The Book Gourmet

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



Professional Reader Reviews Published

The Wicked Wife by Mary Lancaster

The Wicked Wife - Mary Lancaster

Lady Frances Torridon, a new mother, escapes her husband's estate to do something to relieve her ennui and her doubts as to her husband's affections, and seeks refuge with her friend, outrageous widow, Ariadne Marshall. She inadvertently takes the rubies, her husband has given her with her, resulting in her friend making up a wager—they'd go out in disguise and the woman who is recognized, loses her jewels.

Frances's test is the masked ball at his brother's castle in Blackhaven, where no one recognizes her, and where she meets an intriguing stranger with a Russian accent, a stranger that helps her rescuing her sisters and whose help she'll beg when the rubies are stolen. Little does she know the masked stranger is none other than her husband who came running after her, determined to reclaim his wife and her love no matter what.

This was a sweet story of a second chance at love when that love is presumed to be lost. It was lovely reading of Frances and Alan, husband and wife who are a little more than strangers to one another, even after a year of marriage and how they get to know one another and the other's feeling for themselves as they learn the "magic" of communication and the skills of letting go of misconceptions and rules in order to listen to their hearts and instincts.
The two spent most of the story apart, but the feelings for one another were palpable, despite the misgivings and doubts, so it was a wonderful experiencing the story alongside them.

Sure, they had to work against pretty mighty forces in the form of an overbearing, controlling mother-in-law and a fake friendship, but they persevered and once they started actually talking and once Torridon let go of his rigid control, it was all smooth sailing.

This story also featured a reunion of sort of previous protagonists, showing us glimpses of what is going on after their own HEA's...And the war is finally over.

A lovely ending to the series, though I'm a little sad to leave Blackhaven. Now, I only have to wait for Dr. Lampton to get his second chance.

When She Was Wicked by Anne Barton

— feeling amazing
When She Was Wicked  - Anne  Barton

Nothing is more important than family for Anabelle Honeycote. She's willing to do anything to save her ailing mother, even extort money from unsuspecting members of the ton. Anabelle's job as a seamstress doesn't bring much money and her mother's medicine is expensive, not to speak of rent or food...She has no other option. Still, she has rules; she never blackmails someone who cannot afford it, she only does it once per person, she never reveals the secret and she never socialized with her "victims".

But the fourth time everything unravels. Not only does her mark, Owen Sherbourne, the Duke of Huntford, lie in wait and catches her, he literally imprisons her in his home as a personal seamstress to his two younger sisters.

Soon a strange relationship blossoms between the mark and extortionist, a relationship that somehow blurs the lines between their opposing social standings and make them dream of possibilities that aren't meant to be. Not only can a union between a duke and a lowly seamstress never be, no matter their feelings and wants, Anabelle has a secret that might ruin her star-crossed romance with Owen and destroy her friendship with his sisters forever.

I loved this story so much, I don't know how to write an adequate review. I guess it's all still so vivid in my mind, but I have to write something, or I might just burst.

This was yet another impulse buy for me, but boy am I glad for it. I started reading without much expectations beyond hoping it wouldn't suck.

Not only it didn't suck, it blew me away!

The characters were so well-developed and depicted so vividly, I felt like they were in the room with me and we were old friends. Every scene was painted so masterfully, I felt like I was watching a movie, experiencing what the characters did, seeing what they saw, feeling what they felt, laughing and crying alongside them.
Not many authors can make me tremble with excitement with each scene they write, but I can safely say, Ms. Bennett is one of them.

I rooted for Anabelle and Owen despite the cards stacked against them, I loved Owen's sisters as much as he and Belle did, I suffered with them, despaired against the odds alongside them...It's such a cliché to say that two characters are perfect together, but Belle and Owen fit. They were both layered characters with hidden depths, both wearing masks in their lives, masks that only the other could see behind and embrace the real person underneath the persona of the duke and the seamstress.
Their strange relationship and budding romance were beautifully portrayed, and the conflict stemming from the social chasm between them was heartbreaking in its realism. But I loved the fact they came from two different ends of the social spectrum and how they both learned (but especially him), that nothing is more important than love and one's happiness.
And yes, the scene at the ball made me sniffle. It was just so perfect.

