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Something About You by Julie James

Genre: Light/Comedic Romantic Suspense
Series: N/A
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 336 Pages, 4990 Locations
Formats: Paperback, Kindle



Something Seriously Good


Who would have thought that getting new floors in your home would lead to being a witness to a murder? Certainly not Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Lynde, but a night spent in a luxury hotel for that very reason did exactly that. At first, the enthusiastic - and loud - sexual marathon in the adjoining room was just an annoyance. She couldn't sleep with all the...um...racket. Then, not long after her neighbors had finally reached the...er...climactic portion of their evening and had fallen silent, Cameron's quick trip to dreamland was rudely interrupted by what she first thought was round two...but what turned out to be something far more sinister.

A call girl is dead, a married U.S. Senator is under suspicion, and Cameron is the only witness. Sleep deprived and shaken, there's not much more she can take, so coming face to glowering face with FBI agent Jack Pallas doesn't exactly make her day. Three years ago he shoveled up some verbal abuse of Cameron to a reporter in the events following the bust up of a case he'd spent two years undercover securing and the footage went national. The fact that he thinks she's the reason he was transferred to a crap detail in Nebraska following that debacle doesn't do much to endear him to her, either. Now that he's back in Chicago and lead investigator on this homicide, tossing words like "protective custody" around, Cameron can pretty much cross off the next little while for anything resembling fun, too.

She should have kept the old flooring.

Julie James has another charming hit with Something About You. A little more serious in tone than Just the Sexiest Man Alive and Practice Makes Perfect, this book still scores big on the fast, witty, sarcastic dialogue and solid, likable, and sympathetic lead characters. I'm particularly fond of James for her ability to write intelligent, successful heroines that don't trip over into angst or bitchiness to match wits with their men. Jack Pallas was slightly edgier than the leading men in her preceding books, with a bit of a dark side from his years undercover and the torture he survived at the hands of a criminal kingpin. He was a solid, steady force of nature and the chemistry between him and Cameron developed at an even pace that was believable and subtly woven into their present as they dealt with their past.

As I've come to expect from James, the narrative was smooth, the plot well paced, and the tension well timed as it rose towards the conclusion. I was impressed by a couple of action scenes that I felt were very well written and clearly defined without overwhelming me with detail. The relationship between Cameron and Jack was very well done, evolving and changing as the characters lives are altered by the case in organic ways, but never once losing any of the increasing intensity. Strong, appealing secondary and ancillary characters are also a staple of Julie James' work, and I loved Cameron's best friends and the outlying plot threads they added to the book. Jack's partner was also a source of much humor and wit and I appreciated him as a character, as well.

There were a couple of things that didn't totally work for me in the book. James writes fabulous romantic comedy, but it's hard to strike the right balance between humor and murder, and I'm not totally sure James pulled it off here. I kept feeling like the victim got sort of forgotten in the mess, and while I recognize that the main plot of the non-relationship aspect of the book is centered around keeping the witness alive while the case is being investigated, there seemed to be a prevailing disconnect between that and the fact that a woman was brutally killed. I ended up feeling like the victim was inconsequential. Even Cameron didn't seem to have much of a reaction and little to no lasting impact from hearing a woman get strangled and seeing the man who did it flee the scene. It never quite sat right with me.

The ending was another issue, though to a much lesser extent. I'm usually very appreciative of a book that ties up the loose ends and provides a bright, happy glimpse into a lead couple's Happily Ever After, but there were one or two aspects of that HEA in this book that seemed just the smallest bit too convenient or too neat - like Cameron's promotion and who offered it to her. Especially the scene between Cameron and the cheating senator. Nothing about that scene really worked for me, and given the number of politicians we've seen destroyed in the media over the last several years, it also didn't seem all that realistic.

Still, Something About You was a solid, fun read with a bit of a darker side than James' earlier two books. It definitely catapulted James onto my Buy Everything She Ever Writes list, just as I was expecting it would. There was a lot of humor, a ton of charm, and plenty of good, solid characterization in this book and I enjoyed it a lot. Her next book, A Lot Like Love, will be out March 1, 2011 and I fully intend to snatch it up as soon it comes out. I think I've built up a bit of an addiction to her books and am not relishing the wait until my next fix.

Match Me If You Can by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Genre: Light/Comedic Romance
Series: Chicago Stars, Book 6
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 416 Pages, 6126 Locations
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

Match Me If You Can
Tickled More Than My Funny Bone

She may be the black sheep of her uber-successful family, but Annabelle Granger marches to the beat of her own drum. She's taken over her grandmother's matchmaking business, renamed it Perfect for You, and is determined to make it successful. As part of the quest to do so, she's gotten one of her best friends to set up a meeting with one of the most eligible bachelors in town, rich, gorgeous sports agent, Heath Champion. Annabelle may not have the first clue why Heath would need to go to a matchmaker to find a wife, but he's contracted with a rival agency and Annabelle is convinced she can get him to become a client of hers if she just meets him.

And things go exactly as planned...sorta. Well, okay, not really. Champion is an arrogant, overly entitled workaholic jerk and his demands are ridiculously unreasonable. Still, he's made a small concession and Annabelle sets her sights on making the most of the opportunity he's granted.

He's also sexy as hell...not that she's given that any thought.

Heath Champion has risen from poverty and survived an abusive father to become a self-made and highly educated man. He's an excellent agent and he dedicates his life to his clients. Now that he's approaching thirty-five he figures it's time he finds a suitable wife, but with his schedule he hardly has time. So he does the most practical thing he can think of; he hires a matchmaking firm to do it for him. Limiting his introductory meetings to twenty minutes, the ladies of Chicago are brought to him one by one between phone calls and business dealings, and it's going moderately well, he thinks. Until Annabelle walks into his office, late, looking bedraggled, and spouting off about her own matchmaking abilities. Two working to find him a wife has to be - at least marginally - better than one, no matter how little faith he has in Annabelle's dubious skills. Something about her, though, challenges him, and her absolute lack of suitable subservience to him is appealing in its own right.

And she's sexy as hell...not that he's given that any thought.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips has a fantastic romp in Match Me If You Can. Heath and Annabelle are great lead characters, and their dialogue is sassy, sarcastic, and so very much fun. The chemistry between them, first as friends, then as lovers, is some of the best in the genre, and Phillips is particularly good at the slow but realistic development of the relationship between them. Each character has personal issues and a few inner demons that add some depth and angst to the story and provides opportunity for personal development, and the arc of the story is fleshed out nicely with a strong supporting case of secondary and ancillary characters.

While it could be said that the concept of the story borders on the silly, and the actions of both Annabelle and Heath sometimes tread the line between fantastic and farce, for a light read that's pure humorous enjoyment, this book has made it to the big game and delivered more than just nifty commercials.

I wish I'd been as pleased with the minor plot thread of the relationship between Bodie and Portia, but I had a hard time with that one. It just didn't work for me. Maybe if it had been given a bit more room to grow and the characters afforded more development I would have been able to buy into it more than I did. Instead, I found Portia to be largely irredeemable until close to the very end and there wasn't enough provided for me to find her sympathetic through most of the book. I liked Bodie well enough, but again, would have preferred to have seen a bit more of him to get a better handle on him as a character. There were some deep issues motivating Portia, and some juicy details about Bodie's past. I think they could have supported their own story much better in a longer format.

I wasn't totally sold on the conclusion of Match Me If You Can, either. The story was moving right along and getting to the meat of the central conflict between Heath and Annabelle, and things just went a little wonky. The inevitable blow up occurred a little abruptly and was resolved a little quickly for my taste given the depth of the issues each character has at the time. I appreciated the epilogue quite a bit, though, and the nifty way the book was wrapped up.

From strictly a story perspective, I wouldn't say Match Me If You Can is perfect, but it was solidly good and a lot of pure, fun entertainment. I know it's the sixth book of the Chicago Stars series, but it worked well as a stand alone. I haven't read the first five books, so I can speak with authority (albeit a subjective one) on that. I can also say I enjoyed this one so much that I went back to the beginning and purchased It Had to Be You so I could start the Chicago Stars series from the beginning.

Phillips has a smooth, pleasant writing style and creates likable characters, putting them into sizzling situations (though sometimes that sizzle comes from the hotheadedness of her characters), much to a reader's supreme enjoyment. I'm looking forward to spending much more time in the Chicago Stars world. Similarities exist between this series and Kate Angell's Richmond Rogues series - though that one is centered around baseball. I'll be interested in seeing how those similarities - and differences, too - evidence themselves as I progress with this series. I've enjoyed the Rogues series so far, and things are looking just as good, if not better, in Phillips' Chicago Stars series.

Only You by Deborah Grace Staley

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Angel Ridge, Book 1
Rating: 2 Stars
Length: 208 Pages, 2028 Locations
Formats: Paperback, Kindle

Only You
Tries Hard But Doesn't Quite Make It

They were nothing more than casual acquaintances when they were in school together as children, but there's always been something about Josie Allen, now Dr. Josie Allen, that Cole Craig hasn't been able to forget, despite her years away obtaining that high dollar doctoral education. Now she's back in Angel Ridge putting that education to work in running the prestigious local library, and Cole can't help but notice (and appreciate) that neither one of them are children any longer.

