Review: Reader I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre edited by Tracy Chevalier

Review: Reader I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre edited by Tracy ChevalierReader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre by Tracy Chevalier, Joanna Briscoe, Susan Hill, Elizabeth McCracken, Nadifa Mohamed, Audrey Niffenegger, Patricia Park, Francine Prose, Namwali Serpell, Elif Shafak, Lionel Shriver, Salley Vickers, Emma Donoghue, Evie Wyld, Helen Dunmore, Esther Freud, Jane Gardam, Linda Grant, Kirsty Gunn, Tessa Hadley, Sarah Hall
Formats available: paperback, ebook, library binding, audiobook
Pages: 304
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on March 22nd 2016
AmazonBarnes &

This collection of original stories by today’s finest women writers—including Tracy Chevalier, Francine Prose, Elizabeth McCracken, Tessa Hadley, Audrey Niffenegger, and more—takes inspiration from the opening line in Charlotte Brontë’s most beloved novel, Jane Eyre.
A fixture in the literary canon, Charlotte Brontë is revered by readers all over the world. Her novels featuring unforgettable, strong heroines still resonate with millions today. And who could forget one of literature’s best-known lines: “Reader, I married him” from her classic novel Jane Eyre?
Part of a remarkable family that produced three acclaimed female writers at a time in 19th-century Britain when few women wrote, and fewer were published, Brontë has become a great source of inspiration to writers, especially women, ever since. Now in Reader, I Married Him, twenty of today’s most celebrated women authors have spun original stories, using the opening line from Jane Eyre as a springboard for their own flights of imagination.
Reader, I Married Him will feature stories by:
Tracy Chevalier
Tessa Hadley
Sarah Hall
Helen Dunmore
Kirsty Gunn
Joanna Briscoe
Jane Gardam
Emma Donoghue
Susan Hill
Francine Prose
Elif Shafak
Evie Wyld
Patricia Park
Salley Vickers
Nadifa Mohamed
Esther Freud
Linda Grant
Lionel Shriver
Audrey Niffenegger
Namwali Serpell
Elizabeth McCracken
Unique, inventive, and poignant, the stories in Reader, I Married Him pay homage to the literary genius of Charlotte Brontë, and demonstrate once again that her extraordinary vision continues to inspire readers and writers.

My Review:

jane eyre by charlotte bronteJust like it says on the label, this is a collection of short stories “inspired by” Jane Eyre. Before I get into the quality of the stories, I’d like to touch on that “inspired by” bit.

I’ll confess it has been a long time since I read Jane Eyre. And I’ll also say that it will probably be a long time, if ever, before I read it again. While it feels like a progenitor of the Gothic romance school, Jane’s situation as an impoverished governess, and her realistic lack of options just aren’t things that float my boat. I prefer situations where the hero and heroine at least approach equality, or get as close to it as seems remotely reasonable for the time period.

That being said, I approached this collection wondering how and where contemporary authors would take Jane and her story. The results feel mixed to me. Not just in the sense that any short story collection has winners and losers (and readers varying opinions on which are which) but also mixed in regards to their use of Jane Eyre as inspiration. There were stories that felt close to the original, and stories where the inspiration seemed tangential. Sometimes even tenuous.

Your mileage, of course, may vary.

But the stories in the collection that stick with me are the ones that hewed closely in some way to some aspect of the original story. The ones that seemed to use Jane as a looser starting point didn’t have the same impact for this reader. They felt like the didn’t fit within the collection unless one squints very hard and tilts one’s head to the proper degree sideways.

The title story by Susan Hill, is a case in point. While it takes off from the famous line, “Reader, I Married Him,” The “I” in this particular story is Wallis Warfield Simpson, and the “him” is Edward, Duke of Windsor, the man who was briefly King Edward VIII. The story felt sad, but then, their lives also felt sad, and possibly just as pointless as they are in this story. The story, while certainly interesting and providing a very different perspective on this famous couple, felt as if it had nothing to do with the theme at hand.

On the other hand, I loved Lionel Shriver’s “The Self-Seeding Sycamore”. Just as in the Susan Hill story, I’m not sure what, if anything it draws from Jane Eyre. On the other hand, I just really liked the story.

As far as those stories that have more a more obvious relationship to Jane Eyre, there were three that haunted me for different reasons, although they all have a slightly creepy factor.

Helen Dunmore gives an angry but resigned voice to one of the secondary characters in the story in “Grace Pool Her Testimony”. It allows us to view the story from a radically different point of view. It is also a “below stairs” story, where we see the doings of the household from the perspective of someone who was always present, but seemingly invisible. And the story provides insights into Rochester as a young man, and gives a surprising origin for little Adele. But it is Grace’s harsh and angry voice that sticks in the mind after the story is complete.

Salley Vickers tells us a story in Mr. Rochester’s voice in “Reader, She Married Me” but while the story is told from his perspective after the end of the novel, it is not the happily ever after one might expect. Instead, from Rochester’s point of view, blind and dependent on Jane as a result of his injuries from the fire, we see Jane quite differently. Instead of a triumphant heroine we see a manipulative woman who only married him because she now has the upper hand in their relationship, and that is what she has been scheming for all along. This isn’t a story about love, it’s a story about power.

Likewise, “The Mirror” by Francine Prose is also a story about power, but in this case all the power is in the hands of Rochester, although like the Vickers’ story The Mirror also takes place after the end of the novel. In this modern re-imagining, Jane and Rochester are in couples’ counseling after their marriage. As the years have gone by, Rochester has become increasingly insistent that his first wife died long before the fateful fire, and that Jane made up all of the incidents related in the story. And most telling of all, that it was a parrot that Jane heard in the attic. While Jane wants to save their marriage, Rochester is increasingly insistent that Jane is unbalanced, and both Jane and the reader see that he is setting her up to be put away in an attic somewhere, just like his first wife. As the net closes around her, Jane questions everything she thought she knew – both about the true condition of the first Mrs. Rochester and about Edward’s own sanity or the lack thereof.

The Mirror is the story that gave me the most chills. I found The Self-Seeding Sycamore to be the most fun. A few of the stories neither felt related to the theme, nor did anything for me as stories. But overall, the collection is interesting and certainly has a couple of bright spots – or brightly creepy spots, as the case may be.

Escape Rating B for the collection as a whole.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Battlestorm by Susan Krinard

Review: Battlestorm by Susan KrinardBattlestorm (Midgard, #3) by Susan Krinard
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Midgard #3
Pages: 480
Published by Tor Books on March 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

The third installment in New York Times bestselling author Susan Krinard’s first urban fantasy series...
Centuries ago, the Norse gods and goddesses fought their Last Battle with the trickster god Loki and his frost giants. All were believed lost, except for a few survivors…including the Valkyrie Mist, forgotten daughter of the goddess Freya.
But the battle isn’t over, and Mist—living a mortal life in San Francisco—is at the center of a new war, with the fate of earth hanging in the balance. As old enemies and allies reappear around the city, Mist must determine who to trust, all while learning to control her own growing power.
It will take all of Mist’s courage, determination, and newfound magical abilities to stop Loki before history repeats itself.

My Review:

This is one of those stories where it isn’t so much that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” or even “the enemy of my enemy is my ally” but rather “the enemy of my enemy is someone else I can betray sooner or later, probably sooner.”

It feels like Battlestorm is the bastard child of American Gods and Babylon 5, and I’m still not sure whether I mean that in a good way or not.

Just as in American Gods, the primary movers and shakers of the story are gods from the Norse pantheon, Odin, Loki, and for added spice and betrayal, Freya. This is also as complex and dense a story as American Gods, without having any of its lighter moments. Battlestorm is Ragnarök moved to Midgard, meaning our present-day Earth, with all the possibilities for the end of the world as we know it that the idea of Ragnarök implies.

American Gods was much lighter in comparison, and that’s saying something.

Mist by Susan KrinardLike the long story arc of Babylon 5, the story began in Mist and continued in Black Ice has the feel of a long-anticipated and often repeated battle between Good and Evil. However, just as in Babylon 5, now that the forces of Good have revealed themselves in Odin, the contest is nowhere near that clear cut. Instead, we have a battle between the forces of Order and Chaos. Loki represents the forces of Chaos, and he desires a world where all law and order is eliminated, and only the strongest and most ruthless survive. On that infamous other hand, Odin represents Order. But Order with a capital O is not necessarily good. Odin is a force for the tyranny of order, a world where he will be the absolute ruler and utter dictator, and humanity can only exist in a state of blind obedience.

Poor Mist is caught in the middle. She wants to protect the people of Midgard, among whom she has lived for centuries. She believes that humanity should be left to determine its own path, without interference from her gods. But as a Valkyrie, Odin commands her obedience. And Loki holds those she loves captive.

Mist is going to have to betray someone in order to protect those she holds dear. Including the entire human race.

Escape Rating C+: If the concept of the Norse gods coming to contemporary earth to enact their final battle, or anything else, appeals to you, start this series at the beginning, with Mist. The three book series, Mist, Black Ice and now Battlestorm, is one long saga (how fitting!) and must be read in order to make any sense at all.

That being said, I personally think the whole thing probably works better if you can manage to read the whole thing not just in order but also close together. There are so many players in this story, so many wheels within wheels, that it feels impossible to remember who is betraying whom, and why, a year after the previous book. For those readers who, like me, read the books as they came out, I sincerely hope that the finished copy includes a synopsis of previous events. The ARC I read did not, and I really needed one.

A primer on the Norse pantheon probably wouldn’t hurt either, particularly focused on who is related to whom. Loki had a surprising number of powerful and interesting children, who all have agendas of their own, and do not always obey their father. But then, Odin has that problem with his kids as well. In Battlestorm, Loki’s personality and his relationship with his father feel like they owe a lot to Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I found Battlestorm to be dense. It took me twice as long to read it as I expected, because I kept needing to step away and digest what had just happened – meaning what had just gone wrong. Mist never catches a break. She also seems to always be the last person in the universe to find out or be told information that is crucial to her fight and even to her very existence. There are a few too many instances where someone is just about to tell her something she desperately needs to know – only to be interrupted and the opportunity disappear for days and pages. For the daughter of a goddess, Mist seems woefully, or deliberately, misinformed about damn near everything all of the time.

This is the part that reminded me most of American Gods. Not just the Norse pantheon, but Mist’s position is a lot like Shadow’s. She has been created for a purpose that she has no clues about, but is led around by the nose by beings who are much better informed than she is and who are deliberately keeping her in the dark. And in the end, very little is as it originally seemed, to her or to the reader. Also like Shadow.

black ice by susan krinardFor anyone who has read my reviews of Mist and Black Ice, I was dead wrong about Orn’s identity. The true identity of the parrot becomes totally clear very early in Battlestorm. Just call him Mr. Wednesday.

