The Final Hunt by Audrey J. Cole

The Final Hunt by Audrey J. Cole
Publisher: Rainier Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

Alone in a hunting cabin, off-grid in an untamed wilderness. How does a marriage come to this?
After John disappeared while hunting—presumed dead from a bear attack—Cameron found the crime photos. His role in the recent Seattle serial murders was discovered. The media destroyed her reputation. She lost her dental practice, is on the brink of losing her home.

Everyone has a secret. But if her husband could hide the unimaginable from her, who’s to say he’s truly dead?

“What brings you so far from home?” the Alaska State Trooper had asked. The truth.

For three months she’s been a grieving widow and then one day Cameron Prescott finds her husband’s serial killer trophy photos. Was her husband John the “Teacher Killer”? And could he still be alive?

For me this was a simple and easily readable in two sittings. There’s no shock value or big reveal at the end. I pretty much saw where the story was going but I still enjoyed the journey. Quality writing that gives vivid scenic description of the wilderness of Alaska that added tension to the story. Details about bears and wolfs and how they devour their prey was interesting to know. It’s likely I wouldn’t be finding this out. So, it’s good to live through words and experience the wildlife from the safety of my sofa.

On one hand I did like the main character, Cameron, but on the other hand I found that I didn’t really get to know her. I like that she is tough, intelligent and spontaneous. She’s flying planes, she’s a dentist, she’s hiking and camping in the cold wilderness of Alaska and she outran an avalanche on a snowmobile. I mean what’s not to admire? She’s turned from grieving widow to Detective Nancy Drew. I would have liked to have known more about the characters, as well as their marriage. John is being labeled a serial killer, but Cameron had no clue. What was he like? What was their marriage like? John was an attorney, who worked on a pro bono case that nearly bankrupted the firm. Doesn’t sound like a profile for a serial killer to me. May be that was the author’s intent; unsuspecting married male with a secret. Speaking of secrets, there’s a saying that like attracts like. My guess is John saw something in Cameron that he saw in himself.

The book doesn’t give a lot of details about Simon Castelli, John’s friend and co-attorney. I’m wondering what kind of friendship they really had. I didn’t care for the microwave romance that was thrown in. I would have preferred that it was noted Dane was interested after his brief encounter and then in the epilogue details that they decided to pursue a relationship. (Purposely being vague to keep from spoiling it for future readers).

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It’s well paced, has a strong female character, but it doesn’t fit my personal definition of a thriller. Suggested reading for those that enjoy books that aren’t too heavy and that, even though it speaks about heinous crimes and acts, the content isn’t tremendously disturbing.

Their Love Deal by Helen Walton

Their Love Deal by Helen Walton
Billionaires’ Reluctant Brides Book 1
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

What started as a way to keep her mom from nagging her about marriage ended in more…

Recent college graduate Tiffany Herringer never expected to fall in love with her two boyfriends. After three years of loving Dieter Brant and Dex Munroe, she can’t let go of either of them. Everyone seems content with their arrangement, until the graduation party when Tiff discovers they know each other—and they’re friends—friends who talk about her and the things she likes.

When they suggest merging their relationships, Tiff doesn’t think she can be with two men at once. Sure, she dates them both, but together? If she agrees, she’ll never have to choose between Dieter and Dex, but then she’ll never get married. Not that she wants to get married … or does she?

Does she have to choose between the men she loves?

I love a good hot story and this one sizzles. Tiffany has been with and dated Dieter and Dex, both. She likes them both. Heck, she doesn’t want to choose between them. So, what’s a girl to do when she’s confronted with the idea she might not have to?

I loved this story because it burned and sizzled, but it also built slowly. It gave the reader, me, time to get to know the characters and feel their connection. I loved the heat to it, too. It’s a great story. There’s tenderness between the characters and a genuine connection. No lopsided love here!

I liked this trope–friends to lovers–and am glad I read this story. It was so worth the read. Check it out!

Arbitrium by Anjali Sachdeva

Arbitrium by Anjali Sachdeva
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Vashti is a pathogenic diplomat—an ambassador to the world of viruses, whom she communicates with through a machine that can translate their chemical signals into images, tastes, smells, sounds, and memories. She begins a negotiation between the US Government and a diplomatic contingent from Arenavirus, a virus which has just begun spreading a deadly mutation in Florida. If Vashti is successful, she and Arena will reach a diplomatic agreement; if not, the Arenavirus infection will continue to spread, and humans will have to race to try to find a vaccine or treatment. As she navigates the diplomatic discussions, Vashti is also trying to connect with her daughter Alma, who lives on the other side of the country in a technology-averse commune. By the time the negotiation ends, Vashti discovers that Arenavirus have learned some impressive and deadly tricks from their interactions with humans.

This tale takes the idea of having a bad day at work to an entirely new level. Humanity may go extinct if Vashti fails.

It’s rare for me to find science fiction about viruses that can communicate with humans, so I was thrilled when I discovered this short story. Intelligence in other species doesn’t have to look anything like human intelligence in order to be valid or, in some cases, dangerous. I was intrigued by the thought of how the world would look through the eyes of a creature so different from us, and Ms. Sachdeva certainly gave me a lot to think about there. Her decision to frame everything through the perspective of a person trying to communicate with the enemy was a smart one, too. There was plenty of room for character and plot development in the interactions between two such wildly different species alone, much less everything else that was happening in the storyline simultaneously.

I found myself wishing the ending had been given as much time to develop as the beginning and middle had to work with. The plot twist near the last scene was such a game changer that I was surprised to see how quickly the ending appeared from there. I’m not the sort of reader who expects everything to be wrapped up neatly, especially in a genre like science fiction that often thrives on unanswered questions, but I did find myself wondering if I’d missed something after I finished this piece. It would have been truly helpful to have a bit more information about what was happening there.

Vashti was a well-developed protagonist who had a sympathetic backstory and a likeable personality. Of course, it’s not strictly necessary for me to like a character in order to empathize with them or to be curious about what will happen to them next by any means, but it’s always delightful to get to know someone in fiction who I think I’d get along with quite well if she were a real person. She was a logical, calm individual who thought through everything carefully and had a contingency plan for all sorts of possible outcomes. I wanted to sit down with her and ask her at least a dozen questions about her work. That is a sign of memorable writing in my opinion.

Arbitrium was full of surprises.

His Novice by Arabella Sheen

His Novice by Arabella Sheen
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Nathan Stockman controls his own destiny and answers to no one. But when Summer Jenkin erupts into his life, he finds it hard to resist the temptation to bed her. She’s everything he’s not. She’s classy, she’s young, and she’s … virginal.

Dare he be the man responsible for awakening her to the pleasures of lovemaking, or should he walk away before they become emotionally entangled?

Summer doesn’t care that Nathan is older than she is, and it certainly doesn’t stop her from wanting a night of passion in his arms. Offering to be his novice is no guarantee he will teach her everything he knows about love, but she’s ready and more than willing to learn how to please him … both in and out of bed.

He’s hot for her. She’s hot for him. But are they right for each other?

This is somewhat of a slow burn story, but if you’re looking for heat, then this one will singe. Arabella Sheen has written a hot story, packed with heart. I couldn’t put it down.

Summer needs a bit of education in the bedroom and she’s not afraid to ask Nathan for it. I liked how she wasn’t afraid to be what he wanted. I also liked that she had some backbone. Nathan wants a novice. He’s a bit older, a bit wiser and he’s attracted to her. They don’t fall into the romance part right away and that was refreshing.

This trope – older brother’s best friend and the virginal heroine – has been done before, but this time it’s fresh and hot. I liked it a lot.

If you’re looking for something hot, short, but worth the read, then check this one out.

The Texas Cowboy by Linda Nightingale

The Texas Cowboy by Linda Nightingale
Return to Folly Book 1
Publisher: Magnolia Blossom
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Mistflower

When Ash Colter was twelve, his mother divorced his cattle baron father and whisked him away to raise in her native England. Sixteen years later, when his father dies, he inherits Marathon Ranch. Running a 1,000-acre spread famous for the best Black Angus cattle in the great state of Texas is the biggest challenge he’s ever faced…until he meets a pert, pretty, and sassy ranch hand who seems to have her own agenda for his ranch. Unfortunately, she makes his spurs go jingle-jangle-jingle like no one else ever has!

Trish Owens is a real cowgirl, a loner, and, though she’d never admit it, a little lonely. When the “English Cowboy” appears on the scene, her entire way of life is threatened, not only her job, but her beloved Quarter horses. She’s sure he plans to import his thoroughbred horses from England. Worst of all is the chemistry sizzling between them. He makes feelings she thought long dead awaken.

Can these two unwilling allies set aside their differences to put Marathon Ranch in the Winner’s Circle…and to fall in love?

The Texas Cowboy’s synopsis successfully piqued my interest. The story quickly captivated my curiosity as the narrative progressed smoothly with a steady stride. The characters were well developed, relatable and most were likable. The plot was creative, imaginable with some unexpected twists. This is book one in the Return to Folly series which can be read as a standalone.

The hero, Ash Colter, had an interesting upbringing that is mentioned in the synopsis. His history could have given him some adult baggage, but it didn’t. He was handsome, smart and confident. Ash was generous, caring and possessed a positive mind set.

Trish Owen, the heroine, was the perfect match for Ash. They both loved horses, the ranch and had the same long-term goals to make the ranch thrive in the future. Their relationship was entertaining, and their chemistry was sensual.

There was one character, Deanne, who added tense conflict in the story. The synopsis states that when Ash was twelve, his mother divorced his father. Ash’s dad remarried a woman named Deanne. Ash states “There’d always been, would always be, bad blood between them.” (Them as in Ash and Deanne). It’s my opinion that this conflict was resolved too easily considering the animosity between them. I wonder if there is a plan for Deanne to appear later in the series. If there ever is, her character left me feeling uncharitable and disinterested so I don’t think I’d read that one.

Overall, I enjoyed reading The Texas Cowboy. The romance between Ash and Trish was well worth my time. I enjoyed the setting where their love story evolved. Together, there is no doubt that they will make the ranch flourish.

Love by Design by Ava Olsen

Love by Design by Ava Olsen
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQ, Erotic Romance
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Escape to a warm Caribbean Island with two very hot men…

Gabriel Lafleur is a hotelier on the idyllic island of Saint Martin. After a hurricane devastates his business, he reluctantly hires Jackson Yates, an American designer, to complete the renovations. Gabriel is overwhelmed by the gorgeous and charming American who quickly becomes a part of his world.

Jackson loves his job but after years of non-stop work, he desperately needs a break. He agrees to take on the revamp of a boutique hotel in an effort to combine work and much needed pleasure. Soon Jackson is entranced by both the warm Caribbean lifestyle and the very sexy Gabriel.

But Gabriel is leery of travellers who love and leave and Jackson has never felt the need to settle his heart in one place.

Will their love survive the storm that lies ahead?

A hot island getaway and two men hot for each other? Sign me up to read this!

I knew this would be a sultry story when I picked it up. Not only does the story take place on an island, but the flavor of the island shines right through. I felt like I was right there with the characters.

There were times it felt a little too descriptive. Now that’s not a bad thing, but it bogged the story down at times. I wanted to get on with the romance! Honestly, I would’ve liked this story to be longer.

The connection between Gabriel and Jackson happens rather quickly and gets heated even faster. I like a good quick romance with heat and this one delivers. At times it seemed a bit too fast, but that’s not a horrible thing. Gabriel and Jackson can’t keep their hands off each other and it was great to see that blossoming.

If you’re looking for a hot, but short read to sizzle for an afternoon, then this might be the one for you.

Asset by Chris Lowry

Asset by Chris Lowry
Publisher: Grand Ozarks Media
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Action/Adventure
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

It ain’t easy being a spy.

It sounded fun at first. Just listen. Pay attention. Make note of who comes to the house. Who stops by.

And a poor boy from the wrong side of the tracks gets a chance to travel the world with the girl he loves.

But her do-gooder ways can get them in trouble.

When she volunteers them to help at a refugee camp in South Africa, they’re protected by her father’s reputation.

Until rebels show up and all hell breaks loose.

Now his adventure in a new world takes a deadly turn and drives him into a nightmare. He can give in and give up or dig deep and fight to become the man he always wanted to be.

It’s not a simple choice and the only easy day was yesterday. But Brill Winger will have to learn to fight if he wants to survive, and wreak havoc on the men who shattered his world, and tried to shatter him.

Grab your copy of book 1 in the action packed series about the boy who became the world’s luckiest hitman.

Brill was a poor young man who had grown up on the wrong side of town in desperate circumstances. Everything changes when he is offered a unique opportunity, just listen and pay attention to what goes on around him, then report back to his shadowy benefactors. In return he gets to stay with the young South African woman he loves and be a part of her life. Only Brill and his love are both thrown into a nightmare situation and Brill has to decide whether he will fight and take his vengeance, or whether he will give up everything he is.

I picked up this book on a whim and mostly I’m happy with the purchase. This story definitely won’t be every reader’s cup of tea. I found the writing style quite bare and very different to most of the books I read. I feel the author takes the “lean” or “gritty” style of writing to an extreme. There is very little extra description or world building in this story and I feel some readers won’t enjoy the bareness of the narrative very much at all.

The pace of this story was quite fast and I feel readers who enjoy action/adventure style fast-paced novels should really enjoy this. The plot was simple but effective – not very unique but I thought it was well handled. I personally found we received enough details about Brill and Laurette to give me a good mental picture of their characters and who they were, but I wouldn’t blame other readers who felt there needed to be at least a little more description to help make the story more fulfilling to read.

Fairly early on in the story Brill and Laurette are kidnapped with a bunch of other people by some rebels while they were volunteering in one of the refugee camps in Laurette’s home country and South Africa. After this, the story becomes far more focused on Brill and his personal growth, though the pace remains quite fast in this as well. Readers looking for a light hearted or easy read won’t find that here. There is one very full-on rape scene around this time in the story too. I feel readers should be aware this rape scene is fairly graphic – though still in the books style of bare and gritty. I definitely didn’t find it written in a titillating or glorified manner, but also the author was in no way vague with the scene, it definitely wasn’t glossed over. I really feel it won’t suit all readers and could certainly be a trigger to some, though I personally was able to read it (and I frequently skim or properly skip more graphically violent scenes – in this sense the bareness of the author’s writing style was definitely a blessing).

While Brill is caught in this nightmare situation it’s truly the making of his character. Although part of me feels there is a little too much coincidence in the unfolding of the further scenes – they were realistic and logical enough I could accept them and I found it deeply engrossing to watch Brill turn from a young man in love into what is the beginnings of a hardened warrior and a deeply rooted sense of Brill’s personal mission and the skills he would learn to grow into a man determined to carry out this journey he was beginning.

While there are a few rough corners in this story that I hope are a bit smoother in the next few books, I admit I’m hooked enough on the plotline and general premise I expect to purchase and read the second in this series. I feel there was a good enough writing style, interesting enough characters and a solid plot to this story and I admit I’m interested in knowing what happens next, so I’ll be getting the next book and giving it another try.

Wicked Seas by C Tyler

Wicked Seas by C Tyler
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Historical, Erotic Romance
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Trust amongst pirates was a delicate, tenuous thing.

Aadhya had dedicated her life to the sea, a pirate queen in her own right. When Charles returns, Addy must do her best to keep from being swept up by his seductive aura until he proves himself worthy of her affections again.

Aadhya and Charles had always been passionate and volatile, the perfect duo that thrived on the chaos they left in their wake, but after Charles betrayed her, he must work hard to regain her trust.

Will she be able to forgive him so they can share in hidden treasure and revenge, or will Charles stick to his selfish ways?

These opposites should attract, but will they?

I’ve never read anything by C Tyler, but I’m glad I gave this one a try. The writing is crisp and kept my attention. The characters were interesting and certainly opposite, despite being a lot alike. It’s a quick read, but there are bursts of fire in the pages.

Addy has seen a lot in her life. She’s a pirate, so she’s going to see things. She’s going to have done things. She’s a bad girl. That’s what I liked about her. She’s cagey and savvy while being wily. I liked the explosivity when she gets with Charles. I rooted for them and their happy ending.

Charles has done Addy wrong, and I liked seeing them work through the trust issues. It’s very relatable, despite being a historical and most people not being pirates.

If you’re looking for something different and hot, then this might be the one for you.

Wish List by Amanda Pampuro

Wish List by Amanda Pampuro
Publisher: Alien Buddha Press
Genre: Contemporary, Science Fiction, Horror
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

You’re talking with a friend, face to face, smartphone stashed safely in a pocket. You mention a trendy restaurant, a dream vacation, some hot piece of new tech. The next time you go online, you’re hit with ads for all three of those things. You’re amused, bemused, unsettled all at once. Amanda Pampuro taps into that feeling in Wish List, narrated by an earnest, efficient AI hive mind striving to bring happiness to account holder ARgurl16 – one “Complete My Purchase” click at a time. It’s a sweet and creepy little tale – sweet because Pampuro deftly sketches ARgurl16’s ups, downs, loves and hopes through the lens of her buying history, creepy because Wish List makes it clear that computers aren’t the only things being programmed.

For a disturbing little read, Wish List meets expectations. The book is clever and fast-paced. It tells the story from the point-of-view of technology tracking the life story of a woman from her childhood to her death.

The technological protagonist is so honest, and this comes across as so authentic that readers are likely to watch what they do online more carefully. The reader learns about the human protagonist through her online purchases. Assumptions are made as “the next good buy” is constantly pushed on her.

The suspense is well-done, too, because there are hints of the young lady’s death throughout, but mostly right after she makes a specific purchase. What is going to happen to her? Why does she die after buying the specific item?

It’s also clever that her husband and child are brought into the scene based on more online purchases.

This book will make you think. It’s a quick and easy read worth a look.

Not Yeti by Kelly DiPucchio

Not Yeti by Kelly DiPucchio
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Monsters are loud. And rude. They like to smash things and they always need to be right. But not Yeti. Yeti bakes banana bread and sings to whales and always has a nice word to say. But sometimes you find yourself alone when you’re different. And Yeti doesn’t know there’s a special surprise in store for him.

Anyone can change if they really want to.

It was refreshing to read about a monster who was gentle and loving instead of scary. Yeti spent his days making the world a better place for others, from crocheting sweaters for penguins to protecting baby turtles right after they hatched. I adored this character as soon as I met him and looked forward to seeing if his dreams would come true for him.

The ending felt abrupt and confusing to me, especially since this tale was written for such a young audience. While I soon understood the point the author was attempting to make, it was vague enough that I would have felt compelled to explain it if I’d been reading this to a small child. I found myself wishing that the narrator had been more forthright about the benefits of being different and choosing to be kind even if others don’t make the same choice.

Yeti’s character development was handled beautifully. The reader soon learned that he hadn’t always been a nice monster, and the explanation for how and why he’d changed was well worth reading. What made this even more interesting to me were the unpleasant interactions he had with a couple of other monsters. He could have so easily slipped back into old habits, and yet he stuck to his principles no matter how others tried to provoke him. What a great role model he was for anyone who is trying to fix a bad habit or personality flaw.

Not Yeti was a thought-provoking read.