All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Josh And Hazel’s Guide To Not Dating by Christina Lauren

Josh And Hazel’s Guide To Not Dating
Christina Lauren
Piatkus
2018, 320p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Just friends. Just friends. JUST FRIENDS. If they repeat it enough, maybe it’ll be true . . . 

Hazel Camille Bradford knows she’s a lot to take – and frankly, most men aren’t up to the challenge. If her army of pets and taste for the absurd don’t send them running, her lack of filter and tendency to say exactly the wrong thing will. Their loss. Not everyone can handle a Hazel. 

Josh Im has known Hazel since college. From the first night they met – when she gracelessly threw up on his shoes – to when she sent him an unintelligible email while in a post-surgical haze, Josh has always thought of Hazel more as a spectacle than a peer. But now, ten years later, after a cheating girlfriend has turned his life upside down, going out with Hazel is a breath of fresh air.

Not that Josh and Hazel date. At least, not each other. Because setting each other up on progressively terrible double blind dates means there’s nothing between them . . . right?

It seemed almost like a sign that I found this on sale through Apple iBooks the week after I had finished another Christina Lauren book that I enjoyed. It was only a couple of dollars and I’d been meaning to try more anyway and I’d heard some pretty good things about this one.

Josh and Hazel first met in college – Josh is a bit older and at one stage, was Hazel’s TA for a class. They weren’t friends as such, but had several interactions that were probably best forgotten, including Hazel puking on his shoes and sending him a basically unintelligible email. It’s now a few years later and Hazel discovers that Josh is actually the brother of one of her close friends and they come back into contact.

Hazel is determined to make Josh her very best friend and employs a bit of a campaign to achieve her goal. Hazel is….a lot. She’s really quite a lot. Everyone seems to know this, including her. She’s quirky and a bit out there and often does embarrassing things and doesn’t care. She is who she is and people can take her or leave her. There are times when Josh is clearly mortified but when he discovers that his girlfriend of two years had another boyfriend all along, Hazel comes up with a plan where she and Josh will fix each other up with people they know and go out on double dates. You know, because they’re best friends. Basically them being best friends however, is Hazel stating it a lot of times and Josh being too polite or too weary to rebuff her and then as he spends more time with her, she does grow on him.

I didn’t mind this. I actually thought it was pretty funny in parts and I really liked Josh as a character. I mostly liked Hazel – there were definitely times when I felt like she was a bit much and they went overboard with the “haha Hazel is so quirky and weird and people can’t handle her but she’s all whatever” type of thing. Normally I quite like a story where the girl is a bit out there and the male love interest is more straight laced and this definitely fit that bill but yeah, Hazel was sometimes rambling on about wanting to keep chickens in an apartment building and that’s less quirky and more delusional. Also the whole thing about her needing other people to make sure she kept her top on when drinking – Hazel is nearly 30 years old. Not some 18 year old frat boy at his first kegger.

But apart from occasionally rolling my eyes at Hazel, I quite liked the vibe she and Josh had and now it was them being friends (strictly friends) despite Hazel’s attraction to him and how it evolved. The dates were interesting and each of them managed to be different even as they were all quite disastrous! And I liked the idea, because they were actually trying to set each other up with interesting people, it was just for a variety of reasons not really related to Josh and Hazel for the most part, that it didn’t work. But the dates prove that Hazel and Josh don’t really seem to see anyone else when each other is around and they spend most of them interacting with each other and not their dates.

The thing where I felt this book was a bit of a letdown, was the ending. I really didn’t like the way it played out, both in general and the way Josh finds out about it and basically negates Hazel having to actually tell him and they never really have a conversation about it or whatever, it just becomes this….fait accompli. Instead of giving me warm happy feels (which the ending of a romance book should), I was just left feeling….meh. Like I wasn’t excited for the this development or the way it played out, particularly so early in what wasn’t even a fledgling relationship yet.

So for the most part this was an entertaining story but for me there were just a few aspects that lowered that enjoyment level.

7/10

Book #132 of 2021

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Double Review: Night Study & Dawn Study by Maria V. Snyder

Night Study (Soulfinders #2, Chronicles of Ixia #8)
Maria V. Snyder
Harlequin AUS
2016, 448p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Ever since being kidnapped from the Illiais Jungle as a child, Yelena Zaltana’s life has been fraught with peril. But the recent loss of her Soulfinding abilities has endangered her more than ever before. As she desperately searches for a way to reclaim her magic, her enemies are closing in, and neither Ixia nor Sitia are safe for her anymore. Especially since the growing discord between the two countries and the possibility of a war threatens everything Yelena holds dear. 

Valek is determined to protect Yelena, but he’s quickly running out of options. The Commander suspects that his loyalties are divided, and he’s been keeping secrets from Valek…secrets that put him, Yelena and all their friends in terrible danger. As they uncover the various layers of the Commander’s mysterious plans, they realise it’s far more sinister than they could have ever imagined.

When we left Yelena and Valek, she’d just dropped a bit of a bombshell and this book picks up precisely where the previous one left off. Valek, all practicalities, has Yelena explain her logic behind her belief and although they want to celebrate, the time to do that is short-lived. They’ve just discovered the return of a foe they thought was dead and without Yelena’s magical ability, everyone is vulnerable. This makes her even more so.

Of course, they are only together for part of this book before they split up once again. The Commander orders Valek to one of the districts to investigate some storm thieves and Yelena, who sought refuge in Ixia at the castle, isn’t safe there any longer thanks to the Commander’s dubious state of mind, so she heads back to Sitia. However before they separate, Valek finally realises where his loyalty truly lies now and what he must do going forward in order to prove that and also, cement it. It’s a big step forward for both of them, after 8 years.

