Review: Hot Winter Nights by Jill Shalvis

Format: ebook
Pub Date: September 25, 2018
Publisher: Avon
Length: 384 pages
POV: 3rd Past
FTC: Purchased myself
Disclosure: I pretty much enjoy everything Jill writes

I'm a character-centric mood reader. Which means that I quite often pick up books that I know I'd enjoy if I were in a different mood, only to set them down after 20 pages. I never do that with Jill's books, because even if I'm in a shitty mood (more often now given the state of things nationally and the fact that I'm raising teens) Jill's books comfort me, make me smile, make me laugh, and in general give me the book equivalent of a cookie. Or three.

I truly don't know how she does it, but her books have the right blend of emotion (without ripping out your heart) humor (without turning the book into a comedy) and heat (without making me skim the sex scenes). They're my comfort reads.

That's not to say this book was perfect. I had some issues with one section in particular, either because of my poor reading comprehension skills these days or because of continuity errors.  I literally could not figure out whether the power was off or on during one pivotal scene where it truly mattered. 

Lucas and Molly are both great characters, and I really enjoyed their reluctant romance. I also loved that Lucas is 100% supportive of Molly's attempt to become a more active part of the investigation team. It's internal emotional scars, rather than asshat sexism that provides the conflict.

Although the blurb reads like a holiday novel, the holiday aspects are confined almost exclusively to a Christmas village fraud case that Molly and Lucas end up working on. There are a few references, here and there, but this didn't feel like a book you'd only want to read during the winter holiday season.

I'm bummed I read this book in two days, mostly sitting in the car waiting on kids, because the next one isn't out until February.

Grade: B

The Blurb:

Who needs mistletoe?
Most people wouldn’t think of a bad Santa case as the perfect Christmas gift. Then again, Molly Malone, office manager at Hunt Investigations, isn’t most people, and she could really use a distraction from the fantasies she’s been having since spending the night with her very secret crush, Lucas Knight. Nothing happened, not that Lucas knows that—but Molly just wants to enjoy being a little naughty for once . . .
Whiskey and pain meds for almost-healed bullet wounds don’t mix. Lucas needs to remember that next time he’s shot on the job, which may be sooner rather than later if Molly’s brother, Joe, finds out about them. Lucas can’t believe he’s drawing a blank on his (supposedly) passionate tryst with Molly, who’s the hottest, smartest, strongest woman he’s ever known. Strong enough to kick his butt if she discovers he’s been assigned to babysit her on her first case. And hot enough to melt his cold heart this Christmas.


Man of the Month series by J. Kenner

I didn't post at all last month. School started and with it, all of the obligations and chauffeuring. I did, however, read in those few blissful hours of peace and quiet I regained after a summer filled with KIDS IN MY SPACE.

For anyone wondering if the free books given away at reader events lead to sales, this is a good anecdotal case study. I received the first book in the Man of the Month series, Down on Me, as a freebie at the last RT held in Reno in May. It sat, unloved, for a few months in my pile of books, but I picked it up on a whim.

I read the entire series last month. All 12 of them. Just one-clicked myself into a stupor. Part of that is that these are all connected stories with a really cute hook: a calendar contest held in a bar. And each book is relatively short (around 250 pages) with a very obvious (and popular) trope. We have secret baby, best friend's sister, second chance at love, friends to lovers, and lots of other favorites. J Kenner is smart as hell with the marketing and planning on this series, because it worked for me. As soon as I discovered I liked her voice, it was over.  My book budget was toast.

Not all of these books were equally good. Some were As, some were Cs, but they all were character-centric, hot, and hit just the right tone for my scattered, back-to-school brain to absorb between drop off and pick ups. The first book is free on Kindle still. Just make sure you set aside a week, or month, to read them all. The distilled trope-yness was exactly what I needed.


Review: Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone (thriller/mystery)

Format: ebook, hardcover, trade paperback
Pub Date: August 1, 2018
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (Amazon)
Length: 282 pages in the trade ARC
POV: 1st person, present tense
FTC: review copy courtesy of the author/publisher at RT18

For those who don't know, Victoria Helen Stone is the alter ego of romance novelist Victoria Dahl. Jane Doe is NOT A ROMANCE. It's also written in first person, present tense, which yes, I know, I usually avoid like the plague. But if you read mysteries and thrillers, and if you follow Victoria Dahl on Twitter or have read her romances, you will probably enjoy this delicious book of revenge.

