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

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Book Review: 69 Million Things I Hate About You by Kira Archer

69 Million Things I Hate About You Cover Terrific romantic comedy!

69 Million Things I Hate About You (Winning The Billionaire) by Kira Archer

Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: October 9, 2017
Pages: 228 pages
Publisher: Entangled: Indulgence
Source: Purchase
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

Twenty-something Kiersten Abbott has been the backup, second-level, executive assistant to Manhattan tycoon, Cole Harrington, for several months. Until she's suddenly promoted to his first assistant when his current first assistant tells him off and stalks out when Cole demands that the poor woman reschedule her own wedding to attend an out-of-town conference with him.

Cole is president and founder of Harrington Enterprises, the biggest think tank and development firm in Manhattan. He made his initial fortune developing an explosively popular dating app when he was still a teenager in college, and he has continually expanded his personal fortune as a self-made man ever since. Unfortunately, he is an obnoxious boss. He keeps crazy hours and insists that his first assistant be on call 24/7. Kiersten not only handles endless tasks at Cole's place of business, but he also expects her to take care of his personal needs at his home, such as laying out his work outfits and accessories for every day of the week, making sure he has adequate toiletries in his bathroom, scheduling dental appointments, and consulting with his housekeeper about his meals.

Cole is still relatively young (his exact age is never given in the book), handsome, ripped, and has gorgeous women at his beck and call, but he has zero desire to settle down. He insists that any woman who wishes to date him must sign a non-disclosure agreement, and any woman hoping to become more than a casual girlfriend is presented with a brutal prenup in which both parties agree to leave the union with what they had when they entered it and with what was individually made during it. The prenup alone has kept him footloose and fancy free, since not a single woman so far has been willing to sign it.

For six months Kiersten is Cole's ideal assistant. She is intelligent, highly organized, has a remarkable memory for details, and keeps Cole's office and home running like a well-oiled machine. However, he does wish she would loosen up a bit. She dresses in a style that Cole thinks of as sexy librarian, including pencil skirts, buttoned shirts, and her hair slicked back in a bun or ponytail, and she refuses to call him anything but, "Mr. Harrington," or, "Sir," though Cole has frequently requested that she use his first name. In a sly attempt to ruffle the feathers of his starchy assistant, Cole has never once in the period of time that she's been working directly with him called her by her correct first name, purposely messing it up with ridiculous variations such as Crustin, Kestin, Kursten, Krestin, Christine, and Krispin, determined to see how long he can get away with these antics before she finally loses her cool and calls him out.

For years, Kiersten and her two best friends and roommates, who are also fellow employees at Harrington Enterprises, have all three bought a lottery ticket every week, with the joint agreement that if any of them ever wins, they will split the cash three ways. It's a fun fantasy for the trio until the amazing day that Kiersten's lottery ticket has the winning number, and they hit the jackpot to the tune of sixty-nine million dollars. Kiersten has daydreamed almost from the beginning of working directly with Cole about quitting her ridiculously difficult job and escaping his intrusive commands. But now that she truly has the means to do so, she decides to postpone that lovely moment in order to exact a little well-earned revenge on Cole. Oh, nothing that would really hurt anyone but him, she assures herself. And she only wants to grossly inconvenience him, not actually physically hurt him.

Her two friends decide to stick around as well to watch the show, and before long, the whole company figures out what is going on and there is an office pool with everyone betting on how long it will take Cole to fire Kiersten. When Cole's best friend and business partner, Brooks, lets him know about the pool, Cole has no idea why Kiersten is trying to get him to fire her, but he decides to turn the tables on her and see how far he can push her before she herself quits.

What ensues is a hilarious game of comic mayhem with each of the two combatants and everyone around them watching with bated breath to see which of the two of them will crack first.

This is an adorable romantic comedy, which is plotted very much in the style of a zany, romantic comedy movie. The protagonists are both quite likeable, and the book is frequently laugh-out-loud funny, which is extremely rare for humorous romance novels in my experience. Most only inspire a few weak grins.

Another plus for me (though others might disagree) is that this is a "slow burn" romance, in that the hero and heroine don't leap into bed immediately, turning the book into 75% sex and 25% story like so many modern romance novels. Instead, they don't kiss until 68% through the book, and they don't engage in lovemaking until about 75% of the way in. Once there is sex, it is never crude or an endless reciting of body parts. Instead, it is highly romantic, with deep emotion as well as passion.

The author, Kira Archer, makes excellent use of her subcharacters for creating humorous moments. Brooks is extremely witty, and I chuckled through every scene in which he appears. I also especially enjoyed the scenes with Kiersten and Cole's uptight mother--who loosened up in hilarious ways by the end of an evening on the town with Kiersten. And the interaction with the continual audience of Cole's employees avidly following the shenanigans between Kiersten and Cole is extremely well done. In addition, I was relieved to note that Ms. Archer never resorts to childish slapstick or repellent crudity in order to create comedy.

This book is written in the dual point of view of the heroine and hero, which has been standard practice for mainstream, adult romance novels for the past 25-30 years, and is something I really miss when a romance novel does not have it.

I am very much hoping Ms. Archer will write a book with Brooks as the hero, and I suspect that Cole's two other good friends, who along with Cole and Broioks are also very wealthy men, will end up as protagonists in future books as well. I look forward to reading them.

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine: 5

Hero: 5

Subcharacters: 5

Romance Plot: 4

Comedy: 5

Writing: 5

Overall: 5