Tag Archives: Reviews

Rediscovering Linda Howard

I’m a picky reader. While I read a lot, I don’t venture too far away from my favorite authors. My preference is romantic suspense and mysteries with a little romance strewn in. My go-to authors are Nora Roberts, Sandra Brown, JD Robb (yes, I know that’s Nora), Janet Evanovich, Heather Graham and my newest is Michael Murphy’s Jake and Laura Mysteries (ala The Thin Man). But several years ago I read Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard and really loved it. I must have read a few other Linda Howard books at the time, but eventually, I stopped.

I picked up my running this summer and now I run long enough that even the music on my iPod isn’t enough to keep me from getting bored. I decided maybe listening to audio books would distract me. The first book I listened to was Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg’s The Heist, which I really enjoyed and will continue the series.

The problem with digital audio books is that they’re expensive. Audible is fairly affordable, but $15 for an audio book adds up if you buy a lot (granted, I spend a lot on print or ebooks, so maybe it’s a matter of changing my mindset).

My next stop was Overture, which allows you borrow digital books from your library. The only problem with this option is there aren’t a whole lot of audio choices (that I’d listen too…remember…I’m picky), and the ones that are there, have a waiting a list (I’m number 16 for a Sandra Brown novel). However, Linda Howard’s Prey was available and since I remembered Mr. Perfect, I decided to rent it.

I really enjoyed Prey, a story about two wilderness hunting guides who get stalked by a bear and a bad guy. So, when it came time for my next Audible rental, I chose Open Season, another Linda Howard novel.

You know how some books just stay with you? Mr. Perfect did and I think Open Season will too. Even though I make a living with words, it’s difficult for me to pinpoint what it is about this book that has me feeling sad that I’m about to finish it (I’m writing about it and I haven’t heard the ending yet!). The female protagonist, Daisy, is refreshing. She’s not innocent, though she is a little naive. She’s not afraid to speak her mind and she has really fascinating, and sometime funny, thought process. What could have been a cliched story about a tiny town, frumpy librarian, turns out to be really delightful. The male protagonist is strong and tough from Chicago via New York, but he’s not the typical brooding guy wanting to keep the world at a distance because of the horrors experienced as a former SWAT guy and a failed marriage. He’s brusk, but not mean and he gets as much of a kick out of Daisy as I do. Add in that the story is set in the south, which, when done well, becomes a part of the story as well.

The story is frumpy, 34-year old librarian Daisy determines she wants to get married and have kids, which means a makeover and visiting bars. Jack is the police chief, who notices Daisy before the makeover, but mostly because of her personality. After the makeover, many people notice Daisy. Jack doesn’t like that very much and although he’s not interested in settling down, he is interested in her.

Initially, Daisy is annoyed with him because he’s getting in the way of her plans to find a husband. But once he kisses her (her head dialogue during that kiss is great), she decides she likes his kisses and spends more time with him. When Jack learns someone is trying to track her down because she witnessed a murder, he goes into protection mode, which puts them together even more.

It all sounds pretty typical as I explain it here. And part of my enjoyment may be that the reader of the audio book is pretty good. Her southern accent is just what I might expect in small town Alabama. More likely it’s the humor, Daisy’s delightful personality and the fact that it’s romantic suspense without being dark and broody. The love scenes include Daisy’s effervescent outlook of the world and the humor that makes up her life (like when Jack refuses to wear the purple condom from the “Party Pack” of 72 condoms). A change of mood in reading is nice sometimes!

My only beef with Linda’s writing, which I experienced more so in Prey than Open Season, is a few too long narratives. She also revisits some of the narratives, which had me saying, “You already told me about that.” It would have been stuff I skipped if I was reading the book, but since I was listening to the audio version, I had to endure it.

All in all, I’m enjoying Linda’s stories. They’re not quite as humorous or quirky as Janet Evanovich or Jennifer Cruisie, but I still laugh out loud, which must be a sight when I’m running.

Follow Jenna Harte:

Publisher’s Weekly Review of Deadly Valentine

The bad news is that Deadly Valentine didn’t make it to the semi-finals in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award. The good news is that the Publisher’s Weekly reviewer had nice things to say about the book. The first part of the review is a recap of the book, which gives some of the secrets of the book away, so I won’t print that part (in case there is anyone who hasn’t read the book yet). The review finishes with:

Written with precision and care, this intriguing romance/murder mystery is a fun read that will keep readers guessing until the very end.

I was worried about this review. Book tastes are subjective, which makes reviews difficult. Deadly Valentine has 43 reviews at Amazon, some who rave about it and some who are ho-hum about it. Same book. Different reactions. I was happy that I got a reviewer who understood what I was trying to do and enjoyed it. Even if the book didn’t score high enough to get into the semi-finals.

During the contest I received two other reviews from Amazon Vine readers. Since they were complementary, I thought I’d share their feedback as well. I put a couple of comments (in italics) responding to the reviewers.

ABNA Expert Reviewer One:

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt? : It gets right into the characters. Not too much description. It’s easy to picture the setting. It drew me in and I wanted to know more.

What aspect needs the most work? : It was unclear as to how all of a sudden Tess was feeling so ill. Was something slipped into her drink? (I’ve heard this before and while I mention a 24-hour bug later in the story, perhaps I need to make that clearer in the beginning)

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt? : This was a very good start. The characters were introduced smoothly and the murder was being set up very well.

ABNA Expert Reviewer Two:

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt? : The strongest aspect of this excerpt is the tension between Tess and Jack. He is from her recent past, a relationship that didn’t last. He is back now in her life but she is trying to resist his charms.

What aspect needs the most work? : It would have been nice to get a little more of a back story on what happened with Jack and Tess in the past. That can sometimes help to get a feeling for the character and how they behave. (This is dribbled throughout the book because the not-knowing is part of what leads to suspicion of Jack.)

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt? : Overall, I think this is a very good story. I would love to keep reading the finished book. It is a story of romance first and foremost but there is also a murder mystery involved and secrets from the past. In this excerpt I was left very interested in knowing what would happen next.

Have you read Deadly Valentine? If you did and you enjoyed it, please leave feedback at Amazon! I’d appreciate it!

Follow Jenna Harte:

Overseas – A Review

I first saw a blurb about Beatriz Williams’ book Overseas in a women’s magazine and found the premise compelling — a love story involving time travel. I’ve written the opening pages of a time travel story myself, although I have no plot for it yet. The challenges in writing time travel are the methods (machine?), the rules (can history be changed?), the grandfather paradox (if you go back in time, kill your grandfather before your parents are born and therefore are never born yourself, how can you go back in time and kill your grandfather?) and the endless loop that can occur. I was curious to find out how Williams’ dealt with these issues.

I’m a fairly picky reader and if I can’t get into the story ASAP, sometimes it never gets finished. Overseas started a little slow and it took a some time to deal with jumping between present day (2008) and the past (1916). In many places, I felt like the writing meandered, but something would finally happen and I’d be back in the thick of things. The jumping between past and present becomes essential to the story, so I accepted it even though the jump often occurred in a spot in which I wasn’t ready to switch times.

The story involves Kate who works on Wall Street and Julian, a British billionaire hedge fund owner. He can have anyone he wants and with one look he wants Kate. But someone is lurking in the shadows, trying to hinder the romance. As it turns out, Kate and Julian’s story may not have started in 2008, but in 1916, when Kate sought Julian out to warn him of his impending death (or did it? It’s a bit like the chicken and egg). I don’t want to give too much away because part of the fun of the book is discovering the twists and turns and wondering if it will turn out in the end.

There was the mushy love stuff romance readers enjoy, but the intimate parts were very tame. There was very little detail, so readers who like play-by-play sex scenes won’t find that. At the same time, Williams captures the emotions and feelings that go along with intimacy, so readers can still get a thrill.

In some parts, it felt a little like Twilight — the social/moral clash between an old fashioned man and a modern woman — and yet Julian’s prudishness and desire to make an “honest woman” of Kate isn’t just about old-fashion values, which added another twist to the story (you have to read it to find out what that is!).

As a writer, I liked that Williams made up her own rules about how time travel could occur and didn’t dwell too much on the paradox or loop.  Overall, I really enjoyed Overseas
and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a good romantic story.

Follow Jenna Harte:

Celebrity In Death – A Review

After 34 In Death books (not including compilations and novellas), one might think the characters are old and the stories a little too formulaic, but J.D. Robb (aka Nora Roberts) somehow continues to deliver. Celebrity In Death surrounds the movie adaptation of Nadine Furst’s book about the Icove case. As usual, Eve finds the whole situation annoying and creepy, while Peabody is taken with the celebrity. But, when the unlikable actress playing Peabody is found dead in a pool during a party, Eve and Peabody have to investigate the murder.

Celebrity in Death steps back from all the drama and angst that occurred in New York to Dallas, but doesn’t spare the banter and sexiness particularly between Eve and her billionaire husband Rourke. While it’s not the best book in the series or a place to start if you’ve never read the books (you absolutely need to start at the beginning with Naked in Death (In Death, Book 1)), the book is still good, albeit predictable. For me, the books are all about Eve, Rourke and the other characters. The mystery and mayhem is secondary. And for that reason, I have enjoyed all the books.

Follow Jenna Harte:

Death Comes to Pemberley – A Review

What could be better than an Austen love story combined with a mystery? This is what P.D. James has done in her recent release of Death Comes to Pemberley. Pemberley is the home of Mr. Darcy and now his wife, Elizabeth (Bennett) Darcy of Pride and Prejudice. At the start of the story, Elizabeth, Darcy, Col. Fitzwilliam, and Charles and Jane (Bennett) Bingley are making final preparations for the Lady Anne ball. Elizabeth and Jane’s youngest sister, Lydia arrives unannounced and hysterics, screaming that her husband, Wickham is dead. But it’s not Wickham who is found dead, it’s his good friend Denny. Wickham is arrested and tried for the murder. Despite his loathing of Wickham, Darcy doesn’t believe he’s a murderer.

I would not describe myself as a die-hard Janeite. I don’t mind when directors have the characters kiss in the movie adaptations. In fact I like it. But, when I read a book (or see a movie) I want the characters to behave the way they were originally written. That’s where Death Comes to Pemberley falls short. While some of the characters are written true to form (Jane, Charles, Wickham, Lydia and Darcy), James fails to capture Elizabeth’s wit. Granted, she’s married with two children and a large estate to manage, which could mellow her out a bit. But I don’t believe she would have settled into the role expected by society. While Pride and Prejudice is a love story, it also pokes fun at late eighteenth century social norms. Elizabeth isn’t afraid to point out social rules that make no sense or stand up for herself against people who are in a higher station than her. P.D. James’ Elizabeth doesn’t do any of that. In several situations she could speak her mind, but doesn’t. There are only a few occasions in which James’ captures Elizabeth’s wit. In fact, Elizabeth doesn’t figure very prominently in the book at all, which makes sense since as a woman she wouldn’t have been allowed to participate much in a murder investigation. Although we see a lot of him, Darcy isn’t very involved either. I expected the two of them to investigate and solve the crime, but in fact the resolution comes in a Perry Mason type last minute testimony.

Having never read P.D. James before, I can’t compare it to her other works.

I enjoyed the book overall. Austen fans might get a kick hearing about Captain Wentworth and Anne (Elliot) Wentworth from Persuasion, although I think the timing is off. Death Comes to Pemberley takes place in 1803 and I’m pretty sure Persuasion doesn’t take place until 1811 or there abouts (I remember a quote in which Wentworth says something to the effect he wasn’t in a position to get married in ’06 which is about the time Anne turned his first proposal down). James also lets us know about the Knightley’s and Harriet Smith of Austen’s book Emma.

Follow Jenna Harte: