Tag: 2.5 Reviews

Retro Review: Shadow Music by Julie Garwood

Posted February 22, 2017 by Holly in Discussions, Reviews | 15 Comments

Retro Review: Shadow Music by Julie GarwoodReviewer: Holly
Shadow Music by Julie Garwood
Series: Highlands Lairds #3
Also in this series: Ransom
Published by Ballantine Books
Publication Date: 2008
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Historical, General
Pages: 438
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two-half-stars

Throughout her acclaimed writing career, Julie Garwood has captivated readers with characters who are compelling, daring, and bursting with life. Now one of the most popular novelists of our time proudly returns to her beloved historical romance roots–in a thrilling tale of love, murder, adventure, and mystery set against the haunting landscape of medieval Scotland.
For Princess Gabrielle of St. Biel, Scotland is a land of stunning vistas, wild chieftains, treacherous glens, and steep shadows–skullduggery, betrayal, and now murder. Prized for her exquisite beauty, the daughter of one of England’s most influential barons, Gabrielle is also a perfect bargaining chip for a king who needs peace in the Highlands: King John has arranged Gabrielle’s marriage to a good and gentle laird. But this marriage will never take place.
For Gabrielle, everything changes in one last burst of freedom–when she and her guards come upon a scene of unimaginable cruelty. With one shot from her bow and arrow, Gabrielle takes a life, saves a life, and begins a war.
Within days, the Highlands are aflame with passions as a battle royal flares between enemies old and new. Having come to Scotland to be married, Gabrielle is instead entangled in Highland intrigue. For two sadistic noblemen, underestimating Gabrielle’s bravery and prowess may prove fatal. But thanks to a secret Gabrielle possesses, Colm MacHugh, the most feared man in Scotland, finds a new cause for courage. Under his penetrating gaze, neither Gabrielle’s body nor heart is safe.
A gripping novel that delves into the heart of emotions–unyielding passions of love, hate, revenge, and raw desire–Shadow Music is magnificent gift from Julie Garwood and a crowning achievement in her amazing career.
From the Hardcover edition.

******As part of our 10 year anniversary celebration, we’ll be re-posting old reviews that make us cringe, laugh or sigh all over again.

Man, I love me some early Julie Garwood historicals. She lost me with her romantic suspense. I remember being so excited when she announced she was releasing a new historical. I’m still pretty disappointed it didn’t live up to my expectations. I wonder what would happen if I read it now? I might need to reread it and see if I still feel the same. 

This review was originally published January 8, 2008

This is less a review about this particular book and more my thoughts on the writing of Julie Garwood. Casee reviewed the book here. You can check that out for a plot summary and her thoughts, for they mostly mirrored mine.

Throughout her career, JG has remained a favorite of mine. Well, let me clarify. Prior to Killjoy she was a favorite of mine. Her historicals still call to me on occasion and I find myself picking them up at random, anxious to sink into an old, comfortable story, similar to how I might slip on my favorite sweats after a long day at work, or pop in a favorite DVD if I’ve had a particularly bad day.

But after Killjoy, not only did I think contemps were not her thing, I decided her writing itself deteriorated. The last novel I read by her was Slow Burn. While I enjoyed the basic premise behind it, I was sadly disappointed in the actual writing. Sentences were choppy, paragraphs seemed to bleed together, or go in odd directions that made no sense to me, dialogue was stilted, characters were half formed or one dimensional. I thought the plot was an awesome one, and had it been better fleshed out it had the potential to become her best written novel yet. But instead it fell far short.

After that, I decided not to read another of her contemps. I told myself, and others, that I’d buy her again if she went back to historicals, but otherwise I was done with her. I removed her from my auto-buy list and comforted myself with her old historicals, the ones that got me hooked on romance to begin with.

Then the announcement came. That yes, Julie Garwood, historical legend, would be returning to her roots. Love her older historicals or hate them, you can’t deny she’s a basic staple in romance. I was happy to hear she’d be returning, but somewhat apprehensive. Because although the moment I’d been waiting for had finally come, I was concerned about her actual writing style. The way she wove a story back when was unconventional perhaps, but still engaging. I didn’t think she’d be able to return to that, not after seeing evidence of her decline in her more recent novels.

I’m sad to say I was correct. She may have done quite a bit of head-hopping in her previous novels, but the focus remained on the two main protagonists. In this novel, however, she chose to write in a more narrative style than from one POV or another. So I was constantly pulled out of the story by her glossing over things, or seeming to sum things up. Very frustrating.

I’m also extremely unclear about how they H/H came to fall in love. There was hardly any interaction between the two, and what there was was disjointed and…once again, glossed over. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to her writing. A chapter would start out from one POV or another, and then half-way through she’d jump into a narrative style, summing things up rather than allowing us as readers to follow the progress.

I suppose it would be like me starting a story, in which I use rich, colorful detail and much humor only to say, once you’re engaged and intrigued, “Blah blah, yada, yada, you get what I mean” and then just leave it at that. Frustrating, no?

There were some good parts. When the POV was written from either the hero or heroine, I was drawn into the story. Unfortunately, those parts were few and far between, and when they did happen, they didn’t last long. The basic premise was also a good one, and classic Garwood. Sadly, the point of the plot was lost somewhere in the muddle of switching from one writing style to another, the jumping between characters and places (i.e., from the Barons in England to the clans in the Highlands to the heroine to the hero to the guards of the heroine to her father back to the barons to the king of England, etc, etc) and the mass amount of inconsistencies presented.

A lot of the reviews I’ve read for this book said the Priests provided a lot of comic relief, but I didn’t really see that. Sure, there were some amusing parts, but I think I assumed they played a bigger part in the overall story (with actual read time, I mean) and that just didn’t seem to be the case.

I’m sure I’ll end up buying her next book (assuming she continues to write historicals), just to see if she somehow improves…hmm, or perhaps that’s not the right word. Regresses into her old writing habits? Goes back to being the Garwood I knew and loved? I’m not sure. I have a feeling I’m going to be sorely disappointed when (if) that time comes, however.

On a related note: Ange, The Romance Groupie, posted about this book on Saturday. I mentioned my disappointment in the overall writing in the comments, and she responded with this:

Actually, I’ve noticed that many of the popular authors appear to be going down in the quality department. I’m wondering if it’s the editors, publishers, etc. that are ruining it. It just seems strange that so many great authors have gone bad in the last year or so. Is it just me? Are you seeing this trend too?

I thought about it some, and yes, I have to agree. Some of my favorite authors have seriously declined in the last few years. Could it be because of the publishers or editors? Or is it just simply something with them personally?

Regardless, I’m disappointed.

Even though I said this was less a review and more my thoughts on JG’s writing as a whole, I’ll still rate the book:

2.5 out of 5

You can buy it here in hardback or in eBook format here. When I bought it from Books on Board, they were offering a $5 cash-back incentive, bringing the total book price down to $9.95. I’m not sure if they’re still offering the promotion, but you could email them to see.

two-half-stars

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Review: The Other Sister by Dianne Dixon

Posted December 5, 2016 by Rowena in Reviews | 1 Comment

Review: The Other Sister by Dianne DixonReviewer: Rowena
The Other Sister by Dianne Dixon
Published by Sourcebooks, Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication Date: November 1st 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Women's Fiction
Pages: 386
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two-half-stars

One sister has everything. Her twin hates her for it.

Would life be better without Ali? Probably. At least then people might think about Morgan. Ali's always gotten everything ― she doesn't even realize how much Morgan resents her.

Ali also doesn't realize that when she shuts Morgan out entirely, she will unleash a chain of events that show just how dangerous the underside of love really is. As their lives spin toward something neither one of them can control, a terrifying crime reveals how those who know us best can destroy us...or save us.

It’s been a couple of days since I finished this book and already, I’ve read 3 books. I zipped right through the books that followed this one but it took me for-ever to finish this one. I couldn’t figure this one out for a little bit. It starts off as Women’s Fiction but then veers into Suspense and Thriller and then back at it again with the Women’s Fiction so with all of that madness, it was no wonder that it took me so long to get through. I read The Girl on the Train a couple of months ago for my book club and I didn’t like one person in that book. That entire book was filled with unlikeable characters and I found that I felt the same way about this book. There were just a whole lot of unlikeable characters in this book.

We have fraternal twins Morgan and Ali. Ali is the golden twin while Morgan is the forgotten one. Morgan is insanely jealous of Ali and while Ali feels bad at first, their relationship is just one hot mess. There’s a husband that I wanted to sock in the nuts, a Mom that I wanted to punch in the throat and just a whole lot of different things going on that I wasn’t a fan of. I’m a fan of multiple storylines and lots of things going on in a story if it helps the story along or really, if it’s done right and I just didn’t feel it in this one. I kept having to take a break from reading this one because there was just too much of everything. Too much hatred, too much dark and while some of it was compelling, for the most part, my thoughts ran along the lines of…meh. I guess because I hated everyone in the story, I was never invested in what happened. I almost DNF’d it and I’m glad that I didn’t because the last part of the book was good. You see some character growth, you understand some things but unfortunately, I still didn’t like anyone.

There’s a darkness to everyone in this book that I couldn’t connect with and that really messed with my interest as the story progressed. So while the ending was good, it didn’t really make up for everything else so this isn’t a book that I would re-read or even recommend easily. I also couldn’t really tell if this was a mystery suspense or a dark Women’s Fiction novel and so I couldn’t even properly prepare myself for the kind of story I was going to get and I like to be prepared.


2.5 out of 5

two-half-stars

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Review: Deadly Silence by Rebecca Zanetti

Posted November 22, 2016 by Casee in Reviews | 2 Comments

Review: Deadly Silence by Rebecca ZanettiReviewer: Casee
Deadly Silence by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: Blood Brothers #1
Also in this series: Deadly Silence
Published by Forever
Publication Date: October 4th 2016
Genres: Contemporary Romance, Romantic Suspense
Pages: 400
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two-half-stars

DON'T LOOK BACK

Under siege. That's how Ryker Jones feels. The Lost Bastards Investigative Agency he opened up with his blood brothers has lost a client in a brutal way. The past he can't outrun is resurfacing, threatening to drag him down in the undertow. And the beautiful woman he's been trying to keep at arm's length is in danger...and he'll destroy anything and anyone to keep her safe.

Paralegal Zara Remington is in over her head. She's making risky moves at work by day and indulging in an affair with a darkly dangerous PI by night. There's a lot Ryker isn't telling her and the more she uncovers, the less she wants to know. But when all hell breaks loose, Ryker may be the only one to save her. If his past doesn't catch up to them first...

Full of twists and turns you won't see coming, DEADLY SILENCE is New York Times bestselling author Rebecca Zanetti at her suspenseful best...

This book was not my cuppa. First, it took me two weeks to read. Two. weeks. When does it every take any of us two weeks to read? After reading the Sin brothers, I was super excited about this book because it was an extension of that series and I really like Rebecca Zanetti. Not so, this book.

Ryker Jones and his brothers have an uncanny ability to find the lost. Since they escaped the boys home they grew up in, they all have special abilities from unusual hearing to detecting when someone is telling a lie. Using these abilities has helped them find people. Right now they’re working on a case with the FBI. The only catch is that they can’t be caught on camera, have their finger prints taken or anything else that could point anyone to their identities as the boys in the group home.

Ryker has also met Zara, a paralegal that he’s starting to have more than casual feelings for. Of course Ryker never meant to have more than a fling with Zara, but then she started to do sweet things for him like cook for him and make him laugh. Making someone like Ryker laugh isn’t easy and it draws him to Zara even more. He also realizes that Zara has problems of her own. When his brothers start talking about leaving, there is no way that he will leave her until she is safe.

Then there is yet another problem. Someone has hacked their system. Someone that wants their help, but has gone about it in a very unconventional way. They can’t say no because they are being blackmailed, but they never would have said no in the first place.

There are about four plots going at once here. That’s way too many. I couldn’t barely keep up. I felt like I was in a pingpong machine and wondered where to next. Way too much for me.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

two-half-stars

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Guest Review: Steady Stroke by A.M. Arthur

Posted September 19, 2016 by Tracy in Reviews | 0 Comments

Guest Review: Steady Stroke by A.M. ArthurReviewer: Tracy
Steady StrokeSeries: Off Beat series #2
Also in this series: Body Rocks
Published by Swerve, St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: September 6th 2016
Genres: Contemporary Romance, Gay, m/m
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two-half-stars

After a tragic accident, Lincoln West’s dreams of making it big as a guitarist fell apart. Unable to play music, he’s battling a hopeless downward spiral, and takes his friend’s offer to stay at their beach house for the summer. While at an open mike night at local bar Off Beat, he locks eyes with a busboy who doesn’t make Linc feel so broken anymore.

Emmett Westmore lives for the anonymity of busing tables in his aunt’s quirky bar where no one pities him for the fire that killed everyone he loved. He blames himself for the fire, and he doesn’t want anyone to see him—except for Linc. Emmett’s walls drop when he’s around the gorgeous blue-eyed guitarist, but he has a secret that could destroy his budding relationship with Linc.

Both Linc and Emmett are looking for a way to live again…will they let their fears control them or take a chance on something real?

Lincoln was in a horrible accident.  He almost died but managed to put himself back together and move on with his life.  Move on without music, that is.  He was a guitarist but can’t play because every time he strums a guitar the vibrations cause a migraine headache.  Music was his life and now he doesn’t have that, or anything else – according to him.

Lincoln is staying at Trey’s beach house for the summer and decides to go out to a local bar one night.  He meets a friend, Melody, and also sees a bar back who he’s attracted to.  Lincoln invites Emmett to lunch as friends and while Lincoln wants more Emmett just isn’t ready.

Emmett is living with his aunt Beatrice and working in her bar and has been since a fire killed his family.  His parents were very religious and he feels that he’s betraying them by admitting he’s gay and wanting to be with a man.  Linc, however, is making him want things more than ever and Linc finally makes him see that his parents would have wanted him to be happy, gay or straight.  The pair become lovers and much more but when Emmett tells Linc a secret about himself it may tear the two apart.

This was a cute but somewhat slow book.  I liked the premise and I liked Linc and Emmett together. I thought the pair of them worked so well together and their connection was pretty spot on.  It was nice seeing some characters from book one and seeing where they were in their lives, as well.

The story started off well but then slowed down significantly in the middle of the book.  That part was getting further into the relationship which was nice but didn’t make for great reading.  It also had Linc working on playing the QChord which is an instrument that apparently sounds like a guitar but has no vibrations.  It brought music back into Linc’s life which was fabulous but the practicing, etc. was sort of mundane.

Anyway, while I would consider this an ok book I didn’t feel it lived up to book one and that was a bit disappointing.

Rating: 2.5/3 out of 5

two-half-stars

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Guest Review: Dangerous Attraction: The Complete Serial by Sidney Bristol

Posted July 28, 2016 by Jen in Reviews | 2 Comments

Guest Review: Dangerous Attraction: The Complete Serial by Sidney BristolReviewer: Jen
Dangerous Attraction: The Complete Serial by Sidney Bristol
Series: Aegis Group #1
Published by Inked Press
Publication Date: December 18th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Romance, Romantic Suspense
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two-half-stars

Ex-Navy SEAL Travis Ration is an expert hunter. Whether his prey is criminal or victim, he always gets his mark. He's no hero, just a man doing his job. It’s all he has after a felony conviction after a bad judgement call. When the FBI call in a favor and ask him to look into a serial killer over the holiday break, he jumps at the opportunity to fill the long, cold days with something besides regret and bad movies. In Las Vegas, he's on the hunt for a prolific serial killer no one wants to admit exists. The leads are dry and the evidence gone, until she walks into his life. Bliss Giles—curvy, sassy and everything he can't have.

