Review: “The Thing About Love” (FBI/US Attorney #7) by Julie James

The Thing About Love

Before I launch into a super gushy review extolling the awesomeness of Julie James’ latest installment in her FBI/US Attorney series, I would like to take a moment to say that I am not a fan of the cover. While a part of me appreciates the journey that has been from sexy midriffs to sexy stilettos in one hand to just a stiletto with shattered lollipops, no part of me gets the point.

That completely useless tangent aside, The Thing About Love is as close to perfection as contemporary romance gets. The protagonists, FBI Agents John Shepherd and Jessica Harlow, have been at loggerheads since they trained together at Quantico. Constantly one-upping each other, imagine their surprise when they are assigned an undercover assignment soon after their move to Chicago.

In her six years with the Bureau, Jessica had known only one person who’d planned to try out for HRT: a guy in her training class who’d been recruited for the FBI directly from the Army Rangers. And not to dwell on the past or anything—another good theme for this year—but she and that guy in her training class had…well, one might say they hadn’t exactly seen eye-to-eye.

Or, one might also say that he’d irritated the hell out of her.

Posing as business executives at a romantic seaside resort, it doesn’t take long for John and Jessica to recognize their missteps from the past and act on their attraction. But does their relationship have a future if John gets his dream job in the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team?

As always, it was an absolute delight to return to Ms. James’ Chicago and read about past favorite characters in passing. John Shepherd was the perfect feminist hero in almost every respect and I can’t help but find him toe-curlingly sexy.

She was his partner, they were working together undercover, and that meant she needed to continue chugging along with this charade, pretending as though she were somehow oblivious to the things that every other woman saw.

Like the deep blue of his eyes. Or the stubble that was already forming along his angular jaw. Or the thick, dark blond hair that begged to have a woman’s fingers running through it.

Or how, right now, as he stood across from her in that hotel room, with the top button of his white collared shirt undone in an ruggedly sophisticated look, and his tall, broad-shouldered frame perfectly filling his gray tailored suit, he was—bar none—the most attractive man she’d ever laid eyes on.

Jessica Harlow was a badass as well, constantly working twice as hard as everybody else so that she is not taken lightly by those who can’t see past her pretty face. Ms. James has done a fantastic job of describing the details of FBI training and operations. Despite the seriousness of their profession, the characters always have a hilarious inner monologue.

Now, normally, John tried to be generous while sparring and not take advantage of the fact that he had considerably more training and experience than his opponent. But when their defensive tactics instructor blew the whistle and Linguistics PhD came charging at him—fists flying and trash-talking John in some foreign language as an attempt to psych him out, John had no choice but to (a) take a moment to try his hardest not to laugh and (b) take the guy immediately down to the ground and get him into a handcuffing position.

John and Jessica have become one of my top Julie James couples. From not wasting time on cliched hangups to respecting each other personally and professionally, they constantly brought out the best in each other. The Thing About Love is a truly progressive contemporary romance from an author in top form.

I received an ARC by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review: “Love Irresistibly” (FBI/US Attorney #4) by Julie James

Love Irresistibly

I have realised that whenever I read a Julie James book, a few things are guaranteed to happen. I will say ‘Aww’ about a million times. I will laugh out loud while grinning a couple of hundred times. I will fan myself twice or thrice during every sex scene. And I will irrevocably fall in love with a hero with a four-letter name. I’m talking about you, Jack, Nick and Kyle, especially you, Jack. 😉 And I’d like to welcome to Cade Morgan to the club.

I am so happy after reading Love Irresistibly! It is what I look for in a contemporary romance: great characters, a believable blend of romance, funny dialogue that all comes together in a story that flows with feeling and depth to it as well. It’s damn near perfect.

