Tag Archives: Stand Alone

One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline

***A complimentary copy of this read was furnished by St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review***

The only thing true about Chris Brennan was there was no limit to what he’d do to get what he wanted. Right now he needed to become a teacher at Central Valley high where he could be near the town’s scions and their less worthy counterparts deepest secrets. Teenagers and their secret was a virtual cornucopia of information.

Minimum suspense and a slower pace are allotted as the stage is set with introductions, bits of background and the excitement a new, single, handsome teacher that’s eager to coach the baseball team can bring. It picks up as Chris sifts until only Evan Kostis, Raz Sematov and Justin Larkin remain as perfect candidates for his nefarious scheme.

With Mindy Kostis abandoned for her husband’s work, Susan Sematov still reeling from her husband’s death and busy single mother Heather Larkin, Chris easily presents himself as a man willing and able to help their sons on the path to manhood. The outing hints as a study of lonely mothers and their sons and gains momentum as Chris’ perfection bumps against these own family secrets.

For this reader’s taste, the slow burn inherent of a cast this size, the mystery of the antagonist and how to much to share when as well as the amount of red herrings, plot twists, turns and background make it almost impossible for the reader to definitely choose a foe. The ebb and flow of the information means nothing can be discounted to stay ahead in a fairly good thriller with strong, personable characters.
Rating:4stars

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach

dead-letters

After Ava Antipova got an email about her twin sister, Zelda’s accidental death, she rushed from Paris to Ithaca for the first time in two years. Her estranged father, Marlon waited at the airport so they could drive together to the failing family vineyard where Zelda lived and tended their alcoholic mother, Nadine, as she faded into increasing bouts of dementia. It was where they’d been a family and where Zelda died.

Helping her parents cope is trial enough but Ava realizes she doesn’t believe Zelda’s dead. She’s convinced it’s a clever ruse from Zelda’s very fertile imagination. Ava vividly recalled memories of their childhood, increasingly desperate letters Zelda had sent and how almost from the moment, they were switched at birth the sisters were competitive imitations of their parents striving for individuality.

Ava and Zelda seemed as opposite as their names but were more alike than they’d agree and they knew each other well. Zelda overflowed with Marlon’s flamboyancy and Ava leaned toward Nadine’s answer of drinking away the problem. The more she thought about it the more Zelda’s death felt like one of their staged childhood performances plus the delayed funeral kept Ava in place.

Nadine deteriorates while Marlon languishes in his visitor status leaving Ava to care for both of them as well as tend to Zelda and her affairs. When an old friend drops by Zelda’s trailer, Ava’s struck with guilt and thinks Zelda might be dead. Either confirmation Zelda’s alive or cruel jokes arrive in the form of messages from Zelda. Ava, her memories and recriminations of Zelda set out to find answers.

A personal bias prevented this reader from appreciating the flashback trope used. That being said, this flawed family has few redeeming qualities, they’re not likeable but they are compelling. This reader decided the characters obvious European voices were apropos, a layer of the pretentious masks of serene civility presented to the world. Overall, the Antipovas are more identifiable than many will ever admit.
Rating: 4.5stars

Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard

mr-perfect

After working all week in a male dominated environment, Jaine Bright and a few female coworkers used Friday nights to commiserate. The night they discovered Jaine’s inconsiderate neighbor was police, they also created a wish list for a perfect man. By Monday the list and gist of the battle of the sexes was in the irreverent and unsanctioned company newsletter.

Some women laughed, some men didn’t and some people were offended like prudish and proper Leah who couldn’t waste her time condemning the foursome for their loose morals or Corin, whose mother stressed perfection daily from her pores. Jaine and her friends thought the list was funny but were embarrassed someone would find out they created the list when it made TV and internet news.

Playing to the notoriety hoping to make the attention die quickly brings mixed results for the quartet. Among the flowers and brickbats from friends, family, strangers and the media as a whole, lingers a real threat. Though Jaine discovered affection for her serious eye candy policeman neighbor, Sam Donovan, others got tragic brickbats in the form of murder.

Despite the silly premise, multiple possibilities for murderer and murdered, Jaine and Sam’s fast paced romance and a fairly good amount of suspense, this easy to read outing never felt overfull. The first half of the read was all silliness and the tone of the second was distinctly different the halves meshed well and didn’t affect the pacing or ruin this reader’s enjoyment.
Rating: 4.5stars

Death Angel by Linda Howard

death-angel

Andrea Butts was calculating enough to plan ahead and show people what they expected to see and for now that’s Drea Rousseau, pampered, shallow, self-involved, flavor of the month to powerful crime lord, Rafael Salinas. Rafael’s surprised and Drea’s speechless when Rafael’s hired assassin makes an astronomical payment demand that should’ve been refused but wasn’t!

The assassin saw through Drea’s facade and was intrigued. With his demand met, the assassin satisfied himself, his suspicions of Salinas were confirmed and Drea was left with plenty to think about in terms of a new life. As Drea put her plan to leave into motion, she saw a slight shift in Salinas’ actions and Salinas had no clue he’d fallen in love with the deft actress he lived with.

A fluke led Salinas to discover Drea’s treacherous farewell. Livid, Salinas plan to exact revenge through contracting the assassin to find and eliminate Drea unwittingly fanned the moth toward the flame. Though intelligent and determined enough Drea didn’t have the skills to escape and evade the assassin on his level and didn’t foresee issues that allowed him to pick up her trail and catch up to her.

Multi-layered, mostly sympathetic, easy to invest in Drea was likable; maniacal and egotistic Salinas was a hate-able villain and a deadly no named assassin added to the intrigue. This reader decided the assassin gained a name and lost a bit of edge and the romance, paranormal and suspense pieces worked but didn’t interlock or transition smoothly in this taut, interesting and enjoyable outing.
Rating: 4.5stars

Mister O by Lauren Blakely

mister-o

Nick Hammer’s raunchy cartoon Mister Orgasm was turned into an animated show and gave Nick more fame than he knows what to do with but that hasn’t stopped him from lusting after magician Harper Holiday, his best friend, Spencer’s sister. He’s pleasantly surprised when she visits with him at a book-signing after picking up a gift for a friend.

Theoretically Nick’s helping Harper get over her awkwardness with the opposite sex when there’s any attraction from either side. What he’s really doing is clearing the field for himself between fantasies. As secondary characters in Big Rock both leads were fine and I’m not sure they aren’t fine here but this reader had little patience for one dimensional Nick and clueless Harper.
Rating: 3stars

The Big Rock by Lauren Blakely

big-rock

Spencer Holiday, noted NY billionaire playboy, man about town and heir to international jewelers, Katherine’s, knows his worth. And he’s not ashamed or embarrassed to share is opinion with anyone that has ears. Unlike most of the men on the planet, arrogant, lovable Spence has discovered the secret of women. What they want, think and will do.

Certain his lifestyle and reputation will ruin the sale of Katherine’s that his father has painstakingly put together, Spence blurts he’s engaged to his business partner and best friend Charlotte to put himself in a good light. Now to convince Charlotte! Though Charlotte had to be convinced, she’s on board as things spiral and naturally the pretense becomes real. But who will be the first to say it? Aloud.

This reader wasn’t a fan of Spencer’s first person self evaluation, arrogance and narration but quickly got past it and enjoyed these comical situations and fun characters. Their smexy times did support Spence’s vanity, however this is more a sexy read with graphic detail than full on erotica. While the story was quite predictable, it was all about the journey and the journey was fun.
Rating: 4stars

Shifter Planet by D.B. Reynolds

shifter planet

Landing team specialist, Lt. Amanda Sumner, is excited to spend time on land when she’s summoned to shuttle to the planet surface in response to a centuries old earth emergency beacon. Rhodry de Mendoza, head of the most powerful clan on the planet Harp is summoned to unite with the planet leader to convince the Earthers to leave their planet and their secrets without exploration.

Amanda volunteers to stay on planet to help with upgrades and improvements and follows most of the rules. She can’t seem to stay out of the forest unescorted. On one of her forays, she discovers many of the Harpers are shifters and decides she has enough in common with them to become one of their vaulted guild members.

But Amanda is an Earther and female, many of the shifter males she’s encountered don’t want her to try for at least one of those reasons but are unable to stop her trial. Therefore they make it as much a trial as possible by being treacherous. Meanwhile, Rhodry’s position is being challenged and he also becomes a victim of treachery.

