Guest Review: Accidentally Yours by Bettye Griffin

Guest Review: Accidentally Yours by Bettye GriffinAccidentally Yours by Bettye Griffin
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Pages: 288
Published by Bunderful Books on August 6, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
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A romantic comedy available for the first time as an eBook (originally published under the title Prelude to a Kiss)...

Vivian St. James, facing both a new millennium and her thirty-fifth birthday, vows that this will be her last New Year's Eve spent at home in front of the TV. Determined to meet her Mr. Right, she throws herself into an avid social life, attending events all over the greater New York metropolitan area in search of her dream man. While successful in her quest to meet potential mates, soon an unfortunate pattern develops as accidents or sudden illnesses befall her candidates, one by one. To her chagrin, the treating physician on duty is always the handsome Dr. Zachary Warner...

ER physician Zack Warner finds himself captivated by the dark-skinned beauty who presents to the ER accompanying an injured date. But the presence of her escort makes it impossible to act on his attraction, and when she leaves the facility he figures he'll never see her again. But their paths do cross again, as he is called on to treat Vivian's companions. As the injuries pile up, he good-naturedly ribs her about her unfortunate effect on the men she dates, all the while longing to have her attentions for himself. His making light of her increasingly worrisome situation does anything but endear him to a mortified Vivian, who wonders if she's some kind of jinx. But then Zack finds himself on the casualty list...and their uneasy relationship takes a new, easy, turn that surprises them both...

Guest Review by Amy:

HR executive Vivian St. James is sneaking up on 35, and still single. Dates just don’t work out, going at it the way she has been. So she gets involved in events all over New York, trying to find Mr. Right. Somehow, the guys she ends up meeting keep getting hurt, and she takes them to the ER, where she keeps bumping into physician Zach Warner. Jinx? Or is the universe trying to tell her something?

Escape Rating: A: This story was originally published by Harlequin in 2001, as Prelude to a Kiss.  A couple of things stood out as differences: a) the cover of the later publication did not make it obvious that this story featured African-American characters, and b) the new title is much more interesting and true to the story. Some reviewers, apparently ones who read Accidentally Yours, kvetched about the fact they didn’t realize until they were well into the story that all the main characters were persons-of-color. One critic frothed that they were “1/4 of the way through” before they figured it out.  To them, I say, “pishantosh.” It’s made clear quite early on, and the mental shift that I had to go through as a white woman — we make characters in our own image, after all — was refreshing to me.

Bettye Griffin has given us a fun little rom-com tale here. There’s a fair bit going on; we meet Vivian’s best friend, her neighbors, her parents, and a series of guys that she dates (and takes to the ER) along the way. She’s not really a jinx, of course, those guys were just unlucky, and stuff happens. There’s almost a comedy-of-errors flavor going on in this book. It’s glaringly obvious from the outset that Zach is the Mr. Right that Vivian is looking for, naturally. Zach and his buddy (who is the fiancee of one of Vivian’s close friends) turn out to be Vivian’s landlords, but no one’s telling anyone that they know this, they’re both just circling around and thinking surely the other has better things going on. But when Zach falls and sprains his ankle, and Vivian runs him to the ER, things take a turn. His brownstone is full of steps, as brownstones tend to be, so he ends up staying on her sofa for the week.

Things could have gotten hot at that point in the story, but Griffin throws us a knuckleball, and they don’t. Zach and Vivian have both discovered that they kinda like the domesticity of “being together,” but still don’t quite manage to bring things together. A few weeks later, they’re both on safari vacations — and bump into each other there, quite unexpectedly. Sparks fly, and when they get back to New York, they go on a date, then don’t see each other for a couple of weeks before flying out together to go to Desireé and Austin’s wedding. Ever the gentleman, he gets them a lovely suite for their stay in Denver. The comedy-of-errors continues, but I shan’t spill all the details. There’s some pretty intense tension in this book, and when it finally gets resolved, it does so beautifully, with two people who have fallen pretty hard for each other, just taking a while to realize it. The book trips along blissfully to the utterly-predictable ending.

Serious read? Absolutely not. Fun romp of a romance? Totally.

Guest Review: Clone Hunter by Victor Methos

Guest Review: Clone Hunter by Victor MethosClone Hunter by Victor Methos
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction
Series: Clone Rebellion Chronicles #1
Pages: 366
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on August 19, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteBook Depository
Goodreads

Born in a laboratory for war or pleasure, they live as slaves, unable to fight those that oppress them . . . all, except one.

A single clone is no longer willing to live in slavery and has declared war on those that would subjugate her.

Hunted by the most powerful men in existence and a threat to the social order, if she wants her freedom she must fight her way through bounty hunters, war machines, and the deadliest enemy of all: her own kind . . .

Guest Review by Amy:

Clones were created quite some time back, to be super-soldiers. But what do you do with your super-soldiers when the war is over? It’s a theme that’s been explored again and again, and in this case, the clones become — servants. Slaves. It’s a problem that won’t last forever, you see, because they can’t breed.

Except, at least one can. The Powers That Be want her dead, and trying to gun her down with a human assassin just won’t work, so they program and send one of her own. And there’s a clone rebellion brewing, to top it off.

Escape Rating C: We have here a sci-fi action/adventure, with a premise that fans of the genre have seen more than once, I’m sure. And to tell the truth, I was looking forward to seeing how this variation got handled.

There’s action a-plenty, with enough plot twists to keep me reading through a three-hour flight, and the cast of characters are all pretty interesting people in their own right. It’s a bit unclear who the heroes and villains are at the outset, and to my mind, it’s never entirely certain who the “good guys” are, or if they’ll save the day. The clones are fighting a one-world-government for their freedom, and apparently there are more than a few who could breed, given the opportunity, and there’s a big-time planetbuster bomb hidden away somewhere…

I wanted to say I enjoyed this book, and indeed, it has all the ingredients for a tasty, straightforward sci-fi read. But it has some rather-massive mechanical problems, in my mind. First off, we see the world from no less than five different viewpoints during the book. Yes, each chapter was titled with the name of the person whose head we’re inhabiting, but after a while, it got a little tiring, with all the switchee-swapee. Additionally, since we frequently cover the same event from two (or more!) viewpoints, it comes off as repetitive and tiring, especially since those events are often the most-violent in the book.

If we’d seen snippets of things that interlaced and came together for one big finale, as in John M. Ford’s How Much for Just the Planet? I’d have been a lot happier with this interaction. (Editor’sNote: John M. Ford was a genius who didn’t write nearly enough and was taken much too soon.) While that story was a multiple point-of-view comedy-of-errors (in the Star Trek universe!) that led us to a hilarious conclusion, this one was just an error, without any comedy, and with a whole lot of seriously savage killing and violence replayed for us, over and over. Methos’ habit of multiple first-person views result in an awful lot of sentences starting with “I,” and frankly, it makes the multiple point-of-view construction of the book come off as cheap and poorly written.

There are apparently more books set in this world, but I won’t be hunting them down for a read. This book and the series from which it comes might be your cup of tea, but it wasn’t mine, regrettably.

 

Guest Review: Dearly Beloved by Peggy Yeager

Guest Review: Dearly Beloved by Peggy YeagerDearly Beloved (A Match Made in Heaven Book 1) by Peggy Jaeger
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Match Made in Heaven #1
Pages: 430
Published by The Wild Rose Press on November 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Colleen O'Dowd manages a thriving bridal business with her sisters in Heaven, New Hampshire. After fleeing Manhattan and her cheating ex-fiancé, Colleen still believes in happily ever afters. But with a demanding business to run, her sisters to look after, and their 93-year-old grandmother to keep out of trouble, she's worried she'll never find Mr. Right.

Playboy Slade Harrington doesn't believe in marriage. His father's six weddings have taught him life is better as an unencumbered single guy. But Slade loves his little sister. He'll do anything for her, including footing the bill for her dream wedding. He doesn't plan on losing his heart to a smart-mouthed, gorgeous wedding planner, though.

When her ex-fiancé comes back into the picture, Colleen must choose between Mr. Right and Mr. Right Now.

Guest Review by Amy:

Given what Colleen had been through, we shouldn’t be surprised if she’s burnt out on the whole idea of marriage. Which she is – for herself. She’s enjoying running her own wedding-planning business, with collaboration from her sisters, in the small town from whence she came. And she’s apparently good at it: wealthy socialites from all over retain her to plan their nuptials, and she’s happy to deliver.

Isabella Harrington and her beau are her latest happy couple, with the wedding coming up soon. And things are ticking along swimmingly, until Colleen meets Izzy’s brother Slade Harrington. He loves his sis, and he’s the checkbook behind this wonderful wedding. He’s not sparing the shekels, it’s true – but he may be the most frustratingly handsome man in existence.

Escape Rating: A: Small-business owner lady, wealthy playboy – it’s a common trope, and author Peggy Yeager has given us a pleasant if predictable spin on the story. This book isn’t going to challenge your thinking about world-shaking things, but it does deliver a briskly-moving, sweet story of two people from very different worlds falling for each other. Along the way, we have a nice collection of interesting side characters: Isabella, Isabella’s mother (Slade’s stepmother), Isabella and Slade’s father, a famously exotic supermodel who’s seen with Slade way too often for Colleen’s taste, Colleen’s sisters and grandmother, and even the local chief of police round out an interesting and diverse cast of characters who add a wonderful flavor.

Slade, for his part, has always lived the part of playboy, although his own life experience has him soured on the idea of a long-term relationship. He’s a serious cynic about it, and not at all interested in the long game. Except, well, that wedding planner lady is really…really…ahem.  Nope, not gonna do it.  Back and forth he goes with Colleen, playing get-away-closer for quite a big chunk of the book. Colleen, for her part, is enjoying all the attention, but she’s not really interested in someone from a world too like that of her ex (who, of course, must turn up a couple of times in the story, just to stir the pot a little).  Back and forth she goes…and so it goes, until right after the wedding, and Colleen finds out that he did something that – in her mind – was Really Bad. A violation of her trust! An end run around something she’d already laid down the law on! What a dastard!

Being a stereotypical Irish redheaded lass, she lets him have it with both barrels, and walks away from their budding relationship, just as it was starting to get pretty interesting. But of course, neither of them is happy with this, and it takes something pretty serious happening to convince each of them to bend.

One of the things I liked the most about this tale is that we spend a the whole book firmly in Colleen’s point of view. The tale is told first-person, and we’re given a rich look at her own internal dialogue, even as she (and we) see things going on around her. Her moments of self-deprecation reminded me rather a lot of my own. There but for the grace of…well, whatever. I could really identify with some of her more-flustered moments, and that really got me engaged with this story.

If you’re looking for a great lazy-day read, here’s a good one for your list. It’s a feel-good story without too much complexity, well-crafted and easy to get into. Enjoy.

Guest Review: Sten by Chris Bunch & Allan Cole

Guest Review: Sten by Chris Bunch & Allan ColeSten by Allan Cole, Chris Bunch
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure, science fiction, space opera
Series: Sten #1
Pages: 310
Published by Orbit on August 12th 1982
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This is the first book in the action-packed science fiction series, Sten. Vulcan is a factory planet, centuries old, company-run, ugly as sin, and unfeeling as death. Vulcan breeds just two types of native—complacent or tough. Sten is tough. When his family is killed in a mysterious accident, Sten rebels, harassing the Company from the metal world’s endless mazelike warrens. He could end up just another burnt-out Delinquent, but people like Sten never give up.

Guest review by Amy:

Karl Sten grew up on the industrial hellworld of Vulcan. His parents and siblings were all killed by the callous, uncaring machine-world they lived in, as a result of an industrial accident. Workers on Vulcan were on ironclad contracts that were rigged to give the Company the rest of a worker’s life. Until Sten rebelled. But escaping from Vulcan was only the first of his many adventures…

Escape Rating: A: Have you ever circled back to an old favorite from years ago, only to find out it’s not quite as good as you remember? I first read this book when I was in high school; it was originally published in 1982. The cover, back then, didn’t make it clear that this book was the first of the series, and I found it in a used bookstore, all by itself. I remember thinking, “wow, this is a great story–why don’t those guys write some more?” They did, of course, and the Sten series eventually spanned 8 books, all following Sten’s epic career after his departure from Vulcan. I didn’t find the others for a few years, but when I did, I hungrily devoured the whole series.

Now, when I say, “not quite as good as I remember,” I don’t mean to imply that Sten is a stinker–by no means! It’s a wonderful tale, fast-paced with lots of action and excitement, a cast of colorful characters, a villain that you can really love to despise, and enough hard sci-fi in there to keep geeks interested.

The Company’s boss, Baron Thoreson, is up to no good. He’s got a top-secret project that will, he hopes, let him control an even bigger chunk of the universe. He (rightly) understands that information is power – and once two people know something, it’s not a secret any more, it’s information. The Eternal Emperor is the sole holder of the secret of Anti-Matter Two, the molecule that powers…well, everything. It powers space ships, making interstellar travel possible, and can even be weaponized–the Imperial Guard’s primary weapon shoots tiny pellets of the stuff.

Sten, born on Vulcan and a teenager when our story starts, loses his family and takes up his father’s contract. He rapidly figures out just how rigged the system is, and he rebels, eventually escaping to lead a gang of juvenile criminals, the Delinqs. It’s there that the Emperor’s right-hand man Ian Mahoney finds Sten, while on an undercover mission to find out what the Baron is up to. Sten ends up leaving Vulcan, and joining the Imperial Guard. But Sten isn’t an infantry type – so after he washes out, Mahoney whisks him away to the top-secret Mercury Corps for deep intel work.

Sounds like a rollicking good adventure, right? Well, it is. There are fascinating people to meet at every phase of this story for Sten (and for us!), some great scenery, some cool tech, great battles…all the ingredients are here.

So what’s wrong with it? I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to figure that out. Sten moves really, really fast – and there’s the niggling thing that’s bothering me about it, and keeps it from being the great story I remember reading thirty-ish years ago. It moves too fast. In this first book, at least, we don’t really get into Sten’s head at all, though the bulk of the story centers on him. Things truck along, third-person with the camera pretty firmly pointed at Sten, and at the end, I’m wanting to dig deeper into this fascinating man.

So, I’ll take a minor point off for that. It’s possible that my familiarity with the book is part of what’s driving that odd feeling, so let’s not gig the book too badly. Others have called this a “hidden masterpiece” and an “underrated classic,” and I’ll buy that. For fans of hard military sci-fi, Sten is pure candy. Read and enjoy, then go see if you can find the rest of the series more quickly than I did!

Guest Review: H2O by Irving Belateche

Guest Review: H2O by Irving BelatecheH2O by Irving Belateche
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: dystopian, post apocalyptic, science fiction, thriller
Pages: 198
Published by Laurel Canyon Press on November 8, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBook Depository
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Roy Walker is curious. But in a world where knowledge has disappeared, curiosity will get you killed.

Generations ago, the Passim Virus wiped out most of humanity. The survivors banded together to form the Territory and, now, decades later, no one questions why knowledge has disappeared. Why should they? They're lucky to be alive.

But Roy doesn't feel so lucky. He's haunted by the murder of his father and he's ostracized by everyone in town. He asks way too many questions, especially about the water pumped out by the town's desalination plant.

Then Roy finds a tantalizing clue that leads him down the coast of what used to be the state of Oregon. He's stunned at what he discovers. Everything in the Territory is a lie and everything around him is a front. But to uncover the dark secret behind this front, Roy must venture deeper into the wilderness where marauders and the deadly Passim Virus wait to kill.

It's there, outside the Territory, where he discovers the truth about his father's murder and where he meets his unexpected destiny -- To free humanity from the bondage of a powerful enemy.

Guest review by Amy:

Curiosity killed the cat, the old saying goes, though Roy Walker probably never has known that, since quite a lot of the vast body of human knowledge has been lost. Once the Passim Virus wiped out vast swaths of humanity, the survivors didn’t have time to… wait.

They didn’t have time to keep up a lot of the tools and technology that actually would have made surviving easier? Something doesn’t add up here.

Escape Rating: B+: I’m normally excited about post-apocalyptic adventure/thrillers; to me, it’s interesting to see how the author constructs their world. Does it look kind of like ours? What technologies develop in the ad hoc world after whatever-it-was-that-happened? What technology and culture falls by the wayside? Action, adventure, romance, all those things being in there are all a big plus to the central theme of “modern” humans trying to survive.

Author Irving Belateche has given us a slice of our own world, on the US West Coast, and quite a lot of it looks familiar. Houses, people, vehicles, even the desalination plant that our protagonist maintains, all look more-or-less normal. There are just lots of empty houses, and no one knows, really, what’s outside “the Territory,” and everyone’s scared to find out, because of the Virus.

To me, right from that point, this story has a problem for me. Humankind likes to connect, to explore, to get out there in the wild blue yonder and find things out. It’s what we do, and it’s made us the apex life form on this planet over the last several thousand years, and even gotten us into space.

To see a huge area of the United States cut itself off and be content with that strikes me as odd, right out of the gate. And a question in my mind from the get-go was “what happened to the libraries?” There are quite a few great big ‘uns along the Washington-Oregon-California coast; surely someone would have thought to go look for a computer repair manual in one of them? Or a copy of Programming Perl? Instead, we’re led to believe that writing software and maintaining computers are some magical voodoo that few can do–and, indeed, people are punished for doing so. As a software developer on my day job, and having worked with developers for thirty years, I’m just not buying this. Life, and software, always finds a way, to borrow loosely from Jurassic Park, but Belateche somehow wants us to believe that that’s not the case. Humanity’s vast banks of knowledge – libraries – are thoroughly ignored, not even mentioned once in the book.

I’ll let that go, for a moment, and suspend the big disbelief that threw me off-kilter here. The story itself has a lot of interesting points. There’s the worry about catching the Virus, the traveling without the “Fibs” (law enforcement) finding them, even a whiff of what could have eventually turned into some kind of love interest. Roy Walker is curious where all the water goes, naturally, since he maintains the water plant, and he knows it makes more than his local community could be using. That drives him to do something he shouldn’t (“finally! Someone acting like a real human,” Amy says to herself) and he goes to find out where all the water is going. At first, he thinks it’s corruption or some other criminal activity, but of course we’re given a deeper reason, and that is, in fact, why the Virus happened in the first place. There’s a decent adventure story under the hood here, and once Roy figures out what’s really going on, a straightforward redeem-humanity plot emerges from the earlier confusion. Our accidental hero is quite heroic, our villain suitably nasty, and the final confrontation satisfying.

Other people have liked this book a lot more than I did, from the reviews. My problem, as I noted above, is that it required a little more suspension of disbelief a little more than I was willing to give it. If that doesn’t present a problem for you, and you like post-apocalyptic stories, this one might be one you’d enjoy. It wasn’t my favorite, but it wasn’t a stinker, either.

Guest Review: Sentinel of Darkness by Katie Reus

Guest Review: Sentinel of Darkness by Katie ReusSentinel of Darkness (Darkness Series) (Volume 8) by Katie Reus
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Darkness #8
Pages: 152
Published by KR Press on October 16, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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She thought she’d put her past behind her…

Local artist Keva might be human, but she knows about the things that go bump in the night. Years ago, a dragon shifter saved her from certain death. Ever since, she’s lived in his clan’s territory and put her life back together. But the feeling of security is only an illusion, because her past has come back to haunt her. A past with claws and fangs, demanding blood.

He’ll do whatever it takes to defend his mate…

Dagen has finally met his mate—except he insults her the first time they meet. He’s not too proud to grovel to get back into her good graces. But when a threat from her past emerges, he realizes that he’ll do anything to keep her safe. Even if it means dying—or losing her forever.

Length: 30,000 words

Author note: This is a stand-alone story in the Darkness series complete with an HEA and no cliffhanger.

Darkness series: 1. Darkness Awakened 2. Taste of Darkness 3. Beyond the Darkness 4. Hunted by Darkness 5. Into the Darkness 6. Saved by Darkness 7. Guardian of Darkness 8. Sentinel of Darkness

Guest review by Amy:

Here’s a note from the Fair Warnings Department: Right up front, in the prologue’s third paragraph, we’re told that our heroine had been raped by her ex-boyfriend, a wolf shifter who was at that very moment chasing her down for further violence. I almost put the book down on the spot, and I’m fairly certain that there will be some readers who may find that triggering, and should therefore give this one a miss. Those events are not depicted, but they are mentioned by Keva later in the book, as a past-tense event in her life. Caveat emptor.

The messiness four years ago has turned out pretty okay for Keva. Randall’s dead, and she’s found a place to be, and do her art, where she feels pretty safe. The local dragon clan has her (literally) under their wing, and while she’s not closely integrated with them, she knows them, and knows that their Alpha is looking out for her well-being. New clan member Dagen (a distant relative of the Alpha, Conall) has moved into town, and discovers Keva – and knows almost at once that she’s the mate for him.

Escape Rating: A-: I’ve said in the past that I’m not a huge paranormal-romance fan; it’s got to be well-done, and the paranormal aspects sanely presented, or I’m just not having it. When you throw in the terroristic aspects of the first few paragraphs, this one started on a slightly-off note for me. But that moment is brief, and passes quickly as Randall gets his comeuppance. Keva was rescued by the local dragon clan, and Connall and his family keep an eye on things. Dagen comes to town, a businessman in his human form, and tries to buy her shop away from her at an insultingly low price. Connall, when made aware of this, made it clear she wasn’t to be messed with in that way, so Dagen goes to apologize – and falls for her.

This book is novella-length, so things move fast. Randall’s brother shows up with blood in his eye, and, well, wolf-shifters appear to be mostly insane. Dagen really, really wants to protect her, as she’s the mate he wants. So he sets himself as guard over her home, and when she wakes in the morning and sees him in his dragon form, she’s even more enamored with him. Things proceed as they should, with both of them revealing past traumas which help to equalize their relationship more than Keva thought possible at first.

I’ve said in the past that our paranormals must be “normal” people to me, and as much as that’s possible for dragon shifters, author Katie Reus gives us that. Besides the dragons, we have wolves and mention is made of bears as well, though we do not meet one directly. But our paranormal beings here don’t deny their nature, they embrace it, while working around the strictures of a life in the early 21st century.

This book is a quick, tidy read, with a straightforward story that ends right where a fairy-tale story must. Once it was clear that these two people were our protagonists, I had to wonder if a dragon shifter can or would allow themselves to be ridden (yes, I’m an Anne McCaffrey fan, from way, way back, and the dragons may have saved this book for me). Can Dagen take her flying? Is it as wondrous a thing as it absolutely must be for this tale to work? You’ll have to read Sentinel of Darkness to find out – and if shifter romance is one of your preferences, I recommend that you do so.

Guest Review: Mischief and Mayhem by L. E. Rico

Guest Review: Mischief and Mayhem by L. E. RicoMischief and Mayhem (Whiskey Sisters, #2) by L.E. Rico, Lauren E. Rico
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Whiskey Sisters #2
Pages: 315
Published by Entangled Publishing on July 9, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Welcome to Mayhem, Minnesota, home of the Knitty Kitty, The Little Slice of Heaven Pie Shop, and O’Halloran’s Pub—owned by the four young women known as The Whiskey Sisters.

In the wake of her divorce, Jameson O’Halloran has gone man-vegan. And this is one diet she’s determined to stick with. Even when her long-lost ex-brother-in-law shows up looking like two scoops of double dutch dipped in chocolate… She’s not giving in. Been there and still wearing the messy T-shirt.

It’s been a decade since Scott Clarke left his family and his hometown, never to return. But when tragedy strikes, he finds himself dragged back to the land of gossip, judgment, and the one woman he absolutely, positively, without a doubt can never have. His brother’s ex is off-limits. He just needs to keep repeating that to himself until it sinks in.

Guest review by Amy:

Jameson – and what an odd name for a girl, don’t you think? – is finally well and truly done with her ex. She loves her father-in-law, and she loves her son, so she’s trying to keep things civil, and so far, so good. Sorta-happily-ever-after, yeah? Well, of course, something has to happen to upset the tidy balance, and when father-in-law “Big Win” has a stroke, and they find out that his health care proxies are his other son, and his now-ex-daughter-in-law, ex-hubs Winston pitches a fit.

Other-brother Scott is traveling the world, and hasn’t been home in a decade; there’s some tension between him and his father, so when the nonprofit he’s working with gets a message to him in Mexico, he’s reluctant to head home. But he does, and realizes that there have been sparks between him and Jameson for a long, long time. Things get complex, very fast.

Escape Rating: A+: This is hands-down one of my favorite reads so far this year. No fame-and-fortune here, no paranormal shenanigans, nothing that couldn’t happen to you or me, really, just a story about real people, living out very, very complicated relationships. There are a lot of side stories here – Jameson’s younger sister is one of the county fair’s royalty, Winston is having some kind of something-or-other with another member of the court, a girl a decade younger than him, Scott and his lawyer brother can’t get along, and that leads Scott to uncover something about his own backstory…subplots abound.  But buried in there is a romance that neither Scott nor Jameson thinks should happen, at first, but they gradually grow into. This central thread is shepherded along by a recovering Big Win, who just wants to see them both happy. When the whole truth finally comes out about what happened in Mayhem, Minnesota thirty years ago, it shakes everyone’s world quite a bit.

Sounds good so far, right?  But almost-certainly Marlene or I have read at least one complicated story along the way as good or better. What sets Mischief and Mayhem apart, for this reader, was the exceptional craftsmanship of the tale. Author Rico gives us a good story, easy to fall into. But the exceptional care she took to think the characters through, and make sure that they are presented in an engaging way really shines. We flip back and forth in point-of-view throughout the book, and both of our main characters’ internal dialogues are clear, consistent, and distinct. You don’t need to be told at the top of the chapter whose head we’re in for this chapter, really, because it’s obvious from what they’re thinking. One of the funny quirks Scott ended up with is that he’s kind of behind on technology. After Jameson shows him what Siri is on his father’s borrowed iPhone, he’s entertained enough that in the interludes between chapters, he talks to the AI (and texts with Jameson’s sister Hennessy), and these provide brief giggles that serve as a sort of Greek chorus, giving us these tiny insights into whats going on.

Our settings are rich and easy to envision, the cast of secondary characters are all complicated beings without being contrived, and our “villain” is suitable to the story. Robert Heinlein wrote in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls that for every great hero, you need a great villain; the more heroic your hero, the nastier the villain must be, or things get out of balance and the story doesn’t work. Jameson’s ex Winston is, as I see it, the perfectly-crafted villain for this tale. We don’t need a scorch-the-earth supervillain here; we need a nasty ex-husband. Winston is not really an overwhelmingly bad guy, he’s just petty and vain and kind of a hot mess of his own, and since he won’t own his own problems, he complicates life for Jameson and Scott in order to feel powerful. He’s a “real” person, and having had my own share of ex-partners, I can totally see him as the perfect exasperating ex.

I could rave on about this book for a long, long time, I suppose, but that’d waste time that you should spend reading Mischief and Mayhem. If contemporary romance is your jam, here’s a beautifully crafted tale to enjoy, which has my strongest possible endorsement.

Guest Review: Poison Fruit by Jacqueline Carey

Guest Review: Poison Fruit by Jacqueline CareyPoison Fruit (Agent of Hel, #3) by Jacqueline Carey
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Agent of Hel #3
Pages: 437
Published by Roc Hardcover on October 7, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The hot-as-Hel series with the “Sookie Stackhouse type of vibe” (Paranormal Horizon) is back—but this time the paranormal Midwestern town of Pemkowet is feeling a frost in the air and the residents are frozen in fear...

The Pemkowet Visitors Bureau has always promoted paranormal tourism—even if it has downplayed the risks (hobgoblins are unpredictable). It helps that the town is presided over by Daisy Johanssen, who as Hel’s liaison is authorized by the Norse goddess of the dead to keep Pemkowet under control. Normally, that’s easier to do in the winter, when bracing temperatures keep folks indoors.

But a new predator is on the prowl, and this one thrives on nightmares. Daisy is on her trail and working intimately with her partner and sometime lover from the Pemkowet PD, sexy yet unavailable werewolf Cody Fairfax. But even as the creature is racking up innocent victims, a greater danger looms on Pewkowet’s horizon.

As a result of a recent ghost uprising, an unknown adversary—represented by a hell-spawn lawyer with fiery powers of persuasion—has instigated a lawsuit against the town. If Pemkowet loses, Hel’s sovereignty will be jeopardized, and the fate of the eldritch community will be at stake. The only one who can prevent it is Daisy—but she’s going to have to confront her own worst nightmare to do it.

Guest review by Amy:

Winter has come to Pemkowet, and the Agent of ancient Norse Goddess-of-Death Hel is breathing a sigh of relief over the end of the haunting October. It was a mess, to be sure, but lives were saved, so maybe she can relax a little?  Maybe?  And take some time to figure out which of two men she can actually get serious about?

Not so fast. If Jacqueline Carey ever gave us a straight-up romance without something wild happening, I’d eat my hat. Fortunately, my hat is safe; remember that odd lawyer that was running around Pemkowet buying up property? Hel had asked her agent, half-human, half-demon Daisy Johanssen to investigate, and with the help of her friends, she does. He’s a hellspawn, all right, and he’s up to no good…but on whose behalf is he working?

Escape Rating: A: Carey, like Nora Roberts, has something of a knack for trilogies. Never mind that unless you live in Texas as I do, there are four seasons, and I’d love to read another book set in Pemkowet, Jacqueline Carey has given us a strong conclusion to this series in Poison Fruit. Daisy’s been told repeatedly that the decisions she makes are super-important, perhaps even on a global scale, but she’s mired in what to do about the men in her life.

The super-hot Outcast ghoul Stefan has to be away for a bit, leaving her working a little more than she’d like around the super-sexy werewolf, her sometimes partner Cody. Cody, for his part, has made it clear that as much as he’d like to, he’s got to get involved with another werewolf. Preservation of the species, you see, and the fact that he does that whole once-a-month howl-at-the-moon thing, which she cannot share…you understand, don’t you Daisy? It’s not about you, right? She says she does, but unlike Cody, she understands that some couples have diverse interests and activities. He can’t go to Hel’s demesne and see the Norse goddess, either, at least not under normal circumstances, so they each have their “me time,” so to speak. Don’t we all need that?

There’s a Night Hag roaming around, and Daisy and her friends must deal with that. Just about the time they do, Stefan comes back to town, and he has brought a friend, with an unusual request: that Daisy use Hel’s magic dagger to kill him. This was a tough scene for me to read; Janek is living with ALS, and, being Outcast, cannot die on his own, or be killed by mortal means. This has led him to most of a century of suffering, unable to be healed, and unable to die and find peace in his body and soul. Janek tells his story, and asks Daisy to use the dagger. After some back and forth, she does, and Janek dies with dignity, his faith that he could gain a chance at Heaven strong. As you might guess, shadows of this scene follow her to the end of the book; there was more than just a mercy here. There was an important lesson for her, and for Stefan.

When it’s finally revealed who is trying to buy up the prime land in Pemkowet, and why…well, things get busy in a hurry. The sneaky lawyer sets up a bogus lawsuit that’ll cost Hel her home, and the goddess is not at all happy about that. Pemkowet’s diverse eldritch community must come together to fight for their right to exist, and it is Daisy who must lead them. It’s not at all clear, for quite a while, that Pemkowet will win over the outsiders, which brings a delicious tension to the book.

…and after all the kvetching I’ve done in the other two reviews about who Daisy dates, I shan’t tell you whom she ends up with. I’m such a meanie! Go read it yourself. But let’s just say I’m finally happy with her choice, in the end. All in all, I’ve greatly enjoyed this series; it’s got a heroine I can enjoy, some fascinating supernaturals, a bit of action/adventure, and some steam to go alongside. There’s something for everyone here, so enjoy!

Guest Review: Second Time Around by Nancy Herkness

Guest Review: Second Time Around by Nancy HerknessSecond Time Around (Second Glances, #1) by Nancy Herkness
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Second Glances #1
Pages: 332
Published by Montlake Romance on July 24, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
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A former love makes a lasting impression in a warm and sexy romance from Nancy Herkness.

Kyra Dixon, a blue-collar girl from the boondocks, is dedicated to her job at a community center that matches underprivileged kids with rescue dogs. When she runs into Will Chase—Connecticut blue blood, billionaire CEO, and her old college crush—she’s surprised that he asks a favor from her: to be his date for his uptight family’s dreaded annual garden party. If his parents don’t approve, all the better.

Kyra’s not about to say no. It’ll give her a chance to be oh-so-close to her unrequited love. What begins as a little fling turns so mad hot, so fast, that Kyra finds herself falling all over again for a fantasy that won’t come true. How can it? She doesn’t belong in Will’s world. She doesn’t want to. But Will does want to belong in hers.

All he has to do now is prove it. Will is prepared to give up whatever is necessary to get what his heart most desires.

Guest Review by Amy:

Kyra is a Responsible Woman. Growing up, she couldn’t wait to get away from home to go to college, no matter what her family wanted. But after her father died, and her mother ran up credit card bills in Kyra’s name (and then died), Kyra never finished; she’s working two gigs, scratching away at that pyramid of debt. She doesn’t have time for any shenanigans from any man. Nope.  But she stops in for a wrap at one of her favorite chain restaurants, and…there he sits. Will.

It’s the guy who she drooled over in college, but never dated, of course.  And, of course, he owns the restaurant; he just happened to be on an inspection run of his locations. There’s some catching-up, good-to-see-you chitchat, and then he comes around to her night job at a ritzy bar, to ask her out, to a big family gathering his mother puts on every year. Oh, and yeah, the upper-crust parents won’t approve of this working-class girl, but he’s got a point to make.

Escape Rating: A: If, reading what I just wrote, you got the impression that Will is just using Kyra to make the point to his parents that they can’t just foist women on him – including his ex! – then you’ve read it right. That’s the impression I got, too, and I was a tiny bit sour on the character from the get-go as a result. But it emerges over time that Will’s had a problem with his parents for basically his whole life. His mother, in particular, is a stellar manipulator, and he’s finally busting out of the family mold. He was supposed to be a lawyer in the family firm, but he went out on his own, found funding, and started a chain of restaurants, with great success. This upsets Daddy and infuriates Mummy, but he just has to do things his way, and live his own life.

When Will and Kyra get to the Spring Fling (in his helicopter, natch!), Will has a bit of an epiphany. While he was dating the debutantes in college, and getting hurt over and over, Kyra was always right there. And he liked that (duh!), so maybe this more than just…well, whatever. You see where this is going, I’m sure. He falls for her (again), can’t live without her, and so it goes, a pretty-predictable rich-man/poor-woman story.

What makes this book stand out as more than just ordinary, for this reader, was the lovely complexity of the subplots that swirl around these two. Will’s ex-girlfriend is still around, and still pining for him, even though she doesn’t understand him at all, being one of those floofy debutantes that he has grown beyond. There’s the whole family drama with Will’s mother and father (and sister, who is an attorney in the family firm, and tense about it). There’s Kyra’s day job at an after-school care, where they also match families with rescue dogs, and her relationship with some of the kids and dogs there. There is a fair bit going on here, for what I thought was going to be a shallow, easy summer read. Easy, yes. Shallow, not so much. The convergence of all these threads gives us the key to better understanding for our protagonists.

Our leads, of course, have history that they’re both unwilling at first to talk about, mostly because of embarrassment, and their internal dialogues around those things give us a solid feel for what’s going on in their heads. There isn’t a whole lot of reason these two shouldn’t be together, and we know it well before they do, but they figure it out fairly shortly, and we’re given a sweet ending that sees the whole cast in a better, happier situation going forward. Exeunt omnes, complete with helicopters and yachts and fancy sandwiches and designer dog chow and smiles from kids.

What started out on a mildly sour note for me, turned into a sweet, well-crafted story I could sink my teeth into and enjoy. I hope you enjoy it, too.

 

 

Guest Review: Phaze by S. C. Mitchell

Guest Review: Phaze by S. C. MitchellPhaze by S.C. Mitchell
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: paranormal romance, science fiction romance, superhero romance
Series: Xi Force #2
Pages: 215
Published by Soul Mate Publishing on April 4th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

When Kayla Armstrong is attacked in her lab, she falls into a chemical stew. Now she’s walking through walls and falling through floors.

As the leader of Xi Force, Joel Weisberg is always looking for new superheroes for his team. What he wasn’t looking for was sexy Kayla Armstrong falling through the ceiling of his apartment right into his bed. Still he isn’t complaining when the event finds him a new Xi Force member and a new love. Now she just needs some training and some time.

But when an old enemy comes back with new powers and captures Joel, it’s up to Kayla to lead the Xi Force against her. But can they rescue Joel before he’s murdered . . . again?

Guest review by Amy:

Kayla Armstrong is a scientist for a hush-hush operation for the government, dubbed “Xi Force.” From the very first words of the book, she’s doing fancy science for her team, when she’s waylaid by someone who – honest to gosh – teleports into the room, knocks her about, steals her laptop, and vanishes. In the midst of the roughing-up she knocks over a cart with chemicals, and the soup of it she falls into changes her. She’s got superpowers! She’s going to be a field member of Xi Force! Just call her…Phaze.

Escape Rating: A-: I’m not quite sure whether this is a sci-fi romance, or a paranormal. There’s an awful lot of science going on for a paranormal, and an awful lot of mystical woo-woo goings-on happening for a sci-fi. Off the pen of S. C. Mitchell, though, it works, somehow. Kayla falls through the floor of her lab after getting soaked in chemicals, leaving her clothes behind, and landing in the bedroom of the on-site apartment occupied by her boss. Who’s just gorgeous, and she’s had the hots for him for a while. Oh, and he sleeps naked, too. Isn’t that convenient? She rapidly finds out she has the ability to walk through walls, fall through floors, all that. Pass through solid matter. That’d be a handy skill; it’d make it hard for me to lock my keys in the car again.

Joel Weisberg is, of course, a member of Xi Force. Some time in the past, Xi Force got attacked; it was an inside job, near as I can figure, and someone Joel loved. But she turned on him, and did a lot of damage in the process. She’s in prison now…well, until she’s not. And she’s got blood in her eye for Joel. What follows is a mystical, superhero-ey story where the good guys get some help from a dead girl, her mage brother, and a man who had his DNA blended with a wolf. Things move fast, so hang onto your seat. Xi Force originally thinks that all the shenanigans, including the attack on Kayla’s lab, are done by their arch-rivals, the multinational criminal entity Ghaim, but when the leaders of Ghaim start turning up dead, the plot gets thicker than Southern gravy, until finally Amber makes her move. She kidnaps Joel, while he’s on his first date with Kayla, now also known as the superhero Phaze. How rude!

Amber has loosed a demon. She thinks she can control it, but (of course) she’s dead wrong about that. So Xi Force has not only Amber’s powers, augmented by a mystical Japanese sword, but the demon that she’s turned loose in the process. Our hero team takes some lumps, of course, but this wouldn’t be a romance without a happy-ish ending, which, after a bit, they do get.

Phaze is a fun, fast-moving, romp of a read. Nothing too challenging, if you can suspend some disbelief, but all of the science and mystical elements fit just fine in the story, without a lot of exposition, so you can fall right into the tale. Enjoy!