Sunday, February 28, 2016

3 Stars - X by Sue Grafton

Publisher: Putnam
Mystery
Buy: AMZ

About The Book

X: The number ten. An unknown quantity. A mistake. A cross. A kiss.

X: The shortest entry in Webster’s Unabridged. Derived from Greek and Latin and commonly found in science, medicine, and religion. The most graphically dramatic letter. Notoriously tricky to pronounce: think xylophone.

X: The twenty-fourth letter in the English alphabet.

Sue Grafton’s X: Perhaps her darkest and most chilling novel, it features a remorseless serial killer who leaves no trace of his crimes. Once again breaking the rules and establishing new paths, Grafton wastes little time identifying this sociopath. The test is whether Kinsey can prove her case against him before she becomes his next victim.

~

Going into X, I had already A through P in the Kinsey Millhone series before I burned out. The premise of X and the knowledge this series would soon end brought me back for a trial period, and I worried at first I might be lost. After a few pages, I returned easily to Santa Teresa as though I'd never left. Maybe I need a refresher on some names referenced, but otherwise I had no trouble.

That said, the book's summary calls X Grafton's darkest and most chilling novel yet in the series. I'm not sure about it. There's no lack of suspense, but it comes slowly and gradually and is interrupted by other things Kinsey has going on at the moment. In this adventure she has no real paying clients and has taken on various tasks:

The suspicious next-door neighbors running a long con on dear Henry Pitts.

The deception of a spurned ex-wife who uses Kinsey for her own gain.

Taking on unfinished business from a dead detective acquaintance.

These threads braid into the story and as I read through to the end I figured out much of the conclusion. No surprises for me, but that doesn't necessarily make X a bad story. I get the impression we might revisit some of this in Y and/or Z, but X reads like things are winding down for the series. If you've enjoyed the series, you might like this one.

ARC received from publisher via NetGalley.

Friday, February 26, 2016

3.5 Stars - The Virgin's Spy by Laura Andersen

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Historical Fiction, Speculative Fiction
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

For those who just can’t get enough of the scandalous Tudors, the author of the popular Boleyn King series offers the second in an enthralling new saga of the royal family, set in Elizabethan England. Perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir.

This captivating continuation of her award-winning Boleyn King trilogy breathes immerses the reader in the dazzling Tudor court. Realistic period-details, genuine historical figures, and a stunning sense of atmosphere add depth and complexity to the seduction and glamour of the Tudor court in this spellbinding and imaginative sequel to The Virgin’s Daughter.

~

ARC received from publisher via NetGalley.

I've enjoyed this alternative history saga of the later Tudor dynasty. With The Virgin's Spy we are delving later into Elizabeth I's reign and conflicts with Ireland, and the queen's desire to keep Ireland under her control all the while seeking the right marriage for her daughter to keep everybody happy. No small feat, especially when her daughter prefers the son of Minuette, the Queen's childhood friend.

Spy concentrates more on Stephen, Minuette's oldest son and his dealings in Ireland on behalf of the queen. Matters of the heart tempt his loyalties to the crown, and that's just one worry for England seeing as how Philip of Spain has married Mary, Queen of Scots and produced a heir. It seems wagons all over Europe are circling.

There's a lot going on in this book, and that might be why I didn't finish it as quickly as I have the others in the series. The stories are expanded beyond the original trilogy, which I loved, and moving on to supporting players who haven't held my interest as much. Granted, I did like the story but found I could put it down for a day or two before resuming.

Just a minor spoiler, the book ends on a cliffhanger, so we'll see how everything plays out in the next one.

ARC received from publisher via NetGalley.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

4 Stars - Evergreen Springs by RaeAnne Thayne

Publisher: HQN
Contemporary Romance
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

Celebrate the magic of Christmas in Haven Point with New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne, where hope, home, and happily-ever-after are as close as your holiday stocking...

Christmas is the last thing Cole Barrett is thinking about this year. He's barely hanging on trying to care for his two grieving children since his ex-wife died in a tragic accident. For the reclusive Cole, this is no time for gift-giving and celebration—and certainly not for a sunny-natured optimist to blow into his screwed-up life.

