Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Cherish Hard

Cherish Hard (Hard Play Book 1) by [Singh, Nalini]
















Cherish Hard- Nalini Singh
TKA Distribution
Release Date: November 14, 2017

Rating:
πŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“š

Warning: Possible Spoilers Ahead!

Synopsis: Sailor Bishop has only one goal for his future – to create a successful landscaping business. No distractions allowed. Then he comes face-to-face and lips-to-lips with a woman who blushes like an innocent… and kisses like pure sin.

Ísa Rain craves a man who will cherish her, aches to create a loving family of her own. Trading steamy kisses with a hot gardener in a parking lot? Not the way to true love. Then a deal with the devil (aka her CEO-mother) makes Ísa a corporate VP for the summer. Her main task? Working closely with a certain hot gardener.

And Sailor Bishop has wickedness on his mind. As Ísa starts to fall for a man who makes her want to throttle and pounce on him at the same time, she knows she has to choose – play it safe and steady, or risk all her dreams and hope Sailor doesn’t destroy her heart.

________________________________________

Isa Rain knows exactly what she wants from life: a loving husband, a happy home, and a job she enjoys- the opposite of her life growing up.  No hot gardeners who are married to their business need apply.  Unfortunately the hot gardener in question, Sailor Bishop, keeps popping up and flirting with her.  There may be some serious chemistry between them, and Isa may be falling more in love with Sailor every day, but is she ready for the inevitable time when he choses business over her? 

Cherish Hard brings us back to the Bishop-Esera family that Nalini Singh readers first fell in love with in Rock Hard, Gabriel Bishop's story and one of my most favorite books of all times.  Cherish therefore had a pretty high bar to reach and I was thrilled that it lived up to my every expectation.  Gabriel's younger brother Sailor is working hard to make his dream landscaping company a reality.  He's also working to prove to himself that he is nothing like the pathetic excuse for a man who fathered him.  Isa Rain wants to live a quiet life as an English teacher writing poetry and supporting her younger brother and sister.  But she's fought every step of the way by her mother, a shark of a CEO who plans for Isa to take an active interest in her company.  Both spend the book fighting their own preconceived notions about themselves and their futures, their plans and where they are willing to be flexible. I especially loved Isa- a smart, creative, and caring woman who refuses to give in to the cold corporate example her parents have set.  Instead of believing she is undeserving of love, Isa has vowed that she will come first in her husband's life.  She's willing to fight for what she wants and brave enough to take risks with her heart.  

Cherish Hard is beautifully written, full of heart, humor, and heat.  Sailor and Isa have incredible chemistry on every page, but are just as compelling in scenes with family or friends.  Now we just have to wait for the other Bishop boys to grow up a little so they can have their own stories!

A must read for Singh fans and a great book for new readers!


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Daring Arrangment


A Daring Arrangement: The Four Hundred Series by [Shupe, Joanna]

















A Daring Arrangement (The Four Hundred Series #1)- Joanna Shupe
Avon Books/ HarperCollins
Release Date: October 31, 2017

Rating:
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Warning: Potentail Spoilers

Synopsis: Lady Honora Parker must get engaged as soon as possible, and only a particular type of man will do. Nora seeks a mate so abhorrent, so completely unacceptable, that her father will reject the match--leaving her free to marry the artist she loves. Who then is the most appalling man in Manhattan? The wealthy, devilishly handsome financier, Julius Hatcher, of course....
 
Julius is intrigued by Nora's ruse and decides to play along. But to Nora's horror, Julius transforms himself into the perfect fiancΓ©, charming the very people she hoped he would offend. It seems Julius has a secret plan all his own--one that will solve a dark mystery from his past, and perhaps turn him into the kind of man Nora could truly love.

______________________________

Lady Honora Parker has been sent to New York after a scandal in London involving a man her father deems unsuitable for her.  Nora hatches a plan to get engaged to an American so outrageous that her father will have no choice but to call her home and agree that her artist is a good choice after all.  And the incredibly rich, handsome, and scandalous Julius Hatcher fits her plan perfectly.  Julius needs to get into Society to solve a mystery, but riches alone won't buy him entry.  Nora's crazy scheme of a fake engagement seems like the perfect answer.   To Nora's dismay, the scandalous bachelor turns into the perfect fiancΓ© - and to Julius' dismay, Nora turns out to be his perfect match.

A Daring Arrangement is an entertaining story of (seeming) opposites attracting and a conveniently fake engagement turning into one both parties wish was real.  Despite very different backgrounds Nora and Julius are quite similar beneath the surface: both are intelligent, daring, and determined in all aspects of life.  One of the big themes to the book is change: circumstances change, people change, goals change, and the only way to live life is to accept that and be flexible enough to allow change to be a part of your life- sometimes at the difficult expense of pride.  Julius determined he would never marry or have a family because of the tragic, drunken ramblings of his father.  When he discovers how much he enjoys Nora's company, her wit, her conversation, and the intense chemistry between them he's still not willing to consider changing his mind about marriage. Nora was sure her artist Robert was the love of her life, and she's horrified with herself when she develops feelings for Julius.  How can she be so inconstant?  Fortunately her aunt has enough experience with life and love to explain to her the difference between a first love and a true love. 

