Saturday, March 28, 2015

ARC Review: We All Looked Up

We All Looked Up
Tommy Wallach
Young Adult/Pre-Apocalypse
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
March 24, 2015

Four high school seniors put their hopes, hearts, and humanity on the line as an asteroid hurtles toward Earth in this contemporary novel.

Peter, the star basketball player at his school, is worried “they” might actually be right. Meanwhile Eliza can’t wait to escape Seattle—and her reputation—and perfect-on-paper Anita wonders if admission to Princeton is worth the price of abandoning her real dreams. Andy, for his part, ddoesn'tunderstand all the fuss about college and career—the future can wait.

Or can it? Because it turns out the future is hurtling through space with the potential to wipe out life on Earth. As these four seniors—along with the rest of the planet—wait to see what damage an asteroid will cause, they must abandon all thoughts of the future and decide how they’re going to spend what remains of the present.

This is a scenario which could potentially happen. We do hear about asteroids coming what science calls "close to earth", when in reality they are millions of miles away. But for the characters in Tommy Wallach's We All Looked Up, coming close isn't a factor. This asteroid is almost destined to make impact. It's a pity the characters and their story didn't leave a great impact on this reader.

The story starts out with getting to know these teens and their lives prior to the devastating news that will change their lives. What I found interesting is the different reactions to the news of the asteroid. Some people pull closer to their families while others rebel against everything and everyone. It makes you wonder if they are going against their nature or if the event is bringing out their true nature.  It's always good when a book makes you think.

The main characters don't have much in common at the beginning but band together and find some surprising commonalities  as they come to know each other. The pairings up would not have occurred in real life but this is a surreal life these characters are living, knowing their lives might be ending in a very short amount of time.  Might as well make the most of it seems to be the prevailing attitude.

If the plot had continued focusing on the main characters the story would have held my interest but instead we are lead into another direction. The world of drugs and crime populated by thugs left me caring little for the outcome of these characters. They continued to make poor, idiotic choices, wasting away the time they had instead of appreciating it.

In the end, while I wanted to care about these characters, about the changes they made prior to the asteroids impact, I felt a bit empty by the end.

Rating: C-

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

TBR Challenge: Once in a Lifetime

Once in a lifetime
Jill Shalvis
Contemporary Romance
Lucky Harbor/Book 9
Grand Central Publishing/February 18, 2014


After a wrenching loss, Ben McDaniel tried to escape his grief by working in dangerous, war-torn places like Africa and the Middle East. Now he's back in his hometown and face-to-face with Aubrey Wellington, the hot-as-hell woman who is trouble with a capital T. Family and friends insist she's not the one to ease his pain, but Aubrey sparks an intense desire that gives Ben hope for the future.

Determined to right the wrongs of her past, Aubrey is working hard to make amends. But by far, the toughest challenge to her plan is sexy, brooding Ben - even though he has absolutely no idea what she's done...

Can this unlikely couple defy the odds and win over the little town of Lucky Harbor?

Aubrey is a former troubled teen and beauty queen but if you stop at that simple description, you would be missing out on a lot. After her latest, very public embarrassment, she's reforming herself. Aubrey has decided to atonement to everyone she's wronged. So she makes a list and checks it off as she goes but one name on the list is causing her a lot of problems.

Ben McDaniels' wife Hannah died five years ago and since then Ben has been making himself scarce in Lucky Harbor. Instead, he travels around the world, helping others. Ben works in dangerous places around the world, running from his memories in Lucky Harbor. But he keeps coming back because it's home and his family is there. When he finds himself back in Lucky Harbor he has no plans to stay long but those plans change when Aubrey Wellington runs across his path.

The chemistry between Aubrey and Ben is there but there is also reluctance on both their parts to give in to any desires. That reluctance doesn't last long and soon Ben and Aubrey have moved past their hesitancy into a not-so-serious relationship. It was believable but I didn't like the way everyone warned Ben away from Aubrey, implying she wasn't good enough for him. Ben garnered sympathy because of his dead wife and Aubrey was known as the town screw up but I think that had just as much to do with her mistakes as with jealousy over her looks.

Often there is a secondary relationship which can sometimes be just as interesting, if not more, than the main couple. In this case, the secondary relationship I enjoyed is between Ben and his cousin Luke. They are more like brothers, growing up together after Luke's mom took Ben in when he was left alone in the world. It's a beautiful relationship filled with love, laughter and mutual harassing of each other. I found myself wishing they had more page time which I can't remember ever happening with two straight guys.

Once in a Lifetime, the ninth book in the series, left me less than satisfied. There is a feeling of sameness to the stories. I know where it's going, which isn't always bad but there are few if any surprises along the way. Surprises are good, they keep our interest piqued. I do plan to read the rest of the series in the hopes there are still a few surprises along the way.

Rating: C

Lucky Harbor Series ~

Simply Irresistible 
The Sweetest Thing
Kissing Santa Claus novella in the anthology Small Town Christmas
Head Over Heels
Lucky in Love
At Last 
Forever and a Day
It Had to Be You
Always On My Mind
Once In a Lifetime
It's In His Kiss
He's So Fine
One In a Million

Monday, March 16, 2015

ARC Review: Badlands

C. J. Box
Cody Hoyt/Book 3
Minotaur Books/July 28, 2015

Twenty miles across the North Dakota border, where the scenery goes from rolling grass prairie to pipeline fields, detective Cassie Dewell has been assigned as the new deputy sheriff of Grimstad--a place people used to be from, but were never headed to--now the oil capital of North Dakota. With oil comes money, with money comes drugs, and with drugs comes the dirtiest criminals wanting to corner the market. 

In the same small town resides twelve-year-old Kyle Westergaard. Even though Kyle has been written off as the "slow" kid, he has dreams deeper than anyone can imagine. While delivering newspapers, he witnesses a car accident and now has a lot of money and packets of white powder in his possession. 

When the temperature drops to 30 below and a gang war heats up, Cassie finds that the key to it all might come in the most unlikely form: an undersized boy on a bike who keeps showing up where he doesn't belong.

A kid like Kyle is invisible. But he sees everything.

The setting, the writing, the characters are all classic Box. While this is technically the third book in the "Cody Hoty" series, it can be read as a stand alone. Cassie Dewell was a secondary character in the second book and now she takes the lead. She's a strong character but not without some flaws.

Badlands is not only the title of the novel but refers to the area of the United States where the story takes place. The badlands of North Dakota have undergone a serious transformation. With the oil boom, the landscape has gone from scenic to overcrowded with men, trucks and noise. It's this new landscape Cassie Newell finds herself thrown into. Cassie wants to get away from the corruption of her former police force so she takes a high paying job in Grimstad, North Dakota. The pay is high because the price of everything have skyrocketed. With fast food cashiers making $18 an hour, it's no surprise drugs have become more prevalent.

The intensity of the situation Cassie walks into is highly stressful. She is the new cop and the outsider but that isn't such an oddity since there are so many new people in town. What causes Cassie stress is she doesn't know which of her fellow deputies she can trust. This adds tension to the plot, moving it into dangerous situations for Cassie as well as for local Kyle Westergaard.

Kyle Westergaard has not had it easy in his twelve short years. He was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and while he may be a little on the slow side, he is tenacious. That trait, along with his inherit will to survive, combine to make Kyle an unlikely hero. It was interesting seeing the story through Kyle's eyes. He gives a different perspective than the adults. Kyle's point of view gave the story more depth and I'm glad Box took the chance on this unique character.

The plot starts out at a slow pace, with information about the oil boom peppered throughout. It doesn't really pick up speed until the last 100 or so pages, at which point the book is hard to put down. The ending was well done with enough of a teaser for the next book in the series.

Rating: B+

Review: Third Degree

Third Degree
Julie Cross
Contemporary/ New Adult
Flirt/March 25, 2014

I used to be “Isabel Jenkins, child prodigy.” As lame as that sounds, at least it was an identity. But now I’m not sure what I am. I just failed the most important exam of my life—the emotional readiness test required to get into a medical residency program—and it turns out my parents can’t stand each other. Now I’m trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces of my life, and that means re-enrolling as a college freshman, but this time I’m shutting the books and majoring in being eighteen.

But so far, my roommate hates me and I’m not into the party scene. The only good thing about school has been getting to know my insanely hot RA. Marshall Collins makes me wonder about everything I missed while I was growing up too fast. Pretty soon we’re hanging out constantly, but for the first time, I find myself wanting more than a no-strings-attached physical relationship. And the lesson I really need is one Marsh definitely can’t teach me: love. Because I’m going to be alone forever if I don’t learn fast.

Oh, this was such an enjoyable story! I'm surprised at how much the young me inside could identify with Izzy and it has nothing to do with her genius IQ. Izzy's an oddity in the world of medicine. An eighteen year old with her M.D., she is freakishly book smart but her life experiences are so limited when it comes to human interaction she stumbles and falls often.

After failing to get into a residency program, the genius Izzy heads back to college. Not so much for the traditional classroom experience but for the life experience. To help Izzy gain this experience is her R.A. (resident adviser), Marshall Collins. He's hot, funny and attracted to Izzy. He also genuinely likes Izzy for who she is. He does give her advice about tempering her need to diagnosis everyone as he helps Izzy learn to fit in.

Marsh comes up with a plan for Izzy to experience college life and teen life to the fullest. To experience what she has been missing out on while she was busy earning her doctorate when most teens were in high school. Marsh is playful, cheerful, mischievous and sweet and just an all around good guy. Yes, we females tend to be intrigued by "bad boys" but there is something to be said about the good guys.

Izzy and Marsh's relationship is running along fairly smoothly but we know it will hit a rough patch and it does. How they both handle it shows that maturity and intelligence do not always go hand in hand. Izzy begins to realize just how much she has missed out on because of her unconventional upbringing. She has had great opportunities but missing those everyday teenage activities has lead to her struggles to form healthy relationships. Cross does a good job showing this through Izzy's revelations about herself as she works through her new emotional side.

Third Degree is a smart, funny and adept look at how Izzy and Marsh cope with their challenges and how they learned to lean on each other's strengths.

Rating: B+

Monday, March 9, 2015

Review: Hard Time

Hard Time
Cara McKenna
Contemporary Romance
Penguin/April 15, 2014

My pounding heart went still, eerie as birds fallen silent in the wake of a gunshot.

He was big. Tall frame, wide shoulders-but not burly. His near-black hair was due for a cut, curling under his ears. Dark brows, dark stubble, dark lashes and eyes.

And he was handsome. So handsome it broke your heart.

A deck of cards was split between his hands, paused midshuffle. Some of the men wore navy scrub tops and bottoms, some navy tee shirts, a few white undershirts. This man wore a tee, with COUSINS stenciled on the front, above the number 802267. Those digits imprinted on my brain, burned black as a brand.

He watched me. But not the way the others did. If he was trying to picture me naked, his poker face was strong, though his attention anything but subtle. His entire head moved as I passed through his domain, but his eyes were languorous. Lazy and half-lidded, yet intense. A hundred looks in one. I didn't like it. Couldn't read it. At least with the horny jerk-offs, I knew where I stood. I wondered what the worst thing you could do and still only get sent to a medium-security prison was. I hoped not to ever learn the answer.

And I hoped to heaven inmate 802267 hadn't signed up for any of the day's programs.

So very different and so very good! It's not often romance readers get to see and experience the inside of a prison. As the story opens, librarian Annie Goodhouse is on her way to her first day at Cousins Correctional Facility. She, of course, is nervous. Who wouldn't be, knowing you will be in a room full of convicted criminals with only a handful of guards to protect you? But Annie wants to help and she's curious about the inmates. It's an environment not many outsiders have access to so there's bound to be some curiosity. There is also fear and trepidation. Annie has some doubts as to what she is doing and if she can really help any of these men.

Inmate 802267 catches Annie's eye right away. He stands out in a room full of dangerous men. It's the way he holds himself and the way he looks at her. Annie is very aware of his presence as Eric, inmate 802267, is very aware of her. Eric Collier has been locked up for five years on a ten year sentence. He's quiet, thoughtful but can be dangerous if pushed. I found Eric to be an interesting character but the interest, at the beginning, is more of how Annie reacts to Eric than Eric himself.

The first part of the story takes place at the prison while the rest takes place outside prison. I found the beginning to be more tense and intriguing. After the prison, the romance became far more similar to other "good girl/bad boy" romances. Annie believes in the good in Eric while Eric is still very aware of the bad in himself. It's not so much that he apologizes for himself but he doesn't think he's good enough for Annie and there were times when I agreed. He became less alpha and more subservient to Annie towards the ending.

The insight Annie give gives to her experiences in Cousins is revealing not only in what goes on in prisons but what an outsider is exposed to. Annie realizes some of her preconceptions are accurate while others, not so much.

Rating: A-

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Review: Lovely Wild

Lovely Wild
Megan Hart
Contemporary Fiction
MIRA/November 25, 2014

Brought up in the savage captivity of her unstable grandmother's rural Pennsylvania home, Mari Calder once yearned for rescue. Now she struggles every day to function as an adult in the confines of normal society. Left with only a foggy recollection of her childhood, she's consumed with being a dutiful wife to her husband, Ryan, and mother to their two children.

But an unexpected twist of events returns her to that long-forgotten house in the woods. Soon, Mari is greeted with reminders of a past life, the clarified memories only inviting a new level of strangeness into her fragile world. To protect her family, she must find the beautiful, powerful strength hidden in her inner chaos. Because someone is bent on exploiting Mari's trauma, and as normal and wild begin to blend, a string of devastating truths force Mari to question all she thought she knew.

I don't always know what to expect from Megan Hart other than a good story. Maybe I should expect the unexpected? Lovely Wild is clearly a deviation from Hart's erotic romance roots but she still delivers her thought provoking writing and emotional punches in true Hart style. Don't shy away from this because it is not a romance. It's a story not to be missed and hard to put down.

I dare you not to feel sorry for Mari. She is different and she knows it which is why she is not always comfortable around people. There is little to no pretense with Mari, she says what she means and doesn't lie. But she doesn't always know what to say in "normal" circumstances. After getting to know Mari and her background, I didn't feel like Mari was less than normal. Mari makes you see how what is considered normal is often fake and insincere, which Mari doesn't know how to be.

As the story progresses, Mari finds her life circling around to where she started, at the house in the woods. It's here Mari confronts her past as well as how the past fits in with her present and future. Her children are the most important people to Mari but they are not the only family she has. It's family, in all forms, that Mari must deal with.

Seeing Mari back at her beginnings, it's eye opening. She has come so far but still has a ways to go. What I enjoyed seeing is how Mari interactions with her children. She may not have the traditional background of growing up with a loving mother but she is a wonderful mother. It's instinctual with Mari. So while she is having trouble in her marriage she continues to nurture and protect her kids.

One thing that sets this story apart is the different point of view. We not only get Mari's POV but also her husband Ryan's and her teenage daughter Kenda. This gave the story a different feel than it would have had it all been told from Mari's POV. While I didn't like Mari's husband, I wouldn't say seeing events through his eyes made me sympathetic towards him, it did help to understand why he made some real bad choices. Mari's daughter Kenda comes off as they stereo-typical self-absorbed teen but her observations show she is more aware than her parents think she is.

Towards the end is where the plot became less filled with surprises and more filled with predictability. Mari's world is not wrapped up in a pretty bow but ended up closer to normal than where it felt Mari should be.

Rating: A-