Josie is struggling with the state of the art library program she created and she's starting to panic. With a Memorial Day deadline looming and computers that crash whenever they're touched, she can't seem to make the upgrade work and it's making her crazy. As if that weren't bad enough, she's stuck with her family house and feeling suffocated by the pressure of and obligations to the rich and influential McKay matriarch, who financed Josie's post graduate education in exchange of her taking over the job at the library when she graduated. As a result, Josie's starting to feel like an indentured servant to the snobby old biddy. She doesn't have time to breathe, let alone spend time with Cole...no matter how fantastic a man he seems to have grown into. Not that Cole is going to let her work herself to death when he can do something to stop it.

He's a high school dropout from the wrong side of the tracks who works around town as a handyman. She's the daughter of one of the socialite families, highly educated and successful. It's a recipe for disaster, but Cole likes to stir things up and this woman's worth the storm.

Only You could have been a sweet southern romance but it stumbles out of the gate with a weak, underdeveloped plot and two dimensional lead characters who never quite felt real to me. The problems were compounded by cliched plot devices and secondary characters that are closer to caricature than to small town southern charm.

On the surface, Only You is an uncomplicated, too-cute romance about a guy who has loved a girl all his life and is just now able to catch her eye...and I would have preferred the book had it stopped there and simply focused on the issues between the characters as they grow together into a relationship. True, it may not have been the most complex story, but there's a lot to be said for simple in romances. Instead, external issues are brought in but never developed enough to be anything more than a distraction, nor did they show off the lead characters in much of a complimentary light.

I liked Cole well enough at first, but his flowery, overly expressive emotional responses to Josie when they started to click felt contrived and unrealistic. He was, though, my favorite of the two characters, because I found Josie to be hopelessly prosaic and immature for a woman who was supposed to be a highly educated, intelligent contemporary woman. Perhaps if this book was set up as a fifties era romance, her diffidence and the provincial reactions to the difference in the social status between she and Cole would have felt more organic, and her reactions to the town's interest and to Mrs. McKay's interference would have seemed less tragic.

And for a romance featuring a small southern town and its townspeople as a backdrop, there were way too many missed opportunities to establish a quirky individuality and capture the unique flavor of such wonderful slices of Americana.

There were a few glimmers of promise in Josie's elderly neighbor and Cole's friend Dixie, but they just weren't tied in to the central plot enough to be more than peripheral pleasures. I enjoyed them, though. And Cole wasn't so bad that I disliked him, either. Only You left too much room for improvement overall, though, and that was a shame.

Aphrodite's Kiss by Julie Kenner

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Protector, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 352 Pages, 7200 Locations
Formats: Paperback, Kindle

Aphrodite's Kiss
Lighter Than I Was Hoping For

Zoe Smith is almost twenty-five years old. Instead of preparing a party for the big day, however, she's struggling with insecurities, worried about telling her mother about her halfling nature (afraid that her Mom will spurn her like she did Zoe's father before she was born), and working on her superhero skills to try to pass whatever tests she needs to pass when she submits her application to the Venerate Council of Protectors. Only problem is, she's iffy at best with telekinesis, hasn't come close to mastering flying with the cloak, and if that wasn't bad enough, as her birthday gets closer and closer, the superhuman hypersensitivity of all her senses (most women are speaking metaphorically when they talk about the orgasmic effects of chocolate - Zoe, not so much) is getting harder and harder to control. Simply put, the elementary school librarian (even potential superheros need a secret identity) is a mess. So much so that one more straw on this heavily-laden camel's back may push her into choosing forfeiting her Protector heritage and accepting mortalization, giving up her abilities and all memories of her more-than-human heritage.

Camel, meet former police detective and current private investigator, George Bailey Taylor.

He's a little down on his luck and strapped for cash since stubborn pride pushed him to leave the force when a bullet in his leg ended his ability to do field work. The private investigations business isn't exactly booming. In fact, his current case has him spying on a seemingly faithful woman with a fine reputation at the behest of his client, the scum-sucking, thug-minded husband. The whole mess is making him feel dirty. That is, until he meets Zoe during a particularly low point of the job. Five minutes with her and he knows he'll never be the same.

Zoe fights her attraction to the mortal man, even though he makes her body and heart zing stronger than the best chocolate. Unfortunately, her problems only mount when her cousin Mordichai starts popping up, acting in ways that make no sense for a fellow Protector-in-training, and don't bode particularly well for Zoe's continued existence, either. She only has a short time before her birthday, but all the worries and insecurities may have been a mighty waste of time if she can't even make it to twenty-five, let alone survive it.

Quirky and unique, Aphrodite's Kiss has several things going for it. The narrative is smooth, the dialogue has a natural conversational flow, and the mythos offers up an interesting concept, though I found it to be sparsely defined and a bit undeveloped. The romance between Taylor and Zoe was cute and sweet, but a little protracted. As a character, though, Taylor was a pleasant blend of earnest good guy and clueless male. He's got a charming, sexy way about him, balanced with a truly decent and giving nature and a protective streak a mile wide. I liked him.