Secondary characters like her aunt and Julius' friend Tripp don't get quite as much development or 'on screen' time as they deserve but they make the most of every second they have. It's obvious Shupe has done plenty of research into New York and the Gilded Age of the 1890s.  The city and time period are practically characters themselves, immersing the reader in the glittering life of the ballroom and the earthiness of New York dance halls with a perfection that matches her earlier Knickerbocker Club series (MagnateBaron).

I was hoping for more to the mystery that Julius is trying to solve.  He wants revenge against the Society men who ruined his father- but he doesn't know who they are or have much of a plan on how to figure it out. Nora comes up with a scheme to draw them out, but the whole revenge idea fades disappointingly into the background.  As a plot point it had great potential, especially for the emotional dilemma Julius finds himself in on discovering one of the names, but it pretty much fizzled out.

Despite hoping for a bit more depth to the plot, I enjoyed A Daring Arrangement - especially Julius and Nora and the great chemistry between them (both mental and physical!) and am looking forward to Joanna Shupe's next Gilded Age story.

Monday, October 23, 2017

American Wolf

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by [Blakeslee, Nate]
















American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West- Nate Blakeslee
Crown/ Random House
Release Date: October 17, 2017

Rating:
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Synopsis: Before men ruled the earth, there were wolves. Once abundant in North America, these majestic creatures were hunted to near extinction in the lower 48 states by the 1920s. But in recent decades, conservationists have brought wolves back to the Rockies, igniting a battle over the very soul of the West.

With novelistic detail, Nate Blakeslee tells the gripping story of one of these wolves, O-Six, a charismatic alpha female named for the year of her birth. O-Six is a kind and merciful leader, a fiercely intelligent fighter, and a doting mother. She is beloved by wolf watchers, particularly renowned naturalist Rick McIntyre, and becomes something of a social media star, with followers around the world.

But as she raises her pups and protects her pack, O-Six is challenged on all fronts: by hunters, who compete with wolves for the elk they both prize; by cattle ranchers who are losing livestock and have the ear of politicians; and by other Yellowstone wolves who are vying for control of the park’s stunningly beautiful Lamar Valley.

These forces collide in American Wolf, a riveting multigenerational saga of hardship and triumph that tells a larger story about the ongoing cultural clash in the West—between those fighting for a vanishing way of life and those committed to restoring one of the country’s most iconic landscapes.

__________________________________________ 

In American Wolf author Nate Blakeslee chronicles the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, focusing their story in particular through the life and experiences of O-Six.  O-Six grew up to become one of the most famous wolves in Yellowstone: a strong alpha leader, a caring mother, a skilled hunter, an intelligent fighter.  She raised three generations of pups in the Lamar Valley where wolf-watchers could follow the comings and goings of her pack and learn more about wolves than they had ever hoped.  Unfortunately, O-Six and her family have not only natural dangers to face inside the park, but increasingly hunters, ranchers, and politicians outside the park.

Blakeslee's American Wolf is a carefully researched, well-written book that uses notes kept by local wolf-watchers to chronicle a multigenerational account of the return of wolves to Yellowstone, seen particularly through the incredible stories of the Druid Peak Pack and the Lamar Valley Pack. New packs form, yearlings become alphas, pups are born, clashes between rival packs establish new territories, and American Wolf is written in such a way that the reader feels they are experiencing the events along with the wolves. Or at least the wolf-watchers. As with any good documentary, American Wolf doesn't try to gloss over the harsh aspects of life as a wolf in Yellowstone- there are violent fights for prime territory, lean winters, and leadership disputes right along with the cute pups.

For me, the hard part of reading American Wolf was also in the writing.  The style and brilliant narrative that make you experience the wonder of watching wolves with naturalist Rick McIntyre also means that you feel the other side of the culture clash: the hatred of hunters and ranchers in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.  Blakeslee has carefully researched both the personal and the political saga of wolf reintroduction and brings the reader courtroom drama fit for the movie screen as hunters, Fish and Wildlife, the state and federal government, and environmental groups fight in court.  As a wolf lover, I found these scenes terribly depressing. I will also admit there were a few parts where I cried when wolves I'd been following for chapters until I felt like I knew them met up with hunters.  The frustrating understanding of how environmental science and the beauty of nature are so often casualties to politics makes you feel especially helpless.

American Wolf is a rich environmental drama with a rare ability to balance a story between nature and politics, haunting emotional awe with down-to-earth practicality, love of wolves with a lack of romantic sentimentality.  A difficult, must-read book for anyone interested in environmental conservation and the amazing story of wolves and their return to Yellowstone.


I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review








Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Slap Shot


Slap Shot: An Aces Hockey Novel by [Jamieson, Kelly]
















Slap Shot (Aces Hockey) - Kelly Jamieson
Loveswept/ Random House
Release Date: October 17, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis: After my wife died from a rare form of cancer, sex was the last thing on my mind. Same with hockey, the other love of my life. Now, after fifteen months of eating too much, drinking too much, and generally just feeling sorry for myself, I’m facing a steep uphill battle to get my ass in shape and play my way back onto the Chicago Aces.

So I’m not looking for a relationship. Just sex. Yeah, I know how that makes me sound. But the truth is, I’ll never love another woman the way I loved my wife. When I meet a sexy bridesmaid at my teammate’s wedding, I decide to scratch that itch. A fling with Kendra Armstrong in her posh hotel room could be just what the trainer ordered.

