Review: Cowboy’s Reckoning

Review: Cowboy’s ReckoningCowboy's Reckoning (Cahill Ranch, #2.5) by B.J. Daniels
Series: Cahill Ranch #2.5
Published by Harlequin Books on October 1st 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery
Pages: 70
Goodreads
three-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: I liked these characters and their interaction. I just wish the story was longer because I found these characters very interesting.

THE STORY: Billie Dee Rhodes has come to Montana from Texas running from her past and looking for a new start (and maybe a cowboy). Taking the job as the cook for the Stagecoach Saloon, Billie Dee has enjoyed her daily talks with Henry Larson, a retired rancher. When danger from Billie Dee’s past comes to town, it is a question whether they will have time to have anything else develop between them.

OPINION: I loved these characters. It is rare for there to be a good romance with more mature characters. My biggest disappointment with this story is that it is too short. I could have read an entire full length book with these two. They are sweet and funny together.

Henry is a widower with three grown children and the scene where he is getting ready for his first date with Billie Dee was so funny. I loved seeing them get to know one another and also begin to reveal their secrets.

There is a short suspense plot incorporated in this story which worked very well. I really liked how Billie Dee and Henry start out their romance. I only wish we had some heat in the story and for things to go further than it did in this book.

I would definitely read another “part two” novella about these two and I wish there had been more pages to read.

WORTH MENTIONING: This is a short novella.

CONNECTED BOOKS: COWBOY’S RECKONING is book 2.5 in the Cahill Ranch series.  While there are small appearances by characters from the series, this novella can be read on its own.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3.5 stars.

three-half-stars

Review: The Greatest Challenge of Them All

Review: The Greatest Challenge of Them AllThe Greatest Challenge Of Them All (Cynster #26; Cynster Next Generation #6) by Stephanie Laurens
Series: Devil's Brood Trilogy #3, ,
Published by Savdek Management Pty Ltd on July 7th 2017
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Pages: 400
Goodreads
four-stars

“She’d had enough of playing by his rules.”

FINAL DECISION: This was the best of the three book trilogy as Drake and Louisa have a battle of wills over her involvement in Drake’s investigation. The focus in this series is the mystery and that is true here as well, but the romance was satisfying.

THE STORY: Drake Varisey, Marquess of Winchelsea and heir to the Duke of Wolverstone has taken up the reins of trying to unravel the plot to blow something in London up. The one woman he doesn’t want to help is Lady Louisa Cynster. For years, there has been something between these two and Louisa is determined to find out if there is any possibility of a future between them and he doesn’t intend to allow Drake to avoid her anymore. Recognizing that he needs Louisa’s vast social knowledge and connections, Drake allows Louisa to worm her way into his investigation, but he risks the emotional entanglement that he has been avoiding for years.

OPINION: This book pulls together the threads from the first two books of the series in both the mystery and the romances (as all three couples make appearances here). In fact, if I have a real complaint it is that it appears that all the real significant action was kept until this book which makes the first two books a little unnecessary.

Much of the book is about the mystery of what is going on with the gunpower that the characters have been searching for in the trilogy. There are differing points of view, including the villains in the story. That makes for a weighty story that has many moving parts.

Louisa is a woman who might be the strongest willed heroine that I’ve ever read by Laurens. She is already a mature woman who knows what her roll in life will be. She is giving Drake an audition so to speak. From the beginning she admits that there is no love between them because they haven’t been able to interact enough. (Honestly, I thought their beginning a little cold which has been an unfortunate repeated refrain in Laurens more recent books.  Too much intellectual evaluation, too little emotional upheaval). I like how she just does what she wants and doesn’t flinch at all from Mr. All powerful Spymaster extraordinaire.

Drake is a man who keeps control by avoiding those things that could challenge his control — namely Louisa. But as he cannot avoid her any longer, Drake is drawn closer and closer to the wonderfully competent and intelligent Louisa. And the closer he gets to her, the closer he wants to be.

I thought that these two had the best clashes as Drake is determined to avoid Louisa’s charms (but he doesn’t hold out well). I thought that this book best interwove the mystery and the romance. I also thought that the mystery was particularly good at the end as the unexpected target and motivations of the villains too center stage at the end of this book.

But what I loved most about this book was the extended epilogue which tied all the romances together in a beautiful fashion. That is what made this into a Cynster book for me.

