Series Spotlight: The Fatal Series by Marie Force

I’ve long been wanting to start a new feature on the blog which spotlights book series that I’ve found and truly enjoyed.  A lot of times I get hooked on a series, find that it’s been out for a while, then binge myself on 5 or 6 books in a row, finding myself totally entranced by the series and author. One such occurrence happened when I found the Fatal series by Marie Force.  Currently 6 books and a novella, the Fatal series is a hybrid of the crime and romance genres.

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The Fatal series follows Sam Holland, a police detective for the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington D.C., as well as Nick Cappuano, a chief-of-staff turned Senator.  The two had a memorable one-night stand a few years prior, but they are now brought back into each other’s lives as Nick’s boss, Senator O’Connor, has been murdered.  As the head of the murder investigation, Sam becomes a constant part of Nick’s life again, much to his surprise.  After their one-night stand Nick tried contacting Sam over and over in the hopes of beginning a relationship with her.  Circumstances neither of them could have known about kept them apart, and this reintroduction has begun to rekindle the feelings both have never been able to truly suppress over the years.

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So, why do I love this series? First and foremost, the characters.  Nick is AWESOME.  He’s not threatened by Sam’s powerful career or her need for control.  Nor is he perturbed by the thick armor she wears to deal with the world.  Instead, he pushes her to think in new ways, express her emotions, and allow herself to need those around her.  His love, support, and encouragement help her shed the tremendous amount of stress, guilt, and pressure she’s carried around.  Sam’s an incredible character (AND woman) in her own right.  She’s strong, resilient, intelligent, and powerful.  The two together are awe-inspiring.  They can achieve anything together, as their love truly makes them better, stronger people.

I’m glad that Force chose to have Nick and Sam’s love story spill out over multiple books instead of having everything happen in one.  It makes their relationship and subsequent marriage more believable and realistic.  It also allows their development as a couple, individuals, and professionals  to grow leaps and bounds.

So, what else is so special about this series besides the characters? The non-stop action, for one thing.  Also, the intriguing mysteries!  While Sam and Nick’s love story is the heart of this series, it’s not the main plotline in each book.  The mysteries that Force comes up with are super fascinating, and they take up a good portion of each book, filling out the romantic portions nicely.  It’s obvious she’s a talented writer the more you read of the Fatal series.  Each book will have you guessing from start to finish.

In order (with my ratings) the series is:

  1. Fatal Affair – 5 out of 5 Stars
  2. Fatal Justice – 4 out of 5 Stars
  3. Fatal Consequences – 4 out of 5 Stars
    1. Fatal Destiny (novella) – 5 out of 5 Stars
  4. Fatal Flaw – 3 out of 5 Stars
  5. Fatal Deception – 5 out of 5 Stars
  6. Fatal Mistake – 3 out of 5 Stars

If you’re looking for something new to read that is truly out of the box (I mean come on, murder and romance!?) I suggest giving this series a shot.

Kim’s Review of Making It Last (Camelot #4) by Ruthie Knox

milrkMarriage is tough.  A successful one takes a lot of hard work. It has its up and downs.  It’s filled with highs and lows.  But when effort is put forth for it, it is one of the most rewarding relationships you can have.  Author Ruthie Knox reminds of how incredible marriage can be in the conclusion of her Camelot series, Making it Last.

From Goodreads:

A hotel bar. A sexy stranger. A night of passion. There’s a part of Amber Mazzara that wants those things, wants to have a moment — just one — where life isn’t a complicated tangle of house and husband and kids and careers. Then, after a long, exhausting “vacation” with her family, her husband surprises her with a gift: a few days on the beach . . . alone.

Only she won’t be alone long, because a handsome man just bought her a drink. He’s cool, he’s confident, and he wants to take Amber to bed and keep her there for days. Lucky for them both, he’s her husband. He’s only got a few days in Jamaica to make her wildest desires come true, but if he can pull it off, there’s reason to believe that this fantasy can last a lifetime.

First and foremost I have to say a huge thank you to Ruthie Knox for writing this book.  For sharing with the world that there CAN be romance in marriage.  That romance doesn’t die after your wedding day.

For anyone that’s married, this story will immediately connect.  In my opinion I think every marriage at some point can become affected by the commonplace of everyday life.  Our jobs, stress over bills, making grocery lists, cooking dinner, doing laundry, taking care of the kids etc….these things all become our focus.  The importance of communication with your partner somehow gets pushed to the side and any romance that existed begins to extinguish itself.  Unless you take Knox’s advice, and realize that romance CAN have a place in a marriage if you communicate your want AND need for it.

I have ALL THE FEELINGS for this book.  I was wrecked by the end of it.  Amber and Tony’s journey back to each other is a journey wrought with difficulty, tough confessions, and a love that is truly fathomless.  The pure honesty of this story is what makes this story so beautiful.  If you do one thing today, let it be buying yourself a copy of this phenomenal book then crawling up with a blanket and a glass of wine while reading it.  It’ll be the best thing you do all day.

5 out of 5 stars

Making it Last by Ruthie Knox
Loveswept (Random House Publishing) (2013)
eBook: 136 pages
ISBN: 9780345549297

Special thanks to Loveswept for my review copy via Netgalley!

Kim’s Review of Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson

bjdIf you were to ask me what my absolute favorite genre to read is I’d tell you historical fiction in a heartbeat.  I love being given the opportunity to read about a period of time I’ll never experience.  I also enjoy being given the opportunity to learn what the culture of the period was.  When I learned that Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson offered me these chances and more, I instantly sent in a request to review it.

From Goodreads:

Kate Worthington knows her heart and she knows she will never marry. Her plan is to travel to India instead—if only to find peace for her restless spirit and to escape the family she abhors. But Kate’s meddlesome mother has other plans. She makes a bargain with Kate: India, yes, but only after Kate has secured—and rejected—three marriage proposals.

Kate journeys to the stately manor of Blackmoore determined to fulfill her end of the bargain and enlists the help of her dearest childhood friend, Henry Delafield. But when it comes to matters of love, bargains are meaningless and plans are changeable. There on the wild lands of Blackmoore, Kate must face the truth that has kept her heart captive. Will the proposal she is determined to reject actually be the one thing that will set her heart free?

Set in Northern England in 1820, Blackmoore is a Regency romance that tells the story of a young woman struggling to learn how to follow her heart. It is Wuthering Heights meets Little Women with a delicious must-read twist.

I am completely and utterly in love with this book.  There is no simpler way to put it.  The characters, the setting, THE WRITING – it’s all exquisite.  Donaldson’s writing drew me in from page one.  I became completely mesmerized by Kate’s struggle as a woman in the early 1800’s.  Her struggle for freedom, independence, and love was written in an entirely realistic manner.  The anxiety and anger she feels over her lack of independence was clearly laid out before me.  As a reader, I felt the cage she was trapped in just as much as she did.  Kate’s struggle of trying to hide her true feelings for Henry nearly killed me.

Kate and Henry are just fascinating characters.  Henry is this beautiful old-fashioned gentleman with a (in my opinion) modern way of thinking.  He wants Kate to have her freedom and go to India, even at great cost to himself.  Their story is equal parts tragic and romantic.  Heart-warming and heart-breaking.  The journey Donaldson takes us on in Blackmoore is filled with twists and turns, humor, romance, intrigue, and above all, personality.

I highly recommend checking out Blackmoore, especially if you’re a fan of Austen, Bronte, or Gaskell.  I’m so impressed (and in love) with this book that I’m heading out this weekend to get myself a copy of Donaldson’s debut novel Edenbrooke.  

5 out of 5 Stars

This is my twentieth completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

This is my sixth completed review for the Color Coded Challenge

Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson
Shadow Mountain Publishing (2013)
Paperback: 320 pages
ISBN: 9781609074609

Special thanks to Shadow Mountain Publishing for the review copy I received via Netgalley!

Kim’s Review of Flirting With Disaster (Camelot #3) by Ruthie Knox

fwdrkSuper bestest reading friend Kelly, from Reading With Analysis, turned me on to author Ruthie Knox’s Camelot series several months ago.  The first in the series, a novella entitled How to Misbehave, seriously impressed me with its depth of character development.  I instantly became hooked to the series and continued with book two, Along Came Trouble.  Again, the characters just spoke to me.  My love for Knox’s writing grew again, and I became giddy with anticipation for the third novel in the series, Flirting With Disaster.  

After breaking away from a marriage that should have never even happened, Katie Clark needs  shelter from the storm that has become her life.  So, Katie returns to her hometown of Camelot, Ohio to reboot and begin again.  She does so with gusto, beginning work at her brother’s security firm and pouring all of her time into her work.  While there, she is assigned to an important case of a stalker that is threatening a popular singer.  Also assigned to the case is Sean Owen, who is determined to not speak to Katie and avoids her whenever necessary.  While Katie is confused by this, Sean has good reason to do so.  Ever since he sat behind her in high school, Sean has had a crush on Katie.  Now that they work together, he must find a way to break his silence and risk her rejection once she remembers who he is.  What’s more, Katie has been blundering the investigation and he must find a way to get back on track, both professionally and personally with Katie.  Can they make it work in the office and in the sheets?

So romance novels usually always have big, strong, super masculine men as their heroes, yeah?  Now don’t read that sentence as a negative.  I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with the typical male archetype, I just get bored sometimes reading about the hottest, most attractive guy with 12 pack abs, the strength of ten men, and the looks of Adonis.  I like reading about the underdog male sometimes.  The geek.  The guy with glasses.  The shy one in the corner.  You get my drift….

Cue Ruthie Knox and her amazing imagination.  Sean, the male lead from Flirting with Disaster, is a geek and man do I love him.  He loves hacking computers.  He reads sci-fi/fantasy books.  He has a stutter and it’s pretty damn sexy.  His differences from the standard romance hero make him unique, interesting, and titillating.

Flirting With Disaster delves deeply into examining the immense amount of pressure placed on people to be perfect.  Knox’s exquisite writing and characterization allow us to see how that pressure can affect people in many different ways.  From Sean’s mother’s need for her son’s speech to be perfect, Katie’s need for her marriage to be ideal, to even Judah’s (a supporting rock-star character) need to perfect in his sex god/rock god status.  Everyone has an image that needs to be projected, and the idea that finding their perfect partner allows them to drop that false image is the true moral of this story.  (IMO)  Perfection is just that, an image.  An image of unrealistic and unattainable proportions.  The partner meant for us will love us faults and all.

I am so in love with Knox’s writing.  It’s deep and honest; her novels offer insight into the human condition better than most novels I’ve read.  She gets people.  She understands relationships.  And dammit, the woman can write.  Check this series out.  It honestly can’t be missed.

5 out of 5 Stars

Flirting With Disaster by Ruthie Knox
Loveswept (Random House Publishing) (2013)
eBook: 448 pages
ISBN: 9780345541703

Special thanks to Loveswept/Netgalley for my review copy!

Todd’s Review of Losing It All by Marsha Cornelius

17619843As you may or may not know, I’ve been a fan of Marsha Cornelius’ work ever since I read the thrilling H10N1 (find the review here).  Sure, it could have been the fact that I work with the flu virus that made that book so exciting, but I soon followed it up with her next work, The Ups and Downs of Being Dead (review here.)  So, once I heard that she had a third book coming out, Losing It All, I knew I had to give it a try.  The only problem was that it had a romance-type feel to it, of which I am not accustomed to reading.  But, since I am working on overcoming my tendency to be a genre snob, I figured I should give it a try!

Losing It All tells the story of Frank Barnes and Chloe Roberts.  Frank is a Vietnam veteran and a drifter, kindhearted yet down on his luck and accustomed to living on the streets.  Chloe isn’t any better off as her husband abandons her and her children, leaving them to fend for themselves.  She and Frank eventually meet randomly at a soup kitchen, with Chloe taking note of Frank’s kind manners and gentle actions despite his living conditions.  Frank decides to help Chloe, who seems scared and awkward at her first trip to the soup kitchen.  Although both decide that this chance meeting was just that, a brief encounter that wouldn’t bear repeating, both seem to find it impossible to forget the other.  Sadly, a terrible accident leaves Frank badly injured, and it is many weeks later before he sees Chloe again, and she is in far worse shape than when he met her for the first time.  Frank, on the other hand, finds a steady job and a place to call his own.  Now that Frank’s luck has turned for the better, will Chloe allow him to help her and her children?  What will become of these two battered individuals?

I have to admit that my self-imposed stigma against romance-themed novels was unfounded.  I’ve come to find that I enjoy the part in most stories when two main romantic interests finally come together after many chapters of waiting.  I’ve just never noticed it before.  It’s funny how authors can write a plot line where most everyone knows that these characters will eventually end up together, yet there is a ton of enjoyment in getting to that point, waiting impatiently for the characters to realize that they are in fact perfect for each other.  I guess that I was doing this all along, but it took Cornelius’s work (as well as some introspection) to realize that this is the case.  In short, I really enjoyed this story.  It had an engaging plot with plenty of sub-plots that kept my attention span.  Cornelius’ characterizations are spot on, and I felt as if I was on the streets with Chloe and Frank at some points.  The sense of pride that I felt for Frank for taking charge of his life and turning it around was definitely palpable.  In all, this is a great and enticing story that will make you want to keep reading, even if it happens to be labeled as romantic-leaning.

5 out of 5 stars

Losing It All by Marsha Cornelius
CreateSpace (2013)
eBook: 378 pages
ISBN: 0615764894

Special thanks to Marsha Cornelius for my review copy!

Kim’s Guest Review of Mr. Darcy’s Guide to Courtship by Fitzwilliam Darcy & Emily Brand

mdgtcfdMy latest review went live over on the Austenprose blog! This time I reviewed a HILARIOUS book entitled Mr. Darcy’s Guide to Courtship.  Guess who wrote it? None other than Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy himself!

Complete with guest sections from Caroline Bingley, Mr. Collins, and George Wickham – this was one book that had me laughing from cover to cover.

For a link to my complete review, click here.

This is my tenth completed review for the Pride and  Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge

Jess’s Review of A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

ahsbwWith about a month and a half of summer time left here on the East Coast, it’s not too late to crack open your next beach read. Grab a fruity drink, slather on the SPF, and check out A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams. Set in the 1930’s in the fictional town of Seaview, Rhode Island, this love triangle is anything but old-fashioned.

I had the sincere privilege of meeting Beatriz Williams at an author event at my favorite bookstore, R.J. Julia in Madison, CT, where I picked up the book. The best way to describe Williams is energetic and delightful. Her presentation was part writer’s workshop, part history lesson, and part book teaser. She began by explaining that the year and location of the story was greatly influenced by The Great Hurricane of 1938. Having lived in New England for the past seven years and having grown up in New York I was surprised that I had never learned about this hurricane. It devastated the New England coastline and claimed the lives of over 700 people on a mild afternoon turned hell on earth. Williams explained that the lack of advanced weather tracking radar at the time had led weather casters to believe that the hurricane would go out to sea. Little did they know it would take direct aim at the New England Coastline. People had little to no advanced warning of the storm’s approach, and as Williams showed us in her presentation, the storm packed a punch that literally wiped entire towns off the map (you can see before and after photos here.)

