Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Beach Reads Week


Top Ten Tuesday is an original and weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.


~~ Ten Beach/Summer Vacay Reads ~~


This week for Top Ten Tuesday, the topic is actually listed as Beach Reads Week, but let's face it, anyone who knows me really well knows that I'm really not a beach person.  Yes.  I know.  How dare I blaspheme the beauty of summer vacay on a beach with books by not being into it?  But I've just never been all that enticed by beaches.  I certainly find them lovely and peaceful.  But while everyone and their best friend finds the soothing ocean sounds and the warm rays of sun on their faces a great Happy Place, I'm actually more content somewhere else.  My own Happy Place involves a fireplace, select food and beverages, a stack of books and a nice comfortable couch or beanbag chair.

Anyway, allow me to put a spin on this topic the same way I did with another, similar topic sometime last year:  Summer Beach Reads.  Rather than picking some beach reads, I'd rather just choose some books that I think would make great summertime vacation reads for a bit of R&R... or maybe even some books I'm interested in reading for this summer while I'm on vacation.

Oh, and what a coincidence!  I WILL be going on a short vacation with my family in a week, AND I'm taking vacation days for the next two weeks as well, starting this coming Sunday.  How delightful!  Maybe this should be a list of books I plan on read during my vacation week, during family vacation as well as during the rest of my stay-cation.


Kinslayer | Endsinger
by Jay Kristoff

Ghost Hunter | Silver Master
by Jayne Castle
*
White Lies by Jayne Ann Krentz

When Day Breaks by Maya Banks
*
Deep Dark by Laura Griffin

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Heat Wave anthology
Rex on the Beach by Stephanie Bond | Getting Into Trouble by Leslie Kelly | 
Shaken and Stirred by Heidi Betts

The winning book for June My TBRL
~ The Hanover Square Affair by Ashley Gardner ~
~ Icebound by Dean Koontz ~
- OR -
~ Hanover House by Brenda Novak ~



Quick Thoughts: Wait Until Midnight

Wait Until Midnight

by Amanda Quick

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  4.0 Stars

Adam Hardesty has a serious problem: a diary containing his family's darkest secrets has been stolen and, in the course of investigating his would-be blackmailer, he discovers the dead body of a prominent psychic.

His only lead is a list of the psychic's last visitors. The most likely suspect is a young woman named Mrs. Caroline Fordyce, whom he confronts in her parlour only to discover an inconvenient attraction to this beautiful young widow. But Caroline has secrets of her own and will do anything to avoid another scandal, even if it means journeying deeper in the the shadowy world of psychics, mediums and con artists, to help the enigmatic Mr Hardesty catch a killer.


I guess it’s entirely possible that I subconsciously recalled the heroine of Wait Until Midnight being a sensational novelist when I had read the summary blurb; but the truth is, it’s kind of coincidental that I read two Amanda Quick books in succession and both involved a novelist as one of the main characters. What’s more astounding is that Wait Until Midnight proved to be the engaging, enjoyable, and entertaining historical mystery and romantic suspense book that I had been expecting from Amanda Quick when I had picked up her other book, ’Til Death Do Us Part.

Especially when I hadn’t really been expecting much more than something similar to ’Til Death Do Us Part.

I’m not entirely sure why I feel this way. Both books had their faults and neither book was entirely, one hundred percent perfect. Neither were either of the books really all that terrible either. But while one ended up being a slightly less than mediocre read, the other was a very enjoyable, very likable story.

I can’t entirely pinpoint why it is that I liked one over the other, but there was definitely a different feel. While ’Til Death Do Us Part felt like a rush project through and through, Wait Until Midnight actually felt like there was plenty of thought put into the story’s entire process, from the writing, to the progression, and especially with the characters.

Even the murder mystery was pretty intriguing. Sure, there were a lot of over-dramatic twists and secret reveals that were a little more over hyped than I would have liked, but all in all, this was the far superior of the two books. I found that I enjoyed the tidbits about psychical investigations and what it was like during historical times. I like the way our couple goes about their discreet investigations much more so than the awkward partnership from the other Amanda Quick book.

But anyway, enough of the comparisons. This should be a post about Wait Until Midnight. Except that I don’t really have much else to say about it.

Character-wise, I loved Caroline’s eccentricities and loved that she didn’t let any of society’s restrictions on women hamper her ability to live life the way she needed to live it. I loved that she wasn’t just another meek little woman, or that even though she IS innocent in some ways, in other ways she’s technically more experienced than many others who would be in her position.

Adam was hard to like in the beginning, and being that he exhibited every bit of carbon-copy main male hero trait that could be possible, I didn’t expect much from him. And while he DID start off as a bit of an ass, I’m satisfied that he and Caroline end up being a great couple and a great set of partners during their investigations. The romance COULD have been a little steamier or a little spicier, but I actually kind of found the first sex scene a bit more pragmatic than you would typically see in most category romances.

Not that the love story and the sex didn’t also exhibit some dated ideals, but this IS historical fiction after all and I’ll take what I can get when I’m thoroughly enjoying the book, even if there are a lot of things that DID make me wince or roll my eyes. It didn’t escape my notice that both Amanda Quick books I have read have had a heroine who is a virgin, and who neglects to tell the man she’s about to have sex with that she is a virgin… and then awkward moments ensue for a little bit after they still manage to have breathtaking sex. Frankly, I found the similarities of both scenes in the two different books (both written a decade apart) glaringly obvious and kind of distracting.

Nonetheless, setting aside some of the tackiness and the cheese, Wait Until Midnight was extremely enjoyable!


***

2016 Reading Challenges:
Goodreads Reading Challenge
BookLikes Reading Challenge


Monday, May 30, 2016

Brief Thoughts: 'Til Death Do Us Part

'Til Death Do Us Part

by Amanda Quick

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  2.5 Stars

Calista Langley operates an exclusive “introduction” agency in Victorian London, catering to respectable ladies and gentlemen who find themselves alone in the world. But now, a dangerously obsessed individual has begun sending her trinkets and gifts suitable only for those in deepest mourning—a black mirror, a funeral wreath, a ring set with black jet stone. Each is engraved with her initials.

Desperate for help and fearing that the police will be of no assistance, Calista turns to Trent Hastings, a reclusive author of popular crime novels. Believing that Calista may be taking advantage of his lonely sister, who has become one of her clients, Trent doesn’t trust her. Scarred by his past, he’s learned to keep his emotions at bay, even as an instant attraction threatens his resolve.

But as Trent and Calista comb through files of rejected clients in hopes of identifying her tormentor, it becomes clear that the danger may be coming from Calista’s own secret past—and that only her death will satisfy the stalker...


Okay, so this is my first Amanda Quick book (fourth work by this author as I had read three other stories written as Jayne Castle that I very much enjoyed), but I get the feeling that this wasn't her best work. In fact, I almost had the distinct feeling that the author might have slept through the writing of this book, because it felt sloppy and almost juvenile.

'Til Death Do Us Part was enjoyable. But at the same time, I just felt like it could have been better. It had a great premise and wonderful characters to play off of. Not to speak of the fact that Amanda Quick has decently serviceable writing. Unfortunately, it was the entire execution of the story that felt awkward, maybe even forced.

I mean, it's not like I was expecting Grade A material mystery stuff, but all the surprises, twists, and secret reveals seemed so conveniently laid out that I could just see the author pulling plot devices from a jar and laying them in all of the most deliberate spots in her story to get from Point A to Secret Reveal B without much effort. It was a little disappointing actually, because the book started off pretty intriguing.

