Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Travel by the Book ~ Rock Stars, Surf and Second Chances/Ocean Beach

Welcome to Travel by the Book. I know for most of us, reading is an escape. One of the things I love about reading it getting to travel. And I'm sure I'm not the only reader who has wished to take a trip inspired by a place I read about in a book. I've been fortunate in that my Hubs is kind enough to indulge me and take me to said places. This is where I share those vacations that were inspired by a book.


So, I know you haven't seen a Travel by the Book post in quite a long while. This is mostly because I wasn't thinking ahead when I started doing these posts and after ONE year, I'd run out of places I'd traveled to because of a book! LOL But I got to thinking about how to resurrect this feature and I decided to continue sharing these posts - quarterly? - and switch it up a tiny bit when necessary. 

I hope you'll enjoy these posts!

***The Book***

Oceanside (Rock Stars, Surf and Second Chances, #3)
You may have recently read my review of Michelle Mankin's Oceanside. I've been reading Ms. Mankin since 2012 and there's a lot to love about her stories. Her characters are always well drawn, the romance is always compelling and swoon-worthy, her stories always deal with a relevant social issue, and she does an incredible job at conveying the look and feel of her setting. From the gritty streets of Seattle (yes, they do exist) to the honky-tonk feel of Billy Bob's in Ft. Worth to the eccentric town of Ocean Beach, she's continually made me feel as though I've been there. So when I got the opportunity to travel to Ocean Beach to tour the locations and establishments that inspired Ms. Mankin's Rock Stars, Surf and Second Chances series there was no way I was going to pass it up! 

This series revolves around a group of guys who grew up in Ocean Beach, love surfing, and also happened to be the band known as The Dirt Dogs. I loved the Ms. Mankin gave each of the couples a unique backstory, compelling stories with tragedies and triumphs, and romances I believed in. This group of characters is so well developed and feel so genuine - and part of the genuineness is due to Ms. Mankin making their environment so realistic.

***The Travel***

My friend, Denise, who frequently travels to book event locales with me, was my traveling companion for this trip. We stayed at the Ocean Beach Motel and y'all, the beach was right across the street! We got to see the beach, surfers and surf shops, restaurants, buildings, and houses that served as inspiration as well as the murals that are all over the town on the sides of buildings and in alley-ways. Here are a few photos:

This is the bar that inspired The Deck Bar featured in all the books.

This is the house that served as inspiration for Ramon's house in Riptide.

There were tons of surfers out on this day. The Ocean Beach pier is in the background.

I took lots of pictures of the various murals around town but decided to feature this one because of the surfers. =)

This is the sub-pump structure where Fanny and her sister Hollie were living in Oceanside.

The building you see here is the building where Ash makes his home as well as the Dirt Dogs' recording company, Outside.

A gorgeous sunset from the pier. Just WOW!

Because I adore this series and because I love y'all, I'm giving one lucky reader an ebook set of the trilogy on Kindle. (the trilogy is currently only available on Kindle. Sorry!) To enter, leave a comment letting me know if you've ever traveled to somewhere because you read about it and if so, where.

Oooh! And as a PSA, Oceanside, Ms. Mankin's latest release is currently only 99 pennies on Kindle! You're welcome!! *smooches*

Monday, April 23, 2018

Audio Review ~ Under Her Skin ~ Adriana Anders #AudioChallenge

Under Her SkinUnder Her Skin by Adriana Anders
Blank Canvas #1
Narrated by: Wendy Tremont King
Release Date: May 30, 2017
Genre: Adult, Contemporary Romance
Source: I received a complimentary copy from Tantor AudioThis did not affect my rating and my review is voluntarily provided. 
Rating: 3.5-4 Bookworms
Challenges: #AudioChallenge

Ivan thought the world was through giving him second chances. Who'd want a rough ex-con with a savior complex and a bad habit of bringing home helpless strays? Everyone in Blackwood, Virginia, knew he wasn't good enough for the fine things in life; they knew he was too damaged to save. He just needed to keep his head down, work himself to the bone, and pretend he was content with the lot he was given. Until she came into his life. Until she changed everything. Until he realized he would do anything, fight anyone, tear the world apart if it meant saving her. Contains mature themes.

