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Read any good books lately? I have! Grab a cup of coffee or a beverage of your choice and sit back, relax, and have a peek at the books I've loved, the books I didn't, and the reasons why. Enjoy, and happy reading!

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~Tracy

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Moonlight & Mechanicals by Cindy Spencer Pape

Genre: Steampunk Romance
Series: Gaslight Chronicles, Book 4
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 176 Pages
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.




Really Loved Wink

Inspector Liam McCollough has captivated Winifred "Wink" Hadrian since she was fifteen years old. Though her strengths lie with all things mechanical, even she could see the haunted loneliness in his eyes the day her adoptive parents wed. It has been enough to make her yearn to be the one to soothe that ache. She just had to grow up first.

Unfortunately, when she finally does, Liam has other ideas.

Wink deserves someone far better than he, safer and more stable, and Liam knows that the beast inside him is none of those things. One of his best friends, however, is. He's a Knight of the Round Table and would make Wink the perfect husband.

Maybe once she's married Liam will finally stop dreaming of her. That is if he can control the possessive fury that stirs his beast whenever he sees her with another man.

It becomes obvious that fate has other things in store for them both when Wink comes to him for help after the son of a friend from her old life goes missing. The investigation throws them into very close and frequent contact even as it uncovers some disturbing facts about odd disappearances all over the city. As the tension mounts and the danger rises, Liam is finding it harder and harder to imagine his life without Wink in it...but the threat to crown and country could result in just that.

~*~

Starting a series anywhere but at the beginning is always a crapshoot, but Pape did a nice job with the plot of this book. The main story arc was layered and suspenseful, and any series arc elements remained ancillary to the external conflict and the romance. While I did feel a lack of emotional connection to some of the secondary characters who had obviously been previously introduced in the series, it didn't at all negatively impact my ability to understand the world or follow the story.

I will admit, some aspects of the world and story struck me as a little odd, but that's not uncommon when I jump into an existing series somewhere in the middle. I think that's just a result if missing out on the learning curve and detailed explanation of mythos that generally builds in the first few books in a series.

I will say, the more I read in the steampunk genre, the more I enjoy just about everything about it. In this one Pape had a goldmine in Wink, who was exactly my sort of female protagonist. Keenly intelligent, impatient with society's limitations, free-thinking and spirited, she's great. By far my favorite character in the book.

Liam, though he had his charms, wasn't quite as appealing to me. In his defense, he had his reasons (such as they were), but there's little that annoys me faster than a guy who makes unilateral life decisions for the woman he's interested in. As a source of relationship conflict, it's not one that works for me, so Liam's attempts to get Wink married to his friend frustrated more than it entertained, even as I got a chuckle whenever he got growly about seeing them together.

The issue with the friend persisted long into the book, too, seriously impinging on the evolution of the romance between the main characters. As a result, it felt like there was a severe lack of any significant romance in general, with the vast majority of the plot focusing on the investigation into the rash of disappearances. Those were some dark, ominous, suspenseful threads that I enjoyed for most of the book, but the lack of romance disappointed.

I did think the story bogged down a bit as it started to approach the climax, the mystery elements loosing a little suspense as the lack of answers dragged on and on. The climax itself also had some elements that I couldn't quite connect to. It was really the first time I felt not reading the earlier books had noticeable impact on my appreciation of the read.

Though not without its issues, I still enjoyed much of this book, and I have a renewed appreciation for Pape, whose work I was previously only marginally familiar. She's an author to keep an eye on in the steampunk genre. Her authorial voice and the definition in her female protagonists are a boon for me as a reader, and I'm greedy with things like that. I look forward to more.

Men of Smithfield: Seth and David by L.B. Gregg

Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance; LGBT
Series: Men of Smithfield, Book 2
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 101 Pages
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



Second Trip to Smithfield

It was supposed to be a simple weekly massage, routine and uneventful, albeit relaxing and the only thing that has provided Seth Weston any relief from the tension in his life. His twin sister, dead. Her six-year-old daughter, Molly, now his to raise. His former boyfriend, gone...along with most of his money. All of that is constantly grinding together into a mountain of stress that buries him deep on a daily basis.

So he needs that massage.

He got a lot more than he bargained for when his normal masseuse was unavailable and the young, fey-looking David Cooke took her place. Gorgeous the young man may be, but too out there, too wild in clothing, style, and temperament to be taken even remotely seriously. And Seth is all about taking things seriously.

At least he always has been, until the massage David provides ends in a much more...relaxing (for Seth) manner than either men had been anticipating. David, on the other hand, was less than amused. And if it had been any less explosive for Seth, he would probably be mortified. Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Honestly, all Seth truly cared about was making sure David became his new weekly masseur, regardless.

He didn't expect to keep running into the young man every time he turns around, though, and he sure didn't expect to feel such an irresistible attraction to someone so obviously ill-suited for him. But expectations aside, the more time he spends with David, the more Seth starts to wonder if the a man so obviously Mr. Wrong in every way that's ever mattered to him before may just be the one and only man he truly needs.

~*~

There were so many very good things about this second installment of Gregg's Men of Smithfield series. I think, overall, it's a smoother, more defined story with the sort of depth and attention to detail that I felt was lacking in the first. There was also another small suspense thread that had marginally more impact on the overall story than the one in the first book.

And of course the sex in this one was just as hot, if not hotter.

David was a total doll from start to finish, and Molly was a cutie-pie. Gregg did a great job with her character, incorporating some of the long-term effects of childhood loss and balancing them nicely with the natural resiliency of children. It made Molly seem very authentic, and she was a delightful presence in the narrative. I just wish I was able to warm up to Seth.

I can appreciate that he was intended to be a flawed character. His being a sanctimonious, judgmental, elitist, standoffish prick was intentional. I get that. The problem for me was both the first impression he made in the massage parlor and the persistence and frequency with which he made such a flagrant ass out of himself. By the time I factored in his unrelenting self-absorption, his character held little appeal, and I grew more and more annoyed with him as the story progressed.

Don't get me wrong, I felt for his losses and wanted to sympathize with the guy, but his character didn't exactly leave a lot of room for sympathy. And where flawed characters tend to be redeemed by the end of a story, especially in romance, I think in Seth's case it was too little too late for my taste. Frankly, I kept wishing David would just put his foot down and really let Seth have it for all the criticism and offense Seth gave the poor guy.

Because Seth was such a jerk for so long in the story, the romance suffered and ultimately failed to touch me the way that Mark and Tony's did in the first book. For all that this story was, in my opinion, a more well-rounded and fully developed tale than its predecessor, my issues with Seth kept it from being as entertaining as I was hoping.

There's no disappointment with the amount of sizzle, though. Smithfield, too, maintained its charm as the perfect quirky backdrop for this very quirky series. With the stronger storytelling this book provides, I have high hopes for the next in the series and look forward to my next stop through town.

Men of Smithfield  Series:

  

Men of Smithfield: Mark and Tony by L.B. Gregg

Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance; LGBT
Series: Men of Smithfield, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 114
Formats: Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Carina Press via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.



A Fun, Sexy Revisit

If Mark Meehan had known that finding his boyfriend banging their landlord in their bed would end up being just one of the many, many transgressions Jamie's made against him, Mark would have used something far more substantial than a bible to bash him over his cheating head during that Ash Wednesday mass he thoroughly disrupted. On the bright side, finding out Jamie had also stolen him blind definitely helped push Mark through that annoying grief process.

Normally even-tempered, an utterly betrayed Mark goes off the deep end and keeps right on going. So much so that his actions are a little...extreme. But again he underestimates Jamie, and suddenly Mark is very glad he has a friend in Smithfield Police Officer Tony Gervase.

Though, to be honest, Mark has always wanted Tony as more than a friend.

As Jamie's actions become more and more threatening and Tony comes to his rescue more than once, the sparks between Mark and Tony start flying hot and hard. Maybe after all these years of pining for the cop he's loved since high school, Mark will finally have a chance...and Jamie's betrayal will turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to them both.

~*~

I think it was 2009 when I first read and enjoyed this book in its Gobsmacked incarnation. Now it's got a hot new cover, a more appealing title (subjectively speaking, anyway - I've always loved the word 'gobsmacked' and thought it fit nicely as the title), and the story has been gussied up a bit (honestly, I didn't really notice a difference, but it's been several years) to spearhead the re-release of the previously released titles and the continuation of the series. That was very happy news for me as a reader, as I have fond memories of Smithfield and enjoy Gregg's fun, sexy, humor-rich writing style.

Of course, the off-the-charts, sizzling hot sex doesn't hurt, either.

The story still has some of the technical issues that I remember from the first read and the narrative is still extremely fast-paced. The story lacks the sort of detailed description, world-building, and plot complexity that slows a read down even as it fleshes it out and adds depth. Scenes tend to shift quickly and story elements pop up, then pass in a blink as the bare-bones plot races towards the end with a singular focus.

Even with that, though, I enjoyed the story. I absolutely adored Mark and liked Tony quite a lot. There's something about the combination of their personalities that had tons of appeal, and a sort of friends-to-lovers/unrequited-to-requited hybrid theme that worked well for them. Mark's wacky, high-strung antics were a nice compliment to Tony's more steady, solid nature and made me a big fan of them together. So much so that I didn't even mind the first-person point of view in the narrative, something that usually doesn't work for me in romance.

Men of Smithfield: Mark and Tony is simply a fun, sexy read with fun, sexy characters. Shorter than I would've liked, definitely, with a story that progresses too fast for my taste, but still entertaining. It isn't dripping angst or splattering deep interpersonal issues everywhere, but it made me smile, chuckle out loud in places, and even fan myself here and there.

I'm so glad I got this chance to revisit Smithfield, and I'm very much looking forward to renewing my familiarity with the stories I've read as I bide my time for the stories I haven't. I hope they come soon, as Smithfield is just one of those places that begs for frequent visits and I can't wait to spend more time there.

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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Tracy's bookshelf: read

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

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