The Curse Mandate, (The Dark Choir 3), Book THREE of The Dark Choir, J.P. Sloan

The Curse Mandate, (The Dark Choir 3), Book THREE of The Dark Choir,  J.P. Sloan

The Curse Mandate (The Dark Choir Book 3) by [Sloan, J.P.]

Genre:  Horror, Sci-fi and fantasy

Currently on KU

I NEVER read horror, and if I’d seen that I wouldn’t have come to this series. Its not a gory, blood-fest read though, and for me the horror is more of the “could this happen” type and I can deal with that. I really enjoyed books one and two, and was keen to get on to this.

Poor Dorian, you really can’t help but like him. He’s a very moral person in so many ways, just wants to live his life, earn a living and have fun, but he’s a magnet for trouble and sometimes his sense of morality leads him to tread very close to the permitted lines in magic.
He’s still searching for his soul, lost in book one, well – more he was tricked out of it than he lost it. Once more his need to help others got him into danger.
Alongside that though he’s got other problems, he’s got a new pupil, her brother needs help as he’s been cursed, there’s some wierd Chaos magic targeting people and places, and he’s trying to get to the root of that, trying to stop more people being hurt, and on top of that he’s a bar to run as part owner! Just another day for Dorian then..He feels like he’s always trying to catch up, and the next huge crisis is just aroubnd the corner.

As before the story is packed with magical terms, spells, curses, hexes and explanations of how different historic (genuine – they did/do exist) factions fit into this story. He’s an amazing man with incredible knowledge of his craft and its history, and I found myself constantly flicking the paperwhite Look-up function 🙂
The fact there is so much of this book based on genuine societies gives it a very realistic feel.
I love the detective (Hunter?), assigned to help him, a sceptic who by the end had changed his tune and looks to become a future ally.
One issue I did have is the cast of characters has grown huge, and I found it hard to recall who connected where, why, to which group, which section of magic they practiced or whether they were of the innocent of magic group, normal humans who’ve no idea what really goes on in their world. Lots of backtracking for me, and I’d have appreciated an index to keep them straight.

As always the plots are fast and furious, Dorian is racing against time, chasing clues and help, trying to sort out who are the good guys and what the others are up to, and still trying to help his friends and track down his soul.
There some really sad parts here too, both in his personal life and for me having grown fond of a certain person 😦 but sometimes that just makes it all the more real, when the unexpected happens, when the good guys don’t always come out on top.

Its a great read once more and the reason its four and not five is that I spent so long looking back at who did what, and how they fitted in to the story, plus checking out the many different terms and groups that it affected the flow of the story.
Actually that’s a bit unfair to drop a whole star, maybe just a half, as the idea and plots are excellent.
I loved the way the little side issues ended connected to the larger picture, and the detailed explanations of what the curses and spells could do, how they were constructed and at what cost. I enjoyed being completely off course in who was behind things, I like the unpredictable!

Stars: Four and a half, another action packed adventure, spell binding (!) saga, full of  power filled plots.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Fire and Flame, Anya Breton. Thunder Moon, Joanne Mallory

Fire and Flame,  Anya Breton

Fire and Flame by [Breton, Anya]

Genre:  romance, Sci-fi and fantasy

I loved the sound of this, and it started well, but then for me went downhill pretty quickly.

I found the two main characters hard to like, Sara even more so than Brent.
The misunderstandings went on too long, it was believable at first but soon felt tired and they annoyed me.
I didn’t understand why Sara seemed to be an only child, when as the High Priest her father would have been expected to breed with several women. Maybe they were there but just not mentioned, but given the emphasis on Sara “doing her duty” and having a full blood witch child it seemed a bit odd.
That phrase too “doing her duty” was repeated time and time again, and I soon got irritated by it.

The whole novel has to me a very YA feel but with some added sex. It felt as if the author had tried to make it appeal to a wider audience by adding some spicy sex scenes in, but for me the writing style still very very Teen and YA.
There were some phrases I simply couldn’t understand, or that just felt odd – “clean shaven skin of his cheeks no longer de-emphasized the bubbled scars beneath his chin” I think she means without his beard his scars were showing, but it seems a torturous way of writing it.
Then “Did you do your duty with someone else to avoid doing it with me?” again, a long winded way of saying have you had sex with someone else 😉
This one had me totally amazed, just can’t get that scene out of my head 😉 “her breasts bounced for his attention and her legs scissored opened and closed at regular intervals signally that though the massaging was becoming too much for her, she didn’t want him to stop.” ( That’s exactly as its written BTW – not my typos for once!) I have to say that sounds like very active but odd sex, kind of sex semaphore!!
Later when she’s describing his penis(or rod as its referred to quite often,) she says though he’s above average size when erect, when its not it’s smaller in length and girth than even human men. I felt a bit sorry for poor Brent there!

There’s lots of action, it’s an interesting idea but TBH it just felt too YA for me. I’ve read some great YA novels where the stories appeal to all ages, but for me this wasn’t one. If I was a teen I expect I’d love it but I’m not and sadly I didn’t take to the characters and it was just too unbelievable for me.

Stars: Two and a half, a fun idea that for me just didn’t work out. Others love it though, so that’s fine.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

 

Thunder Moon, Joanne Mallory

Thunder Moon - a beautiful tale of magic and love by [Mallory, Joanne]

Genre:  Sci Fi & Fantasy, General Fiction (Adult)

Reading ARCs means that often there’s little information available – and when choosing this I didn’t know this was a novella, just 100 pages, 1970 kindle locations. Novellas rarely work for me as they just don’t let me get to know the characters or plots in any detail and that’s what happened here.

Its a good story, part romance, part looking back to times past, part supernatural.
Its just that I never really felt I knew the characters more than just superficially. There just wasn’t the space – it works for many readers and that’s great, but I want the nitty gritty, want to feel all the emotions, wallow in sadness when things are wrong, fill my heart with joy when things go right and in such a short read I can’t.

Its a good mix of people, a fun story, once I understood what was happening.
The beginning had me floundering a little as compressing a story into a novella means details are short, and I wasn’t always quite sure what was going on. It comes clearer though and turns into a pleasant light fantasy romance.
It was an OK read but just a bit on the short and light side for me.

Stars: Two and a half, an OK read that I’d have enjoyed more of it was longer.

ARC supplied by Netgalley and publisher

A Bend in the Willow, Susan Clayton-Goldner, Flawed, Tracy Wolff

A Bend in the Willow,  Susan Clayton-Goldner

A Bend in the Willow by [Clayton-Goldner, Susan]

Genre:  General Fiction

I’d not read any of Susan’s books before but this sounded intriguing.
I love romance reads, been finding concentration difficult this year so light ones have been the mainstay. Sometimes I want something that’s got a bit more depth to it, and I’ll go outside my usual zone into one like this, a non romance or ones with just a touch of it.
I wouldn’t want to read books like this exclusively, but love to mix and match reads to my moods.

So, I loved this story, loved the way it slowly built up, that it was clear Catherine was holding back a huge secret, loved the way we only found out snippets as the story unfolded.
Then things went really wrong, a huge crisis came and she was forced to reveal all, well part anyway, she was prepared to tell Ben everything but…. He was so shocked – well, who wouldn’t be – and his reaction was just what Catherine had feared.

She had to go back to her past, to reveal who she is to people who don’t know what happened to her, but she needs the help of her family to see if one of them can be a donor to Michael.
That means telling people who haven’t seen her for twenty years, who didn’t know what happened to her, finding out if her brother was still alive, seeking out Ryan, and all the upset that would bring to their lives. Michael needed her and she wasn’t going to let him down.

Its was emotionally gutting, brought me to tears a few times and I understood exactly why she had acted that way, and yet I also understood why Ben was shocked.
When someone is hiding something so huge from you it must make you question everything. Ben was a good man, loved his wife and son but in shock, and reacted badly. The more secrets came out the more I felt for Catherine and him.

Michael was wonderful, a real sweetheart, and his illness is all too real for many kids. I felt that part of the story was really well done, and could feel for the poor kid, especially when he’s facing death.
In hospital people die, you can’t avoid it, the guy in the bed opposite died one morning when I was having chemo, its tough but happens, even in kids wards.

The other characters were great, Kyle and his family, the people who knew Robin Lee, Ben’s secretary Helen, and his dad. They added to the feeling of reality, the emotions that built up, and how desperate Catherine was both as a teen when she disappeared, and now when her carefully constructed world collapses.
I felt so sad for her, she was trying so hard and yet the whole thing wasn’t her fault, she was just a scared teen.
Of course once lies are told, they build up and grow and she had to carry on with them even though she didn’t want to. Experience had taught her that she needed to keep quiet.

Its a fabulous read, a story that so full of drama and emotion, made me cry, and the characters felt like people I knew.
I’d intended reading part way and then back to a lighter read, as I’d just come off a similar great but heavy story. However I was so engrossed, so caught up in Catherine’s world that I couldn’t leave it until I knew how things were going to work out, hoping Ben would understand, hoping of course that Michael would get his transplant and recover, hoping Catherine’s family would forgive her.
Its a book I felt really sad to leave but was  happy at the ending, a positive note even if there was still lots to sort out and move forward.

Stars: Five, a wonderfully realistic, emotional, drama filled story.

ARC supplied for review purposes by author

Flawed,  Tracy Wolff

Flawed: An Ethan Frost Novel by [Wolff, Tracy]

Genre:   Romance

I love Tracey’s writing, she’s got a way of creating real characters, flawed ones, that I can identify with. then of course she brings out some drop dead gergeous hero for them, but its never they meet and a quick HEA. Oh no, she really puts them through the wringer ( thakfully!!) and this book was no different.

The only issue I had with it was that it covers such a short period of time, 90% covers just a few days, and somehow I enjoy novels better when there’s a longer timespan. That makes the issues and the dramas more intense, feel more real.
Here Miles and Tori have been sniping at each other for the past year, getting quite acrimonious, and maybe that could be taken as  the start of the story. I’d really have liked that and the events that followed to have covered several weeks, preferably severable months though. That way the highs and lows really hit and feel real.
Its kind of hard for me to believe they could go from hating each other to so-in-love in just a few days.That’s why its a four star read and not a five.

I loved Tori, she’s got a wicked sharp tongue, one of those on-the-outside confident people, accused of being shallow and brash, and yet inside there’s someone who’s not confident at all, and is surprisingly deep in personality. She uses that front to hide her fears, hide the way she’s upset at how her family have always acted towards her, ridiculing any attempts she makes, belittling her at every turn.
Even now she’s grown up they still treat her as if she’s hopeless, irresponsible, a let down to them. Its the “if I get in first with the joke about myself” kind of thing that makes her act this way, she controls the situation, people laugh with her, not at her…and yet inside it hurts, she’s crying.

Miles is a typical Geek, can’t focus on anything except his current situation – that’s what led him to miss the things that happened to his sister Chloe, and he just can’t get past that, is doing all he can to make up for it to her. So when her BFF turns up bedraggled and hurting he tries to help – even though they hate each other.

I love that enemies to lovers trope, and here it works so well, its just that I find it hard to believe in hate turning to love quite so quickly, lust yes but love? They didn’t really know each other that well…
Still, the encounters they have are typical Tracey ones,  tempting, tantalising, seductive and incredibly steamy. Some authors excel at those scenes and Tracey is one, no cringe making phrases, just intense, believable and sexy heat.
I got a bit cross at Tori at times when Miles was trying to help – I got what he was doing, but then again I understand as I’ve read his thoughts, understand his motives, but when Tori stops and thinks it through I can see where she’s coming from too. Clever writing when an author can do that, write two diametric views and yet each is valid and justifiable. Its the circumstances that surround the actions, the context and motives that really make the difference.

Once more Tracey has given us an erotic story, full of great characters, full of emotion, dramas, depth, covering some sadly all-too-real events. Wish they could all play out that way, that all perpetrators of such things as happen here could get what’s coming for them in the same way. Sadly life’s tougher than fiction and too many get away.

You can read this without reading the first few books, but you’ll get more from it if you read those – and they’re a great trio so why not?

Stars: Four, a fantastic read, just that the events happened a bit too quickly for a five.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and publisher

Afraid to Fly, (Anchor Point 2), L.A. Witt

Afraid to Fly, (Anchor Point 2), L.A. Witt 

Afraid to Fly (Anchor Point Book 2) by [Witt, L.A.]

Genre:  romance, LGBTQIA

I loved, just loved, Just Drive, book 1 in this series, and was hoping for more of the same.
I love LA Witt’s writing, and was ready for another hot and sensual, tender but real romance. Sadly though I just didn’t feel it here….
I did love the sneak peeks of Sean and Paul from book one though, that they were getting ready to marry. terrific to know that they lasted, that they were getting their HEA.

So why wasn’t this one another winner for me? Well, as a chronic pain sufferer I know how debilitating and depressing pain can be, and the need to mask the effects if you don’t want to be a down on everyone and every outing. Clint though, his pain was so intense I really didn’t see how he could keep it so hidden. I could see why he wanted to, he’s a career Serviceman, and a bit longer and he can retire gracefully, on a much better pension, and sadly that extra money is needed when you have health issues.
I just felt his pain was overshadowing his whole life though, it was literally running it, where he had to plan what he could do to hide how much he was hurting. I know only too well that sort of pain isn’t going to go away, isn’t going to get better, and it just seemed a bit too depressing knowing his life didn’t have an upside.

Even when he met and got together with Travis they seemed to just have a HFN, and I wondered – all the fears he has for their future, would he be proved right?
There wasn’t any way I could see that things would change, and I felt a bit left in limbo as far as the future for them and his fears went.

Travis too, his issue with the kids and his ex, I needed to know if he would get to see them, how they would take his news etc. There was a tiny little bit of light at the end but its very ambiguous.
I so felt for his problems, and wondered – does that really happen? Where something so traumatic happens that it affects people that badly, gives them PTSD and yet they can’t even discuss it with a Service sanctioned counsellor?
Way to leave your staff in limbo.
Pretty disgusting and yet as with so many jobs the Services depend on fitness both mentally and physically and both these guys had so much to hide to keep their jobs, after they’d sacrificed so much for their country. Made me think for a bit about real life, how these kind of situations work.
As a drone pilot I could see how people like Travis would get sneered at if they had issues with what happened, safe behind the lines, and yet the effects of what they do are the same as those pilots who drop bombs from a plane and then are miles away when the blast hits.
Tough one, and I guess Forces life isn’t built for sympathy and understanding, more Take-it-like-a-Man stuff – even for the women 😦 US and UK seem to have the same attitude here.

I think its that eternal down-ness of their problems, the way nothing seemed to be resolvable that made this book an Ok-but-once-only read for me, it was too grim, bleak and unremitting.
I need some light at the end of the tunnel and TBH I just couldn’t see it.

Sadly  I could believe that Travis would get tired of Clint’s issues, love – even the strongest – doesn’t stop people getting frustrated, however much they understand the causes. Pain like that doesn’t get better, only worse, unless there’s some kind of new medical treatment out, and nothing like that was suggested for Clint.
Likewise Travis’ mental stress, without being able to discuss the cause with a trained counsellor how could he get past it, stop the nightmares, avoid the triggers, and would Clint in time decide the lack of sleep was exacerbating his pain, that they just couldn’t be together?
See, that’s a real issue for me, I just can’t see how they can get the happy future I want them to have, without some interventions…just understanding and sympathising with your partner isn’t enough to stop the problems, and keep both happy.

A few hints on what could happen in the future to benefit, surgery perhaps for Clint, some psychotherapy and counselling for Travis, a way to move forward with a slightly easier life, and this could have been a story I loved as much as the first, but as it is though its the usual perfectly written story with believable characters and situations, its just too bleak, dark, grim for me. Real life has that, I want somethng positive when I’m reading, some hope for a HEA for characters.

Stars: two, a real shock for me, a two star LA Witt story, but this one just didn’t work for me.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Steele City Blues, Book 3 in the Hell’s Belle Series, Karen Greco

Steele City Blues, Book 3 in the Hell’s Belle Series,  Karen Greco 

Steele City Blues: The Third Book in the Hell's Belle Series (Hell's Belle 3) by [Greco, Karen]

Genre:  Sci Fi & Fantasy, General Fiction (Adult)

I’ve read books one and two in this series/trilogy (I’m unsure which it is) and loved them so its on to book three to see what’s going to befall Nina and co next.
We pick up where book two left off. Although there have been a couple of novellas between, I haven’t read them and they don’t feel necessary to read to follow the story ( though might be fun to see what else is going on!).

Leila can’t be allowed to continue her actions, she’s destruction in person form and a complete nutter power freak. She’s creating what seems to be a supernatural army. Who needs her running the world?
Who can stop her though? Blood Ops doesn’t exist now, Max seems to have thrown in with Mary Jane and  the Gov but they don’t have the skills and knowledge to fight supernaturals. Bertrand the demon is untrustworthy, he seems to be on their side but who knows, he’s totally unpredictable and what’s best for him only is what drives him. He’ll help so longs as he benefits, and when it doesn’t he’ll swap sides easily and seamlessly. Dr O can’t help, he’s in Steele city, the prison for those of a supernatural bent, and the team miss him and his advice and magical talents.
With Babe gone and Dr O locked up its really down to just Frankie, Nina and friends to save the day..and the world. Tough times eh?

Its a fun read once more, full of humour and snark, puzzles to unravel, sides to take and wondering just where Nina is going next, what’s going to happen and how.
I love the core group of friends, Frankie, Nina, Matty and Darcie, and Caspar…a great group, very diverse, and at times it seems like herding cats trying to get them to agree. Max is kind of in the group but not, he’s very allied to Mary Jane, and TBH I was disappointed in some of his actions and decisions. He’s very pro helping people, saving lives and yet seems to have no issues with Mary Jane’s announcements about what she’ll do if Nina and co don’t succeed in stopping Leila very quickly…it just didn’t feel right to me him being OK with that.
There’s a new player to the game too, someone who may – or may not – be a help and who comes from a very unexpected place.

There some great humour too tucked in with the drama, and its the kind of quirky snark that pervades Kim Harrison’s Hollows series and made that such a must read for me. I do like some fun in among my dark and dramatic, the end of the world is nigh…but there’s time for a coffee first sort of stuff!
Nina seems to have curbed her anger a little in this book, it was beginning to grate on me that she had a shoot first policy, so for me that’s a real improvement. After all there are only so many times you can get away with it!
I said Max was a bity of a disappointment, but that’s made up for by Frankie – I Love that guy, he’s so perfect, humorous when the situation needs it, but ready to defend Nina to the death. I love the thought of him in the 70’s in gold lame and roller skates!! He and Nina are getting closer, its clear he wants her and she’s attracted but will she ever take that final step?

Its fun and games, drama and deception, snark and sensuality and another hit read for me.
I’m not sure if this is a trilogy or a series, can’t find out from author site or anywhere on net. It ends…kind of..so it could be a wrap, but there’s so much left open that I think there’s room for more books, and am hoping they are coming.

Stars: Five, a fabulous read once more, packed with magic and mayhem and fantastic characters.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Entwined, JC Harroway

Entwined,  JC Harroway

Entwined (The Recovery Series Book 2) by [Harroway, JC]

Genre:  romance,

I loved, loved JC’s first book so was pleased to get an ARC of this second story. Its tough though following such a great start, so I wondered how it would stand up to that one.
Recovery, JC’s debut story was set around one of my weaknesses –the film star/rock star trope – so it already had an edge, but this one is a second chance romance and I enjoy those too, so I was ready for another cracker.

It was a good read once again, with very believable people and realistic plots and settings, (but as an artist can I just say that though you Can paint with watercolours on specially treated canvas, that’s unusual and paper is the norm…) It didn’t quite have the magic for me of the first book though, it was a fun read but didn’t quite hook me in the same way, keep me gripped to the page, wondering what was coming next.

I loved Jess and of course Morgan – and who wouldn’t?? When we do finally know the reasons for their split, the big secret that gets taunted to us all the way through, it seems a bit light, a little naive, almost implausible. What we have to remember is they were still very young, still teens and judgement and decisions made then aren’t always the best. Don’t you look back at some teen times and wonder how on earth you thought that, did things, believed others when we the passage of time we can see it was all wrong…Of course there was no real reason then to distrust, that came later with time and distance, the ability to see through people.

I loved Melissa, Jess friend and cousin, too though was a little puzzled that the priest pronounced Melissa and Daniel man and wife, when it was Gary she was marrying 😉 I’m reading an ARC though so this hopefully will have been corrected, made me smile though!

Its really centred around why Jess left, what happened, why didn’t she tell anyone what was wrong, especially poor Morgan who thought they were so in love. Now she’s back for the wedding, and they’re both still feeling the pull of the past, and trying hard to just get through the weekend and be civil, never mind how they feel inside. Its really easy to pick up on the fact they still share an intense passion, the air around them crackles with it and there’s some well written steamy scenes between them.

Its an enjoyable read, but felt a bit simplistic in a way, I was sad when the story came out, understood that teens don’t always have a good overview and are not always able to make the best decisions but it still didn’t really fill the story for me.
Unlike the first book, which I could and have re-read, this one is a one off read only.
If you’re looking for a feel-good, light read with a bit of a sad story in the background this may be perfect for you, but for me the drama side was a bit lacking and flat.

Stars: Its more than a three but not quite a four, so three and a half.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

A Promise of Fire, Amanda Bouchet

A Promise of Fire,  Amanda Bouchet

A Promise of Fire (The Kingmaker Trilogy) by [Bouchet, Amanda]

Genre:   Romance,

I’ve been really lucky this year as regards debut books, and read some real crackers. Its always a leap into the unknown, will you like the authors writing style, the way the story is delivered, the type of character? So when it goes well for me I’m happy 😉
Nothings worse that writing a low star review on a debut book. Authors work so hard, but not all stories will suit all readers, it doesn’t mean a book is good or bad, just for that person its good or bad.

Anyway, this is one of those fantasy reads that can cross age limits, being suitable for teens and YAs, as well as those like me long, long past that. Its a fascinating story with enough romance to keep me hooked, for me that gives a story something special, and some cracking magic.

Its not a historical LotR type fantasy, but one that brings in Olympus and the Greek Gods and Goddesses.
I really enjoyed the crossover, the way snippets slide into the story, reminding me of things I’d read as a teen. I had a real kick then for Greek and Roman legends that’s never really left, they form the backbone for some incredible stories.

That framework backs up the story, with Cat being someone in hiding, with certain magical traits, most of which she hides.
There’s a mystery about who she really is, where she’s come from, and unlike some stories where its clear early on, there are clue, but things that also point a different way. I’m 99% certain I know now, but still have room for a little doubt. Its a story that brings things out of nowhere, so there’s still room for her to be someone other than who I think.

So, she’s hiding out in the circus, among people that are as close to family and friends as she’ll allow. They make you weak, that’s how she was brought up, and there’s some horrific stories about how she was taught that.
Its become instinct now and when Griffin finds her and abducts her she fights, hard and strong, but he’s very devious.
Its clear fairly early on just how single minded he is, and having determined his family who have just taken over a region ( a family without magic, something unheard of formerly) need her he’ll stop at nothing to bring her to them. He wants her to go willingly though and of course only knowing what she reluctantly reveals about herself he doesn’t understand just why she’s fighting so hard.

As the journey goes on feelings change, a mutual respect is earned between Cat, Griffin and the other three soldiers with him.
They go through some tough times, fight off magical creatures and human enemies. The ties with Olympus and the Gods are revealed, but no-one ever quite knows how they will respond. They can be fickle creatures these Gods, and catch them at the wrong moment and no help is forthcoming. They’re constrained by rules too, so you can never quiet predict how things are going to turn out.

Then when they reach the destination the story doesn’t stop, Griffin is still pursuing Cat romantically and she has come to have feelings for him she’s scared to reveal, partly from her people-make-you-weak upbringing, and partly because she fears making him a target. The new reining family have lots to learn, decisions to make and need to guard against being overthrown, either by their own people, or the other two districts.
I loved the family, loved their optimism, kindness, sense of justice and fairness, and the way they took Cat to their hearts so quickly.
I really liked getting to know the other soldiers along the journey and how things changed, and how they were all still close once back at the castle.
And of course Daphne, I love someone like her, a perfect nasty character, full of jealousy 😉

Its a great start to a series/trilogy, I’m not sure which, but I do know I want to read more from Amanda.
Though its part of more, the story has a “for now” ending, not a cliff-hanger, just hints that more is to come. For me that’s perfect – I HATE cliff-hangers, hate them. Nasty things, by the time the next book is out they’ve lost impetus, but when I’m reading the one they’re in its frustrating! So hurrah to Amanda for not doing that!!

Stars: Five, a fresh, fabulous, fantastical “realistic” read, with a good dose of romance that fits within the story, doesn’t overtake it.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Sweet Southern Hearts, Susan Schild

Sweet Southern Hearts,  Susan Schild

Sweet Southern Hearts (A Willow Hill Novel) by [Schild, Susan]

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Well, with so many books out to choose from, readers have to have some kind of rough and ready way of filtering – some days I feel I spend more time selecting possible reads than actually reading!!
One of my filters is that I generally avoid titles with the word “sweet” or ones where it figures large in the description, so I would have passed on this if author Susan hadn’t brought it to my attention.
That would be a shame as its a wonderful read, even though I’d not read books one and two – one day…they sound just as fun as this one, so I’d like to read them. For me knowing the ending doesn’t spoil a story and I often reread old favourites.

Why avoid Sweet though? Well, to me it conjures up those somewhat sickly and rather chaste 70’s Mills and Boon reads, the Barbara Cartland style of romance where ingenuous virgins rule, all is cute and tidy, nothing the slightest bit controversial, and everything  remotely sexual is simply alluded to and stops at the bedroom door. Great for others – M&B sell millions so clearly people love that, but its not my taste.
Here though its far from that, a story with divorced families, with problem exes, with ladies in their fifties and over looking for men, trying out internet dating, and some terrific Fun.
That theme pervaded the novel, kept me sniggering – the Sturgis festival where the ladies are on their RV tour of USA and think they’re going to a country craft fair and end up at a massive bikers convention, looking for Gourd birdhouses and the like – that was wonderful and felt so very real.

Still, I’m getting ahead, Linny and Jack are on their honeymoon and a few days in are having a wonderful time…til the problem ex rears her perfectly coiffed head, rows with her new husband, and Jacks son Neale phones really upset at all the drama.
Cut short the honeymoon and return home.
Neale is a typical teen, and sometimes he seems OK to Linny, sometimes he even seems to like her, but other times its all how his mum would have done something better…Linny’s been reading step parenting handbooks and asking her friends for help – and what a fab group they are. They each are gems in their own right and play a solid part in the story.
Then there’s Jack’s parents, off on a cruise but a great pair. They liked the ex, and are trying hard to make Linny welcome but she never feels she quite lives up to their view of how perfectly she did everything.
Linny’s mum, Dottie and her friends – they were wonderful. I’d love to be one of them. Dottie won some money on the slots when the group went on a cruise, and she’s hired an RV for them all to go adventuring and sightseeing.
Boy do they have some great adventures too, and I really felt there along with them.

Its a story played out in many homes, divided families, divorces, new families and step parents, and all the issues that follow.
I loved Linny, she was trying so hard with her new family, but she’s a business woman too, runs her own fledgling consultancy, and just is not a domestic goddess. Meals from Gus’s Gas and Go feature large in her repertoire.
She’s had a tough time, widowed twice, with the last one being a real scumbag who left her with lots of debts. Now she’s got a chance of happiness with Jack, but of course his son Neale is 12, and any parent knows that’s coming up to the danger zone of teenagers, when we’re always in the wrong, and don’t understand, where they always feel put on, hard done by, taken advantage of….Poor Linny.
She’s growing her new business and needs time to focus, but she’s running the home too, coping with Neale living there for a while as the ex sorts out her marriage issues, and that plus putting up with the ex ringing Jack constantly over stupid things all take their toll.
It doesn’t help that Neale’s mum is one of those petite, gorgeous, glamorous mums, and though she knows Jack loves her she doesn’t feel she can let him see how insecure that makes her.
Linny’s friends too were a fabulous bunch, and Diamond – what a marvellous woman, I adored her. There’s stories potentially from all these characters, they’re such a well fleshed out, diverse bunch, felt so real that it was as if they were my friends too.

I laughed a lot in this book, not snort out loud humour but smiles and sniggers.
I felt the problems, Chantel with her workforce, Linny’s sister Kate, struggling with a new born ( its not all Johnson’s baby powder and sweet smiling babies – more-scent-of-the-day-sick, with spit upon clothes, and crying babies where you don’t have a clue what their problem is).
I adored Jack, trying so hard to be there for his son, to make up for how he felt over his parents split, felt for Neale too, he wasn’t a bad lad, just that going through teen years is tough anyway without parental issues too. I loved to hate the ex(!)

The whole story just felt so real, I don’t know if small town US really does fit this mould any more than small village UK is full of thatched houses, fundraising cake sales, and well meaning locals. It felt real though and I went along for the ride, imaging I was there and sharing how the story played out.

I’ve rambled in far more than I intended but its a story with so much to offer, so much diversity that I wanted to try to say all the things I loved about it.

Stars: Five, one to keep, to read when I want a solid story, great writing and to smile a lot!

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Scattered Souls, (Flames of Time 2), by Erica Lucke Dean

Scattered Souls, (Flames of Time 2), by Erica Lucke Dean

Scattered Souls (Flames of Time Book 2) by [Dean, Erica Lucke]

Genre:  YA romance, paranormal and fantasy,

This book picks up straight after the end of book one, where Laith has swept Ava back to the 1920’s, and Maddox is franticly trying to track them down.

As with book one there’s a YA feel to this story, which comes through in the decisions Ava makes.
Where we saw more of Maddox in book one this time we learn more of Laith and get to know him better. We do see Maddox too, and TBH what I see I really don’t like.
I was surprised that Abercrombie only got a passing glance in this book, he was built up in book one at the start, so that I expected him to play some major role but so far…

This book is mostly set back in the past, and we see what Laith has been working towards all these years. There are trips too that take us back further, to meet others from back then, to see what effect they’d had on the future, how it played out.
We learn about the twins parents, the witch and her niece, Elizabeth and her granddaughter…that bit really did Maddox in for me. I’m firmly team Laith now. But then that’s happened to me before and the author then goes on to do things, show viewpoints that have me changing so I’m half expecting that in book three 😉

I enjoyed this story, though when Laith started taking Ava on outings, rather than trips that were absolutely necessary it did feel – well, just wrong to me, and TBH a bit of a filler of space rather than important to the story.
Meeting her dad…er, nope, didn’t like that. I did like seeing the past, and hearing what had happened from the source, but there were times when it was a bit too far fetched for me, maybe that’s where the YA bit comes in though, I’m looking for answers instead of just going with the flow and enjoying the story as I did when I was a teen…

Overall it was a fun read, and though I’m team Laith I still can’t see how on earth this is going to resolve, though I’m less likely to grieve if Maddox pegs it that I would have been in book one. How though? And what other effects will it have – nothing happens in isolation. then of course there’s the  will-Erica-change-my-mind-yet-again about which twin I like best. For now I’m finding Maddox selfish, obsessed more with the idea of love and getting one over on Laith than actually in love with Ava, whereas I feel Laith does love her and would sacrifice anything for her happiness, even of it means he doesn’t get to be with her.
That could all change with book three though heh-heh-heh!!

Stars: mmnn…three and a half I think, though suspect if i was target age it would be a five…

ARC supplied for review purposes by Publishers

Gone, Deadly Secrets – Book 2, Elisabeth Naughton

Gone, Deadly Secrets – Book 2,  Elisabeth Naughton

Gone (Deadly Secrets Book 2) by [Naughton, Elisabeth]

Genre:   Romance, General fiction (adult)

I’ve enjoyed several of Elisabeth’s novels now and Gone was an interesting and absorbing read.
It’s a mix of romance and suspense, with each balancing the other perfectly. The romance angle – well, I always love that and Alec and Raegan were perfect together – was believable and the suspense part of the story added to the romance to make for an interesting read.

Sadly abduction is all too real for many parents, and crises like this cause a rift in the most devoted of couples. Everyone copes differently and sometimes that means they simply fall apart and no longer need each other. That’s kind of what happened with Alec and Raegan. Raegan doesn’t blame Alec, it could just as easily have happened when she was looking after their daughter Emma, but Alec can’t let go of the guilt and blames himself.

Three years on, the couple are brought together. They divorced but neither have moved on, can’t let go of the other. While they were apart they coped, but now when they meet it stirs up old feelings. They can’t admit it though, Alec is still full of guilt and Raegan is still very hurt that he let her go, didn’t lean on her but grew away.

It turns out this latest girl isn’t Emma, but reporter Raegan is charged with looking into this and the past abductions by her boss.
She’s always believed Emma is alive but had no real links to work on. Now there’s something concrete, and she’s full if zest to research and hopefully trace Emma. Alec though has shut his mind, he blames his father and is convinced he killed her.
Things happen, they fall into working closely and the pull on them is still there, that old fierce attraction.
Alec had descended into alcohol to cope after Emma’s disappearance, but he’s not drinking now, has been teetotal for some time, and as part of his reparations needs to apologise to Raegan. This proves the time to do it, and he agrees to help her research, still convinced that Emma is dead, but seeing that Raegan needs some closure. He’s also concerned that she’s in danger from his vicious father who’s due for release from prison. To his surprise though they find connections between the cases, and links that bring them both into danger.

Its a story that felt so real, I loved the interviews with other parents of abducted children, they were interesting, and I enjoyed how the links were slowly revealed, all the clues laid out letting me work my own way to a conclusion.
Of course I had the advantage of other points of view, of knowing a bit more than they did. Still, as I worked out who was behind events I was shocked, and its a story that really could happen, could be real and for me that makes a novel far more readable.

Its a story that flows well, that lays out clues and ties up ends neatly, that felt real, with characters I could empathises with in some cases, hate in others. I need all that in a novel. The suspense angle was enough to keep me reading, but not so much that I switched off, and allied to the romance made for a story I really enjoyed.

Stars: Four and a half, an absorbing, realistic romantic suspense.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

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