Empress of Rome series by Kate Quinn

Mistress of Rome
Empress of Rome series #1
by Kate Quinn (GoodReads Author)
ebook edition, 483 pages
Pub Apr 6, 2010, Berkley
Also available in paperback

GoodReads Summary:  
Thea is a slave girl from Judaea, passionate, musical, and guarded. Purchased as a toy for the spiteful heiress Lepida Pollia, Thea will become her mistress's rival for the love of Arius the Barbarian, Rome's newest and most savage gladiator. His love brings Thea the first happiness of her life-that is quickly ended when a jealous Lepida tears them apart.

As Lepida goes on to wreak havoc in the life of a new husband and his family, Thea remakes herself as a polished singer for Rome's aristocrats. Unwittingly, she attracts another admirer in the charismatic Emperor of Rome. But Domitian's games have a darker side, and Thea finds herself fighting for both soul and sanity. Many have tried to destroy the Emperor: a vengeful gladiator, an upright senator, a tormented soldier, a Vestal Virgin. But in the end, the life of the brilliant and paranoid Domitian lies in the hands of one woman: the Emperor's mistress.

Disclaimer: This book was acquired from Barnes and Noble for Nook at full price. This is an honest review for which I am receiving no compensation of any kind. All opinions are fully my own.

~ Judi E. Easley for Blue Cat Review

My Review:  
Sarah suggested I read this series, and as usual, she was right. This first book of the series starts out with a couple that you cheer for even when they do awful things to get by. They have been dealt such lousy hands in this game, it just doesn't seem fair that every time they get to a point where things might get better, things get much worse.

The author uses changing points of view throughout the series and this allows her to introduce you to her characters so much more intimately as the story goes on. You get to see what they think and feel from their point of view and peek inside their heads and hearts. So many times these characters think or feel one way, but do something very different for someone else's safety. Or in the case of certain characters, you get to listen to them plot someone else's downfall or death. This gives so much more depth to the book. Ms. Quinn certainly plots evil deeds well. Of course, this was a brutal and bloody period in history. It wasn't enough to ruin someone's reputation or embarrass them publicly. These people would ruin their whole family's name and fortune so that no one in the family could carry on their business and would possibly have to move away or go into seclusion or commit suicide. Ms. Quinn has picked a wonderful part of the world and history to place her characters in.

The characters are carefully intertwined with real historical characters and events. And the author has done her homework well enough that her fictitious characters blend in seamlessly. At the back of the book, there is a section that tells you which characters are real historical figures and which are her fictional characters.

With Sarah's full blessing, I strongly recommend this series, at least this first book in the series to anyone who likes a real feel of history in their historical novels. Mistress of Rome will give you a feel for the whole series of four books. So, give it a try and see if it's a good fit for your bookshelf!

Five Deaths and Nobody's Working on the Case? Really?

Trudy, Madly, Deeply
Working Stiffs series #1
by Wendy Delaney
Kindle edition, 302 pages
Pub Aug 20, 2015, Wendy Delaney LLC

GoodReads Summary:  
After human lie detector Charmaine Digby scores a job as the County Coroner's new investigative assistant, the unthinkable happens—a doctor reports the suspicious death of Trudy, a family friend and one of several elderly patients at the hospital whose heart mysteriously stopped.

With no physical evidence of foul play, Char's on the case, much to the irritation of Detective Steve Sixkiller, who doesn't want her to stick her pretty nose for trouble in his investigation. But she's a woman on a mission to uncover the truth, and she'd better keep her eyes open or the next body on the way to the morgue could be hers....

Disclaimer: This book was acquired from BookBub at a promotional price via Amazon. This is an honest review for which I am receiving no compensation of any kind. All opinions are fully my own.

~ Judi E. Easley for Blue Cat Review

My review:  
Total comedy spoof! If it weren't for the fact that people are dying here, I'd have laughed through the whole thing. Charmaine is a laugh a minute with her constantly dropping by her great uncle's diner (don't give up your day job) and grabbing food to feed everyone so she can get information out of them or bribe them to do something to help her solve this case that nobody's working. She damn smart, too!

And Detective Sixkiller is just trying to keep her out of trouble and danger when he insists that there is no case. He likes the donuts and coffee and he's pretty taken with her, too! Love his nickname for her, "Chow Mein".

I recommend this one for those of you who like lots of humor and just a touch of romance with your murder. Definitely a fun read!

Elemental Assassin Book #16 Coming April 25th!

Elemental Assassin #16
by Jennifer Estep (GoodReads Author)
Kindle edition, 400 pages
Pub April 25, 2017, Pocket Books
Also available in paperback.

GoodReads Summary
If you don’t know Gin “the Spider” Blanco, you don’t know dangerous female heroines.

Irony 101—The Spider herself snared in someone else’s web…

Another week, another few clues trickling in about the Circle, the mysterious group that supposedly runs the city’s underworld. Gathering intel on my hidden enemies is a painstaking process, but a more immediate mystery has popped up on my radar: a missing girl.

My search for the girl begins on the mean streets of Ashland, but with all the killers and crooks in this city, I’m not holding out much hope that she’s still alive. A series of clues leads me down an increasingly dark, dangerous path, and I realize that the missing girl is really just the first thread in this web of evil. As an assassin, I’m used to facing down the worst of the worst, but nothing prepares me for this new, terrifying enemy—one who strikes from the shadows and is determined to make me the next victim.

My Review:  
First response:  Gin must be really tired of being knocked around by dwarves and giants, all these guys with extra strength. She seems to get beaten to a pulp each time she takes on a case. But she also seems to make either big enemies or really special friends or both. Full review coming up on my blog.

