This review was originally posted at Wicked Lil Pixie
on February 5, 2013

If you’ve read my recent review of the Cut & Run series, you’ll know that I recently have ventured into M/M books. Thanks to our very own Magnolia, Pam, I read Warrior’s Cross between books 4 & 5 of the Cut & Run series, and I’m so glad I did. Not only did I enjoy book 5 a lot more, I am so grateful I didn’t miss this wonderful story.

The book starts out with the mysterious Tuesday Night gentleman at the restaurant where Cameron is head waiter. This mystery man is obviously friends with the owner, however he always sits in Cam’s section and he never speaks. Until tonight. Thus begins the story of Cam and Julian.

Cam is a quiet, slightly introverted waiter. He feels he’s nothing special, and has a bit of a crush on his mysterious diner. Julian is dark and, well, mysterious, and has a crush on his waiter. As we watch them fall for each other and develop a relationship, you begin to realize how much Julian NEEDS Cam. Without him, it seems Julian will descend into this dark pit and will never have happiness. While Cam always worries about his own heart, as he should, you always get the sense that even if Cam and Julian broke up, Cam would eventually be okay. Maybe not happy, but at least living a normal life. You never get that sense with Julian. If Cam leaves, Julian will never recover.

While it’s easy to love Cam, I fell HARD for Julian. He just absolutely breaks your heart. There’s a scene which takes place towards the end of the book right outside the restaurant. It’s beautifully written and practically cinematic. I could see it as if it was a movie playing in my head. While I have no problems visualizing when reading, this scene was so well done I could see and hear every moment of it. After you’ve read the book I suggest going to Ms. Roux’s website. She has a section there for playlists, and the song she chose for that climactic scene in front of the restaurant really was the perfect choice. I often disagree with an author’s choice of a particular song, but in this case it was dead on. I went back and had to re-read the scene and it just enriched the emotional impact of that moment that much more.

I have to say, this book is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Maybe it was the combination of Cam and Julian and how well they fit. Maybe it was how I fell for Cam and fell harder for Julian. Maybe it was the fantastic and seamless writing of the team of Ms. Roux and Ms. Urban, but whatever it is, this book stuck with me long after I turned the last page. This morning, a few weeks after finishing the book and after having written the bulk of this review, I picked it up again to reread parts of it just because. This book gets a full 5 stars from me and has immediately been marked as an all-time favorite.

Rating: 5 Stars

Here at FishWithSticks you can read my blog, see what I’ve thought about the books I’ve recently read and/or reviewed, check out what I’m knitting, or just generally enjoy swimming through those bits and bobs of my life I choose to share.

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Lynda the Guppy
aka the Fish With Sticks

This review was originally posted at Wicked Lil Pixie
on November 4, 2012

I want to apologize to all those “paper only” readers out there. I’m sorry! I’m woefully behind in my reviews, so this book is out of mass paperback distribution. I’m sure you can still get it from places like Harlequin.com or Amazon, and of course it’s readily available in digital format.

I LOVED this book. Actually, let me be clear. I LOVED this hero. You all know I’m a sucker for a good alpha hero, and I love the professional sports heroes, and boy does Mark deliver on all counts! We first “meet” Mark while Rainey watches a video of a bar fight. Mark is the coach for the fictional Mammoths hockey team, and they had just lost the Stanley Cup to the Anaheim Ducks in a controversial call. Both sets of players decide to take out their issues in a nice bar fight that the Mammoths players start.

On the tape, Mark’s eyes narrowed in on the fight as he walked fearlessly into the fray, pulling his players out of the pile as though they weighed nothing. A fist flew near his face and he deflected it, leveling the sender of said fist a long, hard look.

The guy fell backwards trying to get away.

“That’s the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen,” Lena murmered, watching the clip over Rainey’s shoulder.

Yes. Yes, it was. I’m hooked. How about you?

I liked that Ms. Shalvis didn’t do the usual, in that Mark was a coach, and not a player. She also managed to separate Mark (and 3 of his players) from the rest of the team and their usual lifestyle in a way that was believable. It didn’t feel contrived in any way.

There was outside conflict, of course, but Ms. Shalvis tends to keep that to a minimum and really focus on the relationship between the two leads. Ms. Shalvis managed to include subplots that included physical abuse as well as the damage and destruction caused by the recent forest fires in California. While the abuse subplot felt more like a plotting device, the forest fires are obviously something near and dear to Ms. Shalvis, as I believe she lives not too far from the areas most affected. Even though I’m a California girl (SoCal, not NorCal), I learned quite a bit about the regions hit hardest and what kind of reconstruction and hardships they were facing.

As for the main story, Mark and Rainey are two very headstrong, alpha types who don’t deal well with other people taking charge, so this book became a real battle of wills between the two. Although I knew there was going to be a happy ending, I was actually concerned for these two and worried they wouldn’t be able to learn to compromise in time.

One of the things that made this particular sports story stand out is Mark isn’t a misunderstood guy, nor is he a party boy who won’t settle, and he’s not a bad boy trying to rehabilitate. He’s a nice guy who does the right thing. He’s fair and tough, but willing to work just as hard, if not harder, than his players. He’s focused and a planner and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve his goals. He’s a serious guy who doesn’t need to be fixed, because he’s just fine with who he is.

Rainey’s the same way. She’s a bit of a workaholic and needs to slow down a little, but she’s also focused and determined and willing to do whatever it takes to help her kids, even if it means putting herself in the line of fire. She’s happy in her life, but soon she learns she’s happier with Mark IN her life.

This book is a category, so there’s limited space in which to develop a relationship, and Ms. Shalvis used the time honored trick of “they dated years ago.” LOL And I’m not against that. In fact, my favorite stories are those where they two characters have known each other for a long time. I feel you get a better connection with them, because they have a stronger history with each other. I certainly connected with Mark and Rainey (ESPECIALLY Mark LOL).

When I sat down to read this book, I finished it in a little under 2 hours. I had to put it down for a few minutes in the middle and I resented that! I wanted to know NOW how it ended! I wanted to get back to Mark PRONTO! And Rainey. Rainey, too. But mainly Mark.

Seriously? Can you tell I fell completely for Mark? Or am I too subtle?

Rating: 5 Stars

This review was originally posted at Wicked Lil Pixie
on April 10, 2012

I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advanced copy of this book, and sped through it fairly quickly. The Witness is Nora Roberts’ 200th book. Can you believe that? This woman is a writing machine. While this not one of my top 10 Nora Roberts books, (I reserve those spots for books like Midnight Bayou and Carolina Moon and The Perfect Neighbor), this book was definitely on the better side. It was interesting to see Ms. Roberts once again use the technique of beginning a book when her main character is very young, and then advancing the book forward.

The Witness begins with Elizabeth at the age of 16 rebelling for the first time in her life, and it does not end well. I think Ms. Roberts has a real knack for portraying her characters in a realistic light. When we begin the book, we truly can imagine this poor little girl rebelling against her cold, controlling mother, and wanting to do anything to be able to live her own life. As it turns out, that’s not an option for many more years.

The beginning of the book is paced very quickly. There is a lot of information that Ms. Roberts is trying to portray to the reader, and she has a very deft touch. The reader never feels like Plot Anvils are raining down on their heads. Once the book moves forward to present day, the pace naturally slows a little. Slower town, slower life, slower plot. Again, it works. I liked Brooks a great deal, and I totally fell for his parents, but I never quite connected with Abigail the way I would have liked. It’s almost like Ms. Roberts couldn’t quite decide which way she wanted to go with Abigail: Super smart with a tender heart? Socially awkward and inept? Suspicious, capable and overly-protective of her privacy? While Abigail is all those things, I felt as if Abigail would don the traits of the particular part of her personality the situation called for. It never truly felt like they were all different sides to the same woman. That’s unfortunate, as Abigail had the potential to be a complicated and complex character.

There is a small subplot throughout the book dealing with Brooks’ best friend Russ and the hotel Russ runs. I could see Ms. Roberts using it to lay the foundation for Abigail’s growth and her realization she will never be able to live her own life her own way without facing her past. I would have liked to have seen this plot begin just a little bit earlier in the book. If we had seen this subplot advance a little faster, the resolution wouldn’t have seemed anticlimactic. As it was, against the backdrop of this larger crime and danger and resolution, it felt like it became nothing more than a nuisance to Brooks.

A trademark of a Nora Roberts book is an underlying thread of humor throughout. She does not disappoint here. In one of the darkest, most serious scenes, when Abigail has told Brooks all about what happened and what the risks are, there is a moment which could have gone horribly wrong and turned into a scene of obnoxious slapstick humor, and instead it does it’s job and lightens the mood of both the characters and the reader, and makes you laugh out loud through your tears.

Finally, one of my biggest “complaints” is a pet peeve of mine with various authors. Using similarly spelled/pronounced names in the same book. It’s one thing in real life when you go into a room and there’s a Kristin and a Kiersten, but this is fiction. The author has an entire world of names from which to choose. Why would you choose such similar names? It only confuses the reader. Okay me. It confuses me. In this book we have a Sybill and a Sylbie and an Agent Peski and Agent Pickto, and if you think I didn’t have to pause and do a little mental jig to figure out who was whom, think again. An entire WORLD of names out there, everyone. Choose wisely.

