say that Avery is anywhere close to my favourite heroine. I don’t want the ladies to be perfect, but she is messed up ways that just annoy me. It doesn’t have anything to do with how she is written, Jewel always seems to create nuanced and realistic people, but just the type of person she is. I spent the at least the first half of the book wanting to smack her upside the head. But on further reflection, at least I was engaged, instead of bored.

I like Jake a lot more. He’s got his issues too, but on the whole he’s got his act much more together. In the end, I feel like Avery gains more from their relationship than he does, but since they are happy together, that’s what counts.

Review 20: Jagged Ink

Jagged Ink is the just released third book in the Colorado Springs spin-off of the Montgomery Ink series by Carrie Ann Ryan. I keep reading this books, but I’m not sure why. I loved the original series, although even it “jumped the shark”, so the point that characters within one of the later books comments about a similarity with all their “finding each other” stories.

To my mind, the characters in the spin-off series (Gallagher Brothers, Whiskey and Lies, Colorado Springs) are getting repetitive and whiny. There are still at least some kind of external blocks to the relationships, but mostly they are only problems because the couples aren’t willing to talk to each other without some life or death style event.

Jagged Ink is a change, but only in that it’s almost too realistic. Roxie and Carter’s marriage is falling apart because they each get stuck in their own heads and stop talking to each other. The whole first half of the novel is watching them spin their wheels over the unspoken event in their lives. Then a fairly minor action provides the motivation for them to start talking and rebuild their relationship. I watch couples around me do variations of this all the time and I bash my head against the wall when it happens. I’m really not sure why I need to read another variation of it. Honestly, this book reads more like dreary contemporary literary fiction than a romance novel.

Review 19: The Red

A very kind book friend lent me The Red by Tiffany Reisz, which bumped it straight up my TBR, as Amazon loans only last for a week. However, this is a novella length read and quite engrossing, so it didn’t take long to read.

This novel is fantasy, in a way that’s closer to the older meaning of the world. These days when I hear fantasy, I think either “urban fantasy” or something Tolkien inspired. Instead, this is a story of imagination and wish fulfillment. The heroine does live in the contemporary world, but the events of the story take her out of that daily grind and into a series of sexual experiences with a dream lover in a range of scenarios.

Of course, the interludes with her lover affect her outlook on her real world life and her decision making. And I have to say that I was wrong in my guesses about what the truth of the situation was going to be. It’s not often that my plot guesses are so completely off the mark, so it gets bonus points for that. More books from this author are definitely going on my TBR.

Review 18: Clutch: Disciples Daughters #1

I believe that I got this book as a freebie as the start of a series, and it seems to be a bit confused. The series is listed on Goodreads as the Savage Disciples MC. The cover shows it as the first of the Disciples’ Daughters Series. On my Kobo, the listing is Clutch: Disciples Daughters #1 (Savage Disciples). I don’t know if the author changed her mind part way through or what and I only mention it because searching for the info on the series might require a bit of hunting. The author is Drew Elyse.

I haven’t made a particular point of reading motor cycle club romances, but I have come across a selection in my reading. I’m not a fan of “dark mc” novels, to me it’s just romanticizing a host of behavioural and personality disorders. “He abuses me, but he loves me and doesn’t let anyone else hurt me, so it’s ok.” Yuck. The good news is that this book doesn’t fall into that category.¬†Yes, it’s a MC, so there are some fairly well-defined gender roles and some of them might not to be the taste of the general public. But within the community, they are accepted and understood.

Given that, I quite enjoyed this book and the main characters. They are human beings, who make mistakes and have baggage. But they also do a pretty reasonable job of communicating, and learning from their mistakes. There are enough road bumps to make the story interesting, but there is a refreshing lack of manufactured drama.

The book was well written but there was one unfortunate homophone error that showed up several times. She used “road” to mean both “street” and the past tense of “ride”. Hint: it should be “He rode his bike down the road.” Considering this in an MC series that seems to be up to six books, I genuinely hope someone has pointed this error out to her.

I’d have given this one 3 stars, but it loses one for the repeated and annoying error.

Review 17: San Francisco Longing

I am a great fan of Lila Dubois, so I was super excited to read San Francisco Longing, the first book in her new trilogy. Sadly, she lost me in the first few chapters and never really recovered.

My issue is this: women in STEM still have to deal with a staggering amount of sexism. So the idea that a female engineer would do something with the possibility of such a huge negative impact on her reputation and career just… stopped me. I love imaginary settings in books: paranormal? Bring on the werewolves! Magic? Hot witch sex, yes! But a supposedly intelligent woman making such a poor choice? And that choice is the basis for the plot of the whole book? Nope, sorry.

I did finish, just to see if there was a saving moment and it’s hard to say, since it ends on a mid-action cliffhanger. (A cliffhanger, I might add, that is triggered by yet another very stupid decision by our heroine.) Yes, this is billed as a trilogy and that is meant in the older sense of the word. This isn’t a related series, it’s one long story offered in three novel length parts. This doesn’t bother me, but if you have a problem with those, I’d recommend avoiding this one.

As for me, I’ll be looking forward to more of Lila’s other series, but I won’t be following up on this one. I’m giving it two stars in Goodreads.

Review 16: First and Goal

I posted this review earlier and it was apparently lost in the electronic ether, so this is a re-post.

I won a copy of this ebook in a contest on a Facebook page. I had never heard of the author before and I really had no idea what the book was about, beyond a quick scan of the Goodreads blurb. First and Goal is the first in the linked series Moving the Chains, by Kata Cuic.

Because I didn’t do a heck of a lot of research on this one, it caught me by surprise that it ends on a heck of a cliffhanger. Going back to the Amazon description, it does mention this, but I missed that detail. You think you are getting the HEA epilogue and *bang* – what just happened??!? Now to be fair, this is not a short book at 363 pages, so don’t think it’s one of those series where they charge full book prices for a short story and it turns out to be one book portioned out in five purchases. You get a full read.

On to the book itself. This is one of those books that I have trouble really placing, because although the characters are “young adults”, in this case, really young adults because they are all in high school, they have an emotional awareness that I find rare in most of the population, regardless of age. Not necessarily emotional maturity, mind you, but their inner landscapes are incredibly well-examined. In some books, I find this off-putting, just because I consider it unlikely, but sometimes the characters and the writing overcome my objections, and this is the case here.
It’s true, in movies or books, if the dialogue entertains me, I can forgive a lot of other problems. I realize this is not true for everyone, so that’s your grain of salt. The main plot here relies on a bit of that “drama for its own sake” craziness that usually turns me off, but at least here I can forgive them because a) their age, b) there is actually a lot of character development, so they are learning as they go, and c) it’s not over the top. Eva and especially Rob really did suck me in, and for a group of high school kids, they have an interesting and fairly rich supporting cast.

If I had more disposable cash, I’d likely be buying book 2, but it’s definitely going on my TBR.

Review 15: HOT Justice

HOT Justice is the fourteenth book of the Hostile Operations Teams series (plus the HOT Seal Team spin off!) I have to give Lynn Ray Harris kudos for managing to come up with enough variation in the plot lines to keep me going. Are these epic reads of literary greatness? No, of course not. But they continue to be fun reads with decent plots, hot and caring Special Operators, kick-ass heroines and steamy sex scenes.

This book veers away from the ongoing Ian Black involvement and instead focuses on the problem of drug addiction and the wave of fentanyl-related deaths happening in the US. Haylee continues LRH’s line of strong female protagonists who follow their noses into trouble. Wolf is the latest HOT team member who thinks that his profession and personal obligations make him unfit for long-term relationships. But being thrown together and seeing each other in action proves that some relationships are worth taking a chance on.

In reality, this is probably a three star book, but I have a history with the series, so I’m giving it four stars on Goodreads.