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Saturday, March 31, 2018

REVIEW: Ain't She a Peach by Molly Harper

*Thanks to Netgalley and Gallery Books for an ARC*
 
Expected publication: June 12, 2018 

Publisher's Summary:
An Atlanta ex-cop comes to sleepy Lake Sackett, Georgia, seeking peace and quiet—but he hasn’t bargained on falling for Frankie, the cutest coroner he’s ever met.

Frankie McCready talks to dead people. Not like a ghost whisperer or anything—but it seems rude to embalm them and not at least say hello.

Fortunately, at the McCready Family Funeral Home & Bait Shop, Frankie’s eccentricities fit right in. Lake Sackett’s embalmer and county coroner, Frankie’s goth styling and passion for nerd culture mean she’s not your typical Southern girl, but the McCreadys are hardly your typical Southern family. Led by Great-Aunt Tootie, the gambling, boozing, dog-collecting matriarch of the family, everyone looks out for one another—which usually means getting up in everyone else’s business.

Maybe that’s why Frankie is so fascinated by new sheriff Eric Linden...a recent transplant from Atlanta, he sees a homicide in every hunting accident or boat crash, which seems a little paranoid for this sleepy tourist town. What’s he so worried about? And what kind of cop can get a job with the Atlanta PD but can’t stand to look at a dead body?

Frankie has other questions that need answering first—namely, who’s behind the recent break-in attempts at the funeral home, and how can she stop them? This one really does seem like a job for the sheriff—and as Frankie and Eric do their best Scooby-Doo impressions to catch their man, they get closer to spilling some secrets they thought were buried forever.


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Harper successfully charms readers again with this second in the Southern Eclectic series.  What's not to love? Harper can write humor effortlessly while blending great snarky, romantic tension with an intriguing, well paced plot. She truly excels with bringing characters to life who are rich with detail, while being vulnerable, eccentric and purely loveable.

Truly, there was nothing that disappointed me about the book other than the fact that I finished it so quickly, that now I'm left wanting more from the Lake Sackett crew.

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, March 10, 2018

REVIEW: Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs

*Thanks to Netgalley & Ace for an ARC in exchange for a review*

Publisher's Summary:
Now mated werewolves Charles Cornick and Anna Latham face a threat like no other–one that lurks too close to home…

They are the wild and the broken. The werewolves too damaged to live safely among their own kind. For their own good, they have been exiled to the outskirts of Aspen Creek, Montana. Close enough to the Marrok’s pack to have its support; far enough away to not cause any harm.

With their Alpha out of the country, Charles and Anna are on call when an SOS comes in from the fae mate of one such wildling. Heading into the mountainous wilderness, they interrupt the abduction of the wolf–but can’t stop blood from being shed. Now Charles and Anna must use their skills–his as enforcer, hers as peacemaker–to track down the attackers, reopening a painful chapter in the past that springs from the darkest magic of the witchborn.

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Another highly enjoyable novel by Briggs. I enjoy the Alpha & Omega series because Charles and Anna are unlike most couples portrayed in paranormal romances. Briggs always adds complexity and a layer of intrigue that make her characters and books stand out against others in the genre.  Great pacing and creativity.  

I was hooked from the initial prelude. There was a sense of intensity as to learn just what act had taken place and more about these mysterious wildlings. 

I enjoyed the audiobook as well.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

REVIEW: Glimpse by Jonathan Maberry

*Thanks to Netgalley & St. Martin's Press for an ARC in exchange for a review*

Expected publication: March 27, 2018

Publisher's Summary:
Rain is a young woman trying to rebuild herself after years of drug addiction and abuse. Ten years ago, at age sixteen, she gave up her baby after the father, her first love, dies in Iraq. Now, three years clean and on the way to a job interview, Rain borrows a pair of reading glasses from an old lady on a Brooklyn train. The lenses are cracked and through the crack she catches a glimpse of a little boy running and screaming. The boy looks so much like Rain’s dead lover. Like their son must look now. 

Rain realizes that the glasses give her quick glimpses of her lost son, Dylan, who needs her to find him. Dylan is important to our damaged, hopeless world. But he’s in terrible trouble because evil creatures - the Shadow People - are trying to corrupt and destroy him. If Dylan dies, then hope dies. 

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Where should I start?  I was hooked from the first word.  Rain's is a compelling story that had me on the edge of my seat the entire read.  This novel has on the components of a chilling yet fascinating read. Rain is a dynamic character whose vulnerabilities make her intriguing and reader's can't help but be entranced by her journey. Maberry does what he does best, write with purpose that is both satisfying for those wanting creative, well developed characterization, action, an interesting plot and enough creepy horror elements to have you sleeping with the lights on and checking all nooks and crannies for any number of evil creatures!

