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TinaNoir

Tina's Reading Books

Genre fiction lover:  Romance, Sci Fi, Fantasy, Mystery, Urban Fantasy

Inflamed: Shadow Riders

Inflamed: A Shadow Riders MC - Kiki Leach

Nope. Nope. Nopity. Nope.

I started out thinking I would like this. But it went downhill for me real fast and I began to skim.

The plot surrounding the main characters became so Byzantine and murky that it just made me tired.

People monologued to death! These are some of the talkingest bikers. Jeez. Late in the book, River, the hero, gets a frantic phone call from the wife of his President of his club. She's sent him several 911 texts. It is an emergency, she needs his help. Does he rush out? Well he does, but first this man talks for about 20-some pages. I was sure she'd be dead by the time he got there.

 

I swear these guys have more feelings about stuff than any teenaged girl.

The heroine Mia suffers a really horrific personal trauma at the start of the book. There is an eight year time jump so it makes sense that she is physically recovered from it. And yet, as the book goes on I couldn't help but feel that the initial trauma was presented mostly for shock value to damsel her. There is never any reference to her receiving any real counseling or how she recovered psychologically from it. The personal trauma is instead transmuted into an issue of physical safety. The villain is after her again and she wants to run away from him, but we are never treated to any insight into Mia's thought process about how this is affecting her psychologically, no flashbacks, no PTSD, no nightsweats...nothing. Her tormenter is basically reduced to a stalker she needs saving from.  Puzzlingly she runs to these bikers for help (why?) who monologued for like 20 pages over her broken and bloody body eight years before.

After awhile the dialogue just felt repetitive.

I lost engagement rather quickly.

On a fun note, though, some version of the word 'Fuck' was used 1,068 times in this book. Awesome! (No, not really awesome because most of the dialogue was just the word fuck strung together with a couple of 'shits' and 'goddamns'). It was like profanity word salad.  But still, my profanity loving heart kinda appreciates  the fact that fuck was probably the most commonly used word in this book after 'the'.

Never Sweeter

Never Sweeter: A Dark Obsession Novel - Charlotte Stein

Good little story.  EXCELLENT sex scenes (so very hot!). Fabulous hero. A heroine I really just wanted to hug.

There was some late story WTF-ery that could have been prevented by a simple conversation. But still.... good story.

Compassion

Compassion - Xavier Neal, Kim Collins

This has to be the worst cover of a romance novel.....

 

But this was a really good book.

 

I love it when a book pleasantly surprises me. I haven't read the author before and more often than now I am giving new-to-me authors extra scrutiny before I pick up a book. Too many frogs out there not enough Princes (...*sob* everytime I say Prince these days I can't help but tear up a little).

But this was very good and enough now that I have a new author to look for.

The story is told in alternating chapter POVs in first person from Jaye, the heroine and Archer, the hero.

Jaye is a single lady librarian who lives in an upscale neighborhood. She has a job she loves and a family who loves her. Her only real issue is that her life has been somewhat on hold in the personal front since her fiance died three years ago. And in many ways she's subconsciously behaving as if her fiance is just out on an extended break. She hasn't packed up his things, the house is more his personality than hers, etc.

Archer is a war vet who has returned with a limp courtesy of shrapnel from his last tragic mission which saw the death of his two best friends. He is also suffering from PTSD thanks to that last missions as well. Through a series of circumstances each more unfortunate than the last he has found himself homeless.

Their paths cross when she sees him rifling through her garbage. In a moment of compassion she offers him some food and a relationship is born.

I am one of those persons who run far away from those slick billionaire books. This is the total opposite. And I LOVED it! Archer has no money and no job. But he is totally wonderful. And even though it seems like he has nothing material to contribute to his relationship with Jaye, he is invaluable when it comes to making her face some of her own demons and building up her own self confidence.

This is a very low conflict romance, but there is tension. It would be remiss of me not to say that Archer's lack of a job isn't a real issue, because it is. Even as a reader I was needing for him to find something because a job, even something very simple, is very powerful psychologically. Most people need to be able to do something, earn their way and contribute in order to feel some self worth. And this would be especially true for a personality like Archer. A man who went into the military to serve. And frankly, while I don't need my hero in a romance to be a millionaire, I do need him to have a J-O-B!

I loved the progression of the story and the romance. It was sweet and hot. Jaye's personality was optimistic and bubbly. Archer's was more reserved. But they worked together very well. The sex scenes were explicit but didn't overwhelm the story.

The book also employed the convention of the two narrators breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the reader. I like the deployment of that in this book. Sometimes that convention comes off as a little too precious. But it worked really nicely here.

Good book. Recommended.

The Viking Wants Forever

The Viking Wants Forever - Koko Brown

Gorgeous cover.

 

Time travel.  Comic book geek gal goes back in time and falls in with Vikings.

 

The past stuff was a muddled mess.  When action moves into the present it gets better. 

 

I think the present-day romance was nice but the author really doesn't do compelling Time Travel.

The Obsession

The Obsession - Nora Roberts

This one is kind of hard to rate.

The story is actually good. Naomi was twelve years old when she follows her dad in the woods, expecting to find out where he hid her birthday present only to find something else entirely.

The chapters that immediately follow -- with the town and family realizing what her father is, her family's relocation with her uncle to Washington and later to New York -- are great. I loved that part.

However the book starts to go a bit south for me when the books moves into it's last third as Naomi settles into her house in the Pacific Northwest. Too much of that part was an almost numbing about house reconstruction. Yes, I imagine the house, the floors, the windows etc. are all gonna be gorgeous. But Jeebues, did we need to read it all. Does NR have some hard on about home improvement? It seems to be creeping into her books a lot.

In the end the book felt more like an interesting women's fiction with a some menace thrown in, not a full blown rom-suspense. I never got the sense that Naomi was ever really in danger. And I was a little bummed by the villain.

But overall this was an interesting read.

Only Beloved

Only Beloved (A Survivors' Club Novel) - Mary Balogh

This was a nice capper to the Survivor's series. On the whole this is a quiet, more reflective series than say, her Slightly series that features the Bedwyn family.

We got a hint of George and Dora's early attraction in Only Enchanting - Mary Balogh  the book that features Dora's sister, Agnes. This book is in some ways a continuation of that one as this book also finishes a narrative thread that began in that book, namely the sisters' tentative reconciliation with their scandalous mother.

But beside all that, this is a rather low conflict romance. George asks Dora to marry him, out of the blue. All the other Survivors are married he feels it is time for him to move forward too. They are happy for him and we get a a good bit of face time with the rest of the Survivors.

So this is a less a story about a romance, but more about a marriage that turns into love. Even though George and Dora themselves don't have a lot of internal conflict, there is a bit of a mystery about George's dead wife and son. Allegations of murder and why is the dead previous wife's cousin so intent on harassing them?

Although George himself wasn't a Survivor of the wars, he has scars and this book exposes them so they can heal.

And he and Dora are pretty sexy together!

Mary Balogh is a comfort read for me, even her new stuff is "comfortable" because I trust her storytelling. This book worked very well for me in that sense.

Also it had a wonderful epilogue!

This review is based on an ARC received from the publisher

Let It Shine

Let It Shine - Alyssa B. Cole

When I was in college I saw an excellent, excellent documentary on PBS called 'Eyes on The Prize' It was a multi-part look at the civil rights movement, starting with the murder of Emmit Till and hitting all the high points: Martin, Malcolm, Selma, 'I Have a Dream' speech, letters from Birmingham etc., right on through the assassinations of King, Kennedy, Kennedy and Malcolm.

But the one thing that stuck out for me were the episodes on SNCC - the Student Non-Violent Coordinating committee. I was in my comfy PWI, Division-A, student-centered research institution with an enrollment close to 25,000 students. And I was completely riveted by at the activism of these college students who were riding into danger, sitting at 'whites only' counters, and who had prepared wills because they knew they might not make it home. Since I was studying journalism at the time, I developed a girl crush Charlayne Hunter-Gault who was one of the first students to desegregate the Univ. of Georgia, her story is also told in the documentary.

This story is set in the same time focusing on one miss Sofronia Wallis who had let her own light dim a bit in the aftermath of her mother's untimely death. But Sofie is a woman with passions and convictions and she wants to be part of the movement.

So does Ivan Friedman, a white Jewish man who knew Sofie when they were children. IHe'd had a major crush on her but their life paths converged after that fateful day of her mother's death. Ivan also joins the movement and he and Sofie start up a new chapter in their relationship.

I liked this quite a bite mainly because it is a time and era and backdrop that romance novels don't like to visit. But it is a vibrant time and one that I'd like to see more often.

I very much like the characterization of Sofie who had repressed so much of herself. As you read you get the real sense of her true self needing to peek through and escape, very much like like light escaping through small crevices to shine bright.

I also liked the fact that Ivan was Jewish and that the author ably included pieces of that culture as well as Ivan's perspectives on the comparisons between Jim Crow and the conditions that existed when parents escaped from Europe right before WWII.

Th book had a nice dose of realism with scenes of the students drilling and learning how to take taunts, physical threats, an even punches and hits without reacting to violence as well as descriptions of them watching news reports of attacks on the Freedom Rider. But it is still a romance and Sofie and Ivan were sweet together.

I recommend. Also recommend the books the author cites at the end, especially the McWhorter book which my husband uses as a text in his Civil Rights courses. Also "Eyes on the Prize" is a must see!

The Chase

The Chase - Janet Evanovich, Lee Goldberg

Ah, another fun read. This is just book candy. Or ear candy since I am listening to these and Scott Brick the narrator is fabulous.

In this one, the Chinese government wants back an artifact that has been on loan to the Smithsonian, so they are sending a high ranking official to collect it. Problem is, the one in the Smithsonian is a fake because the real one was stolen and nobody knows who has it. So Kate and Nick's impossible task -- in order -- 1) find the real Bird (I picture it to look like The Maltese Falcon) and 2) swap it with the fake before the Chinese government arrives to pick it up. Luckily Nick has connections. Unluckily the timeline changes dramatically the and the Chinese collect the bird before the swap is made.

But that is the least of Nick and Kate's problems, the bigger issue is who they have to cross in order to get the bird. The main villain of the story is a guy who in my imagination is a cross between Dick Cheney and Donald Trump. So in other words, a real piece of work. He is a super powerful, super rich ex-secretary of state who now runs a private security/military company called Black Water er, um, Black Rhino. He's smart and very quickly figures out what Kate and Nick did. He is quick to retaliate because he's evil and petulant.

This book is just as fun and breezy as the last book with Nick and Kate as really great anchors. I really enjoy the characterization of these two: Kate the no-nonsense ex-military FBI agent who has the appetite of a 14 year old boy. I love the descriptions of her favorite meals, In-and-Out burgers, tacos, pretzel and french fry sandwiches. And the fact that no matter where they travel -- be it to China, Indonesia, or Nashville - poor Kate will always end up in coach in a middle seat.

Meanwhile Nick is always thinking and scheming. He has more contacts than a phone book and his tastes are much more Dom Perignon and Caviar than Kate's. And no matter where they travel, Nick manages to fly first class, in seats equipped with a shiatsu massager and a five star meal. I also like that even though he is now working for the FBI to bring down criminals, Nick manages to still make money as a side venture by bilking them for his own gain in the course of the con as well. He's still a thief after all.

Since Nick is working on the FBI's time, he refuses to use any of his criminal friends when they need to hire a crew. So he somehow manages to find civilians with an emotional stake in whatever con they are pulling. He recruits a new member for this one but he calls in a couple of old friends as well.

One of my favorites is Boyd the actor who is the bane of every director he has ever worked with. Boyd is a method actor and really needs to understand his part no matter how small or trivial. His scene as a pancake in a commercial had me in stitches. And I felt very sorry for his director in the toothpaste commercial because Boyd really needed to feel the despair in order to understand how changing toothpaste could change his life. Kate is always nervous with Boyd because she thinks he'll give them away. But Nick finds him a delight and has complete trust he'll pull off whatever they give him to do. And Nick is usually right because like Nick, Boyd completely commits!

Kate's dad makes a very welcome return as part of their crew and he's never met a weapon he didn't like to deploy. There is also Willie, the curvy blonde who can fly, drive or navigate any vehicle with an engine.

Still no real movement in the romance department, although Nick and Kate do get their flirt on quite a bit.

The Heist

The Heist - Lee Goldberg, Janet Evanovich

This was like the book equivalent of sitting in a Saturday matinee, eating popcorn and having just an afternoon of mindless fun.

I love the tv show Leverage and this book is exactly in that vein. It is book that relies on the work of a long con to get the bad guys.

The main characters are Nick Fox and Kate O'Hare.

Nick is a handsome, charming thief who is always thinking ten moves ahead. He has perfected the art of the grift. Kate is the ex-military FBI agent who has been chasing Nick for years. He knows this and taunts her each time he slips away from her, not in a mean way but in a sexy "til the next time you almost catch me" way.

Kate finally catches him but in typical Nick fashion he oozes his way out of it. He convinces the FBI to use him as a way to catch even bigger, more elusive criminals. After all as the old adage says: it takes a thief to catch a thief. Kate is along as his beleaguered watcher and reluctant co-conspirator.

Their very first case is to catch a guy who embezzled half a billion dollars and escaped to parts unknown. They must find him, get him back on US soil and recover the money.

Like every self respecting con artist book, movie or tv show, they have to assemble a team of people with a different skill sets to help them pull this off. It was fun watching Nick pull in the crew and get to meet them.

The book is very light hearted and full of funny lines and great personalities. Kate and Nick couldn't be more different and I liked each one of them for different reasons. Kate is the no-nonsense person who loves being FBI. She's good with guns and hand-to-hand combat. I just adore the fact that petite Kate is basically the muscle. Whereas Nick is the twisty brains behind everything. He likes his luxury and creature comforts and even in a cave in the middle of an Island he manages to set a great table.

The supporting characters are great fun, but since this is a first book and we only meet them halfway through at first most of them tend to be background. I imagine as the series goes on we'll get to know them better. But of the crew I enjoyed Boyd, the method actor who really takes his part seriously and Kate's dad, Jake. Jake is also ex-military with a colorful, dangerous career that we only hear in bits an pieces.

This is all globe-trotting adventure with lots of banter and guns and fun character moments. Very little romance although Nick and Kate are very attracted to each other. Nick is down for it, obviously, he's a guy. But Kate still only sees him as her arch-nemesis, a criminal she is forced to work with. But I would guess at some point they'll get together. The signs are too glaring for it not to happen.

Edited to add: I listened to this in audio and the narrator, Scott Brick,  was great. He has a nice rich voice and is good with accents. And he didn't do that really annoying thing that some male narrators do by doing a high falsetto when doing the female character voices.

Fire Touched

Fire Touched - Patricia Briggs

It is nice to get back to Mercy and see what new things she and Adam will need to face in the Tri-Cities.

Since the events of Fair Game touched off a major change in the world of Mercy Thompson, a lot of the plot elements in this series have shifted to react to those changes. The Fae have always had a big presence in the series but it feels like these last few books they have been the major drivers of the plot.

When Bauclaire made his big declaration at the end of Fair Game, it was a clear us (Fae) versus them (humans) thing. So it was reasonable to expect that a lot of what would come after would be some sort of Fae v. Human war that other supernaturals would have to figure in in some ways. That is happening. But more interestingly, in this one we get to witness up close and personal the power struggle happening within the Fae community. And of course being the power couple they are, Adam and Mercy get sucked into the madness.

This book starts off with a lot of mayhem and excitement, but it settles into something a little quieter with larger stakes overall. Honestly I find the Fae in this series both fascinating and a rather scary. So I don't mind that they are featuring prominently at this point. I honestly don't mind that the vampires seemed to have taken a back seat. I liked the pacing and I liked the story.

I also liked the fact that Adam addressed, in decisive fashion, one of the HUGE  problems I had with his behavior in the last book. It made me forgive him. I won't even quibble about what I feel is a rather too fast resolution with some of the other issues Mercy was having with the pack. Since I found that whole plot element tiresome and dragged out at this point, I will hand wave away what I felt was a rather facile conclusion to it all.

So glad that one of my favorite series is still delivering well. Also made me remember that I don't think I've ever done a re-read with this one. Time to remedy that!

Marked in Flesh

Marked in Flesh: A Novel of the Others, Book 4 - Alexandra Harris, Anne Bishop

This is such a fantastic series. The progression of the story is wonderful, the ever widening circles of cause and effect and actions and repercussions is so well done. I am intrigued by the Elders and am nervous for 'our' humans.

In the aftermath of the last book and the rise of the Humans First and Last (HFL) coalition, it was clear that we were heading toward a major clash.

A major strike by the HFL happens in this book and finally, the Elders make their appearance. As I was reading this book I felt like I was holding my breath waiting for that ...thing... to happen. There was such an air of dreaded anticipation hovering over this book with the feeling that events would begin to really over-take our little group from the Lakeside Courtyard.

And they do because the world in now bigger in this book. The action isn't centered in the courtyard as much anymore. We get intercut scenes between the Lakeside courtyard, the Lakeside police, a town in the midwest that is a flashpoint to events in this book, overseas in the oft-heard about Cel-Romano, and various Intuit settlements.

We also meet new characters. We get POVs from some new power players, Erebus Sanguinati flexes his muscles a bit and we meet more of his clan who move into some key positions. And we get to finally meet Shady Burke (I have always loved that name!)

Meg and Simon, of course, remain central to everything. Between the two of them they hold the fate of the human population in Thasia in their hands. Simon is volatile and doesn't really care for humans. But Meg cares and he'll do anything for her.

There are also some intriguing developments about ways in which the cassandra sangue could use things other than cutting to tell prophecy. There is a nice call-back to the old cassandre sangue Simon remembers giving him prophecy so long ago. This series always raises some interesting questions about its world. How much of the prophet's need to cut is learned behavior and addiction rather than absolute necessity? Can the girls learn other ways to give prophecy without always cutting first and only using cutting when it is critical?

Another thing the about this series is that it it very,very light on anything romance, but you always know that hovering around and over things is that there's something between Meg and Simon. They are so clueless when it comes to 'romance' stuff and tiptoe around each other when it comes to that, but Meg is beginning to awaken to the possibilities. There is a scene where they make one more baby step in that direction.

Now I have to wait very, very, very impatiently for the next one.

His Forever Family

His Forever Family (Billionaires and Babies) - Sarah M. Anderson

Normally I would not read a book like this. It is a Harlequin Billionaire with babies book. Not my lane. But I saw that little baby was black and wondered.... 'hmmm' I let my curiosity get the better of me and picked this up.

At the least I figured I'd have a mildly pleasant read full of Harlequin Billionaire with babies tropes. I'd find them a bit tiresome because they are so very tropey, and probably give this a generic 3-star rating and be on my way. At the most I figured I might be surprised and get a cute little story that would subvert my expectations, enjoy it more than I did.

But nope. I got a book that made fall into a rage spiral.

The book starts off pleasantly enough. Billionaire Marcus Warren and his trusty Admin Assistant Liberty are doing their daily jog while discussing the important business of running Billionaire Marcus Warren's billion-dollar empire. Why to I emphasize Marcus is a billionaire? Because he refers to himself as a billionaire about three time in the first chapter. He ruminates on how awesome it is to be a billionaire.

Liberty is super efficient, not only is she jogging with her boss discussing his day-to-day meetings, but she is taking notes while she's doing it. I actually liked Liberty here for about two minutes.

All that changes when they find an abandoned African-American baby boy ear some trash bins in the park they are running in. The two hop into action, save the baby and because of some inner revelations we learn about Liberty (more on that later) Billionaire Marcus makes sure the baby gets placed into a good foster care home.

The general story isn't a bad one. Marcus is a silver-spoon baby whose had his whole life controlled by his parents and is finally waking up and breaking free of their harmful manipulations. The finding of the abandoned baby triggers a change in the relationship he has with Liberty. She has always been his super efficient assistant. But because of her reaction to the baby he sees a softer side of her it shifts his perception of her.

One thing I did appreciate about the characterization of Marcus was that he is unapologetically a rich, trust fund kid. He wasn't a poor kid who had worked himself up into being a billionaire so he is automatically empathetic with people closer to the poverty line. I thought it was an authentic character beat for him to think the foster home the baby gets into is shabby and not very nice. When in fact it is clean and well kept and for someone like Liberty, who has much more experience in what real poverty is like, it is a very nice place. That was a good moment because it illustrated very well how different rich people really are. Marcus has never been outside of the rarefied atmosphere of his Gold Coast lifestyle so he has no yardstick to measure the gradations of lower-middle class to middle class life and what makes something 'nice' versus 'not nice' when it comes to that.

So Marcus wasn't a bad character, he was really rather ok and fairly romance novel typical.

No Liberty was the problem here. A huge problem for me.

Liberty had a horrible childhood, her mother had been a drug addict who died in prison and Liberty lived in a succession of foster homes. If that had been the sum total of it, I would have been ok with Liberty. But no, Liberty has a whole host of problems.

First, she is a bundle of utter insecurity and neurosis wrapped in a blanket of no-confidence in herself. She was a mess:


"I am a nobody"
By herself, Liberty was utterly worthless
The last three years have been a gift I don't deserve

So basically Liberty has zero sense of her own self worth. Like, zero!

Oh but it gets worse. Liberty's mother was black. And Liberty has been passing as white all this time. And it has been her dirty little secret.

There is a whole passel of "oh fuck no" that needs to be unpacked with Liberty here. Look I get it that she had a bad childhood and is probably fair enough to pass as white, but why does she need to? The author never, ever gave a reason why Liberty felt the need to utterly and completely deny her blackness. Sure I get why people would be ashamed of a drug addicted felon of a parent. But why specifically was admitting to being black so damn difficult for Liberty? At one point she says to Marcus 'have you ever tried being a black woman in this world?' (yeah this came out of Liberty's mouth). To which I mentally responded "Bitch, please. Have you?"

What is even worse, is that over and over again as Liberty mentally hand-wrings over her big secret the 'being black' part is consistently conflated with her mother being a drug addict, convict and a hooker (because of course she was). Liberty doesn't just feel shame about her mother being these things, they are always always, always mentioned in conjunction with her being black. It is as if being black is just as bad as being a drug addict and a hooker. I could not even with this.

And then we get to the whole lies part. Apparently Liberty not telling Marcus any of this falls in the realm of her telling lies and not being truthful. Unless part of her employment with him depended on her 1) being white and 2)being from a pristine background and 3) these things were explicitly asked and answered on her job application/job interview then how exactly are these lies? How much of her childhood is she required to disclose to her employer? At what point did he look at her in her three years of employment as asked her 'Hey, you're not black or anything, right?' And she said "Nope, not black. All white meat here. Damn near albino, that's me!"

When the relationship moved from Employer/Employee to lovers, of course this all comes out very dramatically and Marcus is shocked and Liberty is ashamed. He is all "Her mother was African American? An addict? And a hooker? Why hadn't she told him?" Again with the black part being given equal weight with the criminal parts... but whatevs. At that point, they'd only been boning for about a week and hadn't actually talked about where they were relationship wise.

My big problem with this is the idea that denying race is a requirement to remake yourself into something worthwhile. There are so many other ways to reclaim self worth.  I do understand that there are still issues with colorism & passing even today, but there are usually some definable reasons why a person feels they need to pass. A simple "it is too hard to be black" isn't usually one of those reasons.  And in Liberty's case, the author never presents anything about  Liberty's lifestyle that requires her to reject her race so blatantly. She was a fucking Administrative Assistant! It isn't like she's an actress trying to get an Oscar worthy role (snerk!).

Finding a black heroine in a Harlequin romance outside of the Kimani line is like finding a tooth on a hen so it is a damned shame that she doesn't even want to be black.

So very not here for this.

My American Duchess

My American Duchess - Eloisa James

Liked the second half better than the first half. The after marriage stuff made the book for me.

His Pretend Baby

His Pretend Baby: His Pretend Baby: 50 Loving States, Oregon - Theodora Taylor

This was cute.

I liked that the two mains were a little off center. I especially liked how being on the spectrum manifested itself in many of Go's personality quirks. I also liked how well the author used Nyla's past to inform her present personality. It wasn't over-done to the point where I felt like it was a cheap shortcut, but rather just a smart underline to explain why she is so protective of herself.

I will say I think this book felt short. It ends at 15% on my kindle e-reader. It is hard to say how long this book actually is because it is bundled with three other full length books. In page length I would estimate with was about 150? maybe. It is enough to create a grounding in the characters and get you invested in Go and Nyla but not enough to fill in some emotional blanks. For instance Marco's death in the beginning didn't seem to touch Nyla. She expressed regret but it felt just like a set up to just get her to the MOC with Go. Also in the end she does something really, really

huge cutting her former best friend's throat with a piece of glass and watching her die and bleed out  

(show spoiler)

and yet, we jump to an epilogue and there doesn't seem to be any emotional fall out from that.

But all in all I did like this. It was fun. Go and Nyla were sexy. And they worked well together and had good chemistry. I just wish the book had felt just a bit fuller.

Wicked Games

Wicked Games (Denver Rebels Book 1) - Maureen Smith

In the inimitable words of the always fabulous Nina Garcia this was a "taste issue."

Honestly this book was not bad per se. It simply was not to my taste. It is filled with tropes and themes that I usually steer clear of.  If I actually liked these, then could have potentially been a 4-or-5 star book.

The basic storyline is the heroine Nadia accompanies her brother, a sports reporter, to a hockey practice and there she locks eyes with the hero Reid. Reid is a superstar hockey player on a major league NHL team. There is lust at first sight. He, being a superstar hockey player, gets a lot of women and has a lot of sex with said women. But the minute he meets Nadia she is so much it that he goes into Prince Charming mode and pursues her relentlessly with his charm, looks, fame and money. Lots and lots of money.

So this is where it comes down to personal taste

1) I am not a fan of books where the minute the hero/heroine look at each other they lose control of their bodily functions. You know, breathing ceases. Hairs get prickly. Areas get plump, moist, hard or wet. They can't think. What they were doing just minutes before loses all meaning. Sure, I can understand instant attraction and even some heightened sexual awareness, but this goes beyond that. I mean based on the description, I believe she had what I am sure had to be a heart arrhythmia. And since her "mouth went strangely dry" and she could no longer feel her phone in her hand once she met his eyes, I think she must have spontaneously contracted Lupus or diabetes or something, just from looking at him. Ha! but seriously, though, I know what the author was going for, but this type of extreme reaction doesn't work for me.  This was not necessarily a reaction fail, it was a writing fail.

2)I am not a fan of billionaire books. I avoid those like the plague. Mainly because most of them that I read become an exercise in how much wealth can be displayed as well as creating some hyper fantasy lifestyle without too much effort. Again, this is not a bad thing. It just isn't to my taste. While the word 'billionaire' is not in the title, the book acts like it is. We are told over and over again that Reid is rich. He signed a 13-year $98 million contract. He has endorsements with Gatorade and Nike amongst other things. He has several high end cars, he charters private planes, he lavishes Nadia with gifts, even slipping her a credit card after only about a week of knowing her. The barrage of his wealth is almost relentless in the book.

3) I hate grand public gestures as a proving point for love and affection. There are multiples of these.

So yeah, this book just wasn't in my wheelhouse of things I enjoy in a book.

That said, there was an actual good romance at the core of it. Even though they get together and fall in love at the speed of light, the author does give Nadia and Reid the page space to develop as a couple (even though from a timeline standpoint they meet in October and the book ends at Christmas) and we do get a lot of quality face time with them. There are some good scenes with just them.

But unfortunately that gets lost in the other stuff.

And beyond just the 'my personal taste' issues there are some things that I think are objectively problematic. There were passages that devolved into speechifying about race. The author relied on cliche phrasing a bit too much.  There was one scene that could have easily been an episode of a Real Housewives of Atlanta, I was seriously planning to DNF at that point. And there were points when I had to check the heroine's age. She acted like a tween sometimes.

In the end I think this will be a great book for people who really like their romances to be closer to the -romanticized fantasy element where a rich guy sweeps a regular girl off her feet,  lavishes on the heroine with gifts and grand gestures that make her feel like she's super special. But that stuff doesn't really work for me.

Act Like It

Act Like It - Lucy V. Parker

This was a light, fun and very wittily written romance.

Lainie Graham and Richard Troy are starring together in an historical play in London's West End theatre district.

They couldn't be more different. Lainie is an up and coming ingenue who is popular with the public in part because of her public break up with bad-boy actor Will Farmer. He cheated on her and all the sympathy is on her side.

Richard Troy is at the pinnacle of stage theatre fame. A privileged blue blood who is also a brilliant actor who is considered a bit of a dick by the public because of his disdain for publicity and his abrasive demeanor.

The problem? Richard's attitude it beginning to affect ticket sales.

The solution? Rehab with a romance with the very nice, very likable Lainie.

The reaction? Utter horror on both their parts.

But they are forced into it and so ---   faux-mance, here they come!

I really enjoyed this for a lot of reasons.

First, I loved that neither Richard nor Lainie are suffering from UST or get all tingly the minute they shake hands or lock eyes. Quite the opposite. Although they both are in the same play and are one of the four principal actors who are in each other's company quite a bit because they rehearse regularly, they are professionally in different stratospheres. Lainie is envious of Richard's talent and his supreme confidence. Richard.... well Richard's reaction to Lainie is akin to '...Aaand your name is again?' Lainie truly barely registers on his radar.

Second, even when they start in on their charade they are terrible at it. They are awkward and don't really actually like each other. Their body language is stiff. As actors they are really bad at acting like they are in a romance.

Third, their personalities are great. Richard is elitist and gruff and has no time for mere mortals. He is very method-y actor-y all broody and Byron-y. He is an utter bastard. I enjoyed the hell out of Richard. He wasn't written as mean, he was just...prickly. Lainie was very nice and decent. Which sounds boring because that makes her sound like twice baked potato chips. Except, she has some salt and vinegar added to her. She is sharp witted and makes funny jabs at Richard and pokes at his self importance right to his unbelieving face.

And fourth, when they finally become aware of each other as more than just these two people who are forced to be around each other it is because they like each other. They start to look at each other with interest because something about what the other said or did arrested their attention. And then the tingles begin.

Yup, really fun book.