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  • March 02, 2018 04:16:38 AM
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A Little About Us

A book blog with book reviews plus a smattering of parenting, art, cooking, and more. Looking for audiobook recommendations, new cookbooks, Very Serious book reviews, much less serious book reviews, and some photos of Austin? Please come say hi.

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Review: The Nevada Baylor Trilogy by Ilona Andrews

I wanted to read some Ilona Andrews because it seems like a lot of readers really love their books (it’s a pseudonym for a married couple). Someone suggested starting with the Nevada Baylor trilogy.... The post Review: The Nevada Baylor Trilogy by Ilona Andrews appeared first on Shrew and...

I wanted to read some Ilona Andrews because it seems like a lot of readers really love their books (it’s a pseudonym for a married couple). Someone suggested starting with the Nevada Baylor trilogy.  TL;DR: I love them, everyone was right. And it’s perfect reading for October, because MAGIC.

Nevada Baylor is a 25-year old who is running her own detective agency, supporting her younger sisters, cousins, mother, and grandmother after the death of her father. She is forced to take a case finding egomaniacal fire mage Adam Pierce who is on the run after burning a bank building. Mad Rogan, also known as the Scourge of Mexico, is a reclusive veteran with the most destructive magic in Houston. He’s chasing Pierce for other reasons. Nevada and Mad Rogan make a great team in battle.
Houston is my hometown and it’s not a common setting for novels. It’s a dirty, shitty, mixed-up town, with very rich and very poor neighborhoods and all kinds of gritty locations. It’s actually quite a good setting for novels, as long as your characters like spending time in cars. Andrews uses the town well, with visions of a post-apocalyptic swampy Jersey City (which is, in fact, a part of Houston that has subsided quite a bit), lots of highway driving, tall downtown buildings, and public art. The main characters in the book are all white people, but the secondary characters are diverse.  Houston is the most diverse city in the United States, so I’m glad that a novel set there includes more than just white people.

Photo of Houston skyline by Houston TranStar used under Creative Commons license.

HIM

Mad Rogan went into the Army to avoid family obligations and drama, and ended up plowing through the jungle in Mexico with his team for years even though he could have escaped on his own. After coming back home, he has been a recluse for 5 years.
When you say Mad Rogan, I think Mad Morrigan. Does anyone else remember Willow?  Yeah.
Shirtless Val Kilmer from the movie Willow

Val Kilmer as Mad Morrigan in Willow (1988 film)

I kind of picture him more as Loki, though. He creates chaos wherever he goes and has a hard time grasping empathy.
Tom Hiddleston as Loki

HER

When we meet Nevada Baylor, she is doing some private eye hotel-lobby monitoring of a cheating husband, who she eventually tases after he blasts her into a door with his magic. She gets hurt protecting the wife. Nevada is brave, but she is also empathetic and most of all, protective of her family. She is the breadwinner in a family of 7, and she takes it very seriously. She is not going to put up with anyone who gets in the way of her family, and she is also not going to put up with anyone’s shit.
Mad Rogan is a total alpha-hole. He is self-important, smug, egotistical, and forceful. I hate alpha-holes, because usually in novels they are paired with women who– even if they appear strong– bend like reeds under the man’s forceful will. Nevada is not that girl. She has a lot on the line in this story, and she’s not the type to let a man run her life.
At first, because she is a private investigator, I was envisioning her all wrong. I don’t even want to describe how I envisioned her. But this is how I now see her:
What Nevada Baylor should look like-- Sarah Connor from the Terminator holding a huge rifle and looking very strong.

Sarah Connor from The Terminator, after she gets really pissed off about the whole situation.

She’s constantly covered in bruises and cuts from fighting, and she can electrocute a person just by touching them. Do not mess with this lady.

Burn for Me (Book 1)

Burn for Me is the first in the Nevada Baylor trilogy and the first in the Hidden Legacy series. So far there are 3 books out, which completes Nevada’s series– it looks like the next 3 will focus on her sister Catalina. There is a novella designated 3.5 in the series coming out later this year, Diamond Fire.
Mad Rogan’s first interaction with Nevada is chasing her down at the botanic garden (Mercer Arboretum!), kidnapping her, chaining her to the floor in his “basement” (in Houston there are no basements, I’m not sure what this room is), and trying to get answers out of her because he mistakes her for an Adam Pierce fangirl. Rogan is a loose cannon and there are several places in the book where Nevada has to stop him from hurting or killing people (and one squirrel) recklessly.
After Rogan kidnaps her, Nevada gets shockers implanted, which are a bionic weapon that pose a huge risk to herself. She seems afraid not only of Rogan but of other forces in the Adam Pierce case, and she takes control. She uses the shockers on Rogan after he uses his tactile powers on her in the Galleria. It’s basically her slapping him after he makes a pass at her. There is a lot of aggressive flirting in this book but zero sex. At the end of the book, after the resolution of the Adam Pierce case, Nevada seems ready to work it out and Rogan disappears.

White Hot (Book 2)

Nevada slowly realizes that Rogan is protecting her, not trying to steal her independence. They have some mysterious vision-sharing experiences where Nevada can see Rogan’s dreams. We have a lot more development of secondary characters like Nevada’s siblings Arabella, Catalina, and her cousin Leon. The peak of the book is when Nevada and Rogan are trapped in a cavern under downtown, and an ice mage is trying to slowly freeze them to death. They team up to kill the ice mage and Nevada saves Rogan’s life. This scene really solidifies their relationship, because of an intense vision-sharing experience and each saving the other’s life.

Rogan suggests she establish a house, which is one of the signs that he is not trying to erase her identity but lift her up to be her own person. We also find out in this book that Rogan sent her a package of books that she has been using to learn about magic! I mean, books are the way to my heart so thumbs up Rogan.

Wildfire (Book 3)

In this book, we get a lot more information about the powers of Nevada Baylor and her family. Rogan’s ex Rynda hires Nevada to investigate her husband’s disappearance, and Nevada realizes that Rynda is trying to get in Rogan’s pants but is remarkably mature about the whole thing. She trusts Rogan and she keeps things professional with Rynda. It’s a test of their relationship.  TBH I was a little worried when I read the summary but it speaks to Nevada’s maturity and strength that she deals with that situation so well.

Overall

There’s a plot tying all three of the books together that is not fully resolved at the end of Book 3. Lots more to come! I read all 3 books in a 3-day weekend, it was kind of hard to stop, more because of the plot than the romance. This is no more a romance than any Piers Anthony book was, and it kind of I will definitely be reading more Ilona Andrews, these are adventure books with some romance. I love the characters and the relationships. Downsides: The covers for these books are not my favorite and I’m not even going to replicate them here. The sex scenes totally creep me out, I don’t get Rogan’s weird tactile sex magic powers and frankly I find it kind of icky. I’m hoping that we can just stop hearing about that whole tactile power thing in future novels. I could also do without all the guns, I’m not really into gun violence and there is plenty of magical violence in these books. I guess even in the paranormal universe, Houston is a shithole of gun culture. But I really love the world that is built here, and the locations in Houston. I grew up reading a ton of fantasy full of alpha-holes, and it is really nice that at least in 2018 we have fantasy with alpha-holes and the women who can put them in their places.

Looking for more books set in Texas? Check out my review of Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke, a mystery set in East Texas featuring a black Texas Ranger solving the murders of a white woman and a black man.

The post Review: The Nevada Baylor Trilogy by Ilona Andrews appeared first on Shrew and Snail.


Book Review: Make Me Fall by Sara Rider

This is the second book in Sara Rider’s Books and Brews series, after Real Kind of Love which was a light, sweet fake relationship story.  Both can be read as stand-alone novels.   Like... The post Book Review: Make Me Fall by Sara Rider appeared first on Shrew and...

This is the second book in Sara Rider’s Books and Brews series, after Real Kind of Love which was a light, sweet fake relationship story.  Both can be read as stand-alone novels.

Cover of Make Me Fall by Sara Rider, a man and a woman with their foreheads touching, looking very cosy

 

Like Real Kind of Love, Make Me Fall by Sara Rider is a sweet story.  I read the first chapter when it was published at the end of Real Kind of Love, and got the impression that Make Me Fall was going to be a wacky enemies-to-lovers story.

In the first chapter, Eli is out doing some power-tool work in his driveway while his neighbor Nora is hosting her book club. He overhears her book club “friends” loudly discussing her lack of a love life, and he intervenes and volunteers to take Nora on a date. He calls one of the women backstabbing and mean to her face! It’s a huge crazy moment! And you can tell even though Eli and Norah have gotten off to a bad start, Eli feels protective of his new neighbor.

The rest of the book is not quite as wacky and dramatic as the first chapter. Nora is a 31-year old divorced chemistry professor who had a great gig at a university in Boston through a spousal appointment, but when she found her husband cheating on her with the head of the geology department she applied for jobs and got one at Shadow Creek College, which has way fewer resources than she is used to. Nora is extremely Type A and germaphobic, and the way that she gets very stressed out by things out of place makes me wonder if she is OCD. Her best friends, Alice and Jessie, live far away and Nora’s attempts at making friends in her new town are not going well.

Eli is the co-owner of the Holy Grale brewpub, and he and his sister are planning a memorial service for the 10-year anniversary of their mother’s death as well as a special event for the SPCA. (The other co-owner, Jake, is the hero in Real Kind of Love).  Eli works all the time and feels very guilty about his mother’s death, and generally is feeling a little badly about himself.

Eli shows up for their first date wearing a t-shirt with a T Rex riding a dolphin, cargo shorts, and flip flops. Nora, on the other hand, is dressed to the nines. Her idea of making conversation is asking him if he washes his feet in the shower. It’s super awkward but Eli is very protective of Nora. Her food is not cooked properly at the fancy restaurant where they start out their date, so they end up getting burgers and having a picnic. Norah is left a little confused by the whole thing.

A T rex riding a dolphin, if you’re having trouble envisioning it.

The great thing about this book is the characters are very relatable and realistic people in their 30s. They have friends, insecurities, careers. It’s nice to read 3-dimensional characters.

I definitely recommend this book if you like contemporary romance, people in their 30s, a smitten hero, a lot of kindness toward someone who is very Type A, post-divorce moving on with her life, beer brewing dudes, chemistry professor heroine, and romance book club. It’s great!  4.5 stars for Make Me Fall by Sara Rider.

If you think you might like this book, check out my review of How to Walk Away by Katherine Center, another contemporary romance with people in their 30s and some good stuff.

 

My thanks to Sara Rider for providing an e-galley free of charge. My opinions are my own.

 

 

 

The post Book Review: Make Me Fall by Sara Rider appeared first on Shrew and Snail.


Latest Obsessions

Music I can’t stop listening to M.I.A.’s album Matangi. HOLY SHIT it is so good. I’ve had it on repeat for 2 weeks. At the end of September there is a documentary about M.I.A.... The post Latest Obsessions appeared first on Shrew and...

Music

I can’t stop listening to M.I.A.’s album Matangi. HOLY SHIT it is so good. I’ve had it on repeat for 2 weeks. At the end of September there is a documentary about M.I.A. coming out and I am going to be first in line at the theater. I adore her music and I can’t wait to learn more about her life.

Cover of M.I.A. album Matangi

 

Bikes

I don’t know why this happens but occasionally I get obsessed with a new hobby. Right now it is bikes. Do I even have a good bike? No. I am thinking of buying a Specialized Diverge but OMG bikes are expensive! I’m also worried about my neck hurting on a road bike, but there is only one way to find out. I have to ride a bike. Is that going to be harder than looking at pictures of them on a computer? Probably. I’ve also been watching Erik Nohlin and Rita Jett’s progress on the North Cape 4000, a 4200 km bike journey from Italy to the Arctic Circle. It’s fascinating. I also watched the short documentary Length of Sweden about their 7-day 2100 km ride in Sweden, which was too short but so good. (I had to make an account on Vimeo to view it but it was easy to do and I could watch it through my Roku.)  I don’t know how human bodies have that kind of endurance, it’s impressive.

