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review 2018-05-25 02:35
ARC Review: Bad To The Bone by Nicki Bennett
Bad to the Bone - Nicki Bennett

This was for the most part a sweet second-chance romance between two men who were friends in high school and could have been more if it weren't for small town bigots and needing that scholarship.

Back in high school, Alex was going to be a big shot football player at college until an injury put an end to that dream. But that injury didn't happen until he had already lost his heart to Ricky Lee, a boy his age from the wrong side of the tracks, who shared his love of books. 

So Ricky Lee left town, and Alex stayed. He's now working at his hardware store he co-owns with his sister, his marriage has failed, and his life hasn't turned out at all how he imagined it would.

And then Ricky Lee comes back into town because of their high school reunion and makes it very clear from the start that he's never forgotten Alex. Ricky Lee now lives in Portland and is some kind of technology genius. He wants Alex and he starts his pursuit from the time he arrives back in town. 

This being a Dreamspun Desires title, the plot and happenings inside are deliciously OTT, the characters are slightly too perfect, and the supporting cast is a bit one-dimensional. I liked Alex's sister a whole lot - she seemed to have a good head on her shoulders, and I liked his cop friend as well. I liked Alex and Ricky Lee, and Ricky Lee's somewhat flamboyant friend/business partner. 

As the romance gets its second wind, the small town bigots do their very best to try to put a cork in it. This is where the plot leaves realistic territory and veers dramatically into what the hell just happened. 

I was entertained, of course, and the scenes where Alex and Ricky Lee are on page together without others are really well done. I believed that they still had feelings for each other after all these years, and that those feelings were easily rekindled into a raging fire. 

This is a feel good book. It's an easy read for a day at the beach or curled up in your favorite chair with your favorite beverage. It's not deep, it's not memorable, but it's definitely enjoyable.

** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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review 2018-05-17 01:12
ARC Review: Bad Attitude by K.A. Mitchell
Bad Attitude - K.A. Mitchell

Well, then. This was at times a frustrating read, because both Gavin and Jamie had some issues. I mean, issues. Like, ISSUES. 

This book gave me whiplash from the constant hot and cold and yes and no, much like that Katy Perry song. 

Gavin is rebelling to some extent against the expectations of his wealthy family. He's supposed to show up at events, look good in a tux, and behave. Which has stunted his emotional growth by a large degree. He's starved for affection but too chicken shit to admit that to anyone including himself, so he postures and prances and performs because who the fuck needs feelings. 

Jamie has a massive chip on his shoulder, because all his friends are paired up, and that's just fucking fabulous, because Jamie wants nothing to do with a ball and chain on his ankles, no, sirree. He's just fine with the wham, bam, thank you, Sam, and he sure as hell doesn't need a boyfriend. Or love. Also, he's a redhead, so that's another strike, amirite? No, no, Jamie is a man's man and feelings are for pussies. 

So, both of these men have a really bad attitude towards love and making themselves vulnerable. They fuck, they fight, they dance around each other, neither capable of asking for what they really want but are too afraid to face, and so we are treated to a weird sex party, and accidental dives off a bridge, and feeling uncomfortable at a social event, and generally being too damn emotionally stunted to get a clue. 

Eli and Quinn from book 2, as supporting characters, really steal the show, especially Eli. I've adored this character ever since I first read Bad Boyfriend, and I enjoyed seeing him in this book. 

It took me some time to warm up to Gavin and Jamie, but I was on board about halfway through the book. Jamie comes around a little faster than Gavin, but both of them hide their true needs behind macho alpha male behavior, using sex to avoid intimacy, and displaying bitterness about their lot in life to mask their loneliness and vulnerability. 

Gavin's friend Beach - yeah, I found zero redeeming qualities in him in this book, and knowing that book 5 is about him... well. While part of me is looking forward to seeing what the author does with this character, another, albeit smaller, part wants to simply forget he exists. The only good thing I can say about Beach at this point is that he serves as a catalyst for Gavin to get his shit together and finally tell Jamie the truth. 

So, whiplash. Be prepared for that. Be ready for an at times frustrating read that delivers flawed characters who still have a lot to learn, despite thinking they know it all, and a romance that almost crashes and burns before it even begins. 

But it is a romance, so there is a happy ending. In case you were wondering. 

** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher in exchange for an honest review. **

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review 2018-05-11 02:34
ARC Review: Forgiveness by Grace R. Duncan
Forgiveness - Grace R. Duncan

I flew through this, from opening the file this morning until finishing it tonight, with grumbled interruptions for such pesky things as lunch and dinner and errands needing to be run.

The romance was slow burn, frustrating at times, and sweet at other times. The mythology is still well done, and I enjoyed catching up with the couples from previous books. 

Nine years ago, Eric's chosen mate broke their bond, and he's been in wolf form ever since, roaming the woods, thinking he can never go home again. An unexpected encounter leads him home, returning him to his human form, having to learn to be human all over again. Opposing thumbs are a tricky thing if you've been on paws for a long time. 

Soon after coming home, Eric runs into Ben, a newcomer to their pack, and finds his destined mate, the person their goddess has chosen just for him, a mate that trumps a chosen one. 

And Eric freaks out. 

Because he's a dumbass. Because he's been hurt and he doesn't trust that this one won't also leave him. 

Like I said, this was a frustrating read at times - I wanted to slap him in multiple times as Eric keeps asking for time and patience, and Ben was a fucking SAINT and kept giving Eric time and space and whatever he needed, because that's what destined mates do.

Ben has some struggles of his own - for all his life, his mother told him that the wolf within is a demon to be kept inside. I couldn't for the life of me figure out why Ben's father would choose his wife (a destined mate also, but one who never took the bite to become wolf) over his son, when he could see how much his wife's ranting about the demon-wolf hurt his kid. He never really stepped in to stop her from inflicting this emotional abuse on his son. I was ENRAGED! And then she... well, no, I won't give that away.

But Eric and Ben have friends now, and they have support, and they learn, they grow, and they accept what Diana has given them. 

I would say that this book was probably my least favorite of this series. For one, I found Eric disappearing for nine years a bit long, considering that Kim wasn't his destined mate. Secondly, I strongly disliked that both important females in this book were portrayed as uber-bitchy and had few, if any, redeeming qualities. I really don't like that in a book. 

The author has a writing style that works well for this type of book, and there weren't any lulls in the plot or any kind of big time jumps. I appreciated seeing couples from the previous books all step up to help Eric and Ben where they can - the sense of family, of belonging, is strong with this series. 

While this could be read as a stand-alone, I would recommend you read this series in order for full impact. 

** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher in exchange for an honest review. **

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review 2018-05-07 23:43
The Moneypenny Diaries
The Moneypenny Diaries: Final Fling - Kate Westbrook,Samantha Weinberg
The Moneypenny Diaries: Secret Servant - Kate Westbrook,Samantha Weinberg
The Moneypenny Diaries: Guardian Angel - Kate Westbrook,Samantha Weinberg

I was angry with my aunt for almost a year after receiving the diaries, as I oscillated between the version of history I taught and thought I knew, to that recorded on their pale-blue pages. Almost automatically, I worked at the same time to authenticate them, to verify, to the best of my ability, that they were a true and accurate depiction of the events she described. As far as I could determine, they were. They are. I wrestled with what I should do with her unusual – and, in some senses, unwelcome – legacy.

I decided they had to be published and with that decision came emotional release. It was as if my resentment of my aunt’s subterfuge was liberated by the realisation that she had sent the diaries to me for a purpose. She had wanted me to have them; she had wanted me to know. As I delved deeper into her secret world, I came to understand the constraints she was living under: the reasons why she could not reveal the true nature of her world. It was not just the diktat of the Official Secrets Act. Jane

Moneypenny knew so much about the inner workings of the SIS that it became a liability. It made her an attractive target for enemy officers, looking to penetrate further the London headquarters. Her knowledge was also dangerous in itself; what would happen if she found out more than she should?


I first read this trilogy in early 2013, not that long after I joined Goodreads and started this whole book blogging adventure. I wish I had written a review of the three books back then, but I had probably not yet gotten around to figuring out what I wanted to review and how I wanted to do it.


It’s a pity, because I distinctly remember that I liked the books so much that I read them in quick succession, but then forgot what the plots were about or why I liked them.


This time around, I have been a more mindful reader. A more observant reader.


This time around, I noticed also that I have become an altogether different reader. Life, books and discussions with other people do that to you. I’m delighted with this. Who really wants to stay the same person?


This time around, I read The Moneypenny Diaries as a reader who is quite familiar with Ian Fleming, James Bond, with the history of espionage during the Cold War, with the works of other ex-spies like Greene and Le Carre. And what can I say, I enjoyed the books so much more for it than even on my first read.


Don’t get me wrong, the books are not perfect.  There are a few loose ends, a couple of anachronisms (over the three books, which is not a bad average), and a few things at the end that I'm not sure are logical. Despite all that, these three were so much fun to read and it was so satisfying to find a decent spy thriller in the Bond universe that did not try to emulate Fleming's writing. The original characters were all there, just with more depth and much better setting into the historical background.


But what about the actual stories?


In Guardian Angel, we are introduced to the story of Dr Kate Westbrook, a Cambridge historian, who has inherited her aunt’s diaries. Her aunt was Jane Moneypenny. Reading her aunts diaries, Kate discovers that her aunt was working for the Secret Service, and had a life that was completely unknown to her family.

Her aunt chose Kate as the recipient of the completely unauthorised diaries because she needed someone she trusted to become the holder of the information and make a decision of what to do with the diaries.


Kate decides to publish the diaries and the following storylines emerge:


- The Bond stories. This is where Moneypenny's story follows the Bond novels.

- The niece’s story - This is the setup of the series. Moneypenny's niece inherits her secret diaries and decides to publish them - which puts her at odds with the Official Secrets Act. She also tries to investigate some of the loose ends in Moneypenney's life.

- Moneypenny's father: In her diaries, Moneypenny is trying to find out what really happened to him. (Incidentally, this weaves in another real life sub-plot about Colditz Castle...)

- Moneypenny's own story – her personal life and her life in the Firm as set against the events of world history.


Sounds convoluted? It isn't. The author really carries this off quite well. 


The author, by the way, is Samantha Weinberg, but the books were originally published under the name of Kate Westbrook.


Guardian Angel is set against the background of the Cuban Missile Crisis and despite a, not slow, but rather subdued start, one of the agents that Moneypenny works with is getting into trouble.


The agent we are talking about is, of course, Bond. James Bond. Moneypenny carries a torch for him but knows full well that this is not a relationship she wants to pursue. They have fun flirting but are much better friends than to start off anything else.


I love the way that Weinberg wrote this relationship. There was no swooning, no Bond worship, no patronising comments from Bond, just genuine care for each other.


There is another guy in this story who is Moneypenny’s romantic interest but part of the thrill of this story is that we get to get a feel for the difficulty of the characters situation – they cannot know who to trust.


We also get a good feel for Moneypenny as a woman in a male-dominated environment. She’s not an agent, but she is also not “just a typist”. Weinberg was spot on in her writing about the time and the place and the roles of the characters. It was one of the aspects that immediately drew me in.


As the story develops, Moneypenny takes on more of an assertive role, but we cannot compare her to Bond in any way. Nor should we.


In the second book, Secret Servant, we get to follow her as M becomes more confident in her abilities as an agent. Tragedy has struck by this time and we get to see Moneypenny facing her demons by taking on a task for the Firm: to travel to East Berlin and Moscow and extract Kim Philby and his wife Eleanor back to the UK.


I am quite familiar with the story of Kim Philby and some of the places Moneypenny travels to, and I was delighted to read that Weinberg had put in a lot of research to have the story follow the historical and geographical facts here. I also loved some of the quips:


Thursday, 27th February

We leave in three nights. The plans are nearly set. Philby insisted we travel overland, by train to Leningrad and then north to the Finnish border. He says that’s our only chance. We leave on the midnight train and should not be missed until mid-morning the next day, if all goes as we hope. To give us an extra few hours, Eleanor will stay in their flat that night. The next morning, she has made an appointment at the American Embassy to discuss her forthcoming planned trip home to see her daughter. Sergei knows she is going; it should not cause suspicion. Not until she fails to leave the Embassy compound, by which time we should be almost at the border.

I have the address of a safe house in Leningrad. A taxi-driver will meet us at the station and take us there. Agent 859 will be waiting to escort us to the meeting-point just this side of the border, in the woods near Vyborg. Head of S insists it will work like clockwork, but I don’t think even he believes that. Still, if we can trust Philby – and I suppose we have to, though there are times when a look of uncertainty crosses his face – it is our best chance of escape.

If we can trust Philby.

This is suspense writing as it should be.


If you know the story of the Cambridge Spies, Kim Philby could not be trusted, but could he be in the context of this story?

I loved it. Almost every time that I thought I had figured out the plot and characters, I had to question everything because it was just not clear which character could be trusted.


This culminated in the third book, Final Fling: Moneypenny’s boss, M, suspects that there is a mole in the organisation which puts the whole organisation not only on edge but also at risk from interference by other government departments.


In a way, there were some similarities to the film Spectre, which has really nothing to recommend itself for (imo) other than portraying the close bond of loyalty between the main characters: M, Bond, Moneypenny, and Bill Tanner.


At the height of this crisis, the plot was so gripping that I literally had to finish the book in one sitting.

Friday, 23rd October 

My world is going mad, and I fear I am not far behind. Everything I thought I knew is being turned upside down, and I’m not even sure whose side I’m on any more. As I arrived at the Office this morning, James was being marched out, flanked by two large men in ill-fitting suits who had about them the look of retired policemen. He wasn’t struggling, but was clearly unhappy about the situation. 

Events snowball out of control.

