Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders

It’s just another day at the office for London book editor Samantha “Sam” Clair. Checking jacket copy for howlers, wondering how to break it to her star novelist that her latest effort is utterly unpublishable, lunch scheduled with gossipy author Kit Lowell, whose new book will dish the juicy dirt on a recent fashion industry scandal. Little does she know the trouble Kit’s book will cause—before it even goes to print. When police Inspector Field turns up at the venerable offices of Timmins & Ross, asking questions about a package addressed to Sam, she knows something is wrong. Now Sam's nine-to-five life is turned upside down as she finds herself propelled into a criminal investigation. Someone doesn't want Kit's manuscript published and unless Sam can put the pieces together in time, they'll do anything to stop it.

This delightful mystery combines great characters, enjoyable intrigue, and a tongue-in-cheek look at the publishing world- what's not to love? Well written and witty, this wonderful series debut pulled me from the opening paragraphs. The mystery is rather complicated but unfolds well, and the glimpses of Sam's life in publishing bring a welcome element of humor to the story. I love a good mystery, especially one not soaked in blood or graphic violence, and will definitely be looking for other offerings from this author. I think this book would appeal to anyone who likes Alan Bradley or Elizabeth Peters mysteries.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Matchmaker's Christmas by Donna Lea Simpson

Twenty years ago, Beatrice Copland committed a reckless and foolish act of deceit that she’s certain ruined the life of a man she’d fallen in love with and led to his wife’s death. Now serving as companion to the stern Lady Bournaud, she leads a quiet life and attends to her duties as a kind of penance. But Lady Bournaud, trying to make amends for her own selfish ways, is opening her country estate to a few select guests for the holidays—including the man Beatrice wronged so many years ago.

Sir David Chappell spent nearly two decades coming to terms with the haunting memory of his wife’s death. When he receives an invitation to Lady Bournaud’s for the Christmas season, he’s reluctant to go at first, but he’s sure the time away in Yorkshire will be a welcome change from London. Once there, he’s immediately captivated by the youthful beauty and genuine compassion of the lady’s companion, Beatrice Copland—all the while sensing that he’s met her before.

Even as David pursues her and Beatrice realizes she’s still powerfully attracted to the man, she must gently rebuff his advances for fear that her damning secret will come to light and reopen his old wounds. And while Lady Bournaud watches, happily scheming to make matches for all her guests, it may take more than a Christmas miracle for David to free Beatrice’s conscience, and her heart, at last.

This regency romance had an almost gentle tone that made it a quietly enjoyable read. Beatrice and David were both lovely characters- it was impossible not to hope that they would find love together. There were times where I thought Beatrice was being very hard on herself for what were youthful indiscretions, and I thought it took too long for her to provide a full explanation of exactly what form those indiscretions took. David was very well-drawn and believable as a character, and made for a wonderful hero. The secondary characters were all enjoyable as well, thought it was perhaps stretching belief for three separate couples to emerge from one Christmas party. Still, a little wish fulfillment never hurt anyone...

I would definitely look for more books by this author.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Talking After Midnight by Dakota Cassidy

Marybell Lyman is notorious for two things:
Her look. The wicked hairstyle, multiple piercings and practiced sneer that say: "Stay back—I bite."
Her voice. The syrupy lilt that's her bread and butter at Call Girls, the prim little town's flourishing phone-sex company.

Hunky handyman Taggart Hawthorn is mesmerized by the contradiction: such sweet tones inside such a spiky shell! He wants to know more about mysterious Marybell, to hear more of her sexy talk—all for himself.

But Tag's attentions, delicious as they are, have Marybell panicked. She's been hiding a long time. She's finally got a home, a job and friends she adores. She won't have it all snatched away by another stupid mistake—like falling in love. So when Marybell's past comes calling, she and the Call Girls will prove no one handles scandals like a Southern girl!

This is one entry into a longer series that doesn't work particularly well as a standalone- at least for this reader. The characters are all too quirky and there are too many of them to take in all at once. It is hard for me to understand why Marybell went to such lengths to hide her identity, and harder still to understand how/why Tag's entire life went down the drain- perhaps these questions would be answered by reading the earlier books in the series. I also found the southern drawl exaggerated and sometimes quite irritating. And as for the Magnolias, I cannot imagine why anyone in town tolerates them. This book was just too over the top for me and I'm not certain I'll be looking for others in the series.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Since You've Been Gone by Anouska Knight

In one tragic moment, Holly Jefferson's life as she knew it changed forever. Now—to the external world, at least—she's finally getting back on her feet, running her bakery, Cake. But inside, she's still going through the motions befitting a twenty-seven-year-old widow.

