All posts by vblawnola

Author, Reader, Reviewer

The Pet Project – Amanda Milo

Oddball equals interesting, pure SciFi, not romance

⭐⭐⭐⭐

This novella is a riff on the thought, “What if aliens didn’t recognize humans as sentient and kept them as pets?”  

It must be taken at face value. It is not an allegory. I sensed no intention to comment on the history, tragedies, and foibles of humanity. If you can’t put these things aside, you will probably be offended or even disgusted.

I personally found this very easy to imagine as I *know* that my cats are sentient. They control me. I am their slave. You don’t see them going out to work or the grocery store or cleaning my toilet! They understand English but would never stoop to speaking it as they have a much more elegant language comprised of subtle nuances on the basic sound “me-ow”. Besides, they get their point across to me just fine, know it, and point this out with just a look at me from time to time. I accuse them of “being all cute again” and they say, “It’s the treats I train you with. You know you love it.” I do.

The entire novella is 1st person present tense from the alien who is conducting the breeding project. We don’t get the alien’s name until the very end, in an epilogue that is an interview with our scientist. Very little is revealed about the alien species. No gender is given. We don’t even know if these aliens have genders.

There is some forced mating between the experiment’s subjects, but it is clinical rather than violent. These are the scientific notes of the doctor, so that tone removes most of the emotion and trauma we might otherwise feel when reading about these. There is nothing sexual between the aliens and the pets. I viewed it like putting cats or dogs together for mating as that is how the doctor views it. It is clear that the doctor can’t remain an impartial observer and truly cares about the pets, so mistakes made during experimentation are corrected.

Amanda said this wasn’t funny, but I found some very amusing nuggets. Overall, I found it interesting, amusing, and a fast-paced read. I think other animal lovers or anyone who doesn’t view humans as vastly different from other animals will have an easier time accepting the spirit in which this was written and appreciating the cuteness.

There you go Amanda, being all cute again!

Favorite Quotes:

Because of the male inclination towards bellicosity, most males are not fit for household pets.

Distractedly, I’m aware of how welcome even her intrusions are to me. Her staring is so loud that I often pause whatever I’m working on to pay her some small attention. If I were wise, I would put a stop to her disruption; it is somewhat rude behavior.

(My cats!)

“No. You don’t mark the indoor plant. Only outdoor plants.” Then Dr. Xan’-Tay `్ turns to me and sighs. “You see environment enrichment? Male tenders see targets.”

Braking Hard – Gloria Joynt-Lang

Contemporary romance with imperfectly perfect hero and lots of humor

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

As a female mechanic, Eden suffered way too much sexual harassment until she was hired by Gage. Gage has his own troubles keeping his garage running with a wandering mind, the fidgets, and the stress of his business partner and mentor just dying. Hiring Eden helps, and Gage would like to be more than her boss, but he would never want to make her uncomfortable.

This was fast paced, engaging, and funny, with a writing style I appreciated. A fantastic job of “show not tell” is done throughout. I loved that we don’t get a label put on Gage’s psychological struggles until midway through, so much so that I don’t want to put the label in this review. When we label something, we often dismiss it and discount the unique experiences of those who suffer with it. The great descriptions and metaphors used allowed me to laugh at and empathize with Gage’s thoughts.

I loved all the characters in this, main and secondary. My absolute favorite is Aunt Iris. She doesn’t get much screen time, but I want to invite her for a long stay and might keep her. She’s hilariously unfiltered and reminds me of my mother who had to make sure she was wearing Depends before I came over for a chat because we made each other laugh so much. I laughed often throughout this book, which nicely balanced the serious parts.

Eden is a strong woman, confident in herself and her abilities. She was reluctant to get into a relationship with her boss. Of course I wanted them to get together, but her reasons were sound, logical. I wasn’t irritated with her or thinking she was stupid. Gage is honorable, hot, cute, and funny. They both grow along the way. The secondary characters add lots of spice to this stew. I appreciated how developed they all were with strengths and flaws. No one was one dimensional.

I don’t know much about cars, but I didn’t have to. Both of them being mechanics and the background of the garage added flavor but didn’t leave me confused. At one point, Gage laments that, “…mechanics never topped the list of women’s fantasies.” True, they didn’t rank in mine, but the ones that have worked on my cars have looked nothing like Gage! Having a hot man who can always fix my car sounds very appealing now that I think about it.

3rd person past tense from alternating main characters. Graphic sex scene (just one, so not a big part of this novel). No cheating or OW/OM drama. Occasional mild foul language.

Grammar – the author fixed the errors I pointed out.

I highly recommend this and would read it again in the future, so 5 stars!

Favorite quotes:

Gage: (After coming home with a dog when he was supposed to pick up a car part.) …he hoped he’d never stray so bad that he’d end up at a nearby farm purchasing a llama. But even if fate doomed him to seek out llamas, he’d probably load up a Jersey cow instead.

Eden: An elderly man even struck up a conversation while she selected feminine hygiene products at the pharmacy. Most men would avoid stopping in front of the tampon display but not this guy. Midway through the conversation, she thought about heading to the condom aisle to see if he would follow but decided against it. She doubted he’d gossip about her selection of tampons with plastic applicators, but he might start a rumor if she lured him near the prophylactics.

Apparently, the lonely senior made a 911 call when faced with the insurmountable challenge of opening a jar of pickled beets. The police attended to the matter, broke the seal, and left with one of her delicious apple pies.

Telling an anxious person to relax was akin to cleaning a cat by shoving it under the kitchen tap.

Being annoyed with Gage O’Neill was the equivalent of shaming a puppy for jumping on your lap.

Gage: “Aunt Iris is brutal. […] She’s beyond horrible. At my sister’s wedding, she tried pairing me with this long-haired blonde sitting across the room. […] And just so you know, hair color wasn’t the issue. I objected because the blonde at the wedding was a dude.”

Gage: “There are two times a man should do this.” He rose from his chair, shook his head and lowered himself to his knees. “And one of them is when he’s scared of his eighty-three-year-old great aunt. Please, I’ll buy you whatever dress you want. I’ll even toss in a pair of shoes. Just come to this wedding with me.”

Aunt Iris: “Maybe if you went up to Lotus Point with my handsome grandnephew, you’d toss away this friendship nonsense.”

Aunt Iris: “Getting married on the beach. A bikini and a veil. It’s utter nonsense. I hate boring weddings but if I wanted to see a bride in her skivvies, I’d go to a strip club.”

I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Captive of the Horde King (Horde Kings of Dakkar Book 1) – Zoey Draven

Nomadic tribal alien scifi erotic romance

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Luna’s brother brings the wrath of the Dakkari down on their little human village. Luna offers to serve the horde king that comes to punish them in exchange for her brother’s life. He accepts, and her life is changed forever.

This was a fast paced read with likable characters. Luna was strong, and I liked seeing her emotional growth along the way. The horde king was good and honorable. Lots of details like regularly used alien language and an alien version of horses made for great world-building. We don’t learn much about why humans are living on this planet as refugees, but I enjoyed the snippets of information I did get. The sex scenes were titillating but not scorching. The aliens were similar to humans but had tails and black and yellow eyes with no whites. They have a built-in, vibrating, clitoral stimulator, which had me laughing. Don’t all the best aliens have sex toy equipment?

The Dakkari instantly reminded me of the Dothraki in Game of Thrones. Those names are similar, they are a nomadic alien-horse-riding culture, and the men all have long hair. “Kalles” is their word for woman and the first the horde king calls Luna, which is close to khaleesi to me. It isn’t overwhelming, and there are plenty of differences, but I would guess the author is a fan.

I don’t want to give too much away, so how do I say this? The climactic action was too easy to foresee and cliché. But I was very happy that Luna fought for herself and didn’t just wait to be rescued by her man.

First person past tense, all from Luna. No cheating. No OW/OM drama. Several graphic sex scenes. The only foul language I noted was the occasional use of the F word when referring to sex. This is the first in a series of standalone novels. HFN.

Grammar: Error count 15 – wrong, missing, or misspelled words. Missing comma between two independent clauses, but it was consistent so accepted as style. Not terrible.

I enjoyed this and would read more books in the series. I don’t think I would read this one again, so 4 stars.

Boys of Brayshaw High, Trouble at Brayshaw High, and Reign of Brayshaw – Meagan Brandy

Guilty pleasure like a soap opera or CW teen series

⭐⭐

This is a guilty pleasure, like a soap opera or CW teen series. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit I read it.

Raven is taken away from her prostitute mother and sent to a small group home in another town where she attends Brayshaw High. This school and town are ruled by three non-biological brothers. The beginning is a hate to love story, but that’s over quickly. Actually not much of it takes place inside the high school.

It becomes very difficult to suspend disbelief. It has some unique twists, so it isn’t cliché, but it gets ridiculously unbelievable. Secret identities, parentage, babies, and marriages. Comas, arranged marriages, mafia-like old families running the world behind the scenes, 16-year-olds having backstories fit for 30-year-olds. It’s insane but enjoyable, a guilty /pleasure/. All three of these books are very long, but it was well paced and kept me reading to the end. I did read all three of them.

I liked some things about the characters and hated other things. Overall, Raven is a strong female character and some secondary females are strong too.

This is really one long book, split into three parts. The first two have major cliffhangers. It would properly be labeled as Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Lots of foul language and violence. First person present tense from alternating main characters. Many graphic sex scenes. References to rape and child molestation, but none on camera.

Many reviewers have complained about an overabundance of lip licking. I absolutely agree. It’s crazy overkill. Fortunately, this was addressed in the second two books and only happens rarely there. In part one, Raven thinks about how hot the three guys are far too much.

There is a lot of promiscuity in this novel, but it seems to be consensual. Public and group sex acts. Unprotected sex occurs with a rejected offer to use a condom. There is no discussion of birth control or sexual history. It seems neither is worried about pregnancies or STDs, which is stupidly irresponsible.

Grammar: The comma situation is gruesome with routinely missing commas where they belong and extra commas where they don’t belong. Double punctuation marks like ?! are used. This comes from email and messaging but is not correct English. Beyond that, there were: BOBH: 5, TABH: 4, ROB: 6 including wrong words, extra words, missing words, missing or extra quotation and punctuation marks.

I’d give this three stars but the grammar problems knocked my enjoyment down a star.

Favorite quotes:

From Boys of Brayshay High: “Can’t help it.” I throw my hand forward, weakly squeezing the packed muscles of his biceps. “You try sitting a foot from a beast in the flesh with crazy eyes and a dirty smirk and let’s see if your thong stays dry.”

From Trouble at Brayshaw High: “Nuh-uh, child,” Maybell reprimands and moves forward with a first aid kit. “Don’t be lookin’ at them like that. They did right, calling me. You look as bad as you did when you found out the green Power Ranger was leaving the show.”

Die For You: A Dark Post-Apocalyptic Romance (Catastrophe Series Book 1) – Michele Mills

Possessive alpha male post-apocalyptic romance with a ménage kink

⭐⭐⭐

A strain of Ebola has just killed 99.99% of the world’s population. Rachel is somehow immune. As soon as she leaves her home in San Diego, she runs into Adam, a Hispanic former marine. Adam is much older and has a kink – he likes to share his woman with other men in ménage situations he controls completely. Rachel is a virgin, and Adam tries to stay hands off, but he’s only human.

It was good, but I’m not fangirling. I’m curious about the next book, thinking of reading it, but thinking there’s got to be better stuff out there. Why? It dragged a little. The writing just didn’t keep me needing more. I read this in pieces during my lunch breaks and wasn’t compelled to read it at home instead of watching movies or while I’m supposed to be working.

There were some very good descriptions of the changed world in the beginning, full of dead bodies, some gore, and reminiscent of The Stand. The cause of the virus is known, opening a strong plot element that wasn’t explored, at least not in this first novel. I liked the mixed-race aspect. There were some funny scenes. I appreciated them but wanted more.

I did love that our lead female didn’t need her man to save her. She kicked ass when it counted. I wasn’t a fan of her starting virgin status, but it didn’t bother me too much. Her horrible self-image got annoying.

The sex scenes were okay. It was hotter when they were just talking about sex than when it was actually going on. There was a little bit of talking during sex, which I liked, but not enough. Overall there weren’t enough sex scenes to really make this an erotic novel. There also weren’t enough plot elements to make it a good non-erotic novel. So I’m stuck in mediocre.

3rd person past tense alternating between the main characters. HEA, graphic sex scenes, some foul language, some violence. Contains an off-camera rape concerning a secondary character. No cheating. No OW/OM drama. Does contain one consensual ménage scene. Speaking of, a huge deal was made of Adam’s kink. Rachel not being able to accept it and Adam not being able to be himself sexually was touted as a deal breaker. But we got one sex scene and the issue goes away at the end. This was very unrealistic. Either the setup or the ending was false.

Very few grammar mistakes other than no commas between independent clauses, which is consistent so accepted as style. Three missing words. One wrong word. One missing comma after an introductory clause. One case of head-hopping within a section. One unnecessary dialogue tag.

Favorite Quotes:

“Unfortunately for you, I’m a breast man.” – Adam

“He was so confident, so sure of himself. Like Babe Ruth pointing and calling an out-of-the-park homerun before he’d even picked up the bat.”

“She glanced at all three men, still amazed to have been left alive with these three perfect specimens of masculinity. How did this happen? Apparently, in this new world there would be no potbellies, no receding hairlines and no man boobs. No, not here. It was like they’d been outlawed.”

“Nice man.” He chuckled. “Have you seen my gun collection? I think you have me confused with someone else.” – Adam

Broken Hero – Olivia Hayle

PTSD and Small-Town Gossip Threaten Contemporary Romance

⭐⭐⭐

It’s a standard romance formula – a woman is cheated on and loses her job, so she moves home to a small town where she meets a great guy. The twists here are that he’s an ex-soldier with PTSD, and she’s a massage therapist dealing with the profession’s negative reputation- that sometimes massages come with “happy endings”.

It’s cute, sweet, and has some good laughs and steamy sex scenes. I liked the characters both main and secondary, especially their maturity. Misunderstandings were handled pretty quickly by talking them out. I loved the banter between them. They come out with some zingers. They aren’t perfect but grow with the story, working on their issues. PTSD is realistically shown as something that requires ongoing treatment and self-awareness. It has relapses with good and bad days, months, and years. This issue isn’t a major focus of the story but is part of the greater theme of self-acceptance and learning to ignore the haters in life.

Overall, I enjoyed this but was heavily distracted by grammar mistakes. I’d probably have given it a 4 but must knock it down to a 3 due to this.

1st person present tense with a few slips into past tense. Chapters from alternating main characters.

HEA, graphic sex scenes, no OW/OM drama, very little foul language.

Grammar: tons of missing commas mostly between two independent clauses, but they weren’t all missing. So it wasn’t a conscious style choice. Missing comma count: 150. Other error count: 36 – Wrong or missing punctuation marks. Missing, wrong, and misspelled words. Dialogue separated from action sequences which identified the speaker. Missing dialogue tags where needed, so I couldn’t tell who said some things. Mixed tenses.

Least Favorite Quote: “Mandy leans closer t me.” T with no O. It makes me 1) wonder if even Word’s simple grammar check was run and 2) want to cry.

I received a free copy of this book from BookSirens and am voluntarily leaving my honest review.

Flawed – Becky Bird

An okay reimagining of Pride and Prejudice with teens in high school

⭐⭐

I love Jane Austen and have read all her books. I’ve enjoyed all the miniseries and movies. I’m not a purist and have enjoyed sequel regency romance novels. I’ve also loved Austen storylines reimagined movies. My favorites are “Bride and Prejudice” and “Clueless” (Emma). So when I read this book was “Pride and Prejudice” reimagined with teens in the modern world, I was fully prepared to love it. Unfortunately, I had some major problems with it.

It’s cute and sometimes amusing. I had no problem finishing it. I wasn’t bored, and it didn’t drag on. The writing was okay. I kinda liked it. But you can tell I’m not really excited by it.

These were my major problems with it:

1. Dialogue straight from Austen, some of the most memorable quotes, did not sound realistic coming from modern teenagers. It felt forced and fake.

2. Overused clichés – mean girls, the destruction of a dress right before a fashion show, a prom-like climax, and others. It felt too “Gossip Girl”.

3. The “Bingham” character was far too shallow and narcissistic. He also punched out his windshield, twice, which indicated anger control issues. It made me worry Jade (Jane) would be abused later.

4. The entire book takes place within the time “Pride and Prejudice” is being discussed and quizzed on in Mia’s class (Elizabeth Bennet). The timing wasn’t clear. I don’t know how many weeks passed between the start and the end. But it felt way too long to be discussing one book. At least my English teachers never would have taken that long on a single book.

5. Along with the last point, the action unfolds so the class talks about the plot points in P&P as they correspond to what’s going on in Mia’s life. This forced the comparison, as if I wouldn’t get it otherwise, when it was blatantly obvious all along. It also made me doubt Mia’s intelligence as she doesn’t see the similarities between the book and her life.

1st person present tense with alternating chapters from the two main characters. I did like getting into the mind of Finn (Darcy).

Clean romance appropriate for young readers. Nothing beyond kissing. No foul language. Little violence – mainly the punching windshields thing. No OM/OW drama.

HFN, which felt more appropriate than a HEA.

Grammar:

Dialogue is very often separated from the action sequence that identifies the speaker. Sometimes one character speaks twice, in two separate paragraphs. This made knowing who was speaking difficult to figure out in places. There weren’t any unnecessary dialogue tags, but there were places where necessary tags were missing.

Commas weren’t routinely missing, so not using them wasn’t a choice. There were 9 missing commas.

Other error count:  15 (misspelled, wrong, extra, and missing words, and missing punctuation marks)

So it was readable but not a good job.

My favorite quote comes from the school principal as she is about to announce the king and queen of the winter formal dance: “Pipe down, you pompous—” Potter lets out a loud whistle. There’s dead silence as she finishes her sentence with “…little turdfaces!” More awkward silence follows, and Principal Potter gives a wry smile. “Firstly, I want to say I’m drunk.”