Review: The Light in Summer by Mary McNear

Review: The Light in Summer by Mary McNearThe Light In Summer by Mary McNear
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: women's fiction
Series: Butternut Lake #5
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on June 20th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Mary McNear brings you home to Butternut Lake and a novel filled with irresistible characters who you will want to call your friends.
It’s summertime on Butternut Lake, where the heat of noon is soothed by the cool breezes of the evening, where the pace grows slower, and sometimes, just sometimes, the summer light makes everything clearer...
For the lovely Billy Harper, Butternut Lake is the place she feels most at home, even though lately she feels the only one listening to her is Murphy...her faithful Labrador Retriever. Her teenage son, Luke, has gone from precious to precocious practically overnight. Her friends are wrapped up in their own lives, and Luke’s father, Wesley, disappeared before his son was even born. No wonder she prefers to spend time with a good book, especially ones where everything ends in perfection.
But Billy is about to learn that anything is possible during the heady days of summer. Coming to terms with her past—the death of her father, the arrival of Cal Cooper, a complicated man with a definite interest in Billy, even the return of Wesley, will force her to have a little bit of faith in herself and others...and realize that happiness doesn’t always mean perfection.
“Butternut Lake is so beautifully rendered, you’ll wish it was real.”—Susan Wiggs, #1 New York Times bestselling author  
“This triumphant story had me reading until the wee hours of the morning.”—#1 New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber on The Space Between Sisters
 
 
 
 

My Review:

I love the Butternut Lake series. I really, really do. But, and it’s a very big but, in spite of the heroine being a librarian, I did not love this particular entry in the series.

The Butternut Lake series so far have all been contemporary small-town romances with more than a smidgen of what is dreadfully labelled Women’s Fiction. I hate that term but it has become a handy catch-all descriptor for stories that include a slice of women’s lives and often their strong friendships and other relationships.

I’ve also referred to Butternut Lake as “Second Chance Lake” because so many of the romances feature second chances at love, sometimes even with the original love-interest.

The series is stand-alone-ish. Each entry is complete, and the reader usually doesn’t have to know much about what came before to become familiar with the town and its residents. The Light in Summer may be the exception to that rule. The hero in this book is the brother of the heroine in the first book, Up at Butternut Lake.

But as much as I have enjoyed this series, this one did not work for me. While in most of the books there has been a lot going on in the life of the protagonists, the stories have usually given equal weight to whatever those other crises might be and the romance.

For this reader, the romance between Cal and Billy (very short for Wilhelmina) takes a far back seat to all of Billy’s quite justifiable angst over the behavior of her son Luke, who seems to be entering adolescence with a vengeance. Billy is right to worry. Luke is hanging out with the wrong crowd, getting into serious trouble, lying to her and letting his grades slip. His attitude has also dived into the toilet, but the problem isn’t the attitude so much as all the bad things and people that the attitude is leading him towards.

The recent death of Billy’s father, the only father-figure that Luke has ever had, has thrown them all into a tailspin. And Billy is caught in the age-old dilemma of how much she needs to be a parent vs. how much she wants to be a friend and confidant.

But all of Luke’s issues, and Billy’s issues with Luke, completely overwhelm the story. The romance gets such short shrift that we really don’t see it develop. We don’t have enough interactions between Cal and Billy to buy into their chemistry.

Escape Rating C: I’ll admit that I’m probably in a minority on this, but the focus on Billy’s problems as a parent, as real as they are, just don’t hold my attention. There’s a lot of teenage angst in this story, and if that was what I was looking for, I’d have found it. But it is not something that I look for, and certainly didn’t expect to find it in this book or this series.

I’m still looking forward to more in this series, but for this reader, The Light in Summer didn’t have nearly enough romantic heat. Your reading mileage may vary. But if you are looking for an entry in this series that does a much better blend of family drama with romance and small-town feels, go back to The Space Between Sisters, which was terrific. More like that, please!

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Review: The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief by Lisa Tuttle

Review: The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief by Lisa TuttleThe Curious Affair of the Somnambulist & the Psychic Thief by Lisa Tuttle
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: From the Casebooks of Jesperson & Lane #1
Pages: 416
Published by Random House Publishing Group - Hydra on May 16th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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To solve some mysteries, one must embrace the impossible.
Has there ever been a more unlikely pair of consulting detectives than Jesperson and Lane? They certainly make a striking duo: Mr. Jasper Jesperson, with his shock of red hair and seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of all subjects—save common sense—and Miss Lane, whose logical mind is matched only by her fascination with psychic phenomena.
Their talents are rare . . . as are their customers. So when Jesperson and Lane are hired to track the nocturnal wanderings of a sleepwalking London business owner, they’re simply happy to be working again. The case begins as a window into the séances and other supernatural parlor games that are so popular these days, and takes a sinister turn as the intrepid investigators pull back the curtain on the cutthroat rivalries underpinning polite society.
But after several mediums go missing, it’s clear that Jesperson and Lane are in over their heads. For they’ve uncovered a presence beyond their understanding—an evil force that won’t hesitate to kill in order to achieve its nefarious ends.

My Review:

I really enjoyed the beginning of this book. It was an interesting set up to a slightly off-beat Sherlock Holmes read-alike, with an even more eccentric Holmes and a female Watson who is not a doctor. On the one hand, their respective eccentricities make Jesperson and Lane closer to partners from the beginning. On that other hand, it also begins as a kind of tweak of the nose at Conan Doyle, because Aphrodite Lane becomes a detective after discovering that her friend and employer Gabrielle Fox, who is supposed to be a skeptical investigator for the Society for Psychical Research, is every bit as much of a fraud and a trickster as every medium they have ever investigated.

Miss Lane is willing to believe, but she wants empirical evidence. Evidence that doesn’t involve secret hooks and pulleys under the table. And I applauded her for that.

But about halfway through, The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief turned into the most infuriating book I have read in a long time, perhaps ever.

I fully realize that sentence requires a bit more explanation.

At the beginning of the story, as Jesperson and Lane get started in their consulting detective business, the setting seems to be the same Victorian London as the Holmes and Watson stories. (There is a tip of the hat to Holmes as a fictional character they are both familiar with). There was, at that time, quite a bit of exploration of and belief in the supernatural, and frauds abounded.

Conan Doyle, in spite of his invention of that most rational detective, Holmes, was himself a great believer in spiritualism (and fairies!). Harry Houdini, formerly one of Conan Doyle’s great friends, practically had a second career as a debunker of mediums and psychic phenomena. Their friendship broke over this fundamental difference of belief.

When the first case is presented to Jesperson and Lane, that of the sleepwalking, Mr. Creavey (in other words, the somnambulist) they are looking for a logical and rational explanation. Which Jesperson eventually finds. Someone is controlling Mr. Creavey through a post-hypnotic suggestion.

And while psychic phenomena are bunk, hypnosis is a well-known and reproducible technique.

And this is where the story goes completely off the rails. At least for this reader. Because the so far rational and redoubtable Miss Lane, who is telling the story in the first-person, becomes completely irrational on the subject of hypnotism and hypnosis, when it is obvious to both Jesperson and to the reader that Miss Lane has herself been hypnotized. The only question yet to be completely resolved is whether her hypnotist is the same as Mr. Creavey’s, but even at the outset it seems all too likely. It would be much too coincidental, in the best detectival tradition, for there to be two different hypnotists involved in the same case.

Whether hypnosis works exactly as portrayed in the story is questionable, but it certainly does work and does exist to a significant extent. That the amount of control the hypnotist has over his victims seems rather greater than is considered the norm feels like it falls within the spectrum of fiction.

But it gets worse. While the formerly rational Miss Lane descends into risible irrationality, what drove this reader off the edge into fury was that the story seemed to change its basic premise. While throughout the book it seems to be part of the historical Victorian era, when mostly gullible or desperate people believed in spiritualism but it was not proven, the ending of the story requires that this setting become a world in which psychic phenomena are real and functional.

In other words, we began in rationality and ended with magic, with no explanation for how the basic way that the world works seems to have flipped on its head.

Escape Rating C-: I did finish, which gets the C grade. And I’m still thinking about the book, and still furious, which also keeps it in the C category. But, but and very definitely but. I am so disappointed. What read like a very promising start descended so far on so many levels. Miss Lane’s descent in particular, from rational action to idiocy was particularly galling, especially as we view the story from inside her head.

I enjoy stories where magic works. I love urban fantasy. But if that’s the case, it needs to be established, or at least hinted at, from the beginning. That’s not what happened here. And yes, I’m aware that some of the promotional materials delve a bit into the supernatural aspects, but a) promotional materials don’t always represent the work in hand, b) the switch between absolute belief in rationality to confirmed belief in “magic” is not even subtext in the actual text, and 3) the point-of-view character still changes from an interesting and rational being to a complete idiot.

Color me extremely disappointed. And very, very annoyed.

Review: Slow Burn Cowboy by Maisey Yates + Giveaway

Review: Slow Burn Cowboy by Maisey Yates + GiveawaySlow Burn Cowboy (Copper Ridge, #7) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Copper Ridge #7
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on April 18th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In Copper Ridge, Oregon, a cowboy's best friend might turn out to be the woman of his dreams…
If Finn Donnelly makes a plan, he sticks to it. After his brothers left Copper Ridge, Finn stayed behind, determined to keep their ranch going by himself. And when he realized his feelings for Lane Jensen were more than platonic, he shoved that inconvenient desire away. It was easy…until it wasn't. Suddenly his brothers are coming home to claim their share of the property. And Lane is no longer just in his fantasies. She's in his arms, and their friendship is on the line…
He's been her buddy, her handyman, her rock. But until that one breathtaking kiss, Lane somehow overlooked the most important thing about Finn Donnelly—he's all man. They're right together, no matter how much his volatile past has bruised him. Finn wants to hold Lane's body, but he doesn't want to hold her heart. But Lane is falling fast and now she's got a plan of her own…to show Finn there's nothing hotter than friendship turned to slow-burning love.

My Review:

I loved Last Chance Rebel, and my friend Amy loved Hold Me Cowboy, so I expected to love Slow Burn Cowboy. But that’s not what happened.

Instead I have very much of a mixed feelings review on tap. Very mixed.

The friends-to-lovers trope is one of my favorites, so again, I was expecting to like the story line in this book. But something, actually multiple somethings, don’t quite work.

The set up is excellent, Lane and Finn have been best friends for ten years, ever since Lane left her parents’ home back East and moved to Copper Ridge to live with her brother Matt. At the time, Lane was sixteen and obviously just a bit fragile. Finn was 23 or 24 and more than a bit too old for her.

But that 8 or 9 year gap closes pretty quickly after a few years. Now Lane is in her late 20s and Finn is in his mid-30s. They’re both adults. But they are both still awfully fragile.

They are best friends. Really, truly. They spend time together and they care for each other and they need each other. But they are filling the gaps in each other’s lives that would normally be filled by a spouse or significant other. Not that their relationship isn’t significant, but they have fallen into a situation where they are friends with a different set of benefits. She cooks and buys his clothes, he kills spiders, changes lightbulbs and fixes the porch steps. It works for them.

Until it doesn’t.

Finn’s grandfather has just died. Instead of leaving his ranch to Finn, who has been working with him for that same last bunch of years, the old man left it to Finn and his three half-brothers equally. The Donnelly Brothers are all at crossroads in their lives, and they all move back to the ranch, into the house and the land that Finn expected would be his.

All of their relationships are strained and distant, and no one seems to be happy about any of it. So Finn, in a crazed need to re-establish control over something, anything, in his suddenly chaotic life, decides that he wants more from Lane than he’s ever asked for. He wants to push past their carefully maintained boundaries and turn their relationship into that of friends with the usual benefits.

He thinks its possible to make love and not feel at least a little love. And he’s an idiot.

Finn’s perfectly happy to tear down all of Lane’s defenses and push for whatever he wants. But when Lane turns the tables on him and starts pushing him for what she wants out of a relationship, he pushes her away as hard and as fast as he can.

The question of whether Finn can get his head out of his ass long enough to figure himself out is an open one. Finn needs to open his eyes, and his heart, before he throws away his best chance at happiness. And he needs to grovel.

Escape Rating C+: There was so much potential in Slow Burn Cowboy, but it never quite gels into the book that I was looking forward to.

Both Lane and Finn are damaged people, and neither of them thinks that they are worthy of happiness or love. They protect themselves in different ways. Lane by walling off what hurts her, and Finn by pushing away anyone who might get close enough to hurt him.

It’s amazing that they have managed to sustain a friendship, but they definitely have.

While Finn is a bit of an arsehole about it, his trauma is understandable. His dad seems to have been a serial philanderer, leaving a string of exes with his sons all across the country. Dad left everyone. But his mom also abandoned him. And he’s just sure everyone else will too.

Lane’s trauma just isn’t one that was easy for this reader to identify with. Her sense of loss at giving a baby up for adoption when she was sixteen is understandable, but she’s been wearing the past like a hair shirt ever since, to the point where the hair felt like it had been woven from a drama llama rather than anything real. Her story felt like angst for angst’s sake.

Also, these are two people who live inside their heads an awful lot, which also doesn’t feel right for Finn’s character. It felt like there was much more internal dialog than actual dialog. And Lane tended to think and talk in circles a lot of the time. That’s a habit that drives this reader crazy in real life, not just fictional life.

There are a lot of moments when the reader wants them to just stop talking inside their heads and let those words out where they might do some good!

But, and this is where the good stuff comes in, Copper Ridge just feels like a wonderful place. I like the people a lot. One of the great things in this story is all about the enduring power of women’s friendships. Lane, along with her best female friends, have a terrific, supportive and caring friendship. One of the ways in which Lane comes out of this story stronger than she went in is the realization that she is so much better off than she was when she arrived in Copper Ridge because those friendships will always see her through. She’s not alone, with or without Finn.

Finn’s supporting cast is his family, his three half-brothers and his niece Violet. They have all moved into the ranch and are now part of his life, where they have all been separate and alone up til now. Finn is really, really bad at letting people in, but having them be part of his life, whether he originally wanted it or not, is terrific. They bite and snap and growl at each other all the time, but they are all great characters and I’m looking forward to their stories in future books in the series.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Maisey and Harlequin are giving away a $25 Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour.

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Review: The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg Cox

Review: The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg CoxThe Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg Cox
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: media tie-in, urban fantasy
Series: The Librarians #2
Pages: 288
Published by Tor Books on April 25th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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For millennia, the Librarians have secretly protected the world by keeping watch over dangerous magical relics. Cataloging and safeguarding everything from Excalibur to Pandora’s Box, they stand between humanity and those who would use the relics for evil.
Stories can be powerful. In 1719, Elizabeth Goose of Boston Massachusetts published a collection of rhyming spells as a children's book, creating a spellbook of terrifying power. The Librarian of that age managed to dispose of all copies of the book except one, which remained in the possession of Elizabeth Goose and her family, temporarily averting any potential disaster.
However, strange things are happening, A window washer in San Diego who was blown off his elevated perch by a freak gust of wind, but miraculously survived by landing on a canopy over the building entrance. A woman in rural Pennsylvania who was attacked by mutant rodents without any eyes. And, a college professor in England who somehow found herself trapped inside a prize pumpkin at a local farmer’s market. Baird and her team of Librarians suspect that the magic of Mother Goose is again loose in the world, and with Fynn Carson AWOL once again, it is up to Cassandra, Ezekiel, and Stone to track down the missing spellbook before the true power of the rhymes can be unleashed.

My Review:

I read The Librarians and the Lost Lamp a couple of weeks ago, and I really enjoyed it because it felt so much like an episode of the show, including all of the madcap adventure and especially all of the banter. I had a great time, just as I do when I watch The Librarians. It was fun!

But The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase felt like it was more of a strain. The Librarians, of course, are always a bit strained in the midst of yet another hair-raising case, but there was something about this one that made it feel like a strain for the reader, too. Or at least this reader.

Fair warning, I may get a bit meta here. It’s hard to review a media tie-in novel without some references to the media it ties into, and how it “feels” related to how the original feels, And works. I would say or doesn’t work but the fact is that a person for whom the original does not work is unlikely to read novels based on it. My 2 cents.

Part of what makes The Librarians work as a show is their marvelous team dynamic. The Librarians and their Guardian are a close knit team and also kind of a family. What they do is designed to be a bit outside the mundane world, and they of necessity have bonded together. Along with Jenkins, the combination archivist, caretaker and zookeeper of the Library and the Library Annex in Portland they work out of.

On the one hand, parts of this story provide a marvelous and much broader view of just how big, how strange, and how magical the Library’s collections truly are. Nobody wants the job of cleaning the pen that holds the Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs, but it’s a dirty job and somebody has to do it. Usually Jenkins.

On that other hand, the Librarians spend a lot of this story on separate parts of the quest. This group is stronger when it’s together. It’s also funnier and occasionally more heartwarming when it’s together. So for this reader story lost some of its steam when it separated the group, Also the way they were split up felt a bit contrived. Their separate quests seem to rely on their weaknesses more than their strength, and the individuals they were paired up with instead felt like contrivances designed to teach them each something rather than get the job done. As usual, my 2 cents and your mileage may vary.

And the action got a bit bogged down as it split into four separate stories, which at times felt a bit repetitious.

The concept that Mother Goose was not only real but a powerful witch who encoded her spells into nursery rhymes fits right into the mythos of the Library. That her magic could get out of hand if left in the hands of the “wrong people” could make an episode or a great story.

But the way that this one wrapped up, which unfortunately I did see coming a mile away, fell flat. Again, at least for this reader.

So, as much as I love The Librarians, I didn’t have nearly as much fun with Mother Goose as I did with the Lost Lamp.

Escape Rating C+: The scenes where Eve and Jenkins are chasing several of the Library’s more colorful (and volatile) exhibits around the Library are hilarious. My personal favorite is when Jenkins throws Arthur’s Crown at the Sword Excalibur and tells it to play “Keep Away” with the King of Beasts and the Unicorn. Eve’s solution to the problem of the Dead Man’s Chest was also lot of fun. But the gang spends too much time not being a gang, and I missed the way they play off of each other much too much.

Review: The Captive Shifter by Veronica Scott

Review: The Captive Shifter by Veronica ScottThe Captive Shifter (Magic of Claddare #1) by Veronica Scott
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Magic of Claddare #1
Pages: 250
Published by Veronica Scott on March 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
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Concealing her own considerable magical powers, Caitlyn enters the service of the northern Witch Queen masquerading as a simple healer. Under order from her goddess, she’s searching for a magical gem stolen long ago from her own people, believed to be hidden in the massive castle. The task is daunting but Caitlyn is sure she can locate the gem and escape, bringing the prize back to the temple where it belongs. Until she meets the captive shifter and her loyalties become dangerously divided.

In payment for her past services to his people, Kyler the leopard shifter has entered into a life of servitude far from his forest home, allowing the Witch Queen to tap his magic to power her ever darker spells. Factions at Court are threatening to turn the Queen to the Shadow. Her increasing demands for magic will cut short his nearly immortal lifespan. Kyler’s resigned to his fate until the day he crosses paths with the new arrival, whose secrets and magic entice and attract both man and leopard. Has he met his mate at last?

The Queen will never willingly release him from captivity. Caitlyn’s goddess refuses to grant her any delay in accomplishing her own task. Can they locate the magical gem, fight the Shadow and win free of the Witch Queen to earn the right to be together?

My Review:

There is something very, very rotten in the state of Azrimar, but that isn’t what Caitlyn has come to the capital to deal with. Not that all roads and all missions don’t eventually lead that way – but that isn’t how they start.

Instead, Caitlyn has arrived at court just in the nick of time for the annual testing of potential sorceresses, only to discover that her preparation missed the key points of the ritual. It is crucial to her mission that she find a place at court – even if that mission is not what it appears to be.

She succeeds, just barely, but only by earning the enmity of the Crown Princess Bradana, and the intense curiosity of the Witch-Queen’s pet shifter, Kyler. Caitlyn knows she’s going to spend the rest of her time at court dealing with those two very opposite interests, just not in the way that she originally expected.

Because both Bradana and Kyler are much more than they appear. But then, so is Caitlyn.

That Caitlyn is some kind of spy on some type of secret mission is obvious from the beginning, but we don’t learn who, how, or why until we get a bit into the story.

This is a fantasy romance, so Caitlyn’s world is not our own, and not even in our past or future. As this world is set up, Caitlyn is from a kingdom to the south, and is a priestess of the nature goddess on a special mission. Because something is rotten in the central kingdom of Azrimar and apparently has been for quite some time.

Long ago, a relic was stolen from the goddess, and she needs it back. Caitlyn has one year to infiltrate the palace and find the missing article. And that’s more than long enough to figure out just how much has gone wrong, and for Caitlyn to fall in love.

Unfortunately for both of them, Caitlyn falls for Kyler, a leopard shifter who has been oath-bound to the Witch Queen for 10 years. He knows that the Queen has been gravitating towards the dark side of the force, but he also knows that he’s dying. Whatever is going wrong, it isn’t going to be his problem fairly soon.

Until Caitlyn comes along and shakes him out of the depths of his depression. Kyler can help Caitlyn find the relic. Caitlyn can beseech the gods on his behalf. And it will take both of them to even take a stab at all that has gone wrong.

Caitlyn, Kyler, the Witch Queen and her kingdom have all come to a crossroad. The choices they make will have dire consequences, not just for themselves, or even for the kingdom, but for their entire world.

They must choose wisely – or all will be lost in the conflagration to come.

Escape Rating C+: This is a mixed feelings review. There were some things about this story I liked a lot, and some that drove me a bit batty.

I liked both Caitlyn and Kyler quite a bit. Caitlyn is very focused. She has a mission to carry out with a very strict time limit, but she still finds time to make friends and to care for and about people. She’s involved with her world, even for the short time she will be in the kingdom, and her actions always trend towards good. At the same time, Caitlyn is in service to a nature goddess, attempting to conceal herself, her power and her mission in a place that seems to be the antithesis of anything natural. It’s no surprise that she befriends Kyler, as he is the only nature-oriented being in the palace.

Kyler’s situation is tragic from the outset, and only becomes more so as we learn more about it. His captivity began honorably, but as time has gone on the Witch Queen has broken all of her oaths and agreements about it. And he is not free to leave – she has bound him with her magic. He has freedom of thought and some free will, but he literally cannot leave the palace, nor can he refuse the Queen’s use of his magic. Caitlyn’s friendship is his one light in a very dark place, and yet he is afraid to spend too much time with her or show her too much favor. While the Queen needs him alive for his magical power, punishing anyone close to him has become a sport for her and especially for her sister Bradana.

The palace intrigue is nasty and the methods of it feel a bit too predictable. And the characters of evil are a bit too much of evil for evil’s sake, which doesn’t work well as motivation. Or rather, that’s Bradana’s character, the Witch Queen’s motives are entirely too clear. She’s her sister’s pawn, and has let herself be manipulated into the darkness. In spite of her being queen, there just doesn’t turn out to be a lot of there, there. She’s an empty shell. To say that Brandana is evil because she was made that way (and she quite literally was) doesn’t give us much insight into the evil that made her. Hopefully we’ll get more of that in later books in the series.

I don’t expect to like the villains, although occasionally one does, but I need to understand them. And I didn’t here. On my other hand, there’s a tendency in fantasy for the West to represent good and the East to represent evil. The Lord of the Rings isn’t the only story where this happens, and it plays to some very old stereotypes, right along with white hats and black hats. In this series it looks like the West is where evil has its kingdoms, and the center and East are where the good, or at least neutral, kingdoms are. It’s always nice to see stereotypes turned on their heads a bit.

I end where I began, with mixed feelings. I liked the heroine and hero a lot, but found the plot to be on the predictable side and the villains a bit cookie-cutter. And while there were hints at interesting worldbuilding, it felt like too many of the details were left on the cutting-room floor. Hopefully things will be become clearer in later books in the series.

Review: The Rescue by Diana Palmer

Review: The Rescue by Diana PalmerThe Rescue (The Morcai Battalion #4) by Diana Palmer
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardvoer, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Morcai Battalion #4
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on March 28th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


New York Times
bestselling author Diana Palmer returns with the next edge-of-your-seat installment of The Morcai Battalion series.
Rhemun, commander of the Cehn-Tahr Holconcom, has worked tirelessly to get where he is and he's not going to let any human drag him back down. Especially not Lt. Commander Edris Mallory, whose very presence aboard the Morcai serves as a too-painful reminder of a past tragedy he can neither forgive nor forget.
But Mallory has secrets of her own, ones she can't afford to see come to light. Frantic to protect herself, she flees, abandoning her position. When Rhemun learns of her devastating situation, he realizes the all-consuming feelings he's harbored for her may not be hatred. But in a vast universe rife with peril, is it already too late?

My Review:

I read the first book in this series, The Morcai Battalion, back in 2007 when the expanded edition was republished by Harlequin Luna. At that time, there wasn’t a lot of outright science fiction romance being published, and The Morcai Battalion filled a need I don’t even think I knew I had.

(Luna was a terrific imprint. I discovered several marvelous authors through their line of SFR and fantasy romance, not just this series but also Michelle Sagara’s Elantra series and Gail Dayton’s Compass Rose, among others, and I wish they were still around.)

Back to The Morcai Battalion. I loved the setting, and the characters, in the original book. Not just the space opera aspects of the intergalactic war, but the relationships between the characters, the culture clash of melding two species into a single crew, and the heart stopping action of the prison planet and eventual breakout. It was a winner and I kept looking for more.

There were a couple of sequels over the years, The Recruit and Invictus. And then nothing from 2010 until now, with The Rescue.

The first three books in the series followed the human doctor, Madeline Ruszel and the alien Cehn-Tahr Dtimun, who begins as her commander and eventually becomes her husband, in spite of all the taboos and restrictions that surround the Cehn-Tahr and any possible relationship between Cehn-Tahr and humans. But the story built their relationship up over time, and it worked. It worked so well that they finally won their HEA at the end of Invictus.

Which leaves either a hole or an opportunity for the series. After reading The Rescue, I’m not quite sure which we got.

The relationship in The Rescue is between Dtimun’s successor as head of the unit, and Madeline’s successor as alien-species medic. But Rhemun is not Dtimun and Edris Mallory is not Madeline. While some of those changes make for good dramatic tension, some of them just fall a bit short.

Because Rhemun hates humans, and Edris frequently acts like a scared rabbit, or perhaps a better description would be a scared schoolgirl with a crush on a strict teacher. And it doesn’t quite work.

Dtimun, Madeline and their crew went through a bonding experience on that prison planet that transcended species or pretty much anything else. They became family in the process of saving each other, and it erased any interspecies prejudices they might have started with.

Rhemun, on the other hand, feels like all of the losses that he has experienced in his life are some human’s fault, and he has an unreasoning prejudice against the entire species. His strict disciplinary style alienates the human members of his crew, which is his intention. He also cuts Edris down at every turn, because she looks just like the woman who accidentally killed his son.

And unfortunately for Edris, his species has a highly enhanced sense of smell, so she is unable to hide her really, really unfortunate attraction for him. And he resents her for that, too.

The situation is a mess, and just gets messier, until Rhemun finally drives Edris off the ship, and very nearly drives every other human out the airlock along with her. It’s when the message finally gets through his very thick skull that he has put her in deadly danger because he can’t help but be attracted to her that their relationship moves from hate to love.

And then he drives her away again.

Escape Rating C+: I enjoyed the first part of the book. While Edris is on the ship, we see her working, we see her continuously fighting with Rhemun, we see her doing her duty as best she can under circumstances that become increasingly more unbearable by the minute. But the action clips along, and we get to see how the ship and crew both work together and don’t. It’s sad but interesting to watch Rhemun tear down a stellar unit that Dtimun spent years building up, and even sadder just how much easier it is to break than it was to build.

But through it all, Edris stands up for herself at every turn, and does her best to do her job, keep her career, and try to keep her life her own and on track. When she flees, while her reasons make sense, the story goes off the rails.

She’s in terrible danger, and it is very real. In the end, Rhemun and the crew have to rescue her to save her life from multiple dangers. And there’s a big portion of the book where she completely loses her agency, going from independent woman to beating victim to worshipful wife in a few too many steps.

And then lets herself be driven away again. Just when she finally has her new life on track, Rhemun swoops back in and tears it all apart again, even if unintentionally. The second half of the book doesn’t quite hang together. As far as the romance is concerned, his side of their relationship isn’t fully fleshed out. It’s easy to see that he wants her and wants to possess her, but we don’t see the build up of his emotions. It feels like that piece is missing.

There’s also a running theme that he omits much of the truth that Edris really needs to know. Lies of omission are still lies, and Rhemun keeps much too much from Edris that ends up biting them both in the ass – but always hers much more than his. And she’s so worshipful that she never calls him to account for any of it. She’s also much too gullible.

So I enjoyed the first half of this book, but found the second half disappointing, and sincerely hope that if the series continues, we get more heroines like Madeline Ruszel who are always part of the action and don’t let anyone steamroller them.

If you like SFR the first three books of this series are a good read, but this one feels skippable. Dammit. And they need to go back to the original cover designs, which at least hinted that this was SFR and not contemporary romance. The new covers make the series look way more like a motorcycle club romance than SFR, which is bound to disappoint people on all sides of the equation. Color me disappointed, too.

Review: There’s This Guy by Rhys Ford

Review: There’s This Guy by Rhys FordThere's This Guy by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, M/M romance
Pages: 220
Published by Dreamspinner Presss on March 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

How do you save a drowning man when that drowning man is you?
Jake Moore’s world fits too tightly around him. Every penny he makes as a welder goes to care for his dying father, an abusive, controlling man who’s the only family Jake has left. Because of a promise to his dead mother, Jake resists his desire for other men, but it leaves him consumed by darkness.
It takes all of Dallas Yates’s imagination to see the possibilities in the fatigued Art Deco building on the WeHo’s outskirts, but what seals the deal is a shy smile from the handsome metal worker across the street. Their friendship deepens while Dallas peels back the hardened layers strangling Jake’s soul. It’s easy to love the artistic, sweet man hidden behind Jake’s shattered exterior, but Dallas knows Jake needs to first learn to love himself.
When Jake’s world crumbles, he reaches for Dallas, the man he’s learned to lean on. It’s only a matter of time before he’s left to drift in a life he never wanted to lead and while he wants more, Jake’s past haunts him, making him doubt he’s worth the love Dallas is so desperate to give him.

My Review:

No one gets shot at. Or the equivalent. Which makes this a first among this author’s books, at least for this reader.

Unlike any of her other series, particularly the awesome Cole McGinnis series and the equally marvelous Sinners series, There’s This Guy is not romantic suspense. Nor does it have the paranormal element of Hellsinger or the urban fantasy element of Kai Gracen. Even Half Moon Bay has the potential for a higher body count than this story.

And it felt like I was missing something, or the book was. I kind of liked There’s This Guy, but the lack of danger and/or suspense meant that for this reader, at least, it lacked the spice that makes all of the author’s other series so compelling.

I liked these guys, and all of the characters except the obvious one you’re not supposed to like (and for excellent reasons), but I didn’t get that strapped-to-my-seat-need-to turn-the-next-page-to-see-if-or-how-they-managed-to-escape-whatever-desperate-danger-their-author-had-just-dropped-them-into-this-time feeling that I expect from the author’s work.

Because that element just isn’t there. And I missed it. A lot.

Escape Rating C: This story is a very slow-burn romance with a whole lot of hurt/comfort/angst stirred into it. The characters, particularly Jake, start the book in a very, very dark place, and it takes a long time and a lot of patience, friendship and love for him to begin to see much daylight in his world.

That the relationship is therefore a slow-build romance makes sense. But Jake is coming from such a dark place that his initial, early and middle angst is very, very hard to read. I wanted to reach through the book and give him a hug. Frequently. Since I couldn’t, I let Dallas, and occasionally Celeste, do it for me.

But there is just so much dark, and so much peering into that dark. The story felt like mostly exploration of that darkness for a long time, without much actually happening. It might have worked better for this reader, as a story, if we’d seen a bit more of the rehab of the club. Or at least more external events to tie all the difficult introspection together.

Along with a bit less of what felt like overly purple prose, although your reading mileage may vary on that.

In the end, this one felt a bit too long, as though the author padded a novella out to novel length with all that purple prose. While there is a happy ending, it’s a long, hard slog to get there, not dissimilar to Jake’s long, dark night of the soul to finally find daylight. I’m happy for the happy ending. While I’m sure that slogging through the angst was worth it for the characters, I’m much less sure about it being worth it for their readers.

This was a book I really, really wanted to love. But I just didn’t.

Review: For Whom the Bread Rolls by Sarah Fox

Review: For Whom the Bread Rolls by Sarah FoxFor Whom the Bread Rolls (A Pancake House Mystery #2) by Sarah Fox
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Pancake House #2
Pages: 248
Published by Alibi on March 14th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

From the author of The Crêpes of Wrath comes another decadent cozy mystery. This time, pancake house owner Marley McKinney is tangling with a salty troublemaker . . . and a ravenous killer.
Bonus content: includes original recipes inspired by the Flip Side Pancake House menu!
Tourist season’s in full swing in the small seaside town of Wildwood Cove, and Marley McKinney couldn’t be happier. Since taking over the Flip Side restaurant, she’s made a few close friends, adopted a cat named Flapjack, and started dating her childhood crush. The only cloud on the horizon is local nuisance Ida Winkler, who blames Marley for landing her nephew in prison. Trying to get a rise out of Marley, Ida’s been making crank calls and even vandalizing the pancake house.
The police can’t do much about the pranks, so Marley sets out to bury the hatchet once and for all. But someone’s beat her to it—in the most shocking way possible. After stumbling across Ida’s dead body, Marley’s suddenly the number-one suspect in her murder. Clearing her good name is going to be a tall order, but Marley’s not about to let Ida keep ruining her life—especially from beyond the grave.

My Review:

Just like the first book in this cozy series, The Crepes of Wrath, the title of this second book is just a bit over-the-top cute. And so is the book.

The series is definitely very cozy. In Crepes, Marley inherited her cousin Jimmy’s small-town pancake house, The Flip Side. And solved his murder. In this second book, Marley is settling into her new life in tiny, touristy Wildwood Cove – and neck deep in yet another murder.

I sense a trend.

At the end of Crepes, Marley’s meddling into the investigation of Cousin Jimmy’s death results in, among other things, nasty Ida Winkler’s son landing, quite justifiably, in prison. But Ida is both nasty and crazy, and is doing everything she can to run Marley out of business and out of town. However, Ida isn’t terribly effective, and Marley is just (and quite justifiably) annoyed.

Not that anyone in town has a single nice thing to say about Ida. She’s a piece of work. But while no one would miss her if she moved away, no one seems to hate her enough to want her dead. Which doesn’t stop Marley from just about tripping over Ida’s corpse.

And Marley has just enough of a motive, and just enough of a window of opportunity, to put herself at the top of the suspect list. So of course she decides that the best thing she can do to clear her name and protect her business is to “help” the police investigate the murder, annoying half the town (but not as badly as Ida) and putting herself squarely in the killer’s sights.

Again.

Escape Rating C+: The series is still cute. I particularly love Marley’s cat Flapjack, who is just a cat and doesn’t solve murders. But he’s a sweet boy and I wouldn’t mind having one just like him. He’s also very good, as cats often are, at knowing when his person needs an extra cuddle.

Sticking oneself into the middle of a murder investigation is enough to make any sane person need a little extra feline TLC.

But Marley’s motives for nosing around town don’t seem quite as clear-cut or as compelling as in the previous book. She loved Cousin Jimmy, and felt terribly guilty that she hadn’t been around more. And as his unexpected heir, she really was the logical murderer, if not the correct one. Following the money led straight to Marley.

However, no one seriously believes that Marley is Ida’s murderer, and that includes the cops. Not just because they know her now, but because they actually are capable of doing their jobs. Marley’s insecurity about how this latest investigation will affect her business is a bit all in her head.

And while she “investigates” one crime, she trips over two more. Someone seems to have been blackmailing local residents over mostly petty incidents, and everyone assumes that it was the late, unlamented Ida. She certainly was nasty and judgmental enough to have been the blackmailer. As if that wasn’t enough of a crime spree, someone is illegally dumping large garbage piles on the shore, and one of those dumps contains remnants of a meth lab.

While this probably isn’t a lot of crime for a small town with loads of tourists, it is a lot of coincidence for one completely amateur and occasionally inept investigator to trip over and more or less solve. The connections between the crimes feels tangential at best, and Marley just can’t resist poking her nose into all of them. It felt like more than a bit much.

Over-the-top, just like the titles. But I like Marley a lot, and I’m still enough interested in her adventures to give the series one more try. The next book, Of Spice and Men, is scheduled for the end of the summer. The perfect time for a beach read, set in a beach town, possibly with a beach murder. We’ll see.

Review; Law and Disorder by Heather Graham + Giveaway

Review; Law and Disorder by Heather Graham + GiveawayLaw and Disorder by Heather Graham
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Finnegan Connection #1
Pages: 256
Published by Harlequin Intrigue on January 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


Trust the enemy?
Desperate to escape her kidnappers, Kody Cameron can turn to only one man—and he's holding a gun. Outnumbered and trapped in the deadly Everglades, she has little recourse, but something in this captor's eyes makes her believe she can trust him. Does she dare to take the risk?
Undercover agent Nick Connolly has met Kody before and knows she might very well blow his cover. Though determined to maintain his facade, he can't let Kody die. He won't. And his decision to change his own rules of law and order are about to make all hell break loose.
The Finnegan Connection

My Review:

A while back, I read some of Heather Graham’s Krewe of Hunters series and really liked them. But it’s a big series and I’m going to need a large round tuit to get caught up. So when Law and Disorder came up as the first book in a new series, it seemed like a great chance to get in on the ground floor.

But I’m not sure that I did.

Law and Disorder is a quick and enjoyable read, but it doesn’t feel like the first book in a series. There are lots of references to the main characters in her other recent started series, New York Confidential. To the point where the Finnegan Connection feels like a side-series to New York Confidential. That connection being Finnegan’s Pub in New York City, which seems to be the centerpiece for the other series.

Nick and Kody, the hero and heroine in Law and Disorder are both friends of those Finnegans, and they actually bumped into each other, very briefly, one night at Finnegan’s. A chance encounter that helps to set up what would otherwise be a case of insta-love in Law and Disorder, mixed with just a bit of Stockholm Syndrome.

That earlier encounter takes the romance out of squicky territory, considering the way that the couple meets in this story. She thinks that he’s an upstanding (so to speak) member of the criminal gang that has just taken her and her entire staff hostage while they search for a mythical treasure. When she finally remembers where she’s seen him before, she also remembers that he’s no criminal, but rather an FBI agent who must be undercover in this mess.

She’s still kidnapped, and her captors still want that mythical treasure. Even weirder, they expect her to find it. And she just might.

Kody Cameron is an expert on her family’s strange heritage – the former home of mobster Jimmy Crystal and its extremely checkered history. A former resident of the Crystal Palace left tantalizing clues to a never recovered bank heist of gold and gems, and the kidnappers think that if they put enough pressure on Kody she’ll be inspired to discover a trove that may have been swallowed by the Florida Everglades.

And so might they.

Escape Rating C+: Law and Disorder is a relatively short book, somewhere in that uncomfortable length between novel and novella. And it probably should have been just a bit longer.

It’s a quick, fun read, but that skimpy length forced the author to short a bit on both character development and on background. And this is a story whose plot relies on a lot of that missing background.

It is possible that some of the missing character development is in Flawless, the first book in the New York Confidential series that introduces the Finnegans and Nick’s FBI handler on this case, Craig Frasier.

It’s also possible that we’re meant to just go with the instant connection between FBI agent Nick Connolly and Kody Cameron. After all, he does rescue her. But I am left wondering.

