Book Review: Amanda Quick’s The Mystery Woman

mysterywomanTitle: The Mystery Woman
Author: Amanda Quick
Genre: Historical Romance
Series: Yes / Book 2
Rating: 4 out of 5
My Copy: Advance Reader Copy via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers Program

I’m a fan of Amanda Quick (aka Jayne Ann Krentz) and auto-buy her books. I admit I lost interest in her Arcane series once we reached the conclusion of how Jones & Jones agency came together and she started expanding the Arcane series to include outside associates. I wanted to prep for this review by reading the last 3 books I missed, but decided it would be best to read from a new reader’s perspective without any previous knowledge as most new readers.

Amanda Quick’s The Mystery Woman is the second book in her Ladies of Lantern Street series. If you haven’t read the first book, Crystal Gardens, it’s not necessary to do so. Quick does a good job giving you an overview of what exactly the agency Flint & Marsh specializes in and a brief history of how it was established.

On the night her mentor, Roland Fleming, is found murdered, Beatrice Lockwood is forced to change her identity to hide from the killer. She finds employment at Flint & Marsh, a private agency that specializes in discreet inquiries. Undercover as a paid companion, Beatrice meets Joshua Gage, former messenger to the mysterious Mr. Smith, and helps her foil a kidnapping attempt on her employer. Joshua informs Beatrice that he has been looking for her and needs her assistance in finding his sister’s blackmailer. Little do they know, someone with a more sinister plan is also looking for Beatrice. Will they be able to uncover the identity of the blackmailer or will Beatrice become the killer’s next victim?

The writing is very typical Quick especially with the use of paranormal elements she’s been fond of using these past couple of years. It doesn’t distract a reader and it goes hand in hand with the time period of late Victorian England. The paranormal became popular during the era and there was a demand for people who had the ability to conjure spirits or speak with the dead. It makes sense that she would have a character with some type of extrasensory ability. In this case, Beatrice is a clairvoyant and Ronald Fleming recognized her talent. Joshua doesn’t believe in the paranormal and several times Beatrice reminds him how his intuition has been spot on and therefore is an extension of the psychic realm. Quick once again does thorough research and it shines throughout The Mystery Woman. She incorporates aspects of Egyptology in her plot and again it makes sense, since the Victorians were obsessed with Egypt. As the use of electricity emerged in the 19th century, so did the question of raising the dead. Quick takes advantage of this experimentation and incorporates into the plot. I won’t say exactly what it is, but it goes hand in hand with Egyptian mythology and paranormal ability.

In terms of characterization, one thing that stood out immediately is how much Joshua resembles a previous Quick character. Joshua reminded me of a lot of Tobias March (from the Lake/March series) and both share the same characteristics in terms of an injured leg and having a nephew under his wing. What I really like about Quick is that she gives us strong heroines who aren’t afraid to make a life for themselves. These are no shrinking violets and The Mystery Woman reminded me once again why I’m a fan of Amanda Quick. She also makes you think about the possibilities of science. The whole idea of reviving someone who is dead will leave most readers fascinated and yet horrified. I’m still thinking about it a few weeks later.

If you’re a fan of historical romance mixed with a bit of mystery, I recommend Amanda Quick’s The Mystery Woman. Just be advised, there a few plot holes regarding the mystery, but nothing you’ll lose sleep over.

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Book Review: Robin Covington’s His Southern Temptation

southernTitle: His Southern Temptation
Author: Robin Covington
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Yes / Book 2
Rating: 4 out of 5
My Copy: Advance Reader Copy via Entangled Publishing

I’m a big fan of lovers reunited and when I came across the opportunity to review Robin Covington’s His Southern Temptation, I couldn’t resist. I haven’t read the first book in the series, A Night of Southern Comfort, and while I don’t think it’s necessary to read it before reading His Southern Temptation, I think it would help because you’ll be familiar with a lot of the characters mentioned. That being said, His Southern Temptation, is a good a standalone book.

Like any person growing up in a small town, David “Lucky” Landon couldn’t wait to leave and his chance came when he enrolled in the US military. As a former assassin in the military, he’s done things he wishes he could forget. He decides he wants to buy his father’s farm, but before he does, he has one more job to do. He’s hired to find the whereabouts of Sarah Morgan and the case is proving more than he bargained for; no one will talk to him regarding Sarah. Meanwhile, Taylor Elliott is only in town to help pack and sell her family’s house. Thinking an intruder is in the house she holds him at gunpoint and realizes it’s none other than Lucky. The feelings she had for him resurfaces and both must come to grips with what it all means. Will they be able to put the past aside or will they once again go their separate ways?

I really enjoyed Covington’s writing and His Southern Temptation is a fast paced read. In terms of characterization, the characters are interesting and well-written. We find out how long Lucky and Taylor have known each other and the reason why they aren’t together. The differences between their backgrounds are also pointed out, with Lucky growing up on a farm and Taylor being part of a prominent wealthy family. Taylor has some relationship issues. Her parents haven’t had an ideal marriage and she’s afraid of heading down the same path. The constant relationship / no relationship discussion got a bit old especially once Taylor had made her mind. I understand her mother’s point when she tells Taylor she needs to live to her life and basically outlined what she gave up, but at the same time Taylor has had YEARS to think this through. That was my only small annoyance. While there are a lot of secondary characters, you’ll enjoy them. I loved Sheriff Burke and his untimely arrival in three memorable scenes involving Lucky and Taylor. The real standout secondary character is Taylor’s brother, Teague. He’s so stuffy and proper and I can’t wait for someone to come and turn his world upside down.

The mystery of Sarah Morgan plays a minor role and while I was disappointed there wasn’t more to it, I realized after reading, this isn’t about Sarah, but about Lucky and Taylor. While I wanted to give it a three, I debated with the rating. In the end, the romance between Lucky and Taylor is the center of the novel and because of that, I gave it a four.

My favorite quotes:

It was time to channel the late, great Patrick Swayze and take “Baby” out of the corner.

“Maybe what you’re looking for isn’t a place but a person.”

I’ll be going back to read A Night of Southern Comfort and am really looking forward to reading Teague Elliott’s story. If you’re a fan of romance, I recommend His Southern Temptation. Just be warned: it’s a sizzling read. You might need a cold shower or two after.

Book Review: Arthur Gonzalez’s The Photo Traveler

phototravelTitle: The Photo Traveler
Author: Arthur Gonzalez
Genre: YA / Science Fiction
Series: Yes / Book 1
Rating: 4 out of 5
My Copy: Purchased

I’m a fan of science fiction and as a historian, time travel plots can leave me rolling my eyes. When I came across Arthur Gonzalez’s The Photo Traveler, I was a bit unsure of how to proceed, but within the first three chapters, I was hooked and didn’t want to stop reading.

Life hasn’t been easy for seventeen-year-old Gavin Hillstone. His adopted father is a drunk and beats him and his adopted sister lies to get her way. They both blame Gavin for the death of his adopted mother and he lives with the guilt knowing he caused her death. One night after a beating, he’s had enough. Finding his original adoption papers, Gavin decides to look for the grandparents who gave him up for adoption. One the way to Washington D.C., he encounters some unsavory characters who ask him for the glass vials and he has no idea what they are talking about. He eludes them and when he arrives in DC, he finds his grandparents are alive. Gavin confronts them and they admit to giving him up to protect him. They then tell him a secret…he’s a photo traveler and as one, he’s able to travel anywhere in the world as long as there’s a physical photograph or a drawing of an event as it occurred. Gavin goes on a journey to find the truth of what happened to his parents and along the way discovers how vital it is not to change the past because of the way it affects the future.

The writing is engaging and Gonzalez definitely is able to put the reader into the mindset of a seventeen-year-old boy. It’s quite easy for a YA science fiction centered book to be filled with clichés, but Gonzales does an excellent job keeping things fresh. The Photo Traveler is also well researched and incorporates aspects of history in the narrative. At one point Gavin travels to 17th century America and the Salem Witch Trials. I cringed when I read where he was going because anyone from the 21st century would stand out and instead of brushing that tidbit aside, Gonzalez addresses it. What’s a 17th century person suppose to think at the height of the witch trials when they see a teenage boy dressed in jeans? I won’t say what happens, but I appreciated the reaction to the incident.

In terms of character development, it’s not thorough, but since this is part of a trilogy, it makes sense to draw the characters over the course of the series. Without a doubt, this book is about Gavin and the journey to find out who he is. We find out how Gavin’s adopted mother died and it will be interesting to see if by chance a picture of the events of that day exists and if it does, will Gavin travel to that specific day? Also I have a feeling there’s more to Gavin’s photography teacher. He took an early interest in Gavin and something just doesn’t sit well with me. I think all readers will be able to associate with Gavin and his need for acceptance. Here’s a teenage boy on the cusp on being an adult who doesn’t know why he was given up. One moment he had parents and a loving home and the in the next instant he has nothing. The heartache he experiences will sadden you and make you want to reach out to hug him.

My favorite quotes:

But since I suck at lying, I was probably as believable as that girl, Cynthia, in our class who constantly shows up with hickies on her neck but keeps swearing she’s still a virgin.

When I open my eyes, a twelve-ton elephant is staring right back at me. It gives me the creeps.

With all works of fiction, especially science fiction, the ability to suspend disbelief is needed and The Photo Traveler is no exception. There are a lot of unanswered questions mostly with regards to Gavin’s mistake and inadvertently changing history. I expected a bit more drawn out discussion pertaining to the subject, but there wasn’t one. Book 2, The Peace Hunter, should touch upon this and I can’t wait to find out what happens next. Arthur Gonzalez has done an excellent job with his debut novel and he’s an author to watch.

Book Review: Margot Berwin’s Scent of Darkness

scentTitle: Scent of Darkness
Author: Margot Berwin
Genre: Literary Fiction / Magic realism
Series: No
Rating: 4 out of 5
My Copy: Borrowed from the library

A few weeks ago, I read a short review in Entertainment Weekly for Margot Berwin’s Scent of Darkness. It sounded intriguing and when I found out my local library had a copy, I quickly requested a hold. I can’t describe how I feel about Scent of Darkness because I just don’t know what to say.

Berwin’s Scent of Darkness is a coming of age story. Eva grew up with a mother who resented her because she was the product of a one night stand. Being Catholic, her mother didn’t get an abortion and made it her mission to spend little time with Eva. Eva was raised her by grandmother, Louise who is a perfume maker and teaches her about how scents play a central role in our lives. When Louise dies she leaves her house to Eva with instructions never to enter a specific room. The room was Louise’s workshop and Eva honors that wish. One day she finds the boy, Gabriel, from the coffee shop in Louise’s house. He apologizes for breaking in and tells her he’s only there to study because his house is too crowded. Gabriel comes over often to study while Eva spends her time cleaning out Louise’s items. He encourages her to enter the forbidden room and there she discovers a vial of a scent Louise made for her. It comes with specific instructions, “Don’t remove the crystal stopper, Evangeline, unless you want everything in your life to change.” Eva does remove the stopper, places a drop of the vial on her skin, and changes her life. Gabriel suddenly is interested in her and even she realizes it was the vial and the scent she now has. Everywhere she goes people cannot help but stop to smell her and can’t get enough. Gabriel suggests she go with him to New Orleans, where he is attending medical school. While in New Orleans, Eva meets a man who will do anything to possess her and she has to make a choice: him or Gabriel.

A majority of the plot takes place in New Orleans and I can’t imagine it set anywhere else. New Orleans and her history with the occult come to life. In terms of character development, it’s a bit weak. I can’t for the life of me figure out the appeal of Gabriel other than his looks. Eva comes off a bit naive and spoiled, but I attribute that to her home life. I also think we need to have an inexperienced Eva to take us through this journey because it is with her, that we experience her life as it happens.

We’re given two key clues at the beginning of Scent of Darkness. One of them has to do with the tarot card reading done for Eva and the foreshadowing about a man who is for her and the one who isn’t. I found it interesting when Eva first sees Gabriel because she’s told he’s not the one destined for her and yet the two of them get together. The other clue didn’t make any sense to me at the time, but now that I’ve had a few days to digest it all, it does. I’m not going to say what it is because it’s pointed out and I felt like banging my head against the wall when it all came together.

Berwin’s writing is rich and the prose is just beautiful. I found myself rereading sentences because of the prose and the rich details. Eva and Gabriel making love their first night in New Orleans, “Later that night, in bed we made love again. Cats screamed from the courtyard below, the spooky, pornographic, wailing cry of felines in heat.”

Eva is bitten by a dog and goes back to the apartment to clean her wound: “Liquid seeped from the puncture holes and dripped into the sink. The drop hitting the porcelain sounded like a boulder in my ear, and with a ferocious intensity, as though it was happing right at the moment. I remembered the sound of Gabriel’s sweat striking the bottom of the white room in Louise’s house. The rest of the blood in my body jumped and shuddered at the sound. I could tell because I saw the veins in my wrist rippling as if they had tiny ocean waves inside of them.”

I really enjoyed Margot Berwin’s Scent of Darkness. I’m looking forward to reading her debut novel, Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire. If you’re looking into trying a different genre from what you normally read, I highly recommend Scent of Darkness.

Book Review: Alan Cupp’s Malicious Masquerade

17132951Title: Malicious Masquerade
Author: Alan Cupp
Genre: Mystery
Series: No
Rating: 4 out of 5
My Copy: Advance Reader Copy via NetGalley courtesy of Henery Press

Where is Tyler Moore? That’s the question Alan Cupp has us asking in Malicious Masquerade. When Jasper Bedford’s daughter, Cindy, is jilted at the altar, Jasper begins to wonder if something may have happened to Tyler. Jasper quickly assembles a search team and the results surprise him, yet yield little information as to Tyler’s whereabouts. Unbeknownst to Jasper, Cindy hires a private investigator to find Tyler because she believes something must have happened to him. Jasper tries to convince Cindy of the truth: Tyler used her for monetary gain; despite showing her evidence of his guilt, she doesn’t believe it. When she meets with Carter Mays, the Chicago PI she hires, she’s convinced he can find Tyler within days and Carter is unsure if he wants to take this case. He has a reason to be suspicious: the authorities haven’t been alerted to Tyler’s disappearance. The deeper Carter digs, the more he uncovers and soon he’s questioning who he can trust.

Character development is strong and yet we don’t really get to know Carter. It was almost as if Cupp focused primarily on the Bedfords with Carter being secondary. Don’t get me wrong, it works, but at times I wanted to know more about him. In the end, this is about finding Tyler and uncovering his motives and as I mentioned, the set up works. I really liked how Cupp shows us how much Cindy has grown. At the end, she’s no longer this spoiled rich girl and when she realizes her father’s true business dealings, she’s conflicted on what to do. I’m not saying what she decides, but it is definitely in keeping with her personality. I’m not surprised at how Jasper and Darlene turn out. I admit feeling sorry for Darlene at times, but it’s apparent she likes to be miserable; she and Jasper are made for each other.

There are a lot of hidden agendas in Malicious Masquerade and Cupp does a terrific job keeping the reader on the edge of their seat. The plot was well executed with a few minor hiccups (explained further down), but he slowly feeds you information. Based on the clues we’re given it’s up to us to decipher them. I was thrown off course a few times, but felt vindicated in the end when it all came together. I still feel as if I had no idea what to expect and I love when writers do that. Now in terms of the secrets, wow-the business aspect of Jasper’s dealings was mindboggling. We’re told Tyler stole several millions from Jasper, but no one is sure how because Jasper and his business partner, have an intricate security system. The pieces come together at the end and everything is well placed.

I debated with the rating and it would have been solid five had a few things been cleared up. There’s an incident involving Carter’s house and it’s assumed Jasper had something to do with it, but the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced Tyler was behind it. If it was Tyler, it’s never expanded on despite the fact one of Jasper’s men is found murdered down the street from Carter’s house. There’s also the issue with several listening devices found in Carter’s office. It is assumed Jasper planted them and I most certainly can believe it, but still I can’t let go of the possibility of Tyler having something to do with it and him wanting to know how close Carter was to finding him.

The bottom line is Malicious Masquerade is a highly enjoyable read. I’m looking forward to more of Alan Cupp’s work.

Book Review: Melissa R Smith’s Legacy

legacyTitle: Legacy
Author: Melissa R. Smith
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Yes / Book 2
Rating: 4 out of 5
My Copy: Review Copy via Author

Melissa R Smith’s Legacy is the second book in the Sanguine series and it is part one of a two part series. It is very much a standalone book and if you haven’t read Six Hours to Sunrise, you won’t be left trying to backtrack since Legacy introduces a new set of characters and takes places in a different location.

Six Hours to Sunrise addresses the issue of Sanguines living among us and what it’s like to grow up unaware of them. Legacy touches on the relationships between the Militia and Sanguine. The Militia are a self governed group of humans who make it their business to make sure Sanguines honor the Lossbridge Treaty. The treaty outlines what Sanguines can and cannot do, which some Sanguines oppose, but only because they feel a treaty wasn’t necessary. What happens when a top ranking militia official befriends a Sanguine? What if said Sanguine finds his mate amongst a descendant of a militia member? That’s what Legacy attempts to answer.

Devani Daniels is just fourteen years old when she begins to form a bond with Tristan, a Sanguine. Tristan quickly recognizes the signs and makes arrangements to leave her life because such a connection cannot happen at such a young age. Her father realizes there is no denying his daughter’s fate and proceeds to sever his family’s ties regarding participation in the Legacy Act. The act itself just means, children of high ranking Militia members automatically are held to the regulations even if they don’t become Militia officials. Unfortunately, Devani and her sister are unaware of this and when Devani is invited to an unknown club, she has no idea her life is about to be turned upside down. When she’s informed of her reason for being invited to the Weeping Orchid, Devani immediately gets ready to leave. She’s aware of what Sanguines are and doesn’t want anything to do with them; however, the club owner and his companion, Simeon and Echo, quickly explain the purpose of the club and she changes her mind. Later she meets Tracy and her boyfriend Greg and spends the evening dancing the night way, but when she learns she’s been reserved for someone named Roman, Devani begins to question if she really wants to be involved with them. Little does she know, two men from her past will renter her life and she has to make the difficult decision of protecting her family or take a chance on love.

Character development is strong and readers will associate with Devani. We have a heroine who is strong and isn’t afraid to fight for what she believes. Readers will enjoy the relationship she has with her sister, Jasmine. Echo is a force to be reckoned with as well as Simeon. Of course we must have a villain and London is a toad of the first order. I can’t wait to see what fate awaits him in part two, Touch of Silver.

The writing is engaging and polished. One note regarding the narrative, Smith uses first person point of view, but it does interchange at times with Roman’s narrative. It’s not bothersome, but might distract readers since you aren’t told when the narrative changes. We do need Roman’s narrative and Smith does a good job placing it where we needed it and it becomes clear as you read. I personally enjoyed Roman’s past and how he and Jake Daniels came to understand one another.

Legacy ends on a cliffhanger and readers will be left dying to know what happens next. Lucky for you the wait isn’t far since Touch of Silver is scheduled for an early March release. In the meantime, you can read Legacy for free at Smashwords using coupon code: WC87W.

Book Review: Shannen Camp’s Finding June

16161787Title: Finding June
Author: Shannen Crane Camp
Genre: YA
Series: Yes / Book 1
Rating: 4 out of 5
My Copy: Purchased

Can we take a moment to discuss the cover? It’s beautiful! I love the vintage and Hollywood feel to it and it definitely goes hand in hand with the premise of Finding June. What I really like about it, are the clothes worn by the cover models because it is something June and her friend Joseph would wear.

Imagine for a moment having the opportunity of a lifetime: working alongside Hollywood’s heartthrob, Lukas Leighton. For sixteen-year-old June Laurie, her dream of being an actress is about to come true when she’s given the opportunity to audition for her favorite television series, Forensic Faculty. When she lands the job, she’s thrust into the Hollywood lifestyle and quickly learns the business. June believes everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt and soon finds out not everyone in the business, is who they appear to be. June is tested several times and she has to come to grips with her beliefs and the expectations of others.

It’s refreshing to read a book that goes behind the scenes of a television show, but isn’t too technical and you can tell Camp did her research. Although I have a slight theatre background, what goes on behind the camera in terms of filming or a table read (a little different from my own experience of a theatre table read) was pretty new to me. Camp takes us on June’s journey and every new experience she had, I felt it. I could feel her anxiousness while waiting see the casting director and when she first sees Lukas up close during her audition, I think I fainted alongside June! On her first day on the set, I could feel her butterflies and when she made friends among the cast, they became my friends too. It’s rare for author to evoke these feelings and I do believe readers will associate with June.

Finding June is Latter-Day Saint/Mormon centered with the mention of June and Joseph attending seminary. A good friend of mine explained seminary as a daily class you attend before regular school classes and it’s a way to study the scriptures in-depth. Camp doesn’t fully explain this, but you do get an idea of what it is as you read. Although the Mormon religion is at the center of the book, it is by no means preachy and I believe if you aren’t religious, you can still enjoy this book.

Character development is solid and I loved the fact June was strong and was able to stand up for herself on numerous occasions. For example, she’s uncomfortable with her clothes on set and asks the costume designer if it is possible to get something a little more modest. June daydreams of Lukas like any teen girl, but she isn’t your typical naive teenage heroine. Joseph points out that she’s too smart to go out with a man who is into bar hopping and has a different woman on his arm. June responds to him saying Lukas might be not be at the bar drinking and is there for the atmosphere. She’s careful to take in her settings and realizes her mistakes quickly. Furthermore, she doesn’t sit back waiting for things to happen, rather she makes them happen.

Overall Finding June is a charming read and you’ll thoroughly enjoy it.