Friday, July 28, 2017

strictly literary: searching for beautiful by nyrae dawn

before brynn's mother died, before she fell in love with the wrong guy and got pregnant, before she lost her friends with lies, before christian moved back into town brynn was leading a normal teenage life, with normal concerns. and then everything changed.

searching for beautiful is about brynn's search for herself, because all the stuff that happened in between before and after is still messing with her. brynn begins the now portions of the novel closed off and insecure. and slowly she starts to see that even if she can't find the unbroken before brynn, people still do. that brynn isn't gone, she's just recovering. her heart was so bruised and beaten she's afraid to trust anyone else with it.

but slowly, she starts to open up. and as she does, everything gets better. it's not a miracle process, it's a slow and steady build-up to better. but better is good, because better means that you recognize that what happened before wasn't fine.

this is one of those ya books that i think tries to cram in too many issues so that it's not possible to do them proper justice. the novel works on the strength of brynn and christian's connection. but on the issues side of things, i'm not sure that worked for me. for example, when brynn finally talks to christian about jason, she mentions her pregnancy but does not talk about how she lost the baby. given that earlier in the novel she has several nightmares about babies and also has a freak out over a science class project that we never actually see her complete, it makes no sense to me that she wouldn't bring this up. it's these inconsistencies that lessen the impact of some of the issues the author is trying to highlight.

**searching for beautiful published march 4, 2014. i received a digital copy courtesy of netgalley/entangled publishing (entangled teen) in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

seriously romantic: the billionaire's intern by jackie ashenden

the latest fairy tale to get the billionaire treatment is sleeping beauty in jackie ashenden's the billionaire's intern. unlike the previous two novels in the series, this one felt like a stretch in terms of a retelling. in terms of the story of lorenzo de santis and his intern, kira constantin it felt like a compelling and emotionally satisfying romance.

the de santis men are all kind of alpha a-holes, and lorenzo is no different. he's emotionally closed off because he feels like he's failed both his mother and his first love, katie, by selfishly needing their love. when kira begins working for him, he tries to stay away. he tries to keep her away. because the way he is drawn to her presence, the way he needs to hold her and exert his control over her isn't rational. but he can't let her go.

kira has been obsessed with lorenzo since she was a child and he did his best to entertain her by folding paper cranes. kira has had a difficult childhood riddled with behavioral problems and poor impulse control related to untreated adhd. and these problems follow her to college and only ends when she is in a terrible car accident that claims the lives of two of her friends and leaves the third in a coma. since then she has tried to be her best self. always in control. never wild.

but lorenzo sparks something in her. it's as if she needs to spiral only so that he can take over for her. the more control he exerts the hotter she is for him. and the sexual chemistry between these two is totally off the charts. it's as if their souls recognize that they complete each other. he needs to be able to control and care for someone and she needs someone to control and care for her.

i continue to enjoy this series and can't wait to see rafael's story, which appears to be a retelling of little red riding hood. though my most favorite retelling of that particular fairy tale will be hard to top, even though it's a completely different genre.

**the billionaire's intern will publish on august 1, 2017. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/st. martin's press (swerve) in exchange for my honest review.

something from the archives: say goodbye - part 30

so it's the halfway point, as far as i remember. i have only found up to part 51 archived elsewhere online, but i'm pretty sure there were 60 (maybe even 62) chapters of this particular fic. it's the longest thing i've ever written. and you guys, this is still not everything. i don't know what i'll do when my archive material runs dry.

check out parts 12345678910111213141516171819202122232425262728, and 29. read on for part 30...

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

superbly suspenseful: say no more by liliana hart

the mysterious dante malcolm leads up say no more, the third book in the gravediggers series. unlike deacon and elias, dante has held himself apart from the team even as he is clearly a vital part of it. the reasons for this become clear early on in the novel.

dante has special skills, he was an mi6 agent, but also a thief in his previous life. so part of his role within the gravediggers team is also to run side missions for their boss, eve. the thing is, dante's past life is still very much alive for him. giving up his career, both legitimate and illegitimate was one thing, but it was giving up the great love of his life that still haunts him.

olivia rothschild is no stranger to tragedy and loss. losing dante, someone who had lied and betrayed her was one thing. another was losing her identical twin sister, who was kidnapped when they were 6 and was never recovered. liv has made it her career to find her sister, joining interpol right out of school, and when dante's betrayal cast a pall on her career it was more than his lies that she found unforgivable. but when a human trafficking case puts her on a collision course with dante's latest side project for eve. all the secrets dante has been keeping are about to come out into the open.

i liked dante and liv's story, its a true second chance at love romance with a good amount of suspense added in. the one issue i had was that there was a lot of setup about who dante was and how he and liv got together, but not enough time was spent on reconciliation. not between liv and dante or dante and his team members. things ended where i hoped they would, so it's fine. but i think that one thing the darkest corner did that worked so well was set up this underlying tension between eve and the gravediggers and what the mission is truly. and while there is still some of that, the individual suspense plot gets more airtime that the suspense plot that overarches the series. and that's fine, it's just that i think the first book did a better job of balancing this than the subsequent books have, and i hope that the next books—i'm assuming levi and axel will get their own stories—will balance it better. i think it's also because i like the way the team works together, and even though they finally got there in this one, there is still residual tension from dante's revelations that aren't fully dealt with and they were all separated into different pairings. anyway, i like the gravediggers, i want to see more of them.

**say no more published on july 25, 2017. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/gallery, threshold, pocket books (pocket books) in exchange for my honest review. read on for more information on the novel and the series...

seriously romantic: tease me tonight by jules court

this novella finds er nurse elizabeth owen getting all tangled up with easygoing firefighter, will macgregor. elizabeth isn't really looking for a relationship. orphaned just before she was set to go to college, she instead stuck around and raised her little sister. now experiencing a sort of empty nest, the last thing elizabeth wants in tease me tonight is anything serious.

who can blame her for wanting to be young or play the field? except willis one of those rare guys actively looking for the one. he wants to settle down. he's seen his parents' enduring love and marriage his whole life, and he wants that for himself. and when he connects with elizabeth he really believes she might be it.

just his luck that the one girl in boston not looking for a relationship is the one he happens to be interested in. the thing is things have always come easily to will. but if he really wants something with elizabeth he is going to have to fight for it. this is a novella so things move at a pretty fast clip, but the story here is enjoyable and satisfying.

**tease me tonight will release on july 31, 2017. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/carina press in exchange for my honest review. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

strictly literary: under the parisian sky by alli sinclair

under the parisian sky is the story of two ballerinas—lily johannson and viktoriya budian. in a contemporary setting lily is still recovering from a horrific car accident that destroyed her future career and killed her fiancé. in the past viktoriya struggles with life in france after fleeing russia and the bolsheviks. 

we are meant to draw parallels between lily and viktoriya, and their lives are in some ways connected. but while viktoriya's is imbued with a melancholy hopelessness—i was always waiting for everything to fall apart. and it does. with lily you can see that there is a reason to be hopeful, and that a huge part of that lies with yves rousseau and his insistence in being with her and helping her and letting her help him. 

if you like adriana trigiani, then you will like this. it's not really my cup of tea, but it's well-researched and written, so i can appreciate it. 

