Sunday, April 28, 2024

Review: The Goldie Standard by Simi Monheit

The Goldie Standard by Simi Monheit
Publisher: Sibylline Press
Genre: Fiction 
The Goldie Standard cover
ISBN: 9781960573971
Release Date: May 7, 2024
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo

Hilarious and surprising, this unapologetically Jewish story delivers a present-day take on a highly creative grandmother trying to find her Ph.D granddaughter a husband who is a doctor—with a yarmulke, of course.

Goldie Mandell is opinionated, assertive, and stuck in an Assisted Living Facility. But even surrounded by schleppers with walkers, pictures of sunrises, fancy fish tanks, and an array of daily activities to complement the tepid tea and stale cookies on offer, her salt-free plate is full. She’s got a granddaughter to settle, an eager love interest named Harry to subdue, and precious memories of her happy marriage to fellow Holocaust survivor Mordy to draw upon.

Maxie Jacobson is young, brilliant, and newly single, not by choice. But she’s got her science career, a grandmother to care for, and her whole life ahead of her. When Maxie takes on the role of her grandmother’s medical advocate, she has no idea Goldie operates with the single purpose of securing Maxie with Dr. Right. Instead, Maxie is distracted by her grandmother’s unexpectedly charming long-haired, sandal-wearing, peculiarly-named driver, T-Jam Bin Naumann, definitely wrong in every way.

The Goldie Standard is an intense, often bittersweet read. Author Simi Monheit’s debut novel follows grandmother Goldie Mandell throughout her life in a mix of present-day scenes and flashbacks while also featuring Goldie’s granddaughter, Maxie, who finds herself at a crossroads of her own.

The description of the book doesn’t truly capture what the story is like. Yes, Goldie is determined to find her granddaughter a Jewish doctor to marry and yes, Maxie ends up falling for artist/driver/adjunct professor T-Jam Bin Naumann instead. But it’s not a romcom or even a comedic novel like I expected. Rather Goldie is switching back and forth between past and present. She was a child in Nazi Germany and we see what happened to her there, her escape, and her immigration to America. We follow her marriage, children, love and loss woven throughout, and now as a somewhat crotchety grandmother in an assisted living facility. Goldie isn’t the sweet and endearing type, but she is interesting. Maxie, in turn, is a modern Jewish girl getting her Ph.D. and one who doesn’t always understand her grandmother. The two learn about each other over the course of the book and both grow in ways they probably didn’t expect.

The Goldie Standard wasn’t an easy read for me and some of what was touched on reminded me of my relatives. It also isn’t generally the kind of story I read for fun. I didn’t love the characters exactly, but I found them honest and realistic. Goldie in particular was a layered, complex character. I wished for some more of that for Maxie and the supporting cast. I’m glad I read The Goldie Standard. It’s not my usual fare but Monheit did draw me in and delivered a strong, emotionally charged tale.

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, April 27, 2024

Review: The Lady Plays with Fire by Susanna Craig

The Lady Plays with Fire by Susanna Craig
Series: Goode’s Guide to Misconduct, Book 2
Publisher: Zebra
Genre: Historical Romance 
The Lady Plays with Fire cover
ISBN: 9781420154818
Release Date: April 23, 2024
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

As the daughter of a clergyman, Julia Addison knows she’ll never be able to fulfill her lifelong dream of acting on the stage. But writing forthright reviews of the Season’s most popular plays for Mrs. Goode’s Magazine for Misses, popularly known as Goode’s Guide to Misconduct is surely the next best thing. Even better, she’s got a ticket to Ransom Blackadder’s latest irritating satire about English society. Best of all, she’s sharing a theater box with the gruff but handsome Lord Dunstane, which is enough to make Julia call for an encore…

Graham McKay, the Earl of Dunstane, rarely leaves his home in the Scottish Highlands. Why would he? Nothing about London has ever held his interest—until he meets Julia. But when Graham realizes she is the critic who panned his last play—and she discovers he is in fact the man behind Blackadder’s wicked pen—will it bring down the curtain on their romance—not to mention the magazine that published the humiliating review? Or can an unexpected collaboration set the stage for a scandalous love affair?

