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What Kelly’s Been Reading: The “I Survived the Polar Vortex” Edition

What Kelly’s Been Reading: The “I Survived the Polar Vortex” Edition

This was my one chance to use “Polar Vortex” in a headline, so of course I took advantage. Next month’s installment will be titled “Yes, I’m STILL Coughing Like An 80-Year-Old Smoker And Whining About It Like A Two-Year-Old.” I did manage to read a boatload of books, and a few even made me less of a cranky mess.

Love in a Pawn Shop by Bonnie Edwards

I went on a huge contemporary binge, kicked off by Tamara Morgan’s In the Clear, for which I thank Laura Florand for reviewing here, because holy crap, I love that book. So of course I had to read all of Morgan’s backlist, and most of Florand’s. I also holy-crap-adored Geek with the Cat Tattoo by Theresa Weir, which extended my Good Book Mood enough to dig into the TBR for some Nicole Helm (Flight Risk), Holley Trent (My Nora, Calculated Exposure, Saint and Scholar), and Edie Harris (Stripped, Sparked). I bought a fun one called Love in a Pawn Shop by Bonnie Edwards because kickass heroine + pit bull + sexy cop, and I read ARCs of Amber Lin’s Chance of Rain and Mary Ann Rivers’ upcoming Live. All were in the B/B+ range.

On the historical side, there was just one worth recommending, and a few disappointments….

To Tempt a Viking by Michelle Willingham

To Tempt a Viking by Michelle WillinghamI really liked the first book in this series (To Sin with a Viking), and on re-read I decided to bump the grade up to an A- because of the way Willingham handled the could-have-been-squicky plot device of a married hero. As a follow-up, Tempt just seemed kind of tepid – the heroine’s angst over her barrenness and failed marriage vs. the hero’s I’m-not-worthy-enough unrequited love was a great set-up, but I just didn’t get the same level of emotional intensity. Tempt also had more violence than I was expecting, and the sub-plot with a troubled plot moppet seemed like an add-on. Grade: B-

The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen

The Dancing Master by Julie KlassenI was hoping Klassen would be back up to my rather high expectations, but this one didn’t do it. It’s a Regency story of a young “caper merchant” from a disgraced family attempting to open a dancing academy in a town full of secrets ruled by the heroine’s stiff-necked widowed mother. I managed to avoid any and all Footloose mental imagery through sheer force of will; however, having read it over the holidays, I could NOT dispel the visions of the Mean Widow as the Burgermeister Meisterburger denying toys to all the kids of Sombertown. It’s a decent book, but as with Klassen’s other recent titles, it’s too bland and predictable to keep pace with my favorite inspie authors. Grade: C

Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth Camden

Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth CamdenSpeaking of my favorite inspie authors…. Whirlwind wasn’t quite as glorious as Camden’s RITA-winning Against the Tide, but it’s a great book that shows off the author’s immersive historical world-building. Set during and after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, it’s got a kickass Irish heroine who runs her family’s watch-making business with an iron fist, a Polish dockworker-turned-ruthless-attorney, and a diverse supporting cast that actually drives the story instead of dragging it down. A memorable one-sitting book trance. Grade: B+

Safe Passage by Carla Kelly

Safe Passage by Carla Kelly

I am…conflicted…about this book. I really liked what’s there, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. It’s a great historical adventure, highlighting a little-known setting (Mormon refugees during the 1912 Mexican Revolution), with shoot-outs and raids and starvation and rescues, presented by an author who’s one of the best story-tellers I’ve ever read. But my fangirl thing set me up to expect more of the relationship re-building that was promised in the blurb. I wanted Ammon and Addie’s second-chance romance to take center-stage because I believed whole-heartedly in their backstory and wanted to learn how their faith allowed them to forgive and reconnect. Worth reading, but be prepared for more action and less romance. Grade: B

