I love books with strong female characters. Be it action, sci-fi, fantasy, drama, horror, historical or paranormal, as long as there is an underlying love story, I'll read it.

Flight SQA016

Flight SQA016 - A. E. Radley I picked up Flight SQA016 because I thought it would be a dreamy, sexy in-flight romance between an ultra-rich first-class frequent flyer and a flight attendant. What I got was something else entirely (okay, I didn't pay close enough attention to the blurb, lol) but I was still thoroughly entertained.

Olivia jets around on the London-NY route, twice a week without fail and only in first class. She calls the economy class 'savages'. :) Some think she's a snob. Others think she's weird. She herself thinks she's socially inept. More at home in the cold comfort and certainty of numbers rather than the artifice, ambiguity and unpredictability of human interactions, she's nevertheless managed to carve out a successful career as head of a financial services firm.

Emily on the other hand, is neck-deep in debt. A lifetime of bad choices and bad luck has left her with crippling credit card debt. To help get her finances under control, she has chosen to work a brutal schedule on transatlantic flights. It pays well, but it meant leaving her 5 year old son with a friend most days. A medical emergency threatens to derail all her well-laid plans but an incredible stroke of luck offers her a chance to make everything right, and finally get a life...and fall in love in the process.

I went into this knowing its fanfic roots so I wasn't really expecting anything more than a sweet and simple romance--a comfort read after a mad work week. It more than lived up to my expectations in that regard. Lovely characters you can identify and emphatize with, an emotional, heart-tugging storyline, a generous sprinkling of humor--these elements combine to give this reader a nice, laid-back, weekend read. But the romance doesn't develop in the usual way. You know the saying that the way to a man's heart is thru his stomach? Apparently, the way to this woman's is through her kid. Emily's 5-year old toddler Henry has almost as much screen-time as the two leading ladies. If the reviews had mentioned it, I probably wouldn't have picked up this book at all, as I don't care much for kid-centric stories. Yet, not once did I feel like the kid usurped too much attention. In fact, I think the author really 'got' him, more than all the other characters. When the book ended, I realized that even though no one joined the 'mile high club', I didn't miss it. (maybe in the next book? A girl can

The thing I dislike most about ex-fanfics is that they tend to gloss over the details of real-life work, places and stuff. So while my right brain was going all awwww.... over Olivia and Henry's bonding and Olivia and Emma's awkward but endearing encounters, my left brain was busy trying to rationalize stuff....things like: $12,000 for a roundtrip ticket at 104x a year (@2x a week)!?!? how does the board justify that extravagance? A socially-challenged CEO!?!? how did she become CEO, a very PR-intensive position. An impeccably-groomed woman with a spectrum disorder!?!? Only if grooming was their obsession, duh... Eventually, the author did give a fairly credible glimpse into both Olivia's and Emma's work that was enough to quiet my left brain for the duration of book, at least until the last 5%, when something totally unexpected happens. This is one of those love-it or hate-it plot developments. My right brain cried Yesss!! DRAMA!! My left brain said, what the hell just happened??? One character just made a 180-degree turn-around--completely negating all her character development in the book. We're back to square one!

Unfortunately, I'm not sure which side of my brain will win the argument until the sequel comes out, because the book ends on a cliffhanger!

4.3 stars

ARC from Ylva


Collide-O-Scope - Andrea Bramhall Crime thrillers are ridiculously hard to perfect. More so if you have to delicately balance it with a romance. This book comes pretty close.

Newly promoted Detective Kate Brannon is called to a small village to investigate the shooting death of a local woman who owned a campsite. With no witnesses and a crime scene messed-up by the victim's pet dog, the detective has to rely on investigating the 40 other locals for motive and/or opportunity. Turns out the victim isn't particularly well liked, and everyone seems to have something to gain from the her demise. At least one of the villagers, Gina Temple, the campsite manager, seemed more helpful than the others. They have an instant connection and sparks fly. But Gina's status as a possible witness/suspect and her close relationship with the victim preclude any overt moves. When the investigation turns up more secrets, Gina is seemingly caught in a lie of her own. Even if she's not the killer, can Kate ever trust her again?

This is a very well-written and carefully plotted police procedural. There is an elaborate and believable mystery that had me guessing till late in the book. Meaty characters abound--both good guys and bad and an endearing kid who could 'grow up to be either a criminal or a cop' ;). Lead investigator Kate is as dogged and smart as she's supposed to be and the other cops are no slouches either. I had fun trying to puzzle things out. The bad guys are a resourceful lot. I was amazed by the ingenuity and sleekness of their whole operation. My only beef with the plot would be the murder itself. It was a monumentally dumb move of the bad guys to call unwanted attention by idiotically blasting off someone with a military-grade sniper rifle when something more innocuous like maybe...a shove off a cliff or a boat would have been just as effective, and no one would have been the wiser. Of course, it wouldn't have been as dramatic. :)

The understated romance is appropriate for the book. I liked how it developed naturally and in the course of the investigation. It could have done without the repeated "jolts of electricity" that spark whenever they touched ;) Made me wonder if they would spontaneously combust when they finally got together, lol. I guess the author wanted to remind us we're still firmly in romance land. Oh and the author is such a tease. But that would be a spoiler. LOL . :)

4.8 stars

ARC from Ylva

The Copper Egg

The Copper Egg - Catherine Friend Good old-fashioned lesfic adventures are so rare I want to give them 5 stars just for being published. :) I think I might have actually done that too, lol. This book deserves it though, for the most part.

Let's start with the cover. The book's almost worth picking up just for that alone. It's uncannily spot on and so totally Claire--Indiana Jones in a tank top and cargo shorts--so much so that it feels like the author wrote the whole book around that picture. :) The other reason I snapped this up without a second thought is the author. I loved all her lesfic, which just happen to be all old-fashioned adventures with a heavy dose of romance.

Claire Adams is an archaeologist who dreams of landing a prestigious and well-paid job at the Smithsonian to further her career. But her plans take a mighty tumble in Peru in an incident involving her ex, Sochi and the local Peruvian press. Shame at her 'exposure' makes her hightail it out of Peru and into the safety of a mid-level but completely unexciting job at the Smithsonian overseeing artifact transfers. Three years later she receives a mystery package postmarked Peru containing a gold, a silver and a copper egg... with a note from the anonymous sender enjoining her to use her 'gift' to search for the most fabulous treasure in all of Peru--King Chaco's tomb. And so the adventure begins...

Any time you have an archaeologist main character in an action adventure story, it's hard not to compare it against the most popular archaeologist in pop culture. Our resident Indy, Claire Adams, shares his fearlessness, self-deprecating sense of humor, and even.. his rugged charm :), but thankfully, none of his recklessness and carelessness in treating newly discovered archaeological sites. She's all for preserving the artifacts and leaving the site intact.

