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Dec
29

Listen Up! #Audiobook Review: The Magnolia Story by Chip & Joanna Gaines

Listen Up! #Audiobook Review: The Magnolia Story by Chip & Joanna Gaines Welcome to my weekly feature that focuses on audiobooks. It’s time to… Audiobook review: Non-Fiction Book: The Magnolia Story Author: Chip & Joanna Gaines Narrators: Chip & Joanna Gaines Audio Speed: 1.25x Series: n/a Genre: Biography Source: purchased The Magnolia Story I LOVE HGTV’s husband and wife team of Chip and Joanna Gaines. My kids and I watch their show to see not only Joanna’s beautiful designs and Chip’s outrageous antics, but mostly because the couple and their family exude wholesome, uplifting family goodness. Upon discovering their biography, narrated by the couple, I had to listen, and I’m so thankful I did. Chip and Joanna are beautiful people inside and out. They love their family, friends, and community, placing the needs of people before profit. Listening to the couple share their story was entertaining and inspiring. I found myself holding back tears or laughing out loud at times. They share their humble beginnings, how they met and their early married life, Chip’s entrepreneurial spirit, and Joanna’s life lessons. Having the couple narrate their own story is perfect. Already familiar with the couple from TV, I could see the pair in my mind’s eye, complete with hand motions and silly faces, as they read their story. The book comes to life as the authors and subjects of the book speak their own words. It gives the feeling that they are sharing their story with me in an intimate setting over dinner. I strongly recommend this uplifting, impassioned tale to all, regardless if you have watched the show Fixer Upper or not. Chip and Joanna share their inspirational story in their own words. Their message of faith, hope, and family is a blessing during these crazy, uncertain times. My Rating: A- Narration:...
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Dec
23

Review: A Season of Spells Sylvia Izzo Hunter

Review: A Season of Spells Sylvia Izzo Hunter A Season of Spells Author: Sylvia Izzo Hunter Reviewer: Una Rating: A- What I’m Talking About: It turns out that A Season of Spells is the final book in the Noctis Magicae series.  I was surprised to discover it was a trilogy at the end.  This final book is a perfect end to this enchanting series. Note: There are spoilers from the first two books in this review, but nothing more that what the book blurbs provide. I have thoroughly enjoyed the characters and this world that Ms. Hunter has created.  The mixture of a historical setting, magic, politics and light romance was enchanting.  Though the plight of our heroes was dire at times, their adventures were gripping until the end.  Now looking back I see this series as a trilogy of Sophia bringing a new age to her world. Sophia is a powerful mage, though looked down upon by the magical authority due to her gender. It seems women with magical abilities were frowned upon during this time period in Britain.  It was compelling to follow Sophia as she goes from despised daughter to crowned princess to respected magistra.  Following her as she learned to navigate the political waters of being a long lost princess (to the king’s former wife) and the ramifications of the choices she makes.  The different mysteries she has encountered and her drive to protect not only her loved ones, but the King and her people were gripping. In this final installment, Sophia breaks through and shows her true self.  When following protocol fails, she rises to the challenge to save Britain.  Through a desire to resurrect a magical college for women, she stumbles upon the clues to save her people from invasion.  I really enjoyed how Sophia shows how much she has grown from her ability to stay calm when under duress, follow protocols, and follow not only her heart but her head.  It was especially illustrated in the separation between her and Gray. I continued to love the relationship of the varied main characters.  The conspiracies they weave in order to attain the knowledge they seek.  Seeing Lucia and Roland’s journey from arranged marriage to one of affection was sweet.  As the two follow along in Sophia’s projects, we discover they are two sides of the same coin.  I found it endearing when they realized it.  I have truly enjoyed the cast of characters in this trilogy and will miss them. Though...
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Dec
22

Review: Due South by Tamsen Parker

Review: Due South by Tamsen Parker Due South Author: Tamsen Parker Reviewer: VampBard Rating: A  What I’m Talking About: Interested in a thrill-of-discovery / new exploration book? Due South might be just what you’re looking for. This is the secret-office-romance trope—and man, I love it. Especially when it’s taboo! The blurb gives us the basis for the plot, but what it doesn’t mention is how DEEP these characters are. Ms. Parker has done a phenomenal job with her other Compass titles, and I didn’t expect anything less from Due South. Here’s a run-down on my connection to the characters. Lucy is the typical corn-belt girl gone to make the big time in California. Her innocence is accentuated as she learns about herself and her sexuality. It’s not that Lucy is completely innocent—she’s not. She just has had less-than-stellar experiences with sex because she’s had selfish lovers. I like Lucy, and I found myself connected to her for a variety of reasons. First, I adore her fashion sense. Stockings and garters should be an every-day occurrence. Second, I admired her because she put her upbringing behind her and allowed herself to form her own expectations—even though sometimes she was at war with herself. Evans. OMG. I may have crushed really hard on his geeky uncertainty and second-guessing his words and actions. But… Oh, mama. The way he could turn on the charm? The way he was so caring right from the start? **swoon** And, that bit about family? Seriously. The man is a catch, and nobody knew! Top it off with his brain? Quadruple-threat, folks. The sex was…thrilling. I really loved the way each encounter was presented, and how the emotional aspect was front-and-center for both Lucy and Evans. Because really, the best sex happens when there’s an emotional connection of some sort. Ms. Parker definitely gave us that connection. An excellent addition to the Compass series—one you won’t want to miss. If you’ve not read the series, this title will function as a stand-alone. My Rating: A, Loved It About the Book: Lucy Miller has worked her way up from coffee-fetcher and copy-maker to invaluable assistant. She’s proud of her accomplishments, but she’s looking forward to a break from her demanding boss; a visit home is just the Christmas treat she needs. Diligent and unassuming, Chanoch Evans has avoided relationships not just out of shyness, but because he doesn’t feel like he has anything to offer—most of his resources are devoted to his war-veteran younger...
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Dec
21

Review: Absolute Trust by Piper J. Drake

Review: Absolute Trust by Piper J. Drake Absolute Trust Author: Piper J. Drake Reviewers: Gikany and Una Rating: B What We’re Talking About: Gikany and Una thought Absolute Trust might have been the last book in the True Heroes series.  We are happy to say that it is not the final book.  We liked Brandon and Sophie’s story overall and look forward to more. Since the first book where we met Brandon and Sophie (and couldn’t help but observe their tension) we have waited for their story.  Although there were a couple odd notes, Brandon and Sophie’s journey was a satisfying one.  Sophie and Brandon’s trouble was never their attraction to each other or their personalities.  Brandon felt he needed to make something of himself so he could hope to be worthy of Sophie.  Sophie never understood why Brandon ran off from her, and it remained a sore point with her once Brandon returned.  To make things worse, he never tried to rekindle their relationship; he seemed content with her friendship. The tension and attraction between Brandon and Sophie was tangible.  Her giving nature was a compliment to Brandon’s devotion and protectiveness.  There was a strong theme of second chances in this journey and we really liked it.  Brandon did have to prove himself to Sophie, but she forgave him easily once the truth was out.  The plot against Sophie seemed strange, but plausible.  Although the perpetrators appeared to be very experienced, they seemed to go for convoluted methods rather than a taking a simpler rout. We enjoyed having one of the dogs in the kennel be a main character.  Hadyn, a German Sheppard Dog, was a fascinating character.  His training was, of course, an excellent bonus for Brandon and Sophie as they worked to keep Sophie safe.  However, the addition of the cat was a bit odd.  Although we enjoyed the interaction between the cat and Hadyn, we did think the cat tagging along for an on-the-run getaway a bit strange. Overall, we liked Absolute Truth and look forward to more in the series.  With the kennel expanding, we anticipate more staff joining them and therefore more stories in this engaging world. Brandon and Sophie’s story was worth waiting for. If you enjoy a military romance with furry sidekicks, you may want to pick up this series. Our Rating:  B, Liked It About the Book: LOVE IS THE GREATEST RISK OF ALL After multiple tours of duty, Brandon Forte returns to his hometown on a...
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Dec
21

