A body in a rundown Opera House.
Simmering resentment in a small Virginia coastal town.
A missing manuscript.
A dark family secret.
Former piano prodigy turned FBI agent Scott Drayco is suffering nightmares from his last case as a private consultant. To add insult to injury, he’s bequeathed an unwanted and rundown Opera House in Cape Unity, a down-on-its-luck seaside village where vacation homes were once a playground for the rich. His hopes for a quick sale are dashed when a new client with dreams of his own redemption is murdered in the Opera House, the letter “G” mockingly carved into his chest. Slowly, inevitably, Drayco is pulled into a tangled web of jealousy and betrayal that reaches across the Atlantic into some of the darkest days of human history. But will he be able to untangle the web before the tensions in Cape Unity explode into more violence and he becomes the next victim?
Played to Death is a well-plotted mystery with wonderfully drawn characters.
I loved Scott Drayco because so many different and intriguing aspects of his character were introduced in the story that I kept wanting to know more about him. Lawson never directly described him, instead she revealed tiny bits of information throughout the story. Instead of describing him as tall, she tells us he ‘folded himself into the car’ – a very visual and telling description. She does the same with the rest of the quirky, compelling cast.
In mysteries, it’s difficult to find a balance between a plot that is complex enough to pull the reader in and get her to try to solve the puzzle, and a plot that quickly becomes convoluted and leaves the reader feeling lost in the abundance of indices. Lawson strikes the perfect balance that keeps the crime puzzle captivating, but not overwhelming. I managed to guess the perpetrator towards the end, but I wasn’t certain to the very last chapter.
Lawson uses the gothic features of the abandoned Opera House to great effect, creating an atmospheric background for the crimes and the solving of them, all of it accompanied with music that’s almost like another character. The pace never sagged and it kept me enthralled throughout despite a few typos in the text.
Alongside the current murder mystery, Lawson also managed to include details of Drayco’s previous case in which two children died, shedding more light on his character and background, and intertwine it all with an unsolved murder from decades ago. It all worked together to form an intricate plot and complex characters with strong motivations.
I’m very excited for the next novel in the series. With the main character now familiar, I’m sure the second one will be an even better adventure.
When the farm where she lives begins to die, Anastasia’s father casts out her mother and sister in order to save it. In revenge, her mother takes Anastasia as well. The three of them move to a strange town where the streets never stay still, and only the rats know way.
They are saved from a squalid life when her mother unexpectedly remarries, but Anastasia does not know quite what to make of her new stepsister, and before she can truly settle into yet another life her mother begins to act strangely and her sister grows deathly ill …
Living in a magic-infused society is only fun for people who understand the rules well enough to take advantage of them. Only time will tell if Anastasia is one of them.
At first I wasn’t sure what I thought of the character development in this novella. It took me some time to get to know Anastasia, in particular, well enough to tell how or if she was adapting to all of the difficult changes in her life. Ms. Taylor had a few tricks up her sleeves that I wasn’t anticipating, though, so once I noticed them I was pleased with everything she ended up doing with this cast.
The romance was bizarre to me due to how how the characters involved in it met one another. Their relationship doesn’t involve anything illegal, but I really would have preferred to know about these themes ahead of time. They’re something I usually avoid when deciding what to read next because I find this kind of thing so odd.
One of the things I like the most about the fantasy genre is how it uses magic, spells, and other seemingly lighthearted topics to address sensitive subject matter. Dressing up a potentially painful issue in this sort of manner can make it easier to discuss how they affect people. It’s difficult to discuss what exactly is going on in Anastasia’s world without giving away spoilers, but I was impressed by how accurately the author described what it’s like to grow up in a dysfunctional home. This subplot was well done.
I’d recommend Anastasia to anyone in the mood for a dark fairy tale.
You can run from the past…but the past runs faster.
Shamwell Tales, Book 1
Behind Robert’s cheerfully eccentric exterior lies a young heart battered and bruised by his past. He’s taken a job teaching in a village primary school to make a fresh start, and love isn’t part of his plans. But he’s knocked for six—literally—by a chance encounter with the uncle of two of his pupils.
