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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Hope at Christmas by Nancy Naigle

Setting: Hopewell, North Carolina
Genre: Holiday Romance
Publisher: St. Martins Griffin
Release Date: October 10, 2017

For Sydney Ragsdale, this Christmas is shaping up to be a difficult one. Valentine's Day came and went with her favorite chocolates and a note from her husband that he'd met someone else and wanted a divorce. Sydney refuses to have him controlling her finances, so she packs up their 10-year-old daughter and moves to her grandparent's farmhouse in Hopewell, North Carolina. There, she gets a temporary position working in the bookstore she cherished as a child.

Kevin MacAlea, Mac for short, has been a single parent since his wife walked out on him and their son. She never looked back. Mac's determined to make sure the boy knows how much he's loved. As the town's mysterious Santa, Mac brings Christmas to life. When a young girl sits on his lap and tells him how she doesn't want her mom to be sad anymore, he makes it his goal to make sure Sydney knows she has friends in town. Little does he know the magic of the holiday may open his heart to more than friendship.

Strengths and Weaknesses

There's a lot that happens in Hope at Christmas. Therefore, I'd call this a multi-layered read. You have Sydney and her daughter. They're both handling the emotions of the divorce, moving to a new town, and settling into an older farmhouse. You have Mac who is doing everything possible to be the best single parent possible. There's Bea who knows she's getting older and ready to retire, but her passion for her bookstore has her longing for someone who will take over.

While there are a few things going on, the book is cohesive and doesn't jump around and lose the reader. I found myself involved deeply in each character and hoping for that magical happily-ever-after moment that comes with most romance novels.

RTR's Bottom Line

Of all the holiday romances I've read this year, I think I liked this one the most. It is a romance, but it's equal parts women's fiction. It didn't rush into the romance. Instead, it built up the relationships between Sydney and the rest of the small town. I felt like part of the town and loved getting to know the characters. Hope at Christmas was a win for me.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Murder Over Mochas: A Java Jive Mystery by Caroline Fardig

Setting: Nashville, TN
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: October 24, 2017

Now that she's a private investigator, Juliet Langley tries to leave murder investigations to the murder investigators in Nashville. This time it's tough. Juliet and her boss and best friend, Pete, are prime suspects. She doesn't believe the police are doing enough to investigate the crime. The lead detective is determined to pin the murder on her.

You may be wondering why Juliet and Pete are the prime suspects. This time, the victim is Juliet's swindling thief of an ex-fiance. He dropped dead of a what appears to be a poisoning in Java Jive.

Juliet and Pete dive into an investigation together in order to clear their names. The problem is that the more they investigate, the more it appears that the real killer isn't going to let them uncover the truth.

Strengths and Weaknesses

I've been a fan of cozy mysteries for years. Diane Mott Davidson kicked things off, and I've followed many series over the years. I've come to adore Caroline Fardig's A Java Jive Mystery series. Murder Over Mochas is especially intriguing as you get to see more of the notorious Scott, for as long as he lasts.

There's always just enough action, a few twists, and settings that draw me in. I have been in Juliet's corner from the start. As she's met potential love interests, I've grown to like them very much, too. This book took a bit of a step away from her work as a PI, but the coffee shop details were still there and made me wish I was there.

RTR's Bottom Line

Buy it. If you're new to the series start at the beginning and catch up. I love how the romances in this book have taken unexpected turns. While other series seem to drag things out, I'm always pleasantly surprised by the way romances work out in this series. Murder Over Mochas is another satisfying entry in this delightful series.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Spinster Wife by Christina McKenna

Setting: Northern Ireland
Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Publisher: Lake Union
Release Date: October 12, 2017

Rita-Mae's reached the last straw with her husband. She's had enough and wants out before he kills her. When she spies an ad for a rental cottage in a remote village in Northern Ireland, she feels it's the perfect time to escape.

Dorrie wakes up on a bed and breakfast with no idea how she got there or where she is. She struggles to find any clues that might help her remember more than snippets of her past.

There's also Bram, Rita-Mae's landlord. He lives under the shadow of his domineering mother. He'd love nothing more but to find his soulmate, but so far it's all been a wash. Rita-Mae may be secretive, but she's caught his eye.

