Tuesday, May 24, 2016

This Road I Ride by Juliana Buhring

Title: This Road I Ride
Author: Juliana Buhring
My Rating: A

Genre: Biography
Release Date: May 2016
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Links to Purchase

Story Overview:
Juliana Buhring had been mired in a dark hole of depression after the death of a man she loved, and when an acquaintance suggested they honor his memory by biking across Canada, she thought, “Canada? Why not the world?” And why not alone.


She had never seriously ridden a bicycle before. She had no athletic experience or corporate sponsorship, but with just eight months of preparation, Juliana Buhring departed from Naples, Italy, in July 2012 aiming to become the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. She set out believing she might not ever return, but that she had nothing to lose. Over 152 days, Juliana’s ride spanned four continents and 18,060 miles. She traversed small-town and big-mountain America, Australian desert expanses, South Asian rainforests and villages, and Turkish plains. She suffered innumerable breakdowns, severe food poisoning, hostile pursuers, and the international longing for a good Italian espresso. When she crossed the finish line into Naples before the end of the year, she officially became the fastest woman to cycle the world (beating prior men’s records, to boot).

Accomplishing what she never thought she could, buoyed by the outpouring of support from friends and strangers, Juliana rediscovered herself. In the process she proved that there are no extraordinary people—there are only people who decide to do extraordinary things. 
My Review:
Disclaimer: I am NOT a bicyclist, but my husband is. As a result, I've found a love for the sport. Every year we watch the Tour de France and about six months ago, he drew me in with a documentary film about the first unsupported Trans America bicycle race. In that race was a woman rider who honestly stole the show. We loved her. She was snarky and fun as she goaded the Italian men who said she shouldn't be there because she didn't have the experience. Well, a few weeks after that I was looking at books on NetGalley and found this book and showed it to my husband, because he loves to read books like this. He was the one who recognized the author as the woman from that race...so I requested the book. 

I'm so glad I did. Most of you that read my reviews know this isn't my normal genre to read. Although I do read a lot of biographies for reference with my own fictional writing, I don't normally review them. But this book is worthy of a review just because it was a phenomenal book. I'll admit. I'm a fiction reader. As a result, I usually slog through non-fiction books and honestly rarely finish them. I finished this book within twelve hours of starting it...and read it in the middle of my normal work/life day...so I was pretty much reading it every spare moment I had. I definitely recommend it. 

Juliana Buhring does not have the normal endurance cyclist's history. In fact, when she set out on this adventure, she'd only been riding a bicycle as an adult (building up her endurance and not just for casual rides) for a few months. So for her to set out not only to circumnavigate the world, but also to set the record for doing so was absolutely crazy. 

But she had her reasons. 

A year and a half before, a man she loved who was also an extreme adventurer died when a crocodile attacked him in his kayak. There are flashbacks throughout the book of discussions she'd had with him over the years. He also led a not-normal life and they'd had lots of philosophical discussions about those choices. Ms. Buhring also has a different background just because she was raised in a cult until the age of 23 when she escaped. Over the years, she was abused, shunted from country to country, and rarely had anyone from her family who loved her there to support her. The cult regularly separated families for the good of the cult and this began for her at the age of 4. 

Her stories are heartbreaking, but they help to explain how she could survive this journey. She's tough...incredibly so, and from reading her story, I would guess that she doesn't make connections easily which is why it was so devastating to her when her friend died so suddenly. 

The book is completely engrossing and entertaining. She's an incredible writer. It's broken up like a daily journal with little vignettes and stories from her daily observations. But sprinkled throughout are philosophical discussions about life and what it means. There are moments when she's incredibly depressed and at rock bottom of her ability to go on, but those are tempered by days of beauty and resilience which prove to her why she needs to keep going. I loved reading the book and getting to follow her on her journey. 

I definitely recommend the book...for bicycle enthusiasts, people who like to read biographies, or for anyone that likes to read about the human spirit and its ability to overcome immeasurable odds. She overcame and wrote an inspiring book documenting her journey.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Reason to Believe by Gina Gordon


Title: Reason to Believe
Author: Gina Gordon
My Rating: B

Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Series: White Lace #2
Main Characters: Grace and Ben
Release Date: May 2016
Publisher: Loveswept
Links to Purchase
Sexual Intensity: hot

Story Overview:
Grace Nolan is doing her best to conform to the rigid corporate world and put her history as a paid escort behind her. And even after seeing the worst that men have to offer, she still hasn’t given up on finding love with the right guy. But right now, Grace could use a distraction to take her mind off her nonexistent love life. The trouble is, giving fashion advice to a former fling with rock-hard abs and a bad-boy attitude isn’t exactly what she had in mind.
 
After working his way up from cameraman to vice president of an adult media company, Ben Lockwood is floundering. While he reevaluates his future, he asks the most poised and polished woman he knows to make him look respectable. Ben even swears off sex, which makes spending time with Grace pure torture. It’s only a matter of time before they give in to the heat—but unless Ben confronts what his heart has been denying, they may both get burned.

My Review:
This is not your typical romance because this is not your typical hero and heroine. Grace is a former escort (nice word for prostitute) and Ben is VP at White Lace...a company that produces pornography. He's also starred in quite a few of the movies, too. Flat-out...they are both broken and neither truly believes a happily ever after will ever be possible for themselves. Who would want someone with that kind of past? It's not something that most prospective partners could overcome, especially when there are almost always reminders that happen every time they go out in public. 

But the two are best friends with another couple, so they are always thrown together. Neither one sees the other as a possible relationship prospect although they had an incredible night of amazing sex six months ago that neither can forget. It should also be noted that neither one has had sex again since that night...not something that either is used to. These are two people who are normally VERY sexually active...much more so than the average person.

I thought the set-up for the story was really creative. Ben and Grace connect and understand one another better than most people would just because of the similarities in their backgrounds. I liked that tie between them. I also loved how protective they were of one another. Both characters experience hardships throughout the story when their past comes back to haunt them. While it's easy for them to back down and say, yes they deserve that kind of treatment, I loved that the other fought back and said no. For that reason, the story was really an interesting read. I liked seeing their viewpoints change and evolve as they got deeper intwined with the other character. 

There were moments throughout this book where something fairly significant happened and then the story would only have a line or maybe two of follow-up to that event. That made the book feel like it wasn't fully flushed out. This could have been an amazing emotional book, but it fell just a tiny bit short of that because the author didn't fully take the time to explore the events happening and all the reactions to that. 

Note...one of the things that I thought the author did brilliantly was bring in the college intern and speaker's aspect into Ben's story line. That's one of the things that always caught him up...his lack of education. Seeing that he still had something valuable to share about his art was awesome. 

While the book wasn't perfect, I did enjoy reading it and look forward to more from this author. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Mr. and Mr. Smith by HelenKey Dimon

Title: Mr. And Mr. Smith
Author: HelenKay Dimon
My Rating: B+

Genre: Romantic Suspense (m/m)
Series: -
Main Characters: Fisher and Zach
Release Date: May 2016
Publisher: Loveswept
Links to Purchase
Sexual Intensity: hot


Story Overview:
Secrets and seduction make for an explosive combination in HelenKay Dimon’s edgy, thrilling new series, which kicks off with a novel about two men who can handle any threat—except the one posed by desire.
 
Fisher Braun knows how to keep a secret. As a covert paramilitary operative, his job—and his life—depends on it. He’s at the top of his game, ready for action and always in control. No enemy has ever brought him to his knees, but one lover has: Zachary Allen, the man currently sharing his bed. The perfect package of brains and brawn, Zach is someone worth coming home to, and Fisher hates keeping him in the dark about what he does. But the lies keep Zach safe. Until the day Fisher loses everything. . . .
 
Zachary Allen is no innocent civilian. Although he plays the tech geek, in reality he’s deep undercover for the CIA. In a horrible twist of fate, the criminal enterprise he’s infiltrated has set its sights on the man whose touch drives him wild. Zach would do anything for Fisher—except blow his own cover. Now, in order to save him, Zach must betray him first. And he needs Fisher to trust him with all his heart if they want to make it out alive.

My Review:
Seriously...talk about a book that fulfills my happy reading places...this is it. 

The book begins with Fisher coming home to his house to find that his secret boyfriend has been taken. The boyfriend is secret because Fisher is a top secret operative that no one knows is gay. His team doesn't know about his boyfriend. His boyfriend doesn't know about Fisher's secret life. Everything about Fisher is a lie, but someone has discovered the truth...about where he lives and exposes the vulnerability that he's involved with someone else. Someone that Fisher won't standby and let get hurt because of Fisher's job. 

But everything is not as it seems...throughout this entire book filled with tons of twists and turns. I LOVED THAT!

And wow, did I love these two guys. For Fisher, he's been deceived in the worst way, but he still can't hate Zach. Then there's Zach willing to give up absolutely everything to keep Fisher safe. So freaking good. The conflict was amazing in the middle of all these high-stakes spy-like scenarios which made this book so fabulous to read. 

I really did love it...although the story did lag a bit in the middle. The need to see what happened kept me voraciously reading through those parts just waiting to get to the "good stuff". I enjoyed the book. I loved both Fisher and Zach and the entire scenario that got them to this point. I loved Nathan and Seth, both other members from Fisher's team. Their little quips were hilarious and I loved how easily they accepted the "change" in Fisher's sexuality. 

While I didn't love every single minute of reading it, I would definitely reread the book again AND recommend it to others. I enjoyed it a lot. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book in return for an honest review. 

Deep Dark by Laura Griffin


Title: Deep Dark
Author: Laura Griffin
My Rating: A

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: Tracers #10
Main Characters: Reed and Laney
Release Date: May 2016
Publisher: Pocket
Links to Purchase
Sexual Intensity: spicy

Story Overview:
The moment detective Reed Novak steps onto the crime scene, he knows the case is going to rock his world. A beautiful young woman murdered at home. No sign of forced entry. No motive. She’s obviously not the killer’s first victim, and Reed’s instincts tell him she won’t be his last. Reed’s first clue comes via a mysterious text that links to a dating profile, but even more intriguing than the clue is the person who sent it.

As a white-hat hacker in the Delphi Center’s cyber investigation unit, Laney Knox sneaks into some of the deepest, darkest corners of the Internet looking for predators. Laney would prefer to stay away from Austin PD’s most recent murder case, but she can’t ignore the chilling similarities between that crime and her own brutal attack years ago. Laney offers to help the sexy lead detective, but he wants more from her than just a promising tip—Reed wants her trust. Laney resists, but as their relationship deepens she’s tempted to reveal the closely guarded secrets that could make her a key witness…or the killer’s next victim.
 

My Review:
Laura Griffin writes amazing, smart romantic suspense. This book was full of twists and turns and the details were just amazing. I learned so much about the world of hackers (and am now a bit scared about that little camera at the top of my laptop.)

I adore Laney's character. She's tough and persistent and when she gets a goal in her mind, she doesn't let go of it. That's what makes her so very good at her job. She's a computer hacker...and her specialty is tracking down weakness...something that she has in common with the serial killer in this book because he's a computer expert too. The fact that Laney has a personal tie to the serial killer story just adds another element of intrigue to the story. It takes a while before her full story is exposed in the book...and that kept me engaged in ths story too. 

Then there's Reed. He's this tough detective who's seen it all, but Laney takes him completely by surprise. She's too young for him, too tenacious. She scares him just because he is so drawn to her when everything says he shouldn't get involved with her. Then add in the fact that she refuses to back away from this case...a case that seems to endanger her more everyday...and then he's terrified.

I enjoyed every moment of reading this story. It was a great enthralling story that kept me interested from page one. It was simply another great story in this series from Laura Griffin. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Sugar Daddy by Sawyer Bennett

Title: Sugar Daddy
Author: Sawyer Bennett
My Rating: A

Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Series: Sugar Rush #1
Main Characters: Sela and Beck
Release Date: May 2016
Publisher: Loveswept
Links to Purchase
Sexual Intensity: hot

Story Overview:
Seduction has never been so sweet! The New York Times bestselling author of the Cold Fury series—Alex, Garrett, Zack,and Ryker—returns with the first novel in a hot new trilogy.

Sela Halstead lost her innocence in a way that no sixteen-year-old should ever have to endure. She’s spent years trying to forget that night even while wondering about the identities of the monsters who brutalized her—until a telltale tattoo flashes across Sela’s TV screen. The incriminating ink belongs to Jonathon Townsend, the millionaire founder of The Sugar Bowl, a website that matches rich older men with impressionable young women. Obsessed with revenge, Sela infiltrates Townsend’s world, only to come face-to-face with a tantalizing complication: Beckett North, his charismatic business partner.

The tech mastermind behind The Sugar Bowl, Beck always gets what he wants, in business and in bed. And yet, for a man who’s done every dirty thing imaginable, there’s something about the na├»ve, fresh-faced Sela that sparks his hottest fantasies. Because with her, it’s not just about sex. Beck opens up to her in ways he never has with other girls. So why does he get the feeling that she’s hiding something? In a world of pleasure and power, the shocking truth could turn them against each other—or bind them forever.

Note: Sugar Daddy ends on a cliffhanger. Sela and Beck’s story continues in Sugar Rush and Sugar Free!


My Review:
Okay, I don't handle cliffhangers well so HUGE KUDOS to the author for giving us that warning right up front. It made it so much easier to read and finish this book, even knowing that nothing about the story would be tied up. And it should be noted that the book is worth having to wait for parts 2 and 3 that are still coming...in August and I think October. It was a great, interesting read.

The book starts with Sela, seeing JT on the news with a story about his company...Sugar Rush, which legally hooks up hot, young things (Sugar Babies) with Sugar Daddies. She's completely stunned to see his phoenix tattoo, one of the few things she remembers from the night she was gang-raped when she was 16. This sets her off on a quest for revenge. She spends the next six months completely reinventing herself so that she can become a Sugar Baby to get close to JT. Her plan...to kill him. 

But things don't quite go as planned. Part of her reinvention is dying her blonde hair dark. JT is purely a blonde guy so he's not interested. Beck, JT's partner and best friend, sees the rebuff and Sela is his type so he takes her home. She figures she can get to JT this way, but she's not expecting the explosive chemistry between her and Beck. 

This book is like watching a train wreck. You absolutely know that everything is going to blow up in Sela's face. She's lying to Beck and hasn't given up on her quest for revenge, but the story is so good. I honestly couldn't look away from the pages of the book, needing to read faster and faster. I'll admit I figured that the end would be explosive. It wasn't as much as I expected. I have a feeling that will probably happen in book 2. I have a bad feeling about Beck's part in all this, but who knows if I'm guessing right?

The only thing I know is that I adore Beck and Sela together, and I absolutely cannot wait to get the next installment of the story. I'm dying because I need it NOW. JT is scum and I'm dying to see how this all plays out with Beck, because right now, he just doesn't see the truth about his friend and partner. He's being played and it kills me. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Discovering You by Brenda Novak

Title: Discovering You
Author: Brenda Novak
My Rating: B-

Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Series: Whiskey Creek #10
Main Characters: India and Rod
Release Date: May 2016
Publisher: Mira
Links to Purchase
Sexual Intensity: spicy

Story Overview:
Can she ever trust another "bad boy"?  
India Sommers once had the perfect family—until an ex-boyfriend broke in and shot her husband. Not only did that cost her the man she loved, a respected heart surgeon and the father of her child, but she also feels responsible. Charlie died because of the people she hung out with before she had the strength to change her life. 
Just after moving to Whiskey Creek with her little girl, Cassia, to start over, she's learned that her ex-boyfriend's trial ended in a hung jury. He's getting out of jail; he could try to find her again. And that's not all that scares her. She's extremely attracted to her next-door neighbor, but Rod Amos is the handsome "bad boy" type that's given her so much trouble in the past. If she got involved with him, her in-laws would sue for custody of Cassia. 

India has to keep her distance from Rod—but the more she gets to know him, the more difficult that becomes.

My Review:

Up until this point, I've loved every single book I've read in this series...yes, some more than others. But for some reason, I just did not connect with the characters in this book. I have no idea why because the writing was great and on the surface, everything about the set-up was fabulous, too. 

Sometimes you meet people that you just don't want to spend time with even though they seem like good enough people. That was me with this book, and it makes me sad. But it is what it is. I just didn't connect with the characters enough to really care. Instead of focusing on that, I'll simply look forward to the next book in the series, because I do still love Whiskey Creek.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Loud and Clear by Aidan Wayne

Title: Loud and Clear
Author: Aidan Wayne
My Rating: B+

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: -
Main Characters: Jaxon and Caleb
Release Date: May 2016
Publisher: Riptide
Links to Purchase
Sexual Intensity: g-rated

Story Overview:
Jaxon is getting by fine, severe dyslexia or not. Being a cab driver means he doesn’t need to read much, and the job has its perks. The pay isn’t bad, the people can be interesting, and having memorized the city streets keeps him from feeling too stupid.

When he picks up Caleb, a quiet fare in a nice suit, Jaxon doesn't think anything of it. Then he ends up driving Caleb home the next week too, and the next, and the next. Eventually Caleb tries to communicate—by writing things down. Turns out that Caleb has such a bad stutter he spends most of his time mute.

If only Jaxon had an easier time reading what Caleb had to say. But he’s interested in trying, and Caleb seems interested back. They discover that, with a little bit of effort, it isn’t so hard to make themselves understood. Especially when what’s growing between them is definitely worth talking about


My Review:
This was a totally new author to me, but I'm happy that I took the risk, because this was a really enjoyable and highly creative book. The most difficult thing about this book is that both of these men have challenges which makes it really difficult to communicate. 

The story starts with Jaxon. He's a cab driver and has a regular on Tuesday nights who never ever talks. Eventually the man does start leaving Jaxon little notes on his credit card receipts, but Jaxon is severely dyslexic so reading is virtually impossible for him. 

Caleb is a highly successful businessman, but with his severe stutter he's had to work hard to overcome obstacles. He's learned coping mechanisms... a lot of which require him writing things down when speech becomes impossible. Something that doesn't work when he's trying to communicate with Jaxon. 

I loved the way this story slowly developed and the impetus scene which really made the two guys connect. I love how Jaxon knew Caleb needed something (no spoilers). The other thing that really makes this story work is that while both men have challenges, the differences in their upbringing has meant that they've taken on those challenges very differently. Caleb has overcome. Jaxon has let his tear down his self-esteem. But both men have their self-doubts and they are both incredible at easing the other's. They recognize when the other is having problems just because of what they've each been through. While it seems like there is no way their relationship can work, they are actually the perfect complement for one another. They understand and that empathy is huge for their individual situations. 

I enjoyed the story. It's a quick and easy read and it made it happier for having read it. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book in return for an honest review.