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Review: Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino

Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open RelationshipsOpen­ing Up: A Guide to Cre­at­ing and Sus­tain­ing Open Rela­tion­ships by Tris­tan Taormi­no
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

I have to be hon­est. When I ini­tial­ly heard about Open­ing Up by Tris­tan Taormi­no, it was in asso­ci­a­tion with some­one I can’t stand, and I child­ish­ly let that asso­ci­a­tion col­or my impres­sion of the book. I didn’t real­ly con­sid­er read­ing it. I final­ly got around to read­ing (okay, lis­ten­ing to) it this past week, and I’m sor­ry I didn’t do so soon­er. It’s so good that I’m con­sid­er­ing pur­chas­ing a print copy to have on hand in my lend­ing library, and maybe even an ebook copy so that I might eas­i­ly ref­er­ence pas­sages from time to time. 

None of the infor­ma­tion is new to me, exact­ly, but it is put togeth­er very well. The sec­tions on issues to consider/​issues that might arise in each style of respon­si­ble non-monogamy were espe­cial­ly appre­ci­at­ed. I was dis­ap­point­ed that there isn’t a sec­tion in her web site for read­ers, but per­haps the print copy has repro­ducible check­lists.

The chap­ter on STIs was very good, although I think that a list of spe­cif­ic STIs for which non-monog­a­mous peo­ple should request test­ing would have been help­ful.

In any case, I do rec­om­mend this book. It’s replac­ing Love With­out Lim­its as my go-to rec­om­men­da­tion for new poly­folk to read.

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Review: Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo by Vanessa Woods

Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the CongoBonobo Hand­shake: A Mem­oir of Love and Adven­ture in the Con­go by Vanes­sa Woods
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

I near­ly put this book down after the first chap­ter, because I want­ed to learn about Bono­bos, not atroc­i­ties in the Con­go. I stuck with it because it was the most inter­est­ing of the audio­books that were already on my phone when I was mak­ing a long dri­ve, and I got halfway through it dur­ing that dri­ve. I was hooked by then, and need­ed to know what hap­pened to these par­tic­u­lar Bono­bos and the humans around them. 

Now, I still don’t feel that I need­ed the explic­it descrip­tions of vio­lence. I could have under­stood what was going on with­out that. But then, I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly sen­si­tive to such things, and I did already have a pret­ty good idea of what was going on in that part of the world. I sup­pose some read­ers may have need­ed those descrip­tions to “get it.”

I real­ly loved the rela­tion­ships that devel­oped between Woods and the var­i­ous Bono­bos, and how her net­work of friends and fam­i­ly grew over time. I am envi­ous of the con­nec­tion she has with her hus­band, Bri­an Hare. The infor­ma­tion shared about the exper­i­ments is tru­ly fas­ci­nat­ing, and the competition/coöperation theme that runs through the book is vital to under­stand­ing not just chim­panzees and Bono­bos, but humans.

I was lis­ten­ing to the book in the car the oth­er day, and heard the fol­low­ing at the end of chap­ter 34. It caused me to cry.
“If there are those you love, who­ev­er or wher­ev­er you are, hold them. Find them and hold them as tight­ly as you can. Resist their squirm­ing and impa­tience and uncom­fort­able laugh­ter, and just feel their heart throb­bing against yours. Give thanks that for this moment, for this one pre­cious moment, they are here, they are with you, and they know they are utter­ly, com­plete­ly, entire­ly loved.”

All in all, yes, I rec­om­mend the book. Just be warned about those descrip­tions, and if you choose the audio­book ver­sion, don’t lis­ten with lit­tle ones around.

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Review: Bleeding Out by Jes Battis

Bleeding Out (OSI, #5)Bleed­ing Out by Jes Bat­tis
My rat­ing: 2 of 5 stars

Woof, I made it. I wasn’t sure that I would, as this nov­el start­ed out nor­mal­ly and devolved into a stream-of-con­scious­ness mess. I was seri­ous­ly moti­vat­ed to keep going, though, because I read the rest of the series and this is the last book in it. 

