Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas

A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry ThomasThe first book in this series introduced the world to Charlotte Holmes, the woman behind the myth of Sherlock Holmes. In this book, her life starts to get more complicated. First, the wife of Charlotte's one-true-love (or at least one of the people she cares most deeply for), comes to Sherlock Holmes for help. She wants to find her childhood crush, a man who supposedly met her every year on the Sunday before his birthday. Never meeting or talking, just a distant nod. This year, he didn't show. And it turns out this man has a mysterious tie to Charlotte.
Charlotte also has to contend with a marriage proposal from a man who courts her with puzzles. She has another mystery of a woman who thinks her father is poisoning her. And she has to figure out how to get back her sisters.
The strength of Thomas in this book is her ability to paint her characters. We get more of the inscrutable Charlotte, seeing that she is not completely unfeeling, just rarely does she feel it deeply enough to express it. We learn more about Inspector Treadles, about how deeply he loves his wife but how much that love may be tested against his notions of how men and women should act. We meet the inspiration for Mycroft: Lord Bancroft, Lord Ingram's brother.
I think I may have rated this book higher except that I was judging it against the first. Three and a half stars is still pretty high.

Follows A Study in Scarlet Women

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Rake's Guide to Seduction by Caroline Linden

A Rake's Guide to Seduction by Caroline LindenI didn't read the first book in this series but I didn't feel like I was missing anything. We learn from the beginning that Anthony Hamilton (he refuses to use his courtesy title) is something of a rake. Well, he's a giant rake. Or so the gossip says. But people have been gossiping about him since his birth (is he really his father's son?) so who knows the truth?
Celia Reece thinks she knows. He's a good man. But can she really tell? She made such a bad marriage the first time, it's hard to tell. But he seems to be different from her first husband in so many important ways. Then, they're caught in a compromising position and (somewhat) forced to pretend to be engaged.
And I didn't think the plot really needed this point. It seemed... out of place in the rest of the book. But it wasn't so jarring that I stopped reading. This was a fast, fun, and fluffy read and I generally enjoyed it.

Three and a half stars
This book came out August 29

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Essence of Malice by Ashley Weaver

Amory Ames and her too-handsome-for-his-own-good husband have been on vacation in Italy but decide to stop in Paris on their way home. Once again, Amory's husband is mysterious. It turns out his former nanny has called him in to help solve the death of her employer, famed perfumier Helios Belanger. As always in the Amory Ames mysteries, there are layers to the story with the Ames' neighbor in Italy being a former fiance of Helios' daughter. She and his two sons all have stories that make each of them suspicious.
The Essence of Malice by Ashley WeaverAlso redundant in the Ames' mysteries are Amory's push-me-pull-me feelings toward her husband and his refusal to tell her anything of use. She's over his partyboy ways and couldn't care less except that they drive her nuts so she really could less. I really hope Ms. Weaver stops hinting around about Milo soon and makes he and Amory true partners.

Three stars
This book comes out September 5

Monday, August 28, 2017

Turned Up by Erin Nicholas

Turned Up by Erin NicholasSince grade school, Dillon Alexander and Kit Derby have been at odds, each fighting with the other, pushing to be the best. But since the big tornado trapped them together in a closet, the emergency room doctor and the psychiatrist have been letting those sparks work for them in a different way. Especially now that another storm has hit, a snowstorm that traps them alone at her grandmother's house resulting in a sexy game of Chutes and Ladders. Eventually it leads them to testing out the possibility of having a real relationship.
And that's where the book starts to fall apart for me a little bit. The road blocks to Twu Lurv seemed artificial and somewhat put up. Then they're resolved ridiculously easily. I don't say this often but this book might have been better as a novella.

