Monthly Archives: January 2015

An Erotic Short with Heat and Heart

A woman racing against her biological clock discovers an attractive solution has been right under her nose.

More Than a Stud

More Than a Stud

This is a short, quick erotic romp. Even with the brief length, the author manages to breathe life into her characters. Carina and Evan have real jobs, lives, and personal histories. It’s nice, for once, to see an older woman portrayed as a sexual being. Too often writers fall back on the cougar cliche. Carina may be anxious about her waning fertility, but she is neither desperate nor predatory. And Evan Douglas? He is super attractive. Really. In some ways I’m sorry to meet him in a novella. The man needs a full-length novel to truly be displayed to best advantage.

If I have one small (teeny) issue with this story, it’s the with the dialog. It’s a little forced in places. A little overly confessional. That’s probably a side effect of the short length. Just an extra few pages might have been enough to take the pressure off and let the conversation between Carina and Evan evolve more naturally.

Still, MORE THAN A STUD is more than a quick, steamy read. It also packs a lot of heart.

Beware of Innocent Lasses with Man-Hating Mothers

In the first of Eden Summers’s Reckless Beat rock romances, a sheltered woman is swept into the limelight when she catches the eye of a world-famous rock guitarist.

Blind Attraction (Reckless Beat, #1)

Blind Attraction

For a relatively short book, there’s a lot to it. Alana Shelton is a well-drawn character with a fascinating back story. Her mother, a seriously troubled woman, has kept her isolated from the world. Even now that Alana’s old enough to carve out a life of her own, she struggles to figure out what that means. Then, in one shattering over-the-top moment, she’s thrust into the world of Mitch Davies and his band Reckless Beat. Mitch doesn’t live a normal life, either. Every move he makes is under scrutiny–by his band mates, by fans, by the tabloids. It’s a lot for one brand new relationship to take…and that’s before the real truth of Alana’s past comes out.

My favorite aspect of Blind Attraction–and of the series as a whole, it turns out–is how the band is one large, noisy, loving, dysfunctional family. Each character has his or her story and struggle. It all adds up to an entertaining reading experience.

If I have one criticism, it’s Mitch’s reasoning when her pushes Alana away. Her “innocence” sure doesn’t bother him during their sexcapades–which get a little public at one point. He wises up soon enough…and gets quite a payback when Alana’s not so quick to let bygones be bygones. The scene at her mother’s ranch is probably the highlight of the book for me. Too bad it’s poor Blake (another guitarist) rather than Mitch who gets the biggest “sting” out of the encounter.

BLIND ATTRACTION is a great start to a fun series.

A New Look At Old Las Vegas

A Las Vegas comedian/entertainer explores the colorful life of Willie Martello and his El Ray Club.

The King of Casinos: Willie Martello and the El Rey Club

The King of Casinos: Willie Martello and the El Rey Club

This tongue-in-cheek look at a little known chapter of Nevada history is meticulously researched and chock full of first-person accounts from Willie Martello’s family, friends and business associates. The author’s treatment of his subject is even handed and gives us a good sense of the charming, funny guy whose Big Plans for the desert town of Searchlight, NV crumbled under their own grandiosity. Andy Martello ( no relation to Willie!), a collector of memorabilia, stories, and friends is supremely present in his work. The story of how he came to write the book–and the challenges he faced completing it–are as fascinating as the main tale. He’s honest about his struggles with his material and the struggle to find a balance between his role as “objective” chronicler of history and a human being who truly admires his subject and has an emotional stake in rehabilitating the guy’s image.

And Willie Martello had his issues. Funny thing is the prostitutes (far fewer than you’d imagine) and financial recklessness (if this fellow had soundly reinvested a FRACTION of the money that came his way <>…) didn’t leave me with a negative impression of this larger-than-life character. There’s a certain sweetness and optimism that makes up for all of his excesses. Except for the burros. Nothing funny about selling wild creatures (under BLM protection, no less) to some anonymous guy on his way to Idaho. He might have ground them up for dog food for all anyone knows. Yes, the burro incident ticked me off. Were Willie still around, I’d go over to his assisted living facility and tell him exactly (and with plenty of profanity) what I think about that one.

Burro-gate aside, however, I like the Willie Martello I met in KING OF CASINOS, and consider his story a one-of-a-kind addition to the Nevada historical record

One Determined Killer

A detective tries to solve a series of murders where the victims have no obvious relationship to one another.

Hanson's Hunch: detective fiction short story

Hanson’s Hunch: detective fiction short story

This is a short, suspenseful work. Spicer packs a lot of character and action into it. The motive behind the killings isn’t something I’ve seen before. Detective Hanson remains something of an enigma throughout the piece. We get the sense of a complicated and gifted intellect, and the tiny peek into his home life hints at an abundance of warmth buried under the all-business exterior. I would have loved even more of this personal side as a contrast to the nightmare going on around them.

