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.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Broken by Shelley Coriell

He took her life, but left her alive.

Three years ago, reporter Kate Johnson was the first victim-and only survivor-of the Broadcast Butcher. Scarred both physically and psychologically by the brutal serial killer, Kate lives life on the run, knowing that one day, he will find her and finish what he started.

In the pursuit of justice, you sometimes have to step outside the law.

Agent Hayden Reed spends his life chasing monsters. The only way to stay sane is to detach, but the second the Broadcast Butcher case crosses his desk, Hayden knows this is the case that might just cost him his soul. To catch this vicious murderer before he strikes again, Hayden must find Kate and earn her trust. For it's her darkest secrets that hold the key to stopping this madman once and for all . . .

This fast-paced romantic thriller certainly kept me guessing from start to finish! I loved Kate- a strong heroine who takes control of her own life after a vicious attack, then returns to put herself in danger once again in order to catch a killer. She is upfront about her feelings, and her distrust of law enforcement is based in her own negative experiences which helps lay the groundwork for some of the tension between her and Hayden. Hayden is another enjoyable character with his devotion to the law and a determination to catch this serial killer. It was of course unprofessional to get involved in a sexual relationship with a witness, but since this is a romantic thriller, I'll simply let that pass.

I also enjoyed the cast of secondary characters, and thought this was a good introduction to a new series. I am definitely interested in reading more of The Apostles Series in the future.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Truth Will Out by Jane Isaacs

"Everything's going to be okay."
"What if it's not?" Suddenly, she turned. For a split second she halted, her head inclined.
"Naomi, what is it?"
She whisked back to face Eva. "There's somebody in the house..."

Eva is horrified when she witnesses an attack on her best friend. She calls an ambulance and forces herself to flee Hampton, fearing for her own safety. DCI Helen Lavery leads the investigation into the murder. With no leads, no further witnesses and no sign of forced entry, the murder enquiry begins.

Slowly, the pieces of the puzzle start to come together. But as Helen inches towards solving the case, her past becomes caught up in her present. Someone is after them both. Someone who will stop at nothing to get what they want. And as the net starts to close around them, can Helen escape her own demons as well as helping Eva to escape hers?

This second book to feature Helen Lavery is a much stronger offering than the series debut, and is a true thriller that keeps the reader on edge through to the end. Widowed Helen is a strong and complicated character, trying to carve out a police career while raising two sons. It was lovely to gain insights into her character through the details about her recent romantic entanglement, and to see her gaining confidence in her investigative skills. There were points where I felt that Eve's story was unfolding rather slowly, bu overall the story was engaging and enjoyable. This series seesm to have found its footing, and I'm looking forward to future offerings from this author.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Innocent Sleep by Karen Perry

Tangiers. Harry is preparing his wife's birthday dinner while she is still at work and their son, Dillon, is upstairs asleep in bed. Harry suddenly remembers that he's left Robin's gift at the café in town. It's only a five minute walk away and Dillon's so tricky to put down for the night, so Harry decides to run out on his own and fetch the present.

Disaster strikes. An earthquake hits, buildings crumble, people scream and run. Harry fights his way through the crowd to his house, only to find it razed to the ground. Dillon is presumed dead, though his body is never found.

Five years later, Harry and Robin have settled into a new kind of life after relocating to their native Dublin. Their grief will always be with them, but lately it feels as if they're ready for a new beginning. Harry's career as an artist is taking off and Robin has just realized that she's pregnant.

But when Harry gets a glimpse of Dillon on the crowded streets of Dublin, the past comes rushing back at both of them. Has Dillon been alive all these years? Or was what Harry saw just a figment of his guilt-ridden imagination?

This wonderful story about a parent's ultimate despair is less a thriller, and more a portrait of a family suffering to overcome the loss of a child and the guilty knowledge that the loss was avoidable. I enjoyed the mixed narrators and the way they slowly reveal facts that explain the complicated reality of this troubled couple. The story is engrossing, especially as the threads begin to unravel. That said, I was ultimately unable to find it in myself to like Harry or to understand why Robin stays with him despite everything he has done. I also wouldn't consider it a thriller in the typical sense up until the very end despite the psychological tension. I would have given this 5 stars if not for the ending which felt both rushed and unsatisfying.

The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths

Every year a ceremony is held at Norwich Castle for the bodies in the paupers’ graves: the Service for the Outcast Dead. Ruth has a particular interest in this year’s proceedings. Her recent dig at Norwich Castle turned up the body of the notorious Mother Hook, who was hanged in 1867 for the murder of five children. Now Ruth is the reluctant star of the TV series Women Who Kill, working alongside the program’s alluring history expert, Professor Frank Barker.

DCI Harry Nelson is immersed in the case of three children found dead in their home. He is sure that the mother is responsible. Then another child is abducted and a kidnapper dubbed the Childminder claims responsibility. Are there two murderers afoot, or is the Childminder behind all the deaths? The team must race to find out—and the stakes couldn’t be any higher when another child goes missing.

Another excellent addition to the Ruth Galloway series, this mystery kept me involved from the first page to the last. As always, Ruth is a delightfully awkward character, especially as she tries to navigate the complicated world of reality TV. The historical and modern day mysteries are beautifully connected and sensitively drawn- sometimes a difficult balance when addressing crimes against children. As always, the secondary characters in this series help add both depth and levity to a sometimes bleak narrative. Highly recommended for those familiar with the series- for new readers, definitely read these in order rather than starting here!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

Welcome to Little Wing.

It’s a place like hundreds of others, nothing special, really. But for four friends—all born and raised in this small Wisconsin town—it is home. And now they are men, coming into their own or struggling to do so.

