Tag: Jen’s reviews

Guest Review: Bring the Heat by G.A. Aiken

Posted September 15, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 0 Comments

Guest Review: Bring the Heat by G.A. AikenReviewer: Jen
Bring the Heat by G.A. Aiken
Series: Dragon Kin #9
Also in this series: Light My Fire, Dragon on Top, Bring the Heat
Published by Zebra
Publication Date: August 29th 2017
Genres: Paranormal Romance
Pages: 416
Buy on Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Goodreads
four-stars

HE SAYS . . .I, Aidan the Divine, am . . . well, divine. My name was given to me by the Dragon Queen herself! I’m a delight! Cheerful. Charming. And a mighty warrior who is extremely handsome, with a very large and well-hidden hoard of gold. I am also royal-born, despite the fact that most in my family are horrendous beings who don’t deserve to live. And yet, Branwen the Awful—a low-born, no less—either tells me to shut up or, worse, ignores me completely.

SHE SAYS . . .I’ll admit, I ignore Aidan the Divine because it annoys him. A lot. But we have so much to do right now, I can’t worry about why he keeps staring at me, or why he always sits so close, or why he keeps looking at me like he’s thinking about kissing me. We have our nations to save and no time for such bloody foolishness . . . no matter how good Aidan looks or how long his spiked tail is. Because if we’re going to win this war before it destroys everything we love, we’ll have to face our enemies together, side by side and without distractions. But if we make it out alive, who knows what the future will hold . . .

My minute or so of lazy Googling didn’t give me a definitive answer, but this book feels like a partial conclusion (or at least a pivot point) in G.A. Aiken’s long running Dragon Kin series, since it resolves a couple conflicts in the series and checks in with tons of past characters. If you haven’t read the whole series, I’d argue you can still pick up the book and enjoy yourself, but I do think you’ll get more out of it if you’ve read at least a couple other books from the series. (You especially should read book 1 because that’s Annwyl’s book, and I love me some Annwyl!)

This time, the hero is Aidan the Divine, and the heroine is Branwen the Awful. If you’ve ever read a Dragon Kin book you know the names are totally ridiculous (and OMFG so hard to keep track of), but I do love the way the women are usually given brutal and powerful titles while the men often get the pretty and silly ones. In the grand tradition of the series, Branwen does indeed live up to her brutal name. She’s a tough, deadly military leader, but I really loved that she also has a lightness that some of the other heroines of the series don’t have. And Aidan is a cute match for her. He’s gorgeous and kind, and he is clearly smitten with Branwen even at the start of the book. He knows he has to wait patiently for Branwen to come around, though, and it showed how perfect a match he was for her.

But, this series isn’t really about relationship development. There’s no deep dive into characterization, no slow build up of tender feelings. All the books follow a similar formula, with lots of sex and lots of the woman being too busy kicking butt to realize that maybe she actually likes the guy attached to the penis she’s been enjoying, until she finally gets a clue and it’s the end. The appeal of this series for me is the way it’s so female-centric. The tone was set in book 1 with Annwyl, who is the baddest of all the badass warriors. (Seriously, she makes a major appearance in this book and she literally single handedly conquers hell. This lady ain’t messing around.) There’s been a lot of talk about female rage in fiction recently, and this series has that in spades. The women don’t get victimized, don’t get pushed around, don’t get dominated. They are the meanest, the strongest, and the smartest, and they rule the world. It is an incredibly satisfying fantasy, and I love to pick up a Dragon Kin book after I’ve read a few too many books about women getting held back, abused, slut shamed, and murdered. 

I think this book is one of my favorite installments in this series because I liked seeing the past characters and I enjoyed Branwen and Aidan. If you’ve read any of the others I think you might like it too. If you have read some and didn’t enjoy them, or if you don’t like raucous, funny, violent fairytales, you should probably move along.

Grade: 4 out of 5

 

four-stars


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Guest Review: Going Dark by Monica McCarty

Posted September 14, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 1 Comment

Guest Review: Going Dark by Monica McCartyReviewer: Jen
Going Dark by Monica McCarty
Series: The Lost Platoon #1
Published by Penguin, Berkley
Publication Date: September 5th 2017
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Pages: 352
Buy on Amazon | Barnes & Noble
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three-stars

The members of a top secret SEAL Team can't keep their passion under wraps in this thrilling contemporary romantic suspense series from New York Times bestselling author Monica McCarty.

Like Rome's Lost Legion, a SEAL platoon goes on a mission and vanishes without a trace.

After walking into a trap on a covert op in Russia, the men from top secret SEAL Team Nine are presumed dead. Not knowing whom they can trust, and with war hanging in the balance, the survivors must go dark and scatter around the globe.

Marine ecologist Annie Henderson joins her new boyfriend on a trip to the Western Isles of Scotland to protest a hazardous offshore drilling venture. When she realizes that she may be swept up in something far more dangerous than she'd intended, there is only one man she can turn to. . . .

She and the mysterious but sexy dive boat captain haven't exactly gotten off to the best start, but something about his quiet confidence makes her think that he's the kind of man she can depend on. Because he's gruff and guarded, she can tell Dan Warren has secrets. But she could never imagine how high the stakes are for him to keep his cover, even as he risks everything to protect her. . . .

In Going Dark, marine ecologist Annie has come to Scotland to join a protest against a new offshore drilling location. Her boyfriend is the one who recruited her to come and stage a sit-in on the rig, but once they get to Scotland she feels uneasy about his behavior and about his friends. When she discovers what the group is really plotting, she has to put her trust in Dan, the mysterious captain of their chartered boat. Soon, the two are running for their lives from the people Annie has made angry, but the situation threatens to expose Dan’s own secrets, with deadly consequences.

This book was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I liked the action, and I liked the the times when Dan and Annie were trying to plot out strategy. One thing this book does that I’ve not seen much before is attempt to address politics. Annie is an environmental protester and committed to things like civil disobedience. Dan is a conservative ex-SEAL who has little sympathy for protests or what he sees as liberal whining. There’s no overt discussion of politics per se, but the two do debate lots of current issues. It’s not like Dan and Annie spent the whole book arguing, but it was enough to be noticeable.

On the one hand, I kind of admired that McCarty even attempted to address political differences in a romance novel. Often, the people in romances have jobs that clearly relate to politics and current events, but that is almost never acknowledged. You don’t think SEALs would have strong opinions about current events given that they are involved in so many of them? To pretend otherwise seems silly. I guess I appreciated the effort! However, I also found the debates kind of annoying. While I think Annie was a bit more open to nuance in some things than Dan, overall I found both frustratingly stuck in their opinions. I ended up thinking less of both characters. I can see why authors just avoid these topics, because I was annoyed at both Dan and Annie so frequently, and politics was just one more difference I wasn’t convinced they could surmount.

Differences really were my main issue with the book, though. I was convinced that Dan and Annie were in lust, and I was convinced that they made a great pair when the chips were down. I was not, however, convinced that they would make a great pair when they were back to their real lives. As I already discussed, they had really different views politically, but more than that they wanted different things out of life. Even if Dan gets his tangled problems sorted out, is he really going to want to settle down? Would Annie be happy with a spouse who was frequently gone and, more importantly, not excited by any of the things she’s excited by? I just couldn’t see it working long term.

I didn’t have a bad time reading this book, but neither was I captivated.

Grade: 3 out of 5

three-stars


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Guest Review: Highland Dragon Warrior by Isabel Cooper

Posted September 5, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 1 Comment

Guest Review: Highland Dragon Warrior by Isabel CooperReviewer: Jen
Highland Dragon Warrior by Isabel Cooper
Series: Dawn of the Highland Warrior #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication Date: September 5th 2017
Genres: Paranormal Romance
Buy on Amazon | Barnes & Noble
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three-stars

Legend claims When Scotland fell to English rule The Highland dragons took a vow: Freedom at any price.

The war may be over, but so long as English magic controls the Highlands, not even a dragon laird can keep his clan safe. What Cathal MacAlasdair needs is a warrior fierce enough to risk everything, yet gifted enough to outwit an enemy more monster than man.

What he needs is Sophia.

Alchemist Sophia Metzger traveled to Loch Arach in search of knowledge. She never dreamed she'd learn to do battle, ride through the stars on the back of a dragon, or catch the eye of a Highland laird. But as her quest turns to sizzling chemistry and inescapable danger, she'll soon discover the thrill of being caught in a dragon's claws...

Dawn of the Highland Dragon Series: Highland Dragon Warrior (Book 1) Highland Dragon Rebel (Book 2)Highland Dragon Unleashed (Book 3)

What People Are Saying: "The mix of hard-headed realism and fantasy in this novel is enchanting..."--Barnes and Noble Reviews for Legend of the Highland Dragon "An outstanding read! ...fast-paced, smartly written...impossible to put down."--RT Book Reviews, 4 1/2 Stars, Top Pick! for Legend of the Highland Dragon"Smartly written, fast-paced, and brimming over with magic and surprises, this is exactly what readers crave."--RT Book Reviews 4 1/2 Stars, TOP PICK! for Night of the Highland Dragon

Cathal MacAlasdair is the youngest in a long line of dragon shifters. He’s currently managing the family’s lands while the rest of his family is away at war, but he’s unhappy. He kinda wants to be back fighting but also kinda doesn’t, and he is feeling the immense pressure of being responsible for the entire clan. When alchemist Sophia Metzger arrives seeking a favor, he thinks she may be able to help him solve a particularly painful crisis involving his childhood friend and some dark magic. Sophia has to work to figure out how to save Cathal’s friend, which ends up being a more dangerous task than anyone anticipated.

This book was kind of a mixed bag for me. One thing that definitely worked was Sophia. She had a confidence that was just wonderful to read about. She’s very, very good at her profession, and while she isn’t afraid to admit when she doesn’t know something, she’s confident in what she does know and isn’t afraid to trust herself. Even better, Sophia was just as self-assured in her personal life as well. She is honest and open with Cathal once she decides what she wants, and she isn’t afraid to make decisions about what is best for her life. This kind of confidence could easily stray into cockiness or impetuousness, but instead Sophia is extremely thoughtful, never making decisions without first turning the problem over her mind and examining it from all angles. It’s her intelligence, instinct, and bravery that save the day in the end.

She and Cathal were a lovely pair, too. He has learned to develop that same confidence in his decisions as a leader of armies and son of a lord, and while he doesn’t relish leadership he does what must be done. Most importantly, he trusts Sophia. While he wants her to be safe and worries that he can’t keep her that way, he still lets her make her own choices about dangerous situations and respects her authority. They had some great chemistry too, and the slow build up of their relationship ensured lots of steamy tension. I kept thinking these two were going to make a really dynamite pair in whatever they choose to do with their lives in the future.

But some things definitely didn’t work for me. Probably the biggest was the magic system, I guess you’d call it. It was kind of a mix between physical potions, woo-woo spiritualism, and some undefined “magic”. I was mildly intrigued, especially by the way it tied into religion in some places, but the descriptions of things like brewing potions were intense and overly detailed. (First book info dump? Perhaps this problem will be resolved in future books in the series.) Frankly, I was bored with most of it and by the end I was skimming some of that stuff, especially because there were so many long, draggy stretches of time where it was just Sophia working. There were also a lot of real historical details thrown in, and my knowledge of medieval European history is minimal at best. While I was interested in the bits about Jewish history (Sophia is Jewish, which is so rare in romances), overall I found the history tedious. To top it off, I also was not a huge fan of the writing style. It’s not technically flawed, but I found the writing to be dense and more of a slog than I prefer.

While I liked reading about Sophia and Cathal, I was probably not the ideal reader for this book. If you’re a fan of medieval romances with some magic thrown in and don’t mind denser prose, this might work even better for you.

Grade: 3 out of 5

three-stars


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Guest Review: One True Pairing by Cathy Yardley

Posted August 24, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 1 Comment

Guest Review: One True Pairing by Cathy YardleyReviewer: Jen
One True Pairing by Cathy Yardley
Series: Fandom Hearts #2
Also in this series: Level Up
Published by Swerve
Publication Date: July 25th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 200
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four-stars

They couldn't be more opposite, the Hollywood actor and the hometown girl, but all they need is a little convention magic to become the perfect ship in Cathy Yardley's One True Pairing.

Jake Reese needs a decoy girlfriend. Fast. The lead actor of the popular TV show, Mystics, is tired of losing his shirt to overeager fans. Literally. Which is why a chance meeting with gothabilly bookworm-slash-barista Hailey Frost seems almost too perfect to be true. Hailey is not impressed with his TV fame and is desperate to save her family's bookstore. It's a match made in Hollywood, but as the two pretend to date, fan fiction becomes reality. Can this OTP become canon?

I was absolutely charmed by Cathy Yardley’s Level Up when I read it last year, so I was beyond excited that her series was picked up by a major publisher and that there was a new book coming out. I didn’t love One True Pairing as much as Level Up, but I had a great time reading it.

In Level Up, we met the sisters running the failing bookstore, and this book focuses on one of those sisters, Hailey Frost. The sisters are barely keeping their head above water, and Hailey is hustling in every way she can to keep the bookstore open, mostly so that her agoraphobic sister Cressida won’t be forced to move. If you read Level Up, you’ll remember that the women all love a show called Mystics, which is frequently compared to the real-life show Supernatural. Jake Reese is an actor on the show, and when Hailey meets him by chance, she concocts a plan to get his help to give the store publicity. Jake needs Hailey’s help, too. He is worried his contract for Mystics won’t be renewed, and his agent suggests that getting himself out there more would help. Hailey offers to help him increase his popularity if he helps her save the bookstore. Of course, things don’t go as smoothly as either one expects, and both of them have to figure out how to overcome their fears to move forward.

Hailey is a great character. She’s tough and totally devoted to her sisters, but she’s put her own needs aside for years in an effort to take care of them. Unlike so many romance characters, Hailey lives paycheck to paycheck. She worries about money, about healthcare, about what to do when she loses a job. It’s kind of refreshing to read! She is absolutely, totally terrified of relationships, however, and when she starts having feelings for Jake it freaks her out. Jake, though, is my favorite. He is an absolute sweetheart, and I loved that he was so ready to be the kind of partner Hailey needed. I really enjoyed reading about the conflict with his dad as well. His dad was a major Hollywood star, and he had a lot of expectations for how his son’s career should go. You can tell Jake has tried so hard to do what his dad wanted because he just wanted his dad’s love. In reality, though, Jake was just a nice, geeky guy who enjoyed being on Mystics because it was fun and fulfilling, and he needed to give up trying to meet his dad’s expectations of fame and stardom. I wanted to give him a giant hug.

For the most part, the conflicts in the book are realistic. Jake is wary at first about Hailey’s motives, as he should be. In fact, she really IS using him, and I didn’t love that. She wants him to promote her bookstore, and I couldn’t help feeling a little bad that while Jake genuinely wants to get to know her, she wants something else from him. Of course, she is helping him with his PR problems too so it’s not all one-sided, but Jake was such a sweetie that I felt a little protective of him! Because Jake is a genuinely nice guy, the time where he punches someone felt extremely out of character for him, and I thought it was an unnecessary inclusion. Jake could have handled the situation in a million other ways. Still, it was a small blip in an otherwise consistent story.

While I think everyone should read Level Up because it’s so great, you don’t have to read it to enjoy One True Pairing. It’s a smart, modern story and I loved it.

Grade: 4 out of 5

four-stars


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Guest Review: How to Tame a Beast in Seven Days by Kerrelyn Sparks

Posted July 31, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 1 Comment

Guest Review: How to Tame a Beast in Seven Days by Kerrelyn SparksReviewer: Jen
How to Tame a Beast in Seven Days (The Embraced, #1) by Kerrelyn Sparks
Series: The Embraced #1
Also in this series: So I Married a Sorcerer (The Embraced, #2)
Published by St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: March 7th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal Romance
Pages: 396
Buy on Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Luciana grew up on the Isle of Moon, hidden away because of her magical powers. But when her father arrives, he offers her a choice: remain on the island or return with him and marry the Beast of Benwick in order to save their legacy—and her father's life.

Lord Leofric, the Beast of Benwick, has not been touched since he was a child. Born with the power to harness lightning, he is a danger to everyone he touches. When he meets his betrothed, he expects a loveless, lonely marriage...until he discovers she's vastly more powerful than he realized. But is she strong enough to withstand his touch?

If they can survive, their love will alter the future of the kingdom. But will their extraordinary powers cost them everything?

This book is somewhat inspired by Beauty and the Beast, though to be honest it’s only very loosely related. In this story, the man with the Beast moniker is Lord Leofric, Leo for short. Leo is one of The Embraced, people born with supernatural powers. Normally The Embraced are killed when they are born because the world fears them, but Leo escapes that fate because he’s part of the royal family and because he’s so dangerous that he’s hard to kill. He can harness the power of lightning, and one touch of his skin can kill (and has, many times). He uses his power to protect his people, but they all are terrified and basically shun him. Luciana is also Embraced, but she escaped death by being hidden away in a convent her entire life, thinking her family was dead. It turns out they’re not, though, and because of political machinations by the cruel king, the only way she can save her father is by marrying The Beast. Luciana could be killed if she reveals the truth of her story to Leo, but if they don’t work together they can’t stop the king’s evil plots.

If you like tortured heroes, Leo should appeal! He does have a few friends, but for the most part he lives in isolation. People literally turn away from him in disgust and fear, yet he soldiers on using his power to protect his people even though they think he’s the one causing danger instead of stopping it. Moreover, harnessing the lightning is excruciatingly painful, and he’s pushing his body to its limits by doing it because he wants to protect others, which is a hell of a position for him to be in. Perhaps most heartbreaking of all, he can’t touch. He can’t be hugged, can’t hold hands, can’t even get a pat on the head, because even through clothing his power will injure or kill. Luciana is the only person apart from a few friends who sees the good Leo does instead of believing the rumors. There’s one scene where bystanders once again misinterpret a situation and think Leo is behind something dangerous, but Luciana loudly and publicly defends him. That scene just made my heart melt. It was clearly the first time anyone had ever stood up for Leo before; I’m smiling just thinking about it. The sexual tension between them is great, too. As you can imagine, “no touching or you’ll die” is quite the conundrum in a romance! I won’t tell you the hows and whys, but I can assure you this book is sexy.

I liked Luciana a lot as well. Her power is that she can talk to the dead, which comes in handy when she’s trying to learn about her new life. She’s sweet and kind and patient, but she’s not a particularly deep character. Really, though, neither is Leo. He has a lot of pain, but I almost felt like it didn’t impact his character as much as one would expect. He has been very isolated, yet he still is perfectly socially adept, flirting with his bride-to-be, handling the management of his estates, working with his army, etc. I just didn’t see a lot of consequences to his isolation.

Luciana has to lie to Leo and everyone else to save her father, which is perfectly understandable. She obviously didn’t know Leo and would have been foolish to trust him quickly. However, I really wanted her to come clean sooner, simply because I wanted to see her and Leo’s relationship develop further. Leo basically figures it all out on his own (and I appreciate that he absolutely accepts why she’s lying and doesn’t act all butt hurt about it), but the actual conversation between the two is a long time coming. Combine the secrets with the draggy pace in some parts and the fairly limited contact Leo and Luciana have for part of the book and you have a romance that never goes quite as deep as I would have liked.

I am extremely interested in the world Sparks has created, and I am hoping that future books won’t need to do as much world building as this one, leaving more time for developing the characters and relationships.

Grade: 3.5 out of 5

three-half-stars


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