A Fare to Remember by Opal Carew

29939400Stevie has given up on love and just wants a simple life driving her taxi. But her plans are turned upside down when gorgeous billionaire Reid Jacobs steps into the back of her cab. Commanding and mysterious, he’s a temptation she can’t resist—and soon their torrid one night stand leads to an intoxicating affair.

In Reid’s strong arms, Stevie finds herself falling harder than she ever imagined. But is she ready to trust again? And when his business partner falls for Stevie, will it change everything? One thing is clear: she’s about to take the ride of her life….

Review:

There are so many problems here but first,

The good-ish:

  • The rich/poor trope gets circumvented, releasing some oh-no-this-can’t-work tension.
  • The writing holds its own.

The not-so-good:

  • Cab driver picks up a hot fare, drives to a deserted alley, and has unprotected sex with him.  In the entirety of the book there isn’t a single mention of condoms, birth control, or health status, even when a third is brought into the relationship.  When a book is set in the modern day real world completely ignoring STDs and pregnancy is at best unreasonable, and at worst irresponsible.  I’m not asking for a lot – a mention of a clean test, a wrapper crinkle – but give me something.
  • Amazing sex equals instant love.  Never mind that getting to know you stuff or talking about your childhood – love is transmitted from the penis to the vagina, apparently.
  • …and not from penis to penis.  A second man is brought in and is sexual with both Stevie and Reid, but his feelings are never considered.  He’s treated like a human sex toy – nice to have around, but not a member of the relationship.  Not cool.
  • BDSM elements are brought in carelessly, without a warning or a safe word.  And not just light bondage – a ball gag, people. No.  No no.
  • While the sex is hot some of it defies physics.  At one point I thought, “no way is all of that fitting in there that easily.”
  • The Big Misunderstanding is a product of the heroine being idiotic.

All in all – grah.

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Filthy Beautiful Love by Kendall Ryan (Filthy Beautiful Lies #2)

22673915I never expected to watch Sophie walk away. She was mine. I would own her. She just didn’t know it yet. New goal: Seal the deal and rock her world so thoroughly she never wanted to leave again.

Highly sexual and emotionally charged, Filthy Beautiful Love is the provocative conclusion to Filthy Beautiful Lies.

Review:

So, all the stuff that I was afraid would go wrong in book one? It all went wrong here in book two.

Every female character is a threat to Sophie – she’s wearing a lot of make up to our casual party, she must want to steal away my man! That other woman made a weird comment… she must have been intimate with him in the past! Sophie is possessive in the worst, paranoid way.

The way protection is handled is plain awful. To be clear – I don’t mind it when the couple decides not to use a condom when there’s trust and birth control on board. I don’t even mind the ‘crap, I didn’t use a condom’ if it’s recognized and addressed. But this, this I cannot stand:

“No, no condom. I want to feel you. Please, Colton.”
His gaze snaps to mine and I can read the indecision in his eyes. “Are you sure?”
I nod. “Yes, just take me.”
I’m sure he knows I’m not on any birth control, but I can see the exact moment he decides it doesn’t matter.

I could even forgive that if the chance of pregnancy is owned later, but it’s blithely ignored. GRAH. Other rage-inducing lines:

“I want your virginity, sweetness. I want total claim over you. It’s the only way to show me that you’re really here for me.”

And because English:

I see the vein throb at the base of his throat. “Good girl,” he admonishes.

Secondary characters are just as thin as before, including the presumptive hero for the next book. The plot starts off okay – a couple getting back together by overcoming trust issues – but at the end we’re pinballed from one happening to another. It’s not conflict, it’s a sad thing and a cute thing and a grief thing with sex scenes liberally interspersed.

All in all the book is spare and petty and made me mad. I had much hope after the unconventional opening of Filthy Beautiful Lies but Ryan didn’t follow through. At least it reads quickly. ~sigh~

Twilight Phantasies by Maggie Shayne (Wings in the Night #1)

25582667In two centuries of living death, vampire Eric Marquand had learned to live with the cruel fate that had condemned him to walk forever in shadow, forever alone. Then he found the woman he knew was meant for him—and understood that to possess her was to destroy her.

