Review: “Charm” (A Cinderella Reverse Fairytale Book 1) by J.A. Armitage


Charm (reverse Fairytales) (Volume 1)

A review by Vanessa

What’s a girl to do when she suddenly finds herself the heir to a kingdom, in need of a husband and totally devoid of any romantic entanglements? First, she must mourn the loss of her older sister, and then she needs to take dancing and etiquette lessons fit for a Queen. The ball meant for Princess Charmaine’s older sister to find a husband among 100 applicants is still going to happen but Charmaine is going to have to do the dancing and the picking. It’s the last thing she ever wanted, especially since she sucks at dancing, but when she wanders down to the kitchen for a late dinner she finds help in the form of handsome, downtrodden, dishwasher named Cynder. He just happens to know how to dance, and he does magic. Romance isn’t something she can have with him, because he is a servant and a mage, but she just can’t help it. Cynder opens her eyes to so much, including love, and the tense state of the kingdom surrounding the subhuman treatment of magic users. But Charmaine needs to pick five potentials out of the 100, and over the next months, narrow it down to one. But when chaos erupts at the ball, and the magic users make it known how unhappy they are, things might just not go according to plan.

This book definitely had all of the meat and potatoes of a good story with enough depth of conflict and emotional gravitas to keep the readers’ interest. The twist of making the Cinderella character male, and the Prince a Princess, while throwing in the political climate surrounding magic and those who use it was interesting. Making his status as a magic user the source of Cynder’s downtrodden life was really intriguing. Princess Charmaine is actually an interesting character to follow, and the way she looks at and regards the other characters is an interesting lens through which to view the story. However, she herself at times seems a bit two dimensional. You want her to step up and be the hero of her story, as the Prince would be in the original story line, but she seems to end up flowing with the story rather than driving it along. She has great moments of intrigue occasionally, especially when plunged into romantic situations, but she lacks the gumption you would want from the hero of the story.

While the concept of this reversal of the fairy tale is an interesting one and it was overall a pleasant read, I couldn’t help being a little disappointed with the world building. Turning this classic fairy tale upside down and inside out presented a chance to create a whole new fictional universe, but I feel like it was a very large missed opportunity. Instead of being new it ended up being simply a modern day wherever, with modern technology like cameras and TV, but for some inexplicable reason they ride around in carriages, and there happens to be magic. It’s very difficult to get a mental picture of the kingdom. Are they a castle province in the middle of an American-like township, with modern apartments and businesses, etc? Or are they in an old timey British-like town with old architecture, and traditional crafters and artisans? It’s almost like Armitage took a bunch of elements of older fairy tale worlds, threw them in a blender with some modern day elements and hit frappe! The last thing you want to do with a first in a series is make it difficult to imagine how the characters fit into the world. I enjoyed this one enough to try the next in the series but I will be keeping my fingers crossed for stronger world building.

3 out of 5 stars

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Review: “The Heist” by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The Heist: A Novel (Fox and O’Hare)

A review by Vanessa

The FBI is not supposed to let the bad guys go. But sometimes a criminal might just be what you need on your side to get the job done. At least, that is what FBI Agent Kate O’Hare keeps trying to tell herself. For five years she has chased the illusive, brilliant, and boyishly charming con artist Nick Fox across the country. Watching him escape time and again has been the frustration of her career, and her personal life, especially since he has been so bold as to taunt her by visiting her hotel rooms while she is not in them. Now she has finally caught up with him, and fulfilled her promise to herself to arrest him and put him behind bars. If only she wasn’t suddenly so bored after all of the excitement of chasing him for so long. But somehow, after a daring courthouse escape, Nick has pulled off the greatest con of all; he has convinced the FBI to let him stay free and work his con-artist magic to help them catch the bigger badder bad guys. And Kate is first on his list for a partner to work with in nabbing his new marks.
Kate is as tough as they come. Raised by a career marine soldier, and an ex-Navy SEAL herself, she has never liked the idea of seedier undercover work. She likes busting in, smashing down the doors, and arresting the bad guys with her glock in hand. But in truth, chasing down Nick Fox has given her an addiction to the excitement she can’t deny. So when her boss’s boss’s boss, the deputy director of the FBI, gives her a choice to work with the con-man instead of chasing him she says yes. Against all of her better judgements. The bad guys they are going after are far nastier than Nick Fox and Kate is all about bringing in the criminals, no matter what it takes. Nick just wants a chance to stay out of the jail cell, and maybe to have some fun working with the attractive and complex Kate. So when they go after the famously corrupt Derek Griffin both Fox and O’Hare are in for a bit of a surprise as to what they can learn from each other, and what a great team they will make.
As always, I am endlessly amused when I read collaborative work that joins the best traits of humor, action, engaging supporting characters, and attraction from a co-author team. Especially when that team is a male-female duo who are masters at their craft. Evanovich and Goldberg create an action-packed exciting world where the hardcore, military trained, fast food chugging, crack-shot FBI agent is a 5’5” slender brunette, and the charming, likes-to-enjoy-the-finer-things, life-long con-artist criminal actually has heart of gold and sense of loyalty a mile wide. When they throw in the cast of supporting characters, each with a surprising depth even when they only have short moments in the story line, it makes for some seriously entertaining reading. There is no end of excitement, intrigue, and of course when Evanovich is involved, humor. Bringing the two main characters together when they are so at odds with each other and simultaneously fighting their attraction to one another is skillfully executed by the authors collaborative writing. That the two characters can so smoothly transition from enemies to partners in a totally believable way is a mark of their talent in working together. I highly recommend this book and the rest of the series.

5 out of 5 stars

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Review: “Seeing Red” by Sandra Brown

Seeing Red
A review by Vanessa

This book was purchased and suggested by my mother, an avid mystery reader.

Sleeping off a hangover, and staying out of the spotlight, are John Trapper’s top priorities in life when news reporter Kerra comes walking through the door of his P.I. office. But if the bombshell of information she just dropped on his desk is any indication, he won’t be achieving either of those. Kerra wants Trapper’s help to get in contact with his famous, and now reclusive, hero father so she can reveal a secret of her own to the world; a secret about the infamous Pegasus hotel bombing that happened to make Major Trapper a hero 25 years prior. But Trapper knows there is more to the bombing than anyone else thinks from his time investigating it while at the ATF. His obsession with the tragedy that shaped his father’s, and by extension his, life got him fired 3 years ago, and left him estranged from his father. But the appearance of Kerra might just be the one thing that breaks the whole mystery wide open. Kerra won’t give up until she gets an interview with the man who saved her life all those years ago. She’s prepared do what she has to. What she isn’t prepared for are her feelings for Trapper. She can see the wounds he tries to hide, and she knows together they can find the answers to the questions he has. Especially when finding those answers may be the only thing that saves her life this time.
This book is a good read and the prose itself is as flawless as it can be. The dialogue is engaging, and scenes playing out between the characters were filled with tension and interesting twists. Last minute changes in direction during the action keep the reader engaged and propel the story line forward. The love interest is scorching and not easily to be forgotten. The hero is the very definition of smoldering; your classic brooding sex-god with a difficult past that you can’t help but fall in love with and want to “save.” The heroine is no exception to this of course. On the whole Kerra stands on her own ground for most of the story; holding on to her determination, displaying her strength of character and stubbornness without shame, and generally giving the hero a run for his money.
The only mildly disappointing thing is that after meeting Trapper, each time Kerra makes a move within the story line so much of her motivation is linked directly to him. Yes, her initial determination is for herself at the beginning and that makes her an interesting catalyst for the beginning of the story line. But thereafter her personal journey takes a back seat to his. Kerra has such an interesting backstory, but her background doesn’t seem to inform her current behavior at all after it has been established. With Trapper, you can see the personal torture that comes with it every decision he makes, and it makes him a very engaging character even when he is being a jerk. But for Kerra there are so many moments throughout the book where she seems to be there more as a prop for the hero rather than as a driving factor in the plot line of the book, even though her life is literally on the line. Although she fades in later chapters she isn’t an entirely gray character, and the story as a whole keeps the dynamic between the characters, including Kerra, interesting and engaging. Good read.

4 out of 5 stars

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Review: “Charlie All Night” by Jennifer Crusie

 

“Charlie All Night” by Jennifer Crusie

A review by Vanessa.

This book is from the reviewer’s personal collection, bought many years ago. As always it is nice to go back and revisit old comfortable standbys.

Charlie Tenniel has a job to do. It wouldn’t be his choice to masquerade as a radio DJ at Tuttle, Ohio’s WBBB radio station, unless he has a good reason and becoming a famous radio personality, isn’t it. In fact, he is just doing a favor for the station owner who is a friend of his father by investigating a menacing letter sent to the station. Charlie is determined to find out what’s going on and then get out. After all, Charlie doesn’t do long-term commitment of any kind, and especially not to a job he never wanted and doesn’t know anything about. But if his druggie brother could manage to be a DJ then Charlie should be able to use his brother’s reputation as a cover; and with no one the wiser he can finish his snooping, solve the mystery, and be gone in a few weeks. Of course, Charlie has no idea what is about to hit him when Bill gives him Alice McGuffy as a producer for his show. Her spunk, determination, commitment to her career, and fantastic mouth may just put his determination to stay detached and not make waves to the test.

Allie is one of the best producers in the business. Which is why when her boss Bill pulls her from producing the best time slot and sticks her with a new DJ in the worst time slot for no good reason, she is not happy. Of course, the upshot is it means not having to work with her yuppie-scum-dweeb of an ex-boyfriend, radio talent Mark King, anymore. And Charlie is… well bred. And steady. And funny. With a voice like melted chocolate and a natural talent for radio. In fact, maybe Charlie is just what she needs. A quick fling to get over Mark, and a new talent to push her career back onto the right path. But with Charlie fighting her at every turn by refusing to be a star and driving her crazy, both in the radio booth and in her bed, things might be a bit more complicated than she thought. And Charlie keeps saying he is only temporary… will he really leave when his job is done?

Crusie is and always has been one of my favorite authors. One of the greatest aspects of all of her books is her ability to give characters, main and secondary, a sense of being completely whole and alive without killing the story with tons of mundane details. Her writing can be described as simple, but good, and though that has a tendency to sound like the equivalent of boring it is anything but. Her stand-alone romances, like this short and sweet novel about Allie and Charlie, are always an excellent comfort read. She packs in just enough mystery to keep you curious but as always the real story is about the people you meet while reading. They are complex, lovable, interesting, and relatable. In this particular book, the story is less about getting the bad guy and more about what good people have to do in bad situations. And love. It’s always about love. The kind you stumble across when you didn’t even know it was coming. It flaunts a few romantic cliches that are predictably old-fashioned, where the guy acts jealous when he has no right, and the girl forgives his mildly misogynistic faux-pas in the end. But all in all this one is comforting like wrapping up in your favorite quilt and relaxing away an afternoon.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “Angel of Eventide” by Elle Powers

Angel of Eventide by Elle Powers

A review by Niraja.

An electronic version of this book was supplied to the reviewer by the author in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Seamus is an Angel of Death.  That is to say, he frees the souls of the dying when their time comes for them to move on to the eternal realm.  In his years of service to the dying, he has helped the elderly, folks in accidents, and children all move on.  He has performed his designed duties faithfully, trusting in the love and the story of his Da (Father). That is, until he is assigned to the drowning of a six-year-old redhead named Maren.  Instead of assisting in her death, he is overcome with emotion and saves her life.  Seamus must then decide: protect this girl and possibly become a fallen rogue, or go back and do what must be done to make things right?  But everything is not all that it seems in this eternal story of love, devotion, and acceptance.

I have yet to read any other book with a theme and story elements quite like this paranormal romance.  The book was unique to me not in its story of fallen angels or romance, nor in the theme of the divine love of God, but in the combination of the two ideas.  The story is written in the third person, which allows for us to experience the events, thoughts, and feelings from both Seamus (our Angel) and Maren (his redheaded lass).   I enjoyed being able to read each character’s perspective as this helps in understanding motives and relating to the characters.  At times the perspective would switch from one character to another and back again within the same paragraph.  This would cause me to become a bit confused and have to re-read the section. By the end of the story, I was used to it and appreciated how it could relate to the theme of a divine story that encompasses all of the world and God’s creations (angels and humanity). Seamus’s character was well defined in the story and we could see his growth, but Maren felt a little less solid to me even with the perspective switches.

Powers does a fantastic job of creating visual imagery with her words.  I was able to see scenes and visualize characters’ appearances strongly in my mind which added to the allure of the story.  There is a fair bit of angst and character growth and realization, especially with Seamus, that is common to this genre and that Ms. Powers does a great job of illustrating.  There were some conflicts that seemed to come to too simple of an end and some themes that I would have liked to see explored a bit more.  Some aspects of the ending were a bit confusing to me. However, it ends on a positive and joyful note that will be satisfying to folks who like their happy endings.  

Overall the book explores some interesting themes related to love, romance, death, and God’s eternal story and plan.  So if you like Christian romance and paranormal romance, this may be the book for you.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

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Review: “Don’t Look Down” by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

Don’t Look Down by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

A review by Vanessa.

This book is from my personal collection, one I have re-read often. There was no author request for a review, but sometimes it’s nice to go back to read the ones we love so much.

Lucy Armstrong is a successful advertising director. She loves her job, and she’s really good at it, in spite of everyone else mocking her career in dog food commercials. So why is it she finds herself being pulled in to direct the last four days of what is supposed to be a legitimate movie set, but feels more like a practical joke? Probably because her sister is working on the crew with her niece in tow, and something is just not quite right. Not the way her ex-husband is paying her a ridiculous amount of money to finish the move without even seeing the entire script. Not the way crew members have been disappearing, quitting, or dying unexpectedly. Not the way the lead action star suddenly shows up with a real Green Beret to be his new consultant and stunt double at the last minute. And certainly not the way that Green Beret, J.T. Wilder, can capture Lucy’s attention simply by standing still. Something is up with this “movie set” and with J.T.’s help she just might figure it out in time to help her sister and her niece before things get out of hand.

J.T. was just looking to make some quick money while on leave by being stunt double for a bumbling movie star. The beautiful actresses were going to be a big bonus for the short time he planned to be involved. He certainly wasn’t expecting the director to catch his attention. The lead actress is a gorgeous snack, but Lucy is the whole meal; tall, beautiful, strong, determined, an Amazon worth a second, and third, look. He wasn’t planning on getting that involved, or caring for her and her zany band of crew members like her steadfastly loyal assistant director, or her Wonder Woman-obsessed little niece; but J.T. just can’t help himself.  Especially since his instincts tell him that Lucy has somehow ended up in the middle of something not good, and his heart definitely does not want anything bad happening to her.

What I have always loved the most about this book is that it is so well written by it’s co-authors. The writing is smart, snappy, witty, sharp and heartfelt all at the same time. The main characters are lovable, admirable, and believable while still achieving a very no bullshit kind of attitude. The storyline itself is quick and action packed as well as filled with heat and romance and just plain good writing. I have to attribute this to the individual strengths of the two writers. I have always loved Jennifer Crusie’s ability to write admirably strong women, and blazingly hot men into an entrancing but very grounded romance story. I’ve never read any of Bob Mayer’s individually written novels but his influence in the action and the writing of the male leading character is very obvious, and it adds an element of reality to the perspectives of the two main characters. The love scenes are very obviously Crusie-esque, but many of the scenes written from J.T.’s perspective have a distinctly male voice which is so interesting to read when juxtaposed against the female perspective interspersed with them. I always love when two authors from differing genres can bring the best of their writing style and experience into one book. And this book really has it all.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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Review: “All About The D” by Lex Martin and Leslie McAdam

Review: “All About The D” by Lex Martin and Leslie McAdam

A review by Vanessa.

Mature content warning: This is an adult contemporary romance that contains explicit sexual content.

Evelyn Mills wants to make partner at her law firm. But to do that she needs to start bringing in some big business to impress the other partners. So when she gets a call from a smart and sexy-sounding businessman with a very unique problem she wonders if maybe she finally has the opportunity she’s been looking for. Except selling him as a client to the other partners might be difficult because he isn’t just a businessman. He happens to run a very successful blog which features artistic and captivating photos of his… well… let’s just say that specific body part isn’t what Evie was thinking when she was looking for a “big” client. Big he is, however, and gorgeous, and he also happens to be Josh Cartwright; youngest son of the most prominent family in Portland. But keeping his identity a secret is part of the job, and if he is a client she can look but not touch.

Josh just wants a trustworthy attorney to help him negotiate a contract with an adult toy company, and protect the secret of his successful blog. He certainly isn’t expecting to get the curvaceous, smart, and loyal Evie, and he doesn’t expect his instant attraction to her. As his attorney, he must keep his hands off no matter how funny and vivacious she is, or how she is everything he never knew he always wanted. But his brother has a political campaign and his mother is the matchmaker from hell so he can’t afford to be bad. His blog would get him into enough trouble if anyone found out. But even if she does inspire him to get it up for the photos he takes for his blog, he has to resist. If he can.

This book is the perfect mix of evocative, funny, genuine, and naughty that makes for an all-around excellent read. The authors’ joint efforts here definitely pay off, and the result is a seamlessly written contemporary romance that is all the best aspects of truly entertaining, and heartfelt. The chapters are written from alternating perspectives of the two main characters, which makes for dynamic shifts in the storyline and a very engaging pace to the story. The characters are utterly lovable and totally real, if at times just a little bit predictable. But even given the easy to anticipate conflicts, the writing is just too good. The supporting characters are fleshed out and interesting and add great color to the story. And truly, there are scenes in the book that are just downright funny. It was a great read, and I would recommend it to any mature adult romance fans.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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