Match Point by Cassie Cole

Match Point by Cassie Cole
Publisher: Juicy Gems Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Dicentra

For the past decade, I’ve put my love life on hold to focus on tennis.
Now I’m retired and ready to relax.
Until three swoony men from my past come walking back into my life.

First there’s Dominic deGrom, the chiseled all-American boy who stole my heart when we were teenagers.
Then there’s Tristan Carfrae, the tall Australian whose serve is as undeniable as his quick smile.
Finally there’s Gabriel Moreau, the suave French player whose cocky attitude is completely at odds with the softer personality I see behind closed doors.

These three tennis pros are competing against each other at the biggest tournaments in the world,
While fighting for my love off the court.
Can I choose which of them I want to spend the rest of my life with?
Or will all three of them end up winning the match point?

Cassie Cole has always been one of my favorite authors with books available, and her latest release Match Point was another smash hit. The book starts with our four main characters as teenagers at a tennis academy, where the guys all share a single kiss with heroine Miranda during a party game. Sadly, nothing happens at that point and things fast forward fourteen years to where Miranda is a tennis pro who recently decided to retire after earning the #1 ranked spot. By some happenstance of fate, Miranda runs into all three of her past crushes (within days of each other) and they have to figure out how to make things work now that they’re all grown up.

For those who might not be familiar, a reverse harem romance is a book where a single female protagonist has three or more male love interests. It can also be referred to as a why-choose romance. In terms of spice, I would rate this at around a 4 or a 5 (descriptive and explicit intimate love scenes, bordering on intense).

As opposed to other authors in the reverse harem genre, Ms. Cole’s books always include a great plot and show evidence of lots of research being put into crafting a believable story. I don’t know much about tennis or sports in general (outside of what watching the Olympics or playing on the Wii has taught me haha) but Ms. Cole made it easy to follow the scenes with lots of technical descriptions. There were also a lot of names I recognized as other real life tennis pros and real life tennis tournaments (i.e. Wimbledon and the US Open) being referenced in the book which was cool. All of the characters in the book had a part to play and were amusing to read about, and I really enjoyed how the ending turned out for the quartet.

Overall, Match Point was another stellar read from Cassie Cole. Her books are a perfect choice for when you’re looking for a fun and steamy reverse harem romance you can finish in an afternoon. If you’re not into reverse harem stories and are looking for a more traditional romance read, I highly recommend checking out her pen name K.T. Quinn where she writes monogamous happily ever after romance stories (with the same amount of spice).

The Plague Maiden by Kate Ellis

The Plague Maiden by Kate Ellis
Publisher: Piatkus
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

A stir is caused in Tradmouth when a letter arrives at the police station claiming that the man convicted of murdering the Vicar of Belsham is innocent. DI Wesley Peterson already has his hands full with threats made to local supermarket chain, Huntings – the last thing he needs is an alleged miscarriage of justice to investigate.

Meanwhile, Wesley’s friend, archaeologist Neil Watson, uncovers a medieval plague pit at a site near Belsham church earmarked for Huntings’ new superstore. As Wesley’s investigations continue, he begins to suspect that the vicar’s murder, the disappearance of a woman and the threats to the supermarket may be linked in some way.

Dr Neil Watson and his archaeology team uncover what they believe to be a plague pit in an open field earmarked as the site for a new local supermarket. Despite the growing number of bodies, DI Wesley Peterson is relieved, since the bones are clearly mediaeval and solving their deaths is not his problem. Wesley’s plate is already quite full, with his wife due to deliver their second child any day now, new evidence found that clearly shows an innocent man has been in jail for a decade for the murder of a vicar he can’t have committed, and an unknown person leaving infected products at the local Huntings supermarkets which has killed a number of people. When Wesley begins to find more and more connections between all these cases he will need every talent he can draw on to uncover what’s really going on.

This is another book in the DI Wesley Peterson series and I have been really enjoying them so far. Many of the books are primarily a British police procedural style with a good hit of history/archaeology running through the plots and this book is no exception. While some of the connections between the team members and Neil with the various other characters does have plenty of history from the previous books, I strongly feel this story can be picked up easily by itself and really enjoyed. The plot and central focus of the investigations are well contained in this story.

Readers looking for something very heavily historical might not find this quite suits their purposes. While Neil’s archaeology dig and investigations does indeed create quite a strong sub-plot there are a number of modern mysteries and police investigations that take up the main aspect to the plot in my mind. I feel the author has given a good balance between the past mystery and the current problems facing Wesley and his team but readers wanting something more historical might feel this balance isn’t quite right. I also could appreciate there were a number of cases that interwove here and that took some exceptional writing both to make it believable but also to knit it all together. In such a small town it makes sense that seemingly unconnected events actually could have cross over in parts since with such a small pool of people, the interactions and connectedness really would make sense to cross over into all aspects of the town’s life.

I found this to be a well written and strongly plotted police procedural with a number of interesting plots and a strong and equally interesting historical aspect too. I’m very much enjoying this series and am eager to get to the next book.

*The Last Close Call by Laura Griffin

*The Last Close Call by Laura Griffin
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group. Berkley
Genre: Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

A talented genetic analyst and a detective who’s haunted by an elusive cold case team up in the new standalone romantic suspense from New York Times bestselling author Laura Griffin.

Forensic genealogist Rowan Healy has made a name for herself by helping investigators trace the family trees of violent criminals who have eluded justice for years. But the pressure of police cases left her burned out, and she’s shifted her focus to helping adoptees find their biological parents.

Austin detective Jack Bruner has spent his career successfully tracking down vicious criminals—with the notable exception of the West Campus Rapist, a meticulous offender in Texas who has never been identified. When the latest two victims come to light, Jack sees his target is escalating his violent behavior—and only with Rowan’s help does he stand a chance of cracking this case.

Moved by Jack’s dedication and the brutal details of the attacks he lays out, Rowan agrees to help. When her ground-breaking DNA research sheds new light on the criminal’s background and helps them zero in on a search radius, Rowan and Jack must race against the clock to find a ruthless killer who’s growing bolder the longer he evades the law.

Laura Griffin writes a compelling story filled with mystery, romance and lots of suspense. The Last Close Call, her latest book, had me on the edge of my seat, quickly turning the pages to find out what would happen next.

This enthralling story takes place in Texas. The two main characters Rowen, a genealogist and Jack, a detective meet while working on a case involving a serial rapist. Jack and Rowen have an immediate connection, a lot of chemistry and I enjoyed all of their interactions. They are both dedicated to their jobs and don’t have time for relationships, but the pull they feel toward each other is impossible to resist.

This intriguing story was the perfect mixture of romance and suspense. The plot is interesting and the story held me spellbound. I felt like I was right there with Jack and Rowen and this story kept me interested until the very end. I enjoyed reading about all the behind the scenes police work Jack is doing trying to catch the serial rapist. Jack feels a lot of pressure because he knows time is running out, until the rapist strikes again. Laura Griffin is one of my favorite authors because she knows how to write an intriguing romantic story and she never disappoints me.

Winter Solstice in the Crystal Castle by Jennifer Ivy Walker

Winter Solstice in the Crystal Castle by Jennifer Ivy Walker
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Historical Romance
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Rose

Gabrielle is a flame haired, fire hearted French princess who dreams of becoming a Valkyrie warrior queen like her Viking ancestors from Normandy. Sent to Paris to learn the proper etiquette for a future French queen, she is called home to le Château de Beaufort for a forced marriage to a man she loathes when her father the king’s precarious health takes a sudden turn for the worse.

Chivalrous, solitary knight Sir Bastien de Landuc suffers an impossible love for Gabrielle, the unattainable princess he can never have. Without a title of nobility, he is ineligible to compete in the tournament for her hand in marriage, despite his unparalleled equestrian skills and inimitable swordsmanship.

Yet, Yuletide wishes for a wondrous winter solstice in the glorious Crystal Castle might make impossible dreams come true.

Can the valiant knight win the coveted hand of his Viking Valkyrie?

Ms Walker takes us into the time of King Arthur and introduces us to friends and family of Sir Lancelot. Lancelot’s mother and two of her friends have their own wishes for the upcoming winter solstice.

Gabrielle is called home because her father, King of Finistere, has suddenly become ill and wants to see his daughter safely married before his death. Unfortunately, there are many men who would like to get their hands on the princess and her kingdom, so the king devises a plan for her to be sworn to a winner of a joust.

It is obvious from the beginning that Gabrielle and Bastien de Landuc, her champion and her protector, are meant for each other, but there are numerous things that stand in their way – Bastien’s lack of nobility, forces from without. Ms. Walker leads us through the twists and turns of bringing them together with her wonderful storytelling ability.

I thoroughly enjoyed the research that went into this book and the scattering of French phrases lends a touch of realism. There were, however, some words and phrases that, in my opinion, were overused. This could very well be because I’m an editor in my other life and may be more conscious of things like this than the normal reader, so it may be something that wouldn’t bother any other reader.

If you enjoy medieval romances, winter traditions, and a helping of passion, give this book a try.

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Wicked Secrets by Anne Marsh

Wicked Secrets by Anne Marsh
Publisher: Harlequin Mills And Boon
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Fern

Before Mia Brandt and Tag Johnson rediscovered each other on Discovery Island, they shared a memorable one-night stand. Eight hours of dancing, laughter and red-hot passion before they both shipped out to serve overseas. Tag didn’t think he had any regrets about loving and leaving his strong-willed Master Sergeant, but he’s about to be proved deliciously wrong…

Former military pilot Mia Brandt is on a cruise ship with her cousin as part of a bachelorette party. Only a few months out of service, Mia has plenty on her plate and even in her worst nightmare she hasn’t come up against anything like this bachelorette hell. And then at one of their ports, Mia runs into Navy rescue swimmer Tag Johnson – a one night stand she’s never managed to forget. Events get out of hand and soon Mia find herself left behind on the small island with Tag, and in the space of a few short days their secrets begin to grow out of control.

I found this a delightful romp of a story and easily got sucked into Mia and Tag’s chemistry. I particularly loved how they each were very much the take charge type of character and yet they never let it interfere too much with their chemistry or trust. Both of them were used to giving and receiving orders, and in so many ways Mia and Tag were evenly matched I found it a real pleasure to read about them working out how to come together as a team and find the common ground between them.

I found the whole story quite refreshing and modern, and I particularly enjoyed how it didn’t slot into one of the usual romance novel tropes or genres. Mia had some flashbacks from her service – which I found so refreshing and realistic – and Tag initially wasn’t ready to settle down but slowly came to the realization that he wanted the fake engagement between himself and Mia to become the real deal. It was wonderful and I just couldn’t put this book down once it got going.

Fresh and different I thoroughly enjoyed this spicy romance story and I know I’ll enjoy re-reading it again sometime soon.

Dead To Me by JM Dalgliesh

Dead To Me by JM Dalgliesh
Publisher: Hamilton Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Let go of your past… or it will be the death of you…

When a man’s body is discovered crammed into the boot of an abandoned car in a remote location, DI Tom Janssen and his team must unpick his life to find out how he came to be there.

The victim was a local man, popular with some although hated by others, and he had a habit of making enemies, enemies that any sane man would seek to avoid. For once, the team do not struggle to find a suspect or a motive for his murder, but with several to choose from, how can they determine who delivered the killing blows? Those who despised the man are unrepentant and as the investigation develops there seems to be more going on than a simple act of vengeance. What did the deceased have to hide and who was so intent on keeping their own secrets that they were prepared to brutally kill to do so?

With a killer at large the public are restless, reassured only by the suggestion that the murder is an act perpetrated by figures within the criminal community against one of their own, but when a troubled teenage girl disappears fear takes hold in the small coastal town. The only potential witness is an eccentric homeless man who comes and goes as he pleases, often disappearing for months at a time. Who did he see? What does he know? Will he be the next to be silenced?

What looked like a simple revenge attack will turn into a race against time for Tom and his team as they try to protect the innocent and reveal the guilty… only no one knows with any certainty who belongs in which camp.

DI Tom Janssen and his team are called in when the body of a man is found crammed into the boot of a car in a remote and abandoned lot. After quickly identifying the man, the team all too soon realise that with his shady dealings there were any number of people who might have wanted the man dead. Can they uncover what really happened when there are so many different things that might have gone wrong?

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying this series and found this book to be an excellent addition. While most of the team are very well known friends there are a few new characters that appear to be sticking around and that helped keep the various dynamics and relationships feeling fresh. I have been particularly pleased with Eric’s character and – admittedly very slow moving – development. I am very hopeful that things might finally be getting better and easier for him. I was also really impressed that the two different plots managed to cross over without feeling like it was forced or too cliched. I feel like the author did an excellent job making this believable and it didn’t push me too far out on the logical and believability scale.

Readers who pick this book up fresh might find they need a bit of help to piece together some of the history and camaraderie between the team members, but overall I feel this book should prove equally enjoyable to readers new to the series as well as readers like me who have read them all previously. The plot itself and much of the interactions are very well contained in this book and quite well explained.

I feel readers who enjoy British police procedurals with a solid mystery plot and interesting and modern characters should find this an excellent book and I can easily recommend the entire series as well worth the effort. Recommended.

Garden of Lost Socks by Esi Edugyan

Garden of Lost Socks by Esi Edugyan
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Akosua was always told she was too nosy.

Her parents loved her very much, but she always seemed to find trouble.

“Trouble isn’t what I find!” said Akosua. “I’m an Exquirologist. What I find is lost things.”

This big-hearted picture book debut from one of Canada’s brightest literary stars follows Akosua, a budding Exquirologist, as she finds both a new friend and a remarkable world hidden right in her very own community. Acclaimed artist Amélie Dubois adds a layer of magic to Akosua’s charming adventure with her delicate, compelling illustrations.

Each turn of the page pulls readers deeper into Akosua’s journey, daring them to become Exquirologists too, and encouraging them to seek out magic in the mundane!

Any day can be an adventure if it’s approached the right way.

Losing a sock is disappointing, but it’s not something I’ve seen mentioned in a picture book before from what I can recall. Seeing how the author expanded this into such a multi-layered topic that touched so many different families made me want to read more from her. It takes talent to write something like that, and I thought Ms. Edugyan did an excellent job of exploring how people think about socks, why some socks are so special to certain folks, and what happens to articles of clothing that suddenly disappear.

I loved the friendship that Akosua developed with another character in this story. They were both curious and imaginative kids who loved to explore every inch of their neighborhood and come up with ideas for what to talk about in the letters he sent home to his nana basia. The fact that they were willing to do everything from crawl on the ground to visit the local laundromat to find out what was happening made me smile. What a good team these two were!

Kindness was woven into every scene of this tale. Akosua and her family had clearly moved into a welcoming area, and I enjoyed seeing how all of the adults quietly kept an eye on the children who roamed around the block in search of adventure. Their gentle care was reflected in how the younger members of this community also treated others compassionately. I can’t go into specific details about how this happened, but I can say that it was heartwarming and provided a beautiful ending to something I was already thrilled to read.

Garden of Lost Socks was a cozy and sweet look at city life. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Death Tango by Lachi

Death Tango by Lachi
Publisher: RIZE Publishing
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror
Rated: 5 stars
Review by Poppy

In a Utopian twenty-third-century New York City, where corporations have replaced governments, AI dictates culture, and citizens are free to people-watch any other citizen they choose through an app, this horror-laden Sci-Fi Thriller follows four mis-matched coeds as they attempt to solve the murder of an eccentric parascientist. Only someone or something able to navigate outside the highest levels of croud-sourced surveillance could get away with murder in this town. If the team can’t work quickly to solve the case, New York City will be devoured by a dark plague the eccentric had been working on prior to his death, a plague which, overtime, appears to be developing sentience.

My mind is officially blown! Death Tango was a un-put-downable read. Let me explain…

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started this book, but once I opened it and dove in (and you really do dive in–the author plops you right into the world with little explanation, which I actually appreciated) I was hooked. Yes, it took me a little while to sort through the world-building, which the author does effortlessly. She doesn’t do some dull, in your face infodump. Nope, she she shows you the world, as if it was just a normal thing and leads you through the nuances and differences from our own. So well done.

Honestly, her writing ability is what made this book stand out for me. It’s smooth and clean, vivid and clear and checks all the boxes. It truly, clearly shows the world, the plot, the characters. It played out like a movie in my mind while I read. It’s been awhile since I’ve read such a well-written novel, and I want to make sure to give a round of applause to the author, Lachi. So well done.

The story itself is intriguing, and I could see something like it happening as we all dive deeper into the idea of living virtually. It was alternately intriguing and awfully sad. I’m not sure I like her ideas of what society could become, but I completely understand how she got there. Her future is absolutely possible.

I got very deeply attached to her realistically written, three dimensional characters. The complexity of plot took some time to sink into, but that’s a good thing. I was challenged throughout to think, and to feel and to consider and ultimately to not only try to solve her “whodunnit” but just to soak in the environment and to be intrigued and horrified by the dark, horrific world she’s created that’s covered up by what should feel more utopian. I’ve always thought that human beings with their faults and flaws, with their basic humanity, would never be able to create a utopia, and in this book I’m proven correct.

There is good and evil here. Lachi doesn’t shy away from the dark, but she also shares moments of light. And the characters become friends which, for me at least, means I’ll happily read every last word about them.

Looking for a superbly written book with a complex but believable plot peppered with characters you’ll come to love? Don’t mind a little darkness and horror? Then pick this one up. I can’t imagine you’ll be disappointed. I sure wasn’t.

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A Line To Kill by Anthony Horowitz

A Line To Kill by Anthony Horowitz
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

When Ex-Detective Inspector Daniel Hawthorne and his sidekick, author Anthony Horowitz, are invited to an exclusive literary festival on Alderney, an idyllic island off the south coast of England, they don’t expect to find themselves in the middle of murder investigation—or to be trapped with a cold-blooded killer in a remote place with a murky, haunted past.

Arriving on Alderney, Hawthorne and Horowitz soon meet the festival’s other guests—an eccentric gathering that includes a bestselling children’s author, a French poet, a TV chef turned cookbook author, a blind psychic, and a war historian—along with a group of ornery locals embroiled in an escalating feud over a disruptive power line.

When a local grandee is found dead under mysterious circumstances, Hawthorne and Horowitz become embroiled in the case. The island is locked down, no one is allowed on or off, and it soon becomes horribly clear that a murderer lurks in their midst. But who?

Both a brilliant satire on the world of books and writers and an immensely enjoyable locked-room mystery, A Line to Kill is a triumph—a riddle of a story full of brilliant misdirection, beautifully set-out clues, and diabolically clever denouements.

Anthony Horowitz and Daniel Hawthorne have agreed to go to a literary festival on the Island of Alderney to talk about and start the PR for Horowitz’s first book featuring Hawthorne and one of his cases. Horowitz knows Hawthorne appears to have an ulterior motive for this unusual agreeableness but in many ways both men are still a mystery to each other. Horowitz figures nothing to drastic can happen on the small island, but he’s quickly proved wrong. One of the wealthy festival sponsors is found brutally murdered – the first murder ever to occur on the island. And with only a certain number of people on the island, it’s clear Hawthorne has a limited number of suspects to search amongst. When a second death occurs, only then to Horowitz and Hawthorne really begin to understand the level of danger there is.

This is the third book in this series and while with the plot and characters I strongly feel it can be read by itself I have to admit the writer’s style is a little unusual and I’m still getting used to it. The author actually is Anthony Horowitz, so having him write a story about himself as one of the main protagonists always feels quite jarring for me to read as he doesn’t really write in the first person in a manner I’m used to. I thoroughly enjoy the characters – though do admit Hawthorne can easily appear both arrogant and somewhat odd at times, which I’m sure in on purpose – and the plot is excellent with a number of twists and convoluted enough to keep most readers guessing. I think it’s just the tone and writing style that takes me, personally, a bit to get used to and I find it hard sometimes to really sink into the story because of how the author is so deeply immersed in the story. It just reads a little odd to me.

I have to admit the plotline itself was very well handled – believable and logical with a strong element of realism to it. While I might question or find jarring the two main characters and the way the tone/voice of the book is handled the plot and murder mystery and the set up around that part of the book is very believable to my mind and I feel readers who enjoy a different kind of murder mystery might find this book – and the two prior to this as well – highly enjoyable.

Readers who like a slightly different plot or characters who are a little outside of the box should find this an enjoyable and strong read.

Survival by Shirley Bigelow DeKelver

Survival by Shirley Bigelow DeKelver
Climate of Fire Book 1
Publisher: BWL Publishing Inc.
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The year is 2045, global warming escalates, and wildfires are rampant. Vancouver has been devastated by an earthquake and tsunami. Those who have survived have moved north or taken up residence at Little Mountain, the highest point in the city. Food and water are scarce, there are more violent storms and rising temperatures. The ashfall from the volcanoes increases daily, making it difficult to breathe. Four young adults, Taylor West, Carlie Fleming, Mai-Li Wong, and Willie Arbuckle, and three children, twin brothers Rusty and Eddie Coleman, and Debbie, who has Downs Syndrome, have gravitated together, forming a motley crew of survivors, living in constant fear of the violent gangs.

Making a life-saving decision, they decide to walk to the Interior, hoping to find a better life. Inexperienced, they face unknown obstacles, daily hardships, and hunger. Traveling across the devastated Wastelands is fraught with danger with unexpected complications making the journey more treacherous than they ever imagined. Reaching a sanctuary and indeed their very survival hangs in the balance. Relationships are tested time and again. What will remain strong and what will shatter?

Nothing is guaranteed in this dangerous, new world.

Compassion can be expressed in many different ways. I enjoyed seeing how the characters wrestled with the thought of what total strangers should do for each other in a crisis and how much someone should be expected to risk their own safety to help others who may be injured, young, or helpless. These aren’t questions that have black and white answers in most cases, but they are good jumping-off points for all sorts of discussions about many of the scenes in this book. Sometimes I found myself wishing I’d read this as a part of a book club so I could discuss my thoughts on what certain characters should or shouldn’t have done in specific situations with other readers!

The main characters made odd and illogical decisions that I struggled to understand. For example, Carlie was given the chance to be rescued by the military in one of the earliest scenes, but she decided to hide instead for reasons that were never clear to me. This was the first of many examples of characters refusing to do simple things that would make their already-difficult lives easier without explaining why they thought those choices were the right ones. I don’t expect teenagers to always think things through the way an adult would, but this pattern of picking the hardest option for no reason happened so often that it did reduce my enjoyment of the plot in general.

I enjoyed the strong, steady pacing. Carlie and her companions regularly had new problems to solve on their journey whether they were minor ones like disagreements between certain characters or major ones like not having enough food or water. There was never a good time for me to stop reading and do something else. That’s the sort of conundrum I always like to have when I’m reading as it means that the author planned everything out evenly and made sure that their audience would have plenty of things to think about when we did eventually need to take a break and do something else.

Survival was adventurous.