I read in chunks and with the lights on to savor the experience and soothe my overactive imagination.  Maberry remains one of my absolute favorite authors. I devour everything he publishes and pine until I have another fix!

Final rating: ALL THE STARS!!!!!!

Friday, February 23, 2018

REVIEW: Tart of Darkness by Denise Swanson

*Thank you to Netgalley & Sourcebooks for an ARC in exchange for a review*

Expected publication: April 1, 2018

Publisher's Summary:
Right when Dani thinks she’s hit a dead-end in her career, she unexpectedly inherits an enormous old house in a quaint college town. This gives her the perfect opportunity to pursue her true passion—cooking! So Dani opens Chef-to-Go, preparing delicious, ready-made meals for hungry students attending the nearby university, as well as providing personal chef services and catering events for the local community. To help support her new business, she opens her home to a few students, renting them rooms and becoming almost like a big sister figure in their lives.

But just as Dani is relishing her sweet new life, the friend of one of her boarders is murdered, and Dani becomes one of the primary suspects! She’ll have to scramble to clear her name and save her business before the killer reappears—perhaps to silence the new chef forever.

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I have a passion for 'food mysteries' so I was excited about a new series.  This first book is likable--Dani is an interesting female protagonist, down on her luck with new opportunities for a career and love on the horizon.  I thought it was funny that she essentially becomes a den mother to college girls but it the basis for a good premise.

General assessment--the plot works but felt a little clunky at times, especially with the suspect development, the investigation and the wrap up.  It all felt a little forced and as a reader I wanted more finesse. I also think I'd prefer the POV from one character rather than shifts from time to time.

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, February 17, 2018

REVIEW: Paris Adrift by E.J. Swift

*Thank you to Netgalley and Solaris for an ARC in exchange for a review*


Publisher's Summary:
Determined to escape her old life, misfit and student geologist Hallie packs up her life in England and heads to Paris. She falls in with the eclectic expat community as a bartender at the notorious Millie’s, located next to the Moulin Rouge.

Here she meets Gabriela, a bartender who guides her through this strange nocturnal world, and begins to find a new family. But Millie’s is not all that it seems: a bird warns Hallie to get her feathers in order, a mysterious woman shows up claiming to be a chronometrist, and Gabriela is inexplicably unable to leave Paris.

Then Hallie discovers a time portal located in the keg room. Over the next nine months, irate customers will be the least of her concerns, as she navigates time-faring through the city’s turbulent past and future, falling in love, and coming to terms with her own precarious sense of self.

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The cover is what drew me to this book.  I liked the concept. The novel begins with a bleak glimpse at the future.  The world as we know it is in ruins and the humans left have little hope.  Their only chance is one last mission go back in time, find a particular person and hope that they can re-write history.

Time travel books have a tendency to get messy and often complicated.  In general, I enjoyed Paris Adrift.  The story was engaging and I liked Hallie as the main protagonist.  I did; however, find fault with a few aspects.  Some reviewers argue that the pacing was off.  I did not have to slog through, per se, but I will agree that I wold have liked to see the writing tightened a bit for general aesthetic. The whole purpose for the mission is revealed and wrapped up far too quickly. 

Overall, the general characterization could have been polished, giving more depth to some of the secondary characters and I wanted significantly more world-building for the futuristic premise.  I do not believe that readers need to constant hand holding for science fiction; however, there are a significant amount of undefined terms which need better definitions to round out the reader's experience.

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, February 3, 2018

REVIEW: Phantom of Oz by Cindy Brown

*Thank you to Netgalley and Henery Press for a copy in exchange for a review*


Publisher's Summary:

Creepy munchkins. A mysterious phantom. And a real Wicked Witch. Are you ready for it? 

Actress and part-time PI Ivy Meadows has been hired to uncover the cause of the creepy accidents that plague the roadshow The Wizard: A Space OZpera and find out who dropped a chandelier on the Wicked Witch of the East. 

Was it the ghost who haunts the Grand Phoenician Theatre? A “wicked witch” in the cast? Or is it someone—or something—more sinister? 

It’s Ivy’s most personal case so far. 

Her best friend Candy, who’s touring with the show, is caught in a downward spiral of self-destruction, and is in more danger than she knows. 

To save her friend and the show, Ivy must answer even tougher questions: Do spirits really exist? What is real beauty? What does friendship mean? 

Ivy needs to learn the answers, and fast—before Candy reaches the point of no return. 

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I am a sucker for anything with a Wizard of Oz twist!  This book was my first foray into the Ivy Meadows mystery series, although it is the fifth book!  I enjoyed the Oz theme and joke mixed with dashes of Phantom of the Opera.  I found this to be a strong mystery where I was engaged and entertained. I did not find the whodunnit overtly obvious and Brown's writing is clever with interesting character detail nuggets interspersed throughout each chapter.

I also enjoyed the play between reality and a touch of the paranormal.

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, January 25, 2018

REVIEW: No Contest by Tara Wyatt

*Thanks to Netgalley and Pocket Star for an ARC in exchange for a review*

Expected publication: January 29, 2018

The third book in the Blood and Glory series reveals that sometimes, the power of temptation is stronger than the pull of a championship belt. This is a sexy read full of intensity, unexpected romance and its fair share of intrigue.  Perfect for fans of Katy Evans!

Publisher's Summary:
Leandro Oliveira—hunky MMA fighter, playboy billionaire, and newly crowned champ of the World Fighting Championship’s light heavyweight division—is used to getting his way. But when his party lifestyle threatens to cost the WFC sponsors, he has to clean up his act or he’ll be stripped of his contract. Forced to give up late nights of booze and women, Leandro resents having to change his behavior—until he lays eyes on the sexy publicist hired to manage his image. He plans to seduce her to regain control of the situation, but falling for her wasn’t supposed to be part of the deal.

Freelance publicist Ashylynn Fields has never taken on a client she wasn’t certain she could handle. But her latest project might just be the guy who kills her perfect record. Between his sex tape, his exploits at strip clubs, and his nights spent street racing expensive sports cars—not to mention his smoldering good looks and near constant flirting—Leandro might prove to be impossible. But with a full-time position with the WFC on the line, Ashlynn is more determined than ever to ignore his good looks and charm, and get this bad boy on the straight and narrow. 

No Contest was a quick, steamy read and my first exposure to the series. However, I have definite plans to seek out the other titles.  Author Tara Wyatt follows a successful formula to build suspense.  Not only is there electric sexual tension between protagonists, but there is just enough extra plot outside of their growing attraction to add to the overall narrative. On downside, for me, was that many of the added characterizations of secondary players was all to stereotypical/predictable.  I guessed what would happen very early on but I didn't really have too many complaints since this is what I look for in this type of romance.

Overall, very enjoyable.  

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Highlighted Reads - December 2017

Southern Eclectic #0.5

Molly Harper is back with another charming southern based series full of wit, romance and enough crazy characters to keep readers laughing and begging for more.  Welcome to the charming small town of Lake Sackett, Georgia!

Carl and Marianne were high school sweethearts, loving the way only teenagers can—with no thought to logic or pride, just a bone-headed, optimistic frenzy of unicorns and hormones. That was all they needed. Or so Carl thought.

Scared of being stuck in Lake Sackett, like so many of her friends—without a real shot at a future or achieving her own dreams—Marianne panicked and bolted to college after stomping Carl’s heart. But when she returns for the summer with her family after years away, she and Carl are drawn together like moths to a flame. As they rekindle their old romance and remember what it was like to be in love, they have to wonder: is this, finally, their real chance at happiness?

Everything a Harper fan could ever want in a short story--good structure, memorable characters, humor, romance, a bit of angst and a happy ending! The story's only downside is that is I was left wanting more. I love Carl and Marianne and wish they had gotten their own full length book rather than this little nibble. Audiobook fans will be pleased to know Amanda Ronconi is back for another fantastic performance!

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Southern Eclectic #1

(Publisher's Summary) -- Nestled on the shore of Lake Sackett, Georgia is the McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop. (What, you have a problem with one-stop shopping?) Two McCready brothers started two separate businesses in the same building back in 1928, and now it’s become one big family affair. And true to form in small Southern towns, family business becomes everybody’s business.

Margot Cary has spent her life immersed in everything Lake Sackett is not. As an elite event planner, Margot’s rubbed elbows with the cream of Chicago society, and made elegance and glamour her business. She’s riding high until one event goes tragically, spectacularly wrong. Now she’s blackballed by the gala set and in dire need of a fresh start—and apparently the McCreadys are in need of an event planner with a tarnished reputation.

As Margot finds her footing in a town where everybody knows not only your name, but what you had for dinner last Saturday night and what you’ll wear to church on Sunday morning, she grudgingly has to admit that there are some things Lake Sackett does better than Chicago—including the dating prospects. Elementary school principal Kyle Archer is a fellow fish-out-of-water who volunteers to show Margot the picture-postcard side of Southern living. The two of them hit it off, but not everybody is happy to see an outsider snapping up one of the town's most eligible gentleman. Will Margot reel in her handsome fish, or will she have to release her latest catch?

(My Thoughts) -- Let me count the ways I loved this book! 
1) Amanda Ronconi narrates the audiobook. She's perfect as usual.  
2) The humor - no one writes charming, wacky characters and families quite like Harper. 
3) The romance - the perfect blend of fun, angsty, a little sexual tension and a fairy tale ending.
4) The setting - what a great little fictional southern town full of great narrative potential!

I can't wait for the next book!!!!

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Oberon's Meaty Mysteries #2

Oberon is off to Portland to smell all the things with canine companions Orlaith and Starbuck, and, of course, his human, ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan. The first complication is an unmistakable sign of sinister agendas afoot: a squirrel atop the train. But an even more ominous situation is in store when the trio plus Atticus stumble across a murder upon arrival at the station. 

They recognize Detective Gabriela Ibarra, who’s there to investigate. But they also recognize the body—or rather that the body is a doppelganger for Atticus himself. The police, hampered by human senses of smell and a decided lack of canine intuition, obviously can’t handle this alone. Not with Atticus likely in danger. Oberon knows it’s time to investigate once more-—for justice! For gravy! And possibly greasy tacos!

Together they navigate by nose through Portland to find a bear-shifter friend with intel, delicious clues at the victim’s home, and more squirrels. Always more squirrels!

This is another super fun  novella meant to serve as a companion read to the Iron Druid Chronicles. Oberon remains one of my favorite supporting characters in any series I read.  His narrative voice (as written by Hearne and literally voiced by Luke Daniels) is honest and hilarious--basically how I imagine Scooby Doo might be if he lived with a 2000 year old Druid rather than a stoner. What's better is Hearne's ability to give each canine their own distinctive personality.  I always love Atticus too, but he really takes a back seat in these mysteries. 

A superb, fun, novella perfect for a hilarious but well developed read.  The audiobook is a real treat too!

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars


Hercule Poirot #10

What more can a mystery addict desire than a much-loathed murder victim found aboard the luxurious Orient Express with multiple stab wounds, thirteen likely suspects, an incomparably brilliant detective in Hercule Poirot, and the most ingenious crime ever conceived?

This read satisfied part of my 2017 Reading Challenge and is our Third Monday Book Club selection for January 2018.  I knew the basic premise of the story even though I'd never read the book or seen any of the film adaptations.  Basic plot - there's a murder on the Orient Express with a limited number of suspects...so...whodunnit?  Poirot is conveniently there to conduct an investigation!

Overall, it is a great basis for a mystery; however, I'm less of a fan of how antiquated and stereotypical Agatha Christie's novels feel in the year 2017. I dislike the biased and rather prejudice voice and characterization that occurs throughout this book and others I've read.  For me, it dampers my ability to connect with the story. I am curious to finally watch the various film versions.

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Crown & Key #2

When monster-hunter Malcolm MacFarlane comes across the gruesome aftermath of a ritual murder in a London church, he enlists the help of magician-scribe Simon Archer and alchemist extraordinaire Kate Anstruther. Studying the macabre scene, they struggle to understand obscure clues in the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics carved into the victim’s heart—as well as bizarre mystical allusions to the romantic poetry of William Blake. One thing is clear: Some very potent black magic is at work.
 
But this human sacrifice is only the first in a series of ritualized slayings. Desperate to save lives while there is still time, Simon, Kate, and Malcolm—along with gadget geek Penny Carter and Charlotte, an adolescent werewolf—track down a necromancer who is reanimating the dead. As the team battles an unrelenting army of undead, a powerful Egyptian mummy, and serpentine demons, the necromancer proves elusive. And when the true purpose of the ritual is revealed, the gifted allies must confront a destructive force that is positively apocalyptic.

The series hits its stride with book 2--the characters have developed and are really beginning to function as a group and even like a family. There is romance and some good flirtation between Kate and Simon.  I particularly was intrigued by Malcolm's struggle to accept those he would previously consider monsters. Altogether, this was a fun read that is just the kind of imaginative Victorian steampunk that I enjoy.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Crown & Key #3

Gaios, a deranged demigod, who is hell-bent on summoning the elemental forces of the earth to level London and bury Britain. The Crown and Key Society, a secret league consisting of a magician, an alchemist, and a monster-hunter, is the realm’s only hope—and to stop Gaios, they must gather their full strength and come together as a team, or the world will fall apart.

But Simon, the Crown and Key’s leader and the last living magician-scribe, has lost his powers. As Gaios searches for the Stone of Scone, which will give him destructive dominion over the land, monster-hunter Malcolm , alchemist extraordinaire Kate, gadget geek Penny, and Charlotte the werewolf scramble to reconnect Simon to his magic before the world as they know it is left forever in ruins.  

This book is a page turner from beginning to end. Will Simon get his powers back?  Will the Society save Britain? Will Kate discover a cure for her sister?  So many questions!  Luckily, they are all answered and then some :)

The only downside to this book is that it seems like the final one in the series! I wanted more--there are hints that the Society's mission will still continue but we'll have to wait and see if we ever get any of those stories in the future.

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars