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ARC review: Media Darling by Fiona Riley

Xposted from my book review blog

Media Darling by Fiona Riley can be purchased here

4.5/5*

published 11/13/18

 

I received an arc of Media Darling from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Media Darling is a f/f queer romance between a star and a celebrity reporter.

Haley is a would-be screenwriter who works at the Sun to make her bills. When she is asked to fill in at a media event for another reporter, she’s determined to get something done. When she can’t get Emerson’s attention on a red carpet, she lets out a piercing whistle, which unfortunately silences everyone around her, which gives a paparazzi the opportunity to yell an embarrassing question about Emerson and Rachel.

Emerson is a star under siege when her ex-girlfriend Rachel (who was kicked off the movie they were working on together) accuses Emerson of smearing her reputation and that it was all Emerson’s fault. After the red carpet incident with the paparazzi, Emerson tells her assistant that she never wants Hayley near her again.

Later that night, when Hayley gets between the same cruel intentioned paparazzi and Emerson, Emerson decides to investigate Haley. What she learns makes her decide that Hayley is the right person to tell her side of the story, including the explosive secret Emerson is terrified that Rachel will weaponize. As they spend more time together, sparks fly. But when their relationship is outed (pun intended), they need to decide if what they have is real, or just Hollywood magic.

Riley is a strong writer. Each of the women have a distinct voice. This is especially important in f/f or m/m or multi-partner couples because pronouns, which serve as shorthand in m/f romance can often make things blurrier. Despite seemingly oppositional occupations (in fact, their first encounter leads to a horrible paparazzi encounter for Emerson) Riley lays the groundwork for why these characters could work. The sex scenes sizzle.

The only thing that took it from a 5* to a 4.5* is that the real villain is so obvious that it’s surprising that it takes any effort to figure it out. But even with that, I didn’t mind the ride to see how the characters figured it out, and how they’d react. The writing is strong enough, though, that I think that it could’ve been masked a little better.

Check out Media Darling when it drops next week, or pre-order today!

 

Review–Kissing Frogs by Tori Turnbull

Buy here on Kindle for 2.99

5/5*

Published June 2018

 

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Twenty-nine year old Kate is “riding the euphoric wave of successful shoe shopping” when she is exiting the Tube. Until the escalator reaches the top, and Kate is faced with an incredibly unflattering picture of Kate captioned “Date my daughter.” Yes, her mother has used her pension to pay for the humiliating digital posters. Worse, after Kate is arrested for trying to damage the posters, she is picked up by her childhood nemesis Mark who eggs her mother on. Kate agrees to date for two months to get her mother off her back. Even more worse, it turns out Mark is going to be sharing her flat in exchange for doing home improvements for her mother, who owns the building.

Things go about as well as expected. There’s the stalker. The one who flees. The one on the cover who won’t let go of her legs even as she’s beating him with carnations.

I couldn’t put the book down. Between the hilariously bad dates and the growing sexual tension between Kate and Mark it was irresistible. It’s obvious to the reader that they belong together and that Mark is trying to pursue her. The end result is a sleek, funny romance.

Written in the first person voice, Kate comes through loud and clear. At first I thought it was a bit of a riff on the whole Bridget Jones thing, especially with an antagonist she’s known since childhood named Mark, but Bridget and Kate are very distinct and different voices, although fans of Bridget Jones should check this book out..

Even though you don’t get Mark’s inner voice, he’s well written. His personality comes across clearly, as does his interest in Kate. The secondary characters are developed enough. If there was more side story for them, I think it would take away from Kate and Mark’s story and make it flabby.

There are only a few sex scenes, but they’re worth the wait. Turnbull builds the tension so well that the reader is plenty turned on and ready to go by the time Kate and Mark are. From the moment Kate sees Mark coming out of the shower in just a towel, the chemistry sparks. When Mark begins to date someone, Turnbull ensures that we’re just as irritated by it as Kate, although she’s blind as to why she’s so jealous.