Both women have no idea who to trust as they start new lives. Rita-Mae has other looming troubles as it appears a stalker is after her and determined to make her life a living hell. Is Bram someone she can trust or not? Will they be able to find peace in their temporary new homes or are they doomed to misery?

Strengths  and Weaknesses

There was a lot going on in The Spinster Wife. You have Rita-Mae, a woman whose cruel husband forced her to flee. There's Dorrie, a woman who has no idea who she is or how she got there. There's the cottage where Rita-Mae moves to that seems to have its own secrets. Then, there's Rita-Mae's landlord who comes off as creepy one minute and protective and sweet the next. Those all work together to create a puzzling mystery.

The issue is that the story flipped between people so often that I found it distracting. Things would be heating up with one character's story and suddenly you're into another location and mysterious aspect. I had a hard time adjusting to the switches and grew tired of them.

RTR's Bottom Line

While I loved the premise and intrigue found within The Spinster Wife, the story dragged at times. I found it too easy to lose focus and not want to continue. Many times, this was the direct result of the switches between the women and the landlord that rents to one of the women.

This is one of those books where I wanted to keep reading to find out what was really going on. Getting there was harder than I wish it had been.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Halloween Carnival Vol. 1 Edited by Brian James Freeman

Genre: Horror Anthology
Publisher: Hydra
Release Date: October 3, 2017

Loved, loved, loved this anthology of short and not always so sweet horror stories. Here's the breakdown of what's within the pages of Halloween Carnival Volume 1.

1. Robert McCammon's Strange Candy - Hidden in the bottom of their daughter's trick-or-treat bag is an odd skeletal hand-shaped candy. It's not wrapped, so there's no way anyone will eat it, or will someone take the chance that it's just a normal candy?

2. Kevin Lucia's The Race of Achilles - It all starts with a new priest hearing a confession. Nothing is really what it seems with this returning visitor.

3. John R. Little's Demon Air - One young woman's flight turns out to be nothing as she would imagine on Halloween eve.

4. Lisa Morton's La Hacienda de la Muertos - Trick McGrew has the chance to be a film star again. He needs the money, but he never imagines to be filming a horror movie in a place where an urban legend may be more than a legend.

5. Mark Allan Gunnell's #MakeHalloweenScaryAgain - Liking and retweeting may be all the rage, but in one small town, an author's posts go viral in a very terrifying and real way.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Let's start with my favorite in the collection. Strange Candy isn't as horrific as it is emotionally appealing. It's a spooky story, but it's also one where I felt myself become attached and had to keep reading. I loved that. I think my second favorite is the longer, creepy #MakeHalloweenScaryAgain, that one had a bit of a Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer feel to it that I loved. I noted the author's name cause he's someone I want to watch.

I say "I think" because the other three are really good. I'd almost say that while Strange Candy was my favorite, the others pretty much tied for second.

 Lisa Morton's story was creepy, but I knew where it was going. That's the only reason I won't put that in my favorites. The Race of Achilles was emotional, spooky, and touched this reader's heart. Finally, Demon Air was short, sweet, and frightening. All are crafted well and held my attention from start to finish.

RTR's Bottom Line

Buy Halloween Carnival Volume 1 now. It's a creepy collection of Halloween themed stories that you shouldn't miss.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

With This Christmas Ring by Manda Collins

Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Swerve
Release Date: October 3, 2017

When her close friend is dying shortly after giving birth, Merry Parks agrees to track down the woman's husband and present his daughter to him. Doing so will bring Merry back to the castle of a man she left five years ago.

Alex Ponsonby, Viscount Wrotham, never understood why Merry left him. He loved her and knows she loved him. When she shows up with an infant, he's stunned his cousin would abandon a new wife. He agrees to help Merry unite the newborn with his cousin. It means she has to return to his castle. When snow strands her in his castle for a week, he's determined to get to the bottom of her leaving him and maybe convince her to give their love a second chance.

Strengths and Weaknesses

This is a holiday romance, though it's subtle enough that I think it's simply a good read at any time of the year. I wasn't fond of a couple characters. One I felt got off a little too easily and that bugged me. The writing, however, was pretty convincing to make me dislike these characters so much!

The romance between Alex and Merry is enjoyable. It has steamy moments, but as this is a novella, it builds quickly and never felt rushed. I appreciate having a novella not feel rushed.