This outing held as a good foundation for the series but the tone wasn’t to my liking and the preparation for the trials a bit more detailed than necessary for my taste, which did affect the pacing. That quibble aside, the concept worked well for me as did the leads. Amanda was resourceful and not without skills. Rhodry could’ve easily been oppressive but his alpha had a touching and endearing vulnerability.
Rating: 4.25stars

Blindsided by Tes Hilaire

blindsided

Government field agent Teigan Evans knows something more than the usual government secrets and power plays is afoot when he’s called to the Defense Minister’s office for his next assignment. A secret formula used by the government to create super-soldiers is no longer available and was also used to create soldiers for various governments. Those soldiers are now being hunted and killed.

Teigan’s assignment is to find out who and why. The assignment becomes personal when Teigan learns one of the engineered soldiers is a half brother he knew nothing about. For her own reasons, highly intelligent and famously celebrated tragic heiress Aria Idyllis used expert computer skills and determination to delve deeply into information the governments have been reluctant to share.

Teigan and his brother Garrett work toward the same answers Aria has reached. As Aria shares information that could save Gabriel’s life the brothers realize her theory and prime suspect are solid. With a handful of new friends at his back and hidden enemies in dark corners Teigan cements his role in the agency as well as with Aria and Gabriel.

Complicating the emotional soup, Teigan and Aria fall hard for each other in a sweet but overlong she/he likes me-no she/he doesn’t gambit. Laying her findings out for Teigan and Garrett puts Aria on an unavoidable collision course with danger and jeopardy. With the deadline rapidly approaching and no viable plan on the horizon they all go for broke.

While this stand-alone sci-fi outing started a bit dense, a satisfying hook, likable characters, great pacing, chemistry and action took over quickly. The weak point (if there is one) is the story ‘felt’ light. Though everything tied off neatly this reader would like a duology to see a character or two with a different ending
Rating:4.25stars

Claiming the Courtesan by Anna Campbell

claiming the courtesan

Notoriously beautiful London demimondaine Soraya hasn’t lost an ounce of her desirability when the end of her career is upon her and she decides it’s time to leave her latest protector, Justin Kinmurrie, Duke of Kylemore, Justin Kinmurrie. Having taken up the profession at the tender age of 15, to care for her younger siblings Soraya is ready to return to her life as Verity Ashton.

Justin patiently waited six years for his turn with Soraya and easily turns a deaf ear to his mother’s pleas for him to marry and pass on the title. Instead of their year together breeding the mundane and familiar it has fanned the flames of desire anew. Justin unusually visits his mistress’ home twice in one day for the sole purpose of asking her to become his bride.

Oh, no we’ll have none of that Verity thinks and proceeds with her plan to make a new life in a new place. Determined not to be a laughingstock, Justin relentlessly pursues Verity to her carefully created world. Justin can’t be dissuaded from his obsession of having Verity in his arms, in his bed and as his Duchess and reaches for kidnapping and blackmail to win his lady’s love.

While the read wasn’t badly written for my taste it was overlong and before I liked Justin as a character, he cast himself against Verity too strongly to redeem himself. That possibly was also a factor that kept their romance from winning this reader, Justin’s pride and ego were large enough to be an independent character.
Rating: 3.5stars

Hearts Under Siege by Natalie J. Damschroder

Hearts under siege

Brady Fitzpatrick and Molly Byrnes bickered, the way best friends do. This time they were bickering about true love when he spied an off-limits her, Jessica couldn’t be on his list of must haves. She was with his brother, Chris, a definite no poaching zone. Brady couldn’t see Molly loving him, not when he kne there was no chance of a life with Jessica, not when he changed all his familiar relationships forever.

Jessica and Chris loved each other even after they married, the elder Fitzpatrick’s loved their family though they didn’t understand why Brady retreated and withdrew from the close-knit family. Unthinkably, Chris suddenly dies. Though they’d grown apart, Molly continued to love Brady as she chased her goals and built a life, she couldn’t let him find out alone, from a stranger or over the telephone.

Unknown to their family and each other, both Brady and Chris were field agents for SIEGE, a black ops intelligence agency focused on combating homegrown terrorism. Meanwhile, Molly secretly joined SIEGE as an asset. Finding Brady, giving him the news and escorting him to Connecticut wasn’t a cakewalk.

While it mended Molly’s heart to fall back into ‘them’, it also broke it that what Blake wanted most of all was to be at Jessica’s side. Molly draws attention from a co-worker just as things become more suspicious closer to home. The fully fleshed characters did well in this fast paced romantic suspense from a new to me author. The action, romance, tension and plotting combined for a fun read.

Rating: 4.5stars

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