review: dark magic

Dark Magic by Adam J. Wright (2016)

Dark Magic is the third book in Adam J. Wright’s Harbinger P.I. series. If you haven’t read the first two books in this series, Lost Soul and Buried Memory, I strongly recommend checking out my review of the first book here before reading on. Spoilers are ahead if you’ve not read the first two books. You’ve been warned.

While I am a woman on a book budget and will use my KU subscription to help me satisfy my reading addiction and stay within my budget, I also believe in supporting my favorite authors by buying their books when I can. So although Dark Magic is available in the KU library, I spent some of my book budget buying the title, and I’m not at all disappointed. Dark Magic picks up just a few minutes after the moment where Buried Memory ends. Felicity has returned to Dearmont and reveals that she has broken off her engagement to Jason, and Alec tells her about everything he learned about himself during the course of Buried Memory (which I’m going to do my best not to spoil here). Mallory has gone to search for Mister Scary and, with the exception of a short phone call between her and Alec, remains absent for the whole of the third book.

Remember back to the beginning of Buried Memory, where Amy Cantrell comes to Alec and asks him to investigate her mother’s death and she reveals that her mother was killed by the preternatural investigator who worked in Dearmont prior to Alec’s arrival? In book two, Alec learns that Mary Cantrell was one of thirteen people massacred at a church in Clara, a town down the road from Dearmont. It seems that Alec is going to further investigate this massacre but then he gets called to London by his father. Well, it’s in book three that we pick up the threads of that mystery and find Alec investigating what happened in Clara. In this way, Buried Memory and Dark Magic feel like companion books, with the mystery surrounding the massacre at the church in Clara standing as the outer frame of the story and the mystery surrounding Alec’s sudden summons to London and the hunt for a traitor within the Society operating as the inner frame. For this reason I’m glad I read these two books in quick proximity to each other, and I’d recommend readers of this series do the same.

With Dark Magic being the third book in this series, I would expect to begin seeing some further development of the supporting characters in addition to seeing continued evolution in the protagonist. This book focuses on the development of two relationships—the one between Alec and Sheriff Cantrell and the one between Alec and Felicity. More than in any of the previous books, Wright spends some time developing Felicity as a love interest. On the one hand, this is what we expected all along, right? On the other hand, well, I don’t find anything compelling about them as a couple. In other words, if this were a television show, I would not be shipping them. Still, it’s fine and not distracting or anything that would make me want to throw the book across the room. The relationship between Alec and Sheriff Cantrell, on the other hand, does hold my interest and I’m invested in seeing where it goes. Sheriff Cantrell’s dislike for Alec stems from his hatred for Sherry Westlake, the P.I. he believes is responsible for the massacre at the church where Mary Cantrell died. Throughout the story, Alec must deal with the Sheriff’s animosity even while working with him on the case. In a way, gaining Cantrell’s respect is the equivalent of gaining full acceptance into the community of Dearmont. It’s also important (at least, I think it’s important) to see Cantrell as a contrast to Alec’s father, Thomas. By the end of the novel, what we have is a solidification of a trusted Scooby Gang for Alec, composed of the Sheriff, Amy Cantrell, Felicity, Leon (the computer whiz) and his butler/bodyguard, Michael, and Devon and Victoria Blackwell. Moving forward, it will be worth watching how Wright uses the supporting cast of characters to weave in conflict as well as a sense of family into the story.

Three books into this series, I’m still invested in the characters and their stories and the world Wright is building. I’m still waiting patiently to find out more about Alec’s back story and the secret of his true nature, and I’m also waiting to see what will happen with Mallory, her search for Mister Scary, and whether or not Alec will eventually help her bring her search to a conclusion. I still want to know the true motives and goals of Alec’s father, Thomas, because at the end of book three, I haven’t yet decided whether he is friend or foe (in fact, Thomas reminds a little bit of Jack Bristow from Alias, but it’s still to be determined if he’s the kind of father who is always acting in the best interest of his child with his sole intent to be protect Alec, or if he’s the kind of father willing to sacrifice his own son for some nefarious purpose or seemingly greater good).

I liked Dark Magic and think the books in the Harbinger P.I. series get better with each new installment. I recommend this series if you like urban fantasy (especially light urban fantasy that isn’t too dark or overly complex). The next book in this series, Dead Ground, is already in my reading list. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Have you read Dark Magic or the Harbinger, P.I. series? What do you think?

review: only love

Only Love by Melanie Harlow (2018)

Only Love is the third book in Melanie Harlow’s One and Only contemporary romance series. Each book in the series follows one of three sisters, Maren, Emme and Stella. I can tell you without reservation that Only Love can be read as a standalone book. I haven’t read the first two books in this series but wasn’t at all confused and I didn’t feel like I stumbled across any spoilers. This is the second book I’ve read by Melanie Harlow and I have to say—she knows how to write a romance novel. I think I liked After We Fall a little more (you can read my review of that book here) but I did enjoy Only Love and would recommend it to any reader who loves romance novels, especially the steamy variety.

This is the story of Stella and Ryan. Of the three sisters, Stella is the oldest. She is the responsible one, the one who has convinced herself that she wants a stable life with a stable husband even if it means stability comes with boredom. She’s a psychologist/therapist who seems to be able to analyze and figure out everyone but herself, and she chases her vision of who she wants to be, who she thinks she wants to be, rather than being who she really is. Ryan is a former Marine, divorced from his wife and now living in a house in Michigan that he is renovating while also working at a winery/farm. He has been doing odd jobs for Stella’s grandmother, who happens to live next door. Ryan’s obstacle to overcome is his need to not feel anything. He repeatedly says he simply wants to be alone and talks about flipping the switch on his emotions, turning them off (a la Damon Salvatore). Once he meets Stella, it becomes more and more difficult to flip that switch and be happy with being alone. While I liked Stella and Ryan as a couple and was invested in their love story, I have to admit that at first, I don’t think I particularly liked Stella all that much. Or maybe it’s that I had a hard time relating to her. I don’t want to spoil the first few chapters, but I think it’s enough to say that I was worried she would be the kind of female protagonist who could only find her value and self-worth in the roles of wife and mother. I did, however, warm to her and got to the point where I was rooting for her and Ryan to fall in love. It also was a challenge to warm to Ryan, and I’m going to attribute this to Harlow intentionally portraying him as someone who didn’t want to feel and craved only numbness. In this way, even when Ryan is narrating from his own point-of-view, he feels distant to the reader. Again, I warmed to him as his character developed and evolved, and he became more accessible in conjunction with his growing inability to flip the switch on his emotions.

The story is told through the alternating first person POVs* of Stella and Ryan, with a small handful of short scenes narrated by Stella’s grandmother, Grams. Normally, I wouldn’t like these “interruptions” by a first person narrative voice not belonging to the female or male protagonist, but I fell in love with Grams’ character and thoroughly enjoyed her intrusions into the narrative. Indeed, as the matchmaking force that ultimately put Stella into Ryan’s path, her narrative intrusions mirror her matchmaking machinations as the two lovers move through the familiar milestones of a romance plot (girl meets boy, girl gets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy back). In addition to Grams, Harlow gives us Emme and Maren as supporting characters, both of whom act as confidants for Stella as well as contrasting personalities who help show Stella as a more rounded, fully-developed character. For Ryan, the best friend/sidekick character is an old buddy he served with in the Marines. One of the things that Harlow does well and sets her novels apart from others in the genre is that she uses her supporting cast effectively, letting the two main characters play off them in multiple ways and in doing so allows them to become more than just characters performing predictable roles in predictable fashion.

Listen. I’m an avid fan of romance novels and scoff at those who want to give the judgy side-eye to romance readers. Still, the massive glut of romance novels currently available makes it challenging for readers of the genre to find the kind of romances they like to read. I sample a lot of romance novels before deciding what I’m going to commit to buying and reading. The more romance novels I finish, the more I recognize the good ones from the bad ones, the bad ones from the ones that are simply unreadable, and the really good ones from the ones that are just okay reads that I’m going to forget hours after I’ve gotten to the end. Similarly, more than I ever have before, I’m keeping track of those authors whose work hasn’t let me down. Those authors who know how to deliver a romance with an actual love story. Because why do we read romance novels in the first place, if not to be swept out of our own everyday worlds and into a grand romance where we’re rooting for the two lovers to defy all the odds and find a forever kind of love? I mean, don’t we all want a happy ending, or am I just projecting here?

Thus far, Melanie Harlow hasn’t disappointed me and she’s earned her place on my list of authors whose work I can go to when I need to get my romance novel fix. If you are looking for a good romance, I recommend checking out Only Love. As of this writing, this book wasn’t available from my local library but it is currently available in the Kindle Unlimited library. That being said, it’s my opinion that this is a book that is worth your book dollars and the author is definitely someone worth supporting (because I really want her to write more books!).

Have you read Only Love or any of the other books in the One and Only series? What do you think?

*POV = point-of-view

review: the merging

The Merging by John P. Logsdon and Christopher P. Young (2017)

What do I say about The Merging, a book I didn’t really enjoy even though I really, really wanted to love it? The Merging held out the prospect of becoming immersed in a series that existed within a fictional world populated by other series with a common thread linking them all together. Fall in love with one series and I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from devouring each series in the same world, right? It would be like NCIS and all its offshoots, or CSI and all its offshoots, or… Well, you get my point. It’s an ambitious vision which I have to commend the authors for undertaking, but at the same time, one of these books was more than enough for me and I’m not inclined to give the other series in this world a try. And yet, the number of four- and five-star ratings this book has received online makes me think I’m an outlier, not the norm, when it comes to not liking this book.

What I need to say, then, is that The Merging is the first book in the Las Vegas Paranormal Police Department series featuring Ian Dex. Logsdon and his co-writers have created series featuring other protagonists who work for the PPD in other cities—Seattle, The Badlands, and New York, just to name a handful. If you’re intrigued enough to want to check out this series or the others in this world of the PPD, then you also want to know that as of this writing, they all appear to be available in the Kindle Unlimited library, but they aren’t currently available through my local library. If you’re on a book budget, well, my honest recommendation is to hold onto your book dollars to be spent elsewhere.