Against all reason, Tamara Dey saw clearly that her destiny was eternally entwined with Eric’s and that she must not only accept but welcome the terror and splendor of the vampire’s kiss. She trembled at the thought of spending eternity in his arms, but was her trembling born of desire…or fear?

This book was originally published in 1993 so I was ready to give it all kids of leeway.  In the first 60% the heroine lacks agency but other lovely things are going on.  The vampire hero is the protective sort and is looking out for her.  His best vampire friend is an interesting character in his own right.  There’s an “I knew you before I met you” thing.  I’m in need of a comfort read, I was able to forgive.

But then my brain got scrambled.  Tamara gets a flat while driving home and the car doesn’t have a spare.  She is assaulted while walking to the nearest gas station, but Eric arrives in time to save her.  He then piles her into the car and drives home.

…on three tires?! I reread the scene to make sure I wasn’t missing anything and I have no idea how it worked.  Ditto her being able to put on a fancy vintage dress that laces up the back all by herself even though she needed help the first time.  Brain. Broken.

Then there’s general wtf-ery.  Tamara is 26 years old, a grown ass woman, and still lives her legal guardian.   She even says it like that.  “I can appreciate why you’re so angry with my guardian… he may be an ass, Marquand, but I love him dearly.”  Oh, and trigger warnings for assault, attempted rape, and heaps of gaslighting.  Gaaaaah.

I’m obviously not a fan… but would try another book by the author, no problem.  The first half of the book was enjoyable, even with the Old Skool issues, and I’d like to see if her more recent stuff is less objectionable.  Have you read any Maggie Shayne?  Are all of her books like this?

The Terranauts by T.C. Boyle

Synopsis:

28925208It is 1994, and in the desert near Tillman, Arizona, forty miles from Tucson, a grand experiment involving the future of humanity is underway. As climate change threatens the earth, eight scientists, four men and four women dubbed the “Terranauts,” have been selected to live under glass in E2, a prototype of a possible off-earth colony. Their sealed, three-acre compound comprises five biomes—rainforest, savanna, desert, ocean and marsh—and enough wildlife, water, and vegetation to sustain them.

In addition to their roles as medics, farmers, biologists, and survivalists, the young, strapping Terranauts must impress watchful visitors and a skeptical media curious to see if E2’s environment will somehow be compromised, forcing the Ecosphere’s seal to be broken—and ending the mission in failure. As the Terranauts face increased scrutiny and a host of disasters, both natural and of their own making, their mantra: “Nothing in, nothing out,” becomes a dangerously ferocious rallying cry.

Review:

I went into this book knowing nothing about it – great for some novels but not for this one.

The interesting:

  • The novel is about a futuristic thing that’s happening in 1994.  They’ve pushed the technology of the time but it’s more mechanical and biological instead of information age stuff.
  • That’s all I have for interesting.  Let that be a warning to you.

The interesting (to me):

  • Many of the characters, especially the narrators, are unlikable.  No one is a saint, and some people are downright slimy.  I don’t mind this kind of thing but if you don’t, now you know.

The not-so-interesting:

  • This novel is about a futuristic thing that actually happened in the early 90s.  Real events are expanded on, of course, but for the first half of the book Boyle sticks closely to reality.  Here’s the thing – life is rarely paced at novel speed.  After the first exciting intro of characters the action drops off until there’s a Happening, but by then it’s such a wreck I didn’t care what went down.
  • People can get bitchy, I know, but women’s looks come up a LOT.  It feels genuine when (the only) person of color notes that all the chosen ladies have light-colored hair, but the rest of the time it’s just petty.  And not even petty in the way women (in my experience) can be, but petty in the way men think we are. ‘Why did he sleep with her, I’m prettier’, ‘She’s not even pretty’, ‘They picked the pretty girls even though I’m smarter’.  I mean, just look at this part of the extended synopsis:

    Told through three distinct narrators—Dawn Chapman, the mission’s pretty young ecologist; Linda Ryu, her bitter, scheming best friend passed over for E2; and Ramsay Roothorp, E2’s sexually irrepressible Wildman…

