The Book Gourmet

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



Professional Reader Reviews Published

Kiss That Frog by Cate Rowan

Kiss That Frog: A Modern Fairy Tale - Cate Rowan

***available in the Once Upon A Fairy Tale collection***

Sofia is frogsitting for her niece and developing quite a good rapport with Toad. Then, one day on a whim, she kisses Toad...And half an hour later, there's a strange man sitting in her apartment.

This story made me smile. It was super short, resulting in a feeling everything was resolved in quite a rush (they only knew each other—as humans—one afternoon), but it was super cute, and it didn't turn to the cultural-shock, time-travelling-hero-too-out-of-his-depth trope to keep things going.

Loved it.

A Happily Ever After of Her Own by Nadia Lee

A Happily Ever After of Her Own - Nadia Lee

***available in the Once Upon A Fairy Tale collection***

Melinda Lightfoot has the ability of travelling between our and the fairy tale realm. But one day she is caught trespassing in The Beauty and the Beast fairy tale and charged with kidnapping Beauty as the heroine disappears.

In order to overthrow her conviction as a Fairy Tale Killer, Melinda must return to the real world and find Beauty. She has three days to do it, and to make things even more complicated, Beast (in his studly princely form) decides to tag along.

This one was a hoot to read with Edward (Beast) experiencing cultural shock as he accompanied Melinda to the real world.

I liked both protagonists, though I wish the romance would've been developed a little bit better, but I guess the author was pressed for time.
The final resolution also felt a bit rushed, but "they all lived happily ever after".

On the Night of the Seventh Moon by Victoria Holt

On the Night of the Seventh Moon - Victoria Holt

Helena Trant meets a handsome stranger on the Night of the seventh moon festival in Bavaria. She knows what he's up to, so she plays it safe, and returns home to England untouched...Only to go back to Germany wanting to meet the handsome stranger again.

She does, only to learn the stranger's name is Maximilian and he's royalty, but he's also utterly in love with her. They marry, live a week of bliss...And then she wakes up with everybody telling her her beautiful dream was all a lie, conjured up by her mind to protect it from the truth that what really happened to her was a true nightmare.

Back when I was younger, Victoria Holt was one of my favorite authors and I used to gobble up her books like they were life-sustaining. I liked the suspenseful and gothic elements, the twists and turns, the ambiguity of many of the characters (including the heroes), and I loved the stories kept me guessing what was real and what was a mere supposition on the heroine's part.
Yes, they're all written in the first-person POV, which is rather limiting, but it also serves to keep things interesting way beyond the point where we'd be bored with an omniscient narrator.

This was one of my VH favorites back in the day, but I must confess that while I still enjoyed the story, the length bothered me this time around and so many years later.
The pacing was plodding, dragging its behind in multiple places, the heroine was too gullible for my liking (and for her own good), and the whole thing was too wordy by half.

Does it deliver? Yes, it still does, pity it takes to long to get there.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry - Neil deGrasse Tyson

This was a great book for those who like astrophysics, but not enough to study it.

Ranging in topics from the big bang, light (even the invisible kind), stars, galaxies, planets, dark matter, the most common shape in the universe and basic chemistry, the author explains it all in more-or-less layman terms (even though in some chapters my eyes were glazed over), concisely and clearly, with bits of humor sprinkled here and there to keep it light.

For example: did you know Uranus was almost named George? ;)

Brazen Virtue by Nora Roberts

Brazen Virtue - Nora Roberts

Mystery writer Grace McCabe, fresh from a book tour, is bunking with her sister in D.C. for a few days, alarmed at the fact that after a nasty divorce, Kathleen let her son with his father, moved across the country and makes her living as a phone-sex operator.

When she comes home one night and finds her sister murdered, Grace's first thought is, Kathleen's ex-husband did it. But then another phone-sex operator, employed by the same agency as Kathleen, turns up dead...

This book was yet another let-down. The heroine came across as too much of a self-absorbed airhead for my liking, the hero didn't get enough space to shine, the killer was once more relegated into the sidelines...

There was too much going on, mostly revolving around the heroine, instead of focusing on the suspense and in the end the one thing that was interesting about the story was brushed under the carpet, while the rest (mostly ballast) got the spotlight.

Sacred Sins by Nora Roberts

Sacred Sins - Nora Roberts

A killer is plaguing Washington, D.C., strangling women with a priest's amice and leaving notes about their sins being forgiven. The police is stumped, so they reluctantly engaged the help of psychiatrist Dr. Teresa Court.

As the tension over the murder case rises, sparks fly between Tess and Detective Ben Paris, but soon they're not just sparks of animosity.

I already read this one in 2011, gave it three stars without writing a review, and completely forgot about the story. On this second re-read, it loses a star, but I'm pretty sure that I'll still forget about it, since it was quite a disappointment.

I liked the premise, the suspense (what there was, that is), and I liked the killer's mind. Unfortunately, he was relegated into the background, overshadowed by the two protagonists and the drama around their budding "relationship".

I didn't like neither Tess nor Ben. He was mostly an ass with a chip on his shoulder about shrinks (rather understandable, but they cannot all be the same) and she was a bleeding heart convinced the killer needed help and healing. She seemed not to care much about the killer's victims or the fact the guy was a killer, she just wanted to help him.
So I wanted to smack them both, I didn't buy their romance because of their different opinions and stands on quite a lot of things...

The only saving grace was the aforementioned killer (pity, he didn't appear much), the final surprise when his identity was revealed, and Ben's partner Ed, the gentle giant.
I'm quite looking forward to his story.

The Last Wolf by Maria Vale

— feeling amazing
The Last Wolf (The Legend of All Wolves) - Maria Vale

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

Quicksilver Nilsdottir is the runt of the Great North Pack. With her last chance at achieving at least a decent rank in the Pack gone, and with her future looking bleak at the beck and call of her echelon's Alpha, Silver grabs the opportunity to bond her Fate to that of the mortally wounded man that has stumbled onto her Pack's territory. He might be a Shifter, an abomination to her kind, but all is better than being a lone wolf.

Little does she know Tiberius harbors a dark secret, a secret that may tear apart their fragile new bond, and the entire Pack...Forever.

Sometimes taking on an unknown author, especially in the paranormal genre, is quite a gamble. In this case, my gamble has paid off.

This is a timeless story of stereotypes—how you look like and where you come from—and our judgment of them and the primordial struggle between right and wrong, duty and devotion, roots and upbringing, all neatly packaged in an intense, edgy paranormal with a definite twist on the werewolf/shape-shifter genre.

It started off rather slowly, but there was no feeling of boredom or dullness, just the ever increasing flickers of excitement and anticipation, and speculation of what would happen next.
The world-building was superb, the narration, especially in the descriptions of the wild, evocative, and the pacing spot-on, deceptively slow, yet building momentum and anticipation.

I'm not a fan of first-person narration, finding it rather limiting both for the narrator as for the reader, but in this case it worked beautifully as we got to explore the Pack's territory, the woods, the animals, the secret places, and the Pack's relationships and hierarchy through Quicksilver's eyes. We got to experience everything as she did; the difficulties she faced due to her disability and status, the joy she felt in the wilderness, the budding emotions for Tiberius, and her devotion to both the man and her Pack causing the deep conflict inside her.

The first-person POV also served in heightening the suspense that blinked to life from the moment the stranger appeared on the Pack territory. With a third-person omniscient narrator it would not have worked as well, since everything would've been revealed early on; with looking merely through Silver's eyes, the reader learns the truth slowly, and it packs quite a punch.

This was truly an amazing story with a wonderful heroine that more than proved the old adage of never judging the book by its cover, a wonderful hero, especially in protective mode, evocative narration, amazing world-building, spot-on tempo, and loads of lessons to be learned.

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House - Wolff-Michael Roth

The revelations in this book aren't exactly earthshaking bombshells. They're not really bombshells either. Anyone with living brain cells, observation skills (and you're observing from the "outside"), a smidgen of logic, and no Republican political ambitions already knew of or speculated about most of it...The supposed leader of the supposed free world, who didn't even want to win the election, but thought the campaign would be great for his brand, is a crazy old sod with image issues, low self-esteem, common old-guy health problems and authoritarian ambitions, because then everybody would suck up to him. Nobody has probably told him that to be a dictator is rather hard work and you need to be quite smart to pull it off for long.

Anyway, the big problem with this book is its "inreadability". The going is slow and boring, and the "bombshell" revelations fail to outweigh the effort it takes to plod through this book. It's supposed to be a non-fiction book, but unfortunately it reads like fiction. And badly written at that. There is no anticipation of what would happen next, instead it's a chore just to get through a single chapter.
The way it's written makes it impossible to distinguish between possible fact, fiction, gossip or speculation, although most of it does ring true (if you have living brain cells, observation skills etc.).

Did he really attend all those meetings, observe all that he wrote about? If he did, kudos to Mr. Wolff and for the rest of them: "What were you thinking inviting a journalist to witness it all?!"

I'll go for middle ground in "starring" this one, since I liked the revelations (even though they weren't anything new), but I hated the way they were packaged.

A Hero to Come Home To by Marilyn Pappano

A Hero to Come Home To - Marilyn Pappano

Carly Lowry had lost her husband to the war in Afghanistan and she cannot imagine letting any other man close enough to break her heart. The only company and solace she needs, she gets from her fellow Army widows. Then Dane Clark walks into her life, and maybe Fate is offering Carly another chance of being happy and getting the best of life.

I came to know the little town of Taallgrass, Oklahoma in the short story A Family for Christmas. I liked Ilena, the Army widow determined to continue with her life, even after losing her husband, so I expected all the members of the Tuesday Night Margarita Club (all Army widows) to be just like Ilena. Sure, they've lost the men they loved, but they weren't afraid of living their life after their husband's death.

Unfortunately, this story proved me wrong with its prologue in which Carly was so far removed from a human being accepting her Fate (a whole year after her husband's death, mind you), it made me queasy. She improved quite a lot throughout the story, but there were always moments that made me roll my eyes...Like her refusal to pack her husband's stuff two years later, stubbornly wearing his favorite perfume, even though she didn't really like it, refusal to make any changes to the house...Until she met her hero.
Who was even worse with his pity party about his lost leg. At least you're alive, you ass!

Yes, maybe this review is making me appear heartless or at least cold-hearted, and yes, I understand people grieve in different ways, but did we really have to be saddled with an unable unwilling-to-move-on heroine and a self-pitying hero with body-image issues?

They got on my nerves so much (him more and more as the story progressed, while she improved) that I couldn't have been bothered to enjoy their "romance". Which felt rushed at least judging from the ending. They worked better as friends, IMO.

There were other problems with the story that cannot be overlooked: the two side-plots involving one of Carly's friends who should've killed her spoiled, self-centered bitch of a stepdaughter and buried her in their backyard instead of turning her other cheek as the good book teaches, the rancher, who lost his wife because she couldn't live without her legs (talk about selfish), that had a one-night stand with another of Carly's friends (I don't know why, I guess it will serve as background for their book), and the whole praying, churchgoing, bible-reading-in-the-evening shtick. At first it pissed me off at the publisher for not warning unsuspecting readers, but then I just skipped those parts.

I liked the premise, and it had its brighter moments (when the heroine wasn't bemoaning her lost husband and the hero forgot about not having a leg), but overall it was quite a disappointment.

Detective Defender by Marilyn Pappano

Detective Defender (Harlequin Romantic Suspense) - Marilyn Pappano

After twenty-four years of radio silence, Martine Broussard once more sees Pauline, one of the four friends who'd abandoned their home town after a night gone awry. That same night Pauline is killed, her heart removed. The primary detectives on the case are Jack Murphy and his partner James "Jimmy" DiBiase, the man Martine loathes most.

But it's that same man who brings her comfort, offers his shoulder for her to lean and cry on, and vows to keep her safe no matter what, especially after they learn one other friend out of the four had ended up like Pauline.

I loved this one. As it happened with her short story A Family for Christmas, this one also had a mature, adult feel. There was no juvenile behavior (unless you count the hero's nonchalant, womanizing mask—which the heroine learns is really just a façade), the "misunderstanding" (if you want to call it that) was put to rest without much ado, the two communicated...The hero and heroine actually acted like adults, appropriate to their age.
And their romance was a real treat to behold. It progressed slowly, realistically, and as they got to know one another (well, as Martine got to know the depths of Jimmy's character) so the reader got to know them, root for them, and wish them the best.

The second big thumbs-up goes to the suspense angle of the plot. The mystery was intriguing, the red-herrings perfectly placed to keep the reader guessing and playing detective...The final reveal was quite a surprise, yet the motive was a bit of a let-down. I expected more than just a crazy person's crazy motivation.
Speaking of let-downs...The heroine's dipping her toes into the TSTL ocean was the second blemish on this otherwise great story.

Christmas in Venice (or The Italian's Christmas Bride) by Joanne Walsh

Christmas in Venice - Joanne Walsh

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

After five years, exes, Ashlynne and Lorenzo, meet again at the Marco Polo airport. Due to weather conditions, she cannot return home, so he offers her shelter in his apartment. They soon discover that the passion and attraction are still there, but so are old insecurities that helped their marriage to implode.

Formulaic, predictable and with a very Harlequin-Silhouette feel, with an insecure heroine that believes and trusts the words of a stranger over the words of the man she supposedly loves, a bland hero that still merits sainthood for putting up with the idiot woman, a lukewarm at best romance and as sugary as possible ending.


Christmas with the Laird by Scarlet Wilson

Christmas with the Laird (Christmas Around the World Book 3) - Scarlet Wilson

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

Juliette Connolly has just been dumped, replaced with a younger model, and now she also has to work for Christmas. But at least she's not alone in her "misery", she has her cameraman with her...And it turns out, the house they're filming in is his.

I had high hopes for this one after the first chapter. Then it looked like this story changed authors, and my hopes crumbled into dust. The narration was rather puerile, and the story uninspiring.

The romance didn't work for me. The hero and heroine looked more like friends than lovers, and the romance was a real stretch. The protagonists also didn't appear to have much depth or layers; they were just bland. And the delivery of the deeper story underneath the premise, the story of acceptance and forgiveness, was rather heavy-handed with the added slightly paranormal angle not helping things.

A Yorkshire Christmas by Kate Hewitt

A Yorkshire Christmas (Christmas Around the World Book 2) - Kate Hewitt

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

Dejected after a near-brush with disaster in her personal life, Claire Lindell has flown to England to spend a solo Christmas in her godmother's cottage in Ledstow, Yorshire...But her car slides off the road in a snowstorm, and there's no one around to help, but Noah Bradford, who also needs Claire's help to save one of his ewes from a ditch...And then some.

The only thing I liked about this book was the setting; the sleepy, snow-covered Yorkshire village. That's it.

The rest was utter rubbish. The heroine was a pathetic and needy idiot that needed someone to slap her silly, the hero was a bland copy of almost every single-dad hero in Romancelandia, the kid was annoying, and the romance was so far removed from any possibility of reality I couldn't even begin to describe it.
It didn't even come across as a romance, but more of a compromise for the needy idiot of a heroine (who had a perfectly functional family, but was all about the greener grass on the other side of the fence) and something to placate the hero's daughter so she wouldn't be so cross at her deadbeat father.

Christmas at Waratah Bay (or Christmas Down Under) by Marion Lennox

Christmas at Waratah Bay (Christmas Around the World Book 1) - Marion Lennox

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

Max Ramsey has been taking care of his neighbor Harold, the last couple of months, since the old man is dying. Now he's put him in the hospital, but one of Harold's money-grabbing, ungrateful step-daughters is back and wants to supposedly give the old man one unforgettable Christmas...Not if Max can help it.

He can't really, since the woman is Harold's legal family and she's slowly getting under Max's skin as well.

But Sarah Carlton isn't one of Harold's step-daughters. She's not even his family no matter how much she might wish otherwise. But Harold is the closest she's come to having a grandfather, and she's finally earned enough money to come for a visit, which turns out to be their last...And she's determined to give Harold—and Max—a wonderful family Christmas.

This story started off strong. Yes, there was the trope of the misunderstanding, no one bothers to correct, but it worked, and it served as "incentive" for the reader to get to know the main protagonists as they go to know one another.

The plot tugged at an occasional heartstring, the characters were rather well-developed and likeable, the romance came through as quite plausible, despite the speed at which it happened...The problem was the second half of the story which dragged on for a bit too long both in pace and the not-corrected misunderstanding.
It could've been a couple of pages shorter.

Survive the Night by Katie Ruggle

Survive the Night (Rocky Mountain K9 Unit) - Katie Ruggle

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

Alice has been living under her family's thumb since she was born. First her father, then her brother has dictated every aspect of her life, and now her brother has decided she's his in into a powerful crime family. Then a guardian angel bent on revenge rescues Alice and spirits her to Monroe, Colorado.

Her new name is Sarah and even though she's sharing a house with two women and a bunch of kids, and Monroe is a rather little town, she finally knows what freedom is like. She's even starting to fall in love with the big, tender-hearted, taciturn Viking lumberjack cop who takes care of the lost, sick and injured animals around town.

Then her brother finds her, and for the first time in her life, Sarah is ready and willing to stand up for herself, her freedom, and her future.

This one started with a small bang in the form of Alice/Sarah's escape from her brother, and then the cuteness started. I absolutely loved the first part of this story, the beauty of discovering freedom through Sarah's eyes, and the budding romance between her and the big, Viking-like cop with a mushy heart, Otto Gunnersen. They were so sweet and cute together, especially Otto with his tongue-tiredness, and blushes. Awww.
Granted, the romance felt a bit rushed, especially on Sarah's part, since she's recently escaped a very sheltered life, but it worked somehow. Probably because the two of them were just so incredibly cute together.

But then it all went sideways when the suspense element caught up. The story definitely should've ended after the second kidnapping attempt, if you ask me. Because what happened next, the whole waging war on the small Colorado town, was too much. It just kept piling up and in the end it made no sense (at least to me). What was the purpose of it? Was it all really necessary?
The whole ordeal was too overblown, too over-the-top. It was too much and too incongruous with the first part, so instead of the two elements (the romance and the suspense) mixing and blending seamlessly, the suspense overbalanced the entire story, ruining it for me.

Twelfth Night With the Earl by Anna Bradley

Twelfth Night with the Earl (The Sutherland Sisters) - Anna Bradley

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

Ethan Fortescue, Earl of Devon, is on his way to Cornwall, in order to finally close his family home, Cleves Court. The place is both the source of good and bad memories, but the bad are winning.
Then he comes "home" and finds it alight and filled with revelers, thanks to his housekeeper's Christmas spirit. When the housekeeper turns to be the only woman he's ever loved, Theodosia Sheridan, the shock is complete.

Thea has dreamed of the moment Ethan would finally come home, but in her dreams the reunion was always a happy one. Reality is a different beast all together, since Ethan is much changed from the boy she knew and loved. This Ethan is bad-tempered, drunk most of the time, demanding, surly, and determined to close his ancestral home forever.

Thea now only has until the Twelfth Night to convince him otherwise...And maybe give them both a Christmas present they'll never forget.

I've come to love Anna Bradley's ability of creating layered, flawed and realistic characters I'd love to know in real life, and of presenting wonderful stories of star-crossed love and painting wonderful pictures with her words.

Unfortunately, this story fell rather short of that. While I liked Lord Devon in Charlotte's story, where he played the part of her friend, would-be rescuer, and even Cupid, in his own story he was just an ass.
Maybe he had his reasons, but the one I came to know in his story, was rather disproportionate to what happened to him, and was as much his own doing for "bowing down" to rumors, and creating the persona those that spread those rumors wanted and expected him to be.
I liked his heroine just a little bit more. I found her shrewish, obstinate, and her determination to get what she wanted no matter the cost rubbed me the wrong way. And yes, as Ethan did, I also suspected an ulterior motive after she "succumbed" to his advances.

I found them both slightly childish for their age, I hardly got the we're-old-friends-vibe, so the descent into romance was quite a stretch, but that's probably because there was so little story involving their past together. There wasn't space, I guess with all the drama of the present, with Ethan being a surly jerk, Thea going out of her way to be as disrespectful to rank (no matter their common past) as possible) and unlikable, and the antics of the three children temporarily living under their roof.

It felt like there were pieces of the story missing, important pieces to make it all glue together, to make it a better, more rounded story.