Saturday, December 23, 2017

Barreled Over

Barreled Over (Trinity Distillery #1) by [Sutton, Jenna]

Barreled Over (Trinity Distillery #1)- Jenna Sutton
Jenna Sutton/Amazon Digital Services
Release Date: December 26, 2017


Warning: Possible Spoilers Ahead!

Synopsis: Ava Grace Landy’s music career is humming along until a shakeup at her label jeopardizes her recording contract and curses her with the world’s worst boss. Determined to satisfy him, she partners with Trinity Distillery to access a larger male audience. To her surprise, she’s the one who’s satisfied—by none other than Jonah Beck, the gorgeous, yet gruff man behind the bourbon. 

No doubt about it, bourbon runs in Beck’s blood. But it’s audacious Ava Grace who makes it run hot. When she signs on as the spokesperson for his craft distillery, he doesn’t plan on hoisting her onto an oak barrel and rocking the rickhouse. Though he’s convinced their lives don’t mix—like a terrible cocktail—he can’t keep his hands off the alluring country star.  
Ava Grace and Beck try to keep their intoxicating relationship private, but the glare of her fame is too bright, revealing secrets they both want to remain hidden. With a spotlight shining on his tumultuous past, their future is at risk. Now they must decide if being together is worth sacrificing the career she loves and the company he’s poured his heart and soul into. 


Country music star Ava Grace Landy needs a way to access a larger male audience.  Craft bourbon maker Jonah Beck needs a way to access a larger female audience.  Partnering up sounds like the perfect solution- until they find they can't ignore the chemistry between them.  Beck doesn't want to live in the spotlight, Ava Grace's job keeps her in the spotlight nonstop. Now they have to decide if being together is worth the uphill battle against outside forces?

Ava Grace is the kind of character you love right away.  She's always upbeat and positive, hardworking, intelligent, and goes for what she wants.  After winning a major TV singing competition she may have rocketed to stardom but she hasn't forgotten the people who helped her or let the fame go to her head.  When her new boss wants her to appeal to a larger male audience Ava Grace turns down his demeaning ideas (provocative magazine covers) in favor of some creative ideas of her own.  Mutual friends suggest she become the spokesperson for Trinity Distillery and Ava Grace takes the idea, adds bourbon themed cookbooks and is off and running.  She isn't one to back down from a challenge and doesn't expect anyone to do anything for her.  While she's never applied this approach to life with men, when Ava Grace meets Jonah Beck and the chemistry between them is instant, she decides to go for it.  Beck is a solid guy and she thinks he could be the one for her.

Beck had enough bad experiences with fame as a kid when his father was accused of embezzling from his own company to know he doesn't want to live in the spotlight. As attracted to Ava Grace as he is, he doesn't want to be attracted to her.  He's convinced their lives can't mix and Trinity should be the only thing they have in common.  I have to admit, Ava Grace saw his potential way before I did. Beck has plenty of moments where he's a jerk, tries to push Ava Grace away, but gets upset if there's any distance between them.  For a good part of the book he seems to be more than happy to have her be the one doing all the compromising in the relationship.  While that may be because of his previous experiences, it was still more work for Ava Grace than I'd have put into the frustrating relationship.  Each is afraid to be the one to say "I love you" first and they have plenty of communication issues that need to get worked through (though personally I blame Beck for most of them. I'm not as nice as Ava Grace).   But Ava Grace's fame is the big hurdle.  It's exactly what Beck needs for Trinity bourbon, and exactly what he doesn't want in his daily life.  When Ava Grace winds up in the hospital after an accident and her medical records get leaked to the media, they put the worst possible spin on the situation.  Beck can't handle the negative press and in a move that may be understandable from the selfishly personal point of view but is a cowardly jerk move from the relationship point of view he leaves Ava Grace to deal with everything by herself.  It's only after friends point out that he isn't good enough for her that Beck realizes that he is so miserable without her that he's willing to work hard to become good enough for her.

Ava Grace was the shining star of Barreled Over as far as I was concerned. She handles everything life throws at her- from fans to her father's Alzheimer's- with a grace and strength that is inspirational.  You're cheering for her to get her happy ending from page one.  Beck is a lot harder- I liked him, but he took a lot of work to like.  Sutton does a great job with these two, giving them an instant chemistry that makes the relationship worth the work.  Barreled Over is a fast-paced, fun start to a promising new series and I can't wait to read more!

