Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Book Review: A Christmas Kiss by Susan Hatler

A Christmas Kiss Cover G-rated, short-story, Christmas romance

A Christmas Kiss (Kissed by the Bay #5) by Susan Hatler

Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: November 28, 2016
Publisher: Hatco Publishing
Length: 178 pages
Source: Purchase
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

A cynical female divorce attorney rediscovers the spirit of Christmas--and romance--when she accidentally finds herself sharing a double-booked Lake Tahoe cabin with her opposite number in a contentious divorce case, a fellow divorce attorney with a surprising faith in the redemptive power of true love.

This is not a full romance novel but rather a short story. As such it can be forgiven for employing a plot point that is the bane of jaded romance readers, "insta-love." However, I am glad to report, it avoids what is an even worse cliché, "insta-lust." This story is G-rated, with only light kissing.

The romantic protagonists are a bit one-dimensional, also due to the fact that in a short story, there is little space for extensive character development. In an attempt, I assume, to establish comic opposites, the author has cast Gabriel as being almost as saintly as his namesake, the angel Gabriel. And the heroine Harper starts out, if not as blatantly cruel as her namesake, the Harpies of ancient mythology, she is rather harsh toward dear old Gabriel in the beginning and at the crisis of the plot. Fortunately for keeping the plot interesting, since Gabriel has no growth arc, given that he's already the ideal Beta Male, there is plenty of room for Harper to undergo a season-appropriate, Scrooge-like transformation. And, since the story is written in her first-person point of view, it makes sense that she be the one who evolves.

Given that this author is known for writing romantic comedy, or at the least, very mild drama, this story is true to her brand. It provides pleasant, romantic entertainment for those looking for a quick, light, angst-free, sex-free read.

I rate this story as follows:

Heroine: 3

Hero: 4

Subcharacters: 3

Setting: 4

Romance Plot: 3

G-Rated: 4

Writing: 4

Overall: 3.5 rounded to 4

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Book Review: Origins by Ilona Andrews

Origins Cover A somewhat horrifying, paranormal romance

Origins (Alphas #0.5) by Ilona Andrews

Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: April 19, 2016
Publisher: InterMix
Pages: 157 pages
Source: Purchase
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

Much like in a Twilight Zone episode, Karina Tucker, who sees herself as a very ordinary single mother with a six-year-old daughter, is driving a van of children home from her child's field trip when she makes an unplanned detour to a seemingly ordinary motel for a brief rest stop. Unfortunately, while there, she encounters terrifying monsters she was never meant to see, and the man who appears as her salvation offers a shocking trade-off: in order to prevent the barbarous massacre of herself and her daughter, she must agree to be his captive permanently and live out a horrifying fate that, in many ways, makes a quick death at the claws of the monsters seem preferable. Only preserving her helpless, fragile daughter could have driven her to make such an appalling choice.

I won't grade down a really well written story due to my own idiosyncratic preferences, but as a huge fan of Ilona Andrews, I have read everything this husband-and-wife writing team has ever published, and I have to admit that this was my least favorite Andrews story. I normally really like the Andrews team's urban fantasy, and I especially enjoy their paranormal romances, but this particular paranormal romance I found excruciatingly dark and depressing. I've never been a fan of captor/captive romances in general, and this one is rather gruesome. The only way this heroine could believably fall in love with a hero like this one is to develop a major case of Stockholm Syndrome, which isn't exactly a guaranteed prescription for readers to find her (or him) sympathetic. Yes, the ending of this novella does qualify as an "uplifting" type of HEA ("happily ever after"), that is an essential part of any paranormal romance, but getting there requires a certain type of taste in romance plots that I myself don't share. For my particular preferences, the plot goes too far in the direction of horror, and it felt more frightening than sexy to me.

Again, however, that's just my personal taste. A great many semi-horror-plot type of paranormal romances, both adult and young adult, have been highly successful over the past 20 years, and many fans of the Andrews team will like this book.

I personally, selfishly, hope this isn't the beginning of a series, because it will take up valuable writing time to produce, and the world the Andrews team has created here is about endless, brutal war. I think I will be, unfortunately, too squeamish to keep reading about it.

What I'd really love to read about from the Andrews team, if I were given a vote in the matter, rather than a series centered on the couple from this story, or their savage world, is the love story of George and Lark/Sophie from the Edge series. I was very sad to hear the Andrews team declare that this series is complete after only four books, so it was a delightful surprise when, in a crossover appearance, George, his brother Jack, and Sophie all showed up together--with a tinge of romance, finally, between George and Sophie--in Sweep in Peace. In that self-published book by Ilona Andrews, second in the Innkeeper Chronicles series, George is now 29. We first met him in book 1 of the Edge series, On the Edge, when he was only a child of ten. By the way, we're told in SIP that Sophie is now about 24, but my impression in previous books was that she and George are the same age. At any rate, she and George and Jack are amazing characters.

I will continue to read anything the Andrews team writes, and I especially enjoy the audiobook versions of their books, performed by the inimitable Renee Raudman, vocal talent extraordinaire.

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine: 4

Hero: 3

Subcharacters: 3

Worldbuilding Caliber: 4

Writing: 5

Overall: 4