Seaview, Rhode Island, the setting for A Hundred Summers, is largely based on the real life town of Watch Hill, Rhode Island. Williams explained that her inspiration for the story began with her interest in the idea of how New Englanders “summer” and how little enclaves of families traditionally relocate for the summer months from their homes in New York City, Boston, and inland to the same beach homes with the same families for generations. Think old money. Think mother playing bridge at the club while the kids search for shells and take tennis lessons, while father comes to visit on the weekend to let the stench of city grime be whisked away by the brisk salty summer air.

Obviously this information drew my attention immediately because before you even read the book you now know that it takes place during a summer that culminates with this destructive hurricane. At this point, I don’t even know the plot but I’m worried about these fictional characters and what is going to happen to them while they’re hanging out on the beach as the storm approaches. I want to warn them, but it’s 2013 and they do not exist. (In the literary world this is what is known as, “I need to get out of the house a little more”….but I digress).

My signed copy!

My signed copy!

The story starts simply with two friends, Lilly and Budgie, during their college years in 1931. The two girls sit in the bleachers at a Dartmouth football game, Budgie with her eye on the star football player Graham Pendleton, while Lilly’s eyes lay claim to Nick Greenwald. Both Lilly and Budgie are native New Yorkers with blue blood running in their veins.  While Budgie is outgoing and a little more sexually adventurous, Lilly is pretty, reserved, and poised to follow the rules of her upper class upbringing. Lilly’s life changes when Budgie invites Nick and Graham out to dinner. Budgie and Graham embark in a little back seat rendezvous while Lilly and Nick immediately connect and begin an intense love affair. Lilly and Nick’ s love is beyond the superficial college hook up. It is a jumping-on-Oprah’s-couch, let’s elope and be together forever kind of love.  The problem is, Nick is Jewish and in Lilly’s circle this is forbidden. Once college ends, Nick and Lilly refuse to go their separate ways and when old social standards come back into play at home in New York, Lilly and Nick are put to the test.

Skip ahead to 1938 and Lilly finds herself single with her mother, aunt, and little sister Kiki at their family summer home in Seaview. Lilly is the type of woman who does what is expected of her so she dutifully goes to look after her sister, even though Seaview is a little tired for a single woman in her late 20’s. This summer turns out to be a bit different because an old friend is about to return to town. Budgie, and her new husband Nick Greenwald, are returning to her old summer home after leaving it empty for many years.  Years earlier Nick and Lilly’s love affair came to a crashing and heartbreaking end, and of course Budgie had no qualms about taking Lilly’s place right beside Nick. What could have been a summer of simple awkward encounters between the newly married couple and spiteful ex-best friend/ex-girlfriend turns into a life changing and heart-wrenching summer where the secrets from the past catch up with the characters in the present (even Graham Pendleton makes an appearance!)

Williams keeps the story moving along quickly and I was never bored. Unlike some other stories which fail to keep the plot moving when alternating between two stories in two different time periods, Williams writes with such great precision that I never felt like I was getting confused or that the plot was stalling. The way she reveals secrets and details little by little will keep you guessing because nothing is as it seems. The character’s lives change quickly and history is re-written especially in the last 100 pages. No spoilers here, but there is a moment toward the end where you will gasp, sit straight up in your seat and say OH EM GEEE (OMG)!

The characters and landscapes are written in such a way that you feel the sand between your toes as you sit on the beach with them. Budgie is the ultimate frenemy (a friend who is also an enemy…ladies, you know what I’m talking about), who has a wit as sharp as a tack, the looks like a pin-up girl, and the scheming mind of a James Bond villain. You won’t be able to help but feel the fire between Lilly and Nick during their most intimate moments. The fact that Williams makes it known that the plot culminates with a furious hurricane is brilliant, as it brings this very emotionally charged story to its peak.  Readers who are familiar with New York City and New England will enjoy picking up on the little bits of familiar geography as the characters roam up and down the I-95 corridor.

A Hundred Summers is a very entertaining read that takes the old love triangle tale and gives it a fresh perspective. The historical context is extremely well researched and presented, not just with the hurricane but also with the vastly changing feminist ideals of the time period. I always love a book where I can have a connection with the characters that results in me wanting to root for them.  A Hundred Summers delivered just that. I cannot wait for Beatriz Williams’ next book, and with any luck she will return to R.J. Julia when it is released.

5 out of 5 Stars

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams
Penguin Group (2013)
Hardcover: 368 pages
ISBN: 9780399162169

Kim and Kelly’s Review of The Mistress (The Original Sinners #4) by Tiffany Reisz

tmtrI’m always sad when it’s time to say goodbye to a book series that I love.  Today’s review of Tiffany Reisz’s The Mistress is bittersweet for this reason.  While it’s the fourth and final book in her Original Sinners series (read my reviews of books 1, 2, & 3) it’s far from the last time we’ll see these characters.  You see, Reisz is planning on publishing a further four books on these characters, just in the prequel form.  The Priest, The King, The White Queen, and The Red Queen are all slated for release sometime towards the end of 2013.  So while this seems like a goodbye….it’s really, a see you later.  Joining me in reviewing The Mistress is super bestest reading friend Kelly from Reading With Analysis!

