February 2014 wish list

>> Thursday, January 30, 2014

February doesn't look particularly bank-breaking, and neither was January.

Books I'm definitely planning to get

Do Or Die, by Suzanne Brockmann (Feb 4)

I have huge issues with some of Brockmann’s setups (especially when she has groups who take care of US Government business in covert, non-regulated ways, as she seems to have here). However, her voice works for me in a huge way, so I will be reading this.

Concealed in Death, by JD Robb (Feb 18)

I haven´t even read what this one´s about. Robb is still an autobuy for me. I know a lot of people have got a bit sick of this series, but surprisingly, I haven´t. At all. It´s not hugely exciting any longer, but it´s comfortable and like sinking into a hot bath.

Books that interest me and I'll keep an eye on

The Party Girl, by Tamara Morgan (Feb 3)

There’s all sorts of elements that interest me here. The heroine being a party girl, her Indian background, the possibility that it plays with the idea of women being somehow ‘property’ of any guy who fancies them (the hero’s friend is apparently in love with the heroine). On the negative side, the woman on the cover does not look particularly Indian. What’s up with that, Carina Press?

Jaded, by Anne Calhoun (Feb 4)

I've heard lots of great things about Anne Calhoun´s books, so I might try this one. The plot sounds sort of average, but we´ll see.

Yours Forever, by Farrah Rochon (Feb 18)

I've liked the previous Rochon books that I've read, and I like the sound of this one. Investigations into secrets of the distant past are one of my favourite plots.

Where Evil Waits, by Kate Brady (Feb 25)

I've been meaning to try Kate Brady again. The plot of this one wouldnt necessarily attract me on its own, so I’ll check out some reviews before deciding whether to buy.


Sierra Falls, by Veronica Wolff

>> Sunday, January 26, 2014

TITLE: Sierra Falls
AUTHOR: Veronica Wolff

PAGES: 320
PUBLISHER: Berkley Sensation

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Starts a series, I think

Sierra Falls, California, is one of those sleepy towns that people choose to leave. Sorrow Bailey chose to stay behind and run the struggling family lodge, but has always yearned for more. Things look up when she discovers a collection of letters from her three-times great grandmother and namesake, telling the story of a forbidden love affair.

Billy Preston is the new sheriff, a widower escaping the grief of his former life. He helps out after an accident at the Bailey lodge, and what begins as admiration for Sorrow's quiet strength quickly becomes more. When Sorrow's discovery brings fame to Sierra Falls and her dreams of a better life are within reach, one too many "accidents" have Billy wondering whether someone is willing to kill to keep them off the map...

Sierra Falls started out well. Sorrow Bailey wanted to leave the isolated mountain town in California where her parents own a lodge. She wanted to do so just as much as her siblings, but as the youngest and the last one left, and with her father having suffered a stroke, she didn't feel she could. She's stayed behind to help, expressing all her creativity in gourmet cooking that her father refuses to let her serve in the lodge.

She and Billy Preston, the new sheriff, start getting to know each other better when a tree falls through the roof of the lodge and Billy helps out. Billy likes and is attracted to Sorrow, but she's got a boyfriend, plus, he isn't sure he's quite ready for a serious relationship after the death of his wife. And then there are the suspiciously frequent accidents at the lodge.

This doesn't sound particularly original: small town, put-upon heroine who feels stuck, parents who don't appreciate the work she does and put her down, hero who is the town sheriff. But there were glimpses of real originality there, of subverting some of those obvious plot points. Sorrow really resents her sister having left, and she makes her feel it when she returns. It's not a black and white thing at all. Sorrow is not a martyr and can even be a bit of a bitch to her sister, and her sister is not horrible and taking advantage of her, she's just someone who left to pursue her own dream. Also, Sorrow has a boyfriend, and not only does she have sex with him, she kind of is with him mainly for the sex, which she enjoys much more than she likes him as a person. Then there's the age difference between Sorrow and Billy (not huge, but significant), and some intriguing signs of a secondary romance between two older characters who seemed perfect for each other, despite being outwardly very different.

