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Review: Secrets Between Friends by Fiona Palmer

Secrets Between Friends
Fiona Palmer
Hachette Books AUS
2017, 368p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Best friends Abbie, Jess and Ricki are setting sail on a cruise ship, rekindling the excitement of a school excursion they took ten years earlier to the historic port town of Albany, the oldest city on the stunning turquoise coastline of Western Australia. But are they truly prepared for what this voyage will reveal?

Ricki, a dedicated nurse, harbours a dream she hasn’t chased. Is she actually happy or stuck in a rut?

Jess, a school teacher and single mother to little Ollie, had a tough upbringing but found her way through with the help of her closest male friend, Peter. But Peter has bought an engagement ring and is ready to propose to Ricki . . .

Abbie had it all: a career, a loving boyfriend and a future, but a visit to the doctor bears scary news. Her world is tumbling down and she feels adrift at sea.

This is Fiona Palmer’s first foray away from her strong background of rural fiction/romance and more into women’s fiction. Jess, Abbie and Ricki have been best friends since school and Jess and Peter have been best friends since childhood. Peter and Ricki are now dating and the three girls thought it’d be fun to celebrate their ten year anniversary graduating from high school by revisiting Albany, a place they went to for a school trip. They decide to take a cruise – a few days of fun and cocktails. Their girls trip gets derailed slightly when Peter decides to come with them and use the trip as a way to further his romance with Ricki.

Firstly, I loved the setting. Fiona Palmer has been setting her books in rural Western Australia for a long time, which I always enjoy but it was quite fun to board a cruise ship with the characters. I’ve never been on a cruise ship before but the idea of a short cruise is appealing. I’ve never visited WA either so perhaps that is why I always enjoy visiting it so much in fiction. It’s a way to experience it.

Each of the women are hiding secrets – some more serious than others. Abbie is hiding a lot about her life and in particular about something that she’s just discovered which is hanging over her head on the cruise. Ricki is feeling a bit restless, perhaps not even realising what the problem was until someone reignited feelings in her about her job and about her life. And Jess, well Jess is carrying two intertwined secrets which definitely threaten two of the friendships she holds dearest.

Okay so as well as things I did like about the story, there were a few things that I did have trouble with. Some of those revolved around the secrets, which seemed strange. I mean, I understood why some things were kept secret, as difficult as those were but the reasoning behind keeping some of the lesser secrets kind of confused me. Also – there’s some people that behave quite horribly and I didn’t really find it okay because “both of them did it”. That’s not good reasoning to me, especially as they were unaware of each other doing it and it felt quite uncomfortable to read. It’s also a bit of a deal breaker for me generally, depending on the circumstances but I didn’t feel as though these ones felt like enough. One element of the story felt almost too good to be true, like a convenient out for the other to occur in a way. And some of the fallout felt quite one sided, like some of the issues on both sides weren’t really discussed or explored, it was really more focused on one particular side and the people involved in that situation.

I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone but I did have some trouble connecting to or liking some characters because some of their actions were so dramatically unpleasant and unnecessary. But I did admire the friendship between them and the fact that it was built to withstand an awful lot and that they were remarkably understanding about each other’s secrets and indiscretions – but I wasn’t sure if that understanding came from a place of love and friendship or because several of them were doing the same thing and couldn’t really be angry. A lot of drama certainly came out during this brief cruise though, that’s for sure!

All in all this was a bit of a mixed bag for me – loved the setting and some elements of the story. The idea of the four of them going on the cruise was a lot of fun and a perfect place for secrets to come out because they can’t really escape, they have to face each other and sort things out. But some of the secrets made it difficult to really care about the characters, who were being a bit selfish and unfair to those that they cared about. And I wasn’t really expecting a part of the ending, which had some bittersweet elements to it. If you’re looking for a full and total HEA this might not be the sort of story that you’re after.

7/10

Book #155 of 2017

Secrets Between Friends is book #47 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: So I Married A Sorcerer by Kerrelyn Sparks

So I Married A Sorcerer (The Embraced #2)
Kerrelyn Sparks
St Martin’s Press
2017, 496p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Growing up on the Isle of Moon, Brigitta knows nothing of her past, except that she is Embraced: born with powers that forced her into hiding. Everything changes when she learns she’s a princess, hidden away from her villainous half-brother who now rules the kingdom. But he knows about Brigitta, and he’ll do anything to get her back. Unless a certain roguish pirate has anything to say about it…

Rupert is both an infamous pirate and a sorcerer with the power to harness the wind. He’s been waiting nineteen years for revenge—and he needs Brigitta to get it. What begins as a kidnapping of the fiery beauty turns into a fierce attraction. But can he win the captive princess’s heart?

I read the first book in this series about six months ago and really enjoyed the story and the set up so I was eager to read this one. The title for this one is a bit misleading the cover a bit off putting. I know these are romances with a fantasy/paranormal twist but bleh. Horrid.

