Review: It All Comes Down to This

Review: It All Comes Down to ThisIt All Comes Down to This by Therese Anne Fowler
Published by St. Martin's Press on June 7, 2022
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 352
Goodreads
two-stars

FINAL DECISION: The book is well constructed from a technical standpoint, but I think I am exhausted with these three women at a change of life women’s fiction books. Nothing about this book was exciting or extraordinary to me. Just banal from the first page to the last, with the exception that part of the story was just terrible in my estimation. If it was an attempt at a happy ending, it was entirely unbelievable and demonstrates selfishness rather than love and caring.

THE STORY: The death of their mother brings a surprise for three sisters when a provision of her will states that the family’s summer house in Maine is to be sold with each sister getting an equal share. Each sister is facing something significant in their lives. Beck, the oldest, is a journalist jolted by the news because she had a vague idea that she would use the summer house to write the novel she has been thinking of writing. She also is having trouble in her marriage. The middle sister, Claire, is a doctor who is divorced and has a thing for the wrong man. The youngest sister Sophie has a glamorous life that masks her financial woes. A stranger also comes into their lives at this same moment when things are falling apart for each sister.

OPINION: I found almost all of these characters uninteresting and unlikeable. In committing to a book like this, I like to find some people I enjoy reading about. Instead, there are a bunch of awful people who do really bad things, and somehow, the book wants to explain their bad behavior. I don’t really think that I would like to know these people and thus, I don’t really want to read about them.

Because the book can’t express the emotional depth of these characters (indeed, most of them are pretty shallow and selfish people who are quite satisfied to harm even their closest relatives), it instead tries to keep secrets from the reader from saying nevermind and putting down the book. Because to be honest, if the reader knew from the beginning how amoral and unlikeable these people are, they wouldn’t continue with the story. The story drags because it ultimately relies on a “keeping secrets from the reader” premise instead of exploring the depths of the characters.

Definitely not worth my time in reading.

WORTH MENTIONING: I read this book as part of a book club, so it wasn’t something I would have chosen myself. Judge my opinion accordingly.

CONNECTED BOOKS: IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS is a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 2 stars.

two-stars

Review: The Hating Game

Review: The Hating GameThe Hating Game by Sally Thorne
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on May 16, 2019
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 369
Goodreads

FINAL DECISION: This book isn’t what I expected from the blurb. I expected a lot of backstabbing and undermining and anger and angst. But this book was such a beautiful romance. I loved both these characters and how their relationship developed. It is a slow-burn romance but not boring — just wonderful.

THE STORY: Lucy Hutton’s nemesis is Joshua Templeman. Lucy and Joshua are executive assistants to the co-CEOs of a publishing company. Now they are both competing for the same promotion. Neither is going to back down from the competition, but at that precise moment, Lucy begins to get to know Joshua better. Perhaps neither really hates the other as much as Lucy expected — or is Joshua playing the long game in winning the competition between them?

OPINION: This book was hot several years ago. I have to admit that I wasn’t attracted to the book then. I ended up reading it recently for a book club. Unlike many “hot” books, this one was amazing.

From the first page to the end, I loved the couple and the story, even though it has many elements that aren’t my favorite — such as it is told in the first person present (by Lucy), and we never get Joshua’s perspective other than what Lucy learns. But it worked for me because it ended up being precisely what the story needed to work.

Lucy is sweet but surprisingly determined and strong when it matters. Joshua … no, I can’t say any more because it will give the story away. I can say that Lucy’s perception of Joshua is that he is a stick-in-the-mud, cold person, and a big jerk. When she finds herself attracted to him, she can’t imagine why.

What I love about this book is that it takes all the tropes of the office romance from 20-30 years ago and writes in a new and unexpected way. I’ve read stories like this many times before, but this book never gave the easy, expected answer. It is modern and funny, but it is also sweet and romantic.

It wasn’t the typical angsty and angry enemies-to-lovers story that I was expecting, but it was definitely worth the reading.