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Enchantress of Numbers

Enchantress of Numbers: A Novel of Ada Lovelace by [Chiaverini, Jennifer]

Enchantress of Numbers- Jennifer Chiaverini
Dutton/Penguin Group
Release Date: December 5, 2017


Synopsis: The only legitimate child of Lord Byron, the most brilliant, revered, and scandalous of the Romantic poets, Ada was destined for fame long before her birth. Estranged from Ada’s father, who was infamously “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” Ada’s mathematician mother is determined to save her only child from her perilous Byron heritage. Banishing fairy tales and make-believe from the nursery, Ada’s mother provides her daughter with a rigorous education grounded in mathematics and science. Any troubling spark of imagination—or worse yet, passion or poetry—is promptly extinguished. Or so her mother believes.
When Ada is introduced into London society as a highly eligible young heiress, she at last discovers the intellectual and social circles she has craved all her life. Little does she realize that her delightful new friendship with inventor Charles Babbage will shape her destiny. Intrigued by the prototype of his first calculating machine, the Difference Engine, and enthralled by the plans for his even more advanced Analytical Engine, Ada resolves to help Babbage realize his extraordinary vision, unique in her understanding of how his invention could transform the world. All the while, she passionately studies mathematics—ignoring skeptics who consider it an unusual, even unhealthy pursuit for a woman—falls in love, discovers the shocking secrets behind her parents’ estrangement, and comes to terms with the unquenchable fire of her imagination.
In Enchantress of NumbersNew York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini unveils the passions, dreams, and insatiable thirst for knowledge of a largely unheralded pioneer in computing—a young woman who stepped out of her father’s shadow to achieve her own laurels and champion the new technology that would shape the future.


As the only legitimate daughter of the famous Lord Byron, Ada was famous even before she was born.  Thanks to her mother's estrangement from Byron, Ada never met her father.  Her mother spent her entire life trying to erase any hint of imagination, fancy, poetry, or anything else that would connect Ada to her father's "bad Byron blood" and focus Ada's mind on math and science instead. But as the sheltered child becomes a woman taking her place in Society, Ada meets other likeminded people- most importantly Mrs Mary Somerville and Charles Babbage.  Living during a time of incredible mathematical, scientific, and technological advances, Ada longs to make her mark of the world and champion Babbage's computing machines as a new technology that will change the future.

I first heard of Ada, Countess of Lovelace, in a Computer Science History class my first year of grad school.  Although mentioned as the first computer programmer, Ada was little more than an intriguing  footnote at the dawn of the computer age.  As interested as I was in finding out more about this intelligent woman who must surely have fought against the accepted ideas of her day to take her place in history, the overwhelming demands of a first semester in grad school distracted me from searching out more about her.  When I saw a description of Enchantress of Numbers all my interest came rushing back and I was eager to read her story- especially since I'd developed a much better understanding of the time period, history, and social culture of early Victorian England in the meantime.

Jennifer Chiaverini's novel starts with the whirlwind relationship between Lord Byron and Anne Isabella Milbanke: giving us glimpses of Byron's mercurial temperament, his infamous relationship with Anne's cousin Lord Melbourne's wife Lady Caroline, and all the warning signs that theirs would not be a happy marriage.  No one can blame Anne when she leaves Byron and works to keep their infant daughter from ever coming under his influence.  Except for this early prologue the novel is told from Ada's point of view- meaning that many of the questions we have (especially about her mother!) are never fully answered, but only guessed at by Ada herself.  Ada's oppressively strict upbringing by what we would consider today an emotionally abusive mother, is heartbreaking- perhaps more powerful because while Ada herself knows no alternative, Chiaverini knows her modern audience will see its loneliness and rigidity for the controlling efforts they are.  The reader can't help but be amazed that Ada turns out as gentle and compassionate as she does.  We also see what Ada only realizes later- that science and imagination are inseparable if one is to be able to claim true genius and create the exciting new technological future celebrated in the Great Exhibition at the end of the book.  

Ada's friendship with Charles Babbage and her championing of his Difference Engine and Analytical Engine are clearly the high point of Ada's life (and therefore the book) and create more drama and interest than one might imagine.  Her continually difficult relationship with her mother and the constant shadow of her father and his secrets are written in ways that ensure they are always present and natural without being too overbearing or heavily written.  What I found most frustrating about the book- although probably very true to life- was that Ada's own accomplishments don't come across to the reader as the revolutionary work they are argued by historians to be.  Ada always describes her work as her 'studies', as if she is never more than a modest amateur student.  The concepts that she describes are a foreign language to a non-mathematician like me and so I was not able to fully appreciate or understand how her ideas might revolutionize Babbage's engines or even how they later come to be considered the beginning of computer programming.  Ada understood Babbage's computers in ways even Babbage did not and spent most of her adult life working to explain to a largely indifferent public both what the engines did and, more importantly, what they could do.  But when the scientific world learns it was a woman who wrote these explanations, the revolutionary work is considered not nearly as important as it might have been.  After all, if a woman thinks it is important, it can't possibly be.

A well-written and interesting book, Enchantress of Numbers leaves the modern reader frustrated that Ada lived in a time and society that felt women's intelligence was naturally inferior to men's, that study might actually be physically harmful to women, and that Ada fights her entire life without receiving the scientific acknowledgement or the unconditional familial love that she so clearly deserved.  You are also left in awe and admiration for a woman who quietly fought her entire life for the right to discover her passion and the joy she received from it, despite being surrounded by naysayers.   

