Tuesday, March 15, 2011

You Belong To Me by Karen Rose

Why I read it:  I received a review copy from the publisher via ARRA (The Australian Romance Readers Association).  Plus I've read most of her other books and really liked them.

What it's about: Lucy Trask, a Medical Examiner in Baltimore, discovers what she believes is the body of a close friend while out for her morning run.  Fortunately, the dead guy was someone else but that then begs the question, why was he placed and dressed like her friend?  What is the connection between the killer, the dead guy and Lucy Trask?  Baltimore detective, JD Fitzpatrick, along with his partner Stevie Mazzetti are assigned the case and quickly realise that the dead guy is just one of many,  and that Lucy is on the hit list. 

What worked for me/what didn't:  Like most Karen Rose stories, the story is complex and involves many characters. The first quarter or so of the book was as a little confusing when I was trying to work out how the various characters and plot points intersect.  Then I had my "a-ha" moment and it clicked into place.  Unlike many other Karen Rose books, this one takes place over only a few days, so the romance aspect is intense from the start -there is no time for a slow get-to-know-you build.    While I'm not sure I completely bought the initial connection Detective JD Fitzpatrick felt for Lucy, it wasn't at all difficult to believe the development of their relationship from there.  So much happened in such a short space of time, it felt like weeks, not days.   Plus, I liked both JD and Lucy so I was certainly cheering them on.
Given that this is a romantic suspense - and there is a fair amount of romance in the story - I don't think it is a spoiler to say that JD and Lucy get their HEA - there's even a nice little epilogue so we readers can be assured their relationship has what it takes not just to survive the pressure-cooker but also the everyday and long-term.
As for the suspense part of the equation, the villain is pretty dark and gruesome  - as Karen Rose bad guys tend to be - there's plenty of blood and gore, so it may not work for those with a low squick factor.

What else:  As a reader, I read romantic suspense for the romance.  I want the suspense to be internally consistent and the police procedures to be believable (which is code for consistent with Law & Order: SVU probably!!), but it isn't my focus.  For me, the suspense forms a setting for the development of the relationship.  At the same time, I don't want my hero and heroine to be having sex when they're being shot at or when there's a child missing or something.  There is a lot of suspense in this book but Lucy and JD aren't too stupid to live, so there weren't any instances of either of them acting unprofessionally or foolishly just to get it on.  Overall, I think I prefer a suspense book where the time frame is longer - I'm not generally a fan of insta-love - or where the h/h already know each other so the step into romance is a little more believable.  That said, this book was very engaging, while not my favourite of hers (that would be Have You Seen Her I think) - I raced through it in only two days and it left me wondering why there are still one or two of her books in my TBR.

Grade:  B-

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

February Reads

On paper/ebook

Fade to Midnight by Shannon McKenna - B.  I've had this book for ages but for some reason had been reluctant to read it. I think I was scared that I wouldn't like it and I wanted to like it so I procrastinated.  I really needn't have worried.  While I don't think it was her best book (that goes to Out of Control - Davy's book I think, although Hot Night was also damn good) it was nevertheless pretty darn good.  Ms. McKenna's villains are weirdly over the top as usual and the plot is kind of out there but what makes her books work for me is the way she writes the desperation and compulsion of her heroes in love.  I wouldn't want one to fall for me in real life of course - waaay to much for me! - but I do love reading about the absolute adoration, conviction and passion they have (almost immediately) for their ladies.  She writes such intense men who straddle the line between protective gorgeous alpha heroes and stalkerish whack job asshats.  I must admit the fierceness of the love the heroes have for their women is something special for me.  Fortunately, McKenna also writes women who push back and the men have to learn to BACK THE HELL OFF.  Also, the sex is smokin". *fans self*   
This is Kev's book - the long lost McCloud brother and it was as over the top as ever - Seriously, Blofeld and other James Bond villains have nothing on the bad guys (as opposed to bad boys - who are yummy) Ms. McKenna writes. I would have liked to have seen more of the McCloud brothers together - after all, they'd thought that Kev was dead for 20 years and there was this thing about Kev's head...  Turns out it was just me.  There was a reference to Kev being really tall, at least 6'3" and to Edie being 5'8" and also a reference to Kev being able to nuzzle her hair without having to bend his neck.  My immediate mental picture was of  freakoid head which was really loooong - I was so concerned about it, I did a diagram to scale of the height difference and his head didn't look freakoid, so then (and I can't believe I'm admitting this) I measured my head.  I know!!    (So, next time Kris does a post of the weird things people do as a result of books they've read, I'll have a story to tell...)

Show and Tell by Jasmine Haynes - C-.  Jasmine Haynes writes erotic romance and I quite like the way she does.  The problem with this book, for me, was that there seemed to be an awful lot about Trinity's work problems and how she overcame them - which, in itself, isn't a bad thing - it's just that I was expecting ER.  Don't get me wrong, there were some very steamy moments (although, I found it difficult to believe that any woman would open a hotel room door to a total stranger - even if he is really good-looking - and then let him watch some, er, self pleasure.  Talk about risky!!), but I wondered sometimes what the book was trying to be.  The bits about work were okay, but they weren't moving the relationship between Trinity and Scott any further and I found myself skimming.  Also, Scott deserved some severe ass-kicking for springing his adult children on Trinity without any warning!!  There are 3 books in this loosely connected series. I thought book 3, Fair Game, was the strongest (I really liked it)  and then the first one, The Fortune Hunter, with this one coming in third.  I didn't hate it, it'sjust that there were parts that didn't interest me much.

A Secret Affair by Mary Balogh - B+ .  I just love Mary Balogh. I actually really liked this book but I'm glad I didn't pay a hardback price for it. For starters it was only 275 pages long and secondly I really resent paying a hardback price for an ebook.
Anywho, this story doesn't have a lot of internal conflict between the couple - they kind of just meet and fall in love. And, even though they start having sex almost from the start, there's not actually a lot of sex in the book (which was a little disappointing as I think just one more scene later in the book when the couple had acknowledged their love each other (to themselves if not to each other) would have been worthwhile to the story. Most of it was closed door though.
Having said all that, I like relationship stories with a bit of external conflict so it was all good. I half expected to be exasperated by the reason to the feud between Elliott and Con which is finally revealed in this book, but surprisingly, I wasn't. It made sense to me actually.
Overall, I thought this series was very strong and, while not my favourite in the series, that would be...hm, bk 3 I think, it was very good. I do love Balogh. Have I said that already?? 

Fair Game by Josh Lanyon - B+.  Really good story about an ex-FBI agent turned history professor who is asked to investigate some disappearances at the university where he works.  His ex-lover, still with the FBI, is also on the case and sparks fly.  I liked it a lot.  The characters were engaging and the story solid.  I was struck by how it could easily have been a female history professor and the story would have worked just the same (albeit that the characters would have been different - guys are different from girls don'tcha know) - what I'm trying to say and possibly failing, is that the m/m aspect of the story was not the reason for the story.  The suspense was and the romance was but the fact that the protagonists were both men seemed (to me) to be almost by the by - it was romantic and there were some *sexy times*  but being gay wasn't an issue in the story. Most of the m/m I read involves at least an element of dealing with prejudice or issues about being out etc, and as much as I like them, it is nice to read a story where that doesn't play a part.

Turn It Up by Vivian Arend - B-.  Cute sexy story about a younger man (rawrr) who knows what and who he wants and an older (but not older than me!) woman.  The plot does involve pregnancy and babies so stay away if it's not your cuppa.

The Promise by Marie Sexton  - B. Cute free short about Matt and Jared from Promises. Awww!

Putting Out Fires by Marie Sexton - B+. Short, sweet and funny story about Matt and Jared from the Coda series. Matt wants to do something special for Jared for Valentine's Day. The kitchen scene was hilarious! I love these guys.

 72 Hours by Clare London - C.  This is a story about 2 men who work for an uber-secret government agency - one has left after a fight at work but he's called back to action when the team is threatened.   I'm not sure exactly why this one didn't work as well for me.  Maybe I wasn't in the mood.  It took me a while to realise that the story was set somewhere in the US - I think it's because I had "London" on the brain and that kind of threw me - totally my fault of course! *grin*.  Romantic suspense has been a bit hit and miss for me lately and I'm afraid this one didn't get me very excited.  The super secret spy network thing works for me less and less.  I liked The Tourist much better so I know this lady can write - I'll check out future books for sure but I will probably stay away from this kind of storyline in general.

Opposites Distract by Stephani Hecht - C-As the title suggests, this is an "opposites attract" story - at 26 pages, I didn't really buy the insta-love I'm afraid. I just needed a bit more to believe the connection the 2 lead characters had. Lee was a funny sidekick type but there wasn't enough of Clayton and Pryce to really believe in the HEA.  I like the author's style but there needed to be a little more depth to the story. 

Firm Touch by Christine D'Abo - B.  o-0! It's all an education! An enjoyable short story but not for the faint of heart!  (hint, it involves a fist). The relationship and the trust is well set up, esp for such a short story.
Generally speaking, I think a story about an existing relationship works better in the really short format.

**Pick of the Month**
Nowhere Ranch by Heidi Cullinan - A-/B+.    This author makes me care.  Roe's journey was touching and special.  He was so down on himself because of how he'd been treated by his family in particular, it was lovely to see him come to realise he was special and worthy.  Told in the Roe's first person POV, it is the story of how he comes to find home on a ranch in Nebraska with rancher, Travis Loving.  Roe had been kicked out of home by his parents when his gay skin mags had been discovered by his mother.  His family could not accept him and tried to have the 'gay' exorcised from him.   Not belonging at home anymore, he feels there is nowhere he could belong.  The beauty of it is that "Nowhere" (the name of the ranch) is exactly where he does.
The dialogue was excellent.  I had no trouble "hearing" Roe's accent and voice and I understood him because I was shown, not told (yay).  Even though this is more Roe's book, I quite liked Travis also - he was patient with Roe but he fought for him too which hadn't really happened for Roe before.  There is a strong BDSM aspect to the relationship which may have made me uncomfortable but for the POV of the story (it was nevertheless a bit eye-opening!).  As we are always in Roe's head and he is the submissive partner, there was never any doubt that what was happening was always with Roe's complete and enthusiastic consent.
The story takes a bit of a turn right near the end which, while not bad, was a bit under-developed, I thought.    Still, all the strengths of this wonderful story make this book a real winner and my *pick of the month*.

Just Like That (Bradfords #2) by Erin Nicholas - B.  Sexy story about two people who don't want a relationship (although their reasons are different).  Well written, funny, with good main characters and strong secondary characters.  The opening scene, where Danika's sisters are questioning her over her lack of partner-assisted orgasms (which is overheard by our hero Sam) is hilarious.
I liked the book so much I went and bought the first and third in the series and read them next.

Just Right by Erin Nicholas (Bradfords #1) - C+.  This is Jessica (Sam's sister) and Ben's story.  I liked it but I thought Just Like That was stronger.  

Just My Type by Erin Nicholas (Bradfords #3) - C.  The last in the series, this is Sara and Mac's story.  Parts of it were really good but others seemed confused to me.  It was almost like it didn't know what kind of story it was trying to be.   It starts with Sara deciding that she and Mac belong together.  Mac is 12 years her senior, she's his best friend's little sister and he likes raunchy no holds barred sex.  Although she's not a virgin, he thinks she's too innocent - he loves her but he's not the right man.  He turns her down and Sara runs off to St. Croix to get herself some experience so she won't be so innocent anymore.   **Spoilers Ahoy** Mac follows and (I got a bit lost here) they end up married.  That's right.  Mac wants to push her away and he does it by marrying her.  Hur?  There were a few of these sorts of things in the book where I felt that the characters did things so they'd be in a certain position/place for the purpose of the plot, but not so much for any other discernable reason.  Pretty soon, Mac and Sara are saying they're in love and despite his hands off rule, they're sharing a bed and he's confessed all his secrets to her.  Then the story becomes a "fish out of water" tale (har har) where he leaves Sara in a little town 45 minutes away from Omaha to fend for herself while he's working.  Leaving aside that being 45 minutes away from a city like Omaha is hardly in the boonies, it was another one of those sudden shifts in the story which left me struggling a little to catch up.  Then, the story turns back on itself and it's about how no-one is seeing Sara for who she actually is as opposed to who they want her to be and everyone has to stop, look and listen to see the real her.    I felt there were too many themes in the book to really explore any one satisfactorily and the jumping from one to another was confusing.  Also, Sara was a brat at the beginning - after all, she announces to Mac that he loves her and she loves him and they should be together - it does very much fit the very stereotype she later tries to break away from saying it's not "her".  Perhaps if I'd read this one first I may have liked it better - in the earlier books, I had the impression of Sara being protected yes, but nontheless capable, smart (she has a Masters degree and runs a Youth Centre) and able to stand on her own two feet.  However in this book, I was presented with a Sara who only ran the Youth Centre because Sam and Jessica had "made the job up for her", a super-fussy eater, someone who never did anything on her own - a "Princess" by name and by nature.  It didn't fit with my picture of her from earlier books.  So, all that, you'd think, "well, why did you give a C?".  Because for all the things which bugged me, I liked Mac and I liked the Bradfords and their group of friends.  I like the voice of the author even though in this book the plot and the characterisations didn't work for me so well.  And there were parts of the story which were really good in spite of my sometimes confusion.  Plus the sex was pretty smokin'.   So, in the end, the things which didn't work for me were evened out by the things which did and in the end, my overall reaction was a C.

On audio

Dreamfever by Karen Marie Moning, narrated by Natalie Ross and Phil Gigante - B+. This book marks the start of the Natalie Ross/Phil Gigante narrating team for this series.  I did like Phil Gigante's narration, but while I enjoyed Natalie Ross, I thought Joyce Bean was better.  And, can I just say - Chapter 4?  Wow.

Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning, narrated by Natalie Ross and Phil Gigante - B.  And this is the end of the series.  I definitely enjoyed the series and this book, but there was a little too much of Mac's inner monologue in this one.  After 4 books, I just wanted to know what happened!! - I even found myself reading the print version to skip ahead a little whereas I hadn't been tempted before.  On the one hand, that is a sign that this was a compelling story.  On the other, it illustrates my impatience over Mac's incessant thinking.  I am a big fan of Jericho Barrons however!  And, here's hoping we'll get a story about Christian MacKeltar one of these days. Overall, I think the series is a B+. 

Kiss of the Highlander by Karen Marie Moning, narrated by Phil Gigante - B.  I wasn't read to leave KMM's world so I started listening to some of the Highlander series in an effort to "wean" myself.
Phil Gigante does an excellent Scot's accent and his female characters were actually not bad. The trope of the 25 year old virgin is a little old but otherwise I did like this one. Seriously, what's not to love about a man in a kilt??

The Dark Highlander by Karen Marie Moning, narrated by Phil Gigante - B-.  Again, an enjoyable listen with Phil Gigante doing the narration.  I decided to leave the series there for the time being as there is a certain "sameness" to the storylines - I think they might be better enjoyed with gaps between.

Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews, narrated by Renee Raudman - A.  I was urged to listen to this series by my pal Brenda and I must say a big thank you for that!  What a great series.  Renee Raudman is an awesome narrator - everything I have listened to of hers has been a big winner. As good as the stories are, I suspect I am enjoying this series more because the listening experience than I would have if I were reading the books.  I love the humour and the snark and I love Curran!  He's my newest shapeshifter boyfriend. :)

This audiobook also met my "Listen to a new-to-you author" category in the AAR Speaking of Audiobooks Listening Challenge.

Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews, narrated by Renee Raudman - A.  The second installment, we get more of Kate's background and more of Curran and we meet Julie and Raphael.  (I'm pretty happy with Raphael too - I must read the novella from Must Love Hellhounds which, I understand, is told from Andrea's perspective and is about her and Raphael getting together - oh and solving some magical crime of course!

Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews, narrated by Renee Raudman - A.  Even more Curran this time (yay!) and lots of humour and again, just excellent narration.  It will surprise no-one that I'm currently listening to Magic Bleeds. *grin*   I'll probably be sad for a while when I finish but there's a new book coming out in May so it's all good!!