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.

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.