Review 39: Lost Harbor, Alaska

I may offer editing in either American or Canadian English, but lemme tell you, it’s still hard to type harbour improperly.

Once again, I’m posting a review of a series, rather than each book individually. I don’t know if it works for you, the reader, but when I binge-read a series, I don’t want to stop and analyse and think about writing for each one. If I’m in the midst of a series that is being released on a staggered series, it’s much easier to do one at a time.

As the series title suggests, these stories are set in the fictional Alaskan town of Lost Harbor. My parents lived in the Yukon before I was born, I have friends who live in the NWT, and I’ve visited up there – so I feel pretty comfortable in saying that incidents that happen throughout the series are actually tame and don’t fully reflect just how weird it can get up there. However, it does make for a great setting for a sweet and funny romance series.

For me, this series by Jennifer Bernard falls into the middle of the pack. The writing style is enjoyable and light, the relationships have mostly real-world challenges that mean the characters need to undergo at least a bit of growth, and there are some laughs and some tears along the way. Even the sex scenes are moderately explicit and completely vanilla. I enjoyed reading them, but they aren’t going into my favs pile and I doubt I’ll bother to re-read them.

If you like a light, sweet, and essentially happy reading experience, these books are for you.

Review 38: Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Club

I got book #12 (Bubbles) in this series through a Bookbub offer a year or more ago. And yes, I have to admit that I picked it up primarily because “Bubbles” and “MC” made me laugh. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected, put Candace Blevins on my TBR, and hoped that Bookbub would favour me with more from that universe. They never have, so at Christmas this year I treated myself to the rest of the books in the series.

I ripped through 13 books in 6 days and I’m not really interested in reviewing them each individually, so here are my comments on the series as a whole. First of all, I have never interacted with any kind of motorcycle club or gang, so I can’t get sidelined by whether or not things are accurate. The same goes for supernatural creatures (that I’m aware of.) She presents them with internal consistency and logic, so I’m happy.

It’s no surprise to anyone who reads my reviews that I’m a fan of well-down BDSM stories. And by well-done, I mean relationships where the power-exchange is discussed, agreed upon, flexible, and bonus points if it’s actually used to promote individual growth. Most of the guys in the MC aren’t into formal BDSM trappings, but they pretty much adhere to SSC/RACK in the essentials (with some modifications, since health and safety requirements are different for supernaturals) so I’m good. Their interactions with the sweetbutts and club working girls will probably upset some people, so if explicit “meaningless sex” upsets you, I’m going to suggest that you skip these ones. With all of that in mind, the sex scenes are nicely varied, well described, and smokin’, smokin’ hot.

The heroes are all members of the motorcycle club, but they all got there through very different paths and bring different skillsets – although they share the common denominator of being shapeshifters. The women who end up as their mates mostly come from outside the MC lifestyle and have to come to terms with the realities of a 1% club, as well as the knowledge of supernatural existence. I like how they do that to varying degrees and the couples find different levels of interaction with club life.

I’m a fan of her writing style. She does a really good job of creating different voices for her characters, depending on their background, level of education, accent, etc., and even has characters who can swap their speech patterns around at will. Overall, the writing is descriptive and sucks you in, but stays clean and easy to follow. Her world building is impressive and her imagination is diabolical.

The RMTC is actually only one series in her overarching Kirsten O’Shea universe and it’s obvious that this series plays a role in advancing the plotline for the story arc. These aren’t throw-away stories, written just to make money from a successful central series, they provide background and knowledge about the universe as a whole. I will definitely be looking forward to adding more of these books to my collection.

Review 37: The Chimera Code

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to say that I met Wayne when we were both young geeks in University. I’ve been reading bits and pieces of his writing ever since then, and I was so excited to hear that he was finally going to be published. He kindly sent me an ARC of The Chimera Code. I had a vague fear about what I would say if I didn’t like it, but I should have known that wouldn’t be a problem. This book takes huge portions of my formative years, squashes them into a whole and presents them in a single, exciting story. It’s William Gibson, anime, urban fantasy, and MuchMusic all merged into one.

The concept that every story has already been written holds true here. When you strip away the meat, the bones of this story are very familiar, but oh – the meat is so very tasty. As I was reading, my partner said, “This must be a good one, you keep giggling.” I’m addicted to witty repartee and this book is chock full of it; the sarcasm runs thick and fast. The characters are familiar but well developed and appealing. There are mages, hackers, cyborgs, power-players, media darlings and I want to be able to hang out with all of them, except I’m probably not cool enough.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but I feel like trying to describe the book *is* giving away good stuff. Suffice it to say that the action is gripping, fast-paced, and filled with a lot of “oh, no way!” and “so cool!” moments. I want a sequel, but even more than that I want a prequel. That may be the part that turns some readers off. The story takes place in a near-ish future after some pretty dramatic changes have shaken up the world as we know it. There is some discussion about what happened, but no details and the bits and pieces come scattered throughout the story, not in a nice exposition at the beginning, so you just have to run with it. I think it’s absolutely worth it though – I will be recommending this book to all and sundry when it is released.

Review 36: Favourite Hello, Hardest Goodbye

E.S. Carter is an author who spans genres and tropes with a great deal of skill and imagination. I’ve been looking forward to her latest offering, which is an M/M love story. If M/M isn’t your thing, then you can feel free to move on right now. But the story is amazing, so hang in there, if you can!

Her writing manages to be both straightforward and lush, full of the small details bring her stories to life. Her characters are fully realized, and as the reader you can’t help but be drawn into caring for them. The plot is fairly straightforward, but the appeal in this case isn’t in the reader’s discovery but in watching the men, Ellis and Macsen, make the steps for the themselves.

The secondary characters are just as appealing as the main men. It’s obvious that Eli sees them as people who exist in their own right, not only as devices to support her story or main characters. They are funny, sweet, acerbic, loyal, talented and have their own lives and their own concerns.

I don’t want to give away any more than the blurbs do, but I do want to warn you that this book has a good chance of making you cry. It’s a bittersweet, cathartic cry, but you might want to plan your reading take into account some recovery time. I give this book 5 enthusiastic stars.

Review 35: Wild Lilies

Wild Lilies, the first of the NOLA Shifters series by Angel Nyx, is another book that I won in Facebook readers’ group give away. (I admit, I’ve had some good luck in those lately!) I always promise to post a review for those, and I have a backlog waiting for me, so let’s knock off another one.

I love paranormal romance stories, so I was happy to have a new shifter series come to my attention. I haven’t double-checked, but I think this may have been an early release for Angel Nyx and it’s not an attention-getter.  There are metric tonnes of shifter romance stories out there, so you really need to have some unique variation to stand out from the crowd. Wild Lilies is a cookie cutter effort – there is nothing here that you haven’t read already, many times.

Independent young woman runs away from overbearing father. Check. Jaded, slightly older man who thinks he’s too damaged for love. Check. They are fated mates. Colour me surprised. Nothing about how they exist or act as shifters is different or unique. Even the sex scenes are a bit flat, as they come across as being described as great by the characters, rather than giving you the visceral experience of a hot and sweaty time. The only thing which might have promise for an ongoing series is the interplay of the allied and enemy shifter groups.

Sadly, the proofreading was sadly lacking. There was a lot messed up punctuation throughout the whole book. Many extra spaces, unpaired quotation marks, that kind of thing. It doesn’t effect the story itself, but it does raise my irritation level. If Bookbubs has discounts on more of the series or I can convince my library to pick up copies, I might read more to see what happens with political interplay, but I’m in no rush. I’m giving this book two stars.

 

Review 34: Reckless Beat Box Set

I won the first book of the Reckless Beat series, Blind Attraction, on a Facebook group giveaway. Before I got through my TBR to read it, Bookbub gave away the box set of the first three books, so I snagged it. I’ve just finished reading it, so here on my thoughts on the start of this series.

In general, I enjoyed it enough that at some point, I’ll get around to reading the rest of the series. The characters are fairly well developed and since half of each couple is a young rock star, I cut them more slack. Going into that kind of environment before your personality is fully formed is bound to have a stunting effect, so I cut them some slack that I wouldn’t for an “average” person. When they behave more like children in some situations, I can forgive it more easily (and it does make more tension in the plots.)

The ladies also have a set of backgrounds that have made their lives challenging and are pretty crazy, without being completely unbelievable. Unlikely, but not impossible. The sex scenes are steamy, there are some funny moments, and I definitely enjoy all the snark and sass that the band members throw at each other. The editing is solid, I have no complaints there.

Overall, there is nothing that really stands out in this box set to earn extra stars, but it’s a solid rock star romance effort. I give it three stars.

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. As a friend, I sent her some notes about the worst of the mistakes that I hope was helpful. The characters and the plot deserve a better presentation than the publishing company allowed to go through to the ARC. However, I’m hopeful that the final release will be better and allow the charm of the story to shine through, so with fingers crossed, I’m giving it four 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.