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Close Contact

Close Contact (Body Armor) by [Foster, Lori]

Close Contact (Body Armor series)- Lori Foster
HQN Books
Release Date: November 28, 2017


Synopsis: MMA fighter Miles Dartman’s casual arrangement with personal shopper Maxi Nevar would be many men’s fantasy. She seeks him out, they have mindblowing sex, she leaves. Rinse, repeat. Yet lately, Miles wants more. And when Maxi requests his services via the Body Armor security agency, he’s ready to finally break through her defenses—and protect her day and night.

Receiving a large inheritance has brought chaos and uncertainty into Maxi’s life. Her ex has resurfaced, along with lots of former “friends,” and someone is making mysterious threats. Then there’s Miles, who doesn’t ask for anything…except her trust. Pleasure is easy. Now Maxi has to give her heart as well as her body…or risk losing a man who could be everything she needs.


Maxi Nevar has been spooked since she moved into her late grandmother's farmhouse, but has convinced herself the incidents were nothing.  Until she wakes up outside, clearly having been drugged.  That sends her to Body Armor, where she knows MMA fighter Miles Dartman now works.  What was supposed to be a one night stand left Miles thinking about more- but he couldn't find Maxi until she walked into Body Armor and hired him.  Now he has to juggle his attraction to her with his doubt about her crazy story, and then with trying to protect her from the mysterious threat that is becoming more violent by the day.

Close Contact is a great addition to Lori Foster's Body Armor series (Under Pressure, Hard Justice) of MMA fighters who have made the move into being elite body guards. Miles is the latest fighter to change careers and he meets his match with Maxi Nevar.  After a brief, no-strings attached fling it was Maxi who walked away and Miles who found himself feeling rejected.  As hurt as he feels about that he doesn't think twice about protecting her from whatever is going on at her house. Maxi tried keeping him at a distance because between the craziness in her life and her bad track record with men, she figured this was the wrong time, wrong place.  But Miles is the whole package: smart, strong, brave, loyal, and incredibly good-looking. They have combustible chemistry and Maxi doesn't stand a chance at not falling in love with him. It was fun watching their good intentions (Miles at taking it slow, Maxi at keeping her emotions out of it) fly out the window.  There was just enough history between the two of them that it felt like perfectly picking up an ongoing story, without feeling like we were missing any backstory or getting impossible insta-love. Foster does her usual excellent job of building a relationship based on respect and a developing friendship as well as chemistry.

There's also enough of a suspense story to keep the reader on edge and without it feeling like an afterthought.  I enjoyed how Foster kept us guessing until the very end at who was responsible for the threats against Maxi- and why.  While recurring characters from other books make some cameos, you don't have to have read the other books to thoroughly enjoy Close Contact. Long-time readers will enjoy seeing Leese, Armie, and the regular MMA crew pop up, as well as Foster continuing to set up Brand and Sahara's story (Fast Burn- coming March 2018!).  

Close Contact is everything we've come to expect from a Lori Foster book: fast-paced writing; fun, layered characters; humor; and danger. Add in some sexy fighters and about a million cats and this book will keep you hooked! Warning: plan on reading in one sitting, because you won't be able to put Close Contact down once you start!

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Curious Affair of the Witch of Wayside Cross

The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross: (From the Casebooks of Jesperson & Lane) by [Tuttle, Lisa]

The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross (from the casebook of Jesperson & Lane)- Lisa Tuttle
Hydra/ Random House
Release Date: November 28, 2017


Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Synopsis: “Witch!” cries the young man after stumbling unexpectedly into the London address of the consulting-detective partnership of Mr. Jasper Jesperson and Miss Lane. He makes the startling accusation while pointing toward Miss Lane . . . then he drops dead. Thus begins the strangest case yet to land—quite literally—on the doorstep of Jesperson and Lane.

According to the coroner, Charles Manning died of a heart attack—despite being in perfect health. Could he have been struck down by a witch’s spell? The late Mr. Manning’s address book leads Jesperson and Lane to the shrieking pits of Aylmerton, an ancient archaeological site reputed to be haunted by a vengeful ghost. There they sift through the local characters, each more suspicious than the last: Manning’s associate, Felix Ott, an English folklore enthusiast; Reverend Ringer, a fierce opponent of superstition; and the Bulstrode sisters, a trio of beauties with a reputation for witchcraft.

But when an innocent child goes missing, suddenly Jesperson and Lane aren’t merely trying to solve one murder—they’re racing to prevent another.


