Saturday, August 12, 2017

Scales of Gold (The House of Niccolò #4), Dorothy Dunnett

This is the most engaged I've been by a Niccolo book so far. I really enjoy Gelis and Diniz and Loppe (and Umar). Of course, having read Dunnett before, that meant I was waiting for something terrible to happen to at least one of them by the end of the book.

This is a travel story, and while I am still a little hazy on Nicholas and what he wants and why he does the things he does, I enjoyed the travel through Africa. I thought it was handled incredibly well, especially given when this book was written. African cultures were treated with the same respect and awe that Trebizond or Cyprus were in previous books, and while the characters occasionally judged the culture of Timbuktu it never felt like the book was. 

There is a section at the end, when they've all come back from years of living abroad, and find that the only people they can talk to about the journey is each other, which I related to intensely. I lived in Japan for a couple of years, and it's nearly impossible to explain what it was like to anyone who wasn't there. For those scenes I finally felt like I understood and enjoyed Nicholas, who otherwise is a cipher who leaves me cold in these books.

The end of this book is, frankly, bonkers. I won't have time to pick up the next book for a few weeks, but I'm definitely going to be thinking about it the entire time.

Grade: B
#63 in 2017

Barrel Proof (Agents Irish and Whiskey #3), Layla Reyne

This whole series feels like you've just tuned into season 3 of a TV show about crime and drama in the FBI. When we met Aidan in book one, he'd already lost his husband and partner, and there was a whole huge family and set of friends who showed up repeatedly to contribute to the plot. So it makes sense that in this book, the "season finale," most of those characters show up again. It makes the resolution of the plot a little bit crowded; instead of focusing on Jaime and Aidan's relationship, which falls apart for very good reason at the beginning of this book, it has a lot of plot to deal with. I was happy at how their conflict resolved, and very pleased they got together. It just felt more like a season finale of an ongoing show than the final resolution of a trilogy of books.

Grade:B
#62 in 2017

Spectred Isle (Green Men #1), KJ Charles

I am so glad this is the start of a series -- I liked both of the characters and this world so much. Set just after WWI, Saul is an archaeologist who lost his reputation and job in the war after making a very bad decision; Randolph is the mysterious stranger he can't stop running into. They meet at mysterious situation after mysterious situation. The only job Saul could get was working for a crazy old man who thinks magic is real, and Randolph turns out to be a man who fought in the magical battles of WWI. Both men are different, damaged people on the other side of WWI; both have lost nearly everyone they loved or cared about.

This is a magic action-adventure story, and also a historical romance. Randolph doesn't care what anyone thinks of him because he's from a wealthy, ancient family. Saul doesn't have that privilege. but their growing relationship is lovely, as is the promise of their future adventures together. It's exciting and scary and sexy and I'm excited for the rest of the series.

Grade:B
#61 in 2017

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Single Malt, and Cask Strength (Agents Irish and Whiskey #1 and #2), Layla Rayne

The summer of reading tons of romance novels and Dunnett continues! I liked the first book so much! I love a romance novel that's also action-adventure, and this has lots of mystery and clues and sudden reveals of bad guys. Both protagonists were well-drawn and complex, and it made sense for them to want each other, and to have serious challenges getting together. Aidan's husband was killed mysteriously eight months earlier, and he's not over it yet. Jaime's handsome and charming and a little famous, and being in a relationship will be public and uncomfortable. As I finished this book I said out loud to myself, "How many of these are there? I'm going to read ALL of them."

There is a little telling instead of showing in the first couple of chapters, and a few too many uses of nicknames (something that bugs me a lot because romances seem to rely so heavily on it), but overall I liked this a lot, and I immediately bought the sequel, so...

I liked the second one even more. There are amazing tropes here. Aidan and Jaime have gotten together, but promised to keep it casual (and Aiden is sleeping with a bunch of other dudes, to remind himself not to get too attached to Jaime, which is breaking Jaime's heart a little). Jaime has to go undercover as himself; he was previously a basketball player, and the FBI asks him to be himself, as a coach, to bust an online gambling ring. Jaime misses his old life and of course runs into the ex-boyfriend who broke his heart, while Aidan is pretending to cozy up to a suspect. The pining is magnificent, as are the dark secrets. 

When I got to the end I immediately pre-ordered the third one, which luckily is coming out next month. This is just what I wanted on my summer vacation. 

Grade: B 
#59 and #60 in 2017

Monday, July 24, 2017

All I Have (A Farmers' Market Story #1)

This is very sweet. One thing I love about Nicole Helm's writing is that she gets the claustrophobia of growing up in a small town. Just like Mia, I was a smart, awkward girl in a very small farming town, who was consistently unable to make friends or figure out how to be "like everyone else." Actually, now that I think about it, I also came home and hooked up with a guy from school who was working on his family farm. We didn't end up madly in love and buying a farm together, but this book captures the despair of always being the person you were in high school. 

I wish this story were longer; I wish the fight at the end had been a little more complicated and harder to resolve. But this is a lovely read that is the best kind of wish fulfillment.

Grade: B

#58 in 2017

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Heart of the Steal, Avon Gale and Roan Parrish

This is a really cute book, and I enjoyed it a lot. It's worth noting, I think, that it's NOT a book about an art thief and an FBI agent who fall in love in spite of their professions; it's mostly about an established relationship that struggles because the two protagonists have different moral compasses. Vaughn isn't an art thief, he's rich, and he's a little spoiled, and he doesn't see why Will, who works for the FBI, doesn't want him to use his clout to get Will everything he's ever wanted. I really like stories about vaguely amoral rich people who want to give their partners everything and destroy their enemies. It just wasn't the story I was expecting.

(Also I think the authors were more interested in one protagonist than the other, which bled through a little bit.)

Grade: C
#57 in 2017

White Hot (Hidden Legacy #2), Ilona Andrews

It really, really bugged me at the end of the 1st book in this series, when our heroine, Nevada, told her family that Connor Rogan was a sociopath and a dangerous killer, and they replied "Ohhhh, when are you getting MAAAARRIED?" I know it's a romance novel trope to have a big interfering family, and it can be cute when it's done right. But when it ignores a character's very real concerns, and isn't rooted in anything but "he's hot" (they KNOW he's a murderer and maybe dangerous) it reads to me as disrespectful instead of cute. 

Guess what THIS book is also full of.

The politics and the backstory here take up a LOT of the action, and it's confusing and too much. Nevada is still a great narrator, but the rest of the book mostly feels like set up for the third book instead of a story. Rogan is ALWAYS described as "male" or "masculine" or "terrifying" or "looming" or "huge." Honestly, I was picturing Beast from Beauty and the Beast rather than a human man, and the attempt to humanize his behavior at the end of the book didn't work for me, either. I read it because I was hoping to enjoy it more than the first book,but I found it frustrating, unconvincing, and relatively boring. Oh, well.

Grade: D
#56 in 2017