I was intrigued, and settled in for an enjoyable read. And then I got really bored. I think it was the letters that bogged it down. See, Sorrow finds a bunch of letters in the attic written by an ancestress of hers to this well-known figure, and suddenly it's all about the letters and making them the centrepiece of a festival that will revive the town's fortunes. Unfortunately, all the story around that is really not at all interesting, and I couldn't care less.

There were other things going on that I did like, such as Sorrow's battle with her father for respect (although I really think she could have been a lot more assertive there) and her very realistically fraught relationship with her sister, but I left it for a few weeks in the middle while I had my holiday in Jordan (even though it was an ebook, and I took my kindle with me), and it took me a while to pick it back up even when I returned.

When I finally did, the thing got briefly interesting again, as the romance between Sorrow and Billy, the sheriff, picked up. But then the finale was all about the sabotage, and that was tedious as hell, and I ended up skimming it.

So, not offensive, and with some promise, but ultimately very average.



Strangers on a Train anthology

>> Friday, January 24, 2014

TITLE: Strangers on a Train
AUTHORS: Samantha Hunter, Serena Bell, Meg Maguire, Donna Cummings, Ruthie Knox

PAGES: Each story about 60-80 pages
PUBLISHER: Samhain Publishing

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: The stories are not related to each other

Over the past few years I've got better at not feeling I have to read every story in an anthology. Sometimes I'll even go straight for the one I bought the book for and not even try the others (see: JD Robb's short stories).

I acted unlike myself with this one. Samhain helpfully offers each of the 5 stories in the collection for separate purchase, but even though I was initially interested in only 2 of the stories, I decided to read them all.

I randomly started with Samantha Hunter's Tight Quarters. The heroine, Brenna, is a travel writer who suffers from claustrophobia after being in a bad car accident. Any enclosed space, even a car, is difficult for her -not good for someone in her job.

For the last few years, Brenna has been trying to get on a train that does a tour through New York State. This year, finally, she's managed to get on, only to find that her carefully chosen berth has been double booked by retired detective Reid Cooper.

What follows is an unconvincing setup of two strangers sharing a berth and a romance developing. It wasn't very good at all. Neither of the characters felt real. Brenna, especially, never really gelled. Her claustrophobia was inconsistent and not particularly interesting. As for the romance, it was much too fast to be remotely believable.

It was a quick read and I did manage to get to the end, but that's as much as I can say in favour of it.

MY GRADE: A C-. It was not-quite-average.

Next came Ticket Home, by Serena Bell, an author whom I haven't read yet, but whose books I'm aware of (in fact, I've a recent one of hers in my TBR).

Amy left Jeff when he showed that in his view, her ambitions and aspirations were clearly less important than his. This only added to the many, many instances of his putting his work before her. Amy moved across the country and, in the months since, has built another life. And then Jeff shows up on Amy's commuter train, clearly determined to win her back.

I really liked this one. It's a story where the 'falling in love' bit has already happened, so the focus is on working out the issues that have made the relationship fail. They are very real issues, too. I thought Bell judged it all exactly right. Amy's doubts and reluctance are very reasonable, and Jeff starts out as clueless, but is determined to understand and fix what's gone wrong. It's not easy, and it's not portrayed as such. By the end of the story, I was satisfied that I was seeing the start of real change, so the HEA ending really worked for me.

In fact, the story worked really well for me on the whole. It felt fresh and different and the author really dug into the characters and their motivations. I'm now really looking forward to trying the book by her in my TBR.


My favourite of all the stories was the one I read third, Thank You For Riding, by Meg Maguire. It's a simple set-up. Caitlin, on the way home after an embarrassing and disappointing break-up at her office's Christmas party, gets talking and flirting with a guy she'd first noticed a few days earlier at the blood bank where they both donate. They're so busy talking that they don't quite realise the station is closing, and things proceed from there.

I adored this story. I tend to find that with short stories it usually works better if the couple are already in love... if it's simply a vignette covering a later stage of their relationship, basically. Maguire proves that a good author can do a "falling in love" short story perfectly well. Caitlin and Mark don’t know each other at all at the start of the story, and yet I was completely convinced by the end that they were perfect for each other and that they were well on their way to falling in love, if not there already.

Seeing Caitlin and Mark interact was a delight. The dialogue was sparkling and the chemistry between them evident. They found each other incredibly charming and hilarious, and so did I! It was completely show, not tell.

Thank You For Riding goes straight on my list of best romance novels of 2013 (which I'll post soon, I promise!). Maguire also writes as Cara McKenna, and her After Hours is also on that list, making her the only author with 2 books there. I think I've found a new favourite author!


I then moved on to a story by the second author I hadn't ever heard of, Back On Track, by Donna Cummings. It wasn't good.

The story is set on a train during a wine tour of Napa Valley (that did sound wonderful!). Allie, who's in a dating dry patch, is pushed by a friend to approach a random hot guy. He turns out to be this huge baseball star, whom she just happens to be courting to appear in a charity calendar. She doesn't recognise him initially, and this is very refreshing to him.

This was boring. It's a setup I find annoying, and the story didn't really recover from it (I read over half of it). It was clearly gearing up for a scene with a big reveal in which Matt finds out who Allie is and assumes she only approached him because she wanted something from him. I couldn't be bothered with it.

I think the reason it was boring was because it was exactly the opposite of Thank You For Riding, in that it was all tell, no show. We’re told how much fun they’re having and how their conversation is so incredible, but their interactions read as forced and silly to me.

MY GRADE: This was a DNF.

I left Ruthie Knox's Big Boy for last because it was the one that had received the best reviews.

While looking around after joining and online dating service, Mandy runs across a very odd profile. It's a man dressed in period clothes, who offers the chance for a role-playing date. Something about this appeals to her, and she agrees. When the book starts, she and her stranger have already had a number of dates, all "set" in different time periods and appropriate trains in the train museum, and have become lovers.

The story looks at what happens when Mandy decides she might want more. It's a sweet, quite melancholy story. Mandy is a well-developed character, and though for most of the story her stranger remains a bit of a cypher, Knox does a really good job by the end of making us understand him. She also succeeded in getting me to buy that this was a romance with a real future.

Still, it was a story I admired more than liked, and it didn't give me the visceral enjoyment that others did.


No real surprises here. The three authors I already knew, and either knew I liked or suspected I might, wrote stories I enjoyed, while the stories by the two unknown-to-me authors weren't good. Shame, when I do read unknown authors in an anthology I'm always looking for some amazing discovery. Eh, well, the Meg Maguire story alone was worth the price of the 5.


In The Clear, by Tamara Morgan

>> Wednesday, January 22, 2014

TITLE: In The Clear
AUTHOR: Tamara Morgan

PAGES: 109
PUBLISHER: Self-published

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance

Fletcher Owens is full of secrets.

Few people know he spends his nights volunteering for a Search and Rescue team, saving lives while risking his own. Even fewer know he's in love with his best friend's sister. And since he's not willing to give up their friendship for a chance at something more, that's exactly how things will stay.

Lexie Sinclair has nothing to hide.

The zany daughter, the wacky sister, the quirky fundraiser for a children's charity -- Lexie couldn't hide her true self even if she wanted to. So when her brother's best friend is revealed to be a local hero, she's determined to stand up and prove she's ready to be more than just friends.

Fletcher Owens has been in love with his best friend's younger sister for years, but has always assumed it was hopeless and not worth risking their friendship to find out for sure. And then his 'secret life' as a Search and Rescue volunteer is revealed, and everything changes.

This came highly recommended and I started it with great hope, only to feel my heart sink. It's a really weak start. There's Fletcher’s hiding of his search and rescue activities, which made no sense whatsoever and seemed pointless. There's the reactions from pretty much everyone when this is revealed, which had no relation to how most normal people would react (well, except the 'why the hell have you kept this a secret?' reactions). Also, Lexie initially came across as scatty and silly and generally annoying.

Fortunately, the novella recovered from that rough start quite quickly. Well, Fletcher's secretiveness never did make complete sense, but the focus changed to him and Lexie interacting, and that was just wonderful. Once Lexie realises Fletcher's feelings for her, especially, I felt like my stomach was in knots and I savoured every word.

The characters started making sense, too. I particularly liked what Morgan did with Lexie, how my initial reaction was so close to what she was dealing with from everyone in her life. Everyone underestimates her completely, and she has a horrible time being taken seriously, because anything going wrong is seen as proof that she’d screwed up yet again. One of my favourite scenes is when it becomes clear that Fletcher doesn't see her that way at all, and that he sees the things she's good at, sometimes without even her realising.

Very nice.

MY GRADE: A B+. When it got good, it got really good!


The Edge of Never, by JA Redmerski

>> Monday, January 20, 2014

TITLE: The Edge of Never
AUTHOR: JA Redmerski

PAGES: 481
PUBLISHER: Self-published

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: New Adult
SERIES: Not that I know of

Twenty-year-old Camryn has always felt different from everyone else around her – not content to be tied down by life's conventions, she’s always known that she wants a life less ordinary. But when tragedy forces her to abandon her plans, she vows never to let her walls down again – and never to fall in love.

But one night in the hottest club in town, her world is turned upside down. Desperate to escape, Camryn packs up the bare necessities and boards the next Greyhound bus leaving town, to find the true self she knows is out there. What she finds instead is a young man who is more like her than she knows. Andrew Parrish needs to find himself too, and harbours his own dark secrets…

Zig-zagging across the country together, Camryn finds herself doing things she never imagined, as Andrew shows her what it’s like to live by your own rules and what it feels like to give in to her deepest, darkest desires. Before she knows it, he’s become the centre of her world. But as the electric love and lust between them intensifies, a dark shadow is looming. Will Andrew’s secret push them together – or tear them apart?

The Edge of Never tells the story of Camryn Bennett, who sets off on a bus journey to nowhere after a fight with her best friend (it's one of those 'blame the messenger' deals, where the best friend flips out and blames/doesn't believe her when Camryn tells her that the best friend's boyfriend has made a pass at her).

On the bus to Idaho she meets Andrew Parrish, who's on the way to Wyoming to his father's deathbed. They get talking, and end up continuing their running away from themselves together.

I had big issues with this one, so much so that I gave up after reading about 40% (it was, at least, a quick read).

The main thing was that Camryn and Andrew were so hilariously up their own arses it was unbelievable. There's a point at the beginning when Camryn, after mocking her best friend for fantasising about sex with her boyfriend, boasts that she "dream[s] about things that really matter. What the air in other countries feels like on my skin, how the ocean smells, why the sound of rain makes me gasp. 'You're one deep chick.' That's what Damon said to me on more than one occasion". Oh, yes, Camryn, your utter twaddle has got a depth that amazes me! And please note that later she and Andrew also have a "really deep" conversation about the mystery of why there are often single shoes by motorways. She shares that conversation with the reader. It wasn't deep.

In addition to having the depth of a puddle, Camryn is annoyingly holier-than-thou and judgemental. I got tired of her calling all other women "sluts" and using it to set herself off against them and reinforce how much better she is.

As for Andrew, we have some scenes from his point of view, though fewer than Camryn. I found him marginally less annoying, although in the section I read he does show a worrying tendency towards violent possessiveness, which is presented as oh-so-sexy. He's also just as much of a pretentious teenager as Camryn, even though he's 25. He doesn't feel 25. There's this conversation they have about music, with Andrew questioning Camryn's supposed taste and being really sententious about how only classic rock is good. Camryn makes the mistake of claiming to like a band she thinks he'll think are cool, and then she's scrambling around trying to remember the name of one of their songs when Andrew dares her to name one. I had those conversations in my teens. Camryn's 20, so I don't really blame her, but at Andrew's age, surely you grow out of this crap?

I suppose that's the thing about this book. The characters feel really authentic as very young, heads-up-butts kids, but those are exactly the sort of annoying teens that I don't really feel like spending time with.

These two can keep driving on their own, I'm getting off.



I'm back!

>> Saturday, January 18, 2014

Hi, everyone, I'm back! Lovely holiday, spent a lot of time with family (especially my baby nephew, who's beautiful and a lot of fun) and did lots of reading.

I read loads. Not everything was good (in fact, I had several DNFs, including some which I really, really didn't expect to be DNFs at all), but quite a few were incredibly good reads. I'll be posting reviews over the next weeks.


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