MINI-REVIEW: Julia Justiss’s THE BLUESTOCKING DUCHESS (Heirs in Waiting #1)

Bluestocking_DuchessThis isn’t my first foray into reading Justiss, but it will be my last. What a slog of a read The Bluestocking Duchess was. But the promise of a premise can deceive, true of Justiss’s late-Georgian? early Victorian? 1834-set romance. The blurb will show how potentially attractive The Bluestocking Duchess appeared:

Her good friend…
Is suddenly a duke’s heir!
Miss Jocelyn Sudderfeld is working at Edge Hall, indulging her love of translating ancient texts with her librarian father—and evading the need to marry! She’s always enjoyed a teasing friendship with estate manager Mr. Alex Cheverton. Until he unexpectedly becomes the duke’s heir. Now his first duty is to marry a suitable debutante, not consort with an earnest bluestocking like her… So where does that leave their friendship?

I do enjoy a friends-to-lovers romance and a translating heroine sounded fresh and compelling. With the exception of a few scenes in the British Museum, this romance never came alive, the hero and heroine like wooden chess pieces moving across the narrative board. (more…)

MINI-REVIEW: Elly Griffiths’s THE POSTSCRIPT MURDERS (Harbinder Kaur #2)

Postscript_MurdersElly Griffiths’s second Harbinder Kaur mystery tells us more about her love of Golden Age mystery writers, Murder She Wrote, and Georgette Heyer than it stands as exemplary crime fiction. I did not give an owl’s hoot about this, but to the tightly-plotted-is-best mystery reader, Postscript Murders is a sprawling mess, an octopus of great characters going nowhere in a plot meandering towards the improbable. Still, I liked it. I’m a fan of character-driven mystery, especially when the characters, amateur and professional, work together to solve the crime.

The blurb will lead us by setting things up:

The death of a ninety-year-old woman with a heart condition should not be suspicious. Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur certainly sees nothing out of the ordinary when Peggy’s caretaker, Natalka, begins to recount Peggy Smith’s passing. But Natalka had a reason to be at the police station: while clearing out Peggy’s flat, she noticed an unusual number of crime novels, all dedicated to Peggy. And each psychological thriller included a mysterious postscript: PS: for PS. When a gunman breaks into the flat to steal a book and its author is found dead shortly thereafter—Detective Kaur begins to think that perhaps there is no such thing as an unsuspicious death after all. And then things escalate: from an Aberdeen literary festival to the streets of Edinburgh, writers are being targeted. DS Kaur embarks on a road trip across Europe and reckons with how exactly authors can think up such realistic crimes . . .

Um, there’s actually no road trip “across Europe”, unless you count the characters’ miles-long foray from Shoreham-by-Sea to Aberdeen? Truth be told, Griffiths’s plethora of characters, plenty of them “found dead” like Peggy Smith, and convoluted plotting left me confused and indifferent to the goings-on. What did I enjoy? Her detecting crew, made up of adorable eccentrics. (more…)

Review: Kate Clayborn’s LOVE AT FIRST

Love_At_FirstIn Love At First, Kate Clayborn penned a perfect romance. How did she manage to keep me engrossed in a novel where nothing happens? Tension and conflict dissipate (the heroine’s feud is silly and it is to her credit she sees it as such). Instead, Clayborn lets her romance stand on characterization, setting, scene, and mood. There has also been an authorial decision on Clayborn’s part that I think has made for her best book yet: she abandoned her previous books’ first-person narration for third. This adds depth and maturity to the writing and removes her reliance on her characters’ first-person voices to provide it, which they don’t. And can’t, given the first-person dependence on personality. As I said, not much happens; here’s the blurb to start us off on the glorious details:

Sixteen years ago, a teenaged Will Sterling saw—or rather, heard—the girl of his dreams. Standing beneath an apartment building balcony, he shared a perfect moment with a lovely, warm-voiced stranger. It’s a memory that’s never faded, though he’s put so much of his past behind him. Now an unexpected inheritance has brought Will back to that same address, where he plans to offload his new property and get back to his regular life as an overworked doctor. Instead, he encounters a woman, two balconies above, who’s uncannily familiar . . . No matter how surprised Nora Clarke is by her reaction to handsome, curious Will, or the whispered pre-dawn conversations they share, she won’t let his plans ruin her quirky, close-knit building. Bound by her loyalty to her adored grandmother, she sets out to foil his efforts with a little light sabotage. But beneath the surface of their feud is an undeniable connection. A balcony, a star-crossed couple, a fateful meeting—maybe it’s the kind of story that can’t work out in the end. Or maybe, it’s the perfect second chance . . . (more…)

Audiobook Review: Helen Hoang’s THE HEART PRINCIPLE (Kiss Quotient #3)

The_Heart_PrincipleThere was much to love about Hoang’s The Heart Principle and not. The blurb has a rom-com vibe and not. Neither com nor angst fit the novel, solid romance for two-thirds and then a long-winded “something else”.

For what it’s worth, here’s the blurb and let’s see where it takes us:

When violinist Anna Sun accidentally achieves career success with a viral YouTube video, she finds herself incapacitated and burned out from her attempts to replicate that moment. And when her longtime boyfriend announces he wants an open relationship before making a final commitment, a hurt and angry Anna decides that if he wants an open relationship, then she does, too. Translation: She’s going to embark on a string of one-night stands. The more unacceptable the men, the better.

That’s where tattooed, motorcycle-riding Quan Diep comes in. Their first attempt at a one-night stand fails, as does their second, and their third, because being with Quan is more than sex—he accepts Anna on an unconditional level that she has just started to understand herself. However, when tragedy strikes Anna’s family she takes on a role that she is ill-suited for, until the burden of expectations threatens to destroy her. Anna and Quan have to fight for their chance at love, but to do that, they also have to fight for themselves. (more…)

Mini-Review: Elly Griffiths’s THE NIGHT HAWKS (Ruth Galloway #13)

The_Night_HawksI avoided coming to the point where I must wait for the next Ruth Galloway (next June, folks), but here I am after tapping the last Kindle page of The Night Hawks. What I concluded was: with every Ruth Galloway, I care less about the mystery and more about the characters. (If you love the series, the review might be fun to read; if not, it’ll definitely have an insiders feel to it.) It’s great to have Ruth and twelve-year-old daughter Kate back in their Saltmarsh cottage: Ruth, now head of archaeology at the University of North Norfolk, the usual gang circling them, especially the complicated relationship with “the love of her life,” DCI Harry Nelson of King’s Lynn police and Kate’s father. DC Judy Johnson, still married to Ruth’s friend, Cathbad, is back; Harry’s family: wife Michelle; baby George, now three; adult daughters, Laura and Rebecca; and my favourite still makes an appearance, DCI David Clough, “Cloughie”. The murder is complicated and atmospheric and involves amateur archaeologists, illegal medical experimentation, and the eponymous “night hawks” discovering a washed-up body at Blakeney Point. Nelson calls Ruth and she is once again part of a police investigation as forensic expert. Their personal lives’ dangerous currents are the narrative’s focus as much as the investigation. The blurb provides further details:

Ruth is back as head of archaeology at the University of North Norfolk when a group of local metal detectorists—the so-called Night Hawks—uncovers Bronze Age artifacts on the beach, alongside a recently deceased body, just washed ashore. Not long after, the same detectorists uncover a murder-suicide—a scientist and his wife found at their farmhouse, long thought to be haunted by the Black Shuck, a humongous black dog, a harbinger of death. The further DCI Nelson probes into both cases, the more intertwined they become, and the closer they circle to David Brown, the new lecturer Ruth has recently hired, who seems always to turn up wherever Ruth goes.

David Brown is irritating and arrogant, though an interesting addition to the cast of characters Griffiths is constantly shifting and developping. Equally compelling is Griffths’s homage to Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles as the farmhouse murder-suicide has Ruth and Nelson sight the Black Shuck on several ominous occasions!    (more…)

Mini-Review: Sophie Pembroke’s AWAKENING HIS SHY CINDERELLA

Awakening_His_Shy_CinderellaI wanted to read, not necessarily Awakening His Shy Cinderella, but Sophie Pembroke because Wendy the Superlibrarian loved one of her books. Pembroke’s writing and some scene setting can be lovely, but her “awakening Cinderella” was uneven. It started out great and I was excited to find a new category author to follow. Here is the blurb to set us off:

Can a festive flirtation last…
After the final cracker has been pulled? Damon knows Rachel’s always prioritized her family’s needs above her own. But one close encounter between them changes everything… It’s time for Rachel to step out of her comfort zone! Damon usually steers clear of commitment, but neither can resist indulging in a very temporary affair! Only, when the time comes, can he walk away from the captivating woman he’s discovered?

There are way too many question and exclamation marks in the blurb, offering a tenuous description. Damon Hunter and Rachel Charles have known each other for years. Rachel is Damon’s older sister’s BFF. Their lives have intertwined, but Rachel, who’s carried a torch for Damon, is plain-Jane curvaceous to his player good looks. In the background are Rachel’s family, her step-mother and -sisters, putting her down, giving her the lowliest tasks in the world-famous department store family business, her ineffectual father doing nada to help her. This made Rachel into a hard-working mouse of a woman, toiling but never asserting or asking for anything for herself (hence, the Cinderella title).   (more…)

Review: Cara Bastone’s FLIRTING WITH FOREVER (Forever Yours #3)

Flirting_With_ForeverNow I’ve come to the end of Bastone’s Forever Yours series and must say I’ll miss her world and the characters she creates. I hope to see more from Bastone: she’s a wonderful combination of familiar-contemporary-romance groove and something fresh, new, and, at times, subtly subversive. On the surface, one thinks typical contemporary rom-com, as the blurb suggests:

Mary Trace is bright, bubbly and back in the dating pool in her midthirties. All of her closest friends are in love, and she refuses to miss out on romance. So when a regular customer at her trendy Brooklyn boutique wants to set Mary up on a blind date with her son, she gives a hesitant yes. John Modesto-Whitford is gorgeous and well-groomed, so maybe dinner won’t be a total bust—until he drops a less-than-flattering comment about Mary’s age.
Desperate to be nothing like his snake of a politician father, public defender John Modesto-Whitford prides himself on his honesty and candor. But his social awkwardness and lack of filter just blew it with the most beautiful woman he’s ever dated. Luckily, Mom’s machinations keep Mary and John running into each other all summer long, and soon they resort to fake dating to get her to back off. When their pretense turns to real friendship—and some surprisingly hot chemistry—can these two stubborn individuals see past their rocky start to a rock-solid future together?
(more…)

Mini-Review: Elizabeth Hoyt’s WHEN A ROGUE MEETS HIS MATCH (Greycourt #2)

When_A_Rogue_Meets_His_MatchI didn’t expect to enjoy Hoyt’s When A Rogue Meets His Match as much as I did. Greycourt #1 wasn’t super-great and great is what I expect of Hoyt, The Raven and Leopard Princes being some of the first enthrallingly good romances I read when I returned to the genre. (Their only match, IMHO, is Duke of Sin.) I read When A Rogue Meets His Match in less than two days, partly because I greatly enjoyed the cross-class romance, reminiscent of Marrying Winterborne, and partly because it fell short, pun intended, in the conclusion department. To start us off, some blurbish summary:

Ambitious, sly, and lethally intelligent, Gideon Hawthorne has spent his life clawing his way up from the gutter. For the last ten years, he’s acted as the Duke of Windemere’s fixer, performing the most dangerous tasks without question. Now Gideon’s ready to quit the duke’s service and work solely for himself. But Windermere wants Gideon to complete one last task, and his reward is impossible to resist: Messalina Greycourt’s hand in marriage. Witty, vivacious Messalina Greycourt has her pick of suitors. When Windermere summons Messalina to inform his niece that she must marry Mr. Hawthorne, she is appalled. But she’s surprised when Gideon offers her a compromise: as long as she plays the complacent wife, he promises to leave her alone until she asks for his touch. Since Messalina is confident that she’ll never ask Gideon for anything, she readily agrees. However, the more time she spends with Gideon, the harder it is to stay away.    (more…)

Review: Susie Steiner’s REMAIN SILENT (Manon Bradshaw #3)

Remain-SilentSusie Steiner’s third Manon Bradshaw mystery is set in an England bloated by bigotry, pettiness, and violence against migrant workers. It’s a Brexit-world we’re in. Her protagonist? DI Manon Bradshaw of the Cambridgeshire police, more irreverently acerbic than ever. In book #1, Missing Presumed, Manon was a copper with a deep belief in her ability to solve a crime and bring justice to whom it’s due; in book #2, Persons Unknown, Manon is pregnant, sidelined, and drawn into a case because it involves family; in book #3, copper Manon is back, not by will, want, or ambition; she’s assigned to the possible murder of an illegal Lithuanian migrant worker (conditions akin to slavery, really, as Manon notes). That sense of completion, if not vindication, or justice, is nebulous at best and, by the end, we leave a Manon disheartened with policing. At the same time, of Steiner’s three Manon mysteries, Remain Silent is the funniest, tipping to black comedy, thanks to Manon’s dark humour, which I LOVED.

The blurb will supply some plottish detail for us:

Newly married and navigating life with a toddler as well as her adopted adolescent son, Manon Bradshaw is happy to be working part-time in the cold cases department of the Cambridgeshire police force, a job which allows her to “potter in, coffee in hand and log on for a spot of internet shopping–precisely what she had in mind when she thought of work-life balance.” But beneath the surface Manon is struggling with the day-to-day realities of what she assumed would be domestic bliss: fights about whose turn it is to clean the kitchen, the bewildering fatigue of having a young child in her forties, and the fact that she is going to couple’s counseling alone because her husband feels it would just be her complaining. But when Manon is on a walk with her two-year-old son in a peaceful suburban neighborhood and discovers the body of a Lithuanian immigrant hanging from a tree with a mysterious note attached, she knows her life is about to change. Suddenly, she is back on the job, full-force, trying to solve the suicide–or is it a murder–in what may be the most dangerous and demanding case of her life. (more…)

Audiobook Review: Piper Hugeley’s SWEET TEA

Sweet_TeaAs someone who prefers a physical book to an e-book and an e-book to an audiobook, I don’t know what possessed me to request an audiobook other than novelty. So I was surprised how much I enjoyed it, which, I suspect, has more to do with an engaging romance and lovely writing than audio narration.

Piper Huguley’s Sweet Tea is about a successful, single-minded young woman who has lost touch with her roots and heritage; now that she’s “made it” professionally and financially, she is ripe to discover how hollow success can be when not accompanied with a sense of belonging, meaningful work, familial connection, and a loving life-partner. Much as I enjoyed the romance, I enjoyed the heroine’s rediscovery of her roots, tradition, and heritage even more. Also, the food, pretty fan-yum-tas-tic! The blurb offers some further detail:

Althea Dailey has succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. So why doesn’t she feel more excited about it? She’s about to become the only woman—and the only Black person—to make partner at her prestigious law firm in New York City. When she has to travel South for a case, she pays a long-overdue visit back home to Milford, Georgia. To her surprise, a white man she’s never met has befriended her grandmother.

Jack Darwent wasn’t interested in the definition of success dictated by his father and Southern high society. His passion for cooking led him to his current project: a documentary and cookbook about authentic Southern food. Althea’s grandmother is famous for her cooking at the historically Black Milford College, especially the annual May feast meal. But Althea suspects Jack of trying to steal her grandmother’s recipes.

Although Althea and Jack don’t have the best first impressions of one another, they discover they have more in common than they’d guessed… and even as they learn about one another’s pasts, they both see glimmers of a better future. (more…)