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: Digger Cartwright’s The House of Dark Shadows

darkshadowTitle: The House of Dark Shadows
Author: Digger Cartwright
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Rating: 5 out of 5
My Copy: Complimentary copy won via LibraryThing

I’m a big fan of psychological thrillers because nothing turns out the way you thought it would. Digger Cartwright does a phenomenal job with The House of Dark Shadows. I thought I had everything figured out due to the clues he gave us along the way, but I was blown off course. The ending isn’t exactly what you expect nor is it your typical Hollywood ending, but it fits.

Alex Rommel has everything a bachelor could ask for. He’s successful at his job and quite the ladies man, but he’s missing the love of his life. Years ago Shannon left him and he’s been haunted with memories of her and desperately searches for her. He runs into an old university friend, Brad, at a café and Brad mentions how he’s met the love of his life. He introduces Lisa to Alex and when Alex inquires how they met, Brad tells him the internet. Alex is skeptical because you never know who is behind the screen, but needless to say he’s intrigued. As he prepares to leave the café he overhears Brad tell Lisa about the rumors surrounding Alex, he killed an ex-girlfriend; however, both of them disregard the rumors. Later that evening, Alex signs up for internet dating and meets the perfect woman, Hope. Little does he know he’s about to step into a tangled world of deception and the person he thought he could trust the most turns out to be his biggest enemy.

In terms of character development, it’s strong and the writing is engaging. Cartwright has a business background and he does a great job taking elements from the business world and incorporating them into the narrative. At times it was difficult to sympathize with Alex because he’s particular in his ways and yet when he first receives that phone call from Hope’s mother you can’t help but want to yell “run from the crazy Alex!” He has a trusted mentor, Thomas, but for the most part he was too closed off and only allowed a selected few into his inner circle of trust and ultimately this is where Alex went wrong. Alex also suffers from nightmares and in many ways foreshadows a lot of what happens to Alex and shows us what happened to Shannon. It’s Alex who refuses to look into it and it’s proof he’s a man running from his own demons.

In a day and age where you can virtually find any information about a person, I’m surprised Alex didn’t take the initiative to further look into Hope’s background. If the house on the street is the only one that doesn’t look right, search the house address and find out what you can. I remind myself had Alex done this, we wouldn’t have a story. I had all sorts of theories regarding Hope. At one point Alex is told Shannon was beaten to the point where she needed reconstructive surgery and a piece of me held out hope (no pun intended) that it was Hope. I’m not saying anymore about the plot, but I loved it.

There are some unanswered questions, but I just file them away as answered since the ending I believe confirms Alex’s suspicion when Thomas tells him, “you should have given them what they wanted.” Thomas calls this a mind-fuck when Alex asks him what everything around him is at that moment (I’m not saying what it is for fear of spoilers) and oh this book was definitely one.

If you’re a fan of psychological thrillers or looking to try a new genre, I highly recommend The House of Dark Shadows. I’ve never read Digger Cartwright before and I’m looking forward to reading more of his work.

Book Review: Lauren Willig’s The Ashford Affair

ashfordTitle: The Ashford Affair
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: No
Rating: 5 out of 5
My Copy: Advance Reader Copy courtesy of St. Martin’s Press

If you’re familiar with Lauren Willig’s books, then you know she often combines narratives from the past with the present. The Ashford Affair isn’t any different and incorporates the narratives of both Clementine (in the present) and Addie’s (the past). This is Addie’s story, but in many ways, it’s also Clementine’s. Clementine is on journey to realize what truly matters in life.

Clementine Evans arrives late to her grandmother’s birthday celebration and is surprised when her grandmother calls her Bea. She asks her mother about Bea, but doesn’t get a direct answer. In fact, Clementine asks around and slowly a family secret is unearthed. Bea was a cousin of Granny Addie and through a series of flashbacks we’re told Addie’s story. Addie comes to live with the Earl of Ashford following the death of her parents. On her first night she’s befriended by one of the Earl’s daughters, Beatrice; Bea takes Addie under her wing and both become fast friends. As the narrative progresses, we see Addie grow up and on the night of the Earl’s eldest daughter’s presentation to society, Bea and Addie decide to view the ball in progress. Unfortunately, Bea brings along a pet mouse and accidentally lets go of it and Addie afraid it will be trampled to death goes to rescue Binky. Lucky for Binky she’s saved by a young man and Addie is instantly smitten. The next day, they run into each other and he introduces himself as Fredrick. Addie never forgets him and when she runs into him several years later she’s surprised and happy he remembers her. Fredrick and Addie spend time together attending a series of lectures and musical concerts and she introduces him to Bea. Addie is heartbroken when Frederick marries Bea and she goes on with her life as best she can. Five years later, she’s asked to visit to Kenya and putting her feelings aside for Fredrick she decides to visit. The Ashford Affair is a beautiful story about a love between two people and the heartache that comes with having to live with one’s mistakes.

In terms of characterization, we have rich strong characters, but admit I wish we had more of Fredrick’s perspective. Especially when he’s trying to come to terms with what to do with Addie before he marries Bea. I would have loved to have read something about his thoughts of Addie in Kenya with him and Bea or what he was thinking when her visit was announced. Bea comes off as a spoiled bitch. I realize she’s a woman trapped in a world that is changing around her and she’s unsure of how to proceed. The year she was presented to society, she was the débutante of the year and highly sought after. As a daughter of an earl, she was brought up with the expectation of marrying into the aristocracy and not having to make her own way. I keep thinking about Bea and as much as I want to judge her and hate for what she ends up doing, I can’t because in the end, she made the ultimate sacrifice. Fredrick once accused her of being jealous of Addie and I have to agree with his assessment, but for Bea, the jealously wasn’t that Fredrick was interested in Addie. It was the fact Addie was going to leave her and have a happy life, while Bea remained miserable. As for our present day characters, it’s interesting how much Anna resembled Bea in her personality and her life choices; whereas Marjorie took after Addie. Clementine is a hybrid of the both women; having Bea’s features and Addie’s drive for success.

Fans of historical fiction are in for a real treat as Willig does a great job incorporating life in England before the First World War to how everyone adapts to the changing world afterwards. We go from soirees to the heat in Kenya. Willig gives us rich descriptions and when Addie complains of the heat and her sweat stained dress, you can vividly picture it. The Ashford Affair is well written and the only real complaint I have is that, it ended way too quickly. Then again I read this in less than two days. As for the mystery surrounding the family secret, I do wish Willig would have focused on a few key scenes. That being the photographs Clementine finds, but in the end Addie and Bea are allowed to keep their secrets. It’s because of that, I’ll let the past stay shrouded in mystery.

If you only read a few books a year, this is one book you have to read. If you’re looking into trying a new genre or are in a reading funk, pick up The Ashford Affair. To say I loved it is an understatement because I more than loved it. It’s a beautiful story and I’m not ashamed to say I broke down into tears more than once. This is one book I’ll be rereading more than once.

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: CM Spencer’s Good Intentions

good intentions Title: Good Intentions
Author: CM Spencer
Genre: Historical Romance
Series: No
Rating: 3 out of 5
My Copy: Complimentary copy won via LibraryThing’s Member Giveaway

Victoria Larke vows never to marry a naval officer. She has nothing against them, it’s just that her father was one and was always way from home. Her mother wants her married and settled and her father takes the family to Bath in hopes of her finding a husband. There she meets two gentlemen, David and James. Both are smitten with her, but it’s James that pays the most attention to her; however, business calls him away and he bids Victoria goodbye. Upon his return to Bath he’s shocked to learn Victoria has married his good friend and he proceeds to hide his true feelings from her. Victoria wants James to be happy and makes it her mission to find someone worthy of his love. What ensues is a series of misunderstandings and lets James realize early on what type of woman he’d be happy with.

The writing is good and doesn’t sound too modern. In terms of characterization, it’s well done, but Spencer focused primarily on Victoria and James. At no point could I figure out why David won her heart. David was a patient man especially when a lot of the set ups ended up disastrous. One thing that doesn’t sit well and it is an incident involving Victoria and James. I won’t say what it is because it can be viewed as a spoiler. I did enjoy Victoria’s set ups and remind me a bit of Jane Austen’s Emma where she’s involved in all sorts of matchmaking and yet fails terribly. In each failed incident, I felt bad for James because I thought for sure he’d find his love and when it didn’t quite happen, I felt his disappointment. In this day and age we have the luxury of waiting around and dating until we find our significant other, but in the Regency period you were limited to what you could and couldn’t do. If you were lucky to find someone immediately then good for you and Spencer does a good job detailing the perils of trying to find someone in a period where it was pretty much hit or miss. Often times you could marry someone you thought was a good fit and turns out it isn’t. She did a great job showcasing that and I appreciate it.

In the end, Good Intentions falls flat. I understand the reason to focus primarily on Victoria’s attempt to set up James, but I wanted that “aha” moment. The moment the two protagonists fall in love and live happily ever after and we don’t that get that moment. For a good 60% of the novel, it’s about Victoria and James with Jemma in the background. When we finally get Jemma into the picture, she doesn’t play a major role in her own romance. I still can’t figure out when exactly James fell for her.

If you’re a fan of Jane Austen’s books, you might be interested in reading Good Intentions.

Book Review: Toni Aleo’s Taking Shots

takingTitle: Taking Shots
Author: Toni Aleo
Genre: Contemporary Romance / Sports
Series: Yes / Book 1
Rating: 3 out of 5
My Copy: Purchased

Let me start off by saying, I’m a HUGE hockey fan (Dallas Stars!) and as a reader I’m aware of sports themed romance plots; however, I had no idea there were hockey related plots. It just never crossed my mind and when I came across Toni Aleo’s Taking Shots, I knew I had to read it immediately.

Eleanor Fisher has spent the last six years thinking no man would want her after her ex-finance treated her like dirt. She’s insecure about her about weight despite losing the weight she gained due to an illness. Elli is a former Broadway actress, but now she has a thriving career in Nashville as a photographer with a successful business. Her uncle, Bryan Fisher, owns the Nashville Assassins and hires her to take the team photos for the upcoming NHL season. She catches the eye of Captain Shea Adler and he’s quickly smitten, but she can’t believe a hunk like Adler would be interested in her. They both quickly fall in love, but will Elli’s insecurity threaten their happiness or will it be an outsider?

I liked Taking Shots and there are some swoon worthy moments. I LOVED the birthday surprise Adler organizes for Elli. Two words: Netherfield Ball. Yes, Elli is a big fan of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and even introduces Adler to the book and film. I really liked that he was open to the idea of reading Austen and took the time to actually read the book. Adler quickly adopts Elli’s dog and that was super nice to read. A majority of the plot does center around their families. I feel for Elli because she doesn’t have an ideal family, but Adler’s family totally makes up for it.

As for the writing, it is my understanding there were issues with the first edition of Taking Shots in terms of grammar, but I still found errors. I believe a lot of it has to do with the way Aleo writes: writes the way she talks. I can’t say for sure how she talks, but I’m making the assumption because some authors do write the way they talk. It doesn’t necessary distract a reader, but it does pull you out of the story from time to time.

