Monday, November 16, 2020

A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Mayhem (A Lady's Guide #1) by Manda Collins

 * * * *

An intrepid female reporter matches wits with a serious, sexy detective in award-winning author Manda Collins' fun and flirty historical rom-com!

England, 1865 : As one of England's most notorious newspaper columnists, Lady Katherine Bascomb believes knowledge is power. And she's determined to inform and educate the ladies of London on the nefarious-and deadly-criminals who are praying on the fairer sex. When her reporting leads to the arrest of a notorious killer, however, Katherine flees to a country house party to escape her newfound notoriety-only to witness a murder on her very first night. And when the lead detective accuses Katherine of inflaming-rather than informing-the public with her column, she vows to prove him wrong.

Detective Inspector Andrew Eversham's refusal to compromise his investigations nearly cost him his own career, and he blames Katherine. To avoid bad publicity, his superiors are pressuring him to solve cases quickly rather than correctly. When he discovers she's the key witness in a new crime, he's determined to prevent the beautiful widow from once again wreaking havoc on his case. Yet as Katherine proves surprisingly insightful and Andrew impresses Katherine with his lethal competency, both are forced to admit the fire between them is more flirtatious than furious. But to explore the passion between them, they'll need to catch a killer.

Source: ARC generously provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

I've just read my first Manda Collins novel and I am in love! A Lady's Guide was everything I wanted to read at the time -- a sharp-minded, independent woman meets disciplined, meticulous detective. It has the wise cracks, the mystery and the burgeoning romance, plus the setting of 1865 London is fun.

Lady Katherine now runs a well-known London newspaper after her husband passed. It's rare for a woman to own much less run a business but she relishes having autonomy over her own livelihood. London is currently gripped by fear with the unsolved murders making the headlines. Feeling that the detectives are missing a woman's perspective, Lady Katherine decides to do her own investigative work. All looks promising after her first column leads to an arrest and all of London sighs in relief. However, Detective Inspector Andrew Eversham isn't convinced. He thinks Lady Katherine's column was irresponsible but more pertinently, he believes the wrong person was arrested. When she comes across another murder in the country that resembles the London murders, she and Andrew team up together - okay, he was definitely talked in to the partnership by a persuasive Lady Katherine - to find the true killer before more any more lives are lost.

The mystery sucked me in immediately. Not only was the concept interesting, there were also enough fascinating characters for them all to be touched by suspicion. All the pieces for the mystery were well played out. What cinched it for me, though was the marvelous chemistry between Katherine and Andrew. There was some verbal sparring and slight annoyances but we know they delighted in it. Lady Katherine's astute observations coupled with Andrew's expertise make for a powerful combination and they were simply effective together. And it was refreshing that Andrew never thought to underestimate Katherine or put her in her place. Once past the sting of that column, Andrew developed an appreciation for her wit and knew she was just as resolute as he was about bringing the actual killer to face justice. Of course, he wanted to protect her and keep her out of harm's way but he also knew her defiant spirit would have none of that. To put it succinctly, he respected her. Watching two very capable people in action is so rewarding. They're so perfectly matched to go head-to-head, to challenge each other which translates so naturally into that delicious sexual tension between them.

I love reading mysteries and I've grown fond of historical romances lately so the two combined together was a blast for me. A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Mayhem is a scintillating mystery and Lady Katherine and Andrew will charm your socks off!

~ Bel

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Snapped (Playbook #4) by Alexa Martin

* * 3/4

With the stakes this high, it’s no longer just a game for the quarterback in this romance by the author of Blitzed.

Elliot Reed is living her best life—or pretending to. She owes it to her dad’s memory to be happy and make the most of her new job as Strategic Communications Manager for the Denver Mustangs. Things are going well until star quarterback Quinton Howard Jr. decides to use the field as his stage and becomes the first player to take a knee during the national anthem.

As the son of a former professional athlete, Quinton knows the good, the bad, and the ugly about football. He's worked his entire life to gain recognition in the sport, and now that he has it, he’s not about to waste his chance to change the league for better. Not even the brilliant but infuriating Elliot, who the Mustangs assign to manage him, will get Quinton back in line.

A rocky initial meeting only leads to more tension between Quinton and Elliot. But as her new job forces them to spend time together, she realizes they may have more in common than she could've ever imagined. With her job and his integrity on the line, this is one coin toss that nobody can win.

Source: advance copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Elliot (Elle) is still new at her dream job doing PR for the Denver Mustangs when she's called into the owner's office and given her first major assignment: work with their newest Mustang, Quinton Howard Jr who's created a a PR nightmare for his team by covering up the NFL logo on his uniform and kneeling during the anthem. It's subtly implied that her job is on the line therefore she has to minimize whatever damage has been done and keep him from creating any more distractions. Elliot and Quinton don't quite hit it off upon their first meeting but come to some sort of weird truce to get the job done. In the meantime, the Mustangs owner recruits her to help him with a secret event. This is a potentially big career move so she agrees to it despite any reservation she might have about the owner's agenda.

It's a daunting task to address the issues of racism, Black Lives Matter, and unfair treatment of retired NFL players suffering from CTE in one book. It comes with heavy expectations.  I think Snapped struggled here in three parts. 

Firstly, it seemed to only graze the surface of the topic of race. For example, Elliot never specifically asks Quinton why he knelt during the anthem. Instead of trying to understand the motive behind his very public action, she views him as just an assignment, and his protest as a threat to her dream job. He's simply another one of those spoiled rich athletes that must be dealt with swiftly to please her boss. Her solution is to give Quinton an image makeover and steer the conversation away from his kneeling to his philanthropy work. That's a decent gesture but I didn't get the point of introducing his peaceful protest only to not really discuss its intent and ramifications. 

There is plenty of emphasis on Elliot being biracial and how she's learned to internalize things or see past them. Having been raised by her white father, whom she loved and adored, she grew up looking past color. While she looks black, she's never ever wanted to be categorized as either black or white. She wants to be judged as a person. She comes to a startling realization about herself by the end of the book which majorly shifts her worldview. This is Elliot's experience and upbringing specific to her, and even though I'm not biracial I felt a certain kinship with her because of my own upbringing and experiences. 

Secondly, there were too many subplots at the expense of a focused plotline. Aside from social justice issues, there's Quinton's fight for adequate compensation and care for older retired players who have been diagnosed with CTE. Then there's Elliot's immediate acceptance and friendships with the Lady Mustangs, and in particular, her involvement with one of the characters whose has marital problems. With several things happening simultaneously it became pure overload. I think removing some of those subplots would've streamlined the story and allowed for better exploration of the other topics. The marital problems and/or the instant friendships with the Lady Mustangs, for example could've been a separate book or novella. 

The romance was fine, though I couldn't quite understand their emotional connection when Elliot never truly understands what currently matters to Quinton. I also felt she was keeping herself at a bit of a distance, too. It didn't help that he was being kind of cagey as well.

I was thrown off by the ending because it felt like suddenly everyone, including Quinton's teammates were on board with the kneeling, and that in turn inspires the entire stadium to do so. It's sudden and resolves everything with a neat little bow leading me to my third point: the story would've benefited from including Quinton's POV throughout and not just in the prologue. I think it would've enhanced his message exponentially to know his thoughts, see first-hand how his kneeling was impacting the team and his relationships with the other players. Whether those hard but frank conversations took place between Elliot and Quinton or Quinton and his teammates, it would've been insightful to have his perspective as a black man with a massive platform who wants to facilitate reform. I also think it would've given more meaning to the ending. Anyway, I understand the author has since revised it. (I can't speak to any changes since I have the original advance copy but I'll update my review in the future if I get the chance to revisit it again.)

I loved the previous books in the series so naturally I looked forward to Snapped. I struggled with this review because I wanted to be able to clearly identify what was off for me - the plot layout which didn't provide a wide enough space for the major topics while it gave away space to distracting subplots. It's because the main issues were either unexplored or underdeveloped that Snapped left me wanting. 

~ Bel

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Mistletoe and Mr. Right (Moose Springs #2) by Sarah Morgenthaler

 * * * 1/2

How the moose (almost) stole Christmas.

Lana Montgomery is everything the quirky small town of Moose Springs, Alaska can't stand: a rich socialite with dreams of changing things for the better. But Lana's determined to prove that she belongs...even if it means trading her stilettos for snow boots and tracking one of the town's hairiest Christmas mysteries: the Santa Moose, an antlered Grinch hell-bent on destroying every bit of holiday cheer (and tinsel) it can sink its teeth into.

And hard could it be?

The last few years have been tough on Rick Harding, and it's not getting any easier now that his dream girl's back in town. When Lana accidentally tranquilizes him instead of the Santa Moose, it's clear she needs help, fast...and this could be his chance to finally catch her eye. It's an all-out Christmas war, but if they can nab that darn moose before it destroys the town, Rick and Lana might finally find a place where they both belong...together.

Source: advance copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Mistletoe and Mr. Right is an adorable read in the lead up to the holiday season. I didn't realize that it's the sequel to The Tourist Attraction but I don't think I missed out on anything by reading out of order. 

Lana is a high-powered business woman with the brains to envy. Moose Springs has been her long-awaited passion project because it feels like a home to her. Too bad the locals see her as an intruder who wants to change the nature of their small town vibe. All she wants to do is help it grow and prosper and eventually make a home there. At least she has reinforcements with Zoey and her boyfriend, Graham, a local business owner. Between balancing construction needs, being on the board of her family's multi-million dollar business empire, catching the dreaded Santa Moose that's terrorizing the town's Christmas decor (yes, there's a rogue moose running amuck), she's slowly falling in love with Rick, the laid back resident and quiet owner of the local pool hall. Lana's plans are threatened when her family starts to question her commitment to Moose Springs, viewing it as a waste of financial resources. She has to work overtime to defend the town and the people even if they don't return the sentiment.

This story is simply too adorable and right in keeping with that cozy small town feeling. It's all about people with good intentions who just want to go about doing their own thing. I really liked Lana, too. She's a smart businesswoman who handles herself well even when someone's trying to back her into a corner. She also looks to make personal connections, something she's felt lacking in her upbringing. She's always had to put on a good, professional face so it's easy to see why Moose Springs is a place where she can put that aside and just be. 

As for Rick ...I pictured him as Mutt from from Schitt's Creek. He's the guy who just wants to be under the radar, likes simple things and is a wee bit clueless about how to woo the woman he thinks is out of his league. I liked that he isn't intimidated by Lana's career or business smarts. He's only doubtful because he's a true small town guy while she's a world traveler, so his concern is that he won't be exciting enough for her. Seriously, Rick is so endearing and I just want him to have all the good things in life. There's a fantastic scenario they wind up in on their first official date that is so bizarre and just out there. Yeah, bizarre is a good word for it.

It may seem like it's far away but Christmas will be upon us soon. Reading Mistletoe and Mr. Right would be a good start to your holiday season!

~ Bel