Is anyone after me? It seems increasingly like a game from which I’ve managed momentarily to step away. The more time I am here, the more ridiculous that game appears to be. I no longer think it’s worth it. I couldn’t even tell my sister where I was going. I have no one to confide in. I don’t trust my closest friend. I think the KGB might want to kill me. Is that a life? I have four more days here in which to make my decision: whether to stay at the Office, or to go. If I stay, then I have to discover the identity of the Sieve; if I opt to leave, it will be a wrench, separating me from what has been the major part of my life for over a decade, and from the people who have become almost family, and whose friendship I know I’ll lose. If every day I walk from one side of the island to the other, I don’t think I’ll come up with a clear answer. Whatever I do, it will be with regret.

I will leave off commenting on the plot that follows from this, other than to say that Moneypenny’s niece is drawn into her aunts affairs much more than she bargained for, and even years after her aunts death, there is still a threat that needs to be stopped.


This was a gripping tale. One that appealed to lover of history, the lover of mystery, and the lover of spy novels in me. Most of all, the re-read also made me think about the use of historical facts in fiction, the use of fiction as historical fact – and most of all about the labels we seem to dish out.


As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the reasons for the re-read was that I saw this trilogy labelled as “Chick-Lit”. Wtf?

Sure, there are a few stories about relationships in these three books. Sure, the book focuses on the lives of two thirty-something women. Sure, some aspects of the stories were less intellectually challenging than others. So what??? Does this make this “Chick-Lit”? If so, what about the original Bond novels?

The only difference between The Moneypenny Diaries and the Bond novels is that Weinstein’s books focus on two female main characters. To slap a “Chick-Lit” label on them and an “adventure”, “spy thriller”, or similar label on the other is just plain wrong.


Furthermore, thinking about the whole label of “Chick-Lit” and how basically any book that is about a woman of a certain age and features aspects of that character that involve deliberations of relationships with anyone, could be classed as chick-lit really annoyed me. Why isn’t that just “lit”? And why isn’t there a label for inconsequential novels with a male protagonist ? Or is there?


Having used the term “Chick-Lit” quite a few times in this review, I think I’m done with it. For good.

That "chick-lit" label can go and set fire to itself.

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review 2018-05-02 02:01
ARC Review: Hard Line by Sidney Bell
Hard Line - Sidney Bell

Tobias is a consummate good boy. The perfect people pleaser. After announcing at a young age that he would become a doctor like his Papa, he's now stuck in premed classes he hates, but can't tell anyone. Struggling with abandonment issues all his life, after being found in a dumpster as a baby and having been adopted by a Haitian couple who provide a loving but strict home, he has tried and tried and tried to be the perfect son, the perfect friend - because if only he's perfect, people won't leave him. He remembers what happened the last time he tried to break free of his parents' expectations. It earned him a trip to the Woodbury Center, where he met Ghost and Church (whom we met in the first book). Yes, Tobias is a good boy. 

Until he isn't. 

When Ghost goes missing and Tobias realizes that he may be in trouble, he will do whatever it takes to find his friend. Including blackmailing a PI to help him.

Sullivan is that PI. He's working an old case that his boss took over from the previous owner of the firm, and he is pursuing a new trail that puts him in Tobias' path. Blackmailed into helping the younger man find his friend, he reluctantly begins to spend time with Tobias while gathering clues.

It becomes clear quickly that Sullivan possesses a quality Tobias craves. He craves it without knowing what to call it. Soon, they spend their days searching for clues and their nights exploring their mutual kink. 

This book is really a character study wrapped in a mystery/suspense plot. The author cleverly weaves Tobias' growth as a person, as an individual, as someone who figures out his own needs and wants compared to what he's been told to need and want, into the plot and provides Sullivan as the key to give Tobias wings to fly. 

Of course, standing up for yourself isn't an easy thing to do when you've been indoctrinated all your life to do for others, to sacrifice your own wants and needs, to stay the course laid out for you by someone else, while grappling with crushing guilt and fears of abandonment. All too often, we attempt to change ourselves, only to be told by those we love to change back. To revert to who and what we were, because change is hard. It's difficult, not only for the person changing, but also for the people in your lives who may not understand your need to become someone different. Some people will withhold their affection because you've decided to become a truer version of yourself, and if you fear losing them, if you don't meet their expectations - well.... That takes a lot of strength to overcome.

Tobias learns that people don't always leave because he's not perfect. Tobias learns to trust himself. Tobias learns to trust Sullivan. 

And Sullivan learns to trust Tobias. It takes him a bit longer to see the younger man clearly, but eventually, he does. 

The mystery/suspense - yeah, not going to give anything away here. I will say though that it had some twists and turns I didn't expect, and it kept me glued to the pages until the very end. 

I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed it even more so than the first one. While it could be read as a standalone, I think it would make more sense to someone who's read the first one - there is some background info that should be present for this book to have the full impact. 

And, honestly, why wouldn't you read both? Sidney Bell has written a fabulous follow-up to the first book, and they are both well worth your time!

** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher via Netgalley. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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