Reading Round Up – August

The Secret Commonwealth

Philip Pullman

Rating: 3 out of 5.
The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust #2)

It is twenty years since the events of La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One unfolded and saw the baby Lyra Belacqua begin her life-changing journey.

It is seven years since readers left Lyra and the love of her young life, Will Parry, on a park bench in Oxford’s Botanic Gardens at the end of the ground-breaking, bestselling His Dark Materials sequence.

Now, in The Secret Commonwealth, we meet Lyra Silvertongue. And she is no longer a child . . .

The second volume of Sir Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust sees Lyra, now twenty years old, and her daemon Pantalaimon, forced to navigate their relationship in a way they could never have imagined, and drawn into the complex and dangerous factions of a world that they had no idea existed.

Pulled along on his own journey too is Malcolm; once a boy with a boat and a mission to save a baby from the flood, now a man with a strong sense of duty and a desire to do what is right.

Theirs is a world at once familiar and extraordinary, and they must travel far beyond the edges of Oxford, across Europe and into Asia, in search for what is lost – a city haunted by daemons, a secret at the heart of a desert, and the mystery of the elusive Dust. 

I was surprised when I read the blurb for this that we didn’t stay with Malcolm’s story, a prequel to His Dark Materials, and instead jumped to events following this series, with a grownup Lyra. Perhaps I should have read His Dark Materials again during this break, but as I’d borrowed this from the library, I decided to read it, regardless.

Listening to this as an audiobook likely helped with my enjoyment of it. Had I been actually reading it, I might have struggled in places where the story meandered. Even when the relevance of the rose oil was revealed, I still couldn’t bring myself to care each time it was mentioned. I didn’t find Malcolm’s feelings for Lyra (and Lyra’s emerging feelings for Malcom) quite as icky as other readers did. Having read about Lyra as a baby and a child, it can be hard to remember that Lyra is now an adult. Once I reminded myself that I know people with this same age gap in their relationship (and at their ages – 21 and 32), I got over the initial uncomfortableness. However, was it necessary for Malcolm to have feelings for Lyra when she was still his student? Couldn’t his feelings be relatively new too?

My biggest gripe with the book, though, was that it didn’t end, it just stopped. There were so many story threads that should have been brought together and weren’t. I know there is supposed to be another book in the trilogy, but that doesn’t mean that The Secret Commonwealth shouldn’t be a complete book by itself. Very unsatisfying.


I went away on a few UK holidays this month, and during this time I found myself turning away from the darker fantasy books I usually choose and to romance. Traditional holiday reads (though, not my usual… I read The Dark Tower on honeymoon… so…)

Anyway, I returned to a series I accidentally jumped into the middle of at the start of the year when I started reading an extract on Facebook. That was the sixth book in The Boys of Jackson Harbor series by Lexi Ryan. So on holiday I read the previous five!


The Wrong Kind of Love

Lexi Ryan

Rating: 4 out of 5.
The Wrong Kind of Love (The Boys of Jackson Harbor, #1)

From New York Times bestseller Lexi Ryan comes a sexy new romance novel about a runaway bride, a single dad who’s sworn off love, and the kind of family secrets that can threaten to break even the deepest bonds.

You never forget your wedding day. Or the moment your twin sister pukes on your bouquet and confesses she’s pregnant… with your fiancé’s baby.

I wanted to get away, to hide until my heart mended. I found myself in a strange town with a mysterious stranger whose talented mouth and hands almost made me forget it was supposed to be my wedding night.

Afraid to go home to face my broken life, I pretend to be my twin so I can take her job in Jackson Harbor caring for a six-year-old girl. Imagine my surprise when I find out my new boss is my mysterious stranger — Dr. Ethan Jackson.

I never meant for Ethan to discover my secrets. I never meant for them to matter. But the longer I work with him and his sweet daughter, the harder I fall, and the clearer it becomes that I’m not the only one carrying a secret that could tear us apart.

Get ready to fall for the boys of Jackson Harbor in Lexi Ryan’s sexy new contemporary romance series. These books can all be read as standalones, but you’ll enjoy reading them as a series!

This had all the elements of the classic romance that pulled me into this series. A love pulled apart by personal baggage and almost ridiculous circumstance. It’s interesting to see in this book and those that follow how Lexi crafts couples that are ultimately perfect for one another, yet their problems are perfectly matched too. Growing up in foster care, Nic is desperate for family. Ethan is one of six and has a strong family unit that she fits into easily. Lexi also knows exactly the buttons to push to tear relationships apart (which is absolutely perfect in the sixth installment in the series). It’s definitely something I’m paying attention to. A great read.


Straight Up Love

Lexi Ryan

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Straight Up Love (The Boys of Jackson Harbor, #2)

From New York Times bestselling author Lexi Ryan comes a sexy new standalone romance about a woman who’d do anything to have a baby and the man who’d do anything to have her…

For my 30th birthday, I’m giving myself the one thing I want most: a baby. Sure, this would be easier if I had a husband—or even a boyfriend—but I refuse to be thwarted by minor details.

When I drunkenly confess my plans to my friends, they convince me to ask Jake Jackson for help. Jake, the best friend who’s been there for me through thick and thin. Jake, who also happens to be smart, funny, ridiculously good looking, and the winner of all the genetic lotteries.

So when Jake takes me up on my request—with the stipulation that we get the job done the old-fashioned way—I’d be a fool to decline.

The only problem? I don’t know if I can separate sex from all the things I feel for this amazing man. If I can’t keep my heart under lock and key, I risk losing the relationship I need the most.

Jake has his own reasons for granting my baby wish. But when I discover his secrets, it could mean the end of us. I have to choose—run or stay and fight for love.

While the previous book focused on Ethan Jackson, this book followed his younger brother, Jake Jackson. It was good to see characters carrying over into the next novels (and have them explained a little better. You can apparently jump into the series wherever, and while this is true, the family dynamics became a lot clearer as I went through the series compared to when I started on book 6).

Unlike the last book, which was farfetched in its premise, this one was almost a little too close to home for me. Female lead Ava and I just had too similar a background. Not everything was the same, of course, but there were certain aspects of her family that mirrored mine, as well as having once been stung by a friend wanting more, as Jake is to Ava. So personally, I didn’t find the same escape in this book as I did with the previous one, though objectively, it was still a good read.


Dirty, Reckless Love

Lexi Ryan

Rating: 2 out of 5.
Dirty, Reckless Love (The Boys of Jackson Harbor, #3)

I’m in love with a man who tried to kill me. At least that’s what they tell me . . .

Six weeks ago, paramedics found me unconscious in my apartment. Beaten. Bruised. Hardly breathing. When I woke up, I couldn’t remember the last three years or anything about my life in Jackson Harbor. They tell me my fiancé, Colton McKinley, is on the run for what he did to me. They tell me I’m safer if I stay away. 

I don’t care if my memories ever come back. I want nothing to do with those missing years . . . until a sexy stranger with angry eyes shows up on my doorstep and demands I stop ignoring him. 

Levi Jackson is my fiancé’s best friend, but seeing him sparks something inside me. As the truth unravels in my mind, I know they’re wrong about Colton. My own secrets are far more dangerous than the man I was engaged to.

I return to Jackson Harbor to search for answers and find myself running from a faceless boogeyman and seeking refuge in Levi’s arms. And in his bed. 

I can’t deny my feelings for Levi. But as the pile of lies between us grows, I realize that sometimes the truth can’t set us free. Sometimes, it’s the very thing that can destroy us.

This book took what I said about Ava’s family having a similar dynamic to mine and made that an absolute lie. We now follow Ava’s best friend Ellie and Jake’s younger brother Levi as they attempt to find love in circumstances that went from being farfetched to just too much. Ellie has been seeing Ava’s brother, and is entangled in that family’s business, which includes the father I had seen some similarities to my own… except now the father is some sort of criminal mastermind, paedophile, and rapist. The change is explained by daughter Ava not seeing this side of her father, and while I’m sure my own father has secrets, he’s certainly not this guy!!!

The downside of this novel was that it was a romance trying to be a thriller. I’ve read thrillers, this is not it. Perhaps if I only read romance I might have been gripped by this book, but honestly, to me it fell flat. I guessed every twist, and what should have been the high stakes of the thriller were constantly undermined by the romance, and vice versa. They didn’t work together, they worked against each other. The weakest of the series.


Wrapped In Love

Lexi Ryan

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Wrapped in Love (The Boys of Jackson Harbor, #4)

A one-night stand with the boss was never in her plans. Neither was falling in love . . . 

The rumors are true. I am a hot mess with an awful track record at love. Single mom. Down on her luck. Yeah, I’m bad news. 

So if the hardest part of moving back home to Jackson Harbor was going to be people talking? I’d be fine. I’ve kept my chin up through worse than their decade-old gossip. 

I was wrong. The hardest part is resisting my boss. Brayden Jackson is the very picture of tall-dark-and-handsome. And thanks to an ill-advised one-night stand we had seven months ago, I know exactly what I’m missing when I turn him down. Every. Single. Delicious. Inch. 

But I have my son to care for and my job to keep, so I’ll keep on saying no. 

Until my string of bad luck continues, and suddenly my precious four-year old and I find ourselves with nowhere to live. At Christmas, no less. It’s for my son that I accept Brayden’s offer to stay at his place. One by one, my defenses are falling, as fast as I am. If Brayden was smart, he’d run, because it’s only a matter of time before he realizes he deserves better than what a girl like me can offer. 

Unless, for once, my bad luck is leading me exactly where I need to be.

Now we return to the oldest of the Jackson boys, big brother Brayden. He falls for Ava’s step-sister (it’s a small town, so the book says, everyone knows everyone so basically everyone shags everyone). Sadly, Ava’s sister Molly was the victim of the child abuse and rape in the previous book, and while that book had me considering whether to take a break from the series, this book was so well done I launched into the next.

Back on form, each characters insecurities played off the other, making them perfect for one another once they could pull their heads out of their arses (or if Brayden gets his head out of Molly’s you-know-where…). Thumbs up!


Crazy For Your Love

Lexi Ryan

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Crazy for Your Love (The Boys of Jackson Harbor, #5)

A family wedding with a fake boyfriend, meddling parents, and an obsessive ex . . . What could go wrong? 

The only thing worse than being single at my sister’s wedding is finding out that my ex will be there too. Not just any ex—the guy everyone expected me to marry, the man I came to Jackson Harbor to escape.

Now I need a date, and fast. Enter Carter Jackson—the firefighter who’s dealing with an unwanted five minutes of fame ever since a shirtless photo of him saving a puppy went viral. He’s warding off propositions left and right, and he needs a fake relationship as much as I do.

Sweet and sexy, Carter is completely off-limits. See, I have a rule. A no heartache rule. Not only is Carter my friend and a known heartbreaker, but his job as a firefighter puts him in danger daily, and that’s something I just can’t handle. 

The commitment between us might be pretend, but the passion all too real. As crazy as it makes me, I have to keep Carter at an arm’s length. Even that might not be enough to spare my heart.

Only slightly fatigued from finishing my fourth romance in a week, I began this book carefully, and really fell for it. My firm favourite in the series is still the one I started with, but I think Lexi’s improvement in the series really kicks in here. The book had great highs and lows, and fun shenanigans. The issues keeping the couple apart felt a little forced compared to the rest (Teagan’s secret was a good one, one she lied to keep, but Carter doesn’t like lies… I mean, who doesn’t but in the circumstances, just let it go). But other than that, a great book.


If It’s Only Love

Lexi Ryan

Rating: 5 out of 5.
If It's Only Love (The Boys of Jackson Harbor #6)

From New York Times bestseller Lexi Ryan comes a sexy new standalone romance in the bestselling Boys of Jackson Harbor series. Meet single dad Easton Connor as he leaves the NFL and returns to Jackson Harbor to fight for another chance with the love of his life.

***

I don’t regret much. 

Not my decision to enter the NFL draft before finishing college. 
Not fighting custody of my daughter—even if, biologically speaking, it turns out she’s not mine. 
And certainly not seducing my buddy’s little sister ten years ago. 

But when it comes to Shayleigh Jackson, my no-regrets attitude stops there. I screwed up royally where she’s concerned. Then I made another mistake when I let her shut me out of her life. 

Now after more than a decade living in different time zones, I’m coming home to Jackson Harbor. My first priority is getting my daughter away from the media circus in LA, but the moment I see Shay, I know I’ll stop at nothing to win her back.

So what if she won’t speak to me? So what if she’s changed? So what if she’s fallen for some douchebag professor? I’ve never gotten over her and I know she feels the same about me. I’ve let her go twice. I won’t make that mistake again.

If It’s Only Love and all other books in this series can be read as standalones, but you’ll enjoy reading them together.

I didn’t read this one during this stint, but as I’ve reviewed the rest here, I thought I may as well give my thoughts on this one. 

Now that all the Jackson brothers have been paired off, we finally focus on Shay, the baby sister. I went into this book knowing nothing, but was gripped by the opening chapter, an extract I stumbled across. Here we follow a couple that started so well, but through a series of flashbacks we learn where life got in the way. I could not put this book down. Up till 3am reading! The dilemma for the two characters… as this was my first introduction to the series, I hadn’t yet cracked that the couple always end up together, and let me tell you, the worry I felt for these two was an actual ache in my chest. When we hit the present timeline and Shay discovers the issue that threatens to keep the two apart – perfection! It was so well crafted into the story. I felt dread leading to the discovery, pain at its revelation, and tears of happiness as it was resolved. I absolutely loved this one.