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Don't Tell by Karen Rose

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: N/A
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 512 Pages, 7507 Locations
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

A Chilling Reminder

She's been hiding for seven years, keeping her son and herself safe from the madman who had brutally abused them and almost killed her. Mary Grace and Robbie Winters are painful memories and Caroline Stewart has done everything in her power to help her and her son Tom do more than survive, but thrive. Seven years after fleeing from a violently abusive spouse and assuming a new identity, Caroline has gotten her GED and is working her way through college, just a semester away from her dream of law school. Her son is well loved and safe. And despite recently losing her beloved boss to a surprise heart attack, she's happy in her job as secretary of the head of the history department. When the new department head arrives, she's more than happy, and handsome and very tall Dr. Max Hunter makes the sort of impression Caroline had never had a chance to experience in her long history of neglect and abuse.

Both are scarred, both flawed by circumstance and painful pasts, but their attraction is intense. Caroline's secrets, though, are the sort that kill, and unbeknownst to her, the sadistic misogynist and murderer she married, Rob Winters, has realized that his wife and son aren't missing or dead. Realized that Mary Grace ran from him, stole his son from him. Unbeknownst to Caroline, Winters is cutting a wide swath of death and destruction...and he's coming for her and their son. Nothing will stop him. No one can catch him. And no one will see him coming.

Don't Tell isn't my first romantic suspense by Karen Rose, but it was her first published. It's surely not necessary to read them in order, as they're only loosely connected by reappearing characters, but I thought I'd go back to see how it all started. I'm glad I did. Rose started with a plot that perhaps isn't the most original, but it's well told. An abusive cop husband undermines his abused wife and son and keeps her from any hope of help until she takes her son and disappears. Years later he finds out and, enraged, starts to hunt her down, destroying everything and everyone in his path.

The procession of the plot is a bit formulaic, including the quick-fired romance between Caroline and Max and the reaction of Caroline's son Tom, but there's a certain formula to all romantic suspense, so I wasn't overly bothered by that. Rose's authorial strengths lie not just in the intricate, twisting plots of her novels, but in the depth and dimension of the characters inhabiting the story. She excels in creating sympathetic characters with baggage and flaws, characters who make mistakes and are intrinsically human. Some endearing, some humorous, most a mixture of both. This exceptional talent extends beyond primary characters to the secondary and ancillary set, from heroes and heroines to their families and friends and even to their pets. In so doing, each book is gripping on an emotional level and memorable for it, regardless of specific plots.

In Don't Tell Rose has gone one further and touched on many of the sensitive issues and delicate psychological damages shared by survivors of spousal and parental abuse and carefully folded that into the personalities of Caroline and Tom to the differing degrees required by the plot. Taken to the extreme, the abuse was horrifying, but it served as a reminder and wake up call to women who may find themselves in situations that are in any way similar. Perhaps it breathed hope into just one victim, or reminded one woman or child that abuse can be escaped - should be escaped, or provided one option to someone who was convinced there were none. Perhaps. If so, then it transcended the scope of chilling entertainment.

I hope it did.

Curveball by Kate Angell

Genre: Light/Comedic Romance, Sports Romance
Series: Richmond Rogues, Book 2
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 292 Pages, 3887 Locations
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

Curveball (Richmond Rogues, Book 2)
The Bat Pack Scores

The Richmond Rogues baseball team is getting ready for the season, but a brawl between teammates during the organization's Media Day event paints a very unpleasant picture of team chemistry and personnel issues. Instigated by Cody "Psycho" McMillan - though he blames pitcher Chris "Wimbledon" Collier - and backed up by his two musketeers, Chase "Chaser" Tallan and Jesse "Romeo" Bellisaro, the melee injures thirteen people and earns the three men an equally painful thirteen day suspension.

For the Bat Pack, the group nickname for Psycho, Romeo, and Chaser, best friends and the team's heavy hitters, thirteen games at the beginning of a potential World Series season is untenable, unthinkable, and unfortunately...unalterable. They'll be lucky if they don't go crazy before their suspension is up...though it's a pretty short trip for Psycho.