Under Her Skin was a moving story with many stories woven in. It had a nice cast of characters with the MCs, Uma and Ivan, being the center. The narration was okay but I'm not certain I wouldn't have enjoyed the story more having read it rather than listened.

The story revolves around Uma, who is on the run from an abusive ex, and Ivan, who can't seem to escape the perceptions his looks give people. The way Anders explored the perceptions and prejudices people have toward others - Uma and Ivan specifically - how Uma and Ivan perceive themselves and how they build trust between each other and are able to eventually look past their outward appearances was brilliant. The way she filled in their backstories allowing us to see the events that shaped who they are as well as meeting some of those who helped in that shaping - both good and bad - gave Uma and Ivan depth and complexity. The way in which they meet and seeing how they are in daily life - the kindness and compassion they show others despite how they've been treated and the things they've endured - only added to that depth and complexity. Anders also have us a strong supporting cast - particularly Ms. Lloyd. She provided some comic relief with her stubbornness and her crabbiness. 

So the story was strong. I did feel the ending was a bit rushed and too tidy. There was quite a buildup to the "showdown" and it culminated in much less of an explosion than I'd been anticipating.

As for the narration, Tremont King did fine with the voices although her range for male voices was a little lacking. What bothered me was her delivery which was so very slow. It mt made the pacing slow and that made it more challenging to stay engaged. I have the next 2 in the series and I'm thinking I might listen at a faster speed to see if that makes a difference.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Release Day Review ~ Flesh into Fire ~ JA Huss & Johnathan McClain (@JAHuss @MisterJMcClain) #2018NewRelease

Flesh Into Fire (Original Sin, #3)Flesh into Fire by JA Huss & Johnathan McClain
Original Sin Series #3
Release Date: April 17, 2018
Genre: Adult, Contemporary Romance, Romantic Suspense
Source: I received an eARC from the author. This did not affect my rating and I voluntarily provided a review.
Rating: 4 Bookworms
Challenges: #2018NewRelease
Goodreads ~ Amazon

Payback is owed.

And Maddie Clayton is going to collect. This time Carlos and Logan have gone too far. People are dead, lives have been changed, and she's had enough. Plus, she's got the Devil on her side, so when an enemy turns into a friend with an idea of how to take Carlos down, she's in.

Tyler Morgan has been fighting back his whole adult life. He's ready for anything when it comes to payback. But endangering Maddie can't be part of the deal. Unfortunately for him, once Maddie gets an idea in her head, there's no stopping her.

Her debt has been paid in blood and she wants revenge.

His fight is still there, but now he's got more at stake than himself.

The end is coming.

But even if they win against Carlos, they can still lose each other.

Flesh into Fire reignited my interest in Maddie and Tyler's story. I felt like there was quite a bit of character growth on both Maddie's and Tyler's parts and there was more action and, um, less sex in this installment. The plot moved forward although I still have no idea where Huss & McClain are going with this story. But I'm once again delighted to be on the ride. Here are a few highlights and observations:

  • I found it interesting that Tyler always saw Maddie as his angel - even dreaming of her in this way and how she's letting her "devil" rule. Because of him? Or has Maddie always been this way? I think the dreams are important...I just can't figure out how. LOL
  • Of course there would be a curve ball I never saw coming which changed the trajectory of the story - not that I'd figured out the trajectory but I feel certain this curve ball changed it.
  • There's a new catch phrase in use in this installment and I'm not really a fan. It wasn't used in the earlier installments and now everyone is saying it. *frowns*
  • When we're in Tyler and Maddie's heads, their voices are distinct but sometimes in the dialog they sound very similar. It kinda took me out of the story when I'd be reading Maddie saying something and it sounded so much like Tyler that I had to double-check who was speaking.

At times I wanted to shake Maddie and Tyler for their decisions and there were times when I was rolling my eyes at the over-the-top-ness in certain situations. The twists in the plot though made things exciting and I'm going to mention again the character growth because I *liked* it. Both Maddie and Tyler had some very insightful moments where they realized some profound things about themselves and each other as well as themselves as a couple. I'm still speculation as to where they're headed - I really have no clue. But Flesh into Fire had more action, more excitement, more humor, and *ahem* the character growth so I'm thrilled to learn where Maddie and Tyler are going and I'm grateful I only have a few more weeks til I find out.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Review & Mini Blogger Girl Chat ~ Written in Red ~ Anne Bishop

Written in Red (The Others, #1)Written in Red by Anne Bishop
The Other #1
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Genre: Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
Source: Borrowed from the library
Rating: 5 Bookworms
Challenges: #COYER

As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut - a gift that feels more like a curse. Me'gs Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard - a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she's keeping a secret, and second, she doesn't smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she's wanted by the government, he'll have to decide if she's worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.

Gah! I can't believe I waited so long to read this! Written in Red was so good I was loathe to put it down. The world building was so well done - realistic but with just enough magic to create an escape - along with a fascinating story of creation. The characters - every single one - was so well developed that I feel like I know them all and I'm eager to hang out with them again. And, and, and I adore the fact that Bishop populated this story with strong female characters! There are quite a few "weighty" plot threads and Bishop wove them all together seamlessly. Seriously. So good!

The main story is that Meg escaped from where she'd been held her whole life and she makes it to the Lakeside Courtyward where the Others - vampires, wolf shifters, Elementals, etc. - live. There's something different about Meg and so the Others take her in and she becomes one of their own meaning they will protect her by any means necessary...even warring with the humans set on reacquiring her.

Meg hasn't live out in the world so she's learning every day, which was fascinating. But even more fascinating was watching as she taught the Others. They have an uneasy truce with humans but Meg is showing them that maybe not all humans are bad. The interpersonal lessons were heartwarming. But there was also plenty of action and suspense considering the factions out to get Meg. And while the immediate threat has been subdued - in grand fashion - Meg is still wanted. And I'm anxious for what comes next.

Meg is so genuine and sweet and compassionate. In many ways, she's like a child - not yet familiar with the world and therefore unbiased. You can't help but love her and all the Others prove just that. I'm hoping for something a little deeper to develop between Meg and Simon - a wolf shifter and the official leader of the Lakeside Courtyard.

I could go on and on but suffice it to say Written in Red was fan-freaking-tastic, I can't believe I waited so long to read it, and I will be continuing the series ASAP!

Robyn and I hadn't done a buddy read/blogger chat in quite awhile so we decided to do one for Written in Red. My text is in green, Robyn's is black. Enjoy!

What did you think of the story overall?

I fell into the story right away. I like stories that shift our world to the side just enough to fit a magical one inside. The Others were not likable and remained that way through the whole story and yet I quickly started liking them, even though they ate people! The blood prophet angle was new to me and there were times I felt queasy. I liked Meg immediately. She didn't back down even though nothing in her life was easy or safe. Simon was a growly unpleasant wolf. The supporting cast rocked. I loved the crows. I loved the idea of the Others having so many animal/magical traits that distanced themselves so much from humans they couldn't relate to the odd things humans did that are not actually odd.

I fell into the story immediately too. I loved that the Others were prickly and anti-heroes and heroines but I still ended up liking them...mostly because of how they took care of The Meg. :) I thought the blood prophet thing was interesting. Why are they considered human when they have a special ability? And why was it okay to keep them "captive"? I get humans selling the idea that blood prophets can't be by themselves...that part was sickening though. Simon. *sigh* I flove him! I love how caring he is even if he is super growly and would rather not have to stay in his human skin and doesn't know what to do when something that should smell like prey doesn't smell like prey. I think maybe that is why I loved the cast of characters so much...well, most of them anyway. And The Others in particular. They are scary and they do eat people. But they also take care of their own and they really stepped up when Meg became one of their own.

How did you feel about how the women were portrayed?

This one has me scratching my head as I try to remember feelings on this. The Others didn't seem to have any kind of male/female power struggle going on. Your standing revolved around your power and allies. The only woman really objectified in the story objectified herself and no one liked her for it. I would have liked more female cops/doctors/alpha leaders.

I felt like the women were portrayed as strong. I didn't like - can't think of her name - the bad woman. But I loved the scariness of Tess and Winter and yet they're still compassionate - at least where Meg is concerned.

What did you think of how everyone reacted to Meg?

It was one of the fun parts of the story, waiting for a new person to meet Meg. How will they react? Will they want to wrap her in bubble wrap because of the big bad scary Others? Will the Crows adopt her and start leaving shiny stuff for her? Will Simon ever stop growling? In that way, it felt kind of like a historical romance, all the nutty characters revolving around our awesome heroine.

Ooo, I love the comparison to HR. That's kinda true. And they all felt Meg needed taking care of. EVERYONE who met her, really. And yet, Meg was capable in her own way and she was taking care of them as well. I especially liked how she handled Sam. 

Are you totally shipping Meg and Simon?!?

(Are you totally??? what word did auto-correct fix?)

I'm laughing here...I meant, are you shipping Meg and in wanting them to get to the good stuff! ;) I hope so hard that they get to the good stuff. :D

This is a new author for both of us, do you ever get new author apprehension? 

I do get new author apprehension. Particularly when it's an author that people, whose opinions I value, gush about the author. What if I don't like the author as much as my friend does? It's happened. But NOT in this case. I had it on good authority (*cough*Carmel*cough*) that this was a series must read.  

The Blood Prophet was a new magical ability for me, but the whole thing made me think of cutting and what a person gets out of it. Did you get that feeling? I couldn't figure out how I felt about that.

I liked having this new magical creature that I'd never heard of before but I did think about cutting initially. Then I decided to let it go. That way I could immerse myself in the story more. I don't know why Bishop chose to make blood prophets the way she did but in the end, it works. At least for me. 

Are we going to get good stuff in this series between Meg and Simon? Like in the next book? What's your guess? 

I certainly hope so! Who knows though. I'm going to guess it'll eventually happen but it might not be in the next book. But MAN do I hope it is!!! 

Who is your favorite character?

I don't know if I can decide...but I think I'd go with Meg. And then Sam. :) But honestly I loved them all. Except for the bad lady, of course. ;) Oh, and it was a close call with Elliot for a few minutes there. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

My TBR List *April* ~ And the Winner is... #MyTBRL


My To-Be Read List is a meme hosted by Michelle @Because Reading. I think it's a fabulous idea because it gets y'all in the game and it helps me knock off some of the many, many books on my TBR list. You're more than welcome to join in the fun! I've included the basic rules below but you can click on the graphic above to hop over to Michelle's site where you can find all the details. 

Here's how it works:
On the first Saturday of each month, I will make a post with three books from my TBR List (these books can be already on your ereader or bookshelf OR books you might want to purchase) and add your link on the linky that will be provided on Michelle's post. Y'ALL will help me choose which book I will read next. The following Saturday, I will announce which book won. Then the last Saturday of the month, I'll post my review.

Fun, right?!?


And the Winner is:

Finding It (Losing It, #3)
Finding It
Losing It #3

Sometimes you have to lost yourself to find where you truly belong...

Most girls would kill to spend months traveling around Europe after college graduation with no responsibility, no parents, and no-limit credit cards. Kelsey Summers is no exception. She's having the time of her life...or that's what she keeps telling herself.

It's a lonely business trying to find out who you are, especially when you're afraid you won't like what you discover. No amount of drinking or dancing can chase away Kelsey's loneliness, but maybe Jackson Hunt can. After a few chance meetings, he convinces her to take a journey of adventure instead of alcohol. With each new city and experience, Kelsey's mind becomes a little clearer and her heart a little less hers. Jackson helps her unravel her own dreams and desires. But the more she learns about herself, the more Kelsey realizes how little she knows about Jackson.