In the years since her cancer treatments, physician Devin Shaw has researched the curative powers of Lake Haven's mineral waters. Unfortunately, the hot springs are on Barrett property, forcing Devin to strike a bargain with the ranch's attractively gruff owner: she'll give Cole's children the magical Christmas they deserve, and Cole will allow her patients access to the springs. But can she work her holiday magic to heal the Barrett family's battered hearts—and her own?

~

This is the second Haven Point story I've read. Evergreen Springs's heroine is a lady doctor and the sister of the previous story's leading lady. When Devin Shaw becomes the de facto physician for an old friend in her third trimester, she ends up linked to the extended family. This includes the handsome yet trouble horse trainer and his two children. Each has troubles in the past to overcome in order to make a Merry Christmas with each other.

Evergreen Springs is a lovely, sweet romance with many elements I likes in a small town romance - smart leads, solid backdrop of community, and a believable build up in the romance. If you like the small town romance you could like this series.

ARC received from publisher via NetGalley.

Monday, February 22, 2016

3.5 Stars - A Winter Wedding by Brenda Novak


Publisher: MIRA
Contemporary Romance
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

One Christmas can change your life...

Kyle Houseman believes he'll never find anyone he could love as much as Olivia Arnold, who's now married to his stepbrother. Not only did he lose her, he's been through one divorce and has no desire to go through another. He's determined to be extra careful about the next woman he gets involved with—which is why he fights his attraction to the beautiful stranger who rents his farmhouse for the Christmas holiday.

Lourdes Bennett is a country music artist. She's only planning to stay in Whiskey Creek long enough to write the songs for her next album—the album that's going to put her back on top. Her dreams don't include settling in a town even smaller than the one she escaped. But as she comes to know Kyle, she begins to wonder if she'd be making a terrible mistake to leave him behind.

~

I'm giving this 3.5 stars, as it falls in between the better installments of the Whiskey Creek series I have enjoyed and the ones I didn't like.

We got Kyle's backstory in When We Touch, and throughout the series we've been reminded of the indiscretion that largely labeled him the most lovelorn man in town. It's taken nine books, but we're finally back with him. We learn all this time he's played reluctant hero (read: checkbook) to his ex-wife Noelle, who clearly hasn't matured since the first story. Something's always broken, rent is always due, she is always short on cash and convinced Kyle will realize he made a big mistake in leaving her. This cycle of whining and appeasement has worn on Kyle, and he's ready to sever it.

Since Whiskey Creek is short on single, eligible women (save for Noelle), country singer Lourdes Bennett moves in temporarily to regroup after a few career setbacks. Landlord Kyle comes through when the home she rents loses heat, and gradually they come to generate their own at his place. Their romance, of course, doesn't sit well with this ex, but I'll leave that drama for you to discover.

A few spoilerish side notes: the situation from the earlier books I didn't enjoy isn't mentioned in this book. I expect it will be addressed eventually - it's not something you can just drop. Also, much is made of Baxter's return to Whiskey Creek, something I hope parlays into a future book with him as the focus. Even if Novak self-publishes it.

Overall, though, I've enjoyed the holiday WC books and I'd rate A Winter Wedding among the WC stories I liked.

ARC received from publisher via NetGalley

Saturday, February 20, 2016

3 Stars - The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev

Publisher: Kensington Books
Contemporary Romance
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

Ria Parkar is Bollywood's favorite Ice Princess--beautiful, poised, and scandal-proof--until one impulsive act threatens to expose her destructive past. Traveling home to Chicago for her cousin's wedding offers a chance to diffuse the coming media storm and find solace in family, food, and outsized celebrations that are like one of her vibrant movies come to life. But it also means confronting Vikram Jathar.

Ria and Vikram spent childhood summers together, a world away from Ria's exclusive boarding school in Mumbai. Their friendship grew seamlessly into love--until Ria made a shattering decision. As far as Vikram is concerned, Ria sold her soul for stardom and it's taken him years to rebuild his life. But beneath his pent-up anger, their bond remains unchanged. And now, among those who know her best, Ria may find the courage to face the secrets she's been guarding for everyone else's benefit--and a chance to stop acting and start living.

Rich with details of modern Indian-American life, here is a warm, sexy, and witty story of love, family, and the difficult choices that arise in the name of both.

~

Dev's A BOLLYWOOD AFFAIR was one of my favorite reads last year. If you look around, you'll find many readers felt the same way. AFFAIR was a delight - light and romantic and strengthened by familial ties and humor. It reminded me a bit of Moonstruck made into a Bollywood love story.

You'll see similarities in theme in A BOLLYWOOD BRIDE, though the story carries a somewhat darker thread woven into the story. Ria Parkar suffered trauma in her early childhood and discovered normalcy in Chicago summers growing up with her cousin and his friend, Vickham (Viky). What promises to blossom into a childhood sweetheart romance wilts with the interference of Viky's mother.

Now adults, Ria and Viky angst their way through the cousin's wedding preparations, with Ria trying to maintain the icy persona for which she is known. Gradually all the barriers break down because, of course, there's too much between them to ignore.

I looked forward to reading BRIDE because I loved AFFAIR so much. And...I liked this book. It's lacks the lightness of Dev's debut, but it tackles issues of mental illness and family tensions. It's a challenge to bring something heavy into a romance story, and Dev does it well. Where I nearly devoured AFFAIR in one sitting, though, I had to set BRIDE down on occasion and pace myself.

I did enjoy this book, however. I look forward to what Dev has for us in the future.


ARC provided by publisher via NetGalley

Thursday, February 18, 2016

4 Stars - Silence and Circumstance by Roy Dimond

Publisher: Untreed Reads
Historical Fiction, Mystery
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

Agatha Christie, pawn or puppet-master?

For eleven days in December 1926, that was the question all of England was asking. Was she kidnapped, or possibly a pawn trapped in an international mystery? Or could she actually be the puppet-master, secretly manipulating an entire nation from behind her typewriter?

Did one of the most disciplined writing minds the world has ever known really just “black out,” only to somehow reappear eleven days later, feeble and disorientated at a spa hotel? And what really was written in her missing diary regarding those eleven mysterious days?

Through a weaving of facts and fiction, the adventure unfolds through the perspective of her governess, Charlotte “Carlo” Fisher. Having accepted the role of confidante to the great writer, and ignited by the receipt of a mysterious letter, Charlotte embarks on a sinister and harrowing quest.

In her exploits, Charlotte is aided by many of the famous and elite of the twentieth century. While Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his protégé, Ian Fleming, speed towards Istanbul on the Orient Express in search of Agatha’s diary, Charlotte discovers clues that dispatch her to Berlin where she stumbles into a world gone mad.

Mysterious societies emerge from the shadows, and it appears something dark is rising...

~

I've read Christie for years, but never a novel based on Christie's life. Of course her disappearance remains a great mystery of our time. This is an entertaining scenario that brings together many names of the era with a cloak and dagger slant. There's more activity with these players than with Christie, but its nonetheless a fun caper.

Friday, February 5, 2016

3 Stars - I Heard a Rumor by Cheris Hodges

Publisher: Dafina Books
Contemporary Romance
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

Chante Britt is nobody’s fool—and she’s definitely not standing by her cheating ex-fiancé and current mayoral candidate, Robert Montgomery. Too bad he chose to tell the media otherwise. To escape an onslaught of prying reporters, Chante flees to her grandmother’s South Carolina beach house. But when she meets Zach Harrington, she may be out of the frying pan and into the fire. The man is arrogant, way too forward—and way too sexy…

Newly divorced and dealing with a scandal of his own, Zach should stay clear of all women. Yet something about Chante draws him in—maybe it’s the drink she throws in his face after his
too-hot-to-handle surprise kiss. Still, Zach firmly believes they can help each other take the edge off. And once he gets her to agree, what could have been a fling promises to be much more—until their personal and public dramas catch up with them. Will past wrongs keep them from finally having the love that’s right?

~

Chante can't escape scandal and innuendo. She escapes to Charleston when an ex embroils her in a scheme to win public approval for his mayoral campaign, and meets a man with his own ex problems. Their first encounter ignites fireworks, but not the romantic kind, but it's not long before Chante and Zach are playing pretend couple to appease her marriage-minded mother.

Throughout the story, they dodge the media (who want to know about her "involvement" with the cheating Robert and his ex-wife, the "Harlem Madame") and succumb to passion at the B&B where they met, on the beach...all over the place. :) Their romance takes them through moments of personal and professional growth and finally away from the obstacles threatening their relationship.

This is a fun read - funny in parts and dramatic in others. I had not read the first book in this series, and I think that would help to become familiar with the entire story.

ARC received by publisher via NetGalley