Their punishment - as hated as it is - at least forces them to fill their time in other ways. Psycho has been pushed to renovate his dilapidated colonial home by one skinny but wily, down on her luck and blatantly untruthful interior designer, Keely Douglas. Romeo, ordered to make restitution to female sports reporter Emerson Kent, practically trips over his tongue the first time the reporter smiles at him, but for the first time in his life a woman is not only not throwing herself at his feet and begging all manner of naughty delight, but is actually disdainful and completely disinterested in him. And wooing her to his fan base is going to take some time. Chaser spends some of his free time hanging out with his best friend and life-long next door neighbor, Jen Reid. She's been back in town after giving up a rising career in New York City as a ballerina when her father got sick. Now that he's gone, she owns and runs several concession stands in the Rogue's stadium. They've been buddies forever, but one turned head...one fateful lean in...and their lips accidentally brushed for the first time since they were teens. And suddenly friendship is a lot hotter than it used to be.

Angell's second in the Richmond Rogues series brings a delightful sports triple header romance with a team's worth of charming and endearing characters and a plethora of pleasure reading. We first met the Bat Pack in the first of the series, Squeeze Play (Richmond Rogues, Book 1), and their quirks and egos were nifty treats that aided that book. Now, about five years later, they're hungry for another World Series win and the suspension affects them all. Their playboy reputations are well earned, but it's three women who catch their attention and hold it as they struggle with warming the bench. Three unique women who draw the men like moths to their flame. Watching the Pack fall away from their womanizing ways was a lot of fun.

Definitely a light romance, there's little depth to this fun book, and none of the three relationship pairings get a lot of page time. I didn't count pages, but was left with the impression that Romeo and Emerson's relationship had the most room to develop, with Psycho and Keely a close second. Childhood chums Chaser and Jen were very perfunctorily developed, but their history allowed for that to be more of a feel good short short that still felt complete. I credit Angell for that.

As I said in my review of Squeeze Play (review here), I'm not at all a fan of baseball. While there is more baseball in Curveball than in that first book, it didn't detract from the fun of the romances for me. There's little to complain about, but there's also little to discuss. The strength of the book is the appeal of the characters, and these guys have a lot of appeal. So do their women. I was charmed by feisty Keely and composed Emerson, and Jen seemed perfect for Chaser.

If you don't fret the details and enjoy light sports romances with some comedy, some sexy heat, some sweet poignancy, and even some tender moments, then I can't recommend any better than the Richmond Rogues. Points for seeing Risk and Jacy from Squeeze Play. I love catching up with characters from previous books in the series to see how their HEA is working out for them and I wasn't disappointed here.

I'll be continuing the series with Strike Zone (Richmond Rogues, Book 3) - and have to admit, I'm surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. It's flat out light fun. Not, of course, that I wouldn't be even happier if we were talking about a football team and its players. A girl's gotta be true to her sports.

An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: October Daye, Book 3
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 368 Pages, 5764 Locations
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

An Artificial Night (October Daye, Book 3)
It Doesn't Pay To Be October Daye

When October "Toby" Daye answered a knock at the door and came face to face with her Fetch, she knew it was going to be a rough week. Fetch are harbingers of death and when they look like you and have your memories, you can pretty much kiss your butt goodbye. After a frantic phone call from her friend Stacy about her missing kids and another who won't wake up, a confrontation with the King of Cats about missing Cait Sidhe children (kittens?), a painful healing at Lily's Knowe, an ominous conversation with her friend and her liege lord's wife Luna, and having to deal with the ever terrifying and powerful Luidaeg, Toby realizes that the Fetch is, quite literally, the least of her worries. And how sad is that?

Toby never wanted to be a hero, but finding and saving the children being taken by a twisted Firstborn is the sort of quest for which ballads are sung...and they tend to lead to glorious funerals. With help she needs but can't ask for and a journey down roads she can't travel she may make it out...but alive will never be part of the bargain.

This third book in the October Daye series left me feeling oddly conflicted and a little perplexed. I've liked Toby since the series started with Rosemary and Rue (October Daye, Book 1). I like her personality and her chaotic and haphazard way of problem solving. She's certainly not the strongest, fastest, smartest, or biggest badass in her world, but she ekes out a living as a PI with questionable skills, falls into the most difficult and deadly situations with surprising ease, and has the oddest and most cryptic conversations with the oddest and most cryptic people. Something about her bumbling victories and her self-effacing attitude, combined with her loyalty and determination to do the right thing is appealing to me. And she makes tough, sometimes heartbreaking choices - but she makes them well. I like her.

I'm not as sure about liking the plot of this book, though. Or maybe it's the way it was written... Probably a combination of both, actually, but this is the first in the series that I had some real problems with. I will say I tend not to like transitional books in a series as a general rule, and this felt like a transitional book in parts, with Toby making some admittedly needed realizations about her character and her personality as the world she inhabits and the people she surrounds herself with shifted a little to allow for those realizations. One of those realizations didn't appeal at all, though. Toby batted the word 'hero' around like it was a rank or office to be recognized and accepted. Maybe it's a personal thing, but heroes that label themselves such just...well...aren't. In my opinion, at least.

On a technical side, I found the book lacking in exposition in a few critical cases. Most notably in the case of Toby's friends Mitch and Stacy and their children. Obviously Toby is a very close personal friend of that family, but I don't remember them from either of the two previous books. That's not terribly surprising given the number of books I read, but as memory serves, in the first book Toby spent her post-koi time avoiding all things fae and letting previous friendships languish, in the second, she wasn't in town, so I don't recall Mitch and Stacy and how they became important enough to Toby that their kids call her 'aunt.' That wouldn't have been such a big deal if the entire plot of the book hadn't revolved around Toby's struggles to return those children to their parents. But it did. Some exposition that placed that couple and their kids in Toby's life and the timeline of their friendship would have helped me reconnect with the series and brush off the reading cobwebs. Without it, I felt disconnected to the characters and confused about Toby's frantic emotional reactions. There was also a lack of exposition relating to Toby's misspent youth, though names from her past were mentioned more than once.

When removing myself from the difficulty I had with the depth of friendship between Toby and Mitch and Stacy and just looking at the plot alone, I think it was imaginative and original, and provided genuine-feeling danger and crises. Toby is obviously doomed to suffer grievously through this series, as the author is always thinking up new ways to make her life miserable. Good for readers, bad for Toby. I have to admit, though, I'm greedy for more Tybalt. I have a huge fondness for the King of Cats. He always seems to be around when Toby needs him, but nowhere near enough for my full reading enjoyment. After three books, I'd appreciate a furthering of the development of their relationship, if there's going to be any. They're still playing at being adversaries (at least Toby is...Tybalt is mostly just being cryptic) and that's getting a little old.

Admittedly, I wasn't thrilled with the way the story developed in regards to Luna, and am a little perplexed at the difference in her character from the first book to this one. Maybe I'm misremembering, but there seemed to be a lot of character inconsistency there. And frankly, I don't think nearly enough was done to address some of the things she did in this book. I also had some issues with May and the lack of resolution to that plot thread. She's great and all, and provided a lot of comic relief, but if that particular sword of Damocles is going to be hanging over Toby's head through the series it's going to make the whole series seem pretty fatalistic. And really, there's nothing more depressing than a suicidal heroine, no matter how passive/aggressive she is about it, so lets hope that's not a theme that's oft repeated.

In the end, there was much of this book that I liked very much and some that I wasn't all that crazy about. I still commend McGuire's imagination and her ability to make a reader such as myself, someone who tends to shy away from fae mythos, really dig the series as a whole. I can't say this was my favorite book of the first three, but I'm still quite fond of Toby, even with her peccadilloes and idiosyncrasies, yearn for more Tybalt, and have a lot of warm feelings for several other secondary characters. I also think this was the most streamlined plot and best technically written book in the series, even with the issues I had. I'm looking forward to returning to October Daye's world with Late Eclipses (October Daye, Book 4), which will be available March 1st, 2011.

