Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Most Dangerous Duke in London

The Most Dangerous Duke in London (Decadent Dukes Society) by [Hunter, Madeline]

The Most Dangerous Duke in London- Madeline Hunter
Penguin RandomHouse/Zebra
Release Date: May 30, 2017

Rating (out of 5):

Warning: Potential Spoilers!

Synopsis: Clara may be the woman Adam wants, but there’s one problem: she’s far more interested in publishing her women’s journal than getting married—especially to a man said to be dead-set on vengeance. Though, with her nose for a story, Clara wonders if his desire for justice is sincere—along with his incredibly unnerving intention to be her husband. If her weak-kneed response to his kiss is any indication, falling for Adam clearly comes with a cost. But who knew courting danger could be such exhilarating fun?


Adam Penrose, the notorious Duke of Stratton, has returned to England after several years in France. Rumor has it he killed several men in duels and was obliged to leave Paris.  Rumor also suggests that his real reason for returning to England is vengeance.  His father killed himself surrounded by whispers of treason, but who started the rumors?  And just what kind of revenge will Stratton take?  Clara Cheswick is happy with her life as it is.  She inherited land and a decent fortune from her father and isn't dependent on her younger brother.  She and her friends are publishing a journal that has started to gain popularity.  She has a purpose in life and is answerable to no man.  Clara never met Adam before he left for France but their families were notoriously at odds, the feud going back so long that no one could remember what it was about.  When Clara's grandmother and brother, Theo, want to marry Clara's younger sister to Stratton to ensure he never challenges Theo to a duel, Clara is both skeptical of their motives and outraged they would offer up Emilia like a sacrificial lamb.  Fortunately for Emilia, Adam is interested only in Clara.  But is he looking for a wife, a mistress, or some kind of revenge against Clara's family?  Can Clara discover the truth behind Adam's motives before losing her heart to the man Society calls "the most dangerous duke in London"?

Book One of Madeline Hunter's new trilogy "The Decadent Dukes" introduces us to the dukes of Stratton, Brentworth, and Langford- a trio who learned in school that the only one who will treat a duke like a normal person is another duke.  While all three enjoy the lives of rich and carefree bachelors, we never really see them treated differently from any other peer.  We do see the power of rumor and the leading figures of the Ton, and this is a shadow that follows Stratton throughout the book.  He makes use of his reputation as a dueler and a dangerous man to try and get what he wants.  The problem is that Stratton very quickly gets torn on what it is he actually wants.  He has no way of truly getting revenge against the man who he thinks wronged his father- the Earl of Marwood (Clara's father) is dead.  The new Earl is too young to have had anything to do with the mysterious rumors and too weak to be keeping them going today.  The Earl's grandmother may be a terrifying old lady who kept Adam's mother on the fringe of Society back in the day, but kept her power plays to the ballroom.  Adam's friends and his mother tell him to leave the past in the past, but he feels a duty to discover the truth.  Only the more he searches, the more conflicted he is on whether he really wants to know the truth.  

While I had a hard time really getting into Adam, Clara was a delightful and strong heroine.  She is confident in herself, her path, and her decisions, even when those decisions don't run exactly with what Society dictates she should want.  Unwilling to be relegated to a lesser role at home and commanded by her grandmother, Clara chooses to set up her own home.  She has a comfortable fortune and no need of a husband.  She rejects Stratton's first idea of marriage because she sees no benefit for her in marrying a duke.  Fortunately, Clara is not a woman so set in her ways that she isn't willing to consider changing her mind when she starts to fall for Stratton.  But she also doesn't allow love to blind her to the fact that Stratton is hiding things from her.  She knows he somehow blames her father for his father's death.  The more she finds out about the whole mess, the less convinced she is that Stratton wants to marry her for reasons other than a twisted sort of revenge.    