Zoe was a bit flighty, which is fine for the style and tone of the story, but she was also a little slow on the uptake sometimes and her waffling about telling her mother she's a halfling and in contact with her father and older half-brother got old very quickly, as did the should-I-shouldn't-I over her attraction to Taylor. She is, in a lot of ways, an innocent. A bit naive and too trusting. Uncomplicated. Her provincialism was cute at first, but started to wear on me long before the end. Kick ass heroine who can handle herself in all situations she is not. I would have preferred it had she been more so.

The plot was my biggest problem with the book. I felt the central conflict was slow to develop and unevenly paced, and the transitions between the protagonist and antagonist threads were rough. The tone was so disparate that I found it difficult to peg just how to take the threat level. On one hand you have the hypersensitive Zoe and her wacky and wonderful friends and sweet potential romance. On the other you have a megalomaniac Outcast coldly but intently planning the death of a relative and the conquering of the world. Then the final conflict and denouement came...and went...with a startling about face and a few too many neat plot thread wrap ups.

The strongest pluses for the book were the characters, Taylor in particular, but also a nice mix of secondary and ancillary characters that added humor and poignancy to the story. I wish we'd had more page time with several of them, but I enjoyed Zoe's best friend and thought her brother was introduced quite nicely, even though he wasn't utilized as much as I'd hoped.

Despite my issues, this wasn't a badly written book. I just wish there had been more substantive development of the mythos and a more balanced tone. I would have enjoyed reading more about the Protectors and their role in the world had that been the case. Unfortunately, the biggest stumbling block for me with this book was that the light paranormal/superhero romance just wasn't to my reading tastes. Neither the stylistic choice of mixing quirky fun with serious threat or the subject matter of the sparsely explained superheros did much for me, and the female lead occasionally tried my patience. Taylor was a doll, though. No argument from me on that one.

Samson's Lovely Mortal by Tina Folsom

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Scanguards Vampires
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 266 Pages, 4594 Locations
Formats: Paperback, Kindle

Samson's Lovely Mortal: Scanguards Vampires
Nice Series Opener Despite Some Caveats

Vampire Samson Woodford is a rich, powerful, debonair male who owns a nationwide security company that has both vampire and human interests. He also has a bit of a problem with erectile dysfunction and despite the psychiatric help he's reluctantly receiving, there seems to be no help in that area. To say he's frustrated would be a gross understatement on every level.

Forensic accountant Delilah Sheridan is an independent contractor from New York. She's in San Francisco auditing a private company's financial records and has been burning the candle at both ends since she arrived a few days ago, investigating some discrepancies she's discovered. Leaving the office late one night, she stops for some take out and gets caught in a downpour. She gets a little turned around in the rain in her rush back to the company condo in which she's staying, and before she can find her way, she's attacked by a scarred, hulking brute of a man that comes at her from a dark alley. Delilah manages to escape, racing to the nearest house she can find and pounding on the door before falling into the arms of Samson Woodford when he opens it.

Confusion and mistakes abound, and Samson, thinking Delilah is the stripper his good friends have gotten him for his birthday, takes advantage of the situation to kiss the wet and slightly bedraggled human - and is stunned when his body responds with much enthusiasm. He is stunned again when he realizes that Delilah is, in fact, not a stripper, but a woman in need of his help. Not the most auspicious of beginnings, for sure.

Focused on his body's response to her, and as it turns out, only her, he sets out to charm the human and release his sexual frustrations. But just when he realizes that his interest in the human extends beyond physical gratification and into something much deeper, he's beset by an old enemy out to take everything from him - including Delilah. Saving her life may come at the cost of her feelings for him when she finds out he's technically her boss...and not human.

Samson's Lovely Mortal has a decent, if slightly formulaic paranormal romance plot, but it is in the details that Tina Folsom's series starts to shine. I really enjoy what she's created with the vampires with issues - and impotence is one dastardly issue - and the glimpse into the various psychosis that draw them to seek therapy. She also adds a nice touch of humor (the shrink's couch is a coffin!) here and there that lighten up the tone of the book.

Samson is a strong romantic lead, with just the right touch of self assured arrogance overlaying vulnerability. I found him surprisingly layered with his insecurities about women and his inability to perform. His obliviousness to the depth of his feelings for Delilah was thankfully brief, and his mangled approach to it was at turns charming and cute. I was less pleased with Delilah, who I just didn't find all that interesting a character, but I'm used to favoring the alpha males over the female leads so that's not much of a surprise. I did like some of her development in the latter part of the book, and she didn't annoy me as so many do, so that's a plus.

