Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop

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Welcome to the Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop,  hosted by The Kids Did It and The Mommy Island.

Winter is definitely coming. Or perhaps it’s already here where you are. It’s chilly and wet in Atlanta, but nothing like the winters we went through in Chicago and Anchorage. In Chicago, you know it’s cold when you are standing on the platform waiting for the “L” and you see the pigeons huddling under the heatlamps on the other side!

I may miss lots of things about both Anchorage and Chicago, but winter is not one of them. Even here in Atlanta, the chillier weather makes a good excuse for staying home and curling up with a cat or two and a good book or ten.

Speaking of curling up with a good book, enter the rafflecopter for your chance at a $10 Gift Card or Book. One way or another there’s something to curl up to in this prize.

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And for more prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on the hop!



Review: Who Watcheth by Helene Tursten

Review: Who Watcheth by Helene TurstenWho Watcheth by Helene Tursten, Marlaine Delargey
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Inspector Huss #9
Pages: 304
Published by Soho Crime on December 6th 2016
Publisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He watches the women from the shadows. He has an understanding with them; as long as they follow his rules, they are safe. But when they sin, he sentences them to death. A woman is found dead in a cemetery, strangled and covered in plastic. Just a few days before her death, the victim had received a flower, an unintelligible note, and a photograph of herself. Detective Inspector Irene Huss and her colleagues on the Goteborg police force have neither clue nor motive to track in the case, and when similar murders follow, their search for the killer becomes increasingly desperate. Meanwhile, strange things have been going on at home for Irene: first the rose bush in her garden is mangled, then she receives a threatening package with no return address . . .

My Review:

The title of this suspense thriller is a play on a very old Latin quotation: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?, literally translated as “Who will guard the guards themselves?” That meaning is only part of the story in Who Watcheth. In this case it also carries the connotation of watching from the shadows. In other words, stalking.

And while the stalker from the shadows forms the bulk of this case, in the end, the question of “who guards the guards?” is the one that is left hanging in the reader’s mind, quivering with possibility. And tragedy.

The story here is one that has been told before, in multiple suspense thrillers. There’s a serial killer on the loose. At first the police, in the person of Detective Inspector Irene Huss, don’t know that the murders of women in their 40s are connected. But as the bodies begin to stack up, the investigators hunt both backwards and forwards, to see if they can determine where the crime spree began, and try to zero in on the man the newspapers are calling “the Package Killer” for the way he leaves his victims neatly bundled up.

The conundrum for the investigators is that the killings appear random. The victims are roughly the same age, and are all unmarried, but otherwise they don’t seem to have much in common. It’s begins to seem as if they all work or at least shop at the same mall, but then, so do thousands of other people. It’s not much of a link.

And it doesn’t help them even when they zero in on a possible suspect. Daniel Borjesson is seriously creepy, but creepiness alone is not a crime. Unfortunately. He gives everyone who deals with him a serious case of the heebie-jeebies, and with good reason. But as much as the man touches off every single investigator’s gut instincts, no one can find a real connection between Borjesson and any of the victims, nor can they find any evidence that the man has access to either the car necessary for transporting his victims or the secure and out-of-the-way premises required to prepare his “packages” so meticulously.

Cop shop politics and the bureaucratic obsession with finances force the detectives to let him go. Their mistake is going to be extremely costly in the end. But for whom?

Escape Rating B+: This is a chilling thriller. It is also a very compelling read. I kept going long after the lights were out, which is a mistake. While this isn’t gory, the atmosphere of creeping menace makes for a tough read when the only light in the house is your iPad. But I absolutely had to finish.

This is the 9th book in the Inspector Huss series and is also part of the current wave of Scandinavian crime fiction. My exposure to that particular wave consists of seeing a few Wallander episodes, and this was my first introduction to Huss, but I still enjoyed the book a great deal, and didn’t feel like I was missing anything by not having read the rest of the series.

On that other hand, the atmosphere of the cop shop and Huss’ relationship with her family reminded me surprisingly of the J.D. Robb In Death series. The investigator’s personal life does find echoes and resonances in her cases, and there are bits about the cop shop and the group dynamics that felt similar across time, place and culture.

In the end, whodunnit is not a surprise to the reader. Much of the compulsion in the narrative revolves around putting the pieces together, and whether the detectives will manage to do so in time. Before the killer strikes again.

And the ending is a stunner.

Review: Hanging the Stars by Rhys Ford

Review: Hanging the Stars by Rhys FordHanging The Stars (Half Moon Bay #2) by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, romantic suspense
Series: Half Moon Bay #2
Pages: 206
Published by Dreamspinner Press on December 5th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Angel Daniels grew up hard, one step ahead of the law and always looking over his shoulder. A grifter’s son, he’d learned every con and trick in the book but ached for a normal life. Once out on his own, Angel returns to Half Moon Bay where he once found…and then lost…love.
Now, Angel’s life is a frantic mess of schedules and chaos. Between running his bakery and raising his troubled eleven-year-old half-brother, Roman, Angel has a hectic but happy life. Then West Harris returns to Half Moon Bay and threatens to break Angel all over again by taking away the only home he and Rome ever had.
When they were young, Angel taught West how to love and laugh but when Angel moved on, West locked his heart up and threw away the key. Older and hardened, West returns to Half Moon and finds himself face-to-face with the man he’d lost. Now, West is torn between killing Angel or holding him tight.
But rekindling their passionate relationship is jeopardized as someone wants one or both of them dead, and as the terrifying danger mounts, neither man knows if the menace will bring them together or forever tear them apart.

My Review:

fish stick fridays by rhys fordIf it wasn’t for bad luck, the Harris family in Half Moon Bay wouldn’t have any luck at all. Or so it seems. In the first book in the series, Fish Stick Fridays, Lang Harris is being stalked by a deranged ex-lover. While Lang does get his happy ever after, it only comes though a LOT of pain.

In Hanging the Stars, the story switches from Lang to his twin brother West. And someone is trying their damndest to kill West. So far, they keep missing, but not by much. They get close enough often enough that West retreats to his remote retreat, a house outside of Half Moon Bay.

It’s where Lang, along with his husband Deke and their niece Zig (the stars of Fish Stick Fridays) can look in on West frequently, and where West has the opportunity to spoil Zig at every turn. West’s and Lang’s relationship has always been a bit fraught, thanks to the way that their icy-cold father pitted them against each other at every turn. But West’s relationship with chaos-agent Zig is a thing of beauty. And joy. Both brothers seem to be lavishing the little girl with all the affection neither of them got as children.

But there’s something else waiting for West Harris in Half Moon Bay, and it’s something that he has been avoiding for years. His past. And that past is all wrapped up in the person of Angel Daniels, the only man that West has ever loved. Even though they left each other behind, in pain and tragedy, back when they were teenagers, no one and nothing has ever gotten that close to West since.

Angel hasn’t moved on either, at least not in that sense. But Angel now has other demands on his time and his heart. He’s become the default guardian for his kid brother Roman, a pre-teen boy dealing not just with the vicious onset of puberty, but also coping somewhere on either the ADHD or autism spectrum, or possibly both.

And someone recovering, just as Angel still is, from their physically and emotionally abusive father.

Angel is also coping with managing the Moonlight Hotel in Half Moon Bay, a decrepit fleabag of a place that he has somehow managed to cobble into a last chance home for all of the town’s misfits. He became the manager of the old hotel, and the owner of the adjacent bakery, in a deal with West and Lang’s grandmother.

It’s all that Angel has, and all that keeps Child Protective Services from sweeping Roman into foster care. And West’s company has been trying to take it away from him, in order to build expensive condos on beautiful Half Moon Bay.

When the threats against West’s life escalate, he’s forced to come back to Half Moon Bay, to confront his past, his company’s rather rapacious present, and all his unresolved feelings for Angel.

While somebody takes potshots at both of them from the shadows.

Escape Rating A-: The mystery here is quite a puzzle. Someone is after West. Someone is also after Angel. And that same someone, whoever it is, keeps trying to pin those crimes on the two would-be victims. In other words, someone is doing a damn good job of making it look like Angel is behind the attacks on West, and vice versa. That nefarious someone doesn’t succeed, but they do make a damn good try of it.

In addition to living through seemingly random attempts at murder, arson and kidnapping, some of which are more successful than others, West is also forced to deal with the discovery that one of his best friends and business partners has been robbing him blind. But that “friend” can’t be the person behind all the mayhem, because the dangers keep escalating after the bastard gets himself killed.

The hits just keep on coming. But in the middle of all the fires, and gunshots, and everything else that keeps going wrong, West and Angel manage to grope their way back to each other. Sometimes through broken glass.

And they start making a home for Roman. It looks like West is planning to spoil Roman every bit as much as he does Zig. Watching the family dynamic start to come together is awesome.

But there is a whodunnit behind it all. I’ll admit that I figured out who must be doing it, or at least part of it, fairly early on. Angel was so worried, and rightly so, about one basty-assed-nastard coming back into their lives that it was bound to happen. I’ll also admit that the motives behind the mess were not completely what I expected.

As much as I loved this book, and as much as I enjoy this series so far, I’m wondering where things go from here. In the author’s Cole McGinnis series, because Cole was a private investigator, it made sense that he kept dodging baddies and bullets, But the level of violence that Lang and West both had to face doesn’t seem organic to what would otherwise be a marvelous small-town romance series. So, even though both characters needed to work through a lot of pain to figure out what they really wanted out of life, I hope that in future installments either the danger ratchets down, or it attaches itself to someone who faces those dangers for a living. No family has this much bad luck.

Or at least I sure hope not. My last name is Harris too!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 12-4-16

Sunday Post

Somebody please remind me never to do this to myself again. Last week I hosted a blog tour every single day. What was I thinking? It’s not that any of the books were bad, because they weren’t. There were no stellar standouts this week, but also no clunkers. But 5 tours means 5 days with no wiggle room whatsoever. When I ran behind, and I did, I couldn’t switch in a novella or a pre-written review to help myself catch up. Never again.

This coming week, I have a whole bunch of things I’m looking forward to. And one review I’ve already written, because I read the book months before publication. And a blog hop. ‘Tis the season to give presents, so there are plenty of blog hops on the way!

blockade by jean johnsonCurrent Giveaways:

The Blockade by Jean Johnson
$25 Gift Card from Harlequin and Gena Showalter
Secrets of Worry Dolls by Amy Impellizzeri
10 copies of Size Matters by Alison Bliss

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Gift Card in the Gratitude Giveaway Hop is Christie K.
The winner of the $10 Gift Card in the Black Friday Book Bonanza is Courtney W.

duke of pleasure by elizabeth hoytBlog Recap:

B+ Review: The Blockade by Jean Johnson + Giveaway
B+ Review: Duke of Pleasure by Elizabeth Hoyt
B Review: The Darkest Torment by Gena Showalter + Giveaway
B Review: Secrets of Worry Dolls by Amy Impellizzeri + Giveaway
B Review: Size Matters by Alison Bliss + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (212)

winteriscomingbuttonComing Next Week:

Hanging the Stars by Rhys Ford (review)
Who Watcheth by Helene Tursten (review)
Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop
Hero by Anna Hackett (review)
The Operator by Kim Harrison (blog tour review)

Stacking the Shelves (212)

Stacking the Shelves

This is what I get for skipping a week. Now I have a serious haul.

As interesting as so many of these books look, the one that is making my heart go pitter-patter is Cold Welcome by Elizabeth Moon. I loved her Vatta’s War series. I read it and Tanya Huff’s Confederation/Valor series at about the same time, so they are inextricably linked in my memory, as are their kick-ass heroines, Kylara Vatta and Torin Kerr. Last year, Huff returned to the Confederation series after a few years hiatus with An Ancient Peace, and in 2017 it’s Kylara Vatta’s turn. I can hardly wait. And probably won’t. I have a feeling Cold Welcome is going to pop to the top of the TBR pile long before its pub date.

For Review:
Bit Rot by Douglas Coupland
Cold Welcome (Vatta’s Peace #1) by Elizabeth Moon
Dawn Study (Soulfinders #3) by Maria V. Snyder
Diffraction (Atrophy #3) by Jess Anastasi
Dreadnought (Nemesis #1) by April Daniels
The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel
Hero (Galactic Gladiators #3) by Anna Hackett
The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff
Murder Between the Lines (Kitty Weeks #2) by Radha Vatsal
Pack Enforcer (Cascadia Wolves #1) by Lauren Dane
Reluctant Mate (Cascadia Wolves #0.5) by Lauren Dane
Roman (Cold Fury Hockey #7) by Sawyer Bennett

Purchased from Amazon:
Chasing the Last Laugh by Richard Zacks

Review: Size Matters by Alison Bliss + Giveaway

Review: Size Matters by Alison Bliss + GiveawaySize Matters (A Perfect Fit #1) by Alison Bliss
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Perfect Fit #1
Pages: 336
Published by Forever on November 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The rules of (fake) engagement . . .Leah Martin has spent her life trying to avoid temptation. But she's sick of low-fat snacks, counting calories, and her hyper-critical mom. Fortunately, her popular new bakery keeps her good and distracted. But there aren't enough éclairs in the world to distract Leah from the hotness that is Sam Cooper - or the fact that he just told her mother that they're engaged . . . which is a big, fat lie.
Sam sometime speaks before he thinks. So what started out as defending Leah's date-ability to her judgmental mother soon turned into having a fiancee! Now the plan is to keep up the fake engagement, stay "just friends," and make Leah's family loathe him enough to just call the whole thing off . But Sam has an insatiable sweet tooth, not only for Leah's decadent desserts but her decadent curves. Her full lips. Her bright green eyes. Yep, things aren't going quite according to plan. Now Sam has to convince Leah that he's for real . . . before their little lie turns into one big, sweet disaster.

My Review:

This story may be the longest misunderstandammit ever. But it works. Mostly.

Sam and Leah spend most of this story talking past each other, and even past the best parts of their own selves. And they are stuck in a situation where just asking for what the other person meant just isn’t gonna happen.

It’s not exactly a meet cute. Sam and his friend Max meet Leah and her friend Valerie at one of the local dives. Max wants to hit on Valerie, and asks Sam to keep Leah occupied while he dances with her friend and tries to talk her into a whole lot more.

But Max and Valerie are not the couple who end up going home together. Just not in the way that anyone expected.

Leah is not exactly a size 2. She’s may be bigger than average, which in the US these days is more like a size 14 or 16 than anywhere near a size 2. She never actually says what size she wears, and that’s really not the point. The point is that Leah has absolutely terrible body-image problems. It’s not just that society keeps pushing the stick-thin model as the ideal, but that Leah’s conventional and uptight mother picks at Leah about her weight every single minute every time she’s with her family. Oh, and her ex-fiance broke up with her in favor of a Barbie-doll Leah calls Miss Anorexia.

Her mother’s harping and carping would be enough to give ANYONE a complex of one kind or another.

So when Sam starts dancing with her at the bar, and then blows hot and cold in turns, Leah is just sure it’s all about her size. Sam, on the other hand, finds her curvy body incredibly hot. But he’s decided to take a break from relationships after his last girlfriend got more than a bit psycho.

It really isn’t her, it’s him. But he’s such a complete doofus about it that Leah easily slips into her go-to response, that the problem is all her. That there’s just too much of her. So she tries to drink away her pain and Sam ends up taking her home.

The problem is that Sam really likes Leah, and also seriously has the hots for her. He just keeps telling himself that he doesn’t and that he shouldn’t. But his inner conflict means that every time they run into each other, he puts both his feet in his mouth up to the knees, and gets both of them further and further into hot water.

And that’s how their fake engagement comes about. He keeps saying he’ll help Leah find a halfway graceful way to end it, but every time he thinks he’s going to try, he just lands them both deeper in the soup. And he keeps hurting Leah over and over, which is the last thing he wants to do.

It takes a big man to admit he’s made a terrible mistake. Especially when he keeps making it over and over. And over. It’s time for Sam to finally tell his head to STFU, and listen to his heart. Before he breaks Leah’s.

Escape Rating B: Misunderstandammits don’t normally work for me. This one pretty much did, because it’s not so much about the heroine and hero not listening to each other as the hero and heroine (particularly the hero) not listening to themselves. It’s difficult to be upfront with another person when you’re that messed up inside.

I liked Sam, but I felt for Leah. Those messages that a woman can never be too thin (or too rich) are very hard for all of us to ignore. We’ve all told ourselves the same terrible self-talk messages that often spout out of Leah’s mother, or in her own head. But the way that her mother constantly cut her down, not just in private but also in public, made my blood boil. When Leah finally tells her to stuff it, I wanted to stand up and cheer for her. Even if the book didn’t end in a romantic HEA, that scene made the story for me. By that point I was beyond sick and tired of her mother’s crap, and it needed to end. As much as I felt for Leah in this regard, the vicious backbiting went on far too long.

The fake engagement trope is always a fun one to play with. This time was a bit different. Yes, the fake fiances turn the fake into real, as expected. But before the end, Leah was the one who stood with her head held high, and Sam was the one who had to seriously grovel to make up for his many, many shortcomings. There are too many romances where the hero is forgiven everything with very little effort on his part. Sam grovels both sufficiently and well. As he should.

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

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Review: Secrets of Worry Dolls by Amy Impellizzeri + Giveaway

Review: Secrets of Worry Dolls by Amy Impellizzeri + GiveawaySecrets of Worry Dolls by Amy Impellizzeri
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 312
Published by Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing on December 1st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

According to Mayan tradition, if you whisper your troubles to the Worry Dolls, they will do the worrying instead of you--therefore, it follows that Worry Dolls are the keepers of a great many secrets . . .
On the eve of the end of the world--according to the Mayan calendar--Mari Guarez Roselli's secrets are being unraveled by her daughter, Lu.
Lu's worry dolls are at-capacity as she tries to outrun the ghosts from her past--including loved ones stolen on 9/11--by traveling through her mother's homeland of Guatemala, to discover the painful reasons behind her own dysfunctional childhood, and why she must trust in the magic of the legend.

My Review:

This is a slow-simmering story, as we read about mother-and-daughter Mari and Lu, each from their own very distinct, if equally unreliable, perspectives.

These two women have been touched by tragedy, over and over. They both seem to survive, and yet, neither of them really does. And the tragedies they share drive them even further apart than the ones they experienced separately.

As the story begins, Lu is at the airport, wandering a bit because she chose not to take her scheduled flight to her mother’s home country of Guatemala. Lu just wasn’t ready for the trip, or for whatever secrets her mother expected to be revealed to her.

Lu was even less prepared to hear over the airport’s speakers that the plane that she was supposed to be on had crashed with no survivors. And that the crash site was her own little community in New Jersey.

This was the second time that Lu had dodged fate. She was supposed to have been on a school trip on September 11, 2001 to see the World Trade Center. In the midst of a snit with her twin sister Rae, Lu decided not to go. So Lu was at school when the towers fell, and her sister died. She lost her father that day as well, he was a firefighter, a first responder, and he never made it out.

Lu might as well have lost her mother that day too. Mari retreated for long stretches of time in to the sleeping pills and wine that had always been her crutch. The only difference now was that Lu at least knew what drove her mother to self-medicate her pain and loss.

When Lu comes back from the airport, she discovers that she is the only member of her family left behind, as tragedy has struck again. Her mother is in a coma as a result of the plane crash. And her mother is pregnant.

From this point we view the story from two diverging viewpoints. With Lu, we see her childhood and young adulthood as she remembers them, and we see Lu in the present, coping with the decisions that must be made about the care of not only her mother, but of her unborn brother or sister. And we see her finally take the trip that her mother meant her to take, the trip to discover the truth about Mari’s past.

But we also view that past from Mari’s perspective. Within the depths of her coma, she seems to be telling, at last, the true story of her life to her unborn child. And as the past merges with the present, the joys, the sorrows, and the regrets are finally laid bare.

Escape Rating B: This story takes a while to go from a simmer to a boil. It feels as if the first two thirds are set up, and the final third is the payoff. But it definitely does pay off marvelously in that last third. The story in the present is from Lu’s perspective, and for a lot of the book, she is just barely treading water. Her life seems to have been on hold since 9/11. She can’t seem to let herself live. She can’t even manage to let herself leave the island community of Rock Harbor that both shelters and imprisons her.

There are so many things that Lu doesn’t know, and so much that she doesn’t want to tell herself.

But Mari is an even more unreliable narrator. She has been hiding the facts of her early life from Lu, and also from herself. There is too much in the past that she hasn’t wanted to face – which has not kept that past from haunting her life.

There’s also an element of magical realism in the way that this story works. After all, how are we reading Mari’s perspective? She is in a coma in the present throughout the entirety of this book. And yet, it feels right that we learn about her in her own voice.

The story revolves around choices, the different choices that women make, and the different choices that are available to them. So much of what went wrong in Mari’s life revolves around her choices and the choices of those around her. Lu seems to be trying to avoid making choices, until she finally realizes that she has to face up to them. In the end, she makes the choice that is right for her, and after having lived through her story, we feel it with her.

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

I am giving away a copy of Secrets of Worry Dolls to one lucky US/Canadian commenter on this tour.

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Review: The Darkest Torment by Gena Showalter + Giveaway

Review: The Darkest Torment by Gena Showalter + GiveawayThe Darkest Torment by Gena Showalter
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Lords of the Underworld #12
Pages: 576
Published by Harlequin Books on November 22nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


Can Beauty tame her Beast?


Driven to his death by the demon of Distrust, Baden spent centuries in purgatory. Now he's back, but at what cost? Bound to the king of the underworld, an even darker force, he's unable to withstand the touch of another and he's quickly devolving into a heartless assassin with an uncontrollable temper. Things only get worse when a mission goes awry and he finds himself saddled with a bride just not his own.
Famed dog trainer Katarina Joelle is forced to marry a monster to protect her loved ones. When she's taken hostage by the ruthless, beautiful Baden immediately after the ceremony, she's plunged into a war between two evils with a protector more dangerous than the monsters he hunts. They are meant to be enemies, but neither can resist the passion burning between them and all too soon the biggest threat is to her heart.
But as Baden slips deeper into the abyss, she'll have to teach him to love or lose him forever.

My Review:

The concept that training a demon, or training a man, is just like training a dog, is too funny not to share. This may be the first time I’ve read about a heroine who directly compares her hero to a canine – and a not very well behaved one at that.

Baden and Katarina don’t exactly seem made for each other when they meet, and it is far, far from a meet-cute.

Katarina is in the midst of her forced wedding to a man who has threatened to kill her dogs if she doesn’t obey. Katarina may hate him (she does) and he’s thoroughly evil (which he is) but she loves the dogs she’s trained. She also loves her brother, who is currently a minion of said evil bastard – because said evil bastard is supplying him with heroin.

Katarina’s life would seem to have reached the depths of extreme suckitude, until her wedding is invaded by Baden and the Lords of the Underworld. Baden is running errands for Hades, fighting on the front lines of a war in the underworld. Said evil bastard, named Alek, has something that Hades wants. When he refuses to give it up – I said he was evil, right? – Baden takes Katarina, still in her hated wedding gown, instead.

Too bad this happens after the “I do’s”.

Katarina finds herself in the middle of that underworld war. Hades may be bad (he is!) but his enemy Lucifer is much, much worse. And Baden is caught in the thick of the action. Since Baden can’t let go of Katarina until he gets back whatever Alek has, Katarina is in the thick of it right along with him.

Her beloved dogs have been killed. Alek murdered them to get vicarious revenge on Katarina. When she emerges from her grief, she is presented with two gamboling puppies who need her protection. But Gravy and Pudding don’t need Katarina nearly as much as Baden does. The more Hades tries to turn Baden to the dark side, the more light that Katarina shines into his life.

But human and weak Katarina can’t survive among the immortal badasses in the middle of this battle. At least not until she develops some badass powers of her own. Human Katarina could never be the mate the Baden needed, but badass Katarina gives even Hades a run for his money.

And who knew that it would be so much fun to give a hellhound a bath?

Escape Rating B: This entry in the Lords of the Underworld series definitely has a “Beauty and the Beast” vibe. Katarina has to tame both Baden and the beast of Destruction who shares his soul. That she manages to do it is a testament to her skill as a dog trainer, because at the beginning, both Baden and Destruction are dogs with plenty of bark and a potentially deadly bite.

darkest touch by gena showalterThe Lords of the Underworld series is now 12 books in, and that’s a lot of backstory. I read a few of the early books, way back when, and picked up the next-most-recent, The Darkest Touch, earlier this year. It refreshed my memory on the general arc of the series, but my memory of all the individuals who have marauded through the pages is just a bit hazy. I still had fun.

The premise of the series is that the warriors who opened Pandora’s Box, millennia ago, were each infested with a demon bearing one of the plagues that was let out of the box. Now they are desperately trying to find a way to end their curse, as each of the warriors finds true love and some redemption. While it isn’t necessary to read the entire series to get in on the current action, the author’s guide to the current members of the troupe that features at the end of The Darkest Torment is a big help. This game has oodles of players, and it’s very nice to have a scorecard.

There is a bit of Stockholm Syndrome in the romance between Katarina and Baden, although there are points where the reader isn’t sure who captured whom. She does get dragged off at the beginning, but Baden is a way better bet than Alek, even with the demon of Destruction inside him. Alek is just that bad.

Katarina shows a lot of spine in dealing with Baden’s high-handedness, but it’s difficult to lose consciousness of the fact that he can overwhelm her at any time. It’s his desire for her willing cooperation that keeps him in check, and sometimes not much else. I’m glad that the initial extreme power imbalance is addressed before the HFN ending.

I’m only saying this is Happy For Now rather than Happy Ever After because the war in the underworld is still looming over everything. If our heroes don’t win the day, no one is getting much of an ever after at all.

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

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Review: Duke of Pleasure by Elizabeth Hoyt

Review: Duke of Pleasure by Elizabeth HoytDuke of Pleasure (Maiden Lane, #11) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Maiden Lane #11
Pages: 364
Published by Grand Central Publishing on November 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

IN THE ARMS OF DANGER
Bold. Brave. Brutally handsome. Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, is the king's secret weapon. Sent to defeat the notorious Lords of Chaos, he is ambushed in a London alley—and rescued by an unlikely ally: a masked stranger with the unmistakable curves of a woman.
IN THE HEAT OF DESIRE
Cocky. Clever. Courageously independent. Alf has survived on the perilous streets of St. Giles by disguising her sex. By day she is a boy, dealing in information and secrets. By night she's the notorious Ghost of St. Giles, a masked vigilante. But as she saves Hugh from assassins, she finds herself succumbing to temptation.
ONE KISS WILL CHANGE THEIR LIVES FOREVER
When Hugh hires Alf to investigate the Lords of Chaos, her worlds collide. Once Hugh realizes that the boy and the Ghost are the same, will Alf find the courage to become the woman she needs to be—before the Lords of Chaos destroy them both?

