Ember Skies by Nicky Crawford

ember skies

Title: Ember Skies
Author: Nicky Crawford
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Age: Adult
Is This Part of a Series?: No

*I received an e-Copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review

Summary:
Ember works hard to maintain the image of a perfect military wife, trying to keep her abusive husband happy and her daughter safe. Then she meets Dalton and realizes that she is worth more than just a life of survival. Finding someone who can make her happy, though, is just the beginning. There are still years of hurts, current physical threats, fears to face, and a daughter to protect in order for Ember to reach the life she deserves. Will she find the courage to leave Austin? Will she find the strength to risk her heart again with Dalton?

Overall Impression:
There were parts that were slow and parts that were heart-pounding, but when it all balanced out, it was a good, heart-warming story that was easy and pleasurable to read.

The Nitty Gritty:
My absolute favorite part of this book was the cast of characters. Ember was someone you wanted to get to know, encourage, and–most importantly–watch live and grow. Her daughter, Harlee, was cute and relatively believable with her three-year-old speech (although there were a couple of times where it was distracting). Dalton was honorable, dashing, and funny. And by the time the book was over, there were several other characters–all distinct from one another–that were also worth knowing and watching. Honestly, by the end of the book I was wishing I knew them in real life.

The plot of the book (revolving around an alcoholic, abusive husband) is a bit predictable in its basic path, although it does take a few alternate routes to arrive at the typical destination. (Of course, the characters are refreshing enough that the fact that they have an expected trajectory is acceptable.) The book also has large sections of summary, which was distracting at times. (Admittedly, I’m not exactly sure how the story could have covered the large span of time that it covers without chunks of summary. On the other hand, I’m not sure that simply compressing the amount of time covered in the book would work either; certain elements of the story require a longer stretch of time passing.)

Perhaps the biggest negative in the book was a feeling of inconsistency with the point of view and tenses. What it felt like to me was a switch in approach from one draft to the next. The majority of the book was consistent, but there were a few words that were in the wrong tense, and a few passages where it switched mid chapter from first person to third person or from Ember to Dalton and then back again. It is also possible that this was intentional to provide a “better” point of view for that particular moment in the book. Whatever the case, I found it to be distracting.

That said, everything I said in the overall impression above is true: this book is heart-warming and pleasurable to read. If you want a good pick-me-up, this will do it (although there will be both ups and downs along the way).

Book Club Chatter:
This book covers a lot of difficult topics: alcoholism, abuse (verbal and physical), military deployment and injuries, divorce, blended families, and possibly even some I didn’t see or am not remembering after one read through. While I don’t have any specific questions in mind for these topics or this book, I do believe that this book could provide an excellent jumping off point for a discussion on what we can do for any or all of these situations.

  • How can we help prevent alcoholism or abuse, or help those who have lived with it?
  • What can we do to help support the men and women who are currently deployed? How can we help the families left behind? Those who have been injured in the line or duty? Or veterans?

Special Note:
I think that it is important for this book to make it very clear that there are scenes of physical abuse depicted in this novel. The level of violence in these scenes does rise the further into the book you get. There are also several instances of rape, where the drunk husband forces Ember to have sex when she doesn’t want to. This is not, in anyway, an easy book to read. But there are certainly emotional upsides for those who stick through the darkness with Ember.

Goodreads Rating: 4.35 Stars (48 Ratings)
Amazon Rating: 4.5 Stars (35 Reviews)
My Rating: 3 Stars
This is, however, a strong three stars. I enjoyed the book and would read another book by this author. However, the writing–while solid–was not quite polished enough for my tastes. I was just a little too aware that I was reading a book, rather than disappearing into another world.

Author Interview: Anne Conley

Yesterday I did a review of Anne Conley’s book Wire (book 2 in the Pierce Securities romantic suspense series). Check it out here if you haven’t already. While reading her book, I found several elements that made me want to learn more. Here’s what I asked (and her answers too, if you really must have them 🙂  )…

1.  I just finished reading Wire, which is book number two in your Pierce Securities series. Which came first: the idea for the series or an individual book? Which is harder for you and how do you work yourself through the more difficult side of the plotting/planning?

