Review 29: HOT Seal Hero

HOT SEAL Book 7

Lynn Raye Harris’ world is continuing to grow. The plot arcs have carried us through the original HOT team, and now into the second team, the first SEAL team and the mercenary team. HOT Seal Hero is the latest installment, and in some ways, it more closely resembles the earliest books. This one does not touch on the ongoing concerns with corruption in government and CIA. Instead it’s a standalone story touching on a current concern in the US – armed militia.

The romance between Ryan and Chloe develops fairly easily and naturally. The roadblocks are mostly internal, stemming from Chloe’s trauma, experienced in HOT Ice. (It’s not necessary to have read the earlier book, but it can’t hurt.) The difficulties of developing a relationship with an active member of a special military team have been well covered by this point in the series. But I like that the guys on the teams have learned from their teammates’ romances and don’t fight so hard. Ryan hasn’t been looking for love, but he doesn’t run screaming when it pops up.

I consider this one a solid installment in the series, although it’s not my favourite.

Review 28: First and Goal

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. I’m giving this one 4 stars on Goodreads.

Review 27: Butterfly Ops, Book One

It was long enough ago now that I don’t remember which author page Jen Doyle did a takeover on, but I was lucky and won an EdenBooks gift card from her. Of course I used it to buy the first book in her trilogy and I saved the rest, in case I wanted more of the set.

I haven’t read a lot of sci fi romance, because I’ve found the majority of it to be alien males needing to breed with human woman for . Fair enough if you need a handy hook to write some straight up smut, but not something I need a steady diet of. The Butterfly Ops takes a more robust stab at the genre, although to be fair it’s probably more solidly in the contemporary fantasy arena, since it features vampires, super heroes, and a host of folks with assorted mental powers. But the appearance of government forces mucking about with genetic alteration pulls it to the sci fi side, at least to me.

Sadly, the writing in the first book doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the concept. It’s slow. “I almost didn’t make it passed half way” slow. There is a whole lot of bait dangling and far too much inner character angst, while nothing much actually happens. As an editor, I would have cut out a couple of chapters at least. Fortunately, it picks up in the final third; not a lot but enough to get to me to finish it. This is definitely in the range of an epic length book broken into three parts for consumption, not a series. There’s no great cliffhanger, nothing is resolved, it just kinda stops.

Leaving aside their inclination to sit and steep in their own angst, the main characters are reasonably appealing. Or at least, they have potential. And that’s why I’ll likely read Book Two. I want to see if these two can reach their potential. Once they muster up some courage and get a few pokes from friends, they finally start acting like mature adults and talking to each other!! And that’s why I’ll likely read Book Two. I want to see if these two can reach their potential. And I want to see their damn mission actually get started! They make it through a whole book without doing a single thing about the problem that’s brought them together. Irritation is not a reliable motivator when it comes to books, but in this case, it seems to have worked.

Review 26: Illicit: A Contemporary Romance Collection

I bought this story collection when it was on pre-release sale. It hit my radar because an author whose work I’ve enjoyed has a story in it. It seemed like a good opportunity to read more of her stuff and get an introduction to a bunch of new authors.

Sadly, it turned out to be quite disappointing. The stories were a 3/5 at best. I just finished reading the collection and going through the titles, there’s probably close to half that I could barely give you any description of the titles or characters. They didn’t suck me in at all. In the end, I only finished it out of a fading sense of hope and some weird determination.

But at a certain point my judgement was probably affected by the fact that this collection was so poorly edited. Incorrect punctuation, missing punctuation, spelling errors, homophone errors, just plain wrong words – and a lot of them. I don’t know whether these authors normally skip editing or if there was some rush behind getting this collection out, but either way it’s terrible. There’s a lack of professionalism shown that is hugely disappointing. To be fair, the stories aren’t all bad and aren’t all in desperate need of editing, but sadly there are more in that camp than not.

Overall, I just really can’t recommend this one at all. I’m giving it 2 stars on Goodreads.

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.