Category Archives: Novella/Novelette

AN UNEXPECTED AFFAIR

A romance novelist heads to a holiday cottage hoping to break through writer’s block and finds herself drawn to the retreat’s enigmatic owner.

An Unexpected Affair (Scottish Werebear, #1)

An Unexpected Affair

Clarice Adler is under a deadline to turn in her next novel and she’s no where near finished. So her attraction to Derek McMillan is unexpected and unwelcome, especially since she believes he’s married. For his part, Derek is not at all interested in starting anything up with Clarice. He’s a werebear, and everyone knows (according to him) that bears are loners. It doesn’t help that labors under serious baggage stemming from his parents’ fatal car accident. Derek is sure there’s more to the event than officials will admit. Resolving this plot line links all of the subsequent books, though the romances in each novella are self-contained.

The setting in this book is done so well that you can SEE the farm, cottages, and surrounding open spaces. There’s also a nice, slow build to the relationship. This easy pacing is refreshing and it’s also not easy to pull off in such a short book.

As soon as I finished this, I hurried to download the next two. The accident plot takes some interesting turns over the course of the series, but I think this first one is the best by far in terms of character development and emotion.

A DANGEROUS BARGAIN by J.S. Scott

A sentinel demon must protect his soul mate from his enemies.

A Dangerous Bargain (The Sentinel Demons, #1)

A Dangerous Bargain

There’s a lot of sexual tension between Zach Winston and Kat Larsen. The premise of Scott’s fictional universe–that sentinel demons were created to protect humankind after the gods of Mt. Olympus retired to the Elysian Fields and left people unprotected from the evil demons who desire to prey on them–is interesting and well thought out. So is the concept of “Radiants”–the fated mates that are the keepers of the sentinels’ souls.

The fast pace and a carefully placed twists kept me reading. Also, for once, the bad guys (“Evils”) of the series are actually pretty scary. I get a little tired of amazing heroes fighting powerful foes who turn out not to be so powerful after all. Scott’s baddies turn up when you least expect it and cause lots of chaos.

Zach’s brother demons are interesting–especially Hunter. When I finished this book, I immediately downloaded the other two. In fact, last week I posted my review of A Dangerous Fury, Hunter’s book. It’s the third in the series and my favorite, so it jumped to the head of the review line.

Excellent paranormal romance.

ETHAN’S MATE by J.S. Scott

A vampire warrior must find his fated mate to reclaim his soul.

Ethan's Mate (The Vampire Coalition, #1)

Ethan’s Mate

This is book one of J.S. Scott’s The Vampire Coalition paranormal romance series. It’s a novella…kind of. Really, it’s too short for that designation. It’s a long short story, which is fine. Nothing wrong with short fiction. Ethan and the heroine have strong and believable chemistry and the premise behind the author’s imagined world is interesting.

Pacing is a problem. This installment sets up the series and offers erotic content, but this is at the cost of plot depth and character development. The evil vampires are fascinating, but they are not used to the fullest effect. The ending is too abrupt.

ETHAN’S MATE gives us good a sense of where the larger Vampire Coalition series is going. The question is do we want to be bothered going with it? I probably won’t.

Review: MINE

A young woman whose marriage has hit a rough patch returns to her hometown and helps local authorities investigate a series of unexpected deaths.

Mine: a novella

Mine: a novella

Fiona Quinn manages to pack a lot of story into this novella without making the pacing feel rushed. Kate Hamilton, forced to leave her home in Boston due to her soldier husband’s PTSD, returns to the small Virginia town where she grew up at around the same time as her ornery Uncle Owen dies of what seems like a heart attack. Kate is there to work as a CSI intern with the local police department. Tim Gibbons, her supervisor, also happens to be her first love. He’s now married with children, but he’s still obviously attracted to her. Their history and a tangled situation with a neighbor interested in opening a lucrative mining operation mean that Kate is stepping into a snake pit of conflict and competing agendas. It’s against this chaotic background that she discovers suspicious connections between several recent deaths–including her Uncle Owen’s.

Scarborough is depicted with such detail that I felt I could locate the place on a map. All the quaint beauties of small-town life bump up against the seething resentments and never-ending feuds that often infect such insular places. The town is populated with a nice mix of expected southern characters–the rich girl whose sparkling life isn’t what it seems, the bigger-than-life politician who may or may not be for sale, the blustering high school bully who grew into a threatening schemer, the local busybody who spreads venomous rumors as unfounded as they are damaging.
Though readers will be familiar with all of these “types,” Quinn makes each one interesting and a bit more complicated than they might appear.

The romantic tension between Kate and Tim is perfectly balanced. We sense that there is something there, but this potential for sparks doesn’t undermine our belief in Kate’s feelings for or loyalty to Ryan, her troubled husband. Kate and Tim’s backstory feeds a lot of present tension. It would have been a little more exciting if we got to meet Tim’s insecure wife. She makes a brief appearance and is referred to, but that’s about it.

I’m on the fence about Quinn’s ending. I don’t want to spoil it for you. I’ll just say that I expected Kate to be the one who unveiled the killer. She closes on the How and the Why of the killings. The Who is discovered and neutralized by the least likely character in the book. Looking back, this is a clever move, as (along with Kate) we are forced to completely reevaluate our alliances. At the time I first read it, though, I felt a little cheated.
The discomfort was momentary.

MINE is a well-paced mystery packed with character and suspense.

Review: THE LAST CONVERT

When the death of a family friend leads journalist Lukas Novak to investigate a cluster of strange deaths in a nursing home, he uncovers a diabolical scheme with roots deep in the past.

The Last Convert: A Lukas Novak Mystery (The HemiHelix Effect Book 1)

The Last Convert: A Lukas Novak Mystery

This is a prequel to Match Games, a full length Lukas Novak mystery. That book kept me on my toes from first page to last. You can read my review HERE.  The Last Convert has the same complex characterization and an equally intricate plot. We get to meet Lukas in a dark hour. His marriage is over and his wife is bent on alienating him from his children and ruining him financially. Poor guy can’t take a breath without fear that something negative will be reported back to her attorney and used to bankrupt him. To be fair, Lukas has spent his whole marriage hiding the fortune he inherited from his famous brother, a rock star whose recordings still bring in a tidy sum long after his unhappy death.

The point here is that Lukas is in a fragile frame of mind as the book opens during the funeral of a close friend. This emotional vulnerability clouds his judgement as he investigates the events surrounding the man’s death and the surprising beneficiaries of his will. I don’t want to tell too much. I’ll just say Lukas isn’t prepared for the extent of the conspiracy he’s stumbled upon. Nor is he aware how deep in the past the seeds of the crime are buried. The villain behind it all isn’t just some murdering con man out to get his hands on the victims’ worldly goods. There’s a deep pathology involved. A terrible history that will repeat and repeat unless Lukas can put a stop to it. And it’s not clear that he’ll be able to do that.

It’s amazing to me how much character and suspense Schirmer packs into this relatively short work. Yet the pacing is right on. There’s no sense that she’s cramming in plot points or forcing the action.

THE LAST CONVERT is a gritty and action-packed thriller that will keep your heart pounding until the very end.

Review: A Winter Wrong

The first in a series of novellas re-imagining the events in Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

A Winter Wrong: A Pride and Prejudice Novella Variation (Seasons of Serendipity Book 1)

A Winter Wrong: A Pride and Prejudice Novella Variation

Let me say from the outset that Jane Austen purists might not be thrilled with this one. It offers a unique variation on the classic novel: what if the Bennet girls’ worst fear was realized and their father died. This is exactly what happens at the time of Jane’s illness and stay at Netherfield Park. Mr. Collins indeed takes possession of Longbourne and much unhappiness ensues…but also some unexpected good fortune.

I think West got a little obscure with some of her Regency-era idioms. And the switcheroo she pulls with Bingley–gives him more backbone early on and then cools his ardor markedly. Will he and Jane find their happily ever after? Eventually. Maybe. That’s another thing I didn’t realize when I downloaded the book–it isn’t a standalone novella in a series of linked novellas. It’s the first episode in a true serial. These days most writers make this explicit in the book description in the form of a clear disclaimer. It avoids misunderstanding and reader disappointment.

Despite the fact that I don’t care for serials, the story (or the portion included here) is fun and well written. Lydia’s worse than in the original. But Mary is much better, which is nice. I’ve always liked Mary. Mr. Darcy isn’t quite as forbidding. Not sure how I feel about that, but I did enjoy getting to know West’s version. The plot is intricate given the length and well paced. There’s plenty of tension.

Overall, an intelligent and creative riff on an old favorite.

Review: CLAIMED BY WOLVES

A young woman travels to her family’s home town to explore her shifter heritage and finds herself involved with five brothers.

Claimed by Wolves (Call of the Wolf, #1)

Claimed by Wolves

This novella is pure erotica. So, you have to take it or leave it within the parameters of the genre. The sex is graphic and…well…creative. The plot and character development is a bit thin. Samantha goes to Washington state in an investigative sort of mind, interested in learning about her family etc. Yet she isn’t there a full day before she’s prepared to sleep with all FIVE McAllister brothers. I wish there was a little more subtlety.

Still, there are some humorous parts, like when oldest brother Gabe transforms into a dog to spy on Samantha. She recognizes him and gets her revenge…goes so far as to take him to the vet to be neutered. It doesn’t happen, but it sure made him sweat and me laugh.

I would have enjoyed more tension. With the mating ceremony, it came down to WHEN rather than IF, which spoiled some of the fun for me.

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.

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.

Every Choice has its Consequence

Out to annoy her father, a rebellious young woman goes on a date with an unworthy guy unaware that she’s in danger of becoming the latest victim of a three-hundred-year-old family curse.

The Hanging Tree: A Novella

The Hanging Tree: A Novella

This is a quick, entertaining story. Cash manages to pack a lot of action and characterization into a short piece. He also has quite a few historical jumps. These work because they all center on a limited number of characters, the spirits inhabiting a tree known locally as The Hanging Tree. It’s been the scene of tragedies going back centuries–all the result of the vicious behavior of colonial-era Reverend Harmond toward a healer named Goody Bennett and her granddaughter Claire.

It was a little difficult keeping track of the spirits at first. The book description says there are five in total. Looking back, that’s correct, but it seems there’s more at first. Probably because Cash has them interact with one another a while before actually naming all of them. So it isn’t apparent that the “sullen, angry” spirit who rarely reveals herself is actually Claire. Or that the young girl spirit and the “Gibson Girl” are one and the same. There’s also a cat named Remedy, who proves vital to the resolution of the plot.

As with other of Cash’s work, the reader here needs to be comfortable with the author’s tendency to “tell” via summation and back story rather than to show everything in full scenes. Luckily, there’s enough going on so that this habit of compression doesn’t tip into under-development.

THE HANGING TREE isn’t scary, but it is fun and full of atmosphere.