Review: Saddle Up by Victoria Vane + Giveaway

Review: Saddle Up by Victoria Vane + GiveawaySaddle Up (Hot Cowboy Nights #4) by Victoria Vane
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Hot Cowboy Nights #4
Pages: 320
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on June 7th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Award-winning author Victoria Vane lets loose the fourth in the Hot Cowboy Nights series
WILD HORSES COULDN'T BRING THEM TOGETHER...With exceptional talent and looks, cowboy "horse whisperer" Keith Russo once had the world at his feet - until his career was unwittingly destroyed by an aspiring filmmaker. After being rejected by his family for exploiting his Native American heritage, Keith has no choice but to turn back to his humble beginnings as a wild horse wrangler.
BUT MAYBE THEIR PASSION CAN...Miranda Sutton always dreamed of making films, until wild mustangs captured her heart. But turning her grandmother's Montana ranch into a wild horse sanctuary proves harder than she thought. She needs someone who knows wild horses. Keith and the mustangs need each other. And while working together to save the herd, Keith and Miranda discover a passion as wild as the mustangs they love.
Praise for Slow Hand "Scorching...witty...a red-hot cowboy tale...their sexual chemistry crackles." -Publishers Weekly

My Review:

Saddle Up, just like a book I reviewed a few weeks ago (Doing It Over by Catherine Bybee) is also a meditation on two different literary visions of “home”. For Keith Russo, home is the Thomas Wolfe version, “You can’t go home again.” For Miranda Sutton, it’s the Robert Frost version, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

But of course it isn’t nearly as simple as that.

Keith and Miranda first meet a year before the story really begins. At that point, Keith is on top of the world, and Miranda is a lowly and very much put upon intern in Hollywood. Keith, marketing himself as ‘Two Wolves’, is a celebrity horse trainer. Miranda is finishing up her degree in cinematography while interning with an absolute bitch of a film producer. As is not atypical during internships of all types, Miranda does most of the work, and Bibi takes ALL of the credit.

But the filming where they meet Keith is one where Miranda should be glad that Bibi takes all the credit, and gets all the blame for what it does to Keith’s life. When Keith turns down Bibi’s persistent sexual advances, she exposes him as a fraud, using Miranda’s not quite thorough enough research to back up her claims.

Keith’s life in the fast-lane is over, and he and his ignominy go back to the reservation to hide. And to work out his guilt at selling out his heritage for a fast buck. In spite of Miranda’s research, Keith really is half Native American. His paperwork doesn’t show it because his mother tried to pretend that her brief affair with his activist father never happened. But his father’s parents claim him as their own, no matter how unhappy they might be with him at any given moment. Often very.

When they meet again, Keith is at the bottom, and Miranda is on the upswing – even though that upswing is a bit precarious.

No longer an intern, Miranda is now working for Bibi, and doing projects on the side and in secret. Bibi is still a bitch. Keith is part of a wild mustang gather in Wyoming, and Miranda comes to film the project in the hopes of making a documentary. They still have lots of chemistry together, along with a whole lot of mistrust.

In spite of Bibi taking the credit, Keith still blames Miranda for a whole chunk of his problems. Miranda just wants to save the horses. She isn’t sure whether she wants to explore their explosive chemistry – especially when Keith pushes her away in one minute and pulls her in closer the next.

Neither of them is sure what they want to do – not with the horses and certainly not with each other.

While Keith continues drifting around what he wants to do with his life, Miranda takes charge of hers. She leaves behind the Hollywood that has never fit her and goes back home to her grandmother’s ranch, determined to make a go of the place by providing sanctuary for as many wild mustangs as the place can hold.

And a life of purpose for her and for Keith, if he’s willing to accept everything she offers. If he can let himself.

Escape Rating B+: Miranda and Keith are two people who only meet by chance, and probably shouldn’t have much in common. They just have a hell of a lot of combustible chemistry, and an unshakable love for the mustangs that power this story at a gallop.

slow hand by victoria vaneAnd even though this is the fourth book in the Hot Cowboy Nights series, it also stands completely alone. (As someone who has read the whole series, I’ll confess to not even being certain where this story falls in the timeline. It seems as if the romance in Slow Hand hasn’t happened yet.)

One thing that Miranda and Keith do both have in common – both of them have found their homes of the heart with their grandparents. Miranda’s parents are dead, and Keith’s want nothing to do with him. It’s their grandparents that give them each sanctuary and a sense of belonging.

But Keith’s grandparents know that Keith’s real home is not with them. He’s straddled two worlds all of his life, even if he didn’t always know it. While his grandparents love him dearly, they both see him as meant for a place that both sides of his heritage can call home.

Miranda goes back to her grandmother’s ranch, because it’s the one place where she receives unconditional support. She is rethinking her whole life, and her grandmother Jo-Jo provides just the right amount of hard work and tough love for Miranda to work through her issues. And Miranda is happy to give back to the woman who has always helped her. Jo-Jo is in her early 70s, and now a widow. The ranch is too big for her to run alone, but she doesn’t want to leave her home. Together they can make it work – if Keith is willing to help.

This is also a sex-into-love romance. Miranda and Keith have hot chemistry from the beginning, but she doesn’t want to be just another notch on his metaphorical bedpost, and he doesn’t think he’s capable of forming a real relationship. Of course they are both wrong.

There’s no villain here, although Miranda’s aunt and uncle make a brief attempt at filling that role. This romance is all about Miranda and Keith finding their way towards each other, with a whole lot of pushing from a herd of wild mustangs. Not that there isn’t an equally big herd running in Keith’s head, pulling them apart. The “come here go away” that Keith emotionally pulls on Miranda drives both her and the reader just a bit batty – with good reason.

The horses steal the show, and the reader’s heart. (Mine was already gone at the beginning, with the utterly marvelous shout-out to Romancing the Stone!)

Saddle Up graphic

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

As part of the tour, Victoria is giving away a Texas West handbag and wallet set.

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Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop, hosted by The Kids Did It and The Mommy Island.

I think all readers have their secret list of “desert island” keeper books. You know the ones that I mean – the books that you would desperately want to have, to re-read over and over again, if you were marooned on a desert island. And we all think of ways to “cheat” on the numbers.

For example, if I could only have 10 books, would The Lord of the Rings count as 3 or 1? I would say one, because I have an edition where all three books are shoehorned into one gigantic volume. Would Harry Potter be 1 or 7? Would I want to take books I’ve already read and know I’ll love, or would I be willing to take one or two things that I haven’t read yet.

If they could count as a single book, it might be the perfect time to finally read Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time mega-book. I might even finish this time.

What about you? What would be on your “desert island keeper” bookshelf? Tell us your contenders for a chance at either a $10 Gift Card from Amazon or B&N, or international contestants, a $10 Book from the Book Depository.

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And for more chances to win more great prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on the hop:

Review: The Pages of the Mind by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: The Pages of the Mind by Jeffe KennedyThe Pages of the Mind (The Uncharted Realms #1; The Twelve Kingdoms #4) by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Twelve Kingdoms #4, Uncharted Realms #1
Pages: 432
Published by Kensington on May 31st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An Orphan's Throne
Magic has broken free over the Twelve Kingdoms. The population is beset by shapeshifters and portents, landscapes that migrate, uncanny allies who are not quite human…and enemies eager to take advantage of the chaos.
Dafne Mailloux is no adventurer--she's a librarian. But the High Queen trusts Dafne's ability with languages, her way of winnowing the useful facts from a dusty scroll, and even more important, the subtlety and guile that three decades under the thumb of a tyrant taught her.
Dafne never thought to need those skills again. But she accepts her duty. Until her journey drops her into the arms of a barbarian king. He speaks no tongue she knows but that of power, yet he recognizes his captive as a valuable pawn. Dafne must submit to a wedding of alliance, becoming a prisoner-queen in a court she does not understand. If she is to save herself and her country, she will have to learn to read the heart of a wild stranger. And there are more secrets written there than even Dafne could suspect…
Praise for The Mark of the Tala
"Magnificent…a richly detailed fantasy world." --RT Book Reviews, 4½ stars, Top Pick
"Well written and swooningly romantic." --Library Journal, starred review

My Review:

crown of the queen by jeffe kennedyI have, for the most part, adored Jeffe Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms series. Ami’s book, The Tears of the Rose, was the lone exception, because Ami spends the first half of the book as a spoiled princess bitch. While she gets much, much better, the first half of the book drags a bit.

As much as I loved the bridge novella featuring librarian Dafne Mailloux, The Crown of the Queen, Dafne’s own story in The Pages of the Mind drove me batty. I loved the beginning, and liked the end, but in this case it’s the middle that gave me fits.

