Author: Jen

Guest Review: Madly by Ruthie Knox

Posted March 23, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 3 Comments

Guest Review: Madly by Ruthie KnoxMadly (New York, #2) by Ruthie Knox
Also in this series: Madly
Published by Loveswept
Publication Date: March 14th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 273
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An impulsive trip to New York City, a heartthrob from London, and a scandalous to-do list turn a small-town girl’s life upside down in this sultry romance from the New York Times bestselling author of Truly and About Last Night.
Allie Fredericks isn’t supposed to be in Manhattan, hiding in the darkest corner of a hip bar, spying on her own mother—who’s flirting with a man who’s definitely not Allie’s father. Allie’s supposed to be in Wisconsin, planning her parents’ milestone anniversary party. Then Winston Chamberlain walks through the door, with his tailored suit, British accent, and gorgeous eyes, and Allie’s strange mission goes truly sideways.
Winston doesn’t do messy. But after a pretty stranger ropes him into her ridiculous family drama with a fake kiss that gets a little too real, he finds out that messy can be fun. Maybe even a little addicting. And as the night grows longer, Allie and Winston make a list of other wild things they could do together—and what seems like a mismatch leads to a genuine connection. But can their relationship survive as their real lives implode just outside the bedroom door?

I’ve been childishly whining ever since I saw that Winston Chamberlain was the hero of Madly, about how it made me nervous because I couldn’t stand him. He appeared in another of Knox’s books, About Last Night, and he was cruel to his brother, selfish, and so, so uppity. It didn’t help that I positively hated the ending of that book, too, though that had nothing to do with Winston. (You don’t need to read that book first, and frankly it’s probably better if you don’t so you don’t end up with preconceived notions like I did.) Allie also wasn’t entirely my favorite when she appeared in her sister’s book, Truly. I mention all this because if you hadn’t already heard my whining, you should know about my prior feelings; they are part of understanding what I liked and didn’t like about Madly.

Madly takes place four years after the events of About Last Night. Winston has since gotten divorced and moved from London to New York City to be near his college-age daughter and to work in the NYC location of his aristocratic family’s bank. It’s also been a little under a year since the events of Truly, when Allie Fredericks dumped her fiance on their wedding day. Allie has impulsively come from her home in Manitowoc, WI to New York following her mom, who she suspects is having a long term affair with a New York artist. When she bumps into Winston in a bar, he starts helping her track down her mom.

First off, while I was concerned about how Knox would redeem Winston, I’m happy to say I was satisfied. We don’t see Winston’s transformation in Madly, but Winston has indeed undergone a transformation since his low point in About Last Night when he tried to blackmail his brother Nev and tear down Nev’s love interest, Cath. We also learn that Winston’s marriage had been a mess at the time, and he tried to force his life, and his ex-wife, into some predefined shape he thought was the “right one” for a man of his position. When that all fell apart, he realized how wrong it was, both for himself and everyone around him. You get the sense that he’s spent the last years trying his best to simply be kind to everyone around him. He’s mostly patched things up with Nev and Cath, though there’s still some residual tension, and he’s trying to be a good dad to his daughter, Bea, without smothering her or forcing her into a box like he did with her mother. However, in trying so hard to make up for the past and give everyone space, he’s kind of forgotten what he wants or needs. He isn’t unhappy exactly, but at the start of the book he spends the bulk of his time watching Netflix and waiting for Bea to occasionally give him a few minutes of her time. Rinse, Repeat. When Allie storms into his life, it brings a lightness and fun that he obviously forgot he was capable of. I kind of can’t believe I’m saying this but…I actually liked seeing Winston come back to life a bit!

Family, with all the messy, complex, and overwhelming emotions that implies, is a huge theme in so many of Knox’s books, this one included. The Chamberlain’s family drama mostly happened in About Last Night and the intervening years, so this book focuses on the Fredericks. The family is kind of imploding around Allie, and she’s fighting to figure out what to do about it. There was a point in the book where I actually wanted to put it down because it was a little too much. Maybe it’s because of some people I know who are going through their own hard family dramas that things felt a little too real, but I think most of us have had hurtful family secrets or loved ones who profoundly disappointed us. It was almost too painful to read about what might happen. (As a parent, the interactions between Winston and Bea were also sweet but a little hard to read. He loves her so much but is afraid to hold on too tightly, but he can see her growing up and pulling away anyway…ugh, who is chopping onions in here?) I pushed on, though, and was rewarded with a thoroughly happy ending. It was perhaps unrealistically happy, but I can’t complain because wouldn’t we all like our own messy family problems to end so happily?

While Winston was redeemed, though, I never thoroughly warmed to Allie. She felt a bit inconsistent, first of all. She’s supposed to be so flighty and impulsive, but other than flying to New York on a whim I didn’t really see that. She mostly just felt…opinionated, which is fine but not the same thing. She says she wants to take care of everyone and feels like it’s on her to hold things together, but she kept running away when things got hard. She was not particularly kind to Winston (and geez, no one is more surprised than me that I’m saying that, haha) when all he did was love and support her from the start. In general, she acts pretty self absorbed and a little immature throughout the book, and it got on my nerves by the end. This is some of what bothered me about her in Madly, too, and I was disappointed to see that unlike Winston, she hadn’t changed much between books. Moreover, I wasn’t quite sure whether she had really had a transformation by the end of this book either. Sure, some of her family issues were resolved, but had Allie herself changed? When I thought about that question at the end of the book all I could come up with was…probably? I think so? I believed she was good with Winston, but in my mind she wasn’t ready for the implied HEA, not quite yet at least.

This was a complicated book full of big themes and big emotions, and I admire that Knox never shies away from tackling complicated human beings. Plus, it is full of funny, lovely dialog, and it’s very sexy. (And boy I could write paragraphs about the awesome and complex sex scenes in this book because I have so many thoughts. There’s a “list”, sex toys, lots of sex that’s not just PinV, orgasm isn’t always the goal…such good stuff, but go read and judge for yourself!) It made me think, and it was a great read.

Grade: 4 out of 5

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

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Guest Review: Live Wire by Caisey Quinn

Posted March 22, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 0 Comments

Guest Review: Live Wire by Caisey QuinnReviewer: Jen
Live Wire (Nashville's Finest, #1) by Caisey Quinn
Series: Nashville's Finest #1
Published by InterMix
Publication Date: March 7th 2017
Genres: Romantic Suspense
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three-half-stars

Caisey Quinn—author of the Neon Dreams romances—delivers the debut novel in an explosive new romantic suspense series...

HE’S NOT AFRAID OF ANYTHING…

Explosive ordinance disposal specialist Chase Fisk never breaks a sweat defusing even the most complicated of explosives. So when a homicidal maniac threatens to set off military-grade IEDs during Nashville’s largest music festival, Chase is the man to take him down. But with the reappearance of a woman he thought was long dead, everything he thought he knew is blown away.

EXCEPT LOSING HER AGAIN.

FBI operative Vivien Montgomery is an enigma to everyone around her. So when a deadly threat lands her in Nashville and paired up with the only man she’s ever loved, she isn’t looking forward to an emotional reunion. She’s only here to get the job done and get out. But when the madman behind the chaos targets her for death, the one man she left behind might be the only person she can count on to save her life...

When the book opens, Chase Fisk is simply going through the motions of his life in the Nashville PD, and that’s the way it’s been since the love of his life, Vivien, died four years ago. Only, it turns out she didn’t actually die. When FBI agent Vivien Montgomery comes to Nashville to help Chase’s department stop a terrorist attack, she obviously can’t avoid Chase finding out she’s very much alive. Despite the hurt feelings and secrets, Chase and Vivien have to work together to put the past behind them and prevent a major terrorist attack.

In case it’s not clear from that summary, Chase and Vivien have a wee bit of baggage. Chase was nearly broken after Vivien’s death, and he has been a haunted man living a shell of a life ever since. Worse, he was inadvertently injured in the staged blast that supposedly took Vivien’s life, and the injuries ended his military career and have left him with a condition that could end his work in explosive ordinance disposal. In short, her fake death severely MESSED HIM UP, physically and emotionally. He is understandably both confused and enraged when she simply shows up in Nashville unannounced. She does have valid reasons, or at least understandable reasons, for never telling Chase she was alive, and I could accept that part of the story. But to be honest, I really wasn’t thrilled with how Vivien handled the whole thing. I realize she didn’t get much advance notice that she was going to Nashville, but to simply show up without a single warning to Chase was frankly a pretty jerky move. Even if she had just arranged to meet with him privately to break the news, instead of doing it in front of all their coworkers, it would have made me a bit more sympathetic. She doesn’t seem to quite understand why he’s really angry, either, at least at first. (She does get it eventually, thank goodness.) I would have liked a little more grovel or at least sensitivity from her.

Despite how she handled her reunion with Chase, I did enjoy this story quite a bit. The terrorism plot is interesting and compelling, and the cast of secondary characters is great. I am especially excited about Luke and Annalise, who I presume will be the couple in the next book. Their chemistry was already electric and we’ve only just met them! I also really liked Chase and Vivien as a couple. For the most part, Chase respected Vivien’s skills and autonomy, even though he was completely (understandably) terrified of losing her again. He isn’t great at sharing his feelings, but he realizes that their relationship can never work without openness, and he makes a concerted effort to get over his manly emotional constipation. Once she finally got over her own hurt feelings, Vivien was a great partner for Chase, too. She was protective and concerned about his feelings, and she went all in. They had steamy chemistry, and I enjoyed reading about them.

The book did feel a bit uneven in parts. Some portions plodded a little, and there wasn’t as much of a sense of urgency as one might expect in the face of a major terrorist attack. The pace of the relationship was also kind of odd, as they moved from a seemingly insurmountable conflict to mostly smooth reuniting relatively quickly. They did it by talking openly and honestly, which was great. It was just a little hard to believe that there would be no real aftereffects of the last four years. Heck, they were both profoundly changed by the experience! While they did take time to get to know each other again, I just had some trouble accepting that they could rebuild trust that quickly. I wanted to see some of the bumps along the way.

Even with the problems, I definitely enjoyed this new story line and new-to-me voice.

Grade: 3.5 out of 5

three-half-stars

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Guest Review: Flash of Fury by Lea Griffith

Posted March 15, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 2 Comments

Guest Review: Flash of Fury by Lea GriffithReviewer: Jen
Flash of Fury (Endgame Ops, #1) by Lea Griffith
Series: Endgame Ops #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication Date: March 17th 2017
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Pages: 384
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two-half-stars

Their spark is immediate
Kingston McNally lost men when someone betrayed his team, and now he's out for retribution. His quest for the enemy's courier leads him to Cameroon and Allie Redding, a petite Peace Corps volunteer as stubborn as she is brave. Their attraction is immediate, but Allie has secrets of her own...and she's not giving them up easily.
But their secrets could burn them both
Allie's life has been spent hiding in plain sight, but she's had enough of her cloak-and-dagger existence. On her way home, her plane is hijacked-and King saves her life. But that doesn't mean she owes him anything...even if he is the most damnably sexy man she's ever laid eyes on. He's got black ops and secrets written all over him, and trust is a two-way street.

This book sounded right up my alley because it’s about two people on the run, jetting around the world. Totally my catnip! Unfortunately, the book was largely disappointing for me.

Kingston (King) is the leader of a black ops team. Their last mission went sideways, a team member betrayed them, and several people lost their lives. King is trying to track down the international weapons dealer who was behind the mission-gone-wrong, and it leads him to a plane in Cameroon where he’s told a courier for the dealer will be flying. Instead, he interupts a hijacking in which some bad guys are attempting to kidnap Allie Redding. He doesn’t know if she’s the courier, someone else connected with the bad guys, or a total innocent, but he saves her anyway. When her real identity comes out, the mission changes to getting Allie back to America safely while also trying to unravel the complicated games that brought his team down.

The most frustrating part of this book for me was the romance. King and Allie have absolute insta-lust in a way that’s truly ridiculous. They are already making out very early in the book, while still escaping from the hijackers and before they’ve even had much conversation. It was especially stupid on Allie’s part, because she had no idea who King was or whether he was a good or bad guy. Come on girl, you can be smarter than that! King has some tender moments, but I didn’t quite understand what was drawing these two together, besides the obvious stressful, life-and-death situation. The dialog in the book is also kind of awkward, and the action jumps around. Several times I felt like I was dropped in the middle of an ongoing series and I had missed the set up for all the characters and teams. It made things confusing and hard to follow.

The complexity was a double edged sword, because while it did make things confusing I enjoyed some of it. There are so many people involved in the plot, and while there are a couple clear bad guys (the dealer and his cronies) and good guys (King and Allie), everyone else is a question mark. Who is double crossing whom? Who has their own secret agendas, and what are they? Will people’s personal relationships trump their national and financial loyalties? I enjoyed the mystery, and I’m intrigued by the larger story line. In fact, I’m intrigued enough that I might even consider reading another book in the series just to find out more, despite my misgivings with this first book.

So, consider my interest piqued but in no way sold on this series.

Grade: 2.5 out of 5

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

 

two-half-stars

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Guest Review: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

Posted February 7, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 2 Comments

Guest Review: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy SchumerReviewer: Jen
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
Published by Gallery Books
Publication Date: August 16th 2016
Genres: Biography & Autobiography
Pages: 323
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four-stars

The Emmy Award-winning comedian, actress, writer, and star of Inside Amy Schumer and the acclaimed film Trainwreck has taken the entertainment world by storm with her winning blend of smart, satirical humor. Now, Amy Schumer has written a refreshingly candid and uproariously funny collection of (extremely) personal and observational essays.
In The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy mines her past for stories about her teenage years, her family, relationships, and sex and shares the experiences that have shaped who she is - a woman with the courage to bare her soul to stand up for what she believes in, all while making us laugh.
Ranging from the raucous to the romantic, the heartfelt to the harrowing, this highly entertaining and universally appealing collection is the literary equivalent of a night out with your best friends - an unforgettable and fun adventure that you wish could last forever. Whether she's experiencing lust-at-first-sight while in the airport security line, sharing her own views on love and marriage, admitting to being an introvert, or discovering her cross-fit instructor's secret bad habit, Amy Schumer proves to be a bighearted, brave, and thoughtful storyteller that will leave you nodding your head in recognition, laughing out loud, and sobbing uncontrollably - but only because it's over.

While I wouldn’t call myself a super fan, I have enjoyed some of Amy Schumer’s work. I don’t think you have to be a fan to appreciate The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, though. If you’re a hater I don’t know if this would convert you exactly, but I think it can be enjoyed as an interesting take on life, especially life as a woman.

This isn’t quite an autobiography, though the majority of the chapters do tell autobiographical stories about Schumer’s life. I was expecting more fluff, or at least more “here’s how I became famous” tales. While she certainly does address her career and some of the challenges she’s had there, the really moving stuff in the book is more personal in nature. Schumer hasn’t exactly had an easy life, and the most interesting and heartbreaking chapters are the ones where she talks about her parents, her childhood, and her romantic life.

I think the strength of the book, and the reason I’m reviewing it here, is that so much of it might feel relatable to 20- and 30-something women. Schumer talks about navigating complicated relationships with her parents, about a sexual assault, about poor choices in her love life, about struggles with body image, about finding her voice, etc. She talks about lessons those experiences taught her in a way that’s not preachy or self-aggrandizing, and she doesn’t shy away from admitting she’s screwed up many times. She doesn’t come off as a saint, and I appreciated that openness. But despite the sometimes heavy subjects, Schumer is still a comedian, and she is able to joke about even some dark topics. That kept the book from getting too ponderous, and it kept me laughing in between a few tears. (And if you’re offended by Schumer’s comedy, you probably aren’t going to find this book very funny so, you know, be aware.)

I listened to this as an audiobook, which is my favorite way to read memoirs and autobiographies because hearing the author read their words adds depth. I thought Schumer did a great job with the audio (something you certainly can’t say about all authors!), and I thought it gave me a better understanding of her purpose in writing this. In particular, her emotions really broke through in the chapters about her mom and gun violence, and one could sense that these might have been the harder stories for her to tell as they are clearly still raw subjects. If you have a chance to listen to the audio version, I’d definitely recommend it.

I was unexpectedly moved by this book, and I appreciated it’s honesty and approachability. Depending on how you feel about Schumer you may be more or less moved by her stories, but I think it’s worth a read.

Grade: 4 out of 5

four-stars

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Guest Review: A Crown of Bitter Oranges by Laura Florand

Posted February 1, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 9 Comments

Guest Review: A Crown of Bitter Oranges by Laura FlorandReviewer: Jen
A Crown of Bitter Orange (La Vie en Roses, #3) by Laura Florand
Series: La Vie en Roses #3
Also in this series: A wish Upon Jasmine
Published by Laura Florand
Publication Date: January 24th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Romance
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five-stars

From international bestselling author Laura Florand:
Childhood friends. Tristan Rosier might have asked Malorie Monsard to marry him when he was five years old, but things had only gone downhill from there. She’d spent the rest of their lives ignoring him, abandoning him, and destroying his perfumes. Now she was back, to wreak who knew what havoc on his life.
Lifelong enemies. Tristan might choose to dismiss the generations-long enmity between their two families, but Malorie didn’t have that privilege. Like all the other privileges wealthy, gorgeous Tristan took for granted that she couldn’t. But if she was going to restore her family company to glory, she might just need his help.
Or the perfect match? They’d known each other all their lives. Could these childhood friends and lifelong enemies ever uncross their stars and find happily ever after?

I gobbled up the newest book in Laura Florand’s La Vie en Roses series as soon as I got my hands on it, and once again I’m left in a puddle of mushy, smiling, love-soaked goodness.

I have loved funny, kind-hearted Tristan Rosier from the start of this series. (Quick recap: The Rosiers have been growing flowers and manufacturing perfume in Grasse, France for centuries. The books are about the cousins in the family.) He is the perfumer in the family, a genius artist who can capture most any feeling, memory, or dream in a scent. While it’s never named, it appears he has something like ADHD. He’s learned to cope now, but it made his school years excruciating. One way his teachers tried to rein him in was to sit him next to Malorie Monsard. Malorie was quiet and studious and sitting next to her gave Tristan a tiny dose of calm he badly needed, but she left home after graduating and rarely returned since then. Malorie’s family was once part of the area’s perfume royalty just like the Rosiers, but after they were disgraced in WWII, they were outcasts. Malorie’s grandmother managed to keep the company hanging on by a thread, but now that she’s dead Malorie comes back to Grasse to figure out what to do with her legacy. Can she resurrect her family’s perfume house with Tristan’s help, and does she even want to?

As with all the books in this series, Florand makes the descriptions of the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings so incredibly vivid that you just get lost in their loveliness. Part of Malorie’s inheritance is her grandmother’s beloved bitter orange orchard, and the scents and sights of that space are Malorie’s home base, so to speak. She goes there when she needs comfort, and she lets no one in. (So of course, when she finally invites Tristan there it totally cracks open your heart.) This book drives home the point that our concept of home can be tied up in our sense memories, and that is especially true for these two families who make their living with their senses.

Tristan could so easily be a big jerk – he’s rich, brilliant, gorgeous, women falling all over themselves to get close to him – but instead he’s wonderfully adorable and big-hearted. He definitely does have some entitlement as Malorie repeatedly points out, but to me it was mostly a positive kind of entitlement that we’d all like to have. He comes from a family that loves and supports him unconditionally, and that gives him strength and a certain confidence that everything will be ok. He isn’t unwilling to accept his privilege; he just needs it pointed out sometimes. He is constantly described as a happy guy. At first I thought that must be a false front, but as the book went on I decided it’s more that he truly believes that happiness exists everywhere, and that’s a direct result of the security that came from his family. He does need to learn during the course of the book that his situation is unique and that his name has helped him, but you can tell he does still genuinely appreciate his family and the life he has.

Malorie, on the other hand, got little love or support from her family. Her father was a shallow, selfish narcissist who gambled away family treasures, tried to buy everyone’s affection with charm and presents, cheated on her mother relentlessly, and then got himself killed while Malorie was still fairly young. Now, her sisters and mother have scattered and don’t have much of a relationship. As if that wasn’t bad enough, her great-grandfather was a Nazi sympathizer who betrayed the local resistance (of which the Rosiers were members), and that got the Monsard family cast out from Grasse society. It’s always a little difficult for those of us in America with our comparatively short history (and even shorter memories) to imagine, but I can see where something like that would cast a very, very long shadow on a family and a town.

So, Malorie has more than a few chips on her shoulders, to say the least. She has some pretty severe trust issues, and when Tristan shows up acting charming and wanting to help her, she simply can’t understand his motivations. Her memories of her dad keep getting in the way of her present despite the fact that she knows intellectually Tristan is not the same, and those feelings of shame and worthlessness that were drilled into her from birth prevent her from fully letting anyone in. For his part, we can see that Tristan is head over heels for Malorie, and all the charm and flirting has always been one of his ways of showing her how he feels. They start the book with a ton of antagonism and bickering, which of course is really just hiding their insecurities and true feelings. As they spend more time together, Tristan is definitely in love with her, but he moves slowly so as not to scare her off. I loved the build up of the sexual tension. It’s kind of a slow circling that goes on longer than I expected, and by the time they finally get together the scene is so emotional and gorgeous that it had me melting.

At first I was going to say these two had a communication problem, but the more I thought about it, I realized it was really more like a comprehension problem. Malorie craves family, craves security, and craves self-reliance, because she didn’t have much of the first two and has had to rely exclusively on the last one her whole life. She appreciates but doesn’t really understand the way Tristan bears his soul to her. She dismisses it not because she wants to hurt Tristan but simply because she doesn’t realize what he’s giving her. Similarly, Tristan makes a serious misstep when he doesn’t tell Malorie about something she really should have known. While I wasn’t thrilled with his omission, I truly believed he did it because to him, security and a sense of family legacy was always a given, and he didn’t anticipate how important something that gave those comforts to Malorie might be. It was like they were simply speaking different languages, and I enjoyed seeing them suddenly “get it” and learn to give the kind of love the other needed.

In case you couldn’t tell, I loved this book. I loved everything about it and I cannot believe I have to wait to read the next one. (Ooh boy, based on the ending of A Crown of Bitter Oranges, shit is going down in that next book!) This is a book full of lovely imagery, vivid characters, and so much sweetness. Seriously, if you haven’t already, go spend 15 minutes Googling “grasse france” to ogle some painfully beautiful pictures, and then go read this book.

Grade: 5 out of 5

five-stars

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