Length of Sweden film poster

 

Gym

I joined a weightlifting gym a month ago and I’m already feeling stronger. It’s not Crossfit but it is the kind of place where people lift kegs and sandbags and push sleds of weights. It’s so fun? I don’t even know who I am any more. I love it. My classes are women-only and it’s the best to have a bunch of strong ladies all together in that gym. I even like it at 6:30am and I don’t like anything at 6:30am.

Books

Still reading romance? Yes. Fully. I also picked up a mystery this week for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, which I am still trying to complete. I owe you a review of the most recent Alyssa Cole book, A Duke by Default, which just…. Five stars. You really don’t need a review, just buy the book and read it and love it.

Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole cover

Other

It’s almost the end of our first school-year summer! J was in art camps most of the summer and really burned out toward the end. She was not happy about having to go to camp day after day. And honestly I was not happy about sending her. I spent my summers growing up in mostly unstructured environments, playing in the creek behind our summer house where I stayed with my grandmother, playing with my cousins at their house, hiking, and playing kick-the-can or board games at night. The day camp scene is basically 12-month school. Don’t run! Don’t jump! Be there at 8:30 and leave at 5! Pay attention to the teacher! It’s the most guilt I have felt as a parent. Right now she is in camp at the same place where she goes after school during the year, which is the most amazing woman who takes 12 campers at a time at her house. They go on adventures on the city bus, they play outside, they walk to the neighborhood pool a few times a week. It’s pretty unstructured. Maybe next year she can do all summer at that camp.

The post Latest Obsessions appeared first on Shrew and Snail.


June 2018 books

It’s really just June romance novels, because that is all I read this month.   Here is my monthly wrap-up: The good, the bad, and the terrible. And 3 missing from the picture (The... The post June 2018 books appeared first on Shrew and...

It’s really just June romance novels, because that is all I read this month.

12 book covers

 

Here is my monthly wrap-up: The good, the bad, and the terrible. And 3 missing from the picture (The Governess Game by Tessa Dare, Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian and Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean) because for some reason I couldn’t make a grid of 18. All the links go to goodreads. I had a big sports romance binge this month, which… I don’t know where that’s coming from. I want to be a jock? Idk.

(A) denotes audiobooks.

* Denotes ARCs publishing later this year.

Faves:

Kulti by Mariana Zapata — Sports romance with a hispanic athlete heroine! VERRRRRY slow burn. Set in Texas! Big book hangover from this one.

*The Governess Game by Tessa Dare — this book will be published on August 28, 2018 and you should add it to your to-read list now! This sequel to the Duchess Deal stars Alexandra and the Bookstore Rake. YAASSS.

The Kiss Quotient (A) by Helen Hoang — Autistic econometrician heroine hires a male escort to educate her in the bedroom and be her fake boyfriend.  Lives up to the hype.

The Pursuit of… by Courtney Milan– Interracial M/M romance set just after the American Revolution. Hilarious, touching, sweet, smart piece of the Worth Saga. See my review. 

Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian — nonbinary heroine and bisexual hero. Described by another reviewer as *hella* queer, and it is. So good.

*For the Duke’s Eyes Only by Lenora Bell– Publishing September 2018, full review TK. Female Indiana Jones + period James Bond with a touch of Amelia Peabody.

Pretty good:

One Night in London by Caroline Linden– A widow seeks custody of her niece, but runs into problems when a duke steals her lawyer. Then the duke helps her…. *WINK*

Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean –A lock-picking heroine and a bastard who is the king of Covent Garden meet on a balcony outside a ballroom. See my review here.

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me (A) by Mariana Zapata– Sports romance, fake marriage, maybe a lil enemies to lovers, very cute. Slow burn.

Burn for You by J.T. Geissenger– Set in New Orleans, a fake marriage between a mixed-race restaurant owner and a grumpy white billionaire. Could not stomach the audio for this one, read the ebook.

