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A Read in Progress

I love any and all books that just let me escape, but predominantly fiction & feel-good romances. I'm also on GoodReads (for now) at: LN B

Uncockblockable (Evan Arden Trilogy, #2.5) - Shay Savage An OK-passable, hour-long diversion if you're familiar with the Evan Arden series, but otherwise nothing too memorable or unique.

Didn't knock off a star for this or anything, but I will say:

There's lots of quick-to-hit-the-sack action and one-night stands all over the place, which obviously isn't the most commendable real-life behavior but serves the purposes of the story / it happens / I get it, no issue with it. Sadly, these encounters are all explicitly described as taking place unprotected, and somehow condoning or endorsing that in this day and age -- even if its just for characters in a fictitious story -- does bother me.
Otherwise Occupied - Shay Savage This was SO close to a five star read for me. Just not *quite* there as it felt like a slightly underdeveloped arc somehow. But very, very good; an original story and interesting character/voice. Highly recommend this series.


The only negative for me, that I ended up docking a star for, is that it's not clear what (if anything) it's all building towards; i.e., why am I as a reader along for the ride? A story is generally propelled forward because something is evolving in terms of plot, or character, or relationship, and thus we're presented details that help clarify or bring to life that evolution. But here a lot of what we're reading doesn't pertain to growth or change in the character or his situation; we just seem to be following his day-to-day happenings, a meandering tale about a hit man and his hooker . So I kept waiting for something to happen, or some purpose to be revealed; but that permanent state of anxiety of "ooh, something is going to click into place aaany second now..." only holds for so long. And when nothing does, it's like The Boy Who Cried Wolf: it made me stop paying attention and lose interest a little. Just a little, mind you, I still tore through the book in one day. Still, a shame for what could have easily been a 5 star for me based on writing style and originality of story and voice.

Overall I experienced this minor 'flaw' as multiple moments of "why are you telling me this?" There are moments of extreme detail once in a while that kind of threw me for a loop as the reader: why am I getting *this* detail in particular (over the multitude of other details you could have no doubt thrown my way); it must be pretty important if it's getting this much focus, right? But that just doesn't always seem to be the case here. E.g., a spoiler-free quote:

"I walked into Walgreens and picked up a pre-paid cell phone which I paid for in cash. I examined the packaging as I headed back outside. As soon as I stepped out of the revolving door, I had to jump back against the building to avoid some guy doing a duck-walk down the sidewalk. He had a cup of something in his hands, which were clasped behind his back. With every step he took, the liquid sloshed out of the cup and onto the cement. A nearly burnt-out cigarette stuck between his lips completed the scene. I shook my head and tried not to laugh as I dumped the phone’s packaging into the trash, activated it, and dialed a number from memory."

That's some extremely specific stuff. But in the middle of our story it honestly just comes across as rather unhinged. Granted, our main character is a little unhinged, so maybe that was the point? But it's distracting as a reader; with everything I'm presented I'll be trying to fit it into the "big picture" that I hope you're building for me as an author. And in this case, even in retrospect I have no idea how this paragraph-long description of a near-collision with a duck-walking individual has any bearing on anything at all.

Same issue on a slightly bigger scale: our main character spends a lot of time with a character we're introduced to, but we're constantly reminded that this is only a temporary relationship, so we're certainly not putting all our 'care' eggs in that basket. But then where should I put them instead? And if I'm not being presented with anything that I should logically care very much about, why am I reading this at all?

I suppose this is all just a very long 'heads-up' to hopefully set the next reader's expectations correctly before diving in. I was perhaps expecting a typical story arc of a big fight/reveal/mix-up/something somewhere in the middle, with plenty of time to tie it all up in the third and fourth acts. Had I gone into it expecting to read 97% at an extremely good but steady 'simmer' level instead, it might have been a 5-star read for me after all.

I will say the writing is excellent; it's a very well done male first-person point-of-view and voice, and a very interesting character. Our 'hero' is not honorable or even likeable, but he's somehow not *not* either of those things, either; we do root for him, and want badly for him to find happiness in life. That's quite an impressive balance for an author to put forth (and maintain!)