Three stars
This book comes out August 29

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Wild Ride Cowboy by Maisey Yates

Wild Ride Cowboy by Maisey YatesClara Campbell has been hard-hit recently. Both her parents are gone, her brother died in combat, and now she finds out she doesn't even own her family's property. At least not for another year. Instead, Alex Donnelly is the person who has been, by dint of her brother's will, put in charge of the property and, effectively, her. All she wants to do is ogle to cute guy at the coffee store and live her life. Instead, she has to deal with a brooding ex-soldier.
Alex is in Copper Ridge for two reasons. One is to help Clara and the other is because he inherited a portion of his grandfather's ranch. He wants to fulfill his friend's wishes, especially since his actions saved Alex's life.
I read the first chapter of this in the previous book in the series and immediately wondered if I would really enjoy this book. One of my pet peeves in books is the alpha male who feels he has to save the "little woman" and then there's the false "problem" of my-best-friend's-sister. But I generally enjoy Ms. Yates' books and thought she might be able to overcome my dislike of these tropes. But, unfortunately, Alex was as much of a "me big man, you little woman" as I thought he would be. And Clara is so young. So young. It's not just an age thing, not just a virginity thing, but an overall life attitude that made it hard for me to connect with her.
I will not give up on this series because Yates really is one of my go-to contemporary authors. This book, for me, was just one of her rare missteps.

Two stars
This book comes out August 29

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Merry Christmas, Mary Christmas! by Laurie Friedman, Kathryn Durst

Merry Christmas, Mary Christmas! by Laurie FriedmanThe title of this book caught me. I just can't imagine being named Mary Christmas. That poor girl. But her issue with Christmas has more to do with the fact that her family just seems to have to overdo everything about it from the biggest tree to lights that make the rest of the block go dark. But can she find her Christmas spirit in time?

The illustrations are charming. I love that when Mary considers everything from "every angle," she's doing yoga.

Four stars
This book comes out September 1

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Missing Mola Lisa by Trisha Speed Shaskan, Stephen Shaskan

A cute story of second graders solving a crime involving the theft of a painting called the Mola Lisa. There's magic, disguises, and a fun mystery that is clued enough that young readers could reasonably solve the mystery and feel pretty good about it. The illustrations are fun as well.

Three and a half stars
This book comes out September 1

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Do Not Take your Dragon to Dinner by Julie Gassman

I am really enjoying Gassman/Elkerton collaborations. The stories are fun, the illustrations brightly colored and engaging. In a previous book, we learned why it was not a good idea to take your dragon to the library. Here, we find out why taking a dragon to dinner might not be a good idea. There is a nice suggestion of starting at home where the dragon can help cook dinner and practice manners before they can go out for dinner.

Five stars
This book come out September 1

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Dirty Dancing at Devil's Leap by Julie Anne Long

Dirty Dancing at Devil's Leap by Julie Anne LongThis is my favorite of the Hellcat Canyon books so far. I love that our heroine has her own sense of agency and seems to take life by the proverbial balls.
The book opens with Avalon (really? Really?) finding her boyfriend/co-business owner in bed with the company intern. So she runs back to her parents' in Hellcat Canyon. But not for long. She finds out that the old Coltrane house is up for auction. The house where she spent a LOT of time as a teen. Mostly with Mac Coltrane. But that was before he called her a hick. Then his father was arrested for fraud. So she buys the house intending to flip it. But she doesn't realize that there's a groundskeeper that comes with the house.
Mac is disappointed that Avalon bought the house, mostly because he wanted it for himself. I'm not sure the "why" of that was ever explained. Maybe to win back some family honor or something? He's determined to make Avalon leave, except that he's still attracted to her, even two decades later. The two spend some time working to bring the old house into the 21st century and also figuring out that they're still attracted and clearing up old misunderstandings.
I liked the byplay between these two. They were smart about their needling but it gave the readers a chance to see their true characters. I'm not sure I loved the ending but I did love Avalon's sister (and the unnamed father of her daughter) as sequel bait.

Four stars
This book comes out August 22
Follows Wild at Whiskey Creek
Followed by The First Time at Firelight Falls

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Big Nate: A Good Old-Fashioned Wedgie by Lincoln Peirce

Big Nate by Lincoln PeirceNate is back in a book that mostly covers the summer. He's playing baseball again but Chester isn't their pitcher this year. Instead, Nate's dad calls one of Nate's old preschool playmates to come in and help out. Nate is crushing on her pretty hard until he finds out that Jenny has moved back to town. There is a storyline with Nate being astonished that Chad is getting so many signatures in his yearbook. Toward the end, we get a few strips with Mrs. Godfrey. Because how could this be a Big Nate book without her?