So I pushed on through, got to a bit of light in the tun­nel, and then there was more muck. Real­ly, Mr. Bat­tis — this is a pop­u­lar work! Or did you just feel like, “Hey, this is the end of my con­tract, I can do what­ev­er I want…” That’s the feel­ing I got, hon­est­ly. It doesn’t moti­vate me to pick up what­ev­er Bat­tis pub­lish­es in the future.

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Review: Endgame by Ann Aguirre

Endgame (Sirantha Jax, #6)Endgame by Ann Aguirre
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

Endgame is the final book in the Sir­an­tha Jax series, accord­ing to Aguirre, and it def­i­nite­ly shows. Every­thing gets wrapped up very sat­is­fac­to­ri­ly. Noth­ing new is intro­duced. Jax’s rela­tion­ships with March and Vel are both expand­ed in a delight­ful man­ner, and I love the way that works out. She also gets to devel­op a not-quite-moth­er­ly rela­tion­ship with Sasha, March’s adopt­ed son.

The entire vol­ume takes place on Laheng, home of the Lahen­grin. We’ve only met the race through Loras so far in the series, but their sto­ry is touch­ing. This is Loras’ sto­ry as much as any­thing, the sto­ry of the fight to free the Lahen­grin from the Nicuans and from the need to be owned (or “pro­tect­ed” as it is called). The action is bru­tal — Aguirre doesn’t hide the real­i­ties of war. She doesn’t dwell on it in an obscene man­ner, though, so the book is read­able.

Read­ing the end­ing of a won­der­ful series is also bit­ter­sweet, but at least Aguirre has stat­ed that she’ll revis­it this uni­verse.

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Review: Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews

Gunmetal Magic (Kate Daniels World, #1)Gun­metal Mag­ic by Ilona Andrews
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

I’m fair­ly sure that I missed a Kate Daniels book, because I don’t recall some of the events referred to in this book. That annoys me, and I’ll have to go back and read what­ev­er the last one was out of order now. It’ll be worth it, though, because Ilona Andrews’ writ­ing is always fun. Gun­metal Mag­ic is no excep­tion.

This is the first nov­el to focus on Andrea Nash, Kate Daniels’ best friend. Exposed as a shapeshifter, she’s been kicked out of the Order. She had just cho­sen to obey orders from a supe­ri­or offi­cer instead of fight­ing with the Pack, which led to a breakup with her lover Raphael. Now she has to rebuild her life from a shat­tered ruin.

Andrea is a fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ter, abused repeat­ed­ly in her ter­ri­ble child­hood and raised to be ashamed of and hide her shapeshift­ing nature. Her rela­tion­ship with Raphael is informed by their bou­da nature, but her human side isn’t left out by any means.

I par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoy the part that Atlanta plays in Andrews’ books, but as a near-native Atlanta I’m bound to be biased in that respect.

This vol­ume and the bonus novel­la “Mag­ic Gifts” are def­i­nite­ly worth­while read­ing for any fan of the Kate Daniels series. 

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review: In Session by M.J. Rose

In Session: Dr. Morgan Snow with Steve Berry's Cotton Malone, Lee Child's Jack Reacher & Barry Eisler's John RainIn Ses­sion: Dr. Mor­gan Snow with Steve Berry’s Cot­ton Mal­one, Lee Child’s Jack Reach­er & Bar­ry Eisler’s John Rain by M.J. Rose
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve nev­er read any­thing by any of these authors before, so my per­spec­tive on this piece is prob­a­bly going to be skewed com­pared to that of most readers/​listeners. How­ev­er, it was free on Audi­ble briefly and looked inter­est­ing, so I added it to my library. I hap­pened to be in the car a long time today and this is what I had down­loaded on my iPad, so this is one of the things that I lis­tened to. 

