Review: Reindeer Falls Series by Jana Aston

Merry Christmas!

This is going to be a three-in-one post because these three are all short novellas and set on/around Christmas! Also, I really enjoyed them! I feel like some of my reviews recently have been a little snarky and while I stand by those opinions I don’t want it to seem like I’m some book Scrooge who hate reads things just to share grumpy snarks on her blog.

Quick primer on the world so I don’t have to repeat as I go and you all have a baseline of understanding of the world these stories inhabit. Each of these stories are about a different Winter sister (Holly, Ginger, and Noel) in their Christmas loving small town of Reindeer Falls. Picture a Hallmark movie except there’s hot sex and you get this world. Also, the books run concurrently and overlap a bit which was actually done well and didn’t get confusing for me so shoutout to Aston for that.

Book 1. The Boss Who Stole Christmas

Middle sister Holly is up first in the series. Her story is a bit of a billionaire and enemies to lovers mix. She works at the local toy company and has a grinch of a boss,, Nick St-Croix, who always seems to rain on her parade. They are expanding a service that she’s in charge of and because it’s based on a store in Germany (where grinch boss lived for a few years) heĀ  insists she come with him to talk with the people in charge and get inspiration. She rails against it but ultimately goes along. In Germany, grinch boss shows a softer side and their flirtation goes from snarky to full on fooling around in an old cathedral. She nearly ruins things forever when she immediately jumps to pretending like it’s just casual and she doesn’t want anything more, assuming that’s what he wants, and hurts his feelings because guys… this grinch’s heart has grown three sizes along with other things over their holiday hookup and he has caught feelings for Holly.

One thing I love in this book and the rest is the relationship between the sisters. They’re not afraid to call each other out on their BS and after Ginger gets after Holly for her behavior and reminds her that the other person in that relationship didn’t get to say how he felt before she told him how she decided he felt. Holly makes a grand gesture and they figure out the relationship and they get their holiday happily ever after because Aston knows what we’re looking for in romance.

Book 2. If You Give a Jerk a Gingerbread

Baby sister Ginger (yes she’s a redhead) is the heroine of the second story. She is a baker who longs to open her own bakery one day and even has the property picked out for when she can afford the down payment and mortgage. She is currently involved in a Great Gingerbread Bake Off competition which, if she wins, will help make all her dreams come true. Also a dream coming to life? Running into renowned celebrity British baker Keller James who pops into her bakery and admires her wares. She assumes he’s going to be a judge for the competition and feels betrayed when she finds out that he is actually a fellow contestant. In James’s defense, he never pretended to be anything else, and it is a genuine mixup. The pair get to know each other and their chemistry and steamy near-kisses are captured on camera and mentioned in the first book. It was fun to see how these scenes actually played out in this one. I won’t give away how the contest plays out but suffice it to say everyone’s dreams come true and Keller and Ginger find a way to be together to bake and cook and be adorable together for the rest of their lives.

Book 3. The One Night Stand Before Christmas

Finally, oldest sister Noel gets her story. She helps manage a charity drive which, due to the holiday, includes Santa. Her coworker guarantees that her younger brother will be around to help dress up so when an attractive younger looking man shows up and Noel asks if he’s the guy he agrees and becomes her Santa. Then that night Noel lives her best Santa Baby life by taking him home for a one night stand. Except this guy wasn’t her friend’s younger brother, he’s actually the grandson of one of the elderly clients of Noel’s who wrangles her into a blind date with him. As the truth comes out (a simple case of shared names and mistaken identity), the two have to deal with the growing feelings they share for each other and ultimately decide if they can be satisfied with just one night together.

Spoiler alert: Of course they can’t, they definitely end up together, HEA or bust.

The series as a whole is about 300ish pages and I read through them quickly. At times almost too cheesy, it was still exactly what it advertised and I was surprised by how well written it was especially when it came to the sibling relationships. I was happy for each couple and I understood why they were together. If you’re looking for a light, fun, holiday themed romance read, this little series is a good choice.

Review: Scary Stories to Tingle Your Butt:7 Tales of Gay Terror by Chuck Tingle

Guys this is going to be short because what can a person say about Chuck Tingle?

My book club read Scary Stories to Tingle Your Butt: 7 Tales of Gay Terror for October’s genre: Tingle Time. Some of us devoured the book and had long conversations about things we were uncomfortable with (less about the giant fur covered dicks and more about the clumsy metaphors for transphobia). Some of us barely got through a single story and anyone who has read Tingle knows they’re really short. Chuck Tingle is a real take him or leave him author and reader, I took him.

