Book Review: Shady Hollow, by Juneau Black

Looking for a fun, light read that is part Beatrix Potter, part Twin Peaks, with just a little bit of Midsomer Murders thrown in? Then Shady Hollow, by Juneau Black, is right up your alley!

A murder investigation casts a dark shadow on the sleepy little town of Shady Hollow, and nearly everyone is a suspect. Otto Stumpf, the local curmudgeonly toad, has been found dead in the river. Vera Vixen, reporter for the town’s newspaper, is on the case. Vera is quick and cunning, and she is able to track down leads even more quickly than the local police force. Not to her surprise, the murder has brought some of the townspeople’s secrets to light – secrets that many of them would like to remain hidden. As Vera follows the clues on the killer’s trail and comes closer to discovering the culprit’s identity, things start becoming dangerous. Someone wants her dead, and she’s sure it’s connected to the murder. Undaunted, she presses on, eager to get tot he bottom of the story, no matter what it takes.

Shady Hollow cover

Cover of Shady Hollow. Image via Amazon.

 

The novel is a light, cozy mystery with a bit of fantasy, even though things become darker as the tale progresses. The revelation of the murderer completely caught me off guard. The author did an excellent job of bringing other suspects to the reader’s attention, and the twists and turns of the plot led to a thrilling and satisfactory conclusion. I expect that there will be other books, as it is a very promising beginning to a fantastical cozy mystery series.

Shady Hollow is perfectly safe for younger readers, though adults will enjoy it as well, just as I did.

I received an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Book Review: Hot Shade, by Tamara Lush

Just how much trouble can a crush lead to? We find out in Tamara Lush’s new adult romance Hot Shade. Young journalist Skylar Shaw is about to find out. While covering the story of a plane crash on a Florida beach, Skylar meets the handsome, mysterious young Italian man who rescued the survivors – and is hooked.

Luca Rossi has been hiding at his uncle’s house in Florida, trying to escape the ghosts of his past. Exposing the mafia’s secrets back in Italy ended his own career as a reporter, and he has been in fear for his life ever since. Romance was the last thing on his mind, until he met the attractive young reporter who seems just as interested in him as he is in her.

 

Hot Shade cover

Cover of Hot Shade. Image via Amazon.

Even though both Luca and Skylar know that it would probably be better if they stayed away from each other, they just can’t seem to. Soon they both grow attached to one another, and gradually each one reveals their secrets to the other: Skylar divulges her past abusive relationship with an older man, and Luca finally tells her why he has left Italy to hide in the United States. But Luca’s past comes back to haunt him, and it could not only endanger him, but the woman he has grown to love. And as the suspense builds, the two of them have to turn to each other. Skylar is no damsel in distress, and she is as protective of Luca as he is of her, even when things grow to be life-threatening.

Lush draws on much of her own personal experience as a journalist in Florida, and she uses the setting to her advantage. The characters’ romantic relationship progresses naturally; even though they intuitively know that it would be better for the both of the to stay away from one another, they decide to become involved anyhow, just for a little bit. And of course their attraction develops into deeper feelings, though both are a little hesitant to tell one another about them. As attracted as she is to Luca, Skylar is very reluctant to jump into a relationship or even a fling with him. Luca is very understanding of Skylar’s cautiousness, and he does what he can to make her feel comfortable with pursuing the relationship. And Luca is hot…and such a great guy (no alpha male/abusive boyfriend tropes in this!). And the sex scenes! Can we say hot, and full of enthusiastic consent? Which is a HUGE reason for anyone who is specifically looking for romances with hot, consensual sex scenes to check this book out!

Book Review: The King and the Courtesan, by Angela Walker

Angela Walker takes the trope of alpha male billionaire plucking a girl from the gutter and introducing her to a life of riches and turns it on its head in her debut novel The King and the Courtesan.

Melissa Thatcher is a drug-addicted prostitute living in the Metro slum of Zinya City. Her life looks pretty bleak, until Ezekiel, one of the city’s leading drug dealers, approaches her with a proposition: if she becomes his escort, he will change her life forever. That means living with hi I his posh apartment in a better part of the city, access to money, new clothes, trips to places she only dreamed of visiting, and an endless supply of the substance she abuses. Melissa figures that it can’t be as bad as the life she’s currently leading, so she accepts the proposition. Little does she know that things won’t all that Ezekiel has promised they will, not by a long shot.

King & the Courtesan cover

Cover of The King and the Courtesan. Image via Amazon.

Ezekiel is ruthless and extremely calculating, traits that have only helped him to keep a grip of iron over his drug empire. All of the people in his employ are somehow indebted to him, to the stylist who takes care of Melissa’s wardrobe to the upstanding bodyguard who is working for Ezekiel in exchange for money for his wife’s cancer treatments. Ezekiel soon has Melissa in his stranglehold, and she is careful not to cross him, until she finds out how dangerous he really is when she breaks one of the many “rules” of their business arrangement. She becomes desperate to escape him, but she knows that only one of them will make it out of the arrangement alive, and she fully intends to live.

Walker is brutally honest about the realities of sexual trauma, addiction, poverty, and what constitutes abuse, even though she avoids explicit depictions of sex. We are able to understand the effects of such things on not only Melissa, but on others around her. In other works, Melissa’s situation might be romanticized, and Ezekiel, who came from a horrible family life as well, would have been seen as a tortured hero who can somehow be redeemed by the heroine. Walker is careful to avoid glamorizing the situation; she shows Ezekiel to be exactly the sociopath that he is. There is no way he can be redeemed because he does not view himself as being in the wrong.

Melissa’s situation also allows herself an opportunity to think about what it is she wants out of her life and she finds out that she is a much stronger person than she ever believed she was. She is a survivor, and somehow we know that once she is out of all of this, she is going to be okay.

I received an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Book Review: Crazy, Sexy, Ghoulish, by G. G. Andrew

Nora Travers has spent her last few Halloweens working in a haunted house, playing witches and zombies and practically every monster in between. But she can’t always hang up her costume and take off her makeup after she gets home from work. Nora sometimes considers herself a monster of a different kind, one that many of us encountered, known as the “mean girl.” She is at the point in her life where she realizes that she was very horrible to a lot of people…and she regrets the way she treated them and feels genuine remorse for the things she did.

Crazy, Sexy, Ghoulish cover. Image via Amazon.

Cover of Crazy, Sexy, Ghoulish. Image via Amazon.

When horror blogger Brendan tours the haunted house she works at, she’s shocked when she realizes that he’s the geeky boy she tormented in junior high….and that he has become so hot. She’s determined to give him the scare of a lifetime so that he’ll give the haunted house a good review on his blog…until she realizes that he finds her just as attractive as she finds him.

Without divulging who she is, Nora flirts with Brendan, and he flirts right back. She finally decides that she needs to reveal who she really is…even though he might never have forgiven her.

Crazy, Sexy, Ghoulish , by G. G. Andrew, is a funny, smartly written new adult novella about the second chances we so seldom get when we grow up and realize what we could have done differently and what we can do to make up for it. And sometimes the monsters that we’re most afraid of aren’t the make-believe ones, but the ones we try to run from within ourselves.

Taste Me, Tempt Me! Or, Linotte Gets Published

So…I have a big announcement! Drumroll! Are you ready?

Tomorrow is the release day for the romance anthology Taste Me, Tempt Me: 8 Tales of Sweet & Spicy Romance. And guess what? I have a short story published in it: “Trouble with Trifles,” by Madeleine Keane.

Cover of Taste Me Tempt Me

Cover of Taste Me, Tempt Me. Image via Amazon.

And guess what else? All proceeds of Taste Me, Tempt Me go to America’s Second Harvest and Food Banks Canada! So what are you waiting for? Grab your copy and help feed the hungry! I would say that’s a win-win right there!

Spooky Stories: The Exhumation of Lizzie Siddal

Since it’s close to Halloween, I thought I would share this morbid little tidbit about Burne-Jones’s fellow Pre-Raphaelites, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Elizabeth Siddal and how he had her grave dug up so he could get the book of his poems that he had buried with her.

Rossetti was born into a family that already had a love for literature and the arts. His father was a scholar and his mother was the sister of John Polidori. Many of the children were creative types. Gabriel himself was a painter and a poet and, along with painters Walter Deverell, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, and other young artists of the day, started the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s self-portrait. Image via Wikipedia.

Elizabeth Siddal, on the other hand, was from a working class background. She was employed in a millinery shop and was the daughter of a cutler. Rossetti and his fellow Pre-Raphaelites found her to be a very striking young woman, and she started modeling for them in 1849. She started taking drawing lessons from Rossetti, and this blossomed into an affair which lasted for years. Elizabeth began writing poetry and painting as well, but Rossetti eventually insisted that she sit only for him, though he continued to sketch other models, such as Jane Morris and Annie Miller.

elizabeth siddal self-portrait

Elizabeth Siddal’s self-portrait. Image via Wikipedia.

Elizabeth’s and Rossetti’s relationship was a tempestuous one, marked by Rossetti’s infidelity and reluctance to marry her and Elizabeth’s ill health and growing addiction to laudanum. In 1860, they finally married, but their happiness was to be short-lived. After a stillbirth in 1862, Elizabeth, who had been pregnant again, overdosed on laudanum. It is unknown whether this was suicide or an accident.

Ophelia by John Everett Millais.

Elizabeth Siddal modeled for John Everett Millais’s famous painting of Ophelia. Image via Wikipedia.

Elizabeth’s death sent Rossetti on a downward spiral of drug addiction. In his grief, he wrote a book of poems about her, which slipped beneath her hair during the burial. In 1869, Rossetti became obsessed with getting the book back so he could publish the poems. Elizabeth’s body was exhumed so the book could be obtained. The book was in remarkably good condition, as was Elizabeth’s body at the time of exhumation.

During a particularly dark moment, Rossetti destroyed all of the photographs of Elizabeth. Only two are known to have survived.

More reading about Rossetti, Elizabeth Siddal, and the Pre-Raphaelites: Desperate Romantics by Franny Moyle and Lizzie Siddal: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel, by Lucinda Hawksley (the latter was my source).

Book Review: Forever Your Earl, by Eva Leigh

Eva Leigh begins with a promising start to her new Wicked Quills of London series with its first installment, Forever Your Earl. Leigh takes us from the finest houses to the poorest slums of Regency London in this delectable treat of a book.

Cover of Forever Your Earl.

Forever Your Earl, by Eva Leigh. Cover image via Amazon.

Eleanor Hawke, editor of the Hawk’s Eye, one of the most popular scandal sheets in London, is shocked the day the her favorite subject, Daniel Balfour, the Earl of Ashford, walks into her office with a proposition. He and Eleanor come to an agreement: she will accompany him on his many exploits throughout London, identifying him only as Lord Rakehell in her articles. But Daniel’s reasons for this are twofold; he has been searching high and low for his old friend, Jonathan, who has disappeared into London’s slums, and he believes these articles may be just the thing to lure Jonathan out of hiding.

Daniel and Eleanor spend a delightful few weeks as she chronicles all of his scandalous pursuits, from phaeton races to gambling hells to masquerades to nights in Vauxhall Gardens. As she spends more time with Daniel, she begins to see that there is more to him than she thought. And Daniel finds Eleanor’s wit, independence, and humor to be exhilarating. Yet class differences and societal conventions doom their romance, and Daniel will do anything to persuade Eleanor that she is worthy of his love, even though he’s just a commoner and he’s an earl.

Leigh breathes life into Regency London in every word on the page, from simple everyday conversation to descriptions of such grand places as Vauxhall. The couple’s romance progresses as naturally as that between the hero and heroine of a Georgette Heyer novel and is very believable. Much like romantic leads in the other series Leigh has written under the name of Zoe Archer, Daniel and Eleanor come together for their own reasons and realize that they can help each other achieve their own goals. As their relationship progresses, they work together to find some resolution and to bring Daniel’s friend safely home. The couple emerges stronger than they were and you get a sense of how they help each other become better people. And that is how a romance should end – with some sense of a happily ever after.

I received an advance copy of this book in a giveaway hosted by the author.