This month’s TBR Challenge prompt – One Word Title – made me really take a look at my TBR pile. I have a ton of books in the TBR, but as it happens, very few with one word titles. Caz went for a modern-day setting, while I picked up a paranormal historical, and both of us were mostly happy.

Whiteout by Elyse Springer

My One Word Title read is very much a book of two halves, one of which I enjoyed a bit more than the other.  The first half of Whiteout revolves around an amnesia plot, and the second around the resulting fallout; the first half is tense and terrific, but the second loses momentum and the principals are separated for most of it.  I understand why, but having your leads apart for almost half a book isn’t a great idea in a romance.

When the book opens, Noah Landers is waking up with one helluva headache – and no idea of where – or who – he is.  There’s a man speaking to him – a man who clearly knows him and has been taking care of him – who explains that they’re a couple, they’re holidaying at a cabin in the Colorado mountains for Christmas, and that Noah slipped on the ice and hit his head. Noah doesn’t recognise the man – Jason O’Reilly – although he does recognise that Jason is uneasy and holding something back – and that although he doesn’t know who he is, the name Noah feels… wrong somehow.  Jason explains that because of the remoteness of the cabin and the bad weather conditions, it hasn’t been possible to get Noah to a hospital, but he’s speaking with a doctor regularly on the phone, and their advice about the amnesia has been not to tell Noah too much about himself and to let his memories return in their own time.

Over the next few days, Jason shows himself to be a kind and compassionate person; he’s clearly terribly upset at what happened to Noah and does everything he possibly can to ensure his comfort and aid his recovery.  He’s very affectionate and loving, too, wearing his feelings for Noah on his sleeve and taking every opportunity to touch him – a hand at his elbow or his back, a touch to his face – but as random memories start to trickle back, Noah starts to see small things about the other man’s behaviour that don’t quite make sense.  He begins to doubt what Jason is telling him about the doctor, and when Noah finds his cellphone buried under a pile of clothes in a drawer and listens to the messages that call him by a different name, he starts to think that something is very, very  wrong.

We only get Noah’s PoV in this book, and the author uses the limited perspective brilliantly, creating a strong sense of menace and uncertainty, and conveying Noah’s palpable fear and growing paranoia in a way that cleverly plays with our expectations.   Unfortunately, however, the single PoV isn’t so effective in the second half – which it’s difficult to talk about without revealing too much, but here goes.

Jason and Noah leave Colorado separately, and the story follows Noah as he returns to his life and career in NYC.  But he can’t forget Jason or what happened between them, and this part of the story focuses on Noah’s desire to win Jason back as well as on his personal growth as he learns to properly examine the motivations for his actions and then works out what he wants and how to go for it.  For the most part, I continued to be fully invested in the story; Noah’s longing for Jason is palpable and permeates the pages, although I can’t deny that some of my raison d’être for reading so quickly was because I was eager to reach the reconciliation!  There are definitely some emotional moments here as Noah is knocked back and perseveres, but this part of the story would perhaps have worked better had it included Jason’s PoV.  He’s not all that well fleshed out even when he’s a presence on the page; we know he’s handsome, rich and successful and that his long-term partner died and he was devastated.  It’s clear that this relationship has a bearing on the one he forms with Noah, but it only gets some brief mentions and is never really addressed. And other than his professions of love for Noah, we know nothing further about his feelings.  I can’t help feeling that a different king of structure  – maybe interspersing the story of how Noah pursues Jason with flashbacks telling the story of how they got to that point – might have been a better way to maintain a consistent level of tension and interest.

So. While I would still recommend Whiteout, my final grade is a compromise.  The first half is DIK-worthy while the second is… not.  It isn’t horrible by any means, but I can’t deny it was something of an anti-climax coming after such a fantastic beginning.

Grade:  B                  Sensuality: Warm

~ Caz Owens

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Bewitched by Sandra Schwab

I dug deep into the TBR (remember when Dorchester was still around?) and pulled out Bewitched by Sandra Schwab. It’s fair to say that I enjoyed this novel a lot more than the reader who wrote AAR’s original review back in 2008. This Regency historical has a touch of the paranormal to it, and some of the plot touches are more than a little bit tongue in cheek. I found it charming and I was totally sold on the HEA by the end, even if things did drag a tad in the middle.

Amelia (Amy) Bourne comes from a magically talented family, but when she accidentally turns her uncle’s home cobalt blue, he reacts by curtailing her powers and sending her to London in the hopes she can snag a husband and settle down. Indeed, Amy finds herself madly in love with Sebastian (Fox) Stapleton – after drinking punch at an event.

The plot thickens when the two become engaged and Amy goes to stay with Fox and his family. Amy’s host sends his unfriendly daughter along and once the party reaches the Stapleton home, odd things start happening. Amy has been stripped of her powers, but not her ability to detect the magic of others. She knows that dark enchantments are at work, but she and Fox appear to be powerless against them.

Bewitched tells a story that starts off feeling whimsical, meanders into a feeling of enchantment, and then accelerates into high action. Each third or so of the book has a slightly different feel to it, and these fit the development of the story. On the one hand, I’ve seen other reviewers complain about the sappiness of Amy and Fox’s love story and yet the unquestioning fawning over each other completely fits with what has been happening to them. In the last third of the book, the world around them and their understanding of it changes somewhat and without throwing in spoilers, it’s fair to say that their relationship deepens and they develop a more mature understanding of each other as well.

One thing I liked about this story was its acceptance of the rules of its world. The characters generally take magic as a given in their world, but they’re not entirely passive about it. We see the characters consider when and how to use magic, or whether feelings are real or brought on by enchantments. Leads in paranormal romance don’t always deal with the implications of the worldbuilding, so I found this refreshing.

If you like your historicals with a tinge of magic, Bewitched is available as an eBook and definitely worth checking out.

Grade:  B+                  Sensuality: Warm

~ Lynn Spencer

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Caz Owens
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Queer romance, romantic suspense and historicals - romance, mysteries, fiction -  are my genres of choice these days, and when I haven't got my nose in a book, I’ve got my ears in one.  I’m a huge fan of audiobooks and am rarely to be found without my earbuds in.