Review: The Secret Women by Sheila Williams

Review: The Secret Women by Sheila WilliamsThe Secret Women by Sheila Williams
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 304
Published by Amistad on June 9, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The author of Dancing on the Edge of the Roof, now a Netflix film starring Alfre Woodard, returns with a riveting, emotionally rich, novel that explores the complex relationship between mothers and daughters in a fresh, vibrant way—a stunning page-turner for fans of Terry McMillan, Tayari Jones, and Kimberla Lawson Roby.

Elise Armstrong, Carmen Bradshaw, and DeeDee Davis meet in a yoga class. Though vastly different, these women discover they all have one thing in common: their mothers have recently passed away. Becoming fast friends, the trio make a pact to help each other sort through the belongings their mothers’ left behind. But when they find old letters and diaries, Elise, Carmen, and DeeDee are astonished to learn that each of their mothers hid secrets—secrets that will transform their own lives.

Meeting each month over margaritas, the trio share laughter, advice, and support. As they help each other overcome challenges and celebrate successes, Elise, Carmen, and DeeDee gain not only a better understanding of the women their mothers were, but of themselves. They also come to realize they have what their mothers needed most but did not have during difficult times—other women they could trust.

Filled with poignant life lessons, The Secret Women pays tribute to the power of friendship and family and the bonds that tie us together. Beautiful, full of spirit and heart, it is a thoughtful and ultimately uplifting story of unconditional love.

My Review:

I picked this up because the story was wrapped around family secrets that three women discover in the process of grieving for their mothers’ deaths. This was also the central theme of another book that I read recently, the excellent but completely different Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish by Tori Whitaker.

Although the stories share something besides their theme, as both are set in my own hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.

I’m attracted to stories like these because I lost my own mother three years ago this December. Everyone’s grief process is different, although stories like this certainly all live up to that old saying about all happy families being alike while misery seems to have a thousand mothers – and fathers.

But stories like this one have resonance for me, especially this time of year, and especially when the women are somewhere in mid-life or thereabouts, as Elise, Carmen and DeeDee certainly are.

All three women are somewhere in mid-life, all are black, and all are having difficulties dealing with the deaths of their mothers – however recently or not. And all of them are stuck wading through the detritus left behind, both in the sense of physical material and emotional baggage.

Elise in particular has an entire apartment full of stuff to go through and make decisions about. Her mother was a ruthlessly organized woman, which is the only thing that kept her from being featured as a hoarder. Her condo and its storage area are full to the brim with her many, many collections, starting with, but definitely not ending with, 15 complete sets of dishes. Not 15 place settings of dishes, 15 sets of 12 or so place settings each. Along with similar amounts of clothing, jewelry, collectibles, knick-knacks and whatnots. Lots of whatnots.

So these women bond, a bit over their yoga class and their snarky comments about their rigid drill instructor of an instructor, somewhat over the losses they haven’t managed to process, and definitely over a shared need to make peace with the women their mothers’ were by dealing with the secrets they left behind.

And the boxes. Boxes of jewelry, boxes of letters and especially boxes of secrets that bring home the realization that none of them really knew their mothers, not the secret women that their mothers really were.

Escape Rating A: Elise, Carmen and DeeDee have reached this point from three very different journeys, and the secrets that they uncover, both about their mothers and about themselves, are all equally different. They cover a spectrum of mother-daughter relationships and women’s lives that will have a lot of resonance for any woman.

Elise is the one with the most regret, DeeDee is the one who has the most to remember, and Carmen is the one who uncovers the biggest revelation.

There, that was cryptic.

Elise has both the hardest journey, because her loss is the most recent, but also the simplest. She has to empty her mother’s condo and she has to forgive herself for not accepting her mother’s new romantic relationship. Her mother moved on from her father’s death, while Elise mostly didn’t. But there are relatively simple ways for Elise to still find closure and forgiveness, and she eventually does. Her issues aren’t easy – none of this is easy, but they are simple.

DeeDee, whose mother has been gone the longest, has to reach back into her own memory to reset what she thinks and feels about her mother, and how those memories have affected her relationships with her sister and her own daughters.

Bipolar disorder runs through DeeDee’s family, and her mother suffered from both that disorder and severe postpartum depression, which most likely exacerbated each other. The traumatic childhoods of both DeeDee and her sister – who inherited the disorder – still haunts her. In finally opening the boxes her mother left behind, DeeDee is finally able to remember the good as well as the bad, and to begin to let her own daughters know the artistic genius their grandmother was.

The secrets that Carmen uncovers change her perception of who she herself is and her place in the world, as the boxes her mother left behind reveal her life as a young woman, before she married Carmen’s father and became a preacher’s wife. A time when she traveled the world. A time when she married Carmen’s natural father. When she became a very young widow, and when her young husband’s mother erased both Carmen and her mother from her dead son’s life. Because his mother never accepted her son’s black, gentile wife and their mixed race child.

Carmen’s mother believed that her first mother-in-law’s rejection and erasure was solely because she was black. It’s possible that at least some of that attitude was religiously motivated, as it was not unheard of for Jewish parents at that time to consider a child who married outside the religion to be dead and to perform funeral rites over them, to sit shiva and say kaddish. Whatever the motivation, it was despicable treatment that sent Carmen’s mother back home to her family, to her childhood best friend, to the man who Carmen knew as her father for her entire life.

Until she opened those boxes and discovered her mother’s past.

But all three women find a marvelously supportive friendship with each other. A burden shared is, after all, a burden halved. Or in this particular case, thirded. They all find some much-needed closure, they all make a bit of peace, and they all move forward. For this reader, the story was tremendously cathartic, especially as I found touchstones to my own journey among theirs.

I really wish I could take that yoga class with them – although I’m not too sure about maintaining the headstand pose. But friendship like theirs definitely be worth the effort!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 10-25-20

Sunday Post

The picture below is titled Ethereal Freddie for the way the light is shining in his face. It could also be “Mischievous Freddie” as this is one of his little tricks to get attention. Both because he’s up on the headboard over Galen’s head, and because he’s about to play with the lampshade. Freddie is not the most graceful cat, and this particular position pretty much guarantees that he’ll either fall on Galen’s face, pointy-side out, or that he’ll knock the lamp off the table onto the floor, causing an unholy clatter and if he’s really lucky, a broken light bulb. If he’s especially clumsy, both. It’s guaranteed to cause human panic and garner him some negative attention, so he wins no matter what happens.

But he’s adorable all the same. We love him. We love him even when he’s driving us bananas.

And we have books. We always have books! I’ve been listening to The Memory of Souls for WEEKS, and I finally finished it. It’s every bit as awesome as the previous books in the series, and I wanted to finish it faster, but I’m not doing nearly as much driving as I used to. And while I do have the ebook, this series works so much better in audio. This story has footnotes, which flow much better when read as asides by the narrator, and both of the narrators are marvelous.

Current Giveaways:

The Light at Wyndcliff by Sarah E. Ladd
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Thanks a Latte Giveaway Hop
$10 Amazon Gift Card from Sophie Barnes and A Duke for Miss Townsbridge

Winner Announcements:

The winner of Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish is Laura D.
The winner of Return to Virgin River is Danielle H.
The winner of the Meowloween Giveaway Hop is Ashley T.

Blog Recap:

A Review: Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
B+ Review: A Duke for Miss Townsbridge by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway
B+ Review: The Troubleshooter by Anna Hackett
A- Review: The Light at Wyndcliff by Sarah E. Ladd + Giveaway
A- Review: Stories from Suffragette City edited by M.J. Rose and Fiona Davis
Stacking the Shelves (415)

Coming This Week:

The Secret Women by Sheila Williams (review)
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton (review)
Masquerade in Lodi by Lois McMaster Bujold (review)
The Memory of Souls by Jenn Lyons (review)
Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark (review)

Stacking the Shelves (415)

Stacking the Shelves

I actually got books from the library this week! I’ve noticed that now that I’m no longer working at one, I get a lot fewer books there. This may also have something to do with the fact that I used to have at least some say in what books got purchased at libraries that I worked at, but I no longer do. So I don’t find as much that I want as I used to. There’s a message in there someplace.

I also picked up some books that look really fascinating. And one I got just for the title. That would be The Good, the Bad, and the Dumped. I’m really curious about that one, because haven’t we all been there?

For Review:
Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
Blood Cruise by Mats Strandberg
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
Doors of Sleep by Tim Pratt
Gifting Fire by Alina Boyden
The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth
The Good, the Bad, and the Dumped by Jenny Colgan
The Helm of Midnight (Five Penalties #1) by Marina Lostetter
Immunity Index by Sue Burke
The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers
Love at First by Kate Clayborn
The Perfect Guests by Emma Rous
The Sculptress by V.S. Alexander
Seven Perfect Things by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Wild Women and the Blues by Denny S. Bryce

Purchased from Kickstarter:
The Year of the Cat: A Cat of Space and Time edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch & Dean Wesley Smith

Borrowed from the Library:
Just Watch Me (Riley Wolfe #1) by Jeff Lindsay
Long Bright River by Liz Moore
A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende



Review: Stories from Suffragette City edited by M.J. Rose and Fiona Davis

Review: Stories from Suffragette City edited by M.J. Rose and Fiona DavisStories from Suffragette City by M.J. Rose, Fiona Davis, Kristin Hannah
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, short stories
Pages: 272
Published by Henry Holt and Co. on October 27, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A collection of short stories from a chorus of bestselling writers all set on the same day, October 23, 1915, in which over a million women marched for the right to vote in New York City with an introduction by Kristin Hannah.
Stories From Suffragette City is a collection of short stories from the leading voices in historical fiction that all take place on a single day. The day one million women marched for the right to vote in New York City in 1915. A day filled with a million different stories, and a million different voices longing to be heard. Taken together, these stories from writers at the top of their bestselling game become a chorus, stitching together a portrait of a country looking for a fight, and echo into a resounding force strong enough to break even the most stubborn of glass ceilings.With stories from:Lisa Wingate, M. J. Rose, Steve Berry, Paula McLain, Katherine J. Chen, Christina Baker Kline, Jamie Ford, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Megan Chance, Alyson Richman, Chris Bohjalian and Fiona Davis

My Review:

Forget, if you can, the David Bowie classic song, Suffragette City, because the song wasn’t about these suffragettes, in spite of the title. And in spite of the song being the first thing that popped into my head when I read the title. To the point where I have an earworm.

But this book is something entirely different.

On October 23, 1915, 105 years ago today, between 25,000 and 60,000 women marched through the streets of New York, in front of at least 100,000 spectators lining the streets, blocking traffic and generally grinding the entire metropolis to a screeching and sometimes cheering halt.

The Five-Mile Suffrage Parade of 1915 (AP Photo)

New York State was just about to vote on a referendum that would allow women the right to vote. The parade was intended to draw concentrated attention to the referendum, to provide a clear and incontrovertible testament that women were political and should be granted the right to vote.

Not all women agreed. And certainly not all men, who would be the ones doing the actual voting, for or against. As it turned out, mostly against. The referendum failed in 1915. It succeeded in 1917. The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, whose centenary occurred earlier this year, gave all women the right to vote, even if it didn’t – and still doesn’t – mean that all women are actually able to vote.

Nevertheless, the October 23, 1915 parade was a watershed moment. And this collection of short stories that all take place on that day, within and surrounding that parade, tells the story of that moment and the women who were a part of it, through fictional perspectives from all sides, from the rich and famous – and occasionally infamous – Alva Vanderbilt Belmont to NAACP co-founder Ida B. Wells to Irish and Armenian immigrants to a young niece of the storied Tiffany family.

These are not any of their stories in their entirety. Rather, they are the stories of actions on that one, singular day, the thoughts, feelings and struggles that brought them to the parade, and the joy and occasional heartbreak that surrounded both its triumphs and its failures.

Escape Rating A-: It’s time to talk about the stories themselves.

This is one of those times when ALL the stories in the collection are just terrific. And that feels rare in collections. After all, not every style agrees with every reader. But this time, with its emphasis on this one day and all of the thoughts and feelings surrounding it, works. (If the concept of stories around a significant historical event appeals to you, Fall of Poppies, focusing on the cessation of the hostilities of World War I on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month is also very lovely and well worth a read on this coming, or any other Veterans Day.)

Back to the stories. Although I will say that the differing perspectives that these stories focus on do lead the reader down plenty of mental and emotional byways. The day may have been singular, but the perspectives on it certainly were not. That’s what makes the collection as a whole so fascinating.

Many of the stories deal with women’s responses to the men in their lives who are either against the idea of women’s suffrage or just think that marching is unseemly and unsafe, and that women are delicate flowers that need protection from the dirty scrum that is politics.

Two of the particularly excellent stories on this topic are A First Step by M.J. Rose and Deeds Not Words by Steve Berry. A First Step also introduces the character of young Grace Tiffany, who flits through almost every story in the book. But in this first story about her, she and her aunt Katrina are planning to march in the parade, even though Grace’s uncle, Charles Tiffany, thinks it’s too dangerous and thinks he’s succeeded in convincing little Grace. He hasn’t. In the end, Grace convinces him.

There are also several stories that focus on the women who were, in one way or another, not welcome in this parade of mostly privileged white women. Ida B. Wells isn’t there. Rather, in Dolen Parkins-Valdez’ story, American Womanhood, Wells is in Chicago, speaking to a group of black women about the issues they face being subject to both racial prejudice and misogyny, expected to always do the most while receiving the least benefits. And as she speaks she remembers her own treatment at the Washington march in 1913, where the genteel southern ladies who had taken over control of the movement refused to let her or any other non-white women march with the main parade. And where Wells did it anyway.

The story that moved me the most was Just Politics by Chris Bohjalian. This story is an immigrant’s story, told from the point of view of Ani, an Armenian woman who has become a teacher in New York. But Ani came to New York during the years of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish government just before World War I. Everyone around her tells her that the march is “just politics” but Ani has first hand experience of exactly how terrible and deadly “just politics” can become. Her perspective, that combination of hope with bitter, bitter experience, provides a leavening that makes her story just rise.

So, read this collection for its marvelous stories, and for its kaleidoscope of perspectives on what that day, the cause of women’s suffrage, and the cause of equal rights in general and not just the specific. And think about how many times that tide has risen and fallen and just how much is still left to fight for.

And then, if you have not already done so, go out and vote. It’s a right that was hard won, and it demands that we exercise it.

Review: The Light at Wyndcliff by Sarah E. Ladd + Giveaway

Review: The Light at Wyndcliff by Sarah E. Ladd + GiveawayThe Light at Wyndcliff (Cornwall, #3) by Sarah E. Ladd
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, romantic suspense
Series: Cornwall #3
Pages: 320
Published by Thomas Nelson on October 13, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the third book of this sweet Regency Cornwall series, one young man must search for truth among the debris of multiple shipwrecks on his newly inherited property.
When Liam Twethewey inherits the ancient Wyndcliff Hall in Pevlyn, Cornwall, he sets a goal of fulfilling his late great-uncle’s dream of opening a china clay pit on the estate’s moorland. When he arrives, however, a mysterious shipwreck on his property—along with even more mysterious survivors—puts his plans on hold.
Evelyn Bray has lived in Pevlyn her entire life. After her grandfather’s fall from fortune, he humbled himself and accepted the position of steward at Wyndcliff Hall. Evelyn’s mother, embarrassed by the reduction of wealth and status, left Pevlyn in search of a better life for them both, but in spite of her promise, never returns. Evelyn is left to navigate an uncertain path with an even more uncertain future.
When the mysteries surrounding the shipwreck survivors intensify, Liam and Evelyn are thrown together as they attempt to untangle a web of deceit and secrets. But as they separate the truths from the lies, they quickly learn that their surroundings—and the people in it—are not as they seem. Liam and Evelyn are each tested, and as a romance buds between them, they must decide if their love is strong enough to overcome their growing differences.

My Review:

The Light at Wyndcliff is lovely and slightly bittersweet, best categorized as historical fiction with romantic elements. A romance does happen, but it’s not the central point of the story.

The plot wraps around the sometimes exciting, sometimes dangerous and always criminal smuggling operations that the rougher bits of the Cornish coast are notorious for But this is not a story that romanticizes smuggling. Rather, it paints an all-too-clear portrait of the rot that burrows into the whole town when smuggling – and the protection of it – become the whole town’s economic mainstay.

But at its heart, it feels like this is a story about figuring out not just who you are, but who you want to be, and taking the steps to achieve that goal – no matter how difficult the road or how many people and institutions stand in your way.

For Liam Twethewey it seems as if that goal should be easy to achieve. He’s 22, he’s male, and he’s just come into his inheritance, Wyndcliff Hall on the Cornish Coast. His dream is to make the property profitable, and to make the area that surrounds it self-sustaining for the benefit of the people who live there.

He wants to provide good jobs at good pay. He wants to be someone who administers his land for the good of everyone, and not just his own profit. He wants to be a good man and a good steward of his property, just as his uncle and mentor has taught him to be.

Ironically, the person standing squarely in Liam’s way is his own steward. Once upon a time Rupert Bray was the owner of his own wealthy property, but either unwise investments or an addiction to gambling or some combination of both cost him his estate. Now he’s the steward of Wyndcliff, and has become the unofficial leader of the nearby town in the long interregnum between the death of the previous owner and Liam’s ascension.

It’s a power Bray doesn’t want to give up. Not over the estate, not over the town, and especially not over his grown-up granddaughter, Evelyn. Partially, that’s because Bray is, quite frankly, a petty tyrant. Much of it is because Bray has secrets that he fears that an active master at Wyndcliff will uncover.

And a whole lot of it is because Evelyn is female, and women didn’t have nearly as much as agency as men, a situation that was even more true in the 1820s setting of this story.

So an important but sometimes frustrating part of this story is Evelyn’s hesitant search for who she wants to be now that she is grown up. A quest that is under siege, caught between her grandfather’s desire to keep her safe, his secret plans for her, her absent mother’s ambitious plans for her future marriage to a man of her mother’s choosing – and the written and unwritten expectations of behavior that society holds over her head.

The more time that Liam and Evelyn spend together, no matter how publicly or how innocently, the more the townspeople judge her for her behavior. In their eyes, she is reaching above herself and consorting with an enemy – even though neither Liam nor Evelyn are aware that the villagers consider him such.

When the crisis finally comes to a head, everyone has fixed their places in the drama – except Evelyn. Everyone makes demands of her. Her grandfather – and the townspeople – expect her to lie for them. Liam, and the agents of the Crown, expect her to tell the truth. And her mother expects her to abandon all of them for the glittering future that she has always promised her daughter.

No matter what she decides, Evelyn is going to make someone she cares about absolutely furious with her. She has to find her own way in a life where she has been discouraged from doing just that at every turn.

Escape Rating A-: A romance between Liam and Evelyn does happen in this story, but it doesn’t feel like the romance is the point of the story. More like it’s the reward for doing the right thing. Figuring out what that right thing is, that feels like it’s the central point of the story. And that’s the story that swept me away.

The suspense and tension in this story come from Liam’s efforts to become the true master of Wyndcliff, in spite of Bray’s opposition. The more Liam digs into what’s really going on, the more obvious it is that Bray and the villagers are hiding a whole lot of skullduggery that no one – except Liam – wants to see brought to light.

This story’s treatment of smuggling, showing it as a criminal enterprise that leads to even more – and darker – criminal behavior reminded me of last year’s The Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick. So if the exposure of the smuggling ring and its corruption of the town is something that intrigued you, you might want to check that story out as well.

But Bray’s corruption and the town’s participation in it felt fairly obvious from the very beginning. The reader may not know at the outset exactly what he’s hiding but it’s exceedingly clear that he’s two-faced at best.

Liam’s perspective was interesting but not particularly new. I liked him as a character, and it was clear that he was trying to do his best – and that his best was going to turn out to be fairly good. But the story of a young man taking up his inheritance, feeling some uncertainty while facing some challenges is a story that’s been told many times and will be again.

The fascinating and frustrating part was Evelyn’s story. She was caught betwixt and between in so many ways, and was aware of it and often confused and flummoxed about it all. She knew what she was supposed to feel – and she knew that she didn’t feel it – while also being aware that she was hemmed in by so many conflicting expectations. It felt very much as if The Light at Wyndcliff is more Evelyn’s story than anyone else’s. She’s the character who is stuck in a role that everyone expects to be passive – and yet isn’t.

But speaking of expectations, this series is focused on Liam’s family, the Twetheweys. And his story is central to the book, even if it doesn’t feel as much his journey as it does Evelyn’s. He becomes the person he’s always been expected to be, while Evelyn’s journey has all the twists and turns.

That being said, Liam has moved away from his family, the protagonists of the first two books of this series, The Governess of Penwyth Hall and The Thief of Landwyn Manor, to take up the inheritance that kicks off this book. This distance from his family means that it isn’t necessary to have read the first two books to get immediately drawn into this one. He’s moved away and the story has moved away too.

So if you’re looking for a story that brings a small town to life, contains a bit of true-to-life historical suspense and features characters who manage to do the right thing, catch the bad guys, pay the emotional price AND get rewarded by a happy ever after, The Light at Wyndcliff is guaranteed to sweep you away to the Cornish Coast!

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Light at Wyndcliff to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: The Troubleshooter by Anna Hackett

Review: The Troubleshooter by Anna HackettThe Troubleshooter (Norcross #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance
Series: Norcross #2
Pages: 258
Published by Anna Hackett on October 18, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Never, ever fall for your brother’s annoying, infuriating, gorgeous best friend.

Gia Norcross’ life is exactly how she likes it. She has a successful PR firm in San Francisco, a beautiful apartment, a loving family of overprotective brothers, and her fabulous designer shoe collection. Perfection. Sure, occasionally she has to deal with her aggravating nemesis who happens to be her brother’s best friend. Saxon Buchanan: tall, rich, handsome, bossy, and knows how to work her last nerve.

She’ll never, ever admit to anyone that most days, she isn’t sure if she wants to punch the arrogant, tattooed, suit-wearing know-it-all…or kiss him.

After a military career spent in a covert special ops team doing hard, dirty, and very classified missions, Saxon Buchanan is happy working at Norcross Security as the company’s top troubleshooter. He also enjoys the perks of civilian life. That includes sparring with smart, sexy Gia of the wide brown eyes, luscious curves, and sharp tongue. He’s spent half his life fighting the pull of his best friend’s little sister.

But seeing a man aim a gun at Gia changes everything.

When Gia’s troubled childhood best friend drags her into a really, really bad situation, soon bullets are flying, precious gemstones are missing, and Gia’s in danger. Saxon’s done pushing away the one woman he’s ever wanted. He’ll do everything to protect her, and he’s not letting anything get in his way: not the bad guys, not his best friend, and especially not Gia.

My Review:

This is the story I was expecting after the hints at the end of the first book in the Norcross series, The Investigator. And it was exactly the kind of terrific doozy of an action adventure romance that I expect from this author!

Gia Norcross has entirely too many brothers – or at least that’s how she sees it at least some of the time.

Not that she doesn’t love every single over-protective one of them. But they do have a testosterone-fueled tendency to try to protect her even when she doesn’t need protecting. And especially when she does.

As she does fairly often in this entry in the series.

Not, as happened a bit too often in the first book in the series, because the heroine couldn’t seem to recognize the obvious risks that she kept walking right into. But rather because Gia’s heart is very big and extremely loyal, and she’s unwilling to cut off one of her childhood friends. Even if that friend has become a liar, a thief, and a user of both pharmaceuticals and people.

And Gia is most often her target. Or her sucker. She’s someone who seriously needs some tough love, but Gia keeps on bailing her out of the trouble that she’s gotten herself into.

In this particular case, seriously big time trouble that follows her friend right to Gia’s doorstep. In search of the stolen jewels that said “friend” is letting Gia hide for her. Gems that are way more valuable – and chased by people way more deadly, than her friend is willing to admit.

Unlike her lying, using, so-called friend, Gia has some real badasses fighting in her corner. Because they’re her brothers, sometimes she’s fighting them more than the bad guys who are after her.

But one of those badasses is not one of her brothers, and in spite of the number of years they’ve been pissing each other off on a regular basis, she definitely doesn’t have any sisterly feelings towards Saxon Buchanan.

Occasionally murderous feelings, but even those are just a cover for how much she wants him and how long it’s been going on. But Saxon has been parading a seemingly endless stream of long leggy blondes through his bed, and Gia’s not remotely interested in being a notch on anyone’s bedpost. Especially not someone who seems to prefer women who are her exact opposite.

But, this isn’t the story of a rake reformed. Instead, it’s the classic story of the older brother’s best friend falling for his friend’s underage sister – who has grown up into the woman he wants but shouldn’t have.

Something about that damn ‘bro code getting in the way.

With at first one, then two and eventually three different sets of villains chasing after Gia for those stolen jewels that she doesn’t even have, Saxon Buchanan finally makes keeping Gia safe and making her his not just his top priority, but his only priority.

No matter what her brothers or any of those villains have to say in the matter. His real challenge is to get Gia to admit that she’s been on that train all along.

Escape Rating B+: I liked The Troubleshooter considerably more than I did The Investigator, so I’m really happy to say that the books stand more than enough alone that you don’t have to read the first to get into the second.

The reason I liked this one better is that Gia was a much more active character than Haven. Haven kept falling into trouble, and seemed to always be reacting to the crap that happened TO her.

Gia, on the other hand, felt proactive. Some of her actions didn’t turn out for the best, or didn’t turn out quite the way she planned, and occasionally the bad guys planned better, but it always felt like Gia was pushing her own action forward. She was never passive. She was not a passive person in any way, and she was always the prime mover of her own story no matter how much Saxon and her brothers tried to wrap her in cotton and keep her safe. Not always successfully. And that lack of success wasn’t remotely always Gia’s fault.

Instead, Gia’s fault isn’t a fault. Well, her temper is definitely a fault, but it isn’t what got her into this mess. Gia’s loyal, and always tries to see the best in people. As faults go, it’s a pretty good one. And it is one that gets her in trouble, but her actions, even when they turn out wrong, still keep the story moving and make her the prime agent of her own story.

I liked Gia a lot. She’d be a loyal friend and a whole lot of fun. But she’s also a serious businesswoman who has made her own way. There’s just a lot to admire about her character and I did.

I did enjoy the way that Saxon and Gia’s relationship exploded. Developed is not the right word, because it’s been there all along. Definitely exploded. They have explosive chemistry AND explosive tempers and they caught serious fire. Saxon is every bit as troubled as most of this author’s heroes, but the chemistry between them burned up the page and just plain worked.

One tiny thing niggled at me. In the previous story there was an evil old man who collected women to be his sex slaves. In this one there’s an evil old man who buys women to be sold as sex slaves. In neither case was the evil old lech the main villain. He felt over the top both times and I’m tired of reading about him. That’s my 2 cents and I’m sticking to it.

Howsomever, I’m definitely NOT tired of reading about the Norcross family. Especially as the hints at the end of this book promise that the next romance in the series will follow one of my favorite tropes, the falling for the boss trope. This time with the added bonus that the assistant is in no way intimidated by her boss’ power, or his money, or pretty much anything or anyone at all.

This is going to be so much fun!

Review: A Duke for Miss Townsbridge by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: A Duke for Miss Townsbridge by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayA Duke for Miss Townsbridge by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Series: Townsbridges #4
Pages: 100
Published by Sophie Barnes on October 20, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

She threatens to conquer his heart…
When Matthew Donovan, Duke of Brunswick, proposes to Sarah Townsbridge, she’s shocked. After all, she’s never met him before. One thing is clear though – he obviously needs help. So after turning him down, she decides to get to know him better, and finds out she’s right. But fixing a broken man is not the same as adopting a puppy. Least of all when the man in question has no desire to be saved.
Matthew has his mind set on Sarah. Kind and energetic, she’ll make an excellent mother. Best of all, her reclusiveness is sure to make her accept the sort of marriage he has in mind – one where they live apart. The only problem is, to convince her, they must spend time together. And the more they do, the more he risks falling prey to the one emotion he knows he must avoid at all cost: love.

My Review:

Life may or may not be like a box of chocolates, but A Duke for Miss Townsbridge is a deliciously light confection of froth and fluff with a tasty but chewy center to give it just the right amount of bite.

I’ve just realized that this analogy makes Sophie Barnes’ work the equivalent of that box of chocolates, and that definitely works. They are always delicious!

Initially, the duke in question is not for Miss Townsbridge. At all. Oh, he thinks he is, but she’s having none of him after he invades an afternoon party being held in her honor, gets down on one knee and doesn’t so much propose marriage as command it.

The Duke of Brunswick’s literal first words to his intended bride are “Marry me,” as though he has the right to order it and she has no choice but to go along.

In spite of being near the end of her sixth season, 22 years old and in danger of being considered permanently on the shelf, Sarah Townsbridge does have a choice in the matter, and her choice is to decline the honor.

But that “no” is only the beginning of a romance that Brunwsick had intended to forgo altogether. He needed a wife and a mother for his eventual heir. He wanted someone capable of presenting herself as his duchess while maintaining her own household and keeping herself occupied for the rest of their lives.

He had no intention of loving, or frankly even liking his would-be Duchess. His entire family had been killed in a carriage accident when he was a child. An experience that he has NEVER gotten over. Or past. Or even let the tiniest bit go of.

That’s what makes Sarah decide to give him another chance. She’s made a hobby of taking in wounded animals and “fixing” them. And Matthew Donovan, the high-in-the-instep Duke of Brunswick, is definitely a wounded animal that needs just Sarah’s kind of care. He needs to heal, and she wants to “fix” him.

It should be an even worse beginning for a relationship than his initial commanding proposal. And it very nearly is. Until it finally isn’t.

Escape Rating B+: All of the stories in the Townsbridges series of historical romantic novellas have been utterly delicious, and A Duke for Miss Townsbridge is certainly no exception.

They have also all been romances with just a little bit of bite. Romances where there’s something unconventional in the way that the hero and heroine begin their romantic adventure. Even better, it’s never the same something.

It’s also generally something that shouldn’t work, from When Love Leads to Scandal, where the heroine begins the story engaged to the hero’s best friend, to Lady Abigail’s Perfect Match, where the hero initially makes the heroine literally sick to her stomach, to the previous story, Falling for Mr. Townsbridge, when a son of the household falls for his mother’s new cook – and chooses to ignore convention and marry her.

It’s not necessary to have read the previous books in the series to enjoy this one, but they are all lovely, short, eventually sweet and utterly delicious.

In this outing, Sarah falls for the Duke because she wants to fix him. In real life, this is downright dangerous, and relationships like this one nearly always end in disaster AND heartbreak. Plenty of people have issues that need fixing, but no one can BE fixed. They have to want to fix themselves and then carry through – something that doesn’t happen nearly enough except in Romancelandia.

And it nearly doesn’t happen here, either. It’s not that Matthew is a terrible person, it’s that he’s lived his entire life up to this point clinging to his pain – and he doesn’t know how to stop. Sarah, at least doesn’t think it will be easy, but she does see that it’s necessary. Her mistake is thinking that Matthew is all in on doing the work, when he really isn’t.

So there’s a romance here, where these people fall in love but only one of them is willing to admit it. And they marry anyway. It’s only after Matthew breaks Sarah’s heart that the healing can begin.

That the author didn’t gloss over just how much hard work is going to be involved made this unworkable premise work. In the end, their happy ending was definitely earned!

But speaking of earning a happy ending, the jilted fiance from the very first book in this series, will finally have the chance to earn his in the next book, An Unexpected Temptation, when he gets stranded in a winter storm with his nemesis, just in time for the holidays.

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

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Review: Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Review: Black Sun by Rebecca RoanhorseBlack Sun (Between Earth and Sky, #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Between Earth and Sky #1
Pages: 464
Published by Saga Press on October 13, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Resistance Reborn comes the first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy, inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas and woven into a tale of celestial prophecies, political intrigue, and forbidden magic.
A god will returnWhen the earth and sky convergeUnder the black sun
In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.
Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.
Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created an epic adventure exploring the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in the most original series debut of the decade.

My Review:

Start out by throwing out any expectations you might have about good versus evil and/or heroes versus villains that might have popped into your head because this Black Sun is labelled as high fantasy or epic fantasy.

We have protagonists here. Points of view. Perspectives. But strictly speaking all of the characters are operating somewhere in the grey, in the shadows created by the solar eclipse that produces the “black sun” of the title.

Everything in this story is on a collision course with that eclipse, an event that the Sun Priests of the great city of Tova call the Convergence. This particular Convergence is going to occur on the Winter Solstice, as the moon eats the sun on the shortest day of the year. And the Sun God is at the lowest point of his power. A point where he might be challenged.

An event that this time, on this once in a lifetime occasion, could result in overturning the balance of the world.

But we begin at the beginning, when a woman sacrifices her life to make her son into an offering – or an opening – for the god of her people. Now blind, scarred and rejected by his father, Serapio faces a series of cruel tutors who prepare him for the role that his mother ordained for him.

This is the story of his journey to meet his destiny. But he is not the only person who will rise or fall on the prophesied day.

His story intersects with two others, a disgraced ship’s captain and the deposed leader of the Sun Temple.

And this is the point where the story could go any number of typical directions – but doesn’t.

Serapio could be the hero – but he can only achieve his destiny by killing the entire hierarchy of the Sun Temple. The Sun Temple should be the forces of good, but they have been corrupted by power and cast out the only truly good person among them.

Captain Xiala should be entirely self-serving, but instead shows Serapio the wonders of the world, just as he is about to leave it.

This is a story where nothing is as it seems – and marvelously and magically so.

Escape Rating A: Epic fantasy, which this oh-so-very-much is, usually wraps its dramatic tension around an epic – hence the name – battle between good and evil. That just doesn’t happen here, and now that I think about it, that feels like something that’s not been happening for a while, in spite of the genre’s reputation for it. And I don’t expect one here, not even later in the trilogy. In spite of this being epic fantasy rather than space opera, Black Sun is very much a romance of political agency.

Not that there isn’t plenty of evil – and a smattering of good – but it’s human scale evil and human-shaped and sized good.

The one unequivocally “good” character in this story is Naranpa, the Sun Priestess of Tova and the leader of the world-spanning religion that is centered in the city. She knows that her order has stopped serving its people, becoming isolated and insular in their literal ivory towers, spending all of their time and energy on petty, political squabbles amongst themselves.

The Sun Temple hierarchy is “evil” but it’s the human evil wrapped around the aphorism about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. The Sun Temple has had nearly absolute power and it has corrupted them. It has corrupted them so deeply that they depose and attempt to murder the one person within their ranks who even attempts to call them on it.

Part of that evil is that they conducted a purge, essentially a pogrom of religious persecution, against one of the population groups within the capital that did not completely bow down to the supremacy of the Sun Temple. And they are planning to do it again in order to remain in power. Serapio’s quest, the duty that he was created for, is to give his people, the Carrion-Crows, vengeance for that purge – and to prevent a repeat by purging the Sun Temple first.

But we follow Serapio’s and Naranpa’s stories, giving both dimensions a human face and a human scale. In spite of Serapio’s purpose as the avatar of his people’s god, he’s still very human, and we feel for him on his journey, just as we suffer along with Naranpa’s hopes and fears as her hopes for her temple are dashed and her fears are made manifest.

As I read Black Sun, I kept having this feeling that it reminded me of something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. At first I thought it was Banewreacker and Godslayer by Jacqueline Carey. That duology was one of the best presentations about “good” and “evil” being in the eye of the beholder – along with the eye of the victorious historian – that I have ever read. Those books always come to mind in situations like this one, where those concepts feel more like a wheel where the perception of which is which depends on the position from which they are viewed.

But in the end, and after much discussion, I was presented with the possibility that the story this most reminds me of is A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine, even though Empire is space opera and Sun is epic fantasy. Those two genres are so far apart as to come together on the other side of the wheel, after all.

It’s not just that both Black Sun and A Memory Called Empire are utterly awesome, although they both certainly are. Nor is it that both have their mythological underpinnings somewhere other than the much too familiar trappings of Western European mythology.

There were two factors that contributed to that nagging sense that the books had more in common than met the eye. One was the portrayal of the empires, because yes, the Temple of the Sun is the heart of its own kind of empire. Both empires publicly espouse the idea that they serve their people, perversely by deciding things for them and suppressing any dissent. Both are actually completely insular and riddled with backstabbing politics and double-dealing corruption. And both are shaken to their foundations by an internal reformer at the top who is ruthlessly suppressed by the political insiders.

At the same time, both stories also feature a journey by someone who must travel from far outside into the dark heart of that empire, someone who has faced opposition to their mission from before its beginning, and someone whose mission is not entirely clear to them even as they carry it out.

And both stories end in ways that none of their protagonists expected at the beginning, in ways that none of them even believed were possible, let alone likely, but ways that are going to fuel the action in the next chapter of their respective sagas.

I don’t know when the second book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy will be coming out. But I already can’t wait to see what happens next!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 10-18-20

Sunday Post

Election Day in the U.S. is just 15 days away. Have you voted yet? If not, do you have a plan for voting? You may think that your vote doesn’t count, but it does. If it didn’t, they wouldn’t be trying so hard to discourage you from voting. Think about it. Please!

Current Giveaways:

Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish by Tori Whitaker
Return to Virgin River by Robyn Carr
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Meowloween Giveaway Hop (ends TUESDAY!!!)
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Thanks a Latte Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Gift Card from the authors of Bad, Dad and Dangerous is Erica F.
The winner of the Color Me Lucky Giveaway Hop is Shannon P.

Blog Recap:

A- Review: Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish by Tori Whitaker + Giveaway
A- Review: Return to Virgin River by Robyn Carr + Giveaway
A+ Review: The Emperor’s Wolves by Michelle Sagara
A- Review: The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg
Thanks a Latte Giveaway Hop
Stacking the Shelves (414)

Coming This Week:

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (review)
A Duke for Miss Townsbridge by Sophie Barnes (blog tour review)
The Troubleshooter by Anna Hackett (review)
The Light at Wyndcliff by Sarah E. Ladd (blog tour review)
Stories from Suffragette City edited by M.J. Rose and Fiona Davis (review)

Stacking the Shelves (414)

Stacking the Shelves

Since I just got home from Pilates, here’s a picture of George practicing yoga. While napping, of course!

And, I have books, most of which came at the last minute for this post. Some weeks are just like that.

For Review:
Beauty Among Ruins by J’Nell Ciesielski
Chaos on CatNet (CatNet #2) by Naomi Kritzer
The Dating Plan by Sara Desai
The Duke Undone by Joanna Lowell
Legacy by Nora Roberts
The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry by C.M. Waggoner
Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne
Serena Singh Flips the Script by Sonya Lalli
Storing Up Trouble (American Heiresses #3) by Jen Turano
The Troubleshooter (Norcross #2) by Anna Hackett
The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Junkyard Cats by Faith Hunter
Masquerade in Lodi (Penric & Desdemona #4) by Lois McMaster Bujold