Review: The Phantom Tree by Nicola Cornick

Phantom TreeBrowsing antiques shops in Wiltshire, Alison Bannister stumbles across a delicate old portrait – supposedly of Anne Boleyn. Except Alison knows better… The woman is Mary Seymour, the daughter of Katherine Parr who was taken to Wolf Hall in 1557 as an unwanted orphan and presumed dead after going missing as a child.  The painting is more than just a beautiful object from Alison’s past – it holds the key to her future, unlocking the mystery surrounding Mary’s disappearance, and the enigma of Alison’s son.  But Alison’s quest soon takes a dark and foreboding turn, as a meeting place called the Phantom Tree harbours secrets in its shadows…

Review. Text on the string. Conceptual 3d image

Source: Netgalley          My Rating: 5/5 stars

Y’all know I’m not the biggest fan of time travel books, but there is just something about the way Nicola Cornick puts it all together that just sucks me in and creates a great sense of pleasure.  Here’s the skinny on The Phantom Tree:

Premise: The entirety of this book revolves around Alison Bannister trying to discover the fate of her infant son who was taken from her more than 400 years ago.  Inexplicably, Alison is a time traveler who just so happens to be stuck in the 21st century.  With no means (yet!) of getting back to the 16th century, Alison has dedicated her present life to tracing history in the hopes of discovering what became of her beloved son. 

Characters: The Phantom Tree is filled with a wide range of characters from both the 16th and 21st centuries with the emphasis being on Alison and Mary Seymour.  As children, Alison and Mary were certainly acquainted with one another, but not exactly friends.  Until Alison loses her son, she has little interest in the younger Mary.  It is only after her son is taken and Alison realizes Mary can help her, that Alison has the time for or an interest in Mary.  While 16th century Alison isn’t easy to like, 21st Alison is a bit more palatable.  On the other hand, Mary Seymour, with her royal lineage and “gifts” is likeable from start to finish.  Mary’s story plays out alongside Alison’s and the two are, from beginning to end, entangled.  The entanglement, in many ways drives each character, for better or worse, and informs their actions and decisions.  Each character, even those beyond Alison and Mary are full-bodied, engaging figures who hold the reader’s interest.  More than one character has a secret which makes them far, far more interesting.   

Pacing:  I must admit, The Phantom Tree is a bit of a slow starter, but once it gets going, it moves like the wind.   In fairness to the author, there is a great deal of ground work and backstory which must be established before the “real” work can begin.  It is critical to the overall plot and the characters to understand their history, their place in one another’s lives.  Getting through all that information takes time and made the first part of the read a bit slower in its pacing.  With that being said, once the personalities, the problems, and the histories are dealt with, the pacing picks up considerably and the last part of the book seems to fly by. 

Surprises: Yeah, this book has a surprise or two up its sleeve 😊  From characters to plot twists, The Phantom Tree holds secrets that can only be uncovered by reading every last word and page.  There are a few things and people who really did take me by surprise, and I like knowing, even after all the books I have read, an author can still surprise me. 

The Bottom Line: Far and away, my favorite part of The Phantom Tree are the chapters set in the 16th century.  I’m just such a huge fan of well-written historical fiction, and Nicola Cornick understands what it takes to bring the past to life for a reader.  Though there isn’t much, historically speaking, related to Mary Seymour, she comes alive in this book and ties everything, past and present together.  Mary provides a backdrop for Alison’s quest, an anchor in time which drives Alison’s inquiries.  With every new detail related to Mary revealed, Alison comes one step closer to solving the mystery of her lost son.  As I said, the two women are entangled, and it is this entanglement that provides so much enjoyment.  Apart from the slow start, I found no fault with this book.  In fact, once I hit the half-way mark, I couldn’t put this book down.  There is something for everyone here, but The Phantom Tree will especially appeal to lovers of historical fiction.