Like the Indiana Jones series, this book takes a semi-serious and slightly irreverent tone, with the usual ingredients these kinds of stories favor: a fabulous tomb filled with treasure, an over-the-top megalomaniac villain, evil and/or inept henchmen, and of course, romance. There was a surprising dearth of action though. Instead of her fists, our Indy uses mostly her 'special gift' and some interesting but improbable astronomical trick to try to suss out the location of the treasure.

Note: I re-read through the rest of this review for possible spoilers. There aren't any major ones beyond what is already hinted by the blurb. So it's safe. Fans of the author and lesfic adventure tales (like me) who want to experience everything fresh from the first read-through may prefer not to read further. Suffice it to say there's enough romance and drama to satisfy the typical romance reader, and enough excitement, surprises and twists for the rest of us.

The book features alternating chapters told from Claire and Sochi's point of view. Sochi is quite a bit of an enigma. She's very devoted to her native Peruvian culture, and would do literally anything to see that everything dug out of Peru stays in Peru. For her, the end justifies the means...any means. So she leads a double life. Artifact cop by day. Artifact thief by night. How did that happen, and how does it even work? Just imagine the mental gymnastics Sochi has to go through everyday. And then her old flame Claire shows up with the ultimate quest for the mythical treasure-laden tomb. How does she keep her hands off that?

The plot is at once extremely complex and overly simplistic--if that were possible. Complex because there are a good number of personalities involved, everyone with their own agenda and hidden motives, who are also after the treasure for one reason or another. And too simplistic because even the main character Claire had trouble believing the evil villain's motivation for all his grand plans. Some major suspension of disbelief required for this, as well as for some of the plot developments that ranged from illogical to eye-rolling to comical e.g. the three stooges, I mean, the three bad guys repeatedly and openly following Claire around, Claire's confrontation with Higuchi to extract his entire confession without even thinking of recording him, Higuchi assisting on the final ritual, lack of Higuchi security at the dig site, etc.. Even so, I was thoroughly entertained. The trick is to not overthink it and just let the story take you along for the ride.

The supporting characters are a curious mix--most are well-rounded while a few seem straight out of a comic book.

The romance is... let's just say that romance readers won't be disappointed. Claire and Sochi's relationship start off with the mother of all betrayals. Flashbacks throughout the book show how intense things were and could be again, if only they can get past the hurts, the stubbornness and the mistrust and survive the treasure hunt in one piece.

4.75 stars

ARC from Netgalley and BSB

P.S. If still in doubt, check out some choice excerpts from my status updates. :)


Salvation - I. Beacham Salvation is a story about love, loss and the possibility of finding love again. Regan's brother's tragic suicide brings her out to Devon to settle his affairs, where she meets the resident gardener Claire. They overcome a testy start to develop a burgeoning friendship that seems destined to lead to something more. But malicious whispers, unspoken secrets and angry accusations soon threaten to tear them apart.
The pain of losing a possible, once-in-a-lifetime love may be too much to bear, not to mention the awkwardness of having to live/work in close proximity with each other.

The author gives us some really interesting and intriguing characters to sink our teeth into. I can't really delve too deep into their backgrounds because it's all part of the mystery. The entire premise of the book rests on unspoken secrets. A bit flimsy as a foundation but it works for the most part. Enough for the angst to bring me to tears at one point. I'm not a big fan of angst that can be squared away with some adult conversation but I thought this book managed to *just* make it believable enough for me to not roll my eyes. Am I getting too jaded? Maybe. Or maybe all that assuming by the characters that the other is such and such felt just a bit too much like a trope. Regan was in a really bad place emotionally and very vulnerable to manipulation and her outburst wouldn't have been uncharacteristic. But her dogged refusal to let Claire explain herself afterwards felt inexplicable knowing that she herself had backed out of a tell-all session that Claire had scheduled earlier before the shit hit the fan. . The resulting angst was delicious though so no complaints there. :) I love everything about Claire but especially her devotion to Rosie. She's the kind of character that lesfic readers wish they could bring home and keep forever. But how does an accomplished, high achiever like her deal with the daily monotony of grunt work. I understand the therapeutic possibilities of backyard gardening but Claire's job is the back-breaking, intellectually numbing kind. Okay I understand the need to be always near Rosie but I wished towards the end that she'd find something better to do with her abilities. Why is it such a big deal for Regan (her settling for a high school teaching career, instead of the more 'intellectually challenging' university research) , but not for Claire, who certainly deserves better. I was surprised that nothing about it was ever brought up in the entire book. I thought that if Regan truly loved Claire and isn't the immature, self-absorbed woman she comes across as, she should have asked about it and tried to draw Claire out of her self-imposed 'existence'. Also, I would have liked to see more of the Claire that was before Rosie's illness--the uber confident, spitfire Claire who tangled with her superior and won her love. Now wouldn't it be perfect if Regan managed to find THAT Claire again and if the author showed us she did instead of us just assuming it or, if we're wrong in our assumptions, whatever happened to that Claire. In fact, I think I would have enjoyed the entire book a lot more if there had been way more 'showing' than 'telling' overall .

ARC from Netgalley and BSB

4.25 stars

PS. One of the supporting characters, Karen, could use her own book. Hint. Hint. ;)


Trigger - Jessica L. Webb What's scarier than a person wearing a bomb? A person who IS a bomb! Completely organic. Absolutely undetectable. A weaponized human body that can be triggered by a simple touch.

One such human walks into the Vancouver ER of chief resident, Dr. Kate Morrison. Unaware of any danger but sensing the man's need for immediate medical assistance, Kate proceeds to tend to him, until she is abruptly stopped by RCMP sergeant Andy Wyles from touching him.

Kate is stunned at the sergeant's disclosure: there is more than one of them running around. Someone may be creating an army of human bombs. Because of Kate's special situation, she is quickly drafted to assist in the top secret investigation. Sgt Andy Wyles proves to be a very perceptive cop and fiercely protective of Kate's safety. As the investigation takes them up and down the US/Canadian border, Kate gradually begins to trust the sergeant with not just her life, but the most secretive details of her difficult past, all the while racing against the clock to figure out how to defuse the human bombs before another one is triggered.

Unlike other lesfic thrillers I've read, Trigger is written entirely from Kate's limited third person point of view. Every action and reaction, every character, every event is seen through Kate's eyes. The result is a stark, gritty and claustrophobic atmosphere that permeates the entire book. Kate's characterization is stunningly heartfelt and authentic. The downside to this treatment is that if Kate isn't in the thick of the action (and many times she isn't), we only get second-hand updates, sometimes, long after the fact.