Turnbull has another book, and the highest compliment I can give her is that I’ve already bought her other book.

ARC Review–Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire

***I am choosing to bring my old book review blog, Be Quiet, Mommy’s Reading, back to life. This is a cross post, one week after it was originally posted there. If you want more book reviews, come follow me over there as well. My kids will book vlog, and I’ll cover more genres than romance***

I received this arc (advance reader’s copy) from Seanan at Worldcon.

Warning–this is the 12th book in the October Daye series. There are spoilers for the previous 11 books/the world after the image of the cover. My recommendation to read the series is in my seven favorite books posts here.

Click here to buy Night and Silence

 

After the events of book 11, The Brightest Fell, things aren’t going great. Tybalt and Jazz have PTSD–Tybalt isn’t even coming to see Toby. Are they even together anymore? No one is coping well. Then Gillian’s father shows up at Toby’s house and tells her Gilly has been kidnapped–again–nearly accusing her of it. She has to go and find her daughter, and it’s clear that someone/s Fae were involved.

When I first read the flap copy for Night and Silence, I was concerned. We’d already done a Gillian was kidnapped plotline in One Salt Sea (book 5). However, Seanan McGuire is brilliant and manages to turn what could so easily have been a recycled plot point into an exciting new story that draws us further into Faerie–not just today but the history and mythology of the world. I would never spoil a plot point, but I will say there are a number of twists and turns, one actually eliciting an audible gasp.

In terms of character development, the way Tybalt’s PTSD plays out is respectful to those who suffer from it. He doesn’t just “get over it.” He is struggling to be who he was, and failing miserably. We don’t see Jazz in this book–she’s referenced but is physically absent–but we know she can’t sleep. Both of them are haunted by Amandine’s actions. Toby isn’t doing so well either–she’s plagued by doubt and recrimination and Gilly’s abduction hits her like a ton of bricks, and she has to pull her shit together, at least on the surface, until she can get Gilly back.

The pacing is tight, and as always McGuire’s characters all have distinct voices and personalities. The tenor is slightly different from the books because Toby is so stretched so thin, emotionally, at this point in time. The way McGuire shifts Toby’s voice leaves it authentic–achingly so because you get drawn into the mire of her grief, terror and fragility. This is not to say there is no humor or that it’s a depressing book–it’s neither of those–merely that the stakes are raised on any number of fronts. There’s still the characteristic McGuire touch of snarky humor–too many character’s voices would be inauthentic if that were missing.

I highly recommend this book. 4.5/5 stars from me.

In the print copy (I’m not sure about digital, sorry) there is also a novella told from Gillian’s point of view that you won’t want to miss. If it’s not in the e-book, you’re going to want to go and buy the physical book so you can read it.

ARC review Wild Flower by Gemma Snow

Wild Flowers by Gemma Snow

Pub 9/4/18

4/5 stars

 

While this is book two in the Triple Diamond, I read it as a standalone title and never felt lost. That said, I saw just enough hints at the contents of the first book that I am putting it on my want to read list on Goodreads, and that I understood how Maddy (and hence Lily) got to this point in their lives.

Lily Hollis’s lover died five years ago, and she has been trapped by grief and sorrow. But on the fifth anniversary of Daniel’s death, she makes the decision to return to her master’s program and finish her research. Her sister Maddy has a ranch in Montana, and it’s the perfect location to do research on how different conditions affect tansy to make it either helpful or toxic.

Dec and Micah are best friends and a search and rescue team. They share a cabin on the border of the Triple Diamond land where they train search and rescue dogs and train more people to have those S&R skills. There’s also a ton of tansy growing all over their property. So they invite Lily to come stay with them, to be closer to her research.

There is instant chemistry between Lily and Dec and Lily and Micah. But can she choose? Does she want to?

When Lily confesses that she’s attracted to both of them, they decide to try her dating both of them.

Snow does a good job of setting up the story–why would Lily ever even consider dating two guys, what about her draws both men, and why is she there. The reader also understands the limitations and stakes–with Lily’s two week research window, why make her decide?

Lily is a well-developed, three dimensional character. It’s disappointing that the men aren’t as well fleshed out–there are tantalizing hints at their pasts, but while I have some idea of how Dec came to be who he is, I know almost nothing about Micah. However, all three character’s voices are distinct, so I never lost track of whose point of view we were in. The dialog is well-done. I’ve never been to Montana, but Snow paints a picture that makes me wish I had been.

The climax of the story (pun intented) is satisfying, and believable within the constraints of the world that Snow has created.

If you like m/m/f stories, this is a satisfying one. As a heads up, though, it’s not a triad where the men interact and there’s a bit of mild homophobia from the men when setting up the ground rules.

Book Review–Untouchable by Talia Hibbert

I received an ARC of Untouchable in exchange for an honest review.

What happens when a bad boy becomes a man?

Nate Davis didn’t plan on returning to his hateful hometown. But then, he didn’t plan on being widowed in his twenties, or on his mother getting sick, either. Turns out, life doesn’t give a f$*k about plans.

Hannah Kabbah thought her career in childcare was over. After all, no-one wants a woman with a criminal damage conviction watching their kids. But when her high school crush returns to Ravenswood with two kids in tow, she gets the second chance she never dreamed of.

She also gets to know Nate – the real Nate. The one whose stony exterior hides aching vulnerability. Who makes her smile when she wants to fall apart. Who is way, way more than the bad boy persona he earned so long ago, and way too noble to ever sleep with the nanny.

So it’s a good thing she’s completely over that teenage crush, right?

Untouchable is the third book in the Ravenswood series, following A Girl Like Her (2.99 on Kindle to buy) and Damaged Goods (1.99 on Kindle to buy), both of which are also on Kindle Unlimited. You don’t need to read the previous two to read and enjoy Untouchable–it is a self contained story, but I do recommend them as I did really enjoy them.

One of my favorite things about Hibbert’s work is that she creates three dimensional characters, which is a must for me. Hannah is bi and has anxiety and depression. Hannah is also a social pariah, having smashed the beloved town son’s Porsche with a bat in the prologue to A Girl Like Her. Nate is stressed out about his mother’s illness and related depression as well. The kids are not perfect angels–they have their quirks, like the little boy’s allergy to pants (which I can relate to as one of mine was like that at that age).

Nate hires Hannah to be his nanny. He soon begins to fight an attraction, and Hannah goes through the same thing. It’s more than halfway through the book before they give in, while Hibbert ratchets up the tension piece by piece.

Then he crushed the image ruthlessly and with no little self-disgust. He was back in the real world, where his utterly untouchable nanny was staring at him as though his head had fallen off his shoulders. He wondered if she was about to ask him why the fuck he was still holding her. Hopefully not, because he didn’t think his answer–“Sorry, you just feel really good” — would cut it.

I’m a sucker for a relationship where there is a power dynamic. The nanny/employer dynamic is a real problem that Nate and Hannah must deal with and overcome.

Something I wish had been developed further was Hannah’s blog. There’s a few quotes from it. There’s talk about her writing it, but we never see enough of it to get really invested, and I got the feeling I was supposed to be.

Overall it’s a fast enjoyable read and I look forward to visiting Ravenswood again.

Pre-order Untouchable here (2.99 on kindle, free on unlimited)

Seven Books I Love, part seven–Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

There’s a Facebook meme going around where you list seven of your favorite books in seven days. I thought I’d do mine as a series of blog posts. I’m going to cheat and do a few series mixed in with single books. This is not an absolute list–this is my seven of many favorite books. I could do one of these for children’s books, YA, adult, romance, and I’d still never even approach naming all my favorite books.

That said, here is book seven–Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

“‘You are sharing the Dark Lord’s thoughts and emotions. The Headmaster thinks it inadvisable for this to continue. He wishes me to teach you how to close your mind to the Dark Lord.'”

Dark times have come to Hogwarts. After the Dementors’ attack on his cousin Dudley, Harry Potter knows that Voldemort will stop at nothing to find him. There are many who deny the Dark Lord’s return, but Harry is not alone: a secret order gathers at Grimmauld Place to fight against the Dark forces. Harry must allow Professor Snape to teach him how to protect himself from Voldemort’s savage assaults on his mind. But they are growing stronger by the day and Harry is running out of time…

I know in general I’ve been doing the entire series (In Death, Jewels), with the exception of Magic’s Pawn. But besides the fact that I’m currently reading it with Athena, it has always been my favorite of the Harry Potter books. Big spoilers ahead, but it’s been long enough–the books have been out for over a decade and the movies have also been out for ages.

The reasons I love Order of the Phoenix include that it’s the point where the books really grow darker, we have our first truly traumatic death (I’d argue that Cedric Diggory wasn’t all that traumatic because we barely knew him), and that the big evil of this specific book is both political (the Ministry’s efforts to discredit Harry via the media of the state) and banal (Umbridge is both a political tool and that totally evil teacher we’ve all had who hates children).

This is where all of the world building and character driven plot really pays off with regards to the darkening tone. Many of the adults we’ve come to know and love turn out to be in the Order. The way that the children are cut out of the Order’s business both makes sense as a mom of almost 40, but is also an injustice given that we know exactly how capable these children are. I have to wonder how things would have been different had they just not have tried to keep Harry etc at arm’s length. This is especially a problem because of how it negatively impacts Harry and Dumbledore’s relationship. On the other hand, we see Sirius fighting to allow Harry a seat at the table.

Which leads me to Sirius’s death. We went from hating him to discovering he was Harry’s godfather and was set up–he didn’t betray the Potters. His and Harry’s relationship has deepened ever since. Sirius even wants Harry to stay with him rather than return to the Dursley’s. But then comes the scene in the Ministry vault–and Bellatrix kills Sirius. I sobbed, feeling Harry’s grief. This is also a scene where the movie did a good job showing the tragedy of Sirius’s death.

We see a Voldemort with real power. We see a corrupt Ministry that would rather pretend that Harry has cracked than the truth and one that is willing to discredit someone they see as a threat. The Ministry installs Umbridge as the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher to be their tool and to further divide the student body.

Umbridge is a great example of what an intentional tool of the state can do in terms of creating an authoritarian state. From the punishment of I must not tell lies to teaching DAtDA as a philosophical rather than practical class to her usurpation of Headmistress of Hogwarts and the dictates she passes as the leader of the school. At the same time she is banal evil–she’s that teacher who had it out for you. She’s that teacher who hates children and everyone knows it. She’s that teacher who looks harmless but is really sadistic. We’ve all had that teacher or that boss–we can all recognize the type of evil that she is. As a side note, while I don’t really approve of how the movies changed plot lines at times, when Umbridge begs Harry for mercy that she’s really a kind person or whatever, Harry responds with “Sorry, Professor, but I must not tell lies”? That’s fucking great and I loved that change.

Her totalitarian state creates the resistance in the form of Dumbledore’s Army. Even Hermione, the consummate rule follower knows that sometimes you have to break the rules. When a rule is unjust and evil is being perpetrated in your midst you fight back.

These two points seem especially relevant in Trump’s America. You have the state media of Fox News, and even supposedly liberal papers like the New York Times and Washington Post can’t seem to stop running articles about the poor white voters that have been left behind. Today WaPo ran an editorial that said even if you hate Trump you have to vote Republican to save our country. We also have a very active resistance led by women, particularly women of color. Women are running for office at a never before seen rate. There are constant protests and speaking truth to power. There is an active resistance. In some ways, it’s a good thing to be reading this with Athena at this moment in time because it’s giving me that language to talk about current events with her.

The prophecy is revealed and we learn that Neville could also have been the Chosen One, but that Harry really only is because Voldemort focused on him, which subverts the Chosen One trope. But Voldemort is also prevented from hearing the prophecy.

And of course, Order of the Phoenix introduces Luna Lovegood, one of my favorite characters and not just because I’m a Ravenclaw.

Order of the Phoenix is free on Kindle Unlimited, 8.99 to purchase, or one audible credit to listen to it in the car.

 

So that’s my seven…or seven of my favorites. I’ll be doing a post (or several) with some Honorable Mentions although we’ll never get to all of my favorite books because then we’d be here forever.

Seven Books I Love, part five–The Blessings Series by Beverly Jenkins

There’s a Facebook meme going around where you list seven of your favorite books in seven days. I thought I’d do mine as a series of blog posts. I’m going to cheat and do a few series mixed in with single books. This is not an absolute list–this is my seven of many favorite books. I could do one of these for children’s books, YA, adult, romance, and I’d still never even approach naming all my favorite books.

That said, here is book (series) five…The Blessings Series by Beverly Jenkins

On Bernadine Brown’s fifty-second birthday she received an unexpected gift—she caught her husband, Leo, cheating with his secretary. She was hurt—angry, too—but she didn’t cry woe is me. Nope, she hired herself a top-notch lawyer and ended up with a cool $275 million. Having been raised in the church, she knew that when much is given much is expected, so she asked God to send her a purpose.

The purpose turned out to be a town: Henry Adams, Kansas, one of the last surviving townships founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. The failing town had put itself up for sale on the Internet, so Bernadine bought it.

Trent July is the mayor, and watching the town of his birth slide into debt and foreclosure is about the hardest thing he’s ever done. When the buyer comes to town, he’s impressed by her vision, strength, and the hope she wants to offer not only to the town and its few remaining residents, but to a handful of kids in desperate need of a second chance.

Not everyone in town wants to get on board though; they don’t want change. But Bernadine and Trent, along with his first love, Lily Fontaine, are determined to preserve the town’s legacy while ushering in a new era with ties to its unique past and its promising future.

summary of Bring on the Blessings, Blessings #1

Readers of Beverly Jenkins’ historical romances will perk up at the name “Henry Adams” because it’s the setting for a number of historical books. This is indeed the same town, which has become a run down dying town that put itself up for sale.

Bernadine is a no nonsense woman who takes her divorce settlement and buys Henry Adams. She wants to revitalize the town, and one of her projects is to create homes for foster kids who need a home and love because she’s a former social worker. The first few books deal with each of the families with a foster child, and then it begins to widen out. Family is always at the center of the books, though, and they qualify as sweet rather than steamy romance (read her historicals for steamy).

On paper this is not something I should love–sweet romance isn’t usually my style, nor do I read a lot of mainstream fiction. But Jenkins’ writing along with her as always well populated cast of characters draws you in. I bought the first book to read on vacation last December, and in two weeks I’d read all of the books and the novellas.

What I love best about the book are the characters. Each of the children has the sort of history that makes them suspicious but hopeful when it comes to their new parents. The different ages of the children also affects the way they interact with their new parents and the community. Their past also marks each child differently. The parents are also very different and each book addresses the relationship of the parents–one has a couple that is struggling with how to deal with the distance that has grown between them.

Bernadine is fabulously wealthy, so she has the magical deep pockets that allow her to buy a town, build a school, etc. But unlike your typical billionaire, she’s not white and she’s not a man. She also has a collection of equally fabulously wealthy female friends who have each other’s backs, share a private plane, and more. It’s a cool take on the billionaire trope.

These books are the kind of balm your soul might need in these trying times. A community that actually comes together and embraces these children feels alien at this point in time, and is the kind of place I aspire to live in.

The ninth books in the series–Second Time Sweeter comes out Aug 28th, so you have time to read them and catch up. Book one, Bring on the Blessings is 3.49 on Kindle.