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REVIEW:  The Masked Songbird by Emmie Mears

REVIEW: The Masked Songbird by Emmie Mears

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Mildly hapless Edinburgh accountant Gwenllian Maule is surviving. She’s got a boyfriend, a rescued pet bird and a roommate to share rent. Gwen’s biggest challenges: stretching her last twenty bucks until payday and not antagonizing her terrifying boss.

Then Gwen mistakenly drinks a mysterious beverage that gives her heightened senses, accelerated healing powers and astonishing strength. All of which come in handy the night she rescues her activist neighbor from a beat-down by political thugs.

Now Gwen must figure out what else the serum has done to her body, who else is interested and how her boss is involved. Finally—and most mysteriously—she must uncover how this whole debacle is connected to the looming referendum on Scottish independence.

Gwen’s hunt for answers will test her superpowers and endanger her family, her friends—’even her country.

Dear Ms. Mears,

I hate to say but the start of this book is rather pedestrian. Put-upon heroine Gwen has a job she likes working for a boss from hell she loathes. Her boyfriend is a shit – which is obvious to all even Gwen – but she puts up with him anyway making me want to shake her numerous times. She is in debt to her eyeballs, and gets rained on both literally and figuratively. So far it’s not much different from countless romance (Chick Lit) novels we’ve all read.

Then Gwen suffers a horrible accident at her workplace and, after dragging herself into the bowels of the building, drinks something and is eventually found and taken to hospital. Slowly, very, very slowly, she begins to experience the growth of her new powers while still not understanding how she got them or what to do with them.

Meanwhile, she becomes better acquainted with a neighbor who is apparently working for Scottish independence and keeps running afoul of some mysterious bully boys and girls who want to silence him at any cost. From the blurb, I knew that the Independence vote was important but this thread is tenuously woven through the opening half of the novel to the point where it almost disappears besides Gwen’s haplessness. Where’s the AYE! I wondered?

I know that Gwen’s initial description and background is supposed to mimic the typical mild-mannered superhero but it also cuts too close to the downtrodden romance heroine trope that I loathe – Dump shit on her head until lurve saves her.

There are also some editorial continuity issues I was surprised to encounter in a Harlequin book. While I dislike visiting Ochlassieland, I noticed a curious lack of UK/Scottish slang/words/terms here except for every once in a while when someone might utter an “och, aye.” A little more might have helped me feel the setting better.

Gwen’s boyfriend is a annoying twat. He’s self absorbed, answers for Gwen and thinks he’s entitled. Thankfully, there’s another male character I can root for in Taog – and thanks for including a pronunciation guide to his name early so I didn’t spend half the book thinking is name vaguely rhymed with bog.

Roommate Magda is delightful too – though she veers between roommate and flatmate. With Magda’s fashion savvy and skills, when Gwen finally goes out to fight evil, she’s dressed for success – even if the stretchy material of the tights does give her a wedgie.

As for the mystery of Gwen’s un-looked-for skills, the explanation makes a weird kind of sense or at least it’s enough for me to play along from home. As for the villain, she’s a piece of work, though the other reason for her actions remains elusive for a long, long time.

Finally, the plot gets down to business and the explanations come thick and fast though often in expository, “let me stand here and tell you everything” fashion. Part of the book’s charm is how clueless Gwen can be as she works to master her powers and understand the evil intentions of the villains. However this same cluelessness, continued on for chapter after chapter, ended up frustrating me and causing me to start to skim to the finish.

This book was a bit darker than I thought it would be – bodies litter the ground by the end – and Gwen’s crime fighting more haphazard. It also dragged, a lot. The outcome was positive though the cost was dear. From what I can tell, there is a sequel planned for Gwen and Co. What it will be about is something I can’t guess. Honestly I’m torn as to whether I want to continue since I found large amounts of this story unsatisfying and am grading it at a C-.

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Echoes of Scotland Street by Samantha Young

REVIEW: Echoes of Scotland Street by Samantha Young

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Dear Ms. Young:

Shannon MacLeod is on the run. She’s fled Glasgow, her home town, to escape her last boyfriend, who beat her to a pulp. She’s come to Edinburgh  to start her life over. First order of business, find a job. She reluctantly goes to INKarnate, an award winning shop in town known for boasting the best tattoo artists. She’s reluctant because she’s a bit of a bad boy magnet, always attracting men who are bad for her, many of whom have abused the trust she puts into them. She knows the chances are high that she’ll meet someone unsuitable. But she tells herself that she’ll just be on her own, finally free to do as she pleases, including honing her skills as an artist, which she’s kept secret since her ex-boyfriend mocked her skills.

She gets the job at the shop, and soon meets Cole Walker, the shop’s manager and lead artist. Fans of the series know Cole. He’s the younger brother of Johanna from Down London Road, book 2 in the series. We first met Cole as a talented child who loved art and wanted to be a tattoo artist when he grew up. Sure enough, Cole is not only a tattoo artist, but a highly sought after one at that. He’s also gorgeous, and a genuinely kind person. Shannon is immediately wary of Cole. He recognizes her immediately, knowing that they met briefly when they were teenagers, but Shannon pretends not to remember, thoroughly intimidated by this obvious bad boy. Cole begins to flirt with Shannon, attracted to her “wee fairy” looks. But Shannon shuts him down in the harshest way possible.

Shannon is dealing with her own issues. On top of having been beaten and nearly raped by her ex-boyfriend, when she left him, she ran straight to her brother, Logan. Logan took it upon himself to beat the boyfriend so badly he was hospitalized. This landed Logan in jail and lead her family to blame her utterly for his imprisonment. Shannon knows they’re right. Her continued bad decisions about men have brought nothing but heartache to her, but now they’re affecting her family too. She’s completely resolved not to get involved with anyone.

But she’s deeply attracted to Cole. She knows that he’d be bad for her, but being around him all the time is torture. Needless to say, Cole is pissed and offended that Shannon made assumptions about the kind of person he is and their cold war is uncomfortable for everyone. Soon Shannon learns that she’s drastically misjudged Cole. Cole is not only universally known as a genuinely good guy, he’s got a wonderful family that loves him and a ton of friends. He’s on good terms with the women he’s been involved with in the past. It turns out Shannon has misjudged him. She apologizes, and Cole decides that they can be friends. But their attraction is still smoldering and one night they end up acting on it. Cole, of course, wants a relationship, but Shannon is afraid. She’s not sure she can trust anyone ever again, and she’s even more afraid that she’ll hurt Cole making him hate her. Cole assures her he realizes the risk, and is willing to take it, but when Shannon’s family insists that Cole is bad for her and she make a choice between them or him, what will she do?

I quite enjoyed this book, which is probably not a surprise to anyone. Cole is a classic Caregiving Alpha, wanting nothing more than to love and adore Shannon. He’s hot, amazing in bed, talented, sweet and generous. What’s not to like? Sadly, Shannon has a harder time than I would have liked learning to trust him. She’s got a ton of baggage and seems to be determined to make Cole carry it, despite the fact that he’s nothing but patient and loving to her. Because this is a New Adult book, I’m generally willing to allow for a level of immaturity from the characters, but Shannon pushing Cole away repeatedly was a bit tiresome. In the end, she messes up big, and at the urging of her brother gives a most excellent grovel, which was refreshing, as I felt strongly that it was her who needed to be worthy of him. Overall though, I felt like this couple was well matched and enjoyable to read. I always love revisiting past characters, and given that Cole and Hannah (the last book’s heroine) are a bit younger than the first group of characters, it’s really fun to see older characters with families now. Your sex scenes continue to be extremely hot and inventive, which I appreciate. In the end, I believed wholeheartedly in Cole and Shannon’s Happily Ever After and was glad to see the series get on back track after what I felt was a miss with Fall from India Place. Echoes of Scotland Street gets a happy recommendation from me. Final grade: B.

Kind regards,
Kati

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