When a man falls dead at their front door, private detectives Jesperson and Lane decide to discover why he died and what brought him to their door in the first place.  The coroner says it was a heart attack but Charles Manning apparently had a great deal of interest in witches- could he have angered one into killing him?  The detectives travel to the countryside of Aylmerton where superstition and folklore live side by side with more 'modern' thinking and religion, where Manning was rumored to be courting a young witch, and where people are highly suspicious of outsiders.  Soon one questionable death turns into several and Jesperson and Lane have their hands full trying to prevent another.

Advertised as a paranormal Sherlock Holmes story, the Curious Affair promised to be full of mystery,  magic, and brilliant detectives.  I found it to contain very little of any of those.  Throughout the book you find yourself wondering if the magic and paranormal advertised are actually believed in and real, like Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, or a mere ruse with a devious but perfectly scientific explanation, like Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles. Even a confirmed fairy siting doesn't really answer the question as far as the rest of the characters go.  Does Manning's friend Felix Ott genuinely believe in returning the Old Religions and gods to England or is it a way to trick money from others?  Did he kill Manning over a business disagreement? 

The mystery itself was never more than mildly interesting to me, which was surprising.  You'd think a man dropping dead of unknown causes would lead to a pretty good whodunit.  But so many other things began to get piled on to the plot that sometimes you forgot about Manning altogether.  Yet none of the other mysteries- several other unexplained deaths and then the disappearance of an infant- really kept the plot moving for me either.  The book mostly revolved around a series of unlikeable characters who went from country hospitality to chilly and insulted in an instant.  Diana Bulstrode (the supposed witch of Wayside Cross) was the only character I found at all interesting and even she had a tendency to become annoying quickly.  The main characters of Jasper Jesperson and Miss Lane never gained any depth or particular background to make them interesting, unique, or likable. Even Miss Lane, who gives a Watson-like first person account of the case, isn't much more than a cipher to tell the story.  We get a brief and politely social background to her life before becoming a detective and more than halfway through the book are finally told her first name (although after finding out what it is you understand why she doesn't advertise it).  But the reader gets no real backstory to them: no explanation of how Miss Lane met Jespserson, why they decided to become detectives, what their relationship is, or anything else about them.  Maybe some of this was mentioned in Tuttle's first book (The Curious Affair of the Somnabulist and the Psychic Thief) but I haven't read that book.  Nor, after the Witch of Wayside Cross, do I really care to.  While things get interesting at the very end, by the time everything is revealed I was left with the feeling that all the murder victims got what they deserved and only vaguely sympathetic of the lives ruined in the process.

Tuttle does a good job describing the English countryside, but neither the characters nor the mysteries stood out to me as a way to make the book enjoyable.  Doyle enthusiasts and paranormal mystery lovers alike should probably skip this addition to the inspired-by-Sherlock shelves.  Weak and unlikeable characters overshadow what could have been an interesting set of mysteries to leave a book that sounded better in the description than in the reading.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGallery in exchange for an honest review

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Cherish Hard

Cherish Hard (Hard Play Book 1) by [Singh, Nalini]

Cherish Hard- Nalini Singh
TKA Distribution
Release Date: November 14, 2017


Warning: Possible Spoilers Ahead!

Synopsis: Sailor Bishop has only one goal for his future – to create a successful landscaping business. No distractions allowed. Then he comes face-to-face and lips-to-lips with a woman who blushes like an innocent… and kisses like pure sin.

Ísa Rain craves a man who will cherish her, aches to create a loving family of her own. Trading steamy kisses with a hot gardener in a parking lot? Not the way to true love. Then a deal with the devil (aka her CEO-mother) makes Ísa a corporate VP for the summer. Her main task? Working closely with a certain hot gardener.

And Sailor Bishop has wickedness on his mind. As Ísa starts to fall for a man who makes her want to throttle and pounce on him at the same time, she knows she has to choose – play it safe and steady, or risk all her dreams and hope Sailor doesn’t destroy her heart.


Isa Rain knows exactly what she wants from life: a loving husband, a happy home, and a job she enjoys- the opposite of her life growing up.  No hot gardeners who are married to their business need apply.  Unfortunately the hot gardener in question, Sailor Bishop, keeps popping up and flirting with her.  There may be some serious chemistry between them, and Isa may be falling more in love with Sailor every day, but is she ready for the inevitable time when he choses business over her? 

Cherish Hard brings us back to the Bishop-Esera family that Nalini Singh readers first fell in love with in Rock Hard, Gabriel Bishop's story and one of my most favorite books of all times.  Cherish therefore had a pretty high bar to reach and I was thrilled that it lived up to my every expectation.  Gabriel's younger brother Sailor is working hard to make his dream landscaping company a reality.  He's also working to prove to himself that he is nothing like the pathetic excuse for a man who fathered him.  Isa Rain wants to live a quiet life as an English teacher writing poetry and supporting her younger brother and sister.  But she's fought every step of the way by her mother, a shark of a CEO who plans for Isa to take an active interest in her company.  Both spend the book fighting their own preconceived notions about themselves and their futures, their plans and where they are willing to be flexible. I especially loved Isa- a smart, creative, and caring woman who refuses to give in to the cold corporate example her parents have set.  Instead of believing she is undeserving of love, Isa has vowed that she will come first in her husband's life.  She's willing to fight for what she wants and brave enough to take risks with her heart.  