Stratton is not Hunter's strongest hero in my opinion.  But I had trouble deciding if it was Stratton, or his quest for the truth and vengeance that was my problem with the often uneven pace to the book.  Sometimes Stratton is a strong, dark, and charismatic man.  Other times he seems almost aimless, torn between the past and the present with no idea how to resolve the two.  Sometimes the mystery around the rumors of his father's possible treason seemed important enough that you wanted to encourage him to keep searching for the truth.  Most of the time it was hard to believe that it mattered.  People younger than Adam's father seemed to have no idea of what rumors might have been spread, but every man was worried Stratton would challenge him to a duel.  Considering the duels in France were supposed to be tied to his family's honor, you would think that men would just not insult a duke- especially for something most of them didn't really know anything about.  Fortunately, Clara helped to carry this story to the end and kept me interested enough to want to see how things would be resolved.  While the mystery and plot were more uneven than a typical Madeline Hunter book, the ending had a wonderful surprise twist.  Presumably we'll see Stratton and Clara drop in on his friends, the other Decadent Dukes, in their forthcoming books.

Not Hunter's best work, I wouldn't recommend a reader new to Madeline Hunter start with The Most Dangerous Duke in London.  As a pretty devoted Hunter fan, I found this a bit of a disappointment, but definitely a good introduction to characters we should expect to see through the series.  Clara is an excellent heroine and her terrifying, domineering grandmother breathes life into every page she's on.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Merely a Marriage

Merely a Marriage (Berkley Sensation) by [Beverley, Jo]

Merely a Marriage- Jo Beverley
Berkely Publishing
Release Date: May 30, 2017

Rating (out of 5):

Warning: Potential Spoilers!

Synopsis: As England mourns the death of Princess Charlotte, Lady Ariana Boxstall has another succession in mind. Her brother, Norris, is a strapping young man, but he’s also happily unmarried and childless. Norris agrees to take a wife on one condition: that Ariana take a husband first. Although she realizes she risks a lifetime in a loveless marriage, for the sake of her family, Ariana accepts his challenge. 

When the Earl of Kynaston met Ariana eight years ago, he broke her heart. Since then, his own heart has been broken, and he’s sworn off love...until he sees Ariana all grown-up and his resolve is threatened.  

Could Ariana’s bargain with Norris actually lead her to happiness? With real love on the line, she must win over the one man who refuses to be had


Recognizing that her home and family is in danger of falling to her drunken wastrel of an uncle if her brother doesn't marry and produce an heir, Lady Ariana Boxstall is determined to push Norris to get married.  As a 23 year old, Norris is more interested in horses than marriage so he proposes that Arianna marry first.  If she can marry in the next few weeks, he'll follow suit.  Ariana hates Town but heads there to hunt a husband and accidentally ends up embroiled in scandal with the Earl of Kynaston.  She thinks he's a drunk who's squandered all his money, but when he tries to help end the scandal, she sees a new side to the mysterious earl.

Merely a Marriage was a very up and down book for me.  I enjoyed the fast-paced writing and Ariana's light humor, and was certainly interested enough to read the whole book.  But at the same time the characters were shallow, often annoying, and didn't really seem to grow or develop as the book went on.   The book is set just after the death of Princess Charlotte and Charlotte is a ghost that is meant to effect each of the characters in different ways.  It has Ariana pushing Norris to marry and ensure the security of the family home and his mother and sister.  It haunts Kynaston, reminding him of the death of his wife under similar circumstances and acts to further cement his idea of never marrying again.  You would expect it would have Ariana thinking about the dangers of marriage, but apparently that never crosses her mind- she is surprised when Knyaston brings it up.  

Unlike many historical romances, Ariana also never brings up the argument of how marriage would not limit Norris, but would greatly change her own life.  Beyond living in a new place (which does come up) she would legally be under her husband's rule, her money would be his, and marrying the wrong man would have serious consequences.  She blithely assumes she'll just pick one of her previous suitors, get married, and move on.  The problem is that she's a very tall woman and refuses to marry a man shorter than her.  In her mind, based on a disastrous season when she was 17, she's a freak because of her height. As a debutante she was made fun of, and many times she's still that awkward, unsure girl, while other times she's confident in herself and her intelligence.  Ariana also flips back and forth on Knyaston.  8 years ago she was infatuated with him because of his looks but overheard him with friends joking about many debutants, herself included.  Now she's determined to dislike the man and never works to discover anything of who he's become or what he's been through in the intervening years.  The first time she sees him he's drunk in his aunt's library, and she decides that he's not only a rake but a drunkard who is financially ruined, treats his little sister terribly, and ignores everything outside of the bottle.  The reader can tell she's a bit prejudice but frustratingly only sees him through Ariana's eyes and so only learns things as she does.  I would have preferred the narrative to go back and forth between their points of view, but we rarely see anything from Knyaston's viewpoint.  The few times we do, the scenes are short, simple, and don't help drive the narrative or the characters.  