WORTH MENTIONING: There is a bit with Devil and Honoria which is my favorite part — because they remain my favorite Laurens’ couple.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE GREATEST CHALLENGE OF THEM ALL is the third book in the Devil’s Brood Trilogy. While the trilogy books work together as one mystery is solved, I think a reader could read just this book and not miss any of the mystery since there is a recap in the beginning.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: A Conspiracy in Belgravia

Review: A Conspiracy in BelgraviaA Conspiracy in Belgravia (Lady Sherlock, #2) by Sherry Thomas
Series: Lady Sherlock #2
Published by Penguin Group (USA) LLC on September 5th 2017
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Pages: 336
Goodreads
five-stars

FINAL DECISION: Twisty, complicated, multi-layered with multiple stories and a unique heroine, this story demands a lot from its readers, but delivers a shocking resolution that moves the overarching storylines of this series forward.

THE STORY: Continuing her work and deception as “Sherlock Holmes”, Charlotte Holmes has a new complication. Lady Ingram, the wife of Charlotte’s dear friend and benefactor wants Sherlock to locate her first love who failed to show up for their annual meeting. It turns out that man that Mrs. Ingram is seeking is none other than Charlotte’s illegitimate half brother. Charlotte is also struggling with an unexpected proposal from Lord Ingram’s brother. Mysteries, deceptions, divided loyalties, and false identities abound in this story.

OPINION: Continuing this complex gender flip on the Sherlock Holmes series, this book moves the series past the “origin” phase and shows Charlotte in her complete agency. The book begins right after the ending of the first book and assumes knowledge of those events (so readers with fading memories might want a refresher). Having discovered that she did not actually escape her desperate circumstances under her own power, but rather because of her longtime friend Lord Ingram, Charlotte contemplates what that means.

Right into this conflict walks Lady Ingram. Charlotte now has another dilemma to sort out — what are her obligations to Lord Ingram now that she knows that his wife has a tender for another man. Charlotte, of course, considers this from her intellectual factual perspective, but the other characters around her help illuminate the emotional aspects as well. The plot of this story is complex with several different investigations involving different parties (and even different investigators). There are also numerous characters with their own issues and motives (I especially like the Scotland Yard Inspector who is having difficulties dealing with independent and intelligent women — even his own wife). I was completely satisfied by these various stories but a reader who is looking for a straightforward mystery might be frustrated because nothing is straight here. Some things are significant even when they don’t appear so and vice versa. Some things are connected. Some things completely random. And some things are probably merely planting seeds for the future.

I believe that Charlotte’s character’s complexity takes a big leap in this book. Readers already introduced to her, know that she is poor at the emotional resonance of actions and really, really good at the intellectual calculations involved in decisions (think Sheldon from Big Bang Theory).  We get to see that she has her own method of understanding the world and relationships that are not at all cold. She does, after all, care very much for her two younger sisters. As she contemplates the marriage proposal of Ingram’s brother, we get to see her thought processes which gives tremendous insights into her feelings not only for Ingram’s brother, but for Ingram himself. As a character, Charlotte is not an easy one to understand — or perhaps for everyone to like — but I enjoy the way her mind works and her essential decency. Even when that means that she must impart hard information.

I look forward to the next book in the series, but there is much still left to discover.

WORTH MENTIONING: Moriarty.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A CONSPIRACY IN BELGRAVIA is the second book in the Lady Sherlock series. I think this book needs to be read as part of the series and not on its own.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

five-stars

Review: Secrets in Death

Review: Secrets in DeathSecrets in Death (In Death, #45) by J.D. Robb
Series: In Death #45
Published by Piatkus Books on September 5th 2017
Genres: Futuristic, Mystery
Pages: 400
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: In a series that balances the story of Eve and the mystery of the day, this one is better for me on the Eve side. It fills in some gaps from previous books and focuses on relationships.

THE STORY:  Eve is present at a murder when one of New York’s biggest gossip reporters walks into the hot nightspot where Eve is having a meeting and dies. Annoyed that someone has committed a murder right under her nose, Eve begins her investigation and discovers that the victim was doing more than gathering gossip for her show and that she had secrets of her own. Eve’s investigation also uncovers secrets that those around her have been keeping — including Eve herself.

OPINION: I prefer the In Death books that focus on Eve and her relationship with Roake and her friends. To me the mystery is secondary. For me, this book was a success.  In a book about a gossip reporter who uses the secrets of others, this book goes about uncovering the secrets that those around Eve are keeping.  Are they huge secrets? Not really, but it does allow some loose ends and questions about the series to be answered.

For fans of the series, this book ticks all the boxes that you might expect. I place it in the middle of the series books. Not part of the superlative books, but certainly fun and satisfying.

I’ve said this before, that I really enjoy seeing Eve discover herself. She is changing and her relationships are changing and for someone who has followed this series since the beginning, I enjoy seeing that she is finding some happiness.

WORTH MENTIONING: Still waiting for find out the identity of the candy thief.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  SECRETS IN DEATH is the forty-fifth book in the In Death series. This is a standalone mystery, but there are continuing character arcs that go throughout the series. At this point, I don’t know how a person could read these books without knowing the overarching storyline, but then again, I read the books for those arcs rather than the mystery element.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: Down a Dark Road

Review: Down a Dark RoadDown a Dark Road (Kate Burkholder, #9) by Linda Castillo
Series: Kate Burkholder #9
Published by Minotaur Books on July 11th 2017
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 320
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  A strong mystery made important by the personal emotional journey of Kate makes this book compelling.  The force of the book comes not only from the twisty mystery but also the strength of Kate’s emotional involvement.  Plus some sweet time with John.

THE STORY:  As this story begins, the series heroine Kate Burkholder is still the chief of police of her small town in Amish country.  She receives notification that a man, Joseph King as escaped from prison.  An Amish man convicted of murdering his wife, police believe there is possibility he will come for his five children who are living in Kate’s jurisdiction.  Kate knows Joseph King.  He was her first crush when the two were children but they haven’t seen one another since Kate was fourteen.  When she is ambushed by King, who has taken his children hostage, she hears a tale of a man who claims he did not murder his wife but was framed.  At first, Kate doesn’t believe anything King says until things begin to seem strange in the supposedly straightforward story.

OPINION:  This book proves what I believe about this series — the best stories are ones where Kate is personally connected and invested in the outcome.  While the mystery is good on any level, her personal connection, the struggles the investigation causes for her are what kept me reading this book.

This case tests Kate on both a personal and a professional level.  Kate has so little space for innocence in her life that the corruption of one of her sweet childhood memories challenges her.  Her adult cop skepticism and her belief in her childhood friend clash dramatically as she struggles to reconcile what she knows the truth is and what her intuition tells her.  The complication here is that her police intuition keeps taking her in different directions.

The fascinating thing here is that this book is also a journey of innocence, loss of innocence and holding on to something pure in the past.  Although the lives of all those children have become more complicated, more nuanced and less pure and innocent, something of those people still remains in the adults they have become.

I don’t want to discuss any of the particulars of the mystery since that is the central part of the story, but I really enjoyed the interaction between Kate and the Amish community here as she navigates her investigation.  This book relies less on the Amish customs as a hook in the story.  Indeed, this book is of the Amish community without being about the community.  The story could have taken place anywhere with anyone.

There is a common theme of the dark underbelly of what appears innocent and good.  This series often uses this in terms of the Amish community.  The same appears here, but there is another twist that I really enjoyed.

This series continues to be a compelling read for me and I highly recommend it for those who love mystery with some romance on the side.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Although this book isn’t classified as a romance, I’m still compelled by the romance between Kate and BCI State agent John Tomasetti continues to pull me in although there is little drama between them and thus less “screen time”.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  DOWN A DARK ROAD is the ninth book in the Kate Burkholder series.  This is a self-contained mystery novel but, of course, there are recurring characters and relationships secondary to the mystery.  This book can be read as a standalone although it is better to be immersed in the overarching personal story as well.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

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

four-half-stars

Review: Only the Lucky

Review: Only the LuckyOnly the Lucky (Kate Burkholder, #8.5) by Linda Castillo
Series: Kate Burkholder #8.5
Published by Minotaur Books on May 23rd 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery
Pages: 56
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION:  This is a nice short story in the Kate Buckholder universe. The story isn’t particularly complicated but gives a small sense of the overarching issues that are invested in the series — Amish-English relationship and conflict, Kate’s work as a small town police chief and her romance.

THE STORY:  It is Friday the 13th in Painters Mill and plenty is going wrong.  A “rager” is being held where both Amish and English are attending.  Drinking, drugs and all sorts of problems that young people can get into are expected and enough to give Kate a headache. At the same time, an accident causes a power outage in town.  When one of the Amish girls attending the rager is attacked and left for dead, Kate has to find out who wanted to hurt this young woman.

OPINION:  I enjoyed this story although the solution seemed pretty basic to me and I figured it out almost immediately.  I did like, however, this glimpse of Kate who seems much more settled and happy. I wish we had seen more of her and Tomasetti because I really love their relationship but we did see how peaceful they are right now which was nice.