  • Continuing with gender stuff, there are four women in this crazy calorie restricted environment and there’s not one joke about it being the best diet ever.  Instead, one woman (already skinny) worries about “losing her figure”.  What.
  • The science, while not insignificant, fails to satisfy. I had a lot of unanswered questions – why aren’t there more fail safes and redundant systems?  How did you expect people to survive on a 1500 calorie/day diet when they’re doing manual labor day in and day out? And why the hell would you put all single people in there?  If someone is married they would have someone to call when things get rough, a built in psychological safety valve.
  • You kinda know why people are doing this experiment, but not really.  A couple of people seem to care about the science.  Another about money and fame.  But everyone else?  Who knows.  Because:
  • Minor characters are underdeveloped.  There are eight people in the biosphere – two main characters, three characters to help with plot points, and three characters I forgot existed.
  • Most of the action reads like an overblown soap opera.  ‘He was sleeping with me but now he’s sleeping with her’, ‘so and so is cheating on that other person and I know because I followed them around all sneaky-like’, ‘you can’t do that for a Halloween costume I already called it how dare you’.  I wanted to yell “who cares?”, “grow up!”, and “move on, already!” in turns.

So yeah, not a fan.

Thanks to Ecco and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Everything to Me by Simona Taylor

Synopsis:

ea3395979891cd8547b1a9b372a93606When she jets down to the Caribbean, Dakota Merrick doesn’t expect to spend the night with Trent Walker at his luxurious island hideaway. The bad blood between the music columnist and the ultra-charming jazz producer vanishes with their first kiss. Dakota’s enchanted by the erotic atmosphere of the world-class resort and the passionate music she and Trent are making together.

Trent knows he shouldn’t trust the ambitious reporter. But living out his most sensual fantasies with Dakota is a temptation no man can refuse. Until a breaking scandal threatens their tropical idyll. Will Dakota choose ambition over a future with him? Or can Trent find the right notes to play a love riff straight into her heart?

Review:

Starting off there is so much to like about this book, a romance that takes place in the author’s native Trinidad and Tobago.  Columnist Dakota is there to cover a huge jazz festival where several of Trent’s acts are performing.  When her hotel reservation goes up in smoke he offers her the second bedroom of his cabin at Rapture, the erotic resort he’s staying at (all the normal hotel rooms were booked, natch).  They have a contentious relationship – Dakota broke a story that nearly ruined the career of one of Trent’s starlets, Shanique.

This is all fine.  Things start to go south in the details.

The story Dakota broke is perfectly legit – Shanique’s voice started to go and instead of cancelling or postponing a few dates on her tour she lipsynced to a singer backstage a la Singin’ in the Rain.  That’s a big deal.  That’s a story.  No one can blame you for covering that.

That doesn’t stop Trent from being sore, and the couple has some spirited discussions over dinner, while walking, at the cabin… pretty much all the time.  I didn’t mind it because there’s a lot of emotional stuff for these two to get through if they’re ever going to be a couple.

But then Dakota stopped thinking like a journalist. Upon hearing a newly revitalized Shanique at the festival:

…her story had brought low such a talent, almost destroyed such a star.  She felt rotten.  The standard journalist excuse the people’s right to know, felt hollow and insubstantial.  She hadn’t written that story because of anyone’s right to know.  She’d written it because it would have been a shot in the arm for her career.

Um.  Shanique and her managers were duping people, giving them something other than what they paid for.  That’s a big deal.  People do have a right to know.

Later it becomes clear that Dakota got the story because she was sleeping with a source, one of Trent’s rivals.  And now that she’s with Trent she’s, you know, sleeping with another source.  The tiny shreds of respect I still had for Dakota died right there.

Near the end, due to spoilery things I won’t go into, Dakota makes a job switch that’s supposed to be a step down from columnist – editor of a new and upcoming music magazine.  But that’s a huge step up, making her responsible for many other people’s reporting.  She who has a shaky grasp of journalistic morals has become the guiding compass for an entire publication.  Nope.  Nopenope.