There is a stretch, in the middle third of the book, where the adrenaline junkie in me missed the action. At times, I felt myself wishing for something, anything to happen. In hindsight, this is where you see the author show exceptional discipline and restraint in her plotting. She could have gone and put Kate more in the thick of things just to crank up the thrills (which would then of course be quite cinematic but terribly unrealistic because she is just the doc and it's Andy who's the cop) but in these quiet moments, she chose to beautifully explore Kate's difficult past and her efforts to come to terms with it, and slowly but surely develop her friendship with and feelings for the enigmatic Sgt. Andy Wyles. I also didn't mind that we see Andy entirely through Kate's eyes. It was frustrating initially, since Andy is all-business, the strong, silent type, and wound tighter than 10-day clock. But everything the author does is deliberate. Makes for some wonderful angst near the end.

The book also does a fairly competent job of showing the plausibility of a human bomb to a layman, from the arming to the delivery and trigger. (Of course, it could have been complete BS and I wouldn't have been the wiser.) I'm not a medical professional so I have no idea if it's actually going to work the way it's described. But it sounds doable and that works for me. I did find it strange that the book never mentions the name of the two compounds that make up the bomb components, nor did it ever mention how touch was used as a trigger. OTOH, Kate's special situation her synthetic-skinned hands that allowed her to be the hero in this book, now that was ingenious!

Don't expect the romance meter to be anything on the same level as our usual lesfic romances, at least, not while its still simmering. This is a very realistic portrayal. Our heroic doctor and the tightly-wound cop are in the mission of their lives, in great danger and in a race to save countless others. So all that sexual tension and attraction just simmers below the surface. It is all very subtle and subdued. The gentle banter, the longing looks, the little gestures...blink and you'll miss them. But they speak just as loud as words. It will come to a boil eventually, don't worry, this is BSB, after all. ;) Sorry, that was mildly spoilerish but I don't want to turn off potential readers just cause they think there is no payback at the end. In fact, everything comes together perfectly at the end. I don't think I've read a more well-written conclusion to a book. It's a perfect storm of action, drama, thrills, twists and angst.

5 stars

Note: ARC received from Netgalley and Bold Strokes Books

Fortunate Sum

Fortunate Sum - M. Ullrich Nothing screams formula quite like vanilla romances. Combine that with the lightweight blurb/cover and an unknown author and I was ready to give this book a pass. Who'd have thought that the Netgalley book I was least excited about this month would turn out to be my favorite of the bunch?

Catherine Carter has worked her way to the top of a NY financial consultancy firm before she even reached the age of 30(!), thanks to her single minded pursuit of her career goals. Her only remaining life goal is just a little bit more elusive--love. A chance encounter with a psychic assures her she can be happy before thirty... and the color blue will play a big part in it (makes me wonder if 'Fortunate Blue' would have been a more apt title :) ). Catherine initially thinks it's just a lot of crock, but the psychic's uncanny ability to look into her past and see her profound sadness from an old and terrible betrayal, has her taking a second look at everything blue and trying to find true love there. :) (how about 'Love is Blue' as the title, lol)

Imogene is as quirky as Catherine is square. She has translated her eclectic tastes into a stable career as an entrepreneur running a fashion boutique. After receiving a hefty inheritance, she is advised to let a financial advisor handle her money affairs. Enter Catherine. Over several meetings, Catherine can't help noticing the blue eyes and the bits and pieces of Imogene's blue clothes--was it kismet? coincidence? or was it all a setup by Imogene's psychic best friend?

I spent the first 40-ish% of the book wishing I hadn't picked this book. And the last 60-ish% wondering why I hadn't read it sooner. :)

Possible minor spoilers up ahead.

These are some of my initial impressions:

Catherine seemed a bit young to be such a hotshot financial advisor. It's probably doable, but it would feel more realistic if she were in her mid to late 30s. Then again, that would be stretching the believability of her old college flame still keeping her from moving on. Imogene on the other hand, suffered a tremendous loss in New York City over a decade ago (!) that she never recovered from. Just thinking about New York City, never mind actually stepping inside it, makes her go into a panic attack. It's hard to imagine that all that time Imogene and her inner circle have never attempted to help her heal. That's the initial setup. Not very realistic, imho.

A couple of other little nitpicks:
Early on, while introducing her lead character, there was a bit of not-too-subtle hero-worshipping of the lead character. E.g. The firm had become a household name in the world of finance since they had taken Catherine under their wing seven years prior. and Their youngest financial advisor approached each client with a unique combination of care, dedication, and brutality. That technique spelled success. I think it might have worked better if those sentences were better framed, such as if someone had said them instead of it just being thrown out. Maybe they were someone's thoughts, but maybe not. It was hard to tell.

Also, at one point, we were "told" that Catherine thought that Imogene brought back her "spontaneity, humor, and liveliness". This not only made me do a double take, but I actually went and re-read several chapters just so I could be sure it didn't actually happen and I hadn't just missed it--nope, no clear signal of that. Attraction, confusion, some staring, running away from and a host of other feelings, but not "spontaneity, humor, and liveliness". It does actually happen though, in the next few paragraphs, lol, so that was forgivable.

Okay, normally, I wouldn't pay such close attention to these little imperfections, but this is a romance first and foremost, and you know how it is with these books, it's all about the "romantic development". ;)

And this is when it gets better:

Anyway, so once Catherine does get some serious alone time with Imogene (around 42% onwards), that's when the book perks up by leaps and bounds, and never looks back. I've noticed that it is easier to nitpick what's wrong with a book but much harder to analyze what's right with it. You get caught up in it and just let it take you whichever way it wants and everything just flows and feels so natural and so right. That's what the second half of the book did to me. If I have to break it down, it'll be a combination of lots of things done right. The 'telling rather than showing' that plagued some of the earlier paragraphs all but disappeared. Imogene's characterization is another strong point. She's just awesome in every way--scared yet incredibly brave at the same time, daring and willing to take a chance, emotional but centered, strong yet incredibly vulnerable. She's the kind of character that I read lesfic for. Catherine is more stock and therefore predictable. The mythical ex, Linda. I wasn't expecting that. She could easily have been a caricature. Exes usually are just plot devices to drive a wedge between our leads. But this lady literally came alive. Even to the end, she was very human. Not very likable, but human nonetheless.

I seldom give sex in a romance book more attention than a cursory single-word review, because that's usually all the attention it deserves--good but not particularly memorable. But the sex scenes here are amazingly hot. I'd gushed about the erotic scenes in Cake but the ones here are even better. The eroticism is on par with Cake but the deep emotional connection the reader has with the characters makes it way better and more meaningful--truly an expression of love. As it should be.

The plot twists here (if you can even call them that) are such common tropes in lesfic they usually don't do much for me except make my eyes roll. But in this book, I loved what the author did. She even had the chutzpah to do it twice! And I think I even teared-up both times, lol. And to think that I consider myself a fairly jaded romance reader. But it was such delicious drama and angst. I'm trying to analyze what she did differently from other authors and I guess it comes down to how strongly she made me feel about the characters involved. I wanted to strangle Cat at one point, kick Linda in the ass every time, but mostly I wanted to hug Imogene and love her forever.

4 for the first 40%
5 for the last 60%
4.6 stars overall

P.S. Almost forgot to mention the blue connection. The whole psychic thing may sound hokey but it was actually quite well done. Makes you wonder....

When I Knew You

When I Knew You - K.E. Payne It's very easy to decide whether this book is for you or not. If you love angst--intense, overpowering and maddeningly drawn-out angst--then you are in for one of the most heart-squeezing, chest-aching rides of your life. Of course, you'll also need the patience of Job to enjoy it. :)

I was piqued by the book's rather unusual premise. Two former and long-estranged lovers Ash and Nat, meet up once again after not seeing each other for 16 the funeral of their mutual best friend Livvy. Livvy left each of them a series of her last 'wishes'--basically a bucket list of things that they had at one time, planned to do when the three of them were still in their teens and virtually inseparable. To honor her wishes, Ash and Nat are to accomplish the tasks set forth in the bucket list with Livvy's teenage daughter Chloe.

But Ash and Nat aren't just any old pair of ex-lovers. Their breakup or more accurately, Nat's breakup with Ash had been one of the most devastating I've ever read in lesfic. It completely shattered all of Ash's dreams, while Nat has seemingly gone on to become a very successful doctor with a lengthy trail of letters after her name. Just imagine the extreme unresolved emotional baggage that these two have been carrying around for the past 16 years (anger for Ash and guilt for Nat), and you can just imagine how much angst-lovers are in for a treat. :) Now that Livvy has posthumously guilt-tripped the two into chaperoning Chloe around London and rural Cornwall, they have no choice but to face their old demons and we readers are in for the ultimate angst-trip of our lives.

At this point I'm pretty sure I've either sold you on the book or repelled you completely. So the rest of my review won't really matter anymore except for people who've actually read the book. So it all goes under the I might have let loose once in another review that 'there can never be too much angst in a book'. I think I'm gonna take that back, lol. This book is proof-positive that even extreme angst-lovers like me have their limits. Oh, it was so much fun in the early going. I was like a kid in a candy shop wallowing in angst-filled goodies. The premise was pure angst (Nat's awful betrayal of Ash). The plot devices to bring them together (Livvy's death) and force them together again and again to resolve their issues (Livvy's 8 wishes) are ingenious. But these two ladies seem to be permanently stuck in a state of adolescence. It was perfectly understandable for a while given the gravity of the Nat's offense, and I patiently sat through trope after trope. I loved all the tension, the tentativeness, the apprehension and basically all the crazy emotions radiating from both of them whenever they're within sight or reach of each other. But somewhere around 75% into the book--the point where Ash practically begs Nat to stay with her in the cottage after she hurt her shoulder--and Nat just ups and leaves, even though Nat just spent almost the entire book trying to get Ash back--that pretty much maxed out my angst-meter. I wanted to slap Nat in the head then. Of course Ash gets her turn a few pages later to be a pain in the... You'll only understand my frustration if you've actually read the book. Both ladies go back and forth like...I've lost count how many times. One of them (mostly Nat) will take a step forward, the other (mostly Ash) would resist with all kinds of excuses. Then it will be the other way around. And round and round and over again. Most of it just happens in their head, by the way. Meaning, they're just "assuming" things. And you know what, all of that angst could have been avoided, or minimized, if Livvy had the good sense to put what she wrote in the final letter in the first letter instead? Better yet, she could have told Ash at any time before when she was still alive and maybe the two of them wouldn't have to go through so much heartbreak. But why spoil all the fun, right?

4.4 stars

ARC from Netgalley / BSB

Bunny Finds a Friend

Bunny Finds a Friend - Hazel Yeats 'Bunny Finds a Friend' is primarily a coming-of-age story of a gentle, funny and somewhat quirky thirty-something(!) woman. Flitting from job to job and girlfriend to girlfriend, Cara thinks of herself as an adventurous, restless, free-spirit. Her sisters think she just can't commit to anything long-term. But a chance encounter with a complete stranger in a department store at Christmastime sets Cara's heart in a tizzy. When she finally tracks down her mystery crush, she turns out to be a popular author of children's books, Jude Donovan. Sparks fly fast and the rest is history. But history may be short-lived as Cara deems herself unworthy of the more accomplished Jude. Can she handle the usual and inevitable relationship challenges, like their unequal station in life, and Jude's excess baggage?

There is so much to love about this book. The beautiful Amsterdam settings, the charming rom-com atmosphere, a lively gaggle of nosy, judgmental but ultimately loving and supportive 'sisters', a sweet and adorable pairing, and enough drama to liven up pages. From start to end, this is Cara's story. The romance is not the central theme of the book (Cara's long-delayed journey to adulthood is) but it did get real quality time, and features some of the most romantic moments I've read in quite a while. People who come into the book expecting it to be all about Cara and Jude (as romances go) will be a bit disappointed as they also spend quite a bit of time apart. In between, we have Cara and the meddlesome sisters. They're occasionally overbearing, but the smart dialogue, witty quips and cheeky back and forths that characterize their exchanges save them from being just caricatures. Plus, they serve as an excellent narrative device to fully explore Cara's dealing with love, life and growing up.

4.75 stars

ARC from Netgalley and Ylva.

P.S. Throughout the book I kept picturing Cate Blanchett as Jude and Roonie Mara as Cara. I wonder why? :)


Cake - Jove Belle A yummmmmmy appetizer!

Let me just go right out and say it: The sex is amazing. So much so that I needed some effort to recall what the rest of the book was about (and I'm usually pretty good with these things, lol). Let's see. There was a wedding. A broken mailbox. And... okay, I'm gonna cheat and go read the blurb, lol. Anyway, so our ladies meet at a wedding. One is the sister of the groom and the other is the ex of the bride. It was insta-lust. But oh so inappropriate....for the occasion, at least. ;) The rest of the book (about 50% of it, I think, though I could be wrong because I could hardly think at that point, lol) is about their almost superhuman effort to try to keep their hands off each other and how massively they fail at it (yes!)...first, in the middle of the grand wedding reception and everywhere else.

But..that is pretty much it. A lesbian romance without the drama just isn't. And I don't remember any romance either. Our ladies were so preoccupied from the get go, the romance and the drama will just have to wait, because the book just ends. :( At least, we have something to look forward to in Cake 2.

The thing I miss with physical books is that you can always tell how long the book you're getting is. Not with ebooks. Unless you're paying close attention. This one felt a little on the short side. Even for a novella. It could be because I was too caught up in the uhm...erotic stuff, and the pages just flew by furiously fast. Let's see. For the record, a peek at Amazon says its 82 pages. A bit of copy/pasting shows the word count at 23,020, not including extras like the TOC and the promotional stuff at the end, which all take up about 5% of the page count, according to my e-reader. Is it worth it? I can't really tell unless we look at the price, which according to Amazon is just $3.00. For such a yummy appetizer, I'd say it's more than worth it.

Let's just hope we don't have to wait too long before the next dish is served.

4.25 stars (3.5 for the story and a perfect 5 with a standing ovation for the erotic scenes)

ARC received from the publisher.

Note: This is best enjoyed in private. Definitely NSFW. ;) Oh, and thumbs up for the cover. They got the look perfectly!

P.S. Now that I'm thinking a bit more clearly, I do recall that there was a bit of drama with the brother and the parents, and something about the other lead doing community service for something... But honestly, everything feels like the backstory they show in video game cutscenes--you can't wait to start playing the game. The erotic scenes are so intense (and detailed and extended) they feel like they ARE the book, even though strangely this is not marketed as erotica.

Dian's Ghost

Dian's Ghost - Justine Saracen I almost didn't pick up this book because everything about it repelled me initially: The cover, the title, and even the blurb. I don't like books about kids, pets and by extension...gorillas. :) I'm not a fan of ghost stories either. And the first line of the blurb blurts out that the lead character killed in cold-blood! Now if that doesn't turn one off a book, I don't know what does.

But hey, this is Justine Saracen and no matter how outrageous the plot or hideous the cover, I know (or hope!) I won't be disappointed. And I wasn't. I may even be a little bit in love with the gorilla now. Or at least, the baby one, lol.

As the blurb says, Dana Norland shoots two men in cold blood and flees to the other side of the globe in Rwanda. That's probably the most controversial and problematic start to any lesfic book I've ever read. The answer isn't forthcoming for a while yet so the reader will just have to suspend judgment for the meantime and go along for the ride. And what a wild rollercoaster ride it turns out to be.

Dian's Ghost is a historical adventure thriller set in the Virunga mountains of Rwanda, where the real-life research center established by Dr. Dian Fossey, the famous primatologist who popularized gorilla studying via the book and movie 'Gorillas in the Mist', is located. This book is a tribute to her efforts to study and preserve the endangered species. By setting it in the 1990s Rwanda, a time of great civil unrest, the book also shines a light on a largely forgotten episode of genocide aptly termed 'paroxysm of vengeance'.

Eight years after the murder of Dr. Dian Fossey, the gorilla research center is now run by her protege, Dr. Kristen Wolfe. On one of her college lectures in NY, where she is actively recruiting research assistants, Kristen is approached by a seemingly over eager volunteer Dana Norland. Her willingness to uproot her life for one in the boondocks on such short notice surprises Kristen, but the lack of other volunteers means she can't be too choosy. When Dana finally sets foot in in the gorilla research center Karisoke, she is surprised that instead of dry, sunny Africa, it is a perpetually wet and muddy rainforest she's stepped into. And I was surprised she wasn't more shell-shocked and dismayed, going from modern day comforts to a no-plumbing, no-electricity, almost primitive living. Murderers can't be too choosy, I suppose. :) Anyway, her first sighting of the gorillas make it all worthwhile. The author makes a great job of bringing these amazing creatures to life, so much so that you'll soon realize why the real Dr. Fossey was willing to kill and be killed for them. And that brings us to the real underlying theme of the book : the morality of killing.

It's a wild, wild world out there. Where survival and greed often trump law. Man-made law, that is. It's also a gray, gray world too. The indigenous hunter-gatherer pygmies of the Virunga mountains have hunted wildlife there for centuries before hunting it became a crime. Habitat changes due to human expansion over the centuries have reduced their hunting grounds and their bounty considerably. From the looks of their clothes and possessions, they are not exactly thriving. What is more precious then, human life or animal life? For them, the foreign appetite for gorilla and other wildlife souvenirs provides just a little bit of respite from their daily struggle to survive.

And then there is greed. The very people who are tasked to preserve the wildlife (the park conservators) are sometimes the very ones facilitating their killings. Gorilla parts souvenirs, baby gorillas, elephant tusks, rhino horns, exotic birds and whatnot, all fetch top prices in the outside world. Are these people any better than the pygmies they pay to do the actual poaching?

And what about the customers who drive the market for these exotic souvenirs? How far up the chain does one need to go to stop this?

The book asks a lot of tough questions and makes us ponder some really thorny issues. As if the chase/rescue mission for our gorillas isn't action enough, our ladies may even be caught up in an even bigger conflagration, as the country teeters on the brink of civil war. And there's nothing civil about it, as one side aims to completely exterminate the other. How significant are the efforts to preserve a few hundred mountain gorillas, when hundreds of thousands of people are being butchered all around them? Suddenly, Dana's original problem, the one she's running away from, seems just like an insignificant drop in the bucket.

That was some really intense action and suspense. I can still feel it even if i'm just writing the review now. :) Needless to say, it was quite the page-turner. This is no ghost story, thankfully. But it is a very realistic, action/adventure tale, with a rustic lesbian romance. A definite must-read for action/adventure fans. Feminists will love the shout-out to Dr. Fossey. And Saracen fans will love the 'expected' twist at the end. ;)

4.5 stars

Why not 5 stars? Ms. Saracen's books always have so much going on, I wish it were a tad, or a lot longer. Mostly I wish I had been inside the characters' heads more. Dana, but especially Kristen. The supporting characters could use a little bit more fleshing out, for emotional impact. The pace was frenetic, but in the quieter moments, I wish there was more introspection.

Thoughts on the unfortunate cover:
It is not the gorilla image per se, but the feel of the cover is entirely too campy. This is a very serious book that would benefit from a darker theme. Certainly not a pretty lady on top of a gorilla. It may also be the wrong kind of gorilla. You get that from actually reading the book. Aside from being awesomely entertaining, it was also educational. :)

ARC received from Netgalley / Bold Strokes Books for an honest review.

Rendezvous in the Himalaya

Rendezvous in the Himalaya - Angela Koenig Note: possible spoilers for Book 1, but none for this book.

Haunted by the horrific results of her disastrous stint as an IRA operative, Jeri walked away from the movement and never looked back. Not wanting to waste her many talents, Jeri freelances for her old Yugoslav training comrade and bff, Rafi, who has apparently moved up in the world. Amidst the chaos of the old USSR falling apart, Rafi has discovered a knack for entrepreneurship--matching customers and suppliers, of anything from maps to tanks to mercenaries-for-hire.

No longer tied to any group or ideology, Jeri is now free to pick her jobs, to atone for her past and in search of absolution. However, danger is never far behind, as the British SAS, who lost one of their own supposedly in the hands of Jeri, has long memories, and an even longer reach.

One such mission takes her to the mountains of Nepal, where Jeri bumps into a woman in the middle of nowhere, as if she were dropped onto her path by fate itself. A strange and shared feeling of recognition sparks a strong attraction. But what right does Jeri have to bring her nomadic world of danger and violence into the life of an emotionally lost, fragile and very innocent woman seeking the answer to life's mysteries.

In the first book, the author set a high bar for a amazing read, successfully combining suspense, drama, introspection and romance, with prose that's beautiful and evocative. The second book is just as good, and with the added bonus of having a more optimistic tone throughout. As before, we're completely transported to another place--this time to the harsh terrain of one of the most unforgiving places on earth. Against that backdrop the author weaves a thrilling tale of adventure and...okay, I was going to say romance but that sounds too shallow and would be a disservice to the book. It's much more like a love story for the ages. The kind that transcends time and life itself. Like the majestic Himalayas.

Even more absorbing than the physical journey through the mountains is the emotional journey of two hearts yearning to be one, but held apart by reason and common sense.
This tug of war between hearts and minds forms the emotional crux of the book, and by itself would have been enough to carry it, but, there is so much more on offer. The reader isn't magically transported to the Himalayas just because it's a nice exotic location to set an adventure in, or because the author has been there on tour and would like to share it's wonders with us. And this is where the plotting takes it heads and shoulders above the usual lesfic we read. The main subplot involves an attempt to expose the quiet and insidious subjugation and extermination of an ancient native culture by an overbearing government. (We don't actually get many details on this which is great storytelling as the author never loses focus on the main plot. The subplot remains that - a subplot.) And there's a sweet sub-subplot involving an interrupted love story. The supporting characters are all fully fleshed out. Lady Bolingbrook, the UN official Jeri is escorting practically deserves her own book, if only she were a lesbian. ;) There's also some social commentary about one of the most serious issues of the day, the Aids epidemic.

The most amazing thing is the smooth flow of the plot and the brisk pacing. All these myriad issues, settings, and subplots are so seamlessly woven together in such a way it never feels dragging, jarring, extraneous, preachy or forced. That's a lot of adjectives but nothing I say will ever come close to the pure pleasure of reading the book yourself. The beauty, sensitivity and depth of the author's prose just can't be adequately described in a review.

My only gripe and it's a minor one is that I wish Jeri and Lady Bolingbrook had spoken more about the elephant in the room and come to some kind of definitive closure on it. The movie fan in me was actually expecting some grand cinematic action set piece where Jeri famously and ostentatiously saves Bollingbrooks life and they are somehow even, or something cheesy like that. :) But that's entirely due to a steady diet of Hollywood movies where the audience has to be 'shown' the happy ending, lol.

5 stars

Rebellion in Ulster

Rebellion in Ulster - Angela Koenig The Refractions series is centered on the life and times of Jeri O'Donnell. Originally from South Boston, Jeri has managed to claw her way out of her tough, gang and drug-infested Southie neighborhood and land a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford, thanks to her photographic memory and linguistic abilities, among other talents. A tragic turn of events while on vacation to Ireland sees Jeri implicated in a crime she didn't commit. She is incarcerated in an all-women Armagh prison in Northern Ireland, which is where we find her at the start of the book. IRA members inside Armagh lose no time in attempting to recruit Jeri for their cause. But Jeri is more interested in the aloof, mysterious and intriguing Arkadia O'Malley. However, as her confinement stretches to several seasons with no trial and hence no resolution in sight, Jeri starts to identify more with the seemingly ordinary women who've given up their lives for the cause...

Possible minor spoilers...

When I first came across this obscure little book titled 'Rebellion in Ulster' way back in 2014, no one I knew had read it or planned to read it and no one was talking about it. There were a handful of good reviews on Amazon does every other lesfic book. The blurb piqued me, but the obscurity meant it sat way back in my reading queue. And so it was with very little expectations that I started it a full year later. But the timing fortuitously turned out to be much better for my reading enjoyment because I was able to go straight to Book 2. In hindsight, I think I wouldn't have enjoyed 'Rebellion' as much if it were a stand-alone read, because, being the hopeless romantic that I am, it would have left me terribly frustrated since Jeri's search for love and acceptance encompasses both books.

The first third of 'Rebellion' is set in a stifling, soul-sucking prison. I was immediately impressed by the author's depiction of the place, the denizens, the prison power plays, but most specially by that prison-oddity, the woman with the piercing blue eyes and hawk-like stare, Arkadia. She is, in my book, one of the most intriguing and unforgettable characters in all of lesfic. She's an 'old soul'. But not just in the usual metaphorical sense. She may literally be one. As in centuries or maybe several millenia old. This is where the book occasionally touches on the spiritual and metaphysical. In the hands of a lesser author, this can turn out pretty hokey. But it's amazingly well done here--the concepts of old Irish gods, multiple lifetimes, love beyond life--not anything fantastical or overtly magical, but a subtle and subconscious awareness, and almost imperceptible in the din of everyday life. But it is there. And it underpins the romantic narrative of the series.

The latter part of the book finds the new recruit Jeri being sent all over Europe for training missions, and later on, for actual ones. The thriller elements are excellently paced and tightly written, but what makes the book stand out from the rest is it's humanity. The action set-pieces are like windows into the journey of Jeri's soul--from fiesty, ambitious, full-of-life youth, to bitter and indifferent prisoner, to committed and idealistic revolutionary, to disillusioned and revolted foot soldier. The book doesn't shy away from the questions engendered by the moral quicksand that the lead character sinks into little by little after every mission. The sensitivity and depth of the writing is way beyond most lesfic I've read. Why isn't this book more popular? It's most likely the subject matter. In this jittery post-9/11 world, reading about planting bombs in public places stokes our most primal fears. There's also the perceived lack of romance in books that tackle such subjects. But in this case, that's not true. There are some very erotic romantic interludes. Jeri may be a loner, but she still needs love. Which brings us to the supporting characters, all of whom are fully fleshed out, vividly drawn, and invariably, candidates for Jeri's affection. ;)

I'm unabashedly promoting this book, because, well there's more to lesfic than the usual, done-to-death, endless variations on the romance theme that's just everywhere...and there's very rare lesfic that's thought-provoking AND thrilling AND angsty AND erotic. To fully enjoy the tale, I think it's best to commit to at least the first two books in the series. Because hey, we all need our HEA.