I was just finishing my Stories of Serendipity series, which was my first willy-nilly, extremely organic foray into writing for public consumption.  I knew I needed a new series to start, and wanted to do something a little different, so I thought romantic suspense would be fun.  The idea for the series was what came first—a securities team.  But I wanted them to be different from others, so they are all guys who for some reason or another don’t quit fit in with their ‘real life’ rolls.  For example, in the first book, Craze, Ryan is ex-Coast Guard who can’t stand working with pleasure boaters on Lake Travis, because he’s seen too many disasters in his work.

To get myself through the more difficult aspects, I find it’s advantageous to take a step away from it.  That’s one reason why I have multiple works in progress at any given time. Chocolate helps too.

2.  On the book level, it seems as if (for this series) the books are connected through the men (since they are the employees of Pierce Securities, which also lends its name to the series as a whole). Did you come up with the men first, and then create a plot and woman to him, or did you come up with a plot (such as the gaming and hacking centered plot in Wire) and then create a man to fit that?

The men came first, and the plots afterward.  For example, Evan, from Wire is a hot geek, which I find awesome.  His story came after.

3.  The star game of Paige’s company is based off of fairy tales. Which fairy tale is your favorite and why?

I like Beauty and the Beast.  In fact, Quinten’s story, when it comes, will be a modern adaptation of that fairy tale, for no particular reason, if all goes well.

4.  How many Pierce Securities books do you hope to write? Do you have a release date (or hoped for release date) for the next one? 

At the moment, there’s seven, but that’s apt to change.  The next one, Click, is due out toward the beginning of October.

5.  Finally, if you could be anything, what type and/or color of dragon would you be and why? More importantly, what would be the first book you placed in your literary horde and why?

Iridescent black waterhorse.  That’s a type of dragon, right?  The first book I’d have would be a Gutenberg Bible, because they’re beautiful, rare, and valuable—perfect for my horde.

Places to find Anne Conley:
Website: www.anneconley.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/anneconleyauthor
Twitter: @anneconley10
Email: anneconleyauthor@gmail.com

Wire by Anne Conley

Wire

Title: Wire
Author: Anne Conley
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Age: New Adult and up
Is This Book Part of a Series?: Yes (Book #2 of the Pierce Securities series)

*I received an unedited Advanced Reading Copy version of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. I also have chosen not comment on or include typos and such in my review or rating.

Summary:
Evan Rocco is a skilled hacker, an AI expert, and a member of the team at Pierce Securities. Paige Lawson is the CEO of gaming software company PSL. When PSL’s game Realm of Worlds character The Crimson Lady begins brainwashing teenagers into attacking real life people, Evan and Paige have to team up in order to save Paige’s company and the people of Austin. But will their one-night stand from six months earlier get in their way?

Overall Impression:
This book appeals to the geek in me, and the fact that the “star” of Paige’s company is based off of fairy tales appeals to the writer in me. The characters are fun and well-matched as a couple. The bad guy is suitably slimy. In other words, it was worth the read and had some great qualities.

The Nitty Gritty:
This book opens up with a bang, featuring Paige–fresh off winning a hostile takeover–prowling a bar looking for a one night stand. She finds it in Evan Rocco, a man she has admired physically and intellectually for years. They have a very hot night of sex, which is well-written, with just enough on-stage action to keep it interesting and just enough off-stage action to keep it from being repetitive. This takes the book from the typical trajectory of the couple fighting their physical interest in each other and shifts it to looking at how the pair can deal with the attraction they admittedly have, while doubting whether or not that is all that the other person feels. It is a small change, but it is a nice one, keeping the romance aspect of this book feeling more fresh and unique than is typically the case. In addition to this, it sets it up so that Evan is already aware of how much he likes Paige. He never really doubts whether or not he has feelings for her. Just whether or not she has feelings for him. And a man being willing to admit to himself that he cares for a woman is a nice change for a romance.

Dialogue was one of the things that stood out for me in this book, for a couple of reasons. When Paige and Evan were talking, I noticed several times that it felt like their scenes seemed a little bit forced feeling, like they were saying what would be expected to be said at that scene, rather than what truly fit them. The thoughts that accompanied these “forced” scenes also seemed to also be on the overly-telling side. Instead of just having the words flying back and forth between Paige and Evan, there were pauses to share their thoughts. Thoughts that were really rather redundant based on the actions that were accompanying their dialogue. It wasn’t horrible, by any means, but it was certainly noticeable. Especially when you put it next to the very smooth, well-written dialogue that exists between Evan and the other employees at Pierce Securities. Those scenes were downright good. I fell right into them and could easily picture the scene, actions, and the individual, unique characters that were interacting.

As for the suspense aspect of this book, there were some positives and negatives both. First, I saw the bad guy coming a little sooner than I would have liked. (In other words, I figured things out sooner than I wanted). This in and of itself isn’t that unusual for me, however. My biggest issue with this is that Evan, who is in the securities business, had such a hard time seeing the truth. I could get behind the idea that perhaps he was too wrapped up in figuring out his relationship with Paige, but that only allows him a certain amount of slack. And I feel like he stayed in the dark a bit longer than is truly realistic. (Not that I have ever been in a “real” mystery myself, of course, so perhaps it is accurate. How it feels, however, is that Evan is a bit on the slow side). The saving grace here is the tension. Despite knowing, more or less, who the bad guy was and how he was enacting his plans, I was still tense over the idea of whether or not Evan and Paige would win in the end. Who knows? Perhaps Evan being slow to catch on even added to the tension. Either way, this was a suspenseful books and gets good marks for that, even if there are things I wish were different.

Goodreads Rating: 4.39 (33 Reviews)
Amazon Rating: 4.9 Stars (21 Reviews)
My Rating: 4 Stars
The writing is solid, the story is solid, and I found it to be an enjoyable read over all. I would like to go back to read Ryan’s story (Craze, Pierce Securities book 1) and plan on following this series to its conclusion, however many books that may be.

Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel's Dart

Title: Kushiel’s Dart
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Age: Adult
Part of a Series?: Yes (this is book one of Kushiel’s Legacy and there are two other trilogies set in this same world)

*I purchased this book when it was released 

Summary:
*This is an enormous, complex story that I felt would be best served by my using the published summary. I took this from Amazon.

The land of Terre d’Ange is a place of unsurpassing beauty and grace. It is said that angels found the land and saw it was good…and the ensuing race that rose from the seed of angels and men live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.

Phèdre nó Delaunay is a young woman who was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye. Sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond is purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, a nobleman with very a special mission…and the first one to recognize who and what she is: one pricked by Kushiel’s Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one.

Phèdre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Almost as talented a spy as she is courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland. Treachery sets her on her path; love and honor goad her further. And in the doing, it will take her to the edge of despair…and beyond. Hateful friend, loving enemy, beloved assassin; they can all wear the same glittering mask in this world, and Phèdre will get but one chance to save all that she holds dear.

Set in a world of cunning poets, deadly courtiers, heroic traitors, and a truly Machiavellian villainess, this is a novel of grandeur, luxuriance, sacrifice, betrayal, and deeply laid conspiracies. Not since Dune has there been an epic on the scale of Kushiel’s Dart-a massive tale about the violent death of an old age, and the birth of a new.

Overall Impression:
The writing in this novel held me breathless from beginning to end. It is lyrical, descriptive, epic in tone, and takes you on a twisting, turning, surprising adventure. The main character is heroic without being typical, the supporting characters are captivating, and the antagonists are sympathetic and bone-chilling at the same time. This is my second favorite book (after the third book in this same series) and has been since the very first time I read the first sentence.

