Brotherhood in Death, J.D. Robb

I know it’s early, but I already have my first 5-star 2016 book. I just recently reread the ENTIRE JD Robb In Death series, and I loved being able to see how well JD Robb has progressed the series and the characters. These books never remain stagnant. There is always some sort of character development, even if you don’t recognize it at first. I loved rereading them all, and especially my favorites like Loyalty, Midnight, Survivor, etc. But, oh, Brotherhood. *happy sigh* Brotherhood in Death has rocketed to the top of my Favorites list.

Let me just start by saying my love for Dennis Mira (or Mr. Mira, as I call him in my head) is pure and true and strong. I have been DYING for this book since I first heard he was going to be one of the primary characters. So I did what any obsessed reader good reviewer would do. I e-mailed my contact at Berkley and shamelessly begged for an ARC. I’m sure you all heard the squeals of joy when it showed up at my house.

The “cast” in this book was on the smaller side, which totally worked. Some books need all the characters, and those are usually the more fast-paced books, and I love them, but MR. MIRA! He needed as much page time as he could get, and he did. We got to see him with Dr. Mira, his daughter, Eve. I love seeing him with his “Charlie” and I just want to cuddle him.

He had one particular scene with Eve that was one of my favorites. I won’t give you spoilers, but I WILL tell you it made me cry. And apparently the man makes the best hot chocolate ever, so I’m warning you know, you WILL be craving it while reading.

Eve and Roarke took some steps forward in this book as well. Not without some growing pains, of course, because it IS Eve and Roarke, but it’ll be fun to see what comes of it. I’ve also enjoyed the new Battle of the Ties in the homicide department. And now they’ve added socks! Speaking of advancements, go Trueheart! I’ve loved watching him grow up in homicide, but he hasn’t lost any of his Trueheartedness, if you get my drift.

Like I said above, this book gets a 5-star rating from me. It had everything I love best about the In Death books: Great Eve and Roarke scenes, Peabody, McNab, Baxter, Trueheart, good banter, an intriguing mystery, and Mr. Mira. What else do we need?

He’s a quiet hero, Eve, but he’s steadfast and he’s true.

*happy sigh* I think it’s time for a Re-Read.

Lynda the Guppy
aka President of the Mr. Mira Adoration Society
aka The Fish With Stick

Where There’s A Will, Stacy Gail

I have been looking forward to Where There’s a Will since last year. Our hero Coe is best friends to Lucy from Starting from Scratch. As much as I loved Lucy and Sullivan (and that’s a LOT), I totally fell for Coe. He was protective and funny and supportive and sarcastic and my favorite type of hero. I was a bit nervous for his book because I worried I built my expectations too high. 

I had nothing to worry about. While Where There’s A Will doesn’t have the soul crushing angst of Starting from Scratch, it’s just as wonderful. Coe’s ex-girlfriend from oh so many years ago has returned to town. He always thought she stole something from him, and he is NOT happy to see her. She wants to see him even less, but she has 60 days to right that old wrong which Coe soon finds out had a devastating effect on her life.

If I thought I had loved Coe before I started this book, it’s nothing compared to how I loved him after. While he’s understandably upset at Miranda, after all these years he’s grown up quite a bit, so he really takes a more honest look back at what happened all those years ago. This time around Miranda is more up front with him about things, and he really listens to her.

Miranda comes with a LOT of emotional baggage. So much it’s a wonder she can even stand underneath all that weight. Lucky for her, Coe sees it and, more importantly, sees what it’s doing to her. He talks to her about it and tries to help her do what she needs to in order for them to move forward.

I loved how Coe is with her. I loved how he really will do ANYTHING for her. He would even let her walk away from him if he thought it was the best thing for her. He loves her and has no problems showing her how much, even if he doesn’t understand what it is he’s feeling. Miranda, for her part, really gets Coe. She knows what he’s telling her, even without the words. Watching Coe learn how to love was unbearably sweet, and Miranda was the perfect heroine for him.

Oh, and don’t forget to stop by Stacy Gail’s website after the release date (November 17) for a Deleted Chapter. It’s worth it. Trust me. *evil grin*

So just like Starting From Scratch, I give Where There’s a Will…

Rating: 5 Stars

Lynda the Guppy
aka The More Angst The Merrier Guppy
aka The Fish With Sticks

Count on Me, Lauren Dane

This is only the second book this year I’ve rated as 5 Stars. And my review will be an entirely unprofessional fangirl missive spelling out how much I LOVED this book. If you’re looking for something more critical or objective, you’re in the wrong place. You’ve been warned.

To get a 5-star review from me, a book needs to really stay with me. It needs to be something that when I finish the last page, I just can’t let it go. I’ll find myself reading bits and pieces (and sometimes the entire thing) over the next few days. Count on Me by Lauren Dane was one of those books.

To start with, I love the Petal, Georgia books. Yes, even the freebies. I’m a huge fan of the Chase Brothers books, too, and reread all these books a lot. But above all, I’m absolutely head over heels in love with Edward Chase. Edward and his wife Polly are the parents of all the Chase brothers, and they are amazing. Polly is sweet and generous and has a heart as big as the ocean, but lord help you if you mess with someone she considers HERS. She will cut you and walk away before your body falls to the ground. And Edward….Oh, Edward. He’s an amazing father who raised his boys to be strong, decent, hard-working men. By loving Polly the way he does, he showed them all how a real man treats a woman. He’s also a loving, generous father in law. One who treasures his sons’ wives as if they were his own daughters, for in his heart, I believe they are. And all this goes for all their extended family, too. I’ve mentioned Polly’s big heart, right? She’s adopted quite a family, and Edward just smiles and adds more tables to the chaos in the backyard.

Okay, now onto the rest of the book.

Count on Me opens when Caroline Mendoza walks into the Law Offices of Chase and Chase. This is the law firm Edward owns with his brother. They’re interviewing Caroline to come on board as a Criminal Defense attorney. Of course she gets hired, and quickly meets Royal Watson while grocery shopping. Royal is a farmer who knew Caroline when they were in school before she moved away. He also used to date Anne Murphy, so we’ve seen him in the last few Petal books. His relationship with Anne ended a while back, so we know Royal and Caroline aren’t in danger of being a rebound relationship.

I love Royal. And I love Caroline. And I especially love Royal and Caroline together. They’re a classic Lauren Dane couple: Smart, successful, and sexy. They know what they want and aren’t afraid to go for it.

In this case, all the tension in this relationship comes from the outside. That’s my favorite kind of story. I love it when it’s an “us against the world” book. Caroline is trying to clear her father’s name. Her father died in prison for killing her mom, and she never believed it, and there was too much not investigated or proved for him to have been the killer. Of course she’s right, and the real killer is still out there and NOT HAPPY she’s stirring things up.

On Royal’s end, Anne turns into the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. She doesn’t want Royal, but she doesn’t want Caroline to have him either. Anne does, actually, see the crazy in herself and sorts herself out, but it takes a while. She pulls a stunt about halfway through the book which Caroline handles with a lot more poise and grace and eloquence than I ever could. I’m afraid I’d become the hair pulling stereotype.

And then there’s Caroline’s grandparents and various other factions. Oy. There is no shortage of outside drama in this book. But it’s okay, because Caroline and Royal can face anything as long as they have each other.

This book had everything I love in one book. Caroline and Royal were an awesome couple who knew each other’s flaws and foibles and didn’t care. They loved each other and were there for each other totally and completely. We had more Edward than we’d seen in previous books, and since I’m a fool for Edward, I was one happy guppy. Finally, there was an amazing cat who had so many of my own cat’s traits I began to wonder if Ms. Dane had been spying on Rani.

It took me nearly a week after reading this book to move on to something else. It was amazing and wonderful and emotional and I can’t even tell you how much I loved it. Ms. Dane even listed her playlist in the front of the book, and I loved Count on Me so much I went and bought the few songs on that list I didn’t already have.

And now every time Luke Bryan’s Shut it Down comes on, I grin and think of Caroline and Royal.

So thank you, Lauren Dane. This book now has a permanent place on top of my “Favorites” pile.

I may need to go reread this book right now. In the meantime….*hits PLAY*

Shut it down
Lotta work left to do, the sun’s still out
Any hay to make can wait for now
Take it on in the house
Shut it down

Lynda the Guppy
aka The Fishy Fangirl
aka The Fish With Sticks

Rating: 5 Stars

 

Starting from Scratch, Stacy Gail

Starting from Scratch by Stacy Gail nearly broke me. Some of my favorite tropes in this one: Military Hero, Damaged Hero, Marriage in Trouble, Small Town, Holiday Story.  So many tropes. And it all worked.

The book starts with Lucy at work hearing Sully is back in town. We come to learn Sully is her ex-husband Sullivan. He was an Army Ranger who was injured by an IED. He is now recovering from a Traumatic Brain Injury and remembers almost everything…except Lucy.

Lucy is still in love with her ex-husband. They’ve only been divorced less than a year, and it wasn’t her idea. Since Sully had no memory of his wife, he decided she shouldn’t be chained to him while he recovers.

I have to say, I had heard a lot about this story. All of it good, and nearly all of it using words like “sobbed my way through” and “ugly cry” and “OMG I couldn’t stop crying.” All of it accurate. I pretty much weeped my way through this book. My heart absolutely broke for Lucy. She loves Sullivan so much and yet he doesn’t remember her at all. And even worse, their marriage was in trouble before he shipped out this last time. He does have an insatiable craving for cookies. Since Lucy is a baker, I knew his craving for cookies was a craving for Lucy and that, too, broke my heart.

While I was rooting for this couple, I couldn’t help but want Lucy to just leave town. She was in so much pain having to deal with Sullivan and her unresolved issues with his choices and the fact he treats her like everyone else. I just wanted her pain to stop, and seeing him around town was just torture for her.

And Sullivan…What he did becomes clear, and he DOES do some grovel, and while his explanation is satisfactory, I’m from the “There can never be too much grovel” school of thought, and thought she forgave him way too easily. He hurt her a LOT, not just after his injury, but before when they were still married. It felt like she cut him too much slack because he had been injured since then. I would have liked some acknowledgment of all the issues they still need to work through.

Lest you think this book is nothing but an angst-filled heartbreaking tragic story, every now and again Ms. Gail puts a line in which makes you laugh.

“Every time you say you hate Christmas, one of Santa’s elves explodes.”

Or…

“Tweed is the devil’s material, and moths are his fluttery, dusty minions that want to steal my soul.”

As a knitter with a closet full of wool yarn and hand-knit wool items, I COMPLETELY agree. Damn soul suckers.

There was just enough humor in this book to keep it from being too dark. There was hope, even when it seemed Lucy was crushed under the weight of her grief and sadness. While I cried my way through, I never felt as if these two wouldn’t get their HEA. I had absolute faith Sullivan would remember Lucy and realize what a jerk he had been to her before and make it all up to her. Because if he didn’t, I was showing up on his doorstep with pitchforks and torches.

At the end of the story, Ms. Gail has a note that there are “deleted scenes” on her blog, and to check them out. I did, and I wish they had been included! The epilogue she has posted on her site is what I needed there to be at the end. It shows how Lucy and Sullivan (especially Sullivan) really worked to get their relationship back. It shows us the end of the book wasn’t as simple or cut and dried as it seemed. Lucy DID make him work for it. Good for her. She deserved it, and he needed to put his time in making it all up to her.

And warning: on her site there’s also a letter to Sully’s friend’s kids which will make you cry. Crying is kind of a recurring theme with this book, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

While this book is technically a “holiday” story, This one is going to end up in permanent rotation all year long. Whenever I want a great, emotional, sob-fest of a story, this is the one I’ll reach for.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for more from Ms. Gail. According to her site, she’s writing another Bitterthorn book. Yay! And I’m hoping at some point we will get Coe’s story, too. He intrigued me.

Lynda the Guppy
aka The Fish With Holiday Peppermint Sticks
aka The Fish With Sticks

Rating: 5 Stars

Rocky Mountain Freedom, Vivian Arend

This book was awesome. Go read it. Now.

What? That doesn’t cut it as a review? Damn. Okay, then here goes.

You know THAT BOOK? It’s the book in a series you’ve been waiting YEARS for. It’s the one with your favorite characters and you kept hoping it was the next one to be released and the next one and the next one, but your favorite author keeps tormenting you with little bits and hints of this character’s story in OTHER characters’ books and makes you wait FOREVER. And even though you’ve been DYING for this book and this character to FINALLY get their HEA, once you get the book in your hot little hands you’re terrified to read it? OMG WHAT IF IT DOESN’T LIVE UP TO EVERYTHING YOU’VE HAD IN YOUR HEAD FOR THE LAST 2 YEARS?!?!

Rocky Mountain Freedom and Travis was THAT BOOK for me.

I’ve been anxiously awaiting Travis’ book since that scene in the barn in Rocky Mountain Heat when he told Blake why he though Jaxi was really dating Travis all those years ago. Right then my heart broke for Travis. And in Rocky Mountain Angel when Travis and Cassidy show up at Gabe’s cabin all beat up and needing a place to heal? How can you not want to just cuddle him and make all his hurts go away?! Through all 5 of these books I knew Travis was going to be the one I loved most. He was full of angst and drama and conflict and I couldn’t WAIT for his book.

BUT OMG WHAT IF IT DOESN’T LIVE UP TO EVERYTHING I’VE HAD IN MY HEAD FOR THE LAST 5 BOOKS?!?!?!

I sat down and read the book in one sitting. And it didn’t live up to my expectations.

It blew my expectations out of the freakin’ water.

I thought I loved Travis. I thought I knew what he was about. I thought I knew what his story was going to be like.

I was so, soooooo wrong.

I normally don’t enjoy rehashing previous scenes in new books, but because Travis’ story had significant moments throughout the rest of the series, I really liked how Vivian Arend brought those scenes back and gave us a different point of view. It also helped to put these scenes into context in relation to Travis (and Cassidy and Ashley). I didn’t have to rely on my faulty memory to figure out when and where something took place. YAY! Thank god for authors who are good to lazy readers.

One of my biggest complaints with a lot of ménage stories is the lack of “boy touching,” as I call it. Yeah, it’s great the woman is the center, blah blah blah, every woman’s fantasy, yadda yadda yadda, but that always seems unbalanced to me. The first time I found a ménage story where it felt like it really was a relationship between THREE people and not just boys vs. girl was Lauren Dane’s Laid Bare. This book feels very much the same. This relationship between Travis and Ashley and Cassidy really felt like it was between ALL of them equally, and not just Travis and Cassidy focusing on Ashley. They DO, of course, but Travis and Cassidy have their private moments, just as Ashley has private moments with Travis and Cassidy separately.

And the boy touching is HOT. Just sayin’. Also: No shortage of dirty talk. Always a plus with me.

I loved that all three of them each had their own issues to work out, and they were given the space and time and support they each needed to do so. They all loved and trusted each other and for the most part all three acted in the best interests of the other two. Not always, of course, or where would the tension and drama come from?

Travis…Oh, Travis. Poor, angsty, troubled Travis. I loved him so much. So SOOOO much. He’s damaged and knows it, and he wants Cassidy and Ashley more than anything, but he’s having a difficult time reconciling his needs with accepting their love.

Cassidy broke my heart. His issues with his father and his worry about…well, you’ll just have to read it for yourself.

Ashley was exactly the catalyst the two guys needed to break through their emotional barriers and realize what they could have as a triad. She has some worries of her own, but works through them.

I think one of my favorite moments is when Travis finally tells Ashley how he feels about her. Her and Cassidy’s reaction was priceless, and exactly what Travis needed. Viv Arend did such a wonderful job showing how much the three of them trust and love each other, and how they all feel emotionally safe within the relationship. They know they can break down in tears or talk about bad childhoods and they won’t be judged. Instead they will be loved beyond measure. Really, isn’t that what all of us look for in our own Happily Ever Afters?

I don’t know what else to tell you, other than this book was sexy, hot, emotional, full of angst, and a wonderful read. Also, I feel absolutely confident in judging this book by its cover. Yowza!

I read between 200-300 books a year and I give 5 stars to about 10 of those each year. I’d give this book 6 stars if I could.

In fact, I think I’ll go read it again right now.

Lynda the Guppy
aka Travis4Ever
aka The Fish With Sticks

Rating: 5 Stars

Warrior’s Cross, Roux and Urban

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

Time Out, Jill Shalvis

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