Review: Someone to Hold

Review: Someone to HoldSomeone to Hold (Westcott, #2) by Mary Balogh
Series: Westcott #2
Published by Berkley Books on February 7th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 379
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: Mary Balogh never shies away from difficult romances. With a heroine who is unsympathetic in the first book in the series, I was amazed that I, like the hero, was able to see both sides of the story and fall in love.

THE STORY: Camille Westcott’s world has fallen apart. It has been revealed that her father entered into a bigamous marriage with her mother and although raised as Lady Camille, it turns out that Camilla and her brother and sister are illegitimate and that Camilla has a legitimate older sister who unexpectedly inherits. This turn of fortune has left Camille not knowing who she is and who she will be. Residing in Bath with her grandmother, Camille decides to take a job as a teacher at the orphanage where her sister had been raised and herself was a teacher. At the orphanage, Camille meets Joel Cunningham, a dear friend of Camille’s older sister and a man inclined to dislike the cold Camille. Joel, however, discovers that there are two sides to every story and that Camille is a woman with many facets.

OPINION: Balogh has a wonderful way of taking flawed human characters and allowing the readers to understand and love them. Camille is a character that appears cold and haughty and just so nasty in the first book. This book takes its time revealing her character (as Joel discovers her) and allowing everyone to understand her actions and also to allow her to grow and change. This book, like many others written by Balogh, challenge the readers to fall in love with the characters. There is a call for understanding and compassion for the imperfection of the human spirit.

Joel is a man who is confounded to realize that as the story progresses he can sympathize with both his old friend and Camille — even as Camille and her sister are in conflict. If he can understand and fall for Camille, who is the reader to hold her prior behavior against her? Joel has his own journey in this book as he grew up in the orphanage and is ignorant of his origins. His discovers serve as a counterpoint to Camille’s own journey.

Readers who have explored Balogh’s books before will find familiar ground. There are no huge dramatic moments in this book. This is a deliberate journey through the self-discovery of the main characters. The intense focus on the personal allows the reader to truly understand these characters.

I started out not expecting to like this book (one reason that I delayed for months in reading it), but I ended up really enjoying these characters and their journey.

WORTH MENTIONING: I love all the characters in the Westcott series. We get to see just about everyone and get an update on what is going on in their lives.

CONNECTED BOOKS: SOMEONE TO HOLD is the second book in the Westcott series. While the romance is self-contained in this book, I think the relationships between all the relevant characters is better understood if the first book in the series is read first.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Beauty Like the Night

Review: Beauty Like the NightBeauty Like the Night (Spymasters, #6) by Joanna Bourne
Series: Spymasters #6
Published by Berkley Books on August 1st 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 293
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: The most traditional romance of the Spymasters series, Severine and Raoul’s story is filled with intrigue, danger, violence and great romanticism. If this is the last of the Spymasters, it allows readers one long lingering goodbye.

THE STORY: Severine de Cabrillac, an orphan of Revolutionary France and previously a member of British Intelligence spends her post war years solving crimes around London. Late one night, a man breaks into her home seeking information about his murdered wife and her missing twelve year old daughter. Raoul Deverney has come to Severine because she is one of the few clues he has. When he seeks Severine’s help in discovering the truth about his wife’s murder, the two engage in a dance of secrets and unwanted passions.

OPINION: This book felt more like a traditional romance that the more recent books in this series which sometimes felt like historical fiction because of the depth of the historical context and the darkness in the book. This book feels more traditional because the focus of the book is on London and while there is political intrigue, the focus really feels personal as the story revolves around Raoul’s murdered wife and missing daughter.

Without being obvious or maudlin, this book serves as a wonderful conclusion to the series as we are treated to a great deal of time with the most recent heroes in the series. We get to see the whole gang working together one more time.

Severine is a woman who is strong and has made her own path. The younger sister of Juntine (BLACK HAWK) and the adopted daughter of William Doyle (THE FORBIDDEN ROSE), she has grown up among the spies and intrigues of Meek Street. Determined to avoid being protected by those same men, she ran off to Spain during the War in order to work with British Military Intelligence. That experience left the expected scars on her both physically and emotionally. Now that the war has ended, she has made a life for herself solving crimes in London — especially those where people are falsely accused.  (But she still has a hand in with her family’s business).

Raoul is a man searching for the murderer of his estranged wife and her missing daughter. He also has a great many secrets (which I won’t reveal because that is part of the story). He is sophisticate and incredibly dangerous as Severine recognizes from the start. He is also an incredibly romantic character which I really liked because he is so different from the other heroes in this series.

The story in this book maintains the grittiness of the series, but isn’t quite as dark. In fact, there is some sweetness to the romance that I wasn’t expecting but really enjoyed.

