Friday, July 31, 2015

Book: Secret Sister by Brenda Novak

I received a digital copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

I had trouble getting into Secret Sister. I kept putting it down and not wanting to pick it back up. Finally, I made myself finish it, because I knew I needed to review it, and I'm glad I did. It got better.

Before I get started with the review, I did notice one big mistake: "she hawked her wedding ring," which should be "hocked," of course. Though the words are both related to selling, they do not mean the same thing.

Okay, so Maisey is in a really down place after losing her child and getting divorced. She's not raw anymore over her marriage, but she's still really broken up about losing her child, and having a lot of trouble coping with the loss her her creativity in the wake of her daughter's death. At the same time, she believes her brother needs her badly, and she chooses to go home, hoping they can each prop the other up and recover with each other's help.

It doesn't turn out that way, as her brother is much deeper than he'd been letting on, and he goes off on a tangent fairly soon after her arrival. Maisey adjusts, carving out a place to live - not in her mother's house - and a job, and goes about the business of recovering her sanity/emotional well-being.

Maisey's mother, Josephine, is a cold fish. Appearances are everything to her, and she uses that to abuse her kids and condescend to nearly everyone. She's really not a nice woman, or so she goes to a lot of trouble to seem.

Over the course of the book, Maisey learns new things about her father, about her brother, and learns that they *might* have had an older sister, once upon a time. The quest for the truth about this possibility is the focus of the remainder of the book. The mystery unravels in bits and pieces, as Maisey finds out many people still talk about her sister, just not to her family. There's never been a question she existed, but there has always been a mystery about what happened to her. The last anyone saw her, she was about ten. She has been assumed drowned off the family's private beach. The big mystery is "who pushed her?" not "what happened?"

Along with the mystery of her family, Maisey meets up with the contractor responsible for repairing hurricane damage to the family's rental bungalows, Rafe. Turns out, she's met him before, and it wasn't an interaction she particularly wants to revisit - it was an embarrassing piece of her teenage past, and she goes forward on the assumption he hasn't changed in twenty years.

Of course, he has. Substantially, and Maisey can't help noticing he's become a man who shoulders responsibility with ease and is genuinely kind to people on the island. He and Maisey become friendlier with the focused assistance of Rafe's daughter, Laney, and Rafe's mother, though the romance is very low key.

Maisey continues to struggle with learning about a sister she doesn't remember, an ex-husband who seems intent on reclaiming lost ground, and the man who keeps offering her friendship - and more - without asking much of her.

I love the way this story was resolved, the way it brought a family to new understandings about themselves and each other, and I'm glad I made myself continue to read it, despite its slow start.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Book: Kindle Worlds (The 100) Blood Bound by Linnea Lund

Full Disclosure: Though I have never met LL, I do know her fairly well through fandom. I am an alpha or beta reader on most of her original fiction books, and have edited many of them. This was not one of those.

I finished binge-watching the first two seasons of The 100 recently, and wanted something more about the characters, just in case the show doesn't return. What is available on AO3 wasn't really satisfying my need to learn more about the characters. I had read and enjoyed a couple of Lund's The 100 works on AO3, before I knew this was a pseudonym for someone I knew.

Lund's characterization of Clarke in Blood Bound is wonderfully in line with the canon portrayal, and Clarke's personal growth over the course of the story is perfectly ordinary, and yet unexpected at the same time.

The book picks up with Clarke when she walks away from the compound at the end of season two.

When Clarke and Bellamy finally see each other again, it's real, not perfect, and their reunion isn't the end of the book. There's so much more to their story, and the slow, steady pace of their romantic relationship is by turns frustrating and delightful.

By the end, Clarke and Bellamy are the adults I always knew they could be, and I believe they can take Earth's inhabitants into the future with their sensible leadership and ability to negotiate.

In addition to Clarke and Bellamy, Lund weaves in canon and non-canon characters I didn't expect, and takes them all in directions I would never have considered.

None of them get out of this free of the grief of losing people they love, but they do walk out into the figurative sunshine at least planning for the future. The hopeful ending is hard-won and worth every moment of reading.

All that said, there were a LOT of mistakes, making me wish I HAD edited the book. I love her work, but she doesn't get an auto-pass on editing just because I know her.

Book: Her Boyfriend and His Best Friend

Surprisingly sweet and well-written very short story about a girl who's drunk enough to jab at her boyfriend and his best friend about how much they want to fuck each other until they do something about it.

The resolution wasn't what I expected, and I like that in a story.

I only found a couple of mistakes, which was also a pleasant surprise. I'll definitely be checking out more from this author.

Book: Taming His Beast

This was a short story with a happily for now ending. It is not a cliffhanger, but I wouldn't call it happily ever after.

I liked that the heroine's hangups were more about her lack of control over her powers, whatever they were, than about her appearance.

The buildup to the first sex scene, the foreplay, was actually hotter than the sex scene, which was a little perfunctory and disappointing. It was more tell than show.

A little bit of work could have expanded the plot, developing both main characters more, and going into greater depth as to the shifter populace's issues with women like Sarah. What little of the plot we got was actually interesting, and I would have enjoyed immersing in this world a little more than such a short story allowed me to do.

It was a fun read, and I'd probably read more by this author.

I received a digital copy of this book from Romance Arcade in exchange for an honest review.

Book: Awakened - Soul Shifters I

I received a free digital copy of this book via Romance ARCade, for the purposes of providing a review.

I first read the short prequel Unraveled, which I also received through RA.

The premise here is interesting, and I liked both the heroine and hero. Gemma is a laid-off schoolteacher who decides on a whim to move to a new community and try to start over. Carson is a guy trying to escape from his family's reputation for criminal activity. Both are smart and I like the chemistry between them. I like the group of friends Carson has gathered around him. They're a good bunch of guys.

The beginning was a little confusing, with bits and pieces of story laid out, then backtracking to "real time" with our main characters. I was even more confused when one of the characters introduced in "real time" was someone whose fate I already know, thanks to the bits and pieces. I didn't much like being spoiled for her future before I even met her.

Finally, this book could have used a serious edit. Misused words, run-on sentences, underused commas, and overused semi-colons abounded, along with context errors (like military people using 12-hour time. Um, no.). The most egregious error was one of the characters stating most people are vaccinated for rabies these days. There is a treatment for rabies in case a person is bitten, but there is no preventive vaccine of which I am aware. I could suspend my disbelief for other parts of it, because it's clearly a story set in a paranormal version of our world, but the rabies vaccination pulled me out of the story pretty hard. There was also a wee bit of headhopping, but unfortunately, I've gotten so used to that in indie books, I only noticed it once or twice.

Still, Tate offers a new twist on the fated mates trope, and I'd like to read more. I can't quite give it four stars. 3.5.

Book: Shattered by Sennah Tate - part of the Soul Shifters serial

I received a digital copy of Shattered via Romance ARCade for the purposes of providing a review.

Shattered is Ty’s story. Through a set of circumstances only possible because of past events, Ty meets Sadie, a woman with a young son. Ty and Noah share an immediate connection through comics, and they get along beautifully. Ty and Sadie share an unusual connection, too, and it confuses them both.

Sadie is accepting of the things Ty shares with her at first, but then the reality of everything becomes overwhelming and she backs away.

The shadows are persistent, though, and Sadie has to go to Ty for help.

This particular segment is a little light on action, more about building the emotional stakes. The segment is complete in itself, but does clearly connect to the full arc of the story. Someone who read only this, though, would likely be dissatisfied with the lack of context for both the antagonist and the relationships among the friends.

There were a few mistakes with words, but this segment was mostly harder to read because of comma splices making run-on sentences almost everywhere.

This is still an unusual take on the Fated Mates trope, and I’m invested enough in the story to read the final segment, Redeemed.

All by itself, this segment of the serial is a three-star read.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Book: Unleashed by Sennah Tate

I received a digital copy of Unleashed via Romance ARCade in exchange for an honest review.

Unleashed is Dez and Alina’s story. Their romance is sweet and slow, their connection quiet and warm, and I enjoyed it quite a bit more.

Isabel and Aaron are heavy in the background of this one, and Izzy continues to be childish and petty with Aaron, who isn’t adjusting well to being in a relationship.

The group has gained more powers as a result of the cemented connection between Izzy and Aaron, though, and Alina remembers and shares more of what she remembers of the Travelers and the fight against the darkness.

When Alina uses her power to locate more Evokers, she ends up connecting at a women’s shelter, and though the counseling temporarily derails her with Dez, she figures her feelings out soon enough.

The writing in this segment was much more even, and I found fewer mistakes.

I do want to continue reading, to learn what new abilities will surface and who will find the next love connection.

Book: Revealed by Sennah Tate

I received a free digital copy of Revealed from Romance ARCade in exchange for an honest review.

Revealed is Isabel and Aaron’s story. The segment opens with Izzy and Aaron at odds with each other over a kiss. Izzy remembers it vividly, and Aaron says it never happened. The argument gets acrimonious and begins to splinter the group’s cohesion.

This book was uneven: the bones of the story continue to be good, but there were more mistakes in this part of the story.

The big problem between Isabel and Aaron is based on one of my least favorite tropes - a complete lack of open communication. Their behavior toward each other is childish and petty, and made them seem more like hormone-driven teenagers than adults. Aaron was especially obnoxious, and the ongoing hostilities left me much more interested in the overarcing antagonist than in whether or not Izzy and Aaron would get their crap together.

Once the group was no longer distracted by their animosity, they began to see patterns and learn more about Preston Waters and how it might be possible to stop him.

Despite the lack of polish, I am interested in the overall story arc, and I will read the next segment.