Review: Fatal Charm by Blair McDowell

Review: Fatal Charm by Blair McDowellFatal Charm by Blair McDowell
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: romantic suspense
Pages: 252
Published by The Wild Rose Press on September 8th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble

A perilous scheme to thwart ruthless adversaries hurtles successful young jewelry designer Caitlin Abernathy from her comfortable California studio to the streets of Paris and the beaches of Brittany as she attempts to return a priceless stolen heirloom to the Louvre.

Colin Stryker, the devastatingly handsome history professor from Ireland who has appointed himself her protector, fights to rescue her before her captors add murder to their crimes, while at the same time unraveling the torturous train of events that led to the original theft.

With every moment fraught with danger, can the chemistry already sizzling between the two ignite into passion?

My Review:

Like all of Blair McDowell’s marvelous books, Fatal Charm is a non-stop romantic suspense thrill ride from beginning to end. And in addition to the edge-of-your-seat danger that the heroine is dropped into, we have an enchanting love story as well as a great story about the depths of friendship and just how terrific the love of a family-of-choice can be.

Jewelry designer Caitlin Abernathy is thrown into a boiling hot mess at the beginning of this story, and doesn’t manage to climb out until the very, very end. And the reader is right in the pot with her the whole time.

Her ex turns up dead. Except he’s not really her ex – not because they never broke it off, as seems usual in this kind of story, but because they never seem to have gotten it on in the first place. Allen Thompson was a friend who seemed to want to be more than that, but Caitlyn just never felt any spark.

Not getting any more deeply involved with Allen was possibly the wisest thing she’s ever done. Which doesn’t stop the man from landing her in the soup as he dies. At which point, Caitlin discovers not just that he’s left her with an epic mess, but also that nothing the man ever told her seems to have had much bearing on the truth.

Caitlin thought Allen was an accountant. From Canada. When in fact, he was a high-end thief, a very wanted man on the run, and from France. And those lies are only the beginning.

Allen left Cait with a very hot piece of jewelry, hidden among her samples and uncut stone. It’s a dragon. And everyone who has ever possessed the thing seems to have found themselves in a whole mess of fiery trouble – ending with Allen and Caitlin and beginning with Marie Antoinette. Allen, really Alain, stole the pretty little firebreather from the Louvre, and it’s been nothing but trouble before and since.

When two mysterious and nasty men steal first Caitlin’s sample case, then break into both her shop and her house, her defenders rally round and the mystery begins to unravel. It’s certainly unraveling Cait, while ravelling both her assistant Aristotle Jones and his professor Colin Stryker into the web.

Aristotle and Cait have been friends for five years. In spite of completely different origins, coming from entirely different places, Aristotle and Cait have become a family of choice. There is never any hint of romance, and there never was and never will be. They are brother-and-sister. But Aristotle is currently a doctoral candidate at Berkeley, and when he brings his mentor Colin Stryker to Cait to see if they can figure out what is going on with the little dragon, well, Colin’s feelings for Cait are anything but brotherly.

Still, both Aristotle and Colin close ranks firmly around Cait as they figure out where the dragon came from, what it is, how it ended up being Cait’s problem, and what they should collectively do about the deadly and disastrous little creature.

All the while dodging two increasingly desperate villains who are determined to get the dragon back and get revenge on anyone who keeps it from them, at any cost.

Escape Rating A-: Just as with all of this author’s work, Fatal Charm kept me going back to its mystery and adventure all day long, until I finally gave in and just finished it. I started at lunch and in spite of work and other annoying interventions, couldn’t stop myself from turning the last page after midnight. I just had to see how it all turned out.

The romantic part of this romantic suspense is both simple and complicated. On the simple side, it’s pretty clear that Colin and Cait fall for each other the minute they meet. On the complicated side, they both resist the pull, and for good and sensible reasons. Colin’s last attempt at real romance went down in flames. Cait, while she managed not to “settle” for Allen, is still left not trusting her own instincts. She never even suspected that he lied about EVERYTHING.

And there are plenty of more mundane factors keeping them apart as well. Colin is nearly 40, and worried that he’s a bit too old for the 20something Cait. But more than that, there’s a geography problem. Colin is only a visiting professor at Berkeley – his home is in Ireland. Cait’s life, reputation and means of making a living, work that she loves, are all in California. Neither of them really believes a long-distance relationship can work, even if they survive the current mess they’ve landed in.

That mess provides the suspense angle for this story, and it’s a pot that keeps boiling from the very beginning until the almost bitter end. The brooch unravels secrets on multiple continents, revealing truths and lies about people that Colin has loved and trusted for decades. In order to solve the mystery, he’ll have to believe that some of his dearest friends have been lying to him, just as Cait discovered that Allen was lying to her.

The danger never lets up, and overtakes them all more than once. But in the end, those tasty just desserts are passed around to those who deserve them, and our heroes finally figure out what might be their best chance at a happy ending. If only they can manage to grab it.

If you love well-crafted romantic suspense where the mystery is every bit as mysterious as the romance is romantic, check out Blair McDowell’s work. I found her through a book tour five years ago, and she is one of my happiest discoveries. From the very first book, Delighting in Your Company, she’s kept me enthralled every single time. My only disappointment is that she takes time writing and researching her books (which is a good thing!) so that I only get one of her gems per year. A treat every single time.

Review: Where Lemons Bloom by Blair McDowell

Review: Where Lemons Bloom by Blair McDowellWhere Lemons Bloom by Blair McDowell
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Pages: 278
Published by The Wild Rose Press on December 16th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

Romantic suspense that takes the reader on a non-stop thrill ride! Set on the beautiful Amalfi Coast of Italy.
When Eve Anderson meets Adamo de Leone on a ship bound for Europe, she has no idea of the dark secret that will endanger both their lives. She accompanies him to his home on Italy’s Amalfi Coast to open an inn left to him by his grandfather. But then she learns he spent 5 years in prison for a crime he claims he didn’t commit. Could the man she loves be responsible for embezzling eighty million dollars from the investment firm he once owned?
Adamo wants to hold Eve at arm’s length until he can clear his proud family name. But when there is an attempt on his life and Eve is terrorized by a gun-bearing thug, he realizes how much he wants her, and he must accept whatever help he can get to uncover the well-hidden trail of a six-year-old crime

My Review:

Where Lemons Bloom is a non-stop romantic adventure, complete with a dramatic rescue, a romantic cruise, an innocent man trying to clear his name, and his hair-raising confrontation with the ex who did him very, very wrong. All while being helped by an old Godfather in Italy and his younger brother in the States who is trying to stay out of the old family business, but can’t resist a chance to right a wrong – especially when he and his company have been caught up in the mess.

It all starts with a romantic rescue. Eve Anderson gets caught in the undertow off the coast of Barbados, and Adam de Leone rescues her from death by drowning. As she recovers from her ordeal, she wants to celebrate that she is still alive in a midnight tryst with the mysterious stranger, never expecting to see him again.

Instead, they find themselves sharing a table on a romantic trans-Atlantic cruise. For different reasons, neither of them feels ready to explore their intense attraction, but they can’t stop themselves from falling into each other’s company, and into a warm friendship that tries to bury the chemistry they feel.

Of course, they finally acknowledge failure, and as their romance blossoms, Adamo is finally forced to reveal the secret that Eve has sensed he’s been hiding. He’s a convicted felon, but he swears he’s innocent. At first, it seems as if he’s just saying what every criminal would say, but Eve believes him.

Not just because she loves him, but because the crime he is supposed to have committed doesn’t make sense. Or it doesn’t make sense that Adamo committed it. Someone certainly made off with $80 million dollars from his investment firm, but it wasn’t Adamo. His partner supposedly committed suicide to escape his own guilt, but there’s no suicide note.

And someone is trying to kill Adamo. If he’s a threat to anyone, it’s to the real perpetrators. He was willing to put it all behind him, but with his and Eve’s lives on the line, he has to find out who really done it before they do him in.

Adamo certainly has to get over his stupid notion that Eve could definitely do better than a broke ex-con with only a defunct inn in Positano to his name and seemingly a price on his head. Eve knows better, but convincing Adamo is a harder sell than it ought to be.

Of course, they could get killed before the dust settles. Or they could find their happily ever after.

Escape Rating A-: Adamo and Eve are two people who have both been through their own versions of hell. They are both certain that they are not ready to enter into a relationship, but love finds them anyway. Then it takes them on the non-stop thrill ride of their lives.

One of the things that I liked about this book is that the hero and heroine both have a few miles on them. They aren’t teenagers or even young twentysomethings. These are two people who have been around the block, and the trip has left them with some life scars that made them who they are.

Eve’s troubles have been more deeply personal, where Adamo’s were spread across the front pages for weeks. At the same time, the events in Eve’s life also changed who she expected to be, and left her with a load of her own guilt. Eve dropped out of college to become the full-time caregiver for her aging and invalid father as he suffered a series of strokes that left him disabled. She gave up her dreams so that he wouldn’t die alone in a nursing home, and in the end, he died alone while she was out shopping.

She feels both relieved and guilty. When she meets Adamo she is at the beginning of a three-month trip to Europe where she hopes to reset her life now that it is hers again. She needs to find a new purpose. She finds that purpose in helping Adamo reopen the inn that his grandfather left him. After his catastrophic failure and his prison term, the inn is the only asset Adamo has, and the only thing keeping him moving forward. Well, that and the marvelous extended family that is waiting to welcome him home to Italy.

It’s been said that the two most important things in life are love and meaningful work. Re-opening the inn gives both Adamo and Eve plenty of meaningful work. They also find love with each other, but Adamo is holding back because he’s so sure Eve can do better. When his life is threatened, he finally decides that he can’t live and let live, he has to solve the mystery of his past before it gets them both killed.

Once Adamo starts chasing own that old truth, the pace of the story never lets up. Especially once the Conti brothers get involved. With a little investigation, Adamo discovers that whoever tried to kill him is using the Conti organization, or at least its low-level soldiers, to get things done. Neither the “connected” Conti brother in Italy nor the legitimate businessman Conti brother in New York are happy to discover that someone has infiltrated their organizations and is involving them in contract hits and money-laundering schemes that they didn’t authorize.

When the villains find that the tables have been very efficiently turned on them, revenge is sweet, if not quite complete. But there are more than enough just desserts to make you smile at the end.

There has been a recent spate of “Italian Billionaire” romances, but Where Lemons Bloom turns that trope on its head. Adamo has all the makings of the typical Italian romantic hero, but is poor as a churchmouse. There has also been a recent rush of mobster romances, but this story subverts that in a good way. The old-fashioned Godfather is now an old man who is trying to take care of his people before he, and possibly some of the old ways, pass away. His younger brother is legit, but still willing to play the part if it helps the side of the angels.

All in all, Where Lemons Bloom is romantic suspense where the suspense has the reader frantically flipping pages to make sure everything turns out alright. And the romance is absolutely incandescent.