The supporting cast offered a lovely backdrop to the main story, from creating the opportunity for Belle and Owen to actually meet, offering support, friendship, care and family ties, to throwing obstacles in their path (the little perfect would-be duchess was so delightfully mean, it was a pleasure to discover her true nature and in the end cackle at her metaphorical demise).

This book was a real pleasure to read, literally unputdownable (I read it when I was supposed to be doing something else), I kept turning the pages, wanting to see what happens next, hoping against hope for a happily ever after. Yes, it's a romance story, so a HEA is pretty much a given, but the fact I trembled anxiously, the fact that I had doubts, speaks to the author's skill. She was able to transport me back in time, she made me fall in love with Bella and Owen...I was invested and I loved every second of it.

Thank you, Anna Bennett/Anne Barton!

Hunted by the Past by Jayne Evans

Hunted by the Past - Jayne Evans

Lucy Smith's life is derailed when she has to babysit her nephew after her sister suddenly decides to prolong her vacation. Then she's cornered at a bank, having to shoot a cop to save her nephew...But despite what the cop, who survives, tells her, she's determined things aren't connected. Nothing is about to derail her meticulously planned life.
Then her car blows up, luckily without her in it, her nephew is once more almost kidnapped...And maybe, just maybe, her sister's disappearance isn't as innocuous as it seems.

And the only one Lucy believes can keep her and the little boy safe is the man she shot at the bank...

This story started off with a bang. Almost literally. The mystery was intriguing, the suspense was ramped up to a thousand, the hero was perfectly flawed and issue-filled, the little boy was utterly adorable...The problem, as mostly happens, was the heroine and her control-freak, disbelieving in spite of everything, tendencies. She was a lawyer, but she still presumed to know more than professionals in the field of law enforcement, and there's nothing you can tell me that will dissuade me from my conviction that the successful kidnapping attempt happened because of her and her I-know-better-than-everybody attitude.
The romance was rushed and rather unbelievable...Maybe because it was so rushed or maybe because of my dislike for the heroine, but the suspense worked.

Until the reason behind the kidnapping and murder attempts was revealed...And everything simply fell apart. It was so thin and seemingly conjured out of thin air and it didn't really make much sense. I'm still wondering why.

Mountain of Lies by Jayne Evans

Mountain of Lies (The Pack Book 1) - Jayne Evans

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

Mia Blackmore finds herself in a strange predicament. First, she's almost covered by a landslide and supposedly left there by a would-be rescuer. To get free, she provokes another slide and takes her would-be rescuer along with her.

The guy out to be an undercover cop, Hudson McClure, up on the mountain looking for a stash of drugs, when Mia took him with her on her way down, and now, partly to protect her and partly to do his job, he's determined to stick around.

Only she doesn't want him to stick around and it quickly turns out, Mia is as good as keeping secrets and wearing masks as he is.

Usually freebies are mostly misses, and this one didn't look like much at the beginning. But it didn't sound so bad as to make me stop reading, and once the story kicked into higher gear, I was hooked.

Yes, I found it a little too filled with coincidences and the heroine got on my nerves a little with her supposed passivity (which I promptly forgot about, once the story got into its groove), and I loved the hero, their interactions and the relationship blossoming between them, I adored Neville, Mia's furry sidekick and lie detector, and the suspense, despite its many coincidences tying it all up in a nice little bow, was nicely developed, well-paced, and quite intriguing.

Because of the coincidental suspense, I somewhat wished the story was longer and the two cases weren't as connected as they turned out to be, but in hindsight, I must admit, the length was rather perfect. Not too short to make it all seem rushed, and not too long to drag it all down to a halt.

I liked the voice and narrative style and I'm looking forward to reading more from this author.

The Wicked Gypsy by Mary Lancaster

The Wicked Gypsy - Mary Lancaster

Gervaise Conway, frustrated with his inability to make things better with his politics and slightly in his cups, concocts a cunning plan to take some revenge on his political enemy. He decides to take a beautiful gypsy girl on loan from her family, since she bears the uncanny resemblance to his nemesis's family. He'll pass her for the long lost, and presumed dead, Eleanor Gardyn, in order to prevent her uncle Julius from inheriting Haven Hall and evicting the Benedicts.

Dawn has her own motives to stay at Braithwaite castle. First is rather petty; she wants to get back to her father for having sold her to the earl (and then presumed she'd steal from the man). Second is much more personal; there's something about Gervaise that draws her, and soon she finds herself falling in love with him.

But even if she is Eleanor Gardyn, the gap between them is still too big. And gets even bigger as the dowager countess returns from Scotland and brings a prospective young countess with her. But no one counts with Gervaise and what he wants.

This was a lovely story. Romantic, slightly suspenseful (it was more of a mystery that straight-up suspense), with a little bit of angst, drama and star-crossed love thrown into the mix.

I liked the heroine, and especially her predicament as she straddled both worlds while not really belonging in either. Her struggles, both with accepting the truth about herself, but mostly as she dealt with her feelings for Gervaise, were nicely portrayed.
On the other hand, I have nothing much to say about the hero. He was a rather formulaic romance hero, with a deceptively calm exterior that hid a will of iron and determination that only few knew about or recognized. But since this was mostly Dawn's story, it helped that her hero didn't really overshadow her. He had his moments, mostly at very opportune times, when either Dawn or his mother needed a push or a shove, and he accomplished his mission with aplomb. I have a problem with his name, though, but that's probably just me.

Since this was a story of love blossoming on two opposite sides of the society spectrum and a story of self-discovery, the supporting cast did an excellent job of supporting the two protagonists, and create a suitable backdrop of support, disdain or scorn (provided by the hero's own mother, who I never really liked, but luckily she came around, since she had no other option).
The suspense/mystery subplot seemed rather superfluous, not really pushing the plot forward; it served more as filler and the actual catalyst for the initial meeting and the overall plot. The real reason behind the disappearance of Eleanor Gardyn was never really explained and the villain and the motive came out of the left field and seemed to be written more as an afterthought to make it all come together nicely.

But, as I said, this was a love story and a story of self-discovery and it didn't need much else to keep it afloat, so the disappointment in the suspense/mystery department didn't really impact the overall reading experience.

The Wicked Spy by Mary Lancaster

The Wicked Spy - Mary Lancaster

Lady Anna Gaunt is not what she seems. Yes, she's the sister of the Marquis of Tamar, but her visit to her brother in Blackhaven has nothing to do with family. Anna is here on the Foreign Office mission to free a French prisoner and turn him onto the British side. But the man manages to get free without her help, she merely intercepts him in the woods, cares for his wound...And the man has the gall to disappear again. And he doesn't go far.

Louis Delon stays in Blackhaven under the guise of a British nobleman, waiting for his moment to strike down at the man who betrayed him. But the enemy is already in town, waiting for something or someone else and Louis is determined to stop him at any cost, even by putting his trust in the hands of the enigmatic British beauty...Which turns out to be a rather pleasant prospective as the lines between pleasure and duty start blurring on both sides.

This is the first book in this series with a strong suspense sub-plot, which also turned out to be its strongest point.
I loved the intrigue and the mystery of it all, the skulking around in the middle of the night, the hidden stilettos and daggers, the "masquerades", secret identities, and the assassination plot. It was intense, interesting and the pacing complimented the rising excitement beautifully.