WORTH MENTIONING: THE HATING GAME was made into a movie.

CONNECTED BOOK THE HATING GAME is a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

Review: Her First Christmas Cowboy

Review: Her First Christmas CowboyHer First Christmas Cowboy (Four Corners Ranch #0.5) by Maisey Yates
Series: Four Corners Ranch #0.5
Published by HQN Books on October 1, 2021
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 55
Goodreads
three-stars

FINAL DECISION: Pleasant short story/novella. The characters are decent people and although things are tied up quickly and neatly, I enjoyed the sweet story.

THE STORY: Tala Nelson’s evening grading papers is interrupted by¬†rodeo cowboy Clayton Everett coming to her home with a gunshot. Tala knows that she should stay away from this man who comes from a bad background, but she can’t help but like and care for Clayton. As Christmas approaches, two people who have unhappy pasts find something for the future in one another.

OPINION: This was a pleasant, pretty straightforward romance. Both Tala and Clayton have family problems (in really different ways) which builds understanding between them. Because of the novella’s length, there isn’t a lot of character development here. I liked the characters and thought that the story was heartwarming and sweet. Everything is tied up too neatly, but it worked as a quick read for me.

WORTH MENTIONING: This is a very short novella (about 55 pages).

CONNECTED BOOKS: HER FIRST CHRISTMAS COWBOY is book 0.5 in the Four Corners Ranch series. This is a novella prequel. The Four Corners Ranch series is a spinoff of the Copper Ridge series, but it is not necessary to read those books (I haven’t) to read this book.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3 stars.

three-stars

Review: The Return of the Duke

Review: The Return of the DukeThe Return of the Duke (Once Upon a Dukedom, #3) by Lorraine Heath
Series: Once Upon a Dukedom #3
Published by Avon on July 26, 2022
Genres: Historical
Pages: 272
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: A historical spy novel with a woman of questionable morals at the center. I loved this book because the darkness in both the main characters brings them together, yet there is something sweet and light between them. Concludes the series satisfyingly.

THE STORY: Marcus Stanwick has prepared his whole life to become the Duke of Wolfford. His future is smashed when his father is hanged for an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria, and the family’s titles and properties are stripped from them. Now Marcus is working to uncover his father’s co-conspirators. At a dead end, he goes to the person he has avoided approaching — the woman reputed to be his father’s mistress. Esme Lancaster is also looking at who else was involved in the conspiracy for her own reasons. While she doesn’t want to work with Marcus, she has no choice but to join him in searching for the conspiracy. Marcus and Esme discover that their preconceptions of the other don’t fit the reality. And the reality is that the two begin to realize that there is a strong attraction between them.

OPINION: This book was unexpected. It has more of a historical spy feel as Marcus and Esme try to determine who has been plotting to kill Queen Victoria. While adjacent to the world of ballrooms, this book takes place in the shadowy places of London. I enjoyed the different emphasis in the story as some of the historical issues of the time are explored.

And I loved Marcus and Esme. Both had their expected lives pulled out from under them and yet managed to be caring people. We finally find out what Marcus has been doing during the timeline of the other books in the series.

Marcus was more thoughtful and self-examining than I had expected. When he first met Esme, I worried he would be a total jerk to her. (Ok, honestly, he is terrible to her at the first meeting, but a reader can be assured that only lasts a moment.) Based on his obsession-laden appearances in previous books, I hadn’t expected to like him so much. I found that he is a caring person and ultimately reasonable as he quickly begins to understand Esme and even has empathy for her.

Esme is an incredible heroine. I especially liked that Heath made her more modern thinking without making her feel ahistorical (as many romance writers are wont to do these days). Esme is a trailblazer in how she lives her life and what she has chosen to do with herself. At the same time, she has soft edges, and it is clear that she is strong enough to live alone but needs someone who will love and care for her.

And that is what makes this book so good for me. Esme and Marcus have both been betrayed and have lived in darkness. In one another, they find understanding, companionship, and love. They are such a good couple who talks to one another and seek understanding rather than being immature and jumping to conclusions. Their relationship feels mature, and when their happy ending comes, I’m not surprised, and I’m assured that they will love one another forever.

My final enjoyment of this book is that appearances are made by all the main characters from the series and also from the Sins for all Seasons books.

WORTH MENTIONING: Dr. Graves from the Scoundrels of St. James series has an important (but off the page) role in this book.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE RETURN OF THE DUKE is the third book in the Once Upon a Dukedom series. The book can be read as a standalone, although there is an overarching story for the series that is resolved here. Enough information is given but there are significant appearances from characters from both this series and also from the Sins for All Seasons series. This book is also a bridge to the Chessmen series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: Storm Echo

Review: Storm EchoStorm Echo (Psy-Changeling Trinity, #6; Psy-Changeling, #21) by Nalini Singh
Published by Berkley on August 9, 2022
Genres: Paranormal
Pages: 384
Goodreads

FINAL DECISION: I loved this book. Although the emotional story between these two characters was more straightforward than others in this series, I adored Lei and Ivan and their relationship. The book didn’t go in the direction I expected so I sped through the pages and finished the last page satisfied and interested in the future.

THE STORY: Ivan Mercant has kept himself separate from his dangerous family and everyone else because he knows that his brain contains a monster that threatens others. But then he meets a changeling named Lei that changes him. But as quickly as she comes into his life, she is gone. Ivan searches unsuccessfully for her until he sees her in San Francisco. Soleil Bijoux Garcia is a healer who is alone. While on her quest to kill the DarkRiver alpha, she sees a stranger who seems familiar to her.

OPINION: I began reading this book intending to read it slowly over several days. Instead, I read it cover to cover in one rush. Singh gave new twists on the characters of the Psy assassin and the Changeling healer. I thought that the drama of their separation would be the center of the book, but instead, there is great gentleness between these two, and the real drama ends up being external factors.

I knew I would love this book once I realized that we had returned to DarkRiver. As much as I have enjoyed the expanding Psy-Changeling work, I admit that DarkRiver is a joy to see again. Appearances and updates on beloved characters increased my enjoyment of this book. The Psy-Changeling series always works best when it is grounded in the community of all the characters we have already met. Singh does community so well, and none of these appearances seem gratuitous, but each of these characters has a part to play in the world drama.

With these characters, I enjoyed that Singh did not plow the same storyline she has before with Psy and Changeling combinations. Ivan and Lei have different quirks, fears and challenges. Lei is a healer and reaches out, but she also has been deeply hurt by her past. Like many of the healers, she has a different type of strength but also great vulnerability. Her handling of Ivan is just about perfect. She’s not putting up with his BS in this book. In this relationship, she is not vulnerable and hurt but relatively intense and determined. I really adored Ivan because he is relatively vulnerable in this relationship. He needs care and tending and Lei is so wonderful in this regard. Just everything in their relationship worked for me.

WORTH MENTIONING: We get to learn more about the Architect.

CONNECTED BOOKS: STORM ECHO is the sixth book in the Psy-Changeling Trinity series. The romance is self-contained, but the overarching story goes throughout the Trinity series. Do yourself a favor and just start at the beginning of Trinity. This book is also book 21 in the Psy-Changeling series if you want to start at the real beginning.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

Review: Serving Pleasure

Review: Serving PleasureServing Pleasure (Pleasure Series, #2) by Alisha Rai
Series: Pleasure Series #2
on June 12, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Erotica
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: I really enjoyed this book, although I didn’t find it or the characters particularly deep. It reads more like a novella, but certainly a good one.

THE STORY: Rana Malik has promised her mother to find a proper possible husband rather than continue her history of sexual relationships. Just at this moment, Rana is tempted by her neighbor, who Rana watches through his uncovered windows. Micah Hale is hiding. After being a victim of violence, Micah left his home and family and has come to town intending to try to get his career as an artist back on track. He certainly doesn’t want to get involved with his sexy next-door neighbor, although he cannot help but watch her watch him.

OPINION: These characters had an interesting setup and I liked them and their relationship. They were well set for a short book. There is not much depth to them beyond their quick description: an artist suffering from PTSD and a woman who is being slut shamed by her mother attempting to be the “good girl”. Everything is a stereotype of what would be expected. We get the support of the woman — “you shouldn’t be ashamed of having many sexual partners,” and the hero gets therapy to deal with his issues. How everything worked out was banal and exactly what you would expect.

So there was nothing novel or great about this book. I really liked the relationship between Rana and Micah. I thought it was supportive and very sexy. There were some really great moments in the story that definitely were great. Because the story went so fast, I would recommend it.

WORTH MENTIONING: The book deals with post-traumatic experiences after a violent attack.

CONNECTED BOOKS: SERVING PLEASURE is the second book in the Pleasure series. It is not necessary to read the first book to enjoy this one. (I haven’t read the first book).

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Legacy

I received this book for free from Netgalley in order to prepare an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


Review: LegacyLegacy by Nora Roberts
Published by St. Martin's Press on May 25, 2021
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 435
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: The mystery wasn’t that strong for me, but I loved the relationship between these characters and the glimpse of these lives that we learn about. Adrian is a great heroine, and Raylan is just adorable. Very enjoyable read even if not perfect.

THE STORY: Adrian Rizzo met her father on the day he tried to kill her and her mother.
In the aftermath, her mother Lina brought her to her grandparents who live in a small town in Maryland. Adrian enjoyed that summer and met her best friend — and her older brother, Raylan. Decades later, Adrian and Raylan are living in the same town and things seem to bring them together. At the same time, Adrian is dealing with a stalker who has sent her threatening poems for years. Her stalker is escalating, however, and is taken with murdering women as he zeros in on Adrian.

OPINION: This was quite an enjoyable journey with these characters. I really loved Adrian and Raylan, who are both such caring people. Their story was very compelling, and their life as they grow together was engaging to me. I liked that the two of them had complete lives apart, but then their lives begin to overlap.

Roberts does such a great job of building these towns with characters who are interesting in their own right and yet don’t overwhelm the story. What she also does so well is create stories where the romance is essential to the story, and yet this is the story of a woman who has managed to build her own life with friends and family. The man adds to her existence, but she has a pretty good life even without him.

I’ve been reading a lot of women’s fiction these days, and this book demonstrates what I find missing from those stories. This book has complex characters and never seems to scream — I’m a powerful woman. Instead, the characters are so good, and I am interested in their lives. Even without the drama of the mystery in the story, I would have been satisfied reading how these characters manage to find one another and create the possibility of sharing a life together. I supposed I should go back and read more of Robert’s standalone romances.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book has significant violence, including abuse, murders, and a school shooting. Most, but not all, of the violence occurs off-screen.

CONNECTED BOOKS: LEGACY is a standalone book.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an eARC of this book via Netgalley. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-half-stars

Review: You Were Made to be Mine

Review: You Were Made to be MineYou Were Made to Be Mine (The Palace of Rogues, #5) by Julie Anne Long
Series: The Palace of Rogues #5
Published by Avon on June 28, 2022
Genres: Historical
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: This book suffers from a delayed meeting between the hero and the heroine. There just isn’t enough time for them to meet, fall in love, and resolve both the emotional and plot issues in this book. At the same time, Long, as always, writes so beautifully and lyrically about love and pain. There are passages that just enthralled me.

THE STORY: Christian Hawkes, an English spy, newly freed from a French prison, agrees to find the Earl of Brundage’s fiancee, who has disappeared. Lady Aurelie Capet has fled France and comes to the Grand Palace on the Thames, traveling under a false name and hiding from her fiance. Hawkes soon arrives at the Grand Palace as well. The two are keeping secrets from one another and falling for one another.

OPINION: Mixed feelings about this one. Once the hero and heroine meet, the book has such beauty in it. But the book doesn’t take the time to develop the relationship between these two characters. They meet, and love is quick and fast between them. Most of the book is unwinding the plot with the villain of the novel.

So I loved Hawke and Aurelie; the story was beautiful and painful when they were on the page together. Both have suffered incredible betrayals, which threaten their ability of them to trust other people. Yet, from the start, something between the two is powerful and draws them together.

I wanted to like this book more than I did because I adored the characters. Hawke emerged from being imprisoned during the war, having lost almost everything. What could have made him hard and cruel instead has made him empathetic and understanding. And he is almost immediately willing to give up his own desires to protect Aurelie.

Aurelie could have been destroyed by what happened to her, but instead, she has the inner strength and determination to take control of her own life. One thing I really loved in this book is how these two wounded people recognize both the pain in the other and also the strength and ability to overcome the deep wounding that both experienced.

Hawke is one of my favorite heroes. He is immediately determined to do what is right once he realizes that things are not what was represented to him.

The book also has a good dose of characters we already know from the series, so fans will be pleased to see beloved characters again.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book discusses and has rape as a significant plot point, although it occurs off-page before the book begins.

CONNECTED BOOKS: YOU WERE MADE TO BE MINE is the fifth book in the Palace of Rogues series. The romance here is self-contained; thus, the book can be read as a standalone. Characters from the other books do make significant appearances, however, so reading in order provides more depth to the story.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: A Heart of Blood and Ashes

Review: A Heart of Blood and AshesA Heart of Blood and Ashes (A Gathering of Dragons, #1) by Milla Vane, Meljean Brook
Series: A Gathering of Dragons #1
Published by Berkley on February 4, 2020
Genres: Paranormal, Fantasy
Pages: 555
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: This book was amazing. The world-building supported the romance, which is the center of the story. This is the story of vengeance and passion. Vane (aka Meljean Brooks) knows how to weave romance, plot, and incredible overarching storylines and world-building in a way that this cohesive and compelling.

THE STORY: Forbidden from killing the king responsible for his parents’ murders, Maddek intends to find a way to get revenge. When he is told that the king’s secret daughter was instrumental in his parents’ deaths, Maddek intends to get revenge through her.¬†Yvenne is not what Maddek expects. Although she comes from a line of warrior-queens, she is weak. But when she offers Maddek an opportunity for revenge through a marriage, allowing them to claim her family’s throne, Maddek is willing to take the chance to satisfy his desire for vengeance.

OPINION: This book has one of the most memorable introductions of a hero and heroine ever. Their first moments together signal to the reader that this book will be something new. Now some people might not be able to handle how different this book is, but for readers who persevere, the romance and the story are powerful and compelling.

Yvenne is a heroine that I just adored. She has suffered such trauma in her life, yet she has strength and gentleness. She is a queen, as she explains to Maddek. The progression in the story is that she learns to be a warrior as well. At the same time, Maddek begins the story as a warrior and he learns to be a king as the story progresses.

This book is certainly not for everyone. It is graphic and violent and deals with war and pain and abuse. At the same time, it has at its center a beautiful love story of two people who begin as enemies and have to reconsider themselves and their world view. There is a lot of plot in this book but what is done so well is that the relationship between Yvenne and Maddek is always centered. The book is about them. Sometimes these big fantasy books are about the world and the drama of the plot. While this book has all those elements, the relationship between these two characters drives the story.

Well-crafted, this book is filled with adventures, romance, memorable characters, drama. I didn’t love it as much as Brooks’ steampunk novels, but this one is a great start to a new series.

WORTH MENTIONING: There is an ongoing story that is not resolved in this book. The entire relationship between the main characters is done, but the series has a “big bad” who isn’t defeated in this book.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A HEART OF BLOOD AND ASHES is the first book in the A Gathering of Dragons series. There is a novella prequel, but that only exists in the same world and doesn’t need to be read before this book.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars