By Anne Fortier

“I’ll be back tomorrow,” he said, “at nine o’clock. Don’t open your door to anyone else.”
“Not even my balcony door?”
“Especially not your balcony door.”

This was well written with an intriguing premise. I love books that educate one painlessly. I learned lots about Siena, Italy, and Romeo and Juliet. Of course, I spent some time on Google Earth exploring Siena. It’s bound to come in handy sometime, I hope. I was much more interested in the contemporary story rather than the concurrently running medieval story of R & J (The true story). I confess I kind of skipped through that part of the novel. Because we know that did not end well.

Dashes of humor and an engaging voice kept me going to the end, which featured several twists and revelations I didn’t see coming. Good stuff for those who like good old-fashioned romantic suspense, with family drama included. I’m always a sucker for good twin/evil twin tropes and with a little redemption thrown in… well, what’s not to like?

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 26, 2014

Dark Matter

By Blake Crouch

“Imagine you’re a fish, swimming in a pond. You can move forward and back, side to side, but never up out of the water. If someone were standing beside the pond, watching you, you’d have no idea they were there. To you, that little pond is an entire universe. Now imagine that someone reaches down and lifts you out of the pond. You see that what you thought was the entire world is only a small pool. You see other ponds. Trees. The sky above. You realize you’re a part of a much larger and more mysterious reality than you had ever dreamed of.” Daniela leans back in her chair and takes a sip of wine.

Dark Matter is an original concept that delivers a lot of suspense, wonder, some shocks, and twists aplenty. Jason, an ordinary physics professor with a wife, Daniella, and son, Charley, is knocked out and kidnapped. He wakes up to learn he is really a celebrated world-renowned genius who has cracked the code to other worlds and alternate realities and how to go there. But Jason loves the only other life he knows. He loves his wife and son. Can he find that life again in the infinite other parallel lives he has lived and is living?

It was hard to get my mind around the science so I didn’t even try. I just went with it. I must give it all the stars, even though It didn’t affect me very much emotionally and it wasn’t funny which are two qualities which are usually very important to me in books. There were times that I didn’t like Jason, the hero, very much. But it was well-written and kept me reading. There were several difficult concepts and Mr. Crouch handled them very well and very believably. It is a real page-turner. I did figure out what Jason and his family were going to have to do to stay together. I loved the way his wife Daniela cut through the mess and took charge at the end. I wish Mr. Crouch would have figured out a way to involve Amanda, his fellow traveler through their alternate lives, at the end. Primo sequel material there!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

October 5, 2018

The Sherwood Ring

By Elizabeth Marie Pope

“A gentleman can hardly continue to sit,’ he explained, in his serenest and most level voice, ‘when he asks a very remarkable young lady to do him the honor of marrying him. And – ‘he somehow contrived to grin at me wickedly, ‘I usually get what I want, Miss Grahame,’ he added, and pitched over in a tangled heap on the floor.”

This was a lovely light read involving friendly helpful ghosts and 3 charming love stories. I would have been so captivated had I read this as a young teen. I was pretty captivated as an adult. I would recommend this for any romantic teen who loves innocent love stories and history. Peaceable Sherwood was a wonderful character who provided a good portion of the gentle humor in this tale. He reminded me of Geoffrey Delavale in Patricia Veryan’s Journey to Enchantment

Rating: 4 out of 5.

September 27, 2019

Veil of Night

By Linda Howard

“…We have seven people who knew the skewers were there: the wedding planner, the reception hall manager, the dressmaker, the florist, the veil-maker, the cake-maker, and the caterer. I haven’t ruled out the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker, either.

This novel is highly readable and typical Linda Howard. It breezed along with her stock hero and heroine with all their strengths and weaknesses intact. There is plenty of conflict between them as well as (of course) very hot instant sexual attraction. If you want a deep and complex love story and relationship building, go elsewhere. The hero is her typical male chauvinist alpha male. The only way he broke the mold was that he takes his coffee with cream and sugar when everyone knows real romance heroes take their coffee black. The heroine is beautiful, classy, and successful with trust issues. She is a wedding planner, and when the bridezilla is murdered, Our hero, Eric, is the detective in charge.

She did feel sorry for Carrie’s fiancé, but she’d have felt a lot sorrier for him if nothing had happened and he had actually married her.