Edge of Glory by Rachel Spangler– Sports romance with Olympic athletes, a snowboarder and a skier, training together.  F/F

Romancing the Inventor (A) by Gail Carriger– Steampunk F/F with werewolves, vampires, and a French inventor with dimples.

Real Kind of Love by Sara Rider– Fake relationship family vacation, very fun!

MEH:

For the Win by Sara Rider– Cute romance with a great heroine, spoiled by an unlikeable jock hero.

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie (A) by Angela Dawe– an embarrassing audiobook to listen to, very unsexy language (DAMP). Tepid heroine, excellent autistic Scottish hottie hero, murder mystery.

Most Valuable Playboy by Lauren Blakely– Straight up jock-hairdresser sports romance with pretty cute modern characters but not much zing. Feminist as heck, high five for that.

UGH:

The Duke and I (A) by Julia Quinn– A rare one-star review because SPOILER ALERT! Tricking your husband into impregnating you is wrong and gross and horrible. YUCK. Mortifying audiobook, super awkward sex scenes. Hero has major baggage because his father was a jerk and now he is a jerk, too.

Lord of Scoundrels (A) by Loretta Chase– Libertine hero Dain (this guy would definitely have syphilis irl) marries his friend’s sister.  Dain has serious baggage and self-loathing thanks to his dad. This book and The Duke and I both had heroines who tried to fix the heroes and it’s just something problematic for me, maybe. Also mortifying dirty talk.

 

So that was June romance! Check out my May romance summary if you like.

 

 

 

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Review: The Pursuit of… by Courtney Milan

  The Pursuit of… by Courtney Milan was originally published along with stories by Rose Lerner and Alyssa Cole as part of the anthology Hamilton’s Battalion, and is being published on its own as... The post Review: The Pursuit of… by Courtney Milan appeared first on Shrew and...

Cover of Courtney Milan's book "The Pursuit of..." two men looking at each other

 

The Pursuit of… by Courtney Milan was originally published along with stories by Rose Lerner and Alyssa Cole as part of the anthology Hamilton’s Battalion, and is being published on its own as a novella as of June 26, 2018.

If you were to describe this romance briefly, you might glibly say it’s an interracial gay romance between soldiers in the American Revolution. Because that sounds kind of odd and eccentric and probably not very good to read. But DAAAYUUUM. I have read several Courtney Milan novels and novellas and this may be the best one yet. The characters were well-developed, complementing each other in every way. Henry is a rich, white, titled (treasonous) Brit who can’t stop talking and wants to run away from responsibility. John is a freed slave who is slow to warm up to Henry and feels the weight of his responsibility to his family.
The story begins at the Battle of Yorktown, where John has Henry at the point of his gun but lets him escape. Grateful, Henry accompanies John on foot from Virginia to Rhode Island to look for John’s family. As they make their way across the country, John warms up to Henry and, well, this is a romance novel. It is also a funny romance novel– there is the best banter in this book! Henry is a blabbermouth and John is quiet and serious, but slowly comes out of his shell. It is also a smart book (of course, it’s Courtney Milan!). Henry is British but has memorized the preamble to the Declaration of Independence and is entranced by the depth of its meaning, or at least he thinks he is, before John points out the obvious glaring omission in “all men are created equal.” Henry is not overtly racist (yes you can be racist and in an interracial relationship!) but has to reconsider the meaning of privilege for a white man. Both characters evolve through the novel, without angst. Milan tends to write self-actualized characters who learn their lessons easily, and this novella is no different, but the humor and smarts really make it pop. I didn’t miss the angst.
The Worth Saga is a great series and I thought I had read it all until this ARC popped up in my mailbox! I hope its independent release will get some people through the wait for the next book. I’m also going to read the other novellas from this anthology, because they look fantastic. You can also read my review of After the Wedding by Courtney Milan, the latest in the Worth Saga.

Courtney Milan always hits the spot for escapist literature with a serious social justice angle and plenty of diversity. Her themes of equality and fairness are always refreshing, and she just writes good romance. This book hit the spot for me because of the humor.

Five stars!

I am thankful that I was provided an e-book ARC free of charge by the author. My opinions are my own.

 

 

The post Review: The Pursuit of… by Courtney Milan appeared first on Shrew and Snail.


Book Review: Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean

Devil will do anything to keep his brother Ewan from violating their agreement to get revenge on their father by ending the line– no heirs. He assures on-the-shelf spinster Felicity Faircloth that he can... The post Book Review: Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean appeared first on Shrew and...

Devil will do anything to keep his brother Ewan from violating their agreement to get revenge on their father by ending the line– no heirs. He assures on-the-shelf spinster Felicity Faircloth that he can win her a duke (Ewan), with the idea that he will send a message to Ewan by ruining her before their wedding. But things get complicated when Devil and Felicity fall in love.

Cover of Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean, a woman sits in a window in a pink dress

Wicked and the Wallflower is my third Sarah MacLean. I’ve read Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake (LOVED! So good.) and No Good Duke Goes Unpunished (meh).  So I was ready to go either way on this one.

Our hero: Devil (WICKED)

Devil’s origin story, along with his siblings, will be the foundation of the series, but it was a bit overwrought. Our hero, Devil, is the bastard child of a Duke– one of 3 who were born on the same day. The cruel duke put the boys in a kind of Hunger Games situation where the best one was to become his heir (for reasons, he needs an heir).  Devil and his brother Whit escaped, becoming crime bosses in the gritty Covent Garden, and their brother Ewan remained behind to inherit the duke’s title. The boys have sworn never to allow the duke to have heirs, to get revenge on their father, but Ewan arrives in town and seems to be seeking a wife. Devil and Whit engineer a plan to prevent Ewan from succeeding, involving…..

Our heroine: Felicity Faircloth (WALLFLOWER)

Our heroine, Felicity, is on the shelf and has been ostracized by her [jerkwad] society friends. Felicity wants to reclaim her place in society rather than abandoning it altogether, and in her attempt to do that she announces that she and Ewan are engaged after things get weird at a ball (where she also meets Devil on the balcony).  Devil strings Felicity along with his plan to marry her to Ewan, and as she gets to know Devil she becomes more enamored of him as well as his life in the rookery.  Little does she know that Devil is using her as part of his plan to keep his brother from marrying and producing heirs. She is also ignorant of the fact that her family has lost all their money and is counting on her marriage to bring in a fortune. There are a lot of things this woman does not know, but she does know how to pick a lock. For some reason.

Our story: Wicked and the Wallflower

So we have the complex background story of the Bareknuckle Bastards who are the foundation of the series (plus their sister who I haven’t mentioned), we have Felicity’s family’s money problems, Felicity’s society problems, Devil’s plan to submarine Felicity’s engagement to the duke, Devil’s feelings for Felicity, and Devil’s business in the rookery.  There is a lot going on in this book, and there is a lot to like but it’s easy to get lost in the bits and pieces. For all of the descriptions of Felicity’s brazenness and Devil’s darkness, they weren’t as well-portrayed as, for example, Calpurnia in Nine Rules. Calpurnia was OVER IT with society after being on the shelf for so long. Felicity is teetering on the edge of society, and although I followed the story of her being pulled deeper into the world of the rookery, I didn’t FEEL IT. This book felt very heavy on descriptions but didn’t manage to dig into the characters’ emotional depths. Maybe the characters’ motivation got lost in the complexity of the storytelling. But overall, Felicity is a strong heroine and Devil is an enticing hero. He is loyal to the people who work for him in the rookery and to his brother and sister. These problems may just arise from being the first in a series, it seems like romance series have to have all the exposition for the series in the first book. I’m a monster and start reading series in the middle with romance, and I’m starting to think I’m on to something because of this first-in-series problem.  It’s definitely worth reading, but I’m guessing that the next books will be even better.

3.5 stars for this Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean! I would recommend it as worth reading.

My thanks to Edelweiss and Avon Publishing for providing me an ebook ARC free of charge. My opinions are my own.

Want more Romance recommendations? Check out my Romance reads from May, 2018 or my review of Courtney Milan’s After the Wedding.

 

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