Then she meets Ciaran Argyll. His privileged and charmed life feels a million miles from her own. However, there's more to Ciaran than the superficial world that surrounds him, and he, too, is wrestling with his own ghosts. Will Holly find the missing ingredient that allows her to live again—and embrace an unknown and unexpected tomorrow?

I wanted to really love this book, but at times it felt like I was reading two different stories with only vague connections. Holly, her bakery, her house, her friends- these make for a wonderful read as she tries to survive each day as a widow. Ciaran, his ex-fiancee, his father, his personal assistant- these make for an aggravating and incomplete read that left me frustrated. I don't know if more exposition was cut from the final product, or if some of these storylines should have been cut completely instead, but they made the book a very uneven read for me. An ok read, but only because Holly and her situation are so compelling.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Before I Go by Colleen Oakley

Twenty-seven-year-old Daisy already beat breast cancer three years ago. How can this be happening to her again?

On the eve of what was supposed to be a triumphant “Cancerversary” with her husband Jack to celebrate three years of being cancer-free, Daisy suffers a devastating blow: her doctor tells her that the cancer is back, but this time it’s an aggressive stage four diagnosis. She may have as few as four months left to live. Death is a frightening prospect—but not because she’s afraid for herself. She’s terrified of what will happen to her brilliant but otherwise charmingly helpless husband when she’s no longer there to take care of him. It’s this fear that keeps her up at night, until she stumbles on the solution: she has to find him another wife.

With a singular determination, Daisy scouts local parks and coffee shops and online dating sites looking for Jack’s perfect match. But the further she gets on her quest, the more she questions the sanity of her plan. As the thought of her husband with another woman becomes all too real, Daisy’s forced to decide what’s more important in the short amount of time she has left: her husband’s happiness—or her own?

This moving and deeply personal novel is a wonderful read. Watching Daisy as she tries to come to terms with a terminal cancer diagnosis by searching for her replacement is heartrending. Watching her turn away from Jack, her mother, and her best friend shows how isolating such a diagnosis can be. As she fixates on Jack's graduation to make all their years of sacrifice worth it, you can feel her pain that she herself will not complete her degree, or work in her field, or have children. The book is sad but redemptive as Daisy and Jack stumble through her remaining time and work to just carve out a space to be together. Highly recommended.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Unmanned by Dan Fesperman

Not very long ago, Darwin Cole was an F-16 fighter pilot. He was a family man. He was on top of the world. Now? He’s a washout drunk with a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, living alone in the Nevada desert and haunted by an image beamed from one of his last missions as a “pilot” of a Predator drone—a harrowing shot of an Afghan child running for her life.

When Cole is approached by three journalists trying to uncover the identity of the possibly rogue intelligence operative who called the shots in Cole’s ill-fated mission, Cole reluctantly agrees to team up with them.

But in our surveillance culture, even the well intentioned are liable to find themselves under scrutiny, running for their lives, especially when the trail they’re following leads to the very heart of that culture—in intelligence, in the military, and among the unchecked private contractors who stand to profit richly from the advancing technology . . . not merely for use “over there,” but for right here, right now.

This latest offering by Dan Fesperman is a timely look at the ethics and possibilities of expanded drone warfare. The narrative pace is good but I wasn't as engaged by the characters as I normally am in a Fesperman book. The journalists especially seemed poorly drawn with nowhere near enough information about their backgrounds and motivations to make me feel invested in their story. Cole was a very strong character, and both Sharpe and the AF investigator looking for Cole are wonderful characters even though they only appear briefly. I certainly thought the journalists were very inept and poor at their jobs which rather undercut their involvement in this plot. All in all a good read, though I recommend The Double Game as a better example of Fesperman's talent.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

My Sister's Grave by Robert Dugoni

Tracy Crosswhite has spent twenty years questioning the facts surrounding her sister Sarah’s disappearance and the murder trial that followed. She doesn’t believe that Edmund House—a convicted rapist and the man condemned for Sarah’s murder—is the guilty party. Motivated by the opportunity to obtain real justice, Tracy became a homicide detective with the Seattle PD and dedicated her life to tracking down killers.

When Sarah’s remains are finally discovered near their hometown in the northern Cascade mountains of Washington State, Tracy is determined to get the answers she’s been seeking. As she searches for the real killer, she unearths dark, long-kept secrets that will forever change her relationship to her past—and open the door to deadly danger.

This deftly plotted mystery centers on an enjoyable new police heroine searching for closure after the rape and murder of her sister decades before. After her sister's death, Tracy's world and family fell apart; she eventually went into police work herself after years as a high school science teacher. When her sister's body is finally found, Tracy pushes to reopen the case; though someone was convicted of the crime years ago, she has always had her doubts about the identity of the killer because of her questions about the way the investigation was handled. The mystery here is good as is the way the narrative jumps back and forth in time to show us glimpses of Tracy's past. Though the twist was not such a surprise, it was still well handled and believable. My one quibble is that once the police chief and other realized that an adult Tracy was going to push, they could have saved everyone a world of hurt by confiding in a fellow law enforcement professional. Still, an enjoyable read; I'll be on the lookout for future installments featuring this investigator.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna

Duro is off on a morning’s hunt when he sees something one rarely does in Gost: a strange car. Later that day, he overhears its occupants, a British woman, Laura, and her two children, who have taken up residence in a house Duro knows well. He offers his assistance getting their water working again, and soon he is at the house every day, helping get it ready as their summer cottage, and serving as Laura’s trusted confidant.

But the other residents of Gost are not as pleased to have the interlopers, and as Duro and Laura’s daughter Grace uncover and begin to restore a mosaic in the front that has been plastered over, Duro must be increasingly creative to shield the family from the town’s hostility, and his own past with the house’s former occupants. As the inhabitants of Gost go about their days, working, striving to better themselves and their town, and arguing, the town’s volatile truths whisper ever louder.

This excellent novel tells the tale of one small town in Croatia trying to come to terms with its wartime history. Newly arrived from England, Laura and her family see a lovely town where they cam built a summer home and a future business. Handyman Duro sees the town where he grew up superimposed with the blood-soaked memories of the war. He has complicated relationships with two other men in the town, relationships that become more clear as the story of Gost unfolds. Laura wants to see only Gost as it could be, while Duro can't escape from Gost as it was. Having lived in the region, I think Forna does an excellent job laying out the complex and painful efforts of the war's survivors to come to terms with the ethnic cleansing that turned neighbor against neighbor. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I Love You More by Jennifer Murphy

Picasso Lane is twelve years old when her father, Oliver, is murdered at their summer beach house. Her mother, Diana, is the primary suspect—until the police discover his second wife, and then his third. The women say they have never met—but Picasso knows otherwise. Picasso remembers the morning beautiful Jewels showed up at their house, carrying the same purse as her mother, and a family portrait featuring her father with two strange boys. Picasso remembers lifting the phone, listening to late night calls with Bert, a woman heavily pregnant with Oliver's fourth child. As the police circle and a detective named Kyle Kennedy becomes a regular fixture in their home, Picasso tries to make sense of her father's death, the depth of his deceit, and the secrets that bind these three women.

The main draw for this mystery novel is certainly the pre-teen (though precocious) Picasso Lane. Her father has just been murdered, and her mother is the main suspect...until more wives start showing up that is! The mystery is enjoyable though the big twist wasn't a surprise to me at all. The beauty here is in Picasso herself, and the way she reveals what she has learned about life, and love, and how to reconcile truth. She is a delight, and certainly carries the weight here in this story. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Promise by Robyn Carr

Scott Grant has a bustling family practice in the small Oregon community of Thunder Point. The town and its people have embraced the widowed doctor and father of two, his children are thriving, and Scott knows it's time to move on from his loss. But as the town's only doctor, the dating pool is limited. That is, until a stunning physician's assistant applies for a job at his clinic.

Peyton Lacoumette considers herself entirely out of the dating scene. She's already been burned by a man with kids, and she's come to Thunder Point determined not to repeat past mistakes. When Scott offers her a job, at a much lower salary than she's used to, Peyton is surprisingly eager to accept…at least for now. She's willing to stay for a three-month trial period while she explores other options.

Scott and Peyton know the arrangement is temporary—it isn't enough time to build a real relationship, never mind anything with lasting commitment. But love can blossom faster than you think when the timing is right, and this short visit just might hold the promise of forever.

This latest addition to the Thunder Point series reunited me with a community I have come to love, though I wasn't as connected to Scott and Peyton as I had hoped to be. As always it is the cameos from recurring characters that help make this series so strong and enjoyable; I loved the ongoing insights into the lives of these people after their happily-ever-afters. I was delighted to see the good doctor find romance, and thought Peyton's family history added a wonderful element of interest to the story. Unfortunately the last quarter of the book was less successful for me because Scott's sudden focus on money seemed to come from nowhere, and I didn't think it was realistic that Peyton could have so badly misjudged the seriousness of the situation with Ted's children. The ending felt rushed to me which was a stark contrast to the slow and gentle way the relationship initially unrolled. A good read, but not my favorite of the series.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger

Twenty-nine-year-old Sophie Diehl is happy toiling away as a criminal law associate at an old-line New England firm, where she very much appreciates that most of her clients are trapped behind bars. Everyone at Traynor, Hand knows she abhors face-to-face contact, but one week, with all the big partners out of town, Sophie is stuck handling the intake interview for the daughter of the firm’s most important client.

After eighteen years of marriage, Mayflower descendant Mia Meiklejohn Durkheim has just been served divorce papers in a humiliating scene at the popular local restaurant, Golightly’s. Mia is now locked and loaded to fight her eminent and ambitious husband, Dr. Daniel Durkheim, Chief of the Department of Pediatric Oncology at Mather Medical School, for custody of their ten-year-old daughter Jane. Mia also burns to take him down a peg. Sophie warns Mia that she’s never handled a divorce case before, but Mia can’t be put off. The way she sees it, it’s her first divorce, too. For Sophie, the whole affair will spark a hard look at her own relationships—with her parents, colleagues, friends, lovers, and, most important, herself.

This truly excellent novel tracks the breakdown of a marriage and the development of a young lawyer in parallel- and is surprisingly entertaining! Sophie is a criminal lawyer not a divorce lawyer but when her straightforward manner captures the interest of a rich and powerful client, she finds herself tasked by the firm with taking on the case. The story unfolds through a series of letters, briefs, emails, newpaper articles, etc. and is nevertheless engaging from the first page. I found myself unable to put this book down, and delighted in the personal victories for Sophie (and Mia Meiklejohn Durkheim). Highly recommended!

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Unexpected Duchess by Valerie Bowman


Lady Lucy Upton’s tongue may be too sharp to attract suitors but her heart is good, and when her painfully shy friend Cassandra needs help she devises a brilliant scheme to help her discourage an unwanted suitor, the Duke of Claringdon. Lucy will hide behind the hedgerow and tell Cass just what to say to discourage the Duke of Claringdon…but it turns out that he’s made of sterner stuff than either of them anticipated. And Lucy is shocked to discover that tangling with the tenacious man is the most fun she’s had in ages.


Lord Derek Hunt made a promise to his dying friend to marry the demure Cassandra, and for a man who wants nothing more than peace and quiet after the horrors of war, she’ll make the perfect bride. If only the impudent Miss Upton will let him court the girl! Doing battle is the last thing on his mind, but bantering with Lucy behind the bushes is too tempting to resist. And in The Unexpected Duchess, the spoils of this war just may be true love…

This delightful twist on Cyrano has one young woman using her more erudite friend to discourage an unwanted suitor, or so it seems at least in the beginning. In truth, it is clear from the opening pages that Lucy and Derek are meant to be together, especially given that his intended bride is in fact in love with another man. I loved the feminine friendships in this book and how these women worked together to try to find the best for each other. Derek is a wonderful hero- perhaps a little rigid in his concept of duty, but he eventually comes to his senses so I forgive him. Having outspoken Lucy portrayed as a bit of an outcast from Society seemed much more realistic than the normal portrayal of a unique character as the darling of the Ton, and I loved the way Derek took Lucy's side when battling criticism from her parents. I assume we have two more books coming to sort out the romantic lives of Cass and Jane, and I for one can't wait to read them!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Fool My Twice by Meredith Duran


Running for her life, exhausted and out of options, Olivia Holladay wants nothing more than the chance to make a home for herself. So when she realizes that the infamous Duke of Marwick might hold the key to her freedom, she boldly disguises herself as the newest and bravest in a long line of the duke’s notoriously temperamental housekeepers. Little does she know that the wickedly handsome Alastair de Grey has very different plans for her...


As his new employee, Olivia is a fearless upstart. As a woman, the daring redhead is just what Alastair needs to rouse him from darkness to the siren call of revenge. He has suffered a betrayal so deep that he will use whatever means necessary to destroy his enemies—even his brazen and beautiful domestic. But his vengeful plan fails to account for his single weakness: an irresistible and growing passion for the enigmatic Olivia.

This was a truly enjoyable read- exactly what the genre is all about. Olivia is an excellent heroine; a clever young woman trying to take back control of her life after a traumatic attack. Alastair is a troubled heroine, haunted by the betrayal of his late wife on both a personal and political level. Watching these two come together to save each other from their pasts makes for a wonderful read. My only quibble is that Alastair's reaction to his wife's betrayal seems rather extreme once all the details eventually emerge. Regardless, an excellent read for any romance fan.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Never Tempt a Duke by Virginia Brown

He could not forgive her deception. She could not resist the desire they shared. When a scandal forces them to marry, their passions lead to dangerous secrets.

Deverell regarded his beautiful bride dispassionately. He had begun to think—hope—he could find in her what he’d never had before. That had disintegrated into ashes when she tricked him into marriage. Now, the wedding breakfast done, the revelry just beginning, she gave him a nervous glance from where she stood near the arbor. He returned her gaze, took note of the wreath of baby’s breath and pink roses atop her head, the Belgian lace train cascading from her shoulders and draping loosely over her bare arms before falling to the hem of her gown, and felt nothing. She was beautiful; fairy-like; virginal. Deceitful.

A changeling, he told himself. She’d undergone so many transformations since he’d first met her that he wasn’t certain who she really was. Except that now she was his wife. Deverell excused himself from Craven and strode to his bride; saw her instant wariness as he approached. The past fortnight had not endeared him to her, no doubt. Fitting enough, he supposed, since her actions had not endeared her to him either.

“So, my lovely bride,” he drawled, taking one of her hands and drawing her away from her companions, “I trust all has gone according to your wishes.”

Apart from the others, she tried to pull her hand free but he held it firmly. She flicked a glance at him from beneath her lashes, a maiden’s trick that had never worked on him. He’d had ample time to study the female strategy. Yet he had still been conquered by treachery. A galling admission of defeat.

“If it had gone according to my wishes, your grace,” she retorted, “I would be quite far from here, I assure you.”

“Somehow, I doubt that, my sweet,” he said softly. He lifted her gloved hand to his lips as if to press a loving kiss to her palm and murmured, “I think you’ve had things your way far too long.”

As much as I wanted to love this book, I just couldn't get behind the central romance between the two main characters. The book started strong with 17 year old American twins Nick and Alyssa conspiring to fool their new guardian in England. While Nick runs away to sea, Alyssa poses as a boy to save herself from being shuttered away in an oppressive religious school. Sadly, this portion of the novel is the most interesting; once Deverell discovers the deception, things head steadily downhill.

Deverell is not an appealing hero- autocratic and quick to anger, he unreasonably blames Alyssa for tricking him into marriage even though it is clear she is innocent. I simply couldn't understand how or why Alyssa was in love with him, other than the fact that she never recovered from her teenage crush. Alyssa never seemed to fully grow up and take a stand for herself which made her a little one note for my taste. I was especially disappointed that the initial closeness of the twins was quickly written out as Nick become a rather unappealing young man.

Characters aside, the mystery element was also a bit of a let down. The ancient family history was very confusing and never really fleshed out. Deverell's refusal to share his thoughts puts his wife in incredible danger toward the end of the book, and then he leaves her in danger for long hours simply to follow through on his plan? Not very well-done on his part in my opinion.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Escape by Mary Balogh

After surviving the Napoleonic Wars, Sir Benedict Harper is struggling to move on, his body and spirit in need of a healing touch. Never does Ben imagine that hope will come in the form of a beautiful woman who has seen her own share of suffering. After the lingering death of her husband, Samantha McKay is at the mercy of her oppressive in-laws—until she plots an escape to distant Wales to claim a house she has inherited. Being a gentleman, Ben insists that he escort her on the fateful journey.

Ben wants Samantha as much as she wants him, but he is cautious. What can a wounded soul offer any woman? Samantha is ready to go where fate takes her, to leave behind polite society and even propriety in her desire for this handsome, honorable soldier. But dare she offer her bruised heart as well as her body? The answers to both their questions may be found in an unlikely place: in each other’s arms.

This is a wonderful straight historical romance. No mystery or thriller elements here, just a quietly moving, character driven novel. I was especially drawn to the honest look at the painful aftermath of war, both for the soldiers and the families they left behind. Benedict is a strong and determined hero, one who struggled to rebuild himself after horrible war-time injuries. He is a member of the Survivors' Club, a group of wounded soldiers home from the Napoleonic Wars, working hard to reclaim some semblance of a normal life despite their physical and mental wounds.

Samantha is the recently widowed heroine of this story, struggling to come to terms with her rapidly changing life. After years of nursing her injured husband, she is finally looking forward to a bit of freedom only to discover her controlling father-in-law has other plans for his wayward family. She is looking for a home, and a sense of peace after too many years of coping with the aftermath of war.

Watching these two heal and come together to carve out a new life makes for an excellent read, one that I think will appeal to any reader. This backstory calls to mind the sacrifices made by soldiers and their family through out history, and adds a sober element to this compelling read. This book is the third in the Survivors' Club series and works perfectly as a stand-alone- though after reading it, I'll certainly be on the lookout for the first two.