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REVIEW:  Carolina Blues by Virginia Kantra

REVIEW: Carolina Blues by Virginia Kantra

Carolina-Blues

Jack Rossi is Dare Island’s new police chief. The laid-back North Carolina community is just what he needs to recover from a rocky marriage and a big-city police department. He’s learned his lesson: no more high-profile women or high-pressure jobs. The last thing he wants is an unconventional alt girl rocking his world.

Grad student Lauren Patterson made headlines when she kept a bank robbery from going bad. She’s fled to Dare Island to clear her head and focus on writing her story. However, sexy Jack Rossi is a distraction that’s too hot to ignore, and it’s igniting an affair too combustible to resist—or quit.

But when their pasts come looking for them, Jack and Lauren find themselves fighting for the future they deserve, whatever the price.

Dear Ms. Kantra,

After enjoying the first three books “Carolina” books which focused on the adult Fletcher siblings, I wondered if they would be limited to a trilogy. Now it is obvious that the series is going to expand, involving other people on this Dare Island community of North Carolina.

“Carolina Blues” is more character focused than the last book, “Carolina Man,” in which the story arc which carried through the first three books was completed. It also features two outsiders to the community though thankfully it avoids any “us v them” elements. Instead the main characters are the new Chief of Police and a psychology PhD student looking to break her writer’s block.

They have a lot in common as each has been trained to watch, ask questions of, and interpret information given or not given by suspects/clients who might or might not be telling everything or the truth about anything. There is sly fun in watching them use their tricks on each other and be annoyed by the other doing it.

But they also know where the other has been, the dark secrets that can haunt you, the remembered pain, the need to tell another person about what they’ve been through, the downside of 15 minutes of fame and the demands of people you don’t know. Jack has the police/SWAT experience to call Lauren on her guilt over how the hostage situation ended and the responsibility she feels about it while Lauren focuses on getting Jack to open up about his feelings.

Their initial physical hookup is when each is trying to believe that this is nothing but a rebound for him and a quick, summer fling for her. It’s a chance for some physical intimacy and to feel more alive but nothing long lived or lasting. Or so each wants to believe. It’s refreshingly realistic that despite any electrical “zings” when their hands meet that neither believes this is “twu wuv” leading to “Mawwiage.” And points for managing to include one of my favorite movies in the story. This book is definitely a bit hawter than the last with Jack and Lauren, as Meg Fletcher puts it, going at it like bunnies.

Despite the sexual exploration of most of the flat surfaces, and a few of the vertical ones, on Jack’s boat, both are hiding their feelings, retreating from true emotional intimacy. Jack and Lauren have used their analytical skills as a psychologist or a cop to keep people at a distance as they analyze them. Their drift towards a relationship comes in slow, sometimes unsure steps. Jack seems to want her to stay over at his boat past the usual “morning walk of shame” checkout time Lauren is used to in her past fixer-upper one-night-stands while Lauren makes Jack think in terms of the future.

Still things don’t always go smoothly as when Lauren pushes for Jack to tell her about his day without being clearly upfront about how long she’s planning to stay on the island. Meanwhile Jack doesn’t think to tell Lauren why his ex-wife arrives in town and what this might or might not mean for their relationship. Just because someone is trained to use communication as a tool doesn’t mean they’ll always be good at it when it counts.

Jack and Lauren’s trip to trust and love takes a while to happen. Since the book doesn’t have a lot of external conflict, that is the main element of the plot. While I enjoyed the laid back, easy style that I’ve come to expect from this series, there were still times when I felt a bit adrift. As the story neared the finale, Jack and Lauren still appeared to have a gulf between them and a HEA. They’ve both settled issues from the past and seem ready to move forward but I’m not quite sure I totally buy into the fact that they’ve arrived in their relationship. “I love yous” have been said, they’re both going to end up in the same place, there’s even a public declaration straight out of a Chick Flick but somehow I’m still not convinced. Maybe over the course of the next book – which from the review I’m looking forward to – I’ll be more sure but this one ends on a B- for me.

~Jayne

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Reading/Watching List by Jayne for the last few weeks

Reading/Watching List by Jayne for the last few weeks

My PlanetMy Planet by Mary Roach

From acclaimed, New York Times best-selling author Mary Roach comes the complete collection of her “My Planet” articles published in Reader’s Digest. She was a hit columnist in the magazine, and this book features the articles she wrote in that time. Insightful and hilarious, Mary explores the ins and outs of the modern world: marriage, friends, family, food, technology, customer service, dental floss, and ants—she leaves no element of the American experience unchecked for its inherent paradoxes, pleasures, and foibles.

Since these articles were written for Reader’s Digest, they’re the perfect length for tucking into those small reading times you might have throughout the day. Roach often features her husband in them giving a view on modern, middle aged married life. Though the title has Planet, note that she’s usually looking more at the American view of America. B

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Meet Me At the Castle by Denise A. AgnewMeet Me at the Castle by Denise A Agnew

A ruined castle, a young woman’s obsession, an alluring and mysterious man. The past and present are about to collide in Meet Me At the Castle, Denise A. Agnew’s haunting tale of passion and romance. Nothing will ever be the same again!

Elizabeth Albright lives a simple life at Penham Manor under the watchful and disapproving eye of her father and stepmother. They think she’s odd for loving to paint Cromar Castle, a ruin on the hill. Even Elizabeth doesn’t understand why she insists on painting the structure over and over. Yet her compulsion demands it—there is something alive and beautiful about the castle that she cannot resist. When she meets the devilishly handsome Damian, more than her interest is piqued, for he engages her like no other has. But her stepmother has plans that will take her away from Cromar—and Damian—forever.

Marykate wrote a review on this earlier which is what made me want to give it a try. Unfortunately I found it rather stiff and melodramatic. Elizabeth’s obsession with the castle is, quite frankly, almost freaky. And while her father and stepmother might not understand it and handle the situation badly, I found myself almost agreeing with their motivation. I shouldn’t expect to be sympathizing with villains in a romance. I skimmed – a lot – to it. D

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always rayneAlways Rayne by Sierra Avalon

Would you spend ten days traveling the country with someone you despised if he promised to pay off your student loans?
Recent college graduate, Harper Leigh, can barely make ends meet working as the books editor for a new online entertainment magazine, Chatter. With $85,000 of student loan debt about to go into repayment, she has no idea how she’ll get by.

Just when she thinks things couldn’t get worse, Harper’s boss decides to embed her in the North American tour for the hot rock band, Always Rayne. Ten days on the road with the band for her to get an exclusive story. But Harper’s a homebody and the last thing she wants to do is go on the road with a rock band. And she definitely doesn’t want to spend ten days with the notorious bad boy and band front man, Nic Rayne.

When Nic proves to be too much for Harper to handle and she threatens to quit the assignment, Nic decides to sweeten the pot. If she stays with the tour for all ten days, he’ll pay off all of her student loan debt….but there’s one small catch.

Harper also has to sleep in his bed every night.

I wanted to like this one. I really did. The idea of a smart heroine who isn’t fazed, who in fact is turned off, by the hero’s fame x with incentive to pay off her debts sounded like an interesting conflict. The first chapter or two were this, what I was expecting and wanting.

Then it began to slip into a Mary Sue heroine who is beautiful under her Hippy Library Chick clothes x moody, angsty rock star hero who is desperately searching for his intellectual mate and thinks he’s immediately found her after a 5 minute conversation.

Everyone including the hero tells the heroine that he loves her, wants her and she’s The One for him but the supposedly intelligent heroine remains clueless to her beauty and The One-ness for ages.

Plus there’s enough one night sex hookups going on among the three band members (one of the duties of the manager/gofer is to get the girls they hook up with post-concert to sign non disclosure contracts before the sexing) – including the hero even after he’s found the heroine – to make me want to wear a hazmat suit while reading it.

But wait – the emo hero really, really loves the heroine. Maybe but this was coming off as way to close to teenage fanfiction for me to continue.

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monsoon mistsMonsoon Mists by Christina Courtenay

Sometimes the most precious things cannot be bought…

It’s 1759 and Jamie Kinross has travelled far to escape his troubled past – from the pine forests of Sweden to the bustling streets of India.

In India he starts a new life as a gem trader, but when his mentor’s family are kidnapped as part of a criminal plot, he vows to save them and embarks on a dangerous mission to the city of Surat, carrying the stolen talisman of an Indian Rajah.

There he encounters Zarmina Miller. She is rich and beautiful, but her infamous haughtiness has earned her a nickname: “The Ice Widow”. Jamie is instantly tempted by the challenge she presents.

But when it becomes clear that Zarmina’s step-son is involved in the plot, he begins to see another side to her – a dark past to rival his own and a heart just waiting to be thawed. But is it too late?

I was excited to try this novel as I’d been eyeing this author’s works at Choc Lit for a while. Historical India and historical Japan? Yay rah and bring it. Unfortunately this one doesn’t work for me.

Jamie starts out with my sympathy. “Something” awful has happened in his past personal life and while I don’t know what it is, I’m ready to root for him. Until he starts acting like an ass from the moment he meets Zarmina. He takes her don’t mess with me attitude as a personal affront and gets all “how dare she judge all men, how dare she act all haughty, I’m going to put her in her place.” It’s like reading modern male gamers views of “uppity women.” Okay so it’s probably actually period correct – and there are other men who have derogatory or dismissive views of Zarmina as well – but here’s the hero acting like this. And it’s only when another male has filled Jamie in on why Zarmina might have the right to act as she does that he admits maybe he was too quick to judge her.

Can he be turned around in my opinion? At the 40% point, no and skimming forward he didn’t seem to improve much.

Zarmina thinks her mixed race blood helps her deal with Indian weather. Really? The attitudes of the English about her living in England are also sadly probably period correct. She’s okay for India but don’t bring the half-caste home. I do really get a feel for her aloneness and fear of how her stepson could order her around and ruin her life. I can’t blame her for wanting to hang on to her agency – being a widow in control of her money – for as long as she can. I was disappointed that we get the “widow who’s only had bad sex” trope leading to the “hero’s sexing is the bestest” trope.

The set-up for the criminal plot that brings Jamie to Surat is convoluted and seemingly unnecessarily complicated to say the least. I have lots of questions about what the heck is going on.

The Indian ruler comes off as a buffoonish clown. But then we’ve only seen him from the POV of someone who obviously hates him. Jamie’s Indian mentor has to be saved by the white man. Grrr.

Lots of detail. There’s a wealth of detail here and I can’t tell lots of effort when into finding it and utilizing it. But in places I have to ask, why? It’s an interesting tidbit that Surat had two city walls and what their names were but is it relevant to the story? No.

I continued to past the 40% point and after skimming some, didn’t see things improving much so sadly I called it quits.

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TheDuplicitousDebutanteSideThe Duplicitous Debutante by Becky Lower

In 1859, ladies of New York society were expected to do three things well: find a husband, organize a smooth-running household, and have children.
Rosemary Fitzpatrick’s agenda is very different. As the author of the popular Harry Hawk dime novels, she must hide her true identity from her new publisher, who assumes the person behind the F. P. Elliott pen name is male. She must pose as his secretary in order to ensure the continuation of her series. And in the midst of all this subterfuge, her mother is insisting that she become a debutante this year.

Henry Cooper is not the typical Boston Brahmin. Nor is he a typical publisher. He’s entranced by Mr. Elliott’s secretary the moment they meet, and wonders how his traditional-thinking father will react when he brings a working class woman into the family. Because his intentions are to marry her, regardless.

Rosemary’s deception begins to unravel at the Cotillion ball, when Henry recognizes her. The secretarial mask must come off, now that he knows she is a member of New York society. But she can’t yet confess who she truly is until she knows if Henry will accept her as F. P. Elliott.

The more time they spend together, the closer they become. But when Rosemary reveals her true identity to him, will Henry be able to forgive her or has her deceit cost her the man she loves?

This is another submission made to DA and again, I wanted to like it due to the fact that it’s got an author heroine. Alas, it was not to be as I felt there is some awkward exposition in the first two chapters about debuts and female writers. Reading Amazon reviews of other books in this series, it seems like this is an ongoing issue for Lower. The next chapter features a family dinner scene that has more than a whiff of modernity to it but I gritted my teeth and kept going.

Sadly, once the hero and heroine meet, the book sunk into a haze of lustful daydreams wherein Henry and Rosemary’s thoughts always drifted into passionate kisses, caresses, skin, lips, hair being let loose over breasts, etc, etc. Every third page these two float off into blissful contemplation of the others attributes only to shake themselves back into the present. I made it to the 1/3 mark and realized I was skimming to get that far.

Please note that each chapter starts with a header from Rosemary’s latest novel and while the plot and the way the characters are handled are probably period correct, they would be deemed offensive to NA/American Indians today.

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black widow witchBlack Widow Witch by A.J Locke

A deadly curse, a dangerous assassin, and one shot to save everyone she loves…
Malachi Erami can’t fall in love. After she’s caught with Knave, the witch Queen’s favorite lover, she’s cursed to savagely butcher any man she falls for. Exiled to live among humans, Malachi runs a bar that serves magic-laced drinks, but since her curse labels her high risk, she’s also closely monitored. Julian Vira is her latest babysitter, but he’s also the first man since Knave that she’s been attracted to. Good-looking and nonjudgmental of her horrible curse? Yeah, he’s hard to resist.

But when Malachi finds a body behind her bar, she knows she’s in trouble. If the Witches Control Council gets wind of it, she’ll be accused of murder and sent to her death. And when her friends start getting framed for murder, she realizes she’s not the only target. Malachi and Julian dig into the evidence to clear her name, but the closer they get to answers, the closer the curse comes to taking over. So when Malachi uncovers a plot to kill the witch Queen, she finds herself suddenly recruited into service, with the promise of having her curse lifted and a reunion with Knave as well. But if she fails, Knave will die. And she and Julian might not live long enough to see that happen.

I saw in our submissions section and thought, hey that looks interesting. Heroine who is cursed to rip apart any man she’s interested in? Yeah, that’s a definite issue that she’d have to work out to be a couple. Then I start it and it drags and drags and drags with tons of backstory. Her story, the backstory of all the witches she hangs with, a usual night at her bar, etc. Did I mention there’s a lot of initial backstory?

Then she is worried about being set-up due to the hatred humans have for witches and she needs to keep the ripped apart body found behind her bar a secret. So does she keep it to herself? No, she tells about 5 people within 12 hours. Most witches but then she also mentions there’s a witch snitch among the witch population in NYC so how secret will this remain? Less so now that she’s blabbed, I bet.

She also gets a new WCC minder – I took this to be like a probation officer. One of her dear friends is hauled in on possible murder charges and she charges down to the station because she just knows the woman is innocent. What is she going to do at the WCC? Well, just tell her minder that she just knows the woman is innocent and then … dunno.

So she heads out to investigate and who shows up at the same place but her minder. Why is he there if this isn’t his case? He saw the woman and thought she looked sweet and innocent. Ted Bundy looked innocent, too. Yeah, it’s great he believes in the woman’s innocence but really?

At this point, over 1/4 of the way into the book I looked at my ereader, sighed at the thought of reading anymore and said, I’m done here.

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Delhi BellyDelhi Belly

Three young and somewhat clueless flatmates get involved in the shady and dangerous business belonging to one roomie’s fiancee. Each buddy manages to make things worse until they discover that a global crime syndicate is gunning for them.

When I finished this I thought it’s “Cohn brothers go to India.” But note this is not a Bollywood film as it has no song and dance set pieces. It’s a strict action/comedy with a romance thread running through it. Also note that if you liked Monsoon Wedding, Vijay Raaz (who played the wedding planner) has the role of the gangster villain here.


The No 1 LadiesThe No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

I just started this series and am enjoying it so far. Precious Ramotswe is a marvelous character as a woman with big dreams and the guts to go after them. Her typist Mma Makutsi and potential romance Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni back her efforts to become a successful private investigator in Botswana but most importantly, helper of those in need. One of the sweetest parts of the initial story is how Precious’s father helps her to “see” the world around her and gifts her with the “capital” she needs to get started. I need to get back to this one soon.



the shadow of the towerThe Shadow of the Tower

I reported on this before when I was halfway through the early 1970s British series on Henry VII and the start of the Tudor dynasty. The second half was a bit slower and spent a lot – and I mean a LOT – of time showing Henry dealing with all the pretenders to the crown. It’s really only in the last show that we get back to more about the family itself and see Arthur marry and die thus setting the stage for Henry VIII and his marital issues. In sets, the series is obviously a product of its time but I enjoyed it nonetheless.


The ArtistThe Artist

Winner of five Oscars, this artful black-and-white silent film follows the romance between a silent-era superstar on a downward spiral and a rising young starlet who embraces the future of cinema at the dawn of the “talkies.”

This was on my radar ever since Roger Ebert gave it such a great review but for some reason I kept moving other DVDs ahead of it in my Netflix queue. Big mistake on my part. It stars two wonderful French actors – the hot and sexy Jean Dujardin and the impish Bérénice Bejo plus a darling Jack Russell terrier. I happen to like silent films but if you don’t think you do, please don’t let that put you off. The acting style is modern and it’s easy to follow the plot.