Four stars
This book comes out August 29

Monday, August 21, 2017

Holiday in the Hamptons by Sarah Morgan

Holiday in the Hamptons by Sarah MorganToward the end of New York, Actually, we learned that Felicity Knight had an ex-husband who had turned up in Manhattan. Felicity had married Seth Carlyle when they were both too young and divorced him soon after. She has tried to face the sexy vet but has been unable to do so. Instead, she grabs the chance to leave town and head to the Hamptons when her grandmother calls for help.
Unfortunately, (at least in Fliss's eyes) Seth was only in Manhattan for a short stint before he returned to the Hamptons where he immediately runs into Fliss who panics and claims to be her twin sister.
Seth still has feelings for Fliss and is delighted to have this chance to get to know her now. If only she'd cooperate...
And, ufda, was Seth a totally bland bulldozer. We know nothing about him except that he seems to be an all-forgiving saint who doesn't want to give up on their love. He's not an alpha-hole because he does give Fliss a little bit of space but other than the fact that he's missing his father, we really don't get to know him. Nor does he have any discernible flaws while Fliss is described as being just riddled with them (and not just in her own head). At the end, I'm really not sure that these two people are getting an HEA.
I am hoping for better in the next book because I know that Morgan can write in-depth characters and fun-to-read books.

Two stars
This book comes out August 29
Followed by Moonlight over Manhattan

Thursday, August 17, 2017

You Say It First by Susan Mallery

You Say It First by Susan MalleryThis was a charming offshoot of the Fool's Gold series. I didn't have the frustration from that series that SO MANY people recurred in the stories. Don't get me wrong, there is a LOT of sequel-bait in this book but they were woven in well, and there is a nice, built-in explanation for why we'd see some of these people again.
It seems in the 1960s, our heroine's grandfather, wanting to help the town's economy, made up a story about a stagecoach breaking down and the load of women falling in love with the men in town and opting to build the town now known as Happily Inc. Pallas Saunders knows it's a load bull but she still enjoys her role in town providing weddings in a box (or, at least I think she does. All her friends tell her so but she doesn't seem convinced). She needs help though. She's just barely breaking even and she's trying to figure out how to change that. One way is to restore the exquisite wooden panels that divide some of her rooms.
That's where Nick Mitchell comes in. We saw two of his brothers get married in the Fool's Gold series but he's not going to fall into the same trap. He's seen the marriage between his father and mother and seen how much passion can lead you to pain. So, though he's interested in Pallas (and in restoring her panels), he's not going to fall in love.

Three and a half stars
This book comes out August 22
Followed by Second Chance Girl

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Thief's Mark by Carla Neggers

We've learned a lot about Oliver York in the previous 6 books in this series. In this book, he comes into even more focus when one of the man who kidnapped him as a boy, returns. And then dies in Oliver's arms. Oliver is the easy person to pick as prime suspect. But there is, of course, more to the story.
Thief's Mark by Carla NeggersEmma Sharpe and Colin Donovan are on the last day of their honeymoon when the call comes in that Oliver is once again embroiled in a mystery. Also on the scene, Oliver's gardener, Henrietta, (a former British secret service agent) and a man who has been with him since childhood, Martin.
 Weaving together the characters that Ms. Neggers has created in the Sharpe and Donovan universe, the dead man visited Father Finian the day before he died. I like that there is a concrete reason for previous characters to be woven in, they're not just plugged in willy-nilly to remind you that this is a series.
Books can always be read out of order in a series but I definitely wouldn't recommend it for this one. I think regular Neggers readers are going to be pleased with this addition to the series.

Three and a half stars
This book comes out August 29
Follows Liar's Key

A Duke in Shining Armor by Loretta Chase

A Duke in Shining Armor by Loretta ChaseI am so excited to read the rest of the books in this series. Loretta Chase, for me lately, has not been the writer I so enjoyed when reading Lord of Scoundrels. This book gets quite close. And it's mainly, again, because of the characters.
The Duke of Ripley is back from the continent for the wedding of one of his two best friends, the Duke of Ashmont. Along with the Duke of Blackwood (Ripley's brother-in-law) the men are known as Their Dis-Graces. Unfortunately, Ripley is the one that finds Ashmont's bride-to-be, Lady Olivia Hightower, climbing out the window of her own wedding. Rather than carting her back and forcing her to wed his best friend, Ripley decides to make sure she makes it to... someplace... safely so that they can regroup. And I appreciated that about him, that he seemed to understand Olivia even from the beginning. As they travel, eventually ending up with Ripley's aunt, we get to see them falling in love.
The ending, I didn't love. I also wish we had seen more of how Blackwood and Ripley came to be rehabilitated. They seem to have played all of these pranks but then there seems to be a gap in the story as to why they stopped. I also really hope that the next book in this series is the one between Alice and Blackwood. I'd love to know why she seems to be avoiding her husband and it will give Ashmont some time to grow. I'm really hoping we get either a B story or a novella featuring Uncle Fred and Julia.

Four stars
This book comes out August 22

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

The Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke, #1)Oh my. This book starts with one of my favorite first chapters ever. We meet the hero, we meet the heroine, we get a nice snapshot of them both, their attitudes, their personality, and a little bit of their background. Emma Gladstone is a seamstress, a vicar's daughter, who worked for months on a dress for the Duke of Ashbury's fiancee. When he was wounded in the war, his fiancee decamped and never paid for the dress. But Emma needs that money. So she shows up at the duke's residence. In the wedding gown. And he proposes.
The Duke of Ashbury (name currently in dispute), was horribly disfigured in the war. His fiancee was horribly disgusted by him and the wedding was called off. But he needs  a wife because his current heir is... well, a prat. When he meets Emma, he's charmed by her and... well, he proposes.
The rest of the story is the two of them finding their way to an HEA with some delightful twists and turns along the way.
Emma's friends are most definitely sequel bait - animal loving Penelope, the clock winding Alexandra and the mad scientist Nicola - but not in an obnoxious way. They were handled with the lightest of touches. There are a lot of romance tropes (including a ripped "bodice") and some modern, but not overt, references (false news, anyone?). There are two potentials for One Last Big Misunderstanding and they are deftly avoided. This book is the best kind of mix of Beauty and the Beast with a touch of Batman and a soupcon of Gone With the Wind, I  read this book in one fast and furious sitting, grinning fiercely the entire time. Absolutely delightful.

Five stars
This book comes out August 22

The Ethical Slut, Third Edition by Janet W. Hardy, Dossie Easton

The Ethical Slut, Third Edition: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships, and Other Freedoms in Sex and LoveI've had this on my TBR list for a long time so when I saw the third edition as a NetGalley ARC, I jumped at the chance to read it. It took me a long time to get into the rhythm of the book. A lot of the things that were possibly shocking in the first book seemed a little more tame now. However, the book is open and accepting of all relationships (sexual and nonsexual; even including monogamy). All of the relationships and orientations are described in a frank, knowledgeable, non-judgmental manner that makes the book easier to read. Is this book for everyone? Probably not. It would probably best serve in a sociology class on sexuality but is also a good primer people who are starting to explore sexuality outside the bounds of one-man, one-woman.

Three and a half stars
This book came out August 14

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Druid Next Door by E.J. Russell

The Druid Next Door by E.J.   RussellI'm really enjoying the world building that Ms. Russell has put together in this series. The second book follows the first. One of three brothers has been exiled from the world of Faerie, in this case, Mal. Then the brother discovers he's in lust/love with a human. Except he's NOT a human! But even he doesn't know that.
In this case, it's Bryce MacLeod, an ardent environmentalist. He knows that Mal is a super-attractive being but he's more distracted by the fact that the man can't recycle correctly. Bryce wants to save the world and has always been connected to nature but now he's discovered that he's a druid and he's quite literally connected to Mal.
I wish we had seen more of Bryce's training. I was also irked by a trope familiar to romantic readers of "You are my one special person and I know that because everything I ever thought about sex has changed but only because of you!" Not only was this trope introduced, it was thrown at the reader over and over and over again. Am I still excited for the third book in this series? Oh yeah.

Three stars
This book comes out August 21
Follows Cutie and the Beast
Followed by the Bad Boy's Bard

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Paris Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal

The Paris Spy by Susan Elia MacNealMaggie Hope is again fighting the Axis powers in World War II. This time, she's behind enemy lines, searching for a fellow spy who it is feared has been captured. While there, she is also looking for her sister. Interspersed are bits and pieces of Sarah and Hugh's work as well. There is a lot going on in this story. A LOT. But MaNeal is generally successful in weaving together all the plot points. Maggie is on the verge of becoming less relatable, which was one of the best parts of this series. I hope that she'll be a little more human and a little less super-spy in the next book.

This book comes out today
Four stars

Sunday, August 6, 2017

She Be Damned by M.J. Tjia

She Be Damned by M.J. TjiaHeloise Chancey is not a prostitute. She is an actress and a courtesan who helps solve mysteries on the side. And that's why she's posing as a prostitute, in the hopes that she can help figure out why these women are turning up dead, all of their sexual organs removed. It becomes personal when her maid is accused of the murders.
The book is as much (if not more) about Heloise's exploration of her past as it is about solving the murders. There is an exploration of what it was like to be a courtesan in London, the views of abortions in those times (touches on today), and racism.
I was sort of surprised to learn that M. J. Tjia was a woman. The first person point of view felt a bit uncomfortable, as though it rang a false note. At first I thought was a gender thing but I think it may be more of a time period thing. Heloise seems very much like a modern woman who was plunked into the 1800s. Not that that couldn't have existed, but it felt very odd. And it kept me disconnected from both the character and the book. I actually connected more with the Li Leen interjections than with Heloise.
I'm not sure who to recommend this book (novella? It's not even 200 pages). I feel like some people might enjoy it but it was not a good book for me. I would give it two stars but it was an interesting enough book that it made it up to two and a half.

This book came out August 1

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Gentlemen Prefer Heiresses by Lorraine Heath

Gentlemen Prefer Heiresses by Lorraine HeathAfter "An Affair with a Notorious Heiress," I was eager to read Gina's story. She was so sweet and so obviously in love with her sister's husband's younger brother. For his part, Andrew has quite a bit of lust for the young Gina, but he knows that he's not the right man for her. He's a younger son and she's an American heiress. It's too bad that he just can't seem to stay away. Nor to refuse her request for a little adventure.
It's an okay story but I wish Gina and Andrew had had a chance to have a little more.

Three stars
This novella came out yesterday

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Archie Archives: The Double Date and Other Stories (Volume 3)

Archie Archives, Vol. 3 by Brendan WrightI loved reading Archie in the 90s so the chance to pick up an ARC with some of the original Archie comics seemed like a great opportunity. And it was really an okay book. We get to see some of Archie's development but not really anybody else's. Except for hair color, Betty and Veronica are fairly interchangeable. We don't get to see much of Jughead or even Reggie. The character we get to see most other than Archie is his dog. There was one "game" page and several written stories that I don't remember being a part of later comics. A nice bit of nostalgia I guess but  nothing I would have wanted to read otherwise.

Two and a half stars
This book came out November 22

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Continental Crimes by ed. by Martin Edwards

Continental Crimes by Martin EdwardsI usually enjoy the stories picked out by Mr. Edwards for his anthology series. And the book started off well, I enjoyed "A Bracelet at Bruges" and "The Secret Garden." But the rest of the stories didn't really hold my attention. I think that these were perfectly fine stories, they just didn't resonate with me at this point in time.

Two and a half stars
This book comes out August 1