October Daye Series:
Rosemary and Rue (October Daye, Book 1) A Local Habitation (October Daye, Book 2) An Artificial Night (October Daye, Book 3) Late Eclipses (October Daye, Book 4)

Dare to Believe by Dana Marie Bell

Genre: Erotic Paranormal Romance
Series: The Gray Court, Book 1
Rating: 2 Stars
Length: 200 Pages, 3764 Locations
Formats: Paperback, Kindle

Dare to Believe: The Gray Court, Book 1
Misses The Mark

For a good portion of his nearly century-long existence, Leo Dunne has been waiting and hoping to catch that one elusive scent that would bring love and joy to his life, the scent of the one person born just for him. When he caught scent of Ruby Halloway, saw her bent over a file cabinet in his company, he knew he wanted her desperately and thought she may be the one. Ruby, who has had a crush on Leo for ages, did what any shy girl would do when the object of her deepest desire focused on them...she ran away and hid.

For a year she's avoided him. For a year he's watched her and tried to get close. Finally, with the help of her best friend and all the charm he can muster, the alleged playboy gets Ruby right where he wants her, and when he tastes her lips for the first time he knows he was right. She's his. And there will be no more hiding or running.

Unfortunately, just finding his true mate isn't enough. He's still got to tell her he's fae, explain to her his Sidhe mother and leprechaun father. Gently introduce her into a world she couldn't possibly even dream about and explain the benefits and consequences. Before he can even get close to approaching that daunting task, however, his father calls with somber news. A rival family has kidnapped his brother and is holding him ransom. Leo doesn't need to ask what ransom they're asking for his brother's release. He already knows.

They want him.

Dana Marie Bell has kicked off this new series with a lot of potential and the backbone of an intriguing world and fun mythos, populating it with personable characters and a couple of neat plot twists. I've long been a fan of Bell and have read and enjoyed her Halle Pumas and Halle Shifters (looking for more of that one!) series, and am familiar with her writing style and characterizations. I particularly enjoy the humor that she injects and how adeptly she partners humor with stressful, sometimes threatening situations, to the benefit of the story as a whole.

She's done that here in Dare to Believe: The Gray Court, Book 1. I enjoyed Leo and was charmed by Ruby, who, despite her shyness and some issues with body image, was an appealingly silver-tongued quipster who was good for a cute, humorous line. Some of Bell's greatest strengths as an author lay in her abilities to write fun, bantering dialogue and provide appealing and individual character definition around a solid story concept or idea.

The depth and breadth of the plot suffers, though, by this book's shorter length. The narrative doesn't do much to flesh out the developing story and too much of it remains bare-boned to the point of emaciation. The pacing is disjointed, coming in forced fits and starts, not always clearly defined and suffering from several awkward transitions. Creating the world for the series, then stuffing a satisfying romance and a dangerous family threat together is a good idea in theory, but that's a lot of story and there just wasn't room to tell it all fully - to the detriment of the whole thing. Bell has the skill to tell a fully developed story that satisfies on all levels. She's done it before. Had she taken another 100 or so pages to fill out this story, she could have done so here.

Unfortunately, as it stands, the romantic couple comes together far too quickly for my personal tastes, Ruby accepts her new world and gets over a lifetime of insecurities far too quickly for my tastes, and the kidnapping plot thread starts, and ends, with far too little development and depth. What's most disappointing is that with the appeal of the characters, I wanted much more of them and was doubly disappointed for not getting it.

And then there's the sex.

I vacillated on how to classify the genre of this book. Technically, there's too much plot and story development for me to consider it erotica in the manner in which I normally make that determination. There are also, however, sex scenes far too graphic and unconventional to fit into a mainstream paranormal romance - or even an edgy paranormal romance. I don't mind that - I like erotica. The problem is, though, that in this book there is a sex scene that is so egregiously out of place and disparate from the tone of the romantic relationship, the character development, and the plot at the point it was introduced, that I found it jarring and distasteful when read in context.

~* Warning! There be Spoilers Ahead! *~

Consider the following: Ruby is very, very shy and sexually inexperienced. Leo has convinced her to go with him across the country because his brother has been kidnapped and he needs to be with his family. He's desperate for her as his mate but desperate to help his brother. He's nervous about telling Ruby he's not human and knows he still needs to do that. Ruby gets to his parent's house and not only is completely overwhelmed by the choices she made to get her to that point, but nearly has a fit when his parents put her in the same room with Leo. She's accosted by the family who kidnapped his brother and Leo bonds with her. The bonding knocks her out for two days and Leo is terrified for her. When she finally wakes up Leo is so relieved that he...grabs the small, sex toy-filled suitcase he brought with him (packing sex toys is, of course, the first thing I think about when I learn my brother has been kidnapped and know it's because of me), unpacks an alarming number of them, blindfolds and handcuffs Ruby to the bed, uses a feather duster, rabbit ear vibrator, and anal plug on her, then proceeds to introduce her to...enthusiastic anal sex in concert with the other toys.

Um...yeah...that didn't really work for me. On any level. At all.

Had it been a different couple, in a different scenario, at a different time, with a different story going on around them, it would have been a sexy good time had by all. Bell writes sizzling fun sex scenes. There were just way too many things that made that scene inappropriate for this book. When I combine that with the anemic plot development and disjointed pacing of the narrative, the potential of the book went unrealized and I ended up not caring for it. I liked the characters very much...but unfortunately it wasn't quite enough.

Venom by Jennifer Estep

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Elemental Assassin, Book 3
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 416 Pages, 5339 Locations
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

Venom (Elemental Assassin, Book 3)
Blanco's Back and Better Than Ever

Gin Blanco is, among other things, a retired assassin. What she's quickly coming to realize, however, is while retiring is easy, staying that way is much less so. That realization is quite literally beaten into her by the giant Elliot Slater, right hand thug of family annihilator and Fire elemental Mab Monroe, after Slater and two of his enforcers accost her on her college campus at the behest of Jonah McAllister, Mab's lawyer and left hand sleazebag. McAllister is trying to find out who's responsible for the death of his son, but Gin takes the beating both to protect her identity and to protect those who lied for her a couple of weeks ago when she used a party at Mab's to get close to a target. She ended up killing Jake McAllister before he could rape and murder her, instead.

Gin survives the vicious beating only to come face to face with her long lost sister Bria. Overcome by unexpected emotions and unwilling to introduce herself to her sister just yet, Gin retreats to get some perspective and information...and healing. Before she can make any moves in the sister direction, though, two friends turn to Gin and foster brother Finn for the sort of help only a spider can supply. It's the kind of help Gin is happy to offer, actually, as not only does she feel responsible for the situation in which the vampire Roslyn and, by extension, the giant Xavier find themselves, but some sadistic giants just deserve to get dead more than others so it's the mutually beneficial sort of pro bono work that the Spider just loves.

Tricky part is making sure her friends and loved ones don't get dead first.

In this third foray into the seedy underbelly of a corrupt Ashland, Jennifer Estep is starting to get her groove on with Gin and Company. Venom is a much more streamlined and well-plotted book than its predecessors, and the main and secondary characters are hitting their strides as they develop and expand their rolls in each book.

Gin has been the drawing force for my interest in this series since the beginning, and she was in her sarcastic, self deprecating, delightfully deadly element here. In fact, I find she's growing more and more likable while maintaining that killer edge that keeps her firmly off the side of angels but doesn't quite propel her into villain territory, either. The fact that she's an assassin is no secret - though she's 'retired' now (works more than most of the actively employed I've met, but still) - and she has no regrets or tedious crises of conscience to make her a character of pathos and angst (which would really annoy me). She's a strong, capable, wily predator with a wide protective streak for those few people she considers her family, with just enough emotional vulnerability and past tragedy to make her sympathetic. I've become very fond of her through the series.

I really enjoyed how the plot of this book developed and appreciated the fast-paced opening sequence. I thought first two books in the series dragged at the beginning, but from the first sentence, Venom drops readers into Gin's head just prior to her savage attack and it's pretty much a non-stop ride from there. The plot did have a couple of rough patches, left several questions unanswered, and offered up one or two unoriginal plot twists (she got the wrong sister...really?), but those few issues were easier to take when surrounded by solid story. There were also a few instances of characters doing stupid things that created unnecessary havoc, making questionable decisions and nonsensical choices that served little purpose but to set up the latter events in the story. That's normally a major peeve of mine but the resolution of the final conflict was satisfying enough to smooth out my feelings.

A couple of my biggest issues with the prior books did carry over to this one, though to a slightly lesser degree. Estep's tendency towards repetition in the narrative is one of the biggies. Is it really necessary for Gin to qualify the gin as bitter eight times in a chapter or two? Or remind readers about Gin's relationship with Fletcher every time his name is mentioned? And is there anyone who has read any of the books in the series who doesn't know by now that Fletcher and Finn drank/drink chicory coffee and that when Finn does, it reminds Gin of Fletcher? I keep hoping to see Estep advance beyond that habit for repetition before pounding her readers over the head with it, but so far, no luck.

My other significant issues with the first two books in the series, detective Donovan Caine's existence and the excessive exposition (if you read the second book, you didn't need to bother reading the first - it was practically rewritten in a condensed format in Web of Lies), were toned down in Venom. There's still room for improvement, as the combination of the excessive exposition and repetitive narrative compounds and amplifies both issues, but it's better than it was. As for Donovan Caine...he left in the last book and while his name comes up a lot, he - thankfully - doesn't. I didn't like him, haven't from the first book, and much prefer the more compatible alternative we spend time with in this book, Owen Grayson. Even though aspects of Owen's character are still a little rough and some a bit too convenient to be entirely plausible, when compared to the sanctimonious prig Caine, I have no complaints.

I'm pleased to see the direction this series is taking and the strides Estep has made with it. She long since charmed me with Gin Blanco as a heroine, but she's now also winning me over with a strong and clean plot that supports and complements her characters, along with improving technical mechanics and writing style. Venom is my favorite of the first three books, but I'm looking forward to Tangled Threads (Elemental Assassin, Book 4) which is slated for release on April 26, 2011. Long wait, I know, but I'm really starting to think Gin's worth it.

Elemental Assassin Series: 
Spider's Bite (Elemental Assassin, Book 1) Web of Lies (Elemental Assassin, Book 2) Venom (Elemental Assassin, Book 3)

Be My Baby by Meg Benjamin

Genre: Light/Comedic Romantic Suspense
Series: Konigsburg, Texas, Book 3
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 280 Pages, 6426 Locations
Formats: Paperback, Kindle

Gotta Love Those Toleffsons

Jessamyn Carroll fled Pennsylvania with her infant son when her rich and powerful mother-in-law made it clear that she was expected to bring the baby into the family fold...a fold that Jess's deceased husband had escaped years before he'd met and married Jessamyn. Mommy dearest will stop at nothing to get her grandson back - absolutely nothing, and Jess has taken refuge under her maiden name in Konigsburg, careful to keep her whereabouts a secret from the long reach of her mother-in-law. But making ends meet is tough for any single mother. More so when she's got to keep her head down and watch out for any potential threat.

Lars Toleffson is glad he moved down to Konigsburg after his two brothers, Cal and Pete, who are now both married and living happy lives with his new sisters-in-law. He's got willing baby sitters every time he turns around, but the stress of being a single father combined with his two year old daughter's...precocious nature (and the Mississippi is a small stream) is wearing on him. Now that his daughter's daily caretaker is moving, he's got to find someone else to watch her every day. Taking out an add in the paper for a new caretaker brings Jessamyn Carroll to his office.

The pretty Jess stirs Lars' juices, but a horrendous previous marriage and debilitating divorce keeps him firmly hands-off. Jess is as pretty as new sin and great as a caretaker, but his juices are just going to have stew for a little longer. At least until a stranger asking odd questions shows up in a town that doesn't feel too warmly about strangers and less so about presumptuous questions just before Jess' home gets broken into - twice - and she gets assaulted by the perpetrator. Before Lars even realizes it, protective instincts he hadn't counted on heat those stewing juices to a boiling point.

