review: the thinking engine

The Thinking Engine by James Lovegrove (2015)

If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, I have a book for you to add to your reading list. The Thinking Engine by James Lovegrove is a compelling, well-written read from start to finish, and Lovegrove has joined my list of writers to watch for new installments in the Sherlock Holmes mysteries currently being published by Titan Books (the other writer on that list is Mark A. Latham). Like Latham, Lovegrove has a strong understanding of Holmes and Watson as characters as well as the original Holmes canon by A. Conan Doyle. Lovegrove masterfully delivers an intricate mystery complete with enough foreshadowing to help readers unravel parts of the puzzle but not enough clues to let them guess the whole puzzle before Sherlock makes his grand reveal. Lovegrove situates the story within a larger thematic context that makes the events of The Thinking Engine relevant to modern 21st century readers, all while offering a fascinating portrait of Holmes, Watson, and their friendship that has an incredible depth of insight. For those readers with a book budget, here’s what you need to know: the book is not available through the Kindle Unlimited library and it also wasn’t available through my local library, either in print or ebook format. If you want to read The Thinking Engine, you’ll have to buy it. This is one of my recommended reads (so far the list this year is short!) and in my opinion, it’s absolutely worth your book dollars, especially if you’re a fan of Sherlock and Watson.

First, a short summary that will hopefully give you a better idea of the story you can expect to read (for me, the back cover copy on this book is less than helpful in that regard). The opening chapter of the novel (you could in fact call it a prelude to the rest of the story and not be off the mark) finds Sherlock and Watson visiting the British Museum after hours, where an exhibit of artifacts from Egypt—including the sarcophagus and mummy of a pharaoh—is on exhibit. The duo has been asked to debunk stories that the pharaoh is not truly dead, and that his living mummy walks the halls of the museum during the night. Holmes successfully solves the case, and in the next chapter, the primary mystery that will occupy the great sleuth is introduced. While reading the newspaper, Holmes comes across a story announcing a demonstration of a thinking engine—designed by an Oxford don and reportedly capable of solving crimes using the same level of intellect of the greatest geniuses to have lived. The story goes on to say that the thinking engine will prove its abilities by solving the case of three gruesome murders that recently occurred in Oxford. In addition, Lord Knaresfield wagers five hundred pounds that the thinking engine will equally match wits with Sherlock and correctly identify the murderer. Feeling insulted and unable to walk away from such a challenge, Holmes and Watson make their way to Oxford. What follows is an intricate battle of wits between Sherlock and the thinking engine that sees more murders take place in the university town before the true mastermind behind the crimes is revealed.

You can, of course, read The Thinking Engine on a surface level. But why would you want to, when the thematic level of the novel is so rich and thought-provoking? Lovegrove invites readers to consider the implications of the rapid proliferation and accessibility of computers and what appears to be the next step in technological evolution—artificial intelligence—all while couching the central thematic questions within the historical context of Victorian London. Not only does the success of the thinking engine in battling wits with Sherlock Holmes lead to the characters wondering if the engine will make Sherlock obsolete, but it also pushes readers to question how the existence and rush toward technological evolution is changing what it means to be human. Lovegrove puts in opposition the zeal of the academic (and in this particular case, the interest of governments and law enforcement in being able to acquire and save large amounts of data and access it quickly), the skepticism of a rationalist, and the spiritualism of a man of faith, with each man viewing the problem and existence of the thinking engine from different perspectives. Professor Quantock sees the possibilities of such a technology and strives to turn those possibilities into realities; Sherlock questions the superiority of the technology and whether it is truly capable of supplanting human reason and logic; Inspector Tomlinson questions whether such technology should exist and how it might change our understanding of the human soul. Then Lovegrove takes these questions a step further by giving us an antagonist whose motivation is to create truth and thereby see all and rule all. It’s been a while since the summer I taught a literature class focused on 20th century detective fiction, but if I were ever to teach another, this book would make the reading list. There is so much to explore and think about in The Thinking Engine, and if you’re a reader who likes smart books, you will enjoy this one immensely.

