Review: Bombshell

I received this book for free from Netgalley in order to prepare an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


Review: BombshellBombshell (Hell's Belles, #1) by Sarah MacLean
Series: Hell's Belles #1
Published by Avon on August 24, 2021
Genres: Historical
Pages: 394
Goodreads
two-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: An incredible disappointment. The book was a slog to get through and there was no chemistry between the hero and heroine unlike in the prior series where they appeared. MacLean has been a disappointment for her last several books. I hope she gets back to what made her books magical.

THE STORY: Two years ago Lady Sesily Talbot was rejected by Caleb Calhoun, but she also gained the friendship of a group of women who have mysterious intentions (no spoilers!) Sesily’s scandalous activities have a purpose. Caleb has spent years trying to avoid the sister of his best friend and business partner. The American has his own secrets that keep him away from the frustratingly attractive woman who he can’t forget.

OPINION: This book is a mess. It feels like a collection of “choose your own adventure” romance tropes and sayings rather than a well-constructed story. It took me a long time to write this review because it was almost impossible to be interested enough to get through the book and then to have to write such a bad review for an author that I have loved for about a decade.

The first problem with this book is that there really isn’t any reason for these two to be apart. We are teased with the idea that there is some huge reason why two single people who clearly have the hots for one another don’t get together. Because Sesily is not constrained by the “proper” woman behavior of her day and Caleb is an American who doesn’t seem to adhere to societal restraints himself, there really isn’t an external conflict keeping these apart. Instead, the story relies on Caleb two years ago having pulled away from his growing attraction to Sesily because of “something”. Unfortunately, that reason ends up not being satisfying and seemed really contrived.

I did enjoy the introduction of the other significant women who will appear in the series. Their stories were intriguing, but like many first books in the series, too much time was taken up with developing these new characters. In this book, the introduction of new characters detracted from the main romance. Perhaps this flaw wouldn’t have been so obvious if the book doesn’t also stuff in updates from prior series as well. We get an update on all the Soiled Ss. While I generally am happy to read more about other characters, I kept thinking … when is this story going to progress. Unfortunately, there wasn’t really any interesting plot or conflict, or romance to keep this book going.

I also thought that some moments were highlights, such as when they first kissed. The language and the moment were perfect. This book, however, suffers mightily from being contemporary with a thin veneer of history. I’m not picky about such things, but I read chapter after chapter and thought whether the same story could be EXACTLY the same word for word in a modern story. MacLean is often guilty of putting excessively modern sensibilities (language, attitudes, situations) in her historicals recently, but usually, there is an interesting grounding to history (such as the ice business in the Bareknuckled Bastards series). This story, however, lacked that base and thus it felt more ahistorical than normal.

Endlessly disappointing.

WORTH MENTIONING: There are plenty of references to other MacLean books for long-time readers to discover.

CONNECTED BOOKS: BOMBSHELL is the first book in the Hell’s Belles series. The hero and heroine of this book, however, appear in the Scandal & Scoundrel series (most significantly THE DAY OF THE DUCHESS).

STAR RATING: I give this book 2 stars.

NOTE: I received an eARC of this book via Netgalley. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

 

two-stars

Review: After Dark with the Duke

Review: After Dark with the DukeAfter Dark with the Duke (The Palace of Rogues, #4) by Julie Anne Long
Series: The Palace of Rogues #4
Published by Avon on November 30, 2021
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
five-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: Oh, I loved this one! Emotional with lots of longing and (not too dark) angst. This combined with the beautiful lyricism of Long’s writing makes this an example of the reason I’m a big fan of Julie Anne Long’s books.

THE STORY: Fleeing to the Palace on the Thames, Mariana Wylde is considered a harlot as an opera singer who had a duel fought by two men for her favor. Almost penniless and desperate to hide from gossip and those who want her to pay for her part in the duel. The proprietresses of the Palace see an opportunity to promote the Palace and also to help Mariana’s reputation. At the Palace is also General James Duncan Blackmore, the Duke of Valkirk, honorable and deeply respected. A self-made man who gained his own title, Valkirk initially scorns the scandalous opera singer but finds himself drawn to a woman he finds to be intelligent and deeply vulnerable.

OPINION: In the story of Mariana and James, the series gets a fantastic emotional story. What is not to love about the self-made Duke who always does what is right and proper and the woman who has found herself on the seedy side of society’s judgment. The slow entanglement of these two was deeply satisfying.

The Duke is almost twenty years older than Mariana and is a widower with a son who is already an adult. He has structured his life as being proper and above reproach. Now he has reached a midlife crisis of a sort and is having trouble writing his memoirs. His meeting of Mariana changes his life. He finds a new purpose and a threat to his perfectly organized life. The gentle way in which Long demonstrates how James changes throughout the story is what makes her such a great writer.

Mariana’s past is something that she doesn’t apologize for. She recognizes her mistakes but doesn’t enter into society’s condemnation of herself — and neither do the owners of the Palace. Her story is one of self-acceptance and accepting her mistakes.

One thing I really enjoy about this book is that the story is concentrated between these two characters. By centering both of these characters in the Palace, there is an ability for them to spend time together and grapple with their relationship. This is a great device that allows Long to avoid many of the expected interactions between a stuffy proper Duke and the opera singer. The domestic setting allows the book to avoid the setups for Mariana and James to meet and instead allows the story to focus intently on their relationship.

I loved this book because of the emotional resonance of the characters and how deeply invested I became in their relationship.

WORTH MENTIONING: One thing I love about this series is following the development of the Palace itself. I’m rooting for it to succeed as the Palace itself is a central character in this series.

CONNECTED BOOKS: AFTER DARK WITH THE DUKE is the fourth book in the Palace of Rogues series. This book can be read as a standalone although there are characters that appear in other books.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

NOTE: I received an eARC of this book via Netgalley. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

 

five-stars

Review: Murder on Cold Street

Review: Murder on Cold StreetMurder on Cold Street (Lady Sherlock, #5) by Sherry Thomas
Series: Lady Sherlock #5
Published by Berkley Books on October 6, 2020
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Pages: 344
Goodreads
five-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: With a tricky and somewhat classic mystery — who murdered two men in a locked room — this book combines a thinking investigation with a wonderful turn in Sherlock’s “romance” with Ingram.

THE STORY: Inspector Treadles is found locked in a room with two dead men and is thus the prime and only suspect in their murders. Charlotte along with her cadre of family and friends has to find out what happened or whether or not Inspector Treadles acting upon jealously murdered the men associated with his wife’s business.

OPINION: The mystery here is a classic one — who murdered the victim in a locked room? This book, like all in this series, has a great mystery premise. It certainly meets the standard of constructing an intriguing and satisfying mystery. What sets this book, and the series apart for me is the character of Charlotte and the ongoing stories that span the books of the series. The character of Charlotte finally is getting a growth spurt in this book. Her world has changed, and she is gaining complexity as it does. I love her interactions with her friends and family especially Lord Ingram (who is simply adorable in this book). Charlotte is a bit flustered in this book, which is a change for her but quite lovely overall as we get to see more of her softer side.

WORTH MENTIONING: The book ends with a peek at what is coming up next.

CONNECTED BOOKS: MURDER ON COLD STREET is the fifth book in the Lady Sherlock series. The mystery is standalone and can be read without having read the other books in the series. However, there are overarching character stories and an overarching plotline that is advanced in this book.

FINAL DECISION: I give this book 5 stars.

 

five-stars

Review: The Adversary

Review: The AdversaryThe Adversary (Chronicles of Rhyacia #2) by Thea Harrison
Published by Teddy Harrison LLC on July 26, 2021
Genres: Fantasy
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: For fans of the Elder Races series, this is another opportunity to get to see Pia and Dragos and their cast of characters again. Note that this is the conclusion of the book The Unseen and must be read after that book. DO NOT READ FURTHER if you plan on reading The Unseen as this review necessarily provides spoilers for that book.