My Review:

The fairy tale romance of the tale of The Black Prince and the Golden Falcon that heads each chapter of Duke of Pleasure makes for a perfect framing story – because Duke of Pleasure is also, in its own way, a fairy tale romance.

I’ve read some of the early entries in the Maiden Lane series, but somewhere along the way it fell victim to the “so many books, so little time” problem, and I stopped. But if you have never read the series, or dipped into it once or twice and lost track, don’t let Duke of Pleasure being book 11 in the series stop you from starting, or picking up, here. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of carry-over from one book to the next.

“Ghost of St. Giles” is a title, and not an individual. Think of it as the “Dread Pirate Roberts”. Alf may be the “Ghost’ at the moment, but others have held the title and worn the motley before her, and others will after she retires. It is necessary to keep the stews and rookeries of St. Giles just a bit safer for the poverty-stricken residents that there BE a Ghost, but the actual identity of the current Ghost is always closely held secret.

So when the notorious Ghost of St. Giles rescues the infamous Duke of Kyle from what seems to be the entire Scarlet Throat gang, he has no idea that the Ghost is a woman, or even that they have met before. Once upon a time, Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, tried to hire Alf, the well-known information peddler in St. Giles, to investigate one of his enemies. Alf didn’t take the job because he was currently working for said enemy. But mostly, Alf works for himself.

Actually herself. Life in St. Giles as a boy is difficult and dangerous enough. Attempting to live as a woman would just make her a target. And skirts are extremely difficult to fight in. So Alf hides herself behind her persona as a very young man. Until the Duke first discovers that the Ghost is a woman, and subsequently that Alf is the Ghost. And therefore, a woman.

And he needs Alf to be a woman, to help him infiltrate and investigate the nefarious Lords of Chaos. He has the devil’s own time admitting to himself that he just needs, and wants, Alf. Exactly as she is. Swords, knives, and all. And to hell with what society wants, or thinks, about it.

He just has to convince Alf that risking her heart with him won’t mean losing everything she is.

Escape Rating B+: I actually looked for the fairy tale of The Black Prince and the Golden Falcon. Told in the chapter headers, it’s an absolutely lovely (if slightly trope-y) fairy tale romance. And it’s the perfect parallel to Hugh and Alf’s own story.

Not that there is any sorcerous magic in Hugh and Alf’s story, just that it feels equally unlikely. It’s still absolutely lovely, but there’s just a touch of fairy tale magic in the romance of the bastard duke and the surprisingly innocent yet still extremely cynical girl from the very mean streets.

Alf and Hugh are fascinating characters, and make an interesting, if very unconventional for their times, couple. Hugh is a secret agent for the crown, a crown that happens to be worn by his father. Hugh is an acknowledged bastard of King George II of England. But that little accident of birth isn’t half as interesting as the way that Hugh acts. Not the secret agent bit, fascinating as that is, but the way he lives. His men are all his former soldiers, and he treats them not merely well, but as close to equal as their relative positions let them manage. And Hugh is a single father to two young sons, one of whom is not his by blood. And he doesn’t care. He is desperate to re-forge a relationship with them and take care of them personally, not merely packing them off to the nursery wing.

Alf is equally surprising, and slightly more anachronistic. But her independence makes sense within the world as portrayed. Disguising herself as a boy would have been much safer under the circumstances. And while it is a disguise that she is cognizant of, and not a gender identity, it is a disguise that she has been wearing since she was 5 years old. When she has to play at being a lady, that is the act for Alf. The problem for her is that after allowing herself to be a woman, she is caught between worlds. She doesn’t want to go back to being just Alf, but she also doesn’t have the skills or even the desire to be a typical woman of that time. She wants to be “Alf who is a woman” and doesn’t know how to find a place where she fits.

One of the marvelous things about the story is that Hugh doesn’t want Alf to be anyone other than Alf. Yes, he wants her to be a female Alf, because this romance, but he doesn’t want her to pretend to be a lady, or to take on typical ladylike behaviors. A big part of what he loves about her is that she is as addicted to danger and adrenaline as he is. They are a match, once he gets his head out of his gorgeous ass to admit it.

Reviewer’s note: In the book blurb, Hugh is referred to as “brutally handsome”. If the phrase is familiar, that’s because it is a line from The Eagles’ song Life in the Fast Lane. The complete line is “He was a hard-headed man, he was brutally handsome, and she was terminally pretty.” which is also a surprisingly accurate portrait of Hugh’s first marriage.

DUKE-OF-PLEASURE-Launch-Day-Blitz

Review: The Blockade by Jean Johnson + Giveaway

Review: The Blockade by Jean Johnson + GiveawayThe Blockade (First Salik War, #3) by Jean Johnson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction
Series: First Salik War #3
Pages: 416
Published by Ace on November 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The national bestselling author of The V’Dan returns to her gripping military sci-fi series set in the same world as Theirs Not to Reason Why. The First Salik War is underway, and the Alliance is losing—their newest allies must find a way to win, or everyone will be slaughtered.  Though committed to helping their V’Dan cousins, the Terrans resent how their allies treat them. The V’Dan in turn feel the Terrans are too unseasoned to act independently. And the other nations fear that ending the Salik War means starting a Human Civil War.   Even as Imperial Prince Li’eth and Ambassador Jackie MacKenzie struggle to get their peoples to cooperate, they still face an ethical dilemma: How do you stop a ruthless, advanced nation from attacking again and again without slaughtering them in turn?

My Review:

terrans by jean johnsonI started reading The Blockade almost as soon as I received the eARC. I absolutely adored the first book in the series, The Terrans, and mostly liked the second book, The V’Dan. The V’Dan ended on a terrible cliffhanger, and I just couldn’t wait to find out how the story ended. Especially as this entire series is a prequel to one of my all -time favorite series, Theirs Not to Reason Why.

So I had a lot invested coming into this book. And I inhaled it in about a day. Weekends are wonderful for spending LOTS of time curled up with a good book.

However, while I got very, very caught up in my visit to the First Salik War, I found the book just a bit anti-climactic. And I’m feeling a bit sad about that.

The story begins with that horrid cliffie from the end of The V’Dan. Li’eth and Jackie have been separated through an act of supreme skullduggery (not to mention overwhelming idiocy) on the part of his sister, the Crown Princess Vi’alla. This separation isn’t just a romantic problem, it’s a separation that is going to kill them both if it goes on too long. The elasticity of that “too long” hasn’t been researched much, because the problems are just too great.

If any of the above makes you think that you should read this series in order, you are correct. This universe is a marvelous creation, but there are only two starting points. Either start with The Terrans, or start with A Soldier’s Duty, the first book in Theirs Not to Reason Why. There are valid arguments for starting in either place. The First Salik War takes place a century or so before the events in A Soldier’s Duty, but Duty was written first.

vdan by jean johnsonAs established in The Terrans and The V’Dan, our heroes are a gestalt pair – they are bonded at the psychic level. While this was not intentional, more like an act of whatever gods one cares to blame, it is a fact in this universe. Gestalt pairs who are separated die.

So Li’eth’s sister has sentenced both her brother and the Terran ambassador to death at the end of The V’Dan. Fortunately for all concerned, her mother the Empress turns out to be not as wounded as Vi’alla wanted to believe at the end of that book, and takes control back over in relatively short order at the beginning of this story, which does not begin to undo the damage that Vi’alla has done to Terran-V’Dan relations or to her own family.

The resolution of that particular thread of the story is explosive – but it felt like it occurred much too early in the book to maintain needed dramatic tension. To this reader, it felt like everything after that point was mop-up. Very important mop-up, but mop-up nevertheless.

Escape Rating B+: I did swallow The Blockade pretty much whole, which is what gets me to that B+ rating. I like these people, especially Ambassador Jackie MacKenzie, and was rooting for them every step of the way.

In my review of The V’Dan over at The Book Pushers, I said that I would finish this series just to read more of Jackie’s adventures, and that is pretty much what happened. I had to see how things turned out for her, and I definitely wanted her to find a way to her own happy ever after. She earned it.

This story has a moral dilemma at its center. The Salik have to be stopped. They don’t just want to conquer the V’Dan and the Terrans, they want to eat them. For dinner. Or any other meal. The truly nasty thing about the Salik is that they prefer intelligent prey, and want that prey to be alive, kicking and watching as long as possible as their parts are eaten. There’s no way not to reflexively shiver at the very thought.

But there has to be an answer. They can’t be left to roam the galaxy searching for lunch – because their lunch has the same right to exist as they do. At the same time, the Salik are an intelligent race themselves. They might evolve past their current predatory pattern if they have enough time to learn the error of their ways. Genocide is not the right answer, although it often feels like it might be the expedient answer. The core dilemma that drives the end of the book is how to contain the Salik without destroying them.

soldiers duty mediumNot just because genocide is wrong, but because we have already seen the future, and the damned frogtopi are going to be needed. And if that statement intrigues you, and you haven’t yet read A Soldier’s Duty, start now!

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

The publisher is letting me give away a copy of The Blockade to one lucky US/CAN commenter.

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