A Lot Like Love by Julie James

A Lot Like Love
Julie James

Julie James is on my auto-buy list now. I had a friend say it’s surprising how much I like these books because they seem more fluffy than what I usually go for. Tsk, people.  Sometimes I need the light and fluffy.  I like to mix it up. (Although I don’t necessarily consider these books fluffy).

 

The Premise: FBI agent Nick McCall is used to going undercover and pretending to be someone else for months at a time, but his latest assignment starts off short and simple. He has to pretend to be the date of billionaire heiress and wine store owner Jordan Rhodes at the annual wine tasting and fundraiser at Bordeaux restaurant. All he needs to do is plant a few bugs in the office of Bordeaux’s owner and suspected mob money launderer, Xander Eckhart, and that will be that. Unfortunately, an unforeseen circumstance turns a one day job into one with no end in sight.
 
Read an Excerpt of A Lot Like Love here
 
My Thoughts: The plot is in the same ballpark as James’ earlier book, Something About You (which I reviewed here: https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg), we watch as an FBI agent falls in love with the woman he’s supposed to protect. This was a straightforward contemporary suspense romance: boy meets girl; there’s some friction and banter, but sparks fly; bad guy gets in the way;  love prevails. It’s not a overly complex plot, but it’s oh so much fun. A Lot Like Love reads like a nice romantic comedy that is perfect for a rainy day.
 
This story begins with Nick finishing up another long stint undercover and ready to spend a few days off to visit his family, when he’s called in by his boss to consult on another case. An agent new to the undercover business needs Nick as backup as he takes heiress Jordan Rhodes to the exclusive, 5000 dollar a head charity fundraiser at Bordeaux. Jordan is well known within Chicago because of her very rich, billionaire father, not to mention her infamous twin brother who is in jail for a computer-related crime. Nick expects a spoiled rich girl, but Jordan really doesn’t live off her father’s money — she makes her own money via her wine store.  I loved that Jordan is a business owner and her knowledge of fine wine is a large part of the book (she may not be a lawyer like past Julie James heroines, but her job is still very important to the story). When Nick first meets Jordan, he has his initial assumptions, and neither is happy that Nick has to replace the original agent assigned to be her date. Nick learns very quickly though that Jordan is not a snob. I liked that Jordan really is unpretentious. Her friends aren’t all wealthy socialites and she owns a wine shop because she loves wine, not for the prestige. She treats wine as something she wants people to feel comfortable with and to try, and that she’s geeky about, not as some way to flaunt her wealth and privilege. It was fascinating as a non-wine expert to read about it, and It was nicely done how Jordan’s open approach was so different from Eckhart’s: he wanted to show off, and it is a competition to him. His snobbery extends to the rest of his character, and this is shown in the book in many little ways.
 
The romance in A Lot Like Love was just right. Sweet, but not too sweet, steamy (there is sex), but not too steamy. And there’s plenty of sarcasm from everyone which adds a nice touch of humor to the romance. Nick is a guy through and through, and Jordan brings out an introspective side of him that he isn’t used to. Jordan is perfect for him because she’s just as unused to saying how she feels. In her family, they deal with things through sarcastic humor. So when Nick and Jordan are together, they are on the same sort of wavelength. Nick calls her Rhodes, and Jordan tries to expand his comfort zone. I liked that they both realize how they feel and it’s not hard for them to be honest with themselves (being honest with each other is another story). They had their bumps but they were relatively easily resolved along with the investigation.
 
I also liked the other relationships in this book. Jordan had good relationships with her store assistant, Martin and with her twin brother. She also has a tight-knit set of friends. Although they were on the page too quickly for me to get individual impressions of them, I could tell that they were important to Jordan. Nick too has family that he is close to, and his relationships with his brothers and with the guys at the FBI are full of the friendly ribbing that Jordan gives her brother.  It was also nice to see some familiar characters from Something About You show up here, and bonus points for a couple of Pride and Prejudice references (as well as Lost and Dancing with the Stars).
 
