Thoughts on Penny Reid

I don`t have the best thoughts on Penny, to be honest. She is not the worst I have ever had, but she is far from the best. When the author is in command of their craft there is actually an amount of bull I can take. Not so much when the author doesn`t really THINK much.

Especially when they don`t think enough about sentences like: “We stood there for a bit—not long, but not super short—with him hugging me and me crying on his suit jacket.”

OR:  “Everything heterosexually feminine in me loved the hard muscled planes of
his stomach and sides and back.”

DUDE.

What makes it even worse is the fact that I took those out of a short story, maybe a page apart.

But ok, let me be a bit less dramatic and a bit more factual. I did read a number of her books (trying to escape actual life) and I owe her at least that.

So, Amazon (the devil`s pit) told me I should give her a go. And the book was about a bearded man and a prickly lady, so I read it. Sue me. And then I read the series. And then I figured out that it is linked to another series and I just couldn`t leave it alone.

I lost days.

All in all, there are some good and ok sides to them, and there are inescapable bad sides. There is a DNF in there too.

I read the Winston Brothers and Knitting in the City, so about a dozen books (I know, I am an idiot). And if I had to be quick about it, I would say they were ok. If you need a recommendation I would say go for Happily Ever Ninja, Beard Science and Beard in Mind. Most definitely avoid Friends Without Benefits. A cute philosophical idea is introduced in Dating-ish, so it might work for you.

They are all written in first person, and it took some time for me to get used to that. There are problems with continuity and timeline, and the author seems to go on train of thought tangents that make the characters seem like a slightly different version of the same thing. We are getting the info trough internal monolog, so I guess train-of-thought should be expected. But it is not executed “all that great”. Some characters end up putting me of because of their inner crap (Elizabeth in Friends Without Benefits), others turn out to be great in comparison (Happily Ever Ninja).

The good news is that Penny seems to be getting better with time, and with characters she has more time (or pages) for. She is also trying to diversify her characters, and I like how she deals with mental issues and health.

She is similar to S. E. Phillips in the way she makes her characters do questionable and just plain wrong things, but she fails in the redemption part of the equation. In order for me to carry on, and understand (even justify) the happy end for those characters, I need more insight, more blood, sweat and tears on the road to self betterment. I personally dislike black-and-white situations and I am inclined to look deeper, but if there is nowhere to look…

Most of my dislikes are in relation to my valuation of the books as easy beach reads or time-wasters. One can forgive lack of depth but one shouldn`t have to suffer trough shallow things like poorly written sentences. Or the fact that the knitting group labels themselves with “drinking, cussing and sex talk” while they actually “sip, knit and talk about boys, with a random reference to cunnilingus for spice”. If you try to read them in order you will end up even more confused.

Finally, if you are getting a book for a groundhog day present, and it must be Peeny Reid, choose wisely and hope for the best. You might have a shot at not hating what you get, but the odds are not in your favor.

 

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Dream a Little Dream, Susan Elizabeth Phillips

On SEP`s page the blurb starts with: This is not an official Chicago Stars book, but continues the story of the Bonner family.

I have to read books in order, that is a given. So I am not skipping one of the toughest characters and one of the toughest life stories out here.

In Dream a Little Dream Rachel Stone is an outcast—broke, unemployed, with a five-year-old son to raise, and Gabriel Bonner is the hostile black sheep of the town’s most prominent family. They first meet upon Rachel`s return to Salvation, the town she fled after her televangelist husband stole millions out of the pockets of the faithful. G. Dwayne Snopes did not only steal the money. He stole and fled (dying on the way), leaving Rachel to deal with it while trying to raise their son Edward. Gabe was out of town for his own sad reasons. He was running away from the memory of his dead wife and little son. The best description of his state would be this quote:

“… in his chest, his heart seeped. It wasn`t blood that escaped – that had been shed long ago – but a thick, bile-like fluid that ran through veins that had become rivers of pain carrying a bottomless cargo of grief.”

I have read this book for the first time many moons ago, and I have read it several times since, and this still gets me. It is one of the best descriptions of overwhelming emotional pain I have ever read.

His family is what is keeping him alive, or rather his unwillingness to cause them more pain. Reverend Ethan Bonner, his brother, is one of the first among the cast of characters to show dislike and contempt towards Rachel and bubble wrapped care for his brother, which turns out to be modus operandi for the whole town.

Gabe bought Pride of Carolina, an outdoor theater, in his attempt to live an existence as far from his previous life as possible. In a show of pity for Rachel, he hires her to work for him, and help him fix up the place.

Their story starts (and resolves) violently, and as usual, the setup for the actual resolution is over half of the book long. We get the whole package with SEP: the motivation, the history, the character arc, the common sense and actual humanity, and sincere sex.

The side story with Ethan and his assistant Kristy plays wonderfully along with the main storyline. Ethan is almost like a second male lead with the depth he has (nevermind the talking-to-god bit), and him accepting Rachel is connected with him accepting himself.

The party would not be complete without the third brother, Cal and his wife Jane, we met in Nobody’s Baby But Mine. Cal is terribly protective of Gabe so he is inclined to eliminate all perceived or real threats to his brother. He shows up out of the blue so he really doesn`t know what he is talking about or who he is dealing with. But he is forceful and eager, so his methods don`t take long to trigger the culmination.

Gabe`s relationship with Edward brings another dimension to this raw love story. Rachel is a woman with a sickly son, Gabe is a broken man without his robust child. He can`t escape comparisons, and he can`t manage any tender feelings for the boy. But they are making him deal with life.

I could have taken many highlights out of the book or “dwelled” on my reluctance to read about such heavy baggage in romance novels. But I can`t make it about little things or even myself (even though this is supposed to be a review). This book is about empathy. Mountains of it. Empathy and understanding for the person next to you, no matter the qualifications. And that is a beautiful message. The fact that the book is a 10/10 in every other way is jut the cherry on top.

Oakland Hills series, Gretchen Galway

OK, we all know by now I get a hard on for books that come in multiples, or attached to other books, or in some variations of those. So it is no surprise I actually paid for books #2 to #6 (or #7) in this series.

The first book, Love Handles, is free for your troubles, and to be honest a decent rope in for the rest of them. I regret spending anything on the last two though. But, first things first. In Love Handles the author wants you to believe the female lead (Bev) is a fat preschool teacher who, after inheriting her grandfather`s fitness wear company, falls for the former Olympic swimmer Liam, the executive vice president of said failing company.

One of my biggest issues in this book, and the ones following, is that Gretchen seems to not be sure what fat is. We all have our definitions of big, or plump, or generous, but they are not so specific. We don`t actually know how our lead looks like (which is kind of the major point in “plus size” romance), and when she is described through someone`s POV she appears to be a pale Kim K. More sex-and-fertility-on-legs than overweight really. So, false advertising there. You can not have something be an issue when it is very much not. The girls in the books are all sensual sex pots that don`t have problems attracting men. The author is trying to force them into the “fat” category. It may just be a badly executed idea of public vs. personal opinion, and not intentional vagueness. Either way, sloppy writing.

The book itself is an ok read when you don`t feel like much or have few hours to kill. I made the mistake of falling for the family characters in the book, and the meddling mama Trixie. The kind of happy deus ex machina character who manages to somehow know it all (without having any information at all), and play matchmaker for all her kids. She is well written as a personality so you can manage to gloss over her unbelievable powers of clairvoyance.

Book two, This Time Next Door, pairs up a big blond bombshell Rose and a tech genius who can`t talk to women Mark (Liam`s brother). They were both consistently written as themselves, with a few out of the blue scenes the story so far has not prepared you for. There are scenes and dialogues I just could not follow (like they were sharing space in a third brain I have no access to), and just plain awkward scenes. I felt the sexual tension and chemistry, and I buy it. Connection and forever? No.

Quick Takes is a collection of short stories (30ish pages each) with the first one falling on the timeline after This Time Next Door. All I can say is that the first three are ok, and the last one about Trixie is a disappointment. Not the actual romance and character pairing, but the execution.

The third story in the series is Not Quite Perfect. In it, flighty April (third sibling) goes for a young widower Zack who consults for the company Bev and Liam own. It is by far my favorite. Zack is decently written and April had two books to introduce herself. I liked it the most because the characters showed actual human reactions and growth, they had believable problems and they dealt with them “in character”, so to speak. I had no WTF moments.

This Changes Everything had great potential and did not deliver. Sly and Cleo are already friends so a big leap into sex and romantic love is possible, yet there are still reactions and dialogues that are inconsistent with their situation and personalities. The more I look back on it, the more annoyed I get. At this point I think each book could simply benefit from 100 pages more, with space dedicated to character development. And they would get 4 stars instead of 3.

The last two books, Going for Broke and Going Wild, are about two Garcia sisters who are related to Trixie. Their stories begin after the death of their grandmother, who leaves her old house to them. Going Wild is more in tune with the others (still needs 100 more pages), but Going for Broke is not worth your time. Really. It is just about two poorly written characters who want to do each other. Even the sister who is supposed to be the lead in the next one is so badly written she almost has nothing to do with herself from the other book.

If I had to say are the books individually worth your time, I would say no. People with lives and jobs and things to do have much better literature (romance or other) to spend their time and money on.

Download the first one for free and read it if you want, you won`t hurt much. But the rest of them are not worth an investment.

 

 

Immortals After Dark series, Kresley Cole

I have this silly tendency to read ALL OF THE AVAILABLE BOOKS in a series at once. Immortals After Dark series (with The Dacians) has 18 of them. Which is to say, I have spent 2 weeks on crazy Lore beings Kresley Cole came up with.

I now dream in “book”. I dream in lines that sound like something that might be in one of those books. I have overdosed. And as it seems that this universe just keeps expanding, I don`t think it will end. I HATE that. Because they are good enough for me to keep reading, yet not that great that I will obsess, so I might miss the next one. (something that can not happen with BDB)

Alas (I am infected by one of the characters, sorry), that is a conundrum I must leave for another day. Now, I will try to give you some opinions and some facts on The Immortals.

First, and one of the most noticeable, things about the standard cast of characters for me was that they felt forced in the beginning, and it took some books for the reoccurring figures to grow. I don`t know if it might just be the cumulative effect of them popping up, or is it indeed better character development in the later books. I have read them all in order, so I can`t tell if they might feel the same way to someone reading just the later books on their own.

Second, some of the stories, or premises, are very similar. Or, to say it in a different manner, Cole uses the same type of conflict and stage over and over again. In some stories taking it to such extreme that you have to believe in magic for it to work for you.

But that is the world of the Lore, filled with different beings and power that Cole has a decent grip on. In the books basically every creature or being that was thought to be mythical . . . isn’t. Like I wrote, I have rushed trough the books, so I can`t delve into more pointed dislikes. But, all in all, Kresley Cole deals with the mountain of Lore info converted into snippets (for the sake of a romance novel) very well.

Each book can technically be a stand alone little romance with some sex, but I believe that the underlying story can be appreciated only if you read them in order. It is interesting, but the going is very slow, so be prepared for more individual romance than overall plot if you are going to invest.

The characters are decently humorous, there are species distinctions that are usually shown trough action (sometimes narrated, which is just lazy), and Cole has left herself enough room to come up with new ones (which is a safe bet when you don`t have a set of rules already).

I believe that the readers of fantastical romance are going to like it, some angst lovers might too, gore lovers might not. Even though we all have our own levels of comfort, I think that hardcore darkness and gore is not the description I would use to describe the more bloody scenes. Bite lovers are going to LOVE IT though. There is some decent fodder for the smut lovers as well, but I might say that I was looking forward to the plot more than the sex.

Seeing how I managed to keep this short review completely spoiler free and even blurb free (wow!!), you can read more about the actual plot and the universe herehere, or here.

Black Dagger Brotherhood series, J.R. Ward

I have decided to run away from my life and obligations into the deep pit that is The Black Dagger Brotherhood series of books and characters. And I say this with highest respect for the author and the series, but I am glad to be out.

First things first, I believe I will take the time to review each book individually, but it will be a while, like 2018 or so. In time for the next book in the series I guess.

I am writing this all-together-now, spoiler free (hopefully), run down of do-it and stay-away-from-it because I do not believe the past month of reading should go without acknowledgment. That, and I have not posted in months, so it was time.

I have read the books before, and I will read them again, so I believe that gives you an idea of where I stand. However, that is not all I have to say about them.

For those who don`t know, the books are romance novels that deal with the oldest dominating male kind there is. Vampires. A whole race of people that live in their own little bubble within our world. With their own laws, rules, biology, society and wars.

What makes a modern romance “I need relatable human emotions, and believable actions” lover like myself go for a vampire novel, you might ask. It works, that`s what. I can go for almost any scenario if the writer can make me buy it somehow. FYI, that does not include smoldering looks and bulging pecs, that is just window dressing.

The first story follows the king of vampires Wrath (the names are what made me roll my eyes the first time around, but by book 5 you get used to it) and a human woman Beth getting it on. It also creates a bigger stage for the rest of the crew (or the Brotherhood), their universe, and the whole “this is what is going on in our world” thing.

As the book progresses we get even more characters, more explanation, and more setups for future plots. Good thing to remember would be that if they have a name, they might do something.

Now, J. R. Ward took on a huge load of work with this universe. HUGE. You can tell there is so much more in her head than on the paper, and you can tell that the demand for more! more! more! is making her cut corners.