The plot was well conceived and flowed nicely from point to point through the book after what was an extremely abrupt and awkward opening chapter. There were, however, several grammatical issues and some other errors that should have been caught. The narrative lacked a bit of polish as a result. Band Aid is a name brand for adhesive bandages, not what bandages themselves are called, for example, and fingernails don't have sockets from which they can be pulled. On the other hand, the dialogue had a nice conversational flow despite some word tense issues and some misplaced words.

The sex scenes were well written, and to my preference of being described with adult language as opposed to being couched in flowery euphemism. They were graphic, but not exceptionally explicit, in my opinion. There were several of them (that's information, not a complaint) but they never overwhelmed the plot or knocked the flow of the story off balance. At least not the sex scenes between Samson and Delilah. There was one between two secondary characters that, while well written, I felt seemed unnecessary to the plot and out of place in context. As a result, it seemed to serve a purpose only for titillation - especially considering the nature of the sex - and while I believe that has its place, it did nothing for me in this instance.

There are a lot of good points to Tina Folsom's series starter. I've purchased the second in the series, Amaury's Hellion, and as readers have been introduced to his issues in this book, I'm actually quite interested in seeing how they're worked out and who the lucky lady will be who will stir his emotions. Samson's Lovely Mortal may not have been flawless, but it was a solid start to a potentially very imaginative series, despite the issues. I'm quite glad I stumbled across it and look forward to seeing the series continue.

Just the Sexiest Man Alive by Julie James

Genre: Light/Comedic Romance
Series: N/A
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Length: 320 Pages, 6057 Locations
Formats: Paperback, Kindle

Just the Sexiest Man Alive [JUST THE SEXIEST MAN ALIVE] [Mass Market Paperback]
A Right Good Time

Jason Andrews has been voted The Sexiest Man Alive, and no woman under the age of 80 would argue against him being the hottest, most well known A-list actor out there. He is, of course, rather fond of being top of the heap. He runs through women as quickly and as casually as he changes his underwear, has entitlement issues larger than that big canyon in Arizona, and when he and his ego go somewhere, they need a stadium to fit comfortably. Like the one in Ann Arbor.

Needless to say, Jason's thrown a little off stride when he's completely blown off by gorgeous lawyer Taylor Donovan when he finally deigns to show up to the meeting that one of his people had arranged for the prior week. So what that he was supposed to show up Thursday, and again on Friday? The casinos in Vegas had been calling his name and he was entitled to have a little fun. How dare the sixth year Chicago associate, in LA to try a big case for her firm, not make time for him when he's ready for her to help him with his next role. And how dare she not only walk out on him after putting him rather neatly in his place, but repeatedly refuse to respond to his attempts to contact her after their less than pleasant initial meeting.

Does she have any idea who he is?

Taylor does, actually, know exactly who the superficial, self absorbed, womanizing prat is - and she has no time for the "Actor" with all his entitlement and ego issues. Unfortunately she's in LA, so when Andrews' publicist contacts her boss, there's absolutely nothing Taylor can do but work with the insufferable (though, admittedly gorgeous) man.

One is the unstoppable force, the other is the immovable object, and when Jason sets his sights on the titanium-skinned Taylor, something is either going to give, or break into the sort of pieces that even all the king's horses and men can't put back together again.

A slick, sassy narrative with a strong, intelligent female protagonist who takes no crap and who has a solid head on her shoulders really sets this Julie James romance apart from a full pack. I thoroughly enjoyed Taylor's grounded and sharp-witted personality and appreciated how she was so firmly entrenched in the real world even as she disabused Jason of his ideas on his. Wounded from a past relationship, I liked how James incorporated that ding to her pride into a genuine fear when things between Taylor and Jason turn serious. It added depth and a realistic dimension to the romance.

It took me quite a while to warm up to Jason as anything more than a punchline, and the portrayal of his inflated idiocy and adolescent behavior, combined with the sleazy machinations of up-and-comer actor Scott Casey, provided a harsh commentary on the brittle fantasy of popularity and did little to recommend actors or LA to the romantic-minded. I was, however, highly amused at the parallels between Casey's breakout role and that of Legolas for Orlando Bloom. There were lots of tongue-in-cheek moments to be had there.

Just the Sexiest Man Alive lacked a bit of the laugh out loud comedy of James' Practice Makes Perfect, but it had more sardonic humor with a bit more bite to it. I enjoyed both books and fully intend to keep going with the most recent of Julie James' work, Something About You. I have found myself genuinely and delightfully entertained by James' smooth, polished writing style and completely appreciate the witty, sassy dialogue and the solid, three dimensional, realistic characters (even when that "realism" is Hollywood fake). True, I would have liked to have seen a bit more depth given to Jason in this book, though maybe that would have started to tiptoe into the waters of cliche. But even at the end the actor still seemed in need of some humility and I would've liked to see a bit broader redemption for him.

I was completely entertained, though, regardless of a few minor issues or slight preference differences. I'm just a book away from putting James on my instant-buy list. If I like Something About You nearly as much as I have this one and Practice Makes Perfect, I just may have found another preferred author for light romantic comedy.

Milrose Munce and the Den of Professional Help by Douglas Anthony Cooper

Genre:Young Adult Fantasy
Series: Milrose Munce, Book 1
Rating: 5 Stars
Length: 224 Pages, 2907 Locations
Formats: Paperback, Kindle

MILROSE MUNCE AND THE DEN OF PROFESSIONAL HELP
Brilliant

Milrose Munce is an exceptional young man. At fifteen-years-old, he finds school mostly a bore, as he usually knows the material before...and much better...than the teachers. He relies on his closest friends...the gruesome, ghoulish ghosts of dead, and obviously, former students to entertain him during his educational experience. They're rather good at it, after all.

Unfortunately, Milrose's extraordinary behavior...and his habit of slapping his dead friends (invisible to everyone else) on the back and chatting amicably (to seeming nothingness) with them, has been noticed by various Powers That Be. Suddenly, Milrose's winsome, witty world is thrown off balance and he's being conscripted to the bowels of the school and relegated to endure Professional Help. A more ominous phrase Milrose Munce has never heard.

His trepidation is well placed, as he and another extraordinary student, Arabella Smith, quickly realize that Professional Help is handled nowhere near professionally, nor in any way is it to be helpful to their continued existence. Milrose Munce and Arabella Smith must hope for a far more ghoulish contingent to come to their rescue.

I loved this book. Despite being considered a young adult novel, and me being several miles past the "young" exit on life's highway, I both thoroughly enjoyed, and was consistently impressed with this smart, sharp, weird, wonderful - and gruesomely descriptive book. Oh, and it's funny, too. Genuinely, sickly, fabulously funny. Milrose was a joy of a lead character and Arabella was a fantastic sardonic counterpoint to his sarcastic point. The narrative was so intelligently written and the plot so deceptively simple that the characters were really able to shine to diamond brilliance.

I can't say enough about how much pleasure I had reading this. In point of fact, I didn't really expect it to appeal to me, but from the first sentence, and definitely the first paragraph, I was drawn in and gripped by the perfect peculiarity of it all. It was, in truth, rather difficult to look away (like a truly spectacular train wreck - but in only the best ways) from the first to the last. Cooper really showed off some impressive writing chops with this one. I'd be very interested in seeing his take on a more adult-themed novel. Taking Milrose Munce as evidence, it's quite clear his ingenuity and originality comes from a place a little left of center. It was charmingly gruesome and delightfully entertaining in every facet. I loved it.

Practice Makes Perfect by Julie James

Genre: Light/Comedic Romance
Series: N/A
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Length: 304 Pages, 4823 Locations
Formats: Paperback, Kindle

Practice Makes Perfect (Berkley Sensation)
Delightfully Entertaining

For eight long years Payton Kendall and J.D. Jameson have been professional adversaries and fellow associates at a prestigious Chicago law firm. Payton thinks J.D. is a supercilious jerk, J.D. thinks Payton is an ultrafeminist liberal shrew. They dislike each other with equal fervor and have spent the past eight years sniping, snarking, and jawing at each other...in private, of course, as to do so publicly would hardly be professional. Consistently trying to one-up each other (seriously, what other reason would Payton set her alarm for the ungodly hour of 5:30 a.m. if it wasn't to beat J.D. into the office?) they've taken professional competition to an art form and were quite settled in that routine as they worked their obscene schedules, both on the cusp of being made partner.

When the firm that they have both poured their blood, sweat, and tears into, however, announced that only one of them would make partner and the other would be shown the door, the two long-time rivals are forced to take a second look at their spitfire relationship. With their firm as the new object of their horror and angst, suddenly the differences between them aren't nearly as annoying as they have always been...and that's about when the sparks not only start to fly between them, but pretty much erupt into a massive conflagration.

Julie James has created a highly entertaining romantic comedy that is rich and full bodied, with a lightning quick dialogue of quips, cracks, and competition, and a smooth narrative that rockets along at a breakneck pace. Without doubt, this is one of the most entertaining light contemporary romances that I've read all year. Admittedly, I have a special fondness for enemies-turned-lovers romantic comedies, so I was predisposed to enjoying this little gem, but above and beyond that, Practice Makes Perfect is the real deal.

The dialogue is genuinely funny, the situations that Payton and J.D. get themselves in are a riot, and the backbone of the story included some depth for the characters and provided a surprising amount of explanation for the driving forces behind these career-driven rivals. Both Payton and J.D. are tops in their games, both intelligent, and both charmingly flawed...but not grievously so. They make excellent protagonists, and never so much as when they're fighting with each other and...well...when they're not.

I wasn't totally convinced in the main conflict of the firm's decision to only take one partner, and not being in the legal profession, I don't know how realistic it is that one would have to leave the firm after eight years of dedicated and exceptional work (that sucks a lot, by the way). The conflict seemed a bit odd given that the story had already established that there were only Payton and J.D. left in the class eligible for partnership and that each year previously, the entire class had made partner. Even with the judgment that the firm decided to preemptively address, taking only one when in the past it had always been more than that seemed a little like manufactured conflict for the purpose of creating angst instead of organic development of the characters' lives.

And okay, there were two instances where the competition between Payton and J.D. tiptoed over that line between hijinks and flagrant, adolescent immaturity, but...I, um...still thought they were pretty darn funny. And I can't say enough for just how perfect the chemistry was between them. It sizzled and it smoldered, and even had moments of sweet tenderness. I was also pleased by the moments of insecurity that each character showed and how dealing with those insecurities added another level of cohesiveness to their relationship.

This was my first experience with a Julie James book and not only will it not be my last, but as soon as I finished this one, I quickly purchased her earlier work, Just the Sexiest Man Alive. I was thoroughly satisfied and completely entertained by Practice Makes Perfect. It was the perfect light, funny read and just what I needed for some pure enjoyment. Great stuff.

Sixty-One Nails by Mike Shevdon

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Courts of the Feyre, Book 1
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 528 Pages, 7090 Locations
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle

Sixty-One Nails: Courts of the Feyre, Book 1
Too Much...And Not Enough

Niall Petersen died one morning in the London Underground as he scrambled to make it to work. Fortunately for him, it wasn't a permanent condition. Less fortunate, his new life has takes a turn to the surreal. Rescued...resuscitated...re-something by a mysterious and slightly querulous older woman who calls herself Blackbird, speaks of incomprehensible things, and spouts dire warnings at random, Niall can hardly wait to get away from her and get back to his average, normal life. Until the proof of Blackbird's wild admonitions becomes irrefutable, Niall intended to do just that. But about that proof...

Blackbird isn't strictly human, and neither is Niall. Blackbird gives him the quick and dirty bone up on his true heritage as a Feyre/human hybrid. Along with that magical yet dubious heritage comes some inherent and grisly risk, namely the threat of the Untainted, the Seventh Court of Feyre, who hunt down and kill half-breeds such as himself out of a deep arrogance and disgust for the mixed race children.

Niall's life as he knew it was over, and now, as Rabbit, he would spend the rest of his life hiding from those who would kill him, hoping one of the other Courts would allow him to swear allegiance. He figured life couldn't get much grimmer than that...until he and Blackbird stumble onto a plot by the Untainted to bring down the barrier that keeps most of the Untainted in a different world, unable to wreak havoc on the Courts and the humans alike. If the barrier falls, more than just Niall's life would be over - so would everyone else's.

While Sixty-One Nails: Courts of the Feyre, Book 1 is normally the sort of book that's right up my alley, I had a very hard time getting into, then through this one. Technically sound, with an interesting concept and well developed world, I kept getting mired down in the plodding pace and lack of emotional expression of the characters. 

I applaud Shevdon's creativity and the blending of historical and fantastical, which lent the book a weighty sincerity and sense of realism, but the combination of bland characters, overwhelming description, and excessive detail kept me from really enjoying the good points.

Niall was pretty solid as an Everyman bloke; he was about as mundane a character as I've ever read. Normally, that would be an appealing trait as he gradually became more and more aware of the full nature of the world around him, but he was so intensely lacking in almost all emotional expression, I couldn't quite connect to him or feel much for his plight. Even in situations when terror would be the expected response, there just wasn't all that much offered in the way of his feelings. Admittedly, part of that could be the British stiff upper lip and intended for that character, but it didn't make my reading any easier. Blackbird was the more flamboyant of the two, but again, there just wasn't much in the way of emotional expression for her either.

What the book lacked in emotional expression, though, it more than made up for in an overabundance of description. Every step - some racing, most plodding - of the journey that Blackbird and Rabbit embark on is laid out in sometimes excruciating detail that slowed down the pacing of the plot and leached the impact from what could have been the action-packed moments. And I felt like I was plodding right along with them. No more effected by their increasingly dangerous circumstances than they seemed to be. With just as little sense of urgency.

There were some plot points that I struggled with, like why - if it was so important that the Untainted stayed in their own dimension - didn't the half breed Blackbird go to her Court when she realized what the problem really was and how over their heads she and Rabbit (Niall) had gotten? I would think a potential world-ending disaster would be something for which you'd request help, especially as they were the other six Courts set up that barrier in the first place. And I'm still not sure how Rabbit's responsibilities shifted so significantly from "stay alive" to "save the world," and never quite bought into the convenient plot thread of prognosticated images given to him by a mysterious Feyre with little backstory guiding him on his ill-defined path. That seemed a little cliched to me.