From Goodreads:

There’s punishment-and then there’s vengeance.

Nora Sutherlin is being held, bound and naked. Under different circumstances, she would enjoy the situation immensely, but her captor isn’t interested in play. Or pity.

As the reality of her impending peril unfolds, Nora becomes Scheherazade, buying each hour of her life with stories-sensual tales of Søren, Kingsley and Wesley, each of whom has tempted and tested and tortured her in his own way. This, Nora realizes, is her life: nothing so simple, so vanilla, as a mere love triangle for her. It’s a knot in a silken cord, a tangled mass of longings of the body and the heart and the mind. And it may unravel at any moment.

But in Nora’s world, no one is ever truly powerless-a cadre of her friends, protectors and lovers stands ready to do anything to save her, even when the only certainty seems to be sacrifice and heartbreak….

PLEASE NOTE: WE’RE HEADED INTO MAJOR SPOILER TERRITORY. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Kim: So I guess the beginning is always a good place to start.  With the cliffhanger Reisz ended The Prince with, I was anxious as hell starting this book.  (I don’t do well with cliffhangers…..can you tell?)  That anxiety only increased as I read the first five chapters, which just packed wallop after wallop.  Reisz’s masterful writing skills were exquisitely showcased as each character and the role they would fill began unraveling, piece by piece.  Giving each character a chess piece that matched them? Genius.  It truly did feel as though I was reading/watching a chess master setting up what would turn out to be an epic match.

Kelly: And how. My favorite thing about the beginning was the chess reference, because it clued me in to the level of attention I was going to need to devote to this book while reading it.  This wasn’t a story I could just sit back and watch, so to speak; I needed to engage more of my brain to notice the details, catch the references, and enjoy the book on a deeper level.  That said, the pacing at the beginning was problematic for me.  With each character’s introduction to the drama, overlapping pieces of the backstory were shared again and again.  I remarked in my review on The Angel that the beginning was a little slow to build, a little oddly idyllic, considering, and I felt a repeat of that at the beginning of The Mistress. I, and probably most other readers, approached this book with some level of anxiety or anticipation — I mean, come on — but the early chapters are methodical, a little repetitive, and a bit slow, and the result was a trifle unpleasant to experience.  Until I got about halfway through the book, I felt like I was on the freeway, late for work, and stuck in a traffic jam.  I really wanted to get there, but I could only go as fast as the book would let me, and it was frustrating and stressful.

Kim: I can definitely understand the pacing issues.  It did feel as though there was A LOT of repetition (not just in the beginning, but in the entire book overall.) I get that books in a series need to go back and reference scenes/characters/plot elements from previous books.   That’s fine.  But when you’re more than a quarter of the way into the book, the repetition needs to be coming to a close.  If I wanted to read the same things over and over I could have just picked up the earlier books and reread them.  Even beyond the first quarter of the book there were pacing issues.  At one point everything was happening so quickly I had to stop, back it up, and reread chapters.  This was then followed by chapters of time that felt either super slow or way revved up again.

Pacing aside, Reisz’s writing still shines.  She’s got a unique way of making you re-evaluate everything you thought you knew.  And the loyalties you thought you had? She blows that shit out of the water.  It’s no secret that I’ve disliked Søren from the start.  He’s (in my eyes) been this cold character that I never warmed to.  I was a Wes girl from the start until Kingsley stole my damn heart in The Prince (King had slowly been worming his way into my heart from the start, but it was Prince that did me in.)  Anyway – back to Søren.  ::deep breath:: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but after reading The Mistress……..I like Søren. In fact…I deeply respect him.

Kelly: Yeah, Søren became my favorite character.  I warmed up to him a lot earlier than Kim — The Angel started me down that road, and I absolutely fell for him during The Prince (and discovered a whole world of hate for Wes, but more on that later).  In The Mistress he shines.  I suppose it makes sense.  In The Siren, we see Søren through Nora’s memory, but it’s kind of tainted through her association with Wes, and through Zach’s eyes, but Zach totally does not understand Søren and what he’s about.  I suspect that more than a few  readers ended up holding on to a bias against Søren without even realizing they were doing it.  In The Mistress, Søren shows his true colors, and they’re far different from what you’re taught to expect in The Siren.  In a way, it’s one of the fun things about Reisz’s writing… just because something appears a certain way doesn’t mean it actually is that way.  Readers do well not to form value judgments based on what they’re shown.  There’s always more to the story.

Kim: And that’s probably why Reisz’s writing is so damn good.  You think you know, but you have no idea.  Yet upon finishing Mistress it ALL makes sense.  It’s been there for us from the start, you just had to pick up all the clues along the way.

One other thing I really enjoyed about The Mistress is the way she brought back all of her characters.  It felt like a reunion tour for all of the men that were part of Nora’s life.  Yet for as many male characters that entered the story it was still about Nora and how she’s impacted and changed (good and bad) each one of them.  I think I was most excited for Daniel’s return (if you haven’t read Seven Day Loan I highly recommend it.)

Kelly: Is it awful if I admit that I didn’t like Seven Day Loan?  Well, to be fair, I think I’d like it if I read it again, but I didn’t like it when I read it, because I was carrying around so much dislike for Søren.

Kim: I loved it because I disliked him so much! Daniel gave Søren a run for his money, and I LOVED that.

Kelly: Yeah, but she doesn’t stay with Daniel, so I just felt like I’d been jerked around emotionally for nothing.

Kim: I think it gave us insight into the beginning of “Nora.” We see her discovering that maybe the rest of her life doesn’t have to be tied to Søren.

Kelly: I LOVED that Søren referenced that time in The Mistress and had the balls to feel bad about it.  If he were real, I would have high-fived him for that.

Kim: He should have felt bad about that shit. I’d have high-fived him for finally having some common sense too.

Moving on to something we DON’T agree with – the ending.

Kelly: Yep… I loved it.. Kim…. not so much.

Kim: Understatement of the century. 🙂

Kelly:  So I got to the end, read the last sentence, and then I clapped my hands like a little girl and laughed and laughed and laughed.  It was so damn funny.  I’d been expecting something god-awful, because I got all these texts from Kim (who finished the book before I did) about the end and how it was crazy, and — while I totally understand what she was talking about — the end didn’t bother me at all.  In fact, I loved it.  I expected Reisz to get us in the end, and she did.

Kim: So newsflash – I’m an extremely monogamous person.  I’ve been open throughout this whole series with the way characters have slept with each other, then with other partners, sharing partners, etc.  However, the end of Mistress just pushed me too hard.  Let’s back up for a second.

Nora and Søren are held at gunpoint by Kingsley’s INSANE sister who (SURPRISE) isn’t dead like they all thought.  Søren has gone into this situation with the intent of sacrificing himself to keep Nora and Kingsley safe.  The two people he loves more than anything in the entire world. (See why I like him now?)  Anyway – throughout this scene Søren and Nora reveal the very deepest parts of their souls to the other.

We’re going to fast forward now to the conclusion.  Everyone is safe. Together. Alive.  We find Nora feeling the physical effects of her entrapment to Søren’s dismay.  He’s horny and chooses to take his frustrations out on the pavement….running.  Grace (Zach’s wife) is still feeling the effects of her conversations with Søren from the night before (she walked to his sacrifice with him.)  Nora decides to let Grace have Søren for a night, if she can have Zach for a week later on.  All is agreed upon and while Grace is with Søren, Nora goes to Kingsley (I should also mention that Wes and Nora have broken up at this point, and he’s sleeping with Søren’s niece Laila.)

Now here is where my frustration lies.

A.) Grace is happily married to Zach.  They’ve worked through their issues and are desperately trying to start a family.  Zach gives Grace permission to go to the Eighth Circle and have her own erotic experience (as he did during their separation.) Alright – I’m with you there – an eye for an eye. But to give Nora a week with Zach? Maybe I’m too close-minded to understand it, but I’m not sharing my husband with anyone, for anything.

B.) Sticking with Grace for a second.  Søren sleeps with her. We’ve learned since becoming a priest he’s only shared his body with Nora and Kingsley.  That makes a statement to me. For him to suddenly share his body with Grace because she walked him to what he thought would be his sacrifice…..I don’t know. I “get” that he’s rewarding her, but I don’t see her being rewarded with something of that magnitude.

Kelly:  I’m just going to butt in here, because that’s what I do.  It’s true that Søren  doesn’t share his body of

ten, but I wonder if that’s because so few people earn a place on that very short list rather than that he’s interested in keeping the list super short.  Do you know what I mean?  It didn’t bother me that he shared himself with Grace, because she earned it.  Her walking with him to his sacrifice is huge.  It’s like the women following behind Christ as he heads to Golgotha.  It’s kind of sacrifice in itself… those women — and Grace — don’t try to stop the sacrifice from taking place, but they recognize it, understand it, appreciate it, and then provide much-needed comfort so that the one to be sacrificed can endure it.  If I read it correctly (and if my theology is right), Søren  might not have gotten to the house if Grace hadn’t gone with him, or it would have been a hell of a lot more difficult for him to go alone.  In addition to that journey, Grace gives Søren her faith, trusting implicitly that Nora was right when she called him the best of men.  She doesn’t place qualifiers on what he can do with her, she just gives him herself, knowing what it means.  For that kind of… the only word I can think of is faithfulness, Grace gets a mighty reward, and there’s really only one thing she wants (and sex with Søren is kind of a means to an end, if you know what I mean.)

Kim: I probably have such a huge problem understanding the magnitude of the statement because I’m not a believer in faith.  Sure I believe in helping your fellow man and spreading kindness, but grand gestures of blind faith are lost on me.  Maybe this makes me a lost soul, but I live my life trying to spread kindness and love.  If it makes me a bad person for not having faith, so be it.  But back to the point, the whole doing it for faith and receiving faith — I just don’t get it.

Kelly:  Most of what I thought was so amazing about this book (about the whole series, really) is the way that it incorporates all these Biblical references and elements into a story that is otherwise about a bunch of kinky people.  I love the unexpectedness, the funky juxtaposition.  But I wonder if folk who aren’t familiar with those references will enjoy the stories as much as I did (or maybe they’ll enjoy them as much, but for very different reasons?)

