Review: The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

Review: The Orphan’s Tale by Pam JenoffThe Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 368
Published by Mira on February 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A powerful novel of friendship set in a traveling circus during World War II, The Orphan's Tale introduces two extraordinary women and their harrowing stories of sacrifice and survival .
Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep… When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she snatches one of the babies and flees into the snowy night.
Noa finds refuge with a German circus, but she must learn the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid. At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond. But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their friendship is enough to save one another—or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything.

My Review:

In The Orphan’s Tale, as the season (and the book) winds down to its conclusion, one of the characters prophetically says with a sneer, “Next year? The circus is dying.” In this story of two women who find shelter and redemption in one of the few circuses allowed to limp across Europe under the Nazis, the irony is that they all think of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey as their well-funded and well-attended competition across the Atlantic. Now in 2017, their circus is dying too.

But the story in The Orphan’s Tale brings together the unsung history of the circuses across Europe under the Nazi regime with a moving tale of sacrifice, friendship and survival about two women who find themselves thrown together in death-defying circumstances. Not just their beautiful but deadly act on the “flying trapeze”, but also their hiding in plain sight from the Nazis.

Astrid is a Jew. Her family used to be the owners of one of the most successful traveling circuses in Europe. But that was before the Nazis took everything, including their lives. Astrid is the last survivor, hiding amongst the performers of a rival circus, doing the only thing that makes her feel alive – flying.

Noa is also rescued by the circus. As a young Dutchwoman who looks like the Aryan ideal, she should have been safe. But her parents threw her out when her brief fling with a Nazi soldier resulted in pregnancy. The “home” for unwed mothers took her baby. She is alone, bereft, and eking out a bare living cleaning the train station, when the Nazis leave a boxcar of infants unattended at the station. Most of the babies have died of exposure, but a despairing Noa finds one little one still alive. A boy, and all too obviously Jewish, telling her everything she needs to know about the dead babies in the boxcar. She rescues him, and runs, seeing in this child his resemblance to her own missing baby.

But to hide in the circus, Noa must have a part of the performance. And the circus needs another aerialist. Against Astrid’s wishes and recommendation, she is stuck with training the tyro to perform, and has barely six weeks to cram a lifetime of training into the very reluctant flyer.

They are not friends. At first they are reluctant teacher and equally reluctant student. At times they are rivals. But the nature of their act means that above all, they must learn to trust each other. Or they will die. Or their secrets will be revealed, and they will die. And the circus will die with them, their fellow performers imprisoned or executed as collaborators.

But as Noa becomes part of the circus, she comes to love the world in which she has found herself. And, against all odds, she has come to see Astrid as the big sister she never had. And just as Astrid has cared for both Noa and the little boy she named Theo, sometimes in spite of herself, so Noa comes to take care of Astrid as her world, and the circus it encompasses, fall apart.

In the end, all they have is each other. And it’s just barely enough.

Escape Rating A-: The Orphan’s Tale is a story within a story. At the very beginning, it is the modern day, as an old woman takes great pains to visit a museum which has put her old circus wagon on display. The story itself is her recounting of her life in that wagon, Astrid and Noa and Theo, and the world of the circus under the Nazis.

We return at the end to that same elderly lady, and discover how it all turned out. In this case, it’s a marvelous way to tell the important bits, while leaving out the more mundane aspects of her post-war survival. When we find out what happened, we understand everything about the lady, the circus, and the world she left behind.

In the author’s postscript, we learn just how much of the story is based on pieces of fact, and it is well-worth reading. As the book proceeds, so much of the background feels true that it is almost a relief to learn that a great deal of it was true. Astrid and Noa did not exist, but the circus at this time was as portrayed. And unfortunately, the boxcar of dead babies is also based on historical fact.

But the story here is the story of women’s friendships, in spite of opposition or enmity, and how those friendships can flourish under the harshest of circumstances. Astrid and Noa do not always like each other, and they begin with very little in common. At the same time, they are both hiding such similar secrets that they must begin to trust each other. The story here is the flowering of that trust.

