I take it back, this is the best of the series. I admit that I'm not entirely sure if I'm just basking in the glow of the latest Julie James book I fiI take it back, this is the best of the series. I admit that I'm not entirely sure if I'm just basking in the glow of the latest Julie James book I finish or if she really is improving with every book. I choose to believe it's the latter.
As before, read the others in the series first. View this one as the treat at the end of an excellent meal. Or something. Also, as before, having read the others, you now more or less what to expect here. I'll highlight some, though, because I can't stop myself.
First off, the snark I've come to love from James is in top form in this book. Vaughn and Sidney start strong and keep up that banter through the whole thing. It's beautiful.
Second, I like Vaughn better than all the other commitment-phobes. Maybe because he wasn't so much scared as he was simply enjoying his shallow life and it took him a while to see any reason to change. Which, oddly, was tons easier for me to engage with. Which is kind of weird now I think of it, but there you go. Also, he's exactly the right kind of hot with a side of kind.
Third, Sidney was even better as the female lead with her active search for a relationship. I loved how James turned that into a theme as Sidney develops her criteria only to discover how cold-blooded that can be. Sidney's forays into guy speak (as translated by Vaughn) were great good fun, as well.
And finally, I loved how the book was simply overflowing with good, admirable men. And not solely heroes from previous books (though we do get a lot of Cade from the previous). Robert, Vaughn's brother, is fantastic and his care for Isabelle was heartwarming and extremely touching. Other side characters stood out as well; too many to go into any detail. Suffice to say it was a fun ride with lots of interesting people to share it with.
So yeah, four and a half stars, but I'm not sure it rises to the "will probably reread" that would push rounding to five. It was good, though, and I can heartily recommend the entire series—particularly with this as the capstone.
A note about Steamy: On par with the others. i.e. midish steam level for me. There were three explicit sex scenes of varying lengths (one is only about a page). This is another area where James has a discernable pattern, but I don't find it a bad thing....more
This is my favorite of the series, so far. Which is saying something at book four. Some of that is the main couple. Some of that is the surrounding chThis is my favorite of the series, so far. Which is saying something at book four. Some of that is the main couple. Some of that is the surrounding characters, particularly Cade and Brooke's friends. And some of that is that this is the first where nobody was ever in any danger, ever, and I really like James' way with a romantic plotline.
I could do details, but by this time, you really shouldn't be this far in the series without having read the others first. And having read the others, you know what you're getting with this one. Mostly. Actually, now I think on it, that could have become tedious. There's definitely something of a formula here. Two high-powered individuals, driven by their careers and goals and not really into relationships connecting to one another and learning to find a better balance and having to admit that they really do care and really can't live without each other.
That's definitely the pattern. It's one I find appealing, though, or, at least I do with Julie James at the helm. She does a great job keeping each story unique and with its own personality and concerns and highs and lows. This is a good thing.
A note about Steamy: Upper mid edging into the high range. There were four explicit sex scenes, though they tapered off as the story progressed. James does this extremely well, though in this case, I thought some were extraneous to the story. We had their emotional arc well in hand and an added explicit bit or two felt more than was needed for this particular story....more
My least favorite from Sarah Mayberry to date, but that still makes it a fun read. Most of this story is forecast from the beginning; you can see theMy least favorite from Sarah Mayberry to date, but that still makes it a fun read. Most of this story is forecast from the beginning; you can see the twists coming from miles ahead and none of them fail to turn up on time and in costume. Still, I was never tempted to put it down or move on.
Most of that is due to the lead characters. Dom is one of those hot sweeties you can't help falling for from the start and Lucy is as engaging in her way as well. I fell for both right from the start and Mayberry is good enough for that to be mostly enough. For me, anyway.
I suppose my biggest disappointment is that my very least favorite "romance" trope pops up near the end (scare quotes because I don't find it romantic at all and, indeed, find it a betrayal of love in a fundamental way). That's right, the "doing something hurtful for your own good" trope rears its ugly head. I hate this because it's the opposite of love. Love means trust and companionship. It means working together because you acknowledge that you no longer function as individuals but as a team. You can't be a team if you aren't making decisions together. It doesn't work. Which is what makes it a betrayal of love. Worse, though, both characters were more mature than that and they should have known better.