Not only is Kendra smokin’ hot, she’s dynamite in bed—one of the perks of being a sex toy designer. Since she lives in New York anyway, we agree to keep things casual, no strings attached. The arrangement is perfect . . . until one of us falls in love. And it’s not me.

_______________________________

Max Hall took a leave from the Chicago Aces two years ago when his wife was diagnosed with a rare form of terminal cancer.  Now he's trying to move forward with his life, deal with his grief, and return to hockey.  Beginning to interact with teammates again means weddings and weddings can lead to all kinds of interesting things . . . What starts out as a one night stand with Kendra becomes a casual, no-strings fling and friendship.  Max doesn't believe he's ready for more and never wants to go through the pain of losing someone again.  But life sometimes doesn't give us what we think we want- it gives us what we need.  If we don't screw it up.

I've probably said this in other blogs but I'll admit it again here: I very rarely like books written in the first person.  I like seeing things through both characters' eyes, I like seeing what's going on in their heads, how their past experiences shape who they are and how they react to things. And of books written in the first person, it's even rarer that I like a book written in the present tense where the character is narrating events as they happen instead of a past tense remembering (which has a different set of pitfalls in my opinion).  I have no idea why I find it annoying, distracting even, but I usually do.  All that lead up is something of an explanation and an apology for why I didn't like Slap Shot as much as I usually enjoy Kelly Jamieson books- especially her hockey books.  It's the first among the Aces books (maybe all of her books) I've read that is written in first person and I'm sure it was done to focus on Max's internal struggle between holding onto his grief and his guilt at starting to really live again after the death of his wife.

Although we meet Kendra through Max's eyes and see their entire relationship from his point of view (which, spoiler alert, includes falling in love with her) I never really felt like I got to know her as a person.  I knew things about her: she's a psychologist who eventually switched careers and started her own business with a friend to make sex toys for women.  She has an instinct for 'fixing' people that's gotten her into lousy relationships in the past and she has a terrible relationship with her parents.  She's caring, fun, outgoing, and loves dancing and dogs.  But for all of that, I never felt like she was a fully developed, three dimensional person. Of course, I also had that problem with Max.  I didn't like him.  He would possibly have been a more likable (or at least sympathetic) character from the outside, but when the whole book is told from his point of view he really mostly came across as a self-absorbed jerk. His goal was getting in shape for training camp and getting back on the team. It's a great goal and I loved that he was so motivated and willing to work hard to get there.  But the self-defense process of not looking at his emotions to try and avoid being hurt again came across (in his own head) as not even wanting to admit to a caring friendship with Kendra, let alone falling in love with her, but just focused on good sex.

While following Max's progress out of grieving and back to living and admitting to emotions could have been a very reflective and touching story, I was left feeling a little flat about Slap Shot in general.  There are a few great scenes at the end where Max finally gets his head on straight and very well written and emotional apology and reconciliation scenes.  But overall, I was left wanting a little something more. Whether that was a bit of additional plot or more emotional introspection or more depth of character, I feel like Slap Shot was one of Jamieson's more mediocre books, with the potential to have been one of her best.    

Long time readers of Kelly Jamieson's Aces Hockey series (Back Check, Icing) have been aware of Max and his tragic story, but he's always been a very peripheral character.  So readers new to the series don't have to worry about having missed any backstory if they start the series with Slap Shot.  Personally, I recommend reading the rest of the Aces series first so that Max's return to the team at the end will give you a bit more emotional satisfaction than the rest of the book.


I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Grant

Grant by [Chernow, Ron]

















Grant- Ron Chernow
Penguin Group
Release Date: October 10, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis: Ulysses S. Grant's life has typically been misunderstood. All too often he is caricatured as a chronic loser and an inept businessman, or as the triumphant but brutal Union general of the Civil War. But these stereotypes don't come close to capturing him, as Chernow shows in his masterful biography, the first to provide a complete understanding of the general and president whose fortunes rose and fell with dizzying speed and frequency.

With lucidity, breadth, and meticulousness, Chernow finds the threads that bind these disparate stories together, shedding new light on the man whom Walt Whitman described as “nothing heroic... and yet the greatest hero.” Chernow’s probing portrait of Grant's lifelong struggle with alcoholism transforms our understanding of the man at the deepest level. This is America's greatest biographer, bringing movingly to life one of our finest but most underappreciated presidents. The definitive biography, Grant is a grand synthesis of painstaking research and literary brilliance that makes sense of all sides of Grant's life, explaining how this simple Midwesterner could at once be so ordinary and so extraordinary.

_______________________________

As someone who loves history, I have a terrible confession to make: Grant is the first Ron Chernow book I've ever read.  It will certainly not be the last.  Chernow's Grant is meticulously researched, well-written, with an easy style and flow that make a biography feel less like a lecture and more like an intimate conversation.  He provides descriptions and details that bring the time period and the people to vivid life.

Grant was a complex man: both brilliant and naive; overly trusting in civilian life while able to perfectly predict what others would do on the battlefield; a man who claimed to have no great political ambitions yet was a rare (at the time) two term president.  Chernow reminds us of the personal connections of the generals of both the North and South- Grant attended West Point and fought in the Mexican War alongside William T. Sherman, Robert E Lee, and a veritable who's who of later Civil War leaders.  The best man at his wedding was James Longstreet, who would go on to be a great Southern general in the war.  Chernow also brings front and center Grant's hard work for African Americans, supporting the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, with equality and voting rights among his lifelong crusades.  While Lincoln is remembered in American history as the President who ended slavery, readers of Grant will see that President U.S. Grant should be remembered as a tireless proponent of civil rights and militant enemy of the Ku Klux Klan.