Reading this book was almost therapeutic for me. It’s like Victoria took all of the rage I’ve felt since Nov 2016, all of the disgust I’ve felt for mansplaining dudes on the internet, all of my frustration watching people make excuses for abusive dickwads, and made an outlet for it in the form of a book.

If you've ever watched her toying with the birth control trolls on Twitter, this book is a lot like that, but taken to a darker extreme. Jane, our narrator, is a sociopath, manipulating an emotional abuser while on a quest to ruin his life the way he ruined hers. She's used to analyzing other people's emotions in an attempt to mimic them, so she can parse every abusive manipulation Steven tries to use. The negging. The control. The digs about her appearance.

It's incredibly creepy watching as Steven tries to manipulate her. It's spelled out. But it's also kind of satisfying watching as Jane pretends to react the way he expects while also plotting how to use each and every one of his abusive tactics against him. She's dissecting his game in real time. It's one of the reasons why present tense works so very well. Because the reader is following along as Steven is attempting to manipulate her with Jane explaining what he's doing as he's doing it. It's incredibly effective.

For me, the suspense was wondering just how far Jane was going to go. Not even she is sure until the end exactly what she's capable of.

Hats off to the author for putting together such a raw and powerful book. Honestly the best book I've read in ages.

My grade: A

The Blurb:
A double life with a single purpose: revenge.
Jane’s days at a Midwest insurance company are perfectly ordinary. She blends in well, unremarkably pretty in her floral-print dresses and extra efficient at her low-level job. She’s just the kind of woman middle manager Steven Hepsworth likes—meek, insecure, and willing to defer to a man. No one has any idea who Jane really is. Least of all Steven.
But plain Jane is hiding something. And Steven’s bringing out the worst in her.
Nothing can distract Jane from going straight for his heart: allowing herself to be seduced into Steven’s bed, to insinuate herself into his career and his family, and to expose all his dirty secrets. It’s time for Jane to dig out everything that matters to Steven. So she can take it all away.
Just as he did to her.


Review: A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole

Format: Mass market
Pub Date: March 2018
Publisher: Avon
POV: 3rd, past
Length: 360 pages
FTC: received a copy from the publisher at RT18

I've been hearing about this book all year. It was all the rage in my corner of Twitter. In short: it was a "buzzy" book, and I rarely do well with "buzzy" books.  While I didn't click in the deep, OMG fangirl kind of way I would have liked to, I did enjoy it. Especially for all of the ways it was so very different from other books out there.

I liked that we get to see a contemporary set in the city. No whiff of small town here. It revels in being an NYC book.  There's the nosy and noisy neighbors, the subway, the easy access to different kinds of art/restaurants, the bodegas, the de facto multiculturalism.

I also like that Naledi Smith (Ledi) is a scientist. Specifically a former foster kid training to be a black woman scientist in a very specific field. She thinks in scientific terms in an adorably nerdy way. She has to deal with sexism in her lab job in a way that is so real for many women scientists. She struggles with relationships as a result of her upbringing. She's emotionally cagey.

I struggled with Prince Thabiso/Jamal as a character. I really did. He's a self serving dick through most of the book, and I'm a bit over self serving dicks right now. I did, however, ADORE his assistant Likotsi. If she ever gets her own book, I'm here for it.


Review: Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt

Format: mass market
Pub Date: October 2017
Publisher: Grand Central
Length:  308 pages
POV: 3rd, past

***Content warning: rape, incest, child molestation***

Elizabeth Hoyt's books are often gritty. They often deal with less than savory behavior. There's violence in them. But Duke of Desire should have a content warning on it. I found it deeply distressing, especially as a major character motivation deals explicitly with being raped by his parent as a child.

The plot revolves around Raphael, the Duke of Dyemore, infiltrating the Lords of Chaos (an evil group of men who rape and sodomize as part of their secret society). He rescues Lady Iris Jordan from their clutches under the guise of raping and murdering her "off screen" as it were. She shoots him, not realizing she's actually being rescued.

I had several issues with the plot and pacing, but for me...this was just too dark. I finished it, because Hoyt is compulsively readable, but it's not a book I'd recommend easily. Proceed with caution.


Review: Lady Rogue by Theresa Romain

Format: mass market
Pub Date: May 2018
Publisher: Zebra
Length: 277 pages
FTC: Received for free at RT18
POV: 3rd past

I'm a sucker for Bow Street Runner romances...err Officers of the Police. I love them. I wanted to really love this book, but I didn't. The characters are fine, the plot is...fine. But I did not really feel these two characters truly connected. The romance was extremely superficial. Other than the obvious class differences, there wasn't a lot of internal conflict in the relationship. It was all kind of...meh.

I did enjoy the mystery aspect, although that, too, was a little disjointed. There are several mysteries woven in and out of the narrative, and some are important and angsty while some feel kinda shoe-horned in. The big surprise at the end WAS a surprise, but the ending felt extremely rushed. Like the last 2 minutes of a film where everything gets wrapped up.

I think I would have liked it better if this were a mystery and not a romance. 

My Grade: C+

The Blurb:

As far as London’s high society knows, Lady Isabel Morrow is above reproach. But the truth is rarely so simple. Though the young widow’s passionate fling with dashing Bow Street Runner Callum Jenks ended amicably months ago, she now needs his expertise. It seems Isabel’s late husband, a respected art dealer, was peddling forgeries. If those misdeeds are revealed, the marriage prospects of his younger cousin— now Isabel’s ward—will be ruined.

For the second time, Isabel has upended Callum’s well-ordered world. He’s resolved to help her secretly replace the forgeries with the real masterpieces, as a . . . friend. A proper sort of friend doesn’t burn with desire, of course, or steal kisses on twilight errands. Or draw a willing lady into one passionate encounter after another. Isabel’s scheme is testing Callum’s heart as well as his loyalties. But with pleasure so intoxicating, the real crime would be to resist . . .


Reading Snapshot

Currently Reading:

I picked this up at RT18 in Reno at a Blind Date with a Book Party. Tables were covered with wrapped books and just the barest hint of the plot.  It was anxiety inducing for quite a few attendees, but this one sounded fun. I mean...librarian on the run? Yes, please!

So far, it's pretty good, although it's been a long, long time since I've read a book by Warren.

Currently Listening To:


I've read and listened to this series before, but it's been years since I've listened to more than just Book 1. This is a series that definitely needs to be read in order, but I do enjoy these on audio, too.  Highly re-readable, if you're a re-reader like I am.

Up Next:


I spent last year reading a fairly good amount from MOUNT TBR, mostly older books I got from the many RT Conventions I attended. I'm going to attempt to do the same this year (unintentional gloms notwithstanding).  This is one of the many books I ended up getting signed to me this year instead of signed generically. I had intended to give a bunch away...Oops.


The Great Lauren Layne Glom

Earlier this month, I was on Twitter asking for recommendations for emotional reads. I was stuck in a funk and nothing I was picking up was connecting with me.  Several people suggested I try Lauren Layne, who I had never heard of.

Next thing I knew, I had purchased and read 11 (ELEVEN) books by Layne.  I bought my first one before I left for the RT Booklovers Convention. I read at least 5 of them sitting/standing in line or late at night when I couldn't sleep. I just could NOT stop reading them.

I think I've finally poked my head out of the reading glom hole, but I'm still left wondering what, exactly, made these books work so very well for me when so many other books just haven't.


These three things are essential to a successful read for me. It's why books that are well written but not distinctive are read and quickly forgotten. It's why I stopped reading a favorite author: her voice changed.  It's why I often times have issues with romantic suspense, because it's hard to squeeze both high emotional conflict in with real life danger.

The funny thing is that the 11 (ELEVEN) books by Layne are not my usual fare. I'm a small town contemporary reader. I love me some historicals. But I'm not normally a city-set contemporary reader. Just not usually my thing.

If you, like me, haven't read anything by Layne, the books I read were all stand alone. The series are connected, and there's a loose chronology, but I read them out of order and it didn't matter a bit. There's a favorite trope for everyone, particularly in the Stiletto and Oxford series. Best friend's sister? Check. Enemies to lovers? Check. Secret baby? Sorta! Bet? Check! Competition between the heroine and hero? Check! Second chance at love? That, too. So many well loved tropes.

The only caveat I have is that at least two series are written in first person, present tense (which I LOATHE) so make sure to check before one-clicking. The Stiletto, Oxford and Moretti series are all regular ole 3rd person.


Review: Deliver Me by Farrah Rochon


Format: ebook
Pub Date: March 2007, re-published November 2011
Publisher: Nicobar Press (originally via Dorchester)
Length: 337 pages
POV: 3rd, past
FTC: purchased myself (free on Amazon)

The first few chapters of this book are well done, with excellent pacing and set up. Then...it all kind of falls apart.

The hunky "Super Doc" Eli is a giant douche.  I pretty much hated him throughout the entire book. Not only is he a player who disrespects pretty much every partner he has, but he somehow ends up with not one but TWO semi-stalker ex girlfriends. I did not like how the book chose to make THEM feel crazy, when it was pretty clear HE was the one who failed to pay attention or take their feelings into account. I did not buy that he was just so charming and had a magic wang, and that's why two different women felt led on about their relationship status. (Although one exhibited extremely unhinged behavior which actually SHOULD have been a major red flag).

Also absent (I looked) was any mention of condom use. Now I'm not sure if it was a Dorchester thing or not as common in 2007 romance [I can't remember] but these two are BOTH DOCTORS. There's no way that wouldn't have been discussed, but there is no mention of it. No mention of STDs at all. No mention of birth control. Not even a 'he paused to protect them both" throwaway. I had to back up and reread to check because it seemed so odd.


Review: An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

Format: ebook, paperback
Pub Date: March 28, 2017
Publisher: Kensington
Length: 320 pages
POV: 3rd, past
FTC: Borrowed from the library

I heard about this book all of last year. All. Year. Long. From everyone. And because everyone loved it, I steered clear. I just don't seem to do well with buzzy books.

I also don't do well with American-set romances, so the chances of me totally adoring it were pretty slim.

While I DIDN'T love this book, I did like it. It's an ambitious, well researched book that doesn't sugarcoat anything about the history it portrays, which can be jarring when you're writing/reading in a subgenre that's usually based on fantasy. This is not a light read by any means, but it is a believable and deeply moving story about two people who find each other in the middle of the worst possible circumstances.


Easter is this Sunday? What?

Somehow Easter has snuck up on me again. I realized late last week that Easter Sunday was also April Fool's Day, which I can't remember happening before. Even though I knew Spring Break was coming, even though I knew we had community Easter egg hunts, the darn day snuck up on me. I'm blaming the weather, which seems to have found winter just in time for spring. Miracle March is a giant PITA.

Adding to my lack of preparedness was my uncertainty of what to do for the kids. They're too old for the Easter bunny, but do they still get baskets? Do I still hide eggs? No one warned me we'd have to redo all of our holiday traditions as the kids got older.

One thing we won't be changing is Easter dinner. Which is actually usually "Linner" in this house. We eat in the early afternoon to make sure we have enough room for dessert.  We nearly always bake a ham, which is glazed with a combination of Major Grey's chutney and apricot preserves. Sometimes we do pineapples, cloves and cherries, sometimes we don't.

One thing we absolutely do is make Posh Potato Casserole. It's full of high cholesterol badness, but we've been making it for years and years. It's a recipe from my 9th grade English teacher, who I recently ran into at a Rotary Music Competition. It was a little surreal introducing MY 9th grader to her.

What's on your Easter dinner table? And what are your traditions for your older tweens and teens?

Review: Hot and Badgered by Shelly Laurenston

Format: trade, ebook
Pub Date: March 27, 2018
Publisher: Kensington
Length: 432 pages
POV: 3rd, past
FTC: Digital galley via the publisher

Honey badgers are one of my favorite characters in Shelly Laurenston's shifter series. This new series is about hybrid honey badgers, which means they're even more over the top than the regular honey badgers.

I admittedly struggled through the first 25% of the book. It was disjointed, with a lot of chaos and confusion. If I hadn't read Laurenston before, I might have given up. The story really doesn't start coming together until about 30% through, which is probably typical for new series, but seemed weird given that this wasn't a new world, but a new spinoff in an old one.

The thing that makes Laurenston books different from the vast majority of paranormal romances out there is how the women are portrayed. There are no passive women waiting for their "fated" mates. Every single one is a warrior, and most are actually considered more dangerous than the men. That is the case with this book.

What I also love about Laurenston heroines is that just because they are badass, it doesn't mean they eschew things that are considered "girly" or feminine. Charlie bakes when upset or stressed (something I loved, because I am totally a stress baker). New here, but greatly appreciated, is the matter of the fact way that medication for mental health is dealt with. It's just a fact. Like taking a vitamin. It was simply discussed like any other health condition, which I liked and which made me realize how little we see of that in fiction.

I think this book needed an outside eye, someone who maybe hasn't read all of her books twenty times, because there is a ton of back story and world building that is just assumed here. There are also some incredibly brief cameos that won't make any sense unless you've read her other books. Don't start with this book if you're new to Laurenston!

More disappointing was the lack of heat between Charlie and Berg. It may have been me, but there was zero sexual tension here. It may also have been that most of the book is about the sisters and their antics, so the romance takes second (or even third) place in the narrative. At any rate, it felt like the author was far more interested in the caper aspects and sisterhood aspects than the romance. I really liked Berg, liked Charlie, and liked their slow slide into a relationship, but I wanted more desire.

My Grade: B-

The Blurb:

It’s not every day that a beautiful naked woman falls out of the sky and lands face-first on grizzly shifter Berg Dunn’s hotel balcony. Definitely they don’t usually hop up and demand his best gun. Berg gives the lady a grizzly-sized t-shirt and his cell phone, too, just on style points. And then she’s gone, taking his XXXL heart with her. By the time he figures out she’s a honey badger shifter, it’s too late.

Honey badgers are survivors. Brutal, vicious, ill-tempered survivors. Or maybe Charlie Taylor-MacKilligan is just pissed that her useless father is trying to get them all killed again, and won’t even tell her how. Protecting her little sisters has always been her job, and she’s not about to let some pesky giant grizzly protection specialist with a network of every shifter in Manhattan get in her way. Wait. He’s trying to help? Why would he want to do that? He’s cute enough that she just might let him tag along—that is, if he can keep up . . .


Review: The Echo Killing by Christi Daugherty

Format: Hardcover
Pub Date: March 13, 2018
Publisher: Minotaur (St. Martin's)
Length: 353 pages
POV: 3rd, past
FTC: Review copy courtesy of the publisher

After two recent mysteries fell a little flat for me, it was a bit refreshing to see some solid characterization and emotion again. I'm primarily a romance reader, although I've always read mysteries and urban fantasy, too.  I tend to gravitate towards the books that show rather than tell. Those that grip you by your emotions. This book is one of the good ones.

This is Daugherty's first adult book, having previously written YA under a different name. You couldn't tell if you hadn't read the author's bio. She does an excellent job with the grit and gore of two messy crime scenes without playing up the shock factor. I appreciated that. Enough detail to get the point, without wallowing in the carnage.

Harper McClain is a a local crime reporter in Savannah. She listens to the scanner and spends her nights chasing down crime scenes and hoping for a page one story. What most of her friends and colleagues don't know is that her mother was murdered over a decade ago, and she was the one to find the body. The emotional scars and inevitable fallout of the murder both fuel her passion for covering crime, and make her leery of forming close attachments. Until a similar murder happens on her beat.


Review: Undone by You by Kate Meader (Chicago Rebels Book 3)

Format: Ebook
Pub Date: March 5, 2018
Publisher: Pocket
Length: 147 pages
POV: 3rd, past
FTC: Purchased myself

February was flu-city here in the mountains. My youngest was out of school for 2 weeks along with about 30% of the students and staff.  And while I managed to care for my entire flu-stricken family, I had largely avoided getting sick. Until just after Valentine's Day.

The only good thing about being sick is that sitting on the couch covered in a blanket is not only allowed, but encouraged. I glommed my way through so many books, but my favorites were the two hockey romances by Kate Meader that I practically inhaled.

I was also unreasonably cranky to discover that I had "caught up" with her publication schedule after book 2, and had to wait a couple of weeks for this book. It was absolutely everything I wanted, and MORE.


Review: Fade to Black by David Rosenfelt

Format: Hardcover
Pub Date: March 2018
Publisher: Minotaur Books (St. Martin's)
Length: 309 pages
POV: Alternating 3rd/Past and 1st/Present
FTC: Review copy courtesy of the publisher

Another new-to-me author this week. I've never read David Rosenfelt before. Never even heard of him, but the concept of an amnesia stricken protagonist was too good to pass up. Even more shocking for those who know me, it's mostly written in 1st person, present tense, and I didn't toss it out a window.

That's not to say the tense combo didn't irritate me. It REALLY did. It felt like the author was trying for an old school noir feel by having the narrative unfold this way, but it never quite succeeded.

I'm a character reader, so I have a difficult time with stories where the characters aren't fully fleshed out. That was the case with this book. The first/present choice meant that we really don't get any insight into the other characters because we spend so much time inside our protagonist, Doug Brock's, head. We get to see his thought processes, but not what makes the other characters tick. And we definitely don't get to see how they feel.

The amnesia angle was more boring than I expected. Likely because Brock is just...irritated by the gaps in his memory. We rarely get an emotional reaction other than frustration from him. No deep emotion at all over something I would imagine is incredibly traumatic.  I found it incredibly weird that the main character was so one-note.

Unlike some of the mysteries I've read recently, I absolutely DID get stumped by this one. The question here is not whodunnit, but what they are doing, and I was kept guessing until the very end. That hasn't happened in a VERY long time, so kudos for that.

My issues with this are largely the tense/POV combo and the fact that I'm a character-centric reader. If you're not as sensitive to present tense, and you aren't as focused on characterization, this one might work for you better than it did for me.

My Grade: C+

The Blurb:
After getting shot in the line of duty, New Jersey state police officer Doug Brock has been busy rebuilding his life. He’s reunited with his fiancé and started to get some of his memories back. He hopes he can continue to recover with the help of an amnesia support group and that the damage from his past isn’t permanent. 
It isn’t until fellow group member Sean Conner approaches him after a meeting that Doug realizes the trouble is just beginning. Sean has discovered in his attic what can only be called a scrapbook of a murder victim, but he has no recollection of the girl’s identity or why he might have gathered this information. Doug agrees to help and convinces his captain to open what had been a cold case. When he discovers that he had a personal connection to this case, suddenly he’s questioning everything he thought he knew about the case, about Sean, and about his own past.


Reading Snapshot March 1

February was the month the flu ate. First, my kids caught it, then my husband. Then, of course, I caught it. 3 and a half weeks of flu in the house was enough to drive me completely batty. Last week, as I was finally feeling slightly better and the kids were back at school, I went on a Kate Meader hockey book glom. I'm primarily a print reader, but boy was I happy to have instant delivery of those books, since I was stuck on the couch.

Currently Reading:

Another March release. Another new-to-me author. I really like the cover on this one. It's somehow both noir and colorful. 

Up Next:

This comes out on Tuesday. As I said, I've been glomming Kate Meader hockey books...I was a little put out to run out of books and hit the pre-order on this one last week from my sick bed. 


While coughing myself awake the last few weeks, I decided to re-listen to the Hidden Legacy series by Ilona Andrews in my midnight audiobook forays. I just finished White Hot and am on Wildfire. I still think the covers are so horrible (awkward poses, missing shirts, and not at all reflective of the actual content of the books. No offense to the cover artists. This is a marketing fail. Anyhoo...Andrews managed to snag Renee Raudman to narrate this series (the same narrator as their Kate Daniels series) and it. is. fabulous. White Hot has a ninja ferret heist, so if you haven't read the series because of the horrible covers, give them a shot!

What I'm excited about:
Suzanne Enoch announced on her Facebook page that she's finished a new Sam Jellicoe book. For those of us who have followed Enoch for awhile, this is BIG news. They're contemporary caper novels with romantic elements. I love them and am super happy there are more stories on the way.

Review: The Third Victim by Phillip Margolin

Format: hardcover
Pub Date: March 2018
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Length: 319 pages
POV: 3rd, past
FTC: ARC provided by the publisher free of charge

I've been avoiding ARC reviews for about a year now,  after the reading slump of doom. The cure for me turned out to be going back to reading mostly print, and switching it up with more mysteries and urban fantasy. So...I decided to accept a few advance readers copies of mysteries. Although I'm a mystery reader,  I've never read Phillip Margolin before, and I'm not usually a legal thriller reader. My cuppa runs more to historical mystery and the funnier caper style stories.

The Third Victim reads more like a drama than a mystery. We get little vignettes from a handful of characters, but the main mystery surrounds the defense of an accused serial killer and his lead defense attorney. The drama is that the attorney is experiencing early onset dementia and in denial about it. Her recent hire, Robin, isn't familiar enough with her to be 100% sure her boss is having issues, but grows increasingly worried as the case moves on. The huge ethical issues about whether the defense is compromised are complicated by the worry that their client is really guilty.

I'm a character reader, so I was a bit disappointed we didn't get more time with Robin and some of the supporting characters. And what we got of Regina as she struggles with denial about the early onset dementia symptoms is oddly detached. I wanted more emotion. More guilt. More...something.

As for the mystery itself, I had it figured out halfway through. Since I haven't read Margolin before, I'm not sure if we were supposed to be stumped. The foreshadowing is extremely heavy handed, so maybe whodunnit isn't supposed to be a plot twist. I hope that's the case, because it definitely isn't surprising in the least.

Even with all of that, I kept reading because it was a unique take on a legal thriller about issues that are profoundly important. It was also a little alarming, because I had never considered how vulnerable people are to counsel who are experiencing some kind of cognitive issue, or how dependent we are on them self-reporting any conflicts.

My Grade: B-

The Blurb:
A woman stumbles onto a dark road in rural Oregon—tortured, battered, and bound. She tells a horrific story about being kidnapped, then tortured, until she finally managed to escape. She was the lucky one—two other women, with similar burns and bruises, were found dead.
The surviving victim identifies the house where she was held captive and the owner, Alex Mason—a prominent local attorney—is arrested. Although he loudly insists upon his innocence, his wife’s statements about his sexual sadism and the physical evidence found at the scene, his summer home, is damning.

Regina Barrister is a legendary criminal defense attorney, known as “The Sorceress” for her courtroom victories. But she’s got a secret, one that threatens her skill, her reputation, and, most of all, her clients. And she’s agreed to take on the seemingly impossible task of defending Alex Mason.
Robin Lockwood, a young lawyer and former MMA fighter, has just left a clerkship at the Oregon Supreme Court to work for Regina Barrister. The Alex Mason trial is her first big one, a likely death penalty case, and she’s second chair to Regina. Increasingly, she’s worried her boss’s behavior and the details in the case against their client don’t quite add up.


Dust and Desire: Archaeology and Adventure Romances

Dust and Desire: Archaeology and Adventure Romances

Sun, sand, mysteries from times long past... There’s just something so inherently romantic about archaeology. Sure, it’s a lot of tedious digging, but it’s also a field where each discovery changes the way we think about ourselves and our history. And there’s nothing sexier than a hunky guy who is also smart and passionate about his work. I first became obsessed with archaeology romances when I read Elizabeth Peters’s Crocodile on the Sandbank. While the Amelia Peabody series is definitely a mystery series, the first book is also a romance. A newly wealthy spinster travels to Egypt and meets a surly (but quite handsome) Egyptologist. Together, they uncover a mystery set among the tombs of Amarna. Elizabeth Peters earned a Ph.d. in  Egyptology, which gives her authorial cred, but she’s also Barbara Michaels, who wrote romantic suspense novels filled with gothic elements. For me, the interplay between Emerson and Amelia are what kept me reading the series.

Many of the archaeological romances are historicals set during the 19th century or beginning of the twentieth. Perhaps my favorite one is Guilty Pleasures by Laura Lee Guhrke. We usually think of travel and exotic lands when we consider archaeology, but this book is set in England, about an excavation on English land of old Roman ruins. What is so fun about this book is that it combines the archaeology plot, a workplace romance, and an ugly duckling story.


Reading Snapshot

Currently Reading: Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez
I suspect I'll be reading this one in fits and starts because it's a grim book and not what I normally read. Since I've criticized the whiteness (and blandness) of the current district reading list, I'm making an effort to broaden my kidlit horizons as well.

Also Reading: About That Kiss by Jill Shalvis

The second book I purchased this year, despite vowing not to. But it's Jill Shalvis, so I'm giving myself a pass. She's an almost local author, and her books are always that perfect combination of sexy and funny. They make me smile, and sometimes, that's exactly what I need.

Up Next:  Covet by JR Ward
 I've long ago abandoned the Black Dagger Brotherhood, and I remember the disappointment about this book when it came out. BUT... It's still sitting in Mt. TBR, and I thought I'd give it a shot before donating it.
Audio: All About Love by Stephanie Laurens

I started listening to my absolute favorite Stephanie Laurens book last week: A Secret Love. I'm a sucker for a enemies-to-lovers/boy next door romance, and this is the best historical version there is IMO.

But...once started, I had to finish the Bar Cynster, so here I am listening to Lucifer's story. No one writes not-quite-purple sensuality like Laurens. No one.


Review: It Started with a Kiss by Ella Quinn

Format: Mass market
Pub Date: April 2017
Publisher: Zebra/Kensington
Length: 362 pages
POV: 3rd, past
FTC: Received a signed copy at RT 17 for free

This is the weirdest book. Admittedly, it's been a LONG time since I read a non-paranormal romance or romantic suspense book where the majority of the conflict was external. But what makes this book weird is that every time the book starts to build the slightest bit of tension, the author undercuts the issue by solving the problem almost immediately.

All of that works to make this story a bit of a mess, with 5 different mini conflicts and no overarching tension to keep the story moving. It was a slog.


Review: The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires by Molly Harper

Format: Mass market paperback
Pub Date: August 2012
Publisher: Pocket
Length: 356 pages
POV: 1st person, past
FTC: Received for free at RT Booklovers Convention (provided by the publisher/author)

Having finished a meh book by Molly Harper, it makes perfect sense to immediately pick up another one, right? It does if you're me.

The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires is only peripherally related to the Half Moon Hollow series of the previous book I reviewed. It's also 80 pages longer, which I really think might be my issue with the last book. It was too shallow. The extra page count for this one allows for explanation. I did NOT get the same sense of backstory-itis I did with the last one. Everything felt fully explained.

 I really enjoyed this one. I enjoyed the byplay between Iris and Cal, but I also enjoyed the larger cast of characters, particularly Iris's younger sister Gigi. I think these types of humor-filled books work best when characters can play off each other. What was such a relief was the our main character is independent, smart, a businesswoman, and entirely capable of taking care of herself. Even in dangerous situations. In fact, she saves herself AND Cal on multiple occasions. So refreshing to have competence really highlighted and valued. We get a lot of that for heroes, but not for heroines.


Reading Snapshot

I've decided I need a place to keep track of what I'm reading and what's coming up next. I do a lot of rereads, and short of making a *shudder* spreadsheet, I don't have a way to keep track since I'm not on Goodreads. 

Currently Reading:

It Started with a Kiss by Ella Quinn


 I've been reading this all week, and I'm about halfway through. The conflict is nearly entirely external, and the main characters have acknowledged their feelings less than 1/3 of the way through. I have a horrible feeling we're leading up to a BIG MISUNDERSTANDING which I think is a shame. There's very little tension. I'm not sure I'd have made the same choices the author did, although it is a relief to read about a good, decent man who doesn't have to be reformed.





Up Next:

Wrong to Need you by Alisha Rai

I broke my book buying hiatus for this book. I resisted for a month. And yet... I loved Book 1. Rai is one of the very few authors who can get me to read a sex scene without skimming. It's an underrated skill, because she is a master at moving the plot forward with her scenes.









On Audio:

Soulless by Gail Carriger

 I've listened to this book several times before, and it never fails to make me giggle. It has echoes of Amelia Peabody here (the parasol in particular), but Carriger has a pretty strong writing voice, and the attitude more than the story keeps me listening. The narrator, Emily Gray, is excellent.

Caveat: Looks like Hachette has acquired the rights from Recorded Books and this particular imprint isn't available. I listened to the excerpt on Amazon, however, and it's the same recording with the same narrator. Just not with the Recorded Books cover art.

Review: Where the Wild Things Bite by Molly Harper

Format: mass market
Pub Date: August 2016
Publisher: Pocket
Length: 278 pages
POV: 1st person, past tense
FTC: Received for free at RT Booklovers Convention

I'm trying to get back into the swing of blogging, carving out time to fire up the ole computer and sit down to write. I missed it this last year when I somehow ended up so busy I wasn't even reading. Which, predictably, made me more than a little cranky. A reading Amber is a happy Amber.

I've been better about reading lately, but not so much about reviewing. My one goal that I managed to keep this last year was reading more from my TBR and less from new releases. I get distracted by the shiny, when I have rooms full of unread print books and I don't even know how many ebooks.

One book I picked up at the last RT was a Molly Harper book. Now I'd read some of her earlier books and liked them. They were light and silly and easily consumed. I had not read any of her newer books, and this one is clearly part of an ongoing series.


Welcoming 2018

If you're like me, much of 2017 was lost in a fog of rage at what is happening in DC. I lost so much productivity to it. At times, it was debilitating, and I just wasn't in the right frame of mind to read.

Complicating matters were the massive volunteering and soccer mom obligations from last year. I feel like I didn't read nearly enough, and I know I didn't visit this blog enough to post more than a handful of times.

I've decided to keep the blog, if only to reclaim some time for me and my hobbies. I started painting last year, which is something. I'm going to try to write some non-fiction this year and maybe work myself up to fiction. We'll see. I'm also going to try to finally figure out my camera.

I want to get back to reading...what books are YOU looking forward to this year? I've missed so many in the last year so ...what books did YOU read that you'd recommend?