Tag: Jen’s reviews

Guest Review: The Surviving Girls by Katee Robert

Posted July 26, 2018 by Jen in Reviews | 5 Comments

Guest Review: The Surviving Girls by Katee RobertReviewer: Jen
The Surviving Girls (Hidden Sins, #3) by Katee Robert
Series: Hidden Sins #3
Also in this series: The Devil's Daughter
Published by Montlake Romance
Publication Date: May 29, 2018
Point-of-View: Third
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Pages: 282
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Goodreads
four-stars

A fierce survivor and a fearless FBI agent battle a copycat serial killer in a gripping thriller from New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Katee Robert.

Twelve years ago, Lei Zhang and her friend Emma Nilsson miraculously lived through the notorious Sorority Row Murders that left twenty-one of their sisters dead. Still wrestling with the trauma but finally out of the limelight, Lei and Emma are now devoted to helping other victims find closure. But most disturbing for Lei—beyond the gut-wrenching survivor guilt—is that the killer was her boyfriend. He’s behind bars, but she’ll never lower her guard again.

When a copycat killer targets Lei and Emma, FBI Agent Dante Young is put in charge of anticipating the sociopath’s every move. But what he doesn’t expect is his immediate and overpowering attraction to Lei. The closer they get to each other, the more desperate and terrifying the questions become: Who wants to finish what the killer started—and why?

Now Agent Young vows to protect Lei at all costs. If they have any chance of a future together, first they have to stay alive…

I can’t even tell you how long I had this book sitting on my phone unread. I probably started it 5 times, read a few pages, and put it down because I just didn’t have the stomach for it. It’s a dark book, and it was just too intense for me to handle at times. (Trigger warnings for graphic violence, gore, and some mentions of rape.) Once I was in the right mood, though, I finally dove in and enjoyed it.

This book focuses on two girls who survived a horrific massacre at their college sorority house. Lei Zhang and Emma Nilsson had their own reactions to the trauma they endured. While Emma has developed a pretty severe panic disorder and various other mental health challenges in response to her fear, Lei’s response to fear is to fight harder and push farther. That’s not to say Lei’s not deeply affected too, because she clearly is, but she just channels things differently. When a new killer surfaces who bears a resemblance to the man that terrorized them years ago, the FBI and Agent Dante Young get involved. Dante and Lei have a somewhat inconvenient attraction to each other, but they have to put it aside while they figure out who seems to be hunting the women again.

As you can imagine, this book is chock full of trauma. Lei and Emma are, of course, profoundly affected by what happened to them, and it is very painful to read about. They have all kinds of coping strategies, some healthy and some not-so-healthy, that have gotten them through.  It’s hard enough at the beginning when their fears seem understandable but perhaps hyperbolic, but it gets downright horrifying as the book progresses and you learn how much danger they’re actually in. For me, this book was creepy and shocking, and it was only when I was in the right mood for those things that I could enjoy it. The plot twists do get a little overblown toward the end, but by that point I was in deep enough to buy in!

Lei and Emma are not pushovers. Lei is the obvious fighter and battles her fear with a sheen of anger, but Emma has more strength to her than others give her credit for. In particular, I loved seeing the women support each other. They did perhaps use each other as a crutch too often, but who the hell could blame them? They never wavered in their love for each other and their desire to keep the other one safe. I really liked that aspect of the book.

I also really liked Dante and Lei together. Dante is calm, cool, and collected, which is a real balm for Lei. He doesn’t have a magic cure for her, though. There is an excellent scene near the beginning where Dante says something kind of paternalistic and Lei rightfully puts him into his place. I was 1000% there for it. Even better, Dante realizes that while he didn’t intend it that way, he was absolutely playing savior and not respecting the hard work Lei did, and still does, to handle her own trauma. That moment sold me on Dante and Lei together!

Unfortunately, while there is a lot of awesome chemistry, there is no sex in this book. I know, I know…that’s normally a problem for me too, but honestly I don’t see any way sex would have worked in this book. The original sorority massacre happened twelve years ago and Lei has had relationships with other men in the interim, so that’s not the issue. But there is just too much genuine danger in this book, and too much horror that keeps being dredged up. Sex would just have been out of place. Things never get farther than some very sexy making out, and for a change I was ok with that.

When did I learn this was in the same series as another Robert book I liked, The Devil’s Daughter? Literally right as I was typing this sentence and I looked up the book on Goodreads! My point is, while it’s a series clearly there is no harm in reading them out of order, because I haven’t read Book 2 and had no clue it even existed. I am really liking Robert’s voice in this series, and I will certainly be backtracking to read the book I missed.

Grade: 4 out of 5

Hidden Sins

four-stars


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Guest Review: The Other Lady Vanishes by Amanda Quick

Posted May 29, 2018 by Jen in Reviews | 4 Comments

Guest Review: The Other Lady Vanishes by Amanda QuickReviewer: Jen
The Other Lady Vanishes (Burning Cove #2) by Amanda Quick, Jayne Ann Krentz
Series: Burning Cove #2
Published by Penguin, Berkley
Publication Date: May 8, 2018
Point-of-View: Third Person
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Pages: 368
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four-stars

The New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Knew Too Much sweeps readers back to 1930s California--where the most dazzling of illusions can't hide the darkest secrets...

After escaping from a private sanitarium, Adelaide Blake arrives in Burning Cove, California, desperate to start over.

Working at an herbal tea shop puts her on the radar of those who frequent the seaside resort town: Hollywood movers and shakers always in need of hangover cures and tonics. One such customer is Jake Truett, a recently widowed businessman in town for a therapeutic rest. But unbeknownst to Adelaide, his exhaustion is just a cover.

In Burning Cove, no one is who they seem. Behind facades of glamour and power hide drug dealers, gangsters, and grifters. Into this make-believe world comes psychic to the stars Madame Zolanda. Adelaide and Jake know better than to fall for her kind of con. But when the medium becomes a victim of her own dire prediction and is killed, they'll be drawn into a murky world of duplicity and misdirection.

Neither Adelaide or Jake can predict that in the shadowy underground they'll find connections to the woman Adelaide used to be--and uncover the specter of a killer who's been real all along...

The Other Lady Vanishes continues the Burning Cove series, which is set in a California resort town for the 1930s Hollywood crowd. This time our heroine is Adelaide Blake. Adelaide is a tearoom waitress (and sort of amateur herbalist) who escaped from a sanitarium after being wrongly locked away. She’s struggling to build some sort of life for herself in Burning Cove, even while she’s worried someone will come after her and try to drag her back. Jake Truett is a visitor to town, ostensibly to “rest his nerves” on the orders of his doctor. He becomes a regular tearoom visitor, and when the opportunity presents itself, he jumps at the chance to go on a date with Adelaide. Their date doesn’t quite go as planned, however, and they get sucked into a grisly murder. Clues keep adding up suggesting that Adelaide’s past is not as far behind her as she had hoped, and Jake’s true reasons for coming to town may be related as well. They have to work to investigate the increasing crimes and stay alive while doing so.

I really enjoyed the twisty, turny mystery of this book. There are a lot of players double crossing each other and trying to advance their own hidden agendas, and it’s fun to see Adelaide, Jake , and their friends untangle the threads. (We hear more about Luther Pell, the mysterious nightclub owner we met in Book 1. I am so intrigued!) This book has a bit of a gothic feel to it, despite being set in the 1930s, mostly because of the sanitarium. Rushbrook is a creepy building where horrible things take place, and it is absolutely terrifying to think of Adelaide being forcibly locked up there with no seeming way out. There’s also a drug involved that can trap people in their nightmares, and that adds a very macabre touch, too. It was a bit of a stretch like many mysteries since there were so many coincidences and tidy solutions, but I was hooked.

I liked Adelaide, even if it did take her a little while to come into her own. At the start, she is understandably doubting herself. She knows she wasn’t ill…and yet she spent months being told she was and being dosed with a hallucinogenic drug. Of course, that would plant a seed of doubt in someone’s mind. More than that, though, she is afraid that other people will think she’s mentally ill. I thought her caution and reticence to get involved with Jake at first made sense, and I really appreciated that she doesn’t drag out her standoffishness forever. Jake is an ok character, but we never really learn that much about him. He has a backstory with a dead wife and some far-fetched involvement with international intrigue, but we only get a vague sense of him as a person. I liked him with Adelaide, but theirs is not a particularly well-developed, character-driven romance. Their dialogue can also be a bit stilted at times.

I did want to mention a big old trigger warning for discussions of mental illness and, to a lesser extent, rape in this book. Mental illness in particular is a thread that comes up in several different ways throughout the book, and it’s not always handled with a modern sensibility by these 1930s characters. To my mind, nothing was egregiously offensive, but characters in the book do things like call the residents of the sanitarium “poor wretches” and “crazy,” and generally residents are used as part of the creepy scenery rather than human characters in their own right. Better was the discussion of Jake’s wife and her own mental health issues, which I thought was treated with more respect. In other words, it’s not all bad, but YMMV.

I liked the mystery of this book better than the mystery of Book 1, but I didn’t quite love the characters as much. Still, this is a good read if you enjoy a good old-fashioned mystery with a little romance mixed in.

Grade: 4 out of 5

Burning Cove

four-stars


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Guest Review: The Woman Left Behind by Linda Howard

Posted May 9, 2018 by Jen in Reviews | 4 Comments

Guest Review: The Woman Left Behind by Linda HowardReviewer: Jen
The Woman Left Behind (GO-Team, #2) by Linda Howard
Series: GO-Team #2
Also in this series: Troublemaker, Troublemaker, Troublemaker, The Woman Left Behind (GO-Team, #2)
Published by William Morrow
Publication Date: March 6th 2018
Point-of-View: Third Person
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Pages: 368
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three-stars

Jina Modell works in Communications for a paramilitary organization, and she really likes it. She likes the money, she likes the coolness factor—and it was very cool, even for Washington, DC. She liked being able to kick terrorist butts without ever leaving the climate-controlled comfort of the control room.

But when Jina displays a really high aptitude for spatial awareness and action, she’s reassigned to work as an on-site drone operator in the field with one of the GO-teams, an elite paramilitary unit. The only problem is she isn’t particularly athletic, to put it mildly, and in order to be fit for the field, she has to learn how to run and swim for miles, jump out of a plane, shoot a gun...or else be out of a job.

Team leader Levi, call sign Ace, doesn’t have much confidence in Jina—who he dubbed Babe as soon as he heard her raspy, sexy voice—making it through the rigors of training. The last thing he needs is some tech geek holding them back from completing a dangerous, covert operation. In the following months, however, no one is more surprised than he when Babe, who hates to sweat, begins to thrive in her new environment, displaying a grit and courage that wins her the admiration of her hardened, battle-worn teammates. What’s even more surprising is that the usually very disciplined GO-team leader can’t stop thinking about kissing her smart, stubborn mouth…or the building chemistry and tension between them.

Meanwhile, a powerful Congresswoman is working behind the scenes to destroy the GO-teams, and a trap is set to ambush Levi’s squad in Syria. While the rest of the operatives set off on their mission, Jina remains at the base to control the surveillance drone, when the base is suddenly attacked with explosives. Thought dead by her comrades, Jina escapes to the desert where, brutally tested beyond measure, she has to figure out how to stay undetected by the enemy and make it to her crew in time before they’re exfiltrated out of the country.

But Levi never leaves a soldier behind, especially the brave woman he’s fallen for. He’s bringing back the woman they left behind, dead or alive.

Jina Modell works for an off-the-books paramilitary agency, doing something related to communications. When she’s reassigned to a field unit, she joins Levi “Ace” Butcher’s team. Jina is not prepared for the physical demands of being in the field. Levi is determined to train her harder than the other recruits because he doesn’t want to put his team’s safety in jeopardy for an unprepared teammate. Jina keeps surprising him, and herself, by overcoming each new challenge through sheer grit and determination. As she gets more comfortable with the team, though, it becomes harder to ignore the white-hot attraction between her and Levi. When a dangerous mission goes sideways, Levi and Jina have to make some difficult choices, and it changes them both.

I thought Jina was completely excellent–funny, tough, and so practical. She absolutely made the book for me. I enjoyed reading about her training, even the mundane aspects, because she was just such a great character. She knew how to put the guys in their place without coming across as shrill or unyielding, and I adored that. I really loved Levi too and thought he was a great match for Jina because he cared about her but still respected her abilities. The side characters were excellent too. All the guys on the team were a hoot, and it was fun to read about their dynamic.

But then, nothing much happens. The training goes on and on…and on. Like, literally the whole book was Jina’s training. There are a few smoldering moments between Jina and Levi, but they are few and far between. Of COURSE it wasn’t a good idea for them to get busy. He was her boss and responsible for the cohesiveness of the team. I get that. But it made for a romance very light on the romance. Jina and Levi have almost no one-on-one conversations the entire book–time is mostly spent in Jina’s head (with some glimpses of Levi’s perspective) or with the whole team interacting. When they do finally get down to business it was sexy and great, but that didn’t happen until the book was over.

My biggest problem with the book is indeed the ending. I won’t spoil it (even though I really want to discuss it more!), but I’ll just say I disliked Jina’s behavior at the end. I was ok with her choices but not her reasons. It made her seem wishy washy and didn’t seem to match her behavior throughout the rest of the book. Also, the book tries to squeeze a thousand pounds of plot and a bunch of sex into the last 40 pages. Seriously, little happens for chapter upon chapter, and then suddenly a whole ton of shit goes down in quick succession and boom, the end. We saw glimpses from the perspective of the Congresswoman villain (not a spoiler, it’s in the cover copy) throughout the whole book so you’d think it would have made me more invested in her, but it didn’t. I didn’t understand what her plan was, and when she is taken down at the end I didn’t feel much satisfaction.

I liked the characters in this story and enjoyed reading it, but based on the cover copy I was expecting more action and more survival. That’s not what I got, and I wanted a bit more from the book.

Grade: 3 out of 5

GO-Team Series

three-stars


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Guest Review: The Last King by Katee Robert

Posted April 30, 2018 by Jen in Reviews | 5 Comments

Guest Review: The Last King by Katee RobertReviewer: Jen
The Last King by Katee Robert
Series: The Kings #1
Published by Forever
Publication Date: April 3rd 2018
Point-of-View: Third Person
Genres: Romantic Suspense
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five-stars

Ultra wealthy and super powerful, the King family is like royalty in Texas. But who will keep the throne? New York Times bestselling author Katee Robert introduces a red-hot new series.

THE MAN SHE HATES TO LOVE

Beckett King just inherited his father's fortune, his company-and all his enemies. If he's going to stay on top, he needs someone he can trust beside him. And though they've been rivals for years, there's no one he trusts more than Samara Mallick.

The rebel. That's how Samara has always thought of Beckett. And he's absolutely living up to his unpredictable ways when he strides into her office and asks for help. She can't help wondering if it's a legit request or just a ploy to get her into bed. Not that she'd mind either one. After all, she likes to live on the edge too.

But soon the threats to the King empire are mounting, and the two find family secrets darker than they ever imagined and dangerous enough to get them both killed.

Beckett King is the heir to Texas’s number one oil company and member of the infamous and dysfunctional King family. His company’s top rival is run by his estranged aunt Lydia, and his nemesis at that company is Samara Mallick, his aunt’s number two. Beckett and Samara are in a constant war to outmaneuver each other when battling for contracts, as well fighting the sizzling attraction they feel for each other. When Beckett’s father dies suddenly, it leaves Beckett with no other family and majorly set adrift. Lydia clearly intends to take advantage of Beckett’s situation, and she plans to use Samara to attack Beckett’s weaknesses. Samara can’t throw away all the hard work she’s put in to get where she is, but neither can she fight the pull she feels for Beckett. As Beckett learns more about his dad’s death and his family secrets, both he and Samara have to decide what is worth fighting for.

Holy shit, did I love this book! I loved (just about) everything, starting with Samara and Beckett. Samara is amazingly good at her job, very competitive, and determined to succeed in whatever she does. She takes no shit from Beckett, and she makes no apologies for her ambition. Her banter with Beckett is so good! She’s not intentionally cruel, however, and clearly does not share her boss’s ruthlessness. I also appreciated that she doesn’t immediately roll over and give up her rivalry with Beckett just because he’s giving her awesome orgasms. She cares about her career, just as she understands Beckett cares about his. While she tries not to play dirty if she can help it, she didn’t get good at her job by being soft. Beckett has to earn softness from her, and I really enjoyed that.

And Beckett…ah Beckett is just the best. He certainly grows up in a life of privilege, but he isn’t the lazy rich playboy his aunt seems to think he is. He works hard, and while he doesn’t exactly have a passion for the oil industry he cares about his family’s legacy and, more importantly, the people who work for the company. There’s no whining about how he has to take over the company; he simply does what has to be done. Unlike some of his family, though, he has a strong sense of ethics. Best of all, he is so, so sweet and loving to those he cares about. His mom died when he was young, and after that his relationship with his dad fell apart. Since his dad was estranged from his sister and her children, Beckett basically grew up alone, and when his dad dies he feels the loss keenly despite their problematic relationship. He’s basically just a little boy who’s realized it’s too late to ever get his dad’s love, and it’s heartbreaking. (The book doesn’t wallow too much in the angst, however.) As he gets to know Samara he wants so desperately for her to love him the way he comes to love her, and it was damn adorable.

This book is really sexy in a great way. It’s not at all erotica, but there are plenty of both hot and sweet sex scenes to keep you reading. There is tons of sexy consent talk as well, which is always my jam. I love they way the sexual attraction between Beckett and Samara draws them together despite all the very, very good reasons they should stay away. The sex doesn’t sustain the relationship for long, though. Pretty quickly they realize they genuinely LIKE the other person and are attracted to their personalities, not just their bodies. It was awesome.

One big theme in the book is power–who holds it and what they do with it. Beckett and Samara explore this a bit in the sex scenes, although I think more could have been done there. More compelling, I thought, was the power dynamics elsewhere. Samara is extremely aware that Beckett holds more power in their relationship than she does at the start. Her own father was a rich man who abandoned her mom before she was even born, so Samara is understandably hyper-sensitive that on the surface, her relationship with Beckett has a similar power imbalance. She knows Beckett can’t lose his job or his livelihood like she can, and for that reason she bears the brunt of the risk if they start a relationship. I loved that Beckett understands Samara’s hesitation once he knows her story, but I would have liked a discussion about the very tidy ending and what it means for Samara. Still, I enjoyed the “forbidden love” aspect and appreciated that they also acted like grown ups who were free to make their own choices.

For me, this book was darn close to perfect. The suspense plot was a little bit of a stretch at times, but not egregiously so. This book definitely focuses more on the relationship between Beckett and Samara as well as Beckett and his family, and it totally worked for me. This is the start of a new series, and the characters I presume will be the future heroes and heroines already piqued my interest. The Last King is my favorite book of 2018 so far, and if you like enemies-to-lovers with some light suspense thrown in, I think you’d like this book, too.

Grade: 5 out of 5

The Kings

five-stars


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Guest Review: Drakon’s Past by N.J. Walters

Posted April 23, 2018 by Jen in Reviews | 6 Comments

Guest Review: Drakon’s Past by N.J. WaltersReviewer: Jen
Drakon's Past (Blood of the Drakon, #4) by N.J. Walters
Series: Blood of the Drakon #4
Also in this series: Drakon's Promise, Drakon's Prey, Drakon's Plunder
Published by Entangled, Entangled: Amara
Publication Date: January 29th 2018
Point-of-View: Third Person
Genres: Paranormal Romance
Pages: 306
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Goodreads
two-half-stars

Constance Owens has a gift for finding unique items in the most unlikely places, which comes in handy since she buys and sells artifacts and antiques for a living. When she purchases a set of four dragon statues, she has no idea just how unique they are, or that finding them will thrust her into a world of secret societies, men who think nothing of kidnapping and murder to get what they want, and dragon shifters.

Nic hasn’t survived for four thousand years by letting his guard down, and he doesn’t trust anyone except his drakon brothers. The loneliness haunting him has been getting worse since all his brothers have found their mates. And when he finds the woman his drakon recognizes instantly as his fated mate, he doubts he’ll ever have what his brothers have, because it seems she’s involved with the secret society of hunters who have been hunting and capturing his kind for hundreds of years.

Nic has been a bit on the outskirts of the previous books in this series. Unlike the other brothers who tend to keep to themselves, Nic seems to spend a lot of time with regular humans. He loves to party and act the playboy, particularly in Vegas. What his brothers don’t know, though, is that he’s doing it in a desperate attempt to stave off the Big Sleep. Apparently, when drakons eventually get bored with the world, they lay down and sleep forever. (Everyone implies this is just “sleep” and not death, but I don’t know, that sure sounds like dying to me.) Nic’s been feeling the urge to just lay down and give up, so he leads a wild lifestyle in an attempt to keep up his interest in living. When he hears about a woman selling highly unusual dragon statues, he goes to investigate and finds Constance. She sells antiques and other collectibles to support herself and her teenage sister. When her sister gets kidnapped by the Knights of the Dragon, she knows the statues are more important than she thought. She doesn’t trust Nic and doesn’t know how he’s involved, but she doesn’t have a lot of options for getting her sister back. She and Nic circle each other and do what they can to rescue her sister.

I have to be honest, I was pretty disappointed in this book. I didn’t like Nic or Constance much. I didn’t really feel much of a deep connection between them, just plain and simple lust. I didn’t like that Nic takes advantage of Constance’s vulnerability and worry about her sister. Constance too is wishy washy. I got why she wouldn’t trust Nic, but then she keeps getting all horny for him and letting him come around. I just never felt much there.

There were too many loose threads in the book, too. This idea of the Big Sleep is never properly explored. Why do drakons do this? How does Nic avoid it? It’s kind of plopped there and then never referred to again. There is no resolution to the larger story arc of the Knights of the Dragon. Sure one villain gets beaten here, but what about the rest of them? How come the drakons don’t put a stop to the group once and for all? What happened to Karina Azarov (the head of the Knights)? Now all four of the drakon brothers have gotten their stories. We’re told there are more drakons out there but we haven’t met or even heard the name of any others. So, is the series going to continue with a drakon we’ve never met, or is it over, leaving tons of unresolved story lines? I don’t know what to think.

Even worse, the one thread that IS resolved is Nic’s mommy issues. Thousands of years ago, when he was a child, his mom threw him out and let the villagers chase him away. He’s had a huge chip on his shoulder since then and doesn’t trust anyone, particularly women, because he’s sure they’re all rotten. Of course, it’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because he doesn’t trust Constance he doesn’t tell her the truth, and because she doesn’t know the truth she has to betray him in order to save her sister. And then in the end, Nic gets a resolution of his issues that was so trite and unbelievable. It was just silly.

It’s always a bummer when a book you’ve been waiting for lets you down. If the author continues the series, however, I’ll continue reading.

Grade: 2.5 out of 5

Blood of the Drakon Series

two-half-stars


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