Series Spotlight: A Gilded Newport Mystery by Alyssa Maxwell

For me, vacations as a child were spent on Cape Cod. Every year we would pile in to our old Ford Explorer and take the 5 hour-long trek from New Jersey to Cape Cod. For small children, 5 hours in the car can be an obscenely long time. Tired of listening to my sister and I moaning, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” my mother decided that stopping in Newport, RI would be a great half-way point to stretch our legs. It was during these stops in Newport that we began exploring Bellevue Avenue and discovered the Newport Mansions. They are large, enormous summer homes built during the Gilded Age by the Vanderbilts, Astors, Berwinds, Oelrichs, etc. They are BEAUTIFUL. In the 22 years since my first visit I’ve been to the mansions more times than I can count. I’ve introduced my husband, brother-in-law, and friends to these amazing feats of architecture and grandeur. Alyssa Maxwell is now introducing a whole new set of people to these museums with her A Gilded Newport Mystery series.

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So why am I telling you guys about this series? First, because the murders are solved by a super awesome heroine, Emma Cross. She’s smart, fiercely independent, creative, gutsy, strongly supportive of everyone around her, and one of the most generous women ever. But above all that? She’s a woman who refuses to be what the society of the time dictates. She’s a newspaper reporter – in the 1890s!!! She’s a distant Vanderbilt relative but doesn’t let that stop her from letting her house become a haven for societal outcasts. Regardless of her lower financial status, she always puts others first. She’s truly an incredible heroine.

Second, the locations and time period! I’ve been to these mansions. They are transporters to another place and time. The Gilded Age was one riddled with extravagance and extreme poverty, while also shepherding many changes on the social front. Women’s suffrage was rapidly increasing among the classes, as well as the abolition of child labor and introduction of many new industrial technologies. The amount of social, political, and economic upheval during this time period really helps drive the subplots of the mysteries.

And about those mysteries? They unfold for the reader and Emma at the same time. Nothing is kept from you that Emma herself hasn’t discovered or thought up. Mysteries told in first-person narrative are my favorite, because I think they offer the reader the ability to solve the crimes at the same time as the heroine/hero. Maxwell does a great job at letting you think you’ve figured it all out early on, then throwing a wrench in your (and Emma’s) hypothesis by adding in a new element to the crime. She really does a spectacular job.

Can I lastly just mention how beautiful the artwork on the covers is?

I highly recommend you pick up these fast-paced mysteries to take with you to the beach this summer. You’ll have a great time helping Emma solve the mysteries that just seem to keep happening in Newport!

In (story) chronological order (with my ratings) the series is:

  1. Murder at The Breakers – 4 out of 5 Stars
  2. Murder at Marble House – 4 out of 5 Stars
  3. Murder at Beechwood– 4 out of 5 Stars

Special thanks to Kensington Books for my copy of Murder at Beechwood via Netgalley!

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Series Spotlight: The Summerset Abbey Trilogy by T.J. Brown

Up until now, every single Series Spotlight post I’ve written has been about a series I’m raving about. Sadly, this particular spotlight is on a trilogy that bothered me for a multitude of reasons. The Summerset Abbey trilogy by T.J. Brown started out with an enormous amount of potential.  However, as the series continued I found myself aggravated not only with certain characters, but with larger statements the trilogy was making.

sattjbAll three books revolve around three “sisters.” I say “sisters” because two of the three women, Rowena and Victoria, are actually sisters. The third young woman, Prudence, was their governess’s daughter and was raised like their sister after her mother’s death. When Rowena and Victoria’s father Sir Phillip dies, their uncle steps in to bring them to his estate for his wife to raise. Their uncle is not forward-thinking at all. He believes Prudence has no place in their lives and society, as she’s the daughter of a servant. Thus begins the tale of how one man’s death changes the ideals, lives, and futures of three young women. Rather than talk about each book individually, I’m going to discuss each of the three main female characters.