It is also the story of the circus, both the mundane and back-breaking work of putting it all together, and the uplifting effect of bringing a small taste of not just normality, but of a bit of escape, to people who have otherwise been beaten down into the deepest rut of bare survival. Although the circumstances of time and place are very different, this part of the story has the same feel as Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The circus goes on, even in this depth of adversity, because survival is insufficient.

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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 ~~~~~~

Stephanie and Harlequin are giving away a $25 Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour!

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Review: The Life She Wants by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: The Life She Wants by Robyn Carr + GiveawayThe Life She Wants by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Mira on September 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

#1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr creates an emotional and uplifting ensemble of characters in this rags-to-riches-to-rags novel about women, friendship and the complex path to happiness
In the aftermath of her financier husband's suicide, Emma Shay Compton's dream life is shattered. Richard Compton stole his clients' life savings to fund a lavish life in New York City and, although she was never involved in the business, Emma bears the burden of her husband's crimes. She is left with nothing.
Only one friend stands by her, a friend she's known since high school, who encourages her to come home to Sonoma County. But starting over isn't easy, and Sonoma is full of unhappy memories, too. And people she'd rather not face, especially Riley Kerrigan.
Riley and Emma were like sisters—until Riley betrayed Emma, ending their friendship. Emma left town, planning to never look back. Now, trying to stand on her own two feet, Emma can't escape her husband's reputation and is forced to turn to the last person she thought she'd ever ask for help—her former best friend. It's an uneasy reunion as both women face the mistakes they've made over the years. Only if they find a way to forgive each other—and themselves—can each of them find the life she wants.

My Review:

The roots of this story will sound familiar to readers. If Bernie Madoff had been the kind of silver fox portrayed in Mad Men, and if he’d had a trophy wife instead of his original wife (I keep looking for a better way to put that and coming up short), you might get a story like Emma Shay Compton’s.

Her late husband seems to have been second only to Madoff in the size and chutzpah of his Ponzi scheme. And if it hadn’t been for the bursting of the real-estate bubble that leads up to the Recession, he might not have been caught.

But Emma Shay is innocent of his crimes. She was chosen to be Richard Compton’s trophy wife (by his mistress!) because she was young, beautiful, naive and vulnerable. Emma was completely cut off from any support network before she married the late and unlamented bastard.

Her job was to look pretty and ask no questions. Now that the whole rotten mess has been exposed, and over-exposed, she can look back and see all the questions that she should have asked, but didn’t. And maybe she bears a tiny amount of guilt there. But the fact is that she didn’t know and her wealthy and powerful husband deliberately kept her in the dark. And he was very, very good at deceiving people.

But now it’s all over. When his last stash was finally discovered, Richard Compton committed suicide and left his young widow to deal with the mess. Both literally and figuratively.

The bones of his estate have been picked clean, and all of his ill-gotten gains that could be found have been returned to as many of his bilked investors as possible. Emma, feeling horribly guilty leaves the marriage with not much more than she brought into it. A couple of boxes of dishes, linens and towels, just enough clothes to get by, and the $9,000 in savings she started with.

So Emma goes home. Not to her parents’ home, because they are both long dead. But to the town where she grew up. Everyone already knows her there, and the scandal, she hopes, has been long chewed over. After all, she left in scandal 16 years ago, so this isn’t new. Just bigger.

Emma goes home to face the scene of her biggest betrayal, and the mistake that set her on the course she is desperately trying to get off of. Only to discover that nothing has been forgotten, and nothing has been gotten over.

Before she can move on in the present, she has to face the past. The former best friend who betrayed their friendship by getting pregnant with Emma’s boyfriend’s baby. Emma has to face not just that betrayal, but the child that might have been hers, and everyone she left behind.

Patching up that old, deep hurt is the first step to the future, not just for Emma, but for all of them. But lancing the pain of that wound may be more agony than any of them can bear to face.

Escape Rating B+: If the Madoff scandal had a love child with Nickel and Dimed, you might get some of the struggle in this book. Emma is a mostly innocent victim in all of this, but the people who are desperate to get a piece of something back from her dead husband don’t see her that way. And the stink of scandal that follows her makes her unemployable. She isn’t getting by on minimum wage at, let’s call it Burger Thing.

Her only salvation is her old friend Riley, the girl who betrayed her so horribly way back when. They both have to eat a lot of crow to make that even possible, but it’s a serving of crow that heals them both.

Although there is a romance in The Life She Wants, the “she” in that title applies to both Emma and Riley. Emma is looking for an authentic life, after years of dreams and denial amidst the jet set high-life. Riley needs to find peace. There is no question that she betrayed Emma all those years ago – but she’s spent her life turning her anger at herself outward, and blaming everyone around her – most of all Jock, the boy they both loved.

Jock, like Emma and Riley, has grown up but can’t move on. The difference is that Jock is willing to admit his part in the whole mess. But over the years of co-parenting his and Riley’s daughter Maddie, Jock has realized that his biggest mistake was with Riley. He’s loved her all along, and keeps hoping for a second chance. Riley hasn’t forgiven him for what was admittedly a whole lot of cowardly behavior when he was all of 18, and refuses to see the person he is now.

The past is holding all of them back, but Riley most of all. When she finally admits her part of what went wrong, they can all start to heal. The happy ever afters all around are very definitely earned.

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

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Review: The Daredevil Snared by Stephanie Laurens + Giveaway

Review: The Daredevil Snared by Stephanie Laurens + GiveawayThe Daredevil Snared (The Adventurers Quartet, #3) by Stephanie Laurens
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Adventurers Quartet #3
Pages: 464
Published by Mira on June 28th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He has something to prove 
Captain Caleb Frobisher, hedonistic youngest son of a seafaring dynasty, wants to be taken seriously. Seizing the next leg of the covert mission his brothers are pursuing, he acts decisively and effectively in securing the mission's objectives. But responsibility has taken root, and he remains in the jungle to ensure the mission's ultimate goal. 
She will risk everything 
Katherine Fortescue fled a life of poverty and came to Freetown as a governess, only to be kidnapped and forced to oversee the child workforce at a mine. Guarded by well-armed, well-trained mercenaries, the captives have lost all hope of escape. Then Katherine meets a handsome man—a captain—and he brings the sweet promise of rescue. 
Together they will face the future 
The sadistic mercenary who runs the mine has other plans, but Caleb's true strength lies in extracting advantage from adversity, and through the clashes that follow, he becomes the leader he was always destined to be. The sort of man Katherine can trust—with her body, with her life. With her love. 
Race with THE ADVENTURERS as these passionate daredevils lead the way to the stunning and dramatic conclusion.
#1 New York Times bestselling author of the beloved Cynster novels, Stephanie Laurens takes you on a fresh journey with THE ADVENTURERS QUARTET, a daring Regency-era adventure laced with mystery, tropical heat and passionate romance 

My Review:

The daredevil gets truly, and quite willingly, snared in this third entry in Laurens’ Adventurers’ Quartet.

ladys command by stephanie laurensAnd while I read the first book in this series, The Lady’s Command, and really enjoyed it, I have not read the second book, A Buccaneer at Heart. But I got more than enough clues about what happened that as I read The Daredevil Snared, I really thought I had read Buccaneer. The story does an excellent job of catching readers up with previous events!

The suspense part of this quartet deals with a clandestine diamond mine in West Africa, being operated by nasty mercenaries on behalf of mysterious “backers” located in the halls of power back home in England. But other, and more honorable servants of the crown are moving forces to get the English men, women and children being used as slaves to work the mine out of harm’s way before the mine plays out and their lives are forfeit as “loose ends”.