Coming August 21, 2018: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Paperback

Review: The Sister Swap by Fiona Collins

The Sister SwapMeg simply doesn’t have time for men in her life. Instead, she has a strictly one-date rule, survives on caffeine and runs one of the biggest model agencies from her smart office in London. That is, until she collapses one day at work and the doctor orders her to take some R&R in the country…  Sarah is used to being stuck behind tractors and the slow pace of her cosy village life. But now her children are all grown-up (and her ex-husband long forgotten) she’s ready to change things up a bit – starting with taking back her old job in the city!  After a devastating falling out, the sisters haven’t spoken in years. Swapping houses, cars, everything is the only option – surely they’ll be able to avoid bumping into each other?

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Source: Netgalley          My Rating: 4/5 stars

Meg has spent the past twenty odd years working herself right into a heart attack waiting to happen.  She came to London as an angry yet motivated 18-year-old and has since built a successful modelling agency.  She has worked long hours, been more than hands-on, and earned a reputation for top-notch models whose back she always has no matter the time, day, or situation.  All that hard work and dedication has led to high blood pressure and doctor’s orders to leave London and all the stress behind for a minimum of two months.

Meg’s only choice, if she doesn’t want to drop dead from a heart attack, is to prevail upon her estranged sister for a room in her old family home.  Since the death of their parents and two tumultuous years of Meg being raised by her older sister, the girls have rarely spoken to one another.  In fact, there is a great deal of hurt and resentment that has kept the once-close sisters apart, and calling her sister is comparable to dental work without anesthesia.

As it turns out, Meg’s sister, Sarah, also needs a place to stay.  After 20 years of living in the country and raising her twins, Sarah impulsively applied for her old job as an event planner.  Sarah never suspected she would actually get the job, so when she does, it’s a scramble to get packed, notify the twins, and find a place to live for the duration of the eight-week contract.  Contacting Meg isn’t high on her list of fun things, but needs must and Sarah is determined to reclaim even a small bit of the life she once had. 

SWAP . . . . .

With Sarah now in Meg’s London flat, and Meg back home in the country, things are going to get quite interesting.  Meg hasn’t even considered country life for 20 years so getting back into the swing of things and reducing her stress levels is going to take some work.  On the flip side, Sarah is once again lost in the hustle and bustle of city life and with just a few missteps, she’s back in the swing of things in no time flat.  As both women are getting reacquainted with their former selves, they also have to consider their respective futures.  The first step is reaching out to one another and correcting the mistakes they have made in their relationship.  The second step is going to be just as complicated.  Do the sisters want to make their swap temporary or permanent?  Of course, life can’t be simple so each sister has to navigate a number of questions and obstacles before making an informed decision.  What’s more, they have to face some hard truths about themselves, their respective pasts, and what they are learning about one another from the people who have known them the best and most intimately over the past twenty years.  Making up and going home is hard to do, but often, the effort is well worth it.

The Bottom Line:  I will admit having a very hard time liking Meg at the beginning of this read.  Her backstory and her attitude toward Sarah is quite off-putting and it isn’t until life knocks her down a few pegs that I grew to like her.  Sarah is rather likeable from the beginning which makes rooting for her and her success so very easy.  This read is, ultimately, a feel-good story about family, the trials and tribulations of life, and how two sisters, a set of twins, and two romantic interests come together to create a better life for themselves and one another.  While there isn’t anything emotionally overwhelming or ground-breaking here, there is a solid read with some funny moments, some tender moments, and some downright feel good moments.  For fans of light family drama and HEAs, this one may well be worth your time and energy.

Coming June 1, 2018: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Kobo

Excerpt: A Baby for the Viking Wolf by Gwen Knight

With great passion comes great responsibility…

Lucy Tullet’s entire world has imploded, thanks to the two soft pink lines staring back at her. As a professional party-girl, she never considered settling down and having kids. Until she meets the blood wolf—a renowned Viking vampire hunter with a mysterious past—and spends the night in his arms. Now, thanks to him, everything has changed. Not only are there vampires running amok in town, hunting Lucy and her unborn child, but the blood wolf has staked his claim, determined to both protect her and take her as his mate.

(Available on Kindle Unlimited): Amazon US I Amazon UK

“Lucy,” he repeated as he studied my face. “A lovely name for a lovely woman.”I cleared my throat and stepped back, putting space between us. “Are you here as a bachelor then?”Bemusement tugged on his mouth. “I’m flattered. But no.”

“So, if you aren’t here as a bachelor, and you’re not part of the European pack…” I let my sentence dangle with the hope that he’d answer my unspoken question. What other reason could there be for his presence? Unless…understanding dawned. “Are you here to bid on one of the bachelors?”

Surprise widened his dark eyes, and he choked back a laugh. “Uh, no. While I’m sure they’re fine men, they’re not the one I’m interested in.”

Heat spread through my cheeks.

“Um. We’ll just…be elsewhere,” Bailey said. “Like, over there. Yeah, over there works.”

“What?” Evelyn asked.

“Come on, dummy.” Bailey grabbed Evelyn’s arm and wrenched her toward the bar.

The blush spread down the back of my neck. Within five minutes, the entire pack would hear about this. Those two women were the absolute worse sort. Gossip was like air to them.

“So.” I shot him another look, my tongue suddenly heavy in my mouth.

This was ridiculous. I wasn’t the sort who gummed up in front of a man. I was the sort who took initiative, who dragged them out onto the dance floor for a good time, who used them, then ditched them the next morning. Yet, here I stood, nervously fiddling with my glass, my mouth drier than the desert. All because Mr. Europe was hotter than hell itself.

I cleared my throat and tried again. “What are you here for then?”

His brows furrowed. “I came to see someone. But they didn’t show.”

A woman someone? I wanted to ask. Except, the words died in my throat. “And you’re really not part of the European pack?”

“No.” He chuckled, the expression lighting up his face. I loved the sound of it, deep but gentle, as though he laughed a lot. “In fact, I only arrived in America this afternoon.”

My lips parted. “Wow. You even managed to score a sweet tux, too. Impressive.”

He bowed his head. “I aim to please.”

“Did you come to America to meet this friend of yours?”

“I did. Guess that won’t be happening tonight, though.”

“And this friend…” Just ask! “A female friend?”

His smile broadened, flashing a pair of dimples. “No. Just an old friend. But he’s not here, and you are. So, I call that a win.”

I ducked my head, the bunnies in my stomach launching into full-blown butterflies. Damn it, stop playing coy! Reagan often called me a man-eater. Time to put up or shut up.

“Well then.” I handed my empty glass to the next server who strode by and grabbed two fresh drinks, handing him one. “If you’re not from the European pack, then I offer you my sincerest apology for the way I spoke to you earlier.”

“That so?” His mouth ticked upward. “I’m honored. I get the impression you don’t apologize often.”

“I’m not often wrong,” I said with a playful wink.

“Ah, beauty and brains, then?” Before I could respond, he plowed onward. “I take it you’re here to bid on one of these fine gentlemen tonight?”

“Yup.” Not that I wanted to anymore. The only devilishly handsome werewolf I wanted to play with was the one standing in front of me. “You sure you’re not supposed to be up there?”

“Do you want me to be?”

Most definitely. I’d bid every last cent on him. Problem was, from the many hungry glances sliding his way, I wasn’t the only one interested. And I wasn’t known for sharing. After a moment’s consideration, I shook my head. “No, you don’t belong up there.”

He clutched at his chest. “You wound me, madam!”

“It’s for your protection, and everyone else’s too. I wouldn’t want to have to kill everyone who bid on you just to get what I want.”

He stepped closer, his scent overwhelming my senses. “I’m intrigued. What is it you want?”

“You tell me,” I murmured, my voice taking on a husky note.

His fingers brushed against mine, teasing, taunting…playing the game. I gave a slow blink and lifted my gaze to his, my mouth curling into a sensuous smile.

“I know what I want,” he said.

“Do tell.”

Without warning, he cupped the back of my head and brushed his lips against mine. Slowly at first, tasting what I had to offer. Teasing me with the promise of something more. I’d expected him to ravish my mouth, but instead, he took the time to seduce me. Heat spread through my body, and my damn knees buckled. His touch feathered against my bare back, eliciting a shiver unlike anything I’d ever experienced. My whole body attuned to his, and he’d done little more than offer a chaste brush of our lips.

We parted, my chest heaving beneath my dress. His gaze dipped to my plunging neckline, his eyes sparkling at the sight of my flushed skin.

“I have a room upstairs,” he rasped.

Hallelujah. Because we sure as hell wouldn’t make it back to my place.

“Only if you’re interested.”

I laughed. “You damn well know I’m interested.”

“Now?”

Screw the auction. Gabriel had sent me to smooth over the press, and to donate money to a good cause. Neither of which I’d done. But I’d already won the night as far as I was concerned, without spending a single cent. I could easily donate the money without bidding.

I licked my lips, excitement dancing in my stomach. “Now,” I murmured. “Right fucking now.”

He flashed me a grin. “A woman after my own heart.”

Gwen Knight is a Canadian girl currently living in Jasper, AB. She graduated from the University of Lethbridge with a degree in Archaeology and Geography. Her interests consist of playing in the dirt, designing elaborate snow forts, boating, and archery.

 

Review: The Bad Boy Cowboy (Book #4: Morgan Ranch Series) by Kate Pearce

34808262Professional rodeo cowboy “HW” Morgan has finally achieved his dream of competing in the national rodeo finals—but his career has come at a price. His twin brother wants nothing to do with him and a string of hookups haven’t warmed his bed. He’s got to get his head on straight—and the only place to do that is at home, if his family will have him.   Samantha Kelly isn’t sure what she’s doing at a new dude ranch. The army veteran is barely back on her feet again, still struggling to rehab an injury. But she’s willing to give equine therapy a try, even though her riding instructor is bold, brash, and distractingly easy on the eyes. As she and HW warily try to work each other out, slowly and surely an unbreakable trust is built—one on which dreams can be built . . .

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Source: Netgalley and Purchase          My Rating: 4/5 stars

HW Morgan has always been very good at two things, the rodeo and disappointing his family.  With his age, various injuries, and general level of exhaustion the rodeo is quickly becoming a no-go, which leaves returning to the Morgan ranch and hoping he can mend some literal and figurative fences there.  Going home won’t be easy, but the Morgan’s have a long history of forgiveness; all HW can really hope for is that the forgiveness will extend to him.

With the ranch on the verge of opening for “real” guests, the timing of HW’s return couldn’t be better.  He’s willing to pitch in anywhere, anytime, and glad to be back to the honest, hard work of ranch life.  With a herd of trial-run guests coming to the ranch, HW is willing to work hard, not just for himself, but also, to prove to his family he’s ready to settle down, leave the bright lights of the rodeo behind.  His first assignment, outside of the everyday ranch chores, is to teach the newbies how to ride a horse.  Though HW initially grumbles and groans about the assignment (he is a rodeo star!) he quickly figures out, he’s a pretty good teacher, and one guest in particular is well worth his time and attention.

Samantha Kelly frustrates HW to no end!  She is strong, sassy, intelligent, and not like any other woman he has ever known.  Every time he takes her out riding, Samantha surprises him or pisses him off and there’s certainly no in between!  She’s admittedly nosy and pushes HW to talk about the issues that have clearly made him so angry.  What’s more, her outspoken nature has made her a Morgan family favorite which means she’s learning more about HW from his family than he would normally share on his own.  That pisses him off too!  Finally, there is the intense attraction he has toward Samantha.  She is sexy as hell and seems interested in nothing more than a no-strings-attached fling.  Yeah, that also pisses him off!

HW’s life is generally a mess, but Samantha is working hard to help him sort it out. She insists on him talking about and dealing with his past even when it pushes them further away from one another.  As the weeks fly by, HW is confronted with one issue after another, and each seems more emotionally wrought than the last.  With his nerves frayed, his sexual frustration at an all time high, and his future uncertain, HW needs Samantha more than ever, but he just isn’t sure he is what she wants or needs.  Needless to say, everything blows up in spectacular Morgan fashion long before an HEA can be reached 😊

The Bottom Line:  You know what?  I am still really enjoying this series, and with the exception of a few unanswered questions, I particularly liked this read.  As I discovered, HW isn’t so much a bad boy, though he has done some bad boy things, but a guy with a great many unresolved issues related to his family and his past.  He has secrets he fears will separate him from his family forever, and that drives much of his behavior and anger.  Samantha is a force of nature with her own issues that often collide with HW and his issues.  However, at the end of the day, Samantha and HW are perfect for one another, and with the support of the rest of the Morgan family (to HW’s great surprise!) they can be together and be amazing!  As much as I liked HW and Samantha, my favorite part of this read was the extended information about the Morgan family history.  The secrets just keeping rolling out of this group and it certainly keeps me interested and coming back for more.  The family history reveal is buttressed by the ongoing evolution of the entire Morgan clan (and partners!) and interesting book-specific plot lines that fall right in line with the series plot line.  In all, I am still impressed with and totally entertained by this series!

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Cover Reveal: Del Toro Moon by Darby Karchut

Cover Del Toro Moon finalBad enough Matt Del Toro is the greenest greenhorn in the family’s centuries-old business: riding down and destroying wolf-like creatures, known as skinners. He must also learn how to match his father’s skills at monster hunting. Odds of doing that? Yeah, about a million to one. Because Matt’s father is the legendary Javier Del Toro—hunter, scholar, and a true caballero: a gentleman of the horse.

Now, with the skinners multiplying, both in numbers and ferocity, Matt is desperate to keep his father and hot-tempered older brother from killing each other, prevent his new friend, Perry—a horse-crazy girl who recently moved to their small town of Huerfano, Colorado—from discovering the true nature of his odder-than-oddball family, and save a group of paleontologists from getting skinner-ed.

Luckily, Matt has twelve hundred pounds of backup in his best friend—El Cid, an Andalusian war stallion with the ability of human speech, more fighting savvy than a medieval knight, and a heart as big and steadfast as the Rocky Mountains.

Serious horse power.

Those skinners don’t stand a chance.

Goodreads

About the author where to find her:

Darby Karchut author photoDarby Karchut is a multi-award winning author, dreamer, and compulsive dawn greeter.  A proud native of New Mexico, she now lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where she runs in blizzards and bikes in lightning storms. When not dodging death by Colorado, Darby is busy at her writing desk. Her books include the best selling middle grade series: THE ADVENTURES OF FINN MacCULLEN. Best thing ever: her YA debut novel, GRIFFIN RISING, has been optioned for film. Her latest book, DEL TORO MOON, releases Fall 2018 from Owl Hollow Press. Visit the author at http://www.darbykarchut.com

Review: A Dash Of Love: Based on the Hallmark Channel Original Movie by Liz Isaacson

A Dash of LoveWhen Nikki lands an assistant job at her idol’s restaurant, she’s sure her next big break is around the corner. After a rocky start, she befriends Paul, the handsome executive chef. Although he graduated from culinary school, and Nikki’s a self-taught cook, the two begin bonding in the kitchen.   But Nikki’s new boss, Holly Hanson, turns out to be anything but admirable. She’ll stoop to anything to save her restaurant, and Nikki and Paul both pay the price.   Can they win against the scheming of a celebrity chef? Maybe, with some creative thinking…and a dash of love.

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Source: Netgalley          My Rating: 4/5 stars

Nikki is not a trained, professional chef, but she is an outstanding cook with a creative streak a mile wide.  Her foods are crafty, creative, tasty, and oh so satisfying.  She’s been gainfully employed in other people’s kitchens for years, but her dream is her own restaurant with complete creative control over the menu.  With any luck, Nikki’s new job will be yet another step toward her dream.

Working for Holly Hanson is a dream come true and Nikki can’t believe her luck!  Holly’s food empire is a thing of beauty, a wonder to behold.  She owns a successful, top-notch restaurant, her cookbooks line the bookstore shelves, and she is a celebrity.  Trouble is, over the years, Holly’s menus have become bland and boring, her actual kitchen output is noticeably decreased in quality, her restaurant isn’t doing all that well financially, and she’s generally a terrible human being.  Though Nikki only knows about a few of these things, she isn’t deterred and is determined to make the best of her situation. 

Thankfully, Nikki’s situation includes approval to cook in the state of the art kitchen after closing and interacting with Paul, the delectable and uber-talented executive chef.  Like Nikki, Paul is trying to make the best of his situation and that includes cranking out Holly’s tired recipes night after night and having no creative freedom of his own.  Nikki’s presence makes the job bearable and, once he discovers her clever, creative, and completely enticing food, the situation becomes exciting.  Paul is bowled over by Nikki and wants to see her succeed professionally; Paul also wants her to succeed personally, with him.  Trouble is, both Nikki and Paul work for a scheming tyrant whose machinations will have devastating consequences beyond their wildest imaginings.

The Bottom Line: I was looking for a super-sweet, little bit of drama read and A Dash of Love absolutely fit the bill!  From page one, I liked Nikki, her attitude, and her determination to see her dreams come true.  Though she faces some awful, soul-crushing moments, Nikki doesn’t let it defeat her.  She’s plucky, not afraid to stand up for herself, and with Paul by her side, willing to take risks.  Paul is the perfect balance for Nikki, and once she helps him work through his family issues, he’s also the perfect man.  The only thing I found lacking in the book was a proper ending for Holly Hanson.  My evil twin really likes to see the big bads get what’s coming to them.  My eviler twin likes to have what’s coming to them all spelled out and that didn’t happen here which left me somewhat dissatisfied.  But, only somewhat 😊  There’s nothing ground-breaking or profound here, but there is a solid, sweet, heartwarming, guaranteed HEA read between the covers.  A Dash of Love is a quickly read book that makes for an excellent rainy-day distraction.

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Mini-Review: Better Off Read (Book #1: Bookmobile Mystery Series) by Nora Page

Better Off ReadWhen her best hope of saving her storm-damaged library is found murdered, senior librarian Cleo Watkins hits the road in her bookmobile in search of justice.   Septuagenarian librarian Cleo Watkins won’t be shushed when an upstart young mayor threatens to permanently shelve her tiny town’s storm-damaged library. She takes to her bookmobile, Words on Wheels, to collect allies and rally library support throughout Catalpa Springs, Georgia.  However, Cleo soon rolls into trouble. A major benefactor known for his eccentric DIY projects requests all available books on getting away with murder. He’s no Georgia peach, and Cleo wonders if she should worry about his plans. She knows she should when she discovers him bludgeoned and evidence points to her best friend, Mary-Rose Garland. Sure of Mary-Rose’s innocence, Cleo applies her librarian’s sleuthing skills to the case, assisted by friends, family, and the dapper antiquarian bookseller everyone keeps calling her boyfriend. Evidence stacks up, but a killer is overdue to strike again. With lives and her library on the line, Cleo must shift into high gear to close the book on murder in Better Off Read, the charming Bookmobile series debut by Nora Page.

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Source: Netgalley          My Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line: In truth, I switched this review from full-blown to mini when I realized, not much of this book stayed with me.  I still have an overall positive feeling about the book, but I didn’t retain a great deal of details, and that’s not ever a good sign.  I liked Cleo well enough, but I liked her cat better; if the cat were the focus of the book, that would be awesome, and the star rating would be higher.  I liked the plot, but it didn’t bowl me over.  I liked the secondary characters, but no one really stood out.  You see where I’m going with this?  I generally liked everything about this book, but not enough to get super-excited and shout it out to the world.  If I happen across the next book in the series, I’ll add it to the old TBR list, but I’m not going to go looking for the second book, and if I find it, it won’t be going to the top of the TBR list.

Releases June 12, 2018:   Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Kobo