Saturday, May 23, 2020

Paint It Black

The Escape ArtistThe Escape Artist by Brad Meltzer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a group read for the Goodreads Action Adventure Aficionados group, and my library happened to have the audiobook, which was excellent. I honestly was somewhat underwhelmed. I liked the concept and I think Nola was an interesting character. Nola has a Lizbeth Salander feel, or if you've read any of the Informationist books by Taylor Stevens, she also reminds me of Vanessa Michael Monre. Zig was fine. I mean I liked him. He just didn't have enough charisma as a lead character for this book. I feel like this needed to be Nola's book. He was a very humane and sincere guy and I liked him. My heart broke for how he lost his daughter. I am glad he was able to get a little closure by the end of the book. I hope that Zig and Nola stay in each others' lives. I did like that Zig is a mortician. You just don't see lead characters who are morticians much. Or maybe it's just me.

I have never read Brad Meltzer, but I think I was expecting his writing to have more action. To me, the action scenes didn't have enough tension and punch to them. I didn't feel like I was there and it didn't feel cinematic to me. The action scenes were functional to me. The villains were a bit on the cardboard side except for Nola's stepfather. He was rancid. I almost expected him to be a molester, but he was just physically and mentally abusive and really twisted.

I admit that I was also rereading Orphan X around this time, and that book makes others pale in comparison. Maybe that's why I didn't feel too blown away by this book.

I think the storyline about Harry Houdini was pretty cool. It was a nice twist. I liked the background about Houdini and his determination to debunk the Spiritualist movement, which I had learned about before I read this from watching a history show. Although the reveal felt forced, and I'm not sure I am convinced that the person who turns out to be the mastermind has the smarts and the capability to pull it off. That person is a bit too lazy and basic to be the criminal mastermind behind everything. I didn't buy it, to be honest.

I kind of think that the narrators weren't into as much either. I mean Scott Brick and January LaVoy are both excellent narrators for other audiobook series that I have read and really got sucked into. In this book, they seemed more functional. I do think that January LaVoy did nail Nola's cadence pretty well.

I wasn't excited about this book. I'm not sure I would be that invested in reading a whole series about Zig unless Nola shows up in the books. I would definitely read a series about Nola.

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Friday, May 22, 2020

How You Do Anything is How You Do Everything

Orphan X (Orphan X, #1)Orphan X by Gregg Andrew Hurwitz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay so I read this on CD back in 2019 and I never got around to writing my review. I did a reread on Audible a few months ago, so this is a dual review.

My life is so blessed by this series. Evan Smoak is the hero I always wanted in my life. This is not an overstatement. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a bit obsessed with assassin fictional characters. I don't mean the type who kill just anyone for enough money, I like the ones who have some code they adhere to. Well Evan was taken out of a boy's group home at the age of twelve and "adopted" by his handler Jack Johns, who became his surrogate father that Evan adored as only a young child can adore their parental figure. He also taught him to be a formidable agent, to withstand untold pain, to learn how to kill in more ways than you could dream of, to be able to operate in any situation and realize that if you screwed up, you were on your own. And Even followed orders faithfully until he began to see that he wasn't necessary working for the good guys. So Evan dropped off the Orphan program radar and tried to live a 'normal' life and also became The Nowhere Man.

His story is expertly told in the first book (I have read the first three books, and I have the fourth one ready to start, hopefully this summer). Although each book manages to give readers a piece of the Evan Smoak puzzle, this book introduces a character that is surely beloved by many (including myself). It's told by flashback and also in present day. The excellent writing reveals a lethal weapon who also happens to be a deeply principled, conscientious man. He manages to be both an a way that in beautifully integrated. I love the idea of his work as The Nowhere Man. Think "The Equalizer" and you get a starting reference for Evan's practice, also he's a lot more brutal to the bad guys. But it's a way that is very easy to co-sign on. He is truly helping the helpless, the people who can't rely on the system or the police to help them. The folks who fall through the cracks.

There's a lot to love about this story, but one of the things I really loved other than the flawless character building, is the well-plotted narrative. Even though it takes some things that are pretty familiar to those who enjoy action suspense books, tv and movies, it's done in a way that feels innovative. There's plenty of gun play and description of weapons, but Hurwitz always makes it clear that the most deadly weapon is the mind. I think that it's easy to think of guns as a show of machismo and strength, but being well-armed doesn't always make you the hero or the strongest person. Evan has to do a lot of thinking and plotting to get out of the many sticky situations he encounters in this book. He deals with a fair amount of bullies and I think there is welcome commentary about that and how one can use their strength to protect others versus preying on helpless people.

At first I wasn't sure I liked the storyline about Mia and Peter, but then I realized how important it was to the evolution of Evan's character, and then I realized how much a piece of the puzzle their relationship with Evan was. The concept of him juggling all the aspect of his life at the same time really rang true although I'm hardly an assassin who is pretending to be an ordinary joe and who also helps people deal with unsolvable problems.