So yeah, a couple of chapters are kind of a loss, with lots of pain and heartache that was out of place. It would have been much better to have had them have the discussion and make it something they had to work out together. Because really, the second half of that stupid trope was that the underlying issue got swept under the rug with them breezing by it without actually addressing it directly. It was something that could have been done on-screen and its lack was a real lost opportunity.
And yes, I'm being coy about details because spoilers.
Anyway, it was fun spending time with Dom and Lucy up until the stupidity hit. Their courtship was interesting and I enjoyed myself, making this a solid three stars, but not any higher.
A note about Steamy: On the low side. There's a single explicit scene and it gets a little vague, at that. Not short, exactly, just not terribly, er, involved......more
This is about that same level as the second book. Which is very much a good thing. At this point, I recommend not starting with this one in the seriesThis is about that same level as the second book. Which is very much a good thing. At this point, I recommend not starting with this one in the series; we've accumulated enough recurring characters for there to be some weight behind their interactions that you wouldn't entirely catch without having read those others books first. That's particularly true of book 2 which features Kyle's sister, Jordan.
I liked Rylann slightly less than Jordan. She's a little too serious and risk-averse. But I also liked Kyle a bit more than Nick. He's more emotionally available and gets over himself a whole lot quicker. It's interesting that my feelings correlate rather strongly with how commitment-phobic they aren't. I'm not sure that's causal, but it may be. Or it may be other aspects of their respective personalities that I enjoy. I find it hard to say.
At any rate, if you've read the first two (and especially the second), then you know what you're getting with this one. The biggest bonus, though, is that there's a lot less crazy criminal drama and that means more room for relationship building. And that's a clear win. So I guess this one may be slightly better than the previous, now I think on it.
A note about Steamy: This was in line with this series and at my mid range. Only two explicit scenes (and one bit of foreplay), but they were decidedly hot and not short....more
Definitely the best of the series, but not truly outstanding. I really wish Roberts had grown past the whole Gloria DeLauter nonsense. Those parts draDefinitely the best of the series, but not truly outstanding. I really wish Roberts had grown past the whole Gloria DeLauter nonsense. Those parts dragged this down a whole star, though not just for her appearances. The problem with Gloria in this one that didn't impact the others is that she fundamentally altered Seth as a character. That she still had power over him weakened him in ways that felt untrue. We've spent three books and eighteen years telling Seth that "if you take on one Quinn, you face them all". And he still doesn't believe that? Ugh. He went from take-charge artist with a sense of ownership and ties to his rural community to a spineless wimp acting on fear and self-loathing.
Okay. Got that out of the way. I loved the romance. Dru is nine kinds of awesome. I particularly loved that she had Gloria pegged even before she knew who she was. That was outstanding. And I loved their relationship and banter over what constituted a date and what didn't. And Aubrey was a hoot (that kissing scene had me laughing out loud—for reals, not the polite internet LOL).
So lots of win. But one big loss that drags this back into the normal range for the series.
A note about Steamy: Normal for Roberts and at the low end of my middle range. Two explicit scenes, one a little edgier than normal, but not terribly so....more
A light and engaging story that doesn't hold up well to scrutiny. This felt like something built from the conclusion. i.e. that Oram wanted to tell thA light and engaging story that doesn't hold up well to scrutiny. This felt like something built from the conclusion. i.e. that Oram wanted to tell the story of a virgin campaigning for virginity to show what that'd be like and how it could be a success. There's more than a little fairy-talish about it, is what I'm saying.
Val is interesting, and it's fun being with her through most of the book. I liked that she was courageous and willing to stand up to pressure. I liked that there were none of the expected cringe moments or awkwardnesses that are almost a staple of the genre. The problem is, and it took me half the novel to realize it, that she's a little too articulate, her rants are a little too perfect, and her poise in very trying circumstances a little too finely crafted for maximum emotional impact. Oram is talented enough that it's subtle. But it makes the story feel artificial enough that I was never really fully engaged.
And I really dislike the whole "chemistry" excuse for instalove.
