Tag: Jennifer’s Reviews

Throwback Thursday Guest Review: Shadow Lover by Anne Stuart

Posted August 6, 2020 by Jen in Reviews | 0 Comments

Throwback Thursday Guest Review: Shadow Lover by Anne StuartReviewer: Jen
Shadow Lover by Anne Stuart
Publisher: Self-Published
Publication Date: March 1, 1999
Point-of-View: Alternating Third
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Pages: 320
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A woman holds vigil over her wealthy, dying step-mother. Tensions -- already high with greedy relatives appearing to claim their inheritances -- are further strained by the appearance of the dying woman's long-lost son, who ran away 18 years ago. His mother greets him with joy, the relatives with resentment, but the woman alone knows he is hiding something...that he is not who he says he is. As she uncovers secrets and deceptions of the past and present, she knows only one thing in her heart -- that the irresistible appeal and seductive power of this mysterious stranger may be more dangerous than she thinks!

This review was originally posted on January 30, 2014.

I’ll just get this out of the way now–this book is not going to work for everyone! It has some flaws, yet I found myself really enjoying it. It’s very gothic, which is something I love in romances. I get to enjoy the tension of “who is a good guy/gal here” while still knowing that the romance will be happy in the end. Honestly, when I started the book I was worried I had accidentally stumbled into a non-romance gothic. I genuinely wasn’t sure there was going to be a happy ending. Rest assured readers, there will be a happy resolution, even if the path to get there isn’t quite what you expected!

Carolyn has returned to the home of her wealthy foster mother Sally McDowell to care for her while she’s dying of lung cancer. The rest of the wealthy, disgusting family also takes up residence during the vigil. While Sally shows her a certain amount of affection, the rest of the family treats Carolyn as a poor relation, and even at the start of the book Carolyn fully intends to cut them all out of her life once Sally dies. The family is thrown into turmoil, however, when Alexander McDowell, Sally’s long lost son, shows up. The problem is, Carolyn knows it can’t be Alex because she alone saw Alex die over a decade ago. So who exactly is this man claiming to be Alex? Is he a con man trying to get money, or is there something more going on?

Carolyn and Alex have some interesting chemistry. Carolyn had been infatuated with the teenage Alex, even though he was an obnoxious, spoiled juvenile delinquent who acted horrible towards her. When he ran away at age 17 (and when she saw him get killed), she was devastated. Clearly there is a part of her that desperately wants to believe this man is the real Alex, and whoever he is she is still very attracted to him. Alex too is drawn to Carolyn against his better judgment. It created some of the great tension in the book, and it made their sexytimes a little more steamy than I expected. Alex, however, is kind of a dick, at least for much of the book. He’s smug, cocky, and selfish. These qualities definitely soften up later in the book, which made me question just how smug and cocky he really is, and what is all an act. Who is the real “Alex”? Part of what I enjoyed about this book was the complexities and mysteries of the characters! Some characters turn out to be much worse than they at first appeared, and others turn out better. I love this kind of psychological creepiness, rather than the supernatural creepiness gothic novels sometimes have.

But there are some things not to like here, too. As I said, Alex can be kind of off-putting and domineering, and Carolyn can be kind of a wet blanket. The book is a bit dated, which isn’t surprising given that this is a reissue. (The original was published in the late 90’s.) The book age wasn’t totally obvious, though–for the most part, nothing in the story jumps out as being out-of-touch, just not quite modern. There are some things that don’t make tons of sense, though. One of the biggest questions is why Carolyn would bend herself over backwards for this family in the first place. She is basically the daughter of a servant that Sally took in when she was 2 years old. Everyone in the book agrees that Carolyn was never treated like a real member of the family, always like a poor relation to be tolerated. Sally never adopts her and it’s very clear that she’s never really considered “family.” Carolyn had moved out and gotten her own life, but she quits her job, gives up her apartment, and moves back in to care for Sally even though she admits Sally’s love is cool and conditional. While the other relatives seem to be most concerned with Sally’s illness because of how it will affect their inheritance, Carolyn is only getting some sort of small stipend, not a huge chunk of money. The explanation given is that Carolyn never had a real family and therefore feels loyalty to the only one she has, even if it’s a lousy one, but that’s not a great reason in my mind, especially when the family is insanely rich and could afford the best care. There really was no logical reason for Carolyn to be there, but you have to just accept it and move on!

There were other problematic points too, though it’s difficult to go into detail without spoilers. There are a lot of twists and turns in this book, and I don’t want to ruin them for anyone. I can say, though, that I still greatly enjoyed the book. The slightly unbelievable points didn’t overpower the mystery and the great atmosphere. If you enjoy gothic romances and are willing to overlook some mild unbelievability, I think this book would be a hit for you.

Grade: 3.75 out of 5.


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Guest Review: All I Want by Jill Shalvis

Posted November 2, 2015 by Jen in Reviews | 0 Comments

Guest Review: All I Want by Jill ShalvisReviewer: Jen
All I Want by Jill Shalvis
Series: Animal Magnetism #7
Also in this series: Rescue My Heart (Animal Magnetism #3), Rumor Has It, Then Came You, Still the One, All I Want, All I Want
Publisher: Berkley, Penguin
Publication Date: October 6, 2015
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Series Rating: four-stars

Pilot-for-hire Zoe Stone is happy to call Sunshine, Idaho, her home base. But her quiet life is thrown for a loop when her brother’s friend Parker comes to stay with her for a week. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife special agent is a handsome flirt with a gift for getting under her skin. And the situation only escalates when Parker hires her to fly him around the area while he collects evidence on a suspected smuggler.

Now she has to live and work with the guy. But when they’re in the air, she sees another side of him. He’s driven, focused, and sharp. And while he enjoys giving commentary on her blind dates, she quickly realizes with a shock that it’s Parker who gets her engines going…

Have I ever mentioned how much I luuuuuurrrrvvvee book 2 in this series, Animal Attraction? Because I do love it, so very, very much. Dell and Jade are up there in my top 10 favorite romance couples ever. I love Dell’s smart aleck attitude that covers a giant soft heart, and I love Jade’s quiet strength. I love how they get close and build trust and end up laying it all bare for the other, and I love that they are both made better with the support of the other. (If you haven’t read that book, go read it right now. Go! I’ll wait.) The problem is I tend to measure the other books in the series against that one, and the later books especially haven’t quite been measuring up. Happily, I really enjoyed All I Want and felt it hit many of the same notes for me that Animal Attraction did.

This time we finally get to learn more about Wyatt (book 5) and Darcy’s (book 6) sister Zoe. She’s a commercial pilot flying out of the small airport in Sunshine, and she’s always been the caretaker for her younger brother and sister thanks to her not-very-parental parents. Now that her siblings have moved out, she’s facing up to the fact that she’s lonely and has no life, and she’s trying to get back into the social scene. Parker is Wyatt’s old college friend, and he needs a place to stay in Sunshine for a few weeks. Zoe could use some extra income, so she agrees to let him rent a room in her house. Though he doesn’t tell Zoe immediately, Parker is in town to unofficially investigate a man who deals in illegal animal products, and Parker wants to stop the man’s activities as well as avenge the death of his former partner. He and Zoe immediately have some sizzling chemistry, and eventually they get involved despite Parker being clear that he’s leaving town soon. When Zoe inadvertently gets involved in Parker’s mission, he has to make some tough choices.

Zoe is an awesome, smart, self-sufficient heroine. She’s never had anyone to take care of her before, and when Parker starts to do little things to help her out she doesn’t even know how to handle it. It turns out she’s even stronger than anyone realizes, though, when she confesses to Parker how an ex majorly betrayed her trust. Suddenly her prickliness and drive to do everything herself make even more sense, and I loved the way she could stay strong but still admit her vulnerabilities to Parker. I also love that Parker doesn’t take anything away from Zoe by offering her support. He knows she’s capable and strong, and he doesn’t see her as weak just because she needs help sometimes. Zoe brings out a new side in Parker, too, because while he’s always taken care of his sister, he always saw himself as an island and one who doesn’t get attached. Zoe makes him want to connect with someone else and gets him considering that maybe there’s more to life than work. In other words, being together makes each one a better person, which is something I loved about Dell and Jade, too.

One reason I love Shalvis’s books is she rarely relies on a Big Misunderstanding, a trope that gets on my nerves. It’s true that Parker doesn’t tell Zoe the entire truth about why he’s in Idaho at first, but that was completely understandable given that he was investigating unofficially and against his boss’s directives. But Shalvis doesn’t let that lie go on, thankfully. When Zoe confesses her ex’s betrayal and how he misrepresented himself, Parker immediately (and I mean literally as soon as she finishes her story) tells her the truth about his job and gets it all out there on the table. He didn’t want to make Zoe feel betrayed or make her ever question his intentions. I loved that, and I loved him for it.

It did bother me that Parker did so much waffling at the end. There is a sort of tense, romantic suspense-y scene near the end, where Parker is forced to make a choice. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say he makes the right choice, which is a pretty big sign to everyone but him where his true path lies. So I couldn’t understand why he continued to act like he wasn’t the right guy for Zoe or why he couldn’t acknowledge what he wanted. Zoe is clear about what she wants, which is yet another thing I loved about her, but Parker kind of jerks her around for a while before he makes up his mind. I didn’t love that, but thankfully he pulls his head out of his butt eventually and makes things right.

Add in the wacky, funny banter and smoking hot sexual tension Shalvis is so good at, and this book was a real winner for me.

Grade: 4.25 out of 5


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Guest Review: Shadow Fall by Laura Griffin

Posted October 15, 2015 by Jen in Reviews | 1 Comment

Guest Review: Shadow Fall by Laura GriffinReviewer: Jen
Shadow FallSeries: Tracers #9
Also in this series: Deep Dark, Stone Cold Heart

Publication Date: September 22, 2015
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Series Rating: four-stars


Special Agent Tara Rushing arrives at a grisly murder scene and quickly discovers she’s got a serial killer on her hands. The killer is meticulous, making sure to wipe up even the smallest traces of evidence…but the Delphi Center experts are on the case.

The local sheriff has a suspect all picked out—ex-Marine and current security expert Liam Wolfe. Despite all her digging, Tara knows very little about Liam when she shows up at his sprawling Texas compound, which serves as headquarters for Wolfe Securities, and she’s surprised by her intense physical reaction to him.

As she and Liam grow closer, Tara finds herself depending on his skills and expertise to help her track a killer. But when another body turns up, Tara must decide if she can trust the man who’s quickly stealing her heart.

Jen’s review of Shadow Fall (Tracers #9) by Laura Griffin.

FBI Agent Tara Rushing is called in when a grisly murder is discovered, but her job isn’t easy. Local law enforcement are blocking her path, and potential suspect and world-renowned security expert Liam Wolfe is not making things any easier. When it becomes clear that this isn’t an isolated incident but a serial killer, the investigation gets more complicated, and more dangerous. Tara’s team, together with help from Liam and his employees, have to try to find the killer before they strike again.

I had some issues with the last Tracers book in the way the hero took away from the heroine’s agency and authority. Thankfully, this book didn’t suffer from the same problems! Tara is a tough, determined lady. She’s on the FBI’s SWAT team and can more than hold her own in any kind of fight. Even better, she’s smart and clever, both in her investigating and in her interpersonal skills. She gets tapped to head up the investigation team despite being less experienced than some others, and she absolutely makes the most of it. While Liam is incredibly clever in his own right and does get things past her sometimes, she can keep up with him, and I liked that. I also liked seeing her softer side. She truly cares about the victims and their families, and while she puts on a tough front to earn respect, she has a vulnerable side underneath. I enjoyed learning about her.

I didn’t make the connection until it was spelled out, but Liam is the brother of Mark Wolfe, the hero from book 5. I liked Mark, but I really liked Liam. My favorite thing? He thinks Tara’s sexy because she’s tough. When he finds out she’s in SWAT and that she’s very smart, he gets a major case of attraction, and he decides then and there he’s going to pursue her. Even greater, though, is that he wants to get to know her, not just get in her pants. Gotta love a hero who goes after what he wants! Like Derek in the last book, Liam is not particularly good at rule following, but unlike Derek, Liam respects Tara’s role in the investigation and, for the most part, doesn’t try to get in the way of what she has to do. At one point, Tara has to trample on their burgeoning trust a little (in a completely legal, justified way) during her investigation. I love that she does what she knows she needs to do, even though she’s aware Liam won’t be happy. I also love that while Liam’s upset, he doesn’t stay butthurt eternally like so many heroes would. He ends up accepting that Tara’s just doing her job. Don’t get me wrong; Liam is still a bossy alpha who does try to control things and doesn’t like authority, but he doesn’t steamroll and he doesn’t denigrate what Tara has to do. Instead, he does what he does to protect the people he cares about, including Tara.

The suspense plot is also well done. Griffin doesn’t shy away from violence against women, which isn’t my favorite, but her stories are exciting and gripping. We get to spend some time with the Delphi Center characters too, my favorite part of the whole series. I love hearing about the science behind the investigations. There are some good twists and turns in the story, and even though it’s not impossible to figure out, it still kept me tense and desperate to keep reading!

We get to see a lot of Tara’s emotional turmoil, but I wish Liam would have gotten to see more of it, too. Tara keeps a lot of her feelings bottled inside. She clearly has some pretty big trauma, but there’s not much open discussion of it. (Similarly, Liam doesn’t give Tara a lot of personal revelations, though that feels less noteworthy because the book more heavily focuses on Tara.) Of course, the timeline of the story is quick and they’re racing against time, so I suppose too many emotional discussions wouldn’t be logical, but I still wanted a little more of something. The short timeline also makes the ending a bit too quick for my liking. I felt like Tara and Liam were off to a spectacular HFN that would later turn into HEA, but only with some more getting-to-know you time.

This book is one of my favorites in the series, though, and well worth reading!

Grade: 4.5 out of 5

This book is available from Pocket Books. You can purchase it here or here in e-format. This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


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Guest Review: As You Wish by Cary Elwes

Posted October 8, 2015 by Jen in Reviews | 0 Comments

Guest Review: As You Wish by Cary ElwesReviewer: Jen
As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride
Publication Date: October 14, 2014
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From actor Cary Elwes, who played the iconic role of Westley in The Princess Bride, comes a first-person account and behind-the-scenes look at the making of the cult classic film filled with never-before-told stories, exclusive photographs, and interviews with costars Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Mandy Patinkin, as well as author and screenwriter William Goldman, producer Norman Lear, and director Rob Reiner.

The Princess Bride has been a family favorite for close to three decades. Ranked by the American Film Institute as one of the top 100 Greatest Love Stories and by the Writers Guild of America as one of the top 100 screenplays of all time, The Princess Bride will continue to resonate with audiences for years to come.

Cary Elwes was inspired to share his memories and give fans an unprecedented look into the creation of the film while participating in the twenty-fifth anniversary cast reunion. In As You Wish he has created an enchanting experience; in addition to never-before seen photos and interviews with his fellow cast mates, there are plenty of set secrets, backstage stories, and answers to lingering questions about off-screen romances that have plagued fans for years!

With a foreword by Rob Reiner and a limited edition original poster by acclaimed artist Shepard Fairey, As You Wish is a must-have for all fans of this beloved film.

Jen’s review of As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

If you are not a Princess Bride fan or if you haven’t seen it (horror-filled gasp!), move right along. For fans of the movie, though, this book is a fun, sweet diversion.

I would not call myself a massive fan. I don’t know every single line, just the biggies. My viewings probably number under a dozen, not multiple dozen as die-hard fans can brag. But it’s my favorite fairy tale movie, and I still enjoy it every time I see it. I love the sweet, adorable love story between Westley and Buttercup and the way it gently but lovingly satirizes the genre. It shows respect but also a sly sense of humor. This book captures all of that positive vibe and gives a bit of a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie.

I actually listened to the audiobook version, which I highly recommend because it’s narrated by the author, Cary Elwes. Even better, it includes passages read by other cast members and those involved in making the film. It is really fun to hear their reminiscences in their own voices. And anyone who has ever heard Cary Elwes’ voice knows it is just plain lovely. I didn’t mind spending time with him in my car, I can tell you! Obviously you can never really know celebrities, but he came off in this book as immensely kind, classy, hard working, and just plain adorable. I think what makes the book work is Elwes’ incredible humility. He is justifiably proud of his accomplishments, but he is open and honest about the insecurities he had and the mistakes he made. He is a trustworthy and likeable narrator, and I can’t see any of the other actors from the film pulling off this memoir quite so pleasantly.

Elwes is so charming, though, that the book lacks some tension, especially in the first half. There are a few sections where there is a little conflict or some “can we overcome this challenge” concerns, but overall Elwes is relentlessly positive and has such faith in his colleagues that we never doubt the outcome. He has nothing but glowing things to say about his co-stars (and they about him, for that matter). He doesn’t gossip or engage in finger pointing. Mostly he just praises everyone involved in the film in a way that appears, at least, very genuine. He reserves his criticisms for himself, especially when relating the story of how he foolishly injured himself off set and jeopardized the movie. Again, he isn’t afraid to admit his stupidity, which is refreshingly forthright for a Hollywood star. Of course, just as in a romance, we all know this story has a happy ending, so the tension never goes very far. 

If you’re looking for a gossipy, tell-all book about the movie, this won’t be it, but I enjoyed hearing more about one of my favorite films. It seems like these people really had a magical time making the movie, and for me it’s only made watching the Princess Bride even more enjoyable.

Grade: 4 out of 5

This book is available from Touchstone. You can purchase it here or here in e-format. 


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Guest Review: The Rebel by Adrienne Giordano

Posted October 8, 2015 by Jen in Reviews | 0 Comments

Guest Review: The Rebel by Adrienne GiordanoReviewer: Jen
The Rebel by Adrienne Giordano
Publisher: Harlequin Intrigue
Publication Date: September 15, 2015
Genres: Romantic Suspense
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A brilliant civil lawyer, David Hennings has always been the outsider—at odds with his wealthy family, shunning relationships, defying convention as a sexy leather-jacketed biker. Which is why sculptor Amanda LeBlanc agrees to his request to reconstruct a skull from a cold case murder. The instant heat between them is scorching.

But once Amanda takes the job and gets too close to the rebellious attorney, her carefully balanced life is upended by a series of methodical attacks. Someone doesn’t want her to finish the job. Now David will risk everything not to lose the woman he unknowingly put in jeopardy.

As the book opens, an off duty detective finds a skull in an empty lot in Chicago, obviously the victim of a murder. Years later, he’s still bothered by the unsolved crime and approaches artist Amanda LeBlanc to see if she can do a reconstruction to aid in identifying the woman. Amanda wants nothing to do with it, but the conversation is overheard by Pamela Hennings, wife of a famous lawyer-turned-investigator. Mrs. Hennings decides that this cold case needs solving, so she asks her son David to help convince Amanda to do the reconstruction. He manages to convince her to try a reconstruction, and he is pleasantly surprised by their mutual attraction. When disturbing things start happening to Amanda, she and David have to also investigate why someone might be causing trouble for her.

My favorite part of the book was David and Amanda’s relationship. I appreciated that they were open and honest with each other. Amanda lets David know what she needs to self soothe, and she stands up to David when she needs to. David in particular isn’t shy about letting Amanda know he’s interested. He admits he feels something new and exciting for her, and I like that just he wants to explore it instead of immediately tossing around words like “forever” like so many do in romances. While the two have an immediate attraction, for the most part they get to know each other before they really act on it. The story still takes place in a matter of days, but it doesn’t feel too rushed in the timeline of the plot. Their dialogue was snappy and fun. I’m always a sucker for a book set in Chicago, too, though I did wish the author made a little more use of the setting.

In contrast to their great moments of honesty, at other times David and Amanda both read as immature. Amanda is almost compulsively averse to emotional upheaval, even the good kind. She obviously has some unexplored angst due to her childhood. David has tons of issues with his family, and that’s where I felt like he seemed particularly immature. It’s not that I didn’t think the conflicts with his family were believable, but the way he handles them made him seem more like a young man than a grown man, which was unappealing. For instance, at one point he has a fight with his sister and gets mad at Amanda because she didn’t take his side. He actually says she needs to be on “Team David” at all times. I rolled my eyes there. I just didn’t enjoy that petty, immature side of him, and it didn’t mesh with his character elsewhere. I also really disliked his sister Penny. Penny is the heroine from an earlier related book, The Defender. I suspect she comes across very differently in her own book, but here she was unpleasantly sharp and mean. David was no saint, but I couldn’t help feeling like he was making much more of an effort to get along than Penny was. I certainly don’t feel inclined to read about her perspective in her own book. The mystery in this book was also just a touch flat. I liked the premise, but I felt like the villain came out of left field, and the whole thing relied on a few too many coincidences for my liking. It had good bones, but maybe needed a bit more fleshing out to feel realistic.

Overall, this book was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I felt like there were some missteps, but I still enjoyed myself.

Grade: 3.5 out of 4

This book is available from Harlequin Intrigue. You can purchase it here or here in e-format. This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


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