Katherine Fortescue was kidnapped from Freetown because she was a governess would could manage the children being used as nimble runners and sweepers. She’s also the figurative lieutenant keeping the other women and the children in order as part of the English community at the mine. A community dedicated wholeheartedly to finding a way to escape before it is too late.

Caleb Frobisher is the latest of the Frobisher captains sent to gather intelligence on the operation, with an eye to shutting it down without getting the slaves (read hostages) killed. Caleb, being the most reckless of his brothers, sends the intelligence he gathers back with his ship and a skeleton crew. He then gets himself and the rest of his men kidnapped into the mine. Not necessarily intentionally, but certainly serendipitously. And not without causing almost, but not quite, as many problems as it solves.

Where he falls in love and organizes a quiet rebellion, not necessarily in that order. And nearly gets himself killed.

Escape Rating B: The Daredevil Snared is a solid, and just occasionally stolid, entry in The Adventurers’ Quartet.

The action in this story is constrained by necessity, and it makes things drag a bit in the middle. Their situation, as slave diamond miners trying to hang on until they can be rescued, does not lead to lots of big, dramatic events. Most of the story involves a lot of small plots to do incremental damage, with the threat of death always on the horizon. So lots of angst, but only intermittent action.

It’s necessary for the story, but it does give the reader the urge to say “on with it!” already.

However, one of the things that does work very well is the way that the situation acts upon the romance. While the characters both firmly believe that they would have found each other sooner or later, and would still have fallen in love, the prisoner scenario does strip away all of the posturing that normally went into a Regency era courtship. They are in a situation where life may literally be too short for that crap. And it’s lovely in all sorts of ways, as they get to know who each other really is. There are no pretenses here.

Because of the way that the “adventure” underlying this series only unfolds a little bit in each book, this one doesn’t have a satisfactory ending. While the hero and heroine not only confess but act on their romance, the options for a happy ever after are severely limited. Both because “happy” is somewhat strained under the circumstances, and because “ever after” is a wish, a hope, a belief, but far, far from certain.

lord of the privateers by stephanie laurensBoth Caleb and Katherine are still prisoners of the evil slaver gang that has kidnapped so many English people from Freetown. As the story ends, we have a reprieve, and the end seems to be in sight, but it is not here yet.

Which makes the anticipation for the final book in the series, Lord of the Privateers, all that much sharper.

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

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Review: What We Find by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: What We Find by Robyn Carr + GiveawayWhat We Find (Sullivan's Crossing, #1) by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Sullivan's Crossing #1
Pages: 352
Published by Mira on April 5th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Join Robyn Carr, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Virgin River and Thunder Point series, as she explores the healing powers of rural Colorado in a brand-new story of fresh starts, budding relationships and one woman’s journey to finding the happiness she’s long been missing
Between the urban bustle of Denver and the high-stress environment of a career in neurosurgery, Maggie Sullivan has hit a wall. When an emergency, high-risk procedure results in the death of a teenager, Maggie finds herself in the middle of a malpractice lawsuit—and experiencing levels of anxiety she’s never faced before. It’s in this desperate moment that Maggie’s boyfriend decides he can’t handle her emotional baggage, and she’s left alone, exhausted and unsure of what her future holds. One thing is certain, though: she needs to slow down before she burns out completely, and the best place she can think to do that is Sullivan’s Crossing.
Named for Maggie’s great-grandfather, the land and charming general store at the crossroads of the Colorado and the Continental Divide trails have been passed down through the generations and now belong to Maggie’s estranged father, Sully. Though raised by her mother and stepfather after her parents divorced, Maggie has always adored Sully—despite his hands-off approach to fatherhood. When she shows up unannounced in Sullivan’s Crossing, he welcomes her with opens arms, and she relishes the opportunity to rebuild their relationship.
But when Sully has a sudden heart attack, Maggie’s world is rocked once again. Consumed with his care, she’s relieved to find that Cal Jones, a quiet and serious-looking camper, has been taking over many of Sully’s responsibilities as he recuperates. Still, Maggie is suspicious of this mysterious man’s eagerness to help—until she finds out the true reason for his deliberate isolation.
Though Cal and Maggie each struggle with loss and loneliness, the time they spend together gives Maggie hope for something brighter just on the horizon…if only they can learn to find peace and healing—and perhaps love—with each other.

My Review:

This week has been a bit symmetrical. Tuesday and Wednesday’s books (The Murder of Mary Russell and Journey to Munich) were read-alikes for each other. Now yesterday’s book, Once a Rancher, and today’s book, What We Find, are also read-alikes for each other.

So if Once a Rancher looked good to you, you’ll probably like What We Find. And vice-versa. And if What We Find looks good to you, you’ll probably really love The Wanderer, also by Robyn Carr. There are a lot of things about the setup that echo from one book (and one series opener) to another. But the people involved feel different, particularly the heroine.

Although they say you can’t go home again, when too many serious crises fall on Maggie Sullivan’s head, that’s exactly what she does. Maggie goes home to Sullivan’s Crossing, where her dad owns, operates and lives next-door to the local general store. Only to present Maggie with yet another crisis, but this time one that she can help to fix.

Maggie is a neurosurgeon in Denver, and generally a successful one. But in the last few months, her world has come crashing down around her. Her practice is closed, because her two partners were accused of fraud and malpractice. Maggie herself was hit with a separate malpractice suit over a heartbreaking trauma incident. Last but not least, 37-year-old Maggie found herself pregnant, and her long-term lover urged her to abort. He wasn’t ready or willing to be a father again, and when Maggie miscarried, he was more relieved than anything else. The jackass couldn’t deal with Maggie’s grief and stress – so he dumped her. In a phone call.

A friend told her to take a damn break already, and let herself heal. So Maggie went home to Sullivan’s Crossing. Less than two weeks later, her beloved but somewhat curmudgeonly dad had a heart attack, and Maggie was back in Denver at the hospital where she used to practice, enduring the complaints and teasing of a man who had never been sick a day in his life, and was a horrible patient to anyone who got near him. But he lived, and he healed, and Maggie took Sully back to Sullivan’s Crossing.

As Sully adjusts to being not quite as active as he used to be (he’s 70 and just survived a bypass) Maggie adjusts to being the one running the store and the Crossing, and finds herself becoming part of the little community where the Continental Divide Trail intersects several other trails just at that point where North America divides between east and west.

And Maggie finds herself falling for an enigmatic camper who pitches in everywhere around Sullivan’s Crossing while Sully recovers, but teases her unmercifully about who he really is and just why he’s hanging around a summer camping resort and obviously not working, from March until July.

As they explore each other, it turns out that Cal Jones is exactly what Maggie Sullivan needed to help her figure out where she wants to go (or stay) next in her life. And that Maggie Sullivan is the best thing that ever happened to Cal Jones.

But once they finally reveal all the truths to each other, can they find a way to move forward from a summer fling to something more?

Escape Rating B+: Anyone who enjoyed The Wanderer and Carr’s Thunder Point series will love What We Find. The stories are similar, but also very different. And while The Wanderer is Hank Cooper’s story, and we see things mostly from his perspective, What We Find is Maggie’s story, and hers is the point of view we see most and empathize with.

Also, Sully is a fantastic character in his own right. He reminds me a bit of Jackson Gibbs on NCIS. He’s the glue that holds the community together, and he loves his grown child without interfering in her life. But he provides interesting advice whenever anyone cares to listen, and creates a haven in his community. And of course there are unresolved issues in his relationship with his grown-up daughter that still fester between them, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the oh-so-obvious love.

Maggie and Cal’s romance is sweet and hot and surprises them both. Not that they are surprised when they finally fall into bed (or tent) together, but surprised that both of them discover more than just a fling. Maggie constantly expects Cal to leave, like her previous summer romances at the Crossing. Cal isn’t sure (with good reason) that once he tells Maggie the whole truth about his past, she’ll want to continue with him.

And they are both at personal crossroads, which may take them in opposite directions. Now that they are both nearing 40, neither of them is exactly sure what they want to be when they “grow up”. And there are certainly plenty of clouds hanging over both their heads, and lots of people pushing (at least pushing Maggie) to make one decision or another. As part of that pushing, it was very, very nice to see someone with an unconventional but loving and respectful relationship with a stepparent.

One of the things I enjoyed about this book is that Cal and Maggie are both firmly adults. They have lives and careers, and are at the point in their lives when they are searching for a next chapter. We don’t get enough of this kind of story.

I also loved that there was no “misunderstandammit” keeping them apart. Cal doesn’t talk about his past because he’s still dealing with the tragedy. He’s not ready to share. Maggie, likewise doesn’t bring up the miscarriage both because she’s still grieving and because her ex’s reaction made her a bit gunshy.

The way that they grow towards each other is lovely, and Cal’s continual teasing of the initially suspicious Maggie is adorable. I ended this book with a smile on my face, and can’t wait for my next visit to Sullivan’s Crossing.

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

Robyn and Harlequin MIRA are giving away a copy of What We Find to one lucky U.S. commenter:

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Review: The Lady’s Command by Stephanie Laurens

Review: The Lady’s Command by Stephanie LaurensThe Lady's Command (The Adventurers Quartet, #1) by Stephanie Laurens
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Adventurers Quartet #1
Pages: 384
Published by Mira on December 29th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The instant Captain Declan Frobisher laid eyes on Lady Edwina Delbraith, he knew she was the lady he wanted as his wife. The scion of a seafaring dynasty accustomed to success, he discovered that wooing Edwina was surprisingly straightforward—not least because she made it plain that she wanted him as much as he wanted her.
Declan’s vision of marriage was of a gently-reared wife to grace his arm, to manage his household, and to bear his children. He assumed that household, children, and wife would remain safely in England while he continued his life as an explorer sailing the high seas.
Declan got his wish—up to a point. He and Edwina were wed. As for the rest—his vision of marriage…
Aunt of the young Duke of Ridgware and sister of the mysterious man known as Neville Roscoe, London’s gambling king, even before the knot was tied Edwina shattered the illusion that her character is as delicate, ethereal, and fragile as her appearance suggests. Far from adhering to orthodox mores, she and her ducal family are even more unconventional than the Frobishers.
Beneath her fairy-princess exterior, Edwina possesses a spine of steel—one that might bend, but will never break. Born to the purple—born to rule—she’s determined to rule her life. With Declan’s ring on her finger, that means forging a marriage that meets her needs as well as his.
But bare weeks into their honeymoon, Declan is required to sail to West Africa. Edwina decides she must accompany him.
A secret mission with unknown villains flings unexpected dangers into their path as Declan and Edwina discover that meeting the challenge of making an unconventional marriage work requires something they both possess—bold and adventurous hearts.

My Review:

This is a fascinating Regency romance, because it breaks all the conventions. Most romances, historical and otherwise, are all about the chase. The couple meet in the beginning, work their way through one or more roadblocks to their relationship, and the story ends with the clinch or even better, the wedding. And then they live happily ever after.

The Lady’s Command turns that convention on its head by starting with the wedding. At the wedding between Declan Frobisher and Lady Edwina Delbraith, both parties are thinking about how they will turn their whirlwind courtship into a real marriage. The problem is that they have very different visions of exactly what constitutes a “real marriage”.

If the marriage had been arranged, this unconventional plot would not be as surprising, but it is clear from the outset of the story that Declan and Edwina met, courted and married because they fell in both love and lust with each other. They both wanted this marriage.

They just never talked about what would happen after the honeymoon was over.

Declan assumed that Edwina would be just like any high-born wife. That she would wait patiently at home for him while he conducted his business. As his business is as a ship’s captain for his family firm who sometimes undertake secret missions for the Crown, Declan was expecting his wife to wait patiently at home six months out of the year, and to keep his sometimes dangerous and sometimes secret business very, very separate from his private life.

He should have asked Edwina first. Her vision of their marriage is that she will be his partner in all things, even though he has successfully kept the picture of what those “all things” are carefully obscured until now. Both Edwina and Declan are in for rude awakenings.

Both Declan and Edwina come from very unconventional families, so it is not surprising that they finally do figure out that they are better off, not just together, but as partners in a very unconventional marriage.

They just have to survive their first steps together on that journey.

Escape Rating B+: This is a historical romance that I was pleasantly able to sink my teeth into, without those teeth either rotting away from sweetness overload or gritting from the constant institutionalized sexism that sometimes permeates the genre.

In other words, The Lady’s Command is fun. Because this is Edwina’s story, and Edwina seizes the initiative at every opportunity. Declan’s role in this affair is to recognize that his life, his happiness and his business are better off if he accepts Edwina as his partner.

And while he certainly has his fits of protective possessiveness, he does manage to make the journey with her. And not against her.

One of the ways in which this worked for me is that Declan finally recognizes that while Edwina’s skills at manipulating the ton and its impression of her family are incredibly useful, her role as part of the social “powers that be” is a mask she wears and not her true self. He understands that she has many hidden depths and talents that are equal to, if different, from his own.

There’s also an adventure/suspense plot in the middle of the romance. And it’s fascinating because we only get a piece of that story. English men, women and children are disappearing from the British colony of Freeport in West Africa. Agents who investigate those disappearances also disappear. And instead of investigating the disappearances, the British Governor is quashing any rumors, claiming that all those people (almost 20 that are known) just walked into the jungle of their own accord in search of fame and fortune.

Declan’s job is to find out the first clue about what is going on and rush back to London, before he too disappears. In that search for truth, it is Edwina who gets too close and nearly joins the disappeared. And even so, they have only discovered the tip of a very nasty iceberg, an iceberg that it will be the next agent’s job to plumb further.

buccaneer at heart by stephanie laurensSo we see Declan and Edwina establish the future path for their relationship, and the future path for the investigation into what’s going wrong in Freeport. Further steps in the investigation will be someone else’s to discover in the succeeding volumes of The Adventurers Quartet. Declan’s brother Robert will be posted to Freeport in the next book in the series, A Buccaneer at Heart.

I’m looking forward to further clues to the mystery, and another marvelous and unconventional romance. It should be oodles of fun!

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Review: The Silence That Speaks by Andrea Kane

Review: The Silence That Speaks by Andrea KaneThe Silence That Speaks (Forensic Instincts, #4) by Andrea Kane
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Forensic Instincts #4
Pages: 336
Published by Mira on April 28th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

WHO WANTS MADELINE WESTFIELD DEAD? AND WHY?
Forensic Instincts' first order of business is to find out who's targeting their client. Under the leadership of Casey Woods, the investigative team has the resources to do just that, working inside the law—and outside it. FI's strength is its members, among them Casey's associate Marc Devereaux, former navy SEAL and a man who's equal to any situation.
Except maybe this one…
Madeline's case hits too close to home for Marc. She's the only woman he ever loved, and she's his only weakness. Now a nurse at Manhattan Memorial, she's terrified because someone is trying to kill her. So she turns, reluctantly, to Marc and FI for help and protection.
Meanwhile, Manhattan Memorial is in turmoil. With a merger in the works, the staff is still haunted by their hospital administrator's sudden death—during heart surgery performed by Madeline's ex-husband, Conrad. A surgery at which Madeline was present. The killer seems to blame both Madeline and Conrad…
With a growing list of suspects—including the grieving widow and a string of scorned lovers—Forensic Instincts will have to figure out who has the greatest incentive to get rid of Madeline. And FI has to work fast to save her…before she's permanently silenced.

My Review:

While every book in this series is a taut, gripping thriller, it’s the team dynamic at Forensic Institute that makes these books so much fun to read – even while you are choking the pages in terror for one or more of the protagonists.

stranger you know by andrea kaneThe team was introduced in The Girl Who Disappeared Twice. In that first story, behavioral profiler Casey Woods puts together the core of the FI team – ex-SEAL Marc, tech genius Ryan, psychic sensitive Claire, and scent-evidence dog Hero – who find both the girl and the woman she became. In later stories, The Line Between Here and Gone (reviewed here) and The Stranger You Know (reviewed here), FI adds retired FBI Agent Patrick to the mix.

In The Silence That Speaks, a part of the story is the addition of a new member to the troupe. Now that the office has grown to six principals and their fame has increased, there is way more business and business detritus, than one highly sophisticated artificial intelligence. Even the real Yoda, with the Force, would have had problems managing this office, let alone one without opposable thumbs.

So the gang recruits Emma to be their new receptionist, file clerk, occasional undercover operative and resident pick-pocket. She acts like everyone’s know-it-all little sister and she fits right in. The team is going to need her.

Because the normally Spock-like Marc is completely off his game with this case. Their new client is Madeline Westfield, who once upon a time and in a galaxy fairly far away, back when Marc was still a SEAL and not an ex-SEAL, Maddy was the love of his life. And he let her go. Ten years and one divorce later, she is still the only woman he’s ever loved. And this time he’s never letting her go.

Providing he can get through the thick wall he’s built around his heart – and providing that FI can save Maddy’s much-threatened life.

Someone is out to kill Madeline Westfield, and she has no idea why. It’s only when the killer starts targeting Maddy’s ex-husband as well that the team turns its focus from whether her ex can’t let her go to who the star surgeon and the E.R. nurse might have pissed off so much that murdering them both is the only answer.

As the team investigates both Conrad and Madeline Westfield, and peers into the lives of every person at Manhattan Memorial Hospital who is even remotely near Conrad’s and Maddy’s orbit. While the team looks into the hospital’s potential merger and the family of a surgical patient Conrad lost on the table, the motive and the killer turns out to be hiding in plain sight.

Escape Rating A: The Silence That Speaks was exactly the book I was looking for over the weekend. As much as I usually find romances marvelously distracting, this was a weekend where I wanted a book I could really sink my teeth into, and this series always fills the bill. And there’s a bit of romance just for fun.

This series works for me because I like the team so much. All of the team members have very distinctive personalities (including the dog Hero!) and they mesh well. They are also very good at challenging each other when they need it, and that gives their interactions much more depth.

A lot of that challenge at the beginning is between Marc and Casey. Casey needs Marc to be his stoic and unemotional self. His very Spock-like detachment, as well as his abilities to knock out their adversaries, are a big part of what he brings to the team. Marc’s detachment is gone when it comes to Maddy, but it takes him a while to admit it. Once he does, he and Casey have some very tense moments around whether he can be emotionally involved and still do his job and protect the client. And be smart about it.

Emma is a tremendous asset to the team. Not just because she is still unknown and able to go undercover into the hospital as a candy-striper, but because she has the skills to pull off the kind of con they need while she’s there. And swipe a security badge. She’d be a terrible foe if she were on the side of evil, but on the side of the usually righteous, she’s a hoot.

The case itself is deliciously convoluted. The potential scenario is constantly changing, as the team goes from the extremely obvious (it’s usually the spouse or ex-spouse) to follow the money to the one they missed until almost the very end, cherchez la femme. What adds to the number of red herrings in the barrel is that there are so many femmes to cherchez. The original victim liked chasing women, and then paying them off at the end of his affairs. When the team finally focuses on the dead surgical patient and not the surgery itself, things start racing towards the finish.

And as they race, the readers are desperately following along, hoping that the team will figure out the final pieces before the killer claims a final victim. I couldn’t put this book down all day. I just had to see it through to the end.

If you enjoy fast-paced thrillers with real people dealing with interesting relationships while chasing complicated baddies, the Forensic Institute team is an absolutely fantastic way to lose a weekend. Start with The Girl Who Disappeared Twice and enjoy!