Friday, June 20, 2014

Renee's Reading: 2014-05-24 through 2014-06-20, Part One

Books, books, and more books! Even though I've been reading a lot, I've been busy and stressed with the start of summer and such and so I haven't had time to write them up. I sat down to catch up a month's worth of reading and it ended up being way too much for one blog post. So I split it into two. You get part one this week and part two next week. And then hopefully I'll be a good girl and not slack on writing my book reviews in the future.

So, to get us started, I took a quick look at a geeky erotica novella, I started devouring another romance series, and I got a shiny new book that I think I'm going to have to read again right away because I just liked it that much and it's making all the other books on my TBR look bad.

The Lumberfox, by Ava Lovelace
Caught in Atlanta's Snowjam 2014, self-confessed geek Tara is rear-ended by the hottest guy she's ever met. Ryon is a beer brewer and restauranteur who fits the bill of what Tara and her friends call a "lumberfox": sartorial lumberjack style, cultivated facial hair, tattoos, and specialized tastes. When he invites Tara to spend the snowstorm in his nearby condo, she takes a gamble and slogs through the Hothlike blizzard, where she learns that a man who takes that much time with his mustache knows exactly what to do with his mouth.

I've had this novella hanging out on my TBR for a while. It was free and I downloaded it, but then I never really felt interested enough in the idea to actually read it. But I noticed it sitting there in the queue the other day and, since I had a few hours to kill, I decided to give it a whirl.

I was. . .  underwhelmed. The story was sexy enough, I suppose, and the jokes were funny. I like that the idea of geeks being sexy is getting more popular. I'm a geek myself, after all. But overall, I just wasn't drawn into this story. The premise was a little thin, in my opinion, and the characters didn't seem very real to me. I could sort of identify with Tara, though I didn't buy the fact that she would hop out of her car and follow a stranger home for a bunch of random sex, no matter how good looking, and Ryon didn't seem to have much development at all beyond being attractive.

This story was an okay way to kill a little time and provided a few chuckles, but in general, I found it sort of meh.


A Lot Like Love, by Julie James
THE FBI WANTS HER COOPERATION.

As the daughter of a billionaire and the owner of the city's top wine store, Jordan Rhodes is invited to the most exclusive parties in Chicago. But there's only one party the FBI wants to crash: the charity fundraiser of a famous restaurateur, who also happens to launder money for the mob. In exchange for her brother's release from prison, Jordan is going to be there--with a date supplied by the Bureau.

AGENT MCCALL JUST WANTS HER.

As the top undercover agent in Chicago, Nick McCall has one rule: never get personal. This "date" with Jordan Rhodes is merely an assignment--one they're both determined to pull off even if they can't be together for five minutes before the sarcasm and sparks begin to fly. But when Nick's investigation is compromised, he and Jordan have no choice but to pretend they're a couple, and what starts out as a simple assignment begins to feel a lot like something more. . . 

"Hey, look," Twitter whispered one afternoon. "There's this sexy little romance novel that people really seemed to love and it's on sale for 99 cents. You can totally spend 99 cents right? It's set in Chicago and you live there now. That's like a bonus! Plus it's one of those fake-boyfriend stories, and you know how much you enjoy those. . . "

I have got to stop following people who tweet about ebook sales. It's just dangerous. Because then I do things like download this book and love it so much I end up buying the entire series. Marketing, functioning as designed. Who knew?

As you may have surmised, I was impulsed into downloading this one because it came highly recommended and was on sale and sounded entertaining. And I loved it.

I don't normally read a lot of romantic suspense, because I really just don't enjoy the whole run for your life, the bad guy is coming to kill me, oh, hey, wait, you're hot, let's pause to have sex, oops, I got so caught up in all the wondrous orgasming that I forgot about the bad guy, the bad guy is coming to kill me again, back to the running for your life thing, with occasional pauses for more sex dynamic so many of them seem to have built in.

This story, happily, doesn't do that. The characters certainly know they're in danger at times, but most of the suspense element comes from the reader knowing more than they do. Nick and Jordan aren't pretending to be involved in some crazy desperate attempt to hide from a terrorist or serial killer or something; they're maintaining a cover for the sake of a comparatively benign money laundering investigation. They don't know the bad guy is an obsessive ass passing for a normal white-collar criminal. As such, it makes more sense to me that they would take time to do things like relax over a dinner together and flirt, and that gives the romance a more realistic feel.