RTR's Bottom Line

With This Christmas Ring is a festive, romantic Christmas tale of true love. It's tender and emotional, which made it the perfect read on a week that's been, for lack of sugar coating anything, miserable on a national and personal front.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Christmas in Kilts: A Highland Holiday Box Set by Various Authors

Setting: Scotland
Genre: Historical Romance Novellas
Publisher: Macmillan
Release Date: October 31, 2017

Christmas in Kilts is a five-novella collection of historical holiday romances. Here's the breakdown.

A Highlander's Hope by Terri Brisbin

With this novella, you have a romance where a laird's dream girl is not a choice society will approve of. Iain MacKillop's wife died, and there's a push to get him to marry again. The problem is that the woman he most desires is Robena MacKendimen, the village harlot. She sleeps with many men for money, including Iain, and that makes her a totally wrong choice.

A Highland Christmas Wager by Lecia Cornwall

She made a huge mistake sleeping with Magnus MacVane when she was 18. In her defense, she had no idea he was looking for a conquest before he married. Meggie MacLeod is now forced to take shelter in his castle. Her grandmother needs to be safe and that's of the utmost importance. Soon, Magnus and two of his other male guests have a bet in place. Whoever gets Meggie to kiss them first wins the chance to ask for her hand in marriage. Magnus is determined to win, but he has some fierce competition.

A Scot for Christmas by Bronwen Evans

Dougray, the Earl of Lorne, is mourning his wife's death. It's been six years and he needs to marry Fiona Mackenzie, even if she doesn't appeal to him. Yet, when Lady Emma appears at his home, he finds himself experience feelings he never thought he'd feel again. His house party may be about to change his entire future.

Leftover Mistletoe by Lavinia Kent

Emma Spencer is excited for Christmas. While her trip to her uncle's estate was delayed by weather, that seems to be the least of her issues right now. Some man is taking up too much room in the coach she's using to get to her uncle's. James Barran is said man. He's on his way to Glasgow to stop a wedding. Things don't go as planned for either and they find themselves stranded with each other for company.

Sweet Home Highlands by May McGoldrick

Captain Gregory Pennington is set to escort a family to Baronsford. He's eager to start a new life out of the corps. He's even thinking of leaving Scotland and starting his new life across the ocean in Boston. Fie and Ella, an aunt with her young niece, interrupt his plans when the young girl begs her aunt to ask her to ask the captain to marry her.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Each story is short and moves quickly from opening to closing line. Sometimes, the story feels complete without having been rushed. Other times, I found the ending seemed a little rushed. That happens with novellas though.

Sweet Home Highlands and A Highlander's Hope were my favorites. Both drew me in and held my attention from start to finish. The others, while good, didn't grip me to the same degree.

RTR's Bottom Line

If you love holiday romances and historical settings, Christmas in Kilts is a winner!

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Devils You Know by M.C. Atwood

Setting: Wisconsin
Genre: Teen Horror
Publisher: Soho Teen
Release Date: October 3, 2017

To avoid final exams, seniors at Red River High are given the choice of going on a field trip to the Boulder House. Legend has it that the home's original owner cursed the property. Some enter and never return.

Five of the teens who opt to go on the trip go for reasons beyond skipping exams. Ashley, Dylan, Gretchen, Paul, and Violet, find themselves trapped in the house and facing horrifying battles they never imagined. They'll have to team up, which isn't easy when you don't even like each other and try to defeat the evil within, if that's even possible.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The pacing of The Devils You Know never slowed. I did find the glimpses into the Maxwell Cartwright, Jr.'s house to be a litte jarring. I didn't need the break. I ended up racing over those to get back to the teens.

The horror aspect did a good job. I don't like clowns. I haven't liked clowns since I was a kid. Dolls to me are worse. Detailed narrative involving dolls and other items turning their heads and following the teens around, if not full out attacking them, definitely brought in that creep factor I look for in a horror novel.

The teens - maybe it's where I live - but some of their internal conflicts didn't seem authentic. I don't want to give away spoilers, but some of the things that made them "freaks" in their peers' eyes are openly accepted here. I had a hard time with those details for that reason. It could be Wisconsin is different. I'm not sure.

RTR's Bottom Line

I've read plenty of creepy books over the years. Dolls and clowns top my list of objects with a major creep factor. For that reason, The Devils You Know didn't disappoint.