Book Review: The Wrangler

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book to review via Netgalley.

The Wrangler is the fifth book in Lindsay McKenna’s Jacksone Hole series. However you do not have to read any of the previous books to enjoy the story, though I would suggest at least reading the previous book The Last Cowboy to get a better understanding of Griff’s relationship with his brother Slade, but it is certainly not a requirement. Because I had read The Last Cowboy before stating in on this book I came into it with a relatively large dislike of Griff. After how he treated Slade I doubted he could do much to redeem himself in The Wrangler.

Val Hunter has left her job at the Air Force to return home to help her grandmother, Gus, run the family ranch, a place that has very few happy memories for Val. Having grown up with an abusive father Val has a very difficult time trusting me, refusing to let them get close to her or opening up to them and rightfully so. Her transition from a withdrawn, damaged, standoffish woman to someone who could once again live a happy life filled with love was a great part of this book. It gave Val’s character a lot of development and showed that not everything happens easily or right off the hop. While she is not the strongest main character I have seen she was certainly a nice change from your typical strong female who needs no help and is perfect right from the beginning.

Gus, Val’s grandmother, was a very good addition to this story. She’s an old ranch woman who is tough and stern, doesn’t take crap from nobody and isn’t afraid to put in some sweat equity even with her bad hip. She really is the backbone of Val’s transition, along with Griff. I really enjoyed how she stood up to Curt Downing and put him and his little minion in their place. She also adds that sense of family to the story, after all she’s the only family Val has left.

Griff has changed a lot. After losing his job on Wall street after the markets crashed he has returned home to Jackson Hole. After struggling at first, mainly because his brother Slade refused to accept him back and because Griff is inexperienced at ranch work, he has found his place and works hard at the local feed store. It’s hard work but he loves it, and it shows that he has begun to embrace his heritage as a Wyoming bred ranchers son. Showing that he has a good work ethic, is respectful, kind, a bit shy and willing to put himself in dangerous positions is a major selling point, and goes a long way to redeeming himself from his previous ways.

While all the characters are enjoyable for various reason, I have to say my favorite is probably Curt Downing. Even in the book The Last Cowboy he was the perfect villain and he continues to be so in The Wrangler. He’s rich, he’s rude, very few people like him and he has his dirty hands in just about everything. He is definitely the type of person you love to hate.

There were a great number of small subplots within this book. Between both Griff and Val trying to overcome their pasts and start on their futures, the feud between Griff and Slade, the presence of a drug cartel and FBI investigate of it, along with the romance itself. So while certain things did distract from the romance aspect of the book I don’t think it took away from it all that much. One aspect I liked was the tie in to The Last Cowboy, having Slade present in this book and showing the brother finally putting their past and their feud behind them for good, they still have some work to do on their relationship but it’s gotten better.

The love between Griff and Val is slow to develop, mostly due to Val being so withdrawn and resistant to men, but also because Griff is respectful of her aversion to men. Because of this he doesn’t try to speed things up even though he feels an attraction to her and believes on many occasions that Val may be developing feelings for him. Through working together on fixing up the ranch they slowly go from co-workers, to friends and then at the end falling in love.

Though slow going at points the ending does make up for it, when Griff and Val finally come together and let their passion and love take them to the next step. Of course Gus’ reaction to it made for a great laugh. Leave it to good old Gus to point something obvious out to the pair in her typical manner.

This and other reviews can also be found at Exploring All Genres.

Book Review: Skin

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book to review via NetGalley.

Skin is a collaboration between Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins. It is part of the Mike Hammer series, however you do not need to read any of the other books to follow the story, though in a way I wish I had to get a better sense of who Mike Hammer is and to see the previous cases he had worked on. This short story covers the discovery and investigation behind a gruesome pile of human remains found by Mike Hammer on his way home from a meeting. Only a severed hand at the scene tells them that it is or was a human.

A young beautiful reporter, Melodie, arrives on the scene and interviews Mike and his friend/fellow investigator. Though Mike is nearing retirement (or perhaps has retired, I wasn’t too sure) he insists on being involved in the case. She mentions to Mike about previous cases that may tie into this one and does some investigating of her own. But neither of them foresaw what was to happen next. When Melodie goes missing it’s up to Mike to figure out what happened to her before the murderer kills her as well. In the end Mike finds the guy, and thanks to something Melodie says, takes matters into his own hands right before the police arrive.