Review + Blog Tour: No Small Parts by Ally Blue

Review + Blog Tour: No Small Parts by Ally Blue No Small Parts Author: Ally Blue Reviewer: B. Rating: A- What I’m Talking About: Born and raised in LA, Rafael Cortez isn’t exactly at home in the rugged isolation of Bluewater Bay. Still, he’s more than willing to put in the necessary time as a PA if it helps him become a director in his own right. Meeting someone he can see himself becoming serious about certainly hadn’t been part of the plan, but there’s just something about the brooding, defensive Nat that Rafael can’t resist. Bluewater Bay local Nat Horn never expected his tiny part on Wolf’s Landing to turn into anything more than a way to pay the bills after his father’s logging accident. When he’s offered a larger role by one of the directors, he jumps at the chance to make both their lives easier. Developing a few friendships of his own in the process, particularly with the irresistible personal assistant of his former crush, is a risk he can’t help taking—even though he’s sure he’ll lose him in the end. I was both surprised and pleased to note that this is the sixteenth book in the Bluewater Bay series, since it really doesn’t feel like there have been so many. As has been the case with most of the others I’ve read, No Small Parts seemed both familiar and unique, and reminded me why I continue to be drawn to these stories. Nat and Rafael do follow a somewhat recognizable pattern, given the polarity of their personalities and backgrounds, but Ms. Blue composes their tale around a distinctive framework that allows it stand just fine all on its own. As far as the main characters go, I thought that Nat and Rafael were an intriguing couple, and I enjoyed Raphael’s patience while Nat consistently strove to find steadier ground beneath his feet. Their respective backgrounds are different enough to make the pairing seem farfetched on the surface, yet their personalities somehow made them a perfect fit for one another. I also felt the “outsider vs. the locals” aspect of some of these stories worked especially well in their case, as the roles are reversed depending on whether a scene is taking place within the “Hollywood”-ness of the show, or the Bluewater Bay that exists outside of it. Overall, I feel that No Small Parts is a sweet, thoughtful addition to the Bluewater Bay series. As it focuses once again on the television show that is...
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Dec
20

Review: Nice Guys Bite by Jennifer Estep

Review: Nice Guys Bite by Jennifer Estep Nice Guys Bite Author: Jennifer Estep Reviewer: Jen Rating: B What I’m Talking About: Working for assassin and underworld crime boss Gin Blanco as her personal assistant leaves Silvio with very little personal time. While he loves his job, he’s finally decided to take some personal time to enjoy a coffee date. However, when some giants decide to interrupt his time off, Silvio must deal with painful memories from his past in order to save himself. Nice Guys Bite is an entertaining short set in the amazing Elemental Assassin world. For the first time ever, readers are treated to a tale told from Silvio’s point-of-view. We learn a few personal secrets about this über-organized vampire, and while I’ve always respected Silvio, now he’s got my heart as well. His life while working for his previous boss wasn’t kind, and it’s a wonder how Silvio managed to come away without more emotional and mental damage. The story is short, ending at about 75%, with the remainder an excerpt from the upcoming title. While I found the entire tale entertaining and light, I was disappointed with its predictability. I pretty much guessed the entire plot from the get go – which may be a sign that Ms. Estep has trained me well to look for clues and be as paranoid as Gin. Regardless, I still loved watching Silvio work his way out of his dire situation, and I truly enjoyed learning more about this awesome character. Nice Guys Bite is an excellent treat for fans of the Elemental Assassin series, even with its predictable nature. I certainly enjoy anytime I get to spend with Gin and the gang at the Pork Pit. My Rating:  B, Liked It About the Book: Working for Gin Blanco (aka the Spider, the assassin who runs the Ashland underworld) doesn’t leave much time for romance, especially with Gin’s holiday party planning in full swing. But when he catches the eye of a charming gentleman, Silvio finds himself going out for coffee. All’s fair in love and war, though. Just as Silvio is starting to enjoy himself, he realizes he’s being watched. His nice guy date doesn’t sense the danger, and Silvio wants to keep it that way (and, well, keep the guy alive) so Silvio ends the date early—only to be abducted by some villainous giants. Will Silvio survive the night and make it back to the Pork Pit in time for Gin’s holiday party? Only if...
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Dec
19

Review: The Furies’ Bog by Deborah Jackson

Review: The Furies’ Bog by Deborah Jackson The Furies’ Bog Author: Deborah Jackson Reviewer: Nima Rating: C The description of Deborah Jackson’s The Furies’ Bog will draw in any regular sci-fi reader.  It promises a lot.  Jackson spreads her tale across multiple locations worldwide and even space, incorporating genetics, archeology, and secret agents. The Furies’ Bog was thought-provoking. It was well-written. Parts of it were definitely engaging, but sadly, you could say all of those things about a textbook on a subject in which you were interested. Jackson has definitely done her homework—literally.  According to her end notes, she studied science journals and went back to school at MIT to take classes with this book specifically in mind.  You have to be in awe of someone that dedicated to writing a scientifically plausible story.  It’s a relatively long story, however, coming in at over 500 hundred pages. Long books are not unusual in the sci-fi world, but The Furies’ Bog is not a page-turner despite a fair amount of action. It wants to be an exciting sci-fi thriller, well-grounded in current genetic science, but never achieves real momentum, getting—if you’ll excuse the expression—“bogged down” in the science. She even includes an entire thesis paper within the body of the story.  (In the electronic version, you can click a link to skip over this.) In the first of two appendices, which is not wholly unusual for the science fiction genre, she includes the entire DNA sequence of the LIPE gene referenced in her thesis stating, “I wanted to emphasize how a small mutation in this entire length could alter the function, or trigger the dysfunction, of a protein and upset the balance in our bodies, or even entirely alter the way our bodies work.  These mutations can lead to cancer or other diseases, or set us on a new evolutionary path.”  I don’t know that that actually adds anything or even emphasis to her story.  Before the link to skip it, Jackson offers this disclaimer:  This document contains a variety of technical terms that may be confusing to the average reader.  Feel free to skip over it, if you find it tedious. To me, it felt a little condescending.  I’m not exactly sure who she intended as her primary audience. Probably most significant to me, because the action of The Furies’ Bog is stretched across multiple locations, Jackson has main characters in each of those places.  This meant we didn’t spend enough time with any of them...
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Dec
16

Review: Lessons in Letting Go by Jessica Peterson

Review: Lessons in Letting Go by Jessica Peterson Lessons in Letting Go Author: Jessica Peterson Reviewer: VampBard Rating: B+ What I’m Talking About: NO! It can’t be over! I’ve been reading Jessica Peterson’s Study Abroad series, and I’ve adored it. While I might be a woman of a certain age, I could identify with the characters and I found myself rooting for the characters to overcome their conflict throughout the story. After I told some of the characters to pull their head out of their behind. I really liked coming back to Laura & Rhys’ story. We’ve caught glimpses of them through the first two titles in the series, and I’ve been champing at the bit to get to their story. Seriously. Is it only me, or are soccer players—especially those with a Welsh accent—super hot? I did have some issues with the ending. I felt the resolution moved too fast—but I’m a huge pacing geek. Don’t let this little, tiny thing deter from picking up this title. With that said, the grand gestures Rhys did to win Laura back seriously melted my frigid Michigan heart (yes, we’ve had a quantity of snow already). Laura came to Spain to find herself. Basically. She made a bucket list and everything. There were a few things about Laura that made me pause. First, she’s got… issues. Issues big enough that I wanted to know more—but my brain filled in the blanks. Second, I really like that she realized she was losing herself in Rhys. Lastly, Laura was a REAL ‘GIRL’. I’m sure most of us can see a little of ourselves in Laura, which made me connect with her even more that just her ‘issues’. Rhys. Not gonna lie. I kinda wanted to slap him through a good chunk of the book. But, you guys, when he started to redeem himself? I. Fell. Hard. I also connected with Rhys on a few levels. I know what it’s like to have a knee injury. I could imagine everything he went through. The hours of PT, the appointments…and I know what it’s like to be a soccer mom (I was never the mom with the Juicy Coture yoga pants—promise!). While the writing about soccer was detailed enough to not insult someone knowledgeable about the game, it was well-explained enough so novices wouldn’t be lost. If you’re looking for a thoughtful contemporary read with college-aged characters, I highly recommend the Study Abroad series. I’m going to miss these characters…but might we see...
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Dec
15

Review: A Mate for Christmas by Katie Reus

Review: A Mate for Christmas by Katie Reus A Mate for Christmas Author: Katie Reus Reviewers: Gikany and Una Rating: B  What We’re Talking About: Mate for Christmas is simply a beautifully wrapped gift from Ms. Reus to the readers and fans of her Moon Shifter series. Through this novella she wraps up the series (for now) and allows us to say goodbye. Through the story of Noel and Nathan, we are able to check in with the previous couples from the series as well as showing us the happily-ever-afters for a few other couples.  Although Noel and Nathan’s story was short, it was sweet and emotionally satisfying.  We enjoyed Nathan’s patient nature as Noel learns to move on and heal from her grief. Although the novella was a little disjointed due to the nature of the flow (checking in with other characters) it was a delightful read.  As Noel and Nathan’s story weaves through, it branches out to touch base with all of our favorite characters.  We enjoyed the embrace of the pack as the holiday approached.  Watching the mated characters in their happily-ever-afters was a wonderful treat for us. Again, this is not a novella for new readers but a treat for fans.  If you have enjoyed the Moon Shifters series, then A Mate for Christmas is a must-read.  Gikany and Una have our fingers crossed that Ms. Reus will return to this world someday.  Until then, we look forward to whatever world she brings to us next. Our Rating:  B, Liked It About the Book: It will take a miracle to survive the holidays… After recently losing her parents, packmates and a sister, Noel Cordona isn’t even close to being in the holiday spirit. It seems that everyone around her is moving on and happy, but she can’t seem to get it together. When an unexpected kiss changes everything she thought she knew about her packmate Nathan O’Neill, she feels alive for the first time in a year. She’s too broken for him though. At least that’s what she tries to tell them both.  But Nathan’s been waiting patiently for Noel. He’s not going to lose faith now. With a little holiday magic, he can help her overcome the weight of her grief and show her that opening her heart to him is the best Christmas gift he could ever give her. Author note: A Mate for Christmas is not meant to be read as a stand-alone. Set in the Moon Shifter world, this...
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Dec
15

Listen Up! #Audiobook Review: What a Dragon Should Know by G.A. Aiken

Listen Up! #Audiobook Review: What a Dragon Should Know by G.A. Aiken Welcome to my weekly feature that focuses on audiobooks. It’s time to… Audiobook Review: Dragon Kin Series Book: What a Dragon Should Know  Author: G.A. Aiken Narrator: Hollie Jackson Audio Speed: 1.5x Series: Dragon Kin #3 Genre: Paranormal/Fantasy Romance Source: Tantor Audio What a Dragon Should Know expands upon the richly entertaining lore of mighty dragons and the humans that love them. Picking up after the conclusion of the previous book, the story primarily focuses on the love story of Gwenvael the Handsome and Dagmar Reinholdt, the only daughter of the Reinholdt, also known as “the Beast.” Annwyl the Bloody, heavy with her twins who are literally sucking the life from her, sends Gwenvael to the Northlands on her behalf to discover if the Reinholdt will make a worthy ally. When Gwenvael discovers that the Beast is actually an extremely intelligent and wily female, he is forced to adjust his approach to the situation. Dagmar has spent her entire life as the brains behind her father’s success, staying in the shadows while she manipulates events to her advantage. So when Gwenvael acts unpredictably and treats her with respect, even reverence, Dagmar isn’t sure how to best respond. Striking a bargain with Gwenvael, the pair head out of the Northlands with important information to share with Annwyl. I absolutely adored the pairing of Gwenvael and Dagmar. Two underestimated souls, both play to the misrepresentations and conventions their families have placed upon them. They use these stereotypes to hide their true intentions, striking blows upon their enemies. Both love their respective families and would do anything to protect them. Right from the start the pair recognizes the strengths of the other; never disrespecting the other, even if they do try to outsmart one another. Their passion ignites as Gwenvael and Dagmar open up and fall in love. I just adored their verbal sparring and joint masterminding. Outside of the romance, the entire story is multifaceted and filled with complex layers of political maneuvering.  I found myself engrossed and enjoyed just listening to the plot unfold. While I did find myself lost a couple times and trying to remember who was who  more than once (lets face it, there are too many similar sounding names), the character development and bonds cemented over the course of the series made for stronger connections and deeper enjoyment of this tale. In addition to Gwenvael and Dagmar, What a Dragon Should Know shares the continuing romance of Brastias and Morfyd. I was pleased...
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