Let me explain…

Dafne has been the librarian at Castle Ordnang for decades. Her family held the land and castle that formerly sat on the same spot, but when High King Uorsin decided that Castle Columba would be the seat of his new throne, the end was inevitable. He conquered the castle, razed the building, and built his capital in its place. Daphne was the only member of her family to survive the siege. While she may be, as she says, “ a demon on documents” in her early years it was her ability to hide in plain sight that saved her life over and over.

That and the fact that Queen Salena charged her with caring for her daughters, the princess Ursula, Ami and Andi. Ursula is now High Queen, after the events in The Talon of the Hawk and The Crown of the Queen. It is Daphne’s task to be Ursula’s adviser.

talon of the hawk by jeffe kennedyDafne has always been an observer and recorder. That’s what librarians do. So Daphne is more surprised than anyone when Ursula tasks her with the position of ambassador, first to the island kingdom of Nahanau, and then to the court of Dasnaria. Nahanau has been damaged by the movement of the magical barrier that formerly surrounded the Tala, and Dasnaria is the home of Ursula’s lover Harlan. His people might ally with the Twelve, now Thirteen Kingdoms, or might attempt to conquer them instead. The Kingdoms are still recovering from the late King’s treachery and tyranny, Ursula needs to stave off that possible war.

So off Dafne goes, with Harlan’s older brother Prince Kral as escort and guide.

We expect treachery, or at least some double-dealing on Kral’s part. It seems to be what the Dasnarians are known for. So when Kral essentially hands Dafne over to King Nakoa KauPo as either a hostage, sex slave or unwilling bride, readers are not totally surprised.

But the twists and turns that overtake Dafne’s fate from that point forward change the course of her life into directions she never expected. And is never sure that she wants or can even accept.

Escape Rating B-: I loved the beginning. Dafne’s life as librarian turned adviser fit right in with the snippets of her character we have seen in the earlier books. She has been working all of her life towards seeing Ursula crowned High Queen. And she not only expects the job of Royal Adviser, but is totally prepared and qualified for it.

She enjoys being the power behind the throne, and doesn’t see herself as powerful at all. She is merely an instrument of Ursula’s power. And she’s very, very good at it.

But when she is effectively abandoned at the Nahanau court, the story, along with Daphne’s personality, went temporarily off the rails for this reader. Because the story devolved into both the fated mate trope and the magic peen fallacy. That it turns out that both of these issues are actually manipulated into being by a third party redeems things somewhat, but not completely.

Dafne seems to become completely enslaved to sex with King Nakoa, to the point where she loses all her sense at many points. Yes, this sometimes happens when people discover how good sex can actually be, but that level of crazy usually happens earlier in their lives. Dafne is old enough that she believes she is no longer capable of bearing children. Becoming that mushy-headed just didn’t feel right.

For a significant part of the story, Dafne understands little to nothing of the language around her. The Nahanaus speak a language that is not derived from any of the several that Dafne knows. So there is a big portion of the story where a person who is only comfortable when in full possession of all the knowledge available has none to work with. It feels off-character when Dafne is forced to resort to stereotypical feminine wiles that she has never relied upon in order to get information felt wrong.

There is also a huge power imbalance in this relationship. Nakoa essentially kidnaps Dafne and keeps her prisoner. That she falls for him in these circumstances where she is totally dependent on him smacks of Stockholm Syndrome. Which does get called out later in the story, and then all too easily dismissed.

It turns out that everyone in this situation is being manipulated by a third party, one whose eventual advent into the story is explosive enough to kick the story back on track.

One of the things that I liked best about the previous entries in this series is that the princesses did not need to change who they were to find fulfillment and happiness, or to find their equal in love. Dafne has to change completely to get through most of her adventures. It’s only at the end where she goes back to being the intellectual powerhouse that is her true self.

At the end of this story, there are several people still on the loose who seriously need to get their comeuppance, particularly Kral. While events turned out for the best, his duplicity still needs to be accounted for. And I look forward to reading all about it in The Edge of the Blade.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 5-22-16

Sunday Post

I think I’ve rigged things so that this week I only have to read books I really, really want to read. As opposed to reading books I only sorta/kinda want to read. I think I’m in a bit of a slump and need a bunch of books that are mostly just for fun. The sort of books where I leapt onto the tour because I already adore the author or series, as opposed to the type of books where I get on the tour because the book looks like it might be interesting.

And I’m also not doing any books that my only reason for reading them is an obligation. I need a break.

This past week, I posted one rather unusual entry. I’ve had so much fun with Blue Apron that I just couldn’t resist sharing. I’ve had that post on the back burner, waiting for a week where things just failed, as happened this week. I bounced off two books so hard that I had to scramble for Friday’s review. But seriously, discovering all over again that cooking can be fun has ben an absolute blast.

And while we still don’t like sweet potatoes, there’s a dog that really, really loves them. If you have never read “I Has a Sweet Potato” over at littera abactor, you are in for a side-splitting treat. Be sure not to have anything in your mouth while you read, because you are guaranteed to spray your monitor in explosive laughter. (I just re-read it for the umpteenth time, and it still made me laugh so hard that I have tears in my eyes.)

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Love in Bloom Giveaway Hop
2 Blue Apron Dinner Kits

Winner Announcements:

The winner of A Front Page Affair by Radha Vatsal is Nadine S.

final flight by beth catoBlog Recap:

B Review: The Drafter by Kim Harrison
Love in Bloom Giveaway Hop
C- Review: Death at a Fixer-Upper by Sarah T. Hobart
I Only Have a Sign Because It Came With the Kitchen + Giveaway
A Review: Final Flight by Beth Cato
Stacking the Shelves (185)

 

 

 

lifeabeachhop3Coming Next Week:

The Pages of the Mind by Jeffe Kennedy (blog tour review)
Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop
Saddle Up by Victoria Vane (blog tour review)
Undiscovered by Anna Hackett (review)
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye (review)

Stacking the Shelves (185)

Stacking the Shelves

I’m trying to only pick up stuff I really, REALLY want. But then I always really want anything by Jayne Castle, Anna Hackett and Nalini Singh.

Bookish resolutions are just so damn hard to keep!

For Review:
The Champion of Baresh (Star World Frontier #1) by Susan Grant
Don’t Let Go (Hope #6) by Jaci Burton
The Emperor’s Arrow by Lauren D.M. Smith
Illusion Town (Harmony #16) by Jayne Castle
IQ by Joe Ide
Undiscovered (Treasure Hunter Security #1) by Anna Hackett
Wild Embrace (Psy/Changeling) by Nalini Singh

 

Review: Final Flight by Beth Cato

Review: Final Flight by Beth CatoFinal Flight (Clockwork Dagger, #2.6) by Beth Cato
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction, steampunk
Series: Clockwork Dagger #2.6
Pages: 48
Published by Harper Voyager Impulse on April 26th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Another breathtaking short story from the author of The Clockwork Dagger and The Clockwork Crown, set in the same world…
Captain Hue hoped he was rid of his troubles once Octavia Leander and Alonzo Garrett disembarked from his airship Argus. But he was quickly proved wrong when his ship was commandeered by Caskentian soldiers. He is ordered on a covert and deadly mission by the smarmy Julius Corrado, an elite Clockwork Dagger.
Now Captain Hue must start a mutiny to regain control of his airship, which means putting his entire crew at risk—including his teenage son Sheridan. As the weather worsens and time runs out, it’ll take incredible bravery to bring the Argus down….perhaps for good.

My Review:

I just finished this and I’m still reeling a bit. Final Flight is an absolute stunner, and I don’t believe that you have to have read the rest of the Clockwork Dagger stories to get caught up in its emotional punch. The characters in this book were very much not even secondary characters in the main series. More like tertiary. Or even further down the chain. So while the background is there, there isn’t much connection to the main events.

Instead, this is a tightly packed little story about the costs and horrors of war, told in a very insular and isolated setting. Which makes the punch that much harder.

Captain Hue’s airship has been commandeered again, but this time by his own government. And even though it was dragooned by the enemy during previous events, this particular loss of control feels much slimier. The Wasters were generally polite. They did the minimum amount of damage and caused the minimum amount of disruption. If they hadn’t held his son at knife-point to make sure that their orders were obeyed, he’d probably forgive the whole episode.

His own government, on the other hand, is clearly planning on using death magic for some unholy purpose, and he wishes he could have nothing to do with any of it. But his own government is now holding him and his ship effectively hostage, on a secret mission that feels dirtier and more disgusting by the second. He wants it to be over and his ship and crew to be his again.

Instead, he’s ordered to take his ship to a place where airships simply don’t go, to deliver a mysterious package and supposedly be set free. But his government has already stolen the ship’s only possible means of survival. It is clear to every sailor aboard that their own government intends for them to literally crash and burn on this mission, killing everyone aboard in a remote area where no one will ever find the ship or the bodies.

It’s the ultimate in deniability. And the Captain and his crew decide that they just won’t stand for it. A slim chance at life is better than the absolute certainty of death. And it is better to die free than tainted by whatever evil is being hatched by his own people.

Escape Rating A: The emotional wallop packed by this tiny story is intense. I’m still blinking back a few tears. There are so many questions here, and very few of them end up with answers. Including the ultimate fate of the crew.

The Captain’s government believes that the can strike one decisive blow against their enemy, and that killing a large number of people in one single blow will bring about a swift end to the war in their favor.

To this reader, it sounds a bit like discussions about the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

There’s a difference, or so it feels. In this fictional world, the pursuit of their ends has justified any nefarious means, including the murders of vast swaths of their own people, in order to power the death magic encased in their doomsday weapon. While the makers of the atomic bomb took some serious shortcuts with safety, and they were certainly playing with dangers that were not yet fully understood, the way that the doomsday weapon in this story is created is much different. It would be as if one of the components of the bomb required thousands of irradiated corpses to manufacture, and if the bomb makers were deliberately quarantining small, remote towns of their own people in order to “harvest” that ingredient. The doomsday weapon in this story literally feels terrifyingly dirty to anyone who is even near it, because they can actually feel the horror of the deaths that went into making it.

In the end, the power of this story is in its emotional heft. The way that the crew comes together as a family to decide their own fate, instead of letting their fate be handed to them by others. They have decided that the ends do not justify the means.

I think it says something about who both sides of this war are that the person that his government is trying to stop is a healer, and that the methodology they plan to use to stop her involves harvesting the deaths of thousands of their own people.

At the last, this story reminds me a bit of, surprisingly, 9/11. Not the attacks on the Twin Towers, but United Airlines Flight 93, the plane that went down in Pennsylvania because its passengers fought back against the hijackers. It made me wonder if some of the thoughts weren’t the same, that it was better to go down fighting than to go down in an obscene act of terrorism. When those are the only choices, we all want to believe that we will do what we can, even in extremis, for what seems like, if the greater good is not an available option, then for the least of the available evils.

I Only Have a Sign Because It Came With the Kitchen + Giveaway

only have a kitchen sign

Not really. I bought this sign years ago, and have moved it from place to place, and kitchen to kitchen, because it summed up how I felt. But it looks like I’m going to have to take it down.

I used to tell people that I cooked “in my last life”. This wasn’t a reference to reincarnation, more a statement about the different lives that people lead, and the different people that we become, as time goes by and our experiences shape us.

There is a lot of freighted baggage involved in cooking in my “first life”, meaning my first marriage. Cooking and planning meals was always a fraught experience. It was never the right thing, it was never quite good enough, and it was always undertaken after a long day at work and a one hour commute home. These were not good times.

I arranged my life after that so that either someone else did most of the cooking, or the microwave did the cooking, or, as the saying goes, we made my favorite thing for dinner, “Reservations”.

But that was all a long time ago, and my world is a bit different. When we moved back to Atlanta, I was mostly home. It seemed like a good time to take up cooking again. But there were a different set of issues. It is hard to plan dinner when you aren’t quite sure when the other party will be home to eat it. And after a while, the things that we could easily or quickly make simply got boring. Often to the point where we’d ditch whatever was in the fridge and go out.

We spoiled a lot of food that way.

A couple of months ago I latched onto what seemed like either a brilliant idea, or at least a valiant attempt at one. Why not sign up for one of the recipe delivery services, and see how we liked it? We signed up for 3 dinners a week from Blue Apron, and waited eagerly for our first box.

The first box arrived late on a Saturday afternoon, and we had a blast opening it and organizing all the ingredients. We had Cuban Sandwiches, Cod Kedgeree and something good but considerably less memorable. And it was probably chicken.

Everything in the box was fresh. It was also well labeled. As it turns out, kale, collard greens and swiss chard all kind of look alike when you have no experience with them fresh.

The recipes are reasonable for a pair of beginners to follow. And they feature ingredients we would never think of, producing food that we might not otherwise try but is usually anywhere from good to yummy. And occasionally we fill the kitchen with smoke, but when that happens it is no one’s fault but our own.

And we’ve discovered that the process of cooking together is a fun shared activity at the end of the day. We get to play with our food, and then we get to eat it. And we usually learn something along the way. Sometimes we learn a technique. Sometimes we learn that I actually like whole grain mustard, even though I still hate the yellow stuff. And we’ve learned that we both still dislike sweet potatoes, no matter how they’re cooked.

Whenever a recipe calls for sweet potatoes, we substitute red potatoes. The instructions all work perfectly, and we like the result a whole lot better. I may never eat those microwavable mashed potatoes in a cup again.

So, we’ve discovered a new activity. We’ve figured out that we both like cooking together. We’re having fun. That we also eliminated the decision paralysis was a side benefit, but one we liked so much that for a while we were actually getting two meals a week from Plated, just so we didn’t have to think about “what’s for dinner”.

We’ve accumulated enough recipes that we like that we’re starting to pick from previous favorites, We’ve repeated both those original Cuban Sandwiches and the Cod Kedgeree, as well as several other dishes. We’ve also bought cookbooks. And kitchen gadgets. We’re having too much fun to stop.

In fact, we’re having so much fun that I couldn’t resist writing about it. And I’d like to share. We’ve been doing this long enough that we get free meals to give away to friends. I’d like to give two of those free dinner kits away to lucky commenters on this post.

I hope whoever wins has a great time. I know they’ll get a good meal. And hopefully a lot of fun.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Note: This is not a sponsored post or a sponsored giveaway. I’m just having a good time with the service and I wanted to share. Every Blue Apron subscriber regularly receives free meals to give away. We’ve given some away to friends. But I just couldn’t resist writing about how much fun we’re having and giving away a chance to share in the fun.

Review: Death at a Fixer-Upper by Sarah T. Hobart

Review: Death at a Fixer-Upper by Sarah T. HobartDeath at a Fixer-Upper: A Home Sweet Home Mystery by Sarah Hobart
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley, Random House Chatterbox
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Home Sweet Home
Pages: 267
Published by Alibi on May 17th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

In Sarah T. Hobart’s wickedly funny and fast-paced Home Sweet Home mystery series, small-town real estate agent Sam Turner discovers it’s bad for business when her clients keep dropping dead.   Newly armed with her real estate license, Sam Turner loves Arlinda, her quirky seaside hometown in Northern California. But life by the beach isn’t exactly a breeze: She and her teenage son, Max, are being evicted from their apartment, her long absent ex-husband unexpectedly resurfaces, and her possibly romantic relationship with sexy Chief of Police Bernie Aguilar is, well . . . complicated. All Sam wants is a quick and easy sale. What she gets instead is a killer headache—or three.   Sam’s trying to drum up interest in 13 Aster Lane, a rambling Victorian fixer-upper that’s more than a little neglected—and possibly haunted—so when a trio of offers arrive out of the blue, she can’t help thinking it’s too good to be true. But after a new client drops dead on the property, she fears she’s lost more than a commission. Before Sam’s out of house and home, she must unmask a killer targeting her clients, or the only property she’ll be moving will be plots—at the local cemetery.

My Review:

This was one of those books where I’m still trying to figure out what I think and how I feel about it. I finished it last night and I’ll admit that it isn’t sticking with me. This is not a good sign.

The story certainly had possibilities. Single-mother Sam Turner is a fledgling real estate agent in what sounds like a down market, so the story felt a bit dated, as though it was set in the recession. The housing market has picked up the last couple of years, and it feels like we are now in a sellers’ market, so Sam’s lack of success didn’t feel current, especially given the description of Arlinda as a quirky if desirable place to live.

The house she is trying to sell is equally quirky, not to mention downright creepy. Did the address have to be 13 Aster Lane? Couldn’t it have been 15? Or 12? As events kept spiraling into the weird, it seemed as if the address was either intended as a portent or was just too much over the top. And in spite of the opening of the story, there is not a paranormal element in it.

This is also a small town with a lot of interesting (again, read that as quirky) characters, and it felt as if we met ALL of them.

The word “quirky” comes up a lot in descriptions of and reviews of this book. You would think that there would be some relatively normal, meaning non-quirky, people in this town. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

It also seems as if Sam is just one of those people to whom bad things happen, not always with any rhyme or reason. Her neighbors spy on her, her landlord hates her, the appraiser for her upcoming house purchase rules against her, and most of her colleagues in the real estate business are just plain nasty pieces of work.

In a twist, her boss is actually a nice guy. But everyone else she has to deal with regarding the sale of 13 Aster Lane is just nasty. She has rivals both at her own agency and at the listing agency, and both women are just unreasonably bitchy.

The mystery in this book surrounds that estate at 13 Aster Lane. For reasons that Sam doesn’t figure out until the very end, all sorts of strange and bizarre people are interested in the broken-down mansion, sight unseen. And Sam keeps tripping over the dead bodies of all of those potential purchasers.

It all seems very bizarrely coincidental, until a figure out of her own wacky past turns up out of the seeming blue. And then she discovers that she’s been played all along.

Escape Rating C-: I never warmed up to Sam. In the story, it always seems like she’s in way over her head, which can make things interesting. However, she takes that “over her head” feeling and spends a lot of time feeling sorry for herself, and/or letting other people walk all over her.

Ironically, the deed that most of her fellow real estate agents, those of the cutthroat variety, would most laugh at her for is the one that reaps her the biggest reward at the end.

But the world of real estate that Sam is attempting to inhabit is not a good place, not for her, not for anyone. And she’s mostly unsuccessful in a realm where you have to support yourself on commissions and not salary. She’s not managing and not rethinking. And letting herself be run over by bitches on wheels. In one case, almost literally.

This was also a story where there were two sets of villains, each more unlikely than the other, and both equally out of left field. While the reader always suspects that there is something hinky about all of the sudden offers on the very dilapidated property, and that none of the prospective buyers are remotely on the up and up, the degree to which the solution comes out of nowhere was a bit breathtaking.

And the other piece of villainy was completely out of the blue.

I received this book from NetGalley via Random House Chatterbox for an honest review. Which is turning out to be a review that says I honestly didn’t like this book very much. While I loved the first book I received through this program, The Skeleton Garden by Marty Wingate, that was a book in a series I had previously read and enjoyed. The second book, Mug Shot by Caroline Fardig, was okay but not as good as the Wingate. This one continues the downward trend, and I’m rethinking my entire participation in the Chatterbox.

Reviewer’s Note: In the process of prepping this post I discovered that the author has published at least two previous books in this series under another name. That explains why it seems like we’re meeting Sam in the middle of her mess rather than being introduced to her. But I am even less thrilled that this is the third book in a series and that the marketing makes it seem like the first book. Your mileage may vary.

Love in Bloom Giveaway Hop

love-in-bloom-hop

Welcome to the Love in Bloom Giveaway Hop, hosted by BookHounds.

Spring is sprung,
Fall is fell,
Here comes Summer and it’s
Hotter than…last year.

Of course, if you believe in Global Warming or Climate Change, that is literally true. It is warmer than last year. Which was warmer than the year before that.

But unlike my year before that, even if it is warmer here in Atlanta than it was in Seattle, at least we have air conditioning.

But speaking of warmer weather, it is already summer here in Atlanta. Spring was probably back in February. I love the winters here, but the summers are beastly. And I miss my favorite flowers from the Midwest in the Spring.

The hopeful rising of the daffodils and the tulips, and the big bright profusion of luscious smelling peonies. As much as I love to get roses, peonies are my favorite flower.

So what’s your favorite flower? Or your favorite flower or gardening themed romance? My friend Amy is in the middle of reviewing Nora Roberts In the Garden trilogy. Her review of Blue Dahlia has already posted and Black Rose is scheduled for next month.

My current favorite gardening-themed series is Marty Wingate’s Potting Shed series, starting with The Garden Plot. They may not be romances but romance certainly happens to her gardening and sleuthing heroine in the course of the story.

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For more blooming bookish prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on the hop:


Review: The Drafter by Kim Harrison

Review: The Drafter by Kim HarrisonThe Drafter (The Peri Reed Chronicles, #1) by Kim Harrison
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, urban fantasy
Series: Peri Reed Chronicles #1
Pages: 422
Published by Gallery Books on September 1st 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Detroit 2030. Double-crossed by the person she loved and betrayed by the covert government organization that trained her to use her body as a weapon, Peri Reed is a renegade on the run.
Don’t forgive and never forget has always been Peri’s creed. But her day job makes it difficult: she is a drafter, possessed of a rare, invaluable skill for altering time, yet destined to forget both the history she changed and the history she rewrote.
When Peri discovers her name on a list of corrupt operatives, she realizes that her own life has been manipulated by the agency. She joins forces with a mysterious rogue soldier in a deadly race to piece together the truth about her final task, unable to trust even herself.

