Book reviews à la bookworm...The good, the bad, and everything in between.
When 5,000-year-old bones are discovered in a field in Maryland, archaeologist Dr. Callie Dunbrook is called to head the excavation project. Unfortunately, her ex-husband, and love of her life, decides to join as lead anthropologist.
Soon, though, the pain of the implosion of their marriage is forgotten, as a stranger starts claiming Callie is her long-lost, kidnapped daughter, and death starts plaguing their archaeology project.
This book was classic Nora Roberts. Wonderful, realistic, flawed characters, drama, explosive chemistry and passion, and intriguing suspense rife with mystery and murder.
I loved the two protagonists, and I absolutely loved their second-chance romance. It was obvious they cared deeply about one another, but never bothered to actually get to know each other while they were married, never bothered to talk things through, hence the implosion. This second time around, thanks to Jake's stubborn refusal to let Callie go a second time, their relationship finally got a chance to grow beyond the stage of sexual attraction and frenzy, and they finally managed to communicate.
I found the initial conflict (and what led to their separation in the first place) a little out of sync with everything I got to know about both characters, especially Callie. I didn't understand her inability to trust him, her inability to realize his feelings, even though he failed to verbalize them. It didn't really gel with her past, since there were no real issues connected to "the conflict" in said past. And since the reader never really gets a chance to see the two before the start of the story, this "mystery" was never resolved.
But their romance worked, because it evolved, it grew in front of the reader's eyes, as the two got to know each other better and maybe for the first time.
And as all NR romances, it had its sweet moments, its dramatic and angsty moments, it had its fights, and it had sizzling chemistry and passion.
The rest of the cast could've easily paled in comparison to the two protagonists, but that's not how Nora Roberts rolls. Each had their own personality, their own issues, their own demons, and their own things in common with the rest, making their relationships and interactions shine no matter what.
The secondary romance was cute and sweet, especially compared to the main one, and the intricacies of the connections between the cast a real pleasure to read.
And then we come to the suspense. It could've easily worked without it, but the suspense added that extra layer of intrigue, mystery, and yes, danger. At first, it looked like two random sub-plots thrown into the story together, until, in the end, it turned out it was all connected.
The subject matter was chilling (and once again easily translated into out every day "normal" lives), and the lengths, the culprits went to to keep the truth buried, even more so.
The suspense elements kept us guessing, kept the characters on their toes, and kept the two protagonists occupied with more pressing matters than fighting. ;)
***copies provided by publisher through NetGalley***
CHRISTMAS SPIRIT by Rebecca York
Chelsea Caldwell is right back where she started, seeing ghosts and being the talk of the town. Yet there's something sinister happening in the small town of Jenkins Cove, and Chelsea might just be the person to uncover it.
It felt like this book couldn't decide what it wanted to be. Romantic suspense, paranormal romance? Each separate classification would've worked, unfortunately, mixed together created an unfortunate mess.
The characters were bland and dull, the plot got lost in the suspense/paranormal/killer/ghosts mess, and the romance left me utterly cold.
CHRISTMAS AWAKENING by Ann Voss Peterson
After ten years, Marie Leonard is back in Jenkins Cove determined to discover why her father's been murdered...But she'll have to deal with skepticism by the local chief of police, the man who broke her heard ten years ago, and a killer determined to silence her forever.
Though this one also had some paranormal elements, it was a much more straightforward romantic suspense story than its predecessor.
Unfortunately, the suspense aspect was the only thing I enjoyed about this one, even though the villain's motive left much to be desired.
The characters were bland (the hero was a self-pitying fool and I simply couldn't stand his moaning toward the end), and the romance tepid.
CHRISTMAS DELIVERY by Patricia Rosemoor
Lexi thought Simon, the father of her preteen daughter, dead for thirteen years, but instead of dead, he's merely been through hell, thanks to human traffickers operating in the small town of Jenkins Cove.
But now, Simon is back, determined to make whoever the culprit is pay...
This second-chance quasi-romance left me utterly cold. The characters were dull and bland, I didn't care about their relationship in the past (since we never got to see it) or in the now (because they simply weren't that compatible).
The main suspense arc of this "series" was never that interesting, so the resolution (rather predictable in all ways) didn't bring much satisfaction.
***ARC provided by publisher through NetGalley***
Kit Jernigan is the new cop in Monroe, Colorado. After one of their own working with the criminals that turned the small town into a post-apocalyptic movie set, she doesn't take it personally that her three colleagues on the K9 unit are taking their time in trusting her. What chafes is the fact they apparently can't figure out their girlfriends' new roommate isn't what she seems. Why are these three cops willing to trust a stranger over her cop instincts?
There's something off with the woman, Kit feels it in her bones...
Yes, this series at least ended on a high note. Even though it didn't concentrate on victims getting their second chances like the first three did, it featured a strong, confident leading lady (the cover should feature a woman, since the heroine is the one with the dog...and the gun), with killer instincts, and an adorable dog.
I liked Kit's strong cop-woman persona, and I liked her a little awkward girl-with-a-crush persona as well. It matched very well with the adorkable hero, and every scene these two shared, made me smile.
The romance felt a little rushed, since most of the story revolved around the trouble in Monroe and the newest arrival (not to mention the scenes from the villain's point of view), so the reader didn't spend much time with the hero and heroine, but they were cute together, highly compatible, and I loved that he trusted her from the get go.
Unlike her three partners, who were strangely obtuse in their inability/unwillingness to see the truth until it was almost too late—and even then, Kit had to save the day. Girl power!
I never particularly cared for either of the three previous heroes, so their reactions in this book weren't disappointing from the character point of view, but they were disappointing from the point of view of their profession.
The suspense was good, though, keeping the reader guessing just what the villain's purpose was and how that purpose would be accomplished, though I found the resolution to Jules' familial drama rather quickly brushed aside and ended. After all the angst from the first book and through the rest, the "finale" of it all felt like it was written more as an afterthought than a worthy solution.
Beside the strange reactions from the three previous heroes and the easy solution to the problem that began the whole series, this story delivered.
Wonderful protagonists, solid suspense, and an utterly adorable canine partner.
***copy provided by publisher through NetGalley***
One year ago, on Christmas, Drew Harwood returned home from the Great War, only to lose his fiancée to the Spanish flu. Determined to never love again, he's become standoffish and a recluse, but that is all about to change, when the sister of his army buddy comes to visit her brother on Christmas, and Drew's personal ghost decides the man is ready to move on.
This one started off really well. I liked the sad prologue and I liked the first couple of chapters, where the characters were introduced, where the nice countryside and little town picture was painted.
Unfortunately, after those few chapters passed, everything ground to a standstill. The characters, especially the hero, turned rather childish and immature in their actions, decisions, and even some conversations, there was no development whatsoever, the romance felt forced and came across as rather awkward, and the fact it was helped along by the ghost of the hero's departed sweetheart didn't help matters at all.
DNF @ 24%
The blurb sure sounds swell, and I like the premise...It's the execution itself that's lacking.
The pace is plodding at best, the narration rather amateurish, and the characters, beside being bland and unappealing, sound like they're still in high school instead of in their thirties. If I wanted to read a YA book, I'd read a YA book, thank you very much.
They were never meant to be together, she one of the three, he the spawn of evil, carrying his mark, yet Branna and Fin still fell in love. Oath, blood and the curse of a dying witch might've kept them apart for more than ten years, but now, as the final battle approaches and the future is uncertain, they must take what moment they can to experience what has been denied them.
And then this happened. After two books of hyping the "epic, star-crossed lovers" tale of the eldest of the three recent descendants of Sorcha, the Dark Witch and the man carrying the blood (and mark) of Cabhan, the evil sorcerer that killed Sorcha and her man, bringing about the creation of the three and prompting Sorcha's curse, this is what we got.
Blah, blah, blah, boohoo to me, I-love-you-but-cannot-be-with-you-no-matter-what-but-have-to-be-with-you-no-matter-what, wringing of hands, cooking, cleaning, blah, blah, blah, let's-make-some-more-witches, let's-make-demon-poison, blah, blah, blah, the end.
This is this third book in a nutshell. Boring.
Where was the drama? Where was the angst of this star-crossed, doomed, cursed love? I have no idea. This book sure didn't deliver.
Even the characters and their interactions were boring. There was no sign of friends and family from the previous two books. They were just there for form's sake, to warrant another book, if you will.
There sure wasn't enough material for an entire book in this story, so it had to be filled with ballast and redundant scenes (cooking, cleaning, making of soaps, taking strolls in the woods...)
Even the final confrontation with the big bad wasn't that satisfying. It read like overkill, too large-scale, too much everything; it actually turned into almost a parody (and it would've, if this series had any more books to come).
Come to think of it, the entire arc of the trilogy didn't have enough story meat to fill three books. It could've easily been condensed into a single one (like Three Fates for example). It would've packed more of a punch, instead of spreading itself thin.
They've known each other since they were children, but they were always only friends. Then, one night after his near brush with death, things change with a sizzling kiss, and their friendship evolves, strengthening the circle against evil...
The evil Cabhan still isn't vanquished (that's why it's called a trilogy folks), but the bonds of family, blood, love and friendship still hold true in this particular trilogy. It was like visiting with old friends, ones you know from childhood, ones you share joy and sorrow, know their deepest secrets. And this is what I love most about Nora Roberts writing—realistic characters. True, they're mostly flawed, with deep-seated issues and scars, but they feel real, normal, living, human. Their relationships and interactions are always a pleasure to read.
This time it was Connor and Meara's turn. It could've gone the icky way, this friendship of theirs "marred" by deeper emotions, but having gotten to know both of them, the reader knows and feels those emotions are already there, they just needed to be dug out.
It brought heartache and annoyance (thanks to the heroine and her abandonment issues), but it also brought joy and laughter. Much needed before the final battle begins; both with Cabhan, but mostly between Branna and Fin.
This was the middle one of the trilogy, so it didn't bring anything really new to the table as far as the big bad is concerned (except for a few new forms of fighting him and him eluding them), and nothing really new about the characters (except for the two best friends turning into lovers), but it wasn't bad.
Well-written and well-paced, it gave us the calm before the storm, some lighthearted scenes, and the warning to brace before the big finale.
Iona Sheehan finally found the place where she belongs. She had to travel from America to Ireland to accomplish it, but she did it. And she finally found people, unlike her distant parents, that love her—her Irish cousins, Branna and Connor O'Dwyer and their three best friends, Boyle McGrath, Meara Quinn and Fin(bar) Burke.
There's a connection with her cousins that transcends family, forged in blood centuries ago, when their ancestor, the Dark Witch, Sorcha, shared her power with her three children to vanquish evil. That evil is back, strong as before, thirsty for the power Iona, Branna and Connor share, and it will take their combined magick, alongside bonds of love and friendship shared by the six, to banish the evil forever.
This is very similar (in theme) to the Sign of Seven trilogy, and in drama to Three Sisters Island trilogy (at least the promised showdown between star-crossed lovers Branna and Fin in the last book), but still, it holds its own weight, no matter the similarities.
In such trilogies, it always comes down to family and friends in Nora Roberts books, to the power of love that transcends the familial, to the power of blood bonds forged through life and hardship. True love and true friends are hard to find, and those who are lucky to have them, can achieve all...even fight and banish ancient evil.
That's the metaphor of this book and this series.
The feelings of love and friendships are immediately palpable, as soon as Iona lands on her cousins' doorstep, meets the three friends (even if one of those descends from the same evil they're trying to fight—drama, drama, drama). I loved the easy rapport between them, the camaraderie between friends, the love between the five people who knew each other since childhood, and quickly included the one that's been missing from their life so far.
The romance itself was nothing to write home about—a tad rushed, and quite desperate from the heroine's point of view—but the friendship and bonds of family were top notch.
The characters, once again, shone, with their layers, issues, little idiosyncrasies, their bonds (I know I'm repeating myself), their differences and similarities...And yes, there were those sprinklings of humor I so love with this author.
The paranormal elements didn't dominate the narrative, but what there was served as great augmenter for the suspense, the heightening of feelings of danger and peril the characters were in (and will be in the future). This was more of an appetizer, preparing our palate for the main course.
The same could be said about the entire story, really. A very good appetizer, that makes you really look forward to the main meal.
Hugh the Relentless wants to become Hugh of Scarcliffe. To accomplish that, he needs to appease his superstitious villages by finding a green crystal that's been recently stolen from the Scarcliffe convent.
The green crystal was briefly in possession of Lady Alice, a sharp-tongued beauty that's determined to strike a bargain with Hugh. She'll help him locate the stone, if he helps her and her brother leave their uncle's manor.
This was almost an exact copy of Desire with the long-suffering, knightly hero becoming saddled with an opinionated, rather spoiled, and entitled heroine with a sharp tongue, reckless impulses, and (at least from what I've seen) not much wit.
The romance between Hugh the Relentless and Alice the Relentless Pain in his Butt left much to be desired, since the heroine was so bloody annoying, I couldn't comprehend what drew Hugh to her and Hugh being so goddamn bland, I couldn't comprehend what drew her to him.
The suspense was the saving grace of this story with motives and suspects galore, and the mystery involving past sins and the Stones of Scarcliffe was nicely intriguing. Unfortunately, it couldn't compensate for the lack in all other "departments".
Clare, lady of the Isle of Desire, has no other choice but wed. What little choice she does have, will be spent on choosing the right husband, following a specific "recipe". All she needs are suitable candidates; they must not be big, they must be kind and have a pleasant disposition, and they must read.
Her liege lord sends her only two possible candidates. Sir Nicholas is out of the question, since he's an idiot, while Sir Gareth, the knight they call the Hellhound of Wyckmere, will not do either. He's huge, too serious and appears emotionless...But at least he can read.
I like medievals; the pageantry, the hulking knights on huge warhorses, the swords, the damsels in their girdles and wimples...This one only had the hulking knight on a huge warhorse and his sword.
I liked Gareth. He was the incarnation of a still water running deep. He was honorable, protective, smart and cunning...And unfortunately saddled with an idiot for heroine.
I couldn't stand Clare. For someone who prided herself on her intelligence, she sure could act stupid and shrewish. I'm sure she was supposed to be a feminist, but her "smart, strong willed" tantrums landed her in the entitled and opinionated bitch territory. She was impulsive, she never thought before she spoke, and her stereotypical view of knights (even the one who has sworn to protect her), coupled with her idiotic fantasy of the "dream man" got old really fast.
The resulting romance between the poor guy and the somewhat TSTL shrew made me wince, the "suspense" was predictable (you could see the villain and his "accomplice" from a mile away) and too short-lived...The majority of the story was spent on the two protagonists getting to know each other and Clare being Clare. With a different heroine, it might've been entertaining; with this one, it was just painful.
Aubrey Blue is this close to avenging her family. There's just the last leg of her journey between her and her goal, a journey that will take her through the desert, fending off Comanche attacks, unwanted drunken advances from one of her travelling companions, and not-so-unwanted advances from another, a former convict who's after the same man she is, Christian McBride...
Marsha Canham never disappoints. Be it set in the Highlands, on the high seas, or way back in the medieval times, her stories never fail to entertain and/or intrigue the reader.
This one was no different. Set in the wild-wild West in the late 19th century, it featured everything one comes to expect from a western, and what I've come to expect from Ms Canham.
Old feuds for land, money, power, and/or women, gunslingers, chases through the desert, fighting "Injuns", gun fights, saloons...descriptive, evocative narration, wonderful characters, drama galore, and a romance that makes you tingle.
Christian McBride might've been a typical Canham hero (they all pretty much look and act the same), but it was still a pleasure learning about him, discovering the depths of his personality, and watch him topple like a felled oak for the one).
“You’re supposed to make a wish on a falling star,” he murmured.
“I most certainly did. It took two dozen, but you’re finally here.”
Audrey Blue was rather special. An acquired taste and as much of a puzzle for both her hero and the reader. Some of her choices and decisions were rather incomprehensible (when there were simpler ways to accomplish what she wanted) as was her unwillingness to tell Christian the entire truth. Turns out, she had a good reason for keeping her cards close to her vest, and that reason sure was a doozy.
Together, these two made for quite a couple, with sparks flying every each way whenever they shared a scene, and though the romance might've come across as rather rushed, it was fiery and all-consuming, like romances "of old" are supposed to be (and Ms Canham sure can write a fiery romance).
The rest was just as wonderful, rife with mystery, intrigue and enough suspense to keep the reader engaged, on the edge of the seat and furiously turning pages to learn what would happen next. Multiple villains with multiple motives, each got their well-deserved end, with the most satisfying confrontation offered as cherry on the cake.
Rife with intrigue, wonderful characters with more or less shadowed pasts, revenge-seeking, scorching passion, and stunning imagery, this novel is a must read for all Marsha Canham fans, as well as fans of romance set under the sizzling sun of the frontier or under the glowing desert moon.
Joaquin Ramirez, I-Team's resident photographer and Pulitzer Prize winner, arrives at a supposed-homicide-with-body-disappearance scene, only to be met with anger by a bystander. Turns out, the woman knows the victim and is the last one to have seen the man alive.
Mia Starr dislikes photojournalists. She's seen first hand, what an unscrupulous photo bug can do to get a story, but Joaquin seems to be different, and quickly turns out to be different, since he puts her first instead of the story.
Someone is killing former soldiers and trying to pin it to Mia, and Joaquin is there to help her out. And when the killer with the grudge turns on her, it's Joaquin to stand there, between her and a bullet.
A month after the hostage situation at a Christmas party, the I-Team is back in the thick of it. This time it's Joaquin's turn to shine, and to save the day.
I never really thought about Joaquin as a main protagonist. He had sidekick and friend written all over him in the other books. I'm glad, though, I got to see this other side of him. Looks like I underestimated him, and let's face it, side by side with Julian, Marc or Zach, he didn't stand a chance.
But in his story, the hero side of him came out, alongside the salsa-dancing, and yeah, I could understand Mia perfectly. ;) He was tender and gentle when he needed to be, determinedly protective, and definitely heroic there toward the end of the book. A truly wonderful hero.
His heroine, Mia, was an acquired taste, with her idiosyncrasies and all her contradictions and insecurities. It took a special kind of man to show her just who and what she truly was.
I didn't really buy their rushed romance, but I'm glad they found each other in the end.
The villain also had much to be desired, although the big reveal as to his identity came as a surprise (I certainly didn't see it coming); his motive left me scratching my head&mdas;why go after all those people, instead of just focusing on Mia?
But the suspense was gripping and served as a nice little catalyst for the two protagonists to meet and for the "romance" to bloom.
The characters were great as always (I loved all the "cameos", and it's always a pleasure seeing Julian and Marc in action, complete with marital spats and bickering), the pacing spot-on, the writing superb...This one is definitely one of my favorite series.
***ARC provided by publisher through NetGalley***
Rebecca Lindt, Long Acre survivor, and Wesley Garrett, former chef and recovering alcoholic after his nasty divorce, meet (again) in a stressful situation. She's about to get mugged and panicking, having flashbacks, as he runs to her rescue. The attraction is instantaneous, but there's just one little problem—she's the divorce attorney who helped his ex ruin him...Plus, there are both their issues, her demons, his addictive personality...So what should the two do? Give it a shot, of course.
Like its predecessor, this one was a straight-up romance. There were no dead bodies, no villains (well, maybe her dad for a second toward the end), and no mysteries or investigations. Just two regular people, albeit with loads and loads of problems, issues, and inner demons, experiencing regular human drama and emotions.
And I liked it. I liked that I didn't have to "think" much during the story. It was straightforward, poignant, realistic and normal.
The characters were wonderful, well-developed, and nicely layered, the plot itself had some pretty heavy pondering moments, the romance might've felt a bit rushed, but it somehow worked giving both characters, and the conflicts were (thankfully) pretty quickly and easily resolved.
Though I found the heroine somewhat annoying in her rather self-centered guilt and her nobody-loves-me-and-those-who-might-don't-really-know-me-so-I-better-push-them-away-just-to-be-safe mentality. It started to really get old as the story progressed, but lucky for her (and the reader) there was her hero, Wes, to set her straight and make her see reason.
The pacing wasn't perfect, yet the story flew nicely, the writing was great, and the humor provided that needed levity.
This was a story of regular people going through normal human stuff and emotions, a story of (self)forgiveness, (self)discovery and growth, showing us everything clicks into place when the time is right and (if) you let it.
The president of the United States faces impeachment whispers as he refuses to answer one important question; did he or did he not contact a terrorist threatening the US? But before he can answer that question in front of Congress, the leader of the free world goes missing.
DNF @ 34%
Needless to say, this book does not feature the current president.
Regardless, I couldn't finish it. I stopped just when the author(s) started on their I'm-the-president-from-Independence-Day fantasy (you know, kicking terrorist ass, saving the world, yadda-yadda-yadda).
Still, I could've borne even that if the book wasn't so goddamn slow. Nothing really happened until bullets started flying (just when I stopped reading), it was too slow, too wordy, did I mention it was slow?
And the fact the president bits were written in the first person POV (while the rest wasn't) provided just one more proof of the living out the aforementioned fantasy, while also making for a rather jarring reading experience.
Or maybe I simply wasn't in the mood for such a book.
The serial killer, known as the Tailor, has struck again. Three bodies in a span of just two weeks after three years of silence...
Ethan Manning knows the killer is escalating and he needs a task force. Fast. What he gets is one single forensic profiler that brings back memories both good and bad...
This series is now so far removed from the first few installments (which I loved), that I can barely believe it.
Bland characters with zero chemistry, a predictable (and unnecessary, in my opinion) conflict between the two leads, plodding pacing, and a very uninteresting villain.
A huge disappointment.
After taking a fatal bullet to the chest, Bowen Adrian Knight wakes up deep under the ocean, with a mechanical heart in his chest and a still ticking bomb in his brain. The chip he's had implanted to ward off Psy telepathic attacks is still malfunctioning and still threatening to blow up his brain when it finally gives.
But a BlackSea scientist has maybe found a solution. It still gives him only a five percent chance of survival, but even that is better that instant oblivion. Especially once Bowen lays eyes on the scientist's cousin and resident chef, Kaia Luna. She might hate his guts, but he's persistent, and he can be patient—he's not security chief for nothing...
This was the first Nalini Singh book I had to sleep on, before writing a review about. And I still don't really know what sort of rating it should get, so I'm going with the middle ground. There were so many things right about it (the first half) and so many things not exactly right (second half of it).
Let me start with the good—I loved Bo. I might've been ambivalent toward him when he first appeared, but NS certainly did him a solid with his story. He's no Hawke or Kaleb, but he's a worthy competitor with Max the only other human hero in this series.
He shone in his story, his past and his issues making him a well-rounded character, and his protective streak, his compassion and his emotions making him a worthy hero.
The heroine, Kaia, unfortunately, didn't really make an impact. I sort of liked her, but I never really warmed up to her, and the second half of the story, with her phobia and her idiotic reasoning for not telling Bo about it, and her even more idiotic reasoning of using said phobia to push him away (after she was the one who made things beyond complicated in the first place), ruined her character for me, and ruined every chance she had of getting a pass as a Bowen-worthy heroine.
I just wanted to smack her about the head...Several times.
And that final reversal of her issues felt more like a cop-out than anything else. A pretty little bow to tie it all nicely.
I liked the initial drama of the "impossible" romance, not in the star-crossed-lovers sense, but in the one-of-them-is-dying sense. I loved the intensity, the desperation behind Bowen's wooing of Kaia, despite his knowledge of just how little time he has.
Yet that intensity kept deteriorating the more the story progressed, until it vanished completely as the plot turned into something akin to a soap opera with obstacle upon obstacle thrown into the path of maybe Bowen having a chance after all; and that final race against the clock pushed it a little too far over the edge of melodramatic for my taste.
Unlike its predecessor, where we trembled after that breakup, wondering just how it might all work out in the end (even though we knew it would, this one failed to provide that anxiety...It was like the book was holding our hand telling us it would all be fine while promising heartbreak.
As for the suspense, I liked it. I wasn't crazy about it, but it provided the much needed balance to the supposed tearjerker of the romance. I liked the twists and turns, the guessing game, the red-herring and the surprising reveals (especially that last "villain" proved to be a doozy. Good job.
Yet the ending to it all (so far) came so abruptly, cutting the flow of the story completely off, instead of slowly cruising to a stop.
It felt like a few parts were missing, making the reading experience even more jarring than it already was.
Having read all the above it might look like I didn't really care about the story. I did. The first half was very good, it's the second half that's the problem for me.
But I liked (most of) the characters—especially the secondary cast (Kaia's turtle grandmother was a hoot), and the cameos (Mercy, Hawke, and Kaleb) made my heart sing.
And the ending made me look forward to the future.