The Nitty Gritty:
As much as I love this book–and I do! (I’ve read it multiple times, including once out loud to my husband)–this book is not for the faint of heart. To begin with, it is a LONG book. It covers approximately twenty years of the Phedre’s life. It isn’t until around page 300 (just a bit before) that the “real” story starts to unfold. Yes. Page 300. When most books would be finishing up. For those readers who need action to be interested in a book, these first 300 can be terribly slow. For me, however, I was so wrapped up in the beauty of the word choice and imagery that I didn’t even realize how “slow” this book started until around the seventh time of reading it–and I only noticed it then because I was studying it for my third-semester project in graduate school.

This is not the only difficult aspect of this book, however. With a courtesan as the protagonist, there are a great many scenes of an intimate nature. Phedre, however, is not a typical courtesan; Phedre has been pricked by the mark of the god of pain: Kushiel’s Dart. She experiences pain as pleasure, and this comes into all of her sex scenes–and plenty of other scenes. These scenes can be intense and difficult to read. It is important to note, though, that these scenes also have purposes beyond just sexy, naughty scenes. They develop character, move the plot forward, and even add depth to the relationships between the main characters.

With all this said, this book pays off on so many levels that there is no doubt that it is worth any and all slow and uncomfortable scenes. The intrigue is complex and exciting, the fight and battle scenes are breath-taking and easy to imagine, and the characters are the stuff dreams are made of: Phedre is brave, outspoken, and truly one of a kind; Joscelin is honorable, loyal, and inspirational; and Phedre’s friends (Hyacinth, Alcuin, Cecile, and Anafiel) are varied, distinct, and the sort of friends the average reader would be lucky to have. Even the antagonist brings to mind great villains such as Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes; she is smart, deadly, and the perfect counterpoint and mirror to Phedre (just as Moriarty is for Holmes).

Special Parenting Concerns:
This may be a historical fantasy, but there is lots of sex–rough sex that skirts the line of downright torture, but which IS consensual. There’s war and violence, death and kidnappings. This book is for a mature audience and you will want to keep that in mind when considering whether you want to read it yourself, and most definitely keep it in mind if your teenager is wanting to read it.

Book Club Chatter:
This book is LONG. This is probably not a good book for any club that isn’t willing to devote several months to it. It is also a book that requires a somewhat specific type of reader due to the nature of Phedre’s “profession”; book clubs need to make sure that all members are comfortable reading and discussing this type of material. If you do have a person or three you are reading this with, here are some ideas on what to discuss:

  • the idea of “Love as though wilt” (the mantra of the entire country Phedre is fighting for)
  • Do you agree with Anafiel Delaunay that “All knowledge is worth having”?
  • What was your favorite/least favorite trait or action of…(Phedre, Joscelin, etc)
  • What was your favorite quote from the book? (There are some real gems throughout the entire series)
  • What was your favorite scene?
  • Is there any scene or character you wish wasn’t in the book? Why? What, if anything, does it add to the book by being included?
  • Which character do you wish you could meet? Be more like?

You Will Like This If…:

  • You like epic fantasy such as Game of Thrones
  • You like books with a large scope

Goodreads Rating: 4.06 (45,485 Ratings)
Amazon Rating: 4 (680 Reviews)
My Rating: 5 Stars
This book has inspired me on so many levels, as a reader, writer, and person. I chose to go to graduate school because of this book, chose to study this (and similar) books for my third semester project, and is a book I have read–and recommended–many times. And all this from a DEBUT novel. If my warnings have not scared you off, go. Find yourself a copy. Read it. Luxuriate in it. Then read it again. I know I will, and very soon, if I have anything to say about it.

Bending All the Rules by Savannah Rylan

bending all the rules

Title: Bending All the Rules
Author: Savannah Rylan
Age Level: Adult
Genre: Erotic
Part of a Series?: Yes (the A List series, Book One)

*I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Summary:
Breccan Laughry is an extremely well-off actor. He believes he is an easy-going man with simple tastes (…”I gave you three rules, Valerie!”…), but somehow seems to have gone through four assistants in just four weeks. Now he has to find one in the very short period of time before he flies off to film his latest movie in Hong Kong.

Enter Cora. Recently arrived in Los Angeles, Cora is an aspiring talent agent who just happens to be the sister of Breccan’s talent agent, Simon. With filming fast approaching (and an offer of $8,000/month salary), Simon convinces Cora to temporarily take on the job of being Breccan’s personal assistant.

In quick succession, they meet, sparks fly, and they head over to Hong Kong on Breccan’s private jet. This book is a short introduction to their story, but the majority of it takes place in Hong Kong, while Breccan is filming.

Overall Impressions:
This book was not what I expected, really. Surprisingly for this genre, it turned out to be more–and that is why it received the rating I gave it:

  1. The book was not comprised of sex scene after sex scene, with some loosely connected fluff in between. There was only one sex scene (although there were several “off-stage” sexual encounters overheard by Cora) and there was real purpose to the scenes between the sex.
  2. There was a real story line at work here, complete with the impression of a full back story for each of the main characters.

The Nitty Gritty:
Bending All the Rules is a short, fast-paced erotic romance. It opens with a short scene from Breccan Laughry’s point of view and then spends the remainder of the book in Cora’s point of view. I found it nice to start from the male POV for once, but I did find him to be arrogant and short-tempered; more than one chapter of his POV would probably have been too much. The one really juicy plot point in this book does, however, come from his chapter–although it is not raised again during this book. I am hoping that Breccan’s mysterious room and treasured wooden box show up again in book two (Breaking All the Rules).

Cora seems to be a much more multi-faceted character: she has some worries, some dreams, and, mot importantly, some intelligence and spunk. She isn’t your typical erotic fiction heroine, jumping into bed with the male lead the first time she sees him. There is definitely some give and take going on here; her body is attracted to him, but her head knows better. Despite being erotic, this book is not just all about the sex. There is some character development, up beats and down beats, and even plot.

That being said, there is also plenty of sex, of sorts, to keep those looking for it satisfied: Cora overhears some loud-neighbor sex, is greeted by a naked woman who’s clothing got ripped during sex, and overhears Breccan having sex. There is also one fully-on-stage sex scene. It is not what I expected when committing to reading an erotic romance, but it is enough to get the pulse going faster.

There are two things I wish would have been different. First, there was a LOT of swearing. While I can understand the point of view that there are other ways to get those emotions across other than swearing, I am also not against swearing in books. I just want it to be more than swearing. It should help build the character, it’s the best word for the situation, raises the stakes, etc. Bending All the Rules has enough swearing in it that, for me, it looses its impact and, at times, makes me wonder why the character would have such a dependency on the words.

Secondly, I wish there was more to it. Yes, there is a second book, but I wish that Ms. Rylan had slowed down and expanded just about all of THIS book. Seeing more character development and, more importantly, the development of the relationship that Cora and Breccan have formed by the end of the book, would have made the emotional connection with the book–including the one on-stage sex scene–much stronger. And as much as I look forward to seeing what happens next now (which is a fair amount), I would have been dying to read the next one if I had spent more time with Cora and Breccan in this book.

Book Club Chatter:
If you are adventurous enough to do this book as part of a discussion group, you can talk about any of the following things:

  1. The difference between how we see ourselves and others see us
  2. Defending another versus defending yourself

You Will Like This If…:

  • You like erotic fiction–but don’t need it to be one sex scene after another
  • You like contemporary romances

Goodreads Rating: 4.11 (3 Reviews)
Amazon Rating: 4 (4 Reviews)
My Rating: 4 Stars
The writing is solid and the one on-stage sex scene is well-written (important in an erotic novel!). I liked the switch-up of starting with the male POV and that Cora was hesitant about acting on her attraction to Breccan (fairly unique in the erotic novels I have read). The story could have been stronger with a slower pace and less swearing, but, overall, this book delivered more than I expected based on its status as erotic fiction.

Other Books by this Author that I have Reviewed:
Forbidden by Savannah Rylan