Automne

I like reading. I like food. I like reading about food.

DNF

Gluten-Free Girl: How I Found the Food That Loves Me Back & How You Can Too - Shauna James Ahern

I had to flounce this book. It was nothing more than a hate read in the first place because I hate read her blog. Shauna Ahern is nothing more than a poseur and an all-around terrible person. There's so much of her bashing her mother and looking down upon people who don't abide by her constantly changing standards. Packaged foods are for the proles, unless they're a sponsor for her blog, for example.

 

Her writing is godawful. I would rather attempt to read Blindness again (go read the first chapter of Blindness. If you can get past the lack of paragraph breaks, dialogue tags, commas, and other punctuation, you have more patience and tolerance than I do). She writes like Stephanie Myers with a thesaurus. For somebody who was supposedly a former English teacher, that's just a damn shame.

 

As somebody who is an actual food professional (I'm a pastry chef instructor), her lack of understanding of ingredients and flavor balance continually bugs me. Using the most expensive and esoteric ingredients does not make you a Michelin-star level chef.

 

For everything else that makes me despise this woman, I just direct you to the 220+-page thread on the Get Off My Internets forum.

SPOILER ALERT!

Page 302

Already Home - Susan Mallery

I've been meaning to write a post on this book for a while now. Since I'm close to the end, I can just add this to the final review.

 

I am liking the book, mostly because I have a bias towards culinary romantic fiction considering I'm a pastry chef myself, but there are a few things that are bothering me:

 

1.) Serenity and Tom (but mostly Serenity). They really are pissing me off in this book. Who are you to just roll up out of nowhere to see the child you gave up without at least calling her first (and not just her ex-husband to whom you did not even give your identity) and demand a relationship? Not only that, Serenity, despite her hippie airs of the universe giving signs, clearly harbors resentment and anger towards Jenna. Apparently, Jenna was supposed to reject her loving adoptive parents and come running to her birth parents. Unfortunately for Serenity, Beth and Marshall have been wonderful parents to Jenna and Jenna had no desire to seek her biological parents out. And why was the onus put on Jenna? Serenity and Tom had 32 years to seek out Jenna and they never did. Only reason they're doing so now is because while it has yet to be outright stated, it has been clearly implied that Serenity is dying. Which by the way, is a really shitty thing to do to Jenna for two reasons: they (Serenity, Tom, Dragon, Wolf, and Jasmine) are keeping that fact from Jenna and Serenity is intentionally trying to undermine Jenna's relationship with Beth, her true mother, so Jenna becomes attached to Serenity like a daughter only to have to deal with that loss.

 

Serenity is an incredibly selfish character who refuses to see beyond herself and her wants. She never bothered to sit and think about the ramifications of her actions onto a person she claims to love dearly. It's all just "The universe said this and gave me that sign so I must immediately act upon it." Screw that. You don't just walk into somebody's life, make emotional demands of them, denigrate their relationship with the people you gave them up to, only to die on them. I really hope somebody (Jenna) gives Serenity a "What the hell?!" speech.

 

2.) Cliff. When I originally meant to write this post, I was predicting that he was going to turn out to be abusive, and lo and behold, he beats the shit out of poor Violet. And I'm really glad the author points out that he'll get a slap on the wrist and Violet can only hope he doesn't become a stalker because usually this sort of storyline gets wrapped up too neatly. I watch far too much Investigation Discovery to suspend my belief.

 

3.) Ellington. I generally like him, but he's the one being irrational about Jenna's feelings toward Serenity. Telling Jenna she has "blind loyalty" to Beth is seriously fucked up. No, that's called a close mother-daughter bond. Beth raised Jenna and loves her just as much as Serenity claims she does. 

 

It's obvious Ellington also knows Serenity's terminally ill, so if anybody has blind loyalty to somebody, it's him to Serenity. He has a lot to answer for, but I'm sure Jenna is going to be the one that has to apologize.

 

4.) Serenity and Ellington's insinuations that biology trumps all and refusing to understand Jenna's predicament and instead are compounding her emotional turmoil. She's being pulled in two directions and somebody's going to end up hurt by Jenna when that's clearly not her intent and it doesn't help that Beth initially pushed Jenna to pursuing a relationship with Jenna but now regrets it and Serenity has been doing what I've already outlined. And nobody has really taken Jenna into account.

 

5.) Aaron. Like Cliff, I had predicted he was going to worm his way back to Jenna somehow because it was clear the doesn't really possess any culinary talent and was fine with taking the credit for Jenna's creations while completely destroying her self-esteem at the same time. When Jenna got the show and cookbook offer that was initially extended to Aaron, it was only a matter of time before he appeared. He figured that Jenna was going to be pining for him and was only biding her time before he came back. And of course he insults Jenna's store and accomplishments since their divorce because Jenna won't let him glom onto her and take the glory for her work.

 

Unless there is some serious catharsis by the end, I don't think I'm going to be able to give this book more than three stars.

Page 112

Can't Stand The Heat (Recipe for Love) - Louisa Edwards

Okay. I understand being under all sorts of stress because you're opening a new restaurant in a big-fish food city (NYC), you're the newest hot thing and there's pressure to deliver your promises about your food and keep interest going to survive and not close after the hype dies down, and you have a critic doing a month-long internship (which was your fault in the first place, letting your mouth run before your brain kicks in).

 

BUT, yelling at your critic intern in front of the entire staff isn't cool. Yes, a fucked-up stock fucks up the food. However, you can't bitch out somebody for a rookie mistake when they are (DUN DUN DUN) a rookie! If Miranda was formally trained in culinary school and/or had X-number of years in a professional kitchen under her belt, then fucking up stock is a bitch-out-able offense. But she isn't. 

 

I don't buy the whole, "I can't cook" thing, though. Sure, not know how to properly skim stock. But at all? And you're such a well-known critic that people dread your appearance?

The Perfect Hope - Nora Roberts One thing I hate about paranormal fiction are the ghosts that want to be all cryptic. Look, if I'm spending time trying to figure out YOUR mystery, be a little more forthcoming with information.

Another thing that bugged me: Yes, Clare is pregnant. But she had her book already. We don't constantly need comments about Clare's belly, her soon to be twins, and other preggo stuff. I really don't care. 5 boys under the age of ten is her (and Beckett's) problem.

I do like how there was resolution to the Wickham storyline. The fact that Jonathan and Sheridan come at different occasions and mess around with Hope pissed me off, but then Ryder bloodlessly takes care of the situation. I also like how Dad Wickham doesn't try to defend his son and his actions, but admits it and agrees to take care of it. It's a refreshing change from the corrupt corporate executive character.

It was a little contrived that Hope is the descendant of Eliza and Ryder of the elusive Billy. It was a lot of forces at work to bring Hope to Boonsboro.

I really enjoyed Avery's enthusiasm over her new restaurant and it sounds like an excellent place. I was also envious of the baker. Where can I get that gig?
Midnight Bayou - Nora Roberts This book was merely okay. The two romantic leads were all right, though Declan was TOO perfect. He really had no flaws other than being a little stubborn and presumptuous in regards to his pursuing a relationship with Lena. I enjoyed the New Orleans setting and Miss Odette. Again, I have to wonder about Nora Roberts' relationship with her mother. I cannot name a single NR book where the female lead did NOT have a toxic relationship with her mother. Meanwhile, her male leads always have a great relationship; obviously that's based on her and her sons.

The supernatural element just kind of...ended. There was no true resolution, which is disappointing because the reincarnation setup was really interesting and a departure from Roberts' usual paranormal plots. Okay, you have reincarnation and maladjusted spirits roaming around and there's no exorcism or at least show some sort of settlement when Declan and Lena come together in the end.

Bringing in Lilibeth did nothing but piss off the reader and there was no real justice (aside note: I REALLY hate that in books where a character does something so awful and they don't get their comeuppance). Trespassing into somebody's house and stealing about $10K worth of items and money kind of goes into felony territory. Then you have the background story that doesn't really end in proper justice, either. I HATE that in books.

I did like Remy and Effie and obviously Effie was another reincarnated spirit which is hinted at, but not really explored. It goes back to a previous point: you have the reincarnations of past people all managing to come together and it's not properly explored. It would have made the book a lot more interesting.
Babycakes - Donna Kauffman Again, like my review of the previous book in the series my main two complaints are 1.) the female character's background story is so fucked up and there is absolutely no hellfire brought upon the offenders. Especially when the offenders in question are Kit's brother-in-law and SISTER. And 2.) once again, character brought in out of nowhere. An offhand, easily overlooked sentence with Kit's name does not count as foreshadowing. It's a good thing the books themselves are so good and involve a subject that I am passionate about because those would be dealbreakers otherwise.

Now it's a bit contrived that the person Kit falls in love with is part of the family of lawyers that helped destroy Kit's family and legacy. If I were still licking my wounds from the betrayal and the end of a family legacy, last thing I would do is get involved with somebody who's family was responsible, even if he's so separated from his family. I would still have to deal with that cold bitch of a mother and the rest of them. It would be years before I could stop wishing horrible fates upon them all. I definitely could not commit to one of their family members and help raise one of their progeny.

I've made it very clear in past reviews that I'm not a fan of children in my romance novels, but the kid was pretty cute. The subplot with the turtles seem kind of out there when cupcakes are the usual background character, but it fit. I continue to really like all the characters and the setting.
Sweet Stuff - Donna Kauffman Okay, I really loved this book and the series as a whole, but there are a couple of things that prevented it from being five stars:

1.) Riley's backstory involves something so heinous and awful that even with the proper romance story ending I still felt unfulfilled. Jeremy and his Lithuanian whore really needed to meet retribution. The reader NEEDS fiction to bring justice because we don't get that in real life. Fuck Jeremy and Lithuanian Slut getting their happy ending. And the fact that part of Riley's epiphany and catharsis is putting partial responsibility on herself kind of aggravates me. I appreciate introspection when the breakup was for any other reason, but when your fiancé has been fucking the dog-walker all over the apartment (including the table Riley ATE off of) and then takes the apartment, somehow manage to get all their mutual friends and coworkers on HIS side, can't show any propriety, doesn't give any proper apology, and then tries to TAKE THE DOG, fuck that. Riley doesn't get to shoulder any of the responsibility. Ugh, it's been weeks since I finished the book, but it still pisses me off.

2.) The fact that Riley came out of nowhere to get her own book. Nothing was foreshadowed in the first book. And when you already have a character embarking on her own romantic journey, you want to see that. Not relegated into the background while a brand-new character gets the book. And when the previous character and her SO are the only two racial minority characters, it starts going into the territory of unfortunate implications. So is the fact that Kauffman did it again with the next book.

Those two details aside, I really enjoyed the romantic journey. Quinn and Riley were fully fleshed out characters in a genre where the two romantic leads tend to be flat. Their progression seemed very natural and nothing seemed forced or overly coincidental.

I continue to really enjoy the cupcakes, the recipes, and the camaraderie within the Club. I loved Brutus, but I always have a soft spot for dogs, real and fictional. Only thing, it was really weird at the very end where we get the dog's POV. That was just...odd.
Harvest Moon - Robyn Carr I had initial misgivings with this book because I'd rather keep children of any age out of my romance novels, but I do have a weakness for a female chef lead and an autumn setting.

This bore a few similarities to a book I read in the past, [b:The Accidental Bride|13548167|The Accidental Bride|Christina Skye|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1352360539s/13548167.jpg|19113339], including where the female chef lead becomes overwhelmed and passes out while at work and taken to the hospital where she is to ease up her work schedule lest she end up back in the hospital and goes to a small town where she falls in love while finding another way to continue her passion for food. There's even a character named Jillian.

Kelly was a nicely fleshed out character. We're shown her flaws and her features and how she's growing after quitting her job at the restaurant and having been lead on by Luca Brazzi. And in a nice change of pace, she's not the motherly nurturing type and is wholly uninterested in becoming another mother for Courtney. Lief is the same; we understand his motivations and how much he loves Courtney and Kelly.

The Luca Brazzi storyline was kind of a throwaway. It starts the story and then it's not really looked at again until over halfway into the book. Kelly is told by Luca's wife, Olivia, that she is to cease the (nonexistent) affair between her and Luca and Olivia somehow managed to pull numerous people under her thumb to gain control of Luca's finances. Later it's just offhandedly mentioned that Olivia is being frozen out financially due to her actions and she and Luca are divorcing.

It was a sweet story for the most part, but the character of Courtney did bug me. Granted, she's given the Freudian excuse of her mother dying when she was 11 and her biological father is an absolute asshole. However, she's also incredibly selfish and doesn't consider anybody's feelings, needs, or wants above her own. Lief goes through hell and high water to give Courtney a good life and stability and she continually throws it back in his face. When she finally calms down, she wants to act like a little bitch to Kelly and actively prevent Kelly and Lief having a relationship. It's not until Kelly helps Courtney out (after the little twit somehow figures that deceiving and disobeying her father by staying home alone with her new puppy as opposed to going to her friend's house overnight and the puppy ends up electrocuting himself by chewing on wires) and decides to go, "Fuck it," and plans to go back to San Francisco to pursue a job opportunity with Luca Brazzi that Courtney finally grows up. Courtney apparently thought that Kelly was just threatening to leave and not actually follow through. *eyeroll* I wish somebody would just shake the kid and tell her, "It's not all about you." The therapist, Jerry, does it in a roundabout way, but she needed to be told straight up that while she's first in Lief's life, she isn't and shouldn't be the only one.

Obviously, given the genre, it ends well with Lief and Kelly getting married, with Courtney's full blessing. And it gives me good reason as to why it's not really worth dating a guy with kids. Yeesh.

Hot Under Pressure (Rising Star Chef, #3)

Hot Under Pressure (Rising Star Chef, #3) - Louisa Edwards Two stars because Goodreads thinks people are idiots who won't understand half-star ratings.

This was my least favorite in the series, due to Skye Gladwell annoying me and the whole "Babies ever after" trope I hate.

As usual, I love the food descriptions, the recipe index in the back of the book, and the knowledge Edwards clearly has of a professional kitchen.

Down to the meat of the book, I'm glad to finally get to know the mystery of Henry Beck. As we found out in the previous book, he is still married to Skye Gladwell, though they haven't seen each other in ten years. The two married very young and, as is par for the course in this genre, Skye got knocked up almost immediately. Given that neither of them had any sort of income coming in that would even support just the two of them, let alone a baby (that, had it survived, would have had special needs to boot), Beck does the logical thing and join the Navy. Logical in the sense that the military provides not only a steady income, but pretty sweet spousal and dependent benefits. Like, you know, MEDICAL INSURANCE, for all pre-, post-, and antenatal needs. Somehow, Skye interprets this as abandonment instead as a necessary evil to properly provide for a baby. After Skye miscarries while Beck is deployed, she tells him that she never wants to see him again. Now ladies, when you say something like that, don't be surprised when the recipient of the sentiment actually takes it literally.

After that point, it was hard for me to finish reading the book. If I can't sympathize with half of the main pairing, then there's not much hope for the book. Of course, it's presented that the onus of repairing the relationship falls onto Beck. What was his major crime? Being close-lipped about himself. That's it. He just doesn't like talking about himself and reopening old wounds that he's spent years trying to heal. How many people are willing to tell everybody and their mother about how you lost your parents in a very traumatic way (bridge collapse during an earthquake) when your age was still a single digit and that you spent the next ten years in the foster care system without any sort of stability or love? And really, if you were willing to jump into a marriage with a guy you barely knew, it's a little unfair to fault him with not offering up much information afterward. Probably something that would have been worth discussing before saying, "Hey, let's go to City Hall!"

Of course, Skye is not without her parental issues. She deals with the perennial disappointment from her parents that she isn't who they want her to be, which I can sympathize to an extent. If you want to have kids, you don't get to be disappointed about them becoming human beings with their own opinions, goals, and personalities. Kids are not to be virtual clones of yourself.

The Jeremiah angle seemed superfluous to me. Obviously there had to be a reason for Skye to request an official divorce, but if it's going to be because she met another man that she's so sure is ready to pop *the* question, then he should have more of a presence, humanitarian or not. Not just some mentions here and there, oh he finally comes back to the USA and walks in on Beck and Skye post-coitus (Jeremiah and Skye had an open relationship agreement), and then his next and final scene being that he told Skye (offscreen or off=page, if you will) that he's met somebody else and that's okay because Skye has realized that she's still in love with her husband.

Beck's grand romantic gesture is taking the final challenge of the RSC (conveniently, "Tell your life story through five courses") is essentially stripping himself emotionally in front of not only Skye and Nina Lunden (who was the guest taster for Beck), but four virtual strangers. Skye does the same, but refuses to present a fifth course, essentially forfeiting the RSC title to Beck. That annoyed me quite a bit. Of course I wanted Beck to win. You don't spend three books with a set of characters to not want to see them win it all, but I wanted to see them win fairly, not from forfeiture.

Beck and Skye officially reunite and the book skips to a year later where Skye has managed to knocked up quickly again (given the time frame, a mere three months after they've reunited after a decade-long separation. You would think they'd wait and rebuild a solid marriage foundation before popping out kids, but people don't even do that in reality, let alone Romance Fantasyland). At that point, I mentally checked out and just rushed through the last few pages.

Once again, I found myself wishing for a book featuring Claire and Kane. I really liked their relationship and wanted far more. I generally hate B-plot romances in romance novels because there's no way to make it fulfilling without deviating quite a bit from the main pairing and book plot and other little arcs. To give a beta pairing enough time would cause a book to increase its length substantially. This series already had a lot going on in each book that Claire/Kane really needed their own book. We barely know their characters other than the superficial. And because of that, I leave this series a little unfulfilled.
The Accidental Bride - Christina Skye I bought this on impulse at CVS because the premise sounded interesting. I found it funny that it turns out the female lead is a chef/restaurant-owner with her own salsa line. No wonder the book called to me, eh?

Jilly O'Hara is a former foster child who was abandoned as a baby who worked hard to succeed in life without having the familial safety net to help and guide her. Unfortunately, a heart defect that had gone undetected causes her to collapse from a heart attack at the age of 27. With her future now uncertain, her friends send her to a knitting retreat at Lost Creek Resort in Wyoming. At arrival, she meets war hero Walker Hale and his dog Winslow.

The book was a little superficial. The characters are two-dimensional. You get little snippets of their past and their characterization, but not so much that you can get a sense of their motivations. It kind of makes the revelation of Walker's family come out of left field. The chemistry between the two leads was good, but I really need to know more about them to get a sense of their feelings on it rather than just sort of saying they like each other.

Also, some minor plot points are unresolved. Like what favor does Walker's father ask of him in repayment of what Walker asked him to do? It's mentioned several times that is what is going to happen and that it will be something manipulative.

Then there's the fact that the fake wedding thing that's mentioned on the summary in the back, that starts off the book, and gives the book its title doesn't happen until almost the end of the book. When I picked up the book, I thought that the two leads would be virtual strangers when approached to do the faux-wedding and then the book would go on to develop the romance between the two while they're "married."

But it was a nice read and I'm a sucker for food in fiction and I did like the characters, so it gets three stars on that alone.
Crazy for Love (Hqn) - Victoria Dahl Another solid read by Victoria Dahl. And it amused me that the main female character has my last name and is from Virginia.

Chloe Turner has been deemed a Bridezilla by the press because her fiancé decided to crash his plan in order to fake his death so he could get out of marrying Chloe. Because God forbid a grown-ass man learns to use his words. So Chloe gets the brunt of the blame and goes to an island in what I assume is in the Chesapeake with her BFF, Jenn, as an escape. There she meets Max Sullivan, a dive supervisor/treasure hunter with anxiety and control issues.

Max and Chloe initially get involved because Max has a thing where he feels he has to be the knight in shining armor at all times. He goes over to where Chloe and Jenn have a fire going because he's fretting about the fire becoming too big. He walks with Chloe at night because he wants to prevent her from doing any night swimming. Thankfully, Dahl doesn't allow Max's savior tendencies to stay secret and let that be a basis for their relationship and have that be the drama. That part is resolved early on. Chloe doesn't reveal the whole Bridezilla thing, however, so that becomes a nasty shock once another vacationer recognizes Chloe and alerts the paparazzi. Max no longer wants a life of complications and worry, so this presents an issue between the two.

The beta relationship is between Max's brother Elliott and Jenn and it's sweet enough, but not a lot of time is spent on them. The true reasons behind Thomas (Chloe's fiancé) faking his death are predictable. And Max and Chloe end up saying "I love you" when they've only spent a few days with each other and have known each other for a couple of months. I know whirlwind romances are the thing in the genre, but seriously. Actually spend a few months in each other's presence before going that far.

This isn't as strong as Dahl's Colorado series, but I still liked it.
The Next Always - MacLeod Andrews, Nora Roberts What I wasn't a fan of: The paranormal element, the half-written villan, the single mom thing (just not a fan of kids in my romance novels), the overly long passages of renovation descriptions. I appreciate Roberts researching details of her characters' vocations, but she also seems determined to really show that she did the work.

What I liked: Beckett's humor and warmth, Avery, Hope, the small-town life.

Not her best, but certainly not her worst. I'm giving this the "first book in a series" exception and will see if she finds her footing with the second book.
Some Like It Hot - Louisa Edwards I am liking this series so far. Again, I love how Edwards uses food descriptions as metaphors and similes. "Soft and sticky like brioche dough." I can relate to that statement because I've worked with brioche dough. Although after you've added the butter, that shit is greasy, too. /tangent I just like how the food is as much as a feature character as the people.

I've wanted to see Danny and Eva's story after the first book started hinting at their eventual pairing. The main obstacle is Danny being able to put himself first for once instead of his team. Although Max and Jules from the first book have made it harder for him because now they're far too into their honeymoon phase to put forth their best work. There's just some things I wish Danny had said to Max and Jules instead of biting his words back. Kind of sucks that Edwards made me start disliking the first coupling. Who the fuck do the two of you think you are, hijacking the bed and the like and leave everybody else to sleep in discomfort?

We also start getting hints about Beck's past because we see his not-actually-ex-wife as the leader of the West Coast team. I've started it now and I have an idea of where it's going to go and if I'm right, it's going to annoy me.

Eva's father, Theo, is a grade-A douche. Especially when he's decided he wants Claire back, showing no signs of having changed himself from what made Claire dump him in the first place. And thinking he's the better option over Kane. And thinking that he can even begin to make up for years of neglectful and downright shitty parenting.

I'm looking forward to finishing out the series and seeing where things end up. Given the genre, I think the East Coast team is going to win the whole thing, but I get a feeling that they may not, which would tick me off. Don't get me invested in this team over the span of three books only to have them lose. That's not why I read this genre, yo.
Too Hot To Touch - Louisa Edwards A star is given purely for the fact that Edwards has obviously done research in the culinary field and uses the proper terms and such. I also like how her metaphors and similes are culinary-related as well. And I really like how she provides recipes for the dishes described in the book. Being a culinary student myself, I would have had to flounce if this were an author who used the Food Network as her primary source material.

I do like how Jules is shown to be capable as a leader in the kitchen, considering that the field is still male-dominated, and doesn't completely go weak when Max returns. Max has been gone from NYC and his family's Greenwich Village staple restaurant for the past six years traveling the world and mastering different cuisines (jealous!). He's just been given a lucrative offer to go to Italy and train with a charcuterie master (after two years of effort) when he is asked to come home to help his family's restaurant, Lunden's, get through the gatekeeper challenges of the Rising Star Chef competition to be the East Coast representative team. After they get through that, he's free to go back abroad.

Jules is mainly motivated by how the Lunden's gave her a home, no questions asked, after she's essentially kicked out after her stepfather attempts to assault her and her mother takes the stepfather's side. She worked her way to a sous chef position and essentially takes an executive chef position once Gus' health starts to fail.

I didn't like how Max acted as a petulant brat about his perception of Jules taking his place in the family. As if he didn't leave willingly after having yet another argument with his father about how the restaurant is run and barely keep in contact. As soon as he arrives back to NYC, all he can think and talk about his getting away again to go to Italy. Given his attitude, no wonder nobody told him about his father's declining health because nobody wanted to carry the guilt of keeping Max in NYC (when he would have felt obliged to stay) when it was obvious he wanted to be in Europe.

I liked the balance between the competition and the culinary world and the romance between Max and Jules. Since this is a romance novel and the first in a series, you know the outcome of the preliminary competition and Jules and Max relationship. Since this is a trilogy, I'm assuming the next two books are between Danny/Eva and Claire/Kane.

However, this book does hit on a romance genre pet peeve of mine. When one half of your alpha couple is presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that is relevant to their career and passion, fucking write it so they take it. I HATE when characters give it up for the sake of the person they've been with for only a very short period of time. Max spent two years hounding this Italian chef to take him on as an apprentice and finally gets it. The default plan for the team was to continue on with the competition after Max leaves anyway. If you make it so he really can't leave without negative repercussions (like pissing off his family again, losing Jules, and not being there to help with the rest of the competition) then don't write in a lucrative opportunity that he must give up. I just really hate that.
The Witness - Nora Roberts I generally like NR's hardback releases and this one was no exception. It was well-paced, the main characters were likable, not a whole lot annoyed me, it's set in a small town, and since NR lives in the area, my home region got a shout out. I got great amusement about them renting a hotel in Tysons' Corner since it was right off the highway (I'm assuming Rte. 7). Yeah, have fun in that construction traffic.

Brooks is the all-around genial good Southern man. Well-mannered, romantic, stubborn, amiable, and intelligent. All good qualities for a romantic hero who is Chief of Police in small-town Arkansas. He quickly becomes protective of Abigail, realizing that there's something very wrong right off the bat. There's not much to say on him because he's not obnoxious, a brute, or somehow blood-related to his romantic interest.

Abigail is a self-reliant heroine, which I enjoy. She's had to be, 12 years on the run with nobody to help her and the threat of being killed always hanging over her head. She rarely commits any stupid actions. The only one I can think of is when she thought to put down roots in NYC. Now, if you're running from the Russian Mafia (or the Italian or Irish mobs, for that matter), NYC is the absolute LAST place you'd want to live. That's their friggin' backyard. Any major city is. So of course she ended up getting spotted and nearly killed by Ilya. Luckily for her, her street smarts start catching up to her book smarts.

Speaking of, Abigail is presented as highly intelligent, but very robotic. She's like an alien from Third Rock from the Sun where she doesn't understand jokes and will start reciting the encyclopedia at any given moment (at one point, she goes on about beer brewing in China when Brooks brings over Chinese food and beer). I understand that her mother was a very cold, unemotional person and there was a fair amount of suppression and repression of emotions while living with her, but to fail understanding basic human interactions?

Speaking of Abigail's mother, I have to wonder about NR's relationship with her mother. Rarely does she present a positive mother/daughter relationship. And not just that, the mother is usually presented as cold, unemotional, bitter, angry, abusive, narcissistic, and/or neglectful. Dr. Susan Fitch is a cold and cruel bitch who is more concerned about Elizabeth/Abigail not completing the assigned summer internship than the fact that her 16-year old daughter is a material witness to two mob-related murders and now has a bounty on her head. The Doctor seems to view her daughter as an experiment in nature vs. nurture and genetic superiority (almost seems like the natural conclusion to Sandra Brown's Thursday's Child where the two romantic leads are to conceive a baby as an experiment. Don't even get me started on the ethics of that one) with a specific life plan that Elizabeth/Abigail is to follow, no questions, opinions, or deviation allowed. No wonder the kid rebelled.

Plotwise, the book was fine there. Except, while I generally don't mind B-plots, I do want them to have some sort of relevance and not essentially be filler. That's what the Justin & Lincoln Blake B-plot ended up being. The way it was going and how it was getting some serious page time, I thought Lincoln Blake was going to end up having some ties with the Russian Mafia, bringing Abigail's past into Bickford, Arkansas. Either that, or the PI Blake hired would somehow uncover who Abigail actually is and Blake would try to lead the Russians to Abigail. Nope. It truly was unrelated to the main storyline and its conclusion ended up being a couple of paragraphs. That storyline could have been eliminated and cut down the book length. Maybe if this weren't a one-shot and there had been a previous book with these characters, then yeah, I wouldn't mind so much because then I'd be like, "Yeah, take down those Blake assholes." As it was, I found myself wondering why I should care about this because I'm more interested in the main plot.

The end of the book was predictable, as it generally is with the romantic genre. The conclusion was logical, considering that once the Mob is after you, there are very few means of escape. What I wonder is, when you've got the Mob or Mafia after you and you have the ability to change your identity thoroughly and are damn good with computers, why not get the hell out of America? It's much harder for them to get you when you're no longer even in the same country.

Good book and I can't wait for the next hardback release.
Dream Lake. by Lisa Kleypas (Friday Harbor) - Lisa Kleypas I liked this one better than the previous two books in the series; of course, me with my bias, I think the fact that Zoe is a chef and there's a fair amount of food descriptions in the book (which has given me a few ideas) helped quite a bit.

This is the book I originally started reading until I realized that it was the third book in a series. I really wanted to see how the author reconciled Alex's alcoholism because frankly, I find that to be a dealbreaker when it comes to a prospective relationship. It was handled as best as I could expect in a book like this because I doubt any romance novel would really get into proper rehabilitation. Although Alex quitting cold turkey is a little unrealistic considering how dangerous that is in real life.

This book was interesting in how it ran parallel to Rainshadow Road. It's almost like an extension because now you get the other side of a few situations that happened in RR. It was done pretty well, so I liked it.

The paranormal aspect wasn't as annoying as in Rainshadow Road. Alex apparently can see dead people and Zoe is kind of like Sarah Michelle Gellar's character in that movie Simply Irresistible with Sean Patrick Flannery. Zoe's magical talent isn't really touched upon that much (you see a bit in Rainshadow Road), until the dinner scene with her father.

Speaking of, it's not really said why Zoe bothers to continue contact with her dad. He essentially abandoned her when she was a child and made false promises for eight years about sending for her after he settles in Arizona. It's when Zoe is fifteen and she calls her father only to find out he has a new girlfriend with a daughter that have moved in that she realizes that her father won't come for her. So after that, why have contact? What's the point? Because we see in the book that not only did James abandon his child because he couldn't handle the heartbreak after his wife, Zoe's mother, abandon them (so yes, Zoe is abandoned by both parents), but he treats Zoe like crap, criticizing her at every opportunity and blaming her divorce on her (turned out Zoe's ex-husband was a gay in denial).

So at the dinner scene, she plans the menu with Alex in mind and pretty much everybody enjoys the meal except for James. He proclaims that Zoe must have doctored his meal because it was bitter and walks out. And that's it. No resolution comes of that and that's the last we hear of Zoe's father. So again, what was the point of having him in her life at all if there's no resolution to their relationship?

Anyhoo, what drives this book is that the ghost Alex sees has no idea of his identity and relies on Alex to help fill the gaps of the ghost's memory. In turn, the ghost tries to deal with Alex's demons (not out of kindness, but because the ghost needs Alex and the ghost has somehow bonded to him so that wherever Alex goes, the ghost has to go). At the same time, Zoe finds herself as the caretaker of her grandmother who raised the girl after her parents proved to be worthless, Emma (or Upsie), who is slowly dying. While it's obvious that the ghost and Emma had romantic ties when he was alive, it's not exactly who we expect, though most of the plot is predictable. One thing that bothered me is that Emma never revealed this love to Zoe, but Alex knows by proxy of the ghost and we as the audience know, but Zoe never really gets to know this much about her grandmother. That kind of sucks for Zoe.

Near the end, Emma wanders off in search of the ghost and Alex helps Zoe search for her. Alex gets hit by a car speeding around a blind curve and essentially dies. The ghost tells Alex's ghost to tell Zoe what he in his living form couldn't tell her. The ghost gets help from the ghostly higher powers to shove Alex's spirit back into his meatsuit and Alex gets up with nary a scratch. I mean, have him live, but it's really weird for him to get up from death perfectly fine.

As one can predict, Emma eventually dies and her spirit in the form of her younger self can finally be with her true love in the hereafter and Alex and Zoe start their happily ever after that the ghost partially reveals. A bit of a trite ending, but that was about the only way to end it.

Alex's character was better fleshed out than Mark and Sam in the previous two books. We get little tidbits of his fucked-up upbringing like his parents giving him alcohol as a kid to keep him quiet and how Alex felt like he was completely alone because his siblings flew the cuckoo's nest when Alex was still quite young. So we get a better idea of his angst, which I like because it doesn't end up giving me a "STFU and get over it" feeling.

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