5 star review

OpenLibrary Review – Open Season by Linda Howard

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Be careful what you wish for….On her thirty-fourth birthday, Daisy Minor decides to make over her entire life. The small-town librarian has had it with her boring clothes, her ordinary looks, and nearly a decade without so much as a date. It’s time to get a life — and a sex life. The perennial good girl, Daisy transforms herself into a party girl extraordinaire — dancing the night away at clubs, laughing and flirting with abandon — and she’s declared open season for manhunting. But her free-spirited fun turns to shattering danger when she witnesses something she shouldn’t — and becomes the target of a killer. Now, before she can meet the one man who can share her life, first she may need him to save it.

This is one of my favorite books of all time, not the least of which is that much like Cry No More, it has excellent treatment of birth control, though in very different ways. I figured I would come back to it after the way I had to shelve a few of Howard’s books in my Shame Files.

Daisy Ann Minor is a 34 year old librarian who has sadly let her life pass her by. She lives at home with her aunt and mother in something of a rut. She wakes up on the morning of her 34th birthday and decides she has to MAKE her life different. And the banter between her hormonal side and her sensible side is just too hilarious for words.

Fortunately for dear Daisy, she IS a librarian, and as such a researcher. So she sets out a plan to get a freaking life, and it is cuter than hell. And her mom and her aunt are fantastic and feisty, and completely on board with the plan, I’d be thrilled to have both of them in my family.

Chief Jack Russo is a jock, and alpha, and a grown up with some sexy grey in his hair, and underneath the gruff exterior doesn’t take himself too seriously. And between him and Daisy the sparks fly right from the beginning. And they keep bumping up against each other and rubbing each other the wrong way. We have the prissy classy librarians with a plan and the chief keeps getting completely, if sometimes obliviously, in the middle of it…until it is entirely on purpose. This jock really wants the librarian.

But on to one of my favorite components of the story-the birth control. There’s this one particular scene with condom buying (it was part of Daisy’s plan to let the community know she was looking-and if you ever lived in a small town you know how accurate it is) that is too funny. I thought about quoting it here, but really, it should be read in its entire glory. And then when they do decide to have sex, there is frank talk about birth control AND expectations if it should fail, but rather than being clinical it is just fun and funny and as little raunchy.

The mystery is perhaps solved a little too simply, like dominoes falling in a row it is lined up and knocked down in short order, but the characters are just such a riot that I don’t even care.

Seriously, it is a delightful book that I recommend to anyone.

Open Season

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1 star review, 5 star review

Openlibrary Review – After the Night

After the might

FAITH DEVLIN: A poor, outcast child in Prescott, Louisiana, she’d always adored the town’s golden boy from afar. But he called her white trash that sultry Southern night when his rich, respected father disappeared, along with her pretty Mom. Now Faith wanted to hate Gray Rouillard…not to feel a powerful surge of desire. But she couldn’t quench her passion, any more than she could hide the truth about the past she had waited so long to unravel.
GRAY ROUILLARD: Even when he raised hell, he did it with style. Reckless, charming, and backed by Rouillard money, Gray controlled the town of Prescott — and Devlin was a name he never wanted to hear again. But when he gazed at Faith Devlin, all he saw was a swirl of tangled sheets and her silken flesh beneath him. To care for her was impossible, unthinkable…because Gray Rouillard planned to use all his power to ruin her.

So this one is another Openlibrary (read for free legally-just get pdf not epub) AND Shame File. And unlike Shades of Twilight, I am just going to go ahead and admit, yes, I have actual shame for enjoying this book, despite the fact I’ve gone back to it on numerous occasions like an addict looking for my next fix.

Here’s my obligatory warning, there will be spoilers here. I can’t very well discuss the issues if I can’t say what they are. Also, trigger warnings, all the trigger warnings.

So it starts with Faith Devlin as a small child. She is infatuated with Gray, and as she grows older (she is a young teen now) this infatuation turns sexual in nature-of course. In any event Faith grew up in the town’s trashy family, and her mother is having an affair with the town scion who happens to be Gray’s father. When the two disappear, it starts a chain reaction that culminates in Gray and law enforcement going out to the shack the Devlin’s live in and running them out of town. It is the middle of the night and Faith is in a nightgown trying desperately to get her family’s thing packed as LEOs are throwing their stuff in the dirt. The cop cars have their headlights on and it turns her nightgown transparent and all these grown damned men, particularly the “hero”, are gawking and lusting after this teenager, thinking how she looks sexy like her mother. Hence the title – After the Night.

Eventually Faith grows up and finds out her mother actually didn’t run off with Gray’s father, so she heads back to her hometown to find out the truth. And back home all anyone can think about is how Faith looks like her mother and must be a trashy whore like her too. Sparks immediately start striking off Faith and Gray, and while Faith may be a feisty one in any other situation, when it comes to Gray she is a perpetual and unremitting doormat. He pushes her, and coerces her, and manhandles her and is in general a misogynistic a-hole toward her. And basically she just lets him treat her that way and the least little bits of anything remotely resembling kindness she just soaks it up like a sponge-forgiving his every transgression. Never mind that he and his family would have cheerfully bought out her house and run her out of town if she hadn’t bought it outright, that they would have messed with her banking if she hadn’t kept that out-of-state, that he turned the entire town against her so that she couldn’t buy gas or groceries in town, never mind any of that-he says he’s proud of her and she preens. This is a woman who needs freaking therapy, not the dubious love of a jerk who holds literally all of the power in the relationship.

Eventually they do end up together, but he never really apologizes for any of it, and then there is quite possibly the creepiest thing EVER said by a so-called hero. They are talking about the night that her family was thrown out of town and he tells her it wasn’t all bad because he wanted her then. That’s right the most traumatic night of her entire life wasn’t all bad because she gave him a boner when she was 14 years old. Add to that the fact that apparently the villain had been using Gray’s sister as a sexual surrogate for their mother, and she felt compelled to let him so her wouldn’t leave like their father supposedly did, and there are entire levels of sexual creepiness here. And that last was just gratuitous, there wasn’t a real need for it to further the story.

So why do I keep circling back to it? Damn but there are sparks there. And their banter is often hilarious. And Gray could also be funny and humorous, and once he quits trying to run the heroine out of town he’s oddly likable. And there is this just intense and funny and bonding intimate scene that I always go back to. Linda Howard just has a way of writing characters that I can always come back to.

In this case I think I shouldn’t come back to it. There is everything wrong and really nothing really redeemable about this story. And looking at it objectively, the things I enjoy about it should never have outweighed the bad. It is just that I never looked at it objectively. As it always left me on an emotional high, that is the way I always think of it, and I never went past the surface of the emotions I was left with.  ANd now I am looking at it objectively, and it is objectively horrifying…and yet…I still enjoy it. What does that say about me I wonder?

In any event, I should probably quit picking exclusively on Ms. Howard, whom I still love and who has some of the absolute best and favorite books, the author who got me to see that birth control in romance is a good thing and that it can be sexy and funny and good, and that heros could make me cry too. It is just that I have read and reread her books so many times, and her characters and stories are complex so that it was inevitable that some would have issues. So I think I’ll pick another excellent one next, and then try to pick on someone else next time.

After the Night

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4 star review

Review – Sweet Little Lies by Jill Shalvis

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Choose the one guy you can’t have . . .

As captain of a San Francisco Bay tour boat, Pru can handle rough seas—the hard part is life on dry land. Pru loves her new apartment and her neighbors; problem is, she’s in danger of stumbling into love with Mr. Right for Anybody But Her.

Fall for him—hard . . .

Pub owner Finn O’Riley is six-foot-plus of hard-working hottie who always makes time for his friends. When Pru becomes one of them, she discovers how amazing it feels to be on the receiving end of that deep green gaze. But when a freak accident involving darts (don’t ask) leads to shirtless first aid, things rush way past the friend zone. Fast.

And then tell him the truth.

Pru only wants Finn to be happy; it’s what she wishes for at the historic fountain that’s supposed to grant her heart’s desire. But wanting him for herself is a different story—because Pru’s been keeping a secret that could change everything. . . .

I received an ARC of this book from the Publisher, via Edelweiss, this does not affect my opinion of this book or the content of my review.

Jill Shalvis is one of those authors that I hear about quite a bit, but for some reason or another, I’ve just never picked up. But when this was offered to me, it just caught my eye. While the Big Secret isn’t a favorite trope of mine and contemporary doesn’t always do it for me, I do enjoy a heroine who is large and in charge (boat captain seemed to fit) and the friends to lover trope (which this sounded like it might be), so I snatched it up and prepared to dive in.

And right off the bat we have a homely plot pet in the form of a fat old dog, so it is just checking my boxes right and left. We’ve also got a tight circle of friends, yeah, they are sequel bait, but who cares? They’re fun to hang out with and have interesting and apparently varied back stories. So that is another check box for me as I enjoy stories that explore communites and don’t simply rest on the shoulders of the main couple.

Really the relationship between the two main characters is a vehicle to explore their neurosis, of which they each have plenty. And it isn’t so much friends to lovers as it is that our girl is a teensy bit of a stalker…I liked her anyway (martyr complex and all), and naturally enough so does our hero.

We also have, joy of joys, actual condom use incorporated into sexy times, which is another thing that pushes all my buttons in the best way possible.

The story and the setting, for the most part, can best be described as…cozy. Yes, there was a big blow up when the Big Secret came out (par for the course), but the author didn’t drag it out so it worked ok for me. And the secondary characters, they seriously rock and since the next book comes out in September and the one after that in January, it is a very doable wait. It kind of has a Molly Harper feel that I am digging. It isn’t perfect (though I can’t quite put my finger on what was off-maybe that they are so young and dang I am getting old?), but I think I have a new contemporary series to glom onto, the next two are now on my TBR.

Sweet Little Lies (Heartbreaker Bay, #1)

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4 star review

OpenLibrary Review – Shades of Twilight by Linda Howard

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Dear listener,

Shades of Twilight is the story of Roanna Davenport, who grows up in a wealthy southern family but never quite fits in. She isn’t pretty or popular, and she has a real talent for saying the wrong thing at precisely the wrong moment. She’s in love with a distant cousin, Webb Tallant. But Webb marries their cousin Jessie, the bane of Roanna’s life. When Jessie is found murdered, Webb is blamed for her death, even though there isn’t enough evidence to charge him. Webb leaves town, and Roanna is left to pick up the pieces.

All of her life, Roanna has tried to win the love of her grandmother, of Webb, and of her extended family – and every time she’s been slapped down. She’s had enough. Roanna withdraws from the family, and that’s when her grandmother, Lucinda, realizes how very important this misfit is to all of them. Lucinda tries to make amends to Roanna by setting in motion a chain of events that brings Webb back home. But the plan disturbs a killer who is set on vengeance – and this time, the whole family seems to be the target.

I hope you enjoy Shades of Twilight.

Sincerely,
Linda Howard

I actually dithered over whether or not to add this to my shame files, or if I should just be ashamed period. In any event it is available through OpenLibrary if you are interested, though the usual disclaimers apply.

This is a tough book for me to parse, and spoilers for this book will abound. It turns out that while the first sex scene and the heroes initial abhorrent behavior toward the heroine are what stick in my mind, that actually isn’t what bothers me most upon further inspection. Yes, the hero treats her awfully when they meet after 10 years, but he realizes his actions are awful (to an extent) and gives her the chance to back out. And yes, for the most part Roanna is a doormat. But frankly they aren’t really the problematic characters, nor are their actions what make this story somewhat objectionable.

That family, they are freaking awful. We have basically all the adults treating Roanna awful, talking about how they don’t care to have her around. They don’t really love her or care for her, and they let her older cousin treat her abysmally. They spoil and cosset Jessie to ridiculous levels to the point that she becomes such a sociopath that she actually starts sleeping with her own father (who is unknown to them), and when she gets pregnant she plans to pass the baby off as Webb’s. This leads to the matriarch of the family bashing her brains in, and then letting first Roanna and then Webb be accused of the crime. Not only that, they don’t pay attention or show much real care to anyone beside themselves. They don’t note when their family members are drug addicts or collapsing. They basically let Roanna starve to death before finally noticing her, and it appears no one gets her any therapy or help. And later with another cousin Corliss, they let her grow up just that spoiled too and don’t even really notice that she has a substance abuse problem and is spiraling out of control. And when she upsets them instead of getting her help they just boot her out of the house. She is painted as wholly a villain when really she is a product of that toxic family. And then, when the truth comes out about the fact that the matriarch killed Jessie, it is all forgiveness. Seriously, an awful family.

So why do I even like this book? Well, honestly, I kind of like Roanna, strange as it might be to say. She gets a bad rap from reviewers for being such a doormat, which from a certain perspective might be true. But I think there are a lot of ways to be, and not everyone has to be a ball buster, or spunky, or a spitfire. And she works on herself and I don’t know, she just hunkers in when there are things she can’t change, which is I think where a lot of us are at in our lives. So it is kind of nice to see someone like that have her dreams come true. Now Webb, he isn’t one of those heroes I swoon over, he’s somewhat overbearing and autocratic, he doesn’t give the women in his life the information they need to protect themselves. But, once he gets over himself, he really is rather sweet in his head about Roanna, and to his credit he likes for Roanna to stick up for herself and buck him on things. And here is where it got me, the whole deal was that the matriarch would give him the inheritance, despite the fact that he wasn’t a direct line descendant, while Jessie and Roanna were. He marries Jessie for it even. It was the lure that the matriarch used to bring him back, even though Roanna had been heir in his stead during the 10 years he was gone. And he just gives it up, the land and the house and the money, he wants Roanna to have that power and security.

I don’t know, the two main characters work for me, and the rest of it is like a trainwreck of a soap opera and it keeps me entertained. This definitely isn’t a book for everyone, you’ve got father daughter incest, abuse, maybe not your most upstanding main characters, completely ignoring birth control, and accidental pregnancies. And oh, I almost forgot, but yes, cousins marrying…but I don’t know if it is geography but I just don’t have that big of a hang-up about 2nd cousins getting married. Down here it isn’t that uncommon for people to show up at big weddings and a couple to realize they are actually 2nd or 3rd cousins. So yeah, there is a lot to be bothered by in this book.

Shades Of Twilight

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3.5 star review, Miscellaneous

Review – The Lady Who Saw Too Much by Thomasine Rappold

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Cursed with prophetic visions and desperate to atone for a death she could have prevented, Gianna York swears she will never again ignore the chance to save a life. When she is hired by Landen Elmsworth to serve as companion to his sister, Gia repeatedly sees the image of her employer’s lifeless corpse floating in Misty Lake. As subsequent visions reveal more details, Gia soon realizes her best chance to save this difficult man is by becoming his wife.

At first, Landen Elmsworth believes the fetching Miss York might be right for a meaningless dalliance, but he grossly underestimates her capacity for cunning and soon finds himself bound until death to a woman he may never be able to trust. Yet in the dark of their bedroom they discover an undeniable passion–and a capacity to forge their own destiny . . .

I received an ARC of this book from the Publisher, via Netgalley, this does not affect my opinion of this book or the content of my review.

I previously read The Lady Who Lived Again on something of a whim, but found it interesting enough to go ahead and try the second in the series.

I can’t quite decide if I find the second one interesting enough to continue though. In these pages we have a clairvoyant heroine, a damaged and oblivious hero, a sister who is the epitome of wallflower, a brother who is a bit of a prat, a feisty domineering aunt, and a smarmy villain.

We start with a vision that leads to a marriage of inconvenience. Our main couple staggers along between mistrust and disbelief with very in the way of communication. They do however have a good bit of chemistry, and the mystery is engaging enough. It is just that I don’t like Gianna as much as I did Madeleine. I think the story was a bit better actually then the last one, but for me it is often more about characters. A character I really like will let me forgive much more in a story.

It is tough for me to rate this one. Compared to the previous story, I like the hero better, I like the mystery better, I like the supporting characters better, and I like the main characters as a couple better. You would think that would add up to me liking this story better, but somehow it doesn’t. And it isn’t that I dislike the heroine of this one, I just didn’t like her as much, and for me that makes all the difference somehow. I am giving it about the same rating, but for vastly different reasons.

We also get a nice little cameo from Madeleine and Jace and an indication the two heroines will become friends. I am still holding out hope somewhere-some when, Dolly gets her HEA, but she doesn’t feature in this story at all, so I will have to go on hoping.

The Lady Who Saw Too Much (The Sole Survivor Series)

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5 star review

OpenLibrary Review – Heart of Fire by Linda Howard

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A fabulous lost Amazon city once inhabited by women warriors and containing a rare red diamond: it sounded like myth, but archaeologist Jillian Sherwood believed it was real, and she was willing to put up with anything to find it — even Ben Lewis. Ruffian, knock-about, and number one river guide in Brazil, Ben was all man — over six feet of rock-hard muscles that rippled under his khakis, with lazy blue eyes that taunted her from his tanned face. Jillian watched him come to a fast boil when she refused to reveal their exact destination upriver in the uncharted rain forests — and resolved to stand her ground. Neither of them could foresee what the days ahead promised: an odyssey into the fiery heart of passion and betrayal, and a danger that would force them to cast their fates together, immersed in the eternal, unsolved mysteries of love….

River of Eden made me do it. I couldn’t not go back and read this after reading that. I’ve re-read this probably a ridiculous number of times. And besides being an old favorite, it goes into two special blog categories: Openlibrary (read legally for free-just get the pdf not the epub unless you like to play the bad OCR game) and Shame Files. As I said before, the Shame Files category isn’t really meant for being ashamed of reading it, but somehow I have lingering shame about recommending them. Maybe because I fear how others will judge me?

There really isn’t non-consent here, it is more that if I look at it objectively I think I SHOULD find Ben Lewis skeevy as hell, but I could just eat him up with chocolate sauce. And there is a problematical power differential with him leading the expedition and taking some advantage of his power in this situation. He’s certainly a character who is a product of his times, 1993 which is practically medieval in Romancelandia time lines. I mean he embodies so many of the traits that completely skeeve me out about old school womanizing alpha male heroes. Seriously, we first meet him when he’s drinking and setting up a rendezvous with his evening entertainment. And despite that, when he first meets out heroine he comes on to her and is ridiculously dismissive of her as a human being. And as they travel together he is pushy, and touchy, and lies about their relationship to the others in their party. Just a big old skeeveball.

But he is also a hard worker, he is smart and crafty, and very protective-and once they get going he really isn’t dismissive of Jillian’s skills at all. It doesn’t take him very long to start seeing her as a capable person. And when the shit hits the fan, his eyes really get opened to how he sees her.

For Jillian’s part, she’s smart, a real fire-brand, and she takes no shit off Ben. She’s also sneaky and sarcastic and perfectly willing to let Ben lead himself into muddy waters. Their banter is hilarious because Ben keeps making assumptions. I like her. She isn’t perfect, she is single minded to the point of stupidity at times, but you get her reasons. And she has a very practical sort of attitude.

As for the story itself, it is straight up romantic suspense, no paranormal elements at all.

And when we get to the end, instead of Jillian changing for him, when she realizes that their goals don’t sync up, she straight up leaves him. She cuts her losses. And Ben, rather than trying to push, or cajole, or do something underhanded realizes that he wants her as she is more than he wants the other thing, and so he gives it up in a wonderfully extravagant romantic gesture. Jillian didn’t try to change him or ask him to change, she just drew her line in the sand and that was that. I can get behind that sort of relationship shake-up. And when you add this to the fact their relationship didn’t turn sexual until the group power dynamic was essentially resolved, well it gives me (personally, YMMV) a guilt free foray into dominant old skool alpha-hole that I can live with.

Justification? I don’t know. But it was the heroine and her actions and reactions that made it work for me. If she had been a mealy mouth doormat then I don’t think I would have been comfortable with it. In any event, if you are looking for some old skool type alpha-hole hero to dig into, this might be one to try.

Heart of Fire

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1.5 star review, Miscellaneous

June TBR Challenge 2016 – River of Eden by Glenna McReynolds, Tara Janzen

TBR Challenge 2016

Topic: Favorite Trope (a favorite theme – amnesia? secret baby? fairy tale? friends-to-lovers? etc.)

River of Eden

A LOST WORLD
In the heart of the rain forest lies a prize Dr. Annie Parrish is willing to risk her life for, an extraordinary orchid known to the Indians as “The Messenger.” With her resources dwindling and time running out, only one man comes cheap enough and is skilled enough to take her deeper into the savage reaches of the Great Green Hell known as the Amazon.

A ROGUE SCIENTIST
William Sanchez Travers has macaw feathers tied in his hair, a week’s worth of beard, and a shaman’s crystal hanging around his neck, convincing Annie that even the wildest stories she’s heard about him don’t tell the tale. A Harvard-trained botanist, the once world-renowned professor lost his reputation – and some say his mind – when he vanished from his camp on the Rio Cauaburi and disappeared for a year in the forest. Now he’s back, in a seedy waterfront bar with a beer in his hand and a mulatto woman doing the lambada on his lap – and against every ounce of common sense she has, Annie’s about to make him a deal.

ONCE THEIR JOURNEY BEGINS, THERE’S NO TURNING BACK
The last thing Will needs is a woman whose secrets run as deep and dark as his own. A renegade in her own right, the legendary Amazon Annie is a magnet for trouble – and he’s already got plenty. He’s out to destroy a devil named Corisco Vargas, before the twisted army major can unleash his nightmarish forces on the whole of the Amazon. Trapped between a shaman’s mystical visions and the violence of the real world, their journey quickly becomes one of desperate danger. But which force will rule their fate – justice, vengeance, or a power as potent and seductive as the Amazon itself?

OK, so I like the academic vs wild man trope. It probably comes from my early obsession with Sean Connery in Medicine Man and was honed by Linda Howard’s Heart of Fire (which I think I am going to have to go back and re-read now). And I am not entirely sure how it first came to my attention, but I slapped it on my Amazon wish list, and ran it through ereaderiq, and when it popped up for free I snatched, and it has languished on Mt. TBR of Doom since….01/30/2015, which granted isn’t as much as I am sure some books have been on, but still, pretty disheartening. Where does the time go?

Anyway, this one could also have gone for the >10 years challenge as it was originally published in 2002, but I was drawing a blank when it comes to a favorite trope, I don’t think I really  have one. In any event,this was published almost a decade after Howard’s version, though you might not have known it from the casual use of the term mulatto and the misogynistic way Will thinks of and speaks to Annie. In that manner it felt very old skool 80’s.

The book is weird though. There is a surprising paranormal element full of mystical Amazon rain forest mumbo jumbo. I wasn’t expecting it to be honest. And while I do enjoy a good paranormal, it felt off here.

Will and Annie though have plenty of adventure, and danger, and chemistry. And despite the oddball paranormal elements and some significant pacing issues, I was rocking along with it until something I find skeevy, the hero had sex with a not really awake heroine. Blergh, I am not a fan. And to add insult to injury there isn’t a  bit of thought to pregnancy or birth control. A cardinal sin in my eyes.

As far as the plot itself, it was initially meh, rollicking adventure on the amazon, a villain or two to beat, and the hero and heroine butting heads. There were some early plot holes that I was initially willing to accept, but by the time the last chapters had come around those holes were plot craters and the ending was a lopped off, dues ex machina, no explanation, no relationship after-care, basic mess. It was like the author didn’t know how to resolve the action or develop the happily ever after so some awkwardness was tacked on to give some facsimile of an ending.

I don’t know how better to explain it. This just didn’t work for me. The characters grated, the story dragged when it wasn’t dumping you in plot holes, there were cardinal sins, and it didn’t resolve into anything that left me feeling happy or satisfied. I hate to just eviscerate something, but this I can’t really scrape up enough good to balance it out. I was giving it a solid 3-3.5 until about halfway, and then it dropped like a stone.

River of Eden

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