Sunday, August 25, 2013


by Lorrie Thomsen
Published by Kensington
336 pages
Genre: women's fiction
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5

Laura Klein is two-for-three when it comes to saving her husband's life. That one time she missed, things didn't turn out so well.

Now it's a year later, and Laura is adjusting to widowhood and being a single mother to her teenage children. She struggles with missing Jack; sometimes she aches for him, and sometimes she feels pure rage. He was bipolar and didn't take his meds regularly. He made Laura do everything, including keep him alive. He was selfish, and Laura can't quite bring herself to admit that.

Her fifteen-year-old daughter Darcy is also struggling. Darcy was a Daddy's Girl, and while she doesn't quite blame Laura for Jack's death, she also doesn't forgive her, either. She wants him back, despite him clearly being selfish with her as well. She is a girl in a tremendous amount of pain and grief.

Troy, the thirteen-year-old son whom Jack left behind, chooses to mourn by not remembering anything good about his father. As we discover, Troy didn't have many happy memories. Jack was not a particularly good father to his son; he seemed to parse out what decent parenting he did to Darcy alone.

Into the Kleins' lives come two men who will change everything.

The first is Nick, Darcy's ne'er-do-well boyfriend. Nick has his own issues, including an abusive father. That he loves Darcy is not under question. He does. He even takes care of her in his own way. But as each character - Darcy's friends and her mother - warn her about him, Darcy digs her heels in every deeper. They don't know the Troy whom Darcy knows.

Then there is Aidan, an emergency room doctor in his late twenties, who rents out Jack's old writing studio. Aidan is described as movie star hot, and we know it's only a matter of time until he and Laura discover each other.

Nick and Aidan shake up the Kleins. Nick both protects and threatens Darcy, as Aidan does Laura. The danger Nick poses, however, is far greater than Aidan. He could break Darcy's heart - or worse. Aidan, on the other hand, could be proof that Jack was not a good man, that he was cruel and selfish and weak. Nick's threat is primarily physical; Aidan's emotional.

Lorrie Thomson tells her story from Laura's and Darcy's points of view. We feel Laura's frustration at not being able to help Darcy, just as we feel Darcy's toward her mother. We remember what it was like to be fifteen and in love for the first time, and we experience Laura's sadness, confusion, and hopefulness.

Thomson's writing is not always clear or fluid, but she tells a strong tale. She makes us care about Laura, Darcy, and Troy, and she does a fantastic job representing the conflicting feelings that families of those who commit suicide.

A solid debut from Lorrie Thomsen.

First Affair

The First Affair
by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
Published by Atria Books
256 pages
Genre: women's literature
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
5 / 5

Do you ever wonder about the women involved in sex scandals? Do you want to ask them, "What the hell were you thinking?" Do you shake your head in disgust? Blame them? Salute them? Pity them?

I'll admit that I was fascinated by Monica Lewinsky. I didn't find Bill Clinton to be particularly good looking, and certainly not hot, but power is the ultimate aphrodisiac (thank you, Henry Kissinger, for giving voice to that), so who knows? Perhaps if I worked with him, I would have been more open to him, sexually speaking. Or any sort of speaking. Lewinsky was young, and when I was in my early twenties, my taste in men was ridiculous.

And so we come to First Affair, which tells the story of a young college graduate's White House internship and the close - I do mean close - proximity in which she finds herself with the President of the United States.

Jamie McAllister is fresh out of college and watching all of the money that went to her degree appear to be worthless. She got an internship at the White House and is singularly unimpressed. Internships don't pay for student loans. Thanks to the kindness of a friend, she's able to live rent free ... for now, anyway. But she is restless and wants a real, paying job.

As for President Rutland (I'm sure the "rut" part of his name is not an accidental choice on the part of the authors), he of the taint of rumors regarding a previous pass made at a young woman, Jamie has little to no contact with him. Until, that is, a chance meeting in the hallway. Their paths cross, and then they cross again. And then they cross with a little more passion.

