Category: Review

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…)

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?
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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…)

Review: Caro Carson’s FOR THIS CHRISTMAS ONLY (Masterson, Texas #3)

For_This_Christmas_OnlyCaro Carson is a new-to-me romance author and her For This Christmas Only, though flawed, is engaging, well-written, and may have given me that category kick I’ve sought this summer. She reminded me of the gentle, funny, emotionally-savvy Marion Lennox, who also tells about the road to love of two people who are sad when the story opens. In Carson’s case, in For This Christmas Only‘s case, sad are E. L. Taylor (Erasmus Leonardo!) and Mallory Ames; he, a venture capitalist who made millions and recently wrote a bestselling how-to-entrepreneur book, the reading of which gave Mallory the impetus to take a stand against her exploiting family and return to Masterson University, at 29, to finish her business degree. The blurb offers us a few more details

After nearly dying in a plane crash, financial guru Eli Taylor wants to find meaning in his life. A chance encounter at a small town’s Yule log lighting leads to an evening spent as the fake boyfriend of his superfan Mallory Ames. When she finds herself homeless for the holidays, he invites her to stay with him as his fake girlfriend so he can show his siblings what a loving partnership should look like. The arrangement will end when the new year begins…or will it?

Hmmm, that chance encounter is an extended scene that brings us to the 65% point in the e-book. The blurb’s latter half takes place in the last 10%. That extended scene showcased Carson’s romance-writing chops, to my great pleasure, and also bogged the narrative down, to my reading consternation.

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REVIEW: Caitlin Crews’s SECRET NIGHTS WITH A COWBOY (Kittredge Ranch #1)

Secret_Nights_With_a_CowboyWhen I started Secret Nights, I thought I would end up DNF-ing; instead, it sucked me in and I read into the wee hours and again at dawn. I’m groggy and tired, but trying to understand why I enjoyed it as much as I did. To start, I think the reason I thought I would DNF is there’s something about Crews’s narrative voice that grates. When I start one of her novels, I’m instantly turned off by the feeling she’s leading me along her narrative; I can see her composing on a computer. If I end up enjoying the novel, then it’s because, despite that intrusive storytelling voice, the sheer romance-y-ness of it is compelling. In this case, it was (in others, not) and I don’t even enjoy marriage-in-trouble romance:

Riley Kittredge has always known exactly what he wanted. His land, his horses. His woman. He met and married Rae Trujillo far too young, and their young love combusted right after they said their vows. But their passion has never managed to burn itself out. Yet when Rae shows this time, it’s not a night of pleasure she demands, but a divorce. Rae should have moved on a long time ago. She knows she and Riley just don’t work. They might make great lovers, but that doesn’t make a marriage. And now Rae wants a new life, complete with a baby. But when her husband offers to be a father, to give her the family she’s always secretly desired, she and Riley will both have to face demons from their past—and choose love over fear at last.

Riley and Rae were high-school sweethearts and their young love didn’t exactly combust until “something happened” and Rae left Riley to move back in with her parents. Then, for the next eight years, Rae drove to Riley’s horse ranch, to the house he built for them, to fight and have sex. Eight years of yelling and sex doesn’t seem plausible to me because surely a person needs some peace and friendly conversation? What do I know, though, spinster that I am? A friend of mine once told me that her 30-year marriage consisted of yelling and great sex, so maybe? In any case, when the novel opens, Rae asks Riley to divorce because she wants to have a baby. Her friend Abby’s baby, Bart, has set all hormones firing. This is less of a plot point, in the end, than the blurb suggests and that was a good thing. I’m glad baby-making didn’t play such a great role, instead the working out of a relationship where’s there’s a lot of love, but not much by way of understanding, forgiveness, or communication. (more…)

REVIEW: Susie Steiner’s PERSONS UNKNOWN (Manon Bradshaw #2)

Persons_UnknownAfter a run of great books, Matthews’s Gentleman Jim, Griffiths’s Stone Circle, Bliss’s Redemption, I could not settle for less, so I grabbed Susie Steiner’s Persons Unknown from the night-stand. If it could be half as good as Missing, Presumed, I was in for another winner. It was and wasn’t. I still gave up sleep and human companionship to read non-stop, resisting the pull of obligation and meals. I still loved the characters, though Manon grated in this one, but Davy was as lovable as ever. I still loved how Steiner made her “coppers” pursue justice and even occasionally mercy and manage to have messy, at times pathetic, personal lives. (By the end, Davy’s speed-dating!) But the crime and Manon’s place in it were wrenchingly difficult to read about; Manon was difficult to read, weepy, hugely pregnant, cumbersome emotionally and physically.

Now to the blurb-summary to get the procedural details (my reviewer’s Achilles’ heel, I am rubbish at keeping track and am the reader ever-duped by red herrings):

As dusk falls, a young man staggers through a park, far from home, bleeding from a stab wound. He dies where he falls, cradled by a stranger, a woman’s name on his lips in his last seconds of life.

DI Manon Bradshaw can’t help taking an interest — these days, she handles only cold cases, but the man died just yards from the police station where she works. 

She’s horrified to discover that both victim and prime suspect are more closely linked to her than she could have imagined. And as the Cambridgeshire police force closes ranks against her, she is forced to contemplate the unthinkable: How well does she know her loved ones, and are they capable of murder?   (more…)

The Great Betty Read #39: Betty Neels’s PINEAPPLE GIRL

Pineapple_GirlIt was a pineapple given to her by a grateful patient that led Eloise Bennett to meeting the Dutch doctor Timon van Zeilst. Shortly after that, Eloise went to Holland to nurse a patient and there was Dr. van Zeilst again! Thrown into his company, Eloise soon realized that she loved him. But Timon was going to marry the beautiful Liske—so why would he look twice at Eloise?

The publisher’s blurb seemingly says it all; and yet, there’s so much more to this Neels romance than at first appears. To start, it was perfection until one terrible, of-its-time moment at the end. Unlike most of Neels’s romances, which have a fairly narrow scope, Pineapple Girl has a great sweep of setting changes and scenes of breathtaking romantic élan, starting with the meet-cute, possibly Neels’s best accidental “meets.” There have been so many Neels romances where the hero and heroine meet thanks to an accident of some sort, motor or otherwise, something, or someone is smashed up and they work together to put things aright. In this case, when Eloise is gifted the pineapple and is hurrying through the hospital with it, it is “smashed” by Timon’s shoe: “She frowned and lifted her chin because he has begun to smile a little, and that was a great pity, because she took a step which wasn’t there and fell flat on her face. The knitting cushioned her fall, but the pineapple bounded ahead and landed with a squashy thump on the man’s shoe, denting itself nastily.”

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