I did find the ex-girlfriend angle to be a little too convenient. The voicemail sounded really forced and unnatural to me, and I didn't believe that she was just too stupid to realize what was going on. (Though if she is meant to be that dumb, I have a hard time believing she manages to string together coherent sentences at all. Or, more to the point, that Nick would have told her all about is undercover job.)

But even without all that, I didn't like it. Without getting too spoilery, I just didn't believe the coincidence that she happened to make that phone call, saying all the necessary names and job descriptions and such, at exactly that moment, in front of that open window. I understand that people sleep with stupid people sometimes and that coincidences happen sometimes, but I dislike it when something so constructed has such major repercussions for a plot.

But other than that, I found this story to be a really enjoyable read. I loved the relationship that built between Nick and Jordan and I also enjoyed their relationships with their families, particularly Jordan's with her brother. I'm so glad his is the next book in the series!


About that Night, by Julie James
HE'S PLAYING GAMES.

Though Rylann Pierce tried to fight the sparks she felt for billionaire heir Kyle Rhodes the night they met, their sizzling chemistry was undeniable. But after being stood up on their first date, Rylann never expected to see him again. So when she finds herself face-to-face with Kyle in a courthouse nine years later, she's stunned. More troubling to the beautiful assistant U.S. attorney is that she's still wildly attracted to him.

BUT SHE'S MAKING THE RULES.

Just released from prison, Kyle Rhodes isn't thrilled to be the star witness in a high-profile criminal case--but when Rylann comes knocking at his door, he finds she may be the one lawyer he can't say no to. Still as gorgeous and sharp-tongued as ever, she lays down the law: she doesn't mix business with pleasure. But Kyle won't give up on something he wants--and what he wants is the one woman he's never forgotten. . . 

After finishing A Lot Like Love and liking it so much, I was disconcerted to realize it was book 2 in a series. This left me with a dilemma. Did I go back and read book 1 before continuing, or did I just move forward to book 3 and come back around to book 1 at a later date? Normally going back to book 1 would be a no-brainer for me, but Kyle was such a compelling character in the little glimpses I got in A Lot Like Love, that I was too eager to read his story. So I went against my usual habits and picked up About that Night.

I'm so glad I did. I was right about Kyle. He's a great character and so was Rylann. I really enjoyed how James wrote Kyle's reactions to life after prison. He's brilliant and rich and confident and that could have combined to make him seem spoiled and whiney, but instead he just felt very real to me. He owned his mistakes and recognized that his experiences had changed him, but he also refused to let those mistakes ruin the rest of his life. He took his situation and completely turned it around and I loved watching that.

Rylann was fantastic too. So intense and so driven, but not cold. And I liked that there were real consequences for Rylann that she had to think through and accept if she wanted to pursue the relationship with Kyle. An assistant US attorney dating a high profile ex-con is not something that would just get overlooked, and I absolutely believed an ambitious woman like Rylann would have trouble accepting that situation. I'm glad that, while she didn't dwell unnecessarily on that conflict, James didn't just gloss it over either.

I was a little surprised by the structure of this novel though. A Lot Like Love was very clearly a story about one case and a romance that develops during that case. The investigation, as with most romantic suspense, is what drove the momentum of the story. Being part of a series, I expected this book to follow a similar pattern.

But the case that brings Rylann and Kyle together gets resolved fairly quickly. I looked up at Long-Suffering Husband at one point and said, "Huh. That's odd. This book just lost its McGuffin." That's not a bad thing, necessarily. I'm not saying every story about law enforcement/lawyers has to double as some kind of procedural drama. James did a good job of turning the focus to the relationship and letting it pull the story along instead, but the transition did throw me for a moment.


Love Irresistibly, by Julie James
HE'S USED TO GETTING WHAT HE WANTS

A former football star and one of Chicago's top prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cade Morgan will do anything to nail a corrupt state senator, which means he needs Brooke Parker's help. As general counsel for a restaurant company, she can get a bug to the senator's table at one of her five-star restaurants so the FBI can eavesdrop on him. All Cade has to do is convince Brooke to cooperate--and he’s not afraid to use a little charm, or the power of his office, to do just that.

AND WHAT HE WANTS IS HER.

