Thursday, June 28, 2018

Review: Scandal Above Stairs by Jennifer Ashley

Scandal Above Stairs by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Kat Holloway Mysteries, Book 2
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Historical Mystery
ISBN: 9780399585531
Release Date: July 3, 2018
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N
Jennifer Ashley Reading Order

A mystery of stolen antiquities has Kat Holloway setting aside her apron once again for the intrigues of the upper echelons of Victorian London

Priceless artwork has gone missing from the home of a wealthy baronet, and his wife stands to take the blame. When Kat's employer asks for help in clearing her friend's name, Kat trades her kitchen for the homes of Mayfair's wealthiest families. Soon antiques are disappearing not only from the extravagant households of connoisseurs and collectors, but from the illustrious British Museum.

As the thefts increase in frequency, Kat calls upon her friend Daniel McAdam, who has already set himself up in a pawnshop on the Strand as a seedy receiver of stolen goods. When a man is murdered in the shop, Kat must use all of her wits to see that the thieves are caught and justice is done.

There’s no rest for Kat Holloway, the most talented cook in Mayfair. Not only has her kitchen assistant quit to be married and thus left her shorthanded, Lady Cynthia has a request: she wants Kat’s help to solve a mystery and clear her friend Clemmie’s name. Valuable paintings have gone missing from her household and Clemmie’s husband is blaming her for it. One mystery begets another and another as first Kat learns that antiquities are being stolen from multiple residences, then she finds out that her friend Daniel McAdam is undercover in in a seedy pawnshop. With her curiosity piqued, Kat will have to use all her detective skills above stairs and below to uncover a mastermind willing to kill to protect his secrets.

I love falling into Kat Holloway’s world. In Scandal Above Stairs Jennifer Ashley drew me in from the start with a seemingly simple mystery that leads to something far more complex and I did not want to put the book down.

Kat is the heart and soul of the story and she’s a fantastic heroine. She’s clever, observant, loyal, talented, and kind, but Ms. Ashley keeps her from feeling too good to be real. Kat has a no-nonsense attitude, but she also draws people to her, which is how she finds herself in the middle of this latest mystery. Cynthia trusts and respects Kat, which is why she asks for her help in the first place and I love the unlikely friendship between a rather unconventional lady and an equally unique cook. The characters are what makes Scandal Above Stairs shine. Familiar characters and those newly introduced are all incredibly well-crafted and are like puzzle pieces who fit together perfectly. My favorite relationship is definitely the one between Kat and Daniel. This time around, we learn more about Daniel and the past he keeps secret. I was thrilled to learn more about him and I was excited that he opened up to Kat when he doesn’t trust most people. The romantic tension between Kat and Daniel continues to build and I’m looking forward to seeing how their relationship progresses.

Scandal Above Stairs is the second full-length book in the Kat Holloway series and it can be read as a standalone. However, for a more complete reading experience I recommend first reading the prequel novella, A Soupçon of Poison, and the first novel, Death Below Stairs, in order to get a better understanding of the characters and their relationships (Daniel and Kat’s in particular). I hesitate to say any more about this book because mysteries lose their excitement when you talk too much about them. Suffice it to say that Ms. Ashley never fails to entertain and her blend of fact and fiction, of murder and mystery is wonderful. Kat and her friends are endearing, the story moves at a quick pace, I was thoroughly entertained, and I cannot wait to read the next Kat Holloway book!


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

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Review: One for the Rogue by Manda Collins

One for the Rogue by Manda Collins
Series: Studies in Scandal, Book 4
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Genre: Historical Romance
ISBN: 9781250109927
Release Date: June 26, 2018
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N

LOVE IS THE GREATEST DISCOVERY OF ALL

Geologist Gemma Hastings has no interest in pursuing romance—and no patience for Lord Cameron Lisle, an esteemed fossil hunter who has a way of always honing in on her territory…annoyingly handsome though he may be. But when a shocking attack puts Gemma in very real danger, she may have to accept Lisle’s offers of protection. Even if that means entering into a dangerous flirtation…

Lisle was once amused by Gemma’s dedication to her work. But now that he understands how much he’s underestimated her—a woman whose beauty is matched only by her genius—Lisle is desperate to prove his respect…and prove himself worthy of her. But is he too late? A bitter rival, desperate to steal Gemma’s scientific findings, is still at-large. Can Lisle help uncover the culprit and keep her safe—forever, in his loving arms?

One for the Rogue is a bit difficult for me to review. There are some things I liked about this book. Gemma’s passion for geology and the struggles she faces to be taken seriously are what drew me into the book at the start. And I also really enjoyed the fact that Cam shared her passion and respected her intelligence. At the start of the story, it seemed like this might be an enemies-to-lovers book, but it really isn’t. Yes, Cam and Gemma are at loggerheads in the beginning over something that could have been resolved if Cam had communicated a bit better and Gemma had been a bit more willing to listen. However, a potentially huge fossil find and the threat of a bitter, sexist rival throws our bickering hero and heroine together. Add in some sexual tension and it’s clear that Gemma and Cam are going to be headed down the aisle soon. I liked Gemma and Cam together and it’s clear they fit, but still I thought their romance fell a bit flat. Part of this is due to the lack of character growth; Gemma and Cam begin and end pretty much the same and we don’t really delve deep into their characters. If this were a novella, I might have liked it more because the perceived obstacles to Gemma and Cam’s eventual happily ever after seemed orchestrated to draw out the story rather than organic problems they had to overcome.

Woven through the romance in One for the Rogue is a mystery involving a fossil Gemma discovers. I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling the fun, but I thought this plotline was the stronger one. Not only does Gemma have to face a jerk of a rival, there’s mystery, murder, and a tiny bit of mayhem. This is where author Manda Collins brings life to the story and keeps the pages moving.

One for the Rogue isn’t a bad book, but for me it was just an OK read. I realized after finishing this book that I had the same issues with it as I did with a previous Manda Collins book I read: the characters were likeable and the story had potential, but it dragged in places and was littered with tropes that didn’t have a fresh spin on them. I think Ms. Collins’s writing style simply isn’t for me, so others might find this story more engaging than I did.


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

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Review: Ocean Light by Nalini Singh

Ocean Light by Nalini Singh
Series: Psy-Changeling Trinity, Book 2
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Paranormal Romance
ISBN: 9781101987827
Release Date: June 12, 2018
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N
Nalini Singh Reading Order

Security specialist Bowen Knight has come back from the dead. But there's a ticking time bomb in his head: a chip implanted to block telepathic interference that could fail at any moment--taking his brain along with it. With no time to waste, he should be back on land helping the Human Alliance. Instead, he's at the bottom of the ocean, consumed with an enigmatic changeling…

Kaia Luna may have traded in science for being a chef, but she won't hide the facts of Bo's condition from him or herself. She's suffered too much loss in her life to fall prey to the dangerous charm of a human who is a dead man walking. And she carries a devastating secret Bo could never imagine…

But when Kaia is taken by those who mean her deadly harm, all bets are off. Bo will do anything to get her back--even if it means striking a devil's bargain and giving up his mind to the enemy…

Ocean Light is pure delight! Life under the sea has not been this much fun since The Little Mermaid. Every time Nalini Singh invites readers into a new part of the Psy-Changeling world, I fall in love all over again.

Bowen Knight – the champion and effective leader of the Human Alliance – is living on borrowed time. The chip implanted in his brain to stop Psy attacks on his mind is failing and will more than likely take his brain down with it. His only shot at survival comes when he is taken to a clinic on Ryūjin, a BlackSea installation deep under the sea. Bo was an intriguing secondary character in the Psy-Changeling series and I’m thrilled that I finally got to read his story. Bo is incredibly smart, deeply caring, and protective. He also carries scars from his past that have made him all-too-aware of human vulnerability to psychic assault. His determination to protect humanity and put them on equal footing with Psy and Changelings may cost him his life, but Bo is the kind of man who will always put himself in the line of danger to protect others from harm. For so many years Bo’s focus has been on learning to defend himself and others, leaving no time for fun. That’s why I found myself smiling over and over as Bo found the playful, fun side of himself with Kaia.

Humans have long been positioned as the weakest race, but Kaia Luna knows that they can be just as deadly. The BlackSea Changelings’ history is filled with harm done to them by humans and Kaia herself has experienced trauma at human hands. Upon first meeting Bo, she’s suspicious of him, but her cousin needs her assistance treating the far-too-attractive male. Kaia’s wariness doesn’t last long and I loved watching her open up to Bo. Kaia is an absolutely wonderful heroine. She’s a chef who shows her love through food and her warm, caring nature simply sprung off the page. She’s the kind of heroine you wish were real just so you could be friends with her (and not just because she makes fantastic cookies). She and Bo are a perfect fit and their romance made me smile and sigh. The proverbial ticking time bomb in Bo’s head isn’t the only obstacle they face. Bo’s a creature of land and Kaia of the sea; finding a happy medium given their lives, obligations, and deep-seated fears isn’t easy. I was rooting for them every step of the way because I liked them both so much.

Ocean Light takes readers deep into the heart of BlackSea territory and I couldn’t be happier. What I wouldn’t give to live on the Ryūjin installation with its friendly, unique characters and fascinating feats of engineering. BlackSea is different from many of the Changeling groups we’ve seen so far not only because of the variety of species, but because they’re spread out across the world. It made for a different dynamic that was fascinating and fun to see. How often would you expect to see a conversation with a whale or shark or a fight with a walrus, all in human form? Every character Ms. Singh introduces us to is intriguing and when you add in a plotline involving the missing members of BlackSea, it’s easy to see why I didn’t want Ocean Light to end.

Romance, action, and a bright, vivid world all make Ocean Light a captivating read. I read Kaia and Bo’s book late into the night until I couldn’t possibly keep my eyes open any longer, only to finish it as soon as I woke up the next morning. Ms. Singh’s writing continues to be incredibly addictive her characters never fail to grab my heart. I loved Ocean Light and I hope to see more of BlackSea soon!


FTC Disclosure: I received the e-book edition of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Review: Rainy Day Friends by Jill Shalvis

Rainy Day Friends by Jill Shalvis
Series: Wildstone, Book 2
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Contemporary Romance
ISBN: 9780062448149
Release Date: June 19, 2018
Source: Author
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N
Jill Shalvis Reading Order

Six months after Lanie Jacobs’ husband’s death, it’s hard to imagine anything could deepen her sense of pain and loss. But then Lanie discovers she isn’t the only one grieving his sudden passing. A serial adulterer, he left behind several other women who, like Lanie, each believe she was his legally wedded wife.

Rocked by the infidelity, Lanie is left to grapple with searing questions. How could she be so wrong about a man she thought she knew better than anyone? Will she ever be able to trust another person? Can she even trust herself?

Desperate to make a fresh start, Lanie impulsively takes a job at the family-run Capriotti Winery. At first, she feels like an outsider among the boisterous Capriottis. With no real family of her own, she’s bewildered by how quickly they all take her under their wing and make her feel like she belongs. Especially Mark Capriotti, a gruffly handsome Air Force veteran turned deputy sheriff who manages to wind his way into Lanie’s cold, broken heart—along with the rest of the clan.

Everything is finally going well for her, but the arrival of River Green changes all that. The fresh-faced twenty-one-year old seems as sweet as they come…until her dark secrets come to light—secrets that could destroy the new life Lanie’s only just begun to build.

Rainy Day Friends is one of those books that makes me indescribably happy. It’s romantic, funny, and heartwarming all at once and the characters are sure to capture your heart from the start.

