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text 2015-08-27 03:10
Starting: The Thirteenth Princess
The Thirteenth Princess - Diane Zahler,Yvonne Gilbert

It's like I can't NOT read multiple books simultaneously or something.  Every time I glance at my 'Currently Reading' shelf, I see Elantris sitting all by its lonesome and I think, "Maybe I need to start a new book," even though I know I need to buckle down and finish Elantris before the end of the month for my Reading Assignment Challenge.


But don't get me wrong, Elantris has been an excellent book so far.  It's just so long and so intricate.  And again, I find myself needing to have at least two 'Currently Reading' books on my shelf.


Logic is not my friend sometimes.


So then I stared at my newly refilled book draw jar and decided to give it a whirl.  Of course, my means of using the book draw jar happened to be grabbing a handful of all the e-books I have access to at the moment (color-coded in green folded-over sticky notes), and then going through that handful until I found three that I liked.  THEN I let fate make my choice for me and got The Thirteenth Princess by Diane Zahler.


The other two books I'd whittled down my "book draw" selections to had been Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock and Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix.  (See a theme going on here?  Apparently I'm trying to get in touch with my princess fairy tale retelling inner middle grade soul or something.)


My reading mood, you know--it dictates, I hop to it.



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review 2015-08-25 12:07
Extremely (but unintentionally and apologetically) Rambling Review: Fool Me Twice
Fool Me Twice - Mandy Hubbard

Fool Me Twice -- Mandy Hubbard

Book 1 of If Only... series



First of all--Yes, this review got really long-winded and I got carried away.  I'm sorry.  Second of all--I'm too lazy to go through and shorten it at the moment and there might be some duplicate sentiments here and there.  Again, I'm sorry.


Moving along now...



I have a lot of wavering feelings about this book, but in the long run, Fool Me Twice was simply one of those cutesy, yet bipolar-ish experiences where parts of the story make you wince and get all irritated and frustrated, and parts of the story are actually quite enjoyable and fun.

Because from the beginning, Book and I got off to quite the rocky start; however, by the time Book got going, past the halfway point, I had trouble continuing my resentment of Book and we came to a mutual understanding. I simply allowed myself to just be entertained (it was a short and easy to read story, after all), even if I wasn't a hundred percent enamored by Book; and Book seemed to tone down on the things that bothered me. Unfortunately, Book also didn’t give me a sense of satisfaction about the story line or the romance, even if Book managed to maintain a semblance of story.

However, the conclusion to the romance felt a little too easy... I'm not sure I agree with how easily Landon gets his 'Get Out of Jail Free' card. I still don't think he's made up for how he treated MacKenzie at the beginning of the book and what we know of their back story. But I'm moving on anyway, because Happily Ever After™ was had by all, and really, that's all we can ask for anyway.

However, redux,

it just rankled me a little bit that he never really had to prove anything to Mack and she just readily fell back into his arms and in love with him. And while the revenge card always comes back to bite you in the ass and so is usually not the best way to manage a situation, I just don't feel like Mack managed to get her point across--that Landon had hurt her, continues to be a jerk about it, doesn't even deny that he knows he broke her heart, and that he should be making up for it. He should be given trials and tribulations and begging for forgiveness. He should NOT be getting the girl without working to win her back just because she never stopped being in love with him.

If he can be a douche once, then it's always possible to be a douche again, and Daddy Issues™ is always the oldest trope in the book for why Contemporary Romance heroes act like douchebags--it doesn't justify his actions. His logic was illogical. He “dumped” Mack because his ex-girlfriend wanted to get back together (and I use the term “dumped” loosely because the jerk couldn’t even be bothered to end his relationship with Mack before running back to his ex-girlfriend). And then he had all this time to try to win MacKenzie back, but because he knew she’d never forgive him for treating her like crap, he doesn’t even bother with an apology or an explanation or anything at all.

