Review: Staying for Good by Catherine Bybee + Giveaway

Review: Staying for Good by Catherine Bybee + GiveawayStaying For Good by Catherine Bybee
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Most Likely To #2
Pages: 320
Published by Montlake Romance on January 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Zoe Brown may have been voted Most Likely to Never Leave River Bend, but the paper-thin walls and suffocating air of her family’s double-wide trailer were not what she wanted for her life. Other than BFFs Melanie and Jo, the only thing that kept Zoe sane during high school was her boyfriend, Luke.
She didn’t just leave, she escaped—turning her back on the shame of her black-sheep siblings and imprisoned dad. Now a celebrity chef in Dallas, she can afford all the things she never could have growing up. But when she returns to rustic, ruggedly beautiful River Bend, Zoe has to face all that she abandoned—including Luke.
While Luke was a refuge for Zoe in the past, he knows they inhabit totally different worlds now. Anchored by his parents and his job as a mechanic in his father’s shop, Luke never felt the urge to leave River Bend—until Zoe’s return.
But when the two rekindle their old flame, Zoe is forced to make the hardest decision of her life: remain in River Bend and confront her past before it destroys her, or say good-bye to everyone she’s ever loved…again, this time for good.

My Review:

doing it over by catherine bybeeIn a lot of ways, Staying for Good has more in common with yesterday’s book, The Cottage at Firefly Lake, than it does with the first book in its own series, Doing It Over.

These are all small-town romances that have at their heart a sisterly relationship. And it doesn’t matter a bit that the women in Cottage are sisters-by-blood while the women in the Most Likely To series are sisters-of-the-heart. The relationships are equally deep and equally lasting.

Also equally life-changing.

Unlike Doing it Over, the love stories in both The Cottage at Firefly Lake and Staying for Good are second chance romances. And they are second chances of the same type. Just as in Cottage, heroine Zoe Brown in Staying for Good gave up the love of her life when she left her small town after high school, and became a big star in a demanding field.

The causes were similar in both cases. Zoe absolutely had to leave River Bend, while Luke had always planned to stay. They didn’t fall out of love, they just went in completely separate directions. But they broke up before they had a chance to discover whether they could work long-distance, and never got past the loss.

Zoe has become a famous chef, both on TV and in restaurant gigs around the country. She’s come far from her origins in River Bend as the daughter of a violent abusive convict and his co-dependent victim. She came back to River Bend in Doing It Over, and discovered that not nearly enough had changed.

She still felt much too much for Luke, and her birth family was still much too much of a messy drama. She had tried to help as best she could, but her mother seems to be beyond help, and her brother and sister seem set to follow all the bad family patterns.

There’s nothing left in River Bend for Zoe except her sisters-of-the-heart, Jo and Mel, her surrogate mother Gina, and, of course, Luke. Who she shouldn’t want but still does.

Zoe is back again to help plan Mel’s wedding (see Doing it Over for deets) and steps right back into the family mess when her not-so-dear-old-dad gets parole, and immediately returns to his destructive ways.

But Zoe isn’t a child anymore. This time, she fights back. With Luke at her side, every step of the way.

Escape Rating B+: In spite of how many times I mentioned it above, you don’t actually have to read Doing it Over to enjoy Staying for Good. But it’s a terrific story, and if you enjoy small-town romances mixed with stories of deep women’s friendships, it’s a lovely book.

Back to Staying for Good. This is a story with three separate branches. One is, of course, the second chance at love between Zoe and Luke. They’ve spent years avoiding each other, and have both tried to move on. But it has been over 10 years, and neither of them has found anyone to replace the other in their lives. Not only has neither of them even flirted with the idea of a serious relationship with anyone else, but neither of them has found anyone who simply “gets” them the way the other does. They were best friends as well as lovers, and neither of them has found anyone who can fill both pairs of those shoes.

They’ve also both reached crossroads in their lives. Luke has been content in River Bend, running the local car repair garage with his father. But the small town is starting to feel a bit stifling. Or perhaps boring. He’s nearly 30 and hasn’t been anywhere or done much of anything with his life. Whether it’s his feet that are itchy or just his heart is a question he needs to answer.

Zoe, on the other hand, has been at the top of the chef’s world for several years. She can work where she wants, when she wants, and is a frequent guest chef at top restaurants and on big-name TV cooking shows. But she doesn’t really have a life. And while she doesn’t miss her parents much, she is worried about her younger brother and sister and misses her circle of friends a great deal.

She’s ready to put down roots, but not sure where to sink them. And she’s starting to realize that her heart is back in River Bend, even if her work is elsewhere.

Into the middle of Zoe and Luke’s romantic dilemma, Zoe is also in the middle of her own family drama. Her father fits the classic portrait of an abuser. He beat his wife, he beat his kids, he was worse when he drank, and he was just a mean bastard all the way around. He was also an expert manipulator. And when he returns from prisoner, he goes right back to manipulating the family. Since Zoe is not only out, but willing to throw a lifeline to any of her family members who are willing to grab it, he does his level best (and worst) to alienate the family from her. And he nearly succeeds.

making it right by catherine bybee(I will say that the way that this part of the story is resolved reminds me a bit too much of Doing it Over. Without spoiling the story, let me say that this particular method of resolution veers into deus ex machina territory when repeated, so I hope that the budding suspense angle in the third book in the series doesn’t resolve quite the same way.)

The final thread to the story, of course, is the sisterly bond between Zoe, Mel and Jo. This isn’t just Zoe’s story, it’s also all of theirs. The portrayal of the friendship between these women is always marvelous. Because all three of these women are fantastic characters, I’m really looking forward to Jo’s story in Making it Right.

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

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Review: The Cottage at Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy + Giveaway

Review: The Cottage at Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy + GiveawayThe Cottage at Firefly Lake (Firefly Lake, #1) by Jen Gilroy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Firefly Lake #1
Pages: 368
Published by Forever on January 31st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Some mistakes can never be fixed and some secrets never forgiven . . . but some loves can never be forgotten.
Charlotte Gibbs wants nothing more than to put the past behind her, once and for all. But now that she's back at Firefly Lake to sell her mother's cottage, the overwhelming flood of memories reminds her of what she's been missing. Sun-drenched days. Late-night kisses that still shake her to the core. The gentle breeze off the lake, the scent of pine in the air, and the promise of Sean's touch on her skin . . . True, she got her dream job traveling the world. But at what cost?
Sean Carmichael still doesn't know why Charlie disappeared that summer, but after eighteen years, a divorce, and a teenage son he loves more than anything in the world, he's still not over her. All this time and her body still fits against his like a glove. She walked away once when he needed her the most. How can he convince her to stay now?

