Review 8: Love, Chocolate, and Beer

I got this book either free or at a discount… maybe through Bookbub? I don’t remember for sure any more. But the title was intriguing so I grabbed it: Love, Chocolate, and Beer by Violet Duke. This is the first book in the Cactus Creek series.

Sadly, I don’t really feel like it lived up to the anticipation engendered by the title. First of all, it was not particularly well edited. There were several instances where weird language, odd word choices, and outright errors kicked me out of the story. I tend to overlook some errors if I’m sucked in by the story and the characters and only notice them on subsequent readings. I know this story didn’t pull me in, because I noticed everything. The problem was that there was just too much drama: poor choices, instant lust, people clinging to the past, etc., etc., just piling up to a point that made it unbelievable to me. I was rolling my eyes a lot.

It’s not a terrible story, but there are lots of books out there waiting to be read and I’m not wasting any more time on this series. I’m giving this one 2 stars.

Review 7: Found in Bliss

Honestly, once Lexi Blake finishes republishing her old catalogue, we are all going to go into withdrawal. Getting a “new” book from an author every couple of months is a treat! I haven’t read the Nights in Bliss or Texas Sirens series before, and I’m enjoying them. In some ways, even with her updates for the new releases, you can tell that these were written earlier in her career. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it does help to keep it in mind if you are familiar with her newer work.

In the case of the Bliss books, it shows to me in the way that I feel like there is no doubt whatsoever that there will be a “happily ever after”. Yes, I know, for the most part, that is assured with all of these books – many of them advertise it right in their blurbs! – but some of them make the characters work for it. That sense of tension is really missing with these, especially within the relationships that are developing later along the timeline. These characters all live in a town with several successful triads, so there is a model for it being possible. The internal dilemma that often causes the most tension in menage books is pretty much eliminated. That leaves external forces, in this series, usually someone trying to kill at least one of the main characters, as the only possible hindrance. And yes, guns are damaging and in a lot of ways unpredictable, so you can never be sure, but a) Bliss has proven that it can handle itself and b) we know there’s gonna be a happy ending, so the tension is somewhat dispersed.

However, I still enjoy reading these, because the comic situations that Lexi creates are hilarious and unique and the sex scenes are still smoking hot!

I’m still struggling with trying to find some “scientific” way to assign stars. I don’t have one, I’m winging it. So I vascillated between 3 and 4 stars for this one and in the end, I went with 4. Ask me tomorrow, and I might say 3.

Review 6: Feyness

I finally got around to reading another book for my Goodreads group challenge, and this time it was Feyness by E.S. Carter. It was another book that had been languishing on my TBR, so this was a good kick in the butt to get into it. This book comes with all kinds of warnings that it is a “dark” read and that if you want light and fluffy, don’t pause here. I generally don’t go looking for that kind of thing, but it doesn’t particularly upset me either, so I figured I’d at least give it a try. In a sense, it lived up to it and in another sense, I was kind of disappointed. There are definitely a lot of characters who are miserable human beings who torture other people, apparently for kicks. There are some graphic descriptions of horrible acts and brutal deaths, so if you are bothered by that kind of thing – it lives up to its warnings and you should just keep moving on.

But it was a bit disappointing in it’s development of the interior landscape of the hero and heroine in the face of all this depravity. They spend a lot of time telling the reader how scarred they are, how evil they’ve become to survive or how innocent they’ve managed to stay despite all that is done to them, but it mostly feels like pantomime. In the end, I have to admit that this ended up being more of a deep skim than a true read, because nothing really pulled me in. The characters are flat and the plot is pretty predictable.

In the end, the mechanics of the writing are decent, nothing really leapt out at me as examples of horrible editing and I’ve read worse, so I gave it three stars. I’m starting to feel like three is kind of my default position and there is probably a pretty wide range that I put there. In reality, for me personally, this was probably a 2 star read, but at least one lost was more due to personal preference and I’m a soft touch, so… it gets a three.

Review 5: The Contract

My reviews have definitely been languishing, not that I’d really gotten into the groove. In the meantime, we’ve moved provinces again (second time in one year) and we’re still settling into the new house and new routines. However, I joined a Goodreads group that had a read and review challenge, which seemed like a good motivation to get back to doing this.

The first book I picked for the challenge was The Contract by Melanie Moreland. I haven’t read any of her books before, but many of my online book friends are fans of her work and she’s been languishing on my TBR. She has a series called Vested Interest that seems like it would be good, but I picked up The Contract either on sale or free through some offer or another, so since it was sitting on my Kobo, it seemed like a good place to start.

I’ll admit, for the first couple of chapters, I was not drawn in and I wasn’t sure if I was even going to be able to finish it. Richard and Katherine start out like the most predictable and flat cardboard cut-out characters ever. I was honestly rolling my eyes as I was reading – it was painful. But I was committed to this, so I thought I’d push through a bit longer. It slowly started to show signs of hope once they agree to their arrangement and start interacting with each other. I was still afraid that it would be one of those books where they magically jump from loathing and contempt to insta-love, but I was pleasantly surprised. Given the well-used trope of  fake engagement, the sense of time passing and the characters developing through a progression of stages was actually pretty well done. By the time of the conflict, I was engaged enough in their lives to be rooting for Richard to get his act together. Personally, I would have ended the story a little earlier; giving them all the check boxes of a “happy relationship” ventured back into the territory of cheese to me, but I’m willing to concede that that is probably more personal preference than a rule of story telling.

In terms of the mechanics, the writing was mature but easy-going and it was well edited. Once I got past the first chapters, I was drawn into the story enough that only a few odd little slips caught my attention enough pull me out. This one isn’t going on my “favourite, to be re-read endlessly” list, but I give it a solid 3 stars.

Review 4: Professed

I read this book on the recommendation of Mae Wood and the Pig & Barley reader group. Professed is the story of a professor and student at Yale who fall into a D/s relationship. It’s written by Nicola Rendell, and I’ve never read any of her other work. On Goodreads, I’ve given it a rating of 3 stars, although, if they offered a partial points system, I’d probably give it 3.5.

The writing is fantastic, reflecting a level of skill and vocabulary that you’d expect to see from people who attend a prestigious university. There are tender moments, very funny moments and a lot of very hot, slightly D/s, moderately kinky sex. The characters are well-developed, Naomi is perhaps a little more complex than Ben, but that’s understandable – not a failing of the author, but the reflection of a man who has intentionally been living a very limited life.

What bothers me about this book and keeps it from getting more stars is my usual problem with romance novels – although the characters have an instant and definite sexual attraction, there is very little relationship building that we see outside of that. The circumstances which force their relationship to be hidden mean that when they do see each other, they are either ignoring each other or ripping their clothes off. The fact that Ben likes Naomi’s appreciation for hamburgers is nice but not the basis of a long-term relationship. It’s not that I think they won’t make it, I just frequently wish we got to see more than sex and arguing about sex.

Obviously, there is a concern to be addressed here regarding their teacher/student relationship, which is exacerbated by the fact that not only is Ben a professor and Naomi a student, she takes a class directly from him. In real life, I think there are very good reasons for not allowing sexual relationships between students and teachers. For the sake of a plot line, and with the caveat that fiction doesn’t necessarily dictate real life, I’m willing to roll with it.

Creative Ink Festival 2018

As a new business owner, I know that networking is a huge part of making this a success, so over the May long weekend, I headed off to Burnaby to attend the Creative Ink Festival for Writers and Readers. The fact that Adam Dreece was the keynote speaker was definitely added incentive; the internet means that I can work with authors all over the world, but also that I rarely get to see the ones I like in person. As noted previously, I am not a terribly extroverted person, so I find these events, full of strange people, in a strange place, challenging. And I hadn’t been to CIF before, so I had no idea what to expect.

It turned out to be amazing! I met a bunch of people, I learned many things and I had a lot of laughs. As someone new to the industry, it can be easy to fall into ‘imposter syndrome’ as you are surrounded by people who have been doing it longer, have had more measurable success and who seem more comfortable with all the processes you are still learning. There was definitely some of this feeling for me, but it was strongly countered by the sense of community here. There is a sense of excitement and wonder and support and naive excitement that I’ve rarely seen at a conference in any discipline. Rather than coming away depressed and questioning my choices, I feel motivated. While the message was aimed at new writers-Keep writing! Find a support group! Practice, practice, practice!-I realized that these all apply to my work as an editor too.

I have some potential new clients and pages of notes: new ways to look at how I do my work, continuing education to hunt down, and new avenues to pursue in search of clients. I also added a ton of books to my TBR list.

One of the first things I heard when I arrived is that the organizer, Sandra Wickham, goes through each event worrying about whether or not it will be successful enough to repeat the next year. Although many people had to leave before the closing remarks in order to start their journeys home, at least half the remaining crowd indicated that this was their first year attending. She was visibly shocked to realize this and I think it might have been tipping point to her announcement that they would be hosting #CIF2019! I gave my business card to one of the organizing committee members, indicating that I am interesting in volunteering next year. I will definitely be pursuing that, as I think the Creative Ink Festival has the potential to be a enormously influential far into the future.

Networking

In the full disclosure category, I am terrible at self-promotion. I think I am a very good editor and I have the potential to be excellent – but getting out there and convincing random strangers of that is not my strong suit. Or even my adequate suit. So, putting on my grown-up face and getting out to events where I can meet people who might need my services is definitely something I need to be doing. This explains why I’ve registered for the Creative Ink Festival next month. One of my favourite clients is doing the keynote presentation, so extra bonus there!

Along the same lines, I really need to figure out how to find someone to design a business logo for me. I need something unique for this site, for my business cards, etc. I’m leery of places like Fivr, mostly because similar sites for editing work are such a rip-off. I don’t mind paying for services rendered, but I don’t want to pay for a whole “marketing plan” either – I just want a logo. Considering that I’m trying to give someone money, it’s amazing how hard it is to find someone.

And yes, I’m way behind on book reviews, I’ll post more soon.

Review 3: Inked Memories

Winter has set in with enthusiasm here, so it’s definitely a good time to be cuddled up with my monster dog, my tea and my Kobo. I need recovery time in between all the rounds of shoveling!

Next up for review is the final book for the original Montgomery clan. Inked Memories is Book 8 in the Montgomery Ink series by Carrie Ann Fisher. While I’m a fan of the series overall, there have definitely been some ups and downs in quality throughout the series, so I was both excited and apprehensive about this release. Looking at it from the perspective of the author, a long running series like this does present some different challenges. The world is well established and a lot of the cast of characters is already known, so the world building takes on a different character. It has to become smaller and more intimate and in some ways, the developing relationship of the two main characters has to carry more of the story.

I really did enjoy this book though. Our heroes, Wes and Jillian do face different concerns, since they are both known to the overall cast, so they have to be worried about a different sort of judgement. But these are the Montgomeries, so of course that’s not going to happen. The running trope of this series has been that someone always ends up in the hospital, and some of the plot machinations to get them there have been better than others. Even the characters themselves are getting sick of it, so the internal references help to break the frustration with that. The mechanism is this book is a bit of a stretch but not too horrible, and it’s the last one, so I’ll let it go.

What I do like is that the Wes and Jillian are actually applying lessons learned by the earlier couples in tackling their growing relationship. It’s refreshing to see them sidestep some of the drama by recognizing that it hindered, not helped, other HEAs that ended up happening anyway. I was slightly disappointed by the references to Wes being kinky that were never followed up on. They have some hot sex, but none of it even remotely kinky. *sad face*

Once again, I wish this book had been put through a more thorough review process, although it was definitely better than earlier books in the series. (I love the story in Ink Enduring, but I can barely read it for the horrible string of errors.) There are a small smattering of minor errors and two big standouts in this one – but to be fair, one of them made me laugh like a hyena, so it gets some kind of points for that. This one is walking the line on losing a star for editing problems, but it’s not awful so I gave this one four stars on Goodreads.

Review 2: Viable Threat

The challenge with this book review thing is going to be balancing my reading time with my typing time. I rarely feel ready to write a review as soon as I finish a book, but I generally read at least 5 books a week, so it’s easy to get ahead of myself. However, The Consort just left for his new job in another province, so writing should be another way to occupy myself, along with sorting, packing, spending time with the dog and – oh yeah! – working.

There were a couple of new releases this week, and also the next book in a series I read that I somehow missed the release of. Silly me. So I’m starting with that one: Viable Threat, Book 1 in the Outbreak Task Force series by Julie Rowe. Or, as I really think of it, Book 4 in the Biological Task Force series.

As you might guess, the series follows a fictional American military group that is made of up doctors and disease specialists that are tasked with aiding management of disease outbreaks and fighting engineered biological weapons. (Fictional in the sense, that I assume and hope that the military does have teams like this, just probably not by this name or exact set up.) In the first book, we are introduced to the idea that these doctors are being paired with Special Forces groups; both to the train the soldiers and to provide protection to the specialists.

This scenario puts a bunch of intelligent, focused, musclebound men and women in highly charged emotional circumstances with a bunch of intelligent, focused, confident women and men. As a result, romance is bound to bloom, regardless of any attempts by the military to squash just that. In Viable Threat, the action returns to US soil, with a slightly unhinged bad guy getting his hands on a biological weapon provided by lingering idiots from earlier in the series. His plan is to spur political and social change in the American people by dumping them in a pressure cooker.

Our heroes in this book are Sgt. Walter River, who we met earlier and Dr. Ava Lloyd, who is new to the CDC after a stint providing front-line aid at such vacation spots as the Ebola outbreak in Africa. We get to watch them chase the bad guy, tackle their personal baggage, and fight to prevent the spread of a virulent pathogen, all while being blown up multiple times. This is a HEA, so of course, our heroes save the day, although there is no doubt that the clean-up will be long, expensive and unavoidably tragic.

I love this series because although the men are undoubtedly alpha and possessive, they are also smart and confident. With a little practice, River is able to recognize that what he finds attractive in Ava are the qualities that mean she’s never going to sit at home, patiently waiting for him. They have skill sets that are very different but also complementary, making them stronger when they work together.

The other thing I appreciate about this series is that the sex scenes are a little different. Because the heroes are generally in the middle of fighting, chasing, and recovering, usually with very little privacy, the sex is usually hot, quick, and in less than ideal settings. It definitely works to help heighten the attraction when they can’t just book a motel for the weekend and burn off the hormones.

In my less than scientific rating system, I gave this one four stars on Goodreads.

Review 1: Faith of Beasts

It’s almost Hallowe’en, which is my favourite holiday of the year, so what better time to start up a new blog and what better topic than to review a  sci fi thriller/paranormal book? I was given an ARC for review purposes, but the book will be available for purchase on October 31, 2017.  Faith of Beasts (City of Angels #1), by E.M. Nally is our subject today. This is actually Lila Dubois, whose work I already enjoy, writing under a new name for a new genre.

I have to say that this book reads more like a prequel than a true “first book” in a series. The book ends with the characters in what is obviously going to be just a brief moment of peace, leaving most of the story arcs and plot lines still very much in question. I wouldn’t describe it as a stand-alone book at all, but that’s ok. The basic premise of modifying humans to be smarter, stronger, more talented or somehow otherwise different will be familiar to any reader vaguely interested in sci fi, but the author’s development of that idea is unique enough to still be engaging. I very much look forward to seeing how she moves forward with this in the series – will there be an attempt at a halfway believable scientific explanation or will it be what I think of as “magical science”? I don’t assign any value judgement either way, I’m just curious.

The action takes place in what seems to be the present world, with some allowance for a level of science that may or may not be completely achievable in the current state of affairs. The characters are well developed, with language and themes that make me suspect that the author has some background in psychology or social work. Although several of the main characters come from somewhat similar backgrounds, it is obvious that they are going to respond very differently to the situation they find themselves in, which makes for a more engaging and more believable story.

In my not very well-defined system, I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads and I do recommend. I think I will have to come up with a slightly more rigorous rating system, if I’m going to continue with these reviews, but for the time being, you get my slap-dash, gut-feeling rating.