If, however, you have no interest in the novel’s thematic context, then the other compelling aspect of the story is the way it delves into the friendship between Sherlock and Watson and perhaps most importantly, Watson’s own observations of Sherlock and portrayal of him. For those of you who have read other reviews of Holmes and Watson stories on my blog, you’ll know it is my opinion that observant readers understand that it is John Watson (not Sherlock) who is the main character of the story and that it’s through his portrayal of Sherlock that we come to truly know Watson. In the Foreword, Watson tells us he’s writing this story in the year 1927, more than thirty years after the events took place. We, of course, know one of the reasons he’s just now writing and publishing the story—before now, he has not wanted to portray Holmes in a negative light. He has waited so long to tell this story because the distance of time allows him to tell the story honestly (which should make readers question if he’s been a dishonest or unreliable narrator in other stories). Watson writes in the Foreword that during this particular case “Holmes was driven to his breaking point and very nearly broken” and that the same is true of their friendship, “which was tested to its limits”. With this in mind, Watson’s observations of Holmes—his actions and behaviors—throughout the novel, as well as his own responses, are pivotal to understanding what he’s trying to convey in the Foreword. There’s a moment in the story when Watson questions what it would mean if the thinking engine is able to demonstrate an intellect that is equal to, or perhaps greater than, the greatest of intellects humans have ever known (i.e., the intellect of Sherlock Holmes). This isn’t merely a philosophical question, but it’s also a meditation on what it would mean for Watson if a machine’s intellect is greater than Sherlock’s. Would the years he has spent depicting their adventures and revering Sherlock’s reason and skills of deduction be for nothing? While Watson spends a lot of time in the novel giving readers insight into what he sees as Sherlock unravelling, we must also consider how Watson reacts to his friend unravelling and why this case put such stress on their friendship. For Watson to lose his faith in Sherlock would be disastrous for him. He needs the belief and faith he has had in Sherlock for so many years to be maintained—vindicated even. And so while he writes about Holmes’ crisis of self-confidence and emotional torpor, he is in a very real way writing about the same in himself. Lovegrove’s deft handling of Watson in this novel is commendable, and it makes what on the surface seems to be too much navel-gazing and not enough action an elegant, extended contemplation of how our own identities can be shaped and dependent upon those closest to us.

The Thinking Engine easily earns a place on my list of recommended reads. Writing this review has made me realize just how much I loved this book and how it engaged my mind on several different levels. Also, I can’t help drawing a parallel between this novel and the BBC series Sherlock. If you’ve completed series four of the show, you’ll have watched the episode titled “The Lying Detective”. The Thinking Engine reminds me a lot of that episode, but because I don’t want to spoil either one I’ll say nothing else about it other than I loved that episode as much as I loved this book.

Have you read The Thinking Engine? What did you think?

review: afterlight

Afterlight by Elle Jasper (2010)

Afterlight is the first book in Elle Jasper’s vampire/paranormal romance series, The Dark Ink Chronicles. Yes, I’m bringing you a vampire romance novel today, so let’s get the preliminaries out of the way, shall we? If you liked the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, but at the same time prefer your vampire romances to be written for adult readers (as opposed to young adult readers), you will like this first book in the Dark Ink Chronicles. I stumbled upon Afterlight while browsing the shelves of my local used bookstore. It’s been on my bookshelf for at least a year now, but with loads of time on my hands at the moment and nowhere to really go (I read this book during my state’s stay-at-home order prompted by COVID-19), I’ve been searching for new series to dive into and focused on clearing my physical and virtual bookshelves. I decided to finally pick up Afterlight, and the truth is that it kept me up past my bedtime and then kept me entertained for the better part of a Saturday. At the time of this writing, this book isn’t available from my local library or through Kindle Unlimited, but if you find it on your next trip to your local used bookstore and you like vampire romances, it’s worth your book dollars.