If some of the description of and comments about Battlestorm appeal, try American Gods. It is positively awesome, where Battlestorm has both its moments and its moments of frustration. If the idea of evil being good and good being evil sounds interesting, try Banewreacker and Godslayer by Jacqueline Carey, which explore the same themes.

In the end, I was glad I finished Battlestorm and saw the story begun in Mist and Black Ice come to at least some resolution.

Guest Review: Blue Dahlia by Nora Roberts

Guest Review: Blue Dahlia by Nora RobertsBlue Dahlia by Nora Roberts
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: In the Garden #1
Pages: 353
Published by Berkley on October 26th 2004
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Three women meet at a crossroads in their lives, each searching for new ways to grow--and find in each other the courage to take chances and embrace the future.

Stella has a passion for planning that keeps her from taking too many risks. But when she opens her heart to a new love, she discovers she will fight to the death to protect what's hers.

Guest review by Amy:

In the contemporary romance genre, there just isn’t anyone quite like Nora Roberts. As a critic, it is easy, on the surface, to say, “ho hum, another Nora Roberts contemporary/supernatural romance trilogy,” but that would do this brightest of stars in the pantheon a grave disservice. Every time I pick up a new one of her trilogies, I find new reasons to love Roberts’ writing–in the formulaic framework of “three women, three love stories, supernatural puzzle to solve,” she always finds new ways to entertain and challenge me.

Blue Dahlia is no exception.  In the first two chapters, we are given crucial backstory–an insane woman, who dies lonely after her only child is stillborn, and a young mother who loses her husband, the centerpiece of her life, in a tragic accident. Then, we cut to Memphis in modern times, and our story is off and running.  Stella Rothschild is a planner, a horticulturist, and a mom of two rambunctious young boys. She set her career aside when her first son was born, but when husband Kevin dies in a plane crash, she picks it right back up. A year or so after the accident, she moves from Michigan back to Memphis, where her father and stepmother live, and where she was born, to start anew.

The Harper family has been among the scions of Memphis society for generations, but Roz Harper is not content to attend fancy balls and teas; she has started a nursery business near the great old mansion, and it’s a growing concern; she needs a manager. It’s a match made in heaven, as she turns over a wing of the huge old house to Stella and her children for a time, and they set to work. On the day they move in, Roz tells Stella about the Harper Bride:

“I meant to ask who else lives here, or what other staff you have.”

“It’s just David.”

“Oh? He said something about being outnumbered by women before we got here.”

“That’s right. It would be David, and me, and the Harper Bride.”

Roz carried the luggage inside and started up the steps with it. “She’s our ghost.”


“A house this old isn’t haunted, it would be a damn shame, I’d think.”

The Bride seems to be a pleasant enough being; she sings a lullabye to Stella’s sons at night, and doesn’t appear threatening, merely sad.

Stella gets to work organizing and improving the business at the nursery, but she finds the landscape designer to be the most frustrating man! Logan just won’t do his paperwork, he comes and grabs stock for his projects without telling her, and he’s just plain abrasive! For his part, he’s not fond of the Yankee-come-lately who’s wanting him to actually sit in an office and do paperwork!

Once we’ve got our setting and personae in place, the progress is almost as predictable as the sunrise; I sha’n’t elaborate for you, but it goes where you’d expect with a few not-unpleasant twists along the way, including meeting our third-woman for this trilogy, a young, very pregnant distant relative of Roz who turns up on her doorstep late one night. We also find that the Harper Bride is a bit insane–she gets anxious and more-threatening when Stella starts seeing more to Logan than the irritation he started out being.

black rose by nora robertsEscape Rating: A+. Too many “supernatural romances” these days just do not appeal to me–werewolves and sparkly vampires are just not my thing. But a ghost story, a mystery, an ancient curse…now those, even my deeply-agnostic soul can sink her teeth into. Nora Roberts has given us a conventional ghost story. No one knows who the Bride is, nor why she came to haunt Harper House, and this first entry in the series does little to resolve that–I expect as I read Black Rose and Red Lily, all of that will be resolved. As usual, I can make guesses about who the other two women get attached to in subsequent books, but it’s not completely transparent yet. The book is jammed with Southern charm, and the odd sayings that Southerners often have make plenty of appearances.

The big prize of Blue Dahlia, for me, though, was our heroine Stella. By nature, like Stella, I am a very detail-oriented, planning-centered person. I like my lists, my catalog of details, and my orderly progression of plans. In Stella, I found a woman who could be…me. The keystone of romance authorship, for so many great authors, is to make the heroine someone the reader can identify with, some who is Just Like Them. The frustrations of raising children alone are things I understand, having single-parented my own children, and her irritations with the too-handsome, but too-cavalier Logan are things that I can find totally believable. At one point in the book, Logan looked up Stella’s father and stepmother, and went to their home without telling Stella what he was doing, in order to ask her father’s permission to marry her. I thought to myself, “Stella is going to kick the gong when she finds out about this,” and sure enough, she did.  I thought that not because it was predictable writing–but because that’s what I would do in her shoes.

Blue Dahlia is top-shelf Nora Roberts, definitely worth a read. I rushed out the next afternoon after finishing it to crawl over my usual used-bookstore haunts to find Black Rose, and can’t wait to read it!