Other things irked but weren’t deal breakers, like having sex in a natural hot spring.  (Don’t do it people, or in hot tubs either.  There’s nasty stuff growing in there.)  I liked reading about the island of Tobago and what life is like there, and felt safe knowing that someone from there was telling the story.  But I just can’t get over the sleeping with sources (twice! with no remorse!) thing.

Grah.

It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (Chicago Stars #1)

Synopsis:

6651365The Windy City isn’t quite ready for Phoebe Somerville—the outrageous, curvaceous New York knockout who has just inherited the Chicago Stars football team. And Phoebe is definitely not ready for the Stars’ head coach, former gridiron legend Dan Calebow, a sexist jock taskmaster with a one-track mind. Calebow is everything Phoebe abhors. And the sexy new boss is everything Dan despises—a meddling bimbo who doesn’t know a pigskin from a pitcher’s mound.

So why is Dan drawn to the shameless sexpot like a heat-seeking missile? And why does the coach’s good ol’ boy charm leave cosmopolitan Phoebe feeling awkward, tongue-tied…and ready to fight?

Review:

I can see why many people like this book but I have to wonder if it’s a generational thing. Is this one of those pre-enlightenment books I’ve heard about where the guy is an asshole, the girl is a pushover, and the plot is maddening?

Phoebe, a girl abused in her youth that has no real connections to her family, was left her father’s football team in his will. She gets to keep the team if, and only if, the league basement Chicago Stars make the AFC championships this year.

She decides the best thing to do is ignore the team completely as she knows nothing about football. Contracts need signing and she’s the only one with any legal authority, but hey, not her problem.

She finally comes around and decides to go to work. In the process she falls in love with the coach, Dan, for no reason I can possibly see. He’s quick to anger, crap at apologies, and seems to think fleeting good intentions make up for all his faults. The only person he is consistently nice to is Molly, Phoebe’s teenaged half sister, as he demands admiration above all else and she readily provides it.

Many passages made me downright mad.  Shall we have a sample?

A sprinkling of African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians, all well-dressed and prosperous looking, mingled with the crowd.

You know, instead of the shabby, poor looking minorities you’re used to. ~fume~

And in the waaaah? department:

He grinned as he pulled away from the curb. If the Russians had been smart, they’d have taken Phoebe’s radioactive body into account before they’d signed off on that nuclear proliferation agreement with the United States.

Does. not. compute.

So getting to the end of the novel was hard. While Phillips’ writing style is technically solid she leaves little for the reader to figure out herself. Even with all this explaining I find Phoebe’s emotional journey unrealistic.

Is this Old Skool?  Am I just missing something? If I didn’t need this book for a challenge I would have never made it to the end. GRAH.

Abby Cooper, Psychic Eye by Victoria Laurie (Psychic Eye Mystery #1)

Synopsis:

574955Abby Cooper is a P.I., psychic intuitive. But her insight failed her when she didn’t foresee the death of one of her clients-or that the lead investigator for the case is the gorgeous blind date she just met. Now, with the police suspicious of her abilities and a killer on the loose, Abby’s future looks more uncertain than ever.

Review:

I picked this book hoping for a quirky cozy mystery but ended up in romantic suspense hell.

Abby Cooper is a psychic intuitive that can call on her spirit guides for advice and wisdom. She uses her ability to run a successful business advising people on everything from cheating lovers to financial matters. I like the general idea of a psychic but man, she was spot on all the time. Any little tidbit Abby spit out would be verified sooner or later, allowing her an “I told you so” smile.

In this vein many times Abby would do a reading for someone she thought didn’t believe her. A simple, “…and you should get that knee checked out, the next time you lift something heavy it’s going to pop” would have sufficed but no, she had to tell them about their wives and daughters and upcoming vacations. Always right, always on the nose, often annoying. In fact, the only time she ran into trouble was when she didn’t listen to her “crew”… they’re infallible, of course.

That time she didn’t pick up the “intuitive phone”, along with any other fishy happening, felt like it had a neon sign with “THIS IS FORESHADOWING!” painted on top. Grah.

A few lines that bugged me:

“I looked at the painted decal on the back hood.” Hoods are in the front. Trunks and tailgates are in the back. Decals and stickers are usually put on by owners, insignia and logos by the maker.

“I knew immediately that I’d have to tip the mailman extra big come Christmas.” Postal workers are federal employees and are legally obligated not to accept cash tips over $20. Getting some extra nice chocolate or maybe knitting a pair of convertible mittens would be fine, but not an extra big tip.

“In my next lifetime I wanted to come back as a guy. They always seemed to get the upper hand.” No irony, no nothing.

And I haven’t even gotten into the romantic or suspense bits. Abby goes on a date with a guy she met online who happens to be a cop. Of course, Dutch ends up being the lead investigator of a case that ends up falling into her lap. If he ends up doing anything Abby perceives as less than perfect she storms off, vows she’s done with him, and screams like holy hell the next time they meet. Yet he is still attracted to her.

I don’t get it, either.

As for the mystery surrounding an apparent suicide, Abby’s leads us via one perfect hunch after another to the bad guy. I felt zero suspense because the perfect spirit guides would never let her fail. Don’t they get annoyed with her, too? Wouldn’t they want to slip her a bum piece of info about something trivial and have a good laugh? I would, but maybe that’s why I’m not a spirit guide.

Not bad enough to abandon halfway through, but also not deserving of more than one star.

Whatever You Like by Maureen Smith (Brand Clan #1)

Synopsis:

9068545By day, Lena Morrison is an ambitious grant writer. By night, she’s an escort to some of Chicago’s most successful men. Sex isn’t on the menu—Lena’s job is to provide her elite clients with comanionship and sparkling conversation. She enjoys the extra income, but even more, Lena loves the empowering feeling of being appreciated for her beauty and her brains.

When tycoon Roderick Brand hires Lena as his date for a private party, their electric attraction leads to the most erotic night of her life. Incredible as the experience is, she vows not to mix work and pleasure again. But Roderick is relentless. His irresistible proposal: three weeks fulfilling all his fantasies, in exchange for a million-dollar grant that will guarantee Lena a major promotion.

Lena can play that game. She’ll give him the hottest, wildest sex he’s ever had, then she’ll walk away, leaving him aching for more. But when it comes to desire, rules—and hearts— are easily broken. And the best-laid plans have a way of working out in ways neither could expect….

Review:

This book starts well enough – classy escort falls for a super sexy client who happens to be an energy magnate. Sparks fly, she manages to (mostly) stick to her principles, they have hot sex. All well and good… until they jet off to Tokyo.

I almost wailed, “Nooooo!” Japan is so hard to get right, and having lived here for the better part of a decade every mistake sticks out. And wow, there are a bunch. Flowers symbolizing death decorate their hotel room. One of the stickiest snacks ever is used as a “finger food”. Tea ceremony is done with plain ol’ sencha (simple green tea) and called an acquired taste (the correct tea is matcha). They take the bullet train for short hops around town, which is impossible because as a long distance train the stations are few and far between. Many-layered kimonos slip off with a shrug.

And then their whole relationship turns on one candid photo. GRAH! So while the beginning was okay this ended up a one star read for me. I feel kind of bad about it – if the trip to Japan was mentioned in the cover copy I wouldn’t have even picked it up. Ah, well.

 

Taint by S.L. Jennings (Sexual Education #1)

Synopsis:

18366077You’re here, ladies, because you can’t f*ck.

Oh, stop it. Don’t cringe. No one under the age of 80 clutches their pearls.
You might as well get used to it, because for the next six weeks, you’re going to hear that word a lot. And you’re going to say it a lot.
Go ahead, try it out on your tongue.
F*ck. F***ck.

Ok, good. Now where were we?

If you enrolled yourself in this program then you are wholly aware that you’re a lousy lay. Good for you. Admitting it is half the battle.

For those of you that have been sent here by your husband or significant other, dry your tears and get over it. You’ve been given a gift, ladies. The gift of mind-blowing, wall-climbing, multiple-orgasm-inducing sex. You have the opportunity to f*ck like a porn star. And I guarantee, you will when I’m done with you.

Review:

From the synopsis I thought, “Hey, a book about teaching women how to enjoy sex! Maybe some tips on how to spice things up in the bedroom, hands on lessons with our hero and heroine… it’s gonna be a fun romp!”

No. Nononono.
Continue reading “Taint by S.L. Jennings (Sexual Education #1)”

The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

Synopsis:

20910034A working father whose life no longer feels like his own discovers the transforming powers of great (and downright terrible) literature in this laugh-out-loud memoir.

Andy Miller had a job he quite liked, a family he loved, and no time at all for reading. Or so he kept telling himself. But, no matter how busy or tired he was, something kept niggling at him. Books. Books he’d always wanted to read. Books he’d said he’d read that he actually hadn’t. Books that whispered the promise of escape from the daily grind. And so, with the turn of a page, Andy began a year of reading that was to transform his life completely.

This book is Andy’s inspirational and very funny account of his expedition through literature: classic, cult, and everything in between. Beginning with a copy of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita that he happens to find one day in a bookstore, he embarks on a literary odyssey. From Middlemarch to Anna Karenina to A Confederacy of Dunces, this is a heartfelt, humorous, and honest examination of what it means to be a reader, and a witty and insightful journey of discovery and soul-searching that celebrates the abiding miracle of the book and the power of reading.

Review:

From the title and cover copy you’d think Andy Miller was a man in crisis that was saved from the brink by great literature, or maybe a former reader that found himself enlightened and his life enriched by a year with the classics.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Miller is a man of letters through and through, a reader born into a family of readers. He went to college for literature, worked for years at a bookshop, and eventually became an editor for a London publishing house. Books are, and have always have been, his life and his livelihood.

But then something happened – he had a kid and moved to the suburbs. This, apparently, is what his life needs saving from. You see with a young child in the house he had trouble finding time to read. Oh dear. I guess that no one told him kids are time consuming?

His solution is to make a list of 50 books that he’s lied about reading and actually finish them. He manages this easily by cutting out the sudoku on his commute and disappearing for hours at a time on the weekend to get the 50 pages in.

The list gets read without much hardship. Miller does a great job discussing some titles, making weighty tomes approachable and interesting. He has me considering reading Anna Karenina and War and Peace, books that until this point I thought would require two weeks of solitude to even attempt. Most other books, though, are a springboard into memories from his childhood. I’m glad that this or that book means a lot to him and that it connects deeply with his past… but I’d like to hear more about the actual book, you know?

This is the main problem I have with Reading Dangerously. Instead of examining books through the lens of his life he plops his life front and center, dressing it up with classics and cult novels. (But never, ever genre. The horror.) Every once in a while Miller manages to hit something more universal, more human, but it happens so rarely I think it must be a fluke.

Other problems abound. Miller harangues Dan Brown for filling his writing with the odd “clunking… expository dialogue or pseudo-scholarly statistic or shockingly ugly sentence.” Then he writes this in a chapter that he admits if it were up to him (wasn’t it?) would have been cut out entirely:

I am writing to you from the lobby of the British Library in London. The St Pancras facility, which consists of reading rooms, galleries, cafes and a shop, was designed by the architect Colin St. John Wilson and opened to the public in 1997. It is the largest public building constructed in the United Kingdom in the twentieth century, requiring approximately ten million bricks and 180,000 tonnes of concrete….

Pot, meet kettle.

Much of the second half of the book feels like vamping for the sake of meeting a page quota. We have detailed descriptions of his four(-ish) encounters with Douglas Adams, a “fan letter” to an author, and three appendices – the original list of 50 books, 100 books that influenced him, and books “I still intend to read”.

To top it all off there is stuffy disdain for books with a plot, the “feminization” of reading, and all those people on the internet that are diluting the opinion of professional critics. “The Internet is the greatest library in the universe,” he writes. “Unfortunately someone has removed all the ‘no talking’ signs.”

So yeah. Way to piss me off.

While I made a fair share of notes throughout the book the overwhelming majority are quotes by other people. I was hoping Reading Dangerously would open my eyes to new books and new ways of looking at old favorites, but instead I was saddled with a navel-gazing working father that spouts all sorts of things that don’t add up to very much.