Monthly Archives: August 2016

Shattered Glass by Dani Alexander

Shattered Glass

Shattered Glass by Dani Alexander

Series: Shattered Glass, Book 1
Published by: Dani Alexander on January 31, 2012
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Detective Austin Glass doesn’t really take life seriously. He’s never really had to. He has a rather large trust fund for financial security. He’s a successful detective with his sights set on the FBI. And he has a beautiful fiancée. Things are sailing smoothly down Austin’s chosen track.

But when Austin is waiting in a diner for an informant who never shows up, things change. That change comes in the form of a busboy in bunny slippers who steals and holds Austin’s attention. He takes over Austin’s thoughts, intriguing and confusing him in ways he never thought possible. But the innocent looking busboy comes with a whole lot of baggage–probably just about as much as Austin carries around on his own.

In no short time at all, Austin finds his whole world changing. The challenge Peter provides for him is more than just a physical one. It’s mental, it’s emotional, and it might be exactly what he needs. Even if there are moments when his “better judgment” might want to tell him otherwise…

Not all relationships start out like fairy tales tell us they do. Sometimes they build from a whim we don’t understand. Sometimes we want to simultaneously chase after and run from the person who stands before us. And sometimes it’s the challenge of breaking down walls that draws us to someone in the first place.

Austin and Peter are a great example of all those things. Fighting for the person you’re attracted to while fighting against that attraction sounds like it shouldn’t be possible. Those things should be mutually exclusive, right? Not at all. And the tension and banter that results is entertaining and heartening to read. Sometimes you just have to be willing to get over yourself long enough to realize someone might want you for exactly who you are…

This is my first book from this author, and I’m so glad I discovered it. And the ending–well, I know I can’t wait to pick up book two!

Catch My Breath by M.J. O’Shea

Catch My Breath

Catch My Breath by M.J. O’Shea

Published by: Dreamspinner Press on June 20, 2013
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Danny Bright dreams of a career as a singer. And he sees the open auditions at Blue Horizon Records as his ticket to the big time. He knows if they see what he can bring, he stands a good chance of being signed. He’s surprised at the decision to keep four of the guys and try to sell them as a group, but a recording contract is a recording contract. Provided the producers can find them a fifth member.

Elliot Price never even considered the idea of becoming an entertainer. He plans to finish high school and head off to college. But when a last-minute decision to perform at a talent search night puts him on the radar of a big-time record producer, he might just have to change his plans. It turns out Elliot could be the fifth member and round out a new singing group.

Once they’re all assembled, there’s no denying the boys of Static have a star quality. And they have no trouble lining up the fans. They also bond quickly, becoming closer than they might have imagined. And for Danny and Elliot, that closeness means something else entirely. They’re drawn to each other in unexpected ways. Which could mean trouble for the group, especially when it comes to marketing them to their teenage girl fanbase. They know they’ll have to make some decisions, and those decision may not be easy…

I enjoy a book that shows the development of a relationship in an authentic way. To see these two go from strangers, to friends, to realizing there might be something more, to… Yes. Very good. And it helps when the characters are so relatable and developed. We, as readers, get to see them deal with all of the realizations, the excitement, and the fear that comes along with it.

I also have to say there were parts of this book that frustrated me. It had nothing to do with the writing–well, to be more accurate, it’s the fact that the writing is so good that I was frustrated. The studio executives who take an incredibly narrow view of what fans look for is certainly infuriating. And the idea that making money is more important that the happiness of your artists? Not an attractive quality at all. But such is show business?

There are a few parts that do move a little more quickly than I would have liked. But the overall pacing and story are well done. And this is an enjoyable read.

Cronin’s Key by N.R. Walker

Cronin's Key

Cronin’s Key by N.R. Walker

Series: Cronin’s Key, Book 1
Published by: N.R. Walker on March 13, 2015
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

NYPD detective Alec MacAidan is used to things being strange. There have been enough unexplained things that have happened during his life. But what happens one night when he’s chasing down a suspect is weird even for him. He comes across an injured bystander who rambles off some riddles, calls Alec by his real name (how could he know that), and then turns into dust. This is weird even for Alec.

And things get even weirder when his report at the station is interrupted by the appearance of a mysterious man. He literally just appears out of nowhere, grabs Alec, and together they disappear. And while Alec is confused, he can’t help thinking something about the whole situation feels right.

Alec has stumbled into a story that goes back millennia. And he’s right at the heart of it–he just might be the only person who can stop the biggest threat to humanity in centuries.

Yes, this is a vampire story. Yes, there have been so many of those lately. But yes, this one is unique. The backstory for vampire society that N.R. Walker has created is unlike one I’ve encountered anywhere else. There are some strong (and interesting) connections to history that show not only that this is well-researched but also that attention was paid to detailed world building.

The background characters are just as interesting as the main characters, which is something I always appreciate. Too many times I pick up a book that has a well-developed protagonist without much attention paid to the supporting cast. Here, we can see Alec and Cronin as strong characters out front, but the other characters are just as much an important part of the overall story.

This fast-paced and action-packed book is one that’s tough to put down. I found myself pushing to get just one more chapter read every time I picked it up. But anyone familiar with this author’s writing shouldn’t find that too surprising.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

Series: Harry Potter, Book 8
Published by: Arthur A. Levine Books on July 31, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

The Boy Who Lived. The Chosen One. The One Who Defeated the Dark Lord. One might think that Harry Potter is fearless. He’s up for any challenge. But no one told him that moving on, raising a family, and trying to have a normal life would be more challenging than anything he’s faced before.

And one of the biggest challenges for Harry is his son. Albus Severus and his dad have never really clicked. The connection between them doesn’t feel the same as the connection Harry has with James. And when Albus is sorted into Slytherin and becomes friends with none other than Scorpius Malfoy, the divide only grows wider. A divide further complicated by the rumors that Scorpius may not be Draco’s son. A divide further complicated by Harry’s scar acting up. And a divide further complicated by a centaur’s vision of a darkness around Albus.

For Albus, living in his father’s shadow is challenging. There are expectations. And it’s always made very clear when he doesn’t meet them. But there’s got to be a way for him to do something to break beyond that, right? Something he can do that makes him stand out on his own? And with Scorpius at his side, he’s sure he can accomplish anything.

I’ll start by saying that if you’re not a big reader of plays, this one might be a little challenging. They don’t read like prose. They’re not meant to. And you often have to fill in some of the action and internal monologues based on your own reading of the characters. That’s just part of dramatic works as casual reading.

The story here is engaging. I enjoyed getting a glimpse back into the wizarding world. You’ll find your old favorites and even some new characters that are a part of the next generation. And the flashbacks to Harry’s childhood that were left out of the original novels were also very telling.

Is this another epic Harry Potter adventure? No. But I don’t think it’s meant to be. It’s not a seven-novel saga with a major arc. It’s a single story, focusing on the future of the wizarding world, and reminding us that the past can come back to haunt us in ways we never imagined. And those ways are exponentially more when magic is involved.

I’ve seen some comments online to the effect of “I’ve read better fanfiction.” And while I don’t want to get into a whole debate in this review, I don’t see how that is necessarily a standard of what makes for a good story. For one, it diminishes fanfiction as something “less than” quality published work. And I’ve read many fanfics that were better than some published work. And secondly, what’s the point of the comparison? Just because you’ve personally read something you think is “better” than something else, it doesn’t–by default–make that something else bad. When I give a book a three or four star rating, I don’t say “But I’ve read 15 five star books that were better so this is awful.” Context is important, and I think it’s something that we as readers and reviewers need to remember. /soapbox

If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, pick this up. If nothing else, you’ll get a few hours of entertainment and enlightenment out of it. And you’ll get to go back to Hogwarts one last time…

 

Golden Dancer by Tara Lain

Golden Dancer

Golden Dancer by Tara Lain

Series: Dangerous Dancers, Book 1
Published by: Loose Id on September 27, 2011
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Mac MacAllister is a reporter on a mission. He knows that billionaire Daniel Terrebonne is the one who stole the priceless Golden Dancer statue. It’s going to be difficult to prove, and he’ll need to focus. Which is why he doesn’t need the distraction of writing a ballet review. But since his parents are well-known dancers and he knows ballet, it’s an assignment he gets.

Mac quickly forgets the story is a distraction once he meets Trelain Medveyev in person. There’s just something about him that draws Mac in. (Though Mac’s not sure what it is; he’s straight, after all.) As the two spend more time together, Mac begins to realize that maybe there is a physical attraction between them that can be explained.

If Mac’s sexuality isn’t enough of a hurdle, another wrench is thrown into the mix. Terrebonne is also interested in Trelain, and he makes a decisive move while Mac’s head is still spinning. But Mac sees this as an opportunity; he might be able to use the connection to investigate Terrebonne more closely. Until that close investigation leads Mac to wondering if he might have feelings for his suspected thief, as well.

But Mac isn’t the only person looking for the Golden Dancer. The original owner wants it back. And he is prepared to stop at nothing to see it returned to his collection. Even if it means danger for Terrebonne and everyone close to him…

This is one I don’t think I would have come across if it hadn’t been for a reading challenge. But I’m glad I picked it up. I’m always a fan of Tara Lain’s writing. She has a way of developing characters and worlds that allows the reader to feel like they’re very much along for the ride. And this one is no exception.

There are certainly a lot of twists and turns along the way here–especially with the romantic elements. I hadn’t expected the outcomes of some of the conversations and situations that came up. But none of those unexpected events seemed out of character or out of line with the story.

I had honestly expected more tension and drama with the parents (especially Trelain’s) based on how they were described in the story. But I also know that it’s common for a child to describe their parents differently than they really are–especially if they have any reason to feel unsupported by them.

If you’re looking for a fun, interesting, and engaging read, then look no further.

WorldCon

I’ve just returned from MidAmeriCon II, the 74th incarnation of the World Science Fiction Convention. It was such a blast and provided the opportunity to connect with authors, artists, and other fans. My first WorldCon attendance certainly hooked me, and I’m excited for the opportunity to attend WorldCon 75 next year.

I collected a number of new books at the con, which I expect you’ll see reviewed here in the coming months. But this also means I’m a little bit behind on a few things. There are some review requests I’ve received that should hopefully get responses today. And book reviews should resume tomorrow.

Relief Valve by J.L. Merrow

Relief Valve

Relief Valve by J.L. Merrow

Series: The Plumber’s Mate, Book 2
Published by: Samhain Publishing on March 25, 2014
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that things have been smooth sailing for Tom Paretski and Phil Morrison since they reconnected and became romantically involved. They both agreed to put the past behind them, recognizing they’ve both changed. But there’s still something tentative about the relationship. And that’s even without family opinions being considered.

Tom’s older sister, Cherry, gets back in touch with him to let him know two things. One, their former neighbor, a woman he knew affectionately as “Auntie Lol” has died and he’s named in the will. Two, she’s met a man that she would like him to meet. Of course neither of these are as simple as they seem.

First, Auntie Lol’s will is incomplete. The second piece of it is hidden in her old home, and she asked that Tom use his “gift” for finding hidden things to fetch it. And this is something her ex-husband and current resident of the home isn’t very keen on.

Second, Cherry’s new man, Gregory, has asked her to marry him. It seems a bit sudden considering they haven’t been together long. And it gets even more complicated when Cherry is poisoned at her own engagement party.

Suspects quickly emerge, from Gregory himself to members of a writing circle of which Cherry had previously been a member. With Tom’s gift and his boyfriends private investigation skills, they are hot on the trail. But can they find who wants Cherry dead before they strike again?

I absolutely love how fun and cheeky this books are without losing any of their seriousness or legitimacy. I enjoy a good whodunnit, and the added humor that the author provides here is honestly icing on the cake for me. The twists and the reveals are always dramatic (while not being over-the-top) and Tom is just one of those characters you have to love.

Catching Homelessness by Josephine Ensign

Catching Homelessness

Catching Homelessness: A Nurse’s Story of Falling Through the Safety Net by Josephine Ensign

Published by: She Writes Press on August 9, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

The homelessness epidemic in the United States evokes many different reactions from people. What did they do to end up homeless? Why don’t they just get a job? How can I help? Should I help? Could this ever happen to me?

The answers to those questions are as varied as there are people to ask them. But one thing is clear, the number of homeless in our country is increasing. And we need to think more critically about how we, as individuals and as a society, respond to it.

In Catching Homelessness, Josephine Ensign, a nurse practitioner, chronicles her work with the homeless. She discusses why she initially got involved, the people and issues she saw, and what she’s learned about trying to help. She also talks, rather frankly, about her own period of homelessness. When she started working with the homeless, she was one of those who thought it could never happen to her. Her story and experience not only provide readers with a firsthand look at helping the homeless, but also with the voice of someone who has been there. Both sides of the coin are reflected here.

To say the subject is heavy would be an understatement. Not because this is a book that left me near tears on every page; it’s not like that. But “heavy” just doesn’t capture the rawness and reality of the stories contained in this book. Even if you’re someone who works with the homeless or already has your eyes “open,” I highly recommend picking up this book. It’s honestly a quick read, but it’s very powerful. I find myself still reflecting on it a few days after I finished it. And I expect I’ll continue to think about it for some time to come…

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

The Vinegar Girl

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

Published by: Hogarth on June 2, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Kate Battista knows people can perceive her as abrasive at times. But she’s honest, independent, and isn’t intentionally mean. Everyone just seems to expect her to fit a mold that doesn’t fit. Even the coworker she really wishes would notice her.

Everything comes to a head when Kate’s father presents her with a ridiculous demand. He wants Kate to marry his lab assistant, Pyotr, so he can stay in the country. Kate rejects the proposal outright (How could he ask her that?) at first, but eventually she decides it might not be so bad. She can manage it for a year, right? And it will get her out of her father’s house, where her needy father and sister dominate her life.

Pyotr gets on Kate’s nerves, especially at first. He’s always so optimistic and reads their interactions more positively than Kate intends. But as she gets to know him better, could she discover something deeper? What really makes Pyotr tick? An unexpected event on their wedding day gives Kate the chance to truly see what life with Pyotr would be like. Can she manage it for a year? Or could it even become something that lasts?

I often enjoy modern retellings of Shakespeare plays. There’s something about adapting a classic into a new work that reflects the challenges and realities of today’s society that gets me thinking. Some issues we face as people transcend time. And others change shape but still linger over us regardless of the decade. I have to say that I do like what Anne Tyler did here with The Taming of the Shrew.

If you weren’t a fan of 10 Things I Hate About You (or even if you were), this is probably the story that you needed instead. It’s well-written, dynamic, and paced in a more interesting and realistic way.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.]

Native Wind by A.M. Burns


Native Wind

Native Wind by A.M. Burns

Series: Native Ingenuity, Book 1
Published by: DSP Publications on July 19, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

After the murder of his family, Trey McAllister found a home among the Comanche. Not only did they give him a place to live and a tribe to support him, but his innate magical abilities led to him being taken on as a shaman’s apprentice. The new home also gave Trey the opportunity to bond more closely with his friend Grey Talon. And their relationship quickly became more to both of them than they might otherwise have imagined.

As part of a bargain made by the tribe’s shaman, Trey and Grey Talon find themselves on a mission to track down a dragon’s daughter. But it’s not just a simple tracking mission. It’s a task that may bring them face-to-face with people more vile and more powerful than they’ve faced before. The two of them will need to work together, and they’ll need to be willing to rely on any extra help they might find along the way.

There’s quite a convergence of genre here. There are elements of historical fiction when it comes to place and people. Then one will find some fantasy in the use of magic. There’s mythology with the mention of spirits of the elements and dragons. And the mechanical creations that show up early in the book bring in a healthy helping of steampunk. But comes together in a way that really works.

This is one that I finished in a single sitting. Not only is it a relatively easy read, but it’s engaging. I had no real desire to put it down and go do something else until it was finished. This is the first book I’ve read by this author, but I am certainly looking forward to more.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review