19 September 2016

Here Today, Gone Tamale (A Taste of Texas Mystery, Book 1)

REBECCA ADLER

Synopsis from back cover: After losing her newspaper job in Austin and having her former fiancé unfriend her on Facebook, Josie Callahan scoops up her Chihuahua, Lenny, and slinks back to Broken Boot, Texas. Maybe working as head waitress at Milagro—her aunt and uncle’s Tex-Mex restaurant—isn’t exactly living the dream, but it is a fresh start.

And business is booming as tourists pour into Broken Boot for its famous Wild West Festival. But when a local jewelry designer is found strangled outside Milagro after a tamale-making party, Josie’s reporter instincts kick in. As suspects pile up and alibis crack faster than taco shells, Josie needs to wrap up this case tighter than her tía’s tortillas—before another victim calls for the check…

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Berkley, 2015.

How acquired: Bought.

My thoughts:  When I was offered an ARC of the second book in this series, I had to rush out and buy the first book so I could read them in order. I believe these books are what are commonly called “Cozy Mysteries”, a genre I have no real experience with as of yet. But HERE TODAY, GONE TAMALE was a good introduction.

The story is told in first person POV by Josie Callahan, an ex-newspaper reporter whose career pretty much went down in flames. She moved back home and works in her aunt and uncle's Mexican restaurant, and she and her dog, Lenny, live in an apartment above the restaurant. When a local jewelry maker is found dead outside the restaurant, her reporter instincts can't help but kick in, and she makes it her mission to solve the murder, despite the fact that the local police would prefer she mind her own business.

Josie is a fun, fresh and somewhat self-deprecating narrator. She describes her friends, family, and other townsfolk in vivid colorful detail, which is good because there are a lot of characters to keep up with. Her love and loyalty to both her family and the town shine through. The restaurant, Milagro, sounded like a place I'd enjoy visiting. I definitely began to crave some good Mexican food, especially tamales (and I generally prefer enchiladas), while reading.
Some people catch all the breaks, and the rest of us eat too many tamales.

I particularly enjoyed Josie's interactions with her ex-boyfriend's beauty queen girlfriend, as well as with her aunt's mother-in-law, Senora Mari. Not to mention the stoic Deputy Quint Lightfoot, who Josie's best friend practically falls all over and who Senora Mari practically tries to pimp Josie out to. 
Of course,” Senora Mari continued, “if you decide you want to try something new before you settle down and have babies, you could ask Josie. She'd give you a run for your money.”
Great. Now I was a racehorse.

The mystery at times was a little confusing to me, though I usually managed to catch up again within a page or two. That probably had more to do with me being tired all the time and only able to concentrate for short stretches at a time than with the writing and/or plotting.


Fun and breezy, despite being about a murder investigation. I'm looking forward to the second book. 

05 September 2016

Friction


Synopsis from back cover: Following the death of his wife, Crawford Hunt, a Texas Ranger, fell into a downward spiral that left him relegated to desk work and with his five-year-old daughter in the custody of her grandparents. But Crawford has cleaned up his act and now the fate of his family lies with Judge Holly Spencer. Ambitious and confident, Holly temporarily occupies the bench of her recently deceased mentor. With an election upcoming, she must prove herself worthy of making her judgeship permanent. Every decision is high-stakes. When a masked gunman barges into the courtroom during the guardianship hearing, Crawford reacts instinctually, saving Holly from a bullet. But his heroism soon takes on the taint of recklessness. The cloud over him grows even darker after he uncovers a horrifying truth about the courtroom gunman and realizes that the unknown person behind the shooting remains at large – and a threat.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Grand Central Publishing, 2015.

How acquired: Borrowed from my mother. I usually buy Sandra Brown's books as soon as they come out, but somehow I missed this one.

My thoughts:  I knew I would love this book because I've come to expect that from Sandra Brown. She writes incredible heroes, men who often appear on the surface to be dangerous, threatening, villainous, but who in reality are good, honorable, charismatic men who love fiercely and take huge risks to protect others, to fight the real bad guys, to make justice prevail.

Crawford Hunt is a Texas Ranger who is in a custody battle with his in-laws, who have raised his young daughter since his wife died. Holly Spencer is the judge presiding over the custody proceedings, but before she can give her ruling a gunman bursts into the courtroom and begins shooting. Crawford throws himself on top of Holly to protect her, and their lives become intertwined from that moment on.

FRICTION was very much more Crawford's story than Holly's, which was fine by me because I adored him. I liked Holly too, of course, but for much of the book she was more of a secondary character as Crawford dug deeper and deeper into the mystery of who the shooter was, who hired him, and why. The mystery unravels slowly, and then ravels, and then unravels some more. However, the last chapter, after the mystery of the gunman was revealed, was a little bit of a let down, neatly and abruptly tying up all the remaining loose ends almost as an afterthought.

If you're already a fan of Sandra Brown, you'll enjoy this book. If you're new to her writing, you'll probably still enjoy it, and then you should seek out LETHAL, MEAN STREAK, and THE WITNESS, which are her best books in my opinion.

 

Mini Reviews


HEIDI, by JOHANNA SPYRI

Somehow I reached my fifties without ever having read this children's classic! And it is such a delightful read. I was of course already familiar with the story (who isn't?), but I very much enjoyed reading it. I was a little surprised when Heidi first goes to live with her grandfather, as I expected him to be much more ogre like, frowning, taciturn, etc. I'm thinking maybe he was portrayed more that way on screen? Anyway, classics are classics for a reason, and HEIDI is a wonderful story.  




TEEN IDOL, by Meg Cabot

Filled with Meg Cabot's trademark humor and teen pathos. Like The Princess Diaries, the plot is a bit fairytaleish, as a mega movie star decides to spend two weeks at a typical midwestern high school as research for an upcoming movie role. He's undercover as a transfer student, and Jenny, a high school junior and secret author of the newspaper's Ask Annie column, has been recruited by the staff to be his student guide. She has to help him blend in while keeping his true identity a secret.

It's not all just light fluffy fun though. The story touches on the serious issue of not just bullying, but of standing by and doing nothing to try and stop the bullying. Through Luke's eyes Jen begins to see the things that go on in a new light, and by the end she has grown as a person and a human being. 



GO FOR THE GOAL: A CHAMPION'S GUIDE TO WINNING IN SOCCER AND LIFE, by Mia Hamm

During her school years my youngest daughter was very much into soccer, and this was one of her books from those days. I'm donating it to a school, and read through parts of it. A lot of it is technical and motivational instructions for young girls about the game and the different positions and different moves, and I skimmed over those parts and just focused on the more personal stories about Mia's own life and her childhood and experiences. I enjoyed those parts, but the other parts were boring to me, which is to be expected as I am not the intended demographic for this book. 

27 August 2016

Dust

BEAUX COOPER

Synopsis from Goodreads: Some people seek marriage counseling; others find wisdom in horse manure. Austen St. Johns has taken up a shovel.

When her marriage transitions from blushing newlyweds to people who merely co-exist, Austen realizes perhaps she's responsible for her misery.

Desiring change, she leaves Oregon for the open plains of a Wyoming ranch where she discovers through love of self how she can save her marriage.

Stats for my copy: Digital download, Tirgearr Publishing, 2016.

How acquired: Instafreebie.

My thoughts:  I struggled to stay interested in this book. The writing is pretty wonderful, almost lyrical and poetical at times. I think my main issue was that I just could not relate to Austen at all.

After just a few short years of marriage, Austen feels like she needs to find herself, so she leaves her husband behind and takes a job on a ranch in Wyoming. It's hard work, cleaning stables and the dining hall, mucking manure, pitching hay, among a bunch of cowboys who look down on her, snicker behind her back, and sometimes play practical jokes on her. But her vast knowledge of herbs and flowers and their medicinal properties soon earns her the respect of her coworkers, who begin calling her “Doc”. Although she's not close to being a doctor.

In the meantime, she does a lot of soul searching about herself, her goals in life, her wants and desires, and her relationship with her husband. They're not separated, in the legal sense, just apart for awhile. She comes to the realization that she must love herself, and eventually she does find herself.


My favorite part of the book was towards the end when her husband comes to the ranch. But most of the time I was just...bored. 

14 August 2016

Wild (Amber Eyes, Book 1 and Book 2)

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS WHAT SOME MAY CONSIDER SPOILERS


Synopsis from Goodreads:

Golden Eyes
When Duncan finds an injured cheetah, questions about how she wound up in his mountains—and going after the poachers pursuing her—can wait. First he brings her home. Then he checks in on his patient, and finds not a cat, but a gorgeous, very naked woman.

Aliyah Carter spent the past six months trapped in cheetah form, a prisoner of the poachers who took her to use in an illegal exotic-game hunt. Finally she’s escaped, but now she faces another problem. A devastatingly sexy sheriff who knows her secret.

Amber Eyes
The beautiful, timid cougar that appears at Hunter and Jericho’s remote cabin breaks their quiet routine, warms their hearts—and rouses their curiosity. Why would this wild creature want to form a friendship with humans?

Kaya has survived a lifetime of isolation in her shifted form. Yet there’s something about these two men that draws her to embrace her human side. In the shelter of their love, she blooms. Then they are called away on a mission that goes terribly wrong. Now pregnant and alone, Kaya’s only hope is that the men who love her will find their way home.

Warning: This title contains explicit sex, adult language, sweet lovin’, multiple partners and ménage a trois.

Stats for my copy: Trade paperback, Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2010.

How acquired: Borrowed from a friend.

My thoughts:  Maya Banks is one of those authors I see all the time, but have never actually read until WILD. I really enjoyed her take on shapeshifters, which has always been one of my least favorite tropes in the paranormal genre.

The first story, “Golden Eyes”, is about Aliyah, who is a cheetah when she's not a woman. While in cheetah form in Africa, Aliyah is captured by poachers, who are bringing wild animals to the Rockies and then releasing them to be hunted. Duncan, the local sheriff, is out investigating sightings of a tiger and a lion when he comes across the injured cheetah, and rescues her from the poachers. I enjoyed the story, and the characters, especially Duncan. Their relationship built up pretty fast, and almost bordered on the fated mates trope, which I'm not crazy about. As per the warning on the synopsis, there was quite a bit of explicit sex, and I loved seeing how Duncan reacted to Aliyah, surprising himself with his own fierceness. In between the beddings, they track down and shut down the poaching ring and it all ends on a nice HEA.

Amber Eyes” was very different. The heroine is Kaya, who is a cougar. She was mentioned in “Golden Eyes”, as she's Aliyah's sister, who disappeared when they were young children. Unknown to her family, she'd been captured, and eventually managed to escape, but by the time she found her way home her family had moved away, and she thought she'd been abandoned and was unwanted. She's been living on her own in the mountains, spending most of her time in animal form, since then. Hunter and Jericho live in a remote cabin, and are a bit of a mystery. They've loved and lost a woman together, but to honor her memory they carry on with their work, which they don't ever talk about, and all we know is they could be called away for an assignment at a moment's notice.

Amber Eyes” had so much more actual story to it – there is no sex until at least the halfway point if I remember correctly. While Aliyah was cautious and wary lest her secret get out, Kaya is much more so. Having not lived among humans since she was a child, she's much more terrified of being discovered and put in a cage. She's drawn to the cabin, drawn to the two men, and has been watching them from a safe distance for a long time, unbeknownst to them. It isn't until she has an injured paw that she finally becomes brave enough to actually approach them.

With Kaya we get a lot of internal dialogue as she worries about being discovered, worries about surviving, worries about Hunter and Jericho knowing her secret, worries about whether or not they want her, especially Hunter who is more standoffish. In the beginning the two men were almost interchangeable for me, in that I had trouble keeping up with which one was which. I liked them both well enough, but not as much as I liked Duncan.

My heart broke for Kaya over and over, as her tragic past and angtsy feelings were revealed. I became much more vested in her story than I had with Aliyah. The pacing of the relationship between Kaya and the men was much slower than the one between Aliyah and Duncan. Hunter and Jericho have loved the same woman before, and while they shared her, it was never a smooth and comfortable relationship because she never truly trusted the relationship. They both want Kaya, but they're reluctant to go through that heartbreak again.

Lots of feels here. Eventually the men must leave for an assignment, and are gone much longer than anticipated. When they are all finally reunited, I teared up. Then Kaya and Aliyah are reunited, and I cried a bit. And then Kaya is finally reunited with her parents, and I blubbered like a baby. So much emotion packed into the last thirty pages or so!


Golden Eyes” is an enjoyable, sexy story. “Amber Eyes” is a wonderful and touching and sweet character study. And Maya Banks has a new fan. 

06 August 2016

Whispering Rock (Virgin River, Book 3)


Synopsis from back cover:

Virgin River became a safe haven for Sacramento prosecutor Brie Sheridan after she nearly lost her life at the hands of a crazed criminal. Though she still has fears she can't escape, she also has someone who wants to show her just what it means to trust again.

A decorated marine reservist, LAPD officer Mike Valenzuela was badly wounded in the line of duty. Twice divorced, he secretly longs for the kind of commitment and happiness his marine buddies have found – a woman who can tie up his heart forever.

Mike will do anything to help Brie free herself from painful memories. Passionate, strong and gentle, he vows to give back to her what she's so selflessly given him – her heart, and with it, a new beginning.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Harlequin MIRA, 2007.

How acquired: Bought.

My thoughts:  I loved the first two Virgin River books, and the first book is still my favorite so far. Some of the best scenes in this one were between Jack and Mel, the hero/heroine of the first book.

We met both Brie and Mike in the previous book. Brie is Jack's younger sister, a tenacious state prosecutor who has made a career out of sending rapists and other criminals up the river. But she lost her last case, and a serial rapist walked. And then he attacked Brie and raped her. And now her entire life has fallen apart.

Mike is part of Jack's band of brothers and one of his best friends. An LAPD cop working the gangs division, he was shot down in the previous book and badly wounded. He came to Virgin River to recuperate. He's known Jack's little sister for ages, but he never made a move on her – she was happily married back then, plus there's the whole best friend's sister thing.

While Mike and Brie didn't resonate with me quite the way Jack and Mel did, or Preacher and Paige from the second book, I was still quite mesmerized with the story. As with the other books, lots of other Virgin River residents are woven in and out of the story, including characters we've already met and new characters. I got very excited halfway through the book when one of my favorites, the illegal marijuana grower, made an appearance, but to my disappointment he was only observed for a few minutes at a distance by Mike, and did not turn up again.

There's a wonderful birthing scene where we see Mel, a midwife, in action. And when Mel realizes she is pregnant again, her reaction to that, and Jack's reaction to her reaction, were a lot of fun to read. And in the last quarter or so, I cried several times.


I think this may be my favorite series now, after Outlander of course.

30 July 2016

Kink


Synopsis from back cover:

SEX, LIES, AND BONDAGE TAPE

Clayton's one hunk of a musician. A pinup hottie for squealing teens everywhere. And he's gay, Kelly Burton discovers when she sneaks into his dressing room for an autograph, but gets a peep show instead. But Kelly's soon distracted: a bouncer has found her. A bouncer with pecs of steel, a six-pack, and sinewy arms. After a scolding, the bouncer decides to have his wicked way with the naughty-but-eager groupie. And what follows is a night of passion, hard-rock style...

WATCH ME

Some people have coffee. Some have tea. But the only thing that really wakes Bethany Mack up in the morning is sex. Too bad marriage to Grant has settled into a sex-starved routine. That is, until she spies a hot roofer next door. Broad, sexy shoulders: check. A muscular chest you could nuzzle all day: check. And under those jeans, well, the thought just makes her weak. So she puts on a little show for him through the window, letting her inhibitions loose, and discovers a naughty new addiction. But how will her husband react when he discovers just how far a desperate housewife will go for some lovin' from him?

Stats for my copy: Trade paperback, The Berkley Publishing Group, 2007.

How acquired: Borrowed from a friend.

My thoughts:  The first story is “Sex, Lies and Bondage Tape”, by Saskia Walker. When one of Kelly's roommates is injured skiing and unable to attend a concert, she gives her ticket to Kelly. While Kelly enjoys the concert, she's not quite as gaga over the rock star Clayton as her friends are, but at the end of the concert she decides to sneak backstage and try to get his autograph for her roommate. Of course she gets caught and is carried out by security, aka Tommy. Literally, as in Tommy swings her up over his shoulder and carries her out, giving her bottom a couple of smacks on the way. Tommy thinks Kelly is just another groupie, and one of his personal rules is he doesn't hook up with groupies. But when he realizes that Kelly seems to be enjoying his manhandling of her, he ramps it up a notch, and they end up spending the night together in his hotel room.

Being a novella, there isn't a lot of time for true character development, but I enjoyed what little we did get. Kelly has issues dating back to her father abandoning her mother when she was young, and Tommy thinks Kelly settled for him when she couldn't get Clayton. Neither of them are planning to start a relationship when they hook up for the night, so afterwards there's a lot of internal dialogue as they each explore their own doubts and feelings. In between some pretty hot bouts of sex, there's Kelly running all over town trying to track Tommy down, and then later Tommy trying to track Kelly down.
What is it with you two? You shag, you say good-bye, and then you realize you haven't got each other's phone number?”

The writing is good, the characters are likable, and while the plot may be a little unrealistic, I don't read these books for reality, and this story was a nice way to while away part of an afternoon.

The second story is “Watch Me”, by Sasha White. This one started out a little slower for me. Bethany's husband Grant has become immersed in his work after a promotion, and she's feeling neglected. Then she inadvertently discovers the joys of teasing strangers in public, from giving little peep shows to masturbating on a bus. Exhibitionism and masturbation are two of my least favorite tropes, for lack of a better word, and here they both are in one story. But eventually Grant catches her, and while his initial reaction was anger and storming off in a huff, his later response was smoking hot and got my attention right along with Bethany's.

This story was told in first person POV, so we only got insight into Bethany's thoughts and feelings, as she grappled with missing her husband's attention, and then getting his attention and loving it but still feeling that under the surface things were not yet right between them. I would've loved for this story to be a full length novel as it ended way too soon. Or too late, as I sat up until midnight last night reading. The resolution between them, Grant opening up about his feelings, came rather abruptly, and I would've loved to see some more exploration – and action – before everything was neatly wrapped up. But the resolution was satisfying and left no doubts of the couple having their HEA.


The back cover blurb is a little misleading, as both stories had more depth and plot to them than I had anticipated, which is a good thing.