One of them never left, still working the family farm that has been tilled for generations. But others felt the need to move on, with varying degrees of success. One trades commodities, another took to the rodeo circuit, and one of them even hit it big as a rock star. And then there’s Beth, a woman who has meant something special in each of their lives.

Now all four are brought together for a wedding. Little Wing seems even smaller than before. While lifelong bonds are still strong, there are stresses—among the friends, between husbands and wives. There will be heartbreak, but there will also be hope, healing, even heroism as these memorable people learn the true meaning of adult friendship and love.

This heartfelt novel is an astonishingly good read- one with an unexpected emotional depth. The language is spare, much like Little Wing itself, and captured this reader from the first pages. Unwinding slowly, this story slowly goes nowhere really- this book is more a study in characters than of action, but I found I couldn't put it down. The picture of these four men and their small Wisconsin town is beautifully drawn, and the ties that bind them together are the same that many of us feel for our childhood friends and homes. It is hard to explain- there is nothing I can think to say in this review that would capture the beauty of this book; I really think you have to start reading to find the allure. Highly recommended!

Friday, February 7, 2014

What Nora Knew by Linda Yellin

Molly Hallberg is a thirty-nine-year-old divorced writer living in New York City who wants her own column, a Wikipedia entry, and to never end up in her family’s Long Island upholstery business. For the past four years Molly’s been on staff for an online magazine, covering all the wacky assignments. She’s snuck vibrators through security scanners, speed-dated undercover, danced with Rockettes, and posed nude for a Soho art studio.

Fearless in everything except love, Molly is now dating a forty-four-year-old chiropractor. He’s comfortable, but safe. When Molly is assigned to write a piece about New York City romance "in the style of Nora Ephron," she flunks out big-time. She can’t recognize romance. And she can’t recognize the one man who can go one-on-one with her, the one man who gets her. But with wit, charm, whip-smart humor, and Nora Ephron’s romantic comedies, Molly learns to open her heart and suppress her cynicism

An engaging look at one woman's quest to find love (or at least a good story about love), this book is a lovely homage to all that is great about Nora Ephron. Molly is a sympathetic heroine who has settled into a comfortable relationship with Russell after a painful divorce. As she works to gain her own column, she takes on a series of bizarre assignments to impress her boss; though she succeeds at skydiving, she fails at writing about love until she meets successful novelist Cameron.

This book is definitely an enjoyable read, and it was great to see Molly's growing awareness that there is something missing in her romantic life. The dialogue is snappy and Molly's narrative tone and pointed jokes are amusing. My only quibble is that it reads like a zippy Sex in the City column- a tone I find works better in short chunks than as the structure of a novel. Regardless, an enjoyable book to curl up with while watching the snow swirl outside.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Trouble with Honor by Julia London

Desperate times call for daring measures as Honor Cabot, the eldest stepdaughter of the wealthy Earl of Beckington, awaits her family's ruin. Upon the earl's death she and her sisters stand to lose the luxury of their grand home—and their place on the pedestal of society—to their stepbrother and his social-climbing fiancée. Forced to act quickly, Honor makes a devil's bargain with the only rogue in London who can seduce her stepbrother's fiancée out of the Cabots' lives for good.

An illegitimate son of a duke, George Easton was born of scandal and grows his fortune through dangerous risks. But now he and Honor are dabbling in a perilous dance of seduction that puts her reputation and his jaded heart on the line. And as unexpected desire threatens to change the rules of their secret game, the stakes may become too high even for a notorious gambler and a determined, free-spirited debutante to handle.

This series debut about four sisters introduces a lovely set of characters focused solely on romantic pursuits- no supernatural or suspense subplots here. I enjoyed this well-written romance primarily because I enjoyed the hero and heroine. Honor is nowhere near as flighty as she seems in the beginning, and I feel her desperation as she tries to find a way to protect her mother and sisters from dramatic life changes. George is a complicated character- the unacknowledged illegitimate son of a duke, he is for all intents and purposes a self-made man battling to maintain the fortune he earned through hard work. I also enjoyed the various side characters who become fleshed out through the story- though I found Augustine's attempts to exert control rather surprising, Monica is slowly revealed to be a complex and goodhearted person.

There were some unanswered questions that led me to a four star rating rather than a five: who are the young bucks who take Honor and her friends to that gaming den? What happens to those young men and women- Honor seems to have no friends or interactions other than with her family. Given the Earl's immense wealth, why hasn't he made financial provisions for his wife and step-daughters? Despite these niggling questions, I enjoyed this series debut, and am looking forward to reading more about the Cabot daughters in the future.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Newcomer by Robyn Carr

Single dad and Thunder Point's deputy sheriff "Mac" McCain has worked hard to keep his town safe and his daughter happy. Now he's found his own happiness with Gina James. The longtime friends have always shared the challenges and rewards of raising their adolescent daughters. With an unexpected romance growing between them, they're feeling like teenagers themselves—suddenly they can't get enough of one another.And just when things are really taking off, their lives are suddenly thrown into chaos. When Mac's long-lost ex-wife shows up in town, drama takes on a whole new meaning. Mac and Gina know they're meant to be together, but can their newfound love withstand the pressure?

This is an unusual romance in that it doesn't really focus all that much on the hero and heroine; instead, the focus is on the town in which they live. For those who have read The Wanderer, this book carries on the story of Sarah and Coop in interesting and unexpected ways. It also highlights the difficulties of two single parents trying to find romance amid a messy situation. I was taken aback by the chances to Downy's character given that he was such a good guy in the last book, and I also thought that the story of Mac's ex-wife was a little unresolved- hence the four stars rather than five. That said, an excellent addition to the Thunder Point canon, one that has whetted by appetite for the next installment.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The First Rule of Swimming by Courtney Angel Brkic

A woman must leave her island home to search for her missing sister-and confront the haunted history of her family.

Magdalena does not panic when she learns that her younger sister has disappeared. A free-spirit, Jadranka has always been prone to mysterious absences. But when weeks pass with no word, Magdalena leaves the isolated Croatian island where their family has always lived and sets off to New York to find her sister. Her search begins to unspool the dark history of their family, reaching back three generations to a country torn by war.

This moving story of a family torn apart by politics, war, and secrets is a wonderful read from start to finish. Though there are parts along the way where is it hard to sympathize with any of the characters, everything comes together to create a clear and realistic picture of a complicated situation. It helps to know a little about the history of the region to set the various backstories in the right time frame; anyone who has been to the region will immediately appreciate the author's ability to paint a picture of life on the Croatian coast. This story is difficult in places, but ultimately redemptive. Highly recommended!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Searching for Someday by Jennifer Probst

In charming Verily, New York, Kate Seymour has a smashing success with Kinnections, the matchmaking service she owns with her two best girlfriends. But Kate’s more than a savvy businesswoman: She’s gifted with a secret power, a jolting touch that signals when love’s magic is at work. It rocked her when she picked up a strange volume of love spells in the town’s used bookstore . . . and it zapped her again when she encountered Slade Montgomery, the hot-tempered— and hot-bodied—divorce lawyer who storms into Kinnections demanding proof that playing Cupid won’t destroy his vulnerable sister, Kate’s newest client. The only way to convince this cynic that she’s no fraud, and that love is no mirage, is for Kate to meet his audacious challenge: find him his dream woman. Can Kate keep their relationship strictly business when her electrifying attraction nearly knocked her off her feet? Or has the matchmaker finally met her match?

Despite an interesting plot and some great secondary characters, this book was a ho-hum read for me. The supernatural element was well-handled with just hints here and there, but nothing overwhelming. That said, I found Kate's fears and romantic past a bit hard to swallow. Nevertheless, it was the hero that really turned me off this book- I cannot imagine what possessed anyone to fall for this brash, arrogant, and obnoxious personality. He was a jerk from the start, and frankly didn't improve as the story progressed. He behaved like a horny teenager which I do not find attractive in an adult, and I wanted nothing more than for Kate to kick him to the curb. The Kate's mother and dog and business partners were the best characters in this book and are the only reason I'm giving it three stars.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The White Lie by Andrea Gillies

The Salter family orbits around Peattie House, their crumbling Scottish highlands estate filled with threadbare furniture, patrician memories, and all their inevitable secrets. While gathered to celebrate grandmother's seventieth birthday, someone breaks the silence. The web begins to unravel. But what is the white lie? How many others are built upon it? How many lives have been shaped by its shadow? Only one person knows the whole truth. From beyond the grave, Michael loops back into the past until we see, beyond perception and memory, how deeply our decisions resound, and just what is the place—and price—of grandeur.

REVIEW: This mystery presents itself in an interesting way- the story is told from the perspective of the murder victim, and no one seems at all unclear on the identity of the killer. As such, the book really focuses more on the how and why than the the who, and reflects an interesting perspective of the murder victim aging and maturing as he haunts his home- he has a deeper understanding of and sympathy for its series of overlapping secrets.

That said, there are periods when the narrative starts to drag making reading a challenge. Also, the central mystery and revelations are nothing of the sort for an astute reader. I am not actually certain if they are supposed to be a surprise but it seems likely, and yet the suspense simply wasn't here. Regardless, the books is well-written and the story enjoyable. I felt engaged with the characters, especially poor Michael, even if I never really understood why his entire family was willing to allow his aunt's involvement in his murder to go uninvestigated.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Hidden White House by Robert Klara

In 1948, President Harry Truman, enjoying a bath on the White House’s second floor, almost plunged through the ceiling of the Blue Room into a tea party for the Daughters of the American Revolution. A handpicked team of the country’s top architects conducted a secret inspection of the troubled mansion and, after discovering it was in imminent danger of collapse, insisted that the First Family be evicted immediately. What followed would be the most historically significant and politically complex home-improvement job in American history. While the Trumans camped across the street at Blair House, Congress debated whether to bulldoze the White House completely, and the Soviets exploded their first atomic bomb, starting the Cold War.

Indefatigable researcher Robert Klara reveals what has, until now, been little understood about this episode: America’s most famous historic home was basically demolished, giving birth to today’s White House. Leaving only the mansion’s facade untouched, workmen gutted everything within, replacing it with a steel frame and a complex labyrinth deep below ground that soon came to include a top-secret nuclear fallout shelter.

The story of Truman’s rebuilding of the White House is a snapshot of postwar America and its first Cold War leader, undertaking a job that changed the centerpiece of the country’s national heritage. The job was by no means perfect, but it was remarkable—and, until now, all but forgotten.

An informative and delightful look at the 20th century reconstruction of the White House. As a native Washingtonian, I found this wonderful book about the reconstruction of the White House a definite must-read. Full of interesting tidbits about the behind the scenes process of rebuilding the President's residence, this book is both easy to read and a great insight into a little-known element of the history of our nation's capital. Highly recommended for any history buff or presidential scholar-to-be.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Dark Invasion by Howard Blum

When a “neutral” United States becomes a trading partner for the Allies early in World War I, the Germans implement a secret plan to strike back. A team of saboteurs—including an expert on germ warfare, a Harvard professor, and a brilliant, debonair spymaster—devise a series of “mysterious accidents” using explosives and biological weapons, to bring down vital targets such as ships, factories, livestock, and even captains of industry like J. P. Morgan.

New York Police Inspector Tom Tunney, head of the department’s Bomb Squad, is assigned the difficult mission of stopping them. Assembling a team of loyal operatives, the cunning Irish cop hunts for the conspirators among a population of more than eight million Germans. But the deeper he finds himself in this labyrinth of deception, the more Tunney realizes that the enemy’s plan is far more complex and more dangerous than he suspected.

This was the first I heard of Germany's secret war against the US before our entry into WWI- what a riveting story! The author used the personalities of those involved (on both sides) to pull the reader into the story. I was fascinated by how much work went into countering this early threat, and by how similar the circumstances and motivations are to those of today's secret warriors. Highly recommended!

Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley

Two sisters sit in the backseat of a car, bound at the wrists by a strip of white cloth. Their mother, Amaranth, drives for days without pause, desperate to get away from the husband she fears will follow them to the earth's end. Her daughters, Amity and Sorrow, cannot comprehend why they're fleeing or fathom what exists outside their father's polygamous compound. When an exhausted Amaranth crashes their car in rural Oklahoma, rescue arrives in the form of Bradley, a farmer not unfamiliar with loss and uncertain futures. At first mistrustful of the strange, prayerful trio, Bradley allows his abiding tolerance to get the best of him, and the four become a new kind of family.

I knew this book about a polygamous cult would be disturbing, but even so I was surprised by some of the elements of the story. This well-written look at three women trying to escape from the only life they have even known is compelling and moving. Watching Amity and Sorrow attempt to navigate what is to them a strange new world, I could not help but wish that things were going to progress well for them- even though I knew it was most unlikely. Given the subject matter, this book might not be for everyone, but it is an strong example of the genre. Not exactly the type of book one can claim to like, this novel is a strong read that commands the reader's interest from beginning to end.

Monday, January 27, 2014

After I'm Gone by Laura Lippman

When Felix Brewer meets Bernadette “Bambi” Gottschalk at a Valentine’s Dance in 1959, he charms her with wild promises, some of which he actually keeps. Thanks to his lucrative—if not all legal—businesses, she and their three little girls live in luxury. But on the Fourth of July, 1976, Bambi’s comfortable world implodes when Felix, newly convicted and facing prison, mysteriously vanishes.

Though Bambi has no idea where her husband—or his money—might be, she suspects one woman does: his mistress, Julie. When Julie disappears ten years to the day that Felix went on the lam, everyone assumes she’s left to join her old lover—until her remains are eventually found.

Now, twenty-six years after Julie went missing, Roberto “Sandy” Sanchez, a retired Baltimore detective working cold cases for some extra cash, is investigating her murder. What he discovers is a tangled web stretching over three decades that connects five intriguing women. And at the center is the missing man Felix Brewer.

Somewhere between the secrets and lies connecting past and present, Sandy will find the truth. And when he does, no one will ever be the same.

I have read several of Laura Lippman's works, and am consistently impressed by her abilities. This cold case mystery kept me guessing until the very end- always a sign of success in my book! I was especially delighted by the variety of female characters in the story, each of whom had a different outlook and set of motivations that informed her actions. A truly excellent read- one I handed to my mom the moment I finished!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hunting Shadows by Charles Todd

A society wedding at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire becomes a crime scene when a man is murdered. After another body is found, the baffled local constabulary turns to Scotland Yard. Though the second crime had a witness, her description of the killer is so strange its unbelievable.

Despite his experience, Inspector Ian Rutledge has few answers of his own. The victims are so different that there is no rhyme or reason to their deaths. Nothing logically seems to connect them—except the killer. As the investigation widens, a clear suspect emerges. But for Rutledge, the facts still don’t add up, leaving him to question his own judgment.

In going over the details of the case, Rutledge is reminded of a dark episode he witnessed in the war. While the memory could lead him to the truth, it also raises a prickly dilemma. To stop a murderer, will the ethical detective choose to follow the letter—or the spirit—of the law?

This latest addition to the Rutledge series is a complicated tour de force. Rutledge's hunt for a sniper picking off seemingly unconnected victims leads to an older mystery that dates back to the days of the war that so impacted his own life. Rutledge seems less tortured in this book than in other offerings, perhaps signaling that he is slowly coming to terms with his wartime experiences. Once I started reading, I was unable to put this one down. Highly recommended!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Meant to Be by Terri Osburn

Beth Chandler has spent her whole life pleasing others. She went to law school to make her grandparents happy. She agreed to marry her workaholic boyfriend, Lucas, to make him happy. And, despite her fear of boats, she took a ferry to see Lucas’s parents just to make them happy.

While suffering through a panic attack on the ferry, Beth meets a tall, sexy stranger who talks her down from her fear—and makes her heart flutter in the process. Soon, she has a new reason to panic: her gorgeous, blue-eyed rescuer is Lucas’s brother, Joe. But could she ever leave her fiancé for his own brother…even if Lucas is more focused on making partner than on making their relationship work…and even if Joe turns out to be everything she never knew she wanted?

This book was an enjoyable read with a great cast of characters. The heroine Beth was the least successful in my opinion because I found it hard to relate to her focus on putting the happiness of others so far above her own. That aside though, it was easy to see why Joe fell for her (though I never really understood why Lucas proposed in the first place). It is obvious that Anchor Island is going to play host to a series of romances which is exciting because I loved all of the characters that were introduced here in this series opener. A great start to what I hope will be a great series!

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Boomerang Bride by Fiona Lowe

Matilda Geoffrey had risked it all for love.

She'd left Australia to be with Barry—the man who had swept her off her virtual feet. Now, wearing a wedding dress, she's alone on Main Street in small-town Wisconsin, and things aren't working out exactly as planned...

In town for his annual family visit, Marc Olsen had never seen a bride quite like Matilda—staring into a storefront window, holding a tottering wedding cake and looking desperately in need of a groom. He doesn't have many warm feelings for his hometown, but meeting Matilda just as she discovers she's been scammed by her online "fiancé" stirs something in him.

Matilda is not the kind of woman Marc imagined himself with, and Marc is anything but the romantic hero that Matilda has always dreamed of. But as unlikely circumstances throw them together, can they let go of their misconceptions and risk their hearts for love?

I liked both Tildy and Marc, and enjoyed the idea of the contrast between Australia and small town America. What I didn't like was the heavy-handed approach the author took to hammering home that contrast at every possible opportunity. It was great to see Tildy acclimate to the town and the ways she was able to help out with the businesses and families there. I also like the sub-plot about the sheriff and Marc's sister. Marc was hardly likable at times, but in the end his story and motivations did make sense. All in all an enjoyable read- would have been four stars if not for the constant references to contrasts with life in Australia.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Best Man by Kristin Higgins

Faith Holland left her hometown after being jilted at the altar. Now a little older and wiser, she's ready to return to the Blue Heron Winery, her family's vineyard, to confront the ghosts of her past, and maybe enjoy a glass of red. After all, there's some great scenery there...

Like Levi Cooper, the local police chief—and best friend of her former fiancé. There's a lot about Levi that Faith never noticed, and it's not just those deep green eyes. The only catch is she's having a hard time forgetting that he helped ruin her wedding all those years ago. If she can find a minute amidst all her family drama to stop and smell the rosé, she just might find a reason to stay at Blue Heron, and finish that walk down the aisle.

Though I liked the underlying story here of a girl returning home to the site of her ultimate humiliation (getting left at the altar in front of essentially the whole town) and falling for the guy who was responsible for that humiliation, I found it impossible to love this book because the heroine was just so annoying. Faith acts like a flighty adolescent rather than an adult who channeled adversity into personal growth, and frankly I think Levi could do better. I also found the subplot about her father to be absurd- no one is so unaware of being the focus of another person's matrimonial aims. This would be a decent beach or snowstorm read, but isn't likely to spark a desperate desire to read more by this author.

The Accident by Chris Pavone

As dawn approaches in New York, literary agent Isabel Reed is turning the final pages of a mysterious, anonymous manuscript, racing through the explosive revelations about powerful people, as well as long-hidden secrets about her own past. In Copenhagen, veteran CIA operative Hayden Gray, determined that this sweeping story be buried, is suddenly staring down the barrel of an unexpected gun. And in Zurich, the author himself is hiding in a shadowy expat life, trying to atone for a lifetime’s worth of lies and betrayals with publication of The Accident, while always looking over his shoulder.

Over the course of one long, desperate, increasingly perilous day, these lives collide as the book begins its dangerous march toward publication, toward saving or ruining careers and companies, placing everything at risk—and everyone in mortal peril. The rich cast of characters—in publishing and film, politics and espionage—are all forced to confront the consequences of their ambitions, the schisms between their ideal selves and the people they actually became.

The action rockets around Europe and across America, with an intricate web of duplicities stretching back a quarter-century to a dark winding road in upstate New York, where the shocking truth about the accident itself is buried.

This fast-paced thriller centered around the possible publication of a shocking biography made for an enjoyable read for any bibliophile. The book pulls in characters from Pavone's The Expats but I found the storyline here much more compelling. Though the big surprise twist was no twist in my opinion, knowing it was coming didn't in any way negatively impact my enjoyment of the story. As always, bodies abound, and frankly many are dispatched with almost a gleeful note by the author- perhaps a faintly satirical element given the genre. Hayden would likely have been better off simply ignoring the entire disaster from the get-go, but he seems to crave complication for complication's sake. I was surprised we didn't get to hear more about the subject of the biography from anyone other than the supposedly anonymous author; more of Hayden and other's perspectives on him might have fleshed out his character. Still, this was all in all an enjoyable read.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Wanderer by Robyn Carr

Nestled on the Oregon coast is a small town of rocky beaches and rugged charm. Locals love the land's unspoiled beauty. Developers see it as a potential gold mine. When newcomer Hank Cooper learns he's been left an old friend's entire beachfront property, he finds himself with a community's destiny in his hands.

Cooper has never been a man to settle in one place, and Thunder Point was supposed to be just another quick stop. But Cooper finds himself getting involved with the town. And with Sarah Dupre, a woman as complicated as she is beautiful.

With the whole town watching for his next move, Cooper has to choose between his old life and a place full of new possibilities. A place that just might be home.

Generally speaking, romance novels focus more on the thoughts and actions of the heroine than on those of the hero, a trope that is completely reversed in this novel. In fact, the heroine doesn't make a meaningful appearance until page 167 of this book! That said, it was a rather refreshing change of pace to learn so much about Coop to better understand his attraction to Sarah. I also loved his involvement with Sarah's brother and his efforts to help him deal with a violent bullying situation. I would have given it five stars if Sarah had been equally well-fleshed out, but she simply wasn't making it harder for me to make a connection to her. Nevertheless, I liked the supporting cast of characters and will read more of this series.

This Holey Life by Sophie Duffy

Vicky is a reluctant curate's wife, struggling to come to terms with her own bereavement and her husband's new-found faith. Then, one Boxing Day, a knock on the door brings her annoying big brother, his teenage son and a cello into her life, turning her world upside down. With her small terrace house in Penge now fit to burst, Vicky struggles to manage her three children and the joys of everyday family life. As a new threat lurks behind every corner, hope appears in the most unlikely of circumstances.

When I first started reading, I wasn't certain I would be able to relate to Vicky and to her complicated life; frankly, I would have booted Martin out after the first night! Still, I kept reading, and found myself unable to stop. Vicky is a woman under siege, one battling with family history, the loss of a child, her husband's abrupt decision to embark on a life in the church, and the realities of her daily life. Vicky is a sympathetic character because she is real and because the way she works through her problems is real. I loved her daughters (especially Olivia), though her husband I was less a fan of her husband- in my opinion he should have been paying more attention to the impact of his choices on her life. Martin was a nightmare and frankly so annoying that I'm giving this 4 stars rather than 5- I simply can't imagine why Vicky tolerated his presence in her house, brother of no brother. Regardless, this is a excellent look at one woman's attempt to hold it together for everyone else and yet somehow finding that she's in the place that she always needed to be. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh by Stephanie Laurens

The Honorable Miss Mary Cynster always gets what she wants. As the last unwed Cynster of her generation, she is determined to remain in charge of her life and of the man she will marry. At the very bottom of her list of potential husbands is Ryder Cavanaugh, the daring and devastating Marquess of Raventhorne, an overwhelming and utterly unmanageable lion of the ton. But destiny has a different plan.

Ryder needs Mary as his wife, not just because she is delightful, fiery, and tempting, but because he values all she could be. When fate and circumstance hand him the chance, he claims Mary as his marchioness...only to discover what he truly desires is not just to take her hand in marriage, but to capture her heart.

This book is apparently the 20th in this series, though I have not read any of the previous offerings. Sadly this book is simply too long and frankly overblown. I found myself skipping over the love scenes because they were laughably absurd. The supernatural subplot of the necklace got barely any time, and the supposed mystery was no mystery at all- it was clear from the first attack on the hero just who the culprit must be. It a shame really because I liked both Mary and Ryder and think they were a good match given their independence and commitment to preserving it. The relationship certainly seemed to be an equal partnership but unfortunately reading this book simply became a chore as it droned on and on. Maybe better for those who already love the Cynster family; I however won't be rushing out to pick up others in the series.

Monday, January 20, 2014

To Make a Match by Liana LeFey

The spirited Lady Victoria Lennox longs for a husband, but she cannot wed until her prickly older sister, Amelia, becomes a wife—and Amelia seems intent on driving away all potential suitors. To avoid becoming a spinster, Victoria concocts a plan: a carefully arranged scandal will compel Amelia to marry. And to bait the trap, who better than the dashing Lord Julius Cavendish?

Yet Julius has little interest in stubborn Amelia. Victoria, on the other hand, he finds irresistible. Determined to make her his own, Julius adds a new twist to Victoria’s plan: his friend Lord Withington will act as Victoria’s decoy suitor, distracting Amelia from the very real courtship happening under her nose. All might be well, were not Withington immediately smitten with Amelia. He sees how tender and protective she is beneath the frosty facade.

As the perfect plan goes perfectly awry, each sister finds herself publicly betrothed to the wrong man. Can they undo the damage in time to make the perfect match?

This books was a severely over-complicated story that made little to no sense as it unfolded. I couldn't find it in myself to like either Victoria or Amelia, and certainly think the author missed the opportunity to make both sisters appealing by slightly modifying their presentation. The two heroes were more appealing, but frankly deserved better than the comedy of errors they found themselves embroiled in thanks to Victoria's machinations. I finished it because I started it, but I can't say I really enjoyed it.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Lord St. Claire's Angel by Donna Lea Simpson

Celestine Simons was of good family, but an untimely death and a shortage of funds forces the homely spinster to take a position as governess at the estate of Lord Langlow and his wife. Never one to bemoan her change in fortune, Celestine is content to spend her days raising and overseeing their children, knowing in her heart she will never have any of her own.

Lord St. Claire Richmond, Langlow’s brother, is a rogue and seducer, content to while away his days pursuing pleasure—and driving his brother and sister-in-law mad by reducing their female staff to lovelorn fools with his flirtations. When he learns on his annual Christmas visit that the drab Celestine was hired as governess solely to thwart his dalliances, he devises a scheme to both stir her heart and spite his family’s interfering ways.

But as his game unfolds, the cunning St. Claire discovers this conquest may be more challenging than expected when the thoughtful and intelligent Celestine begins to fire an ache in his own heart. And what began as an amusement to give the plain, timid miss an innocent thrill is turning into much more, as St. Claire realizes she may be the one giving him the thrill—and teaching him in a way only a governess can that real beauty lies beneath the surface and that true love is often found where you least expect it.

REVIEW: Though the rake falling in love with a plain governess is something of a trope, there were enough differences here for me find the story appealing. Celestine is not a beauty, and is in fact almost disabled by crippling arthritis. She suffers and has to work through the pain because she has little choice- I feel few Regencies highlight the terrible plight some women at the time faced, especially those in reduced circumstances forced to find a way to earn a living in a harsh world. I was prepared to cheer for Celestine to find love and someone to care for her, but I think she deserved better than St. Claire. Ultimately, the hero came across as too selfish and narcissistic for my taste- he set out to seduce her for sport, not caring at all what that might mean for her precarious place in his brother's household.

In the end, Celestine was the only character I was able to enjoy in this book; everyone else was selfish and heartless in my opinion, a disappointing fact given how eager I was to read this book. 3 stars because it is well written even though I didn't like most of the characters.

A Risk Worth Taking by Laura Landon

Griffin Blackmoor blames himself for the tragic accident that claimed his wife and young son. Riddled with guilt, he prays that during the Crimean War an enemy’s bullet will end the consuming torture he can’t escape. Instead, that bullet finds his best friend. Now there isn’t enough whiskey in England to make him forget all the people who have died because of him. But before he can drown himself in an endless sea of liquor, he must keep the promise he made his dying friend. Except that promise is sure to risk an innocent woman’s life—and his own battered heart.

When her brother’s sudden death leaves her destitute, Lady Anne Carmichael knows she must marry. Although her dark beauty earns her the attention of London’s most eligible bachelors, only one man can stir her soul with his kisses. Griffin Blackmoor is everything she swore she never wanted. So why does his love feel like exactly what she needs?

This books was disappointing because a perfectly good 4 star romance was undermined by a ridiculous 2 star "mystery" subplot. It was clear from early on who was out to get this couple, but despite Griffin's background in intelligence, he is seemingly oblivious to a solution that was staring him in the face. I know that using suspense to spice up a romance is a popular tool, but it has to be believable to make the book a better read. Anne was a little grating at times, but given her background that seems perfectly realistic, and it was interesting to see a character struggle with addiction long before that was a recognized thing. A decent read that could have been much better.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Intimate Surrender by Laura Landon

The bewitchingly beautiful Hannah Bartlett never meant to fall in love, and certainly not with a vicar. But when she meets Vicar Rafe Waterford, she discovers a warmth and tenderness she’s searched for her entire life. Not until it’s too late does she realize that Rafe holds more than the key to her heart; he possesses the power to destroy her—especially when he discovers who she really is.

For years, Vicar Rafe Waterford’s family has made every attempt to find him a wife and see him settled down. Yet, no lady has enchanted him enough to draw him into matrimony…until he crosses paths with the breathtakingly beautiful Miss Hannah Bartlett. Struck by her wit, her charm, and her heart overflowing with love and compassion, he relentlessly pursues her. But when he discovers the secret she’s kept from him, that she is Madam Genevieve, owner of London’s most famous bordello, their love is tested beyond all measure.

This book just never really came together for me. Neither Hannah nor Rafe were particularly appealing, and it was essentially impossible to believe society ladies accepted her despite her position even if they were childhood friends. I couldn't help but wonder why they hadn't tried to help her escape her situation over the years rather than just providing a space to spend a quiet vacation. Given Hannah's backstory, it was difficult to see why she would choose to continue in the life once she had the means to escape. Rafe was just rather boring, making it hard for me to connect to him or to their relationship. Not a successful offering in my opinion.

Friday, January 17, 2014

In Love With a Wicked Man by Liz Carlyle

What does it matter if Kate, Lady d'Allenay, has absolutely no marriage prospects? She has a castle to tend, an estate to run, and a sister to watch over, which means she is never, ever reckless. Until an accident brings a handsome, virile stranger to Bellecombe Castle, and Kate finds herself tempted to surrender to her houseguest's wicked kisses.

Disowned by his aristocratic family, Lord Edward Quartermaine has turned his gifted mind to ruthless survival. Feared and vilified as proprietor of London's most notorious gaming salon, he now struggles to regain his memory, certain of only one thing: he wants all Kate is offering—and more.

But when Edward's memory returns, he and Kate realize how much they have wagered on a scandalous passion that could be her ruin, but perhaps his salvation.

I'm not generally a fan of books that rely on hackneyed devices like amnesia to move the story forward, but this one was well-written enough to carry off the absurdity. Kate is a delightful heroine- intelligent, responsible, and honest. Edward/Ned is an unlikely hero given his background, but a great man despite his dark background. Watching these two come together despite their and society's reservations made for a great read. I will definitely be on the lookout for more books from this author.

Once She Was Tempted by Anne Barton


. . . or is it? The risqué painting owned by Benjamin Elliot, the earl of Foxburn, features a stunning beauty with sapphire eyes, golden hair, and creamy skin. Ben recognizes this particular English rose the instant he meets her-though she's wearing considerably more clothing. In person, the demure debutante is even more irresistible . . .

In desperate need of money for her sick mother, Daphne Honeycote had posed for two scandalous portraits. Now she must hide her secret to save the Honeycote family name. Ben's possession of one painting makes him an insufferable thorn in her side-and yet he may be her best chance at finding the canvas's companion. As she becomes drawn to the dark-tempered earl, can Daphne risk laying bare the secrets of her heart?

This was a surprisingly enjoyable Regency romance, one with an original plot (which is sometimes hard to come by in the genre). Daphne is a delightful heroine- a caring person who made a deliberate and shocking choice in order to save her mother's life. Ben is a tortured hero- one carrying the weight of a dead friend on his shoulders and determined to save that friend's brother from Daphne's snares. Of course, he gradually comes to realize that Daphne is not setting snares and is in fact a lovely person he needs to help. This was a great story that I found hard to put down, and I will certainly look for other entries in the series.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

To Please a Lady by Lori Brighton

Eleanor wanted a night of passion. James just wanted to survive. Instead, they found an unexpected and forbidden love that threatens all they hold dear.

With her stunning beauty and impeccable reputation, Lady Eleanor Beckett is a society darling to emulate, respected by everyone in the ton. But Eleanor’s seemingly perfect life is marred by a dark secret. Determined to know happiness and passion just once, she travels in disguise to a place she’s heard whispers about for years: the infamous Lavender Hills Estate, a brothel that caters to women. There, she meets the surprisingly kind, strikingly handsome, and completely inappropriate James McKinnon, a man who may be just what she needs to melt the ice surrounding her broken heart.

James McKinnon is content at Lavender Hills Estate. Affable and handsome, it’s not surprising that James is one of Lady Lavender’s most popular men. He found the path out of crippling poverty through Lavender Hills, and with the money he makes from his work, he is able to support his widowed mother and young sister. James is surprised to find he cares for Eleanor, the beauty with the sad eyes. After all, he’s never cared for a client before—caring interferes with business. Unfortunately, society would never accept a relationship between an escort and a lady.

Despite their stations, Eleanor and James can’t extinguish the passion they’ve ignited. Will they be able to break through the confines of London society, or will their forbidden love and complicated pasts destroy everything they care about—including each other?

This book is apparently the last in a series, and in my opinion doesn't work as well as a stand-alone; I felt like I was behind from the first page. Despite the interesting twist of having the hero be a gigolo, this book just never really captured me. The revelation that Eleanor's husband is abusive adds some much needed depth to the tale, but then the whole story descends into an almost farce. It is especially difficult to understand how James can continue to ignore the reality of his situation or why his friends haven't been completely honest and forthcoming with him about their true circumstances. I wanted to like this book, but ultimately finished it only because I had started it.

Love and Other Scandals by Caroline Linden

Joan Bennett is a breath away from being a spinster. She’s had four seasons without a suitor. After reading a shockingly sensuous book, Fifty Ways to Sin, Joan decides perhaps it’s time to stop being proper and start being sinful, while she’s still young enough to enjoy it. And what better partner than her brother’s drinking mate, Viscount Burke? He seems the type to know how to give a lady a lascivious adventure.

It seems that the viscount has qualms about trifling with a friend’s sister. That’s the way to end up betrothed. And he doesn’t want that—or does he?

This delightful Regency romance features an unlikely heroine- Joan is too tall, too outspoken, and too plump for the fashion of the day. Luckily for Joan, her brother's rakish friend Tristan is able to see beyond her unflattering dresses and hair to the sparkling personality beneath. Watching these two gradually fall in love is very enjoyable, even if the sudden illness departure of her parents seems a little too convenient. I would have liked to see more resolution of aunt Evangeline's love story (though perhaps that will come later in the series). I also thought that Lady Bennett's recovery from what sounded like consumption was a little quick and unrealistic. Regardless, the story is engaging- I loved the description of Tristan's surprise "drive"- and definitely makes me want to read the rest of the series as it is published.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

And One Wore Gray by Heather Graham

Callie Michaelson knows all too well the costs of war. Her husband gave his life on the battlefield, fighting for the North. Now Callie’s only defense is to hunker down and hope the war blazes right on past her Maryland farm. But when a dashing Confederate soldier falls on her land, Callie is inexplicably roused to help this desperate, surprisingly vulnerable, and heartbreakingly desirable man.

After suffering the sting of defeat, Colonel Daniel Cameron wants nothing more than to heal his wounds and rejoin his retreating cavalry unit. But the look in the silver-gray eyes of the stunningly beautiful Yankee widow tells him to stay—at least for one night of passion. In Callie’s bed, Daniel forgets all about the horrors he has seen. He also forgets that he is too deep in Union territory to trust any woman. And soon enough Daniel discovers that wounds of the flesh are nothing compared to wounds of the heart.

This second book in Graham's Civil War series focuses on Daniel, the second Cameron brother and the one who stayed loyal to the South. Picking up not long after One Wore Blue left off, Callie and Daniel's story makes for a wonderful read. Callie is a sympathetic heroine, one whose human compassion trumps her political views in a way that Kiernan's never did. Callie and Daniel are both war-weary, and eager to try to capture a little bit of happiness despite the horror and death that surround them. Both characters are appealing and the reader cannot help but wish them well. In my opinion, this is easily the best of the trilogy.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

One Wore Blue by Heather Graham

The privileged daughter of a Virginia plantation owner, Kiernan Miller can’t imagine that her idyllic life will ever change—nor her days in the company of her devastatingly handsome neighbor, Jesse Cameron, a boy who returns her desire, kiss by tempestuous kiss. Then Jesse commits the one sin that Kiernan can never forgive: He abandons his roots for the Union army. Though Kiernan marries another, a part of her will always love the rebel in blue.

To follow his conscience, Jesse Cameron must sacrifice his heart. He deserts his hometown, turns against his own brother, and rides away from the woman he loves. But he vows that it will not be forever. Now, bringing the war to Kiernan’s front door, Jesse has returned as the enemy, intent on winning back the widow with emerald eyes and sun-kissed hair—the beauty who has branded him a traitor.

This sweeping Civil War romance is the first of a trilogy of books that follow three Cameron siblings as they look for love while the country splits apart. The story was enjoyable as were the elements of Civil War life that it reveals. I would have given this one four stars if it hadn't been for the heroine Kiernan. Though her initial feelings of anger when Jesse chooses to fight for the North are understandable, her animosity toward him quickly becomes irritating. The book was saved by the hero Jesse who certainly deserves better than Kiernan Miller in my opinion; his honor and love and the desire he feels for her make the story. Regardless, the book was a good read and certainly makes me want to continue with the series.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

The White Queen is the story of Elizabeth Woodville, a woman of extraordinary beauty and ambition, who secretly marries the newly crowned Edward IV. Elizabeth rises to the demands of her exalted position and fights for her family’s dominance, but despite her best efforts, her two sons become pawns in a famous unsolved mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the lost princes in the Tower of London. In this dazzling account of the deadly Wars of the Roses, brother turns on brother to win the ultimate prize, the throne of England.

This book was a SantaThing choice and the first book I read in 2014. As a died in the wool Ricardian ever since I first read Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time a quarter-century ago, I confess I went into this book without an ounce of sympathy for the mail character Elizabeth Woodville. That said, the story was in fact quite well-conceived and hit all of the factual markers necessary to ground it in history. Elizabeth is a well-drawn and sympathetic character- a woman fighting for her family, her power and her love in a time of great historical turmoil. I was less enamored with the supernatural elements of the tale, though ultimately they were not enough to ruin my enjoyment of the story. Though I myself could still not take the Woodville side, and didn't like the picture of Richard that was painted in this novel, it was nonetheless an enjoyable read and a solid introduction to the time period.