Also, the premise of two enemy spies falling for one another promised to make things even more interesting. Alas, the story didn't deliver on the promise. I simply didn't find the rushed romance believable. I didn't even find the possibility of friendship believable. The two simply spent too much time (in an otherwise rather short book) lying to each other, mistrusting and trying to use one another for the romance between them blossoming so fast (or at all) to actually make sense.
It felt more like attraction and passion as they found some common ground between them, as they could remove their masks in each other's company and be (more or less) themselves, but in the end, the first thought that came to my mind was "I give it a couple months".

I didn't much care for Anna and Louis separately, either. The rest of the cast worked much better, especially seeing how they were old friends (and it was lovely to see Rosa finally speak). As I said, the suspense saved it.

The Wicked Governess by Mary Lancaster

The Wicked Governess - Mary Lancaster

Caroline Grey is suddenly dismissed from her post as Earl of Braithwaite's sisters's governess, when the earl's mother thinks she has designs on her son. The Earl, convinced his mother will soon change his mind, loans Catherine as governess to a mysterious tenant of Haven House and his mute daughter. And soon Caroline realizes this is where she's supposed to be, helping the little girl and her father rejoin society.

Javan Benedict is a recluse, determined to protect his daughter at all costs. But Caroline Grey soon makes him realize that protecting his daughter shouldn't be equated with keeping the girl a relative prisoner in her home. Besides, little Rosa falls in love with her new governess almost from the start and Javan realizes Caroline might just be good for him as well...

This story had an almost gothic feel with the overgrown, supposedly haunted house and its scarred, brooding tenant and his supposedly crazy sister (or is it wife?) and his mute, fearful daughter. But as you should never judge the book by its cover, so you should never judge people by their appearance or others's perceptions of them. And the heroine in this story proved to be just the right person for the job. She never judged, she just wanted to help however she could. Sure, she fell for her employer, but that's Romancelandia for you.

I loved Caroline and her gentle, caring and nurturing nature. She offered comfort with her presence alone, while always trying to stay in the background. And it took the right man to see her for what she was.
The hero needed some time to get used to, I guess. But as Caroline slowly got to know him (although he remained a mystery for the better part of the story), so did this particular reader, and I must say I liked what I discovered. A hero who thought his honor was in tatters, yet was determined at all costs to protect his daughter and spare her from gossip, scandal or any slights that might arise from his supposedly lost honor. Sure, he had his moments of obtuseness, mostly because he thought he didn't deserve to be happy (he was an epitome of tortured hero), but then there was his mischievous cousin to provide the swift kick Javan needed to see straight and finally realize what he wanted.

I liked how the romance seemed to progress slowly (even though it all happened in a week or two). I think it had all to do with the pace and the fact the reader discovers all these new things and gets to know new people alongside the heroine, so it all seemed longer. The progress of the romance was quite realistically portrayed (despite the swiftness of it) and it felt organic and true, which I appreciated.

The suspense didn't play as a pivotal role as in the previous books, but what there was, provided an added intensity and grip to the story. The villain was creepily twisted, the suspicion and the subsequent truth of his actions offered a counterbalance to the "lightness" of the romance with its darker topic, and the first big climax propelled the romance forward a little bit more.

The supporting cast was great, as usual, with old "friends" mingling with new ones and Javan's daughter, Rosa, was absolutely adorable.

This was another great addition to the series.

The Wicked Marquis by Mary Lancaster

The Wicked Marquis - Mary Lancaster

Lady Serena Conway is banished to Blackhaven for breaking her engagement to the man her brother and mother have chosen. It doesn't matter that the man demanded she jilt him, she's still banished, forbidden to leave the castle or associate with anyone in town. But associate she does, with a fascinating artist, she finds trespassing in her brother's orchard.

The artist is none other than the impoverished Marquis of Tamar, who makes his living by selling his paintings and then sends most of his money to his siblings. He knows he should keep clear of Lady Serena, if not for the fact he hasn't two pennies to rub together, then for the big secret he carries, but the two find themselves inexorably drawn together...First by the mysterious casks and barrels in her brother's cellar and then by the passionate attraction between them.

But a union between a broke marquis and a rich sister of an earl is not meant to be...

This was yet another love-at-first-sight on heavy steroid. It would've been a cute and sweet little romance, but unfortunately I didn't truly believe it. There was just something missing; that certain spark, that certain something. It was missing, hence I didn't really get Tamar and Serena together.
I liked them separately, mind you, her with her liveliness, optimism and obvious love for her siblings, him with his slightly eccentric artistic nature and his disregard for what others thought of him. I loved the star-crossed-lovers theme, the pushing of her away for her own good, the woe-is-me-shakes-his-fist-toward-the-sky angst...I loved it even though I didn't believe the romance.

So it were the protagonists separately, the supporting cast (I adored Serena younger sisters in all their matchmaking glory) and the suspense that saved the story.
It was the suspense that particularly shone. The mystery was intriguing and gripping, the villains and their motive hidden until the big reveal, bullets flew (as they usually do in this series), people were in danger...There sure seems to be a whole lot of going on in Blackhaven; lots of kidnapping, bloody bullet holes, duels and the like.

The Wicked Husband by Mary Lancaster

The Wicked Husband - Mary Lancaster

Willa Blake is but a servant in her aunt's household, at the beck and call of her family, mostly her cousin, Ralph, who would do anything to humiliate her in retaliation for a past "incident". Which means Willa finds herself in the middle of a disreputable card party in order to bring her cousin his mother's money and encounters her childhood crush, playing dice with her wretched cousin.

Charles Dacre, Viscount Daxton, immediately recognizes little "Willie" and makes her a daring offer that will save them both; her from her family's clutches and him from having to rely on his father to pay off his debts. They'd elope and get married in Scotland...

The absolute best in this series (so far).

Although the reasons for Dax's "misbehavior" remained a mystery, I loved to see his reformation thanks to Willa. He wanted to be a better man for her and because of her, and he accomplished that. Willa paled a little in comparison with her hero, and there was no monumental change in her character, except for her finding her gumption, but she was sweet and caring, her gentle nature perfectly complimenting Dax's more erratic one.
I loved their romance. It might've come across as rather rushed, but the fact the two were somewhat childhood friends helped. It was both sweet and tender and passionately hot and I really enjoyed reading their scenes together.

The characters from previous stories made their requisite cameos or longer appearances, the next hero had a little more screen time, the wicked mother-in-law's change of mind was thankfully swift, the villain was "pleasantly" twisted, the other villain was simply a bitch, and the suspense quite nicely done.

I loved the various relationships, friendships, and interactions, I loved the main protagonists and their friends and acquaintances, the suspense provided that little pinch of intrigue, the pacing was spot-on...Loved it.

The Wicked Rebel by Mary Lancaster

The Wicked Rebel - Mary Lancaster

Lady Arabella Niven, the youngest daughter of the Duke of Kilburn, is exiled into Blackhaven for not accepting the man her father had chosen for her. One day she's taking a boat ride alongside the shore, when she goes to the rescue of a supposedly drowning man.

Yet Captain Alban is far from drowning and the two strike a strange friendship that quickly blossoms into romance as both discover they can finally be themselves when the other is around.

But their love is star-crossed, since she's the daughter of a duke, while he's only a lowly sea captain...Or is he?

This was the best story in this series so far. The romance was solid on both parts, the supporting cast was a hoot (especially Bella's two aunts), it was lovely seeing Kate and Tris again), the suspense, though rather faint, struck the right notes.

I loved the two protagonists; Captain Alban with all his mysteries, idiosyncrasies and impeccable sense of honor and the sickly (it was all stress, mind you), quirky Arabella. I admit she started to get a little annoying in her incapability (or was it unwillingness) to stand up for herself, especially with that ass she had the misfortune to call a father and her smothering aunts, but as her true self slowly emerged, I (almost) forgot that particular character flaw.
Alban's don't-care-what-anyone-thinks-about-me attitude brought out the fighter in Bella, while her gentle nature smoothed out his harsher edges and showed him what he could have if he stopped being stubborn about it.
These two, utterly opposite characters, came together rather perfectly and created a sweet romance that brought a genuine smile on my lips. They were super cute together.

The rest of the story more-or-less paled in comparison to the two and their quest for a future together, but the tempo was spot-on with barely a lagging moment here and there, the supporting cast provided a good backdrop, the action scenes were intriguing, the humor was added at the right moments...

A very good read.

The Wicked Lady by Mary Lancaster

The Wicked Lady - Mary Lancaster

Lady Kate Crowmore is finally free of her monstrous husband, but the ton that expects her to mourn the bastard, has also turned her back on her, since she was found in her lover's bed the night she got the news of Crowmore's death. So Kate has come to Blackhaven to lick her wounds and to forget about the scandal...Yet the townsfolk also cut her. Except the mysterious curate, Tristram Grant.

Grant knows there's more to the wicked lady that meets the eye, but he'll need all his cunning and perseverance to get under Kate's protective armor. He just hopes, he's in time, before someone kills her.

This story was love-at-first-sight on steroid. They only met and he already said he wanted to marry her. Sheesh. Needless to say, I wasn't convinced about the romance. I wasn't really convinced about the main protagonists, in fact. I found facade of wicked lady a little too abrasive at times (I know she had her reasons not to let anyone close, but still), and he came across as too much of a doormat sometimes. In the end, I felt they worked better as friends and confidantes than love interests.

It was really the supporting cast that saved the day. From the supposed French spy who turned out to be Tris's half-brother (I didn't really care much about the other brother, though), Kate's maid, the good doctor (some other man than in the first book) and his wife, the magistrate and his wife, the Muirs and the happy couple Wickenden (I liked the "wicked baron" better than in his own book, he sounded lighter and happier, I guess).

And then there was the suspense. A little less prominent than in the previous book, but still intriguing, even though the big mystery was revealed quite early on. Still, it kept the reader guessing just what might happen next and just how the hired hands would get about ridding the world of Kate Crowmore.
It was the "resolution" that left a big question mark on everything. Why was the suicide needed?

The romantic sub-plot also had a slightly iffy resolution with all the passing of Kate between the two brothers (figuratively speaking) and I'm still not sure just what was with all the haste. She's already made up her mind, couldn't he wait another day?

It felt like the story was all over the place, really, with various plot elements not really connecting fully, creating a rather disjointed reading experience. It would've helped a little if the romance was solid.

The Wicked Baron by Mary Lancaster

— feeling smile
The Wicked Baron - Mary Lancaster

Gillyflower "Gillie" Muir is straddling a line. She needs to host card parties at her home, a mere six months after her father's death, or risk destitution. On the other hand, she's ostracized by the "good" women of the little town of Blackhaven, including a countess, because of those parties. It looks like no one truly knows what is looks like to have to earn a living. And then an enigmatic stranger enters Gillie's dull and dreary life.

David Keath, the tenth Baron of Wickenden, is bored and tired of his persona of the Wicked Baron. So he decides to come to the coastal town of Blackhaven partly as a favor to his ex-mistress and partly to relieve his boredom. Little does he know the "hussy" that's supposedly bewitched his ex-mistress's son, is as far removed from a gaming-den temptress as she could possibly be...And that he will end up bewitched in the end. But first, he has to save Gillie from her various messes...And then from the one he put her in.

This was a cute, funny, quirky little story that certainly would've deserved a higher rating if it wasn't for the fact it didn't seem it took itself very seriously.

I loved the heroine. She was a genuinely good person, thinking of everybody else first (even the Wicked Baron) but herself and when she loved, she loved fully, without reservations, and was willing to do anything first to save the man she loved and then to keep him.
The Wicked Baron, on the other hand, needed some marinating time to ingratiate himself. He always seemed to have an ulterior motive for all he did. Even after the original ulterior motive was known, there still seemed like there was something brewing in his head, and he pretty much remained an enigma for the entire story and even at the end. I actually more scenes told from his point of view, since his feelings for Gillie seemed rather rushed and out-of-the-blue.

