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review 2016-06-29 01:04
#CBR8 Book 63: Second Chance Summer by Jill Shalvis
Second Chance Summer - Jill Shalvis

Lily Danville grew up in Cedar Ridge, Colorado, and loved hiking the mountain trails or climbing the rock faces in the summer, or skiing the challenging slopes in the winter. She was happy there, until tragedy struck and she lost half her family over the course of a few weeks. She's never forgiven herself and wasn't ever planning on returning. Having lost her job in a fashionable salon in San Diego and pretty much been blacklisted in the industry, she desperately needs a job, and has no choice but to return to her home town, to work for her friend Jonathan. She dreads going back for a number of reasons, but most of all because it will mean seeing Aidan Kincaid again, the guy she used to dream of, but could never have.


Aidan Kincaid is part of a large and close-knit family. He and his brothers run the Cedar Ridge Resort, which they're trying to keep afloat, despite some serious difficulties thanks to debts run up by their dead-beat dad. Aidan works as a firefighter and volunteers for the local Search and Rescue-service, when he's not co-managing the resort and trying to keep his younger siblings out of trouble. He's got a reputation as a ladies' man, not one for serious commitment, but that's because part of him has been pining for Lily, since the summer when she disappeared from the Ridge. Now she's back and he's more attracted to her than ever. But how long is she going to stay this time? Is she going to leave and break his heart once more?


The blurb of the book led me to believe that Lily and Aidan had shared much more of a passionate romance before Lily left Cedar Ridge, when the fact is that they were both teenagers, who spent quite a lot of time together, but only really had anything romantic going at one school dance. Lily, always in competition with her sister, who had admitted to fancying Aidan, as a result never really let herself get too close to him. Once the tragic events that tore her life to pieces occurred, she is incapable of forgiving herself, and she certainly can't allow herself to have feelings for Aidan, as that would feel like a betrayal to her sister. 


Aidan never knew about Lily's sister's feelings and wasn't able to act on his infatuation to Lily until that dance. Shortly after, she left town, before he had time to tell her how he felt and for ten years, he's been trying to tell himself that it was probably for the best. Nonetheless, when she returns, the normally very level-headed man gets all out of sorts (to the amusement of his various relatives) and it doesn't take all that long before he's confirmed that the spark is most certainly still there between him and Lily. 


This is the first book in the Cedar Ridge series and there are more than enough Kincaid siblings to provide fodder for multiple sequels. The only other Shalvis I've ever read is Rumor Has It, which I read for the RITA Reader Challenge back in 2014. As far as I can tell from the two books I've now read by her, and some general reading on the internet, Ms. Shalvis excels at cosy, comfortable contemporary romances, set in small towns, featuring generally well-rounded protagonists, without too much angst to complicate things.


In this book, Aidan has his fair share of troubles, relating to his father, but is really quite a stand-up guy. He's very much a protector, for his family and working both as a firefighter AND in search and rescue. For the past ten years, he's has a number of never-too-serious relationships, but he's always been up front about not wanting long-term commitment and once Lily returns to Cedar Ridge, it's obvious that deep down he was just hoping she'd come back and that with her, he pretty much wants nothing but commitment. 


Lily struggles with guilt and grief and has a hard time being back in a place where she suffered such powerful losses. She's pretty determined that her stay is only short-term, covering at her childhood friend Jonathan's salon while one of his employees is on maternity leave. She keeps sending out her resumés, hoping for a job somewhere else, with no wish to settle back in her home town, no matter how tempting the presence of Aidan is. Her attraction to him is also all mixed up in guilt and an overwhelming sense of loyalty to her sister, which is what provides the main obstacle to the romance of the book.


I pretty much loved the setting (despite not being an outdoors person at ALL) and the various supporting characters. I liked that what complications and low-level angst there was in the relationship between Lily and Aidan was handled without too much drama, even though both of them clearly had some lessons to learn about communication and not sending mixed signals. I suspect I will be checking out more books in this series, as going back to the fictional town of Cedar Ridge and getting better acquainted with more of Aidan's siblings will provide me with many hours of relaxing summer reading.


Judging a book by its cover: There are two different covers for this book. The one I read (featured here), has a rugged man in a rescue service t-shirt and cargo pants, with a rope and what looks like assorted mountain-climbing gear strapped to his side, photo-shopped onto a background of mountains and blue sky. The other cover is a twee watercolour image, full of flowers and mutet pastel colours, more suitable for a children's book than a romance, if you ask me. It also features the hokey tag line: "Sometimes only going home can set you free". Big bowl of nope on that one. I'll take my rugged mountain man any day of the week.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/06/cbr8-book-63-second-chance-summer-by.html
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review 2015-06-20 23:31
#CBR7 Book 62: Into the Shadows by Carolyn Crane
Into the Shadows (Undercover Associates) (Volume 3) - Carolyn Crane

Thorne McKelvie has meticulously and ruthlessly worked his way through the ranks of criminal organisation the Hangmen, a group that doesn't shy away from human trafficking in sweat shops, drug or arms smuggling. The leader of the Hangmen is suspicious of Thorne, however, and worried that he is gunning for his spot next, taking over the whole organisation. So after a series of unexpected attacks on the gang and their allies' warehouses, he sees an opportunity to have Thorne framed and removed as a threat. Thorne needs to prove that he's not responsible for the raids, and to do so, he needs to raid the mansion of his former employer, and face the only woman he ever had feelings for.


Nadia Volkov used to be known as "the Party Princess", obliviously spending her father's money and partying with his many henchmen and bodyguards, without really caring what her father actually did for a living or where the money fuelling her extravagant lifestyle came from. Two years ago, she had an affair with Thorne, her father's most dangerous henchman, which ended when he cruelly cast her aside. When Thorne unexpectedly turns up at the house where Nadia is living with her sister, one of her father's former bodyguards, and her young son, she's terrified that Thorne will discover he's a father and that their child will be in danger once his crew mates realise that there is a toddler that can be used as leverage against him. She also hopes Thorne doesn't discover that she, along with some hired goons, are responsible for the warehouse raids he's investigating. After her father's death, she was appalled when she discovered what he'd been responsible for. Having discovered that her mother is probably alive, in one of the sweatshops now run by the gangs who divided her father's assets after his death, she's systematically raiding each one, freeing the enslaved women in order to locate and liberate her mother.


Thorne believes that Nadia just used him for sex, having overheard a conversation where Nadia discussed him with her sister and offered to "share". Filled with self-loathing and with no illusions about his ruthlessness and inability to feel any sort of softer feelings since his sister was brutally killed when they were teenagers and swore revenge, Thorne and Nadia's former relationship was an extended role play on "the princess and the thug". Nadia actually had feelings for Thorne though, and was uncomfortable with the dirty names he wanted her to call him. She never had second thoughts about keeping his child when discovering she was pregnant. When they reunite, the sparks fly once more, but can they have any sort of future, with Nadia responsible for the crimes Thorne is being accused of? He needs to locate and present the individuals responsible to his boss, or be killed. 


Nadia also doesn't realise that Thorne worked as a henchman for her father and moved on to the Hangmen as part of a complicated revenge plot. Having been left to die in the desert, surrounded by scorpions, after his sister was murdered, Thorne swore revenge and has been working methodically to wipe out all the men responsible for his sister's death. Working so deep cover for the covert Associates that only the leaders of these secret agents know he's not the hardened criminal he poses as, he only has one man left until his revenge is complete - Jerrod, the leader of the Hangmen.


Due to his past, Thorne is scarred, literally and figuratively. What happened to him and his sister was dreadful, and the flashbacks to his past made me deeply uncomfortable. To escape his chains in the desert, he needed to push himself to the edge of human endurance and he's spent his entire adult life systematically hunting down every man who was present when his sister was murdered, whether they actually took part in the killing or not. Thanks to Dax, the leader of the Associates, Thorne was able to position himself closer to several of the people responsible. Through their alliance, Dax gets access to invaluable intel about a number of criminal organisations, while Thorne was able to get close to the last man on his hit list. 


In order to rise to the top of the Hangmen, Thorne has done any number of terrible things. He's a ruthless and hard man. Nonetheless, he's tired of his revenge quests and longs to be done. His feelings for Nadia are complicated. Just when he was ready to acknowledge to himself that he loved her, he overheard her conversation with her sister (which was not at all what it seemed), making him believe she felt nothing for him, means he now thinks of her with what he terms "love-hate". He dumped her before she could dump him, not realising that the evening he coldly rejected her, she was actually about to tell him about being pregnant. Even before the events that set him on his path to vengeance, Thorne never had a good family life and struggles with any human interactions that don't involve dominance and power play.


While Nadia used to find the role playing and abusive language quite exciting, now it makes her sad and uncomfortable, and when they are reunited,and she's unable to deny that her feelings for him are as strong as ever, she tries to express to Thorne that she only ever called him names because he seemed to get off on it. It doesn't take long before the two are growing close again, despite the dangers facing both of them. Jerrod wants Thorne gone, and when he discovers that Thorne and Nadia have a shared past, he has the weapon he needs to bring his second in command down.


As with Carolyn Crane's previous two books in the series, Into the Shadows is full of action, suspense, complicated and wounded people who need each other to try to make sense of the world. There is a emotionally struggling hero seeking revenge and justice, and a capable and determined heroine. The villain is once again truly despicable, making it abundantly clear that while Thorne isn't a boy scout by any stretch of the imagination, he's in the right in taking Jerrod down. I really liked most things about this book, however, I would have liked even more present interaction between Nadia and Thorne, rather than so many flashbacks. I also found some of the internal machinations of the Hangmen a bit tiresome. It was a fun, suspenseful, sexy read, though. The book is nominated for a RITA in the Romantic Suspense Category, and it is a well deserved nomination. Ms. Crane also self-publishes her very entertaining Associates novels, so consider buying a copy so she can afford to keep writing.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2015/06/cbr7-book-62-into-shadows-by-carolyn.html
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review 2015-02-15 16:22
A Rare Foray into Contemporary Romance
Kiss an Angel - Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Original Publication Year: 1996

Genre(s): Romance (Contemporary)

Series: None

Awards: None

Format: Audio (downloaded from library)

Narrated by: Anna Fields


I don’t read a lot of contemporary romance.  Heck I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction period, preferring historicals, mysteries, SFF etc….  So this really was a stretch out of my normal reading rut and is precisely why I am participating in the Eclectic Reader Challenge.    For most of my life I hated beets and then one day 6 or so years ago a friend served me beets that were prepared just right and now they are one of my favorite foods.  I don’t want to be so biased in my reading choices that I miss out on gems or judge a whole genre based on the literary equivalent of pickled beets…. or something. 


I chose Kiss An Angel because it was near the top on a Goodreads list of Contemporary romance and had one of the highest average ratings.  While, this book has not won me over to the contemporary romance genre, I do understand why it is beloved. 


NOTE:  There will be a few mild spoilers below, nothing huge but I can’t really talk about the book properly without revealing some of it and it is revealed in the first 20 pages.


The set-up is this:  Daisy is a spoiled rich girl who has never had to work a day in her life and finds herself in deep financial troubles when her super model mother passes away.  Her disapproving father (parents were never married), an American diplomat to Russia, insists that in order for him to bail her out of her troubles, she must marry a man of his choosing and stay married for 6 months.  The man of his choosing is surly Alpha male Alex Markov who is, of all things, a manager of and performer in a second-rate traveling circus.  As you might imagine things are rough in the beginning but guess what?  Alex and Daisy find that they are a match made in heaven.


As you can probably guess, by the primary setting being a second-rate traveling circus, the characters and ambiance of the book is decidedly unique.  Both of the protagonists have Baggage with a capital ‘B’ in the form of crappy parents and the main conflict revolves around them overcoming their emotional dysfunction.  The second main conflict of the book is secrets – great big honking secrets that beyond just creating conflict, also provide a lot of forward momentum and drive to read.  Phillips takes her time and doesn’t take the easy way out in getting these two together which I appreciate.  She also does a good job of creating an extremely unlikely pair, even sans baggage, and illustrating why they are actually perfect for each other.  So for the big things, mission accomplished.


I still didn’t love it though and it wasn’t all to do with the contemporary setting.  I ended up liking Daisy all right but she is not the type of female character I really connect with and her transformation from spoiled rich girl to hard working, good-hearted animal whisperer frequently made me cringe.  I also never really warmed up to Alex not being able to get over his level of cruelty at the beginning, his lack of humor and the fact that for the first quarter of the book he calls Daisy "angel face" (NOTE:  Any guy calls me angel face he’ll have angels flying around his head after I punch him in his face). On a lighter note, this book is definitely a product of its age (pubbed in 1996) as Daisy has a fantasy about making out with a guy in a white limousine to the soothing sounds of Michael Bolton:0).


FINAL VERDICT:  While Kiss An Angel was not enough to convince me that I have been missing out all these years not reading contemporary romance, it was good enough for me to not dismiss the genre in the future. If you are already a fan of this genre you will probably like this one if you haven't already read it.


Do you have any really fantastic and perhaps out of the mold contemporary romances to recommend?  

Both the Read Harder and Eclectic Reader Challenges have romance categories.  For the Eclectic Reader Challenge it's specifically Contemporary romance and for the Read Harder challenge it is just romance. 

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review 2015-01-19 15:55
Great Mystery Series based on a TV Show!
Mr. Kiss and Tell - Jennifer Graham,Rob Thomas

Original Publication Year: 2015 (JANUARY 20!)

Genre(s): Mystery

Series: Veronica Mars #2

Awards: None

Format: eBook - Thanks to Knopf Doubleday for providing me with an advanced reader copy of this book (via NetGalley).  My review reflects my honest opinion of and experience with the book and was not influenced by receiving the book for free from the publisher. 

Narrated by: NA


Mr. Kiss and Tell begins a few months after the events of The Thousand Dollar Tan Line.  Keith Mars is back on his feet and Veronica has moved into her own place, which she is sharing with a certain gentleman named Logan.  (Gentleman you say?  Since when?  Since this book!  It's like he's a grown up or something.)   Her work on the case of the missing spring breakers in book one has earned her some elite friends  and leads to her being hired to investigate an accusation of rape, on the grounds of the Neptune Grand Hotel, against one of its employees.  The victim in this case is Grace Manning, Meg Manning's little sister who fans of the show will remember - she of the abusive religious zealot parents. The case turns out to be much larger in scope than it originally appears.  At the same time Keith and Cliff have teamed up with Weevil to sue the Neptune police department for corruption.


It's hard to say too much about this book without spoiling a lot of the mystery but I'll give it a shot.  This book doesn't have as many twists and turns of the first book but the mystery is still engrossing. It deals with sexual assault and since Veronica herself was a victim of rape, she is at her most fierce and determined.  She finds herself wrestling with her code of honor and struggling to stay on the right side of the law.  In the end, the way the case is resolved is clever and very satisfying. 


The mystery is just one part of the book however.  A chunk of the narrative is devoted to the fight against the corruption in the Neptune police department; there are even a few scenes that are from Keith's perspective.  In the end there are some very interesting developments that should spice up future books.  Another upside of this storyline is that we get a little time with Weevil.


There is also some space devoted to Veronica and Logan so LoVe fans (as I am) will be happy but its not overwhelming so if your not a fan, it shouldn't detract.  Their interactions are very fun and the issues when they arise (as they ALWAYS do) are mature and make sense.  Interestingly, it is Veronica that is perhaps not being fair and not dealing well and I actually appreciated this approach.  She thinks little of her own safety in her impulsive rush for justice but she is fiercely protective of those she loves so her difficulty is understandable.


As hinted at above, the characterizations, the storytelling, the atmosphere continue to be spot on and fans of the show will undoubtedly enjoy this.  However, while I thought book one could have been interesting for someone who hasn't watched the show or movie, this second installment I don't think would work as well.  The Weevil storyline and the crusade against the police department, the victim being connected to Meg Manning, and all the history between Veronica and Logan all link back heavily to the show and movie - it's all explained but a non-fan would probably still feel they'd been dropped into the middle of something and miss some nuances.


FINAL VERDICT:  This continues the book series strongly. I devoured it and will be anxiously awaiting book three!

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review 2015-01-18 19:49
Need a Veronica Mars Fix? This'll do it!
The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line - Jennifer Graham,Rob Thomas

Original Publication Year: 2014

Genre(s): Mystery

Series: Veronica Mars #1

Awards: None

Format: Paperback

Narrated by: NA


This is the first in a series of novels based on the short-lived but very awesome TV show Veronica Mars created by Rob Thomas.  If you are unaware, the show which aired from 2004-2007 focused on a teenaged sleuth Veronica Mars, in a SoCal town (Neptune) sharply divided along economic lines.  While it might sound a little silly, it was actually smart, sharply witty and had that rare quality of making you laugh one minute and be genuinely moved the next.  The franchise saw a revival in 2014 with a new movie funded by Kickstarter and the start of this series of mystery novels.  The novel begins a few months after the movie ends  - Veronica is now in her late twenties and has a law degree but she gets sucked back into the PI business in her home town and she has decided to stay sucked in.


With that background, the framework of this story is the disappearance of a couple of teenaged girls during spring break in Neptune.  Veronica is hired by the Neptune Chamber of Commerce to find the girls because kidnappings are bad for business and the town Sheriff?  Is incompetent and corrupt.  Veronica’s investigation, with the help of her best friends Wallace and Mac will lead her into the shady world of Mexican Drug Cartels, reunite her with her estranged alcoholic mother Leanne and as always expose the shady underbelly of Neptune. 


For fans of the show and the Veronica Mars universe, I think you will in no way be disappointed.  The feel of the book, the voice of the characters, the humor, the relationships - they are all there intact and pretty near perfectly reproduced.  It feels like a quality Veronica Mars episode in book form.  The book is authored by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham and I’d be interested to know what the roles were.  Did they actually co-author?  Did Jennifer Graham write and Rob Thomas approve?  It doesn’t really matter, I suppose. because however it was done it is spot on.


For folks who know nothing about the show and are just looking for a good mystery, I think you will also be entertained.  The case is convoluted and has plenty of twists and turns that kept me guessing.  Veronica is an engaging character whether you’ve met her before or not and I think the book on its own provides plenty of insight into her complicated relationships.  It’s these relationships and the character of Neptune itself that provides the solid mystery storyline with some greater interest.  The book also moves at a snappy pace and was a complete page turner for me. 


Final Verdict:  A nourish mystery that will satisfy all and completely captures the charm and excellence of the TV show it is based on. 


Tomorrow I'll post my review of Mr. Kiss and Tell the second in the Veronica Mars series which is being release on Tuesday January 20th!

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