Afterlight is set in Savannah, Georgia. While many of the stories I have read that are set in Savannah emphasize the prevalence of ghosts, this book offers a slightly different view of Savannah by giving the protagonist, Riley Poe, an opportunity to discover the existence of the supernatural beneath the surface of the normal, human world she has always known. Riley is twenty-five and owns her own tattoo shop, called Inksomnia. She’s also the guardian of her fifteen-year-old brother, Seth. Though the novel is careful to stingily dole out insights into Riley’s past, we know from the very beginning of the story that her teenage years were wild and troubled. Two of the people who helped her get her life back on track are Preacher and his wife, Estelle. They are Gullah and own the shop next door to Riley’s, called Da Plat Eye (more on them later). When the story begins, Riley is tracking down her errant brother, who has gone to one of the local cemeteries with a group of his friends after hours. But it’s her brother’s visit to the cemetery that night and the trouble it brings that sends Riley’s world spiraling out of control and pushes Riley out of the normal life she’s known and into a world where vampires are real. Riley’s need to save her brother is what drives the action plot of the novel, but it’s also how she meets Eli Dupré, which in turn sends the love plot into motion.

The story is told entirely from Riley’s first-person POV. If you’ve been around my blog for a while, you know what I’m going to say next—the first book in a series must have a compelling protagonist if the writer wants readers to anxiously await and come back for the second book. The question then, of course, becomes, is Riley Poe a compelling protagonist? In my opinion, Riley is interesting enough and unpredictable enough to keep me turning the page to find out how she handles discovering she lives among vampires. Jasper is careful to make sure that Riley has secrets, secrets she isn’t quick to unravel even as her attraction to Eli Dupré grows stronger. Riley is also what has come to be known as the “strong female protagonist” and yet there is also a tension between Riley being capable enough to take care of herself and smart enough to know when she needs help. Because of her past, it’s easy to argue the possibility that Riley is on a redemption arc, and this would explain why one of her primary motivations is to protect those she loves as well as innocents who are being preyed upon, just as she was preyed upon in her youth. Riley is likable and readers will find her first person narrative easy to slip into and tag along with her as her adventure unfolds. There are some characters you simply love, characters who you cannot get enough of, characters who make you feel all of the emotions. Riley Poe wasn’t one of these characters for me. Not yet, anyway. I liked Riley, but she wasn’t so compelling to me as a character that she’s become my latest character obsession (we all have those, don’t we?). Her character is well-developed in the first book in this series, and she has enough potential for me to be willing to give Riley Poe another opportunity to totally win me over.

If you’re writing the first book in a series, the supporting cast is also of vital importance. Afterlight actually has a strong supporting cast with lots of potential for creating a richer and more intricate story world. I’ve already mentioned Riley’s brother, Seth, but there’s also Riley’s best friend, Nyx, who is also a tattoo artist and works in Riley’s tattoo shop, Inksomnia. So far, Nyx plays the role of human who is still blissfully unaware of the existence of vampires. In regard to mentor/parental figures, Riley has close relationships with Preacher and his wife, Estelle. They have been surrogate parents to Riley and are also the characters she is most likely to go to when she needs advice. I have also already mentioned Eli Dupré as the love interest in the novel. Inevitably, readers of the Twilight series will compare him to Edward Cullen (not an entirely unfair comparison since these two novels mostly live within the same broad genre of vampire romance, even if the intended audiences differ). Eli is…definitely not a carbon copy of Edward Cullen. He is intriguing and, at least in this first book in the series, compelling enough that when he was absent from the narrative for a while, I wanted him to come back. He’s not the most compelling vampire I’ve met in my reading adventures and also isn’t on my list of latest character obsessions (if you really want a new character obsession in the form of a vampire, go and find Matthew Clairmont), but again, he’s developed well enough to make me want to see what he does next. The supporting cast is rounded out by Eli’s vampire family, consisting of his mother and father, Gilles and Elise, and his three younger siblings, Phin, Luc, and Josie. In this regard, the Dupré family reminds me a lot of the Cullen family. They take Riley—as well as her brother and even Nyx—under their protection and her fight to save Seth becomes their fight as well. Jasper really has done a really good job of offering a supporting cast that readers will relate to and offering more than just cardboard characters intended to fill a particular role in the story.