My Review:

The Cottage at Firefly Lake is a book about second chances. Not just the second chance at love that forms the backbone of the story, but also a second chance at family, and a second chance at life. Or perhaps that last would be better referred to as a “do over” at life. You be the judge.

Charlotte and Mia Gibbs have returned to Firefly Lake to sell their late mother’s cottage. It’s the place where they spent their summers, and it’s all they have left of their mother. It’s also a place they both love and resent, and now it represents a chance for both of them to get some financial security at the cost of losing their last connection to their mother.

And possibly their last real connection to each other.

Charlotte and Mia were “summer people” in the community, but for Charlie it was much, much more. Charlie didn’t feel like she fit in with her family, with her perfect homemaker mother and her seemingly equally perfect sister Mia. Instead, Charlie wanted adventure, and she spent those childhood summers with her best friend, local boy Sean Carmichael.

Their intense childhood friendship matured into an equally intense teenage love. But Sean was tied to Firefly Lake and the boat crafting and marina business that had been in his family for generations. Charlie was off to college and a career as a foreign correspondent. And even though she didn’t know exactly where she would end up, she knew at 18 that what she wanted was to travel and explore, not tie herself to the tiny Vermont lake town, no matter how much she loved it, or Sean.

But instead of a natural breakup over time and diverging interests, Charlie left Sean suddenly and inexplicably, and neither of them ever got over it. They’ve never gotten past the intensity of that teenage love, even though Charlie has had a terrific and exciting career, and Sean has been married (now divorced) and has a son turning 16.

There’s too much unfinished business between them.

Charlie and Mia need to sell the cottage. Badly. Mia fears that her husband is about to leave her with their two daughters and no career to fall back on. And she’s right. Charlie recently survived an IED attack while on assignment, and her insurance didn’t cover all the resulting medical bills. Her savings are tapped, and she is all too aware that she has no one to rely on in a crisis except her current shaky self.

But the only offer on the table is one that will change Firefly Lake forever, and not in a way that anyone wants. It’s up to Charlie to find a way to make things work – for the town, for her sister, for herself, and most of all, for any possible future she might have with Sean.

If he can get his head out of his ass long enough to finally figure out that he has to meet her halfway – wherever that might be.

Escape Rating B+: It was terrific to read something a bit light and fluffy after yesterday’s much more serious book. The Cottage at Firefly Lake was a great little pick-me-up.

It also felt more than a bit familiar.

Separated by several states, Mary McNear’s Butternut Lake series (start with Up at Butternut Lake) has the same feel as Firefly Lake. It is also a small town with a lake at its center and heart. And it is also a place where people get a second chance at love, and where sisters get a second chance to find each other, particularly in the most recent book in the series, The Space Between Sisters. Anyone who loves Butternut Lake will also enjoy Firefly Lake, and very much vice versa.

Meanwhile, back in Vermont at Firefly Lake, this story is a lovely introduction to the place and to the series. It’s a story with several threads, and they blend together pretty well.

The big story isn’t the romance, it’s the relationship between sisters Charlie and Mia. They’re sisters, and they love each other, but they are also distant and don’t know each other. There’s also a whole lot of sisterly envy going on, as each of them believes that the other has the “perfect life” and each of them believes that the other had a happier, or at least easier, childhood and adolescence with their late parents.

And there’s a whole lot of family history bound up very interestingly in this story. Not just the Gibbs’ family, but also Sean’s family. And let’s just say that the late Dr. Gibbs was a real piece of work, with all of the negative connotations of that phrase. He’s still messing up everyone’s lives, even from the grave.

One of the great things about this story is the way that the romance develops. Even though Sean and Charlie never really got over each other, they also both recognize that they are not the same people they were half a lifetime ago. They don’t exactly take it slow, but they also don’t gloss over the fact that if they want to have a relationship, it has to be in this present and not the past. Nothing about this is easy.

There’s a lot to love at Firefly Lake. I’m looking forward to a return visit in Summer on Firefly Lake, appropriately scheduled for this summer.

CottageAtFireflyLake_LaunchDayBlitz

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

Jen and Forever are giving away 10 paperback copies of The Cottage at Firefly Lake to lucky participants in this tour!

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Review: On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins + Giveaway

Review: On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins + GiveawayOn Second Thought by Kristan Higgins
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 480
Published by HQN Books on January 31st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Following in the footsteps of her critically acclaimed novel
If You Only Knew
, multi-bestselling author Kristan Higgins returns with a pitch-perfect look at the affection—and the acrimony—that binds sisters together 
Ainsley O'Leary is so ready to get married—she's even found the engagement ring her boyfriend has stashed away. What she doesn't anticipate is for Eric to blindside her with a tactless breakup he chronicles in a blog…which (of course) goes viral. Devastated and humiliated, Ainsley turns to her half sister, Kate, who's already struggling after the sudden loss of her new husband. 
Kate has always been so poised, so self-assured, but Nathan's death shatters everything she thought she knew—including her husband—and sometimes the people who step up aren't the ones you expect. With seven years and a murky blended-family dynamic between them, Ainsley and Kate have never been overly close, but their shared sorrow dovetails their faltering worlds into one. 
Despite the lifetime of history between them, the sisters must learn to put their differences aside and open their hearts to the inevitable imperfection of family—and the possibility of one day finding love again.

My Review:

This is a lovely story about second chances. Not just second chances at love, but also second chances at family, friendship and career fulfillment. And especially a second chance at being sisters.

The story is told from the alternating points of view of Kate and Ainsley, half-sisters who have a lifetime of almost-but-not-quite closeness between them. And a really weird family dynamic. Their father, a Major League Baseball umpire, left Kate’s mother to marry Ainsley’s mother. Three years later, with the love of his life dead and a very young daughter to raise, their father begged his first wife to take him back. And she did, but she never completely lost her resentment of the whole situation. It’s hard to blame her.

But that left Kate and Ainsley in a bit of a bind, sister-wise. Kate was ten years older than Ainsley, and Ainsley was so obviously Daddy’s favorite, that they weren’t close growing up. Mutual tragedy brings them together, and they discover in each other the sister and best friend they never had, but always wanted.

Kate’s husband dies after four months of pretty blissful marriage. Unfortunately for Ainsley, Nathan’s death sends her long-term boyfriend Eric into a complete spin into assholishness, not that he was a prince to begin with. Eric doesn’t just break up with Ainsley, he does it publicly, on the blog he posts at her magazine, and in the worst terms imaginable. While Eric was never as good as Ainsley thought he was, his behavior dives to a whole new level of low.

Ainsley arrives on Kate’s doorstep with her adorable dog and her worldly goods, which aren’t all that much. Kate, still in the seemingly endless depths of her grief, is grateful to have the upbeat and perky Ainsley move into her echoing house. Ainsley is equally happy to have a place to stay while she regroups and recovers. Ollie is always happy. Period.

They help each other. And they find each other. And eventually, when the time is mostly right, they find a way to move past their respective grief. But even though they both finally move on, what they don’t do is move past each other.

Escape Rating B+: I read this in a single evening. I fell into the story and didn’t fall out until I turned the last page. Kate and Ainsley are women that I would love to know in real life, and I was happy to spend an evening with them.

I will say that the first chapter is very, very rough going. It is obvious from the first paragraph that Kate’s husband Nathan is about to die, because Kate is narrating their last evening together from the perspective of someone who knows what is about to happen. It was impossible not to feel for her. Kate’s profound grief made me keep looking over at my own snoring husband to make sure he was all right. But a big part of me wished that the story could have started after his death. Reading the “but I didn’t know” bits over and over was both sad and wearying. Also wearing.

if you only knew by kristan higginsAlthough there is a romantic element to this story, the romances don’t feel like point of the story, except as they symbolize both women finally able to move on. Which appropriately takes a while. The point of the story is the way that they reach towards each other in a way that will remind readers of the author’s previous book, If You Only Knew.

Kate feels both profound grief and a certain amount of anger. When Nathan died, they had known each other for less than a year, and had only been married for four months. As much as she misses him, she also misses the person she used to be before they met. She had been happy on her own, and if she hadn’t met Nathan she would have continued to be so. The difference that one year has made in her life is beyond heartbreaking.

Ainsley’s situation is a bit different. She met Eric in college, and they’ve been together for 11 years. Literally one-third of her life. She not only loves Eric, she loves his family, and she’s been dreaming of marrying him for almost a decade. He’s always been a bit of a selfish arsehole, but when he breaks up with her via his blog, he pulls out all the stops. Readers will want to shoot him. In the kneecaps, so he suffers longer.

In many ways, Ainsley has a lot more self-examination and reinventing to do, because she’s never been just her. She’s always been part of an “us”, and now that is blasted to smithereens. When she gets her own back, it is epic and awesome.

Both women do eventually find romance, and in the most unlikely places. And the way that they do, particularly the way they both approach that second chance, makes a marvelous conclusion to this story.

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

I am giving away a copy of On Second Thought to one lucky U.S. commenter.

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Review: The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry + Giveaway

Review: The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry + GiveawayThe Fifth Petal (The Lace Reader, #2) by Brunonia Barry
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Lace Reader #2
Pages: 432
Published by Crown on January 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Salem’s chief of police, John Rafferty, now married to gifted lace reader Towner Whitney, investigates a 25-year-old triple homicide dubbed “The Goddess Murders,” in which three young women, all descended from accused Salem witches, were slashed one Halloween night. Aided by Callie Cahill, the daughter of one of the victims who has returned to town, Rafferty begins to uncover a dark chapter in Salem’s past. Callie, who has always been gifted with premonitions, begins to struggle with visions she doesn’t quite understand and an attraction to a man who has unknown connections to her mother’s murder. Neither believes that the main suspect, Rose Whelan, respected local historian and sometime-aunt to Callie, is guilty of murder or witchcraft. But exonerating Rose might mean crossing paths with a dangerous force. Were the women victims of an all-too-human vengeance, or was the devil raised in Salem that night? And if they cannot discover what truly happened, will evil rise again?

My Review:

lace reader by brunonia barryIn spite of the blurb, The Fifth Petal doesn’t have much to do with Towner Whitney, the heroine of The Lace Reader. And that’s a good thing, because I never read The Lace Reader. Instead, this work of twisted mystery with just a touch of psychological horror is all about the old mystery of “The Goddess Murders” and the sudden rush of new clues (and red herrings) related to that old crime.

John Rafferty, the Salem Police Chief, finds himself in the thick of a very big mess that begins on Halloween in witchy Salem Massachusetts. Where once Salem hung accused witches, now the town embraces its creepy past as a way of bringing in much-needed tourist dollars.

Which doesn’t mean that the old feuds, the old resentments, and the old fears are not still bubbling just beneath the 21st century surface.

Twenty-five years ago, three young women were murdered at the site of the 17th century witch hangings. All three were young, beautiful and descended from the original witches. That grisly night left only two survivors, the child Callie Cahill, daughter of one of the victims, and Rose Whelan, a local expert on the historic witchcraft frenzy.

Callie was whisked away, but Rose stayed in town. Or at least she stayed after several months in an asylum. Even though she was never charged with the crime, everyone in town assumed that Rose was the murderer. Whatever the truth was, after the trauma she experienced and her incarceration she was never the same. She became the town madwoman, saying that the trees talked to her and other things even more bizarre.

No one bothered her, and she didn’t bother anyone, until that Halloween, when a bunch of young, privileged idiots decided that threatening her with a knife would be a terrific Halloween prank. When one of them dropped dead in the middle of the confrontation, everyone assumed that old Rose had managed to kill him exactly the same way she killed those young women all those years ago. And the town began a modern day witch hunt, complete with anonymous tweets and Facebook posts, baying for her blood.

All of the hoopla over the latest incident reaches the regional papers, and little Callie Cahill, now an adult, discovers that her caregivers lied to her long ago, and that Rose is very much alive. She drops everything to rush to Salem, in the hopes of saving Rose just as she believed Rose saved her all those years ago.

And all the buried secrets of the past burst wide open. While the town whips up witch hunting frenzy, John Rafferty re-opens the old case. He wasn’t in Salem back them, but he doesn’t believe Rose is guilty, either then or now. There was no evidence back then, and there isn’t any now either. But his investigation brings that long-ago crime back to everyone’s mind. If Rose wasn’t the murderer, then someone else was. Covering up those old murders is an unfortunately excellent motivation for another killing spree. This time with a whole new set of supposed wrongs to be set right, and a whole new cast of victims.

In the end, Rafferty discovers that the old wounds and the old wrongs have sunk deep and poisonous roots in much too fertile ground. Almost too late.

Escape Rating B+: Although the story itself is more a mystery than anything else, there is a creepy overtone of horror and evil that gave me the shivers. And looking back, a lot of that evil has nothing to do with witchcraft or devil worship or anything more obviously sinister. Instead, it is all related to an everyday kind of evil.

Whatever happened to their ancestors in the 1600s, in the 2010s there’s another kind of witch hunt going on in Salem. Everyone wants to believe that Rose is the killer, both in the past and in the present. And it becomes clear that she is being victimized for exactly the same reasons that the women accused of witchcraft were victimized in the 1600s. She’s an older woman, and she’s weird. And possibly mentally ill. That’s all it took in the 1600s to bring out the accusers, and that’s all it seems to take in 2014-2015.

Today’s witch hunt is just more sophisticated. It uses the internet. But it is equally persecution, and just like the victims in the 1600s, Rose is equally innocent. And it doesn’t matter. She is different, and that makes people more than willing to throw her under that metaphorical bus.

Rafferty finds himself investigating two crimes, and neither is the recent death. That young man died of an overdose, and except for his mother, no one is going to miss him. But the more Rafferty looks, the more he thinks that his predecessor completely screwed up the case. The former police chief wanted Rose to be guilty, and the truth didn’t matter. Or possibly mattered too much.

Rafferty wants Rose to be innocent, so he keeps digging. Meanwhile, all the forces in town seem to be colluding to make his job more difficult. Someone clearly has a secret that they still feel the need to keep at all costs.

In the end, the motives for all the deaths are the oldest of all, greed and jealousy. And as is so often the case, the killer is exposed by overreaching. If they’d left well enough alone, they could have remained hidden. But of course they didn’t and they don’t. The reveal is appropriately chilling and does a wonderful job of wrapping up all the loose and trailing ends, no matter how far back they began. Or how creepy they remain.

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

I am giving away a copy of The Fifth Petal to one lucky US commenter.

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Review: Unfathomed by Anna Hackett

Review: Unfathomed by Anna HackettUnfathomed by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #4
Pages: 198
Published by Anna Hackett on January 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Long, tall, and deadly Morgan Kincaid enjoys her job at Treasure Hunter Security. Raised by a tough Marine father, she loves her guns and knives, and never backs down from a fight. She’s yet to find a man who can keep up with her and after a string of first dates, she’s not feeling hopeful. Assigned to an underwater archeological expedition on the trail of a long-lost shipwreck, Morgan finds herself protecting the very hard, delicious body of a certain globe-trotting archeologist. A smart rogue with a wide smile and a boat-load of charm.

Dr. Zachariah James has information leading to a shipwreck filled with history and treasure. After growing up with nothing, he’s forged a stellar career for himself, but history is more than just a job, it’s his lifeblood. So Zach is amazed to find himself as excited by a woman as he is by his dive. Dangerous Morgan fascinates him, and he’s eager to see what she’s hiding under her tough exterior.

As they dive the azure waters off the coast of Madagascar, they uncover a sizzling attraction and clues to an impossible artifact, but soon they are under attack by dangerous black-market thieves. Among traitors, kidnappings, and ancient temples, Zach and Morgan will need to put everything on the line to have any chance at surviving.

My Review:

There are times when I’m astonished by the depths of human stupidity. Possibly in this case I mean willful blindness. Or a bit of both.

No one ever seems to believe that whatever treasure they are hunting could possibly be of interest to the nefarious Silk Road gang. And no one ever seems to think that telling the agents of Treasure Hunter Security that just maybe, possibly, Silk Road might find their find just the teensiest bit intriguing never seems to occur to people – at least not until Silk Road arrives in a metaphorical cloud of evil and kidnaps or kills someone.

This time THS is hunting sunken treasure with Dr. Zachariah James. James believes he has the location of a wrecked treasure ship off the coast of Madagascar. The cargo manifest says that the ship was filled with gold, diamonds and porcelain, a friendship gift from the King of Siam to the French. The Soliel d’Orient is a prize worth finding, both for its wealth and for the archaeological treasures it holds.

But Dr. James is only figuring on normal treasure hunters. Admittedly, lots and lots of them. That’s why he hires THS. Of course, he neglects to mention that there might be an artifact with mystical or mythical powers amongst the treasure. He doesn’t believe that the talisman even exists. And he certainly doesn’t believe in any mystical powers.

But Silk Road does. And they are on his trail from the moment the expedition starts.

Meanwhile, Dr. James is hunting more than just treasure. There’s something about Morgan Kincaid, the deadly female THS operative, that makes teasing and tormenting her even more exciting than a treasure hunt. To Morgan’s surprise, she feels those same sparks from Zach. She just doesn’t believe that any man’s interest in her will survive his knowledge of just how dangerous and deadly she really is.

But Zach loves the adrenaline thrill. And when Silk Road kidnaps them and drags them off on their own deadly treasure hunt, Zach knows that they will need every single one of Morgan’s deadly skills to survive.

Escape Rating B+: I really liked Zach and Morgan as characters. They make an excellent hero and heroine for this story. They both have hidden depths and secret pains, and they are both slow to share any of themselves with another. They’ve both been hurt before by people who were supposed to love and protect them, and they are both wary of trusting again.

Morgan’s hesitation feels particularly real. She is a warrior, and that is a big part of her identity. That many men find her ability to take them down and beat them hard to be a turnoff is no surprise. She’s smart enough to know that if who she is isn’t what they want, that she’s better off alone. Which doesn’t stop her from feeling lonely.

But as much as I enjoyed the rising heat between Morgan and Zach, and the little glimpse of the ongoing tension between Darcy Ward and her buttoned-up FBI agent, I’m still feeling a bit of villain fail in this series.

Silk Road and their agents are definitely evil. But they keep coming off as bwahaha evil. Along with, in the case of the villain in Unfathomed, an unhealthy dose of cray-cray. But crazy doesn’t organize and fund an organization as big and as effective as Silk Road. We still don’t know who they are and why they are doing this. There are plenty of other ways to make oodles of money that aren’t half this complicated.

Inquiring minds really, really want an answer to those questions.

Even so, Unfathomed is another marvelous tale of action, adventure and romance, and I can’t wait for the next one.

Review: Lord of the Privateers by Stephanie Laurens + Giveaway

Review: Lord of the Privateers by Stephanie Laurens + GiveawayLord of the Privateers (The Adventurers Quartet, #4) by Stephanie Laurens
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Adventurers Quartet #4
Pages: 384
Published by Mira on December 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Revel in the action, drama, intrigue and passion as the Frobishers— with help from Wolverstone, the Cynsters and many familiar others— steer the adventure to a glorious end.
Unstoppable determination
Widely known as the lord of the privateers, Royd Frobisher expects to execute the final stage of the rescue mission his brothers have begun. What he does not expect is to be pressured into taking Isobel Carmichael—his childhood sweetheart, former handfasted bride and current business partner—with him. A force of nature, Isobel has a mission of her own: to find and bring a young cousin safely home. And along the way, she hopes to rid herself of the dreams of a life with Royd that still haunt her.
Unfinished business
Neither expects the shock that awaits them as they set sail, much less the new horizons that open before them as they embark on a full-scale rescue-assault on the compound deep in the jungle. Yet despite the support of his brothers and their ladies, Royd and Isobel discover that freeing the captives is only half the battle. To identify and convict the conspirators behind the illicit enterprise—and save England from political disaster—they must return to the ballrooms of the haut ton and hunt the villains on their home ground.
Unforgettable love
But having found each other again, having glimpsed the heaven that could yet be theirs, how much are Royd and Isobel willing to risk in the name of duty?
#1 New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Laurens delivers the thrilling conclusion to her acclaimed series THE ADVENTURERS QUARTET, a passionate Regency-era drama where intrigue and danger play out on the high seas and in exotic tropical jungles, ultimately reaching a dazzling climax in the glittering ballrooms of London.

My Review:

ladys command by stephanie laurensLord of the Privateers is an adventure romp with a romance attached – or a romance with an adventure attached. There be two plot threads here, and they are both compelling, if not equally so.

This book is the culmination of The Adventurers Quartet, and as such wraps up all of the many plot threads that were started all the way back in The Lady’s Command, and built up and added to in A Buccaneer at Heart and The Daredevil Snared.

The story would not be a pretty one if it weren’t for the inevitable happy ending. Far from England, in the English colony of Freeport in South Africa, someone is operating an illicit diamond mine. Not only is the mine unlicensed, and therefore not under government scrutiny of any kind, but the backers of the mine decided to maximize their profit by using slave labor.

They think they are so far above the law that they can kidnap colonists from Freeport, and that no one will care. And even if they are eventually caught, they will be able to walk away.

But the people they take are missed. Not just the children, but also the adults. Especially when they do stupid things like kidnap the military men who are sent to investigate, one after another. The government contracts with the Frobisher shipping clan to find out where everyone has gone, and that’s where the fun of this series begin.

Each one of the Frobisher children (sons AND daughter) is captain of his or her own ship. One by one, the oldest four sons go down to Freeport, put their share of the pieces together, and come back with a bride who is not willing to stay at home and wait while their men sail into danger.

It’s all been leading up to this book, Lord of the Privateers. That “lord” is Royd, the oldest brother and captain of their fleet. It’s up to him to lead the military operation to rescue the prisoners and gather as much evidence as possible on those mysterious and nefarious backers. In that order.

But Royd’s mission is compromised. Not by betrayal, but by his own unfinished business coming back to haunt him. Isobel Carmody, his childhood best friend and the love of his life, turned him away eight years ago. One of the captives is Isobel’s cousin, and she insists on accompanying him to Freeport. They have unfinished business between them to work out on this journey. They need to decide once and for all whether to try again, or to finally move on.

Royd thinks he has all the time in the world to woo Isobel again. Isobel thinks the voyage will be long enough for her to figure out whether she can trust Royd with her heart again, after he broke it eight years ago.

And they have a colony to save. And in the process, all their secrets will come out, and all the truths will finally come to light.

Escape Rating B: There are two plots here, the second chance at love story, and more importantly, the military operation to rescue the enslaved workers at the mine.

Unlike most second-chance love stories, this one feels resolved fairly early on. They are back together almost instantly, so most of the rest of the romance angle seems a bit anti-climactic. Also, their inevitable marriage is a foregone conclusion from the outset. Eight years ago, Royd and Isobel were handfasted, an old Scottish form of trial marriage. But if a child is born of the handfasting, the couple must automatically marry, or the child must be given up to the father. (Yes, I know it’s terribly misogynistic, etc., but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the law of the time).

Isobel gave birth to Royd’s son eight years ago, while he was away on a secret mission that he chose not to tell her about. She’s kept the boy a secret ever since, at least until he stows away aboard their ship to Freeport. Once that “cat” is out of its bag, an eventual wedding is the only possible conclusion.

But the military operation and the subsequent clean up of the gentleman backers is a romp from beginning to end. And if it weren’t for the fact that this is historical romance and therefore must lead to a happy ending, the clean-up operation feels like it might teeter towards disaster at any moment. That was the part of the story that had me on the edge of my seat.

It was wonderful not just to see all the dirty bastards finally get their just desserts, but to have those desserts handed to them by a combined delegation of the Frobishers, the Cynsters and the Bastion Club was a special treat for those who have read any of the author’s previous series.

But speaking of series, The Adventurers’ Quartet is one where you probably need to have read at least some of the previous entries. I read books 1, 3 and 4, and didn’t feel as if I missed anything except a good story by accidentally skipping Buccaneer. Because Lord is the payoff for all the previous books, I think it looses its punch if you start with it.

Because the romantic side of the plot was resolved early on, those scenes that “furthered” the romance were furthering something that already felt completely developed. To say they became anticlimactic makes for a very bad pun that nevertheless was true for this reader. Your mileage (measured in knots in this case) may vary. But the rescue operation makes for a cracking good yarn.

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

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Review: Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang

Review: Dragon Springs Road by Janie ChangDragon Springs Road by Janie Chang
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 400
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on January 10th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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From the author of Three Souls comes a vividly imagined and haunting new novel set in early 20th century Shanghai—a story of friendship, heartbreak, and history that follows a young Eurasian orphan’s search for her long-lost mother.
That night I dreamed that I had wandered out to Dragon Springs Road all on my own, when a dreadful knowledge seized me that my mother had gone away never to return . . .
In 1908, Jialing is only seven years old when she is abandoned in the courtyard of a once-lavish estate outside Shanghai. Jialing is zazhong—Eurasian—and faces a lifetime of contempt from both Chinese and Europeans. Until now she’s led a secluded life behind courtyard walls, but without her mother’s protection, she can survive only if the estate’s new owners, the Yang family, agree to take her in.
Jialing finds allies in Anjuin, the eldest Yang daughter, and Fox, an animal spirit who has lived in the courtyard for centuries. But Jialing’s life as the Yangs’ bondservant changes unexpectedly when she befriends a young English girl who then mysteriously vanishes.
Murder, political intrigue, jealousy, forbidden love … Jialing confronts them all as she grows into womanhood during the tumultuous early years of the Chinese republic, always hopeful of finding her long-lost mother. Through every turn she is guided, both by Fox and by her own strength of spirit, away from the shadows of her past toward a very different fate, if she has the courage to accept it.

My Review:

In a peculiar way, Dragon Springs Road reminds me a bit of Jade Dragon Mountain. Although both stories are set in China, their settings are 200 years apart. But the similarity is in the way that both stories managed to evoke a “you are there” feeling, at least for me. It was more than reading about something, it felt like being drawn into the story in both cases.

There was also a tiny element of The Tale of Shikanoko, even though Shikanoko is Japanese and not Chinese. In both that story and this one, there’s that sense of the mythic bleeding into the real. In the case of Dragon Springs Road, that mythic element is the fox spirit who protects Jialing and her mother during their residence on Dragon Springs Road.

Jialing believes that Fox is real, and she certainly seems to affect real things. But does she? As this story is told through Jialing’s eyes, we see things how she believes them to be, not necessarily how things are.

We also see a world that is in the process of change. Dragon Springs Road is in Shanghai, and the story takes place during the first two decades of the 20th century, through both the World War I years and the contentious early years of the Republic of China, as factions and warlords fought for power and against the rising tide of communism within, and Japanese imperial ambitions without.

As the story begins, Jialing is a little girl, one who has lived her entire life on the fringes of the Fong household on Dragon Springs Road. But things are not going well in the Fong household, and her mother, the concubine of the master of the house, is particularly vulnerable. Jialing is too young to understand any of this. All that she knows is that one day her mother goes away, leaving Jialing hiding in the decrepit outbuilding where they have lived.

And from that inauspicious beginning, Jialing is set adrift. She is very, very young. And she is mixed race, and therefore despised by both the Chinese and the Europeans. The household that moves into the Fong’s former residence take her in out of charity. And so she lives, dependent on the kindness of strangers, and knowing that she doesn’t belong anywhere, no matter how hard she tries.

Through the years, Jialing grows up. She makes friends, and enemies. She is fortunate enough to receive a Western education. But no matter how much she improves herself, all that anyone sees is the lowest of the low, a woman of mixed race.

Her friend, companion and guide through the lost years is the Fox who watches over the compound, and over Jialing. Fox both teaches her about the world outside, and makes her forget inconvenient questions. And Fox prevents others from asking inconvenient questions about Jialing.

The one thing that Jialing longs for above all others is to find her mother, and to discover why she was left behind all those years ago. And she does. Just as her entire world falls apart.

Be careful what you wish for. You might get it.

Escape Rating A: This is an absolutely lovely story that pulls the reader in and doesn’t let go until the end. It feels as if you are walking that road with Jialing, and not just reading about it. Stories that do that are rare and precious.

Dragon Springs Road is also a very quiet story. Jialing’s life is not the stuff of an adventure tale. She grows up, she does her best to serve, she watches and waits. Much of the action in this story happens to other people, as Jialing watches a second family overtaken by the bad luck that seems to haunt this one house.

And outside the gates, the world changes. Revolutions come, not just to China, but also to nearby Russia. The world that is coming is going to be very different from what has gone before. And Jialing becomes involved, but in the most unlikely of ways.

One of the threads that permeates this story is the prejudice that Jialing faces from all sides, and the ways that prejudice limits her choices. On all sides she is hemmed about by people who consider her less than dirt because she is neither fully Europeon nor fully Chinese. At a time and in a place where lineage is everything, she has none.

And yet she perseveres, making the best choice available to her. And we’re right there with her.

This is a book I simply loved. I was swept away at the beginning and left bereft at the end, gasping and flailing at my return to the real world. It feels like I was in a dream with the Fox, and she just turned me loose.

Dragon Springs Road is a book to get lost in. I loved it so much I’m having a difficult time articulating that love. Why don’t you pick up a copy and see for yourself!

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Review: The Piper by Charles Todd

Review: The Piper by Charles ToddThe Piper: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Story by Charles Todd
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Inspector Ian Rutledge #19.5
Pages: 63
Published by Witness Impulse on January 10th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Scotland Yard inspector Ian Rutledge returns shell shocked from the trenches of World War I, tormented by the spirit of Hamish MacLeod, the young soldier he executed on the battlefield. Now, Charles Todd features Hamish himself in this compelling, stand-alone short story.
Before the Great War, Hamish is farmer in the Scottish Highlands, living in a small house on the hillside and caring for a flock of sheep he inherited from his grandmother. When one spring evening he hears a faint cry ringing across the glen, Hamish sets out in the dark to find the source. Near the edge of the loch he spots a young boy laying wounded, a piper’s bag beside him. Hamish brings the piper to his home to stay the night and tends to his head wound, but by the time Hamish wakes the boy has fled. He tracks the footsteps in pursuit of the injured lad and finds him again collapsed in the grasses—now dead.
Who was the mysterious piper, and who was seeking his death? As Hamish scours the countryside for answers, he finds that few of his neighbors are as honest as he, and that until he uncovers a motive, everyone, including Hamish, is a suspect. 

My Review:

I’m not quite sure whether to call this a prequel or a sidelight to the Ian Rutledge series, but it was certainly a lovely little story. And it doesn’t need to fit anywhere in the series timeline for the story to work. It just is. And does.

In the Ian Rutledge series, Hamish MacLeod is the voice that haunts the police Inspector. In some ways, Hamish is the voice of Rutledge’s shell shock (read as PTSD) from World War I. In other ways, Hamish is the voice of Rutledge’s conscience, or perhaps his guilt, over the deaths of so many young men that occurred under his command during the war. Certainly Hamish’ death is the one that haunts him the most.

But this gem of a story takes place before the Great War, when Hamish is still a young crofter in Scotland, Ian Rutledge is probably at the beginning of his police career at the Met, and the Great War is a looming cloud over the not-too-distant horizon.

And long before Hamish and Ian met, and before Hamish became the voice of Ian’s instincts and perseverance, Hamish solved a murder on his own. No wonder he is so good at helping Ian, even if it is from the back of Ian’s mind. Or it’s all in his head.

The case at first seems open and shut. A young man traveling the Highlands during a raging storm is set upon and wounded, discovered by Hamish, and eventually killed after he leaves Hamish’ croft. It is meant to look like he died in the storm. But he didn’t.

At first, the police try to pin the crime on Hamish. After all, he was the last person to see the boy alive. But there’s no evidence there, and someone else had plenty of reasons to kill the young lad.

He was a piper, and he regularly traveled the Highlands by himself, on his way between gigs. And on one of those lonely trips, he witnessed a murder. Unfortunately for the piper, the murderer witnessed him.

Unfortunately for the murderer, Hamish is more than willing to place himself as bait for a trap to prove that he has already figured out who the guilty party is. Justice will be done.

Escape Rating B+: This is a very short novella. Even shorter than it appears in the Goodreads listing, as the book includes an excerpt from the next Ian Rutledge book. But even though it is short, it is a complete story in itself. It also doesn’t require any knowledge of the series that follows it. Any reader who is looking for an introduction to the works of Charles Todd will find The Piper an excellent starting point.

Hamish, like most detectives, amateur and professional, finds that everyone has something to hide. Including himself. As he goes around to his neighbors, setting up a trap for the killer, he discovers that most of them have some secret, small or large, that they would rather not reveal. Likewise, Hamish doesn’t reveal that the purpose of all of his sudden socializing is to lay a trap for the killer.

His secrecy results in a comedy of errors at the final crisis, as everyone, the killer, Hamish, and his waiting helpers, all stumble around in the dark. But in the end, his dogged persistence pays off, and the killer is unmasked for all to see.

hunting shadows by charles toddHamish is an interesting character, whether readers are familiar with the series or not. I’ve read the first book (A Test of Wills), an actual prequel story (Cold Comfort) and only one of the later books (Hunting Shadows), and found this story enjoyable purely as a mystery. The link to the series is merely tangential. I also found Hamish MacLeod to be a more active and less exasperating Highland detective than Hamish Macbeth in the recent books of that series.

So anyone looking for a little mystery, a little introduction to Rutledge series, or a little taste of the Scottish Highlands will find The Piper to be a little treat.

Review: The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman

Review: The Burning Page by Genevieve CogmanThe Burning Page (The Invisible Library, #3) by Genevieve Cogman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, libraries, steampunk, urban fantasy
Series: Invisible Library #3
Pages: 336
Published by Roc on January 10th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Librarian spy Irene and her apprentice Kai return for another “tremendously fun, rip-roaring adventure,” (A Fantastical Librarian) third in the bibliophilic fantasy series from the author of The Masked City.
 
Never judge a book by its cover...  Due to her involvement in an unfortunate set of mishaps between the dragons and the Fae, Librarian spy Irene is stuck on probation, doing what should be simple fetch-and-retrieve projects for the mysterious Library. But trouble has a tendency of finding both Irene and her apprentice, Kai—a dragon prince—and, before they know it, they are entangled in more danger than they can handle...   Irene’s longtime nemesis, Alberich, has once again been making waves across multiple worlds, and, this time, his goals are much larger than obtaining a single book or wreaking vengeance upon a single Librarian. He aims to destroy the entire Library—and make sure Irene goes down with it.   With so much at stake, Irene will need every tool at her disposal to stay alive. But even as she draws her allies close around her, the greatest danger might be lurking from somewhere close—someone she never expected to betray her...

My Review:

invisible library by genevieve cogman us editionThe Burning Page isn’t coming out until tomorrow, but THIS was the book I wanted to read over the weekend. And I’m glad I did.

Irene is a representative of the Library. That Library, and her missions for it, are described in the first madcap book in the series, The Invisible Library. The Library binds all the worlds of the multiverse together in invisible chains, linking all of them to Library, to reality, and to each other in a powerful and symbiotic weave.

The various worlds exist on a loose continuum between total order and absolute chaos, and the Library exists to preserve the balance, attempting to make sure that neither faction ever gains complete ascendancy.

This isn’t purely altruistic, or purely in the pursuit of power. Living beings, particularly living humans, need a bit of both to survive and thrive. Humans do best in those worlds that are somewhere around the midpoint. Worlds that are too orderly fall into tyranny and stagnation, to the point where even the avatars of order, the dragons, cannot survive in them. Likewise, worlds of complete chaos, the realms of the fae, are also anathema to humans, who become mere puppets of the most powerful fae and have no wills, lives or identities of their own. They are all supernumeraries in other beings’ dramas. Even the fae need at least a tiny bit of order, even if it is only the framework provided by the stories they act out.

Neither is a good way to live. At least if you are human. And the Librarians, at least so far, are all human.

masked city by genevieve cogmanIrene, on probation after the events in The Masked City, is still the Librarian-in-Residence on the chaos-tinged world where Peregrine Vale exists as the local avatar of the “Great Detective” in a London shared with fae and werewolves, and where zeppelins navigate pea-soupers that never quite thin.

Irene’s apprentice Kai, the dragon who would be a Librarian, is there with her. But who is mentoring whom, and who is protecting whom, is always a point of negotiation.

Meanwhile, Irene is being hunted by the rogue Librarian-turned-chaos-agent Alberich, who hopes to recruit Irene and replace the Library with a chaotic institution of his own invention. Alberich wants power, and Irene wants stability. Or so she thinks.

What she has discovered is a taste for adventure – and it might be the death of her and all she holds dear – if she can’t manage to be adventurous enough.

Escape Rating A-: The wild ride begun in The Invisible Library continues with death-defying adventures that span from a too-orderly Imperial Russia to a werewolf den under Irene’s own London. She is kidnapped, drugged, jailed and very nearly seduced, always jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

If you like your adventure as a series of disaster-defying feats of derring-do (with occasional forays into politics and idiocy) this series is an absolute winner from beginning to end. But start at the beginning, not just for the setup, but because the roots of the story here in The Burning Page were planted in the first two books, and are just coming into bloom in this one.

There’s a lot going on in this story, as there is in all of the books in this series so far. The action pauses only briefly, and then just to lay down potential plots for the next books. Not to mention potential plotting in this one.

While The Burning Page is a story where all the chickens from the previous books in the series come home to roost, it also further the develops the strange and often strained relationship between Irene, Kai and Vale. No, we’re not at a threesome. We’re also, thank goodness, not in a love triangle. Kai, as a dragon, wants to protect Irene. As much as he cares for her, he is still having a difficult time recognizing that while protecting her would make him feel better, it would make her either run far and fast or become something and someone she has no desire to be. It would be a negation of her essential self. On that other hand, Irene took her nom-de-guerre because she has an understandable fascination with Sherlock Holmes analogs. How much of what she feels for Vale has to do with him, and how much with who is resembles is not something that she is able to resolve.

She is also a person who has generally preferred the company of books to people, and while her people skills are rusty, she is making her way along as her worldview markedly changes. She is supposed to care for the Library above all, and is discovering that perspective altered.

lost plot by genevieve cogmanPersonally, I think she’s finally figured out that a good job won’t love you back, but we’ll see how that turns out in future books.

But the bloom is definitely not off this rose. While chaos has not, and never can be, defeated, its current schemes have been temporarily put into abeyance by the end of The Burning Page. I was very happy to discover that there will be more to come in future books, even if we have to wait a bit. The next chronicle of Irene’s adventures, The Lost Plot, can’t be found soon enough!

Guest Review: Dreadnought by April Daniels

Guest Review: Dreadnought by April DanielsDreadnought (Nemesis, #1) by April Daniels
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, science fiction, young adult
Series: Nemesis #1
Pages: 276
Published by Diversion Publishing on January 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Danny Tozer has a problem: she just inherited the powers of the world's greatest superhero. Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, she was trying to keep people from finding out she's transgender. But then her second-hand superpowers transformed her body into what she's always thought it should be. Now there's no hiding that she's a girl.
It should be the happiest time of her life, but between her father's dangerous obsession with curing her girlhood, her best friend suddenly acting like he's entitled to date her, and the classmate who is secretly a masked vigilante, Danny's first weeks living in a body that fits her are more difficult and complicated than she could have imagined.
She doesn't have much time to adjust. Dreadnought's murderer, a cyborg named Utopia, still haunts the streets of New Port City. If Danny can't sort through the confusion of coming out, master her powers, and stop Utopia in time, humanity faces extinction.

A few weeks ago, Marlene happened into my message box with a brief “I have a book you might like.” When she told me it was a young-adult transgender superhero story, well, that was that. Off to the races. She knows darn well I can’t turn away a story with a transgender character!

Guest review by Amy:

Trans teens who feel they have to hide it–for any reason–have it tough, both in our present, and in the world author April Daniels builds for us. Danny Tozer has been hiding it for some time; her parents think she’s a boy, but she’s not. Her one guilty pleasure is painted toenails, and one fine afternoon she’s painting her toenails in a hidey-hole near the mall, when a superhero battle happens nearby. One of the finest heroes of his time, Dreadnought, is slain, and falls to the ground near Danny, and his mantle passes to her. She wakes soon after, stunned to find herself with the body she’s always dreamed of living in.

What follows is a fun, engaging adventure story, complete with all the bells and whistles: a suitably nasty villain, a newfound sidekick friend, a well-organized “cape” community taken aback by this upstart youngster, and a little bit of almost-comic treatment of our heroine’s parents, who simply cannot accept that their child has been suddenly placed in a young woman’s body, and could possibly be happy about it. She has to sneak away from them to spend time exploring her new powers and body, and spends time being heroic with her new sidekick Calamity, who turns out to be a classmate of hers from high school. Soon, they are hot on the trail of the previous Dreadnought’s killer, and discover that her nefarious grand plan must be stopped!

Escape Rating: A-. Underneath the rollicking adventure, of course, is a coming-into-your-own story for our young heroine, now calling herself Danielle. She has to cope with parents who blindly cannot accept what is right in front of their faces, insisting that they want to help her set things “right,” to become the man she’s supposed to be. If her abusive father’s rantings weren’t such a one-note song, it would be almost comic. But there’s a very un-funny part to this, too. For many trans youth, this kind of treatment is an unfortunate reality, and transkids in our universe don’t have superhero work to fall back on!

Danielle also has to cope with the Legion Pacifica, the organization of superheroes in New Port City. They must come to grips with the loss of their friend, who was a great hero, and at the same time, help this newcomer who holds his mantle understand her powers, and learn to use them for good. One member is simply unaccepting of Danielle’s transgender status, and insists on calling her by her old name and pronouns. Again, here we have a case of art imitating life, as transpeople in our universe have to deal with the same thing just about all the time.

Author April Daniels gives us a peek into the life of a trans youth that rings completely true, so I was unsurprised to discover that she is herself a transwoman. This authenticity is something I find too-often missing in fiction about transgender people, so Daniels’ work is a refreshing, beautiful change. She handles Danielle’s gender transition, and her coming into herself as a lesbian, with a straightforward, simple style without being lurid in any way. The story is completely appropriate for any YA reader, and I would give it a strong recommendation for any LGBTQ youth in your own life, as it shows a teen who is more like them, dealing with some of the same struggles they are–while still giving us a just-plain-fun power-up fantasy.

One down note for me was the treatment of Danielle’s struggle with her parents. I would have liked to see some closure to that. At the end of the book, there’s still something left hanging there–she’s not reconciled to them, nor have they completely shut her out. Perhaps that story will be completed in the upcoming sequel, which I’m looking forward to seeing!