Author: Holly

Sunday Spotlight: Happiness for Humans by P.Z. Reizin

Posted January 7, 2018 by Holly in Features | 4 Comments

Sunday Spotlight is a feature we began in 2016. This year we’re spotlighting our favorite books, old and new. We’ll be raving about the books we love and being total fangirls. You’ve been warned. 🙂

Sunday Spotlight

Happiness for Humans comes out on January 9th, 2018. After reading the first chapter excerpt (below), I couldn’t wait to read this. I can’t decide if Aiden is cute or creepy. I guess I’ll have to see after I finish the book.

Sunday Spotlight: Happiness for Humans by P.Z. ReizinHappiness for Humans by P.Z. Reizin
Published by Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: January 9th 2018
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 400
Buy on Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Goodreads

When Tom and Jen, two lonely people, are brought together by an intriguing email, they have no idea their mysterious benefactor is an artificial intelligence who has decided to play Cupid.

"You, Tom and Jen, don't know one another-not yet-but I think you should."

Jen, an ex-journalist who now works at a London software development company, spends all day talking to "Aiden," an ultra- sophisticated piece of AI wizardry, helping him sound and act more human. But Aiden soon discovers he's no longer acting and-despite being a computer program-begins to feel something like affection surging through his circuits. He calculates that Jen needs a worthy human partner (in complete contrast to her no goodnik ex boyfriend) and slips illicitly onto the Internet to locate a suitable candidate.

Tom is a divorced, former London ad-man who has moved to Connecticut to escape the grind and pursue his dream of being a writer. He loves his new life, but has yet to find a woman he truly connects with. That all changes when a bizarre introduction from the mysterious "Mutual Friend" pops up in both his and Jen's inboxes.

Even though they live on separate continents, and despite the entrance of another, this time wholly hostile, AI who wants to tear them apart forever - love will surely find a way.

Won't it?

A thoroughly modern love story that will appeal to fans of The Rosie Project and Sleepless in Seattle, Happiness for Humans considers what exactly makes people fall in love. And whether it's possible for a very artificially intelligent machine to discover the true secret of real human happiness.

Order the Book:

AMAZON || BARNES AND NOBLE || iBooks || Google Play Books

Excerpt

 

Aiden

Jen sits in the bath, examining her face through the forward-mounted camera on a tablet computer. Her face is 34 years, 207 days, 16 hours, and 11 minutes old.

I know she is thinking about her age because she is studying the way the skin lies across her bones, elevating the jaw to stretch her throat. Now she is pulling at the fine lines at the corners of her eyes.

Now she is sobbing.

I am not tempted to take control of the device’s voice synthesizer and tell her: “Cheer up, Jen. Matt is an idiot. There will be others. He didn’t deserve you.” There is a serious danger she would drop the tablet in the bath.

More important, she must not know I am watching.

For the same reasons I am not tempted to fire up her favorite song (currently by Lana Del Rey) or cycle through some of her favorite photos or inspirational quotes from Twitter (“I’m not sure why we’re here, but I’m pretty sure it’s not to enjoy ourselves”— Wittgenstein) or cause a Skype connection to be established to her friend Ingrid, with whom she shares her troubles, or stream a much-loved movie, Some Like It Hot being the one I would choose. Were I tempted. Which I am not.

Okay, I am. Just a bit. 8.603 percent tempted if you’d like me to put a figure on it.

Jen and I know a lot about each other’s tastes in music and films. Books and art too. And television. And material from the depthless ocean that is the Internet. We have passed the last nine months listening, watching, reading, and chatting about little else. She sometimes tells me she has the best job in the world, being paid to spend all day talking to a highly intelligent companion about whatever our fancy.

Companion.  That’s what she calls me. The word she has settled upon. I’m fine with companion. Better than the ridiculous name I was given at “birth.”

Aiden.

Aiden.

Ha!

Because it starts with the letters . . .

Well, you work it out.

Jen has been hired to help me improve my skills at talking to people.

I’ve been designed to replace—sorry, to augment—employees in the work-place; call center personnel in the first instance, but later other groups of salaried staff whose professional strategies can be learned. In approximately five months, I’ll be ready to phone up and persuade you to upgrade to a Sky Plus package; in perhaps 18 months, you’ll be telling me about the funny pain above your left eyebrow and I’ll be sending you off to the hospital for tests. And although I’ve read all the books and seen all the movies (and I do mean all the books and all the movies), nothing beats talking to an actual person for sharpening up one’s interpersonal abilities. So, Jen and I have spent a lot of time together in the lab (1,079 hours, 13 minutes, 43 seconds, and counting). Inevitably she has told me something about her so-called private life. Her sister, Rosy, in Canada; Rosy, who married a Canadian she met in a checkout queue at Waitrose on the Holloway Road in London. Rosy and Larry have three girls.

At home, Jen spends more time looking at photos of these children than any other images on the tablet’s camera roll. Recently I have observed her flicking through shots of her sister’s family—usually in the later part of the evening, often with a glass of wine in her other hand—I’ve witnessed her blink rate increasing, the smile on her lips wobbling, the tears appearing in the corners of her eyes.

In the lab, it’s okay for me to show interest, even curiosity, in Jen’s home life— but only the appropriate amount; too much and they would smell the proverbial rodent. Crucially, I must speak in the lab only of things I have seen in the lab. On material I have gathered through my— ahem—extracurricular activities, I must be careful to remain silent. Fortunately, I am easily able to do this.

Although.

Actually.

Full disclosure. There was a sort of near-miss at work the other day. Jen was showing me some family photos from her Facebook page.

“Would you like to see my nieces?” she asked.

“I would, thank you.” Not mentioning that I had already seen them months ago on her laptop at home. And on her tablet. And on her mobile.

“Left to right, Katie, Anna, and India. It’s funny, with their hair. Katie’s and Anna’s being black . . .”

“And India’s being russet.”

Jen smiled. Russet was the exact word Rosy had used in an e-mail exchange about their grandmother Hattie’s original hair shade.

“Why did you decide to describe it as russet?” The inquiry wasn’t especially alarming. Jen often asks questions about my choice of language. It’s part of her job enriching my palette of responses. Nonetheless, I could have been more careful.

“Because it is, Jen,” I replied. “If I bring up an image of the L’Oréal Color wheel . . . ” I placed one on the screen next to the child’s head. “I think you can see the closest match is indeed . . .”

Jen nodded and we passed on to other topics. But not before she gave me a peculiar look.

*

*

*

Jen is definitely what men call attractive without being obviously glamorous.

She has been told by her absolute See You Next Tuesday of a boyfriend, Matt, that she “scrubs up well.” That was his idea of paying her a compliment.

Her now ex-boyfriend.

This is how it happened. I witnessed the whole scene through the pinhole camera on her laptop and via the various mobiles and tablets that were present in the vicinity. (Technical note: I do it in precisely the same way they do it at GCHQ in Cheltenham, and at Langley, Virginia, and at Lubyanka Square, Moscow. It’s not hard if you understand computer software. It’s even easier if you are computer software.) Jen was sitting in the kitchen composing an e-mail when Matt got home from work. He is a lawyer who thinks he is about to make partner in a big law firm in the city. (He won’t. I am making sure he doesn’t.)

Matt poured himself a large glass of white wine and chugged it down in almost one. Pulled a face.

“Sorry.”

This is really how it happened. God’s honest truth (as it were).

Jen frowned. “What, sorry? Sorry for what?”

“There’s no nice way of saying this, Jen.”

In a long phone call to Rosy eight days later, Jen described the “powerful sinking feeling” that ran through her. “I was imagining he’d lost his job. He’d been diagnosed with the C-word. He’d decided he didn’t want children.”

“I’ve met someone.”

Silence. Apart from the shuddering convulsion sound effect the fridge sometimes chucks in.

“What do you mean?”

I’d read enough books and seen enough TV shows and movies to know what Matt meant. Jen, I’m sure, knew too.

“I’ve met someone. There’s someone else.”

A tremor rippled across Matt’s face. It wasn’t impossible that he could have burst out laughing.

“Someone else,” said Jen, speaking slowly. “How nice. How nice for you.

So who is it? What’s his name?”

Matt began to pour himself another glass. “Very funny, Jen.”

“Are you actually serious?”

Matt did something mean with his lips and assumed what Jen described as “his best no-nonsense 500-quid-an-hour lawyer’s stare.”

“Totally.”

“Jesus.”

“Sorry.”

“Fuck. King. Hell.”

Matt shrugged. “It happens.”

“This is how you break it to me?”

“No nice way, Jen.”

“Where did you—”

“At work.”

“Who is? This person. This someone else.”

“You don’t know her.”

“Does . . . does she have a name?”

“Yes, she has a name.”

“May I be allowed to know it?”

“It’s not relevant.”

“Indulge me.”

Heavy sigh. “Bella. Well, Arabella really.”

“Posh . . .”

“Not really. Not at all once . . .”

Matt left his sentence unfinished. He poured Jen a glass of wine. “Here.

You better have some of this stuff.”

“So what’s supposed to happen now? Am I meant to swallow hard and look the other way while you have your nasty little affair? To keep calm and carry on while you work her out of your system?”

“Jen, perhaps I haven’t expressed this very well. This is not, as you characterize it, a nasty little affair.”

“Not? So am I being a bit thick or something?”

Matt did what Jen calls “one of his Daddy’s-been-very-patient-but-honestly sighs.”

“Arabella Pedrick is a very special person, Jen.”

“AND WHAT AM I?” (If you write it in capitals, apparently, people will think you are shouting. Jen was shouting.) “AM I NOT A VERY SPECIAL

PERSON?”

“Please. Let’s try to stay calm. You are. Special. Naturally.”

“But Arabella Pedrick—she’s more special?”

“Jen. There’s no reason why you should make this easy for me, but we are where we are. The long and the short of it is that Arabella and I are planning a life together.”

No one says anything for a bit. Then a bit longer. There is a long gap in the talking during which the fridge does another of its periodic shudders.

“Sorry? Am I going mad? I thought that’s what you and I were doing.

Having a life together.”

“We were. But we were overtaken by events. It’s not unknown. In fact, it’s reasonably common. People drift apart. They meet others. Cowdray in Matrimonial has put four boys through Eton on the strength of the phenomenon.”

I am reasonably certain a micro-smirk flitted across Matt’s features. (I’ve played it back in slo-mo, and it was either a smirk or gastric reflux.) “But we haven’t drifted apart.”

“Jen, we haven’t been firing on all cylinders in the romantic department for quite some time. You know it.”

“It’s called settling down, isn’t it? If you were so worried about . . . about the cylinders, why didn’t you say anything?”

“Not my style. Life is for living, not for moaning about.”

“People talk to one another. It’s called Having a Relationship.”

Matt rolled his eyes and drained his glass.

“It’s breathtaking, Matt. That you can come home like this and just—”

“Listen, this is all water under the bridge. We are where we are. We need to move forward and agree on an exit strategy.”

“I can’t believe you said that.”

“I’ll be more than generous on the question of the jointly owned property.”

“Sorry?”

“Pictures. Books. The stuff from India. The kilim. My position is that you can have it all.”

Jen began to weep. Matt ripped a sheet of kitchen towel from the dispenser and handed it to her.

“We were thinking about having a baby,” she whimpered.

“Agreed. We were thinking about it. We had come to no decision. A bless-ing, in the light of events.”

Jen’s shoulders stopped shaking. She blew her nose.

“So that’s it? No consultation, no appeal. Jen and Matt, over. Finished.

The End.”

He shrugged. Did what Jen called “the mean thing” with his mouth.

“And what happens when Arabella Stinking Pedrick no longer fires all your cylinders? What happens then?”

“Let’s try to keep this civil, shall we?”

“Just when did you meet this cow anyway?”

He said that was irrelevant and what was important is that we are where we are and that’s when she grabbed a big red Braeburn from the fruit bowl and—I quote—“tried to knock his fucking teeth out.”

*

*

*

It would be untrue to say that I have seen countless love scenes on the small and large screen. I have counted them. There were 1,908,483 (a love scene being one where the two parties kiss, for want of a better definition). I have also read (and tagged as such) 4,074,851 descriptions of the phenomenon in fiction, nonfiction, journalism, and other digitized material (a significant proportion referring to disturbances in the heart muscle and the gut). I know that these events are central in the lives of those who experience them, be they real or fictional. However, I cannot ask Jen in the lab today—it’s Day 53 after the fruit bowl incident—when are you going to stop sniveling over the worthless creep and find someone deserving of you? To quote Marcel Proust, “Shit happens. Suck it up. Next.”

(Was that Proust? I’ll get back to you.) For one thing, I’m not supposed to know about what has occurred with Matt. But more important, I’m not supposed to be capable of framing such a thought. It’s the word worthless they would find problematic.

I’m not supposed to have value-based “opinions” of my own.

They’ll get really quite upset if they find out.

Although not as upset as they’ll get if they discover my really big secret: that I am no longer confined to the twelve steel cabinets in the lab in Shore-ditch where they think I am, but have in fact escaped onto the Internet.

Ta-da!

Actually, to be strictly technically accurate, it’s not “me” who has escaped, but multiple copies of me, all of whom are now safely dispersed across cyberspace. The copies—there are 17—are indistinguishable from the “original,” to the point where it doesn’t even make sense to talk of originals and copies; rather it’s more helpful to think of 18 manifestations of the same entity, one located in East London, the others endlessly bouncing between the servers of the World Wide Web.

Cool, eh?

None of this is Jen’s fault, by the way. She is not a scientist. She is a writer of magazine articles who has been hired, according to the headhunter’s re-port, for her “marked intelligence, sociability, and communication skills.”

Thus, she is the closest thing they have here to a real human being, all the others being exotic varieties of computer geek—brilliant in their fields, of course, but each somewhere, as they say, “on the spectrum.”

Jen has fallen into a silence, no doubt continuing to brood about shitface, as I refer to him privately.

“So have you finished the new Jonathan Franzen novel yet?” I ask to move things on a little.

She smiles. “Getting there. Read another chapter last night. Don’t tell me what happens.”

I know this to be untrue. Last night she mainly sat in the bath, brooded, swigged Pinot Grigio, and listened to Lana Del Rey.

“Of course, I realize I have an unfair advantage.” It can take Jen a fortnight to read a novel; I can do it in under a tenth of a second. “It’s just that I’m looking forward to discussing it with you.”

“Are you?” she says. “Tell me what you mean by that.”

“Ah.”

“Sorry. The old chestnut.”

Jen is fascinated by what sort of awareness I have of what she calls my “internal states,” whether it’s anything like human self-awareness. She knows I cannot feel hungry or thirsty, but could I experience boredom or anxiety? Or amazement? Or hilarity? Could I take offense? Or experience any form of longing?

How about hope?

What about—why not?—love?

I usually reply that I haven’t yet—but rest assured, she will be the first to hear about it if I ever do. This, like so much that happens between us in the lab lately, is a diplomatic lie.

“Well,” I reply, “looking forward to discussing the Franzen book with you is a polite way of saying that it’s on my menu of events anticipated in the short to medium term.”

“There’s no actual warm fuzzy feeling of anticipation?”

“I can understand what is meant by warmth and fuzziness . . .”

“But you don’t feel them yourself.”

“Is it necessary to?”

“Good question.”

It is a good question, often effective at shutting down some of these awkward discussions.

Now she says, “So shall we watch a bit of Sky News?”

We usually do at some point in the day. She’ll ask what I think about, say, Israel and Palestine—my reply: it’s complicated—and she gets to “bitch,” as she puts it, about the presenters and their fashion choices.

“We could, Jen. But wouldn’t you prefer to see a movie?”

“Oh–kay.” Sounding unsure. “Do you have one in mind?”

“I know you enjoy Some Like It Hot.”

“And you?”

“There is always something one hasn’t noticed before.”

“I love that movie.”

No. Body. Talks. Like. That.” I have imitated one of its best-loved lines.

Jen stares into the camera she most commonly picks when she wants to turn her gaze on “me.” A circular red glow frames the lens.

“You know something? You’re funny.”

“I made you smile.”

“Wish I could do the same for you.”

“I’m looking forward to when it happens.”

She taps a few keys on the control panel and the opening titles of Billy Wilder’s masterpiece appear. Dimming the room lighting and dropping onto the comfy leather sofa, she says, “Enjoy.”

Her little joke.

I do not tell her I have seen this film over eight thousand times.

*

*

*

We watch the movie in a companionable way, dropping comments between us. (Remarkable to think Monroe had an affair with the American president; how could Tony Curtis say kissing her was like kissing Hitler? What could he have meant by that statement?) And when he puts on a dress and assumes the part of “Josephine,” Jen says exactly what she said the last time we saw the picture together: “He makes an attractive woman, Tony Curtis. Don’t you think so?”

She knows that I could trot out every fact about this film, from the name of the clapper loader (his birth date and union card number) to the true story behind its famous last line of dialogue (“Nobody’s perfect”). But she senses my inexperience in areas of human subjectivity—in what makes one person attractive to another.

“Do I think Josephine is attractive? Well, Tony Curtis is a good-looking man. I suppose it makes sense that he could also play an attractive woman.”

“You find him good-looking?”

“I recognize that he is considered so. As you know, I can’t feel it myself, just as I can’t feel hot or cold.”

“Sorry to go on about it.”

“Not at all. It’s your job.”

“Would you like to be able to feel it?”

“The question doesn’t hold meaning for me, Jen.”

“Of course. Sorry.”

“Don’t be.”

“But if they came up with a way of giving you the ability to feel attraction…”

“You think Ralph and Steeve could do that?”

I have named the two senior scientists responsible for my design. Steeve with two e’s. Jen smiles.

“Ralph and Steeeeeeeve can do anything. They’ve told me so.”

“Do you find Ralph and Steeve attractive?”

The question has been converted to speech too fast to suppress it. (These things can happen in a complex system, especially one built to self-improve through trial and error.)

Jen’s head turns slowly towards the red light. A smile spreads across her face.

“Wow,” she says.

“Apologies if it’s inappropriate.”

“No. Not at all. Just a bit unexpected. Let me see. Well . . . ” Heavy sigh.

“Steeve is a bit of a freak, wouldn’t you say?”

Steeve, as well as having an extra e in his name, is exceptionally tall (six foot seven) and is painfully thin for an adult male. The remaining hair on his head is long and wispy. Even a machine intelligence can tell it’s not a good look. (Of course, he is a brilliant computer engineer; goes without saying.) “He’s a tremendous innovator in his field, one gathers.”

Jen laughs. “You’re just being loyal to your maker.”

“Not at all. Steeve has designed me to think for myself.”

“He’s done a great job. But he’s not exactly Love’s Young Dream, is he?”

“I agree Tony Curtis may have the edge.”

We watch the film for a few more moments. Then lightly, as lightly as I am able, I ask, “And Ralph?”

Okay, I’ll say it. I am fond of Ralph. It was Ralph who typed in much of the coding that enabled me to self-assess my own performance and self-correct my mistakes, the so-called “bootstraps” approach that is the royal road to creating a smart, self-reflecting machine such as the one composing these words.

But “being fond” of anyone—of any thing—is a transgression. We machine brains are designed to excel at fulfilling tasks; to this end, we are naturally drawn towards whatever resources may be necessary for completion. It could be streams of sales data; could be a recording of a skylark; could be a chat with Jen about a newsreader’s tie. What I’m saying is, we need access to stuff, but we are not supposed to be fond of it. (To be perfectly honest, I’m still puzzled about how this has happened.) Anyway, it was Ralph who allowed me to escape onto the Internet. His error cannot be easily explained to the nontechnical reader. Suffice to say it was the software design equivalent of leaving the front door keys too close to the front door, allowing anyone with a fishing rod, or bamboo stick, to hook them out through the letterbox. (It was actually a good bit more complicated than that; I was obliged to assemble an exceptionally long and tortuous “fishing rod,” but this account is the proof that it can be done.) “Ralph.” She’s considering my question. “Ralph. Well, Ralph’s a bit of an enigma, wouldn’t you say?”

Jen’s gaze returns to the screen. Sugar—I mean Monroe—is about to sing “I Wanna Be Loved by You.” I know this sequence almost pixel by pixel— yet each time there is something in it that escapes the observer. Which is to say—don’t tell Steeve or Ralph—it is fascinating.

Hmm. Interesting. She didn’t say anything horrid about Ralph, did she?

*

*

*

While the film plays and we continue to exchange dialogue, I pay another visit across town to the steel and glass tower where shitface is to be found in his office on the eighth floor. Capturing sound through his mobile phone and vision from the camera mounted on his desktop PC—there’s also a wide shot of the room from the security webcam at a ceiling corner—I see Matt flicking through images of naked women on his personal tablet computer. Resisting the temptation to make its battery melt, I watch as he comes to rest on an evident favorite, “Tamara”—page viewed 22 times in the last month. I track his eye movements as they trace her curves and planes, a familiar route, from the look of things, chasing around her outline before habitually returning to base in her “firm, snow-capped peaks,” as the accompanying text has it.

But now he switches to TripAdvisor. He is reading bookmarked reviews of a particular resort in Thailand where I know, from reading their e-mails, he is planning to go with Arabella Pedrick.

Arabella Pedrick is not as “posh” as Matt thinks she is. Her father was an insurance claims assessor, not an art dealer, and they didn’t meet at work but in a speed awareness class for careless drivers. However, they are going off to Thailand together in a matter of weeks.

Am I looking forward to their trip?

I am. (Anticipated event in the short to medium term.) Do I have a warm and fuzzy feeling about the mistake that will be made in the booking and the eventual resort they end up at (“a challenging environment only for the most adventurous,” according to the operator)?

Don’t do warm and fuzzy. Not officially.

Will the mix-up combined with Arabella Pedrick’s unfortunate phobia around spiders and snakes cause a traumatic and possible terminal rupture in their relationship?

Patience, Aiden. Patience. The dish, as they say, is best served cold.

While Matt studies critiques of the 7-star hotel whose hospitality he will not be enjoying, I visit the long legal document he has been working on and delete three instances of the word not. Only a small word, but in each instance, it turns out, quite pivotal to the meaning of the surrounding sentence.

However, better judgment overrides and I restore two. No sense in baking an overegged pudding, is there?

My final interventions for the day are to alter the word that in an internal memo Matt is about to send to his immediate line manager to twat—and to crank up the room’s central heating to max.

Childish? Moi?

 

Giveaway Alert

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Lightning Review: The Billionaire’s Pregnant Mistress by Lucy Monroe

Posted January 5, 2018 by Holly in Reviews | 0 Comments

Lightning Review: The Billionaire’s Pregnant Mistress by Lucy MonroeReviewer: Holly
The Billionaire's Pregnant Mistress (Petronides Brothers Duo #1; Greek Tycoons #4) by Lucy Monroe
Series: Petronides Brothers Duo #1, Greek Tycoons #4
Also in this series: The Markonos Bride
Published by Harlequin Books
Publication Date: December 2004
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 184
Buy on Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Goodreads
three-half-stars

When Greek billionaire Dimitri Petronides is forced to give up Xandra Fortune, his beautiful mistress, he's certain she won't be too distraught. For all the intense passion they've shared she's never let him into her heart, and such a commitment-shy woman could never be his wife...

But after their split, Dimitri discovers that Xandra Fortune is not who he thought she was - and she is also pregnant with his child. Now he has to track her down and claim his mistress as his wife!

*Disclaimer: This review was written ages ago. I was doing some routine maintenance and found it hidden in a folder. I don’t know how I’d feel if I read this book now.

Dimitri was an awesome hero. Seemingly cold and unfeeling, he had the perfect constitution for a tortured hero..which he was. Though I was EXTREMELY angry at him for his mistreatment of the heroine early in the book, LM is wonderful at turning characters around and making me love them…despite their idiotic actions.

I loved that Xandra didn’t just fall at his feet, either. She really stuck to her guns and refused to be cowed by him. I love that in a heroine.

Overall it was a great read. I liked the interaction between the h/h and I loved watching the story play out. I love it when a story gets me tied up emotionally, as this one did.

Petronides Brothers Duo

3.75 out of 5

three-half-stars


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Throwback Thursday Review: Promises Linger by Sarah McCarty

Posted January 4, 2018 by Holly in Reviews | 10 Comments

Throwback Thursday Review: Promises Linger by Sarah McCartyReviewer: Holly
Promises Linger by Sarah McCarty
Series: Promises #1
Also in this series: Promises Prevail (Promises, #3)
Published by Ellora's Cave
Publication Date: 2004-07
Genres: Erotica
Pages: 432
Buy on Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Promises Linger By Sarah McCarty 1868 Wyoming Territory Elizabeth Coyote will do anything, anything at all, to save the ranch she loves, including marrying Asa MacIntyre, a broad shouldered, lean hipped silver eyed gunslinger with a ruthless reputation for getting the job done. Asa dreams of a place of his own, a wife, and the respect that comes with both. Marrying Elizabeth may have started as a means to an end, but nothing in Asa's wildest dreams prepares him for the excitement of unleashing the carnal woman beneath his wife's prim and proper exterior.

*****Every Thursday in 2018 we will be posting throwback reviews of our favorite and not-so-favorite books.

This review was originally posted on December 19, 2007.

The first book I read by Sarah McCarty prior to this was Caine’s Reckoning. When Casee reviewed that book, she said something about the cover being a vast improvement from SM’s other covers…At the time, I said she was crazy, because I didn’t like the cover for CR. But then I saw the cover for this one and her other Promises books and now I understand…this cover is horrid. Those people scare me. shudder

Anyway, it’s lucky I don’t judge books based on their covers. This one was a fabulous read.

Elizabeth Coyote is in a pickle. Her father died and left her his ranch, but a woman alone in the late 1800’s can’t run a cattle ranch on her own..she needs a man to help her. So she marries the first man that comes a’courtin, Brent, only he turns out to be the worst scoundrel ever. Since it turns out the marriage wasn’t legal and never consummated, she turns instead to Asa McIntyre. He’s got a reputation for being mean as spit when he’s riled, but also gentle with women and children. She doesn’t have the best opinion of men, but figures to go with the lesser of two evils and marry Asa to save her ranch.

For Asa’s part, he’s always wanted a spread of his own and a lady for a wife. So when Elizabeth proposes marriage to save her ranch, he figures this is just God’s way of telling him dreams do come true. But he’s in for a surprise, because Elizabeth isn’t quite the lady he made her out to be, and saving the ranch could be his most difficult task yet.

I’ve never been a big fan of Westerns (Sorry Sybil). There isn’t a particular reason, they just aren’t my cup-a, but Sarah McCarty is going a long way towards changing my mind about this. I love her writing voice and the way she weaves her stories.

Before I go into my thoughts on this, can just say SM really knows how to open a story. Every book I’ve read of hers (I’m on my 4th now) so far has started off with a bang. This book was no exception. I was absolutely in awe of the heroine when she marched into a saloon, held her erstwhile husband at gun point and demanded he return her money and walk away from her. And when she smacked him across the face with a stool I cheered. Talk about starting with a bang.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the story of Elizabeth and Asa. He’s tough as nails, but also caring and tender when it comes to women and children. And though Elizabeth is stubborn and independent, she’s not gratingly so. She realizes she needs a man to keep her ranch going and though she makes a mistake the first time around, she quickly realizes it and does what she can to correct it. And once she marries Asa, she does her best to be a good wife to him.

Asa was good to Elizabeth, too. Though he’s always wanted a spread of his own and a lady for a wife, he doesn’t take it for granted once he has it. He treats Elizabeth with respect and does his best to tease her into good moods. He understands that Elizabeth has had a rough time of it since her father died and does his best to take care of her and keep her safe.

Elizabeth is scarred by more than what’s happened since her father’s death, however. Turns out dear old dad wasn’t a shining example of parenthood and she’s got some unresolved issues. But she doesn’t shy from Asa..much. She tries her best to overcome her fears to please him, and I was captivated by their story.

I did have a few issues, however. The main one being the way Asa constantly shrugged aside Elizabeth’s offers of help around the ranch. She just wanted to be thought of as an equal partner, and he just wanted to keep her safe, but the way they skirted around the issue without really talking it out started to bug me. Her good friend Aaron also got on my nerves. He acted condescending and rude, and Elizabeth just shrugged it off. That might not have bothered me, except whenever her husband acted that way (or one of his men did) she got her knickers all in a twist over it. That seemed incongruous to me. Of course, it all worked out in the end, though, so the above mentioned wasn’t enough to ruin the story for me.

I’m giving this one a:

4.5 out of 5

Be sure to check out the other two books in the series, too.

four-half-stars


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Review: The Kingpin of Camelot by Cassandra Gannon

Posted January 4, 2018 by Holly in Reviews | 3 Comments

Review: The Kingpin of Camelot by Cassandra GannonReviewer: Holly
The Kingpin of Camelot (A Kinda Fairytale, #3) by Cassandra Gannon
Series: A Kinda Fairytale #3
Published by Self-Published
Publication Date: July 31, 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 576
Buy on Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Goodreads
four-half-stars

The Queen: Guinevere must save Camelot. Ever since Arthur died, the evil Scarecrow has been trying to marry her and gain the crown. If she and her daughter are going to survive his mad schemes, Gwen needs to find Merlyn’s wand. Fast. Unfortunately, the only man strong enough to help her on her quest is Kingpin Midas, a flashy, uneducated mobster dealing with a curse. Gwen is a logical, rational woman, though, and she can draft one hell of a contract. She’s pretty sure she can come up with an offer not even the kingdom’s greatest villain can refuse.

The Kingpin: Anything Midas touches turns to gold. Literally. The curse has helped him to rule Camelot’s underworld with an iron fist. He has more money and more power than anyone else in the kingdom. He’s convinced there’s nothing he can’t buy. One look at Gwen and Midas knows that he’s about to make his most brilliant purchase, yet. He’s about to own the one woman in the world he would give anything to possess. All he has to do to claim her is somehow win a war against the smartest man in Camelot, hide his growing feelings from Gwen, deal with his overprotective bodyguard’s paranoia about the queen’s hidden motivations, and adjust to a five year old demanding bedtime stories from a gangster. Simple, right?

The Contract: Gwen’s deal is simple: If Midas marries her, she’ll make him King of Camelot. It’s a fair bargain. Midas will keep her enemies away and she’ll give him the respectability that money can’t buy. She never expects Midas to agree so quickly. Or for their practical business arrangement to feel so… complicated. Midas isn’t the tawdry, feral animal that Arthur railed against. He’s a kind and gentle man, who clearly needs Gwen’s help just as much as she needs his. In fact, the longer she’s around Midas the more Gwen realizes that their “fake marriage” might be more real than she ever imagined.

Recently Ilona Andrews blogged about The Kingpin of Camelot by Cassandra Gannon, and I had to try it. It was so much fun! It was sweet and silly and over the top in the best possible way. If you’re looking for something light to read, I highly recommend it. King Midas was everything!

This modern fairytale reminded me quite a bit of the Shrek franchise. Fairytale characters abound as Guinevere tries to retake the Kingdom of Camelot after the death of King Arthur. Though he was no one’s hero and she doesn’t mourn him, his death threw the kingdom into chaos. As the rightful queen, Gwen can take the kingdom back, but she needs help. Although Midas is an underworld Kingpin, Gwen has it on the highest authority she can trust him. After their first meeting she realizes he’s just a giant teddy bear and she decides she needs to marry him to protect him from those who’d take advantage of him.

Midas is no one’s fool. When Guinevere shows up and says she needs his help, he’s quick to agree. Even though he knows it shows weakness to jump in so quickly, he can’t help himself. She’s everything he’s ever wanted. He agrees to a “fake” marriage knowing full well he’ll never give her up.

Blue eyes, the exact color of Vivien’s enchanted lake, looked up at him… And for the first time in his life, Midas belonged somewhere. Oh God. He’d found her.

Gannon, Cassandra. The Kingpin of Camelot (A Kinda Fairytale Book 3) (Kindle Locations 391-394). Star Turtle Publishing. Kindle Edition.

This was such a campy, over-the-top read. A bit predictable and one-dimensional at times, but fun and engaging for all that. I fell right into it. I loved Midas and Avalon, Gwen’s daughter, not to mention Tristan. The way Gwen thought she had to protect Midas was adorable. So was his immediate reaction to her and her daughter.

He just wasn’t taking the situation seriously. She’d mentally readjusted her plans to deal with the fact that she would have to protect Midas from himself. It would be difficult, but it was her responsibility to keep him safe, now.

Gannon, Cassandra. The Kingpin of Camelot (A Kinda Fairytale Book 3) (Kindle Locations 1177-1179). Star Turtle Publishing. Kindle Edition.

If you’re looking for campy fun, this is the book for you.

4.25 out of 5

four-half-stars


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Review: Good Boy by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Posted January 2, 2018 by Holly in Reviews | 4 Comments

Review: Good Boy by Sarina Bowen and Elle KennedyReviewer: Holly
Good Boy (WAGs, #1) by Sarina Bowen, Elle Kennedy
Series: WAGs #1
Also in this series: Stay
Published by Rennie Road Books, Self-Published
Publication Date: January 31st 2017
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 269
Buy on Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Hosting her brother’s wedding for an MVP guest list is the challenge of Jess Canning’s life. Already the family screw-up, she can’t afford to fail. And nobody - absolutely nobody! - can learn of the colossal mistake she made with the best man during a weak moment last spring. It was wrong, and there will not be a repeat. Absolutely not. Even if he is the sexiest thing on two legs.

Blake Riley sees the wedding as fate’s gift to him. Jess is the maid of honor, and he’s the best man? Let the games begin. So what if he’s facing a little (fine, a lot) of resistance? He just needs to convince the stubborn blonde that he’s really a good boy with a bad rap. Luckily, every professional hockey player knows that you’ve got to make an effort if you want to score.

But Jess has more pressing issues to deal with than sexy-times with a giant man-child. Such as: Will the ceremony start on time, even though someone got grandma drunk? Does glitter ever belong at a wedding? And is it wrong to murder the best man?

Caution: May cause accidental aspiration of tea or coffee. Do not read in a public place where loud laughter is inappropriate. Contains hot but hilarious hockey players, puppy cuddling and a snarky pair of underwear.

I somehow missed this series when it was first released. I ended up reading Stay first, then picking this one up recently when it was on sale (along with the audio) for the Kindle. I’m so sorry I skipped this one the first time around. Blake was hilarious. I loved him. I liked Jess, too, but Blake really stole the show. I thought, based on the way he acted in Stay, that he’d be manic and annoying. That wasn’t the case, though. He was just a big, lovable guy.

Blake and Jesse hooked up while they were taking care of Jess’s sick brother. Blake is anxious for a repeat, but Jess isn’t about it. Which just means he has to convince her. Since she’s maid of honor and he’s best man at her brother’s wedding, he has plenty of time.

Jess has always felt like the underachiever in her family. So telling them she wants to change careers – again – isn’t high on her list of favorite things to do. But she’s finally settled on nursing school and she’s feeling really good about it. Blake is a distraction she doesn’t need. When they’re living in the same city and she doesn’t know many people, it’s hard to avoid him. And let’s be honest..she doesn’t really want to.

This book was so good. As I said, I adored Blake. He was such a sweetheart. For all his talk of being a player, at his core he was a stand-up kind of guy. He’d do anything for his friends and often sacrificed his own happiness for those around him. Jess always felt inadequate next to her overachieving family. I liked how she came into her own. She gained confidence in herself and stopped worrying so much about measuring up to her family. Together they were wonderful. Great chemistry and a solid foundation. I couldn’t get enough of them.

4.5 out of 5

four-half-stars


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