The romance proceeds as per usual with a bit of a non-mysterious mystery thrown in to give them a reason to be together. The damsel must be in distress. Linda is good at amusing banter and observations, and the descriptions of the Beverly Hillbillies’/Sons of Anarchy Wedding is downright funny.

Maybe the bride’s mother would be seated to a Brad Paisley song about checking you for ticks, but she would, by golly, be seated at the right time, and in the right place.

Well-written secondary characters add interest and keep the ball rolling. A very solid 3 stars.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

October 28, 2018

Every Secret Thing

By Susanna Kearsley (Emma Cole)

Later on, when I looked back on it, the only explanation I could give for what I did next was that, at the time, I saw no other way. My life, as I was living now, was not a life. To be in fear, to be in hiding, using someone else’s name – this wasn’t how I wanted to go on. And it would never stop, so long as both the murderer and I were still alive. My only thought on that long morning flight to London was that, one way or another, I would see it end, today.

This has been in my TBR pile for a very long time. I kept putting it off because I thought it was going to be a long and heavy WWII angst-ridden emotional journey with lots of tragedy that would require a big commitment in time and emotion, as most of her other books do. It did have some of that, but mostly it was a normal-sized mystery and adventure that was very reminiscent of Mary Stewart, if she had written her books today, instead of 60 or 70 years ago. The heroine of this one, Kate, had the narrative voice of a Mary Stewart heroine and I also enjoyed the travelogue-like descriptions of Lisbon, Enola, and Washington DC. In Susanna Kearsley’s books, you can follow along with our heroine on Google Earth and really almost be there, on the scene.

I won’t go into the plot, but like most of Susanna’s novels, it involves a dual timeline. In order to investigate the mystery, and later to ensure justice is served, Kate, our investigative journalist, tracks down and interviews the now elderly men and women who can shed light on a murder that happened during WWII in Lisbon, Portugal. Their reminiscences are all part of the puzzle but also provide an entertaining story involving love, intrigue, and a portrait of a hero: Andrew Deacon. But someone who wants to silence her and those who would help her solve the puzzle is following her. Someone powerful with high connections with Whitehall. No one is to be trusted, including an attractive man she meets on her quest. And once the murderer is revealed, how will she exact justice and end the danger to herself and others?

By the end, you marvel at all of the threads that have come together to provide the satisfying conclusion. There is poignancy and sadness in the part of the story that belongs to Kate’s grandmother, but no regret. Being a romantic at heart, I wished for more closure on the page for Kate’s happy ending, but I know in my heart she will have one very soon after I put the book down.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

September 5, 2021

Betrayal at Blackcrest

By T. E. Huff (Jennifer Wilde)

I felt like bursting into tears. Instead, I let loose a series of highly descriptive words that were not ordinarily a part of my vocabulary. That relieved me somewhat, but the rain still poured on the roof of the car and I was nowhere nearer a solution to my dilemma. I had a spare tire in the trunk and all the tools necessary to put it on. However, I was wearing my best white heels and a dress of white muslin printed with tiny pink and green flowers, my best, and I would starve to death before getting out in the rain thus attired.

T.E. Huff’s tongue-in-cheek amusing voice shines through despite the over-the-top plot and his most blitheringly idiotic heroine. Deborah Lane, an actress, is concerned about her cousin and roommate Delia, also an actress. The last she heard from her, she was getting married to Derek Hawke the master of an ancient manor/castle/ estate. That was a month ago, and Deborah has not heard from her further. She travels to the village of Hawkestown to find her, make sure she is alright, and have a little vacation. As soon as she meets Derek, who denies, very very plausibly, even knowing Delia, she is convinced that he has murdered her or is holding her prisoner somewhere. It does give her pause for about a second that there is absolutely no credible motive and that there is considerable evidence from the very beginning that Delia was not telling the truth about her romance with Derek. But Deborah mulishly refuses to see sense. Throughout the whole darn book.

She gets a job being a secretary to Derek’s delightfully scatty aunt, meets her ward, a fey “angelic” teenager in love with an unsuitable village boy, and Derek’s black sheep lookalike cousin, an author of violently disturbing mysteries. All proceeds as all Gothics do, but this one has two quite surprising twists near the end. We are also treated to some funny encounters with the eccentric denizens of the village while Deborah is “investigating.” Despite way too much time exploring the hallways, staircases, cellars, and dungeons of Blackcrest with determined Deborah, this one mostly held my attention.

Fans of “Jennifer Wilde’s” early historical romances might recognize the name “Derek Hawke”. Our modern Derek is apparently a descendent of the Derek Hawke who was either a hero or a villain, I’m not sure which, in the popular “Marietta trilogy”. So that’s kind of fun.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

August 18, 2021

Wherever Lynn Goes

by T. E. Huff (Jennifer Wilde)

I was on my own now, and in my purse was a perfectly lovely contract and an even lovelier check signed by Philip Ashton-Croft himself. The Sunday Supplement would have to do without me. Someone else could cover the next axe murder from “the woman’s point of view.”

I am now on a mission to read every Tom E. Huff gothic novel. The mysteries are nothing too special, the heroines sometimes are not too bright and make silly decisions. If you haven’t figured everything all out at least half-way through, you’ve never read a romantic suspense novel written in their heyday of the ’60s and ’70s. But the humor is top-notch and unusual in a gothic and the pace just merrily rolls along. It’s light on the romance and the secondary characters are well-drawn. I particularly enjoyed Lynn’s best friend Mandy who is a hoot and definitely the brains of the operation.

Men found her fascinating, and with her powerful magnetism and individuality she could have been quite successful had she really tried. Mandy was singularly unambitious—rather lazy, in fact, far more interested in being amused than in having a career. Her chief claim to fame thus far was her appearances on the telly as Maisie the Milkmaid in a series of commercials for Delicious Dairy Milk…Flippant, lighthearted, invariably cheerful, she was also shrewdly intelligent—something few of her merry companions ever suspected.

Mandy is in the thick of things every step of the way and even gets her own unlikely love interest. Huff sometimes plays around with the stereotypical characteristics of the romantic hero and the villain so it actually might take the gothic romance devotee an extra page or two to figure out who the true love interest is. Cliches abound but I love the way he obviously does not take the genre too seriously and I like to think he is giving the knowing reader a little wink and a smile. I love the setting of the London scene of the ’70s and the, now in 2020, retro details and attitudes.

If you’re looking for a baffling mystery and heart-melting romance pass this one by. But if you’re looking for a fun nostalgic trip down memory lane this old-timey contemporary gothic will keep you turning the pages and give you some laughs and smiles along the way.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 15, 2020

Meet a Dark Stranger

By T. E. Huff (Jennifer Wilde)

The pile of dishes in the sink was even higher now. I wondered idly who was going to wash them.

This vintage romantic suspense novel (set in the early ’70s) was as much fun as I remembered it to be. The entertainment lies not in the suspense or the romance, but in the humor and the background. Our heroine Jane is an indolent and very feminine children’s book writer living in London in the swinging 70s. She receives a desperate call for help from her brilliant scientist brother and hopeless and harried father of 3 precocious children. He has been called away for a last-minute emergency meeting (something to do with secret government goings-on) and the latest housekeeper/babysitter has run screaming from the house. Jane must come to his university town of “Abbotsford” (think Oxford) to take care of his children for 2 weeks. On the train, she is hit on by one stranger and rescued by another (before he too hits on her).

Once “Aunt Janie” gets to the Abbotsford train station, she picks up the wrong briefcase whose contents, we learn later, are of great interest to unsavory sinister criminal types and Scotland Yard. We learn of the death of a University student (or is it murder????). Jane just wants her Bennie the Bear manuscript back. We also meet her 2 nieces and nephew. 13-year-old Liz is obsessed with Lola Montez having grown tired of Florence Nightingale. By the end of the book she will have switched to Joan of Arc.

Yesterday—my God, yesterday I happened to glance out the back window. She was in the garden. She was driving a stake into the ground and piling kindling around it! I might as well admit it, that child worries me—”

Anyway, Liz entertains throughout the narrative:

She broke into an impromptu and quite fiery dance, whirling her body, stomping her heels, making a deafening racket with the castanets. I hadn’t any roses to toss, but I made a mental note to hide the castanets at the first opportunity.

As Ian, her Dad, says, “Let’s hope she doesn’t pick up a biography of Bonnie Parker.”

Becky, the 11 year old, is a budding detective. Harriet the Spy has nothing on her. She is an integral part of the plot. It is she who, due to her sleuthing, insists that the accident which killed the young student was “a vicious and brutal slaying.”
Ian explaining to Jane:

 In a moment of weakness I bought her a fingerprinting kit. Now she spends all her time dusting for prints, prowling around the neighborhood, peeking into windows, snooping. She wears my old deerstalker cap and carries a magnifying glass.” “It sounds innocent enough,” I remarked. “Not the way Becky goes about it! She spies on people, jots down notes on what she sees. God knows what she’s got in that notebook of hers. It’s a wonder I’m not completely gray.”

And lastly, we have Keith, “sixteen, quiet-spoken, mannerly, unusually poised for one so young. He was a serious lad, extremely intelligent, keeping to himself much of the time and maintaining his calm when the rest of the household was in chaos.” And he likes to build rockets in his workshop.
Janie herself is a very likable slightly quirky relatable heroine, if very much a woman of the ’70s. :

No girl likes to be called stout-hearted, nor does she like to be complimented on her intestinal fortitude. I saw myself as extremely feminine, prey to all the weaknesses attributed to the sex, and the picture of me Stephen Brent presented was hardly in keeping with that image. I wasn’t courageous, nor was I strong and intrepid. If I had acted well “under fire,” as he put it, it was simply because I had had too much common sense to give way to the stark hysteria that had threatened to overwhelm me.

If you’re looking for heart-stopping suspense, mind-boggling twists, or sizzling romance, look elsewhere. But boy is it cute. The good guys, the bad guys, the romance, the clues, and the climax are telegraphed early and often. In fact, I suspect that the author was having a bit of fun with the reader. Except for Jane’s delightful and funny family, the inclusion of which is very unusual in a contemporary gothic, He hits every gothic trope dead on the nose. Speaking of the author, T.E. Huff, with this book he made the interesting choice of using a female narrator to tell his story in the first person, even though he is a male. Sometimes, it results in something slightly “off” in his descriptions and what he chooses to emphasize in the telling. But I loved the audacity.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

October 9, 2019

Danger at Dahlkari

By T. E. Huff (Jennifer Wilde)

***only spoilery if you’ve never read a Gothic before**

In all but the heroine, this novel forcibly reminded me of a Madeleine Brent romantic suspense. Exotic locale, deadly adventure, and a mysterious hero who isn’t what he seems and who doesn’t really interact meaningfully with the heroine until over halfway through. And she goes on a long dangerous trek with him. Like “Madeleine”, the romance is on the light side. It also reminded me of many other T.E. Huff (aka at least 3 other female pseudonyms) in its usual tropes. Although we are told Lauren is intelligent, scholarly, headstrong, brave, and sensible but we usually see is naive, hysterical, and silly when it comes to her romantic relationships. Her companion Sally is the force to be reckoned with throughout most of the book. Also, the author employs his usual bait and switch with the heroes. Of course, the real hero is immediately apparent to even a semiconscious reader from his first appearance. So that means we know who the villain is as well. There is an interesting reveal at the end that came as a surprise to me.

Despite going over very well-traveled ground, it is well-written and paced with an engaging semi-humorous voice that T.E. Huff (Jennifer Wilde) is known for and which is virtually indistinguishable from Madeleine Brent’s first-person voice. Readers who liked this book would adore Madeleine Brent And Madeleine Brent devotees would find enough similarities with Madeleine to find much to enjoy in this particular title.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May 2, 2020

The Woman Left Behind

By Linda Howard

Jumping from a high altitude required oxygen. Jumping at night required night-vision goggles. Jumping at all required either nerves of steel or the brain of a hamster. Her nerves definitely weren’t steel, so Jina figured her brain was rodentlike.

Lots of great witty banter, and smart mouth observations from our very likable and appealing heroine. Great action and hot romance. I forgot what an excellent writer Linda Howard was. I think I stopped reading her because she got away from the lighter humor/action plots and into more serious stuff. She does have a tendency to overkill some aspect of the plot. In Troublemaker it was her dog and his damn ball. In this one, it was her parachuting experience (40pp in a row: over 10% of the book). Lather, rinse, repeat, lather, rinse, repeat ad infinitum. But in this one, once it was over, it was over. Also, she made up for it by not belaboring her survival story in the desert. Again, very funny, great cast of characters, and great chemistry and tension between the romantic leads**** 4.25 stars****

Rating: 4 out of 5.

April 24, 2018