Review: Hawke by Sawyer Bennett

Review: Hawke by Sawyer BennettHawke (Cold Fury Hockey, #5) by Sawyer Bennett
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Series: Cold Fury Hockey #5
Pages: 275
Published by Loveswept on March 15th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

The Carolina Cold Fury hockey team proves that love is a power play. As Sawyer Bennett’s New York Times bestselling series continues, the league’s most notorious party animal gets blindsided by the one that got away.
Off the ice, elite defenseman Hawke Therrien enjoys his fair share of booze and good times. And why shouldn’t he? He’s worked his way up from the minor leagues and made himself a star. The only thing Hawke misses from that life is the pierced, tattooed free spirit who broke his heart without so much as an explanation. She’s almost unrecognizable when she walks back into his life seven years later—except for the look in her eyes that feels like a punch to the gut.
Vale Campbell isn’t the same girl she was at twenty. As crazy as she was about Hawke, her reckless behavior and out-of-control drinking were starting to scare her. She had to clean up her act, and that would never happen with Hawke around. Cutting him loose was the hardest thing Vale ever had to do—until now. Because she’s still crazy about Hawke. And if he could ever learn to forgive her, they just might have a future together.

My Review:

alex by sawyer bennettI picked this up because I have generally enjoyed Bennett’s Cold Fury Hockey series. However, looking at the progression of my reviews from the first book, Alex to the most recent book, Ryker, I can see that my feelings about this series have been on a downhill slide. I had originally planned to review it as part of a tour, but after I finished, I discovered that I just couldn’t. In spite of having enjoyed most of the earlier entries in the series, I did not like this book. It hit two of my hot buttons, and not in a good way.

As my readers are aware, I am not fond of the “misunderstandammit” that often creates the fake tension in a romance. You know what I mean, where the only reason the two protagonists are apart is because they just won’t sit down and communicate with each other. They get so caught up in thinking they know what is going on in the other person’s head or heart that they never just talk about it. And all too often, whatever it is they are assuming, read for the classic definition of “assume makes an ass out of u and me” is ridiculously petty, and it is always dead wrong.

In this story there are two big misunderstandammits. One is actually pretty big and important, but it gets cleared up in the middle of the book. By the time the issue is dealt with, I suspect there will be very few readers who haven’t already figured it out, but it is understandable that the heroine didn’t reveal it to the hero at the time it happened. Probably not a good choice on her part, but understandable.

And this reader was incredibly grateful that it wasn’t a secret baby. That’s a trope I dislike pretty intensely.

But there is a second misunderstandammit, and it turns out to be both petty and stupid. It’s petty in the sense that what turns out to be behind it was petty. That it is something the heroine is still unhappy with is not. But there was no vicious motive, just coincidence and happenstance. Life happens. What felt stupid was that while he gets closure, while he discovers what happened in the past and learns the reasons behind it, she never reveals that he hurt her as well. She’s supposed to be more forgiving than that. Why? He gets the air cleared but she doesn’t? And then, when that second secret bites them in the ass, she still doesn’t reveal it. A friend has to “woman up” for her.

That’s kind of where things fell apart for me. Not because of this particular incident, but because it fell into the pattern of the book. He gets whatever he wants, and she gives in.

There is a scene about a third of the way through, where he follows her to a private place at a party, intending to talk. Instead it turns into punishment sex that doesn’t go all the way. But we see this scene from inside his head, and she says no. She may still be into him, but it’s the wrong place and the wrong time. It’s not just that there is a party in the next room, but her current boyfriend is at that party. Whatever she still feels or doesn’t, this is wrong and she says so. Hawke doesn’t care that she said no, he wants to prove to her that she still wants him, so he coerces her participation, then backs out because of shit in his own head.

It felt like there were way too many times in this story where she said, “no”, or “not now” and he decided that what he wanted was more important than her “no” or that he knew best. To me, that is not romantic. It is controlling and borderline abusive. It also feeds into the mindset that “no” really means “yes” or that the woman’s agency doesn’t matter nearly as much as the man’s does. This one drops me out of the story every single time.

There are a whole lot of times where Hawke is sweet and caring, but it doesn’t change this tone for me.

When she finally reveals what happened years ago, part of her reason for breaking up with him was that she felt that if they stayed together, it would always be about him. He would swallow her up and she would never be anything more than his appendage. At the end of the story, it is all too clear that she was right then, and she’s still right now.

Escape Rating D  for very, very disappointed.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 3-27-16

Sunday Post

Happy Easter to those who celebrate the holiday. Happy first weekend of Spring to everyone in the Northern Hemisphere. And while it generally doesn’t get too cold here in the Atlanta area, the increasing amount of daylight every evening is definitely a welcome change. Except when the sun glares through the window over my computer. But that’s what curtains are for.

hoppy easter giveaway hopSpeaking of Easter, the Hoppy Easter Giveaway Hop runs through next Saturday, and the Fool for Books Giveaway Hop starts on Friday, April Fools Day. And, last but not least, Monday April 4 and Tuesday April 5 are my fifth annual Blogo-Birthday celebration. Reading Reality is celebrating its fifth birthday. As for my birthday, it’s a number much higher than five. We’ll have fun and I’ll be giving away some special prizes to share my celebration!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Hoppy Easter Giveaway Hop
Texas West handbag and wallet set courtesy of Victoria Vane

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Gift Card in the Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop is Michelle L.

dirty heart by rhys fordBlog Recap:

B Review: Beauty and the Bull Rider by Victoria Vane + Giveaway
A Review: Dirty Heart by Rhys Ford
B Review: The Total Package by Stephanie Evanovich
B Review: Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials by Ovidia Yu
Hoppy Easter Giveaway Hop
Stacking the Shelves (177)

fool for books giveaway hopComing Next Week:

Hawke by Sawyer Bennett (review)
Battlestorm by Susan Krinard (review)
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye (review)
Reader I Married Him by Tracy Chevalier (blog tour review)
The Darkest Touch by Gena Showalter (blog tour review)
Fool for Books Giveaway Hop

Stacking the Shelves (177)

Stacking the Shelves

For better or for worse, this looks like a more normal week. Two books on here that I was just about dying to get: Allegiance of Honor by Nalini Singh and Dawn of the Flame Sea by Jean Johnson. I love the Psy-Changeling series, and I scoop up everything of Jean Johnson’s the minute I see it available. Flame Sea is a new series, so I can’t wait to see where she’s going this time.  I also have high hopes for The Space Between Sisters. I was introduced to Mary McNear and Butternut Lake through a TLC tour, and they’ve had tours for every book in the series ever since.

For Review:
A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams
Allegiance of Honor (Psy-Changeling #15) by Nalini Singh
Alliance of Equals (Liaden Universe #19) by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Bite Deep (Pack of Sinners #1) by Rebekah Turner
City of Secrets by Stewart O’Nan
Dawn of the Flame Sea (Flame Seas #1) by Jean Johnson
Family Tree by Susan Wiggs
Just One Damned Thing After Another (Chronicles of St. Mary’s #1) by Jodi Taylor
Lab Girl by Hop Jahren
The Space Between Sisters (Butternut Lake #4) by Mary McNear
The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman
The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan
The World Weavers (Desert Rising #3) by Kelley Grant


Hoppy Easter Giveaway Hop

hoppy easter giveaway hop

Welcome to the Hoppy Easter Eggstravaganza Giveaway Hop, hosted by BookHounds.

So Happy Easter to those who celebrate it. Happy very early Passover to those like me who celebrate a different holiday around the Spring equinox. And for those who celebrate something completely different, or who just want to celebrate the start of Spring, happy everything!

Easter also means that it is time for the annual displaying of the Peeps.

A friend in Chicago always preferred them desiccated. She left her peeps out on top of the TV until they reached the optimum stage of dryness. Me, I’ve always thought the little devils looked better in displays than they tasted.

One of the funniest peep displays I’ve seen this year effectively combines two things I don’t eat – it’s a display of peeps crafted to look like sushi. Here’s Peepshi:

Peepshi from Serous Eats

So where do you munch on the Easter candy spectrum? Enter your favorite Easter candy in the Rafflecopter for your chance to win a $10 Gift Card or a $10 Book. I’ll be over here, biting the ears off my chocolate bunnies…

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more chances to win more terrific bookish prizes, hop on other to the other stops on the Eggstravaganza!

Review: Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials by Ovidia Yu

Review: Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials by Ovidia YuAunty Lee's Deadly Specials (Singaporean Mystery #2) by Ovidia Yu
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Singaporean Mystery #2
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on September 30th 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Rosie “Aunty” Lee, the feisty widow, amateur sleuth, and proprietor of Singapore’s best-loved home cooking restaurant, is back in another delectable, witty mystery involving scandal and murder among the city’s elite.
Few know more about what goes on in Singapore than Aunty Lee. When a scandal over illegal organ donation involving prominent citizens makes news, she already has a list of suspects. There’s no time to snoop, though—Aunty Lee’s Delights is catering a brunch for local socialites Henry and Mabel Sung at their opulent house.
Rumor has it that the Sung’s fortune is in trouble, and Aunty Lee wonders if the gossip is true. But soon after arriving at the Sung’s house, her curiosity turns to suspicion. Why is a storage house she discovers locked? What is the couple arguing about behind closed doors? Where is the guest of honor who never showed up?
Then, Mabel Sung and her son Leonard are found dead. The authorities blame it on Aunty Lee’s special stewed chicken with buah keluak, a local black nut that can be poisonous if cooked improperly. Aunty Lee has never carelessly prepared a dish. She’s certain the deaths are murder—and that they’re somehow linked to the organ donor scandal.
To save her business and her reputation, she’s got to prove it—and unmask a dangerous killer whose next victim may just be Aunty Lee.

My Review:

For a book that uncovers a very serious topic, Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials still retains its feel as a cozy mystery. While so much of the trouble revolves around Aunty Lee’s catering business, the case she finds herself in the middle of deals with the very dark side of compensated organ donations and medical tourism.

A lot of the people involved in this case turn out to be really sick, and they didn’t get that way from eating Aunty Lee’s cooking – not that they don’t try to blame the whole thing on her and her catering. Aunty Lee would probably have involved herself anyway – she does that for fun – but attacking her catering business closes out her one method of dealing with loneliness and widowhood – by fixing other people food and fixing other people’s problems.

aunty lees delights by ovidia yu(Word to the wise – just as in the first book in the series, Aunty Lee’s Delights, Aunty Lee cooks a lot, and it all sounds exotic and positively yummy. Even the things that may seem very strange to us, like fried anchovies. Do not read this book when you are hungry – you will find yourself spontaneously raiding your own kitchen, and possibly kitchens for several houses around!)

The story begins with Aunty Lee scouring the newspaper, and having her friend and companion Nina scouring the internet, for news of a suicide victim. A young woman came to Singapore to find her missing fiance, and commits suicide when neither he nor his body can be found. Her young man disappeared after agreeing to come to Singapore to donate a kidney. This type of organ donation for cash is strictly illegal in Singapore, but the young couple needed the money to get married. When he disappears, she is left bereft and pregnant.

While at the beginning Aunty Lee’s nose for trouble seems to be leading her to something unrelated to her own life, as usually happens the case quickly draws closer to home, even though the police and everyone else urge her to drop it – sometimes with threats.

Things start out simple. Aunty Lee caters a party for a family that seem to be movers and shakers in the Singapore upper crust. One of the fun things about Aunty Lee is that while she acts as if she is just a caterer and restaurant owner, she herself is actually a member of that upper crust. And as is often the case, the people who are looking down on her for working are really people that she could buy and sell several times over.

The house party falls apart fairly spectacularly. First a young man gatecrashes the party looking for his missing friend. Then two members of the family are found dead after eating one of Aunty Lee’s more famous dishes, a delight that is notorious for poisoning diners if the dish is not prepared properly. Of course, Aunty Lee always prepares everything properly.

But even as she is cleared of any possible involvement in what now looks like a murder-suicide, the family is still determined to drive her out of business so that she publicly takes the blame for the mess. It seems to Aunty Lee that the family is moving heaven, earth and their powerful social network, in order to suppress any attempt to search for the real killer.

And that’s where Aunty Lee steps in, up to her neck. Her honor is under threat. And she is all too aware that she will be prey to loneliness and depression without her business (and her need to look into everyone else’s business) to keep her occupied.

As they say, curiosity killed the cat. And if Aunty Lee isn’t careful, she might find herself in the same pickle.

Escape Rating B: At the beginning the case, or Aunty Lee’s involvement in it, seems more than a bit shambolic. There are too many suspects, many too many motives, and no clear path to zeroing in on a single one of either. Even Aunty Lee comments to herself, or to the portrait of her late husband that she regularly talks to, that she has all the elements of a case but they aren’t fitting together quite right. This recipe is missing a key ingredient.

Which she doesn’t find for about the first third of the story. At that point, things start making more sense and the pace picks up considerably. We’re still not there yet, but you can feel Aunty Lee closing in on a solution.

Aunty Lee sometimes plays herself for comic relief, pretending to be a confused little old lady when in fact she’s sharp as a tack and surprisingly spry for her age. As well as quite well off. And the police commissioner is an old and dear friend, which always helps when you insert yourself into murder investigations on a regular basis.

But the underlying story in Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials is not funny at all. The world of compensated organ donation is ugly and brutal. While the results in this particular case are ultimately tragic, as well as deadly for too many people who didn’t even know they were on the fringe of this dirty business, the problems that are exposed are dire and have no good solutions. The needs of people who will do almost anything in hopes of a better life are easily exploited by those who have enough money to circumvent the rules. And because it all operates under the table, it becomes a criminal enterprise where even the innocent are at risk.

That part of the case leaves the reader, and Aunty Lee, with no good answers. Only hard questions.

Review: The Total Package by Stephanie Evanovich

Review: The Total Package by Stephanie EvanovichThe Total Package by Stephanie Evanovich
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 256
Published by William Morrow on March 15th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

The New York Times bestselling author of Big Girl Panties and The Sweet Spot is back with a funny, sweet, and sizzling novel about the game of love, in which a hot quarterback must figure out how to score big with a beautiful and talented media analyst after a heartbreaking fumble.
Star quarterback, first-round draft-pick, and heartthrob Tyson Palmer has made a name for himself with his spectacular moves. When the head coach of the Austin Mavericks refuses to let him waste his million-dollar arm, Tyson makes a Hail Mary pass at redemption and succeeds with everyone . . . except Dani, whose negative comments about his performance draw high ratings and spectacular notices of her own.
Dani can’t forgive Tyson’s transgressions or forget the sizzling history the two of them shared in college, a passionate love Tyson casually threw away. And even more infuriating, he doesn’t realize that the bombshell with huge ratings is the cute girl whose heart he once broke.
But can a woman trying to claw her way to the top and a quarterback who knows all about rock bottom make it to the Super Bowl without destroying each other? And what will happen when Tyson—riding high now that he’s revived his career—realizes he needs to make an even more important comeback with Dani? Can he make some spectacular moves to get past her defenses—or will she sideline him for good?

My Review:

sweet spot by stephanie evanovichTrue confession: I picked up The Total Package because I enjoyed both Big Girl Panties and The Sweet Spot – sometimes in spite of, but mostly because of, issues I had with both stories. So I didn’t look at the blurb before grabbing this one. And I ended up liking The Total Package in spite of the fact that “secret baby” is possibly the trope I hate most.

Then again, the fact that the main character has said secret baby doesn’t have nearly as much impact on this story as secret babies normally do. Dani Carr is incredibly lucky – not only do her parents fully support her (emotionally not financially) in her single motherhood, but they are also more than happy to take over all childcare responsibilities for her secret baby while Dani is off to Austin pursuing her career.

While trying to convince herself that she isn’t really pursuing the baby’s father.

This is not a comment about Dani’s mothering or motherhood or anything else of that nature. Her situation works for her and her family, and the baby is well taken care of and that’s all fine. I am commenting that Dani’s family’s support makes it possible for this to be a secret baby story where caring for the secret baby has little impact on the story, which is unusual and made the story work better for me, but might strike other readers as unrealistic. Your mileage may vary.

The baby doesn’t feel important until the very end, when the secret is revealed in all its (actually his, it’s a boy!) toddling glory.

Because this is a secret baby story, we do get the scene where the secret baby is created, and it is not a love scene of which romantic dreams are made. Nor should it be. When our story begins, Dani Carr is going by her slightly realer name of Ella Carrino, and the baby’s father is Tyson Palmer, a former star quarterback skidding toward the end of his career in a haze of booze and prescription painkillers.