That is very evident in the way the stories start to overlap the further we go, the books stars to expand and more and more characters are getting their own angle and story. Try to imagine the storylines as a river that starts as a small stream that ends up getting bigger and faster and longer, going trough different kinds of terrain and ending up in one of the oceans. I feel like J. R. Ward follows the river on foot sometimes, then jumps on a train to catch up, before she just gives up and flies to some random beach to continue.  For me at least, her writing shifts from being on point to scrambling to make it there. Thankfully, she is not trying to make an impact with her books, or reach the status of one of the greats.

As far as the characters go, they are what is keeping me with the books. End. Of. Story. (for all the non BDB lovers, that is a reference to the POV changes that end up sounding the same) The characters themselves tend to stay within their own personalities, most of the time, and they also show growth, an actual arc or two, and are affected by the goings-on (sometimes organically, sometimes forcefully). So the end result with the POV shift is easily ignored if you end up liking the characters. If you do not, on the other hand, you will find it annoying.

If you have time on your hands, and would like a taste, try the first two books and see how you like them. There is no point going forward with the books if you don`t feel even the slightest bit of attraction for them during the first two. I also can not recommend skipping some, or reading out of the order. It is hard to figure out where one story ends and another begins, so you will end up missing out on the arc you would like to follow.

All in all, I always have a good time taking a timeout for a month and catching up on my vampire action. You might even say I like the books. Although, now I just say I like Lassiter.

Nobody’s Baby But Mine, Susan Elizabeth Phillips

When you read the blurb for this book you can only think one thing: what a stupid farfetched romance plot. Knowing this was a book by an author I already greatly admire, I gave it a shot.

To be fair, the idea of a smart woman in want of a baby picking an outwardly stupid jock to father said baby could have some hilarious potential until they sort themselves out. But the blurb is deceiving, and SEP is a smart lady. The waters in this book run deep.

When you actually start reading and you figure out this is not the story you were thinking to read, you find yourself facing a choice: do I let it suck me in further or do I stand outraged and close the chapter on this one?

I am here to help you with that choice by providing some more information, and my point of view.

Firstly, this book has a similar setting to others in terms of opposites who figure out they have a lot in common. The writing is great, per usual, and gives us an insight into our characters from the first. It relays enough information that we can make up our own mind on what to think. And the primary story is again backlit by another, happening at the same time.

There is where all similarity with the first two books of the Chicago Stars series ends.

Cal Bonner, the Chicago Stars’ quarterback, has recently lost a sister-in-law and a nephew, and at 36 is facing retirement. He has no clue what to do with himself after that, so he refuses to accept reality and clings to the image of youth. Usually with the help of his young girlfriends. But Cal has not been dating for a while, so his teammates decide to gift him with a woman for his birthday. That is where his path crosses hers.

Genius physics professor Dr. Jane Darlington doesn`t just desperately want a baby. She needs love, more precisely, she needs to give it to someone. Ergo, baby. Being a genius screwed her up as a kid, so she needs a dumb man to help her out with balancing out the IQ. A neighbor decides to help.

I will not get into too much detail, because you get everything set up on the first few pages, but the most important thing is that Jane decides to play a hooker, poke holes into the condom and have sex with Cal. If that is so much not your cup of tea, I suggest you don’t read this one. Because, if you cannot get past that, there is no amount of human in this book that is going to make you like it. So don’t do it.

The plan is sordid, SEP even states so herself, Jane thinks it too, but it is too little too late. In the first few chapters the notions of morally or even politically correct are easily dismissed, and the desperation and need in Jane, and aimlessness in Cal are very apparent.

That leads to their first sexual encounter, a farce so clearly a representation of the moral and personal damage they both are inflicting.

From that point on, we get a clear look at the circumstance of their lives, the fight Jane has to go trough on a daily basis, and the denial Cal is living in. Their worlds collide once Cal finds out what she did, and the consequences of their actions catch up with them.

In order for me to fully express my opinion and emotion regarding this book, I would have to go chapter by chapter, so I am not going to try to condense that into spoiler-freeish sentences.

What I will say (or write) is that this book is very much not what the blurb leads you to believe. It is much more human, much deeper, and deals in emotions that are raw and painful for the characters. The set up leaves you asking how. How do the go from here? How do they live now? How do they get to a happy ending?

It is amazing how well SEP deals with the road she landed herself on. There is no rush, no stone left unturned, no forgetting. Each character has a purpose, a voice, a point for being. The setting holds the mirror up to the events, and the events reflect the inner turmoil of the characters.

They deal with the mess they made and the result is believable. So, five points to Gryffindor.

Heaven, TX, Susan Elizabeth Phillips

I have decided not to care about spoilers in my reviews due to one simple fact: I cannot write one I like without any. So here we go.

Once again SEP reveals what her characters are, on a surface level, on the first few pages. She calls Bobby Tom (our hero) “pro footballs most visible glamour boy”, and then adds some depth to him by rounding it up with a usual thereismoretohimthanmeetstheeye. She also sets him in his proper place in time, forced into retirement at 33 and starting an acting career. Our heroine (Gracie) is a complete 180, a direct opposition to our hero. SEP shows it in her own hilarious way the first time they meet during the party that must have come from a very wry imagination (if an imagination can be wry). Gracie has an open nature, that coupled with 30yearoldvirgin innocence makes for great entertainment. And she is supposed to try to control him. The setting calls for a LOL.

The way SEP describes both of her main characters works as a clue into the way we (and the world) are supposed to look at them. For Bobby Tom she uses sparkling larger than life words, while Gracie comes across as just average (or blah). Bobby Tom seems to be a jock with money, looks and brains, and Gracie has plain looks that are only just compensated with brains. Their mutual relationship is described perfectly with one direct sentence: “He was a glittering superhuman creature who must have been put on earth by a perverse God to remind homely women like herself that some things were unobtainable.”

The first few pages then tell us a bit more about our characters: Bobby Tom makes women play a game for his hand in marriage, he likes having private jokes with himself, he has an ego problem, he is manipulative and very intelligent. Gracie is a closeted sensualist and a peeping tom wannabe, also smart, patient, doesnt look as bad as she thinks, easily distracted with new and shiny. And you adjust your opinion of the two accordingly. The story goes from a duckling and a swan to a much more interesting battle of determinations and minds.

SEP gets you emotionally involved with her characters, using relatable language and descriptions. While placing them on two opposing sides, she also makes you root for them both.

I think this might be an appropriate moment to mention that I really really wanted to like Bobby Tom, Gracie seemed like a character that deserves a good man, not to mention I liked him from the first Stars book. But he started of as a bored boohoo playboy who couldnt play football anymore, and was feeling bad for himself. OK, I dont like jocks, I admit. BUT. He kept Gracie with him on the trip to Texas for entertainment. Dude. His ohyouaretheclownIneed smirking attitude towards Gracie pissed me of.

Yes, there is more to him than all that, he isan easy mark”, very private, feels like he owes something for his success, and at the bottom of it all a decent human. But I just had a problem with the whole patpat on the head he gave Gracie. Then again, she showed some teeth soon enough, not to mention turned him on. Which he refused to admit.

ALSO, a thing I had a problem with. Through the whole book Bobby Tom fights and then makes excuses as to why he is attracted to Gracie, the whole time labeling her as less, or worse, or a charity case, because she doesnt have DD breasts. Dude needed the biggest reality check and an attitude adjustment from beginning to end. His refusal to cope with his own life made me maaaad. Made the whole painful groveling at the end all the more enjoyable though.

But I digress.

Once their entertaining road trip to film location ends, Gracie ends up on the bottom, gripped by despair that she still wont manage to live. That is where the part that makes you understand the two humans trying to cope with their new reality starts.

We also get a nice side story involving Bobby Toms mom. The best part is that the side story does not seem like an addon. It flows and contributes to the greater scheme of things.

As the story moved on, so did I. Bobby Tom started making sense, and mostly didnt anger me to the point of frustration. The way I got to experience him was more along the lines of growing up alongside him, or diving deeper into who he is. The more is revealed to Gracie, the more we all figure out. Most frustrating part of the book I must say is the fact that we get a full on insight into the heads of our characters, and we feel the refusal Bobby Tom has for his changed circumstance, we feel the way Gracie opens up her inexperienced heart, and we most definitely cheer on. Only to have it all go down the drain with a resolved flush.

SEP leaves bits and pieces of our characters on the pages for us to find, she fits in the details that make them who they are like an offhand comment that flows with the arc, is a part of narration, makes sense and doesnt serve just one purpose. She uses those little fillers as much as she uses the big events that drive the story forward. She also uses dialogue, the characters voices and makes them more human, relatable, understandable, through their every word and interaction. One other thing she does in all her books is not letting us know all at once. As our hero and heroine get to know each other, we get to know them to.

The way SEP structured this book you were driven to get the happy ending, to want them to be uncomplicated and happy, to cheer for some kind of clarity. That is what makes the end, the situation where our heroes are forced to figure out who they are and what they want, and they refuse to do so, all the more sad. And frustrating. The tension is at an all time high two pages until THE END. And the book doesnt have an epilogue. No way for you to feel that nice calm after a good tumble.

This is one of those books that got me involved, and then left me wondering what to do with the rest of my life.