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Book Reviews

REVIEW:  Random by Lark O’Neal

REVIEW: Random by Lark O’Neal

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Dear Ms. O’Neal,

I’m not quite sure where to begin. This is a very odd book. I’m still dipping my toes into new adult so I’m not as well-versed in the genre as others, but Random struck me as a novel that fails to live up to expectations or even to the cover copy.

Jess Donovan is a poor waitress working at a local diner. Her mother died in a freak accident. Her step-father lives on disability and the birth father she barely remembers lives on the other side of the world.

Then one day a car crashes through the diner where she works, destroying it in the process. Now out of work, Jess has to find a way to make rent. She’s broke. But the accident also brought Tyler Smith into her life and everything begins to change.

I find it ironic the title of this book is Random because never has a title been more fitting for a novel. I guess that’s a sign it was a deliberate choice. But when it comes to a reading experience, I prefer a more cohesive narrative. Individually, the scenes are fine. But together? There’s barely anything holding the story together. We follow Jess’s life from one random moment to the next, hoping for the story to kick into gear. But it never gets off the ground.

I also just didn’t care for her love interest. Tyler is a rich boy who’s rebelling against his privileged family by majoring in art and working as a cook at a coffee shop. I personally can’t buy into that fantasy but I know the idea of an artsy person breaking free of family expectations is appealing so I’m willing to roll with it.

But it’s his interactions with Jess that really rubbed me the wrong way. As I said, Jess is poor. She lives paycheck to paycheck. Barely. Tyler obviously doesn’t. He has a trust fund. His parents pulled strings so he could go to a local college that he subsequently flunked out of. Privileged doesn’t even begin to cover it. But anytime Jess makes a reference to her background and history: starting to work at age 14 or not having a computer at home, let alone internet, Tyler gets upset. He tells her she has a chip on her shoulder and to stop making him feel bad about being rich. Sounds to me that the person with the problem isn’t Jess.

I know Cinderella narratives are a staple but this one really turned me off. Being poor is Jess’s reality. It’s not her fault he’s uncomfortable with seeing how the lower class lives. She can’t hide it to make Tyler feel better, which is exactly what he wants. I think she has a right to be a little suspicious about why this rich boy is taking an interest in her. To be honest, I spent the entirety of the book convinced Tyler was slumming it, as they say.

Another thing I thought the book was missing was intensity and angst. The heroine is 19 so I think there should have been more. Jess is portrayed as an old soul but even old souls have melodrama in their lives at that age. She certainly had enough fodder. Jess starts out the novel dating a guy from a rock band who she later breaks up with after an altercation. Major drama, right? Yet it’s not written like that, which only contributes to the oddball feeling of the novel.

To be honest, if anything, I’d say this book reminds me more of women’s fiction than new adult. It has a very even keel to the narrative rather than the dramatic ups and downs I’ve come to expect from NA. Bad things happen in the novel but I never get a sense of how they affect Jess or cost her anything. That’s the kind of lack I mean.

I can sort of see what Random is going for. Jess has drifted through life, letting things happen, rather than seizing control. The story is about her learning that. And while she finally begins taking steps in that direction towards the end of the novel, the book’s other flaws along with a clumsily executed cliffhanger just make it hard to appreciate. C-

My regards,
Jia

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REVIEW:  Kinked by Thea Harrison

REVIEW: Kinked by Thea Harrison

Dear Ms. Harrison,

I’ve enjoyed the previous books in this series on audio – this is the first one I’ve read. Having listened to Sophie Eastlake narrate the previous five books though, I still heard her voice reading me the story as I devoured Kinked. I also have a confession to make.  Aryal was never my favourite Sentinel.  She’s difficult and abrasive and hard to like.  I have a thing for Graydon but Aryal never really caught my attention much.  Perhaps that was because she didn’t like Pia and I did?  Nevertheless, as much as I wasn’t Aryal’s number one fan I was still keen to read this book and see where your world building would take me next.

Kinked Thea Harrison

Recommended by Kati and Jane ( A | BN | K | S | G )* Paranormal Romance

What a surprise then to find that Aryal was an amazing heroine.  Spending time in her head gave me a new (and previously unheld) appreciation for her character. One of the things I enjoyed most about the book was that Quentin was not at all phased by her abrasive charm – in fact, he reveled in it and came to value it.  So Aryal realised new depths and revealed a softer side that perhaps even she didn’t know she had but she didn’t have to go through a personality transplant to find her HEA.  Aryal may be an unlikeable heroine but she is essentially the same person at the end of the book as she is at the beginning and for that alone you deserve the applause of Romance Stadium.  She didn’t have to conform to find love.  She didn’t need “fixing”.  I loved that. I can’t even tell you how much.

As it happened, Aryal and Quentin were perfect for each other – each of them driven and wild and just a little bit out of step with the rest of the world.

She quieted that internal whip that drove him because she became the whip, her soul as sharp as a knife.

He could cut himself on her, wrap her in his arms and be her buffer. Heal her from herself, bruise himself on her.

Let her heal him. Let her be his buffer.

They were so unapologetic, so kinked.

He said, “We’re perfect.”

The story begins closely after the end of Lord’s Fall – Quentin and Aryal are fighting and all the other Sentinels and Dragos are at their wit’s end  – Dragos sends them on an assignment together and orders them to work out their differences. They are to be away for at least two weeks, no longer than one month and if they don’t work out their differences, they will both lose their Sentinel positions.  Dragos is not fucking around here.  He is Over. It.   He sends them to Numenlaur – the elven Other land which was closed to everyone for many many years.  The Numenlaurians were held in thrall by Amras Gaeleval and those who survived the events in the previous book have not yet recovered sufficiently to return.  The way is open and Dragos wants Aryal and Quentin to scout around and ensure there is no looting and also to secure any sensitive items which may be unprotected.

I think the book works best if readers have read the previous books because it is easier to understand the world, the events that led to Quentin becoming a Sentinel, his and Aryal’s antipathy to one another, as well as the assignment Dragos gives them.  The romance is fairly enclosed so I suppose readers could pick this up as a stand alone, but I don’t think they would get as much out of it if they didn’t understand the background to this point.

On the way to Numenlaur, the sexual awareness of each other which has recently bloomed becomes an itch which has to be scratched.  Aryal and Quentin make a bargain with each other – fifteen minutes each totally in the other’s control.  As is so often the case in romance fiction, such a bargain only leaves them wanting more.  That, and the way they have to work together, how they actually start talking to one another, has each of them reconsidering their previous plan to arrange for someone to conveniently kill the other while they are away – thus solving the Sentinel problem.

When they get to Numenlaur, things there are eerie and incredibly sad.  And something or someone is watching them.  The main action does only traverse two weeks or so, but the pressure cooker environment and their previous two years of sniping at and baiting each other meant that I had no difficulty in buying into their romance.  Even when they hated one another, they each also respected the other’s strengths and abilities.  As they are forced to trust and rely on one another, their bond deepens.  And when they are threatened and their lives hang in the balance, they find in each other a true partner.  And, through it all, they remain true to their characters – while there is tenderness,

As the panther found his peace, the harpy stroked his hair and discovered tenderness. Then everything that lay twisted between them came clear as they reached the heart of the labyrinth they had been traveling together.

there is plenty of snark too.

He paused to make sure that sank in. Then he said, “Number four. There are people who love you. Niniane and Grym. Hell, maybe Grym is right, and Dragos does too. Graydon’s pretty mad at you, but you know he loves you.” He took a deep breath. It was time to throw himself on his sword. “Me.”

Her eyes dilated until they were mostly black. “You?”

“Yeah, don’t dwell on it,” he said. Okay, he was done now.

I completely bought into their partnership and their mating.

There was also plenty of action to the story and some very sad moments too.  I think the villian of the piece was lightly drawn.  I was so caught up in Aryal and Quentin and their perspectives of events that I didn’t really notice until very near the end, but her motivations were only very lightly touched upon and although she caused a lot of damage, she wasn’t featured strongly as a character.  I found the pacing of the book fine while I was reading it but it occurred to me afterwards that there is a huge flurry of activity and information right near the end  and up until then it was mostly about Quentin and Aryal working out their relationship (vastly entertaining as it was).  This didn’t bother me all that much, as I’m primarily a romance reader but those looking for a more evenly balanced mix of action and romance might find it a bit uneven.

In some respects, this book reminded me (in a good way) of Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series – perhaps that was in the nature of the magic that was used, I’m not sure.  It was sexy and romantic and refreshingly different.  I really liked it.  I give it a B+.

“I think you might be both my suicide and my salvation.” And he needed her for both. “I love you like a heart attack, woman.”

Regards,
Kaetrin

 

 

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