The rest of the cast provided a nice little backdrop for these two protagonists, from the brawny servant, to the slightly deaf aunt, the seemingly flighty brother, the earnest pretender for Gillie's hand, the dragon-y matron, the good-natured count and his sisters...They were a quirky bunch and they worked both inside the story and to compliment the two protagonists.

Then there were the various sub-plots. The romance was as quirky as the rest of it, sweet from the heroine's part, slightly hole-y from the hero's part (it felt like there were scenes missing, to connect the appropriate dots and believe what we were presented). The suspense seemed added more as an afterthought than an actual sub-plot in order to push Gillie and Wickenden together and once more, there appeared to be something missing. Why was Wickenden on the beach that night when the traitors were captured? Did he come to Blackhaven for that as well, or did he just tag along for the fun of it? Also, what happened to the traitors afterward?
This wasn't the only hole in the plot, or a loose end. We never got to learn the truth about the Spanish woman, for example. Was she who she claimed to be or just someone seeking a better life? Why didn't Kit make a bigger fuss that night on the road? Supposedly, Gillie made him see reason, but we didn't see that scene at all, etc.

There were bits and pieces missing throughout the story; scenes or mere sentences to bring it all together and make everything make sense in the end. Hence the quirkiness. Not only in the cast of characters, but in the story itself.

Mistress Spy by Pamela Mingle

Mistress Spy - Pamela Mingle

DNF @ 12%

The synopsis made me think of Nikita in the Elizabethan era.

Intriguing, right?


The first chapter was a battle scene, but you couldn't tell. It was all about the heroine, her rage, her need for vengeance and her utter hopelessness as a "soldier". Instead of putting the reader in the thick of things, where you can feel the cold nipping at your skin, where you can smell the blood and sweat of your fellow soldiers, the author spent the best part of the battle inside the heroine's head. And let me tell you, it was a very boring place.

The boredom proceeded with the next few chapters where absolutely nothing happened (no torture, no boiling oil, nothing), but for the heroine to notice just how attractive and gentle her captor was. Foreshadowing much?

So I went and read the last few chapters, to see if it was worth it...It wasn't. The last few chapters were as boring as the first few. The characters were rather bland, the pacing was plodding, and as original as the synopsis sounded, the story was nothing but.

Safe From Harm by Kate SeRine

Safe from Harm - Kate SeRine

One year after the murder of his best friend, yet another person Gabe Dawson loves is in danger. He barely manages to save Elle McCoy's life and almost dies himself. It looks like the father of his friend's murderer, an anti-government fanatic, is behind the attempted assassination and Gabe knows this is just the beginning...

Another great read in this series.

The cast of characters was once again wonderfully portrayed, especially the Dawson family dynamics and the tight bonds that bind the five men together.

And the romance worked much better in this one as well (no formulaic, pace-stalling sex scenes for Gabe and Elle). I loved the UST-filled bickering at the beginning and though, IMHO, the "conflict" went on a page or two too long, the two resolved their mutual issues rather quickly and satisfyingly.
Gabe and Elle worked very well together in my view. They were strong-willed individuals and they brought that grit into their relationship as well. And I was very happy that Elle was the one who truly brought the real Gabe out in the open. Theirs was a very cute and hot romance.

The suspense angle was different from the one in the previous book. First, there was the major difference in the topic (religious anti-government fanatics instead of human traffickers) and the identity of the villain(s) was known from the start, leaving the characters to grapple with just how to make something stick.
I'm rather miffed the final showdown seemed very déjà-vu-ish. I felt like I read those particular scenes with those particular characters (maybe even with rather similar names) somewhere else.

Still, overall it worked and now I really hope to be able to read the eldest Dawson brother, Tom's story someday (the quirky doctor sounds rather good as a heroine, especially after learning just what was going on in the final days of Tom's marriage). And let's not forget Mac, the patriarch, deserves a second chance at a happy ending as well.

Stop at Nothing by Kate SeRine

Stop at Nothing - Kate SeRine

Kyle Dawson has spent almost his entire life defying authority, thanks to his family legacy in law enforcement and his deep resentment of his father, an almost legend in the field. That's why he went into the FBI instead of becoming one of his father's deputies, like his three older brothers did. And the job also served him well in order to leave Indiana behind to avoid his family, but mostly to try to forget the woman who broke his heart three years ago.

Unfortunately, his defiance of authority comes back to bite him in the ass, when he's reassigned from New Orleans, without finishing a big drug-trafficking case, back to Indiana and very close to home. And then Abby, the heart-breaker, ends up in danger thanks to her uncovering some shady dealings involving her brother-in-law and...Human trafficking. It might be a coincidence, but Kyle seriously doubts it...And in the end, both he and Abby will learn it's impossible to run away from the past, and family ties are too strong to be severed, no matter what.

I really enjoyed this book, heck, I loved it to pieces most of the time.

Most of all, I loved the dynamics in the Dawson family; the four brothers and their taciturn, austere father were so similar in some aspects, but so utterly different in others. I loved how, despite their differences and disputes, they came together in the end when one of them needed help, and I loved how they ironed over those differences and disputes in a very manly way. I'm looking forward to what the next story brings in the Dawson family department (and I really hope Ms SeRine decides to write the older brother's and father's stories as well; they both deserve a second chance at happiness, methinks).

Then there was the suspense aspect of the story, which worked very, very well. It was gripping, intense, and it kept the reader guessing for the better part of the story about who's involved, what might happen next and just how it all will be resolved.
Unfortunately, the author dropped the ball a little with the main villain, since his identity was glaringly obvious from the start, despite the attempts at misdirection.
And I loved the gentlemanly assassin/independent contractor and his helping hand in how the story started to resolve. It was a nice little twist.

And we finally come to the main couple. I liked them both separately and together, and I felt their romance was nicely done and portrayed, although the main "conflict" made very little sense outside the heroine's mind. What I didn't like were the sex scenes. They came across as rather cold and formulaic, even repetitive towards the end. What bothered me the most was the lack of "connection" between the two protagonists while they were bumping uglies. There was no intimacy in the scenes, it was just sex.
There was chemistry and tension there when they were fully clothed or making out, the connection was there even when they were fighting. Yet, once the clothes came off...nothing.
And instead of helping in moving the plot (at least the romantic sub-plot) forward, helping in establishing the connection between the hero and heroine, the sheer amount of the scenes and rather "clinical" execution, only served in stalling the flow of the story. Ugh.

Barring the last part, this was a very good read. Gripping and intense, with wonderful family dynamics and brotherly relationships, a solid suspense arc, and a great cast of characters.

The Scandalous Widow by Erica Monroe

The Scandalous Widow - Erica Monroe

***copy provided by publisher through NetGalley***

Three years ago, she got married to help her younger sister return home after a scandal. Now, her sister is still in the same convent she's been when Jemma had married, and Jemma's husband is killed in front of a notorious brothel.

She knows it wasn't a common mugging, but murder. She also knows who did it, she just needs help in proving it. And the only one she can turn to is the man she left behind after marrying his best friend.

This one had huge potential. Unfortunately, it didn't use it.

The characters were once again rather one-dimensional and flat, there was a jarring imbalance in "power" between the hero and heroine, and I felt absolutely not chemistry between them. Which made the supposed conflict even harder to swallow, since it all stemmed from a single kiss between two friends. For friends is what these two actually were. There was no tension, no chemistry, no passion...Just two people who were supposedly comfortable with each other, and that single drunken kiss three years ago.

Then there was the suspense. It would've definitely worked better if the mystery of the killer was kept longer and the two had to discover his identity along with the proof needed to put him away. The fact we all knew who the killer was from the start, diminished the intensity and interest of the plot itself, also slowing the pace (which was already slow to begin with) even more.