22 October 2016

Salvatore: A Dark Mafia Romance (Benedetti Brothers, Book 1)

Synopsis from Goodreads: 


It all started with a contract signed by him, then by me, while our families watched. While my father sat silent, a man defeated, giving his daughter to the Benedetti monsters. I obeyed. I played my part. I signed my name and gave away my life. I became their living, breathing trophy, a constant symbol of their power over us. That was five years ago. Then came the time for him to claim me. For Salvatore Benedetti to own me. I had vowed vengeance. I had learned hate. And yet, nothing could have prepared me for the man who now ruled my life. I expected a monster, one I would destroy. But nothing is ever black or white. No one is either good or evil. For all his darkness, I saw his light. For all his evil, I saw his good. As much as he made me hate him, a passion hotter than the fires of hell burned inside me. I was his, and he was mine. My very own monster.


I owned the DeMarco Mafia Princess. She belonged to me now. We had won, and they had lost. And what better way to teach a lesson than to take from them that which is most precious? Most beloved? I was the boy who would be king. Next in line to rule the Benedetti Family. Lucia DeMarco was the spoils of war. Mine to do with as I pleased. It was my duty to break her. To make her life a living hell. My soul was dark, I was hell bound. And there was no way out, not for either of us. Because the Benedetti family never lost, and in our wake, we left destruction. It’s how it had always been. How I believed it would always be. Until Lucia.

Author’s Note: Salvatore and Lucia’s story is a steamy standalone romance with a happily-ever-after. No cliffhanger and no cheating. It is intended for mature readers.

Stats for my copy: Trade paperback, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016

How acquired: Bought.

My thoughts:  Mafia, mobsters, gangsters, and the like – not the type of hero who has ever appealed to me. Violent men in violent worlds, breaking laws and laundering money and killing rivals. What's to love about those men? But the author of this book is Natasha Knight, and I very much like her, so I took a chance and doled out the $11.99 for it. And I'm happy to say I have no regrets.

The premise is a little horrifying. Two heads of rival mob families signing a contract for peace between the families, with one man giving his teen-aged daughter to the other man's son. Lucia is forced to sign a contract that effectively gives ownership of her to Salvatore. Would it hold up in a court of law? Of course not. Lucia is a minor and slavery is outlawed. But the mob doesn't follow our laws, and both Lucia's and Salvatore's fates are sealed that day.

Fortunately, Lucia is sent away to a boarding school for the first five years of the contract, so she's of legal age before she is actually physically handed over to Salvatore. She hates him of course, and his father and brother, not to mention her own father for putting her in this position. But she's strong and feisty, and refuses to cower down.

The story is told in first person POV, alternating between Lucia and Salvatore, and I don't think the story could have worked as well otherwise. Hearing Salvatore's side of the story, his thoughts and feelings about a contract that he, too, was forced into, helped make his character sympathetic. He wasn't just a mobster, he was a man who lived under the thumb of his overbearing father, who still mourned the loss of his older brother, and who was determined to protect Lucia and make the situation as easy on her as he could, albeit while still maintaining control of her.

Definitely a relationship with a rocky start. And then a war is brewing, and with Salvatore's brother and Lucia's sister and cousin involved, it's hard to imagine our hero and heroine ever coexisting peacefully. When you're born into a mob family, it seems your life is never just your own, but you can't just walk away. For Salvatore, there is some soul searching, a yearning for a different kind of life. Men who seek redemption – what's not to love about them? 

02 October 2016



Synopsis from Goodreads: When Jordie Bennet and Shaw Kinnard lock eyes across a disreputable backwater bar, something definitely sparks. Shaw gives off a dangerous vibe that makes men wary and inspires women to sit up and take notice. None feel that undercurrent more strongly than savvy businesswoman Jordie, who doesn't belong in a seedy dive on the banks of a bayou. But here she is . . . and Shaw Kinnard is here to kill her.

As Shaw and his partner take aim, Jordie is certain her time has come. But Shaw has other plans and abducts Jordie, hoping to get his hands on the $30 million her brother has stolen and, presumably, hidden. However, Shaw is not the only one looking for the fortune. Her brother's ruthless boss and the FBI are after it as well. Now on the run from the feds and a notorious criminal, Jordie and Shaw must rely on their wits-and each other-to stay alive.

Miles away from civilization and surrounded by swampland, the two play each other against their common enemies. Jordie's only chance of survival is to outwit Shaw, but it soon becomes clear to Shaw that Jordie isn't entirely trustworthy, either. Was she in on her brother's scam, or is she an innocent pawn in a deadly vendetta? And just how valuable is her life to Shaw, her remorseless and manipulative captor? Burning for answers-and for each other-this unlikely pair ultimately make a desperate move that could be their last.

With nonstop plot twists and the tantalizing sexual tension that has made Sandra Brown one of the world's best-loved authors, STING will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the final pages.

Stats for my copy: Hardback, Grand Central Publishing, 2016.

How acquired: Bought.

My thoughts:  One thing I love about Sandra Brown is her heroes. She is wonderful at writing men who often appear on the surface to be dangerous, threatening, villainous, but who in reality are good, honorable, charismatic men who love fiercely and take huge risks to protect others, to fight the real bad guys, to make justice prevail. Unfortunately, she failed at creating that type of man in STING, at least to me. I struggled to feel any sympathy for his character at all, and didn't really connect with the heroine either. That being said, the parts of the narrative about the two of them were the best parts of the book. The other parts, with the FBI agents trying to find the kidnapped heroine and track down her escaped from custody brother, were flat out boring. In fact, they often read more like a true crime step by step accounting of the events that occurred, rather than a novel. So, definitely not my favorite of her books.

And what's with the covers of her recent books all looking the same? 

Meeting of the Mustangs


Synopsis from Goodreads: A black colt is born into a band of wild mustangs and soon learns that life can often be difficult. Follow his story as he goes from a free spirit to being captured for profit, and find out how one man gains the trust and extreme loyalty of a very special horse.

Stats: Self-published, 2015.

How acquired: Received from the author for review.

My thoughts:  The story opens with a young coal black colt chasing a butterfly's shadow. I was captivated from the first sentence as our little hero frolics with his friends, raced away from mountain lions with the rest of his herd, and discovered the joys of playing in the snow. But life isn't all sunshine and flowers for the band of wild horses, and eventually the young colt is captured and thrown into a world of humans, both kind and cruel. At times the story was almost downright depressing, and I would have absolutely loved this book when I was a young, typically horse crazy girl. The narrative flows easily and is beautifully written. The author doesn't dumb down the perils the wild mustangs faced, but uses fairly simple language appropriate for young readers. I quite enjoyed this book.

19 September 2016

Here Today, Gone Tamale (A Taste of Texas Mystery, Book 1)


Synopsis from back cover: After losing her newspaper job in Austin and having her former fiancé unfriend her on Facebook, Josie Callahan scoops up her Chihuahua, Lenny, and slinks back to Broken Boot, Texas. Maybe working as head waitress at Milagro—her aunt and uncle’s Tex-Mex restaurant—isn’t exactly living the dream, but it is a fresh start.

And business is booming as tourists pour into Broken Boot for its famous Wild West Festival. But when a local jewelry designer is found strangled outside Milagro after a tamale-making party, Josie’s reporter instincts kick in. As suspects pile up and alibis crack faster than taco shells, Josie needs to wrap up this case tighter than her tía’s tortillas—before another victim calls for the check…

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Berkley, 2015.

How acquired: Bought.

My thoughts:  When I was offered an ARC of the second book in this series, I had to rush out and buy the first book so I could read them in order. I believe these books are what are commonly called “Cozy Mysteries”, a genre I have no real experience with as of yet. But HERE TODAY, GONE TAMALE was a good introduction.

The story is told in first person POV by Josie Callahan, an ex-newspaper reporter whose career pretty much went down in flames. She moved back home and works in her aunt and uncle's Mexican restaurant, and she and her dog, Lenny, live in an apartment above the restaurant. When a local jewelry maker is found dead outside the restaurant, her reporter instincts can't help but kick in, and she makes it her mission to solve the murder, despite the fact that the local police would prefer she mind her own business.

Josie is a fun, fresh and somewhat self-deprecating narrator. She describes her friends, family, and other townsfolk in vivid colorful detail, which is good because there are a lot of characters to keep up with. Her love and loyalty to both her family and the town shine through. The restaurant, Milagro, sounded like a place I'd enjoy visiting. I definitely began to crave some good Mexican food, especially tamales (and I generally prefer enchiladas), while reading.
Some people catch all the breaks, and the rest of us eat too many tamales.

I particularly enjoyed Josie's interactions with her ex-boyfriend's beauty queen girlfriend, as well as with her aunt's mother-in-law, Senora Mari. Not to mention the stoic Deputy Quint Lightfoot, who Josie's best friend practically falls all over and who Senora Mari practically tries to pimp Josie out to. 
Of course,” Senora Mari continued, “if you decide you want to try something new before you settle down and have babies, you could ask Josie. She'd give you a run for your money.”
Great. Now I was a racehorse.

The mystery at times was a little confusing to me, though I usually managed to catch up again within a page or two. That probably had more to do with me being tired all the time and only able to concentrate for short stretches at a time than with the writing and/or plotting.

Fun and breezy, despite being about a murder investigation. I'm looking forward to the second book. 

05 September 2016


Synopsis from back cover: Following the death of his wife, Crawford Hunt, a Texas Ranger, fell into a downward spiral that left him relegated to desk work and with his five-year-old daughter in the custody of her grandparents. But Crawford has cleaned up his act and now the fate of his family lies with Judge Holly Spencer. Ambitious and confident, Holly temporarily occupies the bench of her recently deceased mentor. With an election upcoming, she must prove herself worthy of making her judgeship permanent. Every decision is high-stakes. When a masked gunman barges into the courtroom during the guardianship hearing, Crawford reacts instinctually, saving Holly from a bullet. But his heroism soon takes on the taint of recklessness. The cloud over him grows even darker after he uncovers a horrifying truth about the courtroom gunman and realizes that the unknown person behind the shooting remains at large – and a threat.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Grand Central Publishing, 2015.

How acquired: Borrowed from my mother. I usually buy Sandra Brown's books as soon as they come out, but somehow I missed this one.

My thoughts:  I knew I would love this book because I've come to expect that from Sandra Brown. She writes incredible heroes, men who often appear on the surface to be dangerous, threatening, villainous, but who in reality are good, honorable, charismatic men who love fiercely and take huge risks to protect others, to fight the real bad guys, to make justice prevail.

Crawford Hunt is a Texas Ranger who is in a custody battle with his in-laws, who have raised his young daughter since his wife died. Holly Spencer is the judge presiding over the custody proceedings, but before she can give her ruling a gunman bursts into the courtroom and begins shooting. Crawford throws himself on top of Holly to protect her, and their lives become intertwined from that moment on.

FRICTION was very much more Crawford's story than Holly's, which was fine by me because I adored him. I liked Holly too, of course, but for much of the book she was more of a secondary character as Crawford dug deeper and deeper into the mystery of who the shooter was, who hired him, and why. The mystery unravels slowly, and then ravels, and then unravels some more. However, the last chapter, after the mystery of the gunman was revealed, was a little bit of a let down, neatly and abruptly tying up all the remaining loose ends almost as an afterthought.

If you're already a fan of Sandra Brown, you'll enjoy this book. If you're new to her writing, you'll probably still enjoy it, and then you should seek out LETHAL, MEAN STREAK, and THE WITNESS, which are her best books in my opinion.


Mini Reviews


Somehow I reached my fifties without ever having read this children's classic! And it is such a delightful read. I was of course already familiar with the story (who isn't?), but I very much enjoyed reading it. I was a little surprised when Heidi first goes to live with her grandfather, as I expected him to be much more ogre like, frowning, taciturn, etc. I'm thinking maybe he was portrayed more that way on screen? Anyway, classics are classics for a reason, and HEIDI is a wonderful story.  

TEEN IDOL, by Meg Cabot

Filled with Meg Cabot's trademark humor and teen pathos. Like The Princess Diaries, the plot is a bit fairytaleish, as a mega movie star decides to spend two weeks at a typical midwestern high school as research for an upcoming movie role. He's undercover as a transfer student, and Jenny, a high school junior and secret author of the newspaper's Ask Annie column, has been recruited by the staff to be his student guide. She has to help him blend in while keeping his true identity a secret.

It's not all just light fluffy fun though. The story touches on the serious issue of not just bullying, but of standing by and doing nothing to try and stop the bullying. Through Luke's eyes Jen begins to see the things that go on in a new light, and by the end she has grown as a person and a human being. 


During her school years my youngest daughter was very much into soccer, and this was one of her books from those days. I'm donating it to a school, and read through parts of it. A lot of it is technical and motivational instructions for young girls about the game and the different positions and different moves, and I skimmed over those parts and just focused on the more personal stories about Mia's own life and her childhood and experiences. I enjoyed those parts, but the other parts were boring to me, which is to be expected as I am not the intended demographic for this book. 

27 August 2016



Synopsis from Goodreads: Some people seek marriage counseling; others find wisdom in horse manure. Austen St. Johns has taken up a shovel.

When her marriage transitions from blushing newlyweds to people who merely co-exist, Austen realizes perhaps she's responsible for her misery.

Desiring change, she leaves Oregon for the open plains of a Wyoming ranch where she discovers through love of self how she can save her marriage.

Stats for my copy: Digital download, Tirgearr Publishing, 2016.

How acquired: Instafreebie.

My thoughts:  I struggled to stay interested in this book. The writing is pretty wonderful, almost lyrical and poetical at times. I think my main issue was that I just could not relate to Austen at all.

After just a few short years of marriage, Austen feels like she needs to find herself, so she leaves her husband behind and takes a job on a ranch in Wyoming. It's hard work, cleaning stables and the dining hall, mucking manure, pitching hay, among a bunch of cowboys who look down on her, snicker behind her back, and sometimes play practical jokes on her. But her vast knowledge of herbs and flowers and their medicinal properties soon earns her the respect of her coworkers, who begin calling her “Doc”. Although she's not close to being a doctor.

In the meantime, she does a lot of soul searching about herself, her goals in life, her wants and desires, and her relationship with her husband. They're not separated, in the legal sense, just apart for awhile. She comes to the realization that she must love herself, and eventually she does find herself.

My favorite part of the book was towards the end when her husband comes to the ranch. But most of the time I was just...bored.