Nicole Reads A Lot

so many books, so little time

Like a Fly on the Wall by Simone Kelly

Title:
Like a Fly on the Wall
Author:Simone Kelly
PublisherHarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date:July 11, 2017
Publisher's DescriptionFrom talented debut author Simone Kelly comes this suspenseful novel that crackles with intrigue, sex, and plenty of surprises—perfect for fans of Eric Jerome Dickey and Carl Weber.

Meet Jacques Berradi. Moroccan-born and Manhattan-raised, his genuine, sexy-smooth allure goes hand in hand with a unique gift. Since Jacques was young, he has had the ability to read peoples’ energies, communicate with spirit guides, and even catch glimpses of people’s futures. Now a professional “intuitive counselor,” Jacques’s clients pay him handsomely for his insight. Unfortunately, Jacques’s psychic abilities don’t come with an off switch to tune out the world’s noise, nor do they always provide him with easy answers; recently Jacques has begun having dark, alarming dreams about his beloved father, a Moroccan immigrant who died when he was a boy.

Meet Kylie Collins, an adventurous, Miami twentysomething who is trying to find her footing after being laid off from a cushy music industry job. When a mishap brings them together, Kylie is instantly mesmerized by Jacques’s cool demeanor and intuitive abilities, and he’s captivated by her outgoing charm and breezy good looks. Seeking to learn more about her family history—including the identity of the father she’s never known—Kylie visits Jacques’s office to gain some insight about her future, and about her free-spirited and headstrong Jamaican mother, True.

But on the night that they meet, a rolling blackout cuts off power throughout Miami. Kylie and Jacques, and a few of his clients, head to the only place in the neighborhood with enough light to see: Like a Fly on the Wall Detective Agency. There, Kylie serendipitously lands herself the perfect new job as an apprentice private eye.

As partners, Jacques and Kylie are an unstoppable duo. Can Jacques’s intuition reveal the scandalous history of Kylie’s mother and father? Will Kylie’s newfound detective skills uncover evidence about the death of Jacques’s father? And will the chemistry that charges their friendship bubble over into something much, much hotter…?
My rating:***

I couldn’t figure out the point of this novel for at least the first quarter of it. It was certainly well-written, which I always appreciate, but the connection between Jacques and Kylie never felt real to me. While the book’s blurb gave me the impression that they were going to end up closely tied to one another, I didn’t feel that this was reflected in the actual novel. They were initially sexually attracted to each other and then became each other’s best friends? I know that they eventually each helped the other uncover long-buried family secrets, but I didn’t really buy that they would have remained in contact long enough to reach that point. I didn’t feel as though the author gave a good enough reason for the elevation of their chance encounter from random to meaningful. While this was obviously the basis for a lot of what happened subsequently in the book, it always felt slightly off to me.

Of the two protagonists, Jacques was, to me, clearly the more compelling character. I enjoyed the author’s matter-of-fact treatment of his psychic abilities. I was also quite interested in his family drama, way more than I was in Kylie’s. Along the pathways to self and family discovery, both characters exercised appalling judgment. I engaged in a fair bit of eye-rolling and my exasperation with their foolishness definitely detracted from my enjoyment of this novel. The author’s writing style did intrigue me and the second half of the book worked much better for me than the first, but Like a Fly on the Wall definitely did not leave me clamoring to read more by Ms. Kelly.

I received this book free of charge for Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.

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White Hot: A Hidden Legacy Novel by Ilona Andrews

Title:
White Hot (Hidden Legacy #2)
Author:Ilona Andrews
PublisherHarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date:May 30, 2017
Publisher's DescriptionThe Hidden Legacy series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrews continues as Nevada and Rogan navigate a world where magic is the norm…and their relationship burns hot

Nevada Baylor has a unique and secret skill—she knows when people are lying—and she's used that magic (along with plain, hard work) to keep her colorful and close-knit family's detective agency afloat. But her new case pits her against the shadowy forces that almost destroyed the city of Houston once before, bringing Nevada back into contact with Connor "Mad" Rogan.

Rogan is a billionaire Prime—the highest rank of magic user—and as unreadable as ever, despite Nevada’s “talent.” But there’s no hiding the sparks between them. Now that the stakes are even higher, both professionally and personally, and their foes are unimaginably powerful, Rogan and Nevada will find that nothing burns like ice…
My rating:****.5

Book cover of White Hot by Ilona AndrewsI enjoyed reading Burn for Me when it was released in 2014, so I was very excited to see that the next two books in the series were going to be published in short succession in 2017. I’ve read way too many books in the interim, so I knew that I was going to have to reread the first book in order to prepare for White Hot. I’m so glad that I did. First, I got to enjoy the world building all over again. The setting of this series is top-notch! Next, I was reminded of how intense these books are. While they can be read in a single sitting, especially if you are as obsessive as I am about good books, they are not at all light books. Although there is a fair amount of humor, as with most of Ilona Andrews’ books, there’s some seriously dark shit in these novels, is what I’m saying. Reading the first and second books in this series back to back allowed me to see the characters grow and evolve from where they were at the beginning of the first novel. I loved the authors’* attention to detail; seemingly minor statements turned out to mean a great deal. As a person who loves words and communication, I appreciate it when everything that is said has meaning.

Nevada has progressed so much over the course of these two books, and I felt like a proud mama, watching her navigate through situations that very few people expected her to survive, let alone succeed in. Likewise, I’ve enjoyed watching Rogan open up about his experiences and attempt to rejoin a world that he had mostly left behind. The Baylor family is remarkable, and learning more about them has felt like a treat.

If you haven’t read the first book in this series, why not??? You definitely can’t read the second without the table-setting that was done in the first, but also, Burn for Me is just a really good book. If you’re the type of person who hates to read incomplete series, start reading the first two books in mid-July, so that you’ll be all caught up by July 25, when Wildfire, the final book in the series, is released. I hope to review that one as well, but I’m already pretty positive that I’m going to love it.

This book was provided to me through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.

* – Ilona Andrews is the pseudonym of a husband and wife team, so I’m not misusing the apostrophe here, promise!

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Stay with Me (Strickland Sisters 1) by Alexandria House 

Title:
Stay with Me (Strickland Sisters 1)
Author:Alexandria House
PublisherPink Cashmere Publishing
Publication Date:May 16, 2017
Publisher's DescriptionTwice unlucky in love, natural hair vlogger, Angela Strickland, has settled into a life centered around avoiding men and relationships like the plague. Unwilling to risk another broken heart, she resigns herself to being a perpetually single woman.

Corporate man and self-professed womanizer, Ryan Boyé, doesn’t believe in relationships or love and thinks anyone who does is a fool. But there’s just something about Angela Strickland he can’t shake…

When these two cross paths, their attraction to one another is undeniable. Will they find that the love they’ve both evaded is exactly what they both need?
My rating:*****

I’ve now read several books by Ms. House and have enjoyed each one more than the book that came before it. I found her previous works to be greater than the sum of their parts, and this book was no exception. The combination of a female protagonist who has been hurt before and has since sworn off relationships and a male protagonist who goes through women like a sick person through tissues is familiar, but the depth that the author gave Angie and Ryan are what make this book stand out from a crowded field.
 
I was particularly impressed with the richness of the secondary characters. I know that some table-setting was in order, as both of Angie’s sisters will get books of their own further down the line, but Renee and Nicky were interesting on their own merits. Angie’s parents’ dynamic explained a lot about the choices that the sisters made in their lives, and I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for the older Stricklands, as well. Ms. House did an excellent job of revealing her characters’ backstories in a believable way; it never came off as being overly expository but still managed to provide a welcome glimpse into the events and people who shaped them.
 
This book satisfied my soul. As much as I enjoyed watching Ryan realize how much he liked Angie, I liked seeing Angie turn him down even more. She didn’t come off as being too cool for school, because she’d liked Ryan from Day 1, but she also didn’t abandon her common sense the first time a hot guy approached her. Angie felt like the antidote to every too stupid to live heroine who abandons all her principles and common sense at the sight of a hot guy. It was fun to watch a cautious thinker fall in love with the type of guy she was sure would hurt her worse than her previous boyfriends had. I appreciated Ryan’s evolution over the course of the book. It wasn’t rushed, and it felt like a believable progression. There’s no instalove here, thank goodness.
 
I loved LOVED LOVED LOVED (did I mention I LOVED) that Angie was a vlogger who’d started out doing hair videos. I will watch a twist out tutorial or wig review YouTube video at the drop of a hat, and that being Angie’s job felt like a shoutout. Moreover, I loved that Angie had 4C hair. As a black woman who wears her hair natural, or under a wig if I’m feeling lazy (so you know that my hair is almost always under a wig), I appreciated that Ms. House gave her character what seems to me to be the least celebrated hair texture.
 
If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read this book for free. Then, once you’ve read and loved it as much as I did, you should buy it because it’s only $2.99 and people need to support good writers so they can keep writing us enjoyable books.

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Lasting Kind of Love by Jen A. Durand

Title:
Lasting Kind of Love
Author:Jen A. Durand
PublisherDurand Publishing
Publication Date:October 31, 2016
Publisher's DescriptionFive years ago, Luca left Ashton with a broken heart and Olisa stayed behind determined to not regret her decision.

Now the mother of a four-year-old boy and working as a neonatal nurse practitioner, Olisa wasn’t looking for love. She had a good life.

When Luca returns to care for his dying father, the two reconnect. The bond between the two hasn’t faded.

Both wiser and older, they needed to discover whether they had a lasting kind of love.
My rating:**.5

Luca and Olisa dated throughout high school and college. Luca, who craved the approval of his distant single father, joined the military after they graduated from college. Olisa felt blindsided by her fiance’s decision and worried about him and their future. She decided that she didn’t want to feel that way and eventually broke up with him when he was deployed. Although they were no longer dating, they remained in contact after their breakup. Not over the dissolution of their relationship, Olisa had a one night stand and ended up pregnant with her son Cam, now four years old. It took some time for Luca to get over Olisa being pregnant by another man, but they resumed their friendship, and when Luca returned to town to take care of his ailing father, it was Olisa he asked to get him from the airport.

This book tells the story of how Luca and Olisa found their way back to each other, but I have to be honest, it was basically the shortest journey ever. These two characters still loved each other, and from their flashbacks and present scenes, it was clear that they each viewed the other as The One. As refreshing as it was to read a book where the protagonists weren’t constantly getting in their own way with needless distractions, there’s something to be said for the satisfaction that one feels when characters separated by circumstance successfully bridge a gap and come together. This book had none of that. The characters faced challenges that the author never believably tied to their relationship with each other. Gregory, Cam’s father, popped into the book past the 50% mark, but why? He wasn’t a viable romantic interest for Olisa and Luca never really viewed him as a rival. He didn’t even make much of an effort to actually see his son, considering the legal avenues he could have used, if he’d chosen to do so. The Gregory subplot seemed pointless and added nothing to the story as a whole.

I spent a lot of time thinking about how to review this book. It’s not bad, but it is incomplete and requires editing. It has a clear focus, namely getting Luca and Olisa together, but lacks any sense of genuine conflict. The only part of this book that seems fleshed out (pardon the pun) is the sex scenes. At $2.99, I expect more from a book. As it is now, Lasting Kind of Love reads to me more like a $.99 book. If the author can introduce a believable source of conflict (internal or external: what must the protagonists overcome to be together?) and make Luca and Olisa’s coming together feel more like a triumph and less like a foregone conclusion, I can see it being worth the higher price tag.

I received this book from the author for free, in exchange for an honest review.

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Billionaire’s Perfect Bride by Ajei Novua and Jen A. Durand

Title:
Billionaire's Perfect Bride (True Match Arrangements Book 1)
Author:Ajei Novua and Jen A. Durand
PublisherDurand Publishing
Publication Date:January 15, 2017
Publisher's DescriptionJay’s heart had been stomped on by the one he trusted the most. Love wasn’t reliable. It was an illusion. In that moment he decided he would rather have a partner who valued loyalty and didn’t subscribe to the pipe dream that is love.

Bianca was desperate. Debt was slowly swallowing her whole and her mother needed more medical care than she could afford. True Match was her long shot and she’d hit the target.

Jay didn’t want love and Bianca couldn’t help how her heart felt. Can their arrangement become a true match?
My rating:***.5

I enjoyed this book, but it read more like a second draft than a finished product. It’s a shorter novel, and while I felt that the story unfolded well, I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of the development of Jay and Bianca’s relationship. It was clear that they started out attracted to each other both physically and personality-wise, but I would have preferred to see this story start at some point prior to their wedding day. Overall, there was more telling than showing, in the form of overly expository dialogue and too-frequent flashbacks.

The book’s characters seemed more like archetypes than well-realized individuals (this is particularly true of Dalia and Imogene). Jay was the orphaned, wounded billionaire who’d been wronged by the woman he’d thought he would spend his life with. Bianca was the selfless, hardworking daughter who’d given up her own promising future to care for the single immigrant mother who’d raised her. But we never even learned where her mother was from or why Bianca’s father wasn’t in the picture. Also, how did Bianca learn of True Match Arrangements? In the midst of the mess that his personal life had devolved into the year before this novel took place, was there a single precipitating incident that made Jay decide to use the service? Fleshing out the reasons the behaved as they did would have made me feel more invested in both their separate lives and journey together.

This book would have benefitted from more careful editing. There were several instances of missing words and misspelled homophones, but there were also grammar and copyediting issues that a more careful eye might have uncovered. These mistakes didn’t ruin the experience of reading this book for me, but I certainly noticed them.

I enjoyed these authors’ work and I would certainly read the next book in this series.

I received this novel from one of the authors for free, in exchange for an honest review.

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