Brooke Morgan, a brilliant lawyer and general counsel for Sterling Restaurants, came from humble beginnings. She wants to climb the corporate ladder and prove that she belongs where she is and where she’s going. Cade Morgan, assistant U.S. Attorney and former football star, is making a name for himself going after corrupt politicians. He wants to set up a sting in one of Sterling’s swanky restaurants, acting on a tip that a corrupt senator would be dining there. Cade shows up at Brooke’s office with two FBI agents in tow thinking they would help intimidate Brooke into helping him. Brooke is no pushover and wants details before she commits. I didn’t have to wait long for Julie’s trademark witty banter to make its appearance.

“That is nice, Mr. Morgan. Because in response to your tough-guy speech, I, in turn, would’ve had to give you my tough-girl speech, about where, exactly, federal prosecutors who come into my office looking for assistance can stick their obstruction of justice threats.”

Their opening meeting sets the stage for what’s to come. Cade’s tall, dark and gorgeous, has a ‘prosecutorial, I-ask-the questions-I-don’t-answer-them’ demeanour and isn’t shy about throwing around being an AUSA to get what he wants for his investigation. Brooke’s smart, ambitious and beautiful and isn’t shy about going after what she wants. I was impressed by how the power balance is maintained between them professionally. They feint, they dodge, they impress each other with their legalese and the sizzling heat starts to build. Both are busy at their jobs, have friends, work late, text a lot – in other words, they resemble actual people.

The damn-this-is-some-hot-sex is great and fun and funky with the red heels and lawyer skirt-suits Brooke wears. She and Cade prove it is possible to have steamy sex anyhow and anywhere. The timing of the start of their sexual intimacy seemed just right – they don’t immediately springboard into shagging each other senseless, but they are healthy adults who like to indulge themselves. I like how the sex is just a part of their growing relationship. It starts casually but moves toward something deeper like the scene where Brooke takes of Cade’s sore shoulder or when Cade makes dinner for a tired Brooke.

While I would be perfectly content to read almost three hundred pages of sex written by James, there’s a lot more to the story. Brooke and Cade read as real people instead of coming off as character checklists. Their pasts do affect who they are now. She feels driven to succeed partly because of all that her parents gave up to further her education and chances while he is reluctant to let anyone in because of how his father abandoned him when Cade was a child. But the great thing is James didn’t make these issues the be-all and end-all of who they are or make them all overly angsty and tied up in mental knots about it. One of the strengths of the book is how Brooke and Cade slowly develop as a couple while accumulating inside jokes, sharing their pasts – including things they’ve never told anyone else – and the intimacies of their lives.

One of the other things I liked most about Love Irresistibly was how Brooke is a confident, smart, determined workaholic who hasn’t felt the need to curtail her ambition for past relationships. When she does sit down and take stock of how this is impacting her life (first) and possible relationship (second), I didn’t feel as if she was selling out for love or that she caved to the feeling that she couldn’t have it all. The fact that she got to dictate her terms and came out ahead while scoring more time for her personal life was awesome. Cade’s past as a star quarterback who let football stand in for his lost relationship with his father has coloured how deep he’s let relationships get. It takes a blast from the past to open his eyes to it but in the end, it helps him take the plunge to let Brooke in and to want to be let into the inner circle of her life. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record again, I like how this signals the change in their growing relationship.

Since this is the fourth book in the series, lots of characters from past stories make appearances (More Jack. Yay!), without making it look like they are crowding the story. I really liked how James made space for the readers to find out about Rylann’s proposal and Cameron’s pregnancy.

My review of the previous book in this series carried a slightly disappointed tone. I’d like to say that Ms James more than made up for it in Love Irresistibly. Love the red dress and suit on the cover. Loved the move from romantic suspense to hardcore contemporary romance. I found it to be a richly rewarding tale with all the aspects coming together to show the story of two modern people, stretching and growing as individuals even as they meld together as a couple.

However, Ms James, I am still waiting for Agent Wilkins’ story. 😛

Review: “About That Night” (FBI/US Attorney #3) by Julie James

About That Night

There’s no easy way to say it so I guess I’ll just come right out and get it over with. The honeymoon’s over. About That Night is a pretty good book but I don’t love it as much as I did Something About You. It hurts me to say it, but I guess the review will tell.

Relaxing in a college bar after the finals are over for her first year in law school, Rylann Pierce is ready to have fun. So she doesn’t shoot down the hot guy who tries to chat her up. She knows he’s the ‘so cute he knows he’s so cute’ type, but she can’t help herself. After her friends deliberately leave her at the bar with him, Rylann has no choice but to be walked home by gorgeous playboy-cum-billionaire heir Kyle Rhodes. One steamy kiss later, they make plans for a date the next night, but fate intervenes, and Kyle stands Rylann up.

Nine years later, Rylann has just moved back to Chicago after the breakup of a relationship to be the newest AUSA in the Special Prosecutions Division. To get her feet wet, her boss, Cameron Lynde (yay!), hands her a plea agreement to grant the ‘Twitter Terrorist’ aka Kyle Rhodes an early release. Not exactly a meet-again-cute.

Kyle Rhodes arrives in court expecting to see the asshole AUSA who’d railroaded him and called him a cyber-menace to society. Yes, what he did was stupid. But when a guy is publicly dumped by his girlfriend in under 140 characters and sees a video of her frolicking with a movie star minutes later, he might feel the need to resort to some whisky, fuelling a dumb hack attack that shut down Twitter for 48 hours. Kyle eventually sobered up and came back home to face the music, and he would still be facing it if his twin sister hadn’t struck a deal with the FBI for his early release. Imagine his surprise when the girl he shared an unforgettable night with almost a decade ago walks in to free him.

Well, Kyle gets his life back but acts difficult when Rylann needs his help on another case. Still, he steps up and does the right thing, finding himself increasingly attracted to Rylann. He also decides he wants to discover what she looks like under all her sexy, power suits. So….they date. Rylann does badass prosecutorial stuff. Kyle gets a new business venture started. And they have hot sex. And a few disagreements. And….work things out. The end. Okay.

There is plenty of James’ trademark bantering, and I loved it. The dialogue between Rylann and her best friend Rae is also amazing. Kyle meets Nick and Jack (<3), and they do the manly sports/trash-talk thing. This stuff is awesome as usual. Also, the sex between Kyle and Rylann is smoking hot.

I do have several complaints from the book, though. First of all, why is the cover not nearly as hot as the previous two? I was really hoping to see a heroine in a sexy red dress and a hero with lustrous, golden hair. Second, why was Wilkins’ angle dismissed in half a page? Third, why was there no element of suspense or danger? Can’t complain about the last bit much because it just meant more sex scenes 😛

They finally have a couple of mushy scenes and work things out, but the way the resolution came about did nothing to assuage my unease. There’s very little real conflict between Rylann and Kyle. James spent half the book stressing how it would be a BFD if an AUSA dated an ex-con, but when the world finds out, there is no exploration of how Rylann and Kyle deal with it. Where are the grand gestures? Where are the Matt and Meredith/Zack and Julie moments?  How does it finally make sense?

So, About That Night is a fun book with witty dialogue, about two beautiful people who have mindblowing sex as they fall in love and overcome a few tiny speed bumps on their road to a Happily Ever After. I would recommend it to hardcore Julie James fans and anyone who wants a fun, light read. Fingers crossed, the next one will be a lot better.

Review: “A Lot Like Love” (FBI/US Attorney #2) by Julie James

A Lot Like Love

I would like to apologise to all my subscribers for spamming their inbox today. I am extremely sick, and all I can do is lie in bed, read steamy romances and post reviews :p I discovered Julie James yesterday, and I haven’t been able to stop reading her books. But I think this is my last review of the day so please bear with me and I hope you like it. 🙂

In A Lot Like Love we meet Jordan Rhodes, she is the daughter of one of Chicago’s richest men. She is independently wealthy thanks to her business and a down-to-earth father who wants his children to earn what they have. Some months ago her twin brother Kyle went to prison, and since then she has been sick with worry about him. So when the FBI offers to release him in exchange for her help to catch a crime lord and one of his associates (who happens to be a client of hers) she accepts. All she has to do is go to a party with an FBI agent posing as her date and distract the bad guy while the agent plants some bugs in the place. But all goes wrong when the nice and easygoing agent gets sick and is replaced by Tall, Dark and Smouldering Nick McCall, and they are forced to keep faking that they are dating when it turns out that the bad guy has feelings for Jordan.

I admit that it took some time for me to get into the book; the first part was a bit slow for me, but oh boy does it gets better. I have to say that is no coincidence this book is titled A Lot Like Love because that is exactly how I felt about it. The main characters are incredible; Jordan is a great protagonist; she is funny, down to earth, hardworking, loving, and sarcastic. I haven’t enjoyed a heroine that much in a long time. I loved a lot of things about Nick, but the best part was that he had a distinct voice. Yes he was a typical alpha male, but you could really get him, he wasn’t just another stereotypical hero, he felt like a real person (or as real as someone that hot can be).

I think this is one of James’ better qualities as a writer -and she has lots of them- every character is perfectly defined. Most of the time when reading a book narrated in third person all the character’s points of view sound a bit alike, more like you are reading the author’s voice than the character’s. Not so in James’ case, in every POV I felt like I was inside their heads especially with Nick and Jordan.

The other great character was Kyle. James’ comedic abilities shined through him. He went to prison after shutting down Twitter, come on! How cool is that? Also, he looks like Josh Holloway, and everybody in prison calls him Sawyer. The inmates and corrections officers were also endearing.

The pacing of this story was up and down for me, and there were some scenes that I wish had had more meat to them, especially with Jordan’s friends and family meeting Nick. Those parts were fleeting and could have been explored more. I also think the love in this story seemed to sneak up rather quickly, but I’m able to overlook that to a certain extent because of the characters’ ages. I think with more experience, you’re better able to discern what it is you’re looking for in a partner, and Jordan and Nick knew what they wanted. As far as points of view go, the villain’s POV could have been cut out. It didn’t enhance the plot, and I think the events leading up to the end of this story would have had more of a shock factor without it. After Nick’s conversations with his mother, an epilogue with Jordan meeting Nick’s family would have been a wonderful addition to the story! I wish we’d been able to see that.

I wouldn’t give this book a 5/5 because I think it was not as steamy and hilarious as Something About You. Still, I had a great time reading the book and loved watching yet another tough FBI agent meet his soul mate where he least expected her. Poor Agent Davis must really fear he’s running a matchmaking agency rather than an FBI field office at this point. And though I’m excited about Jordan’s brother Kyle in the next book, when will we get Wilkins’ story?

Review: “Something About You” (FBI/US Attorney #1) by Julie James

Something About You

How do I love this book? Let me count the ways. Contemporary romance is my favourite subgenre, though I’ve always been a bit sceptical of stories that involve an element of suspense. Which is why I am so pleased to have stumbled across Something About You, a perfect storm of awesomeness and the ideal read for when you’re super sick and in need of a distraction. Trust me. I would know.

Also, before I start talking about the story, let me just take a moment to fangirl over the cover. It’s unique, hot and eye-catching. Not to mention a very smart reference to a dress the heroine wears. Kudos to Julie James for pulling that off.

Three years ago, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Lynde worked closely with FBI Special Agent Jack Pallas on an investigation that went totally FUBAR. His career was in the toilet, and he blamed her for totally screwing him over. He ended up in the remote wilds of some place that wasn’t Chicago nursing a big old grudge over how wrong things went and didn’t expect to see her again–until she overhears a murder in a hotel room next door to her own, and Pallas is assigned to the case.

From the first scenes, the dialogue is dry champagne crossed with pop rocks. (That’s a good thing.) It crackles, it’s funny, it makes you laugh, and it isn’t ever fake or cliche or completely unrealistic. These are smart, intelligent people who speak like normal humans and don’t ever mouth cliches unless they’re using one to tell the other off.

What did I love the most about this book? Let me see. A heroine who is smart, acts smart and when she’s told she needs to be under protective custody, she doesn’t fight it with the same old stupid plotting I’ve seen with this kind of novel. She doesn’t think it’s fun to escape her police escort; she agrees to have them come along for a bridal party at a nightclub and ends up telling them all about her friends and the wedding she’s going to be in. They like her, and she likes them. She’s good at her job and follows her professional principles even when she has to come to Jack’s rescue. And even after he loses control and tells the world she had her head up her ass during a previous case. Bliss.

And then there’s the hero who is portrayed as being as sinfully delicious as a double fudge chocolate cake with chocolate chips on top. And whipped cream. Jack’s initially not thrilled to have Cameron back in his life–just as she’s not too thrilled with him, but he takes her protection and her involvement in the case seriously and treats her with professionalism. He explains why she needs to be under protective custody instead of just strong arming her even though he’s willing to protect her at any cost. Bliss, bliss.

And when you add these two together you get some off the charts sizzling chemistry!  All that tension lead to some unbelievably hot steamy scenes.The dialogue is fantastic. Smart, snappy, funny yet realistic. I can’t count the number of times I laughed while reading the book.

Before he could call her bluff, Cameron grabbed her purse and headed for the door. The hell with her stuff, she’d get it later. “It was nice catching up with you, Agent Pallas. I’m glad to see those three years in Nebraska didn’t make you any less of an asshole.”

She threw open the door and nearly ran into a man standing in the doorway. He wore a well-cut gray suit and tie, appeared younger than Jack, and was African American.

He flashed Cameron a knock-out smile while precariously balancing three Starbucks cups in his hands. “Thanks for getting the door. What’d I miss?”

“I’m storming out. And I just called Agent Pallas an asshole.”

“Sounds like good times. Coffee?” He held the Starbucks out to her. “I’m Agent Wilkins.”

Part of James’ deft character building skills include the redevelopment of traditional and expected character roles. The best friends are real, and if there’s a potential for a cliche, it never goes where I expected it to go. She updates and then redeploys the expected trope, and makes each character, not just Cameron and Jack, into amazing people. There was real emotion for each and no limited role for any character. Bliss, bliss, bliss.

The plot also reveals the villain and spends some time in his head–but it doesn’t become fearsome or tiresome, or an exhaustive list of How Psychologically Fucked Up Is That Guy OMGWTFPUPPYKILLER.

My lone point of discomfort was how very, very neatly and bow-wrapped glittery perfect the ending was, with every loose end tied down and each piece of perfection lined up flawlessly. It had an overwhelming fairy tale aspect that didn’t fit with the realistic honesty of the characters and the plot.

Overall, Something About You was a fantastic read. I recommend this if you are in the mood for a good contemporary adult romance. It’s one of the best I have read!

Review: “Paradise” (Second Opportunities #1) by Judith McNaught

Paradise

I have a good feeling about 2016. This feeling is based on no facts whatsoever but I’ve been saying it to every person I’ve talked to in  the past two days. Last year, I resolved to become a better reader instead of a faster reader, picking quality over quantity. As a result, I ended up enjoying almost every single book I laid my hands on in 2015. This year, my resolution is a lot simpler. I will read books that are “fun”. Unless I can’t help myself, I will stick to books that are relaxing, funny, exciting, thrilling and much, much more.

The book that is to blame for this decision is Paradise by New York Times bestselling author Judith McNaught. A part of me was hesitant to review an old favourite. What if it doesn’t measure up? I loved the book because I am a die-hard McNaught fan, (McNaught’s Something Wonderful was my first non-Mills & Boon romance) but what if it wasn’t as good as I remembered? I had picked it up as a weekend respite, I still ended up laughing and crying like I had no idea what was going to happen next.

Paradise is the story of a young man and woman in love who are cruelly parted and the people they become eleven years later. You may be tempted to dismiss it as just another book about misunderstandings or millionaires, but it might end up surprising you.

As the heiress to a department store fortune, Meredith Bancroft grew up in a world of wealth and privilege. Her social status, however, couldn’t protect her from being an outcast in the school her father sent her to, so she was always acutely aware of those less fortunate than herself. At eighteen, she was introduced to Matthew Farrell, a young man from the opposite side of the tracks, who’d been invited to an exclusive country club by some of her acquaintances. Realizing that these people only brought him there to poke fun at him, Meredith extends a hand of friendship to him. They instantly hit it off, and later, when he takes her home, they share an unforgettable night of passion. When Meredith discovers that she’s pregnant a couple of months later, she fears what her strict, conservative father will do when he finds out. She seeks Matt out, asking for a marriage in name only to appease her father. Having never forgotten Meredith, Matt is more than willing to step up to the plate and be both a husband and father if she’ll have him, but he’s already signed a contract to work in the Venezuelan oil fields and will be leaving in a week. After a quick wedding, they spend the rest of their remaining time trying to get to know one another as best they can before he has to leave, but it isn’t well enough to overcome her father’s machinations once they’ve parted.

Eleven long years later, Matt has finally accomplished his life’s ambition of becoming a corporate raider. He’s known the world over for his business acumen, as well as his highly publicized love affairs. He poured himself into his work in an attempt to forget Meredith, and although he’s tried to convince himself that he no longer feels anything for her, she’s never completely left his mind. Now he’s back in her hometown of Chicago, finalizing the takeover of yet another company. When Matt sees Meredith again, she stirs feelings in him he thought he’d put to rest, but because of the past and unaware of her father’s vendetta against him, he believes she’s nothing but a snobbish socialite. He decides to get revenge on both her and her father by taking over the department store that means so much to both of them. But when he finally discovers the truth about what happened all those years ago, it places him on a collision course with destiny. Now certain that Meredith still has feelings for him too, he sets about attempting a takeover of a different kind – one that he hopes will win her heart.

As I read Paradise this time through, I thought a lot about what makes it so special. One thing I truly appreciated is that McNaught doesn’t skimp on the reader. This book is over seven hundred pages long, and not one page is wasted. We are allowed to see Meredith as an awkward preteen, and we fully experience Matt and Meredith’s early romance. Frankly, I doubt a new romance author today could get such a long book published. As it is we become thoroughly attached to Matt and Meredith before their tragic parting, which makes their separation much more poignant.

While most Big Misunderstandings make me grit my teeth in annoyance, Matt and Meredith’s Big Mis is a fundamental strength of the book. So often a misunderstanding is rooted in something truly idiotic, like the hero catching the heroine hugging another man, whom any idiot (except him) can tell is her brother. But the Big Mis here is perpetrated, believably, by Meredith’s controlling father. Matt and Meredith are in love, but they are both naïve, and both fail to understand just how far her father is willing to go to separate them. The scene in which Meredith miscarries and calls and calls for Matt is utterly heartbreaking. It always reminds me of a similar scene in Gone With the Wind, which, come to think of it, also occurs after a miscarriage. Scarlett calls for Rhett, and nobody hears her; Rhett is in another room wishing and wishing that she would call his name. Every time I read it I want to insert myself in the book somehow and fix things, which is just how I feel with Matt and Meredith. The payoff comes in the incredibly touching scene when Meredith finds out about her father’s deception and tells Matt the truth. I cried like a baby even though it was my seventh reading.

But perhaps the real reason this book works so well is that the characters are lovable and real. Yes, they are both stunning, and yes, they are both super rich. But both are the kind of people you can root for. They both have to overcome prejudice; Matt has his impoverished past, and Meredith has a controlling father with an unfair gender bias. When Meredith and Matt are together, they truly enjoy each other’s company, even when they are in the midst of their misconceptions about each other. They are flanked by a cast of secondary characters who really add to the story, and their respective business scenes are always interesting.

I absolutely adore almost all of McNaught’s books, but Paradise is still more special than most others. This is a book that might make you cry buckets, but it will also make you believe in the power of love in a non-cloying way. Matt and Meredith endure heartbreaking loss and eventually find joy in each other. Rereading it reminded me of all the things I love about romance. It is truly one of the best the genre has to offer.