Jamie's affair resembles Lewinsky's in many ways: the physical natures are quite similar, and the scandal surrounding it erupts with the same feral ferocity. Jamie is, remember, young. She is impressionable. She does not have the benefit of much life experience, and her decisions reflect that. She does not know, for instance, how to choose her friends or how to know whom she can trust. Can she trust Rutland? Herself?

The romance - and it is a romance - is fascinating. We know why Jamie is attracted to Rutland, and we come to learn why he is attracted to her. What we don't know is why he risked so much (the affair takes place during an election cycle) to be with her. We can guess, based on what we know of other powerful men brought down by their dangly bits. Perhaps he felt untouchable (no pun intended). Perhaps it is as simple as hubris. Or maybe Rutland's passion for Jamie was so intense that the threat of scandal and ruin just did not matter.

There is quite a bit of intrigue going on here as well. Jamie gets betrayed, and betrayed again. She comes to question her character judgments, and rightfully so. She is hopelessly naive, but that's what makes her so believable as a character. What twenty-two-year-old woman in love with an older man (or any age man, for that matter) manages to think straight? She believes in him and she trusts him. She cannot conceive of him ever abandoning her or betraying her.

Yes, there is the matter of Mrs. Rutland. We don't find out much about her, but there is a photograph of her with her husband that piques Jamie's guilt. Jamie is very much aware that Rutland has a wife, and, like most of us would, she justifies her relationship with him. She occasionally allows reality to creep in, but she refuses to let it take root.

Jamie is wonderfully written. She exasperates us and frustrates us, yet she makes us care about her. There were times while reading this that I hoped she and Rutland could be together and be happy. Like Jamie, I didn't want to face reality.

I am a fan of McLaughlin and Kraus, having enjoyed Between You and Me a great deal. I enjoyed this book as well, and I had a difficult time letting go of it when I finished. I may not have always liked Jamie, and I may not have always agreed with her decisions, but I was on her side.

She made me more empathetic to the Monica Lewinskys of the world.

One Night in the Spa

One Night in the Spa
by Kathy Lyons
Published by Entangled
77 pages
Genre: romance
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3 / 5

The title is a dead giveaway, isn't it? Pride and Prejudice this is not. Nor is it Gone Girl, The Husband's Secret, or Dangerous Girls. This, my friends, is pure entertainment.

Kim is a former professional squash player, forced to retire due to injury. She works at a fitness gym, and David, the spa's manager, offers to give her a stress reducing massage. In the spa. One night.

David, you see, doesn't want to be relegated to the friend zone for one more moment, so he plans to let Kim know that he's interested in more than something platonic. She, meanwhile, is in a delayed onslaught of puberty and finds herself all horned up in general, toward David specifically.

There is some sort of corporate mumbo jumbo going on regarding ownership of the spa, but who cares about that? You want to know about the one night! In a spa!

Let's just say that it could be hotter.

I'm sure Kim enjoyed it.

But I wanted more.

We learn a lot about Kim's backstory, but not as much about David's. Like I said ... I wanted more. It's as if you're getting half a massage, so to speak.

Sometimes you need something utterly fun and forgettable to read, and for those moments, this is as good a pick as any, I guess.

I just wish there had been more.

Hung Parliament

Hung Parliament
by S. A. Gordon
Published by Momentum
154 pages
Genre: erotic fiction (is there such a thing?)
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5

Something I learned from this book: Australian politicians like them some SEX. And lots of it. Preferably with someone other than their spouse or significant other.

Rock on, Australia. You folks take that whole "down under" thing pretty seriously, don't you?

So we have two opposing party leaders having an affair, two high ranking government officials having an affair, a reporter who had an affair with at least two of the aforementioned individuals, and a whole lot of other sex. And, oh yeah, some political intrigue. Those two opposing party leaders are about to run against each other for Prime Minister of the country. Each has been up to some shady dealings, and neither, quite frankly, deserves to win.

So who will? And how?

Interspersed between all the sex is an actual plot entailing political corruption the likes of which we Americans thought we had exclusive rights to. It takes a while, but you do find two reasonably decent politicians; their outcome leads you to believe that true love and politics are not meant to go hand-in-hand. Or naughty bit in naughty bit.

The problem with this book is that its ending is akin to a case of blue balls. There is a frenzy and passion and dirtiness and near evil, and we want a payoff! We want the bad guys to suffer! I mean REALLY SUFFER. If they don't deserve to win, then they shouldn't win, right?

Ah, but then it wouldn't be politics.

If you find yourself frustrated by the end of this salacious little nugget, you aren't alone.

Strange bedfellows indeed.

Run to You

Run to You
by Charlotte Stein
Published by HarperCollins
200 pages
Genre: erotica
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5

Strap on those vibrators, girls. This is a hot one.

Alyssa leads a dreadfully dull life, one so uninspiring that when she discovers her roommate's agenda with an appointment titled "assignation," she takes off for the hotel, planning to masquerade as the roomie.

She meets a gorgeous, electric businessman named Janos, and although the two exchange no words (she even hides from him in a closet), she is drawn to him. He leaves her his business card, and the two soon meet again. And again and again.

As their relationship progresses, Alyssa struggles with understanding why Janos is attracted to her. She believes herself the physical embodiment of her dull job and dull life. Janos sees more than that, though, and fights to be with her.

He also, it must be said, brings her a considerable amount of sexual pleasure. So much so that you might want to try and knock some sense into Alyssa.

For all of the headboard rockin' that goes on in this book, there is also an equal amount of character development. We understand Alyssa's reluctance to allow herself to fall deeply for Janos, even if it frustrates us. We also understand his attraction to her; she changes him, and he lets her. That he so willingly forsakes certain unproductive patterns in his life for her tells us that he is a good man. Her sexual satisfaction is as important to him as his own - more so even. Connecting with her sexually is Janos' way of showing his affection for her.

I liked these two. I liked how she challenged him, both to admit his weaknesses and shortcomings and to be honest with himself. I liked how he was willing to do both of those things for her and, more importantly, for himself.

The weaknesses are a bit too much time spent in Alyssa's head and an ending that borders on cheesy. Still, though. It's good.

The sex scenes are scorching hot. There is one in an elevator that just ... whoa. Really, all of them are detailed and explicit and seriously hot. Some spanky panky takes place, but unlike the Christian Grey rabbit hole, this truly is a manifestation of Janos' need for power and dominance.

Read it and enjoy. Just make sure you follow the step in the first line of this review.

The Rebound Guy

The Rebound Guy
by Fiona Harper
Published by Harlequin Kiss
224 pages
Genre: chick lit; romance
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3 / 5

Kelly is a divorced mother of two young boys and she needs a good job. When she lands a temporary position with Jason Knight's athletic apparel company, she hopes for the best. What she gets is a hot boss who has no problem checking out her cleavage. The thing is, he is hot. And kind. And creative. And fun. So when business takes the two to New York, would anyone blame Kelly if she took "dictation"?

This is a flimsy, frothy book with little going for it aside from cute characters you will absolutely enjoy. We understand Kelly. She has two sons, her marriage was not a success, and she just wants security for her family. But she also needs love and romance, even as it scares her. Jason Knight is a man with a reputation for loving the ladies, yet he seems to enjoy her boys. And he treats her respectfully (once he stops staring at her cleavage). He's also a man trying to prove something, whether it's that he can run his company successfully or that he is not a womanizer.

Don't go looking for sexy times, because you won't find them here. The love scenes are fairly tame, especially considering the vast quantity of smut that I read. There were times I wanted more explicit writing, but that might diminish the cutness factor. And this book most certainly is cute.

I enjoyed it, I have to say. It is not without its flaws, but it's an enjoyable, quick read.

Too Fast

Too Fast
by Alexia Haynes
Published by Alexia Haynes via Amazon Digital
163 pages
Genre: new adult; romance
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5

So you go out with friends for the evening and promise yourself you will let loose and have some fun. You even allow yourself to be open to the possibility of a one night stand. Have a few drinks, meet a hot guy, take your clothes off, and after the lovin', say goodbye.

Simple, right?

But what if that one night stand turns out to be someone you just can't forget? What if you want more than one night? What if he does too? Do you stick to your original plan or do you reboot?

Savannah finds herself in just this very situation when she wakes up to the gorgeous Luke. Their night of passion was more than she dreamed of, and apparently he enjoyed it just as much. When he pursues her for more than one night, she needs to decide if that's what she wants.

I'm pretty sure you can figure out how this goes. The good news is that despite its transparency, this little novella is fun - and HOT - to read. Alexia Haynes does a solid job of letting us get to know her characters in a compressed amount of time, as well as writing some hot and delicious headboard rockin'.

Let me just say that if I were Savannah, there is no way I could settle for one night with Luke. It's like dark chocolate covered caramels: can I stop at one? Uh, no.

Enjoy this one for what it is: a quick, hot read with characters you'll enjoy.

The Film Student and Me

The Film Student and Me
by Julie Hilden
Published by PocketStar
131 pages
Genre: erotica
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3.5 / 5

If you discovered your husband was having an affair with a younger woman, what would you do?

Such is the premise of this taut, extremely erotic novella. Whereas some women would head straight for divorce court or others would stoically try to ignore the infidelity, Rebecca decides that her forty-year-old and still hot self will find a young thing with whom she can enjoy the sexy times. Turnabout, fair play, etc., etc.

What Rebecca doesn't factor into her decision is (a) choosing someone who might be a bit dangerous, (b) falling for him, and (c) allowing him to take her very, VERY deeply into her dark side.

The affair partner in question is the eponymous film student, twenty-something Jared, whom she meets at a university library. Their relationship gets off to a roaring start when Jared brings her to sexual release while in a coffee shop. From there, the two begin meeting regularly at Jared's apartment, where he introduces her to sexual inhibition and pleasure. They try all sorts of things together, including some spanky panky, a foursome, and some webcam action.

All the while, Rebecca falls deeper and deeper for Jared, and he for her. But what of her marriage? And children? Will she abandon both in the name of great - and it does appear to be GREAT - sex? The fact that Jared is a bit dangerous undoubtedly enhances her attraction to him. Jared loves kink in its many varieties, and Rebecca discovers that she might also like it.

This novella is much darker than I thought it would be. Rebecca's willingness to embrace an unconventional (to say the least) sexual relationship - and the ease with which she does so - seems a bit at odds with the wife and mother she is. And she apparently feels little conflict regarding this. Her husband cheated, so she will too. He apparently is sexually satisfied with his side piece, so she will be as well. Even when one of her daughters notices a change that has come over Mommy, Rebecca tosses it aside. The sexual allure of Jared is too much for her to forsake.

As for Jared, we find out bits and pieces about him, but not enough to give us much insight. He lets us see flickers that explain his inclination toward sexual perversion, but we need more. Even Rebecca is under-explored. She goes from staid wife and mother to wanton adulteress with seemingly little compunction.

The sex scenes scorch. They are explicit and detailed, and they will achieve certain effects on you. It's best to read this book with a vibrator or a man friend close by.

I guess my overall feeling about this novella is that it compels me despite its lack of depth. It makes me wonder what I'd do if I were Rebecca, and I found myself thinking about it after I finished.