Thanks so much for voting! Be sure to check back on April 28th for my review.  :D

Friday, April 13, 2018

Audio/New Release Review ~ Fearless in Texas ~ Kari Lynn Dell #AudioChallenge #2018NewRelease

Fearless in TexasFearless in Texas by Kari Lynn Dell
Texas Rodeo #4
Narrated byJohanna Parker
Release Date: April 3, 2018
Genre: Adult, Contemporary Romance
Source: I received a complimentary copy from Tantor Audio and I also received an eARC from the publisher via Netgalley. This did not affect my rating and my review is voluntarily provided. 
Rating: 4.5 Bookworms
Challenges: #2018NewRelease, #AudioChallenge

After her life comes crashing down, Melanie Brookman is determined to claw her way back up again - and this time, she won't make the same mistakes twice. So when her friend sends Wyatt Darrington to help, Melanie keeps him at arm's length. He's exactly the sort of trouble she doesn't need. Wyatt has the perfect distraction for Melanie: rescue his failing bar. She reluctantly agrees and together they hit the road. As they spend more time with one another, undeniable attraction grows. But Wyatt knows that if she ever found out his closely guarded secret, any chance at happily ever after would be left in the dust...

In my review of Tougher in Texas, I said this about waiting for Fearless in Texas
"...since the stories keep getting more entertaining, I *know* it'll be worth the wait."  
And guess what? Dell DID NOT DISAPPOINT! Seriously, this series just gets better and better! I think I'm suffering from a book hangover. Dell delivered another compelling story with characters that are brilliantly brought to life. I'm chomping at the bit for the next installment!

  • Character Development
    Dell excels here and this might be her best yet in this department. (it's a toss up between Melanie/Wyatt and Shawnee/Cole) With Melanie, we have this extremely intuitive gal who makes an art out of reading people. But she isn't so good at turning that talent on herself. With a little help, she does and she isn't all that fired up at what she sees. She does become introspective whenever she's sorting things out so to see her use that introspection on herself, be along with her as she decides on what to change and how to change it and then watch her execute was inspiring. In Wyatt, we have a man who yearns for a connection...a community...a family. Learning his backstory made his behavior and his actions understandable. But it saddened me that despite having the community  and family he longed for with Joe and Violet, the Jacobs family, and the rodeo, he still felt like an outsider. Witnessing Melanie give him his heart's desire was...well, heartwarming.
  • Secondary Characters & Side Plots
    Dell has crafted quite a colorful cast and they along with the side plots add depth and complexity to the story. They also make me debate with myself over who I hope to see in the next installment. From Louie and Gordon, Helen and Rowdy, Grace...gosh! There's so many wonderfully drawn characters and then I get to spend time with some whom I've already met as well. *sigh* I love them all.
  • Setting
    Up to this point, this series has spent most of its time in West Texas and as I've said, Dell captures life in West Texas well. This installment, due to Melanie's need to "get the hell out of Dodge", was spent in and around Pendleton, Oregon. What are the odds Dell would pick another place I'm familiar with? And she nailed the description of the town and the landscape. She's really about to put you there and I love that. Also, the rodeo took a bit of a back seat here but it still had its place and we get to spend time with the horses, cows, and rope. =)
  • Thought-provoking
    I mentioned this in my review of Tougher in Texas but this I'm mentioning it again because it's worth saying. The Texas Rodeo series is romance but the romance is secondary to the story, in my opinion. I like that Dell has her characters take deeper looks at themselves, consider their mistakes and learn from them, figure out what they want in life and how to go about making that happen. And a common theme seems to be never, ever denying yourself love.
I suppose Fearless in Texas had a little different tone since the rodeo wasn't front and center but it was every bit as riveting as its predecessors. Dell wove together a cast of characters I couldn't help by love with a story that kept me captivated. I can't thank Anna enough for turning me on to Dell!

Parker continues impressing me with her ability to keep the pace just right and deliver on all the emotions. And for the most part, she keeps her voices distinct. She's become a favorite narrator of mine, honestly. And I'm once again anxious for the next book in the series!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thirsty Thursday & Hungry Hearts #80 ~ Fearless in Texas ~ Kari Lynn Dell

Thirsty Thursday & Hungry Hearts is a weekly meme hosted by my blogger wife, Lexxie, @(un)Conventional Bookviews. It's a way to highlight a book using quotes that revolve around food and/or drinks. Every Thursday, post a line or two...or heck, a whole paragraph, that spoke to you in some way using food and/or drinks. *wink* Don't forget to link up!

My pick this week for Thirsty Thursday & Hungry Hearts is from:

Fearless in Texas by Kari Lynn Dell

This particular scene made my mouth water right along with Wyatt's! =)


And then he smelled it.
His digestive juices kicked into overdrive at the scent of fresh-baked bread and fried chicken. He had to stop short inside his newly acquired back gate to avoid a wheeled steer dummy that came zipping toward him, pursued by two men with ropes.
Melanie strolled out the door in low-cut jeans and a bright-yellow tank top, her hair rippling loose and a drink in each hand. The sight of her was like a flower bursting into bloom in Wyatt's chest. She sauntered up, passed him a whiskey and Coke, and gave him a wifely peck on the cheek.
Wyatt drew a long, appreciative breath. "Please tell me that tastes as good as it smells."
"What do you think?" a new voice demanded.
He stared at the woman who filled the doorway to the kitchen. "Helen?"
"In the flesh, and there's still a whole lot of it."
She folded him into a hug that was like being swallowed by Mother Earth, then stepped back and looked him up and down with a critical eye. "All gaunted up from the road, just like Joe used to be. You go on in and find a seat. I'll fix you a plate."

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Brandee's Bookish Babble #36 ~ Combo Review/Share Time

Welcome to Brandee's Bookish Babble. There are many, many similar posts to this one - but basically I wanted a place to discuss bookish and/or blogging stuff and I needed a title. :) 

I debated with myself quite a bit over how to or even whether or not to post this but in the end, it's about me and about a book so I figured what the heck! 

You know how sometimes a book just speaks to you? Resonates with you? Touches you? Inspires you? I think with non-fiction in particular - more along the lines of a memoir or self-help - you have to read it at that perfect time. It happened for me with The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin - it's the reason I started blogging. And last year, it happened with Big Girls Do It Running by Jasinda Wilder. The name of the book has changed now - she's calling it You Can Do It - but y'all, her story impacted me and as a result, I lost 25 pounds last year. I wanted to share a few of the highlights from the book and the take-aways for me:

  • Just Friends Chatting...
    Wilder writes in an informal and humorous way, like you're friends and you're hanging out talking over coffee. The way she explained her childhood food/weight issues, all the fads, diets, exercise routines, everything that she'd tried in order to lose weight and get healthy, as well as how she felt about herself after failing over and over was real and genuine, and funny! I empathized with her. 
  • Inspirational
    Y'all, at one time Wilder weighed over 400 pounds. To see how her "way" made a difference, not only for herself but also for her family was very inspiring.
  • The Message
    What I took away from reading Wilder's story was that yes, my body was made for moving, and that food is fuel. When I first started, with the help of my fitbit, I made sure I moved every hour - typically walking my one flight of stairs ten times - and I got all my steps in daily. I started running again as well as doing toning exercises 5-6 days a week. And I starting looking at food a little differently. I knew I needed food to make my body move and to nourish it and my brain. But looking at it this way made me stop and think before putting something in my mouth.
    Today, I'm still running and doing different toning exercises 5-6 days a week and I have a healthier relationship with food. I have tried to limit my sugar intake (Wilder has removed sugar from her diet) but I haven't removed it entirely. I was more strict with myself in the beginning but now I occasionally have treats. I had a delicious birthday pie last week! And I like my beer! =) But I eat mostly fruits and vegetables as well as having protein in the morning and in the evening. And I've been able to maintain my weight loss. 

Big Girls Do It RunningWilder talks about how her healthy lifestyle has impacted her family, even making a difference in her son's autism. She shares exercises and recipes. And as I said, it's all done in a way that seems like you're friends sharing advice and support. I know I read this book at that perfect time and it made a difference for me. And so, I just wanted to share.

Are there any books you've read that inspired you in some way? I'd love to hear about them.