Review: The Rescue by Diana Palmer

Review: The Rescue by Diana PalmerThe Rescue (The Morcai Battalion #4) by Diana Palmer
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardvoer, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Morcai Battalion #4
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on March 28th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


New York Times
bestselling author Diana Palmer returns with the next edge-of-your-seat installment of The Morcai Battalion series.
Rhemun, commander of the Cehn-Tahr Holconcom, has worked tirelessly to get where he is and he's not going to let any human drag him back down. Especially not Lt. Commander Edris Mallory, whose very presence aboard the Morcai serves as a too-painful reminder of a past tragedy he can neither forgive nor forget.
But Mallory has secrets of her own, ones she can't afford to see come to light. Frantic to protect herself, she flees, abandoning her position. When Rhemun learns of her devastating situation, he realizes the all-consuming feelings he's harbored for her may not be hatred. But in a vast universe rife with peril, is it already too late?

My Review:

I read the first book in this series, The Morcai Battalion, back in 2007 when the expanded edition was republished by Harlequin Luna. At that time, there wasn’t a lot of outright science fiction romance being published, and The Morcai Battalion filled a need I don’t even think I knew I had.

(Luna was a terrific imprint. I discovered several marvelous authors through their line of SFR and fantasy romance, not just this series but also Michelle Sagara’s Elantra series and Gail Dayton’s Compass Rose, among others, and I wish they were still around.)

Back to The Morcai Battalion. I loved the setting, and the characters, in the original book. Not just the space opera aspects of the intergalactic war, but the relationships between the characters, the culture clash of melding two species into a single crew, and the heart stopping action of the prison planet and eventual breakout. It was a winner and I kept looking for more.

There were a couple of sequels over the years, The Recruit and Invictus. And then nothing from 2010 until now, with The Rescue.

The first three books in the series followed the human doctor, Madeline Ruszel and the alien Cehn-Tahr Dtimun, who begins as her commander and eventually becomes her husband, in spite of all the taboos and restrictions that surround the Cehn-Tahr and any possible relationship between Cehn-Tahr and humans. But the story built their relationship up over time, and it worked. It worked so well that they finally won their HEA at the end of Invictus.

Which leaves either a hole or an opportunity for the series. After reading The Rescue, I’m not quite sure which we got.

The relationship in The Rescue is between Dtimun’s successor as head of the unit, and Madeline’s successor as alien-species medic. But Rhemun is not Dtimun and Edris Mallory is not Madeline. While some of those changes make for good dramatic tension, some of them just fall a bit short.

Because Rhemun hates humans, and Edris frequently acts like a scared rabbit, or perhaps a better description would be a scared schoolgirl with a crush on a strict teacher. And it doesn’t quite work.

Dtimun, Madeline and their crew went through a bonding experience on that prison planet that transcended species or pretty much anything else. They became family in the process of saving each other, and it erased any interspecies prejudices they might have started with.

Rhemun, on the other hand, feels like all of the losses that he has experienced in his life are some human’s fault, and he has an unreasoning prejudice against the entire species. His strict disciplinary style alienates the human members of his crew, which is his intention. He also cuts Edris down at every turn, because she looks just like the woman who accidentally killed his son.

And unfortunately for Edris, his species has a highly enhanced sense of smell, so she is unable to hide her really, really unfortunate attraction for him. And he resents her for that, too.

The situation is a mess, and just gets messier, until Rhemun finally drives Edris off the ship, and very nearly drives every other human out the airlock along with her. It’s when the message finally gets through his very thick skull that he has put her in deadly danger because he can’t help but be attracted to her that their relationship moves from hate to love.

And then he drives her away again.

Escape Rating C+: I enjoyed the first part of the book. While Edris is on the ship, we see her working, we see her continuously fighting with Rhemun, we see her doing her duty as best she can under circumstances that become increasingly more unbearable by the minute. But the action clips along, and we get to see how the ship and crew both work together and don’t. It’s sad but interesting to watch Rhemun tear down a stellar unit that Dtimun spent years building up, and even sadder just how much easier it is to break than it was to build.

But through it all, Edris stands up for herself at every turn, and does her best to do her job, keep her career, and try to keep her life her own and on track. When she flees, while her reasons make sense, the story goes off the rails.

She’s in terrible danger, and it is very real. In the end, Rhemun and the crew have to rescue her to save her life from multiple dangers. And there’s a big portion of the book where she completely loses her agency, going from independent woman to beating victim to worshipful wife in a few too many steps.

And then lets herself be driven away again. Just when she finally has her new life on track, Rhemun swoops back in and tears it all apart again, even if unintentionally. The second half of the book doesn’t quite hang together. As far as the romance is concerned, his side of their relationship isn’t fully fleshed out. It’s easy to see that he wants her and wants to possess her, but we don’t see the build up of his emotions. It feels like that piece is missing.

There’s also a running theme that he omits much of the truth that Edris really needs to know. Lies of omission are still lies, and Rhemun keeps much too much from Edris that ends up biting them both in the ass – but always hers much more than his. And she’s so worshipful that she never calls him to account for any of it. She’s also much too gullible.

So I enjoyed the first half of this book, but found the second half disappointing, and sincerely hope that if the series continues, we get more heroines like Madeline Ruszel who are always part of the action and don’t let anyone steamroller them.

If you like SFR the first three books of this series are a good read, but this one feels skippable. Dammit. And they need to go back to the original cover designs, which at least hinted that this was SFR and not contemporary romance. The new covers make the series look way more like a motorcycle club romance than SFR, which is bound to disappoint people on all sides of the equation. Color me disappointed, too.

Review: No Getting Over a Cowboy by Delores Fossen + Giveaway

Review: No Getting Over a Cowboy by Delores Fossen + GiveawayNo Getting Over a Cowboy (Wrangler's Creek, #2) by Delores Fossen
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Wrangler's Creek #2
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on March 28th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The golden cowboy of Wrangler's Creek returns home to Texas to discover some old flames never fizzle…
There are plenty of things Garrett Granger hadn't counted on losing—his child to miscarriage, his wife to another man and the family business thanks to a crooked CFO. He also hadn't counted on moving back to the family ranch, where he's met by another surprise—former flame Nicky Marlow, who is renting his grandmother's old house.
Nicky's been rebuilding her shattered life since her husband's death two years ago. But Garrett's timely arrival in Wrangler's Creek doesn't automatically make him the missing piece of the puzzle. Even if he does seem to adore her two-year-old daughter… Even if seeing him again stirs up old feelings Nicky would gladly keep buried, forcing her to wonder if moving forward has to mean leaving everything behind…

My Review:

The Granger Ranch doesn’t just keep cattle. They seem to have plenty of pasturage for an entire herd of drama llamas. Maybe two herds.

Just like the first book in the Wrangler’s Creek series, Those Texas Nights, this one is off to the races from the very first page, and doesn’t let up until the very last sentence. And even then, only sort of lets up, because I fully expect the entire series to be just this kind of crazy.

If you like your romances beginning in chaos, middling in chaos, and ending in chaos, this is a great series.

But about all that insanity, and some of it is, it makes for a very wild ride that occasionally feels like it is going to throw the reader completely off the track. Instead, it’s more like a roller coaster, where just as you pass the crest of the big hill and think you’re going to fly out of your seat, the seat belt (and gravity) pull you back firmly into the ride.

Our story begins with Garrett Granger expecting to add pasturage near his great-grandfather Z.T.’s eyesore of a tumbledown Victorian monstrosity in the middle of Granger Ranch. But instead of seeing a vacant and decaying house, he discovers that the long-abandoned homestead is a beehive of activity.

His mother, Belle, about whom more later, has leased the house to a widow’s support group for an entire year, to serve as a retreat and healing center. Belle just never bothered to tell him, and doesn’t seem to give a damn about the ranch plans that Garrett not only had, but had informed her of. And this is unfortunately typical behavior for Belle.

As soon as Garrett meets the organizer of the “Widow’s House” he figures out exactly what his mother has in mind. That organizer is Nicky Marlow, and Garrett remembers all too clearly the night that Nicky gave him her virginity at that very same house, back when they were both in high school.

It may have been half a lifetime ago, but it seems that neither of them has ever forgotten. And his mother is matchmaking again.

But it was a lifetime ago. Garrett broke up with Nicky, fell in love with another girl (unfortunately not in that order) and eventually married that other girl. He and Meredith had a daughter who was stillborn, and eventually divorced. After Meredith got caught in a YouTube video giving some anonymous cowboy a blowjob.

A cowboy who turns out to have been Nicky’s older brother.

There’s plenty of fodder for those drama llamas just between Nicky and Garrett, without factoring in the other 15 widows and Nicky’s little daughter Kaylee – along with Garrett’s heartbreak at seeing a little girl who is just the age that his daughter would have been.

The discovery of a dead body in the pantry of the old house brings the police onto the scene, along with a whole lot more craziness. And in the middle of all of this, Garrett and Nicky discover that half a lifetime isn’t nearly enough to douse the fire they still raise in each other – even if they have a hell of a time finding a moment or two for each other in the midst of the insanity that surrounds them.

Escape Rating B+: This one went way, way over the top, but in a fun way. There are a couple of points where it seems like the long arm of coincidence is just a bit too long, but then it passes that point and the reader is just along for the ride.

There does not seem to be a single person in this story who isn’t in the middle of some kind of crazy. With the exception of Nicky and Garrett, it’s all in fun, from the three widowed sisters who all have variations of penis-phobia to the tow truck owner with execrable taste in advertising signs who is assuaging her grief with the entire male population of Wranglers Creek and everyone in between. In spite of the tragedies that made all of these women candidates for the Widow’s House, they are a fun and funny bunch, even if often unintentionally. The penis-phobic sisters are a laugh riot all by themselves, albeit usually at their own expense.

The heart of the story is Nicky and Garrett, along with little Kaylee and the machinations of Garrett’s ex-wife Meredith. That Meredith wants him back isn’t much of a surprise. That she thinks she has a chance of getting him back requires an extreme amount of either self-confidence or self-absorption. Having seen Meredith in action, it’s a bit of both.

But what keeps Nicky and Garrett apart is not Meredith’s shenanigans, not that she doesn’t try. Instead, it’s their shared past, and how it affects their present. Not just that long-ago tryst, or even that Garrett broke Nicky’s heart afterwards. Both of them carry a lot of baggage from those years in-between. Most of Garrett’s baggage is out in the open – it seems like everyone saw that video. But Nicky’s is hidden. Not just her horrific childhood in Wranglers Creek, but also her disastrous marriage and its one bright result, little Kaylee.

That there is a secret about Kaylee seems obvious fairly early on. But the nature of that secret is a complete surprise, and not one the reader expects. Also not one that is stock and trope, but still has all kinds of potential negative consequences. That this particular plot thread defied all of my expectations was very well done.

But as much as I liked Nicky, Garrett and Kaylee, I really, really, really don’t like Belle. I didn’t like her in Those Texas Nights, and I don’t like her any better here. I could go a long time without reading another book about adult children who have a certifiably crazy mother. Luckily she is not as big a part of this book as she was the first one, because she doesn’t seem to approve of the way that any of her children have turned out, even though they are all quite functional and successful adults. She acts so far out-there that her children have to continually placate her in ways that drove this reader crazier than Belle. And I’m continually astonished that someone in town, if not her children, doesn’t tell her where to get off and what she can do when she gets there.

Partially because there is more Belle in Those Texas Nights, and partially because the events in the first story that are really important for the second are recapped within the context of this story, it’s not absolutely necessary to read that first book in this series before the second. But it was a lot of fun if you can either ignore Belle or if her “type” doesn’t bother you as much as it does me.

I digress.

But as much as I don’t like their mother, I do like the Granger siblings very much. The chaotic nature of their journeys to their respective happy ever afters is a hoot from beginning to end. I’m very much looking forward to bad-boy Roman finding his own good-bad girl in Branded as Trouble, coming just in time for a sizzling Summer read.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am giving away a signed copy of No Getting Over a Cowboy to one lucky commenter on this tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Review: In Shining Armor by Elliott James

Review: In Shining Armor by Elliott JamesIn Shining Armor (Pax Arcana, #4) by Elliott James
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Pax Arcana #4
Pages: 464
Published by Orbit on April 26th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This fairy godmother's got claws.
When someone kidnaps the last surviving descendant of the Grandmaster of the Knights Templar, it's bad news. When the baby is the key to the tenuous alliance between a large werewolf pack and the knights, it's even worse news. They're at each other's throats before they've even begun to look for baby Constance.
But whoever kidnapped Constance didn't count on one thing: she's also the goddaughter of John Charming. Modern-day descendant of a long line of famous dragon slayers, witch finders, and wrong righters. John may not have any experience being a parent, but someone is about to find out that he can be one mean mother...
IN SHINING ARMOR is the fourth novel in a series which gives a new twist to the Prince Charming tale. The first three novels are Charming, Daring, & Fearless.

My Review:

Actually, John Charming is a knight in rather tarnished and bloodstained armor. It also seems to be covered in slime and shit all-too-frequently. But he’s still a knight, even if he is also a werewolf. And based on his adventures in his first three books, Charming, Daring and Fearless, that contradiction he embodies seems to be getting both more and less contradictory at the same time.

But the moral of this particular fairy tale (because the fae are always in the background in this series, somewhere, even if it’s fairly deep background) revolves around that tried and true old saw, “ Assume makes an ASS out of U and ME. Because everything that goes wrong in this story begins with John (and everyone else) making a very big assumption that turns out to be far from true.

Even professional paranoids, like the Knights Templar in general and John Charming in particular, occasionally can’t manage to be paranoid enough. And in this case it very nearly bites all of them, along with the werewolves, in their collective (and extremely well-muscled) asses.

At the end of Fearless, a very, very tenuous peace has finally broken out between the Knights Templar and the werewolves. It’s so tenuous because until very, very recently, the Knights’ first response to a werewolf was to kill it on sight as an automatic violation of the Pax Arcana that prevents us normals from finding out that there really is a whole lot of magic out there.

But most werewolves (and vampires, and even naga and gorgons) are just like everyone else, they want to live in peace, hold down a job, raise their kids and participate in the American dream. Or whatever the dream is wherever they happen to live. They have even less desire to reveal the magic in the world than the Knights do, because they know they’ll probably be first on the firing line when the mundanes bring out the contemporary equivalent of torches and pitchforks.

And the Knights have just realized (a very few of them, all at the top) that they are really only geas-bound to enforce the Pax, and that as long as any magical creatures don’t violate the Pax, there is no obligation whatsoever to hunt them down and kill them. And, of course, a lot of them don’t want to give up the status quo.

Human beings are still human, extra power, extra knowledge, extra whatever, or not. And some humans are still arseholes.

The literal embodiment of this tenuous peace is little baby Constance. She’s the last descendant of the Grandmaster of the Knights Templar. And she’s going to be a werewolf when she grows up. Just like John Charming, little Constance has a tiny foot in both worlds. And both the Knights and the werewolves have been pledged to protect her. She’s the hidden little darling of both camps.

Until someone nefarious and unknown decides to disrupt that detente for reasons that, while obviously nefarious, remain nebulous and hidden for most of the story. The (very bad) idea was to kidnap little Constance and make the werewolves look guilty and responsible. Detente instantly explodes, werewolves hide far away from the Knights and whatever the evildoer wants hidden.

But evil never seems to reckon on John Charming. And he intends to wreck a reckoning on them. Just as soon as he figures out who they are, what they want, and what’s the best way to kill them very, very dead.

If they don’t kill him first.

Escape Rating B+: I liked this, but saying I enjoyed it doesn’t feel quite right. There are a lot of points in the story where things are very, very dark, to that point where it feels like things are getting darker just before they turn completely black. Which doesn’t quite happen, but gets really, really close. And occasionally feels like it’s dragging its feet just a bit.

For anyone wondering about the baby being in danger through the book, it doesn’t work that way. Constance is the catalyst but not the point, and John rescues her fairly early on. It’s never really about the baby. It’s always about breaking up the tentative peace between the Knights and the werewolves, even if John can’t put his finger on why for nearly the entire book.

And the reader can’t either. The hidden motives remain hidden until the very end. The plot in this plot turns out to be incredibly convoluted, and unlike a mystery, in spite of the first person singular perspective the reader is not privy to everything that John Charming knows or does. In fact, he makes a habit of reaching his resolution and only then revealing all of the secret things he did to make it all work out in his favor. After they work. Sort of.

If he wasn’t one of the good guys, he’d be downright annoying. A fact which his partner reminds him of on frequent occasions. One of the great things about this book, and the series, is John’s relationship with his partner and lover, Sig. Who is a valkyrie, and therefore even more badass than John is, with powers (and problems) of her own. They balance each other out, support each other, protect each other, and sometimes drive each other crazy. It’s terrific to see an urban fantasy where the protagonist both manages to have a fairly successful and monogamous relationship, and where the woman is every bit the equal of the man. That mix still feels rare, and is always welcome.

But as straightforward as John’s and Sig’s relationship is, the plot (and counterplot, and counter-counterplot) in this one seems almost overly twisted. In the end, the reader is just along for the wild ride, without much ability to see the twists and turns or even process all the changes. There’s a LOT going on in this story. But once John and Sig and the Knights get to the final battle, it’s a race to see if the reader can turn the pages fast enough.

As someone who has read the entire series, I have to say that I really missed the gang that John and Sig created (or that grew around them) in the first three books. And I missed those people, and the feeling of family and friends that they developed. But even though In Shining Armor pulls them completely out of their trusted sphere, it is still very grounded in the world that has been created, to the point where I don’t think In Shining Armor is the best place for someone to start this series. The operation of the Knights Templar is very complicated, and seems to get more so all the time. So start with Charming.

But speaking of that group of familiar faces, I’m really looking forward to the next book, Legend Has It, so John and Sig can get back to their extremely motley band of monster hunters and do what they do best all together – try to out-snark each other while racing to eliminate the most (and worst) monsters they can find.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 3-26-16

Sunday Post

I had to shift In Shining Armor from last week to this week. I’ve started the book now, and am really enjoying it, but last week I just couldn’t face a 450 page book. And I’d just finished Hounded and it was absolutely awesomesauce.

This coming week ends with the April Book of Choice Giveaway Hop. April is my Blogo-Birthday, so I wanted to start off the month with a real bang. It’s hard to believe that it has been SIX years since I started Reading Reality. Time does fly when you’re having fun. And reading a lot!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or Book in the Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop (ends SOON!)
$50 Amazon Gift Card from Lori Foster and Harlequin
Forever a Hero by Linda Lael Miller
$25 Gift Card from Brenda Novak and Harlequin
3 copies of Girl in Disguise and The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister

Blog Recap:

A- Review: Hard Justice by Lori Foster + Giveaway
B+ Review: Forever a Hero by Linda Lael Miller + Giveaway
B+ Review: Finding Our Forever by Brenda Novak + Giveaway
A Review: Hounded by Kevin Hearne
B Review: Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (228)

Coming Next Week:

In Shining Armor by Elliott James (review)
No Getting Over a Cowboy by Delores Fossen (blog tour review)
The Morcai Battalion: the Rescue by Diana Palmer (review)
Champion by Anna Hackett (review)
Chow Chop Suey by Anne Mendelson (review)
April Book of Choice Giveaway Hop

Stacking the Shelves (228)

Stacking the Shelves

On March 23 and 24, Tor was giving away free ebook copies of Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings. If I hadn’t loved Legion quite so much, I might not have been interested. But since I did, the deal seemed too good an opportunity to pass up.

Bowing to the inevitable, I had preordered John Scalzi’s new book, The Collapsing Empire, several weeks ago. Tor did not put this one up on Edelweiss for pre-reviews. As much as I’m personally sorry about that, I understand completely. It’s not as if Scalzi needs pre-reviews in order to sell anything he writes. But since I’ve been getting back into audio, I also ended up getting the audio, read by Wil Wheaton. So far, it’s marvelous and entertaining, as expected. I’m only chagrined that the next time I see Scalzi at a book signing, I know that I’ll end up buying the hardcover, too.  And probably be happy to do so.

For Review:
Betrayal at Iga (Shinobi Mystery #5) by Susan Spann
Call of Fire (Breath of Earth #2)  by Beth Cato
Champion (Galactic Gladiators #5) by Anna Hackett
The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist & the Psychic Thief by Lisa Tuttle
For God and Mars (Takamo Universe) by Shona Husk
Lockdown by Laurie R. King
A Touch of Frost by Jo Goodman
Tough Justice 1-8 by Carla Cassidy, Tyler Anne Snell, Carol Ericson and Gail Barrett
A Tyranny of Queens (Manifold Worlds #2) by Foz Meadows

Purchased from Amazon:
The Collapsing Empire (Interdependency #1) by John Scalzi (both ebook and audio)

Received from Giveaways:
The Way of Kings (Stormlight Archive #1) by Brandon Sanderson

Review: Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister + Giveaway

Review: Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister + GiveawayGirl in Disguise by Greer Macallister
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 308
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark on March 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

For the first female Pinkerton detective, respect is hard to come by. Danger, however, is not.
In the tumultuous years of the Civil War, the streets of Chicago offer a woman mostly danger and ruin-unless that woman is Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton detective and a desperate widow with a knack for manipulation.
Descending into undercover operations, Kate is able to infiltrate the seedy side of the city in ways her fellow detectives can't. She's a seductress, an exotic foreign medium, or a rich train passenger, all depending on the day and the robber, thief, or murderer she's been assigned to nab.
Inspired by the real story of Kate Warne, this spirited novel follows the detective's rise during one of the nation's greatest times of crisis, bringing to life a fiercely independent woman whose forgotten triumphs helped sway the fate of the country.

My Review:

The subject of this fictionalized biography would be downright offended at its title. By the time this book begins in the mid-1850s, Kate is a woman whose illusions seem to have been stripped away long ago. She’s also a widow.

“Girl” doesn’t fit her at all, and she wouldn’t want it to. What she wants, at least as she is portrayed in this book, is to be treated as an equal. The equal of any man in the Pinkerton Agency. And it’s a hard-knock fight every single step of the way.

Kate Warne was a real person. Admittedly, a real person about whom not very much at all is known. Which makes her a great character on which to hang a work of historical fiction. Particularly since what is known about Kate Warne is the stuff of fiction to begin with.

Kate was the first female Pinkerton agent. Hired in 1856, she was one of the first, if not the first, female detectives in the world. No one expected her to succeed. No one even expected her to apply. There was no such thing as female detectives or female police officers when Kate Warne answered Allan Pinkerton’s “Help Wanted” advertisement for new agents.

But as she says, “Someone has to be first.”

Her life, what little we know of it, is the stuff of legends. Most of the information about her real career was kept in the Pinkerton office in Chicago. And most of it was wiped out in the Great Chicago Fire. (Mrs. O’Leary’s cow has a LOT to answer for)

One of the things that is known, and that made her fame, was her part in spiriting then-President-Elect Abraham Lincoln through a risky Baltimore night ride on his way to his inauguration – and his subsequent date with history. Without Warne, the history of the U.S. as we know it might have been far different.

But this book is a fictionalized version of her life, stitching together what little is known about her, with considerably more that it known about the Pinkerton’s in general and their work during the Civil War in particular, and making a fascinating story out of it, without descending into rank sensationalism or outright melodrama, at least until the very end.

Kate Warne lived a brief but fascinating life. I wish history had left us more details of her adventures. But if they were even half as hair-raising as this story, her candle must have burned very bright indeed.

Escape Rating B: I left myself plenty of time to read this one, because while I was very interested in the subject, I was a bit unsure about the author. As much as so many people loved The Magician’s Lie, when I gave it a try I couldn’t get into it at all. But Girl in Disguise grabbed me from the first page.

I think that had to do with Kate’s voice. The book is written in first-person singular, so throughout the story we are always in Kate’s head. It’s a fascinating place to be. While the circumstances of Kate’s life are particular to her time and place, so many of her thoughts seem universal to working women.

She wants to be considered as a professional, on an equal basis to the men in the agency. She never trades on her feminine wiles, and has nothing but professional relationships with all of the male Pinkerton’s, particularly including Allan Pinkerton himself. As portrayed in the book, the relationship between them was strictly professional from beginning to end. He mentored her and trusted her in a way that would have raised no eyebrows if she had been a man, but because she was a woman she constantly battled rumors that they were having an affair – rumors that persist to the present day in spite of a complete lack of evidence either then or now. It was simply assumed that a woman could not possibly be hired or trusted on her own merits.

Until the end, Kate is in love with her job, and as so many of us do, sacrifices most of her life to the pursuit of her work. But Kate isn’t the only one. As one of the male agents comments, none of them have personal lives, with the exception of Pinkerton himself. They are on the road too much, and they must keep way too many secrets. No spouse, male or female, is willing to tolerate that kind of treatment for very long.

What made Kate so relatable, at least for this reader, is just how dispassionate she is about her own life. She’s not given to flights of either hyperbole or fancy, at least in the privacy of her own head. This is who she is, this is what she does, this is what it costs her. She’s a heroine, but she never sees herself that way. She’s a woman doing a job that challenges her in ways that she can’t find anyplace else, and that she absolutely loves. She’s doing what she was born to.

There is historic evidence that Kate was part of the team that kept Lincoln alive on his way to his inauguration. Many of the other cases in the book where she is involved are based on real Pinkerton cases, even if Kate’s specific involvement is not known, and a few have been combined for dramatic license.

I really enjoyed the perspective of Kate the professional woman, both her triumphs and her many and frequent qualms about whether the ends justified the means. She has a lot to live with, and sometimes, quite reasonably so, she has second, third and fourth thoughts.

As a reader, I wish that her dispassion had not failed her in the last quarter of the book. I very much enjoyed reading about Kate in love with her work, and the details of that work as the Civil War heated up. I was less enthralled when Kate fell in love with a fellow agent. At that point the melodrama swept in.

But all in all, Girl in Disguise is a fascinating portrait of an unsung heroine – Kate Warne, the first female “private eye”.

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

Greer and Sourcebooks are giving away 3 copies of both The Magician’s Lie AND Girl in Disguise to lucky participants in this tour.
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Review: Hounded by Kevin Hearne

Review: Hounded by Kevin HearneHounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #1) by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Iron Druid #1
Pages: 292
Published by Brilliance Audio on October 28th 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old—when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.
Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power—plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish—to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.

My Review:

Because I love urban fantasy, friends have been recommending the Iron Druid series to me for years, and because I get perverse when people push too hard, I haven’t gotten around to it. Until now. And one of these days maybe I’ll learn to ignore that particular quirk of mine, because just like other books that friends have frequently and heartily recommended (I’m thinking of Legion and Thieftaker here), the Iron Druid series, at least on first introduction, is absolutely awesome.

Hounded is just full of the kind of irreverent snark that I expect from the best urban fantasy, while telling a great story that is anchored in the real world. And as the first book in the series, it introduced me to a fantastic character (in multiple senses of fantastic) in Atticus O’Sullivan, the last remaining druid.

Atticus claims to be 21, and looks the part, as the cover pictures indicate fairly well. But Atticus isn’t 21 years old, as he lets people assume. He’s 21 centuries old, and was born in Celtic Ireland a millennium before the Common Era began.

And all the gods are real. Not just the Celtic pantheon to which Atticus still owes some allegiance, and to some of whom he still bears some grudges. But ALL the gods of all the pantheons either existed or have existed. (If this reminds you a bit of American Gods, it does me, too).

But speaking of those grudges, one of those Celtic gods is still harassing Atticus, centuries after losing a famous sword to the Druid in an epic battle. It turns out that the Celtic god of love is actually a selfish, self-centered and manipulative arsehole. And I just insulted arseholes, but in a way that Atticus would probably have approved.

So the short version of this story is that it is all about Angus Og manipulating people and events in order to finally get the great sword Fragarach back from Atticus. The long version of the story is much, much more interesting, as it introduces us to Atticus and all the people in his world, from his werewolf and vampire lawyers (all Vikings) to his slightly dotty old neighbor, to his absolutely marvelous Irish wolfhound, Oberon, who always has his eye on his next sausage breakfast and dreams of harems of French poodles.

Along the way, we meet witches and demons, and get introduced to the gods of the Fae who still deign to mess with the lives of mortals, or at least with the life of Atticus O’Sullivan. Whether that’s for his good or his ill, or even a bit of both, is just part of the wonder of this story.

Escape Rating A: I loved this. And I can’t wait to go back. But this was such a marvelous treat, that I know I need to space them out a bit. Like Halloween candy. But even better, because no calories.

The story is told from the Atticus’ first-person perspective, something that worked particularly well in the audiobook. We hear what he hears, and we also hear what he thinks inside his own head, which is usually much snarkier than what comes out of his mouth – but not always. Listening to the book is like listening to Atticus’ own voice inside his head. It works.

One of the things that works really well is that Atticus is able to communicate with his dog Oberon. And Oberon, while slightly more intelligent than the average, is still very “doggy”. Oberon mostly lives in the now, and that’s a perspective that the 2100 year old Atticus needs to be reminded of every so often, and he recognizes it.

Also, Oberon’s comments on the events are frequently laugh out loud funny, and it’s impossible to resist smirking along with him. This can be a bit problematic if one is listening in public. Or at work.

As much as I enjoyed Atticus’ interesting blend of snark and sweet (his relationship with his elderly neighbor is precious – at least when they aren’t hiding dead bodies together) it is the action and adventure of the story that kept me on the edge of my seat, or sitting in my car waiting for Atticus to find his way out of whatever mess he’d just been dropped into. He’s been hiding in Tempe Arizona for years, and is none too happy when the Morrigan comes to tell him that Angus Og is after him yet again. But this time he decides to stand and defend the life he’s made, and it’s a marvelous tale from beginning to end.

Hexed is up next. Atticus doesn’t trust witches. And there’s a good reason. Again. Fantastic!

Review: Finding Our Forever by Brenda Novak + Giveaway

Review: Finding Our Forever by Brenda Novak + GiveawayFinding Our Forever (Silver Springs, #1) by Brenda Novak
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Silver Springs #1
Pages: 224
Published by Harlequin Special Edition on March 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Brenda Novak welcomes readers to the town of Silver Springs, where surprises wait around every corner!
The search for her birth mother brought Cora Kelly to the New Horizons Boys Ranch. Getting a job there was easy enough, but confiding in Aiyana, the ranch's owner, that she's really her daughter? Cora's not sure she can do that, not unless she's confident the news will be welcomed. And once she gets to know Elijah Turner, Aiyana's adopted son and ranch manager, that decision becomes even more difficult.
Although Elijah can't deny his deep attraction to Cora, he's always struggled with trust. Anyone with his past would, and there's something about the ranch's newest employee that isn't exactly as it seems. But if the feelings she awakes in his guarded heart are any indication, she might be just what he's long been waiting for.

My Review:

Welcome to tiny Silver Springs California, only two hours from the bright lights and big city of Los Angeles in miles, but light years away in everything that counts.

Everyone believes that Cora Kelly has come to Silver Springs to teach art at New Horizons Boys Ranch. And she certainly has. But that’s not the real reason she desperately wanted the job there, two hours from her family and friends back in LA. And two hours away from the job she could have had, teaching full-time at the school where she’d been subbing for the past six years. A job she had originally been looking forward to. Very much.

But New Horizons has one thing that LA can’t begin to match. Cora’s birth mother is the woman who has poured her own life into New Horizons. And Cora, after years of searching, wants to see who her birth mother really is, and especially find out why she gave her up all those years ago. Because it seems like the woman who has poured her heart and soul into helping, saving and sometimes even adopting boys from extremely difficult and/or troubled backgrounds and circumstances does not seem remotely like the kind of woman who would give up her own child.

Cora’s had a terrific life. Her adoptive parents love her dearly, and never loved her less than their biological son. She hasn’t lacked for anything – except the answers that most of us take for granted. And that lack of answers has driven her to Silver Springs, to take a year out of her life to teach at New Horizons, in the hopes of finally getting at least some of those answers.

But she isn’t sure, when, if, or whether she will reveal who she really is. She’s unsure whether or not she’d be welcome. But concealing that truth, living that very big lie, becomes an even dicier proposition than Kelly had planned on when she can’t resist the attractions of Elijah Turner, her boss, the ranch manager, and her mother’s eldest adopted son.

And in spite of Eli’s scarred past and taciturn present, he can’t seem to resist Cora, either. But the more deeply they become involved, not just romantically but also in each other’s lives, the more difficult it becomes for Cora to risk her heart and her happiness to reveal a truth that could shatter everything.

Or bring her everything her heart desires.

Escape Rating B+:The romance in Finding Our Forever is a relationship that often gets relegated to “taboo” erotica, but there’s no feeling of that kind of dirty secret here. If Cora and Eli had been raised together, it might feel different, but they weren’t so it doesn’t. They meet as adults, and are attracted to each other as adults. While Cora is aware that Eli is technically her adopted brother, they share no blood or genes to make any relationship actually be taboo.

But it does make things considerably more complicated, and they are plenty complicated to begin with. The angst in this story does not feel either manufactured or false. Cora has a secret, and she has very valid reasons both for keeping that secret and wanting to reveal it. She’s extremely conflicted about it, and so she should be. At the same time, Eli in particular has equally valid concerns about trust. The deeper they get into a relationship that neither of them expected, the more worried Cora becomes that Eli will feel betrayed by Cora’s hidden identity.

On top of that, when her secret comes out, she could be out of a job, as well as brokenhearted AND forced to go back to her adoptive parents to face a cloud of “I told you so’s” They were not in favor of Cora’s quest for her birth mother, feeling as if Cora’s search was an indictment of their love and their parenting, which it isn’t. But again, their conflicted feelings on this matter are also understandable.

The only person whose feelings don’t ring true in this entire mess is Cora’s ex-boyfriend, who shows up early in her school year in an attempt to either manipulate her back to him or otherwise horn in on her life. He’s a jerk rather than a threat, but his appearance and Cora’s reaction to it were the one emotional point in the story that just didn’t quite hit the mark.

But Cora’s story certainly does. She gets her answers, and they are nothing like she expected. And she doesn’t get everything that she wanted. But she gets enough for readers to feel more than satisfied that she got her happy ending. And it happens in a way that feels right for the story and the characters.

I really enjoyed my visit to Silver Springs, and I’m looking forward to more. It looks like the series is going to follow the romantic adventures of Eli’s brothers, and I can’t wait to see what happens next, in No One But You.

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

Brenda and Harlequin are giving away a $25 gift card to one lucky entrant on this tour.

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Review: Forever a Hero by Linda Lael Miller + Giveaway

Review: Forever a Hero by Linda Lael Miller + GiveawayForever a Hero: A Western Romance Novel by Linda Lael Miller
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Carsons of Mustang Creek #3
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on March 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For the youngest Carson brother, findingand fixingtrouble seems to be all in a day's work
Mace Carson doesn't consider himself a hero. Back in college, he came upon a woman in trouble and intervenedbut he was just one irate Wyoming cowboy with his boots planted firmly on the side of right. Now a successful vintner, Mace is shocked to be reunited with the woman he saved. But it turns out she's in Wyoming on businessa corporate executive representing the company that wants to buy his winery. Only, he's not selling.
Kelly Wright has never forgotten that horrible night ten years ago when Mace came to her rescue, has never forgotten him. The surprising success of a winery in the middle of ranch country has brought her to Mustang Creek, and she's secretly thrilled to discover Mace at the helm. Reluctant to mix business with pleasure, Kelly vows to keep things professional, until her attacker is released from prison and comes for vengeanceagainst both of them.
"

My Review:

Forever a Hero is the third, but it looks like not quite final, book in the Carsons of Mustang Creek series. The series has followed the lives and romantic adventures of the Carson brothers, beginning with Slater, who was Once a Rancher but is now a documentary filmmaker. Second up was Drake, who is Always a Cowboy, and had a difficult time finding a wife until his mother secretly fixed him up.

This is youngest brother Mace’s story. So far, the love of Mace’s life has been the Mountain View Winery. It’s his brainchild and his contribution both to the ranch and to the community. It’s his personal vision, and he has a genius for blending new wines.

But there’s a conglomerate out there who wants to change all that, and they’ve sent their best agent, Kelly Wright, to negotiate a distribution and management deal for GGI with Mountain View Winery. Her promotion to vice-president, with all the stock options and other fabulous perks, is riding on her successful completion of the deal.

On her way to Mustang Creek, her car goes hydroplaning and nearly off the road into a canyon. She’s rescued from certain death by Mace Carson. But Mace has always been Kelly’s hero. Once upon a time, ten years ago when they were both in college at UCLA, Mace rescued Kelly from an attacker. Mace testified at Lance Vreeman’s trial, and he was sent to jail for a long and much deserved sentence.

Ms. Wright may have come to Mustang Creek to negotiate with his winery, but Kelly is there to see Mace again, even if she hasn’t completely admitted that to herself. Back then was not the time for them to even think about a relationship, but now is much, much different.

The chemistry they had all those years ago is still very much there. And suddenly, so is Lance Vreeman.

Escape Rating B+: This series, and The Brides of Bliss County series that it spun off from (and the Parable, Montana series that IT spun off of), has been lovely all the way.

Each book features a hero who is a good man, but who is alone for reasons that seem right – not because he needs to be reformed or grow up. And they all come from a marvelously functional family – albeit one that gets bigger with each book!

The heroines in their turn are smart, independent and also alone for reasons that make sense. In Kelly’s case, it’s because she has spent her 20s having a career instead of a life. Whether a woman can do both is an open question, but Kelly hasn’t even tried. Her trip to Mustang Creek provides her with the time, and changes at her work give her the motivation and the opportunity, to take a step back and decide what she really wants out of life.

There’s also no misunderstandammit in this story, or the series. While both Mace and Kelly are initially reluctant to pursue a relationship, it’s for reasons that, again, make sense. Their shared history is a bit traumatic, and Kelly is there to attempt to negotiate a deal that Mace has no intention of taking. It is difficult not to get the personal and the professional mixed together, or worry that they are too mixed together.

And they have the same problem that Drake and Luce (in Always a Cowboy) also had. Mace’s life is tied to his Winery, the ranch, and his family. He can’t leave Mustang Creek, and he doesn’t want to. Kelly’s life is in LA, and a long-term relationship with Mace means a lot more change for her than it does for him.

The way they negotiate this issue is one of the strengths of the book. It’s about compromise, and two adults working out a way to be together, that makes allowances for what both of them want and need and doesn’t make one feel like they are giving up something truly important to them. I liked the way they figured things out. A lot.

Remember what I said yesterday about stalkers? This is another book that looks like it might go into stalker territory, but again, marvelously doesn’t. Lance Vreeman does get out of jail, and does come back, with, as the saying goes, a vengeance. And while he terrifies pretty much everyone, he’s not after Kelly so much as he is after Mace. And everyone acts like a sensible adult, as they did in Once a Rancher. Kelly does not act stupidly, and she doesn’t need to be rescued. She and Mace work together, along with Mace’s brothers and friends, to keep everyone safe.

In the end, Lance gets the best serving of just desserts that I have ever seen. And possibly the funniest, courtesy of a stubborn, ornery and very protective bull. It’s a perfect ending to the book.

But not to the series, we have one last trip to Mustang Creek to look forward to. There’s still A Snow Country Christmas coming just in time for the holidays.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of Forever a Hero to one lucky commenter on this tour:

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Review: Hard Justice by Lori Foster + Giveaway

Review: Hard Justice by Lori Foster + GiveawayHard Justice (Body Armor, #2) by Lori Foster
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Body Armor #2
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on March 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Playing it safe has never felt so dangerous
Justice Wallington knows how to harness his strength and intimidating sizeskills he put to good use first in the MMA cage and now as a bodyguard at the Body Armor agency. But no opponent has ever left him feeling as off balance as his new client, heiress Fallon Wade. Far from a spoiled princess, she's sweet and intriguingly innocent. It's a risk-free assignment, until he's required to fake a relationship with her in order to blend in.
Sheltered from the world after a family tragedy, Fallon longs to experience lifegoing to bars, dancing, talking to strangers. Not easy with a huge, lethal-looking bodyguard shadowing her every move. Justice seems like her polar opposite, but pretending to be a couple stirs undeniable heat. And when danger strikes again, it's not just her safety in jeopardy, but a passion that's real, raw and absolutely against the rules"

My Review:

This one was just plain fun. I read it in a single day. I stayed up until 2 am to finish. Admittedly, not on a “school night”. But still. One day. Because I couldn’t put it down.

And it proved that all of my fears about the series, after my read of Under Pressure, were totally and completely unfounded.

Like Under Pressure, Hard Justice is also a variation on the classic theme of The Bodyguard, where the guard and his protectee fall head over heels for each other. But this is one where we really do see them both fall, not just succumb to the intensity of being on the run together, because they aren’t. On the run, that is. They definitely fall for each other.

There is a bit of a mystery in this story, but it isn’t any of the expected ones. At first, Justice Wallingham can’t figure out who or what Fallon Wade needs to be protected from. Her uptight parents, particularly her father, seem to be adamant that Fallon needs to be protected from pretty much everything and everyone in the universe.

Fallon, on the other hand, is a surprisingly down-to-earth 24-year-old who just wants a chance to finally experience the things that people her age normally do, or have done. The reason for all that overprotectiveness isn’t obvious, except for the continuing reappearances of Fallon’s douchebag ex, Marcus, a guy who can’t seem to take “no” for an answer.

And can’t seem to overlook the scars that Fallon hides under her all-covering clothes. Marcus is just sure that their shared backgrounds make them perfect for each other, and that any man would be put off by her scars. He’s sure that he’ll get used to them in time, if he makes an effort. Of course he’s wrong on all counts.

Justice, on the other hand, wants to flatten the guy from the word go. Because Fallon’s scars, and her survival of the trauma that caused them, make her even more precious, and more beautiful, in his eyes. Which he’s having an increasingly difficult time keeping on the lookout for possible threats, because he’s too busy just watching Fallon.

Until it starts looking like someone is really out to get her. Or him. Or possibly both.

Escape Rating A-: It may be a case of the right book at the right time, but I just plain loved this one. Sometimes books are like that.

Part of the charm of this series, and the Ultimate series that it spun off from, is the rowdy bunch of fighters, and their wives, who make up the close-knit group who live, work, and train in or near Cannon’s gym in small-town Ohio. It’s always great to see the gang again, and find out how everyone is doing. They are great people and always wonderfully accepting of anyone new.

But the success of this particular book rests on the characters of Justice and Fallon, and their developing relationship. And they are absolutely adorable together.

One of the things I liked best about Hard Justice is the way that it set the woman in danger trope on its head. There’s an unfortunate tendency in romantic suspense, and it applied to both Under Pressure and several of the titles in the Ultimate series, that the way to put a woman in jeopardy and in need of protection is to give her a creepy sexual predator stalker, whether the asshat is her ex or just someone who is fixated on her. I am really, really tired of that trope, because it always ends up robbing the woman of her agency.

Hard Justice was fun because it doesn’t go there. Even better, it makes you think it’s going there, and then it actually doesn’t. Marcus does turn out to be a bit of a douche, but not that big of a douche. Instead, the real villains were revealed as a bit of a surprise, and the motives for threatening Fallon were not sexual. For this reader, the story worked much better this way.

I can’t wait for the next book in this series, which looks like it’s going to be Close Contact, coming in November.

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

Lori and Harlequin are giving away a $50 Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour!
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