You Only Die Twice by Brynn Kelly (Author), Alan Carlson (Narrator), Stacia Newcomb (Narrator),

You Only Die Twice by Brynn Kelly (Author), Alan Carlson (Narrator), Stacia Newcomb (Narrator),
Publisher: Audible Originals
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Suspense/Mystery/Thriller
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Danger and desire collide in this romantic thrill ride—available exclusively in audio!

When high school English teacher Alice Thornton helps her dying Russian neighbor write a spy thriller, she thinks she’s just doing a good deed. But when a sexy mystery man shows up in her classroom, claiming to be the novel’s dashing antihero, Alice is swept into a lethal conspiracy.

Enigmatic former CIA operative Carter Beck warns her that the sensational murder plot wasn’t fiction. And because she knows too much, the killer wants her silenced—making Carter her only hope of survival.

Forced on the run, Alice and Carter must separate truth from fiction to unmask the murderer before they become the next victims. The danger is only too real—and so is their unexpected chemistry. In between motorcycle chases, dodging bullets and unraveling clues, the unlikely pair start to wonder if the secret to their survival might just be each other….

Anyone looking for an edge-of-your-seat romantic suspense can’t go wrong with this audiobook. You Only Die Twice is only available in audio format and its delivery is exceptional and engaging because of the narrators and how they bring the story to life. In the beginning, there were even sound effects, so I felt like I was listening to a movie. I laughed at the screeching tires because of what they actually meant. Thank goodness I’m not that bad a driver.

What I found fascinating about the narrators is that Alan Carlson and Stacia Newcomb take turns at the mike. Instead of one taking only the male characters and the other, the female characters, their readings included doing both voices. Mr. Carlson had a distinctive female voice, and Ms. Newcomb had a distinct and growly tone for the hero, Carter Beck. It actually worked.

The format is interesting. When the narrator for Carter Beck was on scene, the story is told from 18 months prior, leading up to when Alice’s narrator takes over and continues the story in the present day. It’s interesting how the timelines gradually merge into the present ending up at the time both are on the run. The only drawback of an audio-only format is the inability to see how names are spelled. Nikka(?) is the female Russian spy who I only get to meet via Carter’s historical narration. In the present, when Alice is talking about Nikka, she has already died so the focus is on solving the mystery by finding the clues the Russian spy left behind. Their location ends up being surprising. What the secrets were was incredibly shocking.

The suspense level is driven by the main characters having no idea who they can trust. It turns out that some of the ones they should be able to trust, can’t be, and some that they shouldn’t trust turn out to be unexpected allies. Because lies are flying all over the place, there’s no sure way to tell which is which, so for the most part, Carter and Alice are on their own. For being ‘just a teacher’, Alice ended up being a better partner and asset to Carter than he ever could have expected. Heck, Alice shocked herself in what she could accomplish when death was on the line.

The weird and unexpected sub-theme of the story is death. Not by gunshots or bad guys, but by cancer. Alice’s whole family is attacked by cancer. Her sister is amazing and her last zing to Alice ended up bringing tears to my eyes. What a truly special relationship they had. Readers/listeners get to know her, so the ending has a special poignancy. In fact, both Alice and Carter bond over some of what some might call morbid similarities, but in truth, it’s what thousands of people face and fight each and every day. It really made the hero and heroine believable, relatable, and I was 100% invested in their story.

I stumbled upon this book and the blurb seemed really interesting. I wasn’t sure if I was going to stick with the book in the beginning because I was going in blind. I didn’t know the author’s caliber, and as listeners of audiobooks know, narrators can make or break a book. I can assure you that every single component of this story, from plot to dialogue, pace and narrative talent, all worked together in perfect harmony and engaged my senses to the point I stayed up until 1 A.M. because I simply didn’t want to stop until I reached its conclusion. It was a great experience!

I heartily recommend this audiobook to readers of contemporary romantic suspense. You Only Die Twice delivers a fantastic mystery experience filled with drama, suspense, intrigue, action, romance and a happy-for-now with solid tones of a true HEA.

The Viscount and The Orphan by Rosemary Morris

The Viscount and The Orphan by Rosemary Morris
Publisher: BWL Publishing Inc.
Genre: Historical, Romance
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

This classic historical romance erupts in 1703 England.

Gabriel, Viscount Cavanagh is bankrupt, his fortune wasted on mistresses, extravagance, and gambling. Orphaned, emotionally neglected, deprived of his inheritance and his own person by his grandfather, Adam Maynard, his only option to avoid disaster is acceptance of an arranged marriage proposed by Adam, a ruthless merchant prince.

Adam summons his sixteen-year-old ward, wealthy Dorinda Davenport, from boarding school to be Gabriel’s bride. An orphan, she yearns for love. Well-educated, but naïve, she clings to her fantasy of a happy-ever-after marriage to a gentleman as handsome, and charming as her favourite fictional hero. Gabriel is the romantic hero of her dreams, but bitter disillusionment follows the wedding.

A connoisseur of beautiful women, Gabriel conceals his distaste when he meets dumpy, sallow-skinned, socially inept Dorinda. Nevertheless, he soon appreciates her innocence, intelligence, and kind heart.

This is a novel about a hasty marriage in which everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, and the path back to happiness.

The hero, Gabriel, is a man controlled by his domineering grandfather who is a control freak on steroids. He’s the one who tells Gabriel who he is going to marry. He’s the one who controlled who the hero could socialize with and who he should have no contact with – it’s pretty much an entire family branch. I did not like the merchant prince. He was mean to the hero, and the old guy’s sister wasn’t a peach either. It’s not a wonder the hero took some wrong turns and messed up his life.

When I met Dorinda, the heroine, she was a 16-year-old orphan stuck in a home for girls to teach them proper deportment. Dorinda was way too young to marry, and without a loving home life, was sorely unprepared to be thrust into a life dictated by the machinations of her guardian who just happens to be Gabriel’s grandfather, the meanie. Talk about a recipe for disaster.

One thing is for sure, the old guy’s plans didn’t go the way he wanted. Here’s the one thing that both Gabriel and Dorinda did during the course of the novel – they grew up.

The story goes through their growing pains using the people they meet along the way, their friends and other family members previously thought lost to them both. Each secondary character helps in one fashion or another to get both the hero and heroine where they need to be in order to become the people they were always meant to be. It’s not easy and it took some time. It’s a long book. If readers like these kinds of epic journeys of personal discovery and positive success against characters’ original negative paths, coming into their own and becoming stronger and more certain of who they are in life, then this novel should strongly appeal.

It does eventually happen. The hero and heroine come together as full-fledged adults and are on a more even playing field. After all that growth and change, will the people they’ve become be as appealing in a marriage as when they first met? That’s the big question that gets resolved in the end.

I did experience a few hiccups as I read. Gabriel has a good friend, Avery. Avery’s method of speech hurt my brain. I couldn’t get the hang of how the dialogue might have sounded based on the spelling. After a while, I gave up. There were a few times where the wrong person’s name was used in a scene, but it didn’t throw me out of the story, not like Avery’s dialogue. I also found that the ending was too abrupt. After investing so much time in watching both Gabriel and Dorinda each become better people than when the book first started, I expected at least an epilogue to give a more well-rounded experience of closure. Especially with the bombshell Dorinda revealed to Gabriel at the end. But no, there was nothing to firm up that last sentence of Gabriel’s internal dialogue. I needed there to be an epilogue just to balance out what had come before. I’m let down by the lack.

On the whole though, The Viscount and The Orphan was a convincing historical romance with quite a bit to recommend it. I understood the references to Cromwell and his legacy and effect on England and religion during that period. I experienced echoes of that time through Dorinda’s actions even though Cromwell was long gone at the time this story takes place. Dorinda is a pious little thing in the beginning, full of dreams, romance and fanciful notions. Her faith gives her strength and that’s the one thing I did admire about the heroine – when everyone else around her gave it up because it was ‘inconvenient’, she didn’t. It was a part of her she refused to give up on even when someone complained about it. There were hints early on that the heroine had some spine in her. The story proved it to be a correct assessment.

I was happy that Dorinda and Gabriel got their happily ever after, after all, and I’m glad Avery’s character turned out to be a solid asset for the hero. He really was a nice guy and I’m glad for his role in it. Everyone should have a friend who sticks by them in the worst of times, and in the best of times.

This was a solid historical romance and I enjoyed reading it.

In Darkness: The Vampire by L. Diane Wolfe

In Darkness: The Vampire by L. Diane Wolfe
In Darkness series
Publisher: Dancing Lemur Press, L.L.C.
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Paranormal
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Souls shrouded in darkness…

Stuck working as a barmaid for her demanding father, Anna dreams of adventure. When mysterious strangers enter the bar, she overhears they seek Zancrela, an ancient fortress filled with treasure and a magical library. Taking her chance, she offers to guide them. The conditions: deliver Zancrela or die.

As they journey through the wilderness, she discovers their secret: they are vampires. And most view her as food. One takes interest in her and her heart dares to hope, but it might not be enough to change her fate. Will Anna find Zancrela or become a vampire morsel?

I’ve been looking for a different kind of vampire romance story and I’ve found it in The Vampire.

It starts off with an angle that reminds me of Cinderella and her wicked stepmother, except in this story, Anna’s own father is the heavy, and she’s the hardest worker in his pub. The story alludes to her being mistreated and perhaps even being beaten if she displeases her parent. It makes it quite believable that the heroine would grasp at any opportunity to escape even when it’s made very clear that if she didn’t succeed in her promise to deliver, the result is her death. Desperate times call for desperate measures and Anna has incentive.

The author focuses on Anna’s struggles to keep up with the group of very tall, dark and broody people who set a furious pace on their quest. Anna has a hard time keeping up because she’s only human. Everyone else is not. She finds out that fact in a very dramatic fashion. I liked the heroine’s spunk, determination and pragmatism in the face of the fact that most of her companions not only don’t like her but would like nothing more than to eat her. She’s food after all. That fact gives the story an edginess that keeps the tension high and the book’s pages flipping. The pacing of the story is brisk, informative, fascinating and well told. The part with the bear was a bit gory, but everyone has to eat, right?

Victor was the surprise. He’s the hero but I initially didn’t see him that way. He was the vampires’ leader – gruff, forbidding, commanding and no nonsense. He saw in Anna a truth he was willing to take a chance on. He believed her when she said she knew the way to their quest’s goal. He championed her quite a few times and I figured it’s because she proved she had the knowledge, and she was an asset to protect. It was the little things as the journey continued that showed me Victor was seeing Anna as more than just a human with knowledge they needed. He started seeing her as a woman. And he was torn and in a quandary because of it. Would the others still respect him if he chose a human female? That was a tough call and caused some emotional drama between Anna and himself.

Of course, they reach their goal but what happens in the palace was shocking, action-packed and pivotal. I definitely didn’t expect that to happen. That was a nice piece of drama.

What I appreciated greatly is that this slow-to-build romance was sweet to sensual. I feel ‘sensual’ can be applied because there was a heat-building moment that fanned the flames of Victor’s desire, but it’s sweet because in the end, it’s banked and implied in favor of action, storytelling and the resolving of the plot. It is also a happy ever after because the ending leaves no doubt that Victor and Anna are going to succeed in being together as man and wife. That made me very happy. But wow, what an arduous journey to get there!

The Vampire is an awesome, well-told story, and was a treat to read. I really liked it and if paranormal romance readers are tired of the in-your-face bedroom scenes that seem to be inherent in most paranormal novels these days, this book is refreshing, fascinating and entertaining because it delivers a solid plot with classic elements and ends with a satisfying conclusion. I’m so glad I read this novella that reads like a novel, and I hope other readers will enjoy it as much as I did.

Finding Happiness by Susan Warner

Finding Happiness by Susan Warner
Hidden Treasures Book 4
Publisher: EG Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

A treasure worth having is a treasure worth facing your past for.

When Olivia came to Markarava she found a place that gave her a voice and she didn’t’ have to hide herself or her ideas behind another person. Her insecurities shrunk but her loneliness grew. Growing up in a traditional family she was always told family or work. When she went to work her family didn’t understand why an attractive woman would turn away from the men who wanted to take care of her. As the town gets ready to celebrate the resilience of towns and families she tries to leave only to find she’s been volunteered because she’s so good at organizer the whole event.

Jeremy Collins can’t believe he’s working on the families are strong event. If it wasn’t for the fact that he needs the money to pay for a father in a home he wouldn’t’ even consider it. Jeremy knows he’s not good at relationships or families. Then when he’s teamed up with Livia from a nearby project he’s sure he’ll be stuck with Ms. Bubbles. Instead he finds a kindred soul.

As they organize the event, hear the stories that started the event they find the past doesn’t look bleak and maybe they can do the family and relationship thing, if they have the right person. Will they have the courage to trust and open their hearts to one another?

If a reader likes stories set in small towns, where the communities watch out for their own and like to play matchmakers, then this book might appeal. Both Olivia and Jeremy have friends in town who are trying to watch their backs for them, but at the same time believe they’re good for one another and try to guide Olivia and Jeremy towards their own happy-ever-after. Easier said than done.

Both the hero and heroine have noble traits in their personalities – they both believe in keeping promises, fulfilling obligations and won’t quit until there’s no option. That means stubbornness is a strong component in the story. Jeremy wants to take care of his aging father, and Olivia is searching for her missing baby sister. For some reason, one main character thinks they can work it out and be together, and the other believes those kinds of commitments preclude having a healthy long-term relationship. Those are some serious hurdles they both have to overcome and are one of the major plot points.

The dialogue was good, the sense of community was strong, the sub-romance between Caroline and Mark was appealing but it wrapped up in a quick disjointed manner. But I’m coming from not having read any of the previous books in the series. Perhaps it’ll be clearer for fans since they know the backstory. Parts of Finding Happiness were confusing at times but not enough to pull me out of the story. It was nice to have a solid HEA though because Finding Happiness has more of a ‘happy for now’ tone to it for the main characters. Perhaps I need to read book 5 in the series for the full effect. I’m pretty sure that’s the case because there’s a dangling plot thread that belongs to Olivia that has to be tied up. It’s mentioned in this story and progress is made, but for Olivia to be 100% happy, she needs closure. It makes sense that the last book in the series will dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s.

This was a good read, fine for passing the time in at a doctor’s appointment, or getting your oil changed. It’s a story about personal conflicts that need to be overcome before Olivia and Jeremy can move on towards their future together. It was engrossing and entertaining, and I enjoyed reading the book. It’s obvious to me that I’m going to have to read the final book in the series. Nothing like a little closure to make my day.

Any Fin For Love by Petie McCarty

Any Fin For Love by Petie McCarty
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

She could almost hear the fish laughing at her . . .

Cody Ryan’s father never missed fishing the annual Loon Lake tournament until his unexpected passing. This year, Cody packs up her how-to fishing videos and her dad’s old johnboat and gives him one final entry.

Gage Connor needs some R&R away from his coast guard deployment catching drug smugglers along the Louisiana coast, so he borrows a bass boat from his buddy and heads to Loon, Alabama to do some fishing.

When Gage and Cody meet at Loon Lake, their attraction is immediate and intense—until the two discover there is only one boat slip left on the lake and they both need it, and there’s only one vacant hotel room left in Loon and they both want it. And so, their competition begins. Both vow to keep their distance from the other for their own peace of mind, but fate has other plans. The tournament pairing party picks the two-man teams and chooses Gage as Cody’s partner.

For two days.
Alone on a boat.
Working as a team.

Good things come to those who bait . . .

Don’t let the synopsis fool you. This novel has a lot more going for it than a simple romance with humor and a fishing competition. I was expecting a light-hearted fluffy tale and instead found a story that closer resembles the television series, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, back in the early 80s. It was fun, adventurous, had bad guys with the good guys winning in the end, and a burgeoning romance between two unlikely people. That is what Any Fin for Love reminds me of and perhaps that’s why I had so much fun reading this novel.

Cody Ryan, the heroine, is doing something she never did before – fish in a tournament. Fish by herself. Fish in her dad’s favorite spots, doing his favorite thing, in his memory. That right there made me adore Cody. She is sentimental, committed, stubborn, brave, fun and, did I say stubborn? The competition has never, ever had a female contestant. The good ol’ boys have no idea who is headed their way. Cody is bound and determined to do her best and no handsome guy is going to turn her head enough to distract her…much. But first, the heroine has to get her boat in the water. Yeah, that was an interesting sequence of events. Grin-worthy.

Gage, the hero, is a well-rounded character with a depth to him I don’t get to figure out until later. In the beginning, he’s just a guy on vacation, getting some fishing in and looking forward to some much-needed downtime and release from stress. His best friend, Dougah, is quite the character and is a wonderful influence on Gage. However, he is also very protective of the hero and that comes into play in a very dramatic fashion later on. On and off, when Gage calls him, his friend gives him sage advice – some are adorably teasing, and some are spot on serious. There’s some intrigue brewing in the beginning but none had the slightest inkling what was coming their way. And, it ends up not being what I and everyone else in the story expected it to be. The author has a nice way of slipping in clever twists and red herrings.

Another strong element in the book is the people in the community that Gage and Cody find themselves engaging with during the course of the novel. Velma and Delma are good-hearted matchmakers and romantics at heart. One of the good parts is the little trick they play with an innocent coin. I giggled at that scene. Red-haired Sadie was a treat to meet and Doc Taylor, too. Now there’s a bit of a story within a story. Doc Taylor enjoys some pivotal scenes that really blew me out of the water. What gets revealed and how everything comes together is a masterpiece of clever writing. Talk about tying up loose ends where I had no idea there was anything loose in the first place! It’s almost like playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, but without actors. I will say that there are clues from the past, but I didn’t put two and two together.

Not everyone in town is nice to Cody though. When I met Zeke and Alvin, I was convinced they were the exact type of guys the author made them out to be for most of the early to mid-parts of the book. I guess, even in the end, they still kind of were like that type. But they aren’t as shallow as I thought them to be, so I guess I could say they were a work in progress. In any event, that was a nice bit of writing as well. Some readers might get put off by Lila. She’s not a likeable character at all and I’m going to presume that is exactly how the author wanted me to feel about her. If that’s true, she nailed it. However, like Zeke and Alvin, there’s a twist I never expected.

The antagonists of the main serious conflict are plum loco-crazy and nasty to boot. The action scenes with the hero and heroine on the water were intense, full of action, quick-thinking and included spontaneous teamwork to make it out alive. Okay, there was a trope-slip blip with Zeke, but otherwise, it was a stellar performance.

Like I said, this is not a fluffy read. There were a lot of goings on that kept me turning the pages. My emotions for good or ill were definitely engaged, enough that I talked to the book like it could hear me. There might have been a bit of cheering, a couple of growls, some ‘awww’s’ and a few Wow!s thrown in.

Any Fin For Love is more of a romantic suspense with humor to keep the mood optimistic and upbeat. It has a wonderful story, great secondary characters, and Cody and Gage were a fun couple to watch as they fell in love despite all the stinky and wet situations they got into. I had fun reading this novel.

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Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat by David Dosa M.D. (Author), Ray Porter (Narrator)

Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat by David Dosa M.D. (Author), Ray Porter (Narrator)
Publisher: Hyperion (Print), Blackstone Audio, Inc. (Publisher)
Genre: Contemporary, Non-Fiction
Rating: Best Book
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

A remarkable cat. A special gift. A life-changing journey.

They thought he was just a cat. When Oscar arrived at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Rhode Island he was a cute little guy with attitude. He loved to stretch out in a puddle of sunlight and chase his tail until he was dizzy. Occasionally he consented to a scratch behind the ears, but only when it suited him. In other words, he was a typical cat. Or so it seemed. It wasn’t long before Oscar had created something of a stir. Apparently, this ordinary cat possesses an extraordinary gift: he knows instinctively when the end of life is near. Oscar is a welcome distraction for the residents of Steere House, many of whom are living with Alzheimer’s. But he never spends much time with them — until they are in their last hours. Then, as if this were his job, Oscar strides purposely into a patient’s room, curls up on the bed, and begins his vigil. Oscar provides comfort and companionship when people need him most. And his presence lets caregivers and loved ones know that it’s time to say good-bye. Oscar’s gift is a tender mercy. He teaches by example: embracing moments of life that so many of us shy away from. Making Rounds with Oscar is the story of an unusual cat, the patients he serves, their caregivers, and of one doctor who learned how to listen. Heartfelt, inspiring, and full of humor and pathos, this book allows readers to take a walk into a world rarely seen from the outside, a world we often misunderstand.

This is an unexpected gem – totally out of my comfort zone and yet one of the best accidental reads I’ve ever experienced.

The narrative style is smooth, well-paced and it included wonderful descriptives, dialogue, in-depth and heartfelt patient portrayals with insights, emotion, respect and warmth. Dr. David Dosa, an attending physician at Steere House, shares stories of his impressions as he went from skeptic to believer with regards to the amazing skills of Oscar, the resident cat. As far as I’m concerned, this novel is definitive in proving that animals have a special place in soothing and helping people when they are sick, in pain, or in Oscar’s case, providing comfort while signaling that death is imminent for a patient.

Dr. Dosa quoted this, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous” from a famous person. I liked that quote. I enjoyed watching the doctor slowly but surely come to the realization that Oscar really did have a special way of knowing. He comes to the conclusion that it’s not just for the patient, but for all the family going through the journey of watching their loved one being torn down by dementia or Alzheimer’s. One of the concepts is that the sufferers of the disease go through a process of un-learning everything, including even how to use a spoon. It’s a downward spiral that is unstoppable. I learned along with Dr. Dosa aspects of the disease process and how it affects the spouses left behind, their sons and daughters left behind, and the memories of who these people used to be before – just how much is lost. Yet, in the sharing, I saw amazing ways to deal with the loss, a different way to think, of little daily victories, and what is really the most important thing in life – slaving away to a deadline, a job, everything and anything other than our loved ones and family is NOT it – it’s that it IS our family and our loved ones that should be number one. When they’re gone, they’re gone and all the what-ifs, and If-onlys will only drag you down and follow you the rest of your life.

I was very affected by some of the patients’ stories. My aunt was in one of those situations described – sent to the hospital but the place she lived in would not allow her back. Where do you put a person suffering from severe dementia when they have no place to go – on the street? Hospitals don’t care. No one advises families about things like this. Doctors don’t share information people really need to know about in these situations. Not knowing how to care for your loved ones causes a distress you can’t imagine until you feel it yourself. It’s not good. Dr. Dosa shares advice in short vignettes woven throughout the novel. The most impactful was the story of Mr. and Mrs. Rubinstein. Ruth was the patient. The history of their relationship, where they met, and what happened to Frank later on when he tried to celebrate their wedding anniversary hit me in my tear ducts. There were many parts that affected my emotions throughout the book, but Ruth and Frank’s story got to me. I KNEW that scenario. A couple that used to go to our church could have been Ruth and Frank. The succession of final events happened the exact same way. I think that’s why Making Rounds with Oscar affected me so strongly – I could relate. After this book, I could understand in a way I hadn’t before. I found a lot of value within the pages of this novel and I feel like I’m better for having read it.

I also liked the descriptions of all the cats, not just Oscar. Their antics, their personalities – Munchie, Billy, and others, were enjoyable. Another cute line from the doctor is, “Calling a cat fickle is like saying snow’s wet.” I cracked up at that. I seriously believe that having the furry friends made the nursing home seem more homey. I hope there more geriatric centers like Steere House out there than not. There’s value in a purr.

Ray Porter, the narrator, provided wonderful interpretations of the main characters. He imbued the dialogue with emotion. His narrative of Dr. Dosa really seemed to get into the author’s head and convinced me I was listening to the good doctor. It was a joy to listen to and I think helped make the book that much more relatable than reading the print words alone.

There is a lot I could talk about because there is so much rich content, some of which I’d never heard of or considered. I truly believe that anyone facing the challenge of a family member suffering from the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s and dementia would benefit from the insights shared in this book based on Dr. Dosa’s experiences. It’s not depressing, it’s empowering. Yes, I cried quite a few times. But I laughed too. Just like life, there are ups and downs.

I really, really liked this book and I can’t tell you how strongly I recommend others to read Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat. Its delivery is easy to read/listen to. It’s not dry at all; it’s engaging, interesting and entertainingly educational. I realize this book has been out for a while but it’s still relevant, and its message is as important now as the day it was published.

White Lies by Jayne Ann Krentz (Author), David Colacci (Narrator), Kathy Garver (Narrator)

White Lies by Jayne Ann Krentz (Author), David Colacci (Narrator), Kathy Garver (Narrator)
Arcane Society, Book 2
Publisher: JOVE Books (Print), Brilliance Audio (Audiobook Publisher)
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Relationships are challenging enough for most single, over-30 women. For level-10 parasensitive Clare Lancaster, they’re a minefield. The elite few who know her secret call her a human lie detector, and any falsehood, no matter how subtle or well hidden, sets her blood racing.
Over the years, Clare has come to accept that someone with her extraordinary talents is unlikely to find a suitable mate. And she’s even resigned herself to the fact that everyone, to one degree or another, hides behind a façade – including her recently deceased brother-in-law.

When Clare finds the body of Brad McAllister, the golden child of Stone Canyon, Arizona, the posh residents turn a suspicious eye in her direction. As Archer Glazebrook’s daughter, Clare is shielded from the law, but not the gossip. It seems that meeting the half sister and family she did not know until seven months ago was a mistake. Now her father summons her from California to play a role in his business empire, and Clare doesn’t intend on making the same mistake twice.

But after meeting Jake Salter, Archer’s “business consultant”, she is convinced that things aren’t what they seem. Salter’s careful conversation walks a delicate line between truth and deception, revealing and resisting. Something sparks and sizzles between them – something more than the usual electricity between a man and a woman.

Caught in a dizzying storm of secrets, lies, and half-truths, Jake and Clare will plunge into an investigation that demands every bit of their special gifts. Together, they must overcome their mutual distrust in order to unravel a web of conspiracy and murder.

This fast-paced story has it all. For starters, it has action, murder, narrow escapes, conspiracies, mad scientists creating designer drugs, psychical talents and powers, and best of all, a romance that thrills the senses and engaged my emotions. My most favorite term is what Clare calls Fallon Jones throughout the novel. If anyone has read the series, even out of order, Fallon’s personality is pretty much the same – abrasive. So, every time Clare says her pet-name for Fallon, I cracked up, giggled, grinned and thought it hilarious.

But Fallon isn’t the hero in this novel, Jake is. He makes for an interesting and fascinating hero. He’s not over the top in his actions, but the author uses words that kind of builds him up bigger than what he does and is. That’s okay because I’m glad Jake doesn’t do super-hero stunts; it made him more relatable and acceptable as an alpha-type hero. The good thing about Jake is that he likes a strong woman. Sure, he admits that he wished Clare didn’t do some of the things she did because it scares him spitless, but he doesn’t stop her or belittle her. He supports the heroine and backs her up whenever he can. He uses his brain, and yes, some of his psychical powers, but they aren’t infallible.

Seriously, I found the writing tight, the mystery well thought out, the dialogue great and the romance delightful with a few moments of spicy fun for those readers that prefer those scenes in a book. The story can stand on its own without them though – it’s that complete.

The above is my review of the print version. Now I want to mention the audio version that I listened to, twice. David Colacci does Jake’s voice and all the other male characters in the story, and Kathy Garver does Clare and all the rest of the female secondary characters. They are AWESOME! They both had emotion and clear differences between their characters. When a female villain breaks down and cries – it’s realistic and effective. When Jake is growly, or boldly laughs out loud or talks sultry to Clare, my heart goes pitter-patter. His voice for Archer cracked me up because it is brash, distinctive and LOUD, and David Colacci voiced the perfect Fallon Jones – crack me up!

I think the audio version was a real hoot. It kept me on the edge of my seat, and even when I listened to it a second time, I picked up things I missed on the first go-round, which helped me enjoy it just as much in the second reading/listening. It was a splendid experience and fans of the Arcane Society series really need to take the audio version of White Lies for a spin after reading the print version. Both are awesome because the writing and story are what makes it work. Romantic suspense has never been so fun!

The Christmas Wish Knotts by Avis M. Adams

The Christmas Wish Knotts by Avis M. Adams
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Holiday
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Sif is nothing like her namesake–the strong Norse goddess and wife of Thor. She still reels from the trauma of being left at the altar. When Dr. Roger sublets a condo at the Cliff Edge Condos, she is immediately drawn to his dark eyes and warm smile, but how can she trust him after what her ex-fiancé did? She prefers her view of Puget Sound and cat Mr. Martini to the fear of rejection. Her ex-fiancé left her scarred. But can the good doctor heal her wounds?
With the help of the condo HOA president, the Quatre Hens, and Nanc, Sif finds herself surrounded by friends who seem more like enemies to her peace and quiet. But with the magic of Roger’s charms, the Christmas season, and her ever-changing cookie recipe, will the Wedding Knotts turned Good Luck Knotts, turned Christmas Wish Knotts bring Sif the miracle she is hoping for?

If you are looking for a quick, sweet romance to read that puts the ‘happy’ into the happily ever after, then give this story a try. There’s no stressful angst or contrived overdramatic melodrama, just a tale about a nice cookie-baking teacher who was jilted at the alter and now must find her way back into trusting another man that seems too good to be true. Are all good-looking guys narcissistic users? No, and Dr. Roger is going to prove that to Sif. Somehow.

I say somehow, because this book is told only from the point of view of the heroine, Sif, short for Sifjar. It’s her thoughts, decisions, actions and dialogue, both internal and external, that show readers the progression of her journey from jilted bride to a hopeful woman willing to take a second chance at love. It’s Roger’s actions that show the heroine and reader just how smitten he is, how considerate and patient he is as he navigates Sif’s skittish ways. The story shows him as being attentive, caring and thoughtful. He’s not a wuss though. As with a lot of romance book themes with heroes or heroines being jilted at the altar, the ex makes an appearance to muck things up. That is when readers see another side of the good doctor – the hero.

This story is cute, and well written. The only contrary thing I noticed was the pacing. It’s not slow or bogged down – it’s actually quite brisk. It’s the choppiness of the telling. At times it’s abrupt, and jumpy, but it always moves forward towards the goal, lending the story that brisk pace I mentioned. Every now and again I felt a little lost during the transition but other than that, I liked the story, the characters, the romance and the delightful and wonderful holiday themed wrap-up that made me feel the warm and fuzzies.

The blurb mentions the Quatre Hens, and Nanc. Nanc is easy to explain, she’s Sif’s best friend, but the Quatre Hens need to be experienced in order to understand their relationship with the heroine. They are quite the personalities and they both hinder and help with the romance between Roger and Sif. They mean well though and I think, in their own way, they’re like adopted family. They are fun and sweet and give advice whether it’s wanted or not. Sounds like family, doesn’t it?

The Christmas Wish Knotts is a good read with plenty to recommend it. If you are looking for a light holiday themed romance, then this book is a splendid choice.

Designed by Destiny by Maya Tyler

Designed by Destiny by Maya Tyler
Fairy Godmothers Incorporated, #1
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Paranormal
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Confirmed bachelor Nicholas Grey is more than the playboy perpetrated by the tabloids. Now his position as CEO of the architecture firm Grey & Company is on the line, and his mother’s interference is making things more difficult. Nick’s committed to his work, but, in order to be taken seriously, he needs to land a huge project. A stable personal life will help guarantee the contract.

Fairy Godmother Faye Delmore hears Nick’s plea and steps in to help. Posing as a publicist, she suggests a strategy to polish his public image, which includes convincing Beth to play his wife. Faye knows Nick needs the huge project to save his job, but she also knows he needs Beth in his life.

What happens when you add a fairy godmother who loves playing matchmaker into the equation? A future designed by destiny.

If readers enjoy the fake fiancé trope, then this is a fun story to try. Bethany Clark and Nicholas Grey accidently meet during a meet and greet at an architectural conference. What I found interesting is that there is a fuzzy thread of ‘love at first sight’ though that’s not the theme of this romance tale. Nevertheless, their initial contact frankly screamed attraction and interest. The author wasted no time in creating a situation of desperation, the catalyst that starts a series of events Nicholas could never have conceived. It quickly snowballs out of control and he and Beth have to navigate it as a team.

The thing about two strangers coming together in this manner means that there’s a lot of vulnerability that can easily be taken advantage by unscrupulous characters. And boy oh boy did the author create some whackos. Poor Nick was surrounded by them, and it shocked me that one of them was a member of his own family. Even though it’s a common kind of wrinkle in fledging relationships, Ms. Tyler used it to good effect. I kept hoping for a fairytale ending, and I kind of got one, but not in the manner I expected.

This book, though touted as paranormal, wasn’t heavy with it. It’s a light touch via the gentle guidance/inference of a fairy godmother, Faye. What was unexpected is the sub-story of Faye’s own doomed romance also getting a second chance. While I wasn’t thrilled with the ‘interruption’, Faye’s character grew on me. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with hoping for two ‘happy ever afters’, right?

I really liked Cara, Beth’s best friend. Everyone should have a friend like Cara. In a way, Nick had his best friend, Greg, to rely on as well, but I was ambivalent about him for most of the story. I was worried he would end up like Jason Alexander’s character from Pretty Woman – there were subtle similarities and it preyed on my mind in the background every time he was on scene. I don’t know if it was accident or design by the author, but it provided a heightened sense of worry for both Nick and Beth – I really wanted them to be happy. I became 100% engaged in their journey to a happy ever after that I felt they both deserved. I am relieved to report that this romance story satisfied my optimistic hope for the couple – after a very scary encounter with an enraged and vengeful secondary character. I didn’t expect that and was properly stunned.

Designed by Destiny is a really good read and a wonderful romance story. It includes variations of the tropes of the genre that fans will recognize, but Ms. Tyler uses them to create an engaging and entertaining tale of two unlikely people who share a passion for architecture and discover a new passion, for each other. Its ending shows a promising future for both Nick and Beth as they both open themselves up to trust, love, and the realization that together, they could conquer anything. I think the only thing that could have made this story even better would have been adding an epilogue showing the fruits of their new dream. Alas, I have to use my imagination – which isn’t too much of a stretch. The author laid a solid foundation that pretty much guaranteed their solid HEA. I definitely recommend this book and if you do decide to pick up your own copy, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Dark Whisper by Christine Feehan

Dark Whisper by Christine Feehan
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Paranormal
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Vasilisa Sidkorolyavolkva is a Lycan of royal blood. She knows what is expected of her, but all she wants is to be out from under her family’s watchful eyes. There is a fire inside her that is building. A restlessness coupled with a sense of growing dread. Every day she feels the weight of the legacy passed down through generations. The prophecy that says a man will come to claim her as his mate, and that she will guard his soul. She knows nothing about him except that he is hers. But nothing seems real until the night she meets him in the flesh….

Afanasiv Belan is a Carpathian, an ancient one. In all the centuries of his existence, no one has ever affected him like Vasilisa. He can see into her mind and feel what is in her heart. They are so alike, warriors bound by honor and plagued by secrets. They both know they must reveal the darkest parts of their souls if they hope to survive and protect the ones they love.

But if they claim each other as lifemates, it will change them down to the bone. They will become something more—something feared by both of their kinds….

The action is well-written, the suspense and drama are strong, and the characters are as interesting as ever. What I liked about Dark Whisper is that there is no stupid drama about the heroine resenting or resisting Afanasiv’s claim to her, or the possessive alpha nature of the hero. Vasilisa is well aware of what she guards, and I actually like that about her. No unnecessary angst, just a strong sense of self, knowing her duty and the confidence of her skill to carry it out, come what may. She’s a very strong heroine.

Both hero and heroine work well together. They don’t get a lot of down time because the pace of this novel is non-stop. The plot conflict keeps coming at them. But with their allies, Afanasiv and Vasilisa are up to the task of fighting off demons, vampires and betrayers. It’s a dark read which fits the title appropriately.

The ending is a bit abrupt, and I wasn’t expecting that. Usually there’s a wrap up that gives a reader time to admire all the threads of the plot being wrapped up, including the happy ever after. It felt like a roller coaster ride that ended too soon, up, down whoosh and …done. It was still a good tale, entertaining and engaging. Afanasiv and Vasilisa definitely complement each other. There were even a few surprises which I enjoyed.

I’m not too thrilled with the current story arc. I’ve been a fan of the series for a very long time, and most of the books are awesome. This one with the demons and Lilith mixing with vampires and mages just seems like it’s pushing the envelope into an area I don’t care for. The one sticky point that bothered me the most was the use of holy water. It seemed disingenuous because there was no correlation to anything referring to Christianity in Dark Whisper. I am used to holy water being directly associated with some type of Christian faith because it’s one of the most potent, visible and easily accessible symbols, yet it’s frequently taken out of context, using all its power but none of its source. I’m all for engaging willing suspension of disbelief in order to enjoy the paranormal romances I read, but I can’t ignore the use of something with power devoid of what gives it power in the first place. Using it on evil beings and then expecting me to believe that it would have the same powerful effect as if it were produced from the sole source, a Christian religion, but not? Nope, that didn’t work for me. It didn’t completely kick me out of enjoying all the other aspects of the novel. Like I said, there was a lot going on, but I took note, and it bothered me enough to mention it. It’s a good thing that there were many other facets of the tale I did like. There were exciting and powerful characters helping the hero and heroine out and I enjoyed the idea that there is something about Skyler that could create a new story arc for her and Dimitri. It certainly brought up more questions than answers, but they are captivating ideas to ponder. Then there’s the mention of the trapped Carpathian, Justice. Something big is building, that’s for sure. I’m glad they got one of the bad guys out of the picture. How they did it was sort of gruesome but extremely apropos. This is a dark romantic paranormal suspense after all. Ms. Feehan knows what she’s about.

Overall, I enjoyed the story. It’s a good read and I think fans of the series will like it. I did go, Wow! a few times and threw in a whoa! or two as well. It’s worth checking out.