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That's What I'm Talking About

I generally review romance, paranormal and urban fantasy. I tend to pick review books that I want to read, so generally my reviews will be positive. I always give my honest opinion: good, bad, and indifferent. 

 

Note: on my blog I use a letter grading system. I've listed the ratings below. For sites with stars, I have listed the equivalent rating. If I didn't finish the book, I will not rate it with stars.

 

A+  Personal Favorite (5 stars)
A    Loved It (4.5 or 5 stars)
A-   Enjoyed A Lot (4 or 4.5 stars)
B+  Liked It A Lot (4 stars)
B    Liked It -- Recommend (4 stars)
B-   Liked It -- But I had a few small issues (3 or 3.5 stars)
C+  Liked It -- But I had issues (3 or 3.5 stars)
C    Finished It -- Liked some, didn't like some (3 stars)
C-   Finished It -- Liked a little, didn't like a lot (2 or 2.5 stars)
D    Not A Big Fan (2 stars)
E    Don’t Waste Your Time (1 star)
----
TW: Reading this book was like watching a Train Wreck
DNF: Did Not Finish

 

updated July 9, 2015

Currently reading

Love Me By Christmas
Jaci Burton
The Shift of the Tide (The Uncharted Realms) (Volume 3)
Jeffe Kennedy
Roomies
Christina Lauren
Just You and Me (A Contemporary Romance Collection)
Fiona Miers, Caitlyn Lynch, Liz Durano, Deelylah Mullin, Cate Farren, Jacquie Biggar, Vicki Batman, Kate Richards, Brenna Zinn, Dalton Diaz, Tierney O'Malley, Desiree Holt, Nicole Morgan, Ashlyn Chase
Bitter Bite: Elemental Assassin, Book 14
Audible Studios, Jennifer Estep, Lauren Fortgang
Progress: 27 %

Review: Vampire Fight Club by Larissa Ione

Vampire Fight Club (Demonica, #6.5) - Larissa Ione

What I’m Talking About:

Nathan (Nate) Sabine, a rare, daywalker vampire, has worked at an underground fight club for decades hoping to bring it down from the inside, ever since the owner, Fade, killed his wife. But Nate has become apathetic and has lost sight of his need for revenge. He hates himself. 

 

Vladlena (Lena) Paskelkov is a nurse at UGH. She’s working when one of the paramedics brings in her brother all torn up. They discover he was killed at an underground fight club. Lena decides to go undercover as a medic for the fight club’s legitimate front, the Vampire nightclub Thirst, to seek revenge for her brother’s murder.

 

Although previously released, Vampire Fight Club is one of the few (only?) Demonic stories I hadn’t read. I absolutely enjoyed diving into the old school Demonica tales. The story is set mid-series, after the original crew have their stories, but before most of the Lords of Deliverance characters are mated. It’s fast, simple, and fun. Nate and Lena share an instant attraction, although it sort of horrifies Lena as she’s not certain if Nate had anything to do with her brother’s death. But their pull is undeniable, and it gives Nate a reason to live again. It also helps Lena fulfill her own shifter needs. 

 

Vampire Fight Club is independent of the original series and can be enjoyed as a standalone or introduction to this awesome PNR series. As for fans of Underground General Hospital, this story is an entertaining, sexy addition to the Demonica series.

 

My Rating:  B, Liked It

Originally posted at That's What I'm Talking About

Review copy provided by Netgalley

#Audiobook Review: Stay by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Stay - Audible Studios, Elle Kennedy, Sarina Bowen, Jacob Morgan, Lucy Rivers

Hailey Taylor Emery co-owns a thriving startup “go-for” company with her ex. Hailey is a huge Toronto Maple Leafs fan, and is a bit flustered to discover her long-time celebrity crush, Toronto forward Matt Erikkson, is one of her clients. She is even more discombobulated when he refers to her as “hottie” and invites her to a game. 

 

Over 18 months ago, Matt’s wife insisted on a divorce, and he’s still feeling the impacts. His ex convinced him that being a professional hockey player and having a long-term relationship can never work. However, after meeting Hailey, Matt is considering putting his heart out there again.

 

I absolutely adore the Him/WAGs world that Ms. Bowen and Ms. Kennedy have developed over the course of three books. This is the first story that wanders away from the “original” characters and family, and the authors do a great job transitioning the focus to Wes and Blake’s teammates. Overall, I enjoyed Stay, and found Matt and Hailey to be an adorable and sexy couple. With that said, I also had a few hiccups with the story and Hailey, which made it not quite as amazing as the previous three books.

 

As I mentioned, I enjoyed Matt and Hailey together. Their playful banter, especially as translated through texting and messenger apps, is fun, and it allows the couple to get to know one another in a safe place. And once they become a couple, I loved watching them grow, especially Matt. I also love the WAGs supporting characters, who add dimension to the story. And there are some fabulously hilarious moments… just think “junk selfie in a public restroom”!  I do really like it when it’s just the two of them getting to know each other, spending time together and with the team. 