Kim:  That’s a really good question.  The more I talk with you about the book the more I see I’ve missed “deeper meanings.”  It’s a good thing I’ve read this series with you.  You’ve become my faith guru – haha.

Back in Mistress land….While Grace is with Søren, Nora skips off to be with Kingsley.  I can understand this coupling.  Together they have the weight of Søren’s love, and in some way it’s always been the three of them in that relationship.  I LOVED the final scene of the three of them together. So perfect.  After everything Kingsley has gone through (prior books and this one) it was fantastic to see him finally get the recognition and love he deserved and craved.  His status as my favorite sinner was firmly cemented by the end.

Kelly: For the rest of it, the polyamory, for want of a better word, Reisz gives us a clue to the theology that supports these books and characters.  During a conversation between Marie-Laure (Kingsley’s sister) and Nora, Nora says, “One person for your entire life? One? Ridiculous. Who needs that kind of pressure? Expecting someone to fulfill all your needs is blasphemy. You’re expecting a human to be God for you.”  That quote resonated with me, and I agree with it (to a point).  While I practice monogamy, I do think it’s foolish to expect one relationship, one person, to fill every gaping need I have.  I’ve seen marriages fall apart because the individuals weren’t adequately supported.  Anyway, for a bunch of kinky characters in a book written by a kinky lady, it makes sense to me (I wonder if this paragraph will make my husband nervous…)

Kim: That quote – I can understand how some people would feel that way.  And I definitely agree with you that our life is filled with relationships that support us and fill our needs.  No one person fills our needs, but in sexual relationship/marriage I’d hope one person can come close to it.

My next irritation was definitely the Laila/Wes storyline.  I kid you not, the MINUTE we were introduced to Laila I knew her purpose.  I’m over the fact that Wes and Nora aren’t together – they didn’t fit – but for him to move on to Laila 5 minutes after his breakup with Nora? The kid has been pining for her for forever.  I don’t see him getting over it in 5 minutes. And he hadn’t even lost his virginity a month prior.  Suddenly he’s sleeping with the next thing with legs to show him attention? Had they gotten together for the first time in the epilogue I would have been 100% fine with it.  But to have Wes go from the role of panicked fiancée to Laila’s sex god? I had difficulty making that jump.

Kelly:  I think that by the time Wes and Nora have their official breakup conversation, Wes has already moved on.  He has this giant conversation with Søren  wherein he learns to see Nora a little more clearly (and to realize that he’s kind of in love with an imaginary version of her), and then he has a similar reckoning with Kingsley.  Then it becomes pretty damn obvious that Søren is a significantly better dude than Wes thought,  that Nora is a significantly better woman than he thought, and also that Nora doesn’t really need him (at all).  After all of that, he talks to Nora.  And then he has comfortable vanilla sex with Laila.  I dunno… it just didn’t feel that abrupt to me (also, he’s a 20-year-old boy/man…)  I think if I had liked Wes better as a character, I would have been irritated when he got relegated to the background, but I didn’t, and it felt like justice.

I hated Wes so much in The Prince.  I was like, this fucking kid… he’s so privileged and innocently arrogant that he thinks he can swoop in and save Nora. From what? From Søren? From herself? He doesn’t even try to understand her — just makes value judgments based on his own ignorance and privilege — and assumes that because he can give her a life that he doesn’t even realize she doesn’t want or need, he deserves her?  No. Fuck that.

Kim: Kel and I could debate Wes for weeks.  He’s definitely a character that people react to strongly.

In closing, were there things that bothered us about this book? Yes. But Reisz’s writing, characters, and masterful storytelling abilities make all the problems fade into the background.  I think I can speak for both Kelly and I when I say Reisz has found fans for life in us.

Kelly: Exactly.  Anywhere Reisz wants to take me as a reader, I want to go.

Kim’s Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Kelly’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars, pacing issues notwithstanding.

The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz
Harlequin (2013)
Paperback: 458 pages
ISBN: 9780778315704

Special thanks to Harlequin for our review copies via Netgalley!

Todd’s Review of Micro by Michael Crichton

9780594454618_p0_v1_s260x420As you all well know, I’m a huge fan of Mr. Crichton’s work.  I’ve reviewed Timeline and Jurassic Park so far, and I’ve been on the lookout for the next book to try from his arsenal.  Micro caught my eye, as it was Crichton’s last work, and the second to be published posthumously after Crichton’s death in 2008.  Micro was unfinished, so HarperCollins (his publisher at the time) commissioned Richard Preston to complete the novel based on Crichton’s remaining notes and research.

Micro begins with a mysterious occurrence in a lawyer’s office in Hawaii.  There, police find three men with mysterious cuts all over their bodies caused by razor-sharp knives that killed them all.  There were no knives found in the office, leaving the Hawaii Police Department investigator assigned to the case, Dan Watanabe, stumped.  On another part of the island, a new biotechnology company named Nanigen has built a vast lab complex deep in the forests of Hawaii.  They claim it is for the purposes of drug discovery via identifying new compounds that the island has to offer using new technology.  However, all is not as it seems.  A group of graduate students from Cambridge who study specific fields of biology are recruited by Vin Drake, the CEO of Nanigen, to come to Hawaii and work on their groundbreaking research.  However, one of the students, Peter Jansen, discovers that his brother Eric, who already works for Nanigen, has died following a tragic boat accident in Hawaii.  Peter is quite skeptical, as his brother is an accomplished boater and swimmer, and he suspects foul play at the hands of Nanigen.  He travels with his fellow students to Hawaii on the pretense of accepting Drake’s offer, but plans on uncovering Drake’s secrets.  What he finds however, is much, much more than he bargained for.  What he originally intended to be an outing of Drake’s involvement in his brother’s disappearance turns into a brutal fight for survival that none of the students were prepared for.

I think one of my favorite things about Micro as well as Crichton’s writing in general is his descriptiveness.  The paragraphs about the “micro world” are so rich and colorful that I could imagine myself amongst the students, as diminutive in stature as they were, staring up at twigs and leaves that dwarfed them, and running in fear from huge beetles that would have never seemed ominous to a “normal” sized human.  Crichton (and Preston’s) inclusion of Drake as the villain was quite smart, as he was a great counterweight to the intuitive and tenacious nature that the students expressed in order to stay alive in the micro world.  He was just as brilliant as them, which made him all the more evil and cunning, and made the reader hate him even more.  Crichton and Preston were also able to include some great biology lessons in this work as well, which I of course found extremely interesting (although I guess I might be slightly biased.)

Additionally, the inclusion of Preston as the second author to this work was a great move by HarperCollins.  I couldn’t tell where Crichton’s work stopped and Preston’s began.  I know that Crichton had extensive notes on the book as a whole, and I believe that Preston did a great job in interpreting these notes and capturing the essence of Crichton’s vision for the work.  In all, it is an exciting and fast paced read, both things that I have come to expect from Mr. Crichton.  If you’re in the mood for a fun and fast summer read that you can power through in a few days, this is the one, science fiction fans.

5 out of 5 Stars

Micro by Michael Crichton
HarperCollins (2011)
Hardcover: 429 pages
ISBN: 9780060873028

Kim’s Review of The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers

The Story Guy Cover - FinalMy super bestest reading friend Kelly and I were on Twitter a few weeks ago discussing how much we both loved Ruthie Knox’s latest novella, Making it Last (look for my post about it coming in the next week or so.) Anyway, we started telling Ruthie on Twitter how much we loved Making it Last because how real and realistic it felt.  It was a romance novel completely embedded in real life.  She responded back to us, thanking us for the praise of her book and telling us that we needed to read The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers.  Knox’s recommendation was all I needed to give this debut novelist a shot.  And goddamn it, I am so happy I did.

From Goodreads:

I will meet you on Wednesdays at noon in Celebration Park. Kissing only.

Carrie West is happy with her life . . . isn’t she? But when she sees this provocative online ad, the thirtysomething librarian can’t help but be tempted. After all, the photo of the anonymous poster is far too attractive to ignore. And when Wednesday finally arrives, it brings a first kiss that’s hotter than any she’s ever imagined. Brian Newburgh is an attorney, but there’s more to his life . . . that he won’t share with Carrie. Determined to have more than just Wednesdays, Carrie embarks on a quest to learn Brian’s story, certain that he will be worth the cost. But is she ready to gamble her heart on a man who just might be The One . . . even though she has no idea how their love story will end?

Before I begin my review I want to quickly explain what a “story guy” is, because I’ll use that terminology again later.  It’s best I let Rivers explain it in her own words:

“Story guys are like life highlighters.  Your life is all these big blocks of  gray text, and then a story guy comes in with a big ol’ paragraph of neon pink so that when you flip back through your life, you can stop and remember all the important and interesting places.”

Mary Ann Rivers is MY story guy.  I’m going to look back on my time reading this novella and realize that it had a profound impact on my life.  Her prose is poetry.  Her story is perfect.  Her observations on loneliness and human nature are profound.  Her writing…exquisite.  I sit here trying to formulate words adequate enough to convince you to spend the $0.99 and read this work.

My first thought when I finished this novella was that Rivers is going to have an extremely long and successful future as a writer.  Well that was the first coherent thought I had.  Mostly at first it was all WOW. WOW. WOW. Rivers’ gift as a writer is in her ability to study human nature and the human psyche and make it relevant, significant, and relatable.  Carrie and Brian are two of the most beautifully flawed characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.  Their flaws and insecurities are what make them and their story so unique and important.  The two of them make me think of a quote Augusten Burroughs wrote in his book Magical Thinking:True Stories: “I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”

I know that this review is vastly shorter than my normal ones, but I find myself truly incapable of finding any more words to tell you how amazing of a read this is.  It’s simply an experience you need to have for yourself.  Reading The Story Guy will be one of the best reading decisions you make. I guarantee it.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers
Random House (Loveswept) (2013)
eBook: 120 pages
ISBN: 9780345548740

Special thanks to Random House/Loveswept for my review copy via Netgalley!