Monthly Archives: December 2014

Review: JUSTICE by Piper Davenport

Lovers torn apart by a violent crime are just finding their way back to one another when a new threat arises.

Justice (Guardian Series Book 2)

Justice

Macey Gilbert and Dallas Stone have known each other since they were kids. They share the same wide social circle and, though Macey’s always been attracted to Dallas, she kept things “just friends” due to his infamous man-whore ways. Eventually Dallas (who has nursed feelings for Macey since day one) grew up and learned there are better ways to gain a woman’s attention than sleeping with everyone she knows. He and Macey decide to give romance a try, but their brand new relationship is shattered when Macey is violently attacked in her home. It takes two years for her to put the event far enough behind her to try to rekindle the relationship.

Just as things seem to be warming up between Macey and Dallas, there are hints that her attacker, presumed killed, isn’t actually dead…or at least wasn’t working alone…and that she may be in danger.

Piper Davenport does a great job of making Macey’s attack echo through the entire book. The actual facts behind the event are complex and the reader really has to work to puzzle it out. Even when the truth is revealed, there’s a tangle of unexpected players and motives. I would have preferred a more streamlined resolution, but at least it came as a surprise.

Macey, struggling with the aftermath of profound physical violation, can be erratic in her behavior and reactions. Most of the time this works. But there are some “PMS” issues thrown in that, I believe, undermine the character and minimize what’s happened to her. Otherwise, the cast populating the book–the mix of personalities–works well.

The cat-and-mouse to find the true villain ran a little long toward the end of the book, but it is worth it for the final big reveal.

All in all, JUSTICE is a fresh and emotionally satisfying story.

Review: WITNESS by Piper Davenport

An FBI agent falls for the young woman he’s supposed to protect.

Witness (Guardian Series Book 1)

Witness

The story starts with a bang. Agent Brock Williams and his team rescue Bailey Harper and two children from an abandoned meth house unaware of the twisted tragedy they’ve stumbled onto. The rescue and immediate aftermath are full of tension and horror, and it’s amazing that Piper Davenport was still able to seed the beginnings of the romance that blossoms when Brock and Bailey are thrown together in a safe house. Despite the dramatic events, the relationship is carefully developed and believable. So are the couple’s joint doubts–how can all these feelings be welling up at the worst possible time? This conflict between emotion and circumstance helps drive the plot forward.

Also, Davenport gives readers a lot more than a strong lead couple. We get an entire cast of interesting characters. Together they create the kind of community you would just love to be part of.

There is a strong erotic element to the book. It isn’t at all gratuitous. Davenport has it grow naturally out of Brock and Bailey’s emotional journey.

The only issue I had has to do with the problems inherent in short novels/novellas…the balance of show versus tell. There are pivotal parts of the plot that are summarized rather than shown in real time. I can’t say much more about this without truly spoiling the book for readers, so I’ll only note that the underdeveloped scenes concern Bailey’s final escape from the culprits and their capture/punishment. And it’s especially unfortunate that these are toward the end, so that the conclusion kind of rushes at you. Also, the motivation behind culprits evil deeds isn’t as clear as I would have liked.

WITNESS packs a lot of suspense into a relatively short book and offers a great balance of action and romance.

A Rough Ride to Happily Ever After

Things heat up when a rough motorcycle club member comes to the aid of a stranded kindergarten teacher.

Road to Desire

Road to Desire

Austin “Booker” Carter is from a troubled background. He’s deeply involved with his motorcycle buddies personally and professionally. Danielle Harris is from a family with strong ties to law and order. A case of opposites attract? Not so fast. Underneath his “wrong side of the tracks” demeanor, Austin is a soft-hearted genius. His loyalty to his club isn’t blind, it’s based genuine love and gratitude. And Dani, though she’s wary of Austin’s lifestyle and a little too apt to believe stereotypes, has a definite rebellious side.

