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Book Review: One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston (Plus Reading Group / Book Club Discussion Guide)

Digital cover of the book One Last STop. A white woman with a bigger body and red hair holds a cup of coffee outside of a train. The train is labeled Q. A medium skin-toned Chinese-American woman in torn jeans with a leather jacket and a backpack stands inside the train. The doors are open between them. Subtitle of the book is - Sometimes love stops you in your tracks.

Summary:
Twenty-four-year-old August has struggled to find her place in life. She’s now transferred to her third college, this time in Brooklyn, and she hopes it’ll stick. She finds a room in an apartment that comes with a delightful mix of found friends all also a part of the queer community, and they set her up with a job at the local diner. August thinks maybe it’s finally time to fit in and start to feel like she’s living a normal life, but then she meets a stunningly cute Chinese-American girl on the Q train. And meets here again. And again. Slowly she discovers that this girl might not be quite what she seems to be – in fact she’s a punk rock lesbian from the 1970s displaced out of time. Can August solve the case of how she got displaced and not lose her heart in the process?

Review:
I heard this described somewhere as a queer romance similar to the movie Kate & Leopold. That’s one of my favorite romantic comedies, so I was sold. I can definitely understand the comparison. They’re both set in New York and feature a love interest displaced out of their own time. While I love Kate & Leopold though, I have to admit I didn’t quite love this book.

Let’s start with what I liked. The main character, August, is bisexual and says it (more than once) with confidence. There is no biphobia expressed in this book by any of the characters she cares about. I also really appreciated seeing a bisexual main character who is a virgin and yet still declares this. An important moment of representation that one does not need to sleep with people to know one’s sexuality

August’s roommates and new friends are eclectic and fun while still feeling real. There is representation of gay and trans* folks especially. One of the roommates is Black (with Chinese adoptive parents), one is Greek-American, and one is Jewish. There’s a lot of diversity here. Part of what made them all feel real is that all of them had their own different families and issues. It wasn’t one queer story but many. I also really liked how real the local drag club felt, and I appreciated the representation of someone in recovery (the chef at the pancake restaurant).

I thought there was a lot of sizzle between August and the girl on the train – Biyu. Now at first she goes by Jane but over the course of the book she comes to ask to go by her birth name, Biyu, rather than her Americanized nickname. I want to be respectful of that. I also enjoyed the mystery of how she came to be on the train, and how August goes about solving it.

I felt pretty neutrally about the sex scenes. They were steamy without being explicit, but they weren’t anything particularly memorable for me. Some readers, I know, were turned off by the fact some of the sex happens on the train. That didn’t bother me because it makes sense for the characters. But be forewarned!

Now what I liked less. I don’t think the book handled racism and homophobia as directly or clearly as it should have. Biyu is from the 1970s and is a Chinese-American who is visibly lesbian. She literally had run-ins with the cops over wearing men’s clothes in her time period. But being jetted forward 40 years doesn’t solve the problems of homophobia and racism. I think the book acknowledges this by having Biyu have a run-in with someone who says something both racist and homophobic to her (the words are not said in the book and the incident appears off-screen). Yet August responds by saying, “most people aren’t like that anymore” (I can’t give an exact page number as this was a review copy but it occurs in Chapter 12). This does lead into a large fight between Biyu and August, which I think implies that August was wrong in what she said. However, I think August needed a bigger I was wrong moment, where she acknowledges that she did a very poor job of both being there for Biyu in that moment and of describing the complexity of how racism and homophobia are simultaneously different and yet not in modern times. I think readers also would have benefited from a nuanced discussion of how, for example, same-sex marriage is now legal and yet hate crimes against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have increased dramatically in the last year, especially against Chinese-Americans (source). I think this book wanted to say something big and interesting about sexuality and queerness especially in the 1970s versus now, but in my opinion it falls short of accomplishing this.

Additionally, I know I was supposed to find the ending satisfying but it left me dissatisfied. I think for similar reasons – it’s a complex situation and the book doesn’t dig deep enough or hard enough into these complexities. Things are kept at the surface level. While it is a book in the spirit of a romcom, romcoms can say big and difficult things while not losing the romcom feel. Confessions of a Shopaholic springs to mind – it deals with the very serious issue of shopping addiction while still feeling like a very fun romcom.

Overall, this book is fun and lighthearted. It features a realistic bisexual lead and steamy, yet not explicit, f/f scenes. The queer found family is delightful. But it could have stood to have dug a bit deeper into the serious issues it brought up. They are important conversations to have that wouldn’t have messed up the lightheartedness of the romcom vibe.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 422 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert (Series, #2)

Cover of the book Take a Hint Dani Brown.

Summary:
Danika Brown, PhD student, might have a workaholic problem with her all hours of the day research, writing, and teaching. But she certainly doesn’t have a romance problem, because she keeps her sexual relationships devoid of romance. Zafir, once pro rugby player, now security guard at the university and founder of a sports charity for kids that’s still getting off the ground, knows he has feelings for Dani. When there’s a fire alarm in the building and Dani doesn’t evacuate, he can’t help going back in for her and carrying her outside. Then the video goes viral as #DrRugbae, and his niece realizes this could be the solution for his charity. Dani is game to pretending to be a couple until the viral attention goes away. But somehow slowly the pretending feels less and less like pretend.

Review:
Listen, if you are looking for a romance novel with a bisexual leading lady who actually uses the word “bisexual” to describe herself AND says it to the hero AND it’s no big deal to him AND there’s no cheating betwixt them AND the happy ever after is monogamous then stop what you are doing and pick up this book. Right now. Because honey, that perfectly describes this book. I also want to note that, Dani isn’t an aromantic convinced into romance – she’s a romantic whose heart was shattered who’s pretending she’s not into romance to keep her heart safe.

Ok, so if you’re not a bisexual reader desperate for that type of representation in a romance novel, why might you be into this book? Well, it’s hilarious. Laugh out loud funny. Dani and Zaf are equally funny and complicated. Their misunderstandings make sense. They both apologize when necessary. The set-up as to why they are fake dating is for a good cause (his charity) not something inane like tricking extended family at a wedding. They’re an inter-racial (Black and Pakistani) and inter-faith (witch and Muslim) couple. But the problems they encounter don’t really have to do with any of that. It has entirely to do with learning how to speak with and open up to one another.

I also really liked the growing opportunities for both Dani and Zaf beyond their relationship. Dani needs to learn better work/life balance. No one judges her for wanting to be successful, but she starts to learn she needs to have some downtime too. Zaf needs to learn not to entirely ditch his past and be more honest about his own grief and mental health issues that led to him starting the charity to begin with.

Sex scenes exist in this romance novel, but they are not constant (ie, don’t expect one every chapter!) The ones that do exist are explicit without turning corny. Consent is always clear but not in a natural way, not an awkward way. The sex scenes are also, dare I say it, entertaining and sweet?

While I note this is a series, you don’t have to read all three Brown sister books or necessarily read them in order. Although I will note that if you read the second book, you’ll see who Chloe ends up with (the sister from the first book). While I think all three books are well-worth the read, I admit to Dani’s story being my favorite.

5 out of 5 stars

Length: 320 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: Library

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Book Review: It Ain’t Me, Babe by Tillie Cole (Series, #1)

Book Review: It Ain't Me Babe by Tillie Cole (Series, #1)Summary:
River “Styx” Nash was born into the Hades Hangmen motorcycle club. He always knew he was set to inherit running it, in spite of his speech impediment, but he never expected to be running it at the young age of twenty-six. When a young woman shows up at their doorstep, bleeding and unconscious, he’s reminded of a girl he met at a fence in the woods when he was a boy….a girl who has haunted him ever since.

Salome grew up under Prophet David’s rule in the commune that’s the only home she’s ever known. When her sister dies, she finds the strength to run and somehow ends up in the arms of the man who was once a boy she met at the fence of the commune.

Review:
I’m being a bit charitable with my rating of this read because the juxtaposition of commune and motorcycle club (gang) is one I haven’t seen before, and I do think it’s interesting. Additionally, I do realize that these types of romances are basically fantasy so I try to cut them some leeway. That said, this book is not executed as well as it could have been for its genre. There are some jarring elements that take the reader out of the read, thus leading it to be less enjoyable.

First, it’s poorly edited. There are many clear mistakes such as saying things like “gotta to.” It reads like a first copy, not a final draft. Better editing would have really helped this book.

Second, you have to imagine that the reader who might pick up a romance featuring motorcycles might know a thing or two about them. While everything else surrounding the motorcycles can be pure fantasy, the motorcycles themselves should function like the real world (unless it’s scifi). Motorcycles, though, are treated in the book as basically cars with two wheels, and anyone who’s ridden one can tell you that’s not so, and a motorcycle gang definitely would know better than to treat them that way. One glaring instance of being unrealistic about bikes is when Salome first rides on one. The book sets it up that she has no idea what a motorcycle is. She’s never seen one before, she has zero idea how they work. In spite of this, the only riding instruction she’s given is to “hold on.” Even someone giving the most bare of instructions to a new passenger will tell them to follow the lead of the rider — to lean when they lean and not to counter-lean against the rider. This is basic safety and even a motorcycle gang would give those basic instructions because a passenger who is startled could easily cause the bike to crash and riders love their bikes. Similarly, in spite of Salome not knowing anything about motorcycles, she puts on the helmet with zero instructions. I have never seen anyone who’s never worn a motorcycle helmet before be able to put it on with zero instructions. The strap is complicated and almost always takes guidance. Additionally, we are to believe Salome is riding with someone who cares about her, yet he doesn’t check on her helmet at all. This is not something a rider who cares about his passenger would ever do.

The final thing I found jarring was descriptions of the abuse in the cult. I fully expected there to be cult abuse, but there are repeated flashbacks to the rape of 8 year olds whose legs are being held apart by bear traps. I personally find it extremely difficult to get into a romance that repeatedly flashes back to the graphic underage and violent rape of the main character. It made the book feel like it was at war with itself. Did it want to be a contemporary book about the horrors of cults or did it want to be a romance? You can be both, but that is a difficult book to write, and it’s important to either put all of the abuse in one area of the book (usually where the heroine informs the hero about it) or to make the abuse more minimal (ie maybe the heroine grew up in a cult that restricted her knowledge and movement but that didn’t rape her physically).

Ultimately, while I appreciate the interesting combination of main characters (leader of a motorcycle club and escapee from a cult), I found the execution to not live up to the unique premise. Primarily recommended to those interested in the fantasy of motorcycles with little personal knowledge of them. They will be more able to get fully into the fantasy.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: Rymellan 2: Shattered Lives by Sarah Ettritch (Series, #2)

May 25, 2016 1 comment

Book Review: Rymellan 2: Shattered Lives by Sarah EttritchSummary:
Mo and Lesley, girlfriends since they were teenagers, have spent the last two years apart awaiting their Chosen papers. Meanwhile they both continue to pursue their careers. Mo as a pilot and Lesley as a member of the Interior, ensuring Rymellans continue to follow the Way. When their Chosen papers finally arrive, they think the uncertainty is finally over. But what they reveal is just another form of it.

Review:
I enjoyed the first book in this series so much that I picked up the second immediately. The first book ends on a cliffhanger, and I just had to find out what happened with Mo and Lesley next. Would they be each other’s Chosen? Would they defy the Way to be together? Was a giant revolt coming? The answer was definitely not what I was expecting, and it certainly keeps the series unique.

While I continued to be deeply invested in Lesley and Mo’s relationship (on pause as it was during much of the book), I was disappointed to find that this book doesn’t explore deeper into any of the questions I had in the first book. I feel that the second book, particularly with its context of Lesley and Mo waiting for papers and both of them in adult jobs with more power and access to information, lends itself perfectly to explaining more about Rymel. Yet this exploration and information reveal never happens.

My questions in the first book revolving around where Rymel comes from, why it’s so not diverse, and the origin of the Way were only added onto. Who is this enemy Rymel is always preparing for?  What about the bisexuals? If Rymellans aren’t actually related to us (Earth humans) at all, that’s fine. They might just only have monosexual identities. But if they are related to us, the lack of the Chosen Way dealing with bisexual/pansexual attractions is frustrating. For that matter, what about trans* people and gender non-conforming people? How exactly are children handled in the same-sex couples? People keep mentioning same-sex female couples having daughters but no one talks about how. And what about same-sex male couples? It’s such a fascinating world, and I found myself like a thirsty person a desert wanting to know more about it and how it works.

The plot goes a direction I really was not expecting. That’s not a bad thing. It surprised me and kept me engaged. There are two aspects of the plot that were unexpected. One isn’t a spoiler so I’ll talk about that first. It’s fairly clear early on in this book that Mo and Lesley aren’t the rebelling sort. They’re going to kowtow to this dystopian regime, and they believe that’s the right thing to do. It’s a different perspective to get. Usually there’s rebellion. But that doesn’t always work out for people in the real world. A lot of people choose to live their lives in safety obeying the state to stay safe, and it’s interesting to see that reflected in literature.

*spoiler*
The Chosen Council puts Mo and Lesley together, but in a Triad. A third person, Jane, is Joined with them. Triads historically haven’t succeeded, and they are extremely rare. But they do exist because sometimes the perfect match actually goes three ways. The Triad is extra complicated because Jane’s parents were famous for committing a Chosen crime (they committed adultery). They were killed and Jane was orphaned young due to this fact. Many Rymellans believe the apple won’t fall far from the tree, so Mo and Lesley being matched with her is controversial. On top of that, there’s an allowance where if two of the three believe the third will cause the Triad to commit a Chosen violation then they can say so and have the third member killed before the Joining Ceremony. That puts interesting added pressure on the group. None of this was a plot I was expecting, but also the acknowledgment of non-monogamous people was something I could see a lot of readers enjoying seeing represented in literature. Plus, it’s a good conflict to add!
*end spoiler*

Ultimately, I was still happy I read this because I was desperate to find out what happened to Lesley and Mo (and continued to be at the end of this book), but I was disappointed not to find out more about Rymel and its history here. Readers primarily interested in the romance who don’t mind the world-building being pushed to the side a bit will most enjoy the direction this series is going.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
Rymellan 1: Disobedience Means Death, review

Book Review: Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

March 28, 2016 2 comments

Book Review: Twenties Girl by Sophie KinsellaSummary:
Lara Lington’s boyfriend – the one she’s sure is The One – just broke up with her. But that’s ok. She’ll soldier on. He’ll realize his mistake soon enough. And her business partner (in her small business of three people – the two of them plus one secretary) ran off on holiday and just isn’t coming back, but she just needs to keep the place afloat until she gets back. Everything is going to be just fine. That is…it would be if the ghost of her great-aunt Sadie hadn’t decided to start haunting her at her funeral. Now she just won’t leave her alone until Lara finds her precious dragonfly necklace. How exactly is she supposed to do that, keep her business going, win back her boyfriend, and not let anyone think she’s lost her mind?

Review:
I know this may seem like it was an odd read to pick up in the month following my father’s passing. (Yes, I read this eons ago…in December). I was in the mood for a light-hearted chick lit. Something to cheer me up. I knew I liked Sophie Kinsella, and honestly the thought of a loved one haunting you in ghost form sounded kind of nice to me for once. So I picked it up, and I’m glad I did. I think this might be my new favorite Sophie Kinsella.

There’s a lot here that makes this different among chick lit. First there’s the focus on a relationship with the member of a far-flung previous generation of your family. Chick lit often focuses on the heroine’s children, parents, or friends, but a great-aunt is a new one. (For me anyway). Things start out awkward and funny. Lara feels weird being at the funeral for a great-aunt she didn’t really know, and when Sadie shows up, it’s as herself in her 20s in the 1920s…how she continued to imagine herself even in her old age. Since Lara hadn’t previously had a relationship with her, she gets to know her basically as just another 20-something in ghost form. But she also has to inform her of how she’s passed on, and Sadie has to start to come to terms with what her life was.

The ghost looking for her missing necklace plot very quickly turns into a romcom mystery. There’s more to Lara’s family than meets the eye! And while I had my suspicions, how things ultimately work out was still enough of a surprise that I enjoyed seeing how we got there.

There of course also is a love interest and a love triangle that for one didn’t drive me batty (probably because it’s hard to be a real love triangle when one of the sides is a ghost). The book was humorous, the romance fun, and the plot engaging. But what shot it up to 5 stars for me was two themes.

First there’s Sadie coming to terms with what her life was, and Lara realizing that there’s more to the elderly than originally meets the eye. The book says a lot of good stuff about both how we treat the elderly in Western cultures and the process of aging and living your life to its fullest. It also touches upon taking the time to listen to your elders and learn from their success and mistakes. Lara’s life improves once she treats Sadie as a person, rather than just an elderly relic. And Sadie learns to let go once she comes to terms with how she lived her life.

The book also fights against the trope of a heroine being certain that someone is The One and then being proved she is right when she wins him back. Sadie teaches Lara a lot about being brave enough to be on your own. About the value of learning to be alone before finding someone. About how important it is to know who you are before you can find the right match for yourself. It’s only when Lara grows as a person (and a career woman) and actualizes more into who she really is that she’s able to find true romance, and I really liked seeing that theme in a chick lit.

Overall, if you want some gut laughs watching a 1920s-era ghost with her great-grand-niece cavorting around England, you won’t be disappointed in this book. But be prepared to find yourself fighting back tears to as you watch the inter-generational relationship blossom and everyone learn a little more about being true to themselves.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: Smokin’ Six Shooter by B.J. Daniels (Series, #4)

October 27, 2015 Leave a comment

Book Review: Smokin' Six Shooter by B.J. Daniels (Series, #4)Summary:
Dulcie Hughes comes to Montana from the big city of Chicago when she mysteriously inherits property.  She immediately runs into Russell Corbett, a local rancher who isn’t too keen on some city woman sniffing around the old Beaumont property.  Dulcie doesn’t want to be distracted from uncovering the years’ old mystery at the Beaumont property, but Russell just can’t let himself let her investigate on her own.

Review:
I may be an academic librarian, but I also have public librarian friends, and one of them gave this book to me as an extra she had from the publisher.  I kept it around because who isn’t in the mood for some light romance sometimes?  Plus, there are definitely Harlequins that strike my fancy.  This….wasn’t really one of them.

Here’s the main problem with the book.  The title and the cover are incredibly misleading for what you’re actually going to get, and that’s a pet peeve of mine.  As a friend of mine (who also read it) said to me, “There’s no six shooter in the book.”  It sure sounds like it’s a big plot point doesn’t it?  But….there’s no six shooter.  There are guns, yes. But not six shooters.  The cover and title make it sound like the hearthrob is some sort of sharpshooting cowboy, but he’s…neither.  He’s a modern day rancher. Who drives a combine. Oh and he and his father hire a rainmaker to try to make it rain because the ranchers need rain.  Sorry but none of that strikes my sexy bone the way that a sharpshooter would. WHICH IS WHAT I THOUGHT I WAS GETTING.

Let’s ignore for a moment that I would have self-selected out of this book if the title, cover, and the actual blurb (not the one I wrote above) had been accurate.  What about the actual book?  Well, the mystery is good…ish.  It had lots of twists and turns, and the final chapter just had one too many.  I read the last chapter out loud to my husband, and he said it felt like an episode of “All My Circuits” (the over-the-top robot soap opera on Futurama).  Which is true.  That said, I certainly didn’t figure out the mystery. Because it was so ridiculous.  But there’s an entertainment factor in that that I appreciate.  However, if over-the-top twists and turns are not your style, you’ll be disappointed by the last chapter of the book.

The romance and sex was sorely missing.  Our heroine gets one incredibly quick (and I don’t just mean quick to read, I mean a quickie) sex scene, and that’s it.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t pick up Harlequins for the story.  I do expect a lot out of the sex scenes though, and this one felt like a throwaway. A “oh do I really have to write one? Fine, but it will be ludicrous and quick.”  I kept reading thinking that surely this was just a teaser and there’d be a nice long steamy scene in here somewhere. But no.

So, Harlequin readers who don’t mind the love interest being a combine-driving modern day rancher who does not have a six shooter with most of the focus of the book being on its over-the-top mystery with just a touch of a romance scene will enjoy this book.  The quality of the writing is fine, so long as this is the type of story the reader is after, they won’t be disappointed.  Just don’t be misled by the title….or the cover….or the blurb.  And maybe grab some popcorn for the last chapter.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Counts For:
Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge

Previous Books in Series:
Shotgun Bride
Hunting Down The Horseman
Big Sky Dynasty

Book Review: Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

August 25, 2015 4 comments

Book Review: Remember Me? by Sophie KinsellaSummary:
The last thing Lexi remembers she’s a 24 year old in the year 2004 with bad teeth, a bad boyfriend, and at the bottom of the totem pole in a new job where she hasn’t been working long enough to be able to get the annual bonus.  When she wakes up in hospital, though, she’s told that the year is 2007, she’s 28, the boss of her department, and married to a millionaire!  She’s told she was in a car accident that gave her amnesia, and now she has to piece together just how she got to this place in her life, especially when not everything is as rosy as it seems at first.  Her millionaire husband is controlling, her once best friends give her the cold shoulder, and everyone at work seems to think that she’s a bitch.

Review:
True story. I spotted this sitting on top of a neighbor’s recycling bin and snatched it up as soon as I recognized the author’s name.  I was a big fan of Sophie Kinsella’s in high school, and I just couldn’t bear to see a perfectly nice condition hardcover of one of her books get recycled.  I wondered if I would enjoy her contemporary romance as much now as a late 20-something as I did as a teen.  I’m happy to say I certainly enjoyed this one just as much, although in a slightly different way than I used to.

I wonder how much I would have appreciated this book a few years ago.  As a late-20 something myself, I laughed out loud at how the 24 year old version of me would react if she was plunked into my current life.  A lot really does change in 4 years in your 20s, especially with regards to your career and your love life.  The plot kind of reminded me a bit of the plot of one of my favorite romcoms 13 Going On 30.  Someone who is (or perceives of themselves as) much younger and less experienced than the person whose life they are now living.  How that affects them and how they react to it is really interesting.  Both stories show how important actually going through the growing pains really are.  You can’t just suddenly handle a more adult life; you have to grow into it.

I also appreciated that, although Lexi’s husband is drop-dead gorgeous, both she and he believe she should not sleep with him until she is comfortable with him again.  She may be married to him, but she doesn’t remember who he is, and she shouldn’t do anything until she’s ready.  If she ever is.  Her husband is definitely controlling of her when it comes to how their household is run and how they spend money, but he is very respectful of her sexually.  He doesn’t touch her unless invited to, and he stops when she says to.  I was really happy to see this focus on positive, enthusiastic consent portrayed in the book.

The exploration of Lexi’s career path from lower level to high-powered boss is fascinating.  Lexi is torn up that now that she’s a boss those under her think she’s a bitch.  There’s a nuanced exploration of how women in power are often perceived of as bitches, even if they’re just being assertive.  However, there’s also a nice exploration of how to still be true to yourself when in power.  You don’t necessarily have to lead in the traditional “masculine” way if you don’t want to.  This combined with the exploration of aging gave a depth to the romance that kicked it up a notch for me.

It says a lot for how much the book made me like Lexi that I was able to get past one plot point that usually spoils romances for me.  However, that plot point did knock the book down from 5 to 4 stars for me.

*spoilers*
It turns out that 28 year old Lexi is cheating on her husband.  24 year old Lexi is just as horrified by this as I always am by cheating.  The exploration of how she wound up cheating on him didn’t make it ok to me, but I did appreciate that 24 year old Lexi took agency and addressed the situation, rather than lingering in married but cheating land.  I appreciated that Lexi was able to acknowledge her mistakes, forgive herself for them, and grow and change.
*end spoilers*

Overall, fans of contemporary romance will enjoy this fun take on the amnesia plot.  The plot doesn’t just cover a romance, it also covers the growing pains of being in your 20s, the challenges women face when they become the boss, and how to learn from your mistakes.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 389 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: Rescued from a recycling bin

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Book Review: Set Adrift by D.S. Kenn (Series, #1)

April 4, 2015 5 comments

Book Review: Set Adrift by D.S. Kenn (Series, #1)Summary:
Terric, nickname T, a half shifter half demon, and his girlfriend Jordyn, full vampire, have decided to move from New York City to Provincetown, Massachusetts.  T has an opportunity to work as head of security at a nightclub and bar that caters to the supernatural, and he thinks the move will be good for he and Jordyn.  Jordyn had a nightmarishly abusive past, and T has been helping her heal through a safe, consenting BDSM relationship.  But his love for Jordyn is not one of a mate; it is one of a friend.  He intuitively knows that his mate will be a man but he struggles to accept this, due to suffering he has endured in the demon realm.  When Jordyn decides it is time for her to stand on her own two feet and move out, she also encourages T to confront himself and grow as well.  But all T feels is set adrift.

Review:
Every November/December I open up to submissions for books to review in the upcoming year on my blog.  When I saw this one in the submissions, I was excited.  Not very much paranormal romance is submitted to me, and paranormal romance with a bisexual main character is nigh on impossible to find.  Plus, I love Provincetown.  This paranormal romance features a unique set of characters and a wide variety of sex scenes but its world building struggles some.

The strongest aspect of the book is that its main character Terric is so unique in paranormal romance.  Terric actually describes himself perfectly:

I’m an anomaly. A fucking bisexual demon shifter. Not really all of any one thing…. I don’t really fit in most categories, you know. (page 33)

First, I love love love the fact that the hero of the book isn’t just bisexual, but he actually uses the term to describe himself as such.  This may not seem like a big deal, but it is quite rare to have a character self-identify as bisexual and simultaneously have that character be one of the good guy leads.  I really applaud the author for going there.  Terric struggles with his sexuality but not for the reasons the reader might expect.  Provincetown, for those who don’t know, is known for being a small town with a large accepting queer community.  T’s community would accept him for who he is, but he struggles with accepting and loving himself.  The reason given for this is that when he is summoned to the demon realm (as a half demon, he is subject to hell’s dominion), he is sometimes subject to punishment that consists of rape by other male demons (or half demons).  The reason he has trouble imagining being mated with a man is due to this trauma.  Bisexual men experience a higher rate of rape than straight or gay men (source), and I think it’s a good thing that the author works this into T’s past within the context of his supernatural world.  The rape is not misrepresented as causing his bisexuality but rather as a trauma he must get over to fully embrace his sexuality for what it is.  It’s not a storyline seen very often, and it’s handled well.

Similarly, the BDSM subplot in the first half of the book is also handled well.  The BDSM is completely presented as something both partners have consented to with pre-agreed upon boundaries that are respected.  It is also shown as something that is therapeutically used to help Jordyn overcome her past trauma.  This is a use for BDSM that some readers may not know but it is clearly well-understood by the author and well presented in the book.  Plus, the BDSM scenes are well-written and just the right level of steamy.

Unfortunately, the world that T and Jordyn live in is not as well fleshed-out as they are.  In particular, the workings of the supernatural world are never fully explained and can be a bit confusing.  For instance, vampires can apparently have children (as in, conceive and give birth to them, not as in turning humans into vampires), but it is never explained how.  Also the logistics of mixing different supernatural races are unclear.  For instance, there is one character who is 100% shifter, but his parents are both half vampire and half shifter.  Even the character himself doesn’t know how that worked out to him being pure shifter.  Some readers probably wouldn’t be bothered by the lack of details and world building regarding the supernatural and just how it works in this world, but others will be.

There are a few minor editing mistakes, the most startling of which is that the book on page 142 suddenly changes from indenting new paragraphs to having a line space between them (like how paragraphs appear on this blog).  I have no preference for one over the other, but consistency throughout the book is preferred.  There is also one plot point that bothered me.  At one point a character is established as being tipsy.  He then kisses someone and, freaked out about it, decides to leave and states that he can because he is “sober as a judge,” and the other character agrees he is fit to drive (page 152).  Unless that kiss lasted an hour or two, there’s no way he went from tipsy to sober as a judge in the span of one kiss (unless something supernatural was going on that was not explained).  Similarly, sometimes the book veers too far into telling rather than showing, particularly in the scenes that are not sex scenes.  For instance, in one scene, this occurs:

He told Kevin a little bit about his own upbringing, just the basics. (page 144)

At this point, the reader does not know much about this character’s upbringing.  Why not write out the dialogue in which the character tells Kevin about it, rather than telling the reader that the character tells Kevin?  The sex scenes never veer into this telling rather than showing zone, and it would be nice if the plot points didn’t either.

There is also a chapter that is called the “epilogue,” which kind of bothered me since it is a direct continuance of the plot in the previous chapters.  No significant time is skipped, nothing in the future is explained.  It is basically the last chapter in the book.  I am uncertain as to why it is thus called an epilogue.  I was expecting it to update me on the future of these characters, not simply continue the story in a direct linear fashion from the last chapter.

Sex acts in the book include: anal sex (male on female), BDSM (male dom, female sub), and M/M kissing/touching.  Rape is mentioned as an occurrence in the past but is not depicted.  Those readers looking for more in-depth M/M scenes should keep their eye out for the next book in the series, as it appears that a M/M relationship will be building to greater intimacy in the next book.

Overall, this is a welcome addition to the paranormal romance genre, featuring a unique cast of characters, including a bisexual half-demon, half-shifter male hero.  The book contains a wide variety of sex scenes, including M/F BDSM and M/M kissing/touching.  Readers interested in in-depth world building may be disappointed by the lack of explanation of the supernatural world these characters inhabit.  Those looking for a quick, steamy read will enjoy these characters and the development of them that goes on in-between their well-written sex scenes.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: The Kitchen Witch by Annette Blair (Series, #1)

November 6, 2014 2 comments

Book Review: The Kitchen Witch by Annette Blair (Series, #1)Summary:
Logan finds himself a single dad after his young son’s mother abandons him on his doorstep, so he moves back to his hometown of Salem, Massachusetts, looking to provide his young son with some stability.  He has a bad rep from his teen years in Salem to get over, though, and he hopes his new job as a television producer at the local tv station will help.  He wasn’t expecting his downstairs neighbor Melody Seabright, however.

Melody, who seems incapable of holding onto a job for any length of time, gets him to get her a meeting with the owner of the tv station and somehow convinces him to give her her own tv show, The Kitchen Witch.  The only problem is she can’t cook, and whether or not she’s really a witch is up for debate.

Can Melody learn how to cook and hold onto the job? Or are both of their jobs now in jeopardy?  And why does Logan keep thinking about such an unpredictable woman when he knows he needs to provide stability for his son?

Review:
I picked this up on a free book cart at a local library because the cover and title were cute, and I definitely am periodically in the mood for some lighthearted paranormal romance.  I was a bit disappointed to find this isn’t really a paranormal romance, but I still enjoyed the contemporary tale it told, primarily due to its featuring a good-hearted single dad.

Logan is a contemporary romance character who will make many readers’ hearts beat a bit faster.  He’s cute, young, has a high-powered job, lives in the quirky town of Salem and enjoys it, and is an awesome single dad to his young son.  Having him be a bad boy who overcame it for his son is the perfect last touch for a contemporary romance.  I can see many readers enjoying fantasizing about him.

Melody may be a bit more hit and miss with readers.  The delightfully clumsy bit has been used a lot in romance recently and may feel a bit been there done that.  Her apartment is divinely adorable, though, and she has some curves that are always looked upon as a good thing.  Her difficult relationship with her own father adds some depth to the character, but some readers might have trouble sympathizing with a poor little rich girl, although I do think that Blair handled this particular aspect well.

Blair also writes children characters beautifully.  The son sounds like a child, and yet still has the proper astuteness and vocabulary for his age.  The only negative I can say about him is that I honestly already forgot his name.  However, I enjoyed his presence every time he popped up into the story.

The plot is where things get a bit shaky.  The book is definitely marketed as a paranormal romance, and there are hints at the beginning of the book that Melody might be a witch, but that never comes to fruition.  The best I can tell is that she’s learned how to act and sound like a witch by virtue of living and working in Salem.  There’s nothing wrong with this, but it was disappointing given that I thought I was getting a paranormal story.  I also thought that if the book is going to have Logan suspicious Melody is a witch, at some point he should definitely find out once and for all whether she is one.  I think perhaps the book was trying to say she’s just a regular girl with some knowledge of Wicca (which isn’t the same thing as being a paranormal romance witch, since Wicca is a religion and doesn’t actually involve paranormal romance style magic but it’s still a reveal I would have been happier with).  However, that also is never firmly revealed.  Just what type of witch, if any, Melody is is just a plot idea that is dropped and never fully dealt with, which is a bit frustrating.

A bigger plot issue to me though is that this book falls into the romance trope of everyone can see the couple should be together but the couple makes up fake obstacles to stand in their way and they just have to come to their senses and deal with their own stupidity to get over it.  (I really wish there was a shorter way to describe that particular trope…..)  It is just a trope that really bugs me.  I don’t mind real obstacles in the way of a couple, but the couple just being idiotic and making up their own obstacles feels to me like the author stirring up fake drama to make the book longer.  Also, I am 100% a-ok with a couple meeting, working out some realistic difficulties, and then being together.  Things that are overly dramatic for the sake of drama just rub me the wrong way.  Some readers may be ok with this trope, but for those who aren’t, be aware that this is where the plot eventually goes.

Having been to Salem multiple times, I can say that the author clearly did her research, as she depicts the culture and feel of Salem quite well.  She also understands the layout of the town and even gives a realistic vague-ish location for Logan and Melody’s house.  (In the few blocks nearish the House of the Seven Gables, in case you’re wondering).

The sex scenes were good, not ridiculous.  They weren’t mind-blowingly hot, but they were fun to read and well-written.

Overall, this is a good contemporary romance featuring a lovable single dad love interest that is mismarketed as a paranormal romance.  Those looking for paranormal romance should be aware that this fits in much better with the contemporary romance crowd.  Additionally, those who are frustrated by couples keeping themselves apart for no reason should be aware that this is the romance trope found in this particular book.  Recommended to those looking for a steamy contemporary read featuring a heartthrob single dad and a realistically quirky New England town.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Library free book cart

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Book Review: Ecstasy in Darkness by Gena Showalter (Series, #5) (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

January 16, 2014 Leave a comment

A man's naked back can be seen. He is holding a whip.Summary:
Ava Sans is hoping to move up to a full agent at New Chicago’s Alien Investigation and Removal (AIR) team.  But before she can, she and her best friend, Noelle, are assigned to capture a powerful vampire who can manipulate time.  McKell, recently cast out from the underground tunnels the monarchical vampires call their home, is having to adjust to living with daylight and is desperate to find out the secret these above ground vampires have for moving around in the daylight without burning.  Used to seeing humans only as food slaves, he’s disturbed to find himself inexplicably attracted to Ava Sans, who just so happens to smell like butterscotch.

Review:
I rarely impulse buy books in drugstores and, after reading this book, I think that’s probably the wiser move.  I bought this in a CVS due entirely to the cover and didn’t pick it up to read for three years.  When I did, I saw it was the fifth book in the series.  Fortunately, this isn’t the type of series that it’s necessary to read in order.  Unfortunately, nothing about this book made me want to go read the rest of the series.  It suffers from a meandering plot, ridiculous dialogue, two-dimensional characters, constant cock-teasing of the reader, and an entirely misleading cover (that I suspect was misleading on purpose).

This series focuses on a different romantic pairing in each entry.  They all have ties to AIR in some way.  The previous couples make cameos in other books, but the actual plot from the prior books doesn’t have much impact on this one.  All that needs to be known is there was a war with the aliens, New Chicago is not on Earth, vampires are an alien species that are allergic to the sun and live underground on this planet, the vampires make humans their food slaves, and some of the vampires have started living above ground. Oh, and there’s this alien called the Schön Queen who looks beautiful but actually is a rotting, disease-ridden creature who gives those who bang her an illness that makes them her voodoo zombie slaves.  Those who read a lot of pnr will understand that that’s a pretty simple plot summary for a series this far in.

The actual plot for this book basically is that Ava will help McKell lure vampires to interview to find out how they live in daylight and he will, in turn, come willingly to talk to the head of AIR.  AIR wants to find out if McKell’s blood can be used to save victims of the Schön Queen’s disease.  If the book stuck to this simple, straightforward plot it would work.  But it meanders all over the place, tossing in red herrings, asides, diatribes, and scenes that seem to happen just for the fun of it.  This book is over 500 pages long.  That is not enough plot to support that many pages, unless the characters are stopping to bang a lot, which was honestly what I was expecting.  That’s not what we get though.

The cover definitely implies that this is a BDSM book with a lot of sex.  The only thing that ever happens with a whip is McKell comes over to Ava’s house with the whip intent on actually beating her up with it (in a to get revenge way not in a sexy BDSM way) but then he never uses it on her.  She mentions it in a giggling aside toward the end of the book, and McKell states he would never ever whip her. He loves her too much now.  I know the author generally doesn’t have any impact on the cover design at all, but somebody somewhere must have known they’d be pulling in people expecting BDSM only to have BDSM scorned within the book.  Not cool.  That’d be less irritating, though, if there was at least a lot of sex of some sort in the book.  Instead, we repeatedly find Ava and McKell getting hot and steamy only to stop just short of having sex.  They have sex twice in the book at the very end.  You seriously have to read at least 400, maybe 450, pages to get one full sex scene.  Which is incredibly frustrating because by far the best writing Showalter does is of the sex scenes.  They’re tantalizing and realistic with some things we don’t always see in romance novels, like the guy going down on the girl, for instance.  This book would have been at least three stars if Showalter’s steamy scenes had led to actual sex scenes throughout the novel.  But instead, the reader just gets going with excitement only to have it yanked out from under them to go check in on that meandering plot.

The characters are so two-dimensional that it’s essentially impossible to truly care for them. McKell is a vampire with a temper. A bad boy, supposedly, that Ava inexplicably falls for. Most of his presence in the book consists of snapping at Ava and being shocked she doesn’t obey him and then being turned on by that.  Ava, on the other hand, is traumatized by growing up on the bad side of the tracks and has a big inferiority complex.  She also smells like butterscotch. And tastes like butterscotch. And her hair looks like butterscotch. She’s a piece of butterscotch candy who says boo hoo poor me and I want to prove to everyone that I’m not trash so oh hey let’s fall for this bad boy vampire who treats me badly that seems like a great choice.  I admit by the end of the book McKell is treating her well but his transformation is out of the blue, not gradual.  Plus, Ava falls for him when he’s a bad boy and never stands up for herself or says I deserve better.  She ends up with an ok guy but only because he magically transformed, not out of any agency of her own.  The supporting characters are even less well-developed.  I can say maybe one or two things about them all, but nothing that makes them truly come to life in my mind.

Overall, this is an overly long pnr with a light, meandering plot and only two sex scenes in over 500 pages.  While the sex scenes are well-written and tantalizing, the rest of the book is dull, with two-dimensional characters it is impossible to come to truly care for.  The romance uses the bad boy/wounded woman trope and does nothing to make it deeper or richer.  Those who think from the cover that this is a BDSM pnr should be aware that it is definitely not.  I would perhaps pick it up in a library or at a friend’s house to skim through and read the sex scenes, but there is definitely better pnr out there to devote your time to.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: CVS

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Previous Books in Series:
Awaken Me Darkly
Enslave Me Sweetly
Savor Me Slowly
Seduce the Darkness