Prudence: Of the three women, she started out as my favorite. Her plight from a girl raised with wealth, freedom, and status to being thrust into a world of servitude and poverty was captivating. Her odd upbringing did her no favors in terms of helping her find her place in the world. In Rowena and Victoria’s home she was just as they were. Outfitted in nice clothes. Educated and not worked as a servant, though her mother was the governess. Sir Phillip was a man of forward thinking who didn’t believe in the rigidity of the social classes. He encouraged the girls to be freethinkers themselves, and all of this led to Prudence believing she could accomplish great things someday. The girls’ uncle, however, doesn’t believe in this way of thinking and tells Rowena that Prudence is not welcome at his estate. Rowena, needing Pru, tells her uncle that Prudence is really their lady’s maid. This is how Prudence finds herself in the servants quarters. She is not welcome above stairs nor below, as the servants recognize she’s not truly of their class.

I found Prudence to be the character that had the MOST potential and the one that flopped the hardest. She makes a decision at the end of book one that just doesn’t match up to her character’s intelligence at all. Over the course of the next two books we’re left to watch the repercussions of her decision. At the end of three books I still didn’t understand the motives behind her decision nor did I really feel like she was happy. She just seemed resigned to what her life was. And what kind of statement does that tell readers? Here is this young woman, brought up with education, music lessons, and access to the suffragette movement among other things. And where do we see her wind up? Struggling to bake bread and wash clothes. Her potential was completely revoked, the minute that decision at the end of book one was made.

Rowena: From start to finish, I disliked her. From our first introduction to her she’s selfish, impulsive, rude, and stuck-up. I cut her a bit of slack knowing her father had just died, but even in book three – she’s just…ugh, aggravating. All she cares about is herself and finding ways to make her feel “alive.” She allows her uncle to run roughshod over all of her and Victoria’s feelings on moving, their obligations to society, and most importantly, what they can “do” as women. Her inability to help herself or to help others truly bothered me.

Victoria: While she started out a bit boring for my taste, she quickly rose up the ladder in my mind and is the reason why I stuck with the entire series. I wanted to know HER story and her’s alone.  Of the three women she is the only one that fights for what she wants, and the only one that tries to better herself and the world around her. She fights with her Aunt and Uncle about Prudence constantly, even standing up to them pretty amazingly at one point. She becomes a nurse during the war to help those around her. She becomes friends with one of the scullery maids in the estate’s kitchen and brings her to London, giving her a more decent future. She’s definitely the most nurturing of the three women, as she is always worried about the causes of others (a bit naively at some points.)

So what are the larger points of this story that bothered me? For one thing, why were the majority of the women in the books bitches? Also, did the insanely crazy side of the Women’s Suffragette Movement have to be the only one shown? Sure there were women who did crazy things all in the name of women’s rights, but there were also amazing women like Alice Paul and Millicent Fawcett, who could have been used to show another less vindictive/less self-serving side of the movement.

Even with all of the nonsense above that bothered me I do have to give Brown props for her work on the historical front. Her incorporation of the clashing of social classes and overarching effects of the war were done brilliantly.

In (story) chronological order (with my ratings) the series is:

  1. Summerset Abbey – 3 out of 5 Stars
  2. A Bloom In Winter – 2 out of 5 Stars
  3. Spring Awakening – 2 out of 5 Stars

Series Spotlight: The Westfield Wolves Series/Regency Vampyre Trilogy by Lydia Dare

This past summer, as I was stalking the Nook sales site, I found several books by Lydia Dare that intrigued me. While I don’t read as many paranormal books as I used to (I’m not sure why), I still like throwing one or two into my reading pile every few months to help me mix things up. The “one or two books” I threw into the mix this year turned into seven, with another two being thrown into my to-read pile. The seven books I read turned out to be two series by Lydia Dare (actually two authors – Tammy Falkner and Ava Stone) that intersect each other. The first four books are part of The Westfield Wolves series, the next three are the Regency Vampyre Trilogy, followed by two more Westfield Wolves books (another wolf book is slated for 2014 release and will be the tenth in this dual series.)

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So why am I telling you to read these books? It’s because of the kick-ass, take no prisoner heroines. You see, all the male characters are strong, powerful, domineering men. They’re werewolves and vampires, so their domineering natures are to be expected. However the women that enter their lives are no simpering misses. These women stand up to their domineering partners, challenging them and effectively wrapping these men around their little fingers. There is nothing they won’t do for their women, especially fall in love, which is something they’ve all sworn never to do due to their wild natures. Yet these fearless women show them how much better life is with someone by their side; they are an equal partner with whom they can share the ups and downs, the good and the bad.

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The books that really stand out in this series are Tall, Dark, and Wolfish and It Happened One Bite. Tall, Dark, and Wolfish follows Benjamin, a werewolf who has suddenly stopped changing during the full moon, and Elspeth, a healer who is part of a coven of witches in Scotland. Ben travels to Scotland in search of a famed healer (Elspeth’s late mother) to help him with his “ailment”.  As Elspeth is the only remaining healer, he finds himself in her company often as she tries to figure out how to get him to turn back into a wolf.  The two have such sharp and witty dialogue that I couldn’t help but fall in love with their story and subsequent relationship.

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In It Happened One Bite, Elspeth’s coven sister Blaire travels to a castle in Scotland that she never knew belonged to her family.  While exploring the castle she finds a man, James Kettering, locked in her cellar.  It turns out that her mother and the four other witches of their coven locked him in the cellar 20 years earlier for reasons unknown to James, Blaire, or the current coven. What I liked about this one was the change in Blaire’s character over the course of the novel.  She’s the battle witch of the coven – she can shoot fireballs, is excellent with a bow and arrow, etc. Her personality is already a bit more hardened and tomboyish to begin with, but to watch her fall in love was great. And James – he’s never threatened by her tough exterior. In fact, he loves her sarcasm and dry wit. He knows deep down inside she’s capable of great warmth, kindness, and loyalty. Their story definitely hooked me and made me extremely excited to continue the series.

I hope that I’ve given you enough reasons to read these series, as they aren’t ones to miss. And for those of you nervous to read something that is a collaboration of two authors, let me assure you that their writing is so flawless and seamless that you truly cannot tell that it was written by more than one author.

In (story) chronological order (with my ratings) the series is:

  1. A Certain Wolfish Charm (Westfield Wolves #1) – 4 out of 5 Stars
  2. Tall, Dark, and Wolfish (Westfield Wolves #2) – 5 out of 5 Stars
  3. The Wolf Next Door (Westfield Wolves #3) – 3 out of 5 Stars
  4. The Taming of the Wolf (Westfield Wolves #4) – 5 out of 5 Stars
  5. It Happened One Bite (Regency Vampyre Trilogy #1) – 5 out of 5 Stars
  6. In The Heat of The Bite (Regency Vampyre Trilogy #2) – 4 out of 5 Stars
  7. Never Been Bit (Regency Vampyre Trilogy #3) – 3 out of 5 Stars
  8. The Wolf Who Loved Me (Westfield Wolves #5) – On my to-read list
  9. Wolfishly Yours (Westfield Wolves #6) – On my to-read list

Series Spotlight: The Artists Trilogy by Karina Halle

Kim here. Back with another Series Spotlight post! I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed putting them together.  In case you couldn’t tell, I’m a serious series book binger.  I find the first book in a series, enjoy it, and then need to read all of them ASAP.  It makes trying to describe each book as a single entity more difficult, as the series blends together as I progress through it.  Karina Halle’s The Artists Trilogy was one such series.  One story, told through three books and a novella, The Artists Trilogy is the perfect reading choice for anyone who loves anti-heroes.

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This dark, gritty, crime-filled series had me hooked from the get-go.  Halle’s characters are an anti-hero lover’s dream.  Ellie, Camden, Javier, and even Gus are people you’d never expect to find yourself rooting for.  Ellie is a con artist, dealt some shitty blows in life.  Her parents were also con artists, and after one of their cons goes wrong she finds herself with a bad acid burn on her leg. The revenge she’s sworn on the man responsible for her leg is what drives and motivates her. Camden, on the other hand, was thrust into a life of crime when he married the wrong girl.  His ex-wife’s brothers were into some bad shit and forced him to become a money launderer after the divorce. While deep down he’s a great guy with a great heart, he is capable of some serious “dirty work.” Javier isn’t a true anti-hero, at least not in my opinion (I believe him to be one of the villains of the piece.)  He runs a cartel and is Ellie’s former lover.  She left him after she found out he was cheating on her and has been on the run ever since. Finally, we come to Gus.  Gus is a former cop who is now into forging ID’s, license plates, etc.  He was a friend of Ellie’s parents and helped them (and later Ellie) with several cons over the years.

Now that you’ve met the cast, we should move to the story.  Ellie has spent years on the run from Javier and heads back to her hometown to catch her breath and regroup.  While there she rekindles her friendship with Camden, a former friend from high school.  She realizes something isn’t quite right with his situation and comes to learn of his money laundering.  She decides she wants to help him when Javier comes back into her life in full force.  After a few games of cat and mouse, Ellie is forced back into Javier’s company.  It’s there she learns that the revenge she has yearned for her entire life is in her grasp, as long as she works with Javier.

So why am I telling you about this series? First because there aren’t enough anti-heroes out there.  They need more love and I think this series helps to right that wrong. Second, I just really love the dark, gritty nature of this series.  I found this series at a time I needed a break from the “perfect” nature of romance novels.  I needed flawed characters, the triumph of evil characters, and frankly, chaos.  Halle gave me all that and more in a well-written series, and as a reader it’s my job to share that with you! If you’ve been looking for a series that is totally out of the box, filled with crime, gun fights, hot sex, and car chases The Artists Trilogy is a sure bet.

In (story) chronological order (with my ratings) the series is:

  1. On Every Street (Novella) –  3 out of 5 Stars
  2. Sins & Needles – 4 out of 5 Stars
  3. Shooting Scars – 4 out of 5 Stars
  4. Bold Tricks – 4 out of 5 Stars

Series Spotlight: The Beachwood Bay Series by Melody Grace

If you’ve been attempting to start reading books that fall under the New Adult genre listen up, this post is for you.  My latest Series Spotlight is on Melody Grace’s Beachwood Bay series, which currently consists of 2 full length novels and 2 novellas.

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So before I go into what I thought of the books and the series let me just chat about the reading order.  Though the novellas Untouched and Untamed Hearts take place prior to Unbroken and Unafraid, I’d recommend reading them AFTER you read their matching books.  I think you ruin certain elements of the big books by reading the novellas beforehand.  I liked learning about the history of the couples little by little rather than all at once, as the novellas are written.  So, I feel that it would be best to read the series in this order: Unbroken, Untouched, Unafraid, Untamed Hearts. 

Ok, with that out-of-the-way, on to my thoughts!

I really enjoyed Unbroken! It’s full of all the angst and drama that I love.  Not only that but there is also love that is selfless! Can we get more books like that?  A love that allows you to break your own heart, simply because it may be in the best interest of your partner (I know I’m being vague here, but I really can’t ruin Unbroken for you.)  Emerson (the hero of Unbroken) comes off as a major asshole at first.  However, once you understand his backstory and the true reasoning for his actions, I promise you, you’ll look at him in an entirely different light. And Jules? Jules shows us just what grief can do to a person.  Grief stemming from loss and also grief due to lost love.  She’s a really thought-provoking character (especially to anyone out there that has experienced loss and has grieved.)

Untouched was the perfect complement to Unbroken.  We get to experience Emerson and Juliet’s relationship at its beginning, chock-full of the blush of new love and the difficulties they faced due to the differences in their situations.

Unafraid is the story of Emerson’s sister, Brittany, and her beau, Hunter.  Hunter is in Beachwood Bay taking over the horse farm his grandfather left to him (I love him already. Any guy who loves horses? Yee haw!)  He comes from a very well-to-do family who expects him to just get a business degree and go to work in corporate America.  Be the guy who attends cocktail parties and is always “on.”  He has other plans in store, namely running the horse farm, and being with Brit.  In a way Hunter also helps us understand the depths of sorrow a person can feel from grief.  He and Juliet are similar in that way.

Brit on the other hand has dreams of becoming a fashion designer.  She’s trying to escape the small-town life she’s been stuck in, as well as the stigma that having a non-existent father and druggie mom can leave.  She’s pushed down every emotion she’s ever felt and tries to hide it all with meaningless sex.  She’s one of those characters who appears rough and tough on the outside but inside is broken in a million pieces.  Hunter and Brit’s story is all about overcoming the labels that society places on us and allowing one’s true self to overcome all odds.

So, why do I like this series?  First, they are great escapes.  While they are quick reads guaranteed to make you believe in love, they have some depth to them.  Second, I think it’s the characters dealing with grief that struck a chord with me.  As someone who has had their fair share of grief in their life, I know the emotions that grief can cause a person to feel.  To have stories that allow us to see that you can overcome grief and get beyond it? Fabulous.

In (story) chronological order (with my ratings) the series is:

  1. Untouched (Novella) – 4 out of 5 Stars
  2. Unbroken – 4 out of 5 Stars
  3. Untamed Hearts (Novella) – 3 out of 5 Stars
  4. Unafraid – 4 out of 5 Stars

Series Spotlight: The Fatal Series by Marie Force

I’ve long been wanting to start a new feature on the blog which spotlights book series that I’ve found and truly enjoyed.  A lot of times I get hooked on a series, find that it’s been out for a while, then binge myself on 5 or 6 books in a row, finding myself totally entranced by the series and author. One such occurrence happened when I found the Fatal series by Marie Force.  Currently 6 books and a novella, the Fatal series is a hybrid of the crime and romance genres.

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The Fatal series follows Sam Holland, a police detective for the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington D.C., as well as Nick Cappuano, a chief-of-staff turned Senator.  The two had a memorable one-night stand a few years prior, but they are now brought back into each other’s lives as Nick’s boss, Senator O’Connor, has been murdered.  As the head of the murder investigation, Sam becomes a constant part of Nick’s life again, much to his surprise.  After their one-night stand Nick tried contacting Sam over and over in the hopes of beginning a relationship with her.  Circumstances neither of them could have known about kept them apart, and this reintroduction has begun to rekindle the feelings both have never been able to truly suppress over the years.

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So, why do I love this series? First and foremost, the characters.  Nick is AWESOME.  He’s not threatened by Sam’s powerful career or her need for control.  Nor is he perturbed by the thick armor she wears to deal with the world.  Instead, he pushes her to think in new ways, express her emotions, and allow herself to need those around her.  His love, support, and encouragement help her shed the tremendous amount of stress, guilt, and pressure she’s carried around.  Sam’s an incredible character (AND woman) in her own right.  She’s strong, resilient, intelligent, and powerful.  The two together are awe-inspiring.  They can achieve anything together, as their love truly makes them better, stronger people.

I’m glad that Force chose to have Nick and Sam’s love story spill out over multiple books instead of having everything happen in one.  It makes their relationship and subsequent marriage more believable and realistic.  It also allows their development as a couple, individuals, and professionals  to grow leaps and bounds.

So, what else is so special about this series besides the characters? The non-stop action, for one thing.  Also, the intriguing mysteries!  While Sam and Nick’s love story is the heart of this series, it’s not the main plotline in each book.  The mysteries that Force comes up with are super fascinating, and they take up a good portion of each book, filling out the romantic portions nicely.  It’s obvious she’s a talented writer the more you read of the Fatal series.  Each book will have you guessing from start to finish.

In order (with my ratings) the series is:

  1. Fatal Affair – 5 out of 5 Stars
  2. Fatal Justice – 4 out of 5 Stars
  3. Fatal Consequences – 4 out of 5 Stars
    1. Fatal Destiny (novella) – 5 out of 5 Stars
  4. Fatal Flaw – 3 out of 5 Stars
  5. Fatal Deception – 5 out of 5 Stars
  6. Fatal Mistake – 3 out of 5 Stars

If you’re looking for something new to read that is truly out of the box (I mean come on, murder and romance!?) I suggest giving this series a shot.