I read anything and everything

Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles.

Two Serious Ladies - Jane Bowles

Lovely book that's character and dialogue and character driven. Everyone speaks their minds directly. In a sense, if feels like a novelised play. The feel is very William Trevor-like.



Here's a good review from The Guardian.


From the introduction by Francine du Plessix Gray:: And Mrs Bowles lithe, feverish dialogue has a blend of childlike integrity, surreal candour and deadly precision often worthy of Lewis Carroll.

The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition - Ursula K. Le Guin, Charles Vess

Let Ursula K. Le Guin's mage winds fill your sails and travel to the different islands of Earthsea. As Neil Gaman put it: "A magic of words, a magic of true speaking."

Tory Heaven: or Thunder on the Right - Marghanita Laski

Satire that cuts to the bone.

Dodge and Burn - Seraphina Madsen

Compelling magical realism.

Ace of Shades - Amanda Foody

Terrific read with great characters.

Ranger Defender by Angi Morgan @AngiMorganAuthr

Ranger Defender - Angi Morgan

A terrific, suspenseful read. The book description doesn't do it justice at all.


A deranged women sociopath serial killer who brainwashes veterans who have PTSD, male cops who can't imagine a woman doing it, and a hero at the end who asks all the right questions before he beds the heroine, making sure that he's not taking advantage of her, and that she's having sex for all the right reasons. I really enjoyed it. 

Overcoming class prejudice, guilt, and small-town judgmentalism: Redemption at Hawk's Landing by Rita Herron @ritaherron

Redemption at Hawk's Landing (Badge of Justice) - Rita Herron

When I started reading Redemption, Rag Doll by The Four Seasons popped into my head.  


When she was just a kid her clothes were hand-me-downs
They always laughed at her when she came into town

Bullying, guilt and class prejudice are the underlying themes in this book


Here's the blurb:


A missing sister, a murdered father and a dangerous reunion years in the making.

The last place Honey Granger wants to be is Tumbleweed, Texas—the judgmental town that made her childhood a living hell. But when Sheriff Harrison Hawk informs her that her alcoholic father has been murdered, she reluctantly joins his investigation. The sexy sheriff has long suspected Honey’s father in his sister’s disappearance and vows to solve both mysteries. But keeping his professional distance from the vulnerable blonde proves nearly impossible. He’ll guard her 24/7 until her life is out of danger. But how will she feel if Harrison proves her father was a murderer?


Honey's father was an alcoholic. When he was sober, he could be a kind, loving father. When he was drunk, which was most of the time, he was physically abusive. Her mother abandoned them both when she was seven, and she wonders why her mother her with her [so do I], and she feels unloved. She grew up wearing raggedy hand-me-downs, and was teased and bullied for it. She escaped as soon as she was eighteen, and built a successful home renovation business.


Sheriff Harrison Hawk remembered Holly. His little sister used to play with her before she suddenly disappeared. Holly's father was immediately suspected, but nothing could be proved. But for Hawk's mother, he was guilty as sin.


When Holly returns to town to take care of arrangements for her murdered father, he has to deal with his feelings for Holly, whom he always thought got a raw deal from the town. He saw how she'd been treated, yet did nothing. He also has to deal with feelings of guilt arising from his sister's disappearance. 


But he's not the only one: his brothers, as he finds out, also feel guilty. And their mother, who hated Holly, has her own secret, which proves to be explosive.


The suspenseful plot is very well done, with surprising, but logical, twists and turns.


The themes of class prejudice and guilt are fleshed out well. Holly, the Hawk brothers and their mother all go on a roller-coaster journey of standing up to their inner demons.

A Righteous Kill by Kerrigan Byrne

A Righteous Kill - Kerrigan Byrne

I'm so far behind so I'll just refer to this post on Smexy books which reflects pretty much what I think about the book.

Protector's Instinct by Janie Crouch @janiecrouch - another 5-star winner

Protector's Instinct (Omega Sector: Under Siege) - Janie Crouch

In an episode of the UK television mystery series Death in Paradise, DS Camille Bourday is at a party on board a ship when her best friend, singer Aimée, is murdered while performing. Camille starts acting unprofessionally. When her boss, DI Richard Poole, arrives on the scene, he immediately orders her to sit down. This enrages Camille. Her best friend has been murdered, she's a police officer, and she wants to find the murderer. She storms off.


Her colleague, officer Dwayne Myers, approaches her, holds bother her hands while facing her, looks her in the eye and nods. She nods back.


A puzzled Richard asks Dwayne what that was all about. "I tried to help her, and she bit my head off. You just hold her hands and nod."


"I simply told her that I was there for her," Dwayne explains.


"But you didn't say anything!"


"I didn't have to," says Dwayne.


"But I was trying to help!" Richard protests.


"Sir, someone like Camille doesn't need help, she needs support."


I thought of that scene while reading Protector's Instinct


Here's the blurb:


He knows he failed her once before. This time he’s determined to protect her by any means necessary…

Former police detective Zane Wales won’t let history repeat itself. He couldn’t save the woman he loved from a brutal assault, so he left the force—and Caroline Gill’s life. But now a psychopath has her in his vengeful sights. And the only way Zane can keep the strong-willed paramedic safe is to stay close 24/7—even as their reignited desire burns out of control.

Caroline can finally face down her past by helping Zane catch this perp. And she’ll give Zane all the passionate healing he needs to show they have a future together. But a danger they never saw coming will turn their second chance into a lethal, inescapable trap…


"He knows he failed her once before" really should be "thinks her failed her once before".


Zane gave up law enforcement when he was called to the scene of the brutal rape of his lover Caroline Gill. He blamed himself. He felt he should have been there. He'd stayed away that evening because he wanted her to feel she had the upper hand in the relationship.


Afterwards, he'd been unable to handle the event emotionally. He'd treated Caroline the way everyone else did: carefully, with kid gloves. And in his mind, she'd reacted by pushing him away.


She’d needed gentleness for the first few months as her body had healed from the attack. But then she’d needed her life to get back to normal. Nobody seemed to understand that. Zane definitely hadn’t understood it.


All relationships have different dynamics: 


Their relationship had always been so tumultuous, almost emotionally violent. It was just how both of them were wired: live hard, fight hard, love hard. But when Caroline had been ready to get back to the fighting and the yelling and, yes, the lovemaking, Zane had already programmed himself to be something else. Something she didn’t recognize. Didn’t want.
And he’d quit the force. She’d been unable to fathom that. When she’d gone to his house, ready to fight him about it—honestly looking forward to the screaming match and whatever would come after it—he’d refused to engage. At all.


That's when I thought of the scene from Death in Paradise and especially the line: "Sir, someone like Camille doesn't need help, she needs support."


Later on, Zane and Caroline are stranded in the wilderness after a plane crash. I won't go into the details (spoilers), but, under EMT Caroline's guidance, Zane has put Caroline's dislocated shoulder into place. The mutual attraction will not be denied, and they begin to make love. But, once again, Zane is hesitant and careful. Caroline will have none of it.


“You can’t treat me like I’m fragile, Zane. Everyone else still does. Like I’m going to crack at any moment. I’m not. I’m strong. That’s part of the reason I was hiking out here. To prove I was okay.”
“Everyone knows you’re strong.”
“Do you? Do you really, Zane?”


I've often complained that women protagonists are too often described as strong in romances, when that should be clear from the story. Crouch, and Caroline, attack this head on:


“You’ve got to prove it.”
“Prove that I want you?” His hands gripped her hips and pulled her down harder against him. “I don’t think there can be any doubt of that.”
“Prove that you really think I’m strong. That you’re not afraid I’ll break at the least little thing.”
“I know you won’t.”
“Prove it, Zane. Prove that you can still get lost in me. That we can get lost in each other.”


And trust and communication is the bedrock of a relationship:


“And if anything else starts to bother you, darkness starts to creep in, anything gets too overwhelming, you have to tell me.”
“I thought that you believed I was strong enough to handle it.”
“I do. But part of that strength is being willing to speak up if it’s too much. You want me to let go? Fine. You’re not fragile and I’m not going to treat you like you are. But I have to know, hell, Caro, you have to know that at any point a single phrase can stop this.”
“Like a safe word?”
“I don’t care what you call it, but we’ve both got to know you’ve got the means to stop this at any time necessary.”
He was right. It was what they should’ve done years ago. What they should’ve worked through together from the beginning, but they’d been too stubborn and stupid.


Zane needs healing, too, from the guilt that has wracked him for "not being there" for Caroline. Of course, they work through it. That isn't a spoiler :)


The suspenseful plot is very well done. Master villain Damien Freihof is back pulling the strings behind the scenes, as he's been doing throughout the main Omega Sector series and this mini-series.


Crouch is a joy to read.

The Fifth Element by Jørgen Brekke

The Fifth Element: A Novel (Odd Singsaker) - Jorgen Brekke

I started reading this in Norwegian shortly after it came out four years ago, but then my Norwegian neighbour wanted it back to lend to someone else, as I was taking too long. So when I saw it had been translated to English, I immediately put it on my 'to-read' list, and I'm glad I did. The American English translation is excellent.


The book isn't written chronologically, but jumps back and forth in time from different POV's. It takes some getting used to, but, once done, it's an absorbing read. 


It's very 'Scandi noire': short sentences, spare descriptions that let the reader fill in the blanks, yet always enough to keep building the pressure in some areas, yet letting it out in others.


For me, the underlying theme is, what is evil? Is it banal, as Hannah Arendt wrote? Do good people do evil things, and evil people good things? When do we cross the line from good to evil? Are we all a mix of both? There are no answers here, just many questions, if the reader is one who muses over those sorts of things.


But that's the subtext. The plot itself is a good, solid thriller. Here's the American publisher's blurb:


Police Inspector Odd Singsaker has been captured, imprisoned on an island off the Northern coast of Norway. He wakes to find himself holding a shotgun. Next to him is a corpse. But what events led him to this point? And how did he get here?

A few weeks earlier, Felicia, his wife, disappeared. Though he didn’t know it, she was trying to find her way back to Odd to reconcile, but then she vanished into a snowstorm. Possibly involved is a corrupt, coldblooded cop from Oslo, a devious college student who’s stolen a great deal of cocaine from drug dealers, and a hit man hired by the drug dealers who have been robbed. All of these lives intersect with Odd’s as he searches for Felicia.


The Fifth Element is ultimately the story of what happened to Felicia Stone. Within that journey, brutal crimes are uncovered, tenacious love shines through, and chilling characters with nothing to lose will stop at nothing to get what they want. Jorgen Brekke once again delivers a chilling thriller that readers will tear through to unravel what happened-and why.


I can understand why the existential undertones of the book are played dow--they wouldn't exactly sell it to an American market, but I've been living in Denmark for so long I've come to expect them. The first books I ever read in Danish were Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's, which, I later read, are the pillars of crime fiction from the 70's on. 



Small-Town Face-Off by Tyler Ann Snell @professorsnell

Small-Town Face-Off (The Protectors of Riker County) - Tyler Anne Snell

A very enjoyable suspense read. All the threads to the plot are out there, and they're brought together nicely, with a terrific action-filled ending. I especially liked the easy-flowing and natural dialogue. Very often in romances involving law enforcement, there's lots of jargon thrown in, but there's little of that here.


Here's the blurb:


Bound to protect and serve, sheriff Billy Reed has tried to let his career be enough. But he could never forget Mara Copeland, the woman who left without a goodbye and hurt him without warning. Now she's back with criminals on her trail and a child in her arms. His child. 

Mara didn't trust the future she and Billy could've had. He's a lawman and she was born into a world of ruthless criminals. Still, he's the man she can turn to. He'll do anything to protect their daughter, but will love be reason enough to forgive Mara and bring their family back together?


I liked both the protagonists. Billy isn't the fastest thinking hero--he likes to think things through, which is a nice change from other heroes who seem to be able to make instantaneous right choices under all conditions. I especially liked Mara. She's learned the right things from her criminal father, like staying cool under pressure, and rejected the wrong things. Unless her child is threatened, she's the one who stays on an even keel, whereas Billy has to keep a constant check on his emotions. But he has great empathy, which is endearing. And his best friend is a woman, which is a nice change. A lot of the Intrigues are a male bonding fest, but it's Suzanne, his ex-police partner, who has his back when it gets difficult.The rekindling of the romance develops naturally, with the inevitable hiccups nicely resolved. 



Reluctant Hero by @DebraWebbAuthor @ReganBlack

Reluctant Hero (Harlequin Intrigue) - Regan Black, Debra Webb

A thoroughly enjoyable suspense read with a nice hook. Here's the blurb:


For top security expert Parker Lawton, the anonymous threat is explosive. Return the gold stolen during his intelligence unit's last Iraq mission—or they'll each be hunted down. And when one of his men is killed just before meeting investigative reporter Rebecca Wallace, he must take her under his "protection." But her persistence in getting the real story is even more dangerous—and irresistible. 

For a dashing war hero, Parker is the most guilty-acting innocent man Becca has ever seen. Still, working with him is the only way to stay ahead of a ruthless enemy. And as her instincts and Parker's skills hone in on the truth, trusting the desire simmering between them could be their only chance—or the last move they'll ever make.


I though V for Vendetta when I read the beginning of the book, and there are a few similarities. Except Parker realises he's made a mistake shortly after making it, and that's where the similarity ends. I liked the way it's really Becca who's the emotional rock. Parker Lawton is no traditional Alpha: he lets emotions get in the way of common sense, and he makes a few bad decisions because of it. Which only makes him more human and sympathetic, despite basically kidnapping Becca. It's explained in the book, and the explanation rings true in the novel's world.


I've mentioned before that I find it irritating when the reader is constantly reminded by characters how "strong" the female protagonist is. That should be evident by her words and actions. It happens once in this book, and it's Parker thinking it while he was alone. And, given his own gung-ho military background, it's perfectly reasonable he'd be surprised given Becca's background.


The plot is very suspenseful but it's a bit more in the background, which is necessary given that circumstances dictate a slower development of the romantic interest.


<Sort of digression> very many romances use the trope of the first attempt at bonking being interrupted to build up the tension before they finally 'do it'. I remember wondering, the first time I read a modern romance at the beginning of this century, what the purpose was. Then I remembered the circus and the trapeze artists. The pièce de resistance was always 'the most difficult manoeuvre ever attempted'. And they always failed the first two times, and made it on the third. If they made it on the first try, what was so difficult about it? The equivalent in pro wrestling are false finishes, where the 'babyface' (hero) almost pins the 'heel' villain at the end, getting to a two and three-quarter count twice or thrice before finally finishing him off by getting the three count. It builds up tension the same way. Easy is boring. <end digression> 



Colton K-9 Cop by @addisonfox

Colton K-9 Cop (The Coltons of Shadow Creek) - Addison Fox

From an emotional standpoint, the best Intrigue I've read so far this year. While the plot is well done, 


Here's the blurb:


For bomb squad K-9 officer Donovan Colton, nothing about a failed car bombing in his Texas hometown makes sense. Why would anyone target quiet, secretive accountant Bellamy Reeves, and why does his canine partner instantly trust her? Donovan is searching for his own mysterious past, but he can't resist solving the riddle that is beautiful Bellamy. 

After experiencing a tragic loss, Bellamy knows how hard it can be to trust. Threatened by her former employer, she is reluctant to open up to dangerously sexy Donovan—or his adorable dog! But the harder Donovan works to keep her safe, the more Bellamy longs to let what's between them turn into something more—even as their lives are poised to be blown apart…


Donovan and Bellamy actually meet 4-5 years earlier when Donovan comes into Bellamy's shop with puppy Alex, who's ill because he's swallowed Lego pieces. They're about to arrange a dinner date when Donovan receives a call to a car accident, which turns out to involve Bellamy's parents. They don't see each other again until years after. 


The emotional conflicts: Bellamy is dealing with the recent deaths of her parents, for whom she was the carer after the accident. Maggie is her younger sister, gorgeous and popular. Maggie and Bellamy used to be close until the accident, when they had a falling out. Bellamy thought Megan wasn't pulling her weight. 


Donovan is adopted into the powerful Colton family when he's found as a baby in a barn. Despite being in a loving family, he's never accepted the Coltons as family and has never felt he belonged. 


The growing attraction between Donovan and Bellamy can't really be resolved before they've resolved their own family problems. 


 [added later] The underlying theme for the novel is family relationships: Bellamy and Maggie, Donovan and the Coltons, and Sutton and his son.[end]



Harlequin has a Romantic Suspense line where the Romance part is 60-75% and the suspense the rest. Intrigues usually reverse that. 


This book was 50-50, and the ratio is perfect. The  emotional tangles are described and untangled so well, I was completely absorbed by them.


In romances, we know the hero and heroine will come through it all and be united in the end in a HEA or HFN, So how the journey is handled is usually very important, though less so in Intrigues, as the suspense has the upper hand. I actually went back and re-read some passages like a cat lapping up double cream.


Families, and the people that are their members, are complicated. As Megan tells Donovan, 


As often happens, the author sneaks in some personal viewpoints on the down-low. 


"And where there was panic and chaos, you had the right mix to put an object in demand.
Wasn’t that the heart of all supply and demand? Make it seem irresistible and you made the product a must-have.


A word on writing formats like Harlequin Inrigues: it is very difficult. It's akin to writing a short story in a tweet. The format means that sometimes ideas that normally would be expressed over 2-3 paragraphs are done in one. And characters often use words in sentences that are more at home in a academic setting. But it's often necessary - why use three words when one will do? The trick is to do it in a way that flows and doesn't crack the suspension of disbelief necessary in any work of fiction.


It's very demanding of the author, and that it's usually pulled off very well shows how talented they really are.


Some of my favourite passages: 


“Biology doesn’t dictate your relationships. Look at Maggie and me. We’re sisters and we can’t seem to find common ground. What matters is the relationships you have. The love you have for each other. The family you make.”


“Family’s hard. It’s messy and emotional. That’s why I love animals so much. They take you just the way you are.”


'“Things aren’t always as simple.” She laid a hand on his arm. “Even when they should be.”'

Daddy Defender by @janiecrouch

Daddy Defender (Omega Sector: Under Siege) - Janie Crouch

I look forward to every new Intrigue from Janie crouch, and this one is another winner. A fleshed-out recurring villain, a well constructed suspense plot, a terrific cast of characters whom we recognise from the other books in the series, and a romance that is both touching and funny.


Here's the blurb:


What a serious case of mistaken identity. Ashton Fitzgerald is no unassuming handyman but a highly trained sharpshooter intent on protecting Summer Worrall and her baby daughter. The Omega SWAT member has a debt to pay and he isn't about to let Summer out of his sights. 

For someone else has set their own sights on the lovely widow. Her unexpected relationship with Ashton has put Summer and her child straight into a madman's line of fire. Suddenly a mission to make amends becomes Ashton's quest to defend this little family with his very life. 


The mistaken identity hook is great, and provides an entertaining contrast to the very suspenseful plot. 


Janie Crouch, along with Paula Graves (grinding Appalachian poverty), Elle James (the plight of American family farmers) and Elizabeth Heiter (terrible US adoption system) has underlying themes in her books that lend richness and depth to them. In the current series, there's Damien Freihof, a demagogue who uses people as pawns in his own game (and Freihof's next pawns are a family called Trumpold).


One of my favourite books in this series is Man of Action, with the romance between Brandon and Andrea. There's an underlying theme of how stigma hurts. I wrote about it here One of my fave characters from that book, stripper Keira Spencer, may even get her own story soon. I hope so; she's a wise person.

Pine Lake by Amanda Stevens

Pine Lake (Harlequin Intrigue) - Amanda Stevens

Terrific book! The plot layers peel away very well, and the dialogue is excellent and as realistic as possible given the limitations of the format. And this is important, as this a very dialogue-heavy book. 


Here's  the blurb:


The murder of security expert Jack King’s girlfriend has haunted him for fifteen years. Returning to Pine Lake, Texas, where the townsfolk still consider him suspect, might not be the smartest move, but a killer seems to be holding up a mirror to his past. The same witness to this new murder was also present the night Jack’s girlfriend dieds…but both times, she was sound asleep…

Sleepwalking has gotten Olive Belmont into some sticky situations. Being the witness to both murders may have put her on the killer’s list. Even so, she doesn’t think the killer is Jack and is willing to help him. But will putting his past to rest ease her mind or leave her with even greater nightmares?


The descriptive passages are spare, yet work well in setting the unsettling mood. Everyone has secrets, and Jack and Olive can only trust each other as everyone else has a skeleton in the closet.


Highly recommended.

Point Blank SEAL by Carol Ericson @CarolAEricson

Point Blank SEAL (Red, White and Built) - Carol Ericson

A terrific read. The plot is tight, the suspense is kept right to the end, and the way the relationship develops between Miguel and Jennifer is very well done.


Here's the blurb:


Tortured in captivity, navy SEAL Miguel Estrada owes his survival to his fiancée, the memory of her keeping him strong through his darkest moments. But when his escape is compromised by military protocol and he suspects the woman he loves is being targeted, he turns rogue.

Jennifer Lynch has spent a year mourning Miguel and raising the baby he never met. But her reality is shaken once she finds him at her door and discovers they’re all at risk.

Putting his life on the line for Jennifer and their child, Miguel is forced to face some hard truths—and confront the secrets that might separate them permanently.



Miguel is damaged psychologically and is reluctant to re-enter into a physical relationship with Jennifer after he was tortured and possibly brainwashed. The way Jennifer unlocks Miguel is very well done, and I didn't skim through the bonk scene - I was absorbed by it. For a change, it's Jennifer telling Miguel he's strong, not the other way round, which I very much liked. Jennifer's development as the rock in the relationship is refreshing.



Currently reading

A Closed Eye
Anita Brookner
Progress: 86/255 pages