Friday, May 31, 2019

Thoughts: Mortal Arts

Mortal Arts

by Anna Lee Huber
Book 2 of Lady Darby Mystery

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  4.0 Stars

Scotland, 1830.  Lady Kiera Darby is no stranger to intrigue—in fact, it seems to follow wherever she goes.  After her foray into murder investigation, Kiera must journey to Edinburgh with her family so that her pregnant sister can be close to proper medical care.  But the city is full of many things Kiera isn’t quite ready to face: the society ladies keen on judging her, her fellow investigator—and romantic entanglement—Sebastian Gage, and ultimately, another deadly mystery.

Kiera’s old friend Michael Dalmay is about to be married, but the arrival of his older brother—and Kiera’s childhood art tutor—William, has thrown everything into chaos.  For ten years Will has been missing, committed to an insane asylum by his own father.  Kiera is sympathetic to her mentor’s plight, especially when rumors swirl about a local girl gone missing.  Now Kiera must once again employ her knowledge of the macabre and join forces with Gage in order to prove the innocence of a beloved family friend—and save the marriage of another…

Mortal Arts picks up about two months following the events in the first book.  Our characters are headed towards Edinburgh with the intention of settling Kiera's sister, Alana, more comfortably during her pregnancy, in a place more suited to her than Gairloch castle.  But the group is delayed by a summons to a family friend's estates, Dalmay House.

This book touches upon a lot of sensitive subjects, specifically concerning William Dalmay, who was recently found to have been secreted away in an insane asylum by his own father for the past nine years.  It's disheartening to our heroine, as well as friends of the family, to learn that it had been the old Lord Dalmay's inability to accept or understand how Will had changed and suffered after the war that had lead him to sending his son away.  This book also includes a mystery of the disappearance of a girl in the village, whom many are starting to think might have had something to do with William Dalmay.

This book, aside from being a mystery and a build up to romance, I think, takes a rather risky, yet thought-provoking approach to also touch upon the impact of war on the men who fought in it, and how society dealt with such an affect on people during those times.  Will suffers not only battle fatigue, but is also barely recovering from his years being held against his will in an insane asylum--in present-day, his condition would be known as PTSD.  And it's sad to say that people's reaction to this during historical times is not too different than present-day, even if we've become more advanced and open-minded over the decades.

Gage stared down at the swirled pattern of the rug before him.  "Battle-hardened soldiers are far more likely to endure in silence.  It's all they know.  And if they were to admit to having difficulties, who would they tell?" he asked Miss Remmington.  "Our society doesn't exactly welcome such confessions."

I bowed my head.  One only had to look at the old Lord Dalmay's reaction to his son, and his decision to place him in a lunatic asylum, to understand that.  Our nation was eager to welcome home conquering heroes, not broken men.

I admit, I found satisfaction in seeing Kiera finally snap at someone, as she tends to curb her anger and disappear into the woodwork without voicing her opinions.  She did that a lot at the beginning of this book, and so I appreciated, both the exchange that took place with the young, naive Elise Remmington questioning the validity of William Dalmay's nightmares and inability to re-enter society based on society's norms after he'd returned from war.  Truth is, I wanted to slap the little chit myself for being ignorant, but it's hard to fault her when it is society and those who lead society who try to sugar-coat reality, thus keeping their own people, especially women and anyone of genteel breeding, in ignorance.


But Miss Remmington was not placated by such answers.  "But, truly, how bad could it be?  Men have always gone off to war and come home again.  The history books don't talk about them coming home with nightmares."  Her hands fisted in her lap and she scowled.  "It seems to me Lord Dalmay must have done something particularly awful if it troubled him so much."

A bolt of pure fury shot though me, stiffening my spine.  "And who are you to judge?  You who've never been asked to take up a sword or a rifle and kill someone in the defense of your king and country.  War is a nasty, horrific experience, not handsome men in uniform marching side by side with flashing sabers.  It's slogging through muck, and scrounging for food when the supplies do not come through.  It's witnessing the devastation trampling armies have wrought on the countryside and the livelihoods of innocent people.  It's watching your friend die in a muddy field full of corpses."

I guess what riled me the most was that, in the end, Kiera had to apologize to everyone for being so blunt about reality, and yet Elise Remmington never even offered so much as quiet repentance for her rudeness.  That even after Kiera's outburst, one of the other characters still felt that she was merely trying to be mean in scaring Elise Remmington.  Whether that character was simply trying to coddle Miss Remmington or was genuinely ignorant of the realities of war, I'm not sure, but I had to roll my eyes.

As far as the mystery is concerned (because, yes, there was a mystery in there), I felt like it was rather solid, even if kind of predictable from the start.  The direction it takes certainly has you thinking and doubting your own conclusions at times, and I love how easily and naturally Kiera and Mr. Gage kind of just fall into the investigation like an old partnership, despite having really only worked on one murder case together a couple months ago in the timeline.

I enjoyed their slowly building chemistry, though I must admit, the banter left much to be desired.  I get that the romance is going to be a slow burn, but I'm still not a hundred percent certain I'm feeling any love for their relationship as a romantic couple at the moment.  They work well together in terms of investigating the mysterious disappearance of a young woman in the village--whenever Gage isn't keeping secrets from Kiera, that is--but I feel like their romance is still a bit lacking.  And maybe this truly is a very slow burn that will take a few more books to come to fruition... in a way, I don't mind.

I'm much more interested in seeing Kiera get requests to help investigate more mysteries.

Writing-wise, I absolutely enjoyed the descriptions of the decrepit castle, and the lands surrounding Dalmay House.  I would have also liked to see more descriptions of the house itself, as we are lead to believe that the place is quite grand, catching Kiera by surprise, when she'd been living in a castle for so long.

There may have been some tangents that felt overmuch, but I quickly forgot about those as the story drew me right in, ending with a rather melancholic conclusion, even if it was a rather expected one.

As with some of the historical mysteries I've been reading lately, Lady Kiera Darby's narrative leads us to anticipate the events of the next mystery awaiting us in the book to follow, and I'm very much looking forward to it.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Thoughts: Hard Target

Hard Target

by Pamela Clare
Book 1 of Cobra Elite

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  3.5 Stars

Derek Tower has spent his life at war, first as a Green Beret and then as the owner of a private black-ops company, Cobra International Security.  When a high-ranking US senator asks Cobra to protect his daughter, a midwife volunteering in Afghanistan, Derek’s gut tells him to turn the senator down.  The last thing he wants to do is babysit an aid worker.  But Jenna isn’t just another assignment.  She’s also the younger sister of his best friend, the man who died taking bullets meant for him.  There’s no way Derek can refuse.

Jenna Hamilton doesn’t need a bodyguard, especially not one hired by her intrusive and controlling father.  She knew the risks when she signed on to work in rural Afghanistan, and the hospital already has armed security.  She also doesn’t need the distraction of a big, brooding operative skulking about, even if he is her late brother’s best friend—and sexy as hell.  As far as she’s concerned, he can pack up his Humvee and drive into the sunset.  And, no, nothing her hormones have to say about him will change her mind.

From the moment his boots hit the ground in Afghanistan, Derek does his best to win Jenna over, posing as her brother so the two of them can spend time alone.  Except that what he feels for her is anything but brotherly. Stolen moments lead to secret kisses—and an undeniable sexual attraction that shakes them both to the core.  But events have been set into motion that they cannot escape. When a ruthless warlord sets his sights on Jenna, Derek will do whatever it takes to keep her safe, even if it costs him his heart—or his life.

This was another enjoyable romantic suspense from Pamela Clare, and as per usual, I bowled right through this one, stopping once only to go to sleep after three hours of being unable to set the book down.  But why the average rating?

The truth is, Pamela Clare books are wonderfully easy to slip into and get caught up in.  There's a certain attractiveness to her work that I somehow manage to hook onto without realizing it.  Her characters and story lines have heart, and she's actually rather good at writing suspense, and making you want to keep reading to find out how it all ends.  But one of the things that I've always found that Pamela gets carried away with is the schmaltz, and sometimes a way of presenting characters and situations that seem too deliberately structured to be perfect.  If that makes any sense.  It's hard to describe.

I don't mind it, because those instances are quickly overshadowed by the stuff that I DO love about her books.

Anyway, Hard Target was a pretty good start to a new series, taking place in the same world as her other romantic suspense series, I-Team, which is nice, because then you get a chance to briefly revisit some favorite characters from the past.  I especially loved the sparse guest appearances from Holly Andris, as I think she will forever be my favorite of the I-Team heroines.  And unfortunately, her few brief appearances kind of managed to overshadow our main heroine in this book, if only because, of all the Pamela Clare heroines, Holly has been the only one so far who gives us a streak of bad-ass that I loved.

No offense, and maybe this is my own issue, but for the most part, Jenna Hamilton, and the majority of the I-Team heroines (except maybe Kat James), somehow tend to end up being overly sensitive to a lot of things.  I'm not saying that Holly is without compassion or anything, quite the opposite, but she also never got faint or anything at the slightest evidence of evil.  She took things in stride, did her job, saved the world, and moved on.

But this review is about Hard Target, so let's go back to Jenna and Derek.

Truth is, while this book was pretty entertaining and attention-hooking, I did find that I wished it had been a bit more fleshed out.  Hard Target is a pretty standard romance, featuring the standard hero and heroine with hearts of gold, who are just great people all around and no flaws.  Story-wise, our author does well to bring awareness to the terrible treatment of women in Afghanistan, the lack of women's health, the lack of prenatal care, and the lack of, or even unwillingness to understand the importance of it all.  We get to see how even a Westerner like Jenna is expected to abide by cultural dictates--not speaking or even being seen in the presence of men she is not related to, as it somehow is seen as her attempting to tempt men and be flirtatious, which is evil.  We get to see how her one time breaking of the cultural rule, albeit out of the goodness of trying to save a young mother and her baby, almost caused trouble to the hospital that could have ended in her being beaten and flogged.

It's a terribly horrific thing to even think about.

The story progression itself presented well, but I feel like the entire book and each scene was a bit short and rushed.  Maybe that was just me.  The romance between Derek and Jenna was typical of Pamela Clare's love stories, but I DID like that Jenna was so open about her wants and her desires in a non-traditional romance heroine kind of way.  As per usual, the action and suspense was good, even if some parts might have been a bit overmuch.

And once again, I liked seeing Holly again, and hope to see more brief cameos from her in future... of course, only if we can naturally slip her into the story.  =P

All-in-all, a pretty good start to a new series, even if I feel like it still had potential to be seen.


Booklikes-opoly 2019

Roll #1:
How it fits:  Book is set in Afghanistan
Page Count:  261
Cash:  $3

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? | 5/27/2019

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week.  It's a great post to organise yourself.  It's an opportunity to visit and comment, and er... add to that ever growing TBR pile!  So welcome in everyone.  This meme started with J Kaye's Blog and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey.  Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date.  And here we are!

Memorial Day weekend was indeed a nice, productive one, with the announcement of extra bonus rolls for Booklikes-opoly, a lot of reading getting done, some family socializing, and the works.  Unfortunately, the weekend was also muggy and rainy, which apparently caused some problems for some around the city (my co-worker's basement flooded).

On the other hand, rainy days make great reading and blogging days...  And so couple days back, I went shopping amid the rest of the crowds shopping for the long weekend, because I had a hankering for Spicy Corn Dip to go with my weekend reading.  My coworkers have brought this particular recipe into work twice, and while one of the times, the Corn Dip was just the plain ol' non-spicy version, the other time there was a nice kick that I was quite ecstatic about.

The Spicy Corn Dip I ended up making is based off of the combination of two different recipes:
-- Greek Yogurt Spicy Corn Dip @ With Salt & Wit
-- My coworker's very simple recipe consisting of: 1 cup mayo, 1 cup sour cream, 1 can Mexicorn (drained), 1 can Rotel (drained), and 1 cup shredded cheddar

I had intended on making the Greek Yogurt version, but decided to try my hand at my coworker's version first, just to make sure I did it right.  Unfortunately, either I did not drain the Rotel and Mexicorn well enough, or I added too much sour cream, but the final product came out kind of watered down.  I finally got it to taste better by adding more cheddar to it.  In the meantime, to make it a spicy corn dip, I included the addition of cumin, cayenne pepper, and red pepper flakes.

Sprinkle a little cheese on top, and here you have a nice bit of Spicy Corn Dip that actually came out quite nice, if I do say so myself!  Unfortunately, the picture doesn't really do the dip any justice, as you probably cannot even tell that there's corn in it...

But I promise, this is what I actually started with:

And the end product tasted mighty good.

Overnight, the dip came out even better, which means that I need to keep in mind that (as I now recall having read somewhere) the spices and ingredients need to be given a chance to blend for some time before serving... so maybe next time I'll hold off on adding more cheddar until I've refrigerated it for a bit.  But I was just all about wanting the dip right at that moment.

You can definitely see the corn better in this final photo of the corn dip after having let it sit in the fridge overnight.  Add to it a little more spices, and I'm a happy corn dip dipping reader with a yummy snack!

I decided that I'm going to have to cut the mayo and sour cream portions down a bit.  Although next time, I'm going to try the recipe with Greek Yogurt as the substitute anyway, just to see how it comes out.

And now back to our regularly scheduled bookish meme...  =P

With Booklikes-opoly starting up, reading has become just a bit more exciting, and I'm so ready to finish read my current books so I can move onto the next dice roll.  After all, it's really the activity of choosing my next book based on square prompts that gets me all giddy.  =P  And yes, I DO enjoy reading the books as well, but that anticipation of the next dice roll?  Oh yeah, so much fun!

What I Read Last Week

What I'm Currently Reading

What I'm Planning to Read Next

Other Plans On the Blog

Unless I end up bogged down for days with one book or another, my activity level on the blog will be quite increased.  With BL-opoly ongoing, there will definitely be update posts, and hopefully reviews aplenty to keep things flowing.

I've got two reviews in particular that need a final read through, then I'll be posting them, probably within the next day or two (or even today!).

I'm sort of reserving the reading of I Contain Multitudes for the between BL-opoly books read... you know, in case I'm ever so productive as to finish my books before my next allowed roll date.

As for 'next reads', well, we're going to let the BL-opoly gods guide my reading schedule for the time being, so the only books I know for sure I'll be reading within the next month are the three listed above.  A Grave Matter will be one of my BL-opoly books, and the other two are books I've got pre-planned for June reading and will try to slip into the "schedule" when possible.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Brief Thoughts: Reason to Believe (Bullet Catcher's novella)

Reason to Believe

by Roxanne St. Claire
Bullet Catchers #3.5 (novella)
Also part of the What You Can't See anthology

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  3.5 Stars

**I only read Roxanne St. Claire's Reason to Believe.

I may or may not come back and read the rest of the novellas at another time.

”You weren’t paying attention to Protection 101.  I go where you go.”

Yes.  Thank you.  I was wondering about that exact thing on certain occasions (**cough**cough**Thrill Me To Death**cough**cough**), and was delighted that at least someone realizes that bodyguard work does not equate to “wandering off alone on independent investigations” or “asking the bodyguard to go somewhere else because it seems more important”.

The Story in Brief:
Reason to Believe was a decently told short novella featuring Chase Ryker (who was first introduced in the second book, Thrill Me To Death, and actually drew my attention with his subtle, yet charming personality).  The assigned principal is a TV psychic, Arianna Killian, who has hired the elite Bullet Catchers because she has been receiving malicious visions of a murder; however, Chase is under the impression that Ari has requested a guard due to nasty, threatening e-mails, which is also part of the problem, but not her main problem.

Someone out there wants Arianna to stop doing her psychic thing, and Ari knows that this person is willing to kill her if she doesn’t comply.  But her first hurdle is to figure out how to get Chase to believe that she is truly psychic so that he will take her seriously about this ethereal threat to her life.

Overall Thoughts:  Reason to Believe is intriguing and exciting, much like all of Roxanne St. Claire’s works that I have read so far.  Well written and decently suspenseful, even if some things don’t make sense, I still find myself properly entertained by each story.  This short novella was no different, though I will admit that it was somewhat more exciting than the previous two full-length novels--only the ending seemed to screw up the progressive flow of the story line for me.

Ari and Chase are both likable, relatable characters; and I love that Ari comes off blunt, straight-forward, no-nonsense, and pretty outspoken.  While she and Chase have their face-palm-worthy moments, I wasn't really too bothered by them as I have been for other characters from other books in this series.

The novella presented a sweet romance (though a bit too insta and too abrupt for my liking, but I’ll take it) and a good crime mystery and enough of a twist that I found that I really DID like it enough to overlook the unfortunate ending hour quibbles that surfaced--the closing chapters of this novella felt rushed and made little sense.  The paranormal aspect of this book was typical psychic investigation formulas, but an irksome deux ex machina in the last chapter really didn’t do much to help matters.

Nor did the throwing out of “Protection 101” that made me groan and roll my eyes.

Otherwise, I was satisfyingly entertained.


Other stories in this anthology:
  • Deliver Us From Evil by Allison Brennan
  • Redemption by Karin Tabke

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

Thoughts: Take Me Tonight

Take Me Tonight

by Roxanne St. Claire
Book 3 of Bullet Catchers

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  2.0 Stars

I'm going to call it what it is and say that I had a few superficial reasons for anticipating the third installation of the Bullet Catchers series, Take Me Tonight.   And these reason really only make sense to me, so I discourage anyone from trying see any normal logic in them.   Pretty much everything should have aligned properly to make this Ani’s favorite Bullet Catchers book:

1)  The summary blurb, as per usual, was intriguing.

2)  Our Bullet Catcher’s name is Johnny and he’s a playful, flirty, Italian who can cook.  (Have I ever mentioned before that a lot of the previous fictional male characters I’ve fallen in love with always got extra points for being able cook?)

3)  There was an underlying “cyber crime”-ish base to this Buller Catchers installment’s mystery.

4)  The beginning of the book was equal parts intriguing and exciting and came on strong enough to hook me right into the story.

But in the end, while the beginning was decently laid out, the rest of the book started to teeter on typical clichéd scenes that readily made me frustrated and roll my eyes.  Things did not play out productively, the progression was haphazard, and our main female character turned out NOT like the spunky, smart heroine I had been anticipating.  Because, of all the TSTL things a heroine can do in any story line, I think that Sage Valentine pretty much does it all:
  • Knowingly walking right into danger without any security or back-up plans.
  • Pushing away her personal protection for the sake of her own stubborn grudges.
  • Trusting all the wrong people and forcing away all the right ones.
  • Continually painting a target on her own forehead when she knows someone is out to harm her.

There is a time and a place to bravely do your job and be fiercely independent and search out the truth.  But then there’s also knowing how to be smart about being fiercely independent.  Because I don’t hate that Sage is a smart, resourceful woman who can take care of herself and can get out of certain sticky situations; I don’t rebuff the fact that she is independent and a skilled investigator.  I just always take issue whenever smart women become incompetent at keeping themselves safely out of danger when they have a world of resources to turn to for help, due to whatever misguided ideals they have about the meaning of being a strong, independent woman.

Why does being strong always have to equate to being stupidly heroic, or stubbornly martyr-ish?


The Story:
Sage Valentine’s roommate has died and Sage suspects foul play to do with a thrill-seeking website that Keisha Kingston has been participating in:  Apparently there’s a new trend of role playing in real life and real time where women pay to get the full package thrill of being kidnapped and then rescued--they also come with some sexual perks on the side, of course.  (Yes, I’m rolling my eyes too, but it’s a good concept for a Romantic Suspense/Crime Thriller, especially when these games lead to dead people and murder mysteries.  I promise, I’m not morbid or psychotically twisted in any way--I just enjoy my crime thrillers as proper crime thrillers with intriguing premises.)

In order to find out what happened, Sage pleads with her estranged aunt, Lucy Sharpe, to help her investigate the matter.  But Lucy claims that she has found nothing illegitimate or sinister behind the website and that Sage would be best to leave the investigation to the police, especially since Keisha’s death has been ruled as a suicide.

Unable to let it go, and convinced that Keisha would have never killed herself, Sage books her own kidnapping with plans to question the site’s “kidnappers” and “rescuers” until she can figure out the truth about Keisha’s death (in an utterly TSTL move without telling anyone what she’s planning to do, despite knowing that her life could be in danger).  And of course, being the all-knowing leader of the Bullet Catchers, Lucy knows what Sage has planned and she’d be damned if Sage ends up hurt, or worse, dead, because of her dogged investigations (which made me scratch my head about this since Lucy was fairly adamant that the whole experience was a hundred percent legitimate and not life-endangering, but whatevs, now we have a legit reason for a bodyguard to grace the scene).

Enter Johnny Christiano, a young man Lucy had saved from his previous life of darkness and crime and turned into an elite Bullet Catcher.  As someone who will follow Lucy blindly because of what she’s done for him, Johnny asks no questions when Lucy sends him to security detail on Sage without so much as an explanation or a fully-loaded file on the client and their principal.

And yes, of course, there are much more sinister workings going on to do with Keisha’s death as well as her fellow dance team members, the Snow Bunnies.  And then on top of that, we’ve got a side conflict involving back-history between Lucy and Sage and betrayal and how Johnny is highly loyal to Lucy and thus we also get some typical “Romantic Angst” at play.

Some Thoughts:
The biggest surprise twist in this story was why the kidnappings were ending in dead women--why there was a crime thriller to begin with and why our resident “bad guy” was doing what he was doing.  It’s not the best surprise twist, but I would have never guessed the motive even if I managed to guess the culprit--it was... strange, really.  The biggest disappointment (aside from Sage’s TSTL moments) was that the entire mystery was pretty predictable as to who was the “ultimate evil mastermind”--the guy practically flashes neon when he’s introduced for the first time in the story.

And then the rest of the book teeters into typical Romantic Suspense formulaic outlining.

The only saving grace of this book was probably Johnny as well as the excitability factor.  Because even though the crime thriller was predictable and even though I really, really tried to like Sage but failed, the book was written well and I DID like Johnny.  I mean, he’s not really unique or outstanding or anything; and he’s definitely no Johnny Duane Reed, of course (but that’s an unfair comparison, because no one could EVER be Johnny Duane Reed, really), but he’s an adorable sort of broody alpha male and he can cook.

The romance was all over the place, but the development wasn’t too bad.  The rest of the background characters came off kind of insignificant and flat, or boring and annoying and irritating.

Overall Thoughts:  I’m sorely disappointed that this third installation of the series didn’t really do anything for me.  The first book of the Bullet Catchers was a real hook, line, and sinker; however, the books just keep getting more frustrating as the series progresses.  Fortunately, they are written well and have a good enough dream team for me to still be considering following the rest of the series.

I suppose we’ll just see where it all leads.

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

Brief Thoughts: You Can Count On Me (Bullet Catchers novella)

You Can Count On Me

by Roxanne St. Claire
Bullet Catchers #2.5 (novella)
Part of the I'll Be Home for Christmas anthology

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  3.0 Stars

I only read Roxanne St. Claire's You Can Count On Me from this anthology, so the rating only applies to that individual novella.  Since I was on a short Bullet Catchers binge for the weekend, I didn't bother reading the rest of the novellas/short stories in this anthology.  I may or may not come back to them at some point in time.

In Short:
Bullet Catcher Raquel Durant is finally ready to take on her first field assignment and she's been assigned as bodyguard for the eight year old daughter of Grigori Nyekovic while he's in New York for business.  Of course, being a Romance novella, it doesn't take long for sparks to fly, and apparently, while a sweet, gentle father, Grigori (Gregg), comes on quite strong when he knows what he wants.  And obviously, he's found that he wants more from Raquel than just guarding his daughter.

My Brief Thoughts:
This was a fun and cute little romance novella with a short side of suspense to keep the theme going.  Gregg is in New York to procure a Fabergé egg which ends up being stolen in some convoluted plot that seems more complicated than it really is (or really needed to be).  This couldn't be just a cute little Christmas story, we have to have something more happen for action... which I normally don't mind for a full-blown novel, so the extra suspense seemed a bit much.

Nonetheless, I really did find the story enjoyable, that is, if you ignore some of the logic failures such as why Raquel would willingly wander off with Gregg on spy missions when she's supposed to be guarding eight year old Kristina.  I get that she was excited about learning investigative skills and espionage, but her first and foremost priority was supposed to be Kristina's safety, no matter what else the father asks her to do.

Besides, I was of the impression that Raquel already had pretty good investigative skills, so what gives?

Final Thoughts:  Simple and cute.  I had been hoping for more of a full-length novel for Raquel, being the only female Bullet Catcher aside from the head honcho Lucy.  So I'm a little disappointed that she gets stuck into a short novella where not much really happens.  Enjoyable nonetheless.


Other stories in this anthology:
  • Christmas of the Red Chiefs by Linda Lael Miller
  • Once Upon a Christmas by Catherine Mulvany
  • Meltdown by Julie Leto

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

Brief Thoughts: Thrill Me to Death

Thrill Me to Death

by Roxanne St. Claire
Book 2 of Bullet Catchers

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  3.0 Stars

The second book in the Bullet Catchers series proves to be quite exciting with a very strong start and a set of interesting characters.  It's only unfortunate that a few logic fails in the realm of bodyguard-landia makes some of the eleventh hour plot a little hard to accept.

Also, the concluding mystery of billionaire William Peyton's death was explained away in a too convenient, left-field sort of way and kind of didn’t really make much sense.

Nonetheless, the excitement of the investigation and some other weird suspense stuff kept me hooked, even if some aspects were a little irksome to me (more on this later).

The Story:
Bullet Catcher Max Roper has been assigned to protect billionaire widow Corinne Peyton.  Being the Bullet Catcher boss and manipulative fearless leader that she is, Lucy Sharpe has reasons for everything she does and this assignment isn't merely a bodyguard and security detail task.

Corinne Peyton was formerly Cori Cooper, Max's ex-lover and ex-fiancé until a DEA mission went awry and Cori's father died in the line of fire.  For this, Cori blames Max and the two have been split up since.

Now, Max's mission is not only to provide security to the billionairess, but at the behest of the insurance company, to investigate whether or not Cori had a hand in her husband's death.  After all, a young, beautiful, and smart woman would have never willingly married a much older, sixty-something year old billionaire if not because of his money and his status… right?  And so the sudden heart attack that killed William Peyton may or may not be suspect.

On the other hand, Cori already suspects that William didn't die of a natural heart attack, but she doesn't know who she can trust to help her find out who murdered her husband.  And with her digging for answers as well as a suspicious attempt on her life, she believes there is something much more sinister at hand.

Brief Thoughts:
The story starts out very strong and I was hooked by the mystery.  While the story tries to create a plausibility that Cori is hiding a terrible secret, that maybe she is the one who murdered her husband, the attempts are only half-baked and we, as the readers, know that she is obviously NOT the one who killed her own husband for money or power or whatever else.  So I give the book kudos for making me wonder what it was that Cori was hiding from everyone about her husband’s death since she was obviously keeping secrets; however, I frown at its attempt to paint Cori in the greedy, manipulative murderess light while giving caveats to her personality as a good person.

The romance was okay, though I liked the friendship and romantic tension flitting between Max and Cori.  It wasn’t the best romance in the world, but it worked just fine.  The side characters had their fair share of unique intrigue as well, which made for a really good "Whodunnit".

Unfortunately, as I'd already mentioned, there were logic fails that I had a hard time accepting.  The conclusion of the billionaire's death was a bit left-field, for one.

But the biggest problem I had was between Cori being determined to get herself killed in typical TSTL fashion, and Max not doing his job to keep her from getting herself killed.  For all the crap that Max gives Alex Romero in the first book about doing his job properly, I honestly feel like Max really screws up as a bodyguard and at least Alex didn’t consistently make bad decisions that would keep putting his principal in danger just because he couldn’t handle his own personal emotions or the sexual tension.

Sure, Max would make an excellent investigator--he was a former DEA agent after all.  But as a bodyguard, his job is to keep his principal safe, not chase after bad guys or go off doing his own investigation.  A bodyguard is pretty much ON his client like white on rice, especially when you know that her life is being threatened.  It probably doesn’t help that Cori kept sending him away when she was the one who requested a bodyguard in the first place, but more than once, Max goes off to investigate William Peyton's murder, leaving Cori completely unprotected, and I really don't think that's okay.

The romance between Max and Cori was lukewarm and their chemistry as lovers left much to be desired.  Their chemistry as friends with an underlying sexual tension, however, was actually pretty damn good.

Overall Thoughts:  Thrill Me To Death does require a little bit of leeway in suspension of disbelief to be acceptable.  However, once you get past the frustrating logic fails, the rest of the story really isn't all that bad and actually extremely entertaining, exciting, and enjoyable.

I was looking forward to reading Max’s Bullet Catcher Romantic Suspense, but it turned out that it wasn’t really what I’d been hoping for.

HOWEVER, we’ve been introduced to two new Bullet Catchers who have caught my attention and THAT is definitely a good way to keep me attentive!

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

Thoughts: Kill Me Twice

Kill Me Twice

by Roxanne St. Claire
Book 1 of Bullet Catchers

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  3.5 Stars

As the first book in Roxanne St. Claire's Bullet Catchers series, Kill Me Twice was decently enjoyable, entertaining, and exciting.  It's not the most outstanding Romantic Suspense I've ever read, but it does involve a clichéd trope that I've always had a soft spot for as well as a decidedly nice spin to make said trope more fun.

And since the entire series pretty much hinges on this particular trope--Bodyguards in a Romantic Suspense--I’ve been very much looking forward to this series for some time now.

The Story:
Alex Romero is one of Lucy Sharpe's best Bullet Catchers (aren't they all) who is actually on probation from a slightly messy screw-up trickling in from a previous mission.  Apparently, Pretty Boy Romero has a problem keeping his passionate charms to himself when guarding the clients (of which they term “principal”), and brings on the flirt and the seduction in waves.  Not that he does anything to keep himself from falling for seductions, really, according to all his fellow Bullet Catchers, but it’s not like he goes into the mission trying to seduce his clients… or their wives.

But that's a moot point because now Alex has been sent on his new mission to babysit a top news anchor at the request of a friend of Lucy's--kind of like a chance to redeem himself.  Eager to get his messy reputation behind him, Alex agrees to be the bodyguard for one Jessica Adams who has recently seen a string of nasty stalker letters that her boss doesn't think she's taking seriously.

Of course, being a Romantic Suspense, it would be totally obvious that Jessica Adams is pretty much a gorgeous, refined woman with the body of a supermodel.  I think it’s safe to say that Alex is not amused with this “test” his boss is giving him.  After all, it’s not like he doesn’t know how to appreciate a beautiful and sexy woman, right?

Meanwhile, Jasmine Adams is a private investigator who was once in the news, media, and journalism field some time ago.  But the spotlight and the politics of public television never sat well for her, and so she took up a less attention-grabbing job--and to her a more satisfying career--as a PI.  Always feeling like the needy, helpless younger twin sister to successful and ambitious Jessica Adams who has her entire life together, Jazz practically jumps at the chance to help her twin out when Jessica sends her a request.

The idea is that Jasmine needs to fall off the grid for some time in order to follow a big, network-breaking story, but no one is to know that she's gone.  Jasmine's role, as the identical twin sister, is to pretend to be Jessica for about a week until she's done.

Except when Jasmine arrives at her sister's home, Jessica seems to be nowhere to be found.  Instead, Jazz must work with her twin sister's new bodyguard as they begin to uncover some sinister plot that Jessica managed to stumble into, leading Jasmine further and further into dangerous territory.

Some Thoughts:
As I had already stated, Kill Me Twice isn't the most outstanding Romantic Suspense in the world, but it was definitely exciting (to an extent), entertaining, and enjoyable.  There were moments when things felt a little flat and mediocre, but I take that as part of the whole "Getting to Know You” dance that we get to play with the usual “First Book in a Series”.  If I continue to enjoy the rest of the series (which I have every intention of continuing), I might feel a little different about this book a couple weeks down the line.

For its part, Kill Me Twice introduces, quite smoothly and tactfully, a group of interesting characters in the Bullet Catcher's organization.  Lucy Sharpe is ex-CIA and manages the Bullet Catchers as their fearless leader--she comes off cold and calculating, but deep down, it seems that she truly DOES care about her little Bullet Catcher family… even though she is one hundred percent willing to manipulate her own people to get results.  The names of other agents are also dropped along with interesting descriptions and their own unique personalities: Dan Gallagher and Max Roper, as well as a female Bullet Catcher named Raquel who hasn’t yet graduated outside of desk work, but who is described as a genius with a computer.  I suspect we will see more of these characters soon as I flip through the rest of the series' books' summary blurbs in curiosity.

Alex Romero is the typical alpha male with a hot-head and a no-nonsense attitude when it comes to his job, but with a suave and charming personality that women fall head-over-heels in love with--though I must say, I’ve never really been much taken with the whole “sexy Latin lover” thing myself.  Some of his antics come off a bit cheesy to me, but I can see the appeal for lots of other women.  And so to make his job harder, he's apparently also got a pretty face and a very active libido (refer to the messy previous mission wherein a problem with seduction happened).  Enter Jasmine Adams who is not only NOT the woman he's supposed to be guarding, but also a woman who is fiercely independent with the ability to take care of herself just fine, thank you very much, and Alex pretty much has his hands full.

While Alex didn't necessarily stand out too much, he was also a pretty good equal to Jazz.  However, it truly is Jasmine that stood out for me despite having unfortunate TSTL moments where she just needed to admit that there are other options besides walking right into danger when she knew it was there.  Other times, however, I DO agree that Alex's overbearing intimidation got a little paranoid and out of hand.  But otherwise, I liked that Jazz was a competent investigator with great computer skills and the ability to kick some butt when it's necessary.

And I liked that Alex admitted and respected that about her and stopped trying to get all manhandle-y (yes, I know that's not a word) with her.  Which brings us to the Romance part of the story, which I thought was done quite well, if you can see past the end-hour unnecessary angst.  The insta-lust was strong, but the romance didn't overpower the rest of the book's story line and it didn't get in the way of our main couple's ability to get things done.

The relationship's chemistry was pretty good, but I'm more satisfied with the equal-opportunity partnership between our lovebirds as they worked together investigating Jessica's strange disappearance than I was with their abilities to romance each other.

Overall Thoughts:  Kill Me Twice definitely DID impress as a first book in a series. At least it was exciting enough with intriguing enough characters to lure me into continuing on with the rest of the books.  If the rest of the Bullet Catchers series has the same vein of spunky heroines and respectable alpha heroes, then I'm totally game.

I certainly became interested to see what kind of woman it takes to turn the straight-laced, rule-following Max Roper into putty.


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 April 2015.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

2019 Reading Assignment | Summer Semester Courses!

Michelle and Berls @ Because Reading

This post and subsequent updates will be linked at 2019 Reading Assignment Challenge | Summer Semester Page.

I don't want to spend too much time reiterating the new twists for this year's Reading Assignment, so I'll direct everyone to my main tracking page, linked above for all the deets.  You can also find them at the sign up page at Because Reading, also linked above.

So the Summer Semester will encompass only June and July (starts June 1 and ends August 1).  Seems short and straight forward, but due to certain circumstances, I've decided to drop some courses, and make some changes.  I've still been averaging a lower number of books each month than I used to, and had some problems keeping up with my readings while also wanting to participate in various buddy reads and reading games that popped up.

Due to this, and the announcement of another wonderful summer reading game, Booklikes-opoly 2019 Edition, I decided that I needed a much more flexible reading list than what Reading Assignment would likely give me.

I'm choosing to drop Professor AuthorLuv's Course and will be focusing entirely on Professor Genre's and Professor Mix-It-Up's Courses.  I had considered still taking the Beginner level Class of the Professor AuthorLuv's Course, but I'm not sure that's in my best interests this summer based on my progress during the Spring Semester.  While I actually did not do terribly during the Spring Semester, I just barely made it reading the last book I needed to read by the end of each month.

I will be taking the Advanced level Class for Professor Genre's Course.  And I'm taking liberties with this summer semester by choosing an extremely broad genre:  Romance.  For an extra challenge, I'm going to try to pick only from books I already own, prior to the start of the Summer Semester.  At least that little caveat will keep me focused.  Of course, I promise nothing, and chances are, the library will be utilized no matter how hard I try, but try I certainly will.

For Professor Mix-It-Up's Course, I'm taking the Beginner's Class--my chosen books will be listed in the following section.  This is my main challenge this summer semester, as I have three specific books I would love to finish for a specific series that is long overdue to be finished.  As I had been under the impression that the Summer Semester also encompassed all of August, I thought I needed three books, but now knowing that the Summer Semester ends on August 1, I only need two books.  So of the three books I'm wanting to finish reading, I will only read two of them and then find another time to read the last one.

This gives me at least four books a month.  And since I read romance on a regular basis anyway, this is pretty much a free-for-all for me.  It almost feels like I'm cheating...  Which is why I added my personal criteria for the course, as well as Professor Mix-It-Up's Course, to at least give me some semblance of a challenge.  But essentially, I'm only really requiring myself to read one specific book a month.  The books for Professor Genre's Course are very much small potatoes with or without my special requirement.

For more details, visit the 2019 Reading Assignment Challenge sign up post (linked here and at the beginning).

My 2019 Summer Semester Reading Assignment Course List:

Professor Genre - Advanced Class (credits: 3):  I will be reading romance novels... of any sub-genre.  I will hopefully be sticking to books I already own, prior to the start of the Summer Semester.

Professor Mix-It-Up - Beginner's Class (credits: 1):  Below is my finalized reading list for the spring semester.

I believe that I started reading this series in 2011, and then followed by reading one book each year.  I decided that it was time to get my act together and finish the series.  I've always included one of these books in my Reading Assignment or some other TBR Reading Challenge over the years, and now it's time to just get it done.  After these two books, there's one last light novel in the series, and I'll hopefully find a way to insert it into my reading "schedule."

BLopoly | Roll #3 & Memorial Bonus Rolls Activities

(For roll details, see up update post.)

I had a couple books in mind for two of the three spaces above, and after some searching, have finally made a few decisions.  This is what I've come up with:

Roll #3 | The Lake House 20:  Read a book that features a dog or which has a dog on the cover; or that is set in an area known for its lakes or on a fictional lake.

I shall be reading Run to the Ground by Katie Ruggle, which will fit the criteria of having a dog on the cover.  This book clocks at 416 pages, Kindle version, which is equal to $5.

Memorial Day Bonus Rolls

Roll #4 | The Summer Blockbuster 27:  Read a book that features a hero's journey or is a Bildungsroman (coming of age tale); or that has a word related to space in the title (i.e., star, planet, rocket).

I wasn't sure I'd be able to find a book for this particular space's prompts, but then I recalled that there are a lot of high fantasy adventures out there I'd been meaning to read that could very well fit the frame of a "hero's journey."  After doing a bit of a search, I actually ended up wavering between three different books, and in the end, what decided me was based on familiarity, and accessibility.  The summary of Wolfskin sounds very much like a "hero's journey," but if it's not, please let me know and I'll fall back on a different one.  The other two books I'd been considering were Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb, and The Gunslinger by Stephen King.

Being more familiar with Juliet Marillier, and actually owning the paperback itself was pretty much the deciding factor for me.  My paperback version of Wolfskin is 516 pages, which will get me a $5 addition to the bank.

Roll #5 | European Vacation 35:  Read a book set in Europe, or that was written by an author who was born in Europe, or that involves travel by boat or that has a picture of a ship on the cover.

I have chosen to continue on with the next Lady Darby Mystery book by Anna Lee Huber, A Grave Matter.  The book takes place in Scotland.  This book clocks at 433 pages, Kindle version, which is yet, another $5 to my Bank Total upon completion.

Looks like I have some serious reading ahead of me!

Booklikes-opoly 2019 | Roll #3 & Memorial Day Bonus Rolls (#4 & #5)!!

@ Booklikes, the book blogging social platform

Just like the 2017 game, in celebration of Memorial Day Weekend, Moonlight has decreed BONUS ROLLS!!

I saw all the updates and posts last night, but I was still on my second roll's book (just in case anyone is wondering, I went back and tweaked my roll numbers, so that the two rolls that I took the last turn because of the novelty card are now 2a and 2b... not that anyone really cares, but well...), and wanted to get it finished reading before I jumped into any bonus rolls.

So now I'm going to go ahead and take my regularly scheduled roll (a day later than I would have liked, but whatevs), as well as the two Memorial Day Weekend bonus rolls!

Regularly Scheduled Roll:

First off, Roll #3 came up as a 5, which brought me to Lake House 20.  I'm fairly certain I have at least one or two books that will fit this square, both of them romantic suspense, and both books I already own.  I'll pick one of them to help whittle down my Mt. TBR.

Ah yes... it's been raining most of the week, so it looks like the board is a bit gloomy this morning, even in spite of Penni's attempts to liven things up with the lucky stars.  And, why yes, that IS Murder by Death's fancy board with written in square prompts.  Except that my photography skills are a little lacking today, so you can't really see the written in prompts, because otherwise the picture would have had to have been cut off somewhere.  And since Penni's got the lucky stars out, I'm using them to kind of "mark" the squares I've already landed on, though it's a little hard to see.  And now I'm also contemplating a color code for the squares that are finished and the squares that are active...

And Penni is still wearing Teddy Bear's boat as a hat, but that's okay.  Teddy is busy anyway.

Moving along now...

Memorial Day Bonus Rolls

My first Bonus Roll (Roll #4), got me a 7, and took me to The Summer Blockbuster 27.  The above pic of the card is a bit blurry, so here is the prompt:  Read a book that features a hero's Bildungsroman (coming of age tale), or that has a word related to space in the title (i.e., star, planet, rocket).  Hmm... I'm not sure I like this square very much, and there is a high possibility I will skip it.  But I'll give it a shot first and see what book I can come up with.

Well, hey!  In celebration of the Memorial Day long weekend and BONUS ROLLS, it looks like we've managed to liven things up on the board again.  There is a mess of lucky stars everywhere... thanks to Penni's enthusiasm.  And Monkey has stolen the boat hat.

My next Bonus Roll (#5) was a 9, and so we moved onward to European Vacation 35.  Pretty much any historical I want to read will fit this square, as they all either take place in England or Scotland.  I'm very tempted to simply read the next Lady Darby Mystery book... and will probably just go ahead and do so.

Yes, I know, Penni.  Monkey is still up there.  And yes, he still has the boat hat on.  And you've somehow managed to acquire more lucky stars within your vicinity, so a little clean-up might be in order.  Oh, look:  Key-chain Puppy has come to investigate the Monkey (*snort*) business.  =P

As for books, I've kind of got two particular books in mind for two of the squares I've landed on.  But as I've mentioned, that first bonus roll may take a bit of searching, so I'm going to check out my possibilities, and then update with my final book selections.

Novelty Cards Currently In My Pocket

My Progress

Current Bank:  $26
Prison Library Donation:  0 pages
Books Read:  2

(Roll #)
Dice Roll Space/Prompt Book Title / Author Pages Cash
5/20 Game Start $20
5/20 (#1) 5 The Silk Road:
Read a book set in any of the 40 countries along Silk Road, or by an author from any of those countries.
Hard Target by Pamela Clare 261 $3
5/22 (#2a) 8 Novelty Card Robot -- save for later
(Create a numbered list of ten books, and let a random number generator pick for you).
n/a n/a n/a
5/22 (#2b) 4 Mountain Cabin 16:
Read a book that is considered mystery/suspense genre, or which has a title that contains all of the letters in the word C-A-B-I-N.
Tightrope by Amanda Quick 320 $3
5/25 (#3) 5 The Lake House 20:
Read a book that features a dog or which has a dog on the cover; or that is set in an area known for its lakes or on a fictional lake.
Memorial Day Bonus Rolls
5/25 (#4) 7 The Summer Blockbuster 27:
Read a book that features a hero's journey or is a Bildungsroman (coming of age tale); or that has a word related to space in the title (i.e., star, planet, rocket).

5/25 (#5) 9 European Vacation 35:
Read a book set in Europe; or that was written by an author who was born in Europe; or that involves travel by boat or that has a picture of a ship on the cover.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

2019 Reading Assignment Challenge | Spring Semester Report Card

Michelle and Berls @ Because Reading

So apparently I'm completely incapable of reading rules properly, because I had myself convinced that the Spring Semester Reading Assignment lasted through to the end of May.  But if I'd stopped to look at the above logo... well, as you an see, the Spring Semester apparently ended on May 1.  And so I had planned an entire extra month of required reads to get through.  le sigh...

Since that is the case, and since I'm really almost done with what I thought were my required May Reading Assignment books, I'm just going to push through and finish the last Amanda Quick book, and pretend that the Spring Semester lasts through to the end of May.

At least I've read the Summer Semester rules more properly to find that we're only doing June 1 to August 1.

Anyway, now onto my grading...  Even though I'm still going to read for May, I'm only going to count grading for the first four months.  Mainly because I'm quite confident I'll finish the Amanda Quick book pretty quickly, and also because I can.

I don't mind that I missed submitting my report card, but I'm going to list out my grades and the points I earned for each course anyway.

My Grades:

Professor AuthorLuv - Intermediate Class (credits: 2):
Grade = A -- I read all my required books for all the months!
Points Earned = 5

Professor Genre - Advanced Class (credits: 3):
Grade = A -- I read all my required books for all the months!
Points Earned = 6

Professor Mix-It-Up - Beginner's Class (credits: 1):
Grade = B -- I missed reading all required books for one of the months.
Points Earned = 3

Professor AuthorLuv - Intermediate (credits: 2):

Author:  Amanda Quick // 2 books per month // 10 books total
Progress:  9/10 books read

1.  With This Ring | Read 1/11/19
2.  I Thee Wed | Read 1/18/19

3.  Wicked Widow | Read 2/15/19
4.  Lie By Moonlight | Read 2/20/19

5.  Slightly Shady | Read 3/16/19
6.  Don't Look Back | Read 3/31/19

7.  Late for the Wedding | Read 4/5/19
8.  Dangerous | Read 4/30/19

9.  Seduction | Read 5/15/19
10.  Tightrope | TBR

Professor Genre - Advanced (credits: 3):

Genre:  Historical Fiction // 3 books per month // 15 books total
Progress: 15/15 books read

1.  The Anatomist's Wife by Anna Lee Huber | Read 1/8/19
2.  The Bride by Julie Garwood | Read 1/14/19
3.  Mr. Ridley by Delilah Marvelle | Read 1/28/19

4.  Sweet Release by Pamela Clare | Read 2/22/19
5.  Carnal Gift by Pamela Clare | Read 2/24/19
6.  Ride the Fire by Pamela Clare | Read 2/28/19

7.  The Dragon and the Pearl by Jeannie Lin | Read 3/19/19
8.  Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson | Read 3/24/19
9.  A Most Extraordinary Pursuit by Juliana Gray | Read 3/30/19

10.  A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn | Read 4/8/19
11.  Indigo by Beverly Jenkins | Read 4/26/19
12.  The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy | Read 4/28/19

13.  An Inquiry into Love and Death by Simone St. James | Read 5/5/19
14.  The Other Side of Midnight by Simone St. James | Read 5/12/19
15.  Mortal Arts by Anna Lee Huber | Read 5/19/19

Professor Mix-It-Up - Beginner (credits: 1):

Pre-chosen List (see below) // 1 book per month // 5 books total
Progress: 4/5 books read

1.  The Neverending Story by Michael Ende | Read 1/29/19
2.  Part Time Cowboy by Maisey Yates | Read 2/7/19
3.  Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld | Read 3/12/19
4.   I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong | Missed
5.  The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie | Read 5/19/19