Cherish Hard is beautifully written, full of heart, humor, and heat.  Sailor and Isa have incredible chemistry on every page, but are just as compelling in scenes with family or friends.  Now we just have to wait for the other Bishop boys to grow up a little so they can have their own stories!

A must read for Singh fans and a great book for new readers!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Daring Arrangment

A Daring Arrangement: The Four Hundred Series by [Shupe, Joanna]

A Daring Arrangement (The Four Hundred Series #1)- Joanna Shupe
Avon Books/ HarperCollins
Release Date: October 31, 2017


Warning: Potentail Spoilers

Synopsis: Lady Honora Parker must get engaged as soon as possible, and only a particular type of man will do. Nora seeks a mate so abhorrent, so completely unacceptable, that her father will reject the match--leaving her free to marry the artist she loves. Who then is the most appalling man in Manhattan? The wealthy, devilishly handsome financier, Julius Hatcher, of course....
Julius is intrigued by Nora's ruse and decides to play along. But to Nora's horror, Julius transforms himself into the perfect fiancΓ©, charming the very people she hoped he would offend. It seems Julius has a secret plan all his own--one that will solve a dark mystery from his past, and perhaps turn him into the kind of man Nora could truly love.


Lady Honora Parker has been sent to New York after a scandal in London involving a man her father deems unsuitable for her.  Nora hatches a plan to get engaged to an American so outrageous that her father will have no choice but to call her home and agree that her artist is a good choice after all.  And the incredibly rich, handsome, and scandalous Julius Hatcher fits her plan perfectly.  Julius needs to get into Society to solve a mystery, but riches alone won't buy him entry.  Nora's crazy scheme of a fake engagement seems like the perfect answer.   To Nora's dismay, the scandalous bachelor turns into the perfect fiancΓ© - and to Julius' dismay, Nora turns out to be his perfect match.

A Daring Arrangement is an entertaining story of (seeming) opposites attracting and a conveniently fake engagement turning into one both parties wish was real.  Despite very different backgrounds Nora and Julius are quite similar beneath the surface: both are intelligent, daring, and determined in all aspects of life.  One of the big themes to the book is change: circumstances change, people change, goals change, and the only way to live life is to accept that and be flexible enough to allow change to be a part of your life- sometimes at the difficult expense of pride.  Julius determined he would never marry or have a family because of the tragic, drunken ramblings of his father.  When he discovers how much he enjoys Nora's company, her wit, her conversation, and the intense chemistry between them he's still not willing to consider changing his mind about marriage. Nora was sure her artist Robert was the love of her life, and she's horrified with herself when she develops feelings for Julius.  How can she be so inconstant?  Fortunately her aunt has enough experience with life and love to explain to her the difference between a first love and a true love. 

Secondary characters like her aunt and Julius' friend Tripp don't get quite as much development or 'on screen' time as they deserve but they make the most of every second they have. It's obvious Shupe has done plenty of research into New York and the Gilded Age of the 1890s.  The city and time period are practically characters themselves, immersing the reader in the glittering life of the ballroom and the earthiness of New York dance halls with a perfection that matches her earlier Knickerbocker Club series (MagnateBaron).

I was hoping for more to the mystery that Julius is trying to solve.  He wants revenge against the Society men who ruined his father- but he doesn't know who they are or have much of a plan on how to figure it out. Nora comes up with a scheme to draw them out, but the whole revenge idea fades disappointingly into the background.  As a plot point it had great potential, especially for the emotional dilemma Julius finds himself in on discovering one of the names, but it pretty much fizzled out.

Despite hoping for a bit more depth to the plot, I enjoyed A Daring Arrangement - especially Julius and Nora and the great chemistry between them (both mental and physical!) and am looking forward to Joanna Shupe's next Gilded Age story.

Monday, October 23, 2017

American Wolf

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by [Blakeslee, Nate]

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West- Nate Blakeslee
Crown/ Random House
Release Date: October 17, 2017


Synopsis: Before men ruled the earth, there were wolves. Once abundant in North America, these majestic creatures were hunted to near extinction in the lower 48 states by the 1920s. But in recent decades, conservationists have brought wolves back to the Rockies, igniting a battle over the very soul of the West.

With novelistic detail, Nate Blakeslee tells the gripping story of one of these wolves, O-Six, a charismatic alpha female named for the year of her birth. O-Six is a kind and merciful leader, a fiercely intelligent fighter, and a doting mother. She is beloved by wolf watchers, particularly renowned naturalist Rick McIntyre, and becomes something of a social media star, with followers around the world.

But as she raises her pups and protects her pack, O-Six is challenged on all fronts: by hunters, who compete with wolves for the elk they both prize; by cattle ranchers who are losing livestock and have the ear of politicians; and by other Yellowstone wolves who are vying for control of the park’s stunningly beautiful Lamar Valley.

These forces collide in American Wolf, a riveting multigenerational saga of hardship and triumph that tells a larger story about the ongoing cultural clash in the West—between those fighting for a vanishing way of life and those committed to restoring one of the country’s most iconic landscapes.


In American Wolf author Nate Blakeslee chronicles the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, focusing their story in particular through the life and experiences of O-Six.  O-Six grew up to become one of the most famous wolves in Yellowstone: a strong alpha leader, a caring mother, a skilled hunter, an intelligent fighter.  She raised three generations of pups in the Lamar Valley where wolf-watchers could follow the comings and goings of her pack and learn more about wolves than they had ever hoped.  Unfortunately, O-Six and her family have not only natural dangers to face inside the park, but increasingly hunters, ranchers, and politicians outside the park.

Blakeslee's American Wolf is a carefully researched, well-written book that uses notes kept by local wolf-watchers to chronicle a multigenerational account of the return of wolves to Yellowstone, seen particularly through the incredible stories of the Druid Peak Pack and the Lamar Valley Pack. New packs form, yearlings become alphas, pups are born, clashes between rival packs establish new territories, and American Wolf is written in such a way that the reader feels they are experiencing the events along with the wolves. Or at least the wolf-watchers. As with any good documentary, American Wolf doesn't try to gloss over the harsh aspects of life as a wolf in Yellowstone- there are violent fights for prime territory, lean winters, and leadership disputes right along with the cute pups.

For me, the hard part of reading American Wolf was also in the writing.  The style and brilliant narrative that make you experience the wonder of watching wolves with naturalist Rick McIntyre also means that you feel the other side of the culture clash: the hatred of hunters and ranchers in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.  Blakeslee has carefully researched both the personal and the political saga of wolf reintroduction and brings the reader courtroom drama fit for the movie screen as hunters, Fish and Wildlife, the state and federal government, and environmental groups fight in court.  As a wolf lover, I found these scenes terribly depressing. I will also admit there were a few parts where I cried when wolves I'd been following for chapters until I felt like I knew them met up with hunters.  The frustrating understanding of how environmental science and the beauty of nature are so often casualties to politics makes you feel especially helpless.

American Wolf is a rich environmental drama with a rare ability to balance a story between nature and politics, haunting emotional awe with down-to-earth practicality, love of wolves with a lack of romantic sentimentality.  A difficult, must-read book for anyone interested in environmental conservation and the amazing story of wolves and their return to Yellowstone.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Slap Shot

Slap Shot: An Aces Hockey Novel by [Jamieson, Kelly]

Slap Shot (Aces Hockey) - Kelly Jamieson
Loveswept/ Random House
Release Date: October 17, 2017

Rating (out of 5):

Synopsis: After my wife died from a rare form of cancer, sex was the last thing on my mind. Same with hockey, the other love of my life. Now, after fifteen months of eating too much, drinking too much, and generally just feeling sorry for myself, I’m facing a steep uphill battle to get my ass in shape and play my way back onto the Chicago Aces.

So I’m not looking for a relationship. Just sex. Yeah, I know how that makes me sound. But the truth is, I’ll never love another woman the way I loved my wife. When I meet a sexy bridesmaid at my teammate’s wedding, I decide to scratch that itch. A fling with Kendra Armstrong in her posh hotel room could be just what the trainer ordered.

Not only is Kendra smokin’ hot, she’s dynamite in bed—one of the perks of being a sex toy designer. Since she lives in New York anyway, we agree to keep things casual, no strings attached. The arrangement is perfect . . . until one of us falls in love. And it’s not me.


Max Hall took a leave from the Chicago Aces two years ago when his wife was diagnosed with a rare form of terminal cancer.  Now he's trying to move forward with his life, deal with his grief, and return to hockey.  Beginning to interact with teammates again means weddings and weddings can lead to all kinds of interesting things . . . What starts out as a one night stand with Kendra becomes a casual, no-strings fling and friendship.  Max doesn't believe he's ready for more and never wants to go through the pain of losing someone again.  But life sometimes doesn't give us what we think we want- it gives us what we need.  If we don't screw it up.

I've probably said this in other blogs but I'll admit it again here: I very rarely like books written in the first person.  I like seeing things through both characters' eyes, I like seeing what's going on in their heads, how their past experiences shape who they are and how they react to things. And of books written in the first person, it's even rarer that I like a book written in the present tense where the character is narrating events as they happen instead of a past tense remembering (which has a different set of pitfalls in my opinion).  I have no idea why I find it annoying, distracting even, but I usually do.  All that lead up is something of an explanation and an apology for why I didn't like Slap Shot as much as I usually enjoy Kelly Jamieson books- especially her hockey books.  It's the first among the Aces books (maybe all of her books) I've read that is written in first person and I'm sure it was done to focus on Max's internal struggle between holding onto his grief and his guilt at starting to really live again after the death of his wife.

Although we meet Kendra through Max's eyes and see their entire relationship from his point of view (which, spoiler alert, includes falling in love with her) I never really felt like I got to know her as a person.  I knew things about her: she's a psychologist who eventually switched careers and started her own business with a friend to make sex toys for women.  She has an instinct for 'fixing' people that's gotten her into lousy relationships in the past and she has a terrible relationship with her parents.  She's caring, fun, outgoing, and loves dancing and dogs.  But for all of that, I never felt like she was a fully developed, three dimensional person. Of course, I also had that problem with Max.  I didn't like him.  He would possibly have been a more likable (or at least sympathetic) character from the outside, but when the whole book is told from his point of view he really mostly came across as a self-absorbed jerk. His goal was getting in shape for training camp and getting back on the team. It's a great goal and I loved that he was so motivated and willing to work hard to get there.  But the self-defense process of not looking at his emotions to try and avoid being hurt again came across (in his own head) as not even wanting to admit to a caring friendship with Kendra, let alone falling in love with her, but just focused on good sex.

While following Max's progress out of grieving and back to living and admitting to emotions could have been a very reflective and touching story, I was left feeling a little flat about Slap Shot in general.  There are a few great scenes at the end where Max finally gets his head on straight and very well written and emotional apology and reconciliation scenes.  But overall, I was left wanting a little something more. Whether that was a bit of additional plot or more emotional introspection or more depth of character, I feel like Slap Shot was one of Jamieson's more mediocre books, with the potential to have been one of her best.    

Long time readers of Kelly Jamieson's Aces Hockey series (Back Check, Icing) have been aware of Max and his tragic story, but he's always been a very peripheral character.  So readers new to the series don't have to worry about having missed any backstory if they start the series with Slap Shot.  Personally, I recommend reading the rest of the Aces series first so that Max's return to the team at the end will give you a bit more emotional satisfaction than the rest of the book.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Thursday, October 12, 2017


Grant by [Chernow, Ron]

Grant- Ron Chernow
Penguin Group
Release Date: October 10, 2017

Rating (out of 5):

Synopsis: Ulysses S. Grant's life has typically been misunderstood. All too often he is caricatured as a chronic loser and an inept businessman, or as the triumphant but brutal Union general of the Civil War. But these stereotypes don't come close to capturing him, as Chernow shows in his masterful biography, the first to provide a complete understanding of the general and president whose fortunes rose and fell with dizzying speed and frequency.

With lucidity, breadth, and meticulousness, Chernow finds the threads that bind these disparate stories together, shedding new light on the man whom Walt Whitman described as “nothing heroic... and yet the greatest hero.” Chernow’s probing portrait of Grant's lifelong struggle with alcoholism transforms our understanding of the man at the deepest level. This is America's greatest biographer, bringing movingly to life one of our finest but most underappreciated presidents. The definitive biography, Grant is a grand synthesis of painstaking research and literary brilliance that makes sense of all sides of Grant's life, explaining how this simple Midwesterner could at once be so ordinary and so extraordinary.


As someone who loves history, I have a terrible confession to make: Grant is the first Ron Chernow book I've ever read.  It will certainly not be the last.  Chernow's Grant is meticulously researched, well-written, with an easy style and flow that make a biography feel less like a lecture and more like an intimate conversation.  He provides descriptions and details that bring the time period and the people to vivid life.

Grant was a complex man: both brilliant and naive; overly trusting in civilian life while able to perfectly predict what others would do on the battlefield; a man who claimed to have no great political ambitions yet was a rare (at the time) two term president.  Chernow reminds us of the personal connections of the generals of both the North and South- Grant attended West Point and fought in the Mexican War alongside William T. Sherman, Robert E Lee, and a veritable who's who of later Civil War leaders.  The best man at his wedding was James Longstreet, who would go on to be a great Southern general in the war.  Chernow also brings front and center Grant's hard work for African Americans, supporting the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, with equality and voting rights among his lifelong crusades.  While Lincoln is remembered in American history as the President who ended slavery, readers of Grant will see that President U.S. Grant should be remembered as a tireless proponent of civil rights and militant enemy of the Ku Klux Klan.

Chernow doesn't turn away from Grant's failures in civilian life: his poverty before rejoining the army for the Civil War, his constant struggle with alcoholism, or Grant's repeated mistakes in trusting the wrong people in matters of finance- and occasionally in government.  Grant's personal traits: pride, stubbornness, loyalty among others are shown as what made him the greatest general of his time, but also caused a steep learning curve as President.  

Readers of Stephen W. Sears' Lincoln's Lieutenants will find this a perfect companion to their understanding of the generals of the Civil War, their successes and failures, radically different personalities, and their relationships with Lincoln. It continues to amaze me how individual personalities and personal ambitions shape the course of military history.

Fans of history, biographies, and military history will rejoice in this new biography of General Grant- which will stand unchallenged as his definitive biography for a long time. An easy, flowing narrative, Ron Chernow's Grant will change the average American's view of Grant forever.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Immortally Yours

Immortally Yours: An Argeneau Novel by [Sands, Lynsay]

Immortally Yours (Argeneau Series)- Lynsay Sands
Avon Books
Release Date: September 26, 2017

Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Rating (out of 5):

Synopsis: One hundred and twenty-five years is a long time to nurse a crush. That’s how long it’s been since Beth Argenis first met Cullen “Scotty” MacDonald and he instantly became the star of her most X-rated dreams. Back then, he was rescuing her from a Rogue Immortal. Now Beth’s a Rogue Hunter—a damn good one. She doesn’t need saving anymore, despite what Scotty thinks. What she does need is the fierce, wild desire that finally erupts between them.

Scotty has hesitated to claim Beth as his own. But one explosive kiss confirms what he’s long suspected: She’s his life mate. But Beth is tough, fearless, beautiful…and in immortal danger. Unless he wants to lose her forever, he’ll have to rethink everything he once believed about love and destiny as well as confront an enemy who’s terrifyingly close.

With most of the North American Rogue Hunters down in Venezuela dealing with trouble there (Immortal Unchained), Beth Argenis is stuck working with Cullen "Scotty" MacDonald and a group of hunters from the UK who have volunteered to help out in Canada until things get back to normal.  Scotty may star in all Beth's most interesting fantasies but in real life she's pretty sure he can't stand her. So why is he suddenly acting so protective and kind?  Scotty has known for over 100 years that Beth was his life mate but he's waited until he decided she was over past traumas before making his move. The problem is that now that he's decided she's ready, someone else has decided they want Beth dead.  Can they survive a series of violent and creative attacks, figure out who's trying to kill Beth, and manage to work through their own issues to reach a happy ending?
I absolutely loved Beth Argenis. She's had more bad luck than any person should have, dealt with incredible trauma and abuse as a mortal, been turned against her will, spent over 100 years trying to deal with issues that would break other people, and still managed to come out a strong, independent, compassionate, and kick-ass person.  After being attacked by a Rogue she not only learned how to defend herself, she trained to be a Rogue Hunter and protect others.  It took a long time, but she managed to put aside her anger at life and begin to enjoy life and to lover herself for who she is.  Although she has had a crush on Scotty for pretty much her entire immortal life, on discovering that they are possible life mates she isn't willing to drop everything and become who Scotty thinks she should be (or thinks he thinks she should be).  Walking away from him might break her heart but she would rather do that than not be true to herself.  In fact Beth has probably one of the greatest self-affirming speeches ever written where she tells Scotty all that and more.  You are heartbroken by all the suffering she reveals in her life and cheering for her as the person she is today all at the same time.
Scotty is kind of a jerk and takes much longer than he should to arrive at these same conclusions (although in the end at least he admits he's been an arrogant idiot).  He may have spent the past century trying to protect Beth and waiting for her to be ready for a life mate, but he hasn't spent that time getting to know himself or learning from other mated couples the meaning of words like "compromise" and "teamwork".  His actions and ideas may come from the desire to keep Beth safe and happy, but they fall short of the mark.  He actually wants her to have her mind wiped blank to she won't have bad memories! Scotty is slow and Beth has to beat him over the head with the truth a few times (and shoot him a few times) but he does eventually get there.
Immortally Yours gives us plenty of time to think about how we are shaped by out life experiences- both the good and the bad.  It also makes us question how each of us would live as an immortal.  Would we hold on to the terrible things that happen and let them make us bitter or drive us insane?  Would we learn to live in the moment and be proud of who we are and how we've worked to get there?  Scotty and Beth both have traumatic pasts and each had a seriously terrible parent but while Beth has worked hard to overcome her 'daddy issues', Scotty (who's more than 800 years older) hasn't ever admitted that he might have some skewed ideas because of his mother. I wanted to hit Scotty more than once about assumptions he makes when he should have the life experience to know better. Fortunately, so did some of the other characters- and they were more than willing to do it!
Although a part of Sands' Argeneau/Rogue Hunters series, you don't have to have read all the other books to enjoy Immortally Yours.  It's removed enough from other characters or series threads that it would be a good introduction for readers new to Lynsay Sands and her Immortal world, while being connected enough that long-time readers will enjoy glimpses of a few familiar faces.  Fast-paced, with lots of depth to the main characters, and written with Lynsay Sands' trademark humor, Immortally Yours is a fun and fulfilling new addition to the Argeneau canon.