**under the parisian sky will publish on july 25, 2017. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/kensington books (lyrical press) in exchange for my honest review. 

seriously romantic: one true pairing by cathy yardley

hailey frost is in a tough spot, her family's bookstore is failing and she's working two jobs and stretched too thin to have much of a personal life. then she meets jake reese who is somehow even in a tighter spot, hiding behind the counter from some aggressive super fans at the coffee shop she works at. she helps him out not knowing that this small interaction will change everything in one true pairing.

after all it's jake reese, up-and-coming hollywood actor, currently he's starring on a sci-fi/fantasy show mystic on basic cable. his father—hollywood royalty, kurt windlass—has bigger ideas for him, and jake is really just a down-to-earth, sweetheart of a guy has no idea how much his father is interfering in his career. jake is up for contract renewal, and all he wants to do is sign on for more seasons of a show he really loves. he isn't in it for the money or the fame, he loves his job.

when jake is told by his agent that he needs to up his q factor, hailey comes up with a plan. she'll act as his girlfriend in exchange for him appearing at her family's bookstore that they are in the process of remodeling. the timeline here is pretty constrained, everything happens in a matter of days so if instalove/lust type books aren't your thing, you might be annoyed by this.

i found jake super charming, and was really rooting for him. hailey is a bit more prickly, but her baggage informs who she is, and once she starts letting jake in, you really do understand why she is the way she is. this was a fun, enjoyable read. perfect material for some time on the beach.

**one true pairing will publish on july 25, 2017. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/st. martin's press (swerve) in exchange for my honest review. read on for more information on the novel including an excerpt...

seriously romantic: too scot to handle by grace burrowes

the second book in the windham brides series, too scot to handle, picks up where the trouble with dukes left off. lady anwen and lord colin find themselves perfectly matched in this lovely regency.

lord colin is currently the heir to a dukedom, though he expects his brother's future children to actually inherit. nonetheless he is recently titled, is very wealthy and has set about trying to fit in with london society. but as time has gone on, he finds that london society isn't all that wonderful. the young men are spoiled and entitled and don't do anything productive. the young ladies simper and flirt to secure husbands. he's not actively looking for a wife. he just wants to be challenged by something.

he finds lady anwen intriguing. she's more than just a debutante. she cares deeply about london's poor, particularly the children. she's smart and funny and kind. most of all, when they talk to each other, it's not in society's coded language. they talk and it's for real. it's not about the weather or the latest gossip. and lady anwen is delighted to find that not only can she expect lord colin to listen and advise her like a peer, he also respects her insight and opinions and isn't ashamed to ask her for advice.

and while there is some drama and intrigue surrounding the home for wayward urchins that anwen and colin both sponsor, there are no ridiculous roadblocks or falling outs requiring grand gestures in this romance, and honestly, i really to appreciate that. lord colin and lady anwen's feelings are never in doubt. and they couldn't be more perfect for each other if they tried.

**too scot to handle will publish on july 25, 2017. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/grand central publishing (forever) in exchange for my honest review. read on for more information, including where to buy.

Monday, July 24, 2017

seriously romantic: the importance of being scandalous by kimberly bell

in the importance of being scandalous, nicholas wakefield has loved amelia bishop since, well, since forever. but they've also been best of friends since forever. away from england in part to grow up, in part to come to terms with his feelings, nick is intent on revealing all to mia and hoping for the best.

except she's about to announce her engagement to someone else. the thing about mia is that her entire life has been shaped by her sister's disability. born in a time where birth defects were considered a mark of sinfulness, amelia's family has been shunned by polite society due to her sister's infirmity. and now mia has the chance for normalcy and her family is determined that she take it.

but when mia realizes her fiancé isn't as accepting of julia's condition as she had assumed, she realizes she cannot marry him. there's also the matter of her pesky feelings for nick to contend with. she'd thought she'd put her girlhood crush behind her when he left, but now that nick is back, her feelings have returned and they are stronger and tinglier than ever.

the problem is, no matter how hard she tries to get rid of her fiancé he isn't budging on the matter of their engagement. his single-mindedness is fascinating, because initially he doesn't seem like a terrible person, but by the end of the novel it's clear that he isn't firing on all cylinders because why would he want to be with this woman who a) doesn't want him, b) comes from a family that has been tainted through no fault of their own and c) goes out of her way to humiliate and embarrass him.