And as fun as the pranks might have been, they really were just that: fun. Good, clean, youthful, fun. Aside from one prank that got a little disastrous, it's not like any of the pranks really served to put the boy in his place. In fact, he had fun with those pranks. They didn’t hurt him or even remotely make him wary or make him think: “Why is she doing this?” And then you find out that he had started regaining his memories and now I’m wary because I don’t know what game he was playing by playing along with Mack and her pranks… which just makes it feel like Mack was being duped all over again.

And in the end, all Landon had to do was say, "I'm sorry. I was a fool," and everything was right in the world, when he should have tried to reconcile with Mack a long time ago instead of starting off acting like a jerk at the beginning of the book knowing full well how badly he'd hurt her already.

(spoiler show)

And so I feel like he got off too easily and I'm still not happy with him.

But then again, maybe that's the whole point and maybe a simple love story is better than a dragging, angst-strewn one. I don’t know. I didn’t feel satisfied with the way the reconciliation happened.

I get the underlying message in this story, because it's presented in two-fold: Between Mack and Landon's rekindled second-chance romance, and even between side characters, Bailey and Adam's budding romance. It never hurts to toss a little "Be true to yourself" self-revelation into a young adult novel--it's a good message no matter the type of book, anyhow, and just makes it a little bit harder to resent a book that tries so hard to very subtly fling the message at the reader.

The Story:
MacKenzie and Landon had had a perfect, whirlwind summer romance that she had thought would continue outside of their summer locale at Serenity Ranch. But when the two return to their hometown and to high school, Mack finds Landon kissing his ex-girlfriend and eventually getting back together with her, leaving Mack heart-broken.

A year later, Mack and her best friend are back working at Serenity Ranch and Spa for the summer, and of course, Landon is there, too. And no matter what she does, it seems like the boy won't leave her alone. But then he takes a nasty fall off his horse and all memory of the past year has been wiped away in Landon's mind--he thinks it was the summer before and that he and Mack are in the middle of their summer romance.

With the need for some emotional revenge, Mack let's her best friend convince her that this is the perfect chance to get back at Landon--pretend that they're still together, make him fall in love with her much harder than she had for him, then dump his ass when all is said and done. Of course, for this plan to actually work, it means that MacKenzie cannot fall for Landon this time around.

More of My Rambling Thoughts:
Revenge plots are hard to do, because revenge is always a tricky subject--and I don't just mean in book plots. Revenge typically leads to stooping to the same level as the person who hurt you so that you can hurt them equally, sometimes twice as badly. And it's hard for anyone with a guilty conscience to NOT feel bad about intentionally striking out to hurt someone else, no matter how much the other person might deserve it.

But when done in a cute and breezy rom-com fashion, these plots may be a little easier to follow with. So I kind of expected something cute and breezy and not quite so emotionally trying... and y'know, that's probably what Fool Me Twice turned out to be: Cute and breezy and superficial... and frustrating as hell.

Admittedly, I started off by listening to an audio book sample of Fool Me Twice a few days before I actually decided to pick it for one of my four August Reading Assignment Challenge choices (a decision also reinforced by the fact that this is a short read and I realized that I was running out of month to finish my assignment for August). The short four minute sample audio clip was all I needed to decide that I probably wasn't going to like this book.

For one, MacKenzie came off sounding like a pretentious, uptight, anti-snob wannabe with her stereotypes and her "holier than thou" attitude. Secondly, the attempts at dry sarcasm in the narration felt tacky and awkward. I know it sounds like very little to go on for me to dislike the book already, but the short sample just gave me a really bad first impression. But since I had already pre-chosen this book for a reading challenge, I thought that I should at least give it a shot.

The story itself, when I started reading it, was a bit of a haphazard throw-together of anecdotes akin to "A Summer at Serenity Ranch" with romantic escapades, a background revenge plot, and lots of mundane, daily activities sprinkled around. The brief mentions of ranching activity and horses were entertaining and there was a definite direction for the romance. I very much enjoyed the friendship between Mack and Bailey--this is a pair of best friends to be reckoned with and it's great to see girls in YA scheming with each other rather than against one another for a change.

The relationship between Mack and Landon could even be said to be cute and sweet... if you can forget what a tool Landon had been towards Mack pre-amnesia (see my spoiler above). If not for his douche-y actions described in full at the beginning of the story, I would have found it easier to root for him. But even up until the very end, I STILL find it hard to like him or to forgive him his douche-holery, and the conveniently inserted Daddy Issues™ device that was supposed to give him his excuse for being a jerk didn't help me understand any better why he did what he did.

The amnesia angle could have been done a little bit more believable. Because I found it hard to believe that Mack and Bailey could maintain the farce that without a proper calendar and if they just ran interference enough, Landon would never suspect that the setting wasn’t last summer. I find it hard to believe that Landon didn’t notice the dates on his Facebook page, or that of all the people he had contact with at the ranch NOTHING gave away the fact that an entire year has already gone by and that he’s eighteen and not seventeen. How would no one have spoken to him about the stuff that happened last summer or quiz him about what he has planned to do now that he's graduated from high school? How is it that even his mother wouldn't have called to talk to him and they wouldn't have struck up a conversation about him going to college in the fall? Either everything was just oh, so convenient, or Landon was THAT oblivious, because unless Mack kept him hidden in his cabin, there was NO WAY he could have been kept from realizing he’s no longer living his previous summer.

The pranks that Mack plays on Landon (outside of the really big one where she lies to him about still being together) are also harmless, youthful fun (except for that one disastrous prank that got a little out of hand). At best, they're the kind of pranks that all friends play on each other when they're young and stupid and look back on in the future to laugh about; at worst, they were kind of juvenile and tacky.

But what bugged me the most at the beginning of the book had been the narration. One moment the book would be breezing along just fine with serviceable writing and progression, fun dialogue, some cutesy stuff here and there... and then it felt like someone came along and decide to edit in really awkward instances wherein one of the following would jump out and irritate me:


  • Extremely critical stereotyping of all types of people, such as the rich, the cowboys, the tourists...
  • Random classic horror lines being quoted too frequently as if lives depended on it.
  • Moments wherein a simple sentence or a simple piece of dialogue or action tries too deliberately to infuse a whole basket full of meaning into it.
  • Some things said by Mack that made me quite annoyed with her and continue to believe she was a pretentious bitch who made big assumptions about the people around her in the most negative way just because she could.
  • All the times that Landon comes around with his cryptic words and declarations and how, rather than just ignoring his ass, Mack continued to let him push her around and do as he pleased.


(Okay, maybe that last one wasn't one of the "this feels randomly out of place" scenarios, but it DID frustrate me a lot.)

But as the book progressed things seemed to get a bit better. I found myself actually starting to find the classic horror movie quote-dropping kind of cute... especially when they got dialed back a little bit and I understood that it was more of a game than anything else. I kind of enjoyed some of the mundane, everyday activities every other chapter. And the stereotyping monologues were more infrequent which was a relief.

Mack's personality became less of an irritation because she quit making snide comments about the Serenity Ranch and Spa vacationers and tourists as frequently; I might even say that her character's personality shifted slightly and and started presenting a lot less frustratingly "holier than thou" and more "almost-Mary Sue" with a touch of likable female protagonist.

(On the point about the whole "rich snobby people" schtick: I found those frequent references at the beginning of the book pointless anyway because those details don't seem to strengthen the story at all and only managed to make Mack annoying for constantly making snide, sarcastic quips about them. Because there are no instances of Mack being treated poorly or unfairly by any of the vacationers at the ranch and neither do any of the managers or higher ups give her a hard time about catering to the tourists every whim and every need. In fact, these background characters don't even play any role whatsoever in the story line, and all that talk about "Don't let the snobs bite." and "Don't let the horses condescend!" seemed unnecessary and got old really fast. It feels like the "rich snobby people" references were just dropped into the story for the sake of just being there and no other purpose.)

Anyway... MOVING ALONG...

Final Thoughts:
This review turned out a lot longer than I had intended (as is typical of my rambling). Really, if not for all the quibbles I found in the book at the beginning and with the conclusion, this review would have been a lot shorter if only because the romance is pretty short and straight-forward and predictably formulaic.

