Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks

March 27, 2017

Review | Her Darkest Nightmare by Brenda Novak

Review | Her Darkest Nightmare by Brenda NovakHer Darkest Nightmare by Brenda Novak
Series: The Evelyn Talbot Chronicles, #1
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks, August 2016
Pages: 407
Format: Paperback
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THE HUNT FOR A SERIAL KILLER
Evelyn Talbot knows that a psychopath can look perfectly normal. She was only sixteen when her own boyfriend Jasper imprisoned and tortured her—and left her for dead. Now an eminent psychiatrist who specializes in the criminal mind, Evelyn is the force behind Hanover House, a maximum-security facility located in a small Alaskan town. Her job puts her at odds with Sergeant Amarok, who is convinced that Hanover is a threat to his community…even as his attraction to beautiful Evelyn threatens to tear his world apart.

BEGINS WITH AN ESCAPE FROM HER PAST
Then, just as the bitter Alaskan winter cuts both town and prison off from the outside world, the mutilated body of a local woman turns up. For Amarok, this is the final proof he needs: Hanover has to go. Evelyn, though, has reason to fear that the crime is a personal message to her—the first sign that the killer who haunts her dreams has found her again. . .and that the life she has so carefully rebuilt will never be the same…

Despite her career working in the insane asylum, Evelyn Talbot thinks her darkest nightmare is behind her. She survived brutal torture and imprisonment at the hands of her high school boyfriend (after he killed her best friends in cold blood) and rebuilt her life to study those who can’t resist the call of the kill. But when asylum staff and townspeople from the small Alaskan town start to go missing, Evelyn fears the worst: her past is back to haunt her.

Here’s the thing about Her Darkest Nightmare: it has all the elements to be an insanely (no pun intended) creepy, heartstoppingly thrilling, breathtakingly romantic story. But it isn’t. Why? Evelyn.

Evelyn had so many issues. Granted, yes, she had a terrible event in her teenage years that would haunt anyone for the rest of their God-given days. Yes, she pulled herself together pretty well. But it’s the massive amounts of neurosis coupled with an unsympathetic, flat character that takes all the wind out of the story’s sails.

She can’t date Amarok, the cute Alaska State Trooper, because he’s younger than she is. I don’t know quite where that one came from – it’s never really explained except she’s afraid of being judged. She can’t be alone. Okay, this one makes sense, especially in the Alaskan wilderness. But then why on earth do you build a cottage on the edge of town with an unreliable snow car (a BMW, for heaven’s sake) and then whine when you can’t get home? She can’t connect well with others in the town/the asylum. Again, okay – she’s had some traumatic experiences. But she whimpers (there’s really no other word for it) whenever someone looks at her funny. When she does grow a backbone and stand up for herself, it’s so out of character that the whole story seemed off.

The reason the character development was so sorely lacking lay at the door of one key element: the dialogue. It was forced, awkward, and kept pulling me out of the story. I was keenly aware I was reading words on a page, not enveloped in a world of snow, sexy troopers, and murderous psychopaths.

Amaork had the most promise but he too suffered from Her Darkest Nightmare‘s stilted dialogue. I wanted MORE, more PASSION, more FIRE, more THRILL. And ended up turning this book back into the library early.

Novak’s latest just didn’t measure up for me. Maybe I’ll stick to her contemporary romances.

2 Stars

Posted March 27, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 13, 2016

Review | The Beast of Clan Kincaid by Lily Blackwood

Review | The Beast of Clan Kincaid by Lily BlackwoodThe Beast of Clan Kincaid by Lily Blackwood
Series: Highland Warrior #1
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks, May 2016
Pages: 291
Format: Paperback
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A Highland warrior battles to reclaim his birthright in the first of a new series filled with seduction, revenge, and soul-stirring passion…
They call him the Beast—a hardened mercenary whose heart seems as cold as his icy blue gaze. They do not know his true name: Niall Braewick, son of the Laird of Kincaid. It has been years since he escaped into the forest the night his father was murdered. Now he has returned, ablaze with a vengeful hunger. He will gain the MacClaren chief’s trust, gather his clan, and take back his lands. And take the MacClaren’s daughter as well…
Though he pulled her from the river, saving her life, Elspeth has been warned to keep her distance from her father’s hired warrior. He is a barbarian—a shame, as he is far more compelling than the lechers and fools competing for her dowry. Little does she know that, like the castle itself, she is a prize Niall intends to claim…but will he extract blood for blood and possess what is his, or will his enemy’s beautiful, innocent daughter tempt him to forsake his dream of conquest?

The Beast of Clan Kincaid is out for revenge. Torn from his home at a young age, Niall Braewick has returned to avenge his family’s death and reclaim his clan. A meticulous fighter, Niall has planned out his subterfuge (acting as a warrior for hire) to win back the castle and lands. The only thing standing in the way? His father’s murderer’s beautiful daughter. He can’t get Elspeth out of his mind, and the feeling is mutual. As he tries to refocus and get her out of his mind, she finds her way to his heart.

Admittedly, my first impression of The Beast of Clan Kincaid wasn’t too favorable. In the first scene with Elspeth, her sister’s puppy disappears downstream. Everyone’s reaction? Oh, well. For me, that was just crass, especially with Elspeth’s “she’ll learn to get over it” reaction. Although Niall goes to find/save the puppy and returns him to the girl (major brownie points for him), Elspeth’s “eh” response made it hard for me to identify with her.

I’m glad I kept reading. Blackwood does an excellent job of portraying the politics of a Scottish laird’s court, especially one who still harbors feelings about what happened to Niall’s family. His mixed emotions, colored by history and perception, was one of the underdog golden elements of The Beast of Clan Kincaid.

I loved the depth and description that went into Niall’s character. The conflict of his need for revenge, to secure his home, and to win Elspeth created a fascinating character. His narration was compelling, engaging, and a new take on the Scottish romance.

Unfortunately, I felt like Elspeth fell flat. She didn’t have the same consistency of character: one moment she was fiery, fighting back against the (completely unsuitable) suitors who paid her court; the next, she was the dutiful, doting daughter who did anything her father told her to. I didn’t see her as the vibrant, vivid character Blackwood tried to create. That character would have brought the story to a new level.

Despite Elspeth’s lack of character, The Beast of Clan Kincaid was a good read. The vivid descriptions and intense emotions from Niall more than made up for her.

3 Stars

Posted October 13, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 2, 2016

Review | Tempt Me by Twilight by Lisa Kleypas

Review | Tempt Me by Twilight by Lisa KleypasTempt Me at Twilight by Lisa Kleypas
Series: The Hathaways, #3
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks, September 2009
Pages: 373
Format: Paperback
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He was everything she'd sworn to avoid.
Poppy Hathaway loves her unconventional family, though she longs for normalcy. Then fate leads to a meeting with Harry Rutledge, an enigmatic hotel owner and inventor with wealth, power, and a dangerous hidden life. When their flirtation compromises her own reputation, Poppy shocks everyone by accepting his proposal—only to find that her new husband offers his passion, but not his trust.
And she was everything he needed.
Harry was willing to do anything to win Poppy—except to open his heart. All his life, he has held the world at arm’s length…but the sharp, beguiling Poppy demands to be his wife in every way that matters. Still, as desire grows between them, an enemy lurks in the shadows. Now if Harry wants to keep Poppy by his side, he must forge a true union of body and soul, once and for all...

At first, I didn’t know how to feel about Tempt Me at Twilight‘s romantic hero, Harry Rutledge.

Scratch that.

For the first half of the novel, I didn’t know how to feel about Harry Rutledge.

He’s ruthless, especially when it comes to getting what he wants. A self-made man, Rutledge has created his success and is therefore fiercely defensive of it. He thrives on his business and vice versa. He has reached his wildest dreams: to make his mark among the rich and famous. So when he sees something he wants, he takes it.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Poppy Hathaway, it doesn’t work the way he planned.

I loved Rutledge at first. He was the hardened businessman, the one that never believed in love, especially not for himself. He was the reluctant underdog, the one fighting to win the chance at her hand. Then he made what I would consider some pretty bad decisions. I have to admit; I was close to putting this book down. But it was Poppy who saved both Rutledge and Tempt Me at Twilight.

Poppy is Rutledge’s foil in every sense of the word. Where he’s a tough-minded businessman, she’s a softer, family-focused woman. It’s this simple yin yang that adds life to both the narration and its hero. She makes him relatable, forgiving, even kind.

Like Poppy, I struggled with Rutledge, but also like her, I found the soft in him. It was the saving grace of Tempt Me at Twilight, the element that made me stay up half the night to finish it; that had me setting aside the book with a sigh when I finished. Their relationship creates this magic that brings the whole novel alive.

Despite the hiccups with Rutledge in the beginning, I fell madly in love with both him and Poppy. Tempt Me at Twilight brought all the charismatic, vibrant characters and the romantic storyline that made Kleypas a household name. And I loved it.

4 Stars

Posted October 2, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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August 4, 2016

Review | L is for Lawless by Sue Grafton

Review | L is for Lawless by Sue Grafton"L" is for Lawless by Sue Grafton
Series: Kinsey Millhone, #12
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks, November 2009
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
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When Kinsey Millhone's landlord asks her to help deceased World War II vet Johnnie Lee's family find out why the military has no record of his service, she thinks it'll be a cinch. But she is about to meet her match in world-class prevaricators who take her for the ride of her life.
When Lee's apartment in burgled and a man named Ray Rawson, who claims to be an old friend of Lee's, is beaten up, Kinsey soon finds herself on the trail of a pregnant woman with a duffel bag. Soon the intrepid P.I. is following leads halfway across the country and encountering another man from Lee's past—a vengeful psychopath.
Stalked by a new enemy and increasingly suspicious of Rawson—not to mention running out of time and money—now Kinsey must steer a collision course to solve a decades-old mystery that some would like better left unsolved.…

When Kinsey agrees to do a small favor for her landlord, Henry, she thinks it’ll be a small investigation. Well, not even an investigation – more of a research project. When a simple search for a deceased’s military ID turns into a story of cops and robbers, a missing stash of cash and jewels, and a lawless man’s hidden history, Kinsey may finally be in over her head.

Logically, I didn’t expect all of the Kinsey Millhone books to be murder mysteries, but I will admit missing the hunt and drama that accompanies Kinsey’s search for a killer. Instead, L is for Lawless tells the tale of how a seemingly simple quest to give a veteran a military burial turns out to be one of the oddest mysteries Kinsey’s ever unraveled.

To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about this installment. I appreciated Grafton’s effort to shake it up, but Kinsey’s trek halfway across the country to unravel the truth about the veteran who wasn’t a veteran didn’t do it for me.

Kinsey herself felt disjointed, misplaced. From Dallas onward, it just didn’t feel like Kinsey. The odd situation and race against time didn’t showcase her character – instead, the landscape and weird family dynamics of the minor characters took over Lawless. Consequently, the rest of the story began to fall flat, and I found my mind wandering more often than not.

I would have loved more about Rosie and William’s wedding – the little glimpses Grafton shares were downright hilarious. As two well-loved recurring minor characters, I felt they deserved more of the story’s time.

Maybe L is for Lawless wasn’t a winner for me, but I’ll keep plugging away at the Kinsey’s stories. After loving the first 11 of them, maybe #12 was just a hiccup.

Posted August 4, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 1 Comment
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June 17, 2016

Review | Mine Til Midnight by Lisa Kleypas

Review | Mine Til Midnight by Lisa KleypasMine Till Midnight by Lisa Kleypas
Series: The Hathaways, #1
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks, October 2007
Pages: 376
Format: Hardcover
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When an unexpected inheritance elevates her family to the ranks of the aristocracy, Amelia Hathaway discovers that tending to her younger sisters and wayward brother was easy compared to navigating the intricacies of the ton. Even more challenging: the attraction she feels for the tall, dark, and dangerously handsome Cam Rohan.
Wealthy beyond most men’s dreams, Cam has tired of society’s petty restrictions and longs to return to his “uncivilized” Gypsy roots. When the delectable Amelia appeals to him for help, he intends to offer only friendship—but intentions are no match for the desire that blindsides them both. But can a man who spurns tradition be tempted into that most time-honored arrangement: marriage? Life in London society is about to get a whole lot hotter...

Amelia Hathaway has her hands full. Her heartbroken brother is caught in the past. One sister is recovering too slowly from her illness while the others can’t help but get into mischief. When their brother unexpectedly inherits the family title, it’s up to Amelia to shepherd her family through the maze of societal manners under the critical eyes of the ton. Amelia thinks she has it all held together…well, until she meets Cam Rohan.

The thing about Cam is he is similar to Amelia in so many ways: constrained by society, trying to make a living according to the rules of “proper” society, and working to help those he cares about. The difference? Cam’s Romany nature.

Quite simply, I loved Mine Til Midnight. I opened the book on a Sunday morning, planning to read just a few chapters before starting my chores. The next time I looked up, I was closing the back cover. Kleypas’ writing is believable and emotional, her characters funny and enthralling…essentially, up to the standard I’ve come to expect from her. The kicker for me? The Romany element.

There was something so mysterious, so intriguing about Cam’s Romany nature. A successful businessman, he rejected material things and was borderline uncomfortable accepting his paycheck. He wore the clothes suiting a man of his position in society, but a small ring on his finger to remind himself of who is he and where he comes from. His character was steeped in a tradition I know so little about, and I loved every moment of it.

I understood Amelia’s need to take care of everyone else in her life, letting her own needs go by the wayside. It was never martyr-like. Instead, she was funny, warm, and maybe a little too focused on helping everyone else. There was a vibrancy about her that shone through Mine Til Midnight.

Kleypas wove the side plots, featuring minor characters, beautifully into Amelia and Cam’s story. Essentially, you couldn’t have one without the other. The dependency made me curious to see how Amelia’s sister’s story would turn out, how Cam would finally win her over.

Mine Til Midnight is fabulous. The romance, the historical fiction, and the portrayal of the Romany culture was fascinating. I felt enveloped into Kleypas’ world. It’s one I can’t wait to return to.

4 Stars

Posted June 17, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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March 11, 2016

Review | G is for Gumshoe by Sue Grafton

Review | G is for Gumshoe by Sue GraftonG is for Gumshoe by Sue Grafton
Series: Kinsey Millhone, #7
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks, November 2007
Pages: 320
Format: Ebook

For #1 New York Times bestselling author Sue Grafton's PI Kinsey Millhone, danger comes with the job—but she never expects to find herself at the top of a hit man's list…
G IS FOR GAME…
When Irene Gersh asks PI Kinsey Millhone to locate her elderly mother Agnes, whom she hasn't heard from in six months, it's not exactly the kind of case Kinsey jumps for. But a girl's gotta pay her bills, and this should be easy money—or so she thinks. Kinsey finds Agnes in a hospital. Aside from her occasional memory lapses, the octogenarian seems fine. And frightened.
G IS FOR GUN…
Kinsey doesn't know what to make of Agnes's vague fears and bizarre ramblings, but she's got her own worries. It seems Tyrone Patty, a criminal she helped put behind bars, is looking to make a hit. First, Kinsey's car is run off the road, and then days later, she's almost gunned down, setting in motion a harrowing cat and mouse game…

G IS FOR
GUMSHOE
So Kinsey decides to hire a bodyguard. With PI Robert Dietz watching her 24/7, Kinsey is feeling on edge…especially with their growing sexual tension. Then, Agnes dies of an apparent homicide, Kinsey realizes the old lady wasn't so senile after all—and maybe she was trying to tell her something? Now Kinsey's determined to learn the truth…even if it kills her.

gumshoe

 

With a price on her head, a strange case to work, and an even stranger reaction to her private bodyguard, Kinsey has her hands full in Grafton’s seventh installment, G is for Gumshoe. Kinsey’s case leads her to a trailer park, an old woman harboring a dark secret, and the truth beneath the surface.

Even though the title G is for Gumshoe gives the impression the novel is all about detectives, it is, as of yet, the most intimate portrait of Kinsey’s character yet. Kinsey’s a self-reliant sort of girl – she reminds us constantly she’s better off on her own, but the more she says it, the more I wonder if she isn’t comfortable with it – but she has to truly rely on other people in this novel to make it through alive.

Dietz, Kinsey’s bodyguard, isn’t exactly what she expected, but she can’t argue with his methods. With a price on her head, it’s better safe than sorry. Coming to terms with allowing herself to depend on another person (besides her landlord Henry) is a constant struggle for her throughout the story. I loved how Grafton dealt with Kinsey and Dietz – it left me wondering if it was a real romance or the result of two people spending so much time together in a tense environment.

I didn’t get hooked into Gumshoe‘s plot right away, but once the assassin looking to collect on the bounty on Kinsey appeared, the story took off. It was constant action, romance, drama, tension and the last scenes…oh, the last scenes.

I wish that the assassin plot and the case Kinsey worked to solved tied in together more. At times, it felt like I was reading two entirely different stories – it was hard to find the connections. Even the last scenes – while stunningly tense – didn’t quite tie the two together as I would have liked.

Regardless, Gumshoe ranks high on my list of favorites because of the internal look at the main character. Grafton doesn’t let Kinsey just sit on the sidelines – her character is constantly being forced to evolve and it keeps me coming back every time.

3 Stars

Posted March 11, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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December 27, 2015

Review | F is for Fugitive by Sue Grafton

Review | F is for Fugitive by Sue GraftonF is for Fugitive by Sue Grafton
Series: Kinsey Millhone #6
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks, November 2005
Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
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When Kinsey Millhone first arrives in Floral Beach, California, it’s hard for her to picture the idyllic coastal town as the setting of a brutal murder. Seventeen years ago, the body of Jean Timberlake—a troubled teen who had a reputation with the boys—was found on the beach. Her boyfriend Bailey Fowler was convicted of her murder and imprisoned, but he escaped.
After all this time, Bailey’s finally been captured. Believing in his son’s innocence, Bailey’s father wants Kinsey to find Jean’s real killer. But most of the residents in this tight-knit community are convinced Bailey strangled Jean. So why are they so reluctant to answer Kinsey’s questions? If there’s one thing Kinsey’s got plenty of it’s persistence. And that’s exactly what it’s going to take to crack the lid on this case.
As Kinsey gets closer to solving Jean’s murder, the more dirty little secrets she uncovers in a town where everyone has something to hide—and a killer will kill again to keep the past buried...

After all this time, Bailey’s finally been captured. Believing in his son’s innocence, Bailey’s father wants Kinsey to find Jean’s real killer. But most of the residents in this tight-knit community are convinced Bailey strangled Jean. So why are they so reluctant to answer Kinsey’s questions? If there’s one thing Kinsey’s got plenty of it’s persistence. And that’s exactly what it’s going to take to crack the lid on this case.

As Kinsey gets closer to solving Jean’s murder, the more dirty little secrets she uncovers in a town where everyone has something to hide—and a killer will kill again to keep the past buried.


Kinsey Milhone needs a change of scenery. F is for Fugitive picks up shortly after her apartment blows up in E is for Evidence, and she’s going a little stir-crazy. When Royce Fowler and his daughter Ann show up at Kinsey’s door, asking her to investigate his son’s case in Floral Beach, Kinsey takes him up on it, mostly just for a change of pace. The guy was convicted of voluntary manslaughter – what can she really turn up? 


Okay, maybe I’m adding a little of my own take in the summary, but you get the jist. Kinsey’s in a transition period, feeling the hurt of the loss of her home and, consequently, the loss of her family. Immersing herself in another case sounds like the perfect solution, expect she’s heading to a town full of people just like her. 


The fact it was an older case (Jean was killed seventeen years before the story begins), Kinsey is left to not investigate Jean, but the people she knew, loved, hated, lived with. And, as in many small towns, these people have more problems than they can count. 


Grafton usually brings in a few stellar characters for each story, but the cast of Floral Beach was beyond doubt my favorite. They were so vivid, so dramatic, so believable, that Kinsey’s adventure was tough to put aside. It wasn’t just about these people or poor Jean – it was the connection they shared with Kinsey and the healing they all needed. 


Without giving anything away, the revelation of the killer blew me away. Usually I can put a finger on the character or noodle it out, but this one…just wow.


Highly recommended for any and all mystery lovers.

4 Stars

Posted December 27, 2015 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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November 27, 2015

Review | E is for Evidence by Sue Grafton

Review | E is for Evidence by Sue GraftonE is for Evidence by Sue Grafton
Series: Kinsey Millhone, #5
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks, November 2005
Pages: 320
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Being a twice-divorced, happily independent loner has worked like a charm for P.I. Kinsey Millhone—until holiday weekends like this one roll around. What she needs is a little diversion to ward off the blues. She gets her much-needed distraction with a case that places her career on the line. And if that isn't enough to keep her busy, her ex-husband, who walked out on her eight years ago, pops back on the radar...
It all begins with a $5,000 deposit made into Kinsey's bank account. Problem is she's not the one who deposited the money. But when she's accused of being on the take in an industrial arson case, Kinsey realizes someone is framing her…
Now Kinsey's working for herself. But with new evidence—and corpses—surfacing around her, she's going to have to act quickly to clear her name before she loses her career, her reputation—and quite possibly her life…


Kinsey Millhone doesn’t like to talk about her past. That is, she only mentions it in passing and as briefly as possible. When odd things start happening and Kinsey is framed for fraud, people from her past step into the future and cause more trouble than she expected. 

E is for Evidence had a great plot: insurance fraud, family drama, and the holiday blues keep the story to Grafton’s standards. It’s the complications from Kinsey’s past that made this book hard to put down. The holidays can be hard, especially when everyone else has plans. When her ex-husband, the famous musician, comes back, Kinsey is yanked even deeper into her own thoughts. For such a private person (only in the previous book does she start sharing info about her past), this sudden and rather intense revelation is fascinating. 

From what I’ve read so far, Kinsey interacts with the same people. In E is for Evidence, she pushes outside of her comfort zone, reaching out to her old friends from high school. After finishing the book, I don’t know if her voyage outside of her safety box will help or harm her… 

The novel had the same rhythm, the same general apttern that I’ve come to know and love with the Kinsey Millhone novels, but the insurance fraud angle gave the entire plot a new twist. I loved the mystery, the suspense of Kinsey trying to redeem herself and prove who is behind the crimes. E is for Evidence is more personal, upping the tension in the novel and making this one a favorite of mine. 

4 Stars

Posted November 27, 2015 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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