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 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.