Frequent readers of my blog will notice that I read a lot of first books in the series. Observant readers will have also noticed that I read significantly fewer books that are the second in the series. More often than not, the primary reason that I don’t continue reading a series is because I either don’t like the protagonist or there’s just nothing about him or her that I find compelling. In this series, Logsdon and Young offer Ian Dex as the protagonist and first-person point-of-view narrator. Ian has worked for the PPD for seven years, and for the last five years he’s been the Chief of the Las Vegas PPD. Ian is an amalgamite, which means he has some characteristics of various types of supernaturals, a jack of all trades in the paranormal sense of the term. Upon signing up to be a cop on the PPD force, his DNA has been genetically modified to enhance all of the supernatural qualities he possesses. On the surface, that would seem to make him at least a little interesting, right? I thought so, too, but this potential gets lost in the execution of the story. The authors sacrifice character development for a procedural-type story (and note well that I do not say plot here, which I’ll get to later). While we do learn bits and pieces about Ian as the story moves along, there is a stunning lack of depth to him as a character. He is very much a cardboard character who serves the purposes of the story. I subscribe to the assertion that the protagonist should be someone who is compelling and who I want to follow throughout the story, someone who I just can’t take my eyes off of because I can’t wait to see what happens to him or her next. Frankly, because there’s a lack of depth to Ian’s character, not only did I not find him compelling, I really didn’t care about what he was going to do next because I didn’t really care about him.

Not only is there a lack of depth and development of the protagonist, but the same is also true for the antagonist of the novel as well as the supporting cast. Like Ian, the antagonist is a one-dimensional, almost cartoon character bent on world domination but with absolutely no indication of his motives or why world domination matters to him. He has no real weaknesses to Ian’s and his team’s attempts to stop him until the moment when, magically, they defeat him. I never really had the impression anyone on the team was in mortal peril or any clue as to what would happen should the team fail and the antagonist succeed.  In other words, nothing felt like it was at stake, and again that made it hard for me to care or become invested in the story.

Ah, the story. Yes, there’s a story in The Merging, but there’s really not a plot. Instead, what we are given is a series of challenges Ian and his team have to face as they struggle to understand what exactly they are up against. This made the story feel like the characters were just moving from one scene to another, battling monsters until they could figure out what was going on and then battle the bigger monster, failing again and again until eventually they succeed (and brought the story to conclusion).

While The Merging didn’t end up on my list of abandoned books, I can’t say I enjoyed it or that it was an entertaining read. The concept of the PPD is a good one, I just think the book failed in its execution. With so many other series to try within the urban fantasy genre, this series won’t get a second chance from me.

Have you read The Merging or any of the other series in the world of the Paranormal Police Department? What do you think?

review: first grave on the right

First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones (2011)

First Grave on the Right is the first book in Darynda Jones’ Charley Davidson series. For those of you on a budget, one of the first things you’re going to notice is the price tag on this ebook (and oddly enough, the ebook is a dollar more than the physical paperback version). If you’re like me and haven’t read anything by this author before, you might be a little wary. My monthly book budget is $30 (and that has to also cover my KU subscription), and after tax this book would have taken a third of that amount. That was a big commitment for me for an author whose work I wasn’t sure I was really going to like. But, if you’re a reader on a budget, I’ve got good news for you. First Grave on the Right was available in ebook format from my local library. So if you want to give this book a try but you’re not sure if your book budget can handle it, try your local library. If that fails, you might be able to find a copy in your local used bookstore.

As you have likely already guessed, the protagonist of this book is Charley Davidson. If you’ve read any of my other reviews on first books in a series, you’ll know that the success of a series is going to hinge, first and foremost, on the protagonist. Who is Charley Davidson and what makes her a compelling character who we want to care about and follow throughout the story? How is she different from every other protagonist we meet in an urban fantasy novel (more on that categorization in a bit)? Well, Charley is a grim reaper.  According to her, the grim reaper. In addition, she’s also a private investigator and a consultant for the local police department. She can see and talk to dead people. She narrates the story from her first-person point-of-view, and her voice is engaging, sarcastic at times, vulnerable at others. She’s not a “new adult” kind of character, fresh out of college or high school, green and without any life experience. She’s not just been thrown into a world where she has new abilities or powers that she has to learn to use or understand. She’s not a character with a destiny (at least not yet). This is not to say that she doesn’t, through the course of this book, discover some things she didn’t know.  She may not have a destiny, but there are a couple of mysteries hovering over her life.  While she works to solve mysteries on behalf of her clients, she is also trying to do the same for herself. I like Charley.

The world in which Charley exists looks a whole lot like the one I walk through everyday. Again, if you’ve been around my blog for a while, you know how much I appreciate it when an author chooses to locate his or her series in a city that isn’t New York or Los Angeles. Jones chose Albuquerque as the setting for her series.  That’s in New Mexico if you’re not good with geography. Thus far, another decision Jones has made that isn’t your norm in an urban fantasy novel is that other than the presence of the grim reaper and the ghosts of the dead, there really aren’t any other supernatural elements to the story. No vampires or werewolves or shifters, no witches or wizards, no demons or dragons. It’s for this reason that I hesitate to fully throw this series into the urban fantasy genre. It sort of fits, like a square peg in a round hole. I also want to note here that it’s also not paranormal romance (whether it becomes that over the course of the series remains to be seen, but book one doesn’t fall into that category). I’m more inclined to put this into the paranormal mystery/suspense category. And no, for most readers the category doesn’t really matter and I’m not the person who has to put a label on everything. However, I get super cranky when I think a book is one thing (based on the back cover copy or advertising, etc) and it’s something else entirely. I just want you, the potential reader, to be forearmed and have a better idea of what to expect.

Another thing to be aware of before you pick up the book is the existence of two separate mystery plots, and honestly, I think this is one area of the book that could been executed better. The first mystery plot revolves around the murder of Patrick Sussman, whose ghost appears to Charley and asks her to solve his murder. Not long after he appears, Charley gets a call from her Uncle Bob, a detective for the Albuquerque Police Department, asking her to come to a crime scene. When she arrives, with Patrick in tow, she learns that her newest client and her uncle’s murder victim knew each other. Within this mystery plot is another mystery to be untangled, involving a missing teenage boy and a man convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. In addition, there is a second mystery plot involving a mysterious stranger that appears in Charley’s dreams as well as someone she calls Bad, a shadowy figure that has been present at critical times in her life but whose face she’s never seen and whose identity remains unknown. The challenge, as you might guess, is balancing these two mystery plots, particularly since one really has nothing to do with the other (they do not come to intersect, as you might expect, but instead run in parallel). What happens is that Jones puts down one plot in favor of the other plot, so that at times it feels uneven and I wondered “when are we going back to the other plot?”. Put in a different way—there is a lot going on in this novel so be prepared.

Since this is a first book in a series, I tend to pay particular attention to the supporting cast of characters. Charley’s best friend is a woman named Cookie, a single mom who runs the office and does research for Charley’s P.I. agency. Cookie is exactly what you’d want in a BFF type character. She is supportive but also challenging. She is a trusted confidant with an open-mind. There are also two sidekick type characters in Uncle Bob and Garrett, a bounty hunter. Garrett also could qualify as a love interest, though whether that’s where future installments in the series go is another thing that remains to be seen.  In First Grave on the Right, Garrett is more antagonist than love interest. Indeed, Garrett is meant to be contrasted against the actual love interest in the story, a man from Charley’s past called Reyes. There are also two ghosts who help Charley with her investigations. Angel, a thirteen-year-old boy killed during a gang drive-by shooting, and Rocket, a ghost who died in a psychiatric institution. All of the supporting characters are intriguing and more than cardboard characters performing their specific roles in the story. None of them will make you want to stop reading and throw the book across the room.

The job of a first book in a series is to get me invested in the characters and their world, and make me want to pick up the next book in the series. I will say I was immersed in Charley’s world and I wanted to keep reading to find out the solutions to all of the mysteries. Jones also leaves the book on a kind of cliffhanger, a coda if you will, that entices me to want to pick up the next book to see what happens next. As I said above, I like Charley and I like the supporting cast. And while I gave this book a five-star rating (not something I do lightly), I can’t say that at the end, I was ready to rush out and find the second book. Will I come back to this series in the future? Yes, I’m sure I will, but it’s not on the top of my reading list. It’s not even currently in my reading list. With that said, though, I do recommend reading First Grave on the Right simply because it is distinct enough to not be like every other series in the genre.

Have you read First Grave on the Right? What did you think?

review: buried memory

Buried Memory by Adam J. Wright (2016)

I went back for a second helping of Adam J. Wright’s urban fantasy series, Harbinger P.I. and was not disappointed. Buried Memory is certainly an appropriate title that links all of the strands of the story’s plot. It’s about Alec’s buried memories and the physical representation of buried memories—the dead interred in their graves. While I will do my best not to spoil too much, be warned that you need to read this series in order. If you like urban fantasy novels that feature private investigators, give this series a try. The first book in the series is Lost Soul, and you can read my review here. As of this writing, both Lost Soul and Buried Memory are available for Kindle Unlimited subscribers, so if you’re on a budget but have this subscription, you can “read for free”.

Buried Memory picks up about two weeks after the beginning of Lost Soul, and so not much time has passed since the end of book one. First thing you want to know about this book—a lot happens, particularly in the second half of the book. If you like your fiction to be fast-paced with reveals you didn’t really see coming and that leave the main characters in a much different place from where they started the story, you’re going to like this book. Second thing you need to know is that while a lot happens in the book, the first half of the book may seem a little slow and like the plot doesn’t really know where it’s going. Trust me on this. You don’t want to stop reading. Keep going. You will not regret it and your patience and investment in the story will be rewarded. Continue reading

review: house of whispers

House of Whispers by J.L. Bryan (2015)

House of Whispers is the fifth book in the Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper series by J.L. Bryan. While I wouldn’t say these books can be read as standalone novels, I won’t be revealing any major spoilers in this review that would ruin your enjoyment of the preceding books in this series. If you like books featuring a female protagonist and/or books featuring ghost hunters, you will enjoy this series. To be candid, I inhaled the first four books, and probably would have continued reading them one after another if I had liked the fourth book, Terminal, more than I did. If you’re new to the series, begin with book one, Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper. If you stopped somewhere along the way and haven’t gotten to House of Whispers yet, let me just say that in my opinion, this is the best book of the series so far. Bryan ramped up the scary factor and the danger factor in this one and kept me engaged in the story from beginning to end. Continue reading

review: skin and bones

Skin and Bones by Susan Harris (2016)

Skin and Bones is the first book in Susan Harris’ urban fantasy series, The Ever Chace Chronicles. Before you have a chance to read the blurb teasing the story, the first thing appearing in the back cover copy is a pronouncement identifying the book as a “2017 RONE award nominee for best paranormal romance!”. Not going to lie—after I read the description of the story, the suggestion that this book is part of the paranormal romance genre was the gentle push I needed to download the book and give it a try. Do not be fooled like I was—this is not a romance novel. Yes, there is a love plot, but it’s definitely not the A plot. Paranormal suspense is probably a better descriptor of the book’s genre. This is not to say that, once my expectations were adjusted, I didn’t enjoy reading the book. I just didn’t get what I thought I was getting, and while that is sometimes a good thing (like when you get even more than what you were expecting or you get something you didn’t even know you wanted and it was totally awesome), Skin and Bones presented a few other challenges that were difficult for this reader to overcome. Continue reading

review: these haunts are made for walking

These Haunts Are Made For Walking by Rose Pressey (2014)

