Review 33: Sweet On You

KC Enders latest release is set in the universe of 425 Madison Avenue, a collection of stories tied together by an apartment tower in New York City. I received an ARC of the story, in exchange for my comments and a review. I have to say that I feel a bit conflicted about how to approach this – I am a fan of Karin’s work and I consider her a friend. However, the quality of the editing in the ARC was…disappointing.

The story is very appropriately named; it’s a short, sweet story that just tugs at the emotions and makes you smile. The heroine is an enthusiastic, talented baker who has been burned in the past. The hero is a single dad dealing with a selfish ex and his own discomfort in a big city. Living on the same floor of 425 Madison Avenue, they are continually thrown together by a temperamental smoke alarm.

Normally, I’d happily give this story three and half or four stars. Unfortunately, the editing in the ARC is subpar; there are punctuation problems, homophone errors, etc. These are all a normal part of the writing process, but should be dealt with in the edits. I really hope that the manuscript was cleaned up between the ARC and final release. If it wasn’t then I’d have to drop it down to a two star read. I’ve got my fingers crossed, so I’m going with three stars.

Review 32: Being There

A friend of mine is a T.K. Rapp fan, so I wanted to try a book and see what I thought. To be honest, I chose this one primarily by price point, which means that it’s also an early release from Rapp. I’m not going to form a final opinion about their work based solely on this book, which is good, because I wasn’t blown away.

The heroine in this story is unfortunately not an uncommon type – she had a unpleasant experience and has somehow allowed it to dictate her life choices since then. I’m not one to advocate comparing how “hard” your life is, but honestly, I’d classify it in “life experience” category, not genuine trauma. But somehow her whole emotional development from late teens to young adulthood just stops because of this one thing. You are free to disagree, but to me, that falls into the category of manufactured drama to create some kind of plot. It’s lazy and irritating, so I can’t really recommend this book.

To be honest, I didn’t pay as much attention to the writing and the state of the editing, because I was kind of annoyed. It can’t have been too horrible or especially amazing, since it didn’t make enough impact for me to remember. At some point, I’ll try a newer release and hope the situation has improved.

Review 31: Country Road

Country Road is the collected five books by Andrea Johnston that revolve around the bar by that name. The individual books are Whiskey & Honey, Tequila & Tailgates, Martinis & Moonlight, Champagne & Forever, and Bourbon & Bonfires. I didn’t make a note, but I’m pretty sure I got the collection through Bookbub for free or on discount. I’d seen posts about the various releases through the Facebook group, Nerdy Little Book Herd, but they hadn’t gone up my priority list until this opportunity came along.

Overall, I’d rate this series as a solid 3. It’s all good, but nothing outstanding. There are funny moments, but it’s not a comedy series. There are sexy times, but nothing scorching hot. There is some angst, but nothing really heartbreaking. The writing is decent and reasonably well edited, although some errors did capture my eye.

I’ve noticed that, unsurprisingly, the more that the story captures my attention, the less that I notice editing slips on the first time reading it. Since I read this box set once and noticed multiple errors, it’s definitely a sign that the stories weren’t really sucking me in. I have no desire to re-read the books and the details are already slipping from my memory. Overall, I don’t think anyone would regret purchasing these books, but they won’t be on my “must-read” list.

 

Review 30: The Fighter

This was a book that I got for free through Bookbub. The author, Emily Gray, is new to me. I don’t remember what the blurb said that enticed me to try it – I generally like an MMA story. This turned out to be an underground fight club/mafia-style story, which I don’t mind, but this was disappointing.

A young couple, Ace and Cat, find themselves in debt to a…well, it’s never really explained what his role is, just that he has the power and connections to save Ace from the police. Ace pays that debt by becoming a fighter and Cat is pulled back in 10 years later, after getting her medical degree.

The characters are simple and flat, with no depth and their actions are pretty much straight out of the predictable trope playbook. The hero is trained to fight and becomes a cold, hardened man but he can drop that facade in an instant when his love reappears. She goes to medical school and then works in an emergency department without apparently learning anything about people. The main villain is slimy and malevolent in a cheap, stereotypical way, even to his own detriment. The secondary villain is complicated is some unexplained and unpredictable manner.

This is a fairly short book, which meant I could finish it quickly. I kept hoping for some development in the plot or characters that would redeem it, but it never happened. The writing was straightforward and easy to read, which was nice and it appeared to have been fairly well edited, something that I always appreciate. Overall, however, I just can’t recommend it.

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 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.