So yeah, there's a lot of good message fiction here. Unfortunately, there's nothing that lifts it past message fiction. Don't get me wrong, Oram is a decent writer and I won't hesitate to pick up another of her books should it cross my path (though I won't go out of my way for that to happen). I know three stars seems weak, but I don't have much tolerance for message fiction so the fact I was entertained at all is a strong mark in its favor......more
Four or five chapters in, I realized I'm going to have to give this one a pass. The writing is decent and the main character engaging, but that's kindFour or five chapters in, I realized I'm going to have to give this one a pass. The writing is decent and the main character engaging, but that's kind of the problem. Lexi is too weak and too vulnerable to make this story enjoyable for me. It doesn't help that entire swathes of the setup just don't work. I'll illustrate. To accept this story, you have to accept a teacher who likes her writing enough to encourage her to join the school newspaper but is negligent enough to leave Lexi entirely at the mercy of the girl who obviously hates her. This teacher is the newspaper advisor, mind, so these are things she should see—like when Amberlee (the hater) switches photos from the one approved and acts like she didn't. This is exactly what advisors are for so I'm being simultaneously asked to approve this teacher for her encouragement of Lexi and apparently not notice that she's completely oblivious to the bullying going on under her watch as well. So she's engaged but also not engaged. Doesn't work.
I'm also not a fan of the sub story Lexi is writing. We're treated to vast tracts of her writing and it's both too polished for an until-now untutored young writer and too obviously an emotional fantasy stand-in for someone who works with teens daily not to perceive. Which again breaks the heart-warming I feel I'm supposed to have for this teacher. Though now I think on it, it does reinforce what a crap teacher she is for being oblivious to the obvious happening right under her nose. Which would mean that Lexi is trusting someone inherently untrustworthy. Which, no. Just no.
Also, I kind of hate that as a device. The story told by a character thing, I mean. There's no win for authors, here, and a lot of opportunity for loss. Mostly because you have limited possibilities a) the reader likes both the internal and the external stories but keeps being torn from one to join the other. Disorienting. b) the reader likes one story more than the other and is continually being jerked out of the one they're engaged with. This is the most likely. c) the reader hates both stories in which case why keep reading?
So yeah, I know Lexi probably gains some empowerment by the end. That's probably the point of the story. But I don't like seeing weak people bullied, or even casually hurt or humiliated, and I can see there being a lot of that along the way. Since the author cheats to get there, it felt like I was being asked to be complicit in that bullying insofar as I was asked to accept the premise of a popular girl bully being both the head cheerleader and the managing editor of the school newspaper. It'd be interesting to see how common that really is, but I'm willing to bet a Venn Diagram of that intersection would have a nearly imperceptible join. Add a professionally negligent advisor and I'm just not willing to invest in that story....more
This book does okay as a paranormal romance, but has some problematic elements that I had a hard time with. I liked the worldbuilding well-enough. CamThis book does okay as a paranormal romance, but has some problematic elements that I had a hard time with. I liked the worldbuilding well-enough. Cambio Springs is an interesting community with a secret to protect but a desperation for jobs and growth. The town is dying as there's no industry to speak of and that makes it hard for them to support the number of people who want, need even, to be there. That tension between secrecy and trying to open to new industry is at the heart of the story and it's a pretty good start.
I started off liking Caleb rather a lot. He's a good guy coming off a bad time in his prior job but with enough Kudos to get the position of new town police chief. Unfortunately, he's now chief of a town with something to hide and he's definitely not on the inside. For about the first half of the story, he really had my sympathy. Unfortunately, Hunter really neuters the guy in every action scene he's in. Apparently, it takes more time to pull a trigger on a gun already pointed at, uh, a thing than it takes for that thing to attack him physically. This happens twice and isn't the only way he's forced by the author to fail at doing even basic things his character should be able to do. He's a hardcore police guy who has dealt with gang and gun violence. He shouldn't be undergoing failure after failure every time bad/violent things happen.
That'd be bad enough, but there were more than a few scenes when I wondered if Hunter had engineered a gender switch somewhere in there. Caleb is all man for the first half, but the second half of the novel completely betrays that. I get him having emotional reactions. Guys have those, no doubt. But his emotions were all expressed in ways that were very feminine. And no, I don't mean just all the crying. You can tease me with the strong, protective guy, but you lose all that goodwill when he falls apart under stress—one time he's even shown up by the 11 year-old boy. Seriously, if you build "competent law officer" into the background of your character, then you should probably build a story that includes him acting competently in law officer situations. I'm just sayin...
Jena was a rocky start that never really got off the ground (ironic as she's a shifter raptor). She's a tough woman in a tough situation but she takes forever to warm up to the obviously interested Caleb and since her stupid resistance happened in the beginning when I still liked him, that was a bad thing. I then hoped that while Caleb was busy going all wussy that she'd get to be tough, but that sadly didn't pan out, either. Add the occasional irrational panic stupidity and I'm afraid I never did quite engage with her.
In other words, both main characters fumble key scenes where they come off looking like incompetent dorks. Not that there's anything wrong with dorks, but if that's your story, you should probably not be telegraphing "tough and competent" as your buildup.
In the end, this was 2 and a half stars that I'm rounding to three just because it wasn't that bad. It's saved by the interesting setup and I kind of cared for some of the side characters (particularly Jena's boys). I'm undecided if I'll continue on in the series, but I might. Dr. Ted sounded like she might be kinda fun.
A note about Steamy: It was weak steam, but steamy nonetheless. A couple scenes with an explicit element (and one full-on sex scene that was kind of lame). So lower mid range for me and another disappointment....more
Okay, I knew going in that this was going to be steamy. And it is. But I also knew that I like some of the author's other works and, bonus, gaming. AnOkay, I knew going in that this was going to be steamy. And it is. But I also knew that I like some of the author's other works and, bonus, gaming. And it doesn't disappoint. Erickson tells a tight story and manages to make this believable enough even in such a short work—a short work that would be half its length if you removed all the sex. Interestingly, she even got the tech right (though the games business is nowhere near as remunerative as she supposes—particularly with regards to games journalism).
Anyway, a solid, though predictable, story that would probably be rated higher if it didn't trounce all over my steam tolerance.
A note about Steamy: Yeah, way, way beyond my steam tolerance. Way. Though I have to admit the sub/dom was incredibly well done and not the least bit creepy. I think it works because not only is Marley good with it, but because Austin takes care to know that she's good with it. Add in a bit of Austin's emotional vulnerability and it was not only well done, but sympathetically and romantically done....more
I didn't connect very well to this book, which is kind of a shame. The world is interesting and the story is well constructed. There are interesting eI didn't connect very well to this book, which is kind of a shame. The world is interesting and the story is well constructed. There are interesting elements and I can't help thinking I should have enjoyed this much better than I did.
The obvious weaknesses are the uneven pacing and an emotionally distant main character. Alex Pendlebury is a "Reader"—someone who reads the emotions of others (including lingering impressions left on objects and locations). To keep from being overwhelmed, she has learned to fortify herself and erect shields. Elrod does a good job conveying that emotional distance, but that had the side-effect of putting an emotional distance between me and the main character, as well.
This is nowhere more evident than in her interactions with Lieutenant Brooks. This is a crying shame and crime against the novel because Brooks is by far the most interesting character in it. He's stalwart and kind and unflinchingly honest and that's an incredibly engaging combination. Elrod pulls off his character supremely well, as well, and that's something of a miracle (as it's really easy to sacrifice one of those virtues for the sake of the others). Sadly, this, too, has an unfortunate side-effect as I spent more than half this novel wanting Alex to lighten the heck up and actually see the gem that was standing right next to her the entire trying night and day and night that comprise the story.
Between the uneven pacing, puppy-crush on Lt. Brooks, and the emotionally guarded heroine, I had a hard time letting myself simply immerse in the story. It's good enough that I was never tempted to put it down, but it wasn't the pure win it might have been.
So yeah, 3.5 stars, but without enough Oomph to push the rounding up....more
This book was fantastic, and in all the right ways (though I'll understand if you don't agree). It has a strong voice, so you can probably tell prettyThis book was fantastic, and in all the right ways (though I'll understand if you don't agree). It has a strong voice, so you can probably tell pretty quickly if it's going to be enjoyable for you. If you enjoy the first chapter or two, I'm pretty confident in predicting that you'll like the rest of it as well. And vice versa on the hate (or even "meh") side of things.
Okay, this is going to get long because I'm going to go all pretentious about art and illusion and movies vs. books. The tldr; is that the characters are outstanding, the story moving, the romance understated but powerful, and all that said, I have a hard time pinning this as either YA or NA so much as it's just a good story I think should find an audience of any age that can be engaged by a strong voice and a story about pursuing your dreams by being good at what you do.
Personally, I was drawn to Emi right from the start. That's not a surprise as I like stories that include people doing things they are good at and proving themselves along the way. LaCour has a light touch with both humor and heart, but in the way that makes them rich and deep. It's like milk chocolate wrapped around a raspberry gel—a light taste that deepens on repeat experience and anticipation.
And despite the romantic overtones of much of the story, I thought the friendships were actually a stronger presence. Emi and Charlotte were a fantastic female friendship, but Ava and Jamal as friends was equally well-handled and the two groups melded in an organic way that illuminated both, highlighting their individual strengths even as they came together into something more. Jamal's concern for Ava was particularly touching and you could see how she had come to rely on his quiet strength and how that was a central support amidst her otherwise rocky past. And even if I hate the casual throw-away of Ava's mother and it's stereotypical play-out, I think the story would have been weaker if it had gone any other way. (view spoiler)[A reconciliation would have been cheap and a stronger rejection would have been farce. (hide spoiler)]
What deepens this and elevates it above a four-star read, is LaCour's handling of art as described through the movies. Emi is deeply engaged by her passion for set design. She describes why what she does is important and why it's worth so much energy to get everything exactly "right". Her ruminations about "the illusion" and the storytelling done through set design are an excellent discourse on the storytelling process in movies. Don't get me wrong, this wasn't an actual discourse. It's spread throughout the book and is never boring. It serves as background to Emi's activity. Necessary background that LaCour delivers with an incredibly deft touch. Still, those ruminations about how the accepted illusions of movies allows readers to engage with the story were deeply insightful.
As Scott McCloud points out in Understanding Comics, art often works best by inviting the observer in. Unlike comics, movies do so by giving expected details that add context without having to be processed explicitly. Hints, both subtle and overt, gained from scene backgrounds contribute to our understanding of the characters and story. But Emi also points out that there are lies embedded in these illusions and not just the obvious "this isn't really an apartment, it's just a set" kind of way. For instance, the flatware for one character that was technically so expensive that the specific character could never have afforded was nevertheless right because it was the right kind of eclectic mix of style and elegance. i.e. it conveyed the right truth even though it was a thorough lie.
What struck me on finishing this book is how authors do the same thing with illusion and story. And, not surprisingly, this book is an excellent example of doing so. This story needs Emi to be self-possessed and excellent at her job. For the story to work, she needs to take on a challenging position and excel at it. There's some handwaving around it, but really, an 18 year-old really shouldn't be in charge of set design even on a small indie film like the one in the book. So the illusion the author creates and the readers accept is that Emi has these capabilities and opportunities, even though she's an untried teenager. I don't know if this was done on purpose, but LaCour did a fantastic job of both the explicit illustration through movie set design and the implicit illustration through Emi's story itself. I love this kind of artistic self-reference and for me, it worked powerfully.
Which brings me to the reason these illusions are important. They are an example of the lie that tells the truth. Emi's story tells profound truths about work and life and love and doing what is important for the people in your life. Along the way it tackles image and desire and trying to find the reality behind the lies we tell ourselves and basing relationships on as good an understanding as we can achieve of those we want to be with. Emi makes some tough choices about her relationships, particularly with Ava, that show her growing emotional maturity. And in doing so, the story invites us along as well—allowing us to experience that choice and test the reasons behind it for ourselves as she does so. This makes the book a powerful story, indeed and one that encapsulates a truth that is as simple as it is profound.
Which brings me to the last part that blew me away about this story. In the end, this is a deeply heartfelt illustration of romantic love and a relationship growing out of caring and honesty. It's subtle because there's no explicit scenes and displays of physical affection are light. Since Emi's and Ava's emotional maturity both have substantial growth to undergo before they can become true romantic partners, the romance truly needs the entire novel (and it's illusory background) to reach satisfactory culmination. The magic that LaCour captures, though, is the strength and depth of that relationship. She draws you in to a woman's attraction for women in a way that avoids all the titillation and yet stays absolutely true to its core. And then she draws you into a woman's attraction for a specific woman and gives you the purity of that connection in a way that is everything that we, as a society, find ennobling about love and intimate relationships. All without polemic or even partisanship. It's as powerful an argument for normalizing homosexual relationships as I've ever experienced and without actually arguing at all.
Since politics, particularly sexual politics, aren't the point of my reviews, I'll leave it there. Suffice to say that I found this story powerfully true and I find great value in it as such. It earned every one of my five stars, no quibbles, and I hope LaCour continues with a long and successful career.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more