Sean works in pest control, rides a motorbike, and lives on a council estate. On the face of it, he shouldn’t have anything in common with Robert’s bow-tie, classic-car style and posh family background. Yet Robert is helpless to resist Sean’s roguish grin, and a rocky, excruciatingly embarrassing start doesn’t keep the sparks between them from flaring.
Despite Robert’s increasingly ludicrous attempts to keep his past where it belongs, his past hasn’t read the memo. And soon his secrets could be the very things that drive Sean away for good…
It’s hard to find a man that appreciates a good bow tie. Robert left his sordid past behind and tried to make a new start as a primary school teacher in a smaller village. He’s decidedly done with love and all its failings, or so he thinks. Sean is the uncle of two of Robert’s students and seems to be everything Robert can’t resist. He’s warm, generous, caring, and has a thing for men in bow ties. Despite Robert’s hesitations he can’t help being drawn to the other man but just when things seem to be going well, Robert’s past decides to make an appearance. Now if only Robert can figure out a way to explain or hide his past from Sean.
Caught! is the first book in a new series by JL Merrow. The author is often known for light comedic romance set in the UK and this definitely fits that description. Her writing is so clean and effortless to read that the pages always fly by much faster than I even realize. Humorous and delightfully quirky characters fill the pages creating an engaging and entertaining story from the start. Robert as the first person narrator is eccentric in the best possible way. He has an upper crust bearing and background, despite his turn at humbleness in the middle of his upbringing, but he fits well with down to earth pest control technician Sean. There is some minor attempt at tension between the two being from obviously different worlds but Sean is good hearted and easy going while Robert is a bit fussy and particular but they easily fit well together.
The story doesn’t offer much plot beyond Robert’s day-to-day activities as he lives his life and attempts to foster a relationship with Sean but for me that was the charm of the story. I loved reading about Robert’s 2E class and the adorable children portrayed. Robert’s family and friends are all interesting characters that sometimes steal the scenes they’re in. I especially loved Robert’s rather cliché female best friend that offered sage advice, but she was more genuine and honest than typical females the genre produces. The very British landscape of the village was homey and lent an easy cadence and tone to the writing. There’s not a lot of action or tension but I personally loved that about the book. I didn’t want or need more than well-developed characters, obvious chemistry, good writing, and a quickly moving story. It’s the type of story you curl up with on a chilly day and enjoy.
I clearly loved Caught! so I easily and eagerly recommend it. It won’t be for everyone though, as not all readers enjoy gentle romance with very little erotic sex. Also due to the lack of any real tension, the main couple gets together with relative ease and only minor miscommunications come up, I think this will appeal to readers that like that kind of ease within relationships. There is no instant love or overwrought devotion immediately but simply two men well suited that start a relationship. There are some bumps but overall it’s an easy outing with lots of humor. Exactly what I wanted.
Swinger Style by Jayne Rylon
Hot Rods – Book Five
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Length: Full Length (158 Pages)
Other: M/F, Anal Sex/Play, Multiple Partners, Ménage, M/F/M
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Foxglove
She’s running on empty…and he’s ready to fill her up.
Hot Rods, Book 5
After watching his mother crumble in the face of heartbreak, Holden believes monogamy is bull. New week, new woman, that’s just how he rolls. Too bad one taste of Sabra Harp leaves him salivating for more.
Sabra was ready for the climb from local news reporter to national anchor—before her pursuit of a story almost destroyed the Hot Rods, whose friendship she has admired from afar. Too bad they all hate her guts. That’s okay, she despises what she’s become too…enough that she’s just told her boss where to stick it.
When Holden drives a drunken Sabra home and puts her to bed, her blatant invitation almost has him following her between the sheets. She’s willing to let him take charge in bed, friends included—and he’s willing to listen to her amazing business proposition, which could rocket the Hot Rods to stardom.
Yet as his friends have paired off, Holden realizes that to participate in their polyamorous games without becoming a third wheel, he needs Sabra. And she needs him…oh, how she needs him.
Swinger Style is the latest in Jayne Rylon’s Hot Rods series, and once again it is a hot and sexy ride with these guys and gals in the garage. This world never fails to intrigue me, and I love the way Ms. Rylon makes her ‘family of the heart’ so real and compelling. Each character brings something unique to the mix, and each new addition to the ‘family’ adds to the fun and the heat. I like this world, a place where folks can be themselves, and judgment is noticeably absent.
Holden is a free spirit, never staying with one woman long. Until he meets Sabra Harp, and then he is torn, wanting her, but angry at the problems she created for the Hot Rods. Sabra is ashamed of what happened as well, and determined to make it up to the tight knit group of mechanics, and just maybe, she can also make it up to Holden, a man who intrigues her in a way no one ever has. When she brings a proposal to the Hot Rods that could change their future, is a good way, at first Holden is the lone stand out in the Hot Rods, but he can’t seem to fight the feelings he has for Sabra. When he learns that she left her job as news reporter because of her belief that those higher up at her station might have been behind the ‘leak’, he reluctantly listens to her plans for the team. He also discovers how much he really likes her, and is delighted when the feeling is mutual. Now, if he can just learn whether she will fit into the polyamorous lifestyle of the Hot Rods, or is interested in moving forward toward a relationship with him. Can Holden overcome his lifelong fear of closeness to make a life with Sabra and the Hot Rods? Is Sabra ready to embrace the wild and loving Hot Rods lifestyle, with all that it promises? Can this group find a way to outwit the station bosses and help Sabra put her show on the air for all to see?
Sabra Hart is a strong and determined woman, and when she realizes the damage that her story inadvertently caused, she wants to make things right with those she harmed. When she realizes that those in charge at the station went against the guidelines, she quit rather than condone what they did. I like her strength of character, and she has an adventurous side that is willing to accept new challenges. Especially if those challenges include spending time with Holden. She felt the connection, and hopes he will accept the apology she offers for what happened.
Holden grew up in the center that Eli’s dad and mom started, part of the Hot Rod family of troubled and abandoned children. He has always felt like part of the group, but as each of the Hot Rods found that special person, he thinks he doesn’t fit the same anymore, and hates that he has become more of an observer than a participant. When he realizes Sabra is more than just a quick fling, he slowly brings her into their world, hoping for the best. I liked watching Holden show his romantic side with her, and his ability to let go of his past to face a future filled with possibilities.
Sabra and Holden have fantastic chemistry, and the progression of their relationship is fast and furious. Sabra, with her background in yoga, brings a whole new definition to going with the flow. I enjoyed the highs and the lows in this one, and liked that the ‘big boss’ at the station was not able to keep the project down in spite of his efforts. There is a brief visit with the Crew from the Powertools series, and it was great catching up with them as well. There are some tearful moments, some giggle producing ones and there is a very suspenseful cliff hanger of an ending to this one. If you like your passion off the charts, with lots of bodies in lots of combinations, this is right up your alley. But bring ice and tissues, both will be needed.
Ennara and the Book of Shadows by Angela Myron
Publisher: Patchwork Press
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (156 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe
When strange accidents start happening around thirteen year-old necromancer Ennara and her friends, she must search for the mysterious stolen artifacts causing the attacks while learning the highest form of magic–the spells that could prevent the fruition of a terrible prophecy.
Most people worry about making new friends or accidentally wandering into the wrong classroom on their first day of school. If only that’s all that was on Ennara’s mind.
Being introduced to new mythical creatures is one of my favourite things about reading young adult fantasy novels. Ennara meets some very cool ones during the course of her latest adventure. It’s hard to go into detail on this topic without giving away spoilers, but I really enjoyed how Ms. Myron described the beasts in her story. Some of them were silly. Others were scary. All of the original ones were creative.
I had a hard time figuring out the best age recommendation for this story. The first book in the series was clearly intended for a middle grade audience based on its subject matter as well as the interests of the main characters. This one seems to straddle the divide between novels for preteens and ones intended for a slightly older audience. The pacing and style of the plot seems like its written for the 10+ age group, but the romance feels more appropriate for the 12+ one. I completely understand why the tone would begin to shift as Ennara matures, but this tale would have easily earned a much higher rating if it had been more clear about which age group it was intended for. As it is, the age recommendation is flexible.