Welcome back to Konigsburg, Texas, tourist mecca and home to lots of quirky characters just a bit off from center. Since the Toleffson brothers showed up it's been one wild romance after another - and a true treat for happy readers everywhere. With each book, Benjamin has broadened and deepened the world of Konigsburg and the characters who populate it, improving stylistically with each turn. From a technical standpoint, I think Be My Baby is the most well rounded and developed of all the books, with a detailed plot, appealing, endearing characters, a steady, flowing narrative, and realistic dialogue, though Venus in Blue Jeans still wins my vote for the highest level of quirky character fun and humor.

The most serious of the first three books, Jess and Lars both have pasts that have scarred their hearts and impacted their daily lives, and tragedy has struck Jess in particular very deeply. The humor is more subtle and intermittent than in the previous books, though Konigsburg's finest still shine bright. Overall, the story maintains a nice balance between humor and suspense, and there are far fewer gaps in plot, timing, and transition than in the previous books in the series. I did, however, feel the ending was too slick and quickly wrapped up, with all the secondary plots threads getting tied off too cleanly. Lars' ex-wife Sherice, for example, went from being a plot thread to a footnote with jarring abruptness given the way that thread had developed. It was exceptionally anticlimactic, especially as I was hoping to finally see her get what she so richly deserves.

Still, I think Be My Baby is the most technically and stylistically well written and developed. Even with that, though, it's not my favorite of the Konigsburg books, for strictly subjective and personal preference-based reasons. In the end, I just wasn't as fond of Lars as I was of Cal and didn't think he had quite the scope of development through the story arc of book that Pete had in his. I liked him, but there just wasn't much about him that made his character really stand out for me. I felt similarly of Jess, but had the added problem of questioning her intelligence and logic in more than a few places. Maybe that's not something I should blame Jess for, but when she repeatedly turned down a safer haven closer to town because of her primary job and the promise she made to the vacationing owner, but contemplates just up and leaving town entirely when she fears her mother-in-law is closing in, I questioned her decision making. You can't move into town because of prior commitments...but leaving town is fine? That issue in particular seemed too much like author's choice to get the plot to a certain point, instead of organic character action. I also had a problem with the development of the romance between Lars and Jess. I read of their growing affection for each other and their hot little lust moments, but I never really felt there was any real fire behind it. I couldn't get fully on board with the romantic aspects of the relationship because of it.

I also had sort of an odd problem with Lars' daughter, Daisy. I freely admit that I have no kids and almost no experience with two-year-olds, but her dialogue and actions seemed to me to be advanced beyond her age and it kept tripping me up when she was in a scene. I could be totally off base with the cognitive and verbal abilities of a toddler, or she could be an atypical child, I know and acknowledge that. But even so, as I was reading, the issues I had distracted me when she was in the scene.

For those reasons, Be My Baby wasn't my favorite in the series, even though I recognize it's a more complete and balanced book with a more fully formed and realized plot. What hasn't changed, though, is my appreciation for Benjamin's Konigsburg, Texas series as a whole and my anticipated delight in reading the story of the final, and for me the most intriguing of the Toleffson brothers, Erik. Going hand in hand with the continuing improvement of the series, Erik is the most damaged and layered of all the brothers and the juxtaposition of those two things provide tremendous potential for a meaty, fun book. I can't wait to read his story in Long Time Gone: Konigsburg, Texas Book 4.

Squeeze Play by Kate Angell

Genre: Light/Comedic Romance, Sports Romance
Series: Richmond Rogues, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 308 Pages, 4375 Locations
Formats: Mass Market PaperbackKindle

Squeeze Play (Richmond Rogues, Book 1)
A Couple of Solid Base Hits and a Strike Out

Fresh off a World Series victory, Richard "Risk" Kincaid kidnaps his good friend Zen "Einstein" Driscoll and makes the long drive from Richmond to his hometown of Frostproof, FL. He goes to participate in a baseball benefit, but he plans to stay awhile. In fact, after years of being Jacy Grayson's rebound lover and good friend, he plans to make her realize that he loves her and has for a very long time. Since their senior year of high school he's been there for her whenever her love life goes awry, flying to her side to ease her pain with his body and his heart. Now he wants to be her love life - forever. But Jacy has a secret that she's kept for all these years. A secret she's kept from Risk. A secret that may turn him against her permanently.

Zen went along with Risk for the ride...not that he was given much choice. He didn't expect that ride to end in Frostproof, and he didn't expect to be wrangled into the weekend benefit event. When he met Stephanie "Stevie" Cole, though, things definitely started looking up. One thing you can say about Stevie...she gives good blow. She's a baseball stats phenom and a curvy, freckled darling. It's a pity her heart belongs to her high school sweetheart and rival Tampa Bay pitcher Aaron Grayson, Stevie's best friend Jacy's cousin.

Unfortunately, Aaron's been pulling away from Stevie for the last year. This baseball benefit has given her the perfect chance to spend some quality time with him in the hopes of re-sparking their relationship. The plan was going so well, too...right up until Aaron announces his engagement to another woman in front of Stevie and the whole town. Stevie is betrayed and devastated.

Zen offers Stevie his shoulder and helps her stand proud after her loss. Thing is, with Zen around, Stevie realizes she's not all that upset about Aaron. The humiliation of their public breakup notwithstanding, she starts to think that when it comes to Aaron, she dodged a fast ball. But Zen, for all his thoughtfulness and power of observation, doesn't believe she's quite over her old flame, and Stevie may not have time to convince him before he slips away.

This cute double header romance with a quirky and fun set of primary and secondary characters was mostly a pleasant read. I have to admit, I dislike baseball - a lot (my sports love is football). I was a little concerned that my anti-baseball sentiments would cause a problem during the book and am happy to say it didn't at all. Risk and Zen were charming heroes and I really enjoyed Jacy's vibrant individuality. I appreciated Stevie's less than perfect physique - it made her seem more realistic, but her self consciousness and constant worry about it wore on me after a while. I liked her, but just not quite as much as the others. The bat pack were, quite simply, awesome, especially Psycho. They added a lot of humor to the book.

I was not, however, even remotely enamored with Aaron and fiance Natalie Llewellyn as characters and I detested their storyline. It felt grossly out of place in a light romantic comedy and really affected my appreciation for the book as a whole. Aaron was a snake for how he treated Stevie, and Natalie should have had a house dropped on her. Then picked up and dropped again. Wasting any time reading about them annoyed me and the conclusion of their plot thread was disappointing.

If it hadn't been for them, I would have thoroughly and completely enjoyed this book. The double romance...triple if you add in Aaron and Natalie...did lessen the scope of the development that each was given, and overall I thought the arc of the Risk and Jacy romance was more complete and appealing than Zen and Stevie's, but I enjoyed them both. It's not a book to take too seriously and I wouldn't suggest spending too much time sweating the pesky details - some of which don't quite add up, but it's a light, comedic read that gave me a grin now and again and I was okay with that. Sensitive readers should be warned there are some unconventional sexual scenes and situations that some may find objectionable.

I have to admit, I do wish the books had a football backbone instead of baseball, but hey, I enjoyed most of the book and will be continuing the series with Curveball (Richmond Rogues, Book 2). Thankfully watching the World Series isn't required.

Ratings Guide

Here is a rundown of what the star ratings mean to me! It's not a perfect system, so you may see me add in a .5 star here and there if my impression of the book falls somewhere between these:

5 Stars - Loved it
4 Stars - Liked it
3 Stars - It's okay
2 Stars - Didn't like it
1 Star - Hated it

2014 Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Tracy has read 22 books toward her goal of 175 books.


Tracy's bookshelf: read

Zero at the BoneHead Over HeelsLord of the WolfynIn Total SurrenderA Win-Win PropositionNorth of Need

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