THE STORY: The story begins where The Unseen ends. Dragos has been “possessed” by an adversary. Pia has discovered the deception and attempts to make contact with her husband who is hidden somewhere within his own body. Pia must find a way to help her husband. The defeat of this enemy, however, will take the help of many of those from the Elder Races world.

OPINION: The Adversary completes the story from The Unseen. Although the Unseen contemplated several sequels, Harrison completes the story here. The wonderful thing about this story is that Pia and Dragos feel right. Although the story is shorter, the characters are so familiar now that I fell into the world and their relationship so quickly.

Although I never doubted that Pia and Dragos would resolve the conflicts here and continue with their lives together, the conflict here felt substantial and dangerous. Admittedly, I cared more about the relationships between the characters than the particular plot, but the danger here did not feel contrived but rather a real threat to these characters.

Harrison has done several Pia and Dragos sequels or updates at this point, but this one seems like it is time to move on to other characters and stories. Not because this book isn’t good, but rather I think the two should enjoy some peace together rather than facing a new villain at every turn.

For fans of the Elder Races series, this book will give you yet another glimpse into the lives of not only Pia and Dragos but a number of the Elder Races series characters.

WORTH MENTIONING: Definitely for fans of the series because the book assumes a tremendous amount of knowledge about the characters. However, I loved seeing so many favorites again.

CONNECTED BOOKS: This book is the second part of the Chronicles of Rhyacia series but is also connected to the Elder Races series and is part 2 of book 9.9 in that series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an eARC of this book from the author in order to prepare this review prior to the release date. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

 

four-stars

Review: Fallen

I received this book for free from Netgalley in order to prepare an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


Review: FallenFallen (Kate Burkholder, #13) by Linda Castillo
Series: Kate Burkholder #13
Published by Minotaur Books on July 6, 2021
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 320
Goodreads
five-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: An enjoyable suspense/mystery story. The circumstances are really sad but I love Kate and John getting the opportunity to do some work together. The story kept me guessing and I was surprised by the ending. This series is fantastic and always a great summer read.

THE STORY: Chief of Police Kate Burkholder is called to a motel where a young woman has been brutally murdered. She is surprised to realize that she knows the woman who was killed. She was raised Amish and then left the Amish faith and Painters Mill. No one seems to know why she returned and who wanted to kill her. Kate’s investigation brings out many secrets and threatens someone who wants those secrets buried.

OPINION: This is a great read to take to the beach. Murder, suspense, and the great character of Kate Burkholder. The story is well-crafted and while not as personal for Kate, I enjoyed watching her do her job. I was surprised by the ending and felt that the story was topical and yet did not feel forced.

The crime here was violent and the story was graphic at times, but I felt that was completely appropriate in this case. The horror of the crimes committed here is important for understanding the gravity of the acts and builds surprise as to the final resolution.

The book made me turn the pages as it started with a shocking crime that drives the story through to the end. As is often these cases, things don’t turn out as expected, but everything works with the explanation. Reading these books again often surprises me how things are planted throughout the book which provides clues to the solution.

Another winner in this series although a tiny complaint is that I still prefer the more personal stories to the professional cop ones, but no complaints on the actual story and execution.

WORTH MENTIONING: I love the interaction between Kate and John and this book has some really good moments between them that raised the level of this book.

CONNECTED BOOKS: FALLEN is the thirteenth book in the Kate Burkholder series. Each of the books is a self-contained mystery so this book can be read as a standalone. However, there are continuing personal stories that make this series better to read in order.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

NOTE: I received an eARC of this book via Netgalley. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

 

five-stars

Review: Disappeared

Review: DisappearedDisappeared (Kate Burkholder Short Mystery) by Linda Castillo
Series: Kate Burkholder #12.5
on April 27, 2021
Genres: Mystery
Goodreads
three-stars

FINAL DECISION: More vignette than story, this is a short mystery that showcases what Kate doing in her more “normal” cases. Enjoyable but not substantive.

THE STORY: Kate Burkholder received a call from an Amish family. A toddler is missing in a storm. Kate and her deputies worry that the child may have been swept away in the stormwaters, but there are secrets in the family that might explain what happened.

OPINION: This very short story was interesting although it was not particularly complex or even consisting of much mystery. I do always enjoy seeing these characters and the insights into the complexities of the Amish and English interactions. This was a nice taste of the series with a preview of the next full novel. There have been better short stories, but this one isn’t bad, just short and simple.

WORTH MENTIONING: Kate’s significant other, John, plays only a cameo in this story. I tend to enjoy the short stories where the two work together much better.

CONNECTED BOOKS: DISAPPEARED is book 12.5 in the Kate Burkholder series. It is not necessary to read other books in the series, but I think it is much more enjoyable if readers are familiar with the characters.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3 stars.

three-stars

Review: I’m Only Wicked with You

I received this book for free from Netgalley in order to prepare an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


Review: I’m Only Wicked with YouI'm Only Wicked with You (The Palace of Rogues, #3) by Julie Anne Long
Series: The Palace of Rogues #3
Published by Avon on August 24, 2021
Genres: Historical
Pages: 400
Goodreads
four-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: A solid entry in the series that was slow to develop, but ended in a satisfying fashion. The book is my least favorite in the series as I didn’t find enough emotional conflict in the story, but even an average Long book is better than most books I read.

THE STORY: Hugh Cassidy is an American who has traveled to London searching for a missing woman. Instead, he finds Lillias Vaughn, a lady who is a bit out of the ordinary and strains against acceptable lady behavior. The two meet at the Grand Palace on the Thames where the boardinghouse guests must adhere to rules which require them to interact with one another. Hugh and Lillias, however, have difficulties with the “civilly” part of the rules. Instead, they needle one another as each has interests elsewhere, and yet the two end up in a compromising situation necessitating a hasty engagement. But there is hope that the engagement could be unraveled with a little effort from both of them.

OPINION: I struggled through the first third of this book. There was a lot of talking but not much conflict that felt interesting. Once the forced engagement occurred, the pace of the book picked up and I felt that the relationship between Lillias and Hugh became emotional and engaging. I was willing to give the story time to develop, but less dedicated readers might have given up by then. I’m not sure why that first portion of the book was so unengaging, but I think it might be because so much time is given to explaining Lillias’s unconventional outlook on life. The real conflicts in the story (her other connection) are kept as a surprise and the reader doesn’t really get a good sense of Lillias’s interior emotional life.

At the same time, once the surprise reveal occurs, the emotional depth between these two main characters had resonance. This was a book where I could see the first third of the book excised and then expanded in the last portion. I loved Lillias’s parents who become real characters by the end.

Why did I rate this so highly when the first part was disappointing? Because if that portion did not exist, the story would have been fulfilling just based on the last two-thirds. I finished the book satisfied with these characters’ story even if it took a while to get to the good part.

WORTH MENTIONING: Readers of Long’s Pennyroyal Green series will be happy to know that this series takes place in the same universe. Watch for the reference!

CONNECTED BOOKS: I’M ONLY WICKED WITH YOU is the third book in the Palace of Rogues series. This book can be read as stand-alone although the supporting characters appear in other books in the series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

NOTE: I received an eARC of this book via Netgalley. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

 

four-stars

Review: Shipped

Review: ShippedShipped by Angie Hockman
Published by Gallery Books on January 19, 2021
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 336
Goodreads
one-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: This book couldn’t keep my attention. There were some funny moments, especially the text and email wars between Henley and Graeme, but the characters were flat to me once they met in person. Wanted to like it based on the story synopsis, but I didn’t find it compelling.

THE STORY: Henley Evans has a thorn in her side. It’s Graeme Crawford-Collins, the social media manager for the cruise line she does marketing for. The two of them haven’t met but spend a lot of effort having witty fights via text and email. The two end up competing for a promotion. They each have to prepare a proposal based upon a trip to the Gal√°pagos that they have to take together. Once on the trip, Henley and Graeme find out that there is something between them that is hotter than their previous arguments.

OPINION: This was a book where I loved the blurb more than the execution of the story. Graeme ended up being too bland as a character that I really didn’t care about him or the romance with Henley. At about the fifty percent part of the book, I just started marching to the end. I was disappointed. The story wasn’t terrible and someone else who really loves soft nice guys might love this story. Wasn’t for me though.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book is pitched as a romantic comedy and while there are some funny parts, it didn’t seem funny enough for its comedy designation.

CONNECTED BOOKS: SHIPPED is a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 1.5 stars.

 

one-half-stars

Review: Wicked as Lies

Review: Wicked as LiesWicked as Lies (Zyron & Tessa, #1; Wicked & Devoted, #3) by Shayla Black
Published by Shelley Bradley, LLC on February 9, 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Romantic Suspense
Goodreads
four-half-stars

 

FINAL DECISION:  Despite the book ending on a cliffhanger, I enjoyed this book tremendously. From the beginning, I quickly loved the relationship between Tessa and Zy. A combination of angst and slow burn and mystery and suspense, this book sets up for (hopefully) a great ending in the next book of this duet.

THE STORY: Chase Garrett aka Zyron is attracted to Tessa Lawrence from the first time he sees a photograph of her. Unfortunately, they work for the same company and there is a non-fraternization clause in their contracts that forbids any relationship between them. When she is threatened by her ex, the fiercely protective Zy is going to care for her when he is assigned as her temporary bodyguard. Things are hot between these two even as they both fight what seems inevitable.

OPINION: This book captured my attention from the first page. The structure does well to soften my resistance to the cliffhanger in the story. The complete and utter commitment that Zy has towards Tessa from the beginning made the semi-contrived plot device keeping them apart tolerable. Zy and Tessa are a great couple. The heat between them kept me on edge as I saw them move towards one another. The suspense story searching for the mole kept the plot moving even as Zy and Tessa are in the slow burn, relationship-building stage of the story. I look forward to the conclusion of the story in the next book.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book is PART 1 of the complete story. Readers who don’t like multi-part books that require the reading of the second part should wait for the second book to arrive. The book makes it clear on its cover and in its title/description that this is the first part of this couple’s story.

CONNECTED BOOKS: WICKED AS LIES is the third book in the Wicked & Devoted series. It is not necessary to read the first two books in the series in order to read this one.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received a pre-release ARC to assist in preparing this review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own. I purchased a copy of this book after its release.

 

four-half-stars

Review: Out of the Storm

Review: Out of the StormOut of the Storm (Buckhorn, Montana, #1) by B.J. Daniels
Series: Buckhorn Montana #1
Published by HQN Books on December 29, 2020
Genres: Contemporary, Romantic Suspense
Pages: 245
Goodreads
two-stars

FINAL DECISION: Romantic suspense with many twists, but not enough character for me.

THE STORY: Kate Jackson is newly engaged but is still having a hard time giving up on her feelings for her husband who has been dead for twenty years. Kate travels on an engagement trip with her new fiance and sees a man who she is convinced is her dead husband — although he says he is not and now calls himself Jon Harper. Jon knows he is not Kate’s husband Danny, yet he has a connection with her that keeps drawing him back to her.

OPINION: This book just wasn’t for me. It was well-written, but I didn’t feel any connection with the heroine. I really didn’t care about her journey. There were plenty of twists here but they felt very artificial rather than developing out of the story. The story is romantic suspense and the focus is on the plot rather than the relationship between the characters. That is something that bothered me in the book because I never felt connected to the romance. I think another person might feel different about the book. It wasn’t terrible, just not my thing.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book introduces a lot of characters that will probably be picked up in future novels, but it was information overload and bogged down the beginning.

CONNECTED BOOKS: OUT OF THE STORM is the first book in the Buckhorn, Montana series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 2 stars.

 

two-stars