The Book Gourmet

Book reviews à la bookworm...The good, the bad, and everything in between.

 

 

Professional Reader Reviews Published

Naked in Death by J.D. Robb

Naked in Death - J.D. Robb

A high-end prostitute, and a senator's granddaughter, is found dead in her bedroom. She was shot three times (in the head, the heart and the groin), her body obscenely arranged on her bed. The case goes to Lieutenant Eve Dallas, the murdered woman's familial ties demanding utmost secrecy proving quite a challenge in catching her murderer.

And then, another prostitute is murdered, with an identical MO...


This was a bit different from her NR ventures into romantic suspense; first because it's set in the future (nice world building) and second, because it was grittier without the usual flourishes and poetic descriptions.

The heroine was familiar, though, prickly, self-sufficient, stubborn, independent... But needing someone to anchor her, to care for her, to care about her.
The hero was also familiar with that special combination of alpha and beta, confident in his "masculinity" to let the heroine lead, determined to be there for her no matter how hard she pushed him away.
I loved both Eve and Roarke and they were absolutely perfect together. No wonder this series is so long with two strong protagonists to lead.

The mystery was intriguing and gripping, the pace absolutely spot on, the suspense engaging, the truth (when revealed) chilling and a real surprise, since I didn't see it coming...

Amazing characters, wonderful romance and great suspense. What more could anyone want?

Lady Charlotte's First Love by Anna Bradley

Lady Charlotte's First Love - Anna Bradley

***ARC provided by publisher through NetGalley***

Julian West returns to London on a hero's welcome and reputation, but he feels a fraud. There's nothing heroic in him, since he left his friend to die in the field. He intends to stay in London just long enough to fulfill his obligation, but his cousin's wife's request proves to be yet another obligation.

Eleanor's younger sister, Charlotte, the one who stole Julian's heart and broke it a year ago, is going through a scandalous phase now that she's out of mourning for her husband, and Ellie and Cam need Julian to curb her impulses. Julian owes Ellie, so he's willing to do anything to repay the debt he feels toward her, so he agrees, knowing that Charlotte's spell won't work on him twice. He's no longer the man she knew...But the first time he lays eyes on her after the year spent apart, Julian realizes, Charlotte is no longer the woman he fell in love with.


Charlotte and Julian's story, this story, is a perfect example of how a single decision can change one of multiple lives and futures.

In the previous book Julian first seduced Charlotte, then she seduced him, they both fell in love, but Charlotte suddenly found out Julian's true role in his cousin's scheme, and, cutting all communications, married another. She sent word of her nuptials to Julian on the day of her wedding, and he went off to war...Charlotte's husband died mere four months after the wedding, and his death, and everything that followed, changed her. Julian had also been changed in the battlefield and its aftermath...Their decisions, spurred by the misunderstanding and lack of trust, shaped them, changed their lives, and their characters.
But in the end, once it all worked out, once these two idiots actually talked to each other without the barriers of resentment, anger, hurt, and betrayal, it turned out the change wasn't that big at all; their new personas were just masks they hid behind, afraid to show their true self with all their flaws. And they ended up being the only ones who could look and actually see behind the other's mask.

This wasn't an easy story to read. It wasn't happy, it wasn't funny, it wasn't carefree. Far from it. It was dark, troubled, angsty, and turbulent. And I loved every single, dark, moody moment of it.
I didn't particularly care for either the protagonists' behavior; the antagonism was grating, especially since I knew their history and what was beneath their animosity. What bothered me the most was Charlotte's blasé attitude toward what her behavior meant for her family and her seemingly complete disregard for her sister's feelings. Yes, she didn't know what she wanted, she felt she deserved to be punished, but I don't understand why she felt her sister needed to be punished as well.
Oh well. She and her reasoning was off, I guess.
Julian, as he hero, was no better, hiding behind his icy veneer, blaming the "vast blackness" inside him for snapping at Charlotte, when it was obvious it all stemmed from his hurt feelings.

These two were so wrong for each other, especially in their initial states of mind, they were absolutely perfect for each other. A match made in dysfunctional Heaven, if you like, and I enjoyed every single bruising, hurtful moment they spent together.
Because I just wanted for them to figure it out, work out whatever bothered them individually and about each other, I wanted the truth to come out, and I wanted the blasted conflict to end. Which would've if they actually talked, communicated.
I usually hate these types of conflicts that stem from miscommunications, but I found myself enjoying this one, looking forward to each scene, each tidbit of truth that was revealed, because as dysfunctional a pair these two were, despite me not approving of all their choices and behavior, I was invested in these two characters.

Which just goes to show, what a great author Anna Bradley is for creating these two heavily layered, flawed, issue-laden characters, enveloping them in a complex, dark, and angsty story, and still making them shine, showing what was beneath their veneer and mask, keeping me rooting for them, keeping my fingers crossed they don't make an even bigger mess of things...

I got my wish. I suffered, but it was worth it.

Damn, what a wonderful story!

Red Dust Dreaming by Eva Scott

Red Dust Dreaming - Eva Scott

Elizabeth's sister had left their dysfunctional family behind long ago, got married, got pregnant, got widowed, and moved to the Australian Outback. Now, word has come that she's dead, and Elizabeth's parents demand Elizabeth be the one to go to Australia and fetch their five-year-old grandson from the nefarious clutches of the rancher who's raised him and only wants the boy's money.

Yet when Elizabeth arrives, nothing is as her parents (and herself) imagined. Luke is a happy little boy, the rancher, Caden, is far from a money-grabbing monster, and Lizzie feels free for the first time in years. But a decision has to be made, putting many futures in jeopardy.


This one started off great, with a wonderful contrast between New York and the Outback, a cold family in name only, and one filled with love even without ties of blood.
Then it rather lost its way somewhere in the middle, and never regained the nice ground it had trodden at the beginning.

The story seemed a tad too long in some aspects (rediscovery of Lizzie's artistic streak, her inability to make a decision, her obscuring of truth, and her stubborn refusal to cut ties with her cage) and too short in others (the romance was rather far-fetched without much ground to be based on).

And while I liked the supporting cast (Caden, Luke, and Thelma), the heroine annoyed me beyond words in the second half of the story (read above). The "villain" was easily spotted, as was his motive, yet the idiotic heroine needed concrete proof smacked into her forehead to see reason.

The premise was good, so was the "backdrop" and characters, but sadly the execution was lacking.

Lady Eleanor's Seventh Suitor by Anna Bradley

Lady Eleanor's Seventh Suitor - Anna Bradley

Lady Eleanor Sutherland has, so far, refused five marriage proposals (well, six, but no everybody knows about that first offer). Her standoffish manner and her rebuttal of the even slightest attempts at flirtation, have earned her the nickname Lady Frost and her own page in the betting books. But the truth is, she isn't cold, she just refuses to settle for anything else but a love match.

Yet it looks like that's what she'll have to do, thanks to Camden West and his blackmail. The cad had the gall of making his cousin Julian trap Ellie's younger sister, Charlotte, in a compromising position in a darkened garden. So far, only the four of them know the truth about the "incident", but Cam is threatening to tell everybody, if Ellie refuses to marry him.

In the end, Ellie has only one option. Outsmart the villain without ruining her sister or her own life.


Oh. My. Sweet. Lord.

I chose this book for the cover (look at all the bright colors without one single naked male chest in sight) and the blurb. Usually, that's a recipe for a reading disaster, but this story was as far removed from any kind of disaster as it could possibly be.

I. LOVED. IT.

I immediately took to the heroine with her spunk, her determination, and her ability to send any man scurrying for cover, and I laughed out loud at her inner musings, especially when she decided occasion merited an unladylike curse or two. I adored her to bits, and I was skeptical as to what kind of hero she was saddled with. At first.
I didn't particularly like Cam at the beginning. He was acting fishy, and he severely underestimated his heroine. It was lovely reading about him scrambling to catch up and keep pace. Then, the puzzle pieces started to fit together, and although I still didn't approve of his tactics, I grudgingly understood his motive.
And then, well, then he got to know the real Ellie and started to show his own true self...And the rest is history. Is it any wonder Ellie fell for the guy? Who wouldn't? Especially after reading about his inner turmoil and his true feelings. Lordy!

These two were perfect for each other, both hiding deep inner scars, yet so utterly vulnerable in each other's company; each other's opposites, yet rather similar in many aspects. It was a pleasure reading about their "antics", the schemes, the struggles against any possible tender feelings for the other...
Theirs was a romance in a true sense of the word. They didn't like each other at first, distrusted one another, yet once they got to know each other, once they peeled away all those protective layers, acceptance and love blossomed. This is what I like in my romance stories. Not some insta-love, stretched-so-thin-it's-almost-transparent, implausible crap, but the "realism" of it all. How feelings and attitudes change (for better or for worse) as a person gets to know someone. How you have to know someone (and yourself for that matter) to give your trust, your forgiveness, and your heart.
Ellie and Cam's romance was believable, realistic, bitter-sweet and so beautifully written it made my heart flutter. There, I said it.
It wasn't perfect, it wasn't starry-eyed and their path was filled with obstacles (some of their own making), but it worked.

I couldn't say the same about the secondary romance between Cam's cousin and Ellie's sister, which worked as well, yet it didn't work out; and they have quite a long road (and an entire book) ahead of them. I'm looking forward to their story, even though I never quite warmed up to Charlotte, but maybe her rebellious tendencies will be explained in the next book.

I absolutely adored this story, from the characters (the little Amelia being my absolute favorite of the bunch), the voice, the narrative style and the flow it brought to the story, and the perfectly imperfect romance.

More, please.

Wildfire by Zane Grey

Wildfire - Zane Grey

***eBook available for free on Amazon***

Lucy Bostil has been a tomboy all her life, riding the most willful horses, doing anything she pleases, more than content with her life, but when she meets Lin Sloan, she learns she hasn't yet lived her life to the fullest.

Sloan has followed the wild horse he's named Wildfire for months and across thousands of miles before he captured him. When Lucy stumbles across him on one of her rides, both man and untamed horse fall for the spirited young woman, but danger is looming ever closer and both man and beast will strike a hard bargain to save the woman they love.


This is far from height of literature, and let's face it, the love story, hidden between these pages, is rather cheesy and not very-well written. I could even say Zane Grey is an acquired taste. A taste that I appreciate.

I don't read his stories for the plots or the romance or the characters. I love his stories for his descriptive narrative style. When I read the scenes with Sloan stubbornly following Wildfire through the desert, the high plains, and the monumental canyons, images rise in front of my eyes as if I was watching a movie. As if I was there.
I rode alongside Lucy that day when she ventured into the valley of monuments and found Wildifire, Nagger and Sloan, I sat beside old man (and utter bastard) Bostil as he watched the first race between Sage Kind and Wildfire, I was there on the arduous trek through the canyons with Lucy and her pursuer, and I trembled as I watched that last race-for-life through the blazing forest.

The story was nice and rather well-written, but merely an ornament to the imagery and descriptions of the vast plains, deep canyons, the roaring Colorado and the fields of sage. The romance and that last few suspenseful chapters were merely a bonus.

Diamond Girl by Diana Palmer

Diamond Girl - Palmer

For the past two years, Kenna Dean has been mooning after her boss without the man taking notice. Except when she's crossing figurative sabers with his older stepbrother. She's never met two brothers more different; Denny is golden and a perfect gentleman, while Regan is dark, beastly, and an utter jackass to her.

But she's willing to forget all his bad qualities when he decides to help her get Denny away from his newest flame. It might take a while, but they'll get it done.. Then the plan backfires and Denny isn't the only one noticing the new and improved Kenna...


Trope-ish and predictable, but nevertheless cute and sweet; even funny with all the initial bickering and spark-denying animosity between Kenna and Regan.

In time, it lost a little of its charm, thanks to the sporadic animosity displayed by Regan and his stubborn inability to see what was in front of him, and admit to it, before it was too late.
The conflict went on a little too long for my taste, making the heroine lose a little of her spine as it progressed and she went all gooey female doormat on the guy (and the reader).

The resolution had also a bit to be desired with Ms Palmer resorting to yet another trope (near-miss experience), but overall, it was a cute and sweet story.

Treacherous Beauties by Cheryl B. Dale

Treacherous Beauties: Featuring Major TV Movie Stars - Cheryl Emerson

Annabelle's dead brother haunts her dreams, pleading with her to help him, and the only way she knows how, is to go to where Alan died and try to find his killer...


The mystery was intriguing, the slightly paranormal angle satisfying without descending into the bizarre, the suspense intense...It would've made for a pretty awesome suspense/thriller if it weren't for:

  1. the premise itself—the heroine goes to the town where her brother was murdered determined to find his killer; she's not law enforcement, she's not a detective, she's just a widow posing as an accountant
  2. and the idiotic heroine—read above and add the fact every single decision she makes when she's there proves just what a naïve idiot she really is (you can't say you love someone while lying to them and believing them a murderer; you can't take the word of the only woman the hero dislikes as judge of his character while having proof of his amiability in his interactions with pretty much everybody else in town).


The fact it was written in the first person POV of the heroine didn't help matters at all, merely compounding her bad traits.

White Face by Edgar Wallace

White Face (Detective Sgt. - Edgar Wallace

A man ends up stabbed to death on a street in London's Tidal Basin, victim of the almost mythical murderer roaming the streets of London, the Devil of Tidal Basin. But why is another bandit (this one not of the killing, but of the robbing kind) suddenly sighted in Tidal Basin as well?


Unfortunately the mystery wasn't as engrossing as in its predecessors, the pace was also rather stutter-y, there were too many side-stories (that ended up somehow connected), and even more seemingly random characters thrown into the mix.

I lost interest before chapter six, and never regained it.

The India-Rubber Men by Edgar Wallace

The India-Rubber Men (Dodo Press) - Edgar Wallace

A well-organized, unscrupulous gang of robbers is terrorizing London. They make their hit almost undetected, and before the police can scramble, they disappear into the night. Sometimes, their exploits coincide with the sightings of a mysterious and fast motor boat passing on the Thames, but no one but the Thames Police Inspector John Wade believes the two are connected...Yet his gut and his heart keep bringing him onto the doorstep of the "Mecca" club on one of the Thames's wharves. How is the club connected? And who is the beautiful, yet mysterious niece of the proprietress?


This was my favorite Edgar Wallace novel while growing up, and I'm glad to report, it didn't lose its appeal in all these years.

Fast-paced, faster than any book so far in this series, with the tempo (and danger) increasing with each passing chapter, until by the end, the plot, the characters, and the reader are hurtling toward the finish line.

The mysteries are intriguing, and so are the connections between the gang of robbers, the seemingly innocent gentleman's club, and the young girl who everybody desires for one reason or the other. There are plenty of twists, plenty of questions and loose ends, the danger is at an all-time high for the police (especially one of its inspectors), and action scenes are well-written and gripping.

As it's the norm in this series, there's a bit of romance thrown into the mix, yet it's a little more believable than in its predecessors (or maybe I'm just biased, since I love John Wade with all his charm and abundant use of endearments). What is not the norm, is the fact this book, as much as it was obviously intended primarily for a male audience, actually passes the Bechdel test...And the two ladies don't even need to be rescued from the bad guys in the end.

Fast-paced, well-plotted, with a wonderful main male character (I'm a sucker for slightly oddball characters, I guess), and an even more wonderful mystery and suspense arc.

The Twister by Edgar Wallace

Elk of the 'Yard'-The Criminal Cases of Inspector Elk: Volume 2-The Twister & the India-Rubber Men - Edgar Wallace

Lord Frensham knows exactly who's swindling him in the stock market—Anthony "Tony" Braid, who many call The Twister. And he's not about to believe Braid's crazy notion that his own nephew, his flesh and blood, is behind the embezzlement...Then Frensham is found dead in his office, but Inspector Elk of the Scotland Yard knows it's not suicide, no matter the elaborate scheme the murderer invented...But who is the murderer?


Yet another interesting, fast-paced read. For once, the main character isn't a cop or working in the law enforcement, and for once, the character in the title isn't the villain.

It was a very intriguing and "twisty" tale with a rather obvious murderer, but with a more obscure side-scheme. The outcome of the investigation (as well as the resolution to the stock market trouble) was more happenstance than anything else, since clues, witnesses, and revelations were stumbled upon by chance, but still, the story offered a satisfying read, even though the small matter of The Twister getting the girl in the end was never touched upon.

I did like the obsessive stalker angle, though.

The Joker by Edgar Wallace

The Joker (Detective Sgt. - Edgar Wallace

There's something fishy about millionaire Stratford Harlow, yet the police and Scotland Yard are unable to pin anything on him, despite the efforts of Sub-Inspector James Carlton...


An interesting plot-line with a better pacing than its predecessor. The "villain" was much more in the open, although the reader, alongside Scotland Yard's finest, struggles to see what he is up to and how anybody can prove any wrongdoing.

And when you think it's over, and everything becomes rather long-winded and slightly dull (especially compared to the few chapters where the reader and Jim believe the worst), comes the surprising final twist, revealing the greatest Harlow "joke" of them all.

I certainly didn't see that one coming. Well done.

The Fellowship of the Frog by Edgar Wallace

The Fellowship of the Frog - Edgar  Wallace

Only after an undercover Scotland Yard man is murdered by the criminal mastermind known as the Frog, do the Prosecutor's Office and Scotland Yard really start investigating the criminal hiding his identity behind a rubber mask and his "fellowship" comprising of "tramps" identifiable by a lopsided tattoo of a frog on their left wrist...


This was an interesting mystery with many twists and curve-balls and as many suspects and misdirections. The pacing was a tad slow at times, creating some unnecessarily dull moments, and the true identity of the villain was rather predictable despite the author throwing in multiple suspects and multiple possible motives into the mix.

What bothered me, and reduced the rating, was the last couple of chapters, when the main motive of the villain ended up being a woman and his determination to force her to marry him, and the rather comical effect of the race-to-the-prison chapter.
Unnecessary, if you ask me, making the Frog slightly omnipotent and omniscient, while at the same time diminishing his "genius" and reach when it turned out, he just wanted the girl...A girl who seemed nothing more than a trinket to be fought over.

The Nine Bears (The Other Man) by Edgar Wallace

The Nine Bears - Edgar Wallace

DNF @ 25%

Edgar Wallace used to be one of my favorite authors while growing up; I couldn't stop borrowing his books from the library...So what the heck happened?

I couldn't finish it. I simply couldn't. I barely got through the first couple of chapters.

I had no idea who was talking at different points in a conversation. Everybody acted so over-the-top I wanted to pound my Kindle against my head, and any slower it would've been going backwards.

So what happened to make me lose that childhood enthusiasm for this author? Did I get older? Or have I, in the meantime, discovered more "modernly" written books? No idea.

Irish Rebel by Nora Roberts

Irish Rebel - Nora Roberts

Brian Donnelly transfers from Ireland to America in order to take the lead trainer position on the Royal Meadows horse farm. There he, nomad his entire life, will discover the beauty of permanency and true love. Both in the form of two special horses, and the woman that's been meant for him.


For some this story is the worst in the bunch, while for me it's the best. Most reviewers complain about Brian and his prickly disposition, disregarding the fact that the previous heroes in this series were much much worse cavemen, children of 80's romance fiction, I guess.

For me, this was a true Nora Roberts book, along the lines of those I came to know and cherish in my reading history. Yes, the hero was a bit prickly and a reverse-snob, but the heroine was more than capable of going head to head with him in her stubbornness and pride.
I found these two much more evenly matched than their predecessors where the heroine was, granted Irish, but still pretty much a doormat when it came to her hero.
I liked Keeley in all her prideful, cold-princess, stubbornly independent glory, and I liked Brian with his complexes and prejudice that easily crumbled into dust the more he got to know his woman. I loved the fact he was the one to fall first, and even though he was too stupidly blind to confess his feelings first, Keeley was there, hounding him along the way, chipping away at his reservations and male pride.
Theirs was a slowly-building romance that started in animosity, moved through mutual respect and friendship only to blossom into love.

I absolutely loved it from page one, and would not have changed a thing, even if I could.

Irish Rose by Nora Roberts

Irish Rose (Irish Hearts) - Nora Roberts

They meet when her cousin, Adelia comes to Ireland for a visit with her children, her husband, and her husband's friend. Burke immediately recognizes a similar soul in Erin, knowing she's dying to get out in the world, and offers her an opportunity to do so in the form of a job offer...But they'll both soon learn some bargains and decisions are not to be taken lightly.


Compared to its predecessor, this was an utter and complete wreck. The hero was an asshole, the heroine a greedy bitch, and Ms Roberts wanted me to buy the starry-eyed romance between these two people.

Well, I didn't.

Not even at the end, when the idiotically long (and unnecessary, easily solved with a conversation) conflict was finally resolved. I merely saw two compatible, similar characters living under the same roof and sharing a bed, I didn't see them as a couple in love as it happened with Adelia and Travis, who even in this story where they served as mere supporting cast, had more chemistry and more passion than the main characters.

The only spark of light in this otherwise dull and gray story, was the all-too-brief moment of suspense.

What a pity.

Irish Thoroughbred by Nora Roberts

Irish Thoroughbred (Irish Hearts) - Nora Roberts

Having been forced to sell her farm after her aunt's death, Adelia Cunnane has nowhere to go, but to live with her uncle in America. There, she starts working at one of the finest horse ranches in the States, and falls in love with the owner...


A cute little story, that would've worked better if it were much shorter. Adelia's true feelings for Travis Grant were "revealed" too quickly, and though the reader never gets any glimpses into Travis's mind and/or feelings, so were his.

So after a few cute chapters of these two adorably trying to pretend they're just friends, and him picking on her merely to get her to spit fire, and then kiss her senseless, the story quickly lost its pace. And its charm with it. The "big conflict" was a mere trope, as was the twist that brought the two to said "conflict".

Also, I didn't care for the fact Adelia came through as if she's come from the past or some backwater cave in the middle of nowhere. We're talking about the eighties, here, not middle ages. Naive I could stomach, but looking at everything around her (planes, cars, household appliances, for Christ's sake) as if she's barely invented the wheel was a bit too much.