This time the Spider is caught in a web of someone else's weaving. Someone is leaving just enough clues for Gin to follow to bring her to the answer he wants her to find. And to kill the people he wants to be killed. Gin is always so clever, how can she be outsmarted? Outmanipulated? Can this be the end of the Spider? 

No, Gin will get some magic healing and some rest and live to fight another day. But will I care? I'm not sure I'm interested in the series going beyond this point. Maybe it's time to end the series. Maybe it's become predictable and a little bit tired. This was a good book. The story was really good and it was interesting to see Gin caught in someone's web. But I think it's time to rethink the series. Not every series can run to forty or so books. Ms. Estep is such a great writer that I'd like to see her try something else for a bit.

This eARC was provided by Pocket Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review for which I am not being compensated in any way. All opinions are fully my own.
~ Judi E. Easley for Blue Cat Review

Not What I Expected At All!

Touch and Go
by Elizabeth Berridge
Kindle edition, Feb 24, 2017 
Pub by Odyssey Press (first pub Jan 1, 1995)
Also available in paperback and audible

GoodReads Summary:  
As a little girl, Emma Rowlands had loved the toy shell house. It belonged to her doctor, who had promised it to her as a reward for being brave. Emma is always brave. 

Now, at a time of uncertainty and despondency in her life, she discovered he had left her not the toy house she had asked for, but his own home.

With her daughter in India and her divorce finalized, Emma will need the old doctor’s gift more than ever.

But while Emma is blossoming her mother, Adela, is fading.
Like a terrible eclipse, Adela begins to watch herself vanish into her daughter’s shadow. Weighed down by her husband’s death and a secret she knows she can’t tell, Adela becomes more and more distant from her daughter.

Emma will need all her strength to fix up the old doctor’s house and chase out its demons. She won the house for being brave and she will need that bravery more than ever…

Touch and Go is an emotional tale that explores what it means to come into our own and what family is truly worth.

Elizabeth Berridge
(December 1919 – December 2009) was a novelist and critic. Born in London, where she was partly educated here, she later moved to Geneva. Berridge won the Yorkshire Post Novel of the Year Award, in 1964 for Across The Common.

My Review
I didn't know what to expect from this one, even after reading the synopsis and reviews, but what I got wasn't it. This is a story about endings and beginnings and how women handle them. Three generations of women being released from their previous strictures and what they do with their freedom. One is a young woman now old enough to go out on her own. One is her divorced mother who has moved back to her childhood town. And the last is her widowed mother who has been traveling to see what she has missed since her late husband didn't like to travel.

The daughter you really only know
 through her actions, her letters, and information from phone calls about her. You don't get to know her emotionally or through much first-person contact. But she's now an adult and making the most of it. Making her own decisions and going as far as she can under her own steam. She doesn't have to answer to teachers or parents anymore.

The mother of the young woman is divorced and dealing with housing logistics. She's moving back to her hometown where her family is well known, but she hasn't been in many years. Her father has died and her mother has taken to traveling. The woman herself is an artist. She gets busy working emotions out in her art and scaring some of the locals with it. But she's also reconnecting with friends and making her life again in this town. Her cat has its kittens and she rescues a dog. She's busy nesting in the house the doctor left her, which seems to be its own story. Her mother spends Christmas with her then goes off on a cruise. As she explores the house and reacquaints herself with the town, she stirs things up and finds some dark corners that could use a little light shown on them. Questions that perhaps her mother could answer when she returns from her cruise.

The mother of the middle woman has been traveling to places she always wanted to see. Her husband was a wonderful man, but he wasn't a traveler. He was a scholar. She's spent Christmas with her daughter and now is off on a cruise. She runs into an old acquaintance who thinks she would make him the perfect wife now that he's 75 and she's a widow. She writes a letter to her daughter to tell her about the man's proposal and her thoughts on life.

Being a part of the lives of these women is experiencing life in the raw. Ms. Berridge allows us to share the highs and lows of emotion with these women as they work their way through these phases of their lives. This is a book I highly recommend for any reader of women's lit. I do believe this will go on my read again shelf.

This eARC was provided by Endeavour Press, Odyssey Press, and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I am not being compensated in any way. All opinions are fully my own.
~ Judi E. Easley for Blue Cat Review

Memorial to Buggy

Memorial to Buggy

Seduced by Sin
by Kris Rafferty (GoodReads Author)
ebook edition, pub Mar 20, 2017
Entangled Published (Select Suspense)

GoodReads Summary:  
When Caleb Smith saved Francesca Hamilton from a nasty situation with her father, she was beyond grateful. Sure, it landed her in Caleb's bed wearing his engagement ring, but neither of them took that seriously. It was a means to an end, and he was so sexy and exciting, she was enjoying the ride. It wasn’t Caleb's fault her feelings were changing, leaving her wishing things between them were real rather than pretend. 

Caleb took the FBI’s assignment because he wanted to end the tyranny of a man who’d hurt the people he loved. Odds of success were slim and the danger high, but he knew the risks. Francesca didn't and was completely in the dark about her family’s "business." And the more time he spends with her, the harder he falls for the gorgeous blonde. But to finally get retribution, he'll have to destroy her world...

My Review:
Who could resist a hero with angel wings tattooed on his chest? This is another one of those "bad boys who cleans up well works for the law comes in undercover to take down the pretty lady's daddy" books. Pretty lady is really intelligent but oblivious to her daddy's true line of work. Bad boy gets in good with Pretty lady's daddy. Bad boy and Pretty lady fall for each other. And then someone tells the truth and it all starts to fall apart.

Yes, it's a formula. But it's one that works. And it works in this story quite well. While there are danger and excitement, there is also an element of amusement throughout the whole book because you know it will all work out in the end. It's always fun to see how this formula works, to see her rake him across the coals and hang him out to dry before she forgives him for wrecking her life and lets him kiss her again.