The plot jumped into Ennara’s quest to find the stolen artifacts almost immediately. The most important information about her backstory as well as the society she lives in is shared as it becomes relevant to what was currently going on. This was a good choice given the urgency of the situation. I had no problem at all following along with the new information about this universe that is provided later on.
While this is a sequel, it can be read out of order or on its own. The most important details of Ennara’s first adventure are recapped early on. There is great worldbuilding in Ennara and the Falling Druid, but this plot can be understood without any knowledge of the first book. It was interesting to read them in order to see how Ms. Myron has grown as a writer though!
Ennara and the Book of Shadows was a magical ride. This is a good choice for anyone who has ever wished they could attend a school for future wizards.
Some rules are made to be broken…
Rule number 1: No touching
Rule number 2: No kissing
Rule number 3: Never, ever, fall in love
Holly Wilder finds some of those rules pretty difficult to follow during her boss’s visits to present the Employee of the Month award. A relationship between them is prohibited, and even if it wasn’t, Holly has no intention of ever falling in love again. But that doesn’t stop her from craving Max’s touch.
Hotel owner Max Lazzari never expected to break his own rules, especially when they are so important to him. But sexy employee Holly is too hard to resist. Their no-strings, secret arrangement fits in perfectly with his no-commitment plan. A plan to ensure that no woman will ever again have the opportunity to hurt him.
Sizzling nights together mean Holly and Max start looking forward to the monthly visits more and more. Until they are both brought down to earth with a bump—a pregnancy one!
Will rule breaking lead to broken hearts?
This fast-paced romance had me wishing the novel never had ended.
We have our heroine, Holly Wilder, a well respected hotel receptionist and a model employee that is alway the talk at the employee of the month award meetings. And our hero, Max Lazzari, the owner of the hotel chain that has a very strict hand-off policy that he put in place. This rule is a little hard for them to follow when they literally can not keep they hands off each other ever time Max comes to the hotel. This results in a few bumps along the road that leave both Holly and Max absentmindedly bending the rule of their ‘no strings attached’ fun.
Ms. Rogers really drew me into the emotional ride that Holly and Max seem to be on. The authors writing really put me in the heart of each scene. Being able to read and understand the true feelings and thoughts of both Max and Holly certainly made me feel like I was right along side them for the ride.
The story flow was brilliant and the character development was fantastic, I could really feel the chemistry between Holly and Max. Through the whole book I was walking the line between wanting to know what happens next and wanting to savour this wonderful story.
I highly recommend this novel to all those who love romance novels.
Invisible Children’s Book Instruction Manual by Nicholas Alan Tillemans
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (35 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe
In this concise, no-nonsense introduction to invisible children’s books, Nicholas Alan Tillemans walks the reader through all aspects of invisible book ownership, reading and care.
Some books tell the exact same story every time you open them. Others most definitely do not.
The creative premise caught my attention immediately. It was just as much fun to read as I thought it would be! What I liked the most about it was how easily it shifted between describing things that kids find humorous and tossing in a few jokes that were definitely intended for the adults who are reading this aloud. There were a few words that might be too difficult for young readers, but this is also something that I’d give to kids who are slightly older or who have strong vocabularies.
Figuring out the most appropriate age recommendation wasn’t easy. There is nothing here that is inappropriate for kids in early elementary school, but the writing style and types of humor that were used used seemed to be more geared towards adults and slightly older kids. I ended up choosing the younger age range in order to include as many readers as possible. Had the intended audience been more clear, I would have easily given this book a much higher rating.
One of the things I like the most about trying new authors is being surprised with what they’ve created. This was my first introduction to Mr. Tillemans work. His writing style is playful and conversational which is a good choice for the age range he seems to be targeting. It’s the sort of thing I’d feel just as comfortable sharing with my nieces and nephews as I would with their great-grandparents.
I’d recommend Invisible Children’s Book Instruction Manual to anyone who has ever grown even slightly weary of reading the same thing over and over again at bedtime.