A savvy businesswoman, Brooke knows she needs to play ball with the U.S. Attorney's office--even if it means working with Cade. No doubt there's a sizzling attraction beneath all their sarcastic quips, but Brooke is determined to keep things casual. Cade agrees--until a surprising turn of events throws his life into turmoil, and he realizes that he wants more than just a good time from the one woman with whom he could fall terrifyingly, irresistibly in love. . . 

This book confused me. It was good, but the blurb was misleading. I thought there was going to be more going on with the case and some resistance between the characters. Maybe that's just the way I read it, but it sounded to me like Cade would have to work for Brooke's cooperation and that they wouldn't necessarily work well together. Instead, she agrees to help him right away and the whole bugging operation is over and done with by the 25% mark.

As I said in my review of About that Night, I don't necessarily expect all novels about lawyers to be legal dramas, but this was really, really not. The characters happen to be lawyers, but that's got pretty much nothing to do with the story beyond the meet-cute.

(On a related note, I adore the fact that that term gets thrown into the series here and there. It makes me think of the little old man in The Holiday every time.)

That aside, I liked these characters. Brooke is a total workaholic who can't maintain a relationship and doesn't seem to know why. Cade is ambitious too, but his emotional world has just gotten knocked out of whack by the surprise appearance of a teenage half-brother he didn't even know he had. They're both looking for some kind of stable connection without realizing it and they manage to find each other. It was an interesting dynamic to watch develop.

Overall, it was a good book. I liked how Cade took care of her without pushing her too much. I liked how Brooke clearly isn't cut out for a casual fling but she tries so hard anyway because she thinks she needs, and I liked how she really takes control over the course of the story of what she wants out of her life and how she's going to get it. I thought the characters were good for each other, which always makes for an enjoyable read.


Skin Game, by Jim Butcher
Harry Dresden, Chicago's only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day. . .

Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it's something awful.

He doesn't know the half of it. . .

Mab has just traded Harry's skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains--led by one of Harry's most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone--to break into the highest-security vault in town so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever.

It's a smash-and-grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world--which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he's dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry.

Dresden's always been tricky, but he's going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess--assuming his own allies don't end up killing him before his enemies get the chance. . . 

Holy buckets of awesome, I loved this fleurking book!

I'm going to have to read it again. It's making all the rest of the books still in my TBR look bad. "Well, I've been waiting to read that book for a while, so I should give it a whirl. . . Or I could read Skin Game again!"

I had kind of put off the notion of reading it again, because I have some library books to finish up before the due dates come along and I really need to stay "on task", but now that I'm writing up this review, I'm back to desperately wanting to read it again.

I love Jim Butcher and the Harry Dresden books are an auto-buy for me, so I wasn't exactly surprised to like this book. But it's worth noting that I didn't expect to enjoy quite so much about it. This book was pretty much just made up of all the good things. Action, adventure, humor, romance, sex, geekiness, regrets, badass crazy magic, badass not-so-crazy magic, not-really-badass-but-still-pretty-crazy crazy magicm, sarcasm, angst, revenge, crossing, double crossing, triple crossing, far off places, daring swordfights, a prince in disguise. . .

Oops, sorry, I think I might have just been almost about to burst into a Disney musical number.

So, no, sorry, there is not a prince in disguise. But there is ALL THE REST OF THAT STUFF.

And it all worked. It's not like Butcher just dumped out a junk drawer full of tropes and clich├ęs all over the pages. This was a really well-written and engaging story and nothing in it struck me as there just to be there for the heck of it. It's just made of that much awesome.

As an addition to the whole Dresden Files series, Skin Game is just about perfect. I have talked before about how impressed I've been with the way Butcher has managed to create a continuously interesting character arc for Dresden without losing sight of the smaller story getting told within each installment. Skin Game is another perfect example of that. (I started to get into a deeper explanation of that, but then I deleted it, because I'm trying to keep this book review at a somewhat manageable length.)

Butcher brings so much to this story it just blew me away. There were times when I was just broken for Dresden, watching him try so hard to deal with everything he's been through. And times (chapter 14, I'm looking at you here) that I totally cracked up. And times when I was just breathless with excitement, unable to read fast enough because I needed to know what was going to happen next right now. I flew through this book and now I wish I hadn't because I'm bummed that it's over.

Tl;dr version: Read this book. It's amazing.


Have you read any of these? What did you think? Got anything else to recommend? I'm sure I'll get to it eventually, once I've read Skin Game six or seven more times.

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