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REVIEW:  Just One Night by Nancy Warren

REVIEW: Just One Night by Nancy Warren

Dear Ms. Warren:

In flipping through the Blaze ARCs sent to us by Harlequin, I picked up your book first. I’ve read and enjoyed you in the past. For 2/3 of the story, I felt like this was a book I could recommend to Dear Author readers but it kind of fell apart at the end; however, aside from the odd suspense element introduced which served as the relationship ex machina, this was a charming love story.

Just One Night by Nancy WarrenRob Klassen is a photojournalist, injured by a bullet wound during his last excursion near the Ras Ajdir border between Tunisia and Libya. His editor is putting him on sick leave until Rob can run a 6 minute mile so, as his boss puts it, “the next time you have to run for your life you can make it.” Rob has no real home or roots. His only relative, the grandmother who raised him, recently passed away and his adult life has been spent traveling to one location or another to take photos for World Week magazine, one of the premiere news magazines in the world. He decides to retreat to Bellamy House, the home that his grandmother bequeathed him in Seattle.

Hailey Fleming is an up and coming realtor whose heart has been broken too many times.  I never knew what age Hailey was and I didn’t know why she wasn’t more established in her career. This is an important component because Hailey argues she doesn’t have time for dating because she is trying to become a success as a realtor. She also states that she’ll think about dating in one or two years. Yet later in the book she states that if she was wooed by a local she would be interested. Color me confused. Her emotional arc wasn’t as consistent as Rob’s and at times felt like it was merely constructed to provide a sense of conflict.

The end where it unravels for me inserts a romantic suspense element that may have been vaguely foreshadowed but used up valuable page space that could have been put to better use exploring how the two parties could enmesh their different lifestyles.  The two had somewhat similar backgrounds in that they were both rudderless youths.  Rob’s was more traditionally dire but using that as an excuse for Rob’s inability to settle down wasn’t well juxtaposed with Rob’s real love for photojournalism.  In other words, I didn’t buy that Rob’s desire to be in the thick of things arose out of his shitty childhood or that it would dissipate just because of the love of Hallie.

Hailey’s desire to build a career in Seattle and Rob’s desire to continue taking amazing photographs in far flung places weren’t two entirely incompatible desires so long as separation was feasible.  Yet, that option wasn’t even considered.  It seemed like Hailey believed that in order to be *with* Rob, she had to physically be by his side in wartorn countries, holding his camera bag.

There is a secondary storyline involving Julia, Hailey’s best friend, and her aborted attempts at internet dating. It was kind of a reverse makeover story (gender reverse) and at times I thought it was cute and others I thought it was overly shallow.  Hallie and Rob’s was a tender love story and I liked the love scenes, the gentle humor, and just the tenderness that Hailey and Rob exhibited toward each other, even when they were apart.  C+

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REVIEW: Shaedes of Gray by Amanda Bonilla

REVIEW: Shaedes of Gray by Amanda Bonilla

Dear Ms. Bonilla,

If there’s one character type I love seeing, it’s assassins. Especially female assassins. I could probably stand to see less redheaded assassins though. Seriously, what is it with fantasy and redheaded assassins and/or redheaded women? Still, the promise of a female assassin was enough to lure me into picking up your debut. I tried to read another debut earlier this year featuring a female assassin, but that quickly became a DNF. So I hoped for something better with your book. But while I did finish your novel, it was with very mixed feelings.

Shaedes of Gray by Amanda BonillaDarian is an assassin. She makes it a point to only kill people who deserve it but there’s no getting around what she does for a living. She kills people and she does so well. Until now.

Darian is also a Shaede. Shaedes are supernatural beings that can turn into shadow at night. Very effective ability for an assassin. People are usually born Shaedes but a select few — the powerful ones — can turn others. The process to become one isn’t very clear — no exchange of blood likes vampires, no bites like werewolves — so I’m guessing it was something mystical.

Darian was made into a Shaede. The man who turned her into one vanished many years prior and is assumed dead, so she assumed she was the only one of her kind. After all, that’s what her maker told her so why should she have any reason to doubt him?

It turns out he lied. Darian is not the only one of her kind. In fact, she’s been recruited back into the fold for specific particular mission. And to succeed at this mission, she’s got to train for it because while she was good against humans, it turns out her current skill level is nothing at all compared to other Shaedes and the man she now has to kill.

I really wanted to love this book. It had promise. Finally, a female assassin who’s hard and not depicted to be incompetent in the opening pages! But as the book progressed, I realized that while I like my female assassins to be hard, I also prefer for them not to be complete and utter sociopaths dissociated from their emotions. Now I assume that to be a good assassin, you need to be able to dissociate to a certain extent, but there’s compartmentalizing and then there’s being emotionless. It makes it hard for me to like Darian.

For example, Darian’s backstory is that she was an abused wife. Yes, I’m sure everyone is surprised that the tough as nails heroine had a tragic backstory in which she was beaten by her husband. At least she wasn’t raped. On the other hand, the reason the husband beat her was because he was closeted gay and resented it. Talk about cliches and stereotypes! A woman can’t become strong unless she was abused? The gay man is evil? Really?

But that’s not even the point I was trying to make. You see, when the abusive husband gets what’s coming to him, Darian watches the scene unfold with no reaction at all. I would have taken anything. Hysteria. Cheerfully jumping in to help. Screaming and running away when she realizes that the man they invited into their house is in fact a murderer! Her dropping to the floor and saying, “Okay, kill me next.” Anything! Instead, I got nothing. She just stood by and watched.

Now you could say her lack of reaction was a sign that the abuse had affected her. That she could no longer feel. But based on the rest of the book, I don’t think that was what was intended at all.

I also found her to be willfully ignorant. It’s not just her actually believing they were the only ones of their kind. It’s the fact that she didn’t stop to think that there were other supernatural things walking around. And to tell the truth, I can’t help but think badly of a supernatural character who has no idea what a Jinn is. When she was human, sure. I can buy that lack of knowledge. But Darian’s been alive for a long time. She lives in modern-day Seattle. She doesn’t know that jinn=genie? Let’s not even get started on the fact that while Darian insists on only killing evil people, she doesn’t actually confirm that the people she’s killing are evil! She trusts her handler, Tyler, to vet everything. I know it’s just a personal preference but I really want my protagonists to be smart and clever!

There’s a romantic subplot but it feel really flat for me. I had no idea why Tyler was so in love with Darian. Was it a genuine emotional connection? Some sort of supernatural soulbonding? Both? Who knows? And I personally found the insistence that Xander was a rival for Darian’s affections to be laughable. I found the scenes where Darian interacted with Xander to be lacking in romantic or sexual chemistry at all. Trying to see Darian as being torn between Tyler and Xander was impossible despite the book telling me that Darian was attracted to Xander. I didn’t see that at all and every time the book told me that, I made a face.

Which brings us to the final point. This book is a lot of telling. It’s also a lot of withholding information for the sake of withholding information. I really dislike this. I knew who it was Darian had to kill the minute they mentioned it. It was so obvious there might as well have been neon orange flags around it. The fact that it took so long for them to reveal the identity in the book was annoying.

While I liked that the novel took the idea of a shadow assassin and showed how nasty the applications of that can be, I really could not get behind Darian. Her backstory was so cliche and she followed the path of many an urban fantasy heroine and started developing unique and random superpowers no one has ever seen before when times got tough. The romantic subplot was poorly done in my opinion, and the plot lacked any twists at all. I don’t regret reading the book but it does remind me of why the urban fantasy genre frustrates me so much. C-

My regards,
Jia

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