For the Winner, Emily Hauser

For the Winner, Emily Hauser

For the Winner by [Hauser, Emily]

 

Genre:  Historical Fiction

As a child I adored fairy-tales, but mum frowned on me reading them as I approached high school, telling me I should have outgrown them.
Then joy, high school and a library full of myths and legends from all over the world to replace my beloved fairies.
Those from Rome and Greece were my favourite and I noticed many parallels in the stories.

So when I saw this it took me mentally back those happy days getting lost in stories of times past, different cultures and the vagaries of the different Gods and Goddesses.
Then came children, a film addict husband and my stories took form once more with fabulous Classic films for the kids, and Jason and the Argonauts was one of their favourites.

This book doesn’t really dwell on the Argonauts perilous journey so much as Atalanta’s part in it. We do go with them for long stretches but its more the interaction of the characters than the perils of the journey.
Atalanta was abandoned as a baby even though she was the first born and a princess, and she’s brought up by loving foster parents. When she hears the tale, when her parents feel she’s old enough for the story of how she came to them, found in a torrential storm, she sets off to find her family, and then finding out the truth she sets out to prove her worth to the king.
She’s a fearsome warrior, the equal and better of many men, and in disguise as a Lord she gets her place on the Argonaut, intending to steal the fleece and prove herself to the king, and thwart Jason’s cruel plans for the places he wants to rule.

That’s the plan but of course its never that simple, and Atlanta has to constantly revise her plans according to circumstances.
Its not hard enough being a woman in a time when they were definitely subservient to men, being a princess in disguise, having to fight every step of her way against her peers, but the Gods and Goddesses have their own plans and are constantly interfering in mortal affairs.
Luckily there’s Iris, ostensibly a messenger for Hera, but in reality a Goddess in her own right, using her messenger persona as a way to keep things as she feels they should be.

Its a fabulous read, transporting me back in time, waiting to see what would happen to Atalanta and her plans with each new chapter, inwardly ranting at the bigoted and short sighted men, railing at the Gods and Goddesses for their careless interference, their disregard for human life.
I kept telling myself “just one more chapter” and then “well, just til I see if/til I find out what…” until I was so tired i wasn’t appreciating the story as it deserves.

Its a fabulous read, feeling very real, letting me rail at the unfairness of how women were treated, and then thinking, how come we still don’t get equal treatment thousands of years later.
I loved the characters we met, loved the scenes of everyday life, loved seeing a different side to Jason than the usual one, and his cruelty was all too believable.
And the ending, just so right, took the story to the perfect finale.

Stars: A very worthy Five, a wonderful tale to escape from everyday life into another time and place.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Blackmail, Anna James Watson

Blackmail, Anna James Watson

Blackmail (Skeleton Key Book 1) by [Watson, Anna James]

Genre: erotica

A dip outside my norm, but I was pointed in this direction, and the book is free for KU subscribers. I love KU!
I do like erotica when it has a solid story attached. This was fun and certainly very steamy and sensual! I was a bit surprised to find it continues in further books, though look forward to reading more from the three main characters. Its labelled skeleton Key part 1 but there’s also a series called Skeleton Key, where different authors have written stories that are unconnected except for the title, so I mistakenly thought it was part of that, and not part 1 of a series by this author. My bad…but just in case you have that thought too 😉

I liked – and disliked in the case of Tristan – the characters here. They’re all in their 20’s and studying at school/uni?
As a UK reader sometimes the terminology can be confusing, and I found a few words here that even kindle look up couldn’t help, but context gives me a rough idea. One big issue for me was this Tap thing, its a big part of the story, involving people being selected for secret(ish) groups, and TBH I hadn’t a clue exactly what it was at first, but it became clear as the story went on.
American colleges/schools/universities seem to have a great emphasis on these lifelong clubs, which are often difficult to join. We don’t really do that so much in UK. Same with frat/sorority houses etc.

Anyway, Mia gets caught out, and caught up in some hot and sexy times with Tristan and Julian. The background connecting the trio, the story and the sex scenes is the clubs, and what happens and who can join.
There’s day to day stuff that makes the story feel real, and gives a sense of grounding to the characters, its not just a sex fest but a sexy story and I was disappointed when I came to the end and found…it wasn’t the end ;-0. I’d been watching the % bar waiting for some crisis as usually happens at about 70-80%  and thinking “what’s going on?” and then  realised around that, yep, there’s more to come.
I’m kind of sad as I want to know now whats going to come next, and pleased because it means the story gets longer to evolve, and that way we can really get to know the characters well.
Already I can see that Tristan is so much more than the jerk I first thought, but don’t yet know why he acts that way. I like Julian, he’s very self assured and composed, and Mia is learning a lot about herself. I think this has got the potential to develop into quite a complex series ( I hope), something that’s not often found in erotica, a genre that’s dominated IMO by the short’n’hot reads, where the story come last in priority. Its fun to get an erotic series with a solid and interesting, something I’ve not found very often so far, and something I’m looking forward to continuing. M.Q. Barber’s Neighbourly Affection series is one I really enjoy, though thats very BDSM orientated in comparison to this. Who knows how this one will develop though 😉 .
I did feel the story was a little overtaken by the sex, and that’s why its a four for me not a five, but as always sex is what many readers want, and they’re happy for story to come second. Its a very personal thing.

Stars: four, a good intro to a sensual and steamy series.

The Haunting of Alcott Manor, Alyssa Richards

The Haunting of Alcott Manor, Alyssa Richards

The Haunting of Alcott Manor: A Contemporary Gothic Romance by [Richards, Alyssa]

Genre: Fantasy and paranormal, Romance

I loved Alyssa’s trilogy The Fine Art of Deception, and this book is another paranormal read but very different to the trilogy.
When I first started reading I was taken back to my teens/early twenties when I read many mysteries, especially those by Victoria Holt, and this book gave me that same kind of feeling, though I don’t remember the romance being a major part of those reads 🙂

So, Gemma loves her parents, but has had some strange childhood experiences that are suggested through the book, seem to have given her kind of PTSD/OCD issues. Its clear she struggled with things of the supernatural world, but equally clear she shares her mum’s talent for solving issues of that sort.
Sadly her mum has died, and now her dad needs her help. She really doesn’t want to get involved, but loves her dad and knows if he’s asking for her help, knowing her problems with the supernatural he really does need it.

She agrees to meet him and do what she can for the land, but isn’t intending to step into the house. She thinks using her gift by clearing the land of spirits will help.
Tragedy isn’t finished with her though, and her dad is involved in an accident that leaves her to take over the restoration, against her wishes but she owes him much, and can’t see him lose everything.

From there on it a race to finish the first stage of the renovation before the court deadline, or lose the house to those who want it demolished and new homes put up.
Its a beautiful old building and when she meets Henry she can see its special to him. He’s on a mission though, knowing that the past owner Benjamin Alcott was convicted of killing his wife, he wants to free him from haunting the property, as Benjamin is destroying much of it in his search for something that would prove his assertion he was innocent.

Its a great read, I loved hearing about the house, sharing the memories that played out and wondering if Benjamin really was innocent as Henry thinks, and if so what really happened that night. Was he really responsible for the deaths of people involved with the house since then?
Henry is really worried that past people have become trapped in the house memories, and cautions Gemma to take absolute care not to interact with any scenes she sees, however lifelike they feel.  That sounded weird at first, but its soon clear the house really does have a life of its own.

It’s a gently paced novel, not a race through to the finish, with events playing out slowly, scenes from past and present there, and clues that could mean very different things happened. The evidence for the full story is still missing and seems to be the key to Benjamin’s destructive actions, and there are some fun twists to the story in the search.

It all wraps up neatly, the loose ends tidied away, all the answers given, which was great as I hate to be left wondering “but what about??What happened to??”  I was totally surprised by the ending, I simply didn’t see it coming, and that’s good – I love a novel that does that 😉

I’m still a romance reader more than a mystery one but this was a nice bridge between the two, and an enjoyable read. Sometimes its good to step away from a favoured genre and dip into something different.

Stars: four, an escapist read, full of secrets and suprises that caught me out completely!

ARC supplied for review purposes by author

All or Nothing at All, Jennifer Probst

All or Nothing at All, Jennifer Probst

All or Nothing at All (The Billionaire Builders) by [Probst, Jennifer]

Genre:  Romance,

I’ve enjoyed a few of Jennifer’s stories now but this one didn’t really work for me.
I understood the background issues, the need Tristan felt to get away, as well as the reasons why Sydney wouldn’t leave with him.
He acted like a spoiled child growing up, a thwarted teen when he left for the city, and now he’s back eight years later he’s still acting like a kid, holding old grudges, never once looking at his own decisions or questioning them.

The romance side is pretty generic, secrets revealed, heartbreak just when the characters had finally got together…but as usual for a book by Jennifer its well written, and plays out nicely.

What I had major issues with was the way Sydney managed to get away with no one, not one person, questioning who’s Becca’s father.
Its a small town, and as we see in the book, like most its one where everyone knows, or think they know or suspect, every little thing that happens, so how she managed to keep this a secret isn’t believable.
Then Tristan returns home and never once suspects? Nor do his family, who Sydney works for, who are very close to her? Even when they’re organising Becca’s 7th birthday party is still way over Tristan’s head…..
That was a huge issue for me to get past.
When finally he finds out his reaction at first is understandable, but they way he acts after didn’t make me like him.

He’d been a pretty cold jerk to Sydney for the past year and he reverted to, went past even, that same icy behaviour. I just wanted to say “grow up man! Look at who you were and think honestly how you would have reacted, if things could have worked out!!”
Sorry, a well written read that many will love, just not me.

Stars: Two, a good read for some, but which didn’t work for me.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Suddenly Engaged, A Lake Haven Novel Book 3, Julia London

Suddenly Engaged, A Lake Haven Novel Book 3, Julia London

Suddenly Engaged (A Lake Haven Novel Book 3) by [London, Julia]

Genre:  Romance, General Fiction (adult)

I really enjoyed the first two Lake Haven novels and was eager to read this one. Its another great read, full of emotion and drama but tempered with some fantastic humour from little Ruby.

Kyra, she’s lovely but its hard, there’s only her and Ruby, her dad lives far away and isn’t really close to her, mum died when she was a kid and she’s no other family. Still, she knuckles down and does the best she can for her and Ruby, works hard even if its is only breadline earnings.
Ruby is a wonderful character and gave the novel so much fun. I could picture her red head nodding enthusiastically, her mouth moving at a mile a minute. Who couldn’t love her? Some kids are like that – when mine were small I used to say all kids should come with volume controls. Wouldn’t that be great? Save on the eardrums when all three were arguing, trying to get their voice heard. There was only three years separating eldest and youngest so….

Then there’s Dax, the neighbour in the new house they’ve just moved to. Mr Grumpy as Kyla refers to him.
Poor guy, he’s got a sad past, bad divorce, bad situation and I so felt for him. That must have been so tough emotionally. Ruby wears him down though, slowly bit by bit.
He calls her and Kyra the Coconuts, play on their surname which makes Ruby giggle. she’s such a sweet child, so full of fun, loves his dog Otto, knows no boundaries and has this innocent logic ” but I didn’t go under the fence today mummy, I went around it!” That kind of logic where she does just as she wants, seeming to feel she’s still within mum’s rules.
She was a really great part of the story, the way she slowly wormed herself into Dax’s heart.

It was great seeing Wallace again too, from the furniture shop. He’s a real character, and I enjoyed the way he put the moves on Dax every time he came in to bring his latest works. Its all chat and fun, he has his partner but can’t resist embarrassing Dax.

Who else? Well there’s loads of characters, from Ruby’s father to Furniture shop employee Janice and her friend Heather, who she kept trying to set Dax up with. I felt a little sorry for Heather, Dax really hadn’t led her on, but she was hearing and feeling what she wanted to happen, and not what actually did happen or was said. Sad, but no ones fault. She was a little over enthusiastic, slightly pushy and I think most guys would feel a little taken aback by her attitude, even if they weren’t hoping to be more with someone else…There’s the diner staff, the others who live around the Lake, plus the summer visitors, and of course Ruby’s father and his wife…

When things take a turn for the worse with Ruby’s health I so felt for Kyra. I’m so glad we have the NHS in the UK, and we don’t need to find cash for surgery and doc visits, choose between expensive health plans or food and a roof.
I understood just how scared and desperate Kyra must have felt. I loved Dax for what he offered, but was so cross at him not acknowledging even to himself how he felt until it was almost too late. But it would have cut short the story if he had 😉

The drama keeps on coming with Ruby’s health issues, the financial side, the romance between Dax and Kyra and the involvement finally of Josh – and I so did not like him! Jerk!

Its got the perfect ending, as with the whole story everything is perfectly paced, measured and we have to wait for the right moment, for the time when all falls into place. Its a great read, and one I’ll re-read.

Stars: five, a fabulous story, full of pathos and emotion, perfectly paced and with some terrific humour from Ruby lightening the story.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Lightning Only Strikes Twice, Stanalei Fletcher

Lightning Only Strikes Twice, Stanalei Fletcher

Lightning Only Strikes Twice by [Fletcher, Stanalei]

Genre:Romance

I liked the sound of this, but found it a little…dull 😦

I didn’t really feel any chemistry between Luke and Annie, either in the past or the present. I did enjoy their time in the past, meeting the other characters, but found it odd how accepting the townsfolk were of two strangers arriving out of the blue. Also given they arrived with nothing except their clothes how on earth did Luke get to be in the position he did, he seemed to be pretty much what he was in the present, some kind of wealthy building contractor.

I quite enjoyed the double twist at the end, but the shaman was a bit of an oddity – came in, did a couple of mysterious things and disappeared. I felt his presence very weird, as if he was brought in for a sole purpose and I hate that kind of ploy in a story. I did wonder too, where did Luke disappear to when he went to search for him and was missing? No-one, not even Annie, seemed to wonder where he’d been.

Its an interesting premise but lack of real emotion, and too many oddities for me to rate higher than a three, OK read but not one to keep.

Stars: Three, barely. An interesting idea but one that didn’t hold me for long.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Blood Gamble, Disrupted Magic Book 2, Melissa F. Olson

Blood Gamble, Disrupted Magic Book 2, Melissa F. Olson

Blood Gamble (Disrupted Magic Book 2) by [Olson, Melissa F.]

Genre: Sci-fi and Fantasy, General Fiction.

I love this extended series, first got into it via Lex’ book, and then found the Scarlett novels and have eagerly devoured them ever since. Its got for me the perfect blend of story, paranormal issues and drama. It feels real, so very real.

Scarlett’s in Las Vegas, Dashiell having used his usual devious means to get his way. She hates it, had a bad experience there in the past and didn’t want to return ever. Vampires are disappearing though, and the new show, run by two vampire celebrities seems to be at the centre of it.
As usual Scarlett gets right in the heart of danger, scrambling from one danger straight into the next. It would be easier to just do the bare bones of what she was tasked with, and in fact she has done what Dashiell asked so could leave.
This is Scarlett though, she can’t leave when those she’s come to care for are in dangers, when there could be something she can do to stop more disappearances, more murders.

Its a great story, fast paced, very real and cleverly done. I didn’t see how it was going to play out and certain revelations really caught me by surprise.
Its a great follow on from the last novel and given the ending ( what!!) I’m keen to crack on with the next novel.
What I didn’t feel so much was the relationship between her and Jameson. I can’t really recall them back in NY, so maybe if I had this would feel more organic, more a natural development. as it was I could have believed in insta-lust but Love? Err…nope, wasn’t feeling that. and maybe I just didn’t want to, I’ve always hoped Jesse would prove to be the one for Scarlett…maybe one day?

I missed the regulars too, Dashiell, Kirsty, Will, Molly, and of course Jesse and Shadow. Though I enjoyed this story I would have enjoyed reading about them even more.
Not sure how the whole crew could have been in Las Vegas though, in fact they couldn’t. Paranormal constraints against most of them, supernaturals having fairly rigid rules and protocols for many events. And that would have made for a totally different story.

I do hope Scarlett’s back on home turf next time, with the characters we’re used to meeting.

Stars: five, another drama ridden suspenseful story.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers
 

Then She Was Gone, Lisa Jewell

 

 

Then She Was Gone, Lisa Jewell

Then She Was Gone by [Jewell, Lisa]

Genre: General Fiction (Adult) , Mystery & Thrillers

I love Lisa’s writing, have read a few of her novels now.
This is a typical LJ story, one that slowly unfolds with each reveal giving us more questions til really I had a few wild stabs about what happened but was way off course in the final denouement.

Laurel, mum, wife and like many of us, nothing more than typical family petty issues mar everyday relations,  life is good – til it isn’t.
Ellie, her youngest child, beautiful, golden Ellie disappears. The family are distraught, Lauren retreats, leaving her two older children and her husband to cope alone.
Its a huge problem, who knows how we’d deal. For the Mack family it means life fractures, Laurel and Paul separate, the kids grow apart from their mum, and the impact stays with all of them for many years.

The story is told partly from Laurel’s POV, partly from Ellie with a few other voices thrown in.
I like that format, it lets me see what people are thinking, what their motives are and a story is often very different according to who is telling it.

Its heartbreaking, I so felt for all of them, poor Ellie, the slightly spoiled teen, to have that happen, so tragic.
The family, on course for normal average family where kids grow up, parenst become grandparents and life is full of happy family occasions – then all that is lost.
Like ripples in a pond the repercussions spread outwards.

Then there’s Floyd, we know he has a bigger part than he’s telling but how and why? And Poppy, 9 going on 49, a precocious child, so grown up in many ways but the child she should be is there deeply hidden. Why does she look so much like Ellie, how did she come into Laurel’s life, how do the puzzle pieces fit together?

Some secrets get revealed along the way but the finale brings out parts I’d never imagined and made me so so sad for all of them and what they’d been through.
A real tear jerker emotional read, and a story that could so easily be real.
When I was a teen one of my dad’s workmate’s daughter disappeared. She was my age, 12-13 maybe back in early 70’s, taking a short 1/2 mile bike ride to another family member in the middle of  a summers day. Her loss never left her family, tore through them, had such a massive impact on what was a standard family with standard expectations. She never was found, and the mystery has always stayed with me.
As a parent I think I grew to understand even more about the impact her loss had on them, and while reading this novel I recalled so much of the shock and horror of April’s disappearance.

Stars: Five, a gripping read, emotionally gutting at times, ripping through me as secrets upon secrets came out. Sadly very realistic, which makes for a terrific read of course.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

One True Pairing, A Geek Girl Rom Com, Cathy Yardley

One True Pairing, A Geek Girl Rom Com, Cathy Yardley

One True Pairing: A Geek Girl Rom Com (Fandom Hearts) by [Yardley, Cathy]

Genre:  Romance

Sounded a book I’d love, the Hollywood trope with a heroine who works hard, isn’t a simpering coy miss who falls at his feet.
Sadly though it was an OK read for me that was it, its not a re-reader, and parts dragged and I found myself skimming through. somehow it all became very storm in a teacup stuff.
The fact their “romance” only covers a week, apart from the last few pages meant there had to be some serious chemistry between them for me to believe it, but though there was lust by the bucket load, that was it for me, no real romantic feelings.

I found Haley a bit abrasive at times, I know she had a difficult past, but she verged in outright rude to Jake, and he wasn’t the Hollywood hero I was expecting, but a star on the way up who almost rolled over and let her stomp on him at times.
I like strong women, but I like strong men too, and Jake was just far too trusting of everybody!
There’s one “twist” that was pretty clear very early on but the person it affects was oblivious. That smacked of naivety, a laziness in not checking,  and made me want to shake them….
The story didn’t really have anything more to it than the blurb, very one paced, one plot where I was hoping for more. Its going to be a great read for some but for me it was just an OK one, I didn’t dislike it but didn’t love it either.

Stars: Three, a little bland for me, but that’s OK, others love it, we all want different things.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Betrayed by Blood, Beth Dranoff. Cutie and the Beast, Fae Out of Water 1, E.J. Russell


Betrayed by Blood, Beth Dranoff

Betrayed by Blood (Mark of the Moon) by [Dranoff, Beth]

Genre:  Sci-fi and Fantasy

I enjoyed the first book in this series, but had a few reservations. I still think Dana does a bit too much introspection, but its far less than in book one and the story feels as if it flows better to me. A bit more Show going on, less Tell 😉

Dana’s still working out how to live as a shape shifter, how to adapt to her new life. She’s still working at the bar, still having the occasional fling with Jon, and he’s still close to Claude. Clearly he isn’t an ex….

Sam, he’s around too. He would like it to be just him and Dana, but accepts Jon, while not liking it. He can see that commitment scares Dana so for now he’ll go with the flow. He’s not so happy though when an ex comes back on the scene, the guy who really let Dana down.

Seems the organisation she left has a job for her…but they need to get in line because a group of supernaturals also have a job for her. She’s kind of in a rock and hard place though, these are the kind of offers that don’t accept sorry, no can do as an answer….

Dana’s learning more about herself, about her heritage, her father, the strange tatts on her back, and of course her new life as a shape-shifter.

Busy time for her and means there’s a lot going on. she grows a lot over the course of this novel. She adapts to what she learns, grows to trust others and there’s less sex for the sake of it and more feeling comes across, though she still struggles with commitment. It made me wonder how she’d feel if she found Sam with someone else….

I found the action flowed better in this novel, that things fell into place easier, more naturally. It makes me want to know more, what’s really the secret, what do the tatts mean, and who wants the info? We know some of those answers now, but there’s still a whole lots we don’t know.

There’s less Pack stuff here, more emphasis on Dana herself and the secrets that surround her, the things she needs to know but doesn’t. I felt that made for an easier to follow book. I do like the Pack side and hope they feature in later books but for now keeping them as a minor side story felt right. I don’t mind complex, actually I love complex, but sometimes there’s a point when too much just spoils the story, just makes things confusing and that’s a bit how book one was for me.

The things I didn’t like? Well, pretty short list, mainly the “silly” stuff that I felt dragged the story down, the names and descriptions -Squid D’Le for example, felt too YA, too juvenile.

Can you imagine Mercy Thomson dealing with a weird tentacled crew, headed by a Squid D’Le? Kate Daniels slinging back Bloody Marys garnished with oil demon eyeballs, toenail clippings and frost nymph snot? Nope, nor can I…
The descriptions of some of the demons feels pretty much like that too. Can they be just frost demons, tentacled land evolved sea creatures? Nope they’re all kind of “pink, with blue spots, green horns, purple suckers, and six eyes, drooling acid yellow venomous slime..” kind of thing. Ditto the drinks and food. That really detracted from the story for me.

Its a good story, shaping up really well IMO but those silly bits let it down and make it hard to take seriously. Stories usually have either serious drama or comedy angles, but this feels like Beth has tried to incorporate both, and for me it doesn’t work.

It can be done, but its not easy, and doesn’t work here. Thankfully that’s only a small part of the story!

Stars: Four. Maybe four and a half, I can’t quite get past the silliness side…but yes, four and a half, its a real step up from book one and I do want to see what happens next.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Cutie and the Beast, Fae Out of Water 1, E.J. Russell

Cutie and the Beast (Fae Out of Water Book 1) by [Russell, E.J.]

Genre: LGBTQIA, Romance

I’ve enjoyed some of EJ’s stories before and love tales around Fae so was eager to read this.

Just didn’t work for me though, felt a little too “fluffy” and the characters too stereotyped. I couldn’t really get into it, didn’t care much about what happened to the people and it all just fell a bit flat for me.

A series that’s clearly not for me. won’t put me off reading different books by this author though. not all books suit all readers, even if we usually enjoy someone’s wring style.

 

Stars: Two, I’ll pass on the rest of this series but still look out for E.J Russell’s other stories.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

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