Lanie Jacobs lost her husband…and in losing him found that she was only the first of a number of wives. Anxious and off-kilter, Lanie takes a temporary job at the Capriotti Winery and is immediately embraced by the lively Capriotti family. The Capriottis don’t let Lanie hold herself apart or retreat from the world and their love, acceptance, and pure zaniness help Lanie come out of her shell and find herself again. I absolutely adored Lanie. She’s got a bigger heart than even she knows, and though she’s not perfect she’s a perfectly endearing heroine. She’s also readers’ entry into the wonderful world of the Capriottis, a family unlike any other. The Capriottis are bold and boisterous and oh-so-wonderful. They made the pages of Rainy Day Friends fly by. I loved how they tend to adopt people, welcoming them in from the start and seeing the best in them even when they make mistakes. My favorite Capriotti is, of course, Mark. The handsome single father of utterly adorable twins is a hero who will make you sigh. Mark is sexy and strong, to be sure, but it’s his love for his daughters, the way he puts them first, and the love he has for his crazy family that just pushed him over the edge and into book boyfriend material. Mark has also been burned by love and he doesn’t want to even think about getting seriously involved with someone until his girls are grown. Fate, however, has other plans and it’s easy to see that the attraction between Lanie and Mark is more than mere lust. Their romance is both sweet and sensual and I was rooting for both of them to overcome their fears and risk their hearts on a chance at happily ever after with one another.

Lanie’s life at the Capriotti Winery isn’t all smooth sailing. The arrival of the mysterious River Green leads to complications and the secrets she carries have the power to hurt Lanie. I won’t say more because that would spoil the story, but River was as intriguing to me as Lanie and Mark were. She’s also lost in many ways when she arrives at the Capriottis’ home and her journey was just as engaging as Lanie’s was. River and Lanie’s relationship was every bit as important to the story as the Lanie/Mark romance and I loved that.

Jill Shalvis is a master at mixing humor and heart and Rainy Day Friends showcases her talents perfectly. If you take just the romance or just the friendships in this book, the story is a cut above. But the Capriottis take the book to the next level, making it a vibrant, memorable tale that will warm your heart and leave you smiling.


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

Monday, June 4, 2018

Review: The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Series: The Kiss Quotient, Book 1
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary Romance
ISBN: 9780451490803
Release Date: June 5, 2018
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N

Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases--a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn't help that Stella has Asperger's and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice--with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can't afford to turn down Stella's offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan--from foreplay to more-than-missionary position…

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but crave all of the other things he's making her feel. Their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic…

The Kiss Quotient is a lovely romance that is by turns sexy and sweet. Helen Hoang’s imaginative spin on Pretty Woman charmed me thanks to its wonderfully unique characters. Stella captured my interest from the first. She’s a brilliant econometrician and her honest love and joy for her work was endearing. But Stella is also deeply vulnerable in ways that broke my heart. She feels her Asperger’s impedes her love life and she worries that she will never be good at relationships. Thus Stella embarks on a quest to become better at sex and relationships by hiring an escort to teach her what she wants to know. Michael is the perfect mix of sweetness and sensuality; definitely a swoon-worthy hero. He’s kind, loving, patient, and he sees Stella for the wonderful woman that she is. I really liked that Michael had his own vulnerabilities as well, though I feel like it’d spoil the story a bit to give away his background and his reasons for becoming an escort.

The attraction between Michael and Stella is instantaneous and the sexual tension was fun to watch build. But the best part of the story (for me) was watching Stella and Michael learn more about one another. Ms. Hoang isn’t afraid to let her characters be flawed and their lives messy and that’s what truly makes The Kiss Quotient special. There’s a level of emotional honesty and realism mixed into the fantasy that really captured my attention and had me rooting for Stella and Michael.

Stella and Michael are the heart of The Kiss Quotient, but it’d be shameful if I didn’t mention Michael’s wonderful family. His sisters and cousins are all vibrant characters and the only downside of meeting them is I desperately want their stories (especially Quan’s). I finished The Kiss Quotient a well-satisfied reader, but I cannot wait to see what Ms. Hoang has in store for Michael’s cousin Khai in The Bride Test.


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