Nicole Reads A Lot

so many books, so little time

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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Blade Song & Night Blade by JC Daniels

Title:Blade Song
Author:JC Daniels
PublisherShiloh Walker, Inc
Publication Date:August 2012
Publisher's DescriptionKit Colbana - half breed, assassin, thief, jack of all trades - has a new job: track down the missing ward of one of the local alpha shapeshifters. It should be a piece of cake.
So why is she so nervous? It probably has something to do with the insanity that happens when you deal with shifters - especially sexy ones who come bearing promises of easy jobs and easier money.

Or maybe it’s all the other missing kids that Kit discovers while working the case, or the way her gut keeps screaming she’s gotten in over her head. Or maybe it’s because if she fails - she’s dead.

If she can stay just one step ahead, she should be okay. Maybe she’ll even live long to collect her fee...
My rating:****
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Title:Night Blade
Author:Shiloh Walker
PublisherShiloh Walker, Inc
Publication Date:March 2013
Publisher's DescriptionKit Colbana is always biting off more than she can chew. She has a knack for finding trouble. This time, though, trouble finds her. Someone from her past drops a case into her lap that she just can’t refuse...literally.
People on the Council are dying left and right and she’s been requested to investigate the deaths. The number one suspect? Her lover, Damon. If she doesn't clear his name, he gets a death sentence. Even if she succeeds? They still might try to execute him. Oh, and she’s not allowed to tell him about the case, either.

The stakes are high this time around, higher than they've ever been. Kit may be forced to pay the ultimate price to save her lover’s life...a price that could destroy her and everything she loves.
My rating:***** (squijillion)
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I read Blade Song and immediately moved onto Night Blade. I think I read the two books in about 5 hours (let’s hear it for vacation). I really like Kit and felt bad enough about her childhood after reading Blade Song that all the things she went through in Night Blade were really hard for me to take. None of the horrors that she survives in this series have ever felt gratuitous to me, and I found them even more gut-wrenching because I care so much about Kit as a character. I am certain that the third book, which comes out in two more days (dying here btw), will give me the payoff that I began to see glimmers of at the end of Night Blade.

Although this series centers around Kit, there are so many characters in it who are clearly going through a lot and growing all the time. Damon! Doyle! Goliath! Colleen! Chang! Doyle! I know I said him twice, but he’s like the leopard little brother that my parents neglected to give me. I really love how integral the secondary characters are to what is going on in the world. While I think it’s crazy that I just learned about this series the other day (I’ve bought book one ages ago and then promptly forgot that it existed), I’m happy, too, otherwise I would have had a much longer wait to get to the third book. Now, of course, I am going to go back and read everything else written by Shiloh Walker (whose pen name is JC Daniels) to tide me over until next week. I would give this series five squijillion stars, and since this is my web site and my rating system, I totally can, but I’ll just limit myself to five and call it a day.

Trigger warning: This book contains rape and copious physical abuse.

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Already Home by Susan Mallery

Title:Already Home
Author:Susan Mallery
Publication Date:March 29, 2011
Publisher's DescriptionAfter nearly a decade as a sous-chef in a trendy eatery, Jenna is desperate for a change. She’s supported her ex-husband’s dreams for so long that she can’t even remember her own. Until she sees a for-lease sign near her parents’ home andenvisions her very own cooking store.

Her crash course in business is aided by a streetwise store manager and Jenna’s adoptive mother. But just as she’s gaining a foothold in her new life, in walk her birth parents—aging hippies on a quest to reconnect with their firstborn.

Now Jenna must figure out how to reconcile the free-spirited Serenity and Tom with her traditional parents, deal with her feelings for a new love interest and decide what to do about her ex’s latest outrageous request. In the end, Jenna will find that there is no perfect family, only the people we love....
My rating:5 Stars

I was really blown away by this book. I’ve read and enjoyed many of Ms. Mallery’s previous books, so I thought I knew what to expect here, but I could not have been more wrong. She did a great job of showing Jenna’s growth and healing over the course of events that take place in this book. And I loved (loved loved loved, etc) that Jenna’s healing did not come about because of a man. In fact, her love interest didn’t even pop up until nearly halfway through the book. This wasn’t the story of two flawed people who healed each other with love; it’s about two people who were making great strides in their individual and professional lives reaching out toward one another amidst calamity. I respect that.

 

The characters in this book, from Jenna on down the line, were well realized. People weren’t always who they seemed to be in the beginning, which is how things often really happen. When the characters hurt, I hurt for them. When they rolled their eyes, I often felt the same way. Everybody in this book just seemed so real!

The adopted as a baby/meeting the birth parents trope is not an uncommon one, but this is the best I’ve ever seen it done. There were many points of view presented here: we glimpsed the feelings of the birth parents, the adoptive parents, the biological siblings, and the adoptee herself.

I have no hesitation recommending this book to previous fans of Ms. Mallery’s work. I also think that people who are more likely to read “women’s fiction” than regular romance novels will really connect with this title.

 

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Spirit Dances by C. E. Murphy

I am a huge fan of C. E. Murphy’s work. My favorite works of hers are her Walker Papers novels, but I also enjoyed the books in The Negotiator series. One of my vague hopes when I became a librarian was that I’d get to review books in some capacity. This hasn’t happened in journals or trade publications although, to be honest, I haven’t even attempted to go that route. I just post reviews on my blog when the mood takes me (and possibly more frequently than that now that I’m going to be making an effort with the books on NetGalley). We’re looking to add reviews to my library’s blog, so it’s good that I’m stocking up on new titles for future review blog posts.

Title:Spirit Dances
Author:C. E. Murphy
Publication Date:March 22, 2011
Publisher's Description:One date with the boss can get coyote ugly.

For Seattle detective Joanne Walker, spring is about new beginnings. She’s mastered her shamanic abilities (mostly), survived a cannibalistic serial killer (barely) and now she’s facing the biggest challenge of her career—attending a dance concert with her sexy boss, Captain Michael Morrison. But when the performance— billed as transformative—actually changes her into a coyote, she and Morrison have bigger things to deal with.

And there’s more. Homeless people are disappearing, a mystical murder puts Joanne
way out of her jurisdiction and with the full moon coming on, it’s looking like the killer is a creature that can’t possibly exist. But Jo could probably handle all of that, if one ordinary homicide hadn’t pushed her to the very edge.…

Cop or shaman? The choice isn’t easy. But it’s one she just might have to make.…
My Rating4 Stars

So I was hugely excited to read this book. This is the sixth entry in The Walker Papers books, one of my favorite current series in any genre. There’s always the worry that the newest entry in a series won’t live up to the books that preceded it. I’m happy to report that, far from losing momentum, Spirit Dances may very well be the best Walker Papers book yet. I appreciate how the character of Joanne has progressed throughout the series, and how what she has learned in previous books is often tied into what is happening in the present. I especially appreciate how it sometimes takes a couple of books for her to realize and rectify her mistakes. In this world, nothing is pat, nothing is simple, and nothing is static.

It was interesting to see how comfortable Joanne has become with things formerly outside of her comfort zone: two obvious examples are being more intentional about using her magic and discussing her Native American heritage without defensiveness. While she still has a lot of learning to do, I appreciate that she’s so willing to suspend her disbelief and discomfort until there’s time to deal with them. She didn’t always do that. Our Joanie’s growing up! The role that Joanne’s teachers (both magical and non) play in her life cannot be overestimated. With their help, and her own good sense, she makes some huge strides when it comes to the magical traditions of both of her parents’ cultures, even as she ends up experiencing things she didn’t know existed.

Joanne’s identification with her job as a police officer is another thing that I found interesting. This might be the first book in the series where I can remember her thinking more of herself as a cop than as a mechanic who has been thrust into the wrong role. Her police work is how she gets involved in the supernatural events that take place in this book, and really shapes a lot of what she experiences. Officer Joanne and Shaman Joanne end up working together here, and it’s absolutely beautiful.

C. E. Murphy continues to expand Joanne’s world, in a gradual and realistic way. For those who’ve enjoyed the previous books in this series, I recommend this book unreservedly. For those who are looking for an interesting urban fantasy series to start reading, The Walker Papers and Spirit Dances may be for you. If you like good writing and strong, complex, and utterly endearing protagonists, I don’t see how you can go wrong reading these books!

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Brave New Knits

Title:Brave New Knits
Author:Julie Turjoman
Publication Date:August 2010
Publisher's DescriptionBrave New Knits is the first book to celebrate the convergence of traditional hand-knitting and modern technology. The Internet has made it possible for the knitting community to connect through photos, pattern-sharing, and blogs that document the knitting projects and passions of dozens of designers and enthusiasts. With a Foreword written by Jessica Marshall Forbes, co-founder of Ravelry.com, Brave New Knits includes 26 must-have garment and accessory patterns, all gorgeously photographed by knitting celebrity Jared Flood of Brooklyn Tweed. Contributors range from established designers like Norah Gaughan, Wendy Bernard, Anne Hanson, and knitgrrl Shannon Okey, to rising stars such as Melissa Wehrle, Connie Chang Chinchio, and Hilary Smith Callis. In-depth interviews with the designers reveal their design philosophy and passions. From shapely sweaters and delicate shawls to fingerless gloves and stylish hats, each of the knitted designs features detailed directions and charts to inspire both the beginner and experienced knitter.
My rating:*****

I love being a librarian. I recently discovered NetGalley, which allows librarians and other bookish types to review ebooks, usually in advance of their official publication dates. The idea behind this goodness is that you’ll review whatever it is that you read. Since I’d all but abandoned my book reviews, I had to decide whether I thought that it was worth it, but I’d be an idiot to let a little laziness get in the way of free books. The first book I reviewed was Brave New Knits by Julie Turjoman. At 245 pages this book is HUGE, and it’s so lovely as a pdf that I know the physical book must be awesome (note to self: buy this for the library…and possibly for myself).

Brave New Knits is an excellent resource for knitters and those who are interested in the recent history of knitting, especially as it relates to the Internet. This book is a treat for knitters, but I think that there is a lot here for non-knitters to appreciate, too. People who are less familiar with or interested in the craft of knitting will still be able to learn about how the Internet contributed to knitting’s resurgence as a craft and hobby. I think that other interests might be able to apply the idea behind Ravelry to as-yet unborn social networks that relate to specific interests or pursuits.

The 26 patterns included in this book are lovely, and are sure to hold the interest of knitters of all skill levels. Whether a person is looking for a quick knit or a more time-intensive piece, there’s something here for everybody.

I love that the designers are profiled here, and that they talk about themselves and their craft in more than just a couple of paragraphs. For those who are interested in getting into the design side of knitting, this book’s designer profiles will undoubtedly provide inspiration.

Brave New Knits also shows the social power of the Internet knitting community. Jessica Marshall Forbes and Casey Forbes, cocreators of Ravelry, the online knit and crochet social network, write the book’s forward. The fact that there even is an Internet knitting community is in large part because of Ravelry, and this is underscored by how heavily the community factors into the designers’ profiles.

There are so many awesome things to knit in this book, and I’m definitely going to make something from it at some point (I’ll add it to my 100+ item queue).

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