Uncle Neddy’s Funeral by L.M. Pampuro


Uncle Neddy’s Funeral by L.M. Pampuro
Publisher: Self
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full (450 pgs)
Rated: 4.5 stars
Review by Snapdragon

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

Giuseppe Vittorio Vaffanculo, a.k.a. Neddy, is an idiot. Not a bad person, he just holds himself in high praise. Neddy is the perfect target for Rayleigh O’Connor, member of the underworld organization The Shadow and soon to be Ms. Neddy number five. As part of the Vaffanculo-Cuzzuto clan, Neddy is the perfect mark Rayleigh needs to avenge the death of a comrade by killing Victor Cuzzuto.

All Victor Cuzzuto wants to do is finally retire to the beach, spend time with his family, and hand over the reins of his Federal Investigation branch office to his protégée.

Uncle Neddy’s Funeral opens into obvious intrigue… where, exactly “Neddy’ is becomes apparent pretty quick, but why…well that is the story.

It’s a family affair from the get-go, and Italian! Oh yes, from gnocchi to the classic big family, Uncle Neddy is part of a stereotypical big-city Italian family, with the all the connections and expectations one imagines. Faithfully reported on by sister Gia, we readers get a good look at ‘relations’ and family history. Yet, pinning down information on the ‘real Neddy’ – not to mention other family members, is hard to achieve. Everyone has a different view…often of each other. There are complaints and lies, and lies about liars, and we readers must wonder what is actually heartfelt.

Wondering what was going on kept me reading.

Clever writing spins out an intrigue that seems a backward one and not at all lacking in humor. Although it’s an odd journey, it is all ‘La Familia.” Who married (or marries) who is all important, as is the families’ opinion. Even more important is the motive for the marriage, and this upcoming Bad Decision might be more about retribution than love.

Fresh and original–okay, perhaps ‘fresh’ given the opening description, is not the best word choice…ahem–unpredictable and zippy, or perhaps it would be better to say ‘downright unusual.’ Uncle Nedddy’s Funeral is not so much just for mystery fans as for those wanting a reading adventure. Expect the unexpected and do add it to your Must Read List.

Married for His Convenience by Eleanor Webster


Married for His Convenience by Eleanor Webster
Publisher: Harlequin
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (288 pgs)
Heat: Sweet
Rated: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

A plain countess…

Tainted by illegitimacy, plain Sarah Martin has no illusions of a grand marriage. So when the Earl of Langford makes her a proposal that will take her one step closer to finding her half sister, she can’t refuse!

Sebastian’s dreams of romance died with his late wife’s affair, so now he needs a convenient wife to act as governess for his silent daughter. Yet Sarah continues to surprise and challenge him, and soon Sebastian can’t deny the joy his new bride could bring to his life—and into his bed!

France, in the time when the guillotine ruled…the reality seems a harsh world for the nobility, and for Earls like Sebastien Hastings. He’s caught in a terrible, but secret, predicament.

Sarah Martin’s life is more a matter of dreams and hopes than reality. She dreams of London, of fashion and, as she says herself, she is not ‘of hysterical disposition.’ She acts on what she believes, which can cause her to plop into the most unlikely of places. The earl finds himself telling her that he finds her peculiar…which seems to delight this odd gal! He certainly needs some help…and she certainly needs direction…but marriage?

Married for His Convenience (which seems like it should be entirely predictable, given the title) is entirely unpredictable and a delight to read, besides.

Clever conversations and unpredictable situations make this novel a bit of a standout and fun to read. The characters keep us reading: the earl is unexpectedly compassionate, and Miss Martin’s take on life is quite unexpected in every way. In fact her life and actions are not always entirely believable, but this is a small matter in what is largely a great read.

Descriptions, especially of the English countryside, are just-right; never overdone or intrusive: “His mount stopped at its summit and he found himself looking into a picturesque valley, interrupted by a silver stream threading through its base…” One can almost see the valley.

Intriguing yet heartfelt, Married for His Convenience is also quirky and fun. Do put it right on top of your reading list.

The Road To Winterhill by Gloria Gay


The Road To Winterhill by Gloria Gay
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (214 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

In the silence of St. George’s Cathedral, the clergyman’s voice rang out unnaturally loud: “Do you, Richard Branston, Earl of Berrington, take this woman, Belinda Presleigh, of Hunsley Manor, as your lawful wedded wife, to love and honor until death do you part?”

The few wedding guests crowding around them waited for Berrington’s response which was long in coming. Belinda saw their smirks and heard their muffled laughter.

She felt the sting of tears in her eyes at the long pause and realized she could not undo what she had done. The awful deed had come to roost in her heart.

She wished he would say no. She’d rather be jilted than that awful hesitation in which everyone looked at each other, some with smirks of “I told you so.”

Finally, Lord Berrington’s voice rang out—loud, impatient and clear: “I do.”

Society shuns Belinda Presley when her mother’s scheme results in a forced offer of marriage from Richard Branston, the Earl of Berrington, the man she loves in secret.

Warm conversations during the day and passionate nights of love at night on their three-days’ journey give Belinda the only happiness she has ever known. Yet on arriving at Winterhill, Belinda feels the family’s animosity, as the earl, unaware of the danger she leaves her in and still resentful, returns to London.

Her only friend, Lord Wilbur, and solitary walks, are her solace, but Belinda’s enemies’ hatred soon place her in extreme peril.

Quirky and unpredictable, The Road to Winterhill sets off with what seems could be an ordinary enough challenge: Belinda Presleigh is dragged into pursuit of the ‘advantageous situation’ (otherwise known as marriage) by her very determined mother. It seems hardly a new predicament, but her mother is quite unpredictably crafty!

Belinda is concerned about decency, about embarrassment, and avoiding rogues, and that all seemed quite enough before being reminded about the spiders!

Berrington, an Earl, has friends that seem as eager to see him tie the knot as well. Vastly more interested in an assignation, he, it seems, may be manipulated too. The eerie opening setting (dark, dank wine cellar) could scarcely be more fitting. Throughout, locations never intrude, but are somehow just there as perfect background.

The two live in relative wealth, but both somewhat trapped by their status.  Yet, neither of these two are quite the pawns they first appear…the situation is riveting, long before the end of chapter one.

The unexpected intrigue brings us to quite the tale, and we run through an array of emotions. Belinda, who seemed a simple, protected gal of marrying age has actually had quite a number of experiences, sorrows, and hopes. We find ourselves hoping she will find her way to a kinder man…

The past contributes to the unexpected twists of the story. ‘The whims of fate’ indeed seem to take charge of events, but then we do begin to suspect that some one person is at the heart of suspicious circumstances.

The opening dialogue seemed a bit slow (my only complaint) but my inability to stop reading this hysterical and bewitching historical romance means I must give it top marks, and I must say, if I’d had any idea what lay in store, I’d have started reading sooner.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Road To Winterhill as the characters were so unexpectedly engaging. A real treat: Do read.

Valor Under Siege by Elizabeth Boyce


Valor Under Siege by Elizabeth Boyce
Publisher: Crimson Romance
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (224 pgs)
Heat Level: Hot
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

All’s fair in love and politics…

When ambitious solicitor Norman Wynford-Scott is ousted from his legal studies due to a holiday revel spun out of control, he adapts a new plan of running for the Parliament seat of a local village. Only trouble is, the same irresistible woman who ruined his good name is thwarting his campaign at every turn.

Widowed and drink-addicted, Lady Elsa Fay has retreated to the family village of Fleck to regain her sobriety. She’s distracting herself from her troubles—and her memories of the one passionate night she shared with Norman—by organizing the Parliament campaign of her husband’s cousin. Until Norman arrives intent on winning the seat for himself.

Shamed and determined, Elsa will do all she can to send her former friend and now adversary packing—even if it means breaking her own heart in the process.

1817 London … and the punch catches fire. Yes, the party punch. On fire. Elizabeth Boyce’s new historical Valor Under Siege sets off in a surprising manner, and if curiosity did not at once envelope the reader, her style would undoubtedly beguile them.

If flouncing gowns, sharp-heeled shoes and wandering flames do not do-in poor old Norman Wynford-Scott, his urge to ‘leave a mark’ on the school might well.

Wynford-Scott captures the readers’ sympathies at once. Events, intended to be enjoyable Christmas revels, have gotten out of hand. Though we’ve scarcely met our main character, he’s plainly being pushed out of his comfort zone.

Lady Fay is quite a different character, all in all. She might feel shame, but she knew what she was about. We readers are still back, feeling for poor Norman. Lady Fay’s predicament seems well-deserved. We’re thinking maybe he should have … but no giveaways here! Valor Under Siege is full of the quirk-ily unexpected, and I don’t want to spoil a minute of it. Although there are laugh-out-loud moments, there is the surprisingly heartfelt as well. Occasionally the book might wallow in Lady Fay’s outlook a tad more than strictly required; my one and only complaint.

Hot moments are indescribably hot, thoroughly described but not overdone, not out-of-place. The backdrop is perfect; from Gray’s Inn to the grand home, Norman’s preference for riding to traveling in the carriage, and Fay’s trust in and reliance on her servant. The historical setting is well done but not intrusive.

Valor Under Siege is a clever, quick, unexpected and genuinely hot . Its a case of drawing-room valor to be certain, but valor nonetheless.

Heather in the Mist by Madelyn Hill


Heather in the Mist by Madelyn Hill
Publisher: Soul Mate Publishing
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (250 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Snapdragon

Forced to wed to save her clan, Lady Rogan Cameron agrees to wed without love. What her father doesn’t know is Lady Rogan has plans of her own-plans to keep her from a loveless marriage. Can she save the clan before she has to say “I do?” Ian Albright abolished all ties to Scotland after his family betrayed him and he is now nursing a wounded ego due to an unfaithful fiancée. He pledges never to return to his home until the fateful day he accepts an invitation to his dear cousin’s wedding. The minute he sees his cousin’s betrothed, his heart is captured. If only she didn’t belong to another . . . Lady Rogan and Ian have known each other since they were young and bent on vexing each other. Now, the only thing they find vexing is the fact Rogan is betrothed to another. Together they fight their growing attraction while investigating the forces bedeviling the clan. Yet at every turn their foe appears and wreaks havoc. When tragedy strikes, their hopes are dashed again. Can Lady Rogan and Ian’s love win when fate seems determined to keep them apart?

Unexpectedly intriguing, Ms. Hill’s Heather in the Mist sweeps readers directly to 16th century Scotland. The old castle walls and a certain splash of brogue team with a delicate touch for scenery, to give a real sense of place.

Young Miss Rogan’s problem is all about duty, an important alliance…and meeting parental expectations. An arranged marriage is hardly an exceptional problem for the time, but the story takes unexpected turns and is simply not predictable. Explanations and backstory do slow the pace early on, but the action quickly takes over.

Rogan is both quick-witted and very capable; she rides astride like a man and oversees her family’s clan as if she’d been the eldest son, not daughter. She’s by no means the ‘marriage victim’ her plight might at first suggest. She’s such a determined character, readers find themselves rooting for her from the very first chapter.

Yet, almost at once, the challenge is less about her than about her people. She rises to the occasion…for it will mean struggle and sacrifice. Given the beginning, that an unexpected relationship develops is (no spoilers here) also a surprise! There is more than one interested party in the picture, but Rogan has her people to consider, too. The attraction between the two builds suspense throughout almost the entire tale. Fans of the historical romance will find this delightful.

In the Shadow of Lakecrest by Elizabeth Blackwell


In the Shadow of Lakecrest by Elizabeth Blackwell
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (284 pgs)
Rated: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

The year is 1928. Kate Moore is looking for a way out of the poverty and violence of her childhood. When a chance encounter on a transatlantic ocean liner brings her face-to-face with the handsome heir to a Chicago fortune, she thinks she may have found her escape—as long as she can keep her past concealed.

After exchanging wedding vows, Kate quickly discovers that something isn’t quite right with her husband—or her new family. As Mrs. Matthew Lemont, she must contend with her husband’s disturbing past, his domineering mother, and his overly close sister. Isolated at Lakecrest, the sprawling, secluded Lemont estate, she searches desperately for clues to Matthew’s terrors, which she suspects stem from the mysterious disappearance of his aunt years before. As Kate stumbles deeper into a maze of family secrets, she begins to question everyone’s sanity—especially her own. But just how far will she go to break free of this family’s twisted past?

Katherine Moore makes no bones about letting us know what she is after: a better life than she had. She’s quick to take on whatever role (and name) will get her there. She’s frank and genuine though, and readers will find they understand her initial choices. In those first couple chapters, she’s someone who seizes the day, takes a risk…

Yet, for all she’s decisive and headstrong, she suddenly gives in and lands at ‘Lakecrest.’ Its one of those moves where we spectators are shouting ‘don’t do that!’ Katherine/Katie seizes us too you see, right from the start.

Author Elizabeth Blackwell has created incredible, dynamic characters, and will hold readers enthralled. Even those of us who do not like our heroine’s choices…even though this story does not seem to lead us (or her) to a better life. America in the 40s- fashion, culture, and news of the day all become backdrop for Katie’s story.

Impeccably written, In the Shadow of Lakecrest is unpredictable and not entirely pleasant. It is worth reading but its story is…disconcerting. Do put this on your reading list, but don’t look for it to lift your spirits.

The Earl by Katherine Ashe


The Earl by Katherine Ashe
Publisher: Avon Books
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (368 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

How does a bookish lady bring an arrogant lord to his knees?
Entice him to Scotland, strip him of titles and riches, and make him prove what sort of man he truly is.

Opposites…
Handsome, wealthy, and sublimely confident, Colin Gray, the new Earl of Egremoor, has vowed to unmask the rabble-rousing pamphleteer, Lady Justice, the thorn in England’s paw. And he’ll stop at nothing.

Attract.
Smart, big-hearted, and passionately dedicated to her work, Lady Justice longs to teach her nemesis a lesson in humility. But her sister is missing, and a perilous journey with her archrival into unknown territory just might turn fierce enemies into lovers.

The Earl, part of the “Devil’s Duke’ series, introduces a pair more likely to become sparring partners than a romantic couple. Indeed, the circumstances they confront are far more serious than romantic: and beyond the usual scope of political intrigue as well. Emily, the self-styled “Lady Justice’ has a terribly personal reason for reaching out to the duke for help.

She’s a ‘pamphleteer’ in the early 1800’s London- struggling for the rights of women. She’s identified various members of the Falcon club (a gentlemen’s club) as thwarting her endeavors and… Colin, the just-stepping up to Dukedom, is among those on the ‘other side.’

But when her own sister goes missing somewhere in the wilds of Scotland, it is Colin she reaches out to. He might be her nemesis, but he’s no fool…and Scotland is by no means as tame as London!

The complex heroine is especially appealing. She’s firm in her beliefs but so resolute toward her goals that she’ll bend to ‘using’ someone she considers ‘against’ her. She’s smart: she keeps up with news, uses her maid to keep up with gossip, and knows all of the goings-on of the day ; but in her own, familiar city.. Scotland might be a whole other world…

And Colin is equally admirable, not because he steps in to assist a lady; but because of his own complexity. He must put aside self-doubt, as well as (to some degree) family expectation, but he becomes as firm in his resolve as she.

The Earl is incredibly engaging, primarily for its deep and determined characters, but also for its wonderful backdrop – exactly as expected, yet more. The plot is completely unpredictable. This is simply a super read.

Lord of Dishonor by Edith Layton

lord
Lord of Dishonor by Edith Layton
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (216 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rated: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

Lovely Amanda Amberly was a young lady of unsullied virtue–against all odds. Her bewitching mother, the Countess of Clovelly, was notorious for her amorous escapades, and every hot-blooded gentleman in society expected Amanda to follow in the Countess’ straying footsteps.

So far Amanda had succeeded in steering clear of the clutches of those eager young blades. She even had begun to hope that the eminently respectable Sir Giles Boothe might consider her a possible match. But when, by her mother’s cunning design, Amanda found herself in the arms of the incredibly handsome and charming Viscount North, the most irresistible if infamous rake in the realm, she discovered she could defend her virtue only if she refused to listen to her heart.

A rather artsy historical, Layton’s Lord of Dishonor is written in what seems a purposefully older style, which comfortably suits its setting. It stars the regency realm’s classic clash of respectability and restraint–or scandalous lack thereof.

It also stars to unlikely lead characters, with Amanda, the bubbly countess’ daughter, to Lord North, who is not exactly who he should be. Before a romance can happen, a murky past needs to … well, we really have no idea what needs to happen! Lord of Dishonor’ is unexpectedly unpredictable, with a unique and original cast of characters and some pretty unexpected circumstances, too.

Although descriptions certainly convey a sense of time and place, they are also wordy and this reader found they distracted from the main tale. If words bore physical weight, too many of Layton’s are heavy. However, this might well be because this reader so wanted to rush ahead and discover how it all turned out.  A solid historical read.

Fallen Star by Allison Morse

perf5.000x8.000.indd

Fallen Star by Allison Morse
Published by The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Historical (1970s), Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full (315 pgs)
Heat: Sensual
Rated: 4.5 stars
Review by Snapdragon

Who killed 1940s screen goddess Gloria Reardon? Her unsolved murder hypnotized the public with its scandalous details and shocked two generations.

Avid feminist and aspiring filmmaker, Kate Bloom discovers long lost footage that holds the key to who murdered her grandmother. Legendary movie star, Gloria Reardon, may be dead, but friends and lovers from the Golden Age of Hollywood’s heyday are still very much on the scene, and it seems everyone has something to gain or lose from Kate’s discovery. Enlisting the youthful and brash film restorer Dylan Nichols as her closest ally, Kate becomes haunted by Gloria’s glittering past. Caught between glamorous Old Hollywood and the gritty, exciting New Hollywood of the 1970s, Kate is determined to find out what really happened to her grandmother and in the process becomes the killer’s new target.

The long-ago life and love of a Hollywood star feed this ’70s era mystery.

Kate Bloom found out about violence–and desperation–first hand, as well as getting too close to some of the worst of Hollywood. But, it made her strong.

Gripping and gritty, honestly, the opening violence was a little of a turn-off for me, but played so into character development, that I came to see it as central to the story. Is Kate Bloom a victim or a fighter? Her plight, as well as her determination, captures reader’s hearts and interest from the first.

Before we have the details of her quest or grasp her determination, we find ourselves hoping that she will somehow recover the sweet, well-meaning girl that started the story. The crime, men in her life, the competition to get into the Hollywood world or ‘compete’ with successful all fall second to that.

Dylon Nichols is quite a different story. He is successful. He also seems an opinionated piece of the Hollywood structure. When he fails to recognize her talent and her creativity, we can already tell these two will not hit it off.  At first, we don’t even want them too. However, his insight might be useful, especially as Kate pursues proof about grandmother, Gloria Reardon’s death. While we are pretty sure Kate is right about him being a jerk, he’s useful and she has an agenda…and somehow, we readers find ourselves mirroring the thought process of our main character. It makes the story all the more believable, as does the great inside look at the industry; at how scripts and talent are acquired.

This is an unusual mystery as Kate is chasing down proof of who killed her grandmother. She has strong suspicions (and some special access to info) from the start.

Filled with fear, anger, frustration: Fallen Star delivers action in an unpredictable, fast-paced fashion. A great read.

Camp Wedding by Kay Springsteen

camp
Camp Wedding by Kay Springsteen
Publisher: EsKape Press
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (120 pgs)
Heat: Sweet
Rated: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

A blind Marine, a nervous bride, and an adorable child with Down syndrome who loves them both is an equation for another tug on the heartstrings in the story behind the Heartsight nuptials. Is Trish ready for life as a military wife? Is Dan ready for the challenges of being a father to a precocious 6-year-old? How will Bella add her special brand of magic to the day?

Wedding jitters magnify every little thing that seems to be going wrong right before Trish’s wedding. She’s even more frustrated at how her husband-to-be handles those small ‘bumps in the road.’ Readers become conscious, early on, that these are two very different people. However, Springsteen does a wonderful job building our belief in their mutual and heartfelt feelings. This only makes us more impatient as even more ‘bumps’ appear. Right from the start, the characters carry this wonderful little story. Subtle humor lightens some conversations…as does the odd embarrassing predicament.

There are too-sweet moments, and abrupt changes in point-of-view disturb the flow of the story. However, these are small complaints in what is overall an engaging, heartwarming tale.

Although this is a continuation from the story ‘Heartsight,’ it is a story unto itself and reading the precursor isn’t necessary. Camp Wedding is utterly charming on its own: