Review: Not the Girl You Marry by Andie J. Christopher

Format: trade paperback
Pub Date; November 12, 2019
Publisher: Berkley
Length: 313 pages
FTC: Review copy courtesy of the publisher
POV: 3rd, past

I read this book way back in April after receiving it at Apollycon. It’s been a long 7 months, because not talking about this book felt like torture. It’s one of my favorite books of the last few years. Fake relationships or secret agendas really aren’t my usual thing since they often involve so much dishonesty, but Christopher’s strong voice just draws you in. The whole book is delightful.

Knowing my well publicized distaste for cartoon covers might make you a little leery, but I assure you: this book is a ROMANCE. It’s not chick lit. It’s not women’s fiction. It’s not mainstream fiction. It’s a romance. I promise.


Review: Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews (Hidden Legacy)

Format: mass market
Pub Date: August 2019
Publisher: Avon
Length: 400 pages
POV: 1st, past
FTC: Review copy courtesy of the publisher

I've been a BIG fan of Ilona Andrews for years. They started solidly in Urban Fantasy, and the Hidden Legacy series is still mostly in that genre, with strong romantic elements.  The original trilogy featuring Nevada Baylor ended with Wildfire, with the novella Diamond Fire acting as a bridge between that trilogy and this book. If you haven't read any of the previous books, I think you could enjoy this one, but there is a distinct chronology, and you'll definitely get more out of it if you've read the other books.

Unlike the previous trilogy, this one is told from Catalina's POV, which is a bit jarring at first if you're used to Nevada. Quite a lot has happened in the three years since Wildfire. Nevada is no longer Head of House Baylor. Catalina has taken over that role, which is a bit of a struggle for her. Rogan's mother has taken her under her wing, and helped train her...which is a good thing for someone whose magic is not combat oriented. She's also primarily responsible for running Baylor Investigations, and it's that role that once again gets her, and her family, into trouble when an old acquaintance asks her for help.


Review: Bark of the Night by David Rosenfelt

Format: Hardcover
Pub Date: July 16, 2019
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Length: 291 pages
POV: First, present
FTC: Review copy courtesy of the publisher

I've read Rosenfelt's Doug Brock series, but hadn't tried his Andy Carpenter series. It is even more sarcastic than the Brock books, which given that the other series is about a police detective seems unlikely, but it's the truth. Apparently, nothing is more sarcastic than an almost retired defense attorney.

The cover, featuring a very cute French Bulldog, might mislead readers into thinking that this book is a cozy mystery: it's not. It's a thriller about organized crime, with a lots of brutal murders.

The dog angle IS delightful, though. Truman, the bulldog in question, is taken to a vet to be put down, but the vet has suspicions. So he scans the dog, finds out that the person who brought the dog in wasn't the owner, and contacts the one person involved in the criminal justice system he knows who also loves dogs: Andy Carpenter. The dog is the key to the entire mystery, and not just a prop.

This is the most sarcastic protagonist I've read in years, and I really enjoyed it despite the present tense. It hits that sweet spot between cozy and hard boiled that so few seem to get right. Recommended.

My Grade: B

The Blurb: 

When defense lawyer Andy Carpenter’s veterinarian asks to speak to him privately at the checkup of his golden retriever, Tara, the last thing Andy expects is Truman. Tiny, healthy, French bulldog Truman was dropped off days ago with instructions to be euthanized by a man everyone thought was his owner. But now the owner is nowhere to be found. 
Andy is furious. Who would want to euthanize a perfectly healthy dog with no explanation? He is willing to whisk Truman away to the Tara Foundation, the dog-rescue organization which is Andy’s true passion. They will find a home for Truman. But that’s not all the vet tells Andy. Thanks to Truman’s chip, it’s discovered that the man wasn’t Truman’s owner at all . . . Truman's real owner has been murdered.
It’s now up to Andy – with help from his loyal sidekick Tara, Truman and the rest of the gang – to solve this case. In the latest in the popular Andy Carpenter mystery series, David Rosenfelt’s charmingly clever wit and love of dogs are back and better than ever.