it takes a while for nick and mia to find themselves on the same page, but once they get all their feelings out in the open, things start to fall into place. one thing that i really enjoyed in this romance is the friendships that the lead characters form. it's not just nick and mia. nick and julia have their own friendship with a rich history. nick's friend jasper is a breath of fresh air, and he proves to be a good friend to both nick and mia. amelia and julia are more than sisters, they are true friends too. and even nick's brother, who one might expect to be disapproving, is supportive of his younger brother and is kind and generous. honestly, the moms are just the worst in this novel. and the fiancé who will not give up.

one thing i wanted to know more about was julia's condition. it's described as a spinal issue, and she walks with a limp. so i wondered if it was spina bifida or something similar. the version i read did not have an author's note explaining things, so perhaps it's something that is pending for a future book, or it was meant to be purposely vague.

**the importance of being scandalous will publish july 25, 2017. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/entangled publishing (select: historical) in exchange for my honest review.

seriously romantic: an earl for the archeress by e. elizabeth watson

sometimes it's nice to change things up from the standard regency period historical. i feel like i read a lot of regency, but i really do enjoy other time periods too. and this medieval romance, an earl for the archeress, a robin hood retelling of sorts is so, so good.

i always love a good robin hood story. something about the guy who roots for and protects the underdog is so appealing. and from the moment we meet robert of huntington we are charmed. mariel crawford is less charmed, but she has plenty of reasons to be suspicious of men. her father, the sheriff of ayreshire is abusive and cruel, and she has been running and hiding from him for the last 9 months. surviving as a woman in a man's world without resorting to prostitution is something of an achievement. mariel might not be an innocent, but she's given up the life of a lady to live on her wit's and talent for archery alone.

robert recognizes mariel as a woman the moment she steps onto the playing field. and when they are the finalists and tie in the tournament he is intrigued by this woman who is his equal. not only is she his equal in archery, she is his equal in all things. and for the first time the idea of marriage doesn't seem abhorrent, even though societal rules and mariel's own wariness are huge obstacles that would need to be overcome should things ever get that far.

from the moment they meet, mariel and robert put a claim on each other. mariel tries so hard to resist it, running from robert every chance she gets. but he won't let her go. he keeps fighting for her. and the fact that he does, that he keeps her close both horrifies her and heals her the deep wounds to her psyche caused by her father's treatment of her.

everything about this romance worked for me. the stakes, the obstacles, the lead's and their chemistry all came together beautifully. rob and mari were meant to be from the moment they encountered each other at the earl's tourney, and everything they go through builds on that moment of connection in a way that feels deep and meaningful.

**an earl for the archeress will publish july 24, 2017. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/entangled publishing (select historical) in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

strictly literary: the inevitable collision of birdie & bash by candace ganger

the inevitable collision of birdie & bash looks like your standard contemporary ya—lighthearted, frothy, fun. except in this case judging a book by its cover will give you some serious whiplash, because this novel is heavy, sad, and tragic. though this is a love story, it probably shouldn't be.

both birdie and bash suffer some great tragedies in the month that spans the novel's timeline. and the fact that bash is inextricably linked to birdie's tragedy makes their entire relationship problematic. and bash knows this. he spends most of the time treating birdie badly, so it's hard to understand what about bash keeps her coming back.

chemistry and chemical reactions thread the narrative as a way to explain the connections between characters and events. but in the end, there is too much plot and not enough character development going on here. the sum total of all the horrible circumstances that birdie and bash are dealing with, is too much, it becomes too hard to believe that things could be that bad. or be resolved so magically.

and maybe that's the problem i had, there was so much that needed to be fixed, that when everything does blow up, the way things are solved doesn't feel earned or realistic to me.

**the inevitable collision of birdie & bash will publish on july 25, 2017. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/st. martin's press (griffin) in exchange for my honest review. 

seriously romantic: bonding games by cathryn fox

holly fairfax doesn't think this corporate retreat her boss has insisted everyone attend in bonding games will be all that valuable. she wants to go back to coding and solving problems. but she also wants a promotion and if bonding with her coworkers is part of the game she has to play in order to earn the bump in responsibilities she knows she deserves, well she will play it.

josh steele is a former seal working in the security sector. his latest assignment is to bring holly fairfax home and protect her from a threat to her life. the threat is vague and possibly made up. the fact that josh is able to go undercover at holly's company as a coworker is also totally implausible. which is the main problem of this romance. once you start pulling at threads the whole plot kind of unravels.

however, holly and josh are both compelling leads. the spark between them drives the story and the push–pull that josh feels between the duty to his job and his feelings for holly help build up the conflict more so than any external threat to holly's safety.

**bonding games will publish on july 24, 2017. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/entangled publishing (brazen) in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

seriously romantic: a dance with seduction by alyssa alexander

vivienne le fleur is in trouble in a dance with seduction, as a spy for the british crown she's had to lie and steal and become someone else entirely. for years, on and off, she's worked with code-breaker maximilian westwood. she finds his precision and methodological habits infuriating and can't help ruffling his feathers every chance she gets. and maximilian finds her presumptuous presence annoying and her profession with its constant intrigues abhorrent and her entire being too damn beautiful for him to be comfortable.

when she asks him for help, pays him for it actually, she's doing it for herself, not for britain. she's caught in the middle of a dangerous spy game between england and france, and her sister's safety is at risk. and as the plot around her deepens and thickens, maximilian finds himself in the middle of it. it's the last place he wants to be, except it's also the only place he wants to be. because no matter what his head tells him about vivienne not being meant for him, his heart tells him that there is no other. and he can't stop himself from wanting to protect and aid this woman no matter what.

we really get to see this relationship grow and develop as the novel progresses, and how these two souls so used to working alone find a true partnership together. they have some serious—murderous—obstacles to overcome, but the combined force of a brilliant spy and master code-breaker should be enough to turn the tide. 

**a dance with seduction will publish July 24, 2017. I received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/entangled publishing (select historical) in exchange for my honest opinion. 

seriously romantic: my hellion, my heart by amalie howard and angie morgan

book 3 in the lords of essex series, my hellion, my heart, brings together princess irina volkonsky and lord henry radcliffe, earl of langlevit. she's loved him since she was fourteen, but hasn't seen him since a mission in france went terribly wrong for him. the trauma of his time there has made him feel disconnected from emotion and unworthy of happiness.

princess irina is in her third season as the novel opens, having spent a season in st. petersburg and turned down many a proposal, and a season in paris where she turned down many more, she's gained the reputation of being frigid and an ice princess. the truth is that she won't marry someone who she doesn't love. and she loves henry. and no other man has ever been able to meet the ideal he's set for her. and as henry does everything he can to prove that he isn't worthy of irina, she recognizes that what she feels for him is something beyond a girlhood crush. he's it for her, even if he doesn't want her.

and this is the conundrum because henry wants her desperately, but he denies it. he doesn't believe that she could love him. he doesn't believe that he can be the husband irina deserves. so much so that he'd rather enter into a sham of a marriage with his best friend's widow than consider marrying irina. it's true that henry acts like a jackass for large chunks of the novel. he both reaches for irina and pushes her away. but the kind of trauma he is suffering, the pain he endures as a result of what happened—not just physical pain, but emotional—allow you to understand why he acts that way. even if it's clear that if he allowed himself to open up to irina he'd find a way to heal.

what's wonderful about irina is that she is so strong. henry puts her through hell, and she stands strong. she knows what she wants. she knows that she deserves more than what he gives her. she makes mistakes, but she also owns them. and when she and henry are forced into a dangerous situation by someone irina has always considered a friend, she doesn't lose her head. she stays strong and courageous and faces her worst fears head on.

**my hellion, my heart will publish on july 24, 2017. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/entangled publishing (select historical) in exchange for my honest review.