Three Dog Knight by Tori Phillips

Three Dog Knight by Tori PhillipsYes, I paid money for this Harlequin Treasury re-release. Because dogs, duh. And it’s a good thing it had dogs, because I don’t really remember much else about this book. The hero was kind of a Kristoff-from-Frozen type of doofus, the cardboard-ingénue heroine was secretly a princess, the Slutty Evil Widow was a shrieking harpy, and I think the Hired Evil Villain may have actually twirled his moustache at one point. Dog-wise, there was a pregnant greyhound that gave birth on the Evil Widow’s bed, a slobbery mastiff who slobbered a lot, and a yippy terrier that rescued the ingénue from the Clutches of Evil. Too much melodrama, not enough dogs. Grade: D+

REVIEW:  Before Jamaica Lane by Samantha Young

REVIEW: Before Jamaica Lane by Samantha Young

Dear Ms. Young:

Your On Dublin Street series is easily one of my favorite New Adult series being published today. I find your heroines in particular to be believable women with whom I can easily relate, which always allows me an instant connection with your work.  Olivia is no exception to this trend. She’s uncertain around men, despite the fact that she knows she’s “not hideous”, so has no confidence and believes that her awkwardness around men will leave her single forever. With men she knows? Liv is outgoing, funny and comfortable. Never is this truer than when she’s around easy-going Nate Sawyer. Nate is the best friend of one of Liv’s closest friends. He’s gorgeous, flirty, funny — all things Liv knows she can never have. She and Nate spend hours watching movies (he writes reviews for a blog) and tearing them apart. They are completely comfortable around each other. Even though Liv is very attracted to Nate, she knows his lady-killer ways won’t change and that he is out of her league.

Before Jamaica Lane by Samantha YoungBut one drunken night, Liv tells Nate that she hasn’t had sex in seven years. When he delves into the why of it, he discovers her total lack of self-confidence. When he realizes that there is a grad student who comes into the university library where she works and that she’s terrified to speak to him, he agrees to help her gain confidence. In the beginning, it’s about engaging in light flirting and showcasing herself a bit more than she had in the past. But soon, Liv wants more. She knows that Nate is very experienced, and she feels like he’s a safe harbor. He can help her become more confident sexually, so she can finally work up the nerve to speak to her grad student. Nate is deeply reluctant. He counts Liv among his very closest friends. He knows that it’s easy to get caught up in the emotional side of sex. But Liv assures him that she’ll respect the friend boundary, she won’t let her emotions get involved.

But, because this is a romance, of COURSE emotion gets involved. As the lessons continue, each character falls a little deeper. Liv promises that she won’t become emotionally entangled, but she does. Nate refuses to get caught up. He lost a love in his younger years and does not want to go through that level of heartbreak again. So after a mini-break holiday where Liv meets Nate’s parents, Nate ends things. He can tell Liv wants a relationship, and he does not. Of course, being a smart girl, Liv points out that he sleeps at her house most nights, has not dated another woman since they started up, and invited her to meet his parents — they are, in fact, already having a relationship. Will they be able to reconcile their friendship? Will Nate see that he already loves Liv? How will they move forward?

There was a lot to like about this book. Olivia is smart, but also reads to me like a young 20′s woman. She *thinks* she won’t get caught up taking sex lessons from a bad boy, but of course she does. She’s young, and definitely naive, but she knows her worth and she doesn’t put up with Nate’s commitment phobia. She ends things, cries and tries her best to move on. Nate is a dreamboat of a hero. He’s experienced, funny, makes with the dirty talk, and is a total commitment-phobe. What I liked about him, is that when he realizes his mistake, he throws himself into getting Liv back. He pursues her, and in the end, makes a fabulous Big Romantic Gesture that made me heave the big sigh. I love a hero who gives good grovel. Although this book can stand alone, there are myriad references to past couples, which may be distracting for a reader who prefers to enjoy books in order. For me, Before Jamaica Lane features a truly enjoyable, if young, couple and a really satisfying love story. Final grade: B+

Kind regards,

Kati

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