Overall: I liked this one just about as much as I liked Something About You. They’re both romantic suspense, is a subgenre I don’t really go for, and I prefer her straight contemporaries without the suspense plots, but Julie James writes comfort food for my soul, and that trumps my romance reading preferences. It’s an uncomplicated story, but it hits the spot. A Lot Like Love was the right read for me this past rainy weekend.
 
I’m already looking forward to her fifth book, which will have Jordan’s twin brother, Kyle, as its hero, and has been tentatively titled About That Night (via trueromance).
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook – positive
Dear Author – B
Babbling About Books, and More – A
Smexy Books (guest post) – A
The Book Binge – A
The Book Smugglers – 7 (Very Good)
 
Book Trailer:

Dark Legacy by Anna DeStefano

This book was sent to me by Dorchester as well (yes a string of books from them here lately). I had mentioned my interest in anything like the Shomi line, and this has some science fiction, paranormal and romance elements in it, which seemed to be in the same kind of vein.

The Premise: Maddie Temple is a promising young ER doctor who for the past three months has gone from being well-liked to unreliable and flagged for psychiatric screenings at work. The problem lies in Maddie’s past and a very troubled twin named Sarah. Sarah, who was put into long-term care for a vegetative coma after a car accident that killed their father has somehow invaded Maddie’s mind, slowly pushing Maddie into madness.  Psychiatrist Jarred Keith wants to help Maddie, but he doesn’t know what’s going on. Is Maddie losing touch with reality like her twin? Is that the family’s curse? Or is there some other conspiracy going on?

My Thoughts: This was mostly romantic suspense although the psychic aspects made also a paranormal. There’s a lot of action, much of it involving Maddie and Sarah’s mental instability and trying to stop them from hurting others because of it. Moments of clarity seem few and far between and the reader is propelled along a dark and disturbing ride with confusing images of a reoccurring nightmare involving the Raven, trees, a gun, and someone screaming. This nightmare is repeated throughout the story, sometimes interrupting other events and jarring the reader as much as it probably jars the characters.

There are a lot of disjointed sentences. In the dialogue there’s people interrupting each other, letting their sentences trail off and yelling. Even the third person narrative gets interrupted by the dialogue.  Other times, Maddie or Sarah are interrupted by each other’s mental link, so Maddie will suddenly undergo a transformation from herself into a hateful screaming banshee. It’s frustrating to read. You want to shake the characters so that they’ll listen to whoever is speaking! Unfortunately most of the characters are angry and confused about what’s going on so there are a lot of verbal fighting. It made me dislike them sometimes. All of these things added up to an emotionally draining reading experience. I think this was probably all deliberately done by the writer to make the drama the characters experience more realistic to the reader, but you do have to be in the right frame of mind for it, and I’m not sure all readers would be happy with the technique.

There is a romance that is going on at the same time as the suspense between the two doctors, but it seems that it’s an already mostly established one. Dr. Keith is already in love with Maddie, she just wants to push him away before he gets embroiled in her mental nightmare. Of course Dr. Keith won’t have any of this, and is pretty patient with Maddie, going beyond what I thought a normal guy would have accepted. His persistence pays off in saving Maddie, but because of where the story is, I had to just suspend disbelief and believe that Maddie was worthy of his loyalty. I understood that his patience and mental connection makes him the perfect partner to her and I hadn’t seen Maddie before she was close to a psychotic break, but there was so much angry emotions surrounding the story it was hard to concentrate on the romance. I also had to suspend belief when they were having sex, because it felt like inappropriate timing. There was a lot of feelings going on by then that I was not really connecting to, plus I didn’t like some of the phrasing during the act.

Overall: A fast-paced suspense, but very dark and emotionally draining. It’s one of those books where you have to be in the right frame of mind to read it because there’s mental mind games and turmoil and really angry (and at times unlikeable) characters. The anger is done realistically, which means things are messy, and that could be a difficult read for some. It looks like there may be a sequel to this one, but I probably won’t pick it up.

Dark Legacy came out today (08/25). Buy: Amazon | B&N

The Fire King by Marjorie Liu

This book was sent to me by Dorchester publishing.