Because of the length of this story, things happen pretty quickly. I also liked the secondary romance in the story and was surprised at how well everything dropped into place with all the moving parts of the story and the various characters.

The novels in this series tend to be much more angst driven so it was nice to see a more uncomplicated mystery for Kate to solve.

WORTH MENTIONING: This is a very short story and only gives a small taste of the series.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  ONLY THE LUCKY is a short story that is 8.5 of the Kate Buckholder series. This story is a taste and introduction to the series for new readers and a bridge story for readers of the series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: A Mystery at Carlton House

Review: A Mystery at Carlton HouseA Mystery at Carlton House by Ashley Gardner, Jennifer Ashley
Series: Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries #12
Published by JA / AG Publishing on March 18th 2017
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: This series never disappoints. With a great mystery combined with personal character development, this book kept my interest from page one in a way that feels fresh even as it conforms to the mystery template.

THE STORY: Having returned from Egypt to his life where more domestic matters take precedence, Captain Lacey is asked to investigate the theft of items from the Prince Regent’s Carlton House. Lacey has pressure on all sides to discover what is really happening. A bow runner is trying to blackmail him, the Prince Regent expects a quick resolution and Mr. Denis (the criminal mastermind) is protecting the suspect. Lacey conducts his investigations while personal dramas for his friends and family also come to the forefront.

OPINION: The mystery here is not as intricate as others in the series, but in exchange there is intense personal character matters involved. This book has various overlapping storylines and the reader is kept guessing which, if any, are part of the mystery.

What I love most about this series are the depictions of Lacey and his friends and family. I prefer to read books where the characters are the forefront, not a tricky plot. Readers who enjoy some mystery with strong characterizations will enjoy this book. I liked that we got to know more about the secondary characters and also get to see more of Lacey and Donata in their domestic relationship.

This book is sweet and funny and exactly what I expected to enjoy.

WORTH MENTIONING: Baby, baby, baby.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A MYSTERY AT CARLTON HOUSE is the twelfth book in the Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries series. These are self contained mysteries and thus can be read as standalones. There is, however, continuing character stories that continue from book to book.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: Echoes in Death

Review: Echoes in DeathEchoes in Death (In Death, #44) by J.D. Robb
Series: In Death #44
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 7th 2017
Genres: Futuristic, Mystery
Pages: 400
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION:  A good mystery story, this book has some nice twists.  I miss the intensity and drama of Eve’s personal life.  She’s so settled now that it is a nice respite, but there is no doubt that the earlier books in the series were more compelling.

THE STORY:  NY Police Lieutenant Eve Dallas is driving home with her billionaire husband Roarke when a naked, disoriented and abused woman runs out.  Daphne Strazza has been held hostage in her home, abused and raped.  When Eve goes to investigate, she finds that Daphne’s husband has been murdered.  As Eve and her family and friends investigate, they find that someone is targeting couples.

OPINION: I first want to explain that I have been reading this series since the beginning — over 20 years.  I early await every new installment of the series.  I will also confess that I prefer the earlier books in the series where there was more conflict in Eve’s life.  That being said, after 40 plus books, I don’t expect the characters or their situation to remain the same.  Now Eve is more balanced, more centered and more peaceful.  As a result, there is less personal drama in the recent books in this series.

Without the personal drama, the story rests far more on the actual mystery/crime being solved.  This one is pretty good on that account.  Eve is investigating a serial rapist who always involves a couple. I thought the way the story evolved and revealed itself created a sense of tension and drama.  Longtime readers will know that sex crimes take a toll on Eve because of her past and her handling of this one demonstrates how strong and open she has become.  There is definite pleasure in seeing that development while readers who haven’t followed the entire journey can enjoy the mystery.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Usually I don’t find the mysteries in these books compelling (with a few exceptions).  This time I thought the mystery was well constructed and worth trying to figure out.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  ECHOES IN DEATH is the forty-fourth book in the In Death (Eve Dallas) series.  The book has a self contained mystery and there is not much continuing storyline although a new reader would have to pick up on the world and the characters without much explanation.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: The Daredevil Snared

Review: The Daredevil SnaredThe Daredevil Snared (The Adventurers Quartet, #3) by Stephanie Laurens
Published by MIRA on June 28th 2016
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Pages: 464
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: My favorite of the series so far.  I loved the hero Caleb and I thought the story was active and interesting and I loved that Caleb and Kate spent so much time together falling in love.

THE STORY:  Caleb Frobisher, the youngest brother, has taken on the next part of the mission — without permission. His brothers have worked to discover the secret of the missing English people in the West African town of Freetown. People are being abducted by slavers to work in a mine.  Caleb is to find the location of the mine and send the information back so that a rescue can be mounted. Katherine “Kate” Fortescue is a governess who has been taken by the slavers to care for the captive children.  She meets Caleb and under extreme circumstances, the two find a way to bring hope to the captives and fall in love.

OPINION:  This is the third book in the series and I really think the action has picked up from the second book.  Caleb is a daredevil who might seem reckless but is actually an amazingly optimistic and flexible thinker. He is willing to change plans, to make adjustments, to work towards a goal without being deterred by setbacks.  I really loved his character which I found compelling. He seems like a guy I would like in real life. He doesn’t have an ego that demands he be recognized as the leader.  He is willing to share responsibility, work with other people and take suggestions. All of these qualities are ones that Kate admires in Caleb.  The most important thing he brings to the captives, including Kate, is hope.

Kate is a leader herself. Independent. Strong. A woman who has made the best of a horrible situation. She is willing to take the hope that Caleb’s presence provides and work for her rescue and future. She is a good match for Caleb.

One of the best parts of this book is how Caleb and Kate manage to have a relationship in midst of bad circumstances. Somehow, they have a sweet courtship and get to know one another.  There is something beautiful about love in the midst of horrible circumstances. It gives hope and also shows that things like friendship, love, community can prevail even in the most dire of circumstances.

This book has a countdown clock on it and thus the pacing was well done. Things matter in this book — every moment is important. The captives need to live through this by working together towards making it to their rescue.

This book has set up the series for a great conclusion.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Oh, oh!  I can’t wait to find out who the troublesome woman is in the fourth book.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE DAREDEVIL SNARED is the third book in the Adventurers Quartet.  While the romance is self-contained in this book, there is an overarching story which is told through all four books.  The books are meant to be read in order.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: A Study in Scarlet Women

Review: A Study in Scarlet WomenA Study In Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock, #1) by Sherry Thomas
Series: Lady Sherlock #1
on October 18th 2016
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Pages: 336
Goodreads
four-stars

“Holmes’s mind has always been a thing of beauty.”

“Holmes wants only an occupied mind. Everything else is secondary.”

FINAL DECISION: An intriguing book which is uneven in parts and not as mystery intense as I expected but which turns the Sherlock Holmes mythology on its head in a fascinating way. This book clearly is setting up future stories which I have much potential. I can’t wait to see how this series develops.

THE STORY: Charlotte Holmes is a woman with a unique brain who doesn’t fit in a society that only values a woman’s looks, marital prospects and breeding potential.  Charlotte plans her own ruination to gain her freedom and independence.

OPINION:  What would happen if Sherlock Holmes was a young woman in Victorian England?  That is the question this book begin with.  This is Sherlock’s origin story and as such is much more focused on the characters and the setup of the series rather than being devoted to the mystery.  There is enough mystery here for interest but the focus is on how Charlotte truly becomes Sherlock Holmes

Charlotte is an incredibly intelligent woman who is out of step with the roles allowed women in Victorian England. She miscalculates in trying to determine her own fate which leaves her vulnerable in ways she didn’t expect. While her unorthodox behavior and way of looking at the world initially makes her difficult to know, it is clear that she does have feelings even though she wishes to think them away.  Her relationships are what bring out her humanity.

Livia is Charlotte’s older sister cares deeply for Charlotte and her devotion is returned. Livia has taken care of her sister and when Charlotte is on her own, her sister fears for her.  Charlotte realizes that her situation has damaged her sister and works to repair the situation.  The ending leaves interesting possibilities for Livia’s future.

Lord Ingram is Charlotte’s romantic interest although the two have a long history together and he is now married.  There is clearly something between these two that compels them together even though they do not have a future.  Ingram operates as an intermediary for Charlotte in her investigations.

Inspector Treadles and his wife Alice are a genuinely happy couple. Treadles is the police investigator who seeks assistance from Holmes and is also given information by Holmes. He is married above his station and works with Sherlock Holmes in an attempt to better his professional prospects. Treades and his wife operate as a truly happy couple amongst all the disfunction.

I enjoyed this book because the series has a great deal of promise.  There are some slow points in the book and I don’t think the mystery is as well integrated or as interesting in its solution as I would have hoped.  I think that now that the parameters of the series have been outlined, however, there is much to look forward to.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This series is intended to be an ongoing one.  The mystery is resolved but there are numerous overarching character stories which remain unresolved.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  A STUDY IN SCARLET WOMEN is the first book in the Lady Sherlock series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars