ARC review–Please Send Help by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin

Please Send Help

4/5*

Published July 2019

Please Send Help is different from a lot of what I’ve read recently. Told via text and email, the post-college lives of Ava (the planner, interning at a tv show) and Gen (freewheeling, queer, and in hell in Florida at a newspaper job). Friends since high school, they struggle with adulthood and learn that you only get through life with the help of your friends.

I really like that the relationship the book is about is the two women. While each of them has romantic attachments at times in the books, it’s not the sole focus, nor is it the main one.

I’m curious to know how the authors divided up the work, because it feels incredibly authentic. The two voices are so distinct that the reader is pulled into the journey with them.

I think this book has pretty wide appeal–both for those who’ve yet to experience life post-college, and those who have.

Review-Day of the Dragon by Katie MacAlister

Day of the Dagon

3/5*

Published March 201

I received a copy of Day of the Dragon in exchange for an honest review from Netgalley.

I used to read Katie MacAlister books all the time. She was one of the authors who got me back into the genre after a long absence. But I got to that point where I’d read her whole backlist, and her new books weren’t coming out soon enough that I got distracted–probably down a Nora Roberts hole–it’s been twenty odd years and I still haven’t read her whole bcklist! But I haven’t read anything by her in a decade.

Day of the Dragon reminds me why I enjoyed her books, although my tastes have changed somewhat since then (more on that later). They’re light and fluffy–the sort of books words like zany and romp were made for.

Thaisa starts off as a character who is mousy, unsure of herself, and blames her appearance for everything that’s gone wrong for her. Archer starts off as an arrogant man–and he grows, but not nearly as much.

The problem for me was that I wasn’t all that intrigued by the main story. The most interesting character was Bree, a spite turned something else who always seems to know more than the other players, but is absurdly funny. As is the demon Thaisa calls up, but forgets to bind properly.

The big crux of the story was that there was an ancient piece of text that needed to be translated to find the location of the two missing halves of the Raisa Medallion, which was supposed to turn Archer and his brother into the first dragon hunters (dragons who hunt demons, not humans who hunt dragons).

The book fits in well with the rest of the dragon books written by MacAllister, but works as a standalone.

Here is my issue with it–The stakes are so incredibly low. We know that Archer is accusing his brother of murdering his fellow dragons, but there’s a twist that it’s all confusing and makes those stakes non-existant really. While Thaisa and Archer both undergo some changes and growth, that’s all low stakes, too. There are also some secondary characters who are charicatures—Thaisa’s best friend, who literally shows up once, and was married to her current boss, and given the way he treats Thaisa, I kind of want to know what her deal was, and that boss is also more outline than character. The story didn’t hold my interest, which is the biggest issue of all. I had to push myself through it. Without Bree the sprite and the demon, it would be a 2/5 rating.

Love Grind by Shelly Ellis


Love Grind by Shelly Ellis

She’s used to baring it all . . . but baring her heart is a whole different story

Down on her luck and broke, Jennifer Dudley long ago traded dancing in the chorus line for swinging from a stripper pole to make ends meet. She’s hoping an offer to come back home and teach dance at her old performance academy will be the opportunity she needs to fix her life. When she moves in with and falls for a software developer with brains, a boyish smile, and muscles, she decides she might be well on her way to a second chance at success—and love. But her X-rated past may come back to haunt her, compromising her newfound happiness and hurting the ones she loves the most.

AVAILABLE ON:

AMAZON

ABOUT SHELLY ELLIS

Shelly Ellis is a NAACP Image Award-nominated women’s fiction/romance author and creator of the Gibbons Gold Digger and Chesterton Scandal series. Her fiction writing career began when she became one of four finalists in a First-Time Writers Contest when she was 19 years old. The prize was a publishing contract and having her first short-story romance appear in an anthology. She has since published ten novels and was a finalist for 2015 NAACP Image Award in the Literary Fiction Category, a three-time finalist for the African American Literary Award in the romance category (2012, 2016, and 2017), and a finalist for the 2015 RT Reviewers’ Choice Award in Multicultural Romance category.

She is married and lives in Prince George’s County, Maryland with her husband and their daughter. Visit her at her web site http://www.shellyellisbooks.com.


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Thalanian Dynasty Series by Katee Robert

Theirs for the Night (Thalanian Dynasty #1)

5/5*

Published 2018

A few weeks ago I reviewed an ARC of The Fearless King by Katee Robert, and absolutely loved it. While on Twitter, someone recommended this series as a hot MMF trilogy. Theirs for the Night was free (and still is at this second in time), so I dove in and ended up reading both the novella and the two full length novels in less than forty-eight hours.

The last triad book I reviewed was in the Dirty series by Jaine Diamond, and I mentioned that the triad had broken up into a couple and a single individual by the end. So I was thrilled to see the triad in this series stay intact.

Theo is the exiled prince of Thalania, and Galen is his former head of security. They’ve also been lovers for over a decade, and occasionally share women. After a stressful few weeks, they are up for a distraction when Meg enters the bar. For her part, it’s Meg’s birthday and she’s put the stress of not knowing where the money will come from for the next semester of college–so when two hot guys approach her for a threesome, what the hell, it’s her birthday, right?

That would be the end of the story, except Theo can’t stay away from Meg, and once he pulls her back into his orbit, Galen objects–not because he doesn’t want her (he does), but because he’s worried that someone could endanger her to get at Theo. When that happens, Meg is saved and has to go on the run with Theo and Galen in a hunt for the key to getting his crown back.

The two novels have a great deal of romantic suspense, which has been a running theme across the books I’ve read by Robert. The relationship building and maintenance for a triad is complex and Robert doesn’t skimp on that. Working things out takes effort.

This is a great series if you’re up for triad sex.

Unlimited Time and Money

Today’s MFRW prompt is What if you had unlimited time and money?

Without the constraints of time or money, so much would be possible. You wouldn’t have to balance things like work, time with family/friends, being a parent, taking time for your interests outside of writing, and writing.

Firstly, think of all the opportunities that unlimited time and money could provide for those in need. And while that might include you, it also includes anyone else who is struggling. Lifting others up is the right thing to do.

Think of traveling to wherever your book is set and doing some first hand research. When I wrote Capturing the Moment, I set it in Siem Reap, Cambodia and there are many places, people, food, and sights in the book that I experienced. Plunder is set in the Caribbean–and maybe I can’t visit 1700, but I could see what the water looks like and the weather feels like and so forth. For that matter, with unlimited funds, I could also probably pay someone to make a costume similar to the ones my characters wear and understand firsthand what it’s like to put on a period gown or sailors clothes.

For that matter, think about traveling anywhere you’ve ever wanted to. The pyramids? Done. Vegas? No problem. Greece? When do you want to leave?

Don’t own your own home? Buy one. Don’t like your current house? Buy a new one or renovate the hell out of your existing house. Need a writer’s shed (which is my dream)? Build it.

Don’t forget to help those who need homes. In Silicon Valley, many people have had to live in campers that are parked by the side of the road. Not just one or two here or there, but easily ten at a time along the park, along a major road, etc. Those families need homes, too. Look around, and help ensure that you’re not the only person with the home they need.

Unlimited time means you can spend that time with your loved ones, or get that extra time alone that you crave. The unlimited money means you don’t have to worry about it. And it will allow you to pass on that gift to others.

What would you do?

ARC review-Roll the Dice by Mimi Barbour

Roll the Dice by Mimi Barbour

2/5*

Pub Jan 2014

I received a copy of Roll the Dice from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Before I get into the meat of the review, I want to state up front that there needs to be a content warning for rape. Aurora’s partner is recovering from rape, and is unsure if the baby she’s carrying is her husband’s or her rapists–which is a big part of the plot. The rapist also assaults several other victims. The rape is all off screen, but I think this would a difficult read for a sexual assault survivor.

Having said that, I didn’t hate Roll the Dice, but I didn’t love it either.

Aurora is a detective with the LVPD, and Kai is her new partner, as her old partner, Debbie is on maternity leave. Aurora is after Earl Rhondo, the man who assaulted Debbie. Kai is after him because Rhondo raped his sister, who eventually suicided because of the rape trauma. The book is their hunt for him.

My biggest complaint is that this doesn’t really work as a romance. It’s a gritty crime thriller where the leads just happen to hook up once. There are some feelings, but the love story is not in the foreground of the book. If you are looking for a story that is primarily a romance, you might not be happy. If you like the In Death series, but wish there was less sex, you would probably enjoy this.

My second biggest complaint is that there are some lazy characterizations.

Ham, the ethnically Irish cop says “The skinny little eejit, he’s a bold one he is.” But unless I missed an immigration story in book 1, this feels like just an excuse to write an Irish cop.

A bar owner is referred to as a “Polack,” which even in 2014 was in poor taste.

Finally, the sex. As written, not my cup of tea.

Honestly, if it hadn’t been a Netgalley book, I would have DNF’d it. 2 stars instead of one because it wasn’t a painful read.

The impossible choice

Today’s MFRW 52 week challenge asks us to pick between reading, writing, and living.

Reading allows you to immerse yourself in a world. The “real” world falls away and you are sucked into a brand new world. If the book is written in the first person, all you read is I, I, I and it’s impossible not to feel like it’s about you. But even in the third person, you feel like the spy, sneaking into other people’s lives. Seeing their thoughts, knowing their dreams, and in the case of the romance reader–seeing the couple come together despite challenges and obstacles.

Writing allows you to play God. You decide what each character is like, you give them dreams and obstacles, and you create the world in which they live. Sometimes characters hijack your plans, but that doesn’t make it less fun. In fact, some of the most interesting content is generated when characters take over. It can be emotionally taxing though because, even more than when you read, you feel what the characters are feeling. Delilah broke down sobbing when she wrote the fight between Meg and RJ in Capturing the Moment.

And then there is real life. Let’s be real for a moment–real life can be fucking hard. Sometimes it’s awful. Sometimes we just need an escape.

But real life can be just as beautiful as the worlds you escape to. Doing Snapchat at a restaurant to keep a child happy is silly, but it’s a memory. Seeing a movie. Hugging a loved one. There are simple joys like your favorite song on the radio. Real life is hard, but it’s also beautiful as well.

All three share a common thing–they introduce you to new things. Why choose?

ARC Review–The Gem Thief by Sian Ann Bessey


The Gem Thief by Sian Ann Bessey

4/5*

Pub Nov 1, 201

I received The Gem Thief from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Gem Thief is a sweet, clean romance (no sex, only a few chaste kisses) between Gracie, a jewelry designer, and Quinn, the nephew of Dorcas. Dorcas is the widow of a Greek Cruise Line magnate, who enjoys treating herself to jewelry every so often. The story begins when one of Dorcas’s rings is found to be a fake, which leads to the discovery that other pieces are also fakes.

Quinn and his friend Steve at the FBI hatch a plan. Dorcas will go to the Venetian Jewelry Show as she always does, and go on the cruise that she always does–this time accompanied by her nephew and his fake fiancee, Gracie.

The characters are likeable, especially Dorcas. The romance between Quinn and Gracie proceeds slowly—a bit too slowly for me, as I’m someone who likes racier books—but in a way that is believable for the reader. With one exception–Gracie believes that Quinn is in a relationship and, at several points, makes the decision to ignore that knowledge. That was a little hard to buy given what the author tells us about her character.

That said, none of the characters is particularly well fleshed out. We only know a few details about Gracie’s personal life, and what motivates her. Same for Quinn. Ultimately, I think Dorcas is the most well-developed character in the book, which is perhaps why I was drawn to her so much.

The settings are well done. The book goes from New York to Italy to Greece and I felt like there was enough description that I was transported and added my own vision of what those places would be like.

The plot was satisfying, if very predictable. I knew who the villains were long before the main characters did, not because of breadcrumbs, but because given everything about the genre and the beats the author was hitting told me so. But it was enjoyable to watch the characters get there, too.

I probably won’t read any other books by the author, not because this wasn’t well written–it is–but because sweet romance just isn’t my thing.

Playlist for Lab Rats

For me, music is essential to the creation of my story. Once I have an idea of who my characters are and the tentpoles of a new story, I’ll create a playlist for the book. Over the course of the writing, the list gets pared down to songs that are meaningful to me.

Here’s a list of five random songs from the Lab Rats playlist. I’ll try to give a spoiler free reason for them.

1-Lonely by Demi Lovato–There are many points where this song fits either of my leads. Ben grew up in an emotionally stunted borderline abusive family, and he keeps everyone at arm’s length and avoids personal connections. Diana is in the doghouse because her twin is the one who exposed the community, and as a result, she has to den by herself when she’s never lived apart from a pack.

2-It was Always You by Maroon Five–They’re fated mates. That’s pretty much it.

3-S&M by Rihanna–They don’t like each other very much and there’s definitely some semi-hate fucking as they first come together. While there’s not actually any BDSM, the song still spoke to me.

4-The Kiss from the soundtrack to The Last of the Mohicans movies–I was relatively young when I saw this movie, and the scene this music is from hit me hard. Since then, when I have an hungry, urgent kiss in a book, this song usually ends up in that list.

5-I Hate Myself for Loving You by Joan Jett–again, they don’t like each other, but are attracted to each other from the very first day.

Living in Waldenbooks

Today’s prompt from #MFRW is Childhood Memories.

There used to be a chain of bookstores in the US called Waldenbooks. A very young Delilah practically lived at hers. Every month, like clockwork, there was a new Baby-Sitter’s Club book to buy. Every week there were what, at the time, felt like an endless source of opportunities. This particular Waldenbooks was next to a toy store, but little Delilah never spent her allowance there–or only rarely, for there were books to buy!

When you spend as much time in a small bookstore as young Delilah did, you get to know the staff, and vice versa. It was amazing when they started giving her personalized recommendations based on what she’d previously bought–sort of like how websites like Amazon do now. They were the ones to introduce her to the worlds of Xanth (Piers Anothony) and Valdemar (Mercedes Lackey) in the adult section, even though they’re more YA than anything else.

The other place young Delilah loved above all else was the library. Thousands of books to read–for free! The best gift her mother ever gave her was when she signed the form that let an eleven year old Delilah read books from any section of the library, not just the children’s section. Of course she immediately abused by reading Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews. Other books read too young include Gone With the Wind and Clan of the Cave Bear, among many others.

Obviously the common thread is books. Something about being surrounded by books is like feeling endless possibilities. Each book gives you a peek into a new world, or lets you return to a world you’ve enjoyed in the past. Books didn’t care that she didn’t have a lot of money, or that she only had one parent, or that she struggled to make friends. Books were friends, and better ones than the kids who she just didn’t get. (Young Delilah was a little weird, and didn’t find her community until college.)

Books inspired her imaginative play. Dolls acted out Baby-Sitter’s Club scenes. Delilah adopted a nickname shared by a BSC member and used it for nearly eight years after it became habit. A trailer that she lived in had a small copse of fir trees, and every time she passed through it, she hoped that she’d end up in Narnia (Not today–not getting raptured up because you like lipstick? Fuck that noise.) Even today, Delilah will play around with the worlds that she finds particularly interesting–writing fanfic in her head for the fun of it.

True then, true now–surround Delilah with books, and she’s a happy woman.