Antiques Frame by Barbara Allan

Antiques Frame by Barbara Allan
Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corp.
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full length (240 pages)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

With their reality TV series, Antiques Sleuths, Brandy Borne and her quaintly kooky mother, Vivian, have a real hit on their hands. But another “hit” enters the picture, after a rival bidder becomes a one-woman show at their televised auctions—and it’s the estranged wife of Brandy’s police-chief beau, Tony! Soon the fine art of murder colors the scene, fitting Brandy for an ornately elaborate frame.

But when you’re inside a frame, it’s difficult to make out the picture. That’s why Brandy’s mom—her daughter now wearing basic jailhouse orange—must sort through a rogue’s gallery of suspects including a too-friendly farmer’s wife, a ratings-happy TV producer, a questionable husband-and-wife auctioneer team, and even the chief of police himself.

Brandy and Vivian race to determine how an empty antique frame can hold a deadly portrait, a picture worth a thousand dangerous words. Aided only by Sushi, their loyal shih tzu, and police dog Rocky, the wacky mother-and-daughter sleuthing team must learn the killer’s identity before they become the subjects of another masterpiece of murder.

Sarcasm absolutely at its best

I know the proper terminology for a review is not “it’s just as fun as can be” but that’s really and truly the first thought that comes to mind. This book is full of humor plus a few tips on finding good buys on authentic antiques. A slightly off-center, well okay, a crazy mother and her somewhat depressed daughter deal in antiques and murder. This whole series is set in a small town called Serenity along the Mississippi River. The town is a wonderful place to go antiquing as there are two or three great stores and our stars, Brandy and Vivian, continue filming their reality show, Antique Sleuths.

This series is mostly pseudo-written or narrated by the daughter Brandy but Vivian, her mother, is now and then allowed to add a chapter. None of this is confusing. In fact, the play and dialog between mother and daughter make this really work. Amongst all of the fun, there are still plenty of twists and turns. The descriptive writing is done well as is the character development.

Painting a picture in words is an important skill for an author no matter what genre might be his or her forte. Throughout this series, the author has drawn not just a map in the front of her book but also has crafted a complete snapshot. You begin to see the delightful characters, the small town, and even the day to day workings of the community. It’s as if you’ve lived there. What that creates is a reader like me who never wants to miss a book in the series.

This is Book 11 of the series called “A Trash and Treasures Mystery”. This reviewer happens to know another book will be out in April 2018 because I can’t wait to read it.

Illera’s Darkliete by Gail Gernat

Illera’s Darkliete by Gail Gernat
Publisher: Andrea James Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (340 pages)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Orchid

When the messengers from Frain arrive to secure the hand of Princess Illera for their cruel, selfish heir to the throne, Torul, she hides. Forced by circumstances and her own father, Illera and her three companions journey to the cold, dark north. Fighting against her fate, Illera plunges the quartet into danger. But when she accedes to the demands of cruel destiny they must fight against a ravening evil that knows no restraint. Using her mixed blood heritage, can this innocent child learn and mature fast enough to control both herself and the forces ripping her world apart? Can she negotiate the political intrigues and defeat the hordes of Shul, the pirates of Carnuvon and the hatreds of Frain?

What happens when an elf falls in love with a human? Princess Illera is the result. She inherits her mother’s healing abilities and uses this for everyone, not only her own people. Her father reluctantly arranges a marriage for her but Illera runs away. Raven and Lark, the two brothers who came to escort her to her betrothed, are full of sympathy but they have to obey their king and they find her and take her to her new home, where she escapes once again.

Illera’s actions, and her reasoning, show a strong character full of determination to do what is right, regardless of the consequences to herself. She meets many different people in her travels, not all of them human, but helps them all. This endears her to many different races. The heroine’s personality is apparent from the beginning and I wasn’t disappointed by her subsequent actions.

I enjoyed reading this book, and have to admit I guessed wrong about the final outcome several times. I believe keeping the reader guessing makes this an excellent read. Illera is a heroine who caught my interest until I had to find out what happened to her. Great book.

First Crush, Last Love by Elizabeth McKenna

First Crush, Last Love by Elizabeth McKenna
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (314 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Sorrel

Back in high school, Lee Archer had the power to make Jessie Baxter’s cheeks flush and her heart race. But the popular athlete never wanted to be more than just friends. Ten years later, after a failed marriage and with her journalism career on shaky ground, Jessie’s come home for her high school reunion–and Lee still has the power to make her knees weak and her pulse pound.

Lee’s teenage years were filled with more trauma and drama than anyone guessed. Though his damaged past has helped make him a successful police detective, it’s hurt every relationship he’s tried. But seeing the grown-up, stunning Jessie might just change his commitment-phobic mind.

Jessie’s psycho ex-husband had her convinced no one would ever love her, but Lee is ready to step out of the friend zone and into her heart. Can she learn to trust again before she loses her chance to turn her first crush into her last love?

Elizabeth McKenna’s novel will have you remembering the angst of high school, the grief of a failed relationship, and the joy of finding true love at last.

He was her First Crush and they were each other’s Last Love.

Jessie and Lee are both characters who are realistic and down to earth. The plot engaged me and I was invested in the characters and their story.

The book started in their teenage years and showed the crush, as well as the love they have for each other as ‘just friends’. Their romance or relationship does not start right away as much as I would have wanted it to. They part ways after graduation.

For me the hardest part to read was the story afterwards. Not because I did not like it but because Jessie’s relationship with her ex was not all sunshine. Ten years after high school, both Jessie and Lee came out of these times with a whole lot of pain, lessons and friends, but they matured as well. The author did a great job in engaging me with her characters.

The plot was not an overly complicated one, but it’s one that flowed smoothly to the end.

I have to mention the best friends of these two. I have questions about them and their own relationship. They sound so great together, I want to know if they ended up together!?

First Crush, Last Love transported me back to my teenage years! It was a roller coaster ride of emotions for me and is an easy recommend to other readers.

Seize the Day by Curtis Bunn

Seize the Day by Curtis Bunn
Publisher: Strebor Books
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (289 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

When a terminally ill man is at a crossroads, one choice will make him feel more alive than ever.

Calvin Jones has finally gotten his life on the right course. At forty-five, he has escaped a toxic long-term relationship with the mother of his only child, and he loves his job as a high school English teacher in Washington, DC. Life is good. But then life turns horribly bad. A routine checkup reveals a cancerous spot on his pancreas. The oncologist offers him chemotherapy in the hope that it will extend his life, but Calvin declines…and decides to live the best he can while he can.

Seize the Day is more than the story of Calvin Jones’s decision to pass on cancer treatment. It is the inspiring story of a man choosing not to wait on death and, instead, to live out his life with courage, hope, and resilience. What happens next is extraordinary.

“I keep living because I could be dying.” Calvin Jones wasn’t a bad guy. In fact he is a wonderful father, a committed high school English teacher and a great friend. After receiving a horrible diagnosis of stomach cancer, 45 year old Calvin seems to see life differently. After being given a short life sentence how should a person act? Would they give up, shut out the world and blame everyone for their medical condition? No not Calvin. He decides to live the best life he can. He starts to see life differently and do things he normally wouldn’t do. I like that this story is told from a man’s point of view and to see that he has feelings and he is not afraid to show emotions. It is obvious that Calvin is hurting but he still wants to make a positive impact on those that he meet.

This is a touching read where I found myself stopping several times to soak in the words of wisdom, pondering the feelings and emotions that Calvin must have been feeling.

Calvin is so transparent in his feelings. He admits the confusion that he had at a young age for the woman that he loved. He appreciated those that brought subtle influences into his life and he in turn tried to be of servitude to others. The balance between Calvin’s hurt and dealing with his hurt was so heart warming. I enjoyed that the book gives life lessons. Life is a daily gift and this book is an example to everyone on living life with meaning and substance. We shouldn’t hold on to grudges, that family is important and with life being so short we shouldn’t stay where we aren’t wanted. Everyday that we have is a day of strength of not giving up. Calvin is a strong character that took his diagnosis and held on to hope and didn’t allow his cancer to turn him into a bitter person but more so made him more open and loving.

At first I was confused by the ending but as I gave it more thought I appreciated how the author decided to give Calvin closure. From reading the book we know the outcome for Calvin so the book didn’t really have to spell out his ending. I took it as him in his element of happiness and being around those whose life he has touched. This is highly recommended especially for those who are having a hard time seeing the brighter side during life’s storms.

No Earls Allowed by Shana Galen

No Earls Allowed by Shana Galen
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (384 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

It is a truth universally acknowledged
that a lady can do anything a man can do:
and in high-heeled dancing slippers.

Lady Juliana, daughter of the Earl of St. Maur, needs all the help she can get. She’s running a ramshackle orphanage, London’s worst slumlord has illicit designs on her, and her father has suddenly become determined to marry her off.

Enter Major Neil Wraxall, bastard son of the Marquess of Kensington, sent to assist Lady Juliana in any way he can. Lucky for her, he’s handy with repairs, knows how to keep her and the orphans safe, and is a natural leader of men.

Unfortunately for both of them, the scandal that ensues from their mutual attraction is going to lead them a merry dance…

Three and a half hours was all it took to read this book from cover to cover. Ms. Galen provided hours of entertainment in the process of sharing Lady Juliana and Major Neil Wraxall’s story of falling in love and finding out true love can even include rats. Rodents play a very unique sort of role as a catalyst and I am pretty impressed with the author’s skill. Why? Because by the end of the book, the author had me feeling fond of them too, and anyone who knows me knows I don’t like rats.

I liked Juliana’s spunk, determination and was charmed by her great capacity to love. She was at times innocent, ferocious and silly, and when push came to shove, courageous. She wears the mantle of heroine quite well and I liked her.

Neil is the one with a huge chip on his shoulder, and with good reason. It’s a good thing the hero has some solid friends to back him up. In fact, I liked meeting two of them and I hope to meet them again because they sound like they have some VERY interesting stories to tell. In any event, they sure played important roles in keeping Juliana and Neil safe. Something that wasn’t always easy to do.

The only thing that bothered me about this whole novel was Neil’s ability to solve just about anything – stairs, rats or boys. He seems to know what to do and when to do it. The author credits his success with his ability to lead and survive from being in the military, but when it comes to kids and their reaction to him, Neil seemed to always know just what to do and the kids, mostly, all fell in line. For some reason the children never offered that same respect to Juliana no matter what she did for them, and then, in walks a man and Poof! Within 24 hours he has them doing chores and burning toast. Too easy. I still liked Neil though.

The bit of drama and well written suspense is due to a dastardly villain that has deviant designs on the heroine. It’s a classic villainous trope but Ms. Galen brought Mr. Slag to evil glory with his actions and dialogue and his ultimate comeuppance. The fight scenes, though few, were well presented – not gory or gratuitous but effective and exciting.

Juliana does provide an emotional tension when she reveals why saving the boys in the orphanage is so incredibly important to her. The HEA is not just about the heroine and hero but the children too. I had happy feelings when all was said and done.

Yes, the title is amusing, but No Earls Allowed is packed with solid storytelling prowess that is a testimony to Ms. Galen’s writing talent.

I was never bored with any chapter, I couldn’t stop reading and many times I did laugh out loud. I was thoroughly enchanted with this novel and believe fans are going to gobble this one up. It’s an awesome romance. I absolutely recommend this book.

Watch Me by Jody Gehrman

Watch Me by Jody Gehrman
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Mystery/Suspense, Contemporary
Length: Full length (308 pgs)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

For fans of dark and twisty psychological thrillers, Watch Me is a riveting novel of suspense about how far obsession can go.

Kate Youngblood is disappearing. Muddling through her late 30s as a creative writing professor at Blackwood college, she’s dangerously close to never being noticed again. The follow-up novel to her successful debut tanked. Her husband left her for a woman ten years younger. She’s always been bright, beautiful, independent and a little wild, but now her glow is starting to vanish. She’s heading into an age where her eyes are less blue, her charm worn out, and soon no one will ever truly look at her, want to know her, again.

Except one.

Sam Grist is Kate’s most promising student. An unflinching writer with razor-sharp clarity who gravitates towards dark themes and twisted plots, his raw talent is something Kate wants to nurture into literary success. But he’s not there solely to be the best writer. He’s been watching her. Wanting her. Working his way to her for years.

As Sam slowly makes his way into Kate’s life, they enter a deadly web of dangerous lies and forbidden desire. But how far will his fixation go? And how far will she allow it?

A gripping novel exploring intense obsession and illicit attraction, Jody Gehrman introduces a world where what you desire most may be the most dangerous thing of all.

I hadn’t read a psychological thriller in what seemed like forever and had high hopes for this one. I liked the opening of the story which is told in two points of view, Kate and Sam, first person, present tense narration which seems to be the norm now. Having said that, with this immediacy I felt I should have connected with one of these characters…I was hoping it would be Kate as she was the one being stalked, but I just couldn’t.

The story line is great, college professor being stalked by student who seems to come more unhinged as the story progresses. However, I couldn’t feel as scared for Kate as I’d like to because I just didn’t like or really feel like I was worried what might happen to her. Sometimes she came across as someone who you couldn’t believe is mature enough to be a professor. Other times, other than the literary connection between Sam and Kate, I couldn’t see why he was so obsessed with her.

Having said that, some of the dialogue is dazzling and their inner thoughts sometimes funny, especially in the opening chapters. The pacing is fast and I think this is a story that you really need to stick with because it’s thrill and creepy factor does pick up toward the second half of the book.

I know I’m a reader who likes to really connect with a character and that’s probably the reason this book didn’t resonate with me but it might for you, especially if you prefer plot driven books.

My Daring Duchess by Julie Johnstone

My Daring Duchess by Julie Johnstone
Publisher: DBA Darbyshire Publishing LLC
Genre: Historical
Length: Full length (190 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

When a lady bent on ruining rogues and a duke set on revenge attempt to derail each other’s plans, passion erupts into a love for the ages.

After being left brokenhearted by a duplicitous rake, Anne Adair no longer desires a husband—she wants justice. She’s traded in her foolish dream of happily-ever-after for the much more sensible one of thwarting the blackhearted lords who prey on innocent debutantes. But her first mission proves rather complicated when the dashing, devilish Duke of Kilmartin comes to the aid of her target.

Simon Sedgewick, the newly titled Duke of Kilmartin, never thought he would return to England, let alone attend a ball full of simpering lords. But when his oldest friend’s reputation is being smeared and Simon discovers that the perpetrator is none other than his enemy’s granddaughter, his long-festering desire for vengeance flares to life.

The moment Simon spies Miss Anne Adair across the glittering ballroom, he knows that the ravishing beauty is the perfect instrument for the retribution he thought lost to him. He does not know, however, that Anne has devised a scheme of her own. And soon, these two wary hearts will discover that the best laid plans are no match for love.

This is a lovely regency book with a daring heroine and a revengeful hero. Anne sets out to get revenge or reform a rogue who has ruined her friend. As she plans her attack she meets Simon who also has a reputation as a rogue. The plan falls into place, but she begins to have doubts. Is all as it seems or has someone been lying to get their revenge?

This is one of the better books that steps outside the bounds of Regency propriety. Well written, although there are a few typos, but these are easily overlooked in the flow of the story. Anne’s quest brings the past into the Regency present which will hopefully solve a lot of bitter heartache.

Although this book didn’t grab me and make me sorry to put it down, it was still a very pleasant read with lots of intrigue and excitement.

