31 January, 2014

Review: Thankless In Death by J.D. Robb

While many have given up on the In Death series I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. They’re a comfort read – the book equivalent of flipping to a favorite syndicated show and hoping for an episode you haven’t seen. I read In Death books to spend time in Eve’s world and check in with favorite characters. I’ve always appreciated how the series keeps it focus on the dead and the detectives, rarely lingering over the crimes themselves. Thankless In Death breaks this unspoken promise.

The killer here is a far more familiar figure than Eve has been dealing with lately. No clone plots, no multi generational vendetta. Eve’s chasing an angry Nice Guy while he murders everyone who failed to appreciate him. We spend far too much time in Nice Guy’s head. When Eve stands and pictures the crime scene, we already know what happened. There’s no revelation in her thoughts, only reruns for the reader. There’s no mystery, the killer and his motivation were shown up front. I spent far more time with the murderer than I wanted to. His contemplation of innovative torture techniques was the opposite of comfort reading.

Eve was unsatisfying as well. Thankless In Death finds Eve stagnant. She has cast aside career ambition, feeling that she is best suited for the rank and role she plays. This limits her character. An Eve who looks at the murder, bangs her husband, reflects on murdering her dad and then locks the bad guy up is a disposable Eve. Expanding Eve’s world, increasing her personal responsibilities, these are the elements that have sustained In Death through a shocking number of installments. Eve has become a media figure in her own right, Rourke’s Cop. She’s grown complacent with that status. She has universal and abundant praise from those around her. No longer fighting for worth, Eve has earned it through her actions and connections. What’s left for Eve (and the reader) to explore? With a new In Deathright around the corner I’ll give the series another installment. If Eve isn’t interested in moving on, I might have to do it for both of us.

*This review originally appeared at Love In the Margins.

23 January, 2014

Review: I'll Catch You by Farrah Rochon

Rameau's take on Farrah Rochon lined up with a free promo for I'll Catch You. Kimani's haven't worked for me in the past, but this was a wonderful book. Payton is a former attorney looking to build a new career in sports management. Cedric is an NFL player with an image problem. Rochon quickly establishes both their personalities with a light and easy humor. Take this moment where Cedric calls out her aggressive courting of him as a client.
Payton felt her face heating. Listening to a detailing of her activities over the past few weeks, she thought she did sound a little stalkerish. He leaned in closer and read her press pass. “And now you’re pretending to be a reporter. Where’s Susan Renee Sutphen? Locked up in the trunk of your car?”
Rochon, Farrah (2013-12-01). I'll Catch You (Kimani Romance) (p. 11). Kimani Press. Kindle Edition.
Payton loves the NFL. If she were a man, she'd be playing the game. This isn't something that makes her bitter. She's caught up in the romance of it all. The crowds, the money, the plays, everything about American football captivates her. Cedric enjoys his sport, but he's more about paying his bills than worshipping the stadium. Having made some PR mistakes, he's in a precarious professional situation. An untried female agent seems like a mistake to top of all his earlier mistakes, but Cedric is out of options.
I'm not a fan of the NFL. My game is futbol, so I was expecting to feel disconnected from the sports centric sections of the book. Rochon brought me into Payton's love for the game in such a way that I began to wonder if I've been selling the NFL short. I enjoyed the tight focus on her central couple and the career choices Payton makes. At one point her professional ambitions are incompatible with her personal desires. Where most authors would have Payton concede her goals, Rochon allows her to value her career as much as Cedric does his own. I closed the book wanting to hang out with both characters longer. If they lived in my town I'd be bringing them baked goods and party invites.
All of my fawning aside, a major element of I'll Catch You disappointed me. Cedric has a twin brother with cerebral palsy. Derek is nothing but a prop. He is used to show Cedric as a sacrificing hero instead of a selfish athlete. Although Cedric casually buys tickets for others, he never brings Derek to his own games. Keeping his brother hidden, Cedric makes career choices based on Derek's medical needs. Although the author describes Derek as having cerebral palsy, there must be mental impairment or the following scene is unexplainable.
“I... have a... girlfriend,” Derek proclaimed. “You do?” “Yes. I’m... gonna... gonna marry her.” “That right?” Cedric chuckled. He leaned over and lifted his brother’s other leg up.
Rochon, Farrah (2013-12-01). I'll Catch You (Kimani Romance) (pp. 211-212). Kimani Press. Kindle Edition.
Cedric's humor at the concept of his brother being emotionally involved with another person infantilizes Derek. His twin brother is not just disabled, he is something to care for and care about but not consider. Rochon has established Derek as NFL obsessed.
And his brother’s love for football had no bounds. When he’d been drafted into the NFL, Cedric knew he was playing for both of them.
Rochon, Farrah (2013-12-01). I'll Catch You (Kimani Romance) (p. 31). Kimani Press. Kindle Edition.
The care center says watching Cedric play is the highlight of Derek's life. Why has Derek never experienced the game in person? If Derek is the most important person in Cedric's life, why is he hidden from Cedric's friends? Payton is touched when Cedric reveals his secret to her, that he has a twin, that the twin is disabled, that Cedric's NFL career is to fund his care. What is Derek if not a burden in this scenario?  Payton never calls out Cedric for treating Derek as less than a fully present person in his life. She, like Cedric, sees only Cedric's guilt and love. Derek is there to make Cedric a hero, not to be his brother. Derek doesn't counsel Cedric, nor does Cedric share his concerns with Derek. I wanted to give I'll Catch You a perfect grade, but it's treatment of disability held me back.
* This review originally appeared at Love In the Margins.

15 January, 2014

Review: No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean

Sarah MacLean keeps improving, but No Good Duke Goes Unpunished hits some of the same buttons One Good Earl Deserves A Lover did. Also, there's a black guy in this one but he's not going to be the romantic lead of the next book. He's only there for (would it be unfair to say color?) background depth. I sound snarky (and I am) but I appreciated the acknowledgement that the world these characters live in would have some diversity. I held off reviewing No Good Duke Goes Unpunished because the author wanted it to be approached without spoilers and my review is going to be spoiller-riffic. 
The major revelation (of course) is contained in the epilogue. Who is the mysterious Chase? You'll shrug as the heavily foreshadowed revelation is made. I suspected the answer in Book One (felt pretty certain in Book Two) but was thrown off by the Twitterverse reaction. I'm not going to directly reveal this one, but other things I discuss may obliquely do so. Again, stop here to maintain your ignorance before reading the book.
Temple, the powerful fighter known as The Killer Duke, is the hero of this one. Mara Lowe, the women he believes he murdered, steps up to be the heroine. Temple is offered his old life back, the proof of his innocence in Mara's distinctive features. Mara has no former friends, no extended family. There is only Mara and her brother, a man who has taunted and tormented Temple since the alleged murder. Turned out by his father, Temple made his living fighting on the streets before rising to power as an owner of The Fallen Angel nightclub. Nights find him boxing the ruined patrons whose gambling losses fund the club. Days mean distant management of his ducal holdings. Temple is inconsistent but resonant. I found him to be the most fully realized of MacLean's Scoundrels.
Mara could have been a very strong heroine. She was marred for me by the inconsistency of her story. By that I don't mean the lies she tells Temple, rather the trajectory her life takes after he wakes up covered in blood. While I will give Mara her carefully planned disappearance, her reappearance has several difficult elements. If we accept her current career, we have to accept the book's explanation for how she came to have it. If we accept that, then her circumstances when we meet make little sense. Where did her backers go? Why are they unable to assist her in any fashion? How does a woman able to exploit any situation to ensure her own survival not leverage her multitude of secrets into support payments? If we accept that Mara is alone, with no former friends or extended family except her brother, then her career is a major leap of faith.
Up to the final section of the book the relationships between Mara and Temple, Mara and her brother, Temple and his partners, are all solid. An opportunity to explore sudden disability is squandered, but probably wisely. There's the requisite Good With Kids scene, the Jealous Without Cause bit (quickly dismissed) and a nice evolution of the two coming to understand how they both participated in a defining moment in their lives. I could root for Mara and Temple to work things out. Both their backstories made sense. Mara enjoys self harming as much as Temple. Where he fights in the ring, she fights herself. Everything is Mara's fault, everything was caused by Mara. She never stands up and says "wait a minute, that part is all you" without quickly adding "but you wouldn't have done that if not for what I did." Like Chase, I found that aspect of her personality tedious.
Where it all goes wrong for me is during the Near Death Experience. (With the well known Rapid Healing Ability most  NDE characters have.) There is so much talking. So much. Temple's partners are willing to kill for him, but they never do. They do precious little. Each takes their turn standing on stage to loudly proclaim their devotion, followed by almost no action. It's chest thumping for the hell of it. Women save the day repeatedly, almost ludicrously. We tip from only men acting to only women acting as the men flutter about frowning and missing all the points. Soon Mara is busting through windows and disowning the brother she was protecting moments before.
This entire scene makes no sense at all. Mara's brother was the cause of the NDE. The club members have been searching for him with amazing inefficiency. There are any number of charges they could bring against him, if they chose not to murder him on sight. Yet he enters The Fallen Angel freely to confront Temple. Absolutely no part of this makes sense. None of it should happen. The staff and owners stand by, leaving only Mara available to save the pointlessly endangered day. I was face palming all the way through. MacLean had already strained my patience by Temple handwaving a major betrayal by Chase. Chase compounds that betrayal through further actions that put Mara in the Save The Day position.  My "Dude, Really?" trigger flipped over to "DUDE! REALLY?!" Mara and Temple should both abandon everyone they know and never make a friend again. They completely suck at judging people. Anyway, read it but be ready for the Supergirl moments and lower your expectations that The Scoundrels do anything but thump their chests whilst bellowing.
* This review originally appeared at Love In The Margins and NGDGU inspired a spoiler filled rant as well. 

10 January, 2014

Review: the Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan

I am aware Courtney Milan's The Countess Conspiracy has been heavily reviewed. It's at the top of everyone's list for Best Book of 2013. (Save yourself some time, it's good and you should buy it.) Unlike most I had some issues with The Countess Conspiracy that kept me from declaring this her best book ever, ever, ever. It's a good book, it's one of her better books, but did I cry? Not even a sniffle. Every superlative I've ladled over Milan stands and is justified by The Countess Conspiracy. Long may she swim in the butter boat of my adoration. Here's the thing, I didn't want Violet and Sebastian together.
From the prior books in the series it seemed likely they would be together, and for the very reasons that unfolded. Certainly the Violet and Sebastian of this book were perfectly suited and should be together. Absolutely. But what if Violet truly didn't want him? What if Violet deeply treasured his friendship but just wasn't that into him? That was my Violet. I'd toyed with her being interested in Free. I'd toyed with her being truly asexual. I'd considered any number of paths for Violet to walk that I had to abandon to appreciate the path Milan's Violet was on, a path my Violet had already rejected. The real Violet is totally into Sebastian and she absolutely should be. He's divine. I adored the way he had to slowly realize that he was actually just as clever as people thought, despite feeling like a fraud. I applauded the way their lifelong friendship allowed them to see each other's family clearly while giving the wisdom to hold silent. Their miscommunications were appropriate. The relationships with their friends and family was as richly detailed and considered as their relationship with each other. This was a wonderful look at a woman recovering from low expectations and a man from high. Everything about this book is what I want when I want to read a romance.
Which brings us to the close. I've been having a lot of trouble with the final act of romance books lately. Part of it is them, part of it is me. I feel, while reading, as though the end is not something I've arrived at slowly and naturally. Instead a sudden burst of speed occurs as we near the finish. Plot threads start flying, knots are tied,  speeches are hastily assembled, and everything is As It Should Be when our couple embraces on the final page. I feel all askew. I wanted to look out the window a bit longer, I don't understand why we had such a rush and bother. I've become a romance dowager, always too hot or too cold and rarely just right.
At the end of The Countess Conspiracy it's Violet rushing about. I can see her rapid embrace of a newly perceived future but it's all just too easy. Everyone listens to her because she's Violet and the book is ending. I don't want to reveal all the steps to the finish line, if I had my way you'd read the book knowing nothing at all about it when it begins. While Violet deserves her happy ending, this ending was too incandescent for me. There's only one dim spot on her horizon and it's a smudge she can fairly easily live with. Please ignore my curmudgeonly ways and enjoy The Countess Conspiracy for the multitudes of things it gets right. Milan is my favorite author in the field.
* This review originally appeared at Love In The Margins.

06 January, 2014

Review: The One She Was Warned About by Shoma Narayanan

Shoma Narayanan was suggested to me by Suleikha Snyder, and it's a good match of author and reader. I fell completely in love with the heroine of The One She Was Warned About. Shweta is professionally confident but personally uncertain. On the edge of pushing for marriage to a man more suitable for her father to marry, she runs into a childhood frenemy. Nikhil is the boy next door made good. Once an illegitimate young troublemaker, he is now a successful business owner with ties to the entertainment industry. It's a boy next door story.
Shweta is less than impressed with Nikhil's success. While she's pleased for him, she is frustrated by his refusal to set aside the pain of his past and appreciate what he has. Shweta does not see Nikhil's return to her life as a lottery ticket she dare not misplace. She sees Nikhil as a new and interesting option. While her own insecurities and hot temper drive some of their disagreements, the main source of their conflict is Nikhil. Until he has moved beyond his childish view of his parents and his life, Shweta cannot trust him as her partner.
In this image of a man and woman embracing in a hammock, the man's skin is lighter than in the cover above.This sweet romance was consistent in characterization and tone. The office relationships were as believable as the family ones. There were a few points in the book that felt like they had been included for the western or white reader. Narayanan explains general customs at Diwali in one point, yet ignores them at another. It threw me out of the book to have the author explaining something that would be so basic to the characters. Romances with a white focus do not explain our common holiday practices. An author might indicate how her characters deviate from or cling to the norm, but a full explanation is unusual. Aside from those awkward moments, The One She Was Warned About caused me to purchase more by the author as soon as I closed it.
on a yellow backound a man stand behind a pensive woman, embracing her. We see only their heads and shoulders.
I came across several versions of cover art for The One She Was Warned About with interesting differences. The first cover (top left) is for the American market. To my eyes, it appears Nikhil has been lightened from the Mills & Boon version made for the UK (center right). It could be a combination of the dark title coloring and the reduced surface area, but the Mills & Boon cover more clearly indicates a non-white couple to me. The version for the  South Asian market (lower left) goes in a different direction. Instead of their faces being completely hidden by the yellow hat, only their faces are visible on a yellow background. The cover gives me a different expectation of the book. It seems menacing. I would expect this book to contain significant danger for the heroine and possibly include domestic violence. There's a YA after school special vibe going on. It's interesting to me that this reads as a romance cover in other markets.
 * This review originally appeared at Love In The Margins
Final Assessment: Solid category read with an engaging heroine. A-
Source: Purchased copy