Bourne has stated that this is the last of the Spymasters series. I believe this series was incredibly unique and I will miss the characters. If this is the end, I think that it was a wonderful opportunity to visit old friends again and wrap up things.

WORTH MENTIONING: Lots of appearances here by the men of the series, but not the women.

CONNECTED BOOKS: BEAUTY LIKE THE NIGHT is the sixth book in the Spymasters series. This story stands on its own, but the characters from prior books make significant appearances.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: Silver Silence

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

Review: Silver SilenceSilver Silence (Psy-Changeling Trinity, #1; Psy-Changeling, #16) by Nalini Singh
Series: Psy-Changeling #16, Psy-Changeling Trinity #1
Published by Berkley Books on June 13th 2017
Genres: Paranormal
Pages: 464
Goodreads
five-stars

“Welcome to the Age of Trinity.”

“Even after all this time, Silver did not understand bears.”

FINAL DECISION:  Moving the action from San Francisco to Moscow, Singh kicks off the new “season” of the Psy-Changeling series with the compelling story of Silver Mercant, a powerful Psy woman, and the alpha bear shifter, Valentine who breaks through her silent walls.

THE STORY:  Silver Mercant is the uber effective assistant to the most dangerous man in the world and has also taken on being the coordinator for the new worldwide emergency response/humanitarian response group.  She has also acquired an admirer in Valentin Nikolaev, the Changeling Alpha of the StoneWater bear clan.  Valentin has been courting Silver for months — making sure to meet with her instead of her boss, leaving her food and appearing at her apartment unexpectedly.  When an attempt is made on Silver’s life, Valentin makes it his business to help protect Silver.  In a post-silence (aka a world where the intellectual Psy are allowed to feel emotion) Silver must decide whether to break her own Silence to embrace a potential relationship with her self-proclaimed “teddy bear.”

OPINION:  I approached this book with a bit of trepidation.  When an author puts out a book like ALLEGIANCE OF HONOR and specifically states that she is moving to a new stage in a beloved series with a new focus, a reader who loved the original series might be concerned.  I’m happy to report that while this book moves the series in new directions with the introduction of new characters (and changeling groups), this is still the Psy-Changeling series that I love.  And maybe a better version of itself.

“Something always seems to get broken when a group of bears is out to have a good time.”

I’m constantly amazed by the amount of detail and differentiation that Singh is able to create in her Psy-Changeling world.  For the first time, we get to meet the bear changelings in detail.  And, oh, what a wonderful group these are.  Cuddly, messy, outwardly and unabashedly emotional, partying.  These bears are different from the cats and wolves that the series was previously embedded with.  I love how Singh makes each of these changeling groups different and distinct from the other groups.  Each group has a different culture, a different history, a different set of value priorities and yet they remain unmistakably changeling in their attitudes.  I had thought that I would always love the cats the best, but these bears certainly made an impression on me.

Valentin is a different kind of alpha hero.  He is definitely a dominant and in control, but he is also sweeter and more outwardly romantic and emotional than the other alphas we have met.  (I didn’t think an alpha hero could beat the sexiness of Lucas Hunter, but Valentin certainly does).  He is strong and yet funny and has a soft heart that he is not afraid to show others.  He ends up being a surprisingly good match for the efficient and smart Silver.

Silver is as competent and complex as we have seen through the series.  She has a difficult journey in this book.  (Yes, I ended up crying about half way through). And I never expected where this book went. While this is not the first (or even second or third) Psy and Changeling pairing, Singh always manages to keep the journey of the particular romantic pairing separate and unique.  Silver and Valentin are not like any other couple we have seen in this series — and that is a beautiful thing.

Pairing a wonderful couple with a political thriller is old hat for this series.  But this book gives us new enemies and (perhaps) allies to get to know. A series that never rests on its laurels or gets repetitive, SILVER SILENCE is a winner on all levels: emotional, complex, funny, daring, intriguing and a beautiful testament to love and devotion.

WORTH MENTIONING:  The story has moved away from familiar stories in the San Francisco area that series readers are used to and yet this book exists in that world and doesn’t feel separate at all.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  SILVER SILENCE is the first book in the new “season” of the Psy-Changeling series.  Known as the Trinity series, this book is connected to what went on in the previous 15 books in the Psy-Changeling series and yet really starts out in a new direction. New readers could start here and catch up fairly easily, but I don’t know why anyone would.  Start at the beginning of the Psy-Changeling series because this is one of the best series out there.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 5 stars.