And also, Exposition Fairies--every last character in this book! I suppose I'm just not familiar enough with historical mysteries to really form a proper opinion.

Anyway...

There was a bit of a detachment among all the characters which made it really hard to relate with them. The character bios are pretty great on paper, but in action, they're actually kind of boring. Add onto that a lot of random filler material and this book was a whole can of 'meh', really. Even the romance felt a bit comedic, and the sex scene was kind of awkward, honestly.

Still, I can't say that I didn't enjoy it even if I found it a bit lacking.

Also, did the main characters remind anyone else of a “Scooby Gang” type of investigating team?


***

2016 Reading Challenges:
Goodreads Reading Challenge
BookLikes Reading Challenge


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Thoughts: Lucky in Love

Lucky in Love

by Jill Shalvis
Book 4 of Lucky Harbor

~ Goodreads ~

Rating: 3.0



Jill Shalvis has always been a hit or miss with me when it comes to her books, although I will admit that there was a mediocre semi-hit at least two years ago.

Lucky in Love is an enjoyable romance with the same humor and wit that embodies a Jill Shalvis contemporary romance. However, I can’t say that I was a hundred percent in like with this book even though it was fun to read from beginning until the end.  Certainly, there were a few things here and there that didn’t really sit well with me, least of all some of the annoying antics of certain characters.

Nonetheless, I’d give Lucky in Love an average rating, anyway--looks like this is my second mediocre semi-hit from Jill Shalvis.  Although, at the end of the day, it was still quite enjoyable.


The Story:
Mallory Quinn has always been the Good Girl of Lucky Harbor and everyone knows this. She’s the stable rock keeping her crazy family from falling apart. She’s the girl next door who’s willing to keep an eye on your home when you’re away. She gives her all, with passion and spirit, to helping people all around her.

But deep down, Mallory is tired of trying to live up to everyone’s expectations, especially her own.

With a little help from her new found friends, Amy and Grace, she is encouraged to “take a walk on the wild side”. And who best to do that with than sexy and hot Mysterious Cute Guy--a man who settled in Lucky Harbor temporarily to nurse some physical wounds?

Ty Garrison has lived his life for adrenaline and action and can’t see himself settling with anyone, anywhere--least of all in the small town of Lucky Harbor where everyone knows everyone’s business. He’s ready to go back to his job as a contract warrior, ready to jump back into the fray of action.

But his plans change when he meets Mallory the Good Girl. And while he’s showing Mallory how to play like a bad girl, Mallory might be showing him a thing or two about life as well.


My Thoughts:
It’s a cute little romance, when you think about it. And it’s not like I don’t like how the romance continues to develop. But underneath all that wit and banter and steamy sex, there’s a very thinly veiled “meant to be” factor that doesn’t escape my notice.  To be honest, it's a very standard, carbon-copy love story and the only thing keeping me from rolling my eyes are the unique Jill  Shalvis created characters.

On top of that, the whole “Good Girl” vs. “Bad Girl” ordeal is a little dated anyway--the terms are relative, after all.  Rather than saying that Mallory is a "Good Girl," it just seems that she's a self-sacrificial, very caring and passionate person; while the rest of the people in her life take advantage of that.

And then I can’t seem to help but notice that for all the “backbone” and “meanness” everyone claims Mallory has developed, she STILL felt like a pushover to me. It was frustrating in some ways, but in other ways was actually quite realistic. Nobody goes from being the meek kitten to a bold bitch overnight. And even if Mallory lets her inner snark out to play every so often, that doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s gotten to be a mean person. It just means that she DOES have a personality underneath all that Nurse Nightingale persona, after all. And this isn’t a bad thing, if only Mallory could be a little more consistent with it.

I don’t have much to say about Ty, because he’s no different than most of the broody, alpha, commitment-phobic main male heroes in every other romance book. He’s a good man despite his bad boy reputation… and that’s really all there is to him.


Final Thoughts:
I was a huge fan of the first three Lucky Harbor books. Maddie, Tara, and Chloe made a wonderful set of dysfunctional half-sisters learning to get along with each other, and finding themselves along the way.

I’m not entirely sure I can say the same of this new trio of friends, self-named The Chocoholics. While they embody the same kind of snark and wit that typical Jill Shalvis characters tend to have, their friendship seems strained and not as… well, not as fun as that of the three half-sisters from the first three books. And I was even quite frustrated with the three of them for some time--they got pushy and secretive, but then would turn around and demand that secrets be revealed by the others.

Then again, who am I to judge how most friends interact with each other?  They seem to genuinely like and care about one another.

Also, for some reason, a lot of the other Lucky Harbor residents got on my nerves as well. I’m not sure why, but what seemed to have been written in as supposedly funny background character antics just felt annoying to me.  I get the whole "small town gossip vine" thing.  But for some reason they just reminded me of sensational tabloids.  Maybe it’s just me.  But I don't remember the townspeople being this badly snoopy and judgmental in the first three books--even IF it was probably written to be a "funny background antic."

Nevertheless, Lucky in Love was still a fun and enjoyable book, and I hope I enjoy the next one a little bit more.


***

2016 Reading Challenges:
Goodreads Reading Challenge
BookLikes Reading Challenge
Bookish Resolutions Challenge


Friday, May 27, 2016

Thoughts: Head Over Heels

Head Over Heels

by Jill Shalvis
Book 3 of Lucky Harbor

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  4.0 Stars


Head Over Heels is definitely my favorite of the first three Lucky Harbor books. I had been looking forward to this book for a few reasons, one of them a bit shallow, but what are ya gonna do?

First of all, I was the most interested in reading about Chloe since she was first introduced in Simply Irresistible. She just seemed so much more complex than the other two sisters, but probably moreso because she’s the less standard type of Romance novel heroine I have typically seen reading a lot of contemporary romances. Second, we will have seen much more interaction and have a bit more backstory on Chloe and Sawyer by the time their love story rolls around (unlike Maddie and Jax’s instalust to instalove story). And as much as second chance romances are more believable in the relationship developing arena (for Tara and Ford’s love story), I sometimes also like to see a developing romance in progress without pre-storyline emotional ties being an issue.

Finally, Sawyer is Lucky Harbor’s town Sheriff--and I like men in uniform with hero-style jobs. Yes, this is my shallow reason for being more interested in this book.

Romance-wise, the romance between Chloe and Sawyer is extremely sweet and cute, very wonderfully developed over the course of the book. With a case of opposites attracting, a straight-laced sheriff and a free-spirited “wild child”, the two seemed to be meant for each other. But in regard to what actually occurs in Head Over Heels these two have earned their Happily Ever After™.


The Story:
Chloe is the free-spirited “wild child” with a penchant for wanderlust and, according to the Lucky Harbor Facebook newsreel, a knack for getting into trouble. Of course, we get to see over the course of the book that Chloe’s trouble-making life in Lucky Harbor borders more on a Robin Hood-like vigilantism than actually just getting in trouble for the sake of getting into trouble. But for the past six months that she has been living in Lucky Harbor with her newly found half-sisters, Chloe has finally found a place she feels like she’d love to call “Home.” And to be able to call someplace home, she’s slowly started to show her sisters that she, too, would be able to settle and whittle down her wanderlust ways.

But Chloe is far from wanting to change her free-spirited personality.

Meanwhile she has drawn the attention of town Sheriff, Sawyer Thompson, who is somehow determined to save her when she’s in distress, or keep her out of trouble as much as possible. In turn, Sawyer’s altruistic nature and hero complex has also drawn Chloe’s attention as well.

In other Lucky Harbor news, there’s a new Cute Guy in town who is now the center of our Lucky Harbor gossip crew’s attention; two of our three half-sisters are currently engaged with one sister’s wedding pending; and some intrigue may be afoot in the more secluded wooded areas around Lucky Harbor.


My Thoughts:
To be totally honest, once again it is my love for the characters of Lucky Harbor that keeps me so hooked on these books, and the fun, crazy humor in the narration. Chloe and Sawyer’s love story isn’t all that unique even with a much more non-standard heroine as Chloe. And to be totally honest, without the wonderful bantering between these two, they’re courtship (if you could call it that) might have been kind of bland since they spend more time than not either having “Moments” together or trying to seduce each other.

And then you get some mundane, side tangent stuff such as a look at the everyday happenings of Lucky Harbor town sheriff and what he has to deal with on a regular basis; which is great, but almost too mundane to be of significance. Granted, it shows you more insight into Sawyer’s personality and his day-to-day life, but it’s not really all that exciting even if some of the events are newsworthy.

On the other hand, Chloe’s self-development was actually quite interesting to follow as she goes from traveling all over the place and being without roots, to finding a place she could see herself settling down into, if only her sisters and the people of Lucky Harbor would give her a chance. And the heart of the matter is, you also get to see the thought process in Chloe’s mind, wrought out from years of growing up following her equally wanderlust-y mother and having no real place to truly call “Home”. I also think it’s great that, even in her process of finding a group of people to belong to, she doesn’t completely banish her free-spirited attitude towards life.

Again, Chloe is the much more complex of the three sisters, which is probably why I loved her book so much more than the first two, even if I had a blast reading all three of them.

The romance developing between Chloe and Sawyer, though not all that unique, stands out in their interactions with each other. After professing their attraction and their interests to each other, they actually spend more time trying to be in each other’s presence as much as they can manage. And they spend a lot of their developing friends-with-benefits relationship building a rapport, learning about each other, and in general, trying to take care of each other in their own little ways.

Sawyer may be a commanding caveman at moments, but with Chloe, I love how he’s so sweet and thoughtful, especially during those times when she needs someone to lean on the most. And during sex, I’m absolutely thrilled that an asthma attack doesn’t completely scare him off and instead, he goes and learns how to best give Chloe pleasure without putting her in the hospital since Chloe has admitted that she cannot have sex without straining her asthma and ending up in the ER. If that doesn’t scream “sweet” for the Lucky Harbor sheriff, I don’t know what does.

The sexy times in this book were probably much steamier and hotter for that fact, even if they were already kind of hot and steamy by their own merit.

The romance between Chloe and Sawyer is so much fun to follow, and as I love Head Over Heels more than the first two books, I also love this couple more than the first two as well. As I already stated, despite the implied “Meant for each other” vibe that the whole polar opposites attracting plot device gives off, I’m satisfied to say that the love the between these two was actually developed and outlined really well. They got their Happily Ever After™ because they earned it--not that other couples don’t deserve theirs as well, but we actually get to see the relationship slowly develop from mutual attraction and lust, to friendship, and then finally a much more caring and deeper love for one another.


Final Side Thoughts:
I have every intention of continuing into the rest of the Lucky Harbor series. The writing is witty and fun with a great dose of humor infused. If the character interactions are going to continue in the same vein as what I’ve come to love in the first three books so far, then I know I’ll enjoy the rest of the books. Certainly, it will be hard to replicate the awkward, yet tightly-knit, sweet and loving continued development between the three half-sisters, but I’m holding out that we’ll still get to see a bit of them here and there throughout the rest of the series.

And skipping forward to peruse the summary blurbs of the rest of the Lucky Harbor works, I’m pleasantly surprised to see a return to Chloe and Sawyer in a side novella--although it does happen to be listed as Lucky Harbor #12.5. Nine more novels and another short story and another novella to go before we come back to my favorite Lucky Harbor couple...

I am absolutely anal enough to read everything just to make sure I get to that last novella at the proper chronological moment, even if I don’t know if I’ll enjoy all of it.


***

This book is a pre-chosen participant in the following Reading Challenge(s):



This review was originally posted at Ani's Book Abyss / BookLikes in December 2015.



Brief Thoughts: Kissing Santa Claus (short story)

Kissing Santa Claus

by Jill Shalvis
Short story | Lucky Harbor #2.5
*Part of the Small Town Christmas anthology

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  2.0 Stars

I only read Kissing Santa Claus by Jill Shalvis. So the review and rating are for that short story alone and not the entire anthology as a whole.
According to the text, this short takes place approximately 5 months after Lucky Harbor book #2, The Sweetest Thing.
NASCAR driver Logan Perrish returns to Lucky Harbor, Washington, with love in his heart and a ring in his pocket. But can Sandy Jansen forget the past and give him a second chance? Or will Logan be spending another Christmas alone?


To be totally honest, I had wondered how a short story for Logan Perrish, Tara's ex-husband, would manage so soon after their divorce and the end of his battle to reclaim Tara's heart. And honestly, had Logan been a different man rather than the man he had given me the impression he was from The Sweetest Thing, and maybe if I'd read this short story five months after I finished reading The Sweetest Thing, and maybe if Sandy and Logan had had more of a back story than they actually did... I might have been a little more inclined to enjoy it as a short and sweet little romance all on its own for Christmas and holiday's sake.

But really, it was a pointless, PWP (plot-what-plot) short story that doesn't sit well with me because I can't fathom how easily Logan falls in love with a woman he only spent a short time with after he'd spent the entire summer chasing after Tara. And to make matters a little more hard to take, I believe Logan and Sandy started off their little fling during THAT same summer he'd spent trying to win Tara back. The two of them were together for a week, then spent the next five months ignoring each other for REASONS, and now they want forever with each other.

Maybe if Logan and Sandy were merely starting a tentative, yet exclusive, steady relationship due to chemistry and maybe a bold need to make a change in each other's lives... But the forever "You're it for me and the rest of my life" type of love is a little too difficult to actually believe in and probably easy to brush off if this weren't a short Christmas fic.

And that's a lot of "maybes" and "probablys" to work with for such a deep romantic insight, packed into a 30 page short story.

Nonetheless, this was a cute little love story. And the guest appearance of Tara for a short scene was delightful enough. But the so-called romantic gestures on Logan's part were kind of tacky and might have been a bit condescending and cliched.

Not the best short story in the world.


***

Other stories in Small Town Christmas include:
  • I'll Be Home For Christmas (Deep in the Heart of Texas #2.5) by Hope Ramsey
  • O' Little Town of Bramble (Last Chance #2.5) by Katie Lane



This review was originally posted at Ani's Book Abyss / BookLikes in December 2015.



Thoughts: The Sweetest Thing

The Sweetest Thing

by Jill Shalvis
Book 2 of Lucky Harbor

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  4.0 Stars


It's safe to say that The Sweetest Thing is much like my impression of it's preceding book, Simply Irresistible. It's formulaic as a typical love story with an overused plot device.

HOWEVER, that is where my complaints stop, honestly. Because sometimes you just need something lighthearted and fluffy to make your day, and, so far, the books of Lucky Harbor seem to fit this definition very well. Much like Simply Irresistible, The Sweetest Thing is fun and enjoyable, with a lot of strange, nonsensical humor and some laugh-out-loud moments. It's sexy in its own way (even if the sex wasn't really all that hot to write home about), and it touches the heart in just the right places.

The continuation of the three half-sisters in getting to know each other and the continuation of their new lives in Lucky Harbor is a treat. I may have liked The Sweetest Thing a bit more than Simply Irresistible if only because the love story was slightly more in-depth. And also, there was a lot more bonding going on between the three sisters, something that I had wished we could have seen more of in the first book. So I'm glad we're seeing more of it in this second book and I'm hoping to see more still, in the third book.

I might have had some feels at some point thanks to the three of them.


The Story:
Picking up from where the first book left off, Tara Daniels has chosen to stay in Lucky Harbor to help her sisters revive their mother's dilapidated, rundown dockside inn. A lot of renovations and rebuilding are in progress and the small, cozy business will be seeing it's grand opening soon. And, of course, Tara is at a crossroads in her life (as are all Contemporary Romance heroines), not quite sure whether to remain in Lucky Harbor with her sisters after all is said and done, or run away back to Texas where she'd been raised most of her life and do... whatever.

Tara's life is kind of out of sorts after her recent divorce and inheriting her mother's inn with her two half-sisters. But things are only going to become more complicated still. Her old childhood first love, Ford Walker is doing whatever he can to get back into her good graces (as well as into her bed), and after what had happened between them seventeen years ago, Tara's not sure if she can withstand another round of deep passion followed by disappointment and heartbreak. After all, it's not like Ford wants the same things she wants for her life.

To make matters even more interesting, Logan Perrish, Tara's ex-husband, shows up in Lucky Harbor determined to reconnect with Tara and make their marriage a thing once again.

Meanwhile, youngest sister Chloe is still on her wild streak, Maddie and Jax (from Simply Irresistible) are in the honeymoon phase of their relationship (as they disappear at odd moments to consummate like bunnies), Lucille the town gossip is running a Facebook poll on which man will win Tara's heart, and a seventeen year old girl arrives in Lucky Harbor set on learning about her origins. There might have been a lot of male posturing, wet t-shirts on boats, some sailing, and maybe a washboard abs contest in a bar as well.


My Thoughts:
To be frank, a lot of things happen in this book, even if not all of it significant. It almost feels like the next ten episodes in a story arc of a long running mini-series sitcom, or something like that. New characters are introduced vaguely and the next big coupling pair starts up a probable relationship with sexual tension and everything by the time the end of the book rolls around (hint: it's Chloe and Sawyer, and I've been most looking forward to their book since day one, Head Over Heels).

But the story line itself is nothing unique: A set of young lovers were wild and passionate during their teens, but had a bumpy First Love story, ending in heartache and separation. Years later, the powers that be give them a second chance by bringing the two back together for whatever reason, but both parties have their own reserves about getting too close lest they be burned once again, but they just can't seem to keep their hands off of each other.

Of course, to complicate matters, let's throw the ex into the little mess that's already complicated enough (even if the mess really didn't need to be complicated in the first place, but what do I know about relationships?).

What makes The Sweetest Thing so much more than just a typical love story, however, are really the characters and all of their interactions, relationships, and bonds with one another. I simply love the developing care and love between the three half-sisters, Tara, Maddie, and Chloe--how they've started to take care of each other in subtle ways, but how they also bond in a straight-forward, harsh-love type of way. They say what they feel, they get mean if they have to, and they're not afraid to dish out jokes or make each other's lives miserable so long as they maintain their biggest goal: Getting to know each other better as sisters and surviving each other together.

In and around the sisters are other great friendships and relationships to be had as well. Jax, Ford, and Sawyer are as good as brothers. Lucille and other of the elderly women are like mother hens and an extensive and over-imaginative gossip network. Everyone in the town of Lucky Harbor are good people without an evil bone in their bodies. Even if they side with certain people on certain matters, they don't do it by rolling over other people.

Again, sometimes you just need a light, fluffy romance with a heart-warming setting to make your day. Because even while The Sweetest Thing isn't the most unique story line in the world, just the character interactions make me all grinning and fuzzy and smiley and awe-ing. It's a pretty great feeling all with a Happily Ever After™ tying everything together.

Also, a lot of Tara's little quips and quotes are pretty awesome. And there's nothing wrong with some weird situations that just make you gape a bit or give a hearty little "Ha!" at how well it tickles your funny bone.

Chloe came up behind them. "Hey, thought we were doing yoga this morning."

"I get enough exercise just pushing my luck," Tara said, still watching the houseboat through the binoculars.



"Change is good but dollars are better."
-- Tara Daniels' recipe box of quotes



The inn's first real guests arrived as scheduled [...] Maddie and Tara checked them in together, and Chloe gave them a gift basket full of her natural products. The wife fingered through the items, cooing at the bath salts, the herbal teas, the...

"Massage oil?" the woman asked, lifting the bottle. She had to slip her glasses on to read the label, "Edible strawberry massage oil," she said out loud. "Perfect for that special someone. Put it on your--Oh my."

Mia gaped.

Maddie covered Mia's eyes.

Tara looked at Chloe in horror.

Chloe laughed and reached for the oil. "Whoops, I was wondering where that went. Here, try this instead." And she quickly replaced the oil with body lotion.

"Oh," the woman said, sounding greatly disappointed. "Could I maybe have both?"

"Well, sure." Chloe handed back over the oil. "Enjoy."

[...]

Mia giggled [...] and then Maddie snorted. She slapped her hands over her mouth, but it was too late, and the sound of it sent Mia into a new fit of laughter. Chloe promptly lost the battle as well.

"It isn't funny," Tara protested. "They're going to be up there doing... things." But her daughter was still cracking up, and Tara felt the helpless smile tug at the corners of her own mouth at the sound of it, and the next thing she knew, they'd all slid down the wall to the floor laughing like loons.

Together.


***

This book is a pre-chosen participant in the following Reading Challenge(s):



This review was originally posted at Ani's Book Abyss / BookLikes in December 2015.



Thoughts: Simply Irresistible

Simply Irresistible

by Jill Shalvis
Book 1 of Lucky Harbor

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  4.0 Stars


A friend once told me that, when it comes to family, the definitions of and lines between love, hate, resentment, caring, and any other emotion you can think of tend to get really blurred. The love that you have for a family member can be very different from that of a friend; because while you choose the friends in your life, you’ve never really had a choice in the family who are there as well.

Family are those people you can live without, but you can’t live without. Like I said, it’s a very blurry line. Because these people have always been around, it’s hard to imagine them NOT being around, no matter all the negative feelings you may have developed about them over the years. Because these people are always around, you sometimes wish that they were somewhere else, no matter how much you love and care for them.

These are people who are dropped into your life, outside of your own control; however, these are also the very people who continue to be a part of your life by choice--whether yours or theirs.

A friend once told me that when it comes to family, it is perfectly normal to love one of them, but at the same time immensely dislike that same family member.

It’s all about the blurry lines that makes a family unit such an interesting dynamic.


Back to the book, Simply Irresistible certainly manages to portray very fun and intriguing relationships between the characters, specifically the three estranged half-sisters, Maddie, Tara, and Chloe. Because while the storyline itself was standard Contemporary Romance formulaic drivel it had been the humorous quips, crazy personalities, and yes, the fun and intriguing character interactions and interesting relationship dynamics that made the book so much more enjoyable than it might have turned out.