Jasper does make a couple of creative choices that typically turn me off as a reader. One is the use of dialect—used primarily by Preacher and Estelle, but also when one of the Gullah characters speaks; the other is the heavy use of slang—used by all of the characters who are close in age to Riley. After a while, both got a little tedious for me. I know, I know. Sometimes I can be a snobby reader, but part of my job here is to offer insight into the book that you won’t necessarily pick up on in the back cover copy or the short sample available for download. If these devices bug you, then you’ve been warned.

When it was time for me to rate this book, I couldn’t decide between three stars and four stars. Really, I wanted to be able to give it a 3.5 star rating, or maybe even 3.75. I didn’t love this book, but it’s so much better than a lot of paranormal romances out there. I didn’t want to rush to download the next book to my kindle, but I did put the next book in the series, Everdark, in my shopping list so that I won’t forget about it. Afterlight was a good diversion and entertained my mind, and if you like vampire romances I do think you’ll enjoy this one.

Have you read Afterlight? What did you think?

review: ruthless

Ruthless by Marlie May (2019)

I have been searching for some super fantastic reads from the romantic suspense category. I don’t know about you, but for me it’s a challenge to find great, quality reads in this genre. And yet I keep trying because truth be told, romantic suspense is my favorite category. So after scrolling infinitely through my options for a lot longer than I want to admit, I downloaded a lot of options to my kindle and chose Ruthless by Marlie May for my next read. Ruthless is the second book in May’s contemporary romantic suspense series, Viper Force. Funny thing about this series—about three-quarters of the way through Ruthless, I realized I had read a sample of the first book in this series, Fearless, but decided not to keep going. After reading about half of Ruthless, I wish I would have stopped a lot earlier in the book, but I was invested by then so I kept reading to the finish. Still, this wasn’t the greatest book to spend a lazy Sunday with. Continue reading

review: the last wish

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski (1993)

Because the book is always better than the movie, right? Or in this case, the television show. Well, I’m actually not so sure if that applies in the case of Netflix’s adaptation of The Witcher stories by Andrzej Sapkowski. I think I’ll need to read another book in this series before fully making up my mind where the question is concerned. And yet there is a lot of good stuff to love and enjoy in The Last Wish, which is a collection of short stories featuring Geralt of Rivia. I started here because everything I read on line said to start here. As I understand it, the six stories in this collection are the first stories chronologically, even though they were not published first. Being new to the books, I’d say The Last Wish is a good place to start. On a budget? I paid full price for my copy of the paperback edition of this book, but you can probably find a copy in your local used bookstore and there is an edition of the book available through my local library (they have it as an ebook, audiobook, and physical book). Just know that with Netflix’s recent series adaptation, these books will be hot commodities (all of the copies at my library are checked out!).

So you’ve watched The Witcher on Netflix and you think maybe you want to read the books? If that’s your motivation, then I think you’ll enjoy the stories in The Last Wish. There are six stories in the book, and all but one of those stories were turned into episodes of the Netflix series. If you’re interested, here’s a handy list of which story corresponds to which episode:

“The Witcher” = Betrayer Moon (episode 3)
“The Lesser Evil” = The End’s Beginning (episode 1)
“A Question of Price” = Of Banquets, Bastards, and Burials (episode 4)
“The Edge of the World” = Four Marks (episode 2)
“The Last Wish” = Bottled Appetites (episode 5)

Now if you’re only familiar with the Netflix adaptation (and this very much applies to me) then there’s some other information you might want to know before deciding whether or not to read the books. One, you’re not going to get a single glimpse of Ciri, as she doesn’t show up in any of the stories in The Last Wish. Two, if Yennefer’s story and her character arc are your favorite things about the Netflix series, then you need to know you’re not going to see any of that in The Last Wish. On the other hand, when we meet Yennefer in “The Last Wish” it already feels like we know her. Three, you will see Yaskier, the bard; however, in the stories, his name is Dandilion. Four, if you’re one of those viewers who wanted Geralt to have more screen time, then you’ll get what you want in The Last Wish, because the stories are more tightly focused on the witcher as he moves from place to place in search of monsters and payment for destroying them.

The stories are told by a third-person omnipotent narrator who mostly focuses on Geralt but occasionally focuses his gaze on other characters. Like the Netflix series, the stories in The Last Wish move back and forth in time, so you’ll have to pay as much attention to when things are happening while you’re reading as you did while watching the show. One thing that the stories have that the show doesn’t (yet?) is an ally for Geralt in the form of Nenneke, a priestess who gives him a safe haven and tries to heal his injuries. Prior to each of the stories is a short narrative titled “The Voice of Reason”. It is in these short narratives that we see what is going on with Geralt during his stay in Nenneke’s temple, filling in some of the gaps the stories leave wide open.

The main reason, at least in my opinion, to read the stories in The Last Wish is to gain greater context and insight that the Netflix series either chose not to portray or makes entirely too subtle (perhaps winking at viewers who have already read the stories). Not surprisingly, I felt this most acutely while reading “A Question of Price” and “The Last Wish” because both stories provide a lot of context the episodes are missing. Not to give any spoilers, but in “A Question of Price” you learn something important about Geralt that the show hasn’t yet revealed and in “The Last Wish” you get a little closer to understanding the third wish Geralt makes and how it binds him and Yennefer (and to answer the question I know you have, no, the exact words of Geralt’s wish aren’t given).

One of the reasons to stick with the Netflix series and not read the books is that the show does a much better job of representing women and showing their agency to control their own lives while at the same time portraying the ways in which women are forced to navigate patriarchal systems and societies. The series is made for a 21st century audience. In the books, there is much more of a patriarchal, gender-biased attitude toward women. Perhaps this simply makes the story collection a product of its time. Perhaps it’s a silent indictment of such attitudes, particularly given Geralt’s views on monsters and humans—namely, that sometimes the monsters he encounters show more humanity than the humans who would have them destroyed.

I wouldn’t have picked up The Last Wish on my own, but I will say I did enjoy reading the stories. The next book in the series (or at least, the next book all the lists say I should read next) is Sword of Destiny. It’s not yet on my bookshelf but it’s on my list of books to read.

Have you read The Last Wish? What did you think?

review: echoes of fire

Beware: Echoes of Fire is a racy read. It contains naughty language and graphic sexuality. If you prefer sweet romances, this one is not for you.

Echoes of Fire by Suzanne Wright (2018)

Echoes of Fire is the first book I’ve read by Suzanne Wright, and I’m asking myself how I have missed stumbling upon this author until now. I was absorbed by the story and the characters right from the beginning and stayed up past my bedtime on a Sunday night because I didn’t want to put the book down. And that was after having spent most of the day with my head in the book. Wright has instantly gone to my “read more books by this author” list. Echoes of Fire is the fourth book in Wright’s Mercury Pack series, shifter romances set in a contemporary world where humans know about the existence of shifters. Not having read any of the other books in this series (or its sister series featuring the Phoenix Pack), I can assure you that this book definitely stands alone. Concerned about your book budget? At the time of this writing, Echoes of Fire is included with your Kindle Unlimited subscription (if you’ve got one), but it’s not available through my local library. But listen, this book is worth your book dollars. Especially if you love racy romances and shifter romances that are well-written, fast-paced, and totally engaging.

This is the story of Madisyn and Bracken. Madisyn is a feline lone shifter who spends half her time working in a shelter, where she occasionally relocates shifters looking for a safe home and a fresh start. The other half of her time is spent working in The Velvet Lounge, a bar owned by the Mercury Pack. Though she doesn’t belong to the pack, she is under their protection, which becomes important when she refuses to give an Alpha bear shifter the information he wants about Daisy, a young bear shifter who Madisyn recently relocated. The thing Madisyn wants most is her independence and freedom, and learning Bracken is her true mate threatens to rob her of the life she thinks she wants. Bracken is a wolf shifter who has become isolated from his pack as a result of a massacre-type event that killed his entire family. Driven by vengeance, he tracks down those responsible for the deaths of his family, but now he is drifting through life with no real purpose and can’t find any joy or happiness in anything. He is on the verge of leaving the pack to go roaming, but learning that Madisyn is his true mate changes his mind. What Bracken needs most is confidence in his ability to protect those he loves, and the action plot of the novel challenges his confidence time and time again. Both Madisyn and Bracken are likable, fully developed characters, and I quickly got invested in them as a couple.

The story is told through Madisyn and Bracken’s alternating third-person POVs. Through their narratives you get to see several of the other members of the Mercury and Phoenix packs, who make up the supporting cast. One thing that stands out to me about Echoes of Fire is that since Wright keeps her lens tightly focused on Madisyn and Bracken, the supporting cast doesn’t jump out at me as much as other books. Sure, Madisyn’s closest friend, Makenna plays the role of BFF, but the sense of just how isolated Bracken has allowed himself to become is reinforced by the seeming lack of a BFF character for him. That being said, the antagonists of the story feel a lot more vivid than the supporting cast. The Alpha bear who continues to come for Madisyn, intent upon forcing her to tell him what he wants to know, as well as the characters he pulls into his plot to get what he wants, are the side characters that interested me most. Well, of course there was also Vinnie, the leader of the Olympus Pride who has unofficially adopted Madisyn into their group and come to her aid when she needs it. Still, I think one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much was the laser-like focus on Madisyn and Bracken. They never disappear from the story and their narrative on what is happening at any given moment in the story was one of the most compelling aspects of the book. One of the writing rules I do my best to follow is to present compelling main characters, people who readers want to keep following through the story, who they simply can’t look away from. Wright has nailed that rule in Echoes of Fire and in doing so, gained a raving fan.

In case you missed it, I recommend this book to readers who love racy shifter romances with a strong subplot that brings a little mayhem and danger into the lives of the protagonists, threatening everything that matters most to them. Echoes of Fire is one of those books you will have no regret reading during the course of a lazy Sunday while ignoring all the household chores and general noise of everyday life. If you’re looking for the next book escape, put Echoes of Fire on the top of your to-be-read pile.

Have you read Echoes of Fire or any of the previous books in the Mercury Pack series? What do you think?

p.s. Since reading Echoes of Fire, I have gone on to read five other books by Suzanne Wright and not one of them has been a disappointment.

NOTE: I enjoy reading steamy romance novels but it’s not easy to find quality reads in this category. It can be challenging—even after you’ve read the back cover blurb and a sample—to know for sure if a particular book is worth your time and money. If you’re a reader like me who likes this category but wants quality over quantity, then drop a comment below and let me know if this review was helpful to you.

review: twilight heart

Twilight Heart by Adam J. Wright (2019)

Twilight Heart is the seventh book in Adam J. Wright’s Harbinger P.I. urban fantasy series. If you haven’t read the previous books in this series, I strongly recommend checking out my review of the first book here before reading on. Spoilers are ahead if you’ve not read the previous books. You’ve been warned.

Do you ever make it to the middle of a book series (or a television show for that matter) where you’re invested in the story enough to want to know how it ends, but you’re losing the excitement you had at the very beginning? That’s how I’m starting to feel about the Harbinger P.I. series. I’m going to keep reading because I want to know how it ends, but I just don’t get the same high satisfaction from each new book in the series that the first few books gave me. Here’s my take on book seven, Twilight Heart. Continue reading

review: imperfect

Imperfect by April Wilson (2017)

Imperfect is the fifth book in April Wilson’s McIntyre Security Bodyguard series. I have read book one in this contemporary romance series, Vulnerable, which features Shane McIntyre and ends on a cliffhanger, so I was wary as to whether or not Imperfect would truly stand alone. While I think readers who haven’t read any of the previous books in this series won’t be confused or lost, I do think it was helpful to me as a reader that I had at least read the first book. It establishes all of the members of the McIntyre family, who to varying extents appear over the course of Imperfect. If you’re not sure where to start, I would recommend beginning with Vulnerable and then if you like the writing and the characters, read Imperfect. If you’re a continuing reader, then know that you’ll see all of your favorite characters from previous books in the series. As of this writing, both Vulnerable and Imperfect are available through Kindle Unlimited but not from my local library. Imperfect receives an above average rating from me (it’s solidly between a B and a B+). It’s not one of my favorite books of the year but it’s definitely not the worst book I’ve read recently. Give this author a try and see what you think. Continue reading

review: the vanishing man

The Vanishing Man by Philip Purser-Hallard (2019)

In case you missed it, Titan Books is publishing new novels featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. The books are written by a variety of different authors, and since I’m a fan of the original stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle, it’s interesting to see how close to the originals the books in this series feel. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I have previously reviewed The Red Tower by Mark A. Latham. I have also read A Betrayal in Blood by the same author as well as The Legacy of Deeds by Nick Kyme. For any reader who loves the original stories by Conan Doyle, I highly recommend all three of these books. The Vanishing Man by Philip Purser-Hallard is the latest book in this series to capture my attention. It’s not my favorite among the group of books I’ve read so far, but it is an entertaining and engaging read. It follows many of the Sherlockian conventions and I don’t think readers will walk away disappointed. If you are on a budget, be aware that I wasn’t able to find this book in my local library and it’s not available through my Kindle Unlimited subscription. I also couldn’t find a copy in my local used bookstore, so I paid full price for my book. If you want to read one of the books in this series and make your book budget dollars count, I humbly recommend starting with A Betrayal in Blood or The Red Tower, as both of these are the best books in the series I’ve read so far and well worth your book dollars. Continue reading

review: only with you

Only with You by Layla Hagen (2019)

Only with You is the fourth book in Layla Hagen’s contemporary romance series, The Connor Family, but rest assured that these books can be read as standalone novels. I have also read the first book in this series, Anything for You and it is one of my favorite reads of 2019. I highly recommend both books to readers who love steamy romance novels with real, everyday characters. I’ve now had two experiences with Layla Hagen’s work and she’s an author I am adding to my must-read list. I have loved both of these books and can’t wait to read more in this series. On a budget? At the time of this writing, Only with You is not in the Kindle Unlimited library nor is it available from my local library, so it will cost you a withdrawal from your book budget. It’s totally worth every dollar and I have no regrets about my purchase. If you have read and enjoyed The Sullivans series by Bella Andre or the With You series by Kristen Proby, you will love the Connors. Continue reading

review: irresistible

Irresistible by Melanie Harlow (2019)

Dear Readers: I do not want to bury the lede here. Irresistible by Melanie Harlow is a fantastic, five-star read that made me cry, and then it made me laugh at the same time it was making me cry. Honestly, what more could I ask for? Nothing. Not. One. Thing. Irresistible is my favorite read of 2019 so far (and in case you were wondering, this is book #30 for the year), and here I am, once again writing about how amazing Melanie Harlow’s books are. Need another incentive? As of this writing, you can find Irresistible in the Kindle Unlimited library. If you’re not a subscriber, do not despair because this book is worth every penny of your book budget dollars. Give this author a chance to wow you. Continue reading

review: take me home

Take Me Home by J.H. Croix (2015)

J.H. Croix is a new-to-me author I found while browsing through my BookBub account. I decided to take a chance on Take Me Home, the first book in Croix’s contemporary romance series, Last Frontier Lodge. For readers on a budget, know that as of the date of this writing, this book is currently a free ebook but it’s not available in the Kindle Unlimited library and it also isn’t available from my local public library. If you’re looking for a steamy romance novel for your next read and want a new series to try, Take Me Home just might check all of your boxes, but don’t let your expectations get too high. Continue reading

review: a dangerous hunger

Beware: A Dangerous Hunger is a racy read. It contains naughty language and graphic sexuality. If you prefer sweet romances, this one is not for you.

A Dangerous Hunger by J.S. Scott (2014)

A Dangerous Hunger is the second book in the paranormal romance series, The Sentinels. I haven’t read book one in this series and have to admit that was a mistake on my part. After finishing A Dangerous Hunger, my guess is that the books in this series are best read in order. That being said, I’ll do my best to avoid revealing any spoilers.

In the world of The Sentinels, there is a war raging between good and evil to which the humans of the world are blind. Standing on the side of evil are the Evils, demons created by the mythological Greek gods who were banished to the demon realm existing between Earth and Hades when they got out of control. However, with the power of the Greek gods waning to almost nothing, the Evils have been able to break free from the demon realm and terrorize humans. Enter the Sentinels. Also created by the Greek gods, the Sentinels stand on the side of good and were tasked with the responsibility of keeping humans safe from the Evils. The Sentinels are human men turned into immortal demons, their souls plunged into eternal darkness. That is, until they meet their radiants—mates who will bring light to their existence. It is within this world that the story of Talia and Drew unfolds. Continue reading

review: blood magic

NOTE: The original title of this book was Blood Sacrifice, and the original title for the series was “Sorcerer’s Creed”. Both the book title and the series title have been changed since I originally downloaded a sample of the book in September 2017. I hope this clears away any confusion, as it took me a minute to figure this out.

Blood Magic by N.P. Martin (2016)

Blood Magic is the first book in N.P. Martin’s Wizard’s Creed urban fantasy series. I originally downloaded a sample of this book and for whatever reason decided not to keep reading. Nine months later, I downloaded the book through my Kindle Unlimited subscription. When I started to read it, I had that feeling I’d read it before and sure enough, I had. I kept reading, though, and got to the 40% mark before putting it down and not picking it up again. Last week, I decided to give the book one last try (because right now I’m all about clearing some titles off my kindle) and I made it to the end this time. While I’m not sure if my history with reading Blood Magic is a ringing endorsement, it does suggest that the story concept is appealing enough to me to have picked the book up multiple times. Blood Magic isn’t one of my recommended reads, but for those of you who are fans of the urban fantasy genre, there are a lot of reasons you might want to give the book a try and, depending on your reading preferences, a handful of reasons why you might want to skip this one and keep browsing for your next read. Continue reading

review: hot winter nights

Hot Winter Nights by Jill Shalvis (2018)

Hot Winter Nights is the sixth full-length novel in Jill Shalvis’ Heartbreaker Bay contemporary romance series. Each novel in the series can stand alone and be read in any order. If you want to pick up the first book in the series, it’s Sweet Little Lies. Thus far, Accidentally on Purpose (find my review here) and Chasing Christmas Eve are my favorite books in the series. On a budget? Here’s the info you need to know: Hot Winter Nights is not in the Kindle Unlimited library (as far as I know, none of Shalvis’ work is) but it was available through my local library in e-book and paperback format. I’ve also been able to find Shalvis’ books in my local used bookstore. I haven’t ever been disappointed by one of Shalvis’ books (I also love the books in the Lucky Harbor series) and haven’t regretted spending my book dollars on one of her novels. She’s one of my go-to authors who I trust to give me a good romance novel, and if you’ve been around my book blog for a while, you know I don’t say that about a lot of romance authors. Continue reading

review: modern sorcery

Modern Sorcery by Gary Jonas (2011)

Modern Sorcery is the first book in the Jonathan Shade urban fantasy series by Gary Jonas. This book has been on my kindle for at least six months. I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but over the weekend I decided I was in the right mood to read this particular book. Well, I should say I was finally in the mood to make a second attempt to read the book. The first time I picked up Modern Sorcery, I read about 9% of the book or what amounts to the first 40 pages. I didn’t know if I would actually make it through the whole book the second time around, but I wanted to, because this is exactly the kind of urban fantasy that is my favorite—private detectives whose investigations take place in a paranormal world, and bonus points if the novel weaves in elements of noir and hardboiled detective fiction. I’m not able to say I loved Modern Sorcery, but I did like it a lot and already plan to read the second book in the series. On a budget? At the time of this writing, it’ll cost you $2.99 plus tax, as the book is not currently available from my local library and it’s also not in the Kindle Unlimited library. If you’re a fan of the urban fantasy genre and looking for a new series, then it’s worth the dollars from your book budget. If you’re a casual fan or new to the genre, I’d recommend starting somewhere else (the Harry Dresden files by Jim Butcher and the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne are fantastic entry points). Continue reading