A Little Help for the BotM…

Doug Meeks worked his connections and got a couple of April’s potential book of the month releases early and sent over a couple of reviews. Let’s start with Faith Hunter‘s Dark Heir, which is released on April 7th.

dark heirWhat Doug said…

In any long running series there are a many things that have to happen and here are a few:

1. The main character has to have growth (you can’t write about a never changing character for 9 books)
2. There has to be interesting secondary characters that are more than cardboard cutouts (this series has them by the basket full)
3. While we need growth, the character can’t change so much that it is not the same character you bought books 1 & 2 and loved.
4. No repetitive plots (this one kills a LOT of good series)

Jane Yellowrock series has all these covered and probably a few more that I have forgotten but they never cease to entertain. The plots are multilevel and there is just enough humor thrown in with the action to keep you coming back for more.

This time you wonder if Jane has finally met her match in one of the strongest vampires alive but she feels it is her job to try to protect the people of New Orleans and marches on regardless of the odds.

About the only thing I can say in the way of negative is it seemed she spent a lot of time involved in self loathing/guilt which after a few times wore thin a bit (pretty much the ONLY thing you will see me write negative about this book). It started to make me think of the TV show Arrow, loved the first season when he was killing the bad guys, then he was “enlightened” to not kill any of the scumbags he runs up on (give me a break) so I left him to his “don’t kill the scum” plots. Jane was giving me those kinds of vibes for a bit there, I am pretty sure she got over it. Means I am still addicted to this series.

Jane and I share a common belief, if you kill them they really don’t bother you anymore and can’t hurt you :)

The action is fast and furious, the plot is wonderful, the interaction with other characters was amazingly good. Jane was Jane and THAT is always entertaining and there is never the same bad guy and seldom if ever the same solution to the plot (again, originality is spades).

Bottom Line: 4.5 Stars, rounded to 5 and I loved pretty much every minute of it and the strong points more than outweigh any negatives I may have had about this exceptional novel.

And then there is Diana Rowland‘s Vengeance of the Demon, which is also due out on April 7th.

vengeance of the demonWhat Doug said…

This was a difficult book for me to review since I have read every book in this series. This was neither my least favorite nor was it the best in the series for me.

This book felt a bit incomplete since the overarching storyline did not see much movement it would seem in many ways. This felt like book 1 of a trilogy in that it had a firm beginning and ending while leaving you thirsting for more but I felt that in all the crushing revelations of these last few books that the story we bought those first 2-3 books to read has disappeared totally in what amounts to a reboot. The question I kept asking myself was “does this make for a better series?” and I don’t think I got that question answered in this book. This progression that keeps knocking out the basis of the original plotlines seems to be heading into chaos, which might be ok if the reader was not left with so many questions that would not see any answers for another year.

This book while well written (since I never felt bored), never solved a ton of things that are going on around Kara. I have to wonder if we are seeing the series start to deteriorate under its own weight. Seven books is an impressive milestone in a series like this and it has been kept fresh by many startling revelations but even those are starting to feel like they are used for “shock value” rather than plot progression.

Our heroine and accompanying heroes are pulled from one emergency to another, we have horrible and puzzling revelations, we have a lot of self introspection, heartbreak and high emotion but some of it fell flat. I felt we had too many instances of people acting out of character……… but I could not put it down (hence the rating).

I am rambling here a bit but the fact is I enjoyed the book in spite of the various weaknesses I have mentioned, I am hoping we see some major resolution in the next book because at the end of the day I liked this book but it felt more akin to a “day-in-the-life” plot and left me with too many unanswered questions to say I loved it.

Bottom Line: I got to the end of the book and had way to many “What about ” type questions. There were minor progressions, surprisingly there was almost no sex which I give the author major kudos for not trying to force needless sex into a story that really did not require it at this point. On the positive side I got to around the 50% mark and I could not put the book down, part of this might have been looking for revenge I don’t think I got or waiting for the “big thing” I was expecting and instead got a really “big thing” I was not expecting (that might have been 2 big things).

This was an enjoyable but frustrating experience, but it was NOT a cliffhanger (yea!), there was just too much going on which I assume could not be resolved in this book but I am setting the bar very high for the next one. 4 Stars and wish it would have been 5 but at over 400 pages it had to end someplace. I had to work hard to avoid some major spoilers here but if I have to sum it up in one sentence “hugely enjoyable and ultimately frustrating” would have to be it. Thinking I have to wait a year to get answers just makes me grind my teeth a bit.

Release Day Review – Rock Hard

Thanks once again to Monika, who sent over her review for Nalini Singh‘s latest Rock Kiss book, Rock Hard. Personally, it was one of my most anticipated reads after first meeting Charlie and T-Rex in the first book. And, like Monika, I wasn’t disappointed…

rock hardWhat Monika said…

Ever since they appeared as secondary characters in Rock Addiction I wanted to read Charlie and T-Rex’ story and their dance turned out to be a very entertaining and funny read that I devoured in less than a day.

The company Charlotte works for is in trouble as a result of mismanagement. For this reason the owners hire Gabriel Bishop, former rugby player turned manager as a troubleshooter, since he specializes in turning around floundering businesses. He cuts a swath through the firm, weeding out incompetent staff. Since under the previous management her skills have been greatly undervalued, Charlotte is convinced she is going to be next. But when her new boss calls her to his office, it is not to fire her but to offer her a new job as his personal assistant. Though Charlotte is timid at first, she is also intelligent and possesses a quick wit, and as she is growing more confident the two of them begin to lock horns, in the office and outside of it.
From her conversations with Molly in Rock Addiction we know that Charlie secretly lusts after her new boss and his hot body (there just it something about tattoos). And although Charlie doesn’t  match his usual quarry, the T-Rex is quite taken with her and starts to gently pursue her. But before their blossoming romance can progress, they both have to overcome the shadows from their past, in Charlie’s case those are intimacy issues she has since a relationship turned horribly wrong and for Gabriel it’s the fear of being poor and coming to terms with his father…

As all of Nalini Singh’s books this one is well written and well-paced, with witty dialogue, interesting and likable main protagonists and fleshed-out secondary characters that you can’t help but fall in love with. Also, Singh manages to add just the right amount of local color to make you want to visit New Zealand. I am not a big fan of rugby, in fact know nothing about the game, but her descriptions make me want to learn more about it.
Molly’s and Fox’ story started with a big bang, and though Charlie’s and the T-Rex’s first encounter is also memorable, their relationship develops at a much slower pace. It takes quite a bit of time until they have their first date and even longer before they end up in bed together. Some readers complained that there was too much sex in Rock Addiction: they will not have much to complain on that score in Rock Hard. Not that that is necessarily is a bad thing, especially since it makes sense within the logic of the story.

For me Rock Hard is a bit too light and lacks the emotional intensity that is characteristic for Singh’s Psy/Changeling and Guild Hunter stories. It’s a sweet office romance but one that follows rather conventional lines.
Overall I would give this book 4.5 stars for an entertaining and carefree read that will leave you with an upbeat feeling.

What was your take on Rock Hard? Did it live up to expectations for you, too?

Dead Heat Review…

review iconThanks once again to Doug Meeks, who sent over his review for the new Alpha and Omega release, Dead Heat. Patricia Briggs is a solid, consistent favorite, and getting a Mercyverse release is always something to look forward to. The official release date for this one is tomorrow, so not long now to wait. Another great book in a week of great books.

Dead HeatWhat Doug said…

This series revolves around Charles and Anna (the Alpha & Omega of the series name) and they have all been done exceptionally IMHO. This one was no exception to this parade of 5 Star reading in this series.

The premise is basically that the Fae are beginning to turn loose some of the most vile creatures in their world upon the human world (due partly to events in previous novels) and one of the most vile is a creature that preys upon children. Obviously, this is something that our fearless couple must deal with regardless of any other loyalties.

The interaction between characters takes up a good bit of this novel which I many times find boring but not in this case, the rest is a combination of police procedural, mystery and of course an epic ending. The point that is subtly dropped on us is that this may just be the opening move in a war with the Fey.

There is also the usual pages devoted to Charles & Anna moving their relationship to a bit deeper level. I commend Ms Briggs for not taking the road that I see in many authors in filling pages with meaningless sex. I have no problem with sex in my novels but when it is used to do nothing more than add pages to a novel I tend to skip over those parts and wonder how many useless pages a reader paid for in such novels. Patricia Briggs always seems to know the perfect balance of such things.