The end comes as a big surprise. I’m still not sure how I feel about it…very mixed emotions for reasons anyone who reads it will understand. However, this resolution did add a nice splash of dark humor.

A quick, entertaining reading experience.

A Dark, Tart Fairy Tale

A girl the rest of the world believes to have been born to be murdered struggles against her fate.

Pretty Little Dead Girls: A Novel of Murder and Whimsy

Pretty Little Dead Girls: A Novel of Murder and Whimsy

From childhood Bryony is the girl everyone yearns–and fears–to love. Her ethereal beauty and bearing mark her as different. Doomed. Only for the longest time, it’s the people around her, those SHE loves, who get picked off in shocking and creative ways. Even the ones who survive, who don’t kill themselves or get snatched by serial killers, are fundamentally changed by their contact with the Star Girl. She makes them better people–draws out the honor and compassion they’ve either buried in response to the harsh realities of their lives or never knew they had.

Now, Yardley is too good a writer not to use these transformations to wreak havoc. Being better doesn’t necessarily charm the lives of these individuals. In fact, several of them end up far worse off. In this life, anyway. There’s always the sense that they’ve gained something bigger, something that overflows the limited container of their mortal selves.

Yardley has a fun, highly stylized voice that lends itself to egregious authorial intrusion and Gothic melodrama. Imagine a Tim Burton nightmare…only in vivid technicolor. Despite the playful tongue-in-cheek, the emotional tenor of this book is strong. Life in Bryony’s world is amusing, sure, but it’s also permeated by loss. The things most of us take for granted–family, friendship, first love–are a leap of faith, an act of bravery.

Bryony, Eddie, Rikki-Tikki…even Peter-the serial-killer… are all sharply drawn and fully realized characters who alternate between shaping fate and being shaped by it. And Yardley’s plotting works them hard. Every time I thought I knew what would happen next, there came a completely unexpected twist. Every time I thought, “HA! Here’s the climax” the tension ratcheted up even more. Until, by the end, even the desert landscape is an active participant in the resolution of Bryony’s drama.

In the end, PRETTY LITTLE DEAD GIRLS leaves readers with one important (if unstated) question: Okay…Bryony IS born to die. But aren’t we all? Isn’t the point then to live as fully as we can for as long as we have?

This book doesn’t just get five stars from me…it also gets a permanent place on my Keeper Shelf.

Cover Reveal: FINDING US

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Cover Reveal

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Book Title: Finding Us
Author: Debra Presley
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: March 2015
Hosted by: Book Enthusiast Promotions
Cover Designed by: Cover Me, Darling

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Synopsis

Pop star Abby Murphy has fame and fortune and handsome boyfriend and guitarist, Sean. That changes the night she finds him in the arms of another woman. But Sean won’t accept the breakup, and she soon finds out he’s working with her mother, who’s also her manager, to keep him in her good graces.

As Sean ratchets up his threats against her, Abby turns to her bodyguard, Danny Nucci, who will do everything in his power to keep her safe.

But when Abby realizes her feelings for Danny run much deeper than she’d like, she pushes him away as much to keep her own independence as to protect him from Sean’s machinations.

When Abby finally finds the strength to confront all that is wrong with her life, she seeks refuge with Danny, but is it too late? Has she pushed him away one too many times for him to trust her now? Or can he put his own demons aside to help repair them both?

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Meet the Author

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Debra is a native New Yorker who made her escape to the suburbs. She often visits her hometown to enjoy a bagel with butter from her favorite deli, because there’s no better bagel than a New York bagel. When not in search of bagels, Debra spends her time running Book Enthusiast Promotions, an online promotions company that helps indie authors spread the word about their books. She’s also the owner of The Book Enthusiast blog.

She started writing lyrics in her wall-to-wall NKOTB bedroom at the tender age of thirteen while dreaming of the day she’d become Mrs. Jordan Knight. That dream never came to fruition, but she has continued to write. Now she’s working on her first novel.

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Heartbreak and Danger in NYC

A young woman forced to break ties with her first love faces danger and heartbreak when she runs into him seven years later.

Say the Word

Say the Word

Lux Kincaid writes for a glitzy NYC fashion magazine. It isn’t her dream job, but it does pay the bills as she searches for a more satisfying outlet for her skills. Her social life is limited to her best friends/co-workers Fae and Jamie. Romance? Forget it. She gave up that idea when she brutally ended things with Sebastian “Bash” Covington.

Then comes the day when she and Bash meet again. He’s the award-winning photographer in charge of a project celebrating the magazine’s centenary. Needless to day, he’s held a grudge. Forced to be at his beck and call, Lux’s life takes a turn for the dismal.

At the same time, a young girl Lux knows disappears. Lux investigates this on her own time and uncovers a criminal conspiracy. When she gets too close to the major players, it starts to look like the next story she’ll feature in is her own obituary.

The novel is set firmly in Lux’s point of view. She has a strong voice that grabs you from page one and takes you on an emotional ride that will leave your head spinning and heart pounding. This is no swooning heroine. Lux may be broken in some ways, but she’s smart and determined. She’s also sensible enough to realize that her situation is unlikely to have a happy ending–professionally or personally.

Bash isn’t your stereotypical alpha-male. He’s a real ball-buster at first, but you soon see this is due to a tangle of resentment, confusion, and hurt. Even so, he knows that there’s more to what happened between him and Lux than she’s admitted to. He’s as set on finding the truth as Lux is on hiding it. This conflict, combined with criminal case Lux and (through her) Bash get dragged into, keeps you turning pages. Add to this a cast of great secondary characters and you have one fantastic romantic suspense novel.

There are a couple of weak points. The “Then” “Now” chapter jumps get tedious. Most of the “Then” sections are inessential to the plot and slow the pacing. Also, Bash’s parents are over-the-top evil. I’m talking soap-opera villains. There’s no subtlety to them. That’s a shame, because the book as a whole is so believable you become immersed in its world.

Rough points aside, SAY THE WORD is one of the best romances I’ve read in a long time. It’s definitely on my re-read list

In Search of the Lost Self

A woman’s discovery of her late mother’s stage play leads her to explore the mysteries of her past and of her own inner world.

Dead Mentors

Dead Mentors

Sophia Deming is a disenchanted woman. Stuck in a suffocating position in the healthcare industry, she feels terminally cut off from the creative life she craves. The novel is told through the eyes of John Burns, a psychic who gave Sophia the reading that set her off on her spiritual quest. Through his visions we follow Sophia’s travels between her home in Florida to her native Canada as she struggles to rediscover her authentic self. A turning point comes when she and her sisters are cleaning out the family’s holiday cottage and come upon a play written by their mother. The main character is a scientist living in a future society where citizens are forced to take mood-stabilizing drugs that stunt all individuality and innovative thought, which closely parallels Sophia’s feelings about her own situation.

There’s a wonderful Gothic feel here. This otherworldly sensibility is helped by the presence of several ghosts–some actual spiritual entities, others more memory imprints of the past–and Sophia’s own richly symbolic dream life. Yet the story is at its best when Sophia is interacting with her husband, and when she and her sisters are together laughing, remembering, and causing mayhem in one another’s lives. Sophia and Nigel have wonderful chemistry. I also enjoyed the glimpses into John Burns’s life on Prince Edward Island with his wife and mother-in-law.

Ironically, it’s John’s narration that made it so difficult to orient myself at the start of the story. Observing Sophia at such a great remove, and with John’s constant commentary, made it hard to engage with her at first. That said, once I was sure of my footing, the narration became enjoyable. John’s head is a peaceful place to linger.

Nichols does an excellent job creating her settings. The Florida scenes and the ones in Canada (city and rural) played off each other really well. The sensory detail is extraordinary.

The philosophical/psychological concepts explored (especially in the stage play) do get a bit dense. It’s rough going in places, but the characters are so interesting I couldn’t help hanging on to the end.

DEAD MENTORS is a book with many layers. I’d describe it as “subtext on steroids”–and yet it also manages to entertain.

Live Your Best Life

Straight forward advice about getting over the obstacles keeping you from the life you want.

Take Action! and Build the Life you want (Action for a better Life Book 1)

Take Action! and Build the Life you want

This brief primer on moving ahead in your life is written in a warm, friendly tone that makes the reader feel as if the author is speaking directly to him or her. The chapters are well organized and build upon one another. De Jong begins with the question, Why Don’t More People Live The Lives They Want? and proceeds to explore how to make sure your beliefs help rather than hurt, getting into a positive state of mind, setting appropriate goals, and making change a part of your daily life. Each concept is illustrated by stories from the author’s own life, and the chapters end with action steps that help put theory into practice. There’s also a free companion workbook (available from the author’s website) to reinforce new habits.

A succinct method to develop a life plan or get the one you have back on track.

Healing can be Messy

A volume of short, life-based pieces about love, pain, survival and transformation.

Broken Pieces

Broken Pieces

This is a book the reader needs to take on its own terms. The essays/poems are loosely organized. Trying to impose a thematic/chronological structure on them is a sure way to become disoriented.

BROKEN PIECES isn’t pretty. It isn’t polished commentary. Thompson is not looking back on the events of her life with measured objectivity. Her subject matter (sexual abuse, dating violence, broken trust) can be difficult to face head on, but her voice is clear and honest. It’s as if she’s allowing us to observe the workings of her brain as she process experiences which can only be taken in small bites. We become caught up in her personal and beautifully imperfect storm of anger, confusion, love, despair, and ultimately, acceptance.

I can’t say I enjoyed this book. “Enjoy” just isn’t the right word. It misses the whole point, I think. BROKEN PIECES made me sad and angry and even a little embarrassed…as if I were eavesdropping on someone’s intimate conversation with her younger self or maybe “collective self” is a better word–the sum total of all the different Rachel Thompsons that had to live and break to create the one living right now.