Engaged to Her Ravensdale Enemy by Melanie Melbourne

Engaged to Her Ravensdale Enemy by Melanie Melbourne
Publisher: Harlequin Presents
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full length (186 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Mistflower

In bed with her nemesis…

When Jasmine Connolly’s third engagement is broken off, she decides to make her man jealous by enlisting the help of her enemy, playboy Jake Ravensdale! Jasmine may never have forgiven him for his rejection years ago, but the heartless lothario is the perfect candidate for her plan.

As tensions build, the line between love and hate increasingly blurs, teetering on the brink of explosion! Jasmine might be wearing Jake’s ring, but she can’t let go of the hurt he once caused her. Because if she does, what’s to stop her from falling prey to the Ravensdale playboy’s charms…?

Some books make you feel more emotions than others. This one hit them all. I laughed, got angry, felt sad, compassion and then felt all mushy, but now I’m all bubbly. It’s a mild case of book glow for sure. Engaged to Her Ravensdale Enemy by Melanie Milburne is part of her series ‘The Ravensdale Scandals.’ I didn’t know that until after I finished the book – not that it matters because it can be read as a standalone.

I fell for the hero, Jake Ravensdale. I really didn’t want to. I know he was gorgeous and rich but his rejection to the heroine, Jaz, was cruel. I was quite angry with him. Even though it was seven years ago, I could feel the sting of it as I read about it. I totally sympathized with Jaz. I felt sad when I read about Jaz’s history with her parents but it helped me to understand her life choices. I was able to feel compassion towards her and I respected how she dealt with the side character, Emma. I couldn’t help but to laugh when Jake and Jaz bickered back and forth. They were so quick-witted and snarky with comebacks that I only wish I could be quick-witted like that. The synopsis was spot on when it mentions how the author wrote a delicious balance between love and hate that “teetered on the brink of explosion”; I ate it all up.

Was the plot believable with three broken engagements? Was the plot thread with Emma realistic? Does it matter when we’re talking about the charming Jack Ravensdale? The author’s writing style made it all work. I was entertained and isn’t that why we read books? Sometimes I find it nice to sit back and relax with a mushy romance that makes me feel all goofy even if it might be a bit unrealistic. It could have happened to somebody somewhere. Who am I to say if it’s realistic or not. This was an easy, fun and enjoyable book from beginning to end that I was able to read in a few hours.

I would consider reading the other two books in this series based on how satisfied I was with this one.

Luska by Will Robinson

Luska by Will Robinson
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full length (478 pages)
Rating: 3 stars
Review by Peony

The caretakers of the galaxy, the Idrix, are destroyed by an unknown force, breaking down the order that had dominated humanity for nearly a millennium.

Eidi is a unique, precognitive student, who lives on the divided planet of Luska and knows that their future is full of death and destruction, but can she stop it?

Sreiwa is a fanatical spy and assassin who helped enable an invasion of her own planet and becomes a pawn in the deadly intrigue of a Byzantine and brutal culture.

Sellen is an Idrix soldier who escaped the destruction of his fleet only to find himself in a jungle hellscape where his only salvation is in the form of a sworn enemy.

Cigva is an enigmatic AI who joins Eidi to struggle against shape-shifting, mind-controlling deities, nightmare simians, deadly parasites, and a surprising, tyrannical foe from her home planet of Luska.

The real danger lies in the showdown that is taking place between a long-dormant alien race called the Spearfinger, and the anti-alien, god-like Eth, where the ramifications of their confrontation could decide the future of the galaxy and the direction of humanity.

Will Robinson fills the need for a dramatic space opera with his pulse pounding Luska, an exciting adventure with action, a little bit of romance and the depth you’ve been pining for. Part of Robinson’s Spearfinger series, of which more books are the come, the Luska universe already contains three thrilling stories to wet your apatite about Wil’s expansive world building. It can be hard to find a sprawling novel that tries to build a world like Tolkien or Martin, but Will definitely takes aim at the stars.

When embarking on a space adventure, there are certain things the genre brings to mind. You as the reader will come to expect complex characters with a diverse set of motivations that equates to far more than just good or evil. On top of that these sorts of stories usually include organizations and families with their own problems and motivation to deal with. Does it sound like this is a description of a genre? It is, but it also perfectly encapsulates what you can expect when you dive into this novel. The sheer number of characters and groups and the different ways they rub up against one another will make the world feel living and breathing and quickly illustrate the time, love and care that Robinson put into crafting it.

There is a very real risk when trying to make a story this dense. From a reading prospective there can be a lot to absorb and without a clueless outsider to ask the questions for you in the story, there may not be a way to know and understand all the aspects of the world. Luska does have a lot going for it with a complex and evolving world, but this comes at a cost. With a whole host of dense reading, names and places that you’ll have to memorize, if can start to resemble homework. Some people, especially those familiar with epic tales will be excited by this, but for those who are not, the effort does pay off eventually.

Realism is another key factor when writing these sorts of stories, actions have to have reactions that make sense or the whole universe falls apart. That is probably one of the aspects of the grand adventure stories with copious world building that garners them the most praise and failure to do so the most scorn. There are lots of times in this book with a great deal of high tech that decidedly low tech solutions are used instead. Solutions that we wouldn’t even consider using in our pre space age civilization, so the times when it comes up in this story are especially jarring. There are other examples where the actions or motivations do not make a great deal of sense, but no spoilers. You’ll just have to decide how high a standard you hold up to realism in a fantasy or sci fi setting.

However you feel about reading epic space operas, there is one thing that this book conveys without a doubt. The sense of relief and satisfaction when you finish this book is quite unique in that not only do you get a wildly interesting world, but the sense of embarking on your own adventure to finish it. You’ll trudge through the arduous journey with the characters, you’ll struggle as they struggle through sections of tension and tedium, empathetic of their plights. If you decide to pick this book up, there will certainly be that pay off when you finally put it down. Book two isn’t out as of this writing, but there is a lot to enjoy here and with the two accompanying novellas already.

Angelica by Clabe Polk

Angelica by Clabe Polk
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full length (400 pages)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

A long time ago, Angelica Vicetti did some very bad things with some very bad men. Now she’s built a new life for her family, far from Las Vegas. Now it’s all about to come crashing down. Angelica Vicetti of Las Vegas has become Angela Cassetta of Poplar Bluffs, just outside Atlanta, Georgia. She’s built a successful real estate agency, and the son she rescued from Vegas when he was a youngster is now a high school baseball star and destined for great things. But the mob bosses in Vegas who forced her underground haven’t forgotten about her. A string of hit men come to town to kill her, but each time she saves herself and her son, with the help of her friends and Mike Eiser, a local Sheriff’s detective who has seen far worse. Then things get even more complicated, when one of the hit men changes his mind and becomes strangely important to Angela in a whole new way … and a team of Federal agents come to town and ratchet up the odds. Suddenly, sleepy little Poplar Bluffs is awash in blood. Angelica will have to take it all the way to the edge and beyond – into murder, kidnapping, and lying to the Feds – to save herself and her son. But … can she survive the fight for her family’s freedom?

Did you ever think you’d like to run away and start all over? What if it became a reality, a frightening one?

Angelica, the title of this book, is the lead character in this series written by Polk titled “The Detective Mike Eisner Series”. She really got swept into the wrong crowd of people and while you might think that’s each individuals own business, it’s different when you have a child.

This is a really good storyline; lots of action and action written so that you can “see” it; in other words so that you can follow and understand. Truly Crime Fiction involving a lot of mob type characters and also the best cop of course…Detective Mike Eisner and his soon to be wife. At least all of the couples around are hoping they will tie the knot. It was very amazing to me that Polk could involve so many of the good guys and the bad guys in this story, and yet make them be very clear to the reader. When an author is good at writing dialog it is quite an accomplishment and I think that is the key here. I think this author happens to be very good at writing dialog and without our realizing it, a good book and a good story has passed and we’re sad it’s the last page.

This is listed in his book as the 4th book in the “Detective Mike Eisner Series”. There are 5 titles in the series in his book. Let’s hope Clabe Polk is working on number 6.