Review: All I Got for Christmas by Genie Davis and Pauline Baird Jones

Review: All I Got for Christmas by Genie Davis and Pauline Baird JonesAll I Got For Christmas by Genie Davis, Pauline Baird Jones
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: ebook
Genres: holiday romance, science fiction romance
Pages: 193
Published by Pauline Baird Jones on November 9th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

My Review:

This is definitely a “mixed-feelings” type of review. And it’s not so much that I have different feelings about the two novellas in this collective as that I have mixed feelings about both of the novellas in this collection.

Let me explain…

There are two stories in this collection, Riding for Christmas by Genie Davis and Up on the House Top by Pauline Baird Jones. While I liked the concept of this joint release, I had some issues with the executions. Completely different issues with each story.

Riding for Christmas felt more like a ghost story than science fiction romance. The time travel element is a bit weirder than normal bit of handwavium, but the science fiction aspects, such as they were, felt like the story would have been better served if they had been fantasy or paranormal elements instead. Considering the setting, the Native American trickster deities, either Coyote or Raven, would have served just as well as the aliens to make this story happen.

In 1885 Sam Harrington is captured by aliens, and put in stasis for a century. Then on a whim, or perhaps a desire to find an excuse to let Sam go, the aliens let Sam out for Christmas, at the site of the old farm he was on his way to visit during that snowstorm that obscured the aliens way back when.

Sam discovers the granddaughter of his old friends, visiting the derelict ranch that she has just inherited. The lives of everyone connected to Sam went badly after his disappearance, and Jane MacKenzie is all that’s left. She’s an orphan whose drunken grandfather didn’t want her, but still left her his broken down ranch.

Sam’s one night of freedom coincides with Jane’s visit to the ranch, where she gets lost in (of course) a snowstorm. She and Sam spend one night together outside of time, where they talk and comfort each other, but share nothing more than a kiss.

The aliens return Sam to his own time, and Sam has the future that he should have had, including marriage and children and grandchildren. That lonely future that Jane Mackenzie was part of never came to be – but it is still the life that Jane remembers. Until she has an encounter with another Sam Harrington, and they swap ghost stories.

The story had a very cute concept, but the characters didn’t speak to me. Or the situation didn’t. Or something I can’t put my finger on. Was it all outside of time? How did the aliens manage to futz with time? And more than once at that. We don’t get quite enough of either character to really feel the story.

And it always felt more like a ghost story than SFR to me. The aliens are as nebulous as that ship they hid in the snow.

Escape Rating for Riding for Christmas: C+

Up on the House Top was a lot funnier than Riding for Christmas. And there is also a lot more heart in the story, or perhaps that’s more meat.

Gini comes back to her mother’s remote cabin in Wyoming for Christmas, with her twin sister’s two recalcitrant step-children in unintended tow. Van and her husband Bif (they’re his kids) had an emergency at work, and never do come to get the terrors. No one can figure out what kind of work emergency they might have at NASA without a ship in space, but Gini does eventually find out.

As much as anyone finds out anything about the real truth in this story.

Because when Gini gets to her mother’s, the love of her life is waiting in the cabin along with mother. But it’s been 20 years since Gini and Dex broke up, Dex is now the County Sherriff and Gini is entertaining a surprise marriage proposal from her rich and chilly boss.

It’s a weird meeting made even weirder by the presence of Gini’s mother Desi, who has always been a bit “out there” and is further out there than normal this Christmas. Things get even crazier the next morning, when Gini and Dex wake up to discover that they have reverted to their 13-year-old selves, at least physically, and that 80+ year old Desi is now about 7. Which seems to be the age at which she was originally captured by the little green men (and possibly one little green woman) who are all over the house.

Gini isn’t sure whether to go with the flow, fear for her sanity, or try to take the house back from the invading forces. Those little green men say that first contact never goes well, but this particular instance is proving to be a humdinger.

By the time the dust settles, the men in black have been foiled by decorating the flying saucer on the roof as an extra terrestrial vehicle for a big green Santa, and life is back to normal. Except that the little green men have taken their little friend Desi away with them, and that Gini’s 13-year-old self finally had the courage, or perhaps the self-centeredness, to ask Dex what went wrong all those years ago.

The story has a lot of things to say about the relationship between adult children and their aging parents. It also manages to get a fair number of licks in about the normal self-centered phase that teenagers go through. And there are plenty of geeky in-jokes to make SF fans laugh and chuckle.

But the story lurches from one crazy incident to another, and at points it feels more like an excuse for those in jokes than an actual story. And this reader never did figure out exactly what purpose those two real kids served in the plot. The girl was not just selfish, but completely unlikeable from beginning to end.

And there’s an “it was all a dream” ending. The question left in the reader’s mind is which parts?

Escape Rating for Up on the House Top: B-

open with care by genie davis and pauline baird jones alternate cover for all i got for christmasReviewer’s Note: It’s been a few weeks since I reviewed this book at  Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly. In those intervening weeks, it appears that there might have been a title and cover change. Some references to this title at the etailers are now calling it  Open With Care: Beware of Aliens Bearing Gifts

SFRQ-button-vsmallThis review was originally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

 

Review: Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

Review: Wilde Lake by Laura LippmanWilde Lake by Laura Lippman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, large print, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow on May 3rd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The bestselling author of the acclaimed standalones After I’m Gone, I’d Know You Anywhere, and What the Dead Know, challenges our notions of memory, loyalty, responsibility, and justice in this evocative and psychologically complex story about a long-ago death that still haunts a family.
Luisa “Lu” Brant is the newly elected—and first female—state’s attorney of Howard County, Maryland, a job in which her widower father famously served. Fiercely intelligent and ambitious, she sees an opportunity to make her name by trying a mentally disturbed drifter accused of beating a woman to death in her home. It’s not the kind of case that makes headlines, but peaceful Howard county doesn’t see many homicides.
As Lu prepares for the trial, the case dredges up painful memories, reminding her small but tight-knit family of the night when her brother, AJ, saved his best friend at the cost of another man’s life. Only eighteen, AJ was cleared by a grand jury. Now, Lu wonders if the events of 1980 happened as she remembers them. What details might have been withheld from her when she was a child?
The more she learns about the case, the more questions arise. What does it mean to be a man or woman of one’s times? Why do we ask our heroes of the past to conform to the present’s standards? Is that fair? Is it right? Propelled into the past, she discovers that the legal system, the bedrock of her entire life, does not have all the answers. Lu realizes that even if she could learn the whole truth, she probably wouldn’t want to.

My Review:

Wilde Lake is a book about stories. The ones that last. The stories that we tell each other. The stories that we tell ourselves.

And what happens when someone finally unravels all of the stories that people have told her about her life.

This is, after all, Lu’s story. Lu is Luisa Frida Brant, and at first it seems like she lives a mostly charmed life. She’s just been elected the first female State’s Attorney for Howard County Maryland.

Howard County is a real place, as is Columbia, the planned community that Lu grew up. Even the history of Columbia is pretty much as described in the book. Even Wilde Lake is a real feature of the town. I’ll admit to being completely surprised that Columbia and Wilde Lake exist. They are so planned that I thought they must be fictional, but they are not.

But hopefully not the events that unfold in this story. Even though, or perhaps especially because, they feel typical of suburban life in the 1960s and 1970s.

But the story is Lu’s story. While it begins at the point of Lu’s greatest triumph, it also begins at the point where her whole life begins to unravel. As she relates the story of her childhood, while dealing with her life in the present, we see where all the stories that Lu has been told, and all the stories that Lu has told herself, converge and rewrite the past as she once knew it.

At first we see an almost typical American family. Lu, her brother AJ, and their father, AJ Senior. Lu’s mom isn’t in the picture – she died a week after Lu was born. And AJ Senior is the State’s Attorney, instilling in Lu both her competitiveness and her desire to practice law.

AJ Junior is the one who seems to have the truly charmed life. AJ is charismatic, and everyone seems to love him. At least until he and his charmed circle of friends are violently attacked at their high school graduation party, leaving one young man dead and another paralyzed from the waist down.

In the aftermath, the world goes on. AJ and his friends go their separate ways. But when Lu herself becomes State’s Attorney, the truth about that long ago night, and the events that led up to it, all explode into the light.

And in the end, Lu discovers that nothing that she believed, about herself, about her family, about her life, was remotely true.

Escape Rating A-: I will say that this story builds slowly over much of its length. We are mostly inside of Lu’s head as her version of events travels back and forth from the here-and-now to her memories of her childhood and adolescence and all the stories that she was told. Also, because it is entirely Lu’s perspective, the other characters in the story feel a bit one-dimensional. We don’t really get to know them. Which in its own way makes sense in this story, as Lu discovers that all the things and all the people she thought she knew are not what she believed them to be.

All families tell stories. Sometimes because a child is too young to understand the truth, and sometimes because there is a guilty secret to be hidden. Sometimes both. And sometimes the one morphs into the other as the child becomes an adult and no one wants to air the proverbial dirty laundry now that it has finally been washed, folded and put away.

There was one such story in my own family, not nearly as explosive as what Lu uncovers. But I remember my own sense of shock and the shifting and sifting of memories in light of the new and surprising information. For her, in this story, the revelations she uncovers would have been infinitely more profound, unnerving and identity-rattling.

In the end, the truths that Lu uncovers are like the ending of the movie The Sixth Sense. Once you know that the boy truly sees dead people, you are forced to re-evaluate everything you thought you saw in the film. Once Lu finds out the truth about her family and her past, she is forced to re-examine all of her own memories to see where the truth was hidden from her, and where she hid it from herself.

They say that the truth will set you free. This is a moving story of a woman who finds the truth, and it nearly destroys her.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: This Gun for Hire by Jo Goodman

Review: This Gun for Hire by Jo GoodmanThis Gun for Hire (McKenna Brothers, #1) by Jo Goodman
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, large print
Genres: historical romance, western romance
Series: McKenna Brothers #1
Pages: 361
Published by Berkley on April 7th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Jo Goodman, a premier writer of western romance and the author of In Want of a Wife, is back with a sensational new novel for fans of Linda Lael Miller and Joan Johnston.  He’s got a job to do…Former army cavalryman Quill McKenna takes pride in protecting the most powerful man in Stonechurch, Colorado: Mr. Ramsey Stonechurch himself. But the mine owner has enemies, and after several threats on his life, mines, and family, Quill decides to hire someone to help guard the boss’s daughter. Only problem is the uncontrollable attraction he feels toward the fiery-haired woman who takes the job. …but she’s a piece of work. Calico Nash has more knowledge of scouting and shooting than cross-stitching, but she agrees to pose as Ann’s private tutor while protecting her. But between her growing attraction to Quill and the escalating threats against the Stonechurches, Calico will soon have a choice to make—hang on to her hard-won independence or put her faith in Quill to create the kind of happy ending she never imagined…

My Review:

When I saw this title, I assumed, as one does, that the gun that was for hire was attached to a guy. However, that is marvelously not so, and is only the first of many wonderful surprises in this trope-bending western romance.

This is also a scenario that I’ve seen before, but by moving it to a historical western setting, it makes a lot of the normally tried-and-true tropes fresh and new. Calico Nash is, first and foremost, an original, and it is her story and her unexpected point of view that make it so much fun.

While we generally think of bounty hunters and security agents in the “Wild West” as having been men, there’s no logical reason why some couldn’t have been women. Certainly, the first female Pinkerton Agent, Kate Warne, precedes the setting of This Gun For Hire by a couple of decades. So Calico Nash, while not likely, is certainly plausible enough to make this story interesting without tripping the willing suspension of disbelief.

When Calico Nash and Quill McKenna first meet in a whorehouse, neither of them is exactly what they seem. And while both of them seem more than competent at dealing with a bunch of villains, they also both seem not to like each other much.

Looks, as they say, can be deceiving.

So when Quill needs to find a way to protect the daughter of the man he is body-guarding, Calico is the first and only solution that comes to mind. He knows she can protect Ann Stonechurch, and he knows that Calico can pretend to be anything she needs to be to make her surreptitious protection effective.

He also knows that he wants to see Calico again, whether he is fully admitting that to himself or not.

So while Quill is guarding mining baron Ramsey Stonechurch by pretending to be just his lawyer, Calico protects Ann by pretending to be her teacher. And both Quill and Calico pretend that their inevitable liaison is just due to propinquity and shared danger, and has no deeper feelings involved.

Calico also tries to pretend that she has no deeper feelings that could be involved. Not just because it’s never happened before, but because she never believed it could happen to her at all.

Meanwhile, both Quill and Calico are forced to pull their charges out of danger, over and over again. Ramsey Stonechurch is being threatened by person or persons unknown, who seem to be interested in either unionizing his miners or creating a more ‘equitable” distribution of profits between the mining baron and his employees.

Ann Stonechurch is being threatened purely as a way to rattle her father. And it’s working.

But while Quill and Calico are busy looking for outside threats, they overlook the proverbial viper in the family’s bosom. And no one expects that the villains they thwarted all the way back in Act 1 could possibly make common cause with the one they face at the mine.

It’s a mistake that could cost them their lives.

devil you know by jo goodmanEscape Rating A-: I picked this up because so many of my fellow book addicts over at The Book Pushers absolutely raved about it. I wanted to get in on today’s joint review of the followup book, The Devil You Know, and I just couldn’t go there without reading the first book first.

Not that each book doesn’t stand perfectly well on its own, but it was so much fun to read them back to back. The Old West probably wasn’t ever like this for women, but dagnabbit, it should have been.

Calico is just a terrific heroine. She became a bounty hunter and security guard because she both worshiped her father and tried to live up to his image. Badger Nash was a bounty hunter and scout for the U.S. Army, and he taught his daughter everything he knew – which was a heck of a lot. When he died on the trail, she finished up his last job for him, took the reward money, and never looked back.

Calico’s knowledge of what women usually do in the “Wild West” comes from two nearly contradictory resources – the Army wives who manipulate and dissect life in remote Army postings, and the whorehouse where Quill finds her handling security. She knows what hides behind civilized behavior, and she’s pretty cynical about the roles that women are supposed to play. She can fake it if she has to, but she’s never going to be anyone other than who she is.

And she’s become almost as much of a legend as Annie Oakley or Calamity Jane.

The irony in the relationship that blossoms between Calico and Quill is that Calico never pretends with Quill. He always sees her exactly as she is. She may dissemble in front of others, but with him she is always her authentic self. Quill, on the other hand, is hiding layers within layers from the beginning of the story until very nearly the end.

This is also a story where much of the romance occurs in, and is punctuated with, intelligent banter. These two fall in love because they “get” each other, even if that phrase wouldn’t have been used at the time. They spark each other’s best wits, and it is fun to watch.

There is also a suspense element to this story. Quill and Calico are both on the job because there is a threat hanging over the head of Ramsey Stonechurch. Their job is both to protect the family and to figure out where the threat is coming from and eliminate it. Whatever the reader or both Quill and Calico think of Ramsey Stonechurch, his daughter is certainly innocent.

Ramsey Stonechurch is an interesting character himself, because he does not fall into the stereotype. At first we think he must be a typical overbearing robber baron, but first impressions deceive (somewhat) and he is much more nuanced than first appears.

While I sort of figured out who was probably behind some of the threats fairly early on, the author does a good job of concealing means and especially motive until the very end. I knew who it must be, but not the whys or the wherefores. I also couldn’t see this person as being the motivator behind all events, it just didn’t seem likely for most of the story. I kept looking for a bigger evil who just wasn’t there.

Calico’s character makes This Gun for Hire a trip to the “Wild West” as it should have been.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 5-1-16

Sunday Post

This was a week with some lovely books. Anna Hackett’s Lost in Barbarian Space was marvelous, as she always is. ‘Til Death Do Us Part was absolutely yummy. And Flash of Fire was loads of action-adventure-romance fun.

hugo_smThis was also the week when the Hugo nominations were announced. As someone who gets at least a supporting membership in Worldcon every year, I was able to nominate, and this year I made sure to do so. The final ballot we now have in front of us is still stained with a lot of puppy-puke. If you want to wade into, ahem, discover what all of the fuss this year and last year was about, take a look at the awesome File 770. There are a few categories this year where we have real contenders, but this year, just like last year, Noah Ward (otherwise known as “No Award” will probably add a few more rockets to the metaphorical stash in his imaginary basement. This is the last year, we all fervently hope.

I resent the implication, as propagated by the followers of the Sad and Rapid Puppies, that I only like what I like because it ticks off certain social justice boxes. When the fact of the matter is that I like what I like because I like it. Because it speaks to me. And that is why we all read whatever it is that we read and love.

This may be all I will say on the topic for a while, if not ever. Which won’t stop me from watching the train wreck via File 770 and attending the Hugo Awards Ceremony in Kansas City this summer at MidAmericon II.

Scrambling down off soapbox now.

Current Giveaways:

5 copies of Pure Heat by M.L. Buchman

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Rain Rain Go Away Giveaway Hop is Rebecca O.
The winner of the $10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Showers of Books Giveaway Hop is Heather B.

til death do us part by amanda quickBlog Recap:

B Review: The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie
B Review: Mug Shot by Caroline Fardig
A- Review: Lost in Barbarian Space by Anna Hackett
A Review: Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick
B+ Review: Flash of Fire by M.L. Buchman + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (182)

service of the dead by candace robbComing Next Week:

This Gun for Hire by Jo Goodman (review)
Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman (blog tour review)
The Service of the Dead by Candace Robb (review)
Out Rider by Lindsay McKenna (blog tour review)
Admiral by Sean Danker (review)

Stacking the Shelves (182)

Stacking the Shelves

Seven is the sweet spot for the graph, or at least one of them. So when Rhys Ford contacted me this morning with the eARC of the next Sinners book, I knew my Saturday post was set. Also that my weekend was booked. Because I can never resist dropping everything to read one of her books, even if I can’t post the review for a month, or in this case, TWO months. There are some authors that I just drop everything for. Rhys is one. Robin D. Owens is another, Anna Hackett is a third. I loved Lost in Barbarian Space and I was so glad that I could post the review reasonably close to right away. And I have a Robin Owens book this week too. It’s a GREAT week.

