Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Quick Reads and Quick Reviews

This was a cute story that was an enjoyable way to pass the time. Ash was self-absorbed yet still very sweet, he just didn't know what he had until he tried to push his own ideas of performance onto Emma. Emma had already been hurt by the loss of her sport, but maybe, just maybe, she could find the courage to let Ash see just how much more he could have with her as more than his best friend. As they both navigated their present with eyes on two seemingly opposed futures they found something deeper than they thought possible. Ash's revelation of Emma versus girls on the road was so sweet and a bit surprising for what I expected him to be. Emma was more fragile than I expected but far more mature...until she started with the avoidance, then I was a bit less impressed. Her solo time on the slopes made me proud though. Both Ash and Emma did their soul searching and healed themselves in a way that made them coming together much better. How it all played out was simple and yet still cute to follow. 3.5 stars.

There was a lot of sweetness at the end that almost made up for the melodramatic ups and downs of the relationship featured in this story. Lizzie is forever running from Trent and their past, never truly able to heal and move on. Trent is forever burying himself in his work to escape Lizzie, their past, and the trauma of his own upbringing. Together they could either find heaven or hell, and the road they take to find their end is fraught with emotional crises. Overall, this is a good book, interesting, contains small amounts of tenderness, a lot of denied chemistry, repeating history, and healing. I could have done without all the immaturity and martyr mindset, but that was not only something intrinsic to each character, but also to their relationship. Without that I'm not sure there would have been any real conflict that could bridge the gap and give the romance a second chance. Still a good read though.  3.5 stars.

I was surprised by how this book turned out.  There was a lot of steam and chemistry and more than enough drama that should have left a sour taste for me, yet the hope and healing that happened near the end was good.

Seeing Halston grow up, grow into the woman she was always meant to become was gratifying. Watching Ford become more bitter and dismissive as time passed was disappointing but from his perspective, totally predictable. The way they came together was a bit unexpected and I was glad for the confessions and realizations that opened the door to tenderness, understanding, and a very bright future. I would have liked more in the way of descriptive resolution instead of a feeling that with a single conversation the pain of the past was gone. The healing and the ending felt rushed and glossed over when so much drama and heartache got chapter after chapter.

Overall I liked the book more for the ending and the tenderness that was there in the end as well as the honesty that was in the beginning before things fell apart. Things came full circle romantically and ended on a note of hope, love, and rightness that was well worth the frustration.  3.5 stars.

Shelter for Sophie, Susan Stoker

I really, really enjoyed this book. Having seemingly imperfect women that had such amazing strength and inner goodness was wonderful and also different. Not because there aren't other books with great, strong women, but because those women are either attractive with humility or attractive without any neuroses or imperfections beyond vulnerability and/or sass. Sophie, Quinn, Beth, Adeline...these women and more in this series are truly human, truly remarkable. They steal the show and have so much to offer. I'm a huge fan.

This is the first book I've read, not just of this series, but from this author. I'm in. I've signed up to be a reader for her because I can't get enough of these stories and am too impatient to wait for the released version.

On to the actual book review...

The mysticism aspect here was sometimes laid on quite thick and seemed a little contrived. Not that it wasn't accurate, I actually wouldn't know if it was or wasn't, but those moments were a bit awkward. That only happened a couple times, like the sudden realization of the need for the Enemy Way ceremony. I get it and the actual ceremony and the after part were great, it was just the explanation part that got a little awkward for me as a reader. Aside from that and one other moment, I was happy to have a huge, essential part of such a vibrant culture included. The way that it was an integral part of Chief is believable and heartfelt. I could honestly see a man like Chief both loving his heritage and becoming who he was as a result of it for both good and bad.
Chief as a man was solid, dependable, spiritual, and loyal. I liked him very much. His initial misunderstanding and then his determined and patient way of wooing Sophie was sweet and built up a lot of anticipation for the deepening of their intimacy. Their interactions were honest and sweet. Overall, it was a good match with his respect and reverence for human frailty and her spunk, tenacity, and inherent goodness.

Because of how tame it was in the passion department, I was perpetually surprised by the instances of cussing and dirty talking. I see nothing wrong with either thing, I was just taken aback every time it happened because I was never really expecting it. The tone of the book didn't just straddle the line between being suited for sweet or erotic, it was kind of schizophrenic about it. I would have liked it to be one or the other or a bit closer to both sides to switch between instead of shift from one extreme to the other. I'm not sure if this is just the author's style or something that other readers didn't see as an issue, but for me it was noticeable and a bit jarring. Other than that, I was glad that someone so sweet could also be very willing to be completely real and raw in her language and enjoyment of sexuality.

The dramatic stuff and the villain weren't really one in the same. The biggest drama came from the Navajo understandings of interlopers and spiritual interference in good things. Second to that was the drama with the hospital and arsonist. Having both of those things try to endanger both Sophie and the romance was interesting and kept the book from being too formulaic.

Overall, this was a really great book and I'm totally looking forward to the rest of the series. I happily read and reviewed this ARC for the author via thatbookrocks.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Fighter, Carol Lynne

Fighter: (A Gay Romance) (The Brick Yard Book 1) by [Lynne, Carol]
This was tumultuous to say the least.  So many highs and lows that I wasn't sure how to feel about it when I finished reading the book.  I knew I liked it, but how much?  Not exactly sure.  One thing is clear, however, and that's that I'm still thinking about the book.  That by itself says that it's not just a good book, but that it's moving as well.  There are so few light and happy moments that it's difficult to praise with happier feeling words but words like heartfelt, captivating, and great still apply.  This truly was all of those things as well as being dark, painful, heartrending, and cruel.  I'm invested.

Lucky is so terribly damaged by a mother so evil that I don't have words to describe just how cruel and horrible she is.  At one point in the story I find myself hoping that Lucky can find healing through forgiving her until she shows her true self when Dray finds her for answers.  Nope, there will be no redemption for that woman.  Unfortunately, Lucky is in the position of having to bear the weight of his past and her sins all on his own shoulders.  He's absolutely sure that he's not worth loving or fighting for.  Fighting comes easily though.  Not for his self-worth, his pride, to find acceptance among strangers, or even for freedom, no, Lucky fights because that's the only place he can relate to himself.  It's clear, though, that he doesn't really know who he's supposed to be because no one has shown him what he could be, only what he can do in terms of the cage.  So how is he supposed to figure it out when the people who see him and see his potential only see what he can do for the sport?  When does the sport become a cage in itself?

Dray is very familiar with cages.  He hides is sexuality because he knows no one will respect or embrace a gay fighter.  So when he's outed by someone he thought he could trust, he runs.  But not before leaving some parting advice to a young Lucky.  That advice does more harm than good when Lucky takes it to heart.  To bury a fundamental part of yourself because fighting is more important than being proud of who you are.  So when Dray drops that nugget of stupidity on him and then bolts it's a long time before Dray can see just what he did to compound Lucky's difficulties.

Brick is a solid man, a gruff, crotchety man with the most tender heart.  His heart isn't really something you notice until you see that he wasn't investing in fighters, he was investing in humanity.  In caring for something and someone beyond your own self.  When he becomes ill and Lucky needs help, they call on Dray to help out.  While everyone struggles with Brick's illness they all  find out just who he is and what he's done for others throughout his life.  It also sheds light on possibilities for Dray and Lucky's future.

The relationship drama isn't exactly what I was expecting.  I thought maybe Vince would make an appearance, maybe someone from Lucky's past, and the synopsis hinting at Dray's penchant for running away, another unintentional outing...the list goes on.  What did happen was organic to the storyline and the difficulties written.  The pairing is good and there are some definitely steamy moments but the intimacy that was important wasn't the sex, it was more about the comfort, healing, closeness that Lucky was completely inexperienced with and that Dray had to teach him about.

The synopsis isn't inaccurate, but it is a bit misleading.  Well, a lot misleading because the major parts of the story really aren't mentioned in the lengthy blurb.  So I was a little surprised.  Good surprised?  Kind of, but how can you be happy about all the awful that is revealed?  Does the awful stuff that happens make this book depressing?  A little, I guess, but more because you see a darker side of humanity than you would typically encounter and with it comes the consequences of those actions and how individuals are affected and changed by it.  Overall, though, the book was gritty and dramatic and also sanguine because there was so much love and hope.  All the darker elements made the tenderness really shine through.

Thank you, NetGalley for this ARC which I most willingly read and reviewed.

Hung, Anne Marsh

This was actually a mistake.  I didn't mean to request to be a reviewer and I was hoping I wouldn't be selected by the author.  Well, I did and I wasn't very excited about it.  And then I read the book.  Aside from the many editing errors and the cheesiness and over-the-top mentions of male genitalia, I really, really liked this book.  It was funny, sweet, dramatic, and totally saucy.  Absolutely worth the short time it took to read.

Pick is unapologetic, huge, determined, and thrown for a loop by all that is Sara Jo.  Sara Jo is quirky, bold, sensual, and obviously hiding from someone.  There's all kinds of sparks between and around them and they quickly become more than just interested.  When the past catches up with Sara Jo her unlikely knight is willing and patient and, most importantly, he's on her side no matter what "authority" that past holds.

This was a really quick story with what could probably be more HEA than HFN because of the feelings near the end as well as the confessions and concessions, but there's no real mention of the future in concrete terms.  Pick was awesome, my favorite in the whole thing, and I did quite like Sara Jo so overall this was a good book.  Way more amusing and entertaining than I thought it would be.  The title is apt because of the appendage Pick wields, but I was concerned that it would read more like an adult film and have Sara Jo turn into a moody, vapid bimbo.  Thankfully that was not the case.  I was very happy to be surprised.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Quick reads and Quick Reviews, Part Deux

Adore Me Ardently (A Heron's Landing Christmas Novella) by [Morland, Iris]A super quick story full of sweetness. There was a bit of passion to hint at more than just mere attraction and the epilogue was absolutely sweet and gave the whole story a complete conclusion. The romance was a bit rushed and since it's a novella I expected a shortened romantic timeline, but this was still a bit too short for me. Without the epilogue I would have found the whole relationship a bit forced and unable to last beyond the drama and attraction died down, but Matt and the epilogue were the highlights of the story. I was so very glad for a tender hero who wasn't typically handsome and had so much more to offer than instant attraction and bedroom skills. Matt was humble, simple, real, and so very considerate. He was also strong and determined and very willing to love the flawed Holly. Holly was vulnerable and still intelligent enough to know that any connection, no matter how strong or how tenuous, is suspect when fleeing from a traumatic past. The way that they find each other is serendipitous and the evolution of the couple was heartwarming.  4 stars.

The Dryad by [Silva, Dante, Mozes, Vanessa]This was a very interesting beginning to what seems a very interesting story.  We have Julian, a misfit in his own home and who adores his mother and her tales of her homeland.  She was a wanderer who had a gift for music.  In that regard, Julian is the same.  He loves the lyre that has been passed down for generations in his mother's family and tries to practice as often as he is able.  This is particularly difficult because his father is a farmer and is doing his best to have his sons follow in his footsteps.  The youngest of the three boys, Julian helps to support the family by doing odd jobs in their town.  Until one day he happens upon the dryad in her element.  What began as a stolen moment in the forest to play his music ended up as sparking an interest in the mysterious.  Julian and his dryad form a bond and he's drawn into magic and the unknown.  Ending on an open note, there's definite interest in how the story continues.  At least I hope it continues...  3 stars.

Invaluable (The Trident Code Book 2) by [Albertson, Alana]This was actually a pretty good story.  I was expecting something a bit like Triton since this is only the second book I've read by this author, but aside from being clearly the same writing style, I liked these characters much better and the story was much more interesting.  I like them despite getting a relatively shallow view of who they are.  Kyle is much more fleshed out than Sara but they seem to fit together well.  Especially with her strength and determination and focus throughout her horrible ordeal in the desert.  She kept her head and saved more than herself.  Overall this was a tumultuous, sexy, tender story that made me want to read more from the series.  3 stars.

Rock the Cradle, Aiden Bates

Rock the Cradle: An Mpreg Romance (Silver Oak Medical Center Book 6) by [Bates, Aiden]
I started off thinking that this would be one of the better of the series. I'd read a preview and was excited about these flawed, vulnerable, neurotic, heroic men. Then throughout the full story I found myself increasingly frustrated by nearly everyone. But all's well that ends well, yeah? The story ended with sweetness and hope and a bit more summary than I like, but it was a good ending for men who really needed happiness and love.

Derek was a quick thinker, a compassionate man, and very intelligent. He was also deeply flawed, intent on separating himself from everyone that could truly hold his heart. He didn't know to ask for more, would never let himself, so deludes himself into thinking he'll never be worthy of it and is determined to never ask. Circumstances put him in a situation where someone needs him for their care and well-being and, to his surprise, his complaining neighbor becomes a source of comfort.

Alex is stuffy, stuck up, focused, and so very alone. He's not aware of just how lonely he is until he finds himself yearning for Derek's companionship. His family life is in turmoil and his psyche is in need of some serious help. When he blows up at Derek one too many times he realizes that the time has come to seek outside help. Once he gets the aid he needs he's also given the shock of his life when someone from his past shows up on the doorstep...of his neighbor's place.

Together they ride an extreme roller coaster of emotion and neither one thinks the other wants more. In fact, they've convinced themselves of that and their avoidance is so extreme that their assumptions do an excellent job of killing what could be a happy future. The way they find their futures is incredibly frustrating.

I fought not to skim all the parts where people getting after Alex. Yes, he's a total jerk sometimes because he can't see his way past his own problems, but why in the world is there no one in his corner?! Let's beat him up, berate him, and guilt him so much that he's backed into a corner and only gets more defensive and upset so he makes even more mistakes and cringe-worthy outbursts.  Honestly, everyone talked about how alone Derek was and that he's the one most inconvenienced and hurt by everything that's going on and while I mostly agree, I get so mad that no one can see that for all Alex is surrounded by "family", he's more alone than Derek.  No one, not even his mostly understanding mother, builds him up and makes him see that he's a good man without doing and sacrificing for every single person around him.  And after the initial meeting with the therapist, where are the ongoing visits he knows he should be having?  No support, no understanding, no confessions of love and hopes for him.  I'm almost disgusted at everyone making Alex out to be the one who's always wrong, always having to fix everything.  After Ayla left he got blamed for the whole thing as a 13 year old...anyone want to be kind about that altering how he saw and did things?  Derek had an incredibly difficult upbringing.  Damaging, to say the least, and everyone gives him all the patience and love in the world.  Absolutely necessary, yes, I'm just saying that I feel so much for Alex and wonder why no one else does.  Ugh...I can't really rant anymore without giving away big spoilers, so I'll leave it there.

Overall, this was frustrating and hopeful in equal measure.  The beginning and the end tried valiantly to make up for the ridiculously frustrating middle.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Guarding Her, Lexi Whitlow

Guarding Her, [Whitlow, Lexi]

2.5 rounded up. Meh...Maddox is the star, Avery is blech. The steam is great, the romance felt unbalanced and lopsided.

I really loved Maddox. He was sweet, tender, strong, and committed to doing the best he can with what he was given. He doubts himself and what he has to offer. He goes all in with a girl he loved and is willing to protect her from everything she's trying to escape, even at his own peril. And then there's the bonus that he's smokin' hot. There was so much for him to offer even though he isn't sure he's worth it. He does know, however, that once he makes a decision, there's no stopping his determination to see it through. He worries for Avery and knows the part of her that she tries so hard to hide and sees her as worth so much more than she gives herself credit. When things get really rough he calls on the people he knows he can count on, even though their companionship was forced on him in the beginning, he did what he does best and turned straw into gold. He's the ultimate knight in tarnished armor, the one you really want in your corner and in your heart.

And then there's Avery. I didn't like her. There's a line between being feisty and just being a bitch. She crosses that line all the time. So what, a guy left with no word, you've got crappy parents, and your life is planned out for you...yes, those things are all terrible by themselves and even worse when piled on top of each other, but when push comes to shove, she just rolls and then has temper tantrums. Doing something to spite your hateful mother would be different if you were doing it for another, more genuine reason rather than just to piss her off. She chose her major and is excelling with it, awesome! But then when she chooses to follow her mother's demands for Maddox' sake, she goes against everything she says she believes in. That doesn't read as love and self-sacrifice, it reads like a whiny martyr who really had no true convictions in the first place. I saw no moment where she really grew up, she just realized that the world was a lot bigger than her problems. She didn't try to make changes, she just chose the easier road. No, her mom wasn't the easiest, it was just the easier of the two options she saw. No trying to think outside the box or be honest with Maddox, no using the intelligence Maddox praises, no using her own resources, contacts, and convictions to see other possibilities, just giving in in the name of love. But love is more than that.

But enough ranting...

The book was fine and Maddox was really the star of the whole show. Avery was okay, but her redeeming quality was really Maddox. Ella is a great friend to have and she's honest, sure of herself, and asks the hard questions. The villainous parents are suitably awful, and Salvatore is like the best friend and surrogate parent you could ever find. We read about Bebe peripherally and she even becomes a namesake later, but we don't actually meet her so I guess she's as great as everyone says. Overall, we have a relatively quick read with a really hot hero. And that was my takeaway.

Read and willingly reviewed an ARC from Hidden Gems.