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Thursday, September 3, 2015

ARC Review: The Misadventures of Maggie Moore, Vol. 1 by Michelle Graves

What determines how wonderful a work of fiction is? To me, a triumph one hopes for regarding a good read, would require the work to be written with passion, unique diction, and undeniably lovable characters with plenty of chemistry. Though this may not be the case for everyone, such qualities seem immeasurably pertinent to the success of a story to me. With The Misadventures of Maggie Moore, I found more than the aforementioned requirements within. In fact, I became so enthralled while following Maggie through her travels and adventures that I failed to find sleep at a decent hour. I simply could not put the book down, until I had no choice but to grudgingly retire to bed, lest I not wake up and usher my children to their first day of school as required.

Maggie, my new favorite heroine is remarkably unique. From beginning to end, her ability to trudge on no matter the detour confronted with, made her amazing beyond compare. Her father, a soldier taken too soon via an IED attack in Iraq, led her to initially become idle in life. Leaving behind an internship right after graduating college, she and her mother spent nearly a year grieving and trying to provide some sort of comfort to one another. However, once Maggie’s mother is able to pull herself from despair, she forces Maggie back out into the world.

Only having a couple of weeks to find a job, and start anew, Maggie finds herself in an awkward position as a sports journalist. Knowing nothing of sports, she is unable to do the job properly. Although failing miserably at interpreting sports, being an intelligent young woman and a fantastic writer lands her a second chance. A trial column, developed for special interests in relation to obscure sporting events might have seemed daunting to others, but Maggie boldly dove right into the presence of a provided opportunity. Alas, this is where the story truly begins in terms of plots, yet within the just the first couple of pages, I was inevitably hooked. Why? Well, the diction, of course! Furthermore, Maggie, oh Maggie, she is so very entertaining.

She had me laughing throughout the entirety of the book. She is quirky, humorous, slightly neurotic, and absolutely delightful. She is inside of her own head, and very contemplative which is another aspect of her unique character traits. The interactions she has with each secondary character from those she interviewed during her first assignment involving Dragonboat Racing, to those she met in her trials of learning about Extreme Ironing, showed her giving and open nature. Even her initial encounter with the male lead John Cormick, proved to be a moment of unexpected wonder.

When life throws Maggie curves, she continues to dodge and thrive even when this handsome, yet ill-mannered stranger appears. Consistently bickering with Murphy’s Law, Maggie manages to attract trouble, and that fact is not lost on John Cormick. Belligerent, reserved, and inconceivably arrogant, he is decidedly much more jaded than her teenaged-self had pictured when idolizing him. Little does she know the truths hidden behind his façade of confidence and repressed anger, let alone who he could be if given the chance.

The introduction of John Cormick was and still is a moment of the story I could not forget, for it was not only funny, but strange and eyebrow-raising. John, a famous photojournalist who, as so eloquently and enjoyably put, is a man with a very mercurial attitude instantly pushes Maggie’s soft-hearted buttons. He is fun, even though he truly isn’t, which is highly unusual, but it works ridiculously well. I was in love with his character instantly, with no trouble discerning that somewhere in his frigid demeanor a spark of raw beauty lie broken; still as a frozen pond that awaits spring to help renew the life-giving sustenance that those living require. John, despite his gruff and abrasive behavior captures the reader with his moments of concern for Maggie.

Furthermore, once one is able to comprehend the reason behind his behavior, it makes compassion inevitable, giving the reader a need to comfort the man, and help him. John, for all his harshness, is actually quite vulnerable after being held as a prisoner of war while captured in Iraq. To avoid any spoilers, I cannot say any more about such aspects of the story. With that said, however, I can ensure that without the emotional depth of this story through powerful backgrounds to the characters, John and Maggie would not work so well together. Now, at first, the two are brought together in off-the-wall, though believable incidents. Such instances seem touched by fate, but as the two are forced to co-exist professionally, we are sucked into a whirlwind of adventure with Maggie writing, and John capturing the life of the story through photographs.

Of course, insinuating that their relationship is akin to anything relatively normal would be wrong. Due to John’s unusual behavior, and his apparent cold indifference toward her, she believes that John loathes her (and has no respect for her). The tension is palpable between the two individuals and sometimes the reader cannot help but feel Maggie’s frustration. After all, what is bickering, and heated disputes without a little love thrown in? Fact is, these two are in fact perfect for one another, but neither sees it initially. Unfortunately, we will have to wait until Volume Two in the Maggie’s adventures to determine the outcome of their relationship, but there is nothing but joy found in their interactions. The two bring passion, joy, horror, and despair into each other’s lives with no warning, and in turn, their professional partnership is truly riveting.

I cannot possibly explain the depth of my love for this story any more than I already have, yet I feel as though I have not said enough. Maggie and Johns story is one of growth, finding oneself, and learning how to live. Not how to exist, but truly live when one feels as though they’re sinking ever deeper into a place unknown; encased in darkness. Without the ability to lift oneself up, examine one’s feelings, and risk safety, how can one ever thrive? By reading this story, I felt light, airy, and full of hope. Simply put, Michelle is a brilliant writer who grasps the concept of a “feel-good” story, and I cannot help but feel compelled to wait eagerly for the next installment. I want to see how Maggie continues to grow, learn, and live life. I want to find out how John copes with his secrets once they are strewn out at his feet for all to see. I want to see how both hopefully turn to one another, when it’s clear that love is on the horizon. Mostly though, I have to admit that I am simply eager to be privy to her next adventure.

**ARC provided by Author**

Purchase: | Amazon | B&N | iTunes |

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

ARC Review: Pulled Under by Sarah Darlington

Pulled Under is the third book in the Kill Devil Hills series by Sarah Darlington. This book can be read as a standalone as the characters are interconnected, but each book features a different couple. I would recommend reading these in order as there are some things that will be huge spoilers if you start here rather than at the beginning, but it isn't necessary. 

Rhett Morgan is known as the town manwhore. There were few women left in Kill Devil Hills that he hadn't slept with. He was also Sydney's first kiss. Sydney had always wanted Ben Turner, but he never saw her as more than a friend. Then two years later just when Sydney had finally thought something was developing between her and Ben, he died. Heartbroken and unable to get over losing Ben, Sydney sought out Rhett looking for something to distract her. But Rhett is tired of being known as the go-to guy for one-night stands, and he is determined to prove to Sydney that he is ready for more. 

I liked Sydney and Rhett. I felt like these two had a ton of chemistry and could have had a great connection. However I don't feel as though it was ever actually developed. There were huge chunks of time missing throughout this story, and for the most part, these were all chunks were Sydney and Rhett didn't see each other or speak. I never saw them get to know one another, and most of them time that they spent together was physical. I just wasn't able to buy into their insta-love and connection when we never really got to see them together. I thought that they were hot together, but that was all I really got between them as much as I would have loved to have seen more. Very few interactions took place between them before Rhett was suddenly in love with her and wanting more than just sex. I just didn't see it, even when I wanted to.

Besides the lack of development when it came to their relationship, I also felt as though the ending was extremely abrupt. In the epilogue, Rhett is still feeling insecure in their relationship and he is questioning whether they will still be together and they still hadn't told their friends they were dating. That told me that they clearly hadn't actually developed much of a connection or a strong commitment, or he wouldn't have been second guessing. Why Sarah Darlington decided to still be using the epilogue to try and develop their connection, rather than solidifying that earlier in the story, is something that I couldn't understand. Then it is just over, with little to no warning. It was very unsatisfying, and I couldn't believe that it was as abrupt as it was. So while I loved both Sydney and Rhett and wanted them together so badly, it never felt as though they were actually building anything or had a legit relationship. I felt like they had no real foundation moving forward, other than when it came to sex, and unfortunately it made this entire book seem as though nothing really changed or happened. It was unrealistic, and sadly disappointing. I did give this one 3 stars despite the issues I had because the characters were likable and the times they were together, I really loved them together. I desperately wanted more, as I think that these two could have had such a better story.

**ARC Provided by Author**

Purchase: | Amazon | 

ARC Review: Melting Point by Kate Meader

Pardon me while I drool over this cover…

Melting Point is Kate Meader’s second Hot in Chicago novella. If you have read the first book Flirting with Fire then you have read the intro to Gage and Brady’s love story, if you haven’t then there is a very nice in a nutshell telling of it, so it can be read as a stand-alone. I normally don’t read M/M romance, I just got burned out on it, unless I know and love the author. Having read the previous book and getting the sneak peek of these two, I could not resist this novella; and it is very well done. It is not erotica it’s not overly graphic, that’s one reason I like it, it leaves much to the imagination. It was perfect as a novella; Gage and Brady have way to much of a story for a side story but not enough for a full length book. At this length there is plenty of romance and heartache. Both Gage and Brady are delicious; each with something to hide and a lot to admit to before they can fully commit to a true relationship.

Gage loves being a fireman, and would be considered a ladies’ man if he swung that way, but his real passion is for cooking and when he met the tall, silent, and broody Brady he knows his days as the love ‘em and leave type are over. It was love at first sight for Brady as well but his past in the military traumatized him worse then he wants to admit. He started a fling with Gage but as an ‘I can touch you, you can’t touch me thing’ and when Gage acts first and kisses him, Brady freaks and calls things off. When their paths cross again they start off slow. Brady is afraid that he is too damaged for the happy go lucky Gage. Gage has a good façade going on, he knows he had it lucky growing up with the family he did, but before that he hides what happened. He was never able to be fully adopted because his birth mother wouldn’t let go and now that he has grown and she is suffering from Alzheimer’s he keeps going back to visit her hoping that one day she will remember him and apologize for her treatment of him as a child. It will take a lot of honesty and trust for Gage and Brady to finally get their HEA.

Overall, I had no doubt this would be a good one and I’m glad it didn’t disappoint. I absolutely love Gage and Brady.

**ARC provided by Publisher**

Purchase: | Amazon | B&N | iTunes |

RFTC Back to School Event with Jennifer Blackwood

Jennifer Blackwood is an English teacher and contemporary romance author. She lives in Oregon with her husband, son, and poorly behaved black lab puppy. She is the author of the Drexler University series and has two new Entangled Embrace titles and two Entangled Brazen titles coming in 2016. 

ARC Review: Nightwalker by Jacquelyn Frank

Reading Nightwalker by Jacquelyn Frank is a bittersweet experience. It is the finale to a long and fascinating journey that covers three series, several years, many cultures and some truly wonderful characters. It began in 2006 with the story of Jacob and Bella and ends now with last installment in The World of Nightwalkers series.

Because of the epic scope of Nightwalker and my personal journey with all of the Nightwalkers, I'm going to bring up a little bit of history. Many years ago, well, maybe 6 or 7 year ago, I picked up a novel by a new-to-me author. Elijah by Jacquelyn Frank. To me, Elijah was original, fresh, and fascinating. Emphasis on original. When I realized that Elijah was #3 in the series, I circled back to the bookstore for books 1 and 2. Since then I've devoured The Nightwalkers, The Shadowdwellers, and The World of Nightwalkers series as well as several other books by Jacquelyn Frank.

When I started this journey, my book exposure was limited to what was on the shelf. Other than for work, I was not online at all. Now I've broadened my book exposure by shopping online and connecting with other readers and authors online. 6 or 7 years later, I still say that the Nightwalkers series are remain among the most original paranormal romance books that I have read.

What is original about them? That is easy. The paranormal beings. Ms. Frank's treatment of the more commonly fictionalized Demons, Vampires and Lycanthropes is unique. Add Shadowdwellers, Druids, Mistrals, Night Angels, Djinns, Bodywalkers, Phoenixes, Wraiths, and Mysticals to the mix and you have a truly wonderful, complex and creative world. 12 races - did I get them all?

So, as I said before, Nightwalker is the grand finale (sniff). With some trepidation I read it. Finales are often disappointing as it is very difficult to wrap up an epic adventure without being anti-climatic. But if you are a fan of these series, I don't think you will be disappointed. Nightwalker is finely balanced between the reunion with favorite characters from other books, the final showdown with the big bad and the love story of Kamen and Viève.

Viève is a Wraith. Perhaps you have heard that wraiths can kill with a touch and they do so often enough to make them the most hated of the Nightwalker races. However Viève is a half-breed. Her father was human, but she was raised by her mother. She knows only that the Wraiths detest half-breeds. She has lived her life among people that shun her and would prefer she was never born.

Kamen is a Bodywalker, the race that is the focus of The World of Nightwalkers series. The race is split into those that ancient souls share the body they inhabit with the original soul (Body Politic) and those that suppress the original soul (Templars). Kamen comes from the Templars. So right off you know he is not a good guy. But Kamen has come to realize he has done some terrible things, including inadvertently loosing the god Apep into an unprepared world. He truly wants to set things right.

Kamen and Viève play the lead role in attempting to bring the 12 Nightwalker races together. It is believed that they will need all 12 races in order to defeat Apep. So, here we have the formerly evil Kamen uniting with Viève, a representative of the evil Wraiths. Both feel unworthy, either due to past actions or circumstance of birth. Yet they undertake a momentous task. If they fail, Apep's threat to the world will become a reality. This is my favorite part of the book - the fact that the 'unworthy', 'evil' characters play such a key role for the good guys! And by the way, saving earth is not the only thing on their agenda. They tend to sizzle a little when they get together. You know what I mean.

Speaking of characters, Apep is really something else. He has a terrible god-complex. Well, I suppose that is okay, he is a god. But talk about self-centered, egotistical and maniacal. It was actually funny, if disturbing!

Some of my favorites from the previous series are back in Nightwalker: Noah, Jacob, Bella, Sagan, and Kat. Also Ram and Docia, whose story was my favorite in the current series. It is not a re-union of all the former characters. That would just be overdoing it. But the few that are there bring back nice memories. And they each have a role to play in the battle against Apep.

I've said that the originality of these series is what I appreciate about them. However, Ms. Frank's talent as a writer is what kept me coming back for book after book. Her beautiful writing sets her apart from other writers in the paranormal romance genre. I tend to want to read every word, rather than miss a passage of lovely prose. She exquisitely combines action and emotion to create a plot that whisks you away from your own life, if only for a short while.

From my perspective of having read the three related series, it is difficult to imagine what it would be like to read Nightwalker without the benefit of the background I've gotten from the books. I suspect such a reader would feel that something is missing.

However, if you have read all three series, or even just The World of Nightwalkers series, I truly think you will enjoy the ending in Nightwalker. The perfect combination of memories, action, and beautiful romance lead to a satisfying conclusion of this wonderful adventure.

**ARC provided by Publisher**

Purchase: | Amazon | B&N | iTunes |