I highly recommend this book and this series. While this one does end with a considerable 'bang' and we're all dying to find out what happens next, I somehow didn't experience it as a cliffhanger. It definitely felt neat and tidy, this book's arc (whatever it really was) came to a close, and it ended in a logical place to sit tight for a bit as we wait for book 3. I know I'll be devouring it the minute it comes out.

P.S. - Can't resist pointing out the oooone small moment where I didn't buy into our main character's voice as a dude, and that was when he mentioned "the chick who wrote about the sparkly vampires." NO Marine without a steady girlfriend would know that, and certainly not have that as their first thought upon seeing a diamond... Just sayin' :-)
Ruin - Rachel Van Dyken Another just OK one for me. Over the top, cheesy, and a bit after-school-special... catholic school, to be precise.


It started out kind of cool, with seemingly somewhat original voices rather than the typical immensely one-dimensional and cliched NA/YA characters. Here we are introduced to some plausibly insecure but "go-get-'em"-type new college students, with some intriguing personal-hardship stuff hinted at early on but left a mystery. All refreshing enough so far, and while I have no idea where any of it is going, its moving along and I'm sucked in. Alright!

Nope, it all comes screeching through the bend right into Cliché-Land after all:
After the very first evening with our hero and heroine draws to a close, our notoriously man-whore-ish lead is already converted to a one-woman man, meaningfully professing "With you I will always want more." Uuuugh. That's not romantic. That's just creepy. Big time. And also boring and overdone... Big time.

Some other issues:
- Pretty randomly there's about 63 mentions of the importance of a rape whistle (this is where the after-school-special feel comes in: "Pay attention kids. And if it's cool enough for bad-boy Wes to recommend it, it's cool enough for you, too!")
- There's an overly saintly group of friends-turned-family and an ever-so-convenient opposing-love-interest-turned-hero's-best-friend that rounds out the completely unbelievable and over-the-top, poor plotting that ensues.
- By the end it's completely blatantly faith-centric and overly cheesy, to boot; there's honestly an entire chapter or two that should be burned. I don't care how 'moved' the author was by something that clearly made her want to write this level of sap, but this is where the editing process comes in. And you must leave some things to the imagination of the reader.

So, not very good and I don't recommend it. But surprisingly I never considered not finishing it, either. It kind of reminds me of "Beautiful Disaster" in that, with a main character that's frankly kind of crazy, an overall cast of totally unbelievable characters and an over-the-top story line, but somehow it all still ends up strangely readable... Oh well, you've been warned.
Axel (Corps Security, #1) - Harper Sloan

Eeek, I'm really surprised by the high ratings this gets from some of my favorite bloggers whose reviews I almost always agree with (and who introduced this to me in the first place). I hate being the odd one out! But this was really just OK to me and seemed a pretty poor derivative of some of the other good stuff out there (Kristen Ashley's alpha-hero stories and the I-Team Series, to name the first that come to mind).


It had a solid start and a premise that I adore: second-chance romance. So I was ready, excited and settled-in for a strong 4-star read. But pretty early on it started to get incredibly long-winded and repetitive. In general the whole things just seems to suffer from a serious pacing issue. We're primed early on for that big "we meet again" moment, as there's obviously always going to be one of those in a second-chance romance. But by a full 35% in our two leads haven't had a single scene together or shared any words. Not even in flash-back form. We just get a stuck-record rehash every two pages of how indelibly broken our heroine is, with a detailed play-by-play of every miserable hour. It's boring, all in "telling" form (*show* me how perfect they were together, don't just write "I loved him more than anything and losing him left me broken"), and nothing propels the story forward in an interesting way. Then, when the action does *finally* get going -- here is Axel and his team of badasses doing his thing! -- we suddenly get: "Two months later, ..." WTH? *NOW* you choose to speed this along?? It seems important to know: did they stare longingly at each other across rooms during that time? Ignore each other completely?

The pacing issue doesn't end there, sadly. There's a lot of buildup for the big (again, inevitable) clear-up that needs to happen between our two leads. Obviously, there would be much to say by both parties to cover all the years apart. But when we finally get our heroine to share her side, she does so with someone OTHER than the hero. Why?? This is incredibly frustrating, because as a reader we already know all this, this is repetitive. The ONLY point of repeating it would be if being privy to the reaction of the other character is important to the reader. But this is an inconsequential, secondary character she's talking to, so who cares how he takes it: what would our hero do?!

My final beef has to do with the dialogue. Some of the alpha male dialogue is seriously underwhelming: the dirty talk feels forced and completely over the top, migrating into bad 70s porn territory here and there; our badass hero on several occasions whines about being so confused by what's going on; and while there are some sweet, poignant scenes toward the end and showing a real human side to an alpha male can be incredibly sexy, by the fifth time our hero breaks down into a blubbering mess... perhaps not so attractive anymore.

Overall a pretty big let-down for me, and I'm going to force myself to skip the rest of the series, despite the rave reviews they will no doubt receive from my trusty bloggers/recommenders. I personally can't recommend this, with all the other good stuff out there.

It Had to Be You (Lucky Harbor, #7) - Jill Shalvis I can always count on this series to give me a few hours of gratifying reading ending with a smile on my face. There's something just easy about Jill Shalvis' style of writing, and more importantly about the characters and situations she writes about in this series. They all feature heroes and heroines and family relationships and friendships that really to come to life; I can picture these people as real, complicated, three-dimensional, flawed but lovely people. I can envision the places and conversations that are going on; it's all just the right, wonderful blend of description and dialogue.

In this particular story I found it refreshing that, though our heroine's childhood was less-than-ideal, she had a mom who made the best if it and was good. Too many books -- particularly New Adult -- present a character background as over-the-top and one-dimensional: you grew up in a trailer park? Enough said, your parents must have been abusive alcoholics... Not so, in Jill's writing; everything isn't that simplistically black and white in life, nor in Lucky Harbor.

Don't get me wrong, they're all pretty simple, feel-good romances where girl meets boy, learns or does something that enacts change in her life, thus turning a page with said boy for happy ending. So, it'll never be more than a solid 'Really liked it' for me; I don't think the contemporary romance genre really seeks to be anything more than that for anyone. But within that genre, this series is as good as it gets, in my opinion. I liked some of the first 3 the best, but once you're in the series, each one is a lovely return to a comfortable place you can't help but be happy about seeing again. A good read.
Night Pleasures - Sherrilyn Kenyon Overall a pretty cheesy and repetitive paranormal insta-love.

I got the Kindle edition for $1.99 and thought that was just barely worth it. Normally I think these books are closer to $8 or $9, in which case I would honestly have been pretty upset.

This was recommended to me as the first book of the series, though I definitely felt I was maybe missing out on some stuff as there isn't a whole lot of world-building. It was also definitely a case of insta-love. Or insta-lust at least. So, not the best, but I was interested enough and happily reading along.

By 30% I started getting a wee frustrated with the main character's immensely repetitive and cliched internal dialogue; it's just "[he couldn't explain why but] he couldn't get her out if his mind" over and over again... It's a cheap "telling" way of building sexual tension, I suppose, but I want the author to *show* me. So, as another fine cliche, we get "shown" a sexy dream sequence to tide us over that we're now 40% in and there hasn't been anything romantic in a while... At this point we're (still) playing the "Oh I want her so badly but she's human and I can't" game, you see.

Besides being light on story and hence repetitive, there's some plot holes, too. He can read/sense her thoughts, for instance, but when she's thinking that he's THE ONE quite early on, he suddenly has no idea what's going on in her head (or she's found some way to hide it, it's unclear). There's more of that on the overall plot-level, too.

Lastly, it really is pretty eye-rollingly cheesy. After just a few days of knowing one another it's "he means everything to me" and declarations of "forever true love" all over the place. Even visually it felt pretty unoriginal, like a plagiarized mash-up of the TV-show Angel and the movie Underworld (there's someone in a long black coat making a vertical drop complete with black coat flapping in the wind a la Selene).

If you're looking for a good paranormal romance, I'd recommend the Georgina Kincaid series, The Covenant series (even though it's more YA and decidedly less steamy, it's quite a bit better and actually even more romantic), or the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. This is just too simplistic and repetitive when there's other good stuff out there, in my opinion.
The Proposition - Judith Ivory Pretty good. Despite being a known story device in the vein of My Fair Lady, the writing style, plot, and characters were all interesting and vivid and engrossing enough to keep me engaged throughout.

It never did quite take off to be as good as I'd hoped, perhaps. It suffers throughout from being a little long-winded in the internal dialogue. This was most evident in the scene where the actual proposition (bet) takes place; this should be the grand setup, the thing that kicks it all off, here we go! But there's just paaages of internal speculation and dissertation that take the pace out of it all.

There's also a couple of occasions when the speech seems altogether out of place; I'm certain a Victorian-era gentleman or lady never said "Sweet!" in response to getting their way, or decreed defiantly, "That's not happening." But most of the time it's a pretty standard historical romance, and it reads just fine.

All in all, a pleasant and quick read. Not great, but certainly more than OK and a fun way to pass a beach day.
All Grown Up - Sadie Grubor,  Monica Black This book was just OK, at best. The premise is one of my favorites: best-friends-to-lovers, second-chance romance, all that jazz. But this was executed quite poorly, in my opinion.

The first 30% is all telling not showing, and frankly just seems to be a retelling of an itinerary of parties and gatherings, following a bunch of people around with no purpose or indication at all why we as the reader are invited to witness it all. There is no arc being developed, either character or plot-wise, so it's hard to see where this is going or why I should care about any of it.

It also reads quite choppily, as we are narrated to by a lot of different view points. I personally find this a very lazy new trend; I realize it's harder to tell from just one, but that's rather the point of writing a good book, no? Well, here we sometimes swap between FOUR different people, which is just messy and unnecessary. Moreover, even then we are somehow still not getting to see the good stuff, the stuff that would really bring us in and get us to care. For instance, we're meant to believe our two main characters are best friends, and we are told this because they "talk for hours." But that's as far as it goes, and we are never, in fact, privy to any if these conversations. We never get to see for ourselves that they're great together. Or individually, for that matter: we never learn what subject our hero studies, or what job he has after graduating. Or the nuances of who these people are -- what does her room look like, what was the weather like and how do they feel about it...

All in all, it's a case of immature characters and very flat, one-sided, inexperienced writing. For example, we see 3 different characters resort to throwing a pillow/pen/magazine etc. at each other in the span of 2 pages. Evidently every person on the planet also uses their feet to remove another person's pants... Characters should have distinguishable qualities, not all be written the same way. It's bland. Similarly, the parents are entirely unbelievable, having positions of authority in town but condoning underage drinking in their house. These people don't exist, and you never want anyone thinking that about a character.

Finally, there's some pretty bad editing issues, as well: in the middle of the book a character's name changes from Dom to Gio; the kid's middle name from Kenneth to Charles; the hero's eyes from hazel to green... though that last one might sadly have been intentional. Problematic either way, to be honest.

I made it to the end but pretty mediocre all-said-and-done, and something I personally might recommend only for passing an hour while waiting in the dentist's office or some such...
Everything Changes - Shey Stahl This was extremely bad. Mostly because it actually started out somewhat promising, and somehow managed to devolve to the extent that this author is now population-of-one on a brand new “don’t ever read this author again” list for me.

I actually started out with a big smile on my face and convinced we were heading towards a 5-star plot and characters (thus being extremely forgiving of the editing hell). I started getting pretty disappointed somewhere in the middle thinking maybe a solid 3 stars instead, but finally struggled so much even finishing the last 30% that I can't leave anything but a 1-star review. I barely made it, and as I have only ONCE before not finished a book, the fact that this came so close should tell you enough.

The clunky prologue I suppose forewarned me of the predictable dosage of YA-angst for our characters, as well as of some serious writing issues, but I was sucked in enough to the characters and storyline of first and true love that I was looking forward to digging in.

