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Archive for 'book reviews'

Friday, June 3rd, 2016
Book Reviews: The Good and the Not So Good

Both of these books came from Netgalley.

First, the good. I’ve read some Janet Evanovich before, but I’m not a regular reader. I have enjoyed her stuff, though, and I thought Curious Minds, by Evanovich and Phoef Sutton, sounded fun. This is the back cover copy:

Emerson Knight is introverted, eccentric, and has little to no sense of social etiquette. Good thing he’s also brilliant, rich, and (some people might say) handsome, or he’d probably be homeless. Riley Moon has just graduated from Harvard Business and Harvard Law. Her aggressive Texas spitfire attitude has helped her land her dream job as a junior analyst with mega-bank Blane-Grunwald. At least Riley Moon thought it was her dream job, until she is given her first assignment: babysitting Emerson Knight.

What starts off as an inquiry about missing bank funds in the Knight account leads to inquiries about a missing man, missing gold, and a life-and-death race across the country. Through the streets of Washington, D.C., and down into the underground vault of the Federal Reserve in New York City, an evil plan is exposed. A plan so sinister that only a megalomaniac could think it up, and only the unlikely duo of the irrepressibly charming Emerson Knight and the tenacious Riley Moon can stop it.

Emerson Knight is a kick. He reminds me a little of the TV version of Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock, except much more endearing. He’s rich and totally eccentric and so is his family and house. Emerson is determined to actually see the gold he’s invested his money in. He doesn’t really have a reason, he just wants it. But Riley is sent to convince him otherwise. Soon they discover her boss and family are carrying out a plot to take over the world.

Now, this book should have been ridiculous. The plot–well, come on. Take over the world? But it works. Mostly because Evonavich and Sutton don’t take themselves or the story too seriously. There’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek. The story is a bit silly and fun and hugely entertaining. Puts me a little bit in mind of the silliness of Psyche or Leverage. I really enjoyed Riley and Emerson, and I found the bad guys truly bad. I also enjoyed the way the plot played out. In the end, it all made sense, even though it was utterly fantastic. I recommend it.

Available on August 16th.

Second is not quite so good. I enjoy Pamela Claire’s I-Team books. They are steamy romance thrillers and quite fun. Barely Breathing is a new romance in a new setting–Colorado with Search and Rescue instead of SEAL types. Here’s the back of the book blurb:

Lexi Jewell left Scarlet Springs twelve years ago, vowing never to return to the small Colorado mountain town where she grew up. Now, here she is—over thirty, out of a job and with little choice but to move back in with her eccentric father. Lexi knows it’s just a matter of time before she runs into Austin Taylor, her first boyfriend and her first heartbreak. She’s determined to show him she’s over him—until he steps out of a pickup truck and back into her life, looking sexy as hell in his mountain ranger uniform.

As far as Austin is concerned, Lexi can turn her snazzy little convertible around and drive back to Chicago. After all, she ripped his teenage heart to pieces and turned her back on the town he loves. But from the moment he sees her again, he can’t get her out of his mind. Even her smile messes with his head.

When an evening of conversation turns into something else, Lexi and Austin agree to be friends—with benefits. But as Lexi starts making plans to return to the big city, Austin realizes he’ll lose her a second time unless he can show her that what she’s searching for has been right here all along.

What works really well is the romance. Totally believable–the backstory, the current story, the friendships that surround the two lovers, and the progression of their love story. Lexi’s relationship with her father and step-mother also works really well. It’s difficult and painful and has no easy solution. So why don’t I like this better? I’ll tell you. It’s the sex. Don’t get me wrong, I like steamy romance. I like sex in books. But this book threw me. I know Claire was trying to capture the ‘modern male’ and the raunchy language, which I also don’t mind. But in my sex scenes, I really don’t want to read about pussies (the vagina variety) or plush lips or plump lips (of the kissing variety). Or saliva. It’s so . . . not romantic, I guess. I also really hate it when characters talk about their lovers as a good fuck. Or say something to the effect of, I’m going to fuck her later. It makes the romance tawdry and it feels like hooking-up, rather than not. At some point, they call each other fuck-buddies. Again, makes sense with the friends with benefits thing, but it just throws me out of the story.

What Claire does do well is wrap the raunchy elements up with romantic descriptions of the emotions and physical feelings, which redeems those scenes a bit for me.

Anyhow, much of the story I enjoyed, but there were a lot of sex scenes, a lot of pussy and plush and plump and possible some perky, and then the fucking. If you don’t mind any of that, then this is an excellent book. If you do, well, skip those scenes?

Available now.

Monday, April 18th, 2016
Book review: Black Irish by Stephan Talty

Black Irish by Stephan Talty. I saw this book on some website or other and it looked good, so I bought it. It’s a really excellent thriller.black irish The basic premise is that Abbie Kearney, a police detective in Buffalo, NY, is looking for a serial killer. A nasty one (I love disturbed killers in books). The only trouble is, nobody in town wants to talk to her. The close-mouthed Irish community called the County doesn’t trust her, even though her father is a famous local Irish cop. As the number of killings ratchet up, she gets uncovers old secrets that more than one person thinks worth killing for.

First I want to talk about the mystery and portrayal of Abbie. Both are done really well. I love the twistiness at the end. There were several twists and all of them had well-laid foundation but were still surprises for the most part. The portrayal of characters was realistic and compelling. And there’s a lot of tension, a lot of history underneath everything that drives the various characters. Everybody has been hardened by economic collapse, by loss, by crushed hopes, by feeling of being trapped.

Buffalo has been decimated economically be the desertion of the big steel companies as well as general economic bust. There are few jobs and people are scraping by. Talty pains a poetic and compelling picture of this world, of its people, and of the atmosphere. There’s a richness to the prose, even as there’s a spareness to the writing.

I really enjoyed this book. The mystery was tangled and the world and development is dense and complex. It’s a terrific read.

Friday, February 26th, 2016
Book Review Roundup

I’m way behind on my Netgalley reviewing. So I’m going to jump in with some long and some shorts. All these books came off Netgalley.

I’ll start with the book I finished most recently, called A Jury of One by Charlie Cochrane.  This is a British police procedural combined with romantic elements as it follows the developing relationship between the detective, Robin and his lover, Adam. They met in the previous book in this series and at this point, they are newly living together.

I really enjoyed this book. It feels very realistic and the mystery and love story elements were both well written. The mystery wasn’t easy to see through, which I like, and there were a lot of possible ways for the investigations to go. There are several crimes that overlap and end up weaving together nicely. The romance between the two men suffers from the problems of new relationships, the uncertainties of each man, a certain amount of jealousy. I thought it was well done.

The only drawback for me, and it wasn’t entirely a drawback, was the extensive use of British slang. Police are known as rozzers, bad guys are scrotes, voicemail is answerphone. A lot of these were easy to figure out in context. Where I stumbled was when I couldn’t sort out the meaning. I thought these words gave a lot of reality  to the world, I just wish there weren’t quite so many. Or a glossary. I like a good glossary. So I’d recommend this one. It comes out March 21st.

 

Another book I finished recently was a romance called Catching Summer by L.P. Dover. It’s contemporary about a woman, Summer, who two years ago witnessed her husband’s murder. She’s now come out of her grief with the help of counseling. A former nurse, she helps run a restaurant with her sister and former brother-in-law. A lot of football players from the local NFL team frequent the restaurant and one, Evan Townsend, has fallen for Summer. He’s not made any moves on her because of her past trauma. So that’s the set up. love the witch

I didn’t find this book that successful. I liked Evan and Summer and most of the time I liked their interactions, particularly because they didn’t get stupid for ridiculous reasons. That was a huge plus. What did bother me was the constant use of ‘fuck’ to describe their sexual activities. Not romantic, at least to me. Then there was the schtick where Summer goes back for ‘certification’ to keep her nursing license. She works two weeks with the team doing medical things including relearning CPR and it just seemed completely ridiculous that this would keep her nursing license current. Another thing that bothered me was the beginning which started 2 years previously and then leaped forward. I didn’t find it all that useful and it was really more a distraction.

In the end, while I did want to finish, I kept getting put off and out of the story and it didn’t work as well as I hoped it would for me.

The next book is Love the Witch, Hate the Craft by Nora Lee. This is the first of a series. It’s got a little bit of the feel of a cozy mystery, with magic. The heart of the story is really about a Rowan who’s come home to her town that she swore never to return to, in order to help save the Elder Tree, which is dying. Should it die, so will the town. Stir in the fact that she’s just broken up with her boyfriend and a local warlock has decided he wants to marry her in order to become the head of the coven, and also the fact that her friend’s kid has uncontrollable magic. Rowan is going to be busy.

In general, I liked the story. Rowan is supposed to be taking over the coven at some point because of her family, and she has to want to come back. She gets to see the town and her friends and family with new eyes and of course, everything turns out all right. This is a fairly fluffy book, as you can tell from the cover. It’s a quick read and pretty fun.

 

fairytaleThis next one is Winter’s Fairytale by Maxine Morrey. This one was fluffy like the last book, and also a romance. Not a great deal of depth, though I enjoyed the interactions between Izzy and Rob. She was jilted by his best friend, and Rob’s been in love with her for long before that. They were friends also, but she’s been unwilling to see him since the wedding, since he got to deliver the bad news and she punched him. She’s embarrassed.

The story begins with a snowstorm that keeps her from getting home to her shady sort of flat where a guy lives who is portrayed as a potential rapist, and at one point he does grab her. She runs into Rob and he takes her home where she stays through the storm and they connect.

Things roll forward and they figure out they’re in love. This is a Christmas story, so the holidays are the backdrop, and the other cast of characters are delightful. Izzy is a wedding dress designer and ends up helping Rob’s sister with her dress last minute.

This book is light reading and fun and a good Christmas story.

 

 

I have more to review, so there will be another roundup soon.

 

Saturday, February 6th, 2016
Not entirely a book review, but it is

I just finished the third book in Lisa Shearin’s SPI files. They are so fun. I read the first one, The Grendel Affair, when it first came out. I bought the second, The Dragon Conspiracy, and then somehow forgot about it. Then The Brimstone Deception came out last month and I realized I had some rbrimstone-deception_finaleading to do. The happy thing is that I had two to read back-to-back and that was so fabulous. The unhappy thing is that I don’t have another to chew through. Damn.

Anyhow, the SPI books take place in New York City and revolve around a supernatural non-official police force. There’s a lot of police procedure, adventure, snark, and a hint of romance. The character interactions are just so much fun. Smart and funny and serious and in the latest book, you get to meet the great great great . . . grandaughter of the witch who built Hansel’s and Gretel’s gingerbread house. Only Kitty’s not a child-eater. You’ve got a wide cast of characters, and a variety of cool stuff going on. I really recommend you just go get all three, stock up on some munchies and your drink of choice, and hunker down for a good long, lovely read. Really.

And then, because she’s just so much fun, watch Jeanne Robertson. A very fun, very clean comedian. You’ll laugh.

Thursday, December 31st, 2015
Book Review: Thinning the Heard by Adrian Phoenix

Received from Netgalley

Thinning the Herd by Adrian Phoenix is a damned fun book. You’re going to want to read this one. Before I tell you why, let’s start with the back of the book description:

From the New York Times bestselling author of A Rush of Wings and The Maker’s Song series, a humorous, action-packed urban fantasy about a werewolf pack and an animal control officer in way over his head!thinning

Someone is picking off fortune tellers and hippies in Oregon, snatching them out of their Birkenstocks mid-stride. And when the legend himself, Hal Rupert, Animal Control Officer, gets a whiff of the mystery, he knows he’s the man to solve it. In between proudly wrangling out-of-control cats and dogs, he’s noticed a peculiar uptick in another sort of animal…werewolves.

Hal infiltrates the country fair to investigate the disappearance of the flower children. But his real priority is protecting the love of his life, Desdemona Cohen, whose long purple tresses and black-glossed lips captured his heart the moment he first saw her standing behind the register at Hot Topic. Desdemona may have nicknamed Hal “Creep,” but he’s determined to win her heart. And, you know, save everyone else, too.

So first of all, you can tell from the tone of the description, that this is a tongue-in-cheek sort of romp. It’s entertaining as hell with a lot of fun stuff going on. First of all, Hal is a dog-catcher and his weapon of choice is a catchpole. At first I thought, oh, dear, this could go horribly awry. I should have known better. It’s so fun. Hal is partially a Walter Mitty, slightly delusional and believing he’s a secret superhero, and he’s also a secret superhero saving the world from terrible evil. The mix of his own delusions overlaps with reality in a lovely way.  All the characters are well drawn and–I know I keep repeating this–they are so fun. There’s snark and wit and silly jokes and reversals and seriously, you’re going to want to read this one. It releases on January 4th, and right now the electronic version is only $1.99. I’m telling you, give it a grab. You won’t regret it.

Sunday, December 27th, 2015
Book review: Cold Girl by R. M. Greenaway

I received this book from Netgalley.

I just finished R.M. Greenaway’s Cold Girl. This is a mystery and a police procedural. It revolves around a disappearance–what happened to the pretty singer of a local up-and-coming Canadian band? The main characters are Constable Dion, who has survived a terrible car crash and a year later, is still not able to think the way he once did. Once a hot-shot detective, he’s now relegated to the backwaters of Canada doing scut work. The other main character is Leith, a detective who has been pursuing a particular serial killer and thinks that maybe this case is related.

What unfolds is a picture of a place–the cold remote back country of Canada where people eke out a living. It’s isolated and unrelenting and oh, so cold. In this tiny town, there are too many suspects. Pinning down motives and who did what and when is a difficult task. Worse, Dion has a terrible time articulating himself and he begins to perceive patterns and clues, but his memory and mind won’t work properly. He’s frustrated. Everybody is frustrated with him. He’s hidden his past, not wanting pity, so everyone sees him as inept at best, incompetent at worst. He quickly finds himself at odds with the other local law enforcement cold girlofficers and scrutinized by his higher-ups.

Leith is feeling burned out, angry, and left behind. Even when he solves one major mystery, he’s left with more piling up. He’s not sure he’s happy in his marriage or his job, and he’s not sure what he wants or where he wants to be. But soon, the missing girl becomes important to him and he finds it imperative that he solves the case.

At first I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book. Neither Dion nor Leith are particularly likable. But they are fascinating. And watching Dion both fall apart and pull himself together at the same time is agonizing and yet I kept hoping for him. The mystery was somewhat slow to unfold, but then, while this book is about the whodunnit, it’s more about the characters searching and the place and the local world.

The mysteries (they build as you go) are tied up and a satisfying way. Less so are the characters. The ending is slightly muddy for me and I wish it was a little clearer. Two small things are dropped in and I just don’t know quite what to make of them. Also, a lot is made of Dion looking native, and yet nothing comes of it. I kept waiting for it to matter.

I do think this is a really good book and I enjoyed it. It comes out in March, so look for it.

Friday, October 30th, 2015
Book Review: The Seventh Bride, T. Kingfisher

I received this book from Netgalley.

Wow. I mean, wow. The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon) is stunning. So freaking good. I’ve read three books so far this year that I think deserve big awards and this is one of them. The writing reminds me of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and Cat Valente and Kelly Link. Kingfisher’s writing, however, is more pointed and observant, while being witty and delicious and funny and unexpected. I seriously love this book.

To begin, the description: bridecoverfinal-200x300

Rhea is an ordinary miller’s daughter, engaged to be married under suspicious circumstances to a man not of her choosing. He has unknown powers and a manor house full of mysterious women.

Rhea has a hedgehog. It claims to be ordinary, but normal hedgehogs don’t act like that.

It’s probably not going to be enough.

bridgeI don’t want to give away too much, but Rhea is only 15 when a noble asks for her hand in marriage. The asking is more of a telling, as she has no real opportunity to refuse or her peasant family will suffer significantly. So she reluctantly agrees. Very quickly she begins to suspect he’s a magician, though that’s not a terrible thing. What really bothers her is that he’s rather a shifty, mean-seeming sort.

He invites her (again, she can’t refuse) to visit his home and once there, she cannot leave. She discovers his terrible secrets and then must use her wits and her friendships to try to escape before very bad things happen to her.

The worldbuilding in this story is incredible. I loved the golem birds and I thoroughly enjoyed Rhea. She’s smart, observant, and while afraid, she’s courageous as well. Crevan was seriously obnoxious in the best possible way, and I loved the other inhabitants of the house and the quirky magic within.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a couple of things that niggle–a lot was made of Rhea’s name and I thought that would turn into more, and also, Rhea made some pointed observations and then didn’t go anywhere with them. Those were only a couple of things, though and the rest of the book was stunning and engrossing. One of those that I stay up stupid late to read because I can’t put it down. It’s coming out very soon, and you should preorder your copy. Seriously. Do it. You won’t regret it.

 

Saturday, October 17th, 2015
Book Review: Four Weddings and a White Christmas

I received this book from NetGalley.

I’ve been in the mood for some light romance and some Christmas reading. I don’t know why. It’s not even Halloween. Maybe it’s because of the recent shooting here in Oregon, and I just needed some happy, sappiness. Four Weddings and a White Christmas by Jenny Oliver was a pretty fun read and generally I liked it. The key thing is that it was really light and not a lot of deeper emotional stuff.

So the story, as you might have guessed, revolves around four weddings and a snowy Christmas. Set mostly in England with weddings christmasforays to New York City and France, the story revolves around Hannah, a newly-graduated dress designer, who is reconnecting with old friends. One of them saw her graduation project and asked Hannah to design her wedding dress. Hannah, a single mother of a five year old girl, both living with her parents, is looking to have a life and develop her career. She’s eager to reconnect with old friends and that is one of the key elements of this book.

At the first wedding–rather right before–Hannah and Harry meet. He’s a top chef in a New York restaurant. He’s not looking for romance any more than Hannah is. He grew up in a strained household and is struggling to figure out how adult Harry connects with his parents and sister.

Harry and Hannah meet infrequently, mostly at the events of the title (very much like Four Weddings and A Funeral). Harry discovers he’s attracted to Hannah and to her daughter as well. He’s not as anti family as he thought. However he can’t bring himself to want a real relationship and Hannah is working to hard to find roots and a stable life for herself and for her daughter.

Even so, they grow closer, and then Harry’s world falls apart when his estranged father dies. Hannah gets offered a hug opportunity and struggles with finding her feet. In the end, of course, as in all romances, the two find their way to be together.

What was fun about this book was that it focused more on the people growing and changing and as a result, and part of the process, they discover each other. This is a ‘sweet’ romance, with no sexual situations. I’d definitely recommend this one.

Friday, October 16th, 2015
Book Review: Kill Box

I received this book from NetGalley.

Kill Box is a Thriller by Nichole Christoff. Today we’re starting with the description:

Hardworking Jamie Sinclair can’t wait for the weekend. She plans to be off the clock and on the road to wine country with kill boxhandsome military police officer Adam Barrett. But when a strung-out soldier takes an innocent woman hostage and forces his way into Jamie’s bedroom, everything changes. Jamie’s never seen the soldier before. But he’s no stranger to Barrett—and with one word he persuades Barrett to pack a duffel and leave Jamie in the lurch.

Jamie cannot fathom why Barrett would abandon her without explanation. But as the consequences of an unsolved crime threaten to catch up with him, a late-night phone call sends Jamie racing to Barrett’s hometown in upstate New York. In a tinderbox of shattered trust and long-buried secrets, Jamie must fight to uncover the truth about what really occurred one terrible night twenty years ago. And the secrets she discovers deep in Barrett’s past not only threaten their future together—they just might get her killed.

 

I did enjoy this book for the most part, though I stumbled over some things. First, When Barret’s buddy pulls his stunt and Barret disappears, Jamie forgives and forgets that for the most part. I’m just not sure that she would. That seems to be a significant relationship problem. It doesn’t bear a lot onto to the overall story, but it did bother me throughout. The other thing that bothered me for a long time (though the thread finally came back in) was the beginning bit. Jamie is involved in a police operation, and after, she comes home to the hostage scene described in the beginning. That initial scene seems to be important, then simply vanishes from memory. It seems to have no purpose. Eventually it came back, which was nice, but until it did, it bothered me.

I also didn’t like the resolution. The bad guy. The murderer made sense. But I had a little bit of trouble buying the conspirator and mastermind of the uncovered drug operation. That all seemed to come out of the blue and again, I just had a hard time buying it.

However, I really liked the way Christoff built the mystery and revealed the clues. I liked the various characters in the town and the difficulties between Barrett and Jamie. I also like the complications from the old murder and the town’s law enforcement. I did like Jamie as a character, and Barrett grew on me as more of his past was revealed. I could see why he didn’t open up very quickly.

I enjoyed the book. I thought it was a good read overall. The ending was a bit disappointing, but I’ll definitely pick up another book of Christoff’s.

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015
Book Review: Wrapped in Red

Received from Netgalley.

This book is actually two novellas about Christmas, both contemporary romances. I don’t really have a lot to say about them. I found them fine, but not really all that appealing to me on an emotional level. I’ll go one at a time.

Tis the season for finding passion and rediscovering love…
wrapped
Mistletoe Mantra by Nana Malone

Returning to her Virginia hometown where her fiancé dumped her—years earlier on Christmas Eve—is making Nomi Adams croon the holiday blues. She needs to find the reclusive photographer who can advance her magazine career. However, Lincoln Porter’s on his own rescue mission this yuletide. Because during this season of love and renewal, Faith, Virginia, looks to be a place for second chances…

So to begin, the premise seemed a little forced to me. I just didn’t buy that the editor would put so much pressure on Nomi to find the photos. But okay, I can deal with that. Moving on, I thought that their romance was fine, but not particularly engaging. Things progressed in a normal manner. I did like Nomi and Lincoln, but I found the final difficulty between them artificial and manufactured rather than natural.
White Hot Holiday by Sherelle Green

A solo Caribbean vacation is college professor Sage Langley’s perfect escape from Christmas and all its merriment. But she has unexpected and thrilling company at Grayson Ellington’s luxurious vacation home: the sexy attorney himself! And her brother’s best friend—who has desired and longed for Sage for years—has fantasies and plans for a red-hot romance to chase away her winter doldrums.

This story was more fun for me. The set up was more believable. I liked Sage and Grayson, and while there wasn’t a lot of drama to the romance, it was fun read and light and quick.