I was also very happy to hear from both Rhys and Anna that their series aren’t quite done yet. Anna tweeted that there are probably three more books in the Phoenix Adventures before she wraps it up. There are still a few members of the family who need to get their HEAs. And Rhys let me know that there will be one more Sinners book after Absinthe of Malice. That story isn’t quite done yet, and I can’t wait to find out in exactly what way.

For Review:
Absinthe of Malice (Sinners #5) by Rhys Ford
The Fifty-Year Mission : The Next 25 Years by Edward Gross & Mark A. Altman
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

Purchased from Amazon:
A Different Kind of Forever by Dee Ernst
The Fifty-Year Mission: The First 25 Years by Edward Gross & Mark A. Altman
Lost Heart (Celta’s Heartmates) by Robin D. Owens
Star Trek: The Lost Photographs by CBS Watch

 

Review: Flash of Fire by M.L. Buchman + Giveaway

Flash of Fire Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military romance, romantic suspense
Series: Firehawks #7
Pages: 352
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 3rd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The elite firefighters of Mount Hood Aviation fly into places even the CIA can't penetrate.
FROM WILDFIRE TO GUNFIRE When former Army National Guard helicopter pilot Robin Harrow joins Mount Hood Aviation, she expect to fight fires for only one season. Instead, she finds herself getting deeply entrenched with one of the most elite firefighting teams in the world. And that's before they send her on a mission that's seriously top secret, with a flight partner who's seriously hot.
Mickey Hamilton loves flying, firefighting, and women, in that order. But when Robin Harrow roars across his radar, his priorities go out the window. On a critical mission deep in enemy territory, their past burns away and they must face each other. Their one shot at a future demands that they first survive the present-together.
"A richly detailed and pulse-pounding read...tender romance flawlessly blended with heart-stopping life-or-death scenes." -RT Book Reviews, 4 1/2 stars for Full Blaze

My Review:

Whatever was in the water at SOAR seems to also be in the water at Mount Hood Aviation. Everyone who shows up to fly to fire ends up very happily married. And it’s wonderful fun!

Like so many of the books in Buchman’s Firehawks series, the story follows a particular pattern. What makes things interesting is always the characters, both the ones that series readers are familiar with, and the new ones who are introduced or at least focused on in the current entry.

In the case of Flash of Fire, our hero Mickey Hamilton is one of the pilots who has been with MHA for a while, but hasn’t had his own story because he’s been waiting for the right heroine to arrive.

The heroine for Mickey is Robin Harrow. She’s former Army National Guard, and currently serving as a reluctant waitress in the biggest independent truck stop in Arizona. But working at Phoebe’s Truck Stop is a family tradition – her mother did it, and now runs the place. Her grandmother is Phoebe herself. As far as fathers and grandfathers go, they aren’t in the picture. Harrow women don’t have husbands, they have sperm donors.

Someday, Phoebe figures that she will follow the family tradition. But right now, she’s flying lead for Mount Hood Aviation for one glorious season, because Emily Beale is much, much too pregnant to fit in even a helicopter’s cockpit. And Emily sees something in Robin that makes her believe Robin is the right pilot to take her place.

Robin initially sees Mickey as her extra-curricular fun for the summer, for what little downtime MHA seems to get. Mickey discovers that Robin is the only woman he will ever want, and is thunderstruck when she rejects his love, but is still more than willing to share his bedroll, tent, or bunk, as long as there are no strings attached.

Everyone who sees them knows that whatever they have is for the long haul – if Mickey can just muster the patience to let the reluctant Robin figure it out for herself.

And if they can survive not just the dangerous fire season, but also one of MHA’s mysterious Black Ops missions in one of the most dangerous places on Earth.

Escape Rating B+: While the regular firefighting is always interesting, it’s the crazy Black Ops missions that send these books into the stratosphere of nail-biting tension. As much as I enjoyed this story, it took a little longer than usual for the insane part of the fun to really begin.

Once they take off for parts nearly unknown, across the DMZ in North Korea, the action in this book ramps up to a thrill a minute.

pure heat by ml buchmanFor those new to the series who don’t want to start with either Pure Heat, the first Firehawks book, or The Night is Mine, where Emily Beale and Mark Henderson’s story really begins in the Night Stalkers, Flash of Fire is a great place to pick up the series.

Because Robin is a complete outsider to both MHA and the folks who came over or drop in from SOAR, everyone has to get introduced to her, and she has to learn everyone’s place in this high-adrenaline “family of choice”. For new readers, her introduction is their introduction. For those who have followed the series, it’s a nice refresher. At something like 20 books in for the combined series, the cast is getting pretty large. It’s always nice to see how everyone is doing.

In general, Robin makes a very interesting heroine to follow. She’s the best of the best, but she always thinks she still has so much to learn. While everyone around her at MHA is better at one thing or another than she is, Robin is excellent at pulling all those things together and creating coherence. She makes good decisions fast, which is a talent desperately needed when flying to fire, because the fire moves and changes quicker than an eye blink.

At the same time, she’s always living in the moment. She signs on to MHA for a one season contract, not because she doesn’t want more, but because that’s all they need. Emily Beale won’t be pregnant forever, however much it may seem like it by the start of her third trimester. So Robin believes that she and Mickey can only have one season, and that it is stupid to get involved when she knows she has to leave, while MHA is his home.

Not that Robin doesn’t think emotional involvement isn’t inherently just a bit stupid, and not that her family history doesn’t make her believe that it won’t work for her. Her personal history also contributes. Men want to challenge the strong soldier woman, or they want to break her. They don’t fall in love with her, and often don’t even like her very much.

Mickey is something Robin hasn’t encountered before. A man who likes her and is interested in her just the way she is. It’s the one thing she can’t resist, even if it takes her an entire exhausting fire season to finally see the light. That Robin finds not just a man who loves her, but also women who accept her as one of their own, is a marvelous touch. Flash of Fire easily passes the Bechdel Test, as Robin and the women of MHA bond not just over the men in their lives, but the risks they shared as fellow soldiers, and the dangers and rewards of flying to fire.

Like all of the books in both the Night Stalkers and Firehawks series, what makes the story work is that Robin and Mickey are equals in every possible way. Equally strong, equally intelligent, equally excellent at what they do and sometimes equally stubborn. I always love romances where the hero and the heroine are perfectly capable of rescuing each other – and where they both acknowledge it.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

M.L. Buchman and Sourcebooks are giving away 5 copies of the first book in the Firehawks series, Pure Heat, to lucky entrants on this tour.

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Review: Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick

Review: Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick'Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, romantic suspense
Pages: 352
Published by Berkley on April 19th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The author of the New York Times bestseller Garden of Lies returns to Victorian London in an all-new novel of deadly obsession.   Calista Langley operates an exclusive “introduction” agency in Victorian London, catering to respectable ladies and gentlemen who find themselves alone in the world. But now, a dangerously obsessed individual has begun sending her trinkets and gifts suitable only for those in deepest mourning—a black mirror, a funeral wreath, a ring set with black jet stone. Each is engraved with her initials.   Desperate for help and fearing that the police will be of no assistance, Calista turns to Trent Hastings, a reclusive author of popular crime novels. Believing that Calista may be taking advantage of his lonely sister, who has become one of her clients, Trent doesn’t trust her. Scarred by his past, he’s learned to keep his emotions at bay, even as an instant attraction threatens his resolve.   But as Trent and Calista comb through files of rejected clients in hopes of identifying her tormentor, it becomes clear that the danger may be coming from Calista’s own secret past—and that only her death will satisfy the stalker...

My Review:

This is a stand alone Amanda Quick title, and I don’t think there’s been one of those in forever. So if you are looking for a way to get into her work, or if you’ve read her as either Jayne Ann Krentz or Jayne Castle and want to find out if she’s just as good doing historical (she is!) this is a great place to start.

‘Til Death Do Us Part starts out with a very creepy Gothic feel to it, and the suspense continues to build, even though it doesn’t follow all the traditional Gothic patterns. The hero is just as brooding and scarred as in any Gothic, but the heroine, righteously frightened as she is, still participates fully and effectively in her own rescue.

The story both exploits the Gothic tropes and turns them on their pointy little heads. And the story incorporates all the chills and spookiness of her Arcane Society series, without tripping over into the paranormal, just in case that’s not your cuppa.

While mediums and seances were a big fad during the Victorian era, and they are exploited in this story, everyone involved at least tacitly acknowledges that all of the so-called mediums are charlatans. Often very good charlatans, but fakes and frauds nonetheless.

Both our hero and heroine in this book are outside the norms for their society, but are emblematic of the types of characters that Quick employs to such terrific effect in her work.

Calista Langley operates what she calls an “introductions” agency. While many scurrilous rumors label it as a high-class brothel and her as the madam, that is far from the case. What she provides is a respectable location and atmosphere where properly vetted single women and single gentlemen can meet for an evening of intellectual stimulation and intelligent conversation. She, in the person of her brother, investigates every prospective “member” in advance, to make sure that they are exactly what they say they are – single, respectable and reasonable. Absolutely no fortune hunters get through her doors.

One left her nearly at the altar, and Calista is doing her best to provide other young women with options that she didn’t have.

Trent Hastings is a successful author of detective serials. (Think of him as a young and better looking Arthur Conan Doyle, without the “trip” to the fairies) But there is certainly a place inside Trent where he and his detective hero meet. Trent has also been truly heroic – he saved his sister from a dire fate by taking the acid meant for her on his face and body. The scars have made him a recluse, or so his family believes.

But Trent has done well for himself and his family, and the sister that he saved is now a “member” of Calista’s exclusive salons. In visiting Calista to ascertain whether or not she is taking advantage of his now well-to-do younger sibling, he finds himself attracted to the fiery Calista. And when he discovers that she needs help solving a mystery that is affecting her own life, he insists on offering his services as an investigator.

Calista needs the help, and desperately. Someone is sending her death tokens with her initials carved on them. The perpetrator has even managed to leave one in her bedroom, but no one is certain how he got there. Calista knows that she is being not merely followed, but stalked.

While someone is creeping around Calista behind the scenes, her former almost-fiance has let himself back in the front door, pursuing Calista and insisting that she feels something for him other than contempt. That he is married now, to the fortune he was hunting a year ago, does not seem to deter him from his pursuit of Calista. But the presence of Trent Hastings in her life certainly does.

Calista and Trent find themselves as unlikely partners in the chase for a cold, calculating killer who has been preying on young, lonely women for at least year. But when the hunter becomes the hunted, the chase leaves a wide trail of murder and destruction that leads straight to Calista’s door.

Escape Rating A: As is fairly obvious from the opening of the review, I loved this book. I kept picking it up at odd moments throughout the day, just to find out a little bit more about how they were doing, and what progress they were making in the hunt for the killer.

As far as the suspense angle in this case, there were plenty of very tasty red herrings, and I probably took a nibble at all of them. There were so many possible suspects, and all of them seemed more than plausible in one way or another. It was logical to look at Calista’s rejected club members, and it was equally logical to look at where all of the “memento mori” (death trinkets) were coming from. Trent and Calista brought different things to their partnership, and they worked together well.

I also enjoyed Trent and Calista as characters. They were both a bit anachronistic, but not so much as to trip the willing suspension of disbelief. After all, we know of someone who had a public career very like Trent’s in Arthur Conan Doyle. It was possible to create a best-selling private detective series and serialize in the papers. That everyone knows who Trent is and has an opinion on his story and characters feels quite plausible. After all, Conan Doyle got so sick of the attention to Holmes that he killed him off just to get the man out of his life.

Calista’s situation feels a bit more on the edge of just barely plausible. On that other hand, a woman on her own, raising her young brother, would have had to have found a unique way to make a respectable living – careers for women were non-existent in the 19th century. And Calista’s life history gives her insight into the pattern of the serial killer by providing her with empathy about the victims. She knows what it is like to be alone and vulnerable, with no family and friends to protect her and support her even in the emotional sense. The lonely and forgotten can be easy prey for someone who shows them a scrap of affection and regard.

The thing that fascinated me about the suspense angle was the serial killer. Jack the Ripper can’t possibly have been the first serial killer. He was just “lucky” enough to begin his career at the dawn of mass media and instant communication. But before there was any real psychological study of human beings, how would one go about determining that the murderer being chased had done it before and would do it over and over again because that was their modus operandi? Putting together the bizarre pieces of this case is good scary fun for the reader.

And there’s a romance. Trent and Calista stumble into each other’s lives. Neither of them believes that love and marriage is for them. Trent simply fears that no woman will be able to look past his scars. Calista has been forced to become an economically independent woman, and has discovered that she likes it. Marriage for her means giving up her freedom, and having little to no recourse if she chooses badly, as she very nearly did. Trent needs to make her believe that he not only loves her, but that he loves and respects her for who she truly it, and not for the role she might fill in his life.

Watching them overcome their skepticism leads to a lovely happy ending for all.

Review: Lost in Barbarian Space by Anna Hackett

Review: Lost in Barbarian Space by Anna HackettLost in Barbarian Space by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Phoenix Adventures #9
Pages: 165
Published by Anna Hackett on April 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

A clash of cultures. Security agent versus barbarian warrior. On an expedition to a newly discovered barbarian world, an experienced security agent doesn't expect to be working with a big, bossy barbarian warrior.

Agent Honor Brandall enjoys her job as security agent for the Institute of Historical Preservation's expedition ships. Adventures to distant planets - awesome. Archeological digs for ancient old Earth artifacts - interesting. Keeping the archeologists safe - no problem. The fact she's tall, strong and good in a fight means most of the men she works with are intimidated by her, but she refuses to apologize for being good at her job. But on a mission to the barbarian world of Markaria, she finds herself paired with a brawny warrior who challenges her in every way.

Markarian warrior Colm Mal Kor is second-in-command to his warlord and spends his days training to hone his skills and control. He's dedicated to defending his clan...and to hiding the deadly secret he can never share with anyone. But when he's thrust into working with a beautiful, challenging skyflyer, Colm finds a wild attraction he never expected and the biggest risk to his hard-earned control that he's ever encountered.

On an expedition to Markaria's icy moons, Honor and Colm work side by side, but the ice and snow aren't enough to stop them from wanting each other. As their mission takes a deadly turn, they must trust each other to survive, but it isn't just wild beasts and ferocious enemies that are a danger... Colm is harboring something inside him that is far more lethal...something that might destroy them all.

My Review:

on a barbarian world by anna hackettWhen I reviewed On a Barbarian World last year, I sadly thought that it might be the last of the Phoenix Adventures. I’m so happy I was WRONG!

Lost in Barbarian Space has its roots in two of the earlier Phoenix Adventures. Niklas Phoenix and Nera Darc are now leading the Galactic Historical Institute. How they reached that position, and how they finally fell for each other, is told in the absolutely awesome Return to Dark Earth.

The “barbarian space” that this new book is lost in, is the space discovered by Niklas cousin Aurina in On a Barbarian World. We get to explore that world a lot more in this book. There are more ships available than Aurina had, and only one of them manages to make a crash landing this time.

But Niklas, Nera and Aurina are only side characters this time around. Instead, our protagonists are the security officers for the two sides of this equation. Honor Brandell is Nera Darc’s second-in-command for the Institute’s security. And Colm Mal Kor is Kavon’s right-hand-man. (Kavon was the hero in On a Barbarian World).

There is a pattern to the entries in this series. The hero and heroine always start out in a position where they can’t possibly have a future together. Niklas and Nera were always competing for the same artifacts. Aurina was an interstellar scout, and Kavon was a barbarian war leader tied to his people and his planet. Justyn and Nissa (Beyond Galaxy’s Edge) start out on opposite sides of the law.

In the case of Lost in Barbarian Space, there are a whole shipload of reasons why Honor and Colm don’t believe they could have a future together.

Honor is a warrior. She prefers to protect rather than to kill, which is why she isn’t in the Galactic Security Service, but she is still a warrior and a damn good one. Colm’s people don’t believe that women are physically suited to be warriors. They can and often are anything and everything else, it’s not that the society is that backwards. But their men are generally many times stronger than their women, and it makes them more effective warriors.

Honor is from what sounds like a heavy-world, which makes her name even more appropriate. She may not be as strong as one of the nanami-enhanced warriors of Markaria, but she is much closer than anyone believes.

However, that strength has meant that there have been too many men in her past who want a one-night stand with someone who is a bit different, but can’t accept her differences for the long haul. As much as she is attracted to Colm, he all too frequently sounds like just another guy who wants a bit, but not too much, strange for a night.

Colm has a different problem with having more with Honor than a one-night stand than anyone is aware of. His nanami, the enhanced nanites that give his people their strength, their enhanced senses, and their remarkable healing ability, are going out of control, just like his father’s did. In other words, Colm is going incurably and violently nuts. This is a relatively rare but well-documented condition among the Markarians, and there is no cure.

So Colm doesn’t want to get emotionally involved because he’s afraid that he will either abuse her, as his father did both him and his mother or that he will have to leave to go die alone in the wilderness. Or both.

But the heart wants what the heart wants, even if, or perhaps especially when, the mind is going batshit crazy.

Escape Rating A-: Like all of the books in the Phoenix Adventures series, Lost in a Barbarian World had a satisfying ending and still left me wanting more. I love the novellas in this series, but I always finish them thinking that I just didn’t get to spend enough time in this marvelous world.

At least this time, when I finished the book I saw that there is at least one more book in the series, tentatively titled Through Uncharted Space. This is a journey that I will be sad to see end, so I hope it doesn’t for a good while yet.

About this story — one of the things I liked best about it was the character of Honor. She’s a strong woman without being a stereotypical “strong female character”. While she knows that she is who she is meant to be, she’s also taken some hard emotional knocks for the things that make her different. And while those knocks don’t make her change who she is, they do hurt and she gets emotionally scarred by some of that hurt.

I also love that she rescues herself. There is a scene fairly early on when the bad guys (space pirates!) attempt to kidnap her. Colm rides to the rescue. Just as I was moaning about looking like the author fell into the stereotype of putting the woman in jeopardy, Colm catches up to the bad guy only to discover that Honor has already dispatched the bastard. Talk about turning the trope on its head! (Then pulling the head off and spitting in the bloody stump – not literally but certainly figuratively)

One of the things I did not love about On a Barbarian World is the way that Aurina completely gives up her life as a scout to stay on Markaria with Kavon. It was the only way a happy ending could work in that story, but I didn’t like the fall into the expected, where the woman gives up her life and becomes even semi-domesticated.

That doesn’t happen in Lost in Barbarian Space, and it makes the ending that much sweeter.

Review: Mug Shot by Caroline Fardig

Review: Mug Shot by Caroline FardigMug Shot by Caroline Fardig
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley, Random House Chatterbox
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Java Jive #2
Pages: 292
Published by Alibi on April 19th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Former musician Juliet Langley has barely had a day off since taking over management of the coffeehouse owned by her best friend, Pete Bennett. But there's always more to be done—such as prepping for the annual Holiday 5K Race organized by Pete's snobby socialite girlfriend, Cecilia Hollingsworth. This year, Java Jive has a booth right at the finish line, and since Juliet and Cecilia don't always see eye to eye, everything has to be perfect. Nothing can go wrong. Nothing . . . like Juliet stumbling over Cecilia's dead body on the morning of the race.
When Pete is arrested for Cecilia's murder, Juliet sets out to clear his name. She'll do whatever it takes—even if it means standing up to the police, her ex-boyfriend, and the grande dames of Nashville. But there isn't enough espresso in the world for the greatest challenge in her path: infiltrating Nashville's high society to uncover the hidden hotbed of scandal without running afoul of the law herself. With her last dime staked on Pete's bail bond and her staff growing jittery, the last thing Juliet needs is for her trademark temper to land her behind bars. As time drips away, Juliet needs to crack this case before the killer comes back for another shot.

My Review:

If you crossed Goldy Schulz from Diana Mott Davidson’s Goldy Bear Culinary Mysteries with Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, you’d get someone like Juliet Langley from Mug Shot. And that’s definitely a mixed blessing.

Like Goldy, Juliet seems to get involved in solving mysteries because someone near and dear to her (or her own self) gets accused of murder. And of course the police focus on someone that Juliet is just sure can’t be guilty. Also like Goldy, Juliet’s life and her mysteries revolve around a food establishment. In Juliet’s case, that establishment is the Java Jive, the cafe she manages for her best friend Pete Bennett.

Like Stephanie Plum, Juliet is more than a bit hapless as well as rather klutzy. However, unlike Stephanie, Juliet has no pretensions to being a profession crime solver, crime stopper, or investigator of any kind. Juliet gets caught in the middle trying to save a friend. Her involvement always begins as an accident. She’s not supposed to be any good at it, where Stephanie Plum, if she were as inept a bail bonds investigator as she appears, would be dead several times over by now.

Not that Juliet doesn’t put herself in more than enough danger to get herself killed, but it’s not her job. If she’s bad at it, it is less of a suspension of disbelief.

death before decaf by caroline fardigAlso, unfortunately like Stephanie, it looks like Juliet is caught in the midst of a romantic triangle. She’s falling for the cop who frequently rescues her, Ryder Hamilton, in spite of his having lied to her in the first book (Death Before Decaf) when he was undercover. It is a somewhat fraught relationship.

On that other hand, Jessica has always been more than a little in love with her best friend Pete, and definitely vice versa. But they have been friends so long, and their friendship is so much a part of their lives, that they are both afraid that if they try for more, they’ll end up ruining the most important relationship they have.

But their closeness doesn’t leave a lot of room for either of them to become seriously involved with a significant other.

So when Pete’s current attempt at a significant other ends up murdered, Pete is the prime suspect. His socialite fiance, Cecilia Hollingsworth, is, quite frankly, a bitch. But she is also pregnant with someone else’s child, and too many people heard Pete and Cecilia arguing just before she was killed and left in a crime scene that naturally has Pete’s fingerprints all over it, as well as his DNA in the victim.

The cops are almost sure it must be Pete. But Juliet is equally sure that Pete is incapable of murder. And there are an awful lot of awful people who benefit an awful lot from Cecilia’s oh-so-convenient death.

It’s up to Juliet to keep Pete out of jail and suss out the real killer before she becomes the next victim.

Escape Rating B: I have mixed feelings about this book. It was fun and fast, but at the same time, it felt too much like too many other books I’ve read. If you haven’t read one of the food-related mystery series like Goldy Bear, and haven’t read Stephanie Plum, or really, really enjoyed Stephanie Plum, you’ll probably find this book to be a treat.

For this reader, it was an okay read but didn’t shine in comparison to some of its antecedents. And I’ll confess, Juliet’s “torn between two lovers” thing reminded me way too much of Stephanie Plum’s indecision between Morelli and Ranger.

However, on the plus side, the author does a very good job of catching readers new to the series up to current events. I didn’t even realize that there was a previous book in the series, and didn’t feel the lack of context that one so often does in this situation. So if this is your cup of coffee, it will taste good even if you haven’t tasted the previous book.

As mysteries go, I didn’t figure out whodunnit until Juliet did. There were oodles of red herrings in this story, and they all dangled very enticingly. While the usual rule applies, “Who Benefits?” there were so many people that benefited from Cecilia’s death that it was amazing that she lived as long as she did. She was worth more dead than alive to a whole lot of people, and she was a nasty bitch into the bargain. She won’t be missed.

If you like your coffee, and your mysteries, with a lot of froth on top, Mug Shot might just tickle your taste buds.

Review: The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie

Review: The Rivals of Versailles by Sally ChristieThe Rivals of Versailles (The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy, #2) by Sally Christie
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Series: Mistresses of Versailles #2
Pages: 448
Published by Atria Books on April 5th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

And you thought sisters were a thing to fear. In this compelling follow-up to Sally Christie's clever and absorbing debut, we meet none other than the Marquise de Pompadour, one of the greatest beauties of her generation and the first bourgeois mistress ever to grace the hallowed halls of Versailles.
I write this before her blood is even cold. She is dead, suddenly, from a high fever. The King is inconsolable, but the way is now clear.
The way is now clear.
The year is 1745. Marie-Anne, the youngest of the infamous Nesle sisters and King Louis XV's most beloved mistress, is gone, making room for the next Royal Favorite.
Enter Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, a stunningly beautiful girl from the middle classes. Fifteen years prior, a fortune teller had mapped out young Jeanne's destiny: she would become the lover of a king and the most powerful woman in the land. Eventually connections, luck, and a little scheming pave her way to Versailles and into the King's arms.
All too soon, conniving politicians and hopeful beauties seek to replace the bourgeois interloper with a more suitable mistress. As Jeanne, now the Marquise de Pompadour, takes on her many rivals - including a lustful lady-in-waiting; a precocious fourteen-year-old prostitute, and even a cousin of the notorious Nesle sisters - she helps the king give himself over to a life of luxury and depravity. Around them, war rages, discontent grows, and France inches ever closer to the Revolution.
Enigmatic beauty, social climber, actress, trendsetter, patron of the arts, spendthrift, whoremonger, friend, lover, foe. History books may say many things about the famous Marquise de Pompadour, but one thing is clear: for almost twenty years, she ruled France and the King's heart.
Told in Christie's witty and modern style, this second book in the Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will delight and entrance fans as it once again brings to life the world of eighteenth century Versailles in all its pride, pestilence and glory.

My Review:

Age and treachery beat youth and skill, set amid the long, twilight fall of France into the abyss of the Revolution.

Alternate possibility, there’s nothing new under the sun. Especially not Desperate Wives of Wherever and the Kardashians. And isn’t that a frightening thought?

Louis XV by Rigaud (1730)
Louis XV by Rigaud (1730)

The Rivals of Versailles is the second book in Sally Christie’s Mistresses of Versailles series. All of those titular mistresses were the mistresses, official or otherwise, of Louis XV of France. His predecessor Louis XIV was called “The Sun King” because the power of France was at its height during his rule. His great-grandson, Louis XV squandered all of the goodwill generated by his illustrious fore-bearer, and bequeathed a broke and humbled France to his grandson, Louis XVI. Who in his turn lost his throne and then his head in the Revolution.

But the story in The Rivals of Versailles follows not Louis, but the career of his most famous mistress, Madame de Pompadour. And what a career it was!

During her nearly 20 year reign as Louis’ official mistress, Jeanne Antoinette Poisson served as both Louis’ chief comforter and more importantly, seemingly his chief minister, even after she no longer filled what would otherwise seem to be the most important function of a mistress – she stopped sharing his bed. Instead, she shared his mind, or possibly served as the best part of it, and shared what heart he had left.

This is not a pretty story. Jeanne starts out as a young girl who is told she is destined to catch the eye of the king. Her family grooms her assiduously for the position, and when his favorite mistress, Marie-Anne de Mailly dies, Jeanne’s backers put her in the way of the grieving king.

(The story of Louis’ affairs with Marie-Anne de Mailly and nearly all of her five sisters is told in The Sisters of Versailles, but it is not necessary to read that book to get into this one, the stories are very different)

sisters of versailles by sally christieUnlike The Sisters of Versailles, where the five de Mailly sisters squabble over the king and share his bed in turns, The Rivals of Versailles follows de Pompadour and her rivals through the course of her life at court. Even when some younger woman thinks she has a chance to oust de Pompadour, all of their efforts, and the efforts of the various parties who back them, come to naught.

Even as the king sinks further into depravity in his over-indulged middle-age, it is always Madame de Pompadour that he turns to for comfort and counsel. She is the person that he rails to about the demands of Parlement and she is the one he consults on all decisions. It is Madame de Pompadour who fosters the French rapprochement with their old enemies, the Austrians, and it is de Pompadour who helps to determine the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which led to France’s involvement in what is known to American history as the French and Indian War, and the loss of all of France’s North American colonies.

Her reach was long, her influence was wide. She was one of the most powerful women of Europe in the 18th century. The Rivals of Versailles is her story.

Escape Rating B: Although the period and setting are just as over-indulgent as The Sisters of Versailles, I found The Rivals of Versailles to be a more accessible book. In Sisters, while survivor Hortense begins and ends the story, the narration moves around among all the de Mailly sisters, and none of them make likeable protagonists.

Madame de Pompadour, portrait by François Boucher
Madame de Pompadour, portrait by François Boucher

In The Rivals of Versailles, Madame de Pompadour is the point of view character for most of the story. And even when she is not directly relating the action, she is still a very strong presence. Even the women who are trying to supplant her are forced to reckon with her power over the king.

One thing drove this reader just a bit nuts. The story begins with Jeanne as a young girl, and is from her childish and naive perspective. When she comes to court, we see her mature and harden into the woman who becomes Madame de Pompadour, and it’s a hard and frequently painful journey.

As political factions find young women to supplant her, we see their stories from their perspectives, and they are, to a person, very young, very naive and very selfish. Also in at least one case, uneducated and unintelligent into the bargain. Sometimes it is difficult to read from inside their heads, because there’s just no there, there.

However, one aspect of this progression is sad but also telling. As the king gets older, the women who are procured for him get younger and younger, also stupider and stupider. And the king is constantly indulged while the Revolution seems to literally brew around him. As the story continues, the storm to come feels more and more inevitable.

But what makes this book work better than Sisters is the voice of de Pompadour. She does her best to keep her king happy. And his happiness means that she takes as much of the burden of ruling as she can from behind the throne. She seems to truly love him, and to be truly doing her best to keep him happy, even as the deeds she must commit or at least condone get darker and darker.

This is the sad story of a woman who only wanted to be loved, but discovered that the accumulation power was addicting, and was the only way that she could survive.

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