Piper Davenport does a great job showing the culture clash Austin and Dani face as they fall in love and struggle to see how to build a future together. This whole bad guy/good girl thing could have been a trip to cliche-land. Instead we get realistic characters carrying serious baggage. Austin lived a nightmare childhood in foster care. Dani’s first adult relationship left her emotionally bruised and financially bankrupt. Throughout the book, the couple’s past struggles haunt their present and threaten their future.

ROAD TO DESIRE provides a near perfect balance of romance and suspense. Austin and Dani face genuinely scary situations. Luckily, there’s an entire cast of family and friends to support them as they fight for their happy ending. As a reader, I wanted to climb into the story and become part of the gang.

Like any book worth reading, there are points to debate over. For instance, there’s an unfortunate hookup in Austin’s recent past that dented my esteem for him. Though he’s adult enough to admit he made a bad choice, there’s a lot more blame placed on the girl than on him. She’s a whore. He was just drunk and horny. Not fair. And it’s an attitude that is beneath someone who is otherwise a decent guy–even if the girl is a troublemaker.

On the structural side, a kidnapping near the end is presented awkwardly. I don’t want to spoil the plot. Let’s just say that readers experience the event in hindsight when we should have been present as it happened and THEN witnessed others learning about it.

This first Dogs of Fire book is a winner…kind of like PRIDE & PREJUDICE with lots leather and motor oil. I am very much looking forward to the next one in the series

Amazing Example of the Character-Driven Mystery Novel

Love, friendship, and murder in Victorian London.

Honour & Obey

Honour & Obey

I loved DIAMONDS & DUST and now Carol Hedges gives us another sooty tour-de-force full of superb historical detail and intricate subplots.

D.I. Leo Stride, assisted by the normally unflappable D.S. Jack Cully, has a serious problem on his hands. There’s a serial killer loose in London. Young women, most with some link to what in Manhattan would be called “the garment district”, are found with their throats cut and other, more telling, mutilations. Stride’s investigation is hampered on several fronts. The killer leaves little evidence behind. Possible witnesses are reluctant to talk. And the gutter press, in their longstanding mission to insult and humiliate the police force, pull pranks that lead to floods of useless “tips” and false confessions.

Though the murder provides the book’s main plot, several complex subplots add romance, humor, and drama. There’s the growing attraction between D.S. Cully and one of his witnesses–Emily Benet. And the darkly comedic situation of Hyacinth Clout, a young woman from a well-off family whose entire young life has been clouded by tragedy that took place when she was only six years old. These characters and many others go about their daily business largely unaware of their connections to one another and to the ongoing murder case.

Hedges has a knack for creating complicated characters with mixed motives. Somehow she’s fixed it so that their names and occupations and temperaments pay homage to that quintessential Victorian storyteller Charles Dickens without turning them into “stock” characters. Instead, each is unique and engaging. Their situations plunge us into the world of contradictions that is late 19th-century London, where sparkling privilege and gnawing poverty co-exist, often within steps of each other.

There are only two points where the author and I part company. First, I’m on the fence about the “disappearance” of Emily Benet. Yes, it gives D.S. Cully a kick in the pants and increases the sense of urgency as the strands of the murder mystery come together. But dragging such a strong character offstage at a pivotal point in the narrative seems a waste. When we learn who carried her off, it’s something of a let down…a non-event.

My second quibble has to do with the resolution of the murder itself. I won’t go into too much detail, but it left me feeling annoyed on D.I. Stride’s behalf. He deserved more personal and professional satisfaction than he got.

On the whole, though, this is a truly gorgeous novel. If you enjoy meaty narratives driven by fascinating characters, you will love HONOUR & OBEY.

Big Love on a Small Scale

Not-so-bad girl Kelsey Cooper is on her way to spend Christmas at her mom’s when she takes a detour to the small town where they once lived and runs off the road in a snow storm. The police officer who comes to her rescue turns out to be a former boyfriend’s sexy older brother. Can a lawman and a rule breaker find their happily ever after?

An Officer and a Rebel (Accidentally in Love, #2.5)

An Officer and a Rebel

Nate and Kelsey have searing chemistry. He’s attractive and honorable and sensitive. She’s a quirky mix of defensiveness and vulnerability. “Stranded lovers” is a familiar situation in the romance world, but there’s enough real story here to make it fresh. The couple has a semi-shared past. This means there’s history to provide tension, but they don’t know each other all that well, which keeps things interesting.

The two characters and the intimate setting Madsen creates for them on Nate’s family farm work well within the scope of a novella. I always wince when I’m presented with a novella, because it’s a difficult form to get just right. This one succeeds because the author doesn’t try to cram in too much. She gives reader enough detail to make the story live but no more. And yet there’s a surprising amount of plot and character development for such a short work. .

My one complaint has to do with the cover. Now, normally I don’t include consideration of cover images in a book review, and I certainly don’t expect the models to exactly match the characters. But Nate is a blond, clean-cut police officer. The guy on the cover has dark hair and a BEARD. Sorry, but it distracted me.

Cover confusion aside, this is a cute seasonal romance perfect for getting into the Christmas spirit.

Point of View: It’s a Fine Line

Secrets, intrigue, and murder at a Caribbean resort.

Stranger at Sunset

Stranger at Sunset

Dr. Kate Hampton is a psychiatrist with a rather detached, almost icy, air. We hop a plane with her to her favorite vacation spot, a boutique resort in Jamaica. Only this trip isn’t all fun in the sun. A pesky travel writer has published a cutting review of the place. The owners, who’ve become Kate’s friends, have convinced Matthew Kane to come back for a second look. Kate wants to get a closer look at the guy and figure out how get him to undo the damage he’s done. Only Matthew isn’t there long before someone ends his writing career for good.

Eden Baylee has given us all the makings of a tense psychological thriller. The setting is rendered in such convincing detail, I felt like I could Google the place and a website would pop up. The plot is taut and had plenty of unexpected twists. The characters are all given rich back stories and secrets they might be willing to kill to protect.

Kate herself is complicated. Not easy to like. As she’s the closest thing to a heroine in the novel, I really wanted to root for her, but she unnerved me. For a psychiatrist, she carries an amazing load of baggage. This added to the drama and made me want to follow Kate after the book ended.

I did have two small issues with the novel. First, Kate’s love interest comes on the scene (in a meaningful way, at least) rather late in the day. And his own story is a bit James Bond-ish, so it really would have been preferable to have it seeded through the plot from early on. Second, the multiple points-of-view weakened the book for me. I had to keep getting re-connected with whoever was “seeing” the action in a given chapter. It was a bigger problem in the beginning, because it undermined identification of the protagonist. Later on, it got easier to slip from one head to another. I understand why Baylee took the road she did–a roving POV keeps the reader a little off balance and helps delay revelation of the killer’s identity. But I felt a little TOO off balance for the first half of the novel.

Even with the bumps, STRANGER AT SUNSET provides plenty of suspense and offers a fascinating look into the world of a woman who may or may not be a psychopath.

Love Can Be RISKY BUSINESS

A methodical undertaker falls for a quirky veterinary assistant with a houseful of rescue dogs, but past hurts and present challenges conspire to keep them apart.

Risky Business

Buy Patricia Campbell’s RISKY BUSINESS on Amazon

The characters in RISKY BUSINESS are wonderful–flawed but so likable. Mariska “Risky” Williston has a huge heart. If only she could escape the scars left by her unbalanced mother. Chet is a smart, good-looking guy who is handicapped socially by his unusual profession–he’s a mortician. These two develop a reluctant attraction for one another, but one problem after another keeps them from really connecting. Through careful plotting and keeping a firm grasp on her characters’ needs and motivations, the author makes the dramatic plot twists believable. She also does a great job with her settings. I felt myself right there in the middle of all the action.

There’s wonderful mix of drama and humor. However, this isn’t a classic romance novel. Campbell’s characters deal with some messy personal issues. Campbell allows them to work through these in a natural and realistic way. This is the case right up to the end of the book, which isn’t as neat as you find in most romances, but it is absolutely true to the characters.

RISKY BUSINESS is a funny, touching love story with unexpected depth and emotional complexity.

Character Interview with Kate Covington

I must say, I’ve never had the opportunity to interview a fictional character before. After reading Brooke Williams’s romance Wrong Place, Right Time, I just had to know more about Kate Covington. I mean, it isn’t every woman who would follow the guy she loved to Vegas in hopes of crashing his wedding to another woman. Then, when Kate interrupts the wrong nuptials, things get really wild.

Wrong-Place-Right-Time-Hi-Res-Cover

Wrong Place, Right Time

Lucky for me, Brooke was able to provide access to Kate, who agreed to answer a few questions about her outrageous behavior and its unexpected consequences. And keep reading after the interview for my review of Wrong Place, Right Time

First and foremost…WHY? Why work for years next to someone you have feelings for and say nothing, especially when he was unattached?

That’s what I asked myself every day, let me tell you! I don’t know if I can give you just one reason. There are plenty. What Brian and I had as friends was really special. We confided in each other about a lot of things and, after my grandmother passed away, he was like family. I was sick with worry that if I told him I loved him and he didn’t feel the same way, I would ruin what we had. On some days, it felt like he was all I had. I couldn’t risk it. And I was also worried about the relationship changing me. How would it be working with him and spending the afternoons with him outside of work as a couple? I don’t know; it made me nervous. Relationships have never gone my way and I wanted things with Brian to be different. The only way to ensure it would go well was to keep things on the level where we were both comfortable.

What was your first thought when you realized you barged into the wrong wedding?

Oops. Actually, my mind went blank for a minute. I felt it more in my physical reaction. My cheeks burned and my fingers were like ice. Once I realized what I had done and endured that physical moment, my mind started racing. Where was Brian? Was I too late? What was going on with this groom that a stranger barging in could make the bride run away that easily? I had a lot of questions and not a lot of answers.

When you were a little girl living with your grandmother, did you and she ever talk about what your own wedding might be like? Did she tell you about hers?

Hers was very romantic. She and my grandfather were long time sweethearts. They went to the same high school and then he went away to college. Back then women didn’t often continue on with their degrees. Instead she stayed home and got a small job and waited. They sent letters back and forth. Dozens of them. When he was about to go off to war, they could no longer deny their love. He wanted to go to war with a wife waiting and not a girlfriend. They actually got married at the courthouse. It was hurried and small but utterly romantic. She always said that he told her the reason he made it through the war was because he knew he had a wife waiting for him back home. They had a larger reception after the war and celebrated with family and friends. I still pull my grandparents’ letters out sometimes and read them. That’s what love is, and it’s what I wanted in my life. As for my wedding, since hers was so small and fast, she wanted me to have it all. The white dress, the lace veil, the candles, the church, the whole deal. We didn’t really talk details, and I knew the most important thing to her was who stood next to me at the altar.

What was it like to grow up without your mom and dad? How did your grandmother help keep you connected to them?

It was gut wrenching. I often wonder how life would have been different. Don’t get me wrong, my grandmother gave me a wonderful life. But emotionally, I would be a different person had they not passed away. There were a lot of things that happened that were hard to get through without them. The dad-daughter date nights at school. The moms volunteering in the classroom. The little things stuck out the most. But my grandmother was there for them all. Whether she fit in or not, she was there. And I could see a lot of my parents in her. I think she purposely said some of the things I remembered them saying to keep them around in subtle ways. There were pictures, of course, and my mom’s favorite quilt on my bed. My dad’s cologne on the counter. They were there in as many ways as they could be.

When you agreed to your business arrangement…let’s just say it…a sham marriage to Chad Leida, you got a little taste of life in the public eye. Has it changed your view of fame?

Oh yes. I had no idea what famous people go through, really. I mean, I was on the TV news and people would recognize me on occasion, but no one took my picture without asking first, and there was never any pointing or staring. People were friendly about it and respected my space and privacy. Real fame was a whole different ball game. I mean, Chad couldn’t step out without someone discovering him. And he’s not even on the same level as movie stars who have it even worse. We place these people on pedestals when, in reality, they are just people doing a job they love. They go through the day putting one foot in front of another like anyone else.

Chad’s mother didn’t exactly welcome you into the Leida family with open arms. Has that changed now that you’re settled on the ranch? What is your advice for someone who must deal with a difficult in-law?

It’s been a long haul. She had a lot of expectations for Chad and his life. She wanted certain things for him, and the fact that he didn’t want them was very disappointing to her. She’s a stern woman and a perfectionist in many ways. We are very different people, and it’s hard to reconcile that. But she has come to realize that I am what Chad wants and he is what I want. She can’t deny that any longer and, I have to say, she’s coming around. She is who she is, but she comes to the ranch on occasion, and we even got her up on a horse last time. We’re so different it’s going to take some time to reconcile those differences, but I think the more we recognize them, the better we will get along. And she’s starting to understand that Chad’s happiness is the most important thing, and that I have that interest held high on my to-do list!

If your insane trip to Vegas to stop Brian’s wedding had succeeded and you’d ended up together (never meeting Chad) do you think the marriage would have worked out?

Well, in a way, we did end up together…for a while. And it didn’t work out. I was totally and completely, head over heels in love with the IDEA of Brian. He was the ideal man, in my eyes. What I was not in love with was the actual man. When we dated, I realized that my idea of him and the reality are two different things. Brian is an incredible man and he will make some woman very happy someday. But he wasn’t the man for me. So while my former self prior to storming in on the wedding believed with all her heart that things would work out in a fairy-tale, happily ever after manner with him, my current self recognizes the truth. There’s only one man out there for me. I thought it was Brian. I was wrong.

What is the single most important lesson a young woman looking for true love should take away from your experience?

I think women could learn from what I went through…a very important lesson. Actually, several of them! First, they need to learn to love someone for who they are, not who you want them to be or even who you think they are. When you start dating someone, everything is shiny and everything about them is wonderful. In reality, no one is perfect. If you really want to love someone, you have to dig below that surface part and get to who they really are. That takes time. It means forgiving flaws and learning to live with things you may not like as much. True love is loving someone despite and even sometimes because of those things. I had a certain idea about who Chad was, and it wasn’t until I got below the façade that I realized who he really was. I think women can also learn from my experience of showing up in the wrong place. I was definitely in the wrong place. I mean, I interrupted the wrong wedding for goodness sake! But in the end, it was the exact right time to be in that wrong place. What I’m trying to say is that mistakes happen. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Sometimes mistakes happen for a reason. Make the best of it and move on. You may have avoided a huge heartache by making that mistake. Or, who knows, it could even lead you to the man of your dreams!

REVIEW of Wrong Place, Right Time

Traffic reporter Kate Covington flies from Omaha to Las Vegas to stop the man she loves from getting married. Only she disrupts the wrong wedding. When the bride storms off, the desperate groom convinces Kate to step in so he can inherit a fortune.

Kate Covington is an endearing character with a touching back story. Her seemingly insane behavior comes from a place of vulnerability. She’s suffered so much loss that she’s reluctant to risk her friendship with Brian by declaring her love for him. Yet, she can’t miss out on what she sees as her shot at true love. Chad Leida is a very different sort of personality–confident, decisive. He’s not afraid of challenging his powerful parents, but he does need access to his trust fund to finance his dream–opening a horse ranch that serves disadvantaged children.

The chemistry between these two characters crackles. But they also complement each other. Kate shows Chad that emotional intimacy doesn’t equal weakness. And by exposing her to his crazy, paparazzi-filled world, he helps Kate develop inner confidence and a clearer direction in life.

Williams does an equally good job with most her secondary characters, though I found Brian a bit bland. I couldn’t quite see why Kate was so taken with him. Also, Ida, who comes to Kate’s rescue at her lowest point, is on and off stage in a blink. I think she should have been introduced earlier, so that her help didn’t seem so “convenient.”

The second half of the novel is not quite as well developed as the first half. There are a few too many coincidences–like Ida appearing just when needed and the perfect job opening popping up for unemployed Kate. Another ten to fifteen pages would have helped round out  the narrative. However, there were plenty of unexpected plot twists that left me surprised and excited. A happy ending isn’t a given for Kate and Chad. They both have to work hard for it and take some risks.

Wrong Place, Right Time is part of The Writers Coffee Shop’s Afternoon Delight line, and that’s exactly how I’d characterize this romance. It’s a quick, fun read that leaves a smile on your face.

A Beautiful Balance

A carefree gentleman saves a little boy and falls for his mother, a young widow with a troubled past and well-guarded heart.

Learning to Waltz

Learning to Waltz

The characters in this historical romance are well drawn and engaging. Deborah Moore is an intriguing mix of vulnerability and vinegar. Her hard shell is so complete and convincing that there were times when I wanted to shake her, but she’s also so sympathetic that you can’t help but lover her. Evan Haverfield is an attractive hero…honest, honorable…but not so “romance book” perfect that he doesn’t get frustrated with Deborah and question his own intentions in pursuing her.

The secondary characters are just as well done, each a realistic mix of strengths and weaknesses. Julian is a lovable kid, but he gets cranky and demanding. Evan’s sisters are devoted to his happiness, but they make sure to thoroughly investigate Deborah. Especially Elizabeth, who turns out to be something of a fairy godmother.

The plot is full of unexpected twists, some of which turn the expected historical romance formula on its head. What stands out most for me is how the author manages to transport us back to Regency England without over romanticizing the era. The historical detail is perfectly balanced. We get the stately homes and sparkling house parties…and the realities of class prejudice, poverty, limited medical care, and imperfect hygiene.

If there is one criticism I have, it is that the section where Evan, overcome by melancholy, travels the countryside goes on a little longer than necessary. That said, the end of this travelling takes him to Deborah’s hometown, where he encounters her family. These scenes are some of the best in the book.

LEARNING TO WALTZ is an engrossing novel with tension that keeps the reader frantically turning the pages. By not trying to make either her characters or their time too “pretty,” author Kerryn Reid creates a truly beautiful and moving experience. I’m very much looking forward to her next novel.

In Every Paradise, a Serpent

I’m a big B.A. (Bev) Spicer fan. Her Bev & Carol travel memoirs are hilarious…I’m talking rib-bruising laughter. You can read my review of Stranded in the Seychelles HERE. Yet, as good as the memoirs are, her novels are a cut above. If you like psychological thrillers with complicated, flawed characters, she’s the writer for you.

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The Undertaker’s Son is one of her best. Set in a picturesque seaside town in Southern France, past and present come together with fatal results. On the surface, Martha Burton, a British divorcee starting over in a dreamy French town, and Claude Cousteau, an undertaker’s son in more ways than one, might as well live in different universes. But thanks to a mixture of coincidence, which in this case appears in the form of shady businessman Felix Dumas, and the rather insular nature of life in a small town, their worlds collide…and they don’t even know it.

Spicer has a knack for creating complex characters with rich, unique back stories and messy inner lives. In this novel, they also share an odd social blindness that causes them to miss the dangerous picture developing right in front of them. These men and women flit through their days caught up in personal pleasures and private concerns unaware of how their actions ripple out to affect those around them. Claude, especially, is a fascinating mix of depravity and misplaced loyalty. He’s a terrifying variety of monster–the kind who appears ordinary, even bland.

Reading THE UNDERTAKER’S SON is an engrossing experience.The tension builds like a storm out at sea that creeps towards the shore. By the final scenes, you want to squeeze your eyes shut, and yet you cannot stop reading. So you give in and are rewarded with a climax that cuts to the bone.