Fool Me Twice was easy to start liking as the story progressed--while finding it irritating for the first 20% or so, we started easing off on all the things that I had found irritating. The cute and sweet romance continued to progress in predictable fashion and the whole "Summer Romance in Serenity Ranch" starts to find its conclusion.

And to be honest, I really DID find it entertaining enough and easy to finish reading without too many other issues.




This book is a pre-chosen participant in the following Reading Challenge(s):



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review 2015-08-20 03:17
Thoughts: Beyond Limits
Beyond Limits (Tracers) - Laura Griffin

Beyond Limits -- Laura Griffin

Book 8 of Tracers series



I have two conflicting views of this Tracers installment.

First of all, it was enjoyable and exciting and I liked it... but it didn’t escape my notice that Beyond Limits had almost the exact same storyline as Scorched (Tracers, Book 6). Or at least it had the same basic story device with a lot of similarities even if it was told with a different set of characters, a different progression, and a different approach to the investigation.

No matter what it is, reading both books back-to-back makes it hard for me NOT to compare the similarities between both books. Maybe if I’d read it spaced apart based on publication dates...

On the other hand, I liked Beyond Limits more than I liked Scorched. And that may have to do with the fact that Elizabeth LeBlanc was more likable than Kelsey Quinn had been--I got frustrated with Kelsey a lot, but I got frustrated with Elizabeth a lot less. As for the men, I got frustrated with BOTH of them, but for very different reasons.

And then we have the fact that the Delphi Center makes all of two appearances throughout the entire book… I was more or less MORE disappointed than I needed to be, because the story progressed quite smoothly even without our beloved forensic investigators.

The Story:
When Derek Vaughn and his SEAL team go on their latest mission, they discover intel that points to the possibility that the next terrorist attack will be on home turf--somewhere in Texas to be exact, since a map of Houston was found. Following, the many agencies of the U.S. government quickly form a task force to investigate and prevent this impending attack.

Elizabeth LeBlanc has been having a terrible year in her career and is more than eager when Gordon Moore of the Counter-Terrorist Unit selects her to be part of his task force. Except her job becomes much harder when Derek Vaughn enters the picture, all but forcing her to let him in on the task force investigation and interfering with her job while he’s at it.

Derek feels as if the government agencies are too busy working around red tape and making nice with political correctness that they may not be able to prevent the inevitable attack on a city of innocent civilians when the time is up. Caught in between her career and her instincts, Elizabeth can’t help feeling the same way as the two race against a group of unknown terrorists to save lives.

My Thoughts:
My half-assed summary sucks. But the story was really pretty good... if one hadn’t already read Scorched that also involved a terrorist bombing-type of attack, a Navy SEAL, FBI Counter Terrorist agents (such as Gordon Moore), and a decoy spin from our baddies to keep the good guys busy while everything around them falls to pieces. Once again, our main couple are the only ones who believe that there’s more at work than what the entire task force made up of experienced investigators think is going down. Once again, our task force is blowing off help from outside sources because they don’t want someone from a different branch pissing in their territory--even at the stake of millions of lives. Once again, the bad guys have one-upped the good guys because they’ve got several plans up their sleeves, with several decoy plans, and a few unknown, mysterious players.

Once again, our main male hero is the one who saves the day because he's the only one who understands what's going on and he's an even better investigator than a whole task force of investigators, even all the veteran agents.

I’m even setting aside the fact that the romance was fairly formulaic of the “I know we can’t make this relationship work” from Elizabeth, and the “I was never interested in a relationship at all” from Derek. Because, honestly, the romance wasn’t a bad one, just a bit overused in Romantic-Suspense-landia. But for the most part, it was also downplayed in light of all the other things going on in this book for its crime thriller--which is surprising considering a Romantic Suspense is still ofttimes a Romance, first and foremost.

And to be even more honest, setting aside the fact that Derek is an arrogant asshole who needs to understand boundaries... I probably would have absolutely LOVED Beyond Limits if its story had come first. It’s written well, it’s got a good amount of suspense to keep me hooked, it’s got a pretty good team of investigators (even if Derek believes otherwise), it’s got a readily usable concept for a suspense story, and it’s got a pretty strong female presence with Elizabeth as a good FBI agent.

And I already said this, but the romance was also done well despite certain quibbles I had with it--I liked Elizabeth a lot, I liked Derek when he wasn't being a jackass, and together, they DID manage to make a pretty good team investigating this terror bombing case.

But given all the similarities between the two books’--Scorched and Beyond Limits--events and even the way both books feel, it’s hard not to feel a little deflated. Then again, my enjoyment of the book DOES make up for a lot of things, and really, that's all that matters.

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review 2015-08-16 07:02
Brief Thoughts: Exposed
By Laura Griffin - Exposed (5/26/13) - Laura Griffin

Exposed -- Laura Griffin

Book 7 of Tracers series



There’s something to be said about being distracted while reading any book, no matter the type of distraction, or the type of book. If the book is bad, you may become very readily distracted and then never bother reading/finishing said book. If the book is mediocre, yet still enjoyable, you become distracted, still finish the book, but look back on it and wonder what it was actually about. If the book is good, you will either get annoyed because you don’t have time to finish reading it, or you’ll just keep struggling along to finish the book even if you have to read bits and pieces at a time and reread bits and pieces over again because the distractions are actually quite distracting.

On the other hand, I kind of recognized that Exposed is a well written book, with a smooth, straight-forward progression, and the criminal case encompassed in the story is intriguing enough to keep me hooked. But, possibly due to distractions, I was somehow just not feeling the excitement or the book itself. And this could be due to a plethora of reasons: multiple distractions in Real Life, maybe the book really was just plain boring, or maybe I just couldn’t find a way to relate with the characters (as much as you can relate to Romantic Suspense heroes and heroines, I suppose).

I DO know that I had been very intrigued by the main character being a forensic photographer. But aside from the criminal aspect, the rest of the book just felt flat.

The Story:
Maddie Callahan might have witnessed or captured a violent crime happening during one of her freelance wedding photo shoots--an unknown situation that puts her life in danger. What she doesn’t know is what she might have seen or even what she may have evidence of in her photographs.

FBI agent Brian Beckman has been investigating a violent criminal, known only as Doctor. A couple young women have died and his only possible witness has just disappeared, abducted on his watch. And the key to finding out who has taken this woman and where she might be lies in what Maddie may have inadvertently seen.

My Thoughts:
To be honest, the book was actually not bad. But as I already stated above, I couldn’t seem to focus on it. Exposed has a good premise and Laura Griffin’s writing style has improved a lot since her first few books, pre-Tracers. And even the romance in Exposed was a quietly sweet one with the obligatory hitches and misunderstandings and damsel-in-distress scenes.

The story is straight-forward, but the rest of the book feels a little too formulaic. I’m not sure I can pinpoint where it is that I lost interest in anything to do with Maddie or Brian. And while I still enjoyed the crime thriller aspect, I can’t say that it’s the best Romantic Suspense in the world. But I also can’t say that this was a bad book either, because it’s not.

In the end, it was simply a nice rainy-day read, fairly enjoyable for anyone who loves a good Laura Griffin book. Maddie had her moments, Brian’s a good guy, the story told a story. In the end, it’s all still good.

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review 2015-08-16 07:00
Thoughts: Scorched
Scorched - Laura Griffin

Scorched -- Laura Griffin

Book 6 of Tracers series



Kelsey and Gage’s story started in the novella, Unstoppable, which took place in the Tracers’ timeline between Unspeakable and Unforgivable (Books 2 and 3, respectively). Unstoppable saw the introduction of Kelsey and Gage amidst a dig site that was taking place near an area in southern Texas where a few murders of young women had just occurred. Worried for her safety, Kelsey’s uncle, a commander of a Navy SEAL unit requested the help of Navy SEAL Gage Brewer to help keep Kelsey protected for the duration of her dig.

Of course, a lot of exciting Romantic Suspense™ stuff happens, big conspiracies abound, sparks fly, and the two end up hooking up. The novella ends with Gage rushing off on another assignment overseas and Kelsey going back to her work at The Delphi Center. They agree to try to make their long distance relationship work.

Lo and behold, about three books later, our couple has broken up due to the stress of keeping a long distance relationship, but of course, their story picks up in Scorched to, obviously, rekindle a romance and tell another Romantic Suspense.

The Story:
Kelsey Quinn’s strange find at a remote Phillipines’ dig ends up leading to something more sinister than the mass murder burial she’d been working on there. Then she witnesses the murder of an FBI agent by his own partner and other mysterious men who turn out to have ties to local law enforcement. Forced on the run, believing that there is no one she can trust, Kelsey goes into hiding until she can figure out how to get herself out of this mess and bring what she knows into the open.

Gage Brewer had broken up with Kelsey months before, though he still can’t stop thinking about her. But she’d asked him to choose between her and the teams and so he’d chosen his Navy SEAL career. Becoming a prime suspect in the murder of an FBI agent, however, leads Gage to realizing how much danger Kelsey is in. Without hesitation he heads off to find her, to keep her safe, to figure out how to clear his name, and possibly to rekindle some kind of spark between them; even though they both know they still haven’t resolved the conflicts in their relationship.

My Thoughts:
I finished reading Scorched quite some time ago, but lack of motivation and time had me setting aside this half-assed review for another day. Now I can’t quite recall what I had thought about it aside from seeing it as exciting and enjoyable… but also a bit disappointing in comparison to the previous two Tracers installments that came before it.

The story itself (along with the crime thriller part of Scorched) had all begun exciting enough. There was non-stop action with the find of a dead, wanted fugitive at Kelsey’s Phillipines’ dig site--a dig site she’d been asked to attend due to the fact that she’s a forensic anthropologist, and the dig site is that of a recent mass murder. So things are already tense enough.

When Kelsey returns to the United States to report her findings and maybe try to make some connections with the FBI, specifically her ex-fiance who has leads on a connected case, she ends up being the sole witness to his murder and immediately goes on the run. At first I hadn’t understood why she didn’t go to the police, until I realized that we are dealing with another typical “the local law enforcement are in on it” conspiracy.

And I guess that DOES make for a pretty good suspense when we force our main characters into a dangerous situation from the get-go. Of course, it still doesn't explain why she didn't go to certain trusted law enforcement in the area, such as her supposed closest friend, Mia's significant other, Ric Santos of San Marcos PD... or am I in a different jurisdiction here? And then what about all of her Delphi Center co-workers and friends who also seem to double as skilled investigators?

But alas, we just needed a reason why Kelsey needed to go into hiding so that Gage could discover her whereabouts and play bodyguard for her. Not a bad way to go about it, but a few quibbles that I readily brushed aside moments after I asked myself those questions.

Moving along now...

The story is very fast-paced and leaves no room for dwelling on the quibbles, though. And overall, I DID enjoy the book. The crime thriller was well written, the twists may have been a bit chaotic, but they worked and everything tied together.

I liked the new character introductions of FBI agent Elizabeth LeBlanc and Navy SEAL Derek Vaughn, who will grace our Tracers series in the eighth installment, Beyond Limits as the main players; the use of both characters was rather smooth and I look forward to reading their story soon. Also, once again, the use of recurring characters--Ben Lawson, Mia Voss, Mark Wolfe…--all very welcome, and all very well utilized. I’m once again looking forward to either seeing these familiar characters again, or hopefully seeing the side characters in books of their own soon.

The only issue I have with Scorched is the romance. Gage and Kelsey have a lot of issues to work through. And between them being really bad at communicating with each other, with Gage starting the book off being a complete ass, with Gage’s sudden “He-man” routine as he swoops in to rescue Kelsey by manhandling her and bossing her around, and with Kelsey’s random TSTL moments throughout the book… I just couldn’t quite find myself caring much for their relationship and found a lot of things about their love story that didn’t settle well with me.

Nonetheless, Scorched is still a highly enjoyable read.

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