While the book runs true to formula, it's still a fun story with its own twists and turns. Enough thugs and threats to make it dangerous and keep Bad boy on his toes. And when it all falls apart and Pretty lady won't have anything to do with Bad boy, she finishes her advanced degree and starts teaching college biology. She's pretty, but she's not just a pretty face! Since this hits the shelves today, Monday, March 20, 2017, you should stop at your favorite book source and pick up a copy to find out how Bad boy convinces Pretty lady to forgive him! I highly recommend it. This is a couple with great chemistry! I gave it FIVE stars for fun!

This eARC was provided by Entangled Publishing and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review for which I am not being compensated in any way. All opinions are fully my own.
~ Judi E. Easley for Blue Cat Review
The No. 2 Feline 
Detective Agency
by Mandy Morton (GoodReads Author)
Kindle edition, 271 pages
Pub Mar 28, 2017, St. Martin's Press
Also available in hardcover and paperback

GoodReads Summary:  
Hettie Bagshot has bitten off more than any cat could chew. As soon as she launches her No. 2 Feline Detective Agency, she’s bucketed into a case: Furcross, home for slightly older cats, has a nasty spate of bodysnatching, and three of the residents have been stolen from their graves.

Hettie and her sidekick, Tilly, set out to reveal the terrible truth. Is Nurse Mogadon involved in a deadly game? Has the haberdashery department of Malkin & Sprinkle become a mortuary? And what flavour will Betty Butter’s pie of the week be?

In a haze of catnip and pastry, Hettie steers the Furcross Case to its conclusion, but will she get there before the body count rises – and the pies sell out?

My Review:  
When I started reading this and realized that it was actually cats who were the characters, I was turned off. But this was provided by a publishing house for a review, so I had to at least make an effort to read it. And I did make an effort. It didn't take me long to get over the fact that these were cats having tea and worrying about paying rent and murdering other cats. Ms. Morton jumps right into life with Hettie and Tilly and you might as well be curled up with them licking your paws after tea.

And there are no anonymous cats in this book. As you travel around with Hettie and Tilly solving the crime, collecting clues, and tidbits to eat, the author describes the feline residents of the town in such a way that you see each one as an individual. She really creates characters of her characters and I think thats why it works so well. She has a Marilyn Monroe type and a Coco Chanel type. She flagrantly steals from old movies and books for characters and gives her cats real personality. She makes you see these characters easily because you already know something about them and it's fun even in the midst of murder and mayhem.

So if you like cozy murders and love cats, give Ms. Morton's Hettie Bagshot mysteries a try. This is the first one in the series where she starts the agency and has her first case. I was provided an eARC of this by St. Martin's Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I am not being compensated in any way. All opinions are fully my own.
~ Judi E. Easley for Blue Cat Review

"Are you reading my mind?"

The Mind Readers
The Mind Readers series
by Lori Brighton
Kindle edition, 238 pages
Pub Dec 7, 2010

GoodReads Summary:  
Cameron Winters is a freak. Fortunately, no one but her family knows the truth…that Cameron can read minds. For years Cameron has hidden behind a facade of normalcy, warned that there are those who would do her harm. When gorgeous and mysterious Lewis Douglas arrives he destroys everything Cameron has ever believed and tempts her with possibilities of freedom. Determined to embrace her hidden talents, Cameron heads to a secret haven with Lewis; a place where she meets others like her, Mind Readers.

But as Cameron soon finds out some things are too good to be true. When the Mind Readers realize the extent of Cameron’s abilities, they want to use her powers for their own needs. Cameron suddenly finds herself involved in a war in which her idea of what is right and wrong is greatly tested. In the end, she’ll be forced to make a choice that will not only threaten her relationship with Lewis but her very life.

My Review:  
God save me from myself, free books, and cliffhangers! Yes, I've done it again. I found one I couldn't put down and it had three and a half volumes to it that I just had to read before I was completely satisfied last night! The only saving grace is that each volume was only $1.99-3.99, so it wasn't expensive to indulge. And I'm still trying to decide if I loved it or hated it! Well, I loved major parts of it and hated some parts of it.

It is YA, and it was an easy and fast read. That is not always true of YA, but this time it was. I read all three and a half books yesterday afternoon and evening between lunch and supper, watching a Midsomer Murder, and getting to bed by midnight. The main character starting in the first book is Cameron and she isn't even out of high school, yet. She's had an unusual upbringing up until now having been dumped with her paternal Grandmother when she was only five and moving around every few years. See, she has an unusual superpower. She can read minds. In fact, she can't block them out. She hears what people are thinking all the time. Her grandmother has the same power. Someone is after them, so they have to move each time the someone gets too close.

Ms. Brighton has characters popping in and out of Cameron's life right and left, but each one is fully integrated into the story and interacts really well with existing characters as they come and go. You get information as you need it and as it is revealed to Cameron. She has to grow up, but there are times when it's a very slow process and she makes some really dumb decisions. That's when I lost my patience with her. There are lots of surprises in this book and it's not all light and pretty. People are tortured, disappear, and die, even people Cameron loves. But there are new people to know and love as well. And new things to do and learn for them all. And there is healing for many in the end.

I have referred to three and a half books a couple of times. Well, it is time to discuss the half, The Mind Keepers. It was problematic for me and from the reviews I have read, for others as well. The author maintained Cameron's point of view throughout the first three books and it worked very well. In the half, the novella, she switched to Cameron's half sister Nora's point of view as it is mostly her story. It was very disconcerting. I think even the author was confused, which made it even harder to understand. There were times that I really wasn't sure who "I" was. Nora and Cameron were both part of the scene and "I" could have been either of them, but it was supposed to be Nora. Yet, at times it really felt like the author had confused the two characters and was writing it as Cameron again. I managed to understand what was going on and get to the end, but I really wish the half had been more pages in book three and handled differently. But then, I'm not a mind reader, so I don't know what Ms. Brighton was thinking when she wrote the books. Pun intended.

I recommend this series to anyone who likes fast action, family stories, and great magic with attractive characters who rise to the occasion and give you that touch of romance and true love.

I acquired book #1 through BookBub for free and the rest of the series from Amazon at full price and am providing an honest review without compensation of any kind. All opinions are fully my own.
~ Judi E. Easley for Blue Cat Review 

Fact or Fiction? Which do you prefer?

EMPRESS a novel
by Shan Sa
Paperback, 324 pages
Pub Jun 1, 2007, Harper Perennial
First pub 2003 (translator Adrianna Hunter)

GoodReads Summary
A ravishing historical novel of one of China's most controversial historical figures: its first and only female emperor, Empress Wu, who emerged in the Tang Dynasty and ushered in a golden age.

In seventh–century China, during the great Tang dynasty, a young girl from the humble Wu clan entered the imperial gynaecium, which housed ten thousand concubines. Inside the Forbidden City, she witnessed seductions, plots, murders, and brazen acts of treason. Propelled by a shrewd intelligence, an extraordinary persistence, and a friendship with the imperial heir, she rose through the ranks to become the first Empress of China. On the one hand, she was a political mastermind who quelled insurrections, eased famine, and opened wide the routes of international trade. On the other, she was a passionate patron of the arts who brought Chinese civilization to unsurpassed heights of knowledge, beauty, and sophistication.

And yet, from the moment of her death to the present day, her name has been sullied, her story distorted, and her memoirs obliterated by men taking vengeance on a woman who dared become Emperor. For the first time in thirteen centuries, Empress Wu flings open the gates of her Forbidden City and tells her own astonishing tale–revealing a fascinating, complex figure who in many ways remains modern to this day.

My Review
Yesterday, I reviewed a book about this same woman, but it was a narrated history book. This book is a historical novel in which you hear the story through the main character's thoughts and words. There was no reference section at the back of this book as there was in Daughter of Heaven, but the author spent three years researching her subject. This included traveling to the area where this all happened. She is an artist and used her artistic talent of visualizing each setting like a painting to frame in each site and make it real in her mind since a lot of these locations are no longer available.

Ms. Sa starts the story from the womb, literally. Unusual, I thought, but really effective. Right from the start, you know this is a woman who must speak for herself, must be heard. She has a mind of her own. As the story goes on, it reveals a woman of passion. Not just sexual passion, but cultural, artistic, beauty and highly intelligent. As a child, her mother was so afraid of her intelligence and questioning ways that she had a wandering monk evaluate her and reassure her mother that there was no evil in the girl. A superstitious time. Still, when the opportunity came, Heavenlight was shipped off to a Buddhist monastery to be the mourning representative for the family. She was only five-years-old and felt abandoned by her family. She was there for several years until her father was made the Governor Delegate of the Province of Jing.

When she was 10-years old the Emperor died and her father died shortly afterward. The Great General Li was the Master of Ceremonies for her father's funeral services. He spent time speaking with Heavenlight and was so impressed with her he told her that he would be in charge of her destiny. After the funeral, Heavenlight, Little Sister, and her mother moved to the Wu village to live with her father's family. They were commoners. Heavenlight's mother was not a commoner and had raised her daughters as ladies. This caused all sorts of friction and outright conflict. Little Sister, in particular, was mistreated as she was the weakest and least able to protect herself from the abuse.

But the general had not forgotten Heavenlight and at the age of 13, Imperial troops came to escort her to the palace to serve in the Forbidden City. She was made a Talented One of the 5th rank, so she now outranked anyone in the Wu family. She made herself a promise to make them pay for all the abuse they had heaped on the three women during their stay there and to bring honor to her mother again. Promises she kept.

She became a part of the harem and learned many things. She was instructed in the arts of sexual health and love. She was a keen observer. She also learned singing, dancing, archery, horse training, and lesbianism. At least the horse training served her well. She became an excellent rider and horse handler. It was an incident with an unruly horse that brought her to the Emperor's attention finally. So she became the Emperor's concubine. She also fell in love with the heir, Little Phoenix, and was his lover. When the Emperor died, all his concubines were sent to a monastery for purification and rebirth, including Heavenlight. Little Phoenix tried to keep her with him as he ascended the throne, but she insisted on going to the monastery where she lived for three years. At the end of three years, Little Phoenix came to the monastery and requested to see her in private. He basically raped her. On the off chance that she was pregnant by him, she was recalled to the palace. She had a son by him, followed by a second son.

So here she is back in the palace and has a lover who is Emperor and an Empress who despises her and is the only thing standing between her and the power she needs to have things her way. Power. What do you think? I think you should get this book in one format or another and read it very soon!

This book was given to me by my daughter, Sarah, in exchange for an honest review. I am not being compensated in any way. All opinions are fully my own.
~ Judi E. Easley for Blue Cat Review   

The Only Female Chinese Emperor

Daughter of Heaven:
The True Story of the Only Woman
to Become Emperor of China
by Nigel Cawthorne
Kindle edition, 320 pages
Pub Feb 1, 2017, by Endeavor Press
First published Sep 1, 2007
Also available in hardcover and paperback

GoodReads Summary :
The enthralling story of the only woman to become Emperor of China...

In this sensational true story, bestselling author Nigel Cawthorne reveals the dark and dramatic story of the only female Emperor in Chinese history, Wu Chao: concubine, manipulator, politician, murderer, and living god.