The action is on point and perfectly paced. The dialogue is authentic, and runs the gamut depending on the situations the characters are in. Hurwitz is very good at crafting characters of all sort, from the main character of Evan, who is perfectly nuanced and dimensional, to the incidental characters. Each interaction serving the story.

Some notes about the Audiobook:
Scott Brick is a fantastic narrator. His voice is such a fine instrument. I believe he has nailed Evan Smoak and he transmits him brilliantly in the narration. He also does an excellent job at the other characters. He transmits the menace of the bad guys and the vulnerability of the people that Evan helps. As well as the distinctive supporting characters, including young Peter and Tommy Stojack, Evan's armorer. I think that Scott Brick really sold these books to me, to the point that I have to listen to the audiobooks now, even though I know eventually I will read them as prose as well.

The Orphan X series is now become a point of comparison for me that I use for other action suspense series, and that's a good thing in most cases, except when I read a book that doesn't measure up. I definitely recommend this book and the entire series.

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Love or Death

The Midnight Bride (The Dead Lands, #2)The Midnight Bride by Kati Wilde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Read this one for a quick romance fix back in the early part of the year. I enjoy Kati Wilde's books. They are pretty raunchy but also very romantic. Her characters have a lot of depth for such short books. The low fantasy setting stands out for paranormal romance. I always really feel the love between her characters and the strength of their emotions. Mara has to win a life or death competition. Strax took a vow that he'd make sure that no one won. But his feelings for her got in the way. Their relationship turns from an adversarial one to a relationship full of intense, powerful love that makes both of them count the cost of vows made and what they have to give up to achieve those goals. Wilde is channeling Robert E. Howard's Conan series, so she she doesn't pull her punches with the barbaric violence or the arcane dark sorcery despite the sweet, and heartfelt love story. The ending is very sweet.

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Dragon Bound (Elder Races, #1)Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reread on Audible done in May 2020:

I was inspired to do a reread since I finished Serpent's Kiss and absolutely loved it. This book was as fantastic as I remembered it to be. It's strange to look back at a book nine years later. Some things struck me different, but I still really love this book. This time around, Dragos didn't seem as edgy as he did the first time. I guess it's because the edgy hero is fully in vogue now. I love Pia's sass and her tendency to talk to herself. The world-building is really excellent, and I can see why it was such a firm foundation for such a long series. I have rekindled my paranormal romance love and I'm off and running.

Thoughts on the Audible version (free with Audible Escape): I enjoyed Sophie Eastlake's narration immensely. She is very good at voicing the various characters down to their specific timbre and cadence. I loved how she voiced Dragos (he definitely seems like an ancient, bossy, grumpy, sexy dragon). I would recommend checking it out.

Across the Sands of Time

Serpent's Kiss (Elder Races, #3)
Serpent's Kiss by Thea Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wasn't expecting to love this book as much as I did. It blew me away. I had that feeling I have missed about reading a great book that sucked me in. I actually savored the words and the writing. It was great as an audiobook narrated by Sophie Eastlake. She brought the characters to life for me. I mean they are vivid and wonderfully written, but hearing the dialogue was another level of experience.

This one of those books where you love the hero and heroine equally. I loved how Rune is so low key for a Wyr. His sanguine nature is well matched with Carling's melancholic personality. He's playful and he brings that out in a woman who has been so serious and is really ancient (although she looks like she's 30, she has the demeanor of an older woman). They are magic together. I felt that fate had continued to bring them together and in unique ways and cemented their bonds. I wasn't expecting the time traveling angle (and I'm kind weird about time travel romance tbh), but it really works for this book. I think Rune is very cool and I love him, but I'm really girl crushing over Carling. I love a heroine who is mature and has a thoughtful way about herself.

Compared to the first two books (honestly each one, as I'm currently doing a re-read of Storm's Heart) feels so different from each other. They are clearly related but the mood, pacing and thematic elements of each book are beautifully suited and unique to the stories being told. I really loved Dragon Bound, and I think this one might have edged it out. I feel that there was so much mutuality in their relationship, which I really love. In Dragon Bound, I do feel that Dragos had more power in their relationship (although arguably Pia has a lot of power that you might believe she would). In this book, I feel that Rune and Carling are on a more level playing field. There are moments where this might seem different in the story that I can't go into because of spoilers, but overall I think I'm right in my feelings. The steam was a perfect level, and I really felt like sighing as I read this book.

Now, for the storyline. This works just as well as fantasy as romance to me. Again, excellent world-building. I enjoyed how the world keeps expanding and we meet more of the Elder Races. I'm pretty intrigued with the characters I meet in this book who are in subsequent books, and I told me sister I will probably be binging these books all summer. It makes me glad that I didn't get a chance to read them until now, because I really need the distraction and something to take my mind off of real life.

I admit I kind of over vampires, but then I read a really well-written vampire book and I get drawn in again. I liked that this was a vampire romance in a way, but then it wasn't. It was about a really old vampire that might be facing the end, but maybe life and love has a different say. The descriptions of the past and just in general were heartbreakingly beautiful. Thea Harrison can really write. She inspired me in a way I needed right now. I've been focusing on growing as a visual artist, but words are another kind of magic that an artist can use, and wonderful writing like this makes me want to write more. Also, it's just a joy to read.

I'm sort of running out of words. Writing a review for an elegant beautiful novel deserves good words from me. Maybe I'll think of other things I want to take about and I'll add them later. If not, I'll end by saying check out this series if you haven't read it yet. Or maybe just do a reread. I doubt you'll be disappointed.

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Detecting is a Dirty Job

Blood Rites (The Dresden Files, #6)Blood Rites by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another great Harry Dresden adventure. I listened to the audiobook read by James Marsters (the actor who is famous for playing Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. He is a excellent voice actor as well as screen actor. I really like how he voices Harry and other characters, including Karrin Murphy, Harry's friend and oftimes client who leads the SI Unit of the Chicago Police Department. I listened to Death Masks and Side Jobs on audiobook and I think I'm now hooked on listening to the audiobooks, although this series is also great for reading.

The story reveals more about Harry's complicated life and sheds more light on his extremely complicated family background. I won't say more than that because it's a huge spoiler, if you are one of the folks like myself who is still working their way through the earlier books in this long-running series. Let's just say that Harry has more family than he even expected. Harry as a character is evolving, and yet he still has some character quirks that make him feel authentic in that if he was a real guy, you'd find yourself being annoyed with him even though you would also love him as a person. He is kind of a chauvinist, to be honest. That's why I think his relationship with Murphy is so good for him. She slaps him down and gets his mind right.

In this book, we learn more about the White Court, which are vampires who live on energy, sort of what we would think of as succubi and incubi (but not overtly demonic). There are also some nasty black magic practitioners in this book. Additionally, high tension moments in which Harry and Karrin and a couple of other pivotal characters have to infiltrate a vampire nest. That was a really intense scene, but there are several others as well. Harry is always in situations that puts his physical being in jeopardy. I think he gets injured the most out of almost all the urban fantasy novel series I follow.

I liked that the undercurrent romantic feelings between Harry and Murphy is apparent in this novel, and well it should be, as this book is about the spectrum between desire and love and the many ways those emotions intertwine with the heavy plotline about white court vampires. I do ship them together, quite frankly. I think they are good for each other.

The story is nicely plotted and I didn't find anything predictable, nor was the mystery easily solved. It functions as a very good mystery novel with some great supernatural elements. The ending was nicely climactic and it sets up future books in the series while ending in a satisfying manner.

I have the next book ready to listen to on Audible. :)

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I'm Back to Posting Again

Just dropping a quick post to say I'm going to try to get back into posting reviews, at least while I'm out of school for the summer.  I didn't have the time or the inclination to read and review as much, and I want to get that back.  So I'm going to try to get back into the swing of things.  It feels good to be back.


Wednesday, January 23, 2019

A Christmas Vow of Seduction by Maisey Yates

A Christmas Vow of Seduction (Princes of Petras, #1)A Christmas Vow of Seduction by Maisey Yates
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I really did like that Zara was able to keep Andres on his toes and go head to head with him. He was a jerk and his behavior towards others were unconscionable. While I understand he had a rough childhood and acting out became a way to get attention, he's a grown man and he needs to act like it. There was a nice amount of angst and tension in this story and Zara and Andres had great chemistry. I think I would have enjoyed it more if Andres was a touch more likable. It's been a while, but I recall that Zara's backstory was tortured as well. I did feel a lot of sympathy for her and I wanted her to be loved the way she deserved. I liked Andres' colder older brother Kairos a lot, or let's say he intrigued me. I thought there was a story to be told about his marriage. It got me excited to read Kairos's story The Queen's New Year Secret, but I didn't like it as much as this one, sadly.

The good chemistry and the angsty storyline made it a 3.5 star read for me.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Her Scottish Wolf by Theodora Taylor

Her Scottish WolfHer Scottish Wolf by Theodora Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For those looking for an interracial book with shades of Harlequin Presents with a black heroine, this would fit the bill. Good news is it's also a paranormal/werewolf romance.

Grumpy boss (check)
Plain Jane/Shy/Low Profile heroine gets her man and a great life (check)
Angsty angle (check)
Hot, steamy sexy paranormal romance (check)
Hunky hero with Scottish brogue (check)
Office romance (check)

I wasn't sure what to think when this book started. At first, I kinda hated Iain. He was being a total douche to Milly. And when she gives him her reasons why she's quitting, he goes full on a-hole with her. I didn't get him at all. I mean, who says that to someone who gives him that kind of news? It turns out that he had a plan all along, and things weren't how they seemed. His reasons for being a jerk become very apparent. Not an excuse, but there you have it.

There are some consent issues about something if I'm honest. If you've read Bitten, you know what I'm getting at. But it turns out better for Milly.

So that's not the happy ending, no Iain has to spend the rest of the book gaining Milly's trust. She has plenty of reasons not to want to be mated to him. Her life changes hugely, and I think any person in her situation would have had misgivings. I'm glad that she stayed true to herself and didn't lose her identity in the face of a very strong personality like Iain.

I loved the arguments between Milly's friend Tara and Iain's brother Magnus. They were a big source of entertainment, and Tara would go toe to toe with him in a way that Milly didn't with Iain.

For all the angst, there is some good humorous moments with Iain's villages wacky residents. There's some major culture shock for Milly, and Iain has to rearrange his life greatly, but he's got his mate, so that's all that matters.

I'd recommend this book, but we warned that Iain does start the book as a major ahole.

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Monday, January 21, 2019

Her Scottish King by Theodora Taylor

Her Scottish King (Howls Romance: Loving World; Scottish Wolves Book 2)Her Scottish King by Theodora Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Quite different from the first book in good ways. And more than one twist I did not see coming. Magnus is not exactly likable most of the time. He's really cocky and demanding. I know part of it is being an alpha werewolf and a famous Scottish rugby player. He didn't take Tara's rejection well, sure that they are fated as mates, and not able to understand she is running from their bond. I liked that Tara did have a legitimate reason for not wanting to mate with Magnus, and the reveal is really fascinating. Tara has a lot of layers to her that Magnus had to work to develop. It was good, though. He was used to getting everything he wanted easily. But that's how it works with your mate. While that bond is fated, that doesn't mean that your mate is not worth any effort and emotional commitment. And Magnus had to decide if his pride was worth more than losing his mate (ironically his father faced the same choice).

I liked that this wasn't a predictable book. Werewolf romance has some formula to it (as much as I love it), but Taylor did a good job of keeping things innovative.

It's not a five star because I didn't love Magnus. I really liked Tara a lot and she had a lot of dimensionality and strength to her, beautifully complex.

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Mean Streets by Jim Butcher, Simon R. Green, Kat Richardson, Thomas E. Sniegoski

Mean StreetsMean Streets by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a collection of four longer novellas in the urban fantasy genre written by a quarter of well-regarded writers that showcases each of their characters in ongoing series. I have actually read two of these already: "The Warrior" by Jim Butcher and "What a Difference a Day Makes" by Simon R. Green. "The Third Death of the Little Clay Dog" by Kat Richardson and "Noah's Orphans" by Thomas E. Sniegoski are new reads for me. My favorites were "The Warrior" and "The Third Death of the Little Clay Dog."

"Changes" is a Harry Dresden story that heavily features Harry's friend Michael Carpenter and his family. It's also about how being a hero is not just taking up a sword. It's a culmination of many small choices one makes everyday in how they interact with people around them. The lesson was really important and the plotting flawless. Short but substantial. 5 stars

"What a Difference a Day Makes" by Simon R. Green doesn't measure up to the other stories in this volume because it doesn't have the deep character development, pathos or growth of the other stories. I say this as a big admirer of Simon R. Green. His work is very good, and it works for what its doing, but his real brilliance shows in his longer work than his shorter work. Having said that, I enjoy Green's noir style and the just plain weirdness of his imagination. This story is good but not great. 3 stars.

"The Third Death of the Little Clay Dog" by Kat Richardson is the first I've read by her and I'm a fan. I loved the intricate look into Mexican culture, specifically Dia de los Muertos. Most non-Mexicans don't really get what this is about. It's not a spooky holiday in the way we think about Halloween. It's a deeply meaningful holiday in which people remember and celebrate those they have lost to death. There are some folkloric underpinnings that may not make sense, and probably some aspects that might be a dealbreaker for some people. While the holiday is not spooky, this story is written to have some aspects of the macabre to it. Definitely a ghost story, and it's also about magic, dark and light. I really appreciated this story and I loved the narrator. She did a great job with the Spanish pronunciations and in distinguishing the different voices from one another. 5 stars.

"Noah's Orphans" by Thomas E. Sniegoski is thoughtful and sober storytelling. The concept behind it resonated with me as a Christian who grew up reading the Bible and is acquainted with the Noah's Ark tale. This book has a 'what if' aspect to it that got my mind spinning. Consistent for the rest of the series, but rather joyless. 4 stars.

Overall, a good book, and worth listening to on audiobook.

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Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Queen's New Year Secret (Princes of Petras, #2) by Maisey Yates

The Queen's New Year Secret (Princes of Petras, #2)The Queen's New Year Secret by Maisey Yates
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Unfortunately, this one was a bit slow for me. I didn't really connect as much to the characters and story, although it seemed like it would be my jam. I guess there wasn't enough tension in the book for me. The characters were missing that spark that I need in a romance. It wasn't bad but disappointing for this author.

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Never Trust a Pirate by Anne Stuart

Never Trust a Pirate (Scandal at the House of Russell, #2)Never Trust a Pirate by Anne Stuart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ironically the last of this series that I read, but the second book. I listened to this on audiobook and I loved the narrator Xe Sands. Thomas Luca Morgan is a rogue and that's clear from the beginning. I liked that he immediately saw that Maddie wasn't what she was pretending to be. The villain seemed the most heinous in this book to me, especially for some of the people he hires to get rid of Maddy. Just enough seafaring to make the theme fit the title. Great chemistry between the leads, and I like that Maddy is fairly savvy and sassy and stands toe to toe with Thomas/Luca. Hard to say which book is my favorite, they're all great. I think this one stands out because Maddy is cynical enough to handle a guy like Luca and they felt very well matched to me.

Casting Suggestions:

Aidan Turner as Thomas Luca Morgan

Kaya Scodelario as Maddy Russell

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Never Kiss a Rake by Anne Stuart

href="" style="float: left; padding-right: 20px">Never Kiss a Rake (Scandal at the House of Russell, #1)
Never Kiss a Rake by Anne Stuart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reread on Audiobook Fall 2018:

It was great listening to this on audiobook. Xe Sanders is a lovely narrator, with a talent for female and male voices. She endowed Adrian with all the roguish sensuality that his character emanates. She also captures Briony's mix of no-nonsenseness and vulnerability.

Casting Choices:

Liam McIntyre as Adrian, Lord Kilmartyn

Claire Foy as Bryony Russell

Previous Review:

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The writing is sly, sensual, humorous and firmly ensconced in the period. Even if I wasn't the biggest Anne Stuart fan on earth, I will still have found this book utterly enchanting.

I was really nervous with the storyline because I hate adultery with a burning passion. I'm happy with how things unfolded. There was no line crossing in this book that I couldn't live with. While Lord Kilmartyn is supposed to be a sleazy rake, I was completely in love with him quite early on in the book. I found him very seductive and I could see why Bryony fell for him, despite being a very sensible young woman. I liked the importance of his Irish heritage to his persona, and how it had gotten him into a shaky situation of late, but defined him in a way that he couldn't turn his back on. I wish that Ms. Stuart had delved more into where his marriage went wrong, but I got the impression that he wanted to be a good husband to his wife at some point, and he loved her, but now he hated her. In some books with the unrepentant, adulterous rake, I question the character's ability to remain faithful to the heroine, but I have no doubt that Kilmartyn would be capable of that with Bryony. His caring for her when she was in need was very touching and showed more than words.

I also loved Bryony as a character. Her pain in feeling unloved and unattractive because of her smallpox scars made sense. While it scarred her self-esteem, she was still a strong-minded person and no fainting flower in the face of her family's recent change in fortunes. I like her pluck and how her natural personality comes out in her interactions with Kilmartyn. I rooted for her to get him, and win him over in a way that didn't cross the line into adultery or illicit affair territory and I was glad Ms. Stuart gave her that happy ending with no compromise in that area.

The secondary characters are a fun addition to the book, with a little bit of the "Upstairs, Downstairs" vibe as Bryony gets engrossed in the world of the servants and they take her in, especially Mrs. Harkins the kindly chef.

I confess I read the last book before this, so I sort of know how it ends, but it didn't spoil things for me. There is still plenty of mystery in the storyline with what happened to Bryony and her sisters' father to keep the story interesting. That is if steamy romance with a soon-to-be reformed rake isn't enough to keep things exciting.

Never Kiss a Rake is a promising start to this newest historical romance series by Ms. Stuart. She brings all the steamy romance and engaging characters that make her books delicious reads for me. I hope to read Never Trust a Pirate very soon.

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Never Marry a Viscount by Anne Stuart

Never Marry a Viscount (Scandal at the House of Russell, #3)Never Marry a Viscount by Anne Stuart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reread in December 2018/January 2019 on Audiobook:

This was great on audiobook. Xe Sanders has a great voice for both male and female voices. She makes the hero sound purringly sexy and her accents are great too. Listening to this reminded me of how fantastic a writer Anne Stuart is. I can never get enough of her writing.

This is a nice sort of homage to "Like Water for Chocolate" or "Simply Irresistible" but without magic. I love that Sophie's thing is cooking. In the kitchen and in the bedroom with the sizzling hot Alexander. As always the banter and flirting is superb, but then it's an Anne Stuart romance. When all three of the couples (Russell sisters and their spouses/beaus are together, it's magic).

My Casting Choices:

Henry Cavill and Alexander, Lord Griffiths

Clare Bowen as Sophie Russell

I loved this book from beginning to the end. I was so excited to get this as a review ARC, even though I haven't had a chance to read the first two books in this series yet. Alexander is a scoundrel, but you definitely want him to catch Sophie. Great chemistry, and wonderful romance. A five star read!

Reviewed for Affaire de Coeur Magazine in the September 2014 issue.

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Rogue by Mark Sulivan

RogueRogue by Mark T. Sullivan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rogue is a diverting book that has an unconventional hero. Robin Monarch is a thief who worked for the CIA a short while. He has a complicated past that he's running away from but continues to shape his present. This one's recommended to readers who like globe-trotting adventure and political espionage. It kept me on the edge of my seat plenty of times, but I did get the impression that Robin often wasn't the smartest guy in the room. I don't mind heroes who don't have all the answers, but I feel like he made it easy for the bad guys a little too often. I could see the double cross in this book coming 10 miles in advance. Plus, I think Monarch has wretched taste in women, and it continually gets him in trouble. I couldn't stand Lacey. Ugh. I feel like this book is aiming more towards the James Bond kind of spy thriller than a more straightforward action series. If that's what you're looking for, then you'll like this.

The action scenes were pretty good, and like I said, it did have some good suspenseful moments, but it's not up there overall for me as read. More on the average side. I know my opinions are biased because I was also listening to the Orphan X books, and that's about my favorite thriller series right now. On its own, this is a good read, but it doesn't compare to that series at all.

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Attack of the Fiend (The Last Apprentic/Wardstone Chronicles #4) by Joseph Delaney

Attack of the Fiend (The Last Apprentice / Wardstone Chronicles, #4)Attack of the Fiend by Joseph Delaney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished writing this review and it got eaten by the computer gremlins. Oh well, here it goes again. I listened to this on audiobook while I was packing up the house this summer, and it greatly improved what was a tedious task. The narration is well done. This series is pretty darn spooky, no pun intended. It's downright scary at times. The narrator lends well to the atmosphere. There's a feeling of the monster lurking in the dark behind every closed door, a sense of paranoia and an urgency not to trust anyone. The storyline enhances that feeling because the monsters lurk in human form. More of the witches storyline in this one, and further development of the relationship between Tom and Alice. Definitely worth a read.

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Saturday, January 19, 2019

Ms. Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No NormalMs. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A required read for my Readings in the Graphic Novel class, but it was a fun one. I've never read any of the Captain Marvel books, so I came into this fresh. It's fun to discover this series without any preconceived notions. In the discussion, classmates brought up some issues that I didn't necessary see initially.

I think that this one is geared towards a younger audience than the typical Marvel books, and the writing bears that in mind. The storytelling is a shade simplistic, and the illustrations jump rapidly between panels. The drawings are more sketchlike, lacking a clean rendering and finish. Some classmates thought the creators must have been under a tight deadline, and that's why the final version lacks polish. The conflict seems unfinished, and it was hard to follow exactly who the villain is and what their motives were.

Overall, I liked this a lot. They're some hidden layers to this book that came out on a second read. While the portrayal of Kamala might have been in some way problematic, I still think it's powerful for young Muslim kids to read this book and see someone like them in their superhero books. In these charged times, it's also good for non-Muslim readers who don't know much about what it's like, so they can see that demonization of people who are different or share different beliefs and cultures is wrong. It was also good to Kamala's evolution from being ashamed of being herself, to the degree she wanted to escape her culture and heritage to fit in so badly. Instead, she learns that it's a part of her and it makes her stronger.

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The Midwinter Mail Order Bride by Kati Wilde

The Midwinter Mail-Order Bride (Mail-Order Brides, #4)The Midwinter Mail-Order Bride by Kati Wilde
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is barbarian fantasy romance a thing? Well anyway, this book was amazing! This is the second book by Kati Wilde I have read and I loved it just as much as the first. Kael the Conqueror won his kingdom the hard way, by killing those who enslaved him. Now, his people want him to be married. They've searched far and wide for a bride, but many woman fear him. Princess Anja of Ivermere offers to be his bride (with some ulterior motives), and she's turned down because Kael believes she can't really want him. Anja does, very much, even though she doesn't understand why. As Kael escorts Anja home through the treacherous, ensorcelled Dead Lands, he comes to realize that he doesn't want to let her go.

Anja is badass, gorgeous and very likable. Kael is HOT and strong and has a secret vulnerability in that he wants to be loved for who he is. I rooted for them to be together ever after.

Kati Wilde is excellent at writing sexual tension. And this book capitalizes on its short length by buying up the tension between Anja and Kael. The reader is treated to the couple falling deeply in love, with some good action and creative fantasy and magic along the way. I hope this is a series, because I would love to read more books set in this world.

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Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #2)The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to this on audiobook, and it was a lot of fun. The narrator really got into the story and was quite good at the voices. While this is geared to the tween audience, it's plenty enjoyable to older readers, especially those who are really into Greek mythology.

Riordan has found a novel way to reinterpret the Greek myths, adding something and some new ideas that make these ancient legends feel fresh. This was made into a movie, and some aspects follow the book, but there are whole plotlines that didn't make it into the movie.

I especially liked how Percy's brother, Tyson, is introduced, and the evolution of the relationship between Percy and Tyson. Initially, Percy viewed Tyson as a nuisance, but he comes to love and value his half-cyclops brother.

There's plenty of action and magic and stuff that makes these books tons of fun. I recommend getting the audiobook for this if you can.

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Spider Game by Christine Feehan

Spider Game (GhostWalkers #12)Spider Game by Christine Feehan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Ice King and the Black Widow

This is my revised review for the book. It's been a while since I read it, but I needed the time to coalesce my thoughts. I am pretty darn disappointed, to be honest. Yeah, I still gave it four stars, and I'll explain why later.