 

Real Murders by Charlaine Harris

I came to this series from a really roundabout way.

I was introduced to Charlaine Harris around the time the True Blood series started and it was one of the first series I ever tracked and bought every book from and even though things went off the rails towards the end and had issues throughout, I was hooked. I occasionally saw the Aurora Teagarden series mentioned on her website but never looked into it. When I saw those books at the library I noticed a lack of vampires and walked on by.

Fast forward a few years and I’m looking for something from the Hallmark channel to watch online because sometimes you just need something that will be ok in the end no matter what happens. I watched the first Hallmark adaptation of Real Murders and kept watching them because they were just the right amount of ridiculous to put on in the background while I baked or cleaned the kitchen.

Fast forward again to this year when I decided it was time to try reading the books. I don’t think I regret it but also I wasn’t missing much.

Harris’s trademark slut shaming and judgmental heroine combo comes through full force with Aurora Teagarden, whose name conjures images of embroidered pillows and tea cozies. This is the character who has an opinion about everything, is pursued by everyone, and gets in everyone’s business. She’s a Sookie Stackhouse prototype if I’ve ever read one. The book has some cringey moments where it really showed its 1990 sensibilities regarding race and sexuality. The concept of having a true crime friend group was interesting, especially when you look at the time period which was pre-My Favorite Murder or Netflix docs making serial killers a topic of interest people casually announce without fearing judgment. I don’t feel compelled to continue the series because I don’t really care about Aurora in the way I somehow did care about Sookie. But if you want to read some classic Harris with interesting crimes, this is a series for you.

Review: Remembering a Witch by Lauren Connolly

I was especially excited to get to this review because I know the author! Kind of! We both listen to Heaving Bosoms and are in the fan cult (which we had before MFM) and that’s how I heard about this book! You guys know that I love supporting self-publishing authors so here is another opportunity!

Remembering a Witch was the book I ultimately read for the Because Witches category of the Reading Embrace, after I disqualified Slouch Witch for that title. I’m so glad I did this. In the words of the author herself, “REMEMBERING A WITCH is a 16,000 word paranormal romance novelette perfect for people who like pumpkins, pit bulls, and professors with sexy ginger hair! This story is inspired by the autumn equinox and is just the thing to welcome in the colder seasons.”

Guess who loves all of those things?

*points at self*

Specific reasons I loved this include excellent pacing, likable characters, good sex, and a satisfying mystery and conclusion. It’s hard for me to share much because it is so short that I don’t want to spoil anything so those are the broad strokes. The synopsis does a better job selling you on this book than anything I could write, honestly. If you like those things, this book has those things. If you don’t like those things, you may still like it cuz it’s written well but also that’s ok and there are other books out there for you.

Review: The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith

It’s time for another book club book review! We read The Department of Sensitive Crimes in September for our Humor genre. I was the only one who liked it but I don’t begrudge my fellow book club members for not enjoying it. It was, for all intents and purposes, a hard book to get a grasp on in a lot of ways.

Let’s start at the start with a quick synopsis. The book focuses on a Swedish team of investigators who look into Sensitive Crimes (aka weird and of no huge consequence but can’t be ignored crimes). The main character is Ulf Varg (Wolf Wolf)(Not a werewolf)(Wasted opportunity? Je pense oui) and he is our primary perspective throughout the novel as he and his team investigate who stabbed a man in the back of the knee, the mysterious disappearance of a girl’s boyfriend, and werewolves(?).

Going into the book I anticipated it to be a bit of a Law & Order satire but that isn’t really what happened. It sort of felt like The Office mixed with a Cozy Mystery mixed with a very dry British comedy except instead of British they are Swedish and there are fish jokes. There was an almost-romance subplot between Ulf and his married cohort Anna which I dreaded. It never came to fruition but it feels like something that’s going to happen eventually and he’s just drawing it out. I could write an entire post about my hatred of investigation partners having sex and catching feelings (and how it ruined my reading of Tana French’s In The Woods) but this is not the post for that.

Maybe what I loved most about this book, other than laughing at some of the absurd but lowkey things that happen throughout, was the therapist character.

Guys, it is so hard to see a therapist depicted well in media. In movies and shows they’re either lampooned or just throwing out Deep Sincere Buy-it-on-a-LOOKHUMAN-mug quotes or they’re screwing their patients which is nausea inducing to me, a therapist. This therapist puts his foot in his mouth a bit. He doesn’t have all the right answers. He does offer new perspectives. He also has this bit about wondering about what his clients lives are like when they leave his office which hit me right in the middle of my (at the time) nearing graduation and terminating with all of my clients heart. We only see this character at the beginning and ending of the book but I adored him.

I also liked the book because I didn’t know how to feel about it. I couldn’t settle into a certain mindset or tone with it because I hadn’t read a book like this before. For most of my book club members I think this was unsettling and contributed to their dislike of it, but for me it was exciting and I embraced it. I want to read the next in the series when it comes out next April, The Talented Mr. Varg, to see if I still enjoy it and if it feels different reading it now that I have context.

Review: Saved by the Spell by Erin Johnson

You know when you’re trying to find something to read and you just have vague keywords in your brain? That was part of what led me to this book. The other part was google tracking my ads and Facebook consistently throwing it in my path as if to say “hey you’ve been googling WITCHY COZY MYSTERY for a solid week maybe try this out” and reader, for better or worse, I finally did.

Saved by the Spell is a prequel to a new series, Magic Market Mysteries, set in the world of an existing series that Johnson writes, Spells & Caramels. I’m a big lover and supporter of new and self-publishing authors, especially in the cozy mystery world, so even though my blog is tiny and I don’t tag authors in meh to boo reviews, I am going to be super gentle in this review on the offest of off chances Johnson ever sees it.

This book wasn’t for me. It felt like it should be, but it just never clicked. I don’t recall at this point even what my objections were, so it wasn’t anything #problematic or grievously wrong, it just didn’t land for me. That might not be the case for you! Johnson did make the protagonist a male which I thought was cool because we rarely see that in cozy mysteries. She also worked with a familiar, workable formula of making it a school-based mystery as her character does a bit of a Harry Potter/21 Jump Street mashup. Also he has a dog by the end of it which is also always a plus.

If you’re interested in giving it a read and seeing how you feel about it yourself, I’m not entirely sure how to do so. I snagged it from a Facebook advertisement where I believe I got a link to my email to read it for free (reviewer’s first ARC?). If you want to read a cozy mystery series with paranormal aspects to it set in an oceanside place, go to Erin Johnson’s amazon page and enjoy!

Review: Night of the Wolves by Shannon Drake

First things first – Night of the Wolves sounds like it should be a werewolf book but it is in fact a vampire hunting book. In its defense, the series is literally called “Vampire Hunters” but if you’re going to present yourself as a paranormal romance and put wolf in the title there are going to be hopes raised. Ok, now that’s out of the way.

This is a hybrid of books I rarely read: paranormal romance and western times romance. This is actually perhaps my first western romance book (though I don’t feel I’ll have had a good intro to the subgenre til I get a purely western romance under my belt) so there were a lot of things to complicate this reading for me. But let’s start with a synopsis.

Alexandra Gordon, the heroine, has visions that lead her back to her father’s home in Victory, Texas to hunt for his murderer. There she meets mysterious and sexy lawman Cody Fox, a veteran of the Civil War. Vampires attack, all is not what it seems, yadda yadda you get where this is going.

Folks, this book has Problems. First of all, the Native American characters are staggeringly stereotypical complete with feathers. I got real Tigerlily a la Peter Pan vibes from their portrayal in the book and it was squicky. Also the black caretaker of Alexandra’s place gives off a real “Mammy” archetype vibe in how she is written which was rough. Also rough is the discussion of the Civil War talking about how it was the most heinous thing ever and no one should ever get beyond their disagreements to that extent.

You know what’s worse than the Civil War?

Slavery.

No punchline, just facts.

I wasn’t invested in the romance but part of that was because I kept getting distracted looking for werewolves and wincing over the more problematic aspects of the book. Also it was published in 2009 so for those who may be believers in defending a book with Product of Its Time (I am not one of them – a post for another day), this book doesn’t get that pass either.

I kind of appreciated that vampires were (mostly) villains in the book because while I was an enthusiastic participant in the mid to late 00’s vampire craze, Dracula is one of my favorite books and I sometimes miss vampires being bad guys instead of just sexy sad people. In the end, I could have gone without reading this book and don’t intend to continue the series. It did make me want to read an example of a good western romance and a good paranormal romance, either combined or in separate genres, so if anyone has good recommendations please let me know!

Review: The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

Tessa Dare was an author I approached cautiously. Not because I had heard bad things, the opposite in fact. I had heard her praises sung so loudly for so long that I didn’t know where to begin in her catalog and had that tiny fear that for some reason her work wouldn’t resonate for me and I would be the odd one out. I can’t speak for everyone who will read her, but this did not turn out to be the case for me.

The Duchess Deal is the first of her Girl Meets Duke series. A quick snapshot of the synopsis is a Duke (Ash, short for Ashbury) comes back from war horribly scarred and self-conscious and he has to marry to secure an heir. He has been recently spurned by his former fiancee so time is of the essence. Enter Emma Gladstone, wearing the wedding dress she crafted for his fiancee, demanding payment. He offers her a marriage instead and, spurred by her own financial need and the desire to help protect her unmarried pregnant friend, she accepts.

The story is some parts Beauty and the Beast, some parts the Phantom of the Opera, all parts good. Dare has a talent for creating interesting side characters, in this novel this not only includes the staff at the manor who are desperately trying to make the two fall in love, but also the small group of ladies who take Emma into their fold. Each of them have quirks and talents that are charming and I would read books based on each of their lives, romantic or not.

Ash is a broodier hero than I tend to enjoy but Dare wrote him in a way that it worked for me, especially when he goes to lengths such as blindfolds to keep his wife from seeing his scars which he is sure will make her fall out of love with him. I think part of what works for Dare is she presents common conflicts but gives them enough background and development that they’re understandable. In another book if a character’s sole hangup was that their spouse would hate their scars I would be a little annoyed because at a certain point you have to just face that. Dare provides Ash with some background that makes that fear very reasonable.

Also, neither of the protagonists are virgins, which I appreciated. I have no problem with a virgin hero (see my review of The Duchess War), but I find it a little easy and played out when a heroine is automatically a virgin in a romance. People have been having sex in or out of marriage since the dawn of time and I just like that being recognized.

I haven’t read the other two in the series yet but I think I will add them to my 2020 reading goal next to Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean and Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel.

Review: The Adventure Zone Murder on the Rockport Limited by Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Travis McElroy, Justin McElroy, and Carey Pietsch

This is the sequel to The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins graphic novel. This series takes the reader through the arcs from the Balance campaign in The Adventure Zone podcast.

Quick review cuz it’s kind of a gimme that I would love this one. Murder on the Rockport Limited was my favorite Balance arc and I enjoyed how they translated it from podcast to graphic novel. The characters look right, the dialogue is fun, and it hit the moments I remembered and loved. Special shoutout for the introduction of Angus, Boy Detective.

If you’re interested in picking it up I’d start with the first because it gives important background information but then definitely go ahead and read this one as well. I eagerly look forward to the third in the series, Petals to the Metal, and plan to preorder it soon.

Review: The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

Trigger Warning: Rape

Oh hey, the Brothers Sinister! What a surprise!

The Governess Affair is actually the prequel novella that provides background on book two’s hero, Oliver’s parents. Robert (from The Duchess War) has a half-brother named Oliver whose biological father was Robert’s odious father (also Robert but henceforth referred to as The Duke ) and Serena Barton, a governess he sexually assaulted. Oliver’s true father, Hugo Marshall, originally works for The Duke in cleaning up problems. Serena becomes a problem for The Duke when she begins to show up, visibly pregnant, and sit by his offices until her demands are met to provide for their child. Hugo is tasked with getting rid of her (nonviolently – this is romance, not true crime) but struggles with his own ambitions and this woman who has been grievously injured.

Milan is able to take on a very difficult subject and still craft a love story that feels real and well-deserved for both. Even better, it sets up a relationship that will give the child resulting in this assault a family that genuinely loves him. Although Oliver’s birthright (or lack thereof) is a source of conflict for the character going forward what is never in conflict is whether he was loved or appreciated. Oliver was able to grow up in a family that loved him, devoid of resentment.

I also appreciate that Milan did not just use sexual assault as a throwaway tragic backstory for her hero. She gave the character who was assaulted an identity and her own agency and happiness. That is done very rarely despite the fairly prevalent use of sexual assault in entertainment nowadays and was very refreshing.

Big surprise, if it won’t be triggering for you, I think you guys should read this book! I believe this is the last Brothers Sinister book review I have this year so if you’ve been getting tired of them, don’t worry. We move onto other things now, for better and worse.