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

five-stars

Review: The Girl Who Knew Too Much

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

Review: The Girl Who Knew Too MuchThe Girl Who Knew Too Much by Amanda Quick
Published by Berkley Books on May 9th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 352
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“You must not trust anyone — not the police, not the F.B.I.  Above all, never trust a lover.”

FINAL DECISION:  My favorite Amanda Quick book in a long time.  The move to 1930s California has given new energy and freshness to what is often a familiar romantic suspense storyline.  I hope we will be reading more in this time period.

THE STORY:  1930s California is a place where people can reinvent themselves.  Irene Glasson has come here on the run from the murder of her prior employer.  Irene (and that is also a new name) is now a reporter for a small gossip paper when she becomes involved in yet another murder.  The murder of an actress takes place at the hotel of Oliver Ward.  Oliver is also starting his life over again.  Previously a famous magician whose career ended in blood during a performance, Oliver is determined to protect his hotel from scandal when he discovers that Irene didn’t seem to exist prior to four months ago.

OPINION:  I’ve been reading Amanda Quick books since the first ones in the 1990s.  In the intervening years there have been books I have absolutely loved (RAVISHED and THE PERFECT POISON) and ones that I found completely forgettable. The most recent books have been adequate but have lacked the energy and vibrancy of the best books.

THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH moves to a new time period.  I was wary of the change because the 1930s is not a time period often used in romance novels and I did not know how the Quick books would translate into that time period.  I’m happy to report that I loved the time period move to the 20th century.  In taking place in an era that has not been done ad nauseum, the book is allowed to investigate different morals, complications and motivations than the Regency or Victorian eras.

These characters feel fresh and new and the entire book has a vibrancy and drew my interest in an entirely new manner.

Irene is a career woman who is caring for herself.  She arrives in California at a time when she can completely reinvent herself (without pesky complications such as social security numbers and needing government identification). She’s tough and clever and determined. I love smart heroines and Irene is no exception.  She just keeps picking herself up after her disappointments.  She is independent and thus her willingness to trust Oliver is a major point in their relationship.

Oliver is adorable.  Sexy and wounded and oh so willing to engage in witty verbal combat with Irene.  He’s a man who cares for his own. Like Irene, he is also a man who has reinvented himself (for different reasons).  Being a survivor and adapting is a strong theme in this book with these two characters.  They live in a time and place of reinvention and they both are living out that possibility.

Along with a romance there is a peppy suspense story that keeps the pace humming along. The suspense works very well with the romance here and doesn’t overpower the relationship between Oliver and Irene.  Instead, the two work together hand in hand to undercover who is killing the women the Irene keeps discovering. I found the mystery and the solution satisfying and the adventure served to bring the characters closer.

This book was a real winner for me and I hope that there are more books in this time period (and I think there is possibility right in this book).

WORTH MENTIONING:  This is the first Amanda Quick novel to take place outside of the 19th century.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH is a standalone.

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: Red Wolf

Review: Red WolfRed Wolf by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Shifters Unbound #10
Published by Berkley Books on May 2nd 2017
Genres: Paranormal
Pages: 336
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: A friends to lovers story with an exciting mythology laden plot, Dimitri and Jaycee — red wolf and leopard — are an exciting pairing.

THE STORY: Shifter Dimitri is a red wolf and has had to fight for most of his life because of his uncommon nature and because of his stutter. He has mate claimed leopard shifter Jaycee but she hasn’t decided whether or not to accept his claim. When they are asked to investigate some shifters who are involved in mysterious and perhaps dangerous actions, the two are challenged both in their relationship and also their lives.

OPINION: This friends to lovers story has depth because these characters are challenged again and again in their relationship. There is also an intriguing story that keeps the pace of the novel hopping. Dimitri and Jaycee are already comfortable together but the story asks the question — are they meant to be together forever as mates or is their friendship with occasional benefits what they are meant to have.

Jaycee is a strong, kick-butt heroine. She is certainly Dimitri’s equal the two are partners and friends who are challenging one another. I loved how their relationship develops as challenges comes from all quarters. Again and again, these two have to evaluate what they want from their relationship.

There is a little slow start to the story, but once Dimitri and Jaycee are off on their mission, the pace picked up quite a bit.

I love the Shifters world and this book expands the mythology of the series in ways that I can’t wait to see what develops.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book has a reveal that sets up the next stage of the overarching storyline.

CONNECTED BOOKS: RED WOLF is the tenth book in the Shifters Unbound series. This series is much better read in order although the romance is self-contained in this book.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Irresistible

Review: IrresistibleIrresistible (Horsemen Trilogy, #3) by Mary Balogh
Series: Horsemen Trilogy #3
Published by Berkley Books on October 2nd 2007
Genres: Historical
Pages: 320
Goodreads
two-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  This book was just okay. I enjoyed most of the relationship and story but I couldn’t relate how Sophie reacted to being blackmailed.  Her irrational behavior just bothered me throughout.

THE STORY:  Mrs. Sophia Armitage, as the wife of an officer, followed the drum during the war became the friend of the Four Horsemen. Now a widow, Sophie resides in London and for the first time in three years, meets up with Nathaniel Gascoigne — a man that even a respectable wife could admire.  Now an opportunity for a special kind of friendship between the two arises and both are surprised by the intense passion that arises. Their fledgling relationship is threatened by the fact that Sophie has a secret — she is being blackmailed.

OPINION:  I liked how this book developed in the relationship between Nathaniel and Sophie. Two adults who want physical companionship begin to develop an emotional connection that they didn’t expect. They were sweet together and I liked them.

Unfortunately, the blackmail plot drove most of the action in the story.  Because of that Sophie’s continuing actions in giving in to the blackmail began to wear on me.  Not because I didn’t understand that she was afraid and wanting to be independent and used to hiding.  What I expected was that once the blackmail was revealed that she would gain a stronger emotional connection with Nathaniel by admitting her fears and anger. Instead, the story fell flat emotionally for me at that point.

I’m a big fan of Mary Balogh especially her restrained emotional intensity but I think this book was too emotionally restrained for me. On the other hand, I loved the ending where Nathaniel confesses his love for Sophie.  I thought that moment was almost perfect.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Fans of the series will know that there are four horsemen and thankfully although there are only three books, the fourth horseman gets his HEA in a secondary romance in this book.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  IRRESISTIBLE is the third and final book of the Horseman Trilogy. It takes place 2 years after the events in the first two books in the series.  Although characters from those books appear, this book does not rely on those books at all and thus it can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 2.5 stars.

two-half-stars

Review: Wild Cat

Review: Wild CatWild Cat (Shifters Unbound, #3) by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Shifters Unbound #3
Published by Berkley Books on January 1st 2012
Genres: Paranormal
Pages: 320
Goodreads
four-stars

Story of Loss and Starting Again

WILD CAT is the third book in the Shifters Unbound Series. It is the story of Cassidy Warden, a feline shifter who is second in command in the Las Vegas Shiftertown. She meets Detective Diego Escobar in an abandoned building where she saves his life. Cassidy’s mate was murdered a year ago. When Diego takes a risk to help Cassidy, she returns the favor by attempting to take care of him among Shifters. The two have a strong attraction physically and also emotionally because both have experienced loss.

This is a good entry into the series. We meet a new group of Shifters who live near Las Vegas. Ashley does a good job of balancing the attraction between the two and Cassidy’s grief. There is an interesting mystery regarding her mate’s death and the appearance of the Fae (enemies of Shifters). Readers of the series will probably be surprised by the quick turn to these people who were not present in the first two books of the series. In fact, readers could begin here without losing much in understanding (although the first two books are definitely worth the read).

four-stars

Review: Angels’ Blood

Review: Angels’ BloodAngels' Blood (Guild Hunter, #1) by Nalini Singh
Series: Guild Hunter #1
Published by Berkley Books on March 3rd 2009
Genres: Paranormal
Goodreads
five-stars

Fabulous First Book In Series

“She’d never met a more deadly being in her life.”

THE STORY: Elena Deveraux is a vampire hunter, a Guild Hunter whose job it is to track down vampires and return them to their masters, the angels. Elena is summoned by the Archangel Raphael who controls New York. Meeting an archangel is dangerous business for a mortal and Elena is terrified by their confrontation even as she struggles to hide it. Elena has been chosen as the best of the hunters to hunt a creature more terrifying and dangerous than any Elena has tracked before.

OPINION: This book was amazing and completely different than I expected. It was so compelling that I immediately started reading the second book in the series and then the third. The series is about Elena and making her way in the world of angels and vampires and humans. Elena is strong and yet damaged in deep emotional ways. I was completely enthralled by her story because this book just begins to hint at the depth of Elena’s story. I also loved the story between Elena and Raphael. I have a weakness for dark and dangerous heroes who teeter on the edge of being the villain. The story is lush and dark and yet Elena is not a woman filled with darkness. Billed as urban fantasy, I think this book is more personal and emotional than I would have expected.

WORTH MENTIONING: ANGELS’ BLOOD is the first book in the series but Elena’s story is not concluded in this book. The ending of this book was unexpected and made me immediately turn to book two.

FINAL DECISION: This book is fabulous. Singh creates a fascinating world with unique rules and inhabited by fascinating individuals who are complex and compelling.

CONNECTED BOOKS: ANGELS’ BLOOD is the first book in the Guild Hunters series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

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five-stars