Beneath the Surface (Gray Ghost #3) by Amy McKinley – Review by Francis O’Sullivan

Beneath the Surface (Gray Ghost #3)Beneath the Surface by Amy McKinley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beneath the Surface is the third book in Amy McKinley’s Gray Ghost series, which centres around a group of predominantly ex-military people who take on brave and dangerous assignments. It takes place at roughly the same time as the previous book, Eye of the Storm, but focuses on different characters. It can be read as a stand alone book, but is particularly enjoyable when you’ve already encountered the characters and some of the events.
The main character, Hannah, is very interesting. A Russian sleeper agent, working for the CIA, and hoping one day to avenge her parents and sister, she has many conflicting motivations. Not to mention the inconvenient feelings she has for Jack, a member of the Gray Ghost team who she once dated.
The story flicks between the present and episodes from Hannah’s past. I found it a little confusing at times as the present is in third person and the past in first person, but it is made clear at the start of each chapter when the story is and is good to see it unfolding in both directions.
Jack is the main Gray Ghost character we encounter in this story, and like Hannah he experiences some conflict between his orders and his emotions. With rather a lot at stake, he has difficult decisions to make particularly when he realises he doesn’t know the whole truth.
This is an exciting action story with plenty of romance and a fair bit of mystery. It’s exciting, dramatic and intriguing. I found it hard to put down, so it’s five stars from me! I’d recommend reading from the start of the series if you’re interested in action romances, but start with this one if it’s the whole Russian sleeper agent thing that particularly interests you.

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The Shape of Trust (Stand By Me, #5) by Brinda Berry – Review by Francis O’Sullivan

The Shape of Trust (Stand By Me, #5)The Shape of Trust by Brinda Berry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Shape of Trust by Brinda Berry is a standalone book in her Stand By Me series. It is a romantic story where both characters have hugely complicated and difficult lives. Both need help, and are reluctant to ask for it until they are sure if they can trust each other.
Webb is a recovering drug addict and successful investor. His life is turned upside down when he discovers he has a young daughter who needs someone to look after her while her mum is in rehab. With no idea how to take care of a child, he turns to an employee, Lily, who is good with kids and could do with the extra work. Lily’s experience with children comes from more or less raising her siblings whilst putting up with neglect from her mother and addict brother.
As you might expect, the book is full of twists and turns. Webb and Lily have a lot to deal with, and need to learn to trust each other and ask for help. They also need to work out whether to fight or embrace the strong feelings they have for each other.
There are some great child characters in this story. I particularly liked Erin, Lily’s sister, who is cunning and observant. I also liked Julieann with her ridiculous vocabulary. It is good to see in the story how Webb and Lily always put the children they take care of first, and are unconditionally loving of them.
This was an enjoyable read! Tense at times, but ultimately heart-warming. I give it five stars, and would recommend it if you enjoy romances with complicated families.

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Paladin’s Hell: Satan’s Devils MC (Colorado Chapter) #1 by Manda Mellett – Review by Francis O’Sullivan

Paladin's Hell: Satan's Devils MC (Colorado Chapter) #1Paladin’s Hell: Satan’s Devils MC (Colorado Chapter) #1 by Manda Mellett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Paladin’s Hell is the first book in Manda Mellett’s Satan’s Devils Colorado Chapter series. We’re introduced to the Colorado Chapter through Paladin, a young man transferring from the Arizona Chapter, which is the focus of Mellett’s Satan’s Devils MC books. Since his involvement in rescuing her as a teenager, Paladin has been close to Jayden and acted as her protector. When faced with new threats, he agrees to accompany her to a different state where, they hope, she will be safer.
I picked this book more-or-less at random, without any particular interest in motorcycle clubs. Honestly, I really enjoyed it. I was gripped, constantly mulling over the characters and their situations whenever I didn’t have the book in front of me. There’s strong friendship and brotherhood, love and trust, but also betrayal, hatred and misunderstanding. It’s a very human story.
For all of the scantily clad club girls and eager hangarounds, the romance and sex are far from idealistic. The two main female characters are both rape survivors, worried about enjoying what has been used to hurt them. We see an ageing couple, coming to terms with changes in their own and each other’s bodies. We see a young couple, fumbling as they figure out what they like and don’t like. It’s not glamorous, but it is romantic.
As a newcomer to the Colorado Chapter, we are introduced to the characters and set up through Paladin. I haven’t read any of Mellett’s books about the Arizona Chapter, and didn’t have any problems following the story. Now that I’ve enjoyed Paladin’s Hell, though, I’m eager to read some of them!
For me, this is a five star book. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did, but it’s a really good book. At times violent, and discussing rape and sexual abuse, it’s not always a cheery read but it’s empowering and, ultimately, positive. Definitely worth a read!

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Souls Collide (Collide Series #3) by Kristina Beck – Review by Francis O’Sullivan

Souls Collide (Collide Series #3)Souls Collide by Kristina Beck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Souls Collide is the third book in Kristina Beck’s The Collide Series. It is a stand-alone book, that tells the story of two characters who are thrown together by a series of events and learn more about each other, and themselves, along the way.
The characters were fairly interesting. Alexa is an intelligent and bubbly pharmaceutical salesperson, plagued by a series of unfortunate dates (for whom she has nicknames). Kent is a police officer who is struggling through the darkness of grief and the fear of losing his sister. They are introduced as a contrast, but throughout the story more is revealed and developed in their characters.
It opens as a standard romance – characters (and the chemistry between them!) are introduced and the reader thinks they know where it’s going. But as the story progresses, the plot is complicated with twists, suspense and surprises which makes it much more exciting to read!
Beck’s attention to detail is evident throughout the book, but particularly striking in the way she includes cancer in the story. With a variety of perspectives and a sensitive approach, this is particularly well done.
For me this is a four-star read. I’d recommend it if you want an emotional romance with plenty of friction and suspense. I haven’t read any of the other books in the series, but I’ll definitely keep them in mind for later!

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Fatal Legislation: A Novel: Karina Cardinal Mystery Book 2 by Ellen Butler – Reviewed by Francis O’Sullivan

Fatal Legislation: A Novel: Karina Cardinal Mystery Book 2Fatal Legislation: A Novel: Karina Cardinal Mystery Book 2 by Ellen Butler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fatal Legislation is the second book in Ellen Butler’s Karina Cardinal Mystery series. Yet again, Karina ends up being swept up in a mystery that her inquisitive mind won’t let her leave alone.
I like the variety in the Karina Cardinal Mysteries. The first book, Isabella’s Painting, focused on art theft and this book focuses on political assassination. With Karina and other supporting characters to connect the stories, there is a sense of cohesion but the story has a very different feel to it.
Fatal Legislation kept me on my toes. There was always something new coming up – another twist in the story. Whenever Karina starts to piece things together, something changes or comes up. It’s also interesting to see the strain it puts on Mike and Karina’s relationship as he struggles to balance his personal relationship with her and his responsibilities in the investigation.
I wouldn’t normally go for political thrillers, but having met Karina in Isabella’s Painting I was eager to read this and found myself really enjoying it. It gives a fascinating insight into American politics and is suspenseful and enjoyable. For me, it’s a five star read.
The story follows on from Isabella’s Painting, and I would recommend reading that book first (it’s also very good!). That said, Butler does a good job of setting the scene and reminding the reader of anything they need to know so if you’re only really after a political thriller you could come in at this book.

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Forgetting Ophelia: A Novel by Julie C. Gardner – Review by Francis O’Sullivan

Forgetting Ophelia: A Novel (Friendship & Secrets, #2)Forgetting Ophelia: A Novel by Julie C. Gardner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Forgetting Ophelia is a wonderful novel by Julie C. Gardner. It tells the story of Lia, a young woman whose life is turned upside down by a series of sudden and unexpected events.
I really liked that, although there is romance in the book, the focus is much more on a variety of relationships including friendships and parent/child relationships. With a fairly large cast of characters, we get so many different relationships explored. It’s fascinating, and often moving.
Forgetting Ophelia is about change. As she rebuilds her life, Lia decides what to keep and what to let go of, how to stay the same and how to move on. This makes for a very uplifting read!
As a teacher, I particularly enjoyed reading about how great Lia is with her pupils! Although most of the story takes place away from the classroom, her support and care for each of her pupils contributes to making her a loveable character.
Gardner makes it easy for the reader to keep up with the large cast of characters by bringing them up in relation to their context and reminding us of how they relate to Lia. I found the characters really interesting and varied. I particularly liked Caleb, who is very observant and only speaks when he feels he has something worth saying.
For me, this is a five star read. I’d recommend it to fans of writers such as Cecelia Ahern and anyone who feels trapped in their life.


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Rhapsody and Rebellion (Enduring Legacy #7) by Aubrey Wynne – Review by Francis O’Sullivan

Rhapsody and Rebellion (Enduring Legacy #7)Rhapsody and Rebellion by Aubrey Wynne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rhapsody and Rebellion is the seventh book in the Enduring Legacy series. Each book is by a different author (in this case, Aubrey Wynne), but all focus on the same Scottish family whose mysterious powers are both a blessing and a curse. The books can be read as stand-alone stories, but are connected to each other.
I really liked the grounding in historical events, and the attention to historical detail in the worldbuilding. It definitely falls into the historical fiction bracket for combining history lesson with drama and bringing a time and place to life. For me, the written Scots didn’t quite flow but this may have been because it was only used for certain words. Other than that, I felt thoroughly drawn into the story!
I particularly liked the character Alisabeth – she’s grieving and struggling to find her place in families in the world after losing her husband. She’s sensitive to those around her and generally a well-developed character.
It’s a classic love story, but the historical setting and magic add a unique flavour. If you like romance, and are interested in British history (although mostly focusing on Scotland, we get to see various places in England as well!), this is definitely worth a read! For me, it gets four stars.

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Truly Unfortunate (Welcome To Knollville Book 1) by C.A. King – Review by Francis O’Sullivan

Truly Unfortunate (Welcome To Knollville Book 1)Truly Unfortunate by C.A. King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Truly Unfortunate is the first book in C.A. King’s Welcome to Knollville series. I have read and enjoyed a number of C.A. King’s books in the past, including her Portal Prophecies and Four Horsemen series, so knew I could expect enchanting world-building and strong, interestingly complicated characters and a thoroughly enjoyable story!
Truly Unfortunate tells the story of Truly, a young woman struggling to remember her tragic past (TW – mentions of abuse although there are no graphic descriptions). As the story progresses, she remembers more about her childhood and we begin to wonder how it might be linked to a series of unusual deaths happening in the present.
Truly is truly (haha) a great character. She is working several jobs to afford medical treatment and rent, working hard to overcome her trauma and amnesia. She is also kind and considerate to her friends, good at solving problems and willing to stand up for herself.
The supporting characters include Jeff and Miranda, the detectives trying to make sense of the series of seemingly accidental deaths. They’re clever and determined, and able to joke about the ridiculous situations they find themselves in! And there’s Stan, the bus driver, a character who will feel familiar to anyone who frequents public transport. I also particularly liked Maria, Truly’s colleague and friend who lightens the otherwise quite dark tone.
Truly Unfortunate is quite a dark book, with a wonderful and gripping story. For me it’s a five star read – I struggled to put it down! I’d recommend it to anyone who likes a mystery with a touch of magic.

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Isabella’s Painting (Karina Cardinal Mystery #1) by Ellen Butler – Review by Francis O’Sullivan

Isabella's Painting (Karina Cardinal Mystery #1)Isabella’s Painting by Ellen Butler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Isabella’s Painting by Ellen Butler is the first in her Karina Cardinal Mystery series. We are introduced to Karina, the hero of the series, as she gets caught up in solving the mystery of a strange painting she suspects may link her potential father-in-law with a major art theft.
Karina is a great character! She reminds me of Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey in the ways that she snoops around to uncover the secrets of her too-perfect boyfriend and his family. Unlike Catherine, though, Karina’s suspicions are more the product of her observant and analytical mind than novel-fuelled fantasies. Karina is a lobbyist for a medical organisation and so has a law degree and strong morals which make her a perfect lead for this series!
It’s a really enjoyable book! The mystery is enthralling and the romance enticing. The story is well fleshed out with supporting characters and various events giving the main characters time and space to develop. The story is told from Karina’s point of view, which works well as we find out her suspicions but can’t find out if she’s right or not until she does.
For me, this is a five star book and I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series. I’d recommend it to art fans and people who like a bit of mystery with their romance!

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Embrace the Passion (Pets in Space Anthologies, #3) by Various Authors – Review by Francis O’Sullivan

Embrace the Passion (Pets in Space Anthologies, #3)Embrace the Passion by S.E. Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Embrace The Passion is the third Pets in Space book. It is an anthology of science fiction romances, all featuring animals of some description, sold in support of an animal charity. There are 11 stories, each by a different author, and the stories are all very different and enjoyable.
The first story I read was Quashi. I was drawn to it as the cute fluffy aliens sounded a bit like tribbles. It turns out they aren’t exactly tribbles, but are similarly cute and disastrous! I liked the main character, Chanda, who is quite funny and relatable as she struggles to make the best out of a situation where she is hopelessly out of her depth!
Operation Ark is another great one, particularly if you’re after an array of different space animals! The animals do all seem to resemble Earth animals – they’re mostly introduced as “like x only bigger/a different colour”. But they have a lot of character and it’s an entertaining story! Like Quashi, there’s a mysterious creature no one knows much about that is developed over the course of the story.
I liked the space port setting in Starway and the way that Star, the sniffer dog, is introduced to the story. With lots of space politics and covert operations, it’s a gripping story with complex characters!
The stories are varied, but have in common exciting extra-terrestrial settings, animals with strong and loveable personalities and three-dimensional protagonists. For me, this is a overall a four star book. I’d recommend it to sci-fi fans who love animals and want to try out lots of different authors!

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