And I was glad I did, for a while. The story goes into a sweet, slow build of tender first-love tension, shy winks, and stolen glances between two characters that we can picture as real and want to know more about. I'm not into motocross/supercross, but the first half of the book does a nice job of introducing us to the lifestyle with just enough vividness that we get to envision our characters’ lives and feel a part of their world, while never being bored to tears with details we won't understand or (more importantly) don't care about or need.

On to where the problems start. Let me say simply that the editing in the whole thing is atrocious. And I'm pretty darn forgiving about poor editing. But entire words are missing, sometimes more than one in a single sentence; there are verbs when there should be nouns and vice versa. There are extremely annoying and overused expressions that seem entirely out of place; our sweet heroine, for instance, constantly wants to “fist pump the air.” How someone was able to find a saying more annoying than Fifty Shades' "Inner Goddess" is quite a feat, but there it is…

At around 55% in, not only does the lack of editing accomplish the impossible and find a way to get worse, it's honest-to-God as if the author got drunk for a month and then randomly started on the book again without re-introducing herself to the first half. Truly

- there's suddenly an incredibly choppy and out-of-left-field introduction to a competing 'love' interest that's beyond poorly done;
- there's suddenly looong boring stretches of detail about motocross/supercross that completely take us out of the flow and make it hard to keep caring;
- there's suddenly completely incomprehensible and unexplained behavior by the characters for the sole purpose of trying to create an 'angsty' storyline of keeping the characters apart even though there is zero reason for this and zero continuity with the characters from before;
- and suddenly an incessant hitting-upside-the-head of the title words "Everything Changes," as if she needed to remind herself which book she was writing. Seriously, cooonstantly: "I was having a great summer. But everything changes." Yees, we get it. Very foreboding. Also very annoying; why do you keep taking me out of the story? Just focus on telling it in sequence, and I'll put it together myself without you being blatant about it every few pages...

The most egregious of those is obviously the behavioral problem in our characters. Up to this point, while I didn't always identify with the characters, I could at least envision them. I believed they could be real people, and ones I might even want to know. But now I can't even picture the main character: she has nothing keeping her in her town, i.e. to keep her away from him; she does absolutely nothing and has no ambition (no work goals, no college plans, no oomph to fight for her relationship). I can't respect her at all, and I don't believe such a listless mope of a person exists. And if she does, she doesn't deserve sweet Parker (though he's also turning into a bit of a dud by this point). I don't want to waste my time reading about such a person. If neither of them care to fight for the relationship, why should I??

All in all, just a super strange turn in the book. And the fact that I got this frustrated means the first half was done quite well. I wouldn't be this emotionally responsive if the first half hadn't drawn me in... what happened??

At 70-something percent we suddenly get a single chapter from the guy's point of view. Why? There is nothing revealed -- he's a whimp, he loves her, we already got that. Why add the confusion? It's honestly like the author can’t stand the characters anymore either and is just phoning it in at this stage. Literally, after a YEAR of not seeing each other, a phone call, she shows up, and this is the direct quote detailing the entirety of what happens next:

"So I flew to him [where we] spent three days together [and] as always they were the best three days of my life. I kept telling myself I would tell him [that I couldn't do this anymore, but] the opportunity never came up."

Wow. That was so descriptive. I can totally see how they were the best days of her life and then proceeded into more years of tortured apart-ness…??? No joke, THAT'S IT. No justification, no idea why or how that would ever be true, no feeling or description how they were the best days, etc. Just telling, no showing, whereas in the beginning of the book there was plenty of engrossing and believable detail.

We get some more cursory descriptions about how tortured they are, but years pass, neither of them making a move but also not being with anyone else because that would be "cheating," of course... Can't have that, now. You get the drift; we’ve migrated into eye-rollingly poor plotting, on top of the already disastrous grammar. I honestly can’t remember if they ended up together or not.

For me, any author that is prideless enough to actually hit ‘publish’ on something so clearly unfinished, unprofessional, and disparate in quality, I just can’t respect or trust to support with a purchase again. Sad to say, therefore, that this author has propelled me to create a “never read this author again” list, with a lonely population of 1.