I have a complicated relationship with cozy mysteries. On the one hand, cozies typically provide a pleasant but not too intellectually demanding reading experience. On the other hand, they are too often littered with boring, plain vanilla characters and plots that are wholly sanitized of life’s hard, and sometimes ugly, realities. When I do find a cozy series I like, I inevitably abandon it after a few books because I get frustrated when the main character shows no growth or change as the series progresses. If you are new to this category or the term, cozies generally have a few things in common. The murder itself is not gory or graphically depicted, and they contain little to no violence. Cozy mysteries typically take place in a small-town setting where everyone knows everyone else. When a murder is discovered, the whole town is thrown out of balance. It is the job of the amateur sleuth to find the killer, bring him or her to justice, and return order and normalcy to the community. For the most part, cozies are “clean” reads. I tend to favor hardboiled or noir detective fiction, but cozies are mostly on the opposite side of the spectrum.  Maybe that is why I feel so conflicted about this genre. Continue reading

review: guarding brielle

Guarding Brielle by Nicole Flockton (2018)

Guarding Brielle is the fifth book in Nicole Flockton’s Guardian SEALs series. I didn’t know until I started reading Guarding Brielle that this book exists within the world of military romantic suspense created by Susan Stoker. Guarding Brielle is adjacent to Stoker’s SEAL of Protection series and brushes against her Delta Force Heroes series. Also, be aware that this book is part of a larger Kindle Worlds series—Special Forces: Operation Alpha World (there’s a handy list in the back of the book identifying the titles in this series). Had I known all this going in, well, I might have made a different buying decision. Which is to say, I’ve always been lukewarm where Stoker’s novels are concerned. In short, if you have read Stoker’s novels, know that Guarding Brielle will deliver more of the same, and from there you can decide if you are totally down for more of the same or you’ve already had enough. If it’s all new to you, don’t worry. Guarding Brielle can be read as a standalone book. Also, if you are the kind of reader who prefers romance novels more on the sweet side of the spectrum, this book may appeal to you. It is definitely not a racy read. But…Guarding Brielle isn’t one of my recommended reads and honestly, I have no intention of going back to read any other books in this series. Before we dive into what this book is about, here’s another warning: if you are the kind of reader who is easily annoyed with typos, you’re going to want to take a pass on this one because I’m sad to say the book is poorly edited. Okay, that’s all the preliminaries, I think. Moving on. Continue reading

review: the carrow haunt

The Carrow Haunt by Darcy Coates (2018)

As I read The Carrow Haunt, two classic novels came to mind—And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. In all honesty, I put this book down about halfway through and let a week go by before picking it up and finishing it. Let me tell you how glad I am I didn’t abandon it. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I don’t normally read books that fall into the horror genre, but I stumbled upon this book through BookBub and decided to take a chance on something a little different. This is the first book I’ve read by Darcy Coates, and I’m adding her to my list of new-to-me authors whose work I want to read more of. Continue reading

review: the red tower

Sherlock Holmes: The Red Tower by Mark A. Latham (2018)

Here’s what you need to know. If you are a fan of the original Sherlock Holmes stories written by A. Conan Doyle, then you should read this book. If your only experience with Holmes and Watson is through television or film, then you should read this book. If you think Holmes is the main character of these stories, well…you’ll have to have a little patience. There is a whole lot to like about Mark A. Latham’s latest contribution to the Sherlock Holmes collection of books currently being published by Titan Books. Sherlock Holmes: The Red Tower is just the fourth book of the year to get a five-star rating from me. I loved this book and couldn’t have asked the author to do anything more, and one of the best parts is that I had no idea what the solution to the puzzle was until I got to the very end of the book. The Red Tower is a great read, and though it’s not currently available from my local library, it was worth every single dollar from my book budget. Continue reading

review: lost soul

Lost Soul by Adam J. Wright (2016)

Have you ever downloaded a sample of a book, gotten a couple of pages in, and decided to take a pass? Then, months later you give the sample another, dive in, and devour the book? Well, this is what happened to me with Lost Soul by Adam J. Wright. If you’ve seen the book and haven’t decided whether or not you should give it a try, my five cent recommendation is to take a chance and give it a read. If you like urban fantasy featuring a private detective-type main character, or if you are looking for a new series to read, then this book checks a lot of boxes. I’m disappointed this book isn’t available from my local library, but it was certainly worth the withdrawal from this month’s book budget.

The protagonist of Lost Soul is Alec Harbinger, a preternatural investigator banished from Chicago and sent to work in Dearmont, a tiny town in Maine. Alec works for the Society of Shadows, an organization that has its roots in 17th century England. His job is to investigate preternatural threats and solve them. The Society has offices in cities around the world, and though they don’t exactly hide what they do, the majority of the population doesn’t believe in the existence of the supernatural and looks skeptically upon Society investigators. This has the effect of making Alec an outsider, marginalizing him to the fringes of society, and placing him in the long line of protagonists similar to the archetypal hardboiled private eye.

As a character, Alec is fairly ordinary (or at least, that is how he seems right now). He’s not immortal, he doesn’t have any odd idiosyncrasies, he’s not super-flawed or morally grey, he’s not dark and tortured. He’s a likable guy. He’s normal within a world where the paranormal is real. In that way, he’s easy to relate to as a character. What drives him, what he wants most, is to protect unsuspecting people from falling prey to the supernatural creatures walking among them. He wants to do good, and yet he finds himself in opposition to the very Society he works for, which may or may not care about doing what is good and right. Alec resents being stationed in Dearmont and misses Chicago, and as the story begins to unfold, we learn that the reason for his reassignment stems from something that happened while he was in Paris, though it’s a while before the details are revealed (and I won’t spoil them here!). Suffice it to say, this bit of backstory sets up what I expect to become one of the through-lines of the series.

Alec doesn’t expect Dearmont to be a hotbed of supernatural activity, an assumption proven wrong early in the story. How refreshing is it to have a little town in Maine as the primary setting for this series? It’s almost to the point of being a cliche to find urban fantasy series set in New York, Los Angeles, London or even Chicago, and that gets to be imaginatively boring after a while (at least for me it does, and yes, I get that I’m talking about “urban” fantasy). I really appreciate Wright’s decision to set the story in an unconventional location on the map, and I’m hopeful that as the series progresses, the setting will provide a whole gamut of interesting characters and challenges that a big city setting can’t offer. Even though Wright didn’t choose a metropolis for the setting of his story, he is still working in the same tradition of hardboiled detective fiction familiar to readers of the genre, only he takes it down the path that anyone familiar with Stephen King’s work will recognize—a small town that on the outside looks idyllic and wholesome, but underneath the surface lurks the ugly underbelly of humanity.

But of course it’s not just about the protagonist. Overall, it’s a good supporting cast. Each character has potential in his/her own right, but each character also reflects different sides of Alec, showing us who he is and what he cares about. The Society has assigned Felicity Lake to be Alec’s assistant, and while she’s working for him, she can also complete the year of training necessary for her to become a preternatural investigator herself. She’s also there to spy on him for the Society. There’s also Mallory Bronson, who’s been friends with Alec for a few years. Mallory is a “Final Girl” (a term I was not familiar with until reading this book, but then, I don’t watch a lot of horror movies ). As a teenager, she was at a party where everyone was massacred by an assailant called Mister Scary. Now Mallory’s sole mission is to find him and end him, and she puts that mission above everything else in her life. We also meet Leon Smith, a young man Alec encounters as he tries to solve the case his first client in Dearmont brings his way. Leon is new money and good at anything involving computers (yes, he’s your requisite “tech” character). He’s bored and jumps at the chance to help Alec when he needs it. We’ve also got Alec’s absent father, Thomas, who I’m sure will pop up again in future books and seems to be one of the characters with whom Alec will be in conflict as the series continues.

Sheriff John Cantrell also looks to be a conflict character. What is up with the antagonistic law enforcement character that seems to be pervading every urban fantasy series I pick up? I am seeing that trope with greater prevalence these days and I’m bored with it. And yet I understand why this character keeps reappearing. One, it’s a way of adding conflict to the story and another kind of antagonist for the protagonist to have to deal with. This character generally ups the stakes for the protagonist and puts him/her into some sort of peril. Two, it follows in the hardboiled tradition of law enforcement being corrupt and underscores the need for the protagonist to continue doing his job and in doing so, protect the community, sometimes using any means necessary. So while I’m not a fan of this kind of character, I understand the reason for his/her existence, and in this series we’ve got Sheriff John Cantrell.

The more time I spend writing this review, the more I realize how much I liked this book. It marries two of my favorite genres—urban fantasy and hardboiled detective fiction. I definitely recommend reading Lost Soul, especially if you’re like me and have trouble finding new urban fantasy series you can enjoy and don’t feel the same as everything else in the genre.

Have you read Lost Soul? What did you think?

review: wild in love

Wild in Love by Bella Andre & Jennifer Skully (2018)

After a bit of a reading break, I went to my book shopping list and discovered that Wild in Love by Bella Andre and Jennifer Skully had finally been published. Quickly, I snapped it up and planned to spend my day reading the last book in the Maverick Billionaires series (which, by the way, apparently isn’t really going to be the last book, but more on that later). My reading excitement stemmed from my previous experiences with the first four books in this series. I knew I had liked them all, and I’d been waiting for this last book for more than a year. Well, I bought the book, I read the book, and here I am to review the book. Spoiler alert: I was a little disappointed.

If you are new to the Maverick Billionaires series by Andre & Skully, then know that you can read these books in any order. For the most part they standalone. You can safely read ahead, as there won’t be any spoilers of any other books in this series. If you want to read the series from the beginning, start with Breathless in Love.

This is the story of Tasha and Daniel. At the beginning of the story, Tasha is in a self-imposed exile, intent upon doing penance for the sins of her father. She has bought a wreck of a cabin by the lake, but to keep herself busy and turn the cabin into a livable home, she has dived into DIY home improvement. The solitude and loneliness weigh on this natural extrovert, though. Tasha believes this to be her due and that she doesn’t deserve to have friends, happiness, or anything good in her life. Daniel is vacationing at his lake house, the interior of which is still under construction. It’s a project he intends to complete himself, and since he has made his fortune by opening DIY home improvement stores and making DIY videos, completing the interior of the house is more a labor of love than work. Daniel is the last of the Mavericks who is still single, and from the beginning of his story, we are given a man who wants to find a perfect love, the kind of love he believes his parents have. No messes, no arguments, just an endless string of moments of bliss. But a phone call with his mother disturbs his image of the idyllic love and marriage. From the outset, the trajectory of each character’s growth arc is clear: Tasha has to return to the world of the living and accept that she’s not responsible for her father’s sins, and Daniel has to learn that there’s no such thing as a perfect love or perfect marriage and be willing to risk his heart anyway.

You know how you read a novel and you get close to the end and realize not a whole lot has happened so far? Wild in Love is like that. Don’t get me wrong—there is a story, but there’s no plot. One side of my brain wants to defend this and point to this book as an example of the character-driven story. Perhaps, but if that’s the case, I need much more compelling characters whose motivations and desires cause them to make choices that complicate their lives and the lives of others before they get to the end of their growth arcs. That’s not really the case with Wild in Love, and maybe part of that is due to the isolated, single setting environment in which nine-tenths of the story takes place. Because the story takes place on the lake where Tasha’s and Daniel’s homes are somewhat secluded, there isn’t the opportunity for external conflict to come in and be disruptive. So Andre & Skully rely heavily upon internal conflict and the tension between Tasha and Daniel. For this reader, it doesn’t really work. I did keep turning the page, but mostly because I didn’t want to abandon the book, especially a book whose release I’ve been waiting for. I’m one of those readers who wants to care about the characters, and it was hard to do that with Tasha and Daniel.

Then there’s the fact that this is the last book in the series. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might know how I feel about the last book of a series—it should be epic. The tension should be higher, the stakes should be greater, the emotion should be at its highest peak. To be clear, I really did enjoy all four books prior to this one, and I have been looking forward to reading the last Maverick’s story. But there wasn’t anything epic about this book, and there really wasn’t anything special about it either, and that’s disappointing. At the same time, it is a reminder of the challenges that come with writing a series. Some books in the series will be better than others. However, based upon what I read in the back matter of the book, there is going to be at least one more book in this series. From what I can tell, it will be what I’m calling “Maverick-adjacent” since it features a character we’ve met before, but who isn’t part of the original group of five.

Final analysis? It’s hard for me to say to skip this book if you’ve read all four of the previous books. Wild in Love gives closure to the original concept of each Maverick getting his own story. So if you’ve read all of the other books and decide you want to read this one, maybe go in with lower expectations than I did. If you’ve not read any of the books in this series, please don’t start with this one. Indeed, I’d say start with any other book but this one.

Have you read Wild in Love or any other books in the Maverick Billionaires series? What did you think?

review: maggie get your gun

Maggie Get Your Gun by Kate Danley (2011)

This is the second book in Kate Danley’s Maggie MacKay Magical Tracker series. If you haven’t read the first book, Maggie for Hire, click here for a review and keep reading at your own risk. Spoilers ahead!  Did you want to know if you should still keep reading this series if you’ve only sampled the first book? Yes, you should.  Danley has written another fun and fast-paced adventure with a strong lead and supporting cast.

Maggie Get Your Gun picks up about two weeks after the end of Maggie for Hire.  Life has gotten back to what relatively passes for normal for Maggie—she’s still working as a magical tracker for hire, and she’s now back to doing it in partnership with her father.  Except, at the beginning of the story, Maggie’s father is out of the office on a long weekend getaway trip with Maggie’s mother.  Left alone to hold down the fort, Maggie decides to take on the case brought to her by a new client, Isaac Smith, who tells her that he knows her father.  Smith wants to hire Maggie to retrieve a lady’s hair comb that he left behind on Earth in a place near Las Vegas called Calico Ghost Town.  Maggie senses that Smith isn’t telling her the full story, but when Smith offers to pay her a hefty sum to locate the comb and bring it back to the Other Side, she agrees to the take the case.  With her father out of town and not answering his phone, Maggie decides to enlist Killian, the elf, as backup.  The pair travels to Calico Ghost Town and once they retrieve the hair comb, they discover that it does have magical properties—namely, rising the dead from their graves and turning them into mummies.  Once Maggie realizes that she has been effectively hired to smuggle the comb across the border between worlds (a crime that world walkers like Maggie often become entangled in and for which she could lose her license to move between worlds) she decides to confront Smith and force him to reveal his true reasons for wanting the comb.

I am still very much a fan of Maggie as a character.  She is smart, strong, and funny.  One of the things we learn about Maggie in this book is that she’s always been afraid of ghosts, a fear she’ll have to overcome in order to defeat the primary antagonist of the story.  We also learn that she worries about falling into the trap of becoming a smuggler, which is portrayed as being the common fate and downfall of many world walkers. These are a couple of the insights we get into her character during this adventure.  Not many, and there is not a significant amount of development or growth for her character, but there is enough to keep her interesting and me wanting to continue to follow her through more investigations.

Like in Maggie for Hire, the supporting cast adds depth to the story and is one of the series’ strengths.  Maggie’s twin sister, Mindy, returns, as do her mother and father, Killian, Pipistrelle (the brownie who now protects Mindy and doubles as her housekeeper), and Xiaoming.  Though Maggie herself doesn’t show a lot of change in this story, there is development in her relationships with the supporting characters.  By the end of the story, her relationships with her father and Killian change, and Mindy has also demonstrated that she’s a little bit different than she was before.  In Maggie Get Your Gun, what you have is a family that fights together to save the world, helped along by some friends they make along the way.  If you are a fan of Supernatural and like the family dynamic of that show (Sam and Dean, along with their chosen family—Bobby, Castiel, Jo and Ellen, Jodie) then I think you will like this book because it has that sort of feel to it (I also think that if you’re a fan of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, you’ll also like this series).  In addition to Maggie’s friends and family, the Big Bad of the series so far—Vaclav, the vampire that wants Maggie dead—also makes a return in this book.  For this reason, I recommend that the books definitely be read in order for maximum enjoyment.  This isn’t the kind of series where you can skip around or skip books and not be confused about what’s going on.

I enjoyed this book and will continue to read more of this series.  Maggie’s first-person narrative style is engaging and holds my interest and attention, and yet another strength of the narrative style is that unlike so many first-person stories I have sampled lately, there isn’t endless narration with no real conversation or interaction with the other characters in the story.  We’re not just alone in Maggie’s head while she tells us what happened and what everyone else did.  Maggie is telling the story, but the supporting characters are right there with her, acting and reacting.  And for my friends with a book budget—this one wasn’t available from my library but it was worth every dollar.  If you haven’t tried this series, you should, and if you read the first book, keep reading! I definitely will.

Have you read Maggie Get Your Gun or any other books by Kate Danley? What did you think?

review: fast burn

Fast Burn by Lori Foster (2018)

Do you remember when I reviewed Close Contact, which is the third book in Lori Foster’s Body Armor series?  Well, I didn’t like that book and found it to be a bit disappointing.  Since then, though, I have read the second book in this series, Hard Justice (which I loved and recommend for fans of romantic suspense) and I just finished reading the fourth and final book, Fast Burn.  I loved reading this one, too, and honestly, I now want to go back and read the first book in this series.  The third book may have been a dud, but Fast Burn was the perfect read for a lazy Sunday.  If you like reading about lady bosses, the trouble that finds, and the men who love them, pick up this book post haste.  The suspense kept me turning the pages and this one will appeal to readers who like their romances to fall more on the sweeter end of the spectrum.  I actually went into a physical bookstore and bought the paperback edition of this book (thanks to a gift card from someone who loves me, a 17% off coupon for St. Patrick’s Day, and my store membership).  It’s worth your book budget dollars and your reading time.

This is the story of Sahara and Brand.  Sahara is the owner of Body Armor Security, a company she took control of when her brother, Scott, disappeared mysteriously in a boating accident.  In the sixteen months that she’s been in charge, she has remade the image of the agency, handpicking MMA fighters seeking a new life after ending their fighting careers and training them to be bodyguards.  Hands down, Sahara is my favorite lady boss character I’ve read all year.  She’s smart, resourceful, good at reading people and situations. There are really two things she wants most when the story begins—to finally recruit Brand Berry into the agency as a bodyguard (something we see her trying to accomplish during books two and three of the series) and find her brother, who’s presumed dead by everyone except her.  Brand is an MMA fighter who is considering what the next step in his career will be.  He is interested in Sahara’s job offer, but he wants to date Sahara, not work for her.  He has to make a choice about whether or not to accept a fight in Japan, which will help him cover new financial obligations arising from his birth mother’s recent health crisis.  Though Sahara and Brand are firmly locked in a clash of wills through most of the story, I wouldn’t really call this an enemies-to-lovers story (putting that out there in case that particular trope isn’t really your thing).  It creates the tension and conflict that moves the love story along, but these two don’t have to get over hating each other before falling in love with each other.  Consequently, the romance plot of the story drew me in as a reader and immediately I felt invested in these two finding their happily ever after.

The story is told through the alternating third-person POVs of Sahara and Brand, but also be aware that there is a third POV from the antagonist’s POV (again, putting that out there just in case multi-POV isn’t your thing; it’s not really my thing but it’s not bothersome in this story).  If you’ve read any of the previous books in this series, you were already primed to expect that the suspense plot of Sahara’s story would revolve around finally finding out her brother’s fate.  After being kidnapped by a group of men who have a connection to her brother, she is closer to her goal than she’s ever been before.  This is where the main characters from the previous books enter the story, ready and determined to help Sahara stay alive and find the truth. Her character arc can only come full circle once she knows what happened to her brother and as a result, is able to move on with her life and out of the limbo she’s been in since his disappearance. In the process, Sahara also learns that while she is very much the boss, she’s also part of a family.  And if it seems that Fast Burn is all about Sahara Silver, well, it is.  She is the focal point of the story and everything in the novel revolves around her.  Don’t get me wrong—Brand isn’t a flat character who is there only to be a plot device and a means for propelling Sahara’s character development. I like Brand and he’s very much a part of the story, but this is one of those stories where if you don’t like Sahara, you won’t like the book.

But like I said earlier, I love Sahara’s character and I really enjoyed this book.  The Body Armor Series is a good example of a series where not all of the books are equally entertaining but as a whole it’s a series worth reading.  The good news is that if you want to skip any book in this series, or if you want to skip around and not read them in order, you can and you won’t have missed anything important or be confused.  There were, however, several references to the first book in the series that I didn’t get because I haven’t read that one, but otherwise I followed along just fine.  If you’re looking for a good romantic suspense series with likable characters, smart suspense plots and satisfying love stories, try this series.

Have you read Fast Burn or any other books by Lori Foster? What did you think?