Now, whether it was because I have not previously read anything in the Mike Hammer series or because it was a short story I didn’t find myself draw into the story as much as I had hoped I would be. I found Mike Hammer to be dull at the beginning when he and his friend Pat were talking at the scene. I just wanted them to do something more interesting. Even as the story progressed Mike Hammer was not an interesting character, and while I was somewhat impressed with the ending I can’t say this story was anything special. The conversations were a bit dry, even when they were talking about the case, either standing at the crime scene or sitting in a diner discussing the horrific details while others listened in during their meals (most of which ended up leaving because of that).

One problem I did have was with the formatting of the story. Not sure if it was simply the version I received or not but I found the foreword and the actual start of the story were mashed all into one paragraph making me confused as to where the real story started. I have to read that first paragraph a good two to three times in order to find the break that signified the end of the foreword and the start of the story. If you are looking for a quick read in the Thriller/Mystery genre, or more from the Mike Hammer series, then this short story is worth checking out. However if you are looking for a longer length in-depth mystery novel then this is likely not what you are going to pick up but still could prove a good little read.

This review and others can also be found on Exploring All Genres.

Book Review: Blood Maiden

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The author provided me with a copy of this book to review.

Much like vampires and werewolves, Dragons are a generally overused genre. It is hard to come by a book that involves dragons that doesn’t seem to be a repeat of every other dragon related book. However Christine Schulze managed to give dragons a refreshing view with Bloodmaiden.

That being said, I did find a few issues with the book. The first chapter or two felt slow, which isn’t always an issue as I realize the book has to start somewhere and often establish a bit of background and character development. However, once over that tiny hump the rest of the story seemed rushed, perhaps a bit too much for my liking. I realize that when a book involves characters doing a lot of traveling, like the ones in this one were doing, the book can become very dull and repetitive very quickly. And considering the characters had to travel between four different kingdoms in order to save the day so to speak, it would have been an absolute snore of a read to have chapter after chapter going on about them traveling. Now there were helpful bits along the way to speed the character through their travel, which basically boiled down to magical transportation at the end of each part of their quest. It was an interesting concept and certainly helped to avoid the inevitable travel time.

The character interactions along the way were fairly good. Though I wasn’t entirely surprised when certain relationships were introduced, perhaps I’m just good at predicting these kind of things. One little twist in the story I did enjoy was involving Tash’s true identity along the way. That part I had no clue of until it jumped out and bit me. Sometimes the most unexpected of surprises are the best. Of course I also didn’t expect her close relationship with Pan and Brydon. So the book was certainly full of surprises.

Overall I thought the book was good, it had an interesting storyline, fairly well developed characters and a well written plot. My biggest concern was that it was a bit too rushed, like the ending was being forced upon the reader without giving enough story to reach the ending. I think I would have liked to see the story flow a bit slower, add some extra elements to the story so that its not a case of travel, talk to dragons, get what your looking for, teleport our and then loop back to the beginning and travel once more. I certainly would not be opposed to visiting the books setting again, seeing how the characters have grown since the end of the book and get more history about the lands and beings within.

This review and others can also be found on Exploring All Genres.

Book Review: If You Ask Me

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Who doesn’t love Betty White? Growing up watching The Golden Girls I fell in love with Betty White and all the other ladies on that show. If I could choose any woman to have as a grandmother, my top pick would be Betty White.

While this is not the first biography that she has written it was certainly a great little read. Betty covers such a great variety of subjects in this books, sharing her feelings on animals, working in show business, being married and other aspects of life. Her humor throughout parts of the book had me laughing out loud, which caused weird looked cast my way from my husband. It was great to read up on several of Betty’s adventures in life, including when she met Koko the gorilla. This part was adorable, especially as she described their first meeting. Koko sat with Betty in her cage and pulled gently at the collar of her blouse because at that time the gorilla had a bit of a fascination with boobs. A simple word from her trainer stopped the gorilla but I can only image Betty’s shock in that moment.

It was funny to read her talking about how after so many years in show business there was almost no new questions whenever she was being interviewed. Even so she tried to give a different answer each time to stop from being too repetitive. And the following quote is probably my favorite from the book.