A Scottish earl who secretly writes scandalous plays and the daughter of a clergyman who secretly pens reviews are a perfect match in The Lady Plays with Fire. Susanna Craig’s second Goode’s Guide to Misconduct novel features two likeable characters who are taken with each other in person while unknowingly sparring with one another behind the scenes.

Julia Addison wished to be an actress once upon a time, but now the lady’s companion has settled into writing reviews as “Miss on Scene.” Graham is an earl who used his Ransom Blackadder alter ego to pull his estate out of danger. Blackadder is cynical and cutting but Graham is rather sweet. He’s gruff at first but there’s a marshmallow heart inside of him that I found endearing. Julia is kind and sweet as well, but she’s got a steel spine that won’t let her back down. When Mrs. Goode’s Magazine for Misses is targeted because of Blackadder she’s determined to convince the playwright’s patron to sway the author to something less dangerous, never knowing the man she’s dealing with is the writer himself.

Julia and Graham make a charming couple and they have an easy chemistry that makes The Lady Plays with Fire entertaining. For a book centered around the theater this is not a dramatic read; rather it’s a fun and engaging romance that’s good to escape with. I quite enjoy Julia and her fellow “Goode girls” and am very much looking forward to seeing where Craig takes them next.

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.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Review: Archangel’s Lineage by Nalini Singh

Archangel’s Lineage by Nalini Singh
Series: Guild Hunter, Book 16
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy 
Archangels Lineage cover
ISBN: 9780593550014
Release Date: April 23, 2004
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Nalini Singh Reading Order

Raphael and Elena are experiencing their first ever year of true peace. No war. No horrors of archangelic power. No nightmares given flesh. Until…the earth beneath the Refuge begins to tremble, endangering not only angelkind’s precious and fragile young, but the very place that has held their most innocent safe for eons.

Amid the chaos, Elena’s father suffers a violent heart attack that threatens to extinguish their last chance to heal the bonds between them and make sense of the ruins of their agonizing shared history.

Even as Elena battles grief, Raphael is torn from her side by the sudden disappearance of an archangel. But worse yet is to come. An Ancestor, an angel unlike any other, stirs from his Sleep to warn the Cadre of a darkness so terrible that it causes empires to fall and civilizations to vanish.

This time, even the Cadre itself may not be able to stop a ticking clock that is counting down at frightening speed…

It has been a time of peace in the world and Raphael and Elena are finally feeling able to relax just a bit. Then tremors rock the Refuge and it seems the world is once again in danger. Only this time it isn’t a mad archangel or some other identifiable threat, but something far more unpredictable…

Archangel’s Lineage is a wildly addictive read full of interesting worldbuilding and fascinating characters. It’s classic Nalini Singh in a way that I truly enjoy and I absolutely hated to put this book down.

We’ve taken another time jump in the Guild Hunter world and Raphael and Elena have now been together for about two decades. Their love and passion for one another is just as strong but there’s a settled quality to their relationship that is just as enjoyable to read about as their tumultuous beginning. I loved seeing them together and the strength of their relationship shines even when they’re apart. The world is in danger in Archangel’s Lineage, but there are also personal stakes. Elena’s father has a heart attack and it brings home not only her strained relationship with him but the realization of how little time the immortal angel has with her mortal loved ones. There’s a bittersweet quality to parts of this story; I really liked seeing Elena come to terms with the knowledge that not all of her friends and family will be with her forever, and that’s okay.

As for the more global threat of natural disasters and the Refuge being in danger…well, this is a plotline I don’t want to say too much about. Much of the fun of the story is experiencing the twists and turns as our beloved characters take them. Singh’s worldbuilding continues to delight and I liked seeing how she brought everything together. Singh perfectly balances the energy of the primary plot while allowing her characters room to breathe and be enjoyed. The result is a wholly satisfying read that ends one chapter of the Guild Hunter series while leaving room for new ones to begin. I absolutely adored Archangel’s Lineage from first page to last – it’s action-packed, romantic, interesting, and completely engaging.

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.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Review: Otherworldly by F.T. Lukens

Otherworldly by F.T. Lukens
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Genre: Male/Non-Binary Young Adult Fantasy Romance 
Otherworldly cover
ISBN: 9781665916257
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Seventeen-year-old Ellery is a non-believer in a region where people swear the supernatural is real. Sure, they’ve been stuck in a five-year winter, but there’s got to be a scientific explanation. If goddesses were real, they wouldn’t abandon their charges like this, leaving farmers like Ellery’s family to scrape by.

Knox is a familiar from the Other World, a magical assistant sent to help humans who have made crossroads bargains. But it’s been years since he heard from his queen, and Knox is getting nervous about what he might find once he returns home. When the crossroads demons come to collect Knox, he panics and runs. A chance encounter down an alley finds Ellery coming to Knox’s rescue, successfully fending off his would-be abductors.

Ellery can’t quite believe what they’ve seen. And they definitely don’t believe the nonsense this unnervingly attractive guy spews about his paranormal origins. But Knox needs to make a deal with a human who can tether him to this realm, and Ellery needs to figure out how to stop this winter to help their family. Once their bargain is struck, there’s no backing out, and the growing connection between the two might just change everything.

Myths and magic meet everyday humans just trying to survive in Otherworldly. F.T. Lukens has delivered a story of an ordinary teenager struggling in a city that has been trapped in an eternal winter for the past five years and a liminal being desperate to experience life.

Ellery and Knox are easy protagonists to like. Ellery works hard and stands out by being ordinary in a story of so many large personalities. Ellery is a skeptic when it comes to the supernatural, but a whole new world opens up in front of them when they meet Knox. Knox is a familiar who can only stay in the human realm when bound to a bargain. A bargain is struck between the two and Ellery will help Knox experience the world while they search for answers as to why the goddess has abandoned their part of the world. The love story that develops is sweet and charming.

Ellery and Knox’s journey takes the two of them all over and puts them in the path of multiple magical beings. I really liked the world Lukens built in Otherworldly. The magic is well thought-out and the supernatural beings are interesting. There’s a lot to like about this story but for me, the trouble was the incredibly slow pace of the book. Otherworldly is missing some of the humor I’ve enjoyed so much in Lukens’s other works and it’s logical why it isn’t in here. That being said, even without the humor I expected some kind of spark or energy to pull me into the story. This book was very easy to put down, which was a pity. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, but the pace kept me from liking this book as much as I wanted to. However, the story does pick up in the last quarter of the book and finished strong.

Otherworldly has a lot to recommend it – likeable protagonists, a strong supporting cast, themes of love in many forms, choice, found family, and standing up for what is right. I liked the book overall, but the slow pace did detract from my enjoyment.

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.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Review: The Night Island by Jayne Ann Krentz

The Night Island by Jayne Ann Krentz
Series: The Lost Night Files, Book 2
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Paranormal Romantic Suspense 
The Night Island cover
ISBN: ‎ 9780593639856
eBook Source: Publisher
Audiobook Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Talia March, Pallas Llewellyn, and Amelia Rivers, bonded by a night none of them can remember, are dedicated to uncovering the mystery of what really happened to them months ago—an experience that amplified innate psychic abilities in each of them. The women suspect they were test subjects years earlier, and that there are more people like them—all they have to do is find the list of others who took that same test. When Talia follows up on a lead from Phoebe, a fan of the trio’s podcast, she discovers that the informant has vanished.

Talia isn’t the only one looking for Phoebe, however. Luke Rand, a hunted and haunted man who is chasing the same list that Talia is after, also shows up at the meeting place. It’s clear he has his own agenda, and they are instantly suspicious of each other. But when a killer begins to stalk them, they realize they have to join forces to find Phoebe and the list.

The rocky investigation leads Talia and Luke to a rustic, remote retreat on Night Island in the Pacific Northwest, where the Unplugged Experience promises to rejuvenate guests. Upon their arrival, Talia and Luke discover they are quite literally cut off from the outside world when none of their high-tech devices work on the island. It soon becomes clear that Phoebe is not the first person to disappear into the strange gardens that surround the Unplugged Experience retreat. And then the first mysterious death occurs…

After a “lost night” where three women woke up with heightened psychic abilities, Talia March has become an expert at finding what is lost. Particularly, lost bodies. It’s enough to give anyone nightmares, but on her quest to uncover what happened to her and her friends that night she won’t give up. Her search for answers leads her to a woman who may have information…only when she arrives to make the exchange for it, the woman is missing. Instead, Talia meets Luke, a man who has unique skills and a lost night of his own. Unlikely allies at first, Talia and Luke head to the isolated Night Island for the Unplugged Experience, their only lead to find the missing informant. Night Island is a place of almost otherworldly foliage and hidden dangers. If Talia and Luke want to make it out alive, they’re going to have to rely on each other.

