Review: In the Shadow of a Queen by Heather B. Moore

Review: In the Shadow of a Queen by Heather B. MooreIn the Shadow of a Queen by Heather B. Moore
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 384
Published by Shadow Mountain on October 4, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Based on the true story of the free-spirited daughter of Queen Victoria.
Princess Louise’s life is upended after her father’s untimely death. Captive to the queen’s overwhelming mourning, Louise is forbidden to leave her mother’s tight circle of control and is eventually relegated to the position of personal secretary to her mother—the same position each of her sisters held until they were married.
Already an accomplished painter, Louise risks the queen’s wrath by exploring the art of sculpting, an activity viewed as unbefitting a woman. When Louise involves herself in the day’s political matters, including championing the career of a female doctor and communicating with suffragettes, the queen lays down the law to stop her and devotes her full energy to finding an acceptable match for her defiant daughter.
Louise is considered the most beautiful and talented daughter of Queen Victoria, but finding a match for the princess is no easy feat. Protocols are broken, and Louise exerts her own will as she tries to find an open-minded husband who will support her free spirit.
In the Shadow of a Queen is the story of a battle of wills between two women: a daughter determined to forge her own life beyond the shadow of her mother, and a queen resolved to keep the Crown’s reputation unsullied no matter the cost.

My Review:

There’s a saying that “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But sometimes, history repeats even when it is remembered. Because before Elizabeth II, the longest ruling monarch in British history, there was Victoria, relegated to being the second longest ruling monarch in that history. And there are definitely elements of that history that repeats because the patterns for it were set in protocol and tradition long before either was born.

Princess Louise c. 1860s

Queen Victoria is the queen under whose shadow all of her children existed, but the one whose early life is examined in this fictional biography is that of Princess Louise, her fourth daughter and NINTH child. The focus is on Louise because she is the one who rebelled against her mother’s strictures the most in the end and became a talented and prolific artist and sculptor. Her statues of her mother are still on display at Kensington Palace and Lichfield Cathedral in England and McGill University in Canada.

In the Shadow of a Queen is a portrait of the unconventional princess as a girl and young woman, in the ten critical years of her life after the death of her beloved father, Prince Albert. It’s the story of Louise growing up in a household of never-ending mourning amid endless and often contradictory restrictions, trying to find a space for herself in a world that remained under the constant, depressing pall of her mother’s grief.

Rather than a portrait of a rebellious royal, In the Shadow of a Queen is instead the portrait of a girl growing into womanhood under the shadow of a mother who is both larger than life and a law unto herself as that princess sows the seeds of the rebel she will one day become. Once she emerges into her own light.

Escape Rating B: As the story of Princess Louise’s early years, this is a story of obedience and eventually manipulation and maneuvering rather than rebellion. And unfortunately, disobedience would have been a lot more interesting to read about than obedience turns out to be.

At the same time, while Louise’s personal perspective on events is that of a child in the early parts of the book, what she is observing is a fascinating portrait of life in the royal household in the 1860s and 1870s. It’s easy for the reader to get caught up in the day-to-day happenings, even when not all that much happens from day to day.

What grabbed me in particular were questions outside of Louise’s experience because they reflect more recent events. Like Victoria, Elizabeth II reigned long and well into her Prince of Wales’ adulthood. Bertie was 60 when he finally became King Edward VII after a scandal plagued marriage and a long and strained relationship with his mother because of those scandals. While King Charles III’s relationship with his mother seems to have been less fraught, the scandal part of their stories does have some parallels.

The restrictions on not just Louise’s life but on any possible husband for her and all of the rules and regulations – and interference from the Queen in their lives even before the wedding – can’t help but make readers reflect on how much things have remained the same even with more than a century in between.

In spite of that invasive, restrictive, and sometimes downright capricious interference, the story ends with Louise’s marriage to John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne, heir to the Dukedom of Argyll. The story portrays their marriage as a love match, resulting in a happy ever after for the book that was not reflected in the historical record. But it does mark a convenient place to bring the story of Louise’s early years to a relatively optimistic conclusion.

This version of Louise’s story is an intimate portrait. While not told from directly inside Louise’s head, it is focused on her perspective and only deals with outside events as she would have known about them. A perspective that expands as she grows from a tween into a woman in her early twenties. It is a family portrait, just that the family in question was, at the time, the ruling family of an empire that spanned the globe.

However, In the Shadow of a Queen is not the only such portrait of Princess Louise to be published this year or even this season. An Indiscreet Princess by Georgie Blaylock, also focuses on Louise’s early adulthood, but more specifically looks at her artistic ventures outside of the Palace and her many rumored romances. I can’t resist comparing the one book to the other, so I’ll be reviewing Louise’s other fictionalized biography in the coming weeks.

Because whether one looks at her art, her romances or her strained relationship with the short but towering figure of Queen Victoria, her life and her times were absolutely fascinating. Just as In the Shadow of a Queen is a portrait of the artistic rebel as a young princess, the times in which she lived serve as a picture of the events and the family that shaped the world we live in today. For both good and ill.

Review: A Death in Door County by Annelise Ryan

Review: A Death in Door County by Annelise RyanA Death in Door County (Monster Hunter Mystery, #1) by Annelise Ryan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Monster Hunter Mystery #1
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley Books on September 13, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A Wisconsin bookstore owner and cryptozoologist is asked to investigate a series of deaths that just might be proof of a fabled lake monster in this first installment of a new mystery series by USA Today bestselling author Annelise Ryan.
Morgan Carter, owner of the Odds and Ends bookstore in Door County, Wisconsin, has a hobby. When she's not tending the store, she's hunting cryptids--creatures whose existence is rumored, but never proven to be real. It's a hobby that cost her parents their lives, but one she'll never give up on.
So when a number of bodies turn up on the shores of Lake Michigan with injuries that look like bites from a giant unknown animal, police chief Jon Flanders turns to Morgan for help. A skeptic at heart, Morgan can't turn down the opportunity to find proof of an entity whose existence she can't definitively rule out. She and her beloved rescue dog, Newt, journey to the Death's Door strait to hunt for a homicidal monster in the lake--but if they're not careful, they just might be its next victims.

My Review:

Yesterday’s book left me with a hankering for a mystery I could really sink my teeth into. I just wasn’t expecting the teeth to be quite as large as they turned out to be in A Death in Door County. This book is the kind of mystery that really takes a chomp out of each and every one of its rather tasty red herrings.

Calling Morgan Carter’s side gig as a cryptozoologist a hobby – as the book’s blurb does – isn’t strictly accurate. It’s more like a passion. Or a calling. Or a way to feel closer to her late parents by carrying on their work.

Perhaps all of the above.

Live Coelacanth off Pumula on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, South Africa in 2019

She also has degrees in both biology and zoology, so she’s definitely a scientifically trained cryptozoologist. And, perhaps as a consequence of those degrees, a skeptical one. She doesn’t believe in Bigfoot or Sasquatch or Chupacabra. Nessie she’s a bit more equivocal on. Not so much on Nessie herself, but rather the possibility that some kind of deep water creature might have managed to hide from humans for millennia – because that’s really happened. Coelacanths, thought to be extinct for 66 MILLION years, turned up very much alive if not exactly flourishing in 1938. The current population is considered either endangered or vulnerable depending on subspecies, but the re-discovery of the coelacanth does give Morgan hope that another such creature could be found in the modern day.

Which is what leads Washington Island Police Chief Jon Flanders to the door of Morgan’s rather eclectic bookstore in mainland Door County. He’s got a couple of dead bodies that look like they got mauled by something that hasn’t been identified. Something with a very large mouth and rather big teeth. He’s worried it might be a cryptid. He’s equally worried that it might be someone or something mimicking a cryptid. Whether it is or it isn’t, he’s really, really worried that if word gets out either the tourists the area depends on for income will get scared away, or that the curious and the cryptid hunters will flock to the area in droves and interfere with the investigation.

So he hires Morgan to go hunting. To either find a cryptid, or reliably rule one out. Before the body count gets any higher.

Escape Rating B: This series opener kicks off its mystery series with a couple of surprising twists for something that is billed as a cozy, beginning with its protagonist Morgan Carter. Cryptozoology isn’t a vocation or even an avocation that is high on the list of ‘usual’ careers for amateur detectives – although bookstore owner certainly is.

But it is what makes her investigation so fascinating. Because she starts out looking at whether or not it’s scientifically possible for a cryptid to be involved in the crimes – but she doesn’t stop there. She’s not looking for Nessie or her Great Lakes equivalent, she’s looking for who or what might have done the damage exhibited on the victims. Which might – or might not – come back to Nessie. Or at least her North American kin.

Which means that Morgan is also looking into the victims, as well as into the conditions in and around Lake Michigan. And it’s in that investigation that she keeps running into Police Chief Flanders – who isn’t always all that thrilled. Because Morgan keeps stepping on, over and around police procedure to get her answers – and locking horns with Flanders.

It’s clear fairly early on that whatever is roiling the waters around Door County is human in origin. After all, sea monsters, no matter how terrifying, do not enter bookstores unnoticed, nor do they hit people on the head and leave notes pinned to knick-knacks with knives.

What’s roiling between Morgan and “Flatfoot Flanders” is even harder to pin down. They are clearly interested in each other but they both have issues in their respective pasts that are going to make any potential romantic relationship a bit dicey.

After all, Flanders got the recommendation to hire Morgan from his uncle, a cop in Delaware who STILL seems to believe that Morgan was responsible for the deaths of her parents.

She wasn’t, but that’s another story that leads to one of my pet peeves about this book, of which I have three. I did really enjoy the mystery, and I genuinely liked that the setting and the characters were a bit different from the ‘usual suspects’.

But, and perhaps this was because of the place and the people not being those usual suspects, there was a fair bit of infodumping about Lake Michigan, its wreck-filled maritime history, and the danger of its currents and undercurrents. Morgan also got rather far in-depth into the nature of potential marine cryptids. While necessary, it felt like both went on past the point of too much of a good thing.

The second quibble was that the solution to the mystery came completely out of deep left field until nearly the end. I knew it was a human agency and not a cryptid, but the human agents weren’t even on the radar until about the 75% mark of the story. I was not expecting a fair play mystery but I would still expect to see some of the perps in advance of the race-to-the-finish ending.

And last but not least we get back to the death of Morgan’s parents a couple of years before this story begins. Because Morgan has an EvilEx™ to beat all previous evil exes. He killed her parents when they finally figured out that he wasn’t who he said he was. He nearly managed to pin the murders on Morgan because no one ever saw him. AND he’s still out there. He was a huge Chekhov’s Gun hanging over the entire story. While it does explain Morgan’s trust issues in regards to men in general and Flanders in particular, the lack of closure in that part of the story hung over this first entry in the series like that proverbial Sword of Damocles. It’s obvious that if this series continues that issue should be resolved. Right now it’s hanging like a shoe that needs to drop in ways that left me unsatisfied at the end of this story.

Not that the villains of this entry in the series don’t get most of what they deserve. But they read like giant red herrings for a true villain left waiting in the wings. But I want to see that villain get his, one way or another. So I’ll be back for the next entry in this series in the hopes of catching him hiding in the shadows.

Review: Marple: Twelve New Mysteries by Agatha Christie et al.

Review: Marple: Twelve New Mysteries by Agatha Christie et al.Marple: Twelve New Mysteries by Naomi Alderman, Leigh Bardugo, Alyssa Cole, Lucy Foley, Elly Griffiths, Natalie Haynes, Jean Kwok, Val McDermid, Karen M. McManus, Dreda Say Mitchell, Kate Mosse, Ruth Ware
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery, mystery
Series: Miss Marple Mysteries
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow & Company on September 13, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A brand-new collection of short stories featuring the Queen of Mystery’s legendary detective Jane Marple, penned by twelve remarkable bestselling and acclaimed authors.
This collection of a dozen original short stories, all featuring Jane Marple, will introduce the character to a whole new generation. Each author reimagines Agatha Christie’s Marple through their own unique perspective while staying true to the hallmarks of a traditional mystery.

Naomi Alderman
Leigh Bardugo
Alyssa Cole
Lucy Foley
Elly Griffiths
Natalie Haynes
Jean Kwok
Val McDermid
Karen M. McManus
Dreda Say Mitchell
Kate Mosse
Ruth Ware

Miss Marple was first introduced to readers in a story Agatha Christie wrote for The Royal Magazine in 1927 and made her first appearance in a full-length novel in 1930’s The Murder at the Vicarage. It has been 45 years since Agatha Christie’s last Marple novel, Sleeping Murder, was published posthumously in 1976, and this collection of ingenious new stories by twelve Christie devotees will be a timely reminder why Jane Marple remains the most famous fictional female detective of all time.

My Review:

Unfortunately, Agatha Christie isn’t writing any new Marple stories, or for that matter any new Poirot stories. But she was the creator of the iconic “little old lady” amateur detective Miss Jane Marple and will be credited as such for as long as Miss Marple is read. And this collection of new Marple stories from the pens – or computers – of Dame Agatha’s successors in mystery is certain to keep Miss Jane Marple of St. Mary Mead in the minds and hearts of readers for another generation.

I have to confess that personally I prefer Poirot to Marple. It’s not so much about either of them as it is about the way they are treated and the world that surrounds them. Both are just a tad eccentric, a bit of an exaggeration in Miss Marple’s case while a huge understatement in Poirot’s, but because of both their respective genders and the times in which their stories are set Poirot’s eccentricities are considered a mark of his genius while Miss Marple is often disregarded and disrespected, sometimes even after she solves the case.

If Miss Marple had half of Poirot’s foibles she would have been locked up in a lunatic asylum. Men were allowed to be over-the-top, even to his degree, without being thought to be insane. Or hysterical as she would have been. Certainly, few would have taken her remotely seriously, discounting her because of her age and her gender.

While Christie got around some of the restrictions on women at the time by making Miss Marple an independent woman past a certain age who had outlived any male who might have had authority over her, the authors of this collection have taken that a step further by setting all of their stories rather later in her “career’, meaning that she already has a well-earned reputation for solving murders and has garnered a circle of influential friends in high places – at least among the police.

So she doesn’t face quite as much disrespect and disregard as she would have earlier. (It’s been decades since I read her first outing, A Murder in the Vicarage, so I just picked up a copy so I can read it again and see if memory and supposition are correct.)

One of the stories in this collection (The Second Murder at the Vicarage by Val McDermid) takes the reader back to that very place where Miss Marple solved her first case), while Miss Marple’s Christmas by Ruth Ware takes us back to St. Mary Mead for a traditional Christmas gathering Marple style, as Miss Marple finds herself solving a case of theft instead of indulging in the Christmas pudding.

Escape Rating B: For the most part, these stories were enjoyable as I read them but weren’t quite long enough to really dig into the mysteries. They also don’t feel remotely like ‘fair play’ mysteries as the detection and investigation seems to hinge a great deal on Miss Marple’s comparisons to people and situations in St. Mary Mead that we don’t know about. Her leaps of logic and inferences about human nature do give the reader an “A-ha!” moment when revealed but I never felt like I had enough to follow her trail.

I still had a good time reading this collection, and wouldn’t mind – AT ALL! – to see another collection like this one or something similar featuring my old friend Hercule Poirot. Alternatively, several of the authors in this collection of Miss Marple stories would make excellent candidates for writing a series of NEW Marple novels just as Sophie Hannah has taken up the task of writing the New Hercule Poirot series that began with The Monogram Murders.

Anyone who loves Miss Marple or is looking for a trip back to the Golden Age of mystery will enjoy this collection – and hope for more!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 9-25-22

It seems fitting that the Fabulous Fall Giveaway Hop ends tonight, on this first fabulous fall weekend. It’s beautiful here in Atlanta, and the temperature has finally dropped down from OMG IT’S HOT to just lovely. It’ll be long-sleeve weather soon!

Speaking of lovely things, here’s a particularly good picture of the lovely Luna, the Princess of Quite A Lot auditioning for the position of Queen of All She Surveys. Hecate is still off grumping in the kitchen window seat and refusing to compete.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or Book in the Fabulous Fall Giveaway Hop (ENDS TONIGHT!!!!!!!!)
$10 Gift Card or Book in the Falling into Leaves Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or Book in Fall 2022 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Summer 2022 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop is Jo

Blog Recap:

A+ Review: Silver Under Nightfall by Rin Chupeco
B+ Review: Hades: Sentinel Security #2 by Anna Hackett
B Review: Drunk on Love by Jasmine Guillory
Fall 2022 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop
A- Review: Sweetwater and the Witch by Jayne Castle
Stacking the Shelves (515)

Coming This Week:

Marple: Twelve New Mysteries by Agatha Christie et al (review)
A Death in Door County by Annelise Ryan (review)
In the Shadow of a Queen by Heather B. Moore (blog tour review)
Sweep of Stars by Maurice Broaddus (review)
The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope (audiobook review)

Stacking the Shelves (515)

I absolutely did pick up Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone for the title. Because seriously, who could resist? I have The Cradle of Ice because the first book in the series, The Starless Crown was intriguing – if a bit uneven. And the audio of God of Neverland was an Audible Daily Deal. Some stacks have a teeny bit more thought put into them than this one does, but they all look fascinating!

For Review:
The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi (Amina al-Sirafi #1) by Shannon Chakraborty
The Bequest by Joanna Margaret
Conquer the Kingdom (Gargoyle Queen #3) by Jennifer Estep
The Cradle of Ice (Moon Fall #2) by James Rollins
Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson
Foul Lady Fortune (Foul Lady Fortune #1) by Chloe Gong
The Foxglove King (Nightshade Crown #1) by Hannah Whitten
The Queen’s Price (Black Jewels #12) by Anne Bishop
Solomon’s Crown by Natasha Siegel
A Very Typical Family by Sierra Godfrey
A Wish for Winter by Viola Shipman

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
God of Neverland (Defenders of Lore #1) by Gama Ray Martinez (audio)


If you want to find out more about Stacking The Shelves, please visit the official launch page

Please link your STS post in the linky below:


Review: Sweetwater and the Witch by Jayne Castle

Review: Sweetwater and the Witch by Jayne CastleSweetwater and the Witch by Jayne Castle
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure romance, futuristic, paranormal romance, romantic suspense, science fiction romance
Series: Harmony #15
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on September 20, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Welcome to the world of Harmony, where--despite its name, things are anything but--danger lurks just beneath the surface in this new novel by New York Times bestselling author, Jayne Castle.
If there's something Ravenna Chastain knows, it's when to end things. And after she almost winds up the victim of a cult that believes she's a witch, it's easy to walk away from her dead-end career, ready for a new start. But where to find a job that would allow her to use her very specialized skill set? The answer is clear: she becomes a matchmaker.
But even a successful matchmaker can't find someone for everyone, and Ravenna considers Ethan Sweetwater her first professional failure. After nine failed dates, Ravenna knows it's time to cut Ethan loose. But Ethan refuses to be fired as a client--he needs one final date to a business function. Since Ravenna needs a date herself to a family event, they agree to a deal: she will be his (business) date if he will be her (fake) date to her grandparents' anniversary celebration.
What Ethan fails to mention is that attending the business function is a cover for some industrial espionage that he's doing as a favor to the new Illusion Town Guild boss. Ravenna is happy to help, but their relationship gets even more complicated when things heat up--the chemistry between them is explosive, as explosive as the danger that's stalking Ravenna. Lucky for her, Ethan isn't just an engineer--he's also a Sweetwater, and Sweetwaters are known for hunting down monsters...

My Review:

When I originally saw the title of this latest entry in the Harmony series, at first I thought it was going to be a Western – or at least a Weird West – kind of story. (The rhythm of the words in the title keeps taking me back to the movie McCabe & Mrs .Miller which was a sort of Western. I digress. Again. I know.) Harmony is absolutely wild enough and definitely weird enough to resemble the Weird West, but it’s a far-future lost colony world that presented some unique challenges to the first settlers and still does to their descendants even two centuries later.

The planet of Harmony – which doesn’t generally exhibit all that much harmony or we wouldn’t have this marvelous series – was settled by a group of human colonists that included members of the Arcane Society and their allies back on Earth. Who were people with psi powers as portrayed in the Victorian and contemporary set Arcane Society series and its offshoots, which were published under the author’s Amanda Quick and Jayne Ann Krentz pen names.

(If the setup sounds a bit familiar, it’s also the setup for the Celta series by Robin D. Owens, so if you like one you’ll like the other.)

By the time in Harmony’s history when this story takes place, Harmony has lost all contact with Earth, and the upheavals of that loss have settled back into a history that is still well-remembered but no longer as influential as it once was. Not that there aren’t some people looking to recreate the past glories of their ancestors. Even if those so-called glories are only in the minds of past – and present – psychopaths.

Which is what this entry in the series turns out to be about. Two people who think they can do their criminal predecessors one better, and two people who stand in their way. And eventually stand together to do it.

Escape Rating A-: What makes this entry in the series so much fun is the witty banter and slowly building romance between Ethan Sweetwater and Ravenna Chastain. She’s a police profiler turned matchmaker, and he’s the client she’s supposed to find a match for but it’s not working. At all. Which he refuses to acknowledge or let the project go for reasons that Ravenna doesn’t see but the reader probably does.

It’s only when Ethan helps her take out the trash – by which I mean the comatose body of her first stalker – that Ravenna gets the idea that there’s more to Ethan than initially appeared. Which is, of course, more than true.

He presented himself as a mild-mannered, kind of dorky engineer. And he is. But underneath that unassuming persona lurks a man who knows just who to call and how to dispose of a not-quite dead body. Ravenna is worried that he might be connected to the mob.

Ethan, on the other hand, knows that she’s his match. Lucky for him – in a twisted sort of way – the deadly adventures that keep finding them give them plenty of chances to bond into a relationship where they both know they’ll have each other’s backs through thick, thin, nightmares and flame-throwers.

All they have to do is convince each other it’s for keeps. And keep fighting to make sure that they will be a “keeps” to have.

That this turns out to be a delightful romance to go with the deadly danger has to do with the personalities of the three protagonists; Ethan, Ravenna, and Ravenna’s dust bunny Harriet. They make one hell of a team where each has a crucial part to play in taking down the villains and having a bit of fun along the way.

Dust bunnies excel at finding the fun in EVERYTHING!

One final note; there is obviously a long and storied history to Harmony but each book stands pretty much on its own. The necessary parts of the background history are always explained, while the occasional mention of a particular person or incident is more in the form of an “Easter Egg” that brings a smile if you know but lack of that knowledge does not detract from enjoyment of the book in hand. The romances are always self-contained to the individual book. That being said, the books in the series are a bit like potato chips in that you won’t want to read just one.

And I guarantee you’ll wish you had your own dust bunny to chortle at your side as you read!

Fall 2022 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Fall 2022 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop, hosted by It Starts At Midnight and Shooting Stars Mag!

Once upon a time, this was the Month of Books Giveaway Hop, now it’s the Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop, with the hops starting on the days the seasons change. Today is the first official day of Fall no matter how far behind Labor Day seems in the rearview mirror. Or whether the leaves have even begun to turn in your location. I’m in Atlanta and the leaves aren’t even going to start changing for at least a couple of weeks.

But the question this season is the same question it’s always been for one of these particular hops. What book or books are you most looking forward to this season?

I’m never looking forward to just one thing when it comes to books. Here are a few that are at the top of my list for this fall of 2022:

The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews
Fox in the Fold by Candace Robb
Into the West by Mercedes Lackey
Pets of Park Avenue by Stefanie London
Secrets Typed in Blood by Stephen Spotswood
Under a Veiled Moon by Karen Odden

What about you? What books are you most looking forward to this fall? Answer in the rafflecopter for you choice of either a $10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 in books so you can get one or two of the books on your list!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more bookish prizes this season, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter



Review: Drunk on Love by Jasmine Guillory

Review: Drunk on Love by Jasmine GuilloryDrunk on Love by Jasmine Guillory
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Pages: 400
Published by Berkley Books on September 20, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

An intoxicating and sparkling new romance by New York Times bestselling author Jasmine Guillory. Margot Noble needs some relief from the stress of running the family winery with her brother. Enter Luke: sexy, charming, and best of all in the too-small world of Napa, a stranger. The chemistry between them is undeniable, and Margot is delighted that she lucked into the perfect one-night stand she'll never have to see again. That is, until the winery's newest hire, Luke, walks in the next morning. Margot is determined to keep things purely professional, but when their every interaction reminds her of the attraction still bubbling between them, it proves to be much more challenging than she expects.
Luke Williams had it all, but when he quits his high-salary tech job in Silicon Valley in a blaze of burnout and moves back to Napa to help a friend, he realizes he doesn't want to tell the world--or his mom--why he's now working at a winery. His mom loves bragging about her successful son--how can he admit that the job she's so proud of broke him? Luke has no idea what is next for him, but one thing is certain: he wants more from the incredibly smart and sexy woman he hooked up with--even after he learns she's his new boss. But even if they can find a way to be together that wouldn't be an ethical nightmare, would such a successful woman really want a tech-world dropout?
Set against a lush backdrop of Napa Valley wine country, nothing goes to your head as fast as a taste of love--even if it means changing all your plans.

My Review: 

The meet-cute that uncorks Drunk on Love is a classic for a reason. Strangers meet in a bar, at a party, or wherever – although in this particular case it’s a neighborhood bar with excellent drinks and great food. They strike up a conversation on one pretext or another and simply hit it off in a way that neither of them can resist.

So they don’t. A great meal, a fantastic night, and a not too terribly awkward morning after and then they’ll never see each other again. Or so one or both of them believes.

Then they do meet again, later that morning after, in the most awkward way possible. And so it begins.

In the case of Margot Noble and Luke Williams, what makes that awkward morning after into an even more awkward gift that is just going to keep on giving – at least for the reader – is that the new job that Luke walks into in the tasting room of a local winery turns out to be the family winery belonging to Margot and her brother Elliot.

Elliot Noble is the winemaker, Margot Noble is the business manager, which means Elliot mostly gets to work behind the scenes, while Margot is out front, managing the finances, drumming up business, schmoozing restaurants to get them to offer and promote Noble wines – and, you guessed it, running the tasting room at the winery.

In other words, Margot is Luke’s new boss. Which is where this romantic comedy kicks into high gear – and sometimes even gets drunk on the Noble Family Wineries’ products. Because neither of them can forget the best night either of them has had in a long, long time – if ever. And they both know it can’t happen again as long as Luke is working in Margot’s tasting room

But they both want it to. So, so bad. Because they already know it’ll be so, so good. If they can just find a way to make it – or let it – happen.

Escape Rating B: I loved the way that Drunk on Love started, and even more so as Margot was a bit older than Luke which is one of my favorite tropes.

Very much on my other hand, this one middled in places that aren’t necessarily my cup of tea – or that I just wasn’t in the mood for at the moment, leaving me with some mixed reading feelings.

The kickoff for this was a winner. Absolutely. There’s always something delicious in a forbidden romance but there are few non-squicky ways to make that happen in the 21st century. This is one that works.

That there is a certain amount of deception in this kind of romance is a given. What drove me bananas about the story wasn’t so much the coverup of their relationship but rather the lies they are telling themselves about pretty much everything else.

Luke is back home in Napa because he burned out at his high-paying, high-powered, high-tech job but can’t manage to tell anyone about it – in some ways, not even himself. So in order to cover that up he covers up more stuff until he’s at the bottom of a pit of lies and just can’t seem to stop digging.

Margot, on the other hand, is doing very well in her position but can’t believe that her brother thinks she is or even wants her there. Their relationship is filled with nothing but tension that might or might not still have a cause. They’re in the middle of a giant misunderstandammit and can’t seem to find a way clear of it.

It’s not just that Margot and Luke are standing in their own ways, but that the way they are doing so stands in the way of any potential future happiness. It’s hard to watch these two very sympathetic and likeable characters flail around at reaching their HEA, but once they do it’s very much earned.

So if you like a bit of angst mixed with witty banter between a couple of really great people who need a few good swift kicks to move them to an HEA, try a glass – or a chapter or two – of Drunk on Love. If you prefer the witty banter in your romcom to be undiluted, grab a copy of the author’s The Wedding Date – a bubbly delight from the very first sip to the last.

Review: Hades: Sentinel Security #2 by Anna Hackett

Review: Hades: Sentinel Security #2 by Anna HackettHades (Sentinel Security #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, romantic suspense
Series: Sentinel Security #2
Pages: 245
Published by Anna Hackett on September 20th 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

He’s a gorgeous former Interpol agent.
Tall, dark, and Italian.
He’s way out of her league, but when danger explodes around them, she finds herself on the run with the sexiest man she’s ever met.
CIA analyst Gabbi Hansley has a plan—escape her dysfunctional family, excel at her job, and build a safe, stable life for herself. Boring? Maybe, but she likes boring. When tasked to meet a security contractor and give him an encrypted drive, a quick, simple job goes terribly wrong.
Gabbi didn’t expect her contact to be the hottest man she’s ever seen. Nor was she expecting the bad guys who turn up and spray the restaurant with bullets.
After years of wading through the muck, dismantling mafia crime syndicates in Italy, former Anti-Mafia officer and Interpol agent Matteo “Hades” Mancini likes his job at Sentinel Security. He also knows he has nothing permanent to offer any woman, so he keeps things fun and temporary.
But when his dangerous past rears its head, he finds himself trapped with the tough, no-nonsense Gabbi, and on a second glance, he sees past her sensible exterior to the tempting woman beneath.
Now Gabbi and Matteo are in a race for survival. While they work to track down who’s after them, attraction burns hot and bright. Gabbi knows a man like Matteo won’t be interested in her for long, and she asks him to show her all the things she’s been missing in the bedroom. But the possessive need to keep her safe is growing in Matteo, and soon he has two mission objectives: take down the bad guys, and convince Gabbi Hansley that she’s his.
*** An action-packed standalone romantic suspense.

My Review:

CIA analyst Gabbi Hansley is a “feel the fear and do it anyway” kind of person and I love her for it. As does Hades himself. Not that either is remotely what the other expected when they first meet. It’s not just that they didn’t expect the sparks between them – they didn’t expect the bullets flying around either.

And not that Sentinel Security agency Matteo Mancini hasn’t experienced plenty of bullets flying in his general vicinity – some of them even aimed directly at him – in his work with Sentinel Security or in his previous life as an undercover anti-Mafia agent in Italy. It’s that Gabbi’s job consists of boring desk-and-computer work. Gabbi may work for the CIA but what she’s looking for out of her job is safety and financial security and as much of a buffer as she can manage to maintain between herself and her sometimes criminally dysfunctional family.

But when what was supposed to be a routine handoff from the CIA to Sentinel turns into an escape from a hail of bullets in what was – and probably will be again – one of the most expensive and exclusive restaurants in DC, Gabbi’s safe and boring life is blown to smithereens.

Especially after her mind gets blown by the sexiest man she’s ever met making her come on the floor of a stranded elevator in the aftermath. As the best method of dealing with the adrenaline crash from their escape, Matteo’s method is an absolute winner. As the final blow – pun intended – to her formerly safe and moderately sane and frequently boring life it’s just the beginning of negotiations between a man who thinks he’s not worthy of love and a woman who doesn’t believe love even exists.

He needs to keep her safe from the enemies who have reached out across the years and miles to come after him. She’s desperate to keep her heart safe from a man she is certain is utterly out of her league.

While in the background his family is worried that his work will get them killed, and hers does its level worst to keep her from escaping their determination that she continue to be their meal ticket – even if they have to sell her out to the bad guys to make it happen.

Escape Rating B+: Even though I’m still on tenterhooks waiting for Killian Hawke’s romance with the CIA agent we now know to be Devyn “Hellfire” Hayden (Gabbi’s best friend at the Agency), Gabbi and Matteo’s romance still worked for me.

And that’s all down to Gabbi’s attitude. She’s afraid. She’s very, very afraid. There are bullets flying! Her job was not ever supposed to include bullets flying – and especially not flying at her. But instead of hiding in a corner or getting behind Matteo and letting the sexy security agent protect her, she stands up and helps get other people to safety and out of the way of those flying bullets.

It’s easy to identify with Gabbi because of that attitude. Most of us probably would cower. Few people are equipped or trained to fight back in the situation in which she finds herself. But putting on her big girl panties and dealing with it, feeling that fear and doing what she can anyway? That’s a response we can all identify with and hope to emulate.

Which makes Gabbi feel within reach and her relationship with Matteo feel equally possible – even if she doesn’t see it that way.

So while Matteo is the latest in a very long lineup of the author’s sexy badasses who don’t feel worthy of being loved, Gabbi feels like something fresh, a woman who is afraid but still rises up to meet the challenge and I loved that about her character.

Her dysfunctional family, on the other hand, seriously qualified as a piece of work. Dirty, nasty work at that. The reader can see how their dysfunction played into Gabbi’s self-doubt, so it made for icing on top of an already delicious cake when they get their comeuppance at the end. As Gabbi makes tracks for a job that she will love with a man that she does love and a found family who are ready, willing and able to welcome her with open arms and a boost when she needs it.

And into that lovely bargain, Matteo manages to put his demons to rest – whether that’s in the form of putting them six feet under, into long prison sentences, or simply putting the psychological damage behind him, it makes for a lovely ending to a fun action adventure romance.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the next book will be Killian’s, but based on the hints at the end of this entry in the series, it does look like it will be a lot of sexy, romantic, adventurous fun. But in the meantime I have the next book in the Galactic Kings series, Conqueror, to look forward to!

Review: Silver Under Nightfall by Rin Chupeco

Review: Silver Under Nightfall by Rin ChupecoSilver Under Nightfall by Rin Chupeco
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Dark Fantasy, epic fantasy, fantasy, Gothic, horror, steampunk, vampires
Pages: 512
Published by Gallery / Saga Press on September 13, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Full of court intrigue, queer romance, and terrifying monsters—this gothic epic fantasy will appeal to fans of Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree and the adult animated series Castlevania.
Remy Pendergast is many things: the only son of the Duke of Valenbonne (though his father might wish otherwise), an elite bounty hunter of rogue vampires, and an outcast among his fellow Reapers. His mother was the subject of gossip even before she eloped with a vampire, giving rise to the rumors that Remy is half-vampire himself. Though the kingdom of Aluria barely tolerates him, Remy’s father has been shaping him into a weapon to fight for the kingdom at any cost.
When a terrifying new breed of vampire is sighted outside of the city, Remy prepares to investigate alone. But then he encounters the shockingly warmhearted vampire heiress Xiaodan Song and her infuriatingly arrogant fiancé, vampire lord Zidan Malekh, who may hold the key to defeating the creatures—though he knows associating with them won’t do his reputation any favors. When he’s offered a spot alongside them to find the truth about the mutating virus Rot that’s plaguing the kingdom, Remy faces a choice.
It’s one he’s certain he’ll regret.
But as the three face dangerous hardships during their journey, Remy develops fond and complicated feelings for the couple. He begins to question what he holds true about vampires, as well as the story behind his own family legacy. As the Rot continues to spread across the kingdom, Remy must decide where his loyalties lie: with his father and the kingdom he’s been trained all his life to defend or the vampires who might just be the death of him.

My Review:

I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into this book, and now that I’ve read it I’m still not entirely sure. Except that it was fantastic. Heart-pounding, fingernail-biting, stay up until 3 in the morning to finish fantastic.

But the question about whether this is fantasy or horror still feels a bit up in the air.

Let me explain…

Remy Pendergast is a Reaper. In this world that means vampire hunter. But Remy only hunts so-called “rogue” vampires – ones who are causing mischief in human-controlled countries like Aluria. Vampires also have fiefdoms of their own where the rules are undoubtedly different.

Where Remy wouldn’t exactly be welcome because he’s famous for hunting their kind.

Not that Remy is exactly welcome in his own country, either. And not because he’s a Reaper. There are plenty of Reapers in high positions in Aluria’s government. In fact, his father used to be one of them.

But his father, who is a cantankerous old bastard at the best of times – of which he has damn few – is also in the midst of a lifelong feud with the head of the Reaper’s Guild – who also happens to be the Royal Chancellor. A man who is just as big a bastard as Remy’s father, and who is taking his feud out on the son now that the father has publicly retired.

And that’s just the tip of the really massive and ugly iceberg of why Remy is persona non grata in his own country – unless they need something killed and everyone else is too scared or too prissy to get their hands dirty.

That’s where the zombies come in. Well, not really and not exactly zombies. But sorta/kinda and close enough.

Someone is creating monsters that at first seem to be super-duper enhanced vampires. But they’re not. They’re mindless husks who regenerate at will and seem to be impossible to kill. Upon closer scientific study (this world is steampunk-ish so there’s plenty of mad science at least of the medical variety) it’s revealed that these mindless husks were never vampires – and that vampires are immune to the infection that creates them.

Lord Malekh and Lady Song, leaders of the Third and Fourth vampire Courts, have come to Aluria to ally with its Queen in order to combat what they call “The Rot” and whoever is behind that threat.

They need a human liaison. They both want Remy (in more ways than one) – who isn’t at all sure what he wants except to get out of Aluria for a while. The political temperature is getting way too hot for him and his father’s demands are becoming even more outrageous than they always have been.

And he’s tempted. Even though becoming a vampire’s familiar is against the law. Even though he’s fought vampires all his life. Even though a vampire killed his mother and he was born from her corpse.

Even though Malekh and Song are clearly in love and engaged to marry each other. Remy can’t understand why either of them wants him when no one else has ever wanted to do anything except use him for their own purposes.

He has a chance at having the kind of happiness that he never expected to even get a glimpse of. And he’s so, so certain that someone will take it away from him – unless he does it to himself first.

Escape Rating A+: Clearly, the setup for this is ginormous. It’s also endlessly fascinating. I got stuck into this and absolutely could not get out until I finished the last page at about 3 AM. It was just that good.

To the point where I’ll probably be squeeing uncontrollably more than reviewing per se. But I did love it so, so hard.

While the blurbs reference the anime series (and videogame) Castlevania, I think that’s because of the vampires, the politics and the monsters. I haven’t played or watched that so it’s not where my mind went. Instead, I kept seeing Remy as a younger, less confident Geralt of Rivia, in a world where hunting magical creatures gone rogue is needed while the people who do it are reviled. I would call it a bit of a coming-of-age story for The Witcher but I’m not sure Remy is fully adulting even by the end of the story – although he’s finally getting there.

Where I started with this review was that I still wasn’t sure whether the book was horror or fantasy. It was presented to me as horror and the scientific experimentation with zombie-like monsters who roam the countryside and infect others definitely has that vibe. There’s even a Doctor Frankenstein who is entirely too proud of his work even if he doesn’t use electricity to achieve his goals.

And then there’s the vampires, both the rogue vampires and the sexy vampire nobility. Which pushes the whole thing towards the paranormal which is an offshoot of horror.

But the form of the story reads like a big, sprawling epic fantasy. The world is huge and vastly complicated. The political agendas have political agendas and everyone is trying to knife everyone else in the back. The grudges seem to last for centuries – and not just among the vampires who have the excuse of living that long.

Basically, the politics behind everything are beyond Byzantine – as much as that is still an understatement if I ever heard one.

All of that makes the story feel epic in scope in a way that horror seldom is. And most of what is truly horrible in this story isn’t the monsters. It’s all the endless betrayals. It feels like the foundations of Remy’s world get pulled out from under him over and over as he keeps learning that under the corruption of everything if you scrape it away there’s yet another layer of, you guessed it, rot and corruption. Nothing he thinks he knows turns out to have any bearing on any truth.

That the triad relationship between Malekh, Song and Remy becomes both his only source of solace and a never-ending well of betrayal AT THE SAME TIME is just the icing on what is an utterly decadently delicious devil’s food cake of a story.

Whether it’s horror or fantasy or gothic or all of the above it’s riveting and downright compelling every step of the way. But whatever genre it falls into, I’m absolutely thrilled that the story isn’t over. Silver Under Nightfall is the first book in a projected duology, so there’s more dark, deadly and decadent delights to come!