Review: Buried by Ellison Cooper

Format: Hardcover
Pub Date: July 16, 2019
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Length: 356 pages
POV: 3rd, past
FTC: Review copy courtesy of the publisher

An FBI agent and his working dog stumble across a cavern filled with human bones. And discover that fresh bodies are also being deposited in the site.
SSA Sayer Altair gets assigned to the case which would ordinarily require a task force. Only one problem: the FBI is being investigated and resources are scarce. She cobbles together a small team to help her investigate the horrendous crime scene, while also worrying about the political fallout in Quantico that is, partially, her fault. 
The complicated subplots dilute what should be an utterly terrifying book. The chapters that deal with an anonymous, powerful psychopath and the shitshow at the FBI headquarters don't serve the plot or the book at all. 
This is clearly a mid-series book with threads that lead to the book before and presumably the next book in the series. If you like every thread neatly tied up, this book will annoy you to no end. I actually liked the various subplots, some tied up and some left hanging. My main complaint was the flatness of the characters. I wanted to know more about them. Instead, they felt flat and didn't add much to the story. 
It's a decent book, but could have been excellent with tighter editing and character development. Recommended, but check it out from the library.
My Grade: C
The Blurb:
Senior Special Agent Sayer Altair studies the minds of psychopaths. But even she didn't expect to uncover a killer within the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Rooting him out and exposing internal corruption got her a bullet wound and six months of desk duty. Now, she’s finally back in the field, called in when an off-duty FBI agent and his cadaver dog fall into a sinkhole filled with human bones. 
Found deep in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, the skeletal remains date back almost two decades, the same time a beloved local teen disappeared. The cold case quickly heats up when Sayer's team finds two fresh corpses among the bones. When a gruesome clue ties these new bodies to a woman recently kidnapped along with her young daughter, Sayer has to uncover the connection between the old bones and the new bodies before the mother and child become the next victims. 
But the killer is one step ahead, attacking her team and sabotaging their efforts. With Sayer's investigation compromised and unsure of who to trust, she receives unwanted help from Subject 037, one of the anonymous psychopaths she is currently studying. She has the chilling realization that he’s someone powerful in Washington D.C.―and he is not about to let a mundane serial killer jeopardize his own ominous agenda for Sayer…


Review: The Demon You Know (Others series) by Christine Warren

Format: Mass market
Pub Date: May 2007
Publisher: St. Martins
Length: 344 pages
POV: 3rd, past
FTC: used copy from the TBR, purchase date unknown

Christine Warren is one of those authors who can be hit or miss with me. Some books I really enjoy, and others are kind of meh. This book, however, was actually bad. I almost DNF'd it, but stayed with it out of sheer stubborness.

Abby Baker, a low level employee for a local TV station who is unremarkable in every way except for having eyes of two different colors, gets caught on the street during a riot. While hiding from various violent factions, she ends up getting possessed by a fiend, a sort of evil spirit. NOT a demon, as we're told over and over and over again. Demons good, fiends bad.

Rule, an actual (good) demon, is on the hunt for a big bad fiend. He happens across Abby just as she's possessed by the fiend he's looking for, so he (of course) grabs her and carries her fireman style to an Others-friendly club. Abby considers it kidnapping; Rule considers it protective custody.

Much of the book consists of Abby trying to escape her involuntary confinement. There is a giant parade of secondary characters who don't really add to the story other than to confuse the narrative. Not only is Abby unremarkeable physically, her personality is rather bland as well (except for her determination to escape which constantly puts her in danger). The only interesting parts of the book are where she's arguing with the fiend who possessed her: a pervy, juvenile one named Lou.