Unscrupulous (The Manhattanites #2)
by Avery Aster
Published by Ellora's Cave
269 pages
Genre: erotica
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3 / 5

Strap on your vibrators, girls, because you'll need them as you read this book. You know you're in for a racy novel when the heroine gets her vajayjay bedazzled with red crystals.

For reals.

Taddy Brill takes a much-needed vacation to a private resort, hoping to unwind and get pampered. If that pampering includes getting her private parts massaged, then all the better. Warner, a hunka hunka burning love if ever there was, owns said resort, and he happens upon "Miss Red" (Taddy has red hair ... I know. I am stunned by the originality here as well), who calls him "Big Daddy." They have a connection while at Warner's night club; actually, what connects are his fingers to her nether region. Taddy likes what she feels, but she scampers off the island before she and Warner can do much more than exchange her bodily fluids for his business card.

Imagine her surprise when Big Daddy turns out to be a billionaire mogul.

You'd think these two crazy kids would hook up when they're back in Manhattan, but alas. True lust never runs easily. Taddy has Issues, you know, and no matter how fabulous the headboard rockin' may be, those Issues could preclude a lasting relationship with Big Daddy.

Okay, so the plot is weak. But the plot is not the point, now, is it. The POINT, fair readers, is that headboard rockin'. And my oh my does Warner know how to satisfy a woman.

Avery Aster writes very solid erotica, and the hot loving is HOT. It is inspiring. It is deliciously detailed. All of this is very good news indeed, because occasionally the "plot" veers off into such nonsense that I found myself giggling out loud. (See: Big Daddy.)

The characters are entertaining, if not a bit underwritten. But again, do we care? I mean, do we plan on spending hours analyzing why Warner so easily succumbs to love for Taddy when surely he would be a bit more cautious? Hell to the NO. We don't care. We just care about Warner's ability to rock that headboard, and rock it he does.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Eyes Wide Open

Eyes Wide Open: The Blackstone Affair, Book 3
by Raine Miller
Published by Atria Books
352 pages
Genre: erotica
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3.5 / 5

And now, the end is near, and Ethan Blackstone must take his final curtain.

Well, not his FINAL curtain. I'm sure he goes on to prosper out there is fictional fantasy land. But for us readers, it's time to say goodbye to hot Ethan.

This is the third and final book in the Blackstone Trilogy, and it sees Ethan and Brynne's story take off after the conclusion of All In, the second of the trilogy (Naked is the first). This review will contain spoilers from the first two books, so if you haven't read them, please do so before you continue.

When we last saw Ethan and Brynne, they had escaped a stalker threatening Brynne. At least temporarily. They have contended with stalkers and threats to Brynne's security before, so in some regard they are used to this stuff.

As CEO of a security firm, though, Ethan takes Brynne's safety extremely seriously. After all, they met when her father hired him to protect Brynne while she's living in England. In the previous books, some political intrigue and espionage has been hinted at and discussed, and those theories continue here. Somewhat frustratingly, they are not as fully developed as we would hope.

Settling into a new relationship can be difficult, all the more so when you are under siege from an unknown force. Ethan cherishes Brynne, and by "cherish," I mean worshiped with his naughty bits. Ethan knows how to rock that headboard, girls, and it does not take Raine Miller long to escort us straight into the bedroom with the two of them. Or straight into a shower. Or up against a wall. Or any place where two crazy kids in love can know each other in the Biblical sense.

The stalker subplot is not all that gripping. It does not take us long to figure out who it is, and some of the stalker's other crimes seem sort of tacked on or overly dramatized to make him fit.

But do we read these books for the mystery? Hell to the NO. We read them for the sexy times, and bless Raine Miller's erotica laden mind for writing some good ones.

I really enjoyed the first two books, and I liked this one. It's a good conclusion to the story, even if it occasionally feels a bit overwrought. Ethan, I'm glad I got to know you, you gorgeous hunk of man, you.

Friday, August 9, 2013

All Dressed Up

All Dressed Up
by Lucy Hepburn
Published by Diversion Books
331 pages
Genre: chick lit; romance
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3.5 / 5

We all know someone, whether it's a sibling or a parent or a friend, who thinks the world revolves around them. That they are the center of the universe. Aren't we so lucky that we get to spend time with them? Aren't we? Sure we are.

For Molly Wright, that center is her older sister Caitlin, who is in Italy preparing to marry her somewhat older, far wealthier, and extremely famous fiance. Despite Molly being an aspiring fashion designer, her sister hired a Parisian haute couture genius to do the job. Molly's dream is to live in Paris and design clothes, but her initial visit to the city proves to be less than fulfilling: she gets dumped by her boyfriend of five years, a man she thought was going to propose.

When Caitlin calls in a fit of hysteria over her dress not having been shipped to Italy, Molly volunteers to pick it up and take it herself. She and Pascal, the designer's assistant, hop on a plane and head to Venice.

Alas, things go horribly awry.

But the good news is that Simon, the hot Englishman sitting next to Molly on the plane? He might make all of this awfulness go down a whoooole lot better.

This is a book that alternates between slapstick silliness and dramatic sadness. In the midst of all of that overwrought emotionalism, though, are some sweet moments. Molly and her mother share a heartfelt talk in the back of a car, allowing Molly to say things she should have said years before. Her mother, too. The quiet moments between Molly and Simon are lovely, as are those between Molly and Pascal. There is a fantastic auction scene that tells us more about the characters than any of the frivolous scenes.

The romance is sweet. Molly and Simon are adorable, and Simon helps Molly see the difference between someone who appears to be good and someone who truly is. He and the ex-boyfriend are in the same line of work, but whereas Reggie makes movies based on fictional stories, Simon makes documentaries. He's real. And Molly needs real. If it all wraps up a little too neatly, then so be it. This isn't a book that wants to leave you with a cliffhanger. It wants to leave you happy and warm and fluffy and all that sort of stuff.

Fortunately, the scenes that matter and that affect us most are able to overpower the scenes that drive us nuts.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Infatuations

The Infatuations
by Javier Marías
Published by Knopf
352 pages
Genre: literature, mystery
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview.
3.5 / 5

Do you people watch? I love to, which perhaps speaks to some sort of voyeuristic trait. But I do. I like to watch people and imagine what their lives are like.

So does María Dolz, who frequents the same cafe for breakfast every morning. She becomes enthralled with a couple she sees there regularly, nicknaming them The Perfect Couple. When the husband is brutally murdered, María feels for his widow, and even a bit for herself. She will miss seeing The Perfect Couple.

One day when the widow appears at the cafe, María approaches her to offer her condolences. She is invited to the widow's home and there meets two men, including the attractive Javier. When she bumps into him later, they begin to see each other. María falls in love, even as she suspects that Javier loves the widow Luisa. She becomes convinced that he is waiting for Luisa's grief to pass and views María as nothing more than a dalliance. She contents herself with this, though, happy to have what time she can with him.

When María happens to overhear a conversation relating to Luisa's husband's death, she begins to wonder if it was as accidental as it appeared.

There is a bit of a mystery here - who killed Luisa's husband and why - but the greater story is that of María. She debases herself in a way by allowing herself to have sex with Javier even though she believes he is in love with Luisa. She behaves with him the way she believes he behaves with Luisa: quietly adoring, devoted, and hopefully indispensable.

María works for a publisher, and as a woman immersed in books, she crafts a lot of dialogue in her head. Pages of this book are devoted to discussions María imagines people having, just as she imagines Javier's love for Luisa. When she overhears the conversation that appears to imply that Luisa's husband was murdered on purpose, is her interpretation correct, or is this something else she imagines? Javier directs her to a Balzac book that he wants her to read, and that begins to color María's perceptions as well. She seems like someone who categorically cannot think for herself. She's too busy thinking like a character in a book.

But what if all of those things she imagines are true? How then would we adjust our opinion of her?

This book unfolds really, REALLY slowly. There are the imagined conversations and imagined confrontations. María lives in her head quite a bit, and since she's the one telling us this story, she forces us to live there too. There were times I wanted to shout, "Hurry up, already!"

The other issue is that María is not all that likable. She thinks so little of herself that she continues her sexual relationship with Javier even though she thinks he loves another and even though he contacts her only when it suits him. She allows him to direct their relationship completely. When she later contemplates marriage, she again diminishes herself, noting that she is in her thirties and opportunities might be running out. María's life is all about settling, whether for what she thinks she deserves or for what she imagines to be best for herself.

You need a lot of patience to read this book, and for the most part, it's worth it. The ending goes out with a íquiet whimper rather than something more vociferous, which, while frustrating, suits Mara and stays true to who she is.

The question becomes whether María grows in the book. Does she? Or does she stay stagnant? If she doesn't, why not? Why does it seem that the events we read about leave her utterly unchanged? It is that fine point that makes me rate this book as average. I can accept the slow pacing and the ambivalent ending. But María needs to change. She needs to be more dynamic.

Winter Chill

Winter Chill
by Joanne Fluke
Published by Kensington
352 pages
Genre: mystery
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
5 / 5

When you read as much smut as I do (and bless you, Tiffany Reisz, Sylvia Day, Jessica Hawkins, and others for the services you provide), you occasionally need a bit of a palate cleanser, which for me comes in the form of mysteries. I love a good mystery, even when they make me feel dumb for not anticipating whodunit (and I'm looking at YOU, Dangerous Girls). Let me just say that this book rattled my chains a whole, whooooole lot.

When Dan takes his young daughter on a routine snow mobile ride, neither he nor his wife Marian anticipate anything other than Dan and Laura returning home, full of raucous stories about the fun they had. So when the police show up in Marian's driveway, she knows something horrific has occurred. Horrific, indeed: Laura is dead and Dan is paralyzed.

Marian and Dan survive their grief in different ways, and while Dan knows that his paralysis is a burden, he nonetheless worries about Marian. She will sit in Laura's room and weep. Marian also gets liquored up at a party and does something stupid, and while Dan is angry with her, he knows that the snow mobile accident renders him somewhat mute when it comes to judgment. He tries to assuage Marian's grief as best he can, but he soon discovers that his efforts are a terrible idea.

Meanwhile, the residents in their small Minnesota town appear besieged: more children start to die, more neighbors. Was that snow mobile accident truly an accident, or is there a serial killer in their midst?

Dan thinks he knows who the killer is, but is he right? Or do he and Marian have to understand that just because they want something to be true does not mean that it actually is?

Let me just tell you that the ending will give you chills. And not just because it occurs in the midst of a Minnesota winter. Chills, people. CHILLS.

Joanne Fluke crafts an excellent mystery. In fact, this is as much a character study as a mystery, which is one of Fluke's strengths as a writer. She lets her story unfold slowly and carefully, and if it feels too slow at the start, perhaps it's because we readers need to understand the numbing grief of Dan and Marian. We get to know their friends and coworkers, and we feel the immeasurable sadness that envelops them as they attempt to resume their lives after Laura's death. As the body count rises, the pacing amps up in intensity, and we feel their terror, especially Dan's when he believes he knows who's behind the deaths.

An excellent mystery.

E for England

E for England
by Elisabeth Rose
Published by Escape - Harlequin Australia
231 pages
Genre: chick lit
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3.5 / 5

Annie's husband left her and their two young children nearly a year ago, leaving behind only a note saying he needed to find himself. He has sent a few postcards, but no money, relegating Annie to moving in with a frisky coworker. She had to give up her plans for an MBA as she struggles to provide for her children.

Yes, life looks a bit challenging for her. The last thing she has any interest in is dating, so of course she meets Hugh, a handsome doctor living in the same apartment building. The two are attracted to each other, but Hugh refuses to have children and Annie refuses to make hers anything less than all of her top ten priorities.

The challenge for these two is to overcome their resistance. Hugh has his reasons for not wanting children, even as we - and Annie - can see that he's mistaken. Annie, meanwhile, convinces herself that dating Hugh would be a huge mistake. She needs to focus on her children, not a man, and besides. He doesn't want kids, and she has two.

Then there is the ex-husband, who isn't quite an ex-husband just yet. What if he were to show back up in their lives? And where on earth is he?

This is a cute romance, but one tinged with sadness and melancholy. Hugh is well acquainted with love and loss, with life and death, both personally and professionally. We understand why he's reluctant to be a father, both because of what he experienced in the past and because he encounters death and blame frequently in his job. He needs an orderly, quiet life, not one disturbed by rambunctious children.

Annie's marriage is also cause for a twinges of sadness. We do learn why her husband left, which makes us feel for her and her children (and even the husband) ever stronger. As much as we want Annie happy, and as much as we think she could be with Hugh, we know that happiness for her will be hard fought. Does she even have time for such a fight?

This story is presented fairly realistically, and the characters are people we relate to, largely because they know, as well as we do, that nothing magically happens in life. Sometimes the pacing feels off, though, and the ending seems a bit too neat considering the messiness that preceded it.

Lovestruck in London

Lovestruck in London
by Rachel Schurig
Published by Amazon Digital
Genre: chick lit, YA
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3 / 5

A common fantasy for young girls (or .. ahem ... slightly older girls) is commoner-girl-meets-rich-and-successful-man. We saw it in Pride and Prejudice when two middle class Bennet sisters married wealthy men. Then there is Kate Middleton, who either did us a favor or ruined us forever when she married Prince William. See? She proved that it can work!!

In this play on the fantasy, we have middle class Lizzie (named after the Darcy marrying Miss Bennet), a Detroit-born middle class daughter of Mexican immigrants who heads to London for a graduate degree in literature. Only a few nights into her nine month-trip pass before she meets Thomas Harper, a co-star in a wildly successful Twilight-type movie franchise. Thomas is taken with Lizzie, in part because she has no idea who he really is. He looks familiar, but she isn't a fan of his popular movies. She comes to him with no preconceived notions of what he's like or what she thinks he's like.

The two begin a courtship, and the nine month gestational period is probably not accidental. Only after the nine months, the love their birthed will either be abandoned (when Lizzie returns to Detroit) or nurtured. Of course, this relationship does not come easily to either of them. Lizzie feels beholden to her parents and five older siblings, and staying in London to date an actor is not on her family's list of Things to Do. For Thomas, acclimating Lizzie into his life requires patience, to say the least.

Will true love conquer all? Will Lizzie and Thomas find a way to stay together?

You probably already know the answer to that, but the book is fun to read anyway. If it seems a little familiar to those of us who read Tina Reber's Love Unscripted and Love Unrehearsed, then so be it. The two do share some similarities. Fortunately, Thomas and Lizzie are entirely likable and relatable. And lucky. Not many of us experience a fast-paced love affair like these two do, and their problems seem almost forced and inconsequential. We get it. Lizzie feels guilty over the London schooling and for not having the same ambitions for herself as her family does. But at the same time, she's a reader. She knows that life is unpredictable and that love is worth pursuing. Thomas is a good guy, but Lizzie occasionally gets frustrating.

What becomes more frustration, though, is a lack of tension. Yes, there is Lizzie's obligation to her family, but it almost feels forced. One of her siblings is so mean and derisive that she appears to be a caricature of an evil stepsister.

The good news is that despite her occasional "what in the world is she thinking?" moments, Lizzie is darn adorable. You become invested in her and her story, and she will make you enjoy this book, even if it is devoid of any mystery as to its outcome.