Valek’s journey in MD1 was….revelatory. It forces him to confront his past in some really raw ways. I have to admit, I did find it quite amusing when Valek kept staring in a puzzled fashion in the twins, going “gee their blue eyes remind me of someone, who is that?” I enjoyed all of the scenes of him discovering so many new things about himself and his family, who we only have known the smallest amount about, prior to this. And his journey there brings about another change for Valek, one which he does not have much time to adapt to….and if he doesn’t, the consequences will be dire.

One of my favourites – this trilogy is so good.

9/10

Book #62 of 2020

Dawn Study (Soulfinders #3, Chronicles of Ixia #9)
Maria V. Snyder
Harlequin AUS
2017, 500p
Read via Scribd

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Despite the odds, Yelena and Valek have forged an irrevocable bond—and a family—that transcends borders. Now, when their two homelands stand on the brink of war, they must fight with magic and cunning to thwart an Ixian plot to invade Sitia.

Yelena seeks to break the hold of the insidious Theobroma that destroys a person’s resistance to magical persuasion. But the Cartel is determined to keep influential citizens and Sitian diplomats in thrall—and Yelena at bay. With every bounty hunter after her, Yelena is forced to make a dangerous deal.

With might and magic, Valek peels back the layers of betrayal surrounding the Commander. At its rotten core lies a powerful magician…and his latest discovery. The fate of all rests upon two unlikely weapons. One may turn the tide. The other could spell the end of everything.

And so we come to the end of this journey! All 9 of the books in this Chronicles of Ixia – the original 3 study books, the 3 Glass books and now this final trilogy. It’s been quite the ride and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. These final 3 are definitely my faves, although I do also have a soft spot for the first 3. There’s something about Yelena and Valek as a pairing. They’ve evolved quite a lot over the two books previous to this one. For Valek, one of the most fundamental things about him has changed and he’s learning to deal with a new normal – only to face losing it forever. In Sitia, a Cartel is using the drug Theobroma to gain control of the citizens and convince them that a terrible danger is coming.

This is the book where Cahill proves that he just never goes away. He turned up in book 2, Magic Study and he was a pain in that and honestly, he’s cropped up several times since, just continuing to be a pain. Yelena mentions ages ago that she should’ve let Valek kill him, which is interesting as the first time they had a conversation about him, she basically ordered Valek not to kill him. To be honest, things would’ve been a lot easier if Valek had slit his throat like 6 books ago because like a bad penny he turns up, ready to basically wreck the day. He’s an ineffective villain on his own but he’s ripe as a tool to be used by others. However he’s not as clever as he thinks he is and Yelena manages to outwit almost everyone in this book, except when people tell her that Valek is dead. It’s like those words render her immobile despite the fact that he’s been….well, Valek for the last 20 years.

I really enjoyed that the “core group” were actually able to come up with a plan that doesn’t resort to needless violence. It’s very considered and requires two people working in two different areas on two different plans to all come together at the same time but it’s pulled off with style. And now I feel as though everything they can do has been done and it’s time to go and let them live in their cottage and just enjoy being together after 9 years of spending most of their time apart.

Maria V. Snyder has mentioned that she’s done with Yelena and Valek but she may return to this world someday and write books about the ‘younger generation’ that we have seen begin to grow up – Fisk, Reema, the Z twins, etc. And I think that would be lots of fun.

I feel so satisfied and at the end of something like this, what more can you ask for?

9/10

Book #64 of 2020

 

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Review: From Alaska With Love by Ally James

From Alaska With Love
Ally James
Berkley
2020, 336p
Ebook via Borrow Box/my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A soldier has six weeks to convince the only woman he has ever longed for to take a chance on life with him in Alaska….

Sara’s letters were the only bright spot during Gabe’s devastating tour in Iraq. With each new correspondence he fell harder, needed her more, wanted to be with her. Now, after initially rejecting his offer to meet, she’s shown up at the door of his isolated cabin in Alaska looking for…what? Gabe’s not sure what made Sara change her mind, but he knows he never wants to let her go.

Major Gabe Randall is everything Sara Ryan wants but nothing she feels she deserves. A modern-day spinster, Sara hides behind family obligations and the safe, quiet life she’s resigned herself to living. But secretly, even though she may have stretched the truth about who she is in her letters to him, she wants Gabe. Will he still want her when he discovers the real woman behind the pen?

Once they meet, Gabe asks her for six weeks in Alaska. Six weeks to spend getting to know each other, and then she’ll have to decide whether they are better together or apart.

There are two “A’s” will get me to pick up a book whenever I heard them – Antarctica and Alaska. These areas fascinate me and I love reading or learning about them in any way possible. I’ll watch documentaries, reality shows, read articles. I also love books set there, obviously. Alaska tends to be the most common and I’ve read quite a few books, both fiction and non, set in Alaska. Most books I’ve read regarding Antarctica that are fiction tend to mention it or involve a brief trip there or near there given it’s a place where there are only research stations for scientists and no permanent population. The environments of both are so interesting – both are on my bucket list but unless I win the lottery at some stage in my future, I don’t see either as places I can realistically visit. So I must visit in books.

To be honest, the title of this is a bit misleading because Alaska isn’t really featured until past the halfway point in the book and it’s in such a way that it could really be anywhere that experiences snow in winter, it doesn’t feel specifically set in Alaska.

Sara gave up her job several years ago to become a nanny for her brother and his wife. She adores her niece but it isn’t long now until her niece will be in school and Sara is aware that soon she won’t be needed as much. When she overhears an advertisement on radio to write to troops stationed overseas and send a card, Sara decides to do so on a whim. She gets a response back from Major Gabe Randall, who is terse at first, but Sara’s warmth and wit gradually draws him out of his shell and soon they are communicating every day, moving to texting and then FaceTime. When Gabe returns home from Iraq he wants Sara to come and spend time with him in Alaska and see if they can explore this attraction that has developed from writing and talking. But a few things go wrong and…..soon it’s about salvaging something.

I really like novels that feature letters but this one often featured the letter that one of them would write as they were doing it and then again as the recipient read it, which seemed a bit of an odd choice as it made it feel a bit repetitive. I appreciated the idea to write to those stationed overseas as I’m sure it gets lonely and frustrating for soldiers and it gave Sara something to do that wasn’t literally being a doormat to pretty much her entire family. Her sister-in-law is hideous, I think it’s framed as her guilt being a working mother making her be horrible to Sara but there’s literally no excuse for the way she treated the woman basically raising her child. Her brother is wilfully oblivious to how horrible his wife is and is also guilty of taking advantage of Sara and believing her to be without a life. Their mother is manipulative and plays helpless since the death of Sara’s father and constantly critical of Sara, despite the fact that she’s given up her whole life to assist the family in various different ways. This got to be incredibly frustrating – it made me annoyed at Sara because she’s so incredibly passive and allows these people to just walk all over her, make her feel bad or worthless and even at the end, when it’s supposedly ‘resolved’ it didn’t at all feel like they accepted the way they’d treated her was wrong and she’d had years of them talking down to her. Gabe did make them see she deserved to do something that made her happy but it didn’t really seem like they acknowledged their problematic behaviour in a meaningful way.

Speaking of Gabe, he was fine I guess. A career military man who had little else in his life apart from his dog, Trouble. He has family but they don’t seem very close and he hasn’t met anyone he’d like to ask to wait for him whilst he does his tours and the like overseas. With Sara that changes and he sees someone he could make a life with. There are quite a few bumps in the road, some of which feel a bit farfetched. There’s a strong reliance on ‘mean girl syndrome’ for conflict, which is my least favourite sort of conflict for a burgeoning couple. Sara travels to Alaska but there’s little about it….Gabe is working for some of it which means she’s alone so they don’t really do any exploring, so you don’t really get that Alaskan vibe. There were times when his intentions, although I think were good, came off as a bit full on and ended up creating some awkwardness between them. Although Sara was such a wet blanket that she’d probably never have agreed to actually go to Alaska to spend time with him if he hadn’t basically forced her hand. She was so convinced she couldn’t leave her family and her niece in the lurch, after the years of being made to feel like somehow, she owed them. I do appreciate that Gabe could see the value in Sara as a person and was willing to have her back, stand up for her, make her family respect her. But it felt sad that Sara couldn’t do this herself. Her family were horrible to her when she was there, even worse when she left to see Gabe. It was disappointing.

This was just okay for me. It was a long time before I really felt any romance and although I appreciated the build, there were times when it was more awkward and distant and it made me wonder why anyone would continue to suffer through that. I would’ve liked more about Alaska, especially in regards to Sara going there from North Carolina and adjusting to what it’s like up there. Gabe lived in Anchorage, so not exactly the wilderness but it would still be a different experience you’d think, for Sara. It took a long time for anything to happen and then once it did, it felt a bit over the top but Gabe was sweet and I’ve no doubt that he’d make Sara’s life better (and more about her, than it always being about other people).

6/10

Book #82 of 2020

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Review: The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi

The Sin Eater
Megan Campisi
Pan Macmillan AUS
2020, 381p
Ebook borrowed via Borrow Box/my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Can you uncover the truth when you’re forbidden from speaking it?

A Sin Eater’s duty is a necessary evil: she hears the final private confessions of the dying, eats their sins as a funeral rite, and so guarantees their souls access to heaven. It is always women who eat sins – since it was Eve who first ate the Forbidden Fruit – and every town has at least one, not that they are publicly acknowledged. Stained by the sins they are obliged to consume, the Sin Eater is shunned and silenced, doomed to live in exile at the edge of town.

Recently orphaned May Owens is just fourteen, and has never considered what it might be like to be so ostracized; she’s more concerned with where her next meal is coming from. When she’s arrested for stealing a loaf of bread, however, and subsequently sentenced to become a Sin Eater, finding food is suddenly the last of her worries.

It’s a devastating sentence, but May’s new invisibility opens new doors. And when first one then two of the Queen’s courtiers suddenly grow ill, May hears their deathbed confessions – and begins to investigate a terrible rumour that is only whispered of amid palace corridors.

Set in a thinly disguised sixteenth-century England, The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi is a wonderfully imaginative and gripping story of treason and treachery; of secrets and silence; of women, of power – and, ultimately, of the strange freedom that comes from being an outcast with no hope of redemption for, as May learns, being a nobody sometimes counts for everything . . .

So recently I finally got around to downloading a couple of the apps my local library uses as a way to loan out both eBooks and eAudiobooks. I’d been meaning for a while, probably since the library closed but I’d had quite a lot of books to read so I hadn’t bothered. I had been looking for a particular book though and not been able to find access to it on either Amazon or iBooks etc so I thought it’d be worth a look checking out the loaner apps. Unfortunately I didn’t find that book but during browsing, I found a lot of other books I’d be interested in reading.

I borrowed this one purely on the strength of the cover alone. It’s absolutely stunning and immediately made me want to read it. And the premise is really interesting too. Apparently sin eaters were a thing – they would consume a ritual meal in order to like……take on the sins of a recently deceased person so that they might be absolved of them and still go to Heaven. I’d never heard of it before but it sounded fascinating.

May is an orphan when she steals a loaf of bread and is ‘sentenced’ to being a sin eater. They are marked with an S on their tongue and fitted with a steel collar that cannot be removed. They cannot speak unless they are hearing a confession of sin or informing someone what food to provide in order to eat the sins. May finds another sin eater and must learn quickly how to fill her new role, especially when the sin eater sees a food matching a sin she didn’t hear a confession of and refuses to eat it. That elevates May to the main role of sin eater and she stumbles on a strange and deadly mystery at the royal castle.

I’m not super good with my ‘years royal people did things’ but there’s a bit of a chart at the front of this book that indicates a previously ruling monarch had six wives, some of whom he beheaded. He also changed the religion, then it was changed back, then it was changed again, depending on who was on the throne so it’s obviously around the time of Henry VIII and those that came after him although the names are a bit different.

In this world, the sin eater is always a woman (punishment for committing the first sin) and it’s delivered as a punishment. They are ostracised from society – no one will even look at them and they direct any necessary conversation (such as where they need to go for a recitation of the sins or an eating) somewhere near them but not directly at them. Even the older sin eater will not speak to May so she has to learn which foods equal which sins by watching and learning and trying to muddle everything out herself. I found learning the different foods really interesting – and also slightly nausea inducing as these things all had to be consumed in one sitting after a person has passed away. Things like different types of cream could be sitting beside the heart of an animal or a lambs head. Seemingly the more vile the sin, the more vile the food.

The world is richly detailed and May well rendered despite the fact that for a large portion of the book she can’t really talk and few people will speak directly to her. There are a few exceptions – a foreigner who didn’t know or understand the role the first time he sees her, a vagrant or leper type person. A lot of the book revolves around May’s desire to know what a deer heart means, as it’s the food that appears on the coffin that the older sin eater won’t eat, because that sin wasn’t confessed. Although the older sin eater possessed a book that detailed what should be eaten for which sin, May doesn’t know how to read so she has to try and find someone to help her puzzle out exactly what is going on at the castle and why people are seemingly being poisoned and then foods for sins they did not confess to are appearing at the eating. Who knows about it and how are they making sure the food appears?

This was interesting but also strangely lacking in some ways. There are people and characters that seem to go nowhere or have no real discernible purpose and others that appear for a specific thing in a way that doesn’t particularly feel realistic. It got a bit bogged down at a certain point, where it felt like May was treading water and trying not to be murdered, but yet kept going back to the place where someone clearly wanted to murder her. They gave her little reason to really want to solve this mystery, other than the fate of the older sin eater but I’m not sure the rapport or solidarity was really built. Poor May is all alone and clearly looks for anything remotely resembling acceptance and affection and I guess the meagre amounts she received from the older sin eater was enough, which honestly, is incredibly sad. And I felt quite dissatisfied with the ending unfortunately.

6/10

Book #80 of 2020

 

 

 

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Review: The Lost Valley by Jennifer Scoullar

The Lost Valley (The Tasmanian Tales #2)
Jennifer Scoullar
Pilyara Press
2018, 361p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}:

Tasmania, 1929: Ten-year-old-twins, Tom and Harry Abbott, are orphaned by a tragedy that shocks Hobart society. They find sanctuary with their reclusive grandmother, growing up in the remote and rugged Binburra ranges – a place where kind-hearted Tom discovers a love of the wild, Harry nurses a growing resentment towards his brother and where the mountains hold secrets that will transform both their lives.

The chaos of World War II divides the brothers, and their passion for two very different women fuels a deadly rivalry. Can Tom and Harry survive to heal their rift? And what will happen when Binburra finally reveals its astonishing secrets?

From Tasmania’s highlands to the Battle of Britain, and all the way to the golden age of Hollywood, ‘The Lost Valley’ is a lush family saga about two brothers whose fates are entwined with the land and the women they love.

This is the second in rural lit author Jennifer Scoullar’s Tasmanian Tales series. The first book introduced us to a part of Tasmania that had remained mostly untouched – old growth forest teeming with wildlife, including the elusive thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger. It gave us a love story that spanned decades of heartache and separation and this book picks up into the future with the grandchildren of Isabelle, 10 year old twins Tom and Harry who unexpectedly come into her care after a family tragedy.

Belle has to adjust to having two young children to care for, at a time in her life when it wouldn’t be particularly expected. She takes to the task with enthusiasm however, wanting to give them safety and sanctuary, a place to heal their grief. They retreat to country Tasmania, to her family’s old property and there the boys explore and play, scaring off private tutor after private tutor. It’s not all fun and games though – the boys have their challenges and Harry in particular has a darkness that lurks inside of him, shadowing his relationship with his brother into their adulthood.

Woven into the story of Tom and Harry is that of Emma, a young girl the twins meet when their grandmother takes them to the city. Emma has passion for wildlife and spends her days trying to bulk up the feed of animals at the local zoo, which has fallen into mismanagement. The animals are starving, pacing their cages. Nocturnal animals have their burrows or hidey holes shut off in the day, forcing them to stay out in the open for people to observe them. It seems that no one wants to pay to go to the zoo and then have all the animals be sleeping and out of sight. This messes with their body clocks and makes them miserable and this part of the story was truly hard to read. I’ve been to zoos plenty of times, when animals haven’t been visible. One of my favourite animals is a wombat – try spotting any of them when you visit a zoo or sanctuary! They’re always asleep and so they should be, because that’s how they are. Thankfully zoo-type conservation has moved on and the animals are given habitats and routines as close to their wild and native habitats as can be perfected. There are still plenty of issues surrounding zoos and the like but the way they are run has definitely changed for the better.

Emma is soon forced to return home to care for her mother and her story takes such an interesting turn. She’s motivated by a need to earn money to care for her mother, who needs round-the-clock nursing. Her brothers are mostly unhelpful and useless and it falls to Emma to assume responsibility for not just herself but her mother as well. She crosses paths with one twin or the other over the years, her destiny tied to theirs in the most complicated of ways. I thought Emma’s story was handled remarkably well, providing a different insight into a certain sort of life that I don’t think many authors have portrayed so well. I think the reader was really given the chance to understand Emma’s position and her motivations and the ways in which she was able to make these choices for herself. It perhaps may not have started that way but she did use what happened to take control and power for her own destiny. She really does use what happened to her, the position she was put in, to better her own life and to be the one in charge. She goes from being very helpless to financially independent, reclaiming herself and her ability to choose her future. She is a really interesting character and I enjoyed the time devoted to her a lot.

As always, conservation is a strong thread running through this book, from the beginning of the boys exploring their new home to Belle confiding her secrets so that they may be preserved for many years to come. This creates conflict between the two siblings, amplifying the chip Harry seems to have on his shoulder regarding his brother and his confused and muddled feelings after their parents’ deaths. This builds so well throughout the novel novel, Scoullar expanding on the tension that has simmered between the boys since their childhood until it explodes.

This was a fantastic follow up to the first book – these books just flow so well and they’re so readable. I read both on my iPad and sometimes it can be difficult to judge how long you have to go until the finish but these simply fly by so fast I don’t even get time to wonder. I fall into the story of this family so easily – their loves and losses, the passion for the land that underpins everything. I think there’s another book to come and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

8/10

Book #167 of 2018

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Review: Chaser by Kylie Scott

Chaser (Dive Bar #3)
Kylie Scott
Pan Macmillan
2018, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Love isn’t always NEAT…

Bartender and all round bad boy, Eric Collins, has come to a crossroads. It’s time to take life seriously and maybe even attempt to settle down. If only the person he was hoping to settle down with didn’t turn out to be pregnant.

Starting over in a small town, Jean is determined to turn her wild lifestyle around and be the kind of mother she always wished she’d had. Since local bar owner and all round hottie, Eric, is now determined to steer clear of her pregnant self, it should be easy. When she goes into labor during a snowstorm and her car slides on some ice, however, it’s Eric who comes to the rescue.

There seems to be a bond between them now, but is it enough? And can Eric give up his manwhore ways to be the man Jean needs?

The third book in the Dive Bar series revolves around Eric, who has certainly appeared in the previous two books enough to give readers a very clear idea as to his personality. He’s probably best known for his messy entanglement with Nell, co-owner of the Dive Bar, who was separated from her husband Pat at the time. I’m a little salty still that Pat and Nell never got their own actual story and it was resolved as side plots in the first two books. I thought their story was interesting enough to definitely carry a full book and I wanted to know more about the background.

Eric is a player. Too many girls, too little time, seems to be his motto. Now that the rest of the Dive Bar crew are loved up, Eric finds that some of his activities are under scrutiny, particularly by Nell. When a beautiful woman walks into the bar, Eric sees opportunity, but that beautiful woman turns around – and she’s significantly pregnant.

That puts Jean off limits for what Eric usually looks for in a woman but he finds himself drawn to her anyway, helping her move into an apartment upstairs and just generally getting to know each other. It seems as though Eric hasn’t really had a platonic friend before (other than the women his brother and friend’s are in relationships with, which don’t count). But he and Jean develop this friendship, even though in the beginning Eric is quite wary of the whole pregnancy thing – which is quite understandable, the previous books give the reason that Eric might be affected by it on a deeper level than just being some sort of commitmentphobe manwhore.

The thing for me was I didn’t really get Eric’s decision to go ‘cold turkey’ on sex/women based on a few shots by Nell and nor did I see the reasoning for Nell be to quite so savage on him. How Eric chooses to live his life is his own business – and Nell’s criticisms are at best, hypocritical on one count. She seems to almost blame Eric for what happened between them and that really annoyed me. It takes two and Nell was there as well. She may have been in a bad place and I queried Eric’s reasoning for doing what he did but he actually explains it in this book and it makes a bit of sense. Perhaps he should’ve tried to explain it to Nell because for some reason she seems to have the worst opinion of him and I’m not sure he really deserved it. He’s a total player but from what I saw, he wasn’t leading anyone on. He wasn’t promising things he couldn’t deliver. He was pretty clear and seemed to pick people that felt the same way. I had liked Nell in previous books but she felt dialled up way too much here and if she’s still got some lingering issues over what happened and the grief, maybe she should look into that instead of taking it out on Eric. I’m not the biggest Eric fan, he’s a man child that kind of reminds me of Mal sometimes but quite a lot of the Nell stuff was unfair.

I liked Jean – she was level headed, mature but still showed vulnerability about being a single parent. She’d moved across the country for a flimsy kind of reason it felt, but she was a good balance for Eric and I enjoyed their friendship. I also really liked the way that Eric kind of ‘learned by doing’ – he’d had no experience with babies but once Jean’s was born and he started spending time with them as a pair, he didn’t need to freak out and that he was perfectly capable of being an actual adult and taking care of someone. So many people seemed to do some sort of double take when they saw Eric carrying a baby or tending to the baby’s needs and want to rush to take the baby from him. It was very off putting. I liked that Jean was 100% confident in Eric’s abilities and she didn’t make him feel as though he couldn’t do anything or that he wasn’t good enough.

I find this book quite hard for me to rate because it didn’t for me, have the sizzling chemistry between the characters that most Kylie Scott books have. Nor was it particularly angsty. Most of the conflict centred around what other people wanted and thought and there’s a large portion of the book where there’s nothing sexual or romantic happening. Eric learns a lot about himself so I guess this is a huge period of growth for him but the reasoning behind it felt like there was a lot of reaching. I think the fact that it was only Eric’s point of view contributed to this as well because it never felt like we got Eric’s true deep thoughts on any issues – not on his lifestyle, people’s opinions about his lifestyle, even his thoughts on Jean. It all felt like it was just skimming the surface. I think I’d have liked to see Eric through Jean’s eyes.

I liked this, I enjoyed the story but I didn’t love it. And for me, Eric and Jean are probably not a couple I’ll revisit again and again like say David and Evelyn or Lydia and Vaughan.

6/10

Book #79 of 2018

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Review: Summer And The Groomsman by Cathryn Hein

Summer And The GroomsmanSummer And The Groomsman
Cathryn Hein
Self-published
2015, eBook
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {courtesy the author/Goodreads.com}

It’s Levenham’s wedding of the year but unlucky-in-love Harry Argyle has more on his mind than being groomsman.

After yet again nearly colliding with an escaped horse while driving home to the family farm, Harry Argyle comes face-to-face with its pretty owner, and doesn’t hold back his disapproval.

Confronted by a bad-tempered giant on a dark country road, beautician and new arrival in town Summer Taylor doesn’t know who to be more afraid for: herself or her darling horse Binky. It’s not her fault Binky keeps escaping. The alcoholic owner of the paddock she rents won’t fix the fence and Binky can be sneaky when it comes to filling his stomach. But no matter how big and muscled the bully, she refuses to be intimidated.

When Harry’s wedding party book a session at the day spa where Summer works, both she and Harry are horrified to be paired together. Grudgingly, they agree to make the most of it – only for the session to spiral into disaster. Realising he’s made a dill of himself in front of sweet Summer yet again, Harry vows to set things right.

Summer isn’t about to easily forgive the man who called her horse stupid, no matter how brave and kind, but with everyone on Harry’s side, even fate, resistance is hard. Can these two find love or will Summer’s wayward horse put his hoof in it again?

Aussie rural romance author Cathryn Hein steps into the self-publishing arena with this sweet little romantic novella set in a world with some familiar faces for regular readers of her books.

The characters in this novel are so fun and it was awesome watching them evolve, even though the story is quite brief. Harry Argyle is less than impressed when he finds a horse on the road late at night and he doesn’t waste much time letting the horse’s pretty owner have it. Despite this early introduction into Harry’s temper, he’s really quite a softie and almost immediately regrets his outburst and wants to make it up to Summer, the horse’s owner. Before he can however, he finds himself at Summer’s mercy when the men of the wedding party Harry is participating in are booked in at the local spa and Summer is one of the beauticians.

Even though I kind of suspected what might happen to poor Harry in this scene but it was still so hilarious to read and it played out really well. The scene is kept light and funny with just a touch of the humiliation for poor Harry but it also helps them find new ground and begin to move forward from their previous encounter on the road at night. What follows is a very sweet, awkward and realistic courtship in a way. That’s quite an old-fashioned word to use for a contemporary romance but it fits. Harry is lovely, definitely a typical Hein hero, very much a country boy with a very gentle nature who gets embarrassed quite easily!

Summer Taylor is new in town and just wants a safe option for her beloved horse when she’s at work. I thought the story of the man who owned the property Summer agisted her horse on was very well woven into the story and he became a character you really came to care for the more you read about him. Summer had her reasons for wanting to look after him, perhaps going that extra mile when a lot of the other locals had dropped off, however some come to rally around to help when he really needs it and it became an integral part of the story that helped bring Summer and Harry closer together as well as showcase more of the small community.

I really enjoyed this cute and fun little romance with a very professional polish. Summer and Harry are amazingly sweet and very easy to relate to and it was nice to see those few familiar faces and get to be a part of something special with characters from a previous story.

8/10

Book #156 of 2015

aww-badge-2015

Summer And The Groomsman is book #64 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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Review: Tease Me Cowboy – Rachael Johns

Tease Me CowboyTease Me, Cowboy
Rachael Johns
Montana Born Books
2014, eBook
Copy courtesy of the author

Selah Davis left her small hometown in Montana behind long ago and now works as a journalist in Seattle for a magazine. She’s on a rare trip home for the Marietta Rodeo where she’s going to be interviewing the country and western star special guest as well as a few cowboys. Over drinks with her best friends, Selah tells them she’s been working on a more serious article about regrets. She confesses that her regret in life is not sleeping with her high school boyfriend, Levi Monroe.

At that moment, Levi walks into the bar. He’s also back in Marietta for the rodeo, competing in what is going to be his last before setting up his own business. He and Selah haven’t seen each other for a long time but Levi has never forgotten her. He’s supposed to be aiming for top honours at the rodeo but he’s distracted already by Selah….and the distraction is about to get worse!

Selah’s friends dare her to proposition Levi to a one night stand to rectify her greatest regret and Selah finds herself blurting it out. If she can get this done, she might be able to put Levi out of her head and move on. But Selah, the daughter of a minister, has always been the ‘good girl’ and one night stands have never been her thing. She’s older now, so surely she can get through this without putting her heart in danger…surely?

Tease Me, Cowboy is a fun romantic novella from Aussie author Rachael Johns that makes up part of the Copper Mountain Rodeo Novellas by Montana Born Books series where all are set in the fictional Montana town of Marietta. You can read any of them stand alone but the characters do appear in other books, although in supporting roles so there’s reward in reading them all as well. I have only read this one and although I didn’t suffer for not knowing anything about the town and who everyone was, there were definitely a few characters mentioned that really interested me and I’d love to go back and read their stories now!

Selah Davis is back in her hometown for the rodeo, doing some interviews and catching up with her best friends. The daughter of religious parents, Selah was always the good girl growing up, especially after what happened to her sister. This caused a few bumps in her teen relationship with Levi Monroe, because he was keen to go all the way and although she was too, there was something always stopping her from taking that final step. They ended up breaking up and haven’t seen each other since….until now.

Not taking that final step has always been Selah’s regret and now she has a chance to fix it. Selah and Levi have a lot of fun interactions in this novel and I appreciated the dinner that they have, which allows them to get to know each other all over again as a lot of time has gone under the bridge! They are able to catch up on each other’s lives and find out that they still have things in common and that the conversation still flows. It isn’t just all about getting down to business! I have to admit that I felt Levi’s hang up about Selah not gifting her virginity to him was something that he really needed to get over. They were teenagers and she did have every right to say no if she wasn’t comfortable or ready. Punishing her for it over a decade later did seem a bit silly and I think Selah took it in a far more good-natured way than I would have in her position!

I enjoyed reading this and I enjoyed the community too – I actually just tried to buy the bundle for the first few novellas but the link seems to be broken so I need to see how I can get them all onto my kindle and read about all of Selah’s friends and the hot cowboy types they find love with! This is both sweet and saucy and although it’s quite short, there’s enough done to flesh out the two characters and give them the groundwork they need for their happy ever after.

8/10

Book #165 of 2014

AWWW2014

Tease Me, Cowboy is book #62 of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2014

 

 

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Review: Hajar’s Hidden Legacy – Maisey Yates

Hajar's Hidden LegacyHajar’s Hidden Legacy
Maisey Yates
Harlequin
2012, 192p
Bought for my Kindle

Princess Katharine has always known that marriage wouldn’t be a choice she made. Rather her father and those around him would choose for her and it would be a political marriage. She was betrothed to the Sheikh of Hajar only for him and most of his immediate family to be killed in a bombing. His brother, who survived the attack now rules Hajar. He is almost never seen in public and the rumours of the injuries he sustained have led to the nickname ‘The Beast of Hajar’.

With her own father ailing, Katharine’s younger brother will inherit the throne but will not be permitted to rule until he comes of age (21) in 5 years. If her father passes before that time, which he may do, a caretaker is appointed to oversee the duties of the country until such time as Katharine’s brother can assume the role. If Katharine is married, that role of caretaker goes to her husband. If she is not – it falls into the hands of someone Katharine fears will lead the country into civil war. Someone who will affect trade and peace deals with other nations. And someone who will definitely not want to give up power when the time comes. And who would probably do anything to avoid that.

So she goes to Sheikh Zahir of Hajar to beg him to honour the contract that says Princess Katharine marries the ruler of Hajar, even though he was not the original intended groom. As she expects, Zahir refuses her but Katharine knows that this is something she cannot fail at. She must persuade him and use every political argument she can in order to do so and she’s willing to move into the palace and confront him every day until he agrees.

Zahir has hidden himself away from the world for the past five years, wracked with guilt that he survived, grieving all that he has lost. He admires Katharine for the way in which she can meet his eyes – there are not many that have been able to do that. And even more unexpected is the fact that she’s stirring up feelings in him that he hasn’t felt since before the accident – things he thought he was no longer even capable of feeling. He agrees to a political marriage in name only to protect her country and his… but he’s wondering if it wasn’t a huge mistake. Maybe what he wants is a real marriage…

I used to read a lot of M&B as a teenager and confession: the Sheikhs were always my favourites. I don’t read too many these days but this modern day Beauty and the Beast style story grabbed me + Sheikh of mythical Middle Eastern country + Princess of mythical European country + the fact that I’ve heard Maisey Yates’s praises sung a lot. She was recommended to me by Australian author Rachael Johns and so I thought I’d wade in and test the waters with this one, given it had already ticked a lot of my boxes! I was a bit wary though because one of its covers has it billed as Harlequin Presents and I have a bit of a problem with Harlequin Presents in the form that pretty much all of the heroes are overt Alpha douchebags who flirt with abuse towards the heroine. However this one? Is nothing like that.

Katharine has been raised to always do the right thing: look pretty, present a good picture of her monarch family, help with charitable works and make a great marriage. She’s tried to please her father but she’s not a male, so he’s not really interested in anything that she does, except that she marry well. Her betrothal ended when her would-be groom was killed in an act of terrorism and now five years later, Katharine decides to reinterpret the contract and apply it to the new leader of Hajar. She needs his help desperately. By contrast, Sheikh Zahir doesn’t really believe he needs anyone, with the possible exception of his adviser to make his speeches. He hides away in the palace to spare people the horrific sight of his scars, perhaps unaware that the very fact that he does hide only feeds their fear more. His people need to see a more visible leader, especially after they suffered so much with the attack. Zahir is bitter, tortured and aloof but he’s not a jerk. He’s occasionally gruff with Katharine (like the time she moves something and he yells at her. His sight is severely affected and he needs to know where things are to be able to navigate successfully, which she didn’t realise) but he’s never intolerably cruel. The two of them have a rather beautiful chemistry – she needs him and whether he knows it or not, he needs to be needed.

The sexual chemistry is even better! Zahir hasn’t really felt any sort of sexual desire since before the accident and his fiancée walked away, unable to handle what he had become in the aftermath. I think he maybe considered that part of his life over – that he’d never really feel those sorts of things again. Katharine is, as befitting any Princess offered up for strategic, political marriage, a virgin but she’s not timid or biddable. She can look Zahir in the eye and accept him for everything that he is – scars and all. This is the kind of book that proves that you can still do an old idea in a fresh and fabulous way – there’s lots of emotional intimacy and connection as well as sexual and the two characters are really well done. I’m very keen to try some more Maisey Yates now.

8/10

Book #335 of 2013

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Claiming The Courtesan – Anna Campbell

Claiming The CourtesanClaiming The Courtesan
Anna Campbell
Avon
2007, 375p
Bought for my Kindle

To the Duke of Kylemore and everyone else in society, she is known as Soraya and she is the most sought after courtesan. For years the Duke had fought to make her his lover and a year ago he finally succeeded with a one year contract that guaranteed she was exclusively his.

Now the Duke has decided to fly in the face of tradition and make Soraya his bride. She doesn’t exactly greet this suggestion with the enthusiasm he expected and he gives her a day to mull it over. When he returns for her answer he finds the house he provided for her stripped of all its contents and Soraya….gone.

Kylemore is incensed and vows to find her. When he does, he discovers that Soraya is no longer and instead Verity Ashton stands before him. She was forced by dire circumstances to enter the life of a courtesan at fifteen and she always intended to make her choices carefully so that she could retire early from her “career”. She wants nothing more than to now live a peaceful life, a peace that is shattered when Kylemore tracks her down and then kidnaps her, taking her to his very remote Scottish estate.

At first Verity longs of escape, although the remote location and dedicated staff make that almost impossible. But night after night, as Kylemore takes her back into his bed, she begins to realise that when the time comes, she may never be able to leave. Kylemore is difficult, plagued by the demons of his childhood and the instability of both his parents. But although he is demanding, he is also passionate and a lot lurks beneath his polished surface. Verity can’t see a future for them, with him as a Duke and her as a former courtesan but leaving such a man twice is going to prove very difficult.

I love Anna Campbell’s historicals but they’re not for the faint-hearted. They’re not your usual historical romance and this one which is I think, her first, is a little more difficult to navigate than most. Her heroes are almost always terribly damaged and are capable of pretty horrible acts, most of which tend to be forgiveable because of circumstances/the grovelling at the end/etc. However there’s no denying that this one….well….it’s a little….

Rapey.

When I was about to start my first year at university, I moved into one of the residential halls on campus. In the first week they gave us a big sexual harassment talk – most of us were 18ish, living away from home for the first time in our lives. They gave us what we fondly called the “sexual harassment cube” which was exactly what it sounds. A cube that you could manipulate to put different sides together, all of which basically told you what meant no (for the record, everything but YES, means no. No means no, I’m drunk means no, I’m asleep means no, I don’t want to means no, I am unsure means no, I’m unconscious means no, I feel pressured means no. IT ALL MEANS NO). The Duke of Kylemore could’ve benefited from possessing one of these cubes because quite frankly, he isn’t aware that a lack of verbal consent means no. Unfortunately, sexual harassment cubes didn’t exist then and although he paid for a year of Soraya’s services, that year was up. I’m assuming here that during the contract, Soraya had to submit to his advances, regardless of whether or not she felt like it – that’s what a courtesan does, although it’s probably more enjoyable for everyone if they’re enthusiastic. However, when he kidnaps her, she’s not playing that role anymore, so his taking her when she’s sort of in two minds about it (she doesn’t want to, but her body kind of does but she doesn’t give her consent or take part really) gets uncomfortable. For pretty much everyone concerned. Kylemore is concerned because later on, he feels guilty about it but it also doesn’t really stop him from doing it again. Verity is concerned because although she didn’t want to like it, she did, because she desires Kylemore and they’ve always had chemistry. And I was trying to read this taking into account the time and situation of when it was set but part of my mind was still saying “sexual harassment cube, sexual harassment cube”.

Get past that and there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on here. Justin, the Duke of Kylemore has had a pretty heinous upbringing and his mother still provides plenty of fodder for his emotional retardation. He has perfected the sort of veneer he needs to get by in society but at the same time, he also doesn’t seem to particularly care about it. It’s a ritual he goes through, something that he does because he’s supposed to and he’s willing to give all of that up in order to marry Soraya/Verity (before he kidnaps her). He was aware of her from the time she first arrived on the scene and although she had two protectors (lovers) before him, he waited for five years until he was able to secure himself as her protector via a contract for an extremely exorbitant price. When he kidnaps Verity, she tells him that the woman he is obsessed with is no more, that Soraya never really existed, she was just something Verity created (maybe because that way, it was someone else who was the courtesan?). Kylemore refuses to believe that Verity and Soraya are two separate people and sets about reconciling her to the fact that Soraya is a part of her and it’s okay for her to embrace that. It’s all quite progressive in some ways (if you ignore the regressive rapeyness).

This isn’t my favourite Anna Campbell (it skirts a little too close to a line I don’t believe should be crossed) but I appreciate the way in which she constructed this story and the characters. She excels at writing people who are flawed in many different ways and she always puts a new spin on the historical romance idea. I purchased this eBook as a 3in1 and I’m looking forward to reading the next two stories in the volume.

7/10

Book #334 of 2013

AWW2013This was the 115th book I read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge in 2013.

 

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