June Reading Overview

I fell into a romantic suspense rabbit hole during June. Not only did I read the other two in the Flashpoint series by Rachel Grant, I read the entire 8 books in her Evidence series as well. They are fantastic archaeology/anthropology books where the heroines are nearly always as smart or smarter than the tough guys they're paired with.

Then I moved on to a Piper Drake series about military working dogs and some retired servicemembers who run a training center.

Mixed in there were a few rereads of Laura Lee Guhrke favorites (Guilty Pleasures is one of my all time favorite books) and a few ARCs of books due out this month.

I'm a hybrid reader: I read in both e and print, with the occasional audiobook, but for backlist gloms nothing beats the ability to one-click your way through a series as you finish. Binge reading for a mood reader is bliss. I might not have ventured outside all month if it wasn't the last month of schools for the kids.


Review: Black and Blue by David Rosenfelt

Format: Hardcover
Pub Date: March 2019
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Length: 290 pages
POV: 1st, present
FTC: Review Copy courtesy of the publisher

This is the second Doug Brock thriller books I've read, and despite being written in the one tense and POV combo I despise, I really enjoyed it.

Doug Brock is a New Jersey state police officer with shooting related amnesia, which is a real drawback whenever he has to revisit a past case he can't remember, although it's a plus in his personal life, as it's allowed him a "do-over" with his one-time fiance, Jessie.

This new case is a serial sniper, and figuring out the connection between victims requires lots of interviews with family and witnesses: which is ten levels of awkward when you don't remember most of your past cases. I liked how tight the chapters were, how methodical the police work is. I liked the supporting characters, especially Jessie, which is why I wish the book were 3rd past instead of 1st present. I wanted more of her thoughts and feelings.

My only real issue with the book is the nonstop fat shaming of Doug's partner, Nate. It's constant and unnecessary.

Overall, a solid police mystery.

My Grade: B

Doug Brock hasn't had it easy since his getting shot in the line of duty as a New Jersey state police officer. Between the amnesia and having to solve two murder cases, it hasn't been the most restful recovery. He’s slowly earning back the trust of his girlfriend Jessie, since he doesn’t remember their breakup, and has focused on new crimes with his partner, Nate. 
But now an old case of Doug’s has resurfaced, and it’s up to Doug to retrace his steps – steps he can’t remember – to solve the case. Eighteen months ago, Walter Brookings was shot through the heart. With no clear motive and no similar murders, the investigation stalled and became a cold case. 
When another man is murdered in the same fashion and the ballistics come back as a match, Doug begins to reinvestigate, and starts to question his own actions from the previous investigation.Finally, what Doug uncovers may be more dangerous than any case he’s faced yet.


Review: The Time Collector by Gwendolyn Womack

Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: April 16, 2019
Publisher: Picador
Length: 386 pages
POV: 3rd, past
FTC: Review copy courtesy of the publisher

Way back when, in the days before college burnout, I was going to be a history teacher. Even though that never worked out, my love of history has never waned. This book made that nerdy bookworm happy, with its vignettes of various historical events and people.

Roan West is a psychometrist. He can see and experience the past of objects he touches. Sometimes he makes money with it, sometimes he uses it to return lost family heirlooms to their rightful owners. His friend, Stuart, has gone missing, but he gets sidetracked on his quest to find him by a viral video of a young woman just discovering her psychometry talents.

This is a genre-bending book. It has romantic elements, a mystery/thriller element, a historical fiction element, some mild paranormal themes, a quest...Pieces from all kinds of stories are woven in here, but I particularly liked how vivid and well researched the historical "flashback" scenes were. The author chooses some particularly painful events to tie to objects, and doesn't shy away from showing those events with unflinching honesty.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, but I did feel like the romance was a little shoehorned in. The author tells us the two characters are attracted to each other instead of showing us. I wanted some more emotion there on the page, because while this isn't genre romance, it is a book about all kinds of relationships, and the emotional connection just seemed muted.

My Grade: B
The Blurb:
Travel through time with the touch of a hand.
Roan West can perceive the past of any object he touches. A highly skilled psychometrist, he uses his talents to find and sell valuable antiques, but his quiet life in New Orleans is about to change. Stuart, a fellow psychometrist and Roan's close friend, has used his own abilities to unearth several "ooparts"―out-of-place artifacts that challenge recorded history. Soon after the discovery, Stuart disappears, making him one of several pyschometrists who have recently died or vanished. When Roan comes across a viral video of a young woman who has discovered a priceless pocket watch just by "sensing" it, he knows he has to warn her―but will Melicent Tilpin listen? And can Roan find Stuart before it's too late? The quest for answers will lead Roan and Melicent around the world, bringing them closer to each other and a startling truth.


Review: Block Shot by Kennedy Ryan

Format: ebook
Pub Date: September 2018
Publisher: self published
Length: 444 pages
POV: Alternating 1st/present
FTC: Borrowed via Kindle
CW: Cheating, chronic illness, self-image/weight issues

As angry as I was for reading Long Shot by this author without being warned it was a book about domestic violence, the book itself was compelling enough to get me to try again. Because despite my well known aversion to present tense, I found Ryan's voice fantastic. But this time, the potentially "nope" content was out there and being publicly acknowledged by people on Twitter, so I knew going in that cheating was part of this book. And that's something I normally avoid. (The official blurb does not have a content warning at all)

Since I'm not skilled enough to make a clickable spoiler tag for the blog I'm struggling to find time for, if you'd like to see how cheating is involved, specifically, please scroll all of the way down to the bottom. It is not between the two main protagonists.

The blurb says this is an enemies-to-lovers story, but that's not really accurate. Banner loathes Jared, for extremely good (if mistaken) reasons. Jared doesn't hate Banner, though. She's always been his obsession. He needles her whenever they interact, which up until this book starts isn't often. He hasn't been able to convince her that what she believes happened, didn't actually go down the way she thinks it did, but that doesn't stop him from admiring everything about her.

If you prefer your romance without ethically or morally dubious stuff, this book isn't for you. Because while Banner is a good person (the agent with the heart known for her loyalty) Jared isn't. He is completely and utterly ruthless about everything. Even with his POV scenes, he's hard to really like. Possible sociopath. Definitely not caring about anything or anyone except for Banner and maybe his immediate family.

That being said, I was completely sold on this romance. I know nothing about sports, and less about sports management, but the emotional punch and the depth of conflict here is terrific. The chemistry is completely off the charts. I really liked it, despite my reservations.

My Grade: A

The Blurb:
A STANDALONE second chance, enemies-to-lovers romance set in the cutthroat world of sports management.

They're two sharks in a fish tank...

If I had a dollar for every time Banner Morales made my heart skip a beat...
The heart everyone assumes is frozen over.
Her anger is... arousing.
Every glare from those fire-spitting eyes, every time she grits her teeth, gets me... well, you know.
If I had a dollar for every time she's put me in my place, I'd be an even richer man.
I'm a successful sports agent because I assume "no" means you'll think about it.
I'm sure what you meant to say is "Coming right up."
They say even rich men don't always get what they want, but those men don't know how to play the game. The trick is to keep them guessing.
Take Banner. She assumes she's winning, but this game?
She doesn't even know how to play.


If I had a dollar for every time Jared Foster broke my heart, I'd have exactly one dollar.
One night. One epic fail. One dollar... and I'm out.
I've moved on.
I've found success in a field ruled by men.
Anything they can do, I have done better.
They can keep the field while I call the shots, blocking them when I have to.
And Jared has the nerve to think he gets a second chance?
Boy, please. Go sit down. Have several seats.
I'll just be over here ignoring the man carved from my fantasies with a lust-tipped chisel.
Oh, I didn't say the struggle wasn't real.
But I've got that one dollar, and Jared won't have me.


Banner is in a committed relationship with her client. Someone she has been friends with for a decade, but recently made the switch to romantic. She's not really sure whether she's made a mistake, because she is pretty sure she's not in love. Jared knows she's involved, and despite her protests, uses their attraction to basically override Banner's usually strong loyalty. Banner had intended to end her relationship prior to sleeping with Jared, but that's not how things shake out. She immediately confesses to her boyfriend upon his return to town. It's out of character, and for me...I know real life examples of this, and Ryan manages to...if not excuse it...then at least make it understandable about how it could happen and why that infidelity wouldn't happen again between Jared and Banner.


Review: SPOILERS!!! Long Shot by Kennedy Ryan

Format: ebook
Pub Date: March 20, 2018
Publisher: self published
Length: 460 pages
POV: Alternating 1st/present
FTC: purchased myself

I am a not a fan of 1st person, present tense. I am not a NA reader. I have noped out of so many books because they're present tense. I am also not someone for whom highly buzzed books works. I'm just that way. Born to be contrary. I am also not someone usually bothered by problematic or troubling content. Content warnings are usually wasted on me, because I can usually stomach just about anything. THIS BOOK BOTHERED ME. ***scroll down to the very end if you're looking for how the story ends.***

Before going further, please know that even the descriptions of what happens in this book may be triggering for some readers. It's THAT awful. And I don't normally write reviews with spoilers or plot synopses, but I am so angry right now that nothing in the description or the reviews specifically warned readers of the type of content in this book. It's hinted at, but hidden behind euphemisms.

This book contains graphic details of emotional and physical domestic violence, firearms, and sexual assault/rape. And it's not just at the beginning. It is the bulk of the conflict of the novel. So this isn't something you can read and move past to enjoy the rest of the story. IT IS THE STORY.


Review: Ready to Run by Lauren Layne

Format: ebook
Pub Date: August 22, 2017
Publisher: Loveswept
Length: 215 pages
POV: 3rd past
FTC: Purchased myself

I binged my way through Lauren Layne's backlist last May, but stopped when I found books that were written in first person, present tense (a combination I cannot stand). I had seen this one, but discounted it because I personally despise reality television and this book seemed entirely about a TV show based on the blurb.

It must have been on sale, because I finally caved and purchased the book. Most of the Lauren Layne books I've read in the past were set in the big city. This was a bit different for me. It's a city girl visiting a small town. Classic fish out of water. I was pleasantly surprised by how well Layne's voice works in the small town romance.

I had a few issues with the unevenness of how some characters are dealt with. We spend quite a lot of time with the first two brides, and none with the third. There's a spoiler-y reason for this, but it still feels a little weird how that entire situation is dealt with. Also missing are any real details about Luke's job. The small town setting seems sketched in, with only broad strokes.

The standard group of non-catty girl friends that often appear in Layne books is present here, too, which I liked, but I felt like we almost spent too much time with the secondary characters. This wasn't my favorite Layne book, but it was a quick, easy read.

My Grade: B-

The Blurb:
Jordan Carpenter thinks she’s finally found the perfect candidate for Jilted, a new dating show about runaway grooms: firefighter Luke Elliott, a known player who’s left not one but three brides at the altar. The only problem? Luke refuses to answer Jordan’s emails or return her calls. Which is how she ends up on a flight to Montana to recruit him in person. It’s not Manhattan, but at least the locals in Lucky Hollow seem friendly . . . except for Luke, who’s more intense—and way hotter—than the slick womanizer Jordan expected.

Eager to put the past behind him, Luke has zero intention of following this gorgeous, fast-talking city girl back to New York. But before he can send her packing, Jordan’s everywhere: at his favorite bar, the county fair, even his exes’ book club. Annoyingly, everyone in Lucky Hollow seems to like her—and deep down, she’s starting to grow on him too. But the more he fights her constant pestering, the more Luke finds himself wishing that Jordan would kick off her high heels and make herself comfortable in his arms.


Review: Blood is Blood by Will Thomas (Barker and Llewelyn)

Format: Hardcover
Pub Date: November 2018
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Length: 308 pages
POV: 1st person, past
FTC: review copy courtesy of the publisher

I haven't read a lot of historical mysteries in 1st person, so this was a bit of a change for me. This book is also in the middle of a series, so I'm not sure I'd have had the same reading experience if I'd been following the series all along.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I really liked the overall mystery and the setting and characters. On the other, I felt like it was missing some emotional depth, which is likely because I'm a character-centric reader. I want their thoughts and feelings on the page, and the emotions in particular were largely absent here, which I found weird considering the emotional events that form the focus of the book.

I have never read Will Thomas, nor had I heard of this series before, but I love historical mysteries and decided to give it a chance. The book begins with a bit of the Monday blues and an absentminded groom-to-be not listening to his fiance, then promptly devolves into chaos as the office of Barker Private Inquiries is blown to smithereens.


Review: Fast Falls the Night by Julia Keller (a Bell Elkins novel)

Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: July 2018, copyright 2017
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Length: 286 pages
POV: 3rd alternating past
FTC: review copy courtesy of the publisher
CW: drug overdose

I read this months ago, and posted a brief mini review on Instagram here, but I felt like I hadn't really covered what I wanted to cover about this book. I read a lot, I mean A LOT, and I'm still thinking about this book six months later. Partly because my region just experienced a smaller version of what happens in the novel, and partly because it was such a unique and timely book which was sadly, inspired by a real 24 hour period of mass overdoses in West Virginia.

The novel takes place over the course of 24 hours, and while I was never a fan of the series, 24, I can see the appeal of using that time constraint to serve as a narrative structure. It works incredibly well here, as we watch events unfold through a variety of points of view: Bell Elkins, a prosecutor, the EMS and hospital staff, the families of those saved and those lost. Each chapter begins with a time, and as the novel progresses, the reader feels Bell's growing horror over the escalation of deaths as more and more overdoses happen on her turf.

Also mixed in is some back story about Bell's childhood, which (probably because I haven't read any other books in the series) feels a bit disconnected from the rest of the narrative. But the events of the past mix with the events of the present to add further stress to an already overwhelmed Bell.

This isn't a long book, but Keller manages to squeeze a lot of tension into it and a lot of nuance about life in poverty. I was very impressed by how even secondary characters are fleshed out and felt believable. Even if they didn't spend a lot of time on the page.

My only quibble, and this comes 100% from my personal preference, is that the ending is a bit of a cliffhanger. The primary mystery is solved, sort of, but the threads are left hanging in an obvious sequel baiting way that I found unsatisfying. 

I wish we saw more authors like Keller who avoid using cliches about the poor and really dig deep into what drives people to make the decisions they do. I was very impressed with the nimble way she switched from character to character while making the reader care about all of them. No shortcuts, no easy fall back onto tired stereotypes. It's not often that I read a mystery with written with such obvious care. For that, and for the timely topic, I recommend this book!

My Grade: A-

The Blurb:
Based on a real-life event, Pulitzer Prize-winner Julia Keller’s latest Bell Elkins novel Fast Falls the Night takes place in a single 24-hour period, unfurling against the backdrop of a shattering personal revelation that will change Bell’s life forever.
The first drug overdose comes just after midnight, when a young woman dies on the dirty floor of a gas station bathroom. To the people of the small town of Acker’s Gap, West Virginia, it is just another tragedy. It is sad—but these days, depressingly familiar.
But then there is another overdose. And another. And another.
Prosecutor Bell Elkins soon realizes that her Appalachian hometown is facing its starkest challenge yet: a day of constant heroin overdoses from a batch tainted with a lethal tranquilizer. While the clock ticks and the bodies fall, Bell and her colleagues desperately track the source of the deadly drug—and engage in fierce debates over the wisdom of expending precious resources to save the lives of self-destructive addicts.