I found all three sto­ries to be very engag­ing, and found myself inter­est­ed in read­ing more about each char­ac­ter involved in the sto­ries. What fas­ci­nat­ed me the most, though, was Rose’s account of how the sto­ries were writ­ten — the dif­fer­ent ways the authors chose to work with her, how she pre­pared to write from the point of view of oth­er authors’ very well-known heroes, and so on. I would rec­om­mend this to any­one inter­est­ed in writ­ing as a cre­ative endeav­or for that por­tion in par­tic­u­lar.

The fact that the nar­ra­tors who nor­mal­ly per­form the voic­es of each char­ac­ter in their own series appeared in this per­for­mance adds an addi­tion­al touch of pro­fes­sion­al­ism to the record­ing, as well.

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Review: Forever Werewolf/​Moon Kissed

Forever Werewolf: Forever Werewolf\Moon KissedFor­ev­er Were­wolf: For­ev­er Werewolf\Moon Kissed by Michele Hauf
My rat­ing: 1 of 5 stars

Full dis­clo­sure: I was giv­en a copy of this book to review. I’m glad I didn’t buy it. I imag­ine I might have been harsh­er.

In For­ev­er Were­wolf, Tryst is just deliv­er­ing a pack­age to Wulf­siege on behalf of his father’s secu­ri­ty com­pa­ny when he gets trapped there by an avalanche. He doesn’t mind, though, because the recip­i­ent of that pack­age has a lus­cious daugh­ter, Lexi. 

Female were­wolves are rare, and those few are pro­tect­ed like the pre­cious trea­sures they are. Even though Tryst wasn’t brought up in a pack, he knows that much. He also knows there’s some­thing very strange about the fact that Lexi isn’t claimed by any of the males in the pack — in fact, they seem to give her a wide berth. She’s obvi­ous­ly high­ly intel­li­gent and com­pe­tent, and she’s beau­ti­ful. She’s far more allur­ing to him than her spoiled, pam­pered princess sis­ter could ever be.

Lexi is fas­ci­nat­ed by Tryst, despite being warned away from the half-blood­ed wolf by her ail­ing father. He seems inter­est­ed in her, as well, but she fears that’s only because he doesn’t know her crip­pling secret: she hasn’t ever shift­ed. A were­wolf who can’t shift can’t mate, so she’s use­less in the eyes of the pack.

Tryst is warned away from Lexi by her father, head of the pack, as well, but he can’t seem to stay away from her. She’s like no oth­er woman, were­wolf or mor­tal, he’s ever encoun­tered. What is it that draws them to each oth­er? Is it worth risk­ing their lives for?

It was obvi­ous to me from the first pages of the book that Tryst and Lexi would get togeth­er, and that it would cost Tryst many bruis­es and much grief. The bad guy was all too obvi­ous, as well — if the aver­age read­er can’t iden­ti­fy him in the first men­tion, I’ll be shocked. (Per­haps I should be more spe­cif­ic and say “expe­ri­enced romance read­er” instead.)

As for Moon Kissed, it was so for­get­table that I’d have to look up the main male’s name. The female was Bel­la, some­thing I only recall due to bad mem­o­ries of Twi­light. Oh, wait, the male was Severo! Right then. Severo saves Bel­la from vam­pires who chase her, while fright­en­ing the hell out of her him­self, grop­ing her, and offer­ing absolute­ly no expla­na­tions of the strange new real­i­ties her world is sud­den­ly encom­pass­ing.

After that event, Bel­la learns that her best friend Seth’s new girl­friend is a vam­pire, some­thing Seth just hadn’t quite got­ten around to men­tion­ing. Seth explains that Severo (whose name she doesn’t yet know) is prob­a­bly a were­wolf, from her descrip­tion of him and his actions. Severo has, in the mean­time, start­ed stalk­ing Bel­la to pro­tect her from the vam­pires he’s sure will con­tin­ue to hunt her (for rea­sons unknown to him when he starts on this plan of action). After see­ing Seth with vam­pire Evie, with whom Severo has his­to­ry, Severo real­izes that Evie prob­a­bly sicced the vam­pires on Bel­la due to jeal­ousy.

One of the many, many things that both­ered me about this book is that Bel­la is sup­pos­ed­ly a web design­er, but she nev­er seems to work. She cer­tain­ly doesn’t have a lap­top, which would be de rigeur, and she lives in a ridicu­lous­ly upscale place (an apart­ment with its very own heat­ed pool?) for some­one in that pro­fes­sion. She can afford a lot of dance lessons, too — but her real source of income or cap­i­tal is nev­er explained. Appar­ent­ly Hauf was just look­ing for a pro­fes­sion that could be “done any­where” and some­one sug­gest­ed “web design­er” so she grabbed that and ran with it.

Of course, Severo is also sup­posed to “do some­thing with real estate” — how believ­able is that as a char­ac­ter detail? I guess we’re sup­posed to just accept that he’s rich, can spend his time as he pleas­es, and let every­thing else go with­out ques­tion. How is it that he has a Brown­ie for a house­keep­er? What’s the rela­tion­ship between Faery and were­wolves and vam­pires? Who knows?

The sto­ry does not get more believ­able as it goes on. Of course Bel­la falls in love with her stalk­er and trusts him com­plete­ly. There are evil vam­pires. There’s one good vam­pire, just to show that they aren’t uni­form­ly bad. But you can tell where Severo and Bella’s rela­tion­ship is going in the ear­li­est scenes, and that’s the most impor­tant part of the book, because it’s a romance. There are com­pli­ca­tions but they’ll be over­come, or it wouldn’t be a romance.

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Review: Reese by Lori Handeland

ReeseReese by Lori Han­de­land
My rat­ing: 3 of 5 stars

And now for some­thing COMPLETELY dif­fer­ent. Yes, this book is out of char­ac­ter for me, but I like Lori Han­de­land, and since I received a free copy I felt oblig­at­ed to read it and write a review. I’m keep­ing the fact that it is a west­ern romance in mind, and judg­ing it accord­ing­ly.

I don’t know from west­ern tropes, but I do know the stan­dard romance tropes, and Han­de­land hits them all. Mary is a spin­ster school­marm who is con­sid­ered too plain and too out­spo­ken to ever be attrac­tive to any man — in fact, anoth­er char­ac­ter (a real jerk) says so. It’s her char­ac­ter, more than her looks, that is the prob­lem, accord­ing to the jerk.

But the hero, Reese, finds her beau­ti­ful in her inno­cence, her igno­rance of her effect on him, and espe­cial­ly in the fact that she’s as stub­born as he is. The fact that they have to butt heads is an impor­tant romance trope, as I under­stand these things.

Mary believes she isn’t the kind of woman any man would want, and Reese believes he isn’t good enough for Mary, so they hold back from reveal­ing their feel­ings to each oth­er, pro­vid­ing the main con­flict in their rela­tion­ship.

There’s a plot that goes beyond Mary and Reese, obvi­ous­ly, explain­ing why the town of Rock Creek need­ed to hire Reese and his lit­tle troop of gun­men in the first place. That larg­er plot sets up the entire Rock Creek Gang series. I found noth­ing to laud or com­plain about in the main plot. It’s prob­a­bly a stan­dard accept­able west­ern, to be hon­est, and it doesn’t read so dif­fer­ent­ly than any oth­er sort of adven­ture sto­ry. It worked to set things up, but obvi­ous­ly wasn’t the main focus of the book. The ener­gy is in the romance.

I think per­haps romance fans read books like this because they’re com­fort­ably pre­dictable, like an old friend wear­ing new clothes. In any case, Han­de­land has writ­ten a sweet lit­tle love sto­ry that I didn’t mind read­ing. I could see her hand in the details, and while I would have pre­ferred read­ing more of one of her para­nor­mal series, she did a nice job with this book. Fans of west­ern romances will prob­a­bly enjoy it.

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Review: This Case Is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova

This Case Is Gonna Kill MeThis Case Is Gonna Kill Me by Philli­pa Borniko­va
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

This book was an unex­pect­ed delight. Lawyers? Meh. Even lawyers with para­nor­mal spice. 

But Lin­net Ellery is no ordi­nary lawyer, even for a young lawyer in a White Fang law firm. She has no end of back­bone and smarts, not to men­tion luck — or should I say Luck? Because for­tune swirls around her like nobody else, mak­ing her a nexus of events and a lit­tle too con­spic­u­ous for her very dis­creet employ­ers.

That’s not to say that she doesn’t make her share of mis­takes — that wouldn’t be any fun, now would it? She sur­vives and learns from them, then helps oth­ers avoid the same. 

Liv­ing in a world of vam­pires, were­wolves, and Alfar (elves) might be intim­i­dat­ing to most humans, espe­cial­ly when those beings (Pow­ers) are essen­tial­ly in charge. Lin­net doesn’t let them intim­i­date her. She uses her con­tacts and plays to her strengths, win­ning more and more sig­nif­i­cant bat­tles every time she goes to bat. 

Borniko­va sets things up very nice­ly for a sequel, and I am per­son­al­ly hun­gry to read more. I strong­ly sug­gest this book to any­one who enjoys para­nor­mals, urban fan­ta­sy, or sim­ply good, humor­ous fic­tion with a dol­lop of sus­pense and a strong hero­ine.

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Review: Face Off by Mark del Franco

Face Off (Laura Blackstone, #2)Face Off by Mark Del Fran­co
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

I went back and forth on the rat­ing for this book, but final­ly set­tled on a four. I hon­est­ly found all the con­flict to be exhaust­ing and unpleas­ant, but it was very real­is­ti­cal­ly writ­ten and I cer­tain­ly felt con­nect­ed to Black­stone. I decid­ed that if del Fran­co weren’t such a good writer, I wouldn’t be feel­ing every­thing so much.

I read Face Off right after fin­ish­ing Skin Deep, which is how I rec­om­mend that you read them. That is, after all, how the plot works. There’s a lot more of Jono Sin­clair in this vol­ume than the first, which will be pop­u­lar with romance fans. 

Dur­ing the events of Skin Deep, Lau­ra retired the Jan­ice Craw­ford per­sona. Her life should be sim­pler now that she’s just her­self and Mariel Tate, right?

Wrong, because she and Mariel Tate are being pulled in oppos­ing direc­tions by pow­er­ful forces, and she has two more-than-full-time-jobs. Toss in an order to imper­son­ate an unco­op­er­a­tive pris­on­er in order to infil­trate a ter­ror­ist group, and her life is at risk every day too.
In the midst of all this, there’s a vis­it from roy­al­ty, and her boss assigns Mariel yet anoth­er top pri­or­i­ty.

The only respite is her grow­ing rela­tion­ship with Jono Sin­clair, who is also under­cov­er with the ter­ror­ist group. He’s the only per­son in the world who always knows who she is, no mat­ter what glam­our she’s wear­ing.

Lau­ra start­ed won­der­ing how much of her­self was left behind all the per­sonas in Skin Deep, real­iz­ing that “Lau­ra Black­stone” was in dan­ger of becom­ing just anoth­er per­sona. She’s even more con­cerned about that issue in Face Off, but thanks to Jono she’s get­ting back in touch with who she is behind the masks. Will she be able to hold on to her progress? Will she be able to sim­ply sur­vive the under­cov­er assign­ment with almost no prepa­ra­tion? Or will it be the inter­nal Guild­house pol­i­tics that do her in? These ques­tions kept me read­ing and inter­est­ed. I was thrilled with how del Fran­co answered them, and I’m intense­ly curi­ous as to whether those answers leave any room for fur­ther adven­tures with Lau­ra and Jono.

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