The big piece of background that feels missing is the history of Kody’s Crystal Palace and the mob bosses of Florida. Kody’s expertise on the topic is the reason that Kody gets swept up into this mess. The particular treasure trove in question has been missing for decades, and lots of things and people have been swallowed up by the Everglades. The way that Kody sifts through the tiny clues and puts the pieces together is a process that usually takes days and lots more research. The treasure hunt alone could have made a fascinating story as well as all the dirt on what happened long ago and how Kody figures it all out now. I would love to have read that book.

It might also have explained how and why the ringleader of this band of thugs became so obsessed with the old stash. It all feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.

All in all, this was a fun, quick read. And it whetted my reading appetite for the New York Confidential series, which is only two books in. Finnegan’s sounds like a great place!

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Heather and Harlequin are giving away a $25 Gift Card to one lucky participant in this tour!

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Review: Honor Bound by B.J. Daniels + Giveaway

Review: Honor Bound by B.J. Daniels + GiveawayHonor Bound (The Montana Hamiltons, #6) by B.J. Daniels
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Montana Hamiltons #6
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on October 18th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


Protecting her life will mean betraying her trust 

Ainsley Hamilton has always been the responsible one of the family. As the oldest daughter of presidential candidate Buckmaster Hamilton, she's also a potential target. For months she's sensed someone following her. When an expedition to scout locations for a commercial takes a terrifying turn, she's rescued by a natural-born cowboy who tempts the good girl to finally let loose. 
Sawyer Nash knows just how reckless it is to fall for someone he's gone undercover to protect. Yet masquerading as an extra on set, he starts to see beneath Ainsley's controlled facade. And with the election—and a killer—drawing closer, Sawyer stands to lose not just his job and his life but the woman for whom he'd gladly risk both.

My Review:

wild horses by bj danielsHonor Bound is the sixth book in the author’s Montana Hamiltons series. As someone who has not read the rest of the series and got totally lost in this book, I highly recommend that if you think this book sounds interesting, or if someone recommends it to you, and you haven’t read the rest of the series, start at the beginning with Wild Horses, or don’t start at all.

All the loose plot threads from all of the previous books get wrapped up in a bow in this one, and some of those plot threads are absolute doozies. For faithful readers of the series, this book serves as the perfect ending for all of what came before, but for readers just starting, like me, it comes off as too many subplots and too much stuff going on to be packed into one book.

I felt like the long arm of coincidence (or as we call it around here, co-in-key-dink) got much, much too long. Too many crazy things happen all at once, and it pulls at the willing suspension of disbelief. Of course, for those following the series, all of those converging subplots are cathartic, as everything gets wrapped up and tied off.

Considering that I read this as we were gearing up for the final presidential debate this season, having the book start out with a Republican being elected President by a landslide was more than a bit bizarre on a number of levels. However, Buckmaster Hamilton is a way different brand of Republican than the current candidate.

The series overall has followed his candidacy, as well as providing an HEA for each of his six daughters in turn. Honor Bound is oldest daughter Ainsley’s chance for her HEA. FBI Agent Sawyer Nash arrives at the remote Montana valley where Ainsley is scouting locations for an advertising campaign to investigate her reports of a stalker. Unfortunately for both Ainsley and Sawyer, her stalker ramps up his interference after seeing the relationship between Ainsley and Sawyer heat up.

There are multiple coincidences, or so it feels, in Ainsley’s situation. One of Sawyer’s ex-lovers is also undercover at the location shoot, but Kitzie is investigating a ring of jewel thieves who seem to be operating within the production company. Kitzie is jealous of Sawyer’s interest in Ainsley, and steps way, way, way outside the lines of professionalism in an attempt to sabotage their developing relationship. And in spite of every terrible thing that Kitzie does, in the end she is still one of the “good guys”, for select definitions of both “good” and more obviously “guys”.

The overarching plot that has driven this series, as a counterpoint to Buck Hamilton’s election campaign, is the story of his wife Sarah. As the series began, Sarah, who had been missing and presumed dead for 22 years, returns with no memory of the intervening years. No one seems to trust her and her motives – with good reason.

Sarah led a double-life. Not only did she marry Buck Hamilton and have six children with him, but she was also a notorious terrorist code-named “Red”, at least in college and possibly later. “Red” may have been the true leader of The Prophecy, a terrorist group with ambitions to take out as much of the U.S. government as possible. Sarah doesn’t remember it all. But her ex-lover, and the current leader of the group, Joe Landon, is stalking Sarah and threatening her family if she doesn’t cooperate. And there’s a very, very shady doctor in the background who claims to be the person who removed Sarah’s memories, and who also claims to be able to put them back.

That’s a whole lot of plot for one book. Without the previous background, the separate and unrelated stalkings of Sarah and Ainsley strain credulity. Not having read the previous books put this reader at an extreme disadvantage.

But for those who have been through the whole saga, this feels like just the wrap up they’ve been looking for.

Escape Rating C: In the end, I came to the conclusion that this just wasn’t my cup of tea, which explains why I haven’t read the rest of the series.

It felt like too many long-shot coincidences, and too many subplots and too many perspectives for a single book. Knowing that this is the end of a series makes those things make sense, but it doesn’t work for someone who is not in on all the action.

When it comes to the central love story in Honor Bound, Ainsley and Sawyer’s relationship comes off as a very serious case of insta-love. Not that that doesn’t happen in real life, but they needed a bit more time together for this reader to buy into their romance.

And I’ll admit to a personal pet peeve about 34-year-old virgins. It just didn’t seem realistic, and it made it difficult for me to identify with Ainsley. It made her feel like a throwback to the old days of formula romances, when the heroines were always virgins and the heroes were always experienced. And dominant. As I said, that is very much a personal pet peeve, and your mileage may vary.

To recap from the very beginning of this review – if you are a faithful follower of the series, you will probably want to run and not walk to get to this concluding story. If you are a newbie, this is not the place to start.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

B.J. and Harlequin are giving away a $25 Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour.

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