Sweetwater and the Witch by Jayne Castle

Sweetwater and the Witch by Jayne Castle (Author), Barbara Rosenblat (Narrator)
A Harmony Novel, #15
Publisher: Berkley (Print), Recorded Books (Audio Publisher)
Genre: Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

If there’s something Ravenna Chastain knows, it’s when to end things. And after she almost winds up the victim of a cult that believes she’s a witch, it’s easy to walk away from her dead-end career, ready for a new start. But where to find a job that would allow her to use her very specialized skill set? The answer is clear: she becomes a matchmaker.

But even a successful matchmaker can’t find someone for everyone, and Ravenna considers Ethan Sweetwater her first professional failure. After nine failed dates, Ravenna knows it’s time to cut Ethan loose. But Ethan refuses to be fired as a client—he needs one final date to a business function. Since Ravenna needs a date herself to a family event, they agree to a deal: she will be his (business) date if he will be her (fake) date to her grandparents’ anniversary celebration.

What Ethan fails to mention is that attending the business function is a cover for some industrial espionage that he’s doing as a favor to the new Illusion Town Guild boss. Ravenna is happy to help, but their relationship gets even more complicated when things heat up—the chemistry between them is explosive, as explosive as the danger that’s stalking Ravenna. Lucky for her, Ethan isn’t just an engineer—he’s also a Sweetwater, and Sweetwaters are known for hunting down monsters…

I’ve been a fan of the Harmony series, and the Dust Bunnies, for quite some time. This latest adventure delivered what I enjoy most about Ms. Castle’s writing. There’s of course, the romance, but there is laughter, intrigue, close calls and daring escapes, mystery and murder and fascinating secondary characters. The dialogue is fast paced, witty, and always provides great forward momentum to the plot. That is all a credit to the great writing talent of Jayne Castle. What brings this story over the top beyond the author’s skills, is the talent and incredible storytelling voice of the narrator, Barbara Rosenblat. Ms. Rosenblat brings the story to life in such an effective manner that it’s a delightful pleasure to listen to the story. In fact, I listed to the audiobook twice before I sat down to write this review. I know I missed things the first time around and when the story is as good as this one, it was an easy decision to give it another go-round to catch what I might have missed the first time. It’s actually a treat when I do find some missed words or descriptions because the added details make the book come alive for me again. It was an awesome experience.

What makes me crack up is Ethen Sweetwater and his return dialogue with Ravenna when she says something that once again makes it clear that she is completely oblivious to his attentions with regards to herself. The narrator’s perfect intonation gave me the giggles – Ethan has a dry wit so that when he responds to Ravenna’s clueless response in that certain way, I felt for the guy. A reader will know long before the heroine that the hero is smitten with her, and his dry responses just slayed me.

The cutest scene has something to do with Dust Bunny theater. Harriet, the Dust Bunny, stole quite a few scenes with her chortling and waving of pens. The newspaper headline gave me the snickers as well.

There are a few red herrings in the mystery and a few surprises too which ratcheted up my enjoyment. There was mild suspense and drama sprinkled throughout the book, keeping me riveted throughout the entire story. I couldn’t believe how fast time flew. I had such an awesome time reading and experiencing Sweetwater and the Witch. I was very happy with the happy ever after too. I suspect fans are going to have So much fun reading this story just like I did. This was an excellent book and I highly recommend it.

When a Princess Proposes by Kerrelyn Sparks, narrated by Jill Tanner

When a Princess Proposes by Kerrelyn Sparks, narrated by Jill Tanner
Embraced by Magic, Book 3
Publisher: Kensington Books, Audio publisher: Recorded Books, Inc.
Genre: Historical, Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Aerthlan’s five Embraced queens have reigned for twenty years, in peace secured by the power of their magic. But now a new and insidious threat has appeared, to test a new generation.


All Princess Eviana needs is an escape. Possessed of an unfortunate and unusual Embraced gift, which she’s been banned from using, she required no training. Now, her overprotective parents want her to wed. As a result, the palace is crammed with obnoxious noblemen. . . . Until Quentin, the enigmatic eagle shifter and royal spy, maneuvers several of the unsuitable suitors into revealing their most embarrassing secrets before the court. Finally, Eviana has an excuse to free herself. If only her family knew the blow that’s shaken her: golden-eyed Quentin’s refusal to let her near . . .

Heroic, but low born, Quentin’s infatuation with Eviana is as inappropriate as it is unshakable. He must keep away from her, for his own sake. But after a series of suspicious deaths, and the princess’s narrow escape from kidnapping, Quentin knows that only together can they expose the danger stalking Aerthlan’s Embraced. On foot, in disguise, they’ll need trust and quick wits to uncover the vicious conspiracy closing around them. But finding the truth might break down their own defenses as well . . .

Filled with adventure, intrigue, narrow escapes and solidifying of friendships, When a Princess Proposes is an entertaining read. The narrator, Jill Tanner, reminded me of Dame Judi Dench’s voice, so it was quite enjoyable.

The next generation of Embraced children have stumbled upon a new threat and it’s they who are in its crosshairs. I was sad to hear about two of them that were from the Isle of Secrets from the book, The Siren and the Deep Blue Sea. In fact, Quentin, the hero, is from that time in Aerthlan’s history as well. He’s come into his own and has developed a noble set of values and has proved himself loyal, stalwart and an asset to the five kingdoms. However, he is still considered low-born, a servant. It’s something that plays into the plot conflict.

Princess Eviana is in a rut. Unlike what most people think, being a royal isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. She has no life to speak of because her parents have protected her to such a degree, she feels stifled. And, while her parents’ goal to keep her safe is worthwhile, it’s futile when forces outside the kingdom conspire against them and are ready to make their move. Such is the plot behind this novel. The oftentimes used trope of a low-born hero falling in love with a high-born princess, overcoming the obstacle of “never the twain shall meet” is used to good effect in this novel.

By the same token, that same trope is also this story’s wrinkle, marring what could have been a really awesome read. I am not sure if it would have hit me over the head so hard if I’d read the book instead of listening to the audio version, but Quentin’s stoic “I’m not good enough” is worn thin due to repetition, and Eviana’s frustration with the hero’s stubbornness was three times as annoying for me. Eviana had the right of it when she said communication was key. Sure, even after ‘communicating’, Quentin continued to be ‘hands off’ and that’s why I rated this story as I did – too many moments of ‘head to desk’ or face palm.

On the other side of the coin, that same trope contributed to the buildup of sensual tension. The passion is there, the yearning, the touches where they end up in flames, until Quentin doused them again – the author set a lot of kindling between them. Eventually, the spark is hot enough to overcome even Quentin’s stubbornness. Thank goodness!

A strong element sprinkled throughout the novel is humor. The author never fails in creating a scene of hilarity that makes me laugh out loud. The section with the door banging is a standout and totally caught me by surprise. In fact, that whole tavern scene with the two drunks causes quite a few snickers and giggles. I think readers will agree that they are fun and totally entertaining.

There are anti-heroes as well. Those that start off bad, but deep inside, a bright spot of goodness still flickers. The bright spot, though highly tarnished and dimmed, eventually plays into the plot as well. I’m not entirely sold on the character’s possible evolution to the good side – too much can go wrong based on that character’s past. But that’s neither here nor there. For this novel, it sputtered into flaming life in time to make an impact. What made it happen was sad in itself, but highly effective.

The wrinkles notwithstanding, this novel was worth my time and I’m glad I read it. There were moments where I found myself completely fascinated or highly amused or worried, or at the edge of my seat from the suspense and drama. The narrator didn’t have a broad range of vocals, but, like Dame Judi Dench, I could listen to her for hours – oh wait, I did. Ha-ha. But seriously, I did enjoy reading this book and it’s a nice addition to the series, plus the happy ever after is satisfying and complete.