The Premise: The heroine of this story is Soria, a woman with an extraordinary ability to pick up languages. It’s always been the case since she was a child, and people call her a prodigy. They don’t realize that it’s magic, and that the mere presence of a fluent speaker is all she needs. It was a useful gift when she was with the Dirk and Steele agency, but after the loss of her right arm, Soria had a falling out with them and left. Unexpectedly, the agency makes another appearance in her life: they want her to go to China, and speak to Karr, a mysterious shape-shifter who speaks no known language.

This is a Dirk and Steele novel (#9?), but you don’t have to read this series in order to enjoy the book. I had only read book 1 before this.

Read an Excerpt

My Thoughts:
The first part of the book had me hooked on the characters and wanting to learn their back story. First: a heroine who recently lost her arm?! From what I could tell it happened about a year before this story starts, and Soria’s still recovering from it (feeling it’s ghost, being aware of people’s reactions).  I was burning with curiosity about what happened and why Soria blames herself for it. Tantalizing hints were dropped like breadcrumbs, but it wasn’t enough to figure out the whole story. I had to wait until Soria told it.

Likewise Karr’s story is mysterious as well. How in the world is he alive after three thousand years in a tomb? Then, what is he? At first I thought he was feared because he was so strong and killed a few people when he woke up, but that wasn’t the only reason. The cover of the book is a little deceptive – it has a lion on it. I thought he was a lion shapeshifter. Nope, not quite.

The book has a bit of a romantic suspense quality to it mixed with the paranormal elements. Both protagonists are cautious about each other (Friend or foe? Are my instincts right?), but they also have to deal with complex plots surrounding Karr and what people want with him. The romance was about equal to the suspense and action. It progresses at a natural rate, and by the time the two say their “I love yous” it’s a given. I thought that although Karr is over 3000 the age difference didn’t count because he’d been “dead” most of the time. The romance was nicely paced.  Although it did a lot of things I expected, I did like how communication is explored in their relationship.
I’d read the first Dirk and Steele (Tiger Eye) before I had this blog, and in that book, the agency was family-like. In The Fire King, it no longer feels that way. Dirk and Steele suddenly seem more shady and Roland is tight-lipped, nursing his own agenda. It’s hard to tell who the good guys are and there are surprises about who is after Karr.  Then of course there are the very enigmatic side characters (I think that they may be reoccurring ones, but not sure). Mercenaries Serena, Robert and Ku Ku (Gogo Yubari’s twin) make appearances. As does a character who appeared in Tiger Eye.

The plot was complex enough for me to like it. There were some not quite black or white parts to the characters and some surprises. By the end of the book things made sense, but I had to think it over a bit, which isn’t a bad thing. On the other hand, I felt like I’d wake up in the middle of the night saying “a-ha a plot hole!”, because I had a nagging feeling at the end of the book, but it’s been a few days and that didn’t happen yet. There very minor things like how Soria could make braids with one hand or how Karr and Soria’s mental connection worked, but not enough to really bug me while I read. I guess the biggest problem I had was that the protagonists kept getting helped out by others. I would have like to see more of them working together to get out of jams, because I liked seeing them interact.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the setting – in northern China and Mongolia. The non-American setting, where the reader is really aware of life in another country, not just aware the book is set there and nothing else, is refreshing. I particularly enjoyed reading about the ger of the Bhatukhan people (I wanted to sleep in one!)

Overall:
I like the writing style, the setting, the characters. The romance progressed at a nice pace, and although it goes through some familiar phases, their bond of communication was intriguing. I had only minor quibbles on the plot (see above). I don’t read as much paranormal romance as I do urban fantasy, so my reading in this genre is limited, but I thought this one was well-done.

Buy: Amazon | B&N

Other reviews:
My Favourite Books (Nice review. They liked it)

The Season by Sarah MacLean

The Season
Sarah MacLean
The Premise: This is a young adult version of adventure/romance in Regency England. Seventeen year old Lady Alexandra Stafford (aka Alex), daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Worthington and her two best friends Lady Vivian Markwell, daughter of the Marquess of Langford and Lady Eleanor Redburn, daughter of the Earl and Countess of Marlborough (aka Vivi and Ellie), are all coming out in one season. The three headstrong girls aren’t really loving the idea of being paraded around in a marriage market, but things are made interesting when the girls stumble upon something suspicious regarding the death of the Earl of Blackmoor, who was the father of Alex’s childhood friend Gavin.

Thoughts: There are a lot of young friendships in this book. Alex has her three brothers, William (Will), Nicolas (Nick) and Christopher (Kit), her lady’s maid Eliza, her two best friends Vivi and Ellie, plus Gavin. All of them seem to get along very well, and they are all talented and striking according to the descriptions in the book. It’s in their conversations that I thought the book’s strong points lay: everyone is very articulate and well spoken, which fits with the time period and their upbringing in London society. It was nice to read conversations between teenagers where there’s wit and proper manners.

The problem I had however was there were a lot of characters to take in and after a while some of them sort of blended in together. Alex’s brothers seemed indistinguishable to me besides one being the oldest and one being the most tactless (can’t remember who that was though). They had very small roles as just annoying older brothers who liked giving their sister a hard time and to give a male perspective on also hating having to deal with the marriage market. Vivi and Ellie also have very similar voices, and when the three girls spoke, I couldn’t really tell them apart besides their names, because their personalities are so similar. I only know Ellie really likes to write and draw, while Vivi lost her mother and claims she’s looking for “The One” but may have already found him and isn’t telling. I’m not sure that most of these characters brought much to the story and I had the niggling feeling that all these characters were being set up for their own romances in later books. Besides that, they were very wholesome and supportive of each other here, which lends to some amusing conversation when they got together, but I wish they were a bit more distinguishable and maybe a bit more flawed. There were so many times that Alex felt proud of her friends and family and they were so perfect, I was starting to feel very guilty. Guilty of feeling like a hardened cynic and wondering whether it was just me.

Their flaws were pretty much their headstrong characters, which in this day is more of a strength. In Regency London however, it made me remember I was reading fiction. Even with strong wills and an interest in politics, I didn’t find it believable when the girls started reciting facts about Napoleon to people at balls as proving they were well informed, or that Alex wouldn’t be at all concerned about her reputation when she tells all her friends she was kissed and she wanted it to happen again. There needs to be a suspension of disbelief in these areas to enjoy the book and I couldn’t quite muster it.

The best part of the book is Gavin. He’s the one whose father has just died in what looks like an accident, but turns out to be more than that. I had a guess within the first few chapters as to who the villain was, because there just isn’t anyone else to choose from, so the mystery in this book was very obvious, it’s more of an addition to the romance between Gavin and Alex. Gavin reminded me a little of Mr. Knightley from Jane Austen’s Emma. He’s a childhood friend of the main character and sometimes he disapproves of Alex’s behavior and tries to caution her in ways that just tick her off, but she also begins to realize her feelings for him aren’t sisterly. Their scenes are the best ones in the book and luckily there are quite a few of them, though their relationship seemed to repeat itself – from normal to scorching and back again. Alex isn’t an Emma in that she doesn’t try to play Cupid, but she and her friends do get very curious, so in that regard, maybe there are similarities.

Overall: I was pimped this book by a couple of girls at BEA, and the author was so nice that I really wanted to like this book. Part of me cringes a little writing this review, but I have to be honest: this was not quite for me. I think it’s one of those books I thought was just “OK”, but others really loved it.  I see a lot of glowing reviews online. For me, the best parts involve the romance and the conversations between characters, and it’s still a quick, fun read but the plot is a little too predictable and the characters a little too wholesome for my tastes.

Other reviews (mostly positive):

Fantastic Book Review – 4 out of 5
Steph Su Reads – 3 out of 5 (and a review with similar thoughts as mine)
Pop Culture Junkie – 5 out of 5 (she was one of the people who recced it to me)
Tempting Persephone – cements my belief if you just view the book with a less jaded eye you’d like it more
Sharon Loves Books and Cats – she loved it too. Also pimped this book to me, especially Gavin.

Cemetery Dance by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Cemetery Dance
Douglas Preston
Mystery/suspense is a genre I don’t mind reading but usually I don’t pay much attention to it and only read it every so often. When Hachette Books offered me Cemetery Dance I thought I’d give the book a try.

The Premise: It all starts off with the murder of a respected journalist and friend of FBI agent Pendergast and New York police Lieutenant D’Agosta. A lot of people in the journalist’s apartment building see the killer, and identify him as an actor named Colin Fearing, who also lives in the building. With so many witnesses, it seems like an open and shut case. But there is a problem: Colin killed himself a couple of weeks ago. Soon New York City is in an uproar over zombie killers and what the police are doing about them. Agent Pendergast and Lieutenant D’Agosta are on the case for the sake of avenging their friends death, but how do you find a killer who is supposed to be dead?

My Thoughts: This is the latest(I think?) in this series of books. I haven’t read any of the rest of them so this worked fine as a standalone, though I’m possibly missing a background on some of the reoccurring characters (I had no problems making guesses).

FBI agent Pendergast seemed to be the main character, although the focus moved to Nora Kelly and Lieutenant D’Agosta a few times. Pendergast is unique character, I thought of him as a lanky, rich, Southern, Hercule Peroit. The type of character who is very observant, a few steps ahead of everyone else, and always solves the crime. He seemed to be a mythical figure, and I found his eccentricity and past interesting, but sometimes it felt a bit over the top, for example having a huge apartment in the city with a housekeeper and rooms only he is allowed into which leads to an indoor japanese garden? An evil aunt in a mental institution? It was a bit much for me, but then I haven’t read the rest of the series, so perhaps it’s harder for me to accept. I also felt like there was not that much to go on with Pendergast’s emotions – most of the time his face is neutral and he gives nothing away. It makes him seem impenetrable, but also hard to connect to.

Lieutenant D’Agosta seemed to be an angry cop, sometimes letting his anger take over, which Pendergast or other characters having to step in to calm him or tell him to be careful to not let his anger jeopardize the case or his job. Nora seemed to have more scope than the two men, she swung back and forth between grief and fear and anger and put herself in danger to find out who the killer was, but the reader sees less of her in this book. My favorite character was even more minor – Laura Hayward. She had a few smart things to say and I liked how capable she was and how she questioned Pendergast’s methods, but her appearance was brief. I’m guessing she is another reoccurring character though because of her past with D’Agosta.

I thought I understood who was behind the murders and was feeling a bit put out that the police were being obtuse until about halfway through the book when I started suspecting someone else. So I thought the mystery was well done because of the twists.

Speaking of twists, this is one of the books this year which fall under my private label of “unexpected zombies”. All of a sudden, zombies appear when I least expect it, and this happened again here. I know that the blurb for this book talks about a walking dead guy, but I was sure this would be explained in a scientific way. When this didn’t immediately happen, I began to wonder if there really were zombies created through some strange ritual! The authors kept their cards close to their chests regarding magic in the book.

Last comment: there are some violent and creepy scenes in this book which kind of went with the flavor of the novel, but just FYI if you are squeamish. I didn’t think they were bad.

Overall: It was OK. I felt like I could see everything happening like you’d see in a movie, there is plenty of action, and suspense going on, and I did want to find out who did it and what will happen, but I just didn’t connect very well to the main characters. Maybe this is because I hadn’t read the earlier books or because it just wasn’t my thing. It felt like when I watch CSI: Miami. I like certain characters, but I cannot connect with Horatio Caine, and he’s the main guy, so in the end I can watch a show or two, but I am not so enthusiastic about it. That’s my problem here.

Review at Fantasy Book Critic (they highly recommended it)

Two Quick Harlequin Intrigue reviews

Manhunt In The Wild West by Jessica Anderson (Bear Claw Creek Crime Lab): Chelsea Swann, medical examiner at Bear Creek gets kidnapped by escaping prisoners from nearby prison, ARX Supermax. The four escapees are 3 terrorists and undercover operator Jonah Fairfax. Jonah manages to keep Chelsea alive and both must work together to stop the terrorists from an evil plot.

Overall: Rather one dimensional bad guys (the leader was named Al-Jihad, which amused me), a hokey plot involving many law enforcement professionals not following procedure, and I didn't really buy the attraction between the two main characters. I felt irritated by the continual repetitions of Jonah thinking of Chelsea as being "sweet", and seeing her as a representation of all that is good about America (apple pie, picket fences, the American Dream), and of Chelsea taking note of Jonah's piercing blue eyes. There was also a weird back story where Jonah's first wife cheated on him and died during a miscarriage, which Jonah remembers as a "betrayal" which pushed him into his current loner state. What? She's DEAD now you know! What I did like in this book was the eventual backbone and self-awareness that Chelsea develops through the book.  I'd give this book an "Eh". ALSO: He never wears a cowboy hat in this story!

Around-the-Clock Protector by Jan Hambright (Intrigue's Ultimate Heroes): Carson Nash saves Ava Ross from russians in a mission mission with his team (a CIA rescue operation). He's shocked to find that Ava is who he rescued because she was supposed to have died in a plane crash 4 months ago. Now she's alive, with little memory of the last 4 months, and pregnant – with HIS baby!

I swear the model in this cover is the same guy as the model in the cover above!

Overall: OK. I believed more in the romance between the two characters here and saw more reasons for their attraction. There was more showing then telling there and I liked Ava in particular. I was somewhat annoyed at the "raging" lust Carson keeps feeling for Ava though, even when she's unconscious and beaten and he just rescued her. Time and a place buddy. There were also big plotholes (or maybe I missed something and was just confused), like exactly how Ava wasn't on the plane when it crashed and how she had amnesia and didn't know who she was but walked around free without going to the police? I feel like I missed something? Did I? Ava talks about getting up to go to the lavatory on the plane, but that didn't make sense as an escape from the crash. Finally – I didn't like this sentence: "Ava relaxed, letting the total-man-dominance thing sweep her into ecstacy". Total-man-dominance thing…

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Exit Strategy by Kelley Armstrong

Ah.. this book was delightful because I like a smart heroine. And Nadia Stafford is a smart woman; she has to be, she's a hitman. People just don't last long in that business without a brains. Either you get caught or you get killed.

Nadia, or "Dee" (as she is called by other assassins who don't know her real name), was once a cop, born into a family of cops. After a traumatic childhood event, all it took for Nadia to take things into her own hands was one criminal scumbag who had hurt a young girl. Hardly any of her friends and family stuck around her after that. She had to leave the force, and now runs a hunting lodge, secretly making money on the side for killing people who deserve it. Clearly she has issues brimming under the surface, but it may be her passion that makes her a good hitman. In Exit Strategy, her talent catches the eye of others. Her passion is also what makes her agree to join a team of other hitmen who are going after one of their own. A professional killer has turned into a serial killer, and it has caused a shakedown from the law against the whole profession.

Lazy bullet time:

  • This is NOT a paranormal, even though Kelley Armstrong is well known for her paranormal series, the Women of the Otherworld. I looked at the author's website and book 2 *looks* like it is coming out in September this year and will be called Made to be Broken. I'm not sure about this because Amazon UK has a whole list of authors under that title; maybe it's an anthology?
  • Almost everyone in this book: is the strong silent type. Even Nadia. When she's chattering, she's usually playing a role. It's interesting how subtle the communication is between assassins. Facial expressions and head movements mean more than words. Actions speak loudest.
  • The whole profession: REALLY interesting to read about. Especially things like trying to retire or having a family. No one trusts anyone, everyone has a hidden real identity, everyone's motives are suspect.. most people never retire: they die. And almost no one has a family, they are all loners – trying to have a family never seems to work out. So passing things along to the new generation usually happens in a mentor-mentee relationship, not through children.
  • The book is in a mostly first person point of view, with the attention mostly on Nadia. But sometimes the focus shifts to the killer or his victims. This could fall flat, but in Exit Strategy, it was powerfully done.
  • Finally, there is a very subtle hint of a romance (I am thinking love triangle) in this book. It is barely even there, it's all in the silent communication. One of the men is clearly interested, the other one is so subtle about it that even smart Nadia is oblivious. That's my take. I really want to know what happens in book 2.
  • Excerpts: Chapter 1, Chapter 2

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