Fun and breezy, this book set out to be, fun and breezy this book accomplished. And then some.

Because I simply loved the weird straddling of those blurred family love/hate definitions presented by the three sisters. They haven’t spent much time together, they are estranged, but at the same time, they are family and they both love and loathe each other for multiple reasons. They spend time trying to annoy the hell out of each other like teenagers, but when it really counts, the three of them are there for each other.

The following quote doesn’t quite describe the full extent of the loving relationship between Maddie, Tara, and Chloe, but I found it amusing. And also, even after all that craziness, at the end of the day, the sisters are still there for each other and love each other enough to continue being there for each other.

Maddie tipped her face up to the stars as if looking for divine intervention. “Some people have normal families,” she said. “They get together once a month or so and have dinner. My family? We have pancake batter food fights, steal each other’s footwear, dye our hair green, and yell at each other over loudspeakers in public.”


The Story:
Told in Maddie Moore’s perspective, three estranged half-sisters arrive at Lucky Harbor Resort, a beachside inn that their equally estranged, free-spirited mother has left to the three of them in her will. With lives of their own to get back to, there was no doubt that Tara and Chloe wanted to get in, divide up the assets for the inn, then get back out.

Maddie, however, was hopeful for more. Having lost her job and her boyfriend recently, she’s looking for a fresh start. And having been the odd-one-out among her sisters and family, she also subconsciously held onto the hope that maybe the three of them could spend some time together being sisters and getting to know each other.

And so Maddie does what she can to convince Tara and Chloe to give the inn a chance before selling it off and going their separate ways. They’re knee deep in debts and Lucky Harbor Resort has certainly seen better days, but with a little work and determination, Maddie is convinced they can make the entire deal work out.

Which is how we factor into the equation the good-looking, “tall, dark-haired hottie” carpenter, Jax Cullen.


Overall Thoughts:
Simply Irresistible is an amusing, fun read with very enjoyable character interactions and relationship dynamics. Those were the very things that kept me loving the book, because, as I’d stated already, Simply Irresistible would have otherwise been a boring Contemporary Romance with the same formulaic story with the same formulaic outline.

Klutzy girl, down on her luck attracts broody alpha with a dark and troubled past. Klutzy girl is actually resourceful and has a heart of gold and her shining spot of development involves growing a backbone and figuring out where she “fits-in” in life (as defined by everyone else in her life). Broody alpha is also a golden boy who has many, many secrets that, when shared with the rest of the audience, just makes him all the more perfect as a typical Romance novel hero.

The two have a sweet, adorbs romance, with obviously mind-blowing sex (that they keep having at the most inopportune times or “just because” since characters in Romance novels are always horny, 24/7). Then there’s the obligatory angst, reconciliation, BIG MISUNDERSTANDING™ with more angst and obligatory sort-of-break-up, and then the standard Happily Ever After™.

Simply Irresistible is a typical love story that could have been boring and it could have been that one Romance story that has been told hundreds of times. After all, I DID feel as if the romance in this book could have been curbed a little in favor of the character dynamics, specifically the development of the relationship between our three half-sisters.

We spend so much time with Jax and Maddie, and we spend so much time watching their love story develop from 0 to 100 within the first couple chapters that the Romance in this Contemporary, in my opinion, lacks originality and inspiration. Don’t get me wrong, Jax and Maddie were adorable together (and I somehow found Maddie’s klutziness kind of endearing despite the fact that I normally hate when female characters are like that).

And I know that this book is a Contemporary Romance first and foremost; however, I repeat, I think I would have liked to put more exploration into the relationship between Maddie, Tara, and Chloe, as well as dive into their issues about their mother and their separate lifestyles before coming to Lucky Harbor.

Unfortunately, this book focused a bit more on Maddie and Jax than I would have liked, without actually getting into a more maturely developed relationship between them. But I’m going to let that go.

Because, fortunately, it turned out to have a little more substance than the standard formula, and for that, I found myself enjoying the heck out of it. With humorous quips, strange antics, small town warmth, and sweet, heart-warming relationships, I think it’ll only be a matter of time before I come to fully fall in love with the people of Lucky Harbor.

The reason this book didn’t get a lower rating is because I’m having one of those moments where, whether or not this book is an objectively good one, I found personal enjoyment, and dammit, that’s all that matters to me right now!


***

This book is a pre-chosen participant in the following Reading Challenge(s):


This review was originally posted at Ani's Book Abyss / BookLikes in May 2015.





A First Impression (Originally posted on May 1, 2015)

Hot Biker looked at Maddie and smiled.  "Trying to impress a woman here, Ford."

Ford turned to Maddie speculatively.  "I suppose you already know that this guy here has got some charm.  But did he tell you that in our freshman year we nicknamed him Hugh because his stash of porn was legendary?  Yea, he had more back issues than eBay.  And maybe he mentioned that he can't pee his name in the snow anymore because the last time he did, he gave himself a hernia trying to cross the X at the end of his name?"  Ford turned back to Hot Biker and slapped him on the back.  "There.  Now you have no hope of impressing her, so get cranking on that puzzle--you owe me."

Hot Biker grimaced, and Maddie did something she hadn't in weeks.

She laughed.


And I laughed too.  Out loud.

Jill Shalvis is an author I've been curious about for some time now.  I've read one book of hers to completion already, Room Service, which was steamy and cute and breezy, but a little bit 'meh' even though I DID get hooked to it.  The other book I tried to read was Get a Clue, which had an interesting premise, a promising romance, but fell short because I didn't like the way the female main character was being treated... nor did I like that she was letting herself be treated like a doormat.

Anyway, Lucky Harbor has been on my radar for some time now, because, for all that Contemporary Romances aren't my favorite genre in the world, they ARE my go-to genre if I'm feeling like I need something light, breezy, and fun.

And so far Simply Irresistible is proving to be very much so the light, breezy, fun type of book I'd love to curl up in front of a fireplace with a cup of tea or a glass of wine to read all day on a snowy afternoon.  And do nothing but read this book.  (Except that it is the beginning of May, I don't have a fireplace, and I don't have all day long to do nothing but read, though I'd love to.)

We've already met the three half-sisters and they seem down-to-earth enough for my interest to pique.

Maddie is described as socially awkward and mousy, with an obsessive organization compulsion borne from years of being an assistant to five different producers at a production company in L.A.  I'm not sure she's quite shy, but she's also not the type who would willingly jump onto the dance floor without first being dragged... though she would go willingly because she seems a bit of a pushover and readily persuaded.

So I'm interested to see where this story takes her.

There's a nice spark going for the romance already with two chance encounters with Jax Cullen wherein Maddie accidentally to pulverize his motorcycle by knocking it over.  It's a good "Meet Cute".

But mostly, I like that we've established a pretty good air of friendships and relationships between characters already.  The three half-sisters seem estranged, but there's an underlying hint of caring between them.

And the Hot Biker, Jax, can't be too bad if his friends are anything like Ford (see above quote).

Anyway, between some amusing quips and some potentially good character interactions, I think I'm going to really enjoy this book.  If anything, it'll at least be a breezy Contemporary to pass the time in enjoyment.



This update was originally posted at Ani's Book Abyss / BookLikes in May 2015.



First Impression: Wait Until Midnight

Wait Until Midnight

by Amanda Quick

~ Goodreads ~

He looked reluctantly fascinated and, perhaps, bemused. "You took notes about my appearance and attire so that you could apply them to the hero of your story?"

"Heavens, no," she assured him with an airy wave of her hand. "Whatever gave you that idea? Edmund Drake is not the hero of my tale. He is the villain of the piece."


I was thoroughly tickled by this last quote in chapter two, if only because the main "hero," Mr. Adam Hardesty had been such an ass up to this point.  But I had a good single "Ha!" moment.  Because the entire time that Caroline was jotting down her notes and getting so excited about this new character muse, I also thought that she'd intended to use Adam Hardesty as a mold for her book's hero.

It's so nice to see him brought down a slight peg, even if off-handedly.  I'm sure there's more to him than the dark, dangerous, and broody, but to be totally honest, he'd been nothing short of rude since his appearance, so I'm looking forward to seeing how this relationship turns out.

Having recently finished Amanda Quick's most recent 'Til Death Do Us Part and finding it a little lacking (review to come soon), I kind of decided to run out and check out another of her books, one that had a lot of good reviews and more praise.  I noted that many others were also disappointed with a lot of her most recent work and there is a lot of good critique about her backlist.  Wait Until Midnight seemed to have a good number of positive reviews, so I wanted to give it a go.

Of course, I wasn't going to start reading it until a bit later since I had a tentative reading list with two other books I need to finish first... but I couldn't help myself.

Anyway, it's only chapter two, so I haven't formed an concrete opinions yet.  Again, I was just kind of tickled by the exchange above between our hero and heroine.  However, I am finding that I like Caroline Fordyce's eccentric behavior, what with her excitement over getting a visitor with a matter of "grave importance" baiting her curiosity.

Hopefully this book turns out to be interesting.  I'm finding this new foray into historical fiction kind of interesting, and I DO find Amanda Quick's (a.k.a. Jayne Castle, Jayne Ann Krentz) writing style likable.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Cover Crush: The Bride Wore Size 12 by Meg Cabot


Cover Crush is a feature originally thought up by Erin at Flashlight Commentary.  Every Thursday, she publishes a post featuring a book jacket/book cover that she really likes with a short commentary about it.  I discovered this weekly feature via It's a Mad Mad World  and decided to join in the fun!

Judge a book by it's cover?  Absolutely!

***


Okay, so this isn't the best cover illustration in the world.  In fact, it's kind of weird and not exactly unique either.  But I have reasons for liking it and not only because the bride-groom figures are in a rather risqué pose.

There is a pistol tucked into the bride's garter belt.

I know.  I'm very easily amused.  But I like it.

The rest of the covers in the Heather Wells series aren't really anything to write home about.  But they're cute in their own way, too.




Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Thoughts: This Shattered World

This Shattered World

by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
Book 2 of Starbound

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  3.5 Stars

The second installment in the epic Starbound trilogy introduces a new pair of star-crossed lovers on two sides of a bloody war.

Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac should never have met.

Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet's rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the insurgents.

Rebellion is in Flynn's blood. Terraforming corporations make their fortune by recruiting colonists to make the inhospitable planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children. But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion.

Desperate for any advantage in a bloody and unrelentingly war, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as prisoner. But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape the rebel base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war.


I’m not entirely certain whether I liked This Shattered World more or less than the first book in this Starbound trilogy. And maybe that’s not what I should be concerned about. But the comparisons are there, nonetheless. Because much like These Broken Stars, this second installment of the Starbound trilogy starts off kind of slow and shaky, and took a good long while before I could get into it.

It’s disconcerting, especially since I had thought that I would end up enjoying This Shattered World more than These Broken Stars. The beginning of This Shattered World was actually quite exciting with a lot of potential for forward progress and conflict reveal. Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac are more the case of star-crossed lovers than Tarver and Lilac had been, but there was so much more depth in their opposing sides. With Tarver and Lilac, it was a class difference as well as a lot of pre-judgments on each side.

With Jubilee and Flynn, however, it’s years and years of war, fighting, tragedy, and death between two groups of people. It’s something that’s hard to fight pre-existing opinions and reflex actions against.

And also, I found that I liked the whole first fight scene between Jubilee and Flynn, wherein a hot pink cocktail sword pick gets stabbed into someone’s thigh. Now if THAT hadn’t been a sign of fun times between our destined couple to come, I don’t know what would be.

Except, after that initial excitement, the story seemed to mellow out for a duration… like say, up until the midpoint of the book. Again, like These Broken Stars, a lot of things happen. But at the same time, the action felt dragged out to non-action and I found myself wondering where this book was trying to head. The consistent back and forth of military against rebels was kind of overdone, to be honest. It’s expected in books like this, but it was also dragged on for too long.

I wanted Jubilee and Flynn to start working together soon. But soon just didn’t seem to get here soon enough.

The book picks up towards the middle of the book. And as predictable as the plot seemed to be, it was still enjoyable for the latter half, able to keep my attention (finally)... before moving into some strange left-field conclusion that kind of made sense, but kind of didn’t. I don’t even know what I’m talking about anymore.


Anyway…

This Shattered World was enjoyable. To be honest, it’s more enjoyable after a duration, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. It was nice to see Tarver again, even if he didn’t comprise much of the action. And for those reading this series after it is already completely published, it looks like we get a slight, hinted at introduction for the next two players for the concluding installment of the Starbound trilogy. I’m quite intrigued, even if I’m not a hundred percent going to jump on that last book.

After all, there’s an ongoing conflict that reeks of Big Corporation Conspiracies (because it IS a big corporation conspiracy), and I’d like to see how it plays out. I just also have a feeling I know exactly how it’s going to play out.


***

2016 Reading Challenges:
Goodreads Reading Challenge
BookLikes Reading Challenge
Bookish Resolutions Challenge



Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Recipe #2: Sweet Potato Patties

2016 Bookish Resolution Challenge:  Learn 12 New Recipes.
**This new recipe is based on: Sweet Potato PattiesPaleo Cooking About.com


I honestly DID try my best to follow the instructions exactly this time.  As I'd stated in my previous recipe post, I'm a rebellious cook.  Most people are supposed to understand the basics before they start experimenting and making up their own recipes.  I just dive right in and pretend I'm at that level, when in reality, I really SHOULD NOT make it up as I go along until I know what I'm doing.

Hint: I never know what I'm doing.

I came across this recipe while browsing some recipe recommendation e-mails I get through various websites.  I like sweet potatoes and this one sounded extremely simple, so I decided to give it a try.

To be totally honest, I've had better sweet potato dishes.  But at this point, I'm not entirely certain I know if I screwed up, or if the recipe was so simple that it was kind of bland.

Hint: I was probably the one who screwed up.

For one, I decided to take a few liberties with this recipe.  Once again, I made some slight changes to suit my lazy needs.


The Ingredients:
(more or less)



1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 egg
chopped parsely
salt
pepper
olive oil

The recipe calls for white pepper, but I chose to use black instead.  The recipe calls for fresh parsley, but we have some manufactured dry stuff.  The recipe also calls for shallots--I was too lazy to go shopping.  Otherwise, everything else seemed to work out just fine.


The Process:
(Also known as:  My chaotic attempt at cooking.)


As the recipe above notes, roasting your sweet potato in an oven brings out the flavor of the sweet potato better.  But if your preference is boiling, that will work as well.

So after peeling and chopping up my one sweet potato, I drizzled some olive oil over the diced chunks, added a little bit of salt and pepper, then mixed it up a little bit.  As stated in the recipe, I proceeded to roast the sweet potato at 400°F for 30 minutes.


But as we had just gotten a brand new oven that's a bit tricky, I decided to tone down the heat a little bit and set it at 350°F for 25 minutes--this thing will burn toast after two minutes if you're not careful.

Unfortunately, even THAT seemed to be too much for the sweet potato.  While my sweet potato chunks didn't burn, they DID dry out a little bit, which made mashing them a bit harder to do.  Also, I'm certain that the diced chunks might have been too small.

Nonetheless, I forged ahead...


... and came up with something like this.

It looks really nasty at this point, like unidentified puree of some kind.  But what I did was begin mashing the potato chunks, then adding the parsley, eggs, more salt, more pepper... And I kept right on mashing.

I have to admit, it smelled pretty good at this point.  It just looked a little... weird?

And they didn't form 4-inch round patties very well either because everything was so goopy.

But once fried up, the final results didn't look too bad, really.


Summary:



This is Recipe #2 this year (It's already May and I need to catch up so, SO badly!), and this attempt really wasn't all that bad.  It's not the prettiest looking dish in the world, but it really, really wasn't all that bad.  I DID skip the shallots and it made me wonder if the patties would have come out a little bit better with them.

But in reality, they tasted just fine.  I just felt like they might be missing something--like a zing of taste or something.  I'm not sure.  My mom seemed to really like them, but then again she likes anything she doesn't have to cook since she's our main chef at home.

And after coming back to them and reheating them hours later, they were actually not so bad and had more of a taste to it.

Go figure.


Tips for trying this recipe next time:


  • Use shallots.
  • Try white pepper instead of black.
  • Set the oven for 20 minutes.
  • Dice larger chunks for easier mashing--smaller chunks really don't mash all that well

I'm thinking maybe I could try some other type of flavoring root component thingy.  I asked my mom if minced garlic would work, but she seems doubtful.  In fact, she thinks that maybe I could stand to add a little bit more salt.  That maybe I was a bit too conservative with the salt, because I'm paranoid about too much salt.  I'd much rather add more pepper, but I know I can't sub one for the other.

I guess we'll just have to let the cooking experiments commence.  Heck, it took me three tries to get the Cheesy Corn Casserole perfected to YUM!


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Very Brief Thoughts: Haunted

Haunted

by Elle James

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  2.5 Stars


Haunted is a fairly short read that I picked up on a whim and breezed through pretty quickly.

It has a device that I had enjoyed once or twice in the past: 

Our main male character, Zachary Alston, is being haunted by the spirit of Cecilia Lovelace, who is hanging in some sort of spiritual limbo where she isn't dead yet, but she can't return to the living. She meets Zach's son, Jake, who had died in the same car wreck that has put her body into a coma, and the little boy tasks her with delivering a message to his father. But as the story progresses, Cecilia realizes that there is something more sinister at work and her automobile accident was probably much more than just an accident after all.


While having an enjoyable premise, story progression, and a straight forward unfolding of plot and twists and such, the narration and the writing style felt slightly lackluster. The book requires some editing. The characters were likable, but at the same time a little flat. Even as a Paranormal Romance, this book employs all the known devices as any regular Contemporary Romance.

Overall, the book is enjoyable and easy to read on a rainy day. Despite liking this kind of paranormal story device, this particular one didn't quite work out for me as I had hoped. Still, I found a good amount of enjoyability, so I don't have too much to complain about, really.

It DID make me think of a similar story though--the Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo movie Just Like Heaven. Except this movie isn't a Romantic Suspense and was just a fun, feel-good, witty Romantic Comedy that I really loved when it was released--I haven't seen in a years.



This review was originally posted at Ani's Book Abyss / BookLikes in August 2015.



Thoughts: Shadow Fall

Shadow Fall

by Laura Griffin
Book 9 of Tracers

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  4.0 Stars


I jumped right into reading Shadow Fall before I even bothered with the book's official summary blurb--I suppose this goes to show how much I've come to enjoy reading Laura Griffin's romantic suspense books and how much I've come to anticipate a Tracers installment.

Shadow Fall is immensely enjoyable despite the standard Romantic Suspense formula, because it is written with an intensity that keeps you interested and turning the pages without fail. I definitely enjoyed it a lot, although I am slightly less enamored with the way that the romance played out. But otherwise, the rest of the book focusing on the serial killer and criminal mystery was quite entertaining.


The Story:
A woman is killed in a gruesome manner and FBI Special Agent Tara Rushing is tasked to insert herself into the local law enforcement to investigate this murder because the victim is a former political candidate. Liam Wolfe, former marine and current owner of an elite security consultant service is one of the main suspects by local law enforcement--in recent history, Liam had taken the murder victim as a client.

As the investigation progresses, however, Tara finds that there might have been more than the one murder tied to the same killer MO--a serial killer may be operating out of these backwoods of East Texas. And as new evidence is uncovered and examined by the Delphi Center, Texas' best forensic organization, leads show a striking connection between the killings and Liam Wolfe or maybe the men who work for him.


Brief Thoughts:
Some aspects of Laura Griffin books tend to recycle themselves sometimes, but in my opinion, if I enjoy them and they work, then I don't really let it bother me. But it doesn't escape my notice. Nonetheless, as I'd stated already, this most recent installment of the Tracers series is highly enjoyable and quite a page-turning experience.

While the romance played out a bit more frustratingly, and there was less of a connect to the characters, the rest of the book progressed smoothly concerning the murders and crime thriller. I would have liked a bit more interaction between Liam and Tara before the "I love you"s were tossed around, even if they waited until the end of the book (Standard Romantic Suspense Procedure™) to throw them out there.

As far as the love story goes, I can usually get behind insta-lust (because that's human nature), but the insta-love came on the heels of that instant attraction way too quickly for me to be comfortable behind. Especially when Liam's idea of caring for someone or falling in love with someone means telling her to stop doing her job or run away from her responsibilities--his controlling behavior irked me just as much as it did Tara, which makes me glad that Tara doesn't just take his demands and runs with them.

In this aspect, I like Tara a lot; I'm glad she doesn't just let a man she's lusting after bulldoze his way into her life and start telling her what to do. Tara is a trained FBI agent (even if there are moments when she doesn't act like it), and also part of a SWAT team. Realistically, I'm glad she has a lot of flaws as well, playing on the "rookie investigator" angle of it all, but also being bad-ass enough to tell the man to "shove it" when he starts thinking he can tell her what to do just because he's developed some caveman protective instincts--as sweet as that may seem. Then again, at least Liam recognizes the futility of trying to be the controlling alpha leader around Tara and accepts it.

And so, in Shadow Fall the criminal aspects of the book overshadow the love story quite a bit, but still managed to remain balanced enough that I enjoyed it. We had all the typical investigating processes, though--collecting and examining evidence, profiling, interviewing witnesses... it all goes by in a blur and if it weren't for the analytical mind of Tara's, I might have zoned out. It takes a great character to put things into perspective rather than simply going through the standard operating motions.

The identity of the killer DID come out of left field, even if it didn't really feel like it at the time. And there were a lot of unresolved issues surrounding certain side characters and certain situation twists with the local law enforcement, although I guess this is fairly realistic that not everything has a proper conclusion, even if I don't care for loose ends.

The pissing wars between law enforcement organizations--local law and FBI--seemed irrelevant in the long term of events though, so I'm not sure how to take all of that.

Anyway...

Hot sex ensues, no damsel in distress situations, lots more of badassery by Agent Rushing, Happily Ever After™...


On a side note:
I'm definitely looking forward to the next installment which has a plot surrounding cyber crimes--I'm hyped already 'cause that is one of my more favorite plot devices in a crime thriller as of recent. If anyone's got some good recommendations for books with cyber crime aspects in it, please let me know. Apparently I'm not very good at finding them.



This review was originally posted at Ani's Book Abyss / BookLikes in November 2015.



Thoughts: Beyond Limits

Beyond Limits

by Laura Griffin
Book 8 of Tracers

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  3.5 Stars


I have two conflicting views of this Tracers installment.

First of all, it was enjoyable and exciting and I liked it... but it didn’t escape my notice that Beyond Limits had almost the exact same storyline as Scorched (Tracers, Book 6). Or at least it had the same basic story device with a lot of similarities even if it was told with a different set of characters, a different progression, and a different approach to the investigation.

No matter what it is, reading both books back-to-back makes it hard for me NOT to compare the similarities between both books. Maybe if I’d read it spaced apart based on publication dates...

On the other hand, I liked Beyond Limits more than I liked Scorched. And that may have to do with the fact that Elizabeth LeBlanc was more likable than Kelsey Quinn had been--I got frustrated with Kelsey a lot, but I got frustrated with Elizabeth a lot less. As for the men, I got frustrated with BOTH of them, but for very different reasons.

And then we have the fact that the Delphi Center makes all of two appearances throughout the entire book… I was more or less MORE disappointed than I needed to be, because the story progressed quite smoothly even without our beloved forensic investigators.


The Story:
When Derek Vaughn and his SEAL team go on their latest mission, they discover intel that points to the possibility that the next terrorist attack will be on home turf--somewhere in Texas to be exact, since a map of Houston was found. Following, the many agencies of the U.S. government quickly form a task force to investigate and prevent this impending attack.

Elizabeth LeBlanc has been having a terrible year in her career and is more than eager when Gordon Moore of the Counter-Terrorist Unit selects her to be part of his task force. Except her job becomes much harder when Derek Vaughn enters the picture, all but forcing her to let him in on the task force investigation and interfering with her job while he’s at it.

Derek feels as if the government agencies are too busy working around red tape and making nice with political correctness that they may not be able to prevent the inevitable attack on a city of innocent civilians when the time is up. Caught in between her career and her instincts, Elizabeth can’t help feeling the same way as the two race against a group of unknown terrorists to save lives.


My Thoughts:
My half-assed summary sucks. But the story was really pretty good... if one hadn’t already read Scorched that also involved a terrorist bombing-type of attack, a Navy SEAL, FBI Counter Terrorist agents (such as Gordon Moore), and a decoy spin from our baddies to keep the good guys busy while everything around them falls to pieces. Once again, our main couple are the only ones who believe that there’s more at work than what the entire task force made up of experienced investigators think is going down. Once again, our task force is blowing off help from outside sources because they don’t want someone from a different branch pissing in their territory--even at the stake of millions of lives. Once again, the bad guys have one-upped the good guys because they’ve got several plans up their sleeves, with several decoy plans, and a few unknown, mysterious players.

Once again, our main male hero is the one who saves the day because he's the only one who understands what's going on and he's an even better investigator than a whole task force of investigators, even all the veteran agents.

I’m even setting aside the fact that the romance was fairly formulaic of the “I know we can’t make this relationship work” from Elizabeth, and the “I was never interested in a relationship at all” from Derek. Because, honestly, the romance wasn’t a bad one, just a bit overused in Romantic-Suspense-landia. But for the most part, it was also downplayed in light of all the other things going on in this book for its crime thriller--which is surprising considering a Romantic Suspense is still ofttimes a Romance, first and foremost.

And to be even more honest, setting aside the fact that Derek is an arrogant asshole who needs to understand boundaries... I probably would have absolutely LOVED Beyond Limits if its story had come first. It’s written well, it’s got a good amount of suspense to keep me hooked, it’s got a pretty good team of investigators (even if Derek believes otherwise), it’s got a readily usable concept for a suspense story, and it’s got a pretty strong female presence with Elizabeth as a good FBI agent.

And I already said this, but the romance was also done well despite certain quibbles I had with it--I liked Elizabeth a lot, I liked Derek when he wasn't being a jackass, and together, they DID manage to make a pretty good team investigating this terror bombing case.

But given all the similarities between the two books’--Scorched and Beyond Limits--events and even the way both books feel, it’s hard not to feel a little deflated. Then again, my enjoyment of the book DOES make up for a lot of things, and really, that's all that matters.



This review was originally posted at Ani's Book Abyss / BookLikes in August 2015.



Quick Thoughts: Exposed

Exposed

by Laura Griffin
Book 7 of Tracers

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  3.0 Stars


There’s something to be said about being distracted while reading any book, no matter the type of distraction, or the type of book. If the book is bad, you may become very readily distracted and then never bother reading/finishing said book. If the book is mediocre, yet still enjoyable, you become distracted, still finish the book, but look back on it and wonder what it was actually about. If the book is good, you will either get annoyed because you don’t have time to finish reading it, or you’ll just keep struggling along to finish the book even if you have to read bits and pieces at a time and reread bits and pieces over again because the distractions are actually quite distracting.

On the other hand, I kind of recognized that Exposed is a well written book, with a smooth, straight-forward progression, and the criminal case encompassed in the story is intriguing enough to keep me hooked. But, possibly due to distractions, I was somehow just not feeling the excitement or the book itself. And this could be due to a plethora of reasons: multiple distractions in Real Life, maybe the book really was just plain boring, or maybe I just couldn’t find a way to relate with the characters (as much as you can relate to Romantic Suspense heroes and heroines, I suppose).

I DO know that I had been very intrigued by the main character being a forensic photographer. But aside from the criminal aspect, the rest of the book just felt flat.


The Story:
Maddie Callahan might have witnessed or captured a violent crime happening during one of her freelance wedding photo shoots--an unknown situation that puts her life in danger. What she doesn’t know is what she might have seen or even what she may have evidence of in her photographs.

FBI agent Brian Beckman has been investigating a violent criminal, known only as Doctor. A couple young women have died and his only possible witness has just disappeared, abducted on his watch. And the key to finding out who has taken this woman and where she might be lies in what Maddie may have inadvertently seen.


My Thoughts:
To be honest, the book was actually not bad. But as I already stated above, I couldn’t seem to focus on it. Exposed has a good premise and Laura Griffin’s writing style has improved a lot since her first few books, pre-Tracers. And even the romance in Exposed was a quietly sweet one with the obligatory hitches and misunderstandings and damsel-in-distress scenes.

The story is straight-forward, but the rest of the book feels a little too formulaic. I’m not sure I can pinpoint where it is that I lost interest in anything to do with Maddie or Brian. And while I still enjoyed the crime thriller aspect, I can’t say that it’s the best Romantic Suspense in the world. But I also can’t say that this was a bad book either, because it’s not.

In the end, it was simply a nice rainy-day read, fairly enjoyable for anyone who loves a good Laura Griffin book. Maddie had her moments, Brian’s a good guy, the story told a story. In the end, it’s all still good.



This review was originally posted at Ani's Book Abyss / BookLikes in August 2015.