A few years ago I was asked one of the standard questions for probably the umpteenth time: “Is there anything you haven’t done in your career that you would still like to do?” Well I had just seen Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in Out of Africa for the third time, so the answer was automatic: “Yes, Robert Redford.” And I was surprised to suddenly find it true!

I think that is the best answer likely ever given during an interview. After all, what else could one say when having to answer a question they had already answered so many times in their life? It’s that sharp wit and humor that I love about Betty White.

Not only does the book share her stories but there are also a great number of pictures of Betty White throughout her life. Some are during award ceremonies, like the time she won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2012 Screen Guild Actors Awards, but also from various sets she worked on, to one showing her when she joined the American Women’s Voluntary Services at the beginning of World War II.

If you are a fan of Betty White, old or new, or simply enjoy reading biographies and memoirs then this book is definitely worth checking out. I plan to keep my eyes pealed for her other books to see what other stories she has shared about her life.

This review and others can also be found on Exploring All Genres.

Book Review: The Assassin’s Curse

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book to review via NetGalley.

I had high hopes for this book. Based upon the synopsis and the reviews I had read I was quite eager to get my hands on a copy of it. So when I was sent a copy of it from the publisher I was excited. Sadly once I started to read it my opinion of the book was quite quickly swayed in the other direction.

Perhaps it’s because I don’t entirely enjoy books written in first person, though I admit I’ve gotten better about reading them over the last few months, but reading that first sentence made me cringe a bit. Not only is it written in first person but then I felt like I was reading a narrative from someone who lives in the southern states. Also the content of the first sentence made me shake my head.

I ain’t never been one to trust beautiful people and Tarrin of the Hariri was the most beautiful man I ever saw.

I nearly laughed at that. I can’t say why, maybe because it doesn’t seem like the type of opening that draws me into the story. But it made me pause and certainly interrupted the flow of that first paragraph. But I made myself continue on, because surely it would get better, once it got past this awkward scene. Some books start off slow, it’s an inevitable part of world building and introducing the main characters, these things aren’t always the most exciting part of the book but later on prove to be invaluable information to the story as a whole. Now while it did seem to pick up just a bit as Ananna made her escape from her future husband I was hoping this would be the part where the story would truly start to unfold for the better.  The threat of an assassin hunting her down for running off was sure to be exciting. And honestly it’s something I could see one pirate do to another. If you can’t kill them yourselves, as some pirates would, then hire an assassin to do it.

Now, before we get too involved into the assassin’s part of the story I want to take a moment and talk about the magic. I have to admit the idea of magical pirates didn’t really appeal to me. It felt more like an excuse to add magic to the story than anything else. Now, there was some good reasoning behind the magic at some points, for example Ananna’s mother used water magic to help them while out in the sea. That makes perfect sense even if I don’t particularly like the idea of magic pirates. Of course it wasn’t just the pirates who had magic, but the assassin’s and several other characters along the way as well. The more magic I saw in the book the less I enjoyed it. However, let’s face it, there will always be parts of a book that one person does or doesn’t like, and this happened to be the part I was unhappy to see in The Assassin’s Curse.

Getting back to the assassin. So after ditching her future husband Ananna inevitably finds an assassin on her heals, which means his threat of sending an assassin had come true. Here is where I expected things to become filled with action and reach the part where I would have a hard time putting the book down. Wrong. This part seemed to drag on even more. Oh here she is wandering through the market, here she is stealing clothes (because that’s what good pirates do, steal instead of paying for things), here she is getting a room at the inn. Again I realize these parts were setting things up for something later on in the book, namely the confrontation with the assassin but it just felt so slow. Then of course there was the creepy later in the one market. I knew she was no good from the start and couldn’t help but think Ananna was extremely foolish for trusting her.

After her initial encounter with the assassin, which had not been as thrilling as I was expecting, she faces off against him once more in the desert, this time added by potions given to her by the creepy market lady. This fight had a bit more action. Through a mistake (accidentally saving the assassin’s life) by Ananna ends up bringing the fight to a halt, and the assassin can no longer do his job of killing her, instead he is bound to protect her. Thus he is struck by a curse. This curse also means Ananna can’t leave him. They are stuck together whether they like it or not. It was an interesting twist, and it’s certainly something that has shown up in other books and adds an extra element since enemies are suddenly thrust together as allies. But then it gets slow again, Ananna’s must now help the assassins, Naji, by shopping for him (because no one will sell to an assassin) and they must travel together to cure his curse.

So the pair must set off across the desert to hopefully find a cure to Naji’s curse. It makes me wonder, if he is cured does that mean he is free to kill Ananna once more? Well only time will tell, so I kept on reading. Finally another action scene pops up, as Ananna and Naji are hunted down by her fiance’s pirate crew, who ironically enough have mechanized land ships for traveling across the desert. Now this stand off has a nice amount of action in it, I though finally things are starting to get going, even if they are in the middle of a desert. Yes, there was a good amount of fighting, swords, daggers, and pistols firing, all good things a pirate fight about entail…even if it lacked the pirate ship as the setting. As suddenly as the fight started it was over. Disappointing but that’s how some battles go, they start and finish quickly, while others drag out for a long time.

With a possibly mortal injury Naji is in rough shape and Ananna must tap into a magic she apparent isn’t attuned to in order to help him. Let’s continue to journey so that Naji can be hopefully cured. They need to find a river witch named Leila, who can possibly cure the curse but also help with the injury he received. And of course Ananna doesn’t like Leila cause she is a bit too flirty with Naji. What’s that, could Ananna be falling for her assassin bodyguard? Oh probably, why wouldn’t that happen?

Now, by this point it’s only half way through the book. And off all the things that could happen there was one important element missing so far. There wasn’t a pirate ship in sight, okay now she was shown her fiance’s pirate ship shortly before she ran away from him but that’s it. I just can’t imagine a pirate not being on a ship for long, they live to be on the seas and yet here’s one going on a little journey through the desert. At least after dealing with Leila they finally get on a boat, but it felt far too long to get there. Plus it wasn’t a large pirate ship, just a little river boat. I suppose it’s better than nothing though, and how large of a ship can just two people handle anyways? Oh did I mention that the boat was magical too? Why not! Everything else in this book was magical in some way, so of course poor Ananna was stuck on a boat she needed to do nothing on because the magic did it all for her. So much for getting to use all her pirate sailing skills. At least when they made it to the port city they were able to get on a real ship and have Ananna show off her work on a ship.

Of course sadly that part didn’t happen. Other than mentioning her being up on the rigging a few times there was a lack of talking about her work on the ship. Sure she got to learn a bunch about navigation but I honestly would have liked to see a bit detailing the work on the ship. I realize some people might have found such a thing boring but adding even a small amount of those details to the book would have shown that there was research done on what it took to work on a pirate ship or any large ship for that matter.

So stuff happens, though nothing special, and they eventually make it to the Isles of the Sky, which is basically a magical island of magic and the home of a wizard. More things happen, though again nothing that popped out at me as something to finally bring the story to the appealing side. Sure there is a bit of action but not enough to satisfy me.

Finally the end of the book arrives, which of course really gets them no closer to curing Naji than they were before (yes there are a few tasks that may help them but even they don’t feel like enough) and I felt the ending was a bit anti-climatic considering it’s the start of a series. If there is another book coming the ending should make you want to read the next book and hate the fact that you have to wait for it to come out. Not the case with this book, I was just glad it was over.

Note: One thing to the stories advantage is that it could be very flexible to fit into any other possible subject that the YA genre seems focused on. For example: If you were to take this book and replace assassin with pirate and pirate with vampire, edit a couple paragraphs here and there, turn the ship/island/desert into a high school/mall/house and it’s a brand new story almost. It would be like the next Twilight, or any other book out there currently that focuses on the vampire and werewolf trend..

Summary: Was I disappointed with this book? Yes. Was I disappointed that I read it? No, because every book has the potential to be good or bad, but you will never know until you read it. Would I recommend this book to others? Yes, but only if I thought they would enjoy it. Will I read the next book in the series? More than likely not.

This review and others can also be found on Exploring All Genres.

Book Review: Amazing Grace

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book to review via NetGalley.

With a good mix of action, suspense and romance Amazing Grace is one of those books that I found hard to set down when I started reading it. The story follows Sheriff Grace O’Malley and undercover Texas Ranger Max Ridel as he ventures into Hell, Texas in the guise of an EPA officer. Max’s true work involves investigating illegal immigrants coming in from Mexico, which may involves the Sheriff’s office or someone else local. Max and Grace’s initial encounter involves her arresting him, and a local man, for fighting in public. Certainly not the normal way for couples to fall in love, but hey that was half of the appeal of the story, that it wasn’t a love at first sight everything was perfect sort of thing. Though he is released shortly after Grace warns him that EPA officers are not overly welcome in Hell, so he’ll have his work cu tout for him with the locals. Plus there’s the fact that he doesn’t look like your typical EPA officer either, which makes not only Grace but everyone else a bit suspicious about him.

Grace is a great female heroine. She is not drop dead gorgeous as most heroines tend to be, and that adds an extra appeal to the book for me. Nice to see an average woman end up as a lead character for once. Though she is tough as a sheriff Grace also has a soft side for animals, taking in strays and rejects at her home. This is something that the bad guys use to rile her up further in the story and it adds some realism to the situation. Grace is also protective of her friend Connie, who’s involvement in the story turns out important near the end.

Max on the other hand was a bit less enjoyable of a character. He just seemed to fit the mold of male hero far too well falling into several stereotypes. He struggled with everything it seemed, hiding his true identity, his feelings for Grace, and I found some of the exchanges between him and Grace to be awkward. Overall he was a decent enough character and became a bit more bearable as the story went on.

Now one thing I did have a little bit of a problem with, well two things actually, was that Grace was still a virgin at the age of thirty one. Not that such a thing is completely impossible but I didn’t see it as something that the book needed. The second issue was how Max got mad at her for not telling him she was a virgin. That really irked me. They were in the middle of a lust filled moment and she had tried to say something but couldn’t find her voice, then he got mad at her. Newsflash Max, we all start out virgins so it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Plus let’s face it, so many romance novels go with the theme of virgin girl hooks up with a man who has a ton of sexual experience under his belt. It’s all a bit overdone.

As things progressed in the story I found myself waiting to see what would happen next. Max eventually reveals his true identity to Grace, they manage to solve the case together. However it doesn’t go perfectly to plan and Max must save Grace from danger. Then there is the awkward end where Max is torn between going back to his normal job and leaving Grace behind or staying and possibly giving up his job. Through a bit of a guilt trip Grace wins the day and the couple is finally together.

With plenty of action from beginning to end Amazing Grace was a great afternoon read that kept me turning the pages until the very end. While there were the odd spots along the way that I felt unnecessary or unpleasant towards the story it was an enjoyable book and I would recommend it to others.

On a small side note, I am glad to see that this book got a cover update from the original published version. As far as I am concerned the old cover is likely one of the worst covers I have ever seen and would never have picked up the book in the store because of it.

This review and others can also be found on Exploring All Genres.

Book Review: The Island Horse

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book to review via NetGalley.

The Island Horse is a great story for horse lovers young and old alike. For those who grew up reading such books as the Misty series by Marguerite Henry or Black Stallion by Walter Farley this book will be a good read to reminisce. It is also good for young readers who love horses and it also provides a look back in history as the book is set on Sable Island in the early 19th century.

The story follows ten year old Ellie and her father as they make the journey from Nova Scotia to Sable Island so her father can have a job. Ellie dislikes the idea at first because she doesn’t want to leave her home, her friends but more importantly her mothers grave. Even the allure of seeing wild horses on the island doesn’t help. And so with little choice she moves to the far away island believing she will never be happy again.

Viewing Sable Island during the 1800’s in this novel is a really part of the story. No technology, no vehicles, everything is done using either man or horse power. The island itself provides many challenges not only for those who live on it but also ships that are passing by. Many ships have crashed near the island leaving people stranded in the rough seas and this often led to loss of life from both those on the ships and those trying to save them. With constantly winds and sandy ground little grows on the island, so most food has to be brought over. Ellie and her father must adapt to this new way of life in order to survive.

But the island does have some good things about it. Ellie makes friends with a local girl named Sarah. She also comes across a wild stallion one day while wandering the island during the hours her father is off working. Through daily visits Ellie gains the stallions trust and considers him a friend, she also gives him a name, Orchid. When the wild horse round up comes Ellie must work together with Sarah to help keep Orchid and his family safe from the islanders.

It’s a story about loss, love, friendship and finding strength. With a nice addition of adding some history of Sable Island and the struggles of living on the small and dangerous island this book is an enjoyable read for those interested in history as well as horses. It also boasts some great artwork throughout the pages that add a nice extra element to the story.

This review and others can also be found on Exploring All Genres.