Review: Cooking Up a Storm

Cooking Up a Storm
Cooking Up a Storm by Ashley Ladd
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This was just … bad. There are bad books where you wonder how anyone could have liked them (Outlander!) but usually those are about taste. Then there are books where you wonder how anyone could have published them. It’s not that this particular book was eye-searingly bad and will haunt me for the rest of my life. I’ve read those and while bad, this doesn’t quite reach that category. It’s more so that I’m confused how no one pointed out the numerous problems with the writing and plot. There are certain details- such as continuity, flow, changed character names- that I’d think someone, somewhere would have pointed out as problematic. Apparently not though and so the finished product, such as it was, leaves a lot to be desired unfortunately.

The plot has five chefs brought to some billionaire’s private island to compete for the position of head chef. Two of those competing, Brooks and Rique, are hot for each other and decide to have some fun in between the cooking competitions. The billionaire in question, Jonah, wants to get in on the action and enjoy some ménage fun. The problem is that Rique is on the run from the mob and afraid of being found and killed.

For starters the plot is simplistic to the point of non-existent. I love cooking competition shows and have watched more than I can count. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to read this particular book. Unfortunately the excitement and interest of those competitions just didn’t translate to the story. The actual competitions felt secondary, unimportant and almost distracting. The other three chefs were caricatures instead of fully realized characters, especially the women, and most of these were narrated through Brooks’ POV, which left something to be desired. The basic premise of the competition and the various challenges were exactly what I expected – i.e., cook a random cuisine, butcher an exotic animal, cook without utensils – but I didn’t really understand why these chefs were forced to do such challenges. It wasn’t to win money or show their versatility, it was mostly an excuse. Whether a chef won or lost didn’t seem to matter and I couldn’t get a sense of why these challenges existed and what their purpose was. It never made much sense, so I never really connected to that aspect of the story. Part of the problem is that the descriptive quality of the writing is very low. I never could make a good mental image of what the story was trying to portray.

Likewise I kept wondering if I was missing part of the book. The scenes would jump around without any kind of continuity or flow. In one scene Brooks and Rique get drunk and have sex. The next day Brooks sneaks away and Rique avoids Brooks. The narration jumps from their POV and shows how both men want to focus on the competition. Brooks then wins a competition and gets to take a trip, however Rique declines to join Brooks. The trip Brooks won is never mentioned and a scene or two later Rique is going to his “lover’s” room to comfort Brooks. It was such an abrupt jump that I honestly questioned if I was accidentally missing pages. There is no mention how the men get from wanting to stay away to focus on the competition to calling each other lover, sleeping together again and being in love. This went beyond instant love to whiplash love. It simply happened without any context to follow. One scene they individually want to stay away then the next they’re having sex and in love with no connecting scenes.

This same confusing phenomenon happens several times. The scenes simply jump from one to the next without any kind of flow or plot continuity. Rique leaves an ménage with Jonah and Brooks and acts like it’s the end of any chance he has with either of them, yet the story casually mentions that they all meet up for sex occasionally. So clearly the issue was cleared up off page but that’s very frustrating as a reader. There are several issues like this that happen again and again so it feels as if part of the story is missing. I honestly wondered if these were just random scenes written separately then put together without thought to making the plot flow.

Similarly the ending is simply mind boggling silly. For example, escaping well trained security guards at point blank range: “Brooks yelped, pivoted on his heels then sprinted down the hall, swerving away from the bullets raining behind him. Unscathed, he rounded a corner.” There are more improbable heroics that defy logic (such as taking down a moving wolf with a single shot when the character has no weapons training nor ever shot anything to name but one of many ridiculous scenarios) and gravity but the explanation also makes no sense. All of a sudden there’s a third person in the relationship and the story hadn’t offered any buildup and onscreen chemistry to show where the three men suddenly were in love. I could barely see a relationship between the main protagonists, let alone the third person who only has one, aborted, on-page sex scene.

The above are some of the numerous problems I had with the story and it doesn’t even get into the poor editing – names changed (Fiona to Felicia) and wrong names used (Brooks when it should be Rique and vice versa), words missing from sentences – and just the overall poor descriptive quality of the writing. I honestly just didn’t like anything about the book. Well actually that’s not true, I liked the concept of the cooking challenges but it didn’t come across nor did the romance. In my opinion the book simply failed to execute any of the ideas and the entire flow of the story suffered. I honestly don’t think this is a matter of preference but more so simply poorly written story. I’d not recommend it.

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Review: Only You

Only You
Only You by Katrina Strauss
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So apparently I’m going through a phase where all I read are series books out of order. I kind of hate doing that, by the way, and try hard to avoid it when I can. With Blue Ruin, I actually thought I’d read the series since I like the author and the books sounded familiar. Well apparently I’d read only the first book in the series but none of the subsequent books. I’m ok with that because I definitely did not like the characters enough to want to read more but I seriously lacked some considerable context for the cast and situations mentioned. I would not recommend reading this one if you haven’t been following the series. That said, I also don’t think it’s a series I want to catch up on but it’s an easy enough read with a happy ending that seems final for the series.

In this book Blue and Derek have been together for a year and apparently weathered some pretty substantial circumstances. There have been threesomes that came and went, kidnappings I think and maybe even an attempted murder, though the details weren’t provided. Suffice it to say a lot has gone on in the year these two have been together. Now they’re dealing with normal, everyday issues in relationships such as money, jobs, family, and friends. Derek is having money troubles; apparently he’s usually rich as sin but now has cash flow problems. Blue, as the submissive, knows none of this or doesn’t really care and instead is focusing on causing trouble in his best friend’s new relationship. In between this Derek’s famous father has died and his mother comes to town at the same time Blue’s political father is outed for having a long-standing affair with a prostitute. I have to say these aren’t really “normal” situations that couples have to deal with but since it’s not murder or kidnapping or threesomes, I guess it’s normal for Blue and Derek. Again, I’m not entirely sure about this but that was the general idea I got.

For starters the book doesn’t even attempt to remind readers or allow a new reader to catch up on past events. Instead the narration assumes that readers have followed along and know exactly who everyone is and how they fit into the overall scheme as well as into Blue’s life. I found this confusing and often frustrating. I didn’t blame the book, since it clearly states it’s book five of a series, and even though it was my own fault, I was still annoyed while reading. Furthermore I felt as though I couldn’t connect to Blue or Derek as individuals or a couple. A lot of the emotional impact must have been in previous books and perhaps the continuity of their relationship over hardship because now they just seemed mildly inoffensive and a little boring. Yes there was a solid BDSM portion to their life but Blue was a bit of a brat and often kind of horrible to other people.

The plot never seemed to stop, as there was a new crisis that happened pretty consistently. There were the money issues, then Derek had some health problems, then Blue was a real dick to his female best friend and her new relationship, then the death of Derek’s father, then problems with Blue’s father, then Blue’s jealousy, etc etc. Just kind of went on and on and none of the problems were sufficiently resolved either. They just kind of disappeared at the end with a huge influx of cash to make life easy and normal again and a jump in time to show everyone happy years later. I wanted to invest in the problems but I was really glad I didn’t when I read the ending. I never actively disliked the book or the characters but I definitely didn’t feel any strong connection to them. I couldn’t feel happy they resolved their issues when so many seemed to come and go without real consequences or intensity for the characters.

The writing is clean and easy to read. I like Strauss’ style so I found the pages turning quickly even though I felt no emotions, positive or negative, towards the book. I think it was mostly well written but the lack of information and connection to the main couple hindered me from truly enjoying the book and appreciating the relationship offered. Perhaps those that have been following the series can feel differently and will, in fact, absolutely love this offering. It feels like the last chapter with an ending for all characters involved. For those that are already fans, no doubt this is a must read. For those new to the series, I didn’t like enough to recommend it but that’s just my opinion.

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Review: Best Kept Secrets

Best Kept Secrets
Best Kept Secrets by Evangeline Anderson
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

It’s been years since I read an Evangeline Anderson book but I remember her writing being hot, erotic, and decent reads. In fact I remember quite liking several of her m/m books. So I took a chance on her m/f book, Best Kept Secrets. I thought it was an incest book, but it actually the brother and sister are only “step” and not actually related. That’s ok because the two have enough angst that you would think they were blood related fifteen times over and the worst sin in the entire universe was two step siblings getting it on when they live alone on a ship and hop from planet to planet with only minimal interaction with anyone else. So the drama is manufactured in numerous ways that made me roll my eyes several times, especially when the alien tells the female that they have to fuck to solve all problems. You pretty much have to read it to believe it…

I bit my lip, thinking of what that would involve. Somehow I would have to get Josh to make love to me. And not only would I have to let him penetrate me, but fuck me to completion and fill me with his cum. I would need to let him press his cock all the way to the end of my cunt channel and pump his entire load deep in my pussy.

It was a scary thought, but I squared my shoulders in determination. If this was the only way to get him back to his right mind and bring us together, I would do it.

Needless to say I didn’t think much of the nearly non-existent and silly plot. Of course the only way to get the man, Josh, to act on his desires was to be infected by a planet. Thus Josh could lick, suck, and fuck his desires without being in his right mind. His “sister” Cassandra could submit happily but rationalize that she was just doing it because she had no choice. I can’t help but feel like the author did this book tongue in cheek knowing it was a ludicrous and weak plot. That said, it’s still erotic as hell and very hot. Anderson knows how to write scorching sex scenes and there is a lot of erotica in this one. If the sex had been bad this would easily be a 1 star book but for what it is, it’s decent and made the book readable and then some. Thus I’d probably recommend this more for someone that wants written porn. The set up and “plot” is about as good as you’d find in a porn movie but the point is the sex anyway so who cares.

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Review: Only You

Only You
Only You by Willa Okati
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read a fair bit of Willa Okati’s books and they are solidly average reads. I never really love or hate the books but I find them easy and forgettable. Which honestly is exactly what I wanted when I picked this one. I also liked that it was a shorter novella. I don’t have the time or mental energy for something long and involved right now, which only matters because that was my attitude coming into the book. I hadn’t read the previous book in the series but figured it couldn’t be that difficult to figure things out. The story was easy to read and romantic enough, although not having read the first book in the series did hinder my understanding somewhat. Overall Soulmarked is an enjoyable read and made me curious to continue with the series. Continue reading

Review: Hell on Earth

Hell on Earth
Hell on Earth by Ally Blue
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I eagerly got Ally Blue’s second book in her Hellscape series but then realized how little I remembered of the first book a year ago. I re-read my review so I would have some idea of who the characters were though I remembered the concept surprisingly well. I commented in my review of the first book that I would love to see books about the secondary characters such as Sandman. Well apparently I got my wish because the second book is all about Sandman, a character I literally did not (and still don’t) remember from the first book. That didn’t really phase me and the second book in the series is actually much stronger than the first. It also can easily be read as a stand alone, a fact that I am extremely grateful for as I was not going to re-read the first one. So dystopian fans – check this one out, it’s really good and can be read on its own. Continue reading

Review: Replica

Replica by Jenna Black
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For dystopian YA fiction, Replica is average and middle of the road. Some aspects are far superior to other books in the genre, while other elements are decidedly inferior. The plot is overly familiar but the main focus of the story – friendship between a mild mannered female forcibly turned into a formidable foe (ha) and a spoiled gay playboy – is very engaging. There is very little romance and the plot is overtly a mystery in a dystopian setting but the writing is decent and premise offers just enough surprises to keep the story from being dull. I did find my attention wavering and I appreciated that I could put the book down for days at a time until my interest peaked again. That said, I do want to continue with the series and would still recommend this story for dystopian YA fans. Continue reading

Review: The Douglas Fir

The Douglas Fir
The Douglas Fir by Anyta Sunday
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I actually got this back in November but ignored it until recently. It’s a really cute, well-written story that kept me guessing where it was going to go. Looking back I can see where it was heading all along but I appreciated the writing and construction such that it could have taken numerous twists. It’s been a while since a story surprised me and I really liked not knowing what could happen next. The characters are decent, but two-dimensional and a little flat. The dialogue is cute and the supporting cast makes a nice little novella to read and has me curious about other books by the author. I’d easily recommend it – $1.50 for a novella, which makes it really cheap – and it’s a fun, entertaining story. Continue reading