I debated with the rating and in the end decided on a three. It would have been a solid four had Aleo edited some of the mundane portions such as the daily routines. I understand Elli’s insecurity with regards to her weight, but it was just annoying to read page after page about her weight issues. Adler was supportive and come on, if the hockey player I crushed on and was a HUGE fan of was interested me, I’d be throwing my off clothes right away and not be worried about this or that. Sport fans are familiar with the groupies and hockey players aren’t immune to the attention lavished on them by puck bunnies. So when there’s an incident with Adler and a puck bunny, I don’t know why Elli gets angry about it. It’s almost as if Adler never could catch a break. He had to constantly “prove” he loved her and when he tells her he does, she doesn’t say she loves him until 15% is left of the book. Additionally, Elli kept a lot of secrets regarding her ex-finance to that of her family’s background. I’m not sure why Adler was still interested in her especially since she kept so much hidden.

My favorite quotes:

Whoever coined the phrase ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder,’ was an idiot.

“Jeez! I thought you said you were just gonna set up the tree? It looks like Santa shit Christmas in here”

Despite a few hiccups, I’m going to read the entire series and see how Aleo’s writing progresses. I do appreciate the enthusiasm she brought with regards to hockey. As I stated, I am a hockey fan and could easily associate with the feelings regarding the game and I think non-fans will be able to appreciate the game a little more.

Book Review: Amy Maurer Jones’ April Drools

aprildroolsTitle: April Drools
Author: Amy Maurer Jones
Genre: YA / Paranormal
Series: Yes / Short 2
Rating: 5 out of 5
My Copy: Review Copy via Author

Synopsis:
Hardy Hunter, here (your favorite werewolf). Welcome back to Mundane High. Sadly, not much has changed since Valentine’s Day. You’d think my vampire BFF dating the very human captain of the football team would have made life a little easier for a supernatural at Mundane High, but no such luck. Samantha and I are still lonely outcasts looking for love in all the wrong places, but that’s no surprise. The vamp always gets the girl (or guy, in this case) in Hollywood, but what about the werewolf? Yeah, not so much—unless there’s a new she-were in town.

Claire Crescent is beyond beautiful, and I haven’t failed to notice. Unfortunately, my human male counterparts haven’t either. Making everything more complicated, the mate Claire left behind at her old school still haunts her heart. For the time being, I’m playing it smart by offering Claire my friendship. I pray, after time, my friendship with her will develop into something deeper.

How did that 1950s love song go? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Um, yeah, you can say it: My life still sucks!

I adored April Drools! Of course there goes my theory of Hardy secretly crushing on Rhapsody. April Drools picks up a few months after Vampire Valentine takes place and our favorite couple Rhapsody and Reese are still together. This time, we get Hardy’s story and oh what a story it is!

Our three favorite supernatural beings are still misfits, even though the school has become more aware of them now that Rhapsody has been dating Reese. When the new girl, Claire, enrolls, every male has eyes for her and Hardy isn’t the exception. Taking one look at her, our favorite werewolf just turns into putty and he’s a bit upset when Rhapsody and Samantha approach her. Only because he’s not sure of what to make of her. Claire isn’t too thrilled to learn she’s one of four supernatural beings now enrolled. At her old school, they pretty much dominated the scene. Claire and Hardy quickly become fast friends, but when a fellow student begins to ask her out, Hardy’s temper flares because he’s protective of her. The two quickly become an item, but when they run into Claire’s ex-boyfriend at a local theater, will Claire’s feelings change?

I’m keeping quiet about the ending, but I had so much reading April Drools. Hardy is such a great character and Jones does a great job with his voice. I love the interaction between Rhapsody and Samantha with Hardy. The three truly are friends and as you read, you can easily feel the comradeship the three have. Rhapsody calls Hardy Fido with Samantha laughing along calling him Fee-Fee too. I really liked how Rhapsody and Samantha welcomed Claire into her inner circle. Ask anyone who has moved, it’s not easy being the new kid and to have two people welcome you with open arms is heartwarming. I felt Claire’s uneasiness at first and here Jones showcases how well she’s familiar with students.

April Drools is a fun read! If you haven’t read Vampire Valentine, I recommend it so you’re familiar with the characters. It’s okay to pick this up and dive right in if you’re so inclined.