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

Troublemaker

By Linda Howard

“Oh, how sweet. Let me check my give-a-shit meter to see where that registers. Nope, nothing there. Sorry.”

Linda Howard used to be one of my favorite authors, but after a few disappointments, she slipped off my radar screen. I thought I’d revisit her again, hoping that she had regained her appeal. As mentioned by many reviewers, there was way too much dog in this. Even the dog’s toy (a ball) had over 120 mentions. I skipped through the last half. There were some good parts, here and there, and some good characters. Enough that I will probably check out the next in the series that this one begins. The clue to the mystery was in plain sight and I just didn’t see it. I felt very stupid. So good on her.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

July 07, 2016

The Rainbow Riddle (Judy Bolton #17)

By Margaret Sutton

Judy has a lovely “rainbow” wedding only briefly marred by a bomb going off at the reception. It could have been the end of the Judy Bolton series, but luckily Judy’s little orphan flower girl, Roberta, who we met in the previous book saves the day. Coincidences abound and there is danger around every corner, along with some nice romance between Judy and Peter. A careful reader will find a number of aspects that strain credulity, but I’m gonna put them in the context of the original target audience.

So far I’m not a Roberta fan, but she is going to be around for a few more books, so I’ll try to keep an open mind. She did almost get herself blown up to save Judy so I’m willing to give her a pass for now.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

November 18, 2020

This Rough Magic

By Mary Stewart

I re-read this on Audible. In my youth, I had read Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels at least several times each. This one was not a favorite, and I did not remember very much about it. Hence my decision to choose this one to listen to. Well, it was wonderful. Unlike my experience with re-reading many of my old favorites, the magic of Mary Stewart is undiminished.

Of course, her ability to evoke the sights, people, and atmosphere of her chosen settings is almost legendary. Corfu is the setting of this one. Next best thing to being there. Although a trifle dated in its depiction of her male heroes and her heroine’s relationship to them, I found that quality part of its charm.

I loved the characters. Lucy, a second or third-tier London actress was appealing, intelligent, self-aware, and courageous. She is visiting her sister Phyllida, who was well-drawn and, although a certain “type,” was interesting and provided a bit of humor (not Mary’s strong point). She provides some sisterly perspectives on Lucy’s endearing personality. Max was a very worthy hero. I loved the development of their relationship from suspicion to love. It was subtle and romantic. Mary sometimes likes to incorporate charming teenage boys into her stories. In this one, we have two. And of course, Julian Gale, Max’s father, a great Shakespearean actor, who has mysteriously retired from the London stage. The bad guy was one of her most despicable and dangerous, once his pleasant and attractive facade is slowly and subtly peeled away. Lucy shines in her management of his personality and the danger he represents.

The sightseeing trip and Lucy’s entrapment with the bad guy aboard his boat is full of tension and suspense. Mary is a master at depicting women in deadly peril. I loved that in this one, she rescues herself with no help from her hero. I did remember about the rescue of the dolphin but had forgotten how the dolphin returns the favor. It was thrilling and touching. It is all topped off with a delicious scene with Lucy, who everyone thinks was probably murdered by the bad guy, making a dramatic entrance into his home while he is being unsuccessfully questioned by the police and her friends.

There were a few things that didn’t make sense, and a few frustrations, but they were very trifling. I wish there were other Mary Stewarts I could re-read, but the three I don’t know practically by heart, are ones I actively dislike. I’ll think on it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

July 23, 2021

When Stars Collide

by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

**spoilers**

This one started out lighter and more fun than SEP’s previous book, Dance Away with Me. I was happy about that, even though I don’t mind a little darkness in my women’s fiction. Olivia Shore, a great opera diva, and Thad Owens, a second-string but respected and popular quarterback for the Chicago Stars, are thrown together for a month to promote a prestige watch brand throughout the country. Right away there is a mystery. Why does Olivia seem to hate Thad so much? Why is she so hostile? It turns out someone lied about him to her, and to SEP’s credit the truth is revealed pretty quickly with no “big misunderstanding” trope that is so overused in romances. From then on as they get to know and like each other, their relationship develops into strong attraction and then Love. A few mysteries emerge. Olivia is attacked and Olivia and Thad are briefly kidnapped. It seems they are being continually followed. Olivia keeps getting threatening notes.

We also learn early on that Olivia’s ex-fiancé committed suicide only 2 weeks before their promotional tour began and his sisters made a scene, blaming her, when she attended the funeral. This was a big disconnect for me. This juicy story was never latched on to by the tabloid press that they continually have to deal with, and she is never asked about it on their press tour. Although Olivia’s legendary voice has been affected by the trauma she otherwise never really acts like a woman justifiably ridden with paralyzing guilt. She dumped her fiancé a few days before their wedding causing his suicide. Only 2 weeks ago. I mean, that’s a pretty heavy burden to bear. But she is funny, goes on adventures, fights with Thad, flirts with him and his protégé, has fun, etc.

Although well-written with some really delightful passages and snarky sparring, this book never really took off for me until they got to Chicago, the last leg of their tour where Olivia is set to star in Aida. At this point, SEP starts to bring things together. Even more mysteries start to unfold. Why is her good friend and fellow diva Sarah giving her the cold shoulder? Will Olivia be able to pull off her role in Aida with her voice problems(Susan created some real suspense here)? Will Thad and Olivia be able to work out their relationship which has legitimate issues, not phony ones? The final answers are surprising, a little twisty, and totally believable. Susan did not take the obvious easy routes. I found this to be an uninspired 3-star book until a little over halfway through. From there on it was a solid 4 and a smidge stars. So 3 1/2 stars.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

July 7, 2021

The Good Sister

By Sally Hepworth

“Can I say something?” he says. “I know you love your sister, but…” He shakes his head, sighs. “Something isn’t right about her.”

**spoilers**Seriously, don’t read this review unless you’ve already read the book, or have no plans to read it.

I don’t understand why all of the descriptions and promotional material for this book tout that there are two unreliable narrators in this psychological thriller about two twin sisters. Rose starts out portrayed as the caring, protective sister. She is telling her side of the story through a journal that her therapist has suggested she write to heal from the childhood abuse that she suffered at the hands of her cruel sadistic mother. Fern is a librarian with sensory processing issues. She finds loud noises, bright lights, and people being too close very uncomfortable. She does not pick up on social cues and takes people’s words literally. She is very awkward and sometimes embarrassing in her interactions with others, much to the readers’ entertainment. she reminded me a lot of Eleanor in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

Although there was a niggling doubt (solely because of the “two unreliable narrators” reviews), I was pretty well convinced who the good sister and who the bad sister was was about a fifth of the way through. The first thing that tipped me off was that at one juncture, early on, Rose refers to “you”, a reader of what is supposed to be her private journal. If she’s expecting someone to read the journal, she must have an ulterior motive outside of self-therapy. Around that time, there is a suggestion that Rose might be gaslighting Fern over not feeding Rose’s dog while Rose is in London. Finally, we realize that the target of the mother’s abuse was always Rose, and hardly ever Fern. No person could emerge undamaged from being targetted like Rose supposedly was. Thus, Rose is outted whether she is telling the truth or telling lies. We only have Rose’s and the trusting Fern’s words to know Rose, while we come to see how Fern interacts with and how she is thought of by dozens of objective “outsiders.”

But even without that Fern is just totally lovable and responsible for a lot of humor in the book. The characters in the book respect and even love her or learn to love her despite her eccentric behavior. She also has a love story. The love interest is Rocco, who Fern calls “Wally” because he looked like the “Where’s Waldo” character when she first meets him. He is another one of Fern’s friends and advocates who endears himself to the reader right from the beginning. We learn very early on that he is much more than whom he seems on the surface.

Well before the halfway point all but the most oblivious reader will pretty much have come to some correct conclusions about Rose. The evidence has been building and continues to build. From there it starts to turn from a mystery into a thriller when we realize that Fern is in some kind of grave danger from her sister. There are no twists towards the end of the story, it’s just that the whole truth is revealed a layer at a time. We don’t understand until the concluding pages just how evil and mad Rose has been all of her life.

I really loved this page-turner for the suspense and tension, the humor, the growth that we see Fern achieve, and the sweet love story. I admire the portrayal of the sisters and the gradual reveal of their characters. We learn that part of Rose’s personality is Narcissism. The crowning revelation is the last entry in Rose’s journal which comes as a bombshell as to just how narcissistic and delusional she really is.**5 stars out of 5**

June 18, 2021

The Jackal’s Head

By Elizabeth Peters

I listened to the audio version of this novel I last read decades ago. Those were the days that I would comb the library shelves hoping against hope that a new title by this, my first favorite author, would be sitting there. I remembered very little except that one of the archaeologists the heroine hangs with ended up being one of the bad guys and one turns out to be the love interest.  It is a credit to Peters that she kept me guessing as to which one. As always, Peters’ wryly humorous voice shines through and is very enjoyable. It left me wishing that she had written a sequel featuring the two main characters. I wanted a lot more writing devoted to their relationship as it is an intriguing match-up. For those used to Peters’ feminist sensibilities, this one predates her awakening. It makes for some uncomfortable passages in places.**3 stars out of 5**

Rating: 3 out of 5.

March 5, 2017

The Love Talker

By Elizabeth Peters

The Love Talker has Elizabeth Peters’ signature banter between likeable witty protagonists, intriguing mystery, humor, and quirky characters. Her heroines are almost always scholarly, yet fun-loving, funny, and down-to-earth. This one has more shades of her Barbara Michaels personae because of the seeming paranormal element of the fairies in the woods. However in a Barbara Michaels version, **Spoiler**

there really would have been Fairies, in this one there is a logical “scientific” explanation.**end spoiler**

 It was clever. And until revealed, I was baffled as to what the explanation could be as to the paranormal elements and who the bad guys were. The solution was somewhat shocking. I had my suspicions, but could not put all of it together. That’s a good thing.

The Love Talker was not as good as I remembered it, however, primarily due to the abrupt ending. All of the loose ends were tied up as far as the mystery was concerned but we were really left hanging as far as the romance. **spoiler**

The one male character that ticked the usual BM/EP boxes was supposed to be her half-brother. Of course it is revealed that is not the case, but it is on the last page with her love interest out of the room. There is no interaction between the two after everything is out in the open! **end spoiler**

Now any fan of Barbara/Elizabeth knows that the romance is usually a side dish in her books, not the main entree, but this took it much too far. **3 stars out of 5**

November 19, 2016

Shattered Silk

by Barbara Michaels

Excellent re-read. I hadn’t remembered who the bad guys were or why Karen and her friends were being attacked. Nor the reason for the break-ins or what they were looking for. So I was as surprised as Karen when all was made clear. A shocking motive and a real suspenseful action packed scene capped the novel and a satisfactory happy ending for all. The exposure to the world of vintage clothing, particularly the value of Worth couture, has stuck with me over the years. I only wish Barbara M. would have fashioned -no pun intended- a satisfactory justice for Karen’s scummy ex-husband. On to the the 3rd and final of the Georgetown trilogy. **4.5stars out of 5**

November 2, 2017