Review: Ready to Run by Lauren Layne

Format: ebook
Pub Date: August 22, 2017
Publisher: Loveswept
Length: 215 pages
POV: 3rd past
FTC: Purchased myself

I binged my way through Lauren Layne's backlist last May, but stopped when I found books that were written in first person, present tense (a combination I cannot stand). I had seen this one, but discounted it because I personally despise reality television and this book seemed entirely about a TV show based on the blurb.

It must have been on sale, because I finally caved and purchased the book. Most of the Lauren Layne books I've read in the past were set in the big city. This was a bit different for me. It's a city girl visiting a small town. Classic fish out of water. I was pleasantly surprised by how well Layne's voice works in the small town romance.

I had a few issues with the unevenness of how some characters are dealt with. We spend quite a lot of time with the first two brides, and none with the third. There's a spoiler-y reason for this, but it still feels a little weird how that entire situation is dealt with. Also missing are any real details about Luke's job. The small town setting seems sketched in, with only broad strokes.

The standard group of non-catty girl friends that often appear in Layne books is present here, too, which I liked, but I felt like we almost spent too much time with the secondary characters. This wasn't my favorite Layne book, but it was a quick, easy read.

My Grade: B-

The Blurb:
Jordan Carpenter thinks she’s finally found the perfect candidate for Jilted, a new dating show about runaway grooms: firefighter Luke Elliott, a known player who’s left not one but three brides at the altar. The only problem? Luke refuses to answer Jordan’s emails or return her calls. Which is how she ends up on a flight to Montana to recruit him in person. It’s not Manhattan, but at least the locals in Lucky Hollow seem friendly . . . except for Luke, who’s more intense—and way hotter—than the slick womanizer Jordan expected.

Eager to put the past behind him, Luke has zero intention of following this gorgeous, fast-talking city girl back to New York. But before he can send her packing, Jordan’s everywhere: at his favorite bar, the county fair, even his exes’ book club. Annoyingly, everyone in Lucky Hollow seems to like her—and deep down, she’s starting to grow on him too. But the more he fights her constant pestering, the more Luke finds himself wishing that Jordan would kick off her high heels and make herself comfortable in his arms.


Review: Blood is Blood by Will Thomas (Barker and Llewelyn)

Format: Hardcover
Pub Date: November 2018
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Length: 308 pages
POV: 1st person, past
FTC: review copy courtesy of the publisher

I haven't read a lot of historical mysteries in 1st person, so this was a bit of a change for me. This book is also in the middle of a series, so I'm not sure I'd have had the same reading experience if I'd been following the series all along.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I really liked the overall mystery and the setting and characters. On the other, I felt like it was missing some emotional depth, which is likely because I'm a character-centric reader. I want their thoughts and feelings on the page, and the emotions in particular were largely absent here, which I found weird considering the emotional events that form the focus of the book.

I have never read Will Thomas, nor had I heard of this series before, but I love historical mysteries and decided to give it a chance. The book begins with a bit of the Monday blues and an absentminded groom-to-be not listening to his fiance, then promptly devolves into chaos as the office of Barker Private Inquiries is blown to smithereens.


Review: Fast Falls the Night by Julia Keller (a Bell Elkins novel)

Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: July 2018, copyright 2017
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Length: 286 pages
POV: 3rd alternating past
FTC: review copy courtesy of the publisher
CW: drug overdose

I read this months ago, and posted a brief mini review on Instagram here, but I felt like I hadn't really covered what I wanted to cover about this book. I read a lot, I mean A LOT, and I'm still thinking about this book six months later. Partly because my region just experienced a smaller version of what happens in the novel, and partly because it was such a unique and timely book which was sadly, inspired by a real 24 hour period of mass overdoses in West Virginia.

The novel takes place over the course of 24 hours, and while I was never a fan of the series, 24, I can see the appeal of using that time constraint to serve as a narrative structure. It works incredibly well here, as we watch events unfold through a variety of points of view: Bell Elkins, a prosecutor, the EMS and hospital staff, the families of those saved and those lost. Each chapter begins with a time, and as the novel progresses, the reader feels Bell's growing horror over the escalation of deaths as more and more overdoses happen on her turf.

Also mixed in is some back story about Bell's childhood, which (probably because I haven't read any other books in the series) feels a bit disconnected from the rest of the narrative. But the events of the past mix with the events of the present to add further stress to an already overwhelmed Bell.

This isn't a long book, but Keller manages to squeeze a lot of tension into it and a lot of nuance about life in poverty. I was very impressed by how even secondary characters are fleshed out and felt believable. Even if they didn't spend a lot of time on the page.

My only quibble, and this comes 100% from my personal preference, is that the ending is a bit of a cliffhanger. The primary mystery is solved, sort of, but the threads are left hanging in an obvious sequel baiting way that I found unsatisfying. 

I wish we saw more authors like Keller who avoid using cliches about the poor and really dig deep into what drives people to make the decisions they do. I was very impressed with the nimble way she switched from character to character while making the reader care about all of them. No shortcuts, no easy fall back onto tired stereotypes. It's not often that I read a mystery with written with such obvious care. For that, and for the timely topic, I recommend this book!

My Grade: A-

The Blurb:
Based on a real-life event, Pulitzer Prize-winner Julia Keller’s latest Bell Elkins novel Fast Falls the Night takes place in a single 24-hour period, unfurling against the backdrop of a shattering personal revelation that will change Bell’s life forever.
The first drug overdose comes just after midnight, when a young woman dies on the dirty floor of a gas station bathroom. To the people of the small town of Acker’s Gap, West Virginia, it is just another tragedy. It is sad—but these days, depressingly familiar.
But then there is another overdose. And another. And another.
Prosecutor Bell Elkins soon realizes that her Appalachian hometown is facing its starkest challenge yet: a day of constant heroin overdoses from a batch tainted with a lethal tranquilizer. While the clock ticks and the bodies fall, Bell and her colleagues desperately track the source of the deadly drug—and engage in fierce debates over the wisdom of expending precious resources to save the lives of self-destructive addicts.


Review: Hot Winter Nights by Jill Shalvis

Format: ebook
Pub Date: September 25, 2018
Publisher: Avon
Length: 384 pages
POV: 3rd Past
FTC: Purchased myself
Disclosure: I pretty much enjoy everything Jill writes

I'm a character-centric mood reader. Which means that I quite often pick up books that I know I'd enjoy if I were in a different mood, only to set them down after 20 pages. I never do that with Jill's books, because even if I'm in a shitty mood (more often now given the state of things nationally and the fact that I'm raising teens) Jill's books comfort me, make me smile, make me laugh, and in general give me the book equivalent of a cookie. Or three.

I truly don't know how she does it, but her books have the right blend of emotion (without ripping out your heart) humor (without turning the book into a comedy) and heat (without making me skim the sex scenes). They're my comfort reads.

That's not to say this book was perfect. I had some issues with one section in particular, either because of my poor reading comprehension skills these days or because of continuity errors.  I literally could not figure out whether the power was off or on during one pivotal scene where it truly mattered. 

Lucas and Molly are both great characters, and I really enjoyed their reluctant romance. I also loved that Lucas is 100% supportive of Molly's attempt to become a more active part of the investigation team. It's internal emotional scars, rather than asshat sexism that provides the conflict.

Although the blurb reads like a holiday novel, the holiday aspects are confined almost exclusively to a Christmas village fraud case that Molly and Lucas end up working on. There are a few references, here and there, but this didn't feel like a book you'd only want to read during the winter holiday season.

I'm bummed I read this book in two days, mostly sitting in the car waiting on kids, because the next one isn't out until February.

Grade: B

The Blurb:

Who needs mistletoe?
Most people wouldn’t think of a bad Santa case as the perfect Christmas gift. Then again, Molly Malone, office manager at Hunt Investigations, isn’t most people, and she could really use a distraction from the fantasies she’s been having since spending the night with her very secret crush, Lucas Knight. Nothing happened, not that Lucas knows that—but Molly just wants to enjoy being a little naughty for once . . .
Whiskey and pain meds for almost-healed bullet wounds don’t mix. Lucas needs to remember that next time he’s shot on the job, which may be sooner rather than later if Molly’s brother, Joe, finds out about them. Lucas can’t believe he’s drawing a blank on his (supposedly) passionate tryst with Molly, who’s the hottest, smartest, strongest woman he’s ever known. Strong enough to kick his butt if she discovers he’s been assigned to babysit her on her first case. And hot enough to melt his cold heart this Christmas.


Man of the Month series by J. Kenner

I didn't post at all last month. School started and with it, all of the obligations and chauffeuring. I did, however, read in those few blissful hours of peace and quiet I regained after a summer filled with KIDS IN MY SPACE.

For anyone wondering if the free books given away at reader events lead to sales, this is a good anecdotal case study. I received the first book in the Man of the Month series, Down on Me, as a freebie at the last RT held in Reno in May. It sat, unloved, for a few months in my pile of books, but I picked it up on a whim.

I read the entire series last month. All 12 of them. Just one-clicked myself into a stupor. Part of that is that these are all connected stories with a really cute hook: a calendar contest held in a bar. And each book is relatively short (around 250 pages) with a very obvious (and popular) trope. We have secret baby, best friend's sister, second chance at love, friends to lovers, and lots of other favorites. J Kenner is smart as hell with the marketing and planning on this series, because it worked for me. As soon as I discovered I liked her voice, it was over.  My book budget was toast.

Not all of these books were equally good. Some were As, some were Cs, but they all were character-centric, hot, and hit just the right tone for my scattered, back-to-school brain to absorb between drop off and pick ups. The first book is free on Kindle still. Just make sure you set aside a week, or month, to read them all. The distilled trope-yness was exactly what I needed.