I was loving the first 1/2 or so of the book, and it went downhill shortly thereafter. Trap was an ahole from the beginning but not in an intolerable way. I actually kind of liked him initially. I really enjoyed the banter on the scene at the beginning where the guys are hanging out in the bar. The GhostWalker camaraderie is one of my favorite things about there books. It was pretty fun how Trap was calculating how many peanut shells were on the floor and got the guys involved in, and then Cayenne had come up with her own estimates that were close to his. I felt like they had a pretty good meeting of the minds.

Trap had his moments, but later in the book, he was a serious douche bag. I liked the initial love scenes, but towards the end of the book, the scene on the airplane was just freaking rotten how he treated Cayenne just because she was having a bonding moment with a member of his team and then the sex after that. I don't like any butt play, and I do feel that I was highly disappointed that Feehan chose to spring that on me as a reader. I know most readers don't care about that, but I am not into that and I try to avoid books that have it. A big part of my issues with the sex were his motivations. It was like some sort of possessive/masculine domination/punishment for making Trap feel jealous on the plan. That nearly made me throw the book against the wall. I think Cayenne deserves better. He knew how crappy her life has been. He is very protective of her, but then he seems okay with pulling jerk moves on her. He's a highly intelligent guy, but he acts like he's all testosterone and 100% caveman sometime. Apparently, sex is his main outlet besides his work, so I guess being kinky is part of his nature. The way he's treated his past lovers is questionable, and I'm not saying he gets a pass for it, but i would hope you would get a clue that you don't treat a woman you're suppose to love and adore that way. It's a big deal how he built his house for her and to make a place that she was safe. But then he gives her reasons not to trust and feel safe with him. It's sad because I really wanted to like Trap, but I think he blew it for me with his behavior.

Cayenne, on the other hand, I loved consistently. She was lethal and tough, but also tormented and emotionally vulnerable. I felt bad that she couldn't leave Trap, and although he couldn't leave her, he just needed to treat her better. I normally love the whole fated to be mated thing, but in this book, it seems like a bad thing. I really want to believe that people should be with someone because they are deeply loved in return and there is caring and trust between them.

I'm having a real issue with the escalation of erotic sex tinged with violence in the later books that Feehan is writing. I still love her writing and her books, but I'm really nervous now that she's going to go full bore with the stuff I'm just not into and have no desire to read. I had to skip some scenes in Fire Bound (not between the H/h, but when the bad guys were abusing a woman). I would have to have to start skipping H/h scenes in her books. I enjoy the plotting and the ongoing storylines too much to quit reading her, so my hope is that she doesn't keep escalating with her content. If it comes down to it, I may have to just read the non sex scenes when they get over the top.

I'm still giving this four stars, because I love the GhostWalkers storyline so much, and I really, really enjoyed the first part of the book. I can't give it more because of how much of a cad Trap was and the butt plug stuff (eww).

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Watchmen by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons

WatchmenWatchmen by Alan Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I gave this four stars, but my feelings about this book are difficult to coalesce down to a simple numeric rating. I read this with my Readings in the Graphic Novel course, and I agree that it is seminal graphic novel/comic reading. However, there are some things about this book that I didn't care for. Ultimately, I would say that like and dislike are not the best terms to apply to it.

"Watchmen" started a whole ripple through comic book/superhero fiction that is still profoundly influential in the many years since it was published. The dark and aheroic/antiheroic superhero/crimefighter motif that subsumed what we know about comic books in the 21st Century can largely be attributed to this book, although Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is also essential. I like darker superhero stories, but some aspects of this one made it hard to sympathize or care for many of the characters. I had to write essays for my class on our readings, and I have some longer opinions on this book that I intend to post on my Goodreads profile under my writings.

This book is very thought-provoking and my class had some very interesting discussions on it. I have to also say that I thought about it for a long time after I finished it. My viewpoint evolved on a few of the characters as well. However, some, I hated to the very end. I could actually write about 20 pages about this book, but I won't. I'll try to coalesce it into a reasonably short review.

"Watchmen" is essentially a murder mystery with masked crimefighters/superheroes. The narrator is extremely atypical, the very questionable person of Rorschach, who is a violent vigilante that wears a hood that changes its expression, much like the Rorschach Test his mask resembles. He is determined to find out who killed Eddie Blake aka The Comedian, an original member of the Minutemen, who later became part of the Crimebusters. He goes to visit other former members: Dan Dreiberg (Nite Owl II), Jonathan Osterman (Dr. Manhattan) and Laurie Juspescyk (Silk Spectre II), and Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias) to warn them that they might be next. Along the way, the reader gets to experience how conflicted the life of a masked crimefighter and/or superhero/villain is. The story is set in an alternate history where Nixon was never caught in the Watergate scandal, the US won the Vietnam War, and in the 1980s, America and the Soviet Union are on the brink of war (the Doomsday Clock frighteningly close to midnight).

Each character has a slightly different perspective of how the passage of the Keene Act made their crimefighting work illegal. Dan and Laurie bond over missing the excitement of it all. Veidt has gone on to build an huge business empire and is a celebrity for his incredible level of fitness. Dr. Manhattan is mostly interested in his research and has become disconnected from human concerns, an issue in his relationship with Laurie, who has been his girlfriend for about twenty years (since she was sixteen).

Intertwined with the overarching story is a subplot about a kid reading a pirate comic. The adventures of the comic protagonist mirror the overall story themes. A huge part of this story is how heroism is not what its cracked up to be. Also, becoming strong enough to achieve a goal can be a path paved with destruction, and in some instances leading to the 'hero' becoming a 'villain'. And really, what is heroism? That's a question posed for every lead character. Since this is a dark, and in some ways, nihilistic-toned work, the answers aren't encouraging. The Comedian is one of the most wretched examples of someone having abilities and using them for bad purposes. The Comedian is an incredibly adept fighter and soldier, but is also very corrupt, acting as a bully, knowing right and wrong but not doing it. He makes excuses for the evil things he does because the world is bad and it's going to burn anyway, essentially. Dr. Manhattan, Jon Osterman is a physicist whose body was obliterated in an accident at the science testing facility where he worked in 1959. When he comes back, it is as a being with seemingly godlike powers that separates him from the rest of the humans he once interacted with, eventually leading to his breakup with his girlfriend. The US government exploits his powers to exercise dominance over other nations (in fact, he's part of the reason that Vietnam surrendered). He's seen and done some of the worst things to other humans, which doesn't help his cynicism about the better parts of humanity. At the point that this story begins, his only tendril of contact is through Laurie. Eventually, that's gone as well when Laurie breaks up with him.
But when it's clear that the world is on the brink of obliteration, Laurie has to convince him to care again.

The more I ruminated about this story, Osterman/Manhattan became more of a sympathetic character to me. He seems the less empathetic, but in some way, he strikes me as feeling more deeply than anyone else. I can completely understand his decision to retreat to a self-built crystal castle on Mars. Sometimes I wouldn't mind having me own, but probably in the mountains in some undiscovered cold part of the world with plenty of snow and ice. People are exhausting. It hurts to care, especially when others aren't all in with you. The circumstances of the accident that gave him his powers were heartbreaking, and he was abandoned to his fate. That's soul-destroying right there. Having said that, he's not off the hook for the questionable things he did and how he treats Laurie.

Ugh, Rorschach. Where do I start? That dude is a bucket of crazy. I feel for what he went through as a child, but it twisted him until he was so broken. All of us are f*&%$! up, but there's no fixing him. He represents the worst of self-righteousness. He's so rigid in his sense of right and wrong that he won't compromise, but then he is bigoted, racist, has poor hygiene and litters in Antarctica. His contempt and mean treatment of his landlady because she has six kids by different men. And he's extremely violent. It's a huge Glass Houses kind of scenario. To me, he is not a hero. He is an antihero, and he's the narrator, but other than the horrors of his childhood, it's really hard to feel sympathetic. While there are parallels between him and other vigilante crimefighters I admire like Batman and Daredevil, his core feels rotten to me. I can't get past that.

Laurie is just plain underwritten. She is interpreted through her relations with the male characters. I am grateful that graphic novels have matured and evolved past this kind of writing, frankly. Laurie could have been a lot more interesting a character if deeper layers to her persona were made available. Just delving into how her stint as Silk Spectre differs from her mother's tenure. How interacting with and in a world of violence has changed from the 30s to the 60s and 70s. Maybe just not stopping at her relationships with men and why her mother and her don't get along.

Dan is honestly a bit on the underwritten side as well. He's written a good-natured guy with a facility with gadgets and a desire for action. His mid-life crisis has to do with missing that sense of purpose and it translates to feelings of inadequacy about not being Nite Owl anymore. Maybe because Moore didn't really know what to do with a guy who is more or less 'normal'.

Veidt is such a sneeringly superior person in his own mind. I can't say too much because I'd reveal some things better left to be read. Suffice it to say that he reminds me of the so-called polite white supremacy that is increasingly in vogue (especially since the 2016 presidential election).

Another issue is the treatment of the GLBTQ characters. Many meet unfortunate ends and their peccadillos are looked at as being unforgivable in a way that being a violent sociopath, bully or rapist are not.

I think a psychology doctoral student could write a hell of a thesis on this book.

There is so much cynicism in this book. It's hard to take in. Some ugliness not easily forgotten. I feel like the psychiatrist who interviews Rorschach in that sense. While I'm not necessarily into the sugary sweet kind of fiction writing, I think it can definitely go the wrong way with the dark and dreary. I'd be a hypocrite to disavow this book. I think it had some insights to give me, and something to offer as far as story and artwork. I gave it four stars because to give less didn't seem fair to me. I couldn't say it was life-changing or a graphic novel that would make the top of my list. I can understand why it would for some though.

So much for a concise review.

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