Reviewed for THC Reviews City of Ashes is the second book in Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series. It continues to expand upon the world-buildinReviewed for THC Reviews City of Ashes is the second book in Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series. It continues to expand upon the world-building that began in the first book. I really like the world the author has created. It's populated with a variety of supernatural creatures, all of whom have their own quirks, rules, and sub-level mythology. I can see tidbits that are similar to other sci-fi/fantasy worlds, mixed with a touch of Biblical legends, and a flavor that's all it's own. It's a very imaginative story realm that makes for engaging reading and which I very much enjoy inhabiting.
Where City of Bones primarily belonged to Clary, City of Ashes is fairly equally divided between her and Jace. I'd even argue that the focus is slightly more on Jace this time around. Now that it's been revealed that Jace's father is really the evil Valentine Morganstern and that he's still alive, virtually no one believes that Jace didn't know these things even though he's spent the last seven years growing up with the Lightwoods. Jace just doesn't seem to be able to shake the stigma of who his father is, and he's come to be viewed by most, including the Lightwood parents who raised him, as untrustworthy simply because he's Valentine's son. Everyone sees his father in him, but few see him as an independent young man with thoughts and feelings of his own. Of course, Alec and Isabelle are still on his side, as is Clary and Clary's father-figure, Luke, and best friend, Simon, but most of the older Shadowhunters are against him, none more so than the Inquisitor. She's brought in to judge Jace, but she has a major chip on her shoulder where he's concerned because of a personal vendetta she has against Valentine. Even Jace's own father eventually turns against him and is more than willing to sacrifice Jace if it means he can succeed in his evil plans. So in a way, this book could kind of be called Everybody Hates Jace.:-) Unlike some readers who adore Jace, he doesn't necessarily draw me in quite the same way. He's arrogant and cocky and full of snarky one-liners, which can make him difficult for me to love, but at the same time, I think some of that angry edge he has is a protection mechanism. I can see glimmers of his vulnerability underneath, which does intrigue me to some extent, but I'd love it if he was able to allow himself to be a little more vulnerable. Still, I'll allow that he's an interesting character, just not one that I've fully fallen in love with yet.
Although Jace went through a more transformative process in this book, Clary is still front and center too. Unlike Jace, she has no conflicted feelings about their father, probably in large part because she never knew him. She wants to help in the fight against Valentine, but with her mother having kept her in hiding most of her life, she never trained as a Shadowhunter, even though it's in her DNA. Clary is a strong heroine with the heart of a lion, who isn't afraid to stand up to others when they're wrong. She's also a defender of all those whom she cares about. Untrained or not, she'd gladly put herself in harm's way to protect them. And protect them she does when she discovers an untapped power that she never knew she possessed. In fact, both she and Jace find out things about themselves and exhibit abilities far beyond anything anyone in the Shadowhunter community has ever seen before. I really look forward to watching them develop these powers more fully in the books to come.
Quite a number of readers have tried to classify these books as romance, but as a long-time connoisseur of romance in the capacity of both reader and writer, IMHO, they really aren't. Yes, there is some romance in them, but it definitely isn't the main focus. Also, in order to be a romance, a book really needs to have a satisfying and uplifting ending with regards to the romantic relationship and that certainly hasn't been the case with either of the first two books of the series. I fully expect for this to resolve itself by the end of the series, but for right now, things are very much in flux. First of all, we found out at the end of book #1 that Jace and Clary are brother and sister. I'm still not sure I fully believe it's true, but throughout City of Ashes, that assumption is still in place. However, that doesn't stop them from having romantic feelings toward one another. While Jace is ready to say, “Screw it! I don't care if you're my sister. I want to be with you,” Clary isn't quite there yet. In fact, she's trying to put her feelings for Jace to rest by going out with her best friend, Simon, who's been madly in love with her for a long time. It seems that Cassandra Clare is very fond of love triangles in general, as there are other characters mixed up in them as well. A young werewolf girl named Maia develops an attraction for Simon, while elsewhere, Alec appears to be getting involved with Magnus but still can't get over his love for Jace. I've never been a big fan of love triangles (or quadrangles as the case may be) being used as a device to fuel relationship conflict, yet these books seem to have them in spades. It makes it really hard, if not outright impossible, to know who to root for on the romance front. That's yet another reason why I firmly refuse to call these books romance – at least not yet.:-) It just makes it a little easier to thoroughly enjoy the stories when I'm not as worried about the frustrating nature of the relationships.