Anyway. At first I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the first one mostly because I found Rupert (ha, also a really ridiculous name although it’s not his real name. Actually his real name isn’t much better) really annoying for half of the book. He kidnaps Brigitta, one of the women raised on the Isle of Moon because she’s embraced and being embraced is still punishable by death in a lot of places on the ‘mainland’ of kingdoms. Rupert is a notorious pirate who has dedicated his life to getting revenge on Brigitta’s brother and he plans to ransom her to him in order to get even more of his gold. He has a (well placed) hatred of Brigitta’s brother but he spends a large portion of the first part of the book also attempting to hate Brigitta simply by association. He also gets mad at her brother for wanting to hold a tournament for her hand because that’s using her, conveniently forgetting that he’s using her himself for his own gain. Brigitta was sent to the Isle of Moon as a baby for her own protection and has not had anything to do with her family since. She didn’t even know who they were. The idea of Rupert blaming her for their actions is laughable, especially as Rupert is supposedly presented as this incredibly fair and just man with strong morals (even the pirate thing is a bit of a furphy). Some of the stuff he comes out with is so hypocritically laughable that I spent a large portion of the book incredulous at his stupidity.

But if the first half of the book is ordinary, the second half is actually quite good. Brigitta begins to take her destiny into her own hands and learns a lot about herself, her heritage and what she could have. Rupert calms down a bit in wanting to do everything his way and there’s quite an interesting plan concocted to attempt to thwart Brigitta’s brother’s plans for her. There’s a lot of action and sneaky plots and a few interesting minor characters that are definitely more than they appear. A section of this book also works to set up the next book, introducing the reader to the people of a country (Kingdon? Nation?) bordering that of Brigitta’s brother and it looks very interesting. I did feel that there were still things in the second half that felt a bit awkward (like the sudden 180 of Brigitta’s brother’s personality) but for the most part it was very enjoyable and I really liked Brigitta. For me, she was the backbone of the book because her character was so well done that it sort of camouflaged the fact that Rupert’s was a little bit weak. I enjoyed the sideplot of the captain and the nun which added a touch of humour and sweetness but mostly I find myself excited for the next book. There are dragons.

The romance could’ve done with a bit of work, it felt a little forced in places. I’m not sure how I feel about the destiny aspect of these novels. I think that because these meetings are predicted in the games the girls of the Isle play with the stones that there’s less work put into orchestrating that chemistry and making it sizzling. Rupert and Brigitta never really felt like they had much chemistry for me, because the set up was all in that first half where Rupert is being a bit of a giant pill. The second half was a bit better, during the competition where Rupert is no longer concerned with using Brigitta but it’s a bit hard to get behind a character who has kidnapped the woman in order to ransom her to a man generally acknowledged to be a heinous person. If Rupert was smart enough to locate her on a ship as she made her way from the Isle to visit her sister, now Queen of one of the mainland Kingdoms, then surely he’s smart enough to realise she’s been raised in seclusion away from her family and was a tiny baby at the time who literally had no idea what had even happened. I did really like both of their gifts though – Rupert’s controlling the wind certainly gave him an advantage against other ships and he was pretty good at what he did with the pirate thing. And Brigitta’s gift definitely gave her an advantage in that it allowed her to discover things that Rupert didn’t want to tell her. Otherwise she’d have been kept in the dark about a lot of things and she was the one who really had ideas once she did know those things.

This one was a bit of a mixed bag for me – really liked Brigitta and the second part of the story and the way in which they worked together as a team but the first part felt like it needed a little bit of work in terms of making Rupert a credible character. I’m really looking forward to the next one – the bond these girls have from being raised together is amazing and I am enjoying their journeys as they leave the Isle and fulfill their destinies.

6/10

Book #145 of 2017

 

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Review: If There’s No Tomorrow by Jennifer L. Armentrout

If There’s No Tomorrow
Jennifer L. Armentrout
Harlequin Teen AUS
2017, 250p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Lena Wise is always looking forward to tomorrow, especially at the start of her senior year. She’s ready to pack in as much friend time as possible, to finish college applications and to maybe let her childhood best friend, Sebastian, know how she really feels about him. For Lena, the upcoming year is going to be one of opportunities and chances.

Until one choice, one moment, destroys everything.

Now Lena isn’t looking forward to tomorrow. Not when friend time may never be the same. Not when college applications feel all but impossible. Not when Sebastian could never forgive her for what happened.

For what she let happen. 

With the guilt growing each day, Lena knows that her only hope is to move on. But how can she move on when tomorrow isn’t even guaranteed?

I love the cover of this book. I think it’s very eye catching and immediately made me want to read it. Love the colours and the title is intriguing enough. I’ve read Jennifer L. Armentrout before – I think I started one of her paranormal series but like many, never got around to locating all of the books to complete it. This is a straight up contemporary focusing on Lena, her neighbour Sebastian and their group of friends in the summer leading up to their final year of school. They are preoccupied with things like college choices, potential sporting scholarships etc but are still finding time to hang out and go to parties.

At first this is kind of a bit of a bland story about Lena and her mad crush on Sebastian, whom she has known since she was around seven or eight. She believes this crush is unrequited, something that’s heightened when she does something and Sebastian doesn’t really respond in the way she’d hoped, despite the clues she’d been given. But then at some point into the book it takes a pretty serious and devastating turn and all of a sudden, the romance (or potential romance) takes a serious backseat and the book focuses on Lena’s inability to really deal with what happened, process it and begin to move on as well as her crippling guilt of the circumstances surrounding what has happened.

I enjoyed Lena as a character and thought she was quite well developed. She’s quite damaged by what happened with her parents and even though it’s been a few years, it seems as though it really still impacts on her and her life quite a lot. Although she’s been crushing on Sebastian for years, she seems reluctant to really talk about it or even acknowledge it properly to her close friends (perhaps because until recently, Sebastian has had a girlfriend). She has a good relationship with her mother, actively participates at school (she plays volleyball, which she loves although she hates the training drills), works a part time job and finds time to socialise. In this book, Lena makes a mistake. It’s possibly a mistake that anyone could make – I thought back and there were times in my life where I could’ve made this same mistake. It could’ve had absolutely no bearing on her life but unfortunately the mistake Lena makes ends up resulting in an horrific tragedy. In the ‘after’, Lena is a different person – overwhelmed by guilt, she withdraws from those she has been closest to, including Sebastian and her friends. She isn’t able to express to them how she feels and what truly happened, for fear that they will blame her as she blames herself. I loved her book obsession as well – could definitely relate to that!

I think the way in which the author explored this was both realistic and also positive but without ever seeking to exonerate Lena from the choice that she made. It’s true that she does make a bad choice but she isn’t the only one that makes bad choices. Quite a few people made bad choices and they are all reasons why what happened, happened. It’s a good look at how a seemingly harmless choice to go along with the crowd can have some really devastating consequences and how it can be hard to speak up in these circumstances. It’s really hard to explore this without giving away precisely what happens to Lena and the result of all those choices but I liked the way the author tackled this. There was a bluntness to it, no attempt to really soften it and it shouldn’t be softened I don’t think. I think the attitude of “it’ll be okay” can be really harmful with this particular issue and the more it’s called out as completely unacceptable, the better.

I didn’t really like Sebastian as a character and a large portion of the book revolved around him. He gave off a lot of really confusing mixed messages and acted like a bit of a brat in the first part of the book and I couldn’t really understand what had Lena so enthralled with him. But he did step up quite a bit in the second part of the book and he was very good to Lena after what happened, even when she’s withdrawn from everyone and pushes everyone away. Ultimately though, I just didn’t have that investment in their romance and it does make up such a huge part of the book. I liked most of the other things though – Lena’s relationship with her friends, their dynamic, her family stuff. So I guess this one was a little bit mixed – things I enjoyed, other things just didn’t really work for me so much.

6/10

Book #143 of 2017

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Review: Dangerous Minds by Janet Evanovich

Dangerous Minds (Knight & Moon #2)
Janet Evanovich
Headline Review
2017, 336p
Copy courtesy of Hachette AUS via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

DANGEROUS MINDS is a thrilling, adrenaline-fuelled adventure featuring unlikely sleuths Knight & Moon from Janet Evanovich, author of the New York Times bestseller CURIOUS MINDS, which introduced Knight and Moon, and beloved author of the No. 1 bestsellers in the Stephanie Plum series. A must-read for fans of Sue Grafton and J D Robb.

Buddhist monk Wayan Bagus has lost his island of solitude and wants it back. The Pacific island had a mountain, beaches, a rainforest, and a volcano. And now it’s gone. Poof! Vanished without a trace.

Boyishly charming Emerson Knight likes nothing better than solving an unsolvable mystery. Finding a missing island is better than Christmas morning in the Knight household. When clues start leading to a dark and sinister secret, Emerson will need to assemble a crack team for help. Since a crack team isn’t available, he enlists his cousin Vernon and Riley Moon. Riley Moon has a Harvard business degree and can shoot the eyes out of a grasshopper at fifty feet, but she can’t figure out how to escape Emerson Knight’s odd world. Vernon has been Emerson’s loyal and enthusiastic partner in crime since childhood.

Together, this mismatched trio will embark on a world-wide investigation that will expose a conspiracy one hundred years in the making. 

I’m a bit confused about the writing of this series. I thought the entire thing was a collaboration with Phoef Sutton but this book bills only Janet Evanovich and to be honest, it feels different from the first one. Particularly the character of Emerson Knight. And although Curious Minds, the first book in this series is listed on Phoef Sutton’s website, this one is not. So I’m not sure if it’s still a collaboration? I thought it was for 4 books but honestly, who knows.

This book is ridiculous. But I think that people who pick up books with Janet Evanovich’s name on the front cover probably expect ridiculous by now. The first one was kind of ridiculous too but tempered ridiculous, if that makes sense. I get the feeling that the tempered may be going by the wayside from now on though.

Riley is now working for Emerson, I’m not even sure what she does, he has some ridiculous name for it but basically she’s some sort of assistant. I guess he felt bad for her considering he basically cost her her job and he has buckets of money so he can afford to employ her. I guess she’s getting used to Knight because she doesn’t really seem to bat an eye when a Monk turns up and tells Knight that the island he was living on in the South Pacific is just….gone.

I’m not American so I don’t know anything about Teddy Roosevelt or the Rough Riders but plugging it into google tells me that they were an actual thing and Janet Evanovich turns them into a modern day group of villains here doing all sorts of stuff that I can’t really explain but it involves Yellowstone National Park, lava/magma and the potential to make the entire world go BOOM.

There were some things I did like – I love an adventure so part of this book did feel like one big adventure with camping and chasing bad guys and all that sort of thing. And because Emerson is stinking rich, and I do mean utterly stinking rich, they can do a lot of it in style with new cars, private planes, etc. I’m a girl who likes my creature comforts so I’m totally on board with that sort of thing. They are unusual characters so a lot of the time they go about things in unusual ways. Sometimes that pays off, sometimes it doesn’t.

What I didn’t like? The extras, including the monk guy and Emerson’s creepy cousin, both of whom smacked of Janet Evanovich’s patented “comedy sidekicks for the LOLs”. I just don’t think that they’re entirely necessary on board for the whole thing and didn’t really add anything to the plot or provide any pivotal moments. Emerson’s character was inconsistent throughout this book and in comparison to the last book (the comment about he might be a horn dog, for instance, read very strange). Perhaps this is a result of the fact that this one doesn’t seem to have been co-written, perhaps it’s being chalked up to “character evolution”, I don’t know. It just read quite jarring. I also really disliked the way the book ended, which was quite abruptly and on a snappy one-liner which gave no resolution to something promised earlier on in the story and just felt really unexpected, like I was left annoyingly hanging. And I just know the next book will pick up some time in the future and either never mention what should’ve happened, or gloss over it.

This one was middle of the road for me. A quick read that was entertaining in parts but it had a few things that I struggled with.

5/10

Book #123 of 2017

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Review: The Law Of Attraction by Roxie Cooper

The Law Of Attraction
Roxie Cooper
HQ Digital
2017, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

“Well, it’s fair to say your background isn’t conventional in terms of the average barrister…” Dolus points out. “Well that depends on your definition of conventional and who wants to be average anyway?”

Northern girl Amanda Bentley isn’t your average lawyer.

She spent her teenage years in the Working Men’s club and hanging out in the park to avoid going home. Fresh out of law school she lands pupillage at a top set of Chambers and is catapulted into a world completely alien to her own, fighting prejudice and snobbery at every turn.

Piling on the pressure, this year it is announced two candidates have been accepted but there’s only one job at the end of it. And her competition? Marty, her smarmy law school nemesis.

Throw into the mix an ill-advised romance with the staggeringly sexy Sid Ryder and Amanda quickly realises winning pupillage isn’t just about how good a lawyer you are.

But even if she does come out on top, all of it could be for nothing if her colleagues ever discover who she really is and one very dark secret.

I struggled with this book. It sounded fun and feisty but I had a really hard time getting into it. Amanda is obviously very smart but I got bored of hearing about her platinum blonde hair and how people would judge her on her looks and not realise how good a lawyer she was. She has recently graduated and the book opens with her interview to gain pupillage (this book is set in London, I’m not British so I don’t really know what that is so I had to google it. It’s like being an apprentice with the end goal practicing independently at the Bar) at a prestigious firm. There are so many candidates and in the end they can’t decide between two so they award it to two people on a sort of probation for twelve months where there’s only one job at the end. So basically they make it a big competition and of course the other person that gets the probation apart from Amanda is her university nemesis!

I did admire a lot about Amanda, she had obviously worked very hard to get where she was and she was very ambitious. She didn’t have the most supportive or privileged background and there’s something in her past that haunts her but I honestly didn’t feel like it was as big a deal as she made it out to be, when it was finally revealed. It seemed like a lot of angst over nothing really, something that she was worried about being held against her but really, why on earth would anyone? It was just ammunition for Marty and his accomplice to wield but it read quite weak, in terms of what a deep dark secret could be.

I expected more romance in this – I’m not sure why, it just gave me more of a romance vibe from the blurb and cover but I definitely thought it would be a bigger part of the story. I was quite disappointed with the fact that there’s really not much (if any?) romance at all. What there was I didn’t really find all that great and I couldn’t decide if it was inappropriate or not. There seemed to be some comments that it might be but no one really cared anyway? I found it quite lacklustre and the story of the jilted uhinged ex a bit overdone. Sid was kind of boring and I didn’t really feel as though there was any chemistry between him and Amanda and there’s a few attempts at drama but it felt a bit high school. I couldn’t get into that aspect of the story line and really didn’t care if they ended up together or not.

Definitely struggled to maintain interest in this one unfortunately.

4/10

Book #102 of 2017

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Review: The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

The Marsh King’s Daughter
Karen Dionne
Hachette AUS
2017, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

‘I was born two years into my mother’s captivity. She was three weeks shy of seventeen. If I had known then what I do now, things would have been a lot different. I wouldn’t have adored my father.’

When notorious child abductor – known as the Marsh King – escapes from a maximum security prison, Helena immediately suspects that she and her two young daughters are in danger.

No one, not even her husband, knows the truth about Helena’s past: they don’t know that she was born into captivity, that she had no contact with the outside world before the age of twelve – or that her father raised her to be a killer.

And they don’t know that the Marsh King can survive and hunt in the wilderness better than anyone… except, perhaps his own daughter.

Seriously, with a blurb like that who could not read this book? There’s been so many accounts of real life kidnappings, where teenage girls or young women are taken and either don’t escape or aren’t discovered for years. I’ve read Jaycee Dugard’s novel as well as accounts about Natascha Kampusch and Elisabeth Fritzl. However I’ve read few fiction books tackling it – Room being the only other one that comes to mind right now, although this is quite a different story to that.

Helena didn’t even know that her life was unusual for the first decade or more. She was born 2 years after her father, a man in his 30s, kidnapped her 16 year old schoolgirl mother. They lived in a very remote cabin in an area in the far north of America, close to the border with Canada. Until she was 12, Helena had no idea that her father was a criminal. She idolised him growing up, admiring him for his knowledge and desperately seeking his approval. Her father taught her to hunt and fish, often by using cruel games, although Helena didn’t recognise them as such. She believed that he was making her strong, like him and that her mother was weak. Helena could see all too clearly the contempt her father had for her mother and it was soon a view she developed too.

Escaping at 12 with her 28 year old mother, Helena had a lot of adjustment to do and she details this quite openly. Now an adult, married with two children of her own, Helena hears on the radio that her father, who was captured two years after she and her mother escaped the cabin, has killed two prison guards and gone on the run. She knows that he won’t be found unless he wants to be and that she’s probably the only one who can track him. She makes arrangements to hopefully keep her children and husband safe and then she sets off in search of her father.

Helena’s narrative is a torn one – even as an adult, who is now able to recognise the heinous crimes her father committed and realise that his treatment of her and her mother growing up was abusive and terrible, she is still conflicted by her love for him. He is her father, he shaped her in many ways. Her formative years were completely dominated by him.

Helena’s struggle was really interesting because a lot of the focus during events like this in the past in real life, are on the girl/woman who was kidnapped and the ordeal she went through. But this book is different – Helena’s mother’s experiences are related only through the eyes of Helena with what she witnessed as a child and later what she speculates as she grows older and begins to understand a little of the what her mother must have experienced. Helena’s mother isn’t a part of the book really, it’s all about Helena herself and how as an adult, she struggles to come to terms with how wrong aspects of her childhood were because at the time, she embraced the learning experiences and the chance to be more like her father, to know the land, to provide for herself. They lived without electricity, without running water, in total isolation. She didn’t even see other people apart from her father and her mother for years and years. She thought that everybody lived the way they did. It would’ve taken a lot of courage to finally do what she did in order to help her and her mother escape because if she failed, her father would probably have killed her mother and also, she had to overcome the way she’d been raised – conditioned. To obey her father above all else, to respect his word/direction as law, to realise that he wasn’t all she had believed him to be. It’s something that Helena struggles with even as an adult – she thinks she can track him but she also has to be strong enough to stand against him…and it’s possible that a confrontation with him could end the death of one of them.

Helena is a fascinating character, completely honest in her thoughts and revelations, even when they’re not exactly palatable. She has lived a life different to everyone she knows and she takes great pains these days to hide who she is – even her own husband isn’t aware of who her father is. But despite the fact that she never talks about it, she clearly thinks about it a lot. She has not visited her father, despite the fact that he’s incarcerated not far from the house she lives in, but he seems to be on the periphery of her mind. When she hears of his escape, she seems to feel that she has to be the one to go after him, to perhaps confront him, maybe even get some answers for why he did what he did to her and her mother. He’s an expert at mind games though, and as much as Helena knows this, it was obvious she would truly struggle to assert herself against him, even now. She needed sufficient motivation.

I really enjoyed this. Loved Helena’s frank narration and the intricacies of the story, the way in which Helena was raised was rendered so well. The suspense built really nicely as well, as Helena tracked her father and attempted to be one step ahead of his every move but I do feel that it was Helena’s internal struggle that was the star of the story. Her back and forth over her father’s character, his actions, how it has shaped her even as an adult. It was a really well done portrayal of what it might be like for someone who had grown up in such a way and then been thrust into ‘regular’ life at 12 years of age.

I’ll definitely look for more of Karen Dionne’s books in the future. This is the first one I’ve read but I’d be keen to read more.

8/10

Book #101 of 2017

 

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Review: Black Tie Optional by Ann Marie Walker

Black Tie Optional (Wild Wedding #1)
Ann Marie Walker
St Martin’s Press
2017, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Everything about Coleman Grant III oozes power and sex. And not the perfunctory kind either, but the sheet clawing, heart stopping, gasping for air after you’ve screamed so loud you can’t breathe kind. From his dark wavy hair that stands in an artfully rumpled mess, to the blue eyes that sear your skin, to his full, sensual lips – on the surface he’s pure perfection.

Too bad he’s an asshole. An arrogant, uptight corporate raider hell bent on destroying the environment one species at a time.

Everything about Olivia Ramsey screams hippie humanitarian. From her blond hair tied in a sloppy bun, to her faded jeans with the Bonnaroo patch sewn on the thigh, to her combat boots still splattered with mud from the previous day’s site visit.

So it makes perfect sense that they would get married. In Vegas. Stone-cold sober.

Cole needs a wife. Olivia needs to save an endangered species. But what starts as a marriage of convenience soon turns into a battle of wills and sexual tension. Love is a game, and Olivia and Cole are ready to win.

I’m a big fan of the arranged or forced married or marriage of convenience trope and so when I read the description for this, I definitely had to read it.

Cole and Olivia are total opposites – he’s the CEO of a family corporation who is driven to work in his ginormous car every day, lives in a glass and chrome castle in the sky and stops and picks up his take away coffee. Olivia is a conservationist, fundraising for various causes and every day she attempts to talk to Cole and convince him to move a site he’s going to develop in order for her to save some sort of endangered species of bat.

It’s a game they play every morning but when they run into each other in Las Vegas, the game changes slightly. Cole has just discovered that he’s been unsuccessful in his latest attempt to extricate himself from a clause in his father’s will that says he must marry or he loses his company and the incentive of saving her latest cause is enough for Olivia to agree to temporarily marry him. They might be total opposites but they discover that they get along just fine in bed. Maybe even better than fine.

This started off really promising – I loved the opening scene of Olivia waiting for Cole where he stops and gets coffee on his way to the office. We get both their points of view which is good as well – some people don’t really like being in the head of the male character, preferring the mystery but I’m the opposite. I like knowing what they’re thinking. Their banter was amusing, Cole was dismissive of Olivia and her causes, typical of a corporate jerk.

I’m not sure how believable it is that someone’s will could force someone to be married but I’ll let that go for the sake of the story as I think there was an attempt to give some reasoning behind it, even if the reasoning was a bit flawed. So I didn’t mind the set up but I think Olivia agreed to it remarkably quickly, without even really knowing a lot of the details and what being married to someone like Cole would involve.

And I think things like that ended up being a downside to this book – it was too light, it just glossed over a lot of things, rather than delve a bit deeper to better flesh out the story. It happened in many aspects of it but particularly in the interactions between Cole and Olivia and the way in which they realise that they’ve come to feel much more than dislike for each other. I’m not sure they have enough really meaningful interactions that show how this really occurred. The time spent in Olivia’s hometown tries to I think, but I wanted a bit more. I wanted more from Cole. If I’m honest, I didn’t really like him that much. Lines like “you talked less when my cock was in your mouth” don’t really endear a character to me.

I liked Olivia and I loved her family. But I was confused about the character of Cole’s grandmother, who seemed vindictive for little reason but yet stayed on the periphery – I wasn’t sure if she was supposed to be misguided or truly evil. She wasn’t enough of a presence in the story to be sure although some of her actions were quite underhanded, it was more in a laughable sort of way. Either way, once again, that wasn’t a discussion that Cole and Olivia had, about how to handle her, what she might do, how to present a united front. Olivia kind of had to figure it out on her own and she did really well and I can only assume the united front came later, after they both had confessed their feelings to each other.

This was okay, I found it an easy, pleasant read without really falling in love with it.

6/10

Book #97 of 2017

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Review: The One by John Marrs

The One
John Marrs
Ebury Publishing
2017, 416p
Copy courtesy Random House UK via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

How far would you go to find THE ONE?

One simple mouth swab is all it takes.

One tiny DNA test to find your perfect partner – the one you’re genetically made for.

A decade after scientists discover everyone has a gene they share with just one person, millions have taken the test, desperate to find true love.

Now, five more people take the test. But even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking – and deadlier – than others…

A psychological thriller with a difference, this is a truly unique novel which is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat.

I’ve read several YA books that tackle something similar to this so the idea was really intriguing – that we could give a simple DNA sample and be matched up with a soul mate, someone perfect for us. The thing is, the matching program doesn’t discriminate. Someone’s perfect match could be halfway around the world. They could be of a different religion or background. They could even be of a different sex to the one that the person believes they are attracted to.

The book revolves around five people finding their “match” – Ellie, a businesswoman who is incredibly wealthy but often the target of public hatred, Mandy, a divorcee whose marriage ended when her husband was matched with someone other than her, Jade who received a match on the other side of the world, Nick who is pressured into taking the test by his fiance to see if they are truly compatible and Christopher,  a psychopath who realises that he’s different from other people but takes the test anyway, to see what sort of match it might give someone like him.

The narrative revolves around the five characters as they meet their matches – and overcome surprises for some, get to know them, decide if they want to disrupt their lives in order to be with these people that have been termed their soul mates. Some of the stories are more interesting than others – I think it was Ellie, Nick and Christopher’s that really kept me interested. Ellie’s match was always a little too good to be true, a bit too perfect, almost rehearsed and I was pretty sure there was a big twist coming but I definitely didn’t expect it to go the way that it did! Nick’s match was one of the more interesting ones and I think that both of them handled it in quite a mature and respectful manner, because they were both surprised to be matched up for quite a few reasons. Nick was also engaged and his match had a partner as well, so they had to deal with the feelings that come from making contact, which is something that apparently happens to all matches. Quite often it’s immediate but it generally happens with 48 hours of meeting. I also really liked Christopher’s story because he was completely different from most of the others. He wasn’t really interested in meeting a soul mate exactly, but he was interested in what it might be like for someone like him, who doesn’t really have the same thoughts and feelings as most other people. He’s a serial killer – he’s already killed numerous women and has plans to continue killing quite a few more. His match is somewhat interesting and Christopher seems to have little regard for her at first except as in terms of curiosity. However he’s intrigued to find that he is capable of feeling things and that perhaps he could have a life with his match.

There was always a lot happening in this book and it was all very fascinating as people struggled with these new feelings – some of the stories were a bit less interesting but probably the one that I didn’t really get into was divorcee Mandy who gets her match only to discover something quite shocking about him. Mandy probably has some reasons for acting the way she did but she made some really frustrating choices and it seemed like every time we got back to her narration, she’d made an even worse choice than the one before until it was all just snowballing into crazy. It did build quite well though and it was clear that it was going to end quite badly.

Most of the stories have some element of psychological suspense running through them and pretty much all of the matches are not without drama, heartache and turmoil. It seems like it doesn’t matter how you find your match, it still contains a huge element of risk. Perhaps even more so because although your DNA might be perfectly compatible, it might change everything that you once thought or believed about yourself.

I definitely enjoyed this and I felt like it was really quite a clever take on a matched story line. The suspense is built really nicely where relevant and I really liked the ending and thought that it worked well.

7/10

Book #94 of 2017

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Review: Sweet Tea And Spirits by Angie Fox

Sweet Tea And Spirits (Southern Ghost Hunter Mysteries #5)
Angie Fox
Season Publishing
2017, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Southern girl Verity Long is about as high society as her pet skunk. Which is why she’s surprised as anyone when the new head of the Sugarland social set invites her to join the “it” girls. But this is no social call. Verity’s new client needs her to go in undercover and investigate strange happenings at the group’s historic headquarters.

But while spirits are whispering hints of murder, the socialites are more focused on Verity’s 1978, avocado-green Cadillac. And when Verity stumbles upon a fresh body, she’s going to need the long-dead citizens of Sugarland to help her solve the crime. Good thing she has the handsome deputy sheriff Ellis Wydell on hand, as well as her ghostly sidekick Frankie. The bad thing is, the ghosts are now whispering about the end of a certain ghost hunter.

One of my favourite recent discoveries, this series is funny and feel-good and the perfect thing after a few books that I just haven’t clicked with. Verity is really starting to settle into her role conversing with spirits and she’s gaining confidence in dealing with them and also I think, in the direction she wants to take this. She’s really interested in getting closure and finding out what happens, especially when someone who hired her ends up dead. She’s also getting better at dealing with Frankie, the somewhat temperamental gangster ghost tethered to her property who allows her to access the ghostly plane with his powers.

Likewise Verity is also settled in her relationship with deputy sheriff Ellis Wydell, the brother of her former fiance. Ellis’ mother continues to be a thorn in Verity’s side but in this book she’s an inconsistent thorn, suggesting the two women can occasionally find common ground. I love Ellis and Verity together and I think the author does a good job attempting to portray Ellis’ struggle to balance his desire to be with Verity versus the loyalty he feels towards his family. His family have never been particularly good to him, since he decided not to become a lawyer and instead became a sheriff. His mother clearly sees his profession as beneath him and the family name and she’s incensed that he’s also begun dating Verity, who left his brother Beau at the altar after discovering he was unfaithful. Verity was stuck with the bill and Ellis’ mother would’ve been happy to see her bankrupted paying for it. She has a lot of antagonism toward Verity for not “toeing the Southern line” – marrying him without fuss and then maybe quietly separating at a later date. Instead she caused a scandal, humiliated the Wydell’s.

I always enjoy the mysteries in these books, getting to know the different ghosts and hearing their stories. I like Frankie too although there are times his heartless attitude gets a bit on my nerves, especially toward Verity. I know he is a gangster and is probably relative for his time but sometimes it just gets a bit irritating, especially when he and Verity have the same argument several times in every book. He’s always all about the money and Verity is always all about the story, she wants to know what happened and she doesn’t care if she doesn’t get paid sometimes, as long as she gets the answers/justice/closure/etc. However we did see a different side to Frankie in this book which was really good and definitely about time. He’s certainly still a man of mystery in many ways and I look forward to finding out more about him over time.

This was another really fun installment to this series, I really like the way it’s going and I always can’t wait for the next one. I also really appreciate just how quickly the next one does seem to appear! I think I read the first book about two years ago so the gaps between books aren’t long.

8/10

Book #77 of 2017

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Review: Lord Of Chance by Erica Ridley

Lord Of Chance (Rags To Riches #1)
Erica Ridley
Self-published
2017, 300p
Copy courtesy of the author via NetGalley

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}:

Disguised as a country miss, Charlotte Devon flees London, desperate to leave her tattered reputation behind. In Scotland, her estranged father’s noble blood will finally make her a respectable debutante. Except she finds herself accidentally wed to a devil-may-care rogue with a sinful smile. He’s the last thing she needs…and everything her traitorous heart desires.

Charming rake Anthony Fairfax is on holiday to seek his fortune…and escape his creditors. When an irresistible Lady Luck wins him in a game of chance—and a slight mishap has them leg-shackled by dawn—the tables have finally turned in his favor. But when past demons catch up to them, holding on to new love will mean destroying their dreams forever.

I’ve read a few of Erica Ridley’s Dukes of War series and this book, the first in a new series, is very loosely connected to that in that the hero Anthony is the brother of one of the heroines from that series. This was a little different to what I expected….some of that was in a good way but some of it was also in not so good a way.

Anthony Fairfax needs to earn himself an obscene amount of money to pay back the creditor who purchased his debts. If he doesn’t, he risks going to jail. He finds himself in an inn in Scotland playing cards – hopefully the distance will help him evade his creditors until he has the means to repay them. What Anthony doesn’t bargain on is Charlotte Devon, whom he invites into the game. She promptly wins his entire pot and then to make matters worse when he tries to play the gentleman, an obscure Scottish law means they’re married….for real.

This is awkward for many reasons – they don’t even know each other. One night playing a couple of hands of cards is the extend of their interaction. Also Anthony’s precarious financial position could have negative repercussions for Charlotte – as his wife, her property is considered his. She could also become a target if Anthony cannot repay his creditors within the deadline. And for Charlotte, there’s plenty she hasn’t told Anthony about her background, which for many people would definitely be reason for rejection.

What I liked was that both Anthony and Charlotte are quite different to a lot of characters in historical romances. Anthony, although apparently referred to as rakish, didn’t really display much rake behaviour and he’s not rich. Not at all. He’s very kind and considerate, not at all arrogant or lordly, he doesn’t try to boss Charlotte around or tell her that she can’t do this or that. He’s also very adamant about nothing she owns being used to pay his debt or taken from her and when he hears of her background, he’s incredibly judgement-free. Probably few people in his circumstances would’ve been and I’m not entirely sure how realistic his attitude was but it was refreshing nonetheless. His family is quite unconventional (his sister was almost nine months pregnant when she married in her book) so perhaps it wasn’t that unlikely.

Charlotte was in Scotland on her own searching for her father, whom she’s never met. I think this could’ve been explored a bit more – she had very little information, what was she going to do, attempt to search every tavern in Scotland? I also would’ve liked more about her card playing, which is a rather big part of the beginning of the book as it serves to bring them together and then just basically disappears. Despite the fact that Anthony and Charlotte are both kind of down on their luck when they meet – Anthony owes an astronomical amount of money he doesn’t really have much chance of being able to repay, Charlotte wants to meet the father she’s never known despite really possessing no knowledge of him, there are a lot of things that kind of fall into their laps in order to wrap up the novel and it felt unbelievably convenient, especially as they happened pretty much simultaneously.

This was a pleasant read but I didn’t love it. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters and the pacing felt a bit off, especially towards the end. I didn’t really feel any chemistry between Anthony and Charlotte (it’s a very chaste romance, the sexual chemistry felt like it was at 0 and even the romantic chemistry was lukewarm at best) and there were a few loose plot threads. Just okay for me. Not quite as enjoyable as the other books I’ve read by this author.

5/10

Book #71 of 2017

 

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