Chernow doesn't turn away from Grant's failures in civilian life: his poverty before rejoining the army for the Civil War, his constant struggle with alcoholism, or Grant's repeated mistakes in trusting the wrong people in matters of finance- and occasionally in government.  Grant's personal traits: pride, stubbornness, loyalty among others are shown as what made him the greatest general of his time, but also caused a steep learning curve as President.  

Readers of Stephen W. Sears' Lincoln's Lieutenants will find this a perfect companion to their understanding of the generals of the Civil War, their successes and failures, radically different personalities, and their relationships with Lincoln. It continues to amaze me how individual personalities and personal ambitions shape the course of military history.

Fans of history, biographies, and military history will rejoice in this new biography of General Grant- which will stand unchallenged as his definitive biography for a long time. An easy, flowing narrative, Ron Chernow's Grant will change the average American's view of Grant forever.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Immortally Yours

Immortally Yours: An Argeneau Novel by [Sands, Lynsay]

















Immortally Yours (Argeneau Series)- Lynsay Sands
Avon Books
Release Date: September 26, 2017

Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis: One hundred and twenty-five years is a long time to nurse a crush. That’s how long it’s been since Beth Argenis first met Cullen “Scotty” MacDonald and he instantly became the star of her most X-rated dreams. Back then, he was rescuing her from a Rogue Immortal. Now Beth’s a Rogue Hunter—a damn good one. She doesn’t need saving anymore, despite what Scotty thinks. What she does need is the fierce, wild desire that finally erupts between them.

Scotty has hesitated to claim Beth as his own. But one explosive kiss confirms what he’s long suspected: She’s his life mate. But Beth is tough, fearless, beautiful…and in immortal danger. Unless he wants to lose her forever, he’ll have to rethink everything he once believed about love and destiny as well as confront an enemy who’s terrifyingly close.
________________________________________

With most of the North American Rogue Hunters down in Venezuela dealing with trouble there (Immortal Unchained), Beth Argenis is stuck working with Cullen "Scotty" MacDonald and a group of hunters from the UK who have volunteered to help out in Canada until things get back to normal.  Scotty may star in all Beth's most interesting fantasies but in real life she's pretty sure he can't stand her. So why is he suddenly acting so protective and kind?  Scotty has known for over 100 years that Beth was his life mate but he's waited until he decided she was over past traumas before making his move. The problem is that now that he's decided she's ready, someone else has decided they want Beth dead.  Can they survive a series of violent and creative attacks, figure out who's trying to kill Beth, and manage to work through their own issues to reach a happy ending?
I absolutely loved Beth Argenis. She's had more bad luck than any person should have, dealt with incredible trauma and abuse as a mortal, been turned against her will, spent over 100 years trying to deal with issues that would break other people, and still managed to come out a strong, independent, compassionate, and kick-ass person.  After being attacked by a Rogue she not only learned how to defend herself, she trained to be a Rogue Hunter and protect others.  It took a long time, but she managed to put aside her anger at life and begin to enjoy life and to lover herself for who she is.  Although she has had a crush on Scotty for pretty much her entire immortal life, on discovering that they are possible life mates she isn't willing to drop everything and become who Scotty thinks she should be (or thinks he thinks she should be).  Walking away from him might break her heart but she would rather do that than not be true to herself.  In fact Beth has probably one of the greatest self-affirming speeches ever written where she tells Scotty all that and more.  You are heartbroken by all the suffering she reveals in her life and cheering for her as the person she is today all at the same time.
Scotty is kind of a jerk and takes much longer than he should to arrive at these same conclusions (although in the end at least he admits he's been an arrogant idiot).  He may have spent the past century trying to protect Beth and waiting for her to be ready for a life mate, but he hasn't spent that time getting to know himself or learning from other mated couples the meaning of words like "compromise" and "teamwork".  His actions and ideas may come from the desire to keep Beth safe and happy, but they fall short of the mark.  He actually wants her to have her mind wiped blank to she won't have bad memories! Scotty is slow and Beth has to beat him over the head with the truth a few times (and shoot him a few times) but he does eventually get there.
Immortally Yours gives us plenty of time to think about how we are shaped by out life experiences- both the good and the bad.  It also makes us question how each of us would live as an immortal.  Would we hold on to the terrible things that happen and let them make us bitter or drive us insane?  Would we learn to live in the moment and be proud of who we are and how we've worked to get there?  Scotty and Beth both have traumatic pasts and each had a seriously terrible parent but while Beth has worked hard to overcome her 'daddy issues', Scotty (who's more than 800 years older) hasn't ever admitted that he might have some skewed ideas because of his mother. I wanted to hit Scotty more than once about assumptions he makes when he should have the life experience to know better. Fortunately, so did some of the other characters- and they were more than willing to do it!
Although a part of Sands' Argeneau/Rogue Hunters series, you don't have to have read all the other books to enjoy Immortally Yours.  It's removed enough from other characters or series threads that it would be a good introduction for readers new to Lynsay Sands and her Immortal world, while being connected enough that long-time readers will enjoy glimpses of a few familiar faces.  Fast-paced, with lots of depth to the main characters, and written with Lynsay Sands' trademark humor, Immortally Yours is a fun and fulfilling new addition to the Argeneau canon.  

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

ArchAngel's Viper


Archangel's Viper (A Guild Hunter Novel) by [Singh, Nalini]
















Archangel's Viper (Guild Hunter Series)- Nalini Singh
Berkely
Release Date: September 26, 2017

Warning: Potential Spoilers Ahead!

Rating(out of 5):
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Synopsis: Once a broken girl known as Sorrow, Holly Chang now prowls the shadowy gray underground of the city for the angels. But it's not her winged allies who make her a wanted woman--it's the unknown power coursing through her veins. Brutalized by an insane archangel, she was left with the bloodlust of a vampire, the ability to mesmerize her prey, and a poisonous bite.
 
Now, someone has put a bounty on her head...
 
Venom is one of the Seven, Archangel Raphael's private guard, and he's as infuriating as he is seductive. A centuries-old vampire, his fangs dispense a poison deadlier than Holly's. But even if Venom can protect Holly from those hunting her, he might not be able to save himself--because the strange, violent power inside Holly is awakening...
 
No one is safe.


_________________________________________________

Taking place at the same time as Archangel's Heart, Archangel's Viper follows the members of Raphael's Seven who stayed in New York to hold down the fort while Raphael and Elena are away.  Specifically, it follows everyone's favorite venomous vampire as Venom, rather accidentally, finds true love. Long time readers of the Guild Hunters series may remember Holly Chang, once known as Sorrow, as the girl Elena and Raphael rescued from the insane Archangel Uram in Angel's Blood.  Holly is beginning to accept her new life as a not-quite vampire but no-longer human.  She works with Janvier, Dimitri and others to keep New York safe. She has reconnected with her family, and the nightmares of her torture by Uram aren't quite 24/7 anymore.  But, like Vemon and Nassir (Archangel's Enigma) Holly is unique.  And in this world of immortals and angels, unique is not always a safe thing.

Because of her fast reflexes and poisonous bite, Holly is assigned to Venom for training.  Where others treat her gently, Venom treats her the same as any other new recruit.  He pushes her, annoys her, and makes her test her limits. When a botched kidnapping attempt alerts them to a bounty on Holly's head, Venom is the natural partner to help her figure out who's behind it.  But things become complicated and past becomes present as Uram's shadow continues to haunt Holly and it turns out that the past may not be quite as behind them as everyone thought.

As enjoyable as Elena is, the Guild Hunter books who follow the 'secondary' characters are just as good, if not better.  Each of Raphael's elite Seven is unique in some way and we've been able to get to know the men behind the warriors in these books. Venom may be one of the ones we know the least about, so it's no surprise how eagerly anticipated Archangel's Viper is by fans!  I think everyone will agree this story was worth their wait.  Holly has grown into a strong woman who may still be working on her confidence, but is learning in leaps and bounds and carving a place for herself in the Tower.  She and Venom have a nicely antagonistic relationship from the beginning that shows a great chemistry- even though neither believes it at first.  Venom thinks she's too young for him, Holly thinks he's a jerk.  But in the best Nalini Singh tradition, the more they work together, the more they discover about each other- and themselves.  Emotions like love sneak up on both of them, which really worked here.  Neither was looking for a relationship with anyone, especially each other, so it felt like a genuine journey of discovery on both sides.  I also liked how, even though Venom thought Holly was too young for him as a woman, he treated her as an equal partner in their investigation from the beginning.  She didn't have to prove herself to him, if anything he proved to her what she was capable of.

Much of the conflict in Viper comes from Holly's past trauma and what Uram did to her, but I don't think readers who haven't already read Angels' Blood will be lost.  There's enough background given and Holly does enough flashbacks, that new readers will catch up quickly.  Holly's story is one that she herself is still discovering, and the questions readers (new and old alike) have are questions Holly is looking for answers to: what did Uram do to her? What is she now? Why does she have the abilities she has, and what is the darkness inside of her?  The answers we get by the end are both a surprise and not a surprise. Holly has to learn what Nassir and Venom, and plenty other Nalini Singh characters, have learned: you are unique, an individual, and it is your choices that make you what you are, not what others try to label you.  

A great addition to a great series- Nalini Singh fans and paranormal romance fans will love Archangel's Viper!


I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Monday, September 25, 2017

Caught by the Scot


Caught by the Scot (Made to Marry Book 1) by [Hawkins, Karen]
















Caught by the Scot (Made to Marry #1)- Karen Hawkins
Pocket Books/ Simon and Schuster
Release Date: September 26, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis: New York Times bestselling author Karen Hawkins is back with a brand-new, sizzling series featuring three unforgettable, untamed brothers who must marry or risk losing their inheritance.

Dashing Scottish privateer Conner Douglas must marry a respectable, well-born woman—and soon, if he wants to secure his rightful inheritance. Determined to still explore the high seas as well as his mistresses’ beds, he aims to find a pliable wife who’ll turn a blind eye to his antics. And he knows just the woman—childhood friend and mousy spinster Miss Theodora Cumberbatch-Snowe. 

Unbeknownst to Conner, meek and plain Theodora has been hopelessly in love with him for years. But unwilling to wait forever for what will never happen, Theodora plans to wed a kind—if unexciting—local landowner, leaving behind the wild Highlander of her dreams.