What’s worse, Travis knows Bliss’ sister is the killer's latest victim. She fits the profile. Time is running out and the fastest way to retrace the killer's path is with Bliss at Travis' side. In the seat of danger. He vows to keep Bliss safe and his hands to himself, after all, a nice girl like her doesn't need a guy like him in her life. Too bad no one told Bliss Travis was off-limits. She tests his boundaries and pushes his control every minute they're together until he can't remember why wanting her is a bad idea.

The hunters become the hunted in this tale of serial killers and SEALs for hire. One broken man must unpack his baggage, a woman has make a leap of faith and a sister chooses to live in this new, romantic suspense serial by NYT & USA Today bestselling author, Sidney Bristol.

I picked this book up on a whim, and while I thought it had potential, it didn’t quite come together for me.

When the book opens, Bliss Giles is trying to get help from the Las Vegas Police to find her newly missing sister. Since it’s not even been a full day, the police aren’t taking her seriously, but Travis Ration (an ex-SEAL/quasi-FBI consultant) overhears her, and he thinks the case might be connected to a serial killer he’s helping investigate. Bliss and Travis start looking into the matter and realize Wendy has indeed been captured by this killer who kidnaps women, impregnates them, and then gruesomely murders them once their babies are born. (Yeah, this book is graphic, so stay far away if that bothers you!) There are so many twists and turns in this book that I won’t enumerate them all. Just know that there is a lot of investigating, a lot of blood and guts, and a lot of back and forth with this seemingly unstoppable killer.

As I mentioned, the book is gory, which isn’t necessarily a problem for me. It’s maybe not one I’d be rushing out to read on my lunch break, but I could handle it since I have a fairly high tolerance for blood in books. However, the gory parts absolutely DID NOT fit with the romance parts of the book. Bliss works at a sex toy shop, and I thought that part of the story was fun and cute. Travis isn’t exactly against sex toys, but he doesn’t see the point and seems to assume they’re just for women who have no companionship. Bliss isn’t a sex toy evangelist, but she does try to educate Travis on who uses toys and why they might want to. I enjoyed her openness and Travis’s willingness to listen. Plus, there are some sexy scenes of them exploring toys, which I think we just don’t see enough of in most non-erotic romances.

But let me tell you, sex toy explorations are particularly jarring to read sandwiched in between scenes of a killer cutting out someone’s organs! I especially couldn’t enjoy lighthearted sex scenes when Wendy was in a cage waiting for the killer to murder her. It took away from the relationship and the sex, and it was honestly kind of horrifying. I truly felt like there were two different books thrown together here: one a lighthearted contemporary romance about a sex toy shop employee and an alpha SEAL, and the other an intense and graphic serial killer story. Both books would make perfectly fine stories on their own, but put together they were uncomfortable and mismatched.

This book was originally published as a serial, and that may have contributed somewhat to the disjointedness I felt. I suspect it also contributed to uneven pacing. There were periods of the book where nothing happened and everything just dragged. The killer kept eluding them too, in ways that got more and more absurd, which meant that the resolution was delayed more than I thought reasonable. And Travis did a lot of back and forth–I care about her..no I can’t care about anybody…wait I do care about her…but I can’t. Ugh. He couldn’t make up his mind, and Bliss kept putting up with his crap. It didn’t feel organic, more like artificial conflicts to add tension.

All that said, I did like some parts of the book. The serial killer plot was horrific, yes, but it was also complicated and tense. I liked that Travis and Bliss did a lot of communicating about their feelings. There weren’t Big Misunderstandings–they used their grown up words to talk things out. The sex was fairly hot and interesting, if you could look at it in isolation from the serial killer plot. I want more sex toys in books!

All in all, I’d happily check something else out by this author (and this book is apparently the start of a series), but this particular book didn’t quite live up to its promise for me.

Grade: 2.5 out of 5

two-half-stars

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