Author: Jen

Guest Review: The Girl Who Knew Too Much by Amanda Quick

Posted May 8, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 7 Comments

Guest Review: The Girl Who Knew Too Much by Amanda QuickReviewer: Jen
The Girl Who Knew Too Much by Amanda Quick
Published by Berkley
Publication Date: May 9th 2017
Pages: 400
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four-stars

Amanda Quick, the bestselling author of ’Til Death Do Us Part, transports readers to 1930s California, where glamour and seduction spawn a multitude of sins…
When Hollywood moguls and stars want privacy, they head to an idyllic small town on the coast, where the exclusive Burning Cove Hotel caters to their every need. It’s where reporter Irene Glasson finds herself staring down at a beautiful actress at the bottom of a pool.
Seeking the truth, Irene finds herself drawn to a master of deception. Oliver Ward was once a world-famous magician—until he was mysteriously injured during his last performance. Now the owner of the Burning Cove Hotel, he can’t let scandal threaten his livelihood, even if it means trusting Irene, a woman who seems to have appeared in Los Angeles out of nowhere four months ago.
With Oliver’s help, Irene soon learns that the glamorous paradise of Burning Cove hides dark and dangerous secrets. And that the past—always just out of sight—could drag them both under…

Set in 1930’s Los Angeles, this book is about Irene Glasson, a reporter who stumbles on a dead body at the Burning Cove Hotel while chasing a big story. The hotel is owned by former magician Oliver Ward, and it’s a celebrity hot spot where all the biggest actors come to enjoy some privacy (carefully curated and strategically interrupted “privacy,” of course – how do you think celebrities kept people talking before Instagram and Twitter?). Oliver is understandably not thrilled about the murder, both because of the negative publicity it might bring to his hotel and because he’s a genuinely decent guy who doesn’t like that someone got killed. Since both Irene and Oliver have a vested interest in figuring out what is going on, they start to work together a bit. Naturally, this draws them closer and brings danger to their door, and it brings to light some of Irene’s own dark secrets.

I know this book wasn’t perfect, but boy did I enjoy the hell out of it! I really, really loved the setting. For me, 1930’s LA was an ideal setting for a romance, because it feels distant but still familiar at the same time. We have enough photographs and films that we can visualize the fashion, the cars, the type of actors described. I 100% pictured Irene as a young Katherine Hepburn, fast talking, acerbic wit, brilliant mind, and classy elegance. And setting it in LA, where the film industry was growing by leaps and bounds, where the young and the lost arrived hoping to make it big, was so smart. I don’t know much about the cultural or social history of that time period, but it felt realistic that LA would be the kind of place where morals were a little looser, where supervision was a little less strict, and where a woman like Irene could make it on her own. I was enthralled.

I thought Irene was a great character, but I was in love with Oliver. He was such a lovely, kind man. He took care of all his employees and was serious about his role as their caretaker, and the devotion they all had for him made it clear they cared for him right back. Plus, he was a magician! The job gave him a deep understanding of human nature, and it was one reason he was such a natural at catering to the rich and famous. He was a great match for Irene, too, because he didn’t stomp all over her independence.

Unfortunately, I thought we could have used a little more time for Irene and Oliver to get to know each other. I felt like Irene trusted him a little too easily, especially given that she was hiding some pretty heavy secrets. I enjoyed meeting Oliver’s inventor uncle, but he got so little page time that he wasn’t even close to a fleshed out character, which was a missed opportunity.

Despite the imperfections, I had a great time reading this book. I hope Quick, or any other other author, sets more books in this time period because I didn’t get nearly enough of it!

Grade: 4 out of 5

four-stars

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Guest Review: The Thing About Love by Julie James

Posted April 18, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 1 Comment

Guest Review: The Thing About Love by Julie JamesReviewer: Jen
The Thing About Love by Julie James
Published by Berkley
Publication Date: April 18th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 368
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four-stars

Two undercover FBI agents can hide who they are from everyone but each other in the latest novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Suddenly One Summer.

FBI agents Jessica Harlow and John Shepherd have a past. The former lawyer and cocky Army ranger clashed during their training at Quantico, gladly going their separate ways after graduating from the Academy. Six years later, the last thing either of them expects is to run into each other again–assigned to work as partners in a high-profile undercover sting.
For both of them, being paired with a former rival couldn’t come at a worse time.

Recently divorced from a Hollywood producer and looking for a fresh start, Jessica is eager to prove herself at her new field office. And John is just one case away from his dream assignment to the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team.

In order to nail a corrupt Florida politician, they’ll have to find a way to work as a team–a task that becomes even trickier when they’re forced to hole up at a romantic, beachfront resort as part of the investigation. Suddenly, the heat behind their nonstop sparring threatens to make the job a whole lot more complicated. . .

It’s actually been a loooong while since I’d read a Julie James book, but something about this one sparked my interest, so I picked it up. Good choice, Past Jen!

Jessica Harlow (which, incidentally, is a super cool name for a heroine, no?) recently transferred to the Chicago FBI office. Her first case is to go undercover posing as an investor to catch a corrupt politician. The problem is, she’s paired with John Shepherd, her arch rival from the FBI Academy. John has been groomed to join the ultra-elite Hostage Rescue Team since he was first recruited to the FBI, but he’s been dragging his feet on applying. When his current relationship blows up at the start of the book, he decides it’s time to finally to do what he was groomed for and sign up for HRT. Jessica wants her first case in the new office to be a success to impress her new colleagues, and John wants to go out with a win. The problem is, neither one can stand the other. They have to figure out how to put aside their differences, and a pesky case of attraction, to get the job done.

I really loved the “he said, she said” premise of the conflict in this book. While Jessica and John share a history, they definitely did NOT experience that history in the same way! Hearing them each tell their own version of their time at the Academy was funny and very illuminating. Jessica obviously had a bit of a chip on her shoulder, but it felt very justified because she was a woman in a world dominated by hot shot men. She had to be tough, and it’s easy to see how that would make her seem standoffish and unapproachable. John has a very different take on the situation, and to him he was just trying to be friendly while she was the one being condescending. For example, both Jessica and John recall an incident from their very first meeting, where John makes a jokey comment and winks at Jessica. He meant it as a friendly, welcoming introduction, with no other agenda. She interpreted it as flirting and patronizing her. Yes, Jessica seems harsh in that scene, but to me it was such a clear example of how a man might not even consider that a gesture like a wink could seem off putting to a woman used to dealing with misogyny and harassment. For his part, John tries to be open and friendly with Jessica, until she starts obviously competing with him, which triggers his own insecurities about being all brawn and no brain. Both of them had perfectly understandable interpretations of the past, and both of them were very wrong about the other.

As usual, James does a wonderful job making the investigation details seem realistic. Jessica and John are both scarily good at their jobs, and both act like actual investigators would act (or at least how I imagine they would act!). While there’s a little bit of light action at the end, for the most part this book is all about the well-planned white collar investigation, not shoot-em-up high stakes battles. What James does so well, though, is blend the competent job performance and the intriguing personal relationship into an engaging story you want to keep reading.

There were a few missteps, though. First, I felt like the conflict with John’s friends and the kerfuffle over his girlfriend never really went anywhere. There was never any real resolution there, so I didn’t quite understand the point. Also, John leaving to do HRT seemed a little forced. I mean, that was sort of the point because he clearly was clearly conflicted, but I felt like his conflict went on a little too long. I also wanted Jessica to be more honest with John. Some of the end drama would have been resolved by both John and Jessica just having a solid conversation earlier, instead of dragging out the angst.

Still, this story had a unique perspective and characters I liked getting to know.

Grade: 4 out of 5

*I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

four-stars

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Guest Review: Otherworld Challenger by Jane Godman

Posted April 6, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 3 Comments

Guest Review: Otherworld Challenger by Jane GodmanReviewer: Jen
Otherworld Challenger by Jane Godman
Series: Otherworld #3
Also in this series: Otherworld Protector, Otherworld Renegade
Published by Harlequin Nocturne
Publication Date: September 1st 2016
Genres: Paranormal
Pages: 304
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three-half-stars

KING OF THE OTHERWORLD
The race is on to find the true heir to the faerie crown before the evil king Moncoya returns from exile. Mercenary necromancer Jethro de Loix will find the challenger to Moncoya's crown...for a price. One million mortal dollars. Outraged at Jethro's audacity, Princess Vashti, Moncoya's daughter, arranges to accompany him on his mission.
Jethro doesn't want company, especially not from Moncoya's belligerent, pampered daughter. But as their journey pits them against evil forces, their animosity soon gives way to an overwhelming physical attraction. When the trail ends on the legendary Isle of Avalon, can the pair face down the evil sorceress Morgan le Fay to claim a future they'd long denied themselves?

Otherworld Challenger is the final book in the Otherworld series. While it had some pretty disappointing flaws, overall I was happy I read it.

Note: There are a few tiny spoilers for books 1 and 2 here. I’ve kept them to a minimum but if you haven’t read the other books and really don’t want to know anything, skip this review!

This time, our heroine is Vashti, Moncoya’s other daughter. She’s now the faerie representative in the new Otherworld Council, a role she takes really seriously. In book 2, we learned that someone from the faerie royal bloodline is still around. (Moncoya stole the crown but wasn’t part of the line.) The Council wants a democratic election, and they decide the best chance to get the faeries to vote for someone other than Moncoya is to find the legitimate heir. Jethro de Loix, the mercenary necromancer we met earlier in the series, offers to find the challenger, and the Council decides Vashti should accompany him to confirm that he gets the right person. The problem is, Jethro and Vashti can’t stand each other, and now they have to undertake an incredibly dangerous journey together. Doing so will take them deeper into Jethro’s past and force them to rely on someone else in a way neither has ever done before.

I totally loved Vashti. While Tanzi was the feminine fashion icon, Vashti was the fierce tomboy her father always wished was a boy. In book 2, she was still holding some loyalty towards her dad, but when he tricks her into helping him escape at the end of that book, she finally realizes he doesn’t care about her at all. Moncoya often pitted the girls against each other, discouraged them from using their fae senses of intuition and healing, and ruthlessly suppressed their emotions. Once Vashti is free of her father’s influence, though, she discovers she has deep emotions and powers, and I really enjoyed seeing her discover more about herself.

Really, though, this is kind of Jethro’s story. Vashti doesn’t say much about herself, largely because her own past was detailed in Tanzi’s story. It’s a little frustrating because of course Jethro wasn’t there for that, but I could understand not wanting to just rehash what we already know. Jethro’s story is pretty compelling, too, and even though it’s clear from the start what the big secret is going to be, it’s still interesting to read about. I thought Jethro was an excellent match for Vashti, too. He’s kind of a dick, and he’s hard on Vashti at first, but she’s equally prickly and obnoxious at first, too. Once he gets to know her better, he displays a lot of sensitivity and caring, and as you learn about his life you see he’s not quite the heartless mercenary he appears to be.

The first half of this book was so great. We learn more about Jethro, and Vashti gets used to the human world and her own true self. We also find out that Vashti and Jethro have an almost supernatural connection that seems to strengthen both. They have some great sexual tension too, and all of this awakens Vashti to the possibilities inside her. There’s also a big adventure component as they travel around, escaping the evil sorcerer who’s after them. Vashti starts to protect Jethro, physically and emotionally, and I loved the dynamic that was developing. But then, the second part of the book kind of loses that momentum. They go to the mythical island of Avalon, which is where they’re supposed to be, but things slow down once they get there. Even worse, though, all the build up about the mystical connection and this idea that they make the other one stronger kind of just disappears. In the end, Jethro basically does it all on his own while Vashti kind of hangs back instead of being his partner like she was earlier. It was super disappointing and, frankly, a disservice to Vashti.

When I looked back and cataloged all my thoughts about the book it sounds a little frustrating, but while reading it I Could. Not. Put. It. Down. I gasped at the surprising parts, bit my lip when things got hairy, and sweetly sighed at the romantic parts. I knew it wasn’t perfect, but I enjoyed the hell out of it anyway. This series was unexpectedly fun for me, even if it was a bit crazy. If you’re looking for a paranormal romance you can read in a few short hours, and you don’t need to overanalyze the details, this series might hit the spot for you, too.

Grade: 3.5 out of 5

three-half-stars

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Guest Review: Till Death by Jennifer Armentrout

Posted March 31, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 4 Comments

Guest Review: Till Death by Jennifer ArmentroutTill Death by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Published by William Morrow
Publication Date: February 28th 2017
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Pages: 400
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four-stars


In New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout’s gripping new novel, a young woman comes home to reclaim her life—even as a murderer plots to end it. . .

It’s been ten years since Sasha Keaton left her West Virginia hometown . . . since she escaped the twisted serial killer known as the Groom. Returning to help run her family inn means being whole again, except for one missing piece. The piece that falls into place when Sasha’s threatened—and FBI agent Cole Landis vows to protect her the way he couldn’t a decade ago.
First one woman disappears; then another, and all the while, disturbing calling cards are left for the sole survivor of the Groom’s reign of terror. Cole’s never forgiven himself for not being there when Sasha was taken, but he intends to make up for it now . . . because under the quirky sexiness Cole first fell for is a steely strength that only makes him love Sasha more.
But someone is watching. Waiting. And Sasha’s first mistake could be her last.

In college, Sasha had been the only surviving victim of The Groom, a serial killer who preyed on young women in the town. The memories were too much for her, so she moved away and cut off ties with everyone except her mom and best friend. One of those she left behind was her boyfriend, Cole. She never saw him again after the night of her attack, but she never quite forgot him. She finally decides to move back home again to help her mom run the family B&B, and once Cole realizes she’s back in town he shows up, because it turns out Cole never forgot her either. Soon, frightening things start happening to Sasha, and more girls start disappearing. Sasha has to overcome her fear and help Cole (an FBI agent) figure out what is going on.

This is my first Jennifer Armentrout book, and I enjoyed it. I liked the way Sasha was portrayed. She was tortured by The Groom and is understandably traumatized. I thought her level of fear and her emotional challenges were perfectly appropriate, but she also is determined and has worked hard in therapy and on her own to cope with what happened to her. I appreciated that Cole is understanding and patient, too. He doesn’t push her into anything she doesn’t want. He just wants to be around her, if she’ll have him. He carries a lot of guilt over the past, as he was the last one to see Sasha before she was abducted. It’s clear that the guilt shaped his whole life, and it shows you he’s truly a good guy.

The story is told from Sasha’s point of view only, which is not my favorite. While I liked Cole, it was hard to connect to him when we didn’t get to hear his side. He obviously cares for Sasha a great deal, but I think some of the emotional punch gets lost because we don’t know how HE felt about the danger swirling around Sasha. The other weak point of the book is that the mystery is a little contrived. The killer is fairly easy to identify, and there were just a lot of coincidences and convenient plot points. It’s not a bad mystery, just not particularly unique.

I would have liked a little more focus on the romance, but I enjoyed this one more than I thought I might. 

Grade: 4 out of 5

four-stars

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Guest Review: Otherworld Renegade by Jane Godman

Posted March 30, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 0 Comments

Guest Review: Otherworld Renegade by Jane GodmanReviewer: Jen
Otherworld Renegade by Jane Godman
Series: Otherworld #2
Also in this series: Otherworld Protector, Otherworld Challenger
Published by Harlequin Nocturne
Publication Date: May 1st, 2016
Genres: Paranormal, Romance
Pages: 304
Buy on Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Goodreads
four-stars

Claiming her felt like his destiny…but could prove to be his ultimate undoing.

Desperate to flee a horrific arranged marriage, Princess Tanzi turned to the only man who could help. Lorcan Malone, infamous necromancer, had vowed to come to her aid whenever she needed him. And even as they traveled from the mortal world into the fantastical Otherworld, Tanzi knew her true need ran deeper than just a rescue.

She was his enemy’s daughter. A renegade like Lorcan had no business craving a Fae princess, one intended for a greater calling. Yet he was powerless to resist the pull to do more than protect Tanzi…

Back to the Otherworld and my favorite book in the series! As I mentioned in my review of book 1, things get more exciting in book 2. We met Lorcan in Otherworld Protector, but here we get to know him even better. He’s a friend of Cal’s and a powerful necromancer in his own right. He’s a comedian who can always lighten the mood, but of course it hides the fact that he’s tortured and can never love anyone. In the big final battle in book 1, Lorcan saved Tanzi Moncoya, the daughter of the evil Faerie King. Tanzi stayed behind after her father escaped and started participating in the new reconstruction government Cal and Stella were organizing, but when her father arranges a truly despicable marriage for her, she knows she has to run. Unsure about who to trust, she runs to the human world and to Lorcan, hoping he’ll save her again. When it becomes clear she can’t hide, Lorcan agrees to help her escape to the one place her father could never reach her. But will either of them be able to let go once they get there?

My favorite part of the book was Tanzi. She and her sister Vashti were groomed their entire lives to serve Moncoya. Both trained with the Valkyries and are brutal fighters, and Moncoya used them as propaganda tools to intimidate and awe his enemies. Both girls also knew that some day they’d be expected to marry to further their father’s ambitions. Moncoya was a cruel and love-less father, but until he left they didn’t realize the scope of his evil activities. At the start of the book, Tanzi feels torn because he’s still her dad, but the marriage he arranges finally lifts the veil from her eyes, and she understands he is just plain a bad guy. Throughout the book she learns even more about the truly awful things her dad has done, and she has to come to terms with the role she played in his power, even if it was largely inadvertent. Even though she’s a trained warrior, she’s mostly lived a sheltered life, and it was nice to see her take control of her own destiny and have new experiences. I found her story very compelling. I really liked Lorcan and Tanzi together, too. Lorcan is patient and thoughtful, especially once he recognizes Tanzi’s life wasn’t what he thought. Seeing them come together, despite the fact that they both knew it was probably not a good idea, was sweet. Lorcan is also really committed to helping Tanzi on her quest, and their dangerous journey was exciting and gave a lot of time for them to fall in love.

Annoyingly, there’s a secret Lorcan keeps from Tanzi throughout the book, and it was kind of silly. First, the secret isn’t even that big a deal, and I don’t know why Lorcan thought Tanzi couldn’t handle it. Second, instead of having a conversation about it Tanzi pushes Lorcan away and of course ends up in danger. It was contrived and frustrating. In my review for book 1, I had mentioned that this felt like the kitchen-sink of mythology, mixing tons of different myths, stories, and traditions, and that continued here. The problem is, these are category romances, so there’s just not the page space to go too deep. Consequently, it felt like everything was painted with big broad strokes (both characters and the world) instead of finely wrought details. It’s maybe a little too ambitious to take on in a shorter book, even a trilogy.

But still, I am having such a good time reading these books! They aren’t perfect, but boy are they fun. They hit the right notes of adventure/paranormal/fantasy/romance for me, and I love the premise and the characters.

Grade: 4 out of 5

four-stars

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