It's impossible to tell when Ariana falls for Knyaston or if she's always loved him and never admitted it (I think even Ariana couldn't answer that), but it's also hard to see why she loves him.  She seems to decide that she can change the man she thinks he is and save him from himself without bothering to learn anything about him.  There's no chemistry between them, although there are several entertaining scenes as they try and debunk rumors of a scandalous tryst.  The end solution, when everyone who's anyone explores Mr. Peake's antiquities collections, is a novel and enjoyable solution to the tricky problem of Society's fickle opinion.

Overall an enjoyable enough book for a quick read, but don't expect a complex plot or engaging characters out of Merely a Marriage.   

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Age of the Horse

The Age of the Horse: An Equine Journey through Human History by [Forrest, Susanna]

The Age of the Horse: An Equine Journey Through Human History
Atlantic Books
Release Date: October 6, 2016

Rating (out of 5):

Synopsis:  Man has always been fascinated by Equus caballus, recasting horse power into many forms: a hunk of meat, an industrial and agricultural machine, a luxury good, a cherished dancer, a comrade in arms and a symbol of a mythical past. From the wild tarpans sought by the Nazis to jade-laden treasure steeds in Ancient China, broken-down nags recycled into sausages and furniture stuffing, stallions that face fighting bulls and brewery horses that charmed the founder of the Sikh Empire, The Age of the Horse knits the history of the horse into that of humans, through revolution, war, social change and uneasy peace. It also uncovers new roles for the horse in the twenty-first century as a tool in the fight against climate change and as a therapist for soldiers damaged in unwinnable conflicts. 

In this captivating book, Susanna Forrest takes a journey through time and around the world, from the Mongolian steppes to a mirrored manege at Versailles, an elegant polo club in Beijing and a farm, a fort and an auction house in America, exploring the horse's crucial role and revealing how our culture and economy were generated, nourished and shaped by horse power and its gifts and limits.


The Age of the Horse is not a history of the horse.  It is, according to the introduction "a wander down six . . . ways in which we have used the horse, and the routes that ideas, people and horses took across an ever-changing territory."  The six pathways Susanna Forrest takes us down include "Evolution", "Domestication", "Wildness", "Culture", "Power", "Meat", "Wealth", and "War".  Within these six sections Forrest explore the entire range of equine-human interactions from warhorses to status symbols, cart horses to polo horses, from Mongolia to England, ancient past to present day.  

From the luxury of Versailles and the life of a dancer to the harsh world of bull fighting and meat factories, Forrest doesn't shy away from exploring the negative as well as the positive in our treatment of horses over the centuries.  She does an excellent job of balancing and capturing humankind's love of horses with the often cruel realities of human-horse partnership.  Combined with her thorough research behind her subject, it is possible to learn some interesting facts and view horses and humans through interesting historical lenses.  

My problem, and great disappointment, with The Age of the Horse was Forrest's writing style.  A meandering, almost stream of conscious style, Forrest describes everything in the closest of details and uses so many similes and metaphors in her writing that it is oftentimes unreadable.  I found it frustratingly easy to lose the thread of the narrative, or the point Forrest was trying to explore/make, because of the many tangents or 'paths' we wandered down along the way.  The heavy overuse of similes and metaphors bogged down the narrative.  By the end of the book, while I might have learned a few things along the way, I couldn't tell you what they were.  I was more relieved to be finished with the book than reflecting on the human-horse culture I had hoped to learn about.

An excellent concept, poorly executed, makes The Age of the Horse a book probably only the most dedicated of horse enthusiasts will enjoy plodding through.  For the rest of us, I recommend passing on this title.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Rescuing Kassie

Rescuing Kassie (Delta Force Heroes Book 5) by [Stoker, Susan]

Rescuing Kassie (Delta Force Heroes #5)- Susan Stoker
Stoker Aces Production
Publish Date: May 16, 2017

Rating (out of 5):

Warning: Potential Spoilers!

Synopsis: Graham "Hollywood" Caverly feels the chemistry with Kassie Anderson in the emails they've been exchanging through a dating site. When they finally meet in person, and that online chemistry proves to have real-life sizzle, he knows she's the one. He couldn't be happier when their first date, at an annual Army Ball, goes better than he could have imagined. Until Kassie drops a bomb.

Kassie doesn't want to approach Hollywood on the dating site, but threats to her family leave her no other choice. She definitely doesn't want to fall for the man. But fall she does. Hard. After she admits the ruse--and after some understandable anger on both their parts--Kassie wonders if, in Hollywood's arms, a happy future is within her grasp.

But her past always finds her, and in Kassie's case, that's a dangerous proposition--because she's connected to an old enemy of Hollywood's Delta Force team. Very intimately connected... And it will take Hollywood, his Delta brothers, and even some outside help to do what should have been done the first time--eliminate the threat once and for all.


Everyone knows online dating is a risky proposition.  You could hit the jackpot, you could meet an axe murderer.  Graham "Hollywood" Caverly thinks he's hit the jackpot: Kassie has a great sense of humor, similar likes/dislikes, and they click perfectly.  The only problem is that Kassie is messaging  Hollywood because her ex Richard and his stalker friend Dean are threatening her little sister if she refuses to spy on him and his Delta Force team.  She's used to abuse and threats from them, but is determined to protect her family.  She's also used to not having anyone in her corner.  Meeting Hollywood for the first time, she thinks maybe she's found someone she can count on to have her back.  She fesses up, he gets mad, fortunately he has his Delta Forces brothers and their girlfriends to show him when he's being dumb and why he shouldn't walk away from a good thing.  Can Kassie and Hollywood work through their differences in time to save the Delta squad, Kassie's family, and what could be a great relationship?

I liked Kassie right away.  She is a down to earth, 'regular' person anyone can relate to: lousy managerial job, lousy ex-boyfriend, just trying to make life work and support her sister.  She is so used to abuse (both physical and mental/emotional) that she no longer expects anyone to help her with anything, that she's always on her own.  Kassie doesn't know why her ex and his friends hate Hollywood's team so much and doesn't want to be a part in hurting anyone, but her sister and family come first and you had to respect that.  Between a rock and a hard place, she was doing the best she could.  Also to her credit, as soon as she figured out Hollywood and his friends aren't evil people, she comes clean and tells him what's going on.  Literally, on their first date.  I certainly wouldn't have blamed her for waiting awhile and not trusting Hollywood right away.  Given her history it was more of a surprise that she did become comfortable with him so quickly.  Hollywood is a good guy, with the normal ultra-protective instincts you'd expect from elite military alphas.  I was super pissed at him for instantly believing the worst of Kassie when she tried to tell him what was going on, and his overreaction seemed a bit out of character for him as we got to know him better.  But it was straight from a sense of betrayal because he was already pretty much in love with Kassie, so I guess that gets him a little leeway too.  Plus he did come around to groveling in record time.

Fast paced was definitely the name of the game for Rescuing Kassie.  Most things happen in record time, some slightly less believable than others: the instal-love from Hollywood for Kassie and the instal-trust from Kassie for Hollywood I would have been ok with going a bit slower, especially Hollywood earning Kassie's trust so fast. Just my opinion but it would have seemed more in character for her to take a little longer.  The problem of Dean and Richard goes on through the whole book, but seems to go pretty fast- which was fine by me.  Believable? Maybe, maybe not.  But it totally worked for me for the book.  While the motive our bad guys have for trying to ruin so many people's lives is pretty thin, it most certainly underscores how crazy they are. Rescuing Kassie was the first of Stoker's Delta Force series I've read, but worked as a stand-alone in a series.  As with Susan Stoker's other series, we see characters that have either already had their own book or will have a book, and while people (and in this case, the bad guy) carried through, it was easy to read as a stand alone, and certainly made me plan to go back and read the rest in this series.

Full of action, adventure, and romance, Rescuing Kassie was a great book that fans of Susan Stoker, or first time readers who are fans of action/contemporary/military romance.  

I received an ARC of this book from Instafreebie in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Going in Deep

Going In Deep (Billionaire Bad Boys Book 4) by [Phillips, Carly]

Going in Deep - Carly Phillips
CP Publishing
Release Date: May 9, 2017

Rating (out of 5):

Warning: Potential Spoilers!

Synopsis: Julian Dane thought he'd hit rock bottom — until he met a woman (isn't that what they all say?). He used her and broke her heart. Now he wants to turn things around but the damage he dealt stands in his way.

Kendall Parker's unique issues have made it hard to live a normal life. Very few people understand her and she trusts even less … but she believed in Julian once, and he only betrayed her.

Now Julian is back — a new man — and determined to win Kendall's heart. But this reformed bad boy just might find that Going in Deep is harder than it looks.

In college Julian, Kade, Derek, and Lucas were close friends designing a social media app.  Then Julian dropped into alcohol and drugs, abandoned his friends, and they went on to create a multi-million dollar company without him.  He came back, raked up things his friends didn't want to remember, sued them to get some of the company's money, and used Kade's girlfriend's twin sister to hurt them even more.  He used Kendall, then broke her heart, then walked away.  To say that he has a rocky road to redemption would be an understatement.  Kendall is finally on track with her life: she has a job, an apartment, and working with a therapist and medication to keep her bipolar disorder under control.  She's not interested in ever seeing Julian Dane again.  But persistence pays off and these two people who were once so wrong for each other may prove to be a perfect match- if they can convince Kendall's family to give him another chance!

I was skeptical when I first read the blurb for this book.  How in the world could Julian Dane be redeemed into hero material?  Or at least a likable, sympathetic main character.  We met him in Going Down Easy as someone who did what he wanted, used who he could, and had no feelings for anyone else.  In Going in Deep we see things through Julian's eyes.  I was encouraged to give him a chance with the opening lines of the book, which became something of Julian's motto: "A man didn't make mistakes.  He made choices.  Bad ones stayed with him for a long time but, with a little luck and a lot of hard work, hopefully not forever."  Julian never makes excuses for his past actions.  He owns them as bad choices.  But we also see why he made the choices he did.  And while you certainly don't agree with those choices, you have to be encouraged by the fact that the new Julian doesn't agree with them either. He's working hard to make amends, make changes, and make things better where he can.  I liked how Kendall eventually sees that in him and gives him the chance.  

Both Kendal and Julian come into their own here, becoming strong characters who learn to deal with their problems.  But while they may be impacted by their pasts, they don't spend the entire book going over old ground.  While it might help readers to read the earlier books in the series (or at least Going Down Easy) first to get the background, I think it would also be possible for new readers to read Going in Deep as a standalone without too much confusion.

This is a book about second chances: the people who take them and the ones who don't.  Julian is getting a second chance at a life free of alcohol and drugs, getting a second chance with Kendall, and even a second chance with the men who used to be his best friends. Kendall is getting a second chance as a responsible and independent adult, not one who relies on her twin to take care of her.  She's not only giving Julian a second chance, she's giving herself a second chance- learning to trust her judgment in herself and in others to be happy.  Dogs also play a big role in this book and second chances.  Kendall works at an animal shelter, helping people adopt pets that need a second chance at life.  She bonds with Julian over the dog he adopts- you can tell a lot about a person by how he treats his pet after all.  But Kendall is also good at seeing people and dogs who could work together, like as emotional therapy dogs. Without being preachy Going in Deep goes into some deep issues of addiction and mental health, and how individuals choose to deal with them (or not).  I thought that Phillips handled these sensitive issues with not only gentle understanding but also a desire to bring awareness to the topics and help erase the social stigma still prevalent in society today.  If you read Going in Deep and find yourself thinking there's an abnormally high number of people in it with some kind of 'mental health' issue, you'd be wrong- these characters are just more willing to talk about it.  Hopefully someday that will mirror our society's willingness to talk about things.

A fun book with characters who feel real and three dimensional, dealing with real life issues with a perfect blend of seriousness and humor.  A must read for Carly Phillips fans and a great introduction for new Carly Phillips readers and fans of contemporary romance. 

I received a free copy of this book on Instafreebie in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Last Hope Island

Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War by [Olson, Lynne]

Last Hope Island: Britain's Brotherhood with Occupied Europe, and the Unsung Heroes Who Turned the Tide of War- Lynne Olson
Random House
Release Date: April 25, 2017

Rating (out of 5):

Synopsis: When the Nazi blitzkrieg rolled over continental Europe in the early days of World War II, the city of London became a refuge for the governments and armed forces of six occupied nations who escaped there to continue the fight. So, too, did General Charles de Gaulle, the self-appointed representative of free France.     

As the only European democracy still holding out against Hitler, Britain became known to occupied countries as “Last Hope Island.” Getting there, one young emigré declared, was “like getting to heaven.”

In this epic, character-driven narrative, acclaimed historian Lynne Olson takes us back to those perilous days when the British and their European guests joined forces to combat the mightiest military force in history. Here we meet the courageous King Haakon of Norway, whose distinctive “H7” monogram became a symbol of his country’s resistance to Nazi rule, and his fiery Dutch counterpart, Queen Wilhelmina, whose antifascist radio broadcasts rallied the spirits of her defeated people. Here, too, is the Earl of Suffolk, a swashbuckling British aristocrat whose rescue of two nuclear physicists from France helped make the Manhattan Project possible.

Last Hope Island also recounts some of the Europeans’ heretofore unsung exploits that helped tilt the balance against the Axis: the crucial efforts of Polish pilots during the Battle of Britain; the vital role played by French and Polish code breakers in cracking the Germans’ reputedly indecipherable Enigma code; and the flood of top-secret intelligence about German operations—gathered by spies throughout occupied Europe—that helped ensure the success of the 1944 Allied invasion.


Last Hope Island is a powerfully written amalgamation of stories of a Europe occupied by Nazi Germany and the men, women, and governments who joined forces to resist a common enemy.  I was fascinated to learn these new aspects to World War II- many of them unknown or poorly understood by myself and (probably) many others.  Olson takes a dauntingly large saga and humanizes it, introducing us to King Haakon of Norway and the Dutch Queen Wilhemina, both standing strong against Hitler and becoming symbols of strength for their countries.  We meet heroes like Andree de Jongh and the de Nooij sisters, among others who helped smuggle Allied soldiers out to safety or hid wounded soldiers, protecting them from Nazis.  Especially important are the stories of Polish and Czech soldiers and pilots who helped turn the Battle of Britain, the Polish cryptographers who broke the "unbreakable" Enigma code and the intelligence agents who smuggled out information vital for the D-Day beach landings.

Olson does her best not to idolize or whitewash any of the history she examines.  Along with the heroic victories are plenty of defeats, and Olson takes an honest look at the British and American leaders who refused to accept assistance or believe information coming from Europeans- leading to such disasters as the Allied defeat at Arnhem in 1944.  The popular myth of Britain's Secret Service as being a brilliant and unbeatable spy operation is smashed to bits as Olson examines MI6 and the Special Operations Executive (SOE).  Originally underfunded operations recruiting young aristocrats and providing little to no training before sending them into the field, the groups seemed to put more emphasis on fighting each other for credit and funding than focusing on improving their intelligence operations to defeat Hitler. 

The BBC gets special notice in Last Hope Island, as a beacon of hope as well as providing the public with a separation from propaganda and focusing on telling the news- the truth, the whole truth, no matter how awful it might be.  I found the chapters focusing on the BBC especially poignant and inspirational because they focused on the every day, and inspiring and encouraging people through even small actions.  The story of the "avalanche of Vs" might seem like the kind of thing you'd see in a movie, but was a perfect example of how a small action could help people feel like they were not just giving up.  In a world as inundated with news as ours is, Last Hope Island helps us understand the power of the radio when it was almost the only way of connecting with the outside world.

Lynne Olson does a wonderful job of immersing the reader in the world of Occupied Europe and wartime London, and the mindset of the people living there.  Last Hope Island is a riveting book, and certainly a must-read for history lovers.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Girl Who Knew Too Much

The Girl Who Knew Too Much by [Quick, Amanda]

The Girl Who Knew Too Much- Amanda Quick
Release Date: May 9, 2017

Rating (out of 5):

Warning: Potential Spoilers!

Synopsis:  When Hollywood moguls and stars want privacy, they head to an idyllic small town on the coast, where the exclusive Burning Cove Hotel caters to their every need. It’s where reporter Irene Glasson finds herself staring down at a beautiful actress at the bottom of a pool…  The dead woman had a red-hot secret about up-and-coming leading man Nick Tremayne, a scoop that Irene couldn’t resist—especially since she’s just a rookie at a third-rate gossip rag. But now Irene’s investigation into the drowning threatens to tear down the wall of illusion that is so deftly built around the famous actor, and there are powerful men willing to do anything to protect their investment. 
Seeking the truth, Irene finds herself drawn to a master of deception. Oliver Ward was once a world-famous magician—until he was mysteriously injured during his last performance. Now the owner of the Burning Cove Hotel, he can’t let scandal threaten his livelihood, even if it means trusting Irene, a woman who seems to have appeared in Los Angeles out of nowhere four months ago… With Oliver’s help, Irene soon learns that the glamorous paradise of Burning Cove hides dark and dangerous secrets. And that the past—always just out of sight—could drag them both under…


Dead tipsters are not something a reporter on the gossip beat generally expects, so when Irene Glasson finds the woman who was going to give her a lead on a hot new actor dead, she naturally suspects foul play.   Oliver Ward, a former magician whose last act almost killed him, now owns the Burning Cove Hotel.  He's not thrilled to have a dead body in his pool, but he's even less happy that one of his guests has murdered another and assumes Oliver will cover it up.  Teaming up with a reporter may go against all his own rules but working with Irene feels very right.  As additional bodies pile up, the chances of coincidence lessen and patterns emerge.  But along with threats from crazed fans and movie studio execs,  Irene begins to worry that she's dealing with more than one killer.  Because she has a few secrets in her past that she hasn't shared with Oliver, and it looks like they may be catching up with her.  

When Irene Glasson discovers two murder victims in the space of the first four chapters of The Girl Who Knew Too Much, readers can be excused for thinking Irene has seriously bad luck. The truth is that, like any good reporter, Irene has a sense for secrets and the tenacity to want to follow a story no matter where it leads.  Quick does an excellent job of filling in Irene's past with a few deft strokes, not bogging down the story but giving us enough to know why Irene is a strong and independent woman, and why she is, unlike many of Quick's other heroines, not especially naive or trusting of others. However, Irene isn't yet jaded by life, and is still learning to navigate the rocky road of Hollywood gossip and the movie studios that practically run L.A.  

Oliver Ward is a bit jaded, and a lot cynical, but retains a magician's sense of curiosity and need to know why things work- including Irene.  He often seems to have the weight of the world on his shoulders (as a hotel owner who employs a large number of people right after the Depression, that is slightly true) but fortunately he follows his instincts (and curiosity) when it comes to Irene.  The two make a good team, with a quiet connection that turns into love without either of them quite knowing it's happened.

Readers will mostly associate Amanda Quick (aka Jayne Ann Krentz/Jayne Castle) with her novels set in Regency England (Ravished) and late Victorian England ('Til Death Do Us Part).  The Girl Who Knew Too Much is her first foray into 1930s America. As a huge fan of Regency and Victorian England historicals, I was disappointed to learn that Quick's newest book was moving to a different era.  But as a devotee of Jayne Ann Krentz under all her names, there was no question about not giving Girl a fair chance.  The murder mystery in Girl is perhaps one of Quick's best so far.  Nothing is quite what it seems and as the reader puts the puzzle together with Irene and Oliver to create one solution, like one of Oliver's magic tricks suddenly seeing it from another angle shows us an entirely new answer. I do have to admit to some disappointment at the end with the new time period.  The Hollywood glitz and glamor, and art deco brilliance advertised don't really live up to the promise.  While in Quick's other historical romances the era is as much a character as the people, the 1930s doesn't feel all that different from the 'modern' world.  Some typewriters, phone booths, and cigars are thrown in to set the stage, but otherwise the book could have been any of Jayne Ann Krentz's modern day titles.  I don't know enough about the 1930s to know if that was part of Quick's point: the more things change the more they don't.  However, clues in Girl suggest we may return to Burning Cove to learn more about Oliver's friend Luther.  As a nightclub owner with possible shady connections, Luther may be able to show us the time period glamour and grittiness that struck me as situation normal for Hollywood.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much combines Quick's trademark dry wit, fast-paced plotting, and snappy dialogue with brilliant, multi-layered mystery. The twists, turns and multiple threats blend seamlessly into one brilliant whole, with plenty of surprises along the way even when you are sure everything is solved.  

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.