At the age of 13, Wu Chao was made concubine to the Emperor, bringing great honour to her family.

Born the daughter of a merchant in seventh-century China, she skilfully used her beauty, wit, and powers of manipulation to seduce her way to the throne of the most powerful empire in the medieval world.

Beautiful, charming, and fiendishly clever, Wu plotted to eliminate all those she could not bewitch, executing her enemies without mercy, murdering her own children for political gain, and eventually proclaiming herself a living god.

Ruthlessly reigning for fifty years, she provoked scandal upon scandal by setting up her own imperial harem and giving her lovers positions of power.

From her instruction in the art of love by palace officials to her bloody downfall, this book throws open a window into the colourful world of T’ang Dynasty China, and to the woman whose infamous behaviour ushered in a golden age in history. 

My Review:
The mystery of the Orient hits an ultimate high when you talk about the Forbidden City of China. This whole book pretty much takes place there as you follow the narrator from birth to death and all the twisty turns in between of the only woman to become Emperor. There were many empresses over the years and dynasties, but only one female emperor.

Wu Chao was not born to the palace. In fact, she was a commoner. Her father was a woodcutter. Her mother was of a noble family, however, and raised her as a lady. She was also extremely intelligent and inquisitive. So when she met Great General Li, she impressed him. He later mentioned her to the people at the palace and she was ordered to come to serve at the palace. Being smart, she took advantage of each and every opportunity as it came and created others. One emperor died and she married another before she was in a position to usurp the power of the throne. She literally became the power behind the throne initially. Her husband was not as adept at running the government as she was. She sat in a chair behind a curtain hung behind the throne and advised him. Eventually, they did away with the curtain and her chair was beside his. Finally, he just let her make all the decisions because she was so much better at it than he was. She was constantly outraging the traditions for women of the time.

This was a bloody time in history. Not only were countries fighting countries, but within China, families were fighting for position and power. Even within families, there were hostilities and power plays. They killed each other frequently or were ordered into exile or to commit suicide. Only the emperor could order someone to commit suicide, and they did. Everyone from high-ranking officials to members of their own family. Even their own children. There were rumors that when this emperor was a concubine, she may have even killed her own infant daughter to throw the empress into disrepute. As I said, it was a bloody time in history.

Mr. Cawthorne has researched extensively and included a lot of peripheral history and details. In some places, it seemed that he may actually have gotten sidetracked with the peripherals and lost the main line. With the accounting of a person's life, you would expect the story to stop with their death or shortly thereafter. Again, Mr. Cawthorne seemed to get a bit lost and rambled on for awhile until he seemed to run out of things to say. If you are a strict history buff, you may enjoy this tome. This is an accounting of her life, not a novel.

This eARC was provided to me by Endeavor Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I am not being compensated in any way. All opinions are fully my own.
~ Judi E. Easley for Blue Cat Review

Start the Week Off with a Five-Star Book!

The Wolf Within
by Pamela Belle
Kindle edition, 570 pages
Published Feb 20, 2017, Endeavour Press
originally published in 1995

GoodReads Summary:
Everyone has their demons, but some are more deadly than others…
Bred for power, dedicated to the Wolf God, Ayak, and to be used as a tool for war, Bron’s short life has been nothing but torture. His captors, the Skai’i had sought to use him and his power to conquer the North but they underestimated Bron’s sorcery and paid the price with their lives. With the once war-ravaged Northlands slowly settling into peace, Bron is placed in the care of his father’s cousin, Lady Kefiri.
As the bastard son of his father – the powerful sorcerer and now King of Zithirian – his gift of sorcery is kept secret from the world.
But Bron is troubled by his immense power, traumatized by his time with Skai’I and by the Wolf God that demands blood and death. And in his thirteenth year, he accidently reveals his powers to the entire court…
Seeing that Brons needs to learn how to control his vast power, Ansaryon brings him to Silver City – the capital of Zithirian. And for many years, Bron learns to control his immense sorcery. Loved by his stepsiblings and stepmother, he feels safe and content at last. But the Wolf Within cannot be so easily controlled. Revealing that Ayak still lays dormant in his soul, Bron realizes he’s a threat to everyone he loves. So he leaves Zithirian – for good as far as he’s concerned – until Ayak no longer dwells within him. He needs to get to Jo’ami, the southernmost island of the known lands, where it is said the most powerful sorcerers reside. If he’s to be rid of the Wolf God, then he’ll need their help. But to get there, he must travel alone through the perilous South – particularly the Empire of Toktel’yan.
The Empire is preparing itself for a war to conquer the Northlands once and for all.

But can Bron conquer his own demons and rid himself of the Wolf Within in time…?

My Review:
Even though this book had names and places I couldn't pronounce even in my head, even after seeing them time and time again all through the whole book, I gave this a 5-star rating! This has to be one of the best fantasy books I've read in a while! Looking at other reviews, I can see you either love it or don't. I loved it and now need to get the other two books in the trilogy. 

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to lose themselves in a wonderful fantasy world that may seem vaguely familiar to parts of planet earth. To follow a character who just wants to live his life quietly and ends up becoming a hero because he believes in doing what's right with what he's been given. Sounds sappy? There's nothing sappy about Bron's life. When you start your life with two ultimate evils controlling you, it's not sappy. One evil on the inside trying to take over and one evil outside training and abusing you to do her will. Then while you are still a child, your best friend is killed in front of you to punish you, you lose your temper and annihilate 6000 people without a thought. Nope, not sappy. Magic.

Each time he finds a spot to rest, the evil awakens again and he is driven on in his journey to find help or oblivion. He gets sidetracked a time or two making friends, but he always gets back on track and finally solves his personal problem. But then he takes up a crusade to try to save his world and doesn't want anyone he cares for to get hurt, so of course, he has to do it on his own. But he spends a lot of time pushing people away since he's the sort of guy people like and want to help. Yeah, a likable hero.

The character of Bron is well developed and you get to know him well enough to predict some of his moves. That's not to say he's predictable. Just that you gain some insight. Some of the secondary characters you get to know for short periods of time. They remain real in your mind, too. The conflicts and events of the story are really good. It's bloody and violent, but it's an empire at war with sorcerors and armies with sharp pointy weapons. There are warm, close relationships formed as well. Old people die and babies are born. The book takes place over a span of years, so a lot happens and Ms. Belle handles it very well. I'm seriously looking for a week that I can dedicate to reading the whole trilogy through from start to finish once I get the other two books.

This trilogy was originally published in the 90s in paperback, but I believe it is now out of print. It is available in ebook these days, though with lovely new covers.
I was provided an eARC of this book by Endeavor Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I am not being compensated in any way. All opinions are fully my own.
~ Judi E. Easley for Blue Cat Review

Angels being bad and Demons doing good?

Whiskey Witches
Whiskey Witches Book #1
by S. M. Blooding
Kindle edition, 394 pages
Published Dec 19, 2014, Whistling Book Press
Also available in paperback

GoodReads Summary:
Detective Paige Whiskey comes from a long line of witches. They may not all be the most powerful, but they are outspoken and supportive of their community. She alone has no gifts. She can’t summon fire, can’t read minds. She knows the arcane. She’s studied it. That, along with her connection to the Whiskey Witches, lands her some pretty strange cases.

Like the sacrificial murders of St. Francisville, Louisiana. There’s a killer on the loose, choosing people in a vain attempt to raise a demon. Not just any demon, though. A man born long ago made a demon in order to protect the Gate to Hell.

Together with demon hunter, Dexx Colt, her kitchen-witch grandmother, and her paranormal investigator brother-in-law, they unravel a conspiracy far bigger than a few simple murders and re-discover Paige’s gift.

She’s a demon summoner and she’s key to the killer’s plan.

My Review:
A blocked witch with no memory of her gift or her daughter, demons and angels on the loose, and someone killing people. Sounds like chaos to me. There were times when I wasn't sure what was what. This is a very complex and challenging book with the traditional roles tossed out the window. 

I read this straight through as a book rather than as separate episodes, and I think that helped me some. There is so much to this book, you don't need to complicate it with the choppiness of endings stuck in there. I recommend the book format.

If you are a Christian, this may not be the book for you. There is anti-God talk with the angels and demons. This is not a pretty fantasy. These angels are way outside their usual comfort zone. However, if you like a complex fantasy that will keep you thinking, this is one I would suggest. I'm looking forward to some time for reading another of this author's books.

This was a BookBub acquisition. My honest review is offered without any compensation. All opinions are fully my own.
~ Judi E. Easley for Blue Cat Review

Always Come Home
Emerson series Book 1
by Maureen Driscoll (GoodReads Author)
Kindle edition, 317 pages
Pub Mar 6, 2014

GoodReads Summary:
From the author of the Kellington series of Regency romances, comes the first novel about the Emerson family.

Colin Emerson, the Earl of Ridgeway, has two unmarried sisters and a mountain of debt incurred by his late father. He has no choice but to marry an heiress. It is most unfortunate, therefore, when he falls in love with a penniless governess.

Ava Conway has been making her way in the world since the death of her father. She takes a position as the governess to Lord Ridgeway's sisters but finds her growing attachment to the earl threatens his family's future.

Bound by honor, torn by love, can Colin do right by his sisters while following his heart?

WARNING: This book contains explicit sexual content and adult situations. You will not like this book if you don't like either of those two things.

My Review:
First response: I wish we had half stars, I'd give this 3 1/2 stars. It was good with lots of interesting characters that will make interesting reading in the following books. Rose, especially. Check my blog for a full review soon. 

This was a traditional historical romance except that it has explicit sex. So, if that's not your thing, skip this one. I found it a bit gratuitous actually. 

Colin may be an Earl, but being penniless with two sisters to marry off, he needs an heiress. However, his relationship with Ava is forecast all over the first few pages. He's the type to take in every wounded bird he sees. His valet is so badly scarred from burns that people don't want to be around him. Ava is not being treated well as a governess and the future at her current position looks even grimmer. Colin to the rescue! He takes along the assistant cook as well, since she's a friend of Ava's and she's not put off by his valet's scars.

So he's returning from his trip to London to find an heiress to marry without the heiress. And with two extra mouths to feed. And he finds his family is now living in the Dower House and has rented out the family mansion. At least one person in his family has some common sense! That would be Rosemary, his sister.

Rose is one of those characters that will make interesting reading in other books. Her practicality may yet save their neighbor, the Marquess of Grayson. I'm sure Colin's half-brother, Nicholas, the Earl of Layton will have a story of his own as well. As will James Emerson, Colin's younger brother with the illegitimate daughter who is half Native American.

In spite of its shortcomings, I liked this book and will try some of the author's other offerings. This was a BookBub acquisition. My honest review is offered without any compensation. All opinions are fully my own.
~ Judi E. Easley for Blue Cat Review

Just out TODAY! New release by Cherry Adair

Cutter Cay series #4
by Cherry Adair (GoodReads Author)
Kindle edition, 352 pages
published Mar 7, 2017, St. Martin's Paperbacks
Also available in paperback

GoodReads Summary:
No one charters the depths of passion on the high seas like New York Times bestselling author Cherry Adair


Somewhere off the coast of Greece, a king’s ransom in gold, emeralds, and silver coins lies waiting at the bottom of the sea. Finding this ancient treasure would be a dream come true for marine archeologist Calista West. But that’s not why she’s here. She didn’t climb aboard Jonah Cutter’s magnificent yacht seeking fortune or fame. She’s come for revenge—against the sexiest, most seductive, modern-day pirate she’s ever encountered…

Like his famous half brothers, Jonah is a master of salvaging ships—and driving women mad with his movie-star looks and raw animal magnetism. Tall, dark, and devastating, he manages to make Callie forget her mission. Every moment they share under the hot Mediterranean sun is an erotically-charged adventure neither can resist. But when Callie discovers what he’s really after—the lost city of Atlantis—is it too late to change the course of her heart…or go all in with the lover of her dreams?

My Review:
Treasure and romance with a possibility of betrayal? Sounds great! And it really was very good. If we had half stars I'd give it four and a half. But I was able to put it down and go to bed at 56%, so it can't have five stars. I have long been a Cherry Adair fan and am really glad to see her releasing another book for this series with the fifth book set for next month.

The controlled Dr. Calista West didn't really seem to have a problem keeping her hands off the handsome salvage chief, Jonah Cutter. It was more that he wouldn't stop touching her that she had the problem with. His arm on her armrest, his knee next to hers, his hand on her wrist, holding her hand, at the small of her back, cupping her cheek. His lips on hers. Once touched, she didn't seem to be able to stop herself from touching back, though. Ms. Adair hasn't lost any of her talent for writing an engaging sex scene. She knows that fine line between hot and steamy and overdone and draws it expertly. 

But what about Callie's mission? Her promise to betray Jonah and steal his big find out from under him? Who will be the real loser? Get this fourth book in the Cutter Cay series today, hot off the press and find out. Is it really Atlantis they've found? Where will the loyalties fall? I don't kiss and tell! You'll have to get your own copy of Stormchaser and read it. I highly recommend it!

I'm looking forward to Rydell Case's story next month, Hurricane Apr 4, 2017

I was provided an eARC by St. Martin's and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I am not being compensated in any way. All opinions are fully my own.
~ Judi E. Easley for Blue Cat Review

Wedding Planner Mysteries, 5-Stars!

Diamond Rings Are Deadly Things
Wedding Planner Mysteries #1
Rachelle J. Christensen (GoodReads Author)
Kindle edition, 341 pages
Published June 13, 2015, Peachwood Press
Also available in paperback, audio cd, and audible

GoodReads Summary:
Adrielle Pyper knows how to plan a wedding, and she's especially good at pleasing bridezillas. But when her biggest client and best friend is murdered just three days before the wedding, Adri's world falls apart. She moves to the resort town of Sun Valley, Idaho, and starts from scratch. Thanks to Adri's impeccable taste and unique style, she lands two celebrity clients, and her business seems headed for success—until someone vandalizes the specialty wedding dresses she imported from overseas. Adri must race to uncover the secret hidden within the yards of satin and lace before she becomes the next victim.
With a delightful blend of mystery, toe-curling kisses, humor, and spine-tingling thrills, Diamond Rings are Deadly Things will keep you turning pages long into the night.

My Review:
5-stars! This was an exciting and fast-paced cozy mystery! Adrielle and Lorea are trying so hard to get their businesses going well. They have two big weddings to handle on the books. One has to stay a secret and one looks to be a huge blow-out with the worst Bridezilla of them all. Everything depends on these weddings going off well or their businesses are going down the drain. Financially, it all hinges on the designer wedding gowns they got on the cheap!

The gowns are gorgeous, but then several gowns disappear, including Bridezilla's gown! Adrielle's best friend is murdered. Diamonds are missing. And Adri is hiding a gown under a quilt. One thing after another. Try to keep up! Highly recommended for readers who like the crazy pace and zany goings-on of the cozy mystery.

I had one small beef with this book. Adri had a neighbor who was mentioned in passing named Lily Rowan. That is the name of a major character from Rex Stout's Nero Wolf series of mysteries. It bothered me that Ms. Christensen used the name. It was just sort of thrown in there, too.

This was a BookBub acquisition. My honest review is offered without compensation of any kind. All opinions are fully my own.
~ Judi E. Easley for Blue Cat Review

Must Read Books Two & Three in Trilogy!

A Wedding in Apple Grove
Apple Grove Trilogy #1, Small Town USA series
by C. H. Admirand (GoodReads Author)
Kindle edition, 352 pages
Published Nov 22, 2012, Sourcebooks Casablanca
Also available in paperback

GoodReads Summary:
Welcome to Apple Grove, Ohio (population 597) where everyone has your best interests at heart... Love is in the air and the proof is in the painted proposal on the water tower. Every girl in Apple Grove looks forward to her beau following town tradition by getting on a ladder and making his love for her public.

When Daniel Eagan moves to town, his matchmaking neighbors direct him toward the Mulcahys. But when the petite and winsome Megan arrives on his doorstep in khakis and a tool belt, sparks start flying between the new guy and the hometown girl...

My Review:
5-stars! I loved this book and fully intend to read the other two in the trilogy.

Meghan works with her father and two sisters as the town's handyman. All 597 people of Apple Grove, OH know the Mulcahys, their past and present. There are no secrets in this tiny town.

Trudi owns the garden center and sits on the town council. She put in a good word for the new phys ed teacher and soccer coach, who just happens to be her great nephew, Daniel. Daniel's from the city. Not used to small town ways, but he's adjusting fast.

Meghan had her heart set on Jimmy. But Jimmy got a pro football contract and only uses Meghan as a hook-up when he drops into town to visit his mother.

Dan's been dumped by a cheating ex-fiance and ex-bff who hooked up. And she flushed the diamond ring!

Are they ready to move on? You bet! Check out the message on the water tower! Yes, that's a spoiler, but this is an HEA romance that you know the ending before you begin, so I felt you could handle it.

One criticism in all this is RASP. The author seems to need a list of words to use since she got stuck on the word rasp, so here are a few alternatives for her: groan, screech, squeak, grate, wheeze, grate, grind, scrape, bleat.

And the next two books I need to read!
~ Judi E. Easley for Blue Cat Review
Clockwork Twist #1
by Emily Thompson (GoodReads Author)
Kindle, 295 pages
Published Mar 22, 2013, KDP
Also available in paperback

GoodReads Summary:
Twist has never left London, until today. Now he's traveling on an airship—with a crew that insists they're not pirates—on his way to find the clockwork princess because he's the only one who can fix her.

In true Neo-Victorian style, Clockwork Twist is set in a lush and vibrant world where thing are as you might expect in 1878. That is, of course, if fantastic creatures like djinn, faeries, kitsunes and vampires were commonplace. An increasing number of people are being born with supernatural senses, called Sights. While airship tourism is sweeping the globe, air-piracy is also on the rise.

Twist is among the Sighted, but his Sight is unusual. While others might be able to see and hear over great distances, find anything they can imagine anywhere in the world, or even recognize every type of flower by scent alone, Twist's Sight shows him only damage. Whenever he touches a broken clock or machine, he can instantly understand the damage and can fix it easily. If he touches a person, even for a moment, his mind fills with a terrible vision of whatever trauma or pain once broke them. Naturally, he's chosen a solitary existence and shuns all human contact.

Unfortunately, thanks to his seclusion, Twist is also unfamiliar with everything beyond his own clock shop, hidden away on a quiet and ever-drizzly London street. When a treasure hunter arrives at his door with proof that they have found the fabled clockwork princess—Twist's favorite old fairy tale—it's up to Twist alone to bring her back to life.

The continuing series of Clockwork Twist begins with book one: Waking. Join Twist as he embarks on his first adventure, and find out first hand if he can actually survive it.

My Review:
Twist is Sighted, which in his case means he can't see with his eyes. He Sees with his sense of touch, Sees damage and how to fix it. He Saw so much damage, that he became damaged by it all and withdrew from the world. Now, he's being drawn out of his seclusion by this temptation of the Clockwork Princess and how he needs to help her.

The crew uses Arabel to Find Twist because that's her Sight. Just as she used her Sight to Find the Princess in the first place. They use Jonas, Arabel's brother to See into Twist in the hopes of controlling him. But Jonas and Twist form a sort of bond and seem to help each other heal to some extent with the similarity of their Sight. 

As Twist repairs the damage to the Princess and she comes closer and closer to "coming back to life", he falls deeper and deeper under her spell and promises to be with her always. But the crew is a bunch of money-grubbing scavengers and his dream may not work too well with their plans.

That all sounds pretty good, right? Well, the bat vampires were creepy and the metal people were more than a bit weird. When it came to underwater gas pirates, I just wondered what we were doing with a contemporary issue in a steampunk novel. Like, huh? And then, parts of it just seemed to drag and I found myself skimming rather than reading. That's a very bad sign. Perhaps Twist should have stayed in his clockworks shop after all.

This was a BookBub acquisition. My honest review is given without compensation of any kind. All opinions are fully my own.
~ Judi E. Easley for Blue Cat Review 

Note: on Amazon 62% of reviewers gave it 5-stars.
Manga Art
Inspiration and Techniques 
from an Expert Illustrator
by Mark Crilley
Expected pub Jun 6, 2017, Watson-Guptill (Ten Speed Press)
Available in paperback

GoodReads Summary:
The world of manga (Japanese comics) has captured the imagination of artists, both aspiring and professional alike. Now best-selling artist and art instructor Mark Crilley presents the most complete look yet at the variety of creative options available in the world of manga. Crilley fills each chapter with gorgeous, original artwork created with a variety of tools (pencils, colored pencils, digital art, pen and ink, and more) and in a variety of manga-inspired styles. He pairs each piece with information on the materials used and the inspiration that led to its creation. Manga Art provides readers a one-of-a-kind chance to hear from one of the leading artists in the field of manga instruction, as he reveals the unlimited possibilities of manga and the creative secrets behind over 100 pieces of original, never-before-seen artwork.

My Review:
Being an artist, I'm always looking at the new art how-to books. This one by Mark Crilley is absolutely beautiful! It's chock full of his beautiful drawings and easy conversational writing. He discusses his development as an artist and his development of art pieces. In fact, each drawing in here gets a start to finish discussion of its own from conception and attitude to last stroke. He even gives you, the reader some assignments to try out some things so that you can more deeply understand some of the ideas he's talking about. That's not to say you need to be an artist to enjoy this book. No way! Anyone who is interested in manga drawing will enjoy this book of fabulous drawings, even if you just want to thumb through and look without reading a word. But if you do, you will miss at least half the experience. Mark's words aren't technical to the point that a non-artist couldn't enjoy reading what he has to say. He's very interesting and amusing at times about his development as an artist and his approach to some of his pieces. About how he gets inspired to do some of these pieces.

I think my favorite piece in the whole book is The Painter. It's rather Norman Rockwell-ish in layout with the girl behind her canvas on the easel. But the possibilities of what could be on that easel are endless. And such a familiar setting for anyone who's ever spent a day painting a difficult subject.

So whether you're an artist or art lover, don't miss this wonderful book on June 6, 2017, when it hits the stores!

I was provided an eARC by NetGalley and Ten Speed Press in exchange for an honest review. I am not being compensated in any way. All opinions are fully my own.
~ Judi E. Easley for Blue Cat Review