 

However, I did struggle a bit with the first half of the book. First because I didn’t care that much for the female narrator (discussion below). Second, I couldn’t get 100% behind Hailey. She’s unsure and uncertain, and it made it difficult for me to cheer for her. Third, the ex situation on both sides adds too much tension, making parts of the story very combative. Finally, I had a big issue with a conflict that came up regarding client confidentiality. It is a serious thing, and I felt Hailey, the OWNER of the business, took it way too lightly!

 

As far as the narration, Ms. Rivers excels when portraying Hailey, although it was a tab bit slow at 1.25x. And her female characters are good, but sometimes they felt forced - in that she was working too hard to create different voices from the norm. However, her male voices sound just like a goofy teenage character from a cartoon show I used to watch, and that is all I heard every time she performed any male character, to include the lead. That took me out of the story too often. On the other hand, the male narrator is the same who voiced Wes in both Him and Us. While it was a bit confusing at first (because I kept thinking it was Wes speaking), once the story progressed, it worked well. I really like Mr. Morgan’s voice, and felt he does a great job with a multitude of characters. He also brings solid emotion to Matt, who is struggling to figure out his life.

 

In the end, I’m giving Stay a B rating, whereas normally a book that has a few issues would get a B-. I liked Matt and Hailey together, especially for the second half, after she got over her nervousness and committed to the relationship. The couple clicked, creating a strong romance and finish to the book. I just adore this world, and hope the authors give us more stories soon!

 

My Rating: B

Male narrator: B+

Female narrator: C

#Audiobook Review: Good Boy by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Good Boy - Teddy Hamilton, Elle Kennedy, Sarina Bowen, Tanya Eby

Jess Canning is struggling to find her path in life. Planning and hosting her brother Jamie’s wedding to NHL superstar, Ryan Wesley, helped her realize party planning isn’t the job for her. After determining that her life’s calling is to be a nurse, Jess is relieved to earn a scholarship to the Smith Nursing school in Toronto.

 

After hooking up with his best friend’s little sister not once, but twice, Blake Riley realizes for the first time in five years, he wants more with a woman than a one-night stand. He’s into Jess, so when she moves to Toronto, he makes it his mission to woo her into being his girlfriend.

 

Good Boy is the wonderful followup to the amazing two-book Him series. I love that the authors did this spinoff starting with Blake and Jess - especially with Wes and Jamie’s wedding kicking off the title. The wedding helps transition nicely from the Jamie-and-Wes centric stories, to focus on Wes’s teammates. I love that they the pair is still a significant part of the book, but as the story unfolds, the focus is truly on Jess and Blake. 

 

I already liked Blake from the previous book, but after Good Boy, I’ve fallen hard. He’s got such a heart of gold, but he’s cocky and playful. He pushes, but knows when to back off. He makes me laugh. He’s the kind of character you want as your own best friend. Whether hanging with his teammates, romancing Jess, or skating on the ice, Blake is always true to himself and those around him.

 

Jess and Blake make a great pair. They start off as “frienemies” with their chiweiler hookup (a hilarious scene from Us), and I was worried I would be annoyed with Jess. She wants Blake, but is horrified by that, so she is a bit rude to him. But he takes it all in stride, confident she likes him, and wears her down. He knows just how to be there for her when she needs it. I really like how the story is all about them coming together - getting over their own hurdles. It’s gradual and real, rather than all at once. Love sneaks up on them. 

 

Teddy Hamilton and Tanya Eby are two narrators I’ve enjoyed listening to recently. Mr. Hamilton voiced the part of Jamie in the previous two books, and I recently listened to another contemporary romance by Ms. Bowen, that was also narrated by Ms. Eby. Because I had heard both narrators play other parts just before listening to Good Boy, I kept thinking of the other characters while listening to this one. While it gave some familiarity to the tale, it was also a little confusing for me. However, they are both strong, talented performers, creating fitting voices for the two main characters. My only issue with Ms. Eby is that I didn’t care for her versions of Jamie and Wes because I’m so used to the other narrators’s versions. And while I liked her Blake, I did have trouble at times distinguishing between her male voices. 

 

Although the WAGs series, starting with Good Boy, is a spinoff of one of my favorite series, you do not have to read Him or Us prior to starting this one. Blake and Jess are a fabulous couple and the book is a lot of fun. I am so glad the authors continued what they started in Him and opened it up to this larger world.

 

My Rating: A-

Narration (both): B+

#Audiobook Review: Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

Skinwalker (Jane Yellowrock) - Faith Hunter, Khristine Hvam

Jane Yellowrock is a vampire hunter; a very good vampire hunter. She’s been hired by the vampire council of New Orleans to find and exterminate the rogue vampire plaguing the city. While the civilized vampires may realize she’s not human, they don’t know she’s a Cherokee skinwalker, a secret only a handful know, and something Jane has little understanding. But what makes Jane the best in her profession is Beast, the wildcat soul that lives within Jane.

 

I’ve FINALLY started the Jane Yellowrock series, something that has been on my TBR for years! Overall I enjoyed my first foray into Jane’s world. The author creates a fascinating world, giving readers/listeners some important clues to Jane’s past and true form, but leaving so much wide open. The plot of Skinwalker is exciting; however, it is Jane’s story that is utterly engrossing, and I wanted to jump into the second book as soon as I was done with the first. I love how Ms. Hunter gives just enough about Jane to satisfy my need for information and doesn’t leave everything mysterious and ambiguous.

 

I like Jane. It took a little bit for me to warm up to her, but in the end, I liked her no-nonsense attitude. I like how she pushes boundaries, but can be respectful. I am not as fond of Beast; she is a bit scary, but I think I’ll end up liking her. Beast is a separate character, and I appreciate how the author gives Beast her own speech patterns and way of thinking. It’s written (and therefore narrated) as different from Jane. I like that Jane is remorseful over what happened to Beast. I like that Beast recognizes together, Beast and Jane are better and stronger than as separate components. But Beast has her own moral compass, and while it’s not warped, it is that of a creature and different from that of Jane, the person.

 

Skinwalker’s story is a standalone mystery of who/what is the rogue and how to capture and end it. The author uses this plot to introduce readers to a large cast of characters and build Jane’s world. Since Jane is new to New Orleans, the reader learns along side of her. It’s a very effective method of world building. The entertaining and action-packed story is solid on its own, but the world is fascinating. It will be interesting to see how the vast array of characters plays out over the next few books. Some I like more than others. I didn’t like the Joe, but after a big reveal, maybe I’ll like him more? Leo…. he’s going to be her nemesis for a while. Bruiser… maybe? The Cherokee? So undecided on them all. But they are all very interesting.

 

The narration is performed by Khristine Hvam, my first time listening to her work. I like Jane’s voice a lot. Ms. Hvam gets into her character and exudes Jane’s attitude. She also does a great job changing it up for Beast. I feel her Cajun accents are a bit overplayed, and male voices aren’t very masculine. For example, Rick (the Joe) is supposed to be a player: smooth and masculine. But the voice the narrator uses sounds goofy and feminine. Additionally, I had trouble distinguishing several of her male characters.

 

In the end, I enjoyed Skinwalker and the start to the Jane Yellowrock series. The story has lots of action, unique and interesting characters, and leaves the door open for conflict and adventure ahead. I look forward to more.

 

My Rating: B+

Narration: B

Review: Sweet Tea and Sympathy by Molly Harper

Sweet Tea and Sympathy (A Southern Eclectic Novel Book 1) - Molly Harper

Margot Cary’s life just fell apart. Hoping for a partnership with the elite event planning firm she’s given ten years of her life to, Margot finds herself fired and blackballed after an event for the upper crust of Chicago implodes with dramatic flare. Her only option for help is her estranged birth father’s family back in Lake Sackett, Georgia. Margot’s mom left Lake Sackett and her first husband behind when Margot was three. She remarried and her step-dad adopted Margot when she was four. Margot knows nothing about her biological father’s family.

 

Sweet Tea and Sympathy is everything I hoped for in Ms. Harper’s new Southern Eclectic series. On the “woman’s fiction” side of contemporary romance, the book is first and foremost the coming-of-age tale of Margot. Having lived under the constraints of her mother and step-father for years, Margot doesn’t know how to relate to her southern relatives. Moving to Georgia allows Margot to blossom and grow in ways she never would have expected.

 

The story works because Margot doesn’t show up in Lake Sackett looking down her nose at her southern relatives. She has questions and harbors hurts, but she doesn’t let those prevent her from swallowing her pride and taking up Aunt Tootie’s offer for help. She doesn’t let stereotypes and small town politics keep her from getting to know her family, and realizing she genuinely enjoys being around them. While she’s used to upper-crust, she doesn’t complain about her living quarters or jobs. It all works because deep down, Margot is a beautiful, caring person, with a bit of an edge and a lot of snark. She takes each day as it comes, and although she’s working hard to get out of Sackett, she doesn’t resent the need to be there.

 

Sweet Tea and Sympathy is also a slow burn, sweet romance. She does find a hot widowed dad, which raises some eyebrows when she’s seen in Kyle’s presence. While the lovin’ is not the major focus of the book, the romance is a huge part of who Margot becomes. I love their sweet walks and sexy kisses, but mostly it’s their honest friendship that makes it all work. 

 

In the end, I found myself utterly engrossed in Sweet Tea and Sympathy. The story is a gentle romance, but also Margot’s story of finding herself. I laughed out loud in several places, and certainly was never bored. Ms. Harper created interesting characters that drew me in. The entire time I was reading, I wanted to know more, I wanted to see Margot succeed and find happiness, and in that, I was greatly rewarded.

 

My Rating:  A- Enjoyed A Lot

Originally posted at That's What I'm Talking About

Review copy provided by Netgalley

Review: Cherish Hard by Nalini Singh

Cherish Hard - Nalini Singh

Seven years ago, Sailor witnessed a beautiful girl being dumped by her jerk boyfriend, but she ran out before he could get her name. He was enchanted by her beauty right then. Present day… Sailor works hard to get his fledgling landscaping company off the ground. He’s taken by surprise when he sees the woman who has been haunting his dreams for seven years. He’s even more shocked when he discovers they will be working together, closely.

 

Ísa is working to provide a stable home base for her siblings because her “Dragon” mother spends her focus and energy on her business empire. Ísa’s mother manipulates her into working for the family company for the summer where she is to oversee the development of a new business venture, and the sexy landscaper who is integral to the designs.

 

Overall, I liked Cherish Hard. I found the second half of the book highly entertaining and enjoyed Sailor and Ísa’s romance. However, the first half of the book didn’t flow smoothly for me. There were starts and stops. The pace was slow, and I didn’t feel a strong connection to the characters or storyline. I felt the story was going in too many directions - with Ísa’s own life (which is crazy), her best friend, the ex, her teaching job, her mom… It was hard to keep it straight. Plus Ísa was SOOOO wishy washy about her desires and feelings. It was hard to get behind her when I never was certain which direction she was going.

 

The second half was MUCH better than the first half. It almost felt like two different books.  Overall, the story worked much better - Ísa and Sailor spent time talking to one another, time together. We got to see their friendship blossom. There was genuine emotion and a much streamlined story. I loved the pair together and how they wanted to fight for each other. 

 

In the end, I enjoyed reading Cherish Hard and continue to look forward to more books set in this wonderful world. I’m guessing the next books will take place several years ahead, as at this point, Sailor’s brothers are too young for their own HEAs. (This book should be considered a prequel to Rock Hard, Rock Kiss series #2). Now that the world is set, I have a feeling the series will only get better from here.

 

My Rating:  B- Liked It, but I had a few small issues

Review copy provided by Netgalley

Originally posted at That's What I'm Talking About

#Audiobook Review: US by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Us - Audible Studios, Teddy Hamilton, Elle Kennedy, Sarina Bowen, Jacob Morgan

After absolutely loving the friends-to-lovers story of Him, I had mixed feelings going into Us. Of course, most of me wanted more of Jamie and Wes, but part of me was worried how the authors could possibly measure up to the original tale, or what horrible things would they do to this couple just to get a story. Whatever my trepidations, thank God the authors wrote Us, and I am seriously glad I listened to it! 

 

Starting about five months after the conclusion of Him, Wes and Jamie are living and working in Toronto. Because of Wes’s high-profile job with the Toronto Maple Leaves, the couple keeps quiet their relationship. But the time apart and the need to hide their love starts to take a toll on the couple, and finding their way out of the darkness is made harder when Jamie gets ill.

 

Us is the wonderful story of a great couple dealing with everything that comes after the HEA ending. Rather than mundane or routine, the authors give readers a heartfelt look at what happens to couples after the initial magic is worn down due to everyday life. My heart hurt for both Jamie and Wes as readers experience both sides of communication breakdowns and rough patches of life. But the book isn’t all about what can go wrong; instead the focus is on getting it right. The couple has ups and downs, but whereas so many couples would break up or walk away, this couple learns to deal and adapt because of their love.

 

Adding so much to this story is Wes’s teammate, Blake Riley, who moves in upstairs from the couple when they are still hiding their relationship. Defying stereotypes and even expectations, Blake is an intense ball of crazy energy, and one of the best friends a person could ask for. Instead of being a dumb, homophobic jock, Blake has an immense heart and childlike wonder. As the story moves forward, I seriously fell in love with Blake, and my day was made when I found out he gets his own story (Good Boy, WAGs series).

 

Once again, this amazing story is made all the more real because of the incredible performances of both narrators. Mr. Hamilton as Jamie and Mr. Morgan as Wes, I’ve come identify their voices with their characters over the course of two books. Both men are able to bring true emotion to their characters, from joy to sorrow, from times of sexy to times of illness. They both sound like your typical guy/jock, but stretch to cover a wide cast of characters, including Jamie’s family. 

 

In the end, Us is just as amazing as its predecessor, and together, the two books give the whole story. Wes and Jamie experience that special, hard-to-find love and don’t give up when things get hard. While their world is probably a bit idyllic, I don’t mind. I like that they didn’t have to deal with one hundred problems and could focus on being a couple. 

 

My Rating: A
Narration (both): A

 

#Audiobook Review: HIM by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

HIM - Audible Studios, Teddy Hamilton, Elle Kennedy, Sarina Bowen, Jacob Morgan

As teens attending a hockey elite camp each summer in Lake Placid, Ryan (Wes) Wesley and Jamie Canning became the kind of best friends that are forever. However, Wes harbored a secret: he loved Jamie as more than friends, and one night, their last night at camp ever, Wes pushed things a bit too far. 

 

Four years later, the pair haven’t spoken throughout their college careers, and Jamie never figured out what he did to lose Wes as a friend. Running into one another at the NCAA Frozen Four championships allows the pair to start a new friendship. Yet working together as coaches at the place where their friendship all began gives this pair time to reflect on what they really mean to one another. 

 

I don’t know if I can adequately express my affection for Wes and Jamie and their beautiful relationship. Him is one of my favorite books; it hits every emotional note and has a wonderful happy ending. But the journey to get to that happy place is filled with bumps and tears, as well as some smoking hot sex.

 

Right from the start, I absolutely adored Jamie. He is genuinely hurt and angry that Wes abandoned their friendship over a little sex. He doesn’t care why the sex happened or that Wes is gay. He’s hurt at how little Wes thought of him. This sets up the type of man Jamie is, and I only became more and more impressed as the book continued. Always laid-back, the biggest worry he has is wondering why he isn’t freaked out that he is attracted to his best friend. Jamie is a rock; someone who thinks things through rationally. I loved getting a glimpse of his introspection regarding his sexuality, his career, and life in general. 

 

On the other hand, it took me a little longer to warm up to Wes. I loved his character, but it took time to see how much he has always loved Jamie, and how the genuine fear of losing him, or seeing disgust rule Jamie’s actions, controls Wes’s thoughts and actions. He adores Jamie so much, that he is willing to take whatever Jamie is willing to give, yet never seeing beyond the surface out of these fears. Thank god Jamie is a better man, who is willing to push Wes until he sees clearly.

 

As a huge fan of Elle Kennedy’s college hockey centric, Off-Campus series, the opening cadence of both Ryan and Jamie felt utterly familiar, as if the two were teammates with the guys from Briarwood. Both narrators feel at home with the cocky college hockey player vibe. And I can’t believe neither were narrators in the Off-Campus series. Initially, I felt the narrator for Jamie was a bit stronger. He shared more emotion in his performance. However as the story went on, I grew to appreciate how the narration for Wes deepened and matured, just as Wes does. I don’t know which narrator portrays which character, but both did a wonderful job, and I loved having two different and distinct voices for the two different POVs.

 

In the end, I absolutely loved Him in all aspects. And I am super excited that there is a second story, Us, which continues to follow Wes and Jamie as they begin their life together as a couple. Him is an amazing love story about two best friends who find powerful love. Filled with all sorts of smoking hot sex, the story is emotionally raw at times but never too rough, with an HEA at the end. 

 

My Rating: A+

Narration (both): A

#Audiobook Review: Shooting for the Stars by Sarina Bowen

Shooting for the Stars: Gravity, Book 3 - Blunder Woman Productions, Emma Wilder, Sarina Bowen, Noel Garraux Harrison

Stella Lazarus has loved her big brother’s best friend ever since she can remember. Stella tried to show Bear how she felt years ago, but he brushed her off. So she has to be satisfied with just being good friends. Bear thinks Stella is the sexiest woman alive, but she’s his best friend’s little sister, which means she’s off limits, and it has taken every ounce of will power to keep her at arms length. But when the pair find themselves alone in an upscale hotel room after a few drinks and good food, neither Stella nor Bear can say no to the years of denied attraction. Stella and Bear share an amazing, fantasy-fulfilling night together, but it all comes to a quick end when Bear freaks out about breaking the bro-code and not being good enough for Stella, coupled with Stella’s brother’s career-ending accident. 

 

Shooting for the Stars opens just before the start of the second Gravity book, Falling From the Sky and Hank’s horrific accident. The book then jumps ten months, keeping it on pace with the timing of Falling from the Sky. Although there is a lot of overlap in the timing of books #2 and #3, the story is completely different, with Hank playing a minor roll in this title.

 

Stella and Bear are best friends who are perfect for one another, but something always prevents it from happening. Mostly it’s on Bear - he’s afraid to open up and face his feelings head on. When they are together - whether as friends, potential lovers, or awkward and unsure companions - they capture my attention. Both carry around so much baggage and pain, love and hope; their interactions are emotionally fulfilling. However, much of the first half of the book is spent in lengthy flashbacks, and the dynamic of the budding romance stumbles during these interludes. I appreciate knowing more of their history, but at the same time, the author established their deep connection early (starting some in the second book), so jumping to the past pulled me out of the present. Additionally, during much of the middle of the book, the pair avoids each another. 

 

But then, Bear starts making his movie and the couple are forced to spend time together. Unlike most romances where we see characters working to come together, Bear and Stella spend time trying to stay apart. So, the story must rely on inner monologues to help readers understand that the feelings are still ever present, even if they both are trying hard to forget them. I really enjoyed listening as both Bear and Stella mature and come to terms with their feelings and needs. Toss in a close brush with death, and everything gets laid out on the table. And Hank’s reaction to his best friend and sister being together is priceless.

 

Shooting for the Stars brings listeners the third set of narrators for the Gravity series. While I can appreciate having different narrators because each book has a different set of main characters, it is also a bit discombobulating having different voices for characters I’ve known for two or three books. Right from the start I feel Ms. Wilder has a strong performance. With an almost breathless quality, she captures Stella’s desire and hopes. As the book goes on, I feel the female narrator does an excellent job of growing with her character. On the other hand, I had trouble with Mr. Harrison as soon as I heard him. At my usual 1.25x speed, his performance is riddled with dramatic pauses and unnecessary rests. It reminded me of the young Captain Kirk. Well, not that bad, but it’s start, stop, pause, start, stop, pause. I sped the playback up to 1.5x, and that helped, and overtime, I was able to get past the cadence issues. I did like the quality of his voice, which was deep and sexy, but the start/stop nature ruined much of that for me.

 

Overall, I liked Shooting for the Stars and getting Bear and Stella’s story. The early middle was a little slow, with a lot of flashbacks, followed by so much avoidance, that the story dragged at times. However, it all feels very genuine. The fear of losing a friend, the guilt, the longing, etc., and in the end, I liked how it all played out.

 

My Rating: B
Female narrator: B+

Male narrator: C+ 

 

Audiobook review copy provided by Blunder Woman Productions

Review: Once upon a Maiden Lane by Elizabeth Hoyt

Once Upon a Moonlit Night  (Maiden Lane Series, Book 12) - Elizabeth Hoyt

After a case of mistaken identity, Lord Henry Blackwell identifies the orphaned Miss Mary Whitsun as Lady Cecilia Albright, the long-lost daughter of an earl, the very woman he is supposed to wed. She is welcomed by her birth mother and twin sister, and even finds friendship with, and an attraction to, her betrothed. However, after two near misses on her life, it appears not everyone is pleased with Henry’s discovery. 

 

Once upon a Maiden Lane is a sweet, standalone novella that appears to wrap up the wonderful Maiden Lane series. As a recent newcomer to the series, I only recognized a handful of the characters mentioned in the story; however, longtime fans will probably enjoy this tale even more because of it. The romance of Henry and Mary is genuine and charming, and I love how the pair so quickly become friends, attracted to each another both physically and mentally. They spend time getting to know one another while getting in a few scandalous moments when left unchaperoned. Of course, Ms. Hoyt tosses in a twist or two, keeping readers on their toes.

 

While the events of the story would have been significantly altered if only the Countess Angrove had spoken up sooner (I did have to roll my eyes on this part), the lightness and jovial mood of the tale swept me away and made me smile. Once upon a Maiden Lane is a delightful novella for fans of the Cinderella trope.

 

My Rating:  B, Liked It

Originally posted at That's What I'm Talking About

Review copy provided by Netgalley/publisher

Review: Holiday Wishes by Jill Shalvis

Holiday Wishes - Jill Shalvis

At first, B&B owner Lotti Harford tries to pretend she doesn’t remember her high school sweetheart Sean O’Riley. Aware of the fact she couldn’t keep up the pretense, the pair strike up an easy truce, leading to a renewal of their childhood friendship. Sean, already realizing he’s looking for a meaningful relationship in his life, regrets the way he left things with Lotti. Lotti, burned by Sean’s actions from youth, is scared to open her heart.

 

Holiday Wishes is a wonderful standalone story centering on Sean O’Riley, brother of Finn, the series’ first book hero. The story’s setting is Finn and Pru’s wedding, which, as a regular of the Heartbreaker Bay series, I love. I so enjoy when a novella takes us back to previous couples so we can see how they are doing. Stuck at a small B&B because of the weather, the gang makes the most of their time, and even puts on a memorable wedding ceremony.

 

The time of the romance and story is compressed, but Ms. Shalvis develops a solid shared history that rings true, and the pair reignites their still smoldering flames. It’s sweet and sexy all rolled into a fun novella. I appreciate the apprehension of Lotti, and like that the author ends with an HFN rather than HEA because of the time factor. It’s a quick, easy read, made more enjoyable because of the connections with Finn, Pru, and the entire Heartbreaker Bay gang.

 

My Rating:  B+ Liked It A Lot

Originally posted at That's What I'm Talking About

Review copy provided by Edelweiss

 

Review: Most Eligible Bastard by Annika Martin

Most Eligible Bastard: an enemies-to-lovers romantic comedy - Annika Martin

Vicky works hard to provide for her sister and keep their modest life running smoothly, even when it means pretending to be a dog whisperer for the unpleasant and lonely Bernadette Locke. However, when Bernadette passes away leaving her fortune to her dog Smuckers, and Vicky as his regent, Bernadette’s son Henry accuses Vicky of being a con artist. Although Vicky never asked for any of it, she’s not going to let this sexy, rich man push her around. Let the games begin…

 

Although billed as a romantic comedy, Most Eligible Bastard isn’t light and fluffy. Ms. Martin has a dark, wicked sense of humor that I love, but it may not be for everyone. The humor in the book is off beat, silly, sarcastic, and naughty. I love it! And considering Vicky’s past-the issues she’s had to overcome, there is dark in this story as well.

 

While primarily a romance, there is much more going on in the story. I enjoy how the author gives bits and pieces of what happened to Vicky as a teen. Putting together the parts one at a time adds a bit of heightened tension to the read. I know something awful happened, and that history is somehow repeating itself, but without knowing the whole picture, it put me on edge. And honestly, the opening third of the book took me outside my comfort zone. I struggle with stories where a person telling the truth is railroaded into looking like they lied. When the victim becomes the bad guy. The injustice hurts something deep inside me. And this story has it two-fold. First in the back flashes and memories, but also in present day as things are repeating themselves.  

 

However, I realized that somewhere along the way, the maddening panic I felt because of the injustice went away because Henry started believing in Vicky. The story was no longer about her fighting for innocence, rather it becomes about Vicky and Henry getting to know each other and finding happiness with one another. 

 

Vicky and Henry make the perfect, unlikely couple: kind of like Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Henry and Vicky are different sides of the same coin. Henry doesn’t recognize that he has a gapping hole in his life, while Vicky knows exactly what’s missing from her life. I enjoy how the pair grow and evolve, watching Henry find the piece of himself that was missing all along, and for Vicky to rediscover the parts she’d buried. They both heal from deep wounds and find solace and beauty in their friendship and love affair. But their relationship is more than just plugging up holes; they develop genuine friendship and trust based on mutual interest and intense sexual attraction.

 

The story is shared in alternating first person, present tense points of view. At times it is fast and crazy, just like their relationship, which allows me to get all swooped up in the moment. And although there are bumps and dark places, in the end, Most Eligible Bastard is a feel good, happy story. There are some laugh-out-loud and crazed moments,  but it’s not rom com. It’s not chick lit. It’s moody and stormy. It’s crazy and wild. And I enjoyed it very much!

 

My Rating: B+

Review copy provided by the author

#Audiobook Review: The Trouble with Twelfth Grave by Darynda Jones

The Trouble with Twelfth Grave: A Novel - Darynda Jones, -Macmillan Audio-, Lorelei King

Note: this review contains spoilers from earlier books in the series, to include the surprising ending of the previous book.

 

Opening three days after the explosive conclusion of Eleventh Grave in Moonlight, Charley is searching for her husband-turned-malevolent-god, Rey’azikeen. No longer Reyes after his short jaunt into the god glass hell dimension, Rey’azikeen is loose and Charley has been given one more day to find and stop him before Jehovah sends his army to capture him.

 

The Trouble with Twelfth Grave is a wonderful addition to this crazy, hilarious series. Overall, the story is shorter than and far more direct than previous titles (well, as direct as Charley Davidson can be). Each strand of the plot is clear and makes sense, and then Ms. Jones expertly draws them all together to create a larger picture as the book progresses. Charley uses her wit and cunning, along with her team of friends, to solve multiple cases that seem unrelated, but ultimately tie in loose ends or come together by the end of the book. 

 

I love how free Charley is in this book - she’s back. The whole “do I trust Reyes or not” issue seems to FINALLY be put to rest as Charley struggles with the very real possibility she may lose the love of her life forever this time. She goes from moment to moment, bringing readers and listeners along for one crazy ride. The convoluted subplots are absent, leaving behind a solid story with a bring big twist at the end. Additionally, the continuity issues I’ve noted in the past are either gone, or irrelevant because the rest of the story runs so smoothly. Finally, while the author does do some info dumping, it’s in the form of children’s books, and scattered throughout the story, rather than at the very end.

 

Lorelei King, my all-time favorite narrator, continues to capture Charley’s unique and crazy personality, easily jumping from one subject to the next without pause. She has mastered Charley’s sarcasm and sincerity, her passion and her fury. I think the only reason I can keep up with Charley’s ADD lifestyle is due to Ms. King’s masterful performance. And it’s not just Charley, but Ms. King provides a large range of unique voices for every character, making the recording sound like a cast of dozens, rather than one.

 

In the end, I really enjoyed listening to The Trouble with Twelfth Grave, and with the way the story ended, I cannot wait to find out how Ms. Jones is going to wrap up the series with her thirteenth title.

 

My Rating: B+
Narration: A+

 

Review copy provided by Macmillan Audio.

Review: Save a Truck, Ride a Redneck by Molly Harper

Save a Truck, Ride a Redneck (Southern Eclectic Book 1) - Molly Harper

Heading back home to spend the summer before going to law school, Marianne begins to question her life goals and dreams. She’s always feared being stuck in small-town Sackett, Georgia, but now the idea has a little more appeal, as long as she can maintain some distance between herself and her large family. 

 

Carl and Marianne were high school sweethearts, but when Marianne thought Carl might propose before Marianne headed off to college, she panicked and left him. After four years, the sparks are still there, but can they move forward instead of looking back?

 

Save a Truck, Ride a Redneck is a short novella that kicks off the new Southern Eclectic series by Molly Harper. While not full of Ms. Harper’s usual snark and wit, the story is sweet and charming. However, I’m a bit curious as to its place in the series. I say this because there is a HUGE spoiler in the beginning of the book: a family tree which shows Marianne and Carl married with kids, as well as the death a major character who is still alive in this story. I really wish the family tree had been left out of the novella, and added once the series had progressed to match what the graphic displays.

 

Other than that little issue, Carl and Marianne share a sweet romance. The novella sets the stage for the upcoming series by developing the basic framework of the world. Save a Truck, Ride a Redneck was entertaining and engrossing enough that it got me interested and invested in the characters, and I want to know more about the McCready family. 

 

My Rating: B/B- Liked It, but I had a small issue

Review copy provided by NetGalley

Originally posted at That's What I'm Talking About

#Audiobook Review: A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

A Plague of Giants - Deutschland Random House Audio, Kevin Hearne, Xe Sands, Luke Daniels

A Plague of Giants is the first book in a new fantasy series from one of my favorite authors, Kevin Hearne (Iron Druid Chronicles). Set in a world where certain members of the population are blessed with Kennings - the ability to manipulate one of the four elements, plants, or animals - although no one has discovered the sixth Kenning (animal control) yet. The six nations of the known world coexist in a tenuous peace; however, that all changes the day that the mysterious Bone Giants attack several cities along the coast. Coming from an unknown land, these warriors dressed in bones, speaking an unknown language, cut down all that stand in their path.

 

A Plague of Giants is the first part of an epic tale. Similar to the first book in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, the book shares the journeys and battles of the land and its people, ending not at the conclusion, yet not on a cliffhanger, but rather, at a point of rest in between the parts of the whole. This story is shared in two ways within each chapter, both in present day and in flashbacks that cover the past year or so. 

 

First, the story is narrated in present day by Dervan, a scholar and historian, friend of the ruling king, and survivor of the Bone Giant attack. Willing to help his country as asked, he gets wrapped up in potential espionage and political maneuvering. From his point of view, readers are able to experience how the war has impacted the various classes of people. Additionally, he gives the story a personal connection - a way to internalize the massive events unfolding before our eyes. 

 

Dervan’s primary job by order of Pelenaut Röllend (king) is to accompany Fintan, the Raelech bard, each day and record the knowledge and the tales Fintan shares with the masses on Survivor Field. A Raelech bard has perfect memory recall and the ability to transform shape into the character who’s story he shares. The pelenaut believes Fintan to be a spy of the Triune Council, and wants the details of his day observed. 

 

This leads to the second method of storytelling, which is the bard’s recounting of the events of the Giants’ War. By taking on the personas of key figures of the war and sharing their stories, readers slowly learn about how the lands arrived in their current state. But Fintan is not only sharing this story with the reader, but with the masses of refugees, who have little knowledge of the bigger picture and totality of the war. There are a number of characters, and at first it is difficult to see any connections. However, the larger picture becomes clearer as the tales go on, eventually leading to a full view of the multi-front war with two sets of giants.

 

It was difficult to follow along at first. Mr. Hearne just tosses the reader into his tale without any guides. Once I got used to the method of storytelling - the back and forth between the past and present - I was able to just listen and absorb. The story on whole is engrossing, made more so by the amazing narration. And although the ending is a bit abrupt (see reference to LotR above), it didn’t detract from my enjoyment. This book is meant to be experienced, and I think I would have struggled reading it rather than listening to it. I had to get out of my usual mindset of taking detailed notes and trying to figure it all out, and rather just absorb and experience the massive tale.

 

The performances of Luke Daniels and Xe Sands are phenomenal! Most of the narrative is read by Mr. Daniels. He is the primary voices of Dervan and Fintan and all male flashback/memories. Ms. Sands jumps in to share the bard’s female-centric stories, and carries forward her performance to include the bard and Dervan once the flashback concludes. Both provide a massive array of accents and tones, ranging heavy and deep (Gorin Mogen, Hearthfire of Harthrad), to airy and light (Nel Kit Ben Sah, Fornish greensleeve). Both provide such a variety of inflections, emotions; their ranges wow’d me. It was so easy to get lost in their storytelling, enabling me to sit back and enjoy this story.

 

In the end, I enjoyed my time spend with Dervan, Fintan, and this fascinating new world of the Seven Kennings. While I may have struggled at times to keep up with the massiveness of the tale, once I was able to just let go and listen, I found myself deeply engrossed in the stories and characters. I look forward to finding out what happens next for the citizens of these lands.

 

My Rating: B+

Narration (both): A

 

Review copies provided by NetGalley/Publisher (print) and Random House Audio (audio)

Review: Hold Her Again by Shannon Stacey

Hold Her Again - Shannon Stacey

Ava and Jace were a perfect match; young and in love with big dreams of marriage, a family, and a country-music singing career. However, that all ended the night Jace left Ava behind and headed to Nashville with a solo singing contract in hand. Now Ava has spent the past five and a half years trying to make a life for herself and getting over the one man who held and then broke her heart. Meanwhile, Jace has spent the same time becoming a music sensation with only one regret: walking out on Ava. 

 

Hold Her Again is another delightful (and probably my favorite) holiday-themed romance novella from Shannon Stacey. The night that Jace walked away to make it big was the night that Ava gave up on all of her dreams. Right from the start of the book, I was all “Team Ava”, and I couldn’t conceive of any situation that would put the pair back together. There is absolutely no doubt that Jace made the wrong choice five and a half years ago, and Ava’s hurt is deep. But Ms. Stacey puts together a genuine reconciliation that had my heart beating faster and brought a few tears to my eyes. It is hard to get over that kind of soul-deep hurt, but it is equally difficult to show honest regret and prove the apologies are sincere. 

 

Ms. Stacey won me over with small gestures, while simultaneously moving the couple closer together over a short period of time. And it works because it is obvious this couple never stopped loving one another.

 

“The connection between them was still strong, and she thought of it like an invisible tread that was slowly darning the hole he’d left in her heart.”

 

Ava and Jace have that true love that lasts because they are “meant to be”, and after time, they realize second chances are worth the risk. 

 

While Hold Her Again has a Christmas-themed setting, it’s a wonderful gift to give yourself any time of the year. Second-chance, feel-good romances are a weakness of mine, and Hold Her Again is a wonderful fit.

 

My Rating:  A- Enjoyed A Lot

Review copy provided by Netgalley

Originally posted at That's What I'm Talking About