Yet Conner refuses to let his perfect wife get away. He chases her to Gretna Green and is shocked to discover the real Theodora is an ardent and wildly sensual woman. Soon he realizes his passion to win her has nothing to do with securing his inheritance and everything to do with earning the love of the unforgettable woman who has vowed to leave him in her past forever. But have his wandering ways chased the woman he loves away for good? Or can Conner convince Theodora to give him one last chance before she marries the wrong man?

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When Connor Douglas and his brothers are given an ultimatum: marry a respectable woman (in the next four months!) or lose their inheritance, Connor looks for a way to have his cake and eat it too.  How does a man remain a privateer, travel around the world, keep mistresses, enjoy life, AND marry the right woman to keep his inheritance? Clearly by marrying a plain, manageable, undemanding woman. He instantly thinks of his best friend's sister Theodora, who is 'on the shelf' and therefore will be thrilled to get a proposal from him.  By the time he gets to Thea to inform her of her good fortune, she's eloped with another man.  Now Connor needs to track the couple down, prevent them from marrying, and convince Thea to marry him instead.  But will Thea teach Connor that love is necessary, or will they become two ships passing in the night?

Karen Hawkins (The Oxenburg Princes series) introduces readers to a new series and a new set of rakish Highlanders in Caught by the Scot, the first in her Made to Marry series.  Connor and his two brothers have spent their adult lives sailing the high seas, living adventures and raising scandals wherever they go.  Coming home at the death of their sister Anna, the brothers learn that Anna has tied their inheritance with a clause: marry respectable women. Her husband gives them four months to do it, or lose their inheritance to the clan's enemies.  While they'd be fine if the money went to charity, they aren't about to let the Gordons get their hands on the money!  Connor sets himself up from the beginning as an arrogant jerk who needs taking down a few pegs.  Given 4 months to marry he choses his best friend's sister, then waits more than two months to go find her and tell her he's decided they'll get married.  Being currently unwed and no longer under 20, Thea will of course be thrilled. He'll get his inheritance, then go on with life as usual.  

Thea has been in love with Connor forever.  He's never seen her as anything other than his brother's kid sister.  She finally decides its time to move on with her life, maybe even have a little adventure and romance.  So when the local squire proposes to her and suggests eloping because it will be romantic she says yes.  But the more time she and Lance spend together, the more Thea starts to wonder if she's making a huge mistake.  Connor showing up and asking her to marry him doesn't help matters!  What I loved about Thea is that she was determined to be her own person, and she recognized that she deserved a lot more than than Connor's selfish proposal.  Even though she'd loved Connor forever, Thea didn't instantly say yes.  She didn't assume she'd change him after they got married.  She recognized that they both wanted very different things out of life and that she didn't want- or deserve- less than happiness. How Connor thought this strong, independent, and fiery woman would be a meek and manageable wife is beyond me.

Connor and Thea both grew a lot over the course of their adventure, and I loved how Hawkins reminds us that growth (and occasionally compromise) are as important to a happily ever after as love and passion.   I liked how, until the very end, you aren't quite sure how Hawkins will get these two stubborn people to work things out.  Connor and Thea learn that love doesn't mean changing someone,  but sometimes it means they change how they see themselves.  And in the end, I think that was what Anna wanted for her brothers when she set the conditions of her will.

Caught by the Scot is a fast-paced, well-written and enjoyable start to a new series. A great read for Karen Hawkins fans and newcomers alike!

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Alone


Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat Into Victory by [Korda, Michael]

















Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat into Victory- Michael Korda
Liveright Publishing Co
Release Date: September 19, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis: Bringing to vivid life the world leaders, generals, and ordinary citizens who fought on both sides of the war, Michael Korda, best-selling author of Clouds of Glory, chronicles the outbreak of hostilities, recalling as a prescient young boy the enveloping tension that defined pre-Blitz London, and then as a military historian the great events that would alter the course of the twentieth century.

May 1940 was a month like no other. The superior German war machine blazed into France, as the Maginot Line, supposedly "as firmly fixed in place as the Pyramids," crumbled in days. With the fall of Holland and Belgium, the imminent fall of Paris, the British Army stranded at Dunkirk, and Neville Chamberlain’s government in political freefall, Winston Churchill became prime minister on this historical nadir of May 10, 1941. Britain, diplomatically isolated, was suddenly the only nation with the courage and the resolve to defy Hitler.


No one, after all, could have ever imagined that the most unlikely flotilla of destroyers—Dutch barges, fishing boats, yachts, and even rowboats— would rescue over 300,000 men off the beach at Dunkirk and home to England. The miraculous return of the army was greeted with a renewed call for courage, and in the months that followed, the lives of tens of millions would be inexorably transformed, often tragically so, by these epochal weeks of May 1940.
It is this pivotal turning point in world history that Korda captures with such immediacy in Alone, a work that triumphantly demonstrates that even the most calamitous defeats can become the most legendary victories.
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Michael Korda's new book Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat into Victory examines the the early days of World War II.  Alone covers a lot of events, mostly from the British point of view but also French and German: Chamberlain's failed appeasement policy, France and England reluctantly being drawn back into war, Churchill becoming Prime Minister, Germany rewriting the use of tanks in warfare, conflicting personalities and agendas among allied generals.  All leading up to the evacuation of over 300,000 English and French troops from the beach of Dunkirk, late May 1940.  Scattered throughout the researched history are personal stories and a bit of family history as Korda reflects on his own memories as a 6 year old in a wealthy family of actors and movie makers.

Based on the book blurb for Alone, I had high hopes this would be a World War II history along the lines of Lynne Olson's Last Hope Island- meticulously researched, written with vivid detail and an eye for making individuals and their experiences leap off the page and into your mind.  Alone is certainly well researched.  I now have a much better understanding of the creation and purpose of the famed French Maginot Line after reading the early part of Alone.  The research into the French and British military leaders, their different approaches, their conflicts among themselves, and the difficulties they had in communicating with each other (not only with radios, and phones, but personal dislikes that often meant one man in charge wasn't on speaking terms with another) was well done and gave you a sense of what the chaos on the ground must have been like. How they accomplished any successes with so many personal clashes going on is (as is the case in most military histories I've read recently) amazing.

The Korda family moments interspersed within Alone were occasionally interesting, but generally felt like they belonged in a separate book.  Instead of showing what life on the home front was normally like, more often than not they showed how money could soften difficulties. Korda frequently mentions how his uncle Alex worked with Churchill and the government to make his (then current) movies into subtle propaganda designed to gain the sympathy and support of the United States.  The Thief of Baghdad and That Hamilton Woman were eventually made in the US to seem like 'regular' big budget Hollywood movies instead of British propaganda.  But the reader never gets an idea of what that meant, or if it worked- which would have made me much more interested in it.  The actual telling of the evacuation from Dunkirk only takes place in the last 100 or so pages of Alone and often seemed scattered and disorienting.  I'm sure that this is what the people on the ground experienced at the time, but I was hoping for a more coherent and understandable account to this interesting and unique moment in history.

Overall I was disappointed in Alone.  Instead of being a vivid account of a slice of history it was often repetitive, and choppily written.  Personal family stories didn't blend in to give us a better feeling for the time but mostly jarred the reader from the military narrative.  Military leaders and personalities blended together, making it hard to remember who was who (often even what side they were on) and even Winston Churchill didn't spring to life here.  The evacuation story itself almost seemed like an afterthought, with a few good, clear moments.  People who have seen Chris Nolan's 2017 movie Dunkirk will recognize the inspiration for the "sea" story of The Moonstone, and find the original story ( in my opinion) even more interesting and gripping- one of the few moments I could say that about Alone.
     

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Whispers Across the Atlantick

Whispers Across the Atlantick: General William Howe and the American Revolution by [Smith, David]

















Whispers Across the Atlantick: General William Howe and the American Revolution- David Smith
Osprey Publishing
Release Date: September 27, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis:  General William Howe was the commander-in-chief of the British forces during the early campaigns of the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Howe evoked passionate reactions in the people he worked with – his men loved him, his second-in-command detested him, his enemies feared him, his political masters despaired of him. There was even a plot to murder him, in which British officers as well as Americans were implicated. 

Howe's story includes intrigue, romance and betrayal, played out on the battlefields of North America and concluding in a courtroom at the House of Commons, where Howe defended his decisions with his reputation and possibly his life on the line. The inquiry, complete with witness testimonies and savage debate between the bitterly divided factions of the British Parliament, gives Howe's story the flavour of a courtroom drama. Using extensive research and recent archival discoveries, this book tells the thrilling story of the man who always seemed to be on the verge of winning the American Revolutionary War for Britain, only to repeatedly fail to deliver the final blow.
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David Smith's Whispers Across the Atlantick what he calls an "unapologetically narrow view of the first two campaigns of the War of Independence, mostly considering events through Howe's eyes."  His preface opens by giving us the idea that within Whispers we will discover more about Howe, the general who commanded two successful years of campaigning in the American War of Independence.    He questions how it is possible that Howe is a nearly forgotten general among the British military annals, and posits that the lack of primary material from Howe and his family available to us today (the Howe family papers having been destroyed in a fire) are what have kept him in the shadows, seen only through the eyes of others. Smith then says that newly discovered draft of Howe's speech to the House of Commons in 1779 will help offer "telling insights into some of Howe's biggest decisions" and the Ph.D thesis he had been working on turned into a book attempting to make Howe a more complex historical figure for the reader.

A highly promising beginning for any history lover!  However, Smith largely fails to deliver on his promises.  Chapter by chapter we follow Howe through taking command of the British armies in America, through the capture of New York, to Philadelphia and White Plains.  Two years of campaigns are briefly touched on, the details of any given engagement largely left out.  Presumably the author thinks that if you're reading Whispers, you have already read extensively on these battles, their conditions, and the importance to both sides.  Each chapter begins with a quote from Howe's House of Commons speech and then an imagining of what his audience thought or might have reacted.  Readers like me, who picked up Whispers knowing virtually nothing about Howe except his name, may spend as much time wondering why he's going to be presenting to the House in 1779 as we do wondering what he's doing in 1777.  The answer comes at the very end of the book: Howe's resignation has been accepted and he has returned to England, but is unhappy with how things have been left.  It is hard for a modern reader to understand, based on Smith's explanation, exactly what Howe was so upset about that he pushed to have a hearing in the House, or what that hearing was supposed to resolve.  You get the feeling that Howe and his contemporaries may not have known either. 

There are some brief, interesting comparisons between the speech Howe originally wrote and the one he actually gave, although despite Smith's tantalizing promises nothing really comes from it.  Howe does not become a fully formed person for the reader, there are no striking insights into his character. The conclusion Smith comes to seems, to me at least, to be a confirmation of what Smith expected to find and what others had already deduced: Howe is not recognized as a British military genius because he wasn't one.  He knew how to play the game and say the right words to the right people to get the promotion, but in fact had no idea what he was doing when he took command.  The only real question seems to be: why did Howe want a job he was so supremely unqualified for, and why did he feel insulted when it became obvious to everyone else that he didn't know what he was doing?

A book with an interesting premise, Whispers Across the Atlantick fails to deliver on any front. While Whispers may provide minute new details to readers already intimately familiar with the battles and the players, it is largely a dry and uninteresting read that delivers nothing special to the casual American Revolution/military history reader.


I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Woman Who Couldn't Scream

The Woman Who Couldn't Scream: A Novel (The Virtue Falls Series Book 4) by [Dodd, Christina]

















The Woman Who Couldn't Scream (Virtue Falls #4)- Christina Dodd
St. Martin's Press
Release Date: September 5, 2017

Warning: Potential Spoilers Ahead!

Taking (out of 5):
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Synopsis: Merida Falcon is a world-class beauty, a trophy wife who seems to have it all...except she has no voice. For nine bitter years, she lived to serve her wealthy elderly husband. On his death, Merida vanishes...and reappears in Virtue Falls with a new name, a new look, and a plot to take revenge on the man who loved her, betrayed her and walked away, leaving her silent, abused and bound to an old man's obsession.

But Merida faces challenges. Her school friend Kateri Kwinault is the newly elected sheriff of Virtue Falls. A chance meeting with her former lover intrigues him and brings him on the hunt for her, and meeting him face to face shakes her convictions. Will she have time to discover the truth about the events that occurred nine years ago? For someone in Virtue Falls is stalking women and slashing them...to death.

Danger closes in. Merida's fears build. There's no one to turn to...no one she dares to trust. And she has to wonder--who is the killer stalking? Is he trying to silence forever THE WOMAN WHO COULDN'T SCREAM?

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Christina Dodd ends her Virtue Falls series with a bang in The Woman Who Couldn't Scream.  It's the story Kateri Kwinault fans have been waiting for since Virtue Falls first came out, combined with the suspenseful story of Merida Falcon.  Merida and Kateri were friends years ago, before life pulled them in separate ways.  Kateri shunned her rich father's family for Virtue Falls, her drunken mother, and life on the rez. She's just been elected the first woman (and first Native American) sheriff in Virtue Falls and its an uphill battle all the way.  Fortunately she's got a loyal cocker spaniel named Lacey and a love interest/complication named Stag to keep her grounded.   Merida fell in love, nearly died, lost her voice, married an abusive older man, and then disappeared after his death.  She's in Virtue Falls with a new name and a plan for revenge.  Meeting Kateri after so many years, she begins to wonder if revenge will make her feel better after all.  Reconnecting with an old lover (and a man who may have tried to kill her) means her emotions start getting tangled in her plans.  Now there are at least two killers running around Virtue Falls.  It's Kateri's job to figure out who they are and stop them, it's Merida's job to stay alive long enough to separate the murderers from the friends!

Like the last Virtue Falls book (one of my all time personal favorites) Because I'm Watching, The Woman Who Couldn't Scream is a high-octane, fast-paced psychological thriller.  We meet Merida in small pieces, through the eyes of others, before she moves to Virtue Falls. Once there we see things through her eyes, but even Merida doesn't know all the pieces of her past- which means we get to discover along with her the twists and turns of the tragic 'accident' that took her voice and changed the course of her life forever.  Dodd does a masterful job giving us hints to the truth while keeping the big surprises for the very end.  It was also great to have so much of the story focus on Kateri.  If you'e read the rest of the series it's guaranteed you've been waiting to see how she does as sheriff, how she's going to deal with the tragedy that changed her own life, and what the deal is with Stag.  Good guy, bad guy? Bit of both?  Both women struggle with internal conflicts as well as external preconceptions and prejudices to make (and keep) a life they are happy with and entitled to- you're cheering them on from page one. 

For being a small town Virtue Falls has more than its fair share of killers.  Kateri is trying to catch a father/son set of killers who shot up a cafe (injuring her and putting her good friend and fan favorite Rainbow into a coma) and now seem to be determined to pay back anyone who ever annoyed them.  Then more bodies start turning up, badly mutilated.  Serial killer or local crazy?  One or multiple killers?  You'd think the solution to this wouldn't work or be convincing, but Dodd pulls off another brilliant blending of characters and motives, ending in a chilling battle for survival.  There's so much to say about how great Merida and Kateri are portrayed, that there's no doing them justice except to say: these are two strong women who, in the end, aren't afraid to save themselves.

While you don't have to have read any of the other books in this series to thoroughly enjoy The Woman Who Couldn't Scream, many of the characters have appeared in the other books and you'll enjoy following their lives (plus the other books are also awesome) so I recommend if you don't read them first, you'll enjoy going back and reading them after finishing Woman.  

A great, fast-paced book that will keep you on the edge of your seat the whole way.  Warning- this may be a book you can't put down once you've started it!

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review