Rabbit's ability to wield his magic so effectively on more than one occasion also gave me pause once or twice. He seemed just a step or two behind Blackbird, when in truth he was several hundred years her junior and didn't even believe in magic just a heartbeat or so ago. It also seemed like there was a contradiction in how difficult it was for members of the Seventh Court to get to our realm and at their victims, even taking into account the weakening of the barrier. At the beginning Blackbird was pretty sure about what the Untainted could or couldn't be able to try in their killing quest for Rabbit, and the results of her actions seemed to bear that out, only to have that break apart just a day or so later when the two Untainted come and go with apparent ease down in the tunnels. If the weakened barrier was solely responsible for the change, then I'm not sure why they had to check out what was down there. There were a couple of other, similar but smaller plot holes - or questions about potential plot holes - that that stuck out as I was reading, as well.

In truth, though, those issues were relatively minor for me and I would have easily overlooked them if not for one thing. Despite the deft world building, and Niall being a likable, if a bit bland character, and Blackbird being uniquely coy and at times mercurial, the overall impression I got from the book was feeling overwhelmed by the sheer, seemingly interminable length of it. A length that bordered 'epic' but didn't garner the same visceral response as such.

Had the volume been ruthlessly paired down to summarize or quick-step through the less significant parts of the trials and tribulations of Rabbit and Blackbird, the action sequences more closely spaced, and the emotions of the characters incorporated into their definition and development, I would have felt far different about this book and anxious to read more. As it stands, I just don't know if I can.

House of Dark Shadows by Robert Liparulo

Genre: Horror, Young Adult
Series: Dreamhouse Kings, Book 1
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 304 Pages, 1910 Locations
Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle

House of Dark Shadows (Dreamhouse Kings Series, Book 1)
Not for Me

Fifteen-year-old Xander King wasn't at all happy to move from his home and friends in L.A. to a nowhere town in northern California. He felt like he was being exiled and made his displeasure well known to his parents. It didn't alter the fact that he found himself, along with his twelve-year-old brother David and nine-year-old sister Toria, shuffled off to Pinedale looking at houses with their parents. Until one morning, when one of the houses seemed to look back.

Xander felt the wrongness of the house...where sounds come from odd places and his family isn't always where they are supposed to be, but before he can formulate an objection, his father has purchased the house and they are moving in. Not even the history of the house, where thirty years previous a mother was ripped away from her family and the remaining family disappeared without a trace, dissuaded the Kings from the relocation.

As Xander and his brother explore the house and mysterious occurrences keep piling up, the house takes on a darker aspect and the danger increases, but ultimately it is a family secret that puts every one of the Kings at serious risk.

Creepy and atmospheric, Robert Liparulo kicks off this young adult horror/adventure series with gusto, blending a smooth narrative with a gift for story that is often genuinely disturbing and - admittedly - scary. Xander is a sympathetic young hero and his relationship with his brother David is one of the high points of the book. They are realistic in their curiosity and often casual disregard for danger, and the adolescent honesty of emotional expression was also very well represented.

Unfortunately, there were a few things that seriously impacted my enjoyment of the book. The Dreamhouse Kings Series seems to be, and this is strictly based on the first book, less episodic and more series-centric. In other words, House of Dark Shadows isn't a self-contained book with its own completed plot arc. Rather it seems to be the first chapter of the arc of the entire series, and as such it introduces you to the characters and conflict, but doesn't resolve anything. In fact, events just preceding the end lean me towards considering it a cliffhanger ending. It's not badly done, and the book ends at a point that felt natural instead of abrupt, but I loathe cliffhangers and I don't like many series-centric series. It's a style that just doesn't appeal to me (with one or two notable exceptions).

The other thing that bothered me is more plot-related than style-related. While I do believe the story to be scary and the characters likable, their actions left a lot to be desired. I expect a bit of dunderhead behavior from kids, but even with that, there were several times when the actions of Xander and David were on par with those of B-grade horror movie victims for their apparent lack self preservation. And I felt the entire premise and every action of their father's was unconscionable, unthinkable, and lacking in common sense. Towards the end I just wanted to smack him. Hard. Repeatedly.

I also felt that there weren't many surprises in the plot (the "big reveal" was neither big nor revealing when it happened), the pacing dragged a bit at the beginning and again in the middle, and there was an unexplained disparity between Xander's original reaction to the house and his latter curiosity for it. The lack of resolution, the cliffhanger, and the questionable character actions, though, were what really put me off.

I think that the series will have a wonderful following and even with the issues I had, I'll admit...it's the first book I've read in a very, very long time that creeped me out that much. The opening prologue was gut wrenching and powerful and there were others that were hair raising. That being said, and strictly because my preferences lie elsewhere, I just don't think that this series is for me.

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

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