The Night Island is an entertaining second installment to Jayne Ann Krentz’s Lost Night Files series. This time it’s Talia and Luke who take center stage and they are likable, albeit haunted protagonists who fit each other like lock and key. The have an easy chemistry which makes them an appealing couple and their romance is both swift and understated. If you’re familiar with Krentz’s work, it follows a formula. I did wish for the love story to feel a bit more earned, but I still like the formula enough that my quibbles didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.

At the heart of The Night Island is the mystery on the titular location. Psychic energy, paranormal powers, lethal assassins, and deadly fauna are all things Luke and Talia have to face over the course of the story. I liked watching them work together to put the pieces of the puzzle together and find out more about the paranormal experiments that are being done. I don’t want to say too much and spoil the story, but suffice it to say this was an engaging second installment to an overarching mystery. The ever-expanding Lost Night Files team is entertaining and I am very much looking forward to seeing how they pull everything together in the next book.

FTC Disclosure: I purchased the audiobook and received the eBook 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, April 2, 2024

Review: Matzah Ball Blues by Jennifer Wilck

Matzah Ball Blues by Jennifer Wilck
Series: Holidays, Heart and Chutzpah, Book 2
Publisher: Harlequin Special Edition
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Matzah Ball Blues cover
ISBN: 9781335594617
Release Date: March 26, 2024
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Harlequin

Why is this night different from all other nights?

For starters, Jared Leiman is home for the holidays. Because though he and Caroline Weiss were high school sweethearts, their post-college lives took them in different directions. Jared became a big-time entertainment lawyer in LA, while Caroline became a fitness instructor and stayed in town to care for her sick mother. And though her mother passed away three years ago, Caroline is finally free to go where she chooses. Meanwhile Jared, who inherited custody of his baby niece after a tragic accident, is suddenly a family man.

So now Caroline wants to leave her hometown in the dust, whereas Jared might just set up roots there. Because there is one thing that Browerville, New Jersey, offers the two of them that no other place does…each other!

Passover gives a second chance to former high school sweethearts in Matzah Ball Blues. In the year since his brother’s death, entertainment lawyer Jared Leiman hasn’t quite come to grips with the loss or being a father to his toddler niece. Taking a break from the high pressure and long hours of his job, he returns home to visit his parents for Passover and runs into – literally – his ex-girlfriend Caroline Weiss.

Jared and Caroline broke up when he went to college and she stayed home to care for her terminally ill mother. Jared broke her heart all those years ago, but he was a kid afraid of responsibility. Now he’s a man coming terms with loss and caring for others. I liked watching Jared grow over the course of the story, to take care with others and recognize that the life he’s living no longer suits him or his niece. Coming home brings it all back to him and his feelings toward Caroline come rushing back. Caroline is finally free of responsibility and she wants to live her life, to experience the things she put on hold. Jared should be the opposite of what she wants now, but old feelings come rushing back quickly. Their romance was both a slow burn and a surprisingly fast trip into feelings. I felt like them falling back in love was heavily built on a foundation we didn’t see and it didn’t always feel earned.

A secondary plot involving potential fraud at Caroline’s work adds some intrigue to the story but overall this was a slower paced book. I liked the romance well enough and I enjoyed seeing Caroline actively work to grow her career, but it felt like something was just missing from Matzah Ball Blues to keep me entertained. The conflict may have worked better in a shorter format where there wasn’t as much repetition.

One thing I really enjoy about the Holidays, Heart and Chutzpah series is author Jennifer Wilck’s excellent Jewish representation. Passover traditions in particular are highlighted in this book and Wilck does a great job of bringing them to life. While I was so-so on the story overall, Wilck’s care and attention to Jewish traditions engaged me and definitely made me want to read more of her work.

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.