My Review:

Years ago, a friend recommended Kim Harrison’s Hollows series, starting with Dead Witch Walking. I should have loved it. Ironically, it is set in the Greater Cincinnati area, where I grew up. So I even knew the place. But it just didn’t work for me. I still have the books, thinking I’ll get back round to it someday.

Fast forward to last year, when The Drafter came out. As this was the first book in a new series, it felt like time to give Harrison another chance. But I never got around to it. So when a tour came around for the paperback release of The Drafter, I decided to give it a go. And here we are.

The story is set in a kind of post-urban apocalypse Detroit in 2030. Not that the rest of the U.S. has suffered any kind of apocalypse that we know of. In this series, Detroit is just post its very current situation of urban decay and infrastructure collapse and out the other side to a new and resurrected high-tech city erected on the ashes of the old steel and asphalt core. It’s an interesting idea.

(For another story that takes a completely different tack to the seemingly inevitable fall of Detroit and what rises from its ashes, check out Rachel Aaron’s Nice Dragons Finish Last.)

But back to this version of Detroit and this story.

What if a human being could be their own personal TARDIS? Not that Peri Reed physically takes anyone with her when she “drafts”, but she does jump back in time, just a tiny bit. And when she does, she rewrites history. Unfortunately for her, once the history is rewritten she has to be made to forget the original timeline, or she’ll go crazy.

Drafting is a highly-prized talent, because it is so rare. She can bring about any outcome her handlers want, while erasing the evidence and most of the consequences. She never remembers whatever she did. But Peri is a puppet who doesn’t really know who is pulling her strings. Or she’s a prize-winning bird in a very, very expensive gilded cage. Or a little bit of both. And when she begins to unravel the truth about herself and her puppet masters, all they have to do is make her rewrite the scene where she figures everything out, so they can make her forget all over again.

What are you guilty of if you never remember what you did or why you did it? Is Peri culpable for all of her actions, or is she just the weapon, with her trigger pulled by someone else? And why should she care?

Escape Rating B: It’s the why should she care question that ends up haunting both Peri and the reader. This reader, however, was also left with the question of “why should I care?”, while at the same time unable to forget this story.

Peri is a very, very unreliable narrator for her own life. While we all forget details of our lives over time, Peri is forced to forget weeks, months and even years of her own life, reset back to zero whenever she gets to close to the truth about the organization that uses and sometimes abuses her.

Her entire world is one big lie, and every time she gets close to the center of that lie, she is forced to forget that she ever knew. The devastation wrought by all those resets is hard to imagine. It’s always a wonder that Peri hasn’t gone off the deep end. And the fear of that outcome haunts her at every turn, and is used both to push her into situations she does not want, and to control her when she tries to go her own way. Peri may be a perpetrator, but she is also a victim. And we can never be sure how much she has consented to, and neither can she.

The story here is about Peri’s latest attempt to get to the truth, and then get out with her life and whatever is left of her memory and sanity. Two factions are fighting over her body – Opti, a corrupt government organization that sells Peri’s services to the highest bidder, and The Alliance, an only slightly less corrupt organization that wants to expose Opti and its operations for reasons that are not entirely clear. It’s not that Opti should not be exposed, because they certainly should – it’s that The Alliance and its agenda may not be a much whiter hat in the end. Merely a less dark shade of gray. The individuals on both sides of this equation are amoral operators who see Peri and her talents as just means to their ends. And both feel that their ends justify any means at all.

There’s a bigger mystery at the heart of the book. From Peri’s perspective it’s impossible to tell which side everyone is on. She can’t remember anything from her own past, and everyone seems to be out to wipe her memory and use her again. She’s also finally realized that many of her fears and much of her conditioning are designed to keep her mentally weak and dependent on her handlers, just so she doesn’t figure out what she’s really capable of or what she can really do.

But at the end, there are very few people in this story that the reader can root for. All of the operatives and all of the undercover agents for all of the various factions have all “gone native” to one degree or another. No one has clean hands.

As this story wound down to its conclusion, I found myself caught up in the tension and fast pace. I desperately wanted to get to the heart of the mystery and see how everything finally resolved itself. But at the same time, I found myself not really caring for any of the players. There are no heroes here, only lesser and greater villains.

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