They knew each other in college, when he was the golden boy, and she was hired to tutor him in English, so he could keep up his grades and his eligibility. They flirted, because Tyson flirted with everything that moved. But Ella turned him down, and he respected and liked her all the more for it.

But of course she fell for him anyway. So when he comes back to town to wallow in Homecoming, she carts him off for a one-night stand. She doesn’t intend it to be one night – she has very fuzzy romantic dreams of giving him her virginity and being the one true friend who can help him out of the terrible mess he’s gotten himself into.

Instead he runs away, more or less straight into the arms of an NFL team owner who is willing to spend a lot of money on Tyson’s recovery and rehabilitation if Tyson will give him three years of great playing and hopefully a Super Bowl ring.

The story flashes forward to five years later, when Tyson is signed for his fourth year. While he hasn’t gotten the Austin Mavericks that Super Bowl ring, he has brought them up from the cellar of the league to the playoffs.

The Mavericks sign one new player, a phenom wide receiver who has been Palmer’s nightmare as an opposing player, but will be a dream to throw to when they are on the same side. But Marcus comes with two big strings attached. He’ll only sign if Tyson agrees to another year, and he’ll only sign if he gets to have his own press rep. And that’s where Dani Carr comes in. Marcus is only willing to talk with the up and coming sportscaster, and Dani is pretty much informed that it is an offer she can’t refuse. Either she becomes Marcus’ press rep, or she can kiss her sportscasting career goodbye.

But working with Marcus throws Dani back into Tyson’s orbit, and that’s where the real story is. At first Tyson doesn’t remember Dani, and Dani still has enough unresolved feelings about Tyson to translate to on-air animosity and on-the-field avoidance.

It takes an entire season for the Dani and Marcus to find out where they really stand with each other. Then Dani finally tells Tyson that he’s a father, and it all goes to hell in a handbasket. Unless their “guardian angel” can figure out a last minute “hail Mary pass” to save their relationship.

Escape Rating B: The overall theme of all three of Stephanie Evanovich’s books seems to be about being true to oneself, and not letting that self be seduced by whatever the dark side of the force might be in one’s profession, even if that profession is very high-profile and comes with many, many too many seducers to that dark side. In all three of her books so far, the hero at least, and often the heroine as well, have fallen into one self-inflicted trap or another, often for the most understandable of reasons, and need help getting themselves out, along with a whole lot of intestinal fortitude.

Big Girl Panties by Stephanie EvanovichAt the beginning of The Total Package, Tyson’s rescuer sends him to rehab for six weeks, and then delivers him to the less-than-tender mercies of Logan Montgomery, the high-profile “trainer to the stars” that we met in Big Girl Panties. It’s great to see that Logan and Holly are still happily ever after, and that Logan’s original hard-ass nature has retained the humanity that Holly brought out in him.

But the story at this point is Tyson’s. He quite literally “gets with the program” and works his way out of his addictions and his depression. The man who comes out of his ordeal is better, stronger and much more grounded. The fame no longer goes to his head because he’s already been where that leads and is certain that he doesn’t want to go there again. We don’t see Tyson struggle much to overcome his demons once the story moves forward. He seems to lead a charmed life – fictional portrayals of high-profile addicts usually have one or more episodes of backsliding, (I’m thinking of both House and Sherlock Holmes in Elementary), but Tyson never wavers.

That the story fast-forwards from Tyson’s re-emergence into the spotlight to the end of that third seasons seems like a good storytelling choice. Not a lot happens in those intervening years. Tyson gets better at living his life, but the years of being knocked around on the field are taking their toll. It is time for him to retire, and he’s ready to go before his body is broken irreparably.

And this is where the story really begins. We don’t ever get to know a whole lot about Marcus, but he clearly acts as Tyson and Dani’s guardian angel. Either Marcus is a little bit psychic, or he has developed his skills at reading people to a fine art. How he managed to always know where Tyson was going to throw the ball was amazing. That he figures out instantly that Dani and Tyson have unfinished business, and even the exact nature of that unfinished business, was awesome but just a bit “out there”, at least for this reader.

The tension between Dani and Tyson fuels the story. I’ll admit that as soon as their original sex scene finished, I knew she was going to be pregnant. Virgin having unprotected sex almost always leads that way in fiction, whatever the odds in real life.

Dani’s parents were amazingly understanding – not just about the pregnancy, but also Dani’s uncharacteristic unwillingness to admit that she knew perfectly well who the father was. Admittedly, when she found out she was pregnant Tyson was incommunicado in rehab. She didn’t know where he was or even if he was still alive. By the time he emerges from his seclusion, she still isn’t sure he should be told, and her reasoning isn’t unreasonable – she’s worried that his reform is either all an act, or that it won’t take.

But by the time they both end up part of the Mavericks’ organization, it’s been five years. While he could still backslide, Tyson has done all he can to prove that he’s responsible and staying on the straight and narrow. His inability to take any painkiller stronger than aspirin or ibuprofen with lots of ice is a big part of why he wants to retire. He is in pain, and continuing to play is just creating more pains that he can’t medicate away. It’s a tough road he’s on.

So we know how Dani got to where she is, what we watch is how she deals with it. And she still can’t resist Tyson, and we understand why. The man he is today is much more irresistible, and a much better human being, than the one she seduced five years ago.

What’s interesting about the story is that Dani doesn’t seem to have changed much at all. She’s just gotten very, very good at hiding who she really is.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Dirty Heart by Rhys Ford

Review: Dirty Heart by Rhys FordDirty Heart (Cole McGinnis, #6) by Rhys Ford
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Cole McGinnis #6
Pages: 204
Published by Dreamspinner Press LLC on March 21st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

Final book in the Dirty Series arc.
Former LAPD detective Cole McGinnis’s life nearly ended the day his police partner and best friend Ben Pirelli emptied his service weapon into Cole and his then-lover, Rick. Since Ben turned his gun on himself, Cole thought he’d never find out why Ben tried to destroy him.
Years later, Cole has stitched himself back together. Now a private investigator and in love with Jae-Min Kim, a Korean-American photographer he met on a previous case, Cole’s life is back on track—until he discovers Jeff Rollins, a disgraced cop and his first partner, has resurfaced and appears to be working on the wrong side of the law.
As much as Cole’s fought to put the past behind him, he’s soon tangled up in a web of lies, violence, and death. Jeff Rollins is not only trying to kill Cole’s loved ones, he is also scraping open old wounds and long-forgotten memories of the two men Cole loved and lost. Cole is sure Rollins knows why Ben ruined all their lives, but he isn’t looking for answers. Now Cole is caught in a cat-and-mouse game with a cold-blooded killer with the key to not only his past but his future.

My Review:

dirty kiss by rhys fordThe entire Cole McGinnis series has been, not surprising based on the title, Cole McGinnis’ journey. He began the series in Dirty Kiss as an ex-LAPD cop, scarred, bitter and confused, still mourning the death of his lover Rick. The confusion Cole feels is due to the manner of Rick’s death. Rick was killed by Cole’s LAPD partner Ben, who also shot Cole and then ate his own gun.

So the man Cole thought of as a brother shot him and killed the man he loved before killing himself. And Cole, surviving but grief-stricken and wounded, has no idea why. The lack of that “why” haunts Cole though the entire series, as he moves from broken to standing tall, as he falls in love again, as he gathers a family around himself that is a mix of the best parts of his family-of-birth and the family-of-choice that bonds to him and his lover Kim Jae-Min.

But Cole is still looking for that why. Even when Ben’s widow jumps out of the shadows in an attempt to punish Cole for surviving when Ben died (in Dirty Deeds) Cole still has no clue why Ben tipped all their lives into the trash.

In Dirty Heart, Cole finally, finally gets the answers. He gets closure. And so do we.

But nothing for Cole has ever come easy, and this story is no exception.

It all starts with a case. As it usually does. Cole’s brother Mike owns a security company, and one of Mike’s clients keeps getting shot at. His client is an important man in the LA Korean business community, and has more than a few enemies, along with an estranged wife. But Mike’s client is the brother of one of Jae-Min’s mentors, so it also loops back to Cole.

As does the identity of the shooter. The would-be assassin is also an ex-LAPD cop, and he was Cole’s first partner. That is, until Rollins resigned in a huff over a few days desk duty after a very righteous shoot.

Then Rollins shoots Mike, and Cole finds himself holding his brother’s life together, and stuck with the conclusion that whatever this mess is, it’s all about him. Someone is out to get him. Again.

So Cole chases Rollins, and Rollins chases Cole by hunting down everyone Cole is close to. Cole finds himself frantically trying to keep all his “hostages to fortune” in safe places while hunting a crazed killer who wants to make Cole bleed before he kills him.

And it all circles back to Rick, Cole and Ben, and the night his life went into the crapper. Cole can’t move all the way forwards until he clears up that one broken question from his past. If he survives.

Escape Rating A: Dirty Heart is the awesome ending to a six-book series, so don’t start here. Start with Dirty Kiss and immerse yourself in Cole’s journey. It’s sometimes desperate and nearly always death-defying, but it makes the payoff in Dirty Heart so much sweeter.

I’ve loved this series from the beginning, and I couldn’t wait to see how things finally got wrapped up. So I read this book the afternoon I got the ARC, and finished about three hours later, absolutely mind-blown. But I had to promise not to reveal that final why in order to get my review copy, so if you are a fan of the series and desperately want to know, you’ll have to read the book for yourself.

And it is so worth it. One of the things that has made this series so marvelous is the way that Cole has found himself in the middle of his family without ever intending to create a family. Or fall in love again. Each person who has become part of his life, from his ex-cop buddy Bobby to his adopted mother (and office manager) Claudia to his lover Jae-Min brings Cole one step closer to healing. The banter between all of these very disparate characters brings a human-ness and a frequent chuckle to what is often a dark case.

I love the way that Cole takes care of Jae-Min’s little cat Neko. Neko is an everycat, and she so clearly has Cole wrapped around her little paw in a way that is just so very feline.

I will say that the case that gets solved in this book gave me a bit of a mixed reaction. The pacing was relentless. Cole is always one step behind a man who is gunning for him by proxy. He is always scrambling to either get out of the way of the next bullet, protect his loved ones, or visit someone in the hospital. His brain is toast half the time and he’s desperate all the time and he never catches a break.

The information about Cole’s past, the time before Rick and his early years in the LAPD, added even more layers to an already complex and interesting character.

But, while it was fantastic to finally get the answers about Ben’s actions long ago, I’ll admit that I never quite got why Rollins was gunning for Cole now, beyond him being a crazed psychopath. But I’ll also admit I rushed through that bit to get to the stuff I really wanted to know. An ending which completely satisfied.

If you’ve ever even dipped into the Cole McGinnis series, Dirty Heart is the heart-stopping, heart-breaking conclusion that you’ve been waiting for.