Review: Dragonfly in Amber

Review: Dragonfly in AmberDragonfly in Amber (Outlander, #2) by Diana Gabaldon
Series: Outlander #2
Published by Bantam on August 7th 2001
Genres: Historical, Time Travel
Pages: 743
Goodreads
five-stars

Political Intrigue and Romance With Claire and Jaime

FINAL DECISION: I ended up liking this one better than OUTLANDER itself. The story seemed tighter, the relationship between Claire and Jamie more complex and although there is plenty of death and pain in this book, it felt more civilized after the events of the first book. And I ended up in tears for most of the end of this book.

THE STORY: After the events of OUTLANDER, Jaime and Claire have fled to France. There they will try to prevent the coming battle of Culloden in order to prevent the destruction of the Highlanders culture. Their scheme requires them to participate in Eighteenth Century French court politics and intrigues with Bonnie Prince Charlie and the King of France. There are still repercussions from Jamie’s torture and rape at the end of OUTLANDER. Intrigues, danger and the past threaten to tear Jamie and Claire apart even at the point where they share joy at the coming of their child.

OPINION: I liked OUTLANDER, but I liked DRAGONFLY IN AMBER more. OUTLANDER was about Jamie and Claire discovering one another and falling in love. This book is about letting their love and marriage mature. In OUTLANDER Jamie and Claire ran the gauntlet of danger. This book is a slow burn. Things are quieter, more outwardly civilized and yet even more complicated and dangerous. Politics, society and intrigue take up the majority of this book.

For those readers who read OUTLANDER but don’t know more about the series, they will be surprised by the beginning of this book. (I don’t want to give it away, but it is a clever story device to begin the narrative there instead of being strictly chronological). The book feels fresh and different after OUTLANDER. The characters have grown and changed (not always for the good) and there are lots of new characters to get to know. Old friends and enemies also have returned so there is a good reason to review the events of OUTLANDER if you haven’t read it in a while.

Jamie is more remote in this book after the events with Jack Randall in OUTLANDER. He is still struggling with the aftermath and the pressures of trying to save the entire Highlands. Being involved in the political intrigue means that he and Claire spend less time together and thus immense pressure is placed on their relationship.

Claire is also struggling to find her role in this new situation. The new life in the Court of France has new conflicts and restrictions upon this twentieth century woman. She has to use her imperfect knowledge of the past to help avoid Culloden while know knowing whether such a thing is possible. She is also struggling with her relationship with Jamie. She gave up her entire life to be with him and now she has to deal with those consequences.

On a more philosophical point, the book also investigates the idea of changing the past. Is it even possible for Jamie and Claire to change the events that lead to Culloden or does everything they do actually cause that event to happen? Can the past be changed at all? These are universal themes in time travel stories and this book examines those issues with complexity and subtlety. Even better, there are no real answers.

I began reading OUTLANDER when the television series started because I always want to read the books first and I began reading this one in preparation for Season 2. I don’t know if I have been influenced by the series, but I felt that this book went more quickly and the events were clearer, the characters more defined and the outcome more devastating. I cried through the end of the book because it was incredibly well written and sad. At the end of this book, I desperately wanted to begin VOYAGER (book 3) to find out what happens.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book ends on a cliffhanger.

CONNECTED BOOKS: DRAGONFLY IN AMBER is the second book in the Outlander series. It can be read as a standalone, but why do that. Read OUTLANDER first to really appreciate DRAGONFLY IN AMBER.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

Save

five-stars

Cover Reveal and Teaser for SIDEBARRED by Emma Chase

I am excited to be included in the cover reveal for the wrap up novella for the Legal Briefs series called SIDEBARRED.  I read this series for the first time recently and absolutely loved this contemporary series about four defense attorneys who are friends and colleagues.  I really loved the series which is funny and emotional and I look forward to getting more of these fascinating characters.

Sidebarred FOR WEB

This novella provides a coda to the series by giving fans one last glimpse of the their favorite couples.  The book blurb states:

Join Jake & Chelsea, Stanton & Sofia, Brent & Kennedy as they navigate the hilarious and heartwarming hurdles of love, life and the law in this final addition to the Legal Briefs Series.

There was a time when Jake Becker had it all together. He was controlled, driven, ruthless—in and out of the courtroom.

Then, six irresistible orphans and their heartbreakingly beautiful aunt crashed into his perfectly ordered life. They changed everything. They changed him. Now he’s a husband, an upstanding member of society, a father figure—a family man.
And he’s pretty damn good at it.

Sure, he has to referee sibling smackdowns, re-learn algebra, ensure his clients stay of jail, and keep his wife happy—but it finally feels like he’s got it together again….
So, of course something has to screw it all up.

It’s huge. Life-changing. Kind of terrifying.

And it will be the most amazing, perfect thing he’ll ever do.

Now Teaser #1 from SIDEBARRED.

Chelsea sits beside me on the couch, facing me, her legs tucked, her pretty feet curled under her. Yes—Chelsea has pretty feet, okay? I never knew feet could be pretty—until I saw hers.
“So . . . that talk I mentioned before? We should probably have that now, while we can.”
I take a sip of my drink and nod. “Yeah—I wasn’t at all hoping you’d forget about it or anything.”
Her face slides into a grin. “Funny.”
I look back at her, straight-faced. “I’m a funny guy.”
When she doesn’t say anything for a few moments, I ask, “What’s up?”
Because now I’m actually getting concerned. My stomach tightens as I brace for whatever’s worrying her—and before I even know what I’m up against, in my head I’m already planning all the ways I’ll take care of it. Because that’s what I do—and I’m good at it.
But what she tells me next blows my fucking mind.
“I’m late.”
Two words—ten thousand thoughts exploding in my head at once.
I’m a big guy, six-five, 225 pounds of muscle. Guys like me, our voices don’t squeak. But at this moment, mine comes damn close.
“Like . . . for an appointment?”
Chelsea inhales deeply, then breathes out, “No.”

You can see my reviews of the three novels to get a sense of the series.

Review of OVERRULED

Review of SUSTAINED

Review of APPEALED

Pre-Order SIDEBARRED at Amazon, B&N and Kobo.

Review: Guilty Pleasure

Review: Guilty PleasureGuilty Pleasure (Bound Hearts #11) by Lora Leigh
Series: Bound Hearts #11
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on April 5th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Erotica
Pages: 352
Goodreads
four-stars

Sexy Menage Story Mixed with Suspense

“She had four weeks to steal his heart. If he had one to steal.”

FINAL DECISION: An enjoyable romance where the menage story is a significant part of the story. There is little personal angst in the story. The drama comes primarily from the external suspense story.

THE STORY: Marty Matthews is an FBI agent who has spent two years following Khalid el Hamid-Mustafa for her boss. Marty knows that Khalid isn’t guilty of anything but the two years have driven her desire for Khalid to a fever pitch and she has decided to finally go after the man she has wanted for over a decade. Marty is the daughter of a threesome relationship and she knows that Khalid is engaged in the menage lifestyle. Khalid has been keeping his distance from Marty because the life of anyone important to him is in danger but he is finding it hard to resist her.

OPINION: As is true with many of the books in this series, the menage is more physical than emotional. The men in these stories all engage in the menage lifestyle (they even are part of a club that caters to their preferences). Here there is no emotional connection except between Khalid and Marty. The third of their menage is not emotionally connected to the relationship. I think the menage stories where there is an emotional connection between all the participants is more intriguing.

One of the best parts of this story is that Marty is pretty badass herself. She refuses to allow the men to make her accept limitations or weakness. She is strong and a match for Khalid. I also like that he defends her independence and while he desires to protect her, he accepts that she is a warrior who cannot be fully protected.

The story is very spicy as one might expect from the description and very explicit. Khalid’s backstory is very appealing (in the dark tortured hero sense) and by the time it was done, I also wanted to read the story of Khalid’s brother whose story is even more tortured.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book has extensive menage scenes.

CONNECTED BOOKS: GUILTY PLEASURE is the eleventh book in the Bound Hearts series. It can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

Save

four-stars

Review: Where’s My Hero?

Where's My Hero?
Where’s My Hero? by Lisa Kleypas, Kinley MacGregor, Julia Quinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Three Novellas That Are Part of Larger Series

Each of the three novellas here are part of a larger series. Although each novella can be read as a standalone, they are better if the reader is aware of the characters who are part of the series.

Each of the novellas has characters who are engaged to the wrong person when the right one comes along.

AGAINST THE ODDS by Lisa Kleypas — This novella is part of the Gamblers series as the heroine is the daughter of Derek and Sara from DREAMING OF YOU. Miss Lydia Craven is engaged to be married to Lord Wray. On the night of her engagement announcement, she is kissed by Dr. Jake Linley, her nemesis with whom she had bickered and fought for four years. Lydia believes her fiance is perfect for her because they have similar intellectual pursuits even if there isn’t any passion. Almost on the eve of her marriage, Lydia and Jake end up locked in a cellar together and she finds out that passion might be the most important thing after all. This is a cute little story which is obvious and doesn’t have much twist to it. The best part is seeing Derek and Sara again. For that I would read this story again and again. The romance of Lydia and Jake is okay, but Sara and Derek are amazing even in cameo. Rating: 4 stars.

MIDSUMMER’S KNIGHT by Kinley MacGregor — Simon of Ravenswood, aka “The Wraith” is a landless knight who is part of the Brotherhood. He is in love with Kenna, the cousin of the King of Scotland. He has been writing to her BUT she thinks that it is Simon’s friend, an Earl, who has been writing to her. Now she believes herself engaged to the Earl, but he doesn’t know anything about it. This novella is part of the Brotherhood/MacAllister series. I haven’t read the other books in this series, but I really enjoyed this story. I thought the dilemma the characters found themselves in was intriguing and I was very interested in how things would work out. Now I want to read more of the series. Rating: 4 stars.

A TALE OF TWO SISTERS by Julia Quinn — This novella is an add on to the Splendid/Blydon Trilogy. Edward “Ned” Blydon, Viscount Burwick, is engaged to Lydia Thornton. Having given up on finding love, Ned has become engaged to Lydia for comfort and a piece of property adjoining his estate. A week before the wedding, he begins to know her sister Charlotte and realizes that perhaps he gave up on love too soon. This was a nice coda to the Blydon series which resolves Ned’s story. The story is light and funny and heartfelt. Quickly readers are clued in to the solution to Ned’s dilemma, but he doesn’t know. I enjoyed this one as a conclusion to the trilogy. Rating: 4 stars.

Review: Dancing at Midnight

Dancing at Midnight
Dancing at Midnight by Julia Quinn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Adequate Romance That Doesn’t Live Up to Quinn’s Later Books

“She’d never been one to back down from a challenge.”

FINAL DECISION: This is a perfectly adequate book but lacks the depth, clever humor and complexity of Quinn’s later works. If I had read this book first, I think I would have liked it better.

THE STORY: Lady Arabella Blydon had had two seasons and has rejected numerous proposals then she meets the neighbor of her closest friends. John Blackwood, a newly minted Baron returned from war with a limp, and shadows and regrets which haunt him and make him unworthy of a woman like Belle. At the same time, he has a hidden enemy that threatens his life. Even when John rejects Belle for her own good, he cannot forget the bluestocking who has stolen his heart.

OPINION: This is a typical and pleasant Regency historical romance. There is a bit of darkness (the hero is haunted by his war past), some humor, some mystery and suspense (who is trying to kill the hero) along with your expected romance. For me, the most successful part of this book is the humor. Unfortunately, the remainder of the story is fine but I never felt there was any real darkness or real danger. The book lacked the urgency and depth to suggest that there was anything really endangering the hero and heroine.

This book is pleasant and I enjoyed it, but I couldn’t help but compare the book to Quinn’s more recent novels. Unfortunately, this book suffers in the comparison. The characters are flatter and less complex, the story is pretty straightforward without any real danger involved. As a result, the book is one that is enjoyable and a nice read but not one I would come back to.

WORTH MENTIONING: There are some significant appearances by the characters of the series which will please those who read SPLENDID.

CONNECTED BOOKS: DANCING AT MIDNIGHT is the second book in the Splendid or Blydon Trilogy. It can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3 stars.

Review: Lover Mine

Review: Lover MineLover Mine (Black Dagger Brotherhood #8) by J.R. Ward
Series: Black Dagger Brotherhood #8
Published by Signet on April 1st 2010
Genres: Paranormal
Pages: 512
Goodreads
four-stars

John Matthew’s Story at Last

FINAL DECISION: Mult-character driven book, this story is angst filled. I thought that the story between Blay and Qhuinn stole the show from the main “romance”. At the same time, I was happy for the conclusion of John Matthew’s story.

THE STORY: John Matthew, is a vampire who is also the reincarnation of Darius who was killed earlier in the series. As this story begins, John Matthew is struggling with the disappearance of Xhex, the half sympath, half vampire assassin. The two have had a difficult relationship as John Matthew has wanted her since they first met, but Xhex has turned him away believing herself unworthy of being cared for by a man of worth. John Matthew is grieving but at the same time determined to find out what happened to Xhex. In truth, Xhex has been abducted by John Matthew’s biggest enemy who will do anything to keep her.

OPINION: Longtime readers of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series know that John Matthew’s story has been going on in one form or another since the beginning. This book brings a great deal of closure to the story. I especially liked the use of Darius’ story which winds around and then gives a satisfying sense of completing the circle and bringing closure to the story.

This book, as is true with the last several books in the series, is really a set of stories being told simultaneously. The stories are each at different stages and while John Matthew and Xhex’s stories is largely resolved, others are just beginning or are continuing. The stories in this book (John Matthew/Xhex, Blay/Qhuinn, and Murhder) have a nice sense of connection that made this mullti-story telling work well here. (There is also the story of Payne but that one is only a small part here). The real issue is that the Blay Qhuinn story steals much of the emotional center of the story here. By breaking up the stories between multiple books, there is more interconnectedness and continuity in the overall story, but the emotional climax of each of the stories is somewhat muted.

This book benefits from the fact that both the John Matthew/Xhex and Blay Qhuinn stories are filled with angst and are so well written here. I loved how the stories progressed in both cases and that kept me reading through the many hundreds of pages. Both stories are so strong that they support the length of the book.

Even with that, this book is one of the better ones in the series for long time readers. There are a lot of significant appearances by the core Brotherhood characters which makes this book more enjoyable. I’ve determined that I need a break between these books because there is so much going on in all these books. They are long and intense and somewhat crazy and it helps me to not try too hard to put all the pieces of the stories together. There are a lot of holes in the overall story and some space helps me to take these books less seriously. These books are definitely not ones to binge to me beyond the first couple of books.

But this is one of the books in the series that I could see myself reading again.

WORTH MENTIONING: This series has abandoned its paranormal romance beginnings. There are still romances but there is less emotional connection between the characters and more plotline. That’s okay, just not what I think makes the early books so amazing.

CONNECTED BOOKS: LOVER MINE is the eighth book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. It should not be read as a standalone as it is not a complete story on its own.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Her Every Wish

Her Every Wish
Her Every Wish by Courtney Milan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Story of a Woman Finding Her Own Power with a a Little Romance Thrown in

FINAL DECISION: A fascinating story of a woman breaking the mold that society and to a large extent herself. A story of second chances and breaking the mold, this story which is about “regular” people provides a viewpoint often not seen in historical romances. The romance is not the primary focus of the story but rather the heroine’s personal journey.

THE STORY: Daisy Witlaw has dreams of being more than a flower shopgirl and so she decides to enter a competition where the winner will get funds to support a new business. She knows that the judges will never choose her as the winner, but when the man from her recent past offers to help her refine her presentation, she agrees. Crash loved Daisy but when he realized that his unsavory connections were an embarrassment to her their short romance ended. Now the two are working together and perhaps getting to understand themselves and one another better.

OPINION: I found this little story fascinating because of Daisy’s struggle with discrimination and her own mental limitations because of society’s view of her place. Her desire for more, for something different, for her hopes and dreams was a good story. I also liked how Crash supports her and helps her to break that final barrier. Why only four stars then? For me, the romance was lacking. It was more an intellectual romance that a deeply emotional one. I prefer romances that delve into the emotional connection between the characters. In this novella, the story is more Daisy’s personal journey with the romance as a part of that journey but not the focus. I enjoyed the novella and it is a good addition to the Worth series as it ties up these secondary characters’ stories.

WORTH MENTIONING: Velocipedes.

CONNECTED BOOKS: HER EVERY WISH is book 1.5 in The Worth Saga. It can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this novella 4 stars.

Review: Come Lie with Me

Come Lie with Me
Come Lie with Me by Linda Howard
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Classic Howard

FINAL DECISION: I enjoyed this story although the lack of insight into Blake’s thoughts made this less memorable than other similar stories.

THE STORY: Dione Kelley is a physical therapist who is dedicated to her profession. She also uses it to keep a distance between herself and other people. Having a miserable childhood followed by a disaster of a marriage, Dione keeps herself apart. Her newest client is Brent Remington, a handsome adventurous man until a horrible accident leaves him unable to walk. Dione and Brent begin to have a connection which undermines Dione’s walls even as she knows that it is wrong to get involved with a client.

OPINION: I liked the premise of this story. And I really liked Dione’s story arc. Especially for the time, the story feels relevant. I also really enjoyed the story of Brent’s recovery from his injuries. It demonstrates what a professional Dione is, how smart and clever she is. My only complaint is that because the story does not give us anything from Brent’s perspective, he feels distant to me throughout the story. I prefer books that give both points of view because it makes both characters relatable. I liked the story but it did not feel memorable to me.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book was originally published in the early 1980s as a category romance. However, the book feels less dated (except for no cell phones) because Dione is so independent.

CONNECTED BOOKS: COME LIE WITH ME is a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3.5 stars.

Review: Against the Rules

Against the Rules
Against the Rules by Linda Howard
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Second Chance at Love

“I want you to stay this time.”

FINAL DECISION: An older book which shows its age in the acceptance of a sexual relationship between a 17 year old and a man of 28 but also because the heroine’s annoyingly passive actions. At the same time, I liked the well paced story and the hot romance.

THE STORY: Cathryn Ashe inherited the ranch from her father but has stayed away for years. Eight years ago, she ended up giving her innocence to Rule Jackson, the ranch foreman, and she has been running from their torrid relationship ever since. Now a widow, Cathryn intends on settling her business at the ranch quickly and returning to her life in Chicago. Rule has other ideas including a second chance with the woman that he has always wanted.

OPINION: I remembered this book fondly from when I read it years ago. Unfortunately, this book, unlike other classic Linda Howard books, has not aged gracefully. First, I was a bid appalled by the fact that Cathryn and Rule had their first sexual encounter when Cathryn was just seventeen years old and Rule was twenty-eight. I thought nothing of it years ago, but now it just feels creepy to me. But I put that aside because it was not uncommon to see such things in classic books of the time.

I really liked the intense romance between Rule and Cathryn. I thought they were always meant to be and I liked how these two finally came together. My biggest complaint about this book was Cathryn herself. She seemed incapable to acting like an adult despite her claims to now be mature. She owns the ranch and yet she refuses to act as an owner and yet is resentful about Rule’s taking charge. I wanted to scream at her “If you want to be the boss, stop acting like a wimpy child.” Her passive nature towards these things probably would not be written this way in a current book. Cathryn make so many bad choices that I can’t figure out why Rule wants her at all.

For me, this is one of those books that was better in the past.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book was original published as a category romance in the 1980s.

CONNECTED BOOKS: AGAINST THE RULES is a standalone book.

STAR RATING: I give this book 2 stars.