Requiem for Vukovar

Requiem for Vukovar - Angela Koenig 5 stars! Lesbian literary fiction at its best.


Deadline - K.A. Tracy Ten years as a top crime reporter in L.A. has left Sam Tracy sick of the violence and death. A lucrative movie-rights deal on a book she wrote allows her to move to Palm Springs in semi-retirement where she now works for a dinky advertising and coupon-laden weekly that only puts out a paper on weekends.

But six months on with nothing more exciting to 'investigate' than rigged bingo games and flea infestations, Sam finds herself longing for that old, familiar adrenaline rush that only a 'real' crime can bring. When a murder turns up in the otherwise laid-back resort town, it doesn't take long for Sam to decide to jump back in the fray.

What follows is a taut and gripping investigation of a murder that keeps on turning up more questions than answers the deeper Sam digs into it. As the suspect list grows, so does the seeming complexity of the case. Sam knows the best explanation is often the simplest. But the simplest just doesn't work in this case.

The thing I admired most about this book was how it doesn't waste the reader's time. A third of the way in and I was thinking, if only all authors were this efficient, I could probably read a whole lot more books. :) I haven't felt this way about a book in a long time honestly. The relatively recent development of associating word count with ebook value and pricing and the absence of any effort at editing (or too lax editing, sadly even in top publishing houses) has unfortunately resulted in books that make readers sit through too much filler just to get to the good parts. And what is supposed to be a relaxing, pleasurable exercise has become something of a chore. We readers are a patient and forgiving lot. Well, I am, lol. And yeah, we're not exactly spoilt for choice in this genre. So when a gem like this book comes along, it's such a pleasant surprise. The other thing that I loved about the book was how the author never needed to 'tell' us about her characters. We know Sam is smart, dogged, devious and reckless because we see her being so.

It's always best to get into these kinds of books knowing as little as possible, so if you like lesbian mysteries with a romanctic subplot, read no further. Suffice it to say that the writing is excellent. The lead characters have great chemistry and enjoy some sparkling repartee. The case is deliciously (and sometimes frustratingly) complex and well-constructed. And just when you think you've finally figured it out, the author springs another twist on the unsuspecting reader.

In between Sam's urgent but methodical quest for answers (reporter's got deadlines!), the book also deals with some familiar issues: questioning one's sexuality, coming-out-late-in-life, mental and drug issues, and past trauma. The last one in particular may be uncomfortable or even disturbing for sensitive readers.

Even though the romance is not the main theme of the book, it was a far more interesting read for me than some full-on romance books. The scenes featuring the leads together are easily my favorite parts of the book. Another noteworthy aspect is how the book dealt with Sam's sexuality. Despite the investigative focus of the book, this issue was actually very well fleshed out and realistically treated.

Things do get dizzyingly confusing towards the end, though not the main murder mystery itself, but one of the other ones (there are at least three mysteries that needed unraveling!). I wonder how much coffee was expended to tie everything together and wrap it all up. :)

4.5 stars

Edit: I do have some issues with the big reveal. I'm very tempted to reduce the rating because of it. But it's a plot issue so I'm gonna think on it some more. Major spoilers ahead. I can't believe Nell and Elise both left Elizabeth in the hands of that rapist--and not just for a while, but forever it seemed. They must have known he would go after her. And they just abandoned her with that animal! It's sickening, to say the least. I lost some of my respect for Elise after that, even if it was just the teenage Elise. Also, I'm not sure how Elise never figures that her daughter is an addict or has other issues. Unless she wasn't paying attention. That smacked of a dysfunctional family right there. In fact, a typical showbiz dysfunction, due to her celebrity and now politician status. What is Sam getting herself into, I wonder? And how does Annie even function as a volunteer, and a seemingly responsible one at that, if she's so drug-addled and sex-addicted? So like all misfits, Annie will be shunted to the usual hush-hush therapy and rehab. But maybe what she really needs is some attention from Mommy? Maybe Sam might make a better Mom. Who knows? :)

Also, the whole Lena Riley subplot feels like a unneeded complication. Now that I've had more time to analyze things, I don't really see how she impacts things except to serve as Elise' validation that she's a lesbian, or she's just a plot device to spice things up? maybe keep Sam on her toes, lol. Or maybe because we just don't have enough info from Lena's point of view on why she's still hanging around Elise after all this time. Something else just popped into my brain. Why isn't Lena doing anything to help Annie. Shouldn't she be the one protecting her instead of that creep Phil Atkins, since Lena knows every single secret. Doesn't she feel the least bit of guilt getting Elise away from the rapist but leaving Elise's cousin behind? A sordid mess indeed. Just my thoughts, imho.

The Time Before Now

The Time Before Now - Missouri Vaun The Time Before Now is labeled as a FF&P (Futuristic, Fantasy & Paranormal -- I had to Google that :)) so I spent most of the book waiting for the FF&P stuff...that never actually happens. :( Which also means good news for lesbian romance lovers cause what this book really is, is a standard, slow-burn romance set amidst a road trip in the wild, wild (mid)west :).

Sometime in the 22nd century, Earth was hit by a triple whammy of the worst catastrophes: exhaustion of fossil fuels, an unfortunate tilt of the earth's axis that threw off weather patterns causing widespread famine and drought, and a killer flu epidemic that literally "wiped out whole communities". Amid the chaos, the elite of mankind ("the richest 1%") have snuck away to floating cities suspended high up in the sky, leaving the rest of the less fortunate folk stranded on poor old energy-depleted and mostly-barren earth. All that drama was covered in just a couple of paragraphs-worth of text though. And that's pretty much all the FF&P there is in the book.

The book's version of post-apocalyptic America is actually rather idyllic and not the dusty, chaotic Mad Max version. Probably because it's been a while since everything went to hell and things have simmered down? Or maybe because so many people died that there's now more resources to go around? cause there doesn't seem to be a mad scramble for that all-important water, or other life-sustaining resources. Anyway...

There is no longer any functioning formal government so it's a relative free-for-all. Small pockets of survivors here and there form small self-sufficient communities, farms, travelling merchants or marauding groups. No fossil fuels to burn means a return to a pre-Industrial, pre-electricity society almost exactly (and conveniently) like 17th century America. (Though it does beg the question, why didn't anyone think to use Steam Power? ;) but then of course, that would turn the book into a steampunk romance instead of FF&P. But I digress.) And this is where we find our protagonists Vivien and Ida. Each of them trying to survive the day-to-day hardships and dangers of life in the new world.

Vivien and Ida find themselves heading in the same destination, the Blue Mountains, which Ida calls home and where Vivien's Cherokee ancestors hail from. They travel together for protection and companionship. First attraction, and then deeper feelings start to develop along the way. But Vivien had just come off a really bad relationship and isn't ready to jump into another, especially one where the other party might be expecting more than a road-trip romance.

The slow-burn romance was done well. It'd better be, because the whole book depended on it. I liked how Vivien resolved her internal dilemma. It wasn't rushed (though it was a bit drawn out). A few brushes with danger and death helped out too. What I found wanting was that bit of drama towards the end the accident and it's aftermath was so rushed I didn't feel anything at all for the victims. It felt like just a plot device to get Cole into their hands. Also, despite all the to-do about Vivien's grandpa wanting her to get to the Blue Mountains where her ancestors are, it seems that there really isn't anything there except the Blue Mountains. Or actually, Ida. Hmmm, come to think of it....I think this is the paranormal part that I totally missed. Until now, that is. The wonders you discover about a book when writing reviews, lol.

I would have liked to know more about the other side of this post-apocalyptic world. Like what is it like up there in the cloud cities? How is it powered? How do they sustain it? Don't they even care about what's happening down here? Are they ever coming back? Isn't any technology at all being developed in the cloud cities to take the place of fossil fuels? Maybe there was more info in the first two books of the series, but this is a prequel so I assumed I didn't have to read those first. I suppose if you're not too fastidious about these things, this book is perfectly fine as a stand-alone read.

Vivien and Ida's very distinct butch/femme dynamic and the whole road trip/western vibe reminded me of a popular lesfic favorite, Backwards to Oregon by Jae. If you enjoyed that, then this book is worth a try. The only difference is in the 22nd century, there is no more homophobia.

4 stars

ARC provided by Netgalley and Bold Strokes Books

P.S. Is it just me or does the cover make the book look more like a graphic novel than a lesbian romance.

Heights of Green

Heights of Green - Lise MacTague Book 2 of the Jak -Torrin Adventures (officially it is called the 'On Deception's Edge' series, though I have no idea why) is about as different from the first book as Jak's lush home planet is from Torrin's arid desert home.

The official blurb is a litle too revealing, imho, so here's a more spoiler-free gist: (Spoiler warnings for Book 1 though, if you haven't read that yet).

After her disastrous foray into planet Haefen for an arms deal that went completely fubar, Torrin Ivanov returns to her home planet a little worse for wear, but with some unexpected prizes--shiny new implant technology plus an amazing new girl friend, Jak. For Jak Stowell, the idea of women loving women is as alien as the alluring off-world smuggler. But her attraction to Torrin, starting with her inability to kill her as she was supposed to, up to her ultimate decision to leave her home planet for Torrin's, is as real as it gets. Jak would have loved to have Torrin help her acclimate to her strange new surroundings, but pressing matters keep Torrin occupied. Not only that, everywhere she turns she is faced with Torrin's planet-wide reputation for being a player. Did she make the biggest mistake of her life coming here?

Not wanting to sit idle and stew, Jak eventually finds her niche by turning to what she does best--sniper shooting and hunting--and trains the natives in long distance shooting. The camaraderie of military life AND the freedom to be a woman, something not possible on her home planet, gives Jak a welcome sense of purpose and calm. But a storm is brewing underneath the calm. Torrin suspects her ill-fated trip to Haefen was not an accident. And her attempts to suss out the truth may just have led the hidden enemy to up the stakes.

I loved the first book of the series, and I quite look forward to the third book. And that's probably the best I can say about this book. :) It's a good, solid bridge. But compared side by side with the emotional impact, pulse-pounding excitement, and tight plotting of the first book, this one is a bit of a letdown. First, the idea of swashbuckling, lone-wolf smuggler Torrin being very establishment back home (as in, she's one of the heads of her planet's biggest corporation!) is rather, shall we say, unromantic. :) I wouldn't go so far as to say it's unbelievable, because while she may be one of the bosses, her primary role is off-world wheeling and dealing. I can see how that works.

Apparently the implant tech she brought home is a huge deal, and bringing it to market is of utmost urgency. Torrin's in corporate business meetings all day long (somehow I find that hard to visualize--imagine Han Solo sitting in one day-in and out and you'll get what I mean). So while she doesn't ignore Jak in the bedroom, everything else takes more precedence. Now what's a girl to think? No wonder Jak felt so alone. ;) At this point, if you went into this book not knowing any better, it's like reading a typical run-of-the-mill vanilla lesbian romance--complete with the usual tropes--busy partner, neglected girlfriend, player reputation, old flames, jealousy, family conflict, the dreaded "caught-in-the-act" act ;) and the resulting running away without hearing the whole story trope and everything else is just props. You can pretty much transplant the whole story to any ole place here on earth, and it will work just as well.

I don't mind the direction of the plot but it was just so terribly unexciting. Maybe if things weren't so laid back at Nadi (Torrin's home planet)... Maybe if Jak wasn't so welcome there... Maybe if Torrin didn't have so much power and resources at her disposal (and the whole militia at her beck and call)... get what I mean. The book needed to have more tension and conflict throughout. Okay, I probably wouldn't have minded if this part was better written. I missed the awesome writing from the first book, where, when the action lulled, the romance/tension took over. I missed the terribly-conflicted, emotionally messy, killing machine that was Jak. I missed getting into the characters' heads and hearts. There was just too much telling in this book. I missed the occasional poetic imagery from the first book. There were some extraneous descriptions, scenes that I felt over-extended their welcome and at at least one subplot (about Torrin's relationship with her mother) didn't seem to have much relevance except to extend the page count. A tighter edit would have improved the overall pacing. Fortunately, things pick up a bit in the second half of the book when we finally get some action. Not as much tension as I was hoping for though. We do see flashes of the old Jak in action. And a new Jak we've never seen--a broken and lost Jak. That, plus the epilogue, is a perfect lead-in to the third book.

Fans of the first book won't be dissuaded by this review. I certainly wouldn't. But this book felt rushed--both the writing and the editing. I know fans like me love to say 'Can't wait for the next book!', but we actually can. And for as long as it takes to give Jak and Torrin the awesome ending they deserve.

4.2 stars

P.S. Again, like the first book, the cover does not reflect either of the protagonists. The hair is the most obvious difference. Jak is blonde and Torrin is dark red. But the truly glaring difference is that neither of them ever carry pistols. Jak is married to her sniper rifle and Torrin carries a wicked vibroknife. :)

PPS. The cliffhanger ending is just a tantalizing teaser for the third book. The story arc here is complete.

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