Review 12: Halloween at the Graff

Alright, so this is going to be a really short review, because I just couldn’t finish this book. In fact, I didn’t finish Chapter 1. The writing was terrible. Tortuously long sentences, with far too many adjectives stuffed in to keep track of. As a general rule, if you regularly have paragraphs that are a single sentence – you need to edit! I was struggling with that when I got to the first description of the hero, including his black beanie. Uhhhh… what now?

I don’t know about you, but when I see beanie, this is what I think of:

I don’t care if it’s black, if the guy I’m supposed to fall a little bit in love with is wearing one of these, un-ironically, you’ve lost me.

This book gets one star from me and I don’t even feel bad about it.

Review 11: The Brightest Star

I realized that I had this book sitting on my Kobo and I could read another author from my Goodreads group. The Brightest Star is the first release by B. Cranford. This might explain why this book didn’t live up to my expectations, based on how people I know rave about her.

This is a second chance romance, that starts two years after the couple broke up because Sebastion has gambled away all of their money. He’s gone through rehab and looking to win Brighton back. The characters are fairly well developed, I just feel like they aren’t very interesting. And Bright’s ongoing angst about trust and love gets painfully repetitive after a while. It’s not a terrible story, but it didn’t suck me in at all.

Since this a first book, I probably will read some of her later releases at some point, before I decide whether or not she’s an author for me. In the meantime, I’m giving this one three stars.

Review 10: Genealogy

In the interests of clarity, I need to say that I am a huge fan of Mae Wood and her writing. I follow her on social media and I managed to score an ARC of her newest release, Genealogy. This book was a departure for her, as her first releases were more mainstream contemporary romances. This is an epistolary novel and not to mince any words-it’s gorgeous.

The story is told through the interweaving of two time frames: Alice trying to choose between Elliot and Fred during the First World War and Ali working through relationships with Scott and Ben now. Both couples are separated by distance and keep in touch through correspondence. Alice is dependent on letters sent halfway around the world through the challenges of war-time ship movement. Ali has the speed of delivery and the agony of wait times with the potential immediacy of email, text messages, and video messaging to keep in touch across the country. The two stories are linked by the fact that Ali is named after Alice, her great-grandmother. Ali inherits a pack of the letters sent to Alice from Elliot.

I was delayed in getting to read this book by a couple of days, and finally sat down to at least start it this morning. I ended up finishing it, sitting next to a cold cup of tea. This story sucked me in, entirely. The characters are warm and unique and as cliched as it sounds, Alice, Elliott, and Fred really do have the charm and innocence that we associate with earlier times. The earnest devotion of first love, an era when showing off your calves was risque, and the pain of making choices when your dreams collide. Mae has done a fabulous job of capturing the tone of the era, in the language that the characters use, in the details that influence their actions, and in the descriptions of the world they live in. By contrast, Ali, Scott, and Ben, faced with a similar situation in their personal lives, make their choices based on a different set of priorities and rationales that will be more familiar to readers. Ali is given Alice’s letters just as many parts of her life are in flux, and she uses the letters first for diversion and then for inspiration.

There are many emotional moments throughout the book. I was giggling, gasping, intrigued, and sad by moments. But without giving anything away, the last chapter was when my heart was really ripped out. No one expects that last few paragraphs of an entire book to be when they cry, but that’s what happened. Not to worry, it does have a happy ending, but it’s the bittersweet happiness of real life, not the perfect “happily ever after” that standard romance novels excel in. I’d give it an extra star just for that, if I could. As it is, I’m giving it an enthusiastic 5 stars on Goodreads.

NOTE: As an added bonus, Mae has included discussion points at the end of book, making this an excellent choice for your book club or classroom.

Review 9: Secret Blend

I’ve been feeling a bit off lately, so although I have several new releases burning a hole in my Kobo, I opted to read something else I got free/cheap. Secret Blend, Bourbon Springs #1 by Jennifer Bramseth. 

This was another mediocre read. Nothing horrible, but nothing really to suck me in. The plot pretty much depended on some manufactured drama to move things along. The characters were pretty flat and the sex scenes weren’t very inspired. The writing was fine, nothing to odd or poorly done. The whole thing was just… bland.

I’ve given a number of books that were better than this a 3 star rating, so this one gets a 2.

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.