In addition to Clary and Jace, there are lots of secondary characters who I absolutely love. I'm slightly more enamored of Simon and Alec than I am of Jace. I've always had a fondness for guys who are on the geeky side and Simon definitely fits that bill. Simon undergoes a transformation of his own in this book and is in harm's way a lot. While I can't say I enjoyed worrying about him dying, I did enjoy him being a focus character. I also like quieter, gentler guys of which Alec is one. There most certainly hasn't been enough of Alec in these stories yet. I think his more soft-hearted nature leaves him in the background too often. The adorably flamboyant Magnus is another character who gets more page time in this book. He becomes an invaluable help to our intrepid heroes and heroines in their fight against Valentine and the demons he's unleashed, and I enjoyed learning a little more about his character and his abilities. Luke is another character I love for his loyalty and protectiveness of Clary and her mother all these years, and he's still looking out for them while trying to lead his newly acquired werewolf pack. The Inquisitor is someone I loved to hate, but even she finally has a moment of clarity in the end. Not so of Valentine, who I'm sure is in this for the long-haul and who makes a dastardly villain.
As a parent, I would say that content-wise City of Ashes is pretty much on par with the first book and fully appropriate for a mature teenage audience. Probably of greatest concern would be the violence. There is quite a bit of peril and stylized fantasy violence involving grotesque demons. There is some gore as well in form of the villain draining blood from various Downworlders for nefarious purposes, as well as our heroic characters dealing with blood and ichor as they fight off the demons. But overall, I don't feel that it was overdone or nearly as explicit in the descriptions as it could have been, making it on par with what teens might see in a PG-13 movie. There is a small amount of language, mostly limited to mild profanities. In one scene, Jace goes to a Downworlder bar, where no one asks questions about age, and has a drink. There is also some mild sexual innuendo, but nothing beyond kissing actually takes place. Clary invites Simon to share her bed when he sleeps over one night. They talk briefly about sex, but again nothing but kisses actually occur. Clary and Jace have obvious romantic feelings for one another, but are said to be brother and sister, so the potentially incestuous nature of their relationship may bother some readers. Also two characters are gay and implied to be in a relationship, which again may bother some. Otherwise, I can't think of anything potentially objectionable, and like I said, I'm certain mature teens could handle the subject-matter with no problem.
There may have been a few tiny little things about the story I might have changed, but the overall likability factor for both the characters and the plot of City of Ashes was extremely high for me. I very much enjoyed reading it. It didn't necessarily grab me intensely from page one, but I still looked forward to it each time I sat down to read it. These books have a tendency to start out a little slower and then gradually, but steadily, build momentum as the story progresses, ending in a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat climax that's hard to put down. The author also left a couple of tantalizing threads hanging that make me wonder what will happen next. I may have allowed two years to pass between my reading of the first and second Mortal Instruments books, but I certainly won't be making that mistake again. I'm very eager to continue with the series, and with two winners in a row, Cassandra Clare is now on my favorite authors list. I can't wait to read more of her work!...more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Silent Confessions was my second read by Julie Kenner. It's one of her older books that's on the shorter side, more the lengthReviewed for THC Reviews Silent Confessions was my second read by Julie Kenner. It's one of her older books that's on the shorter side, more the length of a Harlequin romance. It was actually published by Harlequin, but not in one of their specialized lines. I really like Ms. Kenner's writing style. It's straightforward and easy to read. Her love scenes are loaded with steam, probably on the order of a Harlequin Blaze. A couple are borderline erotic, but there are also several that are closed-door and kind of glossed over, so I wouldn't really call this an erotic romance, just a very spicy one. However, with the heroine being a student of erotica and the owner of a bookstore specializing in the genre, there's a lot of talk of historical erotic literature and art that very much piqued by curiosity. That, in my estimation, is the hallmark of a good book, one that can teach me something new or stir my interest in a previously undiscovered topic, so overall, I had a really good time reading Silent Confessions.
Jack and Veronica are likable characters. He's a detective with the NYPD, working in the sex crimes division. He got into that specialty because of a family member who was raped. Ronnie, as I've mentioned, is a graduate student and the owner of a bookstore specializing in erotica. She also gives lectures and leads discussion of these books at her store. The store was recently broken into, but nothing of value was stolen, so the cops haven't made her case a priority. Jack, on the other hand, is working a case involving a stalker who leaves messages gleaned from erotic literature. The two meet when Ronnie goes to the police station to demand an update on her case, and Jack accidentally mistakes her for the erotica expert his partner lined up to help them on the case. As it turns out Ronnie is far more well-versed in erotica then the purported expert, so after Jack figures out his faux pas and apologizes, she ends up helping him with his investigation by giving him private lessons in erotica that don't always involve reading.;-)
Normally I'm not a big fan of quick hook-ups in romance, but here it worked beautifully for me. The only reason I can discern for that is that the author made me feel the chemistry and emotional connection between these two characters on a visceral level, so that I fully believed they were two halves of a whole that had always been meant for one another. They just can't seem to get enough of each other, and they give their trust freely and implicitly from the start. Until they met, Ronnie had thought she was destined to only live vicariously through the sexual exploits of the authors whose works she read, and after a marriage gone bad, Jack thought he was having trouble trusting women, but with Ronnie all that changes. For this reason, I had no trouble believing they made a great couple.
The main reason I decided to mark the book down a star is that I felt like the characterizations could have gone deeper. The author gives enough background information on Jack and Ronnie to make me feel like I knew them fairly well, but at the same time I would have liked to know more. For instance, I don't recall any specific reasons being mentioned for Ronnie getting into the study of erotica, which is kind of an unusual field. It would have been nice if this had been explored a little more. Also, while reasons were given for Jack's chosen law enforcement specialty, I couldn't help feeling like I'd like to know more about how this incident affected him personally, and why at the end of the book, he's open to changing. How did Ronnie and/or her case make him feel like he'd done justice enough to his job and his cousin to be OK with a switch? In addition, I think the villain's motives could have been a little clearer and more believable. Up until the point where his identity is fully revealed, he'd seemed fairly innocuous, so it was a little hard to buy into such a sudden change. However, the author did make me second-guess myself on the stalker/killer's identity a few times. I can't help wondering if she was perhaps constrained by word count, in which case, she still did a decent job of creating a good story in a rather short space.
In spite of a few weaknesses, Silent Confessions was an enjoyable read for me for all of the reasons I've mentioned above. While Julie Kenner's website doesn't officially have this book linked with any others as a series, there is another book, Silent Desires, published by the Harlequin Blaze line, which features Ronnie's friend and employee, Joan, as the heroine. Also, Ronnie is a secondary character in Night Moves, set at a future date, when she's become a professor of erotic literature. These first couple of books I've read by Ms. Kenner have left me very interested in trying more. If these early works of hers are this tantalizing, I can't help wondering how much better her newer releases written as J. Kenner must be....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" A Man Rides Through was a great wrap-up to the Mordant's Need duet. The first book of the series, The Mirror of HeReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" A Man Rides Through was a great wrap-up to the Mordant's Need duet. The first book of the series, The Mirror of Her Dreams, ended on a cliff-hanger, so A Man Rides Through picks up the plot exactly where it left off. It's a complex story rooted in the political intrigues of the medieval-style fantasy realm of Mordant. I would have loved to have a map to refer to while reading the story, and apparently many others fans concurred. I did find a fan-produced one online, which helps immensely in envisioning this land, which is situated between the two enemies of Alend and Cadwal. Years ago, when King Joyse conquered the land, he deliberately placed himself in that position to keep the peace, which had worked well until an unknown enemy rose up against Mordant. (view spoiler)[In order to figure out who the guilty party was, King Joyse made himself look weak so they would attack him first. (hide spoiler)] Now chaos has spread throughout the land as this enemy runs rampant. The primary fantasy element of the story centers around Imagery, a form of magic that relies on mirrors to translate people, objects, or creatures from parallel worlds (or within their own world) that can either help or hinder in the fight. King Joyse tried to make Imagery a force for good in the world, but a few power-hungry Imagers have now allied with Mordant's normal human enemies in an attempt to conquer them once and for all.
At the center of all these machinations is a young woman named Terisa. In the first book, she was “accidentally” translated from our world into Mordant by Geraden, a young Apt (apprentice imager) who had a penchant for clumsiness and misfortune. Due to her father's abuse growing up, Terisa suffered from a very low self-esteem and wasn't even certain if she was real. Coming with Geraden to Mordant gave her a new lease on life, but for most of The Mirror of Her Dreams, she was still a very passive character, who kind of allows things to happen around her without taking action. Now in A Man Rides Through, she finally discovers her true talent and really comes into her own. There are times when she still feels helpless, but overall, she becomes a much stronger character who is more proactive. She starts using her bright mind to think for herself and reason things out logically, and she's also willing and even eager at times to lend a hand to Mordant in whatever capacity she can even when she feels like she has little to offer. By the end of the book, she's truly standing up, not only for herself, but also for Geraden and the other characters she's come to care about. It was a lot of fun to watch her grow and change into a better version of herself, while not losing her innate kindness and gentleness. The Terisa of book #1 was a little too passive for my taste, but in book #2, she becomes an even more relatable and admirable heroine.
Geraden, too, is a character who comes into his own. In the first book, he was the laughingstock of the Congery, an Apt who had been in that position for ten years, far longer than anyone else, and still hadn't earned his chasuble as an Imager. I had to admire his grit and determination, but everyone else, for the most part, thinks of him as nothing but a bumbling idiot. He never allowed their jeering to harden him, though, and now he finally gets a chance to prove his mettle. We find out exactly why he hasn't made any inroads with the Congery for so long and he discovers a talent he never knew he possessed. He also puts his determination to good use in the fight against Mordant's enemies, and he also never lost faith in their king even when nearly everyone else, including the king's own family did. Geraden proves himself to be a strong and powerful hero, but he never loses the innate sweetness that made me fall in love with him from the beginning.
There are a plethora of supporting characters in these stories and many stand-outs, some who ultimately gave their lives for the cause, and others who survived, but all fought valiantly. Throughout most of book #1, the Tor was in a wine-soaked state, grieving the loss of his son and the downfall of his dear friend and king, but in this book, he really steps up to the plate and becomes invaluable. Despite his attempted attack on Orison (the seat of Mordant), Prince Kragan proves himself to be an honorable “enemy.” The king's daughters, Elega, Myste, and Torrent, all do their part. Myste's soft-heartedness in going after the Congery's champion, Darsint, turns out to be a particularly bold move. Geraden's family are a colorful bunch, but none more so than his brother, Artegel, a charmer with a big personality who is also the best swordsman in all of Mordant. Of course, there's also King Joyse himself and crazy Adept Havelock, who's brilliant strategizing actually paid off. The villains, who I shall leave unnamed so as to not give too many spoilers, were dastardly in the extreme, but not nearly as invincible as they thought they were. Oftentimes, I get confused by a large cast of characters like these books have, but somehow I never got lost and always knew who was who. I strongly suspect that's a testament to Stephen Donaldson's ability to draw each character with a distinctive personality that made each of them stand out.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading A Man Rides Through (for the second time:-)). It's a fabulous fantasy adventure that keeps the reader guessing pretty well as to what might happen next and how our intrepid heroes and heroines will ever win. The climax is a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat, thrill ride, and the epilogue wraps everything up perfectly. While the book certainly isn't a romance, there was just enough of it to satisfy this romance fan. I loved that from the beginning of this book, Terisa realized she loved Geraden and their relationship only grew stronger from there, even though it is secondary to everything else that's going on. There are also a couple of other romances in the background, so that was nice too. The only reason I dropped a half-star was because Stephen Donaldson has a very dense, somewhat wordy writing style that left my mind wandering at times, but at the same time, he also has a way with creating some unique and colorful turns of phrase. So, I'm a little conflicted on how I feel about all that. Otherwise, the two books together are a great story that I highly recommend to fans of fantasy fiction.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Other than figure skating and gymnastics, I'm not really much of a sports fan, so I'm also not a big reader of sports romancesReviewed for THC Reviews Other than figure skating and gymnastics, I'm not really much of a sports fan, so I'm also not a big reader of sports romances. I can probably count on one hand the number of sports-themed romances I've ever read. That's why it's rather odd that Defying the Odds is the second sports-themed romance I've picked up in as many months. In this one, the hero is an MMA fighter. Unlike many romance readers, I wasn't attracted to the story because of his profession, but instead because of the heroine's past history of abuse and the potential need for her to overcome her aversion to a man who makes a living with his fists. I know many women are turned on by the testosterone-laced spectacle of flying fists, but I'm afraid I'm not one of them. Yeah, I know, I'm a little strange that way, but watching two guys beat each other to a pulp for sport just isn't my idea of a good time. For that reason, this part of the story wasn't quite my cup of tea, but I still really liked everything else about it.
Melody is a woman who is running from her past. Her ex-husband severely abused her, and she barely got out of the marriage with her life. Her father is gone, and her mother, unfortunately, sided with her ex, unable to see the man for what he really was. Now Melody is starting over in a small town not unlike the one where she grew up. She's working double shifts as a waitress in the local diner to make ends meet, when Clay comes in for Thanksgiving dinner. She likes him and buys him a piece of pie, which starts the ball rolling for them toward a romantic HEA. I liked Melody, because her personality reminds me a lot of myself. She's on the curvy side and wears glasses, but of course, Clay thinks she's just perfect, even though she worries she's not attractive enough for someone like him. She's a sweet, kind, caring person, but life has handed her lemons and now she's trying to make lemonade. On the one hand, I liked that she was open and trusting of Clay pretty much from the start, but on the other hand, it seemed like after all she'd been through, she would have been more wary of men, especially ones who make a living the way he does. She pulls back a couple of times early on, but before you know it, they're enjoying a passionate clinch that leads to a whole lot more. I think perhaps the story could have been richer and deeper if Melody had had a little more internal conflict leading up to that moment, but at least the author explained that Clay and Melody's ex were worlds apart in personality.
As I mentioned, Clay is an MMA fighter. He's in the midst of training for an upcoming championship bout, when Melody buys him the Thanksgiving pie. He's incredibly touched by her kindness, especially after he learns how little money she has and how hard she's working to pay the bills. Clay had a rough life growing up, ending up in foster care at the age of eleven. He eventually was taken in by Wyatt and Jules's father, and the two of them are now his best friends and the only family he has left. I liked that Clay is kind of a shy guy. He likes fighting, but he hates all the publicity that goes along with it. Wyatt, who is a former fighter himself and a much more outgoing guy, usually goes with Clay to his fights to help deal with the press and the fans. Up to this point, Clay has pretty much only had one-night stands, sometimes with the women who follow the fights, but he doesn't really like it all that much and only does it when he feels a pressing need for the release. He'd like something deeper and more permanent, but doesn't think he'll ever find that until Mel comes along. I like how protective Clay is of Mel, and how he just wants to take care of her, even though she's trying to be independent. I also loved that even though he's a rough, tough alpha-male fighter that he has a softer, gentler side when he's with her. He's a tender lover, and when the intense passion takes hold, he's always concerned with knowing he didn't hurt her.
Defying the Odds is the first book in Kele Moon's Battered Hearts series. Jules and Wyatt play strong secondary roles and become the heroine and hero of the next two books respectively. Jules's book, Star Crossed, is book #2, where she gets paired with Romeo Wellings, Clay's arch-rival for the championship title. Wyatt mentions a girl named Tabitha, who it seems is the one that got away, and she returns to pair up with him in book #3, Crossing the Line. The author has also started a new spin-off series, Untamed Hearts, that follows some younger characters who are introduced later in the Battered Hearts series.
Other than feeling like the characterizations could have gone a little deeper, and the romance could have been built up a bit more before the first love scene, I enjoyed Defying the Odds. The love scenes are hot and steamy but don't skimp on the emotion, which is exactly the way I like them. The romance was sweet and heartfelt, which was also just right for me. Anyone who enjoys a tender romance between an alpha male with a heart of gold and a gentle heroine who brings out the best in him should really like this one.
Note: While nothing particularly kinky occurs within the love scenes, they are extremely hot and employ the use of frank language that is typically reserved for erotic romances....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Judith McNaught's Perfect is the second book in her Second Opportunities series and the second book by her that I'Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Judith McNaught's Perfect is the second book in her Second Opportunities series and the second book by her that I've read. The first book of the series, Paradise, was an amazing read for me that now has a place among my all-time favorite romances. I'd heard equally good things about Perfect, and while it was a great read, it ever so slightly missed the bar that Paradise had set. Much like with Paradise, the hero and heroine of Perfect are given extensive backstories that begin when they're both pretty young, but unlike Paradise, their romance doesn't get started until over 100 pages into the story when the hero kidnaps the heroine, taking her hostage after escaping from prison. Not only did it take significantly longer for the romance to get started, but having it start the way it did, put a bit of a damper on the initial emotional connection for me. Even though I never once believed that Zack actually murdered his wife, his actions at first aren't exactly honorable. The more time they spend holed up in their mountain hideaway, the better things get, but eventually, they still must part ways. After that, there were a few parts that moved a bit slowly for me, because I was beyond eager for the real killer to be found and for them to reunite. Also, Julie is extremely trusting of Zack, but when things go badly and her trust is truly put to the test, she comes to believe he really is guilty. At this point, she starts dating an FBI agent who was working on the case. Even though it was clear that she still loved Zack through all of the turmoil, I once again, couldn't help feeling like there was a bit of a damper on that all-important emotional connection. Admittedly the author did bring things full-circle with a touching reunion, and while the subsequent scenes of Zack and Julie's two week courtship were kind of sweet, I couldn't help feeling like things maybe could have been wrapped up a little sooner. Overall, though, despite my few nitpicks, Perfect was an enjoyable read.
When the story opens, Julie is an eleven-year-old street urchin, who was abandoned as a baby. She was shuttled around from one foster home to the next her whole life, and she can't even read. In spite of her circumstances, she's obviously a brilliant, sweet, empathetic girl, who I liked immediately. She just needed responsible adults in her life who were willing to help her reach her potential. She found that in her psychologist who recognized that potential and helped get her adopted by a loving family who then helped her reach it. Now, as an adult, she is a teacher, not only of kids, but also of a group of illiterate adult women. Julie's family gave her their absolute trust, so she in return decided to be 'perfect' to be worthy of that trust. I think in large part because of the love and trust her family showed her, Julie is very trusting of others, which is why she fell for Zack's story and gave him a ride after he'd escaped from prison. Even after she found out who he really was and he'd officially taken her hostage, she handled herself very well. She used her intelligence and ingenuity to try to escape, but when all her attempts failed, she still lashed him with her sharp tongue. Eventually, after being holed up with him in a luxury mountain-top cabin for a few days, she comes to believe he couldn't possibly be guilty of his wife's murder. That's when things start to heat up between them. After Zack sends her home so that he can flee the country, she stands by him, maintaining his innocence to the press and never painting him as the monster they seem to think he is. She's his staunchest supporter and loved him to the point that she was willing to run away with him until some unexpected information comes to light. Then her faith in his innocence falters. While I understood her reasons and very well might have felt the same way, I couldn't help feeling that it somehow marred her love for him just a bit. Even after that, though, it's obvious that she still cares for him and it killed her to do some of the things she did. Once the real killer came to light, Julie was more than willing to make amends, but by then, Zack didn't want anything to do with her.
When we first see Zack, he's eighteen and being thrown out of his privileged life and luxurious home by a seemingly cold-hearted grandmother. After that, he hitches a ride to Hollywood, where he gets discovered and builds a new life for himself as an Academy award winning film actor and director. Unfortunately his cheating wife is shot to death on the set of his latest movie, and everyone believes Zack did it. He's convicted and sent to prison for 45 years, but after serving only five, he's about to go insane and decides to make a daring escape. Things don't quite go as planned, which is how he ends up kidnapping Julie. From those opening pages, Zack is a pretty sympathetic character, who I never believed killed anybody. He does make some threats against Julie and hold her at gunpoint, but he also shows some surprising moments of vulnerability, which convinced her (and me) of his innocence and decency. Julie is a breath of fresh air to Zack, partly because she isn't particularly impressed by his super-stardom, and partly because she's nothing like the starlets and other Hollywood types who were only interested in him for what he could do for their career. She's pure and innocent, far from the jaded, cynical person he's become. Her zest for life is infectious. Being around her makes him feel like a different person – someone normal. Except for one sex scene that was rather rough and not really my cup of tea and which I mostly understood his reasons for and for which he later made up, Zack is a tender and considerate lover. He also behaves selflessly in sending Julie back to her family, refusing to take her with him out of the country. Zack has some hard, stubborn alpha male moments, but also plenty of kind, loving moments that help to make up for them and balance him out.
Before reading, Perfect, I had no idea what the connections were between it and Paradise. Even though they didn't share the same last name, I thought maybe Julie was Matt's sister from Paradise. That definitely wasn't the case. I guess Ms. McNaught just really likes the name, which is fine by me since that's my name too.:-) Anyway, the actual connection is that Matt and Meredith, the hero and heroine of Paradise, appear several times as secondary characters. Matt is Zack's best and really his only true friend, and he and Meredith are the only ones who never lose faith in Zack's innocence. In fact, Matt moves heaven and earth to prove it. We also get to see more of Matt's amusing bodyguard/chauffeur, Joe O'Hara, who apparently appears in another of Ms. McNaught's books, Someone to Watch Over Me. We also meet FBI agent, Paul Richardson, who seems like a good guy but who kind of gets left out in the cold when Julie and Zack reunite. He shows up again in book three of the series, Night Whispers.
Even though there were a few small things that kept Perfect from being 'perfect,' it was still a very good read. While the book as a whole might not have been quite flawless for me, it did contain one of the most perfect love scenes I've ever read in a romance novel. Once Zack and Julie finally start talking and getting to know one another on a more personal level, it builds a strong sense of intimacy and connection that makes their first love scene utterly beautiful. It's filled with the tenderness, love and passion I crave in a romance. Zack's love letter to Julie is also pretty darn perfect. Those things alone made it worth all the ups and downs they have to suffer through to get their HEA. With two keepers in a row under her belt, Judith McNaught has earned a spot on my favorite authors list, and I look forward to checking out the rest of the Second Opportunities series and more of her backlist titles soon....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews The first two books of Karen Kelley's Southern series were OK reads for me, so I went into reading Hell on Wheels with fairlyReviewed for THC Reviews The first two books of Karen Kelley's Southern series were OK reads for me, so I went into reading Hell on Wheels with fairly low expectations. In fact, if it weren't for me using this series for a reading challenge I'm working on, I would have been tempted to skip ahead to the final novella and possibly call it quits, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed this book better than her others. I find this rather odd too, because Hell on Wheels is the lowest rated book of the series on GoodReads, yet I liked it the best so far. This one has less suspense than the first two, which might partly account for why most readers didn't like it as much, but for me it worked well. I had felt like the suspense plot and the sexy scenes were unbalanced in the first two books with one or the other making some sections of those stories top-heavy. That wasn't really the case here, since Hell on Wheels was pretty much a straight-up contemporary. There's a little action but no suspense to speak of. It may have been a bit less exciting, but I felt like the narrative flowed a lot better and more evenly.
At least in this series, Karen Kelley seems to have certain go-to character archetypes. Much like the heroines of the previous two books, Cody is an alpha female who works as a bounty hunter and she's damn good at her job. She had a rough life growing up. Her father left her mother before Cody was born, so she knows nothing about him and her mother isn't exactly being forthcoming. Her mother also spent much of Cody's childhood at the bottom of a bottle. She did have a long-term boyfriend to whom Cody became attached as a father-figure. He taught her to fight and do many of the things she does today, but he also left without warning. As a result, Cody has trust issues and believes that to care about anyone means that they'll leave her. Also like the previous two heroines, she's not a relationship kind of gal, but instead prefers one-night stands, but at least her reasons seemed more sound to me. She's also a little softer and slightly less edgy than the previous heroines, so I liked her better. As the book opens, she's very obviously attracted to Josh, but she's fighting the idea of sleeping with him. She knows he's a playboy and has no desire to become just another notch in his bedpost. In the end though, it doesn't take long for her resistance to wear down, and once they've done the deed, it's so good, she just can't get enough of him. But that doesn't stop her from being afraid he'll break her heart eventually. She tries to guard her heart against his inevitable leaving, but ultimately she can't resist taking the chance over and over. As a little aside here, the name Cody for a woman was a little jarring for me. I know it can be used interchangeably as a male or female name, but it's much more commonly used as a male name. Therefore, I kept getting her name mixed up with the hero's when the POVs switched.
Again, like the first two heroes in the series, Josh is a sexy charmer. He used to be an undercover police detective, but he gave up that life to become a bounty hunter. It pays better, and he's been saving up, hoping to open his own private detective business. He's as good a bounty hunter as Cody, so they respect each other as equals on the job. They also prove to work well together. Much like the first two heroes in the series, I felt like Josh was lacking a certain depth to his character. A couple of times, he experiences nightmares that I thought might go somewhere, but they didn't. He says very little about them, just that it was an undercover operation gone bad, in which a young woman was killed and he somehow felt rather responsible. I think if the author had explored this part of his life a little more, he would have been a more interesting character, but I still liked him. He didn't seem to be nearly as much of a dog as Cody initially thought. In fact, he appeared to be very kind and considerate of female sensitivities, even though Cody isn't a particularly sensitive woman. Cody's temperamental nature is a point he uses often to tell himself it would never work between them, but he's still mostly amused by that side of her rather than off-put. He's also very vocal about how beautiful and sexy he finds Cody even though she doesn't entirely believe him. And he's as completely into her as she is into him.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the emotional connection between Josh and Cody was a lot more palpable too. I could tell from the opening pages that they were totally hot for one another. That and them knowing each other for a while before the story opens made their quick hook-up much more believable for me. Even though they both fight their feelings pretty much all the way to the end, I still felt the connection because it was obvious from their body language and the way they were behaving that they were falling in love and just couldn't see it for themselves. Luckily fate intervened to bring them together in a way they might not have connected on their own. Also the love scenes in the first two books just didn't quite do it for me, but in this one, I thought they were much better written. They're longer, more descriptive, and contain lots of the steam I expect from a Brava romance. I very much enjoyed their sexy bantering too. All of these things came together to make me believe in their burgeoning love and rightness for one another.
While Hell on Wheels was better for me than the other books of the series so far, it still wasn't perfect. Like I mentioned earlier, I felt like the author could have deepened her characterizations more, particularly Josh's, and the plot could have been a little tighter. I'd also like to see her branch out a bit more and try writing some different types of characters besides the alpha female loner and the charming Southern playboy. Ms. Kelley also has a tendency to overuse certain words and character actions. In this book, she repeatedly uses the word 'skip' to refer to the bail jumpers Josh and Cody go after. I'm all for using lingo to set the atmosphere but the amount of times she uses that one word, especially in the opening chapters, was complete overkill. As with the last book of the series her characters are constantly opening their mouths and snapping them shut. Not only was it repetitive, but wording it this way reminds me of an alligator or some other wild animal. I kept thinking these poor people were going to need a dentist pretty soon.:-) Otherwise though, I generally enjoyed Hell on Wheels. It's kind of on the lighter side, more so than I typically like to read, but at least the heroine was more relatable and IMHO the book was better written. Now I just have the final novella, Southern Star (previously titled It's a Wonderful Life from the anthology I'm Your Santa), to read, so we'll see how that goes before I make a determination on whether Karen Kelley stays on my TBR list.
Hell on Wheels is the third book in the Southern series, but it can easily be read as a stand-alone. It's only connection to the other books is that Josh used to work with and is still good friends with Wade, the hero of book #1, Southern Comfort. Wade's name pops up several times, but no carry-over characters are actually seen in the story. I think Josh may have been introduced in book #1 too, but my memory is a bit foggy on that, and since I don't own a copy, I can't confirm it for sure. ...more