While I will be rounding off this novel to 5 Stars I actually rated it 4.5 because in the last 25% of the book I did have to resort to some scanning due to:

A: Nothing was really happening
B: You KNEW something big was going to happen and you wanted to get to it.

Bottom Line: Amazing story, amazing characters (love the way the secondary characters have actual personalities and not cardboard cutouts) and of course the epic ending. 4.5 Stars only because of the scanning I did in the last 25%, highly recommended BUT I am not sure this is a series you can pick up in the middle, you really need to start from Alpha & Omega and proceed from there to Cry Wolf.

I already got my copy, and choosing whether to read Vision in Silver or Dead Heat first was hard. Vision in Silver just edged it out, but I am getting antsy to get into Dead Heat.

Vision in Silver Review…

I am still waiting to find out if I have been approved on NetGalley for a copy an early copy of Anne Bishop‘s Vision in Silver (along with a couple of others), but Doug Meeks has already done up his review. I am looking forward to getting back into the world of The Others, but this is one that I am going to have to go back and skim over the previous books to be up to speed before I dive in. It will be available in hardcover format on March 3rd.

vision in silverWhat Doug said…

What do you say about the third book in possibly one of the most original, addictive and exceptionally written series being published?

I will try to limit my use of superlatives but my first thought was that Written in Red was one of the best books in many years, Murder of Crows while being a 5 Star reading experience was missing that elusive “I can’t put this book down” quality.  Vision in Silver has recaptured that feeling that I had while reading Written in Red.

Seldom do many books live up to their own hype; this one did and surpassed it.  You may notice I am not giving a lot of examples because almost anything I can say about this book could be a spoiler other than Meg becomes more a part of the Lakeside Courtyard and is considered by them to be more than human and almost terra indigene.  The fact is that any action against Meg would be considered an attack on The Others which is another comforting thought in this world.  We do get to know more about the world in general and it is amazing just to consider the things that are fact in this world that would be mythology in almost any other novel you ever read.

Good things happen, bad things happen and you find out more about what The Others consider important and you keep wondering how the humans on this planet get so stupid at times.  You should never forget that The Others still are the predominate predators not to mention pretty much the owners of this world, the humans keep forgetting that bit of intelligence.

Bottom Line:  This is going to be one of the Top 5 Urban Fantasy novels of 2015, it is just too good for me to describe without sounding like a slobbering fan and not a reviewer.  To use an old cliché, if you only get one book this year, this is that book!

How excited are you to get your next The Others fix?

Rock Hard Review-Type Thing…

rock hardNalini Singh‘s newsletter came out today (er, yesterday?), and in it she mentioned that Rock Hard was up for review at Netgalley. Yes, that Rock Hard, as in Charlie and T-Rex and one of my must-have-now books for this year (ok, there are a few of those, but I have a dull life). I don’t Netgalley, but for Nalini I am willing to try anything once. Surprisingly, I was approved, and it was mine. The only thing is that you are encouraged to review, of course, so here is what I wrote…

I have to preface this by making two points. First, I am not a huge contemporary romance fan. My reading of them is sparse, and the few times I break down and try one I am usually not all that impressed. The second point? I love Nalini Singh’s writing, and would read pretty much anything she wrote. Maybe the two points balance each other enough to give a fair review.

Simply put, this was a hell of a book. I, as have many others, have waited for Charlie and T-Rex’s story since they completely stole the show in Rock Addiction, and there was no disappointment at all. It was at times sweet, sad, funny, and sexy. T-Rex is Nalini’s special brand of alpha hero, but Charlotte more than held her own. As shy as she was, and as afraid as she could be, it was wonderful to watch her fight her way back to living a whole life. It wasn’t easy, but it was realistic.

We knew going into Rock Hard that Charlie had had a traumatic event in her past, and I sort of had an inkling as to what it was from bits and pieces we already knew. For that matter, Gabriel himself didn’t always have the easiest time of things, either. I think what I liked was that they don’t heal each other – they help each other heal themselves. And both are a work in progress.

So, in summary…great story, loved the characters, and can’t wait for the re-read. This was one of my most anticipated reads for the first half of the year, and it didn’t let me down.

I can’t call what I write reviews. I used to do these big, involved write ups that I spent a ton of time on, trying not to ramble too much or give too much away while still hitting the high points. They were actually stressing me out. So, instead I now just try to say whether I liked it or not, basically. I was so happy with this one. Sometimes I got frustrated when Charlotte would have a set back, but I was frustrated FOR her, not AT her or the story. And I want a T-Rex of my own. Just saying.

If you can, head over to Netgalley for your copy. If not, you only have a month to go before Rock Hard can be yours.

January Wrap Up…

As the first month of the new year comes to a close, it is time to take a look back and see what we liked…and what we didn’t. I had a decent reading month, between favorites that I re-read and long awaited new additions to favorite series. That isn’t to say that there weren’t a few bumps in the road, though…

my life next doorMy Life Next Door – I have heard pretty much all great things about this one from Huntley Fitzpatrick, and since I was feeling like something a little different I thought I would give a young adult/new adult contemporary a try. It made me realize that I am just not a fan of the genre. I like young adult paranormal, sure, but the contemporary stuff bores me for the most part. The tensions always feel forced, for some reason, and that makes me frustrated. I have tried to like them, especially since some favorite authors of mine have or are publishing series in this genre, but it is a no go. Gena Showalter, you are on your own with your new series. I will be taking a pass.

you slay meAisling Grey: Guardian – I started off the year reading the first three books in the series by Katie MacAlister. They weren’t bad, they were entertaining and a fast, fun read, but I didn’t get invested enough in the world to keep on. Katie MacAlister was on the list of new-to-me authors that I wanted to try, and maybe I will give another series a shot down the road. As for now, though, I won’t be picking up any more for a while.

hungry like the wolfHungry Like the Wolf – This new one for Paige Tyler has been quite well received, and most of the reviews I have read have been positive. I was really looking forward to it…and then it happened. My absolute least favorite trope is the intrepid female reporter character. Or, I should say, the completely human intrepid female reporter who sticks her nose into supernatural business and ends up needing rescuing over and over and over again, a la Lois Lane. Completely drives me nuts. Turns out the main character of Hungry Like the Wolf is, you guessed it, Lois Lane lite. I have been trying to get through it, but three weeks in and I haven’t hit the half way point. Slow going.

bound by flamesBound by Flames – The latest Vlad and Leila book by Jeaniene Frost was, um, not bad. Not great, but not bad. Even though a lot goes on, and there is some decent action, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this one felt like a filler book. I liked it enough while I was reading, but I could put it down for a day or more and not need to read more. I guess it just didn’t quite grab me.

I already rambled on about Viper Game and Burned, which were the highlights of my month, so how did your reading shape up? Anything you loved, loathed, or wished had just plain been better?

Pick of the Week…and a Mini Review

I have whined quite a bit about the long, long wait for a new Ghostwalkers book by Christine Feehan, but that wait is over since today is the release day for Viper Game.

viper gameSynopsis…

GhostWalker Wyatt Fontenot knows the price he paid for the secret military experiments that gave him his special catlike abilities. After all, he left his bayou home a healer and came back a killer. While Wyatt and his GhostWalker brother Gator may have known exactly the sort of game they were getting into, Wyatt never anticipated where it would lead—or to whom.

The swamps hold many mysteries, but few are as sinuously seductive as Le Poivre de Cayenne. The woman the locals call Pepper is every bit as enigmatic as the three little girls she’s desperately trying to protect. From what, Wyatt is soon to discover. Right now Pepper needs a man like Wyatt. Passionately. But her secrets are about to take them both deeper into the bayou than either imagined—where desire is the deadliest poison of all.

POTENTIAL SPOILERS!  POTENTIAL SPOILERS!  POTENTIAL SPOILERS!

I got my copy yesterday, and finished it last night. It was fun to get back into the Ghostwalker world, but it had a different feel for a couple of different reasons. Most obviously, it was our first real introduction to the mysterious team four, the Pararescue Jumpers. Even though we have briefly seen a couple of members like Joe and Mordecai, it was Wyatt who was the big mystery. Not only what he was, but how and when he became a Ghostwalker. The timeline gets dealt with, but how he actually ended up a Ghostwalker remains a little vague, honestly. It wasn’t a big deal, but hopefully we will get more details on the team origins in later books.

We do have to pretty much forget what little we knew about Wyatt going into this one. When we first met Wyatt back in Night Game, he was the charming, hard-partying little brother who had a secret crush on sweet, innocent Joy. In Viper Game, he has somehow become not only a Doctor, but a surgeon. Yep, in the storyline time between the two books, which reads like maybe a year or two at most, Wyatt spent a whole lot of time in school. That made me snicker a bit, but it wasn’t that big of a deal in the scheme of things. The Joy thing is addressed, too, and changes a bit from the first book. It isn’t a huge part of this story, but there is some creative license taken. Wyatt has also become surprisingly Alpha. As in, the most alpha of all of the Ghostwalkers to date. Seriously, didn’t see that coming.

I like the return to the Bayou, and fans of Nonny will be happy to know that she plays a major role. Other than her, though, it is an all-new cast of characters. I really like the new team, like the dynamic and the interaction between them. I even quite liked Pepper as a character, which is a bonus for me. Usually storylines with children aren’t favorites of mine, but the kids don’t overwhelm things so I didn’t mind. Again, though, you have to suspend your disbelief with the kids.

 As I have said a few times, though, you have to sort of just…go with it. It seems every new book has the enhancements getting more and more extreme and, dare I say it, unbelievable. As we get further into the series the characters are changing more and more from enhanced humans to superhumans. The machinations to put the two main characters together are also getting more involved and outlandish, but such is the nature of the series.

I always, always laugh out loud when a new team member is introduced. There is a totally random and absurd info-dump that never fails to crack me up, even though that is not the intention, I am sure. Remember when Jonas Harper was introduced back in Shadow Game? He was the master of disguise/knife thrower/hire wire specialist who grew up in the circus. We have two such introductions in Viper Game. There is Draden, the male model with a masters degree/insomniac, and Trap, the boy-billionaire/inventor/scientist/with a possible personality disorder. They end up being great characters, especially Trap, but their introductions are a hoot.

So, not sure I got my point across, but I was really glad to get back into the Ghostwalker world. I liked the new team, I liked the direction they are going, and I really look forward to Spider Game, which will probably be Trap’s story. He was a total scene stealer, by the way. There were issues that niggled, like the changes in Wyatt’s character’s backstory, but they were not a huge deal. There were a few consistency errors in the book, as well. Wyatt starts off saying he knows himself and how jealous he is, then later says he has never been jealous before. Then he warns Pepper that he has always had a jealous streak, but later reminds his team-mates that he has never been affected by jealousy before. Also, just a warning, this one is a five on the alpha/controlling scale. Heat factor is really, really high, more so than any other Ghostwalker book to this point. Wyatt is a total dominant, and he can sometimes skim the border of being too controlling. At least for me. Let me know what you think of Viper Game. Worth the wait, or too different for you?

Burned. It is Mine. And it was worth the wait.

Cue evil, evil laughter. The book gods have for some reason seen fit to ship Karen Marie Moning‘s Burned a whole week early. Behold the beauty that arrived in my mail this morning…

image2And yes, I read it. The entire thing. Here is my entirely non-spoiler thoughts about the long awaited Burned.

So, originally Burned was supposed to be the second book of the Dani O’Malley trilogy, but somewhere along the way (and through several long pushbacks), Burned became a multi-POV book focusing mostly on MacKayla Lane. I was skeptical, and more than a little bummed, since a) I don’t like change, and b) I actually liked Dani. Oh, and c) Roydan. Anyways, I wasn’t thrilled with Dani (and Ryodan) getting pushed into the background again. But that isn’t quite what happened.

It isn’t really Mac’s story this time around. It is a bit tricky to describe, but Mac is less…active?… and more the vessel through which we learn the rest of the story. Not sure that even makes sense, but while Mac does have a lot of page time, it isn’t actually her story being told. If anything, she is in a bit of a holding pattern while the world moves on around her. Ryodan, Lor, Kat, Jo, Christian, the Highlanders all have their turn in the spotlight, and the story flows along quite well with the multiple POV’s. But Mac is just sort of…there.

I really liked the direction Lor’s story went, and Kat’s, too. Neither had a huge role, but I liked where they were going. Ditto for Jo. Never thought I would say that since I loathed Jo from the start, but she grew on me here. The Highlanders are more than capable of holding their own against Barrons and the boys, and there are a few developments on that front that I didn’t see coming. At all.

And then there is Dani. Wow. I think we all know by this point that she was to be aged to late teens in Burned, and aged she is. There really isn’t anything I can say about it without spoilers galore, but it worked out way, way better than I had hoped. Ryodan is one of the main ones impacted, and he steals every scene he is in. There was a lot more going on behind the scenes for him with Dani than we ever knew, and in Burned he not only shows some emotion, but becomes almost noble. Still a badass, but with his own code of honor.

I did find that things dragged a bit during some of the Mac sections, or rather the sections that focused on Mac rather than the sections where Mac is narrating what is going on with others. Those were great, and very informative. All in all, I can honestly say that Burned was worth the very long wait. I wanted a Dani/Ryodan book, but what we got was so much more. Less Mac would’ve been better, but it was a small price to pay for the rest.

Now, I will lose what is left of my mind if the next book, Feverborn, does not come out on its scheduled October 20th release date. I mean it. Rage will follow.

Guest Review – Blood Prince Series

review iconSo, thanks once again to Doug Meeks, who sent over a review for the Blood Prince series from author Jennifer Blackstream. From what Doug has said, the final book was recently released, and it did a great job of wrapping everything up. He also recommended starting from the beginning and reading in order to get the full enjoyment of the story.

unnamedWhat Doug said…

The Blood prince series is a series that is a collection of 5 stories (1 for each of 5 princes) and an overarching story that you really don’t know where it is going or even what it really is until the last book and it was wonderful.

The stories use a familiar fairy tale is a basis for the plot but even though they are titled as a “retelling” they are very unlike the fairy tale except as the most basic framework.

They all were exceptional I thought but the collection of the 5 books taken as a whole and the resolution of the overarching storyline made this one of my All Time Top 10 completed series as far as being entertained but 5 original stories that never quite went where I thought they would go and surprised me at every turn.

I wrote this little review just to let people know that for about $16 (book 1 is free on Amazon) you can get what I consider one of the best reading experiences of the last 12-14 months for me. (NOTE:  That statement applies only if you read the whole series in order, each novel builds a bit on the last one).  Let me just say I HIGHLY recommend this series, quick reading and I should note that a couple of the books started slow and I thought they were going to be duds and then it would take off and become “can’t put it down” so don’t give up on any of these books if you buy them and start reading.  Book 1 is free so you can get a taste of it.

The Blood Prince series (prices shown are from Amazon):

Before Midnight: A Romantic Retelling of Cinderella (Blood Prince Series Book 1) FREE
One Bite: A Romantic Retelling of Snow White (Blood Prince Series Book 2) $3.99
Golden Stair: A Romantic Retelling of Rapunzel (Blood Prince Series Book 3) $3.99
Divine Scales: A Romantic Retelling of The Little Mermaid (Blood Prince Series Book 4) $3.99
Beautiful Salvation: A Romantic Retelling of Sleeping Beauty (Blood Prince Series Book 5) $3.99

Any other fans of this one? I haven’t heard of it myself, but it does sound interesting.

November Wrap Up…

This might be a couple of days early, but since things have been so quiet around lately I thought maybe we could take a look back at the month that was.

Personally, November was a truly meh month. There were a couple of highlights, but I spent a good portion of it trying to drag myself through one book. I was too stubborn to give up on it, and too uninterested to keep going. Tricky.

Haunted – This fifth book in the Women of the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong wasn’t bad. Not really. I just found myself unable to get into it. I don’t think I am  big on the whole ghost thing, I guess, since I found it rather dull. Maybe part of it was because there was so little interaction with the other characters that it read like a stand alone, too. It didn’t have the same feel as the other books for me, and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just didn’t work for me here. Now it is time to dive back in and get caught up on the novellas.

Night Shift – To be fair, I am judging this one based on only reading half of the stories (yet), but I thought the Ilona Andrews and Nalini Singh novellas in the Night Shift anthology were awesome. I don’t think I could pick a favorite between the two, but secretly I will admit that I was thrilled to finally see a softer side of Jim. This collection ended up being the highlight of my month.

And, other than a couple of random e-books that I don’t even remember the titles of, that was pretty much my pathetic reading for November. I am still waiting for my copy of Gena Showalter‘s The Darkest Touch and G.A. Aiken‘s new one, Light My Fire, but hopefully they will could towards a great December.

How did your November reading fare? Any standouts, either good or bad, surprises or excitements?