On the whole, an enjoyable book, and one I’ll reread in the future.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

(This review was originally posted at Wicked Lil Pixie on March 8, 2012.)

Okay, here goes. My first review. *gulp*

I’ve been a fan of Robyn Carr’s Virgin River series since nearly the beginning, and one of the things I enjoy about her novels is the consistency. She introduces us to these characters, and makes us fall in love with them. Unlike a lot of other series books, she doesn’t “forget” the characters or only bring them back as convenient ways to further the plot. These characters come back again and again with actual storylines in future books. Just because a couple has a Happy Ever After in one book doesn’t mean they won’t hit a rough patch in another. Redwood Bend, which just came out, is book 18 in the Virgin River series, according to Ms. Carr’s website (www.RobynCarr.com). It was a nice addition to the series.

Katie, our heroine whom we met in her brother’s book Hidden Summit, is back for her own story. She has two young twin boys and is moving to Virgin River from Vermont when she and the boys get a flat just outside Virgin River. And of course it’s raining. And of course a nice group of motorcyclists stop to help. This is how our couple meet. A little outlandish of a meeting? Maybe. But for these two it works.

Dylan has flaws, but he believes his flaws are far more serious and damaging than they really are. He still sees himself as he was as a teenage TV heartthrob rebel with a family so dysfunctional it makes the Barrymores look like the Bradys, with his grandmother Adele being the exception. It was nice to watch him realize what we, the readers, have seen nearly since page one, and that’s what a nice, warm, caring guy he is. He’s not selfish, nor is he a curse for anyone he cares about.

Katie’s husband also has a presence in this book, even though he’s been dead for years. (Don’t worry. No ghostly appearances here.) He was a special forces soldier who was killed in Afghanistan when Katie was pregnant with the twins, and he received a Medal of Honor posthumously. In the beginning, Dylan is a little intimidated by Charlie. I mean, dead military hero who was the love of her life? And Dylan thinks he’s a major screw up?  OF COURSE he’s intimidated. Who wouldn’t be? but Katie talks openly with Dylan about her husband and his good and bad character traits, and it never really becomes a big issue between them. Katie says she loved Charlie, and would love him still if he had lived, but he didn’t, so she’s moving on. One of the nice things is that Charlie is neither lionized nor vilified. He was a real man who died too young, and without knowing his sons, but that’s the way life sometimes is. Sometimes it just sucks.

There were parts of this book that were a little too pat. For example, Dylan’s grandmother Adele is an aging, but still in demand, actress. When she comes to Virgin River to check up on Dylan, we learn that she’s good friends with Muriel, who is an actress on par with Adele. Really? This tiny little town with maybe 200 people and the one actress who comes to town just HAPPENS to be good friends with the only other actress in 100 miles? Granted, Hollywood can be a small town, and actresses of their stature are rare, so it makes sense, I guess, that these two would have become friends during their careers, but at no point at any other time did this come up. It was only brought to our attention because Adele needed a place to stay that wasn’t Katie’s. How conveeeeeeenient.

Also, at the very end of the book we learn something new about Dylan. It’s something that wasn’t really integral to the story, but he kind of blows it off as no big deal right at the end, and I think Ms. Carr missed an opportunity for her readers to learn something. In the past she has taken the time to teach us about midwifery and things like breast exams and other women’s issues, and by contrast it seemed what we learned about Dylan was added as an afterthought. Kind of a “gee, his childhood didn’t suck QUITE enough, so let’s dump a little more on him.”

All in all, I enjoyed this book a great deal. I liked that Katie didn’t rely on Dylan for every little thing. She could change the oil in her car and put up a swing set for her boys without having to ask her brother or some other guy in her life to do it for her, and the men in her life recognized that. They don’t treat her as some sort of delicate, fragile flower. She also doesn’t put up with any of Dylan’s crap. She calls him on stuff, and expects him to put just as much into their relationship as she does. She also doesn’t expect him to look out for her kids. She makes it ABSOLUTELY CLEAR that her kids are first. Full stop. No exceptions. And if he doesn’t like it, there’s the door, and make it quick, because she doesn’t have time for games.

Ms. Carr has developed a knack for creating characters who feel very real. This series is made up of people with real lives and flaws, accomplishments and doubts. This town, even with its overabundance of military men, feels very real. There are people  who die, either expected or not. There are births and miscarriages, new homes being built, and forest fires threatening old ones. It’s a place where life isn’t always easy and everybody doesn’t live forever, but it’s full of hope and happiness anyway. They’re going to take care of their own, and they’ll do the best they can, and if they fall in love or rekindle the sparks, well, even better. And that’s the kind of story that keeps me coming back book after book.

Now, when does Sunrise Point come out?

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

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